Peggy Oglivie (1)

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PEGGY OGLIVIE'S INHERITANCE.
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CHAPTER I.

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 senseless crew.

    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 their iniquities.

    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 of stone.
 

    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 had perished.

    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 monotonous.

    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 least."

    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 there.

    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.


 
CHAPTER II.

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 tears.

    "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 cliff.

    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 sudden shock.

    "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 motherhood.

    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 be."

    "Do you think he will ever be like other bairns, Margery?" said Janet, alluding to a still darker fate in store for the unconscious heir.

    "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.


 
CHAPTER III.

DELAUBE.


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 night.

    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 kitchen.

    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.


 
CHAPTER IV.

WILD IN THE WOODS.


PEGGY 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 like magic.

    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 dismally failed.

    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.


 
CHAPTER V.

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 kirk:


"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 Delaube?"

    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 plainness.

    "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 living death.

    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, stiffly.

    "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, doubtless."

    "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, bravely.

    "And what for no, Miss Peggy?" asked the lady, secretly amused.

    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 smile.

    "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 overtaken them."

    "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.


 
CHAPTER VI.

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 prudence warranted.

    "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 story."

    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 suffer.

    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 the man.

    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 Jean.

    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.


 
CHAPTER VII.

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 sons.

    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 manhood.

    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 before."

    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.


 
CHAPTER VIII.

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 rest.

    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 under it.

    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 meeting.

    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 sermon.

    "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."



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