Imagens da página
PDF
ePub

the return of another morn. Let it not be supposed, however, that the hospitality of Auldour is of that antiquated kind which would do violence, by its well meant importunity, to the free will of the guest. Both the landlord and his amiable partner have been accustomed to move in those circles of society, in which such over-wrought and teasing civilities are fortunately unknown, yet it often happens that, when once the stranger is fairly seated at their social hearth, he feels little inclination to depart on a hurry; or if he prevail upon himself to make an effort to be gone, a very slight opposition is sufficient in most cases to conquer his resolution; especially if the arguments of the host or hostess be enforced by the lowering aspect and surly voice of the elements without—a phenomenon not of uncommon occurrence there.

To induce him to prolong his visit there are seldom wanting other powerful motives calculated to act on the particular turn of his mind whatever it may be. If a young man, and liable to any tender susceptibilities, he would do well to watch with care the movements of his eye and heart; for certain lovely shoots of wit and beauty are there, whose fascination is not easily resisted; and though their charms, except in one or two instances, are not yet fully expanded, they are youug ladies—to drop the metaphor—of such attractions, both of person and manners, as one might not readily expect to meet with in the wilds of Strath-Eihre. Tt will be the cavalier's own fault if he does not find the hours which he spends amongst them pass swiftly and pleasantly away; for their powers of entertaining are multifarious, and they are never shy nor sparing in tho use of them when they perceive that they are acceptable, or that any attempt is made to second their exertions to please. Whether the visitor be of a gay and buoyunt cast of mind, or of too sodate a temper for the frolics of youthful glee, many inducements remain to make him linger delighted at Auldour. He must possess a very anomalous frame of spirit indeed if he can reap neither amusement nor instruction from one or other of the company which daily assemble there towards nightfall; and that in such numbers, considering tho scattered population of the neighbourhood, as might tempt ono to suppose that, with tho pelting rain, they had suddenly dropped from the clouds.

I had the honour to present to Colonel Mackenzie a brief introductory card, which procured mo a very flattering reception, and an obliging request to make myself at home at Auldour so long as I found anything to interest me in tho vicinity, "Whether or not this proved an inducement to make me explore tho mountainous tracts around with greater diligence I cannot say; but sure it is I found theru uncommonly rich in rare and curious plants, and was thus detained a guest at Auldour much longer than I had anticipated. I experienced, however, no diminution of kindness though I thus taxed the hospitality of the house. On the contrary the longer I stayed I had tho happiness to find that my footing in the family became daily more domestic; so that I had been in danger, perhaps, of occasionally forgetting my distance, if I had not been frequently reminded of it by observing that there were present other guests yet more favoured than myself.

A skilful observer of character could hardly have a better field than was here spread out before the eye whereon to exercise his powers of discrimination. It is not my intention, however, to undertake the task, so nice and difficult, of delineating the various objects it presented. A few imperfect sketches are all that I can attempt.

Besides the numerous visitors who varied in their attendance each successive day, I found at Auldour, a few who occupied a more permanent position. Of these there were two, with whom I had the pleasure to contract a considerable degree of intimacy, and 1 should feel mortified to think that I do not still live in their remembrance. One of them, Norman Campbell, had just concluded his medical studies at the University of Edinburgh, and had returned, decorated with the highest honours which Alma mater could confer, to spend a few months with his friends in the Highlands before setting out, on his professional adventures, for India. He ranked among the thousand and one cousins of the family at Auldour, where he was always a welcome guest, more especially with the ladies, whom I perceived successfully exerting their eloquence to detain him beyond the intended period of his visit there.

The company of a cousin or two of the other sex is generally a desirable acquisition to a young lady, especially in the Highlands. A cousin's intermediate status, between a brother and all the rest of mankind, admits of familiarities which would be equally unbeseeming in persons more nearly or more remotely connected. To the rising belle he answers the purpose of a mark on which she may exercise her archery, and, if possessed of spirit enough, he may sometimes succeed in turning the weapons of the fair foe back upon herself; or, as more generally happens, he will assist in preparing her, by practice, for some more flattering conquest . Besides in the country a helpless young female stands in constant need of some kind relative of the intermediate degree to discharge many little offices of gallantry—to aid her in a thousand nameless ways, for which a rude brother is either unqualified or will not take the trouble which they require; while the admission of any other gallant, to render her these gentle attentions, would be held unsuitable.

Whether or not, these or similar reasons must be called in to explain the marked regard which Auldour's pretty daughters betrayed for their intelligent and obliging cousin I presume not to say. It is certain, however, that Norman, or the Doctor—to give him the title for which he had paid full-dear—was well-deserving of their esteem. He was a gentleman of the highest promise. To the kindest heart he added splendid talents and no ordinary acquirements. As he had, in addition to a general preliminary education' of a liberal nature, passed through a wide range of scientific studies to qualify him for his medical degree, his attainments comprehended an acquaintance with all the leading points of knowledge requisite to constitute an accomplished professional gentleman of the highest grade, at that stage of experience at which he had then arrived. To natural science in general I found him much devoted, but most of all to the department of mineralogy. He was a most indefatigable collector of specimens; and, at home, I was given to understand, he had, as a relaxation from his more severe studies, formed a private museum which did honour to his years and opportunities.

Norman was also tolerably conversant with the productions of the vegetable kingdom; and, although he possessed no particular predilection for that division of nature's dominions, I yet found him sufficiently qualified and no less disposed to assist me in my researches. I had, therefore, the pleasuro of his society for several days among the hills, during which time he not only contributed much to furnish Out my Hortus siccus, but, what I valued still more, laid the foundation of a friendship which, I trust, will be lasting.

Tho other gentleman whom I am desirous to introduce to the reader's acquaintance was a son of Mars. Captain Maclaine likewise claimed kindred with Auldour or his lady—for I am not sure which—but somo five or six degrees further removed than the Doctor. In any country, except in the Highlands of Scotland, the land of cousinship, he would probably have been excluded from the family tree on account of his remoteness.

The Captain had seen a good deal of the world, but very little active service except in a desultory warfare with some insurgent Indian tribes. But though in every skirmish where ho had been engaged, he had behaved with unimpeachable valour, he had, nevertheless, come off without the honour of a single scar. Being rather a handsome man, however, it is possible that neither he himself nor the ladies might much regret the absence of such decorations.

As the peace had now rendered military promotion both tedious and uncertain, Captain Maclaino had become weary of lounging in country quarters. He therefore retired on half-pay to his native glen, where he exchanged his uniform for a dress of home-made tartan, took a lease of a sheep-farm from his friend Auldour, and resumed most of the habits and amusements of his early years, He now retained little of the soldier except the name, and that peculiar tone and air which mark the man who has been taught both to know his place and how to maintain it amidst the pretensions of society.

As the Captain had plenty of time at his disposal, and perhaps experienced occasionally the weariness of solitude, he was much in the company of the Laird, with whom, and with his family, he stood on the most intimate terms. The old Colonel still liked to converse with one, though much his junior, whom he counted a brother office'-, on military subjects; and as he himself had passed through the hottest of the war, not entirely with impunity, his more extended experience rendered his discourse very acceptable to his friend Maclaine.

The Captain, like most others in his circumstances, was much of a sportsman; and in the summer months, when he could find no scope for the fowling-piece, his chief resource against ennui lay in the hikes and the rivers. The Eihre and the Luina were two excellent trouting rivulets; and when they united their waters they formed a stream which afforded many fine haunts for tho grilse and the salmon. After a fall of rain had brought them to a proper state for the fly, the Captain seldom failed, if the sky was favourable, to make his appearance next morning at Auldour's breakfast table. If his sport continued good, he was too much devotod to it to return home for some days, and as he was very adroit in the management of the rod, the fine dishes with which he daily supplied the table of his host made him a useful as well as an agreeable visitor.

It soon began to be whispered, however, that the Captain's frequent appearances at Auldour were owing to a more powerful cause than either his love of aquatic sports or the friendship of the Colonel, though these served well enough as the ostensible ones. It was more than hinted by tlic wise folks, whose eyes and fancies are always active, where youn;,' people meet in social intercourse, and who never want a theory creditable to their own penetration, that the attractive power which secretly influenced his movements was nothing but the witchery of the veteran's eldest daughter, the lovely Jacobina.

Miss Mackenzie had just arrived at the years of womanhood, and her now expanded charms were well entitled to the admiration which they universally received. She was possessed of great sprightliness and affability, and impressed every one with whom she conversed with an exalted idea of her wit and talents. Her stature was tall and elegant; her hair and complexion were of a captivating fairness; her blue eyes sparkled with much more expressiveness than usually belongs to that colour; and, if her features deviated somewhat from the outline of regular beauty, the habitual good humour that irradiated them easily reconciled otie to such slight irregularities, and even converted them into amiable traits.

Her attractions were, no doubt, the loadstone that drew to Auldour most of the young sparks whom I found there. I soon convinced myself, however, that of all the numerous suitors who had successively courted lier smiles since I had become acquainted with her, two only had any encouragement to keep the field. One of these has already been made known to the reader—our worthy friend the Captain. The other was a gentleman of much higher pretensions, being no less a personage than the gay young laird of Dunbreckan. He had lately returned on leave of absence from his first military campaign, and had become so metamorphosed by his new airs, his ferocious mustaohios, and his attempts at the English accent, that his own mother was at first at a loss to recognise him.

Dunbreckan's frequent visits, on a superb charger, at Auldour, and the assiduity of hid attentions to the fair Jacobina left no room to doubt of the nature of his views. As it was well understood that Mis.s Mackenzie's successful suitor would not receive her with an empty hand, prudential motives might combine with others of a more tender nature, to recommend the match to the young squire's consideration; for though his hereditary possessions were of considerable extent, it was generally suspected, and sometimes pretty openly insinuated, that the revenue which they yielded had by no means improved since they came under his own uncontrolled management. But whether they were the personal or pecuniary charms of the young lady that had smitten Dunbreckan, it was sufficiently clear that he had opened his batteries with much self-complacency and confidence of success.

For my own part, as soon as I discovered the state of the siege, I began to tremble for the fate of the Captain, whose conciliating manners has already made me a zealous party to his cause. I could see no probability of success against odds so preponderating. The landed suitor, of course, would have both the lady's parents on his side, however they might pretend to leave her to her own decision; and the craggy hills of Dunbreckan lay too directly in her view to admit the supposition that she herself could be altogether insensible of the accomplishments of their proprietor.

With respect to the personal qualifications of the two aspirants to her hand, a female eye alone, perhaps, were equal to the task of adjusting their respective claims. Dunbreckan surpassed his rival by a couple of inches in stature, but it 'would readily be admitted, by candid judges of either sex, that this disadvantage was more than counterbalanced by Machine's superior symmetry. Each feature of the latter gentleman was fraught ■with good humour and intelligence; whereas the physiognomy of the former required all the aid of its bristly decorations and military airs to give it any expression at all, except that of self-importance and complacency. The squire was by several years the younger of the two; but the Captain was still under thirty, and of an uninjured constitution. Upon the whole the exterior of Dunbreckan was perhaps, better calculated to mako a first impression; but a few minutes' conversation would certainly turn the scales in favour of the Captain, whose resources were never-failing.

The mode of warfare too which they respectively adopted seemed as different as their characters. The one had for a long time been sdently engaged in undermining the fortress, by insinuating arts which had accomplished much before their operation was detected. The other, trusting to his more imposing advantages, appeared determined to take it by storm in the first assault, while he looked down with ill-disguised contempt on his less favoured and presumptuous rival.

It was, perhaps, in Dunbreckan's overweening confidence and less delicate deference to the lady's feelings hence arising, that Machine's chief hope consisted Though the addresses of the former were conducted with much formal respect, Jacobina had too much sagacity not to perceive that they were accompanied by an hauteur which evidently implied that she ought to consider them as doing her much honour, and that she dared not give a refusal Her own pride consequently took the alarm. She was then induced to examine a little more closely the merits of such a self important suitor, and she was at a loss to discover any particular claim that he possessed beyond the single one—no trifling one to be sure in the esteem of many—of his possessing hereditary domains which yielded him an income of some five thousand a year.

But Jacobina had too much sense to be dazzled by this consideration, splendid though it seemed. It did not prevent her from making a dispassionate comparison of the two; and she usually found the scales preponderating much in favour of the Captain. Of this she was never more sensible than when witnessing the conduct of both at the same time in company. Dunbreckan's range of topics was extremely limited in conver sation, and his means of expressing himself consisted chiefly of a few fashionable phrases, which he was apt to introduce on all occasions. His talk, therefore, though polite, soon palled upon the ear, and its insipidity became offensive. He was reduced in a short time to the necessity of being altogether silent, or sinking down into a common-place proser.

Maclaine, on the contrary, was replete with a never-failing fund of humour and amusement. He had received from nature intellectual powers of a superior order; and though his early devotion to a military life had prevented him from receiving a complete liberal education, his own private reading, for which he had enjoyed ample leisure, had stored his mind with a variety of acquirements, especially in elegant literature.

In fact, Maclaine was quite a bel-esprit, and, what is rather uncommon, with very slight pretensions to such a character. He was not only familiar with all the most esteemed modern classics, but frequently amused himself with original composition, both in prose and verse; and

« AnteriorContinuar »