Discipline: A Novel

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I was now in a situation which might have alarmed the fears even of one born to penury and inured to hardship. Every day diminished a pittance which I had no means of replacing; and, in an isolation which debarred me alike from sympathy and protection, I was suffering the penalty of that perverse temper, which had preferred exile among strangers to an imaginary degradation among "my own people."

As it became absolutely necessary to discover some means of immediate subsistence, I expended part of my slender finances in advertising my wishes and qualifications; but not one inquiry did the advertisement produce. Perhaps the Scottish mothers in those days insisted upon some acquaintance with the woman to whom they committed the education of their daughters, beyond what was necessary to ascertain her knowledge of the various arts of squandering time. I endeavoured to ward off actual want by such pastime work as had once ministered to my amusement, and afterwards to my convenience; but I soon found that my labours were as useless as they were light; for Edinburgh, at that time, contained no market for the fruits of feminine ingenuity.

In such emergency it is not to be wondered if my spirits faltered. My improvident lightness of heart forsook me; and though I often resolved to face the storm bravely, I resolved it with the tears in my eyes. I asked myself a hundred times a day, what better dependence I could wish than on goodness which would never withhold, and power which could never be exhausted? And yet a hundred times a day I looked forward as anxiously as if my dependence had been upon the vapour tossed by the wind. I felt that, though I had possessed the treasures of the earth, the blessing of Heaven would have been necessary to me; and I knew that it would be sufficient, although that earth should vanish from her place. Yet I often examined my decaying means of support as mournfully as if I had reversed the sentiment of the Roman; and "to live," had been the only thing necessary.

I was thus engaged one morning, when I heard the voice of Murray inquiring for me. Longing to meet once more the glance of a friendly eye, I was more than half tempted to retract my general order for his exclusion. I had only a moment to weigh the question, yet the prudent side prevailed; because, if the truth must be told, I chanced just then to look into my glass; and was ill satisfied with the appearance of my swoln eyes and colourless cheeks; so well did the motives of my unpremeditated actions furnish a clue to the original defects of my mind. However, though I dare not say that my decision was wise, I may at least call it fortunate; since it probably saved me from one of those frothy passions which idleness, such as I was condemned to, sometimes engenders in the heads of those whose hearts are by nature placed in unassailable security. This ordinary form of the passion was certainly the only one in which it could then have affected me; for what woman, educated as I had been, early initiated like me into heartless dissipation, was ever capable of that deep, generous, self-devoting sentiment, which, in retirement, springs amid mutual charities and mutual pursuits; links itself with every interest of this life, and twines itself even with the hopes of immortality? My affections and my imagination were yet to receive their culture in the native land of strong attachment, ere I could be capable of such a sentiment.

As I persevered in excluding Murray, the only being with whom I could now exchange sympathies was my new Highland friend, Cecil Graham. I often saw her; and when I had a little conquered my disgust at the filth and disorder of her dwelling, I found my visits there as amusing as many of more "pomp and circumstance." She was to me an entirely new specimen of human character; an odd mixture of good sense and superstition,--of minute parsimony and liberal kindness,--of shrewd observation, and a kind of romantic abstraction from sensible objects. Everything that was said or done suggested to her memory an adventure of some "gallant Graham," or to her fancy the agency of some unseen being.

I had heard Maitland praise the variety, grace, and vigour of the Gaelic language. "If we should ever meet again," thought I, "I should like to surprise him pleasantly;" so, in mere dearth of other employment, I obliged Cecil to instruct me in her mother-tongue. The undertaking was no doubt a bold one, for I had no access to Gaelic books; nor if I had could Cecil have read one page of them, though she could laboriously decipher a little English. But I cannot recollect that I was ever deterred by difficulty. While Cecil was busy at her spinning, I made her translate every name and phrase which occurred to me; tried to imitate the uncouth sounds she uttered; and then wrote them down with vast expense of consonants and labour. My progress would, however, have been impossible, if Cecil's dialect had been as perplexing to me as that of the Lowlanders of her own rank. But though her language was not exactly English, it certainly was not Scotch. It was foreign rather than provincial. It was often odd, but seldom unintelligible. "I learnt by book," said she, once when I complimented her on this subject; "and I had a good deal of English; though I have lost some of it now, speaking among this uncultivate' people."

Cecil, who had no idea that labour could be its own reward, was very desirous to unriddle my perseverance in the study of Gaelic. But she never questioned me directly; for, with all her honesty, Cecil liked to exert her ingenuity in discovering byways to her purpose. "You'll be thinking of going to the North Country?" said she one day, in the tone of interrogation. I told her I had no such expectation. "You'll may be get a good husband to take you there yet; and that's what I am sure I wish," said Cecil; as if she thought she had invocated for me the sum of all earthly good.

"Thank you, Cecil: I am afraid I have no great chance."

"You don't know," answered Cecil, in a voice of encouragement. "Lady Eredine hersel' was but a Southron, with your leave."

I laughed, for I had observed that Cecil always used this latter form of apology when she had occasion to mention anything mean or offensive. "How came the laird," said I, "to marry one who was but a Southron?"

"Indeed, she was just his fortune, lady," said Cecil, "and he could not go past her. And Mr. Kenneth himsel' too is ordained, if he live, save him, to one from your country."

"Have you the second-sight, Cecil, that you know so well what is ordained for Mr. Kenneth?"

"No, no, lady," said Cecil, shaking her head with great solemnity, "if you'll believe me, I never saw anything by common. But we have a word that goes in our country, that 'a doe will come from the stranger's land to couch in the best den in Glen Eredine.' And the wisest man in Killifoildich, and that's Donald MacIan, told me, that 'the loveliest of the Saxon flowers would root and spread next the hall hearth of Castle Eredine.'"

"A very flattering prophecy indeed, Cecil; and if you can only make it clear that it belongs to me, I must set out for Glen Eredine, and push my fortune."

"That's not to laugh at, lady," said Cecil very gravely; "there's nobody can tell where a blessing may light. You might even get our dear Mr. Henry himsel', if he knew but what a good lady you are"

Now this "Mr. Henry himsel'" was Cecil's hero. She thought Mr. Kenneth, indeed, entitled to precedence as the elder brother and heir-apparent; but her affections plainly inclined towards Henry. He was her constant theme. Wherever her tales began, they always ended in the praises of Henry Graham. She told me a hundred anecdotes to illustrate his contempt of danger, his scorn of effeminacy, his condescension and liberality; and twice as many which illustrated nothing but her enthusiasm upon the subject. Her enthusiasm had indeed warmth and nature enough to be contagious. Henry Graham soon ceased to be a mere stranger to me. I listened to her tales till I knew how to picture his air and gesture,--till I learned to anticipate his conduct like that of an old acquaintance; and till Cecil herself was not more prepared than I to expect from him everything noble, resolute, and kind.

To her inexpressible sorrow, however, this idol of her fancy was only an occasional visitor in Glen Eredine; for which misfortune she accounted as follows:--

"It will be twenty years at Michaelmas, since some of that Clan Alpine, who, by your leave, were never what they should be, came and lifted the cattle of Glen Eredine; and no less would serve them but they took Lady Eredine's oun cow, that was called Lady Eredine after the lady's oun sel'. Well! you may judge, lady, if Eredine was the man to let them keep that with peace and pleasure. Good troth, the laird swore that he would have them all back, hoof and horn, if there was a stout heart in Glen Eredine. Mr. Kenneth was in the town then at his learning; more was the pity--but it was not his fault that he was not there to fight for's oun. So the laird would ha' won the beasts home himsel', and that would he. But Mr. Henry was just set upon going; and he begged so long and so sore, that the laird just let him take's will. Donald MacIan minds it all; for he was standing next the laird's own chair when he laid's hand upon Mr. Henry's head, and says he, 'Boy,' says he, ' I am sure you'll never shame Glen Eredine and come back empty-handed.' And then his honour gave a bid nod with's head to Donald, as much as bid him be near Mr. Henry; and Donald told me his heart grew great, and it was no gi'en him to say one word; but thinks he, 'I shall be cutted in inches before he miss me away from him.'

"So ye see, there were none went but Donald and three more; for Mr. Henry said that he would make no more dispeace than enough; so much forethought had he, although he was but, I may say, a child; and Donald me that he followed these cattle by the lay of the heather, just as if he had been thirty years of age; for the eagle has not an eye like his; ay, and he travelled the whole day without so much as stopping to break bread, although you may well think, lady, that, in those days, his teeth were longer than's beard. And at night he rolled him in's plaid, and laid him down with the rest, as many other good gentles have done before, when we had no inns, nor coaches, nor such like niceties.

"Well! in the morning he's astir before the roes; and, with grey light, the first sight he sees coming down Bonoghrie is the Glen Eredine cattle, and Lady Eredine the foremost. And there was Neil Roy, Vich Roban, and Callum Dubh, and five or six others little worth, with your leave; and Donald knew not how many more might be in the shealing. Ill days were then; for the red soldiers were come in long before that, and they had taken away both dirk and gun; ay, and the very claymore that Ronald Graham wagged in's hand o'er Colin Campbell's neck, was taken and a'. So he that was born to as many good swords, and targes, and dirks, as would have busked all Glen Eredine, had no a weapon to lift but what grew on's oun hazels! But the Grahams, lady, will grip to their foe when the death-stound's in their fingers. So Mr. Henry he stood foremost, as was well his due; and he bade Neil Roy to give up these beasts with peace. Well! what think you, lady? the fellow, with your leave, had the face to tell the laird's son that he had ta'en, and he would keep. 'If you can,' quo' Mr. Henry, 'with your eight men against five.' Then Neil he swore that the like should never be said of him; and he bade Mr. Henry choose any five of his company to fight the Glen Eredine men. 'A bargain!' says Mr. Henry, 'so Neil I choose you; and shame befa' the Graham that takes no the stoutest foe he finds.' Och on! lady, if you did but hear Donald tell of that fight. It would make your very skin creep cold. Well, Mr. Henry he held off himsel' so well that Neil at the length flew up in a rage, and out with's dirk to stick her in our sweet lamb's heart; but she was guided to light in's arm. Then Donald he got sight of the blood, and he to Neil like a hawk on a muir-hen, and gripped him with both's hands round the throat, and held him there till the dirk fell out of's fingers; and all the time Callum Dubh was threshing at Donald as had he been corn, but Donald never heeded. Then Mr. Henry was so good that he ordered to let Neil go, and helped him up with's oun hand; but he flung the dirk as far as he could look at her.

"Well! by this time two of the Macgregors had their backs to the earth; so the Glen Eredine men that had settled them, shouted and hurra'd, and away to the cattle. And one cried Lady Eredine, and the other cried Dubh-bhoidheach; and the poor beasts knew their voices and came to them. But Mr. Henry caused save Janet Donelach's cows first, because she was a widow, and had four young mouths to fill. Be's will, one way or other, they took the cattle, as the laird had said, hoof and horn; and the Aberfoyle men durst not lift a hand to hinder them, because Neil had bound himsel' under promise, that none but five should meddle."

"But Cecil," interrupted I, growing weary of this rude story, "what has all this to do with Henry Graham's exile from Glen Eredine?"

"Yes, lady," answered Cecil, "it has to do; for it was the very thing that parted him from's own. For, you see, the Southron sheriffs were set up before that time; and the laird himsel' could not get's will of any body, as he had a good right; for they must meddle, with your leave, in everything. The thistle's beard must na' flee by, but they must catch and look into. So when the sheriff heard of the Glen Eredine spraith, he sent out the red soldiers, and took Neil Roy, and Callum Dubh, and prisoned them in Stirling Castle; and the word went that they were to be hanged, with your leave, if witness could be had against them; and Donald, and the rest of them that fought the Aberfoyle men, were bidden come and swear again' them. Then the word gaed that the sheriff would have Mr. Henry too; but Lady Eredine being a Southron herself, with your leave, was always wishing to send Mr. Henry to the strangers, so now she harped upon the laird till he just let her take her will.

"So, rather than spill man's life, Mr. Henry left both friend and foster-brother, and them that could have kissed the ground he trode upon. Och hone! Either I mind that day, or else I have been well told of; for it comes like a dream to me, how my mother took me up in her arms, and followed him down the glen. Young and old were there; and the piper he went foremost playing the lament. Not one spake above their breath. My mother wouldno' make up to bid farewell: but when she had gone till she was no' able for more, she stood and looked, and sent her blessing with him--wishing him well back, and soon. But the babies that were in arms that day ran miles to meet him the next time he saw Glen Eredine."

"And what became of the two prisoners?" I inquired at the close of this long story.

"Deed, lady," replied Cecil, "they were just forced to let them out again; for two of our lads hid themselves not to bear witness; and as for Donald MacIan and Duncan Bane, they answered so wisely that nobody could make mischief of what they said. So Neil, that very night he was let out, he lifted four of the sheriff's cows, just for a warning to him; and drave them to Glen Eredine, in a compliment to Mr. Henry."

This tale, and twenty others of the same sort, while they strengthened my interest in Cecil's hero, awakened some curiosity to witness the singular manners which they described. I was not aware how much the innovations and oppressions of twenty years had defaced the bold peculiarities of Highland character; how, stripped of their national garb, deprived of the weapons which were at once their ornament, amusement, and defence, this hardy race had bent beneath their fate, seeking safety in evasion, and power in deceit. Nor did I at all suspect how much my ignorance of their language disqualified me from observing their remaining characteristics.

But curiosity is seldom very troublesome to the poor; and the vulgar fear of want was soon strong enough to divert my interest from all that Cecil could tell me of the romantic barbarism of her countrymen; or of the bright eye, the manly port, the primitive hardihood, and the considerate benevolence of Henry Graham.

I was soon obliged to apply to her for information of a different kind. My wretched fund was absolutely exhausted, and still no prospect opened of employment in any form. Having no longer the means of procuring a decent shelter, I seemed inevitably doomed to be destitute and homeless. One resource, indeed, remained to me in the plain but decent wardrobe which I had brought to Scotland. It is true, this could furnish only a short-lived abundance, since principle, no less than convenience, had prescribed to me frugality in my attire; but our ideas accommodate themselves to our fortunes; and I, who once should have thought myself beggared if reduced to spend £500 a year, now rejoiced over a provision for the wants of one week as over treasure inexhaustible.

I found it easier, however, to resolve upon parting with my superfluous apparel than to execute my resolution. Ignorant of the means of transacting this humbling business, I had not the courage to expose my poverty by asking instructions. I often argued this point with myself; and proved, to my own entire conviction, that poverty was no disgrace, since it had been the lot of patriots, endured by sages, and preferred by saints. Nevertheless, it is not to be told with what contrivance I obtained from Cecil the information necessary for my purpose, nor with what cautious concealment I carried it into effect. Having once, however, conquered the first difficulties, I went on without hesitation: it was so much more easy to part with a superfluous trifle than to beg the assistance, or sue for the patronage, of strangers.

My last resource, however, proved even more transient than I had expected. I soon found it absolutely necessary to bend my spirit to my fortunes, and to begin a personal search for employment. On a stern wintry morning I set out for this purpose, with that feeling of dreary independence which belongs to those who know that they can claim no favour from any living soul. I applied at every music shop, and made known my qualifications at every boarding-school I could discover. At some I was called, with forward curiosity, to exhibit my talent; and the disgust of my forced compliance was heightened by the coarse applause I received. From some I was dismissed, with a permission to call again; at others I was informed that every department of tuition was already overstocked with teachers of pre-eminent skill.

At last I thought myself most fortunate in obtaining the address of a lady who wanted a governess for six daughters; but having examined me from head to foot, she dismissed me with a declaration that she saw I would not do. Before I could shut the room-door, I heard the word "beauty" uttered with most acrimonious emphasis. The eldest of the young ladies squinted piteously, and the second was marked with the small-pox

All that I gained by a whole day of wandering was the opportunity of economizing, by remaining abroad till the dinner hour was past. Heroines of romances often show a marvellous contempt for the common necessaries of life; from whence I am obliged to infer that their biographers never knew the real evils of penury. For my part I must confess that remembrance of my better days, and prospects of the dreary future, were not the only feelings which drew tears down my cheek, as I cowered over the embers of a fire almost as low as my fortunes, and almost as cold as my hopes. We generally make the most accurate estimate of ourselves when we are stripped of all the externals which serve to magnify us in our own eyes. I had often confessed that all my comforts were undeserved,--that I escaped every evil only by the mitigation of a righteous sentence; but I had never so truly felt the justice of this confession as now, when nothing was left me which could, by any latitude of language, be called my own. Yet, though depressed, I was not comfortless; for I knew that my deserts were not the measure of my blessings; and when I remembered that my severest calamities had led to substantial benefit,--that even my presumption and self-will had often been overruled to my advantage,--I felt at once a disposition to distrust my own judgment of present appearances, and an irresistible conviction that, however bereaved, I should not be forsaken. I fear it is not peculiar to me to reserve a real trust in Providence for the time which offers nothing else to trust. However, I mingled tears with prayers, and doubtful anticipation with acts of confidence, till my mind as weary as my frame, I found refuge from all my cares in a sleep more peaceful than had often visited my pillow when every luxury that whim could crave waited my awaking.

I was scarcely dressed, next morning, when my landlady bustled into my apartment with an air of great importance. She seated herself with the freedom which she thought my situation entitled her to use; and abruptly inquired, whether I was not seeking employment as a governess? A sense of the helplessness and desolation which I had brought upon myself had so well subdued my spirit, that I answered this unceremonious question only by a meek affirmative. Mrs. Milne then, with all the exultation of a patroness, declared that she would recommend me to an excellent situation; and proceeded to harangue concerning her "willingness to befriend people, because there was no saying how soon she herself might need a friend."

I submitted, resignedly enough, to the ostentation of vulgar patronage, while Mrs. Milne unfolded her plan. Her sister, she told me, was waiting-maid to a lady who wanted a governess for her only child,--a girl about ten years old. She added, that believing me to have come into Scotland with a view to employment of that land, she had mentioned me to this sister; who, she hinted, had no small influence with her mistress. Finally, she advised me to lose no time in offering my services; because, as Mrs. Boswell's plan of education was now full four-and-twenty hours old, nobody who knew her could expect its continuance, unless circumstances proved peculiarly favourable to its stability.

Though I could not help smiling at my new channel of introduction, I was in no situation to despise any prospect of employment; and I immediately proceeded to inquire into the particulars of the offered situation, and into my chance of obtaining it. I was informed that Mr. Boswell, having, in the course of a long residence in one of the African settlements, realized a competent fortune, had returned home to spend it among his relations; that he was a good-natured, easy man, who kept a handsome establishment, loved quiet, a good dinner, and a large allowance of claret; that in the first of these luxuries he was rather sparingly indulged by his lady, who, nevertheless, was a very endurable sort of person to those who could suit themselves to her way. These, however, were so few, that but for one or two persons made obsequious necessity, the Boswells would have eaten their ragouts and drunk their claret alone.

All this was not very encouraging; but it was not for me to startle at trifles; and I only expressed my fear that the recommendation of the waiting-maid might not be thought quite sufficient to procure for me such a trust as the education of an only child. "Oh! for that matter," said my landlady, "if you put yourself in luck's way, you have as good a chance as another: for Mrs. Boswell will never fash to look after any one but them that looks after her."

Agreeably to this opinion, I had no sooner swallowed my spare breakfast than I walked to George Square, to present myself to Mrs. Boswell. I was informed at her door that she was in bed; but that if I returned about one o'clock, I should probably find her stirring. At the hour appointed, I returned accordingly; and after some demur and consultation between the footman and the housemaid, I was shown into a handsome breakfast parlour, where, upon a fashionable couch, half sat, half lay, Mrs. Boswell.

Her thin sharp face, high nose, and dark eyes, gave her, at the first glance, an air of intelligence; but when I looked again, her curveless mouth, her wandering eyebrows, and low contracted forehead, obliged me to form a different judgment. The last impression was probably heightened by the employment in which I found her engaged. From a large box of trinkets which stood before her, she was bedizening herself and a pretty little fair-haired girl with every possible variety of bauble. Each was decked with at least half a dozen necklaces, studded all over with mal-a-propos clasps and brooches, and shackled with a multitude of rings and bracelets; so that they looked like two princesses of the South Sea Islands. All this was surveyed with such gravity and self-importance, as showed that the elder baby had her full share in the amusement.

Mrs. Boswell did not rise to receive me; but she stirred, which was a great deal for Mrs. Boswell. I made my obeisance with no very good will; and told her, that hearing she wanted a governess for Miss Boswell, I had taken the liberty to wait upon her.

Mrs. Boswell only answered me by something which she intended for a smile. Most smiles express either benevolence or gaiety; but Mrs. Boswell's did neither. It was a mere extension of the mouth; she never used any other. "My pretty love," said she, addressing herself to the child, "will you go and tell Campbell to find my--a--my musk-box; and you can help her to seek it, you know."

"No, I won't!" bawled the child; "for I know you only want to send me away that you may talk to the lady about that nasty governess."

"I an't going to talk about any nasty governess. Do go now, there's a dear; and I'll take you out in the carriage, and buy you another new doll,--a large one with blue eyes."

"No you won't," retorted miss; "for you promised me the doll if I would learn to write O, and you did not give it me then; no more will you now."

"A pretty ground-work for my labours!" thought I.

The altercation was carried on long and briskly, mingled with occasional appeals to me. "Miss Percy, did you ever see such a child?"

"Oh yes, madam,--a great many such."

"She has, to be sure, such an unmanageable temper! But then" (in a half whisper), "the wonderfullest clever little creature! Now, do, Jessie, go out of the room when you are bid."

At last, command and stratagem being found equally unavailing, Mrs. Boswell was obliged to take the course which many people would have preferred from the first; and proceeded to her business in spite of the presence of Miss Jessie.

"Can you teach the piano?"

"I believe I understand music tolerably well; and though I am a very inexperienced teacher, I would endeavour to show no want of patience or assiduity."

"And singing?" said Mrs. Boswell, yawning,

"I have been taught to sing."

"And French, and geography, and all the rest of it?" I was spared the difficulty of answering this comprehensive question by my pupil elect, who by this time had sidled close up to me, and was looking intently in my face. "You an't the governess your own self? Are you?" said she.

"I hope I shall be so, my dear."

"I thought you had been an ugly cross old thing! You an't cross. Are you?"

"No. I do not think I am."

"I dare say you are very funny and good-natured."

Mrs. Boswell gave me a glance which she intended should express sly satisfaction. "You would like to larn music and everything of that pretty lady, wouldn't you?" said she to her daughter.

"No. I would never like to larn nothing at all; but I should like her to stay with me, if she would play with me, and never bother me with that nasty spelling-book."

"Well, she shan't bother you. Miss Percy, what terms do you expect?"

"These I leave entirely to you and Mr. Boswell, madam. Respectable protection is the more important consideration with me.

"To be sure protection is very important," said Mrs. Boswell, once more elongating her mouth; and she made a pause of at least five minutes, to recruit after such an unusual expense of idea. This time I employed in making my court so effectually to the young lady, that when her mother at last mentioned the time of my removal to George Square, she became clamorous for my returning that evening. A new set of stratagems was vainly tried to quiet my obstreperous inviter; and then mamma, as usual, gave up the point. "Pray come to-night, if you can," said she, "or here will be no peace."

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This presentation of Discipline: A Novel, by Mary Brunton is Copyright 2003 by P.J. LaBrocca. It may not be copied, duplicated, stored or transmitted in any form without written permission. The text is in the public domain.