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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesHeather And Snow - Chapter 11. Kirsty And Phemy
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Heather And Snow - Chapter 11. Kirsty And Phemy Post by :bretf68 Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :3015

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Heather And Snow - Chapter 11. Kirsty And Phemy


During the first winter which Francis spent at college, his mother was in England, and remained there all the next summer and winter. When at last she came home, she was even less pleasant than before in the eyes of her household, no one of which had ever loved her. Throughout the summer she had a succession of visitors, and stories began to spread concerning strange doings at the castle. The neighbours talked of extravagance, and the censorious among them of riotous living; while some of the servants more than hinted that the amount of wine and whisky consumed was far in excess of what served when the old colonel was alive.

One of them who, in her mistress's frequent fits of laziness, acted as housekeeper, had known David Barclay from his boyhood, and understood his real intimacy with her late master: it was not surprising, therefore, that she should open her mind to him, while keeping toward everyone else a settled silence concerning her mistress's affairs: none of the stories current in the country-side came from her. David was to Mrs. Bremner the other side of a deep pit, into the bottom of which whatever was said between them dropped.

'There'll come a catastrophe or lang,' said Mrs. Bremner one evening when David Barclay overtook her on the road to the town, 'and that'll be seen! The property's jist awa to the dogs! There's Maister Donal, the factor, gaein aboot like are in a dilemm as to cuttin 's thro't or blawin his harns oot! He daursna say a word, ye see! The auld laird trustit him, and he's feart 'at he be blamit, but there's nae duin onything wi' that wuman: the siller maun be forthcomin whan she's wantin 't!'

'The siller's no hers ony mair nor the Ian'; a' 's the yoong laird's!' remarked David.

'That's true; but she's i' the pooer o' 't till he come o' age; and Maister Donal, puir man, mony's the time he 's jist driven to are mair to get what's aye wantit and wantit! What comes o' the siller it jist blecks me to think: there's no a thing aboot the hoose to shaw for 't! And hearken, David, but latna baith lugs hear 't, for dreid the tane come ower't again to the tither--I'm doobtin the drink's gettin a sair grup o' her!'

''Deed I wudna be nane surprised!' returned David. 'Whatever micht want in at her door, there's naething inside to baud it oot. Eh, to think o' Archie Gordon takin til himsel sic a wife! that a man like him, o' guid report, and come to years o' discretion--to think o' brains like his turnin as fozy as an auld neep at sicht o' a bonny front til an ae wa' hoose (_a house of but one wall_)! It canna be 'at witchcraft's clean dune awa wi'!'

'Bonny, Dawvid! Ca'd ye the mistress bonny?'

'She used to be--bonny, that is, as a button or a buckle micht be bonny. What she may be the noo, I dinna ken, for I haena set ee upon her sin' she cam to the Knowe orderin me to sen' back Francie's powny: she was suppercilly eneuch than for twa cornels and a corporal, but no ill luikin. Gien she hae a spot o' beaouty left, the drink 'll tak it or it hae dune wi' her!'

'Or she hae dune wi' hit, Dawvid! It's ta'en ae colour frae her a'ready, and begud to gie her anither! But it concerns me mair aboot Francie nor my leddy: what's to come o' him when a' 's gane? what'll there be for him to come intil?'

Gladly would David have interfered, but he was helpless; he had no legal guardianship over or for the boy! Nothing could be done till he was a man!--'gien ever he be a man!' said David to himself with a sigh, and the thought how much better off he was with his half-witted Steenie than his friend with his clever Francie.

Mrs. Bremner was sister-in-law to the schoolmaster, and was then on her way to see him and his daughter Phemy. From childhood the girl had been in the way of going to the castle to see her aunt, and so was well known about the place. Being an engaging child, she had become not only welcome to the servants but something of a favourite with the mistress, whom she amused with her little airs, and pleased with her winning manners. She was now about fourteen, a half-blown beauty of the red and white, gold and blue kind. She had long been a vain little thing, approving of her own looks in the glass, and taking much interest in setting them off, but so simple as to make no attempt at concealing her self-satisfaction. Her pleased contemplation of this or that portion of her person, and the frantic attempts she was sometimes espied making to get a sight of her back, especially when she wore a new frock, were indeed more amusing than hopeful, but her vanity was not yet so pronounced as to overshadow her better qualities, and Kirsty had not thought it well to take notice of it, although, being more than anyone else a mother to her, she was already a little anxious on the score of it, and the rather that her aunt, like her father, neither saw nor imagined fault in her.

That the child had no mother, drew to her the heart of the girl whose mother was her strength and joy; while gratitude to the child's father, who, in opening for her some doors of wisdom and more of knowledge, had put her under eternal obligations, moved her to make what return she could. It deepened her sense of debt to Phemy that the schoolmaster did not do for his daughter anything like what he had years long been doing for his pupil, whence she almost felt as if she had diverted to her own use much that rightly belonged to Phemy. At the same time she knew very well that had she never existed the relation between the father and the daughter would have been the same. The child of his dearly loved wife, the schoolmaster was utterly content with his Phemy; for he felt as if she knew everything her mother knew, had the same inward laws of being and the same disposition, and was simply, like her, perfect.

That she should ever do anything wrong was an idea inconceivable to him. Nor was there much chance of his discovering it if she did. When not at work, he was constantly reading. Most people close a book without having gained from it a single germ of thought; Mr. Craig seldom opened one without falling directly into a brown study over something suggested by it. But I believe that, even when thus absorbed, Phemy was never far from his thought. At the same time, like many Scots, while she was his one joy, he seldom showed her sign of affection, seldom made her feel, and never sought to make her feel how he loved her. His love was taken by him for understood by her, and was to her almost as if it did not exist.

That his child required to be taught had scarcely occurred to the man who could not have lived without learning, or enjoyed life without teaching--as witness the eagerness with which he would help Kirsty along any path of knowledge in which he knew how to walk. The love of knowledge had grown in him to a possessing passion, paralyzing in a measure those powers of his life sacred to life--that is, to God and his neighbour.

Kirsty could not do nearly what she would to make up for his neglect. For one thing, the child did not take to learning, and though she loved Kirsty and often tried to please her, would not keep on doing anything without being more frequently reminded of her duty than the distance between their two abodes permitted. Kirsty had her to the farm as often as the schoolmaster would consent to her absence, and kept her as long as he went on forgetting it; while Phemy was always glad to go to Corbyknowe, and always glad to get away again. For Mrs. Barclay thought it her part to teach her household matters, and lessons of that sort Phemy relished worse than some of a more intellectual nature. If left with her, the moment Kirsty appeared again, the child would fling from her whatever might be in her hand, and flee as to her deliverer from bondage and hard labour. Then would Kirsty always insist on her finishing what she had been at, and Phemy would obey, with the protest of silent tears, and the airs of a much injured mortal. Had Kirsty been backed by the child's father, she might have made something of her; but it grew more and more painful to think of her future, when her self-constituted guardian should have lost what influence she had over her.

Phemy was rather afraid of Steenie. Her sunny nature shrank from the shadow, as of a wall, in which Steenie appeared to her always to stand. From any little attention he would offer her, she, although never rude to him, would involuntarily recoil, and he soon learned to leave her undismayed. That the child's repugnance troubled him, though he never spoke of it, Kirsty saw quite plainly, for she could read his face like a book, and heard him sigh when even his mother did not. Her eyes were constantly regarding him, like sheep feeding on the pasture of his face:--I think I have used a figure of sir Philip Sidney's. But say rather--the thoughts that strayed over his face were the sheep to which all her life she had been the devoted shepherdess.

At Corbyknowe things went on as hitherto. Kirsty was in no danger of tiring of the even flow of her life. Steenie's unselfish solitude of soul made him every day dearer to her. Books she sought in every accessible, and found occasionally in an unhopeful quarter. She had no thought of distinguishing herself, no smallest ambition of becoming learned; her soul was athirst to understand, and what she understood found its way from her mind into her life. Much to the advantage of her thinking were her keen power and constant practice of observation. I utterly refuse the notion that we cannot think without words, but certainly the more forms we have ready to embody our thoughts, the farther we shall be able to carry our thinking. Richly endowed, Kirsty required the more mental food, and was the more able to use it when she found it. To such of the neighbours as had no knowledge of any diligence save that of the hands, she seemed to lead an idle life; but indeed even Kirsty's hands were far from idle. When not with Steenie she was almost always at her mother's call, who, from the fear that she might grow up incapable of managing a house, often required a good deal of her. But the mother did not fail to note with what alacrity she would lay her book aside, sometimes even dropping it in her eagerness to answer her summons. Dismissed for the moment, she would at once take her book again and the seat nearest to it: she could read anywhere, and gave herself none of the student-airs that make some young people so pitifully unpleasant. At the same time solitude was preferable for study, and Kirsty was always glad to find herself with her books in the little hut, Steenie asleep on the heather carpet on her feet, and the assurance that there no one would interrupt her.

It was not wonderful that, in the sweet absence of selfish cares, her mind full of worthy thoughts, and her heart going out in tenderness, her face should go on growing in beauty and refinement. She was not yet arrived at physical full growth, and the forms of her person being therefore in a process of change were the more easily modelled after her spiritual nature. She seemed almost already one that would not die, but live for ever, and continue to inherit the earth. Neither her father nor her mother could have imagined anything better to be made of her.

Steenie had not changed his habits, neither seemed to grow at all more like other people. He was now indeed seldom so much depressed as formerly, but he showed no sign of less dependence on Kirsty.

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