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- A Daughter of Fife - 20/35 -
The noise instantly arrested the old woman. She stood up, and cried out in a passion, "What's that you're doing, Maggie Promoter?"
"I'm locking Mr. Campbell's room. I'll no see you break into ony one's right, be they here, or far awa'."
"You hizzy! You! You'll daur to call me a thief, will you?"
"Dinna fight me at the outset, Aunt Janet. If I am wrang, when Davie comes hame at the New Year, I'll gie you the key. But I'll no do it, till he says sae, no, not if I die for it! Now then?"
"Setting yoursel' up in a bleezing passion wi' a person auld enough to be your mither! Think shame o' yoursel', Maggie Promoter!"
Maggie was certainly in a passion. Her eyes were full of tears, her face burning, her form erect and trembling with anger. Yet she was bitterly annoyed at her own weakness; she felt degraded by her outburst of temper, and was just going to say some words of apology, when a number of women entered the cottage. There was Jenny and Maggie Johnston, and Kirsty Buchan, and Janet Thompson and Mysie Raith; five buxom wives in linsey and tartan, all talking together of their "men" and their families.
Maggie's instincts revolted against any public discussion of her own affairs, and Aunt Janet was not disposed to tell her grievance while Maggie was present. So both women put it aside to welcome their visitors. There was much hand-shaking, and loud talking, and then Janet Caird said with a bustling authoritative air, "Put on the kettle, Maggie, a cup o' tea when kimmers meet, mak's talk better;" and Maggie, dumbly resentful at the order, obeyed it.
She was not in a generous mood, and she was calculating, as she silently set the table, how much of her seven shillings a week would be left, when she had paid Janet Caird five out of it, and entertained all her kimmers. When the tea was brewed, the old woman went to her blue kist, and brought out a bottle of Glenlivet, "just to tak' off the wersh taste o' the tea;" and Maggie, perceiving they had set down for a morning's gossip and reminiscence, said, "I'll awa' up the beach a wee, friends. I hae a headache, and I'll see if the wind will blow it awa'."
No one opposed the proposition. She folded her plaid around her head and shoulders and went out. Then Janet Caird put down her tea cup, looked mournfully after her, sighed, and shook her head. Upon which, there was a general sigh, and a general setting down of tea cups, and a short, but eloquent silence.
"You'll hae your ain adoo wi' that self-willed lass, I'm feared, Mistress Caird."
"'Deed, Mistress Raith, she's had o'er much o' her ain way, and she is neither to rule, nor to reason wi'."
"Davie Promoter is a wise-like lad; he did right to bring you here."
"And nane too soon."
"She's sae setten up wi' the fuss Maister Campbell made wi' baith o' them. Naething gude enough for Dave and Maggie Promoter. The best o' teachers and nae less than Glasca College itsel', for the lad--"
"My nephew Davie isna quite a common lad, Mistress Buchan. Dr. Balmuto gied him the books he needed. Think o' that noo."
"And the lass is a handsome lass. Maister Campbell thocht that. Angus just hated the sight o' him, for he said he came between himsel' and Maggie."
"She wouldna hae the impudence to even hersel' wi' Maister Campbell, a man connectit wi' the nobility, and just rollin' in gowd and siller," said Aunt Janet; drawing on her imagination for Mr. Campbell's distinctions.
This was the key-note to a conversation about Maggie in which every one of the five women present gave their own opinion, and the opinion of all their absent cronies about the girl's behavior. And though Janet Caird knew nothing of Maggie, and could say nothing definitely about her, she yet contrived in some manner to give the impression, that David Promoter had been afraid to leave his sister alone, on account of her attachment to Mr. Campbell; and that she had been specially brought from Dron Point to keep watch over the honor of the Promoter family.
If Maggie had been a popular girl, the loyalty of the Pittenloch wives to "their ain folk" would have been a sufficient protection against any stranger's innuendoes; but there was no girl in Pittenloch less popular. Maggie was unlike other girls; that was a sufficient reason for disfavor. Society loves types, and resents the individual whom it cannot classify; and this feeling is so common and natural that it runs through all our lives and influences our opinion of things inanimate and irresponsible: --the book of such inconvenient size or shape that it will not fit the shelf in our book-case, how many an impatient toss it gets! The incongruous garment which suits no other garment we have, and seems out of place on every occasion, how we hate it! Although it may be of the finest material and excellently well made.
So, though no one knew anything wrong of Maggie, and no one dared to say anything wrong, how provoking was the girl! She did nothing like any one else, and fitted into no social groove. She did not like the lads to joke with her, she never joined the young lassies, who in pleasant weather sat upon the beach, mending the nets. In the days when Maggie had nets to mend, she mended them at home. It was true that her mother was a confirmed invalid, confined entirely to her bed, for more than four years before her death; and Maggie had been everything to the slowly dying woman. But this reason for Maggie's seclusion was forgotten now, only the facts remembered.
The very women who wondered, "what kind of a girl she must be never to go to dances and merry makings;" knew that she had watched night and day by her sick mother; knew that the whole household had trusted to Maggie from her seventeenth year onward. Knew that it was Maggie that made all the meals, and kept the house place clean, and took care of the men's clothing, and helped to mend the nets, and who frequently after a day of unceasing labor, sat through the stormy nights with the nervous, anxious wife and mother, and watched for her the rising and setting of the constellations, and the changes of the wind.
Before her mother had been a twelvemonth under "the cold blanket o' the kirk yard grass," her father and brothers found rest among the clear cold populous graves of the sea. Then came Allan Campbell into her life, and his influence in the Promoter household had been to intensify the quiet and order, which David and Maggie both distinctly approved. The habit of being quiet became a second nature to the girl, every circumstance of the last years of her life had separated her more and more from the girls of her class and age. She was not to blame, but what then? People suffer from circumstances, as well as from actual faults.
There were two other points in Maggie's character undoubtedly influencing the social feelings which finally determined the girl's future--her great beauty, and her quick temper. There were women in the village who considered her rare and unmistakable beauty a kind of effrontery, at least they resented it with the same angry disapproval. A girl with no "man" to stand by her, ought not to look so provokingly radiant; nor, by the same rule, ought she to have such positive likes and dislikes, or a tongue always so ready to express them.
That very morning soon after leaving her aunt and the gossips around her, she met upon the beach Mysie Raith and Kitty Cupar. Kitty looked queerly at her and laughed, and instead of ignoring the petty insult, Maggie stopped the girls. "What are you laughing at, Kitty Cupar?" she asked indignantly.
"At naething," promptly replied the girl.
"What a born fool you must be to giggle at naething. Tak' tent, or you'll be crying for naething, afore night."
Then she went onward, leaving the girls full of small spite and annoyance. She was not far from her father's ill-fated boat. It always stood to Maggie in the stead of his grave. David had told her not to go near it, but she was in a perverse temper "and ill-luck, or waur ill-luck, I'm going;" she said to herself. It showed many signs of its summer's exposure; the seams were open, the paint peeling off, the name nearly effaced. She sat down on the shingle and leaned against it.
"Oh Lizzie! Lizzie!" she whispered to the poor forlorn battered thing. "You brought sair loss and sair change! Four hearts that loved me weel, you flung to the bottom o' the sea; and there's nane to care for me as they did. Davie is bound up in his diction'ries, and thinks little of Maggie noo; and _he_ is gane far awa'. He'll ne'er come back to me, I'm feared; he'll ne'er come back! It is just anither wreck, Lizzie, for a' you left is ta'en awa' this day."
It is a great grief to miss the beloved in all the home ways, but oh, how that grief is intensified when people not beloved step into their places! It made Maggie bitterly sorrowful to see Janet Caird in her father's chair. What a mistake she had made! She had no idea she would feel so resentfully to the one who was in her house because "they were not."
"It will be waur yet to see her reading his Bible," she thought, but she lifted the big book and laid it before her aunt at the usual hour for the evening prayer. "Na, na," said Janet, with an expression of self-approbation, "I dinna approve o' women reading the Word aloud. It is nae house without a man at the head o' it, and we canna hae exercises without a man to gie us the sense o' them. We are twa lane women, we maun be contented with the whisper o' a verse or twa to our ain hearts."
And Maggie was almost glad. She thought of her father reading the Book with his four sons around him; and she thought of David's pale solemn face bending over it, as they two sat together to listen to its comfort and its counsel; and she said, "I'll put the Book out o' sight, and I'll hae it opened nae mair, till I sit wi' Davie in his ain manse; and then we'll read again that bonnie verse _He_ gied us--_Then are they glad, because they be quiet; so He bringeth them unto their desired haven_."
"She has profaned the sacred name of Friend And worn it to vileness"
* * * * *
"Ah, wretched and too solitary he Who loves not his own company!"
* * * * *
"Fortune came smiling to the maid, and woo'd her"
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