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miserable condition enough. Two old Simon, interrupted in the midst small boys accompanied her, wet of his instructions. through, splashed with mud, and “It's no a house for an honest crying with weariness, and with woman," said the smith's wife, “ or the buffets of the wind which blew for little bairns, poor things. They them off their little legs. The maun have travelled far the day to woman was tall, wrapt in an old be so wet and so draiglet. Bide a shawl of that indescribable no moment and I'll give them a piece." colour of which the vagrant class “Where did you say it was?” said has a monopoly. Her damp clothes the stranger, vacantly, paying no hung limp about her, her poor regard to this benevolent offer; and bonnet, wet and limp like her dress, she went on with her children, folclung to the dark locks which here lowing the old man's directions, and there escaped from its cover. without waiting for Mrs Miller's She was a stranger, as her weary return with the “ piece " which she and bewildered looks testified, and had gone into her house to seek. the children who clung to her on This of itself was a strange thing to either side seemed to confuse her happen with any one so poor and still more by their whimpering miserable, and impressed the fact of weariness. This melancholy little her appearance upon the mind of group came over the bridge in one the smith's wife, mortified by such a of the pauses of the storm, when a tacit refusal of her kindness. “She few people had strayed out to their maun be a foreigner-or a fuil,” doors to relieve the ennui of the wet said Merran, standing with the reand stormy day by a little gossip at jected piece in her hand, and watchleast. Chief among these were ing the retreating figures as they Merran Miller, the blacksmith's approached Jean Macfarlane's door. wife, a woman too fond of hear- Jean Macfarlane's house was worse ing everything that was going on spoken of than any other house in (people said), for the comfort of Lasswade. Every disturbance that her house; and the old postman, happened in the tranquil place came Simon Simson, whose work was from that centre of disorder and over for the day. When the stran- lawlessness; and to lodge there, or ger approached this knot of gossips, to propose lodging there, was of and asked the way to Jean Macfar- itself a tacit acknowledgment of lane's inn, they all answered at vagrancy, or at least of an absence once, glad of an event, with direc- of that regard for other people's tions on the one hand and remon- opinions which is the first step tostrances on the other. Old Simon wards respectability. All the dispointed out the way with officious reputable class of travellers who haste ; but Mrs Miller stopped the passed through so quiet a place wayfarer to tender advice.
found their way to it by instinct, “My woman," she said, “I and recommended others of their would not go to Jean Macfarlane's own kind. No one was too low for if I were you. You're wet and Jean Macfarlane. Pedlars of the cauld, but a wee piece further would lowest class, travelling tinkers, make little difference. John Todd tramps without even that pretence at the Loanhead is real respectable, at occupation, frequented her house. and would give you lodgings just as She was herself the most dreaded cheap.”
personage in the village : a large, “ Hoots, woman ! Jean Macfar- coarsely - handsome woman, loudlane will do her nae harm,” cried voiced and hot-tempered, the most terrible scold and “randy” on all the private room you'll get in my Eskside. The minister, who had hoose. Eh, woman, canna ye stop once attempted, simple soul, to the mouth o' that girning brat? It's bring her to reason, had been made cauld and weet? I can see that : to flee before her; and the chief but it needna deave decent folk. elder of the parish, Mr Mouter him- Sit aff from the fire and let the self, was known to be in the habit woman in, ye twa drucken brutes. of walking a mile round rather than of men ! What do you want there, pass her door, - a proceeding at dribbling and drinking, and spendwhich many people scoffed, asking, ing your wives' siller ? Let the puir What was religion if it preserved bit things get near the fireyou so little from the fear of man, “Jean, you're the greatest randy or indeed of woman? It may in the parish !” said one of the be supposed, then, that the poor men, getting up in time to save woman who openly asked to be himself from the ignominious push directed to Jean Macfarlane's, was aside which sent his companion, as poor and as completely beyond reeling, out of the way. all regard for the prejudices of "And if I'm a randy, what are society as it was possible to be. ye? drucken beasts that drink a' She went on without pause or hesi- night and sit owre the fire a' day? tation, with an abstracted indiffer- Ca' yourselves men !” cried Jean, ence of demeanour which perhaps with the freedom of perfect indewas occasioned by mere weariness pendence. “ You can sit down and discomfort, to the dreaded door. here, wife, if this will do ye. Eh, The aspect of the house was not en- what a handless thing that canna couraging, neither was the reception warm her wean's feet, nor even gie't which the traveller received. It a clat on the side of the head to was the last house in the village, make it haud its tongue! Ye're a dreary always, drearier than ever alike, a' alike. Tea ? Lord preserve on this stormy afternoon. In the us! what does the woman want with poor little parlour with its sanded tea ? A wee drap whisky would floor, which was the better part of do ye ten times the good. Will I the establishment, two men, in wet gie you what ye want? Oh ay, coats steaming from the rain, sat now you've gotten to your English before the fire, talking loudly over I'll gie ye what ye want—if ye'll their little measure of whisky, while make thae little deevils stop their Jean's voice rang through the house, clatter, and no look such a draiglet. as she went and came, in a continu- idiot yoursel'.” ous and generally angry monologue. The men laughed uneasily, not The new-comer came up to her tim- knowing whether they might not idly, holding back the children, and divert the stream of Jean's eloasked in a low tone for a room with quence upon themselves, as she a fire, where she and her children thus rated her other guest; but could rest. “A room to yoursel'!" all took the despotism as a matter said the mistress of the house ; " set of course, and submitted meekly, you up! are you better than other without anything of the surprise or folk, that ye canna share and share indignation with which the lodgers alike? Sirs, this leddy's mista'en of a different kind of hostelry would her road. She thinks she's at the have regarded such an address. Bull, where there's plenty o' par. They were her customers, it is true, lours and private rooms, and nae- but at the same time they were her body to gang near them. Here's a' subjects. The new-comer scarcely,
indeed, seemed to hear the abuse istence—that is, she had indeed gone directed against her. She drew her through passions and miseries, and little boys to the fire, took one on acted upon impulses which had to her knee and put her arm round do with the more ethereal part of the other, drying their little wet her being. She had been moved hands and faces with a corner of to despair, which is (I humbly supher shawl. They were subdued pose, not knowing) a sensation beinto quiet and comfort by the time yond the reach of any animal, save that Mrs Macfarlane's servant-lass, man; but never in all her life had .Jess, brought them their tea, on she been moved before by a tremena battered old iron tray, with dous moral impulse, against her own coarse brown sugar, and a jug of will, and in contradiction to all that skim - milk flanking the broken she believed to be for her own good and smoky teapot. People in this and happiness. At other times she poor woman's condition of life are had eased the pain in her breast by not fastidious, and the miserable sudden resolutions, sudden actions, beverage warmed and comforted the all more or less like the inhumble travellers. After some time stincts of an animal, to get rid of and much further parley with Jess some burden or trouble which op—who was less peremptory and pressed her. But somehow, she despotic than her mistress, though could not tell how, an entirely new she, too, felt herself the superior tide had set in, mysterious and unof so poor a guest—the woman and accountable, in her being. She had her children were allowed to go up. been driven by an impulse which stairs into a dingy little bedroom, she hated, which she resisted, which - a poor exchange for the fire made her miserable, to do a certain side which, grimy as it was, had act which her wild and uninstructed the comfort of warmth. Dear mind took to be justice. Long she reader, your children or mine would had struggled against it, but gradu(in our apprehensions at least) ally it had grown until it became have died of such treatment; but too much for her, and had driven the tramp - mother is saved from her at last to the verge of the act anxieties which trouble mothers in which would make her miserable, other circumstances. She did all yet would be right. What a wonshe could for them, and which of derful moral revolution had been us can do more? She had no dry worked in a creature so untaught as clothes to put on them, but she was to seem without any moral nature not afraid of taking cold. She put at all, before things came to this them both on the bed, where they pass, I need not say. And now she soon fell asleep, and covered them sat down, as she thought to think; with a blanket;they were damp not to think whether she would do but warm, and rest was heavenly to it, but—which it was to be? Her their poor little wearied limbs. They mind was wildly made up, after were asleep as soon as their little many a conflict, to submit to the heads touched the pillow; and then wild law of justice which had seized she sat down by the bedside-to upon her against her will. She was think.
about to give up, to“ them that had How many processes get called by the right to it," one of her children. that name which have little enough What she had to decide now wasto do with thought! The mother of which was it to be ? these children had lived up to this I do not believe that a woman time an almost entirely physical ex- ever sullied by vice would have been capable of the moral impression to determine their course almost as she which this woman had been made pleased, yet as ignorant as ever-as subject. I think that the natural con- little aware of the real character of sciousness (rather than conscience) her responsibility. If ever woman of the vicious, coincides curiously merited pity, this poor woman did with common law in this respect, —not only to give up one of her -giving, with a bitterness of nat- children, but to choose which to ural scorn-to which conventional give up. Her brain, so dull, yet so interpretations give the aspect of a keen as it was, became, as it were, privilege and advantage--no father- suffused with a mist of pain ; her hood to the vicious man, and but head grew giddy, a film came before one parent to the child of shame. her eyes; a sense of the intolerable Purity alone recognises the right on overwhelmed her—that terrible senboth sides; though law stops short sation which makes your very bewith insolent opposition to nature, ing reel like a drunken thing, that and robs the virtuous woman as it you cannot bear that which you robs, justly, the vicious man. How know you must bear, whatever haplong it was before it dawned upon pens. She put down her throbbing the woman of whom I speak, in head into her hands. To keep the confusion of her uninstructed silent for that terrible moment—not thoughts, in the bewildered silence to cry out and writhe, as this sword of her ignorant soul, that she had went through her heart, was all that robbed the father of her children in she could do. taking both of them, I cannot tell; She was a tall young woman, with nor how long in her absolute soli- a fine, elastic, well-developed figure, tude, with no one to counsel or even looking about thirty, but not so old. to understand what was in her mind, Her features were very fine and reg. she fought against tho idea; but at ular: the great, restless, unquiet, last it had become too strong for dark eyes flashed out of deep caverns her. To my thinking there could which seemed to have been hollowed be no such unanswerable argument out by pain or passion rather than to prove that she had remained an by time. Any delicacy of comuncontaminated wife; and now the plexion or youthful bloom which long-debated question had come to she had ever possessed must have its hardest point, its most limited com- been long gone, for her skin was pass—which was she to give and burned to one uniform tint of redwhich to keep, of the two who were dish brown—the colour of exposure, all in all to her? Which was she to of health and vigour, but of that give away?
vigour and health which are purPoor soul ! she had done much chased by all the severities of an outthat was very foolish, and much door life. No one could see her that was wrong (but that because once without looking again, without she knew no better) in her life. wondering over so much beauty She had been a trouble to many accompanied by so little attractivebetter people than herself. She had ness. She had vagrant written spoiled one other existence as well in every line of her fine form as her own, and thrown a cloud and miserable dress. But notwithupon several lives — all without standing this, there was that in her knowing much what she was doing, abstract look, always busy with
—without meaning it-out of ignor- something else than the thing ance. Now here she sat, absolute immediately before her—in a cerarbitress of two lives more, able to tain careless calm of manner, and indifference to all surrounding her, arms folded on his breast, his rosewhich, I think, would have made mouth shut close with unconscious the most abandoned of men hesi- resoluteness—though it might be tate ere he offered any rudeness but the mother's sick fancy which to this strange vagrant. She had a saw this expression on the little wedding - ring on her finger—that face. They were beautiful children was no great matter, for it is easy to both, with a general resemblance to show to the world that ensign of each other; yet very unlike-one respectability ; but there was some- so blond, and the other so dark, one thing more trustworthy in her look so delicately gentle in his aspect, and presence, the passionless ab- the other bold and handsome like a straction of her air. In her rough little gipsy prince. Poor soul! what clress, with her outdoor look, her words can I use to describe the hard hands, her strange beauty agony of choice with which this scarcely on the wane, she was pro- unhappy woman hung over them? tected from every shadow of insult But she made no choice at all—how by the stony purity of her looks. could she ? Suddenly, in passionate Such a woman might be miserable quick decision of her fate and his, enough, but wanton never
she snatched the dark child into her There were dreary red curtains arms—not because she loved him half drawn over the window, and best, nor because he was the eldest, the dingy blind was partially drawn nor for any other reasonable motive down, leaving little light in the underheaven. Only because theother, miserable room, even had the sky God help her! had kicked off his boot been bright; and it was now dark- upon the floor. In such a terrible ening towards night. It was the choice, what but the most fantastic physical cold, I think—that dis- chance, the wildest hazard, can tell comfort which always makes itself upon a mind distraught? She caught doubly felt when the mind is him up to her, with anxious care weighed down with trouble—which not to wake him, which contrasted roused her to the sense that what she strangely with the passion and mishad to do must be done quickly. ery in her face. Once having done She rose up and wandered, tottering, it, nature itself demanded that round and round the bed-first to no moment should be lost. She one side, then to the other, asking gathered him closely into her arms, herself that heart-rending question, wrapped her shawl round him, and Which? The children lay there in leaving the other on the bed, went the pretty grace of childish abandon. swiftly and silently down the dark One little fellow had kicked off stairs, and out into the night. unawares his muddy boot, which If any one had spoken to her or fell to the ground, and startled her touched her, I believe the poor disso that she put her hands to her tracted creature would have gone panting side, and did not recover mad or fallen into dead unconsciousthe shock for some moments. He ness: for nature was strained in her was the fair child of the two, and almost to the furthest limit: but no lay like a little white angel with his one saw or interfered, or knew dimpled hands stretched above his what was being done. She never head in the perfect grace of infant looked at the boy again, but held sleep. The other was almost as him fast and hurried on. He dark as his brother was fair ; his was a child of seven years old, but black curly locks were ruffled up small and light; in her vigorous from his bold forehead, his little arms—she was as strong as a man,