Saint Ronan's Well, by Walter Scott

Chapter 11

Fraternal Love.

Nearest of blood should still be next in love;

And when I see these happy children playing,

While William gathers flowers for Ellen’s ringlets,

And Ellen dresses flies for William’s angle,

I scarce can think, that in advancing life,

Coldness, unkindness, interest, or suspicion,

Will e’er divide that unity so sacred,

Which Nature bound at birth.


When Mowbray had left his dangerous adviser, in order to steer the course which his agent had indicated, without offering to recommend it, he went to the little parlour which his sister was wont to term her own, and in which she spent great part of her time. It was fitted up with a sort of fanciful neatness; and in its perfect arrangement and good order, formed a strong contrast to the other apartments of the old and neglected mansion-house. A number of little articles lay on the work-table, indicating the elegant, and, at the same time, the unsettled turn of the inhabitant’s mind. There were unfinished drawings, blotted music, needlework of various kinds, and many other little female tasks; all undertaken with zeal, and so far prosecuted with art and elegance, but all flung aside before any one of them was completed.

Clara herself sat upon a little low couch by the window, reading, or at least turning over the leaves of a book, in which she seemed to read. But instantly starting up when she saw her brother, she ran towards him with the most cordial cheerfulness.

“Welcome, welcome, my dear John; this is very kind of you to come to visit your recluse sister. I have been trying to nail my eyes and my understanding to a stupid book here, because they say too much thought is not quite good for me. But, either the man’s dulness, or my want of the power of attending, makes my eyes pass over the page, just as one seems to read in a dream, without being able to comprehend one word of the matter. You shall talk to me, and that will do better. What can I give you to show that you are welcome? I am afraid tea is all I have to offer, and that you set too little store by.”

“I shall be glad of a cup at present,” said Mowbray, “for I wish to speak with you.”

“Then Jessy shall make it ready instantly,” said Miss Mowbray, ringing, and giving orders to her waiting-maid —“but you must not be ungrateful, John, and plague me with any of the ceremonial for your fête —‘sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.’ I will attend, and play my part as prettily as you can desire; but to think of it beforehand, would make both my head and my heart ache; and so I beg you will spare me on the subject.”

“Why, you wild kitten,” said Mowbray, “you turn every day more shy of human communication — we shall have you take the woods one day, and become as savage as the Princess Caraboo. But I will plague you about nothing if I can help it. If matters go not smooth on the great day, they must e’en blame the dull thick head that had no fair lady to help him in his need. But, Clara, I had something more material to say to you — something indeed of the last importance.”

“What is it?” said Clara, in a tone of voice approaching to a scream —“in the name of God, what is it? You know not how you terrify me!”

“Nay, you start at a shadow, Clara,” answered her brother. “It is no such uncommon matter neither — good faith, it is the most common distress in the world, so far as I know the world — I am sorely pinched for money.”

“Is that all?” replied Clara, in a tone which seemed to her brother as much to underrate the difficulty, when it was explained, as her fears had exaggerated it before she heard its nature.

“Is that all? Indeed it is all, and comprehends a great deal of vexation. I shall be hard run unless I can get a certain sum of money — and I must e’en ask you if you can help me?”

“Help you?” replied Clara; “Yes, with all my heart — but you know my purse is a light one — more than half of my last dividend is in it, however, and I am sure, John, I shall be happy if it can serve you — especially as that will at least show that your wants are but small ones.”

“Alas, Clara, if you would help me,” said her brother, half repentant of his purpose, “you must draw the neck of the goose which lays the golden eggs — you must lend me the whole stock.”

“And why not, John,” said the simple-hearted girl, “if it will do you a kindness? Are you not my natural guardian? Are you not a kind one? And is not my little fortune entirely at your disposal? You will, I am sure, do all for the best.”

“I fear I may not,” said Mowbray, starting from her, and more distressed by her sudden and unsuspicious compliance, than he would have been by difficulties, or remonstrance. In the latter case, he would have stifled the pangs of conscience amid the manoeuvres which he must have resorted to for obtaining her acquiescence; as matters stood, there was all the difference that there is between slaughtering a tame and unresisting animal, and pursuing wild game, until the animation of the sportsman’s exertions overcomes the internal sense of his own cruelty.E5 The same idea occurred to Mowbray himself.

“By G — ” he said, “this is like shooting the bird sitting. — Clara,” he added, “I fear this money will scarce be employed as you would wish.”

“Employ it as you yourself please, my dearest brother,” she replied, “and I will believe it is all for the best.”

“Nay, I am doing for the best,” he replied; “at least, I am doing what must be done, for I see no other way through it — so all you have to do is to copy this paper, and bid adieu to bank dividends — for a little while at least. I trust soon to double this little matter for you, if Fortune will but stand my friend.”

“Do not trust to Fortune, John,” said Clara, smiling, though with an expression of deep melancholy. “Alas! she has never been a friend to our family — not at least for many a day.”

“She favours the bold, say my old grammatical exercises,” answered her brother; “and I must trust her, were she as changeable as a weathercock. — And yet — if she should jilt me! — What will you do — what will you say, Clara, if I am unable, contrary to my hope, trust, and expectation, to repay you this money within a short time?”

“Do?” replied Clara; “I must do without it, you know; and for saying, I will not say a word.”

“True,” replied Mowbray, “but your little expenses — your charities — your halt and blind — your round of paupers?”

“Well, I can manage all that too. Look you here, John, how many half-worked trifles there are. The needle or the pencil is the resource of all distressed heroines, you know; and I promise you, though I have been a little idle and unsettled of late, yet, when I do set about it, no Emmeline or Ethelinde of them all ever sent such loads of trumpery to market as I shall, or made such wealth as I will do. I dare say Lady Penelope, and all the gentry at the Well, will purchase, and will raffle, and do all sort of things to encourage the pensive performer. I will send them such lots of landscapes with sap-green trees, and mazareen-blue rivers, and portraits that will terrify the originals themselves — and handkerchiefs and turbans, with needlework scallopped exactly like the walks on the Belvidere — Why, I shall become a little fortune in the first season.”

“No, Clara,” said John, gravely, for a virtuous resolution had gained the upperhand in his bosom, while his sister ran on in this manner — “We will do something better than all this. If this kind help of yours does not fetch me through, I am determined I will cut the whole concern. It is but standing a laugh or two, and hearing a gay fellow say, D—— me, Jack, are you turned clodhopper at last? — that is the worst. Dogs, horses, and all, shall go to the hammer; we will keep nothing but your pony, and I will trust to a pair of excellent legs. There is enough left of the old acres to keep us in the way you like best, and that I will learn to like. I will work in the garden, and work in the forest, mark my own trees, and cut them myself, keep my own accounts, and send Saunders Meiklewham to the devil.”

“That last is the best resolution of all, John,” said Clara; “and if such a day should come round, I should be the happiest of living creatures — I should not have a grief left in the world — if I had, you should never see or hear of it — it should lie here,” she said, pressing her hand on her bosom, “buried as deep as a funereal urn in a cold sepulchre. Oh! could we not begin such a life tomorrow? If it is absolutely necessary that this trifle of money should be got rid of first, throw it into the river, and think you have lost it amongst gamblers and horse-jockeys.”

Clara’s eyes, which she fondly fixed on her brother’s face, glowed through the tears which her enthusiasm called into them, while she thus addressed him. Mowbray, on his part, kept his looks fixed on the ground, with a flush on his cheek, that expressed at once false pride and real shame.

At length he looked up:—“My dear girl,” he said, “how foolishly you talk, and how foolishly I, that have twenty things to do, stand here listening to you! All will go smooth on my plan — if it should not, we have yours in reserve, and I swear to you I will adopt it. The trifle which this letter of yours enables me to command, may have luck in it, and we must not throw up the cards while we have a chance of the game. — Were I to cut from this moment, these few hundreds would make us little better or little worse — so you see we have two strings to our bow. Luck is sometimes against me, that is true — but upon true principle, and playing on the square, I can manage the best of them, or my name is not Mowbray. Adieu, my dearest Clara.” So saying, he kissed her cheek with a more than usual degree of affection.

Ere he could raise himself from his stooping posture, she threw her arm kindly over his neck, and said with a tone of the deepest interest, “My dearest brother, your slightest wish has been, and ever shall be, a law to me — Oh! if you would but grant me one request in return!”

“What is it, you silly girl?” said Mowbray, gently disengaging himself from her hold. —“What is it you can have to ask that needs such a solemn preface? — Remember, I hate prefaces; and when I happen to open a book, always skip them.”

“Without preface, then, my dearest brother, will you, for my sake, avoid those quarrels in which the people yonder are eternally engaged? I never go down there but I hear of some new brawl; and I never lay my head down to sleep, but I dream that you are the victim of it. Even last night”——

“Nay, Clara, if you begin to tell your dreams, we shall never have done. Sleeping, to be sure, is the most serious employment of your life — for as to eating, you hardly match a sparrow; but I entreat you to sleep without dreaming, or to keep your visions to yourself. — Why do you keep such fast hold of me? — What on earth can you be afraid of? — Surely you do not think the blockhead Binks, or any other of the good folks below yonder, dared to turn on me? Egad, I wish they would pluck up a little mettle, that I might have an excuse for drilling them. Gad, I would soon teach them to follow at heel.”

“No, John,” replied his sister; “it is not of such men as these that I have any fear — and yet, cowards are sometimes driven to desperation, and become more dangerous than better men — but it is not such as these that I fear. But there are men in the world whose qualities are beyond their seeming — whose spirit and courage lie hidden, like metals in the mine, under an unmarked or a plain exterior. — You may meet with such — you are rash and headlong, and apt to exercise your wit without always weighing consequences, and thus”——

“On my word, Clara,” answered Mowbray, “you are in a most sermonizing humour this morning! the parson himself could not have been more logical or profound. You have only to divide your discourse into heads, and garnish it with conclusions for use, and conclusions for doctrine, and it might be preached before a whole presbytery, with every chance of instruction and edification. But I am a man of the world, my little Clara; and though I wish to go in death’s way as little as possible, I must not fear the raw-head and bloody-bones neither. — And who the devil is to put the question to me? — I must know that, Clara, for you have some especial person in your eye when you bid me take care of quarrelling.”

Clara could not become paler than was her usual complexion; but her voice faltered as she eagerly assured her brother, that she had no particular person in her thoughts.

“Clara,” said her brother, “do you remember, when there was a report of a bogle17 in the upper orchard, when we were both children? — Do you remember how you were perpetually telling me to take care of the bogle, and keep away from its haunts? — And do you remember my going on purpose to detect the bogle, finding the cow-boy, with a shirt about him, busied in pulling pears, and treating him to a handsome drubbing? — I am the same Jack Mowbray still, as ready to face danger, and unmask imposition; and your fears, Clara, will only make me watch more closely, till I find out the real object of them. If you warn me of quarrelling with some one, it must be because you know some one who is not unlikely to quarrel with me. You are a flighty and fanciful girl, but you have sense enough not to trouble either yourself or me on a point of honour, save when there is some good reason for it.”

Clara once more protested, and it was with the deepest anxiety to be believed, that what she had said arose only out of the general consequences which she apprehended from the line of conduct her brother had adopted, and which, in her apprehension, was so likely to engage him in the broils that divided the good company at the Spring. Mowbray listened to her explanation with an air of doubt, or rather incredulity, sipped a cup of tea which had for some time been placed before him, and at length replied, “Well, Clara, whether I am right or wrong in my guess, it would be cruel to torment you any more, remembering what you have just done for me. But do justice to your brother, and believe, that when you have any thing to ask of him, an explicit declaration of your wishes will answer your purpose much better than any ingenious oblique attempts to influence me. Give up all thoughts of such, my dear Clara — you are but a poor manoeuvrer, but were you the very Machiavel of your sex, you should not turn the flank of John Mowbray.”

He left the room as he spoke, and did not return, though his sister twice called upon him. It is true that she uttered the word brother so faintly, that perhaps the sound did not reach his ears. —“He is gone,” she said, “and I have had no power to speak out! I am like the wretched creatures, who, it is said, lie under a potent charm, that prevents them alike from shedding tears and from confessing their crimes — Yes, there is a spell on this unhappy heart, and either that must be dissolved, or this must break.”

17 Bogle — in English, Goblin.

E5 p. 169. “The sportsman’s sense of his own cruelty.” In the reminiscences of Captain Basil Hall, published by Lockhart, he mentions that Scott himself had a dislike of shooting, from a sentiment as to the cruelty of the sport. “I was never quite at ease when I had knocked down my blackcock, and going to pick him up he cast back his dying eye with a look of reproach. I don’t affect to be more squeamish than my neighbours, but I am not ashamed to say that no practice ever reconciled me fully to the cruelty of the affair. At all events, now that I can do as I like without fear of ridicule, I take more pleasure in seeing the birds fly past me unharmed.” (Lockhart, vii. 331.) — A.L.

Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:29