Sir Gibbie by George MacDonald
Chapter LX. Arrangement and Preparation.
The next morning, the first thing after breakfast, Mr. Sclater, having reflected that Ginevra was under age and they must be careful, resumed for the nonce, with considerable satisfaction, his office of guardian, and holding no previous consultation with Gibbie, walked to the cottage, and sought an interview with Mr. Galbraith, which the latter accorded with a formality suitable to his idea of his own inborn grandeur. But his assumption had no effect on nut-headed Mr. Sclater, who, in this matter at all events, was at peace with his conscience.
"I have to inform you, Mr. Galbraith," he began, "that Miss Galbraith--"
"Oh!" said the laird, "I beg your pardon; I was not aware it was my daughter you wished to see."
He rose and rang the bell. Mr. Sclater, annoyed at his manner, held his peace.
"Tell your mistress," said the laird, "that the Rev. Mr. Sclater wishes to see her."
The girl returned with a scared face, and the news that her mistress was not in her room. The laird's loose mouth dropped looser.
"Miss Galbraith did us the honour to sleep at our house last night," said Mr. Sclater deliberately.
"The devil!" cried the laird, relieved. "Why!--What!--Are you aware of what you are saying, sir?"
"Perfectly; and of what I saw too. A blow looks bad on a lady's face."
"Good heavens! the little hussey dared to say I struck her?"
"She did not say so; but no one could fail to see some one had. If you do not know who did it, I do."
"Send her home instantly, or I will come and fetch her," cried the laird.
"Come and dine with us if you want to see her. For the present she remains where she is. You want her to marry Fergus Duff; she prefers my ward, Gilbert Galbraith, and I shall do my best for them."
"She is under age," said the laird.
"That fault will rectify itself as fast in my house as in yours," returned the minister. "If you invite the publicity of a legal action, I will employ counsel, and wait the result."
Mr. Sclater was not at all anxious to hasten the marriage; he would much rather, in fact, have it put off, at least until Gibbie should have taken his degree. The laird started up in a rage, but the room was so small that he sat down again. The minister leaned back in his chair. He was too much displeased with the laird's behaviour to lighten the matter for him by setting forth the advantages of having Sir Gibbie for a son-in-law.
"Mr. Sclater," said the laird at length, "I am shocked, unspeakably shocked, at my daughter's conduct. To leave the shelter of her father's roof, in the middle of the night, and--"
"About seven o'clock in the evening," interjected Mr. Sclater.
"--and take refuge with strangers!" continued the laird.
"By no means strangers, Mr. Galbraith!" said the minister. "You drive your daughter from your house, and are then shocked to find she has taken refuge with friends!"
"She is an unnatural child. She knows well enough what I think of her, and what reason she has given me so to think."
"When a man happens to be alone in any opinion," remarked the minister, "even if the opinion should be of his own daughter, the probabilities are he is wrong. Every one but yourself has the deepest regard for Miss Galbraith."
"She has always cultivated strangely objectionable friendships," said the laird.
"For my own part," said the minister, as if heedless of the laird's last remark, "although I believe she has no dowry, and there are reasons besides why the connection should not be desirable, I do not know a lady I should prefer for a wife to my ward."
The minister's plain speaking was not without effect upon the laird. It made him uncomfortable. It is only when the conscience is wide awake and regnant that it can be appealed to without giving a cry for response. Again he sat silent a while. Then gathering all the pomp and stiffness at his command,
"Oblige me by informing my daughter," he said, "that I request her, for the sake of avoiding scandal, to return to her father's house until she is of age."
"And in the mean time you undertake--"
"I undertake nothing," shouted the laird, in his feeble, woolly, yet harsh voice.
"Then I refuse to carry your message. I will be no bearer of that from which, as soon as delivered, I should dissuade."
"Allow me to ask, are you a minister of the gospel, and stir up a child against her own father?"
"I am not here to bandy words with you, Mr. Galbraith. It is nothing to me what you think of me. If you will engage not to urge your choice upon Miss Galbraith, I think it probable she will at once return to you. If not--"
"I will not force her inclinations," said the laird. "She knows my wish, and she ought to know the duty of a daughter."
"I will tell her what you say," answered the minister, and took his departure.
When Gibbie heard, he was not at all satisfied with Mr. Sclater's interference to such result. He wished to marry Ginevra at once, in order to take her from under the tyranny of her father. But he was readily convinced it would be better, now things were understood, that she should go back to him, and try once more to gain him. The same day she did go back, and Gibbie took up his quarters at the minister's.
Ginevra soon found that her father had not yielded the idea of having his own way with her, but her spirits and courage were now so good, that she was able not only to endure with less suffering, but to carry herself quite differently. Much less afraid of him, she was the more watchful to minister to his wants, dared a loving liberty now and then in spite of his coldness, took his objurgations with something of the gaiety of one who did not or would not believe he meant them, and when he abused Gibbie, did not answer a word, knowing events alone could set him right in his idea of him. Rejoiced that he had not laid hold of the fact that Glashruach was Gibbie's, she never mentioned the place to him; for she shrunk with sharpest recoil from the humiliation of seeing him, upon conviction, turn from Fergus to Gibbie: the kindest thing they could do for him would be to marry against his will, and save him from open tergiversation; for no one could then blame him, he would be thoroughly pleased, and not having the opportunity of self-degradation, would be saved the cause for self-contempt.
For some time Fergus kept on hoping. The laird, blinded by his own wishes, and expecting Gibbie would soon do something to bring public disgrace upon himself, did not tell him of his daughter's determination and self-engagement, while, for her part, Ginevra believed she fulfilled her duty towards him in the endeavour to convince him by her conduct that nothing could ever induce her to marry him. So the remainder of the session passed--the laird urging his objections against Gibbie, and growing extravagant in his praises of Fergus, while Ginevra kept taking fresh courage, and being of good cheer. Gibbie went to the cottage once or twice, but the laird made it so uncomfortable for them, and Fergus was so rude, that they agreed it would be better to content themselves with meeting when they had the chance.
At the end of the month Gibbie went home as usual, telling Ginevra he must be present to superintend what was going on at Glashruach to get the house ready for her, but saying nothing of what he was building there. By the beginning of the winter, they had got the buttress-wall finished and the coping on it, also the shell of the new house roofed in, so that the carpenters had been at work all through the frost and snow, and things had made great progress without any hurry; and now, since the first day the weather had permitted, the masons were at work again. The bridge was built, the wall of the old house broken through, the turret carried aloft. The channel of the little burn they had found completely blocked by a great stone at the farther edge of the landslip; up to this stone they opened the channel, protecting it by masonry against further slip, and by Gibbie's directions left it so--after boring the stone, which still turned every drop of the water aside into the Glashburn, for a good charge of gunpowder. All the hollow where the latter burn had carried away pine-wood and shrubbery, gravel drive and lawn, had been planted, mostly with fir trees; and a weir of strong masonry, a little way below the house, kept the water back, so that it rose and spread, and formed a still pool just under the house, reflecting it far beneath. If Ginevra pleased, Gibbie meant to raise the weir, and have quite a little lake in the hollow. A new approach had been contrived, and was nearly finished before Gibbie returned to college.