Far different were the sensations with which the good spinster regarded her niece. She could not often enough declare her admiration of the improvements that had taken place. Mary was grown taller, and stouter, and fairer and fatter, and her back was a straight as an arrow, and her carriage would even surprise Miss M’Gowk herself. It was quite astonishing to see her, for she had always understood Scotland was the place for beauty, and that nobody ever came to anything in England. Even Sir Sampson and Lady Maclaughlan were forgot as she stood riveted in admiration, and Mary was the first to recall her recollection to them. Sir Sampson, indeed, might well have been overlooked by a more accurate observer; for, as Grizzy observed, he was worn away to nothing, and the little that remained seemed as if it might have gone too without being any loss. He was now deaf, paralytic, and childish, and the only symptom of life he showed was an increased restlessness and peevishness. His lady sat by him, calmly pursuing her work, and, without relaxing from it, merely held up her face to salute Mary as she approached her.
“So I’m glad you are no worse than you was, dear child,” surveying her from head to foot; “that’s more than we can say. You see these poor creatures,” pointing to Sir Sampson and Aunt Grizzy. “They are much about it now. Well, we know what we are, but God knows what we shall be—humph!”
Sir Sampson showed no signs of recognising her, but seemed pleased when Grizzy resumed her station beside him; and began for the five hundredth time to tell him why he was not in Lochmarlie Castle, and why he was in Bath.
Mary now saw that there are situations in which a weak capacity has its uses, and that the most foolish chat may sometimes impart greater pleasure than all the wisdom of the schools, even when proceeding from a benevolent heart.
Sir Sampson and Grizzy were so much upon a pair in intellect, that they were reciprocally happy in each other. This the strong sense of Lady Maclaughlan had long perceived, and was the principal reason of her selecting so weak a woman as her companion; though, at the same time, in justice to her Ladyship’s heart as well as head, she had that partiality for her friend for which no other reason can be assigned than that given by Montaigne: “Je l’amais parceque c’etoit elle, parceque c’etoit moi.”
Mary paid a long visit to her aunt, and then took leave, promising to return the following day to take Miss Grizzy to deliver a letter of introduction she had received, and which had not been left to the chance of the carrier and the snow.
“This sort of person is skilled to assume the appearance of all virtues and all good qualities; but their favourite mask is universal benevolence. And the reason why they prefer this disguise to all others, is, that it tends to conceal its opposite, which is, indeed, their true character—an universal selfishness.”