FLORA LYNDSAY; OR, PASSAGES IN AN EVENTFUL LIFE.
BY MRS. MOODIE.
AUTHOR OF "ROUGHING IT IN THE BUSH," "MARK HURDLESTONE," "LIFE IN THE CLEARINGS," ETC.
IN TWO VOLUMES. VOL. I.
LONDON: RICHARD BENTLEY, NEW BURLINGTON STREET. 1854.
LONDON: R. CLAY, PRINTER, BREAD STREET HILL.
OF CROMER, IN THE COUNTY OF NORFOLK, THESE VOLUMES ARE AFFECTIONATELY INSCRIBED BY HER ATTACHED FRIEND, SUSANNAH MOODIE.
BELLEVILLE, UPPER CANADA.
CONTENTS OF THE FIRST VOLUME.
PAGE CHAPTER I. MATRIMONIAL DIALOGUE 1
CHAPTER II. THE OLD CAPTAIN 10
CHAPTER III. THE OLD CAPTAIN IN PERSON 16
CHAPTER IV. A VISIT OF CONDOLENCE 25
CHAPTER V. THE TRUE FRIEND 37
CHAPTER VI. FLORA'S OUTFIT 43
CHAPTER VII. HOW MISS WILHELMINA CARR AND FLORA BECAME ACQUAINTED 51
CHAPTER VIII. MISS WILHELMINA CALLS UPON FLORA 65
CHAPTER IX. FLORA GOES TO TEA WITH MISS CARR 79
CHAPTER X. OLD JARVIS AND HIS DOG NEPTUNE 100
CHAPTER XI. FLORA IN SEARCH OF A SERVANT, HEARS A REAL GHOST STORY 113
CHAPTER XII. THE LAST HOURS AT HOME 141
CHAPTER XIII. THE DEPARTURE 152
CHAPTER XIV. AN OPEN BOAT AT SEA 163
CHAPTER XV. ONCE MORE AT HOME 173
CHAPTER XVI. THE FOG 179
CHAPTER XVII. THE STEAM-BOAT 188
CHAPTER XVIII. A PEEP INTO THE LADIES' CABIN 196
CHAPTER XIX. MRS. DALTON 209
CHAPTER XX. EDINBURGH 219
CHAPTER XXI. MRS. WADDEL 226
CHAPTER XXII. CLIMBING THE MOUNTAIN 237
CHAPTER XXIII. THE BRIG ANNE 247
CHAPTER XXIV. A VISIT TO THE SHIP OWNER 257
CHAPTER XXV. FLORA'S DINNER 266
CHAPTER XXVI. FEARS OF THE CHOLERA—DEPARTURE FROM SCOTLAND 273
CHAPTER XXVII. A NEW SCENE AND STRANGE FACES 285
A MATRIMONIAL DIALOGUE.
"Flora, have you forgotten the talk we had about emigration, the morning before our marriage?" was a question rather suddenly put to his young wife, by Lieutenant Lyndsay, as he paused in his walk to and fro the room. The fact is, that he had been pondering over that conversation for the last hour.
It had long been forgotten by his wife; who, seated upon the sofa with a young infant of three years old in her lap, was calmly watching its sleeping face with inexpressible delight. She now left off her maternal studies; and looked up at her husband, with an inquiring glance,—
"Why do you ask, dear John?"
"Are you turned Quaker, Flora, that you cannot give one a direct answer?"
"I have not forgotten it. But we have been so happy ever since, that I have never given it a second thought. What put it into your head just now?"
"That child—and thinking how I could provide for her, in any other way."
"Dear little pet! She cannot add much to our expenses." And the mother bent over her sleeping child, and kissed its soft, velvet cheek, with a zest that mothers alone know.
"Not at present. But the little pet will in time grow into a tall girl; and other little pets may be treading upon her footsteps; and they must all be clothed, and fed, and educated."
Flora, in her overflowing happiness, had dismissed all such cruel realities from her mind.
"Emigration is a terrible word, John. I wish that it could be expunged from our English dictionary."
"I am afraid, my dear girl, that you are destined to learn a practical illustration of its meaning. Nay, don't look so despondingly. If you intended to remain in England, you should not have married a poor man."
"Don't say that, John, or you will make me miserable. Our marriage made me rich in treasures, which gold could never buy. But seriously, I do not see this urgent necessity for taking such a hazardous step. I know that we are not rich—that our expectations on that score for the future are very limited. We are both the younger children of large families, whose wealth and consequence is now a thing of the past. We have nothing to hope or anticipate from rich relations; but we have enough to be comfortable, and are surrounded with many blessings. Our little girl, whose presence seems to have conjured before you the gaunt image of poverty, has added greatly to our domestic happiness. Yes, little Miss Innocence! you are awake, are you? Come, crow to papa, and drive these ugly thoughts out of his head."
The good father kissed fondly the young thing seducingly held up to him. But he did not yield to the temptation, or swerve from his purpose, though Flora kissed him, with eyes brimful of tears.
"We are indeed happy, love. Too happy, I might say. But will it last?"
"Our income is very small?" with a deep sigh.
"It is enough for our present wants. And we have no debts."
"Thanks to your prudent management. Yes, we have no debts. But it has been a hard battle, only gained by great self-denial, and much pinching. We have kind friends, too. But Flora, I am too proud to be indebted to friends for the common necessaries of life; and without doing something to improve our scanty means, it might come to that. The narrow income which has barely supplied our wants this year, without the incumbrance of a family, will not do so next. There remains no alternative but to emigrate!"
Flora felt that this was pressing her hard. All her affectionate ingenuity could not furnish an argument against such home truths. "Let us drop this hateful subject," said she, hastily; "I cannot bear to think about it."
"But, my dear girl, we must force ourselves to think about it, calmly and dispassionately; and having determined which is the path of duty, we must follow it out, without any reference to our own likes and dislikes. Our marriage would have been a most imprudent one, had it been contracted on any other terms; and we are both to blame that we have loitered away so many months of valuable time in happy ease, when we should have been earning independence for ourselves and our family."
"You may be right, John,—yes, I know that you are right. But it is no such easy matter to leave your home and country, and the dear friends whose society renders life a blessing and poverty endurable—to abandon a certain good for an uncertain better, to be sought for among untried difficulties. I would rather live in a cottage in England, upon brown bread and milk, than occupy a palace on the other side of the Atlantic."
"This sounds very prettily in poetry, Flora; but, my dear girl, life is made up of stern realities, and it is absolutely necessary for us to provide against the dark hour before it comes suddenly upon us. Our future prospects press upon my heart and brain too forcibly to be neglected. I have thought long and painfully upon the subject, and I have come to the resolution to emigrate this spring."
"The sooner the better. The longer we defer it, the more difficulties we shall have to encounter. The legacy left you by your aunt will pay our expenses out, and enable us, without touching my half-pay, to purchase a farm in Canada."
Flora's eye brightened.
"Oh, I am so glad that it is not to the Cape of Good Hope!"
"In this decision, Flora, I have yielded to your wishes. My own inclinations would lead me back to a country where I have dear friends, a large tract of land, and where some of the happiest years of my life were spent. You are not wise, Flora, to regard the Cape with such horror. No person would delight more in the beautiful and romantic scenery of that country than yourself. You have taken up a foolish prejudice against the land I love."
"It is not that, dear John. But you know, I have such a terror of the wild beasts—those dreadful snakes and lions! I never should dare to stir beyond the garden, for fear of being stung or devoured. And then, I have been bored to death about the Cape, by our good friends the P——'s, till I hate the very name of the place!"
"You will perhaps one day find out your error, Flora; and your fears are perfectly absurd! Not wishing to render your emigration more painful, by taking you to a country to which you are so averse, I have made choice of Canada, hoping that it might be more to your taste. The only obstacle in the way, is the reluctance you feel at leaving your friends. Am I less dear to you, Flora, than friends and country?"
This was said so kindly, and with such an affectionate earnestness for her happiness more than his own—for it was no small sacrifice to Lyndsay to give up going back to the Cape—that it overcame all Flora's obstinate scruples.
"Oh, no, no!—you are more to me than all the world! I will try and reconcile myself to any change, for your sake!"
"Shall I go first, and leave you with your mother until I have arranged matters in Canada?"
"Such a separation would be worse than death! I would rather encounter a thousand dangers, than remain in England without you! If it must be, I will never say another word against it!"
Here followed a heavy sigh. The young husband kissed the tears from her cheek, and whispered—
"That she was his dear, good girl."
And Flora would have followed him to the deserts of Arabia.
"I have had a long conversation with a very sensible, practical man," continued Lyndsay, "who has lately come to England upon colonial business. He has been a settler for some years in Canada, and the accounts he has given me of the colony are so favourable, and hold out such encouragement of ultimate success and independence, that they have decided me in my choice of making a trial of the backwoods. I promised to meet him this morning at the Crown Inn (where he puts up), to look over maps and plans, and have some further talk upon the subject. I thought, dear, that it was better for me to consult you upon the matter before I took any decided steps. You have borne the ill news better than I expected: so keep up your spirits until I return, which will not be long."
Flora remained in deep thought for some time after the door had closed upon her husband. She could now recal every word of that eventful conversation, which they had held together the morning before their marriage, upon the subject of emigration. In the happy prospect of becoming his wife, it had not then appeared to her so terrible.
Faithfully had he reminded her of the trials she must expect to encounter, in uniting her destiny to a poor gentleman, and had pointed out emigration as the only remedy for counteracting the imprudence of such a step; and Flora, full of love and faith, was not hard to be persuaded. She considered that to be his wife, endowed as he was by nature with so many moral and intellectual qualities, with a fine face and noble form, would make her the richest woman in the world: that there was in him a mine of mental wealth, which could never decrease, but which time and experience would augment, and come what might, she in the end was sure to be the gainer.
She argued thus:—"Did I marry a man whom I could not love, merely for his property, and the position he held in society, misfortune might deprive him of these, and a disagreeable companion for life would remain to remind me constantly of my choice. But a generous, talented man like Lyndsay, by industry and prudence may become rich, and then the most avaricious worlding would applaud the step I had taken."
We think after all, that Flora reasoned wisely, and, acting up to her convictions, did right. The world, we know, would scarcely agree with us; but in matters of the heart, the world is rarely consulted.
They were married, and, retiring to a pretty cottage upon the sea-coast, confined their expenditure to their limited means, and were contented and happy, and so much in love with each other and their humble lot, that up to this period, all thoughts upon the dreaded subject of emigration had been banished from one mind, at least. Flora knew her husband too well to suspect him of changing a resolution he had once formed on the suggestion of duty. She felt, too, that he was right,—that painful as the struggle was, to part with all dear to her on earth, save him, that it must be made. "Yes, I can, and will dare all things, my beloved husband, for your sake," she said. "My heart may at times rebel, but I will shut out all its weak complainings. I am ready to follow you through good and ill,—to toil for our future maintenance, or live at ease. England—my country! the worst trial will be to part from you."
THE OLD CAPTAIN.
Flora's reveries were abruptly dispelled by a gentle knock at the door; and her "Come in," was answered by a tall, portly, handsome old lady, who sailed into the room in all the conscious dignity of black silk and white lawn.
The handsome old lady was Mrs. Kitson, the wife of the naval officer, whose ready-furnished lodgings they had occupied for the last year. Flora rose to meet her visitor, with the baby still upon her arm.
"Mrs. Kitson, I am happy to see you. Pray take the easy-chair by the fire. I hope your cough is better."
"No chance of that," said the healthy old lady, who had never known a fit of dangerous illness in her life, "while I continue so weak. Hu—hu—hu—. You see, my dear, that it is as bad as ever."
Flora thought that she never had seen a person at Mrs. Kitson's advanced stage of life with such a healthy, rosy visage. But every one has some pet weakness. Mrs. Kitson's was always fancying herself ill and nervous. Now, Flora had no very benignant feelings towards the old lady's long catalogue of imaginary ailments; so she changed the dreaded subject, by inquiring after the health of the old Captain, her husband.
"Ah, my dear, he's just as well as ever,—nothing in the world ever ails him; and little he cares for the sufferings of another. This is a great day with him; he's all bustle and fuss. Just step to the window, and look at his doings. It's enough to drive a sensible woman mad. Talk of women wearing the smalls, indeed! it's a base libel on the sex. Captain Kitson is not content with putting on my apron, but he appropriates my petticoats also. I cannot give an order to my maid, but he contradicts it, or buy a pound of tea, but he weighs it after the grocer. Now, my dear, what would you do if the Leaftenant was like my husband?"
"Really, I don't know," and Flora laughed heartily. "It must be rather a trial of patience to a good housekeeper like you. But what is he about?" she cried, stepping to the window that overlooked a pretty lawn in front of the house, which commanded a fine view of the sea. "He and old Kelly seem up to their eyes in business. What an assemblage of pots and kettles, and household stuff there is upon the lawn! Are you going to have an auction?"
"You may well think so; if that were the case, there might be some excuse for his folly. No; all this dirt and confusion, which once a week drives me nearly beside myself, is what K—— calls clearing up the ship; when he and his man Friday, as he calls Kelly, turn everything topsy-turvy, and, to make the muddle more complete, they always choose my washing-day for their frolic. Pantries and cellars are rummaged over, and everything is dragged out of its place, for the mere pleasure of making a litter, and dragging it in again.
"Look at the lawn! Covered with broken dishes, earless jugs, cracked plates, and bottomless saucepans," continued Mrs. Kitson. "What a dish of nuts for my neighbours to crack! They always enjoy a hearty laugh at my expense, on Kitson's clearing-up days. But what does he care for my distress? In vain I hide up all this old trumpery in the darkest nooks in the cellar and pantry—nothing escapes his prying eyes; and then he has such a memory, that if he misses an old gallipot he raises a storm loud enough to shake down the house.
"The last time he went to London," pursued the old lady, "I collected a vast quantity of useless trash, and had it thrown into the pond behind the house. Well, when he cleared the decks next time, if he did not miss the old broken crockery, all of which, he said, he meant to mend with white lead on rainy days; while the broken bottles, forsooth, he had saved to put on the top of the brick wall, to hinder the little boys from climbing over to steal the apples! Oh, dear, dear, dear! there was no end to his bawling, and swearing, and calling me hard names, while he had the impudence to tell Kelly, in my hearing, that I was the most extravagant woman in the world. Now, I, that have borne him seventeen children, should know something about economy and good management; but he gives me no credit at all for that. He began scolding again to-day, but my poor head could not stand it any longer; so I came over to spend a few minutes with you."
The handsome old lady paused to draw breath, and looked so much excited with this recapitulation of her domestic wrongs, that Mrs. Lyndsay thought it not improbable she had performed her own part in the scolding.
As to Flora, she was highly amused by the old Captain's vagaries. "By-the-bye," she said, "had he any luck in shooting this morning? He was out by sunrise with his gun."
The old lady fell back in her chair, and laughed immoderately.
"Shooting! Yes, yes, that was another frolic of his. But Kitson's an old fool, and I have told him so a thousand times. So you saw him this morning with the gun?"
"Why, I was afraid he might shoot Lyndsay, who was shaving at the window. The captain pointed his gun sometimes at the window, and sometimes at the eaves of the house, but as the gun always missed fire, I began to regain my courage, and so did the sparrows, for they only chattered at him in defiance."
"And well they might. Why, my dear, would you believe it, he had no powder in his gun! Now, Mrs. Lyndsay, you will perhaps think that I am telling you a story, the thing is so absurd; yet I assure you that it's strictly true. But you know the man. When my poor Nelly died, she left all her little property to her father, as she knew none of her late husband's relations—never was introduced to one of them in her life. In her dressing-case he found a box of charcoal for cleaning teeth, and in spite of all that I could say or do, he insisted that it was gunpowder. 'Gunpowder!' says I, 'what would our Nelly do with gunpowder? It's charcoal, I tell you.'"
"Then he smelt it, and smelt it—''Tis gunpowder, Sally! Don't you think, that I know the smell of gunpowder? I, that was with Nelson at Copenhagen and Trafalgar?'
"''Tis the snuff in your nose, that makes everything smell alike;' says I. 'Do you think, that our Nelly would clean her beautiful white teeth with gunpowder?'
"'Why not?' says he; 'there's charcoal in gunpowder. And now, Madam, if you dare to contradict me again, I will shoot you with it, to prove the truth of what I say!'
"Well, after that, I held my tongue, though I did not choose to give up. I thought to spite him, so for once I let him have his own way. He spent an hour last night cleaning his old rusty gun; and rose this morning by daybreak with the intention of murdering all the sparrows. No wonder that the sparrows laughed at him. I have done nothing but laugh ever since—so out of sheer revenge, he proclaimed a cleaning day; and he and Kelly are now hard at it."
Flora was delighted with this anecdote of their whimsical landlord; but before she could answer his better-half, the door was suddenly opened and the sharp, keen face of the little officer was thrust into the room.
THE OLD CAPTAIN IN PERSON.
"Mrs. Lyndsay, my dear; that nurse of yours is going to hang out your clothes in front of the sea. Now, it's hardly decent of her, to expose female garments to every boat that may be passing."
The Captain's delicacy threw poor Flora nearly into convulsions of laughter—while he continued, rather pettishly—
"She knows no more how to handle a rope than a pig. If you will just tell her to wait a bit, until I have overhauled my vessel, I will put up the ropes for you myself."
"And hang out the clothes for you, Mrs. Lyndsay, if you will only give him the treat—and then, he will not shock the sensitive nerves of the sailors, by hanging them near the sea," sneered the handsome old lady.
"I hate to see things done in a lubberly manner," muttered the old tar.
"Oh, pray oblige him, Mrs. Lyndsay. He is such an old woman. I wonder he does not ask your permission to let him wash the clothes."
"Fresh water is not my element, Mrs. Kitson, though I have long known that hot water is yours. I never suffer a woman to touch my ropes, and Mrs. Lyndsay borrowed those ropes this morning of me. Don't interrupt me, Mrs. K.; attend to your business, and leave me to mine. Put a stopper upon that clapper of yours; which goes at the rate of ten knots an hour—or look out for squalls."
In the hope of averting the storm, which Flora saw was gathering on the old man's brow, and which in all probability had been brewing all the morning, she assured the Captain, that he might take the command of her nurse, ropes, clothes, and all.
"Mrs. Lyndsay,—you are a sensible woman,—which is more than I can say of some folks," glancing at his wife; "and I hope that you mean to submit patiently to the yoke of matrimony; and not pull one way, while your husband pulls the other. To sail well together on the sea of life, you must hold fast to the right end of the rope and haul in the same direction."
His hand was upon the lock of the door, and the old lady had made herself sure of his exit, and was comfortably settling herself for a fresh spell of gossip at his expense, when he suddenly returned to the sofa on which Flora was seated; and putting his mouth quite close to her ear, while his little inquisitive grey eyes sparkled with intense curiosity, said, in a mysterious whisper, "How is this, my dear—I hear that you are going to leave us?"
Flora started with surprise. Not a word had transpired of the conversation she had lately held with her husband. Did the old Captain possess the gift of second-sight? "Captain Kitson," she said, in rather an excited tone; while the colour flushed up into her face, "Who told you so?"
"Then it is true?" and the old fox rubbed his hands and nodded his head, at the success of his stratagem. "Who told me?—why I can't say, who told me. You know, where there are servants living in the house, and walls are thin—news travels fast."
"And when people have sharp ears to listen to what is passing in their neighbours' houses," muttered the old lady, in a provoking aside, "news travels faster still."
Flora was annoyed beyond measure at the impertinent curiosity of the inquisitive old man. She felt certain that her conversation with her husband had been overheard. She knew that Captain Kitson and his wife were notable gossips, and it was mortifying to know that their secret plans in a few hours would be made public. She replied coldly, "Captain Kitson, you have been misinformed; we may have talked over such a thing in private as a matter of speculation, but nothing at present has been determined."
"Now, my dear, that won't do; leave an old sailor to find out a rat. I tell you that 'tis the common report of the day. Besides, is not the Leaftenant gone this morning with that scapegrace, Tom W——, to hear some lying land-shark preach about Canada."
"Lecture! Kitson," said the old lady, who was not a whit behind her spouse in wishing to extract the news, though she suffered him to be the active agent in the matter.
"Lecture or preach, it's all one; only the parson takes his text from the Bible to hold forth upon, and these agents, employed by the Canada Company, say what they can out of their own heads. The object in both is to make money. I thought the Leaftenant had been too long in a colony to be caught by chaff."
"My husband can judge for himself, Captain Kitson. He does not need the advice, or the interference of a third person," said Flora, colouring again. And this time she felt really angry; but there was no shaking the old man off.
"To be sure—to be sure," said her tormentor, without taking the smallest notice of her displeasure; "people are all wise in their own eyes. But what is Canada to you, my dear? A fine settler's wife you will make; nervous and delicate, half the time confined to your bed with some complaint or other. And then, when you are well, the whole blessed day is wasted in reading and writing, and coddling up the babby. I tell you that sort of business will not answer in a rough country like Canada. I was there often enough during the American war, and I know that the country won't suit you,—no, nor you won't suit the country."
Finding that Mrs. Lyndsay made no answer to this burst of eloquence, he continued, in a coaxing tone—
"Now, just for once in your life, my dear, be guided by older and wiser heads than your own, and give up this foolish project altogether. Let well alone. You are happy and comfortable where you are. This is a nice cottage, quite large enough for your small family. Fine view of the sea from these front windows, and all ready furnished to your hand,—nothing to find of your own but plate and linen; a pump, wood-house and coal-bin, and other conveniences,—all under one roof. An oven—"
"Stop," cried the old lady, "you need say nothing about that, Kitson. The oven is good for nothing. It has no draught; and you cannot put a fire into it without filling the house with smoke."
"Pshaw!" muttered the old man. "A little contrivance would soon put that to rights."
"I tried my best," retorted the wife, "and I could never bake a loaf of bread in it, fit to eat."
"We all know what bad bread you make, Mrs. Kitson," said the captain. "I know that it can be baked in; so hold your tongue, Madam! and don't contradict me again. At any rate, there's not a smoky chimney in the house, which after all is a less evil than a cross wife. The house, I say, is complete from the cellar to the garret. And then, the rent—why, what is it? A mere trifle—too cheap by one half,—only twenty-five pounds per annum. I don't know what possessed me, to let it so low; and then, my dear, the privilege you enjoy in my beautiful flower-garden and lawn. There is not many lodging-houses in the town could offer such advantages, and all for the paltry consideration of twenty-five pounds a-year."
"The cottage is pretty, and the rent moderate, Captain," said Flora. "We have no fault to find, and you have not found us difficult to please."
"Oh, I am quite contented with my tenants; I only want them to know when they are well off. Look twice before you leap once—that's my maxim; and give up this mad Canadian project, which I am certain will end in disappointment."
And with this piece of disinterested advice, away toddled our gallant naval commander, to finish with Kelly the arrangement of his pots and kettles, and superintend the right adjustment of the clothes-lines, and the hanging out of Mrs. Lyndsay's clothes.
Do not imagine, gentle reader, that this picture is over-charged. Captain Kitson is no creature of romance, (or was not, we should rather say; for he has long since been gathered to his fathers); but a brave, uneducated man; who during the war had risen from before the mast to the rank of Post Captain. He had fought at Copenhagen and Trafalgar, and distinguished himself in many a severe contest on the main during those stirring times, and bore the reputation of a dashing naval officer. At the advanced age of eighty, he retained all his original ignorance and vulgarity; and was never admitted into the society which his rank in the service entitled him to claim.
The restless activity which in the vigour of manhood had rendered him a useful and enterprising seaman, was now displayed in the most ridiculous interference in his own domestic affairs, and those of his neighbours. With a great deal of low cunning, he mingled the most insatiable curiosity; while his habits were so penurious, that he would stoop to any meanness to gain a trifling pecuniary advantage for himself or his family.
He speculated largely in old ropes, condemned boats and sea-tackle of all description, whilst as consul for the port, he had many opportunities of purchasing wrecks of the sea, and the damaged cargoes of foreign vessels, at a cheap rate; and not a stone was left unturned by old Kitson, if by the turning a copper could be secured.
The meddling disposition of the old Captain, rendered him the terror of all the fishermen on the coast, over whom his sway was despotic. He superintended and ordered all their proceedings, with an authority as absolute as though he were still upon the deck of his war-ship, and they were subjected to his imperious commands. Not a boat could be put off, or a flag hoisted, without he was duly consulted and apprised of the fact. Not a funeral could take place in the town, without Kitson calling upon the bereaved family, and offering his services on the mournful occasion, securing to himself by this simple manoeuvre, an abundant supply of black silk cravats and kid gloves.
"Never lose anything, my dear, for the want of asking," he would say. "A refusal breaks no bones, and there is always a chance of getting what you ask."
Acting upon this principle, he had begged favours of all the great men in power; and had solicited the interest of every influential person who had visited the town, during the bathing season, for the last twenty years, on his behalf. His favourite maxim practically carried out, had been very successful. He had obtained, for the mere trouble of asking, commissions in the army and navy for all his sons, and had got all his grandsons comfortably placed in the Greenwich or Christ Church schools.
He had a garden too, which was at once his torment and his pride. During the spring and summer months, the beds were dug up and remodelled, three or four times during the season, to suit the caprice of the owner, while the poor drooping flowers were ranged along the grass-plot to wither in the sun during the process, and
"Waste their sweetness on the desert air."
This he termed putting his borders into ship-shape.
The flower-beds which skirted the lawn, a pretty grass plot containing about an acre of ground, surrounded by tall poplar trees, were regularly sown with a succession of annuals, all for the time being of one sort and colour. For several weeks, innumerable quantities of double crimson stocks flaunted before your eyes, so densely packed, that scarcely a shade of green relieved the brilliant monotony. These were succeeded by larkspurs, and lastly by poppies, that reared their tall, gorgeous heads above the low, white railing, and looked defiance on all beholders.
Year after year presented the same spectacle, and pounds of stocks, larkspur and poppy seeds, were annually saved by the eccentric old man, to renew his floral show.
Tom W——, who was enchanted with the Captain's oddities, had nick-named the marine cottage Larkspur Lodge.
A VISIT OF CONDOLENCE.
The news of Lieutenant Lyndsay's intended emigration spread like wild-fire through the village, and for several days formed the theme of conversation. The timid shrugged their shoulders, and drew closer to their own cosy fire-sides, and preferred staying at home to tempting the dangers of a long sea-voyage. The prudent said, there was a possibility of success; but it was better to take care of the little you had, than run the risk of losing it while seeking for more.—The worldly sneered, and criticised, and turned the golden anticipations of the hopeful and the benevolent into ridicule, prophesying disappointment, ruin, and a speedy return. Lyndsay listened to all their remarks, endeavoured to combat unreasonable objections, and remove pre-conceived prejudices; but as it was all labour thrown away, he determined to abide by the resolution he had formed, and commenced making preparations accordingly.
Flora, who, like many of her sex, was more guided by her feelings than her reason, was terribly annoyed by the impertinent interference of others, in what she peculiarly considered, her own affairs. Day after day she was tormented by visitors, who came to condole with her on the shocking prospects before her. Some of these were kind, well-meaning people, who really thought it a dreadful thing, to be forced, at the caprice of a husband, to leave home, and all its kindred joys, for a rude uncultivated wilderness like Canada. To such Flora listened with patience; for she believed their fears on her account were genuine—their sympathy sincere.
There was only one person in the whole town whose comments she dreaded, and whose pretended concern she looked upon as a real bore—this was Mrs. Ready, the wife of a wealthy merchant, who was apt to consider herself the great lady of the place.
The dreaded interview came at last. Mrs. Ready had been absent on a visit to London; and the moment she heard of the intended emigration of the Lyndsays to Canada, she put on her bonnet and shawl, and rushed to the rescue. The loud, double rat-tat-tat at the door, announced an arrival of more than ordinary consequence.
"O!" sighed Flora, pushing away her desk, at which she was writing letters of importance, "I know that knock!—that disagreeable Mrs. Ready is come at last!"
Before Mrs. Ready enters the room, I may as well explain to the reader, what sort of an intimacy existed between Flora Lyndsay and Harriet Ready, and why the former had such a repugnance to a visit from the last-mentioned lady.
Without the aid of animal magnetism (although we have no doubt that it belongs to that mysterious science) experience has taught us all, that there are some natures that possess certain repellent qualities, which never can be brought into affinity with our own—persons, whom we like or dislike at first sight, with a strong predilection for the one almost amounting to love, with a decided aversion to the other, which in some instances almost merges into downright hate.
These two ladies had no attraction for each other: they had not a thought or feeling in common; and they seldom met without a certain sparring, which, to the looker-on, must have betrayed how matters stood between them.
But why did they meet, if such were the case?
It would be true wisdom in all such repellent natures to keep apart. Worldly prudence, and the conventional rules of society, compel persons to hide these secret antipathies—nay, even to present the most smiling exterior to those whom they often least respect.
The fear of making enemies, of being thought ill-natured and capricious, or even of making the objects of their aversion persons of too much consequence, by keeping them aloof, are some of the reasons we have heard alleged for these acts of mental cowardice.
Mrs. Ready was a low-born woman, and Flora belonged to a very old and respectable family. Mrs. Ready wished to rise a step higher in the social scale, and, thinking that Flora might aid her ambitious views, she had, after the first calls of ceremony had been exchanged, clung to her with a pertinacity which all Mrs. Lyndsay's efforts to free herself had been unable to shake off.
Mrs. Ready was a woman of great pretensions, and had acquired an influence among her own set by assuming a superiority to which, in reality, she had not the slightest claim. She considered herself a beauty—a wit—a person of extraordinary genius, and possessed of great literary taste. The knowledge of a few botanical names and scientific terms, which she sported on all occasions, had conferred upon her the title of a learned woman; while she talked with the greatest confidence of her acquirements. Her paintings—her music—her poetry, were words constantly in her mouth. A few wretched daubs, some miserable attempts at composition, and various pieces of music, played without taste, and in shocking bad time, constituted all her claims to literary distinction. Her confident boasting had so imposed upon the good credulous people among whom she moved, that they really believed her to be the talented being she pretended.
A person of very moderate abilities can be spiteful; and Mrs. Ready was so censorious, and said when offended such bitter things, that her neighbours tolerated her impertinence out of a weak fear, lest they might become the victims of her slanderous tongue.
Though living in the same house with her husband, whose third wife she was, they had long been separated, only meeting at their joyless meals. Mrs. Ready considered her husband a very stupid animal, and did not fail to make both him and her friends acquainted with her opinion.
"There is a fate in these things," she observed, "or you would never see a person of my superior intellect united to a creature like that."
The world recognised a less important agency in the ill-starred union. Mrs. Ready was poor, and had already numbered thirty years, when she accepted the hand of her wealthy and despised partner.
No wonder that Flora, who almost adored her husband, and was a woman of simple habits and pretensions, should dislike Mrs. Ready: it would have been strange indeed if persons so differently constituted, could have met without antagonism.
Mrs. Ready's harsh unfeminine voice and manners; her assumption of learning and superiority, without any real title to either, were very offensive to a proud sensitive mind, which rejected with disdain the patronage of such a woman. Flora had too much self-respect, not to say vanity, to tolerate the insolence of Mrs. Ready. She had met all her advances towards a closer intimacy with marked coldness; which, instead of repelling, seemed only to provoke a repetition of the vulgar, forcing familiarity, from which she intuitively shrank.
"Mrs. Lyndsay," she was wont to say, when that lady was absent, "is a young person of some literary taste, and with the advice and assistance of a friend (herself of course) she may one day become an accomplished woman."
Lyndsay was highly amused at the league, offensive and defensive, carried on by his wife and Mrs. Ready, who was the only blue stocking in the place; and he was wont to call her Flora's Mrs. Grundy.
But Mrs. Grundy is already in the room, and Flora has risen to meet her, and proffer the usual meaningless salutations of the day. To these her visitor returns no answer, overwhelmed as she is with astonishment and grief.
"Mrs. Lyndsay!" she exclaimed, sinking into the easy chair placed for her accommodation, and lifting up her hands in a tragic ecstasy—"Is it true—true, that you are going to leave us? I cannot believe it; it is so absurd—so ridiculous—the idea of your going to Canada. Do tell me that I am misinformed; that it is one of old Kitson's idle pieces of gossip; for really I have not been well since I heard it."
Mrs. Ready paused for breath, and applied her handkerchief to her eyes.
Flora remained silent and embarrassed. What could she say? She placed no confidence in the grief of the weeping lady, and despised the affectation of her tears—till she gasped forth—
"Do not leave me in suspense; I would rather hear the truth at once. Are you really going to Canada?"
"I believe so. That is, if no untoward circumstances arise to prevent it."
"Good heavens!—And you can regard such a dreadful event with such stoical indifference? Why does not your mother exert her authority, to make you give up such a mad project?"
"My mother would never interfere with my husband's wishes, particularly when she considers them reasonable, and knows that no real objections can be offered on the subject."
"But think of the dreadful sacrifice!"
"Such sacrifices are made every day. Emigration, Mrs. Ready, is a matter of necessity, not of choice. Mr. Lyndsay thinks it necessary for us to take this step, and I have no doubt that he is right. Did I consult my own feelings, I should certainly prefer staying at home."
"Of course you would, and you affect this unconcern on purpose to hide an aching heart. My dear, you cannot deceive me; I see through it all. I pity you, my sweet friend; I sympathise with you, from my very soul; I know what your real feelings are; I can realize it all."
Flora remained silent. She certainly did wish that Mrs. Ready occupied any other place in the United Kingdom at that moment than the comfortable seat in her easy chair. But what could she do? She could not inform the lady that she was tired of her company, and wished to be alone. That would be considered an act of ill-breeding of the most flagrant description; in common courtesy she was compelled to act a lie.
Rather irritated at the small impression her eloquence had made upon her companion, Mrs. Ready removed the cambric screen from her face, on which not a trace of grief could be found, and clasping her hands vehemently together, continued,—
"Your husband is mad, to draw you away from all your friends at a moment's warning! I would remonstrate—I would not go; I would exert a proper spirit, and force him to abandon this Quixotic expedition."
"You speak hastily, Mrs. Ready. Why should I attempt to prevent an undertaking in which I most cordially concur, and which Mr. Lyndsay thinks would greatly benefit his family?"
"Nonsense! I hate, I repudiate such passive obedience, as beneath the dignity of woman! I am none of your soft bread-and-butter wives, who consider it their duty to become the mere echo of their husbands. If I did not wish to go, no tyrannical lord of the creation, falsely so called, should compel me to act against my inclinations."
"Compulsion is not necessary: on this subject we both agree."
"Oh, yes, I see how it is!" with a contemptuous curl of the lip, "you aspire to the character of a good, dutiful wife,—to become an example of enduring patience to all the refractory conjugals in the place, myself among the rest. I understand it all. How amiable some people can be at the expense of others!"
Flora was thunderstruck. "Indeed, Mrs. Ready, I meant no reflection upon you. My words had no personal meaning; I never talk at any one."
"Oh, certainly not! You are not aware," with a strong sneer, "of the differences that exist between Mr. Ready and me (and which will continue to exist, as long as mind claims a superiority over matter); that we are only husband and wife in name. But I forgive you."
"You have nothing to forgive, Mrs. Ready," said Flora, indignantly; "I never trouble my head with your private affairs—they cannot possibly concern me."
This gave rise to a scene. Mrs. Ready, who lived in an element of strife, delighted in scenes.
"Oh, no," she continued, eagerly clutching at Flora's last words, "you are too selfishly engrossed with your own happiness to have the least sympathy for the sorrows of a friend. Ah, well!—It's early days with you yet! Let a few short years of domestic care pass over your head, and all this honey will be changed to gall. Matrimony is matrimony, and husbands are husbands, and wives will strive to have their own way—ay, and will fight to get it too. You will then find, Mrs. Lyndsay, that very little of the sugar of love, and all such romantic stuff, remains to sweeten your cup; and in the bitterness of your soul, you will think of me."
"If this is true," said Flora, "who would marry?"
"It is true in my case."
"But fortunately there are exceptions to every rule."
"Humph!—This is another compliment, Mrs. Lyndsay, at my expense."
"Mrs. Ready, I do not wish to quarrel with you; but you seem determined to take all my words amiss."
A long silence ensued,—Mrs. Ready smoothed down her ruffled plumes, and said, in a pitying, patronising tone, very common to her—
"You will be disgusted with Canada: we shall see you back in less than twelve months."
"Not very likely, if I know anything of John and myself."
"What will you do for society?"
Flora thought, solitude would be a luxury and Mrs. Ready away—and she answered, carelessly, "We must be content with what Providence sends us."
"Ah! but you may be miles from any habitation. No church—no schools for the children—no markets—no medical attendant—and with your poor health—think of that, Mrs. Lyndsay! And worse, far worse, no friends to sympathise and condole with you, in distress and difficulty."
Now Flora was answering all these objections in her own mind; and, quite forgetful of Mrs. Ready's presence, she unconsciously uttered her thoughts aloud—"These may be evils, but we shall at least be spared the annoyance of disagreeable visitors."
Imprudent Flora—to think aloud before such a woman as Mrs. Ready. Who will venture to excuse such an eccentric proceeding? Would not the whole world blame you for your incorrigible blunder? It had, however, one good effect. It quickly cleared the room of your intrusive guest; who swept out of the apartment with a haughty "Good morning." And well she might be offended; she had accidentally heard the truth, which no one else in the town dared have spoken boldly out.
Flora was astonished at her want of caution. She knew, however, that it was useless to apologise; and she felt perfectly indifferent as to the result; for she did not care, if she never saw Mrs. Ready again; and such a decided affront would render that event something more than doubtful.
"Thank heaven! she is gone," burst heartily from her lips, when she found herself once more alone.
It was impossible for Mrs. Lyndsay to contemplate leaving England without great pain. The subject was so distressing to her feelings, that she endeavoured to forget it as much as she could. The manner in which it had been forced upon her by Mrs. Ready, was like probing a deep wound with a jagged instrument; and after that lady's departure, she covered her face with her hands, and wept long and bitterly.
THE TRUE FRIEND.
Flora Lyndsay was aroused from the passionate indulgence of grief by two arms being passed softly around her neck, and some one pulling her head gently back upon their shoulder, and kissing her forehead.
"Flora," whispered a sweet, gentle woman's voice; "Dear Flora. I am come home at last. What, no word of welcome? No kiss for Mary? In tears, too. What is the matter? Are you ill? Is the baby ill? No—she at least is sleeping sweetly, and looks full of rosy health. Do speak, and tell me the meaning of all this!"
Flora was in the arms of her friend before she had ceased speaking. "A thousand welcomes! dear Mary. You are the very person I most wished just now to see. The very sight of you is an antidote to grief. 'A remedy for sore eyes,' as the Irish say. You have been too long away. When did you arrive?"
"By the mail—about an hour ago."
"And your dear sister—?"
"Is gone to a happier home," said Mary Parnell, in a faltering voice; and glancing down at her black dress, she continued, "she died happy—so happy, dear Flora, and now—she is happier still. But, we will not speak of her just now, Flora; I cannot bear it. Time, which reconciles us to every change, will teach me resignation to the Divine will. But ah! 'tis a sore trial to part with the cherished friend and companion of our early years. We were most attached sisters. Our hearts were one—and now—"
There was a pause. Both friends wept. Mary first regained her composure.
"How is Lyndsay? Has he finished writing his book?"
"The book is finished, and accepted by Mr. Bentley."
"That is good, excellent news; and the darling baby?"
"Little Dormouse. There she lies at the end of the sofa, covered by my shawl. She has been sleeping ever since breakfast. I think she only wakes up to amuse papa. But she is beginning to stretch herself, and here comes the head-nurse himself."
"Our dear Mary, returned!" cried Lyndsay, entering the room. "It seems an age since you left us."
"It has been a melancholy separation to me," said Mary. "This parting I hope will be the last. My father has consented to come and live with my brother; and now that dear Emily is gone, I shall have no inducement to leave home, so you will have me all to yourselves, whenever I can steal an hour from my domestic duties; and we shall once more be so happy together."
Lyndsay looked at Flora, but neither spoke. Mary saw in a moment that there was some hidden meaning in that quick, intelligent glance; and she turned anxiously from one to the other.
"What mischief have you been plotting, during my absence?" cried the affectionate girl, taking a hand of each. "Some mystery is here—I read it in your eyes. I come to you striving to drown the remembrance of my own heavy sorrow, that we might enjoy a happy meeting: I find Flora in tears, and you, Lyndsay, looking grave and melancholy. What does it all mean?"
"Has not Flora told you?"
"Told me what?"
"That we are about to start for Canada."
"Alas! no. This is sad news—worse than I expected. But are you really determined upon going?"
"Our preparations are almost completed."
"Worse and worse. I hoped it might be only the whim of the moment—a castle, not of the air, but of the woods—and as easily demolished."
"Let us draw back," said Flora. "Lyndsay, dearest; the trial is too great."
"It is too late now, Flora. Depend upon it, love, that God has ordered it, and that we act in conformity to the Divine will, and that all is for the best."
"If such is your belief, my dear friend," said Miss Parnell, "far be it from me to persuade you to stay. God orders all things for good. The present moment is the prophet of the future. It must decide your fate."
"I have not acted hastily in this matter," returned Lyndsay. "I have pondered over it long and anxiously, and I feel that my decision is right. The grief poor Flora feels at parting with her friends, is the greatest drawback. I thought that she possessed more strength of endurance. As for me, I have passed through the ordeal before, when I left Scotland for the Cape of Good Hope; and I now look upon myself as a citizen of the world. I know that Flora will submit cheerfully to the change, when once we lose sight of the British shores."
"This then means the cause of Flora's tears?"
"Not exactly," said Flora, laughing. "That odious Mrs. Ready has been here, tormenting me with impertinent questions."
"Flora, I'm ashamed of you," said Lyndsay, "for suffering yourself to be annoyed by that stupid woman."
"And worse than that, dear John, I got into a passion, and affronted her."
"And what did Mrs. Grundy say?"
"Ah! it's fine fun for you. But if you had been baited by her for a couple of hours, as I was, you could not have stood it much better than I did. Why, she had the impudence to insist upon my acting in direct opposition to your wishes; and all but insinuated that I was a fool not to take her advice."
"A very serious offence, indeed," said Lyndsay, laughing. "Instigating my wife to an act of open rebellion. But I am sure you will not profit by her example."
"Indeed, no! She's the very last woman in the world I should wish to imitate. Still I feel angry with myself for letting my temper get the better of prudence."
"What a pity, Flora, that you did not fight it out. I would back my good wife against twenty Mrs. Grundys."
"She would scratch my eyes out, and then write a horrid sonnet to celebrate the catastrophe."
"Nobody would read it."
"Ah, but she would read it to everybody, and bore the whole town with her lamentations."
"Let her go, Flora. I am tired of Mrs. Grundy."
"Indeed, I was glad enough to get rid of her, which reconciles me to the disagreeable manner in which I offended her."
"Let us talk of your Canadian plans," said Mary. "When do you go?"
"In three weeks," said Lyndsay.
"So soon! The time is too short to prepare one to part with friends so dear. If it were not for my poor old father, I would go with you."
"What a blessing it would be!" said Lyndsay.
"Oh! do go, dear Mary," cried Flora, quite transported at the thought; and flinging her arms about her friend's neck. "It would make us so happy."
"It is impossible!" said the dear Mary, with a sigh. "I spoke without thinking. My heart will follow you across the Atlantic; but duty keeps me here. I will not, however, waste the time still left to us in useless regrets. Love is better shown by deeds than words. I can work for you, and cheer you, during the last days of your sojourn in your native land. Employment, I have always found, by my own experience, is the best remedy for aching hearts."
Having once matured his plans, Lyndsay hastened to take the necessary steps to carry them into execution. Leaving Flora and her friend Mary to prepare all the indispensables for the voyage, he hurried to London, to obtain permission from head-quarters to settle in Canada, to arrange pecuniary matters for the voyage, and take leave of a few old and tried friends. During his absence, Flora and her friend were not idle. The mornings were devoted to making purchases, and the evenings to convert them into articles for domestic use. There were so many towels to hem, sheets to make, and handkerchiefs and stockings to mark, that Flora saw no end to the work, although assisted by kind sisters, and the indefatigable Mary.
The two friends held a grand consultation over Flora's scanty wardrobe, in which there were articles "old and new;" but it must be confessed that the old and the unfashionable predominated over the new and well-cut. Flora's friends were poor, and she had been obliged to dispense with a wedding outfit. An old and very rich relation of her father had presented her with a very elegant wedding-dress, shawl, and bonnet, which was all the finery Flora possessed. Her other dresses were very plain, and composed of common materials; and if it had not been for the unexpected bounty of the said rich lady, our bride must have done without a wedding-garment at all; for she had earned the few common necessaries she took with her to housekeeping with her own hand, in painting trifles for the bazaars, and writing articles for ladies' magazines. One small trunk contained Flora's worldly goods and chattels, the night she entered the neatly-furnished lodgings which Lyndsay had prepared for her as his wife.
Flora felt almost ashamed of the little she possessed; but her high-minded, generous husband took her penniless as she was, and laughingly assured her that they could never quarrel on the score of riches; for his wardrobe was nearly as scanty as her own; and, beyond a great chest of books and music, he had nothing in the world but his half-pay. Many a long afternoon Flora spent during her quiet honeymoon (for the month was April, and the weather very wet) in looking over shirts and socks, and putting them into the best habitable repair. She was thus employed, when an author of some distinction called upon them, to enjoy half-an-hour's chat. Flora hid up her work as fast as she could; but in her hurry, unfortunately, upset her work-basket on the floor, and all the objectionable garments tumbled out at her guest's feet.
He was young, unmarried and a poet; and this certainly was not a poetical incident. "Mrs. Lyndsay," he cried, in a tragic horror—(it would have been more in good taste to have said nothing about it)—"Are you forced to devote your valuable time to mending old socks and shirts?"
"They were meant for my private hours," said Flora, laughing, as she collected the fallen articles, and stowed them once more into their hiding-place. "With such the public has nothing to do."
"Well, if ever I marry, I'll take good care to give away every old thing I have in the world. No wife of mine shall have it to say that she was forced to mend my rags."
"Wait till the time comes," said Flora quietly. "You don't know what may happen yet. There are more disagreeable things in every-day life than mending old clothes. Industry and perseverance may soon replace these with new ones; but it is useless to throw away old friends until we are sure of obtaining others as good."
Flora had often thought of this scene, and in her overflowing happiness had blessed God that she had been permitted to share Lyndsay's poverty. Mending the old clothes had become a privilege.
Thirty pounds was all that she could now afford to lay out upon herself and her little one. A small sum, indeed, to the rich, who would have expended as much in a single article of dress, but very large in her estimation, whose wants had always been regulated more by the wants of others than her own.
Ignorant of the nature of the colony to which she was about to emigrate, and of the manners and customs of the people among whom she was to find a new home, and of whom she had formed the most laughable and erroneous notions, many of her purchases were not only useless, but ridiculous. Things were overlooked, which would have been of the greatest service; while others could have been procured in the colony for less than the expense of transportation.
Twenty years ago, the idea of anything decent being required in a barbarous desert, such as the woods of Canada, was repudiated as nonsense.
This reminds one of a gentleman who sent his son, a wild, extravagant, young fellow, with whom he could do nothing at home, to grow tame, and settle down into a quiet farmer in the Backwoods. The experiment proved, as it always does in such cases, a perfect failure. All parental restraint being removed, the young man ran wild altogether, and used his freedom as fresh occasion for licentiousness. The prudent father then wrote out to the gentleman to whose care the son had been consigned, that he had better buy him a wild farm, and a negro and his wife to keep house for him.
This, too, after the passing of the Anti-Slavery bill! But, even if slaves had been allowed in the colony, the horror of colour is as great among the native-born Canadians as it is in the United States. So much did this otherwise clever man know of the colony to which he sent his unmanageable son!
Flora had been led to imagine that settlers in the Backwoods lived twenty or thirty miles apart, and subsisted upon game and the wild fruits of the country until their own lands were brought into a state of cultivation. Common sense and reflection would have pointed this out as impossible; but common sense is very rare, and the majority of persons seldom take the trouble to think. We have known many persons just as wise as Flora in this respect. It is a fact, however, that Flora believed these reports, and fancied that her lot would be cast in one of those remote settlements, where no sounds of human life were to meet her ears, and the ringing of her husband's axe alone awake the echoes of the forest.
She had yet to learn, that the proximity of fellow-labourers in the great work of clearing is indispensable; that man cannot work alone in the wilderness, where his best efforts require the aid of his fellow-men.
The oft-repeated assertion, that anything would do for Canada, was the cause of more blunders in the choice of an outfit, than the most exaggerated statements in its praise.
Of the fine towns and villages, and the well-dressed population of the improved districts of the Upper Province, she had not formed the slightest conception. To her fancy, it was a vast region of cheerless forests, inhabited by unreclaimed savages, or rude settlers doomed to perpetual toil,—a climate of stern vicissitudes, alternating between intense heat and freezing cold, and which presented at all seasons a gloomy picture. No land of Goshen, no paradise of fruits and flowers, rose in the distance to console her for the sacrifice she was about to make. The ideal was far worse than the reality.
Guided by these false impressions, she made choice of articles of dress too good for domestic drudgery, and not fine enough to suit the rank to which she belonged. In this case, extremes would have suited her better than a middle course.
Though fine clothes in the Backwoods may be regarded as useless lumber, and warm stuffs for winter, and good washing calicoes for summer, are more to be prized than silks and satins, which a few days' exposure to the rough flooring of a log-cabin would effectually destroy; yet it is absolutely necessary to be well dressed when visiting the large towns, where the wealthier classes not only dress well, but expensively.
In a country destitute of an hereditary aristocracy, and where the poorest emigrant, by industry and prudence, may rise to wealth and political importance, the appearance which individuals make, and the style in which they live, determine their claims to superiority with the public, chiefly composed of the same elements with themselves. The aristocracy of England may be divided into three distinct classes,—that of family, of wealth, and of talent,—all powerful in their order. The one which ranks the last should hold its place with the first, for it originally produced it; and the second, which is far inferior to the last, is likewise able to buy the first. The heads of old families are more tolerant to the great men of genius than they are to the accumulators of riches; and a wide distinction is made by them between the purse-proud millionaire and the poor man of genius, whose refined tastes and feelings are more in unison with their own.
In Canada, the man of wealth has it all his own way; his dollars are irresistible, and the money makes the man. Fine clothes are there supposed to express the wealth of the possessor; and a lady's gown determines her right to the title, which, after all, presents the lowest claims to gentility. A runaway thief may wear a fashionably cut coat, and a well-paid domestic flaunt in silks and satins.
Now, Flora knew nothing of all this; and she committed a great error in choosing neat and respectable every-day clothing. The handsome, and the very ordinary, would have answered her purpose much better.
If "necessity is the mother of invention," experience is the handmaid of wisdom, and her garments fit well. Flora was as yet a novice to the world and its ways. She had much to learn from a stern and faithful preceptress, in a cold, calculating school.
HOW MISS WILHELMINA CARR AND FLORA BECAME ACQUAINTED.
Among the many persons who called upon Flora to talk over her projected emigration was a Miss Wilhelmina Carr—a being so odd, so wayward, so unlike the common run of mortals, that we must endeavour to give a slight sketch of her to our readers. We do not possess sufficient artistic skill to do Miss Wilhelmina justice; for if she had not actually lived and walked the earth, and if we had not seen her with our own eyes, and heard her with our own ears, we should have considered her a very improbable, if not an impossible, variety of the human species feminine. We have met with many absurd people in our journey through life, but a more eccentric individual never before nor since has come under our immediate observation.
Flora's means were far too limited for her to entertain company. Her visitors were confined entirely to her own family, and a few old and chosen friends, with whom she had been intimate from childhood. How, then, did she become acquainted with this lady? Oddly enough; for everything connected with Miss Carr was odd, and out of the common way.
There was a mystery, too, about Miss Carr, which had kept the gossips busy for the last four months, and clever and prying as they were—quite models in their way—not one of them had been able to come at the solution of the riddle.
One hot day during the preceding summer, Miss Wilhelmina walked into the town, wearing a man's broad-brimmed straw hat, and carrying a cane in her hand, with a very small dog trotting at her heels. She inquired at the first hotel in the town for lodgings, and hired two very handsome apartments of Mrs. Turner, who kept very respectable lodgings, and was patronised by the best families in the neighbourhood. Miss Wilhelmina paid three months' rent in advance; she brought no servant, and was to find her own table, engaging Mrs. Turner to cook and wait upon her.
Some days after her arrival, two large travelling trunks, and several well-filled hampers full of wine of the best quality, were forwarded to her direction, and Miss Carr became one of the lions of the little watering-place.
Who she was, or from what quarter of the world she emanated, nobody could find out. She had evidently plenty of money at her command, lived as she liked and did what she pleased, and seemed perfectly indifferent as to what others thought of her.
Her eccentric appearance attracted general attention, for she was no recluse, and spent most of her time in the open air. If your walk lay along the beach, the common, or the dusty high-road, you were sure to meet Miss Carr and her dog at every turn.
The excitement regarding her was so great, that most of the ladies called upon her in the hope of gratifying their curiosity, and learning something about her from her own lips. In this they were quite disappointed, for Miss Wilhelmina Carr, though she was sitting at the window nursing her dog, did not choose to be at home to any one, and never had the courtesy to return these ceremonious visits. An old practised propagator of news waylaid Mrs. Turner in the street, and cross-questioned her in the most dexterous manner concerning her mysterious lodger; but the good woman was either seized with a fit of unusual prudence, or, like Horace Smith's mummy—
"Was sworn to secrecy."
There was no getting anything out of her beyond the astounding facts, that Miss Carr smoked out of a long pipe, drank brandy-punch, and had her table served with all the dainties of the season. "Besides all this," whispered the cautious Mrs. Turner, "she swears like a man." This last piece of information might be a scandal, the ladies hoped that it was, but believed and talked about it as a shocking thing, if true, to all their acquaintance, and congratulated themselves that the dreadful woman had shown her wisdom in not returning the visits of respectable people.
The person about whom all this fuss was made, was a tall, and very stout woman of fifty years of age; but active and energetic looking for her time of life. Her appearance was eccentric enough to afford ample scope for all the odd sayings and doings in circulation respecting her. She had a satirical, laughing, jolly red face, with very obtuse features; and, in order to conceal hair of a decidedly carroty hue, she wore an elaborately curled flaxen wig, which nearly covered her large forehead, and hung over her eyes like the curly coat of a French poodle dog. This was so carelessly adjusted, that the red and flaxen formed a curious shading round her face, as their tendrils mingled and twined within each other. Her countenance, even in youth, must have been coarse and vulgar; in middle life, it was masculine and decidedly ugly, with no redeeming feature, but the large good-natured mouth, well set with brilliantly white teeth—strong, square, even teeth, that seem to express their owner's love of good cheer; and silently intimated, that they had no light duty to perform, and were made expressly for eating.
Miss Carr, though she sported a man's hat and carried a cane, dressed expensively, her outer garments being made of the richest materials; but she wore these so ridiculously short, that her petticoats barely reached below the middle of her legs; leaving exposed to general observation, the only beauty she possessed—a remarkably handsome and neatly made foot and ankle.
Now, we don't believe that Miss Carr cared a fig about her handsome legs and feet. If they had belonged to the regular Mullingar breed, she would have shown them as freely to all the world; simply, because she chose to do so. She was a great pedestrian, to whom long petticoats would have been uncomfortable and inconvenient.
If she was vain of anything, it was of her powers of locomotion. She had made the tour of Europe on foot and alone, and still continued to walk her ten or fourteen miles a day, let the weather be what it would. Hail, rain, blow, or snow, it was all one to Miss Carr. "She was walking," she said, "to keep herself in practice, as she was contemplating another long journey on foot."
Ida Pfeiffer, the celebrated female traveller, was unknown in those days; or Miss Carr might have taken the shine out of that adventurous lady; as easily as the said Ida destroys all the romantic notions previously entertained by stay-at-home travellers, about the lands she visits, and the people who form the subjects of her entertaining matter-of-fact books.
When Miss Carr made her debut at church, with her masculine hat placed resolutely on the top of her head, and cane in hand, people could not say their prayers, or attend to the sermon, for staring and wondering at the uncouth apparition which had so unceremoniously appeared in the midst of them. This was not diminished, by her choosing to stand during those portions of the service, when pious females bend the knee. Miss Wilhelmina said, "that she was too big to kneel—that her prayers were just as good in one attitude as another. The soul had no legs or knees, that she could discover—and if the prayers did not come from the heart, they were of no use to her, or to any one else. She had not much faith in prayers of any kind. She never could find out that they had done her the least good, and if she had to go through a useless ceremony, she would do it in the most convenient manner."
Flora had heard so much about this strange woman, that she had not called upon her on her first arrival in the town, though it must be confessed, that her curiosity was as much excited as her neighbours'. In her walks to and fro from her mother's house, who resided within a short distance of the town, Flora had often encountered the sturdy pedestrian stumping along at full speed, and she had laughed heartily with her husband at her odd appearance; at her short petticoats, and the resolute manner in which she swung her cane, and planted it down upon the ground. She had often wondered how such an elephant of a woman could move so rapidly upon such small feet, which looked as if she had lost her own, and borrowed a pair of some child by the way.
She was always followed in all her rambles by a diminutive nondescript kind of dog—a tiny, long-haired, silky looking creature, the colour of coffee freshly ground, no bigger than a large squirrel, with brilliant black eyes, bushy tail, and a pert little face, which greatly resembled that animal.
Often, when moving at full speed along the dusty highway, its mistress would suddenly stop, vociferating at the top of her voice—"Muff! Muff! where are you, my incomparable Muff?" when the queer pet would bound up her dress like a cat, and settle itself down upon her arm, poking its black nose into her hand, or rearing up on its hind legs, to lick her face. They were an odd pair, so unlike, so widely disproportioned in size and motion, that Flora delighted in watching all their movements, and in drawing contrasts between the big woman and her small four-footed companion.
By some strange freak of fancy, Lyndsay and his wife had attracted the attention of Miss Carr, who never passed them in her long rambles without bestowing upon them a gracious bow and a smile, which displayed, at one gesture, all her glittering store of large, white teeth.
"I do believe, John, the strange woman means to pick acquaintance with us," said Flora to her husband, one fine afternoon during the previous summer, as they were on their way to spend the evening with her mother at —— Hall. "Instead of passing us at her usual brisk trot, she has loitered at our pace for the last half-hour, smiling at us, and showing her white teeth, as if she were contemplating the possibility of an introduction. I wish she would break the ice; for I am dying with curiosity to know something about her."
"You are very foolish," said Lyndsay, who was not one of Miss Carr's admirers, "to trouble your head about her. These eccentric people are often great bores; and, if you get acquainted with them, it is not easy to shake them off. She may be a very improper character. I hate mystery in any shape."
"Oh, bless you!" said Flora, laughing: "she is too old and ugly for scandal of that sort. I should think, from her appearance, that she never had had a sweetheart in her life."
"There's no telling," returned Lyndsay. "She may be lively and witty. Odd people possess an attraction in themselves. We are so much amused with them, that they fascinate us before we are aware. She has a good figure for her very voluminous proportions, and splendid trotters, which always possess charms for some men."
"Now, don't be censorious, husband dear. If she should speak to us—what then?"
"Answer her civilly, of course."
"And if she should take it into her head to call upon us?"
"Return it, and let the acquaintance drop."
Flora's love of the ridiculous was her besetting sin. She continued to watch the movements of Miss Carr with mischievous interest, and was as anxious for an interview as Lyndsay was that she should keep her distance. Flora pressed her hand tightly on her husband's arm, scarcely able to keep her delight in due bounds, while she whispered, in a triumphant aside, "John, I was right. She is shaping her course to our side of the road. She means to speak to us,—and now for it!"
Lyndsay looked annoyed. Flora with difficulty repressed her inclination to laugh out, as Miss Carr came alongside, and verified Mrs. Lyndsay's prediction, by commencing the conversation in a loud-toned, but rather musical voice,
"A bright afternoon for your walk."
"Beautiful for the time of year," said Flora.
"Rather hot for stout people like me. You seem to enjoy it amazingly."
"I am fond of walking. I do not find the heat oppressive."
"Ah, yes; you are thin. Have not much bulk to carry; one of Pharaoh's lean kine. It requires a warm day to make your blood circulate freely. I like winter and spring best for long rambles."
"I should think you would prefer riding," said Lyndsay; "yet I see you out every day on foot."
"I never ride: I hate and detest riding. I never could be dependent upon the motions of an animal. Horses are my aversion; jackasses I despise. God, when He gave us legs of our own, doubtless intended us to make use of them. I have used mine ever since I was a baby, and they are not worn out yet. I got upon my feet sooner than most children, and have kept them to their duty ever since. I am a great walker; I have been walking all my life. Do you know that I have walked over Europe alone, and on foot?"
"So I have heard," said Lyndsay. "It must have been an arduous undertaking for a lady."
"Far easier than you imagine. Women are just as able to shift for themselves as men, if they would follow my example, and make the trial. I have scarcely sat still for the last twenty years. There is not a remarkable spot in Europe that I have not visited, or mountain but what I have climbed, or cavern that I have left unexplored. Three years ago I commenced a pedestrian tour through Great Britain, which I accomplished greatly to my own satisfaction. When I take a fancy to a place, I stay in it until I have explored all the walks in the neighbourhood. Directly I grow tired, I am off. 'Tis a happy, independent sort of life I lead. Confinement would soon kill me."
"Your friends must feel very anxious about you," said Flora, "during your absence."
"Friends! Fiddlesticks! Who told you I had any friends who care a fig for me or my movements? I am gloriously independent, and mean to remain so. There is but one person in the world who is related to me in the most remote degree, or who dares to trouble their head about me or my doings, and he is only a half brother. He has opposed himself against my freedom of thought and action; but I don't care that"—(snapping her fingers vigorously)—"for him or his opinions. He has made war upon my roaming propensities all his life. As if a woman has not as much right to see the world as a man, if she can pay her own expenses, and bear her own burthen, without being a trouble to any one. It is certainly no business of his how I spend my money, or where and how I pass my life. Not long ago I heard that he was going to issue a writ of lunacy against me, in order to get me and my property into his possession. This is mean; for he very well knows that I am not mad; and he is very rich, so that there is no excuse for his avarice. Fortunately, he don't know me personally—never saw me since I was a child—and as I never go by my real name, it is not a very easy matter for him to discover me. I don't like this place, but it is quiet and out of the way. I think I shall remain where I am, till he gets tired of hunting me out. I trust to your honour, young people; you must not betray my secret."
Both promised to say nothing about what she had so frankly communicated.
"I take you at your word," continued Miss Carr; "I like your appearance, and would willingly improve my acquaintance. I often watched you from my windows; and yesterday I asked Mrs. Turner who you were. Her account was so much in your favour, that I determined to introduce myself the first time we accidentally encountered each other. I know your names and where you live. May I come and occasionally enjoy an hour's chat?"
"We shall only be too happy," said Flora, in spite of a warning pinch from Lyndsay, which said, as plainly as words could have done, "She's mad; as mad as a March hare." But Flora would not understand the hint. She felt flattered by the confidence so unexpectedly reposed in them by the odd creature; and vanity is a great enemy to common sense.
"Mind," said Miss Wilhelmina, turning abruptly to Lyndsay, "I don't want to see you at my house. I'm a single woman, and, though not very young, I'm very particular about my character. I never allow a male creature to enter my doors. I'm not fond of men—I have no reason to be fond of them. They never were commonly civil to me; and I hate them generally and individually. When I come to see your wife of course I don't expect you to hide out of the way, or peep at me through crannies, as if I were a wild beast. I shall call to-morrow morning, and so, good day.
"Muff! Muff!—My incomparable! my perfect!—What are you doing? Frisking beside that ugly black cur! He's no companion for a dog of your breeding and degree. Away, you vulgar-looking brute." And running across the road, she seized hold of a pedlar's dog, who was having a great game of romps with her favourite, and gave it a most unjust and unmerciful belabouring with her cane.
The pedlar, who was by no means pleased with this outrage against his cur, now interfered.
"Don't lick my dorrg, ma'am, in that ere sort o' fashun. What harm can that hanimal ha' done to you, or that whiskered cat-like thing o' yourn?"
"Hold your impertinent tongue, fellow! or I'll thrash you, too," cried Miss Wilhelmina, flourishing aloft her cane.
The man eyed her sullenly. "Maybe, you'd beest not try. If you warn't a 'uman I'd give it to 'un."
"A lady, sir," with great dignity, and drawing herself up to her full height.
"Ladies don't act in that ere way. You be but a 'uman, and a mad yun, too; that be what you be's."
The next moment Lyndsay expected the cane to descend upon the pedlar's head, and was ready to rush to the rescue of the fair Wilhelmina. But no; the lady dropped her cane, burst into a loud fit of laughter, stooped down, patted the offended cur, and, slipping a shilling into the hand of the angry countryman, snatched Muff to her capacious bosom, and walked off at full trot.
The pedlar, looking after her for a minute, with his eyes and mouth wide open in blank astonishment, and then down at the silver glittering in his hand, cried out,—
"I knows you bees a lady now. If you delights in licking o' do'rrgs, ma'am, you ma' thrash Bull as much as you please for sixpence a licking. That's fair, I thinks."
He might as well have shouted to the winds; Miss Wilhelmina was out of hearing, and Flora and her husband pursued their walk to the hall.
MISS WILHELMINA CALLS UPON FLORA.
The breakfast things were scarcely removed the following morning, when Miss Carr walked into the room, where Flora was employed at her work-table, in manufacturing some small articles of dress.
"Your husband is afraid of me, Mrs. Lyndsay: he started off the moment he saw me coming up to the door. I don't want to banish him from his own house."
"Oh, not at all. He has business in town, Miss Carr. You have favoured me with a very early visit."
"Too early? Just speak the truth plainly out. Why the deuce do people tell so many stories, when it would be far easier to speak the truth? I assure you, that you look so neat and comfortable in your morning costume, that you have no reason to be ashamed. I like to come upon people unawares,—to see them as they really are. You are welcome to come and see me in my night-cap, when the spirit moves me. When I'm not out walking, I'm always at home. Busy at work, too?" she continued, putting a tiny cap upon her fist. "That looks droll, and tells tales."
"Oh, don't!—do spare me," cried Flora, snatching the article from her odd companion, and hiding it away in the table-drawer. "I did not mean that any one should catch me at this work."
"Don't think, my dear, that I am going to criticise you. I am no judge of sewing,—never set a stitch in my life. It must be a dull way of spending time. Can't you put your needle-work out?"
Flora shook her head.
"Too poor for that? Mrs. Turner's daughter takes in all such gimcracks. Send what you've got over to her, and I'll pay for the making."
"Miss Carr!" said Flora, greatly distressed.
"What, angry again?"
"No, not exactly angry; but you wound my pride."
"It would do you no harm to kill it outright," said Miss Carr, laughing—such a loud, jovial peal of merriment, which rang so clearly from her healthy lungs, that Flora, in spite of her offended dignity, was forced to laugh too.
"You feel better now. I hope the proud fit is going off, and we can enjoy a reasonable chat. These clothes—what a bore they are, to both poor and rich,—the rich setting their heart too much upon them, and the poor despised because they have not enough to keep them warm,—and those mean and old. Then, this is not all. There are the perpetual changes of the fashions, which oblige people to put on what does not suit them, and to make monstrous frights of themselves to dress in the mode. You must have a morning-gown, a dinner-dress, and an evening costume; all to be shifted and changed in the same day, consuming a deal of time, which might be enjoyed in wholesome exercise. I have no patience with such folly. The animals, let me tell you, are a great deal better off than their masters. Nature has provided them with a coat which never wants changing but once a-year; and that is done so gradually, that they experience no inconvenience. No need of their consulting the fashions, or patching and stitching to keep up a decent appearance. It is a thousand pities that clothes were ever invented. People would have been much healthier, and looked much better without them."
"My dear madam, did not God himself instruct our first parents to make garments of the skins of animals?"
"They were not necessary in a state of innocence, or He would have created them like cows and horses, with clothes upon their backs," said Wilhelmina, sharply. "It was their own fault that they ever required such trumpery, entailing upon their posterity a curse as bad as the thorns and thistles. For I always consider it as such, when sweltering under the weight of gowns and petticoats on a hot day; and I rate Mother Eve roundly, and in no measured terms, for her folly in losing the glorious privilege of walking in buff."
"You must have been thinking of that," said Flora, rather mischievously, and glancing down at Miss Wilhelmina's legs, "when you cut your petticoats so short."
"You are welcome to laugh at any short petticoats," said Wilhelmina, "as long as I feel the comfort of wearing them. Now do tell me, candidly,—what impropriety is there in a woman showing her leg and foot, more than in another woman showing her hand and arm? The evil lies in your own thoughts. You see the Bavarian buy-a-broom girls passing before your windows every day, with petticoats cut three or four inches shorter than mine. You perceive no harm in that. 'It is the fashion of her country,' you cry. Custom banishes from our minds the idea of impropriety; and the naked savage of the woods is as modest as the closely covered civilian. Now, why am I compelled to wear long petticoats drabbling in the mud, when a Bavarian may wear hers up to the knees, and nobody think the worse of her? I am as much a free agent as she is; have as much right to wear what I please. I like short petticoats—I can walk better in them—they neither take up the dust or the mud, and leave my motions free and untrammelled—and what's more, I mean to wear them.