[Updater's note: In Volume I, Chapters VIII and IX both have the same title: "Peggy Walker's Adventures". This was confirmed with the source book.]
Mr. Hogarth's Will
Catherine Helen Spence
In a large and handsomely-furnished room of a somewhat old-fashioned house, situated in a rural district in the south of Scotland, was assembled, one day in the early summer of 185-, a small group in deep mourning.
Mr. Hogarth, of Cross Hall, had been taken suddenly ill a few days previously, and had never recovered consciousness so far as to be able to speak, though he had apparently known those who were about him, and especially the two orphan nieces whom he had brought up as his daughters. He had no other near relations whom any one knew of, and had never been known to regret that the name of Hogarth, of Cross Hall, was likely to become extinct. He had the reputation of being the most eccentric man in the country, and was thought to be the most inconsistent.
With the highest opinion possible of women, and the greatest pleasure in their society, he had never married; and with the greatest affection for his nieces, and the greatest theoretical confidence in them, he had hedged them about with countless laws and restrictions, and had educated them in a way quite different from the training of young ladies of their rank and prospects. He had succeeded two childless elder brothers in the possession of the estate; and Jane and Alice Melville were the only children of his only sister, who had been dead for fifteen years.
The funeral had just taken place, and the two girls had been summoned into the drawing-room to hear the will read by Mr. MacFarlane, the Edinburgh lawyer, who had drawn it out. They found in the room Mr. Baird, their uncle's medical attendant, and a stranger whom they had never seen before—a tall, grave-looking man of about thirty-four, whose mourning was new, and who showed a deep interest in what was going on.
Both the man of law and the man of medicine looked nervous and embarrassed, and delayed proceeding to business as long as they possibly could; fumbling with knots of red tape; opening the closed curtains to admit a little more light, and then closing them again, as if the light was too strong; so that the sisters had time to look at the stranger, and to wonder who he was and what his business could be there. He also seemed to be taking notes of the young ladies in a quiet, timid manner.
At last the will was opened, and after the usual preamble, the lawyer's voice seemed to break a little. He cleared his throat, and continued in a lower tone——
"As I have come to the conclusion that the minds of men and women are radically the same, and as I believe that if the latter are trained in the same way as the former they will be equally capable of making their own way in the world, I have acted upon this principle in the education of my two beloved nieces, Jane and Alice Melville, the only surviving children of my sister Mary Hogarth; and as I foresee that if I were to leave them wealthy heiresses my purpose would be completely thwarted, by Jane losing her independent character, and Alice sinking into a confirmed invalid, and by both being to a dead certainty picked up by needy spendthrifts, who will waste their fortunes and break their hearts, as their father, George Melville, served my poor foolish sister, I hereby convey and dispose all my property, whatsoever and wheresoever, heritable and moveable, to Francis Ormistown, otherwise Hogarth, at present head clerk in the Bank of Scotland, who is my son by a private irregular marriage contracted with Elizabeth Ormistown, on the ninth day of July, 18—, and who is my heir-at-law, though he would find it difficult to prove his claim, as he knows nothing of the relation between us, and as the only party besides myself cognizant of the marriage dares not come forward to prove it, but whose progress I have watched with interest, who has made an honourable position for himself, without any assistance from me beyond a good education, who has served faithfully, and who is likely to rule uprightly, who has raised himself from nameless poverty, and whom, therefore, I judge to be worthy of wealth and honour: Provided always, that he shall pay to Jane and Alice Melville, my beloved nieces aforesaid, the sum of twelve pounds a year each, in quarterly payments in advance, for three years following my decease, when such payments shall cease, as by that time I believe they will be independent in circumstances: Provided also that he shall give to the said Jane and Alice Melville, the furniture and personal effects belonging to them, as mentioned more particularly in the schedule marked A, appended to this instrument; and that he shall give to the said Jane and Alice Melville no further assistance either in money or in money's worth, directly or indirectly, whatsoever: Also providing that the said Francis Ormistown, otherwise Hogarth, shall not marry either of his cousins; the marriage of such near relations being mischievous and improper.
"In case of any of these provisions being disregarded by the said Francis Ormistown, otherwise Hogarth, all my heritable and moveable property shall be divided among certain benevolent institutions, in the order and manner set forth in the schedule marked with the letter B.
"All these provisions I have made, as being the best for my surviving relatives; and I believe they will eventually acknowledge them to be such."
It would be hard to say which of the three parties interested, felt most astonishment at this extraordinary will. Jane Melville stood rigid and silent, with her face flushed and her eyes filled with tears, which she would not let fall. Alice's face lost all colour, and she seemed ready to faint. But the greatest excitement was shown by the fortunate legatee. He shook from head to foot, steadying himself on the table—looked from the two girls to the two gentlemen with bewildered eyes—and said at last with difficulty, in a low, soft, tremulous voice——
"Was Mr. Hogarth in his senses when he made this will?"
"A little excited, but indisputably in full possession of his senses, strange as the will appears," said Mr. MacFarlane, the lawyer; "and Mr. Baird will corroborate my opinion."
Mr. Baird bowed his head affirmatively. "Quite true—his head was quite clear at the time. The will was made six weeks ago, and you, Miss Melville, know how well he was then. Very grieved, indeed—most inconceivable conduct—cruel—inconsiderate. I feel deeply for your disappointment. Try not to give way, Miss Alice—or perhaps you had better give way, it may relieve you. Mr. MacFarlane tells me that he remonstrated with Mr. Hogarth. Most painful duty—must obey instructions, of course. Your uncle seemed like adamant. I pity you with all my heart."
"And so do I, with all my heart," said Mr. MacFarlane.
"And does no one pity me?" said the low voice of the heir to all; but it was unheeded, for Alice had fainted. Her sister and Mr. Baird laid her on the sofa, and applied the usual restoratives.
Mr. MacFarlane began to speak in an undertone, to the new master, of the extent and value of the property he had thus suddenly come into possession of, and congratulated him rather stiffly on the turn of fortune that had raised him from a life of labour and comparative poverty to ease and affluence; but his embarrassment was nothing compared to that of the man whom he addressed. Francis Hogarth looked round the spacious room, and out of the window to the pleasant shrubbery and smooth-shaven lawn, and shuddered when he thought of the two young cousins, brought up apparently in the lap of luxury, who were to be turned out upon the world with 12 pounds a-year for three years. The elder sister seemed to have a vigorous and robust constitution, but the younger looked delicate. He saw, in his mind's eye, two governesses, dragging out a weary and monotonous existence, far from each other, while he, possessed of superabundance, was debarred from helping them.
He advanced timidly to the sofa. Alice, who had recovered consciousness, covered her face with both her hands, and sobbed aloud. Jane turned towards him a glance, not of reproach, but of pity. He felt it, and took her hand.
"Believe me, Miss Melville, no one can regret this extraordinary will as I do. I will overturn it, if I possibly can."
"You cannot," said Jane; "it is quite in keeping with all my uncle's ideas—quite consistent with all he has told us over and over again. He had many strange notions, but he was generally in the right, and it MAY prove to be so now." The sigh that accompanied these words told how faint her hopes were.
"It has been positive unkindness to bring you up as he did, and now to throw you upon the world. My beginning was different. How could he expect the same success for you—women, too?"
"And are women so inferior, then? It was my uncle's cherished belief that they were not. He said he never saw a woman take up man's work without succeeding in it. I must try to show that I will be no exception. He was not unkind to take us on our mother's death from a careless and unprincipled father, to bring us into a quiet and happy home, to educate us to the best of his judgment, to be always kind, always reasonable. Ah, no, my dear uncle, though this seems very hard, it was not meant for unkindness!"
"It is cruel, cruel," said Alice. "He must have been mad. What will become of us? What will become of us?"
At this burst of despair from Alice, Jane's courage gave way, and the heavy tears rolled down her cheeks. "Elsie, darling, at the worst we can only die, and we are not afraid of death. But no, we shall live to conquer all this yet."
"You cannot as yet lay any plan," said Mr. Macfarlane. "Mr. Ormistown—Mr. Hogarth, I should say—is in no hurry to take possession. You can have a month to look about you, and there is no saying what may turn up in a month."
"Certainly," said the new cousin; "I am sure I should be most happy to give the young ladies accommodation in this large house for as long as they please, if that is not forbidden by the will."
"A permanent residence is clearly forbidden; for no assistance, beyond the small money payment specified, Can be offered or accepted; but I think a month to remain and to collect all their wardrobe and personal property may be permitted."
"I ought to return to the bank, and work till they find a substitute, and will leave my cousins the undisturbed possession of Cross Hall for a month. In the meantime, I feel as if my presence must be a painful intrusion. I must leave you."
"Perhaps," said Jane, "though you cannot give us money, you may be able to give us advice. You are going to Edinburgh; you may see or hear of something we could do."
"I should be most happy to do so. What line of life should you like to enter on?"
"Anything we could make a living by."
"Then I suppose a governess's situation?"
"I might teach boys, but I have not learned what would qualify me to instruct girls. But I do thoroughly understand bookkeeping, write a good hand, have gone through Euclid, and know as much of the classics as nine out of ten young men in my rank of life. But my uncle cared very little for the classics. I know a good deal of chemistry and mineralogy, but uncle was most pleased with my bookkeeping. How did you get on when you began to work for yourself?"
"I entered the bank as a junior clerk, at the age of sixteen, and got 30 pounds for the first two years. An unknown friend—I know now who he was—who had paid for my education and all other expenses previously, sent me 12 pounds a year for three years to help out my earnings."
"And you could live on that?" said Jane.
"I did live on it somehow," said Francis. "My coats were very threadbare and my meals scanty, but I weathered these three years, and then I got a good step, and crept up gradually. I have been now in this same bank for seventeen years, and am at present in the receipt of 250 pounds a year, thinking myself rich and fortunate;—now I am rich and unfortunate. Why did not my father leave me to the career I had made for myself, and you to the inheritance you had been brought up to expect?"
"Thirty pounds a year to begin with," said Jane, half aloud; "250 pounds after seventeen years' work. Very sweet—all one's own earning. I am not afraid, only let Elsie keep up heart."
"I cannot," said Elsie; "I'll be dead long before seventeen years are over."
"I will take good care of you," said Jane.
"How are you to take good care either of yourself or of me if we are starving?" said Elsie, with a fresh burst of tears.
"We will do our best. So you are going, Mr. Hogarth. Write to me if you can hear of anything for me. I will be much obliged to you. Good-bye."
Jane shook hands with her cousin kindly, and soon after Mr. MacFarlane, and Mr. Baird also, withdrew, leaving the sisters alone. Elsie wept till she was completely exhausted, while her sister sat at the table with pen and ink and paper before her, but writing nothing.
After a while Elsie started up from the sofa. "Jane," said she, "if we were to marry, it would put an end to all this perplexity. It was strange that uncle put in the clause forbidding us to marry that man. Neither of us would demean ourselves so much, but uncle disliked the marriage of near relatives. How strange that so little is said about the mother. I could not look at him, but you did. Is he like his father? My uncle was a very handsome man; I fancy this man is plain."
"I see little or no likeness to my uncle, but he is by no means plain-looking."
"Will he get into society? Do they consider such people legitimate?"
"The marriage was irregular, but legal," said Jane. "I see now the cause my uncle had to dislike the Scotch marriage law. He must have been made very miserable from some unguarded words spoken or written; but this does not prevent his son taking the position of a legitimate heir. He is quiet and unassuming, and will take a very good place in society."
"It was well," said Elsie, with a faint laugh, "that this clause was inserted, for you seem to be in some danger."
"Not at all; but we were thrown together in very extraordinary circumstances, and I could not help feeling for his position as he felt for ours. Nor could I help asking for advice from him. I agree with my uncle about cousins. He was right there, as he always used to be. At least, he brought me up to think like him, and I can scarcely believe that what he has now done is wrong."
"But, Jane, setting this cousin out of the way, what do you think of William Dalzell?"
"I was just thinking of him when you spoke," said Jane, resolutely.
"Uncle must have had him in his mind when he mentioned fortune-hunters in his will, for he never seemed to like him coming here so often; and just six weeks ago I had been going out riding with him every day. You said you were not well, and would not accompany us. I suppose I was giving him what people consider a great deal of encouragement. If my uncle had said plainly that he disapproved of the intimacy, I wonder if I would have given it up? Perhaps not—one does not like to be dictated to. It appeared to myself so strange that he should prefer me to you. And now I recollect that my uncle must have paid his last visit to Edinburgh just before he made his will; and there he would see this young man filling his place in the world so well, while I was behaving so foolishly. The contrast must have struck him, and he certainly has put an end to everything between Mr. Dalzell and myself."
"Oh, Jane, he is no fortune-hunter; this will make no change. If you marry him you must take me home with you, and tell him it is what I deserve for standing his friend so well."
"My dearest Elsie, you have talked a great deal about Mr. Dalzell, and I have rather foolishly listened to it, but that must be stopped now. I know he is poor; he thought to better himself by a wealthy marriage; and perhaps if I had been left now with 20,000 pounds, with nothing to do and nothing to think of, his agreeable qualities——"
"Well, you own he has agreeable qualities."
"Yes; I have always owned it—they might have induced me to marry him; and you, as the possessor of other 20,000 pounds, would have been a most welcome inmate of our house until you chose for yourself your own home. But now, Elsie, I know William Dalzell is not the man to encumber himself with a penniless wife and a penniless sister-in-law."
"He is not mercenary—I am sure he is not," said Elsie with animation.
"Perhaps he is not positively mercenary; but after all am I worthy of the sacrifice? Look at me, Elsie; even your sisterly partiality cannot make a beauty of me. My turn of mind is not suited to his; I have always felt that; and, above all, I am not very fond of him."
"No; I have liked him a good deal; but now in this crisis, when we have to begin life in earnest—when I am puzzling myself how to find food and clothing and shelter for you and me—I feel as if Mr. Dalzell's past attentions belonged to another world altogether, so I am putting them aside completely."
"Ah! but Jane, only listen to me. If he were to come now, and lay himself and all that he has at your feet, that would prove that he was no fortune-hunter, but a real true lover, as I always believed him to be."
"He will not do it," said Jane, quietly; and she now began to make some memoranda.
"We have no ornaments, Elsie," said she, sadly.
"No; I never heard you regret the want of them before."
"I should like to have something to sell. Emilia Chalmers has 200 pounds worth of jewellery, most of it left by her aunt. If we had so much, we might convert it into money, and might stock a little shop."
"A shop!" said Elsie, shuddering.
"Why not? One is more independent keeping a shop than in a governess's situation, and there my business knowledge would be of use. It is wrong and absurd to have a terror of a shop."
"I cannot help feeling a great repugnance to shopkeeping."
"Then would you rather be a governess, supposing you were capable?"
"Oh, Jane, that is such a hard life. I should be separated from you; and then one is worried by the children, and snubbed by the parents, sneered at by servants, and ignored by visitors."
"Then dressmaking? You work beautifully."
"The late hours, and the close rooms; do you think I could stand it?"
"I am a little afraid for you," said Jane, thoughtfully. "What would you like to do?"
"Why, I have never thought of doing anything but being with you, working a little, reading a little, going out a little, and having nobody over me but you, my own darling sister. It stuns me to be told that I must go to work for a livelihood."
"I hope we may be able to live together as you hoped, eventually; but in the meantime we must both put our shoulders to the wheel."
"Have we no friends who would give us a home—at least for a while, till we get accustomed to the thought of hard work?" said Elsie.
"We have no relations, and we have made but few friends. I fear no one would come forward to help us now that we need help so much. It is a pity that my uncle kept us so much to himself, and that we were so fully occupied with our own home duties that we had little or no time for society. Now we have no capital for a start, and no friends to help us on, only our talents and our education—a small stock-in-trade, I fear."
In the course of the afternoon the man-servant, James, announced that Mr. Dalzell was below, and that he sent his compliments and wished to know how the young ladies were.
It was not the first visit since Mr. Hogarth's death. He had paid a visit of condolence on the following day, and had never been so affectionate or impressive in his manner to Jane as on that occasion.
"Show Mr. Dalzell upstairs, James," said Jane; "I think I should like to see him."
The man looked somewhat intelligent, and obeyed.
"I cannot see anybody—I am not fit to be seen," said Elsie, retreating in haste from the room; "and indeed, Jane, I wonder at you wishing to see him so soon after this dreadful news."
"He has been at the funeral, I suppose. It is very proper of him to inquire for us, and very imperative that we should understand each other;—the sooner the better. But do not stay if you do not like. I should prefer to see him alone."
Mr. Dalzell was shown into the darkened drawing-room, where he was some time in discovering that Miss Melville was alone. A few of the kind commonplaces which had been so successful on his previous visit—remarks on the loss she had sustained, on the excellent character of her deceased uncle, and on the necessity of bearing the blow with fortitude, which her strong mind was quite capable of—were made by Mr. Dalzell in unconsciousness that they fell very differently on Jane's ears now. Jane asked for his mother, and heard that she was very well, and sent her kindest regards and condolences, and hoped that the Misses Melville would be able to see her on the following day.
"Were there many people at the funeral?" asked Jane.
"Oh yes, a great man; Mr. Hogarth was so extensively known, and so much respected."
"Were there any strangers?"
"Several—to me," said Dalzell.
"Did you observe no one in particular?"
"Yes, a gentleman from Edinburgh, said to be a PROTEGE of your uncle's, who took rather a prominent place on account of there being no male relative surviving."
"Have you heard," said Jane, with an effort—"have you heard anything of the will?"
"Nothing whatever—did not think it proper or delicate to inquire, though I saw Mr. MacFarlane after it had been read. It is a matter of no consequence to me how Mr. Hogarth has left his property. My feelings will be quite the same towards——"
"Stop," said Jane; "my uncle has left his entire fortune to this stranger from Edinburgh, who is his son by a private marriage. Elsie and I have had an education, and must make the best we can of it."
"Miss Melville, this is incredible—quite incredible. You are merely trying me. Mr. Hogarth was incapable of such madness and injustice. It is not treating me well to play upon me in this way."
"In proof of what I say, here is a certified copy of the will—the final will—executed six weeks ago, when, as you know, my uncle was perfectly well both in body and mind. It is incontestable."
The bewildered young man tried to read the paper put into his hand, but he could not follow the written words. Jane's sad face and her manner convinced him, however, that she was telling him the truth.
"Now," said Jane kindly, "you have talked a great deal of nonsense to me when my position was very different; but I am quite aware that things are altogether changed. I will not feel at all hurt or angry about it. We part perfectly good friends. But you cannot afford to marry a wife without money, and I should be sorry to be a burden to any man."
William Dalzell looked at the girl he had fancied himself in love with for the last few months, and felt that his love had not been of a very deep or absorbing character. If the two girls had been equal favourites of their uncle's, his choice would have fallen on Elsie, who was prettier, more elegant, more yielding, and, as he thought, more affectionate. Her impulsive and confiding manner, her little enthusiasms, her blunders, were to him more charming than Jane's steady good sense and calm temper. Jane never wanted advice or assistance; she was too independent in mind, and too robust in body, to care much about little attentions, though she had become accustomed to his in the course of time, and as there was no other person to compare him with, had allowed herself to think a good deal of him. Mr. Hogarth had always shown so marked a preference for Jane, and had so often expressed displeasure and impatience at Elsie's deficiencies; his property, not being entailed, was entirely at his own disposal, so that it was probable that Jane would be left the larger share of it, while if he made love to Alice it was quite possible that she would be disinherited altogether, for he knew that he was not a favourite with the old gentleman. He did not think that anything could shake Mr. Hogarth's confidence in Jane, and he had been very careful in feeling his ground sure before he made a formal proposal. He had tried to persuade himself that Jane's face was charming, though not regularly handsome; so it was to some people, but he had not eyes to see the charm. Her figure was undeniably fine, her temper good, her principles to be depended on. Her education had been peculiar, and singularly secular—his mother had felt a little shocked at her want of religion—but then Mr. Hogarth was very odd, and when she was married she would see things differently; and on the whole Mrs. Dalzell felt that her handsome son had chosen with great prudence and good sense in fixing his affections upon the elder and the favorite niece. His small property was heavily encumbered, and such a marriage would make him hold up his head again in the country. Mrs. Dalzell's attentions to Jane had been nearly as assiduous as her son's, and to the motherless girl they were quite as welcome; and she had shown so much affection for Alice, too, that both sisters had been very much captivated with her.
William Dalzell felt Jane's kindly-meant speech as a sort of reproach. He would have preferred to make a speech himself, and to have seen her more agitated. Though he had never thought himself very much in love, he believed he had inspired a strong love, and that it would be very hard for Jane to give him up. But things were completely taken out of his hands; she did not even now, in the first pain of parting, dream of breaking her heart. She was his superior, painfully his superior, and he did not like it.
"You are quite right, Miss Melville," said he; "what you say is quite true. I am involved and embarrassed, and could not offer you anything worth having."
"And I will make my own way in the world," said Jane; "and, William Dalzell, do not be hurt if I give you one friendly piece of advice on parting—try to make your own way in the world too. Shake yourself clear of your own embarrassments by your own industry—a far better way than by marrying a rich wife."
She looked very kindly at the young man as she spoke, but he did not take the advice in the friendly spirit in which it was given. He answered rather shortly, that he dared to say he would do as well as other people, and then began to ask what she knew about the heir, if she had ever seen him before, or heard Mr. Hogarth speak of him. She answered——
"No, never; but I cannot answer questions. I cannot converse rationally any longer. You had better go away, Mr. Dalzell, and let me have a little rest, for I am rather weary."
The young gentleman stumbled down stairs, and rode home ruminating over the downfall of all his cherished expectations; while Jane said to herself, "It is over, and it is better so. He really is a smaller character than I thought he was."
Disappointment and Hope; Prose and Poetry
When Jane Melville told her cousin that her uncle had been always kind and always reasonable, she expressed her own opinion, for she had loved and honoured him so much that she felt no hardship in doing everything he wished; but no one else in the house or in the neighbourhood would have endorsed that opinion. When the rumour spread far and wide that he had disinherited his nieces, in the expectation that the education he had given them would enable them to provide handsomely for themselves, the servants and workpeople about shook their heads, and said it was "aye weel kenned that the auld laird had a bee in his bonnet;" while the class with whom Mr. Hogarth associated on more equal terms declared; that this last eccentricity of affection (for it was all done out of pure love), surpassed all his other oddities with regard to the girls, which had long been the talk of the whole country.
They had, as Jane sadly confessed, made but few friends. Their uncle's reasonable prejudices extended to morning visits, which he called a frivolous waste of time; and he had a similar dislike to evening parties; not on account of a puritanic disapproval of dancing, or of young people of different sexes meeting and having opportunities of getting acquainted with each other, but the hours were so irrational, and the conventional dress so unbecoming and dangerous to health, that he had prohibited Jane and Elsie from accepting the invitations that were showered on them when they had given up lessons and were supposed to be ready to come out. If people would meet at six, and break up before twelve, and wear dresses fashioned like their ordinary attire, Mr. Hogarth saw no objection to evening parties. He had invited the neighbours to such a party, and mentioned in his note of invitation the conditions on which it was to be attended. A good many had accepted, partly from curiosity, and partly from a wish to be friendly; but, in spite of really good arrangements and an excellent supper, the party was not such a success as to be repeated often by Mr. Hogarth, and was never imitated by any of his guests.
The Misses Melville danced well, walked well, and rode admirably; they spent several hours every day in the open air; had learnt to swim, and to shoot both with bow and arrow and with rifle. Their physical education had been excellent, and had probably saved Elsie's life, for she was extremely delicate when young, but had gained strength as she grew up.
Their book education had been chiefly conducted by an old gentleman, who had lived for eight years in their house as tutor, and they had spent several winters in Edinburgh, to attend classes and lectures. No money, no care, and no time had been spared on their education, so that it was rather a pity that, in the eyes of the world, it was so unsatisfactory when completed. Both had gone through the same routine; for Mr. Hogarth seemed to think that education made characters, instead of merely drawing out what there is in the original material, and he was disappointed that the uniformity of the training had not produced two characters more similar than those of Jane and Elsie. Jane's tendencies were to the practical and the positive; and she gladly availed herself of her uncle's whim to educate her like a man of business, regretting none of the accomplishments and showy acquirements which are too apt to be considered the principal part of female education. Expecting that she would be left in possession of considerable property, and virtually the guardian of her younger sister, she saw a fitness and propriety in her being taught the management of money, the science of agriculture, the care of an establishment, and the accurate keeping of accounts.
Elsie would have preferred another training, but it was not given to her; and though she made but a lame attempt to follow Jane's footsteps, and acquired only a superficial knowledge of what her sister was the perfect mistress of, her uncle believed that, bad as she was, she would have been much worse if she had not been forced into rational studies. Though she was not a marvel of solidity, she still had as good a knowledge of accounts, general information, history, and science, as is possessed by many boys who get on very well in business or in professions, when once set fairly to work.
Mr. Hogarth had no great opinion of the value of teaching languages, and thought that a knowledge of things was of far more importance than a knowledge of the names of things. The girls had learned, however, a good deal of Latin and Greek from Mr. Wilson, their tutor, who thought it a pity that Jane's fine abilities should not have a classical education; and he had induced Mr. Hogarth to agree to it by the argument that these languages are invaluable for the ready and correct understanding of all scientific terms. French and Italian the girls themselves were anxious to learn; and as they had been promised a continental tour some fine summer, their uncle thought they might be useful acquirements then, so they had lessons from the best masters in Edinburgh, and profited by them. And here for the first time Elsie's progress had been far greater than Jane's. Mr. Hogarth had himself spent a good deal of time in his youth in France; but he had a higher opinion of French society than of French literature, and he thought that from the lips of brilliant Parisian women they would learn more of the spirit of the language and of the people than from the books they studied in classes or read at home.
Elsie had a natural taste for music, and a remarkably sweet voice in speaking, which, if it had been cultivated, would have made her an excellent singer; but her uncle was sure that to indulge her with a musical education would only weaken her mind. Mr. Hogarth had seen no good come of music. A taste for singing and a fine voice had been the ruin of thousands—they had been most mischievous to Elsie's own father, and they had been the chief fascinations which had won upon his dear sister Mary. She and George Melville had sung duets together, and from that had been led to try a duet through life; and a very sad and inharmonious life they had made of it.
So poor Elsie's natural tastes were discouraged and thwarted; and after the positive lessons were over, and her education was said to be finished, she felt vacuity and ennui when Jane rejoiced in full employment. The housekeeping was ostensibly taken by the sisters in alternate weeks; but though Jane relinquished the keys for the stated period, she never relinquished the superintendence. She remembered what Elsie forgot; she looked forward where Elsie would have scrambled in the best way she could through the passing hour, and constantly thinking for her and remedying her blunders. Elsie was apt to forget that any responsibility rested on herself.
Nothing in their singular training was considered odder than that, while they were educated in a more masculine manner than most boys, they were obliged at the same time to make a greater proportion of their own clothes than any girls of their own rank or circumstances, and that they had been carefully and systematically taught to make them in the best manner possible. The only instructions which they had received from one of their own sex had been given to them by an excellent plain needlewoman, a first-class dressmaker, and a fashionable milliner; and in the last two branches Elsie's taste had made her excel her sister even more than in French and Italian.
At the time of their uncle's death, Jane was twenty-three years old, and Elsie two years younger. They had but very recently given up regular study, for their uncle thought girls were far too soon "finished", as it is called, and turned out in a very incomplete state of mental and moral development. He would not let them think themselves educated till they had seen more of the world than could be done in Edinburgh, which was a city he had rather a contempt for, as a mere provincial capital, too superstitious and narrow-minded for his taste. Paris and London were the schools for men, and therefore, according to his notions, for women also; but when the time arrived for the tour on the Continent and the winter in London, which had been promised to the girls, he felt his health had given way, though he had no positive illness, and delayed leaving home till the following year, when he hoped to be able to enjoy it, and to show all he meant to show to the girls without fatigue or indifference. If he had been able to go with them on the previous year, as had been arranged, he would probably have left his fortune otherwise, for Mr. Dalzell's attentions had only been of recent date.
As the news of the will spread, every one said they really ought to call on the Melvilles, poor things; but no one was in a hurry to perform so disagreeable a duty. Mrs. Dalzell was so astounded by the change that was made in her son's prospects, and so embarrassed lest she should be looked to for assistance in the present urgent necessities of the girls, that though she had been by far the most intimate and cordial of their friends, she was not the first to visit them. Three or four matrons had come and gone, who had made but short calls, and who had taken refuge in commonplace inquiries as to how and when Mr. Hogarth had been first taken ill, and at what hour he died, but had given very little sympathy, and no advice. The minister of the parish had called, as in duty bound, on the day after the funeral, and surprised both Jane and Elsie by a style of conversation very different from any they had ever heard from his lips. In his previous visits to Cross Hall he had never talked of anything but the weather, and crops, and the news of the neighbourhood. His tastes, his studies, his politics, and his faith were so opposite to those of Mr. Hogarth that there was no safety, and likely to be no pleasure, in conversation that left the neutral ground he took. But now, when the eccentric and sceptical Mr. Hogarth had crowned all this sins by an act of such injustice to his nieces, and they were in affliction from bereavement and poverty, he wished to give them spiritual comfort, and to teach them something that he knew had been omitted in their education; but he couched his consolation in language that seemed strangely unfamiliar to the girls he addressed, and when he spoke of crosses to be borne, that God has made crooks in every lot that no man may make straight—when he dwelt upon the temptations of riches, and the difficulty with which the rich can enter the kingdom of Heaven, and hoped that his young friends would see the hand of God in this trying dispensation, and would follow humbly His leading—Jane, who hoped to conquer her difficulties, and did not mean to succumb to them, did not feel much comforted or edified by the well-meant exhortation. Both girls felt pained, too, by the reflections he cast on their late uncle, and by the warning to be prepared for sudden death, as this had been an instance of the Master coming when no one was looking for Him, and when the loins were not girt, nor the light burning. Both girls had loved their uncle; and even though Elsie felt that he had been often hard to her, and that the will was not a just one, she could not bear the idea that Mr. Herries suggested of his probable place in the future state, while Jane felt indignant.
They had both hoped for some help and comfort from Mrs. Dalzell; but when her visit was so long delayed, their expectations fell considerably. Jane had become so tired of the useless kind of condolence that was offered, that she determined to ask for advice from the next person who came, and that happened to be Mrs. Dalzell. She spoke a little more freely and kindly to the girls than other people had done; but still she was keeping serious difficulties at arm's length, when Jane turned rather sharply round on her with the abrupt question——
"What do you think we ought to do, Mrs. Dalzell?"
"Indeed, I cannot say, Miss Melville. This most unaccountable conduct of Mr. Hogarth's has taken us all by surprise, so much that I can think of nothing but overturning the will. I am sure when William told me of the extraordinary disposition of the property, I felt—I cannot tell you how I felt. Such a shocking thing to leave all to a son whom nobody ever heard of before, and to leave his sister's children destitute. You certainly have a claim on the heir, for a maintenance at least. He should be made to refund a part of the spoil."
"He would if he could, but it is forbidden. There is no help in that way," said Jane. "But employment, Mrs. Dalzell; can you suggest any employment for us?"
Mrs. Dalzell hesitated. "Mrs. Chalmers is in need of a finishing governess for Emma and Robina; but I am afraid neither of you two young ladies would suit her, for we cannot get music-masters here, and one must have a governess who has a good knowledge of music. If Mr. Maxwell had not just engaged a tutor for his boys, you might have perhaps undertaken that place, Miss Melville."
"I think I might," said Jane.
"Would it not be pleasanter, if we have to take situations, to go to a distance," said Elsie. "I do not think I could I bear you or myself to be near Cross Hall when everything is so changed."
"It would be more agreeable, I have no doubt, Miss Elsie; and I cannot help thinking that in such a place as Edinburgh or Glasgow, where there are masters and mistresses for everything, you could get on by having classes, or engaging as teachers at some institution. In the country we want governesses and schoolmistresses to know everything a girl ought to learn."
"Is there nothing but teaching that we can do?" said Jane.
"Well, you know there is nothing that a gentlewoman can turn to in such circumstances as yours but teaching, and I would be very glad indeed to see you both in nice comfortable situations. By-the-by, Miss Elsie, I copied into my album the very sweet verses you sent me, and have brought them back to you. Are they really your own? William says he thinks they are."
"Yes," said Elsie, "they are original."
"Well, I could not have thought it; they are extremely pretty."
"By-the-by," said Jane, "do you not know Miss Thomson, Mrs. Dalzell? My uncle always spoke of her with respect and admiration, as an instance of the skill and success with which a woman can conduct masculine avocations. A gentlewoman-farmer, and a thriving one. I wish we had known her."
"Oh, yes. I do know Miss Thomson. Of course we are not exactly in the same position, we being proprietors, while she is only a farmer; but she is a most excellent and estimable woman in her way, though she is a bit of a character. She is now growing old, and not so active as she has been."
"She is said to be a benevolent and a kind-hearted, as well as a clever woman," said Jane.
"Oh, yes; and well she may be liberal, for she has made money, and has not the status to keep up that old country families must maintain."
"I wonder if she would engage me as her helper, and teach me farming. I know a good deal of theoretical agricultural chemistry. Will you be so good as give me a letter of introduction to her; I should feel greatly obliged to you."
Mrs. Dalzell willingly granted this small request, and felt much disposed to magnify its importance. It would be a good thing if, without any trouble or sacrifice on her own part, she could aid her dear young friends by bringing them into contact with a person who was more able to further their views than herself. She was sure that Miss Thomson was the very person to apply to, for of course she would take an interest in a young lady so unfortunately situated. It was so well thought of on Miss Melville's part; but then Miss Melville was always so quick and sensible. The letter of introduction was written, and then Mrs. Dalzell took leave.
Next day Elsie was languidly reading the local weekly journal, when she came upon a paragraph which related to themselves. Mr. Hogarth's will was described and commented on. There was congratulation for the heir and commiseration for the nieces.
"Oh, Jane," said she, "is it not dreadful to be brought before the public in this way; everybody must be talking about us, and of course everybody has got hold of the story of William Dalzell and you too. I am glad they did not put that in the newspapers, at any rate. Every one will think that he gave you up, and will fancy you are so distressed about it."
"We cannot help either what people think or what they say. I do not wonder at the COURIER making a long paragraph on the subject, for they have not had such an interesting piece of local news since Mr. Fisher committed suicide."
"I do not like the appearance of my own name in print," said Elsie.
"It is a very pretty name, nevertheless, and would look as well on the title-page of a book as any I know—only in a newspaper you do not like it," said Jane. "I must bid you good-bye for a few hours now, for I am going to Miss Thomson's. I am going to ride, and will not be very long."
Miss Thomson had just taken up the local newspaper after her morning ride over the farm, and had read the peculiarly interesting paragraph relating to Mr. Hogarth's will, when Mrs. Dalzell's note was put into her hands, and Miss Melville was announced.
Miss Thomson was a very fine-looking old lady, with keen, though also kind grey eyes, looking out from rather shaggy eyebrows, and an open frank smile on her mouth. The colour of health still bloomed on a cheek that had seen sixty summers and winters, and the elasticity of youth had only been transformed into the dignity and repose of a green old age. It is better to be at the head of the commonalty than dragging in the rear of the gentry, and for substantial comfort, liberal housekeeping, generous almsgiving, and frank hospitality, the farmhouse of Allendale was out and out superior to the mansion of Moss Tower, where the Dalzells had lived for at least two centuries.
As Mrs. Dalzell's note had been introductory and not explanatory, Miss Thomson could not guess the cause of the unexpected visit. She, however, kindly welcomed Miss Melville, and asked her to sit down, which Jane did with an ease and youthful dignity that was as suitable to her time of life as Miss Thomson's at three-score.
"I have called, madam," said Jane, "because I have always admired you, and wished to know you; and also because at this critical juncture I have thought that your advice would be far more valuable to me than that of people who have never made an effort or conquered an obstacle. You know our position"—and she glanced at the open newspaper.
"Yes, I do. I feel both surprised and grieved at your uncle's extraordinary settlement," said Miss Thomson.
"My uncle always used to point to you as an instance of what women could do if they tried, and I am sure he must have had you in his eye when he felt so sure of my success in life. Could you, would you teach me to farm, and I will keep your books, write your letters, manage your household, be your factotum, if you will allow me. I have studied agricultural chemistry, and if you would permit me to learn from you the practical details of farming operations, I might really be of use to you."
Miss Thomson shook her head. "My dear girl, you do not know what you ask. Without capital, and a large capital, no one need think of taking a farm in Scotland; and all those things that you offer to do for me are precisely the things that I can do for myself, and I hope will be able to do for the next ten years. I should be better for an assistant, it is true, but it must be some one who can ride to market, buy stock, sell to butchers, take or let grass parks, and oversee my working farm steward, for I am getting rather old for such long rides as I have been in the habit of taking on the farm. And, my poor girl, anxious as I am to befriend you in your straits, and to encourage your honest ambition, I have nephews and nieces, and grand-nephews and grand-nieces of my own, who have all claims upon me. My two married sisters have large families, and not very much to keep them on, so I have to help in various ways. Do as you like, the burden of bringing up the next generation is pretty equally divided among us, and I am only thankful that Providence has so prospered me that I can be of use of the young people. I have arranged that my nephew, John Forrester, is to come and do for me what I cannot so well manage without help; and as I have no idea of falling behind the high farming of the times, I have given him a thorough course of the agricultural chemistry, so much in fashion, before he tries the practical branch of the science. I hope he will not be too new-fangled and upsetting altogether with his theories; but he is a good lad in the main, and I think he will do. Besides John, I have to help his brother James to begin business, and I have two nieces whose education I am making more thorough than their parents could afford to do."
"So you have no room for me," said Jane. "I should have known it. I have no claim on any one, not a relation in the world but a sister, less fit to cope with it than myself, and a cousin, newly found under sad circumstances, and tied down not to assist us. But could you not give us any encouragement, for that is what I want most? Your own experience——"
"My own experience is very different from what yours can be. My father died in the early years of a long lease of twenty-one years, when he had laid out several thousands, all the capital he had, and all he could raise, upon the land, hoping to get it out again with interest and a large profit, for the farm was a fine one, though it had been badly managed before. He had no son to take up the lease; and had things been wound up, and the lease sold, there would have been a heavy loss. I believed that I could manage the concern, and got leave from the landlord, rather as a favour, to continue on Allendale. I was industrious and methodical, and reduced the expenses of management below what they had been in my father's time, and consequently made more money than even he could have made of it. My landlord willingly took me again for a tenant when the lease was expired, particularly as I offered as much as any one for it. The value of the lease, stock, and crop, that I began business with, could not have been less for me to keep than 5,000 pounds, though if they had been sold they might have brought only half that amount. You see I had a good start. I like the work, and it likes me. I am a richer, a happier, and a more useful woman, than I could have been if I had had 20,000 pounds all left me in a lump."
"This is very different, indeed, from our case," said Jane. "It is the want of capital that I feel so very hard. I could make something of capital."
"I suppose that for you, Miss Melville, with nothing but youth, health, and a stout heart, there is nothing but a governess's situation to be thought of. Society seems to say to gentlewomen who have not enough to live on, 'Teach or marry;' and the governess market and the marriage market are both sadly overstocked. People have not all got a taste for either alternative. Here am I, a sensible, well-disposed woman, but yet I never could teach in my life, and I never had any wish to marry."
"The world is large," said Jane; "there are thousands of fields of labour. Uncle did not wish us to be governesses, I am quite sure; he did not educate us for it; and I do not think he wished us to marry either."
"He should have left you a small competence—not enough to tempt others, but to save you from being tempted yourself," said Miss Thomson.
"I dare say he made a great mistake; but I think he fancied that the strong necessity for effort would stimulate us to exertion. To vegetate on a small annuity would not be so pleasant as to earn even the same income for ourselves," said Jane.
"Well, my dear girl, I do not fear for you, though things look so very gloomy at present. You have got the stuff in you. There is promise of success in your step and voice—in your quick eye and honest smile. Is your sister like yourself?—no; you said she was less fit for the life that is before you; that is a pity."
"It is; but we love each other so dearly—we are all the world to each other."
"Well, that is good for both of you; love is just as great a necessity as air or food. I cannot help thinking that you should try your luck in Edinburgh; you are more likely to find what will suit you there than in a country side, like this of Swinton. Have you any friends there?"
"None to rely upon," said Jane.
"Your cousin that has come into such an inheritance, does he seem friendly?"
"Very much so, but he is forbidden to give us help."
"In money, perhaps; but it would be only right if he would take some trouble to make inquiries, and speak for you to any one he thinks could employ you. It would be a satisfaction to his own mind, besides."
"I have a letter from him this morning, saying that he has heard of something that he fears is not good enough for me, or either of us, and urging me to come to Edinburgh, to see for myself, offering me or both of us, if we are so inclined, the hospitality of his humble home, as he calls it. I cannot afford to go to a hotel, and we have no friend to whose house we could go uninvited, so I feel inclined to accept the invitation."
"You had better do so, Miss Melville; and as it may be a while before you meet with work, and as travelling about to look for it costs money, you will be so good as to take this, with my best wishes," said Miss Thomson, opening her desk and taking out a five-pound note and handing it to Jane, who, though she had fancied she never could have accepted money from a stranger, felt this to be offered so frankly and kindly, that she thanked Miss Thomson and took it.
"This is the best sign of you yet—no foolish pride—no flying in my face with indignant disclaiming of what people call charity, and throwing the bit of paper on the carpet for the lass to sweep out, but a sensible and reasonable way of taking from a fellow-creature what she would take as pleasantly from you if she needed it and you had it to spare. You will do, Miss Melville; only mind, as the old Scotch proverb has it, 'You must set a stout heart to a stey brae'."
On Jane's return to Cross Hall she found her sister in very much better spirits than when she set out for Allendale. An idea had struck Elsie, consequent partly on the remark Jane had made about her name looking well on the title-page of a book, and partly on her seeing in the Poet's Corner of the SWINTON COURIER some verses very inferior to her own which Mrs. Dalzell had returned to her. She was a poet; and what was there to hinder her from distinguishing herself in the literary world by thoughts that breathe and words that burn; and also from earning in this pleasant way a handsome income. Hope arose out of the vision; the fanciful and fragile mind that every one had despised and undervalued might, perhaps, do greater things than Jane's clear head and busy hands. Never had her ideas flowed more rapidly, or her words arranged themselves so well. She began by bewailing her own sad fate, the loss of fortune, and the desertion of friends; and the sincerity of her feelings made it feel like an inspiration. Things that appeared to her to be new thoughts crowded on her, and before Jane's return she had finished a short poem very much to her own satisfaction.
She would scarcely wait to hear the result of her sister's visit to Miss Thomson, but impetuously and affectionately made Jane sit down to listen to her lay.
"I wish I were a good judge, Elsie. It seems to me to be very pretty. Here and there I would alter a word; but, on the whole, I think you have succeeded," was the welcome criticism.
"You think so; and you are so prosaic. I feel as if I could go on for ever writing. Don't you think you have seen worse verses printed, not in a newspaper, but in a book?"
"I read so little of that kind of literature; but I am sure you often read pieces to me, from both newspapers and books, that do not interest me half so much."
"Oh, Jane, I count so much on your good opinion, because I know that you will give it honestly, and because I think if I can please you I may please anybody." And Elsie looked so animated, so joyous, and so spiritual, that Jane's hopes rose. She, indeed, was no judge of poetry, but anything that could give courage and hope to her sister's mind must be a good thing.
"You must persevere, my dear. It will do yourself good, if no other good comes of it," said she.
"But other good is sure to come of it, Jane. Do not such things get printed, and of course the writer is paid for them? I can write so fast; and now I know some of the real trials of life, I can speak from experience."
"And you are the type of the bulk of the poetry-reading public," said Jane thoughtfully. "The lady readers, I mean; generous, impulsive, and romantic; you ought to know what will suit the public taste. I wish you all success. But I have failed in my object, and have been advised to go to Edinburgh. You saw I had a letter this morning from Mr. Hogarth, with an invitation for both of us to come and live at his house, and look about us. You would not like to go?"
"No, Jane, I would far rather stay here and write; but it would be uncomfortable for you to go by yourself. I will go, if you very much wish it."
"No, my dear, if you think this writing is to be your vocation, it is not necessary for you to look for a situation, and I do not mind going by myself, only I feared you would be unhappy alone."
"I will be quite happy. I must have something better than this done while you are away."
"I must write to my cousin, accepting the invitation, and telling him when to expect me. The sooner I can go the better."
Francis Hogarth was waiting for Jane at the railway station, and as they walked together to his house in the outskirts of the town, she eagerly asked him about the situation he had heard of that he feared would not suit.
Her cousin hesitated a little, for it seemed so far below her deserts and her capabilities; but Mr. Rennie, the manager of the bank in which he had so long been employed, had told him that the —— Institution, the principal asylum for the insane in Scotland, and an admirably managed establishment, wanted a second matron; and that from the accounts he had heard of Miss Melville's practical talents, it was probable that she would be the very person to fill the situation well. Jane eagerly asked after the duties and the salary, but Francis could not give her all the particulars she desired. Mr. Rennie was to see one of the Directors of the —— Institution on that evening, and was to make inquiries; he had some influence with one or two of the directors, and would use it in Miss Melville's favour if she was disposed to apply for it. It was expected that there would be at least fifty applications for it, and a little interest was a good auxiliary even to the greatest merits in the world. The duties, so far as Francis knew them, were the active superintendence of a large number of female servants, and the charge of all the stores, both of food and clothing, required for a household of several hundreds, who could none of them think for themselves. He did not know if she would come much in contact with the patients; he hoped not, for he thought it would be a sufficiently exhausting and anxious life without that. He had heard that the institution parted with the present occupant of the situation for incompetence—that there had been both waste and peculation.
"I feel sure that my superintendence of my uncle's household, and my knowledge of accounts, should enable me to fill such a situation well, and from the number of applications, and the responsible nature of the duties, the salary should be handsome," said Jane. "I think I should send in an application, and I feel obliged both to Mr. Rennie and you for the suggestion. The establishment is well managed; you know it is one of those to which my uncle's property was to go in case you disobeyed his injunctions. He had a high opinion of the kind and rational treatment of the patients there. I do not see any objection to mingling with them either. I might be very useful."
"It seems a throwing away of your talents and acquirements, to make a mere housekeeper of you," said Francis.
"It is not such an insignificant office after all. What contributes to the comfort and happiness of a family every day, and all day long, is surely as valuable a thing as much book-learning; and to keep such a large establishment going smoothly and satisfactorily requires much care and thought, and a particular kind of talent, which I think I possess, and which such a life will develop. When can I see Mr. Rennie, and when can I send in my application?"
"Mr. Rennie particularly desires to see you to-morrow morning; and if you like the prospect he holds out, your application can be sent in immediately."
When they reached the small but prettily situated cottage occupied by Francis, Jane was agreeably struck with the comfort and neatness of everything about it. The furniture, without being costly, was good of its kind; the very excellent collection of books was methodically arranged in ample book-shelves, and carefully preserved by glass doors; the bright fire in the grate—for though it was called summer, it was but a bleak cold day in Edinburgh; and the respectable-looking middle-aged woman who had just laid the cloth for dinner, and now brought it in; all gave an air of comfort and repose to a dwelling much humbler than she had been accustomed to live in, but far better than any she could hope for a while to occupy. There were on a side table a few costly articles of VERTU, and a magnificent folio of engravings, which had been bought by Mr. Hogarth since his accession to fortune; but substantial comfort had been attained long before.
Jane was rather surprised to see the large proportion of poetry and fiction that filled the book-shelves. Little did Mr. Hogarth the elder suppose that the bank clerk, whose outer life was so satisfactorily practical, had an inner life whose elements were as fanciful and unreal as poor Elsie's. His taste was certainly more severe and fastidious than hers, for he was older, and had read more; but his love, both of art and poetry, was very strong, and had been to him in his long solitary struggle with fortune a constant and unfailing pleasure. He had found in them some amends for the want of relatives and the want of sympathy; and now his heart turned with strong affection to both of his cousins, and especially to the one who treated him with so much delicacy of feeling and such generous confidence. It was like finding a long-lost sister; there was so much to ask and to answer on either side. Jane liked to talk of her uncle; and Francis' curiosity about his unknown father, whom he had only occasionally seen at long intervals as a stranger who took a little interest in him, was satisfied by her clear and graphic descriptions of his opinions, his talk, and his habits; whilst she, beginning a new life, and doubtful of the issue, eagerly asked of his early experiences, and liked to chronicle every little step in a steady and well-deserved progress.
Though Jane had such a practical turn of mind, and such an excellent education, it must not be supposed that she knew much of the world. Educate women as you will, that knowledge is rarely attained at twenty-three; and she had lived so much in a Utopia of her own, fancying that things that were right were always expedient, and that they should always be valued for their intrinsic worth, that she did not see the difficulties of her situation as clearly as many people who had not half her understanding. She and her uncle had been too apt to talk of things as they ought to be, and not as they actually were. With all Jane's quiet good sense, there were points on which she could be enthusiastic, and on this evening the successful cousin was struck by the warm expressions of an optimism in which he could not share, uttered by one who had good cause for complaint and dissatisfaction.
When the cousins went together to the Bank of Scotland on the following day, and were shown into Mr. Rennie's private room, Jane's hopes were somewhat damped by the details she received about the situation. The duties were even greater than she had supposed, consisting in the active and complete superintendence of a great many female servants, and a slighter control over a still larger number of female keepers, who also acted as housemaids and chambermaids; the control of the workroom, so as to see that there was no waste, extravagance, or pilfering there; the arrangements necessary in the cooking and distribution of such large quantities of food, so that each should have enough, and yet that there should be no opportunity of theft; and the watchfulness required to prevent any of the girls employed in the establishment from flirting with any of the convalescent gentlemen. The wages given by the directors had been too low to keep servants long in the place, or to secure a good class of girls who would be above dishonesty or other weaknesses; and this made the duties of their superintendent particularly irksome; while there was a good deal to be done for the patients themselves, though not so much by the second as by the upper matron.
All this seemed a formidable amount of work for one head and one pair of eyes to do; and when Jane was told that the salary was 30 pounds a-year, and that so many applications had been and were likely to be sent in, that great interest was necessary for success, she was by no means so decided on sending in hers. Even the privileges annexed to the situation, of a small bedroom for herself, and a parlour shared by two others, with a fortnight's holidays in the year, though very necessary to prevent the second matron being removed speedily into one of the wards, did not seem so tempting as to revive Jane's last night's enthusiasm.
"Surely," said she, "the payment is very small for the work and the responsibility."
"There is so much competition for a thing of this kind," said Mr. Rennie. "There are so many women in Scotland who have too little to live on, or nothing at all, that they will gladly snatch at anything that will give them food and lodging, and the smallest of salaries. I know of a situation of 12 pounds a-year that received forty-five applications from reduced gentlewomen. The payment is never in proportion to the work."
"But the work has been badly done hitherto, I understand," said Jane. "It is not having too little to live on that makes a woman fit for such a situation as this. Why do not they raise the salary and insist on higher qualifications?"
"I cannot tell why they do not, but so it is," said Mr. Rennie.
"Is there any chance of rising from second to first matron?" asked Jane. "That is worth 90 pounds, you say."
"In the course of fifteen or twenty years, perhaps; but the duties are very distinct at present, and require different kinds of talent."
"Yes," said Jane; "and great interest with the directors might get a new person in, and fifteen or twenty years' services would have less weight. I do not feel inclined to work twenty years for 30 pounds even with a better chance of 90 pounds at last than is offered here. It is at best a prison life, too; not the life I had hoped for, nor what I am best fitted for. My cousin's place is filled up here, I understand."
"Every one below Mr. Ormistown has got a step, and we only want a junior clerk. No doubt we will have plenty of applicants."
"Will you take me?" said Jane. "Do not shake your head, Mr. Rennie. Cousin Francis, speak a word for me; I am quite fit for the situation."
"If you could do anything to further Miss Melville's views in any way you would lay me under a deep and lasting obligation, Mr. Rennie," said Francis. "I have most unconsciously done both of my cousins a great injury, which I am not allowed to repair. My late father had as much confidence in this young lady's talents and qualifications as he had in mine. I know she is only too good for the situation she asks for."
Mr. Rennie was disposed to try to please Mr. Hogarth. He had always had a high opinion of him, and had great confidence in his judgment and integrity. He was to take the chair at a dinner given to the whole bank staff by this man who had advanced all his subordinates one step, and left them pleased and hopeful; and he could make the usual complimentary speeches with more sincerity than is common at public dinners. He had also introduced the new laird of Cross Hall to his wife and family on equal terms, and they had been very much pleased with him. But when Miss Melville again gravely asked for the vacant clerkship, his habitual courtesy could scarcely prevent him from laughing outright.
"It would never do, my dear madam," said he; "young ladies have quite a different sphere from that of ledgers and pass-books."
"But I would do the work," said Jane, opening a ponderous volume that lay on the manager's table, and running up a column of figures with a rapidity and precision which he could not but admire. Then on a piece of loose paper she wrote in a beautiful, clear, businesslike hand an entry as she would put it in the book, showing that she perfectly well understood the RATIONALE of the Dr. and the Cr. side of the ledger; and then gravely turning to Mr. Rennie, she asked him why she would not do.
"It is not the custom, my dear young lady; I can get young men in plenty who want the place."
"I have no doubt that you can, but I want it too; and, in consideration of the prejudice against my sex, I will take the place, and accept the salary you would give to a raw lad of sixteen, though I am an educated and experienced woman of twenty-three. I want something that I can rise by. I could be satisfied with the career of my cousin, without the fortune at the end. Young women in Paris are clerks and bookkeepers; why should they not be so here?"
"France is not Scotland, or Auld Reekie Paris. We consider our customs very much better than the French. Why, you know quite well it would never do. You would turn the heads of all my clerks, and make them idle away their time and neglect their work. You do not see the danger of the thing."
"No, I do not," answered Jane. "Do I look like a person who would turn any man's head? If I do such mischief, turn me off; but I ask, in the name of common sense and common justice, a fair trial. If I do not give satisfaction I will stand the consequences."
The serious earnestness with which Jane pleaded for so strange an employment—the matter-of-fact way in which she stood upon her capabilities, without regarding suitabilities—impressed Francis Hogarth while it embarrassed Mr. Rennie. It was impossible to out-reason so extraordinary an applicant, but it was still more impossible to grant her request. Skilled as the banker was in the delicate and difficult art of saying "No," it had to be said oftener and more distinctly to Jane Melville than to the most pertinacious of customers, to whom discount must be refused.
"I admire your spirit, Miss Melville. If one thing cannot be accomplished you must try another. But in an establishment like this, you see, I could not possibly take you in. A private employer might admire your undoubted ability; but I am responsible to a Board of Directors, and they would decidedly oppose such an innovation. Your sex, you are aware, are not noted for powers of secrecy. I dare say it is a prejudice; but bank directors and bank customers have prejudices, and no one likes any additional chance of having his affairs made public."
"You know you are talking nonsense, my good sir," said Jane. "It is because women have never had any responsibilities that they have been supposed to be unworthy of trust. Where they have been honoured with confidence they have been quite as faithful to it as any men."
"But, my dear madam," said Mr. Rennie, "what would be the consequence if all the clever women like yourself were to thrust themselves into masculine avocations? Do you not see that the competition would reduce the earnings of men, and then there would be fewer who could afford to marry? The customs of society press hard upon the exceptional women who court a wider field of usefulness, but I believe the average happiness is secured by——"
"By a system that makes forty-five educated women eager to give their life's work for 12 pounds a-year, and fifty applying for the magnificent salary of 30 pounds for a most exhausting and responsible situation. These are not all exceptional women, Mr. Rennie, but many of the average women whose happiness you are so careful of. You know there are enormous numbers of single women and widows in this country who must be supported, either by their own earnings or by those of the other sex, for they MUST live, you know."
Mr. Rennie smiled at Jane's earnestness.
"You smile, 'ON NE VOIT PAS LA NECESSITE'," said Jane. "I dare say it would really be better for us to die."
"I am sure nothing was further from my lips than either the language or the sentiment. I think your case especially hard—ESPECIALLY hard."
"I thought it was, till I heard of these numerous applications; and the sad thing to me is, that it is NOT especially hard. Some innovation must be made: have you and your directors not the courage to begin? I am willing to endure all the ridicule that may be cast on myself."
"There are other departments of business where your unquestionable abilities and skill might be employed and well paid for; but here, I must repeat, it is impossible—impossible—perfectly impossible. Mr. Hogarth is going to favour us with his company this evening, and Mrs. Rennie and my daughter Eliza would be most happy to see you. I would like to introduce my daughter to a young lady who knows business so well. You will be good enough to pardon my necessary incivility: most painful to me it has been to refuse your request, backed by such excellent reasons,—but you will accompany Mr. Hogarth, and show you are not unforgiving."
Jane accepted the invitation willingly. Francis was not pressed for time; the bank had released him without the usual notice, so he offered to accompany his cousin wherever she chose to go to.
"Do you think," said she, when they were again in the street, "that I could get employment with any bookseller or publisher? I will try that next. Will you go with me to a respectable house in that line of business?"
There was no situation vacant for any one in the first two establishments they called at. In the third there was a reader wanted to correct manuscripts and proofs, and as Mr. Hogarth was supposed to be the person applying for the employment, he was asked his qualifications. When he somewhat awkwardly put forward Miss Melville, the publisher respectfully but firmly declined to engage her.
"Whatever I could or could not do—whatever salary I might ask—you object on account of my being a woman?" said Jane.
"Just so," said the publisher; "it is not the custom of the trade to employ LADIES OF THE PRESS. You do not know the terms or the routine of the business."
"I suppose I could learn them in an hour or two; but I see you do not wish to employ me, even if I had them at my finger-ends. Do you employ women in no way in your large establishment?"
"Yes, as authors; for we find that many books written by ladies sell quite as well as others."
"But in no other way?"
"Only in this," said the publisher, taking the cousins into a small room at the back of his large front shop, where eight or ten nice-looking girls were busily engaged in stitching together pamphlets and sheets to be ready for the bookbinder. "It is light work; they have not such long hours or such bad air, nor do they need much taste or skill as dressmakers do."
"So their wages are proportionally lower," said Jane.
"Just so," said the publisher; "and quite right they should be so."
"Of course; but do they not rise from stitching to bookbinding?"
"Ah! that is man's work. I have bookbinders on the premises, to finish the work that the girls have begun."
"And they spend their lives in this stitching—no progress—no improvement—mere mechanical drudgery."
"Yes; and in time they get very expert. You would be amazed at the rapidity with which they turn the work out of their hands. The division of labour reduces the price of binding materially."
"No doubt—for you have girls at low wages to do what is tedious, and men at higher to do what is artistic; that is a very fair division of labour," said Jane, bitterly.
"Nay, nay; I believe our profession, or rather trade, is more liberal to the sex than any other. Write a good book, and will give you a good price for it: design a fine illustration, and that has a market value independent of sex."
"I can neither write nor draw," said Jane, "but I would fain have been a corrector of the press; from that I might have risen to criticism, and become a reader and a judge of manuscript; but I see the case is hopeless. I suppose it is not you, but society who is to blame. Perhaps I may be reduced to the book-stitching yet; if so, will you give me a trial? In the meantime, I wish you good morning."
The publisher smiled and nodded. "A most eccentric young woman, and, I daresay, a deserving one; but she takes hold of the world at the wrong end," said he, as she went out to pursue her inquiry elsewhere.
"Now," said Jane, "I can release you, for I will make my next application myself. If I fail here I really will be surprised, for I make it to one who knows me."
Mrs. Dunn, the head of the dressmaking and millinery establishment where the Miss Melvilles had been initiated into these arts, had been very handsomely paid for instructing them, had always praised Jane's industry and Elsie's taste, and had held them up as patterns for all her young people. Of course she knew, as all the world knew, that they had been disinherited by their uncle, but she fancied they had other influential friends or relatives; so when Miss Melville was announced, she thought more of an order for mourning then of a request for employment. But the young lady, in her own plain way, went at once to the point.
"You were accustomed at the time I was with you to have a bookkeeper, who came regularly to make up your bills and your accounts. Have you the same arrangement still?"
"Yes, and the same gentleman; a first-rate hand at his figures; employed by many beside me," said Mrs. Dunn.
"Then he cannot miss one customer. Will you give the business to me on the same terms, for the sake of old times?"
"To you, Miss Melville! it is not worth your having. It is only by his having so many that he makes it pay, though he is as good an accountant as any in Edinburgh."
"I might in time get a good many too. Surely women might put all their work in the way of their own sex. I am quite competent; I convinced a bank manager to-day that I was fit for a situation in his establishment, but he did not like the idea of taking a young woman amongst his clerks. You can have no objection on that score. You know I will be quiet, careful, and methodical."
Mrs. Dunn was very sorry, but really nobody ever thought of having young ladies to make up their books. It was not the custom of any trade. A gentleman coming in gave confidence both to herself and to the public; and she had no fault to find with Mr. McDonald—a most gentlemanly man, with a wife and family, too—it would not be fair to part with him without any cause. And, indeed, the business was not what it used to be—it needed the most careful management to get along, and she could not risk having a change in her establishment just at present; perhaps by-and-by.
"While grass grows horses starve," said Jane. "If I establish a reputation and get employment from others you could not object to me. Everyone is alike; neither man nor woman will give me a chance.
"I cannot blame you, Mrs. Dunn, for thinking and acting so much like other people."
"I am sure it would be better for you to take a nice comfortable situation; but I thought you had friends. If there was any other way that I could serve you in I would be so happy. If you had asked to be taken into the work-room—but I suppose you look higher."
"I do not know how low I may look ere long, Mrs. Dunn. It is quite possible I may trouble you again, but in the meantime——"
"In the meantime I want you to come into the show-room and see the new sleeve just out from Paris—it would improve the dress you have on amazingly. I suppose that was made in Swinton. And you must see Mademoiselle; she is with us still, and as positive as ever; and many of the young people you will recognise. How we have all talked about you and Miss Alice lately. It was such an extraordinary settlement!"
Jane forced herself into the show-room, listened mechanically to the exclamations and remarks of Mademoiselle, the forewoman, shook hands with all the work-girls she had known, looked with vacant eyes on the new sleeve, and heard its merits descanted on very fully; then went back into Mrs. Dunn's parlour, and had a glass of ginger wine and a piece of seed-cake with her; after which she took leave, and Mrs. Dunn felt satisfied, for she had paid Miss Melville a great deal of attention in spite of her altered circumstances.
"Where am I to go to now?" said Jane to herself as she again trod the pavement of Princes Street and walked along it, then turned up into the quieter parts of the town where professions are carried on. She passed by shops, and warehouses, banks and insurance companies' offices, commission agencies, land agencies, lawyer's offices.
"Every one seems busy, every place filled, and there appears to be no room for me," she said to herself. "I must try Mr. MacFarlane, however; he knows something of me, and will surely feel friendly. I hope he will not be so much astonished at my views as other people have been."
Mr MacFarlane, however, was quite as much surprised as Mr. Rennie, or the publisher, when Jane asked him for employment as a copying or engrossing clerk, either indoors or out of doors. He was quite as much disposed to exaggerate the difficulties she herself would feel from not understanding the forms of law, or not being able to write the particular style of caligraphy required for legal instruments. He had heard of the singular education Henry Hogarth, an old crony and contemporary of his own, had given to his nieces, and as his own old-bachelor crotchets lay in quite another direction, he had never thought of that education doing anything but adding to their difficulties, and preventing them from getting married. When the girls had been left in poverty he only thought of their trying for the nice quiet situations that every one recommended, but which seemed so hard to obtain, and then sinking into obscure old maidenhood in the bosom of a respectable family. When Jane mentioned the matronship, Mr. MacFarlane strongly advised her to apply for it, for the salary was more than she could look for in a situation, and she would probably be more independent. But as for him employing a girl as a law-writer, what would the profession say to that? It was quite out of the question.
"I fear I have no turn for teaching, but I suppose I must try for something better than a situation. Could I not get up classes?"
"Oh! yes, certainly—classes if you feel competent."
"Not quite for French or Italian. My uncle was never satisfied with our accent; and we must advertise French acquired on the Continent now-a-days, if we want to succeed in Edinburgh. The things I could teach best—English grammar and composition, writing and arithmetic, history, and the elements of science—are monopolized by men; but I must make an effort. I am sorry my dear old friend, Mr. Wilson, is no more, he would have recommended me strongly; but I will go to Mr. Bell. I studied under him for four winters, and though I am threatening him with competition, I know I was his favourite pupil, and I hope he will help me. I never would encroach on his field if I could find any elbow-room elsewhere."
This was another long walk, and to no purpose, for Mr. Bell was away from home, in bad health, for an indefinite period, leaving his classes in the care of a young man, who had been strongly recommended to him.
The other masters she had had were not likely to take nearly so much interest in her as Mr. Bell; but she was resolved to leave no stone unturned, and went to see several of them. They gave Miss Melville very faint hopes of success. Edinburgh was overdone with masters and mistresses, rents were very high, and classes the most uncertain things possible. But she might apply at one of the institutions. Thither she went, and found that her want of accomplishments prevented her from getting a good situation; and her want of experience was objected to for any situation at all. With a few more lessons, and a little training, she might suit by-and-by.
She was glad that those long walks and many interviews occupied the whole day till the time Francis had appointed for dinner; she had not courage to face the empty house and the respectable woman-servant till she was sure her cousin would be at home to receive her. Heartsick, weary, and footsore she felt, when she reached the cottage where Francis was standing at the door to welcome her return.
"Well, friend," said he, "what news?"
"No good news. I suppose I must advertise. Perhaps there is one person in England or Scotland who would fancy I was worth employing, even though I am apparently very much at a discount."
"Are you much disheartened?"
"I am very tired," said she; "Rome was not built in a day. I was a fool to expect success at once."
"You are not too tired to go to Mrs. Rennie's with me this evening. I have ordered a carriage to call for us."
"Thank you, I will need it, and my dinner, too, in spite of the wine and cake at Mrs. Dunn's."
Her cousin's quiet sympathy and kindness soothed the girl's aching and anxious heart; she told him her experiences; and though he was not very much surprised at the result, he felt keenly for her disappointment. She had brought a little piece of needlework to fill up vacant hours, and after dinner she took it out, and soothed her excited feelings by the quiet feminine employment. There was an hour or more to be passed before the carriage came for them, and Francis sat on the other side of the fire cutting the leaves of a new book, and occasionally reading a passage that struck him. Had any one looked in at the time, he could not have guessed at the grief and anxiety felt by both of the cousins. No; it was like a quiet domestic picture of no recent date, not likely to be soon ended. Jane's sad face lighted up with an occasional smile at something said or something read; and Francis Hogarth saw more beauty in her countenance that evening than William Dalzell had ever seen in all the days he had spent with the supposed heiress whom he meant to marry.
An Evening At Mr. Rennie's
After an hour spent in this quiet way, Jane Melville was sufficiently rested and tranquillized to go among strangers, in spite of her knowing the idle curiosity with which she was likely to be regarded. There was a small party at Mr. Rennie's; but excepting herself and the ladies of the family, it was composed entirely of gentlemen. Now that Mr. Hogarth had come into a good landed property, he had spent more than one evening in the family of the bank manager, and had been discovered to be presentable anywhere; that he had very tolerable manners and good literary taste; and both Mrs. and Miss Rennie recollected well how often papa had spoken highly of him when he was only a clerk in the bank. Miss Rennie was about nineteen, the eldest of the family, rather pretty, slightly romantic, and a little fond of showing off her extensive acquaintance with modern literature. Her interest in Mr. Hogarth was great, though of recent date; and now to see one of the cousins whom he was forbidden to marry, on pain of losing all his newly-acquired wealth and consequence, was an exciting thing to a young lady who had suffered much from want of excitement. Her father had been able to tell her nothing of Miss Melville s personal appearance, though he had dwelt upon her abilities and her eccentric character, and told her age. Among the party was the publisher to whom Jane had applied for a situation, who had contributed his share of information about her; a young Edinburgh advocate, who had not very much to do at the bar; a Leith merchant, an old gentleman of property in the neighbourhood of the city, and two college students, all anxious to see people who were so much talked about.
"Decidedly plain and common-looking, and looks twenty-seven at least," was Miss Rennie's verdict on seeing Miss Melville.
"Plain, but uncommon-looking," was the opinion of the gentlemen on the subject. The open, intelligent, and womanly expression of countenance—the well-turned neck and shoulders—the easy, well-proportioned figure—though not of the slight ethereal style which Mr. Hawthorne admires, but rather of the healthy, well-developed flesh-and-blood character of British feminine beauty—might redeem a good deal of irregularity of features.
Though her self-possession had been sorely tried on this day, though she had been disappointed, and was now worn out and perplexed, and though her faith in human nature had been shaken, she made an effort to recover the equanimity necessary for such an evening as this, and succeeded. Her quiet and lady-like manner surprised Mr. Rennie; he had thought her masculine in the morning. She listened with patience and pleasure to Miss Rennie's playing and singing, and then looked over some books of engravings and prints with the old gentleman, who was a connoisseur. And when the advocate and the publisher, between whom there seemed to be a good understanding, entered into conversation on literary matters, and successful and unsuccessful works, she, thinking of her sister and her hopes, listened most attentively.
"Well," said the legal gentleman, "I like smart, clever writing, and don't object to a little personality now and then. It pays, too."
"Those things certainly take well," said the publisher, "but there are other things that take better."
"What are they?"
"Not at all in your way, Mr. Malcolm; but yet at the present time there is nothing that pays so well as an exciting religious novel on evangelical principles. Make all your unbelievers and worldly people villians, and crown your heroine, after unheard-of perils and persecutions, with the conversion of her lover, or the lover with the conversion of the heroine—the one does nearly as well as the other; but do not let them marry before conversion, on any account. Settle the hero down in the ministry, to which he dedicates talents that you may call as splendid as you please; make your fashionable conversation of your worldly people slightly blackguardly, and that of your pets very inane, with spots of religion coming out very strong now and then, and you will have more readers than Dickens, Bulwer, or Thackeray. Well-meaning mothers will put the book without fear into the hands of their daughters. It is considered harmless Sunday reading for those who find Sunday wearisome, and it is thought an appropriate birth-day present for young people of both sexes. I dare say these books are harmless enough, but their success is wonderfully disproportioned to their merits. They must be such easy writing, too, for you need never puzzle yourself as to whether it would be natural or consistent for such a character to steal, or for another to murder. 'The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked,' and the novelist at least takes no pains to know it."