This is a lovely, gentle romance; almost a ‘Georgette Heyer’ set in Scotland. I can understand why of all Bruce’s “Colmskirk” stories this was the one most reprinted. The bits of Scots might be a little hard for some to understand, but not for anyone who had read Robert Louis Stevenson or Sir Walter Scott (who actually appears in this book with his family).
One thing I particualrly like about Bruce’s historical works (and it’s an aspect where she improves on Heyer, who was a good modernist and couldn’t understand religion) is that she recognises the role that the church played in people’s lives, and is able to introduce religion as a normal part of it. And she gets it right. For example:
… “It must be most gratifying to you, Mistress Crawford, ma’am,” innocently remarked the old minister of Colmskirk, “that your niece should be making a name for herself in the capital as a sweet singer of Israel, and that she has given us all so much pleasure, this night; most gratifying indeed!”
Mistress Crawford flounced in her chair.
“As to that, sir, ‘twas by no wish of ours that Jonet left her sheltered home for the glare of publicity; ‘twas her own choice, and we cannot think it seemly for a young gentlewoman, though we are not near enough of kin to assert any control. But as to her being as you imply an Israelite, I can assure you there’s not a drop of Jewish blood anywhere in our connection.”
“Why, ma’am,” replied the old man mildly, “I did but liken Miss Jentie to King David of old. And after all, was not Christ himself a Jew?”
The lady reddened, and turned her shoulder on him abruptly as she greeted a friend who had come up on the other side.
“There’s whiles, Mistress Miller,” she remarked confidentially, “when if the minister was not the minister, I’d be inclined to class him as a man of light and irreverent speech. Does it not say in the Book itself, ‘a place for everything and everything in its place’? I never can mind chapter and verse, but I’m thinking you’ll find it somewhere in Ecclesiastes. ‘Tis a shocking thing to me, and verging on blasphemy, when the Holy Scripture is introduced into a place of amusement.”
But Mistress Miller was even more shocked at the aspersion on their minister.
“I’d have you remember, ma’am,” she snapped, “that it all depends on who makes the introduction. There’s some whose minds are so soaked in the Holy Book that its words just tumble out of their mouths.”
Mistress Crawford felt her most dignified course was to ignore the rebuke …
After reading this I’m determined to visit Largs in Ayrshire, the original of ‘Colmskirk’.