“No—o, but—don’t you think, Mother, we needn’t work quite so hard for our social existence? I mean, let’s be more friendly with the people round us, and not strive so hard to keep in with the County set. If Miss Reston can do it, surely we can.”
“But don’t you see,” her mother said, “Miss Reston can do it just because she is Miss Reston. If you’re a Lord’s daughter you can be as eccentric as you like, and make friends with anyone you choose. If we did it, they would just say, ‘Oh, so they’ve come off their perch!’ and once we let ourselves down we would never raise ourselves again. I couldn’t do it, Muriel. Don’t ask me.”
“No. But we’ve got to be happier somehow. Climbing is exhausting work.” She stooped and picked up the two small dogs that lay on a cushion beside her. “Isn’t it, Bing? Isn’t it, Toutou? You’re happy, aren’t you? A warm fire and a cushion and some mutton-chop bones are good enough for you. Well, we’ve got all these and we want more.... Mother, perhaps Jean would tell us the secret of happiness.”
“As if I’d ask her,” said Mrs. Duff-Whalley.
“Marvell, who had both
pleasure and success, who must have enjoyed
life if ever man did, ... found his happiness in the garden where he
was.”—From an article in The Times Literary Supplement.
Mrs. M’Cosh remained extremely sceptical about the reality of the fortune until the lawyer came from London, “yin’s errand to see Miss Jean,” as she explained importantly to Miss Bathgate, and he was such an eminently solid, safe-looking man that her doubts vanished.
“I wud say he wis an elder in the kirk, if they’ve onything as respectable as an elder in England,” was her summing up of the lawyer.
Mr. Dickson (of Dickson, Staines, & Dickson), though a lawyer, was a human being, and was able to meet Jean with sympathy and understanding when she tried to explain to him her wishes.
First of all, she was very anxious to know if Mr. Dickson thought it quite fair that she should have the money. Was he quite sure that there were no relations, no one who had a real claim?
Mr. Dickson explained to her what a singularly lonely, self-sufficing man Peter Reid had been, a man without friends, almost without interests—except the piling up of money.
“I don’t say he was unhappy; I believe he was very content, absolutely absorbed in his game of money-making. But when he couldn’t ignore any longer the fact that there was something wrong with his health, and went to the specialist and was told to give up work at once, he was completely bowled over. Life held nothing more for him. I was very sorry for the poor man ... he had only one thought—to go back to Priorsford, his boyhood’s home.”
“And I didn’t know,” said Jean, “or we would all have turned out there and then and sat on our boxes in the middle of the road, or roosted in the trees like crows, rather than keep him for an hour out of his own house. He came and asked to see The Rigs and I was afraid he meant to buy it: it was always our nightmare that the landlord in London would turn us out.... He looked frail and shabby, and I jumped to the conclusion that he was poor. Oh, I do wish I had known....”