A woman cannot be utterly wretched

eCommerce Basis



They were married very shortly after—there being no reason why they should wait. Nobody approved of them nor of their match, nor would have been likely to do so had they waited half a dozen years. Their little world stood round, as it were, and gazed upon them, declaring it washed its hands of all responsibility. Her stepmother went about the house as if she were assisting at a funeral—even little Mary turned reproachful eyes upon her.

‘Poor wee baby! Poor wee Margret!’ she would say, caressing the child. ‘Why is she poor baby?’ said Isabel, and little Mary would sigh and shake her head. As for Miss Catherine, she made a formal proposal to take the child under her own care, and leave Mrs. Lothian to ‘her other duties.’

‘A bairn in the house will be an interruption,’ she said. ‘A man with a young wife is often impatient enough of a baby of his own; and ye cannot expect he would be more tender to another man’s child.’

‘She is my child!’ said Isabel, holding her baby tightly strained in her arms.

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For the first time a distinct sense of the claims of the other

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Nothing had occurred on Loch Diarmid for ages which had made so intense a sensation in the district as the death of the minister. The whole country bubbled up and seethed about that one house on the slope—the Manse, peaceablest of habitations, a few days ago so full of quiet happiness, but now shrouded in a veil of horror and woe. Was it accident, or was it murder? At first the opinion of the country-side inclined strongly in favour of the former supposition. The beast was ‘spirity’—too spirity for a man of Mr. Lothian’s age; and the night was stormy and dark; and he had not nor could have any enemy—and he was not robbed. It soon, however, became known that there was an actual witness of the tragedy, whose deposition would set all doubts at rest.

‘I hope she didna do it hersel,’ said the smith, when the tale was discussed. ‘I canna understand Jean Campbell being the one to see it.’

The mind of the district was moved with the profoundest longing for news, however small the scrap might be, that was afforded to it. People sprang up on every side who had seen a man about whom they did not recognise as a person known on the Loch. But, then, unfortunately the differences in their descriptions of him were so great that no individual likeness could be made out. One declared he was a perfect giant, another a little hunchback, one that he was dressed like a gentleman, and another that he was the meanest tramp. Jean Campbell was the only witness who had anything to tell; and her story, indeed, was terribly distinct as to the fact, though wanting in every detail that could identify the criminal. She gave her deposition in the narrative form which is always congenial to the peasant mind, and held by it steadily, though her strong, vigorous frame and rude health were almost worn out by what she had seen.

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The depths of desolation had opened all at once in the mysterious world

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It was an event of which the country-side remained incredulous, until the very last moment. The strange pair were ‘cried’ in church, both being present when the banns were proclaimed, in defiance of all superstition: but still no one believed it could be. Ailie sat passive in her seat while her name was read out, not a passing flicker of colour, not an indication of embarrassment being visible about her. And, to the amazement of the parish, no attempt at interference was made. Miss Catherine sat still within her ancestral palace, the homely mansion-house of Lochhead, like an offended queen. She absented herself from church on the Sunday of the banns, and was not seen of human eye until all was completed; but she made no attempt to interfere. Neither did Mr. Diarmid of Clynder on the other side of the hills, Mr. John’s uncle. The opposition which everybody had expected never made itself visible.

Meanwhile Isabel, profoundly moved by her interview with Ailie, and by all that had since occurred, had made up her mind to one final remonstrance ere the sacrifice should be accomplished. When she had said to Jean, ‘I am going to see Ailie,’ the good woman’s consternation had known no bounds. Not only was the condescension unparalleled, but it was not to be expected that Isabel, as a lady born, and entitled to the possession of feelings more delicate than those of ‘common folk,’ should yet be able to pay any visits even among her equals. ‘Ailie!{146}’ she remonstrated energetically; ‘and wha’s Ailie, that you should gang to see her at such a time? She’s no John Diarmid’s wife yet; and if she was——’

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