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Title: The Dew of Their Youth
Author: Crockett, S. R. (Samuel Rutherford), 1860-1914
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Dew of Their Youth" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



THE DEW OF THEIR YOUTH

By
S. R. CROCKETT

Author Of
'The Lilac Sunbonnet,' 'The Black Douglas,' 'Strong Mac,'
'Rose Of The Wilderness,' etc.

HODDER AND STOUGHTON
LONDON--MCMX

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Richard Clay & Sons, Limited,
Bread Street Hill, E.C., and
Bungay, Suffolk.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                          CONTENTS

                           PART I

                          CHAPTER I
                                                         PAGE
The Haunted House of Marnhoul                                1

                          CHAPTER II
'In the Name of the Law!'                                   10

                         CHAPTER III
Miss Irma gives an Audience                                 18

                          CHAPTER IV
First Foot in the Haunted House                             22

                          CHAPTER V
The Censor of Morals                                        33

                          CHAPTER VI
The Apotheosis of Agnes Anne                                42

                         CHAPTER VII
The Doctor's Advent                                         51

                         CHAPTER VIII
Kate of the Shore                                           62

                          CHAPTER IX
The Eve of St. John                                         73

                          CHAPTER X
The Crowbar in the Wood                                     82

                          CHAPTER XI
Agnes Anne's Experiences as a Spy                           87

                         CHAPTER XII
The Fight in the Dark                                       96

                         CHAPTER XIII
A World of Ink and Fire                                    101

                         CHAPTER XIV
The White Free Traders                                     109

                           PART II

                          CHAPTER XV
My Grandmother speaks her Mind                             118

                         CHAPTER XVI
Castle Connoway                                            127

                         CHAPTER XVII
The Man 'Doon-the-hoose'                                   133

                        CHAPTER XVIII
The Transfiguration of Aunt Jen                            138

                         CHAPTER XIX
Loaded-pistol Pollixfen                                    146

                          CHAPTER XX
The Real Mr. Poole                                         155

                         CHAPTER XXI
While we sat by the Fire                                   162

                           PART III

                         CHAPTER XXII
Boyd Connoway's Evidence                                   170

                        CHAPTER XXIII
The Sharp Spur                                             184

                         CHAPTER XXIV
The College of King James                                  193

                         CHAPTER XXV
Satan Finds                                                201

                         CHAPTER XXVI
Perfidy, thy Name is Woman!                                209

                        CHAPTER XXVII
Then, Heigh-ho, the Molly!'                                218

                        CHAPTER XXVIII
Love and the Logician                                      227

                         CHAPTER XXIX
The Avalanche.                                             233

                         CHAPTER XXX
The Vanishing Lady                                         244

                         CHAPTER XXXI
wice Married                                              254

                        CHAPTER XXXII
The Little House on the Meadows                            262

                        CHAPTER XXXIII
And the Door was Shut                                      268

                        CHAPTER XXXIV
A Visit from Boyd Connoway                                 274

                         CHAPTER XXXV
The Valley of the Shadow                                   280

                        CHAPTER XXXVI
The Supplanter                                             288

                        CHAPTER XXXVII
The Return of the Serpent to Eden Valley                   297

                       CHAPTER XXXVIII
By Water and the Word                                      305

                        CHAPTER XXXIX
The Wicked Flag                                            313

                          CHAPTER XL
The Great 'Tabernacle' Revival                             322

                         CHAPTER XLI
In the Wood Parlour                                        330

                         CHAPTER XLII
The Place of Dreams                                        338


------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------



PART I

CHAPTER I

THE HAUNTED HOUSE OF MARNHOUL


I, Duncan MacAlpine, school-master's son and uncovenanted assistant to
my father, stood watching the dust which the Highflyer coach had left
between me and Sandy Webb, the little guard thereof, as he whirled
onward into the eye of the west. It was the hour before afternoon
school, and already I could hear my father's voice within declaiming as
to unnecessary datives and the lack of all feeling for style in the
Latin prose of the seniors.

A score of the fifth class, next in age and rank, were playing at
rounders in an angle of the court, and I was supposed to be watching
them. In reality I was more interested in a group of tall girls who were
patrolling up and down under the shade of the trees at the head of their
playground--where no boy but I dare enter, and even I only officially.
For in kindly Scots fashion, the Eden Valley Academy was not only open
to all comers of both sexes and ages, but was set in the midst of a wood
of tall pines, in which we seniors were permitted to walk at our guise
and pleasure during the "intervals."

Here the ground was thick and elastic with dry pine needles, two or
three feet of them firmly compacted, and smelling delightfully of resin
after a shower. Indeed, at that moment I was interested enough to let
the boys run a little wild at their game, because, you see, I had found
out within the last six months that girls were not made only to be
called names and to put out one's tongue at.

There was, in especial, one--a dark, slim girl, very lissom of body and
the best runner in the school. She wore a grey-green dress of rough
stuff hardly ankle-long, and once when the bell-rope broke and I had
sprained my ankle she mounted instead of me, running along the rigging
of the roofs to ring the bell as active as a lamplighter. I liked her
for this, also because she was pretty, or at least the short grey-green
dress made her look it. Her name was Gertrude Gower, but Gerty
Greensleeves was what she was most frequently called, except, of course,
when I called the roll before morning and afternoon.

I had had a talk with Sandy Webb, the guard, as he paused to take in the
mails. My father was also village postmaster, but, though there was a
girl in the office to sell stamps and revenue licences, and my mother
behind to say "that she did not know" in reply to any question
whatsoever, I was much more postmaster than my father, though I suppose
he really had the responsibility.

Sandy Webb always brought a deal of news to Eden Valley. And as I had
official and private dealings with him--the public relating to way-bills
and bag-receipts, and the private to a noggin of homebrewed out of the
barrel in the corner of our cellar--he always gave me the earliest news,
before he hurried away--as it were, the firstlings of the flock.

"There's a stir at Cairn Edward," he said casually, as he set down his
wooden cup. "John Aitken, the mason, has fallen off a scaffolding and
broken----"

"Not his leg?" I interrupted anxiously, for John was a third cousin of
my mother's.

"No, more miraculous than that!" the guard averred serenely.

"His back?" I gasped--for John Aitken, as well as a relation, was a
fellow-elder of my father's, and the two often met upon sacramental
occasions.

"No," said Sandy, enjoying his grave little surprise, "only the trams of
his mortar-barrow! And there's that noisy tinkler body, Tim Cleary, the
Shire Irishman, in the lock-up for wanting to fight the Provost of
Dumfries, and he'll get eight days for certain. But the Provost is
paying the lodgings of his wife and family in the meantime. It will be a
rest for them, poor things."

It was at this moment that Sandy Webb, square, squat, many-wrinkled man,
sounded his horn and swung himself into his place as the driver, Andrew
Haugh, gathered up his reins. But I knew his way, and waited
expectantly. He always kept the pick of his news to the end, then let it
off like a fire-cracker, and departed in a halo of dusty glory.

"Your private ghost is making himself comfortable over yonder at the
Haunted House. I saw the reek of his four-hours fire coming up blue out
of the chimbly-top as we drove past!"

It was thus that the most notable news of a decade came to Eden Valley.
The Haunted House--we did not need to be told--was Marnhoul, a big,
gaunt mansion, long deserted, sunk in woods, yet near enough to the
Cairn Edward road to be visible in stray round towers and rows of
chimneys, long unblacked by fire of kitchen or parlour. It had a great
forest behind it, on the verges of which a camp of woodcutters and a
rude saw-mill had long been established, eating deeper and deeper in,
without, however, seeming to make any more difference than a solitary
mouse might to a granary.

We boys knew all about the Haunted House. Since our earliest years it
had been the very touchstone of courage to go to the gate on a moonlight
night, hold the bars and cry three times, "I'm no feared!" Some had done
this, I myself among the number. But--though, of course, being a
school-master's son, I did not believe in ghosts--I admit that the
return journey was the more pleasant of the two, especially after I got
within cry of the dwellings of comfortable burgesses, and felt the
windows all alight on either side of me, so near that I could almost
touch them with my hand.

Not that I _saw_ anything! I knew from the first it was all nonsense. My
father had told me so a score of times. But having been reared in the
superstitious Galloway of the ancient days--well, there are certain
chills and creeps for which a man is not responsible, inexplicable
twitchings of the hairy scalp of his head, maybe even to the breaking of
a cold sweat over his body, which do not depend upon belief. I kept
saying to myself, "There is nothing! I do not believe a word of it! 'Tis
naught but old wives' fables!" But, all the same, I took with a great
deal of thankfulness the dressing-down I had got from my father for
being late for home lessons on a trigonometry night. You see, I was born
and reared in Galloway, and I suppose it was just what they have come to
call in these latter days "the influence of environment."

Well, at that moment, who should come up but Jo Kettle, a good fellow
and friend of mine, but of no account in the school, being a rich
farmer's son, who was excused from taking Latin because he was going to
succeed his father in the farm. Jo had a right to the half of my
secrets, because we both liked Gerty Greensleeves pretty well; and I was
certain that she cared nothing about Jo, while Jo could swear that she
counted me not worth a button.

So I told Jo Kettle about the Haunted House, and he was for starting off
there and then. But it was perfectly evident that I could not with these
fifth class boys to look after, and afternoon school just beginning. And
if I could not, I was very sure that he had better not. More than once
or twice I had proved that it was his duty to do as I said. Jo
understood this, but grew so excited that he bolted into school in a
moment with the noise of a runaway colt. His entrance disarranged the
attention of the senior Latiners of the sixth. My father frowned, and
said, "What do you mean, boy, by tumbling through the classroom door
like a cart of bricks? Come quietly; and sit down, Agnes Anne!"

This was my poor unfortunate sister, aged fourteen, whom a pitiless
parent compelled to do classics with the senior division.

Jo Kettle sat down and pawed about for his mensuration book, which he
studied for some time upside down. Then he extracted his box of
instruments from his bag and set himself to do over again a proposition
with which he had been familiar for weeks. This, however, was according
to immemorial school-boy habit, and sometimes succeeded with my father,
who was dreamy wherever the classics were not concerned, and regarded a
mere land-measuring agricultural scholar as outside the bounds of human
interest, if not of Christian charity.

In two minutes my father was again immersed in Horace, which (with
Tacitus) was his chief joy. Then Jo leaned nearer to Agnes Anne and
whispered the dread news about the Haunted House. My sister paled,
gasped, and clutched at the desk. Jo, fearful that she would begin,
according to the sympathetic school phrase, "to cluck like a hen,"
threatened first to run the point of his compasses into her if she did
not sit up instantly; and then, this treatment proving quite inadequate
to the occasion, he made believe to pour ink upon her clean cotton
print, fresh put on that morning. This brought Agnes Anne round, and,
with a face still pale, she asked for details. Jo supplied them in a
voice which the nearness of my father reduced to a whisper. He sat with
his fingers and thumbs making an isosceles triangle and his eyes gently
closed, while he listened to the construing of Fred Esquillant, the
pale-faced genius of the school. At such times my father almost purred
with delight, and Agnes Anne said that it was "just sweet to watch him."
But even this pleasure palled before the tidings from the Haunted House
as edited and expanded by Jo Kettle.

"Yes, Duncan had told him, and Sandy Webb had told _him_. There were
daylight ghosts abroad about Marnhoul. Everybody on the coach had seen
them----"

"What were they like?" queried Agnes Anne in an awestruck whisper; so
well poised, however, that it only reached Jo's ear, and never caused my
enraptured father to wink an eyelid. I really believe that, like a good
Calvinist with a sound minister tried and proven, my father allowed
himself a little nap by way of refreshment while Fred Esquillant was
construing.

Nothing loath, Jo launched headlong into the grisly. Through the matted
undergrowth of years, over the high-spiked barriers of the deer-park,
the Highflyer had seen not only the familiar Grey Lady in robes of
rustling silk (through which you could discern the gravel and weeds on
the path), but little green demons with chalk-white heads and long ears.
These leaped five-barred gates and pursued the coach and its shrieking
inmates as far as the little Mains brook that passes the kirk door at
the entrance of the village. Then there was a huge, undistinct, crawling
horror, half sea-serpent, half slow-worm, that had looked at them over
the hedge, and, flinging out a sudden loop, had lassoed Peter Chafts,
the running footman, whose duty it was to leap down and clear stones out
of the horses' hoofs. Whether Little Peter had been recovered or not, Jo
Kettle very naturally could not tell. How, indeed, could he? But, with
an apparition like that, it was not at all probable.

Jo was preparing a further instalment, including clanking chains, gongs
that sounded unseen in the air, hands that gripped the passengers and
tried to pull them from their seats--all the wild tales of Souter
Gowans, the village cobbler, and of ne'er-do-well farm lads, idle and
reckless, whose word would never have been taken in any ordinary affair
of life. Jo had not time, however, for Agnes Anne had a strong
imagination, coupled with a highly nervous organization. She laughed out
suddenly, in the middle of a solemn Horatian hush, a wild, hysterical
laugh, which brought my father to his feet, broad awake in a second. The
class gazed open-mouthed, the pale face of Fred Esquillant alone
twitching responsively.

"What have you been saying to Agnes Anne MacAlpine?" demanded my father,
who would sooner have resigned than been obliged to own son or daughter
as such in school-time.

"Nothing!" said Jo Kettle, speaking according to the honour that
obliges schoolboys to untruth as a mode of professional honour. Then
Jo, seeing the frown on the master's face, and forestalling the words
that were ready to come from his lips, "But, sirrah, I saw you!" amended
hastily, "At least, I was only asking Agnes Anne to sit a little farther
along!"

"What!" cried my father, with the snap of the eye that meant punishment,
"to sit farther along, when you had no interest in this classical
lesson, sir--a lesson you are incapable of understanding, and--all the
length of an empty bench at your left hand! You shall speak with me at
the close of the lesson, and that, sirrah, is now! The class is
dismissed! I shall have the pleasure of a little interview with Master
Joseph Kettle, student of mensuration."

Jo had his interview, in which figured a certain leathern strap, called
"Lochgelly" after its place of manufacture--a branch of native industry
much cursed by Scottish school-children. "Lochgelly" was five-fingered,
well pickled in brine, well rubbed with oil, well used on the boys, but,
except by way of threat, unknown to the girls. Jo emerged tingling but
triumphant. Indeed, several new ideas had occurred to him. Eden Valley
Academy stood around and drank in the wondrous tale with all its ears
and, almost literally, with one mouth. Jo Kettle told the story so well
that I well-nigh believed it myself. He even turned to me for
corroboration.

"Didn't he tell you that, Duncan? That was the way of it, eh, Duncan?"

I denied, indeed, and would have stated the truth as it was in Guard
Webb. But my futile and feeble negations fell unheeded, swept away by
the pour of Jo's circumstantial lying.

Finally he ran off into the village and was lost to sight. I have
little doubt that he played truant, in full recognition of pains and
penalties to come, for the mere pleasure of going from door to door and
"raising the town," as he called it. I consoled myself by the thought
that he would find few but womenfolk at home at that hour, while the
shopkeepers would have too much consideration for their tills and
customers to follow a notorious romancer like Jo on such a fool's
errand.

I cannot tell how that afternoon's lessons were got over in Eden Valley
Academy. The hum of disturbance reached even the juniors, skulking
peacefully under little Mr. Stephen, the assistant. Only Miss
Huntingdon, in the Infant Department, remained quiet and neat as a dove
new-preened among her murmuring throng of unconscious little folk.

But in the senior school, though I never reported a boy to my father
(preferring to postpone his case for private dealing in the playground),
the lid of the desk was opened and snapped sharply every five minutes to
give exit and entrance to "Lochgelly." Seldom have I seen my father so
roused. He hated not to understand everything that was going on in the
school. He longed to ask me what I knew about it, but, according to his
habit, generously forbore, lest he should lead me to tell tales upon my
fellows. For, though actually junior assistant to my father, I was still
a scholar, which made my position difficult indeed. To me it seemed as
if the clock on the wall above the fireplace would never strike the hour
of four.



CHAPTER II

"IN THE NAME OF THE LAW!"


At last--at last! The door between the seniors and Mr. Stephen's juniors
was thrown open. My father, making his usual formal bow to his
assistant, said, "When you are ready, Mr. Stephen!" And Mr. Stephen was
always ready. Then with his back to the hinges of the door, and his
strong black beard with the greying strands in it set forward at an
angle, Mr. John MacAlpine, head-master of Eden Valley Academy, said a
few severe words on the afternoon's lack of discipline, and prophesied
in highly coloured language the exemplary manner in which any repetition
of it would be treated on the morrow. Then he doubled all home lessons,
besides setting a special imposition to each class. Having made this
clear, he hoped that the slight token of his displeasure might assure us
of his intention to do his duty by us faithfully, and then, with the
verse of a chanted psalm we were let go.

Class by class defiled with rumble of boots and tramp of wooden-soled
clogs, the boys first, the girls waiting till the outside turmoil had
abated--but, nevertheless, as anxious as any to be gone. I believe we
expected to tumble over slow serpents and nimble spectres coming
visiting up the school-loaning, or coiling in festoons among the tall
Scotch firs at the back of the playground.

We of the sixth class were in the rear--I last of all, for I had to
lock away the copybooks, turn the maps to the wall, and give my father
the key. _But_ I had warned the other seniors that they were not to
start without me.

And then, what a race! A bare mile it was, through the thick fringes of
woods most of the way--as soon, that is, as we were out of the village.
Along the wall of the Deer Park we ran, where we kept instinctively to
the far side of the road. We of the highest class were far in front--I
mean those of us who kept the pace. The Fifth had had a minute or two
start of us, so they were ahead at first, but we barged through their
pack without mercy, scattering them in all directions.

There at last was the gate before us. We had reached it first. Five of
us there were, Sam Gordon, Ivie Craig, Harry Stoddart, Andrew Clark and
myself--yes, there was another--that forward Gerty Greensleeves, who had
kilted her rough grey-green dress and run with the best, all to prove
her boast that, but for the clothes she had to wear, she was as good a
runner as the best boy there. Indeed, if the truth must be told, she
could outrun all but me.

The tall spikes, the massive brass padlock, green with weathering, in
which it was doubtful if any key would turn, the ancient "Notice to
Trespassers," massacred by the stones of home-returning
schoolboys--these were all that any of us could see at first. The
barrier of the deer-park wall was high and unclimbable. The massy iron
of the gates looked as if it had not been stirred for centuries.

But a tense interest held us all spellbound. We could see nothing but
some stray glimpses of an ivy-clad wall. A weathercock, that had once
been gilded, stood out black against the evening sky. The Grey Lady in
the rustling silk, through whom you could see the rain drops splash on
the gravel stones, was by no means on view. No green demons leaped these
sullen ten-foot barricades, and no forwandered sea-serpent threw oozy
wimples on the green-sward or hissed at us between the rusty bars.

It was, at first, decidedly disappointing. We ordered each other to stop
breathing so loudly, after our burst of running. We listened, but there
was not even the sough of wind through the trees--nothing but the
beating of our own hearts.

What had we come out to see? Apparently nothing. The school considered
itself decidedly "sold," and as usual prepared to take vengeance, first
upon Jo Kettle and then, as that youth still persisted in a discreet
absence of body, on myself.

"You spoke to Sandy Webb, the guard," said Gertrude-of-the-Sleeves,
scowling upon me; "what did he say?"

Before I could answer Boyd Connoway, the village do-nothing,
enterprising idler and general boys' abettor, beckoned us across the
road. He was on the top of a little knoll, thick with the yellow of
broom and the richer orange of gorse. Here he had stretched himself very
greatly at his ease. For Boyd Connoway knew how to wait, and he was
waiting now. Hurry was nowhere in Boyd's dictionary. Not that he had
ever looked.

In a moment we were over the dyke, careless of the stones that we sent
trickling down to afflict the toes of those who should come after us. We
stood on the top of the mound. Connoway disturbed himself just enough to
sit up for our sakes, which he would not have done for a dozen grown
men. He removed the straw from his mouth, and pointed with it to the
end chimney nearest to the great wood of Marnhoul.

We gazed earnestly, following the straw and gradually we could see,
rising into the still air an unmistakable "pew" of palest blue
smoke--which, as we looked, changed into a dense white pillar that rose
steadily upwards, detaching itself admirably against the deep green
black of the Scotch firs behind.

"There," said Connoway gravely, "yonder is your ghost mending his fire!"

We stood at gaze, uncomprehending, too astonished for speech. We had
come, even the unbelievers of us, prepared for the supernatural, for
something surpassingly eery, and anything so commonplace as the smoke of
a fire was a surprise greater than the sight of all Jo Kettle's
imaginations coming at us abreast.

Yet the people who owned the great house of Marnhoul were far away--few
had ever seen any of them. Their affairs were in the hands of a notable
firm of solicitors in Dumfries. How any mortal could have entered that
great abode, or inhabited it after the manner of men, was beyond all
things inexplicable. But there before us the blue reek continued to
mount, straight as a pillar, till it reached the level of the trees on
the bank behind, when a gentle current of air turned it sharply at right
angles to the south.

Now we heard the tramp of many feet, and beneath us we saw Jo Kettle
with half-a-dozen of his father's workers, and the village constable to
make sure that all was done in due and proper order. To these was joined
a crowd of curious townsmen, eager for any new thing. All were armed to
the teeth with rusty cutlasses and old horse pistols, which, when
loaded, made the expedition one of no inconsiderable peril.

The man with the crowbar applied it to the rusty chain of the padlock.
Two others assisted him, but instead of breaking the chain, the iron
standard of the gate crumbled into so much flaky iron rust, while
padlock and attachments swung free upon the other. It was easy enough to
enter after that.

"In the name of the law!" cried the constable, taking a little staff
with a silver crown upon it in his hand. And at the word the gate
creaked open and the crowd pressed in.

But the constable held up his hand.

"'In the name of the law,' I said. I _might_ have put it, 'In the King's
name,' but what I meant was that we are to proceed in decency and
order--no unseemly rabbling, scuffling, or mischief making--otherwise ye
have me to reckon with. Let no word of ghosts and siclike be heard. The
case is infinitely more serious----"

"Hear to Jocky wi' his langnebbit words!" whispered Boyd Connoway in my
ear.

"Infinitely more so, I say. It is evident to the meanest capacity--"

"Evidently!" whispered Connoway, grinning.

"--that a dangerous band of smugglers or burglars is in possession of
the mansion of Marnhoul, and we must take them to a man!"

These words brought about a marked hesitation in the rear ranks, a
wavering, and a tendency to slip away through the breach of the broken
gate into the road.

"Halt there," cried Constable Black, holding the staff of office high.
"I call upon you, every man, to assist his Majesty's officers. You are
special constables, as soon as I get time to swear you in. Praise be,
here's good Maister Kettle! He's a Justice of the Peace. He will hold
you to it now and be my witness if ye refuse lawful aid. Now, forward!
Quick march!"

And this formidable armed band took its way along the overgrown gravel
avenue up to the front of the great house of Marnhoul. We boys (and
Greensleeves close to my elbow) played along the flanks like
skirmishers. All our spiritual fears were abated. At the name of the
law, and specially after the display of the silver-crowned staff, we
entered joyously into the game. If it had only been the arm of flesh we
had to encounter, we were noways afraid--though it was a sad downcome
from the solemn awe of coming to grips with the prince of darkness and
his emissaries.

"You that have pistols that will go off, round with you to guard the
back doors!" cried Constable John Black. "It's there the thieves have
taken up their abode. The smoke is coming from the kitchen lum. I see it
well. The rest, not so well armed, bide here with me under the
protection of the law!"

And with that Constable Black, commonly called Jocky, elevated once more
his staff in the air, and marched boldly to the fatal door. He went up
the steps by which the Grey Lady was wont to descend to the clear
moonlight to take her airing in the wood. A little behind went Connoway,
in the same manner holding a "bourtree" pop-gun which he had just been
fashioning for some lucky callant of his acquaintance.

Almost for the first time in his life Boyd Connoway had all the humour
to himself. Nobody laughed at his imitation of Officer Jocky's pompous
ways. They would do it afterwards in the safety of their own dwellings
and about the winter fire. But not now--by no means now.

Even though supported by the majestic power of the law, the crowd kept
respectfully edging behind wall and trees. Their eyes were directed
warily upwards to the long array of windows from which (legend
recounted) the Maitlands of Marnhoul had once during the troubles of the
Covenant successfully defended themselves against the forces of the
Crown.

Now be it understood once for all, the inhabitants of Eden Valley were
peaceful and loyal citizens, except perhaps in what concerned the excise
laws and the ancient and wholesome practice of running cargoes of
dutiable goods without troubling his Majesty's excise officers about the
matter. But they did not wish to support the law at the peril of their
lives.

An irregular crackle of shots, the smashing of window glass in the back
of the mansion, with two or three hurrahs, put some courage into them.
On the whole it seemed less dangerous to get close in under the great
vaulted porch. There, at least, they could not be reached by shot from
the windows, while out in the open or under the uncertain shelter of
tree boles, who knew what might happen? So there was soon a compact
phalanx about the man in authority.

Constable Black, being filled with authority direct from the
Lord-Lieutenant of the County, certainly had the instinct of magnifying
his office. He raised his arm and knocked three times on the bleached
and blistered panels of the great front door.

"Open, I command you! In the name of the law!" he shouted.

After the knocking there befell a pause, as it might be of twenty
breaths--though nobody seemed to draw any. Such a silence of listening
have I never heard. Yes, we heard it, and the new burst of firing from
the rear of the house, the cheers of the excited assailants hardly
seemed to break it, so deeply was our attention fixed on that great
weather-beaten door of the Haunted House of Marnhoul.

Again Jocky, his face lint-white, and his voice coming and going
jerkily, cried aloud the great name of the law. Again there was silence,
deeper and longer than before.

At last from far within came a pattering as of little feet, quick and
light. We heard the bolts withdrawn one by one, and as the wards of the
lock rasped and whined, men got ready their weapons. The door swung back
and against the intense darkness of the wide hall, with the light of
evening on their faces, stood a girl in a black dress and crimson sash,
holding by the hand a little boy of five, with blue eyes and tight
yellow curls.

Both were smiling, and before them all that tumultuary array fell away
as from something supernatural. The words "In the name of----" were
choked on the lips of the constable. He even dropped his silver-headed
staff, and turned about as if to flee. As for us we watched with dazzled
eyes the marvels that had so suddenly altered the ideas of all men as to
the Haunted House of Marnhoul.

But for a space no one moved, no one spoke. Only the tall young girl and
the little child stood there, like children of high degree receiving
homage on the threshold of their own ancestral mansion, facing the
lifted bonnets and the pikes lowered as if in salutation.



CHAPTER III

MISS IRMA GIVES AN AUDIENCE


"My name is Irma Maitland, and this is my brother Louis!" Such were the
famous words with which, in response to law and order in the person of
Constable Jacky Black, the tall smiling girl in the doorway of the
Haunted House of Marnhoul saluted her "rescuers."

"And how came you to be occupying this house?" demanded Mr. Josiah
Kettle, father of Joseph the inventive. He was quite unaware of the
ghastly terrors with which his son had peopled the Great House, but as
the largest farmer on the estate he felt it to be his duty to protect
vested rights.

"In the same way that you enter your house," said the girl; "we came in
with a key, and have been living here ever since!"

"Are you not feared?" piped a voice from the crowd. It was afterwards
found that it was Kettle junior who had spoken.

"Afraid!" answered the girl scornfully, holding her head higher than
ever; "do you think that a few foolish people firing at our windows
could make us afraid? Can they, Louis?" And as she spoke she looked
fondly down at her little brother.

He drew nearer to his sister, looking up at her with a winning
confidence, and said in as manly a voice as he could compass, "Certainly
not, Irma! But--tell them not to do it any more!"

"You hear what my brother says," said the girl haughtily. "Let there be
no more of this!"

"But--in right of law and order, I must know more about this!" cried
Constable Jacky, lifting up his staff again. Somehow, however, the magic
had gone from his words. Every one now knew that his thunder had a
hollow sound.

"Ah, you are the _gendarme_--the official--the officer!" said the tall
girl, with a more pronounced foreign accent than before, making him a
little bow; "please go and tell your superiors that we are here because
the place belongs to us--at least to my brother, and that I am staying
to take care of him."

"But how did you come?" persisted the man in authority.

The tall girl looked over his head. Her glance, clear, cool,
penetrating, scanned face after face, and then she said, as it were,
regretfully, "There are no gentlefolk among you?"

There was the slightest shade of inquiry about words which might have
seemed rude as a mere affirmation. Then she appeared to answer for
herself, still with the same tinge of sadness faintly colouring her
pride. "For this reason I cannot tell you how we came to be here."

Mr. Josiah Kettle felt called upon to assert himself.

"I have reason to believe," he said pompously, "that I am as good as any
on the estate in the way of being a gentleman--me and my son Joseph. I
am a Justice of the Peace, under warrant of the Crown, and so one day
will my son Joseph--Jo, you rascal, come off that paling!"

But just then Jo Kettle had other fish to fry. From the bad eminence of
the garden palisade he was devouring the new-comer with his eyes. As for
me, I had shaken the hand of the lately adored Greensleeves from my arm.

The girl's glance stayed for an instant and no more upon the round and
rosy countenance of Mr. Josiah Kettle, Justice of the Peace. She smiled
upon him indulgently, but shook her head.

"I am sorry," she said, with gentle condescension, "that I cannot tell
anything more to you. You are one of the people who broke our windows!"

Then Josiah Kettle unfortunately blustered.

"If you will not, young madam," he cried, "I can soon send them to you
who will make you answer."

The young lady calmly took out of her pocket a dainty pair of ivory
writing tablets, such as only the minister of the parish used in all
Eden Valley, and he only because he had married a great London lady for
his wife.

"I shall be glad of the name and address of the persons to whom you
refer!" said Miss Irma (for so from that moment I began to call her in
my heart).

"The factors and agents for this estate," Josiah Kettle enunciated
grandly. The writing tablets were shut up with a snap of disappointment.

"Oh, Messrs. Smart, Poole & Smart," she said. "Why, I have known them
ever since I was as high as little Louis."

Then she smiled indulgently upon Mr. Kettle, with something so easily
grand and yet so sweet that I think the hearts of all went out to her.

"I suppose," she said, "that really you thought you were doing right in
coming here and firing off guns without permission. It must be an
astonishing thing for you to see this house of the Maitlands inhabited
after so long. I do not blame your curiosity, but I fear I must ask you
to send a competent man to repair our windows. For that we hold you
responsible, Mr. Officer, and you, Mr. Justice of the Peace--you and
your son Jo! Don't we, Louis?"

"I will see to that myself!" a voice, the same that had spoken before,
came from the crowd. Miss Irma searched the circle without, however,
coming to a conclusion. I do think that her glance lingered longer on my
face than on any of the others, perhaps because Gerty Greensleeves was
leaning on my shoulder and whispering in my ear. (What a nuisance girls
are, sometimes!) So the glance passed on, with something in it at once
calm and simple and high.

"If any of the gentlefolk of our station will call upon us," she went
on, "we will tell _them_ how we came to be here--the clergyman of the
parish--or----" here she hesitated for the first time, "or his wife."

Instinctively she seemed to feel the difficulty. "Though we are not of
their faith!" she added, smiling once more as with the air of serene
condescension she had shown all through.

Then she nodded, and swept a curtsey with an undulating grace which I
thought to be adorable, in spite of the suspicion of irony in it.

"Good-bye, good people," she said, letting her eyes again run the
circuit of the sea of faces, reinforced by those who had been firing
their blunderbusses and horse-pistols (now carefully concealed) so
uselessly at the back windows of the house. "We are obliged for your
visit. Salute them, Louis!"

Obediently the child carried his hand to the curls on his brow in the
same fashion I had seen soldiers do at the militia training on the
Dumfries sands, but with the same smilingly tolerant air of receiving
and acknowledging the homage of vassals which both of them had shown
from the beginning.

Then Miss Irma smiled upon us all once more, nodded to me (I am sure of
it), and without another word, shut the door in our faces.



CHAPTER IV

FIRST FOOT IN THE HAUNTED HOUSE


To understand what a sensation these strange events made in Eden Valley,
it is necessary that you should know something of Eden Valley itself and
how it was governed.

Governed, you say? Was it not within the King's dominions, and governed
like every other part of these his Majesty's kingdoms? Had we of the
Wide Valley risen against constituted authority and filled all Balcary
Bay between Isle Rathan and the Red Haven with floating tea-chests?

Well, not exactly; but many a score of stealthy cargoes had been carried
past our doors on horse-back, pony-back, shelty-back--up by Bluehills
and over the hip of Ben Tudor. And often, often from the Isle of Man
fleet had twenty score of barrels been dropped overboard just in time to
prevent the minions of the law, as represented by H.M. ship _Seamew_,
sloop-of-war, from seizing them. So you will observe that the revolt of
Eden Valley against authority, though not quite so complete as that of
the late New England colonies, yet proceeded from the same motives.

Only, as it typo happened, the tea-chests which were spilt in Boston
Harbour were finished so far as the brewing of tea was concerned, while
the kegs and firkins dropped overboard were easily recoverable by such
as were in the secret. In a day or two, the tide being favourable and
the nights dark enough, these same kegs would be found reposing in bulk
in the recesses of Brandy Knowe, next by Collin Mill--save for a few,
left in well defined places--one being left at the Manse for the Doctor
himself. That was within the very wall of the kirkyard, and under the
shadow of the clump of yews which had dripped upon the tombstones that
covered at least three of his predecessors. A second reposed under the
prize cabbages belonging to General Johnstone (who, as a young officer
of Marines, had simulated the courage of Admiral Byng before Minorca,
and like that gallant seaman, narrowly escaped being shot for his
pains). General Johnstone's gardener knew well where this keg was
hidden. But it contained liquid well-nigh sacred in the eyes of his
master, and he had far too much common-sense ever to presume to find it.
A third came to anchor under a peat-stack belonging to Mr. Shepstone
Oglethorpe, the only Episcopalian within the parish bounds, and the
descendent of an English military family which had once held possession
of the Maitland estates during the military dragonnades of Charles II
and James II, but had been obliged to restore the mansion and most of
the property after the Prince of Orange made good his landing with his
"Protestant wind" at Torbay. Enough, however, remained to make Mr.
Shepstone Oglethorpe the next man in the parish after the minister and
the General. He was, besides, a pleasant, gossipy, young-old, fluttery
bachelor--a great acquisition at four-hours tea-drinkings, and much more
of a praise to them that do well than any sort of a terror to
evil-doers.

These three constituted the general staff of our commonwealth, and in
spite of occasional forgetfulnesses as to the declaration of the
aforesaid kegs, parcels of French silks and Malines lace, to H.M.'s
Supervisor of Customs, King George had no more loyal subjects than
these highest authorities in Eden Valley, ecclesiastical, military and
civil. Then, after due interval, came the farmers of Eden Valley,
honest, far-seeing, cautious men, slow of action, slower still of
speech--not at all to be judged by the standard of the richest of them,
Mr. Josiah Kettle. He was, in fact, a mere incomer, who had been
promoted a Justice of the Peace because, on the occasion of the last
scare as to a French invasion, he had made and carried out large and
remunerative contracts for the supply of the militia and other troops
hastily got together to protect the Solway harbours from Dryffe Sands to
the Back Shore.

The siege of the Haunted House of Marnhoul happened on a Friday, the
last school-keeping day of the week. Saturday was employed by the parish
in digesting the news and forming opinions for the consumpt of the
morrow. Meantime there was a pretty steady stream of the curious along
the Marnhoul road, but the padlock had been replaced, and only the
broken bar bore token of the storm which had passed that way.

On Sunday, however, a small oblong scrap of white attracted the
attention of the nearer curious. It was attached, at about the level of
the eyes, to the unbroken bar of the gate of Marnhoul, and on being
approached with due care, was found to bear the following mysterious
inscription--

    "Sir Louis Maitland of Marnhoul, Bart., and Miss
    Irma Sobieski Maitland receive every afternoon from
    2 to 5."

    Marnhoul, Galloway, June 21.

"Keep us a'!" was the universal exclamation of Eden Valley as it read
this solemnizing inscription. It was generally believed to be a
challenge to the lawyers and the powers in general to come at these
hours and turn the young people out.

And many were the opinions as to the legality of such a course. Law was
not generally understood in the Galloway of that date, and though the
Sheriff Substitute rode through the village once a month to spend a
night over the "cartes" with his friend the General, he too only laughed
and rode on. He was well known to me at the head of his profession, and
to have the ear of the Government. Such studied indifference, therefore,
could only be put down to a desire to wink at the proceedings of the
children, illegal and unprecedented as these might be.

But I must now say something about my own folk.

Though undoubtedly originally Highland, and, as my father averred, able
to claim kindred with the highest of his name, the MacAlpines had long
been domiciled in the south. My father was the son of a neighbouring
minister, and had only escaped the fate of succeeding his father in the
charge by a Highland aversion to taking the sacrament at the age when he
was called upon to do so--in order that, by the due order of the Church
of Scotland, he might be taken on his trials as a student in Divinity.
He had also, about that date, further complicated matters by marrying my
mother, Grace Lyon, the penniless daughter of a noted Cameronian elder
of the parish of Eden Valley.

In order to support her, and (after a little) _us_, John MacAlpine had
accepted a small school far up the glen, from which, after a year or
two, on the appointment of Dr. Forbes to the parish, he had followed his
old college friend to Eden Valley itself. Under his care the little
academy had gradually been organized on the newest and best scholastic
lines known to the time. Even for girls classics and mathematics played
a prominent part. Samplers and knitting, which had previously formed a
notable branch of the curriculum, were banished to an hour when little
Miss Huntingdon taught the girls, locked in her own department like
Wykliffites in danger of the fires of Tower Hill. And at such times my
father almost ran as he passed the door of the infant school and thought
of the follies which were being committed within.

"Samplers," he was wont to mutter, "samplers--when they might be at
their Ovid!"

My mother--Gracie Lyon that was--had none of the stern blood of her
Cameronian forebears, nor yet my father's tempestuous Norland mood. She
was gentle, patient, with little to say for herself--like Leah,
tender-eyed (in the English, not in the Hebrew sense)--and I remember
well that as a child one of my great pleasures was to stroke her cheek
as she was putting me to sleep, saying, "Mother, how soft your skin is.
It is like velvet!"

"Aye," she would answer, with a sigh gentle as herself, "so they used to
tell me!"

And I somehow knew that "they" excluded my father, but whom it included
I did not know then nor for many a day after.

But my grandmother, my mother's mother--ah, there indeed you were in a
different world! She dwelt in a large house on the edge of the Marnhoul
woods. My grandfather had the lease of the farm of Heathknowes, with
little arable land, but a great hill behind it on which fed black-faced
sheep, sundry cattle in the "low parks," and by the river a strip of
corn land sufficient for the meal-ark and the stable feeding of his four
stout horses. Also on my father's behalf my uncles conducted the lonely
saw-mill that ate and ate into the Great Wood and yet never got any
farther. There might be seen machinery for making spools--with
water-driven lathes, which turned these articles, variously known as
"bobbins" and "pirns," literally off the reel by the thousand. It was a
sweet, birch-smelling place and my favourite haunt on all holidays.
William Lyon, my grandfather, had had a tempestuous youth, from which,
as he said, he had been saved "by the grace of God and Mary Lyon."

"Many a sore day she had with me," he would confess to me, for he took
pleasure in my society, "but got me buckled down at last!"

As my grandmother also kept me in the most affectionate but complete
subjection, the fact that neither one nor the other of us dared disobey
"Mary Lyon" was a sort of bond between us. Yet my grandmother was not a
very tall nor yet to the outward eye a powerful woman. You had to look
her in the eye to know. But there you saw a flash that would have cowed
a grenadier. There was something masterful and even martial in her walk,
in the way she attacked the enemy of the moment, or the work that fell
to her hand. All her ways were dominating without ever being
domineering. But in the house of Heathknowes all knew that she had just
to be obeyed, and there was an end to it.

When my father and she clashed, it was like the meeting of Miltonic
thunderclouds over the Caspian. But on the whole it was safe to wager
that even then grandmother got her way. John MacAlpine first discharged
his Celtic electricity, and then disengaged his responsibility with the
shrug of the right shoulder which was habitual to him. After all, was
there not always Horace in his pocket--which he would finger to calm
himself even in the heat of a family dispute?

A great school-master was my father, far ben in the secrets of the
ancient world--and such a man is always very much of a humanist. My
grandmother, alert, clear, decided on all doctrinal points,
argumentative, with all her wits fine-edged by the Shorter Catechism,
could not abide the least haziness of outline in religious belief.

She did not agree with my grandfather's easier ways, but then he did not
argue with her, being far too wise a man.

"Eh, William," she would say, "ye will carry even to the grave some rag
of the Scarlet Woman. And at the end I will not be surprised to find ye
sitting on some knowetap amang the Seven Hills!"

But at least my grandfather was a Cameronian elder, in the little kirk
down by the ford, to which the Lyons had resorted ever since the days of
the societies--long before even worthy Mr. MacMillan of Balmaghie came
into the Church, ordaining elders, and, along with the pious Mr. Logan
of Buittle, even ordaining ministers for carrying on the work of the
faithful protesting remnant.

But my father, John MacAlpine, both by office and by temperament,
belonged to the Kirk of Scotland as by law established. So indeed did
nine-tenths of the folk in the parish of Eden Valley. The band of
Cameronians at the Ford, and the forlorn hope of Episcopalians in their
hewn-stone chapel with the strange decorations, built on the parcel of
ground pertaining to Mr. Shepstone Oglethorpe, were the only
non-Establishers in the parish. Yet both, nevertheless, claimed to be
the only true Church of Scotland, claimed it fiercely, with a fervour
sharpened by the antiquity of their claims and the smallness of their
numbers. This was especially true of the Cameronians, who were ever
ready to give a reason for the faith that was in them. The
Episcopalians lacked the Westminster Catechisms as a means of
intellectual gymnastic. So far, therefore, they were handicapped, and
indeed reduced to the mere persistent assertion that they, and they
alone, were the apostolic Church, and if any out of their communion were
saved, it must only be by the uncovenanted mercies of God.

Yet, though not within the sacred triangle of gentility (as it was known
in Eden Valley), of which the manse, the General's bungalow, and the
residence of Mr. Shepstone Oglethorpe occupied the three angles, my
grandmother was the first caller upon the lonely children in the great
house of Marnhoul.

I shall never forget her indignation when I went in to the dairy and
told her in detail what had happened--of the forcing of the gates, and
the firing upon the back windows. My grandfather, seated within doors,
in his great triangular easy-chair at his own corner of the wide
fireplace, looked up and remarked in his serene and far-off fashion that
"such proceedings filled him with shame and sorrow."

The words and still more the tone roused my grandmother.

"William Lyon," she said, standing before him in the clean middle of the
hearth which she had just been sweeping, and threatening him with the
brush (she would not have touched him for anything in the world, for she
recognized his position as an elder). "Hear to ye--'shame and sorrow'!
Aye, well may ye say it. Had I been there I would have 'sinned and
sorrowed' them. To go breaking into houses with swords and staves, and
firing off powder and shot--all to frighten a pair of poor bairns!
Certes, but I would have sorted them to rights--with tongue, aye, and
with arm also."

And at this point Mary Lyon advanced a step so fiercely and with such
martial energy, that, well inured as my grandfather was to the generous
outbursts of his wife, he moved his chair back with a certain alacrity.

"Mary," he remonstrated, "Mr. Shepstone Oglethorpe was with them. So at
least I understand, and also Mr. Kettle, who is a Justice of the
Peace--these in addition to the constable----"

He got no further. My grandmother swooped upon the names, as perhaps he
expected. It was by no means the first time that, in order to draw off
the hounds of his wife's wrath, he had skilfully drawn a red herring
across the trail.

"Shepstone--Shepstone!" she cried, "a useless, daidling body! What was
he ever good for in this world but to tie his neckcloth and twirl his
cane? Oh aye, he can maybe button his 'spats'! That is, if he doesna get
the servant lass to do it for him. And Josiah Kettle! William, I wonder
you are not shamed, goodman--to sit there in your own hearth-corner and
name such a hypocrite to me----"

"Stop there, Mary," said her husband; "only a man's Maker has the right
to call him a hypocrite----"

"Well, I am an Elder's wife, and I'll e'en be his Viceroy. Josiah Kettle
_is_ a hypocrite, and I hae telled him so to his face--not once, but a
score of times. He has robbed the widow. He has impoverished the orphan.
Fegs, if I were a man, I could not keep my hands off him, and, 'deed, I
have hard enough work as it is. If there was a man about the house worth
his salt----"

"Forgive your enemies----" suggested my grandfather, "do good----"

"So I would--so I would," cried my grandmother, "but first I would give
the best cheese out o' the dairy-loft to see Josiah ducked head over
heels in Blackmire Dub! Forgive--aye, certainly, since it is commanded.
But a bit dressing down would do the like o' him no harm, and then the
Lord could take His own turn at him after!"

Thus did my grandmother address all who came into contact with her, and
there is every reason to believe that she had more than once similarly
exhorted Mr. Josiah Kettle, rich farmer and money-lender though he was.
Yet it is equally certain that if Mr. Kettle had been stricken with a
dangerous and deadly malady which made his nearest kin flee from him, it
would have been my grandmother who would have flown to nurse him with
the same robust and forcible tenderness with which she oversaw the
teething and other ills incidental to her daughter's children.

"As for Jocky Black," continued my grandmother, "the pomp of the
atomy--'In the name of the law,' says he--I'd law him! I would e'en nip
his bit stick from his puir twisted fingers and gie him his paiks--that
is, if it were worth the trouble! As for me, get me my bonnet, Jen--my
best Sunday leghorn with the puce _chenille_ in it--I must look my
featest going to a great house to pay my respects. And you shall come
too, Duncan!" (She turned to me with her usual alertness.) "Run home and
tidy--quick! Bid your mother put on your Sunday suit. No, Jen, I will
_not_ take you to fright the poor things out of their wits. Afterwards,
we shall see. But at first, Duncan there, if he gets over his blateness,
will be more of their age, and fear them less."

"If all I hear be true," said my Aunt Jen, pursing up her mouth as if
she had bitten into a crab apple, "the lassie is little likely to be
feared of you or any mortal on the earth!"

"Maybe aye--maybe no," snapped my grandmother, "at any rate be off with
you into the back kitchen and see that the dishes are washed, so as not
to be a show to the public. You and Meg have so little sense that whiles
I wonder that I am your mother."

"You are not Meg's mother that I ken of!" her daughter responded
acridly.

"I am her mistress, and the greater fool to keep such a handless hempie
about the house! You, Janet, I have to provide for in some wise--such
being the will of the Lord--His and your father's there. Now then,
clear! Be douce! Let me get on my cloak and leghorn bonnet."

My grandmother being thus accoutred, and I invested with a black jacket,
knee-breeches, shoes, and the regulation fluffy tie that tickled my
throat and made me a week-day laughing stock to all who dared, Mistress
Mary Lyon and I started to make our first call at the Great House of
Marnhoul.



CHAPTER V

THE CENSOR OF MORALS


As my grandmother and I went down the little loaning from Heathknowes
Farm she had an eye for everything. She "shooed" into duty's path a
youngling hen with vague maternal aspirations which was wandering off to
found a family by laying an egg in the underbrush about the saw-mill.
She called back final directions to her daughter Jen and maidservant
Meg, and saw that they were attended to before she would go on. She
looked into the saw-mill itself in the by-going, and made sure that Rob
McTurk was in due attendance on the whirling machinery which was turning
off the spools, as it seemed to me, with the rapidity of light. She
inquired as to the whereabouts of her husband.

"Oh, he was in a minute since!" said the politic Rob, who knew very well
that my grandfather had climbed into the bark storage loft, and was at
that moment sitting on a bundle, with a book in his hand and content in
his heart at having escaped the last injunctions of his wife.

"Well, then," said Mistress Mary Lyon, "tell him from me----" And, as
usual, a long list of recommendations followed.

"I'll see to it that he hears," said Rob McTurk imperturbably, knowing
full well that his master could by no means help hearing, since my
grandmother, in order to drown the noise of the whirling spindles and
clattering cogs, had raised her voice till her every word must have
penetrated to the pleasant, bark-scented place where, under his solitary
skylight, Mr. William Lyon was so calmly reading his favourite _Memoirs
of the Life of Thomas Boston of Ettrick_.

Besides my clothes, there were two things which interfered with the
happiness of my jaunt. One was the presence of a third and most
uncertain party to the affair--our rough, red house-collie Crazy, and
the other was a doubt as to the way in which we would be received. For,
be it remembered, I had seen Miss Irma Maitland shut the great door at
the top of the Marnhoul steps on the raging crowd of assailants, and I
wondered if we would not also find it slammed in our faces.

I had, however, confidence in my grandmother.

On the way to the padlocked gate at the entrance of the avenue which led
to the Haunted House, my grandmother had abundant room for the exercise
of her gifts. Never was there a woman who came across so many things
that "she could not abide."

Such, for instance, were Widow Tolmie's ideas as to disposal of her
nocturnal household rubbish on the King's highway. Into the Tolmie house
went Mistress Mary Lyon, well aware that words would have no avail. In a
minute she had requisitioned broom, bucket, and "claut," or byre-rake.
In other three minutes all was over. Widow Tolmie had a clean frontage.
The utensils had been washed and hung up, and my grandmother was
delivering a lecture from one of the most frequently-quoted texts which
are not to be found in Holy Writ, while she drew again upon her strong,
energetic old hands the pair of lisle thread "mitts" she had taken off
in order to effect her clean sweep.

After she had duly lectured the Widow Tolmie, she bade her in all amity
"Good-day," and started to reform Crazy, who had been gyrating furiously
across her path, trying apparently to bite his tail out by the roots.
Crazy was, it appeared, a useless, good-for-nothing beast, a disgrace to
a decent Elder's house, and I was ordered to stone him home.

Now I did not particularly wish Crazy to go with us to the Great House.
I thought of the smiling carelessness of the girl's face I had seen
there. Crazy might, and very likely would, misbehave himself. But still,
Crazy was my friend, my companion, my joy. _Stone Crazy!_ It was not to
be thought of. He would certainly consider it some new kind of game and
run barking after the missiles. I therefore shot so far beyond that the
pebbles fell over the hedge, till my grandmother, whose sole method was
an ungainly cross between a hurl and a jerk, took up the fusillade on
her own account, with the result that Crazy was wrought up to the
highest point of excitement, and, as I had foreseen, brought each stone
back to my grandmother, barking joyously and pulling at her skirts for
her to throw again.

"And just wait till I get you home," gasped Mrs. Mary Lyon, shaking her
rough white head, "there shall a rope be put about your neck, my lad!"

But whether for the purpose of mere tying up, or to carry out the
extreme sentence of the law, I did not gather. I resolved that, in the
latter case, Crazy should come with me to the school-house. There was a
place I knew of there, a crib at the end of the stick-cellar, which at a
pinch would do admirably for Crazy. And I felt sure that Crazy, wholly
incompetent at his own business of shepherding, would be a perfect
"boys' dog" and a permanent acquisition to the Academy of Eden Valley.
There was, of course, my father to consider. But I did not stop to think
of that. The classics and Fred Esquillant were enough for him at the
moment.

As she passed various cottage doors my grandmother had several bouts
with joiners who blocked the road with unfinished carts and diffusive
pots of red paint, with small wayside cowherds in charge of animals
which considered the hedge-rows as their appointed pasturage, with boys
going fishing who had learned at school that a straight line is the
shortest distance between two points, and who practised their Euclid to
the detriment of their neighbours' fences.

But nothing of great moment occurred till, on the same knoll from which
he had summoned us to view the smoke of the ghost's afternoon fire at
Marnhoul, we encountered Boyd Connoway. He was stretched at length, as
usual, one leg crossed negligently over the other. He had pivoted his
head against a log for the purpose of seeing in three directions about
him--towards the Great House, and both up and down the main road. A
straw, believed to be always the same, was in his mouth.

A red rag to a bull, a match to tinder, are weak metaphors--quite
incapable of expressing a tenth of what my grandmother felt at the sight
of the pet idler of Eden Valley.

She rushed instantly to the assault, much as she would have led a
forlorn hope. The dragoons who plunged their swords into great mows of
straw in Covenanting barns, the unfortunates who pursued a needle
through a load of hay, were employed in hopeful work when compared with
Mistress Mary Lyon, searching with her tongue in this mass of
self-sufficiency for any trace of Boyd Connoway's long-lost conscience.

"Why are you not at home?" she cried; "I heard Bridget complaining as I
came by, that she could not feed the pig because she had nobody to bring
her wood for her boiler fire--and she in the middle of her blanket
washing!"

The husband whom fate and her own youthful folly had given to Bridget
Connoway, took off his battered and weather-beaten hat with the native
politeness of a born Irishman. He did not rise. That would have been too
much to expect of him. But he uncrossed his legs and recrossed them the
other way about.

"Mistress Lyon," he said indolently, but with the soft, well-anointed
utterance of the blarneying islander, which does not die away till the
third generation of the poorest exile from Erin, "now, misthress dear,
consider!"

"I have considered you for seven years, and seven to the back of that,
Boyd Connoway, and you are a lazy lout! Every year you get worse!"

My grandmother counted nothing so stimulating as truth spoken to the
face. She acted, with all save her male grandchildren, on the ancient
principle that "Praise to the face is an open disgrace!" And Boyd, in
his time, had been singularly exempt from this kind of disgrace, so far
as my grandmother was concerned.

"But consider, Mrs. Lyon," he went on tranquilly, while my relative
stood in the road and eyed him with bitter scorn, "there's my wife, now
she's up early and late. She's scrubbing and cleaning, and all for
what?--just that yonder pack o' children o' hers should go out on the
road and come trailing back in ten minutes dirtier than ever. She runs
to Shepstone Oglethorpe's to give his maid a help in the mornings, all
for a miserable three shillings a week. She takes no rest to the sole of
her foot, nor gives nobody any either! Poor Bridget--I am sorry for
Bridget. 'Take things easier, and you will feel better, Bridget,' I say.
'Trust in Providence, Bridget!' 'Think on what the Doctor said three
Sundays but one ago from the very pulpit.' And would ye believe me,
Mistress Lyon, that poor woman, being left to herself, threw all the
weights at me one after the other--aye, and would have thrown the scales
too if I had not come away!"

Here Connoway sighed and stretched himself luxuriously, rubbing the
stiff fell of his hair meditatively as he did so.

"Ah, poor Bridget," he continued, with pathos in his voice, "Bridget is
so dreadfully unresigned, Mistress Lyon. Often have I said to her, 'Be
resigned, Bridget--trust in Providence, Bridget!' But as sure as I point
out Bridget's duty, there is something broken in our house!"

"Pity but it was your head, Boyd Connoway! Come away, child!" cried my
grandmother, "quick--lest I do that man an injury. He puts me in such a
state that I declare to goodness I am thankful I have not a poker in my
hand! Now there's your grandfather----"

But she went no further in the discussion of her own lesser household
burden. For there right in front of us was the great gate, the battered
notice to trespassers, the broken standard on which the padlock, now
removed, had worn a rusty hollow, and in its place we read the little
white notice concerning the hours at which the mistress of the mansion
could receive visitors.

"Oh, the poor young things!" said my grandmother, her anger (as was its
wont) instantly cooling, and even Boyd Connoway dropping back into his
own place as perhaps a necessary factor in an ill-regulated but on the
whole rather bearable world.

The gate creaked open slowly. My grandmother drew herself up. For did she
not come of the best blood of the Westland Whigs, great-granddaughter
of that Bell of Whiteside, kinsman of Kenmure's, who was shot by Lag
on the moor of Kirkconnel, near to the Lynn through which the Tarff
foams white?

For me, I was chiefly conscious of the bushes and shrubs on either side
the avenue, broken and trampled in the tumultuous rush of the populace
on the day of the discovery. I felt guilty. By that way Gerty
Greensleeves and I had passed, Gerty very close to my elbow. And now,
like the rolling away of a panorama picture in a show, Gerty
Greensleeves, and all other maids save one, had passed out of my life.
Or so, in my ignorance, I thought at the time.

For no woman ever passes wholly out of any man's life--that is, if he
lives long enough. She steals back again with the coming of life's
gloaming, with the shadows of night creeping across the hills, or the
morning mists swimming up out of the valley. Sometimes she is weeping,
but more often smiling. For there is time enough, since the man last
thought of her, for all tears to be wiped from her eyes. But come she
will. Yet sometimes it is not so. She does not smile. She only stands on
the threshold of a man's soul with reproachful eyes, and lips drawn and
mute. Then it is not good to be that man.

But in those days, being a boy, carried along in the waft of my
grandmother's skirt, I knew nothing about such things.

I watched my grandmother take the antique knocker between her fingers,
noting with housewifely approval that it had recently been polished. I
have seldom passed a more uncomfortable time of waiting, than that
between the resounding clatter of grandmother's knocking reverberating
through the empty house, and the patter of feet, the whispering, and at
last the opening of the door.

Then I saw again the tall girl with the proudly angled chin, the crown
of raven curls, and the pair of brave outlooking eyes that met all the
world with something that was even a little bold.

I had been afraid that my grandmother, so indiscriminating in her
admonitions, might open fire upon this forlorn couple, isolated in the
great haunted house of Marnhoul. But I need not have troubled.

My grandmother had the instinct of caressing maternity for all the
young, the forlorn, the helpless. So she only opened her arms and cried
out, "Oh, you dears--you poor darlings!"

And the little boy, moved by the instinctive yearning of all that needed
protection, of everything of tender years and little strength towards
the breast that had suckled and the hands that had nursed, let go his
sister's hand and ran happily to my grandmother. She caught him in her
arms and lifted him up with the easy habitual gesture of one long
certified as a mother in Israel. He threw his little arms about my
grandmother's neck, nestling there just as the rest of us used to do
when we were in any trouble.

"I like you! You are good!" he said.

Miss Irma and I were therefore left eye to eye while Louis Maitland, in
spite of his title, was so rapidly making friends with the actual head
of our family.

Irma eyed me, and I did the like to Miss Irma--that is, to the best of
my ability, which in this matter was nothing to hers. She seemed to look
me through and through. At which I quailed, and then she appeared a
little more content.

With the child still in her arms, and her voice, lately so harsh in
rebuke, now tuned to the cooing of a nesting dove, my grandmother
introduced herself.

"Child," she said to Miss Irma, "I am your nearest neighbour. Who should
come to welcome you if not I? You will find me at the farm of
Heathknowes. It is my goodman's saw-mills that you hear clattering from
where you stand, and I am come to see if there is anything I can do to
help you."

"I thank you----" began the girl, and then hesitated. She had meant to
declare that they wanted for nothing, perhaps to indicate that the wife
of a tenant was hardly a fitting "first-foot" to venture over the
threshold of a baronet of ancient name and of the sister who acted as
his sponsor, tutor and governor.

But then Miss Irma did not know my grandmother as Eden Valley did, still
less as we who were, as one might say, of Cæsar's household.

"Let me come in--I will soon see for myself!" quoth my grandmother, and
marched straight into the front hall of the Maitlands, that immense
dusky cavern I had only once looked into over the pikes and pitchforks.
She carried Sir Louis, tenth baronet of that name, on one arm. With her
free right hand she went hither and thither, sweeping her hand along the
ledges of great oak cabinets, blowing at the dust on the stone
mantelpiece, and finally clearing the great curtained south-western
window to let in the sun in flakes and patches of scarlet and gold.

Then she turned to Miss Irma and said in the tone of an expert who has
inspected a grave piece of work and not found it wanting, "You have done
very well, my dear!"

And at this Miss Irma changed the fashion of her countenance. Pleasure
shone scarce concealed. It was certain that up to that moment she had
regarded my grandmother somewhat in the light of an intruder, but she
could not bear up against such an appeal from housewife to housewife.

"Will you come up-stairs?" she said, "I have hardly got begun here yet."



CHAPTER VI

THE APOTHEOSIS OF AGNES ANNE


No word or look included me in the invitation which Miss Irma tendered
to my grandmother. Nevertheless I followed, not knowing what else to do.
I felt huge, awkward, clumsy of build and knotty of elbow and knee. I
was conscious that my knuckles were red. I felt in the way and unhappy.
In short, I hulked. Indeed, but that I was able to watch two eyes of
darkest grey beneath a wisp of untamed curls on a small and shapely
head, and the look of the thing, I would far rather have stopped out on
the doorstep with Crazy.

And perhaps that would have been the best place for me, all things
considered.

After we had passed two or three rooms in review, all of which were, as
it appeared to me, garnished with the ordinary sheets and coverlets of a
bedroom, my grandmother abruptly turned upon Miss Irma.

"Let me see your hands!" she said, in her ordinary brusque manner. I was
in terror lest we should be shown to the door. But the freemasonry of
work, the knowledge of things feminine, the fine little nod of
appreciation at a detail which is perfectly lost on a man, the flush of
answering approbation had done their perfect work between the old woman
and the girl.

Such things were not within my ken, and my grandmother promptly banished
me. She set down the little baronet at the same time with a "Run and
play, my doo!" She issued directions for me to charge myself with the
responsibility. I would much rather have stayed to hear what grandmother
and Miss Irma had to say one to the other, because I was more interested
in that. But the choice was not given to me. Go I must.

And with her first personal word of acknowledgment that I was a human
being, Miss Irma, calling me by name, indicated the "drawing-room" as
the place where we might await the end of this first congress of the
Holy Alliance.

I was some little alarmed at the place, the name of which so far I had
only seen in books, but little Sir Louis whispered in my ear as he took
my hand, "We can play there. That's only what sister Irma calls it!"

When my grandmother and Miss Irma appeared after an absence of
half-an-hour they found the two of us deep in a game of bat-ball. I made
an attempt to hide the ball, fearing lest Miss Irma might think I
usually carried such things about with me (I had confiscated it in class
that day). But I need not have troubled, she paid no attention whatever
to me, continuing to hold my grandmother's hand and look into the wise,
stormy, tender, emphatic, much-enduring old face. And I wondered at my
relative, and saw in this marvel one more proof of her own
infallibility.

"You must not stay any longer in this great house alone," she was
saying, "I will send you--somebody."

Then she looked again at Miss Irma's hands, and though I did not see
why, nor understand at the time, she added, "No--no--it will never
do--never do!" I wish I could say that on this first occasion of our
meeting, Miss Irma devoted a little of her attention to me. But the
truth is, she had eyes for nobody but Mistress Mary Lyon of
Heathknowes. True, a glance occasionally came my way, which caused me
instinctively to straighten myself up and square my shoulders, as I did
in the playground when acting as drill sergeant to the juniors. But the
very same glance with quite as much personality in it, passed on to
Crazy, who, to the exuberant delight of little Louis, had by this time
intruded himself. It was impossible for the most self-conceited to bring
away much comfort or encouragement from favours so slight as these.

Even Louis, after the advent of Crazy, considered me only as his
drill-sergeant, and valued me according as Crazy consented to show off
his tricks at the word of command from me.

"Behave, sir! You are in the kirk!" cried I. And lo! to the boy's wonder
Crazy, who had been gambolling about on the bare floor, sank down with
his head between his paws and his eyes hypocritically closed, till I
gave the signal, "Now fight the French!" Upon which uprose Crazy like a
dancing bear on his hind legs, and jumped about with flaming eyes,
barking with all his might. This, being the performance which pleased
Crazy most, was also the favourite with the young Sir Louis.

Indeed leavetaking was difficult, though by no means on my account. For
Miss Irma was all taken up with grandmother and little Louis with Crazy.
Nobody minded me, and Miss Irma did not so much as reach me a finger,
though at the last she just nodded, and Sir Louis had to be removed
wailing, because he wished to keep his arms tight about the shaggy neck
of Master Crazy, that singularly indifferent sheep-dog, but excellent
variety entertainer.

It was, however, promised that Crazy should return, and as I knew that
Crazy would by no means perform without me, considering himself bound to
me by hours of patient labour and persistent fellow truantry, I saw some
light on the horizon of an otherwise dark future. I must go back too.
But in the meantime Louis wept uncomforted, and "batted" his sister with
baby palms in the impotence of his anger as she carried him within.

My grandmother said nothing of any importance on the way home. She was
evidently thinking deeply, and confined herself to "Hush, you there!"
and "Do ye hear what I was saying to ye?" Under a fire of suchlike
remarks, delivered more or less at random, and without the least
discrimination between the barking of Crazy (the effect) and me (the
cause)--I kept a little in the rear so that I might have a sober face on
me when she turned round, while the less subtle Crazy galloped in
furious circles yapping and leaping up even in my grandmother's face. He
was, however, useful in drawing her fire, and though I had to keep a
sharp look-out for the stones she caught up to throw at Crazy (who ran
no personal danger) our home-coming was effected in good order and with
considerable amusement to myself.

But on her arrival at Heathknowes, Mrs. Mary Lyon found that there were
forces in the universe which even she was powerless to conquer.

Meg, the "indoor" lass at Heathknowes, refused point-blank to go one
foot in the direction of the "Ghaist's Hoose." She persisted in her
refusal even when addressed by the awe-inspiring baptismal name of
Margaret Simprin Hetherington, and reminded of the terms of her
engagement.

No, Margaret Simprin Hetherington would not--could not--dared not--stay
a night in the great house of Marnhoul. Whatever my grandmother might
say it was not so nominated in the bond. She had been hired to serve
about the farmhouse of Heathknowes, and she did not mind carrying their
dinners to the workmen in the saw-mill----

"No," interpolated my grandmother, "nor taking an hour-and-a-half to do
it in!"

Upon which, as if stirred by some association of ideas, Meg added that
she would go none to Marnhoul Big Hoose, "because not a soul would come
near the place." It did not matter whether _she_ believed in Grey Ladies
with rain-drops pattering through them or not--other people did, and she
would not be banished "among the clocks and rattons"--no, not for double
wages!

My grandmother, indeed, explained that there was no question of ladies
grey or rain-drops pattering, but of obedience to her legal mistress.

But she knew that the cause was lost, and I am quite sure anticipated
the reply of Margaret Simprin Hetherington, which was to the effect that
no lass, indoor or outdoor, was more willing to obey her mistress than
she, but it would be in the place in which she had been hired to
serve--there and not elsewhere.

For once my grandmother was nonplussed. Being a good Galloway woman she
knew that of all things it is most impossible to run counter to the
superstitions of her people. Perhaps she retained a touch of these
herself. But, as she said, "The grace of the Lord can overcome all the
wiles of the Evil One! And Mary Lyon would like to see witch or warlock,
ghost or ghostling, that would come in her road when she went forth
under His banner." On the darkest night she marched unafraid, conquering
and to conquer, having the superstitions born in her, but knowing all
the same (and all the better for that knowledge) on which side were the
bigger battalions.

It was no use to send my Aunt Jen, who had once been "in a place"
before. Aunt Jen would go, but--she would take her tongue with her. She
had her mother's command of language, but was utterly destitute of her
tact, lacking also, as was natural, the maternal instinct. As, in a
moment of exasperation my grandmother once said of her, "Our Jinnet is
dried up like a crab-tree in the east wind!"

She would certainly undo all that Mistress Mary Lyon had done, and "that
puir young lassie" (as she called Miss Irma) carried a warlike flash in
her eye which warned the rugged grandmotherly heart that she and our
Aunt Jen could not long bide at peace in the same house.

My mother might have done, as far as temper was concerned, but she
wanted what grandmother called the "needcessary birr." Besides which she
had more than enough to do in caring for her own house, mending my
father's clothes and misinforming the public as to Post Office
regulations. On the whole, though she loved her married daughter, I
think Mary Lyon was not a little sorry for my father, John MacAlpine, in
his choice of a housekeeper. I could see this by the occasional descents
she made upon our house, and the way she had of going about the rooms,
setting things to rights, silent save for a running comment of soft
sniffs upon the nose of contempt--the while my mother, after a
sympathetic glance at me, devoted herself to silent prayer that
grandmother would not light upon anything very bad.

With my grandmother, to fail in the due ordering of a house was a
cardinal sin. And my poor mother sinned, not indeed by intention,
hardly even in labour, but in that appearance of easy perfection, which
in a household is the result of excellent plans thoroughly and timeously
carried out. She was apt to be found late of an afternoon in a chair
with a book--and the dinner dishes still unwashed. Then Agnes Anne, my
sister, would come in without a word. Her school frock would be quickly
shrouded under a great coarse apron. If I happened to be within doors I
was beckoned to assist. If not, not--and Agnes Anne did them herself
while my mother slept on.

But I do not think that grandmother knew this, for she very generally
ignored Agnes Anne altogether, having a decided preference for boys in a
family. It fell out, therefore, that when she came a little shamefacedly
to consult my father, as she sometimes did in days of difficulty--for
under a show of contempt she often really submitted to his judgment--it
was given to Agnes Anne to say suddenly, "Let me go to Marnhoul,
grandmother!" If Balaam's ass (or say, Crazy), had spoken these words,
grandmother could not have been more astonished.

More so still when John MacAlpine nodded approval.

"Yes, let the lassie go--let her put her hand to the work. The burden
cannot be too soon laid on young shoulders--that is, if they are strong
enough."

Mary Lyon stared, as if both he and his daughter had suddenly taken
leave of their senses.

"Why, what can the lassie _do_?" she cried; "I thought you were making
her nothing but a don in the dead languages!"

"I can bake, and brew, and wash, and keep a house clean," said Agnes
Anne, putting in her testimonials, since there was no one so well
acquainted with them. My father nodded. He was not so blind as many
might suppose. My mother said, "Aye, 'deed, she can that. Agnes Anne is
a good lass. I know not what I should do without her!"

My grandmother looked about at the new air of tidiness, and for the
first time a suspicion crossed her mind that, out of a pit from which
she was expecting no such treasure, some one in her own image might
possibly have been digged among her descendants of the second
generation. She looked at Agnes Anne with a ray of hope. Agnes Anne
stood the awful searching power of that eye. Agnes Anne did not flinch.
Mary Lyon nodded her head with its man's close-cropped locks of rough
white hair in lyart locks about her ears.

"You'll do, Agnes Anne, you'll do," she said, adding cautiously, "that
is, after a time"--so as not to exalt the girl above measure. It was,
however, recognized by all as a definite triumph for my sister. My
grandmother, a rigid Calvinist, who believed in Election with all her
intellect, and acted Free Will with all her heart, elected Agnes Anne
upon the spot. Had the girl not willed to rise out of the pit of sloth
and mere human learning? And lo! she had arisen. Thenceforth Agnes Anne
stood on a pedestal, and for a while one sturdy disciple of Calvin's
thought heretically of the pure doctrine. Here was a human being who had
willed, and, according to my grandmother, had made of herself a miracle
of grace.

But she recalled herself to more orthodox sentiments. The steel was out
of the sheath, indeed, but it had to be tried. Even yet Agnes Anne might
be found wanting.

"When will you be ready to start?" she said, turning her black twinkling
eyes upon her granddaughter.

"In five minutes," said Agnes Anne boldly.

"And you are not frightened?"

"Of what?"

"Of these vain tales--ghosts, hauntings, and so forth. Our Meg Simprin
(silly maid!) would not move a foot, and you are far younger."

"I am no younger than those who are in the house already," said Agnes
Anne, with great sense, which even I would hardly have expected from
her, "and if ghosts are spirits, as the Bible says, I do not see that
they can interfere with housework!"

My grandmother rose solemnly from her seat, patted Agnes Anne on the
top-knot of her hair, shook hands with John MacAlpine, nodded meaningly
at my mother, and said, "Come along, young lass," in a tone which showed
that the aged shepherdess had unexpectedly found a lamb whom she long
counted lost absolutely butting against the door of the sheep-fold.

This was the apotheosis of Agnes Anne. Her life dates from that evening
in our kitchen, even as mine did from the afternoon when one half the
fools of Eden Valley were letting off shot-guns at the back windows of
Marnhoul Great House, while Miss Irma withstood the others on the
threshold of the front door.



CHAPTER VII

THE DOCTOR'S ADVENT


The firm of lawyers in Dumfries, the agents for the Maitland properties,
did not seem to be taking any measures to dispossess Miss Irma and young
Sir Louis. Perhaps they, too, had private information. Perhaps those who
had brought the children to Marnhoul may have been in the confidence of
that notable firm of Smart, Poole & Smart in the High Street. At any
rate they made no move towards ejection. They may also have argued that
any one who could dispossess the ghosts and make Marnhoul once more a
habitable mansion, was welcome to the tenancy.

It was the Reverend Doctor Gillespie who, first of all the distinguished
men of the parish, received in some slight degree the confidence of Miss
Irma. Grandmother knew more, of course, and perhaps, also, Agnes Anne.
But, with the feeling of women towards those whom they approve, they
became Irma's accomplices. Women are like that. When you tell them a
secret, if they don't like you, they become traitors. If they do, they
are at once confederates. But the Doctor visited Marnhoul as a
deputation, officially, and also for the purpose of setting the minds of
the genteel at rest.

The Doctor's lady gave him no peace till he did his duty. The General's
womenfolk at the Bungalow were clamorous. It was not seemly. Something
must be done, and since the action of Mr. Shepstone Oglethorpe on the
occasion of the assault on the house had put _him_ out of the question,
and as the General flatly refused to have anything to do with the
affair, it was obvious that the duty must fall to the Doctor.

Nor could a better choice have been made. Eden Valley has known many
preachers, but never another such pastor--never a shepherd of the sheep
like the Doctor. I can see him yet walking down the manse avenue--it had
been just "the Loaning" in the days before the advent of the second Mrs.
Doctor Gillespie--a silver-headed cane in his hand, everything about him
carefully groomed, and his very port breathing a peculiarly grave and
sober dignity. Grey locks, still plentiful, clustered about his head.
His cocked hat (of the antique pattern which, early in his ministry, he
had imported by the dozen from Versailles) never altered in pattern.
Buckles of unpolished silver shone dully at his knee and bent across his
square-toed shoes.

Above all spread his neckcloth, spotless, enveloping, cumbrous,
reverence-compelling, a cravat worthy of a Moderator. And indeed the
Doctor--our Doctor, parish minister of Eden Valley, had "passed the
Chair" of the General Assembly. We were all proud of the fact, even
top-lofty Cameronians like my grandmother secretly delighting in the
thought of the Doctor in his robes of office.

"There would be few like him away there in Edinburgh," she would say.
"The Doctor's a braw man, and does us credit afore the great of the
land--for a' that he's a Moderate!"

And had he been the chief of all the Moderates, the most volcanic and
aggressive of Moderates, my grandmother would have found some good thing
to say of a fellow-countryman of so noble a presence--"so personable,"
and "such a credit to the neighbourhood."

Wisdom, grave and patient, was in every line of his kindly face.
Something boyish and innocent told that the shades of the prison-house
had never wholly closed about him. It was good to lift the hat to Dr.
Gillespie as he went along--hat a little tip-tilted off the
broadly-furrowed brow. In the city he is very likely to stop and regard
the most various wares--children's dolls or ladies' underpinnings. But
think not that the divine is interested in such things. His mind is
absent--in communion with things very far away. Lift your hat and salute
him. He will not see you, but--it will do _you_ good!

William Gillespie was the son of a good ministerial house. His father
had occupied the same pulpit. He himself had been born in his own
manse--which is to say, in all the purple of which our grey Puritan land
can boast. We were proud of the Doctor, and had good reason therefor. I
have said that even my field-preaching grandmother looked upon the
Erastian with a moisture quasi-maternal in her eyes, and as for us who
"sat under him and listened to his speech," we came well-nigh to worship
him.

Yet "the Doctor" was self-effacing beyond many, and only our proper
respect for the "Lady of the Manse" kept the parishioners in their
places. Discourses which he had preached in the callow days of his youth
on the "Book of the Revelation" had brought hearers from many distant
parishes, and at that time the Doctor had had several "calls" and
"offers" to proceed to other spheres on account of their fame. But he
had always refused to repeat any of them.

"I have changed my mind about many things since then," he would say;
"young men are apt to be hasty! The greatest of all heresies is
dogmatism."

But among the older saints of the parish that "series of expositions"
was not forgotten. "It was" (they averred) "like the licht o' anither
world to look on his face--just heeven itsel' to listen to him. Sirce
me, there are no such discourses to be heard now-a-days--not even from
_himsel'_!"

And be it remembered that our dear Doctor could unbend--that is, in
fitting time and place. From the seats of the mighty, from Holyrood and
the Moderator's chair our Cincinnatus returned to shepherd his quiet
flock among the bosky silences of Eden Valley. He wore his learning, all
his weight of honour lightly--with a smile, even with a slight shrug of
the shoulder. The smile, even the jest, rose continually to his lips,
especially when his wife was not present. But at all times he remembered
his office, and often halted with the ancient maxim at the sight of some
intruder, "Let us be sober--yonder comes a fool!" And many of his
visitors noticed this sudden sobriety without once suspecting its cause.

Even the Cameronians agreed that there was "unction" in the Doctor. For
his brave word's sake they forgave the heresies of his church about the
Civil Magistrate, and said freely among themselves that if in every
parish there was such a minister as Dr. Gillespie, the civil magistrate
would be compelled to take a very back seat indeed. But it was on
Communion Sabbath days that the Doctor became, as it were, transfigured,
the face of him shining, though he wist not of it.

Something of the spirit of the Crucified was poured forth that day upon
men and women humbly bowing their heads over the consecrated memorials
of His love.

A silence of a rare and peculiar sanctity filled the little bare,
deep-windowed kirk. The odour of the flowering lilacs came in like
Nature's own incense, and the plain folk of Eden Valley got a foretaste,
faint and dim, but sufficient, of the Land where the tables shall never
be withdrawn.

Better preachers than the Doctor?--We grant it you, though there are
many in the Valley who will not agree, but not one more fitted to break
the bread of communion before the white-spread tables.

It was Agnes Anne who opened the door of Marnhoul, and stood a moment
astonished at the sight of the Doctor all in black and silver--hat,
coat, knee-breeches, silken hose and leathern shoes of the first, locks,
studs, knee-buckles, shoe-buckles all of the second.

But our Agnes Anne was truly of the race of Mary Lyon, so in a moment
she said, "Pray come in, sir!" with the self-respect of the daughter of
a good house, as well as the dutifulness which she owed to one so
reverend and so revered.

The Doctor was not surprised. He smiled as he recognized the
school-master's daughter. But he betrayed nothing. He laid his hand as
usual on her smooth locks by way of a blessing, and inquired if Miss
Maitland and Sir Louis were at home.

"They are in the school-room," said Agnes Anne, in the most
business-like tone in the world; "come this way, sir."

It was a very different house--that which Agnes Anne showed the
Doctor--from the cobweb-draped, dust-strewn, deserted mansion of a few
weeks ago. Simply considering them as caretakers, the Dumfries lawyers
ought to have welcomed their new tenants. So far as cleanliness went,
Miss Irma had done a great deal--so much, indeed, as to earn the praise
of that severest of critics, my grandmother.

But there was much that no girl could do alone. Chair-seats and
sofa-cushions had been beaten till no speck of dust was left. This had
had to be carefully gone about. For though, apparently, no thieves had
broken through to steal, it was evident that the house had last been
occupied by people of excessively careless habits, who had put muddy
boots on chairs and trampled regardlessly everywhere. But the other half
of the text held good. Moth and rust had certainly corrupted.

However, Agnes Anne was handy with her needle, in spite of her father
and his class on Ovid. There was always a good deal to do in our house,
and since mother made no great effort, and was generally tired, it fell
to Agnes Anne to do it.

She it was who had re-covered the worn old drawing-room chairs with
brocade found in the deep, cedar-wood lined cupboards, along with wealth
of ancient court dresses, provision of household linen, and all that had
belonged to the Maitlands on the day when, after the falling of the head
of their house upon Tower Hill, the great old mansion had been shut up.

The Doctor had been strictly enjoined to take good heed to write
everything down on his mental tablets, and to give careful account to
his lady. He found the two young Maitlands seated at a table from which
the cloth had been lifted at one corner to make room for copybooks, ink,
pens and reading-books. Evidently Miss Irma was instructing her brother.

"Now, Louis," they heard her say as they came in, "remember the destiny
to which you are called, and that now is the time----"

"The Doctor to call upon you!" Agnes Anne announced in a tone of awe
befitting the occasion.

Then the stately apparition in black and silver which followed her into
the room came slowly forward, smiling with outstretched hand. Miss Irma
was not in the least put out. She rose and swept a curtsey with bowed
head. Little Sir Louis, evidently awed by the sedate grandeur which sat
so well upon the visitor, paused a moment as if uncertain how he ought
to behave.

He was a little behind his sister, and completely out of the range of
her vision, so he felt himself safe in sucking the ink from the side of
his second finger, and rubbing the wet place hard on his black velvet
breeches. Then, as Miss Irma glanced round, he fell also to his manners
and bowed gravely--unconsciously imitating the grand manner of the
Doctor himself.

The room used for lessons was a wide, pleasant place, rather low in the
roof, plainly panelled and wainscotted in dark oak, with a single line
of dull gold beading running about it high up. There was a large
fireplace, with a seat all the way round, and a stout iron basket to
hold the fire of sea-coal, when such was used. Brass and irons stood at
the side, convenient for faggots. A huge crane and many S-shaped
pot-hooks discovered the fact that at some time this place had been
occupied as a kitchen, perhaps in the straitened days of the last
"attainted" Maitlands.

But now the chamber was pleasant and warm, the windows open to the air
and the song of the birds. Dimity curtains hung on the great poles by
the windows and stirred in the breeze, as if they had been lying for
half a century in dusky cupboards. Agnes Anne looked carefully to see if
the darning showed, and decided that not even her grandmother could spy
it out--how much less, then, the Doctor.

She was, however, annoyed that the tall, brass-faced clock in the
corner, dated "Kilmaurs, 1695," could not be made to go. But she had a
promise from Boyd Connoway that he would "take a look at her" as soon as
he had attended to three gardens and docked the tails of a litter of
promising puppies.

The Doctor bowed graciously over the hand of Miss Irma, and shook hands
gravely with Sir Louis, who a second time had rubbed his finger on his
black velvet suit, just to make assurance doubly sure.

The conversation followed a high plane of social commonplace.

"Yes," said Miss Irma, "it is true that our family has been a long time
absent from the neighbourhood, but you are right in supposing that we
mean to settle down here for some time."

Then she deigned to enter into particulars. She had her brother to bring
up according to his rank, for, since there was no one else to undertake
the charge, it fell to her lot. Luckily she had received a good
education up to the time when she had the misfortune----

"Ah," said the Doctor quickly, "I understand."

He said nothing further in words, but his sympathetic silence conveyed a
great deal, and was more eloquent and consolatory than most people's
speech.

"And where were you educated?" asked the Doctor gently.

"My father sent me to the Ursuline Sisters in Paris," said Miss Irma
calmly.

The Doctor was secretly astonished and much disappointed, but his face
expressed nothing beyond his habitual good nature. He replied, "Then
your father has had you brought up a Catholic, Miss Maitland?"

"Indeed, no," answered Miss Irma, "only he had often occasion to be away
on his affairs, and to keep me out of mischief he left me with the
Ursulines and my aunt the Abbess. At my father's death I might have
stayed on with the good sisters, but I left because I was not allowed to
see my brother."

"Then am I right in thinking that--that--in fact--you are a
Presbyterian?" said the Doctor, playing with the inlaid snuffbox which
he carried in his hand. The amount of time he occupied in tapping the
lid and the invisibility of the pinches he had ever been seen to take
were alike marvels in the district.

"I have no religious prejudices," said Miss Irma to the Doctor, in a
calm, well-bred manner which must have secretly amused that
distinguished theologian, fresh from editing the works of Manton.

"I did not speak of prejudices, dear young lady" (he spoke gently, yet
with the thrill in his voice which showed how deeply he was moved), "but
of belief, of religion, of principles of thought and action."

Miss Irma opened her eyes very wide. The sound of the Doctor's words
came to her ears like the accents of an unknown tongue.

"The sisters were very good people," she said at last; "they give
themselves a great deal of trouble----"

"What kind of trouble?" said the Doctor.

"Kneeling and scrubbing floors for one thing," said Miss Irma; "getting
up at all hours, doing good works, praying, and burning candles to the
Virgin."

"I should advise you," said the Doctor, with his most gentle accent, "to
say as little as possible about that part of your experience here in
Eden Valley."

Miss Irma looked exceedingly surprised.

"I thought I told you they were exceedingly good people. They were very
kind to me, though they looked on me as a lost heretic. I am sure they
said prayers for me many times a day!"

The Doctor looked more hopeful. He was thinking that after all he might
make something of his strange parishioner, when the young lady recalled
him by a repetition of her former declaration, "As I said, I have no
religious prejudices!"

"No," said the Doctor a little sharply--for him, "but still each one of
us ought to be fully persuaded in his own mind."

"And that means," Miss Irma answered, quick as a flash, "that most of us
are fully persuaded according to our father and mother's mind, and the
way they have brought us up. But then, you see, I never _was_ brought
up. I know very well that my family were Presbyterians. Once I read
about their sufferings in two great volumes by a Mr. Wodrow, or some
such name. But then my grandfather lost most of his estates fighting for
the King----"

"For the Popish Pretender," said the Doctor, who could speak no smooth
things when it was a matter of the Revolution Settlement and the
government of King George.

"For the man he believed to be king, while others stayed snugly at
home," persisted Miss Irma. "Then my mother was a Catholic, and my
father too busy to care----"

"My poor young maid," said the Doctor, "it is wonderful to see you as
you are!"

And secretly the excellent man was planning out a campaign to lead this
lamb into the fold of that Kirk of Scotland, for the purity of whose
doctrine and intact spiritual independence her forefathers had shed
their blood.

"At any rate," said he, rising and bending again over the girl's hand
with old-fashioned politeness, "you will remember that your family pew
is in the front of our laft--I mean in the gallery of the parish kirk
of Eden Valley."

And the Doctor took his leave without ever remembering that he had
failed in the principal part of his mission, having quite forgotten to
find out by what means these two young things came to find themselves
alone in the Great House of Marnhoul.



CHAPTER VIII

KATE OF THE SHORE


It was, I think, ten days after Agnes Anne had left us for the old house
of the Maitlands when she came to me at the school-house. My father had
Fred Esquillant in with him, and the two were busy with Sophocles. I was
sitting dreaming with a book of old plays in my hand when Agnes Anne
came in.

"Duncan," she said, "I am feared to bide this night at Marnhoul. And I
think so is Miss Irma. Now I would rather not tell grandmother--so you
must come!"

"Feared?" said I; "surely you never mean ghosts--and such nonsense,
Agnes Anne--and you the daughter of a school-master!"

"It's the solid ghosts I am feared of," said Agnes Anne; "haste you, and
ask leave of father. He is so busy, he will never notice. He has Freddy
in with him, I hear."

So Agnes Anne and I went in together. We could see the man's head and
the boy's bent close together, and turned from us so that the westering
light could fall upon their books. Fred Esquillant was to be a great
scholar and to do my father infinite credit when he went to the
university. For me I was only a reader of English, a scribbler of verses
in that language, a paltry essayist, with no sense of the mathematics
and no more than an average classic. Therefore in the school I was a
mere hewer of wood and drawer of water to my father.

"Duncan is coming with me to bide the night at Marnhoul," said Agnes
Anne, "and he is going to take 'King George' with him to--scare the
foxes!"

"From the hen-coops?" said my father, looking carelessly up. "Let him
take care not to shoot himself then. He has no nicety of handling!"

I am sure that really he meant in the classics, for his thoughts were
running that way and I could see that he was itching to be at it again
with Freddy.

"Tell your mother," he said, adjusting his spectacles on his nose, "and
please shut the door after you!"

Having thus obtained leave from the power-that-was, the matter was
broken to my mother. She only asked if we had told John, and being
assured of that, felt that her entire responsibility was cleared, and so
subsided into the fifth volume of Sir Charles Grandison, where thrilling
things were going on in the cedar parlour. It was my mother's favourite
book, but was carefully laid aside when my grandmother came--nay, even
concealed as conscientiously as I under my coat conveyed away the
bell-mouthed, silver-mounted blunderbuss which hung over the hat-rack in
the lobby. Buckshot, wads, and a powderhorn I also secreted about my
person.

On our way I catechized Agnes Anne tightly as to the nature of the
danger which had put her so suddenly in fear. But she eluded me. Indeed,
I am not sure she knew herself. All I could gather was that a letter
which had reached Miss Irma that morning, had given warning of trouble
of some particular deadly sort impending upon the dwellers in the house
of Marnhoul. When Agnes Anne opened the door of the hall to let the
sunshine and air into the gloomy recesses where the shadows still lurked
in spite of the light from the high windows, she had found a folded
letter nailed to the door of Marnhoul. The blade of a foreign-looking
knife had been thrust through it deep into the wood, and the stag's-horn
handle turned down in the shape of a reversed capital V--the spring
holding the paper firm. It was addressed to Miss Irma Maitland, and
evidently had reference to something disastrous, for all day Miss Irma
had gone about with a pale face, and a pitiful wringing action of her
fingers. No words, however, had escaped her except only "What shall I
do? Oh, what shall I do? My Louis--my poor little Louis!"

The danger, then, whatever it might be, was one which particularly
touched the boy baronet. I could not help hoping that it might not be
any plot of the lawyers in Dumfries to get him away. For if I were
obliged to fire off "King George," and perhaps kill somebody, I
preferred that it should not be against those who had the law on their
side. For in that case my father might lose his places, both as chief
teacher and as postmaster.

I got Agnes Anne to look after "King George," my blunderbuss, while I
went round to the village to see if anything was stirring about the
dwelling of Constable Jacky. She would only permit me to do this on
condition that I proved the gun unloaded, and permitted her to lock it
carefully in one cupboard, while the powder and shot reposed each on a
separate shelf outside in the kitchen, lest being left to themselves the
elements of destruction might run together and blow up the house.

I scudded through the village, passing from one end of the long street
to the other. Constable Jacky in his shirt sleeves, was peaceably
peeling potatoes on his doorstep, while with a pipe in his mouth Boyd
Connoway was looking on and telling him how. The village of Eden Valley
was never quieter. Several young men of the highest consideration were
waiting within call of the millinery establishment of the elder Miss
Huntingdon, on the chance of being able to lend her "young ladies" stray
volumes of Rollin's _Ancient History_, Defoe's _Religious Courtship_, or
such other volumes as were likely to fan the flame of love's young dream
in their hearts. I saw Miss Huntingdon herself taking stock of them
through the window, and as it were, separating the sheep from the goats.
For she was a particular woman, Miss Huntingdon, and never allowed the
lightest attentions to "her young ladies" without keeping the parents of
her charges fully posted on the subject.

All, therefore, was peace in the village of Eden Valley. Yet I nearly
chanced upon war. My grandmother called aloud to some one as I passed
along the street. For a moment I thought she had caught me, in spite of
the cap which I had pulled down over my eyes and the coat collar I had
pulled up above my ears.

If she got me, I made sure that she would instantly come to the great
house of Marnhoul with all the King's horses and all the King's men--and
so, as it were, spoil the night from which I expected so much.

But it was the slouching figure of Boyd Connoway which had attracted her
attention. As I sped on I heard her asking details as to the amount of
work he had done that day, how he expected to keep his wife and family
through the winter, whether he had split enough kindling wood and
brought in the morning's supply of water--also (most unkindly of all)
who had paid for the tobacco he was smoking.

To these inquiries, all put within the space of half-a-minute, I could
not catch Connoway's replies. Nor did I wait to hear. It was enough for
me to find myself once more safe between the hedges and going as hard as
my feet could carry me in the direction of the gate of Marnhoul.

No sooner was I in the kitchen with the stone floor and the freshly
scoured tin and pewter vessels glinting down from the dresser, than I
heard the voice of Miss Irma asking to be informed if I had come. To
Agnes Anne she called me "your big brother," and I hardly ever remember
being so proud of anything as of that adjective.

Then after my sister had answered, Miss Irma came down the stairs with
her quick light step, not like any I had ever heard. With a trip and a
rustle she came bursting in upon us, so that all suddenly the quaint old
kitchen, with its shining utensils catching the red sunshine through the
low western window and the swaying ivy leaves dappling the floor of
bluish-grey, was glorified by her presence.

She was younger in years than myself, but something of race, of
refinement, of experience, some flavour of an adventurous past and of
strange things seen and known, made her appear half-a-dozen years the
senior of a country boy like me.

"Has he come?" she asked, before ever she came into the kitchen; "is he
afraid?"

"Only of being in a house alone with two girls," said Agnes Anne, "but I
am most afraid of father's blunderbuss which he has brought with him."

"Nonsense," said Miss Irma, determination marked in every line of her
face. "We have a well-armed man on the premises. It is a house fit to
stand a siege. Why, I turned away three score of them with a darning
needle."

"Not but what it is far more serious this time!" she said, a little
sadly. By this time I was reassembling the scattered pieces of "King
George's" armament, while Agnes Anne, in terror of her life, was
searching on the floor and along the passages for things she had not
lost.

As soon as I had got over my first awe of Miss Irma, I asked her
point-blank what was the danger, so that I might know what dispositions
to take.

I had seen the phrase in an old book, thin and tall, which my father
possessed, called _Monro's Expedition_. But Irma bade me help to make
the ground floor of the mansion as strong as possible, and then come
up-stairs to the parlour, where she would tell me "all that it was
necessary for me to know."

I wished she had said "everything"--for, though not curious by nature, I
should have been happy to be confided in by Miss Irma. To my delight, on
going round I found that all the lower windows had been fitted with iron
shutters, and these, though rusty, were in perfectly good condition. In
this task of examination Miss Irma assisted me, and though I would not
let her put a finger to the sharp-edged flaky iron, it was a pleasure to
feel the touch of her skirt, while once she laid a hand on my arm to
guide me to a little dark closet the window of which was protected by a
hingeless plate of iron, held in position by a horizontal bar fitting
into the stonework on either side.

There was not so much to be done above stairs, where the shutters were
of fine solid oak and easily fitted. But I sought out an oriel window of
a tower which commanded the pillared doorway. For I did not forget what
I had seen when the Great House of Marnhoul was besieged by the rabble
of Eden Valley. It was there that the danger was if the house should be
attempted.

But I so arranged it, that whoever attacked the house, I should at least
get one fair chance at them with "King George," our very wide-scattering
blunderbuss.

In the little room in which this window was, we gathered. It made a kind
of watch-tower, for from it one could see both ways--down the avenue to
the main road, and across the policies towards the path that led up from
the Killantringan shore.

I felt that it was high time for me to know against what I was to fight.
Not that I was any way scared. I do not think I thought about that at
all, so pleased was I at being where I was, and specially anxious that
no one should come to help, so as to share with me any of the credit
that was my due from Miss Irma.

Agnes Anne, indeed, was afraid of what she was going to hear. For as yet
she had been told nothing definite. But then she was tenfold more afraid
of "King George"--mostly, I believe, because it had been made a kind of
fetish in our house, and the terrible things that would happen if we
meddled with it continually represented to us by our mother. Finally, we
arranged that "King George" should be set in the angle of the oriel
window, the muzzle pointing to the sky, and that in the pauses of the
tale, I should keep a look-out from the watch-tower.

"It is my brother Louis--Sir Louis Maitland--whom they are seeking!"

Miss Irma made this statement as if she had long faced it, and now found
nothing strange about the matter. But I think both Agnes Anne and I were
greatly astonished, though for different reasons. For my sister had
never imagined that there was any danger worse than the presence of
"King George" in the window corner, and as for me, the hope of helping
to protect Miss Irma herself from unknown peril was enough. I asked for
no better a chance than that.

"We have a cousin," she continued, "Lalor Maitland is his name, who was
in the rebellion, and was outlawed just like my father. He took up the
trade of spying on the poor folk abroad and all who had dealings with
them. He was made governor of the strong castle of Dinant on the Meuse,
deep in the Low Countries. With him my father, who wrongly trusted him
as he trusted everybody, left little Louis. I was with my aunt, the
Abbess of the Ursulines, at the time, or the thing had not befallen. For
from the first I hated Lalor Maitland, knowing that though he appeared
to be kind to us, it was only a pretence.

"He entertained us hospitably enough in a suite of rooms very high up in
the Castle of Dinant above the Meuse river, and came to see us every
day. He was waiting till he should make his peace with the English. Then
he would do away with my brother and----"

She paused, and a kind of shuddering whiteness came across the girl's
face. It was like the flashing of lightning from the east to the west
that my grandmother reads about in her Bible--a sort of shining of
hatred and determination like a footstep set on wet sand. "But no," she
added, "he would not have married me, even if he had kept me shut up for
ever in his Castle of Dinant on the Meuse!"

Then all at once I began very mightily to hate this Lalor Maitland,
Governor of the Castle of Dinant. I resolved to charge "King George" to
the very muzzle, wait till he was within half-a-dozen paces, and--let
him have it. For I made no doubt that it was he who was coming in
person to carry off Miss Irma and Sir Louis back again to his dungeons.
For though Irma had not called them that, I felt sure that she had been
shamefully used. And though I did not proclaim the fact, I knew the name
and address of a willing deliverer. I grew so anxious about the matter
that Agnes Anne three times bade me put down "King George" or I should
be sure to shoot some of them, or, most likely of all, little Louis in
his cot-bed up-stairs.

"However, at last we escaped" (Miss Irma went on), "and I will tell you
how--what I have not told to any here--not even to your good grandmother
or the clergyman. It was through our nurse, a Kirkbean woman and her
name Kate Maxwell, called Mickle Kate o' the Shore. Her father and all
her folk were smugglers, as, I understand, are the most of the farmers
along the Solway side. Some of these she could doubtless have married,
but Kate herself had always looked higher. The son of a farmer over the
hill, from a place called the Boreland of Colvend, had wintered sheep on
her father's lands. Many a sore cold morning (so she said) had they gone
out together to clear the snow from the feeding troughs. I suppose that
was how it began, but in addition the lad had ambition. He learned well
and readily, and after a while he went into a lawyer's office in
Dumfries, while Kate o' the Shore went abroad with the family of a Leith
merchant, to serve at Rotterdam. She wanted to save money for the house
she was going to set up with the lawyer's clerk. So, rather than come
back at the year's end, she took the place which the Governor of Dinant
Castle offered her, and he was no other than our cousin Lalor.

"In a little while Kate of the Shore had grown to hate our cousin. Why,
I cannot tell, for he always bowed to her as to a lady, and indeed
showed her far more kindness than ever he used to us. When we wanted a
little play on the terrace or a sweetcake from the town, we tried at
first to get Kate to ask for us. But afterwards she would not. And she
grew determined to leave the Castle of Dinant as soon as might be,
making her escape and taking us with her. Her Boreland lad, Tam Hislop,
had told her all about the estates and the great house standing empty.
So nothing would do but that Kate o' the Shore would come to this house
with us, where we would take possession, and hold it against all comers.

"'It is very difficult,' said Kate's friend, the Dumfries clerk, 'to put
any one out of his own house.' Indeed he did not think that even the
very Court of Session could do it."

"So during the governor's absence we brought little Louis from Dinant to
Antwerp, where we hid him with some friends of Kate's who are Free
Traders, and ran cargoes to the Isle of Man and the Solway shore. Kind
they were, stout bold men and appeared to hold their lives cheap
enough--also, for that matter, the lives of those who withstood them.

"Many of them were Kirkbean men, near kinsfolk of Kate o' the Shore, and
others from Colvend--Hislops, Hendersons and McKerrows, long rooted in
the place. But when we were in mid-passage, we were chased and almost
taken by a schooner that fired cannon and bade us heave to, but the
Kirkbean men, who had Kate o' the Shore with them, bade our boat carry
on, and engaged the pursuer. We could see the flash of their guns a long
distance, and cries came to us mixed with the thunderclap of the
schooner's guns. The Colvend men would have turned back to help, but
they had received strict orders to put us on shore, whatever might
happen, the which they did at Killantringan.

"After that" (Miss Irma still went on) "I had so much ado to look after
my brother, being fearful to let him out of my hands lest he should be
taken from me, that I only heard the names of a place or two spoken
among them--particularly the Brandy Knowe, a dark hole in a narrow
ravine, under the roots of a great tree, with a burn across which we had
to be carried. I remember the rushing sound of the water in the
blackness of the night, and Louis's voice calling out, as the men
trampled the pebbles, 'Are you there, sister Irma?'

"But long before it was day they had finished stowing their cargo. We
were again on the march and the men took good care of us, leaving us
here according to their orders with plenty of provisions for a
week--also money, all good unclipped silver pieces and English gold.
They bade us not to leave the house on any account, and in case of any
sudden danger to light the fire on the tower head!

"'For the present our duty is done,' said one of them, a kind of chief
or leader who had carried me before him on his own horse, 'but there may
be more and worse yet to do, wherein we of the Free Trade may help you
more than all the power of King George--to whom, however, we are very
good friends, in all that does not concern our business of the private
Over-Seas Traffic'--for so they named their trade of smuggling."

"I would like much to see this beacon," I said; "perhaps we may have to
light it. At any rate it is well to be sure that we have all the
ingredients of the pudding at hand in case of need."



CHAPTER IX

THE EVE OF ST. JOHN


We went up the narrow stair--that is, Miss Irma and I--because, since I
carried my father's blunderbuss, Agnes Anne would not come, but stopped
half-way, where the little Louis lay asleep in his cot-bed. On the top
of the tower, and swinging on a kind of iron tripod bolted into the
battlements, we found an iron basket, like that in which sea-coal is
burned, but wider in the mesh. Then, in the "winnock cupboard" at the
turn of the stair-head, were all the necessaries for a noble blaze--dry
wood properly cut, tow, tar, and a firkin of spirit, with some rancid
butter in a brown jar. There was even a little kindling box of foreign
make, all complete with flint, steel and tinder lying on a shelf,
enclosed in a small bag of felt.

Whoever had placed these things there was a person of no small
experience, and left nothing to chance. It was obvious that such a
beacon lit on the tower of the ancient house of Marnhoul would be seen
far and near over the country.

Who should come to our rescue, supposing us to be beset, was not so
clear. I did not believe that we could depend on the people of the
village. They would, if I knew them, cuddle the closer between their
blankets, while as for Constable Jacky, by that time of night he would
certainly be in no condition to know his right hand from his left.

"And the message fixed to the front door with the knife--of which my
sister told me," I suggested to Miss Irma, "what did it threaten?"

For in spite of her obvious reluctance to tell me even necessary
things, I was resolved to make her speak out. She hesitated, but finally
yielded, when I pointed out that we must decide whether it came from a
friendly or an unfriendly hand.

She handed it to me out of the pocket of her dress, the two of us
standing all the while on the top of the tower, the rusty basket
wheezing in the wind, and her blown hair whipping my cheek in the sharp
breeze from the north.

I may say that just at that moment I was pretty content with myself. I
do not deny that I had fancied this maid and that before, or that some
few things that might almost be called tender had passed between me and
Gerty Greensleeves, chiefly cuffing and pinching of the amicable
Scottish sort. Only I knew for certain that now I was finally and
irrevocably in love--but it was with a star. Or rather, it might just as
well have been, for any hope I had with Miss Irma Maitland, with her
ancient family and her eyes fairly snapping with pride. What could she
ever have to say to the rather stupid son of a village school-master?

But I took the paper, and for an instant Irma's eyes rested on mine with
something different in them from anything I had ever seen there before.
The contemptuous chill was gone. There was even a kind of soft appeal,
which, however, she retracted and even seemed to excuse the next moment.

"Understand," she said, "it is not for myself that I care. It is
for--for my brother, Sir Louis."

"But, Miss Irma, do not forget that I----" The words came bravely, but
halted before the enormity of what I was going to say. So I had perforce
to alter my formation in face of my dear enemy, and only continued
lamely enough, "I had better see what the letter says."

"Yes," she answered shortly, "I suppose that is necessary."

The letter was written on a sheet of common paper, ruled vertically in
red at either side as for a bill of lading. It had simply been folded
once, not sealed in the ordinary way, but thrust through sharply with
the knife which had pinned it to the wood, traversing both folds. The
knife, which I saw afterwards down-stairs, was a small one, with a
broadish blade shaped and pointed like a willow leaf. I had it a good
while in my hand, and I can swear that it had been lately used in
cutting the commonest kind of sailor tobacco.

The message read in these words exactly, which I copied carefully on my
killivine-tablets--

    "The first danger is for this night, being the eve of Saint John.
    Admit no one excepting those who bring with them friends you can
    trust. Fear not to use the signal agreed upon. Help will be near."

Now this seemed to me to be very straightforward. None but a friend to
the children would speak of the beacon so familiarly, yet so
discreetly--"the signal agreed upon." Nor would an enemy advise caution
as to any being admitted to the house.

But Miss Irma had not passed through so many troubles without acquiring
a certain lack of confidence in the fairest pretences. She shook her
head when I ventured to tell her what I thought. She was willing to take
my help, but not my judgment.

The words, "Admit no one, _excepting those who bring with them friends
you can trust_," did not ring true in her ear. And the phrase, "the
signal agreed upon," might possibly show that while the writer made
sure of there being a signal of some kind, he was ignorant of its
nature.

In face of all this there seemed nothing for it but to wait--doors shut,
windows barred, "King George" ready charged, and the stuff for the
beacon knowingly arranged.

And this last I immediately proceeded to set in order. I had had
considerable experience. For during the late French wars we of Eden
Valley, though the most peaceful people in the world, had often been
turned upside down by reports of famous victories. After each of these
every one had to illuminate, if it were only with a tallow dip, on the
penalty of having his windows broken by the mob of loyal, but
stay-at-home patriots. At the same time, all the boys of Eden Valley had
full permission to carry off old barrels and other combustibles from the
houses of the zealous, or even to commandeer them without permission
from the barns and fences of suspected "black-nebs" to raise nearer
heaven the flare of our victorious bonfires.

With all the ingredients laid ready to my hand, it was exceedingly
simple for me to put together such a brazier as could be seen over half
the county. Not the least useful of my improvements was the lengthening
of the chain, so that the whole fire-basket could be hoisted to the top
of the tripod, and so stand clear of the battlements of the tower,
showing over the tree-tops to the very cliffs of Killantringan, and
doubtless far out to sea.

Last of all, before descending, I covered everything over with a thick
mat of tarred cloth, which would keep the fuel dry as tinder even in
case of rain, or the dense dews that pearled down out of the clear
heavens on these short nights of a northern June.

It is a strange thing, watching together, and in the case of young
people it is apt to make curious things hop up in the heart all
unexpectedly. It was so, at least, with myself. As to Miss Irma I cannot
say, and, of course, Agnes Anne does not count, for she sat back in the
shelter of a great cupboard, well out of range of "King George," and
went on with her knitting till she fell asleep.

However, Miss Irma and I sat together in the jutting window, where, as
the night darkened and the curtains of the clouds drew down to meet the
sombre tree-tops, a kind of black despair came over me. Would "King
George" really do any good? Would I prove myself stout and brave when
the moment came? Would the beacon we had prepared really burn, and,
supposing it did, would any one see it, drowned in woods as we were, and
far from all folk, except the peaceable villagers of Eden Valley?

But I had the grace to keep such thoughts to myself, and if they visited
Miss Irma, she did the like. The crying of the owls made the place of a
strange eeriness, especially sometimes when a bat or other night
creature would come and cling a moment under the leaden pent of the
window.

Such things as these, together with the strain of the waiting on the
unknown, drew us insensibly together--I do not mean Agnes Anne--but just
the two of us who were shut off apart in the window-seat. No, whatever
her faults and shortcomings (too many of them recorded in this book),
Agnes Anne acted the part of a good sister to me that night, and her
peaceful breathing seemed to wall us off from the world.

"Duncan?" queried Miss Irma, repeating my name softly as to herself;
"you are called Duncan, are you not?"

I nodded. "And you?" I asked, though of course I knew well enough.

"Irma Sobieski," she answered. And then, perhaps because everything
inside and out was so still and lonely, she shivered a little, and,
without any reason at all, we moved nearer to each other on the
window-seat--ever so little, but still nearer.

"You may call me Irma, if you like!" she said, very low, after a long
pause.

Just then something brushed the window, going by with a soft _woof_ of
feathers.

"An owl! A big white one--I saw him!" I said. For indeed the bird had
seemed as large as a goose, and appeared alarming enough to people so
strung as we were, with ears and eyes grown almost intolerably acute in
the effort of watching.

"Are you not frightened?" she demanded.

"No, Irma--no, Miss Irma!" I faltered.

"Well, I am," she whispered; "I was not before when the mob came,
because I had to do everything. But now--I am glad that you are here"
(she paused the space of a breath), "you and your sister."

I was glad, too, though not particularly about Agnes Anne.

"How old are you, Duncan?" she asked next.

I gave my age with the usual one year's majoration. It was not a lie,
for my birthday had been the day before. Still, it made Irma thoughtful.

"I did not think you were so much older than your sister," she said
musingly; "why, you are older than I am!"

"Of course I am," I answered, gallantly facing the danger, and
determined to brave it out.

On the spot I resolved to have a private interview with Agnes Anne as
soon as might be, and, after reminding her of my birthday just past,
tell her that in future I was to be referred to as "going on for
twenty"--and that there was no real need to insert the words "going on
for."

Irma Sobieski considered the subject a while longer, and I could see her
eyes turned towards me as if studying me deeply. I wondered what she was
thinking about with a brow so knotted, and I knew instinctively that it
must be something of consequence, because it made her forget the letter
nailed to the door, and the warning which might veil a threat. She fixed
me so long that her eyes seemed to glow out of the pale face which made
an oval patch against the darkness of the trees. Irma's face was only
starlit, but her eyes shone by their own light.

"Yes, I will trust you," she said at last. "I saw you the day when the
mob came. You were ashamed, and would have helped me if you could. Even
then I liked your face. I did not forget you, and when Agnes Anne spoke
of her brother who was afraid of nothing, I was happy that you should
come. I wanted you to come."

The words made my heart leap, but the next moment I knew that I was a
fool, and might have known better. This was no Gerty Gower, to put her
hand on your arm unasked, and let her face say what her lips had not the
words to utter.

"I want a friend," she said; "I need a friend--a big brother--nothing
else, remember. If you think I want to be made love to, you are
mistaken. And, if you do, there will be an end. You cannot help me that
way. I have no use for what people call love. But I have a mission, and
that mission is my brother, Sir Louis. If you will consent to help me, I
shall love you as I love him, and you--can care about me--as you care
about Agnes Anne!"

Now I did not see what was the use of bringing Agnes Anne into the
business. At home she and I were quarrelling about half our time. But
since it was to be that or nothing, of course I was not such a fool as
to choose the nothing.

All the same, after the promising beginning, I was enormously
disappointed, and if only it had been lighter, doubtless my chagrin
would have showed on my face. It seemed to me (not knowing) the
death-blow to all my hopes. I did not then understand that in all the
unending and necessarily eternal game of chess, which men and women play
one against the other, there is no better opening than this.

But I was still crassly ignorant, intensely disappointed. I even swore
that I would not have given a brass farthing to be "cared about" by Irma
as I myself did about Agnes Anne.

Dimly, however, I did feel, even then, that there was a fallacy
somewhere. And that, however much human beings with youthful hearts and
answering eyes may pretend they are brother and sister, there is
something deep within them that moves the Previous Question--as we are
used to say in the Eden Valley Debating Parliament, which Mr. Oglethorpe
and my father have organized on the model of that in the _Gentleman's
Magazine_.

But Irma, at least, had no such fear. She had, she believed, solved for
ever a difficult and troublesome question, and, on easy terms, provided
herself with a new relative, useful, safe and insured against danger by
fire. Perhaps the underwriters of the city would not have taken the
latter risk, but at that moment it seemed a slight one to Irma Sobieski.

At any rate, to seal the new alliance, in all sisterly freedom she gave
me her hand, and did not appear to notice how long I kept it in the
darkness. This was certainly a considerable set-off against the feeling
of loneliness, and, if not quite content, I was at least more so. I
wondered, among other things, if Irma's heart kept knocking in a choking
kind of way against the bottom of her throat.

At least mine did, and I had never, to my knowledge, felt just so about
Agnes Anne. Indeed, I don't think I had ever held Agnes Anne's hand so
long in my life, except to pick a thorn out of it with a needle, or to
point out how disgracefully grubby it was.



CHAPTER X

THE CROWBAR IN THE WOOD


We sat so long that I grew hungry. And then forethought was rewarded.
For as I well knew, Agnes Anne had much ado to keep the house supplied
(and the larder too often bare with all her trying!), I had done some
trifle of providing on my own account. I had a flask of milk in my
pouch--the big one in the skirt of the coat that I always wore when
taking a walk in the General's plantations. Cakes, too, and well-risen
scones cut and with butter between them, most refreshing. I gave first
of all to Irma, and at the sound of the eating and drinking Agnes Anne
awakened and came forward. So I handed her some, but with my foot
cautioned her not to take too much, because it was certain that she
would by no means do her share of the fighting.

Both were my sisters. We had agreed upon that. But then some roses smell
sweeter than others, though all are called by the same name.

We had just finished partaking of the food (and great good it did us)
when Agnes Anne heard a sound that sent her suddenly back to her corner
with a face as white as a linen clout. She was always quicker of hearing
than I, but certain it is that after a while I did hear something like
the trampling of horses, and especially, repeated more than once, the
sharp jingle which the head of a caparisoned horse makes when, wearied
of waiting, it casts it up suddenly.

_They were coming._

We said the words, looking at each other, and I suppose each one of us
felt the same--that we were a lot of poor weak children, in our folly
fighting against men. At least this is how I took it, and a sick
disdain of self for being no stronger rose in my throat. A moment and it
had passed. For I took "King George" in hand, and bidding Irma see that
little Louis was sleeping, I ran up the stairs to the open tower-top.
Here I had thought to be alone, but there before me, crouched behind the
ramparts and looking out upon a dim glade which led down towards the
landing-place at Killantringan, was Agnes Anne. In answer to my question
as to what she was doing there, she answered at first that she could see
in the dark better than I, and when I denied this she said that surely I
did not think she was going to be left down there alone, nearest to the
assailants if they should force a passage!

One should never encourage one's real sister in the belief that she can
ever by any chance do right. So I said at once that whether she was
behind the door or sitting on the weathercock at Marnhoul Tower would
make no difference if the people were enemies and once got in.

"Hush!" she said. "What is that I hear now?"

And from away down the glade came slow and steady blows like those which
a man might make as he lifts his axe and smites into the butt. There was
a sort of reverberation, too, as if the tree were hollow. But that might
only be the effect of the night, the stillness, and the heavy covert of
great woods which lay like a big green blanket all about us, and tossed
every sound back to us like a wall at ball-play.

"Oh, if we could only see what they were doing--who they are?" I
groaned. "I could go out quite safely by the door in the tower, but then
who would fire off 'King George'?"

"Toc! Toc!" came the sounds. And then a pause as if the woodsman had
straightened himself up and was wiping his brow. The timing of the
strokes was very slow. Probably, therefore, the labour itself was
fatiguing. Sometimes, too, the axe fell with a different swing, as if
other hands grasped it, but always with the same dull thudding and
irritating slowness.

Then Agnes Anne made an astonishing proposition.

"See here, Duncan," she whispered, "let _me_ out by the little postern
door at the foot of the tower. Miss Irma can watch behind it to let me
in if I come running back, and you stay on the top ready with 'King
George.' I will find out for you everything you want to know." And I got
ready to say, brother-like, "Agnes Anne, you are a fool--your legs would
give way under you in the first hundred yards."

But somehow she saw (or felt) the speech that was coming, and cut me
short.

"No, I wouldn't either," she said hurriedly and quite boldly. "You think
that because I hate that great thing there filled with powder and slugs
(which even you can't tell when it will go off, or what harm it will do
when it does) that I am a coward. I am no more frightened than you are
yourself--perhaps less. Who was the best tracker when we played at
Indians and colonists, I should like to know? Who could go most quietly
through the wood? Or run the quickest? Just me, Agnes Anne MacAlpine!"

Well, I had to admit it. These things were true. But then they had
little to do with courage. This was serious. It was taking one's life in
one's hand.

"And pray what are we doing here and now?" snapped Agnes Anne. "If they
are strong enough to break in one of the doors, or get through one of
the windows, what can we do? Till we know what is coming against us, we
are only going from one blunder to another!"

Now this was most astonishing of our Agnes Anne. So I told her that I
had known that Irma was plucky, but not her. And she only said, very
shortly, "Better come and see!"

So we went down and told Irma. At first she was all against opening any
door, even for a moment, on any account. The strength of these defences
was our only protection. She would rather do anything than endanger
that. But we made her listen to the slow thud of the axe out in the
wood, and even as we looked the figure of a man passed across the glade,
black against the greyish-green of the grass, on which a thick rise of
dew was catching the starlight.

This figure wrapped in a sea-cloak, with head bent forward, passing
across the pale glimmer of the glade, sufficed to alter the mind of
Irma. She agreed in a moment, and locking the door of little Louis's
room, she declared herself willing to keep watch behind the little
postern door of the tower, ready to let Agnes Anne in again, on the
understanding that I should be prepared from the open window above to
deal with any pursuer.

I admit that in this I was persuaded against my judgment. For I felt
certain that though Agnes Anne could move with perfect stillness through
woods, and was a fleet runner, her nerve would certainly fail her when
it came to a real danger. And so great was the sympathy of my
imagination that I seemed already to feel the pursuer gaining at every
stride, the muscles of my limbs failing beneath me and refusing to carry
me farther, just as they do in a dream.

But Agnes Anne was serious and determined, and in the end had to have
her way. I can see the reason now. She knew exactly what she meant to
do, which neither Irma nor I did--though of course both of us far
braver.

We got the door open quite silently--for it was the one Irma had used
in her few and brief outgates. Then, shrouded in her school cloak of
grey, and clad, I mean, in but little else, Agnes flitted out as silent
as a shadow along a wall.

But oh, the agony I suffered to think what my father, and still more my
grandmother, would say to me because I had let my sister expose herself
on such an errand. Twenty times I was on the point of sallying forth
after her. Twenty times the sight of the pale face of Irma waiting there
stopped me, and the thought that I was the only protector of the two
poor things in that great house. Also after all Agnes Anne had gone of
her own accord.

All the same I shivered as I kneeled by the window above with the wide
muzzle of "King George" pointing down the path which led from the glade.
Every moment I expected to hear the air rent with a hideous scream, and
"King George" wobbled in my hands as I thought of Agnes Anne lying slain
in the glow-worm shining of that abominable glade, with that across her
white neck for which my conscience and my grandmother would reproach me
as long as I (and she) lived. One thing comforted me during that weary
waiting. The hollow thudding as of axe on wood never ceased for a
moment. So from that I gathered (and was blithe to believe) that the
alarm had not been given, and that wherever Agnes Anne was, she herself
was still undiscovered.

My eyes were so glued to that misty glade that presently I got a great
surprise. "There she is!" cried Irma, looking round the door, and I saw
a figure flit out of the dusk of the copse-covert within two yards of
the postern door. The next moment, without advertisement or the least
fuss, Agnes Anne was within. I heard the sliding of bolts, the hum of
talk, and then the patter of returning feet on the stair.



CHAPTER XI

AGNES ANNE'S EXPERIENCES AS A SPY


"Well, at first I did not think much about anything" (said Agnes Anne),
"except keeping quiet and doing what Duncan did not believe I could do.
But I knew the wood. It was not so dark as one would think, and once out
of the echo of the house walls I could hear far better. I leaned against
a larch, holding on to the trunk and counting the sticky rosettes on its
trailers to keep me from thinking while I listened. Twice I thought I
had made out exactly from which direction the sound came, and twice I
found I was mistaken. But the third time I followed the ditch under the
sunk fence till I came to the mound which is shaped like a green hat at
the end next the house. The thudding came from there--I was sure of it.
When I could hear men talking, I was (and I am not saying it to put
Duncan in the wrong) more glad than afraid.

"The bottom of the ditch was full of all sorts of underbrush--hazel and
birch roots mostly--growing pretty close as I found when once I got
there, but rustling horribly while I was getting settled. However, there
was nothing for it, if I wanted to find out anything, but to go on. So
on I went. I was close to the mound now, and could hear the voices.

"'Quiet there a moment!' said some one, 'I'll swear I heard a noise in
the ditch!'

"And as I crouched something like a blade of a sword or maybe a pike
came high above me stabbing this way and that. Twigs and leaves pattered
down, but I was safe behind the stump of a fallen tree. Presently the
steel thing I had seen glinting struck the dead and sodden wood of the
tree-trunk, and snapped with a sharp tang like a fiddle-string--a
hayfork it may have been, or one of the long thin swords such as are
hung up in the hall.

"But another and deeper voice--like that of a man somewhat out of
breath, said gruffly, 'Better get the job done! 'Tis only a fox or a
rabbit--what else would be out here at this hour?'

"And then, with the noise of spitting on the hands, the sound of the
heavy tool began again. It had a ring in it like steel on stone. I think
they had been chopping something with a pickaxe and had got through. For
now the clink was quite different, though that again might be because I
was nearer.

"'Have you found the passage? Surely it is long in showing?'

"That was the first voice again, the better educated one, I take it. He
spoke like a gentleman, like the General or even the Doctor himself,
though there was much rudeness in the voice of the other when he
answered him.

"'D'ye think I am breaking my back over this stone-door for fun?'
growled the man in panting gasps. 'If I imagined you were any hand at a
tool, you should have a chance at this one quick enough!'

"'Steady, Dick!' said the first, always in his pleasant tone, 'it can't
be far away at the farthest now!'

"'Hang it, it may not be there at all. Did you ever hear of a mouldy old
castle but had its tale about a secret passage? And did anybody ever see
one? Better make the woman speak, I tell you!'

"'Well,' argued the first suavely, 'it may come to that, of course. But
let us give this a good trial first. To it, Dick--to it!'

"'Aye, "To it, Dick--to it!" And your own arm up to the elbow in your
blessed pocket,' he grunted, and I could hear him set to work again with
an angry snarl. 'If this doesn't fetch it--well--there's always the
woman!'

"'Aye--but it _will_ do it this time,' said the man with the soft voice.
'I hear by the clink of the crow that you are nearly through. My uncle
used often to tell me about this. The big green mound is the ice-house
of Marnhoul. It was his father that made it, and the passage also to
connect with the cellar. See where it drains sideways into that ditch.
That is what makes the green stuff grow so rank about there!'

"Between the noise of the heavy crowbar and the dispute, I ventured to
edge a bit closer, so that at last I could make out the two men, and
beyond them something that looked like a figure of a woman lying under a
cloak. But all was under the dimness of the stars and the twinkling dew,
so that I could see nothing clearly.

"But what I had heard was enough, for in the middle of the worker's
gasping and cursing there came a sudden crash and a jingle.

"'She's through--I told you so. Uncle Edward was right!' cried the first
and taller man, while the other only stared at the sudden disappearance
of his tool, and stood looking blankly at his own empty hands.

"'What's to be done now?' said the tall man.

"'Lever it up with the nose of the pick!' growled the short thick man;
'here, you--hang on to that!'

"And then I knew that the sooner Duncan and 'King George' were down in
the cellar of Marnhoul House, the better it would be for our lives."

                 *       *       *       *       *

When Agnes Anne finished we sat a moment agape. But very evidently there
was no time to be lost. They would be among us before we knew it, if
once they got down into the passage. We tried to find out from Irma
where the cellar was, but she was sunk in terrible thoughts, and for a
long while she could say nothing but "Lalor Maitland--it is Lalor
Maitland, come to kill my poor Louis!"

And indeed it was difficult to get her aroused sufficiently to help us.
Left to herself I do not doubt that she would have gone up-stairs and
fled with the child in her arms in the hope of hiding him in the wood.

At last we got it out of her that the keys of the cellar were in the
great cupboard behind the door. She directed us to a double flight of
broad stairs. Irma had only looked into the cellar when she first came,
and had found it rifled, the barrels dry and gaping, full of dust,
dry-rot and the smell of decay.

But she too had heard her father tell of the passage to the ice-house,
and how he and his brothers had used it for their escapades when the
house was locked up and the keys taken to their father's room.

We went down--I leading with "King George" under my arm and the two
girls following. But on the stairway a sudden terror leaped upon Irma.
While we were all down in the cellar, might not Lalor and his companion
enter by the front door, or by some unguarded window. So she turned and
ran back to the little boy's room to defend him with an old pistol I had
found on the wall and loaded for her with powder and ball.

Then Agnes Anne and I made our way into the cellar. We had taken with
us the lantern, which we had hitherto kept covered, lest by the moving
of the light about the house we might be suspected of being on our
guard.

Hastily I made the tour of the great cellar. The back of the place was
full of the _débris_ of ancient barrels, some intact, some with gaping
sides, many held together with no more than a single hoop. But packed
together in one corner and occupying a place about one third of the
whole area of the floor was something very different. Tarpaulined,
fastened together by ropes, and guarded from damp by planks laid below
them, were some hundreds of kegs and packages--all, so far as I could
see, marked with curious signs, and in some cases the names of places.
One I remember, "Sallet Ooil--Apuglia," gave me a sense of such distance
and strangeness, that for a moment I seemed to be travelling in strange
countries and seeing curious sights, rather than going down to risk my
life in Miss Irma's quarrel with men I had never seen.

It was very evident that there could be but one place where the passage
Irma had spoken of (on her father's information) could debouch upon the
great cellar of Marnhoul. In the angle behind the mass of kegs was an
open space of some yards square, so clean that it looked as if it had
been recently swept.

Beyond this again and quite in the corner, there was a step or two
downwards, as if it were into the bowels of the earth. This was stopped
with a door of stone accurately arranged and fitted with uncommon skill.
And I could see at a glance that it was probably one of the same kind
that the men whom Agnes Anne had seen were engaged in bursting by stroke
of crow. I understood more than that. For there was all the winter in
Eden Valley scarce any other subject of talk than the Free Trade (which
is to say, plainly, smuggling), and concerning the various "ventures" or
boats and crews attached to some famous leader engaged in it.

There was, in fact, no particular moral wrong attaching to the business
in Eden Valley or along the Solway shore high and low--rather a sort of
piety, since the common folk remembered that the excise had first been
instituted by that perjured persecutor of the Church, Charles II. Even
the Doctor, though he denounced the practice from the pulpit in
befitting words, did so chiefly on the ground that the attractions of
Free Trade, its dangers even, carried so many promising young men forth
of the parish, and a goodly proportion of them to return no more.

But for all that, I never heard that he refused to partake of the anker
of Guernsey which his lady found by chance in the milk-house among the
creaming-pans, or by the tombstones of his predecessors in the
"Ministers' Corner" of the kirkyard.

I looked at the means of defence, and hidden among the packages at the
back I found two good muskets and one or two very worn ones--yet all
bearing the marks of recent attention. So, since the smuggled casks
formed a kind of breastwork right round the steps--up from the passage
that was blocked by the stone door--it came into my head that I could
there set up a kind of battery and run from one to the other of them,
firing--that is, if the worst came to the worst and the passage were
forced. So, having plenty of powder and shot and the wrappings of the
lace packages making excellent wads, I set about loading all the
muskets. I knew that Agnes Anne would be afraid of what I was doing,
having had a horror of firearms ever since, as a child, she had seen
Florrie, our old dun cow, shot dead by Boyd Connoway to be our "mart" of
the year, and salted down for the winter's food in the big beef barrel.
Agnes Anne would never be induced to eat a bit of Florrie, though indeed
she was very good and sweet, because forsooth she had been used to milk
her and give her handfuls of fresh grass. Since then she had never
forgiven Boyd Connoway, and had never been able to look upon a gun with
any complaisance.

Yet when I told her to stand back and keep away from the powder horn and
the lantern (for it is none of the easiest to charge strange pieces in a
dark cellar) she said that she would stand by "King George" while I was
at hand--yes, and fire him off, too, if need were. Only I must show her
how to pull the trigger, and also adjust the muzzle so as to bear on the
steps by which the villains would come up!

This I relate to show how (for the time being) Agnes Anne was worked
upon. For, as all have seen, she was naturally of a very timorsome and
quavering disposition. At any rate I did get the muskets, all five of
them, loaded, and set in position with their noses cocked over the
squared bulwarks of Mechlin and Vallenceens, of Strasburg yarn, and
Italian silver-gilt wire.

And I can tell you they looked imposing in the light of the lantern,
though I was more than a little doubtful about some of them going off
without blowing themselves up. But it was no time to cavil about small
matters like that, and I said nothing about this to Agnes Anne, who, for
her part, continued to glance along the barrel of "King George" at the
stone door with the fixity of my father viewing a star through his large
brass spy-glass. Only Agnes Anne, being unable to keep one eye shut and
the other open, had to hold the lid of the unoccupied organ hard down
with her left hand, as if it too were about to bounce out on us like the
two men she had seen in the ice-house mound by the edge of the sunk
fence.

We waited a good while with the light of the lamp smothered--all, that
is, but barely sufficient to give air to the flame. And I tell you our
hearts were gigotting rarely. Even Agnes Anne had taken a sudden liking
to "King George," and would not let him go as I proposed to her, now
that all the other muskets were loaded and ready.

"You would do better service with the lantern," I told her, "you could
hold it up to let us see them better."

But she answered that the lantern could take care of itself. She was
going to do some of the real fighting, and so I should not scorn her any
more. But I knew very well that it was only a kind of hysteria and would
all go off at the dangerous moment. Down she would go on the floor like
a bundle of wet rags!

However, to encourage Agnes Anne (as one must do to a girl), I said that
she was not to fire till she saw the white of their eyes. I remembered
that my father, in speaking of some battle or other, told how the
general had given his men that order, so that they might not miss. I
thought it very fine.

But Agnes Anne said promptly that she would not wait for the white of
anybody's eyes. She would fire and run for it as soon as she saw their
ugly heads coming up out of the ground. This shows how little you can do
with a girl, even if she have occasional fits of bravery. And I do not
deny that Agnes Anne had, though not naturally brave like myself and
Miss Irma.

It was anywhere between five minutes and a century before we heard the
first stroke of the crow behind the barricade. It sounded dull and
painful, as if inside of one's head. At first we heard no talking such
as Agnes Anne had described at the entrance of the ice-house.

Also, as they had been a good while on the way; I believe that they had
found other difficulties which they had not counted upon in traversing
the passage. But they were very near now, for presently, after perhaps
twenty strokes we could hear the striker sending out his breath with a
"_Har_" of effort each time he drove his crow home.

It was very dark in the cellar, for we had covered the lamp more
carefully and almost ceased to breathe. But we saw through certain
chinks that our assailants had a light of some sort with them. We could
discern a faint glimmering all round the upper portion of the stone, and
stray rays also pierced at various places elsewhere.

The long line of light at the top suddenly split and seemed to break
open in the middle. There came a fierce "_Hech_" from the assailant, and
the point of his crowbar showed, slid, and was as sharply recovered.
Next moment it came again.

"Lever it!" cried the gruff voice, "if you have the backbone of a
windlestraw, lever!"

And after a short, hard-breathing struggle, the stone door fell inwards,
the aperture was filled with intense light, dazzling, as it appeared to
us--and in the midst we saw two fierce and set faces peering into the
dark of the cellar.



CHAPTER XII

THE FIGHT IN THE DARK


One of the peering faces was hot and angry, bearded too, which few then
used to do except such as followed the sea. The other was dark and
beaked like a hawk, so that the shadow of an aquiline nose fell on the
man's chin as he held the lantern high above his head.

At first we could only see them to about the middle of the breast, as
for a little space of time they stood thus, hearkening with their heads
thrust forward.

"Not a ratton--forward there, Dick!" said the man behind, and the man
with the bushy beard advanced, rising as he did so till I could see the
ties of tarry cord with which he looped up his corduroy small-clothes.

Now it was high time to act. The game had been played far enough.

"Hold there--stand!" I cried. "Not a step further or we fire!"

I suppose my voice was echoed and fortified by the hollow vault.
Certainly in my own ears it roared like the sound of many waters. At any
rate the men stood, dumb-stricken, the tarry sailorly man a little in
front with his mouth open and his yellow dog-teeth gleaming. The other,
he who had given the orders, held the lantern higher in the air almost
against the stones of the vault, so as to see over the barricade of
boxes and barrels.

"'Tis no more than the----" he was beginning. But he never got the
sentence completed. For I took good aim from a rest upon a package of
cloth, and let fly with the best of the muskets--but at the clear lowe
of the lantern, not at the man's face, as I had at first intended.
Somehow, a kind of pity came over me. I did not want to slay such men,
who, taken in their iniquity, must go right to their accounts. But the
lantern was hit clean, and the glass went jingling to the ground in a
hundred fragments.

I judge also that some of the slugs must have strayed a little, for out
of the darkness came curses and the voice of the commander crying on
Dick to get back--that they were too strong for only two men. But the
sailor man advanced till I could hear him actually pulling himself over
the breastwork, gasping (or, as we say, "pech-"ing) with the effort.
Then I ran along my battery, and directing the next two of the old
muskets to the arched roof, I fired them off, bringing down with a crash
handfuls of rough lime and small bits of stone, mingled no doubt with
the ricocheted bullets themselves. At any rate our tarry Galligaskins
soon had enough of it. He turned and made good his retreat towards the
stairs up which he had forced his way.

Then Agnes Anne, who had no chivalrous ideas of sparing anybody who came
assaulting the house of her friends, pulled the trigger of "King
George," and in a moment all lesser sounds were drowned in a roar loud
as of a piece of ordnance.

The blunderbuss had been trained on the opening with some care, and it
was lucky for the men that they happened to be in retreat, and so
presenting their backs at the time--lucky, also, that only buckshot had
been used instead of the bullets and slugs with which the other guns
were loaded. But even so it was enough. She was always careless and
scattery, our old "King George." And from the marks on the lintels
afterwards she had sprinkled her charge pretty freely. Also there were
tokens, besides the yells and imprecations of the assailants and the
threats of Galligaskins to come back and do for us, that both of them
(as Constable Jacky would have said) "carried off concealed about their
persons an indictable quantity of my father's good lead drops."

So far, good. Better than good, indeed--better than we had the least
reason to expect, all owing to my presence of mind, and the fortunate
nervousness of Agnes Anne--which, however, in the case under review,
Providence directed to a wise and good end. I was for running
immediately back up the stairs to put the mind of Miss Irma at rest, but
Agnes Anne, with that stubbornness which she will often manifest
throughout this history, withstood me.

"What is it now?" I asked her, somewhat impatiently, I am bound to
admit. For I was all in a sweat to tell Irma about my victory, and how I
fought--and also, of course, about Agnes Anne pulling the trigger of
"King George" at random in the dark.

"This is the matter," said she, "Irma can wait. But if we do not improve
our victory, they will be back again with a whole army of men before we
can wink."

"Well," I answered, "I will load the guns first and then go up!"

"Loading the guns is good," said Agnes Anne. "But before that we must
blind up this hole by which they climbed in. We will give them something
more difficult to break through in this narrow passage than a stone door
which they can make holes in with a crowbar!"

And I caught at the idea in a moment, wondering how I had not thought of
it myself. But of course, though I did not actually suggest it, Agnes
Anne could never have carried it through without me.

We set about the work immediately. I took the big stone they had
loosened with their tools and tumbled it down the well of the stairway,
where, after rebounding once, it stuck at the turn and made a good
foundation for the barrels, boxes and packages we threw down till the
whole space was choke full, and then I danced on the top and defied the
lantern-man and Dick to get through in a week.

"_Now_ go and tell your Irma!" said Agnes Anne, and I went, while she
stopped behind with the lantern and a gun to watch if anything should be
attempted against the cellar.

But I knew right well that no such thing was possible. Nothing short of
such a charge of gunpowder as would rive the whole house of Marnhoul
asunder would suffice to clear the staircase of the packing I had given
it. So Agnes Anne might just as well have come her ways up-stairs with
me. Still, I do not deny that it was thoughtful of her; Agnes Anne meant
well.

Irma had heard the firing, and I found her with her little brother in
her arms, sitting by the window of the parlour overlooking the pilasters
of the front door. She held little Louis wrapped in a blanket, and kept
both herself and him out of sight as much as possible behind the
curtain. But she had the horse pistol I had given her on the ledge of
the sill close at her hand.

She listened to my tale with a white intensity which was very pitiful.
Her eyes seemed so big that they almost overran her face, and there were
little sparks of light like fairy candles lit at the bottom of each.

"Lalor Maitland--it was no other man!" she said in an awed voice. "And
now he is wounded he will be furious. He has many men always in his
power. For he can make or mar a man in the Low Countries, and even bad
men will do much for his favour. He will gather to him all who are
waiting. They will be here immediately and burst in the doors. Oh, what
shall we do? My poor, poor Louis!"

"There is the woman whom Agnes Anne saw," I said. "Can you guess what
she has to do with it? They said they would try her if they did not
succeed."

"Why not light the beacon now?" said a voice from the door. It was Agnes
Anne, who, being left to herself, the thought had come to her in the
dark of the cellar, and had run up to propose it. For me, I was too much
occupied with Irma, and I am sure that Irma was far too troubled
concerning her brother to think about the beacon. Yet it was the obvious
thing to do, and if I had had a moment to spare I would have thought of
it myself. So Agnes Anne had no great credit, after all, when you come
to look at it rightly.

But the effect of the suggestion on Irma was very remarkable. It was as
if the voice of my sister actually raised her from the place where she
had been listlessly sitting with her brother in her arms. She snatched
the lantern from the hands of Agnes Anne and put little Louis back on
his pillow, bidding him stay there till the time should come for him to
get up.

"Are the bad men all killed, Irma?" he asked.

"We are going to bring the good people to help us!" she cried. And with
that she ran up-stairs, and I after her, in a great pother of haste. For
the candle in her hand was the only bit of fire we had, and I did not
want it blown out if I could help it.



CHAPTER XIII

A WORLD OF INK AND FIRE


The idea of Irma's danger on the open house-top and in the full glare of
the beacon acted on me like a charm--yet people will say that there is
nothing at all in such a relationship as ours. Why, I would not have
been half as much concerned for Agnes Anne! And as a matter of fact, I
had not been so anxious down there behind the barrels and packages in
the cellar, when Lalor Maitland and Galligaskins were coming at us.

Besides which, I knew that Irma, being unused to fire-building, would
only waste the excellent provision of kindling, and perhaps do us out of
our beacon altogether.

So having joined her, it was not long till we had the tarred cloth off,
and, through the interstices of the iron bucket, the little blue and
yellow flames began chirping and chattering. But as I pulled the basket
up to the height of its iron crane, the wind of the night sent the fire
off with a mighty roar. The tops of the nearer trees stood out, every
leaf hard and distinct, but the main body of the woods all about
Marnhoul remained dark and solid, as if you could have walked upon them
without once breaking through.

I stood there watching, with the chain still in my hand, though I had
run the ring into the hoop on the wall. We had been very clever so far,
and I was full of admiration for ourselves. But a bullet whizzing very
near my head, struck the basket with a vicious "scat," doing no harm,
of course, but extending to us an urgent invitation to get out of range,
that was not to be disregarded.

Irma was close beside me, following with her eyes the mounting crackle
of the beacon, the sudden jetting of the tall pale flames that ran
upward into the velvet sky of night. For from a pale and haunting grey
the firmament had all of a sudden turned black and solid. Middle shades
had been ruled out instantly. It was a world of ink and fire.

But that sharp dash of danger cooled admiration in my heart. I caught
Irma by the shoulders and, roughly enough, pulled her down beside me on
the platform behind the stone ramparts. For a moment I think she was
indignant, but the next thankful. For half-a-dozen balls clicked and
whizzed about, passing through the square gaps that went all round the
tower, as if the wall had had a couple of teeth knocked out at regular
distances every here and there.

Very cautiously we crawled to the stair-head, leaving our invisible
enemies cracking away at the fire basket, knocking little cascades of
sparks out of it, indeed, but doing no harm. For the beacon was
thoroughly well alight, and the chain good and strong.

As we descended the ladder I went first so as to help Irma. She was a
little upset, as indeed she might well be. For it was quite evident that
the number of our assailants had singularly increased, and we did not in
the least know whether our signal would do us any good or not.

"It may waken Boyd Connoway," I thought, "but that will be all. He will
come sneaking through the wood to see what is the matter so as to tell
about it, but he never used a weapon more deadly than a jack-knife with
a deer-horn handle."

As Irma's foot slipped on the bottom rung of the ladder, I caught her as
she swayed, and for a moment in that dark place I held her in my hands
like a posy, fresh and sweet smelling, but sacred as if in church. She
said, without drawing herself away, at least not for a moment longer
than she need, "Duncan, you saved my life!"

I had it on my tongue tip to reply, "And my own at the same time, for I
could not live without you!"

When one is young it is natural to talk like that, but my old awe of
Miss Irma preserved me from the mistake. It was too early days for that,
and I only said, "I am glad!" And when we got down there was Agnes Anne,
with her finger on her lip, watching little Sir Louis sleeping. She
whispered to me to know why we had made such a noise firing on the top
of the tower.

"It isn't like down in the cellar," she said, "you came as near as you
can think to wakening him!"

I was so astonished that I could not even tell Agnes Anne that she would
soon find it was not we who had done the firing. The most part of the
guns were in the cellar any way, as she might have remembered. Besides,
what was the use? She had caught that fell disease, which is
baby-worship.

Instead, I posted myself in the window, my body hidden in the red rep
curtain, and only my eyes showing through a slit I made with my knife as
I peered along the barrel of "King George." I had resolved that with an
arm of such short "carry," I would not fire till I had them right
beneath the porch, or at least coming up the steps of the mansion.

It was in my mind that there would be a brutal rush at the door,
perhaps with pickaxes, perhaps with one of the swinging battering-rams I
had read of in the Roman wars, that do such wondrous things when cradled
in the joined hands of many men.

But in this I was much mistaken. The assailants were indeed rascals of
the same tarry, broad-breeched, stringfasted breed as Galligaskins of
the cellar door. But Galligaskins himself I saw not. From which I judge
that Agnes Anne had sorted him to rights with the contents of "King
George," laid ready for her pointing at the top of the steps by which an
enemy must of necessity appear.

But they had a far more powerful weapon than any battering-ram. We saw
them moving about in the faint light of a moon in her last quarter just
risen above the hills--a true moon of the small hours, ruddy as a fox
and of an aspect exceedingly weariful.

Presently there came toward the door two men with a strange and shrouded
figure walking painfully between them, as if upon hobbled feet. I could
see that one of the men was the tall man of the cave, he in whose hand I
had smashed the lantern. I knew him by a wrist that was freshly
bandaged, and also by his voice when he spoke. The other who accompanied
him was a sailor of some superior grade, a boatswain or such, dressed in
good sea cloth, and with a kind of glazed cocked hat upon his head.

It was a very weird business--the veiled woman, the dim skarrow of the
beacon, the foxy old moon sifting an unearthly light between the
branches, everything fallen silent, and our assailants each keeping
carefully to the back of a tree to be out of reach of our muskets.

They came on, the two men leading the woman by the arms till they were
out of the flicker of the flames both outside and under the shadow of
the house.

Then the tall man, whom in my heart I made sure to be Lalor Maitland, as
Irma said, held up his bandaged hand as a man does when he is about to
make a speech and craves attention.

"I have been ill-received," he cried, "in this the house of my
fathers----"

"Because you have striven to enter it as a thief and a robber!" cried
Irma's voice, close beside me. She had passed behind me, slid the bolt
of the window, and was now leaning out, resting upon her elbows and
looking down at the men below. She was apparently quite fearless. The
appearance of her cousin so near seemed somehow to sting her.

"Your brother and yourself are both under my care--I suppose,
Mademoiselle Irma, you will not deny that?"

"We were," Irma answered, in a clear voice; "but then, Lalor Maitland, I
heard what the fate was you were so kindly destining for me after having
killed my brother----"

"And I know who put that foolishness into your head," said Lalor
Maitland; "she regrets it at this moment, and has now come of her own
will to tell you she lied!"

And with a jerk he loosened the apron which, as I now saw, had been
wrapped about the head of the swathed figure. I shall never forget the
face of the woman as I saw it then. The uncertain flicker of the flames
and sparks from our beacon (which, though itself invisible, darkened and
lightened like sheet lightning), the dismal umbery glimmer of the waning
moon, and the pale approach of day over the mountains to the east, made
the face appear almost ghastly. But I was quite unprepared for the
effect which the sight produced upon Irma.

"Kate," she cried, "Kate of the Shore!"

The woman did not reply, though there was an obvious effort to speak--a
straining of the neck muscles and a painful rolling of the eyes.

"Yes," said Lalor calmly, as if he were exhibiting a curiosity, "this is
your friend to whom you owe your escape. She was doubtless to have
received a reward, and in any case we shall give her a fine one. But if
you will return to your protector, and come with me immediately on board
the good ship _Golden Hind_, which in some considerable danger, is
beating off and on between the heads of Killantringen--then I promise
you, you will save the life of our friend Kate here. If not----" (He
waved his hand expressively.)

"You dare not kill her," cried Irma; "in an hour the country will be up,
and you will be hunted like dogs."

"Oh, it is not I," said Lalor calmly, "I do not love the shedding of
blood, and that is why I am here now. But consider those stout fellows
yonder. They are restive at having to wait for their pay, and the loss
of their captain, wounded in aiding me in obtaining my rights in a quiet
and peaceable manner, has by no means soothed them. I advise you,
Mistress Irma, to bring down the boy and let us get on board while there
is yet time. No one in the house shall be harmed. But listen to
Kate--Kate of the Shore. She will speak to you better than I! But first
we must perform a little surgical operation!"

And with that he whipped out a bandanna handkerchief, which had been
knotted and thrust into her mouth in the manner of a gag.

"Now then," he said, "put a pistol to her head, Evans! Now, Kate, you
have told many lies about your master, the late Governor of the fortress
of Dinant. Speak the truth for once in a way. For if you do not tell
these foolish children that they have nothing to fear--nay more, if you
cannot persuade them to quit their foolish conduct and return to their
rightful duty and obedience, it will be my painful duty to ask Evans
there, who does not love you as I do, to--well, you know what will
happen when that pistol goes off!"

But even in such straits Kate of the Shore was not to be frightened.

"You hear me, Miss Irma," she said, "I know this bad man. He is only
seeking to betray you as he betrayed me. Defend your castle. Open not a
window--keep the doors barred. They cannot take the place in the time,
for they have the tide to think of."

"I expected this," said Lalor, with a vaguely pensive air, "it has ever
been my lot to be calumniated, my motives suspected. But I have indeed
deserved other things--especially from you, Irma, whom (though your
senior in years, and during the minority of my ward Sir Louis, the head
of the house), I have always treated with affectionate and, perhaps, too
respectful deference!"

"Miss Irma," cried Kate of the Shore, "take care of that man. He has a
pistol ready. I can see the hilt of it in his pocket. You he will not
harm if he can help it, but if that be your brother whom I see at the
fold of the window-hanging, bid him stand back for his life."

"Drop your pistol, Evans," commanded Lalor Maitland, "this part of the
play is played out. She will not speak, or rather what she says will do
us no good. Women are thrawn contrary things at the best, Evans, as I
dare say you have noticed in your Principality of Wales. But take heed,
you and your precious defenders, I warn you that in an hour the house of
Marnhoul shall be flaming over your heads with a torch that shall bring
out, not your pitiful burghers from their rabbit-holes, but also the men
of half a county.

"Hear me," he raised his voice suddenly to a strident shout, "hear me
all you within the house. Give up the girl and the child to their legal
protectors, and no harm shall befall either life or property. We shall
be on shipboard in half-an-hour. I shall see to it that every man within
the castle is rewarded from the Maitland money that is safe beyond seas,
out of the reach of King George! Of that, at least I made sure, serving
twice seven years for it in the service of a hard master. I offer a
hundred pounds apiece to whoever will deliver the boy and the maid!"

This was a speech which pleased me much, for it showed that from the
stoutness of our defence, and the many guns which had been shot off,
Lalor was under the impression that the house was garrisoned by a proper
force of men--when in truth there was only Miss Irma and me--that is,
not counting Agnes Anne.



CHAPTER XIV

THE WHITE FREE TRADERS


But the country was by no means so craven as Lalor supposed. There were
bold hearts and ready saddles still in Galloway. The signal from the top
of the beacon tower of Marnhoul was seen and understood in half-a-dozen
parishes.

Not that the young fellows who saw the flame connected it with the two
children who had taken refuge in the old place of the Maitlands. In
fact, most knew nothing about their existence. But their alacrity was
connected with quite another matter--the great cargo of dutiable and
undutied goods stored away in the cellars of Marnhoul!

There was stirring, therefore, in remote farms, rattling on doors,
hurried scrambling up and down stable ladders. Young men on the
outskirts of villages might have been seen stealing through gardens,
stumbling among cabbage-stocks and gooseberry bushes as they made their
way by the uncertain flicker of our far-away beacon to the place of
rendezvous.

Herds rising early to "look the hill" gave one glance at the red dance
of the flames over the tree-tops of Marnhoul great wood, and anon ran to
waken their masters.

For in that country every farmer--aye, and most of the lairds, including
a majority of the Justices of the Peace--had a share in the "venture."
Sometimes the value of the cargo brought in by a single run would be
from fifty to seventy thousand pounds. All this great amount of goods
had to be scattered and concealed locally, before it was carried to
Glasgow and Edinburgh over the wildest and most unfrequented tracks.

The officers of the revenue, few and ill-supported, could do little.
Most of them, indeed, accepted the quiet greasing of the palm, and
called off their men to some distant place during the night of a big
run. But even when on the spot and under arms, a cavalcade of a couple
of hundred men could laugh at half-a-dozen preventives, and pass by
defiantly waving their hands and clinking the chains which held the kegs
upon their horses. The bolder cried out invitations to come and drink,
and the good-will of the leaders of the Land Free Traders was even
pushed so far that, if a Surveyor of Customs showed himself pleasantly
amenable, a dozen or more small kegs of second-rate Hollands would be
tipped before his eyes into a convenient bog, so that, if it pleased
him, he could pose before his superiors as having effected an important
capture.

The report which he was wont to edit on these occasions will often
compare with the higher fiction--as followeth:--

    "Supervisor Henry Baskett, in charge of the Lower Solway district,
    reports as follows under date June 30th: Found a strong body of
    smugglers marching between the wild mountains called Ben Tuthor and
    Blew Hills. They were of the number of three hundred, all well
    mounted and armed, desperate men, evidently not of this district,
    but, from their talk and accoutrement, from the Upper Ward of
    Lanerickshire. Followed them carefully to note their dispositions
    and discover a favourable place for attack. I had only four men with
    me, whereof one a boy, being all the force under my command.
    Nevertheless, at a place called the Corse of Slakes I advanced
    boldly and summoned them, in the King's name and at the peril of
    their lives, to surrender.

    "Whereat they turned their guns upon us, each man standing behind
    his horse and having his face hidden in a napkin lest he should be
    known. But we four and the boy advanced firmly and with such
    resolution that the band of three hundred law-breakers broke up
    incontinent, and taking to flight this way and that through the
    heather, left us under the necessity of pursuing. We pursued that
    band which promised the best taking, and I am glad to intimate to
    your Excellencies, His Majesty's Commissioners, that we were
    successful in putting the said Free Traders to flight, and capturing
    twenty-five casks best Hollands, six loads of Vallenceen, etc.,
    etc., as per schedule appended to be accounted for by me as your
    lordship's commissioners shall direct. In the hope that this will be
    noted to our credit on the table of advancement (and in this connect
    I may mention the names of the three men, Thomas Coke, Edward Loval,
    Timothy Pierce, and the boy Joseph McDougal, whom I recommend as
    having done their duty in the face of peril), I have the honour to
    sign myself,

                    "My Lords and Hon. Commissioners of H. M. Excise,
                    "Your obedient, humble servant,
                    "Henry Baskett (Supervisor)."

The other view of this transaction I find more concisely expressed in a
memorandum written in an old note-book belonging to my Uncle Tom.

"Baskett held out for forty best French, but we fobbed him off with
twenty-five low-grade Rotterdam--the casks being leaky, and some packs
of goods too long left at Rathan Cave, which is at the back of the
isle, and counted scarce worth the carrying farther. The night fine and
business most successful--thanks to an ever-watchful Providence."

The reader of these family memoirs will perhaps agree with me that, if
any one could do without an ever-watchful Providence troubling itself
about him, that man was my Uncle Tom.

While, therefore, we in the House of Marnhoul were in the wildest
alarm--at least Agnes Anne was--forces which could not possibly be
withstood were mustering to hasten to our assistance. The tarry jackets
of the _Golden Hind_ would doubtless have rushed the front door with a
hurrah, as readily as they would have boarded a prize, but Lalor
Maitland ordered them to bring wood and other inflammable material. At
least, so I judge, for presently I could see them running to and fro
about the edges of the wood. They had now learned the knack of keeping
in shelter most of the way. But I did not feel really afraid till I saw
some of them with kegs of liquor making towards the porch. There they
stove them in, and proceeded to empty the contents on the dry branches
and fuel they had collected. The matter was now beginning to look really
serious. To make things worse, they were evidently digging out the
bottom of our cellar-stair barricade, and if they succeeded in that they
would turn our position and take us in the rear.

So I sent down Agnes Anne (she not being good for much else) to the
cellar to see how things were looking there, bidding her to be careful
of the lantern, and to bring back as many of the five muskets as she
could carry, so that I might keep the fellows in check above.

Agnes Anne came flying back with the worst kind of news. A great flame
of fire was springing up out of the well of the staircase into which we
had tumbled the barrels and boxes. It threatened, she said, to blow us
sky-high, if there were any barrels of powder among the goods left by
the smugglers.

At any rate, the flame was rapidly spreading to the other packages which
had formed our breastwork of defence, and was now like to become our
ruin.

For, once fairly caught, the spirit would flame high as the rigging of
Marnhoul, and we should all be burnt alive, which was most likely what
Lolar Maitland meant by his parting threatening.

"And it is more than likely," Agnes Anne added, "that some of the
barrels burst as we threw them down the stairs, and so, with the liquor
flowing among their feet, the assailants got the idea of thus burning us
out."

At all events something had to be done, and that instantly. So I had
perforce to leave Agnes Anne in charge of "King George" again,
cautioning her not to pull the trigger till she should see the rascals
actually bending to set fire to the pile underneath the porch of the
front door. I also told her not to be frightened, and she promised not
to.

Then I went down to the cellar. The heat there was terrible, and I do
not wonder that Agnes Anne came running back to me. A pillar of blue
flame was rising straight up against the arched roof of the cellar. I
could hear the cries of the men working below in the passage.

"Hook it away--give her air--she will burn ever the brisker and smoke
the land-lubbers out!"

Some few of the boxes in the front tier were already on fire, and still
more were smouldering, but the straightness of the vent up which the
flame was coming, together with the closeness and stillness of the
vault, made the flame mount straight up as in a chimney. I therefore
divined rather than saw what remained for me to do. I leaped over and
began, at the risk of a severe scorching, to throw back all the boxes
and packages which were in danger. It was lucky for me that the
smugglers had piled them pretty high, and so by drawing one or two from
near the foundation, I was fortunate enough to overset the most part of
it in the outward direction.

But the fierceness of the flame was beginning to tell upon the
building-stone of Marnhoul, which was of a friable nature--at least that
with which the vault was arched.

Luckily some old tools had been left in the corner, and it struck me
that if I could dig up enough of the earthen floor or topple over the
mound of earth which had been piled up at the making of the underground
passage, the fire must go out for lack of air; or, better still, would
be turned in the faces of those who were digging away the barrels and
boxes from the bottom of the stair-well.

This, after many attempts and some very painful burns, I succeeded in
doing. The first shovelfuls did not seem to produce much effect. So I
set to work on the large heap of hardened earth in the corner, and was
lucky enough to be able to tumble it bodily upon the top of the column
of fire. Then suddenly the terrible column of blue flame went out, just
as does a Christmas pudding when it is blown upon. And for the same
reason. Both were made of the flames of the French spirit called cognac,
or brandy.

Then I did not mind about my burns, I can assure you. But almost
gleefully I went on heaping mould and dirt upon the boxes in the well of
the staircase, stamping down the earth at the top till it was almost
like the hard-beaten floor of the cellar itself. I left not a crevice
for the least small flame to come up through.

Then I bethought me of what might be going on above, and the flush of my
triumph cooled quickly. For I thought that there was only Agnes Anne,
and who knows what weakness she may not have committed. She would never
have thought, for instance, of such a thing as covering in the flame
with earth to put it out. To tell the truth, I did think very
masterfully of myself at that moment, and perhaps with some cause, for
not one in a thousand would have had the "engine" to do as I had done.

When I got to the top of the stairs, I heard cries from without, which
had been smothered by the deepness of the dungeon in which I had been
labouring to put out the fire. For a moment I thought that by the
failure of Agnes Anne to fire off "King George" at the proper moment,
the door had been forced and we utterly lost. Which seemed the harder to
be borne, that I had just saved all our lives in a way so original and
happy.

But I was wrong. The shouting came not from the wicked crew of the
privateersman, but from the shouting of a vast number of people, most of
them mounted on farm and country horses, with some of finer limb and
better blood, managed by young fellows having the air of laird's sons or
others of some position. None of these had his face bare. But in place
of the black highwayman masks of the followers of Galligaskins, these
wore only a strip of white kerchief across the face, though, as I could
see, more for the form of the thing than from any real apprehension of
danger.

Indeed, in the very forefront of the cavalcade I saw our own two cart
horses, Dapple and Dimple, and the lighter mare Bess, which my
grandfather used for riding to and fro upon his milling business. I had
not the least doubt that my three uncles were bestriding them, though I
never knew that there were any arms about the house except the old
fowling-piece belonging to grandfather, with which on moonlight nights
he killed the hares that came to nibble the plants in his cabbage
garden.

Soon the sailors and their abettors were fleeing in every direction.
But, what took me very much by surprise, there was no firing or cutting
down, though there was a good deal of smiting with the flat of the
sword. And at the entrance of the ice-mound I saw a great many very
scurvy fellows come trickling out, all burned and scorched, to run the
gauntlet of a row of men on foot, who drubbed them soundly with cudgels
before letting them go.

Seeing this, I opened the window and shouted with all my might.

"Apprehend them! They are villains and thieves. They have broken into
this house and tried to kill us all, besides setting fire to the cellar
and everything in it!"

The men without, both those on foot and those on horseback, had been
calm till they heard this, and then, lo! each cavalier dismounted and
all came running to the door, calling on us to open instantly.

"Not to you any more than to the others!" I cried. For, indeed, I saw
not any good reason. It appeared to me, since there was no real
fighting, that the two parties must be in alliance, or, at least, have
an understanding between them.

But Agnes Anne called out, "Nonsense, I see Uncle Aleck and Uncle
Ebenezer. I am going to open the door to them, whatever you say!"

So all in a minute the house of Marnhoul, long so desolate and silent,
wherein such deeds of valour and strategy had recently been wrought,
grew populous with a multitude all eager to win down to the cellar. But
Agnes Anne brought up my three uncles (and another who was with them)
and bade them watch carefully over the safety of Louis and Miss Irma.
(For so I must again call her now that she had, as it were, come to her
own again.)

As for me they carried me down with them, to tell all about the attempt
to burn the goods in the cellar. And angry men they were when they saw
so many webs of fine cloth, so many bolts of Flanders lace, so many kegs
of rare brandy damaged and as good as lost. But when they understood
that, but for my address and quickness, all would have been lost to
them, they made me many compliments. Also an old man with a
silver-hilted sword, who carried himself like some great gentleman, bade
me tell him my _name_, and wrote it down in his note-book, saying that I
was of too good a head and quick a hand to waste on a dominie.

And, indeed, I was of that mind (or something very much like it) myself.
An old haunted house like Marnhoul to defend, a young maid of high
family to rescue (and adopt you as her brother for a reward) did somehow
take the edge off teaching the Rule of Three and explaining the _De
Bello Gallico_ to imps who cannot understand, and would not if they
could.



PART II

CHAPTER XV

MY GRANDMOTHER SPEAKS HER MIND


"There is no use talking" (said my grandmother, as she always did when
she was going to do a great deal of it), "no, listen to me, there is no
use talking! These two young things need a home, and if _we_ don't give
it to them, who will? Stay longer in that great gaol of a house, worse
than any barn, they shall not--exposed day and night to a traffic of sea
rascals, thieves and murderers, _they shall not_----"

"What I want to know is who is to keep them, and what the safer they
will be here?"

It was the voice of my Aunt Jen which interrupted. None else would have
dared--save mayhap my grandfather, who, however, only smiled and was
silent.

"Ne'er you mind that, Janet," cried her mother, "what goes out of our
basket and store will never be missed. And father says the same, be sure
of that!"

My grandfather did say the same, if to smile quietly and approvingly is
to speak. At any rate, in a matter which did not concern him deeply, he
knew a wiser way than to contradict Mistress Mary Lyon. She was quite
capable of keeping him awake two-thirds of the night arguing it out,
without the faintest hope of altering the final result.

"The poor things," mourned my grandmother, "they shall come here and
welcome--that is, till better be. Of course, they might be more grandly
lodged by the rich and the great--gentlefolk in their own station. But,
first of all, they do not offer, and if they did, they are mostly
without experience. To bring up children, trust an old hen who has
clucked over a brood of her own!"

"Safer, too, here," approved my grandfather, nodding his head; "the
tarry breeches will think twice before paying Heathknowes a visit--with
the lads about and the gate shut, and maybe the old dog not quite
toothless yet!"

This, indeed, was the very heart of the matter. Irma and Sir Louis would
be far safer at the house of one William Lyon, guarded by his stout
sons, by his influence over the wildest spirits of the community, in a
house garrisoned by a horde of sleepless sheep-dogs, set in a defensible
square of office-houses, barns, byres, stables, granaries, cart-sheds,
peat-sheds and the rest.

"And when the great arrive to call," said Aunt Jen, with sour insight,
"you, mother, will stop the churning just when the butter is coming to
put on your black lace cap and apron. You will receive the lady of the
manse, and Mrs. General Johnstone, and----"

"And if I do, Jen," cried her mother, "what is that to you?"

"Because I have enough to do as it is," snapped Jen, "without your
butter-making when you are playing the lady down the house!"

Grandmother's black eyes crackled fire. She turned threateningly to her
daughter.

"By my saul, Lady Lyon," she cried, "there is a stick in yon corner that
ye ken, and if you are insolent to your mother I will thrash you
yet--woman-grown as ye are. Ye take upon yourself to say that which none
of your brothers dare set their tongue to!"

And indeed there is little doubt but that Mary Lyon would have kept her
word. So far as speech was concerned, my Aunt Jen was silenced. But she
was a creature faithful to her prejudices, and could express by her
silence and air of injured rectitude more than one less gifted could
have put into a parliamentary oration.

Her very heels on the stone floor of the wide kitchen at Heathknowes,
where all the business of the house was transacted, fell with little
raps of defiance, curt and dry. Her nose in the air told of contempt
louder than any words. She laid down the porridge spurtle like a queen
abdicating her sceptre. She tabled the plates like so many protests,
signed and witnessed. She swept about the house with the glacial chill
which an iceberg spreads about it in temperate seas. Her displeasure
made winter of our content--of all, that is, except Mary Lyon's. She at
least went about her tasks with her usual humming alacrity, turning work
over her shoulder as easy as apple-peeling.

Being naturally lazy myself (except as to the reading of books), I took
a great pleasure in watching grandmother. Aunt Jen would order you to
get some work if she saw you doing nothing--malingering, she called
it--yes, and find it for you too, that is, if Mary Lyon were not in the
house to tell her to mind her own business.

But you might lie round among grandmother's feet for days, and, except
for a stray cuff in passing if she actually walked into you--a cuff
given in the purest spirit of love and good-will, and merely as a
warning of the worse thing that might happen to you if you made her
spill the dinner "sowens"--you might spend your days in reading anything
from the _Arabian Nights_ in Uncle Eben's old tattered edition to the
mighty _Josephus_, all complete with plans and plates--over which on
Sundays my grandfather was wont to compose himself augustly to sleep.

Well, Miss Irma and Sir Louis came to my grandmother's house at
Heathknowes. Yes, this is the correct version. The house of Heathknowes
was Mary Lyon's. The mill in the wood, the farm, the hill
pastures--these might be my grandfather's, also the horses and wagons
generally, but his power--his "say" over anything, stopped at the
threshold of the house, of the byre of cows, at the step of the rumbling
little light cart in which he was privileged to drive my grandmother to
church and market. In these places and relations he became, instead of
the unquestioned master, only as one of ourselves, except that he was
neither cuffed nor threatened with "the stick in the corner." All the
same, this immunity did not do him much good, for many a sound
tongue-lashing did he receive for his sins and shortcomings--indeed, far
more so than all the rest of us. For with us, my grandmother had a short
and easy way.

"I have not time to be arguing with the likes of you!" she would cry.
And upon the word a sound cuff removed us out of her path, and before we
had stopped tingling Mary Lyon had plunged into the next object in hand,
satisfied that she had successfully wrestled with at least one problem.
But with grandfather it was different. He had to be convinced--if
possible, convicted--in any case overborne.

To accomplish this Mary Lyon would put forth all her powers, in spite of
her husband's smiles--or perhaps a good deal because of them. Upon her
excellent authority, he was stated to be the most irritating man betwixt
the Brigend of Dumfries and the Braes of Glenap.

"Oh, man, say what you have to say," she would cry, when reduced to
extremities by the obvious unfairness of his silent mode of controversy,
"but don't sit there girning like a self-satisfied monkey!"

"Mother!" exclaimed Aunt Jen, horrified. For she cherished a secret
tenderness for my grandfather, perhaps because their natures were so
different, "How can you speak so to our father?"

"Wait till you get a man of your ain, Janet," my grandmother would
retort, "then you will have new light as to how it is permitted for a
woman to speak."

With this retort Aunt Jen was well acquainted, and had to be thankful
that it was carried no further, as it often was in the case of any
criticisms as to the management of children. In this case Aunt Jen was
usually invited not to meddle, on the forcible plea that what a score of
old maids knew about rearing a family could be put into a nutshell
without risk of overcrowding.

The room at Heathknowes that was got ready for the children was the one
off the parlour--"down-the-house," as it was called. Here was a little
bed for Miss Irma, her washstand, a chest of drawers, a brush and comb
which Aunt Jen had "found," producing them from under her apron with an
exceedingly guilty air, while continuing to brush the floor with an air
of protest against the whole proceeding.

From the school-house my father sent a hanging bookcase--at least the
thing was done upon my suggestion. Agnes Anne carried it and Uncle Ebie
nailed it up. At any rate, it was got into place among us. The cot of
the child Louis had been arranged in the parlour itself, but at the
first glance Miss Irma turned pale, and I saw it would not do.

"I have always been accustomed to have him with me," she said; "it is
very kind of you to give us such nice rooms--but--would you mind letting
him sleep where I can see him?"

It was Aunt Jen who did the moving without a word, and that, too, with
the severe lines of disapproval very nearly completely ruled off her
face. It was, in fact, better that they should be together. For while
the parlour looked by two small-paned windows across the wide courtyard,
the single casement of the little bedroom opened on the orchard corner
which my grandfather had planted in the first years of his taking
possession.

The house of Heathknowes was of the usual type of large Galloway farm--a
place with some history, the house ancient and roomy, the office houses
built massively in a square, as much for defence as for convenience. You
entered by a heavy gate and you closed it carefully after you. From
without the walls of the quadrangle frowned upon you unbroken from their
eminence, massy and threatening as a fortress. The walls were loopholed
for musketry, and, in places, still bore marks of the long slots through
which the archers had shot their bolts and clothyard shafts in the days
before powder and ball.

Except the single gate, you could go round and round without finding any
place by which an enemy might enter. The outside appearance was
certainly grim, unpromising, inhospitable, and so it seemed to Miss Irma
and Sir Louis as they drove up the loaning from the ford.

But within, everything was different. What a smiling welcome they
received, my grandfather standing with his hat off, my grandmother with
the tears in her motherly vehement eyes, gathering the two wanderers
defiantly to her breast as if daring all the world to come on. Behind a
little (but not much) was Aunt Jen, asserting her position and rights in
the house. She did not seem to see Miss Irma, but to make up, she never
took her eyes off the little boy for a moment.

Then my uncles were ranged awkwardly, their hands lonesome for the grip
of the plough, the driving reins, or the water-lever at the mill in the
woods.

Uncle Rob, our dandy, had changed his coat and put on a new neckcloth,
an act which, as all who know a Scots farm town will understand, cost
him a multitude of flouts, jeers and upcasting from his peers.

I was also there, not indeed to welcome them, but because I had
accompanied the party from the house of Marnhoul. The White Free Traders
had established a post there to watch over one of their best
"hidie-holes," even though they had removed all their goods in
expectation of the visit of a troop of horse under Captain Sinclair,
known to have been ordered up from Dumfries to aid the excise
supervisor, as soon as that zealous officer was sure that, the steed
being stolen, it was time to lock the stable door.

But when the dragoons came, there was little for them to do. Ned
Henderson, the General Surveyor of the Customs and head of the district
in all matters of excise, was far too careful a man to allow more to
appear than was "good for the country." He knew that there was hardly a
laird, and not a single farmer or man of substance who had not his
finger in the pie. Indeed, after the crushing national disaster of
Darien, this was the direction which speculation naturally took in
Scotland for more than a hundred years.

In due time, then, the dragoons arrived, greatly to the interest of all
the serving lasses--and some others. There was, of course, a vast deal
of riding about, cantering along by-ways, calling upon this or that
innocent to account for his presence at the back of a dyke or behind a
whin-bush--which he usually did in the most natural and convincing
manner possible.

The woods were searched--the covers drawn. Many birds were disturbed,
but of the crew of the _Golden Hind_, or the land smugglers by whose
arrival the capture and burning of Marnhoul had been prevented, no trace
was found. Even Kate of the Shore's present address was known to but
few, and to these quite privately. There was no doubt of her
faithfulness. That had been proven, but she knew too much. There were
questions which, even unanswered, might raise others.

Several young men, of good family and connections, thought it prudent to
visit friends at a distance, and at least one was never seen in the
country more.

One of his Majesty's frigates had been sent for to watch the Solway
ports, much to the disgust of her officers. For not only had they been
expected at the Portsmouth summer station by numerous pretty ladies, but
the navigation between Barnhourie and the Back Shore of Leswalt was as
full of danger as it was entirely without glory. If they were unlucky,
they might be cashiered for losing the ship. If lucky, the revenue men
would claim the captured cargo. If they secured the malefactors they
would sow desolation in a score of respectable families, with the
daughters of which they had danced at Kirkcudbright a week ago.

In Galloway, though a considerable amount of recklessness mingled with
the traffic, and there were occasional roughnesses on the high seas and
about the ports and anchorages of Holland and the Isle of Man, there was
never any of the cruelty associated with smuggling along the south coast
of England. The smugglers of Sussex killed the informer Chater with
blows of their whips. A yet darker tragedy enacted farther west,
brought half-a-dozen to a well-deserved scaffold. But, save for the
losses in fair fight occasioned by the intemperate zeal of some new
broom of a supervisor anxious for distinction, the history of Galloway
smuggling had, up to that time, never been stained with serious crime.

Meantime the two Maitlands, Sir Louis and Miss Irma, were safely housed
within the defenced place of Heathknowes, guarded by William Lyon and
his three stout sons, and mothered by all the hidden tenderness of my
grandmother's big, imperious, volcanic heart.

Only my Aunt Jen watched jealously with a half-satisfied air and took
counsel with herself as to what the end of these things might be.



CHAPTER XVI

CASTLE CONNOWAY


Meanwhile Boyd Connoway was in straits. Torn between two emotions, he
was pleased for once to have found a means of earning his living and
that of his family--especially the latter. For his own living was like
that of the crows, "got round the country somewhere!" But with the
lightest and most kindly heart in the world, Boyd Connoway found himself
in trouble owing to the very means of opulence which had brought content
to his house.

On going home on the night after the great attack on Marnhoul, weary of
directing affairs, misleading the dragoons, whispering specious theories
into the ear of the commanding officer and his aides, he had been met at
the outer gate of his cabin by a fact that overturned all his notions of
domestic economy. Ephraim, precious Ephraim, the Connoway family pig,
had been turned out of doors and was now grunting disconsolately,
thrusting a ringed nose through the bars of Paradise. Now Boyd knew that
his wife set great store by Ephraim. Indeed, he had frequently been
compared, to his disadvantage, with Ephraim and his predecessors in the
narrow way of pigs. Ephraim was of service. What would the "poor
childer," what would Bridget herself do without Ephraim? Bridget was not
quite sure whether she kept Ephraim or whether Ephraim kept her. At any
rate it was not to Boyd Connoway that she and her offspring were anyways
indebted for care and sustenance.

"The craitur," said Bridget affectionately, "he pays the very rint!"

But here, outside the family domain, was Ephraim, the beloved of his
wife's heart, actually turned out upon a cold and unfeeling world, and
with carefully spaced grunts of bewilderment expressing his discontent.
If such were Ephraim's fate, how would the matter go with him? Boyd
Connoway saw a prospect of finding a husband and the father of a family
turned from his own door, and obliged to return and take up his quarters
with this earlier exile.

The Connoway family residence was a small and almost valueless leasehold
from the estate of General Johnstone. The house had always been
tumbledown, and the tenancy of Bridget and her brood had not improved it
externally. The lease was evidently a repairing one. For holes in the
thatch roof were stopped with heather, or mended with broad slabs of
turf held down with stones and laboriously strengthened with wattle--a
marvel of a roof. It is certain that Boyd's efforts were never
continuous. He tired of everything in an hour, or sooner--unless
somebody, preferably a woman, was watching him and paying him
compliments on his dexterity.

The cottage had originally consisted of the usual "but-and-ben"--that is
to say, in well regulated houses (which this one was not) of a
kitchen--and a room that was not the kitchen. The family beds occupied
one corner of the kitchen, that of Bridget and her husband in the middle
(including accommodation for the latest baby), while on either side and
at the foot, shakedowns were laid out "for the childer," slightly raised
from the earthen floor on rude trestles, with a board laid across to
receive the bedding. There was nothing at either side to provide against
the occupants rolling over, but, as the distance from the ground did
not average more than four inches, the young Connoways did not run much
danger of accident on that account.

Disputes were, however, naturally somewhat frequent. Jerry or Phil would
describe himself as "lying on so many taturs"--Mary or Kitty declare
that her bedfellow was "pullin' every scrap off of her, that she was!"

To quell these domestic brawls Bridget Connoway kept at the head of the
middle bed a long peeled willow, which was known as the "Thin One." The
Thin One settled all night disputes in the most evenhanded way. For
Bridget did not get out of bed to discriminate. She simply laid on the
spot from which the disturbance proceeded till that disturbance ceased.
Then the Thin One returned to his corner while innocent and guilty
mingled their tears and resolved to conduct hostilities more silently in
future.

In the daytime, however, the "Thick One" held sway, which was the
work-hardened palm of Mistress Bridget Connoway's hand. She was
ambidextrous in correction--"one was as good as t'other," as Jerry
remarked, after he had done rubbing himself and comparing damages with
his brother Phil, who had got the left. "There's not a fardin' to pick
between us!" was the verdict as the boys started out to find their
father, stretched on his favourite sunny mound within sight of the
Haunted House of Marnhoul--now more haunted than ever.

But on this occasion Boyd Connoway was on his return, when he met the
exiled Ephraim. His meditations on his own probable fate have led the
historian into a sketch of the Connoway establishment, which, indeed,
had to come in somewhere.

For once Boyd wasted no time. With his wife waiting for him it was well
to know the worst and get it over. He opened the door quickly, and
intruding his hat on the end of his walking stick, awaited results. It
was only for a moment, of course, but Boyd Connoway felt satisfied. His
Bridget was not waiting for him behind the door with the potato-beetle
as she did on days of great irritation. His heart rose--his courage
returned. Was he not a free man, a house-holder? Had he not taken a
distinguished part in a gallant action? Bridget must understand this.
Bridget should understand this. Boyd Connoway would be respected in his
own house!

Nevertheless he entered hastily, sidling like a dog which expects a
kick. He avoided the dusky places instinctively--the door of the "ben"
room was shut, so Bridget could not be lying in wait there. Was it in
the little closet behind the kitchen that the danger lurked? The
children were in bed, save the two youngest, all quiet, all watching
with the large, dreamy blue (Connoway) eyes, or the small, very bright
ones (Bridget's) what his fate would be.

He glanced quaintly, with an interrogative lift of his eyebrows, at the
bed to the left. Jerry of the twinkling sloe-eyes answered with a quick
upturn of the thumb in the direction of the spare chamber.

Boyd Connoway frowned portentously at his eldest son. The youth shook
his head. The sign was well understood, especially when helped out with
a grin, broad as all County Donegal 'twixt Killibegs and Innishowen
Light.

The "Misthress" was in a good temper. Reassured, on his own account, but
inwardly no little alarmed for his wife's health in these unusual
circumstances, Boyd began to take off his boots with the idea of
gliding safely into bed and pretending to be asleep before the wind had
time to change.

But Jerry's mouth was very evidently forming some words, which were
meant to inform his father as to particulars. These, though
unintelligible individually, being taken together and punctuated with
jerks in the direction of the shut door of "doon-the-hoose," constituted
a warning which Boyd Connoway could not afford to neglect.

He went forward to the left hand bed, cocked his ear in the direction of
the closed door, and then rapidly lowered it almost against his son's
lips.

"She's gotten a hurt man down there," said Jerry, "she has been runnin'
wi' white clouts and bandages a' the forenight. And I'm thinkin' he's no
very wise, either--for he keeps cryin' that the deils are comin' to tak'
him!"

"What like of a man?" said Boyd Connoway.

But Jerry's quick ear caught a stirring in the room with the closed
door. He shook his head and motioned his father to get away from the
side of his low truckle bed.

When his wife entered, Boyd Connoway, with a sober and innocent face,
was untying his boot by the side of the fire. Bridget entered with a
saucepan in her hand, which, before she deigned to take any notice of
her husband, she pushed upon the red ashes in the grate.

From the "ben" room, of which the door was now open, Boyd could hear the
low moaning of a man in pain. He had tended too many sick people not to
know the delirium of fever, the pitiful lapses of sense, then again the
vague and troubled pour of words, and at the sound he started to his
feet. He was not good for much in the way of providing for a family. He
did a great many foolish, yet more useless things, but there was one
thing which he understood better than Bridget--how to nurse the sick.

He disengaged his boot and stood in his stocking feet.

"What is it?" he said, in an undertone to Bridget.

"No business of yours!" she answered, with a sudden hissing vehemence.

"I can do _that_ better than you!" he answered, for once sure of his
ground.

His wife darted at him a look of concentrated scorn.

"Get to bed!" she commanded him, declining to argue with such as he--and
but for the twinkling eyes of Jerry, which looked sympathy, Boyd would
have preferred to have joined the exiled Ephraim under the dark pent
among the coom of the peat-house.

He looked to Jerry, but Jerry was sound asleep. So was Phil. So were all
the others.

"Very well, däärlin'!" said Boyd Connoway to himself as his wife left
the room. "But, sorrow am I for the man down there that she will not let
me nurse. She's a woman among a thousand, is Bridget Connoway. But the
craitur will be after makin' the poor man eat his poultices, and use his
beef tay for outward application only!"



CHAPTER XVII

THE MAN "DOON-THE-HOOSE"


But Bridget Connoway, instant and authoritative as she was, could not
prevent her down-trodden husband from thinking. Who was the mysterious
wounded man "down-the-house"? One of the White Smugglers? Hardly. Boyd
had been in the thick of that business and knew that no one had been
hurt except Barnboard Tam, whose horse had run away with him and brushed
him off, a red-haired Absalom in homespuns, against the branches in
Marnhoul Great Wood.

One of the crew of the _Golden Hind_, American-owned privateersman with
French letters of marque? Possibly one of the desperate gang they had
landed called the Black Smugglers, scum of the Low Dutch ports, come to
draw an ill report upon the good and wholesome fame of Galloway Free
Trade.

In either case, Boyd Connoway little liked the prospect, and instead of
going to bed, he remained swinging his legs before the fire in a musing
attitude, listening to the moaning noises that came from the chamber he
was forbidden to enter. He was resolved to have it out with his wife.

He had not long to wait. Bridget appeared in the doorway, a bundle of
dark-stained cloths between her palms. She halted in astonishment at the
sight which met her eyes. At first it seemed to her that she was
dreaming, or that her voice must have betrayed her. She gave her husband
the benefit of the doubt.

"I thought I tould ye, Boyd Connoway," she said in a voice dangerously
low and caressing, "to be getting off to your bed and not disturbin' the
childer'!"

"Who is the man that had need of suchlike?" demanded Boyd Connoway,
suddenly regaining his lost heritage as the head of a house, "speak
woman, who are ye harbouring there?"

Bridget stood still. The mere unexpectedness of the demand rendered her
silent. The autocrat of all the Russias treated as though he were one of
his own ministers of state could not have been more dumbfounded.

With a sudden comprehension of the crisis Bridget broke for the poker,
but Boyd had gone too far now to recoil. He caught at the little
three-legged stool on which he was wont to take his humble frugal meals.
It was exactly what he needed. He had no idea of assaulting Bridget. He
recognized all her admirable qualities, which filled in the shortcomings
of his shiftlessness with admirable exactitude. He meant to act strictly
on the defensive, a system of warfare that was familiar to him. For
though he had never before risen up in open revolt, he had never counted
mere self-preservation as an insult to his wife.

"_Whack!_" down came the poker in the lusty hand of Bridget Connoway.
"_Crack!_" the targe in the lifted arm of Boyd countered it. At
arm's-length he held it. The next attack was cut number two of the
manual for the broad-sword. Skilfully with his shield Boyd Connoway
turned it to the side, so that, gliding from the polished oak of the
well-worn seat, the head of the poker caught his wife on the knee, and
she dropped her weapon with a cry of pain. Jerry and the other children,
in the seventh heaven of delight at the parental duel, were sitting up
in their little night-shirts (which for simplicity's sake were
identical with their day-shirts); their eyes, black and blue, sparkled
unanimous, and they made bets in low tones from one bed to another.

"Two to one on Daddy!"

"Jerry, ye ass, I'll bet ye them three white chuckies[1] he'll lose!"

"Hould your tongue, Connie--mother'll win, sure. The Thick 'Un will get
him!"

Such combats were a regular interest for them, and one, in quiet times,
quite sympathized in by their father, who would guide the combat so that
they might have a better view.

"Troth, and why shouldn't they, poor darlints? Sure an' it's little
enough amusement they have!"

He had even been known to protract an already lost battle to lengthen
out the delectation of his offspring. The Cæsars gave to their people
"Bread and the circus!" But they did not usually enter the arena
themselves--save in the case of the incomparable bowman of Rome, and
then only when he knew that no one dared stand against him. But Boyd
Connoway fought many a losing fight that his small citizens might
wriggle with delight on their truckles. "The Christians to the lions!"
Yes, that was noble. But then they had no choice, while Boyd Connoway, a
willing martyr, fought his lioness with a three-legged stool.

This time, however, the just quarrel armed the three-legged, while cut
number two of Forbes's Manual fell, not on Boyd Connoway's head, for
which it was intended, but on Bridget's knee-cap. Boyd of the tender
heart (though stubborn stool), was instantly upon his knees, his
buckler flung to the ground and rubbing with all his might, with
murmurings of, "Does it hurt now, darlint?--Not bääd, sure?--Say it is
better now thin, darlint!"

Boyd was as conscience-stricken as if he had personally wielded the
poker. But the mind of Bridget was quite otherwise framed. With one hand
she seized his abundant curly hair, now with a strand or two of early
grey among the straw-colour of it, and while she pulled handfuls of it
out by the roots (so Boyd declared afterwards), she boxed his ears
heartily with the other. Which, indeed, is witnessed to by the whole
goggle-eyed populace in the truckle bed.

"Didn't I tell ye, Jerry, ye cuckoo," whispered Connie, "she'd beat him?
He's gettin' the Thick 'Un, just as I told ye!"

"But it's noways fair rules," retorted Jerry; "father he flung down his
weepon for to rub her knee when she hurt it herself wid the poker!"

Jerry had lost his bet, as indeed he usually did, but for all that he
remained a consistent supporter of the losing side. Daily he
acknowledged in his body the power of the arm of flesh, but the vagrant
butterfly humour of the male parent with the dreamy blue eyes touched
him where he lived--perhaps because his, like his mother's, were
sloe-black.

Nevertheless, in spite of mishandling and a scandalous disregard of the
rules of the noble art of self-defence (not yet elaborated, but only
roughly understood as "Fair play to all"), Boyd Connoway carried his
point.

He saw the occupant of the bed "doon-the-hoose."

He was a slim man with clean-cut features, very pale about the gills and
waxen as to the nose. He lay on the bed, his head ghastly in its white
bandages rocking from side to side and a stream of curses, thin and
small of voice as a hill-brook in drought, but continuous as a
mill-lade, issuing from between his clenched teeth.

These adjurations were in many tongues, and their low-toned variety
indicated the swearing of an educated man.

Boyd understood at once that he had to do with no vulgar Tarry-Breeks,
no sweepings of a couple of hemispheres, but with "a gentleman born."
And in Donegal, though they may rebel against their servitude and meet
them foot by foot on the field or at the polling-booths, they know a
gentleman when they see one, and never in their wildest moods deny his
birthright.

Boyd, therefore, took just one glance, and then turning to his wife
uttered his sentiment in three words of approval. "I'm wid ye!" he said.

Had it been Galligaskins or any seaman of the _Golden Hind_, Boyd would
have had him out of the house in spite of his wife and all the wholesome
domestic terror she had so long been establishing.

But a Donegal man is from the north after all, and does not easily take
to the informer's trade. Besides, this was a gentleman born.

Yet he had better have given hospitality to Galligaskins and the whole
crew of pirates who manned the _Golden Hind_ than to this slender,
clear-skinned creature who lay raving and smiling in the bedroom of
Boyd Connoway's cabin.

[Footnote 1: "Chuckies," white pebbles used, in these primitive times,
instead of marbles.]



CHAPTER XVIII

THE TRANSFIGURATION OF AUNT JEN


Never was anything seen like it in our time. I mean the transformation
of Aunt Jen, the hard crabapple of our family, after the entrance of the
Maitland children into the household of Heathknowes. Not that my aunt
had much faith in Irma. She had an art, which my aunt counted uncanny,
indeed savouring of the sin of witchcraft. It mattered not at all what
Irma was given to wear--an old tartan of my grandmother's Highland Mary
days when she was a shepherdess by the banks of Cluden, a severe gown
designed on strictly architectural principles by the unabashed shears of
Aunt Jen herself, a bodice and skirt of my mother's, dovelike in hue and
carrying with them some of her own retiring quality in every line. It
was all the same, with a shred or two of silk, with a little undoing
here, a little tightening there, a broad splash of colour cut from one
of my Uncle Rob's neckcloths--not anywhere, but just in the right
place--Irma could give to all mankind the impression of being the only
person worth looking at in the parish. With these simple means she could
and did make every other girl, though attired in robes that had come all
the way from Edinburgh, look dowdy and countrified.

Also she had the simple manner of those who stand in no fear of any one
taking a liberty with them. Her position was assured. Her beauty spoke
for itself, and as for the old tartan, the slab-sided merino, the
retiring pearl-grey wincey, their late owners did not know them again
when they appeared in the great square Marnhoul pew in the parish
church, which Irma insisted upon occupying.

I think that a certain scandal connected with this, actually caused more
stir in the parish than all the marvel of the appearance of the children
in the Haunted House. And for this reason. Heathknowes was a Cameronian
household. The young men of Heathknowes were looked upon to furnish a
successor to their father as an elder in the little meeting-house down
by the Fords. But with the full permission of my grandmother, and the
tacit sympathy of my grandfather, each Sabbath day Miss Irma and Sir
Louis went in state to the family pew at the parish kirk (a square box
large enough to seat a grand jury). The children were perched in the
front, Irma keeping firm and watchful guard over her brother, while in
the dimmer depths, seen from below as three sturdy pairs of shoulders
against the dusk of a garniture of tapistry, sat the three Cameronian
young men of Heathknowes.

Nothing could so completely and fully have certified the strength of my
grandmother's purpose than that she, a pillar of the Covenant, thus
complacently allowed her sons to frequent the public worship of an
uncovenanted and Erastian Establishment.

But there was at least one in the house of Heathknowes not to be so
misled by the outward graces of the body.

"Favour is vain and the eye of Him that sitteth in the heavens regardeth
it not," she was wont to say, "and if Rob and Thomas and Ebenezer come
to an ill end, mother, you will only have yourself to thank for it!"

"Nonsense, Jen," said her mother, "if you are prevented by your
infirmities from talkin' sense, at least do hold your tongue. Doctor
Gillespie is a Kirkman and a Moderate, but he is--well, he is the
Doctor, and never a word has been said against him for forty year, walk
and conversation both as becometh the Gospel----"

"Aye, but _is_ it the Gospel?" cried Jen, snipping out her words as with
scissors; "that's the question."

"When I require you, Janet Lyon, to decide for your mother what is
Gospel and what is not, I'll let ye ken," said my grandmother, "and if I
have accepted a responsibility from the Most High for these children, I
will do my best to render an account of my stewardship at the Great
White Throne. In the meantime, _you_ have no more right to task me for
it, than--than--Boyd Connoway!"

"There," cried Jen, slapping down the last dish which she had been
drying while her mother washed, "I declare, mother, I might just as well
not have a tongue at all. Whatever I say you are on my back. And as if
snubbing me were not enough, down you must come on me with the Great
White Throne!"

Her aggrieved voice made my grandmother laugh.

"Well-a-well!" she said, in her richly comfortable voice of a mother of
consolation, "you are of the tribe of Marthas, Jen, and you certainly
work hard enough for everybody to give your tongue a right to a little
trot now and then. You will have all the blessings, daughter
Janet--except that of the peacemaker. For it's in you to set folk by the
ears and you really can't help it. Though who you took it from is more
than I can imagine, with a mother as mild as milk and a father----"

"Well, what about the father--speak of the--um-um--father and he will
appear, I suppose!"

It was my grandfather who had come in, his face bronzed with the sun
and a friendly shaving tucked underneath his coat collar at the back,
witnessing that some one of his sons, in the labours of the pirn-mill,
had not remembered the first commandment with promise.

His wife removed it with a smile, and said, "I'll wager ye that was yon
rascal Rob. He is always at his tricks!"

"Well, what were you saying about me, old wife?" said grandfather,
looking at his wife with the quiet fondness that comes of half-a-century
of companionship.

"Only that Jen there had a will-o'-the-wisp of a temper and that I knew
not how she got it, for you only go about pouring oil upon the waters!"

"As to that, you know best, guidwife," he answered, smiling, "but I
think I have heard of a wife up about the Heathknowes, who in some
measure possesses the power of her unruly member. It is possible that
Jen there may have picked up a thorn or two from that side!"

William Lyon caught his daughter's ear.

"Eh, lass, what sayest thou?" he crooned, looking down upon her with a
tenderness rare to him with one of his children. "What sayest thou?"

"I say that you and mother and all about this house have run out of your
wits about this slip of a girl? I say that you may rue it when you have
not a son to succeed you at the Kirk of the Covenant down by the Ford."

The fleeting of a smile came over my grandfather's face, that quiet
amusement which usually showed when my grandmother opposed her will to
his, and when for once he did not mean to give in.

"It's a sorrowful thing--a whole respectable household gone daft about
a couple of strange children;" he let the words drop very slowly.
"Specially I was distressed to hear of one who rose betimes to milk a
cow, so that the cream would have time to rise on the morning's milk by
their porridge time!"

"Father," said Jen, "that was for the boy bairn. He has not been brought
up like the rest of us, and he does not like warm milk with his
porridge."

"Doubtless--ah, doubtless," said William Lyon; "but if he is to bide
with us, is it not spoiling him thus to give way to suchlike whims? He
will have to learn some day, and when so good a time as now?"

Aunt Jen, who knew she was being teased, kept silence, but the shoulder
nearest my father had an indignant hump.

"Wheesht, William," interposed grandmother good-naturedly, "if Jen rose
betimes to get milk for the bairn, ye ken yoursel' that ye think the
better of her for it. And so do I. Jen's not the first whose acts are
kindlier than her principles."

But Jen kept her thorns out and refused to be brought into the fold by
flattery, till her father said, "Jen, have ye any of that fine
homebrewed left, or did the lads drink it a' to their porridges? I'm a
kennin' weary, and nothing refreshes me like that!"

Jen felt the artfulness of this, nevertheless she could not help being
touched. The care of the still-room was hers, because, though my
grandmother could go through twice the work in the day that her daughter
could, the brewing of the family small beer and other labours of the
still-room were of too exact and methodical a nature for a headlong
driver like Mary Lyon.

My grandfather got his ale, of the sort just then beginning to be
made--called "Jamaica," because a quantity of the cheap sugar refuse
from the hogsheads was used in its production. In fact, it was the
ancestor of the "treacle ale" of later years. But to the fabrication of
this beverage, Jen added mysterious rites, during which the door of the
still-room was locked, barred, and the keyhole blinded, while Eben and
Rob, my uncles, stood without vainly asking for a taste, or simulating
by their moans and cries the most utter lassitude and fatigue.

William Lyon sat sipping his drink while Jen eyed him furtively as she
went about the house, doing her duties with the silence and exactitude
of a well-oiled machine. She was a difficult subject, my aunt Jen, to
live with, but she could be got at, as her father well knew, by a
humanizing vanity.

He sat back with an air of content in his great wide chair, the chair
that had been handed down as the seat of the head of the house from many
generations of Lyonses. He sipped and nodded his head, looking towards
his daughter, and lifting the tankard with a courtly gesture as if
pledging her health.

Jen was pleased, though for a while she did not allow it to be seen, and
her only repentance was taking up the big empty goblet without being
asked and going to the still-room to refill it.

During her absence my grandfather shamelessly winked at my grandmother,
while my grandmother shook her fist covertly at her husband. Which
pantomime meant to say on the part of William Lyon that _he_ knew how to
manage women, while on his wife's side it inferred that she would not
demean herself to use means so simple and abject as plain flattery even
with a "camsteary" daughter.

But they smiled at each other, not ill-content, and as my grandmother
passed to the dresser she paused by the great oak chair long enough to
murmur, "She's coming round!" But my grandfather only smiled and looked
towards the door that led to the still-room, pantries and so forth, as
if he found the time long without his second pot of sugar ale.

He was something of a diplomat, my grandfather.

It was while sitting thus, with the second drink of harmless "Jamaica"
before him, my aunt and grandmother crossing each other ceaselessly on
silent feet, that a knock came to the front door.

Now in Galloway farm houses there is a front door, but no known use for
it has been discovered, except to _be_ a door. Later, it was the custom
to open it to let in the minister on his stated visitations, and later
still to let out the dead. But at the period of which I write it was a
door and nothing more.

Both of these other uses are mere recent inventions. The shut front door
of my early time stood blistering and flaking in the hot sun, or
soaking--crumbling, and weather-beaten--during months of bad weather.
For, with a wide and noble entrance behind upon the yard, so
well-trodden and convenient, so charged with the pleasant press of
entrants and exodants, so populous with affairs, from which the chickens
had to be "shooed" and the moist noses of questing calves pushed aside
twenty times a day--why should any mortal think of entering by the front
door of the house. First of all it was the front door. Next, no one knew
whether it would open or not, though the odds were altogether against
it. Lastly, it was a hundred miles from anywhere and opened only upon a
stuffy lobby round which my grandmother usually had her whole Sunday
wardrobe hung up in bags smelling of lavender to guard against the
moths.

Nevertheless, the knock sounded distinctly enough from the front door.

"Some of the bairns playing a trick," said my grandmother tolerantly,
"let them alone, Janet, and they will soon tire o't!"

But Jen had showed so much of the unwonted milk of human kindness that
she felt she must in some degree retrieve her character. She waited,
therefore, for the second rap, louder than the first, then lifted a wand
from the corner and went "down-the-house," quietly as she did all
things.

Aunt Jen concealed the rod behind her. Her private intention was to wait
for the third knock, and then open suddenly, with the deadly resolve to
teach us what we were about--a mental reservation being made in the case
of Baby Louis, who (if the knocker turned out to be he) must obviously
have been put up to it.

The third knock fell. Aunt Jen leaped upon the door-handle. Bolts
creaked and shot back, but swollen by many rainy seasons, the door held
stoutly as is the wont of farm front doors. Then suddenly it gave way
and Aunt Jen staggered back against the wall, swept away by the energy
of her own effort. The wand fell from her hand, and she stood with the
inner door handle still clutched in nervous fingers before a slight
dapper man in a shiny brown coat, double-breasted and closely buttoned,
even on this broiling day--while the strident "_weesp-weesp_" of brother
Tom down in the meadow, sharpening his scythe with a newly fill
"strake," made a keen top-note to the mood of summer.

"Mr. Poole," said the slim man, uncovering and saluting obsequiously,
and then seeing that my aunt rested dumb-stricken, the rod which had
been in pickle fallen to the floor behind her, he added with a little
mincing smile and a kind of affected heel-and-toe dandling of his body,
"I am Mr. Wrighton Poole, of the firm of Smart, Poole, and Smart of
Dumfries."



CHAPTER XIX

LOADED-PISTOL POLLIXFEN


Now Aunt Jen's opinion of lawyers was derived from two sources,
observation and a belief in the direct inspiration of two lines of Dr.
Watts, his hymns.

In other words, she had noticed that lawyers sat much in their offices,
twiddling with papers, and that they never went haymaking nor stood
erect in carts dumping manure on the autumnal fields. So two lines of
Dr. Watts, applicable for such as they, and indeed every one not so
aggressively active as herself, were calculated to settle the case of
Mr. Wrighton Poole.

    "Satan finds some mischief
    For idle hands to do."

Indeed, I had heard of them more than once myself, when she caught me
lying long and lazy in the depths of a haymow with a book under my nose.

At any rate Aunt Jen suspected this Mr. Poole at once. But so she would
the Lord Chancellor of England himself, for the good reason that by
choice and custom he sat on a woolsack!

"I'd woolsack him!" Aunt Jen had cried when this fact was first brought
to her notice; "I'd make him get up pretty quick and earn his living if
he was my man!"

My grandfather had pointed out that the actual Lord Chancellor of the
moment was a bachelor, whereupon Aunt Jen retorted, "Aye, and doubtless
that's the reason. The poor body has nobody to do her duty by him!"

For these excellent reasons my Aunt Jen took a dislike to Mr. Wrighton
Poole (of the firm of Smart, Poole, and Smart, solicitors, Dumfries) at
the very first glance.

And yet, when he was introduced into the state parlour with the six
mahogany-backed, haircloth-seated chairs, the two narrow arm-chairs, the
four ugly mirrors, and the little wire basket full of odds and ends of
crockery and foreign coins--covered by the skin of a white blackbird,
found on the farm and prepared for stuffing--he looked a very dapper,
respectable, personable man. But my Aunt Jen would have none of his
compliments on the neatness of the house or the air of bien comfort that
everything about the farm had worn on his way thither.

She drew out a chair for him and indicated it with her hand.

"Bide there," she commanded, "till I fetch them that can speak wi' you!"
An office which, had she chosen, Jen was very highly qualified to
undertake, save for an early and deep-rooted conviction that business
matters had better be left to the dealing of man and man.

This belief, however, was not in the least that of my grandmother. She
would come in and sit down in the very middle of one of my grandfather's
most private bargainings with the people to whom he sold his spools and
"pirns." She had her say in everything, and she said it so easily and so
much as a matter of course that no one was ever offended.

Grandfather was at the mill and in consequence it was my grandmother who
entered from the dairy, still wiping her hands from the good, warm
buttermilk which had just rendered up its tale of butter. There was a
kind of capable and joyous fecundity about my grandmother, in spite of
her sharp tongue, her masterful ways, the strictness of her theology and
her old-fashioned theories, which seemed to produce an effect even on
inanimate things. So light and loving was her hand--the hand that had
loved (and smacked) many children, brooded over innumerable hatchings of
things domestic, tended whole byrefuls of cows, handled suckling lambs
with dead mothers lying up on the hill--aye, played the surgeon even to
robins with broken legs, for one of which she constructed a leg capable
of being strapped on, made it out of the whalebone of an old corset of
her own for which she had grown too abundant!

So kindly was the eye that could flash fire on an argumentative
Episcopalian parson--and send him over two pounds of butter and a dozen
fresh-laid eggs for his sick wife--that (as I say) even inanimate
objects seemed to respond to her look and conform themselves to the wish
of her finger tips. She had been known to "set" a dyke which had twice
resolved itself into rubbish under the hands of professionals. The
useless rocky patch she had taken as a herb garden blossomed like the
rose, bringing forth all manner of spicy things. For in these days in
Galloway most of the garnishments of the table were grown in the garden
itself, or brought in from the cranberry bogs and the blaeberry banks,
where these fruits grew among a short, crumbly stubble of heather, dry
and elastic as a cushion, and most admirable for resting upon while
eating.

Well, grandmother came in wiping her hands. It seems to me now that I
see her--and, indeed, whenever she does make an entry into the story, I
always feel that I must write yet another page about the dear,
warm-hearted, tumultuous old lady.

She saw the slender lawyer with the brown coat worn shiny, the scratch
wig tied with its black wisp of silk, and the black bag in his hand. He
had been taking a survey of the room, and started round quickly at the
entrance of my grandmother. Then he made a deep bow, and grandmother,
who could be very grand indeed when she liked, bestowed upon him a
curtsey the like of which he had not seen for a long while.

"My name is Poole," he said apologetically. "I presume I have the honour
of speaking to Mistress Mary Lyon, spouse and consort of William Lyon,
tacksman of the Mill of Marnhoul with all its lades, weirs, and
pendicles----"

"If you mean that William Lyon is my man, ye are on the bit so far,"
said my grandmother; "pass on. What else hae ye to say? I dinna suppose
that ye cam' here to ask a sicht o' my marriage lines."

"It is, indeed, a different matter which has brought me thus far," said
the lawyer man, with a certain diffidence, "but I think that perhaps I
ought to wait till--till your husband, in fact----"

"If you are waiting for Weelyum," said Mary Lyon, "ye needna fash. He is
o' the same mind as me--or will be after I have spoken wi' him. Say on!"

"Well, then," the lawyer continued, "it is difficult--but the matter
resolves itself into this. I understand--my firm understands, that you
are harbouring in or about this house a young woman calling herself Irma
Sobieski Maitland, and a child of the male sex whom the aforesaid Irma
Sobieski affirms to be the rightful owner of this estate--in fact, Sir
Louis Maitland. Now, my firm have been long without direct news of the
family whom they represent. Our intelligence of late years has come from
their titular and legal guardian, Mr. Lalor Maitland, Governor of the
district of the Upper Meuse in the Brabants. Now we have recently heard
from this gentleman that his wards--two children bearing a certain
resemblance to those whom, we are informed, you have been
harbouring----"

My grandmother's temper, always uncertain with adults with whom she had
no sympathy, had been gradually rising at each repetition of an
offending word.

"Harbouring," she cried, "harbouring--let me hear that word come out o'
your impident mouth again, ye upsettin' body wi' the black bag, and I'll
gie ye the weight o' my hand against the side o' your face. Let me tell
you that in the house of Heathknowes we harbour neither burrowing rats
nor creepin' foumarts, nor any manner of unclean beasts--and as for a
lawvier, if lawvier ye be, ye are the first o' your breed to enter here,
and if my sons hear ye talkin' o' harbourin'--certes, ye stand a chance
to gang oot the door wi' your feet foremost!"

"My good woman," said the lawyer, "I was but using an ordinary word, in
perfect ignorance of any----"

"Come na, nane o' that crooked talk! Mary Lyon is nae bit silly Jenny
Wren to be whistled off the waa' wi' ony siccan talk. Dinna tell me that
a lawvier body doesna ken what 'harbouring rogues and vagabonds'
means--the innocent lamb that he is--and him reading the _Courier_ every
Wednesday!"

"But," said the solicitor, with more persistent firmness than his
emaciated body and timorous manner would have led one to expect, "the
children are here, and it is my duty to warn you that in withholding
them from their natural guardian you are defying the law. I come to
require that the children be given up to me at once, that I may put them
under their proper tutelage."

"Here, William," my grandmother called out, recognizing the footsteps
of her husband approaching, "gae cry the lads and lock the doors!
There's a body here that will need some guid broad Scots weared on him."

But the lawyer was not yet frightened. As it appeared, he had only known
the safe plainstones of Dumfries--so at least Mary Lyon thought. For he
continued his discourse as if nothing were the matter.

"I came here in a friendly spirit, madam," he said, "but I have good
reason to believe that every male of your household is deeply involved
in the smuggling traffic, and that several of them, in spite of their
professions of religion, assaulted and took possession of the House of
Marnhoul for the purpose of unlawfully concealing therein undutied goods
from the proper officers of the crown!"

"Aye, and ken ye wha it was that tried to burn doon your Great House,"
cried my grandmother--"it was your grand tutor--your wonderfu' guardian,
even Lalor Maitland, the greatest rogue and gipsy that ever ran on two
legs. There was a grandson o' mine put a charge o' powder-and-shot into
him, though. But here come the lads. They will tell ye news o' your
tutor and guardian, him that ye daur speak to me aboot committing the
puir innocent bairns to--what neither you nor a' the law in your black
bag will ever tak' frae under the roof-tree o' Mary Lyon. Here, this way,
lads--dinna be blate! Step ben!"

And so, without a shadow of blateness, there stepped "ben" Tom and Eben
and Rob. Tom had his scythe in his hand, for he had come straight from
the meadow at his father's call, the sweat of mowing still beading his
brow, and the broad leathern strap shining wet about his waist. Eben
folded a pair of brawny arms across a chest like an oriel window, but
Rob always careful for appearances, had his great-grandfather's sword,
known in the family as "Drumclog," cocked over his shoulder, and carried
his head to the side with so knowing an air that the blade was cold
against his right ear.

Last of all my grandfather stepped in, while I kept carefully out of
sight behind him. He glanced once at his sons.

"Lads, be ashamed," he said; "you, Thomas, and especially you, Rob. Put
away these gauds. We are not 'boding in fear of weir.' These ill days
are done with. Be douce, and we will hear what this decent man has to
say."

There is no doubt that the lawyer was by this display of force somewhat
intimidated. At least, he looked about him for some means of escape, and
fumbled with the catch of his black hand-bag.

"Deil's in the man," cried Mary Lyon, snatching the bag from him, "but
it's a blessing I'm no so easy to tak' in as the guidman there. Let that
bag alane, will ye, na! Wha kens what may be in it? There--what did I
tell you?"

Unintentionally she shook the catch open, and within were two pistols
cocked and primed, of which Eben and Tom took instant possession.
Meanwhile, as may be imagined, my grandmother improved the occasion.

"A lawvier, are you, Master Wringham Poole o' Dumfries," she cried? "A
bonny lawvier, that does his business wi' a pair o' loaded pistols. Like
master, like man, I say! There's but ae kind o' lawvier that does his
business like that--he's caa'ed a cut-purse, a common highwayman, and
ends by dancing a bonny saraband at the end o' a tow-rope! Lalor
Maitland assaulted Marnhoul wi' just such a band o' thieves and
robbers--to steal away the bairns. This will be another o' the gang.
Lads, take hold, and see what he has on him."

But with one bound the seemingly weak and slender man flung himself in
the direction of the door. Before they could move he was out into the
lobby among the lavender bags containing Mary Lyon's Sunday wardrobe,
and but for the fact that he mistook the door of a preserve closet for
the front door, he might easily have escaped them all. But Rob, who was
young and active, closed in upon him. The slim man squirmed like an eel,
and even when on the ground drew a knife and stuck it into the calf of
Rob's leg. A yell, and a stamp followed, and then a great silence in
which we looked at one another awe-stricken. Mr. Wringham Poole lay like
a crushed caterpillar, inert and twitching. It seemed as if Rob had
killed him; but my grandfather, with proper care and precautions drew
away the knife, and after having passed a hand over the body in search
of further concealed weapons, laid him out on the four haircloth chairs,
with a footstool under his head for a pillow.

Then, having listened to the beating of the wounded man's heart, he
reassured us with a nod. All would be right. Next, from an inner pocket
he drew a pocket-book, out of the first division of which dropped a
black mask, like those worn at the assault upon Marnhoul, with pierced
eyeholes and strings for fastening behind the ears. There were also a
few papers and a card on which was printed a name--

"Wringham Pollixfen Poole"; and then underneath, written in pencil in a
neat lawyer-like hand, were the words, "Consultation at the Old Port at
midnight to-morrow."

At this we all looked at one another with a renewal of our perturbation.
The firm of Smart, Poole and Smart had existed in Dumfries for a long
time, and was highly considered. But in these troubled times one never
knew how far his neighbour might have been led. A man could only answer
for himself, and even as to that, he had sometimes a difficulty in
explaining himself. One of the firm of lawyers in the High Street might
have been tempted out of his depth. But, at any rate, here was one of
them damaged, and that by the hasty act of one of the sons of the house
of Heathknowes--which in itself was a serious matter.

My grandfather, therefore, judged it well that the lawyers in Dumfries
should be informed of what had befallen as soon as possible. But Mr.
Wringham Pollixfen Poole, if such were his name, was certainly in need
of being watched till my grandfather's return, specially as of necessity
he would be in the same house as Miss Irma and Sir Louis.

None of the young men, therefore, could be spared to carry a message to
Dumfries. My father could not leave his school, and so it came to pass
that I was dispatched to saddle my grandfather's horse. He would ride to
Dumfries with me on a pillion behind him, one hand tucked into the
pocket of his blue coat, while with the other I held the belt about his
waist to make sure. I had to walk up the hills, but that took little of
the pleasure away. Indeed, best of all to me seemed that running hither
and thither like a questing spaniel, in search of all manner of wild
flowers, or the sight of strange, unknown houses lying in wooded
glens--one I mind was Goldielea--which, as all the mead before the door
was one mass of rag-weed (which only grows on the best land), appeared
to me the prettiest and most appropriate name for a house that ever was.

And so think I still.



CHAPTER XX

THE REAL MR. POOLE


So in time we ran to Dumfries. And my grandfather put up at a hostelry
in English Street, where were many other conveyances with their shafts
canted high in the air, the day being Wednesday. He did not wait a
moment even to speak to those who saluted him by name, but betook
himself at once (and I with him) to the lawyers' offices in the High
Street--where it runs downhill just below the Mid Steeple.

Here we found a little knot of people. For, as it turned out (though at
the time we did not know it), Messrs. Smart, Poole and Smart were agents
for half the estates in Dumfriesshire, and our Galloway Marnhoul was
both a far cry and a very small matter to them.

So when we had watched a while the tremors of the ingoers, all eager to
ask favours, and compared them with the chastened demeanour of those
coming out, my grandfather said to me with his hand on my shoulder, "I
fear, Duncan lad, we shall sleep in Dumfries Tolbooth this night for
making so bauld with one of a house like this!"

And from this moment I began to regard our captive Mr. Poole with a far
greater respect, in spite of his pistols--which, after all, he might
deem necessary when travelling into such a wild smuggling region as, at
that day and date, most townsbodies pictured our Galloway to be.

We had a long time to wait in a kind of antechamber, where a man in a
livery of canary and black stripes, with black satin knee-breeches and
paste buckles to his shoes took our names, or at least my grandfather's
and the name of the estate about which we wanted to speak to the firm.

For, you see, there being so many to attend to on market day, they had
parted them among themselves, so many to each. And when it came to our
turn it was old Mr. Smart we saw. The grand man in canary and black
ushered us ben, told our name, adding, "of Marnhoul estate," as if we
had been the owners thereof.

We had looked to see a fine, noble-appearing man sitting on a kind of
throne, receiving homage, but there was nobody in the room but an old
man in a dressing-gown and soft felt slippers, stirring the
fire--though, indeed, it was hot enough outside.

He turned towards us, the poker still in his hand, and with an eye like
a gimlet seemed to take us in at a single glance.

"What's wrong? What's wrong the day?" he cried in an odd sing-song;
"what news of the Holy Smugglers? More battle, murder, and sudden death
along the Solway shore?"

I had never seen my grandfather so visibly perturbed before. He actually
stammered in trying to open out his business--which, now I come to think
of it, was indeed of the delicatest.

"I have," he began, "the honour of speaking to Mr. Smart the elder?"

"It is an honour you share with every Moffat Tam that wants a new roof
to his pigstye," grumbled the old man in the dressing-gown, "but such as
it is, say on. My time is short! If ye want mainners ye must go next
door!"

"Mr. Smart," said my grandfather, "I have come all the way from the
house of Heathknowes on the estate of Marnhoul to announce to you a
misfortune."

"What?" cried the old fellow in the blanket dressing-gown briskly, "has
the dead come to life again, or is Lalor Maitland turned honest?"

But my grandfather shook his head, and with a lamentable voice opened
out to the head of the firm what had befallen their Mr. Poole, how he
had come with pistols in his bag, and gotten trodden on by Rob, my
reckless uncle, so that he was now lying, safe but disabled, in the
small wall cabinet of Heathknowes.

I was expecting nothing less than a cry for the peace officers, and to
be marched off between a file of soldiers--or, at any rate, the
constables of the town guard.

But instead the little man put on a pair of great glasses with rims of
black horn, and looked at my grandfather quizzically and a trifle
sternly to see if he were daring to jest. But presently, seeing the
transparent honesty of the man (as who would not?), he broke out into a
snort of laughter, snatched open a door at his elbow, and cried out at
the top of his voice (which, to tell the truth, was no better than a
screech), "Dick Poole--ho there, big Dick Poole!--I want you, Dickie!"

I could see nothing from the next room but a haze of tobacco smoke,
which presently entering, set the old man in the dressing-gown
a-coughing.

"Send away thy rascals, Dick," he wheezed, "and shut that door, Dickie.
That cursed reek of yours would kill a hog of the stye. Hither with you,
good Dick!"

And after a clinking of glasses and the trampling of great boots on the
stairs, an immense man came in. His face was a riot of health. His eyes
shone blue and kindly under a huge fleece of curly black hair. There was
red in his cheeks, and his lips were full and scarlet. His hand and arm
were those of a prizefighter. He came in smiling, bringing with him such
an odour of strong waters and pipe tobacco that, between laughing and
coughing, I thought the old fellow would have choked. Indeed, I made a
step forward to pat the back of his dressing-gown of flannel, and if
Mary Lyon had been there, I am sure nothing would have stopped her from
doing it.

Even when he had a little recovered, he still stood hiccoughing with the
tears in his eyes, and calling out with curious squirms of inward
laughter, "Dick, lad, this will never do. Thou art under watch and ward
down at the pirn-mill of Marnhoul! And it was a wench that did it. Often
have I warned thee, Dick! Two pistols thou hadst in a black bag.
Dick--for shame, Dick--for shame, thus to fright a decent woman! And her
son, Rob (I think you said was the name of him), did trample the very
life out of you--which served you well and right, Dickie! Oh, Dickie,
for shame!"

The big man stood looking from one to the other of us, with a kind of
comical despair, when, hearing through the open door between the old
gentleman's room and his own, the sounds of a noisy irruption and the
clinking of glasses beginning again, he went back, and with a torrent of
rough words drove the roysterers forth, shutting and locking the door
after them.

Then he came strolling back, leaned his arm on the mantelpiece, and bade
my grandfather tell him all about it. I can see him yet, this huge ruddy
man, spreading himself by the fireplace, taking up most of the room
with his person, while he of the flannel dressing-gown wandered about
_tee-heeing_ with laughter--and, round one side or the other, or between
the legs of the Colossus, making an occasional feeble poke at the fire.

It was curious also to see how my grandfather's serene simplicity of
manner and speech compelled belief. I am sure that at first the big man
Dick had nothing in his mind but turning us out into the street as he
had done the roysterers. But as William Lyon went on, his bright eye
grew more thoughtful, and when my grandfather handed him the slip with
the name of Mr. Wringham Pollixfen Poole upon it, he absolutely broke
into a hurricane of laughter, which, however, sounded to me not a little
forced and hollow--though he slapped his leg so loud and hard that the
little man in the dressing-gown stopped open-mouthed and dropped his
poker on the floor.

"It seems to me," he cried shrilly, "that if you hit yourself like that,
Dick Poole, you will split your buckskin breeches, which appear to be
new."

But the big man took not the least notice. He only stared at the scrap
of paper, and then started to laugh again.

"Oh, don't do that!" cried his partner. "You will blow my windows out,
and you know how I hate a draught!"

And indeed they were rattling in their frames. Then the huge Dick went
forward and took my grandfather by the hand.

"You are sure you have got him?" he inquired; "remember, he is slippery
as an eel."

"My wife is looking after him--my three sons also," said William Lyon,
"and I think it likely that the stamp he got from Rob will keep him
decently quiet for a day at least. You see," he added apologetically,
"he drave the knife into the thick of the poor lad's leg!"

"Wringham?" cried the big man, "why, I did not think he had so muckle
spunk!"

"Is he close freend of yours?" my grandfather inquired a little
anxiously. For he did not wish to land himself in a blood-feud with the
kin of a lawyer.

"Friend of mine!" cried the big man, "no, by no means a friend--but, as
it may chance, some sort of kin. However that may be, if you have indeed
got Pollixfen safe, you have done the best day's work that ever you did
for yourself and for King George, God bless him!"

"Say you so?" said my grandfather. "Indeed, I rejoice me to hear it. I
have ever been a loyal subject. And as to the Maitland bairns--you see
no harm in their making their home with my goodwife, where the lads can
take care of them--in the unsettled state of the country!"

The senior partner at last got in a poke at the fire, for which he had
been long waiting his chance.

"And you, Master Lyon, that are such a good kingsman," he kekkled, "do
you never hear the blythe Free Traders go clinking by, or find an anker
of cognac nested in your yard among the winter-kail?"

"Mr. Smart," said the big man, "this is a market day, but I shall need
to ride and see if this is well founded. You will put on your coat
decently and take my work. Abraham has already as much as he can do. Be
short with them--they will not come wanting to drink with you as they do
with me! If what this good Cameronian says be true at this moment, as I
have no doubt it was when he left Marnhoul, the sooner I, Richard
Poole, am on the spot the better."

So he bade us haste and get our beast out of the yard. As for him he was
booted and spurred and buckskinned already. He had nothing to do but
mount and ride.

All this had passed so quickly that I had hardly time to think on the
strangeness of it. _Our_ Mr. Poole, he to whom my uncle Rob had given
such a stamp, was not the partner in the ancient firm of Smart, Poole
and Smart of the Plainstones. Of these I had seen two, and heard the
busy important voice of the third in another room as we descended the
stairs. They were all men very different from the viper whom my
grandmother had caught as in a bag. Even Mr. Smart was a gentleman. For
if he had a flannel dressing-gown on, one could see the sparkle of his
paste buckles at knee and instep, and his hose were of the best black
silk, as good as Doctor Gillespie's on Sacrament Sabbath when he was
going up to preach his action sermon. But our Mr. Wringham Pollixfen
Poole--I would not have wiped my foot on him--though, indeed, Uncle Rob
had made no bones about that matter.



CHAPTER XXI

WHILE WE SAT BY THE FIRE


Through the deep solitude of Tereggles Long Wood, past lonely lochs on
which little clattering ripples were blowing, into a west that was all
barred gold and red islands of fire, we rode. Or rather grandfather and
I went steadily but slowly on our pony, while beside us, sometimes
galloping a bit, anon trotting, came big Mr. Richard Poole on his black
horse. Sometimes he would ride off up a loaning to some farm-town where
he had a job to be seen to, or rap with the butt of his loaded whip at
the door of some roadside inn--the Four Mile house or Crocketford, where
he would call for a tankard and drain it off, as it were, with one toss
of the head.

It was easy to be seen that, for some reason of his own, he did not wish
to get to Heathknowes before us. Yet, after he had asked my grandfather
as to the children, and some details of the attack on the house of
Marnhoul (which he treated as merely an affair between two rival bands
of smugglers) he was pretty silent. And as we got nearer home, he grew
altogether absorbed in his thoughts.

But I could not help watching him. He looked so fine on his prancing
black, with the sunset glow mellowing his ruddy health, and his curious
habit of constantly making the thong of his horsewhip whistle through
the air or smack against his leg.

I had met as big men and clever men, but one so active, so healthy, so
beautiful I had never before seen. And every time that a buxom wife or a
well-looking maid brought him his ale to the door of the change-house,
he would set a forefinger underneath her chin and pat her cheek, asking
banteringly after the children or when the wedding was coming off. And
though they did not know him or he them, no one took his words or acts
amiss. Such was the way he had with him.

And about this time I began to solace myself greatly with the thought of
the meeting there would be between these two--the false Poole and the
true.

At last we came in the twilight to the Haunted House of Marnhoul, and
Mr. Richard made his horse rear almost as high as the unicorn does in
the sign above the King's Arms door, so suddenly did he swing him round
to the gate. He halted the beast with his head against the very bar and
looked up the avenue. The grass in the glade was again covered with dew,
for the sky was clear and it was growing colder every minute. It shone
almost like silver, and beyond was the house standing like a dim
dark-grey patch between us and the forest.

"This gate has been mended," he remarked, tapping the new wooden post
that had come down from the mill a day or two before.

"I saw to that myself, sir," said my grandfather. "I also painted it."

"Ha, well done--improving the property for your young guests!" said Mr.
Richard, and then quite suddenly he turned moodily away. All at once he
looked at my grandfather again. "You had better know," he said, "that
the girl will have no money. So she ought to be taught dairymaking. I am
partial to dairymaids myself! If she favours the Maitlands, she ought to
make a pretty one."

My grandfather said nothing, for he did not like this sort of talk, and
was utterly careless whether Miss Irma were penniless or the greatest
heiress in the country.

Then the long whitewashed rectangle of the Heathknowes office-houses
loomed above us on their hill. In a minute more we were at the gate. My
grandfather called, and through the door of the kitchen came a long
vertical slab of light that fell in a broad beam across the yard. Then
one of the herd-lads hurried across to open the barred "yett" and let us
in.

"Is all safe?" said my grandfather.

"As ye left him," was the answer. "The mistress and the lads have never
taken their eyes off him for a moment!"

"Take this gentleman's horse, Ben," said my grandfather. But Mr. Richard
preferred to be his own hostler, nor did he offer to go near the house
or speak a word of his business till he had seen his splendid black duly
stalled.

Then my grandmother was summoned, the children brought down, and
immediately stricken, Sir Louis with an intense admiration of the great
strong man in riding boots, and Miss Irma with a dislike quite as
intense. I could see her averting her eyes and trying to hide it. But
over all the other women in the house he established at once a paramount
empire. Even my Aunt Jen followed him with her eyes, so much of the room
did he take up, so large and easy were his gestures, and with such a
matter-of-course simplicity did he take the homage they paid him.

Yet he seemed to care far more about Miss Irma than even my grandmother,
or the fellow of his name whom he had ridden so far to see.

He asked her whether she would rather stay where she was or come to
Dumfries, to be near the theatre and Assembly balls. As for a chaperon,
she could make her choice between Mrs. Hope of the Abbey and the
Provost's lady. Either would be glad to oblige the daughter of a
Maitland of Marnhoul--and perhaps also Mr. Richard Poole.

Then, after hearing her answer, he asked for pen and paper and wrote a
few lines--

    "As Miss Irma Maitland urgently desires that her brother and she
    should remain under the care of Mr. William Lyon and his wife at
    Heathknowes, and as the aforesaid William and Mary Lyon are able and
    willing to provide for their maintenance, we see no reason why the
    arrangement should not be an excellent and suitable one, at least
    until such time as Sir Louis must be sent to school, when the whole
    question will again come up. And this to hold good whatever may be
    the outcome of this interview with the person calling himself
    Wringham Pollixfen Poole,

                                        "For Smart, Poole and Smart,
                                        "R. Poole."

He handed the paper across to my grandmother, in whom he easily
recognized the ruling spirit of the household.

"There, madam," he said, "that will put matters on a right basis with my
firm whatever may happen to me. And now, if you please, I should like to
see my double at once. I suspect a kinsman, but do not be afraid of a
vendetta. If Master Robin, of whose prowess I have already heard, has
crushed in a rib or two, so much the better. Even if he had broken my
worthy relative's back, I fear me few would have worn mourning!"

They found the three young men still in the room, and my grandmother did
no more than assure herself of the presence of the still white-wrapped
figure on the shakedown in the corner, before leading Mr. Richard into
the parlour.

He went out from us with a jovial nod to my father, a low bow to Miss
Irma, and mock salutation to little Sir Louis, his head high in the air,
his riding whip swinging by its loop from his arm, and as it seemed, a
vigour of blood sufficient for a dozen ordinary people circulating in
his veins.

"Thank you, gentlemen," he said to my uncles, as soon as he had looked
at the bed and lifted the kerchief which Mary Lyon had laid wet upon the
brow. "I recognize, as I had reason to expect, a scion of my house,
however unworthy, with whom it will be necessary for me to communicate
privately. But if you will retire to the kitchen, I shall easily signal
you should your services become again necessary."

He stood with the edge of the door in his hand, and with a slight bow
ushered each of my uncles out. I was there, too, of course, seeing what
was to be seen. His eye lighted on me, and a slinking figure I must have
presented in spite of my usual courage, for he only turned one thumb
back over his shoulder with a comical smile, and bade me get to bed,
because when he was young he, too, knew what keyholes were good for.

The word "too" hurt me, for it meant that he thought I was going to
eavesdrop, whereas I was merely, for the sake of Irma and the family,
endeavouring to satisfy a perfectly legitimate curiosity.

I did, however, hear him say as he shut and locked the parlour door,
"Now, sir, the play is played. Sit up and take off that clout. Let us
talk out this affair like men!"

It was now night, and we were gathered in the kitchen. I do not think
that even Rob took much supper. I know that but for my grandfather the
horses would have had to go without theirs--and this, the most sacred
duty of mankind about a farm, would for once have been neglected. We
sat, mainly in the dark, with only the red glow of the fire in our
faces, listening to the voice of a man that came in stormy gusts. The
lamp had been left on the parlour table to give them light, and somehow
we were so preoccupied that none of us thought of lighting a candle.

The great voice of Mr. Richard dominated us--so full of contempt and
anger it was. We could not in the least distinguish what the impostor
said in reply. Indeed, Rob and I could just hear a kind of roopy
clattering like that of a hungry hen complaining to the vague Powers
which rule the times and seasons of distribution from the "daich" bowl.

There was something very strange in all this--so strange that when my
grandfather came back, for the first time in the history of Heathknowes,
no chapter was read, no psalm sung or prayer read. Somehow it seemed
like an impiety in the face of what was going on down there. Mr. Richard
talked far the most. At first his mood was all of stormy anger, and the
replies of the other, as I have said, almost inaudible.

But after a while these bursts of bellowing became less frequent. The
low replying voice grew, if not louder, more persistent. Mr. Richard
seemed to be denying or refusing something in short gruff gasps of
breath.

"No, no--no! By heaven, sir, NO!" we heard him cry plainly. And somehow
hearing that, Irma crept closer to me, and slid her hand in mine, a
thing which she had not done since the night of watching in the Old
House of Marnhoul.

Somehow both of us knew that it was a question of herself.

Then suddenly upon this long period of to-and-fro, there fell (as it
were) the very calmness of reconciliation. Peace seemed to be made, and
I think that all of us were glad of it, for the suspense and an
increasing tension of the nerves were telling on us all.

"They are shaking hands," whispered my grandmother; "Mr. Richard has
brought him to his senses. Fine I knew he would."

"I wonder if they will put him in prison or let him off because of the
family?" said Rob, adjusting the bandage about his wounded leg. "Anyway,
I am glad of the bit tramp he got from my yard clogs!"

"Wheesht!" whispered my grandfather, inclining his ear in the direction
of the parlour door. We all listened, but it was nothing. Not a murmur.

"They will be writing something--some bond or deed, most likely."

"They are long about it," said William Lyon uneasily.

The silence endured and still endured till an hour was passed. My
grandfather fidgeted in his chair. At last he said in a low tone, "Lads,
we have endured long enough. We must see what they are at. If we are
wrong, I will bear the weight!"

As one man the four moved towards the door, through the keyhole of which
a ray of light was stealing from the lamp that had been left on the
table.

"Open!" cried my grandfather suddenly and loudly. But the door remained
fast.

"Is all right there, Master Richard?" he shouted. Still there was
silence within.

"Put your shoulders to it, lads!" Eben and Tom were at it in a moment,
while strong Rob, springing from the far side of the passage, burst the
lock and sent the door back against the inner wall, the hinges snapped
clean through.

Mr. Richard was sitting in a quiet room, his head leaning forward on his
hands. His loaded riding whip was flung in a corner. The window was wide
open, and the night black and quiet without. Sweet odours of flowers
came in from the little garden. The lamp burned peacefully and nothing
in the room was disturbed. But Mr. Wringham Pollixfen was not there, and
when we touched him, Mr. Richard Poole was dead, his head dropped upon
his arms.



PART III

CHAPTER XXII

BOYD CONNOWAY'S EVIDENCE


The loop of the riding-whip on Mr. Richard's wrist was broken, and
behind his ear there was a lump the size of a small hen's egg. There
were no signs of a struggle. The two men had been sitting face to face,
eye to eye, when by a movement which must have been swift as lightning,
one had disarmed and smitten the other.

Tom, Eben and Rob armed themselves and went out. But the branches of
Marnhoul wood stood up against the sky, black, serried and silent. The
fields beneath spread empty and grey. The sough of the wind and the
fleeing cloud of night was all they saw or heard. They were soon within
the house again, happy to be there and the door barred stoutly upon
them.

Except for little Louis, who was already in bed on the other side of the
house where his chamber was, and so knew nothing of the occurrence till
the morning, there was no sleep for any that night at Heathknowes. At
the first clear break of day Tom and Eben took the cart-horses and rode
over to tell Dr. Gillespie, General Johnstone, and Mr. Shepstone
Oglethorpe, who were all Justices of the Peace, of what had happened.
They came, the General the most imposing, with a great army cloak and a
star showing beneath the collar.

In the little detached sitting-room, which till the coming of the
Maitlands had been used as a cheese-room, Mr. Richard Poole sat, as he
had been found, his head still bowed upon his arms, but on his face,
when they raised it to look, there was an absolute terror, so that even
the General, who had seen many a day of battle, was glad to lay it down
again.

They took such testimony as was to be had, which was but little, and all
tending to one startling conclusion. Suddenly, swiftly, noiselessly,
within hearing of eight or nine people, in a defensible house, with arms
at hand, Mr. Richard Poole, of the firm of Smart, Poole and Smart, had
been done to death.

Yet he had known something, though perhaps not the full extent of his
danger. We recalled his silences, his moodiness as he approached the
farm--the manner in which he had at once put aside all claims, even on a
market Wednesday, that he might ride and speak with a man who, if he
were not a felon, was certainly no honourable acquaintance for such as
Mr. Richard.

The three gentlemen looked at each other and took snuff from the
Doctor's gold box.

"Very serious, sir!" said Mr. Shepstone tentatively. For indeed he had
not many ideas--a fact which the others charitably put down to his being
an Episcopalian. Really he wanted to find out what they thought before
committing himself.

"Tempestuous Theophilus!" cried the General, who in the presence of the
Doctor always swore by unknown saints--to relieve himself, as was
thought--"but 'tis more serious than you think. A fellow like this
alive, at large, in our parish----"

"In _my_ parish----" corrected the Doctor, who was the only man alive
with a legal right to speak of Eden Valley parish as his own.

About noon the Fiscal, responsible law officer of the Crown, arrived
from Kirkcudbright escorted by Tom and Eben. The evidence was all heard
over again, the chamber--ex-cheese room, present parlour--again
inspected, but nothing further appeared likely to be discovered, when a
shadow fell across the threshold.

For some time, indeed, I had sat quaking in my corner, all cold with the
fear of a flitting figure, appearing here and there, seen with the tail
of the eye, and then disappearing like the black cat I see in corners
when my eyes are overstrained with Greek.

Of course I thought at once of the murderer Wringham Pollixfen lurking
catlike among the office-houses in the hope of striking again, perhaps
at Miss Irma--perhaps, also, as I now see, at Sir Louis. But indeed I
never thought of him, at least not at the time. It was not the pretended
Poole, however. It was a presence as quick, as agile, but more perfectly
acquainted with the hidie-holes of the farmyard--in fact, Boyd Connoway.

Long before the others I got my eyes on him, and with the joy of a boy
when a visitor enters the school at the dreariest hour of lessons, I
rushed after him. To my surprise he went round the angle of the barn
like a shot. But I had played at that game before. I took one flying
leap into the little orchard from the window of the parlour which had
been given up to the Maitlands, Louis and Miss Irma. Then I glided among
the trees, choosing those I knew would hide me, and leaped on Master
Boyd from behind as he was craning his neck to peer round the corner in
the direction of the house door.

To my utter amaze he dropped to the ground with a throttled kind of cry
as if some one had smitten him unawares. Here was surely something that
I did not understand.

"Boyd, Boyd," I said in his ear, for I began to grow a little concerned
myself--not terrified, you know, only anxious--"Boyd, it is only
Duncan--Duncan MacAlpine from the school-house."

He turned a white, bewildered face to me, cold sweats pearling it, and
his jaw worked in spasms. "Oh yes," he muttered, "Agnes Anne's brother!"

Now I did not see the use of dragging Agnes Anne continually into
everything. Also I was one of the boys who had gone with Boyd Connoway
oftenest to the fishing in Loch-in-Breck, and he need not have been
afraid of me. But I think that he was a little unsettled by fear.

He did not explain, however, only bidding me shudderingly, "not to come
at him that way again!" So I promised I would not, all the more readily
that I heard him muttering to himself, "I thought he had me that
time--yes, sure!"

Then I knew that he too was afraid of the man who called himself
Wringham Pollixfen Poole and had killed the real Mr. Richard in our old
cheese-room. But I was not a bit afraid, for had I not jumped through
the orchard window, and run and clapped my hand on his shoulder without
a thought of the creature ever crossing my mind.

At any rate I took him in with me--that is, Boyd Connoway. I cannot say
that he wanted very much to go "before them Justices," as he said. But
at least he preferred it to stopping outside. I think he was frightened
of my coming out again and slapping down my hand on his shoulder. Lord
knows he need not have been, for I promised not to. At any rate he came,
which was the main thing.

He did not enjoy the ceremony, but stood before them with his blue coat
with the large rolling collar, which had been made for a bigger man,
buttoned about his waist, and his rig-and-furrow stockings of green,
with home-made shoes called "brogues," the secret of making which he had
brought with him from a place called Killybegs in County Donegal. He was
all tashed with bits of straw and moss clinging to him. His knees too
were wet where he had knelt in the marsh, and there was a kind of white
shaking terror about the man that impressed every one. For Boyd Connoway
had ever been the gayest and most reckless fellow in the parish.

When he was asked if he knew anything about the matter he only
stammered, "Thank you kindly, Doctor, and you, General, and hoping that
I have the honour of seein' you in good health, and that all is well
with you at home and your good ladies and the childer!"

The General, who thought that he spoke in a mood of mockery, cautioned
him that they were met there on a business of life and death, and were
in no mood to be trifled with. Therefore, he, Boyd Connoway, had better
keep his foolery for another time!

But the Doctor, being by his profession accustomed to diagnose the moods
of souls, discerned the laboured pant of one who has been breathed by a
long run from mortal terror--who has, as my father would have said,
"ridden a race with Black Care clinging to the crupper"--and took Boyd
in hand with better results. He agreed to tell all he knew, on being
promised full and certain protection.

And it was something like this that he told his story, as it proved the
only direct evidence in the case, at least for many and many a day.

"Doctor dear," he began, "ye are a married man yourself, and you will
not be misunderstanding me when I ask that anything I may say shall not
be used against me?"

The Fiscal looked up quickly.

"I warn you that it will," he said, "if you have had any hand in this
murder!"

"Murder, is it?"--(Boyd Connoway gave a short grunting laugh)--"Aye,
maybe, but 'tis not the murder that has been, but the murder that will
be, if my wife Bridget gets wind of this! That's why I ask that it
should be kept between ourselves--so that Bridget should not know!"

"Women," said the Fiscal oracularly, "must not be allowed to interfere
with the evenhanded and fearless administration of justice."

"Then I take it," said Boyd, with a twinkle of the old mirth flickering
up into his white and anxious face, "that your honour is not a married
man!"

"No," said the Fiscal, with a smile.

"Then, if I may make so bould, your honour knows nothing about how it is
'twixt Bridget and me. His riverence the Doctor now----"

"Tell us what you know without digressions," said the Fiscal; "no use
will be made of your evidence save in pursuing and bringing to justice
the criminal."

"He's gone," said Boyd Connoway solemnly, "and a good riddance to the
parish!"

"Wha-a-at?" cried the three magistrates simultaneously. And the Fiscal
started to his feet.

"Who has gone?" he cried, and mechanically he drew from his pocket a
silver call to summon his constables from the kitchen, where my uncles
and they were having as riotous a time as they dared while so many great
folk sat pow-wowing in the parlour near at hand.

"Who?" repeated Boyd Connoway, "well, I don't know for certain, but
perhaps this little piece of paper will put you gentlemen on the track."

And he handed over a letter, much stained with sea-water and sand. The
heel of a boot had trodden upon and partly obliterated the writing, the
ink having run, and the whole appearance of the document being somewhat
draggle-tailed.

But there was no doubt about the address. That was clearly written in a
fine flowing English hand, "To His Excellency Lalor Maitland, late
Governor of the Meuse, Constable of Dinant, etc., etc. _These_"--

We all looked at each other, and the Fiscal began to doubt whether the
new evidence as to the suspected murderer would prove so valuable after
all.

"Your Excellency" (the letter ran), "according to the promise made to
you, the lugger _Bloomendahl_, of Walchern, Captain Vandam, has been
cleared of cargo and is exclusively reserved for your Excellency's use.
It will be well, therefore, to dispatch your remaining business in
Scotland, as it is impossible to send back the _Golden Hind_ or a vessel
of similar size without causing remark. At the old place, then, a little
after midnight of Thursday the 18th, a boat will be waiting for you at
the eastern port or the western of Portowarren according to the wind.
The tide is full about one."

"How came you by this?" the Fiscal demanded.

"Shall I tell ye in bits, sorr?" said Boyd, "or will ye have her from
the beginning?"

"From the beginning," said the Fiscal, "only with as few digressions as
possible."

"Sure," said Boyd innocently, "I got none o' them about me. Your honour
can saarch me if ye like!"

"The Fiscal means," said the Doctor, "that you are to tell him the story
as straightly and as briefly as possible."

"Straightly, aye, that I will," said Boyd, "there was never a crooked
word came out of my mouth; but briefly, that's beyond any Irishman's
power--least of all if he comes from County Donegal!"

"Go on!" cried the Fiscal impatiently.

"As all things do in our house, it began with Bridget," said Boyd
Connoway; "ye see, sorr, she took in a man with a wound--powerful sick
he was. The night after the 'dust-up' at the Big House was the time, and
she nursed him and she cured him, the craitur. But, whatever the better
Bridget was, all that I got for it was that I had to go to Portowarren
at dead of night, and that letter flung at me like a bone to a dog, when
I told him that I might be called in question for the matter of my
wife."

"'Aye, put it on your wife,' says he, 'they will let you off. _You_ have
not the pluck of a half-drowned flea!'

"But when I insisted that I should have wherewith to clear me and
Bridget also, he cast the letter down, dibbling it into the pebbles and
sand with his heel just as he was going aboard.

"'There,' he cried, 'now you can put it on me!'"

"Lalor Maitland," said the Fiscal, ruminating, with his brow knit at the
letter in his hand. "Where is that maid? Bring her here!"

I sprang away at once to knock on Irma's door, and bid her come, because
the great folk were wanting her. And it seemed as if she had been
expecting the summons too, for she was sitting ready close by little
Louis. She cast a white shawl about her shoulders, crossed the kitchen
and so into the room where the four gentlemen were sitting about the
table--the Fiscal with his papers at the end, and behind the curtains
drawn close about the press-bed where lay that which it was not good for
young eyes to see.

"Miss Maitland, will you describe to us your cousin, Lalor Maitland, of
whom you have already spoken to me?"

It was the Doctor who took her hand, while on the other side Boyd
Connoway in his flapping clothes of antique pattern with brass buttons
stood waiting his turn. Irma took one look about which I intercepted.
And I think my nod together with the presence of my grandmother gave her
courage, for she answered--

"Lalor Maitland? What has he to do with us? He shall not have us. We
would kill ourselves if we could not run away. You would never think of
giving us up to him----?"

"Never while I am alive!" cried my grandmother, but Dr. Gillespie signed
to her to be silent.

"Will you describe him to us?" suggested the Doctor suavely, "what sort
of a man, dark or fair, stout or spare, how he carries himself, what he
came over to this country for, and where he is likely to have gone, if
we find that he has left it?"

Irma thought a moment and then said, "Perhaps I shall not be quite just
because I hated him so. But he was a man whom most call handsome, though
to me there was always something dreadful about his face. His hair was
dark brown mixed with grey. His features were cut like those of a
statue, and his head small for his height. He was slender, light on his
feet, and walked silently--_ugh_--yes, like a cat."

The Fiscal looked an interrogation at Boyd Connoway.

"That is the man," he answered unhesitatingly, "though most of the time
while he stayed with Bridget and me he kept his bed. Only from the way
he got along the cliff by Portowarren, I judge he was only keeping out
of sight and by no means so weak with his wound as he would have had us
believe."

"And tell us what you saw of him yesterday, Wednesday?"

It was the Fiscal who asked the question, but I think all of us held our
breaths to catch Boyd Connoway's answer. He shook his head with a
disconcerted air like a boy who is set too hard a problem.

"I was from home most of the day, and when I came in, with a hunger
sharp-set with half-a-dozen hours struggling with the wind, Bridget bade
me be off at once to the Dutchman's Howff, which is in Colvend, just
where the Boreland march dyke comes down to the edge of the cliff. I was
to wait there on the edge of the heugh till one came and called me by
name. When I complained of hunger, she put some dry bread into my hand,
crying out that I might seek meat where I had worked my work.

"I saw that the 'ben' room was empty, and the blankets thrown over the
three chair backs. But when I asked where the sick man was, Bridget
stamped her foot and bade me attend to my business and she would take
care of hers. But Jerry, my oldest boy, had a word with me before I left
for the march dyke. He told me that the man 'down-the-house' had gone
that morning as soon as my back was turned, after paying his mother in
gold sovereigns, which she had immediately hidden.

"So I went and waited by the Boreland march dyke--a wild place where
even the heather is laid flat by the wind. The gulls and corbies were
calling down the cliff, and at the foot the sea was roaring through a
narrow gully and spreading out fan-shaped along the sands of the
Dutchman's Howff.

"I waited long, having nought to eat except the sheaf of loaf bread I
gat with such an ill grace from Bridget, and at the end I was beginning
to lose patience, when from the other side of the gully I heard a crying
and a voice bade me follow the dyke upwards and stand by to help.

"So upon the top of the wall I got, and there beneath me was the man I
had last seen lying in Bridget's best bed, cossetted and cared for as
if he were a prince. But for all that he was short and angry, bidding me
dispatch and help him or he would lose his tide."

"And did he wear the same clothes as when last you saw him?" said
Shepstone Oglethorpe, with a shrewd air.

At which Boyd Connoway laughed for the first time since he had come into
the presence of his betters.

"No," he said, "for the last time I saw him he was under the sheets with
one of my sarks on, and Bridget's best linen sheet tied in ribbons about
his head."

"And how, then, was he dressed?" said the Fiscal, with a glance of scorn
at Shepstone.

"Oh," answered Boyd Connoway, "just like you or me. I took no particular
notice. More than that, it was an ill time for seeing patterns, being
nigh on to pit mirk. He bade me lead the way. And this, to the best of
my knowledge and ability, I did. But the track is not canny even in the
broad of the day. Mickle worse is it when the light of the stars and the
glimmer o' the sea three hunder feet below are all that ye hae to guide
ye! But the man that had been hidden in our 'ben' room was aye for going
on faster and faster. He stopped only to look down now and then for a
riding light of some boat. And I made so bold, seeing him that anxious,
as to tell him that if it were a canny cargo for the Co'en lads, waiting
to be run into Portowarren, never a glim would he see."

"'You trust a man that kens,' I said to him, 'never a skarrow will wink,
nor a lantern swing. The Isle o' Man chaps and the Dutchmen out yonder
have their business better at their fingers' ends than that. But I will
tell ye what ye may hear when we get down the hill by the joiner's
shop--and that's the clink o' the saddle irons, and the waff o' their
horses' lugs as they shake their necks--them no liking their heads tied
up in bags.'

"'Get on,' he said, 'I wish your head were tied up in a bag!' And he
tugged at my tail-coat like to rive it off me, your honour. 'Set me on
the shore there at Portowarren before the hour of two, or maybe ye will
get something for your guerdon ye will like but ill.'

"This was but indifferent talk to a man whose bread you have been eating
(it is mostly porridge and saps, but no matter) for weeks and weeks!

"We climbed down by the steep road over the rocks--the same that Will of
the Cloak Moss and Muckle Sandy o' Auchenhay once held for two hours
again the gaugers, till the loaded boats got off clear again into deep
water. And when we had tramped down through the round stones that were
so hard on the feet after the heather, we came to the edge of the sea
water. There it is deep right in. For the tide never leaves
Portowarren--no, not the shot of a pebble thrown by the hand. Bending
low I could see something like the sail of a ship rise black against the
paler edge of the sea.

"Then it was that I asked the man for something that might clear me if I
was held in suspicion for this night's work--as also my wife Bridget.

"After at first denying me with oaths and curses, he threw down this bit
paper that I have communicated to your worship, and in a pet trampled it
into the pebbles among which the sea was churning and lappering. He
pushed off into the boat, sending it out by his weight.

"'There,' he cried back, 'let them make what they will of that if ye be
called in question. And, hear ye, Boyd Connoway, this I do for the sake
of that hard-working woman, your wife, and not for you, that are but a
careless, idle good-for-nothing!'"

"Deil or man," broke in my grandmother, who thought she had kept silence
long enough, "never was a truer word spoken!"

Boyd Connoway looked pathetically about. He seemed to implore some one
to stand up in his defence. I would have liked to do it, because of his
kindness to me, but dared not before such an assembly and on so solemn
an occasion.

"I put it to the honourable gentlemen now assembled," said Boyd
Connoway, "if a man can rightly be called a lazy good-for-nothing when
he rose at four of the morning to cut his wife's firewood----"

"Should have done it the night before," interrupted my grandmother.

"And was at Urr kirkyard at ten to help dig a grave, handed the service
of cake and wine at twelve, rung the bell, covered in the corp, and
sodded him down as snug as you, Mr. Fiscal, will sleep in your bed this
night----!"

"That will do," said the Fiscal, who thought Boyd Connoway had had quite
enough rope. "Tell us what happened after that--and briefly, as I said
before."

"Why, I went over to Widow McVinnie's to milk her cow. It calved only
last Wednesday, and I am fond of 'beesten cheese.' Besides, the
scripture says, 'Help the widows in their afflictions'--or words to that
effect."

"After this man Lalor Maitland had got into the boat, what happened?"

The Fiscal spoke sharply. He thought he was being played with, when, in
fact, Boyd was only letting his tongue run on naturally.

"Nothing at all, your honour," said Boyd promptly. "The men in the boat
just set their oars to the work and were round the corner in a jiffey. I
ran to the point by the narrow square opening into the soft sandstone
rock, and lying low on my face I could see a lugger close in under the
heugh of Boreland, where she would never have dared to go, save that the
wind was off shore and steady. But after the noise of the oars in the
rowlocks died away I heard no more, and look as I would, I never saw the
lugger slip out of the deep shadow of the heughs. So, there being
nothing further to be done, I filled my pockets with the dulse that
grows there, thin and sweet. For nowhere along the Solway shore does one
get the right purple colour and the clean taste of the dulse as in that
of Portowarren, towards the right-hand nook as you stand looking up the
brae face."

Having tendered this very precise indication to whom it might concern,
Boyd bowed to the company and took his leave.

                 *       *       *       *       *

The Fiscal was for holding him in ward lest he should escape, being such
a principal witness. But the three Justices knew well that there was no
danger of this, and indeed all of them expressed their willingness to go
bail for the appearance of Boyd Connoway whenever he should be wanted.

"And a great many times when he is not!" added my grandmother, with tart
frankness.



CHAPTER XXIII

THE SHARP SPUR


Though, therefore, the mystery remained as impenetrable as ever, I think
that the fact of the absence of Lalor Maitland put new vigour into all
of us. Richard Poole was buried in Dumfries, where all the "good jovial
fellows" of a dozen parishes gathered to give him an impressive funeral.
The firm closed up its ranks and became merely Messrs. Smart and Smart.
There was a new and loquacious tablet in St. Michael's relating in
detail (with omissions) the virtues and attainments of the deceased Mr.
Richard. But of the other Mr. Poole, calling himself Wringham Pollixfen,
not a trace, not a suggestion, not a suspicion of his whereabouts had he
left behind since he stepped out of our window into the dark.

But, nevertheless, in Eden Valley the air was clearer, the summer day
longer and brighter, and the land had rest. It was an impressive day
when Irma brought Louis to my father's school. The Academy remembers it
yet.

The morning had opened rather desolately. With the dawn the slate-grey
fingers of the rain clouds had reached down, spanning from Criffel to
Screel. The sea mist did what faith also can do. It removed mountains.
One after another they faded and were not. A chillish wind began to blow
up from the Solway, and even in Eden Valley was heard the distant roar
of the surf, through the low pass which is called the Nick of Benarick.
The long grass first stood in beads and then began to trickle. Flowers
drooped their heads if of the harebell sort, or stood spikily defiant
like the yellow whin and the pink thistle.

I had got ready cloaks and hoods, you may be sure. I was on the spot at
my grandmother's door a full hour before the time. Within I found Mary
Lyon raging. Neither of the bairns should go out of her house on such a
day! What for could they not be content to take their learning from
Duncan and Agnes Anne? Miss Irma, she was sure, was well able to teach
the bairn. It was all a foolishness, and very likely would end in
something uncanny. If it did--well, let nobody blame her. She had lifted
up her testimony, and thrown away her wisdom on deaf ears.

Which, indeed, was something not unlike the case.

For just then the sun shone out. The clouds divided to right and left,
following the steep purpling ridges on either side of Eden Valley--and
in the middle opening out a long sweet stream of brightness. Little
Louis clapped his hands. He ached for the company of his kind. He talked
"boys." He dreamed "boys"--not grown-up boys like me, but children of
his own age. He despised Irma because she was a girl. Only Agnes Anne
could anyways satisfy him, when she put on over her dress a pair of her
grandfather's corduroy trousers, buttoned them above her shoulder, and
pretended to give orders as in the pirn-mill. Even then, after a happy
hour with the toys which Agnes Anne contrived for him, all at once Louis
grew whimpering disappointedly, stared at her and said, "You are not a
real little boy."

And I, who had the pick of the Eden Valley boys on my hand every time I
went near my father's (and knew them for little beasts), wondered at his
taste, when he could have Irma's company, not to speak of Agnes Anne's.
But I resolved that I should keep a bright look-out and make the little
villains behave. For at an early age our Eden Valley boys were just
savages, ready to mock and rend any one of themselves who was a little
better dressed, who wore boots instead of clogs with birch-wood soles,
or dared to speak without battering the King's English out of all
recognition.

My father and Miss Huntingdon would, of course, be ready to protect our
small man as far as was in their power. But they, especially my father,
were often far removed in higher spheres of work, while Miss Huntingdon
was never in the boys' playground at all. But I had none of these
disabilities. I was instructed, sharp-eyed, always on the spot, with
fists in good repair--armed, too, with a certain authority and the habit
of using it to the full.

So little Louis found himself among his boys. I picked him out
half-a-dozen of the most peaceable to play with, after he had received
his first lesson from a very proud and smiling Miss Huntingdon. Miss
Irma, after being formally introduced to the school, left the sort of
throne which had been set for her beside my father, to go and sit beside
Agnes Anne at the top of the highest form of girls.

Her presence made a hush among the elder boys, and such of the young men
as happened to be there that day. For though we had scholars up to the
age of twenty, most of these were at work during the summer and came
only in the winter season--though in the interval betwixt sowing and
hay-harvest and between that again and the ripening of the corn we would
receive stray visits from them, especially in the long wet spells of
weather.

It was at noon and the girls were walking in their playground talking
with linked arms, apart from the noisy sportings of the boys, when I
caught my first glimpse of Uncle Rob. He was standing right opposite the
school in the big door of the Eden Valley Mill. I wondered what he was
doing there, for it was not the season for grinding much corn. Besides,
it would have been handier to send it down and call for it again during
such a busy season on the farm.

So I ran across and asked him what he was doing there. I could hardly
hear his answer, for the loud _plash-plash_ of the buckets of water as
they fell into the great pool underneath the wheel.

I understood him, however, to say that it was open to me to attend to my
own business and leave him to look after his.

In a moment the demon of jealousy entered into my soul. Could it be that
he came there to be near Irma--Irma, whom I had fought for and saved
half-a-dozen times over all by myself--for it is not worth while going
back to what Agnes Anne did, as it were, accidentally. I was so angry at
the mere thought that there and then I charged him with his perfidy. He
laughed a short, contemptuous laugh.

"And what for no," he answered; "at least _I_ have a trade at my
finger-ends. I can drive a plough. I can thresh a mow. At a pinch I can
even shoe a horse. But you--you have quit even the school-mastering!"

I do not know whether or not he said it unwittingly or with intent to
sting me. But at any rate the thrust went home. I could hardly wait till
my father had got through with his work that night, and was stretched in
his easy-chair, his long pipe in one hand and a volume of Martial in the
other. I broke in upon him with the words, "Father, I want to go to
college with Freddie Esquillant!"

My father looked at me in surprise. I can see him still staring at me
bemazed with his pipe half-way to his mouth, and the open book laid face
downward upon his knee.

"Go to college--you?" His surprise was more cutting than Uncle Rob's
mockery. Because, you see, my father knew. That is, he knew my
scholarship. What he did not know was how much of my grandmother's
spirit there was in me, and how I could keep working on and on if I had
the chance.

"You have thought of this long?" he asked.

"No, father!"

"Ah, well, what put it into your head?" he asked kindly.

This I could hardly tell him without entering into my furious foolish
jealousy of Uncle Rob, his waiting at the mill, and our exchange of
words. So I only said, "It just came to me that I would like to get
learning, father!"

"Ah, yes," he meditated, "that is mostly the way. It is like heavenly
grace. It comes to a man when he least expects it--the desire for
learning. We seek it diligently with tears. It comes not. We wake in the
morning and lo! it is there!"

It is characteristic of my father that even then he did not concern
himself about ways and means. For at the colleges of our land are
"bursaries" provided by pious patrons, once poor themselves, and often
with a thirst for knowledge unquenched--boys put too early to the bench
or the counter. Now my father had the way of winning these for his
pupils. He did not teach them directly how to gain them, but he supplied
the inspiration.

"Read much and well. Get the spirit. Learn the grammar, certainly. But
read Latin--till you can speak Latin, think Latin. It is more difficult
to think Greek. Our stiff-necked, stubborn Lowland nature, produce of
half-a-score of conquering nations, has not the right suppleness. But if
there is any poetry in you, it will find you out when you read
Euripides."

So though certainly I never got so far--the verbs irregular giving me a
distaste for the business--at least I fell into line, and in due
time--but there I am anticipating. I am writing of the day, the
wonderful day when the sharp spur of Uncle Rob's reproach entered into
my soul and I resolved to be--I hardly knew what. A band of little boys,
all eager to see the pirn-mill in the Marnhoul wood, volunteered to
accompany Louis home. They went on ahead, gambolling and shouting. Agnes
Anne would have come also, but I suggested to her that she had better
stay and help her mother.

She gave me one look--not by any means of anger. Rather if Agnes Anne
had ever permitted herself to make fun of me, I should have set it down
to that. But I knew well that could not be. She stayed at home,
contentedly enough, however.

I went home with Irma. I did so because I had the cloaks and hoods to
carry. Also I had something to tell her. It seemed something so
terrible, so mighty, so full of risk and danger that my heart failed me
in the mere thinking of it. I was to go away and leave her, for many
years, seeing her only at intervals. It seemed a thing more and more
impossible to be thought upon.

At the least I resolved to make myself out a martyr. It would be a blow
to Irma also, and the thought that she would feel it so almost made up
to me for my own pain, an ache which at the first moment had been of
the nature of a sudden and deadly fear.

Yet I might have saved myself the trouble. Irma looked upon the matter
in a very different light. She was not moved in the least.

"Yes, of course," she said, "you are only wasting your time here. Men
must go out and see things in the world, that afterwards they may do
things there. Here it is very well for us who have no friends and
nowhere else to go. But as soon as Louis is at school or has to leave
me--oh, it will happen in time, and I like looking forward--I shall go
too."

"But what could you do?" I cried in amazement, for such a thing as a
girl of her rank finding a place for herself was not dreamed of then.
Only such as my grandmother and Aunt Jen worked "in the sphere in which
Providence had placed them," as the minister said in his prayer.

"Never trouble your head," said Irma, "there never was a Maitland yet
but gat his own will till he met with a Maitland to counter him!"

"Lalor!" I suggested. At the name she twisted her face into an
expression of great scorn.

"Lalor!" she said; "well, and have I not countered him?"

She had, of course, but as far as I remembered there was something to be
said about another person who had at least helped. Now that is the worst
of girls. They are always for taking all the credit to themselves.

It was a grave day when I quitted Eden Valley for the first time. Every
one was affected, the women folk, my mother, my grandmother, even Aunt
Jen, went the length of tears. That is, all with only two exceptions, my
father and Miss Irma. My father was glad and triumphant--confident
that, though never the scholar Freddie Esquillant was bound to be, I was
yet stronger in the more material parts of learning--those which most
pleased the ordinary run of regents and professors.

I had already seen Irma early in the morning in that clump of trees
beyond the well where the flowering currants made a scented wall, and in
the midst the lilac bushes grow up into a cavern of delicately tinted,
constantly tremulous shade.

I told her of my fears, whereat she scorned them and me, bidding me go
forward bravely.

"I have never promised to be anybody's friend before," she said; "I
shall not break my word!"

"But, Irma," I urged, for indeed I could not keep the words back, they
being on the tip of my tongue, "what if in the meantime, when I am away
so far and seeing you so little, you should promise somebody else to be
more than a friend!"

She stood a moment with the severe look I had grown to fear upon her
face. Then she smiled at me, at once amused and forgiving.

"You are a silly boy," she said; "but after all, you are but a boy. You
will learn that I do not say one thing one day and another the next.
There--I promised you a guerdon, did I not? That is the picture of my
mother. You can open the back if you like!"

I set my thumb-nail to it, and there, freshly cut and tied with a piece
of the very blue ribbon she was wearing, lay a lock of her hair, a curl
curiously and as it seemed wilfully twisted back upon itself, as if it
had refused to be so imprisoned--just, in fact, like Irma herself.

I should have kissed her hand if I had known how, but instead I kissed
the lock of hair. When I looked up I am afraid that there was most
unknightly water in my eyes.

"Come," she said, "this will never do. There must be none of that if you
are to carry Irma Sobieski's pledge. Stand up--smile--ah, that is
better. Look at me as if I were Lalor Maitland himself, rather than cry
about it. You have my pledge, have you not--signed, sealed, and
delivered? There!"

But how the legal formula was carried out by Miss Irma is nobody's
business except our own--hers and mine, I mean. But at all events I went
forth from the lilac clump by the well, and picked up my full water cans
with a heart wondrously strengthened, and so up the path to Heathknowes
with a back straight as a ramrod, because of the eyes that I knew were
watching me through the chinks in the wall of summer blossom.



CHAPTER XXIV

THE COLLEGE OF KING JAMES


I arrived at Edinburgh with the most astonishing ache in my heart (or,
at least, in the parts adjoining), and had I met with the least
pitifulness I think I should have broken down entirely. But I found a
very necessary stimulus in the details of the examination for the
bursary. I had no doubt as to being nominated, but when the results were
posted I felt shame to be whole three places in front of Freddie
Esquillant, my master in all real scholarship, almost as much as my
father was--but who, on the day of trial, had spent his time in
answering thoroughly half-a-dozen questions without attempting the
others.

At any rate it was none such bad news to send by the carrier, who put up
at the Black Bull in the Grassmarket, down to my mother and grandmother
in Eden Valley. I wrote to them separately, but to my father first,
because he understood such things and I knew that his heart was set on
Freddie and myself, though he thought (and rightly) that I was a mere
clodhopper at my books compared to Fred. As far as the classics went, my
father was in the right of it. But then Freddie could not write English,
except in a kind of long-winded, elaborate way, as if he were
translating from Cicero, which very likely was the case.

Well, the need of keeping my head for the examiners' questions, the
mending of my pens, the big barren room with the books about and the
other fellows scribbling away for dear life, the landladies in this
close and that square, with faces hardened and tempers sharpened by
generations of needy students, out of whom they must nevertheless make
their scanty livings, the penetrating Edinburgh airs, the thinness of my
cloak and the clumsiness of my countrified rig--these all kept me
singularly aware of myself, and prevented any yielding to the folly of
homesickness, or, as in my case, "Irma-sickness," to give the trouble
its proper name.

After long search I took up my lodging in a new house at the end of
Rankeillor Street, in a place where there was the greenness of fields
every way about, except behind in the direction of the college. It was
the very last house, and from my garret window I could see the top of
Arthur's Seat and the little breakneck path feeling its way round the
foot of the Salisbury Crags, afterwards to be widened into the
"Radicals' Road." Southward all was green and whaup-haunted to the grey
hip of Pentland, and we saw the spread of the countryside when we--that
is, Freddie and I--went down the Dalkeith Road to the red-roofed hamlet
of Echobank. Here, four times a week we bought a canful of milk that had
to do us two days. For there was something about the taste of the town
milk that scunnered us--Freddie especially being more delicately
stomached than I.

Here, too, was a red-cheeked serving maid who provoked us--but more
especially poor Fred, who asked nothing better than that the wench
should let him alone. But I cared not so greatly--though, of course, she
was nothing to me. How could she be with the gage of Miss Irma hard
under my armpit, just where the Eden Valley tailor had placed my inside
pocket?

Which reminds me that Fred, fluttering the leaves of his lexicon, or
mooning over his beloved Greek verses (which the professor discouraged
because he could not make as good himself), would sigh a little ghost
of a sigh as often as he saw me take it out and lay it on the table
beside me like a watch. For long I thought it was because he feared it
would make me neglect my work, but now, looking back, I can see with
great clearness that it was because he felt that love and suchlike were
ruled out of his life. It was quite a year before I first mentioned Irma
to him by name. Yet he never asked, nor showed that he noticed at all,
save for that quick, gentle sigh.

As portrayed in the miniature, Irma's mother was a gentle fair-haired
woman, with a face like a flower sheltered under a broad-brimmed white
beaver hat, the very mate and marrow of those I have since seen in the
pictures by the great Sir Joshua. She had a dimpled chin that nested in
a fluffy blurr of lace. She was as unlike as possible to my dear brave
Irma, with her curls like shining jet, and the clean-cut, decisive
profile. But I saw at once from whom Baby Louis had gotten his fair soft
curls, his blue eyes, and the wistful appeal of his smile. They were
always before me as I sat with my elbows on the ink-splattered table,
and I did all my work conscious of the rebellious twist of raven curl
that was on the other side. I did not open this often, only when by
myself, and then with extreme care, for the glass, being old, was a
little loose, and it seemed as if the vivid life in the swirl of hair
actually moved it out of its place. For even so much of Irma as a curl
of her locks perforce retained something of her extraordinary vitality.

It often used to come to me that Irma must be like her father over
again, only with all his faults turned to good, strengthened by the
determination he lacked. She had his restlessness, his brilliancy, his
power over men and women. Only along with these she had strength to
guide herself (which he, poor man, never had), and enough over for me
also. And I have my father's word and my own consciousness that I needed
that guidance.

College life is strange and solitary at these northern
universities--especially at those in the two great cities of Edinburgh
and Glasgow. The lad comes up knowing perhaps one other of his age and
standing. If he has a family one or two elder students will be ordered
by their people to look him up. Seldom do they repeat the visit. Their
circle is formed. They want no "yellow nebs."

For the rest he is alone, protected from the devil and the young lusts
of the flesh by the memory of his mother, perhaps by the remembrance
that about that time his father is striving hard to pinch to pay his
fees, but lastly, chiefly and most practically by those empty pockets.

If he have a family in the town, he is hardly a student like the others.
He has his comrades within cry, his houses of call, girls here and there
whom he has met at dances in friendly houses, sisters and cousins of his
own or of his friends--in short, all the machinery of social life to
carry him on.

But for the great majority life is other and sterner. As Milton
lamenting his blindness, the stranger student mourns wisdom and life "at
one entrance quite shut out." The influence of women, sweeter than that
of the Pleiades, is absent, save in the shape of seamy-faced
grim-mouthed landladies, or, in a favourable case, which was ours (or
might have been), our red-cheeked, frank-tongued, oncoming wench in the
milk-house at Echobank, and the baker's daughter across the way.

The first result of this is a great outbreak of sentimentality among the
callowlings. They have pictures (oh, such caricatures!) to carry in
breast-pockets--or locks of hair, like mine. Their hearts are
inflammable as those of the flaxen-haired youths I met afterwards in the
universities of Germany, only living on oatmeal, without sausages, and
less florid with beer. Yet on the whole, the aforesaid empty purse
aiding, we were filled with not dishonest sentiment, keen as
sleuth-hounds on the track of knowledge, and disputatious as only lads
of Calvinistic training can be.

Our landladies were much alike, our rooms furnished with the same
Spartan plainness. Only in Mistress Craven I happened on a good one, and
abode with her all the days of my stay at College, till the way opened
out for me to wider horizons and a humaner life.

But I can see the room yet, and the narrow passage which led to it.
Here, close to the door, was a clock with a striking apparatus of
surprising shrillness to warn us of the flight of the half-hours.
"Ting!" another gone! Then, as the hour drew near, this academic clock
cleared its decks for real action--almost it might be said that it
cleared its throat, such a roopy gasping crow did it emit. This was
technically called "the warning."

And three times a day at the sound of it we rose, gathered our books and
fled fleetfoot for the college. The clock at Mistress Craven's was set
ten minutes fast, so as to leave us time to flee down the Pleasance,
dodge through a side alley, cut Simon's Square diagonally, debouch upon
Drummond Street (shunning Rutherford's change-house, with its "kittle"
step down into the cellar), and lo! there, big, barren, grey, grave,
cauldrife as a Scots winter, was the College of King James--with the
bell, unheard in the side-streets, fairly "gollying" at us--an appalling
volume of sound--yet one which, on the whole, we minded less than the
skirl and rasp of Mistress Craven's family clock.

I have been speaking for myself. Fred Esquillant was always in time,
easy, quiet, letting nothing interfere with his duty. But for me I was
not built so. I watched for adventure and followed it. The dog I had met
yesterday looked not in vain for a pat. A girl waved a kerchief to the
student passing with the books under his arm. She did not know me, nor I
her. But in the general interests of my class I had to wave
back--without prejudice, be it said, to the black lock behind the
miniature in my pocket.

We came back, as we had occasion, from our classes to the crowded stair
of our "land"--with its greasy handrail, and the faint whiff of humanity
clinging about the numbered doorways. Our key grated in the lock. Mrs.
Craven opened the kitchen door with a cry that our dinners would be
ready in a jiffey. We were done with the world for the day. Henceforth
four walls contained us. Many books lay tumbled about, or had to be
heaped on the floor whenever the half of the table was laid for a meal.

I sat farthest from the fire, but facing it. Above and directly before
my eyes was a full-rigged ship, sailing among furious painted billows
directly against the lofty cliffs of a lea-shore, the captain on the
bridge regarding this manoeuvre with the utmost complaisance. Beneath
was a china shepherdess without the head--opposite a parrot with a bunch
of waxen cherries in its beak.

When we took the room, the backs of the chairs had been covered with
newly-washed embroidery in raspy woollens and starched linen thread.
There had also been a tablecloth, and upon it (neatly arranged by Mrs.
Craven's daughter Amelia) a selection of the family "good books"--to
wit, the Holy Bible containing entries of the Craven family, with the
dates of birth altered or erased, Josephus with steel pictures, the
_Saint's Rest_ and some others. These had at once been removed,
according to agreement made before taking possession, and now, wrapped
in the tablecloth, reposed in a cupboard.

Only _The Cloud of Witnesses_ and Fox's _Martyrs_ were spared at my
special request. As for Freddie, he needed no other literature than his
text-books, and set himself to win medals like one who had been fitted
by machinery for that purpose.

Mrs. Craven was an Englishwoman who had brought herself to this by
marrying a carter from Gilmerton. So she retained a pleasant habit of
curtseying which her daughter, born in Edinburgh and given to snuffing
up the east wind, did not in the least strive to imitate, so far at
least as we were concerned.

But on the whole those rooms in Rankeillor Street were pleasant and even
model lodgings. Many a fine gentleman settled in the new town fared
worse, even artistically. We had on the wall in little black frames many
browned prints by a man of whom we had never heard, one Hogarth by name,
some of the details of which made Freddie blush and me laugh aloud. But
these doubtful subjects were counterbalanced by an equal number
illustrative of the Pilgrim's Progress, beginning at the sofa-back with
the Slough of Despond, going through the Wicket Gate, past fierce Giant
Pope and up craggy Hills of Difficulty to a flaming Celestial City
apparently being destroyed by fire with extreme rapidity.

In a glass-fronted corner cupboard were memorials of the late Mr.
Craven. To wit, a large punch-bowl, remarkable for having melted down a
flourishing business in the "carrying" way, four pair of horses with
wagons to match, a yard and suitable stabling, and, finally, Mr.
Craven, late of Gilmerton, himself.

On the top shelf was all that remained of the tea-service he had
presented to his "intended" when he was still at the head of the
Gilmerton "yard"--she being at the time lady's-maid at Dalkeith Palace
and high in favour with "her Grace." Much art was needed in dusting
these and arranging them to make cups and saucers stand so that their
chipped sides would not show.

I was strictly forbidden ever to dance, flap my long arms, or otherwise
disport myself near this sacred enclosure, as I sometimes did when the
blood ran high or the temperature low. As for Freddie, he could do no
wrong. At least, he never did. I was in despair about him, and foresaw
trouble.

As to situation, we had the Meadows behind us, and (except the Sciennes
and Merchiston), all was free and open as far as Bruntsfield and the
Borough Muir. But towards Holyrood and the College, what a warren! You
entered by deep archways into secluded yards. Here was a darksome
passage where murder might be (and no doubt had been) done. Here was an
echoing gateway to a coaching inn, with a watchman ready to hit evil
boys over the head with his clapper if they tried to ring his bell, the
bell that announced the arrival of the Dumfries coach "Gladiator" after
thirty hours' detention at the Beeftub in Moffatdale, or the shorter
breathed "four" from Selkirk and Peebles that had changed horses last at
Cockmuir Inn at the back of Kingside.

All this I describe so minutely, once for all, because there is more to
come of it, and these precincts on the southern border of Edinburgh,
where Cromwell had once encamped, were mightily familiar to me before
all was done.



CHAPTER XXV

SATAN FINDS


Of course Christmas time soon came, when we collegers had our first
vacation, and Fred and I footed it down to Eden Valley. They had been
preparing for us, and the puddings, white and black, hung in rows along
the high cross-bars in the kitchen.

Everybody was glad to see us, except, as it appeared at first, Miss
Irma. I called her Irma when I thought of the round locket with the hair
and her mother's picture in it, also the letters she had sent me--though
these were but few, and, for all that was in them, might have been
written to the Doctor. But when I returned and met her full in the
doorway of my grandmother's house, she gave me her hand as calmly as if
she had clean forgotten all that had ever been between us.

For me, I was all shaken and blushing--a sight to be seen. So much so
that Aunt Jen, coming in with the milk for the evening's porridge,
cocked an eye at me curiously. But if Irma felt anything, I am very sure
that it did not show on her face. And that is one of the greatest
advantages girls have--care or not care, they can always hide it.

My mother shed tears over me. My father took stock of my progress, and
asked me for new light on certain passages we had been reading, but soon
deserted me with the familiar contemptuous toss of the head, which meant
that he must wait for Fred Esquillant. He might have learned by this
time. At anything practical I was miles ahead of Freddie, who had no
world outside of his classical books. But then my father was of the same
type, with, in addition, the power of imparting and enthusing strong in
him--_his_ practical side, which Freddie did not possess--indeed, never
felt the lack of, much less the ambition to possess. He was content to
know. He had no desire to impart his knowledge.

I spent six mornings and five evenings out of my scanty twenty days at
the little thicket by the well. But the lilac was leafless now, and the
path which led back to the house of Heathknowes empty and deserted.

Once while I was in hiding my Uncle Rob came and stood so long by his
water-pails, looking across the hills in the direction of the Craig
Farm, that I made sure he had found me out, or was trying for a talk
with Miss Irma on his own account.

But Rob, as I might have known, was far too inconstant. As the saying
went, "He had a lass for ilka day in the week and twa for the Sabbath."
It is more than likely that his long rumination at the well was the
result of uncertainty as to whether it was the turn of Jeannie at the
Craig or Bell down by at Parkhill.

At any rate, it had no connection with me, for he went off home with his
burden, where presently I could hear him arranging with Eben as to the
foddering of the "beasts" and the "bedding" of the horses. For my three
uncles kept accounts as to exchanges of work, and were very careful as
to balancing them, too--though Rob occasionally "took the loan" of
good-tempered Eben without repayment of any sort.

After my fifth solitary vigil among the rustling of the frozen stems and
the dank desolation of the icebound copse on the edge of the marsh, I
began to go about with a huge affectation of gloom on my face. It was
clear that I was being played with. For this I had scorned the
red-cheeked dairy-lass at Echobank, and the waved kerchiefs of the
baker's daughter opposite. And the more unhappy and miserable I looked,
the closer I drew my inky cloak about me, the gayer, the more
light-hearted became Miss Irma.

I plotted deep, dark, terrible deeds. She urged me to yet another help
of dumpling. She had made the jam herself, she said. Or the
shortbread--now there _was_ something like shortbread, made after a
recipe learned in Brabant! (I wondered the word did not choke her,
thinking of Lalor--but, perhaps, who knew? she would not after all be so
unwilling!) I had shed my blood for naught--not that I had really shed
any, but it felt like that. I had gone forth to conquer the world for
the sake of a faithless girl--though, again, I had not even done quite
that, seeing that Freddy Esquillant bade fair to beat me in all the
classes--except, perhaps, in the Mathematic, for which he had no taste.
But the principle was the same. I was deserted, and my whole aspect
became so dejected that my mother spoke to my father about my killing
myself in Edinburgh with study, which caused that good (and instructed)
man to exclaim, "Fiddlesticks!" Then she went to my grandmother, who
prescribed senna tea, which she brewed and stood by till I had drunk. I
resolved to wear my heart a little less on my sleeve, and always after
that assured my grandmother that I was feeling very well indeed. Also I
made shift to eat a little, even in public, contriving it so, however,
that the effort to appear brave and gay ought to have been evident even
to Miss Irma.

Every day Louis and she went to the Academy, and I went with them, one
of the uncles--generally Eben, the universally disposable--following to
the village with a loaded pistol in his tail-coat pocket.

For though there had been, as yet, no more than the ordinary winter
traffic by the well-recognized Free Traders of the Solway board, no man
could tell when the lugger from the Texel, or even the _Golden Hind_
herself might try again the fortune of our coasts. The latter vessel had
been growing famous, multiplying her captures and cruelties; indeed,
behaving little otherwise than if she carried the black flag with the
skull and cross-bones. And though a large part of his Majesty's navy had
been trying to catch her, hardly a monthly number of the _Scots
Magazine_ came to my father without some new exploit being deplored in
the monthly chronicle over near the end.

Nearer home, Messrs. Smart and Smart had offered by post to occupy
themselves with the future of the young baronet Sir Louis, on condition
that he should be given up to them to be sent to school, but in their
communication nothing was said about Miss Irma. So my grandfather sent
word that, subject to the law of the land, he would continue to protect
both the children whom Providence had placed in his care. And this was
doubtless what the Dumfries lawyers expected. The care and culture of
the estate during a long minority was what they thought about as being
most to their advantage, and it was quite evident that little Louis, for
the present, could hardly be better situated than at Heathknowes.
Messrs. Smart and Smart sent a man down to spy out the land, on pretext
of offering compensation, but his report must have been favourable both
as to the security of the farm-town and as to my grandfather's repute
for generosity and open-handedness. For he did not return, and as to
payment, nothing more was ever heard at Heathknowes about the matter.

The young people were now quite fixtures there, and though they were
spoken of as Miss Irma and Master Louis, Irma had carried her main
point, which was that they should be treated in all respects as of the
family. The sole difference made was that now the farm lads and lasses,
and the two men from the pirn-mill (whom my grandfather's increasing
trade with the English weavers had compelled him to take on), had their
meals at a second table, placed crosswise to that at which the family
dined and supped. But this was chiefly to prevent little Louis from
occupying himself with watching to see when they would swallow their
knives, and nudging his neighbours Irma and Aunt Jen to "look out," at
any particular dangerous and intricate feat of conjuring.

As for me, I could not at all understand why Irma cold-shouldered me
during these first Christmas vacations, and indeed I had secretly
resolved to return no more to the house of Heathknowes till I had made
sure of a better reception. I began to count it a certainty that Irma,
feeling that she had gone too far and too fast with me before I went
off, was now getting out of the difficulty by a régime of extraordinary
coldness and severity. And if that were the case, I was not the man to
baulk her.

For about this time a man I began to count myself.

Worst of all, going home to the school-house there came into my head one
of the most stupid ideas that had ever got lodging there--though,
according to my grandmother, I am rather a don at harbouring suchlike.

It occurred to me that a plan I had read of in some book or other might
suit my case. If I could only make Irma jealous, the tables might be
turned, and she become as anxious and desirous of making up as I was.

It seemed to me a marvellously original idea. Irma had cared enough to
give me her mother's miniature. She had cut off a lock of her hair,
which she had not done for all the world of her admirers--else she would
long have gone bald.

Now it happened that though there were a good many dressmakers in Eden
Valley, including some that worked out for so much a day, there was only
one Ladies' Milliner and Mantua-maker. This was the sister of our
infant-mistress, Miss Huntingdon. Her establishment was in itself a kind
of select academy. She had an irreproachable connection, and though she
worked much and well with her nimble fingers, she got most of her labour
free by an ingenious method.

She initiated into her mysteries none of the poorer girls of the place,
who might in time be tempted to "set up for themselves," and so spoil
their employer's market. She received only, as temporary boarders,
daughters of good houses, generally pretty girls looking forward with
some confidence to managing houses of their own. At that time every girl
who set up to be anything in our part of the country aspired to make her
own dresses and build the imposing fabric of her own bonnets.

So Miss Huntingdon had a full house of pretty maidens who came as
"approvers"--a fanciful variation of "improvers" invented by Miss
Huntingdon herself, and used whenever she spoke of "My young ladies,"
which she did all day long--or at least as often as she was called into
the "down-stairs parlour," where (as in a nunnery) ordinary business was
transacted.

A good many of the elder girls whom I had known at the Academy had
migrated there at the close of their period of education--several who,
though great maidens of seventeen or eighteen, had hardly appeared upon
my father's purely classical horizon--seen by him only at the Friday's
general review of English and history, and taught for the rest of the
week by little Mr. Stephen, by myself--and in sewing, fancy-work, and
the despised samplers by Miss Huntingdon, the ever diligent, who, to
say the truth, acted in this matter as jackal to her elder sister's
lion.

In return she got a chamber, a seat at the table with the young ladies,
and a home. Nor will I say that Miss Seraphina, Ladies' Milliner and
Mantua-maker, was not a good and kind sister to Miss Rebecca, the little
teacher at thirty pounds a year in the Infant Department at the Academy
of Eden Valley.

But my mother in her time--Aunt Janet, even--had passed that way, though
Miss Huntingdon considered Jen one of her failures because she had not
"married from her house." Most of the well-to-do farmers within ten
miles sent their daughters to complete their education at Miss
Huntingdon's academy of the needle and the heavy blocking-iron. My
father, when he passed, did not know them, so great in his eyes was
their fall. Yet by quiet persistence, of which she had the secret, my
mother wore him down to winking at her sending Agnes Anne there for
three hours a day.

"I'm sure," she said, "I used to watch for _you_ every time you went by
to school, and one day the frill of your shirt sleeve was hanging down,
torn on a nail. I was sorry, and wished that I could have run out and
mended it for you!"

What this reminiscence had to do with Agnes Anne's being allowed to go
to Miss Huntingdon's I do not quite see. But learned men are much like
others, and somehow the little speech softened my father. So Agnes Anne
went, as, indeed, my mother had resolved from the beginning that she
should. And it was through Agnes Anne that my temptation came.

She made a friend there. Agnes Anne always must have one bosom friend of
her own sex. For this Irma was too old, as well as too brilliant, too
fitful, fairylike, changeful in her mood to serve long. Besides, she
awed Agnes Anne too much to allow her to confide in her properly. And
without hour-long confessions all about nothing, Agnes Anne had no use
for any girl friend. There was an unwritten convention that one should
listen sympathetically to the other's tale of secrets, no matter how
long and involved, always on the supposition that the service should be
mutual.

Charlotte Anderson was the name of Agnes Anne's friend. In a week's time
these two were seldom separate, and wandered about our garden, and under
the tall pine umbrellas with bent heads and arms lovingly interlaced.
Charlotte was a pretty girl, blooming, fresh, rosy, with a pair of bold
black eyes which at once denied and defied, and then, as it were,
suddenly drooped yieldingly. I was a fool. I might have known--only I
did not.

Now my idea was to make just as much love to Charlotte as would warn
Miss Irma that she was in danger of losing me and to assist me in this
(though I did not reveal my intention of merely baiting my trap with
her) who more willing than Charlotte Anderson!

But I had counted without two somewhat important factors--Miss Irma, and
Miss Seraphina Huntingdon. I was utterly deceived about the character of
Irma, and I had no idea of the extreme notions of rigid propriety upon
which Miss Seraphina conducted her business, nor of the explanation of
the large proportion of successful weddings in which the lady
mantua-maker had played the part of subordinate providence.

Indeed, certain of the light-minded youth of Eden Valley called the
parlour with the faded red velvet chairs by the name of "Little
Heaven"--because so many marriages had been made there.



CHAPTER XXVI

PERFIDY, THY NAME IS WOMAN!


Old Robert Anderson of Birkenbog was known to me by sight--a huge,
jovial, two-ply man, chin and waistcoat alike testifying to good cheer.
He wore a large horse-shoe pin in his unstiffened stock. A watch that
needed an inch-thick chain to haul up its sturdy Nuremburg-egg build,
strained the fob on his right side, as if he carried a mince-pie
concealed there. His laugh dominated the market-place, and when he stood
with his legs wide apart pouring a sample of oats slowly from one hand
into the palm of the other, his red face with the cunning quirks in it
had always a little gathering of admirers, eager for the next
high-spiced tale. He had originally come from the English border, and in
his "burr" and accent still bore token of that nationality.

Nevertheless, he had his admirers, some of them fervent as well as
constant.

Cochrane of the Holm would be there, his hand on the shoulder of
Blethering Johnny from the Dinnance. These two always laughed before a
word was uttered. They thought Birkenbog so funny that everything he
said was side-splitting even before he had said it.

I remember being a great deal impressed myself by Old Birkenbog. He was
a wonderful horseman as a boy, and when he came to the market alone he
rode a big black horse of which even the head ostler stood in awe in the
yard of the King's Arms. Once he had thrashed a robber who had assailed
him on his way to pay his rent, and had brought him into town trotting
cross-handed at his horse's tail, the captive of his loaded whip and
stout right arm. It is doubtful if this draggled Dick Turpin, lying in
Bridewell, appreciated Birkenbog's humour quite so much as did Cochrane
and Blethering Jock when he told them the story afterwards.

If I had any common-sense I might have seen that Birkenbog was not a
safe man to trouble in the matter of an only daughter, without the most
serious intentions in the world. But, truth to tell, I never thought of
him knowing, which was in itself a thing quite superfluous and
altogether out of my calculations. I had had some small experience of
girls even before Miss Irma came to change everything. And the fruit of
my observations had been that, though girls tell each other's secrets
freely enough, they keep a middling tight grip on their own. Nay, they
can even be trusted with yours, in so far as these concern
themselves--until, of course, you quarrel with them--and then--well,
then look out!

Certainly I found lots of chances to talk to Charlotte. In fact Agnes
Anne made them for me, and coached me on what to say out of books. Also
she cross-examined Charlotte afterwards upon my performances, and
supplemented what I had omitted by delivering the passage in full. My
poor version, however, pleased Charlotte just as much, for merely being
"walked out" gave her a standing among Miss Seraphina's young ladies,
who asked her what it felt like to be engaged.

All had to be gone about in so ceremonious a manner, too, at least at
first--when I made my formal call on Miss Huntingdon, who received me in
her parlour with prim civility, as if I had come to order a leghorn hat
of the best.

"My mother's compliments, and might Miss Charlotte Anderson be allowed
to accompany Agnes Anne to tea at four hours that day? I would be
responsible--yes, I knew Miss Huntingdon to be most particular upon this
point--for the convoy of the young ladies to the school-house, and would
see Miss Anderson safe home again."

My mother winked at these promenades, because in her heart of hearts she
was more than a little jealous of Irma. Charlotte Anderson she could
understand. She was of her own far-off kin, but Irma and her brother had
descended upon us, as it were, from another world.

Why Agnes Anne meddled I cannot so well make out, unless it were the
mania which at a certain age attacks most nice girls--that of
distributing their brothers among their dearest friends--as far, that
is, as they will go round.

So Charlotte and I walked under the tall firs of the Academy wood in the
hope that Irma might be passing that way. I escorted her home in full
sight of all Eden Valley--that was always on the look-out for whatever
might happen in the way of courtship about the shop of the famous
mantua-maker.

And yet (I know people will think I am lying) never, I say, did I find
Miss Irma so desirable in my eyes as when I saw her at Heathknowes
during these days of folly. It was not that she was kinder to me. She
appeared not to think of me either one way or the other. She curtsied to
me, like a bird, flirting the train of her gown like a wagtail on a
stone by the running stream. One forenoon she met us, strolling with
little Louis by the hand, her black hair crowned with scarlet
hips--those berries of the wild dog-rose which grow so great in our
country lanes. She waved us a joyous little salute from the top of a
stile, on which she perched as lightly as if joyful graces were
fluttering about her, and she herself ready to take wing.

But she never so much as looked wistful, but let me go my way with a
single flirt of a kerchief she was adjusting about her brother's neck.
As for me I was ready to hang myself in self-contempt and hatred of poor
innocent Charlotte Anderson, who smiled and imagined, doubtless, that
she was fulfilling the end for which she had come to Miss Huntingdon's.

After we had separated I went to thinking sadly on the stupidity of my
performances. This field of thought was a large one and the
consideration of it, patch by patch, took some time. It was market day.
The bleating of flocks was about me, a pleasant smell of wool and tar
and heather--and of bullocks blowing clouds of perfumed breath that
condensed upon the frosty air. I was leaning my arms upon the stone dyke
of the Market Hill and thinking of Irma, now by my own act rendered more
inaccessible than ever--when a hand, heavy as a ham falling from a high
ceiling, descended upon my shoulder. A voice of incomparable richness, a
little husky perhaps with the morning's moistening at the King's Arms,
cried out, "So ho, lad! thou dost not want assurance! Thinking on the
lasses at thy age! You're the chap, they tell me, that's been walkin'
out my daughter in broad daylight! Well, well, cannot find it in my
heart to be too hard--did the like mysel' thirty years ago, and never
regretted it. School-master's son, aren't ye? Thought I kenned ye by
sight! Student lad at the College of Edinburgh? Yes, yes--knew thy
father any time ever since he came from the North. No man has anything
to say again thy father! Except that he does not lay on the young
rascals' backs half heavily enough! I dare say thou would be noways the
worse of a dressing down thysel'!"

All this time he was thumping me on my back, and I was standing before
him with such a red face, and (I doubt not) such a compound of idiocy
and black despair upon it, that I might have been listening to my doom
being pronounced by the mouth of some full-blooded, jovial red judge,
with a bunch of seals the size of your fist dangling from his fob and
the loaded whip with which he had brought down the highwayman, under his
arm.

"Come thou up to the King's Arms!" he cried; "don't stand there looking
like a dummy. Let's have the matter out! Thour't noan shamed, surely!
There's no reason for why. At thy age, laddie--hout-hout--there's no
wrong as young folks go. Come thy ways, lad!"

Obediently I followed in his wake as he elbowed a way through the crowd,
salutations pouring in upon him on every side.

"Ah, Birkenbog, what's brought you into the market this day--sellin'
lambs?"

"That's as may be--buyin' calves more belike!"

This was for my benefit, and the old brute, tasting his sorry jest,
turned and slapped me again, winking all the time with his formidable
brows in a spasmodic and horrible manner, that was like a threat.

Now, I did not mind Lalor Maitland or Galligaskins when my blood was up.
But now it was down--far down--indeed in my very boots.

All the time and every step of the way, I was trying in a void and empty
brain to evolve plans of escape. I could only hear the rich port-wine
chuckle of that great voice, and watch the gleam of those huge silver
spurs.

And so presently we came to the King's Arms. Never was bold wooer in a
more hopeless position. Whichever way I turned the case was
desperate--if I resisted, I could not expect to fare better than Tam
Haggart, whom that whip shank had beaten to the ground on the Corse o'
Slakes. If I let myself drift, then farewell all hope of Irma Maitland.

I hesitated and was lost. But who in my place could have bettered
it--save by not being such a portentous fool to begin with? But when
that is in a man, it will out.

I entered the King's Arms meekly, and before I knew what I was doing I
had been presented to three or four solid-thighed, thick-headed,
stout-legginged farmers as "Our Lottie's intended." They laughed, and
came near to shaking my hand off. I felt that if I backed out after
that, I never could show my face in Eden Valley again.

Then we proceeded to business. I had not been accustomed to drink
anything stronger than water, and I was not going to begin now--so much
of sense I had left in me. So as often as the mighty farmer of Birkenbog
had his tankard pointed at the cornice of the commercial room of the
King's Arms, I poured the contents of mine carefully among the sawdust
on the floor.

And then my formidable "future" father-in-law got to the root of the
matter.

"Father know about this?" He shot out the question as from a catapult.

"No, sir," said I, "I did not think of troubling him just yet--till----"

"Till what?"

"Till things were a bit more settled," I faltered. He put his loosely
clenched fist on my knee. It appeared as large as the flat part of a
pair of smith's bellows.

"Well, that's what we are here now for, eh?" he said. "I doan't blame
ye, you young dog. Now I like a fine up-standing wench myself, well
filled out, none o' your flails done up in a bean-sack, nor yet a
tea-pot little body that makes the folk laugh as they see her trotting
alongside a personable man like me. Lottie will do ye fine. She's none
great at the books--takes after her mother in that, but she's a good
girl, and I'll warrant ye, she will keep up her end of an argument well
enough after a year or two's practice. But, mind you, lad, there's to be
nothing come of this till I see you safe through college as a doctor.
Fees? Nonsense! Go to the hospitals, man, I'll pay for that part. It can
come off what I have put aside to give the man that took Lottie off my
hands! A doctor--yes, that's the business, and one sore needed here in
this very Eden Valley! _Whisht_--there--who think ye bought old Andrew
Leith's practice and house? Who keeps the lads from the college there
and sends them packing at the end of every six months? Why, me--Anderson
of Birkenbog. So haste ye fast, and when ye are ready, the house is
ready, and the practice and the tocher--and as for the lass ye have made
it up with her yourself, as I understand."

Never was there a poorer-spirited wooer! No, never one. The very pour of
words stunned me. Had it not been for the coming and going of
Dutch-girthed brother-farmers, dumping bags of "samples" on the table,
and hauling at purses tied with leathern strings out of tight breeches
pockets, the "What's your will, sir?" of Tom the drawer, and the clink
of cannikins, I must have been found out even then.

But the part of the trouble which was to be mine personally was coming
to an end. After all, his daughter's future was only an item in
Birkenbog's programme of the day.

"Well, then, lad"--he clapped me again on the shoulder (I sitting there
with the soul of an oyster)--"we have arranged everything
comfortable--eh? Now you can go and tell Lottie. Aye, and ye can say to
Miss--what's her name--Thimbolina, the old dowager with the
corkscrews--with my compliments, that there's a sweet-milk cheese
ripening on the dairy shelves for her at Birkenbog. Hear ye that, lad?"

I took my leave as best I could. I felt I had hopelessly committed
myself. For though I had not said a word, I had not dared to reveal to
this fierce father, that being in love with another, I had been using
his daughter as a stalking horse.

"And, look here, Duncan lad," he said, "I'll just step up and have a
word with your father. The clearer understanding there is between
families on such like arrangements, the less trouble there will be in
the future!"

And he strode away out into the yard, halting, however, at the door to
call out in a voice that could be heard all over the neighbourhood,
"Come thy ways up to Birkenbog on Sunday and take a bit o' dinner wi'
us! Then thou canst see our Lottie and tell her how many times sweeter
she is than a sugar-plum! Ho, ho!"

He was gone at last and I fairly blushed myself down the street, pushing
my way between the ranks of the market stalls and the elbowing farmers.

"Are ye blind or only daft?" one apple wife called out, as I shook her
rickety erection of trestles and boards. She was as red in the face as
Birkenbog himself, for a cur with a kettle tied to its tail had taken
refuge under her stall, and she had been serving a writ of ejectment
with the same old umbrella with which she whacked thievish boys and
sheltered her goods on rainy days.

But I heeded not. I was seeking solitude. I felt that I wanted nothing
from the entire clan of human beings. I had lost all that I should ever
really love. Irma--Irma! And here was I, settled for life with one for
whom I cared not a penny!

By the time I had reached this stage, I had come out upon the bare woods
that mount the path by the riverside. I came to the great holly, a cave
of green shade in summer, and now a warm shelter in these tall solitudes
of wattled branches standing purple and black against the winter sky.

Ah, there was some one there already. I stepped out again quickly, but
not too fast to see that it was Charlotte Anderson herself I had
stumbled upon--_and that she was crying_!



CHAPTER XXVII

"THEN, HEIGH-HO, THE MOLLY!"


"Charlotte!" said I, taking in a sudden pity a step nearer and holding
out my hand; but she only snatched her arm away fretfully and cried the
more bitterly.

"Has your father been speaking unkindly to you?" I asked her, being much
surprised.

She shook her head, and a wet handkerchief plashed on my hand like a sob
as she shook it out.

"What is it, then?" I asked, more and more amazed at the turn things
were taking. Never had I thought for a moment that Charlotte would not
be as pleased and happy to have me as I was the reverse.

"Oh," she burst out at last, sobbing between each hurried phrase, "I
don't blame you, Duncan. It's all that horrid old cat, Miss
Seraphina--Diabolina, the girls call her--she writes everything we do to
our people at home. She's always writing, and she spies on us, too, and
listens--opens our letters! She has brought all this on me----"

"Brought what on you?" I inquired blankly.

"Having to marry you and all!" she said, and had recourse to her wet
handkerchief again. But that being altogether too sodden to afford her
any relief, she signalled to me, as if I had been Agnes Anne or another
girl, to pass her mine. Fortunately for once I could do so without
shame. For Miss Irma had been teaching me things--or at least the desire
to appear well in her eyes.

Charlotte Anderson did not appear to notice, but went on crying.

"And don't you want to marry me, Lottie?" I said softly, taking her
hand. She let me now, perhaps considered as the proprietor of the
handkerchief.

"Of course I don't," said she. "Oh, how could I?"

Now this, considered apart, was certainly hurtful to my pride. For,
having frequently considered my person, as revealed in my mother's big
Sunday mirror, I thought that she could very well. On my side there was
certainly nothing to render the matter impossible. Moreover, how about
our walks and talks! She had, then, merely been playing with me. Oh,
Perfidy, thy name is Woman!

I was silent and paused for an explanation. I soon got it, considered as
before, as the sympathetic owner of the handkerchief.

"It's Tam Galaberry," she said, "my cousin, you know, Duncan. He used to
come to see me ... before ... before you! But his sister went to
Dumfries to learn the high-class millinery, and since then Miss
Seraphina cannot thole him. As if he had anything to do with that. And
she wrote home, and my father threatened Tam to shoot him with the gun
if he came after me--all because we were cousins--and only seconds at
any rate. Oh-h-h-h! What _shall_ I do?"

I had to support Charlotte here--though merely as handkerchief-holder
and in the purest interests of the absent Mr. Thomas Gallaberry.

But the relief to my own mind, in spite of the hurt to my pride, was
immediate and enormous. But a thought leaped up in my heart which cooled
me considerably.

"Oh, Lottie," I said, as sadly as I could, "you have been false and
deceitful. You have come near to breaking my heart----"

"I ken I have--I ken I have!" she cried. "Oh, can you ever forgive me?"

"Only, Charlotte," I answered nobly, "because I care for your happiness
more than for my own!"

"Oh, Duncan, but you are good!" She threw herself into my arms. I really
think she mistook me for Agnes Anne for the moment. But any consolations
I applied were, as before, in the interests of Tam Gallaberry.

"I knew I was wicked and wrong all the time," she said, "but when we
walked out, you remember the dyke we used to lean against" (she glanced
up at me with simple child-like eyes, tear-stained), "you must remember?
Well, one of the stones was loose. And Tam used to put one letter there,
and I took it out and slid it in my pocket, and put mine back the same!
Agnes Anne was looking the other way, of course, and you--you----"

"Was otherwise employed than thinking of such deceit!" I said grandly.

"You were kissing me! And I let you--for Tam's sake," Charlotte
murmured, smiling. "Otherwise the poor fellow would have had five miles
to come that next day, and I could not bear that he should not find his
letter!"

"No!" I answered dryly, "it would certainly have been a pity."

She looked at me curiously.

"Do you know," she said, "I always thought that _you_ were playing,
too!"

"Playing!" I exclaimed tragically. "Is it possible? Oh, Lottie!"

"Oh, I just thought it," she said remorsefully. "I am sorry if it was
true--if you do really care about me so much--as all that!"

I was still thinking of Tam Gallaberry. So apparently was she.

Virtue is its own reward, and so is mutual consolation. It is very
consoling. Half the happy love stories in the world begin that way--just
with telling about the unhappy ones that went before. You take my word
for it--I, Duncan MacAlpine, know what I am talking about. Charlotte
Anderson too.

So finally, after a while, I became very noble and said what a fine
thing it was to give up something very precious for others. And I asked
her if she could think of anything much nobler than willingly to give up
as fine a girl as herself--Charlotte Anderson--for the sake of Tam
Gallaberry? She thought awhile and said she could not.

So I told her we must keep up appearances for a time, till we had made
our arrangements what to do. Charlotte said that she had no objections
as long as Tam Gallaberry did not know. So I said that she could write a
long letter that very night, and give it to Agnes Anne in the morning,
and I would go out to the stone, and put it underneath.

Then she cried, "Oh, will you?" And thanked me ever so sweetly, asking
if, when I was about it, would I bring back the one I found there and
send it to her by my sister, in another envelope--"just over the top,
you know, without breaking the seal. Because such letters were sacred."

I said she need not trouble herself. I was only doing all this for her
sake. I did not want to see what another man had to say to her!

And, if you will believe me, she was delighted, and said, "Now I know
that you were not all pretending, but do care for me a little wee bit!"

Indeed, Charlotte was so delighted that it was perhaps as well for the
smooth flowing of their love story that Tam Gallaberry was at that
moment investigating their joint post office. For Lottie was a generous
girl when her heart was moved, and though she kept the grand issues
clear, she often confused details--as, for instance, whether the
handkerchief was mine or my sister's, and whether I was myself or Tam
Gallaberry.

But I considered such slips as these pardonable at twenty. At that age
forgetfulness is easy. Afterwards the prison doors close, and now I am
not mistaken for Tam Gallaberry any more--and what is more, I don't want
to be. However, after a while I brought Charlotte to earth again, out of
the exaltation of our mutual self-sacrifice, by the reminder that at
that moment our fathers would be arranging as to our joint future--and
that without the least regard for our present noble sentiments, or those
of the happily absent Mr. Thomas Gallaberry.

She got down and looked at me, affrighted, her lips apart, and all
panting like a bird newly ta'en in the hand.

"Oh, Duncan," she cried, "you will help me, won't you? You see how fond
I am of you!"

I saw, exactly, but refrained from telling her that she had a strange
way of showing it.

"I would do anything in the world for you," she added,--"only I want to
marry Tom. Ye see? I have always meant to marry Tom! So I can't help it,
can I?"

Her logic had holes in it, but her meaning was starry clear. I thanked
her, and said that the best thing we could do was to take counsel
together. Which we did there under the shelter of the great holly-bush.
So much so that any one passing that way might have taken us for foolish
lovers, instead of two people plotting how to get rid the one of the
other.

What helped the illusion greatly was that it was a cold day, with every
now and then a few driving flecks of snow. I had on a great rough
Inverness cloak of my father's, far too large for me. I asked Charlotte
if she were warm. She said she was, but did not persist too much in the
statement. So we left Tom Gallaberry out of the question, and set
ourselves to arrange what we were to say to our two fathers.

"It will be terrible hard to pretend!" I said, shaking my head.

"It will be a sin--at least, for long!" she answered.

I exposed the situation. There was to be no immediate talk of marriage.
Even her father had allowed that I must get through college first. He
was to pay my fees as a doctor. I did not want to be a doctor. Besides,
I could not take her father's money----

Here Charlotte turned with so quick a flounce that she nearly landed
herself in the little gutter which I had made with my stick to carry off
the drainage of the slope behind.

"Not take the money? Nonsense!" she cried. "Father has more than he
knows what to do with!"

She paused a while, finger on lip, meditating, the double ply of
calculation, stamped on her father's brow, very strongly marked on hers.

"Look here, Duncan," she said caressingly, like a grown woman wooing to
get her own way, so deep her voice was, "daddy is giving you that money
because you are going to marry me, isn't he?"

I signed, as well as I could, that Mr. Robert Anderson of Birkenbog
considered himself as so doing.

She clapped her hands and cried out, as if she had stumbled on the
solution of some exceedingly difficult problem, "Why, then, take the
money and give it to Tom! He needs it for his farm--oh, just dreadful.
He says the hill is not half stocked, and that a hundred or two more
ewes would just be the saving of him!"

"But," said I, "I shall be entering into an agreement with your father,
and shall have to give him receipts!"

"Well," she continued boldly, "Thomas will enter into an agreement with
you, if he doesn't marry me--that is, if I am left on your hands--he
will pay you the money back--or else give you the sheep!"

It will hardly be believed the difficulty I had to make Charlotte see
the impossibility--nay, the dishonesty of an arrangement which appeared
so simple to her. She thought for a while that I was just doing it out
of jealousy, and she sulked.

I reasoned with her, but I might as well have tried logic on the
Gallaberry black-faced ewes. She continued to revolve the project in her
own mind.

"Whatever you--I mean _we_--can get out of father is to the good," she
said. "He will never miss it. If you don't, I will ask him for the money
for your fees myself and give it to Tom----"

"If you do!" I cried in horror,--"oh--you don't know what you are
talking about, girl!"

"You don't love me a bit," she said. "What would it matter to you?
Besides, if it comes to giving a receipt, I can imitate your signature
to a nicety. Agnes Anne says so."

"But, Charlotte, it would be forgery," I gasped. "They hang people for
forgery."

"No, they don't--at least, not for that sort," she argued, her eyes very
bright with the working of her inward idea. "For how can it be forgery
when it is _your_ name I write, and I've told you of it beforehand? It's
my father's money, isn't it, and he gives it to you for marrying me?
Very well, then, it's yours--no, I mean it's Tom's because he means to
marry me. At least I mean to marry him. Anyway, the money is not my
father's, because he gives it freely to you (or Tom) for a certain
purpose. Well, Tom is going to be the one who will carry out that
purpose. So the money is his. Therefore it's honest and no forgery!"

These arguments were so strong and convincing to Charlotte that I did
not attempt to discuss them further, salving my conscience by the
thought that there remained his Majesty's post, and that a letter
addressed to her father at the Farmers' Ordinary Room, in care of the
King's Arms, would clear me of all financial responsibility. But this I
took care not to mention to Lottie, because it might have savoured of
treachery and disturbed her.

On the other hand, I began urging her to find another confidant than
Agnes Anne. She would do well enough for ordinary letters which I was to
send on to Cousin Tom. But she must not know they were not for me. She
must think that all was going on well between us. This, I showed her,
was a necessity. Charlotte felt the need also, and suggested this girl
and that at Miss Seraphina Huntingdon's. But I objected to all. I had to
think quick, for some were very nice girls, and at most times would have
served their country quite well. But I stuck to it that they were too
near head-quarters. They would be sure to get found out by Miss
Huntingdon.

"It is true," she meditated, "she _is_ a prying old cat."

"I don't see anybody for it but Miss Irma, over at my grandmother's!" I
said, boldly striking the blow to which I had been so long leading up.

Charlotte gazed at me so long and so intently that I was sure she smelt
a rat. But the pure innocence of my gaze, and the frank readiness with
which I gave my reasons, disarmed her.

"You see," I said, "she is the only girl quite out of the common run to
whom you have access. You can go to Heathknowes as often as you like
with Agnes Anne. Nobody will say a word. They will think it quite
natural--to hear the latest about me, you know. Then when you are alone
with Miss Irma, you can burst into tears and tell her our secret----"

"All----?" she questioned, with strong emphasis.

"Well," I hastened to reply, "all that is strictly necessary for a
stranger to know--as, for instance, that _you_ don't want to marry me,
and that _I_ never wanted to marry you----"

"Oh," she cried, moving in a shocked, uneasy manner, "but I thought
_you_ did!"

"Well, but--," I stammered, for I was momentarily unhinged, "you see you
must put things that way to get Miss Irma to help us. She can do
anything with my father, and I believe she could with yours too if she
got a chance."

"Oh, no, she couldn't!"

"Well, anyway, she would serve us faithfully, so long as we couldn't
trust Agnes Anne. And you know we agreed upon that. If you can think of
anything better, of course I leave it to you!"

She sat a long while making up her mind, with a woman's intuition that
all the cards were not on the table. But in the long run she could make
no better of it.

"Well, I will," she said; "I always liked her face, and I don't believe
she is nearly so haughty as people make out."

"Not a bit, she isn't----" I was beginning joyously, when I caught
Lottie's eye; "I mean--" I added lamely, "a girl always understands
another girl's affairs, and will help if she can--unless she has herself
some stake in the game!"

And in saying this, I believe that for once in a way I hit upon a great
and nearly universal truth.



CHAPTER XXVIII

LOVE AND THE LOGICIAN


I knew that the Yule Fair was going on down in the village, and that on
account of it all Eden Valley was in an uproar. The clamour was
deafening at the lower end of the "clachan," where most of the show folk
congregated. The rooks were cawing belatedly in the tall ashes round the
big square--into which, in the old times of the Annandale thieves, the
country folk used to drive the cattle to be out of the way of Johnstones
and Jardines.

I skirted the town, therefore, so as not to meet with the full blast of
the riot. With such an unruly gang about, I kept Charlotte Anderson well
in sight till I saw her safe into Miss Seraphina's. Of course, nobody
who knew her for a daughter of Fighting Rob of Birkenbog would have laid
hand upon her, but at such a time there might be some who did not know
the repute of her father.

The great gong in front of the "Funny Folks" booth went "Bang! bang!"
Opposite, the fife and drum spoke for the temple of the legitimate
drama. At the selling-stalls importunate vendors of tin-ware rattled
their stock-in-trade and roared at the world in general, as if buyers
could be forced to attend to the most noisy--which, indeed, they mostly
did.

From the dusky kennels in which the gipsies told fortunes and mended the
rush-bottomed chairs of the Valley goodwives came over the wall a faint
odour of mouldy hay, which lingered for weeks about every apartment to
which any of their goods were admitted.

As for me, I had had enough of girls for one day, and I was wondering
how best to cut across the fields, take a turn about the town, and so
get home to my father's by the wood of pines behind the school, when
suddenly a voice dropped upon me that fairly stunned me, so unexpected
it was.

"Mr. Duncan MacAlpine," it said, "I congratulate you on your choice of a
father-in-law. You could not have done better!"

It was Miss Irma herself, taking a walk in a place where at such a time
she had no business to be--on the little farm path that skirts the woods
above the town. Louis was with her, but I thought that in the far
distance I could discern the lounging shadow of the faithful Eben.

I stood speechless straight before her, but she passed on, lightly
switching the crisped brown stalks of last year's thistles with a little
wand she had brought. I saw that she did not mean to speak to me, and I
turned desperately to accompany her.

"I will thank you to pass your way," she said sharply. "I am glad you
are to have such a wife and such a dowry. Also a father-in-law who will
be at the kind trouble of paying your college fees till you are quite
ready to marry his daughter. It is a thing not much practised among
gentlefolk, but, what with being so much with your mantua-makers, you
will doubtless not know any better!"

"Irma--Irma," I cried, not caring any more for Eben, now in the nearer
distance, "it is all a mistake--indeed, a mistake from the beginning!"

"Very possibly," she returned, with an airy haughtiness; "at any rate,
it is no mistake of mine!"

And there, indeed, she had me. I had perforce to shift my ground.

"I am not going to marry Charlotte Anderson," I said.

"Then the more shame of you to deceive her after all!" she cried. "It
seems that you make a habit of it! Surely I am the last person to whom
you ought to boast of that!"

"On the contrary, you are the first!"

But she passed on her way, her head high, an invincible lightness in the
spring of every footstep, a splash of scarlet berries making a star
among her dark hair, and humming the graceless lilt which told how--

    "Willie's ga'en to Melville Castle,
    Boots an' spurs an' a'--!"

As for me, I was ready to sink deep into the ground with despondency,
wishful to rise never more. But I stopped, and though Uncle Eben was
almost opposite to me, and within thirty yards, I called after her, "The
day will come, Irma Maitland, when you will be sorry for the injustice
you are doing!"

For I thought of how she would feel when Charlotte told about her cousin
Tam Gallaberry and all that I had done for them--though, indeed, it was
mostly by accident. Only I could trust Charlotte to keep her thumb upon
that part of it.

I did not know what she felt then, nor, perhaps, do I quite know yet;
but she caught a tangle of wild cut-leafed ivy from a tree on which I
had long watched it grow, and with a spray of small green leaves she
crowned herself, and so departed as she had come, singing as if she had
not a care in the world, or as if I, Duncan MacAlpine, were the last and
least of all.

And yet I judged that there might be a message for me in that very act.
She had escaped me, and yet there was something warm in her heart in
spite of all. Perhaps, who knows, an angel had gone down and troubled
the waters; nor did I think, somehow, that any other would step in there
before me.

After that I went down to see Fred Esquillant, who listened with sad yet
brilliant eyes to my tangled tale.

"You are the lucky one," I said, "to have nothing to do with the lasses.
See what trouble they lead you into."

He broke out suddenly.

"Be honest, Duncan," he said, "if you must boast! If you are bound to
lie, let it not be to me. You would not have it otherwise. You would not
be as I am, not for all the gold of earth. No"--he held his breath a
long while--"no, and I, if I had the choice, would I not give all that I
have, or am ever likely to have, for--but no, I'm a silent Scot, and I
canna speak the word----"

"I'm the other sort of Scot," I cried, "and I'll speak it for you. Man,
it's the first decent human thing I have ever heard come out o' your
mouth. You would give all for LOVE!"

"Oh, man," he cried, snatching his fingers to his ears as if I
blasphemed, "are ye not feared?"

"No, I'm not," I declared, truly enough; "what for should I be feared?
Of a lassie? Tell a lassie--that ye--that ye----"

"No, no," cried Fred Esquillant, "not again!"

"Well, then, that ye 'like' her--we will let it go at that. She will
want ye to say the other, but at least that will do to begin on. And
come, tell me now, what's to hinder ye, Fred?"

"Oh, everything," he said; "it's just fair shameless the way folk can
bring themselves to speak openly of suchlike things!"

"And where would you have been, my lad, if once on a day your faither
had not telled your mither that she was bonny?"

"I don't know, and as little do I care," he cried.

"Well, then," said I, "there's Amaryllis--what about her?"

"That's Latin," said Fred, waving his arm.

"And there's Ruth, and the lass in the Song of Solomon!"

"That's in the Bible," he murmured, as if he thought no better of the
Sacred Word for giving a place to such frivolities.

"Fred," I said, "tell me what you would be at? Would you have all women
slain like the babes of Bethlehem, or must we have you made into a monk
and locked in a cell with only a book and an inkhorn and a quill?"

"Neither," he said; "but--oh, man, there is something awesome,
coarse-grained and common in the way the like o' you speak about women."

"Aye, do ye tell me that?" I said to try him; "coarse, maybe, as our
father Adam, when he tilled his garden, and common as the poor humanity
that is yet of his flesh and blood."

"There ye go!" he cried; "I knew well that my words were thrown away."

"Speak up, Mr. Lily Fingers," I answered; "let _us_ hear what sort of a
world you would have without love--and men and women to make it."

"It would be like that in which dwell the angels of heaven--where there
is neither marrying nor giving in marriage!"

"Well," said I, "speaking for myself and most lads like me, we will mend
our ways before we get a chance of trying that far country! And in the
meantime here we are--our feet in the mire, and our heads not so very
near the sky. Talk of angels--where are we to get their society? And the
likest to them that I have ever heard tell of are just women--good
women, innocent lasses, beginning to feel the stir of their own
power--and all the better and the stronger are they for that! Oh, Fred,
I saw an angel within the last half-hour! There she stood, her eyes
shooting witcheries, poised for flight like a butterfly, the dimples
playing hide-and-seek on her face, and her whole soul and body saying to
the sons of men, 'Come, seek me on your knees--you know you can't help
loving me! It is very good for you to worship me!"

"And you are not ashamed, Duncan MacAlpine, to speak such words?"

"Oh, ye Lallan Scot!" I cried; "ye Westland stot! Is there no hot blood
of the Celt in you? What brought _you_ to Galloway, where the Celt sits
on every hill-top, names every farm and lea-rig, and lights his
Baal-fires about the standing stones on St. John's Eve?"

"Man," said Fred, shaking his head, "I aye thought ye were a barbarian.
Now I know it. If you had your way, you would raid your neighbours'
womenfolk and bring them in by the hair of their heads, trailing them
two at a time. For me, I worship them like stars, standing afar off."

"Aye," said I, "that would be a heap of use to the next generation, and
the lasses themselves would like it weel!"

But what Freddy Esquillant said about the next generation was unworthy
of him, and certainly shall not sully this philosophic page. Besides, he
spake in his haste.

All the same, I noticed that, if ever any of the stars came near to his
earth, it would be a certain very moderately brilliant planet, bearing
the name of Agnes Anne or, more scientifically, MacAlpine Minima, which
would attract Master Fred's reluctant worship.



CHAPTER XXIX

THE AVALANCHE


And now there was a second and longer probation in that gaunt town of
Edinburgh, without any miniature to lie beside me on my work-table like
a tickless watch, and help along the weary hours. And though the session
before I had thought but little of the letters (and indeed there was
nothing in them), yet this time there were none at all, which suited me
far worse. For, as it seemed, the mere sight of the hand-of-write would
have cheered me.

Henceforward I could only learn, as it were, by ricochet what was going
on. My grandmother never set pen to paper. Her tongue to guide was
trouble enough to her without setting down words on paper to rise up in
judgment against her. True, my father wrote regularly to inquire if my
professor had any new light on the high things of Plato, the Iberian
flavour in Martial's Epigrams, and such like subjects which were better
fitted to interest a learned dominie who had lost the scholar of his
choice than to comfort a young fellow who has only lost his sweetheart.

For her part Agnes Anne wrote me reams about Charlotte, but never
mentioned a word as to the Maitlands, though she did say that Charlotte
was a good deal at Heathknowes, and (a trifle spitefully, perhaps) that
she did not know what took her there unless it were to see Uncle Rob!
This poor Uncle Rob of ours--his reputation was in everybody's mouth,
certainly. He had been, so they said, a runagate, a night-raker, and in
the days of his youth a trifle wild. But now with the shadows of forty
deepening upon him, it was not fair that all the hot blood of his teens
and twenties should rise up in judgment against him. Still so it was.
And the reason of it was, he had not, as he ought, married and settled.
For which sin of omission, as the gossips of Eden Valley said, "there
was bound to be a reason!"

Charlotte herself did not send a line, excepting always the letters I
was to forward to Tom Gallaberry at his farm of Ewebuchts on the Water
of Ae. This at the time I judged unkind, but afterwards I found that
Cousin Tom had insisted upon it, on the threat of going to her father
and telling him the whole affair. For, in spite of all, Cousin Thomas
was jealous--as most country lads are of college-bred youths, and he
pinned Charlotte carefully down in her correspondence. However, I made
him pay his own postages, which was a comfort, and as Agnes Anne and
often my father would slip their letters into the same packet, after all
I had only the extra weight to pay.

Still, I did think that some of them might have told me something of
Irma. But none did, till one great day I got a letter--from whom think
you? I give you fifty guesses--well, from my Aunt Jen. And it contained
more than all the rest put together, though all unconsciously, and
telling me things that I might have gone a long time ignorant of--if she
had suspected for a moment I was keen about them.

    Heathknowes, this the thirteenth Aprile.

    "Dear Nephew Duncan,

    "Doubtless you will be having so many letters that you will not be
    caring for one from a cross auld maid, who is for ever finding fault
    with you when ye are at home. But who, for all that, does not forget
    to bear ye up in the arms of her petitions before the Throne--no,
    night and morning both.

    "This is writ to tell you that I have sent ye, by the wish of my
    mither, one cheese of seven pounds weight good, as we are hearing
    that you are thinking to try and find something to do in Edinburgh
    during the summer time. Which will be an advisable thing, if it be
    the Lord's will--for faint-a-hait do ye do here except play ill
    pranks and run the country.

    "However, what comes o't we shall see. Also there is a pig of
    butter. It may be the better of a trifle more salt, that is, if the
    weather is onyway warm. So I have put in a little piece of board and
    ye can work the salt in yourself. Be a good lad, and mind there are
    those here that are praying for ye to be guided aright. Big towns
    are awful places for temptation by what they say, and that ye are
    about the easiest specimen to be tempted, that I have yet seen with
    these eyes. Howsomever, maybe ye will have gotten grace, or if not
    that, at least a pickle common-sense, whilk often does as well--or
    better.

    "It's a Guid's blessing that ye have been led to stop where ye are.
    For that lassie Charlotte Anderson is going on a shame to be seen.
    Actually she is never off our doorstep--fleeing and rinning all
    hours of the day. At first I thought to mysel', it was to hear news
    of you. But she kens as weel as us when the posts come in, besides
    the letters she gets from Agnes Anne--some that cost as muckle as
    sevenpence--a ruination and a disgrace!" [Tom Gallaberry must have
    been prolix that week.] "Then I thought it was maybe some of the
    lads--for, like it or no, ye had better ken soon as syne, that
    maiden's e'e is filled with vanity and the gauds o' grandeur,
    disdaining the true onputting of a meek and quiet spirit!

    "But, for your comfort, if ye are so far left to yourself as to take
    comfort in the like--and the bigger fool you--it is no the lads
    after all. It's just Irma Maitland!

    "I declare they two are never sindry. They will be out talk-talking,
    yatter-yattering when the kye are being milked in the morning. Irma
    makes her carry the water, that's one comfort. But I wonder at that
    silly auld clocking hen, Seraphina Huntingdon. It's a deal of work
    she will be getting, but I suppose the premium pays for all, and she
    will not care a farthing now that Charlotte's market is made. Not
    that I would trust you (or any student lad) the length of my
    stirabout potstick--or indeed (not to shame my own father) anything
    that wears hose and knee-breeches. And maybe that's the reason every
    silly birkie thinks he has the right to cast up to me that I am an
    auld maid. Faith, there's few that wear the wedding ring with whom I
    would change places. But what of that?

    "The folk are all well here, both bairns and grown folk, and we will
    be blithe to hear from you, and if you have the time to send a
    scraps of your pen to your auld maiden aunt, that mony a time
    (though Lord knows not half often enough) has garred your lugs ring
    for your misdeeds--she will be pleased to hear if the butter and
    cheese were some kitchen to your tasteless town's bread.

                    "Your obdt. servt. and affectionate aunt,
                                                     "Janet Lyon."

From this information I hoped great things--at least a letter demanding
pardon from Irma, or an account of how she had confessed all from that
graceless and thankless forgetful besom Charlotte. But I heard nothing
further till, one day going past after another, about a twelvemonth
after amazing word came. It was when I was busy with some literary work
I had gotten from one of the printers in the town--correcting proofs and
looking out for misspellings in the compositions of an eminent hand. I
will be plain--it was poor work, and as poorly paid. But I could live on
it, and in any case it was better than slaving at tutoring. That is, as
tutoring was at that time in Edinburgh--a dull boy whom none could make
anything of, insolent servants, sneering elder sisters and a guinea a
month to pay for all. However, I tried it and made some of them stop
sneering--at least the sisters.

I was, I say, in the Rankeillor Street lodgings and Amelia was going out
at the door with my tea-things--as usual calling me names for "idling
within doors" when Fred was out at his classes. Freddie had private
permission from one of the professors to read in his library, so often
did not come home till late. But I stuck to my arm-chair and my
printer's slips like a burr to homespun. Suddenly there was a great
noise on the stairs. "There," cries Amelia, "that's one of your
countrymen, or I'm no judge of the Galloway bray!"

For, as I have indicated before, Amelia was far from imitating her
mother's English politeness.

The next moment the front door was driven in with a mighty brange
against the wall (for Amelia had been out the moment before on the
landing to throw some turnip-tops on the ash "backet"). A huge man in
many swathes of riding-coat dashed in and caught me by the throat.
Amelia had the two-pronged carving fork in her hand, and seeing her
mother's lodger (as she thought) in danger of being choked to death,
without having regulated his week's bill, she threw herself upon my
assailant and struck vehemently with the fork.

The huge man in the many capes doubtless suffered no grievous harm. It
had hardly been possible for a pistol-ball to penetrate such an
armature, but still the sudden assault from behind, and perhaps some
subtle feminine quality in Amelia's screams, made him turn about to see
what was happening.

The man was Fighting Anderson of Birkenbog himself, and he kept crying,
"Where have you hidden her, rascal, thief? I will kill you, villain of a
scribbler! It was because you were plotting this that you dare not show
your face in the country!"

But every time he threw himself upon me, Amelia, who did not want for
spunk, dug at him with the two-pronged fork, and stuck it through so
many plies of his mantle till he was obliged to cry out, "Here, lassie,
lay down that leister, or ye will hae me like miller Tamson's riddle,
that the cat can jump through back-foremost."

After adjusting his coat collar he turned to me and demanded, in a more
sensible and quiet way, what had become of his daughter.

At the question, Amelia went into one of her foolish fits of laughter
and cried out, "What, anither of them?"

Whereupon to prevent misunderstandings, I explained that the young lady
was my landlady's daughter, and a friend of Freddy Esquillant's.

"Oh, you students," he said, and sat down to wipe his brow, having seen
from the most cursory examination of our abode, wholly open to the view,
and exiguous at the best, that certainly Charlotte was not hidden there.

"She left home three days syne as if to go to Miss Huntingdon's," he
said, "and ever since her mother has gone from one hysteric to another.
So, knowing nothing better to do, and maybe judging you by myself in my
own young days (for which I am sure I ask your pardon) I started out to
make sure that everything had been done decently and in order. Though as
sure as my name is Robert Anderson, I cannot think why you did not come
and wed the lass decently at home----"

We were at this point in our explanation, Amelia's ear was (doubtless)
close to the back of the door, and Birkenbog was relapsing into his
first belief, when I heard the key in the lock and the light foot of
Freddy in the passage.

It came as a huge relief, for here was my witness.

He entered, and, seeing the visitor, bowed and deposited his books in
the corner. He was for going out again, doubtless thinking that
Charlotte's father and I were at business together. So, indeed, we
were--but not such as I wished to keep anyways private between us. I
could not, with any self-respect, go on depending any longer on Amelia's
two-pronged fork.

So I said, "Freddy, bear me witness that I have not been out of the
house this week, except to go to the printer's with my work----"

"Fegs," cried a voice through the jar of the door, "there is no need for
Freddy to bear ye out in that. You have only to look at the carpet under
the legs of your chair. It has gotten a tairgin', as if all the hosts of
King Pharaoh had trampled over it down to the Red Sea!"

But I would not keep the old man any longer in suspense.

"I fear, Birkenbog," I said, "that you have given yourself a bootless
journey. From what I suspect, your flown bird will be nested nearer
home."

"Where?" he cried; "tell me the scoundrel's name."

"Fairly and soothly, Birkenbog," said I, "peace is best among near
friends--not to speak of kinsfolk!"

"Aye," said he, "fairly and soothly be it! But I have to ken first that
it is fairly and soothly. Who is the man?"

"I do not know for certain," I said, "but I have every reason to believe
that your daughter is at this moment Mistress Thomas Gallaberry of
Ewebuchts, on the Water of Ae!"

"Oh, the limmer," he cried, and started up as if to fly at me again. His
face was indeed a study. First there appeared the usual hot wrath,
overlapping in ruddy fold on fold, and revealing the owner's full-fed
intent to punish. This gradually gave way to a look of humorous
appreciation, and then all of a sudden, he slapped his thigh in an agony
of joyous appreciation.

"Oh, the limmer," he cried, "only a week since my kinsman Tam Gallaberry
asks me brave and canny for the lend of five hundred to stock his Back
Hill. He offered decent enough security, and as usual I took Charlotte's
opinion on the business. For it's her that has the great head for the
siller. Oh yes, she has that. And as soon as they gat the tocher, he's
off wi' the lassie. Certes, but he is the cool hand."

"If you allow me to judge, I should say the cool hand was Charlotte!" I
ventured.

"Right, man," he cried, "little do I doubt it! Tam Gallaberry has led a
grey mare to his stable that will prove the better horse, and that he
will ken before he is a fortnight older."

Then he turned upon me, short and sharp.

"You have kenned this some while, I'm jaloosin'?"

"Yes," said I, for I felt that he might have me awkwardly trapped if he
went on, "that is one of the reasons why I did not come home. I knew
that Charlotte had made up her mind never to marry me----"

"And ye took it like that?" he cried; "man, ye havena muckle spunk!"

"It was not generally so thought at the time of the assault on the great
house of Marnhoul," I answered; "and indeed I remember one old gentleman
about your figure, with a white crape over his nose, that shook me by
the hand and took my name down in his book----"

"_Wheesht--wheesht_," he said, looking about uneasily, "siccan things
are better never minted so close to the Parliament House where bide the
Red Fifteen!"

"Well," said I, "that's as may be, but I cannot have it said by you or
any man that I lack spunk!"

"Oh," said he, "though I never was troubled that gate mysel'--there's
mony a bold man has turned hen-hearted when it came to a question of the
lasses. There's Freddy here, one wad never think it of him, but there
has he gotten yon lass that nearly did for me with her twa-pronged fork.
She's a smart hizzy, and will make a lively wife to some man. But I maun
e'en be riding back to put a question or so to the man that has stown
awa' my bit ewe-lamb and put her in fold by the Water of Ae."

At that moment Amelia came in with a triumphant smile. "It's a laddie
from the post, and he winna gie up the letter unless you pay him
sevenpence for postage dues and a penny for himself!"

"There's the sevenpence, and clash the door in his face!" I cried. For I
was bravely well acquainted with the exigencies of these post-office
"keelies."

But Birkenbog, who was in good humour at the way he had been done by his
daughter, threw a handful of copper "bodles" across the table to Amelia.

"There's for the messenger!" he said. And I could see that he looked at
the letter when it came with some anxiety.

As I supposed, it was from Charlotte, and the thinnest and least bulky
of her billets that had ever come up these stairs. I handed it across to
him, where he sat newly glooming at me.

"Open it!" I said.

"Since when has Robert Anderson of Birkenbog taken to opening letters
addressed to other men?"

"Never heed--not till this very minute, maybe. Open that one, at any
rate!" And I ran my finger along the sealed edge.

This was Charlotte's letter to me.

    From our home at Ewebuchts, Tuesday.

    "Dear Duncan,

    "How can we ever make it up to you? We were married yesterday by Mr.
    Torrance, the minister at Quarrelwood, and came home here in time
    for the milking of the cows. My father has kindly given my Thomas
    five hundred on account of my marriage portion, but he does not know
    it yet. I left all well. Thomas joins in kind messages to all
    inquiring friends. He is looking over my shoulder now, as perhaps
    you may be already aware from the style of composition.

                                        "Yours truly,
                                                "Charlotte Gallaberry.

    "P.S.--Oh, I forget to tell you, it will be as well to barricade
    your door. For I left word with one of the servant lasses that I was
    off to Edinburgh. Father will likely call to see you, and he is sure
    to have with him the whip wherewith he downed the highwayman. But I
    know well your bravery, and do sincerely thank you for all you may
    have to undergo for me.

                                                "Charlotte."

"Humph," said her father, as he flung it across the table to me, "in my
opinion ye are well shut of her! She will twist that Tam Gallaberry
round her finger and then--whizz--she will make him spin like a peerie!"

He rose, and without any adieus stamped his way down the stairs,
sniffing as he went at every landing. We stood at the window watching
his progress along the street--capes swaying, broad bonnet of blue
cocked at an angle on top, red double-chinned face looking straight
ahead. Amelia came over to my shoulder and looked too.

But all she said was, "And now, when it's past and gone, will ye tell me
if _Yon_ is what you learned folk caa' an avalanche?"



CHAPTER XXX

THE VANISHING LADY


During the next three years (and that is a long driech time) I made many
excuses for not going down to Eden Valley. I cannot say whether I
managed to get myself believed or not. But the fact of the matter is,
that, as things were, I could not bring myself to face Irma again and so
bring back the pain. My father had come up to see me twice. Once he had
brought my mother, of whom Mrs. Craven had made much, recognizing a
kindred refinement of spirit. But Amelia and my Aunt Jen (who came at
the time of the General Assembly) learned to respect one another--all
the more that they had been highly prejudiced before meeting.

"She seems a weel-doing lass, wi' no feery-faries aboot her!" declared
my aunt, speaking of Amelia Craven. While that young woman, delivering
her mind after the departure of Miss Janet Lyon, declared that she was a
"wiselike woman and very civil--but I'll wager she came here thinking
that I was wanting ye. Faith, no, I wadna marry any student that ever
stepped in leather--_I ken ower muckle aboot them_!"

"There's Freddie!" I suggested.

"Oh," said Amelia shortly, "he's different, I allow. But then, there's a
medium. One doesna want a man with his nose aye in a book. But one that,
when ye spit at him, will spit back!"

"Try me!" I said, daring her in conscious security.

"Goliah of Gath," cried she, "but I wad be sair left to mysel'!"

We continued, however, to be pretty good friends always, and in a
general way she knew about Irma. She had seen the oval miniature lying
on the table. She had also closely interrogated Freddy, and lastly she
had charged me with the fact, which I did not deny.

Freddy was now assistant to the professor of Humanity, which is to say
of the Latin language, while besides my literary work on the _Universal
Review_ I was interim additional Under-secretary to the University
Court. In both which positions, literary and secretarial, I did the work
for which another man pocketed the pay.

But after all I was not ill-off. One way and another I was making near
on to a hundred pounds a year, which was a great deal for the country
and time, and more than most ministers got in country parts. I wrote a
great many very learned articles, though I signed none. I even directed
foreign affairs in the _Review_, and wrote the most damaging indictments
against "the traditional policy of the house of Austria."

Then the other man, the great one in the public eye, he who paid me--put
in this and that sonorous phrase, full of echoing emptiness, launched an
antithesis which had done good service a time or two on the hustings or
in the House of Commons, and--signed the article. Well, I do not object.
That was what I was there for, and after all I made myself necessary to
the _Universal Review_. It would never have appeared in time but for me.
I verified quotations, continued articles that were too short by
half-a-dozen pages, found statistics where there were blanks in the
manuscript, invented them if I could not find them, generally bullied
the printers and proof-readers, saw to the cover, and never let go till
the "Purple-and-Green," as we were called, was for sale on all the
counters and speeding over Britain in every postboy's leathers.

Now one of my employers (the best) lived away among the woods above
Corstorphine and another out at the Sciennes--so between them I had
pretty long tramps--not much in the summer time when nights hardly
existed, but the mischief and all when for weeks the sun was an
unrealized dream, and even the daylight only peered in for a morning
call and then disappeared.

But at the time of which I write the days were lengthening rapidly. I
was deep in our spring number of the _Universal_. Only the medical
students were staying on at the University, and the Secretary's spacious
office could safely be littered with all sort of printing _débris_. My
good time was beginning.

Well, in one of my walks out to Corstorphine, I was aware, not for the
first time, of the figure of a girl, carefully veiled, that at my
approach--we were always meeting one another--slipped aside into a
close. I thought nothing of this for the first two or three times. But
the fourth, I conceived there was something more in it than met the eye.
So I made a detour, and, near by the end of George Street--unfinished at
that time like all the other streets in that new neighbourhood--I met my
vanishing lady face to face as she emerged upon the Queensferry Road.
She had lifted her veil a little in order the better to pick her way
among the building and other materials scattered there.

It was Irma--Irma Maitland herself, grown into a woman, her eyes
brighter, her cheeks paler, the same Irma though different--with a
little startled look certainly, but now not proud any more, and--looking
every day of her twenty-two years.

"Irma!" I gasped, barring the way.

She stopped dead. Then she clutched at her skirt, and said feverishly,
"Let me pass, sir, or I shall call for help!"

"Call away," I answered cheerfully. "I will only say that you have run
off from the home which has sheltered you for many years, and that your
friends are very anxious about you. Where are you staying?"

I glanced at her black dress. It was not mourning exactly, but then Irma
never did anything like any one else. A fear took me that it might be
little Louis who was dead, and yet for the life of me I dared not ask,
knowing how she loved the child.

When I asked where she was staying, she plucked again at her skirt,
lifting it a little as when she was being challenged to run a race. But
seeing no way clear, she answered as it were under compulsion, "With my
Aunt Kirkpatrick at the Nun's House!"

At first I had the fear that this might prove to be some Catholic place
like the convent to which she had been sent in Paris. But it turned out
to be only a fine old mansion, standing by itself in a garden with a
small grey lodge to it, far out on the road to the Dean.

"Take me there!" I said, "for I must tell my grandmother what I have
seen of you, or she will be up here by the coach red and angry enough to
dry up the Nor' Loch!"

Irma walked by my side quite silent for a while, and I led her cunningly
so as not to get too soon to our destination. I knew better than to ask
why she had left Heathknowes. If I let her alone, she would soon enough
begin to defend herself. And so it was.

"The lawyers took Louis away to put him to a school here," she said. "It
was time. I knew it, but I could not rest down there without him. So I
came also. I left them all last Wednesday. Your grandmother came herself
with me to Dumfries, and there we saw the lawyers. They had not much to
say to your grandmother, while she----"

"I understand," said I; "she had a great deal to say to them!"

Irma nodded, and for the first time faintly smiled.

"Yes," she answered, "the little old man in the flannel dressing-gown,
of whom you used to tell us, forgot to poke the fire for a long time!"

"So you left them all in good heart about your coming away?" I said.

"Oh, the good souls," she cried, weeping a little at the remembrance,
"never will I see the like till I am back there again. I think they all
loved me--even your Aunt Jen. She gave me her own work-basket and a
psalm book bound in black leather when I came away."

And at the remembrance she wept afresh.

"I must stop this," she said, dabbing her eyes with a very early-April
smile, "my Aunt Kirkpatrick will think it is because of meeting you. She
is always free with her imagination, my Lady Kirkpatrick--a clever woman
for all that--only, what is it that you say, 'hard and fyky!' She has
seen many great people and kings, and was long counted a great beauty
without anything much coming of it."

I thought I would risk changing the subject to what was really uppermost
in my mind.

"And Charlotte?" I ventured, as blandly as I could muster.

"I wonder you are not shamed!" she said, with a glint in her eye that
hardly yet expressed complete forgiveness. "I know all about that. And
if you think you can come to me bleating like a sore wronged and
innocent lamb, you are far mistaken!"

So this was the reason of her long silence. Charlotte had babbled. I
might have known. Still, I could not charge my conscience with anything
very grave. After all, the intention on both sides--Charlotte's as well
as mine,--had been of the best. She wanted to marry her Tam of the
Ewebuchts, which she had managed--I, to wed Irma, from which I was yet
as far off as ever.

So I made no remark, but only walked along in a grieved silence. It was
not very long till Irma remarked, a little viciously, but with the old
involuntary toss of her head which sent all her foam-light curls dipping
and swerving into new effects and combinations--so that I could hardly
take my eyes off her--"Would you like to hear more about Charlotte?"

"Yes!" said I boldly. For I knew the counter for her moods, which was to
be of the same, only stronger.

"Well, she has two children, and when the second, a boy, was born, she
claimed another five hundred pounds from her father to stock a farm for
him--the old man called it 'a bonny bairn-clout' for our Lottie's
Duncan!"

"What did you say the bairn's name was?"

"Duncan--after you!" This with an air of triumph, very pretty to see.

"And the elder, the girl?" I asked--though, indeed, that I knew--from
the old letters of my Aunt Jen.

"Irma!" she answered, some little crestfallen.

"After you?"

She had barely time to nod when we passed in at the lodge gate of the
Nun's House. The old porter came to the gate to make his reverence, and
no doubt to wonder who the young lady, his mistress's kinswoman, had
gotten home with her.

I found the Lady Kirkpatrick--Lady by courtesy, but only known thus by
all her circle--to be a little vivid spark of a white-haired woman,
sitting on a sofa dressed in the French fashion of forty years ago, and
with a small plume of feathers in a jewelled turban that glittered as
she moved. At first she was kind enough to me.

"Hey, Master-of-Arts Duncan MacAlpine, this is a bonny downcome for your
grandfather's son, and you come of decent blood up in Glen Strae--to be
great with the Advocate, and scribbling his blethers! A sword by your
side would have suited ye better, I'm thinking!"

"Doubtless, my lady," I answered, "if such had been my state and
fortune. Nevertheless, I can take a turn at that too, if need be."

"Aha, ye have not lost the Highland conceit, in drawing water from the
wells of Whiggery!"

"If I mistake not," I replied, "your ladyship did not care to bide
always about a king's court when she had the chance."

For I knew her history, as did everybody in Edinburgh--a little
gossiping town at that time--now, they say, purged of scandal--which is
a Heaven's miracle if ever there was one.

"Och, hear him!" she cried, throwing up her fan with a jerk to the end
of its tether with a curious flouting disdain, "politics are very well
when it is 'Have at them, my merry men a'!' But after, when all is done
and laid on the shelf like broken bairns'-plaiks, better be a Whig in
the West Bow than a Jesuit in a king's palace abroad!"

And, like enough (so at least it was whispered), the choice had been
offered her.

Then all in a moment she turned to me with a twinkle in her eye that was
hardly less than impish. Indeed, I may say that she flew at me much like
an angry wasp when a chance of your walking-stick stirs its nest.

"It's prophesied," she said, "that some day a Kirkpatrick of Closeburn
will be greater than a queen. For me it was, 'Thank you kindly! I would
rather dwell in the Nun's House of the Dean than possess the treasures
of Egypt!' But this lass is a Kirkpatrick too, though only through her
grandmother, and I troth it may be her that's to wear the crown. At any
rate, mind you, no dominie's son with his fingers deep in printer's ink,
and in the confidence of our little Advocate that rideth on the white
horse--only it's a powny--must venture any pretensions----"

"You mistake me," said I, suddenly very dignified, "my family----"

"Fiddlesticks," cried the old lady; "there's Bellman Jock wha's faither
was a prince o' the bluid. But what the better is he o' that? Na, na,
there's to be no trokin', nor eyesdropping, nor yet slipping of notes
into itching palms, nor seeing one another to doors!--Och, aye, I ken
the gait o't fine. Mony is the time I have seen it travelled. This young
leddy is for your betters, sirrah, and being but the son of a village
dominie, and working for your bread among Leein' Johnny's hundred black
men in Parliament Close, ye may--an it please ye, and _if_ ye please,
gie this door a wide gae-by. For if ye come a second time, Samuel Whan,
the porter, will have his orders to steek the yett in your face!"

"Madame," said I, very fine, "it shall not be done twice!"

I stole a glance at Irma, who was standing with her face white and her
lips trembling.

"No," said she, "nor yet once. I came here at your request, Aunt
Kirkpatrick. For years and years my brother and I have sorned on the
family of this gentleman--you yourself grant he is that----"

"No such thing!" snapped my lady Kirkpatrick, "gentleman indeed--a
newsmonger's apprentice! That's your gentrice!"

"We dwelt there, my brother and I," Irma went on, "none of my family
troubling their heads or their purses about us, yet without a plack we
were treated as brother and sister by all the family."

"Be off, then, with your brother, since you are so fond of him!" cried
the fiery old lady, rising with a long black cane in her hand, a terrier
yelping and snapping at her heels. "I am for London next week, and I
cannot be at the chairge of a daft hempie, especially one of such low,
common tastes."

At these words, so unexpected and uncalled for, Irma put out her hand
and took mine. She spoke very gently.

"Duncan," she said, "we are not wanted here. Let us be going!"

"But--Irma----!" I gasped, for even then I would take no advantage.
"Whither shall I conduct you? Have you other friends in Edinburgh?"

"Before a minister!" she said. "That will be best. I have no friends
but you!"

"Aye, there ye are!" cried the old lady, "I was sure there was something
at the back of this sudden flight to Edinburgh. The dear little
brother--oh, but we were that fond of him--the poor, poor innocent
bairn. Such a comfort for him to know his sister near at hand! Yet,
though I have done with you, Mistress Irma Sobieski, I may say that I
wish you no ill. Make a better use of your youth than maybe I have done.
If ye need a helping hand, there's my sister Frances out at the
Sciennes. She's fair crammed like a Strasburg goose wi' the
_belles-lettres_. She will maybe never let ye within the door, but a
shilling a week of outdoor relief ye are sure of--for she sets up for
being full of the milk of human kindness. She set her cap at John Home
when he came home from London. She would never even allow that Davie
Hume was an atheist, whilk was as clear as that I hae a nose to my
face!---- Off with you to Fanny's at the Sciennes. And a long guid day to
the pair of ye--ye are a disobedient regardless lassock, and ye are
heapin' up wrath again the day of wrath, but for all that I'm no sayin'
that I'll forget you in my will! There are others I like waur nor you,
when all's said and done!"

"I would not take a penny of yours if I were starving on the street!"
cried Irma.

"Save us!" said the old lady, lifting up her black wand, "ye will maybe
think different when ye are real hungrysome. The streets are nae better
than they are caa'ed. But off wi' ye, and get honestly tied up! Bid
Samuel Whan shut the yett after ye!"



CHAPTER XXXI

TWICE MARRIED


Now I have never to this day been able to make up my mind whether the
Lady Kirkpatrick was really stirred with such anger as she pretended,
whether she was only more than a little mad, or if all was done merely
to break down Irma's reserve by playing on her anger and pride.

If the last was the cause of my lady's strange behaviour to us, it was
shiningly successful.

"We will not go a step to find my Lady Frances," said Irma when we were
outside; "if she be so full of all the wisdoms, she would very likely
try to separate us."

And certainly it was noways my business to make any objections. So,
hardly crediting my happiness, I went southwards over the Bridges, with
Irma by my side, my heart beating so rarely that I declare I could
hardly bethink me of a minister to make me sure of Irma before she had
time to change her mind. As was usual at that hour at the Surgeon's
Hall, we met Freddy Esquillant coming from the direction of Simon
Square. Him I sent off as quickly as he could to Rankeillor Street for
Amelia Craven. I felt that this was no less than Amelia's due, for many
a time and oft must she have been wearied with my sighs and
complaints--very suitable to the condition of a lover, but mightily
wearisome to the listener.

Irma said nothing. She seemed to be walking in a dream, and hardly
noticed Freddy--or yet the errand upon which I sent him.

It came to me that, as the matter was of the suddenest, Amelia Craven
might help us to find a small house of our own where we might set up our
household gods--that is, when we got any.

An unexpected encounter preceded the one expected. I was marching along
to our rendezvous with Freddy and Amelia at the crossing from Archers'
Hall to the Sciennes, when all of a sudden whom should we meet right in
the face but my rosy-cheeked, bunchy little employer--my Lord Advocate
in person, all shining as if he had been polished, his face smiling and
smirking like a newly-oiled picture, and on his arm, but towering above
him, a thin, dusky-skinned woman, plainly dressed, and with an enormous
bonnet on her head, obviously of her own manufacture--a sort of tangle
of black, brown and green which really had to be seen to be believed.

"Aha!" cried my Lord Advocate; "whither away, young sir? Shirking the
proofs, eh, my lad? And may I have the honour to be presented to your
sister from the country--for so, by her fresh looks, I divine the young
lady to be."

"If you will wait a few minutes till we can find a minister, I will say,
'This, sir, is my wedded wife,'" I declared manfully.

"And is the young lady of the same mind?" quoth my Lord, with a quick,
gleg slyness.

"I am, sir--if the business concerns you!" said Irma, looking straight
at him.

"What, and dare you say that you will take a man like this for your
wedded husband?" he demanded, with the swift up-and-down play of his
bushy brows which was habitual to him.

"I see not what business it is of yours," Irma answered, as sharply,
"but I do take him for my husband."

"There!" cried the lawyer, pulling out his snuffbox and tapping it
vehemently, "it is done. I have performed my first marriage, and all the
General Assembly, or the Gretna Green Welder himself, could not have
done it neater or made a better job. Declaration before witnesses being
sufficient in the eye of the law of Scotland, I declare you two man and
wife!"

Irma looked distressed.

"But I do not feel in the least married," she said; "I must have a
minister!"

"You can have all the ministers in Edinburgh, my lass, but you have been
duly wedded already in the presence of the first legal authority of your
kingdom, not to mention that of the Lady Frances Kirkpatrick----"

"My aunt Frances, after all!" cried Irma, suddenly flushing.

"Who may you be?" said the tall lady, with the face like sculptured
gingerbread.

"Who _was_ she, you mean, my Lady Frances?" said the Advocate blandly,
helping himself to a pinch of snuff. "I can tell you who she is--Mrs.
Duncan MacAlpine, wife of my private assistant and the sub-editor of the
_Universal Review_."

It was the first time he had given me that title, which pleased me, and
led me to hope that he meant to accompany the honour by a rise in
salary.

"I am--I was--Irma Sobieski Maitland," the answer was rather halting and
faint, for Irma was easily touched, and it was only when much provoked
that she put on her "No-one-shall-touch-me-with-impunity" air.

"If the bride be at all uneasy in her mind," said the Lord Advocate,
"here we are at Mr. Dean's door. I dare say he will step down-stairs
into the chapel and put on his surplice. From what I judge of the
lady's family, she will probably have as little confidence in a
Presbyterian minister as in a Presbyterian Lord Advocate!"

Freddy and Amelia were waiting across the street. I beckoned to them,
and they crossed reluctantly, seeing us talking with my Lord Advocate,
whom, of course, all the world of Edinburgh knew. I was not long in
making the introductions.

"Miss Craven, late of Yorkshire, and Mr. Frederick Esquillant, assistant
to Professor Greg at the College."

"Any more declarations before witnesses to-day?" said my Lord, looking
quaintly at them. "Ah--the crop is not ripe yet. Well, well--we must be
content for one day."

And he vanished into a wide, steeply-gabled house, standing crushed
between higher "lands."

"The Dean will officiate, never fear," said Lady Frances. "So you have
been staying with my sister, and of course she turned you out. Well, she
sent you to me, I'll wager, and you were on your way. You could not have
done better than come direct to me."

"Indeed it was quite an accident," said Irma, who never would take
credit for what she had not deserved; "you see, I did not know you, and
I thought that one like my Lady Kirkpatrick was quite enough----"

"Hush, hush," said the tall brown woman; "perhaps she means better than
you give her credit for. She is a rich woman, and can afford to pay for
her whimsies. Be sure she meant some kindness. But, at any rate, here
comes the Advocate with our good Dean."

We mounted into a curiously arranged house. At first one saw nothing but
flights on flights of stairs, range above range apparently going
steeply up to the second floor, without any first floor rooms at all.

Mr. Dean was a handsome old man with white hair, and he took our hands
most kindly.

"My friend here," he said, smiling at my Lord Advocate, "tells me that
he has not left very much for me to do from a legal point of view. But I
look upon marriage as a sacrament, and though the bridegroom is not, as
I hear, of our communion, I have no difficulty in acceding to the
request of my Lord--especially since our good Lady Frances has deigned
to be present as a near relative of the bride."

He called something into a sort of stone tube. Then bidding us to be
seated, he went into another room to array himself in his surplice, from
which, presently, he came out, holding a service-book in his hand.

We followed him down-stairs--I with Lady Frances on my arm, the Lord
Advocate preceding us with Irma, whom he was to give away. He appeared
to take quite a boyish interest in the whole affair, from which I
augured the best for our future.

We were rather hampered at the turning of the stair, and had to drop
into single file again, when Irma clutched suddenly at my hand, and in
the single moment we had together in the dusk, she whispered, "Oh, I am
so glad!"

Lady Frances told me as we passed into the little half-underground
chapel, low and barrel-shaped as to the roof, with the candles ready
alight on the altar, that all this secrecy had come down from the time
when the service according to the Episcopal form had been strictly
forbidden in Edinburgh--at least in any open way.

I cannot describe what followed. I must have stood like a dummy,
muttering over what I was prompted to say. But the responses came to
Irma's lips as if she had many times rehearsed them--which perhaps was
the case--I know now that she had always kept her father's King Edward
prayer-book, and read it when alone. We stood by the rails of what I now
know to have been the altar. All about was hung with deep crimson, and
the heavy curtains were looped back with golden cord. A kind of glory
shone behind the altar, in the midst of which appeared, in Hebrew
letters, the name of God. Irma, who was far more self-possessed than I,
found time to wonder and even to ask me what it meant. And I,
translating freely (for I had picked up somewhat of that language from
Freddy Esquillant), said, "Thou, God, seest me."

Which, at any rate, if not exactly correct, was true and apt enough.

"Well, are you well married now, babes?" said the Advocate, and I tried
to answer him as we made our way to the vestry--I stumbling and
self-abased, Irma with the certainty and calmness of a widow at least
thrice removed from the first bashfulness of a bride.

We signed the register, in which (the Advocate took care to inform us)
were some very distinguished names indeed. Which, however, was entirely
the same to me.

Then as I thanked Mr. Dean for his kindness, not daring to offer any
poor fee, the Advocate chatted with Amelia Craven with great delicacy
and understanding, inquiring chiefly as to Freddy's attainments and
prospects.

But what was my surprise when, as soon as we were on the cobble stones,
the Lady Frances turned sharply upon Irma, and said, quite in the style
of my Lady Kirkpatrick, "And now, Irma Maitland, since your husband has
no house or any place to take you to, you had better come to my house
in the Sciennes till he can make proper arrangements. It is not at all
suitable that a Maitland should be on a common stair like a travelling
tinker looking for lodgings."

Hearing which the neat, shining, dimpling little Advocate turned his
bright eyes from one to the other of us, and tapped his tortoise-shell
snuffbox with a kind of elvish joy. It was clear that we were better
than many stage-plays to him.

As for Irma, she looked at me, but now sweetly and innocently, as if
asking for counsel, not haughty or disdainful as had been her wont. The
accusation of poverty touched me, and I was on the point of telling her
to choose for herself, that I would find her a house as soon as
possible, when Amelia Craven thrust herself forward.

Up to this point she had kept silent, a little awed by the great folk,
or perhaps by the church, with the red hangings and twinkling,
mysterious candles on the altar.

"I do not know a great deal," she said, "but this I do know, that a
wife's place is with her husband--and especially when the 'love, honour
and obey' is hardly out of her mouth. She shall come home to my mother's
with me, even if Duncan MacAlpine there has not enough sense to bid
her."

Upon which the Advocate strove (or at least appeared to strive) to please
everybody and put everybody in the right. It was perhaps natural that,
till arrangements were completed, so young a bride should remain with
her family. But, on the other hand, young people could not begin too
soon to face the inevitable trials of life. The feelings of the young
lady who had expressed her mind in so lively a manner--Miss--Miss--ah
yes, Craven--Miss Amelia Craven--did her all honour. It only remained
to hear the decision of--of (a smirk, several dimples and a prolonged
tapping on the lid of his snuffbox)--_Mistress Duncan MacAlpine_.

"I will go with my husband," said Irma simply.

"There's for you, Frances!" cried the Advocate, turning to his companion
with a little teasing "hee-hee" of laughter, almost like the neigh of a
horse; "there spoke all the woman."

But Lady Frances had very deliberately turned about and was walking,
without the least greeting or farewell, in the direction of her own
house of Sciennes.

"There goes a Kirkpatrick," said the Advocate, tapping his box
cynically; "cry with them, they will hunt your enemies till they drop.
Cry off with them, and it's little you will see of them but the back of
their hand."

He touched my Irma on her soft cheek with the tips of his fingers. "And
I wish, for your goodman's sake," he said, "that this little lady's
qualities do not run in the female line."

"I hope," said Irma, "that I shall always have grace to obey my
husband."

"Graces you have--overly many of them, as it is easy to see," quoth the
gallant Advocate, taking off his hat and bowing low, "but it is seldom
indeed that ladies use either Grace or their graces for such a purpose!"



CHAPTER XXXII

THE LITTLE HOUSE ON THE MEADOWS


Irma and I had a great seeking for the little house, great enough for
two, with such convenience as, at the time, could be called modern, and
yet within reach of our very moderate means. First of all Freddy and I
had gone to the Nun's House to ask for Irma's box and accoutrement.
These made no great burden. Nevertheless, we borrowed a little "hurley,"
or handcart, from the baker's girl opposite, who certainly bore no
malice. I had our marriage lines in my pocket, lest any should deny my
rights. But though we did not see the Lady Kirkpatrick, the goods were
all corded and placed ready behind the door of the porter's lodge. We
had them on the "hurley" in a minute. The Lady Frances passed in as we
were carrying out the brass-bound trunk of Irma's that had been my
grandmother's. She went by as if she had not seen us, her curiously
mahogany face more of the _punchinello_ type than ever--yet somehow I
could not feel but that most of this anger was assumed. These women had
shown Irma no kindness, indeed had never troubled themselves about her
existence, all the long time she had stayed at Heathknowes. Why, then,
begin so suddenly to play upon the sounding strings of family and long
descent?

Indeed, we two thought but little more about the matter. Our minds were
fully enough occupied. The wonder of those new days--the unexpected,
unforeseen glory of the earth--the sudden sweetness of love,
unbelievable, hardly yet realized, overwhelmed and confounded us.

And, more than all, there was the search for a house. The Advocate met
me every day with his queer smile, but though he put my salary on a more
secure basis, and arranged that in future I should be paid by the
printer and not by himself, the sum total of my income was not
materially altered.

"What's enough for one is abundance for two!" was his motto. And the
aphorism rang itself out to his tiny rose-coloured nails on the lid of
the tortoise-shell snuffbox. Then he added a few leading cases as became
one learned in the law.

"I began the same way myself," he said, "and though I have a bigger
house now and serving men in kneebreeks and powder in their hair, I
never go by that cottage out by Comely Bank without a 'pitter-patter' of
my sinful old heart!"

He thought for a while, and then added, "Aye, aye--there's no way for
young folk to start life like being poor and learning to hain on the
gowns and the broadcloth! What matter the trimmings, when ye have one
another?"

As to the house, it was naturally Irma who did most of the searching.
For me, I had to be early at the secretary's office, and often late at
the printer's. But there was always some time in the day that I had to
myself--could I only foresee it before I left home in the morning.
"Home" was, so far, at Mrs. Craven's, where the good Amelia had given us
up her chamber, and Freddy rose an hour earlier, so that his wall-press
bed might be closed and the "room" made ready for Irma's breakfast
parlour.

All the three begged that we might stay on. We were, they declared with
one voice, not putting them to the smallest inconvenience. But I knew
different, and besides, I had a constant and consuming desire for a
house of mine own, however small.

Ever since I first knew Irma, a dream had haunted me. In days long past
it had come, when I was only an awkward laddie gazing after her on the
Eden Valley meadows. Often it had returned to me during the tedious
silences of three years--when, quite against the proverb, love had grown
by feeding upon itself.

And my dream was this.

I was in a great city, harassed by many duties, troubled by enemies open
and concealed. There was the drear emptiness of poverty in my pocket,
present anxiety in my heart, and little hope in the outlook. But I had
work--I did not know in my dream what that work was--only that it
sufficed to keep body and soul together, but after it was done I was
weak and weary, a kind of unsatisfied despondency gnawing at my heart.

Then I got loose for an hour or so from my unknown tasks. My path lay
across a kind of open place into which many narrow streets ran, while
some dived away into the lower deeps of the city. People went their ways
as I was doing mine, dejected and sad. But always, as I crossed toward
the opening of a wide new street, where against the sky were tall
scaffoldings and men busy with hod and mortar, I saw Irma coming towards
me. She was neat and youthful, but dressed poorly in plain
things--homespun, and in my dream, I judged, also home-made.

I saw her afar off, and the heart within me gave a great leap. She came
towards me smiling, and lo! I seemed to stand still and worship the
lithe carriage and elastic step. The world grew all sweet and gay. The
lift above became blue and high. The sun shone no longer grey and
brown, but smiling and brilliant--as--as the face of Irma.

Strangely enough she did not greet me nor hold out her hand as
acquaintances do. She came straight up to me as if the encounter were
the merest matter-of-course, while as I stood there, with the hunger and
the wretchedness all gone out of me, the weariness and misery melted in
the grace of that radiant smile, she uttered just these words, "I have
found the Little House Round the Corner!"

Now I will tell of a strange thing--so strange that I have consulted
Irma about it, whether I should write it down here or keep it just for
ourselves.

And she said, "It is true--so why not set it down?" Well, this is what
happened. One day I had arranged to meet Irma at the corner of the
quaint little village of Laurieston, which, as all the world knows,
looks down on the saughs of the Meadows and out upon the slopes of
Bruntsfield where, among the whins, the city golfers lose their balls.

At that time, as all the world knows, there was undertaken a certain
work of opening out that part of the ancient wall which runs westward
from Bristo Port at the head of the Potter Row. Some great old houses
had gone down, and I mind well that I was greatly attracted by the first
view of the Greyfriars Kirk that ever I had from that quarter. (It was
soon lost again behind new constructions, but for a time it was worth
seeing, with its ancient "through" stones, and the Martyrs' Monument
showing its bossy head over the low wall.)

So much taken up with this was I, that I did not notice the altered
aspect of the place. Yet I looked about me like one who is suddenly
confronted by something very familiar. There was the wide space. There
were the narrow streets I knew so well. Yonder was the Candlemaker Row
diving down into the bowels of the earth. Away towards the Greyfriars
were the tall "lands" which the masons were pulling down. Nearer were
men climbing up ladders with hods on their shoulders. Highest of all,
against the blue sky, naked as a new gibbet, stood out the framework of
a crane.

It was the very place of my dream. I knew it well enough, indeed, but
never until that day it had looked so. And there, coming smiling down
the midst, easily as one might down the aisle of an empty church, was
Irma herself, as plain and poor in habiliment as my dream, but
smiling--ah, with a smile that turned all my heart to water, so dear it
was. It was good of God to let us love each other like that--and be
poor.

And as she came nearer, she did not hold out her hand, nor greet me--but
when she was quite close she said, exactly as in the dream, "I have
found the Little House round the Corner!" Yet she had never heard of my
dream before.

That this is true, we do solemnly bear witness, each for our own parts,
thereof, and hereto append our names--

                        Duncan MacAlpine.
                        Irma MacAlpine.

                 *       *       *       *       *

Irma had found it, indeed, but as I judged at the first sight of the
house, it was bound to be too expensive for our purses. I immediately
decided that something must be wrong somewhere, when I heard that we
could have this pleasant cottage with its scrap of garden, long and
narrow certainly, but full of shade and song of birds, for the
inconsiderable rent of ten pounds a year. We thought of many dangers and
inconveniences, but Irma was infinitely relieved when it came out to be
only ghosts. Servants, it appeared, could not be got to stay.

"Is that all?" said Irma scornfully. "Well, then, I don't mean to keep
any servants, and as for ghosts, Louis and I have lived in a big house
in a wood full of them from cellar to roof-tree! You let ghosts alone,
they will let you alone! 'Freits follow them that look for them!"



CHAPTER XXXIII

AND THE DOOR WAS SHUT


We were poor, very poor indeed in these days. Irma had many a wrinkled
brow and many an anxious heart over the weekly expenses--so much to be
set aside for rent, so much for mysterious things called taxes--which,
seeing no immediate good arise from them, my little rebel hated with all
her heart, and devised all sorts of schemes to evade.

But every week there was the joy of a victory won. Untoward
circumstances had been vanquished--the butcher, the baker had been
settled with or--done without. For sometimes Amelia Craven came to give
us a day's baking, and an array of fragrant scones and girdle-cakes,
which I was taken into the kitchen to see on my return home, gave us the
assurance of not having to starve for many days yet.

I was glad, too, for it was my busy season, and I had to be much from
home. There was, indeed, a certain nondescript Mistress McGrier, who
came to help with the heavier duties of the house. She was the daughter
of one janitor at the college, the wife of yet another (presently
suspended for gross dereliction of duty), and she did some charing to
earn an honest penny. But there was little human to be found about her.
Whisky, poor food, neglect, and actual ill treatment had left her mind
after the pattern of her countenance, mostly blank. Yet I was not sorry
when she stayed, especially as the autumnal days shortened, till near
the time of my return. Mrs. McGrier frankly tarried for her tea, and her
conversation was not enlivening, since she could talk of little save
her sorrows as a wife, and how she was trusting to some one in the
office (meaning me) for the future reinstatement of her erring janitor.

Sometimes, on Sundays, she would bring him, as it were framed and glazed
to a painful pitch of perfection. His red hair was plastered with
pomatum, identical with that which had been used upon his boots. Janitor
McGrier had been a soldier, and always moved as if to words of command
unheard to other mortals. If he had only two yards to go, he started as
if from the halt. His pale blue eyes were fixed in his head, and he
chewed steadily at lozenges of peppermint or cinnamon to hide the
perfume of the glass of "enlivener" with which his wife had bribed him
as an argument for submitting to get up and be dressed.

It was only on such show occasions that Mrs. McGrier was voluble. And
that, solely, because "Pathrick" said nothing. Even as I remembered him
in the days of his pride at the door of the Greek classroom, Pathrick
had always possessed the shut mouth, the watery, appealing eye, and the
indicative thumb which answered the question of a novice only with a
quick jerk in the requisite direction.

I think Pathrick sometimes conceived dark suspicions that I had changed
Irma in the intervals of his visits. You see, this small witch had but
two dresses that were any way respectable--that is to say, street-going
or Sabbath-keeping. But then she had naturally such an instinct of
arrangement that a scrap of ribbon, or the lace scarf my grandmother had
given her, made so great a difference that she seemed to have an entire
wardrobe at her command. No doubt a woman would have picked out the
fundamental sameness at a glance. But it did very well for men, who
only care for the effect.

Even the Advocate would look in on his way to or from the Sciennes for a
cup of tea from Irma. And in our little parlour he would sit and rap on
his snuffbox, talking all the while, and forgetting to go till it was
dark--as gentle and human as any common man.

When Freddy and Amelia Craven came in he would give the student advice
about his work, or ask Amelia when she was going to call in his
assistance to get married--which was his idea of jocularity, and, I must
admit, also, that of Amelia. Indeed, we were wonderfully glad to see
him, and he brightened many a dull afternoon for Irma.

Sometimes, if I got away early, I would find him already installed, his
hat stuck on his gold-headed cane in the corner--as it were, all his
high authority laid aside, while he regarded with moist eyes the
work-basket in which Irma kept her interminable scraplets of white
things which I would not have meddled with the tip of one of my fingers,
but which the Advocate turned over with an ancient familiarity, humming
a tune all the while--a tune, however, apt to break off suddenly with a
"_Humph_," and an appeal to the much-enduring lid of the tortoise-shell
snuffbox.

But I think the dearest and best remembered of all these early
experiences happened one winter's evening in the midst of the press and
bustle which always attended the opening of the autumn session. The
winter number of the _Universal_ was almost due, and we were backward,
having had to wait for the copy of an important contributor, whose
communication, in the present state of affairs, might even overturn a
policy--or, at least, in the opinion of the Advocate, could not be done
without. I need not say that the article in question represented his
own views with remarkable exactitude, and he looked to it to further his
rising influence in London. As he grew greater, he was more often in the
south, and we saw less and less of him. On the other hand, the practical
work of the _Review_ fell more and more upon me.

So this night, as I say, I was late, and on turning out into the
south-going street which leads past the Surgeons' Hall and St. Patrick's
Square--my mind being busy with an extra article which I must write to
give our readers the necessary number of sheets--for the first and
certainly for the last time in my life I continued my train of thought
without remembering either that I was a married man, or that my little
Irma must be tired waiting for me.

In mitigation of sentence I can only urge the day-long preoccupations in
which I had been plunged, and the article, suddenly become necessary,
which I must begin to write instanter. But at any rate, excuse or no
excuse, it is certain that I woke from my daydream to find myself in
Rankeillor Street, almost at the foot of the old Craven stairs which, as
a bachelor, I had climbed so often.

Then, with a sudden shamed leap of the heart and a plunge of the hand
into my breeches pocket for my door key, I turned about. I had
forgotten, though only for a moment, the little wife working among her
cloud of feathery linen and trimmings, and the little white house round
the corner above the Meadows. You may guess whether or no I hurried
along between ash "backets" of the most unparklike Gifford Park, how
sharply I turned and scudded along Hope Park, dodging the clothes' posts
to the right, from which prudent housewives had removed the ropes with
the deepening of the twilight.

The dark surface of the Meadows spread suddenly before me in an
amplitude of bleakness. A thin, sleety scuff of passing snow-cloud beat
in my face. A tall man wrapped in a cloak edged suspiciously nearer as
if to take stock of me, but my haste, and perhaps a certain wildness in
the disorder of my dress and hat made him think better of it--that is,
if indeed he ever thought ill of it--and with a muttered "Good-e'en to
ye," he passed upon his way.

I could see it now. The light in the window, the two candles that were
always set at the elbow of the busy little housewife, the supper, frugal
but well-considered, simmering on the hob, the table spread white and
dainty, with knives and forks of silver (the Advocate's gift) laid out
in order.

Then all the warm and loving things that sleep in the breast of a man
rose up within me. The long, weary day was forgotten. The article I must
write was shoved into a corner out of the way. For this one hour, in
spite of whistling wintry winds and scouring sleet-drifts, the little
light yonder in the window was sufficient.

Two farthing dips, a hearth fire, and a loving heart! Earth had nothing
more to give, and my spirit seemed glorified within me. I had a curious
feeling of melting within me, which was by no means a desire to weep,
but rather as if all the vital parts of the man I was had been suddenly
turned to warm water. I cannot tell if any one has ever felt the like
before, but certainly I did that night, and "warm water" comes as near
to the real thing as I can find words to express.

It seemed an age while I was crossing the short, stubbly grass of the
Meadows. The light within beaconed redder and warmer. On the
window-blind I saw a gracious silhouette. Then there was the putting
aside the edge of the blind with exploring finger--sure sign that my
little wife had been regarding the clock and finding me a little late in
getting home.

As I ran up the short path to the gate I blew into my key. The latch of
the garden-gate clicked in the blast which swept across from the
Blackfords. But there at last before me was the door. The key glided,
well-accustomed, into its place, not rattling, but with the slide of
long-polished and intimate steel--soft, like silk on silk.

But the key never turned. The door opened, seemingly of itself, and,
gloriously loving, a candle held high in her hand, her full, white
house-gown sweeping to her feet, the little wife stood waiting.

I said nothing about the overplus of work that had filled my head as I
turned from the high, bleak portals of the University--nothing of how,
all unknowing, my traitor feet had carried me to the stairway in
Rankeillor Street--nothing of the long way, or the suspicious man in the
cloak, of the blast and the bent and the sting of the sleet in my face.

I was at home, just she and I--the two of us alone. And upon us two the
door was shut.



CHAPTER XXXIV

A VISIT FROM BOYD CONNOWAY


"I wonder," said Irma one Saturday morning when, by a happy accident, I
had no pressing need to go from home, so could stay and linger over
breakfast with my little wife like a Christian, "I wonder what that man
is doing down there? He has been sitting on the step outside our gate
ever since it was light, and he looks as if he were taking root there!"

I made but one bound from the table to the window. For I remembered the
cloaked man who had crossed me in the Meadows the other night. Also my
inbred, almost instinctive curiosity as to the purposes and antecedents
of lurking folk of all kinds, pricked me. We were easy enough to get on
with in Eden Valley once you knew us, but our attitude towards strangers
was distinctly hostile.

This man was muffled to the nose in a cloak, and might very well have
been my inquiring friend of the other night. But when I had opened the
door and marched with the firm ringing steps of a master down the paven
walk towards the gate, the face I saw turned to my approach, altered my
mood in a second.

"Why, Boyd Connoway," I cried, "who would have thought of seeing you
here? What are you doing in Edinburgh? But first come in--there is a
friend here who will be glad to see you!"

"Eh, Mr. Duncan, but I am not sure that I dare venture. 'Tis no more
than decent I am, and the young lady, your wife--oh, but though to see
her sweet face would be a treat for poor Boyd Connoway, what might she
not be sayin' about me dirtying her carpets, the craitur? And as for
sittin' in her fine arm-chairs----"

"Come your ways in, Boyd," I cried. "Have you had any breakfast?
No--then you are just in time! And you will find that our chairs are
only wood, and you would not hurt our fine carpets, not if you danced on
them with clogs!"

"D'ye tell me, now?" said Boyd, much relieved. "Sure, and it's a told
tale through the whole parish that you are livin' in the very lap of
luxury--with nothing in the world to do for it but just make
scratch-scratches on paper with a quill-pen!"

By this time Irma was at the door, hiding herself a little, for she had
still the morning apron on--that in which she had been helping Mrs.
Pathrick. But she was greatly delighted to see Boyd, who, if the truth
must be told, made his best service like an Irishman and a
gentleman--for, as he said, "Even five-and-thirty years of Galloway had
not wiped the sclate of his manners!"

Now Boyd was always a favourite with Irma, and I fear that she was
fonder of him than she ought to have been, instead of pitying his
hard-driven Bridget--just because Bridget had not his beautiful manners.
Presently, as his mouth ceased to fill and empty itself so wonderfully
expeditiously, Boyd began to talk.

"As to what fetched me, Miss Irma," he said, in answer to questions,
"faith, I walked all the road, taking many a house on the way where
kenned folk dwelt. Here were pigs to kill and cure. And I killed and
cured them. Farther on there were floors to lay, and I laid them, or
fish-hooks to busk, and I busked them."

I put a question here.

"Oh, Bridget," he said, shrugging his shoulders with a wearied air,
"Bridget doesn't know when she's well off. Och, the craitur! It began
with the night of the September Fair. Now, it is known to all the
countryside that Boyd Connoway is no drinker. He will sit and talk, as
is just and sociable, but nothing more. No, Miss Irma. And so I told
Bridget. But it so chanced that Fair Monday was a stormy day, which is
the most temptatious for poor lads in from the country, with only two
holidays in the year, most of them. And what with the new watch and the
councilmen being so strict against disorder--why, I could not let a dog
get into trouble if I could help it. So I spent the most of the night
seeing them home out of harm's way--and if ever there was a work of
necessity and mercy, that was.

"But Bridget, she thought different, and declared that I had never so
much as thought of her and the childer all day, but left her at the
wash-tub, while they, the poor craiturs, were poppin' out and in of the
stalls and crawlin' under the slatting canvas of the shows, as happy as
larks, having their fun all for nothing, and double rations of it when
they were caught, cuffed, and chased out. Well, Bridget kept it up on me
so long and got so worked up that she would not have a bite ready for me
when I came home tired and weary, bidding me go and eat my meat where I
had worked my work. So it seemed a good time for me to be off somewhere
for my health. But--such was my consideration, that not to leave Bridget
in distress I went asking about till I got her the washin' at General
Johnstone's--the minister's she had before--so there was Bridget well
provided for, Miss Irma--and here am I, Boyd Connoway, a free man on my
travels!"

We asked news of friends and acquaintances--the usual Galloway round of
questions.

"Faith," said Boyd, "but there's just one cry among them--when are ye
coming down to let us have a look at your treasure, Mister Duncan? Sure,
it's selfish ye are, now, to keep her all this long time to yourself!
The little chap's holidays! Ah, true for you. We had forgotten him. And
ye are sure that he is well done to, and safely lodged where they have
put him, Miss Irma?"

"If you bide a minute or two, Boyd," said Irma, smiling, well-pleased,
"you may very likely have the chance of judging for yourself. For it is
almost his time to be here, for to-day is a holiday!"

In fact, it was not a quarter of an hour before a shout, the triumphal
opening of the outer gate with a rush and a clang, and a merciless
pounding on the front door announced the arrival of Sir Louis. He had
grown out of all knowledge, declared the visitor, "but no doubt the
young gentleman had forgotten old Boyd Connoway."

"Oh, no," said Louis; "come and show me some more cat's cradles; I know
two more 'liftings' already than any boy in the school. But _you_ can do
at least a dozen!"

And so, with the woven string about his long clever fingers, Louis
watched the deft and sure manipulation of Boyd Connoway as he "lifted"
and wove, changing the pattern indefinitely. For the time being the
village "do-nothing"--in the sense that he was the busiest man in the
place about other folk's business--was merely another boy at Louis's
school. And as he worked, he talked, delightfully, easily, dramatically.
He made the old life of Eden Valley pass before us. We heard the brisk
tongue of my grandmother from the kitchen, that of Aunt Jen ruling as
much of the roost as was permitted to her, but constantly made aware of
herself by her mother's dominating personality.

With equal facility he recalled my father in his classes, looking out
for collegers to do him credit, my mother passing silently along her
retired household ways, Agnes Anne dividing her time between helping her
mother in the house, and teaching the classes for which I used to be
responsible in the school.

It was a memorable day in the little house above the Meadows. Louis
played with Boyd Connoway all the time, learning infinite new tricks
with string, with knife-blades, perfecting himself in the art of making
fly-hooks, of kite manufacture, and the art of lighting a fire.

He had presented to him Boyd's spare "sulphur" box, in which were
tinder, flint and steel, matches dipped in brimstone, and a pair of
short thick candles which could be set one at a time in a socket formed
by the box itself, the raised lid sheltering the flame from the wind.

Never was a happier boy. And when the Advocate looked in, the surprising
boyishness of Boyd rubbed off even on him. We did not inform our old
friend of the high place which "the Advocate" held in the judicial
hierarchy of his country. For we knew well that nothing Boyd said in our
house would ever be used as evidence against him.

But no doubt my lord gained a great deal of useful information as to the
habits of smugglers, their cargoes, destinations, ports of call and
sympathizers. Boyd crowned his performances by inviting the Advocate
down to undertake the defence of the next set of smugglers tried at the
assizes, a task which the Advocate accepted with apparent gratitude and
humility. For from the little man's snuff-taking and easy-going, idling
ways, Boyd had taken him for a briefless advocate.

"Faith, sir, come to Galloway," he cried open-heartedly--"there's the
place to provide work for the like of you lads. And it's Boyd Connoway
will introduce you to all the excise-case defendants from Annan Port to
Loch Ryan. It's him that knows every man and mother's son of them! And
who, if ye plaise, has a better right?"



CHAPTER XXXV

THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW


"The strongest mental tonic in the world is solitude, but it takes a
strong mind, fully equipped with thoughts, aims, work, to support it
long without suffering. But once a man has made his best companion of
his own mind, he has learned the secret of living."

So I had written in an essay on Senancour during the days when the
little white house was but a dream, and Irma had never come to me across
the cleared space in front of Greyfriars Kirk amid the thud of mallets
and the "chip" of trowels. But Irma taught me better things. She knew
when to be silent. She understood, also, when speech would slacken the
tension of the mind. As I sat writing by the soft glow of the lamp I
could hear the rustle of her house-dress, the sharp, almost inaudible,
_tick-tick_ of her needle, and the soft sound as she smoothed out her
seam. Little things that happen to everybody, but--well, I for one had
never noticed them before.

It seemed as if this period of contentment would always continue. The
present was so good that, save a little additional in the way of income,
I asked for no better.

But one day the Advocate rudely shook my equanimity.

"You must have some of your family--some good woman--to be with Irma.
Write at once!"

I could only look at him in amazement.

"Why, Irma is very well," I said; "she never looked better in her life."

"My boy," said the Advocate, laying his hand gently on my arm, "I have
loved a wife, and I have lost a wife who loved me; I do not wish to
stand by and let you do the same for the want of a friend's word. Write
to-night!"

And he turned on his heel and marched off. At twenty steps' distance he
turned. "Duncan," he said, "we will need all your time at the _Review_;
you had better give up the Secretary's office. I have spoken to Morrison
about it. I shall be so much in London for a year or two that you will
be practically in charge. We will get a smart young colleger to take
your place."

That night I wrote to my Aunt Janet. It was after Irma, fatigued more
easily than was usual with her, had gone to bed. Four days afterwards, I
was looking over some manuscript sheets which that day had to go to the
printer. Mistress Pathrick, who had just arrived to prepare the
breakfast (I had lit the kitchen fire when I got up), burst in upon me
with the announcement that there was "sic a gathering o' folk" at the
door, and a "great muckle owld woman coming in!"

I hastened down, and there in the little lobby stood--my grandmother.
She was arrayed in her oldest black bombazine. A travel-crushed beaver
bonnet was clapped tightly on her head. The black velvet band about her
white hair had slipped down and now crossed her brow transversely a
little above one bushy eyebrow, giving an inconceivably rakish
appearance to her face. She held a small urchin, evidently from the
Grassmarket or the Cowgate, firmly by the cuff of his ragged jacket. She
was threatening him with her great blue umbrella.

"If ye hae led me astray, ye skirmishing blastie, I'll let ye ken the
weight o' this!"

The youth was guarding himself with one hand and declaring alternately
that, "This is the hoose, mem," and, "I want my saxpence!"

A little behind two sturdy porters, laden with a box apiece, blocked up
the doorway, and loomed large across the garden.

"Eh, Duncan, but this is an awesome place," cried my grandmother. "So
many folk, and it's pay this, and so much for that! It's a fair
disgrace. There's no man in Eden Valley that wadna hae been pleased to
gie me a lift from the coach wi' my bit boxes. But here, certes, it's
sae muckle for liftin' them up and sae muckle more for settin' them
doon, and to crown a' a saxpence to a laddie for showin' me the road to
your house! It's a terrible difference to Heathknowes, laddie. Now, I
wadna wonder if ye hae to pay for your very firewood!"

I assured her that we had neither peat nor woodcutting privileges on the
Meadows, and to change the subject asked her if she would not go up and
see Irma.

"A' in guid time," she said. "I hae a word or two to ask ye first,
laddie. No that muckle is to be expected o' a man that wad write to puir
Janet Lyon instead o' to _me_, Duncan MacAlpine!"

As I did not volunteer anything, she exclaimed, stamping her foot,
"Dinna stand there glowering at me. Man alive, Duncan lad, ye can hae no
idea how like an eediot ye can look when ye put your mind to it!"

I had been reared in the knowledge that it was a vain thing to argue
with my grandmother, so I listened patiently to all she had to say, and
I answered, to the best of my ability, all the questions she asked. Most
she seemed to have no need to ask at all, for she knew the answers
before they were out of my mouth, and paid no attention to my words
when I did get in a word.

"Humph, you are stupider than most men, and that's saying no trifle!"
was her comment when all was finished.

I asked Mary Lyon if there was nothing I could do to assist her--help
with her unpacking, or any trifle like that.

"Aye, there is," she answered, with her old verve, "get out o' the
house, man, and leave me to my work while you do yours."

I took my hat, the cane which the Advocate had given me, and with them
my way to the office of the _Universal Review._ I had a busy day, which
perhaps was as well, for all the time my mind was wandering disconsolate
about the little white house above the Meadows.

I returned to find all well, my supper laid in the kitchen and the
contents of grandmother's trunks apparently filling the rest of the
house. Irma gave me a little, perfunctory kiss; said, "Oh, if you could
only----!" and so vanished to where my grandmother was unfolding still
more things and other treasures to the rustle of fine tissue paper, and
the gasps and little hand-clappings of Irma.

Those who know my grandmother do not need to be told that she took
possession of our house and all that was therein, of Irma so completely
that practically I was only allowed to bid my wife "Good-morning" under
the strictest supervision, and of Mistress Pathrick--who, after one sole
taste of my grandmother's tongue, had retired defeated with the muttered
criticism that "that tongue o' the auld leddy's could ding a' the
Luckenbooths--aye, and the West Bow as weel." However, once subjected,
she proved a kindly and a willing slave. I have, however, my suspicions
that in these days Mr. Pathrick McGrier, ex-janitor of the Latin
classroom, had but a poor time of it so far as the preparation of his
meals went, and as to housekeeping she was simply not there.

For she slept now under the stairs in a lair she had rigged up for
herself, which she said was "rale comfortable," but certainly to the
unaccustomed had an air of great stuffiness.

But I need not write at large what, after all, is no unique experience.
One night, upon my grandmother's pressing invitation, I walked out on
Bruntsfield Links, and kicked stones into the golfers' holes for
something to do. It was full moon, I remember, and away to the north the
city slept while St. Giles jangled fitfully. I had come there to be away
from the little white house, where Irma was passing through the first
peril of great waters which makes women's faces different ever after--a
few harder, most softer, none ever the same.

Ten times I came near, stumbling on the short turf, my feet numb and
uncertain beneath me, my limbs flageolating, and my heart rent with a
man's helplessness. I called upon God as I had not done in my life
before. I had been like many men--so long as I could help myself, I saw
no great reason for troubling the Almighty who had already so much on
His hands. But now I could do nothing. I had an appalling sense of
impotence. So I remembered that He was All-powerful, and just because I
had never asked anything with true fervour before, He would the more
surely give this to me. So at least I argued as I prayed.

And, sure enough, the very next time I coasted the northern shore of the
Meadows, as near as I dared, there came one running towards me, clear
in the moonlight--Mistress Pathrick it was and no other.

"A laddie--a fine laddie!" she panted, waving both her hands in her
enthusiasm.

"And Irma?" I cried, for that did not interest me at that moment, no,
not a pennyworth.

"A bhoy--as foine a bhoy----"

"Tell me, how is Irma?" I shouted--"quick!"

"Wud turn the scale at eleven, divil a ounce less----"

"Woman, tell me how is my wife!" I thundered, lifting up my hands, "or
I'll twist your foolish neck!"

"Keep us!" said Mrs. Pathrick, "why, how should she be? Did ye expect
she would be up and bating the carpets?"

In half-a-dozen springs, as it seemed, I was within the gate. Then the
clear, shrill wail with which a new soul prisoned in an unfamiliar body
trumpets its discontent with the vanities of this world stopped me dead.
Scarce knowing what I did, I took off my boots. I trod softly.

There was a hush now in the house--a sudden stoppage of that shrill
bugle-note. I came upon my grandmother, as it seemed, moulding a little
ruddy bundle, with as much apparent ease and absence of fuss as if it
had been a pat of butter in the dairy at home.

And when she put my firstborn son into my arms, I had no high thoughts.
I trembled, indeed, but it was with fear lest I should drop him.

Presently his nurse took him again, grumbling at the innate and
incurable handlessness of men. Could I see Irma? Certainly not. What
would I be doing, disturbing the poor thing? Very likely she was asleep.
Oh, I had promised to go, had I? Well, she had nothing to do with that.
But Irma would be expecting me! Oh, as to that, lad, lad, do not trouble
yourself. She will be resting in a peace like the peace of the Lord, as
you might know, if ever a man could know anything about such things.

Just for a minute? Well, then--a minute, and no more. Mind, she, Mary
Lyon, would be at the door. I was not to speak even.

As I went in, Irma lifted her arms a little way and then let them fall.
There was a kind of shiny dew on her face, little but chill to the touch
of my lips. And, ah, how wistful her smile!

"Your ... little ... girl," she whispered, "has deserved ... well ... of
her country. I hope he will be brave ... like his father. I prayed all
might be well ... for your sake, my dear. His name is to be Duncan....
Yes, Duncan Louis Maitland!"

I had been kneeling at the bedside, kneeling and, well--perhaps sobbing.
But at that moment I felt a hand on my collar. The next I was on my
feet, and so, with only one glimpse of Irma's smile at my fate, I found
myself outside the room.

"What was it I telled ye?--Not to excite her! Was it no?"

And Mary Lyon showed me the way down to the kitchen, which I had
forgotten, where, on condition of not making a noise, I was to be
permitted for the present to abide.

"But mind you," she added, threateningly, "not a foot-sole are ye to set
on thae stairs withoot my permission. Or, my certes, lad, but ye will
hear aboot it!"

Decidedly I was a man under authority. The extraordinary thing was that
I was cautioned to make no noise, and there in the next room was that
red imp yelling the roof off, yet neither of his female relatives
seemed to mind in the least, though his remarks interfered very
seriously with the article on "Irrigation Systems of Southern Europe,"
which I was working up for the _Universal_.

But when was a mere man (and breadwinner) considered at such times?

In all truly Christian and charitable cities refuges should be built for
temporarily dispossessed, homeless, and hungry heads of families.



CHAPTER XXXVI

THE SUPPLANTER


Never did I realize so clearly the difference between what interests the
people in a great city and those inhabiting remote provinces as when, in
mid-August, I took Irma and my firstborn son down to the wholesome
breath and quiet pine shadows of Heathknowes. I had seen the autumnal
number of the _Universal_ safe into its wrapper of orange and purple. In
Edinburgh the old town and the new alike thrilled and hummed with the
noise of a contested election. There were processions, hustings, battles
royal everywhere, the night made hideous, the day insupportable.

But here, looking from the door out of the sheltering arms of Marnhoul
wood into the peace of the Valley, the ear could discern only the hum of
the pirn-mill buzzing like a giant insect in the greenest of the shade,
and farther off the whisper of the sea on the beaches and coves about
Killantringan.

Now we had taken rather a roundabout road and rested some nights on the
way, for I had business at Glasgow--a great and notable professor to
visit at the college, and in the library several manuscripts to consult.
So Irma remained with the Wondrous Duncan the Second at the inn of the
White Horse, where the coach stopped.

When I came back I thought that Irma's face looked a trifle flushed. I
discovered that, having asked the hostler to polish her shoes, he had
refused with the rudeness common to his class when only rooms of the
cheaper sort are engaged. Whereupon Irma, who would not let her temper
get the better of her, had forthwith gone down to the pantry, taken the
utensils and done them herself.

I said not much to her, but to the landlord and especially to the man
himself I expressed myself with fulness and a vigour which the latter,
at least, was not likely to forget for some time.

It was as well, however, that my grandmother was not there. For in that
case murder might have been done, had she known of the scullion's answer
and what Irma had done. Well also, on the whole, for us that she had
refused to keep us company. For having been only once in a great city in
her life, and never likely to be there again, Mary Lyon made the most of
her time. She had had two trunks when she came to our gate. Four would
not have held all that she travelled with on her way back. And when we
remonstrated on the cost, she said, "Oh, fidget! 'Tis many a day since I
cost anything to speak of to the goodman. He can brave and weel afford
to pay for a trifle o' luggage."

Accordingly she never passed a fruit stall without yearning to buy the
entire stock-in-trade "for the neighbours that have never seen siccan a
thing as a sweet orange in their lives--lemons being the more marketable
commodity in Eden Valley."

She had also as many commissions, for which she looked to be paid, as if
she had been a commercial traveller. There were half-a-dozen "swatches"
to be matched for Aunt Jen--cloth to supply missing "breadths," yarn to
mend the toes of stockings, ribbons which would transform the ancient
dingy bonnet into a wonder of beauty on the day of the summer communion.
She had "patterns" to buy dress-lengths of--from the byre-lasses brown
or drab to stand the stress of out-of-door--checked blue and white for
the daintier dairy-worker among her sweet milk and cheese.

Even groceries, and a taste of the stuff they sell in town for "bacon
ham"--to be sniffed at and to become the butt for all the goodwives in
the parish--no tea, for Mary Lyon knew where that could be got better
and cheaper, but a _Pilgrim's Progress_ for a neighbour lad who was
known to be fond of the reading and deserved to be encouraged--lastly,
as a vast secret, a gold wedding-ring which could not be bought without
talk in Eden Valley itself. Grandmother did not tell us for whom this
was intended. Nor did we know, till the little smile lurking at the
corner of her mouth revealed the mystery, when Agnes Anne came home from
the kirk and named who had been "cried" that day. It was no other than
our sly Eben--and Miss Gertrude Greensleeves was the name of the
bride--far too young for him, of course, but--he had taken his mother
into his confidence and not a man of us dared say a word. Doubtless the
women did, but even they not in the hearing of Mary Lyon.

But now we were at rest, and quite ten days ago grandmother had arrived
with her cargo. The commissions were all distributed. The parish had had
a solid week to get over its amazement. And, to put all in the
background, there had been a successful run into Portowarren and another
the same night to Balcary--a thing not often done in the very height of
summer. Yet, because the preventive men were not expecting it, perhaps
safer then than at any other time.

And above all and swamping all the endless talk of a busy, heartsome
farm-town! Ah, how good it was. Even the little god in the "ben" room,
Master Duncan Maitland MacAlpine, had times and seasons without a
worshipper, all because there was a young farmer's son in the kitchen
telling of his experiences "among the hills," with the gaugers behind
them, and the morn breaking fast ahead.

How they must get to a place where they could hide, a place with water,
where they could restore their beasts and repose themselves, a place of
great shadowing rocks in a weary land. For of a certainty the sun would
smite by day, even if the moon afforded them guidance over the waste by
night.

Or Boyd Connoway would tell of the _Golden Hind_ having been seen out in
the channel, of rafts of "buoyed" casks sunk to within three foot of the
bottom, to be fished up when on a dark night the herring craft slipped
out of Balcary or the Scaur, silent as a shadow.

Or mayhap (and this, married or single, Irma liked best of all) there
came in some shy old farmer from the uplands, or perhaps a herd, to
whose boy or girl "out at service" the mistress of Heathknowes had
brought home a Bible. These had come to thank Mary Lyon, but could not
get a word out. They sipped their currant wine as if it were medicine
and moved uneasily on the edges of their chairs. They had excellent
manners stowed away somewhere--the natural well-bredness of the hill and
the heather, but in a place like that, with so many folk, it seemed as
if they had somehow mislaid them.

Then was Irma's time. She would glide in, her face still pale, of
course, but with such a gracious sweetness upon it that the shyest was
soon at his ease. Here was a cup, an embarrassment to the hand. She
would fill its emptiness, not with Aunt Jen's currant wine, but with
good Hollands--not to the brim, because the owner would spill it over
and so add the finishing touch to his bashfulness. She sat down by the
oldest, the shaggiest, the roughest, and in a moment (as if, like a
fairy of Elfland, she had waved her wand) old Glencross of Saltflats,
who only talked in monosyllables to his own wife, was telling Irma all
about the prospects of his hay crop, and the bad look-out there was
along the Colvend shore owing to the rabbits breeding on the green hill
pastures.

"Oh, but I'll thin them, missie," he affirmed, in response to her look
of sympathy, "ow aye, there are waur things than hare soup and rabbit
pie. Marget" (his wife) "is a great hand at the pie. Ye maun come ower
some day and taste--you and your guidman. I will send ye word by that
daft loon Davie."

Then with hardly an effort, now that the ice was broken, turning to my
grandmother, "Eh, mistress, but it was awesome kind and mindfu' o' you
to fetch the laddie a Bible a' the road frae Enbra. I hae juist been
promising him a proper doing, a regular flailing if he doesna read in it
every nicht afore he says his prayers."

Needless to say Davie had promised--but as to Davie's after performance
no facts have been put on record. Still, he had his Bible and was proud
of it.

Then Irma, safe in her married state, would set herself down by some
shy, horny-fisted fellow, all nose and knuckles. She would draw him away
from his consciousness of the Adam's apple in his throat (which he
privately felt every one must be looking at) and give him a good
sympathetic quarter of an hour all to himself. She would smile and smile
and be a villain to her heart's content, till the lad's tongue would at
last be loosened, and he would tell how he tried for first prize at the
last ploughing match, and boast how he would have been first only for
his "coulter blunting on a muckle granite stane." He would relate with
exactness how many queys his father had, the records of mortality among
the wintering sheep, the favourable prospects of the spring
lambs--"abune the average--aye, I will not deny, clean abune the
average."

So he would sit and talk, and gaze and gaze, till there entered into his
soul the strong desire to work, to rise up and conquer fate and narrow
horizons--so that in time, like a certain Duncan MacAlpine (whom very
likely, as a big country fellow, he had thrashed at school), it might
happen to him to have by his fireside something dainty and sweet and
with great sympathetic eyes and a smile--_like that_!

We had only a little while of this, however, for on the morrow Louis was
to arrive from school, safely escorted by Freddy Esquillant and
half-a-dozen students, who had made a jovial party all the way from
Edinburgh.

Now I may write myself down a selfish brute by the confession I am going
to make. But all the same, the thing is true and had better be owned up
to, all the more in the light of what afterwards happened. I had no
great wish that Louis should join our little party, which with the
advent of little Master Red Knuckles, had been rendered quite complete.
It was, I admit, an unworthy jealousy. But I thought that as Irma had
always been so passionately devoted to Louis--and also because she had,
as I sometimes teased myself by imagining, only come to me because she
had lost Louis--his coming back would--_might_, I had the grace to say
on second thoughts, deprive me of some part of my hard-earned
heritage--the love of the woman who was all to me. For with me, his
unworthy father, even Duncan Maitland had not yet begun to count. With
a man that comes later.

This is my confession, and once made, let us pass on. I had even then
the grace to be ashamed--at least, rather.

Louis arrived. He had grown into a tall lad with long hair of
straw-coloured gold, that shone with irregular reflections like muffled
moonlight on a still but gently rippling sea. He was quieter, and seemed
somehow different. He was now all for his books and solitude, and sat
long in the room that had been given him for a bedroom and study--that
with the window looking out on the wood. It was the quietest in the
house--not only because of our youthful bull of Bashan and his roaring,
but because it was at the farthest end of the long rambling house, away
from the stables and cattle sheds.

However, he seemed delighted to see Irma, and sat a long time with her
hand in his. But I, who knew her well, noticed that there was not now on
her face the old strained attention to all that her brother said or did.
It was in another direction that her ears and thoughts were turned, and
at the first cry from baby's cot she rose quietly, disengaging her hand
without remark before disappearing into the bedroom-nursery. In another
moment I could see my grandmother pass the window drying her hands on
her apron. I knew from the ceasing of the plunging thud of the dasher
that she had called a substitute to the churning. The dasher was now in
the hands of Aunt Jen, who handled it with a shorter, more irrascible
stroke.

Left alone with him, I talked to Louis a while of his studies, of the
games the boys played at school, of the length of the holidays. But to
all these openings and questionings he responded in a dull and
uninterested fashion. I could not but feel that he resented bitterly
the marriage which had come between his sister and himself. He had had,
of course, a place to come to on Saturdays and Sunday afternoons, but I
had seen little of him then. My work was generally absorbing, and when I
had time to give to Irma, I wanted her all to myself. So I had fallen
into a habit, neither too kind nor yet too wise, of taking to my writing
or my proofs as often as Louis came to our house.

Now, from the glances he cast at the door by which Irma had gone out, I
saw that he too was suffering from jealousy--even as I had done. He was
jealous of that inarticulate Jacob which comes into so many houses as a
tiny Supplanter--the first baby!

After a quarter of an hour he rose and got out of the room quickly. I
could hear him go to his own room and shut the door. When Irma and Mary
Lyon had reduced our small bundle of earthquake to a sulky and plaintive
reason, she came back to talk to her brother. Finding him gone, she
asked where Louis was, and immediately followed him to his chamber,
doubtless to continue their conversation.

But she returned after a while with a curious gleam on her face, saying
that doubtless travel had given her brother a headache. He had shut his
door with the bolt, and was lying down.

I was on the point of asking Irma if he had answered when she called to
him, but remembered in time that I had better not meddle in what did not
concern me. If Louis behaved like a bear, it would only throw Irma the
more completely upon me. And this, at the time, I was selfish enough to
wish for.

Afterwards--well, I had, as all men have, many things to reproach myself
for--this stupid jealousy being by no means the least or the lightest.

Still, on the whole I had a great deal of peace and the composure of
the quiet mind during these first days at Heathknowes. My father, almost
for the first time in his life, withdrew himself from his desk, and took
a walk beyond the confines of the Academy Wood to see his grandson,
keeping, however, his hands still behind him according to his custom in
school. My mother, even, arranged with Agnes Anne to take the
post-office duties during her absence, and seemed pleased in her quiet
way to hold the boy in her arms. In this, however, she was not
encouraged by Mary Lyon, who soon took Duncan away on the plea that he
cried, except with her. Duncan the Second certainly stopped as soon as
he felt my grandmother's strong, well-accustomed hands grasp him. Yet
she was not in the least tender with him. On the contrary, she heaved
him, as it were promiscuously, over one shoulder with his head hanging
down her back, and tucking his swathed legs under one armpit she
proceeded about her household business, as if wholly disembarrassed--all
the while Duncan never uttering a word.

But through all the talk of the weather and the crops, the night runs to
Kirk Anders and the Borgue shore, the capture made by the preventives at
the Hass of the Dungeon, the misdoings of Tim Cleary who had got seven
days for giving impudence to the Provost of Dumfries in his own
court-room, there pierced the strange sough of politics.

The elections were upon us also in Galloway, and the Government
candidate was reported to be staying at Tereggles with the Lord
Lieutenant. He had not yet been seen, but (it was, of course, Boyd
Connoway who brought us word) his name was the Honourable Lalor
Maitland, late Governor of the Meuse--a province in the Low Countries.



CHAPTER XXXVII

THE RETURN OF THE SERPENT TO EDEN VALLEY


I did not tell Irma, and I enjoined silence on all about the house. But
there was no keeping such a thing, and perhaps it was as well. Jo
Kettle's father, always keen to show his wit at the expense of his
betters, cried out to me in the hearing of Irma, "How much, besides his
pardon, has that uncle of yours gotten in guineas for his treachery?"

And when I protested ignorance, he added, "I mean the new grand
Government candidate, that has been sae lang in the Netherlands, and was
a rebel not so long ago--many is the braw lad's head that he has garred
roll in the sawdust, I warrant."

For it was currently reported of Lalor in his own day that he had been a
spy for the King of France as well as for King George--aye, and
afterwards against the emigrants at Coblentz in the service of the
Revolution. Indeed, I do think there is little doubt but that, at some
time of his life, the man had been in such a desperate way that he had
spied and betrayed whoever trusted him to whomsoever would pay for his
treachery.

"Lalor Maitland--is he, then, in the country?" said Irma, with a white
and frightened look. "I must get home--to Baby!"

So completely had her heart changed its magnetic pole. Poor Louis, small
wonder he was jealous--and rightly, not of me, but of the small and
leathern-lunged person who from his cot ruled the order of the house,
and made even the cheerful hum of the fireside, the yard cock-crowing of
the fowls, and the egg-kekkling in the barn yield to his imperious
will. For he had them banished the precincts and shut up till his
highness should please to awaken.

But when we got to the Heathknowes road-end, we beheld a yellow coach,
with four horses, a coachman and two outriders, all three in
canary-coloured suits.

It was early days for such equipages to be seen in Galloway, where,
excluding the post-road on which the Irish mail ran from Dumfries to
Stranraer, there were few roads and fewer bridges which would bear a
coach-and-four. Owing to the pirn-mill, our bridges were a little
stronger than usual, though the roads were worn into deep ruts by the
"jankers," or great two-wheeled wagons for the transport of trees out of
the woods.

The carriage drove right up to the outer gate of the yard of
Heathknowes, half the idle laddies of Eden Valley running shouting after
it. The "yett," as usual, was barred, and it is more than doubtful
whether, even if open, the coach could safely have passed within--so
narrow was the space between post and post.

But the man inside put his head out of the window and gave a short,
sharp order. Whereupon the postilions leaped down and stood to their
horses' heads. The canary coachman held his hands high, with the reins
drooping upon his knees. A footman jumped out of a little niche by the
side of one window in which his life must have been almost shaken out of
him. He opened the door with the deepest respect, and out there stepped
the bravest and finest-dressed gentleman that had ever been seen.

He was middle-sized and slight, no longer young, but of an uncertain
age. He wore a powdered wig, with sky-blue coat and shorts, a white
waistcoat embroidered with dainty sprig patterns of lavender and
forget-me-not. He had on white silk stockings and the most fashionable
shoes, tied with blue-and-gold governmental favours instead of ordinary
buckles. By his side was a sword with a golden hilt--in short, such a
cavalier had never been seen in Galloway within living memory.

And at the sight of him Louis ran forward, calling, "Uncle, uncle!" But
Irma sank gently down on my shoulder, so that I had to take her in my
arms and carry her to her chamber.

At first I stood clean dumfounded, as indeed well I might. When Lalor
came last to Eden Valley he had been one of the Black Smugglers, a great
man on the _Golden Hind_--little better, to be brief, than a common
pirate. He and his had assaulted the house of Marnhoul, with a pretence
of legal purpose, no doubt, but really merely levying war in a peaceful
country.

Now here he was back, arrayed sumptuously, the favourite of the
Government at London, the guest of the Lord Lieutenant of the county.

I could not explain it, and, indeed, till Irma came to herself, I had
little time or inclination to think the matter out. But afterwards many
things which had been dark became clear, while others, though still
remaining mysterious, began to have a certain dim light cast upon them.

What seemed clear was that Lalor had all along benefited by mysterious
protections, and the authorities, though apparently anxious for his
capture, never really put themselves about in the least. They did not
want to catch or imprison Lalor Maitland. He was much more useful to
them elsewhere. Whereas the children of a disaffected rebel, considered
as claimants to the Maitland estates, were of little account.

But the action of Louis Maitland for the first time opened my eyes to
another matter. A corner of the veil which had hid a plot was lifted.
During all the time that Irma had been with her Aunt Kirkpatrick, ever
since Louis entered Sympson's Classic Academy (kept by Dr. Sympson,
grandson of the old Restoration Curate of Kirkmabreek), Lalor had been
in Edinburgh, pursuing his plans in secret, perhaps (who knows?) with
the learned assistance and council of Mr. Wringham Pollixfen Poole, that
expert with the loaded riding-whip.

We had been far too busy with our own affairs--the marriage, the little
house, my work at the _Review_, and more recently the appearance and
providing for of Duncan the Second. We had seen Louis on Saturdays, and
on Sundays, too, at times. But, to our shame be it said, we knew very
little about his life at school, who were his friends, what his actual
thoughts. For this I shall never cease to reproach myself--at least
occasionally, when I think about it.

But Lalor had appeared in splendour at Dr. Sympson's, had introduced
himself as an uncle from abroad. He was in high favour with the
Government. He had the most magnificent coach in the city, and,
apparently, plenty of money. He had early warned Louis that we--that is,
Irma and I--must hear nothing of his visits, otherwise these pleasant
jaunts would be stopped--the afternoon treats to Duddingstone and
Lochend, the sails on the Firth with young Walter, the Doctor's son, as
his companion. For Lalor was so wise that he never asked him out alone.
So Louis had been silent, bribed by the liberty and the golden guineas,
which were as plentiful with Lalor as they were scarce with Irma and
myself. The Doctor was charmed with his visitor, the ex-governor of a
great province in the Netherlands (which he looked out in the
Encyclopædia and lectured upon)--and as for Walter, his son, at that
date he would have bartered his soul for five hours' absence from the
paternal academy and a dozen sticks of toffee.

Then with what unwonted and flattering deference the boy's entertainer
had treated him. To him he was Sir Louis, the head of the house. He
would heir its great properties, the value and extent of which had been
hidden from him by Irma and myself. Doubtless we had our own reasons for
thus concealing the truth, but Uncle Lalor's position with the
Government enabled him to assure Sir Louis that, through his influence,
all its ancient dignities would be restored to the family.

Hence it was that, at the first sight of the slim man with the powdered
wig tied in a gay favour behind his back, Louis had run and flung
himself into his arms. Perhaps, also, it had something to do with his
disappointment in Irma, and it was in this open way that he chose to
punish her.

Yet when Lalor Maitland had come into the parlour, and I had spoken with
him, the man's frank and smiling recognition of the circumstances, his
high, easy manner, an old-world politeness as of one long familiar with
courts, yet a kindly gentleman withal, prepossessed me in his favour
even against myself.

"Well," he said, with that rare smile which distinguished him, "here we
have the fortune of war. You and I have met before, sir, and there are
few that have faced me as you did, being at the time only a boy--and not
myself only, but Dick, the boldest man on the _Golden Hind_."

He tapped a careless tattoo on the table with his fingers.

"Ah, they were good days, after all," he said; "mad days--when it was
win ten thousand or walk the plank every time the brig put her nose
outside the harbour bar!"

"It turned out the ten thousand, I presume?" I said, without too much
unbending.

"Oh," he answered lightly, "as to myself, I was never very deeply
entered. I had ever an anchor out to windward. It was rare that I acted
without orders, and, having been in a high official position, it was in
my power to render certain important services to the Government of this
country--for which, I may say, they have not proved themselves less
ungrateful than is the way of governments."

"So it would seem," I answered.

"But," he continued, "I called chiefly to renew my acquaintance with my
sometime wards--though one of them has sought another and a better
guardian" (here he bowed very gracefully to me), "and the other--well,
Louis lad, what have you to say to your old uncle?"

The boy came bounding up, and stood close by his chair, smoothing the
lace of Lalor's sleeve, his eyes full of happiness and confidence. It
was a pretty sight, and for a moment I confess I was baffled. Could it
be that after all Louis was right and Irma wrong? Could this man have
supposed that the children were being held against their will and
interest, or at least fraudulently removed from their legal guardian,
when he assaulted the old house of Marnhoul?

Perhaps, as I began to surmise, we had on that occasion really owed our
lives to him. For had the _Golden Hinds_ all come on at a time, they
would undoubtedly, being such a crew of cut-throats, have rushed us and
eaten us up in no time.

Women, I tried to persuade myself, had dislikes even more inexplicable
than their likings. Some early, unforgiven, childish prejudice, perhaps.
Women do not easily forgive, except those whom they love, and even these
only so long as they continue to love them. For many women the phrase in
the Lord's Prayer, "as we forgive them that trespass against us," had
better be expunged. It is a dead letter. The exceptions are so rare as
to prove the rule--and even they, though they may forgive their enemies,
draw the line at forgiving their neighbours.

"And am I not to see my fair enemy, Madame--ah, Duncan MacAlpine? I wish
to have the honour of felicitating her infinite happiness, and I have
taken the liberty of bringing her an old family jewel for her
acceptance."

"My wife, sir," I said, "is not yet well. She is subject to sudden
shock, and I fear----"

"Ah, I understand," he said, bowing gravely, and with a touch of
melancholy which became him vastly; "I never had the good fortune to
please the lady--as you have done."

He smiled again, and waved away a clumsy attempt of mine to reply.

"But that is my misfortune--perhaps, though unconsciously, my fault.
Still, there is the trinket. I leave it in your hands, in trust for
those of your wife. My respectful duty and service to her and--to the
heir of your house! Come, Louis, will you have a ride in the coach as
far as the bridge and back? I have left my Lord Lieutenant there
visiting some of his doubtful tenants. I will pick him up when he is
ready, and then bring this little friend of mine back."

That night Louis wept and stamped in a black anger.

"I don't want to stop here," he said; "I want to go with Uncle Lalor in
the gilded coach."



CHAPTER XXXVIII

BY WATER AND THE WORD


During my holidays at Heathknowes I found myself necessarily in frequent
communication with my Lord Advocate. For though I was the actual, he was
the ultimate editor of the _Universal Review_. I felt that he had done
so much for me, and that we were now on such terms that I might without
presumption ask him a private question about Lalor Maitland. Because,
knowing the man to have been mixed with some very doubtful business, I
wondered that a man of such honour and probity as the Advocate would in
any circumstances act by such means--much less countenance his being put
forward in the Government interest at a contested election.

I will give the text of the Advocate's reply in so far as it deals with
Lalor: "Have as little as possible to do in a private capacity with
'your Connection by Marriage'" (for so he continued to style him). "In
public affairs we must often use sweeps to explore dark and tortuous
passages. Persons who object to fyle themselves cannot be expected to
clean drains. You take my metaphor? Your 'Relative by Marriage' has
proved himself a useful artist in cesspools. That is all. He has not
swept clean, but he has swept. He has, on several occasions, been useful
to the Government when a better man would never have earned salt to his
kail. Publicly, therefore, he is an estimable servant of the Government.
Privately I would not touch him with the point of my shoe. For in
personal relations such men are always dangerous. See to it that you
and yours have as little to do with him as possible."

There in a nutshell was the whole philosophy of politics. "For dirty
jobs use dirty tools"--and of such undoubtedly was Lalor Maitland.

But I judged that, having come through so many vicissitudes, and moving
now with a certain name and fame, he would, for his own sake, do us no
open harm. Rather, as witness little Louis, he would exploit the ancient
renown of the Maitlands, their standing in Galloway, and his friendship
with the heir of their estates.

It seemed to me that Louis was entirely safe, especially in the good
hands of the Lord Lieutenant, and that the great rewards which Lalor
Maitland had received from the Government constituted in some measure
the best security against any dangerous plotting.

And in all the electoral campaign that followed, certain it is that
Lalor showed only his amiable side, taking all that was said against him
with a smiling face, yet as ready with his sword as with his tongue, and
so far as courage went (it must be allowed) in no way disgracing the old
and well-respected name of the Maitlands of Marnhoul. But I must tell
you of the fate which befell the jewel he had left in my hands for Irma.
Whether it had ever belonged to the family of Maitland or not, I should
greatly doubt. It was a hoop of rubies set with brilliants, which at
will could make a bracelet for the wrist, or a kind of tiara for the
hair. It was placed in a lined box of morocco leather, called an
"ecrin," and stood out as beautifully against the faded blue of the
velvet as a little tangled wisp of sunset cloud lost in an evening sky.

But Irma flashed out when I showed it her.

"How dare you?" she cried, and seizing the box she shut it with a snap
like her own white teeth. Then, the window being open, she threw it into
the low shrubbery at the orchard end, whence, after she had gone to
baby, I had no great trouble in recovering it. For it seemed to me too
good to waste, and would certainly be of more use to me than to the
first yokel who should pass that way.

Under ordinary circumstances Lalor would certainly have been defeated.
First of all, though doubtless belonging to an ancient family of the
country, he was, with his gilded coach and display of wealth gotten no
one could just say how or where, in speech and look an outsider. His
opponent, Colonel MacTaggart of the Stroan, called familiarly "The
Cornel" was one of the brave, sound, stupid, jovial country gentlemen
who rode once a week to market at Dumfries, never missed a Court day at
Kirkcudbright, did his duty honourably in a sufficiently narrow round,
and was worshipped by his tenantry, with whose families he was on terms
of extraordinary fondness and friendship. Altogether, to use the vulgar
idiom, "The Cornel" was felt to be a safe man to "bring back Galloway
fish-guts to Galloway sea-maws." Or, in other words, he would see to it
that patronage, like charity, should begin at home--and stop there.

To set off against this, there was a strong feeling that Galloway had
been long enough in opposition. There appeared to be (and indeed there
was) no chance of overturning the Government. Why, then, should Galloway
dwell for seven more years in the cold and hungry shades of
opposition--able to growl, but quite unable to get the bone?

Lalor was brim-full of promises. He had been, if not a smuggler, at
least an associate of smugglers, and all along Solwayside that was no
disadvantage to him--in a country where all either dabbled in the
illicit traffic, or, at best, looked the other way as the jingling
caravans went by.

Briefly, then, his Excellency Lalor Maitland, late Governor of the
Province of the Meuse, now a law-abiding subject of King George, was
duly elected and sent to Westminster to take his seat as representing
the lieges. The excitement calmed down almost at once. The gold coach
was seen no more. The preventive men and supervisors of excise were
neither up nor down. Galloway felt vaguely defrauded. I think many of
those who voted for Lalor imagined that the excisemen and coastguards
would at once be recalled, and that henceforward cargoes from the Isle
of Man and Rotterdam would be unloaded in broad daylight, instead of by
the pale light of the moon, without a single question being asked on
behalf of the revenue officers of King George.

After Lalor's disappearance Louis Maitland was heavy and depressed for
several days, staying long in his room and returning the shortest
answers when spoken to. Suddenly one morning he declared his intention
of going to Dumfries, and so on the following Wednesday my grandfather
and he drove thither by the coach road while I followed behind on
horseback. It was the purpose of Louis Maitland to have speech with the
lawyers. So, knowing the temper in which he had been since his uncle's
departure, I let him go up alone, but afterwards had speech with the
younger Mr. Smart on my own account.

He smiled when I mentioned Sir Louis and his mission.

"He wishes to go up to London to his cousin--he calls him his uncle,
Mr. Lalor, your fine new Government member for the county!"

"I judged as much," said I, "but I hope you have not given him any such
permission."

"He can take all the permission he wishes after he is twenty-one," said
Mr. Smart; "at present he has a good many years before him at Sympson's
Academy. There he may occupy himself in turning the old curate's _Three
Patriarchs_ into Latin. As to his holidays, he can spend them with his
sister or stay on in Edinburgh with the Doctor. But London is not a
place for a young gentleman of such exalted notions of his own
importance--'You bury me at a farmhouse with a family of boors!'--was
what he said. Now, that smells Mr. Lalor a mile off. But the lad is not
much to blame, and I hope you will not let it go any farther."

"Certainly not," said I, "the boy was only quoting!"

I returned from this interview considerably relieved, but for some days
Sir Louis was visibly cast down.

However, I said nothing to Irma, only advising her to devote herself a
little more to her brother, at times when the exigencies of Duncan the
Second would leave her time and opportunity.

"Why!" she said, with a quick gasp of astonishment, "I never forget
Louis--but of course baby needs me sometimes. I can't help that!"

If I had dared, I should have reminded her that baby appeared to need
every woman about the house of Heathknowes--to whom may be added my
mother from the school-house, Mrs. Thomas Gallaberry (late Anderson),
and a great and miscellaneous cloud of witnesses, to all of whom the
commonest details of toilet--baby's bath, his swathing and unbandaging,
the crinkling of his face and the clenching of his fists, the curious
curdled marbling upon his fat arms, even the inbending of his toes, were
objects of a cult to which that of the Lama of Thibet was a common and
open secret.

Even fathers were excluded as profane on such occasions, and the gasps
of feminine delight at each new evidence of genius were the only sounds
that might be heard even if you listened at the door, as, I admit, I was
often mean enough to do. Yet the manifestations of the object of
worship, as overheard by me, appeared sufficiently human and ordinary to
be passed over in silence.

I admit, however, that such was not the opinion of any of the regular
worshippers at the shrine, and that the person of the opposite sex who
was permitted to warm the hero's bath-towel at the fire, became an
object of interest and envy to the whole female community. As for my
grandmother, I need only say that while Duncan the Second abode within
the four walls of Heathknowes, not an ounce of decent edible butter
passed out of her dairy. Yet not a man of us complained. We knew better.

There still remained, however, a ceremony to be faced which I could not
look forward to with equanimity. It had been agreed upon between us,
that, though by the interference of our good friend the Advocate, we had
been married in the old private chapel attached to the Deanery, we
should defer the christening of Duncan the Second till "the Doctor"
could perform the office--there being, of course, but one "Doctor" for
all Eden Valley people--Doctor Gillespie, erstwhile Moderator of the
Kirk of Scotland.

I had long been under reproach for my slackness in this matter.
Inuendoes were mixed with odious comparisons upon Mary Lyon's tongue.
If her daughter had only married a Cameronian, the bairn would have been
baptized within seven days! Never had she seen an unchristened bairn so
long about a house! But for them that sit at ease in an Erastian
Zion--she referred to my father, who was not only precentor but also
session-clerk, and could by no means be said to sit at ease--she
supposed anything was good enough. It was different in her young days.
She, at least, had been properly brought up.

Finally, however, I went and put the case to the Doctor. He was ready to
come up to Heathknowes for the baptism. After his usual protest that
according to rule it ought to be performed in sight of all the
congregation, he accepted the good reason that my grandfather and
grandmother, being ardent Cameronians, could not in that case be
present. The Doctor had, of course, anticipated this objection. For he
knew and respected the "kind of people" reared by four generations of
"Societies," and often (in private) held them up as ensamples to his own
flock.

So to Heathknowes, the house of the Cameronian elder, there came, with
all befitting solemnity, Doctor Gillespie, ex-Moderator of the Kirk of
Scotland. Stately he stepped up the little loaning, followed by his
session, their clerk, my father at their head. At the sight of the
Doctor arrayed in gown and bands, his white hair falling on his neck and
tied with a black ribbon, the whole family of us instinctively uncovered
and stood bareheaded. My grandfather had gone down to the foot of the
little avenue to open the gate for the minister. The Doctor smilingly
invited him to walk by his side, but William Lyon had gravely shaken his
head and said, "I thank you, Doctor, but to-day, if you will grant me
the privilege, I will walk with my brethren, the other elders of the
Kirk of God."

And so he did, and as they came within sight of the house I took Irma by
the hand. For she trembled, and tears rose to her eyes as she saw that
simple but dignified procession (like to that which moved out of the
vestry on the occasion of the Greater Sacrament) approaching the house.
The lads stood silent with bared heads. For once Duncan lay quiet in the
arms of Mary Lyon--who that day would yield her charge to none, till she
gave him to the mother, when the time should come, according to the
Presbyterian rite, to stand up and place the firstborn in his father's
arms.

There was only one blank in that gathering. Louis had gone to his own
room, pretexing a headache, but really (as he blurted out afterwards)
because his Uncle Lalor had said that Presbyterianism was no religion
for a gentleman.

However, it was only afterwards that he was missed.

The Doctor was great on such occasions. A surprising soft radiance,
almost like a halo, surrounded his smooth snowy locks. A holy calm,
exhaling from half a century of spotless life lived in the sight of all
men, spoke in every word, moved in every gesture. The elders stood about
grave and quiet. The great Bible lay open. The psalm of dedication was
sung--of which the overword is, "Lo, children are God's heritage," and
the conclusion the verse which no Scot forgets the world over, perhaps
because it contains, quite unintentionally, so delightful a revelation
of his own national character--

    "O happy is the man that hath
      His quiver filled with those:
    _They unashamed in the gate
      Shall speak unto their foes._"



CHAPTER XXXIX

THE WICKED FLAG


"There's Boyd Connoway has been sitting on my front doorstep," cried my
Aunt Jen, "and if I've telled the man once, I've telled him twenty
times!"

"But how do ye ken, Janet?" said her mother out of the still-room where
she was brewing nettle-beer. "He is not there now!"

"How do I ken--fine that!" snapped Jen. "Do I no see my favourite check
pattern on his trousers!" said Jen, which, indeed, being plain to the
eye of every beholder, admitted of no denial--except perhaps, owing to
point of view, by the unconscious wearer himself. He had sat down on
these mystic criss-crossings and whorls dear to the Galloway housewife
for her floor ornaments, while the whiting was still wet.

"It's no wonder," Jen pursued vengefully, "they may say what they like.
An I were that man's wife, I wad brain him. Here he has been the
livelong day. Twa meals has he eaten. Six hours has he hung about
malingering. He came to roof the pigstye. He tore off the old thatch,
and there it lies, and there will lie for him. If there is frost,
Girzie's brood will be stiff by the morning. Then he 'had a look' at my
roasting-jack and ... there it is!"

She indicated with an indignant sweep of the hand what she designated "a
rickle o' rubbish" as the net proceeds of Boyd's industry.

The artist explained himself between the mouthfuls at his third repast.

"Ye see, Miss Lyon, there's nocht that spoils good work like worry on
the mind. The pigs will do fine. I'll put a branch or two over them and
a corn-sack over that. If a drap o' rain comes through it will only
harden the wee grunties for the trials o' life. Aye" (here Boyd relapsed
into philosophy), "life is fu' o' trials, for pigs as weel as men. But
men the worst--for as for pigs, their bread is given them and their
water is sure. Now as for myself----"

"Yourself," cried Aunt Jen, entering into one of her sudden rages, "if
ye were half as much worth to the world as our old sow Girzie, ye wad be
salted and hanging up by the heels now! As it is, ye run the country
like Crazy, our collie, a burden to yourself and a nuisance to the world
at lairge!

"Eh, Miss Jen, but it's the word ye have, as I was sayin' to Rob McTurk
up at the pirn-mill last Tuesday week. 'If only our Miss Jen there had
been a man,' says I, 'it's never Lalor Maitland that would have been
sent to sit in King George's High House o' Parliament.'"

Again Boyd Connoway took up his burden of testimony.

"Aye, Miss Jen, there's some that's born to trouble as the sparks fly
upward. That's me, Miss Jen. Now there's my brother that's a farmer in
County Donegal. Niver a market night sober--and _yet_ he's not to say
altogether content. An' many is the time I say to our Bridget, 'What
would you do if I was Brother Jerry of Ballycross, coming home to ye in
the box of the gig, and the reins on the horse's neck?'

"'Ye never _had_ a horse,' says she, and thinks that an answer! Women's
heads are born void of logic, and what they fill them with--axing your
pardon, Mistress Lyon, ah, if they were all like you--'tis a happier
place this world would be!"

"Finish, and let us get the dishes cleared away!" said my grandmother,
who did not stand upon fashions of speech, least of all with Boyd
Connoway.

Boyd hastened to obey, ladling everything within reach into his mouth as
fast as knife and spoon could follow each other.

He concluded, crooning over his eternal ditty, by way of thanksgiving
after meat--

    "If I was in bed and fast asleep
    I wouldn't get up for a score of sheep."

This distich had the gift of always infuriating Aunt Janet.

"You may well say so," she cried, clattering away with an armful of
dishes in a way that was a protest in itself; "considering all you are
good for when you _do_ get up, you might just as well be in bed fast
asleep, and----"

"Now there you're wrong, Miss Janet," said Boyd. "It was only last
Sunday that I gave up all my evil courses and became one of Israel
Kinmont's folk. My heart is changed," he added solemnly; "I gave it to
the Lord, and He seen fit to convart me!"

The whole household looked up. Anything bearing on personal religion
instantly touched Scots folk of the humble sort. But Aunt Jen was
obdurate. Long experience had rendered her sceptical with regard to Boyd
Connoway.

"We'll soon see if you are converted to the Lord," she said. "_He_ is a
hard worker. There are no idlers on His estates. If it's true, we may
get these pigs covered in to-night yet."

"Never trouble your head about the pigs, Miss Janet," said Boyd, "they
will surely sleep safe under a roof this night. Strive to fix your mind
on higher things, Miss Jen. There's such a thing as makin' a god of this
here transient evil world, as I said to Bridget when the potatoes went
bad just because I got no time to 'pit' them, having had to play the
fiddle at four kirns'[2] in different parishes during potato-lifting
week!"

"Never mind about that," said my grandfather from his seat in the
chimney corner, "tell us about your 'conversion'!"

For the word was then a new one in Galloway, and of no good savour
either among orthodox Cameronians or pillars of the Kirk as by law
established. But Israel Kinmont had been a sailor to far ports. In his
youth he had heard Whitefield preach. He had followed Wesley's folk afar
off. The career of a humble evangelist attracted him, and when in his
latter days he had saved enough to buy the oldest and worst of all
luggers that ever sailed the sea, he devoted himself, not to the gainful
traffic of smuggling, but to the unremunerative transport of sea-coal
and lime from Cockermouth and Workington to the small ports and inlets
of the Galloway coast.

No excisemen watching on the cliffs gave more than a single glance at
"Israel's Tabernacle," as, without the least irreverence, he had named
his boat. But, using the same ports as the smugglers, he was often
brought into close relations with them. They asked him for information
which was freely given, as from one friend to another. They trusted him,
for though often interrogated by the supervisor and riding officers,
Israel could develop upon occasion an extraordinary deafness, so that
the questions to which he could give a clear answer were never such as
to commit any one. In exchange for this the smugglers would go aboard
the Tabernacle and allow Israel to preach to them. And woe betide the
irreverent on these occasions! Black Rob o' Garlies or Roaring Imrie
from Douglas-ha' thought nothing of taking such a one by convenient
parts of his clothing and dropping him overboard.

"Aye," said Boyd, encouraged by my grandfather's request, "Israel
Kinmont has made a new man of many a hardened sinner!"

"I dare you to say so," cried my grandmother; "only the Lord that is on
High can do that."

"But He can make use of instruments," argued Boyd, who had learned his
lesson, "and Israel Kinmont is one of them. He has showed me where to
get grace."

"Maybe," snapped Jen, that unswerving Calvinist, "seeing is believing.
Boyd Connoway _may_ have got grace. I put no limit to the Almighty's
power. But it takes more than grace to convert a man from laziness!"

Boyd lifted his hand with a gesture so dignified that even from the
good-for-nothing it commanded respect.

"'Tis from the Lord, Miss Jen, and it behoves us poor mortals noways to
resist. Israel Kinmont never would smuggle, as ye know, and yet he never
had any luck till the highest tide of the year brought the 'Old
Tabernacle' up, with a cargo of sea-coal in her, half-way between
Killantringan Village and the Nitwood.

"'She's settling, Israel,' said his son Jacob, that's counted soft, but
can raise the tune at meeting--none like him for that.

"'Even so,' said Israel, 'the will of the Lord be done!'

"'She's settling fast! Both my feet are wet!' said Jacob, holding on to
a rope.

"'Amen!' cried Israel, 'if it only were His will that she should come
ten yards higher up, she would be on the very roadside. Then I would
open a door into the hold of her after the coal is out, and you and I,
Jacob, could rig up seats and windows like a proper Tabernacle--fit for
Mr. Whitefield himself to preach in! Truly the service of the Lord is
joyful. His law doth rejoice the heart.'

"So said Israel, and, just as I am tellin' you, there came a great
inward swirling of the tide, a very merracle, and lo! the _Tabernacle_
was laid down as by compass alongside the Nitwood road, whence she will
never stir till the day of Final Judgment, as the scripture is. And
Israel, he cuts the door, and Jacob, he gets out the coals and sells
them to the great folk, and the supervisor, he stands by, watching in
vain till he was as black as a sweep, for the brandy that was not there.
But he petitioned Government that Israel should have a concession of
that part of the foreshore--being against all smuggling and maybe
thinking to have him as a sort of spiritual exciseman.

"Yes, Mr. Lyon," Boyd went on, gratified by the interest in his tale,
"'tis wonderful, when you think on't. Empty from stem to stern she is,
with skylights in her deck and windows in her side! Why, there are
benches for the men and a pulpit for Israel. As for Jacob, he has
nothing but his tuning-fork and a seat with the rest.

"And indeed there's more chance that Israel will put a stop to the
Free-trading than all the preventives in the land. He preaches against
it, declaring that it makes the young men fit for nothing else, like
every other way of making money without working for it."

"Ah, Israel's right there!" came from my grandfather.

"But every light has its shadow, and he's made a failure of it with Dick
Wilkes, and may do the like with my wife, Bridget.

"For Bridget, she will be for ever crying at me these days, 'Here, you
Tabernacle man, have you split the kindling wood?' Or 'No
praise-the-Lord for you, lad, till your day's work is done! Go and mend
that spring-cart of the General's that his man has been grumbling about
for a month!'

"And sometimes I have to fill my mouth with the hundred and twenty-first
psalm to keep from answering improper, and after all, Bridget will only
ask if I don't know the tune to that owld penny ballad. 'Tis true enough
about the tune" (Boyd confessed), "me having no pitch-pipe, but Bridget
has no business to miscall scripture, whether said or sung!

"As to Dick Wilkes, that got his lame leg at the attack on--well, we
need not go opening up old scores, but we all know where--has been
staying with us, and that maybe made Bridget worse. Aye, that he has.
There's no one like Bridget for drawing all the riff-raff of the
countryside about her--I know some will say that comes of marrying me.
But 'tis the ould gennleman's own falsehood. You'll always find Boyd
Connoway in the company of his betters whenever so be he can!

"But Dick Wilkes had our 'ben' room, and there were a little, light,
active man that came to see him--not that I know much of him, save from
the sound of voices and my wife Bridget on the watch to keep me in the
kitchen, and all that.

"But Old Israel would never give up Dick Wilkes. He kept coming and
coming to our house, and what he called 'wrestling for Dick's soul.'
Sometimes he went away pleased, thinking he had gotten the upper hand.
Then the little light man would come again, and there was Dick just as
bad as ever. 'Backsliding' was what Israel called it, and a good name, I
say, for then the job was all to do over again from the beginning. But
it was the Adversary that carried off Dick Wilkes at the long and last."

"Ah!" came a subdued groan from all the kitchen. Boyd gloomily nodded
his head.

"Yes," he said, "'tis a great and terrible warning to Bridget, and so I
tell her. 'Twas the night of the big meeting at the Tabernacle, when
Israel kept it up for six hours, one lot coming and another going--the
Isle o' Man fleet being in--that was the night of all nights in the year
that Dick Wilkes must choose for to die in. Aught more contrary than
that man can't be thought of.

"It happened just so, as I say. About four o'clock we were all of us
shut up in the kitchen, and by that we knew (Jerry and I, at least) that
Dick Wilkes had company--also that so far as repentance went, old
Israel's goose was cooked till he had another turn at his man. And then
after six we heard him shouting that he was going to die--which seemed
strange to us. For we could hear him tearing at his sea-chest and
stamping about his room, which is not what is expected of a dying man.

"But Dick knew better. For when we went down and peeped at the keyhole,
he heard us, and called on us all to come our ways in. And--you will
never guess in a thousand years--he had routed a flag out of his
sea-chest. The 'Wicked Flag' it was,--the pirates' flag--black, with the
Death's Head and cross-bones done in white upon it, the same that he had
hoisted on seas where no questions were asked, when he commanded the
old _Golden Hind_. And wrapping himself in that, he said, 'Tell old
Israel that I died _so_!' And we, thinking it was, as one might say,
braving the Almighty and his poor old servant, kept silence. And then he
shouted, 'Promise, ye white-livered rascals, or I've strength to slit
your wizzards yet. Tell him I died under the Black!'

"And Bridget, who was feared herself, said, 'Whist, for God's sake, do
not bring a curse on the house!'

"And then he just cursed the house from flooring to roof-tree, and so
went to his own place!

"Dead? Well, yes--dead and buried is old Dickie Wilkes. But poor Israel
Kinmont is quite brokenhearted. He says that Dick was the first that
ever broke away, and that he is not long for this world himself now that
he has lost Dick. It was always cut-and-come-again when you were
converting Dick.

"But Israel has an explanation, poor old fellow.

"'It was not Grace that missed fire,' he says, 'but me, the unworthy
marksman. And for that I shall be smitten like the men who, with
unanointed eyes, looked on the ark of God that time it went up the
valley from Ekron to Bethshemish, with the cows looking back and lowing
for their calves all the way. I were always main sorry for them cows!'
old Israel says."

[Footnote 2: Harvest home merrymakings.]



CHAPTER XL

THE GREAT "TABERNACLE" REVIVAL


Though Boyd Connoway had not said anything directly threatening the
house of Heathknowes or its inmates, his story of his own "conversion"
and the death of Dick Wilkes under the Black Flag somehow made us
vaguely uneasy. The door of the house was locked at eight. The gates of
the yard barricaded as in the old time of the sea raids from the _Golden
Hind_.

So strong was the feeling that Irma would gladly have returned before
our time to the little White House above the meadow flats, and to the
view of the Pentlands turning a solid green butt towards the Archers'
Hall of the Guid Toon of Edinburgh.

But it was not so easy to quit Heathknowes. My grandmother held tightly
to Duncan the Second. I found myself in good case, after the fatigues of
the town, to carry out some work on my own account. This, of course, for
the sake of my wife's happiness, I would have given up, but after all
Irma's plans went to pieces upon the invincible determination of Sir
Louis to remain. He was now a lad of seventeen, but older looking than
his age. He had his own room at Heathknowes, his books, his occupations.
Indeed we seldom saw him except at meals, and even then often in the
middle of dinner he would rise, bow haughtily to the company, and retire
without uttering a word. He had learned the lesson from Lalor that plain
farm people were no society for such as he. He went as far as he could
in the way of insolence, making us pay for the refusal of the lawyers
to let him go to London with the member for the county.

I could see the blush rise crimson to Irma's neck and face after such a
performance. But by some mysterious divine law of compensation, no
sooner had she Baby in her arms, than she forgot all about the sulky
boy, sitting moping among his books in the wood parlour, looking out on
the red-boled firs of Marnhoul forest.

Israel Kinmont used to frequent us a good deal about this time. He never
preached to us, nor indeed would he talk freely of his "experiences"
amongst such Calvinists as my grandfather and grandmother.

"The gold of the kingdom doth not need the refiner's art!" he had said
once when this remissness was made a reproach to him. Since the loss of
his boat, the _Tabernacle_, he had bought first one donkey and then two
with his little savings. These he loaded with salt for Cairn Edward and
the farms on the way, and so by a natural transition, took to the trade
of itinerant voyager on land instead of on the sea, bringing back a
store of such cloths and spices as were in most request among the
goodwives of the farm-towns.

He had been so long a sailor man that he could not help it, if a certain
flavour of the brine clung to him still. Besides, there were jerseys and
great sea-boots to be worn out. Neddy and Teddy, his two fine donkeys,
were soon fitted with "steering gear," among the intricacies of which
their active heels often got "foul." They "ran aground" with alarming
frequency, scraping their pack-saddles against the walls of narrow
lanes. Their master knew no peace of mind till, having passed the
narrows, he found on some moor or common "plenty o' sea-room,"
notwithstanding the danger that "plenty o' sea-room" might induce the
too artful Teddy to "turn topsails under," or in other words indulge in
a roll upon the grass.

Finally, Neddy and Teddy were "brought to anchor" in some friendly
stable, in none oftener than in ours of Heathknowes, where cargo was
unloaded and sometimes even the ships themselves "docked" and laid up
for repairs. For this merciful Israel was merciful to his beasts, and
often went into repairing dock for a saddle gall, which another would
never have even noticed.

When the pair were browsing free in the field he would call them "to
receive cargo," and hoist the Blue Peter by a sounding, "Neddy, ahoy!
Ahoy there, Teddy!" And if, as was likely, they only flourished their
heels and refused with scorn to come and be saddled, he uttered his
sternest summons, "Ship's company, all hands on deck!" which meant that
his son Jacob--starboard watch, must come and help port watch--Israel
himself, to capture Teddy and Neddy.

Neddy was generally willing enough, unless when led from the plain
course of maritime duty by Teddy. On these occasions Israel used to
quote from the "articles" relating to the Mutiny Act, and has even been
known to go so far as threaten Teddy with "a round dozen" at the
main-mast as soon as he could lay hands on a "rope's end."

The which was all the same to Teddy.

It was beautiful to see the flotilla navigating the level surface of
Killantringan moor--level, that is, by comparison. For first there were
the little waves of the sheep-tracks, then the gentle rollers of the
moss-hags, and, last of all, certain black dangerous Maélstroms from
which last year's peats had been dug, in which a moment's folly on the
part of Neddy or Teddy might engulf the Armada for ever.

As they set sail Jacob Kinmont was first and second mate, but in
particular, look-out-man. He went ahead, keeping a wary eye for dangers
and obstacles, and on the whole the donkeys followed docilely enough in
his wake. Israel's post as captain was behind at the tiller-ropes,
whence he shouted exact instructions with nautical exactitude, such as
"A point to the west, Neddy!" Or, pathetically, "DID I say
nor'-nor'-east, Teddy, or didn't I?"

This last had a ring of affection in it, for, in spite of his naughty
habits (or because of them) Teddy was distinctly the favourite. Also he
had a habit of nuzzling his moist nose into the breast of the old man's
reefer coat in search of sweet things, a trick which the more patient
and reliable Neddy never acquired. And if Teddy forgot to come inquiring
after the hidden sweets, Israel was quite heart-broken.

At first the boys from the village would follow and perhaps imitate
these naval manoeuvres--in the hope, never fulfilled, of catching
"Ranter Israel" using some nautical language, such as old Pirate Wilkes
had made but too familiar to their ears. But they never caught him, for
Israel's "yea" remained "yea" and his "nay" "nay," even when navigating
donkeys over the trackless waste of Killantringan Common. But in
revenge, every now and then, Israel would get hold of a village lad and
lead him triumphantly to his meeting, whence he would not come forth
till, as like as not, "he had gotten the blessin'."

The fathers of Eden Valley held in utter contempt the theology of "Old
Tabernacle Israel," but the mothers, seeing a troublesome boy forsaking
the error of his ways and settling down to be the comfort of his
folk--looked more to results, and thanked God for old Israel and his
Tabernacle. After a while the fathers also came to be of his opinion.
And on one memorable occasion, the great Doctor Gillespie himself went
in by the door of Israel's tar-smelling Tabernacle, and seated himself
in all the glory of his black coat and ruffled shirt on the back seat
among the riff-raff of the port, just as if he were nobody at all.

At first Israel did not see him, so quietly had he entered. He went on
with his prayer that "sinners might be turned from their way, and saints
confirmed in their most holy faith."

But when he had opened his eyes, and beheld the white head and reverend
countenance of Doctor Gillespie the human soul within him trembled a
little. Nevertheless, commanding himself, he descended the narrow aisle
till he came to where the minister was seated. Then with head humbly
bent and a voice that shook, he begged that "the Doctor might to-day
open up the Word of Life to them." Which accordingly, with the simplest
directness, the Doctor did, using as his pulpit the middle section of a
longboat, which had been sawn across and floored for Israel. The Doctor
told the story of Peter walking on the waters, and of the hand stretched
out to save. And this the Doctor, as Israel said afterwards, "fastened
into them with nails."

"Some of you will believe anything except the Gospel," was one of these.
Yet all he said was the simplest evangel. The Doctor was a Justice of
the Peace, but this time he spoke of another peace--that of believing.
He had an audience of smugglers, but he never mentioned Cæsar. He only
advised them to "Render unto God the things that are God's."

And when he finished, after the last solemn words of exhortation, he
added very quietly, "I will again preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ in
the Parish Kirk, next Sabbath at noonday."

And so when the Sabbath came and in the Tabernacle those of Israel's
sowing and gleaning were gathered together, the old Ranter addressed
them thus: "All hands on deck to worship with the Doctor! He hath kept
his watch with us--let us do the like by him!"

And so the astonishing thing was seen. The great Spence gallery of Eden
Valley Parish Kirk was filled with such a mixed assembly as had never
been seen there before. Smugglers, privateersmen, the sweepings of
ports, home and foreign, some who had blood on their hands--though with
the distinction that it had been shed in encounters with excisemen. But
the blessing had come upon some of them--others a new spirit had
touched, lighted at the fire of an almost apostolic enthusiasm.

It was the proudest moment in Israel Kinmont's life when he heard the
Doctor, in all the panoply of his gown and bands, hold up his hands and
ask for a blessing upon "the new shoot of Thy Vine, planted by an aged
servant of Thine in this parish. Make it strong for Thyself, that the
hills may be covered with the shadow of it, and that, like the goodly
cedar, many homeless and wayfaring men under it may rest and find
shelter."

And in the Spence gallery these sea- and wayfaring men nudged each
other, not perhaps finding the meaning so clear as they did at the
Tabernacle, but convinced, nevertheless, that "He means us--and our old
Israel!"

And so in faith, if not wholly in understanding, they listened to the
sermon in which the Doctor, all unprepared for such an invasion,
inculcated with much learning the doctrine of submission to the civil
magistrate with the leading cases of Saint Paul and Saint Augustine
illustrated by copious quotations from the original.

They sat with fixed attention, never flinching even when the Doctor,
doing his duty, as he said, both as a magistrate and as a Christian man,
gave the Free Traders many a word to make their ears sing. They were in
his place, and every man had the right to speak as he chose in his own
house. But when Israel led them back to the old Tabernacle, with its
pleasant smell of tar obscuring the more ancient bilge, and had told
them that they were all "a lot of hell-deserving sinners who, if they
missed eternal damnation, it would be with their rags badly singed,"
they sighed a blissful sigh and felt themselves once more at home,
sitting under a man who understood them and their needs.

Nevertheless, when Israel gave out the closing hymn it was one which, as
he explained, "prays for the Church of God visible upon the earth, as
well in the Parish Kirk as in their own little Tabernacle." "Now then,
men," he concluded, "let us have it with a will. Put all that you have
got between your beards and your shoulder-blades into it. If I see a man
hanging in stays, he shall sing it by himself!"

So the Ranters sang till the sound went from the little dissenting
Bethel on the shore up to the stately Kirk of the parish cinctured with
its double acre of ancient grave-stones--

    "I love Thy Kingdom, Lord,
      The house of Thine abode:
    The Church our blest Redeemer saved
      With His own precious blood.

    For her my tears shall fall,
      For her my prayers ascend:
    To her my cares and toils be given
      Till toils and cares shall end!"

"_And_ three cheers for the Doctor!" shouted swearing Imrie, who had
been worked up by the events of the day to such a pitch of excitement
that only the sound of his own thunderous voice had power to calm him.

And douce Cameronians coming over Eden Valley hill stood still and
wondered at the profanation of the holy day, not knowing. Even sober
pillars of the Kirk Erastian going homeward smiled and shook their heads
pityingly.

"It was doubtless a good thing," said my father to a fellow elder, a
certain McMinn of the Croft, "to see so many of the wild and regardless
at the Kirk, but I'm sore mistaken if there's not some of the old Adam
left in the best of them yet, to judge by the noise they are making down
yonder."

"Except Israel himsel'!" said McMinn of the Croft, "man, dominie, since
he converted Jock, my ploughman, he hasna been drunk yince, and I get
twice the work oot o' the craitur for the same wage."

Which, being the proof of the pudding, settled the question.



CHAPTER XLI

IN THE WOOD PARLOUR


On the 19th of October the sky overhead was clear as sapphire, but all
round the circle of the horizon the mists of autumn blurred the
landscape. The hills stood no more in their places. Gone were the Kips,
with their waving lines. Of the Cruives, with the heather thick and
purple upon them, not a trace. Gone the graceful swirl of the Cooran
Hill, which curls over like a wave just feathering to break.

To Irma it had been a heavy and a sorrowful day. She had actually wept,
and even gone on her knees to her brother to beg him tell her what
strange thing had come between them. He would only answer, "You have
chosen your path without consulting me. Now I choose mine."

She charged him with listening to one who had always been an enemy of
all who had been good to him ever since he was a little child--of
setting himself against those on whose bounty they had lived.

He replied, "If I have lived on their bounty, they know very well that
they will not lose by it."

She mentioned Lalor Maitland's name, and told him the history of the
early attacks on the house of Marnhoul. Louis answered, "He has
explained all that. It was done to save me from these people who were
already besetting me, in order to rob me."

When she mentioned all that I had done for him, he put on an air of
frigid detachment.

"You are right, no doubt, to stand up for your husband," he said; "but,
then, I have not the same reasons. I can judge for myself."

Then she went on to show that there was no motive for the Lyons of
Heathknowes showing them any interested kindness. As for me, she had
only brought me herself and her love--no money, nor would she ever have
any money--I had married her for herself.

"So would Lalor Maitland," he retorted, "and he is a gentleman."

After this Irma discussed no more. She felt it to be useless. Naturally,
also, she was hurt to the heart that Louis, once her own little Louis,
should compare her husband to Lalor Maitland. Well, for that I do not
blame her.

All day long Louis stayed in the Wood Parlour with his books. I was busy
with an important article on the "Moors in Spain," suggested by my
recent researches into the history of the irrigation of fields and
gardens in the south of Europe.

Louis came down to dinner at twelve, or a few minutes after. He seemed
somewhat more cheerful than was usual with him, and actually spoke a
little to me, asking me lend him my grandfather's shotgun, to put it in
order for him, and that powder and ball might be placed in his chamber.
He had seen game-birds feeding quite close, and thought that by opening
the window he might manage to shoot some of them.

I did as he asked me before going back to my work. Irma smiled at me,
being well pleased. For it seemed to her that Louis's ill-temper was
wearing away. Now my grandmother and Aunt Jen were inveterate
tea-lovers, which was then not so common a drink in the country as it is
now. Irma sometimes took a cup with them for company, and, because it
also refreshed me in my labours, I also joined them. But with me it was
done chiefly for the sake of the pleasant talk, being mostly my
grandmother's reminiscences, and sometimes for a sight of my mother, who
would run across of a sunny afternoon for a look at baby.

That day we sat and talked rather longer than usual. A certain strain
seemed to have departed from the house. I think all of us believed that
the humour of Louis, execrable as it had been, was the effect of the
insinuations of a wicked man, and that after a time he would be restored
to us again the simple, pleasant-faced boy he had been in former years.

He did not come down to tea, but then he seldom did so. Indeed, none of
the men-folk except myself had taken to the habit, and I (as I say)
chiefly for the sake of the talk, which sharpened my wits and refreshed
my working vocabulary. But as I passed back to my writing-den I could
hear my brother-in-law moving restlessly about his room, and talking to
himself, which was a recently-acquired habit of his. However, I took
this as a good sign. Anything in the way of occupation was better than
his former chill indifference to all that went forward about
Heathknowes.

It was, as it chanced, a busy day at the pirn-mill. The labours of the
farm being fairly over for the year, the mill had been shut down for
hasty repairs, which Alec McQuhirr had come down from Ironmacannie to
superintend. He was, so they said, the best mill-wright in the
half-dozen counties of the south and west. He had, however, the one
fault common to all his tribe, that of dilatoriness. So my grandfather,
who had his "pirn" contracts to be shipped for England on certain days,
used to call his sons about him, and devote himself and all of them to
the service of repairing. Boyd Connoway, also, usually gave us the
benefit of his universal genius for advice, and, when he chose, for
handiness also.

After tea some provisions had been carried to the mill by my mother on
her way home. "One of the boys"--meaning my uncles--was to bring back
the basket.

That night, also, supper was somewhat later than usual. Up in the mill
men were still crawling about along the machinery with carefully
protected lanterns. Buckets of water stood handy. For a pirn-mill is no
place in which to play with fire. The sound of male voices and the thud
of wooden mallets did not cease till long after dark. Supper was,
therefore, later than usual, and the moon had risen before the sound of
their footsteps was heard coming down among the tree-roots in the
clearing which they themselves had made. The kitchen, which was also the
living-room of Heathknowes, glowed bright, and the supper-table was
a-laying. Aunt Jen bustled about. I had laid aside my writing, satisfied
with a goodly tale of sheets to my credit. My grandmother was in the
milk-house, but every now and then made darts out to the fire on which
the precious "het supper" was cooking--roast fowl, bacon, and
potatoes--traditional on occasions when the men had been "working late
at the mill and had brought home company."

It was a bright and cheerful sight. The high dresser, the kitchen pride
of Galloway, was in a state of absolute perfection. Aunt Jen despised
men, but she had a way of reproving their congenital untidiness by the
shine of her plates and the mirror-like polish of her candlesticks. She
had spent a couple of hours over the dresser that afternoon, answering
all the taunts of her mother as to her occupation, "It's true, mither,
_they_ will never ken the difference; but, then, I will!"

"Go up, Irma, and tell your brother that we are waiting," said my
grandmother. But as Irma was busy with Duncan the Second, I offered
myself instead. I remember still the long corridor, and I wondered at
the moment why no ray of light penetrated through the keyhole of Sir
Louis's door. He must be sitting in the dark, and I smiled to myself as
I thought how I had been wasting a couple of my grandmother's best
candles for an hour. The explanation was that Louis, in fear of being
spied upon, had carefully plugged up the keyhole and every crack of the
door. But this I only knew later.

I stood a moment in the passage, keeping very still. I could hear his
voice. He seemed in some way indignant. But the sound was dulled by the
thickness of the walls and the care with which the chinks of the door
had been "made up." Then I also heard--what sent the blood chill to my
heart--another voice, shorter, harsher, older. For a moment I was struck
dumb, and then--I laughed at myself. Of course the lad was simply
stage-struck. For some time he had been reading and declaiming Hamlet,
Julius Cæsar, and anything he could lay his hands upon, as well as
scraps of the Greek tragedies he had learnt at school.

But as I leaned nearer, there pierced sharp as a pang to my heart the
certainty that the other voice which I heard was not that of any of the
characters of _Julius Cæsar_. A trembling horror of what I had once seen
in that very room, and a memory of the great hearty Richard Poole
entering there in all his amplitude of vivid life, quickly arrested me.

I rapped and called vehemently, trying the latch and feeling that the
door resisted. I could hear a trampling beneath me. Men were on the way
to my assistance. At the door I sprang. The bolts were as old as the
door, and the nails of the lintel fastening only knocked in after its
former rough handling.

I got one waft of light as the door opened, half from the candle on the
table, half from the moonlight falling dim without. I saw something that
crouched--manlike indeed, but with bearded face and head held between
its shoulders--leap from the window into the darkness. I did not see
Louis clearly. His head was lying on the table, and immediately all the
circumstances of the former drama came back to me. But this time I
wasted no time. Something glittered on the table, hilt towards me--knife
or sword, I hardly knew which. I only knew that with it in my hand I was
armed. I sprang through the window and gave chase.

Then very loud in my ears I heard the crack of a pistol, but felt no
wound. I now think it had not even been fired at me. I pursued with the
energy of a young stag. My mornings on the hills with Eben looking for
the sheep now stood me in good stead--that is, good or bad according as
to whether the man in front of me had another loaded pistol ready or
not.

Behind me, but alas, too far to be any help, I could hear the shouting
of men. Heathknowes was alarmed. Then came the pounding of feet, but I
knew that none of them could run with me, while the thing or man in
front proved fresher, and, as I feared at first, fleeter.

But, after all, I was young, and though I panted, and had a burning pain
in my side, I held to it till I began to get my second wind. Then I made
sure that, barring accidents, I could run him down. What should happen
then I did not know. I had a vision, only for a moment but yet very
clear and distinct, of Irma in the black gown of a young widow. But
even this did not make me slacken in my stride.

Somehow the shine of the steel in my hand gave me courage, as also the
crying of the men behind, albeit they did not seem to gain but rather to
lose ground. Thirty yards ahead I could see my man running, his head
very low, his arms close to his sides, a slender figure with a certain
look of deformity. A long beard of some indeterminate colour like hay
was blown back over one shoulder. Ever and anon he glanced round as he
ran to measure my progress.

Suddenly the root of a tree tripped him and he went headlong. But he was
agile too, for before I could be upon him, he was up again, and with
something that shone like a long thin dagger in his hand, he threw
himself upon me as if to take me by surprise. Now, it is very difficult
when running hard to put oneself at once into a proper position of
defence. And so, as it happened, I was nearly done. But I had been
carrying the sword in my hand almost at arm's length. I was conscious of
no shock. Only all suddenly my assailant doubled and lay writhing, his
dagger still shining in his hand.

I stopped and kept wide circling about him, fearing a trick. The moon
was shining full on the open clearing of the glade where he had fallen.
It was the little lawyer--he who had called himself Wringham Pollixfen
Poole. Yet somehow he was different. His beard had grown to be of a
curious foreign fashion and colour--but that perhaps might be the effect
of the moonlight.

He never took his eyes off the shining steel in my hand.

"It is poisoned," he groaned, his hand clapped to his breast, "I am a
dead man--poisoned, poisoned!"

And looking more carefully at what I had simply snatched in haste, I
saw that I had in my hand the golden-hilted sword of honour which Lalor
Maitland had given to the boy Louis to seal their friendship.

But immediately a greater wonder oppressed me, and rendered speechless
those who now came panting up--my uncles and Boyd Connoway. The
hay-coloured beard and disguises came away, snatched off in the man's
death-agony. The shiny brown coat opened to show a spotless ruffled
shirt beneath. The wounded man never ceased to exclaim, "It is poisoned!
It is poisoned! I am a dead man!" The wig fell off, and as life gave
place to the stillness of death, out of the lined and twisted lineaments
of the half-deformed lawyer Poole emerged the pale, calm, clear-cut
features of Lalor Maitland.



CHAPTER XLII

THE PLACE OF DREAMS


The key of the mystery was brought us by one who seemed the most
unlikely person in the world, Boyd Connoway.

"And her to come of decent folk down there by Killibegs," he exclaimed
in opening the matter; "no rapparees out of Connemara--but O'Neil's
blood to a man, both Bridget and all her kindred before her!"

"What's the matter now?" said the Fiscal, who with much secret
satisfaction had come to have that made plain which had troubled him so
sorely before. So Boyd and Jerry brought Bridget Connoway in to the
outhouse where the dead man lay.

"Tis all my fault--my fault," wailed Bridget, "yet 'twas because him
that's me husband gave me no help with the arning of money to bring up
the childer. So I was tempted and took in this man after the Black
Smugglers had tried to burn the great house of Marnhoul.

"Well might I think so, indeed, your honours. For wounded the man was
right sore, and I nursed him for the sake of the goold he gave me.
Lashin's of goold, and the like had never been seen in our house since
before Boyd Connoway there, that now has the face to call himself a
convarted man, was the head of it."

"What did this man call himself?" the Fiscal demanded.

"Sure, he called himself Wringham Pollixfen Poole, my lord, and it was
not for me to be disbelievin' him."

"And after, when he was under strong suspicion of having wilfully made
away with Mr. Richard Poole of Dumfries, why did you say nothing?"

"Now, your honour," exclaimed Bridget, holding up her hands, "wad I be
telling aught like that to bring worse and worse on the head of any man
in trouble? If it had been yourself, now, how wad you have liked that,
your honour?"

"Leave me alone, Bridget. Answer what you are asked," said the Fiscal;
"when did you find out that this man was not what he pretended to be?"

"Is it the name he gave you mean, sorr?" said Bridget.

"Yes," said the Fiscal, watching her.

"Faith, then, just when he towld it me!" was the unexpected answer. And
then, moving a little nearer, she added confidentially in the Fiscal's
ear, "Would you have believed yourself, my lord, that a Black Smuggler,
newly off the _Golden Hind_, and a shipmate of old Dick Wilkes, that
died under the Wicked Flag, would be likely to give his true name and
address?"

"Then, by your story, you never knew that the deceased was in truth Mr.
Lalor Maitland, a member of his Majesty's present loyal parliament?"

"Faith, as to that, no," said Bridget, "and it's the saints' own pity,
for if I had known that in time--it's independent I would have been. No
more wash-tubs for Bridget Connoway!"

"For shame on you, Bridget, you that are an O'Neil, and the wife of a
Connoway!" cried Boyd indignantly.

"And the less you say of that, the better will the butter lie on your
bread!" said Bridget, advancing a step towards him threateningly. "Your
lordship, hearken to me--not an honest day's work has that man done
from January to December--nay, nor dishonest either, for the matter o'
that! 'Tis ashamed of himself he ought to be."

"Well," said the Fiscal, "it is a very good thing for you, Mrs.
Connoway, that young Sir Louis is likely to recover after the knock on
the head he got from your friend. But the wonder to me is that you did
not speak more plainly when there was a former fatal assault in the same
place."

"Now, I put it to ye, sorr, what was a poor woman like me to know about
the affairs of the great, my lord?" said Bridget. "Now, in my country,
two gentlemen sit late at the wine, and maybe there's a little
difference of opinion, the cartes, or politics, or a lady--or maybe just
a differ for the sake of a differ. And wan gives t'other a skelp on the
side of the head, and if the man's skull's sound, where's the harm? 'Tis
done every day in Donegal and nobody a bit the worse! For it's O'Neil's
country, my lord, and the skulls there are made thicker on purpose--such
being the intintion of a merciful providence that created nothing in
vain."

"And can you give us no light on why Mr. Lalor Maitland wished harm to
Mr. Richard Poole?"

Bridget shook her head slowly.

"Doubtless," she said, "'twas something about property and a lass. For
if money's the root of all evil, as the Book says, sure and
t'other--(that's the woman) is the trunk and branches, the flowers, and
the fruit!"

The mystery of the death of Mr. Richard Poole was never wholly cleared
up. If anything was found among the private correspondence of the late
member of the firm of Smart, Poole and Smart, certainly the firm did not
allow it to transpire. It is practically certain that Bridget told all
she knew. But, poring over the mystery afterwards, and putting all
things carefully together, I became convinced that, under the name of
Wringham Pollixfen Poole, Mr. Richard had mixed himself up in some
highly treasonable business, which put his life within the power of the
informer and traitor Lalor.

Consequently when the latter, an expert in disguises, found it necessary
to take refuge with Bridget Connoway after the failure of the attack on
Marnhoul, he could not have chosen a safer name or disguise.

Mr. Richard, he knew, could not betray him. If any trouble befell he
would come at once and see him. So, in fact, when Richard Poole arrived,
he demanded that, by the influence of his firm, the children should be
at once returned to his tutelage. That Lalor dreamed of marrying Irma is
evident, and what he meant to do with little Louis is equally clear--for
his death would leave him heir to the properties.

But Richard proved unexpectedly stubborn. He refused flatly to have
anything to do with Lalor's schemes--whereupon the wild beast in the man
broke loose. He struck and escaped. But it was a sudden fit of anger,
probably repented of as soon as done, because it rendered unsafe a
useful disguise.

In the case of Sir Louis the plot was deeper laid. From the boy's
borrowing of the gun, I believe that Louis had made up his mind to
escape with his so-called uncle. But some condition or chance word of
Lalor's had caused a shadow of suspicion to arise in Louis's mind. He
had drawn back at the last moment. Whereupon, exasperated by failure,
and possibly shaken by hearing me thundering at the door, Lalor had
smitten, just as he had done in the case of Mr. Richard. Happily,
however, with less result. The necessary weapon was not to his hand.
The poisoned sword, with which he no doubt expected the boy to play till
he pricked himself, was lying with the handle turned away from him.

At any rate he missed his stroke. But it was only by a hair's breadth,
and had it not been for his own sword and my fleetness of foot, the
false Wringham Pollixfen might for the second time have vanished as
completely as before, while if Louis had died, no one would have
suspected as his murderer a man so important as his Excellency Lalor
Maitland, Member of Parliament for the county, and presently carrying
out the commission of the lieges within the precincts of the city of
Westminster.

As to Sir Louis, it was many months before we could obtain any account
of his experiences from him, and even then he shrank from all reference
to that night in the Wood Parlour. Indeed, he grew up to be a silent,
rather moody young man, and as soon as he could obtain permission from
the lawyers he went abroad, where at the University of Heidelberg he
settled himself with his books and fencing foils. All this happened ten
years ago, yet he manifested not the least desire to come home. His
affairs are safe in the hands of the Dumfries lawyers, while my
grandfather, not to all appearance aged by a day, cares on the spot for
his more immediate concerns. Sir Louis has, however, made Duncan the
Second laird of the farm and lands of Heathknowes, on the condition that
during the tenancy of my grandfather and grandmother they are to sit
rent free. Irma and I are still in the house above the meadows, and
Duncan has just begun to attend Dr. Carson at the High School. We have
been able to buy the Little White House, and have made many
improvements, including a couple of servants' bedrooms. But we were
just as happy when I rose to make the fire in the morning, and Mrs.
Pathrick came over early on washing days to "get them clothes out on the
line at a respectable hour!"

My father still teaches his Ovid, and looks to Freddy Esquillant to
succeed him. He is now first assistant and has taken a house for Agnes
Anne. In a year or two they expect to begin thinking about getting
married. But really there is no hurry. They have only been engaged
twelve years, and an immediate purpose of marriage would be considered
quite indecent haste in Eden Valley. And Aunt Jen ... is still Aunt Jen.
No man, she says, has ever proved himself worthy of her, but I myself
think that, if there is no infringement of the table of consanguinity on
the first page of the Bible after "James, by the Grace of God, King of
Great Britain, France, and Ireland," she has an eye on Duncan the
Second, when he shall shed the trappings of the school-boy and endue
himself with the virility of knee-breeches, cocked hat, and a coat with
adult tails.

At least she certainly shows more partiality to him than to any one, and
wonders incessantly how he managed to pick up so unworthy and
harum-scarum a father.

For the rest, Heathknowes stands where it did, excepting always the Wood
Parlour, which _my_ grandfather had pulled down. And where it stood the
full-rounded corn-stacks almost lean against the blind wall, so that the
maids will not pass that way unattended--for fear of Wringham Pollixfen,
or poor hot-blooded, turbulent Richard, his victim, or perhaps more
exactly the victim of his own unstable will.

And as for Irma, years have not aged her. She has the invincible gift of
youth, of lightsome, winsome, buoyant youth. She still has that way of
poising herself for flight, like a tit on a thistle, or a plume of
dandelion-down, ready to break off and float away on any wind, which I
tell her is not respectable in a married woman of her age and standing.
But my Lord Advocate does not agree with me. He rests from his
labours--not in the grave, thank goodness, but in his house on the
bright slopes of Corstorphine.

Also the Dean sings an "Amen" to his praises of Irma, but neither of the
Kirkpatricks has ever deigned to cross our doorstep.

"They were glad to be rid of you!" I tell Irma.

"Dear place!" she answers. And she does not mean either the house at
Sciennes or the Kirkpatrick mansion near the Water of Leith. She is
thinking of that once open space by the Greyfriars where, to the
accompaniment of keen chisel-stroke and dull mallet-thud, once on a day
she came to me, more dream-like than my dream, and said, "I have found
it, the Little White House!"

THE END


Richard Clay & Sons, Limited, London and Bungay.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Transcriber's note: block relocated from front matter:

BY THE SAME AUTHOR

ROSE OF THE WILDERNESS        6/-
PRINCESS PENNILESS            6/-
DEEP MOAT GRANGE              6d.
THE CHERRY RIBBAND       net 1/-
LAD'S LOVE                    6d.

------------------------------------------------------------------------





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