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Now hold thy tongue, Billy Bewick, he said, Of peaceful talking: let me be; But if thou art a man, as I think thou art, Come ower the dyke and fight with me.--BORDER MINSTRELSY.
On the morning after this gay evening, the two young men were labouring together in a plot of ground behind Stevenlaw's Land, which the Doctor had converted into a garden, where he raised, with a view to pharmacy as well as botany, some rare plants, which obtained the place from the vulgar the sounding name of the Physic Garden. [Footnote: The Botanic Garden is so termed by the vulgar of Edinburgh.] Mr. Gray's pupils readily complied with his wishes, that they would take some care of this favourite spot, to which both contributed their labours, after which Hartley used to devote himself to the cultivation of the kitchen garden, which he had raised into this respectability from a spot not excelling a common kail-yard, while Richard Middleman did his utmost to decorate with flowers and shrubs a sort of arbour, usually called Miss Menie's bower.
At present they were both in the botanic patch of the garden, when Dick Middlemas asked Hartley why he had left the ball so soon the evening before?
"I should rather ask you," said Hartley, "what pleasure you felt in staying there?--I tell you, Dick, it is a shabby low place this Middlemas of ours. In the smallest burgh in England, every decent freeholder would have been asked if the Member gave a ball."
"What, Hartley!" said his companion, "are you, of all men, a candidate for the honour of mixing with the first-born of the earth? Mercy on us! How will canny Northumberland [throwing a true northern accent on the letter R] acquit himself? Methinks I see thee in thy pea-green suit, dancing a jig with the honourable Miss Maddie MacFudgeon, while chiefs and thanes around laugh as they would do at a hog in armour!"
"You don't, or perhaps you won't, understand me." said Hartley. "I am not such a fool as to desire to be hail-fellow-well-met with these fine folks--I care as little for them as they do for me. But as they do not choose to ask us to dance, I don't see what business they have with our partners."
"Partners, said you!" answered Middlemas; "I don't think Menie is very often yours."
"As often as I ask her," answered Hartley, rather haughtily.
"Ay? Indeed?--I did not think that.--And hang me, if I think so yet." said Middlemas, with the same sarcastic tone. "I tell thee, Adam, I will bet you a bowl of punch, that Miss Gray will not dance with you the next time you ask her. All I stipulate, is to know the day."
"I will lay no bets about Miss Gray," said Hartley; "her father is my master, and I am obliged to him--I think I should act very scurvily, if I were to make her the subject of any idle debate betwixt you and me."
"Very right," replied Middlemas; "you should finish one quarrel before you begin another. Pray, saddle your pony, ride up to the gate of Louponheight Castle, and defy the Baron to mortal combat, for having presumed to touch the fair hand of Menie Gray."
"I wish you would leave Miss Gray's name out of the question, and take your defiances to your fine folks in your own name, and see what they will say to the surgeon's apprentice."
"Speak for yourself, if you please, Mr. Adam Hartley. I was not born a clown like some folks, and should care little, if I saw it fit, to talk to the best of them at the ordinary, and make myself understood too."
"Very likely," answered Hartley, losing patience: "you are one of themselves, you know--Middlemas of that Ilk."
"You scoundrel!" said Richard, advancing on him in fury, his taunting humour entirely changed into rage.
"Stand back," said Hartley, "or you will come by the worst; if you will break rude jests, you must put up with rough answers."
"I will have satisfaction for this insult, by Heaven!"
"Why so you shall, if you insist on it," said Hartley; "but better, I think, to say no more about the matter. We have both spoken what would have been better left unsaid. I was in the wrong to say what I said to you, although you did provoke me. And now I have given you as much satisfaction as a reasonable man can ask."
"Sir," repeated Middlemas, "the satisfaction which I demand, is that of a gentleman--the Doctor has a pair of pistols.".
"And a pair of mortars also, which are heartily at your service, gentlemen," said Mr. Gray, coming forward from behind a yew hedge, where he had listened to the whole or greater part of this dispute. "A fine story it would be of my apprentices shooting each other with my own pistols! Let me see either of you fit to treat a gunshot wound, before you think of inflicting one. Go, you are both very foolish boys, and I cannot take it kind of either of you to bring the name of my daughter into such disputes as these. Hark ye, lads, ye both owe me, I think, some portion of respect, and even of gratitude--it will be a poor return, if instead of living quietly with this poor motherless girl, like brothers with a sister, you should oblige me to increase my expense, and abridge my comfort, by sending my child from me, for the few months that you are to remain here. Let me see you shake hands, and let us have no more of this nonsense."
While their master spoke in this manner, both the young men stood before him in the attitude of self-convicted criminals. At the conclusion of his rebuke, Hartley turned frankly round, and, offered his hand to his companion, who accepted it, but after a moment's hesitation. There was nothing farther passed on the subject, but the lads never resumed the same sort of intimacy which had existed betwixt them in their earlier acquaintance. On the contrary, avoiding every connexion not absolutely required by their situation, and abridging as much as possible even their indispensable intercourse in professional matters, they seemed as much estranged from each other as two persons residing in the same small house had the means of being.
As for Menie Gray, her father did not appear to entertain the least anxiety upon her account, although from his frequent and almost daily absence from home, she was exposed to constant intercourse with two handsome young men, both, it might be supposed, ambitious of pleasing her more than most parents would have deemed entirely prudent. Nor was Nurse Jamieson,--her menial situation, and her excessive partiality for her foster-son, considered,--altogether such a matron as could afford her protection. Gideon, however, knew that his daughter possessed, in its fullest extent, the upright and pure integrity of his own character, and that never father had less reason to apprehend that a daughter should deceive his confidence; and justly secure of her principles, he overlooked the danger to which he exposed her feelings and affections.
The intercourse betwixt Menie and the young men seemed now of a guarded kind on all sides. Their meeting was only at meals, and Miss Gray was at pains, perhaps by her father's recommendation, to treat them with. the same degree of attention. This, however, was no easy matter; for Hartley became so retiring, cold, and formal, that it was impossible for her to sustain any prolonged intercourse with him; whereas Middlemas, perfectly at his ease, sustained his part as formerly upon all occasions that occurred, and without appearing to press his intimacy assiduously, seemed nevertheless to retain the complete possession of it.
The time drew nigh at length when the young men, freed from the engagements of their indentures, must look to play their own independent part in the world. Mr. Gray informed Richard Middlemas that he had written pressingly upon the subject to Moncada, and that more than once, but had not yet received an answer; nor did he presume to offer his own advice, until the pleasure of his grandfather should be known. Richard seemed to endure this suspense with more patience than the Doctor thought belonged naturally to his character. He asked no questions--stated no conjectures--showed no anxiety, but seemed to await with patience the turn which events should take. "My young gentleman," thought Mr. Gray, "has either fixed on some course in his own mind, or he is about to be more tractable than some points of his character have led me to expect."
In fact, Richard had made an experiment on this inflexible relative, by sending Mr. Moncada a letter full of duty, and affection, and gratitude, desiring to be permitted to correspond with him in person, and promising to be guided in every particular by his will. The answer to this appeal was his own letter returned, with a note from the bankers whose cover had been used, saying, that any future attempt to intrude on Mr. Moncada, would put a final period to their remittances.
While things were in this situation in Stevenlaw's Land, Adam Hartley one evening, contrary to his custom for several months, sought a private interview with his fellow-apprentice. He found him in the little arbour, and could not omit observing, that Dick Middlemas, on his appearance, shoved into his bosom a small packet, as if afraid of its being seen, and snatching up a hoe, began to work with great devotion, like one who wished to have it thought that his whole soul was in his occupation.
"I wished to speak with you, Mr. Middlemas," said Hartley; "but I fear I interrupt you."
"Not in the least,"' said the other, laying down his hoe; "I was only scratching up the weeds which the late showers have made rush up so numerously. I am at your service."
Hartley proceeded to the arbour, and seated himself. Richard imitated his example, and seemed to wait for the proposed communication.
"I have had an interesting communication with Mr. Gray"--said Hartley, and there stopped, like one who finds himself entering upon a difficult task.
"I hope the explanation has been satisfactory?" said Middlemas.
"You shall judge.--Doctor Gray was pleased to say something to me very civil about my proficiency in the duties of our profession; and, to my great astonishment, asked me, whether, as he was now becoming old, I had any particular objection to continue in my present situation, but with some pecuniary advantages, for two years longer; at the end of which he promised to me that I should enter into partnership with him."
"Mr. Gray is an undoubted judge," said Middlemas, "what person will best suit him as a professional assistant. The business may be worth L200 a-year, and an active assistant might go nigh to double it, by riding Strath-Devan and the Carse. No great subject for division after all, Mr. Hartley."
"But," continued Hartley, "that is not all. The Doctor says--he proposes--in short, if I can render myself agreeable, in the course of these two years, to Miss Menie Gray, he proposes, that when they terminate, I should become his son as well as his partner."
As he spoke, he kept his eye fixed on Richard's face, which was for a moment, strongly agitated; but instantly recovering, he answered, in a tone where pique and offended pride vainly endeavoured to disguise themselves under an affectation of indifference. "Well, Master Adam, I cannot but wish you joy of the patriarchal arrangement. You have served five years for a professional diploma--a sort of Leah, that privilege of killing and curing. Now you begin a new course of servitude for a lovely Rachel. Undoubtedly--perhaps it is rude in me to ask--but undoubtedly you have accepted so flattering an arrangement?"
"You cannot but recollect there was a condition annexed," said Hartley, gravely.
"That of rendering yourself acceptable to a girl you have known for so many years?" said Middlemas with a half-suppressed sneer. "No great difficulty in that, I should think, for such a person as Mr. Hartley, with Doctor Gray's favour to back him. No, no-there could be no great obstacle there."
"Both you and I know the contrary, Mr. Middlemas," said Hartley, very seriously.
"I know?--How should I know any thing more than yourself about the state of Miss Gray's inclinations?" said Middlemas. "I am sure we have had equal access to know them."
"Perhaps so; but some know better how to avail themselves of opportunities. Mr. Middlemas, I have long suspected that you have had the inestimable advantages of possessing Miss Gray's affections, and"----
"I?" interrupted Middlemas; "you are jesting, or you are jealous. You do yourself less, and me more, than justice; but the compliment is so great, that I am obliged to you for the mistake."
"That you may know," answered Hartley, "I do not speak either by guess, or from what you call jealousy, I tell you frankly, that Menie Gray herself told me the state of her affections. I naturally communicated to her the discourse I had with her father. I told her I was but too well convinced that at the present moment I did not possess that interest in her heart, which alone might entitle me to request her acquiescence in the views which her father's goodness held out to me; but I entreated her not at once to decide against me, but give me an opportunity to make way in her affections, if possible, trusting that time, and the services which I should render to her father, might have an ultimate effect in my favour."
"A most natural and modest request. But what did the young lady say in reply?"
"She is a noble-hearted girl, Richard Middlemas; and for her frankness alone, even without her beauty and her good sense, deserves an emperor. I cannot express the graceful modesty with which she told me, that she knew too well the kindliness, as she was pleased to call it, of my heart, to expose me to the protracted pain of an unrequited passion. She candidly informed me that she had been long engaged to you in secret--that you had exchanged portraits;--and though without her father's consent she would never become yours, yet she felt it impossible that she should ever so far change her sentiments as to afford the most distant prospect of success to another."
"Upon my word," said Middlemas, "she has been extremely candid indeed, and I am very much obliged to her!"
"And upon my honest word, Mr. Middlemas," returned Hartley, "you do Miss Gray the greatest injustice--nay, you are ungrateful to her, if you are displeased at her making this declaration. She loves you as a woman loves the first object of her affection--she loves you better"--He stopped, and Middlemas completed the sentence.
"Better than I deserve, perhaps?--Faith, it may well be so, and I love her dearly in return. But after all, you know, the secret was mine as well as hers, and it would have been better that she had consulted me before making it public."
"Mr. Middlemas," said Hartley, earnestly, "if the least of this feeling, on your part, arises from the apprehension that your secret is less safe because it is in my keeping, I can assure you that such is my grateful sense of Miss Gray's goodness, in communicating, to save me pain, an affair of such delicacy to herself and you, that wild horses should tear me limb from limb before they forced a word of it from my lips."
"Nay, nay, my dear friend," said Middlemas, with a frankness of manner indicating a cordiality that had not existed between them for some time, "you must allow me to be a little jealous in my turn. Your true lover cannot have a title to the name, unless he be sometimes unreasonable; and somehow, it seems odd she should have chosen for a confidant one whom I have often thought a formidable rival; and yet I am so far from being displeased, that I do not know that the dear sensible girl could after all have made a better choice. It is time that the foolish coldness between us should be ended, as you must be sensible that its real cause lay in our rivalry. I have much need of good advice, and who can give it to me better than the old companion, whose soundness of judgment I have always envied, even when some injudicious friends have given me credit for quicker parts?"
Hartley accepted Richard's proffered hand, but without any of the buoyancy of spirit with which it was offered.
"I do not intend," he said, "to remain many days in this place, perhaps not very many hours. But if, in the meanwhile, I can benefit you, by advice or otherwise, you may fully command me. It is the only mode in which I can be of service to Menie Gray."
"Love my mistress, love me; a happy pendant to the old proverb, Love me, love my dog. Well, then, for Menie Gray's sake, if not for Dick Middlemas's, (plague on that vulgar tell-tale name,) will you, that are a stander-by, tell us, who are the unlucky players, what you think of this game of ours?"
"How can you ask such a question, when the field lies so fair before you? I am sure that Dr. Gray would retain you as his assistant upon the same terms which he proposed to me. You are the better match, in all worldly respects, for his daughter, having some capital to begin the world with."
"All true--but methinks Mr. Gray has showed no great predilection for me in this matter."
"If he has done injustice to your indisputable merit," said Hartley, dryly, "the preference of his daughter has more than atoned for it."
"Unquestionably; and dearly, therefore, do I love her; otherwise, Adam, I am not a person to grasp at the leavings of other people."
"Richard," replied Hartley, "that pride of yours, if you do not check it, will render you both ungrateful and miserable. Mr. Gray's ideas are most friendly. He told me plainly that his choice of me as an assistant, and as a member of his family, had been a long time balanced by his early affection for you, until he thought he had remarked in you a decisive discontent with such limited prospects as his offer contained, and a desire to go abroad into the world, and push, as it is called, your fortune. He said, that although it was very probable that you might love his daughter well enough to relinquish these ambitious ideas for her sake, yet the demons of Ambition and Avarice would return after the exorciser Love had exhausted the force of his spells, and then he thought he would have just reason to be anxious for his daughter's happiness."
"By my faith, the worthy senior speaks scholarly and wisely," answered Richard--"I did not think he had been so clear-sighted. To say the truth, but for the beautiful Menie Gray, I should feel like a mill-horse, walking my daily round in this dull country, while other gay rovers are trying how the world will receive them. For instance, where do you yourself go?"
"A cousin of my mother's commands a ship in the Company's service. I intend to go with him as surgeon's mate. If I like the sea service, I will continue in it; if not, I will enter some other line." This Hartley said with a sigh.
"To India!" answered Richard; "Happy dog--to India! You may well bear with equanimity all disappointments sustained on this side of the globe. Oh, Delhi! oh, Golconda! have your names no power to conjure down idle recollections?--India, where gold is won by steel; where a brave man cannot pitch his desire for fame and wealth so high, but that he may realize it, if he have fortune to his friend? Is it possible that the bold adventurer can fix his thoughts on you, and still be dejected at the thoughts that a bonny blue-eyed lass looked favourably on a less lucky fellow than himself? Can this be?"
"Less lucky?" said Hartley. "Can you, the accepted lover of Menie Gray, speak in that tone, even though it be in jest!"
"Nay, Adam," said Richard, "don't be angry with me, because, being thus far successful, I rate my good fortune not quite so rapturously as perhaps you do, who have missed the luck of it. Your philosophy should tell you, that the object which we attain, or are sure of attaining, loses, perhaps, even by that very certainty, a little of the extravagant and ideal value, which attached to it while the object of feverish hopes and aguish fears. But for all that, I cannot live without my sweet Menie. I would wed her to-morrow, with all my soul, without thinking a minute on the clog which so early a marriage would fasten on our heels. But to spend two additional years in this infernal wilderness, cruising after crowns and half-crowns, when worse men are making lacs and crores of rupees--It is a sad falling off, Adam. Counsel me, my friend,--can you not suggest some mode of getting off from these two years of destined dulness?"
"Not I," replied Hartley, scarce repressing his displeasure; "and if I could induce Dr. Gray to dispense with so reasonable a condition, I should be very sorry to do so. You are but twenty-one, and if such a period of probation was, in the Doctor's prudence, judged necessary for me, who am full two years older, I have no idea that he will dispense with it in yours."
"Perhaps not," replied Middlemas; "but do you not think that these two, or call them three, years of probation, had better be spent in India, where much may be done in a little while, than here, where nothing can be done save just enough to get salt to our broth, or broth to our salt? Methinks I have a natural turn for India, and so I ought. My father was a soldier, by the conjecture of all who saw him, and gave me a love of the sword, and an arm to use one. My mother's father was a rich trafficker, who loved wealth, I warrant me, and knew how to get it. This petty two hundred a-year, with its miserable and precarious possibilities, to be shared with the old gentleman, sounds in the ears of one like me, who have the world for the winning, and a sword to cut my way through it, like something little better than a decent kind of beggary. Menie is in herself a gem--a diamond--I admit it. But then, one would not set such a precious jewel in lead or popper, but in pure gold; ay, and add a circlet of brilliants to set it off with. Be a good fellow, Adam, and undertake the setting my project in proper colours before the Doctor. I am sure, the wisest thing for him and Menie both, is to permit me to spend this short time of probation in the land of cowries. I am sure my heart will be there at any rate, and while I am bleeding some bumpkin for an inflammation, I shall be in fancy relieving some nabob, or rajahpoot, of his plethora of wealth. Come--will you assist, will you be auxiliary? Ten chances but you plead your own cause, man, for I may be brought up by a sabre, or a bow-string, before I make my pack up; then your road to Menie will be free and open, and, as you will be possessed of the situation of comforter ex officio, you may take her 'with the tear in her ee,' as old saws advise."
"Mr. Richard Middlemas," said Hartley, "I wish it were possible for me to tell you, in the few words which I intend to bestow on you, whether I pity you or despise you, the most. Heaven has placed happiness, competence, and content within your power, and you are willing to cast them away, to gratify ambition and avarice. Were I to give any advice on this subject either to Dr. Gray or his daughter, it would be to break of all connexion with a man, who, however clever by nature, may soon show himself a fool, and however honestly brought up, may also, upon temptation, prove himself a villain.--You may lay aside the sneer, which is designed to be a sarcastic smile. I will not attempt to do this, because I am convinced that my advice would be of no use, unless it could come unattended with suspicion of my motives. I will hasten my departure from this house, that we may not meet again; and I will leave it to God Almighty to protect honesty and innocence against the dangers which must attend vanity and folly." So saying, he turned contemptuously from the youthful votary of ambition, and left the garden.
"Stop," said Middlemas, struck with the picture which had been held up to his conscience--"Stop, Adam Hartley, and I will confess to you"---- But his words were uttered in a faint and hesitating manner, and either never reached Hartley's ear, or failed in changing his purpose of departure.
When he was out of the garden, Middlemas began to recall his usual boldness of disposition--"Had he staid a moment longer," he said, "I would have turned Papist, and made him my ghostly confessor. The yeomanly churl!--I would give something to know how he has got such a hank over me. What are Menie Gray's engagements to him? She has given him his answer, and what right has he to come betwixt her and me? If old Moncada had done a grandfather's duty, and made suitable settlements on me, this plan of marrying the sweet girl, and settling here in her native place, might have done well enough. But to live the life of the poor drudge her father--to be at the command and call of every boor for twenty miles round!--why, the labours of a higgler, who travels scores of miles to barter pins, ribbons, snuff and tobacco, against the housewife's private stock of eggs, mort-skins, and tallow, is more profitable, less laborious, and faith I think, equally respectable. No, no,--unless I can find wealth nearer home, I will seek it where every one can have it for the gathering; and so I will down to the Swan Inn, and hold a final consultation with my friend."
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