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The Prodigal Daughter
by [?]

Hard is it, O my friends, to gather up

A whole life’s goodness into narrow space–

A life made Heaven-meet by patient grace,

And handling oft the sacramental cup

Of sorrow, drinking all the bitter drains.

Her life she kept most sacred from the world;

Though, Martha-wise, much cumber’d and imperill’d

With service, Mary-like she brought her pains

And laid them and herself low at the feet,

The travel-weary, deep-scarr’d feet, of Him

The incarnate Good, who oft in Galilee

Had borne Himself the burden and the heat–

Ah! couldst thou bear, thy tender eyes were dim

With humble tears to think this meant for thee!

A certain man had two daughters. The man was a minister in Galloway–a Cameronian minister in a hill parish in the latest years of last century; consequently he had no living to divide to them. Of the two daughters, one was wise and the other was foolish. So he loved the foolish with all his heart. Also he loved the wise daughter; but her heart was hard because that her sister was preferred before her. The man’s name was Eli M’Diarmid, and his daughters’ names were Sophia and Elsie. He had been long in the little kirk of Cauldshields. To the manse he had brought his young wife, and from its cheerless four walls he had walked behind her hearse one day nigh twenty years ago. The daughters had been reared here; but, even as enmity had arisen on the tilled slips of garden outside Eden, so there had always been strife between the daughters of the lonely manse–on the one side rebellion and the resentment of restraint, on the other tale-bearing and ferret-eyed spying.

This continued till Elsie M’Diarmid was a well-grown and a comely lass, while her sister Sophia was already sharpening and souring towards the thirties. One day there was a terrible talk in the parish. Elsie, the minister’s younger daughter, had run off to Glasgow, and there got married to Alec Saunderson, the dominie’s ne’er-do-well son. So to Glasgow the minister went, and came back in three weeks with an extra stoop to his shoulders. But with such a still and patient silence on his face, that no man and (what is more wonderful) no woman durst ask him any further questions. After that, Elsie was no more named in the manse; but the report of her beauty and her waywardness was much in the parish mouth. A year afterwards her sister went from the manse in all the odour of propriety, to be the mistress of one of the large farms of a neighbouring glen. Then the minister gathered himself more than ever close in to his lonely hearth, with only Euphemia Kerr, his wise old housekeeper, once his children’s nurse. He went less frequently abroad, and looked more patiently than ever out of his absent grey eyes on the “herds” and small sheep-farmers who made up the bulk of his scanty flock.

The Cameronian kirk of Cauldshields was a survival of the time when the uplands of Galloway were the very home and hive of the “Westlan'” Whigs–of the men who marched to Rullion Green to be slaughtered, sent Claverhouse scurrying to Glasgow from Drumclog, and abjured all earthly monarchs at the cross of Sanquhar.

But now the small farms were already being turned into large, the sheep were dispossessing the plough, and the principle of “led” farms was depopulating the countryside. That is, instead of sonsy farmers’ wives and their husbands (the order is not accidental) marshalling their hosts into the family pews on Sabbath, many of the farms were held by wealthy farmers who lived in an entirely different part of the country. These gave up the farmhouse, with its feudality of cothouses, to a taciturn bachelor shepherd or two, who squatted promiscuously in the once voluble kitchen.