TALES AND NOVELS, VOLUME I
It has been somewhere said by Johnson, that merely to invent a story is no small effort of the human understanding. How much more difficult is it to construct stories suited to the early years of youth, and, at the same time, conformable to the complicate relations of modern society—fictions, that shall display examples of virtue, without initiating the young reader into the ways of vice—narratives, written in a style level to his capacity, without tedious detail, or vulgar idiom! The author, sensible of these difficulties, solicits indulgence for such errors as have escaped her vigilance.
In a former work the author has endeavoured to add something to the increasing stock of innocent amusement and early instruction, which the laudable exertions of some excellent modern writers provide for the rising generation; and, in the present, an attempt is made to provide for young people, of a more advanced age, a few Tales, that shall neither dissipate the attention, nor inflame the imagination.
In a work upon education, which the public has been pleased to notice, we have endeavoured to show that, under proper management, amusement and instruction may accompany each other through many paths of literature; whilst, at the same time, we have disclaimed and reprehended all attempts to teach in play. Steady, untired attention is what alone produces excellence. Sir Isaac Newton, with as much truth as modesty, attributed to this faculty those discoveries in science, which brought the heavens within the grasp of man, and weighed the earth in a balance. To inure the mind to athletic vigour is one of the chief objects of good education; and we have found, as far as our limited experience has extended, that short and active exertions, interspersed with frequent agreeable relaxation, form the mind to strength and endurance, better than long-continued feeble study.
Hippocrates, in describing the robust temperament, tells us that the athletae prepare themselves for the gymnasium by strong exertion, which they continued till they felt fatigue; they then reposed till they felt returning strength and aptitude for labour: and thus, by alternate exercise and indulgence, their limbs acquire the firmest tone of health and vigour. We have found, that those who have tasted with the keenest relish the beauties of Berquin, Day, or Barbauld, pursue a demonstration of Euclid, or a logical deduction, with as much eagerness, and with more rational curiosity, than is usually shown by students who are nourished with the hardest fare, and chained to unceasing labour.
"Forester" is the picture of an eccentric character—a young man who scorns the common forms and dependencies of civilized society; and who, full of visionary schemes of benevolence and happiness, might, by improper management, or unlucky circumstances, have become a fanatic and a criminal.
The scene of "The Knapsack" is laid in Sweden, to produce variety; and to show that the rich and poor, the young and old, in all countries, are mutually serviceable to each other; and to portray some of those virtues which are peculiarly amiable in the character of a soldier.
"Angelina" is a female Forester. The nonsense of sentimentality is here aimed at with the shafts of ridicule, instead of being combated by serious argument. With the romantic eccentricities of Angelina are contrasted faults of a more common and despicable sort. Miss Burrage is the picture of a young lady who meanly natters persons of rank; and who, after she has smuggled herself into good company, is ashamed to acknowledge her former friends, to whom she was bound by the strongest ties of gratitude.
"Mademoiselle Panache" is a sketch of the necessary consequences of imprudently trusting the happiness of a daughter to the care of those who can teach nothing but accomplishments.
"The Prussian Vase" is a lesson against imprudence, and on exercise of judgment, and an eulogium upon our inestimable trial by jury. This tale is designed principally for young gentlemen who are intended for the bar.
"The Good Governess" is a lesson to teach the art of giving lessons.
In "The Good Aunt," the advantages which a judicious early education confers upon those who are intended for public seminaries are pointed out. It is a common error to suppose that, let a boy be what he may, when sent to Eton, Westminster, Harrow, or any great school, he will be moulded into proper form by the fortuitous pressure of numbers; that emulation will necessarily excite, example lead, and opposition polish him. But these are vain hopes: the solid advantages which may be attained in these large nurseries of youth must be, in a great measure, secured by previous domestic instruction.
These Tales have been written to illustrate the opinions delivered in "Practical Education." As their truth has appeared to me to be confirmed by increasing experience, I sat down with pleasure to write this preface for my daughter. It is hoped that the following stories will afford agreeable relaxation from severer studies, and that they will be thought—what they profess to be—Moral Tales.
THE PRUSSIAN VASE
THE GOOD AUNT
ANGELINA; OR, L'AMIE INCONNUE
THE GOOD FRENCH GOVERNESS
Forester was the son of an English gentleman, who had paid some attention to his education, but who had some singularities of opinion, which probably influenced him in his conduct toward his children.
Young Forester was frank, brave, and generous, but he had been taught to dislike politeness so much, that the common forms of society appeared to him either odious or ridiculous; his sincerity was seldom restrained by any attention to the feelings of others. His love of independence was carried to such an extreme, that he was inclined to prefer the life of Robinson Crusoe in his desert island, to that of any individual in cultivated society. His attention had been early fixed upon the follies and vices of the higher classes of people; and his contempt for selfish indolence was so strongly associated with the name of gentleman, that he was disposed to choose his friends and companions from amongst his inferiors: the inequality between the rich and the poor shocked him; his temper was enthusiastic as well as benevolent; and he ardently wished to be a man, and to be at liberty to act for himself, that he might reform society, or at least his own neighbourhood. When he was about nineteen years old, his father died, and young Forester was sent to Edinburgh, to Dr. Campbell, the gentleman whom his father had appointed his guardian. In the choice of his mode of travelling his disposition appeared. The stage-coach and a carrier set out nearly at the same time from Penrith. Forester, proud of bringing his principles immediately into action, put himself under the protection of the carrier, and congratulated himself upon his freedom from prejudice. He arrived at Edinburgh in all the glory of independence, and he desired the carrier to set him down at Dr. Campbell's door.
"The doctor is not at home," said the footman, who opened the door.
"He is at home," exclaimed Forester with indignation; "I see him at the window."
"My master is just going to dinner, and can't see any body now," said the footman; "but if you will call again at six o'clock, maybe he may see you, my good lad."
"My name is Forester—let me in," said Forester, pushing-forwards.
"Forester!—Mr. Forester!" said the footman; "the young gentleman that was expected in the coach to-day?" Without deigning to give the footman any explanation, Forester took his own portmanteau from the carrier; and Dr. Campbell came down-stairs just when the footman was officiously struggling with the young gentleman for his burden. Dr. Campbell received his pupil very kindly; but Forester would not be prevailed upon to rub his shoes sufficiently upon the mat at the bottom of the stairs, or to change his disordered dress before he made his appearance in the drawing-room. He entered with dirty shoes, a threadbare coat, and hair that looked as if it never had been combed; and he was much surprised by the effect which his singular appearance produced upon the risible muscles of some of the company.
"I have done nothing to be ashamed of," said he to himself; but, notwithstanding all his efforts to be and to appear at ease, he was constrained and abashed. A young laird, Mr. Archibald Mackenzie, seemed to enjoy his confusion with malignant, half-suppressed merriment, in which Dr. Campbell's son was too good-natured, and too well-bred, to participate. Henry Campbell was three or four years older than Forester, and though he looked like a gentleman, Forester could not help being pleased with the manner in which he drew him into conversation. The secret magic of politeness relieved him insensibly from the torment of false shame.
"It is a pity this lad was bred up a gentleman," said Forester to himself, "for he seems to have some sense and goodness."
Dinner was announced, and Forester was provoked at being interrupted in an argument concerning carts and coaches, which he had begun with Henry Campbell. Not that Forester was averse to eating, for he was at this instant ravenously hungry: but eating in company he always found equally repugnant to his habits and his principles. A table covered with a clean table-cloth; dishes in nice order; plates, knives, and forks, laid at regular distances, appeared to our young Diogenes absurd superfluities, and he was ready to exclaim, "How many things I do not want!" Sitting down to dinner, eating, drinking, and behaving like other people, appeared to him difficult and disagreeable ceremonies. He did not perceive that custom had rendered all these things perfectly easy to every one else in company; and as soon as he had devoured his food his own way, he moralized in silence upon the good sense of Sancho Panza, who preferred eating an egg behind the door to feasting in public; and he recollected his favourite traveller Le Vaillant's enthusiastic account of his charming Hottentot dinners, and of the disgust that he afterwards felt, on the comparison of European etiquette and African simplicity.
[Footnote 1: Le Vaillant's Travels in Africa, vol. i. p. 114.]
"Thank God, the ceremony of dinner is over," said Forester to Henry Campbell, as soon as they rose from table.
All these things, which seemed mere matter of course in society, appeared to Forester strange ceremonies. In the evening there were cards for those who liked cards, and there was conversation for those who liked conversation. Forester liked neither; he preferred playing with a cat; and he sat all night apart from the company in a corner of a sofa. He took it for granted that the conversation could not be worth his attention, because he heard Lady Catherine Mackenzie's voice amongst others; he had conceived a dislike, or rather a contempt for this lady, because she showed much of the pride of birth and rank in her manners. Henry Campbell did not think it necessary to punish himself for her ladyship's faults, by withdrawing from entertaining conversation; he knew that his father had the art of managing the frivolous subjects started in general company, so as to make them lead to amusement and instruction; and this Forester would probably have discovered this evening, had he not followed his own thoughts, instead of listening to the observations of others. Lady Catherine, it is true, began with a silly history of her hereditary antipathy for pickled cucumbers; and she was rather tiresome in tracing the genealogy of this antipathy through several generations of her ancestry; but Dr. Campbell said "that he had heard, from an ingenious gentleman of her ladyship's family, that her ladyship's grandfather, and several of his friends, nearly lost their lives by pickled cucumbers;" and thence the doctor took occasion to relate several curious circumstances concerning the effects of different poisons.
Dr. Campbell, who plainly saw both the defects and the excellent qualities of his young ward, hoped that, by playful raillery, and by well-timed reasoning, he might mix a sufficient portion of good sense with Forester's enthusiasm, might induce him gradually to sympathize in the pleasures of cultivated society, and might convince him that virtue is not confined to any particular class of men; that education, in the enlarged sense of the word, creates the difference between individuals more than riches or poverty. He foresaw that Forester would form a friendship with his son, and that this attachment would cure him of his prejudices against gentlemen, and would prevent him from indulging his taste for vulgar company. Henry Campbell had more useful energy, though less apparent enthusiasm, than his new companion: he was always employed; he was really independent, because he had learned how to support himself either by the labours of his head or of his hands; but his independence did not render him unsociable; he was always ready to sympathize with the pleasures of his friends, and therefore he was beloved: following his father's example, he did all the good in his power to those who were in distress; but he did not imagine that he could reform every abuse in society, or that he could instantly new-model the universe. Forester became, in a few days, fond of conversing, or rather of holding long arguments, with Henry; but his dislike to the young laird, Archibald Mackenzie, hourly increased. Archibald and his mother, Lady Catherine Mackenzie, were relations to Mrs. Campbell, and they were now upon a visit at her house. Lady Catherine, a shrewd woman, fond of precedence, and fully sensible of the importance that wealth can bestow, had sedulously inculcated into the mind of her son all the maxims of worldly wisdom which she had collected in her intercourse with society; she had inspired him with family pride, but at the same time had taught him to pay obsequious court to his superiors in rank or fortune: the art of rising in the world, she knew, did not entirely depend upon virtue or ability; she was consequently more solicitous about her son's manners than his morals, and was more anxious that he should form high connexions, than that he should apply to the severe studies of a profession. Archibald was nearly what might be expected from his education, alternately supple to his superiors, and insolent to his inferiors: to insinuate himself into the favour of young men of rank and fortune, he affected to admire extravagance; but his secret maxims of parsimony operated even in the midst of dissipation. Meanness and pride usually go together. It is not to be supposed that young Forester had such quick penetration, that he could discover the whole of the artful Archibald's character in the course of a few days' acquaintance; but he disliked him for good reasons, because he was a laird, because he had laughed at his first entree, and because he was learning to dance.
About a week after our hero's arrival at Dr. Campbell's, the doctor was exhibiting some chemical experiments, with which Henry hoped that his young friend would be entertained; but Forester had scarcely been five minutes in the laboratory, before Mackenzie, who was lounging about the room, sneeringly took notice of a large hole in his shoe. "It is easily mended," said the independent youth; and he immediately left the laboratory, and went to a cobbler's, who lived in a narrow lane, at the back of Dr. Campbell's house. Forester had, from his bed-chamber window, seen this cobbler at work early every morning; he admired his industry, and longed to be acquainted with him. The good-humoured familiarity of Forester's manner pleased the cobbler, who was likewise diverted by the eagerness of the young gentleman to mend his own shoe. After spending some hours at the cobbler's stall, the shoe was actually mended, and Forester thought that his morning's work was worthy of admiration. In a court (or, as such places are called in Edinburgh, a close) near the cobbler's, he saw some boys playing at ball: he joined them; and, whilst they were playing, a dancing-master with his hair powdered, and who seemed afraid of spattering his clean stockings, passed through the court, and interrupted the ball players for a few seconds. The boys, as soon as the man was out of hearing, declared that he passed through their court regularly twice a day, and that he always kicked their marbles out of the ring. Without staying to weigh this evidence scrupulously, Forester received it with avidity, and believed all that had been asserted was true, because the accused was a dancing-master; from his education he had conceived an antipathy to dancing-masters, especially to such as wore silk stockings, and had their heads well powdered. Easily fired at the idea of any injustice, and eager to redress the grievances of the poor, Forester immediately concerted with these boys a scheme to deliver them from what he called the insolence of the dancing-master, and promised that he would compel him to go round by another street.
In his zeal for the liberty of his new companions, our hero did not consider that he was infringing upon the liberties of a man who had never done him any injury, and over whom he had no right to exercise any control.
Upon his return to Dr. Campbell's, Forester heard the sound of a violin; and he found that his enemy, M. Pasgrave, the dancing-master, was attending Archibald Mackenzie: he learnt, that he was engaged to give another lesson the next evening; and the plans of the confederates in the ball-alley were arranged accordingly. In Dr. Campbell's room Forester remembered to have seen a skeleton in a glass case; he seized upon it, carried it down to his companions, and placed it in a niche in the wall, on the landing-place of a flight of stone stairs down which the dancing-master was obliged to go. A butcher's son (one of Forester's new companions) he instructed to stand at a certain hour behind the skeleton, with two rushlights, which he was to hold up to the eye-holes in the skull.
The dancing-master's steps were heard approaching at the expected hour; and the boys stood in ambush to enjoy the diversion of the sight. It was a dark night; the fiery eyes of the skeleton glared suddenly upon the dancing-master, who was so terrified at the spectacle, and in such haste to escape, that his foot slipped, and he fell down the stone steps: his ankle was sprained by the fall, and he was brought to Dr. Campbell's. Forester was shocked at this tragical end of his intended comedy. The poor man was laid upon a bed, and he writhed with pain. Forester, with vehement expressions of concern, explained to Dr. Campbell the cause of this accident, and he was much touched by the dancing-master's good nature, who, between every twinge of pain, assured him that he should soon be well, and endeavoured to avert Dr. Campbell's displeasure. Forester sat beside the bed, reproaching himself bitterly; and he was yet more sensible of his folly, when he heard, that the boys, whose part he had hastily taken, had frequently amused themselves with playing mischievous tricks upon this inoffensive man, who declared, that he had never purposely kicked their marbles out of the ring, but had always implored them to make way for him with all the civility in his power.
Forester resolved, that before he ever again attempted to do justice, he would, at least, hear both sides of the question.
Forester would willingly have sat up all night with M. Pasgrave, to foment his ankle from time to time, and, if possible, to assuage the pain: but the man would not suffer him to sit up, and about twelve o'clock he retired to rest. He had scarcely fallen asleep, when his door opened, and Archibald Mackenzie roused him, by demanding, in a peremptory tone, how he could sleep when the whole family were frightened out of their wits by his pranks?
"Is the dancing-master worse? What's the matter?" exclaimed Forester in great terror.
Archihald replied, that he was not talking or thinking about the dancing-master, and desired Forester to make haste and dress himself, and that he would then soon hear what was the matter.
Forester dressed himself as fast as he could, and followed Archibald through a long passage, which led to a back staircase. "Do you hear the noise?" said Archibald.
"Not I," said Forester.
"Well, you'll hear it plain enough presently," said Archibald: "follow me down-stairs."
He followed, and was surprised, when he got into the hall, to find all the family assembled. Lady Catherine had been awakened by a noise, which she at first imagined to be the screaming of an infant. Her bedchamber was on the ground floor, and adjoining to Dr. Campbell's laboratory, from which the noise seemed to proceed. She awakened her son Archibald and Mrs. Campbell; and, when she recovered her senses a little, she listened to Dr. Campbell, who assured her, that what her ladyship thought was the screaming of an infant was the noise of a cat: the screams of this cat were terrible; and, when the light approached the door of the laboratory, the animal flew at the door with so much fury, that nobody could venture to open it. Every body looked at Forester, as if they suspected that he had confined the cat, or that he was in some way or other the cause of the disturbance. The cat, which, from his having constantly fed and played with it, had grown extremely fond of him, used to follow him often from room to room; and he now recollected, that it followed him the preceding evening into the laboratory, when he went to replace the skeleton. He had not observed whether it came out of the room again, nor could he now conceive the cause of its yelling in this horrible manner. The animal seemed to be mad with pain. Dr. Campbell asked his son whether all the presses were locked. Henry said he was sure they were all locked. It was his business to lock them every evening; and he was so exact, that nobody doubted his accuracy.
Archibald Mackenzie, who all this time knew, or at least suspected the truth, held himself in cunning silence. The preceding evening he, for want of something to do, had strolled into the laboratory, and, with the pure curiosity of idleness, peeped into the presses, and took the stoppers out of several of the bottles. Dr. Campbell happened to come in, and carelessly asked him if he had been looking in the presses; to which question Archibald, though with scarcely any motive for telling a falsehood, immediately replied in the negative. As the doctor turned his head, Archibald put aside a bottle, which he had just before taken out of the press; and, fearing that the noise of replacing the glass stopper would betray him, he slipped it into his waistcoat pocket. How much useless cunning! All this transaction was now fully present to Archibald's memory: and he was well convinced that Henry had not seen the bottle when he afterwards went to lock the presses; that the cat had thrown it down; and that this was the cause of all the yelling that disturbed the house. Archibald, however, kept his lips fast closed; he had told one falsehood; he dreaded to have it discovered; and he hoped the blame of the whole affair would rest upon Forester. At length the animal flew with diminished fury at the door; its screams became feebler and feebler, till, at last, they totally ceased. There was silence: Dr. Campbell opened the door: the cat was seen stretched upon the ground, apparently lifeless. As Forester looked nearer at the poor animal, he saw a twitching motion in one of its hind legs; Dr. Campbell said, that it was the convulsion of death. Forester was just going to lift up his cat, when his friend Henry stopped his hand, telling him, that he would burn himself, if he touched it. The hair and flesh of the cat on one side were burnt away, quite to the bone. Henry pointed to the broken bottle, which, he said, had contained vitriolic acid.
Henry in vain attempted to discover by whom the bottle of vitriolic acid had been taken out of its place. Suspicion naturally fell upon Forester, who, by his own account, was the last person in the room before the presses had been locked for the night. Forester, in warm terms, asserted, that he knew nothing of the matter. Dr. Campbell coolly observed, that Forester ought not to be surprised at being suspected upon this occasion; because every body had the greatest reason to suspect the person, whom they had detected in one practical joke, of planning another.
"Joke!" said Forester, looking down upon his lifeless favourite; "do you think me capable of such cruelty? Do you doubt my truth?" exclaimed Forester, haughtily. "You are unjust. Turn me out of your house this instant. I do not desire your protection, if I have forfeited your esteem."
"Go to bed for to-night in my house," said Dr. Campbell; "moderate your enthusiasm, and reflect coolly upon what has passed."
Dr. Campbell, as Forester indignantly withdrew, said, with a benevolent smile, as he looked after him, "He wants nothing but a little common sense. Henry, you must give him a little of yours."
In the morning, Forester first went to inquire how the dancing-master had slept, and then knocked impatiently at Dr. Campbell's door.
"My father is not awake," said Henry; but Forester marched directly up to the side of the bed, and, drawing back the curtain with no gentle hand, cried, with a loud voice, "Dr. Campbell, I am come to beg your pardon. I was angry when I said you were unjust."
"And I was asleep when you begged my pardon," said Dr. Campbell, rubbing his eyes.
"The dancing-master's ankle is a great deal better; and I have buried the poor cat," pursued Forester: "and I hope now, doctor, you'll at least tell me, that you do not really suspect me of any hand in her death."
"Pray let me go to sleep," said Dr. Campbell, "and time your explanations a little better."
The dancing-master gradually recovered from his sprain; and Forester spent all his pocket-money in buying a new violin for him, as his had been broken in his fall; his watch had likewise been broken against the stone steps. Though Forester looked upon a watch as a useless bauble, yet he determined to get this mended; and his friend Henry went with him for this purpose to a watchmaker's.
Whilst Henry Campbell and Forester were consulting with the watchmaker upon the internal state of the bruised watch, Archibald Mackenzie, who followed them for a lounge, was looking over some new watches, and ardently wished for the finest that he saw. As he was playing with this fine watch, the watchmaker begged that he would take care not to break it.
Archibald, in the insolent tone in which he was used to speak to a tradesman, replied, that if he did break it, he hoped he was able to pay for it. The watchmaker civilly answered, "he had no doubt of that, but that the watch was not his property; it was Sir Philip Gosling's, who would call for it, he expected, in a quarter of an hour."
At the name of Sir Philip Gosling, Archibald quickly changed his tone: he had a great ambition to be of Sir Philip's acquaintance, for Sir Philip was a young man who was to have a large fortune when he should come of age, and who, in the meantime, spent as much of it as possible, with great spirit and little judgment. He had been sent to Edinburgh for his education; and he spent his time in training horses, laying bets, parading in the public walks, and ridiculing, or, in his own phrase, quizzing every sensible young man, who applied to literature or science. Sir Philip, whenever he frequented any of the professor's classes, took care to make it evident to every body present, that he did not come there to learn, and that he looked down with contempt upon all who were obliged to study; he was the first always to make any disturbance in the classes, or, in his elegant language, to make a row.
This was the youth of whose acquaintance Archibald Mackenzie was ambitious. He stayed in the shop, in hopes that Sir Philip would arrive: he was not disappointed; Sir Philip came, and, with address which lady Catherine would perhaps have admired, Archibald entered into conversation with the young baronet, if conversation that might be called, which consisted of a species of fashionable dialect, devoid of sense, and destitute of any pretence to wit. To Forester this dialect was absolutely unintelligible: after he had listened to it with sober contempt for a few minutes, he pulled Henry away, saying, "Come, don't let us waste our time here; let us go to the brewery that you promised to show me."
Henry did not immediately yield to the rough pull of his indignant friend, for at this instant the door of a little back parlour behind the watchmaker's shop opened slowly, and a girl of about seven years old appeared, carrying, with difficulty, a flower-pot, in which there was a fine large geranium in full flower. Henry, who saw that the child was scarcely able to carry it, took it out of her hands, and asked her, "Where she would like to have it put?"
"Here, for to-day!" said the little girl, sorrowfully; "but to-morrow it goes away for ever."
The little girl was sorry to part with this geranium, because "she had watched it all the winter," and said, "that she was very fond of it; but that she was willing to part with it, though it was just come into flower, because the apothecary had told her, that it was the cause of her grandmother's having been taken ill. Her grandmother lodged," she said, "in that little room, and the room was very close, and she was taken ill in the night—so ill, that she could hardly speak or stir; and when the apothecary came, he said," continued the little girl, "it was no wonder any body was ill, who slept in such a little close room, with such a great geranium in it, to poison the air. So my geranium must go!" concluded she with a sigh: "but, as it is for grandmother, I shall never think of it again."
Henry Campbell and Forester were both struck with the modest simplicity of this child's countenance and manner, and they were pleased with the unaffected generosity with which she gave up her favourite geranium. Forester noted this down in his mind as a fresh instance in favour of his exclusive good opinion of the poor. This little girl looked poor, though she was decently dressed; she was so thin, that her little cheek-bones could plainly be seen; her face had not the round, rosy beauty of cheerful health: she was pale and sallow, and she looked in patient misery. Moved with compassion, Forester regretted that he had no money to give where it might have been so well bestowed. He was always extravagant in his generosity; he would often give five guineas where five shillings would have been enough, and by these means he reduced himself to the necessity sometimes of refusing assistance to deserving objects. On his journey from his father's house to Edinburgh, he lavished, in undistinguishing charity, a considerable sum of money; and all that he had remaining of this money he spent in purchasing the new violin for M. Pasgrave. Dr. Campbell absolutely refused to advance his ward any money till his next quarterly allowance should become due. Henry, who always perceived quickly what passed in the minds of others, guessed at Forester's thoughts by his countenance, and forebore to produce his own money, though he had it just ready in his hand: he knew that he could call again at the watchmaker's, and give what he pleased, without ostentation.
Upon questioning the little girl further, concerning her grandmother's illness, Henry discovered, that the old woman had sat up late at night knitting, and that, feeling herself extremely cold, she got a pan of charcoal into her room; that, soon afterwards, she felt uncommonly drowsy; and when her little grand-daughter spoke to her, and asked her why she did not come to bed, she made no answer: a few minutes after this, she dropped from her chair. The child was extremely frightened, and though she felt it very difficult to rouse herself, she said, she got up as fast as she could, opened the door, and called to the watchmaker's wife, who luckily had been at work late, and was now raking the kitchen fire. With her assistance the old woman was brought into the air, and presently returned to her senses: the pan of charcoal had been taken away before the apothecary came in the morning; as he was in a great hurry when he called, he made but few inquiries, and consequently condemned the geranium without sufficient evidence. As he left the house, he carelessly said, "My wife would like that geranium, I think." And the poor old woman, who had but a very small fee to offer, was eager to give any thing that seemed to please the doctor.
Forester, when he heard this story, burst into a contemptuous exclamation against the meanness of this and of all other apothecaries. Henry informed the little girl, that the charcoal had been the cause of her grandmother's illness, and advised them never, upon any account, to keep a pan of charcoal again in her bedchamber; he told her, that many people had been killed by this practice. "Then," cried the little girl, joyfully, "if it was the charcoal, and not the geranium, that made grandmother ill, I may keep my beautiful geranium:" and she ran immediately to gather some of the flowers, which she offered to Henry and to Forester. Forester, who was still absorbed in the contemplation of the apothecary's meanness, took the flowers, without perceiving that he took them, and pulled them to pieces as he went on thinking. Henry, when the little girl held the geraniums up to him, observed, that the back of her hand was bruised and black; he asked her how she had hurt herself, and she replied innocently, "that she had not hurt herself, but that her schoolmistress was a very strict woman." Forester, roused from his reverie, desired to hear what the little girl meant by a strict woman, and she explained herself more fully: she said, that, as a favour, her grandmother had obtained leave from some great lady to send her to a charity school: that she went there every day to learn to read and work, but that the mistress of the charity school used her scholars very severely, and often kept them for hours, after they had done their own tasks, to spin for her; and that she beat them if they did not spin as much as she expected. The little girl's grandmother then said, that she knew all this, but that she did not dare to complain, because the schoolmistress was under the patronage of some of "the grandest ladies in Edinburgh," and that, as she could not afford to pay for her little lass's schooling, she was forced to have her taught as well as she could for nothing.
Forester, fired with indignation at this history of injustice, resolved, at all events, to stand forth immediately in the child's defence; but, without staying to consider how the wrong could be redressed, he thought only of the quickest, or, as he said, the most manly means of doing the business: he declared, that if the little girl would show him the way to the school, he would go that instant and speak to the woman in the midst of all her scholars. Henry in vain represented that this would not he a prudent mode of proceeding.
Forester disdained prudence, and, trusting securely to the power of his own eloquence, he set out with the child, who seemed rather afraid to come to open war with her tyrant. Henry was obliged to return home to his father, who had usually business for him to do about this time. The little girl had stayed at home on account of her grandmother's illness, but all the other scholars were hard at work, spinning in a close room, when Forester arrived.
He marched directly into the schoolroom. The wheels stopped at once on his appearance, and the schoolmistress, a raw-boned, intrepid-looking woman eyed him with amazement: he broke silence in the following words:—
"Vile woman, your injustice is come to light! How can you dare to tyrannize over these poor children? Is it because they are poor? Take my advice, children, resist this tyrant, put by your wheels, and spin for her no more."
The children did not move, and the schoolmistress poured out a torrent of abuse in broad Scotch, which, to the English ear of Forester, was unintelligible. At length she made him comprehend her principal questions—Who he was? and by whose authority he interfered between her and her scholars? "By nobody's authority," was Forester's answer; "I want no authority to speak in the cause of injured innocence." No sooner had the woman heard these words, than she called to her husband, who was writing in an adjoining room: without further ceremony, they both seized upon our hero, and turned him out of the house.
The woman revenged herself without mercy upon the little girl whom Forester had attempted to defend, and dismissed her, with advice never more to complain of being obliged to spin for her mistress.
Mortified by the ill success of his enterprise, Forester returned home, attributing the failure of his eloquence chiefly to his ignorance of the Scotch dialect.
THE CANARY BIRD
At his return, Forester heard, that all Dr. Campbell's family were going that evening to visit a gentleman who had an excellent cabinet of minerals. He had some desire to see the fossils; but when he came to the gentleman's house, he soon found himself disturbed at the praises bestowed by some ladies in company upon a little canary bird, which belonged to the mistress of the house. He began to kick his feet together, to hang first one arm and then the other over the back of his chair, with the obvious expression of impatience and contempt in his countenance. Henry Campbell, in the meantime, said, without any embarrassment, just what he thought about the bird. Archibald Mackenzie, with artificial admiration, said a vast deal more than he thought, in hopes of effectually recommending himself to the lady of the house. The lady told him the history of three birds, which had successively inhabited the cage before the present occupier. "They all died," continued she, "in a most extraordinary manner, one after another, in a short space of time, in convulsions."
"Don't listen," whispered Forester, pulling Henry away from the crowd who surrounded the bird-cage; "how can you listen, like that polite hypocrite, to this foolish woman's history of her extraordinary favourites? Come down-stairs with me, I want to tell you my adventure with the schoolmistress; we can take a turn in the hall, and come back before the cabinet of minerals is opened, and before these women have finished the ceremony of tea. Come."
"I'll come presently," said Henry; "I really want to hear this."
Henry Campbell was not listening to the history of the lady's favourite birds like a polite hypocrite, but like a good-natured sensible person; the circumstances recalled to his memory the conversation that we formerly mentioned, which began about pickled cucumbers, and ended with Dr. Campbell's giving an account of the effects of some poisons. In consequence of this conversation, Henry's attention had been turned to the subject, and he had read several essays, which had informed him of many curious facts. He recollected, in particular, to have met with the account of a bird that had been poisoned, and whose case bore a strong resemblance to the present. He begged leave to examine the cage, in order to discover whether there were any lead about it, with which the birds could have poisoned themselves. No lead was to be found: he next examined whether there were any white or green paint about it; he inquired whence the water came which the birds had drunk; and he examined the trough which held their seeds. The lady, whilst he was pursuing these inquiries, said she was sure that the birds could not have died either for want of air or exercise, for that she often left the cage open on purpose, that they might fly about the room. Henry immediately looked round the room, and at length he observed in an inkstand, which stood upon a writing table, a number of wafers, which were many of them chipped round the edges; upon sweeping out the bird-cage, he found a few very small bits of wafer mixed with the seeds and dust; he was now persuaded that the birds had eaten the wafers, and that they had been poisoned by the red lead which they contained; he was confirmed in this opinion, by being told, that the wafers had lately been missed very frequently, and it had been imagined that they had been used by the servants. Henry begged the lady would try an experiment, which might probably save the life of her new favourite; the lady, though she had never before tried an experiment, was easily prevailed upon. She promised Henry that she would lock up the wafers; and he prophesied that her bird would not, like his predecessors, come to an untimely end. Archibald Mackenzie was vexed to observe, that knowledge had in this instance succeeded better, even with a lady, than flattery. As for Forester, he would certainly have admired his friend Henry's ingenuity, if he had been attending to what had passed; but he had taken a book, and had seated himself in an arm-chair, which had been placed on purpose for an old gentleman in company, and was deep in the history of a man who had been cast away, some hundred years ago, upon a desert island.
[Footnote 2: Falconer, on the Poison of Lead and Copper.]
He condescended, however, to put down his book when the fossils were produced: and, as if he had just awakened from a dream, rubbed his eyes, stretched himself, and joined the rest of the company. The malicious Archibald, who observed that Forester had seated himself, through absence of mind, in a place which prevented some of the ladies from seeing the fossils, instantly made a parade of his own politeness, to contrast himself advantageously with the rude negligence of his companion; but Archibald's politeness was always particularly directed to the persons in company whom he thought of the most importance. "You can't see there," said Forester, suddenly rousing himself, and observing that Dr. Campbell's daughter, Miss Flora Campbell, was standing behind him; "had you not better sit down in this chair? I don't want it, because I can see over your head; sit down." Archibald smiled at Forester's simplicity, in paying his awkward compliment to the young lady, who had, according to his mode of estimating, the least pretensions to notice of any one present. Flora Campbell was neither rich nor beautiful, but she had a happy mixture in her manners of Scottish sprightliness and English reserve. She had an eager desire to improve herself, whilst a nice sense of propriety taught her never to intrude upon general notice, or to recede from conversation with airs of counterfeit humility. Forester admired her abilities, because he imagined that he was the only person who had ever discovered them; as to her manners, he never observed these, but even whilst he ridiculed politeness he was anxious to find out what she thought polite. After he had told her all that he knew concerning the fossils, as they were produced from the cabinet—and he was far from ignorant—he at length perceived that she knew full as much of natural history as he did, and he was surprised that a young lady should know so much, and should not be conceited. Flora, however, soon sunk many degrees in his opinion; for, after the cabinet of mineralogy was shut, some of the company talked of a ball, which was to be given in a few days, and Flora, with innocent gaiety, said to Forester, "Have you learnt to dance a Scotch reel since you came to Scotland?" "I!" cried Forester with contempt; "do you think it the height of human perfection to dance a Scotch reel?—then that fine young laird, Mr. Archibald Mackenzie, will suit you much better than I shall." And Forester returned to his arm-chair and his desert island.
It was unfortunate that Forester retired from company in such abrupt displeasure at Flora Campbell's question, for had he borne the idea of a Scotch reel more like a philosopher, he would have heard of something interesting relative to the intended ball, if any thing relative to a ball could be interesting to him. It was a charity-ball, for the benefit of the mistress of the very charity-school to which the little girl with the bruised hand belonged. "Do you know," said Henry to Forester, when they returned home, "that I have great hopes we shall be able to get justice done to the poor children? I hope the tyrannical schoolmistress may yet be punished. The lady, with whom we drank tea yesterday is one of the patronesses of the charity-school."
[Footnote 3: There is no charity-school of this description in Edinburgh; this cannot, therefore, be mistaken for private satire.]
"Lady patronesses!" cried Forester; "we need not expect justice from a lady patroness, depend upon it, especially at a ball; her head will be full of feathers, or some such things. I prophesy you will not succeed better than I have."
The desponding prophecies of Forester did not deter Henry from pursuing a scheme which he had formed. The lady, who was the mistress of the canary bird, came in a few days to visit his mother, and she told him that his experiment had succeeded, that she had regularly locked up the wafers, and that her favourite bird was in perfect health. "And what fee, doctor," said she, smiling, "shall I give you for saving his life?"
"I will tell you in a few minutes," replied Henry; and in a few minutes the little girl and her geranium were sent for, and appeared. Henry told the lady all the circumstances of her story with so much feeling, and at the same time with so much propriety, that she became interested in the cause: she declared that she would do every thing in her power to prevail upon the other ladies to examine into, the conduct of the schoolmistress, and to have her dismissed immediately, if it should appear that she had behaved improperly.
Forester, who was present at this declaration, was much astonished, that a lady, whom he had seen caressing a canary-bird, could speak with so much decision and good sense. Henry obtained his fee: he asked and received permission to place the geranium in the middle of the supper-table at the ball; and he begged that the lady would take an opportunity, at supper, to mention the circumstances which he had related to her; but this she declined, and politely said, that she was sure Henry would tell the story much better than she could.
"Come out and walk with me," said Forester to Henry, as soon as the lady was gone. Henry frequently left his occupations with great good-nature, to accompany our hero in his rambles, and he usually followed the subjects of conversation which Forester started. He saw, by the gravity of his countenance, that he had something of importance revolving in his mind. After he had proceeded in silence for some time along the walk, under the high rock called Arthur's Seat, he suddenly stopped, and, turning to Henry, exclaimed, "I esteem you; do not make me despise you!"
"I hope I never shall," said Henry, a little surprised by his friend's manner; "what is the matter?"
"Leave balls, and lady patronesses, and petty artifices, and supple address, to such people as Archibald Mackenzie," pursued Forester, with enthusiasm:
"Who noble ends by noble means pursues—" "Will scorn canary birds, and cobble shoes,"
Replied Henry, laughing; "I see no meanness in my conduct: I do not know what it is you disapprove."
"I do not approve," said Forester, "of your having recourse to mean address to obtain justice."
Henry requested to know what his severe friend meant by address; but this was not easily explained. Forester, in his definition of mean address, included all that attention to the feelings of others, all those honest arts of pleasing, which make society agreeable. Henry endeavoured to convince him, that it was possible for a person to wish to please, nay, even to succeed in that wish, without being insincere. Their argument and their walk continued, till Henry, who, though very active, was not quite so robust as his friend, was completely tired, especially as he perceived that Forester's opinions remained unshaken.
"How effeminate you gentlemen are!" cried Forester: "see what it is to be brought up in the lap of luxury. Why, I am not at all tired; I could walk a dozen miles further, without being in the least fatigued!"
Henry thought it a very good thing to be able to walk a number of miles without being fatigued, but he did not consider it as the highest perfection of human nature. In his friend's present mood, nothing less could content him, and Forester went on to demonstrate to the weary Henry, that all fortitude, all courage, and all the manly virtues, were inseparably connected with pedestrian indefatigability. Henry, with good-natured presence of mind, which perhaps his friend would have called mean address, diverted our hero's rising indignation by proposing that they should both go and look at the large brewery which was in their way home, and with which Forester would, he thought, be entertained.
The brewery fortunately turned the course of Forester's thoughts, and, instead of quarrelling with his friend for being tired, he condescended to postpone all further debate. Forester had, from his childhood, a habit of twirling a key, whenever he was thinking intently: the key had been produced, and had been twirling upon its accustomed thumb during the argument upon address; and it was still in Forester's hand when they went into the brewery. As he looked and listened, the key was essential to his power of attending; at length, as he stopped to view a large brewing vat, the key unluckily slipped from his thumb, and fell to the bottom of the vat: it was so deep, that the tinkling sound of the key, as it touched the bottom, was scarcely heard. A young man who belonged to the brewery immediately descended by a ladder into the vat, to get the key, but scarcely had he reached the bottom, when he fell down senseless. Henry Campbell was speaking to one of the clerks of the brewery when this accident happened: a man came running to them with the news, "The vat has not been cleaned; it's full of bad air." "Draw him up, let down a hook and cords for him instantly, or he's a dead man," cried Henry, and he instantly ran to the place. What was his terror, when he beheld Forester descending the ladder! He called to him to stop; he assured him that the man could be saved without his hazarding his life: but Forester persisted; he had one end of a cord in his hand, which he said he could fasten in an instant round the man's body. There was a skylight nearly over the vat, so that the light fell directly upon the bottom.
Henry saw his friend reach the last step of the ladder. As Forester stooped to put the rope round the shoulders of the man, who lay insensible at the bottom of the vat, a sudden air of idiocy came over his animated countenance; his limbs seemed no longer to obey his will; his arms dropped, and he fell insensible.
The spectators, who were looking down from above, were so much terrified, that they could not decide to do any thing; some cried, "It's all over with him! Why would he go down?" Others ran to procure a hook—others called to him to take up the rope again, if he possibly could: but Forester could not hear or understand them, Henry Campbell was the only person who, in this scene of danger and confusion, had sufficient presence of mind to be of service.
Near the large vat, into which Forester had descended, there was a cistern of cold water. Henry seized a bucket, which was floating in the cistern, filled it with water, and emptied the water into the vat, dashing it against the sides, to disperse the water, and to displace the mephitic air, He called to the people, who surrounded him, for assistance; the water expelled the air; and, when it was safe to descend, Henry instantly went down the ladder himself, and fastened the cord round Forester, who was quite helpless.
[Footnote 4: Carbonic acid gas.]
"Draw him up!" said Henry, They drew him up. Henry fastened another cord round the body of the other man, who lay at the bottom of the vessel, and he was taken up in the same manner. Forester soon returned to his senses, when he was carried into the air; it was with more difficulty that the other man, whose animation had been longer suspended, was recovered; at length, however, by proper application, his lungs played freely, he stretched himself, looked round upon the people who were about him with an air of astonishment, and was some time before he could recollect what had happened to him. Forester, as soon as he had recovered the use of his understanding, was in extreme anxiety to know whether the poor man, who went down for his key, had been saved. His gratitude to Henry, when he heard all that had passed, was expressed in the most enthusiastic manner.
"I acted like a madman, and you like a man of sense," said Forester. "You always know how to do good: I do mischief, whenever I attempt to do good. But now, don't expect, Henry, that I should give up any of my opinions to you, because you have saved my life. I shall always argue with you just as I did before. Remember, I despise address, I don't yield a single point to you. Gratitude shall never make me a sycophant."
Eager to prove that he was not a sycophant, Forester, when he returned home with his friend Henry, took every possible occasion to contradict him, with even more than his customary rigidity; nay, he went further still, to vindicate his sincerity.
Flora Campbell had never entirely recovered our hero's esteem, since she had unwittingly expressed her love for Scotch reels; but she was happily unconscious of the crime she had committed, and was wholly intent upon pleasing her father and mother, her brother Henry, and herself. She had a constant flow of good spirits, and the charming domestic talent of making every trifle a source of amusement to herself and others: she was sprightly, without being frivolous; and the uniform sweetness of her temper showed, that she was not in the least in want of flattery, or dissipation, to support her gaiety. But Forester, as the friend of her brother, thought it incumbent upon him to discover faults in her which no one else could discover, and to assist in her education, though she was only one year younger than himself. She had amused herself, the morning that Forester and her brother were at the brewery, with painting a pasteboard covering for the flower-pot which held the poor little girl's geranium. Flora had heard from her brother of his intention to place it in the middle of the supper-table, at the ball; and she flattered herself, that he would like to see it ornamented by her hands at his return. She produced it after dinner. Henry thanked her, and her father and mother were pleased to see her eagerness to oblige her brother. The cynical Forester alone refused his sympathy. He looked at the flower-pot with marked disdain. Archibald, who delighted to contrast himself with the unpolished Forester, and who remarked that Flora and her brother were both somewhat surprised at his unsociable silence, slyly said, "There's something in this flower-pot Miss Campbell, which does not suit Mr. Forester's correct taste; I wish he would allow us to profit by his criticisms."
Forester vouchsafed not a reply.
"Don't you like it, Forester?" said Henry.
"No, he does not like it," said Flora, smiling; "don't force him to say that he does."
"Force me to say I like what I don't like!" repeated Forester; "no, I defy any body to do that."
"But why," said Dr. Campbell, laughing, "why such a waste of energy and magnanimity about a trifle? If you were upon your trial for life or death, Mr. Forester, you could not look more resolutely guarded—more as if you had 'worked up each corporal agent' to the terrible feat!"
"Sir," said Forester, who bore the laugh that was raised against him with the air of a martyr, "I can bear even your ridicule in the cause of truth." The laugh continued at the solemnity with which he pronounced these words. "I think," pursued Forester, "that those who do not respect truth in trifles, will never respect it in matters of consequence."
Archibald Mackenzie laughed more loudly, and with affectation, at this speech: Henry and Dr. Campbell's laughter instantly ceased.
"Do not mistake us," said Dr. Campbell; "we did not laugh at your principles, we only laughed at your manner."
"And are not principles of rather more consequence than manners?"
"Of infinitely more consequence," said Dr. Campbell: "but why, to excellent principles, may we not add agreeable manners? Why should not truth be amiable, as well as respectable? You, who have such enlarged views for the good of the whole human race, are, I make no doubt, desirous that your fellow-creatures should love truth, as well as you love it yourself."
"Certainly, I wish they did," said Forester.
"And have your observations upon the feelings of others, and upon your own, led you to conclude, that we are most apt to like those things which always give us pain? And do you, upon this principle, wish to make truth as painful as possible, in order to increase our love for it?"
"I don't wish to make truth painful," said Forester; "but, at the same time, it is not my fault if people can't bear pain. I think people who can't bear pain, both of body and mind, cannot be good for any thing; for, in the first place, they will always," said Forester, glancing his eye at Flora and her flower-pot,—"they will always prefer flattery to truth, as all weak people do."
At this sarcastic reflection, which seemed to be aimed at the sex, Lady Catherine, Mrs. Campbell, and all the ladies present, except Flora, began to speak at once in their own vindication.
As soon as there was any prospect of peace, Dr. Campbell resumed his argument in the calmest voice imaginable.
"But, Mr. Forester, without troubling ourselves for the present with the affairs of the ladies, or of weak people, may I ask what degree of unnecessary pain you think it the duty of a strong person, a moral Samson, to bear?"
"Unnecessary pain! I do not think it is any body's duty to bear unnecessary pain."
"Nor to make others bear it?"
"Nor to make others bear it."
"Then we need argue no further. I congratulate you, Mr. Forester, upon your becoming so soon a proselyte to politeness."
"To politeness!" said Forester, starting back.
"Yes, my good sir; real politeness only teaches us to save others from unnecessary pain; and this you have just allowed to be your wish.—And now for the grand affair of Flora's flower-pot. You are not bound by politeness to tell any falsehoods; weak as she is, and a woman, I hope she can bear to hear the painful truth upon such an important occasion."
"Why," said Forester, who at last suffered his features to relax into a smile, "the truth then is, that I don't know whether the flower-pot be pretty or ugly, but I was determined not to say it was pretty."
"But why," said Henry, "did you look so heroically severe about the matter?"
"The reason I looked grave," said Forester, "was, because I was afraid your sister Flora would be spoiled by all the foolish compliments that were paid to her and her flower-pot."
"You are very considerate; and Flora, I am sure, is much obliged to you," said Dr. Campbell, smiling, "for being so clear-sighted to the dangers of female vanity. You would not then, with a safe conscience, trust the completion of her education to her mother, or to myself?"
"I am sure, sir," said Forester, who now, for the first time, seemed sensible that he had not spoken with perfect propriety, "I would not interfere impertinently for the world. You are the best judges; only I thought parents were apt to be partial. Henry has saved my life, and I am interested for every thing that belongs to him. So I hope, if I said any thing rude, you will attribute it to a good motive. I wish the flower-pot had never made its appearance, for it has made me appear very impertinent."
Flora laughed with so much good humour at this odd method of expressing his contrition, that even Forester acknowledged the influence of engaging manners and sweetness of temper. He lifted up the flower-pot, so as completely to screen his face, and, whilst he appeared to be examining it, he said, in a low voice, to Henry, "She is above the foibles of her sex."
"Oh, Mr. Forester, take care!" cried Flora.
"Of what?" said Forester, starting.
"It is too late now," said Flora.
And it was too late. Forester, in his awkward manner of lifting the flower-pot and its painted case, had put his thumbs into the mould, with which the flower-pot had been newly filled. It was quite soft and wet. Flora, when she called to him, saw the two black thumbs just ready to stamp themselves upon her work, and her warning only accelerated its fate; for, the instant she spoke, the thumbs closed upon the painted covering, and Forester was the last to perceive the mischief that he had done.
There was no possibility of effacing the stains, nor was there time to repair the damage, for the ball was to commence in a few hours, and Flora was obliged to send her disfigured work, without having had the satisfaction of hearing the ejaculation which Forester pronounced in her praise behind the flower-pot.
Henry seized the moment when Forester was softened by the mixed effect of Dr. Campbell's raillery and Flora's good humour, to persuade him, that it would be perfectly consistent with sound philosophy to dress himself for a ball, nay, even to dance a country-dance. The word reel, to which Forester had taken a dislike, Henry prudently forbore to mention; and Flora, observing, and artfully imitating her brother's prudence, substituted the word hays instead of reels in her conversation. When all the party were ready to go to the ball, and the carriages at the door, Forester was in Dr. Campbell's study, reading the natural history of the elephant.
"Come," said Henry, who had been searching for him all over the house, "we are waiting for you; I'm glad to see you dressed—come!"
"I wish you would leave me behind," said Forester, who seemed to have relapsed into his former unsociable humour, from having been left half an hour in his beloved solitude; nor would Henry probably have prevailed, if he had not pointed to the print of the elephant. "That mighty animal, you see, is so docile, that he lets himself be guided by a young boy," said Henry; "and so must you."
[Footnote 5: Cabinet of Quadrupeds.]
As he spoke he pulled Forester gently, who thought he could not show less docility than his favourite animal. When they entered the ball-room, Archibald Mackenzie asked Flora to dance, whilst Forester was considering where he should put his hat. "Are you going to dance without me? I thought I had asked you to dance with me. I intended it all the time we were coming in the coach."
Flora thanked him for his kind intentions; whilst Archibald, with a look of triumph, hurried his partner away, and the dance began. Forester saw this transaction in the most serious light, and it afforded him subject for meditation till at least half a dozen country-dances had been finished. In vain the Berwick Jockey, the Highland Laddie, and the Flowers of Edinburgh, were played; "they suited not the gloomy habit" of his soul. He fixed himself behind a pillar, proof against music, mirth, and sympathy: he looked upon the dancers with a cynical eye. At length he found an amusement that gratified his present splenetic humour; he applied both his hands to his ears, effectually to stop out the sound of the music, that he might enjoy the ridiculous spectacle of a number of people capering about, without any apparent motive. Forester's attitude caught the attention of some of the company; indeed, it was strikingly awkward. His elbows stuck out from his ears, and his head was sunk beneath his shoulders. Archibald Mackenzie was delighted beyond measure at his figure, and pointed him out to his acquaintance with all possible expedition. The laugh and the whisper circulated with rapidity. Henry, who was dancing, did not perceive what was going on till his partner said to him, "Pray, who is that strange mortal?"
"My friend," cried Henry: "will you excuse me for one instant?" And he ran up to Forester, and roused him from his singular attitude. "He is," continued Henry, as he returned to his partner, "an excellent young man, and he has superior abilities; we must not quarrel with him for trifles."
With what different eyes different people behold the same objects! Whilst Forester had been stopping his ears, Dr. Campbell, who had more of the nature of the laughing than of the weeping philosopher, had found much benevolent pleasure in contemplating the festive scene. Not that any folly or ridicule escaped his keen penetration; but he saw every thing with an indulgent eye, and, if he laughed, laughed in such a manner, that even those who were the objects of his pleasantry could scarcely have forborne to sympathize in his mirth. Folly, he thought, could be as effectually corrected by the tickling of a feather, as by the lash of the satirist. When Lady Margaret M'Gregor, and Lady Mary Macintosh, for instance, had almost forced their unhappy partners into a quarrel to support their respective claims to precedency, Dr. Campbell, who was appealed to as the relation of both the furious fair ones, decided the difference expeditiously, and much to the amusement of the company, by observing, that, as the pretensions of each of the ladies were incontrovertible, and precisely balanced, there was but one possible method of adjusting their precedency—by their age. He was convinced, he said, that the youngest lady would with pleasure yield precedency to the elder. The contest was now, which should stand the lowest, instead of which should stand the highest, in the dance: and when the proofs of seniority could not be settled, the fair ones drew lots for their places, and submitted that to chance which could not be determined by prudence.
Forester stood beside Dr. Campbell whilst all this passed, and wasted a considerable portion of virtuous indignation upon the occasion. "And look at that absurd creature!" exclaimed Forester, pointing out to Dr. Campbell a girl who was footing and pounding for fame at a prodigious rate. Dr. Campbell turned from the pounding lady to observe his own daughter Flora, and a smile of delight came over his countenance: for "parents are apt to be partial"—especially those who have such daughters as Flora. Her light figure and graceful agility attracted the attention even of many impartial spectators; but she was not intent upon admiration: she seemed to be dancing in the gaiety of her heart; and that was a species of gaiety in which every one sympathized, because it was natural, and of which every one approved, because it was innocent. There was a certain delicacy mixed with her sportive humour, which seemed to govern, without restraining, the tide of her spirits. Her father's eye was following her as she danced to a lively Scotch tune, when Forester pulled Dr. Campbell's cane, on which he was leaning, and exclaimed, "Doctor, I've just thought of an excellent plan for a tragedy!"
"A tragedy!" repeated Dr. Campbell, with unfeigned surprise; "are you sure you don't mean a comedy?"
Forester persisted that he meant a tragedy, and was proceeding to open the plot. "Don't force me to your tragedy now," said Dr. Campbell, "or it will infallibly be condemned. I cannot say that I have my buskin on! and I advise you to take yours off. Look, is that the tragic muse?"
Forester was astonished to find, that so great a man as Dr. Campbell had so little the power of abstraction; and he retired to muse upon the opening of his tragedy in a recess under the music gallery. But here he was not suffered long to remain undisturbed; for, near this spot, Sir Philip Gosling presently stationed himself; Archibald Mackenzie, who left off dancing as soon as Sir Philip entered the room, came to the half-intoxicated baronet; and they, with some other young men, worthy of their acquaintance, began so loud a contest concerning the number of bottles of claret which a man might, could, or should drink at a sitting, that even Forester's powers of abstraction failed, and his tragic muse took her flight.
"Supper! Supper! thank God!" exclaimed Sir Philip, as supper was now announced. "I'd never set my foot in a ballroom," added he, with several suitable oaths, "if it were not for the supper."
"Is that a rational being?" cried Forester to Dr. Campbell, after Sir Philip had passed them.
"Speak a little lower," said Dr. Campbell, "or he will infallibly prove his title to rationality by shooting you, or by making you shoot him, through the head."
"But, sir," said Forester, holding Dr. Campbell fast, whilst all the rest of the company were going down to supper, "how can you bear such a number of foolish, disagreeable people with patience?"
"What would you have me do?" said Dr. Campbell. "Would you have me get up and preach in the middle of a ball-room? Is it not as well, since we are here, to amuse ourselves with whatever can afford us any amusement, and to keep in good humour with all the world, especially with ourselves?—and had we not better follow the crowd to supper?"
Forester went down-stairs; but, as he crossed an antechamber, which led to the supper-room, he exclaimed, "If I were a legislator, I would prohibit balls."
"And if you were a legislator," said Dr. Campbell, pointing to a tea-kettle, which was on the fire in the antechamber, and from the spout of which a grey cloud of vapour issued—"if you were a legislator, would not you have stoppers wedged tight into the spouts of all tea-kettles in your dominions?"
"No, sir," said Forester; "they would burst."
"And do you think that folly would not burst, and do more mischief than a tea-kettle in the explosion, if you confined it so tight?"
Forester would willingly have stayed in the antechamber, to begin a critical dissection of this allusion; but Dr. Campbell carried him forwards into the supper-room. Flora had kept a seat for her father; and Henry met them at the door.
"I was just coming to see for you, sir," said he to his father. "Flora began to think you were lost."
"No," said Dr. Campbell, "I was only detained by a would-be Cato, who wanted me to quarrel with the whole world, instead of eating my supper. What would you advise me to eat, Flora?" said he, seating himself beside her.
"Some of this trifle, papa;" and as she lightly removed the flowers with which it was ornamented, her father said, "Yes, give me some trifle, Flora. Some characters are like that trifle—flowers and light froth at the top, and solid, good sweetmeat, beneath."
Forester immediately stretched out his plate for some trifle. "But I don't see any use in the flowers, sir," said he.
"Nor any beauty," said Dr. Campbell.
Forester picked the troublesome flowers out of his trifle, and ate a quantity of it sufficient for a Stoic. Towards the end of the supper, he took some notice of Henry, who had made several ineffectual efforts to amuse him by such slight strokes of wit as seemed to suit the time and place. Time and place were never taken into Forester's consideration: he was secretly displeased with his friend Henry for having danced all the evening instead of sitting still; and he looked at Henry's partner with a scrutinizing eye. "So," said he, at last, "I observe I have not been thought worthy of your conversation to-night: this is what gentlemen, polite gentlemen, who dance reels, call friendship!"
"If I had thought that you would have taken it ill I should dance reels," said Henry, laughing, "I would have made the sacrifice of a reel at the altar of friendship; but we don't come to a ball to make sacrifices to friendship, but to divert ourselves."
"If we can," said Forester, sarcastically: here he was prevented from reproaching his friend any longer, for a party of gentlemen began to sing catches, at the desire of the rest of the company.
Forester was now intent upon criticising the nonsensical words that were sung; and he was composing an essay upon the power of the ancient bards, and the effect of national music, when Flora's voice interrupted him: "Brother," said she, "I have won my wager." The wager was, that Forester would not during supper observe the geranium that was placed in the middle of the table.
As soon as the company were satisfied, both with their supper and their songs, Henry, whose mind was always present, seized the moment when there was silence to turn the attention of the company towards the object upon which his own thoughts were intent. The lady-patroness, the mistress of the canary-bird, had performed her promise: she had spoken to several of her acquaintance concerning the tyrannical schoolmistress; and now, fixing the attention of the company upon the geranium, she appealed to Henry Campbell, and begged him to explain its history. A number of eager eyes turned upon him instantly; and Forester felt, that if he had been called upon in such a manner he could not have uttered a syllable. He now felt the great advantage of being able to speak, without hesitation or embarrassment, before numbers. When Henry related the poor little girl's story, his language and manner were so unaffected and agreeable, that he interested every one who heard him in his cause. A subscription was immediately raised; every body was eager to contribute something to the child, who had been so ready, for her old grandmother's sake, to part with her favourite geranium. The lady who superintended the charity-school agreed to breakfast the next morning at Dr. Campbell's, and to go from his house to the school precisely at the hour when the schoolmistress usually set her unfortunate scholars to their extra task of spinning.
Forester was astonished at all this; he did not consider that negligence and inhumanity are widely different. The lady-patronesses had, perhaps, been rather negligent in contenting themselves with seeing the charity-children show well in procession to Church, and they had not sufficiently inquired into the conduct of the schoolmistress; but, as soon as the facts were properly stated, the ladies were eager to exert themselves, and candidly acknowledged that they had been to blame in trusting so much to the reports of the superficial visitors, who had always declared that the school was going on perfectly well.
"More people who are in the wrong," said Dr. Campbell to Forester, "would be corrected, if some people who are in the right had a little candour and patience joined to their other virtues."
As the company rose from the supper-table, several young ladies gathered round the geranium to admire Flora's pretty flower-pot. The black stains, however, struck every eye. Forester was standing by rather embarrassed. Flora, with her usual good-nature, refrained from all explanation, though the exclamations of "How was that done?"—"Who could have done that?" were frequently repeated.
"It was an accident," said Flora; and, to change the conversation, she praised the beauty of the geranium; she gathered one of the fragrant leaves, but, as she was going to put it amongst the flowers in her bosom, she observed she had dropped her moss-rose. It was a rarity at this time of year: it was a rose which Henry Camphell had raised in a conservatory of his own construction.
"Oh, my brother's beautiful rose!" exclaimed Flora.
Forester, who had been much pleased by her good-nature about the stains on the flower-pot, now, contrary to his habits, sympathized with her concern for the loss of her brother's moss-rose. He even exerted himself so far as to search under the benches and under the supper-table. He was fortunate enough to find it; and eager to restore the prize, he with more than his usual gallantry, but not with less than his customary awkwardness, crept from under the table, and, stretching half his body over a bench, pushed his arm between two young ladies into the midst of the group which surrounded Flora. As his arm extended his wrist appeared, and at the sight of that wrist all the young ladies shrank back, with unequivocal tokens of disgust. They whispered—they tittered; and many expressive looks were lost upon our hero, who still resolutely held out the hand upon which every eye was fixed. "Here's your rose! Is not this the rose?" said he, still advancing the dreaded hand to Flora, whose hesitation and blushes surprised him. Mackenzie burst into a loud laugh; and in a whisper, which all the ladies could hear, told Forester, that "Miss Campbell was afraid to take the rose out of his hands, lest she should catch from him what he had caught from the carter who had brought him to Edinburgh, or from some of his companions at the cobbler's."
Forester flung the rose he knew not where, sprung over the bench, rushed between Flora and another lady, made towards the door in a straight line, pushing every thing before him, till a passage was made for him by the astonished crowd, who stood out of his way as if he had been a mad dog.
"Forester!" cried Henry and Dr. Campbell, who were standing upon the steps before the door, speaking about the carriages, "what's the matter? where are you going? The carriage is coming to the door."
"I had rather walk—don't speak to me," said Forester; "I've been insulted: I am in a passion, but I can command myself. I did not knock him down. Pray let me pass!"
Our hero broke from Dr. Campbell and Henry with the strength of an enraged animal from his keepers; and he must have found his way home by instinct, for he ran on without considering how he went. He snatched the light from the servant who opened the door at Dr. Campbell's—hurried to his own apartment—locked, double-locked, and bolted the door—flung himself into a chair, and, taking breath, exclaimed, "Thank God! I've done no mischief. Thank God! I didn't knock him down. Thank God! he is out of my sight, and I am cool now—quite cool: let me recollect it all."
Upon the coolest recollection, Forester could not reconcile his pride to his present circumstances. "Archibald spoke the truth—why am I angry? why was I angry, I mean!" He reasoned much with himself upon the nature of true and false shame: he represented to himself that the disorder which disfigured his hands was thought shameful only because it was vulgar; that what was vulgar was not therefore immoral; that the young tittering ladies who shrunk back from him were not supreme judges of right and wrong; that he ought to despise their opinions, and he despised them with all his might for two or three hours, as he walked up and down his room with unremitting energy. At length our peripatetic philosopher threw himself upon his bed, determined that his repose should not be disturbed by such trifles: he had by this time worked himself up to such a pitch of magnanimity, that he thought he could with composure meet the disapproving eyes of millions of his fellow-creatures; but he was alone when he formed this erroneous estimate of the strength of the human mind. Wearied with passion and reason, he fell asleep, dreamed that he was continually presenting flowers, which nobody would accept; awakened at the imaginary repetition of Archibald's laugh, composed himself again to sleep, and dreamed that he was in a glover's shop, trying on gloves, and that, amongst a hundred pair which he pulled on, he could not find one that would fit him. Just as he tore the last pair in his hurry, he awakened, shook off his foolish dream, saw the sun rising between two chimneys many feet below his windows, recollected that in a short time he should be summoned to breakfast, that all the lady-patronesses were to be at this breakfast, that he could not breakfast in gloves, that Archibald would perhaps again laugh, and Flora perhaps again shrink back. He reproached himself for his weakness in foreseeing and dreading this scene: his aversion to lady-patronesses and to balls was never at a more formidable height; he sighed for liberty and independence, which he persuaded himself were not to be had in his present situation. In one of his long walks he remembered to have seen, at some miles' distance from the town of Edinburgh, a gardener and his boy, who were singing at their work. These men appeared to Forester to be yet happier than the cobbler, who formerly was the object of his admiration; and he was persuaded that he should be much happier at the gardener's cottage than he could ever be at Dr. Campbell's house.
"I am not fit," said he to himself, "to live amongst idle gentlemen and ladies; I should be happy if I were a useful member of society; a gardener is a useful member of society, and I will be a gardener, and live with gardeners."
Forester threw off the clothes which he had worn the preceding night at the fatal ball, dressed himself in his old coat, tied up a small bundle of linen, and took the road to the gardener's.
When Henry found that Forester was not in his room in the morning, he concluded that he had rambled out towards Salisbury Craigs, whither he talked the preceding day of going to botanize.
"I am surprised," said Dr. Campbell, "that the young gentleman is out so early, for I have a notion that he has not had much sleep since we parted, unless he walks in his sleep, for he has been walking over my poor head half the night."
Breakfast went on—no Forester appeared. Lady Catherine began to fear that he had broken his neck upon Salisbury Craigs, and related all the falls she had ever had, or had ever been near having, in carriages, on horseback, or otherwise. She then entered into the geography of Salisbury Craigs, and began to dispute upon the probability of his having fallen to the east or to the west.
"My dear Lady Catherine," said Dr. Campbell, "we are not sure that he has been upon Salisbury Craigs; whether he has fallen to the east or to the west, we cannot, therefore, conveniently settle."
But Lady Catherine, whose prudential imagination travelled fast, went on to inquire of Dr. Campbell, to whom the great Forester estate would go in case of any accident having happened or happening to the young gentleman before he should come of age.
Dr. Campbell was preparing to give her ladyship satisfaction upon this point, when a servant put a letter into his hands. Henry looked in great anxiety. Dr. Campbell glanced his eye over the letter, put it into his pocket, and desired the servant to show the person who brought the letter into his study.
"It's only a little boy," said Archibald; "I saw him as I passed through the hall."
"Cannot a little boy go into my study?" said Dr. Campbell, coolly.
Archibald's curiosity was strongly excited, and he slipped out of the room a few minutes afterward, resolved to speak to the boy, and to discover the purpose of his embassy. But Dr. Campbell was behind him before he was aware of his approach, and just as Archibald began to cross-examine the boy in these words, "So you came from a young man who is about my size?" Dr. Campbell put both his hands upon his shoulders, saying, "He came from a young man who does not in the least resemble you, believe me, Mr. Archibald Mackenzie."
Archibald started, turned round, and was so abashed by the civilly contemptuous look with which Dr. Campbell pronounced these words, that he retired from the study without even attempting any of his usual equivocating apologies for his intrusion. Dr. Campbell now read Forester's letter. It was as follows:—
"Though I have quitted your house thus abruptly, I am not insensible of your kindness. For the step I have taken, I can offer no apology merely to my guardian; but you have treated me, Dr, Campbell, as your friend, and I shall lay my whole soul open to you.
"Notwithstanding your kindness,—notwithstanding the friendship of your son Henry, whose excellent qualities I know how to value,—I most ingenuously own to you that I have been far from happy in your house. I feel that I cannot be at ease in the vortex of dissipation; and the more I see of the higher ranks of society, the more I regret that I was born a gentleman. Neither my birth nor my fortune shall, however, restrain me from pursuing that line of life which, I am persuaded, leads to virtue and tranquillity. Let those who have no virtuous indignation obey the voice of fashion, and at her commands let her slaves eat the bread of idleness till it palls upon the sense! I reproach myself with having yielded, as I have done of late, my opinions to the persuasions of friendship; my mind has become enervated, and I must fly from the fatal contagion. Thank Heaven, I have yet the power to fly: I have yet sufficient force to break my chains. I am not yet reduced to the mental degeneracy of the base monarch, who hugged his fetters because they were of gold.
"I am conscious of powers that fit me for something better than to waste my existence in a ball-room; and I will not sacrifice my liberty to the absurd ceremonies of daily dissipation. I, that have been the laughing-stock of the mean and frivolous, have yet sufficient manly pride, unextinguished in my breast, to assert my claim to your esteem: to assert, that I never have committed, or shall designedly commit, any action unworthy of the friend of your son.
"I do not write to Henry, lest I should any way involve him in my misfortunes: he is formed to shine in the polite world, and his connexion with me might tarnish the lustre of his character in the eyes of the 'nice-judging fair.' I hope, however, that he will not utterly discard me from his heart, though I cannot dance a reel. I beg that he will break open the lock of the trunk that is in my room, and take out of it my Goldsmith's Animated Nature, which he seemed to like.
"In my table-drawer there are my Martyn's Letters on Botany, in which you will find a number of plants that I have dried for Flora—Miss Flora Campbell, I should say. After what passed last night, I can scarcely hope they will be accepted. I would rather have them burned than refused; therefore please to burn them, and say nothing more upon the subject. Dear sir, do not judge harshly of me; I have had a severe conflict with myself before I could resolve to leave you. But I would rather that you should judge of me with severity than that you should extend to me the same species of indulgence with which you last night viewed the half-intoxicated baronet.
"I can bear any thing but contempt.
"P.S. I trust that you will not question the bearer; he knows where I am; I therefore put you on your guard. I mean to earn my own bread as a gardener; I have always preferred the agricultural to the commercial system."
To this letter, in which the mixture of sense and extravagance did not much surprise Dr. Campbell, he returned the following answer:—
"My dear cobbler, gardener, orator, or by whatever other name you choose to be addressed, I am too old to be surprised at any thing, otherwise I might have been rather surprised at some things in your eloquent letter. You tell me that you have the power to fly, and that you do not hug your chains, though they are of gold! Are you an alderman, or Daedalus? or are these only figures of speech? You inform me, that you cannot live in the vortex of dissipation, or eat the bread of idleness, and that you are determined to be a gardener. These things seem to have no necessary connexion with each other. Why you should reproach yourself so bitterly for having spent one evening of your life in a ball-room, which I suppose is what you allude to when you speak of a vortex of dissipation, I am at a loss to discover. And why you cannot, with so much honest pride yet unextinguished in your breast, find any occupation more worthy of your talents, and as useful to society, as that of a gardener, I own, puzzles me a little. Consider these things coolly; return to dinner, and we will compare at our leisure the advantages of the mercantile and the agricultural system. I forbear to question your messenger, as you desire; and I shall not show your letter to Henry till after we have dined. I hope by that time you will insist upon my burning it; which, at your request, I shall do with pleasure, although it contains several good sentences. As I am not yet sure you have departed this life, I shall not enter upon my office of executor; I shall not break open the lock of your trunk (of which I hope you will some time, when your mind is less exalted, find the key), nor shall I stir in the difficult case of Flora's legacy. When next you write your will, let me, for the sake of your executor, advise you to be more precise in your directions; for what can be done if you order him to give and burn the same thing in the same sentence? As you have, amongst your other misfortunes, the misfortune to be born heir to five or six thousand a year, you should learn a little how to manage your own affairs, lest you should, amongst your poor or rich companions, meet with some who are not quite so honest as yourself.
"If, instead of returning to dine with us, you should persist in your gardening scheme, I shall have less esteem for your good sense, but I shall forbear to reproach you. I shall leave you to learn by your own experience, if it be not in my power to give you the advantages of mine gratis. But, at the same time, I shall discover where you are, and shall inform myself exactly of all your proceedings. This, as your guardian, is my duty. I should further warn you, that I shall not, whilst you choose to live in a rank below your own, supply you with your customary yearly allowance. Two hundred guineas a year would be an extravagant allowance in your present circumstances. I do not mention money with any idea of influencing your generous mind by mercenary motives; but it is necessary that you should not deceive yourself by inadequate experiments: you cannot be rich and poor at the same time. I gave you the day before yesterday five ten-pound notes for your last quarterly allowance; I suppose you have taken these with you, therefore you cannot be in any immediate distress for money. I am sorry, I own, that you are so well provided, because a man who has fifty guineas in his pocket-book cannot distinctly feel what it is to be compelled to earn his own bread.