THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
THE DISRUPTION: A TALE OP TRYING TIMES. CHAPTER IX. Have you conspired, have you with these contrived To bait me with this derision ? MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, Miss Montgomery led Jean Brown into a retired room where they were alone, and with palpitating heart received from her Mr. Duncanson’s letter, which had been returned to him as before narrated. When she had read the first few lines, she became greatly agitated, and trembled so much that for some time she could proceed no farther. She, indeed, seemed so ill that her rustic visitor was seriously alarmed, and was about to express her fears aloud, when the young lady motioned to her to be silent, and said in a whisper, “ I am better now,” She then hastily glanced over the rest of the letter; during the perusal her color often went and came, and her eyes became suffused with tears. When she had finished it, she gave way to a passionate burst of feeling, which she tried to conceal or repress, but was altogether unable. At length she mustered composure enough to apologise for her weakness and to put a few timid interrogations to Jean regarding some circumstances which Mr. Duncanson had not fully explained in his letter. When she had heard from her a full account of his difference with his aunt, his de parture from Whinnyside, and all she knew of his subsequent proceedings, her tears began to flow afresh, and, in a few hurried sentences, spoken hardly in an audible voice and evidently under the apprehension of being overheard by some person in an adjoining room, she communicated to Jean Brown the story of her own sufferings on Mr. Duncanson’s account. “ My father,” she said, “ has altogether changed in his treatment of me since he became aware of my acquaintance with Mr. James, and heard of his opinions on Church matters. He used to be kind and indulgent, but now he is harsh and tryannical, and makes my life bitter. But I did not know before that Mr. Duncanson had been refused admittance into the house, or that any letter from him had been kept from me and returned unopened. Still I suspected it all, and would have given the world to let him know that I had not changed in my regard for him, whatever alteration there might be in his prospects or circumstances. Oh, if I could only have half an hour’s conversation with him, how much I could tell him and how happy it would make me ! But this is impossible. My father is hardened against him, and I think will kill me with his cruelty. I am a close prisoner, watched every hour in the day, and made miserable by unceasing attempts to shake my constancy to the only man who ever had my heart or ever shall.” “They’ll soon grow tired o’ that,” said Jean Brown. “Just keep ye your mind to yoursel’ and thole awee, and the blast will blaw by.” “I have no hope of that.” replied Miss Montgomery. “ 1 could patiently endure seclusion and restraint, but my father exacts more from me— more than I can bear. He insists that I shall not only renounce Mr. Duncanson for ever, but encourage the attentions of another whose very sight I loathe.” “ That’s a different story. I couldna bear that mysel’. What’s to hinder ye to rin awa’ ? ” “ There is much to hinder me, but I fear it must come to that. Indeed, I expect to have no choice left me, for I must either leave the house or be put out of it if J resist my father’s will; and though I wish to be dutiful, I cannot obey him in this matter. No; I would rather go to my grave than take the man he intends for me.” “ He must be some awfu’ monster. What like is he ? ” “ Hush ! ” said Agnes, and placing her finger on her lip to enforce the injunction. “ The person I allude to is in the next room, and may hear us unless we speak low. I was glad of the excuse to leave him for a little when you came to the door; for my father purposely, I think—left me alone with him, and I felt his company insupportable.” “ Dear me ! I would gi’e‘ a groat to see him. Wha is he, if a body may speer ? ” “ He is a divinity student, I understand. My father and he have got very gracious by happening to agree about Church matters. My father has the notion that he is a person of wonderful abilities and sure to rise to great eminence in the Church; and he has taken a sudden fancy to me—more, I think, on account of some money which there is a report is to fall to our family, than from any real love for me, for I don’t think he is like a person capable pf Iqving anybody but himself. His ( name is Mr. M’Quirkie,” “Mr. M 1 What?” exclaimed Jean Brown, in a tone much above a whisper, and could hardly be prevented from expressing her surprise aloud. “M'Quirkie is his name,” replied Miss Montgomery; “ and I think I have heard Mr. Duncanson speak of him as a fellow-student. At any rate, he has obtained my father’s permission to call on me, and this is the second time he has been here, but I have hardly exchanged words with him, or even looked him in the face. My father terrified me with the passion he flew into when he learnt how I had received him on his first visit, and I daresay he will be about as angry about the treatment I have given him this evening. So I fear I must go and suffer the rest of the punishment of sitting beside one I could wish far enough, and acting the dummy, while I must submit to hear his talk. But when and how will I see you again ? ’ “ Na, that’s more than I can tell. If ye ha’e ony answer to send to Mr. Duncanson, ye had better write jist the noo, and I’ll be shure to get it sent to Slim.” ‘ “ Yes, that is well thought of; but what am I to do with this person in the other room ? If I don’t go back to him presently, my father will get word of it, and will never forgive me.” “What wad ye think o' lettin’ me gang ben in your place ? I could ack the dummy as weel as you for a while. He’s a short-sichted creature, M'Quirkie, and ye ken I’m jist aboot your ain size, and asit’s gleamin’ he would ne’er
ken the difference o’ us. Then ye could write here at your leisure to Mr. Duncanson, and ha’e your letter ready for me to tak’ \vi’ me.” “ Oh, do you really think this could be managed ? ” “ Think it ? Ay ! —it could be managed brawly. Jist, if ye please, lend me on your silk apron and bandeau and collar awee, and I’ll pass mysel’ for you perfectly weel; for as shure’s leevin’ he’s sand-blind.” Hurriedly, but, with much hesitation, did the young lady divest herself of the articles mentioned, and hurriedly, but without any hesitation whatever, did Jean Brown put them on. After a little conversation as to the deportment she should assume, and the place of the room she should seat herself in, Jean gently opened the door and went into the apartment where Mr. M'Quirkie was patiently awaiting the return of Miss Montgomety. Robin Afleck’s buxom sweetheart was rather too robust in person and too vigorous in her movements for the part she had undertaken to enact, but she was well aware of the necessity of sitting still and keeping quiet, and on the whole contrived to personate Miss Montgomery sufficiently well in the circumstances. She took her place in an obscure part of the room, and sat in such a way that her face was shaded from the twilight, which was gradually deepening into dusk. “You have been engaged, I think,” said Mr. M‘Quirkie : but he received no answer except a faintly breathed “Yes,” which was so much in keeping with the manner in which his previous remarks had been answered by Miss Montgomery, that he proceeded to make sundry other observations without any suspicion of the trick of which he was the dupe. His loquacity did not need the spur of answer or rejoinder, for he spoke almost without intermission, and though his auditress had been disposed to speak, she could hardly have edged in a word. A considerable time passed over in this way ; Jean remained mute and motionless, and the wooer rattled through an immense variety ot subjects, and sugaring all with compliments to himself or his supposed companion, He was the hero of all his own stories, and contrived to give them all a flattering turn. He made it perfect!} plain that wit, worth, and wisdom would die with him; that the learned profession that he had adopted was singularly fortunate in acquiring such a paragon of intellect; and above all, that the woman of his choice had reason to be the proudest of his sex. Miss Montgomery was too good and too beautiful to be the wife of any other. In fact, it might be said that he only wished for her hand to make sure that she should not be thrown away on any one unworthy of such a prize. This, and not any selfish feeling, was his chief motive in asking her. Then he was going to save the Church. The Church could not be rescued from her perilous position except by the efforts of such as Mr. M'Quirkie, and he was prepared to make any sacrifice in her behalf. This circumstance was the bond of friendship between her (Miss Montgomery’s) father and him, and made the old man desire to make him one of his own family. There would be also, he said, much propriety in avoiding all unnecessary delay, and forming a union so auspicious speedily. For though he he was not yet licensed, and it was generally imprudent for a student to marry in the midst of his studies, yet his case was rather a remarkable exception. There was, in the place, no detriment to his scholastic acquirements, for these were already all that could be desired; it was impossible for any man to learn more than he had learnt already; all he had now to do was to walk through some classes for the sake of form. In the second place, his status in the Church was already secured. His abilities and the soundness of his principles had attracted the notice of a great man—a very great man—no less a man than Sir John Baldwin—who had intimated to him pretty plainly, that whenever he was ready for a church, he had no more to do than let him know, and the first and best in his gift would be his. And not only was this the mind of Sir John Baldwin, but of many other great men, who were anxiously awaiting to have the opportunity of appointing such as he to any important charge. Ke therefore had a right to consider himself secure in point of temporalities. Thirdly, and this was perhaps the most important consideration of all, he found it no easy matter to keep himself free of engagements in quarters where he had no wish to be entangled. So long as he remained unmarried, this was sure to be the case; for it was truly surprising and distressing to see how many ladies were ready to fling themselves at the head of a young man in such a position as his. Only a few days ago, a lady—a very rich lady —had misunderstand some mere civilities from him so far as to to take them for serious attentions, and had embarassed him very much by her groundless expectations ; so that as an act of simple justice to himself and of mercy to those who might otherwise delude themselves into foolish notions regarding him, he felt it necessary for him to set all speculations as to the state of his heart at rest, by bestowing it on the only woman who was worthy to wear it, namely—“ on yourself, Miss Montgomery, your own sweet self.” Jern Brown had several times, during these absurd harangues, been sorely at a loss to preserve her gravity ; and only by stuffing the corner of the borrowed apron into her mouth, did she manage to repress the laughter which her own comical situation, and the nonsense addressed to her, tended to excite. But Mr. M’Quirkie’s complaints of annoyance from love sick ladies, and especially his illusion to the Mistress of Whinnyside’s disappointment, proved too much for her self-command, and her risibility burst out beyond all power of concealment. The gentleman was perplexed and astonished, and advancing hastily, seized her hand as if to remonstrate or ask an explanation. His surprise increased when he felt the massive rough-skinned hand of a servant-of-all-work within his grasp, instead of the small soft hand of a delicately bred young lady. He immediately brought his twinkling, shortvisioned little eyes close to her face, and discovered the cheat that had been practised on him; then, merely saying in a
voice choking with shame and rage— “ I have been trifled with ” —left the house more expeditiously than he had decamped from Whinnyside under the fire cf Mrs. Renshaw’s tongue. Jean Brown indulged herself with a good hearty laugh before she thought ot Miss Montgomery. When she went to the room where she had left the young lady, she found her aware of what had happened, and in a state of alarm and consternation at the result of the artifice she had connived at playing off, for she knew it would bring down her father’s wrath upon her head. The merry girl’s risibility had, however, been too much tickled to subside at once, even when she saw Miss Montgomery’s anxiety. She gave a hurried abridgement of Mr. M'Quirkie’s remarks—mimicing his pedantic manner—his bewilderment on discovering that he had been imposed upon, and his abrupt retreat. She had frequently to stop her narrative and relieve herself by a new burst of laughter ; and in conclusion, she broke out into an uncontrolled peal—rolled herself on the sofa, and held her sides in an ectacy of merriment. Miss Montgomery, meantime, was deeply embarrassed, and trembled with apprehension of her father’s displeasure. She, however, could not help smiling in her agitation when she heard the particulars of Jean’s interview with her would-be lover; but her mind was anxiously revolving how to escape from the thraldom under which she was held and avoid the aggravated severities she anticipated. Two of her sisters entered the room, and a hurried consultation took place as to what was best to be done. Agnes shrunk from meeting her father in the first burst of his passion, and obtained the consent of her sisters to a proposal she made, which, in the circumstances seemed advisable—namely, that she should immediately leave the house with Jean Brown and take refuge with the Rev* Mr. Calmsough and his worthy lady in the manse, where she felt sure of a kind reception. This project was no sooner agreed on, than a few trifling preparations were hurriedly made to carry it into effect. An unfinished reply to Mr. Duncanson’s letter was folded, sealed, and given to Jean Brown; and Miss Montgomery and Jean had just time to reach the garden, and get away by a back gate, when Mr. Gideon Montgomery opened the door and entered the house. [to be continued.]
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THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 139, 14 August 1880
THE CHIMNEY CORNER. Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 139, 14 August 1880
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