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A Wife's Stratagem, A Tale of 1715 by Luck Hardy

 

It was with mingled feelings of annoyance and satisfaction that old Lady Glenlivet and her daughters received the intelligence that the only son of the house was about to bring an English bride to the grey old Scotch mansion where so many generations of his “forbears” had lived and died.

Sir Alick was six-and-twenty, and it was therefore fully time that he should marry and carry on the traditions of the house, and, as the Glenlivet's fortune did not match their “long pedigree,” it was distinctly an advantage that the newly-wedded bride was so well dowered. But then, on the other hand, Mistress Mary Wilkinson was an Englishwoman, and Lady Glenlivet more than suspected the fact (adroitly veiled in her son's letter) that the young lady's fortune had been made in trade.

Sir Alick Glenlivet, visiting London for the first time in his life, had been hospitably entertained by a distant kinsman, a Scotch lawyer, who had settled in the English metropolis; and at his house had met with the orphan heiress of a substantial city trader, to whom Simon Glenlivet was guardian. To Alick, bred up in the comparative seclusion and obscurity of his Scottish home, the plunge into London life was as bewildering as delightful; and he soon thought sweet Mary Wilkinson, with her soft blue eyes and gentle voice, the fairest creature his eyes had ever rested upon; while to Mary, the handsome young Scotchman was like the hero in a Border tale.

“Happy the wooing that's not long a-doing.” Mistress Mary was twenty-two, so of legal age to please herself in her choice of a husband; while Simon Glenlivet was still sufficiently a Scotchman at heart to consider an alliance with the “ancient and noble family” with which he himself claimed kinship an advantage which might fairly outbalance his lack of fortune.

To do the young man justice, Mary's wealth counted for nothing in his choice; he would as readily have married her had the fortune been all on his side. Indeed, it was with some qualms of conscience that Sir Alick now wrote to inform his mother of the sudden step which he had taken; half fearing that, in the eyes of the proud old Scotch dame, even Mary's beauty and fortune could scarcely compensate for her lack of “long descent.”

And indeed, Lady Glenlivet's Highland pride was not at all well pleased to learn that her son had wedded a trader's daughter; though Mary (or Maisie, as her husband now called her) had received the education of a refined gentlewoman, and was far more well bred and accomplished than were the two tall, awkward daughters of the Glenlivet household; or, for the matter of that, than was the “auld leddy hersel'.”

Lady Glenlivet, however, loved her son, and stifled down her feelings of disapproval for his sake. It was undeniable that Mary's money came in most usefully in paying off the mortgages which had so long crippled the Glenlivet estate; and when the bride and bridegroom arrived at their Scotch home, the ladies were speechless in their admiration at the bride's “providing.” Such marvels of lace and brocades, such treasures of jewellery, such a display of new fashions had never been known in the neighbourhood before; and Isobel and Barbara, if not inclined to fall rapturously in love with their new sister, at least utterly lost their hearts over her wardrobe—not such a very extensive or extravagant one after all, the bride had thought; but, in the eighteenth century, a wealthy London trader's only child would be reared in a far more luxurious manner than the daughters of many a “long descended” Scotch household.

Mary, or Maisie, certainly found her new home lacking in many comforts which were almost necessaries in her eyes; but the girl was young, and sweet-tempered, and devotedly attached to her brave young husband, who equally adored his young wife. The prejudice excited against the new-comer on the score of her nationality and social rank softened down as the months went by; although old Lady Glenlivet often remarked that Maisie was “just English” whenever the younger lady's opinions or wishes did not entirely coincide with her own.

In the kindly patriarchial fashion of Scottish households of the day, Sir Alick's mother and sisters still resided under his roof; and Maisie, gentle and retiring by nature, never dreamt of attempting to depose the old lady from her position of house-mistress; so the “auld leddy” still kept the keys, and ruled the servants, and was as busy and notable as of yore; her new daughter being, in truth, often far more submissive to the good dame's sway than were either Isobel or Barbara, who occasionally “took the dorts” and would have their own wills.

Yet Maisie was happy enough in her new life—for had she not Alick and his devotion?—until dark clouds began to gather in the political horizon.

It was the year 1715, a year to be remembered in many an English and Scottish household for many a year to come. Whispers of plots and conspiracies were flying about the land; for the coming of the “wee German lairdie” was by no means universally acceptable, and many Jacobites who had acquiesced in the accession of “good Queen Anne” herself (a member of the ancient royal house), now shrank from acknowledging “the Elector” as their monarch. Simon Glenlivet, a shrewd and prudent man, who had lived in London and watched the course of political events, had long ago laid aside any romantic enthusiasm for the cause of the exiled Stuarts, if he had ever possessed such a feeling; realising perhaps the truth of Sir John Maynard's reply to William III. when the king asked the old man if he had not survived “all his brother lawyers,” “Ay, and if your Majesty had not come, I might shortly have survived the law itself.”

Maisie's father, like most of his brother-citizens, had welcomed the “Deliverer” with acclamations, and would doubtless have greeted the accession of George I. with equal enthusiasm had he lived to witness it. It was only after she crossed the Border that Maisie had heard the son of James II. alluded to save as the “Pretender,” to whom his enemies denied any kinship with the Stuarts at all. Maisie, wise and discreet beyond her years, speedily learnt to stifle her own political opinions amid her husband's family circle; though indeed she was no eager supporter of any party. She had been duly taught that it was a duty to submit to the “powers that be,” and to pray daily for the king; and like a dutiful little maiden of her time, piously obeyed her teacher's and guardian's injunctions, without troubling her head as to whether the actual lawful monarch of England was keeping his court at St. Germains or St. James'. And Maisie's husband, to tell the truth, was scarcely a more vehement or interested politician than herself; though Sir Alick called himself a Jacobite because his father and mother had been Jacobites before him. Lady Glenlivet, a woman of narrow education and deeply rooted prejudices, was a strong partisan of the Stuart cause; strong with all the unreasoning vehemence of a worthy but ignorant woman. So, when the Earl of Mar's disastrous expedition was being secretly organised, the emissaries of the plotters found ready acceptance with the “auld leddy,” who scrupled not to press and urge her son to join the “glorious undertaking” which should restore her lawful king to Scotland and bring added honours and lands to the Glenlivet family. Sir Alick, supremely happy in his domestic life, had at first small desire for embarking in the hazardous scheme of the wisdom and justice of which he felt less positively assured than did his mother. Sir Alick had seen something of the world during his visit to London, and had not been entirely uninfluenced by the views of his wise kinsman. But Lady Glenlivet was not the only foolish woman at that epoch who forced a wiser judging husband, son, or brother into joining a conspiracy which his better sense condemned; and Sir Alick, always greatly under his mother's influence, at length consented to attend that historic meeting at Braemar in the autumn of 1715, where, under pretence of a hunting party, the Earl of Mar assembled the disaffected Scottish nobility and gentry, and raised the Stuart standard, proclaiming King James III. of England and VII. of Scotland.

The “fiery cross” was circulated through the Highlands, and Sir Alick returned to his home to raise a troop of his own tenants and clansmen, at whose head he proposed to join the Earl of Mar.

Maisie, ordinarily so gentle and retiring, was now roused to unwonted and passionate protest. The scheme for the threatened “rising” was not unknown in England; and Simon Glenlivet wrote to his quondam ward, urging her most strongly to dissuade her husband from joining a rash conspiracy which could only bring ruin upon all who were engaged in it.

“'Tis hopeless—and I thank Heaven that it is so—to think of overturning the present condition of things,” wrote the cautious London Scot; “and they who take part in this mad conspiracy—of which the English Government have fuller details than the conspirators wot of—will but lose their lands, and it may be their heads to boot. I pray thee, my pretty Molly, keep thy husband out of this snare.”

But this command was not so easily followed. Since his visit to Braemar, Alick himself had caught the war fever, and, for once, his wife's entreaties, nay, even her tears and prayers, were disregarded by her husband! Sir Alick was all love and tenderness, but join the glorious expedition he must and would, encouraged in this resolve by mother, sister, and kinsfolk; Maisie's being the only dissenting voice; and, as Lady Glenlivet tauntingly remarked to her daughter-in-law, “it was not for the child of a mere English pock-pudding to decide what was fitting conduct for a Highland noble—Maisie should remember she had wedded into an honourable house, and not strive to draw her husband aside from the path of duty.”

Unheeded by her husband, derided and taunted by his mother, Maisie could but weep in silent despair.

And so the day of parting came, and Alick, looking splendidly handsome in his military attire, stood to take his last farewell of wife and kindred, and to drink a parting cup to the success of the expedition.

“Fill me the quaick, Maisie,” he said, with a kindly smile turning to his pale and heavy-eyed young wife. “Ye'll soon see me come back again to bid ye all put on your braws to grace the king's coronation at Edinburgh.” To which hope Lady Glenlivet piously cried “Amen”; and Maisie turned to mix the stirrup cup, for the morning was raw and cold.

“Let Isobel lift the kettle, lass; it's far too heavy for thee,” cried Lady Glenlivet; but alas! too late, for Maisie stumbled as she turned from the fire, and the chief part of the scalding water was emptied into one of the young man's long riding boots.

Alick's sudden yell of pain almost drowned Maisie's sobbing cry, and old Lady Glenlivet furiously exclaimed, forgetful of all courtesies,—

“Ye wretched gawk! ye little fule! ye ha' killed my puir lad!”

“Nay, nay, na sae bad as that, I judge. Dinna greet, Maisie, my bonnie bird—ye couldna help it, my dow,” cried Alick, recovering himself, and making a heroic effort to conceal the pain he felt. “Look to her, some of ye,” he added sharply, as Maisie sank fainting on the floor.

It was a very severe scald, said the doctor whom the alarmed household quickly summoned, and it would be many a long day before Sir Alick would be fit to wear his boot or put foot in saddle again.

But thanks greatly to the devoted nursing he received from wife and mother, and to his own youth and health, Sir Alick completely recovered from the injury. But in the meantime, the bubble had burst, Sherrifmuir had been fought, Mar's army had been totally routed, the prisons in England and Scotland had been filled with his misguided followers, and the headsman and the hangman were beginning their ghastly work.

Sir Alick, thanks to the accident which had prevented his taking any overt part in the rebellion, had escaped both imprisonment and confiscation; and it was probably Simon Glenlivet's influence which had availed to cover over Sir Alick's dalliance with the Jacobite plotters.

Maisie had proved herself a most tender and efficient nurse, but it was now her turn to be ill, and one quiet day, after she had presented her lord with an heir to the Glenlivet name, she told him the whole truth about that lucky accident with the boiling water; but auld Leddy Glenlivet never knew that her son had been saved from a rebel's fate by a wife's stratagem.

 
 
 

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