Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr.

A sister to Esau online

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" Her soul is absorbed in her own breast,
She is the prey of her passions."

T^HE summer inaugurated by this evening was one
*- of great apparent gayety, but of much real heart-
sickness, jealousy, and anxiety. Blair Rodney was
the only person thoroughly satisfied with the position
of affairs ; his measureless self-complacency stood as
firm as a pyramid on the desert. He had just tact
enough to feel that occasional absence was an advan
tage, though he never perceived that his frequent
visits to Edinburgh were regarded as a great relief.
For every one, in some key or other, was at a strained
and unnatural pitch, and the home life suffered that
constant disarrangement which follows a selfish, com
placent young man as surely as his shadow.

As for Angus Bruce, he ceased very soon to take
any active part in the new life introduced by Blair
Rodney's visit. Indeed, he seriously disapproved of
it ; and was grieved and astonished that the Colonel
and Mrs. Rodney submitted to such a marked and
continued interference with the calm, regular habits



of so many years. At first, in pursuance of his resolve
not to run away from temptation, he accompanied
the young people in their riding, walking, and picnick
ing. And it pleased the Colonel and Mrs. Rodney
that he should do so ; for it secured a degree of order
and decency in the pursuit of pleasure which Blair's
boisterous, braggadocio temper was continually apt to

But it was not long before Angus felt the effort to
be beyond his strength. The heartache and humilia
tions, the wounded love and passionate jealousy which
were to bear without sign or consolation were an
intolerable mental suffering. And they brought him
no spiritual strength or comfort :

" I am going a warfare on which I am not sent,
therefore God gives me neither weapons nor grace for
it." He came to this decision one night, after an
unusually painful scene, in which for the first time he
had been wounded in his office as well as in his

For as Blair identified himself with the Rodney
family, he introduced many changes into the lift at
Rodney House. The spacious parlors of the fine old
mansion were soon a place of rendezvous for the young
people of the neighborhood ; and the stately repose
which had been its atmosphere, was invaded by sounds
long unfamiliar to its echoes laughter, and song, and
love-making ; the delirious melody of reels and strath
speys, and the merry beating of light feet to them.

To a man of Angus Bruce's convictions, who looked
upon life as the price of eternity, this constant hilarity
was painful. It brought no smile to his grave face.
It filled his heart with sorrow and disapproval. But
it was Blair Rodney's hour, and he was soon aware


that no one was inclined to interfere with Blair. The
Colonel thought the young man's riotous mirth the
natural outcome of his fine health and spirits. Mrs.
Rodney was captivated by the sounds of the Highland
dances. They recalled her own youth and her child
hood's home, and she could see no harm in an amuse
ment, which, however gay, had a national sanction.

" I used to dance a foursome reel as light as any
one," she said, with a sigh ; "and a strathspey could
set my heart and feet on fire."

About the end of June, Blair returned from a short
visit to Edinburgh, and he brought back with him the
polka. It was a new dance then, and one which was
turning society upside down. Nothing like it had ever
been seen in England or Scotland, and there was a
perfect furor for polka-dancing. The little jacket
which was introduced with it, the dotted dress, and
trimmed boots were irresistible. Scotia and Bertha
fell completely under the Slavic spell, and there was
no talk in Rodney House that did not in some way
refer to the new dance, or the new dress.

It shared Blair's heart with the Free Kirk contro
versy, and his matrimonial prospects. Walking, rid
ing, and every other pleasure and employment were
laid aside, in order to practice the polka-step, and de
vise dresses in which to perform the new dance. And
it satisfied Blair's ambition to be its introducer and
teacher, and to have the young ladies from Carsloch,
and Braithness, and Locherdale his pupils. For a
week or two, it really seemed as if the whole duty of
men and women was to learn to dance the polka.

The i ith of July was the anniversary of the Colonel's
wedding day. There was to be a dinner party, and
Angus Bruce was included among the guests. He had


no excuse for declining the invitation, nor did he
really wish to do so. Many gentlemen of years and
high position would be present ; many ladies whose
age would preclude the introduction of daffing and
dancing. It was likely the Kirk controversy would
fully occupy the hearts of all sensible people. He
had himself come to a decision on the question, and
was eager to announce it. Other ministers would be
present, and for once Blair Rodney would not be
permitted to override and overrule everything.

Never had he thought Scotia so beautiful. It was
the first time that he had seen her in white. She took
his breath away, when she entered leaning upon Blair's
arm, dressed in a long robe of shining white satin.
And he noticed that the Colonel looked proudly at the
couple, and then let his glance wander to him, as if
asking his approval and sympathy. How could he
give it ? No ; he vowed to his heart he would never
be so false to its longing and its suffering. Bertha
came in with Sir Thomas Carr. She was in a glow
of soft pink crape, with lilies at her breast and in her
smooth black hair. But Angus scarcely noticed her ;
his eyes were full of Scotia.

The dinner passed much as he had expected, and
the Kirk controversy spiced all its generous courses.
Blair led the State party, and defended its policy with
all the intemperate zeal of undisciplined years. An
gus said nothing, until provoked by his sneering as
sertion that " the Minister of Rodney Law was a wise
man, who wouldn't ' go over the Border ' till he knew
where he was going to."

Then Angus had his opportunity, and he used it
with perhaps an unmerciful power. But he saw a
light, a spark, in Scotia's eyes, which touched his lips


with fire. The men around' the table were as stubble
before its flame. He held their opinions and thoughts
by the majesty of his own, and made every one but
Blair rise to their feet in an enthusiasm of sympathy
for a Free Kirk. Bertha and some other ladies were
crying softly when he finished his magnificent plea ;
but the steady gleam in Scotia's eyes was an allegiance
worth far more to Angus Bruce.

All rose from the table when he finished speaking.
They were too full of feeling to sit still. But in a few
moments the reaction came, and the Laird of Fernie,
a round, rosy old man, said plaintively :

" We hae forgotten oor toddy ! Did ony one hear
tell o' the like ? I wad gie a pretty thing to hear what
auld Andrew Agnew wad say, anent sic a like lapse
o' dinner duty. He wad hae called us a" to order."

" He would that," said Gilchrist Cupar. " For at
the finest dinner, he is always in a hurry for the toddy.
The dessert puts him in a passion women's stuff, he
calls it ; and when the cheese comes in, you should
hear him rattle off as fast as he can speak ' Ye for
cheese ? Ye for cheese ? Ye for cheese ? Naebody
for cheese. Tak' avva' the cheese, Sandy, and bring
in the wee kettle.' "

And Gilchrist imitated the old gentleman so cleverly
and so good-naturedly that every one laughed heartily;
feeling it, after all, rather a good thing to get away
from such high considerations as the Kirk and the
State, to the more humble and comfortable ones of
the wee kettle and the toddy.

But none of the young men but Gilchrist stopped
for the toddy. "They are just drunk with their new
fangled dance," he said, as he drew his tumbler to
ward him. " I take such things in moderation ; and


yet I am apt to join the ladies after the second glass.
As Sir Andrew says 'the young men o' these days
are just effeeminate.' "

The influence of the minister's speech was not, how
ever, to be put quite away. In a short time every one
rose and went to the picture gallery, where the ladies
had already gathered. They were standing in pic
turesque groups, and Blair was going from one to the
other, talking in a manner which indicated some an
noyance. In fact, the fiddlers had not come, and the
dancers were impatiently waiting and speculating as
to the cause of their delay.

Angus cast his eyes down the long hall in search of
Scotia. For the desire of the moth for the light is
not greater than the longing of the heart for its love ;
dangerous, fatal, though it may be. He found her
very quickly, but she was quite a different Scotia from
the vision he carried in his eyes. Her long pearly robe
had been exchanged for a short skirt of vivid scarlet
and a little jacket of black velvet. A square cap of
velvet was upon her fair hair, and her feet were shod
in boots trimmed with fur. All the young ladies were
in a similar costume, but Angus saw none of them but
Scotia. She looked ravishing, and yet he hated the
dress ; and hated to see her in it. Some one tried to
play the peculiar startling melody on the piano, and
instantly Blair and Scotia were executing the fascinat
ing movement. Angus tried to shut his eyes to tear
himself away to escape that enthrallment of his
senses, which, with inexpressibly soft, delicious lan
guors, was creeping over him.

Fortunately his anger was quickly roused. He had
seen Scotia and her cousin Blair dancing before, but
it was in that mathematical dawdling which is called


a " quadrille " ; or else in the merry, characteristic
movements of the national dances ; and his sense of
the sin of dancing had been limited to the waste of
time it involved. But this polkaing admitted of a
familiarity that offended all his views of maidenly
propriety. Scotia's short dress, her lifting feet, her
flushed face, and sparkling eyes were evidences of a
physical excitement, dangerous and wicked. He was
on the point of leaving the room when the piano sud
denly ceased, and Scotia, in a hurried and slightly
imperative manner, called his name.

He turned, but still stood within the open door,
holding it so, as if only half-willing to meet her. She
came toward him hurriedly :

" Are you going home, Mr. Bruce ? "

" Yes. Why should I stay here to see you make a
mock of what is lovely in womanhood ? "

" Sir ! I think you are impertinent ! " She said the
word after a moment's hesitation, as if she had added
mentally, " I do not care if it does offend you."

" I did not wish to be impertinent. It is my duty,
sometimes, to say an unpleasant thing."

" Very well ; you have said it. Now do us a favor.
The fiddlers have not come, and we are waiting. As
you pass the ' Rodney Arms ' see if they are there,
and bid them hurry."

He looked with a stern indignation into her face
while she spoke. Before she had finished her request
she felt as if every word burnt her tongue.

" Miss Rodney, as your friend, I refuse to call any
thing that will help you to do wrong. As your minis
ter, I refuse a commission that will degrade my office
and dishonor my Master. You have deeply wronged
yourself by your request."


So he left her, and after a moment's hesitation she
opened the door and followed him. Her pride was all
in arms. She would not be lectured by Angus Bruce,
if he was her minister. But he never turned his head
as he walked slowly down the stairs, and after she had
taken half a dozen steps, her courage failed ; she
could remember nothing to say, and she was afraid of
that stern, white face, with its solemn eyes.

And her dress, also ! She caught sight of her
figure in one of the long glass panels of the corridor,
and she felt ashamed. Was she the same woman, that
her best self had approved a few hours ago, in the
long gown of pearly satin ? No. She felt that she
was not the same ; that something indefinable, some
thing she could not bear to lose, had been put off ;
and that something she would not like to retain had
been assumed.

No woman is always at her best, and Scotia was
often enough subject to those contradictions of will
and conduct, which made her so difficult to compre
hend. She had all the faults which were the shadows
of her virtues. In her nature the gold and the clay
were thoroughly mingled. She loved all that was
noble and good, and yet, with a conscious willfulness,
very frequently did what was contemptible and bad.

After she had so scornfully driven away the minis
ter, she went to the private parlor and sat down there.
Her thoughts were rapid, her decisions very closely
followed them. In a few minutes she sent for Bertha
and told her she was not well, and felt unfit to remain
any longer with their company. " You must fill my
place and your own also, Bertha, and do not let Blair,
or the Braithmoss girls, or anybody else, trouble me.
I want to be alone. I am sick of so much company.


It is simply dreadful to spend life dancing, and eating,
and making love, and telling jokes."

" Well, dear, you know the rest of us have not yet
found that out. I am sorry you are sick and weary.
You will be better in the morning."

"Very likely, if you will keep every one away."

Bertha was quite willing to do so. She felt some
thing depressing was lifted from her by Scotia's ab
sence, and the other young women had a similar sense
of relief. Scotia's great beauty, her high spirits, her
air of authority, her position as eldest daughter, over
shadowed their paler pretensions. The absence of
so marked an individuality gave to every one of them
a feeling of fuller life. They would no longer be
measured by Scotia Rodney, and found wanting.
Even Blair was more of Blair than he felt himself if
Scotia's eyes were upon him.

For such reasons the noblest woman in any set need
never hope or fear that she will be missed from its
counsels, or its merry-making. Virtues, accomplish
ments, beauty above the average, bring their pos
sessor only a nominal repute. In reality, every woman
less good, less gifted, less lovely, hates her for her
evident superiority.

Bertha, having gone away, Scotia sat still until
her mother's visit was over. Mrs. Rodney advised
her daughter to take some simple medicine, and
go to her room ; and Scotia was apparently very
willing to accept the advice. But as soon as her soli-
cude had been secured, she was a different girl. She
threw off with a passionate contempt her Polish dress,
and put on in its place the gray winsey in which her
daily walks were taken, a long gray mantle of the
same cloth, and her rough, straw, gypsy bonnet. Then


she put out the dim light by which she had made this
simple toilet, and stood by the window looking into
the dark grounds, as she slowly drew on her gloves.

Softly, by rooms and stairways well known to her,
she reached the garden. The visitors were either
dancing or playing whist ; the servants were watching
the new dance. No one gave her a moment's thought.
Even those who loved her were satisfied in the belief
that she was within the healing influences of darkness
and rest.

The soft, cool night ! Oh, how heavenly, how holy,
how comforting was its influence ! There was no
moon, and no sound, and the air was full of the sweet,
wandering souls of a thousand flowers. But Scotia
noticed nothing that nature said to her. She walked
swiftly through the garden, and through the dark
park, and down the lane that led to the manse. When
she arrived there, she hesitated a moment. For the
first time she let herself contemplate the thing she
was about to do.

There was a solitary candle on a table in the manse
parlor, and as she approached the door, she could see
it. A trembling uncertainty seized her. She was
heart-sick with the doubt of it.

" Either go back, or go forward, Scotia Rodney,"
her soul said imperatively to her. " Do as you desire,
but do it."

Then she went forward, and knocked once at the
closed door.

Angus Bruce was sitting with his arms clasped above
his head, and his face lifted into the shadows of the
room. His body was quite still, but his soul was
wandering upon a dark and lonely road. The mists
of sorrow had gathered around him, he was going into


cloud after cloud of them. He heard the knock, and
it brought him sharply back to his duty. He lifted
the candle and listened a moment. Old Grizel's rheu
matism was bad, Adam's sight was failing him, there
was no movement in the kitchen ; he went to the door

He supposed that some one of his parishioners was
ill, a child perhaps, who was not baptized, and his
mind was set to the necessary key. When, therefore,
he saw in the gloom outside the white, lovely face of
Scotia Rodney, he was speechless in his amazement.

" May I come in a moment, Mr. Bruce."

His lips moved, and he closed the door and went
with her into the parlor. But he could find no words.
He knew that the hour of temptation had come to him,
and in the first moments of it his soul was afraid. And
his manner was solemn and distant ; how could Scotia
know that there was a heart of unflaming fire behind it ?

She felt that she must hurry, or lose command over
herself. Nervously fingering the strings of her bon
net with one hand, and holding her mantle tight with
the other, she said quickly, almost abruptly :

"Mr. Bruce, I was very rude to you. I am very
sorry. I could not rest until I told you so. Forgive
me !"

At the first words her eyes were dropped, but with a
sudden determination she lifted them to his face. It
was an almost stern face they rested on, but a look of
trouble came into it as she spoke.

" All that I can forgive, I forgave at once."

" I was in a passion, and I was unkind. I wounded
a noble heart without caring, but immediately I was
angry at myself."

" I think the passing unkindness of the passionate.


is perhaps more kind than the wisdom of those who
are always calm and indifferent. People who have no
faults are terrible."

" I am forgiven, then ? Quite ? "


He could say no more he durst say no more. To
givetfris heart speech, would be like the letting out of
water. He said " yes," and cast his eyes upon the open
book on the table. For her lovely face, sensitive with
feeling, her sorrowful eyes, seeking his for some sym
pathy, the slight flush and disorder of her hurried
walk, appealed to him with a power that made him
tremble with the strain. His heart beat with fierce
throbs ; in his ears the reverberation was like the regu
lar blows of a great hammer. A moment's silence in
such circumstances is a long time ; Scotia endured it a
moment, and then said wearily :

"Thank you ! I will go home, then."

" I will walk with you. You should not have come
alone in the dark so late."

" If I had waited for company for the light for
to-morrow morning, I might never have come at all.
Have I done wrong?"


" Have I done right?"

" Yes. But I will walk back with you."

He lifted his hat, and they went together into the
night. A great peace was between them. He drew
her hand within his arm, and they walked on through
the lonely lane and the darker park into the sweet
garden, quiet and happy, as if they were walking in a
dream. Suddenly from the thick woods there rose a
song ; mysterious, solemn, heavenly, sweet, and joy


" It is a nightingale ! " said Scotia. " He is sing
ing to his mate."

She spoke very softly. They were within the gar
den, standing in a lonely walk, bordered with roses.
To both had come at the same moment the thought
that there they must say "Good night." Bruce lifted
his hat. Scotia pulled, in an apparently purposeless
manner, a couple of white roses. She laid her hand
again upon his arm, her eyes, luminous as those of a
child, caught his eyes ; her face, fair, sweet, loving,
was the only thing he could see. Almost in a whisper
she spoke :

" Forgive me, again."

" Scotia Rodney ! Oh, Scotia ! Scotia ! " and he
took the roses from her hand, and kissing them pas
sionately, turned abruptly from her, and walked with
rapid steps into the darkness.

She stood still, smiling. His swift footsteps had
music in them. " He loves me ! He loves me ! He
loves me ! " All the secret way to her room she kept
repeating the words : " He loves me ! And I will make
him say so ! What words in life could be half so sweet !
For I love him ! I think I have always loved him.
There are faces one dreams of in childhood. I used
to dream of Angus Bruce. To-night I know that I
love him. The moment I had spoken insolently I
wanted to say so. Those cruel words were like the
rude pushing open of a door. They let me into my
own heart. What a strange night ! Love at least
the knowledge of love has come to me, as it comes
to most, I think at a moment unexpected and by a
road never looked for.

She was undressing herself to such thoughts. The
company were leaving. She knew that she must


hasten her night toilet, or Bertha would be full of
questions she did not intend to answer that night.
She made haste, and lay down in the darkness and
tranquillity, and smiled happilyjto herself when she
remembered the minister's face and his quick theft of
her roses, and the kiss he gave them as he hastened
from her presence.

" The kiss was my kiss ! I will let the roses keep
it a little while. He will kiss them again and again,
and tell them how much he loves me ; and to-morrow
I will ask him for the roses. I will say, ' Perhaps
they may hold a secret that ought to be mine.' '

The clock struck midnight, and then she noticed
that the house was quiet, and that all the gay, noisy
" farewells " of departing guests were over. So Bertha
was not coming to see her that night ; she could go
to sleep and dream of Angus Bruce. Very likely
Bertha was already asleep.

On the contrary, Bertha was wide awake, for there
had came to her a new idea, an overpowering desire
and determination. It had been stirring in her heart
for some weeks, but it had suddenly taken form, as
sumed an imperative attitude. Scotia's retirement
from the festival had revealed to her in the clearest
possible manner the pleasure of being first and fore
most. It was delightful to be deferred to, to be
consulted, to usurp the enviable homage of Blair
Rodney. Among the young people, she had that
night felt herself mistress of Rodney, and a deter
mined ambition to reach that position took possession
of her.

Now, when Bertha Rodney had a desire, she gave
neither herself, nor any other creature able to forward
it, any rest until her interests were considered. Mrs.


Rodney was weary, but Bertha followed her to her
room and fretted her into a discussion of the worry
which kept her young heart awake and anxious.

" You see, mother, I cannot sleep. All my future
is at Scotia's mercy ; and you know how Scotia is so
unreliable. One day, I think she has made up her
mind to marry Blair ; and I try to imagine Sir Thomas
will suit me better than Blair ; and then the next day,
she is positively rude to Blair ; and Blair comes to me
for comfort, and I think my chances as good as Sco
tia's. It may be fun for Scotia to play with a lover
and a sister, like a cat with two mice ; but I do not
enjoy it nor does Blair."

" Why, then, does not Blair put an end to Scotia's
game by asking her the direct question, which would
compel her to say ' Yes ' or ' No ' ? "

" Because he is afraid. I really think father advises
him about Scotia, and you might advise me, mother.
No one cares for me much, but you."

" Do not say anything like that, Bertha. Your
father and I love both our children equally. You
must guard against such imprudent speech."

" Yes, dear mother, but what must I do ?"

" You wish to marry Blair, and be heiress of Rodney
Law ? Speak sincerely."

" Yes, I do."

" There is just one way to insure your desire. Go
to your sister. Tell her you love Blair, and want to
be his wife. Tell her you are made miserable by her
indecision, and throw yourself upon Scotia's love and

" Will she do as I wish ? "

" Do you know Scotia so little as to doubt it. If
you trust her, you may rely on Scotia Rodney to the


last thing she can do for you, and the last farthing she

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Online LibraryAmelia Edith Huddleston BarrA sister to Esau → online text (page 4 of 23)