ANNIE OF THE SHOP.
At the dance in the chief's barn, Sercombe had paired with Annie of
the shop oftener than with any other of the girls. That she should
please him at all, was something in his favour, for she was a
simple, modest girl, with the nicest feeling of the laws of
intercourse, the keenest perception both of what is in itself right,
and what is becoming in the commonest relation. She understood by a
fine moral instinct what respect was due to her, and what respect
she ought to show, and was therefore in the truest sense well-bred.
There are women whom no change of circumstances would cause to alter
even their manners a hair's-breadth: such are God's ladies; there
are others in whom any outward change will reveal the vulgarity of a
nature more conscious of claim than of obligation.
I need not say that Sercomhe, though a man of what is called
education, was but conventionally a gentleman. If in doubt whether a
man be a gentleman or not, hear him speak to a woman he regards as
his inferior: his very tone will probably betray him. A true
gentleman, that is a true man, will be the more carefully
respectful. Sercombe was one of those who regard themselves as
respectable because they are prudent; whether they are human, and
their brother and sister's keeper, they have never asked themselves.
To some minds neither innocent nor simple, there is yet something
attractive in innocence and simplicity. Perhaps it gives them a
pleasing sense of their superiority--a background against which to
rejoice in their liberty, while their pleasure in it helps to
obscure the gulf between what the man would fain hold himself to be,
and what in reality he is. There is no spectre so terrible as the
unsuspected spectre of a man's own self; it is noisome enough to the
man who is ever trying to better it: what must it appear to the man
who sees it for the first time! Sercombe's self was ugly, and he did
not know it; he thought himself an exceptionally fine fellow. No one
knows what a poor creature he is but the man who makes it his
business to be true. The only mistake worse than thinking well of
himself, is for a man to think God takes no interest in him.
One evening, sorely in lack of amusement, Sercombe wandered out into
a star-lit night, and along the road to the village. There he went
into the general shop, where sat Annie behind the counter. Now the
first attention he almost always paid a woman, that is when he cared
and dared, was a compliment--the fungus of an empty head or a false
heart; but with Annie he took no such initiative liberty, and she,
accustomed to respectful familiarity from the chief and his brother,
showed no repugnance to his friendly approach.
"Upon my word, Miss Annie," said Sercombe, venturing at length a
little, "you were the best dancer on the floor that night!"
"Oh, Mr. Sercombe! how can you say so--with such dancers as the
young ladies of your party!" returned Annie.
"They dance well," he returned, "but not so well as you."
"It all depends on the dance--whether you are used to it or not."
"No, by Jove! If you had a lesson or two such as they have been
having all their lives, you would dance out of their sight in the
twinkling of an eye. If I had you for a partner every night for a
month, you would dance better than any woman I have ever seen--off
the stage--any lady, that is."
The grosser the flattery, the surer with a country girl, he thought.
But there was that in his tone, besides the freedom of sounding her
praises in her own ears, which was unpleasing to Annie's ladyhood,
and she held her peace.
"Come out and have a turn," he said thereupon. "It is lovely
star-light. Have you had a walk to-day?"
"No, I have not," answered Annie, casting how to get rid of him.
"You wrong your beauty by keeping to the house."
"My beauty," said Annie, flushing, "may look after itself; I have
nothing to do with it--neither, excuse me, sir, have you."
"Why, who has a right to be offended with the truth! A man can't
help seeing your face is as sweet as your voice, and your figure, as
revealed by your dancing, a match for the two!"
"I will call my mother," said Annie, and left the shop.
Sercombe did not believe she would, and waited. He took her
departure for a mere coquetry. But when a rather grim, handsome old
woman appeared, asking him--it took the most of her English--"What
would you be wanting, sir?" as if he had just come into the shop, he
found himself awkwardly situated. He answered, with more than his
usual politeness, that, having had the pleasure of dancing with her
daughter at the chief's hall, he had taken the liberty of looking in
to inquire after her health; whereupon, perplexed, the old woman in
her turn called Annie, who came at once, but kept close to her
mother. Sercombe began to tell them about a tour he had made in
Canada, for he had heard they had friends there; but the mother did
not understand him, and Annie more and more disliked him. He soon
saw that at least he had better say nothing more about a walk, and
took himself off, not a little piqued at repulse from a peasant-girl
in the most miserable shop he had ever entered.
Two days after, he went again--this time to buy tobacco. Annie was
short with him, but he went yet again and yet sooner: these
primitive people objected to strangers, he said; accustomed to him
she would be friendly! he would not rest until he had gained some
footing of favour with her! Annie grew heartily offended with the
man. She also feared what might be said if he kept coming to the
shop--where Mistress Conal had seen him more than once, and looked
poison at him. For her own sake, for the sake of Lachlan, and for
the sake of the chief, she resolved to make the young father of the
ancient clan acquainted with her trouble. It was on the day after
his rejection of the ten-pound note that she found her opportunity,
for the chief came to see her.
"Was he rude to you, Annie?" he asked.
"No, sir--too polite, I think: he must have seen I did not want his
company.--I shall feel happier now you know."
"I will see to it," said the chief.
"I hope it will not put you to any trouble, sir!"
"What am I here for, Annie! Are you not my clanswoman! Is not
Lachlan my foster-brother!--He will trouble you no more, I think."
As Alister walked home, he met Sercombe, and after a greeting not
very cordial on either side, said thus:
"I should be obliged to you, Mr. Sercombe, if you would send for
anything you want, instead of going to the shop yourself. Annie
Macruadh is not the sort of girl you may have found in such a
position, and you would not wish to make her uncomfortable!"
Sercombe was, ashamed, I think; for the refuge of the fool when
dissatisfied with himself, is offence with his neighbour, and
Sercombe was angry.
"Are you her father--or her lover?" he said.
"She has a right to my protection--and claims it," rejoined Alister
"Protection! Oh!--What the devil would you protect her from?"
"From you, Mr. Sercombe."
"Protect her, then."
"I will. Force yourself on that young woman's notice again, and you
will have to do with me."
They parted. Alister went home. Sercombe went straight to the shop.
He was doing what he could to recommend himself to Christina; but
whether from something antagonistic between them, or from
unwillingness on her part to yield her position of advantage and so
her liberty, she had not given him the encouragement he thought he
deserved. He believed himself in love with her, and had told her so;
but the truest love such a man can feel, is a poor thing. He
admired, and desired, and thought he loved her beauty, and that he
called being in love with HER! He did not think much about her
money, but had she then been brought to poverty, he would at least
have hesitated about marrying her.
In the family he was regarded as her affianced, although she did not
treat him as such, but merely went on bewitching him, pleased that
at least he was a man of the world.
While one is yet only IN LOVE, the real person, the love-capable,
lies covered with the rose-leaves of a thousand sleepy-eyed dreams,
and through them come to the dreamer but the barest hints of the
real person of whom is the dream. A thousand fancies fly out,
approach, and cross, but never meet; the man and the woman are
pleased, not with each other, but each with the fancied other. The
merest common likings are taken for signs of a wonderful sympathy,
of a radical unity--of essential capacity, therefore, of loving and
being loved; at a hundred points their souls seem to touch, but
their contacts are the merest brushings as of insect-antennae; the
real man, the real woman, is all the time asleep under the
rose-leaves. Happy is the rare fate of the true--to wake and come
forth and meet in the majesty of the truth, in the image of God, in
their very being, in the power of that love which alone is being.
They love, not this and that about each other, but each the very
other--a love as essential to reality, to truth, to religion, as the
love of the very God. Where such love is, let the differences of
taste, the unfitnesses of temperament be what they may, the two must
by and by be thoroughly one.
Sercombe saw no reason why a gentleman should not amuse himself with
any young woman he pleased. What was the chief to him! He was not
his chief! If he was a big man in the eyes of his little clan, he
was nothing much in the eyes of Hilary Sercombe.