The Evil Genius
1. Mrs. Presty Presents Herself
NOT far from the source of the famous river, which rises in the mountains between Loch
Katrine and Loch Lornond, and divides the Highlands and the Lowlands of Scotland,
travelers arrive at the venerable gray walls of Mount Morven; and, after consulting their
guide books, ask permission to see the house.
What would be called, in a modern place of residence, the first floor, is reserved for the
occupation of the family. The great hall of entrance, and its quaint old fireplace; the
ancient rooms on the same level opening out of it, are freely shown to strangers.
Cultivated travelers express various opinions relating to the family portraits, and the
elaborately carved ceilings. The uninstructed public declines to trouble itself with
criticism. It looks up at the towers and the loopholes, the battlements and the rusty old
guns, which still bear witness to the perils of past times when the place was a fortress--it
enters the gloomy hall, walks through the stone-paved rooms, stares at the faded pictures,
and wonders at the lofty chimney-pieces hopelessly out of reach. Sometimes it sits on
chairs which are as cold and as hard as iron, or timidly feels the legs of immovable tables
which might be legs of elephants so far as size is concerned. When these marvels have
been duly admired, and the guide books are shut up, the emancipated tourists, emerging
into the light and air, all find the same social problem presented by a visit to Mount
Morven: "How can the family live in such a place as that?"
If these strangers on their travels had been permitted to ascend to the first floor, and had
been invited (for example) to say good-night to Mrs. Linley's pretty little daughter, they
would have seen the stone walls of Kitty's bed-chamber snugly covered with velvet
hangings which kept out the cold; they would have trod on a doubly-laid carpet, which
set the chilly influences of the pavement beneath it at defiance; they would have looked
at a bright little bed, of the last new pattern, worthy of a child's delicious sleep; and they
would only have discovered that the room was three hundred years old when they had
drawn aside the window curtains, and had revealed the adamantine solidity of the outer
walls. Or, if they had been allowed to pursue their investigations a little further, and had
found their way next into Mrs. Linley's sitting room, here again a transformation scene
would have revealed more modern luxury, presented in the perfection which implies
restraint within the limits of good taste. But on this occasion, instead of seeing the head
of a lively little child on the pillow, side by side with the head of her doll, they would
have encountered an elderly lady of considerable size, fast asleep and snoring in a vast
armchair, with a book on her lap. The married men among the tourists would have
recognized a mother-in-law, and would have set an excellent example to the rest; that is
to say, the example of leaving the room.
The lady composed under the soporific influence of literature was a person of importance
in the house--holding rank as Mrs. Linley's mother; and being otherwise noticeable for
having married two husbands, and survived them both.