Family Fortunes (II)

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V.

A Soliloquy and a Song.


MR. FARQUHAR duly accepted the application and the references of Mr. Demetrius Turner, and that gentleman accordingly took possession of his apartments at the end of the month.

    And so life once more promised to flow in a long, even current.  Rab had matriculated, and at the next term Laurence was to leave school and take in a bookseller's shop such a post as Rab had held in a chemist's.  He, too, might look forward to a college education later, but the family income would certainly not bear two student-members at once; besides, Mr. Farquhar had some views of his own on these matters, and held that a boy who has been kept steadily at his work is likely at sixteen to know all that school can teach him, and will probably apply himself with greater zeal and receive more real benefit from the higher education when a little practical life has shown him more of its value, and has sharpened faculties which scholastic training may leave dormant.  The form of this practical training was chosen with an eye to each lad's natural bent and probable future.  Rab had always turned to science, Laurence to art.  The boyish joy of the one had been in steam-engines, of the other in old castles.  Rab's pocket-money had gone on batteries and microscopes, and Laurence's on poetry books.  The two brothers had always been cordial and united in all their wide difference.  Rab made Æolian harps, and Laurence lay awake and listened to their weird music, and would not feel vexed even when Rab turned uneasily in his sleep and grumbled something about "a beastly row."

    Perhaps it was because they were so different that Margery could never say, even in her own heart, which brother she loved the most.  They were both younger than she was, but she felt towards Rab much as she might towards an elder brother.  His opinion was asked and his dictum obeyed; to his tool-box she appealed in any household disaster; for his strong arm she asked when any household weight defeated Barby's strength.  Laurence might be consulted in his way.  He had always chosen their resorts on holidays; and a newspaper leader allusion must be very out of the way indeed if he could not explain it; but practically he was the one to be taken care of, to be watched in the matter of wet boots or squeamish appetite.  And yet, if he touched the motherliness of his sister's heart in one way which Rab did not, Rab stirred it in another.  Rab had always seemed in dangers from which Laurence's studious habits and shrinking sensitiveness might easily secure him.  Rab had had his restive times, his doubtful boy-companions, his rough-and-ready repudiation of sundry good old rules and habits.  These had all seemed but temporary aberrations; in the main he was now a frank, kindly, dutiful youth.  But what form might such outbreaks take if they occurred again in early manhood?  Nobody would have laughed more heartily than Rab if he could have known how, for his sake, poor Margery was haunted by the remembrance of a student whom she had once seen dismissed, in drivelling drunkenness, from a public entertainment.  The city was not without its dismal legends of this kind.  There was Will Fraser's story for one.  And there was that of the brilliant student—the pride of his comrades and the hope of his professors—who suddenly disappeared from the scene of his triumphs, and was only afterwards heard of, uncertainly, as immersed in miserable drudgery in far-off lands, living as they live who have left broken hearts behind them and have endless remorse in front.

    Margery was not one of those secure and heedless natures who think their own ventures must ride safely on rough seas, let whose will go down.  Because of her great love for Rab, she feared for him, as, without that love, she would never have feared for so steady and hopeful a lad.  She scarcely knew what she feared.  She was only a girl, and did not know the world.  She only knew that wrecks came home from the seas her brothers' lives were venturing on; she was not so sure of the rocks on which they had split.  And now that they were both out in the world, she began to be aware of a strange loneliness which she had not felt while they were all school children, nor even while Laurence remained a schoolboy.  They were forming a new and wider circle of acquaintance into which she did not enter.  If they made new friends, she would get to know them; but from the mere routine interests of their fresh life she felt excluded.

    We are all apt to have strange suspicions of that from which we are shut out.  A locked closet becomes a skeleton cupboard.  It was now that Margery was in danger of falling into the common female error of deprecating masculine ways and masculine weaknesses as something tending to the wild and sinful.  The pale monk or nun, living a useless life in a cloistered cell, could scarcely believe what an innocent, honest Christian the ploughman might be whom they heard singing at his work in the sunshine.  And the lives of too many women, supposed to be free to go in and out among us, are nevertheless cloistered lives.  They are free—yes, free as were the unwilling nuns whom the Reformation turned from their convents; free, that is, from the peace and security of bodily imprisonment, but not free from the thraldom of a thousand petty obligations and rules of will-worship fettered about their very souls.

    To such women a man's cigar is a device of the devil instead of a weakness—useless may be, extravagant perhaps, injurious possibly, but certainly on no lower moral plane than their own sweetmeats.  A man's interest in politics is "worldly"—the conflict between the principles of Toryism and Whiggism is not recognized as involving precisely the same issues as those which lie between ecclesiastical parties.  A man's ready fellowship with people of all grades is "dangerous."  They never speak to "the poor" save in the disinfecting atmosphere of a soup kitchen or a night school.

    There is a weak sort of literature which encourages such fallacious self-deception.  It is always very strong in warnings to women not to leave their "sphere," nor attempt equality with men; but somehow it leaves an impression on the reader's mind that this is not because woman may be the inferior, and certainly has not yet, in most cases, done the work plainly set before her, but rather because an angel need not condescend to be a good citizen, nor the superior to compete with the inferior.  And such arguments have led many a feeble-minded woman, who never had one high thought nor did one generous deed, to believe herself capable of being a purifying and exalting influence on energetic men whose heads, hearts, and hands were all busy serving God through their fellow-men.

    Miss Fraser of Mannohill's vague hint about the "dangers of college life," and still more her portentous sigh, and its suggestion that she could "say more an she would," had hurt Margery more than she would have owned.  And besides, the girl's life was certainly more still and lonely than it had ever been before.  Though angels may walk unseen beside us in the common ways of men, hobgoblins and elfs have never been reported visible in thoroughfares and town-halls, but always in silent and solitary corners.  Interruptions and external calls of all sorts trouble the stream of life with an healing virtue as did the angel at the pool of Bethesda.

    Early dinner was changed for late dinner to save the boys' time in the middle of the day, and Mr. Farquhar did not return home for lunch, but took it at his office.  The last to depart went out at nine in the morning, and the first to come home arrived at five in the afternoon.  Except by the tradespeople calling for orders, the front door was never touched unless by Margery herself, save when Mr. Demetrius Turner went out and came in during the forenoon, which he did so punctually that Barby regulated her kitchen clock by him.  The Farquhars had very few calling acquaintances.  Their friends mostly lived in farms and manses some miles away; wrote when they were to be expected, came and whirled Margery off for a day's shopping and sight-seeing, and then vanished, leaving her for another spell of silence.

    Even the evenings were different from what they used to be.  Once there had been games of chess or draughts, and when Laurie's school tasks were done, long readings aloud or cheerful discussions of the newspaper and magazines.  Now Rab had his studies.  He might have had the dining-room to himself if the parlour had remained in the family occupation.  As it was, he brought in his books the moment dinner was cleared away.  True, there was his bedroom, but it did not boast a very roomy table, and his sitting there would have involved the cost and trouble of another fire.  Laurie naturally thought this a capital opportunity for preparing the classical studies he would enter in his own college course.  Margery knew a little—a very little—Latin, which she had learned, to cheer and emulate her brothers over its opening dreariness.  But of Greek she was entirely innocent.  And presently Mr. Farquhar himself brought home some arrears of office work which had long haunted him, but with which he had never had heart to interrupt the happy family sociality of former days, and which, had things gone well with him, he would probably have paid some subaltern to do for him.

    Margery was thrown back upon her needle-work, and it is only the full, refreshed mind and heart which can rest satisfied with silent sewing and darning.  A quaint German couplet has it—


"A millstone and the human heart are ever whirling round;
 If they have nothing else to grind, they must themselves be ground."


Undisturbed, too, by the old-time goings and comings, Margery got through her daily work more swiftly than she had been used to do, and was oftener free from what must be done for what she wanted to do.  But her little plans of study and fanciful occupations seemed so artificial and petty beside the real life-work which had started up around her.  It is seldom that we find leisure the boon we dream it is while we are busy.  And it is no boon at all unless it succeeds and precedes work; and nothing is true work which does not absorb every energy of our being.

    Margery began to grow morbidly sensitive.  Tears came to her eyes if her brothers turned upon her with those saucy words which she would once have taken with a laugh.  She began to urge upon them, with nervous insistence, those little duties whose occasional omission or imperfection she would once have passed over with a cheery reminder.  She laid rules for herself which nobody ever dreamed of, and which would have been more honoured in the breach than in the observance—such as that she would never venture a remark, while her brothers were at their work, or that she would not allow one penny to be set down under the head of "sundries" at the balancing of her weekly accounts.

    She began to look heavy and unhealthy, and to suffer from headaches.  Sarah Fraser had visited her more than once, and Margery had been oftener to Mannohill.  It is with bad soul-atmospheres as with bad air—when they begin to injure us, we cease to suffer in them.

    Poor Sarah Fraser, never having risen to the spirit of God's law of life, nor apprehended the meaning of judgment, mercy, and faith, was apt to attach too much value to all the little tithings of duty, and perhaps to impress their necessity upon others far beyond where she laid them upon herself.  Something which she called economy was the great hobby of the rich man's daughter, possibly because she thought that on her undoubted wealth it must shine as a wholly ornamental virtue.  And the tone of her suggestions was always that if she saved in such and such a way—she who "had no occasion" for such thrift—what should not Margery do?

    Barby got a very good idea of the sort of impression Sarah often produced on her beloved young mistress, and with an indignant sniff the old servant summed it up with the reflection: "It's a wonner she doesna say Miss Margery has na richt to sae big a boot-bill as her ain, seein' her faither, puir body, canna afford carriage an' horses to save shoe leather!"

    The old woman fought over the innovations which Margery was fain to introduce into the kitchen department.

    "Na, na," she said, "dinna spare the eggs an' milk and afford the doctor.  It's na gude speirin' whether anybody spends less wi' the baker than ye do, till ye find oot if he spends mair wi' the undertaker.  There's na fortune worth sae muckle as health, for it's what na fortune can buy; but puir folk should mak' a note that it needs a muckle fortune to mak' ill-health bearable, and sae it's a luxury they mauna think o'."

    And while Margery lamented to herself, and even openly to Sarah, that "old servants were very obstinate and obstructive, and that those people who lamented their scarcity did not remember the drawbacks connected with them," Barby was sorely and secretly exercised on behalf of her young mistress.

    "She's settlin' down into what she'll be for life," said the worthy woman to herself, as she sat and knitted over the kitchen fire when her day's work was done.  "Ilka body kens that wi' laddies and their ways, but there's nane, or few, that marks it wi' the lasses.  It's wi' lads and lasses much as it is wi' bread-making—the dough may be gude enough, but it's getting the yeast to work richt that's the kittle thing.  We a' ken what it means when a laddie tak's to staying oot late o' nichts, and no keepin' his ain accoonts, and haein' freends he dinna speak on i' his ain hoose; but naebody seems to ken that it's the same thing when a lassie tak's to thinkin' unco muckle o' her ainsel', and fancyin' hersel a sort o' angel—the feathers o' whose wings blin' mortals are pluckin' oot, mistaken' her for a barn-door fowl.  An' yet baith wi' ane and the t'ither it means ane thing, which is that they've got to the corner whaur the bypath frae their ain hame strikes into the great life-road, and that they've turned roond and looked aboot till they scarcely ken which way is up and which is doon.  A selfish woman is nae better than a sinful' man; an' selfishness begins whiles wi' thinkin' owre much o' one's ain duties and influences and wee bit ways, instead o' living right oot o' oneself, like the bonnie flowers that smell sweet whether they're sniffed or not.  Wark's a gran' thing; the laddies seldom go wrang till they neglect theirs, and hoo should the lassies keep right wi' nane?  But I ken fine that having to work doesna help ye much if ye're no willing.  Wholesome food will na raise the deid, though ye canna live lang wi'out it.

    "I know Miss Margery isn't idle; she gets through her sewing and dustin' and the like; but these quiet days are lang, and the restlessness that is in babies' legs and arms gets into young people's hearts and heads, and they maun aye be moving.  An' when I hear the master make his moan over the lassie's white face, and humour her when she's fractious, instead o' giein' her the plain word that's like a splint to a broken limb, stiff but kindly, I ken what's in his mind.  I see it in his very een.  He's lookin' over Miss Margery's head at the dree days that may be following behint her.  He's thinkin' that it was the little lassie's portion, mair than aught else, that went oot o' the house that weary night.

    "I wonner after whether Miss Margery mightn't coin her waste hours somehow into siller, and sae hae some against she wants it, and ken, too, whaur to get some more.  I see that some folk write i' the papers that doing ither wark to earn money will put women aff frae takin' kindly to hoose wark.  I dinna ken.  There's many wi' no houses o' their ain to wark for, that I do ken.  An' some ither folk, wha seem to be speakin' on the same side, say it's no natural for women to do any wark but household wark.  It seems to me those twa sayin's don't fit.  If it's so hard and no natural for women to do ither wark, sure they'll turn quick enough to house work when they get it, and when it's paid a fair wage and held in richt honour.  I dinna say nothing on that point to naebody, because I'm a servant mysel', and it's no oorselves wha hae the richt to bid oorselves 'come up higher.'  But I hae my thoughts; and when I think hoo the servant woman has the health and comfort and temper o' the whole hoose in her keeping, I dinna ken ony place whaur a woman can better serve God and man.  An' if the day comes when some great lady o' rank and wealth will tak' up the wark for pure love, and show what it is, it will be even a better day than when the like took up wi' hospital nursing; for sure it's better to keep a flower-bed or a fruit-tree growing than no to notice it till it's half dead.  But there's some women that could never get their living by household wark, be they ever sae willin'; an' it's ill bringing up a lassie to bake her ain bread an' make her ain claes gin ye dinna ken whaur her flour and her cloth's to come frae.

    "The gude Book has nae sic havers as the newspaper speeches.  It doesna seem to mind muckle what ye do, so as it be honest and wholesome for mind and body.  It just says, 'Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might;' and there's some folk—young folk specially—that want real, set, hard work o' head or hand to bring oot ony might at a'.  I'd sooner sew calico than cambric mysel'.

    "Miss Margery used to make hersel' busy wi' her bits o' drawin's," mused Barby, drawing her cogitations to a practical issue; "but I haena seen ane to the fore for a lang, lang time; and when I made bold to say so the ither day, as I saw her sittin' peakin' and pinin' over the fire i' the gloaming, she answered me that she had used up maist o' her paints and pencils, and now she mustn't waste money for naethin', and her drawings werena mair.  Puir lassie! she's soon drookit.  An' there was something in what she said, I'll no gainsay that.

    "'Deed, I don't wonner that the lassie's doon-hearted.  I feel the hoose a bit dowie mysel', wi' sic a lang spell wi'out the laddies.  But I hae Mr. Demetrius to luik after, and get a bit crack wi' him when I take in his meals; an' when they do come home, the laddies themselves are beginning to sae press forward in life that they think to-day's worth naething but to bring tomorrow.  An' the maister, he feels sae daunted and defeated like sin' that robbery that to-day seems just a doon-sitting to look back upon yesterday!  I believe it's me and Mr. Demetrius that'll have to keep the place astir yet.  There's aft a bit o' the gal and boy left in auld single folk, and Mr. Demetrius and me hae to mak' oor ain bit pleasures gin we want any, and they say home-made articles are aye best.  We will na turn oot o' oor ain ways to save folk a smile.  There's no owre muckle smilin' i' this warld.  Better lat them laugh at us than lat them watch us cry.  But weel I ken the maister has gotten that sair heaviness in his heart that maketh it stoop; an' as for young folk, puir bodies, they haena had time to learn hoo to be happy.  It's a lang lesson, and there's a deal o' heart-break goes to it before it's kenned.  Eh, sirs, but it's sair, sair fightin' in youth, wi' all to learn, and nae mair wisdom than babes hae when they greet at their mither's shadow on the wall, and catch at the red-hot poker for a pretty plaything.  It's weel kenned the grass grows greenest whaur battles hae been fought an' I aye think there's some herbs of comfort and assurance that dinna grow till the heart itsel' has its graves."

    And the old woman's strong rugged face grew soft with that light of other days which never fades for faithful hearts, and her knitting dropped on her knee, and all unconsciously Barby, the old maid-servant, trilled with old-fashioned quavers that sweet song which is the revelation of the suffering, strong heart of another Scottish woman, the high-born Lady Nairne:—


"Would you be young again?
     So would not I:
 One tear to memory given,
     Onward I'd hie.
 Life's dark flood forded o'er,
 All but at rest on shore,
 Say, would you plunge once more,
     With home so nigh?

"If you might, would you now
     Retrace your way?
 Wander through thorny wilds
     Faint and astray?
 Night's gloomy watches fled,
 Morning all beaming red,
 Hope's smiles around us shed,
     Heavenward—away.

"Where are they gone, of yore
     My best delight?
 Dear, and more dear, though now
     Hidden from sight.
 Where they rejoice to be,
 There is the land for me;
 Fly, time! fly speedily;
     Come, life and light!"


    "Was Barby indulging in a soft and idle sentimentality?  Surely not; for as she ended her song, she suddenly drew herself up and caught up her needles, with a flourish like one who has seized a bright idea.

    "It's odd how an auld sang will put sense into ane," she cried.


 
VI.

A Conspiracy.


THE brightening days of early spring had come, and more than once Barby had seen some things in Mr. Demetrius's rooms which puzzled her.  They were small wooden blocks, with pictures drawn upon them, and hollowed out in all sorts of queer ways.

    "They'd be gey pretty if they weren't chippet sae queerly," had been her silent reflection.  "It's eno' to spoil them as pictures, and no eno' to mak' them carvings."

    Long had she pondered over them—especially over one, which seemed strangely familiar to her, though she was quite sure she had never before seen such things as these mysterious blocks.  This one depicted an old lady in quaint costume, seated under a tree, overlooking a wide landscape.

    "It seems as if I'd dreamed of it in my young days," she said.  "I'm certain sure I'd seen that picture before I looked my last from the side of Craigendarroch."

    And the explanation of this was part of the revelation which had come to her with Lady Nairne's song.  As she crooned it, what more natural than that there should rise before her the scene and the surroundings of the day when she first learned it?  She had seen the quaint, low kitchen, with its heavy rafters and huge blocks of stone; a scent of peat was in the air; and there was she herself, in short skirt and gay print jacket, seated on a three-legged stool watching the "cakes," and conning the verses from an old magazine that had come down from the manse.  And there, opposite the verses and in illustration thereof, was the very picture which on the block had so haunted her with an intangible remembrance.

    "To think I didna ken it before," she cried.  "Then I reckon that's the way they print that kind of pictures.  I've heard of wood engraving, sure, but seein's aye better than hearing.  An' so puttin' that an' that together, as a woman always can, I reckon that's the way Mr. Demetrius made some of his money; and an uncommonly good way it is for clever folk wi' brains in their fingers as well as in their noddles."  And then some other thought came into Barby's mind sufficiently important to receive her greatest mark of respect—namely, a declaration that she "would sleep upon it."

    "There's something up with Barby," said Laurence to Rab next morning, as the brothers trudged that part of their daily ways which lay together.  Laurence was one of those uncanny people who know more than you tell them, and bear thoughts.

    "What! is she finding the work too much, d'ye think?" asked practical, kindly Rab.  "I must speak to father again about having a little gas-stove in the kitchen.  It needn't cost much, for I could fit it up myself some Saturday."

    "No, no," said Laurie; "if I'm not wrong, instead of finding her work too much, she's planning some new 'ploy,' as she calls it."

    "What a lot of spunk the old lady has!" observed Rab.  "If I saw a girl like her, I'd fall in love straight off.  But one never does.  It seems to be the old ones who have all the go."

    "Perhaps it is those with the go who live to be old," said Laurence; "or perhaps the go grows with years.  I wonder what Barby was like when she was a girl."

    "She must have been pretty then," remarked Rab; "for everybody would look twice at Barby even now."

    "Ah, but that's different," said Laurie.  "There's a good deal that's called pretty which does not wear well, and there's some ugliness that does."

    "Ay," answered Rab; "ugly pups turn out handsome dogs."

    "I don't know how it is," Laurie went on, "I suppose I'm odd, but I always seem to see with something besides my eyes—to see what one knows eyes cannot see.  I suppose I'm talking nonsense."

    "Either nonsense or uncommon good sense," returned Rab.  "I won't say which, as I don't understand it, unless you're meaning what poetical people call 'the inner eye."'

    "Yes, yes," said Laurie eagerly, "that is just what I do mean; only, the very people who call it so, generally seem to use the name as a figure of speech, and it's quite real to me."

    "Well, and what does it show you?" asked Rab.

    "Why," said Laurie, speaking slowly, and with a boyish shamefacedness at his own "fancifulness," "it always makes me see Barby as quite young—ever so much younger than Margery, ever so much younger than myself.  I don't suppose I can make you understand what I mean.  I daresay it only sounds like nonsense."

    "I don't profess to understand it, but it need not be nonsense for all that," said Rab.  "And yet—somewhere in the Bible" (Rab was never very precise in his literary recollections) "isn't it said that they who would enter the kingdom of God must become as little children?  And I daresay Barby is further in there than any of us.  But what makes you go on fancying out things in this way, Laurie?" the elder brother asked, with a forlorn and most unscientific recalling of sundry legends told to show that those who say and think "out-of-the-way" things generally die young.

    Laurie laughed with a quite reassuring gaiety.  "I don't know," he said; "I can't believe you don't all do the same.  If you don't, you must find it precious dull, I should say."

    This was such a novel view of the "gifted mind," generally supposed to be consumed with its own fires, that when the two brothers parted, Rab went off quite at ease about Laurie and perfectly unconcerned about his own dulness.

    And Barby meanwhile bustled to and fro about the house, more silent than usual, and, as it seemed to poor Margery, quite unusually self-absorbed.  The girl actually felt hurt when she heard Barby humming once or twice, "Would you be young again?"

    "I would not be young now if I could help it," she broke out at last.

    "Losh, Miss Margery," cried Barby, determined not to take her up in her own spirit, "that's a fulish thing to say; and yet I'm glad to hear you say it, for I've noticed lately, i' shops an' places where I've happened to be speakin', that young folks seem to hug their youth, as if it was the only guide thing i' the earth; and that's awful', seein' it's got to go, an' will no be lang aboot it.  Better live in a wee bit hoose, wi' doors an' windows opening on God A'mighty's hills, than in a palace prison, wi' a black ditch below and a blank wall aboon.  Fear o' auld age is just fear o' death brought nearer han'; and he wha fears death doesna live, he only gasps a wee in sic misery that it's a wonner he isn't fain to see the warst o't!"

    "I think I should be glad to die," said Margery.  "I'm no use to anybody, and least of all to myself.  And I cannot think why life was given to me at all."

    "To mak' it o' use," returned Barby solemnly.  "And gin ye chuse to learn them, Miss Margery, ye're getting lessons noo which it will do you good to remember frae time to time to the vera end o' your days. An' dinna ye be afraid, Miss Margery, the learning time aye comes to an end before ye half ken your lesson."

    And Barby marched off with Mr. Demetrius Turner's early dinner.  Barby had something to say to that gentleman, and had not the least idea how she was "to bring it out."  Nor had she attempted any plan to do so.  Her nearest approach to this was the determination, and faith in her own power of carrying it out—to "turn his ain first words towards what she wanted.  Onything, frae ane's thimble to ane's shoe, serves for a cup when ane's thirsty."

    But Barby found her way made easy before her, as we generally do, if we can get over the one great difficulty of making up our own minds.

    She found that it was not for nothing that he had lately brought out those mysterious blocks; for, in the sweet spring sunlight, he was sitting at a side-table busily working away on one.

    "Eh, Mr. Demetrius," she cried, "an' it's only last night that I puzzled oot what those things are.  An' did ye do the auld anes yoursel'? for if it's so, ye maun ha' been but a callant when ye began, for I mind seeing that ane o' the auld lady on the hillside when I was no muckle mair than a lassie mysel'."

    Mr. Demetrius sprang up blushing like a boy when he is caught making love.  Surely it must have been but a poor, dried-up life which could be so stirred by a humble stranger's recognition of his old work.  There is so much patient toil which goes with such little recognition and reward.

    "And did you remember it?" he asked, with none of his usual grotesque flourishing.

    "Ay, did I so," Barby answered.  "When I saw it there"—and she pointed to the block—"all chipped oot and queer like, I kenned I'd seen the auld leddy afore, an' I could not tell whaur, till last night, sitting idle, I took to lilting the auld sang it was set to, an' then it a' came back."

    "Ah," said Mr. Demetrius, "I always kept that block, because I tried to make the picture a portrait of my mother."

    "And she was a widow," remarked Barby, gazing at the black-robed, coifed figure.

    "Not when I drew that," he answered; "but I'd seen her dressed so years before.  She married again."

    He said no word more; but the sentence seemed to close short, as with a caught-up sigh.  A boy's first and holiest ideal had been broken on that second marriage-day.

    "Well, well, well—good!" said Mr. Demetrius presently, apropos of nothing.  And then Barby felt at liberty to speak again.

    "It's real pretty work," she said.  "Do any ladies do it?"

    Mr. Demetrius drew himself up.  "It's no play, let me tell you," he said.  "Seven years I served apprentice before I earned more than pocket-money.  Ladies! ladies!!  They expect to earn an income the minute they want it.  I know them and their ways.  They've come to me—'O dear Mr. Turner, look at my pretty drawing; can't I do something with it?  I'll be satisfied with so little—and we are so well connected—and I've changed my last sovereign.'  Give 'em some work to get rid of them, I always said, for that's the surest way to do it.  Then what follows?  Never having studied or worked, a clever woman about equals a very stupid man; and she measures her earnings, not by the worth of her work, but by what she wants to buy flounces.  And she calls you a brute for employing and paying her, and goes off and lives on her relations.  Yes, Mistress Barby, your sex are worse than the unjust steward—they cannot dig, and to beg they are not ashamed."

    Barby shook her head reflectively, and there was no spice of contradiction in her quiet tone as she remarked: "Wae's me, Mr. Demetrius; but God Almighty must have had a poor opinion o' man when he gave him sic a like creetur' as woman for his companion and helpmeet."  Perhaps there was a little mischievous lingering on the last word.

    Mr. Demetrius drew his hand furiously through his hair.  "He did not give her to every man," he retorted; "he only gave men a chance of making fools of themselves by taking her."

    "And there's mair fools than not—we all ken that," said Barby composedly; "and some that we dinna ken it o' ken it best o' theirselves."

    Mr. Demetrius looked at her, and then burst out laughing.

    "Well, well, well," he said, "we're all fools when we're young."

    "That's why the auld sang ye drew the pretty picture to asks


'Wha would be young again?'"


observed Barby.

    Mr. Demetrius fell into the snare, though whether or not Barby set it for him she never could remember.

    "Ah, I don't know," he said.  "There are no days like those days.  The very weather seemed different; I believe it was milder—only I didn't keep a thermometer then," he added, turning with mock fierceness to that unoffending piece of furniture.  "No, I didn't keep a thermometer.  But it seemed always sunshiny—or I didn't notice when it wasn't."

    "Sir," said Barby, quietly, "there be a beauty o' blossoms in an orchard in spring, and a beauty o' ripe fruit there in autumn."

    "But there's often no fruit where there were plenty of blossoms," returned Mr. Demetrius, with a seriousness of manner strangely at variance with the comical confusion into which he had raked and tumbled his odd, bright boyish hair.

    "I saw an orchard once, neglectit and shut up, wi' the bonnie fruit rottin' an' wastin' on the branches, except when the wild lads o' the town brak in an' carried aff a few, after they kenned o' the wastrie.  It was the warst boys wha got that fruit," Barby went on; "the honest bairns werena so owre ready to tak' what wasna theirs, gin it was naebody's."

    Mr. Demetrius stood silent with his lips moving.  He looked dreadfully like a boy at a mental calculation class.

    "Sir," said Barby, "whiles I think the blossoms o' youth are the hopes we ha' frae the warld, and the apples o' age are the hopes and the helps we can gie to it."

    Barby said no more then.  She would leave Mr. Demetrius to think over her words while he ate his solitary dinner.  She only wanted to accomplish her purpose, and did not care whether or not she got the credit of doing so.

    When she went back in about half an hour, she reopened her fire by saying,—

    "It's strange how, going in and out, as one may say, in life, one hears baith sides o' maist questions.  Here's you, wishing you were young again; an' there's my young leddy, puir lassie, wishing she wasna young."

    "Girls never know what they want," said Mr. Demetrius, as if that at least was a fact quite beyond dispute.

    "And maybe that's a blessing too," Barby answered quite unruffled; "for it's little likely they'd get it if they did."

    "What do you think they can want?" Mr. Demetrius inquired fiercely.  "Aren't they cockered up and fed and dressed and trimmed and married off without any trouble to themselves?"

    "Losh, sir," said Barby, "isn't it a pity God should ha' bothered them wi' an immortal soul that canna live by bread alone?  They might ha' been sae comfortable without it!"

    "Well, it is a pity," said Mr. Demetrius, looking Barby full in the face, as if to watch how she liked his prompt acceptance of her proposition.  "I've often thought so myself."

    "Only, ye see, there's some women that dinna get the blessings ye think sae great an' gran'," said Barby; "and then if they hadna onything everlasting inside 'em, why, they'd lose this warld an' the next too, d'ye see, sir?  I should mysel'.  It mightna ha' mattered much, perhaps, except to the A'mighty himsel', to whom it wadna be becoming to mak' onything just to break it for naething."

    "Well, now," said Mr. Demetrius, "you've been a girl yourself, though I can hardly believe it any more than I can believe I was ever that hateful, rampageous, eating, tearing abomination called a boy.  But as it must have been so with both of us, tell me what you fancy girls can want more than what most of them—I don't say all —have already."

    "They want to feel they are o' some sma' use to their fellow-creatures," said Barby.  "They're no born beggars, though maistly bred sae.  It's the vera spirit o' independence, sick at heirt and dyin' hard within them, that makes them try to set themselves off as a blessing when they ask ye for a bawbee."

    "A blessing! shades of Eve and Pandora!" ejaculated Mr. Demetrius.

    Barby went on without regarding the interruption.  "A man would be thought a doonright sinner if he brought up his lads like maist faithers bring up their lasses.  Women are reared and expectit to live sic lives as only scoundrels o' men choose for themselves,—hinging roond, doing odd jobs, and eating ither folk's bread.  Waiting for deid men's shoon is their highest ambition, maistly."

    Mr. Demetrius passed his hand quickly over his face, but looked up and said briskly,—

    "Well, well; but if women were brought up to earn money, what would they do with it?  Expect the bread from their fathers and brothers all the same, and spend their own earnings on extra frills and flounces."

    "Mr. Demetrius," said Barby, "mak' a bein' responsible, and it will be responsible.  Tak' it on yoursel', and there it will lie."

    "And when you've taught a woman how to earn money, she'll go and get married," said Mr. Demetrius.

    "Then she'll stop no mair wage from the man's hand, and she'll ken its value when he gies it her to spend," returned Barby.  "An' if you won't teach some girls hoo to earn, that may never want to do it, then ye maun ha' auld women wanting to earn when it's too late to learn—as ye were grumbling aboot," said Barby.

    "I needn't grumble; it's nothing to do with me; I will never again trouble myself about any woman, girl, or other female biped under the sun," observed Mr. Demetrius, with his little fat hands in his pockets.

    "Eh, I'm sorry for that," said Barby.  "An' I've just been wasting my breath; for I was wanting ye to luik at some o' my Miss Margery's drawings and tell me whether she might ever get to wark on those bit blockies her ainsel'.  For she'll want money sair enough, puir lassie, though noo she's losing the time when she might learn hoo to win it."

    "What—what! and have you got the drawings with you?" cried Mr. Demetrius, as Barby made a feint of drawing them from her pocket and slipping them back again.  "Let me have them.  I've always taken a fancy for Miss Margery because I've never seen her."

    Barby brought them forth with a becoming reluctance; and Mr. Demetrius turned them over with such commentaries as, "Well—well—good! steady hand; firm, light touch."  But at one of them he paused.

    "Ha!" he cried, "I know that.  That's copied from a very clever illustration of Crabbe's poem Procrastination.'  A very careful, studied copy too.  Yes, Mistress Barby, your Miss Margery might do something if she has patience to stick at her work for years and can get good lessons."

    "Sir," said Baby, her old heart beating fast with the assurance of victory within her grasp, "I dinna ken whaur she is to get lessons."

    "I know where she could," answered Mr. Demetrius. "I could teach her myself."

    "They wadna be able to pay much," said Barby; "but ye might just lat me have an idea what ye wad tak', an' I'd find oot a' aboot it."  And Barby remembered her little store in the bank—the sum of her savings during her long service with the Farquhars.  "It couldna be better invested than in something that'll keep them on gieing me wark and paying me wages," she thought; "and I'm owre auld for a new place.  And I've no had sae mony luxuries i' my life that I need grudge mysel' this."

    "I wouldn't be paid at all for the lessons," said Mr. Demetrius.  "I never taught before, and I don't know the value of such things.  I would not be a tutor when I was young.  I quarrelled with my uncle on that very point; so I'll not be goaded into it now for any woman in the world.  But I still do this sort of work in the summer time; I don't need much, and I won't spoil my eyes in the dull days.  And there's some parts of my work she could soon help me in, and while doing that she'd learn more; and so on.  And if women won't take a chance when and how they can get it, it can't be helped;—and I never knew one who would yet."

    "Sir," said Baby most deferentially, "Miss Margery knows nothing of the matter yet, for I've spoken entirely on my ain account, kennin' what I ken; but she's no the lass I take her for gin she doesna jump at your kindness."

    "And lick my floor and kiss my feet, and then slap my face and pull my hair, after the fashion of her sex, metaphorically speaking," said Mr. Demetrius.  "No, I don't want to be kind to her.  Don't say so; don't let her imagine such a thing for a moment.  I want somebody to help me in the easy bits of my work, I tell you.  There now—d'ye hear?  I'm going to advertise for somebody.  You know that—you quite understand that.  Now go and gossip that over to her—like you women always do; and set her up to do what you want—like you women always can.  Tell her you won't put up with a lodger if he has a dirty boy coming rioting in and out to work.  Say you weren't engaged for such things.  Threaten to give notice.  Now go—avaunt!"

    "Sir—Mr. Demetrius," said Barby, "God bless you!  A barking dog guides to the gate on a dark night.  I'm not going to say anither word—I'm avaunting!"

    "No, stop," said Mr. Demetrius.  "Did you ever read Crabbe's poems?  No.  But I'll warrant you're crammed full of old songs and stuff and rubbish, or you wouldn't be so sensible.  Take that book and read 'Procrastination.'  It was written before I was born; but that's the story—take it altogether—of Demetrius Turner; only I'm not sitting at the workhouse gate—and she married somebody else.  Broken hearts don't always smash up and make a mess about the world.  Some of them get an iron rivet where the crack was, and they don't break easily in that place again."

    "I've seen some auld broken bowls planted oot wi' the bonniest flowers an' mosses," said Barby; "an' I've thought if it hadna been for their misfortune they'd never ha' come to sic an honour and beauty. Ye've had sma' cause for thinking muckle o' women, I wiss, Mr. Demetrius—the bigger blessing on ye gin ye try to mak' 'em main worth thinking muckle o'."


 
VII.

Bitter Sweet.


BARBY did not lose much time in conveying her news to Margery.  She had not reckoned wrongly on the girl's readiness to avail herself of an opportunity for carrying on her old beloved art, not only without expense, but with some hope of future profit.  There was no difficulty with Margery herself; but Margery suggested one which might arise in another quarter.  Her father himself might oppose the idea.  And she brought forward one or two remarks of his, uttered in years gone by, which made her dread lest he should discountenance a proceeding for which no precedent could be found in the histories of great-grandmothers, grandmothers, or great aunts.  She did not realize, as Barby did, that new facts of life had probably undermined a great deal of Mr. Farquhar's old, easygoing conservatism, so that it might be wanting only an external blow to come down with a rush.  The young are too apt to think that their elders are fossils.  We are not likely to suspect growth in that to which we have always looked up.

    "I dinna think your father'll object, Miss Margery," Barby said; "but gin there's ony fear o't, we maun ken a' particulars afore we speak to him aboot it, an' then ye'll hae your answer ready for the difficulties he may bring oot.  An' aboon a', I maun ask Mr. Demetrius what ye micht be able to earn in the years to come, if so as ye did fairly weel an' prospered."  The worthy woman was preparing her arrow for what she felt would be the weakest part of her master's armour.

    Barby went back to Mr. Demetrius, saying that "she took it upon herself" to inform him that "her young lady" would be delighted to work for him if she could, and if her father would permit; and as a means of gaining such permission, she would like to know all particulars possible.

    Mr. Demetrius Turner gave the information, with such wide margins as must be left for the varying possibilities of Margery's skill and success.  Barby herself felt more than satisfied, and thought that Mr. Farquhar should certainly be the same.

    "Wae's me, to think o' the lots o' money that's lying buried an' wasted in human beings," she said.  "Just reflec' on the single thing o' this makin' o' pictur's.  If everybody turned to an' followed their own trade or wark wi' a will, there'd be no end to ither folk's wark.  There's a' the wee bairnies rinnin' i' the streets to be made fit to hae pictures, and a' the black niggers awa' in Africa, and in places man scarcely kens o', sae that the vera teachers and preachers mak' gude for trade!  Eh, it's real miraculous to see hoo a' things wark thegither for gude, if man will only do his pairt; and gin he doesna, I'm no sure he hinders the great wheelies o' Providence muckle, only he's thrown oot himsel', an' used up in ony way whaur rubbish comes in handy."

    Margery felt a good deal of diffidence in speaking to her father about the matter, but she had caught enough of Barley's spirit concerning it to realize that this was a false shame, truly fit to be ashamed of.  She told her story as simply as she could, yet as explicitly, that she might as much as possible save objections from being raised, even to be combated.

    He did not offer the opposition she had dreaded; but neither did he manifest the interest and pride for which, in spite of her fears, she had cherished a lurking hope.  It might relieve some of his forebodings, but it hurt him.  It came to him as a necessary evil, not as an unexpected good.  Perhaps at the thought of their daughters' financial independence, fathers may feel that shade of passing pain and loss with which mothers are often credited in prospect of their sons' marriage.  But nobody ever says that therefore the sons should not marry, though some are ready to infer that therefore the daughters should not seek independence.  Love's life is full of growing pains, and it has to feel many before it can thankfully realize of itself


"God is not only kind through me:
     He blesses, though I am not there;
 He builds the homes I may not see,
     And gives the hopes I cannot share."


    The boys' good-natured "chaff" somewhat restored to Margery the blush of her joy and hope, yet she went off to her bed-chamber with a strangely chastened and subdued feeling.  Her father had not opposed her.  She had got her own way, and she felt sure that in this instance it was a good and praiseworthy one.  Yet she felt a little of one of life's bitterest experiences,—that dear hands often slacken from ours when we put our own hands to the plough, and that to each life comes, in a greater or less degree, the choice between the easy and the right, between the smooth and the true; that it is so much sweeter to give than to receive, that our parents and benefactors often feel aggrieved when it seems possible that relative positions may be reversed.

    And when Barby came into the dining-room in the course of her nightly duties of smothering the fire, and looking to the fastenings of doors and windows, she found her master crouching in his easy-chair, elbows on knees, and face buried in his hands.  He looked up when she entered, and his countenance had the worn haggard look which men wear when they feel as women do when they cry.

    "Ah, Barby," he said, "I never thought it would come to this.  My children will have to do without me, just as if they'd never had a father.  They are no better off than if I'd been a drunkard or a gambler.  After all my efforts, I'm a failed, defeated man."

    "Dinna talk nonsense, sir," answered Barby.  "For every idle word, ye ken, we are to be brought to judgment; an' idle words is nae fun and daffin' which keep the spirits up, but lamentations ye needna make, an' prayers ye dinna mean, or willna wark to win."

    "Ah, Barby, Barby, you may not own it," said Mr. Farquhar, "but you know I'm speaking in solemn earnest."

    "The mair's the pity, then, sir," she replied.  "Is it the mere want o' the siller an' gowd that mak's ye a failed an' defeated man?  Wae's me, but ye're in gude company in that particular.  The great apostle Paul didna seem to hae ony warldly gear, except a cloak an' some godly buiks; and I dinna ken that the last wills an' testaments o' ony o' your favourite Covenanters are particularly mentioned.  An' as for your children being no better aff than those o' the drunkard and the gambler, ye'd better fret that they're worse aff; for as for warldly wealth, many a worthless schemer leaves mair than honest folk.  But I aye thought you believed your Bible, sir, and doesna it say that a gude name is better than great riches, and arena the sound bodies and clear heads that come o' righteous upbringing a fair start in life?"

    "Ah, it's easy for you to talk, Barby," said her master.  "And I'll not deny that there is truth in what you say—nay, that it is all true.  But we have natural feelings, Barby.  And to think of my one daughter working for bread in her father's lifetime, and she looking so pale and fragile that I have been only wishing lately that I could see my way to send her for change of air and scene;" and down went his head again—that fast whitening head!

    "Oh, fie, Mr. Farquhar, sir!" cried Barby.  "And are you, sic a gude Christian man as I ken you are, na better than the puir pagan Naaman?  Must ye have the Abana and Pharpar of your ain way, instead o' the wee Jordan o' the Lord's will?  There's na sic tonic as wark.  I've tane nane ither a' my days, an' I think I'm a standing recommendation to Dr. Needcessity.  There's na sic change o' scene an' air as a new thocht i' the heid, an' a fresh hope i' the heirt.  An' while ye're fashing yoursel' about what ye canna do for Miss Margery, hae a care ye dinna leave undone what you may do.  Wish as well to God's cure as ye wad hae done to your ain.  An', O Mr. Farquhar, sir, never heed the feelin' o' heart-break!  Do you no ken that bairns hae it sair eno' owre their lessons whiles, but it a' passes awa' when they're kenned?  And what mair are we a' than big bairns, and mair mistrustfu' and undutiful to our Father than the weans are to us?"

    Barby had her reward; for next morning, as she went to and fro with porridge and toast, she heard the whole family cheerily discussing the "ins and outs" of Margery's purposed profession; while Laurie, armed with a "Dictionary of Universal Information," was prepared to decide every point that arose, and had discovered that the rudiments of her new art had been detected among the antiquities of Egypt and China.

    And before Mr. Farquhar went off to his office, he paid a call at his own drawing-room on Mr. Demetrius Turner, taking Margery with him for her first introduction to the unknown lodger, who now was to become her familiar master.  Mr. Demetrius fell into a flutter of deferential ecstasy.  Margery was pretty enough to please his artistic taste, and quiet and modest enough to awaken those hopes of womanly good sense which he cynically made believe were always scattered by a feminine speech.  Margery thought from his manner that he would be kind and patient.  But perhaps even her small modicum of vanity would have been wounded had she known how little of his geniality was attracted by her own pleasant face and gentle manner, and how much by the fact that, the revolutions of fashion having brought back the modes of thirty years back, she was wearing just such a sleeve as that in which he had last seen the woman he had loved,—or, as he would now have put it, "whom he had fancied he had loved."  Oh, could we always know the quaint fountains from which kindness flows towards us, it might quench our vanity and silence our powers of ridicule, but it might also develop that cheery humour which, like sunshine on dew, glistens on tears, and then absorbs them.

    And now Margery did not find the days too long, but only too short.  A zest, an eagerness of enjoyment thrilled through leisure, and changed common pleasures into keen delights.  Walks were taken the more regularly when the whole day was not open for them, but only that sweet hour when nature wiles man from his labours and his workrooms by leaving her shadows on them, while she hangs her glories in the western sky.  The old fishermen grew quite familiar with the slight which almost daily might be seen swiftly speeding round the harbour to rest awhile beneath the lighthouse, now turning with shaded brow to watch the changing splendours of red and golden clouds behind her, now gazing forward with earnest eyes across the gray sea.

    It was marvellous how in those days the girl Margery changed into the woman.  For all womanly possibilities, and all the gracious power of providing and defending, had opened before her.  Do we not all know that "lady" signifies "loaf-giver"? and how can a woman be a lady if she has no loaf to give—if all her life she is but a beggar, or one who carries a bag to receive contributions, willing or unwilling?  Who dares say that it is an upstart, modern, secular invention that woman is made as the "helpmeet" for man; and that none but a fool could expect her to "work willingly with her hands" to "consider a field and buy it," to "make fine linen and sell it," nor fail to imagine she injured her male folk by letting them hear good things spoken of her, even "at the gates"?

    All through that summer and autumn Margery worked steadily on.  She took holidays, of course—priceless holidays, when Rab, set free in the meantime from college lectures, would accompany her for day-long rambles.  He would take his book and she her sketch-block, and they would wander away and settle down for hours near some gray feudal castle among the hills, or beside some little brawling tributary of the Dee.  But best they loved the coast—the bold, fierce coast to the south of their dear old city.  Margery never wearied of making studies of the huge, quaintly-shapen rocks, which made one think that Titan babies must have had their playroom there, and had left their toys behind them.  And Rab took the opportunity of collecting specimens for his botanical and zoological classes; while his sister, learning wisdom and adroitness from the bait-gathering women whom she often watched from her sketching-points, was fain to take off her own shoes, and creep over the slippery stones in stockinged feet, to give the lad's researches the benefit of her quick eyes and handy fingers.  Once they found so perfect a skeleton of a rare and beautiful sea-bird, that Rab bore it home in triumph, set it up, and presented it to his college museum, where Barby went to see it on two consecutive Saturdays, once with the old postman, and the second time with the fishwife who had served the family for fifteen years.

    And through that same honest fishwife Rab and Margery learned to make their way among the fisher-folk, through whose villages their wanderings led them.  If ever they went through her village, why, of course, they had to go and take a "piece" at her house.  She would have been for ever "affronted" had they forgotten that civility.

    And her village was not a place to be forgotten, nor her house one to be passed by.  The fisher-village straggled up the side of a great hill, which rose to its full height above the little bay with its sheltering breakwater.  Up this hill-side wended the little steep paths, here and there alleviated by a few rude stone steps, on which the fishwives toiled with their heavily laden creels.  A cheery place was that village.  The morning sun smote upon it with its healthful light; and if it turned its back upon the sunset, it was but to see its etherealized reflection—the very spirit of its glory—on the face of the waters.  Crowds of sturdy fisher-children ran and shouted on the smooth breakwater and the shingly beach, and seemed to give no trouble nor anxiety to anybody.  It was a while before Margery's nerve grew accustomed to see the little urchins swinging their bare legs over the sea-wall, or leaping heedlessly from boat to boat of the little fleet rocking in shallow water.

    "Are not your children ever afraid of the sea—not even when they hear it roaring on windy nights?" she once asked of a very agèd fisher, whom half the village called "gran-dad."

    "Afeerd o' the sea!" echoed the old man;" afeerd o' the sea that fills their platters and clothes their backs!  They ken it's the best freend they hae in this warld, and can never do them a waur turn than to carry them to a better!"

    Sometime when they sought Mrs. Leper's cot they would find its hospitable door wide set, but its mistress amissing.  But, except on market-days, she was never far to seek.  Once they found her on the beach, sole woman among all the men of the place, lending her strength (and she had strength to lend) to the hauling ashore of her husband's boat—that fine, decked boat in which the worthy couple had invested their lifetime's mutual savings, and which served as a point of emulation to all the young Leipers' efforts and aspirations.

    "Why, Mrs. Leiper, surely that is scarcely work for you!" cried the girl, who felt her own limbs oddly inclined to sway in harmony with the deep musical shout of the men.

    "Why not, leddy?" said the good woman, as she turned, panting, towards her visitor—"why not?  A mare can pull as well as a horse."

    There was nothing but new milk and oaten cakes in Mrs. Leiper's house, but this simple fare was always set before the visitors with a bounteous heart.  There were many wonders in that long, low abode, from the smouldering peat-fire over which "fresh haddies" were slowly turning into "yellow fish," to the long rows of gaudy china bowls upon the wall, the queer bits of lace and ribbon with which every window was bedecked, and, greatest wonder of all, the three "case-clocks," all telling slightly different time, which stood in the ben-end, and were so magnificent and tall, that one stood in a little pit, and the ceiling had been raised for the benefit of another!

    Margery did not like to ask too many questions about these curiosities at first, but there was a frankness about the Leipers family which was very reassuring.  The mother called her attention to the little boys walking about the house with covered heads, because "they wanted the lady to see their best caps;" and after she had shown Margery the yellow bonnets and green jackets in which the young fisher-maidens, her daughters, went to kirk amid the heavy-skirted, white-capped mothers of the hamlet, Margery ventured to ask the history of the numerous basins and dishes, of every colour and age, which lined the walls.

    "Ay, there's been ithers have asked that," said Mrs. Leipers complacently; "and what I say is, you gentry has your pictures, and just what your pictures is to you those crocks are to us—for ornament, like.  Hech, ano must have something to please anesel'."

    "I can't help wondering why you keep three clocks, ma'am," said Rab.  "Is it the fish or the tide which is so desperately punctual?"

    "You'll have your joke, bless your gay young heart," said the good woman.  "But I must just explain.  Amang we folk, if ye're onybody, ye have a clock.  There's no gude family withouten a clock—d'ye see that?  The bed an' the clock's the first thing we think of.  Weel, of course, we had ours; and when my man's mither died, he was an anely son, sae there was nawhere but here for her clock, for it's not a thing we'd sell.  And when my eldest brother, wha was a widower, was drowned, and his puir bairns taken up here an' there, we took the clock to keep till ane o' them has a home o' his ain.  We'd had our ain fitted in properly, d'ye see? but for the ane we had to make a bit hole, and for the ither lift the thatch a wee.  But what o' that?  It's nae fash to hae sic signs that ane's folk is creditable.  But, wae's me, it's hard keepin' goods richt sae near the sea.  It loosens the joints and it clouds the varnish," and she lifted her apron and tenderly wiped an old chest of drawers beside her.  "I often say to my man, I'll be prood if, before I die, I'm able to afford to have that put real richt, wi' new brass handles and French polish."

    "Able to afford, Mrs. Leiper!" bantered Rab.  "Get it done to-morrow.  You know you're a rich woman."

    "Weel, there's many waur off," said she, her weather-beaten face settling into a contented smile.  "We have earned a good bit siller, Jock an' me.  But then, whaur's it gane?  There's an auld lad about here that says, 'Ilka wean costs ye a whole hander pounds before it earns a penny for itself'.'  An' he doesna put the figure too high, bein' a bacheldore, and reckoning naething for toys and treats.  Sae Jock an' me, we've brought up nine—leastways we're bringing up the eighth and ninth.  Sae whaur's the siller, sir?"

    "And what nice girls your daughters are," put in Margery.  "They're the best-behaved, prettiest lasses in the market."

    "An' they're real canny," assented the proud mother.  "They'll be able to keep a man when the time comes.  He'd be a clever fisher wha'd catch mair than they could sell."

    And then they all came out and stood at the cottage door, and looked at the sea, so blue under the sky in the distance, so green where it crept about the feet of the great, dark rocks.

    "Mrs. Leiper," said Margery, "you have a pleasant life."

    "I'm no compleening'," she answered; "the creels is heavy whiles; an' it's no always like this, leddy.  When one sits lanely by the hearth, wi' the gudeman and the lads awa', and the wind risin', there's a heart-sinking feel sometimes.  But I reckon it's in every one's lot somehow.  An' now you're not to be long before you're back again; and my respects to Mistress Barby, and she shall have the first pick o' my crabs on Friday morning."

    "Well, Margery," said Rab, as they strolled home in the sunset, "I can't see how any one can feel driven to earn his bread 'by ways that are dark, or by tricks that are vain,' while he can take a spade or a fishing-net."

    And thus through days of steady and absorbing work, and blinks of rest thankfully snatched in wholesome places, the year passed by, and winter once more found Margery Farquhar a bright-eyed, red-lipped girl, fearless of gloom and frost and storm, because able to recognize in herself those powers of will and energy which delight in something to contend with, since contest, be it stern or playful, is the only road to triumph.


 
VIII.

A Good Day.


"TIMES go by turns," as the Elizabethan poet so sweetly sung.


"Thus with succeeding turns God tempereth all,
 That man may hope to rise, yet fear to fall."


    There had been pain and bitterness in the Farquhars' house during the preceding winter, while all around them had been flourishing; and now that peace and security had been restored to their dwelling, there was plenty of trouble in their neighbourhood.  Trade had been dull for a long time; now one or two great local failures brought on a local paralysis; the little stores of the poor were already low, those of the better-off would be soon encroached on, and even the rich man could not increase his goods.  It is always when this last point is gained that "distress" and "stagnation" are openly and widely avowed.  Those who are used to care and privation do not make an outcry over an extra pinch.

    And it was at precisely this time that Margery received her first earnings.  On Christmas eve, Mr. Demetrius Turner presented himself at the Farquhars' parlour door with what he called an "offering" in the shape of a ten pound note.

    "You have earned more than that by the work you have done under my teaching during the year, Miss Margery," said the little man; "and henceforth what you do will be worth a small weekly salary.  But you must accept that to clear off the old score between us; and now we will start fair."

    Of course, Mr. Demetrius was invited to take his seat by the fire; and Margery instantly blamed herself for not remembering that, as an Englishman, this was a festival of his, though so little regarded in Scotland.  To-morrow, then, would be still more a festival; and Margery ran off to the kitchen to consult Barby.  Had Mr. Demetrius issued his usual evening orders? or was he going out?  No, he was not going out; for he had ordered his dinner as usual, and it was to be a mutton chop and a mince-pie.

    "He must be asked to dine with us," said Margery; and we must have what English people would think a proper Christmas dinner.  Do you know what they like best?  I have often heard; but I can think of nothing but the plum-pudding just now."

    "There's not time to make that according to right English notions," said Barby; "but I'll do my best, and bein' a man, it's like he'll not know the difference.  And they have mince-pies, and some sort of poultry, turkeys or geese stuffed with sausages, an' a joint of roast beef, and fruit to follow."

    "Go out and get a little turkey, and some beef, and some fruit, and everything that you can think of," said Margery.  "I've got the money;" and then she showed Barby her possession, and explained whence it had come.  "I'll speak to my father before you go," she added; "but I know this will be pleasing to him, and he'll only be glad I thought of it."

    "Ay," said Barby; "the Farquhars had the open hand ever, an' that's why it's weel for the warld when they hae something in't."

    "And is there anybody else who might care to be invited?" Margery went on, regardless of the compliment.  "I know it is giving rather short notice, but we might as well share our nice things when we have them.  I'm sure you and I, Barby, don't want to eat up our dainties afterwards."

    "Get at the master and your brithers, and ask them," said Barby; "and gin they can think of anybody, ye can write the bit notes, an' I'll carry them roond when I gae to get the bird."

    "And you must order some holly, too," said the eager Margery, as she ran upstairs to scheme for getting private interviews with the rest of the family; and presently coming to the conclusion that it was easiest to be quite straightforward, she went boldly back to the parlour and asked if she might have a word with her father.  The result of that "word" in the hall was, that Mr. Farquhar went back to his visitor and straightway gave the invitation and got it accepted; a result which sent out both the boys to search for Margery, and implore her to remember that an Englishman would not expect kail-soup, collops, and sago on Christmas day.  Margery teased them a little while by suggesting variations in the way of haggis and bread-pudding; and then suddenly put them to confusion by recounting her satisfactory menu, and declaring her readiness to receive and entertain any other guest they could think of.

    Rab instantly remembered two fellow-students, one an English boy in his first session, the other a middle-aged Irishman come to college for the perfecting of a degree.  He had heard them both lamenting their friendlessness—the one moodily hinting that it was enough "to make a fellow go to the dogs," and the other declaring that "Irish hearts never thus shut out the stranger."  He would run off and seek them himself, knowing their haunts if they should not be in their lodgings.

    Laurie was silent still.  "Don't you know anybody?" pleaded his sister, whose quick sympathy felt some unspoken wish in his mind.

    "Well," he said, "there is Miss Macqueen, who serves in our shop.  She isn't English, but she belongs to the Episcopal Church, and they used to keep Christmas in her father's house in the Highlands; and this afternoon I thought she had been crying."

    "Certainly I will invite Miss Macqueen," said Margery brightly.  "I have often thought what a nice girl she looks.  I will write the note to her immediately, and Barby shall leave it as she goes to the market."

    She would not say another word to her brother then.  She knew the subtle reservations and distinctions which lay in his mind, and she would not emphasize them by even an interrogative underlining.  Since Margery had begun to earn for herself a place in life, she had also begun to face life's facts; and one of the sterner was that when we recognize a duty, we have to do it, not as we might choose, but as we can.  God had given her a special gift, by whose development she would presently secure a safe and bright path to independence; but she had learned to realize herself as she might have been without this gift, surrounded by similar circumstances, and to understand that had she remained the same honest, helpful woman she hoped now to be, then she must have done some other work, some which might have lowered her in the social scale, even as her future art might elevate her.  That art might unite her in the tastes, pursuits, and enjoyments of women far above her in birth and wealth; but she saw clearly that the simple duty of working for daily bread should bind her for ever in close sympathy with the lowliest working woman.

    And yet, with all these considerations, Margery was never haunted by the wild schemes for "liberty, equality, and fraternity" which often flashed across Laurie's brain.  Perhaps her constant association with sensible Barby had been her best safeguard from these.  She fully realized her own real inferiority to such women as that faithful servant and strong, brave Mrs. Leiper; but she felt that theirs was not a supremacy to be honoured by an invitation to dinner or a formal morning call.  One could no more have them—their real selves—in a drawing-room than one could have a cataract in a fern-case.  There are some prophets whom one must go out into the wilderness to see!

    But with that pretty, gentle, little Miss Macqueen—a girl who might have been brought up at the same school as Margery, who had certainly been to one as good—all was different.  And she and Laurie were working together now, though one might be at the desk and the other behind the counter, and in a year or two he would be at college, on an open road to the highest distinction, while she would be toiling on, left behind.

    "Can Laurie be fancying himself in love?" she mused.  "Nay, he's only seventeen; that's impossible," decided this discreet elder sister from the altitude of her few more years.  "Miss Macqueen must be quite as old as I am."

    She went back into the parlour to her father and Mr. Demetrius, and tried her hardest to join them in an animated discussion on the ins and outs of a famous trial then going on in the civil courts.  The two gentlemen were agreed as to its proper issue, they only differed as to the relative values of certain witnesses and evidence, so that the spirit of their argument was unimbittered by any dash of antagonise.  But though Margery did her best, and even made two or three remarks which Mr. Demetrius characterized as "sensible and subtle," her mind would wander elsewhere.  Think her not mercenary, but her thoughts dwelt in her purse with the ten pounds there.  Were they a common ten pounds? Nay, they had a magical power of presenting themselves in ever fresh aspects and values.  Now, they showed themselves as more than the interest of three hundred pounds at three per cent.  Next, they were a third of the rent of the house.  Again, they were nearly as much as Barb's annual wage.  Then, they were Rab's fees for one session.  And what would not they buy?  Oh, that strange sensation of sudden ability to gratify wishes which have seemed so impossible of fulfilment that one has driven them from one's mind as temptations to discontent!  Those who have always had as much money as they want have lost one opportunity for ecstatic joy.  And somehow to get this in perfect purity, these suppressed wishes must not have been for those things which even the rich regard as luxuries, but for something very nearly necessary—something without which the car of life goes heavily as with one broken wheel.  Margery did not spend her money for some days afterwards, but its spending was all planned that Christmas eve as she sat at her knitting while her father and Mr. Demetrius chatted.

    Rab should have his microscope.  He "could do without it" he had told her; only he could do a great deal better with it.  And there should be some new book-shelves, sorely needed now, especially when, between Rab's studies and Laurie's facilities for the buying of damaged copies, books were somewhat rapidly on the increase.  And for Barby—oh, happy thought!—for Barby there should be the gift of a railway return ticket to go and see her widowed sister among the hills at New Year tide.  Margery would keep house herself, with Rab, who would have a few days' holiday, as a stand-by.  Rab could clean boots,—that was a form in which the pioneer-like energy excited by the travellers' tales of his boyhood had always vented itself; and Rab's love of chemistry was not above the chemistry of cooking, and learnèd talk sometimes went on in the kitchen over pots and pans.  No, Margery did not fear the whole household burden if Rab was by; and Rab could throw a glow of romance over the homeliest details by building castles about migrating to the far, far West, and wrestling with the primeval forest, and struggling through years of hard self-helpfulness into great landowner, busy doctor, and general autocrat.  Such dreams, if they were but dreams, were like summer roses, brightening to-day with their living bloom, and sweetening to-morrow with a faint fragrance lingering even after the last dried leaf had been swept away.

    And even after all her loving little gifts were made, Margery believed there would remain a trifle, to say nothing of the wonderful vista of a weekly salary.  Yes, there was certainly one rich person in the city that n ight, and that was Margery Farquhar.

    Christmas day rose brightly.  The frost was keen, to be sure; but the frost which lives in sunshine, strong as it must therefore be, is scarcely the frost which strikes to the bones and the heart—certainly not to young bones and happy hearts.  Mr. Demetrius went off to service at the Episcopal church; but before he went, he left word with Barby that "he hoped Mr. Farquhar and his family would freely use his sitting-room in any way that might be useful to them;" a considerate civility which greatly relieved Margery's bewilderment as to where she should bestow her guests while the dinner-table was being spread—a problem which had only occurred to her after she had issued her invitations, and which she did not breathe even to Barby, till Mr. Demetrius's politeness solved it.

    "Ay, but I thocht o't at ance," said Barby; "but gin a thing's gude, and has got to be done, it's aye best to begin and tak' the ups and doons as they come. Donna measure a hill afore ye climb it, nor coont ony milestanes except those ye've passed."

    "But what should we have done if Mr. Demetrius had not been so thoughtful?" reflected Margery, perhaps inclined to exaggerate the difficulty now it was over.

    "Dune!—dune weel eneuch," said Barby.  "Set the table an hour beforehand, and the sicht o' the plates an' dishes wad ha' given the folk an appetite."

    Dinner was to be at four.  Margery had few dinner-giving experiences, and she thought that left time for a nice long evening without late hours.  Little did she know the tribulation into which this arrangement threw the two students.  "Quite a homely affair.  We are very plain people," Rab had informed them in his flying call the night before.

    "But, sure, and there's homely and homely," said the Irish student to his English friend.  "I've heard a Tipperary farmer use these very words when he's asked me to a hop on an earth floor; and the archbishop's lady said the same when she asked my sisters to a grand kettledhrum at the palace.  It's an early hour to put on evening dress."

    "And yet it's the proper thing when one's invited to dinner," urged the English youth, whose swallow-tail coat was new.

    They made a compromise.  The Irish student, whose newest garment was a jaunty velvet jacket, wore it with a necktie of the palest green, which he flattered himself would look white by gaslight, and the English student put on his swallow-tail, with the neatest little gray silk tie scarcely visible beneath his collar; and the elder cheerily pronouncing them "on the safe side either way," they started out, not without sundry speculations as to "Farquhar's sister," which would have half amused and half offended Margery.

    Miss Mcqueen had undergone no such mental tortures.  She had her best dress—a pure alpaca, made as plainly as if it had been of the costliest silk—and she rose an hour earlier to iron the hand-made lace she would wear about her neck and wrists.  Like Mr. Demetrius, she went to service at one of the Episcopal churches,—a quiet little out-of-the-way place, where most of the worshippers looked like pensioned old retainers of county families.  Then she returned to her lonely lodging an attic on the top flat of a huge house, from whose window she could look across other house-tops to an undulating line of green hills, their verdant smoothness only broken here and there by clumps of scraggy trees, and by a church whose tower stood boldly out against the sky, while its situation looked so lonely from this side that one wondered whence its congregation came.  There she wrote two letters, one directed to her old town in the Highlands, where she still had friends though no longer a home, and the other to a foreign address.  The first she wrote rapidly enough.  Over the latter she lingered long.  When they were finished, she put on her modest adornings, and started forth.  She did not post her letters then, being too late for that day's mail.

    She was the last to arrive, though she was in good time.  And Laurie took the opportunity to warn his sister—"You'll have to introduce her to everybody, Margery.  She has sold many a book to Mr. Turner, and Rab, and the other fellows; but she's not the sort to give them a chance to know her name, pleasant and obliging as she always is."

    Yet Margery liked her all the better when she saw the genial smile with which she showed that each formal introduction came after something of prior acquaintance; and she judged her to be both a true lady and a clever woman when, in a few minutes, she found her putting the somewhat confused masculine creatures quite at their ease by referring to Christmas numbers, and criticising their gaudy prettiness in connection with some fine steel engravings and quaint etchings in a packet of old-fashioned books which had recently been sent from London for one of the college magnates.  This was the door between the shop where they had known her and the parlour where they met her now, and she passed through it gracefully.

    They had a lively meal.  The Irish student was full of the wit and fun of his nation, and raised much laughter intentionally, and perhaps a little when he did not mean it.  Mr. Demetrius took upon himself to make a little speech at dessert.  It was a funny little speech, but there was plenty of pathos in it for those who had ears to hear.

    He had had many Christmas days, he said,—he told them how many, and the number was fifty-nine,—but be could not remember many separately, not more than seven or eight.  One was in his school-days, when he was quite a little boy, and he recollected it because it was the first time he saw the pudding in its burning brandy.  Another was a year or two after;—no, he rather thought that must have been Twelfth Night; for there was a big cake, and picture-characters, and he drew the king.  Then there were two Christmases when he was a young man.  He paused as he mentioned them, and said no more about them.  And there was a Christmas on shipboard; and another in an hospital, where he had been carried after an accident.  Since then he'd kept Christmas by going to service and eating mince-pie, which made monotonous memories.  And now, just as he had never again expected to remember another special Christmas, here had come to-day.

    "And may many similar follow," interrupted cheery Rab.

    Whereon Mr. Demetrius turned to him and said he was glad to see a young man going in for keeping up good habits once begun.  He hoped he'd carry that into everything.  He was a living lesson on that score himself.  He'd been brought up at boarding-school to take a regular walk every day, wet or dry, and he'd always stuck to it, except when he broke his leg.  Even on shipboard he'd had his regular hour for his regular turn.  If Mr. Rab would advise all his patients to do likewise, they wouldn't trouble him much; and that might be the worse for him and the better for them, till people got wise enough to pay their doctors for telling them how not to be ill, instead of how to recover.  Good habits were like tin tacks—not much in themselves, but they kept things in their place.  Habits were like clothes too—everybody must have some of some sort, good or bad; and people should be as ashamed of bad habits as they would be of dirty rags.  It would be curious to collect some data on such subjects.  He was an old-fashioned person, who admired Pope; and though he was not going to say that "the proper study of mankind is man," in the sense that this was the only study, still he agreed with him so far as that it was his best and highest study.  "If Science goes on in the paths she is now on," said the little man, turning fiercely to the students, "we shall presently know more about crabs and zoophytes than about each other.  I suppose we may become interesting some day—when we are fossils."  He should like some distinguished men—and he thought a lawyer, a doctor, and a divine should each have a hand in it—to prepare a paper of questions such as those which they would like to put to any who came before them as client, patient, or parishioner; and that such paper should be put into the hand of every adult who had come to the years of discretion, to be filled in and sealed and left with some such functionary as a registrar, to be called for when his certificate of death should be required.  And after the lapse of some years, such papers could be made subjects of scientific research.  It would be a poor way of coming at some of the facts of life, but it would be better than nothing.  He did not think people would be unwilling to tell the truth.  It would be curious now to find out what each of the present company had a habit of doing quite regularly, without being in the least compelled to it.  He had led off—he had told them of his walk.

    "Faix," said the Irish student, "and it's nothing I'd do if I was not compelled, except smoke my pipe after supper."

    "Well," said Mr. Farquhar, "for ten years I have gone every Saturday evening and on the first of every month to the town reading-room, to look through the journals and magazines."

    "I always change the date in that calendar," said Rab, pointing to one which hung beside the fire-place.  "That fell to be my duty somehow when I was a child, and I've always kept it up."

    "I've written home every Saturday night since I came away," observed the English student very timidly, as if he was answering a question in class and was not quite sure he was right.  And Margery set him down in her judgment as "a dear boy."  And so he was, though she might not have thought so had she heard him "ruffing" in his class-rooms, or felt the pins which he was in the habit of sticking into the legs of steadier students.

    "I've translated thirty lines of Homer every evening since I went to business," said Laurie.

    "The ladies are holding back," observed Mr. Demetrius.  "Miss Margery, without wishing to be too professional, I cannot help saying that you do your work so well that you must have a perfect stock of good habits as a foundation."

    "I don't know," Margery answered.  "I'm afraid Barby never leaves me free to follow my good habits uncompelled, for she reminds me of the silver-cleaning every Saturday afternoon when she clears away the dinner."

    "I cannot think of any especial custom of mine," said Miss Macqueen, "except that I keep my friends' birthdays marked down in an almanac, and write them a letter for each anniversary."

    "Well, now," observed Mr. Demetrius, with the erudite air of a statistician summing up, "I consider that this is an assembly above the average.  You will observe that the good habits of most of us are not only founded on regular lives of our own, but demand a regular and settled state of society.  Our little virtues are not wilderness virtues, but the product of trim social parterres.  They involve public reading-rooms, the early closing movement, a plate-basket with a system of police to protect it, and a postal system."

    "Faix," said the Irish student, "but my habit will stand wherever tobacco goes."

    "And where would tobacco go," asked Mr. Demetrius severely, "if it were not for ships and railroads, young gentleman?  And, sir, with your pipe, store for which you can carry in your pocket, you are the pioneer of the higher civilization.  With your pipe, sir, you will fumigate the wilderness.  Its filthy smell is enough to frighten away the wild beasts; its abominable smoke may dry up the morasses; its—"

    "Here's Barby!" cried Rab, as that excellent woman came in to look after the fire; "and Barby's habits will be best of all.—Barby, have you a habit? did you ever have a habit?"

    "Is it a riding-habit you mean, sir?" asked the innocent Baby, whose thoughts, to tell the truth, had been running on old New-Years' days, and goings to and fro between her father's house and those of neighbour crofters.  "Na, na; the like o' us had na habits.  We jumped on the mare in our short skirts, just as we were, two at a time whiles."

    In the general laughter this misapprehension evoked, the diners rose from table and retired to Mr. Demetrius's parlour.

    And there they spent a pleasant evening.  Mr. Demetrius had curious stores of his own, the quaint miscellaneous gatherings of a leisurely man with few claims on time, heart, or purse.  He had a book of queer autographs and ancient valentines, and similar curiosities, extending to the earliest specimens of "Christmas cards."  He had another, in which he had collected from ephemeral periodicals such woodcuts as had struck him as having some beauty strong enough to be a joy for a little while longer than a week, if not for ever.  Better still, he had a portfolio of engravings from the works of Reynolds, Gainsborough, and other masters of the English school, and a complete set of Hogarth's pictures.  Hogarth, he persisted, was his favourite artist, Crabbe his favourite poet, and Defoe his pet novelist.  Modern art and literature he declared to have become but adjuncts to "tea and embroidery."

    And yet the odd, old-boyish face looked strangely wistful while Jessie Mcqueen, who had the rare gift of singing without accompaniment, sang "Break, break, break."  She had a sweet voice, certainly not highly trained, but with a natural pathos in it which went well with the tender song.  When she sang again, she gave Kingsley's "Three Fishers."

    "Ah, thank you," said Mr. Demetrius; "'tis a fine picture.  But depend on it, in reality all the three widows got married again.  Women always do.  They are not faithful angels anywhere outside metre!"

    "Now, I think the song is scarcely fair to women," pleaded Miss Macqueen; "for women work as well as weep.  I think the women who do not work seldom weep."

    "And the women who do work are kept well employed in weeping by the men!" rejoined Mr. Demetrius.  "Is that so?  But never mind; the world is worth living in, as long as I can walk to the lighthouse and see the waves break in, or on the high road by the river and see the sun sink down."

    "And can know that God thinks man worthy to see so much beauty," whispered Margery.

    "And can observe that, in a general way, man scarcely thinks it worthy of his notice," snapped Mr. Demetrius.

    But Margery would have her last bright word.  She had learned to see beneath the thin, crabbed cynicism of her master, and she could not bear that strangers should think him otherwise than what she knew him.

    "Yet, didn't you say the other day, sir," she pleaded, "that influences which are unconscious are always strongest, and that the noble beauty of a minster probably more deeply penetrates the spirit of a young child taken there to daily service by its nurse, than that of a student who goes prepared to analyze and admire?"

    "Miss Margery," said Mr. Demetrius, "I am your professor; you are my pupil.  This lady and these gentlemen stand in no such relations to me.  To you I speak ex cathedra.  I say what ought to be said.  With them I stand in a crowd and say what I cannot help saying.  David once said in his haste that all men were liars.  He would not have deliberately mounted the altar-steps to promulgate that rash judgment.  We have our best and our worst in everything.  We brush our hair and clean our nails, and again our hair needs brushing and our nails paring.  When will you take us?  The nobleman would prefer us in the one condition, and the gipsy would feel more at ease with us in the other.  Our whole lives and characters are apt to resolve themselves more or less into a question of 'When will you take us?'"

    When Margery was assisting Miss Macqueen to put on her wraps, that lady very warmly expressed her thanks for the evening's entertainment.  It was odd how much older she seemed than Margery, though they had found out they were exactly of an age.  There was something of quite a senior's affectionate caressing in her manner to her young hostess—something of that tenderness which elder people often feel for those who may yet have hard bits of life's road before them, of which the others already know the worst.  Margery hoped she would come to see them again.

    "And perhaps you will come to see me too," answered Jessie Macqueen.  "It will be such a treat if you can look in any evening at my lodging.  You may know when I shall be there, by when your brother returns home.  I have almost forgotten how to pour out a cup of tea for anybody but myself," she added, with a sad little laugh.

    While she spoke, she had laid down on the toilet-table two letters, that she might free her hands for the further securing of her hood, which had loosened from its first tying.  As Margery stood beside the table, she could not help seeing the superscription of the upper one, written as it was in Jessie's firm bold hand.  And this superscription was,—


Mr. William Fraser,
                      Post-Office,
                                            Lennoxuille,
                                                                  Canada.


    "Can that be Sarah's brother?" thought Margery for a moment and then remembered that William Fraser was no uncommon name, and was probably almost the commonest name among Miss Macqueen's Highland townsfolk.

    And Christmas day was over.  And thus, by no stroke of good fortune, but by simple continuance in well-doing, the Farquhar household had risen from sorrow to joy, and from mourning into a good day, and had celebrated the change in the kindly old style by feasting and joy, and sending portions one to another.


 
IX.

A Visit.


THE two girls did not drop their acquaintanceship; but they were both too busy to let it flow on in the rambling, desultory way too common in female companionship.  Speaking figuratively, friendship requires regular hours, regular work, and regular food.  Unless we have constant meeting hours and duties in common, we never enter into each other's lives, and a thousand occasions for mutual service and solace pass by unimproved.  How often one hears women say, "Poor Miss So-and-so has had a great blow in the death of a dear friend;" or, "Poor Mrs. So-and-so has been nearly worn out by the lonely nursing of her sick child,—and we never knew that anything was wrong; we had not been calling there lately—the roads were bad, or the weather was rainy."

    But Margery Farquhar and Jessie Mcqueen were so constantly busy that they were saved from this.  To be together at all, meant to be together at work.  Jessie called on the Farquhars one Thursday, and found Margery in her own room with a stocking-basket—the deep, huge stocking-basket of a masculine household.  She instantly proposed to share her toils—"It was like home again to see a basket like that!"  And if she helped on that one evening, why could she not do so every week?  And while their fingers were busy, they would chat over the books they had read, or one might even read aloud for a little.

    Also, they bore each other company to such evening lectures in churches and schoolrooms as interested and instructed them, though they might only have bored the busy and learnèd students.  Both the girls earnestly wished they could join in some of the classes for ladies which certain of the professors were holding; but, alas that was impossible, for these met in the afternoon hours, when neither was free.  But Jessie could at least easily procure the synopsis of the lectures, and the list of books recommended to be studied therewith; and Margery, out of what she called "her private fortune," could buy some of the latter for their mutual study under the guidance of the former.

    They did not often indulge in what the poet Wordsworth calls "personal talk."  Jessie might have been a very fountain-head of the town's gossip had she chosen to retail all that went on before her while she was pursuing her daily business in the shop.  And yet she did not ignore the worthy opportunities of such a position; for she would remember and repeat scraps of wit or humour which had merit of their own without any of that spice of personality which is often used to impart piquancy to otherwise savourless morsels.  She would often speak, too, of her old home—that vanished home in the Highlands, of which she in her lonely attic in the university town was the sole representative.  As for Margery, her real life was too actually present with her to gain much consideration.  We seldom look behind us till we miss something.

    Possibly, during that winter and spring Sarah Fraser felt herself somewhat neglected.  The more we have chosen to regard all the advantages of an intimacy as bestowed by ourselves, the more bitterly do we resent when we find them easily foregone.  It is very hard to plead excuse for anything which even looks like fickleness or forgetfulness; but we must remember that those who are accused of these faults by some are the same whom others prove to be specially stanch and true.  It has been told of a mother dog that, having her pups untimely taken from her, she endeavoured to satisfy her maternal yearnings by fondling and licking an old shoe.  There are as pathetic cravings of human hearts, which will put themselves forth even upon equally unsatisfying dummies, ay, or less satisfactory—not merely irresponsive and passive, but sour and prickly.  But would we call the poor dog fickle if at last she kicked away the shoe to welcome a motherless pup, going a-hungered for exactly what she could supply?  Yet such is the judgment we often pass on human beings.

    Once, in the early spring, Margery took the opportunity of a leisure afternoon and walked out to Mannohill.  Sarah was from home.  Sarah did not hasten to return that call.  She only kept on saying to herself that Margery ought to come again: it ought to be a treat to her to come to such a house as theirs: if she, Sarah, went through "those dingy streets" to return four or five of Margery's visits, that should amply suffice.  But Margery did not come.  And just as April was passing into May, Sarah made up her mind to have what she called "a pilgrimage"—all effort being to her of a penal nature—to the little house behind the harbour.

    When not under Mr. Demetrius's own eye, Margery usually worked in her own chamber.  It would have been a large room had not much of its space been diminished by sloping walls, into whose angles were fitted all sorts of chests and boxes.  It had one large projecting window, from which one could see the sea.  In its alcove stood Margery's table and tools; and there she sat, too busy to notice any ringing of the hall bell, till Barby knocked at her door and told her Miss Fraser was below.

    Now Margery was not in parlour costume.  She had on a white apron with a bib, and linen cuffs drawn over her sleeves.  Rab would require the parlour, too, presently, for he was coming home early to snatch some hasty refreshment before going to a garden party given by a professor in whose class he had earned distinguished honours.  Sarah had often feigned an affectionate schoolgirl familiarity in welcoming Margery in the undress of laziness, so why should Margery hesitate to receive her in her own neat working-dress?

    "Ask Miss Fraser to come up here, Barby, please," she said bravely.

    "Ay, ay, missy," said the old woman; "only I'm feared she'll grudge the extra steps o' the stair.  She'll catch no game but what comes when it's whistled on."

    Barby was not pleased to see Miss Fraser.  She had associated her mentally with Margery's fleeting days of demoralization.  But she blamed herself as she went downstairs.  Barby was too sensible a woman for any policies of social quarantine and isolation.  "It's no wise folk that need shut themselves up wi' their ain wisdom," she reflected; "for that's like the widow's cruse—it will na waste by giving."

    Sarah ushered herself in with some sentimental remark about feeling that she must be quite forgotten, since out of sight was always out of mind, with "mere friends," though absence might make the heart of lovers to grow fonder.

    Margery pleaded the stress of work in excuse for her retirement, and showed the piece on which she was employed at that time, and told the history of her occupation.

    "Dear me," cried Miss Fraser, "how very interesting!  Why, it is exactly what one reads in story-books: how people lose their money, and then one of the daughters thinks of what she might do to earn some.  I remember a book where the girl went out and sang in the street till her fine voice was noticed, and she became a famous vocalist.  It is just like a romance.  And to think of you being the heroine!"

    Margery's colour was a little heightened.  She did not like Sarah's comparison.  And no sensible girl enjoys being thought a heroine of romance, whether she be one or not.  And Margery was certainly conscious of no heroism whatever.

    "I always think what a blessing it is when a woman who has to earn her bread has some special gift whereby to do it," Miss Fraser went on.  "Of course, other women have the gifts often, though they do not need to weary themselves with the drudgery required to bring them to mere marketable standard.  I am sure I should find it quite easy to be an author if only I could flash out my ideas in some way without the mechanical labour of writing.  Old Dr. Gray—and he was a great man, you know, wonderful in insight into intellect and character—used to call me 'his little day-dreamer.'  And as for pictures, I can imagine pictures more beautiful than anything I ever saw, even in nature.  But then I could never have patience to sit down and work away at dot-and-scratch;" and she bent over Margery's task.  "That would darken all my imagination, and cramp it into the mere ordinary commonplace kind of thing we see so much of.  I expect it always has that effect.  And doesn't it tire your hand?" she continued, without any change of tone.  "Won't you be likely to get the kind of disease called 'writers' cramp'?"

    "I think not," said Margery; "'I am not afraid of it.  I suppose there is some sort of evil possible to every occupation."

    "Yes, indeed.  Those of us who are not obliged to do anything are not half thankful enough for our blessings," answered Sarah Fraser quite serenely.  "And you'll have to take care of your eyes, and, indeed, of your health altogether—of course, I mean as far as that is possible when it cannot be a first consideration."

    "I seldom work by artificial light," said Margery, quietly, feeling it necessary to say something.  "Of course, it may be occasionally necessary to do so."

    "Ah, even that will try your sight.  And you must find the confinement very irksome, poor dear.  You must remember to take plenty of nourishment; you must not forget that there are some cheap foods which are very nourishing; and though you may think it an extravagance, you might find it true economy to take a little wine, perhaps even every day."

    "Wine!" echoed Margery, amazed; "we never touch wine in this house; and whoever may possibly need it, certainly young and healthy people do not."

    Sarah shook her head with an air of superior wisdom.  "Wait a while," she warned.  "Two or three years ago I would never have believed that I should require it; and now I do not think I could live without it.  And yet I am living in the purest air and on the finest food.  But oh, the deadly faintness and weariness that come over me!  It is strange, but I always find strength for what is required of me.  I went to two parties last week, and danced at both till nearly three in the morning.  And now this week I am fit for nothing.  That shows how my suffering is purely of the nerves.  And what can be worse?  I have only crawled here by a supreme effort, and I could never have made it without a little stimulant.  It is quite a providence that just at this time I should have had such a sensible woman about me as our new cook."

    Margery looked up for an explanation.  Sarah went on with lowered confidential tone.  "You know no wine was used in our house, and not one of the doctors to whom papa took me ever suggested such a thing; indeed, there was one, in whom my father had great faith, who asked me the question specially, and congratulated me when I said I never touched spirituous drink of any sort.  He even wanted me to give up tea and coffee for a while.  Of course, I could not do that, and I never told him that I had a strong cup of tea brought me every afternoon, for I thought he would certainly forbid that; and it had done me a great deal of good when I had first tried it, though as I grew lower and lower it took no effect.  And at last cook said to me,  'Don't you trouble a bit about what the doctors say, and don't disturb yourself about your papa.  What he wants is that you should get well.  You try a little wine; a glass or two of good old port every day would make you quite another lady.'  Well, I felt so exhausted that I was glad to catch at any straw.  But I said, 'Cook, how can I get wine? it costs a great deal of money.'  And she said, 'Ma'am, it costs a mere trifle to a rich lady like you.  I'll buy it for you out of your pocket-money.'  But I said I had no pocket-money; as indeed I never have had; papa did not think it proper for girls to have money to spend as they choose, without anybody knowing where it went, but preferred I should order what I chose at the shops, and send him in the bills.  So then she said she knew another plan, and that was to get it from our grocer, and have it set down under some other head—jams or jellies, or the like."

    "O Sarah!" cried Margery with burning cheeks, "of course you did not do that; it would be worse than a lie.  And I think your cook must be a bad and dangerous woman."

    "Ah, my dear," said Sarah, "you are hasty.  But I admire your feeling, for I had it myself, only it passed away when I heard all she urged, and thought over the whole matter.  'Deceiving your pa!' she said, when I put it to her so; 'you do what I advise you, and make haste and get well, and then tell him all about it, and see what he'll say then!'"

    "It cannot be right," pleaded Margery.  "It cannot be right to take his money without his knowledge to do what he would not approve."

    "My dear," said Sarah, with the specious sophistry she had so readily learned, "he would approve of anything that would do me good; only, unfortunately, I fear he is too prejudiced to have an open mind as to what will do me good."

    "And are you sure it does you good?" asked Margery earnestly.  "May it not be with it as it was with the tea—an apparent benefit at first, and possibly a real injury?  And oh, Sarah, I don't like to speak of such a thing—but this is how people begin to go wrong.  When one glassy fails of its usual effect, you may find that two restore it, and so on and on."

    "It may be so with common people, or weak characters without any will-power or self-respect," said Sarah negligently, as if such a remote idea was not worth negligently about.  And then there was a moment's pause.

    "Did you go to any of the ladies' classes this winter?" asked Margery, so shocked at the possibilities which had risen before her mind that she hastened to change the subject to one of wholesome interest, as one might put one's head out of the window for an airing after taking a peep into a skeleton cupboard.

    "No," said Sarah; "I did not think of it.  I might have done so; it would have been some sort of amusement for me.  Yet," she added, flaunting as usual her supererogatory virtue of economy, "I should scarcely have liked to ask papa to incur any fresh expense in these hard times."

    Margery wondered how much she had spent on the mere trifles of her toilet for those two dancing parties; but she knew Sarah well enough to understand that she would regard it as the most beneficent mingling of political economy and public charity to badly pay half-starved girls for sewing tulle flounces to be worn for one night.

    "Oh, by the way," said Sarah presently, "will you remember to tell your father that my brother William sent him his kindest remembrances, and all best New Year wishes.  I think that was the message; at any rate, it was something like that.  It sounds strange now, but it came in a letter which poor Willie wrote home at the beginning of this year, only I've never seen you since.  I wonder what made him think of Mr. Farquhar?  He was the only one of the townspeople he mentioned,"

    "Where is your brother now?" asked Margery, and as she asked the question that foreign letter of Christmas night suddenly occurred to her memory.

    "In Canada," said Sarah; "and he seems to be doing very well this time.  He did not enter into particulars, but from his letter we gather that he is settled on a clearing near Lennoxville, in a beautiful tract of country not far from Montreal."

    Margery's heart was beating at a terrible rate, and she bent closely over her work to hide her sensations.  She felt as if she had received a terrible blow.  Perhaps there is little in life more bitter than to gather from an indifferent or an unloved tongue something with which we think a beloved one should have trusted us.  Margery was only a girl, and she leaped to the conclusion that the relation between William Fraser and Jessie Mcqueen must be one of love.  And perhaps there was a sound philosophy in her intuition, for we seldom guard our friendships under a seal of silence.  And her warm nature was jarred from head to foot to feel herself shut out from the inner sanctum of that heart which had seemed to welcome her so frankly.

    She would make no remark; she would ask no question.  That resolution was quickly made, but she scarcely guessed in what an ordeal it would be instantly tested.

    "We hope he will really settle there—and marry," Sarah went on in her half-sentimental drawl.  "If he does well, you know, somebody nice may marry him, after all; and even if not, if he would only marry somebody out there—it would not matter much who it was.  Few people ask much about William now, and one can easily make anything at a distance sound well.  It was so different when he was in this town.  That was the beginning of the troubles in our house.  It was not likely papa would consent to William having his own way and marrying just whom he chose, when papa has spent his life in gaining us a position from which we might expect anything.  And then they got wrangling and quarrelling; and William took to bad ways, and picked up with a fast set of the students, and spent his time hanging about the restaurants, and went to a gaming-house that is to be found somewhere in this place.  And then papa cut him off.  And we've always been so afraid he would come back and really do it; and a man's life is never hopelessly ruined till he does that."

    "Does what?" asked Margery, bewildered.

    "Dear me! don't you know anything about it?" asked Sarah, in her turn.  "Why, I thought it was the town's gossip.  I've always believed that the high and mighty people—the poor gentilities, who go on foot because it is good exercise!—were talking at me when I've heard them so often saying that people who have newly made money are the most ashamed of the class they rise from; as if that is to be wondered at, when they alone know what it costs them to rise to the class above them, and how even money and carriage and park will hardly keep the balance with some foolish old genealogy or stupid college degree.  No wonder we want to hold our own when we can get it.—Do you mean to say you don't know that my brother William had what is called 'an affair' with the girl who serves in the shop where I see your brother is clerk now?"

    "I never knew it before," faltered Margery; "and I don't understand now.  What do you mean by 'an affair'?"

    "Oh, I don't know.  Fancied he fell in love with her, or something of the kind—one does not know what that means with girls of that sort."

    "I am sure she is a good woman, and very sweet looking," said Margery, stoutly.

    Sarah laughed.  "Rather a scraggy style of beauty," she sneered.  "Perhaps it is artistic; but I never considered William had any taste.  Possibly he liked a thin loveliness.  I think I remember his calling you pretty."

    She said all this with a slow, half-suggesting drawl, which would have put anybody who had shown signs of taking offence hopelessly in the wrong.  But Margery was a woman, and had her sharp little answer ready.

    "I should not mind being called pretty by anybody who admired Miss Macqueen."

    "Macqueen!—ah, that's her name.  I declare I had forgotten it," said Sarah. "Are you on speaking terms with her?"

    "Yes," said Margery, shortly.

    "Well, I daresay she may be respectable enough," was Sarah's remark.  "But William and I never quarrelled over anything except that girl," she went on.  "I forgave him everything else.  As I said to him, if he married a shopwoman, what had I to expect?"

    "And what did he answer to that?" was the irrepressible inquiry of Margery's feminine curiosity.

    "Oh, some impertinence," cried Sarah; "something about papa's mother having been a dairymaid.  What has that to do with it?  Nobody remembers that.  And then he went on with some stuff about education.  Education is all very well in its way, but what can it do by itself?  As a great London friend of papa's says, he can hire a university man cheaper than he can hire a good horse.  I know it sounds coarse, but it's true.  I used to be romantic, even a very little while ago, but one gradually learns wisdom."  She said the last words in a half-apologetic style, as if she felt she might have gone too far.

    And so she had; so far that Margery would not have cared what else she said any more than she had heeded the railing of two fishwives who had quarrelled in the street that morning.

    "Well, I expect it is all over, however," she said, rising to take her departure.  "When William was about here last time he never spoke of the girl, and I never asked a question.  Only I watched her, and noticed how miserable she looked."

    Margery was quite polite to the very hall door—ceremonious, as Margery had never been before.  But somehow when Miss Fraser looked in her face she saw something there which suppressed her half-proffered kiss.  And little as either of them dreamed of it then, that was the last time Sarah Fraser ever crossed that threshold.

    "Miss Fraser looks queer—there's a strange change coming owre her whiles," said Barby, whom Margery found in the parlour in attendance on Rab's dinner.  "Has she been ill?"

    "She was out dancing twice last week till two or three o'clock in the morning," was Margery's significant rejoinder.

    "Wae's me!" cried Barby; "and wha wad she get for her partners, sin' men folk hae to be at their day's wark the morn's morn?"

    "I know she had one partner who is not troubled by his day's work," said sarcastic Rab, "and that's our handsome chronic student."

    "Oh, weel," observed Barby, with a shrewd humour, "gin he is not working wi' ye, he's getting ready wark for ye; for whaur wad be the maist o' yer—what d'ye ca' it?—chronicled patients, if folk wad live after common sense for twa, three generations?"



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