This was the last incident in the secret history of the Buchanan family
for the moment. The sudden, painful, and unexpected crisis which had
arisen on Marion’s wedding day ceased almost as suddenly as it arose.
The Mowbrays, after staying a short time in St. Rule’s, departed to more
genial climes, and places in which more amusement was to be found–for
though even so long ago, St. Rule’s had become a sort of watering-place,
where people came in the summer, it was not in the least a place of
organised pleasure, or where there was any whirl of gaiety; nothing
could be more deeply disapproved of than a whirl of gaiety in these
There were no hotels and few lodgings of the usual watering-place kind.
People who came hired houses and transported themselves and all their
families, resuming all their usual habits with the sole difference that
the men of the family, instead of going out upon their usual avocations
every day, went out to golf instead: which was then a diversion
practised only in certain centres of its own, where most of the people
could play–a thing entirely changed nowadays, as everybody is aware,
when it is to be found everywhere, and practised by everybody, the most
of whom do not know how to play.
Mrs. Mowbray did not find the place at all to her mind. Mr. Anderson’s
house, to which her son had succeeded, was old-fashioned, with furniture
of the last century, and large rooms, filled with the silence and calm
of years. Instead of being surrounded by “grounds,” which were the only
genteel setting for a gentleman’s house, it had the ruins of the
cathedral on one hand, and on the other the High Street. The picturesque
was not studied in those days: unless it might be the namby-pamby
picturesque, such as flourished in books of beauty, keepsakes, and
albums, when what was supposed to be Italian scenery was set forth in
steel engravings, and fine ladies at Venetian windows listened to the
guitars of their lovers rising from gondolas out of moonlit lakes. To
look out on the long, broad, sunny High Street, with, perhaps, the
figure of a piper in the distance, against the glow of the sunset, or a
wandering group, with an unhappy and melancholy dancing bear–was very
vulgar to the middle-class fine lady, a species appropriate to that
period, and which now has died away; and, to look out, on the other
hand, upon the soaring spring of a broken arch in the ruins, gave Mrs.
Mowbray the vapours, or the blues, or whatever else that elegant malady
was called. We should say nerves, in these later days, but, at the
beginning of the century, nerves had scarcely yet been invented.
For all these reasons, Mrs. Mowbray did not stay long in St. Rule’s–she
complained loudly of everything she found there, of the house, and the
society which had paid her so little attention: and of the climate, and
the golf which Frank had yielded to the fascination of, staying out all
day, and keeping her in constant anxiety! but, above all, she complained
of the income left by old Mr. Anderson, which was so much less than they
expected, and which all her efforts could not increase. She said so much
about this, as to make the life of good Mr. Morrison, the man of
business, a burden to him: and at the same time to throw upon the most
respectable inhabitants of St. Rule’s a sort of cloud or shadow, or
suspicion of indebtedness which disturbed the equanimity of the town.
“She thinks we all borrowed money from old Anderson,” the gentlemen said
with laughter in many a dining-room. But there were a few others, like
Mr. Buchanan, who did not like the joke.
“The woman is daft!” they said; but it was remarked by some keen
observers that the minister gave but a sickly smile in response. And it
may be supposed that this added to the contempt of the ladies for the
pretensions of a woman of whom nobody knew who was her father or who her
mother, yet who would fain have set herself up as a leader of fashion
over them all. In general, when the ladies disapprove of a new-comer, in
a limited society like that of St. Rule’s, the men are apt to take her
part–but, in this case, nobody took her part; and, as there was
nothing gay in the place, and no amusement to be had, even in solemn
dinner-parties, she very soon found it was not suitable for her health.
“So cold, even in summer,” she said, shivering–and everybody was glad
when she went away, taking that little mannikin, Frank–who, perhaps,
might have been made into something like a man on the links–with her,
to the inanity of some fashionable place. To like a fashionable place
was then believed to be the very top, or bottom, of natural depravity in
St. Rule’s.
This had been a very sore ordeal to Mr. Buchanan: his conscience
upbraided him day by day–he had even upon him an aching impulse to go
and tell somebody to relieve his own mind, and share the responsibility
with some one who might have guided him in his sore strait. Though he
was a very sound Presbyterian, and evangelical to his finger-tips, the
wisdom of the Church of Rome, in the institution of confession, and of a
spiritual director to aid the penitent, appeared to him in a far clearer
light than he had ever seen it before. To be sure, in all churches, the
advantage of telling your difficulties to an adviser conversant with the
spiritual life, has always been recognised: but there was no one whom
Mr. Buchanan could choose for this office–they were all married men,
for one thing, and who could be sure that the difficulty might not ooze
out into the mind of a faithful spouse, in no way bound to keep the
secrets of her husband’s penitents–and whom, at all events, even though
her lips were sealed by strictest honour, the penitent had no intention
of confiding his secret to. No; the minister felt that his reverend
brethren were the last persons to whom he would like to confide his hard
case. If there had been some hermit now, some old secluded person, some
old man, or even woman, in the sanctuary of years and experience, to
whom a man could go, and, by parable or otherwise, lay bare the troubles
of his soul. He smiled at himself even while the thought went through
his mind: the prose part of his being suggested an old, neglected
figure, all overgrown with beard and hair, in the hollow of St. Rule’s
cave, within the dashing of the spray, the very place for a hermit, a
dirty old man, hoarse and callous, incapable of comprehending the
troubles of a delicate conscience, though he might know what to say to
the reprobate or murderer: no, the hermit would not do, he said to
himself, with a smile, in our days.
To be sure, he had one faithful confidant, the wife of his bosom; but,
least of all, would Mr. Buchanan have poured out his troubles to his
wife. He knew very well what she would say–“You accepted an indulgence
that was not meant for you; you took your bill and wrote fourscore when
it was hundreds you were owing; Claude, my man, that cannot be–you must
just go this moment and tell Mr. Morrison the whole truth; and, if I
should sell my flannel petticoat, we’ll pay it off, every penny, if
only they will give us time.” He knew so well what she would say, that
he could almost hear the inflections of her voice in saying it. There
was no subtlety in her–she would understand none of his hesitations.
She would see no second side to the question. “Own debt and crave days,”
she would say; she was fond of proverbs–and he had heard her quote that
There are thus difficulties in the way of consulting the wife of your
bosom, especially if she is a practical woman, who could, in a manner,
force you to carry out your repentance into restitution, and give you no
During this time of reawakened feeling, Mr. Buchanan had a certain
distant sentiment, which he did not know how to explain to himself,
against his daughter Elsie. She had a way of looking at him which he did
not understand–not the look of disapproval, but of curiosity, half
wistful, half pathetic–as if she wanted to know something more of him,
to clear up some doubt in her own mind. What cause could the girl have
to want more knowledge of her own father? She knew everything about him,
all his habits, his way of looking at things–as much as a girl could
know about a man so much older and wiser than herself. It half amused
him to think that one of his own family should find this mystery in him.
He was to himself, always excepting that one thing, as open as the
day–and yet the amusement was partial, and mingled with alarm. She
knew more of that one thing than any one else; could it be that it was
curiosity and anxiety about this that was in the girl’s eyes?
Sometimes he thought so, and then condemned himself for entertaining
such a thought, reminding himself that vague recollections like that of
Elsie do not take such shape in a young mind, and also that it was
impossible that one so young, and his affectionate and submissive child,
should entertain any such doubts of him.
The curious thing was that, knowing all he did of himself, and that he
had done–or intended to do, which was the same–this one thing which
was evil, he still felt it impossible that any doubt of him should lodge
in his daughter’s mind.
In this way the years which are, perhaps, most important in the
development of the young, passed over the heads of the Buchanans. From
sixteen, Elsie grew to twenty, and became, as Marion had been, her
mother’s right hand, so that Mrs. Buchanan, more free from domestic
cares than formerly, was able to take an amount of repose which,
perhaps, was not quite so good for her as her former more active life;
for she grew stout, and less willing to move as her necessities
lessened. John was now in Edinburgh, having very nearly obtained the
full-fledged honours of a W.S. And Rodie, nearly nineteen, was now the
only boy at home. Perhaps, as the youngest, and the last to be settled,
he was more indulged than the others had been; for he had not yet
decided upon his profession, and still had hankerings after the army,
notwithstanding that all the defects of that service had been put before
him again and again–the all but impossibility of buying him a
commission, the certainty that he would have to live on his pay, and
many other disadvantageous things.
Rodie was still not old enough to be without hopes that something might
turn up to make his desires possible, however little appearance of it
there might be. Getting into the army in those days was not like getting
into the army now. With us it means, in the first place, examinations,
which any boy of moderate faculties and industry can pass: but then it
meant so much money out of his father’s pocket to buy a commission: to
put the matter in words, the present system seems the better way–but it
is doubtful whether the father’s pocket is much the better, seeing that
there is often a great deal of “cramming” to be done before the youth
gets through the ordeal of examinations, and sometimes, it must be
allowed, boys who are of the most perfect material for soldiers do not
get through that narrow gate at all.
But there was no cramming in Roderick Buchanan’s day; the word had not
been invented, nor the thing. A boy’s education was put into him
solidly, moderately, in much the same way as his body was built up, by
the work of successive years–he was not put into a warm place, and
filled with masses of fattening matter, like the poor geese of
Rodie’s eyes, therefore, not requiring to be for ever bent on
mathematics or other abstruse studies, were left free to search the
horizon for signs of anything that might turn up; perhaps a cadetship
for India, which was the finest thing that could happen–except in his
mother’s eyes, who thought one son was enough to have given up to the
great Moloch of India: but, had the promise of the cadetship arrived any
fine morning, I fear Mrs. Buchanan’s scruples would have been made short
work with. In the meantime, Rodie was attending classes at the College,
and sweeping the skies with the telescope of hope.
Rodie and his sister had come a little nearer with the progress of the
years. From the proud moment, when the youth felt the down of a coming
moustache upon his upper lip, and began to perceive that he was by no
means a bad-looking fellow, and to feel inclinations towards balls and
the society of girls, scorned and contemned so long as he was merely a
boy, he had drawn a little closer to his sister, who had, as it were,
the keys of that other world. It was a little selfish, perhaps; but, in
a family, one must not look too closely into motives; and Elsie,
faithful to her first affection, was glad enough to get him back again,
and to find that he was, by no means, so scornful of mere “lassies,” as
in the days when his desertion had made her little heart so sore.
Perhaps it had something to do with his conversion, that “his laddies,”
the Alicks and Ralphs of his boyish days, had all taken (at least, as
many as remained of them, those who had not yet gone off to the army, or
the bar, or the W.S.’s office) to balls also, and now danced as
vigorously as they played.
One of the strangest things, however, in all that juvenile band, was the
change which had come over Johnny Wemyss, who, the reader will remember,
was only a fisherman’s son, and lived east the town in a fisher’s
cottage, and was not supposed the best of company for the minister’s
son. Johnny, the romantic, silent boy, who had put down his flowers on
the pavement that the bride’s path might be over them, had taken to
learning, as it was easy for the poorest boy, in such a centre of
education, to do. As was usual, when a lad of his class showed this
turn, which was by no means extraordinary, it was towards the Church
that the parents directed their thoughts, and Johnny had taken all his
“arts” classes, his “humanities,” the curriculum of secular instruction,
and was pondering doctrine and exegesis in the theological branch, on
his way to be a minister, at the moment in their joint history at which
we have now arrived. I am not sure that even then he was quite sure that
he himself intended to be a minister; for, being a serious youth by
nature, he had much loftier views of that sacred profession than,
perhaps, it was possible for a minister’s son, trained up in over-much
familiarity with it, to have. But his meaning was, as yet, not very
clear to himself; he was fonder of “beasts,” creatures of the sea-coast,
fishes, and those half-inanimate things, which few people, as yet, had
begun to think of at all, than of anything else in the world, except….
I will not fill in this blank; perhaps the young reader will guess what
was the thing Johnny Wemyss held in still higher devotion than “his
beasts;” at all events, if he follows the thread of this story, he will
in time find out.
Johnny was no longer kept outside the minister’s door. In his red gown,
as a student of St. Rule’s, he was as good as anyone, and the childish
alliance, which had long existed between him and Rodie, was still kept
up, although Rodie’s fictitious enthusiasm for beasts, which was merely
a reflection from his friend’s, had altogether failed, and he was as
ready as any one to laugh at the pottering in all the sea-pools, and
patient observation of all the strange creatures’ ways, which kept
Wemyss busy all the time he could spare from his lectures and his
essays, and the composition of the sermons which a theological student
at St. Mary’s College was bound, periodically, to produce. Those tastes
of his were already recognised as very absurd and rather amusing, but
very good things to keep a laddie out of mischief, Mrs. Buchanan said;
for it was evident that he could not be “carrying on” in any foolish
way, so long as he spent his afternoons out on the caller sands, with
his wee spy-glass, examining the creatures, how they were made, and all
about them, though it was a strange taste for a young man. Several times
he had, indeed, brought a basin full of sea-water–carrying it through
the streets, not at all put out by the amusement which surrounded him,
the school-boys that followed at his heels, the sharp looks which his
acquaintances gave each other, convinced now that Johnny Wemyss had
certainly a bee in his bonnet–to the minister’s house, that Miss Elsie
might see the wonderful white and pink creatures, like sea-flowers, the
strange sea-anemones, rooted on bits of rock, and waving their
tentacles, or shutting them up in a moment at a rude touch.
Elsie, much disposed to laugh at first, when the strange youth brought
her this still stranger trophy, gradually came to admire, and wonder,
and take great notice of the sea-anemones, which were wonderfully
pretty, though so queer–and which, after all, she began to think, it
was quite as clever of Johnny Wemyss to have discovered, as it was of
the Alicks and Ralphs to shoot the wild-fowl at the mouth of the Eden.
It was even vaguely known that he wrote to some queer scientific fishy
societies about them, and received big letters by the post, “costing
siller,” or sometimes franked in the corner with long, sprawling
signatures of peers, or members of parliament. People, however, would
not believe that these letters could be about Johnny Wemyss’s beasts;
they thought that this must simply be a pretence to make himself and
his rubbish of importance, and that it must be something else which
procured him these correspondents, though what, they could not tell.
Wemyss was the eldest of the little society. He was three-and-twenty,
and ought to be already settled in life, everybody thought. He had, for
some time, been making his living, which was the first condition of
popular respect, and had already been tutor to a number of lads before
he had begun his theological course. This age was rather a late age in
Scotland for a student of divinity–most of those who had any interest
were already sure of a kirk, and even those who had none were exercising
their gifts as probationers, and hoping to attract somebody’s notice who
could bestow one. But Johnny somehow postponed that natural
consummation: he went on with his tutor’s work, and made no haste over
his studies, continuing to attend lectures, when he might have applied
to the Presbytery for license. It was believed, and not without truth,
that not even for the glory of being a placed minister, could he make up
his mind to give up his beloved sea-pools, where he was always to be
found of an afternoon, pottering in the sea-water, spoiling his clothes,
and smelling of the brine, as if he were still one of the fisher folk
among whom he had been born. He no longer dwelt among them, however, for
his father and mother were both dead, and he himself lived in a little
lodging among those cheap tenements frequented by students near the
West, out at the other end of the town. He did not go to the balls, nor
care for dancing like the others,–which was a good thing, seeing he was
to be a minister,–but, notwithstanding, there were innumerable
occasions of meeting each other, common to all the young folk of the
friendly, little, old-fashioned town.

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