Man and Wife
FIRST SCENE.--THE SUMMER-HOUSE.
IN the spring of the year eighteen hundred and sixty-eight there lived, in a certain county
of North Britain, two venerable White Owls.
The Owls inhabited a decayed and deserted summer-house. The summer-house stood in
grounds attached to a country seat in Perthshire, known by the name of Windygates.
The situation of Windygates had been skillfully chosen in that part of the county where
the fertile lowlands first begin to merge into the mountain region beyond. The mansion-
house was intelligently laid out, and luxuriously furnished. The stables offered a model
for ventilation and space; and the gardens and grounds were fit for a prince.
Possessed of these advantages, at starting, Windygates, nevertheless, went the road to
ruin in due course of time. The curse of litigation fell on house and lands. For more than
ten years an interminable lawsuit coiled itself closer and closer round the place,
sequestering it from human habitation, and even from human approach. The mansion was
closed. The garden became a wilderness of weeds. The summer-house was choked up by
creeping plants; and the appearance of the creepers was followed by the appearance of
the birds of night.
For years the Owls lived undisturbed on the property which they had acquired by the
oldest of all existing rights--the right of taking. Throughout the day they sat peaceful and
solemn, with closed eyes, in the cool darkness shed round them by the ivy. With the
twilight they roused themselves softly to the business of life. In sage and silent
companionship of two, they went flying, noiseless, along the quiet lanes in search of a
meal. At one time they would beat a field like a setter dog, and drop down in an instant
on a mouse unaware of them. At another time--moving spectral over the black surface of
the water--they would try the lake for a change, and catch a perch as they had caught the
mouse. Their catholic digestions were equally tolerant of a rat or an insect. And there
were moments, proud moments, in their lives, when they were clever enough to snatch a
small bird at roost off his perch. On those occasions the sense of superiority which the
large bird feels every where over the small, warmed their cool blood, and set them
screeching cheerfully in the stillness of the night.
So, for years, the Owls slept their happy sleep by day, and found their comfortable meal
when darkness fell. They had come, with the creepers, into possession of the summer-
house. Consequently, the creepers were a part of the constitution of the summer-house.
And consequently the Owls were the guardians of the Constitution. There are some
human owls who reason as they did, and who are, in this respect--as also in respect of
snatching smaller birds off their roosts--wonderfully like them.
The constitution of the summer-house had lasted until the spring of the year eighteen
hundred and sixty-eight, when the unhallowed footsteps of innovation passed that way;
and the venerable privileges of the Owls were assailed, for the first time, from the world
Two featherless beings appeared, uninvited, at the door of the summer-house, surveyed
the constitutional creepers, and said, "These must come down"--looked around at the