« ForrigeFortsæt »
therefore guessed to be her son. After the party seemed to have become quite tired of dancing, they sat down to a rude but plenteous repast; and after that was concluded, the whole party addressed themselves to repose. Some retired into an apartment at the opposite end of the house; but most stretched themselves on straw, which lay in various corners of the room in which they had been feasting. The single bed which stood in this apartment was appropriated to Fordyne, apparently on account of his being the most important individual of the party; and he therefore continued under the unsuspected observation of his wife till he had consigned himself to repose. Previous to doing so, she observed him place something with great caution beneath his pillow.
For another hour Isbel stood at the window, inspecting the interior of the house, which was now lighted very imperfectly by the expiring fire. At length, when every recumbent figure seemed to have become bound securely in sleep, she first uttered one brief, but fervent and emphatic prayer, and then undid the loose fastening of the door, and glided into the apartment. Carefully avoiding the straw pallets which lay stretched around, she approached the bed whereon lay the treacherous Fordyne, and slowly and softly withdrew his large pocket-book from beneath the pillow. To her inexpressible joy she succeeded in executing this manoeuvre without giving him the least disturbance. Grasping the book fast in one hand, she piloted her way back with the other, and in a few seconds had regained the exterior of the cottage.
As she had expected, she found the large sum which Fordyne had taken away nearly entire. Transferring the precious parcel to her bosom, she set forward instantly upon a pathway which led from the cottage, apparently in the direction of Douglas. This she pursued a little way, till she regained the road she had formerly left, along which she immediately proceeded with all possible haste. Fortunately, she had not advanced far, when a peasant came up behind her in an empty cart, and readily consented to give her a lift for a few miles. By means of this help she reached Douglas at an early hour in the morning, where, finding a steamboat just ready to sail, she immediately embarked, and was soon beyond all danger from her husband.
The intrepid Isbel Lucas returned in a few days to Edinburgh, with a sufficient sum to satisfy all her husband's creditors, and enough over to set her up once more in her former way of life. She was never again troubled with the wretch Fordyne, who, a few years afterwards she had the satisfaction of hearing had died a natural death of an epidemic fever in the bridewell of Tralee, in Ireland.
STORY OF NELL FORSYTH. NELL FORSYTH was in our young days a handsome and good-looking lass, who acted as only servant to a small family in a country town, and was well known beyond the circle of her master's home for her discreet and steady character. Like all other lasses, Nell had had sweethearts of various orders; but it did not happen that she came within the danger of matrimony with any of them till about her thirtieth year. She was then courted by a man named Smail, who had recently inherited a little property, and though of vulgar manners and appearance, was looked upon by individuals in Nell's rank of life as a rather eligible match. This man had not been remarkable in his early years for industry, or good conduct of any kind. While it was generally admitted that his prospects were such as to have entitled him to enter into society a little higher than that in which he had been reared by his parents, he coveted rather the distinction which his little patrimony of old houses gave him in the eyes of those who had no such advantages, and liked nothing so much as to sit smoking and drinking for whole evenings with low wretches, who, in addressing him, would use the term “laird," and, for the sake of a free share in his base indulgences, did not scruple to applaud everything he said as the height of wisdom. When it was understood that Laird Smail was to get Nell Forsyth, the general feeling was that Nell was a fortunate lass; but one or two, who reflected more deeply, expressed their dissent from that conclusion. Smail, they allowed, had almost enough to support him without work; but then his habits were not good ; and if he should run in debt, and require to sell any part of his property, as was by no means unlikely, there was little reason to expect that he should be able to supply the deficiency by his labour. Nell, they thought, though apparently the humbler of the parties at present, was likely to be the soonest to complain of the bargain.
Nell, who in this alliance had rather yielded to the advices of a few ordinary-minded relations than acted from her own good sense, soon found that five or six old thatched cottages, producing a rent of from two to four pounds each, were but a poor compensation for the decent behaviour which was wanting in her husband. The very second evening of his married life he spent in a low hovel in the neighbourhood, with a few coarse companions, from whom he did not part till near midnight. It may be conceived with what feelings poor Nell saw the maudlin wretch enter the home which she had that night spent two hours in burnishing and arranging for his comfort. There are many erring natures which it is possible to correct, many uncultivated natures which may be improved, and a vast number which are neither particularly good nor particularly bad, and to which the wife may, without great difficulty, accommodate herself. But with a truly low and ungenerous nature, all the feminine merits on earth are of no avail. Such was Smail's. The man was utterly incapable of feeling that he was doing wrong; he could neither perceive nor appreciate the force of his wife's remonstrances; he neither cared for her love nor for her anger. “Will you speak to me?" such was his answer to every rebuke; “you who had nothing, and whom I have made a lady! You are the last person on earth that should complain." He seemed to think that gratitude for his having married her was the only sentiment she was entitled to entertain.
Not long after his marriage, the branch of manufacture in which Smail had been engaged began to decline, and he deemed it expedient to enter into trade. He therefore converted his property into about four hundred pounds of ready money, and set up a grocery shop and public-house. For this line of life his wife was well qualified ; and if success had depended upon her alone, it would have been certain. Smail, however, marred all by his irregular and absurd habits. He only appeared in the shop to give offence to customers, to consume, to break, and to spoil. Into every festive company he would intrude, whether the individuals might be above or beneath him; and all alike he displeased by his behaviour. It soon became almost the sole business of the wife to keep her husband from doing harm; and notwithstanding all her exertions, much, it may well be believed, was done. He delighted in her occasional in-lyings, for then, without the least feeling for her situation, he would indulge for a week in unrestrained debauchery; while “ the lass,” the only surviving minister of good, would' vainly endeavour to keep matters square in the shop, and at the same time pay some attention to her mistress. To every complaint, his only answer was, “ What! isn't it all mine--all my property? Didn't I make you Mrs Smail, Nelly ?" The monster had fixed the idea in his mind that his half-dozen old houses, inherited from an industrious father, had given him a perpetual immunity from all labour, as well as all control; and nothing could convince him of the contrary. Even when ruin came, and the whole proceeds of "the property" were found dissipated, he had the hardihood to tell his forlorn wife that she was well off in having connected herself with a man so much superior to herself in station. He had been “the laird,” he said, and nothing could divest him of the title, or her of the respectability of being his wife.
With the wrecks of their little stock, and some small assistance from Nelly's friends, they removed to a small village a few miles off, and commenced the same line of business in a humbler way. Smail was full of promises of well-doing. He was to work at whatever came in his way, while his wife should attend to the business. He would also make all her markets. As for his drinking any more, that was entirely out of the question. He had hitherto been led away solely by his acquaintances; and as he had none at the place where they were to set up, he would be quite free from temptation. In fact, taking everything into account, they would be better now than ever. The place was on a much frequented road, and he should not wonder but they would do more business there than even in a town. The fellow had a sanguine way of looking at things, and a plausible, boasting manner of speaking of them, which was very apt to impose on those who did not know him well. Nell was quite aware of his temperament, but nevertheless could not help encouraging a hope that poverty would work some change in him for the better. Whatever might have been her thoughts, she knew that there was no alternative. She already had four children, who, wanting her protection, would have wanted everything; and for their sake she felt that she must still struggle on, let her husband behave as he might.
For a short time Smail did seem a little steadier in his new situation. As soon, however, as the first difficulties were over, he grew as bad as ever. Old acquaintances found him out, and he was at no loss in forming new ones. Even the passing vagrant found a friend in Laird Smail. It was, by the way, one of his peculiarities, that he liked the company of vagrants. Under the pretence of studying men and manners, he would descend to the society of the most vicious, and many a person whom others would have passed by as an outcast wretch, he respected as "a man who had seen something of the world," and would entertain gratuitously with the best he had. “They often cheat me,” he would say carelessly; " but then it is always seeing life.” The man was, upon the whole, more absurd than wicked, and his principal faults seemed to arise from a kind of intellectual imperfection, which prevented him from seeing his duty to his family and to the world. Even when his wife was working like a slave amidst a complication of household and mercantile duties almost sufficient to overturn her reason, he—who was sitting coolly all the time with his tankard, enjoying a newspaper or a friendwould remark, in reply to any complaint she might make, "Nelly, you know I am the head of the concern. I think for you, you know. You're a very active woman; but it would be all in vain, if you had not some one to plan for you. You can sell; but it is I who buy, lass. I meet with the merchants, you know."
“Ay," she would remark—for the poor woman was not above making a tart reply " you like to get among the samples fient else you're fit for."
“Nelly," he would say quietly, "you are very wrong to disrespect the head of the concern. This gentleman here” — and here he would turn to his crony, perhaps a poor travelling Irish labourer—“this gentleman here will tell you that, without the head, the hands—that's yourself—are useless."
“ Tut, sit about till I put on the pot,” she would say, " or faith the hands will come owre the head wi’ the ern tangs!”
Such violence on Nelly's part may seem derogatory to her character, and take away some of the sympathy which would otherwise be felt for her situation. If we were to pursue the usual practice in' fictitious writing, we would represent her all submission and gentleness, while her husband was all wickedness. In the actual world, however, characters are invariably found composed of many various and perhaps hardly consistent properties. Nelly was a most worthy, respectable, assiduous woman, devoted to the interests of her children, and who executed every duty of life in a creditable manner; but her temper had been broken a good deal by her husband's conduct and its consequences-and no result could be more natural. A constant mild submission to a series of harrowing wrongs and troubles was not to be expected of a woman of her education and habits.
The Smails spent several years in this situation, without making matters any better. Their debts grew larger, their family more numerous, the habits of the father more indolent and selfindulgent. Nélly's heart was almost broken. "Oh, ma'am," said she one day to a lady who took some interest in her circumstances, “I daresay, if it werena for the bairns, I would just lie down at some dike-side and die. Mony a time, when I gang to rest, I wish that I may ne'er waken again; but yet when I do waken, and hear their little voices spunking up in the morning about me, this ane for a piece, and that ane for his claes, and another ane, maybe, gaun yoving and lauchin through the house wi' mere senselessness, I just get up and begin again, and think nae mair about it." They at length lost their license, through the ill-will of a neighbouring gentleman, who had seen Smail carrying the bag for a shooting customer, and enjoying the sport with too much of the appearance of a practised relish. Hereupon their creditors, finding there was to be no more traffic, seized upon their furniture and stock, and sold off the whole by auction, leaving them with seven helpless children to seek a new habitation. They took the course which is generally pursued by destitute and ruined people—they hid themselves and their shame in one of the dens of the neighbouring city. Smail commenced labour at a public work, but soon tired and withdrew. The mother was then compelled to come forward once more as the breadwinner. By the recommendations of some individuals who knew her, she obtained employment in washing. She also got her eldest son, as yet a very tiny creature, hired as an errand-boy at a small salary, the whole of which he brought every week, and placed in his mother's lap. For another series of years she persevered in this course of life, suffering inconceivable hardships of almost every kind, and daily struggling, whether well or ill, through a quantity of hired labour and domestic drudgery, under which the strongest constitution might