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Sir Gibbie by George MacDonald


CHANGE, meantime, was in progress elsewhere, and as well upon the foot as high on the side of Glashgar -- change which seemed all important to those who felt the grind of the glacier as it slipped. Thomas Galbraith, of Glashruach, Esquire, whom no more than any other could negation save, was not enfranchised from folly, or lifted above belief in a lie, by his hatred to what he called superstition: he had long fallen into what will ultimately prove the most degrading superstition of all -- the worship of Mammon, and was rapidly sinking from deep to lower deep. First of all, this was the superstition of placing hope and trust in that which, from age to age, and on the testimony of all sorts of persons who have tried it, has been proved to fail utterly; next, such was the folly of the man whose wisdom was indignant with the harmless imagination of simple people for daring flutter its wings upon his land, that he risked what he loved best in the world, even better than Mammon, the approbation of fellow worshippers, by investing in Welsh gold mines.

The property of Glashruach was a good one, but not nearly so large as it had been, and he was anxious to restore it to its former dimensions. The rents were low, and it could but tardily widen its own borders, while of money he had little and no will to mortgage. To increase his money, that he might increase his property, he took to speculation, but had never had much success until that same year, when he disposed of certain shares at a large profit -- nothing troubled by the conviction that the man who bought them -- in ignorance of many a fact which the laird knew -- must in all probability be ruined by them. He counted this success, and it gave him confidence to speculate further. In the mean time, with what he had thus secured, he reannexed to the property a small farm which had been for some time in the market, but whose sale he had managed to delay. The purchase gave him particular pleasure, because the farm not only marched with his home-grounds, but filled up a great notch in the map of the property between Glashruach and the Mains, with which also it marched. It was good land, and he let it at once, on his own terms, to Mr. Duff.

In the spring, affairs looked rather bad for him, and in the month of May, he considered himself compelled to go to London: he had a faith in his own business-faculty quite as foolish as any superstition in Gormgarnet. There he fell into the hands of a certain man, whose true place would have been in the swell mob, and not in the House of Commons -- a fellow who used his influence and facilities as member of Parliament in promoting bubble companies. He was intimate with an elder brother of the laird, himself member for a not unimportant borough -- a man, likewise, of principles that love the shade; and between them they had no difficulty in making a tool of Thomas Galbraith, as chairman of a certain aggregate of iniquity, whose designation will not, in some families, be forgotten for a century or so. During the summer, therefore, the laird was from home, working up the company, hoping much from it, and trying hard to believe in it -- whipping up its cream, and perhaps himself taking the froth, certainly doing his best to make others take it, for an increase of genuine substance. He devoted the chamber of his imagination to the service of Mammon, and the brownie he kept there played him fine pranks.

A smaller change, though of really greater importance in the end, was, that in the course of the winter, one of Donal's sisters was engaged by the housekeeper at Glashruach, chiefly to wait upon Miss Galbraith. Ginevra was still a silent, simple, unconsciously retiring, and therewith dignified girl, in whom childhood and womanhood had begun to interchange hues, as it were with the play of colours in a dove's neck. Happy they in whom neither has a final victory! Happy also all who have such women to love! At one moment Ginevra would draw herself up -- bridle her grandmother would have called it -- with involuntary recoil from doubtful approach; the next, Ginny would burst out in a merry laugh at something in which only a child could have perceived the mirth-causing element; then again the woman would seem suddenly to re-enter and rebuke the child, for the sparkle would fade from her eyes, and she would look solemn, and even a little sad. The people about the place loved her, but from the stillness on the general surface of her behaviour, the far away feeling she gave them, and the impossibility of divining how she was thinking except she chose to unbosom herself, they were all a little afraid of her as well. They did not acknowledge, even to themselves, that her evident conscientiousness bore no small part in causing that slight uneasiness of which they were aware in her presence. Possibly it roused in some of them such a dissatisfaction with themselves as gave the initiative to dislike of her.

In the mind of her new maid, however, there was no strife, therefore no tendency to dislike. She was thoroughly well-meaning, like the rest of her family, and finding her little mistress dwell in the same atmosphere, the desire to be acceptable to her awoke at once, and grew rapidly in her heart. She was the youngest of Janet's girls, about four years older than Donal, not clever, but as sweet as honest, and full of divine service. Always ready to think others better than herself, the moment she saw the still face of Ginevra, she took her for a little saint, and accepted her as a queen, whose will to her should be law. Ginevra, on her part, was taken with the healthy hue and honest eyes of the girl, and neither felt any dislike to her touching her hair, nor lost her temper when she was awkward and pulled it. Before the winter was over, the bond between them was strong.

One principal duty required of Nicie -- her parents had named her after the mother of St. Paul's Timothy -- was to accompany her mistress every fine day to the manse, a mile and a half from Glashruach. For some time Ginevra had been under the care of Miss Machar, the daughter of the parish clergyman, an old gentleman of sober aspirations, to whom the last century was the Augustan age of English literature. He was genial, gentle, and a lover of his race, with much reverence for, and some faith in, a Scotch God, whose nature was summed up in a series of words beginning with omni. Partly that the living was a poor one, and her father old and infirm, Miss Marchar, herself middle-aged, had undertaken the instruction of the little heiress, never doubting herself mistress of all it was necessary a lady should know. By nature she was romantic, but her romance had faded a good deal. Possibly had she read the new poets of her age, the vital flame of wonder and hope might have kept not a little of its original brightness in her heart; but under her father's guidance, she had never got beyond the Night Thoughts, and the Course of Time. Both intellectually and emotionally, therefore, Miss Machar had withered instead of ripening. As to her spiritual carriage, she thought too much about being a lady to be thoroughly one. The utter graciousness of the ideal lady would blush to regard itself. She was both gentle and dignified; but would have done a nature inferior to Ginevra's injury by the way she talked of things right and wrong as becoming or not becoming in a lady of position such as Ginevra would one day find herself. What lessons she taught her she taught her well. Her music was old-fashioned, of course; but I have a fancy that perhaps the older the music one learns first, the better; for the deeper is thereby the rooting of that which will have the atmosphere of the age to blossom in. But then to every lover of the truth, a true thing is dearer because it is old-fashioned, and dearer because it is new-fashioned: and true music, like true love, like all truth, laughs at the god Fashion, because it knows him to be but an ape.

Every day, then, except Saturday and Sunday, Miss Machar had for two years been in the habit of walking or driving to Glashruach, and there spending the morning hours; but of late her father had been ailing, and as he was so old that she could not without anxiety leave him when suffering from the smallest indisposition, she had found herself compelled either to give up teaching Ginevra, or to ask Mr. Galbraith to allow her to go, when such occasion should render it necessary, to the manse. She did the latter; the laird had consented; and thence arose the duty required of Nicie. Mr. Machar's health did not improve as the spring advanced, and by the time Mr. Galbraith left for London, he was confined to his room, and Ginevra's walk to the manse for lessons had settled into a custom.

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