PEGGY OGLIVIE'S INHERITANCE.
THE OGLIVIES OF OGLIVIE.
IN evil days the warp
of our story, the threads of which run from generation to generation, was
spun and dyed; and though the woof is of the fairer colours which are
those of our own everyday life, throughout all the pattern the darker
threads must run. I am not going back to the times which exist for
us only in books. The "bad old times" of which I speak still live in
the minds of those few whose memories stretch back to the opening of the
century, the memories and the men alike fading. But many of us
retain vivid impressions of them, as depicted to us by living witnesses,
now silent for ever.
They were times of war. The babes of that generation
were cradled in war and nursed in war; at war they played as children, and
to war they were marched as men.
They were times of famine. As early as 1795 mobs in
London were shouting round the King's coach for "Peace and Bread!" and as
the century closed this foe of the poor came to a very death-grapple.
And, worst of all, they were times of widespread domestic
corruption. Through all the miseries of war, and above all the
groanings of the people, rose the maddening sound of the riot of a
In Bleakshire, in the corner of the island where this story
is transacted, the suffering was extreme. There, if anywhere, the
invader was expected to descend. The flower of its youth were
tempted, bribed, or pressed into active service. Its stiff soil and
inclement skies made it the first to suffer from the prevailing dearth.
And there, in town, and camp, and castle, grew rampant a more reckless
libertinism than was, perhaps, to be found anywhere else throughout the
land. The private history of its noble families is rife with strange
and tragic stories of these days. Some date from them their decay;
others it swept from the face of the earth, which could no longer support
Even in these evil days the Oglivies of Oglivie had an evil
name. In the little fishing villages that nestled here and there
along the coast of Bleakshire, setting their backs to the bare rock and
their faces to the rude sea, to grapple with it for very life, wild Sir
Alexander was regarded, by sober men and pious matrons, as a man reprobate
and accursed, who was destined to die "an ill death" as soon as he had
filled up the measure of his iniquity. In the little moorland farms,
dotted over the bleak uplands where he and his companions from "the
castle" ranged in the shooting season, startling the lonely places with
their oaths, and blasphemies, and half-drunken laughter, the mother sent
her blooming daughter "ben the hoose," and served them herself with the
warm milk into which they emptied their flasks of rum and brandy, while
she strictly charged the maiden on no account to peep from her covert till
they were gone. The people felt towards him as they might towards a
bird of prey, against whom, they could only act in self-defence, and not
always succeed in that. The castle was his eyrie, and thither he
gathered others like himself. Lesser birds of prey trooped in his
train and sheltered within the sweep of his wing. There was the
secret still on the moors, where whisky was made that never paid tax to
the King, but paid tithe to Oglivie; and there was the strange barque that
at midnight sent on shore a cargo purchased with something brighter and
redder than gold. But with him and his deeds my story, happily, has
little to do; only all stories have their roots in the past, and "wild Sir
Alexander," sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind, was preparing an
aftergrowth of misery for the time to come.
Castle Oglivie was a fit home for such a man. Built on
a rock, its granite walls battered by the storm, its garden sown with salt
by the spray-laden winds, so that no tender flower would grow there, the
moan of the sea filled it for ever. But it was no fit home for
women. It seemed fatal to all gentle things. It was said that
the brides who crossed its threshold shuddered as with a death-chill; and,
for two generations, at least, they had speedily been carried out again,
to rest where no chill could reach them, either of granite walls or hearts
So it had fared with the first wife of "wild Sir Alexander." Her
ways were quiet and sober, and her husband had left her to pine alone, as
soon as a single summer of her wedded life was over. The winter and
life's heaviest disappointment struck their chills into her heart, and she
died, leaving twin daughters to be reared in the inclement soil where she
But where she had perished they had lived and grown,
sheltered by the kindly arms of humble nurses, and nurtured by the pious
care of a poor dependant. They grew up unheeded by their father, who
was now here, now there—only swooping down upon his lands, from time to
time, with some of his riotous town companions, to hatch some fresh
mischief, and to carry off what he could to the gambling-tables of
Bleaktown or London.
The sisters had learned to cling to each other in fear and
trembling at his coming, with the storm of curses it brought upon
everybody and everything at the castle. At least, the one clung and
trembled, while the other stood firm in the front and did battle when need
was. The one sister was the shadow of the other in every way.
They were never apart so much as an hour. Wonderfully alike in
feature and gesture, the one was yet thinner, fainter, and feebler than
the other; like the same note on different keys. Where Miss Janet
was low and plaintive, Miss Margery was loud and indignant. Miss
Janet left to herself would have been wavering and purposeless, but she
seemed, in following her sister, less to bend to than to be inspired by
the stronger will.
As they grew older, their father was more with them. He
began to lack the means for his expensive pleasures abroad, and to indulge
in them more at home; and the girls would stand at their room-door in the
dark, and listen with a curious awe as the sounds of voices, and the
rattle of dice, and the shout of laughter echoed through the rooms below
far into the night. White with terror, they had hearkened to the
still more terrible sounds of strife: and when, after a heavy fall, they
had seen their father carried insensible to his room, they had reason for
their dread, that some day he would be carried there a dead, if not a
murdered man; but the next morning he would be gulping down half a
tumblerful of brandy, and going out for the day, swearing that everything
was going to the dogs.
Thus their girlhood passed, and their first youth went by,
till two forlorn women, with premature lines in their colourless faces and
premature threads of grey in their red locks, looked out upon the
changeless and yet unresting sea, and on a horizon of life as wild and as
Of the comings and goings of Sir Alexander Oglivie his
household kept no reckoning; but it was after a more prolonged absence
than usual that, one night, early in the last year of the century, he
returned, bringing a lady with him. The sisters were sitting by
their fire—necessary in these bleak regions almost all the year
round—listening to the wail of the March wind, when they were roused by
the stir of the arrival; and shortly after, Sir Alexander came to them,
leading in a fair young creature, faint and weary with travel, so it
seemed, wet with salt sea-water and disordered by the blast. To his
daughters, struck dumb with astonishment, he presented her as his wife,
and requested—only the tone was a command—that she might be kindly cared
for. To their somewhat cold greeting she returned no answer, and as
he left her in their hands, and went off to join the man he had brought
with him, Sir Alexander added, "She will do no harm with her tongue at
Wonderingly, but still kindly and with awkward attempts at
tenderness, they tried to find out her wants, and tend and comfort
her—their new mother, more like a younger sister to them; but, except sobs
and loudly-uttered sighs, she made no attempt to reply, and they set her
down as a foreigner who did not understand their speech. On the
morrow they were to learn why their questions had remained unanswered, and
they felt a shock of mingled pity and horror on hearing that their
father's wife was deaf and dumb, that their new companion would never be
able to understand or to answer word of theirs.
On the morrow, in presence of the sisters, took place a
parting between the new Lady Oglivie and one who had accompanied her to
the castle on the previous night. He was a seafaring man, of bold
and resolute bearing. They had seen him there before. The
parting was proof of near relationship between him and the dumb girl, who
clung about his neck with tears and passionate mute entreaties. In
the presence of the stranger, Sir Alexander made his daughters promise to
treat her, as his wife, with dutiful love and care, and the look with
which the former led her to a seat beside them, and left her there, was
half appeal half menace.
The new Lady Oglivie must have been a wealthy bride, for
there was plenty of gold going at the castle after she came, and it had
been scant enough before her coming. How it had been come by was
another matter, and one which no one inquired into. Sixty years ago
wealth and wives were not always come by in the peaceable way in which
they are acquired in our soberer and less picturesque days. But
though there was greater plenty at the castle, its lord did not long
remain there. As in earlier days, he absented himself, leaving his
dumb wife to the care of his daughters, who were faithful to their
promise, to the letter and also to the spirit. Resentment against
their father, strong in Miss Margery, fainter in Miss Janet, mingled with
pity for the dumb sharer of their sorrows.
The last night of the century was one of storm and tempest
more furious than any in the memory of man. It began in the
afternoon of the previous day, and raved throughout the next with unabated
fury. Along the iron-bound coast of Bleakshire the German Ocean rose
and dashed itself in insurrection. The huge waves leapt into the
jaws of the rocks and were churned through their teeth into a milky froth.
The wind rushed, and shrieked, and trampled, and trumpeted into the coves
and gulleys, whirling balls of foam over the highest cliffs. The
dawn of the new year's morning saw sixty wrecks, great and small, along
that coast alone.
All the afternoon the dumb wife sat watching the sea from her
favourite station in a deep bay-window over the cliff. As the wind
and the sea rose, a wild restlessness seemed to take possession of her.
Pacing up and down the room was no noticeable feature, for that was her
common custom, and halting in the window for another look over the sea.
But she would go down and stand on the cliff and pace about there, till
she had to crouch before the blast, and hold fast by the tufts of coarse
grass that grew on the bank, to keep her from being whirled away.
She was impatient, too, of the presence of the sisters, and made
passionate signs to be left alone. How they longed to be able to
soothe her with words, but, alas! they could only understand her meaning
when material wants were in question. They had no mutual language
for the wants and desires of the soul. At length she sought them
eagerly, pointing from the window to a ship nearing that perilous shore
under bare poles. The darkness was coming down, and the ship in
peril; but her own peril had come to the poor dumb wife, and she went down
in it, pleading with outstretched arms and wild appealing eyes for
something, they knew not what. He might have known if he had been
In that wild night the heir of Oglivie was born. In the
morning light a motherless infant lay on Margery Oglivie's knees, and the
ship in the offing had disappeared.
THE HEIR OF OGLIVIE.
MARGERY and Janet
Oglivie welcomed the weak and sickly infant left in their hands, as hungry
creatures welcome food. They were too near, too identical as it
were, to fill up to each other that hunger of the woman's heart, to spend
itself and to be spent on another. They felt their hearts withering,
though they could not have said that this was what made their lives look
poorer and sadder, and more colourless day by day; and the coming of the
child was like rain on the dry grass.
They got a nurse from one of the little clusters of
labourers' cottages on the estate—a tall, soft, sweet-spoken Highland
woman, who had lost her own baby, and was ready to give the little
stranger all the fondling care she would have given to her own: for in her
part of the country the relation of foster-mother is held in great esteem.
But as time went on, instead of loving her nursling, as the honest
creature was prepared to do, she began to shrink from it more and more.
All her nursing would not plump out the small skinny limbs. The wee
white face grew more and more weird-like every day, and the secret of the
nurse's care came out at last, in tears and lamentations, while she owned
her belief that the "bairn was no cannie." In other words, the
superstitious creature considered that the child was not altogether of the
earth, and that it was hardly safe to nourish and cherish it. So the
nurse went away, and the sisters took on themselves the task of rearing
their baby-brother. Then it dawned on them that there was something
strange about the child.
"See how he stares about, and never seems to notice
anything," said Janet, as she looked on the little creature in her
sister's lap. "Perhaps it's because he is like his mother. Oh,
Margery, what if he is like her!" she added, with a burst of unwonted
"Hush, Janet!" said Margery, "I've been thinking of that,
though I did not like to speak; and if it is so, it's the judgment of God,
and we have no right to rebel against it."
The hard look which came into her face was perhaps more
rebellious than Janet's tears.
"Could we not find out, Margery?" ventured the latter, after
a pause; "it would be better to know the worst. Let us make a noise
and see if it will scare him."
But the child began to start and cry, as was his wont, and so
they were obliged to put off the experiment till he was asleep. As
soon as he was laid in his cradle, Janet whispered, "Now!" but Margery sat
down in her chair, and took her knitting and began to rock gently with her
foot, answering, also in a whisper, "No, let him sleep awhile first."
Down in that woman's heart there was a deep well of
tenderness, though it came little to the hard surface. She sat there
an hour in silence, schooling herself to wake an infant from its sleep.
"Try now," she said, breaking it at last.
Janet brought a heavy bell to ring over the cradle; but her
sister seized it ere it swayed. "That would raise the whole house,"
she whispered, with a flush of impatience, betraying her pride, and
reticence. "Let something fall." Janet went to the hearth and
made a vigorous clash of metal, by letting fall one of the fire-irons;
whilst Margery continued rocking gently with her foot. Not a start,
not a movement stirred the cradled child, from whom "the world was at one
opening quite shut out." The sisters looked at each other, and Janet
knew by Margery's face that there was nothing to be said.
Since it had turned out a weakling, Sir Alexander had shown
but a feeble interest in his heir; and when Margery at his next advent
made known to him the calamity of his child, he answered with a curse,
which Margery flung back: with her steel-blue eyes, as she said, "You need
not call for curses, for they will come sure enough, only the curse
causeless shall not come!"
There are some in our days who believe that an evil course of
life, especially a life of habitual drunkenness—and such was very common
among the gentry fifty years ago—induces a kind of moral insanity. I
for one believe it: there comes a time when the most powerful motives fail
to move the man of sin. He has brought on himself paralysis of the
will, and can no more escape, that is, humanly speaking, from the power of
his bad propensity, cost him what it may, than a paralytic can run from
the fire which is leaping towards his bed. So it seemed to fare with
Sir Alexander Oglivie. Neither fearing God nor regarding man from
his youth up, he went on his way, more and more defying the judgment of
Heaven, more and more heedless of every human obligation. Making
himself mad with cursing, mad with passion, mad with drink, he had turned
his life of pleasure into a life of torture, to which he added day by day.
But the end was at hand.
He and another, a near kinsman, and brother in iniquity, were
riding to the castle along the high road on the cliff. They had been
to the camp near Bleaktown, and both had been drinking and losing at play
all night, and now it was fair broad daylight. Sir Alexander's horse
became restive from the rude handling of his half-tipsy rider, and Gilbert
Oglivie, who was comparatively sober, had more than once urged restraint.
But the demon of rage was in his kinsman's heart, and every now and then
he plunged his spurs into the creature's sides, at the same time reining
him tight as he darted forward. Suddenly, at a narrow and dangerous
part of the road, the animal, who had lost his temper too, and with
greater reason than the other who mastered him, reared and swerved till
his fore-legs for a moment actually overhung the precipice. In
another, Sir Alexander had swung him round and flung himself off. No
sooner were horse and man standing on solid ground, than the master brute
began to use the whip with all the force of ungovernable rage. But
it seemed as if the nobler animal had thrown off restraint, and defied
him, rearing, plunging, and kicking, and baffling his showering strokes.
"Now stop, Oglivie, stop!" cried his sobered companion.
He did not stop, but stepping back for vantage ground to
inflict a heavier blow, he reeled a pace too far, and disappeared over the
He was not gone, however. In his left hand he held the
bridle, and the powerful creature stood the tug and strain, backing
against the bank behind him, though trembling in every limb with the
"Hold on!" cried his companion, dismounting, and flinging
himself on the ground full length, while he looked over the edge, and
reached his hand; but Sir Alexander had clutched a ledge of rock, and
could not seize it without greater danger. He loosed the bridle and
seized another ledge, and by planting his feet in the fissures of the
rock, would soon have scrambled to the path, but in a moment the ledge
crumbled in his hands, the loosened rein was jerked from his hold, and he
fell, rolled rapidly over the stones, and then dropped noiselessly into
the abyss below.
What were Gilbert Oglivie's feelings at that moment no one
ever knew. A poor man passing to his work had witnessed the close of
the tragedy, and was on the spot in time to keep the other from going over
the cliff after his kinsman.
"Ye maun ride roun, sir—a cat couldna keep her feet below the
broo o' that craig!" was the countryman's speech; and seeing it was too
true, Gilbert Oglivie rode round, and warned the servants at the castle,
and told them to prepare the ladies for the worst.
On his return with the dead, Margery refused to see him.
Her father had "died by the judgment of God"—that was her stern verdict;
but neither trace nor parley would she hold with any who had aided and
abetted the course on which that judgment overtook him.
The estate was not entailed, but had been settled by deed on
the children of Sir Alexander and their heirs, passing first to the male
children, and then to the females. So that it had not been in the
father's power to alienate the property, as he might otherwise have done.
Margery and Janet were, however, left totally unprovided for,
with the exception of a small property called "The Forest House," several
miles inland, which they inherited from a relative. It was found,
too, that their father had appointed them guardians of his children by the
second marriage, in the event of his death, by a deed drawn up at the time
of that marriage, and which, they surmised, was none of his suggesting.
To this house of theirs, with the allowance provided for the
infant, the sisters resolved to retire. They were still young women,
though people spoke of them as old. "Old maids" they were called, at
the time when other women are in the midst of the cares of early
Margery, as usual, led the way. "It's a dull house we
are going to," she said to her sister; "but not duller than our days will
"Do you think he will ever be like other bairns, Margery?"
said Janet, alluding to a still darker fate in store for the unconscious
"Never, never," answered Margery; "the bairn's a born idiot.
The sins of the fathers are visited upon the children to the third and
fourth generation," she murmured, bitterly; "but there will be neither
third nor fourth in our line."
Poor Margery! she forgot the redeeming clause of the terrible
penalty—the loving ones who are made the channels of mercy even to those
on whom that penalty falls most heavily.
IN the early part of
the last century, the house of Delaube had been built to receive an
Oglivie and his foreign wife. The origin of the name no one thought
of. It was among the things forgotten, and its poetic meaning, de
l'aube, "of the dawn," had been lost sight of in the neighbourhood.
It was built of the white-and-blue granite of the district, which, when
fresh from the quarry, sparkles like sugar-loaf in the sun. The
granite was rough hewn and the house plain and unpretending. It rose
three storeys high on its little hill, down which its garden ran, cut into
terraced slopes, with steps of granite between. An old-fashioned
garden, with old-fashioned flowers of the hardiest sorts, was the garden
of Delaube. Hardy flower they needs were, facing as they did the
east wind and the sea. The sea, however, was miles away, though
always in sight—a cloud of grey in hazy weather, a belt of shimmering
silver in the sunshine.
Between the house and the sea stretched the lands of Oglivie,
beginning with a broad belt of fir-wood at the foot of the little hill.
Round the back of this hill the firs had marched their ranks, and up its
western slopes; nay, they had clothed it all round, as with a sombre
cloak, save on the east, where the garden ran into the few small fields
that formed the miniature domain. From the windows could be seen,
far away in the west, the grand outlines of the Highland hills. The
house caught the first glimpse of the dawn, flushing out all over in its
light; but whether because of this, or because it had witnessed the dawn
of a new day to the first dwellers there, it had been named Delaube, no
one knew or cared.
The century was twenty years old; the bad old times had
passed away. George III. had died, old and mad and blind, the
saddest and most sobering spectacle that was ever perhaps offered to a
nation, to teach it the vanity of earthly greatness. There was peace
at last. The passions of war had worn themselves out, its wounds
were healing over, and its sad and miserable wrecks had drifted into quiet
havens, or altogether disappeared.
But there are sadder wrecks than even these: the wrecks of
stormy passions and lives of sin.
Just such a stranded wreck in the sea of life was Gilbert
Oglivie, of Delaube. It is needless to go back upon his past.
He had been much abroad, his branch of the family having close ties with
France, and his wife also being a French woman. Till the breaking
out of the Revolution his only son had remained among his mother's
relatives in Paris, and shortly after his return to his father's house had
joined a militia regiment in which the former held command.
But not many years of active life remained to Gilbert Oglivie
in which to retrace his steps towards a better life than he had led in
company with his cousin, wild Sir Alexander. It was said that he had
begun to do this; but, be that as it may, while yet, as it seemed, in full
vigour, he was smitten with paralysis, and condemned to drag out what was
left of life as a hopeless cripple.
At the time of his enforced retirement there was nothing left
of his modest fortune, except his place a Delaube, which he and his son
had visited at intervals and kept up; if maintaining an old servant there
could be said to keep it from falling into decay. At one time Louis
Oglivie had been more at the place than his father, having, for reasons of
his own, exchanged into a regiment stationed near Bleaktown. But
that was before his father's calamity.
The young man had been a universal favourite, except with his
father, who cherished for him a sort of contemptuous toleration, rather
than affection. Gilbert Oglivie was of great stature and stately
bearing; his son was small and almost effeminate. The father was
handsome, the son might with justice have been called beautiful; but Louis
Oglivie was gay and volatile, and wanting in the only virtues which his
father recognized in a man—the will to do and the soul to dare. His
was one of those sweet, but easily-spoiled natures, whose hearts when they
are corrupted seem to rot to the very core, and to leave them a mere pulp
of soulless selfishness.
When the militia were disbanded, at the close of the war,
Louis Oglivie went back to Paris, and Delaube had not seen him since.
He had taken his leave with very little ceremony; for, instead of
complying with his request for money, his father had insisted on his
taking possession of his little daughter, then a child of five years old,
an encumbrance to which he was by no means inclined.
So it had come to pass that little Peggy Oglivie was left at
Delaube, where nobody wanted her, except perhaps Jean, the faithful old
servant who had nursed her father. She was left there simply because
she was not wanted anywhere else.
And in the household on which she had been thrust there was
neither youth nor love. She alone was of the dawn; round its other
inmates the shadows had gathered, and were gathering, for the coming
Gilbert Oglivie sat all day in the chair to which Jean and
her helpmate, "Tammas," carried him every morning, and which was wheeled
out into the garden, when the weather would permit. There he sat
looking out, with his grey eyes hidden under their thick and grisly
eyebrows, on the distant line of sea and sky, with what thoughts of the
past for company no one knew. He had taken little or no notice of
the child; only when she had begun to chatter to the things about her,
speaking to the little birds, and to the bushes, as if they could
understand her speech, he had one day called to Jean to take away "the
brat;" and Peggy had been ignominiously carried off to the region of
cabbages and currant-bushes to the rear, where she made herself, in a very
short time, equally happy.
For Peggy had, fortunately, been gifted with one of those
natures which are irrepressible as light itself. She was regardless
of the frowns of fate, in the shape of the grandfather, in whose name
every louder outburst of grief or glee was summarily checked by Jean.
She would toddle up to him, with some mere knot of a bud or flower which
she had plucked stalkless, or some unripe fruit which she had gathered
from the ground, and expect him to share in her delight. Poor little
one! it was like calling on the dead to live.
And yet in time the fearless confidence of innocence won its
way, and Gilbert Oglivie would pat the fresh cheek with his long thin
finger, and even once, when Jean, hearing her voice louder than usual in
front of the house, would have snatched her away, he sternly bade her
leave the child alone, while Jean went back to her kitchen, shaking her
head over the perversity of men who were never twice in one mind.
On windy days Tammas wheeled his master out as usual, and
knew that, unless the storm brought rain as well, he must be left there to
encounter the blast in his own way. Nothing seemed to rouse him so
much as the wind. He pressed his close-fitting skull-cap of black
velvet down upon his brows, while the blast lifted the grey locks which
escaped from beneath it, and leaning forward, seemed as if every moment he
would burst the bonds which held him and go forth a free man once more.
Alas! it only roused a mad rebellion in the soul which had that helpless
body for its prison-house, which vented itself in curses on those limbs
which would never more obey the will of their owner, and in wild words
against the Power which withheld complete destruction of soul and body.
On one of these days little Peggy had crept up behind her
grandfather's chair, and had listened to words which one would not think
it well for a little child to hear. The words she but half
understood, but the mood was sufficiently intelligible, and she crept away
again, awed and thoughtful, taking refuge with Jean, who was baking in the
After standing beside her quietly for some time, and not, as
usual, making demands for meal to bake miniature cakes with, the child
plucked at Jean's skirt and whispered, gravely, "Why is grandfather angry
with God? is he bad, Jean?"
Jean stopped to look down at the questioner, and
comprehending well enough what had taken place, she answered, with equal
gravity, "Yon must never say that again, Peggy. Grandfather's a sore
sufferer! the hand o' his Maker's heavy on him, and ye maun pity him, my
bairn! How would ye like to be tied to a chair frae morn to night,
and never be able to move without a helpin' hand?"
Very silently the child had stolen away again, and drawn near
to the old man, and, leaning her head on his arm, looked up in his face
with a look of wistful concern, and lisped out, "I am velly solly for poor
grandpapa." Pity from any other source would have roused the lion
nature of the man to rage, but for once he drew the child into his bosom
and kissed her.
Such was the home and such were the surroundings amid which,
with little change from day to day, Peggy Oglivie grew to be a douce
and yet merry little maiden of ten years old.
WILD IN THE WOODS.
OGLIVIE, at her advanced
age of ten years, was possessed of a greater amount of freedom than
usually falls to the lot of girls at that, or any other, time of life.
According to good Mrs. Grant, the wife of the worthy minister of the
parish, she was allowed to "run wild in the woods like a little pagan."
But though, to a certain extent, this was true, she was, not the untaught,
unkempt, uncared-for creature, which the words might lead one to suppose.
Quaintly dressed in garments of wonderful material, and still
more wonderful make, she had yet the appearance of a little lady.
Her skirts of white dimity, and spencers of stiff brocade, were improvised
by Jean out of the contents of an old wardrobe which had belonged to her
grandmother, and which had the grand, primitive quality of being made to
last for ever.
Jean had carefully instilled manners into her little charge,
at the risk of spoiling the work of Nature, for the girl was innately
graceful and gracious. The faithful nurse had also taught her to
read, with the "Shorter Catechism" for a primer, and the Gospel of St.
John for a lesson-book.
Both Jean and her goodman, Tammas, were from beyond the
hills. Gaelic was their native tongue, and they spoke English with
remarkable purity, so that Jean's teaching was not that of an ordinary
Scotch peasant. But, having carried her tuition up to a certain
point, she could go no further, and therefore she contrived that, at the
age of eight, Peggy should be sent to the parish school, under the escort
of Archie and Sandie Grant, the minister's sons, who had to pass the foot
of Delaube every morning on their way thither. They were two or
three years older than Peggy, and being kindly laddies, with no little
sisters of their own, they took freely to the part of big brothers to the
shy little lady given to their charge.
But by the time she was ten, Peggy had outstripped her
companions, as far as learning was concerned, and was able to lend them a
helping hand at their tasks, in return for their ready championship.
The schoolmaster, a scholar himself, as the parish teachers
of Scotland usually were, was a bad hand at drilling dunces, but the trite
scholar fared well under his care. He could make little of Archie
and Sandie Grant, except in the matter of arithmetic, and there little
Peggy was almost a match for the boys. Even the terrible Catechism,
which brought care to the heart of the conscientious Sandie, and taught
Archie to endure the lash with the fortitude of a Red Indian—if it taught
him nothing else—was no trouble to her. The rhythm of its grand and
musical prose got into her head, and glided off her glib little tongue
Now, every Saturday afternoon Archie and Sandie had to go
through a rehearsal at home of all the questions learned during the week,
often to the number of eighteen, and their freedom on that freest of days
depended on their ability to go through the ordeal of which the more
fortunate Peggy knew nothing. She was quite at liberty to forget
what she had learned, and if the meaning of much of it had crossed their
minds, which it never did, it would have been well that they should forget
some of the things set down there. And yet I will not say it was of
no use, or, as some will have it, worse than useless. The Catechism
expresses the convictions of noble-minded and religious men, and the mark
which it makes upon the minds of the children of Scotland is that of a
body of truth to be steadfastly upheld as the background of their lives.
Except when confined at home to make up their quota of
Catechism, Archie and Sandie usually spent the Saturday afternoons with
Peggy in the woods round Delaube, pelting one another with fir-cones,
running up and down the slippery slopes where no grass grew, but where a
thick mat of pine-needles strewed the ground, and gave out their delicious
scent to the tread; and finally fishing in the stream which, hidden by its
wooded banks, ran eastward to the sea, at the bottom of the hill.
"Are you sure you can say them?" demanded Peggy of her
companions, somewhat anxiously, as they parted at the foot of Delaube one
Saturday, a little after noonday, to meet again and spend the long summer
evening as was their wont.
"I'm no sure," said Sandie; "but I'll say them a' the road
hame;" and with that he proceeded to smoothe out the worn pamphlet, and
place it in his bonnet to shield it from the flattering breeze, that he
might con it as he walked.
The more confident Archie, who had been guilty on occasion of
this same bonnet lining, reading from the book whenever he was at a loss,
while he seemed to the master at his desk to be modestly or abstractedly
studying the inside of his cap, was "quite sure." He could not trust
to any trick in his father's study, or his mother's parlour, besides, they
were not fair game, as he considered the dominie; but he believed in
letting his memory remain blank till close upon the time of the exercise,
and then giving off from it a fresh impression committed to it immediately
before. Sometimes his plan succeeded, but oftener it hopelessly and
They had made unusual preparations for a fishing expedition,
and sad would be the disappointment if Archie failed in the preliminary
trial. So it was with a warning word to him that Peggy parted from
her companions, calling after him, "Now, Archie! it will be all your fault
if we can't go to Strathie Pool."
The afternoon's sun had only just begun to slant the shadows
of the fir-trees against the hill, when Peggy set out to keep her tryst.
She had swallowed her dinner, which was neither more nor less than oatcake
and milk, and asked her grandfather if he wanted anything.
Clear of the house and garden, the little lady flew down the
hill-side by the steepest and nearest way, catching at the boles of the
trees to save herself from falling, and heedless alike of hands and hair.
She was all impatience, for had not Archie promised to bring a real set of
fishing-tackle, rod and reel, hooks and flies included? and had not Sandie
promised to make her a basket of rushes, to carry home her share of the
trout they made sure of catching?
A certain point on the bank of the stream was their appointed
place of meeting. Peggy reached it breathless and alone: no one was
there. But that did not discourage her: she was generally first.
So she dallied awhile on her own side of the water, then wandered up and
down, and put her little hands, trumpet-fashion, to her mouth, as she had
seen the boys do, and made the silence ring with their names. No
answering shout, however, came to her listening ear; and at last she
crossed the stepping-stones herself—a thing she was forbidden to do, for
a false step might have landed her in a deep, whirling pool, from which
she could hardly have scrambled without help on to the great smooth
boulders of granite in the middle of the course.
Peggy, however, crossed in safety, climbed the opposite bank,
and went on through the wood on the other side. Still her companions
were not forthcoming. On she went, in her eagerness, straight on,
and never heeding that the way was new to her, unlike the ways on her own
side of the river—never doubting, either, that she would come out clear
on the other side of the wood, as she was in the habit of doing there.
Over broken ground of all kinds she skipped and scrambled, and at last,
tired of running and calling at intervals, she sat down and waited what
she considered a long time. Then, as she thought, she turned back
toward the stepping-stones.
But the ground grew stranger to her, and there was no end of
trees, growing rank on rank as far as she could see, when she reached a
knoll higher than the rest about. She had taken off her little gipsy
hat and tied the ribbons together, and put it over her arm, basket-wise,
filled with treasures; but now she walked slowly, and with a sense of awe,
among the pillared trees, one side black in shadow, and the other red in
the sunset. She was weary, but it was not that which pressed upon
her heart. A new sense of the vast, the unknown, the infinite, had
taken hold of her, and she sat down, sighing heavily.
THE FOREST HOUSE.
PEGGY had not sat down
to cry, as many a little girl would have done. Not that she was, by any
means, above crying, on occasion, but it did not occur to her to feel very
miserable just then. The sharp edge of her disappointment had worn off.
The beauty and stillness soothed her. She began to sing; unconsciously,
because the pillared place was solemn, choosing a solemn strain—her
favourite psalm, set to one of the plaintive melodies of the Scottish
"The Lord's my shepherd, I'll not want,
He makes me down to lie
In pastures green; he leadeth me
The quiet waters by."
The blackbird drowned her sweet low warble with his loud
clear song, and the thrush began where the blackbird left off. Her
voice was lost in the sunset concert of the wood; but the light little
figure could be seen against the dark background for some distance through
a favourable opening in the trees, and so it came to pass that she had
been seen by one who drew near in aimless curiosity, near enough to catch
a few notes of her psalm.
The elderly woman who sauntered up to the tree where Peggy
sat, was a great deal shyer than the child, and would have most likely
sauntered past, and turned back without having courage to speak, but that
Peggy rose and advanced eagerly, asking the nearest way to Delaube.
Instead of giving a direct answer to the simple question, the
lady replied by asking another, in a half-startled tone: "Do you come from
Peggy nodded and smiled her assent.
"And what's your name?"
"Peggy Oglivie," answered the girl.
"My name is Janet Oglivie," said the lady, meekly, and as if
she addressed an equal, "and I will show you if you will come with me.'"
The girl had no hesitation, and they turned at once in the
direction from which her guide had approached. But the latter got
into a flutter of excitement as she led the way, looking back every now
and then to see if Peggy followed.
They soon came to a low wall, built of loose stone, overgrown
with moss and grass, and overtopped by a thick screen of elder-bushes that
grew within the enclosure. The trees beyond seemed to stand as
thickly as in the wood, only they were of various kinds—slender birches
and stunted oaks, mingling with stately pines. A wicket gate let
them into a damp and obscure path, over which the elder-trees had
stretched their boughs till they almost roofed it in. The air was
heavy with the odour of their thick white blossoms. A sense of
oppressive heaviness made itself felt about the place.
Through a high hedge into a kitchen garden, at the back an
irregular mass of stone-built outhouses, Peggy was led round to the front
of the house, longer and lower than Delaube, but of the same material and
"Stay here till I speak to my sister," said Miss Janet
Oglivie, leaving her there, and disappearing within the house.
In a few minutes she returned, and holding out her hand to
Peggy, drew her first into a square hall, and then into a long low room,
darkened by the trees that grew up almost within reach of the windows.
At one window, which looked westward, there was a shimmer of burning gold
through the all-surrounding trees. But turning within, all was
sombre and chill—wide, shining spaces of panelled wood, straight-backed
chairs, covered with black hair-cloth, set against the walls at intervals,
a barren plain of shining dark mahogany in the centre—everything was hard
and dark and monotonous. On the polished granite mantelshelf stood a
ghost-like clock, framed in a white china structure, which resembled a
tomb, ticking loudly in the silence. A dreary blankness of
expression pervaded the apartment, or rather, it was expressionless as
A lady sat in one of the windows, before a little work-table,
sewing something large and white—it might have been a shroud. She
had chosen not the one sunny window, but what seemed the darkest of the
other three. She was dressed in black silk, and had a pale and rigid
face, with eyes of steely blue, which might have played softly once, and
even melted, but which were hard and fixed now. Her plentiful hair
of mingled red and grey was done into three stiff bows on each side of her
forehead, and behind was reared into a formidable structure, upheld by an
enormous tortoiseshell comb of shining red and black.
Peggy fixed her eyes upon the point at once, till they were
withdrawn by the voice of Miss Margery saying, sharply—
"So you are Peggy Oglivie." The little stranger felt
herself shrinking from the keen inspection of the cold blue eyes.
"And what's brought you here?" the voice went on in a harsh tone.
"Oh, Margery! " interposed Miss Janet, "she'll be both tired
and hungry, for she lost her way in the wood."
"Sit down and get something to eat," said Miss Margery,
"No, thank you," said Peggy; "I want to go home."
"Ye're no Oglivie," said the former abruptly (Miss Janet had
left the room for some hospitable purpose): "ye'll take after your mother,
"Jean says I'm no like my mother, for she was the bonniest
leddy she ever saw."
"A bonnie leddy, indeed!" sneered the grim woman; "the less
said about her the better. No, no, ye are no Oglivie," she repeated,
still looking keenly at the girl, and with a dissatisfied air, as if it
was a great defection from duty on Peggy's part.
There was something in the tone which roused the girl's
spirit. "I don't want to be like the Oglivies," she answered,
"And what for no, Miss Peggy?" asked the lady, secretly
Gentle little Peggy hesitated a moment, from instinctive
aversion to say ungentle words. But the sneer about her mother made
her reply, "Because they are neither good nor bonnie."
Instead of being angry, Miss Margery relaxed into a grim
"That's true," she answered, and then went on, more sternly:
"The Oglivies are an ill race to come of: the judgment of God has
"Stop, Margery; you're frightening the bairn," said her
sister, re-entering the room; "she's grown as white as a sheet."
But it was not the words of her kinswoman which had made the
sensitive colour fly out of Peggy's cheeks. It was an apparition at
one of the gloomy windows. A tall form crowned with a shock of red
hair, from beneath which looked a weird white face, was standing there.
It was the form of manhood, with the gait and gestures of infancy.
He waved in one hand a flag of paper, and with the other grasped the
window-sill; and seeing the strange inmate of the room, began to make the
most hideous grimaces and gesticulations.
Whether from fear, or from some other instinct common to the
wild, shy creatures of the wood, in an instant Peggy had shot past Miss
Janet, standing in the open doorway, crossed the hall, and sped straight
forward over the grass-plot, and between the trees, and out of a gate,
which also happily stood open. Every faculty quickened a
hundredfold, she descried a glean of the river in the distance, and made
straight for it. Instinctively she turned the right way along its
banks, with the sunset flaming in her face, and reached the familiar
steppingstones, and there sat Archie and Sandie, waiting with a
philosophic patience which Peggy might well have envied.
"Where have you been, Peggy?" greeted her from both in a
breath. "We were only kept in a little while. Mother came and
heard me;" said Archie, "before my time was up."
To all of which Peggy responded by letting fall her hat full
of treasures, covering her face with her hands, and sobbing bitterly.
She had not cried till she was out of the wood, but now she could not stop
weeping, and the two loyal little fellows, one on each side, walked up the
hill towards home with her, in silent commiseration.
PEGGY DEMANDS AN EXPLANATION.
JEAN'S indignation knew
no bounds, when she gathered from the quivering lips of her little
mistress where she had been and the reception she had met with. "Ye'll
never go near them again, the ill-faured (ill-favoured), hard-hearted
limmers. They turned your mother away from their doors on as bleak a
night as ever blew, and her in her trouble too; it's my belief her death
lies at their door," she said in her heat, which was rather more than
"Tell me about my mother, Jean," said Peggy, with a sudden
calmness, fixing her eyes on the woman's face.
"It's very little I ken about her," answered Jean, wavering
under the look, "and that little sad enough; better let it rest."
"That's just what they said," cried the girl, impatiently.
"Why am I never to speak about her? Why did she die and leave me?"
she went on, passionately. "You said they killed her, and if you
won't tell me, I'll go to gran'father and ask all about her."
"You'll do no such thing," said Jean, in alarm; "besides,
you'll vex him and make him ill, and I can tell you more than he can.
So be a good lassie, and you'll hear in time."
The plea for her grandfather was a bit of domestic diplomacy
on the part of Jean. There was something in the permanent affliction
and helplessness of the man which appealed to the forbearance of the girl,
and had done so from her earliest years. So she returned to the
attack on Jean.
And Jean pacified her with an account of her mother's illness
and death, in which there were discrepancies for the girl to ponder; gaps
in the little history, on which she meditated till Jean was called upon to
answer the awkward questions which would fill them up. And what with
the sadness of the tale, and the mystery which hung about it, a shade of
dreaminess came to sober the natural vivacity of the girl, and to give her
more and more of the odd feeling she so well described as "walking in a
As time went on, Jean had been obliged to fill up most of
these gaps in her narrative, and to linger on the details in order to
satisfy the girl's craving for some knowledge of her unknown mother, and,
in truth, to gratify herself when she was no longer in fear of its doing
harm, and considered Peggy of an age to understand.
But for this lingering, the story was a very brief one.
It was simply that at the darkening of a cold spring day, when the bitter
east wind was blowing, and the house was shut for the night, when Tammas
and Jean were sitting down to their supper of porridge and milk, a tap
came to the door, too distinct to be mistaken for the wind. It was
at the kitchen entrance, which looked down into the wood, just then
sounding like a sea in the roar of the blast. On opening the door,
Jean had found a countryman, bearing a box on his shoulders with one hand,
and with the other trying to support a woman, who had sunk down evidently
in a fainting condition. The man said he hoped they had come to the
right place at last. The young woman wanted Mr. Louis Oglivie, but
at any rate he would take her no further that night, as it would be
nothing short of murder. His cart was at the foot of the hill, and
he had toiled up with her and her box, and meant to leave them there.
She had wanted to be taken to Mr. Oglivie's, and did not seem quite to
know where; so he had taken her to "The Forest House," because there were
ladies there; and she had told her story, whatever it was, the man said,
and been sent away. He had lifted her into the cart again, thinking
she would die every minute; and, as he did not want to have a dead woman
on his hands, they had better take her in.
During this explanation, they had carried her between them
into the warm kitchen and laid her before the fire, all glowing with
red-hot peat, and the flame of the pinesticks, which Tammas threw on from
time to time. When she "came to herself," as Jean expressed it, she
had strength enough left to tell them the claim she had on the house, as
the wife of Louis Oglivie, and to plead, not for her own sake, for she
seemed past caring what became of herself, but for the sake of her unborn
child, that she might stay under the roof which her husband had promised
should shelter her. "She was the bonniest creature I ever saw," Jean
always said at this point, "and the look in her een would have melted the
heart of a stone."
Then Jean, in fear and trembling, had gone to Mr. Gilbert
Oglivie, to tell him what had happened, and in the meantime the countryman
had taken an unceremonious leave.
"He was never a hard man with women, Gilbert Oglivie," Jean
would go on to say, half to herself, "and he neither answered good nor bad
when I told him how his son's wife had come home; and when I asked, 'What
am I to do with her?' he only said, 'Make her as comfortable as you can.'
Poor man! his trouble was new to him then, and I was feared to tell him;
but I needn't hae been, for he was aye good to womenfolk." '
Then Jean had sent Tammas trudging three good miles for the
doctor, and he had not been in the house half an hour, after driving in
hot haste in his gig, before the baby was born. And the mother lived
through it, and would have lived, Jean asserted, but for the chill at her
heart. Jean believed that she died of not wishing to live.
"Mr. Louis did not mean to forsake her like that," she would say, but his
regiment had been ordered to Ireland some months before, and he had left
her behind, promising to prepare for her reception at his father's house.
He was always for leaving things to chance, especially when he was at a
distance; always averse to doing what was disagreeable to himself, or
anybody else, if he was in immediate contact with the person who had to
He had failed to send money—"His pretty Peggy could get all
she wanted for a time in his name, without money." He had failed to
write to his father—"People would take care of her, if it came to the
worst. He would run down and take her to his home." Such was
the infirm purpose, the shallow heart, the selfishly indulgent nature of
And the tender trust of the girlish wife was shaken, so
deeply shaken, that even had she lived it must have died. Yet if she
had survived her sorrow, much might have been changed for the better in
the career, if not in the character, of Louis Oglivie. She would
have risen up, strengthened herself, to support and strengthen him.
During the few days she lived she had made this impression on the
hard-headed, warm-hearted Jean, so that she would often say with a sigh,
"If she had lived she would have made a man of Mr. Louis." This
indeed was to be doubted, seeing that Nature had not furnished the
material for that purpose.
Yet the dying girl did not seem to love her husband less
because of his fatal weakness, but more perhaps. Her eyes had been
opened to the feebleness of the bright, facile nature of the man she had
married; but her heart yearned over that feebleness as it might over the
weakness and helplessness of an infant. She seemed to be unconscious
of the help and strength that was in her, and thought, in her humility,
that his child might lay stronger hold on his affections than she had been
able to do, and so with her last breath she had prayed that this little
one might lead him. So in those last days she opened her heart to
She had her purposes and her plans. There was her
little box. She had not spent a penny that she could help since he
had left her. She had stinted herself in every way, that she might
not contract a single debt. She had only in extremity thrown herself
upon his relations, believing, too, that he would have authorized it; but
his prolonged silence and her sudden illness, together with the rough
journey and harsh reception, had run the sensitive spirit too low.
It is idle to say that people do not die of broken hearts; that sorrow
does not kill; sorrow does kill—not as the sword or the bullet kills, but
in its own way, slowly but surely sapping the foundations of life, and
opening the door to the death that lies in wait for us at every turn.
Even at the last, an access of hope might have saved the poor
young mother; but instead of that, hope deferred sickened her heart.
No letter came from her husband. The day after her death it arrived,
and fell into the hands of Gilbert Oglivie, who had till then refused to
see her, and who laid it in her coffin, looking on his son's wife for the
first and the last time.
THE MANSE OF STRATHIE.
"GOING already!" said
Dr. Grant—the minister of Strathie was a doctor of divinity, and was duly
honoured with the title—"going already, Mistress Peggy? won't you stay and
see your old friends? the coach is due in less than half an hour."
The friends in question were Archie and Sandie, who were
coming home at the close of their first term at college.
"I'll be in time to see the coach come round the foot of the
hill, where I mean to stand and wave my handkerchief; but I'm wanted at
home this afternoon," said Peggy, holding out her hand. "Good-bye;
I'll see them at the kirk to-morrow," she added, with a parting smile.
The doctor was pacing up and down the shady side of the
garden, in the sunny afternoon, engaged in meditation, as was his wont on
Saturday. It is the custom among the Scottish clergy to give up that
day to preparation for the work of the morrow. The good doctor's
preparations were of no very exhaustive or exhausting kind. He read
his Bible, walked up and down his study or his garden, indulged in
frequent recreative sallies into the outer world, and had no objection to
interruptions of any kind. If they were not very intense or
profound, these meditations of his must have been sweet and wholesome at
the least, for he overflowed with the milk of human kindness on all who
came near him at such times.
The truth was that the reverend doctor had a very easy mind.
He seldom underwent the labour of thought which wrings the brain. In
a great chest in the study lay a whole body of divinity, in the shape of
his own and his father's sermons, upon which he had drawn for the last
twenty years. The sermons were taken in rotation from one side of
the chest, and, having been duly read, or rather recited, on Sunday, they
were laid, face downward on the other side. When the pile was
finished, it had only to be turned, and the process began again.
Occasionally, a new head was added, or a fresh application made; but these
were written on the spur of the moment, generally, when some exciting or
solemnizing event had taken place among his parishioners.
The doctor's sermons were careful and finished compositions,
in the Blair style; and though strangers from the neighbouring parishes,
accustomed to more stirring stuff, shook their heads and murmured that he
was a "mere moralist," "a dry stick," "a dumb dog," according to the
acerbity of their tastes and tempers, his own people loved their doctor
dearly, and upheld his preaching warmly, dwelling especially on his great
gift of dispensing with the paper—read sermons being obnoxious to all
well-constituted kirk-goers. The doctor knew his sermon by heart.
Peggy Oglivie had come to spend the Saturday afternoons at
the manse, as regularly as the doctor took to his meditations. Mrs.
Grant was supposed to be alone on these occasions; and she had assumed
quite a motherly control over the friendless little girl. Peggy had
been the pet of the parish schoolmaster, her husband's principal crony,
with whom he played interminable games of chess. She had been the
playmate of her boys, and she was a regular and attentive attender at the
kirk. Mrs. Grant had resolved to patronize her, and indulge her
curiosity about the family at the same time; but being a good woman, and
motherly, in a measure, she ended by liking her as much as it was possible
for her to like any one beyond her own little family circle of husband and
So when the boys went up to the grammar-school, and Peggy had
learnt all that the schoolmaster was thought competent to teach a girl,
Mrs. Grant took her to task in the matter of feminine accomplishments,
and, finding her utterly destitute, set to work to teach her fine
needlework, and, at Peggy's earnest petition, the flower-painting, on
which she justly prided herself.
Half a dozen times in the course of the afternoon would the
doctor look in upon their labours, generally with some joke that had
occurred to him, or with some almost boyish ebullition of spirits to give
vent to. He would come behind Peggy, and put his great hand before
her eyes while she sat at work—a trick which he would equally have played
his lady-wife, but for the discouragement it had met with in their early
days, and which had led to its discontinuance.
And on this particular afternoon he was more than usually
restless and erratic, and the restlessness communicated itself to his
wife. "The boys" were expected, and there were speculations as to
how they would look, and how much they had grown, what rank they had
taken, and what prizes they had won. Long before her usual hour,
Peggy had risen to take her leave. She had witnessed their
home-coming before; but then they were only schoolboys, now it was
different: college had invested them in her eyes with the attributes of
There is scarcely such a thing in Scotland as a domestic
demonstration. The schoolboy is seldom welcomed back with kisses or
tears; and, as far as outward tokens of affection were concerned, the
whole parish might have witnessed unmoved the simple hand-shaking that
would greet the youths on their return; but there were tones of voice and
shades of expression which Peggy's quick instinct taught her suffered
repression in the presence of a stranger, and so she came out and said
"good-bye" to the doctor, and tripped indoors again to go through the same
ceremony with his wife, and then took her way homeward, a shade more
subdued and grave than was her wont.
As soon as her young companion was gone, Mrs. Grant joined
her husband in his walk. At the top of the garden, which sloped up
from the road, they stood still to look after Peggy.
"One of your lang loons (tall lads) will be falling in love
with Mistress Peggy some of these days," said the doctor, as he watched
the pretty figure disappear among the trees on the other side.
The minister's wife gave her spouse a reproachful look, which
said as plain as look could say, that he wronged his personal and
professional dignity by jocularities of that kind; but the only verbal
answer she vouchsafed was the emphatic word, "Nonsense!"
"She's a bonnie lass, to my thinking," continued the worthy
man, " and better than she's bonnie."
"She's well enough, though no great beauty, as far as I can
see," replied his spouse. "She's certainly very much improved;" and
for this improvement Mrs. Grant took credit to herself. "It's a
shame of her relations to neglect her as they do," she went on; "she might
have been a comfort to them now; but I fear Jean's story is no the right
one after all, and that her mother was not what she should have been."
"Jean's story's plain enough," said the minister, whom any
approach to censoriousness nettled: "Gilbert Oglivie would never have
harboured the child, if the mother had not been his son's lawful wife.
And suppose she hadn't been, that's no fault to Peggy. She has more
sense in her little finger, than I ever saw in a woman's whole bulk
His wife took no notice of this flattering speech, further
than to observe, "She'll need it all, or I'm mistaken."
"That she will," replied the doctor. "It's a heavy
house for a young thing to live in. Every one but herself more
failing, and feckless (pithless) than another; even Jean's getting stiff,
except at the tongue."
"She's a faithful creature, that Jean, as ever lived," said
Ms. Grant, changing the subject,
"That she is," rejoined her husband. "Jean and I have
been excellent friends ever since the time when she turned me away from
the door, on my first round of visitation, because her master, poor,
perverse sinner! had sworn that neither for soul nor body should doctors
come near him. What a time it seems since then!" he sighed, and the
lads were but bairns."
"There will be changes at Delaube before long," remarked Mrs.
Grant. "The old man will be found dead in his bed some day."
"Poor little Peggy!" said the kind-hearted minister, "what's
to become of her? I wonder if her grandfather has made any provision
for her? If the place is only free, and that scapegrace of a father
keeps out of the way, she will be safe enough."
"But the place is not free—I'm sure of that. Delaube's
drowned in debt, and I know they can hardly make ends meet. If it
hadn't been for Jean, they would never have been able to hold on.
Indeed, I would little wonder to see them turned out of it yet, beggars,
before the old man dies."
Meantime, with a graver gait and a heavier heart than usual,
Peggy was sauntering up the side of the wooded brae which the coach must
shortly pass. She was thinking of her old companions, whom she would
fain have welcomed, and feeling a pain at the remembrance of a pain, which
had risen when the sight of a former homecoming had suggested the
inevitable, "You are not one of us," which must always be felt by
the mere onlooker on such occasions.
A sort of sigh of desolateness, such as sometimes swept
through her beloved wood, heaved her heart. She thought of the grave
in Strathie churchyard, which she had searched out among the nameless
dead, where her mother lay—of the father who was a father but in name—of
the one tie which bound her to the living, an old man who often told her
that he was already dead.
The young girl's natural healthfulness of spirit had to
struggle hard against the morbid atmosphere of her home. Her
activity met only the dull lethargy of age and disease, her vivacity its
lifelessness and lack of interest. The firs on the hill-side grew
among their fellows, and taught her at times to feel alone. The
birds in their nests would whisper that she had been less cared for than
they; but in general the happy youthful spirit triumphed, and shook off
such influences, as the firs shook off the showers from their glossy
branches, leaving her mind unwarped in its growth.
She stood leaning against a tree, a fresh wild rose on her
cheek, an ethereal gleam in her eyes—the tears just then were not far from
them—and a meditative earnestness on her broad brow, as the old coach came
rattling up the road. There they were on the look-out for home.
She almost draws back; but they have seen her. Archie has bounded up
to his full height, and he is close on six feet, and is endangering the
lives of the passengers by making the old coachman twist his neck in the
same direction in which he is waving his cap, with arms that project
considerably beyond their covering garments. The soberer Sandie sits
and waves his recognition, though it is not a whit less hearty.
As for Peggy, she changes in a moment, attitude and mood at
once. She is laughing and shaking her handkerchief gleefully; and
all the way round the hill she will burst into little silvery rills of
laughter, as she conjures up the figure of Archie with his wild head and
long red wrists, standing full length on the coach-box.
A SCOTCH SABBATH.
THE Sabbath of Scotland
has been very much maligned. I do not remember often to have seen it
defended on reasonable grounds; yet it might be so defended readily
enough. The complete cessation of labour, the perfect repose which
prevailed and still prevails in an unsophisticated Scotch town on the
first day of the week, might easily be proved more recreative than any
amount of animal enjoyment, which is the almost universal substitute for
church-going among the bulk of the people elsewhere. In such a town
the streets are clear from end to end; not a wheel turns, not a
shop-window stares: everything is at rest. Compare this to the
Sunday dissipation to be seen in any quarter of a city like London, the
loaded omnibuses; the crowded steamers; the wearied, flurried women; the
dusty and thirsty and, at the end of the day, tipsy men; the sleepy,
fretful children. Such cities as London have their special needs,
and you cannot bring into them the repose of a country town; but days like
these do not meet the requirements of either soul or body, in the way of
The little "toon," or village, of Strathie, was by no means
so rigidly righteous, in respect of Sabbath observance, as some of its
neighbours. It took its tone from its worthy minister, and he was
considered a decided latitudinarian; but, by universal and time-honoured
custom and consent, every soul in the parish, from three years old and
upwards, appeared in church at the two diets of public worship, with the
exception of the sick, or the disabled, and those engaged in such
necessary offices as nursing or tending cattle. The cooking of a
Sunday's dinner, for instance, would not have been held a valid plea on
the part of an absentee. The Sunday's dinner could cook itself.
For those who went home for a midday meal, the broth was ready. A
big iron pot, not quite full of water, was swung over the fire with a
piece of meat in it and a few handfuls of barley, and amongst this, just
before church time, was shred a quantity of vegetables—any sort that came
to hand with the season, from winter leeks to early peas and carrots.
There it simmered safely and quite untended till the return of the family,
when it was dealt out into wooden basins, and despatched with horn spoons.
Or the kettle was kept boiling on the crook, or swing, for the still more
expeditions and inexpensive dish of oatmeal brose.
The services were conducted on this wise:—The congregation
assembled at half-past ten or eleven in the morning, and after a service
of two hours' duration, consisting of two long prayers and a sermon which
lasted an hour at least, enlivened by four verses of a psalm, half an
hour's interval was allowed for refreshment. Then those who had not
been able to attend the first diet might join the second; and those who
thought fit might retire. Such of the congregation, however, as came
from a distance remained and took, their refreshment in the churchyard.
There they formed picturesque little groups, sitting down on the grass, or
on the tabular tombstones, eating their cakes and cheese, drinking milk,
and sometimes stronger liquid, out of bottles, and making ready to hold
out for other two or three hours more.
The village was close beneath the church, but it nestled
unseen down in a little strath, or glen, formed by the banks of the river
receding, and leaving a broad meadow scarcely above the level of the
stream; and the manse, or minister's house, was close to the church, both
seeming to stand alone on the high ground. Dr. Grant and his family
always retired during the short interval, and were not expected to invite
any one to accompany them, as such hospitality might have interfered with
the duties of the day.
No graver maiden than Peggy Oglivie sat through those long
services. If her thoughts wandered, as, truth to tell, they often
did, it was in the direction given them by the sacred influences of the
time and place. Often they ceased to wander, and dwelt in a
quiet—which was a state of consciousness rather than of active thought—a
consciousness that drank in the subdued light as it streamed through the
ivied window, and the rustle of the breeze among the trees without, that
came in at the open door, and the sound of the voice above her head, and
mingled them all in a meditative dream. If a familiar text was given
cut, Peggy, who knew what would follow almost as well as did the doctor
himself, thought it no sin to give up her mind to such a mood, and let the
voice stream over her as the clouds stream over the growing grain,
dropping now and then a refreshing shower as they pass.
On the Sunday after the return of his sons, the doctor had
chosen a favourite sermon, on David called from keeping the sheep to be
King of Israel,—a sermon that came oftener than its turn—and was an
exhortation to the young to prepare with all diligence for the unknown
duties of life. Peggy knew it by heart. It came out when any
of the peasant proprietors of the parish sent up a son to college; it came
out again, with an application to the case in hand, when the youth came
back with the prize for which he had laboured—the little purse which would
enable him to complete his course.
There in their father's pew sat Archie and Sandie, to whom
the present application was to be made. Peggy's mind followed the
train of thought, stirred into unusual activity by the presence of her old
playfellows fresh from college. What eminence might they not win!
what pitch of greatness might they not reach!—and by greatness, Peggy did
not mean worldly grandeur, but learning and goodness: and, somehow, she
would be left behind. Thus her dream ran. The doctor was
speaking of such, in a voice more sad and solemn than was his wont.
Then, somehow, she grasped a greater thought than the good man had
uttered, that all could not be blessed as givers, could not exercise the
large beneficences, but must bless the givers themselves as humble
receivers of their gifts, and the thought bent her head lower and made her
eyes burn with a steadier light. She would be content to be left
behind for services of love to such.
Very good she looked, half-child and half-woman, with her
fresh face shaded by the huge bonnet of the day, her brown curls
clustering round her neck and brow in the then fashionable crop. The
bonnet had been purchased in Bleaktown by Mrs. Grant herself, who had
caused it to be adorned with a top-knot of green ribbons, striped with
white, in imitation of the grass popularly called "gardener's garters."
To the praise of that lady be it said, the distinguished appearance of
Mistress Peggy was due to her exertions more than to that young lady's
own. It was she who had caused the white frock and pelerine to be
submitted to abler hands than Jean's, besides procuring the crowning glory
of that bonnet. It considerably hid, indeed, the attractions of the
wearer, consisting as it did of an enormous circular plate of straw tied
over the head and under the chin, and, of course, projecting before and
behind. It was "big enough," Jean declared, "to keep the moonlight
frae a toon." Nevertheless it was a distinction to wear a bonnet,
for the congregation could boast of but few. There was Mrs. Grant
herself, bolt upright at the head of her pew, with a tower of tuscan on
her head, adorned with immense bows of yellow and white; and some
half-dozen wives of the shopkeepers, or "merchants," as they are styled to
this day, crowned with structures no less large and magnificent.
But the "wives," as distinguished from the "ladies," had
their white matches (caps), trimmed with a plain band of white or black
ribbon, the hoods of their grey or scarlet cloaks, or the corners of their
plaids, serving for defence against rain and wind; and the lasses had
their simple snoods tied round their glossy hair.
The faces of the congregation were gravely attentive.
It was not to be guessed from them that the discourse was not new, as well
as good and true; indeed, the bulk of them would have agreed with the
doctor, that they had no right to find fault with the preaching, until
they could practise all that was preached—a heresy which came of living in
a Laodicea like Strathie! It was said that on one occasion a
refractory farmer had told the doctor that a certain sermon, directed
plainly against the besetting sin of the parish, was just "like cauld kale
het again." "Well, well, as you're no out o' the need o't yet, I'll
no let it hae time to cool," said the minister, and preached it
accordingly on the Sunday following.
Archie and Sandie sat hanging their heads rather ruefully,
and finding some difficulty in disposing of their long legs in the narrow
pew. They were well-looking lads enough, a little ungainly and rough with
the signs of coming manhood. Honest, affectionate fellows they seemed, and
indeed, wore; but constitutionally lazy, like their father before them.
They had done simply nothing in their first term. They had taken
their pleasures together, and none of their pleasures had been tainted
with vice; but they had learned little and gained nothing. Their
father was making the suitable application, which he had already rehearsed
for their benefit, and it must be confessed they looked a little sheepish
At the time of the service they had been casting stray
glances at Peggy, indicative of their ancient understanding and yet when
the half-hour of release arrived, there was a certain shyness about their
After the first greeting, the three sat down upon a
table-like tombstone, Peggy in the middle, and one of the lads on each
side, their long legs tucked under the tomb, and their long backs carved
in an attitude of eager attention they had not manifested during the
"We're in the black books this time," were the first words
spoken by Archie.
"What, both of you?" said Peggy, with a look of concern.
Archie nodded, and both faces lengthened considerably, as
they read the disappointment in hers.
"Oh, Archie!" was all that Peggy had time to say, the doctor
and Mrs. Grant coming up.
"We'll make up for it yet," said he, bravely.
"That's always your way, Archie," said his brother; "and you
may, but I never shall make up for lost time. I'm right sorry,"
added the honest fellow, with tears in his eyes.
Both mother and father heard the last of the brief colloquy,
and were touched by it. Jean had gone back to Delaube to wait on
master and man; and Peggy declined to come into the manse, saying she
wanted to walk to the village and back before the second sermon.
When that too was over, and the congregation was dispersing
for the day, Peggy would have parted from her friends with a distant nod
and smile; but they had made up their minds beforehand, and Archie, who
was general spokesman, managed to whisper to his mother, before they were
out of the kirk, "We're going to walk part of the way with Peggy."
Mrs. Grant had uttered her stiff "very well" before she knew
what she was about, for it had taken her by surprise, that change from the
"may we" of boyhood to the "we are" of manhood. A moment after, she
felt it, and did not like it; but they were gone after the girl.
The doctor came up as she stood in the porch. "There
they are, dangling after that lassie, as I thought they would," said the
maladroit man, driving the little splinter into the quick; "but I'm
thinking her preaching will have more effect than mine."