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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER VI. THE LAIRD'S LADY.

David Elginbrod by George MacDonald

CHAPTER VI. THE LAIRD'S LADY.

Ye archewyves, standith at defence,

Sin ye been strong, as is a great camayle;

Ne suffer not that men you don offence.

And slender wives, fell as in battaile,

Beth eager, as is a tiger, yond in Inde;

Aye clappith as a mill, I you counsaile.

CHAUCER. -- The Clerk's Tale.

THE length and frequency of Hugh's absences, careless as she was of his presence, had already attracted the attention of Mrs. Glasford; and very little trouble had to be expended on the discovery of his haunt. For the servants knew well enough where he went, and of course had come to their own conclusions as to the object of his visits. So the lady chose to think it her duty to expostulate with Hugh on the subject. Accordingly, one morning after breakfast, the laird having gone to mount his horse, and the boys to have a few minutes' play before lessons, Mrs. Glasford, who had kept her seat at the head of the table, waiting for the opportunity, turned towards Hugh who sat reading the week's news, folded her hands on the tablecloth, drew herself up yet a little more stiffly in her chair, and thus addressed him:

|It's my duty, Mr. Sutherland, seein' ye have no mother to look after ye -- |

Hugh expected something matronly about his linen or his socks, and put down his newspaper with a smile; but, to his astonishment, she went on --

-- |To remonstrate wi' ye, on the impropriety of going so often to David Elginbrod's. They're not company for a young gentleman like you, Mr. Sutherland.|

|They're good enough company for a poor tutor, Mrs. Glasford,| replied Hugh, foolishly enough.

|Not at all, not at all,| insisted the lady. |With your connexions -- |

|Good gracious! who ever said anything about my connexions? I never pretended to have any.| Hugh was getting angry already.

Mrs. Glasford nodded her head significantly, as much as to say, |I know more about you than you imagine,| and then went on:

|Your mother will never forgive me if you get into a scrape with that smooth-faced hussy; and if her father, honest man hasn't eyes enough in his head, other people have -- ay, an' tongues too, Mr. Sutherland.|

Hugh was on the point of forgetting his manners, and consigning all the above mentioned organs to perdition; but he managed to restrain his wrath, and merely said that Margaret was one of the best girls he had ever known, and that there was no possible danger of any kind of scrape with her. This mode of argument, however, was not calculated to satisfy Mrs. Glasford. She returned to the charge.

|She's a sly puss, with her shy airs and graces. Her father's jist daft wi' conceit o' her, an' it's no to be surprised if she cast a glamour ower you. Mr. Sutherland, ye're but young yet.|

Hugh's pride presented any alliance with a lassie who had herded the laird's cows barefoot, and even now tended their own cow, as an all but inconceivable absurdity; and he resented, more than he could have thought possible, the entertainment of such a degrading idea in the mind of Mrs. Glasford. Indignation prevented him from replying; while she went on, getting more vernacular as she proceeded.

|It's no for lack o' company 'at yer driven to seek theirs, I'm sure. There's twa as fine lads an' gude scholars as ye'll fin' in the haill kintra-side, no to mention the laird and mysel'.|

But Hugh could bear it no longer; nor would he condescend to excuse or explain his conduct.

|Madam, I beg you will not mention this subject again.|

|But I will mention 't, Mr. Sutherlan'; an' if ye'll no listen to rizzon, I'll go to them 'at maun do't.|

|I am accountable to you, madam, for my conduct in your house, and for the way in which I discharge my duty to your children -- no further.|

|Do ye ca' that dischairgin' yer duty to my bairns, to set them the example o' hingin' at a quean's âpron-strings, and fillin' her lug wi' idle havers? Ca' ye that dischairgin' yer duty? My certie! a bonny dischairgin'!|

|I never see the girl but in her father and mother's presence.|

|Weel, weel, Mr. Sutherlan',| said Mrs. Glasford, in a final tone, and trying to smother the anger which she felt she had allowed to carry her further than was decorous, |we'll say nae mair aboot it at present; but I maun jist speak to the laird himsel', an' see what he says till 't.|

And, with this threat, she walked out of the room in what she considered a dignified manner.

Hugh was exceedingly annoyed at this treatment, and thought, at first, of throwing up his situation at once; but he got calmer by degrees, and saw that it would be to his own loss, and perhaps to the injury of his friends at the cottage. So he took his revenge by recalling the excited face of Mrs. Glasford, whose nose had got as red with passion as the protuberance of a turkey-cock when gobbling out its unutterable feelings of disdain. He dwelt upon this soothing contemplation till a fit of laughter relieved him, and he was able to go and join his pupils as if nothing had happened.

Meanwhile the lady sent for David, who was at work in the garden, into no less an audience-chamber than the drawing-room, the revered abode of all the tutelar deities of the house; chief amongst which were the portraits of the laird and herself: he, plethoric and wrapped in voluminous folds of neckerchief -- she long-necked, and lean, and bare-shouldered. The original of the latter work of art seated herself in the most important chair in the room; and when David, after carefully wiping the shoes he had already wiped three times on his way up, entered with a respectful but no wise obsequious bow, she ordered him, with the air of an empress, to shut the door. When he had obeyed, she ordered him, in a similar tone, to be seated; for she sought to mingle condescension and conciliation with severity.

|David,| she then began, |I am informed that ye keep open door to our Mr. Sutherland, and that he spends most forenichts in your company.|

|Weel, mem, it's verra true,| was all David's answer. He sat in an expectant attitude.

|Dawvid, I wonner at ye!| returned Mrs. Glasford, forgetting her dignity, and becoming confidentially remonstrative. |Here's a young gentleman o' talans, wi' ilka prospeck o' waggin' his heid in a poopit some day; an' ye aid an' abet him in idlin' awa' his time at your chimla-lug, duin' waur nor naething ava! I'm surprised at ye, Dawvid. I thocht ye had mair sense.|

David looked out of his clear, blue, untroubled eyes, upon the ruffled countenance of his mistress, with an almost paternal smile.

|Weel, mem, I maun say I dinna jist think the young man's in the warst o' company, when he's at our ingle-neuk. An' for idlin' o' his time awa', it's weel waurd for himsel', forby for us, gin holy words binna lees.|

|What do ye mean, Dawvid?| said the lady rather sharply, for she loved no riddles.

|I mean this, mem: that the young man is jist actin' the pairt o' Peter an' John at the bonny gate o' the temple, whan they said: 'Such as I have, gie I thee;' an' gin' it be more blessed to gie than to receive, as Sant Paul says 'at the Maister himsel' said, the young man 'ill no be the waur aff in's ain learnin', that he impairts o't to them that hunger for't.|

|Ye mean by this, Dawvid, gin ye could express yersel' to the pint, 'at the young man, wha's ower weel paid to instruck my bairns, neglecks them, an' lays himsel' oot upo' ither fowk's weans, wha hae no richt to ettle aboon the station in which their Maker pat them.|

This was uttered with quite a religious fervour of expostulation; for the lady's natural indignation at the thought of Meg Elginbrod having lessons from her boys' tutor, was cowed beneath the quiet steady gaze of the noble-minded peasant father.

|He lays himsel' oot mair upo' the ither fowk themsels' than upo' their weans, mem; though, nae doubt, my Maggy comes in for a gude share. But for negleckin' o' his duty to you, mem, I'm sure I kenna hoo that can be; for it was only yestreen 'at the laird himsel' said to me, 'at hoo the bairns had never gotten on naething like it wi' ony ither body.|

|The laird's ower ready wi's clavers,| quoth the laird's wife, nettled to find herself in the wrong, and forgetful of her own and her lord's dignity at once. |But,| she pursued, |all I can say is, that I consider it verra improper o' you, wi' a young lass-bairn, to encourage the nichtly veesits o' a young gentleman, wha's sae far aboon her in station, an' dootless will some day be farther yet.|

|Mem!| said David, with dignity, |I'm willin' no to understan' what ye mean. My Maggy's no ane 'at needs luikin' efter; an' a body had need to be carefu' an' no interfere wi' the Lord's herdin', for he ca's himsel' the Shepherd o' the sheep, an' wee! as I loe her I maun lea' him to lead them wha follow him wherever he goeth. She'll be no ill guidit, and I'm no gaeing to kep her at ilka turn.|

|Weel, weel! that's yer ain affair, Dawvid, my man,| rejoined Mrs. Glasford, with rising voice and complexion. |A' 'at I hae to add is jist this: 'at as lang as my tutor veesits her| --

|He veesits her no more than me, mem,| interposed David; but his mistress went on with dignified disregard of the interruption --

|Veesits her, I canna, for the sake o' my own bairns, an' the morals o' my hoosehold, employ her aboot the hoose, as I was in the way o' doin' afore. Good mornin', Dawvid. I'll speak to the laird himsel', sin' ye'll no heed me.|

|It's more to my lassie, mem, excuse me, to learn to unnerstan' the works o' her Maker, than it is to be employed in your household. Mony thanks, mem, for what ye hev' done in that way afore; an' good mornin' to ye, mem. I'm sorry we should hae ony misunderstandin', but I canna help it for my pairt.|

With these words David withdrew, rather anxious about the consequences to Hugh of this unpleasant interference on the part of Mrs. Glasford. That lady's wrath kept warm without much nursing, till the laird came home; when she turned the whole of her battery upon him, and kept up a steady fire until he yielded, and promised to turn his upon David. But he had more common-sense than his wife in some things, and saw at once how ridiculous it would be to treat the affair as of importance. So, the next time he saw David, he addressed him half jocularly:

|Weel, Dawvid, you an' the mistress hae been haein' a bit o' a dispute thegither, eh?|

|Weel, sir, we warna a'thegither o' ae min',| said David, with a smile.

|Weel, weel, we maun humour her, ye ken, or it may be the waur for us a', ye ken.| And the laird nodded with humorous significance.

|I'm sure I sud be glaid, sir; but this is no sma' maitter to me an' my Maggie, for we're jist gettin' food for the verra sowl, sir, frae him an' his beuks.|

|Cudna ye be content wi the beuks wi'out the man, Dawvid?|

|We sud mak' but sma' progress, sir, that get.|

The laird began to be a little nettled himself at David's stiffness about such a small matter, and held his peace. David resumed:

|Besides, sir, that's a maitter for the young man to sattle, an' no for me. It wad ill become me, efter a' he's dune for us, to steek the door in's face. Na, na; as lang's I hae a door to haud open, it's no to be steekit to him.|

|Efter a', the door's mine, Dawvid,| said the laird.

|As lang's I'm in your hoose an' in your service, sir, the door's mine,| retorted David, quietly.

The laird turned and rode away without another word. What passed between him and his wife never transpired. Nothing more was said to Hugh as long as he remained at Turriepuffit. But Margaret was never sent for to the House after this, upon any occasion whatever. The laird gave her a nod as often as he saw her; but the lady, if they chanced to meet, took no notice of her. Margaret, on her part, stood or passed with her eyes on the ground, and no further change of countenance than a slight flush of discomfort.

The lessons went on as usual, and happy hours they were for all those concerned. Often, in after years, and in far different circumstances, the thoughts of Hugh reverted, with a painful yearning, to the dim-lighted cottage, with its clay floor and its deal table; to the earnest pair seated with him at the labours that unfold the motions of the stars; and even to the homely, thickset, but active form of Janet, and that peculiar smile of hers with which, after an apparently snappish speech, spoken with her back to the person addressed, she would turn round her honest face half-apologetically, and shine full upon some one or other of the three, whom she honoured with her whole heart and soul, and who, she feared, might be offended at what she called her |hame-ower fashion of speaking.| Indeed it was wonderful what a share the motherhood of this woman, incapable as she was of entering into the intellectual occupations of the others, had in producing that sense of home-blessedness, which inwrapt Hugh also in the folds of its hospitality, and drew him towards its heart. Certain it is that not one of the three would have worked so well without the sense of the presence of Janet, here and there about the room, or in the immediate neighbourhood of it -- love watching over labour. Once a week, always on Saturday nights, Hugh stayed to supper with them: and on these occasions, Janet contrived to have something better than ordinary in honour of their guest. Still it was of the homeliest country fare, such as Hugh could partake of without the least fear that his presence occasioned any inconvenience to his entertainers. Nor was Hugh the only giver of spiritual food. Putting aside the rich gifts of human affection and sympathy, which grew more and more pleasant -- I can hardly use a stronger word yet -- to Hugh every day, many things were spoken by the simple wisdom of David, which would have enlightened Hugh far more than they did, had he been sufficiently advanced to receive them. But their very simplicity was often far beyond the grasp of his thoughts; for the higher we rise, the simpler we become; and David was one of those of whom is the kingdom of Heaven. There is a childhood into which we have to grow, just as there is a childhood which we must leave behind; a childlikeness which is the highest gain of humanity, and a childishness from which but few of those who are counted the wisest among men, have freed themselves in their imagined progress towards the reality of things.

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