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THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 149, 7 September 1880
THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
THE DISRUPTION: A TALE OF TRYING TIMES. CHAPTER XVl— continued. He tried to find words to declare how far this was from his wish, but only managed to articulate "No.” After a pause, he controlled his emotions sufficiently to enable him to proceed with his explanation, and he said, with earnestness of tone that betrayed the intensity of his feelings—“ No, my own Agnes," it is far from my wish to break off. Heaven alone knows how intimately you are bound up with my happiness, and how much you are to me the charm of life. I have no views apart from you —no hopes of enjoyment on earth without you; but I feel that it is due to your happiness and my own honor that I should release you from your engagement to me.” “Oh, James!” said the agitated girl, turning on him with a look of reproachful tenderness, “ how can you speak so harshly ? What do you mean by such cruel words ? Why should your honor or my happiness demand our separation ? ” “ Dearest Agnes ! do not let distrust of ray affection for a moment afflict you. It is not because I love you too little but too much—if that be possible —that 1 feel compelled to renounce the bright hopes I once indulged in, in connection with you.” Again Agnes buried her face in her h mds and sobbed as if her heart would break. “ Tell, me, James,” at last she said, “how 1 have deserved this unkindness. You may have seen a face you can fancy more (for, as you say I have grown pale and thin now), but you will never meet a more devoted heart than mine. I little thought that four months’ separation could so far turn your mind from me as to make you wish our engagement st an end. James ■ James ! you could not propose this if you had ever felt as much attached to me as I have been to you.”
“ Oli, Agnes'! these are cruel words. I solemnly"tell you 1 love you, and wil never cease to love you, above al created beings; and why should yor doubt mv word ? ”
“' James Duncanson, you are the last man I would doubt. Ever since I saw you first, your word has been to me as gospel truth, and that, above all else, made me give up my whole heart to you with the most perfect confidence that it was well bestowed. But when you speak of releasing me of my engagement, what can I understand but that you wish to be released from yours ! ” “Do you remember, Agnes, when you told me that you were an ambitious girl, and that nobody but a nobleman —not a nobleman of Queen’s making, but a nobleman by the grace of God — would please you ? ” “ Ves, James, I mind it well; and, as I thought you one of these, I was frank enough to tell you so.” “ Well, then, it is because I would not defraud you of the object of your virtuous ambition that I speak of parting. I would not be the nobleman of nature’s making which you took my for, and which I wish to be, but a meanspirited fellov/, if I were to insist on holding you to an engagement after all the circumstances in which it was made are so altered as to make a match between us unequal, and every disadvantageous to you.” “ What do you allude to, James ? ” “ Why should you ask, Agnes ? Surely the disparity which now exists bef.veeu us is easily seen. Last year, v.'hen I presumed to seek your, favor, and had the happiness of being successful, we stood on equal ground. I was poor and dependant, no doubt, but my prospects w r ere flattering. You w’ere then no richer than myself, and might reasonably be expected to look no higher than to share a humble lot like mine. Now', all this is changed. I am cast adrift on the wmrld penniless and friendless, and at a time, too, when I cannot hope by my own exertions — holding the principles which I have conscientiously adopted—to attain to anything like comfortable circumstances. On the other hand the star of your fortune is rising. I hear—and, from the bottom of my heart, I rejoice at it, Agnes, for your sake, though it but blights my own hopes the more — that a rich legacy ” “ Oh, James, can you think me so mean and mercenary as to ” “ Nay, hear me, Agnes, for I ow r e it to myself to say that in such altered circumstance as we are new placed in —you an heiress, and I a half-educated, poverty struck student —1 will never be so despicably mean as to take advantage of your simplicity so far as to hold you bound to me, notwithstanding the engagement between us.”
“ This is a cruel kind of generosity, James. You are the same to me as ever, if you really bear unaltered love to me ; so let no worldly consideration come between us. lam yours through good and bad fortune alike, as I fondly pledged myself to be; and never let a word be said about circumstances. If 1 had Jean brown’s cleverness, I would scold you well for ever thinking so meanly of me as to suppose I could wish to be free of my pledge for any change' that had happened, or that ever can happen, except in yourself. I admit you have vindicated the nobility of character I gave you credit for, but I must complain that you allow none of it to me.- But you ought to consider, that when I set my heart so much on having a husband of noble feelings, I might"have some share of them myself, and not be a fickle, heartless creature, to be turned about by every wind of fortune.”
. “ You are not only noble, Agnes, but divine. Y r on have hitherto been the sole object of my love, but now, were it not sinful, I would adore you. Still, •Agnes, why should I shut my eyes to the obstacles I see so plainly between us? "/our father, you admit, is bitterly prejudiced against me for the side I have taken in the Church controversy, and there is little hope he can ever be reconciled to me. He is rendering you unhappy on my account, and the thought of this destroys my peace, and makes me feel a guilty responsibility for all you are made to suffer. I cannot endure the upbraidings of my conscience for being the cause of placing you at variance with your only living parent.”
“You have touched on the source of all my distress, and I confess my father’s displeasure is hard for me to bear; but it need not cause you any remorse, for I can submit to it patiently so long as I know it is undeserved.”
While the young lady spoke these words, the sound of approaching voices was heard, which she immediately recognised as those of Mr. Calmsough and her father. Hour after hour had passed away so insensibly with the lovers, that they had not observed that the time had arrived when the two elderly gentlemen might be expected to return. Accordingly, when they came, Mr. Duncanson was still with Miss Montgomery, though he intended to have departed long before; and now that he was taken by surprise, he knew not what to do, and Agnes was greatly terrified, for she foresaw the consequences. Mr. Montgomery was detained some time in an adjoining room, for Mrs. Calmsough had the presence of mind, and kindness so to contrive matters in the hope of preventing a storm. During this interval, Agnes distinctly heard her father ask Mrs. Calmsough what had become of her, and, when informed that she was in the parlor with a visitor, demanded who she was engaged with. His impatient manner of speaking made it plain that his questions could not be evaded, and that he would enter immediately, to satisfy himself by personal observation. Had theyoung lady been possessed of Jean Brown’s inventiveness and dexterity, she might perhaps have contrived, for her lover’s escape or concealment, some means which he might have adopted had he been of Robin Afleck’s cast of character. But Agnes had no turn for artifice, and Mr. Duncanson was too high-minded to stoop to anything of a clandestine nature. They therefore sat still—she trembling, and he not altogether at ease —awaiting the entrance of the angry old man. He was in a more irascible mood than usual; for the meeting he was just returned from had proved unharmonious and unsatisfactory. It had revealed wide differences of opinion among those who were generally considered united in support of the Church against the innovations of the Non-intrusion party. Mr. Calmsough and a few more had advised conciliation ; but Dr. Snapperdudgeon and others had contended for the propriety of enforcing the laws as they stood, seeing that the Auchterader case had been decided finally, and with expenses, against the Non-intrusionists; while Sir John Baldwin, seconded by Mr. M'Quirkie, and with a few other supporters, had spoken strongly in favor of a new appeal to Government for modification, not the abolition, of patronage. The meeting had been all at sixes and sevens, and had broken up in confusion, without anything having been resolved on. Old Gideon Montgomery’s severity of temper inclined him to take Dr. Snapperdudgeon’s view of the subject; but he had got fairly bewildered by the diversity of opinion expressed, and his irritability was proportionably excited. For the first time, he, began to contemplate the disruption of the Church as a possible event, and all his long-cherished prejudices and: prepossessions regarding matters ecclesiastical were roused into violence. It was in this frame of mind that he learnt that Mr. Duncanson was with his daughter. In vain did, Mr. and Mrs. Calmsough try to dissuade him from breaking in upon the young, people. Their attempts only incensed him the more, and threw him into a paroxysm of coughing, to which he was very much subject. As soon as he had recovered a little, he, without any ceremony, entered the room where the youthful pair were seated. Agnes rose to. meet him, and courageously introduced her lover to him by name. He knew the young man well enough before, and noticed him now only with a sulky look and a constrained inclination of the head. But to his daughter, •he said—“ Get you to bed, girl; I have something to say to Mr. Duncanson by himself.” Agnes did not dare to disobey such a peremptory command; but, before leaving the room, she had the firmness to take an affectionate farewell of Mr. Duncanson, and to say to him, loud enough for her father to hear, “Remember, James, if you are not made welcome to call on us as often as you find convenient, the fault will not be mine; I shall always be glad to see you.” “Get away, I tell you, you silly girl ! ” said her father in a tone of great asperity which again threw him into one of his fits of coughing. Agnes went away in tears, casting A longing, lingering look behind, and waving a parting adieu to her lover as she closed the door. It was some time before Mr. Montgomery gathered breath to speak; meantime the student stood patiently waiting to hear what he had to say. “ Mr. Duncanson,” at length said the old man, addressing him sternly, “ I think you must have been long ago aware that your visits to my daughter were not acceptable.” “ I beg your pardon, sir, but you heard what she just now said herself.” “ I don’t care what she says, and neither would you, if you acted in a proper spirit.” “ Excuse me, Mr, Montgomery, but allow me to say I cannot view this matter in that light. I have been in' the habit of supposing that as Miss Montgomery is more deeply concerned in it than any one else, her own inclination was most to be considered.”
“ I tell you, then, you are very niuch mistaken, * I have no objection to humor her to any reasonable extent, but I will not surrender my authority over her, as a parent, so far as to allow her to throw herself away to gratify any foolish romantic notion she may have formed.”
“ You surely have formed a very bad opinion of me, Mr. Montgomery, when you put the case in this manner.” “ Well, suppose I have, would it not be most becoming in you to act as it you had a good opinion of yourself, and avoid coming where you are not welcome? You know you profess to be a Nonintrusionist.”
“ I do, but I am unable to see how that should be thought a fault.” “ Oh, of course, it will be no fault in your eyes, I’ll warrant —a merit, rather, you may possibly suppose. But you ought to consider, young man, that I, who .have been longi an office-bearer in the Established Church and a member
of it fqr a much longer period, cannot look with favor on one who is laboring to undermine the venerable inst —” “ I beg your pardon, Mr. Montgomery, but I protest most solemnly that I—” “ Don’t interrupt me, sir; I won’t be interrupted. You have not a word to say for yourself, and I’ll hear no word. Little wonder is it that I, in my old age, should be offended to see boys—striplings—rise to disturb and destroy the peace of the Church which our fathers died for. I don’t know a worse symptom of a youth than a presumptuous disposition to meddle with settled institutions. Who gave you, and the like of you, discernment to see the blemishes in the Church, which have never been seen till now ? Who made you and such as you wiser than all who have gone before you ? Can you tell me that ? Och ! hoch! hoch!” —another fit of coughing concluded this indignant tirade. When it was over, Mr. Duncanson ventured to take up the thread of the debate. “ Admitting,” said he, “ that my judgment may be immature, and the principles I have adopted erroneous, still I have not taken thetn up or urged them in a presumptuous spirit, and they have originated not with me or any like me, but with respected fathers of the Church.” “Ay—who are they !” “ Why Dr. Chalmers himself for one.” “ A hot-brained declaimer. That man is sufficient to unsettle a world.” “ And Dr. Candlish.” “ A wind-bag ; a vain pragmatical pedant; a presumptuous cox-comb.” “And Dr. Cunningham. “ A word-twister, a wrangler, a Church-court brawler, a man more in his place among lawyers than divines. Just so, the three C’s are the leaders in this unnatural conspiracy against the Church’s peace. There is not another man of any note can be named as belonging to the party.” “ Sir David Brewster is warmly in favor of our principles.” “ Sir David Brewster ! A crochety egotist—a man never pleased with anything or anybody. If these be your men, I think as little of them as your principles.” “ They enjoy the general respect of their countrymen, and may be compared advantageously with any of the leaders on the opposite side.” “ I deny it, sir; I deny it. Och ! hoch ! hoch ! I won’t argue with you, sir. Och! hoch! hoch! You are engaged in a bad cause, and have not the sense to see it or the honesty to own it. But I hope—och! hoch ! hoch ! —I hope the Church will prove too strong for all her enemies, and 1 flourish when they are all forgotten. I am an old man now, and it is little I can do for her, but I will at least make sure that no enemy of her’s shall ever obtain a footing in my family. That is what I can do, sir, and what I will do. I tell you plainly, sir—och ! hoch ! hoch ! —I tell you plainly I would rather see Agnes go to her grave than see her the wife of anybody holding the principles you hold. Now, is that not enough 1 ” “ God forgive you 1 Mr. Montgomery, for these rash words.”
“ Well, well, that’s a very good wish, for we all need forgivenness; but don’t think to shake my purpose, for my mind is made up. I have been very civil to you hitherto—very civil and forbearing —but, remember, lam not to be trifled with. I think, in the present state of the Church and of your owm prospects, you might have something else in your head than silly loveraaking; at any rate, there are plenty of young women in the world besides my daughter, and you need be at no loss to find another, if you must have a sweetheart. So, if you please, don’t trouble yourself any more about Agnes.” These wmrds were spoken with a cutting calmness that indicated a settled purpose, and they wounded the student’s high-toned feelings more than any of the old man’s more angry expressions. He stood for a moment struggling to muster composure to return a suitable reply, but the effort was fruitless. He was merely able to stammer out a few' incoherent words in a husky tone and with tremulous articulation; and taking a respectful but almost silent leave of Mr. Montgomery, he left the house. When fairly abroad in the dark, deserted streets, his heart swelling with indignant feeling and wrung with anguish, he mentally pronounced himself the most unfortunate and miserable of all mankind.
(To be continued—commenced on July 26.)
THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 149, 7 September 1880
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