An Autobiography HTML version

Melrose Revisited
Jack Bakewell and Edward Lancelot Stirling went to see me off by the night train to
Dunbar Station, five miles from Thornton-Loch, and I got there in time for breakfast. The
old house was just the same except for an oriel window in the drawing room looking out
on the North Sea. and the rocks which lay between it and Colhandy path (where my
great-grandfather Spence had preached and his wife had preferred Wesley), and
Chirnside, or Spence's Mains in the same direction. All the beautiful gardens, the farm
village, where about 80 souls lived, the fields and bridges were just as I remembered
them. My aunt Margaret was no longer the vigorous business-like woman whom I
recollected riding or driving in her little gig an over the farm of 800 English acres which
my great-grandfather had rented since 1811. Not the Miss Thompson whom I had
introduced into "Uphill Work." She had had a severe stroke of paralysis, and was a
prisoner to the house, only being lifted from her bed to be dressed, and to sit in a wheeled
chair and be taken round the garden on fine days. The vigorous intellect was somewhat
clouded, and the power of speech also; but she retained her memory. She was always at
work with her needle (for her hands were not affected) for the London children,
grandnieces, and nephews who called her grandmamma, for she had had the care of their
Parents during 11 years of her brother Alexander's widowhood. But Aunt Margaret could
play a capital game of whist--long whist. I could see that she missed it much on Sunday.
It was her only relaxation. She had given up the farm to James Brodie, who had married
her cousin Jane, the eldest of the two children she had mothered, and he had to come to
the farm once or twice a week, having a still larger farm of his own in East Lothian, and a
stock farm in Berwickshire also to look after. The son of the old farm steward, John
Burnet, was James Brodie's steward, and I think the farm was well managed, but not so
profitable as in old times. Aunt Mary said, in her own characteristic way, "she always
knew that her sister was a clever woman, but that the cleverest thing she had done was
taking up farming and carrying it on for 30 years when it was profitable, and turning it
over when it began to fall off." But she turned it over handsomely, and did not interfere in
the management. My Aunt Mary deserves a chapter for herself. She was my beau ideal of
what a maiden aunt should be, though why she was never married puzzles more than me.
Between my mother and her there was a love passing the love of sisters--my father liked
her better than his own sisters. When my letter announcing my probable visit reached her
she misread it, and thought it was Helen herself who was to come; and when she found
out her mistake she shed many tears. I was all very well in my way, but I was not Helen.
It was not the practice in old times to blazon an engagement, or to tell of an offer that had
been declined; but my mother firmly believed that her sister Mary, the cleverest and, as
she thought, the handsomest of the five sisters, had never in her life had an offer of
marriage, although she had a love disappointment at 30. She had fixed her affections on a
brilliant but not really worthy man, and she had to tear him out of her heart with
considerable difficulty. It cost her a severe illness, out of which she emerged with what
she believed to be a change of heart. She was a converted Christian. I myself don't think
there was so much change. She was always a noble, generous woman, but she found great
happiness in religion. Aunt Mary's disappointment made her most sympathetic to all love
stories, and without any disappointment at all, I think I may say the same of myself. She