THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
THE DISRUPTION A TALE OF TRYING TIMES.
CHAPTER XXl— continued.
Mr. Bacon did not intend to keep this long a secret. After dinner he produced an immense book of dried botanic specimens, and placing it on the table before the young lady, said—- “ I hope Miss Stimperton, you and Mr. Afleck will amuse yourselves for a little in ■ turning over my hortus siccm, and excuse me while I speak a word with Mr. Duncanson in private.” This was readily assented to; and, while Robin took an opportunity of displaying some of his recently-acquired knowledge in botany, and Shusie (for a wonder) expressed surprise that Mr. Bacon thought it worth while to keep withered dockens and nettles in a book, that learned gentleman took Mr. Duncanson into another room, and there opened a very delicate subject, with a good deal of ingenious circumlocution, and what he intended for great tact. After due preparation, he said—“ Now, Mr, Duncanson, I wish to ask you a question which I hope you will answer confidentially and without reserve.” “ Well sir ? ”
“ Are you in love ? ”
The student blushed, looked perplexed, and neither could well answer the question nor evade it. At length he said, hesitatingly and with evident reluctance to be explicit—“ Well, I don’t know but I am ”
Ay, I was afraid of that,” answered Mr. Bacon, “ I was afraid of that, sir. It is very foolish of you, Mr. Duncanson, and an unfortunate business for both of us. I thought I had warned you so well against such a weakness that there would be no danger of your falling into it. But I see there is no use in the Jbest advice when it can be acted on neither by the giver nor the receiver. The case would not have been so bad if you had taken a fancy for any one else.” “Than whom?”
“ Miss Stimperton, to be sure.” “ Oh, you may keep your mind at ease on that point. There is no ground whatever for your suspicion.”
“Is there not? Are you not in love, then, with Miss Stimperton.
“ No.” “ Well, lam delighted to hear it. I must confess I am a good deal interested—the fact is, positively in love —with her myself.” _ “ Impossible!” p “ Perfectly possible, and true too.” “You, Mr. Bacon, who have such a contempt for women, and all who associate with them ? You, who cannot endure the restraints of female influence, and look on the.sex as the bane of intellectual excellence? You, who live so contented in a single state, and entertain a horror of petticoat neighborhood? The thing is past belief. You must be joking.” “There is no joke in the matter; but you are proceeding on false premises. You assume that there can be no exception among women to the faults which characterise the sex, and so did I. But I find I have been mistaken. I under estimated the richness of nature, and did not imagine, it possible she could produce a specimen of womankind so perfect as Miss Stimperton. Bless your soul, sir! she is not properly to be accounted a woman at all. She is more of an angel. Other women are restless, frivolous, vain, coquettish creatures; never content without keeping everything in a turmoil about them, and continually docking down men’s habits to suit their own petty ideas. But this beautiful nymph breathes the very spirit of meekness and serenity from every feature of her lovely face. She has neither impertinent curiosity, conceit, caprice, nor perversity. I verily believe she has/ been created expressly for my comfort. She is the very personification pf heavenly beauty and gentleness; so recollect, Mr. Duncanson, that while I avow my love for her, I am still consistent in my aversion to the female sex in general. There is no rule without an exception you know, and an exception only proves the rule.” “ Miss Stimperton is certainly very amiable, good natured, and pliable; but I am not sure if even she would think it her duty, were she advanced to the honor of sharing your lot, to conform to all the habits you have acquired in the fulness of your bachelor freedom.”
“ Her duty! She would know no duty but to accomodate herself to my will and pleasure. I am sure of that, else I should not doat on her as I do. But what habits do you allude to ? ” “ Why, for instance, smoking in bed, having no regular hours for sleeping, eating, dressing, and making a workshop and laboratory of the best rooms in your house.” “Well, I can’t believe she would attempt to interfere in any of these matters. I see, sir—l plainly perceive —by the respect she pays to all I say and do—that she thoroughly understands and appreciates my character; and I shan’t be fool enough to let such an inestimable jewel slip through my fingers.” “ But perhaps it may not be easy for you to secure her after all.” “How? Not easy for me to secure her! Consider, Mr. Duncanson, that independently of my personal merits, I am a man of property and high connections. Few ladies would refuse; how should you suppose Miss Stimperton could ? Isn’t she but a country girl—the sister of a humble farmer—and without expectations or wealthy relatives ? ”
“Yes. very true; but suppose she should have no personal objections, but, on the contrary, a high respect for you—still there may be obstacles —she may be engaged.” “True, true; I did not think of that; but I fondly hope she is is not. You must try to find out if she is, but I dare say Mr. Afleck will manage such a piece of business better. Pray be so good as to send him to me, and keep the young lady company for a little, till I have some talk with him concerning her.” These requests were immediately complied with; but Mr. Duncanson found it no easy task to keep up a conversation with Miss Stimperton. She had nothing to say herself except what was drawn from her in the shape of answers, and these were of the briefest. Neither did she seem to take much interest in any subject that i
could be started, for she was equally void of curiosity and information. What charm her society could have for such a loquacious and discursive talker as Mr. Bacon, it is not easy to imagine, except by supposing that the eccentric bachelor valued a good-na-tured disposition to listen, which she possessed in a supereminent degree, above all other qualifications in a companion.
When Mr. Bacon and Robin Afleck returned to the dining-room, the former seemed possessed with anxious thoughts, and the latter almost bursting with subdued merriment. Mr, Bacon instantly betook himself to smoking, without ever consulting the feelings of his guests, or supposing that it could possibly annoy them. His taste for the Indian weed was stimulated precisely like Robin’s stomach for food — by the pangs ot love. He soon filled all the room with such a cloud that it was impossible for the company to see each other; and he was the first to feel the inconvenience of this himself, for it prevented him seeing, Miss Stimperton, except when he made a pause and blew away the murky wreaths which rolled between them, and this he did more than once. At length he had the grace to make himself more agreeable by volunteering a tune on an anomalouslooking piece of furniture, which _he said was an organ of his own building. It had been partly converted into a clothes’ press, and for many a day had not been used for any other purpose. Nevertheless most of its machinery was entire, and, though sadly out of order, and coated with cobwebs and dust, the instrument was not much worse than ever. The first effect Mr Bacon produced by touching the bellows-pedal, was to set a colony of mice scampering and squeaking, in the interior, where they had long been established and had never before been molested. Next, the organ itself spoke out, but in tones so disonant and discontented like, that it seemed grumbling at being disturbed from long repose. By dint of hard work, Mr. Bacon did eventually manage to extort from the crazy instrument some resemblance to a tune which he obligingly informed his audience was “ Black-eyed Susan.” He then began to hum, as a vocal accompaniment, the words: — All in the Downs the fleet was moor’d, The streamers waving in the wind —
As he proceeded with the song, his voice rose over that of the organ ; he twisted himself into so many strange contortions, and threw up his eyes with such a grotesque expression of sentimentality, that Mr. Duncanson and Robin Afleck had a hard struggle to preserve their gravity, but Miss Stimperton was overpowered with unaffected admiration. Mr. Bacon’s theory that she had been specially created for him really did seem plausible enough for perhaps no other woman in existence would have been so delighted with his music, or delighted him by applauding it as sincerely. On account of Jean Brown’s absence, the rehearsal was postponed sine die, with little prospect that it would take place at all, for by this time it was known that the Queen’s Drawing-Room would be held on the, following Monday, so that there was little time for preparation. As the hour was nigh at which M. Duncanson and Miss Stimperton were engaged to be at Mr. Calmsough’s lodgings they began to speak of moving, but to this Mr. Bacon, for a long time would not hearken. At length, when he had hinted to his dulcina that he would do her the honor of calling on her next day, to arrange all necessary matters for appearing at the grand state ceremony, he reluctantly allowed her to depart with Mr. Duncanson, but detained Robin Afleck to assist him in making preparations for an illumination ysvhich was to take place on the following evening. At the lodgings in Pitt Street, jointly occupied by the Calmsoughs and Montgomeries, Mr. Duncanson found assembled all the little party he had hoped to meet, and along with them a gentleman he had neither wished nor expected. This personage was no other than M'Cheatrie the lawyer, brother of our old friend the “Scooneral Customer.” Mr. and Mrs. Calmsough were as usual bland and courteousj; Miss Montgomery looked kind but dejected; and her father was punctiliously civil. He eyed'Miss Stimperton with evident satisfaction, and proposed her health in the first bumper that went round. He watched his daughter and James Duncanson with constant attention and seemed on the fidgets every time he caught them exchanging glances, which was not seldom. After supper was over, and the company had become engaged in general conversation, Mr. Montgomery and the lawyer rose and retired together to another apartment. Their temporary absence excited no attention, till after a short time Mr. Duncanson was called out to join them. As he rose to leave the table, Agnes became as pale as death, and seemed about to faint. Her lover observing her agitation, whispered a few words into her ear, which had a marvellous effect in restoring her to calmness; but what he said it would hard to tell, for, as Robin Afleck remarked, no third party could ever learn a syllable that passed between them.
The student found Mr. .Montgomery and Mr. M'Cheatrie waiting for him rather impatiently. He could not imagine what their business with h:m could be, but he was not long left in doubt. There was a portable writingdesk with writing materials on the table before them, and a sheet of letter paper lay exposed to view, on which a few lines had aperently just been scrawled, for the ink was not quite dry. The lawyer addressed Mr. Duncanson in an overdone wheedling style, in tended to be very insinuating, but it merely had the effect of putting the yonng man thoroughly on his guard. “ Mr. Montgomery,” said he, “ has been speaking to me about a small affair in which you are concerned, and which, it seems, has been giving him a a great deal of uneasiness. Now lam sure, Mr. Duncanson, you are a gentleman who would not willingly create disquiet in any respectable family. Indeed, I believe you are, in every sense of the word, a gentleman, and will not refuse to do what is just and reasonable.”
“Be more explicit and less complimentary. What is it you mean? What is it you wish me do ?”
“ Why, the truth is, Mr. Duncanson, you know that there has been —some time ago, I mean—a correspondence ol a tender nature between you and Miss Montgomery; and, seeing it is at an end now, it is very desirable for all parties that there should be a right understanding on the subject; and Mr. Montgomery is very anxious (perhaps needlessly so) that you should give it in writing under your hand, that your correspondence with his daughter is finally broken off, all previous writings or engagements notwithstanding.” “This is a very strange proposal. Has Miss Montgomery herself been made aware of it ?”
“Why, yes—no —not precisely. But she knows as much as it is necessary she should know. It has been gone about in the way best calculated to spare the young lady’s feelings, and you certainly must approve very much of that. Besides, there is nothing so very extraordinary in the proposal after all. You have been in correspondence with Miss Montgomery. You are not so now. You seem to have formed another attachment, and you must allow she ought to be free to do the same. All right and proper—nothing can be fairer. Well, let this just be understood, and in order to set all to rest, just state in writing, in as few lines as you please, that so and so is the case. Or —to save you all trouble about it—here are a few words to that effect, which, if you please, you may subscribe, and Mr. Montgomery and I can be the attesting witnesses.” Here the wily lawyer put the document he had drawn out into Mr. Duncanson’s hand. It ran thus :
“I, James Duncanson student of divinity, presently residing in Edinburgh, do hereby, and of my own accord, renounce all claims on Agnes, daughter of Gideon Montgomery, feuar in Burncrook, in respect of any promises or engagements made to me, either verbally or in writing, by the aforesaid Agnes Montgomery; and I also do hereby voluntarily agree to cease all correspondence with the said Agnes Montgomery, either directly or indirectly, from and after the present date.”
“Edinburgh, September first, one thousand eight hundred and forty-two.” When Mr. Duncanson had perused this precious missive, his eyes flashed indignation, and he looked up at Mr. Montgomery and the crafty lawyer with the expression of his feelings faltering on his tongue. The old man, however, seemed desirous of avoiding all altercation and discussion on the subject; for he paced up and down the room with uneasy steps, and never once ventured to turn his face to the student, or to say a word. Mr. Duncanson equally desirious of avoiding an angry dispute with him, and disdaining to speak his mind on such a a subject to ,the pettifogging man of business, after considering for a moment what to do, lifted a pen and deliberately wrote under the document he was requested to sign these words — “ When I renounce Agnes Montgomery, may my right hand forget its cunning.” Having done this, he left the room and returned to the little supper party. The excited state of mind in which he resumed his place in the companj', was too obvious to escape notice; but there was no time for speculation on the cause of it, for he had scarcely beon seated, when Mr. M'Cheatrie entered with the alarming intelligence that the old gentleman had taken suddenly ill. Miss Montgomery rushed out of the room in a state of distraction, and was followed immediately by the rest of the company to the room in which her father had fallen down. All for a time was confusion and consternation, but, on medical aid being obtained, it was found that there was no immediate danger to be apprehended, and the patient, at his own request, was soon left with only his affectionate daughter to attend him.
Mr Duncanson felt uneasy in the conviction that the decided manner in which he had acted had thrown Mr. Montgomery into a paroxysm of anger, to which in all probability, his sudden illness was to be attributed. I nsuch painful circumstances it would have been out of place to offer any explanation to Miss Montgomery, for she was too anxiously engrossed in her attention to her infirm parent to hearken to anything but what concerned his immediate condition. He therefore took leave of her without attempting to touch on the subject; but he took care before de parting to relate in general terms to Mr. Calmsough what had been proposed to him, and how he had acted, for he knew that the worthy man was on confidential terms with Agnes, and would do him ample justice. (To be continued—commenced on July 26 )
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