"No wonder that my countryman has celebrated the merits of a Scotch breakfast," said I, upon seeing the splendour and abundance of the morning repast at Castle Eredine. The linen and china were exquisitely delicate; and the table, though loaded with a plenty approaching to profusion, was arranged with perfect order and neatness. Eredine, for so I found it was the custom to call Mr. Graham, having placed me in a sturdy, square-built elbow-chair, with a back lofty and solid enough to serve every purpose of a screen, began to heap before me all the variety of food within his reach. In vain did I remonstrate. The ceremonial of hospitality required that I should be urged even unto loathing. When I turned to supplicate my host for quarter, and hoped that he was inclined to relent, an old lady, who sat by me on the other side, assailed me in the unguarded moment with a new charge of ham and marmalade.
"Ah! if he had seen the breakfasts in my young days!" said Eredine, in answer to my comment. "A Glen Eredine breakfast was something substantial then. It was not children's food that bred the fellows who fought at Prestonpans."
"What could you possibly have, sir, that is wanting here?"
The chieftain smiled compassionately upon me, as on a representative of the sons of little men. "Why, strong venison soup," said he, "and potted ptarmagans; or, if we were a hunting, a roasted salmon:--hunters are not nice, you know."
As soon as we rose from table, Charlotte went to resume her office of housekeeper, which had, in her absence, been most zealously filled by one of her innumerable cousins. To associate me in this employment was one of the friendly arts by which Charlotte contrived to domesticate me at Eredine; and household affairs furnished some little occupation for us both, although the establishment at the Castle was then smaller than it had ever been from time immemorial.
Feudal habits were extinct, and the days were long since gone, when bands of kinsmen, united in one great family, repaid hospitality and protection with more than filial veneration and love. Eredine had outlived three elder sisters, who for the greater part of a century had resided under the roof where they were born; and two younger brothers, who, after expiating, by thirty years of exile, their adherence to their hereditary sovereign, had returned to lay their ashes with those of their fathers. His eldest son had, a few months before, fallen a sacrifice to a West Indian climate; his second was banished from home by circumstances which I have already mentioned. The family, therefore, consisted of Eredine, his daughter, and myself; four men and seven women servants; Charlotte's nurse, a blind woman, who, being fit for nothing else, was stocking-knitter-general to the family, and served, moreover, as a humble substitute for the bard of other times; two little girls, one humpbacked, the other sickly; and three boys, two of whom were maintained because they were orphans, and the third because his grandmother had been the laird's favourite some sixty years before: and, finally, Roban Gorach, Cecil's deserted lover, who, as the humour served, tended Henry's old white pony, or wandered to all the sacraments administered within sixty miles round, or sat by his torn oak from morn to night unquestioned.
But these were by no means the only persons who daily shared in the good cheer of Castle Eredine. Besides several superannuated people of both sexes, who, for this very purpose, had been provided with cottages adjacent to the castle, we had stable-boys, and errand-boys, and cow-herds, and goose-herds; beggars and travellers by dozens: besides maintaining, for the day, every tradesman who executed the most trivial order for the family without doors or within. How was I surprised to learn that this establishment was supported by an estate of little more than a thousand pounds a year!
This family party was, for the present, reinforced by visitors of all ranks, who came to congratulate Charlotte's return. Among the earliest of these was my old friend Cecil, who recognised me with tears of joy. Recovering herself, she began to applaud her own skill in prophecy. "I told you," cried she, "that ye knew not where a blessing might light; and there, ye see, y'ere in Castle Eredine. And now, Mr. Henry will be gathered to you, and that will be seen."
In answer to my inquiries into her own situation, she informed me that her husband had returned home, having been disabled by sickness, and discharged from his regiment as unfit for service. She talked of his illness, however, without any alarm; for she had travelled on foot to Breadalbane to bring water from a certain consecrated spring, on which she fully relied for his cure. "What grieves us the most," said she to me, apart, "is that he's no' fit to help at the laird's shearing this year; as he had a good right, as well as the rest. And, ye see, I cannot speak to Miss Graham upon that to make his excuse, for she might think we were reflecting, because he's got trouble tending Mr. Kenneth."
The next day brought the harvest party, of which Cecil had spoken. About four o'clock in the morning I was awakened by the shrieking and groaning of a bagpipe under my window; and starting out of bed to ascertain the occasion of this annoyance, saw about a couple of hundred men and women collected near the house. These I found were the tenantry of Glen Eredine, assembled to cut down the landlord's corn; a service which they were bound to perform without hire. Yet never, in scenes professedly devoted to amusement, had I witnessed such animating hilarity as cheered this unrewarded labour. The work was carried on all day in measured time, to the sound of the bagpipe, yet without causing any interruption to the jests of the young, or the legends of the old. Mr. Graham himself frequently joined in both, without incurring the slightest danger of forfeiting respect by condescension. Dinner for the whole party was, of course, despatched from the castle. Fortunately, the cookery was not very complex, for the old nurse and the blind stocking-knitter were the only persons left at home to assist Charlotte and myself in the preparation.
It was customary for the festivities of the day to conclude with a ball on the old bowling-green; and promising myself some amusement from the novelty, I repaired to the spot soon after the time when the dancers had been accustomed to assemble. But no dancers were there. Not a person was to be seen, except one sickly emaciated creature, wearing a faded regimental coat over his tartan waistcoat and philibeg, who stood leaning against a tree with an aspect of hopeless dejection.
Supposing that I had mistaken the place, I inquired of this person whither I must go to seek the dancers. "Think ye, lady," said the man, with a look somewhat indignant, "that they would dance here this night? I hope they're no' so ill-mannered. It would be a fine story for them to be dancing, and the best blood in Eredine not well cold i' the grave yet!"
I perceived that he alluded to the recent death of Kenneth Graham; and, struck with such an instance of delicacy in persons whom I considered as little better than savages, I was going to enter into further conversation with the man, when, seeing Charlotte at a distance, I hastened to meet her. I could not prevail upon her to express the slightest surprise at the sensibility of her countrymen. "It is just as I expected," said she; and she proceeded to inform me, that the person whom I had quitted was the husband of my old friend Cecil, and the foster-brother of Kenneth Graham. "Poor James!" said she; "I believe it would have broken his heart if that bowling-green had been profaned with sounds of merriment. He visits it every evening at the same hour when he was wont to come, five-and-twenty-years ago, to play with my brothers. That poor fellow has given the strongest proofs of the attachment to a superior which you think so uncommon. As soon as he heard that my brother was ordered abroad, he left his wife and children, and explored his way on foot to the south of Ireland, where the regiment was already embarked. He enlisted; watched his master in that dreadful disease, which few could be found daring enough even to relieve; followed the remains of his foster-brother to the grave, when sickness had made him unable to return from the spot; and lay all night on the earth which covered the head he loved best. Alas! alas! it lies among stranger dust, far from us all."
Although, ever since we had been on confidential habits, Charlotte had spoken of her dead brother almost as much as of the living one, these were the only words of lamentation which I ever heard her utter.
On the contrary, the associations with which the remembrance of the dead was joined seemed to be pleasurable. She appeared to sympathize in the delight with which Lady Eredine and her son would meet; speaking of them exactly as she would of living persons, possessed of all the sentiments and functions of mortality. From these themes the transition was easy to the subject of Henry Graham,--a subject in which I took almost as much interest as she did herself; for what girl of one-and-twenty could be uninterested in an unknown lover? a lover described as handsome, brave, generous, good! and who had, besides, fallen in lore at first sight; a compliment which, by the value some ladies put upon it, I suppose is estimated more by its rarity than its worth. Now, all this my imagination found in Henry Graham; for I was in the land of imagination. I was more than half persuaded of my conquest. There was no other way of accounting for his assiduous good offices; his flattering yet minute description of my appearance. But Charlotte never directly admitted this explanation of his conduct, and I durst not venture to show her how far vanity could lead me in conjecture; though curiosity often made me come as near to the subject as I dared. "After all," I would say to myself, "what can it signify to me? I shall never like the man; and I would far rather earn my bread by labour than by marriage."
In the meantime I was as much domesticated at Eredine as if I had already been a daughter of the family, my kind friend soon found means to make me consider it as for the present my permanent abode. She knew me too well to expect that this could ever take place so long as I felt myself a useless dependent; and this was, I am persuaded, the real cause which inspired her with an enthusiastic desire to excel in music. There was no danger that this plea for my detention should soon be exhausted; for Charlotte's skill hitherto went no farther than jingling a strathspey upon an excruciating harpsichord. Precisely at the lucky moment, however, arrived a splendid harp, a present from her considerate brother; and our labours began with much zeal and some success.
In return, she exerted surprising patience in assisting my study of her native tongue; and the whole family, myself included, were delighted with my progress. We make rapid advances in a dialect which is the only medium of communication with three-fourths of the persons around us; and, in justice to Highland politeness, I must assert, that there is no language which may be attempted with more perfect security from ridicule. This acquisition, together with my performance of some Gaelic songs, brought me into high estimation with my venerable host. He declared, "that I could turn Chro challin or Oran gaoil almost as well as his mother,--white be the place of her soul!" and only regretted that instead of "that unhandy thing of a harp, which made trews where trews should not be, I had not the light lady-like Clarsach, that the d--d Hanoverians burnt when they ransacked Glen Eredine."
There might have been danger that my favourite recreation, to which long abstinence gave all the charm of novelty, should make unreasonable encroachment on my time. But almost the earliest work of my renovated judgment had been to impress me with a solemn conviction of the value of time; and when I recollected that of the few allotted years of man, seventeen had already been worse than squandered; that of the uncertain remainder, a third must be devoted to the mere support of animal existence,--a part given to the harmless enjoyments, a part rifled by the idle fooleries of others,--an unknown portion laid waste of joy and usefulness, by sickness, by sorrow, or by that overpowering languor which palsies at times even the most active spirit;--when I remembered that the whole is fugitive in its nature as the colours of the morning sky, irreversible in its consequence as the fixed decree of Heaven, I could no longer waste the treasure on the sports of children, or suffer the jewel to slip from the nerveless grasp of an idiot. I had formed a plan for the distribution of my time, to which I adhered so steadily, that I seldom spent an hour altogether unprofitably; that is, I seldom spent an hour of which the employment had no tendency to produce rational, benevolent, or devout habits in myself or in others.
Let it not, therefore, be imagined that my whole life and conversation were as solemn, and as wise, and as tiresome as possible. The flowers of the moral world were doubtless intended to scatter cheerfulness and pleasure there; and the woman who contributes nothing to the innocent amusement of mankind has renounced one purpose of her being. I am persuaded that a happier party, or at times a merrier, never met, than assembled round our fireside at Eredine.
Nor was it always confined to the members of our own family. Our neighbours--and all within twenty miles were our neighbours--often came with half-a-dozen of their sons and daughters, two or three servants, and a few horses, to spend some days at Castle Eredine. Uninvited and unexpected, they were always welcome. No preparation could be made; no bustle ensued. The guests were for the time members of the household, and partook in its business, its enjoyments, and its privations. The morning amusements of the gentlemen furnished us with game; those of the ladies, with lighter dainties; and our evenings were enlivened by music, more abundant, it must be confessed, than excellent.
But, though my hours were neither dull nor solitary, I must own that my heart leaped light with the hope of something new, when, one morning, Charlotte, running into the room breathless with delight, exclaimed, "He is coming, dearest Ellen! he is coming! He will give up all his habits--his pursuits; he will give back their trash: he will return to his father--to us all!"
"Henry! When, dear Charlotte?"
"Now! Soon! In a week! Oh, if that week were past!"
Charlotte was restless with joy. She left me almost immediately, and I followed her to her father. The good old man folded us both to his breast. "God grant I live this week," said he, "and then--" He paused a little, half ashamed of his emotion; "I doubt," said he, with a smile, "my eyes are not so strong as they have been." Then, disengaging himself from us, he hurried out upon the road which led to Edinburgh, as if he had already hoped to meet his son; and repeated the same walk full twenty times that day. Next, he would count every stage of Henry's journey, and fix the very hour of his arrival, and order an infinity of preparations for his reception; and, when he had quite exhausted himself, he sunk into his great oak-chair ruminating, while a delighted smile at times crossed his face. "The little curly-pated dog was his mother's darling," cried he; "and yet I never could find out how that happened, for there never was a Southron blood-drop in him. He was always a Graham to the heart's core."
Had I before been wholly uninterested in Henry's arrival,--had I owed no obligation to him as the bestower of a secure though humble independence,--had all the suggestions of vanity been silenced, I must have sympathized in the joy expressed in every face I saw, in every voice I heard. The house-maids all claimed the honour of arranging his apartment; and as the division of labour, and all the distinctions between cook and chamber-maid, were quite unknown in Glen Eredine, the honour was bestowed according to seniority. The spinners celebrated their young master's return in the extemporary songs so common among their country-women. The men brought home for him as many roes, blackcock, and ptarmigan, as would have satiated courteous King Jamie's ravenous visitor. Charlotte's nurse told me endless anecdotes of his childhood; and I heard the blind knitter cry out, in a tone of triumph, "He led me up the loan with's oun hand, sirs; and that's what he never did to one o' ye all. And shame fa' me, if ever a man lead me by the right hand again, an it be no Eredine himsel'; and that's not to be thought."
The only one who took no share in the cheerful bustle was poor Roban Gorach; yet he, too, could, in his way, testify affection for his young master. I had strolled out; and taking my favourite station on a ledge of rock which overhung the lake, I had suffered my thoughts to shape, I know not what romantic dream, of Henry Graham, and friendship, and Charlotte, and Maitland, and Castle Eredine, and castles in the air; when I was roused by the approach of poor Roban, attended by the old white pony, which followed him like a dog. He accosted me with an earnest look, lowering his voice to a confidential tone. "They say you're ordained for him," said he; "so blessings on your face! take him peaceably."
Since I had become a favourite in Glen Eredine, so many dreams and prophecies had announced me its future mistress, that I had no difficulty in apprehending his meaning. "Oh! you must let me refuse a little at first, for decency-sake, Robert," said I, laughing.
"Mysel' would fain you do's bidding before you be hindered," said he; laying his fingers pleadingly upon my arm. "What if he would see you going down the loan there, and through the wood, with another man's boy in bosom?"--he raised his arm, tracing as he spoke the path towards Cecil's dwelling; then letting it drop unconsciously, he proceeded in his native tongue, as if he had forgotten my presence. "He would care no more for his fine golden watch, and all the parks and towns of Eredine, than for the wind when she flies by him."--"But, Robert," said I, interrupting his mournful reverie, "how should you all like to have a Saxon mistress in the Castle?"--"If it were so ordered," answered Robert, "who could say against?--and we might be very well, though it were so. Just you forget that you're a stepmother, with your leave, and we'll all forget it too."
When I returned to the house, I learnt, what I had indeed inferred from Roban's language, that Cecil had been there. She came to ask medicine and advice for her dying husband; but when told the good news of the day, she retired without suffering Miss Graham's joy to be interrupted by her melancholy errand. Though, after having lived three months in Glen Eredine, I could no longer be surprised at this delicacy, it can never cease to please; and I immediately requested Charlotte to direct our evening walk towards Cecil's cottage.
"We were received at the door by Cecil, who loaded us both with congratulations; and invited us, as she was accustomed to do, into her chamber of state, or, as she phrased it, "ben a house." This apartment was at that time no unfavourable specimen of Glen Eredine parlours. It had, to be sure, an earthen floor not levelled with much nicety, but it was tolerably clean; it was ceiled with whitened boards, lighted by a sashed window, furnished with plane-tree chairs and tables, and ornamented with an open corner cupboard filled with gaudy stone-bowls, and jugs enriched with humble anacreontics. This was not, however, the family room; and, finding that poor James inhabited the other end of the building, we insisted upon adjourning thither.
This humbler apartment was separated from the other by a panelled closet, or rather box, which served the double purpose of bed and partition. The remaining walls were imperfectly plastered with clay; and the rude frame-work of the roof was visible, where light enough to make it so was admitted by the aperture which served for a chimney, and by a window of four panes, one of which was boarded, and another stuffed with rags. Beneath the above-mentioned aperture, the bounds of the fire-place were marked only by a narrow piece of pavement, upon which a turf-fire smouldered unconfined against the wall. The smoke, thus left at large, had dyed the rafters of an ebon hue; and, mixing with the condensed vapour, distilled in inky drops from the roof. The floor was strewed with water-pails, iron-pots, wooden-ware, and broken crockery. Cecil's eldest child, a boy of about four years old, tartaned and capped as martially as any "gallant Graham" of them all, sprawled contentedly in the middle of the litter, sharing his supper of barley-bread with an overgrown pet lamb; and the youngest, attired with rather less ceremony, crouched by the side of a black pot, contesting with the cock the remains of a mess of oatmeal pottage.
From these postures of ease, however, Cecil instantly snatched them both. "Up, ill manners!" cried she; "think it your credit to stand when the gentles come to see you." This maxim she enforced by example, for no entreaties could prevail upon her to be seated in our presence.
The sallow, haggard countenance of poor James appeared through the open panel of the bed; and Miss Graham approaching, inquired "how he felt himself?"
"Ye're good that asks," said Cecil, answering for him; "but he'll never be better, and he has no worse to be."
"These people are savages, after all!" thought I. "Would any humanized being have pronounced such a sentence in the sick man's hearing" I stole a glance towards the bed, half fearing to witness the effect of her barbarity.
"Trouble must have its time," said the man, cheerfully; "but we must just hope it'll no be long now."
This was so little like fear, that I was obliged to convert the words of encouragement into those of congratulation; and after Miss Graham had made some more particular inquiries, I expressed my satisfaction in observing such apparent resignation.
"'Deed, ma'am," said James, "I cannot say but that I am willing enough to depart; I'm whiles feared, indeed; but then I'm whiles newfangled."
"I'm sure, lady," said Cecil, tears now streaming down her cheeks, "he has no reason to be feared; for he's been a well-living Christian all's days, and a good husband he's been;--and he shall have no reason to reflect that he has no' as decent a burial as ever the ground was broken for in Eredine. And for that we're partly much beholden to you, Miss Percy,--a blessing on you for that,--and a decent departure might you have therefor! And thankful may we be, Jamie, that ye'll no lie in unkent ground, among strangers, and heathens, and all the offscourings of the earth!"
"No!" said Miss Graham; "among strangers you shall not lie. You shall be laid by the place where your foster-brother should have lain; and your head-stone shall be my memorial of him, and of what you did for him."
A flash of joy brightened the face of the dying man. He looked at Miss Graham as if he would fain have thanked her; but though his lips moved, they uttered no sound. Cecil was voluble in her thanks; and I verily believe was half reconciled to the prospect of her misfortune, by the honour which it was to procure for her husband.
"When you see my dear brother," proceeded Miss Graham, "tell him, James, that my only regret now is, that I could show neither love nor honour to his remains; and that they must rest so far from mine!"
At this moment a casual change of posture made me observe, through the window, a human figure, partially hid by an old ash tree which grew within a few feet of the cottage wall. The figure advanced a step; and I perceived through the dusk of the evening that it was Roban Gorach. He was leaning against the tree, with his eyes fixed on the window; his head and arms hanging listlessly down, with that undefinable singularity of mien which betokens the wandering of the mind.
I was going to call Miss Graham's attention to the circumstance, when our strange conversation was interrupted by a scream from the youngest child, whom Cecil had hastily caught up in her arms. The scream was certainly the shriek of pain, perhaps partly of surprise; yet Cecil, apologizing for her child's temper, began to soothe him with the sounds which nurses apply to mere frowardness, mixing them at times with the hum of a song. Her remonstrances to the child were given in Gaelic, interrupted by apologies in English to Miss Graham and myself. More than once she pronounced the word which signifies "Go," "Begone!" with strong emphasis; holding the child from her as if threatening to forsake him. He still continued to cry, and she to hush him with a song, which was at first irregular and indistinct; but which, by degrees, formed itself into regular rhythm, pronounced with such precision, that even my slender knowledge of her language was sufficient to render it intelligible to me; while its occasional interruptions gave me time to fix the meaning, at least, in my memory. Of the plaintive simplicity of the original,--of the effect it derived from the wild and touching air to which it was sung--my feeble translation can convey no idea; but I give the literal English of the whole.
"Go to thy rest, oh beloved;
My soul is pained with thy wailing;
The wrath of a father is kindled by thy complaining:
Go to thy rest.
"Choice of my heart thou hast been,
But now I lay thee from my bosom
That it may receive my betrothed:
Go to thy rest.
"Oh cease thy lamentation;
Disquiet me no more,
Till the long night bring morning of pleasant meetings:
Go to thy rest."
Though I, having seen that Roban Gorach was one of Cecil's auditors, was at no loss to perceive the double meaning of the song, neither poor James nor Miss Graham could observe anything peculiar in it. Cecil never appeared to cast a glance towards the real object of her address; and at every pause in the air she conversed with an appearance of perfect unconcern.
I own my esteem for my first Highland friend was far from being improved by this specimen of her dexterity in intrigue. As soon as Charlotte and I had taken our leave, I told her what I had observed; but, unwilling to express a harsh opinion, I waited for her comments. The incident, however, made no unfavourable impression upon her. "I know," said she, "that Cecil has a great deal of discretion and presence of mind."
"Presence of mind, I allow; but really it seems to me, that if her husband had witnessed this piece of management, he would have been very pardonable for doubting her discretion."
"How so? Do you not think it was prudent to prevent her dying husband from being shocked by the sight of that poor creature?"
"To tell you the truth, Charlotte, I think such readiness in intrigue betokens Cecil's fidelity to be at least in danger."
"Surely you do not suspect--you cannot suppose--setting aside all fear of God, think you she could make outcasts of her children!--transmit her name, black with the infamy of being the first unfaithful wife that ever disgraced Glen Eredine! No, no; Cecil would rather be buried under Benarde: ay, silly as he is, Robert would rather lay her head in the grave! No, no, Miss Percy; whatever may be the practice in other countries, we have reason to be thankful that such atrocities are unknown in Eredine."
Charlotte's warm defence was interrupted by the approach of poor Robert, who was following us home. "Would ye just please to bid her," said he, pointing towards Cecil's cottage, "let me thrash two or three sheaves for her. She has nobody now to do for her; and if ye'll just allow me, it's as sure's death, I'll stay in barn, and never go near house to plague her."
"I think, Robert," answered Charlotte, "it would be very foolish in you to take so much trouble for one who never even speaks to you."
"Ay, but yoursel' knows I'm no very wise," said Robert, with a feeble smile. Then, after a few moments' silence, he repeated his request. Miss Graham gave an evasive answer, and he again fell behind; but during our walk, he came forward again and again to urge his petition, as if he had forgotten having offered it before.
"I beg pardon of Cecil and Glen Eredine, Charlotte," said I. "I had forgotten the nature and the constancy of this poor young man's attachment, when I suspected her of imprudence. I am sure that a virtuous man alone can feel, a woman of discretion alone can inspire, such disinterested, such unconquerable affection."
"You are right, Ellen. Looseness of morals on the one side, or even a very venial degree of levity on the other, is fatal to all the loftier forms of passion. I believe even perfect frankness of manners is hostile to them: it leaves too little for the imagination."
We both walked on musing, till my dream was broken by our arrival at the gate. "Is your brother reserved?" said I, very unconsciously.
"I never found him so," returned Charlotte, laughing; "but you have so much imagination that I believe it will do, notwithstanding."
The day approached when this object of universal interest was to arrive; and every stage of his journey, every hour of its duration, was counted a hundred times. "Four whole days still!"--"To-night he will sleep in Scotland!"--"By this tune to-morrow!"--In how many tones of impatience, of exultation, of delight, were these sentences uttered!
The father's joy was the least exclamatory. After the first emotion was passed, he seemed to think much expression of his feelings unsuitable to his years; though everything "put him in mind what Henry said when he was last at home;" or, "what Henry did when a boy;" and he every now and then shook Charlotte and me by the hand with such a look of congratulation!
He hinted some intention of riding as far as Aberfoyle to meet his son; though he seemed to doubt whether this were altogether consistent with his paternal dignity. "It is not what one could do for every young man," said he; "but Henry was never a sort of boy that is easily spoiled." So with this salvo, with which many a father has excused his self-indulgence, Eredine determined to meet Henry at Aberfoyle.
On the eventful morning the whole family arose with the dawn. Almost the first person I saw was Eredine, arrayed and accoutred in the perfect costume of his country, marching up and down in the court with even more than his usual elasticity of step. The good old gentleman prepared for his journey with all the alertness of five-and-twenty. "Come, Charlotte," said he, "get me a breakfast fit for a man. Remember I have more than sixty miles to ride to-day. Miss Percy, do you think any of your Lowland lads of seventy-six could do as much? Well, well, wait till nine o'clock at night; and, God willing, I'll show you a lad worth a fine woman's looking at."
In spite of the entreaties of old Donald MacIan and the family piper, who would fain have led forth the whole clan, Eredine set out attended only by his household servants. But as soon as the laird was gone, Donald followed his own inclinations. The piper marched through every baile in the Glen, pouring forth a torrent of vigorous discords, which he called the "Graham's Gathering;" then took the road towards Aberfoyle, followed by the train whom he had assembled. By noon, scarcely a man was left in Glen Eredine.
On the other hand, the women came in crowds to the Castle, each bringing a cheese, a kid, a pullet, or whatever else her cabin could supply; and having deposited these "compliments," as they called them, they quietly returned to their homes. The servants ran idly bustling about the house, forgetting every part of their business which did not refer to Mr. Henry. One began to air his linen as soon as day dawned. Another piled heap after heap of turf upon his fire. A third, at the expense of the state bed-chamber, embellished his apartment with a carpet not unlike, both in pattern and size, to a chess-board. I found a fourth busied in anointing his leather-bottomed chairs with a mixture of oil and soot; scrubbing this Hottentot embrocation into the grain with a shoe-brush. "I'm just giving them a bit clean for him," said she, in answer to my exclamation of amazement. "He had always a cleanly turn,--God save him!"
At last all preparations perforce were finished; and the day then seemed endless to us all. Charlotte was silent and restless. She tried to work; but it would not do; she tried to read, and succeeded no better. She visited her brother's apartment again and again, and could never satisfy herself that all was ready for his reception. She began to fear that he might not arrive that night, yet she was half angry with me for admitting the possibility. Towards evening she stationed herself in a window to watch for him; turning away sometimes with tears of disappointment in her eyes, and then resuming her watch once more.
Twilight closed in the stillness of a frosty night. Charlotte drew me to the gate to listen. All was profoundly quiet. At last a dog bayed at a distance. "I hear the pipe!" said Charlotte, grasping my arm. I listened. The sound was faintly heard, then lost, then heard again. By degrees it swelled into distinctness; the trampling of horses--the tread of a multitude was heard,--voices mingled with the sound. Charlotte ran forward, and then returned again. "No! I cannot meet him before all these people," said she: and we retreated to the house.
I saw through the dusk the stately figures of the chief and his son approaching on foot from the gate where they had dismounted; and I stole back into the parlour, unwilling that my presence should embarrass the expected meeting. Yet, with a fluttering heart, I listened eagerly to their quickened steps--to the clasp of affection,--to the whisper of rapture. "Brother!"--"Charlotte!" pronounced in the scarcely articulate accents of ecstasy, were for some moments the only words uttered; the next that reached my ear, were those in which the traveller eagerly inquired for me. I sprang forward, for it was a well remembered voice that spoke: but the next moment I shrunk before the flashing glance of Maitland!
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.