Chapter LVI. The Laird and the Preacher.
 

Since he came to town, Gibbie had seen Ginevra but once--that was in the North church. She looked so sad and white that his heart was very heavy for her. Could it be that she repented?--She must have done it to please her father! If she would marry Donal, he would engage to give her Glashruach. She should have Glashruach all the same whatever she did, only it might influence her father. He paced up and down before the cottage once for a whole night, but no good came of that. He paced before it from dusk to bedtime again and again, in the poor hope of a chance of speaking to Ginevra, but he never saw even her shadow on the white blind. He went up to the door once, but in the dread of displeasing her lost his courage, and paced the street the whole morning instead, but saw no one come out.

Fergus had gradually become essential to the small remaining happiness of which the laird was capable. He had gained his favour chiefly through the respect and kindly attention he showed him. The young preacher knew little of the laird's career, and looked upon him as an unfortunate man, towards whom loyalty now required even a greater show of respect than while he owned his father's farm. The impulse transmitted to him from the devotion of ancestors to the patriarchal head of the clan, had found blind vent in the direction of the mere feudal superior, and both the impulse and its object remained. He felt honoured, even now that he had reached the goal of his lofty desires and was a popular preacher, in being permitted to play backgammon with the great man, or to carve a chicken, when the now trembling hands, enfeebled far more through anxiety and disappointment than from age, found themselves unequal to the task: the laird had begun to tell long stories, and drank twice as much as he did a year ago; he was sinking in more ways than one.

Fergus at length summoned courage to ask him if he might pay his addresses to Miss Galbraith. The old man started, cast on him a withering look, murmured "The heiress of Glashruach!" remembered, threw himself back in his chair, and closed his eyes. Fergus, on the other side of the table, sat erect, a dice-box in his hand, waiting a reply. The father reflected that if he declined what he could not call an honour, he must lose what was unquestionably a comfort: how was he to pass all the evenings of the week without the preacher? On the other hand, if he accepted him, he might leave the miserable cottage, and go to the manse: from a moral point of view--that was, from the point of other people's judgment of him--it would be of consequence to have a clergyman for a son-in-law. Slowly he raised himself in his chair, opened his unsteady eyes, which rolled and pitched like boats on a choppy sea, and said solemnly,

"You have my permission, Mr. Duff."

The young preacher hastened to find Ginevra, but only to meet a refusal, gentle and sorrowful. He pleaded for permission to repeat his request after an interval, but she distinctly refused. She did not, however, succeed in making a man with such a large opinion of himself hopeless. Disappointed and annoyed he was, but he sought and fancied he found reasons for her decision which were not unfavourable to himself, and continued to visit her father as before, saying to him he had not quite succeeded in drawing from her a favourable answer, but hoped to prevail. He nowise acted the despairing lover, but made grander sermons than ever, and, as he came to feel at home in his pulpit, delivered them with growing force. But delay wrought desire in the laird; and at length, one evening, having by cross-questioning satisfied himself that Fergus made no progress, he rose, and going to his desk, handed him Donal's verses. Fergus read them, and remarked he had read better, but the first stanza had a slight flavour of Shelley.

"I don't care a straw about their merit or demerit," said Mr. Galbraith; "poetry is nothing but spoilt prose. What I want to know is, whether they do not suggest a reason for your want of success with Jenny. Do you know the writing?"

"I cannot say I do. But I think it is very likely that of Donal Grant; he sets up for the Burns of Daurside."

"Insolent scoundrel!" cried the laird, bringing down his fist on the table, and fluttering the wine glasses. "Next to superstition I hate romance--with my whole heart I do!" And something like a flash of cold moonlight on wintred water gleamed over, rather than shot from, his poor focusless eyes.

"But, my dear sir," said Fergus, "if I am to understand these lines--"

"Yes! if you are to understand where there is no sense whatever!"

"I think I understand them--if you will excuse me for venturing to say so; and what I read in them is, that, whoever the writer may be, the lady, whoever she may be, had refused him."

"You cannot believe that the wretch had the impudence to make my daughter--the heiress of--at least--What! make my daughter an offer! She would at once have acquainted me with the fact, that he might receive suitable chastisement. Let me look at the stuff again."

"It is quite possible," said Fergus, "it may be only a poem some friend has copied for her from a newspaper."

While he spoke, the laird was reading the lines, and persuading himself he understood them. With sudden resolve, the paper held torch-like in front of him, he strode into the next room, where Ginevra sat.

"Do you tell me," he said fiercely, "that you have so far forgotten all dignity and propriety as to give a dirty cow-boy the encouragement to make you an offer of marriage? The very notion sets my blood boiling. You will make me hate you, you--you--unworthy creature!"

Ginevra had turned white, but looking him straight in the face, she answered,

"If that is a letter for me, you know I have not read it."

"There! see for yourself.--Poetry!" He uttered the word with contempt inexpressible.

She took the verses from his hand and read them. Even with her father standing there, watching her like an inquisitor, she could not help the tears coming in her eyes as she read.

"There is no such thing here, papa," she said. "They are only verses--bidding me good-bye."

"And what right has any such fellow to bid my daughter good-bye? Explain that to me, if you please. Of course I have been for many years aware of your love of low company, but I had hoped as you grew older you would learn manners: modesty would have been too much to look for.--If you had nothing to be ashamed of, why did you not tell me of the unpleasant affair? Is not your father your best friend?"

"Why should I make both him and you uncomfortable, papa--when there was not going to be anything more of it?"

"Why then do you go hankering after him still, and refusing Mr. Duff? It is true he is not exactly a gentleman by birth, but he is such by education, by manners, by position, by influence."

"Papa, I have already told Mr. Duff, as plainly as I could without being rude, that I would never let him talk to me so. What lady would refuse Donal Grant and listen to him!"

"You are a bold, insolent hussey!" cried her father in fresh rage and leaving the room, rejoined Fergus.

They sat silent both for a while--then the preacher spoke.

"Other communications may have since reached her from the same quarter," he said.

"That is impossible," rejoined the laird.

"I don't know that," insisted Fergus. "There is a foolish--a half-silly companion of his about the town. They call him Sir Gibbie Galbraith."

"Jenny knows no such person."

"Indeed she does. I have seen them together."

"Oh! you mean the lad the minister adopted! the urchin he took off the streets!--Sir Gibbie Galbraith!" he repeated sneeringly, but as one reflecting. "--I do vaguely recall a slanderous rumour in which a certain female connection of the family was hinted at.--Yes! that's where the nickname comes from.--And you think she keeps up a communication with the clown through him?"

"I don't say that, sir. I merely think it possible she may see this Gibbie occasionally; and I know he worships the cow-boy: it is a positive feature of his foolishness, and I wish it were the worst."

Therewith he told what he heard from Miss Kimble, and what he had seen for himself on the night when he watched Gibbie.

"Her very blood must be tainted!" said her father to himself, but added, "--from her mother's side;" and his attacks upon her after this were at least diurnal. It was a relief to his feeling of having wronged her, to abuse her with justice. For a while she tried hard to convince him now that this now that that notion of her conduct, or of Gibbie's or Donal's, was mistaken: he would listen to nothing she said, continually insisting that the only amends for her past was to marry according to his wishes; to give up superstition, and poetry, and cow-boys, and dumb rascals, and settle down into a respectable matron, a comfort to the gray hairs she was now bringing with sorrow to the grave. Then Ginevra became absolutely silent; he had taught her that any reply was but a new start for his objurgation, a knife wherewith to puncture a fresh gall-bladder of abuse. He stormed at her for her sullenness, but she persisted in her silence, sorely distressed to find how dead her heart seemed growing under his treatment of her: what would at one time have made her utterly miserable, now passed over her as one of the billows of a trouble that had to be borne, as one of the throbs of a headache, drawing from her scarcely a sigh. She did not understand that, her heaven being dark, she could see no individual cloud against it, that, her emotional nature untuned, discord itself had ceased to jar.