MARION AND ELSIE

It was not till a long time after this that the Rev. Matthew Sinclair,
who was the betrothed of Marion Buchanan, got a kirk, and the faithful
pair were able to marry. The snowy heaps of Marion’s linen, which her
mother now spoke of, in the bosom of the family, as in reality a present
from old Mr. Anderson, seeing that it was paid for by a loan from him,
generously converted into a legacy when he died–had lain spread out,
with sprigs of lavender between the folds, in the big press at the head
of the nursery stairs for nearly two years, during which time Elsie grew
into almost a young woman. Rodie, too, became an ever more and more
“stirring” school-boy, less disposed to sit and read from the same book
with his sister, and more occupied with outdoor games and the
“clanjamfry,” as his mother said, of school-fellows and playfellows who
were always hanging about waiting for him, or coming with mysterious
knockings to the door to ask him out. Some of them, Mrs. Buchanan
thought, were not quite proper comrades for the minister’s son, but the
framework of juvenile society in St. Rule’s was extremely democratic,
all the classes going to school together according to Scotch
precedent–the laird’s son and the shoemaker’s on the same bench, and
Rodie Buchanan cheek by jowl with the fisher laddies from east the town.
In the play hours, it was true, things equalised themselves a little;
but there was certainly one fisher laddie his prompter and helper in
school, who kept a great ascendancy over Rodie, and would lead him away
in long tramps along the sea-shore, when he might have been at football
or “at the gouff” with companions of his own standing, and when Elsie
was pining for his society at home. Elsie felt the partial desertion of
her brother extremely. She missed the long readings together in the
turret and elsewhere, and the long rambles, in which Johnny Wemyss had
become Rodie’s companion, apparently so much more interesting to him
than herself. Johnny Wemyss, it was evident, had a great deal of
knowledge, which Elsie was inclined, in her ignorance, to be thankful
she did not possess; for Rodie would come in with his pockets all full
of clammy and wet things–jelly-fish, which he called by some grand
name–and the queer things that wave about long fingers on the edges of
the pools, and shrink into themselves when you touch them. This was
before the days when sea-anemones became a fashionable pursuit, but
children brought up by the sea had, of course, known and wondered at
these creatures long before science took them up. But to bring them home
was a different matter; filling the school-room with nasty, sticky
things, which, out of their native element, decayed and made bad
smells, and were the despair of the unfortunate maid who had to keep
that room in order, and dared not, except in extremity, throw Rodie’s
hoards away. “It is not Rodie’s fault; it is Johnny Wemyss that just
tells him nonsense stories,” Elsie said. She would have given her little
finger to have gone with him on those rambles, and to have heard all
about those strange living things; but already the invisible bonds that
confine a woman’s movements had begun to cramp Elsie’s free footsteps,
and the presence of Johnny Wemyss made, she was well aware, her own
impossible, though it was just Johnny Wemyss’s “nonsense stories” that
she desired most to hear.

Rodie condescended to accompany her on her Sunday walk when all St.
Rule’s perambulated the links from which they were shut out on
week-days; but that became the only occasion on which she could
calculate on his company, and not even the new _Waverley_, which had
failed to beguile the minister from his urgent trouble, could seduce
Rodie from his many engagements with his fellows to sit with his sister
in the turret, with the book between them as of old.

Elsie, it is true, gradually began to make herself amends for this
desertion by forming new alliances of her own with girls of her own age,
who have always abounded in St. Rule’s; but these did not at all make up
to her, as Johnny Wemyss seemed to make up to Rodie, for the separation
from her natural companion and fellow. These young ladies were
beginning already, as they approached sixteen, to think of balls and
triumphs in a way which was different from the romps of old. The world,
in the shape of young men older than their boyish companions, and with
other intentions, began to open about them. At that time it was nothing
very remarkable that girls should marry very early, a circumstance
which, of itself, made a great change in their ideas, and separated them
more than anything else could have done from their childish
contemporaries of the other sex.

Elsie was in that hot stage of indignation and revolt against
sweethearts, and all talk on the subject, which is generally a phase in
a girl’s development. She was angry at the introduction of this unworthy
subject, and almost furious with the girls who chattered and laughed
about Bobbie this and Willie that–for in St. Rule’s they all knew each
other by their Christian names. She could understand that you should
prefer your own brother’s society to that of any girl, and much wondered
that Rodie should prefer any boy to herself–which was one great
distinction between girls and boys which she discovered with indignation
and shame. “I like Rodie better than anybody, but he likes his Johnny
Wemyss better than me! Ay!” she cried, the indignation gaining upon her,
“and even if Johnny Wemyss were not there, Ralph Beaton or Harry Seaton,
or any laddie–whereas I would give up any lassie for him.”

“That is just the way of men,” said Marion, her eldest sister, who,
being now on the eve of marriage, naturally knew a great deal more than
a girl of sixteen.

“Not with Matthew,” cried Elsie, who, if she had no experience, was not
without observation; “he likes you better than all the men in the
world.”

“Oh, Matthew!” said Marion, with a blush–“that’s different: but when
he’s used to me,” added this discreet young woman–“Matthew, I’ve every
reason to believe, will just be like the rest. He will play his gouff,
though I may be sitting solitary at home–and he will go out to his
dinner and argue among his men, and take his walks with Hugh Playfair,
or whoever turns up. He will say, ‘My dear, I want a long stretch that
would be too far for you,’ as my father says to my mother. She takes it
very well, and is glad he should be enjoying himself, and leaving her at
peace to look after her house and her bairns–but perhaps she was not so
pleased at first: and perhaps I’ll not be pleased either when it comes
to that,” Marion said, reflectively.

Sense was her great characteristic, and she had, in her long engagement,
had much time to turn all these things over in her mind.

“I don’t think it will ever come to that–for he cannot let you be for a
moment,” said Elsie. “I sometimes wish he were a hundred miles away.”

“Ah,” said Marion, “but you know that will not last; and, indeed, it is
better it should not last, for how could you ever get anything done if
your man was draigling after you all the day long? No, no, it is more
manlike that he should keep till his own kind. You may think you would
like to have Rodie at your tail for ever, as when you were little
bairns, and called the twins: but you would not, any more than he
does— just wait a wee, and you will find that out for yourself: for it
should surely be more so with your brother, who is bound to go away from
you, when it is so with your man.”

“Then I think the disciples were right,” said Elsie, who was very
learned in her Bible, as became a minister’s daughter. “And if the case
of a man be so with his wife it would be better not to marry.”

“Well, it does not seem that folk think so,” said Marion, with a smile,
“or it would not have gone on so long. Will you get me the finest
dinner-napkins, the very finest ones, out of the big napery press at the
head of the stairs?–for I am not sure that they are all marked
properly, and time is running on, and everything must be finished.”

Marion was very great at marking, whether in white letters worked in
satin stitch, or in small red ones done with engrained cotton, or
finally with the little bottle of marking-ink and the hot iron with
which Elsie still loved to help her–but in the case of the finest
dinner-napkins, I need not say that marking-ink was not good enough,
and the finest satin stitch was employed.

It need not be added that notwithstanding the reflection above stated
Elsie felt a great interest in the revelations of the sister thus
standing on the brink of a new life, and so soberly contemplating the
prospect before her, not with any idea, as it seemed, of ideal
blessedness, nor of having everything her own way.

Marion had been set thinking by the girl’s questions, and was ready to
go on talking when Elsie returned with the pile of dinner-napkins in her
arms, as high as her chin, which reposed upon them. It had been Mrs.
Buchanan’s pride that no minister’s wife in the whole presbytery should
have more exquisite linen, and both mother and daughter were gratified
to think that the table would be set out for the dinner on the Monday
after the Sacrament as few such tables were. The damask was very fine,
of a beautiful small pattern, and shone like white satin. Elsie had a
little talent for drawing, and she it was who drew the letters which
Marion worked; so that this duty afforded occupation for both.

“It is a little strange, I do not deny,” said Marion, “that though they
make such a work about us when they are courting and so forth, the men
are more content in the society of their own kind than we are: a party
that is all lassies, you weary of it.”

“Not me!” cried Elsie, all aflame.

“Wait till you are a little older,” said the sage Marion; “it’s even
common to say; though I doubt if it is true, that after dinner we weary
for them, if they are too long of coming up-stairs. But they never weary
for us: and a man’s party is always the most joyful of all, and they
like it above everything, and never wish that we were there. I must say
I do not understand how this is, considering how dependent they are upon
us for their comfort, and how helpless they are, more helpless than a
woman ever is. Now, what my father would do if mamma did not see that he
was brushed and trimmed up and kept in order, I cannot tell: and no
doubt it will be just the same with Matthew. He will come to me crying,
‘May, there are no handkerchiefs in my drawer,’ or, ‘May, the button’s
off my glove,’ as if it was my great fault–and when he is going off to
preach anywhere, he will forget his very sermon if I don’t take care
it’s put into his portmanteau.

“Well, my dear! I am no better than my mother, and that is what she has
to do: but when they get a few men together, and can gossip away, and
talk, and take their glass of toddy, then is the time when they really
enjoy themselves. And so it is with the laddies, or even more–you wish
for them, but they don’t wish for you.”

“I wish for none of them, except Rodie, my own brother, that has always
been my companion,” Elsie said.

“And you would think he would wish for you? but no: his Johnny Wemyss
and his Alick Beaton, or was it Ralph?–that’s what he likes far best,
except, of course, when he falls in love, and then he will run after the
lassie wherever she goes, till she takes him, and it’s all settled, and
then he just goes back to his men, as before. It is a very mysterious
thing to me,” said Marion, “but I have thought a great deal about it,
and it’s quite true. I do not like myself,” she added, with a pause of
reflection, “men that are always at a woman’s tails. If you never could
turn round or do a thing without your man after you, it would be a great
bother. I am sure mamma feels that; she is always easy in her mind when
my father is set down very busy to his sermon, or when somebody comes in
to talk to him, or he goes out to his dinner with Professor Grant. Then
she is sure he will be happy, and it leaves her free. I will just feel
the same about Matthew, and he about me. He would not be without me for
all the world, but he will never want me when he gets with his own
cronies. Now, we always seem to have a kind of want of them.”

“You have just said that mamma was quite happy when she got papa off her
hands,” Elsie said.

“That is a different thing; but do you think for a moment that she would
enjoy herself with a party of women as he does at Professor Grant’s?
That she would not; she is glad to get him off her hands because she is
sure he will enjoy himself, and be no trouble to anybody. But that
would be little pleasure to her, if she were to do the same: and you
yourself, if you had all the Seatons and the Beatons that ever were
born—-”

“I want only Rodie, my own brother,” Elsie said, with indignation.

“And he,” said Marion, calmly reflecting, “does not want you; that is
just what I say–and what is so queer a thing.”

“If the case of a man is so with his wife?” said Elsie, oracularly.

“Toots–the man is just very well off,” said Marion. “He gets his wife
to take care of him, and then he just enjoys himself with his own kind.”

“Then I would never marry,” cried Elsie; “not whatever any one might
say.”

“That is very well for you,” said Marion. “You will be the only daughter
when I am away; they will be very well contented if you never marry;
for, to be left without a child in the house, would be hard enough upon
mamma. But even, with all my plenishing ready, and the things marked,
and everything settled–not that I would like to part with Matthew, even
if there was no plenishing–I would rather have him without a tablecloth
than any other man with the finest napery in the world. But I just know
what will happen, and I am quite pleased, and it is of no use going
against human nature. For company, they will always like their own kind
best. But then, on the other hand, women are not so keen about company.
When there’s a family, they are generally very well content to bide at
home, and be thankful when their man enjoys himself without fashing
anybody.”

This is not a doctrine which would, perhaps, be popular with women
nowadays; but, in Marion’s time, it was considered a kind of gospel in
its way.

Elsie was not much interested in the view of man, as husband, put forth
by her sister. Her mind did not go out towards that development of
humanity; but the defection of Rodie, her _own_ brother as she said, was
a more serious matter. Most girls in as large family have an own brother
their natural pair, the one most near to them in age or temperament. It
had once been Willie and Marion, just as it had once been Elsie and
Rodie; but Elsie could not bear the thought that Rodie might become to
her, by his own will, the same as Willie was to Marion–her brother, but
not her _own_ brother, with no special tie between them. Her mind was
constantly occupied by the thought of it, and how it was to be averted.
Marion, she thought, had done nothing to lead Willie back when he first
began to go after, what Marion called, his own kind, and to jilt his
sister: so far from that, she had brought in a stranger into the family,
a Matthew, to re-open and widen the breach, so that it was natural that
Willie should go out of nights, and like his young men’s parties, and
come in much later than pleased father. This was not a thing that Elsie
would do–she would bring in no strange man. All the Matthews in the
world might flutter round her, but she would never give Rodie any reason
to think that there was anybody she wanted but her brother–no, whatever
might happen, she would be faithful to Rodie, even if it were true, as
Marion said, that men (as if Rodie were a man!) liked their own kind
best. Why, she _was_ his own kind; who could be so near him as his
sister, his own sister, the one that was next in the family?

Elsie went seriously into this question, as seriously as any forsaken
wife could do, whose husband was being led astray from her, as she took
a melancholy ramble by herself along the east sands, where Rodie never
accompanied her now. She asked herself what she could do to bring him
back, to make him feel that, however his Johnnys and his Alicks might
tempt him for the moment, it was Elsie that was his true friend: she
must never scold him, nor taunt him with liking other folk better, she
must always be kind, however unkind he might be. With these excellent
resolutions warm in her mind, it happened to Elsie to see, almost
straight in front of her, hanging on the edge of a pool among the rocks,
Rodie himself, in company with Johnny Wemyss, the newly-chosen friend of
his heart. Johnny was up to his elbows in the pool, digging out with his
hands the strange things and queer beasts to be found therein; and half
to show the charity of her thoughts, half out of curiosity and desire
to see what they were about, Elsie hurried on to join them. Johnny
Wemyss was a big boy, bigger than Rodie, as old as Elsie
herself–roughly clad, with big, much-mended nailed boots, clouted
shoon, as he would himself have called them, and his rough hair standing
out under the shabby peak of his sailor’s cap.

“What are you doing–oh, what are you finding? Let me see,” cried Elsie,
coming up behind them with noiseless feet on the wet but firm sand.

Johnny Wemyss gave a great start, and raised himself up, drawing his
bare and dripping arms out of the water, and standing confused before
the young lady, conscious that he was not company for her, nor even for
her brother, the minister’s son, he who came of mere fisher folk.

But Rodie turned round fierce and threateningly, with his fists clenched
in his pockets.

“What are you wanting?” he cried. “Can you not let a person abee? We are
no wanting any lassies here.”

“Rodie,” cried his sister, flushed and almost weeping, “do you say that
to me?”

“Ay do I!” cried Rodie, red with wrath and confusion. “What are you
wanting? We just want no lassies here.”

Elsie gave him but one look of injured love and scorn, and, without
saying another word, turned round and walked away.

Oh, May was right! she was only a lassie to her own brother, and he had
insulted her before that Johnny, who was the cause of it all–she only
hoped they were looking after her to see how firm she walked, and that
she was not crying–no, she would not cry–why should she cry about him,
the hard-hearted, unkind boy? and with that, Elsie’s shoulders heaved,
and a great sob rent her breast.

She had indeed mourned his desertion before: yet this was practically
her first revelation of the hollowness of life.

Meanwhile, Rodie was far from comfortable on his side; all the more that
Johnny Wemyss gave him a kick with his clouted shoe, and said, with the
frankness of friendship:

“Ye little cankered beast–how dare ye speak to her like that? How can
she help it if she is a lassie?–it’s no her blame!”