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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER II. DAVID ELGINBROD AND THE NEW TUTOR.

David Elginbrod by George MacDonald

CHAPTER II. DAVID ELGINBROD AND THE NEW TUTOR.

Concord between our wit and will

Where highest notes to godliness are raised,

And lowest sink not down to jot of ill.

What Languetus taught Sir Philip Sidney.

THE ARCADIA -- Third Eclogue.

THE House of Turriepuffit stood about a furlong from David's cottage. It was the abode of the Laird, or landed proprietor, in whose employment David filled several offices ordinarily distinct. The estate was a small one, and almost entirely farmed by the owner himself; who, with David's help, managed to turn it to good account. Upon week-days, he appeared on horseback in a costume more fitted for following the plough; but he did not work with his own hands; and on Sundays was at once recognizable as a country gentleman.

David was his bailiff or grieve, to overlook the labourers on the estate; his steward to pay them, and keep the farm accounts; his head gardener -- for little labour was expended in that direction, there being only one lady, the mistress of the house, and she no patroness of useless flowers: David was in fact the laird's general adviser and executor.

The laird's family, besides the lady already mentioned, consisted only of two boys, of the ages of eleven and fourteen, whom he wished to enjoy the same privileges he had himself possessed, and to whom, therefore, he was giving a classical and mathematical education, in view of the University, by means of private tutors; the last of whom -- for the changes were not few, seeing the salary was of the smallest -- was Hugh Sutherland, the young man concerning whom David Elginbrod has already given his opinion. But notwithstanding the freedom he always granted his daughter, and his good opinion of Hugh as well, David could not help feeling a little anxious, in his walk along the road towards the house, as to what the apparent acquaintance between her and the new tutor might evolve; but he got rid of all the difficulty, as far as he was concerned, by saying at last:

|What richt hae I to interfere? even supposin' I wanted to interfere. But I can lippen weel to my bonny doo; an' for the rest, she maun tak' her chance like the lave o's. An' wha' kens but it micht jist be stan'in' afore Him, i' the very get that He meant to gang. The Lord forgie me for speakin' o' chance, as gin I believed in ony sic havers. There's no fear o' the lassie. Gude mornin' t'ye, Maister Sutherlan'. That's a braw beuk o' ballants ye gae the len' o' to my Maggy, this mornin', sir.|

Sutherland was just entering a side-door of the house when David accosted him. He was not old enough to keep from blushing at David's words; but, having a good conscience, he was ready with a good answer.

|It's a good book, Mr. Elginbrod. It will do her no harm, though it be ballads.|

|I'm in no dreed o' that, sir. Bairns maun hae ballants. An', to tell the truth, sir, I'm no muckle mair nor a bairn in that respeck mysel'. In fac, this verra mornin', at the beuk, I jist thocht I was readin' a gran' godly ballant, an' it soundet nane the waur for the notion o't.|

|You should have been a poet yourself, Mr. Elginbrod.|

|Na, na; I ken naething aboot yer poetry. I hae read auld John Milton ower an' ower, though I dinna believe the half o't; but, oh! weel I like some o' the bonny bitties at the en' o't.|

|Il Penseroso, for instance?|

|Is that hoo ye ca't? I ken't weel by the sicht, but hardly by the soun'. I aye missed the name o't, an' took to the thing itsel'. Eh, man! -- I beg yer pardon, sir -- but its wonnerfu' bonny!|

|I'll come in some evening, and we'll have a chat about it,| replied Sutherland. |I must go to my work now.|

|We'll a' be verra happy to see you, sir. Good mornin', sir.|

|Good morning.|

David went to the garden, where there was not much to be done in the way of education at this season of the year; and Sutherland to the school-room, where he was busy, all the rest of the morning and part of the afternoon, with Caesar and Virgil, Algebra and Euclid; food upon which intellectual babes are reared to the stature of college youths.

Sutherland was himself only a youth; for he had gone early to college, and had not yet quite completed the curriculum. He was now filling up with teaching, the recess between his third and his fourth winter at one of the Aberdeen Universities. He was the son of an officer, belonging to the younger branch of a family of some historic distinction and considerable wealth. This officer, though not far removed from the estate and title as well, had nothing to live upon but his half-pay; for, to the disgust of his family, he had married a Welsh girl of ancient descent, in whose line the poverty must have been at least coeval with the history, to judge from the perfection of its development in the case of her father; and his relations made this the excuse for quarrelling with him; so relieving themselves from any obligations they might have been supposed to lie under, of rendering him assistance of some sort or other. This, however, rather suited the temperament of Major Robert Sutherland, who was prouder in his poverty than they in their riches. So he disowned them for ever, and accommodated himself, with the best grace in the world, to his yet more straitened circumstances. He resolved, however, cost what it might in pinching and squeezing, to send his son to college before turning him out to shift for himself. In this Mrs. Sutherland was ready to support him to the utmost; and so they had managed to keep their boy at college for three sessions; after the last of which, instead of returning home, as he had done on previous occasions, he had looked about him for a temporary engagement as tutor, and soon found the situation he now occupied in the family of William Glasford, Esq., of Turriepuffit, where he intended to remain no longer than the commencement of the session, which would be his fourth and last. To what he should afterwards devote himself he had by no means made up his mind, except that it must of necessity be hard work of some kind or other. So he had at least the virtue of desiring to be independent. His other goods and bads must come out in the course of the story. His pupils were rather stupid and rather good-natured; so that their temperament operated to confirm their intellectual condition, and to render the labour of teaching them considerably irksome. But he did his work tolerably well, and was not so much interested in the result as to be pained at the moderate degree of his success. At the time of which I write, however, the probability as to his success was scarcely ascertained, for he had been only a fortnight at the task.

It was the middle of the month of April, in a rather backward season. The weather had been stormy, with frequent showers of sleet and snow. Old winter was doing his best to hold young Spring back by the skirts of her garment, and very few of the wild flowers had yet ventured to look out of their warm beds in the mould. Sutherland, therefore, had made but few discoveries in the neighbourhood. Not that the weather would have kept him to the house, had he had any particular desire to go out; but, like many other students, he had no predilection for objectless exertion, and preferred the choice of his own weather indoors, namely, from books and his own imaginings, to an encounter with the keen blasts of the North, charged as they often were with sharp bullets of hail. When the sun did shine out between the showers, his cold glitter upon the pools of rain or melted snow, and on the wet evergreens and gravel walks, always drove him back from the window with a shiver. The house, which was of very moderate size and comfort, stood in the midst of plantations, principally of Scotch firs and larches, some of the former old and of great growth, so that they had arrived at the true condition of the tree, which seems to require old age for the perfection of its idea. There was very little to be seen from the windows except this wood, which, somewhat gloomy at almost any season, was at the present cheerless enough; and Sutherland found it very dreary indeed, as exchanged for the wide view from his own home on the side of an open hill in the Highlands.

In the midst of circumstances so uninteresting, it is not to be wondered at, that the glimpse of a pretty maiden should, one morning, occasion him some welcome excitement. Passing downstairs to breakfast, he observed the drawing-room door ajar, and looked in to see what sort of a room it was; for so seldom was it used that he had never yet entered it. There stood a young girl, peeping, with mingled curiosity and reverence, into a small gilt-leaved volume, which she had lifted from the table by which she stood. He watched her for a moment with some interest; when she, seeming to become mesmerically aware that she was not alone, looked up, blushed deeply, put down the book in confusion, and proceeded to dust some of the furniture. It was his first sight of Margaret. Some of the neighbours were expected to dinner, and her aid was in requisition to get the grand room of the house prepared for the occasion. He supposed her to belong to the household, till, one day, feeling compelled to go out for a stroll, he caught sight of her so occupied at the door of her father's cottage, that he perceived at once that must be her home: she was, in fact, seated upon a stool, paring potatoes. She saw him as well, and, apparently ashamed at the recollection of having been discovered idling in the drawing-room, rose and went in. He had met David once or twice about the house, and, attracted by his appearance, had had some conversation with him; but he did not know where he lived, nor that he was the father of the girl whom he had seen.

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