Kirsteen (1890)

Kirsteen Douglas is the daughter of an impoverished descendant of the Scottish house of Drumcarro. A wrathful, proud man, the Laird of Drumcarro inspires awe in his entire household, with the exception of their faithful servant, Marg'ret. His wife has long been an invalid under his mistreatment, and after giving birth to no less than fourteen children. Always mindful of his lost status, Drumcarro finds only his sons of any worth, and they are soon dispatched one by one to positions in the Indian colonies where they can make a career and hopefully one day restore the Drumcarro estate to past greatness. He considers his four daughters nothing but an encumbrance on his reduced property, and they are kept confined at home deprived of anything but the basics of life. Thus years before the main action of the novel takes place, his eldest daughter Mary has run away and married a doctor, sick of her secluded life and aware her father would consider this marriage beneath her. Her father completely disowns her and even forbids the mention of her name in the house.

As the novel starts, we see the household holding a little celebration on the eve of the departure of yet another son to the colonies. Kirsteen is embroidering some handkerchiefs with her brother's initials 'RD' using her reddish-golden hair as thread. Departing with his brother is a young friend of the family, Ronald Drummond, who snatches one of these handkerchiefs for himself, and proposes to Kirsteen. She returns his feelings and promises to wait for him until he returns a well-to-do man. Not long after, under Marg'ret's advice that they will always remain under their father's control unless they find a husband, and with their spinster aunt's support (who, we find out, was once courted by Drumcarro himself), the girls are allowed to attend a ball. They meet the bachelor laird Glendochart who, on telling Kirsteen of his own romantic misfortunes as a young man, reminds her of her own position and is thus looked on kindly by her.

Encouraged by her friendly behaviour, Glendochart starts visiting the house frequently, while Kirsteen seems to be the only one ignorant of his intention in doing so, which is no other than to woo her. When Glendochart finally proposes, the Laird threatens to disown and even kill Kirsteen if she refuses to marry her suitor. Well aware that her father is fully capable of doing so, Kirsteen finds no other way out than to run away (in a rather eventful journey) to London, where she will meet Marg'ret's sister Miss Brown, a prosperous mantua-maker with an army of milliners working for her. The good woman takes her in, and helps her to reunite with her eldest sister, now the happy (if too dependent) wife of Dr Dewar and proud mother of his two children. Her sister offers Kirsteen shelter, but the latter is determined she will make her own fortune.

Miss Jean Brown is not too happy with the idea of a 'lady' working as a mantua-maker with her, but is finally persuaded by a determined Kirsteen, who shows extraordinary talent. The business prospers so well with her assistance, that Marg'ret's sister eventually decides to make the young woman her partner, naming the establishment 'Miss Brown and Miss Kirsteen,' omitting 'Douglas' so that her family name will not be involved and therefore disgraced by its association with trade. Around this same time, Kirsteen has gone back home, defying her father's wrath, to attend her mother on her deathbed. The father, mollified by his wife's imminent decease, does not seem to mind her presence excessively, though he certainly minds her sister Mary's, whom she has dragged with her to see their dying mother.

On getting back to London Kirsteen finds out her betrothed Ronald Drummond has died a heroic death in India, and travels back again to Scotland to reveal the truth to his mother and in this way retrieve the bloody handkerchief that the soldier was said to have taken to his lips with his last breath. This last memento will remain locked in a silver casket all her life long, and she remains an unmarried woman her entire life. She also continues, as her mother wished her to, to support her family, though little gratitude is shown to her in exchange.

Before leaving for London again, Kirsteen warns her youngest sister Jeanie to be cautious with a local duke's young son, who has been paying her attentions, but clearly does not intend to marry her. Kirsteen cannot do much else, as Jeanie would never be allowed to live with her because of her lower position. The rest of the family seems but too happy to receive the young aristocrat's attentions, until her father overhears him proposing an elopement while refusing to marry the girl. Mad with anger, in the deep of the forest, the Laird falls on the Duke's son and accidentally kills him. There is an inquest after his death, but given the young dissolute's dubious reputation, he is thought to have tripped down the slippery path while intoxicated. The effect of all these events weighs on the Laird's health, and he dies not long after. Later his youngest daughter Jeanie marries a successful young man of Kirsteen's acquaintance, while her sister Mary has long been married to Glendochart, whose affection she managed to secure after he was turned down by Kirsteen. It is Kirsteen and no other, though unappreciated in her efforts and looked down on by the family because of her profession, who manages to buy back a considerable part of their ancestral property, thus restoring part of its lustre to the name of Drumcarro.