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Title: Gilian The Dreamer - His Fancy, His Love and Adventure
Author: Munro, Neil
Language: English
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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.

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GILIAN THE DREAMER

Gilian the Dreamer, His Fancy, His Love and Adventure

By Neil Munro

Author of 'John Splendid' 'The Lost Pibroch' &c.

1899



GILIAN THE DREAMER



PART I



CHAPTER I--WHEN THE GEAN-TREE BLOSSOMED

Rain was beating on the open leaf of plane and beech, and rapping at the
black doors of the ash-bud, and the scent of the gean-tree flourish hung
round the road by the river, vague, sweet, haunting, like a recollection
of the magic and forgotten gardens of youth. Over the high and numerous
hills, mountains of deer and antique forest, went the mist, a slattern,
trailing a ragged gown. The river sucked below the banks and clamoured
on the cascades, drawn unwillingly to the sea, the old gluttonous sea
that must ever be robbing the glens of their gathered waters. And the
birds were at their loving, or the building of their homes, flying among
the bushes, trolling upon the bough. One with an eye, as the saying
goes, could scarcely pass among this travail of the new year without
some pleasure in the spectacle, though the rain might drench him to
the skin. He could not but joy in the thrusting crook of the fern and
bracken; what sort of heart was his if it did not lift and swell to see
the new fresh green blown upon the grey parks, to see the hedges burst,
the young firs of the Blaranbui prick up among the slower elder pines
and oaks?

Some of the soul and rapture of the day fell with the rain upon the
boy. He hurried with bare feet along the river-side from the glen to the
town, a bearer of news, old news of its kind, yet great news too, but
now and then he would linger in the odour of the bloom that sprayed the
gean-tree like a fall of snow, or he would cast an eye admiring upon the
turgid river, washing from bank to bank, and feel the strange uneasiness
of wonder and surmise, the same that comes from mists that swirl in
gorges of the hills or haunt old ancient woods. The sigh of the wind
seemed to be for his peculiar ear. The nod of the saugh leaf on the
banks was a salutation. There is, in a flutter of the tree's young
plumage, some hint of communication whose secret we lose as we age, and
the boy, among it, felt the warmth of companionship. But the sights were
for the errant moments of his mind; his thoughts, most of the way, were
on his message.

He was a boy with a timid and wondering eye, a type to be seen often in
those parts, and his hair blew from under his bonnet, a toss of white
and gold, as it blew below the helms of the old sea-rovers. He was from
Ladyfield, hastening as I say with great news though common news enough
of its kind--the news that the goodwife of Ladyfield was dead.

If this were a tale of the imagination, and my task was not a work of
history but to pleasure common people about a hearth, who ever love the
familiar emotions in their heroes, I would credit my hero with grief.
For here was his last friend gone, here was he orphaned for ever. The
door of Ladyfield, where he was born and where he had slept without an
absent night since first his cry rose there, a coronach in the ears of
his dying mother, would be shut against him; the stranger would bar the
gates at evening, the sheep upon the hills would have another keel-mark
than the old one on their fleecy sides. Surely the sobs that sometimes
rose up in his throat were the utter surrender of sorrow; were the tears
that mingled with the rain-drops on his cheek not griefs most bitter
essence? For indeed he had loved the old shrunk woman, wrinkled and
brown like a nut, with a love that our race makes no parade of, but
feels to the very core.

But in truth, as he went sobbing in his loneliness down the river-side,
a regard for the manner of his message busied him more than the matter
of it. It was not every Friday a boy had a task so momentous had the
chance to come upon households with intelligence so unsettling. They
would be sitting about the table, perhaps, or spinning by the fire, the
good-wife of Ladyfield still for them a living, breathing body, home
among her herds, and he would come in among them and in a word bring her
to their notice in all death's great monopoly. It was a duty to be done
with care if he would avail himself of the whole value of so rare a
chance. A mere clod would be for entering with a weeping face, to
blurt his secret in shaking sentences, or would let it slip out in an
indifferent tone, as one might speak of some common occurrence.
But Gilian, as he went, busied himself on how he should convey most
tellingly the story he brought down the glen. Should he lead up to his
news by gradual steps or give it forth like an alarum? It would be a
fine and rare experience to watch them for a little, as they looked and
spoke with common cheerfulness, never guessing why he was there, then
shock them with the intelligence, but he dare not let them think he
felt so little the weightiness of his message that his mind was ready
to dwell on trivialities. Should it be in Gaelic or in English he should
tell them? Their first salutations would be in the speech of the glens;
it would be, "Oh Gilian, little hero! fair fellow! there you are! sit
down and have town bread, and sugar on its butter," and if he followed
the usual custom he would answer in the same tongue. But between "_Tha
bean Lecknamban air falbh_" and "The wife of Ladyfield is gone," there
must be some careful choice. The Gaelic of it was closer on the feelings
of the event; the words some way seemed to make plain the emptiness of
the farmhouse. When he said them, the people would think all at once
of the little brown wrinkled dame, no more to be bustling about
the kitchen, of her wheel silent, of her foot no more upon the blue
flagstones of the milk-house, of her voice no more in the chamber where
they had so often known her hospitality. The English, indeed, when he
thought of it with its phrase a mere borrowing from the Gaelic, seemed
an affectation. No, it must be in the natural tongue his tidings should
be told. He would rap at the door hurriedly, lift the sneck before any
response came, go in with his bonnet in his hand, and say "_Tha bean
Lecknamban air falbh_" with a great simplicity.

And thus as he debated and determined in his mind, he was hastening
through a country that in another mood would be demanding his
attention almost at every step of the way. Ladyfield is at the barren
end of the glen--barren of trees, but rich in heather, and myrtle, and
grass--surrounded by full and swelling hills. The river, but for the
gluttonous sea that must be sucking it down, would choose, if it might,
to linger in the valley here for ever, and in summer it loiters on many
pretences, twining out and in, hiding behind Baracaldine and the bushes
of Tom-an-Dearc, and pretending to doze in the long broad levels of
Kincreggan, so that it may not too soon lose its freedom in so magic
a place. But the glen opens out anon, woods and parks cluster, and the
Duke's gardens and multitudes of roads come into view. The deer stamp
and flee among the grasses, flowers grow in more profusion than up the
glen where no woods shelter. There are trim houses by the wayside, with
men about the doors talking with loud cheerfulness, and laughing in the
way of inn-frequenters. A gateway from solitude, an entrance to a region
where the most startling and varied things were ever happening, to a boy
from the glen this town end of the valley is a sample of Paradise for
beauty and interest. Gilian went through it with his blue eyes blurred
to-day, but for wont he found it full of charms and fancies. To go under
its white-harled archways on a market day was to come upon a new
world, and yet not all a new world, for its spectacles of life and
movement--the busy street, the clanging pavement, the noisy closes, the
quay ever sounding with the high calls of mariners and fishers--seemed
sometimes to strike a chord of memory. At the first experience of this
busy community, the innumerable children playing before the school,
and the women with wide flowing clothes, and flowered bonnets on
their heads, though so different from the children of the glen and its
familiar dames with piped caps, or maids with snooded locks--all was
pleasant to his wondering view. He seemed to know and understand them
at the first glance, deeper even than he knew or understood the common
surroundings of his life in Ladyfield; he felt at times more comfort in
the air of those lanes and closes though unpleasantly they might smell
(if it was the curing season and the gut-pots reeked at the quay) than
in the winds of the place he came from, the winds of the wilds, so
indifferent to mankind, the winds of the woods, sacred to the ghosts,
among whom a boy in a kilt was an intruder, the winds of the hills, that
come blowing from round the universe and on the most peaceful days are
but momentary visitors, stopping but to tap with a branch at the window,
or whistle mockingly in a vent.

In spite of their mockery of him, Gilian always loved the children of
the town. At first when they used to see him come through the arches
walking hurriedly, feeling his feet in unaccustomed shoes awkward and
unmanageable, and the polish of his face a thing unbearable, they would
come up in wonder on his heels and guess at his identity, then taunt him
for the rustic nature of his clothing.

"Crotal-coat, crotal-coat, there are peats in your brogues!" they would
cry; or "Hielan'-man, hielan'-man, go home for your _fuarag_ and brose!"

They were strange new creatures to him, foreigners quite, and cruel,
speaking freely a tongue he knew not but in broken parts, yet deep in
his innermost there was a strange feeling that he was of their kind. He
wished he could join them in their English play, or better far, that he
might take them to the eagle's nest in Stob Bhan, or the badgers' hamlet
in Blaranbui, or show them his skill to fetch the deer at a call, in the
rutting time, from the mud-wallows above Carnus. But even yet, he was
only a stranger to the boys of the town, and as he went down the street
in the drenching rain that filled the syvers to overflowing and rose
in a smoke from the calm waters of the bay, they cried "Crotal-coat,
crotal-coat," after him.

"Ah," said he to himself, inly pleased at their ignorance, "if I cared,
could I not make them ashamed, by telling them they were mocking a boy
without a home?"

Kept by the rain closer than usual to the shelter of the closes, the
scamps to-day went further than ever in their efforts to annoy the
stranger; they rolled stones along the causey so that they caught him
on the heels, and they ran out at the back ends of their closes as he
passed, and into others still before him, so that his progress down the
town was to run a gauntlet of jeers. But he paid no heed; he was of
that gifted nature that at times can treat the most bitter insults with
indifference, and his mind was taken up with the manner of his message.

When he came to the Cross-houses he cast about for the right close in a
place where they were so numerous that they had always confused him, and
a middle-aged woman with bare thick arms came out to help him.

"You'll be looking for some one?" said she in Gaelic, knowing him no
town boy.

He was standing as she spoke to him in a close that had seemed the one
he sought, and he turned to tell her where he was going.

"Oh yes," said the woman, "I know her well. And you'll be from the glen,
and what's your errand in the town to-day? You are from Drimfern? No,
Ladyfield! It is a fine place Ladyfield; and how is the goodwife there?"

"She is dead," said Gilian hurriedly.

"God, and that is a pity too!" said the woman, content now that the
news was hers. "You are in the very close you are looking for," and she
turned and hurried up the street to spread the news as fast as could be.

The boy turned away, angry with himself to have blurted out his news to
the first stranger with the curiosity to question him, and halfway up
the stairs he had to pause a little to get in the right mood for his
errand. Then he went up the remaining steps and rapped at the door.

"Come in," cried a frank and hearty woman's voice. He put down the sneck
with his thumb and pushed in the door and followed.

A little window facing the sea gave light to the interior, that would
have been dull and mean but for the brilliant delf upon the dresser rack
and the cleanliness of all things and the smiling faces of Jean Clerk
and her sister. The hum of Jean's wheel had filled the chamber as he
entered; now it was stilled and the spinner sat with the wool pinched in
her fingers, as she welcomed her little relative. Her sister--Aliset Dhu
they called her, and if black she was, it had been long ago, for now her
hair was like the drifted snow--stood behind her, looking up from her
girdle where oaten bannocks toasted.

He stood with his bonnet in his hand. Against his will the grief of his
loss swept over him more masterfully than it had yet done, for those two
sisters had never been seen by him before except in the company of their
relative the little old woman with a face like a nut, and the sobs
that shook him were checked by no reflection of the play-actor. He was
incapable of utterance.

"O my boy, my boy!" cried Jean Clerk. "Do I not know your story?
I dreamt last night I saw a white horse galloping over Tombreck to
Ladyfield and the rider of him had his face in his plaid. Peace with
her, and her share of Paradise!"

And thus my hero, who thought so much upon the way of his message, had
no need to convey it any way at all.



CHAPTER II--THE PENSIONERS

"Go round," said Jean Clerk, "and tell the Paymaster; he'll be the sorry
man to lose his manager."

"Will he be in his house?" asked Gilian, eating the last of his town
bread with butter and sugar.

"In his house indeed!" cried Jean, her eyes still red with weeping. "It
is easy to see you are from the glen, when at this time of day you would
be for seeking a gentleman soldier in his own house in this town. No!
no! go round to Sergeant More's change-house, at the quay-head, and
you'll find the Captain there with his cronies."

So round went Gilian, and there he came upon the pensioners, with
Captain John Campbell, late Paymaster of his Majesty's 46th Foot, at
their head.

The pensioners, the officers, ah! when I look up the silent street of
the town nowadays and see the old houses empty but for weavers, and
merchants, and mechanics, people of useful purposes but little manly
interest, and know that all we have of martial glory is a dust under a
score of tombstones in the yard, I find it ill to believe that ever wars
were bringing trade for youth and valour to our midst. The warriors are
gone; they do not fight their battles over any more at a meridian dram,
or late sitting about the bowl where the Trinidad lemon floated in
slices on the philtre of joy. They are up bye yonder in the shadow of
the rock with the sea grumbling constantly beside them, and their names
and offices, and the dignities of their battles, and the long number of
their years, are carved deeply, but not deeply enough, for what is there
of their fame and valour to the fore when the threshing rain and the
crumbling frost have worn the legend off the freestone slab? We are left
stranded high and dry upon times of peace, but the old war-dogs, old
heroes, old gentles of the stock and cane--they had seen the glories
of life, and felt the zest of it. Bustling times! the drums beat at the
Cross in those days, the trumpeters playing alluringly up the lanes to
young hearts to come away; pipers squeezed out upon their instruments
the fine tunes that in the time I speak of no lad of Gaelic blood could
hear but he must down with the flail or sheep-hook and on with the
philabeg and up with the sword. Gentlemen were for ever going to wars
or coming from them; were they not of the clan, was not the Duke their
cousin, as the way of putting it was, and by his gracious offices many
a pock-pudding English corps got a colonel with a touch of the Gaelic
in his word of command as well as in his temper. They went away
ensigns--some of them indeed went to the very tail of the rank and file
with Mistress Musket the brown besom--and they came back Majors-General,
with wounds and pensions. "Is not this a proud day for the town with
three Generals standing at the Cross?" said the Paymaster once, looking
with pride at his brother and Turner of Maam and Campbell of Strachur
standing together leaning on their rattans at a market. It was in the
Indies I think that this same brother the General, parading his command
before a battle, came upon John, an ensign newly to the front with a
draft from the sea.

"Who sent you here, brother John?" said he, when the parade was over.
"You would be better at home in the Highlands feeding your mother's
hens."

In one way it might have been better, in another way it was well enough
for John Campbell to be there. He might have had the luck to see more
battles in busier parts of the world, as General Dugald did, or Colin,
who led the Royal Scots at Salamanca, Vittoria, and Waterloo; but he
might have done worse, for he of all those gallants came home at the end
a hale man, with neither sabre-cut nor bullet. To give him his due he
was willing enough to risk them all. It bittered his life at the last,
that behind his back his townspeople should call him "Old Mars," in an
irony he was keen enough to feel the thrust of.

     "Captain Mars, Captain Mars,
     Who never saw wars,"

said Evan MacColl, the bard of the parish, and the name stuck as the
bye-names of that wonderful town have a way of doing.

"Old Mars," Paymaster, sat among the pensioners in the change-house of
the Sergeant More when Gilian came to the door. His neck overflowed in
waves of fat upon a silk stock that might have throttled a man who had
not worn the king's stock in hot lands over sea; his stockings fitted
tightly on as neat a leg as ever a kilt displayed, though the kilt was
not nowadays John Campbell's wear but kerseymore knee-breeches. He had a
figured vest strewn deep with snuff that he kept loose in a pocket (the
regiment's gold mull was his purse), and a scratch wig of brown sat
askew on his bullet head, raking with a soldier's swagger. He had his
long rattan on the table before him, and now and then he would lift its
tasseled head and beat time lightly to the chorus of Dugald MacNicol's
song. Dugald was Major once of the 1st Royals; he had carried the sword
in the Indies, East and West, and in the bloody Peninsula, and came
home with a sabre-slash on the side of the head, so that he was a little
weak-witted. When he would be leaving his sister's door to go for the
meridian dram at the quay-head he would dart for cover to the Cross,
then creep from close to close, and round the church, and up the Ferry
Land, in a dread of lurking enemies; yet no one jeered at his want, no
boy failed to touch his bonnet to him, for he was the gentleman in the
very weakest moment of his disease. He had but one song in his budget:

     "O come  and   gather round   me,  lads,
         and   help  the  chorus through,
     When I tell you how we fought the French
         on the plains of Waterloo."

He sang it in a high quavering voice with curious lapses in the vigour
of his singing and cloudings in the fire of his eyes, so that now and
then the company would have to jolt him awake to give the air more
lustily. Colonel Hall was there (of St John's) and Captain Sandy
Campbell of the Marines, Bob MacGibbon, old Lochgair, the Fiscal with
a ruffled shirt, and Doctor Anderson. The Paymaster's brothers were
not there, for though he was the brother with the money they were
field-officers and they never forgot it.

The chorus was ringing, the glasses and the Paymaster's stick were
rapping on the table, the Sergeant More, with a blue brattie tied tight
across his paunch to lessen its unsoldierly amplitude, went out and in
with the gill-stoups, pausing now and then on the errand to lean against
the door of the room with the empty tray in his hand, drumming on it
with his finger-tips and joining in the officers' owercome.

He turned in the middle of a chorus, for the boy was standing abashed in
the entry, his natural fears at meeting the Paymaster greatly increased
by the sound of revelry.

"Well, little hero," said the Sergeant More, in friendly Gaelic, "are
you seeking any one?"

"I was sent to see the Paymaster, if it's your will," said Gilian, with
his eyes falling below the scrutiny of this swarthy old sergeant.

"The Paymaster!" cried the landlord, shutting the door of the room ere
he said it, and uplifting farmed hands, "God's grace! do not talk of the
Paymaster here! He is Captain Campbell, mind, late of his Majesty's 46th
Foot, with a pension of £4 a week, and a great deal of money it is
for the country to be paying to a gentleman who never saw of wars but
skirmish with the Syke. Nothing but Captain, mind you, and do not forget
the salute, so, with the right hand up and thumb on a line with the
right eyebrow. But could your business not be waiting? If it is Miss
Mary who sent for him it is not very reasonable of her, for he is here
no longer than twenty minutes, and it is not sheepshead broth day, I
know, because I saw her servant lass down at the quay for herrings an
hour ago. Captain, mind, it must be that for him even with old soldiers
like myself. I would not dare Paymaster him, it is a name that has a
trade ring about it that suits ill with his Highland dignity. Captain,
Captain!"

Gilian stood in front of this spate of talk, becoming more diffident and
fearful every moment. He had never had any thought as to how he should
tell the Paymaster that the goodwife of Ladyfield was dead, that was a
task he had expected to be left to some one else, but Jean Clerk and
her sister had a cunning enough purpose in making him the bearer of the
news.

"I am to tell him the goodwife of Ladyfield is dead," he explained,
stammering, to the Sergeant More.

"Dead!" said John More. "Now is not that wonderful?" He leaned against
the door as he had leaned many a time against sentry-box and barrack
wall, and dwelt a little upon memory. "Is not that wonderful? The first
time I saw her was at a wedding in Karnes, Lochow, and she was the
handsomest woman in the room, and there were sixty people at the
wedding from all parts, and sixty-nine roasted hens at the supper. Well,
well--dead! blessings with her; did I not know her well? Yes, and I knew
her husband too, Long Angus, since the first day he came to Ladyfield
for Old Mar--for the Paymaster--till the last day he came down the
glen in a cart, and he was the only sober body in the funeral, perhaps
because it was his own. Many a time I wondered that the widow did so
well in the farm for Captain Campbell, with no man to help her, the
sowing and the shearing, the dipping and the clipping, ploughmen and
herds to keep an eye on, and bargains to make with wool merchants and
drovers. Oh! she was a clever woman, your grandmother. And now she's
dead. Well, it's a way they have at her age! And the Paymaster must be
told, though I know it will vex him greatly, because he is a sort of man
who does not relish changes. Mind now you say Captain; you need not say
Captain Campbell, but just Captain, and maybe a 'sir' now and then. I
suppose you could not put off telling him for a half-hour or thereabouts
longer, when he would be going home for dinner any way; it is a pity
to spoil an old gentleman's meridian dram with melancholy news. No. You
were just told to come straight away and tell him--well, it is the good
soldier who makes no deviation from the word of command. Come away in
then and--Captain mind--and the salute."

The Sergeant More threw open the door of the room, filled up the space
a second and gave a sort of free-and-easy salute. "A message for you,
Captain," said he.

The singing was done. The Major's mind was wandering over the plains of
Waterloo to guess by the vacancy of his gaze; on his left Bob MacGibbon
smoked a black segar, the others talked of townsmen still in the army
and of others buried under the walls of Badajos. They all turned when
the Sergeant More spoke, and they saw him push before him into the room
the little boy of Ladyfield with his bonnet in his hand and his eyes
restless and timid like pigeons at a strange gate fluttering.

"Ho! Gilian, it is you?" said the Paymaster, with a very hearty voice;
then he seemed to guess the nature of the message, for his voice
softened from the loud and bumptious tone it had for ordinary. "How is
it in Lecknamban?" he asked in the Gaelic, and Gilian told him, minding
duly his "sir" and his "Captain" and his salute.

"Dead!" said the Paymaster, "Blessings with her!" Then he turned to his
companions and in English--"The best woman in the three parishes and the
cleverest. She could put her hand to anything and now she's no more. I
think that's the last of Ladyfield for me. I liked to go up now and then
and go about the hill and do a little bargaining at a wool market, or
haggle over a pound with a drover at the fair, but the farm did little
more than pay me and I had almost given it up when her husband died."

He looked flushed and uncomfortable. His stock seemed to fit him more
tightly than before and his wig sat more askew than ever upon his
bald head. For a little he seemed to forget the young messenger still
standing in the room, no higher than the table whereon the glasses
ranged. Gilian turned his bonnet about in his hand and twisted the
ribbons till they tore, then he thought with a shock of the scolding he
would get for spoiling his Sunday bonnet, but the thought was quickly
followed by the recollection that she who would have scolded him would
chide no more.

The pensioners shared their attention between the Paymaster and the boy.
While the Paymaster gave them the state of his gentleman farming (about
which the town was always curious), they looked at him and wondered at
a man who had seen the world and had £4 a week of a pension wasting life
with a paltry three-hundred sheep farm instead of spending his money
royally with a bang. When his confidence seemed likely to carry their
knowledge of his affairs no further than the town's gossip had already
brought it, they lost their interest in his reflections and had time to
feel sorry for the boy. None of them but knew he was an orphan in the
most grievous sense of the term, without a relative in the wide world,
and that his future was something of a problem.

Bob MacGibbon--he was Captain in the 79th--leaned forward and tried to
put his hand upon the child's shoulder, not unkindly, but with a rough
playfulness of the soldier. Gilian shrank back, his face flushing
crimson, then he realised the stupidity of his shyness and tried
to amend it by coming a little farther into the room and awkwardly
attempting the salute in which the Sergeant More had tutored him. The
company was amused at the courtesy, but no one laughed. In a low voice
the Paymaster swore. He was a man given to swearing with no great
variety in his oaths, that were merely a camp phrase or two at the most,
repeated over and over again, till they had lost all their original
meanings and could be uttered in front of Dr. Colin himself without
any objection to them. In print they would look wicked, so they must
be fancied by such as would have the complete picture of the elderly
soldier with the thick neck and the scratch wig. The Sergeant More
had gently withdrawn himself and shut the door behind him the more
conveniently to hear what reception the messenger's tidings would
meet with from the Paymaster. And the boy felt himself cut off most
helplessly from escape out of that fearful new surrounding. It haunted
him for many a day, the strong smell of the spirits and the sharp
odour of the slices floating in the glasses, for our pensioners
were extravagant enough to flavour even the cold midday drams of the
Abercrombie with the lemon's juice. Gilian shifted from leg to leg and
turned his bonnet continuously, and through his mind there darted many
thoughts about this curious place and company that he had happened upon.
As they looked at him he felt the darting tremor of the fawn in the
thicket, but alas he was trapped! How old they were! How odd they looked
in their high collars and those bands wound round their necks! They were
not farmers, nor shepherds, nor fishermen, nor even shopkeepers; they
were people with some manner of life beyond his guessing. The Paymaster
of course he knew; he had seen him often come up to Ladyfield, to talk
to the goodwife about the farm and the clipping, to pay her money twice
yearly that was called wages, and was so little that it was scarcely
worth the name. Six men in a room, all gentle (by their clothes), all
with nothing better to do than stare at a boy who could not stare back!
How many things they had seen; how many thoughts they must share between
them! He wished himself on the other side of Aora river in the stillness
of Kincreggan wood, or on the hill among the sheep--anywhere away from
the presence of those old men with the keen scrutiny in their eyes,
doubtless knowing all about him and seeing his very thoughts. Had they
been shepherds, or even the clever gillies that sometimes came to the
kitchen of Ladyfield on nights of _ceilidh_ or gossip, he would have
felt himself their equal. He would have been comfortable in feeling
that however much they might know about the hills, and woods, and wild
beasts, it was likely enough better known to himself, who lived among
them and loved them. And the thoughts of the gillie, and the shepherd,
were rarely beyond his shrewd guess as he looked at them; they had
but to say a word or two, and he knew the end of their story from the
beginning. But these old gentlemen were as far beyond his understanding
as Gillesbeg Aotram, the wanderer who came about the glens and was
called daft by the people who did not know, as Gilian did, that he was
wiser than themselves.

The Paymaster took his rattan and knocked noisily on the table for the
landlord.

The Sergeant More stepped softly on his tiptoes six steps into the
kitchen, then six steps noisily back again and put his head in.

"What's your will, Captain?" said he, polishing a tray with the corner
of his brattie.

"Give this boy some dinner, for me," said the Paymaster. "There is
nothing at our place to-day but herrings, and it's the poorest of meals
for melancholy. Miss Mary would make it all the more melancholy with her
weeping over the goodwife of Ladyfield."

Gilian went out with the Sergeant More and made a feeble pretence at
eating his second dinner that day.



CHAPTER III--THE FUNERAL

All the glen came to the funeral, and people of Lochowside on either
side from Stronmealachan to Eredine, and many of the folk of Glen Shira
and the town. A day of pleasant weather, with a warm wind from the west,
full of wholesome dryness for the soil that was still clogged with the
rains of spring. It filled the wood of Kincreggan with sounds, with the
rasping and creaking of branches and the rustle of leaves, and the road
by the river under the gean-trees was strewn with the broken blossom.

The burial ground of Kilmalieu lies at the foot of a tall hill beside
the sea, a hill grown thick with ancient wood. The roots come sometimes
under the walls and below the old tombstones and set them ajee upon
their bases, but wanting those tall and overhanging companions,
the yard, I feel, would be ugly and incomplete. It is in a soothing
melancholy one may hear the tide lapping on the rocks below and the
wood-bird call in the trees above. They have been doing so in the ears
of Kilmalieu for numberless generations, those voices everlasting but
unheard by the quiet folk sleeping snug and sound among the clods. Sun
shines there and rain falls on it till it soaks to the very bones of
the old Parson, first to lie there, and in sun or rain there grow the
laurel-bushes that have the smell of death, and the gay flowers cluster
in a profusion found nowhere else in the parish except it be in the
garden of the Duke. The lily nods in the wind, the columbine hangs
its bell, there the snowdrop first appears and the hip-rose shows her
richest blossoms. On Sundays the children go up and walk among the
stones over the graves of their grandfathers and they smell the flowers
they would not pluck. Sometimes they will put a cap on the side of a
cherub head that tops a stone and the humour of the grinning face will
create a moment's laughter, but it is soon checked and they walk among
the graves in a more seemly peace.

They buried the goodwife of Ladyfield in her appointed place beside
her husband and her only child, Gilian taking a cord at the head of the
coffin as it was lowered into the red jaws of the grave prepared for it.
The earth thudded on the lid, the spades patted the mould, the people
moved off, and he was standing yet, listening to the bird that shook
a song of passionate melody from its little throat as it becked upon a
table tombstone. It was a simple song, he had heard it a thousand times
before and wondered at the hidden meaning of it, and now it puzzled him
anew that it should encroach upon so solemn an hour in thoughtless love
or merriment.

The men were on their way home over the New Bridge, treading heavily,
and yet light-headed, for they had the Paymaster's dram at the "lifting"
at Ladyfield in them, and the Paymaster himself was narrating to old
Rixa, the Sheriff, and Donacha Breck his story, told a hundred times
before, of Long Dan MacIntyre, who never came up past the New Bridge,
except at the tail of a funeral, for fear the weight should some day
bring the massive masonry down. "Ha! ha! is that not good?" demanded the
Paymaster, laughing till his jowl purpled over his stock. "I told him he
would cross the bridge to Kilmalieu one day and instead of being last he
would be first."

The Fiscal hirpled along in his tight knee-breeches looking down with
vain satisfaction now and then at the ruffles of his shirt and the
box-pleated frills that were dressed very snodly and cunningly by
Bell Macniven, who had been in the Forty-second with her husband the
sergeant, and had dressed the shirts of the Marquis of Huntly, who was
Colonel.

"I have seldom, sir, seen a better dressed shirt," said Mr. William
Spencer, of the New Inn, who was a citizen of London and anxious to make
his way among the people here, "It is quite the style, quite the style,
sir."

"Do you think so, now?" asked the Fiscal, pleased at the compliment.

"I do, indeed," said Mr. Spencer, "it is very genteel and just as the
gentry like it."

The Fiscal coloured, turned and paused and fixed him with an angry eye.

"Do you speak to me of gentry, Mr. Spencer," he asked, "with any idea of
making distinctions? You are a poor Sassenach person, I daresay, and do
not know that my people have been in Blarinarn for three hundred years
and I am the first man-of-business in the family."

The innkeeper begged pardon. Poor man! he had much to learn of Highland
punctilio. He might be wanting in delicacy of this kind perhaps, but he
had the heart, and it was he, as they came in front of the glee'd gun
that stands on the castle lawn, who stopped to look back at a boy far
behind them, alone on the top of the bridge.

"Is there no one with the boy?" he asked. "And where is he to stay now
that his grandmother is dead?"

The Paymaster drew up as if he had been shot, and swore warmly to
himself.

"Am not I the _golan_?" said he. "I forgot about the fellow, and I told
the shepherd at Ladyfield to lock up the house till Whitsunday. I'm
putting the poor boy out in the world without a roof for his head. It
must be seen to, it must be seen to."

Rixa pompously blew out his cheeks and put back his shoulders in a way
he had to convince himself he was not getting old and round-backed.
"Oh," said he, "Jean Clerk's a relative; he'll be going to bide there."

They stood in a cluster in the middle of the road, the Paymaster with
his black coat so tight upon his stomach it looked as if every brass
button would burst with a crack like a gun; Rixa puffing and stretching
himself; Major Dugald ducking his head and darting his glance about from
side to side looking for the enemy; Mr. Spencer, tall, thin, with the
new strapped breeches and a London hat, blowing his nose with much noise
in a Barcelona silk handkerchief. All the way before them the crowd went
straggling down in blacks with as much hurry as the look of the thing
would permit, to reach the schoolhouse where the Paymaster had laid out
the last service of meat and drink for the mourners. The tide was out;
a sandy beach strewn with stones and clumps of seaweed gave its saline
odour to the air; lank herons came sweeping down from the trees over
Croitivile, and stalked about the water's edge. There was only one sound
in nature beyond the soughing of the wind in the shrubbery of the Duke's
garden, it was the plaintive call of a curlew as it flew over the stable
park. A stopped and stagnant world, full of old men and old plaints, the
dead of the yard behind, the solemn and sleepy town before.

The boy was the only person left in the rear of the Paymaster and his
friends; he was standing on the bridge, fair in the middle of the way.
Though the Paymaster cried he was not heard, so he walked back and up to
the boy while the others went on their way to the schoolhouse, where old
Brooks the dominie was waiting among the jars and oatcakes and funeral
biscuits with currants and carvie in them.

Gilian was standing with the weepers off his cuffs and the crape off his
bonnet; he had divested himself of the hateful things whenever he found
himself alone, and he was listening with a rapt and inexpressive face to
the pensive call of the curlew as it rose over the fields, and the tears
were dropping down his cheeks.

"Oh, _'ille_, what's the matter with you?" asked the Paymaster in
Gaelic, struck that sorrow should so long remain with a child.

Gilian started guiltily, flushed to the nape of his neck and stammered
an explanation or excuse.

"The bird, the bird!" said he, turning and looking at the dolorous piper
of the marsh.

"Man!" said the Paymaster in English, looking whimsically at this
childish expression of surprise. "Man! you're a queer callant too. Are
there no curlews about Ladyfield that you should be in such a wonder at
this one? Just a plain, long-nebbed, useless bird, not worth powder
and shot, very douce in the plumage, and always at the same song like
MacNicol the Major."

The little fellow broke into a stammering torrent of Gaelic. "What does
it say, what does it say?" he asked: "it is calling, calling, calling,
and no one will answer it; it is telling something, and I cannot
understand. Oh, I am sorry for it, and----"

"You must be very hungry, poor boy," said the Paymaster. "Come away
down, and Miss Mary will give you dinner. Did you ever taste rhubarb
tart with cream to it? I have seen you making umbrellas with the rhubarb
up the glen, but I'm sure the goodwife did not know the real use of it."

Gilian paid no heed to the speaker, but listened with streaming eyes to
the wearied note of the bird that still cried over the field. Then the
Paymaster swore a fiery oath most mildly, and clutched the boy by the
jacket sleeve and led him homeward.

"Come along," said he, "come along. You're the daftest creature ever
came out of the glen, and what's the wonder of it, born and bred among
stirks and sheep on a lee-lone country-side with only the birds to speak
to?"

The two went down the road together, the Paymaster a little wearied with
his years and weight or lazied by his own drams, leaning in the
least degree upon the shoulder of the boy. They made an odd-looking
couple--dawn and the declining day, Spring and ripe Autumn, illusion and
an elderly half-pay officer in a stock and a brown scratch wig upon a
head that would harbour no more the dreams, the poignancies of youth.
Some of the mourners hastening to their liquor turned at the Cross and
looked up the road to see if they were following, and they were struck
vaguely by the significance of the thing.

"Dear me," said the Fiscal, "is not Old Mars getting very bent and
ancient?"

"He is, that!" said Rixa, who was Sheriff Maclachlan to his face. "I
notice a glass or two makes a wonderful difference on him this year back
ever since he had his little bit towt. That's a nice looking boy; I like
the aspect of him; it's unusual. What a pity the Paymaster never had a
wife or sons of his own."

"You say what is very true, Sheriff," said Mr. Spencer. "I think there
is something very sad in the spectacle, sir, of an old gentleman with
plenty of the world in his possession going down to the bourne with not
a face beside him to mind of his youth."

But indeed the Paymaster was not even reminded of his own youth by
this queer child on whom he leaned. He had never been like this, a shy
frightened dreaming child taken up with fancies and finding omens and
stories in the piping of a fowl. Oh! no, he had been a bluff, hearty,
hungry boy, hot-headed, red-legged, short-kilted, stirring, a bit of a
bully, a loud talker, a dour lad with his head and his fists. This boy
beside him made him think of neither man nor boy, but of his sister
Jennet, who died in the plague year, a wide-eyed, shrinking, clever
girl, with a nerve that a harsh word set thrilling.

"Did Jean Clerk say anything about where you are to sleep to-night?" he
asked him, still speaking the Gaelic in which he knew the little fellow
was most at home.

"I suppose I'll just stay in my own bed in Lady-field," said Gilian,
apparently little exercised by the thought of his future, and dividing
some of his attention to the Paymaster with the sounds and sights of
nature by the way, the thrust of the bracken crook between the crannies
of the Duke's dykes, the gummy buds of the limes and chestnuts, the
straw-gathering birds on the road, the heron so serenely stalking on the
shore, and the running of the tiny streams upon the beach that smoked
now in the heat of the sun.

The Paymaster seemed confounded. He swelled his neck more fully in the
stock, cleared his throat with a loud noise, took a great pinch of
snuff from his waistcoat pocket and spent a long time in disposing of it
Gilian was in a dream far off from the elderly companion and the smoking
shore; his spirit floated over the glen and sometimes farther still,
among the hill gorges that were always so full of mystery to him, or
farther still to the remote unknown places, foreign lands, cities,
towns, where giants and fairies roamed and outrage happened and kings
were, in the tales the shepherds told about the peat fires on _ceilidh_
nights.

"I'm afraid you'll have to sleep in the town tonight," said the
Paymaster, at last somewhat relieved of his confusion by the boy's
indifference; "the truth is we are shutting up Ladyfield for a little.
You could not stay alone in it at any rate, and did Jean Clerk not
arrange that you were to stay with her after this?"

"No," said Gilian simply, even yet getting no grasp of his homelessness.

"And where are you going to stay?" asked the Paymaster testily.

"I don't know," said the boy.

The Paymaster spoke in strange words under his breath and put on a
quicker pace and went through the town, even past the schoolhouse,
where old Brooks stood at the door in his long surtout saying a
Latin declension over to himself as if it were a song, and into the
Crosshouses past the tanned women standing with their hands rolled up
in their aprons, and up to Jean Clerk's door. He rapped loudly with his
rattan. He rapped so loudly that the inmates knew this was no common
messenger, and instead of crying out their invitation they came together
and opened the door. The faces of the sisters grew rosy red at the sight
of the man and the boy before him.

"Come away in, Captain," said Jean, assuming an air of briskness the
confusion of her face belied. "Come away in, I am proud to see you at my
door."

The Paymaster stepped in, still gripping the boy by the shoulder, but
refused to sit down. He spoke very short and dry in his best travelled
English.

"Did you lock up the Ladyfield house as I told you?" he asked.

"I did, that!" said Jean Clerk, lifting her brattie and preparing to
weep, "and it'll be the last time I'll ever be inside its hospitable
door."

"And you gave the key to Cameron the shepherd?"

"I did," said Jean, wondering what was to come next.

The Paymaster changed his look and his accent, and spoke again with
something of a pawky humour that those who knew him best were well aware
was a sign that his temper was at its worst.

"Ay," said he, "and you forgot about the boy. What's to be done with
him? I suppose you would leave him to rout with the kye he was bred
among, or haunt the rocks with the sheep. I was thinking myself coming
down the road there, and this little fellow with me without a friend in
the world, that the sky is a damp ceiling sometimes, and the grass of
the field a poor meal for a boy's stomach. Eh! what say you, Mistress
Clerk?" And the old soldier heaved a thumbful of snuff from his
waistcoat pocket.

"The boy's no kith nor kin of mine," said Jean Clerk, "except a very
far-out cousin's son." She turned her face away from both of them and
pretended to be very busy folding up her plaid, which, as is well known,
can only be done neatly with the aid of the teeth and thus demands some
concealment of the face. The sister passed behind the Paymaster and the
boy and startled the latter with a sly squeeze of the wrist as she did
so.

"Do you tell me, my good woman," demanded the Paymaster, "that you would
set him out on the road homeless on so poor an excuse as that? Far-out
cousin here or far-out cousin there, he has no kin closer than yourself
between the two stones of the parish. Where's your Hielan' heart,
woman?"

"There's nothing wrong with my heart, Captain Campbell," said Jean
tartly, "but my pocket's empty. If you think the boy's neglected you
have a house of your own to take him into; it would be all the better
for a young one in it, and you have the money to spend that Jean Clerk
has not." All this with a very brave show of spirit, but with something
uncommonly moist about the eyes.

The Paymaster, still clutching the boy at the shoulder, turned on his
heel to go, but a side glance at Jean Clerk's face again showed him
something different from avarice or anger.

"You auld besom you!" said he, dunting the floor with his rattan, "I see
through you now; you think you'll get him put off on me. I suppose if I
refused to take him in, you would be the first to make of him."

The woman laughed through her tears. "Oh, but you are the gleg-eyed
one, Captain. You may be sure I would not see my cousin's grandchild
starving, and I'll not deny I put him in your way, because I never knew
a Campbell of Kiels, one of the old bold race, who had not a kind heart
for the poor, and I thought you and your sister could do better than two
old maiden women in a garret could do by him."

"You randy!" said he, "and that's the way you would portion your poor
relations about the countryside. As if I had not plenty of poor friends
of my own! And what in all the world am I to make of the youth?"

"You'll have nothing to do with the making of him, Captain Campbell,"
said Jean Clerk, now safe and certain that the boy's future was assured.
"It'll be Miss Mary will have the making of him, and I ken the lady well
enough--with my humble duty to her--to know she'll make him a gentleman
at the very least."

"Tuts," said the Paymaster, "Sister Mary's like the rest of you; she
would make a milksop of the boy if I was foolish enough to take him home
to her. He'll want smeddum and manly discipline; that's the stuff to
make the soldier. The uneasy bed to sleep on, the day's task to be done
to the uttermost. I'll make him the smartest ensign ever put baldrick
on--that's if I was taking him in hand," he added hastily, realising
from the look of the woman that he was making a complete capitulation.

"And of course you'll take him, Captain Campbell," cried Jean Clerk in
triumph. "I'm sure you would sooner take him and make a soldier of him
than leave him with me--though before God he was welcome--to grow up
harvester or herd."

The Paymaster took a ponderous snuff, snorted, and went off down the
stair with the boy still by the hand, the boy wide-eyed wondering,
unable to realise very clearly whether he was to be made a soldier or a
herd there and then. And when the door closed behind them Jean Clerk and
her sister sat down and wept and laughed in a curious mingling of sorrow
and joy--sorrow that the child had to be turned from their door and out
of their lives with even the pretence at inhospitality, and joy that
their device had secured for him a home and future more comfortable than
the best their straitened circumstances could afford.



CHAPTER IV--MISS MARY

The Paymaster and his two brothers lived with sister Mary on the upper
flats of the biggest house of the burgh. The lower part was leased to
an honest merchant whose regular payment of his rent did not prevent the
Paymaster, every time he stepped through the close, from dunting with
his cane on the stones with the insolence of a man whose birth and his
father's acres gave him a place high above such as earned their living
behind a counter.

"There you are, Sandy!" he would call, "doing no trade as usual; you'll
not have sold a parcel of pins or a bolt of tape to-day, I suppose.
Where am I to get my rent, I wonder, next Martinmas?"

The merchant would remonstrate. "I've done very well to-day, Captain,"
he would say. "I have six bolls of meal and seven yards of wincey going
up the glen in the Salachary cart."

"Pooh, pooh, what's that to the time of war? I'll tell you this, Sandy,
I'll have to roup out for my rent yet." And by he would sail, as red in
the face as a bubbly-jock, swelling his neck over his stock more largely
than ever, and swinging his rattan by its tassel or whacking with it on
his calves, satisfied once more to have put this merchant-body in his
own place.

To-day he paid no heed to the merchant, when, having just keeked in at
the schoolroom to tell Dr. Colin and old Brooks he would be back in a
minute to join the dregy, he went up the stairs with Gilian. "I'm going
to leave you with my sister Mary," he explained. "You'll think her
a droll woman, but all women have their tiravees, and my sister is a
well-meaning creature."

Gilian thought no one could be more droll than this old man himself.
Before indifferent to him, he had, in the past hour, grown to be afraid
of him as a new mysterious agent who had his future in his hands. And
to go up the stairs of this great high house, with its myriad windows
looking out upon the busiest part of the street, and others gazing
over the garden and the sea, was an experience new and bewildering. The
dwelling abounded in lobbies and corridors, in queer corners where the
gloom lurked, and in doors that gave glimpses of sombre bedsteads and
high-backed austere chairs, of china painted with the most wonderful
designs (loot of the old Indian palaces), of swords and sabretaches hung
on walls, and tables polished to such degree that they reflected their
surroundings.

They went into a parlour with its window open, upon the window-sill a
pigeon mourning among pots of wallflowers and southernwood that filled
the entering air with sweetness. A room with thin-legged chairs, with
cupboards whose lozens gave view to punch-bowls and rummers and silver
ladles, a room where the two brothers would convene at night while John
was elsewhere, and in a wan candle light sit silent by the hour before
cooling spirits, musing on other parlours elsewhere in which spurs had
jingled under the board, musing on comrades departed. It was hung around
with dark pictures in broad black frames, for the most part pictures
of battles, "Fontenoy," "Stemming the Rout at Steinkirk," "Blenheim
Field," and--a new one--"Vittoria." There were pictures of men too, all
with soldier collars high upon the nape of the neck, and epaulettes on
their shoulders, whiskered, keen-eyed young men--they were the brothers
in their prime when girls used to look after them as they went by
on their horses. And upon the mantlebrace, flanked by tall silver
candlesticks, was an engraving of John, Duke of Argyll, Field-Marshal.

"Look at that man there," said the Paymaster, pointing to the noble and
arrogant head between the candles, "that was a soldier's soldier. There
is not his like in these days. If you should take arms for your king,
boy, copy the precept and practice of Duke John. I myself modelled me
on his example, and that, mind you, calls for dignity and valour and
education and every manly part and----"

"Is that you blethering away in there, John?" cried a high female voice
from the spence.

The Paymaster's voice surrendered half its confidence and pride, for
he never liked to be found vaunting before his sister, who knew his
qualities and had a sense of irony.

"Ay! it's just me, Mary," he cried back, hastening to the door. "I have
brought a laddie up here to see you."

"It would be wiser like to bring me a man," cried the lady, coming into
the room. "I'm wearied of washing sheets and blankets for a corps of
wrunkled old brothers that have no gratitude for my sisterly slavery.
Keep me! who's _ballachan_ is that?"

She was a little thin woman, of middle age, with a lowland cap of lace
that went a little oddly with the apron covering the front of the merino
gown from top to toe. She had eyes like sloes, and teeth like pearls
that gleamed when she smiled, and by constant trying to keep herself
from smiling at things, she had worn two lines up and down between her
eyebrows. A dear fond heart, a darling hypocrite, a foolish bounteous
mother-soul without chick or child of her own, and yet with tenement for
the loves of a large family. She fended, and mended, and tended for her
soldier brothers, and they in the selfish blindness of their sex never
realised her devotion. They sat, and over punch would talk of war, and
valour, and devotion, and never thought that here, within their very
doors, was a constant war in their behalf against circumstances, in
their interest an unending valour that kept the little woman bustling on
her feet, and shrewd-eyed over her stew-pans, while weariness and pain
itself, and the hopeless unresponse and ingratitude of the surroundings,
rendered her more appropriate place between the bed-sheets.

"What _ballachan_ is this?" she asked, relaxing the affected acidity of
her manner and smoothing out the lines upon her brow at the sight of
the little fellow in a rough kilt, standing in a shy unrest upon the
spotless drugget of her parlour floor. She waited no answer, but went
forward as she spoke, as one who would take all youth to her heart, put
a hand on his head and stroked his fair hair. It was a touch wholly
new to the boy; he had never felt before that tingling feeling that a
woman's hand, in love upon his head, sent through all his being. At the
message of it, the caress of it, he shivered and looked up at her face
in surprise.

"What do you think of him, Mary?" asked the brother. "Not a very stout
chap, I think, but hale enough, and if you stuck his head in a pail of
cream once a day you might put meat on him. He's the _oe_ from Ladyfield;
surely you might know him even with his boots on."

"Dear, dear," she said; "you're the Gilian I never saw but at a
distance, the boy who always ran to the hill when I went to Ladyfield.
O little hero, am I not sorry for the goodwife? You have come for your
pick of the dinner----"

"Do you think we could make a soldier of him?" broke in the Paymaster,
carrying his rattan like a sword and throwing back his shoulders.

"A soldier!" she said, casting a shrewd glance at the boy in a red
confusion. "We might make a decenter man of him. Weary be on the
soldiering! I'm looking about the country-side and I see but a horde of
lameter privatemen and half-pay officers maimed in limb or mind sitting
about the dram bottle, hoved up with their vain-glory, blustering and
blowing, instead of being honest, eident lairds and farmers. I never saw
good in a soldier yet, except when he was away fighting and his name
was in the _Courier_ as dead or wounded. Soldiers, indeed! sitting
round there in the Sergeant More's tavern, drinking, and roaring, and
gossiping like women--that I should miscall my sex! No, no, if I had a
son----

"Well, well, Mary," said the Paymaster, breaking in again upon this
tirade, "here's one to you. If you'll make the man of him I'll try to
make him the soldier."

She understood in a flash! "And is he coming here?" she asked in an
accent the most pleased and motherly. A flush came over her cheeks and
her eyes grew and danced. It was as if some rare new thought had come
to her, a sentiment of poetry, the sound of a forgotten strain of once
familiar song.

"I'm sure I am very glad," she said simply. She took the boy by the
hand, she led him into the kitchen, she cried "Peggy, Peggy," and when
her servant appeared she said, "Here's our new young gentleman, Peggy,"
and stroked his hair again, and Peggy smiled widely and looked about for
something to give him, and put a bowl of milk to his lips.

"Tuts!" cried Miss Mary, "it's not a calf we have; we will not spoil his
dinner. But you may skim it and give him a cup of cream."

The Paymaster, left in the parlour among the prints of war and warriors,
stood a moment with his head bent and his fingers among the snuff
listening to the talk of the kitchen that came along the spence and
through the open doors.

"She's a queer body, Mary," said he to himself, "but she's taking to the
brat I think--oh yes, she's taking to him." And then he hurried down
the stair and up round the church corner to the schoolhouse where the
company, wearied waiting on his presence, were already partaking of his
viands. It was a company to whom the goodwife of Ladyfield, the quiet
douce widow, had been more or less a stranger, and its solemnity on this
occasion of her burial was not too much insisted on. They were there not
so much mourners as the guests of Captain Campbell, nigh on a dozen
of half-pay officers who had escaped the shambles of Europe, with the
merchants of the place, and some of the farmers of the glen, the banker,
the Sheriff, the Fiscal and the writers of whom the town has ever had
more than a fair share. Dr. Colin had blessed the viands and gone away;
he was a new kind of minister and a surprising one, who had odd views
about the drinking customs of the people, and when his coat skirts
had disappeared round the corner of the church there was a feeling of
relief, and old Baldy Bain, "Copenhagen" as they called him, who was
precentor in the Gaelic end of the church, was emboldened to fill his
glass up to more generous height than he had ever cared to do in the
presence of the clergyman. The food and drink were spread on two
long tables; the men stood round or sat upon the forms their children
occupied in school hours. The room was clamant with the voices of the
company. Gathered in groups, they discussed everything under heaven
except the object of their meeting--the French, the sowing, the
condition of the hogs, the Duke's approaching departure for London, the
storm, the fishing. They wore their preposterous tall hats on the backs
of their heads with the crape bows over the ears, they lifted up the
skirts of their swallow-tail coats and hung them on their arms with
their hands in their breeches pockets. And about them was the odour
of musty, mildewed broadcloth, taken out of damp presses only on such
occasions.

Mr. Spencer, standing very straight and tall and thin, so that his
trousers at the foot strained tightly at the straps under his insteps,
looked over the assembly, and with a stranger's eye could not but be
struck by its oddity. He was seeing--lucky man to have the chance!--the
last of the old Highland burgh life and the raw beginnings of the
new; he was seeing the real _doaine-uasail_, gentry of ancient family,
colloguing with the common merchants whose day was coming in; he was
seeing the embers of the war in a grey ash, officers, merchants, bonnet
lairds, and tenants now safe and snug and secure in their places because
the old warriors had fought Boney. The schoolroom was perfumed with the
smoke of peat, for it was the landward pupils' week of the fuelling,
and they were accustomed to bring each his own peat under his arm every
morning. The smoke swirled and eddied out into the room and hung about
the ochred walls, and made more umber than it was before the map of
Europe over the fireplace. Looking at this map and sipping now and then
a glass of spirits in his hand, was a gentleman humming away to himself
"Merrily danced the Quaker's wife." He wore a queue tied with a broad
black ribbon that reached well down on his waist, and the rest of his
attire was conform in its antiquity, but the man himself was little more
than in his prime, straight set up like the soldier he was till he died
of the Yellow in Sierra Leone, where the name of Turner, Governor, is
still upon his peninsula.

"You are at your studies?" said Mr. Spencer to him, going up to his side
with a little deference for the General, and a little familiarity for
the son of a plain Portioner of Glen Shira who was to be seen any day
coming down the glen in his cart, with a mangy sporran flapping rather
emptily in front of his kilt.

Charlie Turner stopped his tune and turned upon the innkeeper.

"I scarcely need to study the map of Europe, Mr. Spencer," said he, "I
know it by heart--all of it of any interest at least. I have but to shut
my eyes and the panorama of it is before me. My brothers and I saw some
of it, Mr. Spencer, from Torres Vedras to the Pyrenees, and I'm but
looking at it now to amaze myself with seeing Albuera and Vittoria,
Salamanca and Talavera and Quatre Bras, put on this map merely as black
dots no more ken-speckle than the township of Camus up the glen. Wars,
wars, bloody wars! have we indeed got to the last of them?"

"Indeed I hope so, sir," said the innkeeper, "for my wife has become
very costly and very gaudy in her Waterloo blue silks since the
rejoicings, and if every war set a woman's mind running to extravagance
in clothing, the fewer we have the better."

"If I had a wife, Mr. Spencer (and alas! it's my fate to have lost
mine), I should make her sit down in weeds or scarlet, after wars, the
colour of the blood that ran. What do you say to that, General?"

He turned, as he spoke, to Dugald Campbell, who came to dregies *
because it was the fashion of the country, but never ate nor drank at
them.

     * Dregy: The Scots equivalent of the old English _Dirge-
     ale_, or funeral feast. From the first word of the antiphon
     in the office for the dead, "_Dirige, Domine meus_,"

"You were speaking, General Turner?" said Campbell.

Turner fingered the seal upon his fob, with its motto "_Tu ne cede
malis_," and smiled blandly, as he always did when it was brought to his
recollection that he had won more than soldiers' battles when the odds
against him were three to one.

"I was just telling Mr. Spencer that Waterloo looks like being the last
of the battles, General, and that one bit of Brooks' map here is just
as well known to some of us as the paths and woods and waters of Glen
Shira."

"I'm not very well acquaint with Glen Shira myself," was all the General
said, looking at the map for a moment with eyes that plainly had no
interest in the thing before them, and then he turned to a nudge of the
Paymaster's arm.

Turner smiled again knowingly to Mr. Spencer. "I put my brogues in it
that time," said he in a discreet tone. "I forgot that the old gentleman
and his brothers were far better acquaint with Glen Shira in my wife's
maiden days than I was myself. But that's an old story, Mr. Spencer,
that you are too recent an incomer to know the shades and meanings of."

"I daresay, sir, I daresay," said Mr. Spencer gravely. "You are a most
interesting and sensitive people, and I find myself often making the
most unhappy blunders."

"Interesting is not the word, I think, Mr. Spencer," said General Turner
coldly; "we refuse to be interesting to any simple Sassenach." Then he
saw the confusion in the innkeeper's face and laughed. "Upon my word,"
he said, "here I'm as touchy as a bard upon a mere phrase. This is very
good drink, Mr. Spencer; your purveyance, I suppose?"

"I had the privilege, sir," said the innkeeper. "Captain Campbell gave
the order----"

"Captain Campbell!" said the General, putting down his glass and
drinking no more. "I was not aware that he was at the costs of this
dregy. Still, no matter, you'll find the Campbells a good family to have
dealings with of any commercial kind, pernick-etty and proud a bit, like
all the rest of us, with their bark worse than their bite."

"I find them quite the gentlemen," said the innkeeper.

Turner laughed again.

"Man!" said he, "take care you do not put your compliment just exactly
that way to them; you might as well tell Dr. Colin he was a surprisingly
good Christian."

Old Brooks, out of sheer custom, sat on the high stool at his desk and
hummed his declensions to himself, or the sing-song _Arma virumque cano_
that was almost all his Latin pupils remembered of his classics when
they had left school. The noise of the assembly a little distressed him;
at times he would fancy it was his scholars who were clamouring before
him, and he checked on his lips a high peremptory challenge for silence,
flushing to think how nearly he had made himself ridiculous. From his
stool he could see over the frosted glass of the lower window sash into
the playground where it lay bathed in a yellow light, and bare-legged
children played at shinty, with loud shouts and violent rushes after a
little wooden ball. The town's cows were wandering in for the night
from the common muir, with their milkmaids behind them in vast wide
petticoats of two breadths, and their blue or lilac short-gowns tucked
well up at their arms. Behind, the windows revealed the avenue, the road
overhung with the fresh leaves of the beeches, the sunlight filtering
through in lighter splashes on the shade. Within, the drink was running
to its dregs, and piles of oatcake farls lay yet untouched. One by
one the company departed. The glen folks solemnly shook hands with
the Paymaster, as donor of the feast, and subdued their faces to a sad
regret for this "melancholy occasion, Captain Campbell"; then went over
to the taverns in the tenements and kept up their drinking and their
singing till late in the evening; the merchants and writers had gone
earlier, and now but the officers and Brooks were left, and Mr. Spencer,
superintending the removal of his vessels and fragments to the inn. The
afternoon was sinking into the calm it ever has in this place, drowsing,
mellowing; an air of trance lay all about, and even the pensioners,
gathered at the head of the schoolroom near the door, seemed silent as
his scholars to the ear of Brooks. He lifted the flap of his desk and
kept it up with his head while he surveyed the interior. Grammars and
copy-books, pens in long tin boxes, the terrible black tawse he never
used but reluctantly, and the confiscated playthings of the children who
had been guilty of encroaching upon the hours of study with the trifles
of leisure, were heaped within. They were for the most part the common
toys of the country-side, and among them was a whistle made of young
ash, after the fashion practised by children, who tap upon the bark to
release it from its wood, slip off the bark entire upon its sap, and cut
the vent or blow-hole. Old Brooks took it in his hand and a smile went
over his visage.

"General Turner," he cried up the room, "here's an oddity I would like
to show you," and he balanced the pipe upon his long fingers, and the
smile played about his lips as he looked at it.

Turner came up, and "A whistle," said he. "What's the story?"

"Do you know who owns it?" asked Brooks.

"Sandy, I suppose," said the General, who knew the ingenuities of his
only son. "At least, I taught him myself to make an ash whistle, and
this may very well be the rogue's contrivance." He took the pipe in hand
and turned it over and shrilled it at his lip. "Man," said he, "that
makes me young again! I wish I was still at the age when that would
pipe me to romance."

The schoolmaster smiled still. "It is not Master Sandy's," said he.
"Did you never teach the facture of it to your daughter Nan? She made
it yesterday before my very eyes that she thought were not on her at the
time, and she had it done in time to pipe Amen to my morning prayer."

"Ah! the witch!" cried the General, his face showing affection and
annoyance. "That's the most hoyden jade I'm sure you ever gave the
ferule to."

"I never did that," said the schoolmaster.

"Well, at least she's the worst that ever deserved it. The wind is not
more variable, nor the sea less careless of constraint She takes it
off her mother, no doubt, who was the dearest madcap, the most darling
wretch ever kept a sergeant's section of lovers at her skirts. I
wish you could do something with her, Mr. Brooks. I do not ask high
schooling, though there you have every qualification. I only ask some
sobriety put in her so that she may not always be the filly on the
meadow."

Old Brooks sighed. He took the whistle from the General and thought a
moment, and put it to his lips and piped upon it once or twice as the
moor-fowl pipes in spring. "Do you hear that?" he asked. "It is all,
my General, we get from life and knowledge--a very thin and apparently
meaningless and altogether monotonous squeak upon a sappy stem. Some of
us make it out and some of us do not, because, as it happens, we are not
so happily constituted. You would have your daughter a patient Martha of
the household, and she will be playing in spite of you upon a wooden
whistle of her own contrivance. What you want of me, I think, General,
is that I should make her like her neighbours to pleasure you and earn
my fees and Queen Anne's Bounty. I might try, yet I am not sure but what
your girl will become by her sunny nature what I could not make her by
my craft as a teacher. And this, sir, I would tell you: there is one
mischief I am loth to punish in my school, and that's the music that may
be inopportune, even when it takes the poor form of a shrill with an
ashen stick made by the performer during the morning's sacred exercise."

The whistle had brought two or three of the company back to see what old
Brooks was doing, and among them was the Paymaster. He was redder in the
face than ever, and his wig was almost off his head, it was so slewed
aside.

"Giving the General a lesson?" he asked with some show at geniality. He
leaned a hand upon a desk, and remembered that just on that corner he
leaned on he had placed many a shilling as Candlemas and Han'sel Monday
offerings when he was a schoolboy, before the farming, before the army
and India, and those long years at home on the upper flat of the house
up the street where Miss Mary sat the lee-lone homester among her
wanderers returned.

"I was but showing him the handiwork of his daughter Miss Nan," said
Old Brooks pleasantly. "A somewhat healthy and boisterous lady, I assure
you."

"Oh! I have heard of her," said the Paymaster, taking a pinch of
maccabaw from his pocket, and leisurely lifting it to his nostril with
the indifference of one with little interest in the subject. There was
insult in the contempt of the action. The General saw it and flamed very
hotly.

"And you have heard of a very handsome little lady," said he,
"remarkably like her handsome mother, and a very good large-hearted
daughter."

The Paymaster had an unpleasant little laugh that when he chose he could
use with the sting of a whip though accompanied by never a word. He
flicked the surplus of his snuff from his stock and gave this annoying
little laugh, but he did not allow it to go unaccompanied, for he had
overheard the General's speech to Mr. Spencer.

"No doubt she's all you say or think," said he dryly, "I'm sure I'm no
judge, but there's a rumour abroad that she's a big handful. A want of
discipline perhaps, no more than that--"

"You know the old saying, Captain," said the General, "bachelors' bairns
are aye well trained."

The Paymaster started in a temper, and "I have a son," said he,
"and----"

The General smiled with meaning.

"----A son; at least I'll make him that, and I'll show you something of
training!"

Turner smiled anew, with a mock little bow and a wave of the fingers, a
trick picked up abroad and maddening in its influence on a man with the
feeling that it meant he was too small to have words with.

"I'll train him--I'll train him to hate your very name," said the
Paymaster with an oath.

"I'm obliged for your cake and wine," said the General, still smiling,
"and I wish you all good day." He lifted his hat and bowed and left the
room.

"This is a most unfortunate contretemps," said Brooks, all trembling.
"If I had thought a little whistle, a mere _tibia_ of ash, had power to
precipitate this unlucky and unseemly belligerence I would never have
opened my desk."

The great bell upon the roof of the church swung upon its arms like an
acrobat in petticoats, and loudly pealed the hour of seven. Its hammer
boomed against the brassy gown, the town rang from end to end with the
clamour of the curfew, and its tale of another day gone rumoured up
the glens. Near at hand the air of the playground and of the street
was tossed by the sound into tumultuous waves, so that even in the
schoolroom the ear throbbed to the loud proclamation. Into the avenue
streamed the schools of crows from their wanderings on the braes of
Shira, and the children ceased their shinty play and looked up at the
flying companies, and called a noisy song--

     "Crow, crow, fly away home,
     Your fires are out and your children gone."

"That's a most haughty up-setting crew, and the queue-haired rover the
worst of the lot!" said the Paymaster, still red and angry. "What I
say's true, Brooks; it's true I tell you! You'll not for your life put
it out of the boy's head when you have the teaching of him; he must hate
the Turners like poison. Mind that now, mind that now!"

And turning quickly on his heels, the Paymaster went out of the
schoolroom.



CHAPTER V--THE BROTHERS

Gilian, meanwhile, sat on a high chair in Miss Mary's room. She gave him
soup till her ladle scraped against the bottom of the tureen; she cut
for him the tenderest portions of the hen; she gave him most generously
of cheese--not the plain skim-milk curd cheese of Ladyfield, the
leavings of the dairy, but the Saturday kebboch as it was called, made
of the overnight and morning's milk, poured cream and all into the
yearning-tub. And as she served him, her tongue went constantly upon
themes of many varieties, but the background of them all, the conclusion
of them all, was the greatness of her brothers. Ah! she was a strange
little woman with the foolish Gaelic notion that an affection bluntly
displayed to its object is an affection discreditable.

"You will go far," said she to Gilian, "before you will come on finer
men. They are getting old and done, but once I knew them tall and strong
and strapping, not their equals in all the armies. And what they have
seen of wars, my dear! They were ever going or coming from them, and
sometimes I would not know where they were out in the quarrelsome world
but for a line in the _Saturday Post_ or the _Courier_ or maybe an old
hint in the General Almanack itself. Perhaps when you become acquainted
with the General and the Cornal you will wonder that they are never at
any time jocular, and maybe you will think that they are soured at life
and that all their kindness is turned to lappered cream. I knew them
nearly jocular, I knew them tall, light-footed laddies, running about
the pastures there gallivanting with the girls. But that, my dear, was
long ago, and I feel myself the old woman indeed when I see them so
stiff and solemn sitting in there over their evening glass."

"I have never seen them; were they at the funeral?" asked Gilian, his
interest roused in such survivals of the past.

"That they were," said Miss Mary; "a funeral now is their only
recreation. But perhaps you would not know them because they are not at
all like the Captain. He was a soldier too, in a way, but they were the
ancient warriors. Come into the room here and I will show you, if you
have finished your dinner."

Gilian went with her into the parlour again among the prints and the
hanging swords, that now he knew the trade and story of the men who sat
among them, were imbued with new interests.

Miss Mary pointed to the portraits. "That was Colin and Dugald before
they went away the second time," she said. "We had one of James too---he
died at Corunna--but it was the only one, and we gave it to a lady of
the place who was chief with him before he went away, and dwined a great
deal after his death. And that's his sword. When it came home from Spain
by MacFarlane, the carrier round from Dumbarton, I took it out and it
was clagged in the scabbard with a red glut. It was a sore memorial to
an only sister."

The boy stood in the middle of the floor feeling himself very much older
than he had done in the morning. The woman's confidences made him almost
a man, for before he had been spoken to but as a child, though his
thoughts were far older than his years. Those relics of war, especially
the sheath that had the glut of life in it corrupting when it came back
with the dead man's chest, touched him inwardly to a brief delirium.
The room all at once seemed to fill with the tramping of men and the
shrilling of pipers, with ships, quays, tumultuous towns, camps, and all
the wonders or the shepherds' battle stories round the fire, and he was
in a field, and it was the afternoon with a blood-red sky beyond the
fir-trees, dense smoke floating across it and the cries of men cutting
each other down. He saw--so it seemed as he stood in the middle of the
floor of the little parlour with the crumbs of his dinner still upon
his vest--the stiff figure of a fallen man in a high collar like the
man portrayed upon the wall, and his hand was still in the hilt of a
reddened sword and about him were the people he had slain. That did not
much move the boy, but he was stirred profoundly when he saw the sword
come home. He saw Miss Mary open out the chest in the kitchen and pull
hard upon the hilt of the weapon, and he saw her face when the terrible
life-glut revealed itself like a rust upon the blade. His nostrils
expanded, his eyes glistened; Miss Mary hurriedly looked at him with
curiosity, for his breath suddenly quickened and strained till it was
the loudest sound in the room.

"What is it, dear?" she said kindly, putting a hand upon his shoulder,
speaking the Gaelic that any moment of special fondness brought always
to her lips.

"I do not know," said he, ashamed. "I was just thinking of your brother
who did not come home, and of your taking out his sword."

She looked more closely at him, at the flush that crept below the fair
skin of his neck and more than common paleness of his cheek. "I think,"
said she, "I am going to like you very much. I might be telling my poor
story of a sword to Captain John there a hundred times, and he could not
once get at the innermost meaning of it for a woman's heart."

"I saw the battle," said he, encouraged by a sympathy he had never known
before.

"I know you did," said she.

"And I saw him dead."

"_Ochame!_"

"And I saw you dropping the sword when you tugged it from the scabbard,
and you cried out and ran and washed your hands, though they were quite
clean."

"Indeed I did I," said Miss Mary, all trembling as the past was so
plainly set before her. "You are uncanny--no, no, you are not uncanny,
you are only ready-witted, and you know how a sister would feel when
her dead brother's sword was brought back to her, and the blood of the
brothers of other sisters was on its blade. That's my only grievance
with those soldier brothers of mine. I said I did not think much of the
soldiers; oh! boy, I love them all. I sometimes grieve that God made me
a woman that I might not be putting on the red coat too, and following
the drum. And still and on, I would have no son of mine a soldier.
Three fozy, foggy brothers--what did the armies do for them? They never
sharpened their wits, but they sit and dover and dream, dream, even-on,
never knowing all that's in their sister Mary's mind. And here you are,
a boy, yet you get to my thoughts in a flash. Oh! I think I am going to
be very fond of you."

Gilian was amazed that at last some one understood him. No one ever did
at Ladyfield; his dreams, his fancies, his spectacles of the inner eye
were things that he had grown ashamed of. But here was a shrewd little
lady who seemed to think his fancy and confidence nothing discreditable.
He was encouraged greatly to let her into his vagrant mind, so sometimes
in passionate outbursts, when the words ran over the heels of each
other, sometimes in shrinking, stammering, reluctant sentences he told
her how the seasons affected him, and the morning and the night, the
smells of things, the sounds of woods and the splash of waters, and the
mists streaming along the ravines. He told her--or rather he made her
understand, for his language was simple--how at sudden outer influences
his whole being fired, and from so trivial a thing as a cast-off
horseshoe on the highway he was compelled to picture the rider, and set
him upon the saddle and go riding with him to the King of Erin's court
that is in the story of the third son of Easadh Ruadh in the winter
tale. How the joy of the swallow was his in its first darting flights
among the eaves of the old barn, and how when it sped at the summer's
end he went with it across shires and towns, along the surface of
winding rivers, even over the seas to the land of everlasting sun. How
the sound of the wave on the rock moved him and set him with the ships
and galleys, the great venturers whipping and creaking and tossing in
the night-time under the stars. How the dark appalled or soothed as the
humour was, and the right of a first flower upon a tree would sometimes
make him weep at the notion of the brevity of its period.

All the time Miss Mary listened patient and understanding. The
high-backed chair compassed her figure so fully that she seemed to
shrink to a child's size. It was a twelve-window house, and so among the
highest taxed in all the town, but in the parlour there were two blind
windows and only one gave light to the interior, so that as she sat in
her chair with her back to the window, her face in the shadow, leaning
against the chair haffits with the aspect of weariness her brothers
never had revealed to them, it seemed to Gilian the little figure and
the ruddy face of a companion. She was silent for a moment after his
confessions were completed, as if she had been wandering with him in the
realm of fancy, and with wings less practised had taken longer to fly
back to the narrow actual world. The boy had realised how much he had
forgotten himself, and how strange all this story of his must be even to
a child-companion with her face in the shadow of the chair haffits, and
his eyes were faltering with shame.

"You are very thin, sweetheart," said she, with the two lines darkly
pencilled between her eyebrows. "You are far too white for a country
boy; upon my word we must be taking the Captain's word for it and
putting your head in the cream."

At this Gilian's confusion increased. Here was another to misunderstand,
and he had thought she was shivering to his fancy as he was himself. He
turned to hide his disappointment. At once the lines disappeared. She
rose and put an arm over his shoulder and stooped the little that was
necessary to whisper in his ear.

"I know, I think I know," said she; "but look, I'm very old and ancient.
Oh, dear! I once had my own fancies, but I think they must have
been sweat out of me in my constancy to my brothers' oven-grate and
roasting-jack. It must be the old, darling, foolish Highlands in us,
my dear, the old people and the old stupid stories they are telling for
generations round the fire, and it must be the hills about us, and the
constant complaint of the sea--tuts! am not I foolish to be weeping
because a boy from Glen Aray has not learned to keep his lips closed on
his innermost thought?"

Gilian looked up, and behold! she was in a little rain of tears, at
least her eyes swam soft in moisture. It comforted him exceedingly, for
it showed that after all she understood.

"If you were a little older," she said, "so old as the merchants of the
town that are all too much on the hunt for the bawbees and the world
to sit down and commune with themselves, or if you were so old as my
brothers there and so hardened, I would be the last to say my thoughts
ever stirred an ell-length out of the customary track of breakfast,
beds, dinner and supper. Do not think I do not love and reverence my
brothers, mind you!" she added almost fiercely, rubbing with her lustre
apron the table there was nothing to rub from save its polish. "Oh!
they are big men and far-travelled men, and they have seen the wonderful
sights. They used to get great thick letters franked from the Government
with every post, and the Duke will be calling on them now and then in
his chariot. They speak to me of nothing but the poorest, simplest,
meanest transactions of the day because they think I cannot comprehend
nor feel. Gilian, do you know I am afraid of them? Not of John
the Captain, for he is different, with a tongue that goes, but I'm
frightened when the General and the Cornal sit and look at me saying
nothing because I am a woman."

"I do not like people to sit looking at me saying nothing," said Gilian,
"because when I sit and look at people without saying anything I am
reading them far in. But mostly I would sooner be making up things in my
mind."

"Ah!" said she, "that is because your mind is young and spacious;
theirs, poor dears, are full of things that have actually happened, and
they need not fancy the orra any more."

They moved together out of the parlour and along the lobby that lighted
it. With a low sill it looked upon the street that now was thronged with
the funeral people passing home or among the shops, or from tavern to
tavern. The funeral had given the town a holiday air, and baxters and
dealers stood at their doors gossiping with their customers or by-goers.
Country carts rumbled past, the horses moving slowly, reluctant to go
back from this place of oats and stall to the furrows where the collar
pressed constantly upon the shoulder. One or two gentlemen went by
on horses--Achnatra and Major Hall and the through-other son of Lorn
Campbell. The sun, westering, turned the clean rain-washed sand in the
gutters of the street to gold, and there the children played and their
calls and rhymes and laughter made so merry a world that the boy at the
window, looking out upon it, felt a glow. He was now to be always with
these fortunate children whom he knew so well ere ever he had changed
words with them. He had a little dread of the magnitude and corners of
this dwelling that was to be his in the future, and of the old men who
sat in it all day saying nothing, but it was strange indeed (thought
he) if with Miss Mary within, and the sunshine and the throng and the
children playing in the syver sand without, he should not find life more
full and pleasant than it had been in the glen. All these thoughts made
warp for the woof of his attention to the street as he stood at the
window. And by-and-by there came a regret for the things lost with the
death of the little old woman of Ladyfield--what they were his mind did
not pause to make definite, but there was the sense of chances gone with
no recalling, of a calm, of a solitude, of a more intimate communion
with the animals of the wilds and the voices of the woods and hills.

The woman as well as the boy must have been lost in thought, for neither
of them noted the step upon the stair when the General and Cornal came
back from the dregy. The brothers were in the lobby beside them before
Miss Mary realised their presence. She turned with a flushed face and,
as it were, put herself a little in front of the boy, so that half his
figure found the shelter of a wing. The two brothers between them filled
the width of the lobby, and yet they were not wide. But they were broad
at the shoulders and once, no doubt, they filled their funeral suits
that of their own stiffness seemed to stand out in all their old
amplitude. The General was a white-faced rash of a man with bushy
eyebrows, a clean-shaven parchment jowl, and a tremulous hand upon the
knob of his malacca rattan; his brother the Cornal was less tall; he
was of a purpled visage, and a crimson scar, the record of a wound from
Corunna, slanted from his chin to the corner of his left eye.

"What wean is that?" he asked, standing in the lobby and casting a
suspicious eye upon the boy, his voice as high as in a barrack yard.
The General stood at his shoulder, saying nothing, but looking at Gilian
from under his pent brows.

Into Miss Mary's demeanour there had came as great a change as that
which came upon the Pay-master when she broke in upon his vaunting. The
lines dashed to her brow; when she spoke it was in a cold constrained
accent utterly different from that the boy had grown accustomed to.

"It is the _oe_ from Ladyfield," she explained.

"He'll be making a noise in the house," said the Cornal with a touch of
annoyance. "I cannot stand boys; he'll break things, I'm sure. When is
he going away?"

"Are you one of the boys who cry after Major MacNicol, my old friend
and comrade?" asked the General in a high squeaking voice. "If I had my
stick at some of you, tormenting a gallant old soldier!" And as he
spoke he lifted his cane by the middle and shook it at the limbs of the
affrighted youth.

"O Dugald, Dugald, you know none of the children of this town ever
annoyed the Major; it is only the keelies from the low-country who do
so. And this is not the boy to make a mock of any old gentleman, I am
sure."

"I know he'll make a noise and start me when I am thinking," said the
Cornal, still troubled. "Is it not very strange, Dugald, that women
must be aye bringing in useless weans off the street to make noise and
annoyance for their brothers?" He poked as he spoke with his stick at
Gilian's feet as he would at an animal crossing his path.

"It is a strange cantrip, Mary," said the General; "I suppose you'll be
going to give him something. It is give, give all the day in this house
like Sergeant Scott's cantiniers."

"Indeed and you need not complain of the giving," said Miss Mary: "there
was nobody gave with a greater extravagance than yourself when you had
it to give, and nobody sends more gangrels about the house than you."

"Give the boy his meat and let him go," said the Cornal roughly.

"He's not going," said Miss Mary, turning quite white and taking the
pin carefully out of her shawl and as carefully putting it in again. And
having done this quite unnecessary thing she slipped her hand down
and warmly clasped unseen the fingers of the boy in the folds of her
bombazine gown.

"Not going? I do not understand you, Mary; as you grow older you grow
stupider. Does she not grow stupider, Dugald?" said the Cornal.

"She does," said the General. "I think she does it to torment us, just."
He was tired by this discussion; he turned and walked to the parlour.

Miss Mary mustered all her courage, and speaking with great rapidity
explained the situation. The boy was the Ladyfield boy; the Paymaster
was going to keep him hereafter.

The Cornal stood listening to the story as one in a trance. There was a
little silence when she had done, and he broke it with a harsh laugh.

"Ah! and what is he going to make of this one?" he asked.

"That's to be seen," said Miss Mary; "he spoke of the army."

"Fancy that now!" said the Cornal with contempt. "Let me see him," he
added suddenly.

"Let me see the seeds of soldiery." He put out a hand and--not roughly
but still with more force than Gilian relished--drew him from the
protection of the gown and turned his face to the window. He put his
hand under the boy's chin; Gilian in the touch felt an abhorrence of the
hard, clammy fingers that had made dead men, but his eyes never quailed
as he looked up in the scarred face. He saw a mask; there was no getting
to the secrets behind that purple visage. Experience and trial, emotions
and passions had set lines there wholly new to him, and his fancy
refused to go further than just this one thought of the fingers that had
made dead men.

The Cornal looked him deeply in the eyes, caught him by the ear, and
with a twist made him wince, pushed him on the shoulders and made his
knees bend. Then he released him with a flout of contempt.

"Man! Jock's the daft recruiter," he said coarsely with an oath. "What's
this but a clerk? There's not the spirit in the boy to make a drummer of
him. There's no stuff for sogering here."

Miss Mary drew Gilian to her again and stiffened her lips. "You have
nothing to do with it, Colin; it's John's house and if he wants to keep
the boy he'll do it. And I'm sure if you but took the trouble to think
that he is a poor orphan with no kith nor kin in the world, you would be
the first to take him in at the door."

The Cornal's face visibly relaxed its sternness. He looked again more
closely at the boy.

"Come away into our parlour here, and the General and I will have a
crack with you," said he, leading the way.

Miss Mary gave the boy's hand a gentle squeeze, and softly pushed him in
after her brother, shut the door behind them, and turned and went down
to the kitchen.



CHAPTER VI--COURT-MARTIAL

Gilian was in a great dread, but revealed none of it in the half dusk of
the room where he faced the two brothers as they sat at either side of
the table. The General took out a bottle of spirits and placed it with
scrupulous care in the very centre of the table; his brother lifted
two tumblers from the corner cupboard and put them on each side of the
bottle, fastidious to a hair's breadth as if he had been laying out
columns of troops. It was the formula of the afternoon; sometimes they
never put a lip to the glass, but it was always necessary that the
bottle should be in the party. For a space that seemed terribly long
to the boy they said no word but looked at him. The eyes of the Cornal
seemed to pierce him through; the General in a while seemed to forget
his presence, turning upon him a flat, vacant eye. Gilian leaned upon
his other foot and was on the verge of crying at his situation. The
day had been far too crowded with strangers and new experience for
his comfort; he felt himself cruelly plucked out of his own sufficient
company and jarred by contact with a very complex world.

With a rude loud sound that shook the toddy ladles in the cupboard the
Cornal cleared his throat.

"How old are you?" he asked, and this roused the General, who came back
from his musings with a convulsive start, and repeated his brother's
question.

"Twelve," said Gilian, first in Gaelic out of instinct, and hurriedly
repeating it in English lest he should offend the gentlemen.

"Twelve," said the Cornal, thinking hard. "You are not very bulky for
your age. Is he now, Dugald?"

"He is not very bulky for his age," said the General, after a moment's
pause as if he were recalling all the boys he knew of that age, or
remitting himself to the days before his teens.

"And now, between ourselves," said the Cornal, leaning over with a show
of intimacy and even friendliness, "have you any notion yourself of
being a soger?"

"I never thought anything about it," Gilian confessed in a low tone. "I
can be anything the Captain would like me to be."

"Did you ever hear the like?" cried the Cornal, looking in amazement at
his brother. "He never thought anything about it, but he can be anything
he likes. Is not that a good one? Anything he likes!" And he laughed
with a choked and heavy effort till the scar upon his face fired like
blood, and Gilian seemed to see it gape and flow as it did when the
sword-slash struck it open in Corunna.

"Anything he likes!" echoed the General, laughing huskily till he
coughed and choked. They both sat smiling grimly with no more sound till
it seemed to the boy he must be in a dream, looking at the creations of
his brain. The step of a fly could have been heard in the room almost,
so sunk was it in silence, but outside, as in another world, a band of
children filled the street with the chant of "Pity be"--chant of the
trumpeters of the Lords.

Gilian never before heard that song with which the children were used to
accompany the fanfare of the scarlet-coated musicians who preceded
the Lords Justiciary on their circuit twice a year; but the words came
distinctly to him in by the open window where the wallflower nodded, and
he joined silently in his mind the dolorous chorus and felt himself the
prisoner, deserving of every pity.

"Sit ye down there," at last said the Cornal, "with my brother the
General's leave." And he waved to the high-backed haffit chair Miss Mary
had so sparely filled an hour ago. Then he withdrew the stopper of the
bottle, poured a tiny drop of the spirits into both tumblers, and drank
"The King and his Arms," a sentiment the General joined in with his hand
tremulous around the glass.

"Listen to me," said the Cornal, "and here I speak, I think, for
my brother the General, who has too much to be thinking about to be
troubling with these little affairs. Listen to me. I fought in Corunna,
in Salamanca, Vittoria and Waterloo, and at Waterloo I led the Royals up
against the yetts of hell. Did I not, Dugald?"

"You did that," said Dugald, withdrawing himself again from a muse over
the records of victory. And then he bent a lustreless eye upon his own
portrait, so sombre and gallant upon the wall, with the gold of the lace
and epaulettes a little tarnished.

"I make no brag of it, mind you," said the Cornal, waving his hand as if
he would be excused for mentioning it. "I am but saying it to show that
I ken a little of bloody wars, and the art and trade of sogering. There
are gifts demanded for the same that seriatim I would enumerate. First
there is natural strength and will. All other trades have their limits,
when a man may tell himself, 'That's the best I can do,' and shut his
book or set down the tool with no disgrace in the relinquishment.
But a soger's is a different ploy; he must stand stark against all
encountering, nor cry a parley even with the lance at his throat. Oh,
man! man! I had a delight in it in my time for all its trials. I
carried claymore (so to name it, ours was a less handsome weapon, you'll
observe), in the ranting, roving humour of a boy; I sailed and marched;
it was fine to touch at foreign ports; it was sweet to hear the drums
beat revally under the vines; the camp-fire, the--"

"And it would be on the edge of a wood," broke in the boy in Gaelic;
"the logs would roar and hiss. The fires would be in yellow dots along
the countryside, and the heather would be like a pillow so soft and
springy under the arm. Round about, the soldiers would be standing,
looking at the glow, their faces red and flickering, and behind would be
the black dark of the wood like the inside of a pot, a wood with ghosts
and eerie sounds and----"

He stammered and broke down under the astounded gaze of the Cornal and
the General, who stood to their feet facing his tense and thrilled small
figure. A wave of shame-heat swept over him at his own boldness.

Outside, the children's voices were fading in the distance as they
turned the corner of the church singing "Pity be."

     "Pity be on poor prisoners, pity be on them:
     Pity be on poor prisoners, if they come back again,"

they sang; the air softened into a fairy lullaby heard by an ear at eve
against the grassy hillock, full of charm, instinct with dream, and the
sentiment of it was as much the boy's within as the performers' without.

"This is the kind of play-actor John would make a soldier of," said the
Cornal, turning almost piteously to his brother. "It beats all! Where
did you learn all that?" he demanded harshly, scowling at the youth and
sitting down again.

"He has the picture of it very true, now, has he not?" said the General.
"I mind of many camps just like that, with the cork-trees behind and old
Sir George ramping and cursing in his tent because the pickets hailed,
and the corncrake would be rasping, rasping, a cannon-carriage badly
oiled, among the grass."

Gilian sank into the chair again, his face in shadow.

"Discipline and reverence for your elders and superiors are the first
lesson you would need, my boy," said the Cornal, taking a tiny drop of
the spirits again and touching the glass of his brother, who had done
likewise. "Discipline and reverence; discipline and reverence. I was
once cocky and putting in my tongue like you where something of sense
would have made me keep it between my teeth. Once in Spain, an ensign, I
found myself in a wine-shop or change-house, drinking as I should
never have been doing if I had as muckle sense as a clabbie-doo, with
a dragoon major old enough to be my father. He was a pock-pudding
Englishman, a great hash of a man with the chest of him slipped down
below his belt, and what was he but bragging about the rich people he
came of, and the rich soil they flourished on, its apple-orchards and
honey-flowers and its grass knee-deep in June. 'Do you know,' said I, 'I
would not give a yard's breadth of the shire of Argyll anywhere north of
Knapdale at its rockiest for all your lush straths, and if it comes to
antique pedigrees here am I, Clan Diarmid, with my tree going down to
Donacha Dhu of Lochow.' That was insolence, ill-considered, unnecessary,
for this major of dragoons, as I tell you, might be my father and I was
but a raw ensign."

"I'll warrant you were home-sick when you said it," said the General.

"Was I not?" cried the brother. "'Twas that urged me on. For one of my
company, just a minute before, had been singing Donacha Ban's song of
'Ben Dorain,' and no prospect in the world seemed so alluring to me then
as a swath of the land I came from."

"I know 'Ben Dorain,'" said Gilian timidly, "and I think I could tell
just the way you felt when you heard the man singing it in a foreign
place."

"Come away, then, my twelve-year-old warlock," said the Cornal,
mockingly, yet wondering too.

"This is a real oddity," said the General, drawing his chair a little
nearer the boy.

"I heard a forester sing 'Ben Dorain' last Hogmanay at home--I mean in
Ladyfield; he was not a good singer, and he forgot bits of the words
here and there, but when he was singing it I saw the sun rise on the
hill, not a slow grey, but suddenly in a smother of gold, and the
hillside moved with deer. Birds whirred from the heather and the cuckoo
was in the wood."

"That was very unlucky about the cuckoo before breakfast," said the
Cornal, and he quoted a Gaelic proverb.

"Oh! if I was in a foreign place and some one sang that song I would be
very, very sick for home. I would be full of thoughts about the lochs
and the hunting roads, the slope of the braes and stripes of black
fir on them; the crying of cattle, the sound of burn and _eas_ and the
voices of people I knew would be dragging my heart home. I would be
saying, 'Oh! you strangers, you do not understand. You have not the want
at your hearts,' and there would be one little bit of the place at home
as plain to my view as that picture."

As he spoke, Gilian pointed at "The Battle of Vittoria." The brothers
turned and looked as if it was something quite new and strange to them.
Up rose the Cornal and went closer to peer at it.

"Confound it!" said he. "You're there with your tale of a ballant, and
you point at the one picture ever I saw that gave me the day-dreaming. I
never see that smudgy old print but I'm crying on the cavalry that made
the Frenchmen rout."

From where he sat the boy could make out the picture in every detail. It
was a scene of flying and broken troops, of men on the wings of terror
and dragoons riding them down. There was at the very front of the
picture, in a corner, among the flying Frenchmen pursued by the horses,
the presentment of a Scottish soldier, wounded, lying upon his back with
his elbows propped beneath him so that he had his head up, looking at
the action, a soldier of a thin long habit of body, a hollow face and
high cheekbones.

Gilian forgot the two old men in the room with him when he looked
intently on this soldier in the throes; he stood up from the chair, went
forward and put a finger as high as he could to point out the particular
thing he referred to. "That's a man," said he, "and he's afraid. He does
not hear the guns, nor the people crying, but he hears the horses' feet
thudding on the grass, and he thinks they will go over him and crush his
bones."

"Curse me," cried the Cornal, "but you have the thing to a nicety.
That's the man's notion, for a guinea, for I have been in his case
myself, and the thud of horses was a sound that filled the world. Sit
down, sit down!" he went on sharply, as if he had of a sudden found
something to reproach himself with in any complacent recognition of this
child's images. "You are not canny; how old are you?"

Gilian was trembling and parched at the lips now, awake to the enormity
of his forwardness. "I am twelve," he repeated.

"It is a cursed lie," said the Cornal hotly; "you're a hundred; don't
tell me!"

He was actually a little afraid of those manifestations, so unusual and
so remarkable. His excitement could with difficulty be concealed. Very
restlessly he moved about in his chair, and turned his look from the
General to the boy and back again, but the General sat with his chin in
his breast, his mind a vacancy.

"Look at the General there; you're fairly scunnering him with your
notions," said the Cornal. "I must speak to John about this. A soldier
indeed! You're not fit for it, lad; you have only the makings of a
dominie. Sit you there, and we'll see what John has to say about this
when he comes in: it is going on seven, and he'll be back from the dregy
in time for his supper."

Gilian sat trembling in his chair; the brothers leaned back in theirs
and breathed heavily and said no word, and never even stretched a hand
to the bottle of spirits. A solemn quiet again took possession of
the house, but for a door that slammed in the lower flat, shaking the
dwelling; the lulled sound of women's conversation at the oven-grate was
utterly stilled. The pigeons came to the sill a moment, mourned and flew
away; the carts did not rumble any more in the street; the children's
chorus was altogether lost. A feeling came over the boy that he had been
here or somewhere like it before, and he was fascinated, wondering what
next would happen. A tall old clock in the lobby, whose pendulum swung
so slowly that at first he had never realised its presence, at last
took advantage of the silence and swung itself into his notice with a
tick-tack. The silence seemed to thicken and press upon his ears;
no striving after fancy could bring the boy far enough off from that
strange convention, and try as he might to realise himself back in
his familiar places by the riverside at Ladyfield, the wings of his
imagining failed in their flight and he tumbled again into that austere
parlour sitting with two men utterly beyond his comprehension.

There was, at last, one sound that gave a little comfort, and checked
the tears that had begun to gather on the edges of his eyes. It came
from the direction of the kitchen; it was a creaking of the wooden
stairs; it was a faint shuffle of slippers in the lobby; then there was
a hush outside the door deeper even than the stillness within. Gilian
knew, as if he could see through the brown panelling, that a woman was
standing out there listening with her breath caught up and wondering
at the quiet within, yet afraid to open a door upon the mystery. The
brothers did not observe it; all this was too faint for their old ears,
though plainly heard by a child of the fields whose ear against the
grass could detect the marching of insects and the tunnelling of worms.
But for that he would have screamed--but for the magic air of friendship
and sympathy that flowed to him through chink and keyhole from the good
heart loud-beating outside; in that kind air of fond companionship (even
with a door between) there was comfort. In a little the slippers sped
back along the lobby, the stair creaked, in the lower flat a door
slammed. Gilian felt himself more deserted and friendless than ever, and
a few moments more would have found him break upon the appalling still
with sobs of cowardly surrender, but the church bell rang. It was the
first time he had heard its evening clamour, that, however far it might
search up the glens, never reached Lady-field, so deep among the hills,
and he had no more than recovered from the bewildering influence of its
unexpected alarm when the foot of the Paymaster sounded heavily on the
stair.

"You're here at last," said the Cornal, without looking at him.

"I was a thought later than I intended," said the Paymaster quickly,
putting his cane softly into a corner. "I had a little encounter with
that fellow Turner and it put by the time."

"What--Jamie?"

"No; Charlie."

"Man! I wonder at you, John," said the Cornal with a contempt in his
utterance and a tightening of the corner of his lips. "I wonder at you
changing words with him. What was it you were on?"

The Paymaster explained shortly, guardedly, because of Gilian's
presence, and as he spoke the purple of the Cornal's face turned to
livid and the scar became a sickly yellow. He rose and thumped his fist
upon the table.

"That was his defiance, was it?" he cried. "We are the old sonless
bachelors, are we, and the name's dead with the last of us? And you
argued with him about that! I would have put a hand on his cravat and
throttled him."

The Paymaster was abashed, but "Just consider, Colin," he pleaded. "I
am not so young as I was, and a bonny-like thing it would be to throttle
him on the ground he gave."

"Old Mars!" cried the Cornal, with a sneer. "Man! but MacColl hit your
character when he made his song; you were always well supplied by luck
with excuses for not fighting."

To the General the Paymaster turned with piteous appeal. "Dugald," said
he, "I'll leave it to you if Colin's acting fairly. Did ever I disgrace
the name of Campbell, or Gael, or soger?"

"I never said you did," cried the Cornal. "All I said was that fate was
a scurvy friend to you and seldom put you face to face with your foe
on any clear issue. Perhaps I said too much; I'm hot-tempered, I know;
never mind my taunt, John. But you'll allow it's galling to have a
beggarly upstart like Turner throwing our bachelorhood in our teeth. Now
if we had sons, or a son, one of us, I'll warrant we could bring him up
with more credit than Turner brings up his long-lugged Sandy, or that
randy lass of his."

"Isn't that what I told him?" said the Paymaster, scooping a great heap
of dust into his nostrils, and feverishly rubbing down the front of his
vest with a large handkerchief. "I wish----"

He stopped suddenly; he looked hard at Gilian, whose presence in the
shadow of the big chair he had seemingly forgotten; seeing him gaze
thus and pause, the Cornal turned too and looked at the youth, and the
General shrugged himself into some interest in the same object. Before
the gaze of the three brothers, the boy's skin burned; his eyes dropped.

"This is a queer callant you've brought us here," said the Cornal,
nudging his brother and nodding in Gilian's direction. "I've seen some
real diverts in my time, but he beats all. And you have a notion to
make a soger of him, they tell me. You heard that yourself, didn't you,
General?"

The General made no reply, for he was looking at the portrait of himself
when he was thirty-five, and to sit doing nothing in a house would have
been torture.

"I only said it in the by-going to Mary," explained the Paymaster
humbly. "The nature for sogering is the gift of God, and the boy may
have it or he may not; it is too soon to say."

"There's no more of the soger in him than there is of the writer in me!"
cried the Cornal; "but there's something by-ordinar in him all the same.
It's your affair, John, but--" He stopped short and looked again at
Gilian and hummed and ha'd a little and fingered his stock. "Man, do you
know I would not say but here's your son for you."

"That's what I thought myself," said the Paymaster, "and that's what I
said. I'll make him a soger if I can, and I'll make him hate the name of
Turner whether or not."

And all this time Gilian sat silently by, piecing out those scraps of
old men's passion with his child's fancy. He found this new world into
which he had been dragged, noisy, perplexing, interested apparently in
the most vague trifles. That they should lay out his future for warfare
and for hate, without any regard for his own wishes, was a little
alarming. Soldiering--with the man before him in the picture, sitting
propped up on his arms, frantic lest the horses should trample on
him--seemed the last trade on earth; as for hate, that might be easier
and due to his benefactor, but it would depend very much on the Turners.

When the brothers released him from their den, and he went to Miss Mary,
standing at the kitchen door, eager for his company, with a flush on her
cheek and a bright new ribbon at her neck, he laid those points before
her.

"Tuts!" said she, pressing food on him--her motherhood's only cure for
all a child's complaints--"they're only haverils. They cannot make a
soger of you against your will. As for the Turners--well, they're no
very likeable race, most of them in my mind. A dour, sour, up-setting
clan of no parentage. Perhaps that does not much matter, so long as
people are honest and well-doing; we are all equals before God except in
head and heart, but there's something too in our old Hielan' notion that
the closest kith of the King are aye most kindly, because the habit is
born in them to be freehanded and unafraid. Am not I the _oinseach_ to
be sticking up for pedigrees? Perhaps it is because our own is so good.
Kiels was ours three hundred years, and my grandfather was good-brother
to an earl--a not very good nor honest lord they say--and the Turners
were only portioners and tenants as far back as we ken."

"I liked the look of the one with his hair in a tail," said Gilian, and
he wondered if she was angry at his admiration of the enemy, when he saw
her face grow red.

--"Oh! the General!" she exclaimed, but never a word more, good or ill.



CHAPTER VII--THE MAN ON THE QUAY

It has always happened that the first steps of a boy from the glen have
been to the quay. There the ships lie clumsily on their bulging sides in
the ebb till the tar steams and blisters in the sun, or at the full they
lift and fall heavily like a sigh for the ocean's expanse as they feel
themselves prisoners to the rings and pawls. Their chains jerk and ease
upon the granite edges of the wall or twang tight across the quay so
that the mariners and fishermen moving about their business on this
stone-thrust to the sea must lift their clumping boots high to step
across those tethers of romance. At a full tide one walking down the
quay has beside him the dark aspiring bulwarks of the little but brave
adventurers, their seams gazing to the heat, their carvel timbers
striped by the ooze and brine of many oceans and the scum of ports. Upon
their poops their den-fire chimneys breathe a faint blue reek; the
iron of bilge-pump and pin is rust red; the companions are portals to
smelling depths where the bunks are in a perpetual gloom and the seamen
lie at night or in the heat of the day discontent with this period of
no roaming and remembering the tumbling waters and the far-off harbours
that must ever be more alluring than the harbours where we be. From the
ivy of the church the little birds come chaffering and twittering
among the shrouds, and the pigeon will perch upon a spar, so that the
sea-gull, the far-searcher, must wonder as he passes on a slant
of silent leathers at its daring thus to utilise the device of the
outermost seas and the most vehement storms. And side by side with
these, the adventurers, are the skiffs and smacks of the fishermen,
drilled in rows, brought bow up, taut on their anchors with their
lug-sails down on their masts to make deck tents for shelter from sun
or rain. With those sturdy black gabbarls and barques and those bronze
fishers, the bay from the quay to the walls of the Duke's garden, in its
season, stirs with life.

More than once when he had come to the town Gilian looked a little way
off from the Cross upon this busy concourse in the bay and wished that
he might venture on the quay, but the throng of tall, dark-shirted
fishermen and seafarers frightened him so that he must stand aloof
guessing at the nearer interest of the spectacle. Now that he was a town
boy with whole days in which to muster courage, he spurred himself up to
walk upon the quay at the first opportunity. It was the afternoon, the
tide lapped high upon the slips and stairs, a heaving lazy roll of water
so clear that the star-fish on the sandy bottom might plainly be seen
through great depths. The gunnies of the ships o'ertopped by many feet
the quay-wall and their chains rose slanting, tight from the rings. The
fishermen and their boats were far down on Cowal after signs of herring;
the bay was given up to barque and gabbart alone. For once a slumber
seemed to lie upon the place for ordinary so throng and cheerful; the
quay was Gilian's alone as he stepped wonderingly upon it and turned
an eye to the square ports open for an airing to the dens. In all the
company of the ships thus swaying at the quay-side there was no sign
of life beyond the smoke that rose from the stunted funnels. The boy's
fancy played among the masts like the birds from the ivy. These were
the galleys of Inishtore, that rode upon the seven seas for a king's son
with a hauberk of gold. The spicy isles, the silver sands, the songs the
_graugach_ sang below the prows when the sea dashed--they came all into
his vision of those little tarred hulks of commerce. He thought how fine
it would be to set foot upon those decks and loose the fastenings, and
drop down the sea-slope of the shepherds' stories till he came upon
Ibrisail, happy isle of play and laughter, where the sun never drops
below the ocean's marge.

In one of the vessels behind him, as he mused, a seaman noiselessly
thrust his head out at a companion to look the hour upon the town's
clock, and the boy, pale, fair-haired, pondering, with eyes upon the
shrouds of a gabbart, forced himself by his stillness and inaction upon
the man's notice. He was a little, stout, well-built man, with a face
tanned by sunshine and salt air to the semblance of Spanish mahogany,
with wide and searching eyes and long curled hair of the deepest black.
His dress was singularly perjink, cut trim and tight from a blue cloth,
the collar of a red shirt rolled over on the bosom, a pair of simple
gold rings pierced the ears. As he looked at the boy, he was humming
very softly to himself a Skye song, and he stopped in the midst of it
with "So '_iile_, have you lost your ship?" A playful scamp was revealed
in his smile.

Gilian turned round with a start of alarm, for he had been on some
coracle of fancy, sailing upon magic seas, and thus to break upon his
reverie with the high Gaelic of Skye was to plunge him in chilling
waters.

"_Thig an so_--come here," said the seaman, beckoning, setting an easy
foot upon the deck.

Gilian went slowly forward, he was amazed and fascinated by this
wondrous seaman come upon the stillness of the harbour without warning,
a traveller so important yet so affable in his invitation. Black Duncan
that day was in a good humour, for his owners had released him at last
from his weeks of tethering to the quay and this dull town and he was to
depart to-morrow with his cargo of timber. In a little he had Gilian's
history, and they were comrades. He took him round the deck and showed
its simple furniture, then in the den he told him mariners' tales of the
sea.

A Carron stove burned in the cabin, dimly, yet enough to throw at times
a flicker of light upon the black beams overhead, the vessel's ribs, the
bunks that hung upon them. Sitting on a sea-chest, Gilian felt the floor
lift and fall below him, a steady motion wholly new, yet confirming
every guess he had made in dreams of life upon the wave. A ceaseless
sound of water came through the wood, of the tide glucking along the
bows, surely to the mariner the sweetest of all sounds when he lies in
benign weather moving home upon the sigh of God.

Black Duncan but wanted a good listener. He was not quite the world's
traveller he would have Gilian believe; but he had voyaged in many
outlandish parts and a Skyeman's memory is long and his is the isle
where fancy riots. He made his simple ventures round the coast voyages
terrible and unending. The bays, the water-mouths, the rocks, the bosky
isles--he clothed them with delights, and made them float in the haze
wherein a boy untravelled would envelop them.

"There's a story I know." said Gilian, "of a young son who went to a
town where the king of Erin bides, and he found it full of music from
end to end, every street humming with song."

"Oh, lad, I have been there," said the seaman, unabashed, his teeth very
white in the brown of his smiling face. "You sail and sail in winds and
drift in calms, and there is a place called Erin's Eye and a mountain
rock behind it, and then you come upon the town of the king's daughter.
It is a town reeling with music; some people without the ears would miss
it, you and Black Duncan would be jigging to the sound of it. The world,
'_ille_ (and here's the sailorman who has sailed the seven seas and
knows its worst and best), is a very grand place to such as understand
and allow. I was born with a caul as we say; I know that I'll never
drown, so that when winds crack I feel safe in the most staggering ship.
I have gone into foreign ports in the dead of night, our hail for light
but answered by Sir Echo, and we would be waiting for light, with the
smell of flowers and trees about us, and--"

"That would be worth sailing for," said Gilian, looking hard at the
embers in the Carron stove.

"Or the beast of the wood might come roaring and bellowing to the
shore."

"That would be very frightsome," said Gilian with a shiver. "I have made
believe the hum of the bee in the heather at my ear as I lay on it in
the summer was the roar of the wild beast a long way off; it was uncanny
and I could make myself afraid of it, but when I liked it was the bee
again and the heather was no higher than my knee."

The seaman laughed till the den rang. He poked the fire and the flame
thrust out and made the boy and the man and the timbers and bunks dance
and shake in the world between light and shadow. "You are the sharpest
boy ever I conversed with," said he.

A run of the merriest, the sweetest, the most unconstrained laughter
broke overhead like a bird's song. They looked up and found the square
of blue sky broken at the hatch by a girl's head. A roguish face in
a toss of brown hair, seen thus above them against the sky, seemed to
Gilian the face of one of the fairies with which he had peopled the
seaman's isle.

"There you go!" cried Black Duncan, noway astonished. "Did I not tell
you never to come on board without halloo?"

"I cried," said the girl in a most pretty English that sounded all
the sweeter beside the seaman's broken and harsh accent in a language
foreign to him. "I cried 'O Duncan' twice and you never heard, so I knew
you were asleep in your dingy old den." She swung herself down as she
spoke and stood at the foot of the companion with the laugh renewed upon
her lips, a gush of happy heart.

"Indeed, Miss Nan, and I was not sleeping at all," said Black Duncan,
standing up and facing her; "if I was sleeping would there be a boy with
me here listening to the stories of the times when I was scouring the
oceans and not between here and the Clyde in your father's vessel?"

"Oh! a boy!" cried the girl, taken a little aback. "I did not know there
was a boy."

"And a glen boy, too," said the seaman, speaking in a language wherein
he knew himself more the equal of his master's daughter. "I told him
of Erin O and the music in its streets, and he does not make fun of my
telling like you, Miss Nan, because he understands."

The girl peered into the dark of the cabin at the face of Gilian that
seemed unwontedly long and pallid in the half light, with eyes burning
in sepulchral pits, repeating the flash of the embers. She was about his
own age--at most no more than a month or two younger, but with a glance
bold and assured that spoke of an early maturity.

"Oh! a Glen Aray boy," said she. "I never much care for them. You would
be telling him some of the tales there is no word of truth in."

"The finest tales in the world are like that," said Black Duncan.

She sat on the edge of a bunk and swung a little drab jean shoe.

The glamour of Black Duncan's stories fled for Gilian before this
presence like mist before a morning wind. So healthy, so ruddy, so
abrupt, she was so much in the actual world that for him to be dreaming
of others seemed a child's weakness.

"I was in the town with uncle," she said, "and I heard you were sailing
away to-morrow, and I thought I would come and say good-bye."

She spoke as prettily in her Gaelic as in her English.

"Ah, _mo run_," said the seaman, putting out his arms as to embrace her,
"am not I pleased that you should have Black Duncan in your mind so much
as to come and say 'fair wind to your sail'?"

"And you'll bring me the beads next time?" she said hastily.

"That will I," said he, smiling; "but you must sing me a song now or I
might forget them."

"Oh, I'll sing if----." She paused and looked doubtfully at Gilian, who
was still open-mouthed at her breezy vehemence.

"Never mind the boy," said the seaman, stretching himself to enjoy the
music at his ease; "if you make it 'The Rover' he will understand."

The afternoon was speeding. The sun had passed the trees that round the
Tolbooth walls and a beam from his majesty came boldly into the den by
the companion. It struck a slanting passage on the floor and revealed
the figure of a girl at her ease dangling her feet upon a water anker
with her hair a flood of spate-brown fallen back upon its fastening
band. And the boy saw her again as it were quite differently from
before, still the robust woman-child, but rich, ripe, blooded at
the plump inviting lip, warm at the throbbing neck. About her hung a
searching odour that overcame the common and vulgar odours of the ship,
its bilge, its tar, its oak-bark tan, its herring scale, an odour he
knew of woods in the wet spring weather. It made him think of short
grasses and the dewdrop glittering in the wet leaf; then the sky shone
blue against a tremble of airy leaf. The birch, the birch, he had it!
And having it he knew the secret of the odour. She had already the
woman's trick of washing her hair in the young birch brewings.

"I will sing 'The Rover' and I will sing 'The Man with the Coat of
Green,'" said she, with the generosity of one with many gifts. And she
started upon her ditty. She had a voice that as yet was only in its
making; it was but a promise of the future splendour, yet to Gilian, the
hearer, it brought a new and potent joy. With 'The Rover' he lived in
the woods, and set foot upon foreign wharves; 'The Man with the Coat
of Green' had his company upon the morning adventures in the islands of
fairydom. It was then, as in after years she was the woman serious, when
her own songs moved her, with her dalliance and indifference gone. A
tear trembled at her eyes at the trials of the folk she sang.

"You sing--you sing--you sing like the wind in the trees," said the
seaman, stirred to unaccustomed passion. The little cabin, when she
was done, seemed to shrink from the limitless width of the world to the
narrowness of a cell, and Gilian sat stunned. He had followed her
song in a rapture she had seen and delighted in for all the apparent
surrender of her emotion; she saw now the depth to which she had touched
him, and was greatly pleased with this conquest of her art. Clearly he
was no common Glen Aray boy, so she sang one or two more songs to show
the variety of her budget, and the tears he could not restrain were
her sweetest triumph. At last, "I must be going," said she. "Good-bye,
Duncan, and do not be forgetting my beads." Then she dashed on deck,
waiting no answer to that or to the friendly nod of parting to Gilian.

"Now isn't she a wonder?" asked the seaman, amused, astonished, proud.
"Did you ever hear singing like it?"

"I never did," said Gilian.

"Ah, she is almost as fine as a piper!" said the seaman. "She comes down
here every time I am at the quay and she will be singing here till the
timbers strain themselves to listen."

"I like her very much," said Gilian.

"Of course you do," the seaman cried, with a thump of his hard hand on
the edge of his bunk, "and would it not be very curious indeed if you
did not like her? I have heard women sing in many places--bold ones in
Amsterdam, and the shy dancers of Bermuda, but never her equal, and she
only a child. How she does it is the beat of me."

"I know," said Gilian, reddening a little to say so much to the seaman,
but emboldened by the shadows he sat among. "The birds sing that way
and the winds and the tide, because they have the feeling of it and they
must. And when she sings she is 'The Rover,' or she is 'The Man with the
Green Coat.'"

"Indeed, and it is very easy too when you explain," said the seaman,
whether in earnest or in fun the boy could not make out "She is the
strange one anyway, and they say General Turner, who's her father and
the man this ship belongs to, is not knowing very well what to make of
her. What is the matter with you?" For the boy's face was crimson as he
looked up the quay after the girl from the deck where now they stood.

"Oh," said Gilian, "I was just wondering if that would be the family the
Paymaster is not friendly with."

The seaman laughed. "That same!" said he. "And are you in the family
feud too? If that is so you'll hear little of Miss Nan's songs, I'm
thinking, and that is the folly of feuds. If I was you I would say
nothing about the _Jean_, and the lass who sang in her."



CHAPTER VIII--THE SHERIFF'S SUPPER PARTY

But Gilian was soon to hear the lass again.

It was a great town for supper parties. To make up, as it were, for the
lost peat-side parliaments or supper nights that for their fore-folk
made tolerable the quiet glens, the town people had many occasions of
social intercourse in each other's homes, where the winter nights, that
otherwise had been long and dreary, passed in harmless gaiety. The women
would put on their green Josephs and gaudiest quilted petticoats or
their tabinet gowns of Waterloo whose splendour kirk or market poorly
revealed for the shawls that must cover them. The men donned their best
figured waistcoats and their newest stocks, and cursed the fashions that
took them from their pipes and cards, but solaced themselves mightily
with the bottle in the host's bedroom. From those friendly convocations,
jealousies innumerable bred. It was not only that each other's gowns
raised unchristian thoughts in the bosoms of the women, but in a
community where each knew her neighbour and many were on equality,
there must be selections, and rancour rose. And it was the true Highland
rancour, concealing itself under a front of indifference and even
politeness, though the latter might be ice-cold in degree but burning
fiercely at the core.

A few days after Gilian came to town Miss Mary and her brothers were
submitted to a slight there could be no mistaking. It came from the
wife of the Sheriff, who was a half-sister of the Turners. The Sheriff's
servant had come up to the shop below the Paymaster's house early in the
forenoon for candles, and Miss Mary chanced to be in the shop when this
purchase was made. It could signify nothing but festivity, for even in
the Sheriff's the home-made candle was good enough for all but festive
nights.

Miss Mary went upstairs disturbed, curious, annoyed. She had got no
invitation to the Sheriff's, and yet here was the hint of some convivial
gathering such as she and her brothers had hitherto always been welcome
to.

"What do you think it will be, John?" she asked the Paymaster, telling
him what she had seen.

"Tuts," said he, "they'll just be out of dips. Or maybe the Sheriff has
an extra hard case at avizandum, not to be seen clearly through with a
common creesh flame."

"That's aye you," cried Miss Mary, indignant "People might slap you in
the face and you would have no interest."

She hastened to Peggy in the kitchen and Peggy shared her wonder, though
she was not permitted to see her annoyance. A plan was devised to find
out what this extravagance of candle might portend.

The maid took her water-stoups and went up to the Cross Well, where
women were busy at that hour of the day plying for the water of
Bealloch-an-uarain, that bubbles up deep in the heart of the hills, and
brings the coolness and refreshment of the shady wood into the burgh
street in the most intense days of summer warmth. She filled her stoups
composedly, set them down and gossiped, upset them as by accident, and
waited patiently her turn to fill them anew. Thus by twenty minutes'
skilful loitering she secured from the baxter's daughter the news that
there was a supper at the Sheriff's that very night, and that very large
tarts were at the firing in the baxter's oven.

"Oh, indeed!" cried Miss Mary, when her emissary brought to her those
tidings. "Then it seems the Campbells of Keil are not good enough
company for Sheriff Maclachlan's supper parties! My brother the Cornal,
and my brother the Major-General, would have their own idea about that
if so small a trifle as Madam's tart supper and green tea was worth
their notice or annoyance."

She was visibly disturbed, yet put on a certain air of indifference that
scarcely deceived even Peggy. The worst of it was there was no one
with whom she could share her annoyance, for, if the Paymaster had no
sympathy, the other two brothers were unapproachable. Gilian found her
in a little rain of tears. She started with shame at his discovery, and
set herself to a noisy handling of dinner dishes that by this time he
knew well enough were not in her daily office of industry. And she said
never a word--she that never heard his foot upon the stair without
a smile of pleasure, or saw his face at the door without a mother's
challenge to his appetite.

"What is wrong, aunty?" he said in the Gaelic, using the term it had
been agreed would best suit the new relationship.

"Just nothing at all, my dear," she said without looking round. "What
would be wrong?"

"But you are crying," protested Gilian, alarmed lest he in some way
should have been the cause of her distress.

"Am I?" said Miss Mary. "And if I am, it is just for a silly thing only
a woman would mind, a slight from people not worth heeding." And then
she told, still shamefacedly, her story.

Gilian was amazed.

"I did not think you cared for suppers and teas," he said. "The last
time you went to the Sheriffs you said you would far sooner be at home,
and--"

"Did I?" said she. Then she smiled to find some one who knew it was
not the outing she immediately prized. "Indeed, what you say is true,
Gilian. I'm an old done dame, and it was wiser for the like of me to
be sitting knitting at the fire than going on diverts to their bohea
parties and clashing supper tables. But it's not myself I'm angry for.
Oh, no! they might leave me alone for ever and a day and I would care
not a pin-head, but it's Dugald I'm thinking of--a Major-General--one of
the only three in the shire, and Colin--a Cornal--and both of Keils. The
Sheriff's lady might leave me out of her routs if she pleasured it, but
she has no cause to put my brothers to an insult like this." She said
"my brothers" with a high hard sound of stern and proud possession that
was very fine to hear. Even Gilian, as yet only beginning to know the
love and pride of this little woman, had, at her accent, a sudden deep
revealing of her devoted heart.

"It is the Turners' doing," she said, feverishly rubbing a warming pan
whose carved lid from Zaandam blinked and gleamed like the shining face
of a Dutch skipper over his dram. "I know them; because my brother
must be quarrelling with them, their half-sister must be taking up the
quarrel and shutting her door in our faces."

"The Turners! Then I hate them too," cried Gilian, won to the
Paymaster's side by the sorrow of Miss Mary.

"Oh, you must not say that, my dear," she cried, appalled. "It is not
your affair at all, and the Turners are not to blame because the Sheriff
is under the thumb of his madam. The Turners have their good points as
well as the rest of us, and--"

"They have a daughter," said Gilian, almost unconsciously, for there had
come flooding into his mind a vision of the sombre vessel's cabin, shot
over by a ray of sunshine, wherein a fairy sang of love and wandering.
And then he regretted he had spoke of hate for any of her name, for
surely (he thought) there should be no hate in the world for any that
had her blood and shared her home.

Surely in her people, knowing her so warm, so lovely, so kind, so
gifted, there could be no cruelty and wrong.

"I would not say I hated any one if I were you, my dear," said Miss
Mary; "but I would keep a cool side to the Turners, father, or daughter,
or son. Their daughter that you speak of was the cause of this new
quarrel. The Captain miscalled her to her father, which was not right,
for indeed she's a bonny lassie, and they tell me she sings--"

"Like the mavis,9' cried Gilian, still in his Gaelic and in a transport
of recollection.

"Where did you hear her?" asked Miss Mary.

Gilian, flushed and uneasy, told her of the performance in the ship.
Finding a listener neither inattentive nor without sympathy, he went
further still and told of the song's effect upon him, and that the
sweetness of it still abiding made his hatred of her people impossible.

"She'll do for looks too," said Miss Mary. "She takes them with her
singing from her mother, who was my dear companion before this trouble
rose."

"Oh! she looks like--like--like the _gruagach_ girl in the story," said
Gilian, remembering the tale of the sea-maiden who sat on the shore and
dressed her hair with a comb of gold.

"I hope she's not so uncanny," said Miss Mary with a laugh, "for the
_gruagach_ combed till a sweetheart came (that I should be talking of
such daft-like things!), and he was drowned and that was the end of
him."

"Still--still," said Gilian, "the _gruagach_ was worth the drowning
for."

Miss Mary looked at him with a sigh for a spirit so much to be envied.

"This may be but a chapter in a very old tale," said she. "It was with
a lass the feud came in." A saying full of mystery to the boy. Then she
changed the conversation back to her own affairs. "We'll take a walk out
in the gloaming and see all the Sheriff's friends," said she, "and
all the Sheriff's friends in this supper are Turner's friends and the
Paymaster's enemies."

The night of the Sheriff's supper party came with heavy showers and a
sky swept by clouds that let through glimpse of moon nor star. The town
lay in pitch darkness, all silent except for the plash of the sea upon
the shore or its long roll on the Ramparts. A deserted and wind-swept
street, its white walls streaming with waters, its outer shutters on the
ground fiats barred to darkness, its gutters running over--it was the
last night on which any one with finery and a notion for comfort would
choose for going abroad to parties. Miss Mary, sitting high at her
parlour window with Gilian, looked out through the blurred pane with
satisfaction upon all this inclemency.

"Faith," said she, "I wish them joy of their party whoever they be
that share it!" Then all at once her mood changed to one of pity as the
solitary street showed a moving light upon its footway. "Oh!" she cried.
"There's Donacha Breck's lantern and his wife will be with him. And
to-day she was at me for my jelly for a cold! I wish--I wish she was not
over the door this night; it will be the death of her. To-morrow I must
send her over the last of my Ladyfield honey."

From the window and in the darkness of the night, it was impossible to
tell who were for the Sheriffs party, so Miss Mary in the excess of her
curiosity must be out after a time and into the dripping darkness, with
Gilian by her side for companionship. It was an adventure altogether to
his liking. As he walked up and down the street on its darker side he
could think upon the things that were happening behind the drawn blinds
and bolted shutters. It was as if he was the single tenant of a sleeping
star and guessing at the mysteries of a universe. Stories were happening
behind the walls, fires were glimmering, suppers were set, each family
for the time being was in a world of its own, split off from its
neighbours by the darkness.

A few shops lay open, throwing faint radiance on the footpath that swam
in water.

Miss Mary went to the window of two sisters who made caps on the Lady
Charlotte model and mantuas inspired by a visit to Edinburgh five years
ago. She scanned the contents of the window carefully.

"It's gone; I knew it would be gone," she said in a whisper to Gilian,
withdrawing hastily from the revelation of the window as a footstep
sounded a little way down the street.

He awaited her explanation, not greatly interested, for the blank
expanse of the moaning sea round the corner of a tall tenement filled
him with new and moving emotions.

"There has been a cap there for a week with lilac trimmings for Rixa's
sister, and now it has gone. It was there this morning, and I saw her
lassie going by with a bandbox in the middle of the day. That's two pair
at least for the Sheriff's party."

"Would it not be easier to-morrow to ask some one who were all there?"
said Gilian.

She shook his arm with startled affright.

"Ask! ask!" she exclaimed. "If you dared let on to any one we even heard
there was a party, I would--I would--be terribly vexed. No, Gilian, we
must hold our heads a bit higher than that."

She passed with the boy from tenement to tenement.

"Major Hall and his sister are there," she said, showing darkened
windows. "And the Camerons and the Frasers," she added later, informed
by the same signs of absence.

Out came the late merchants and shuttered their little windows and
bolted up their doors, then retreated to their homes behind. More dark
than ever became the world, though the rain had ceased. Only a few
windows shone wanly in the upper flats and garrets. The wind moaning in
the through-going closes expressed a sense of desolation.

And yet the town was not all asleep but for the Sheriff's party and
Miss Mary and the Paymaster's boy, for there came from the Abercrombie,
though the door was shut discreetly, a muffled sound of carousal. It
was not, this time, the old half-pay officers but a lower plane of the
burgh's manhood, the salvage and the wreckage of the wars, privatemen
and sergeants, by a period of strife and travel made in some degree
unfit for the tame ways of peace in a stagnant burgh. They told the old
tales of the bivouac; they sang its naughty or swaggering songs. By a
plain deal door and some glasses of spirit they removed themselves from
the dull town drowsing in the night, and in the light of the Sergeant
More's cruisie moved again in the sacked towns of Ciudad Rodrigo,
Badajos and San Sebastian, gorged anew, perhaps, with blood and lust.

Miss Mary and Gilian passed the door of the Sergeant More hurriedly, she
deaf to its carousal, he remembering all at once and finding wake anew
his first feelings when he stood in the same room before the half-pay
officers at their midday drams. He had become a little tired of this
quest all to gratify an old maid's curiosity, he wished he could be home
again and in his attic room with his candle and his story book, or his
abundant and lively thoughts. But there was one other task before Miss
Mary. She could not forbear so little as a glance at the exterior of
the Sheriff's dwelling where the enemies of her home (as so she now must
fancy them) were trying to be happy without the company of the Campbells
of Keils. When they were in front of it every window shone across the
grass-plot, some of them open so that the sound of gaiety came clearly
to the woman and the boy. Miss Mary stood woebegone, suffused in tears.

"And there are my dear brothers at home yonder, their lee-lone, silent,
sitting in a parlour! Oh! it is shameful, it is shameful! And all for a
hasty word about a lass!"

Gilian before this curious sorrow was dumb. Silently he tried to lead
the little lady away from the place, but she would not go, and would not
be comforted. Then there came from the open windows the beginning of a
song. At the first note Gilian thrilled in every nerve.

"Fancy that now!" said Miss Mary, checking her tears. "No more than
a wean and here she must be singing at supper parties as brave as the
mother before her. It's a scandal! And it shows the bitterness of the
quarrel to have her here, for she was never here at supper before."

"But is she not fine?" said Gilian, with a passion in his utterance.

Nan it was, singing a Scots song, a song of sad and familiar mood, a
song of old loves, old summers, and into the darkness it came with a
sweetness almost magic.

"Is she not fine?" he said again, clutching with eager hands at the
rail and leaning over as far as he could to lose no single note of that
alluring melody.

"Oh, the dear! the dear!" sobbed Miss Mary, moved to her inmost by the
strain. "When I heard her first I thought it was her mother, and that
too her favourite song! Oh, the dear! the dear! and I to be the sinful
woman here on any quarrel for her!"

The song ceased, a window noisily closed, and Gilian fell back with a
shock upon a wet world with roads full of mire and a salt wind from the
sea moaning in the trees behind the town.

"What--what--what are we here for?" said he, beholding for the first
time the impropriety of this eavesdropping on the part of so genteel and
sensitive a dame.

She blushed in the dark with the shame the query roused. She had thought
him too young to understand the outrage this must be on her every sense
of Highland decency, and yet he could reprove her in a single sentence!

"You may well ask," she said, moving away from that alluring house-front
with its inmates so indifferent to the passions in the dark without And
her sobs were not yet finished. "Because I prize my brothers," said
she, "and grieve at any slight upon them, must I be spy upon my dead
companion's child?" She hurried her pace away from that house whose
windows stared in a dumb censure upon her humiliation. Gilian trudged
reluctantly at her side, confounded, but she seemed almost unconscious
that he was there, till he tugged with a shy sympathy at her gown. Then
she looked and beamed upon him with the mother-face.

"Do you like that girl?" said she.

"I like her--when she sings," said he.

"Oh! it was always that," she went on helplessly "My poor brothers!
They were not to blame, and she was not to blame, at least, not very
much perhaps; if blame there was, it lay with the providence that
brought them together." Then she stopped a moment with a pitiful
exclamation: "Oh! I was the instrument of providence in their case; but
for me, that loved them all, it might never have been. What am I doing
here with you? She may have her mother's nature as well as her mother's
songs."

For once Gilian found himself with many pieces of a tale he could not
put together, for all his ingenuity. He said nothing, but fumbled
in many trials at the pieces as he and the little lady walked up the
street, now deserted but for themselves and a man's footsteps sounding
on the flags. The man was on them before Miss Mary realised his coming.
It was Mr. Spencer of the New Inn. He stopped with a salutation, coming
upon them, as it happened, in the light of the oil-lamp at the Cross
Well, and a discreet surprise was in his visage.

"It is an inclement evening, Miss Campbell," he said, in a shrill high
dainty accent that made him seem a foreigner when in converse among the
guttural Highland burghers.

She answered in some confusion, and by this time he had found a reason
for her late hour abroad in the wet deserted street.

"You have left the Sheriff's early to-night," said he. "I was asked, but
I find myself something of the awkward stranger from the big world when
I come into the kind and homely gatherings of the clans here."

"I think we are not altogether out of the big world you speak of,"
said Miss Mary, in a chilly tone. "The mantua-maker tells me the latest
fashions are here from London sooner than they are in Edinburgh." She
saw in his face the innkeeper's apology for his common sin against
the Gaelic vanity. "We were just out for an airing," she added, taking
Gilian's hand in hers and squeezing it with meaning.

"I thought, ma'am, you were at the Sheriffs," said Mr. Spencer.

"Oh! there is a party in the Sheriff's, is there?" she said. "That is
very nice; they have a hospitable house and many friends. I must
hurry home to my brothers, who, like all old gentlemen, are a little
troublesome and care neither to move out at night, nor to let me leave
them to go out myself."

She smiled up in his face with just a hint of a little coquette that
died in her twenty years before. She said "Good-night," and then she was
gone.

Mr. Spencer's footsteps sounded more slowly on the flagstone as he
resumed his accustomed evening walk, in which for once his mind was not
on London town, and old friends there, but upon the odd thing that while
this old maid had smiled upon him, there was a tear very plain upon her
cheek.



CHAPTER IX--ACADEMIA

In the fulness of time, Gilian attained to the highest class in old
Brooks' school, pushed up thereto by no honest application of his own,
but by the luck that attends on such as have God's gift to begin
with. And now that he was among the children of the town he found them
lovable, but yet no more lovable than the children of the glen. The
magic he had fancied theirs as he surveyed them from a distance, the
fascination they had before, even when they had mocked with cries of
"Crotal-coat, Crotal-coat," did not very bravely stand a close trial.
He was not dismayed at this; he did as we must all be doing through life
and changed one illusion for another. It is a wonderful rich world for
dreams, and he had a different one every day, as he sat in the peaty
odour of instruction.

Old Brooks would perch high on his three-legged stool conning over some
exercise while his scholars in their rows behind the knife-hewn inky
desks hummed like bees upon their tasks. The hornbooks of the little
ones at the bottom of the room would sometimes fall from their hands in
the languor of that stagnant atmosphere, but the boys of the upper forms
were ever awake for mischief. To the teaching of the Dominie they would
come with pockets full of playthings, sometimes animals from the woods
and fields about the town--frogs, moles, hedgehogs, or fledgeling birds.
Brooks rarely suspected the presence of these distractions in his sacred
grove, for he was dull of vision and preferred to see his scholars about
him in a vague mist rather than wear in their presence the great horn
spectacles that were privy to his room in Crombie's Land. The town's
clock staring frankly in at the school windows conveyed to him no
knowledge of the passing enemy, and, as his watch had been for a
generation but a bulge upon his vest, he must wait till the hour struck
ere he knew it was meridian and time to cross the playground and into
Kate Bell's for his glass of waters. "Silence till I return!" he would
say, whipping on his better coat and making for the door that had no
sooner shut on him than tumult reigned.

On his way back from the tavern he would meet, perhaps, the Paymaster
making for the house of the Sergeant More. "I cannot understood,"
would the Paymaster say, "what makes you take your drams in so common
a civilian house as that. A man and a soldier keeps the Abercrombie, a
fellow who fought for his country. And look at the company! MacNicol and
Major Hall--and--and--myself and some of the best in the burgh; yet
you must be frequenting a low tavern with only merchants and mice and
fisherman to say 'Good health' to."

Master Brooks had always his answer very pat.

"I get a great abundance of old war tales in my books," he would say
drily. "And told with a greater ingenuity--not to mention veracity--than
pertain to the legends and histories of you old campaigners. Between
ourselves, I'm not for war at all, but for the far finer and more
wholesome rarity called peace. Captain, Captain!" (and here would he
grasp the Paymaster by the coat lapels with the friendly freedom of an
old acquaintance,) "Captain, Captain! it is not a world for war though
we are the fools to be fancying so, but a world for good-fellowship, so
short the period we have of it, so wonderful the mind of them about us,
so kind with all their faults! I find more of the natural human in the
back room of Kate's there where the merchants discourse upon their bales
and accounts than I would among your half-pay gentry who would have the
country knee-deep in blood every day in the calendar if they had their
way of it."

"It's aye the old story with you," the Paymaster would say tolerantly.
"You cannot see that if this country has not its wars and rumours of
wars, its marchings-off and weedings-out, it would die of a rot. I hope
you are not putting too many notions of that clerkly kind in the boy's
head. Eh? I would be vexed to have my plans for him spoiled and a
possible good soldier turned into a swindling writer."

"The boy's made, Captain Campbell," said the schoolmaster one day at
this. "He was made and his end appointed ere ever he came to your house
or felt my ferule-end. He is of the dream nature and he will be what
he will be. I can no more fashion him to the common standard than I can
make the fir-tree like unto the juniper. I've had many a curious student
yonder, wild and tame, dunce and genius, but this one baffles me. He was
a while up in the glen school, they tell me, and he learned there such
rudiments as he has, but what he knows best was never learned anywhere
but as the tinkler learns--by the roadside and in the wood."

"I know he's a droll one," said the Paymaster, uneasily, with a
thoughtful brow, "but you have the reputation, Mr. Brooks, you have
turned out lads who were a credit to you. If it is not in him, thwack it
in with your tawse."

The Dominie flushed a little. He never cared to have the tawse
mentioned; it was an ally he felt ashamed of in his fight with ignorance
and he used it rarely, though custom and the natural perverse-ness of
youth made its presence necessary in his desk.

"Captain Campbell," said he, "it is not the tawse that ever put wisdom
into a head like yon. The boy is unco, the boy is a _lusus naturo_, that
is all; as sharp as a needle when his interest is aroused, as absent as
an idiot when it is not, and then no tawse or ferule will avail."

And while the Paymaster and the Dominie were thus discussing Gilian, the
school would be in a tumult whereof he was sometimes the leader. To him
the restraints were galling shackles. When the classes would be humming
in the drowsy afternoon and the sharp high voice of old Brooks rose
above the murmur as he taught some little class in the upper corner, the
boy would be gazing with vacant eyes at the whitewashed wall in front of
him, or looking out at the beech branches that tapped in faint breezes
at the back windows, or listening with an ecstatic ear to the crisp
contact of stone and scythe as the mowers in the fields behind put a
new edge on their instruments. Oh! the outer world was ever the world
of charm for him, winter or summer, as he sat in that constrained and
humming school. That sound of scythes a-sharping was more pleasing to
his ear than the poetry Mr. Brooks imposed upon his scholars, showing,
himself, how to read it with a fierce high limping accent as if it were
a thing offensive. When hail or rain rattled on the branches, when snow
in great flakes settled down or droves of cattle for distant markets
went bellowing through the street, it was with difficulty the boy kept
himself to his seat and did not rise and run out where his fancy so
peremptorily called.

If he learned from books at all, it was from the wonderful, dusty,
mildewed volumes that Marget Maclean had on her shelves behind the
post-office. She was one of three sisters and they were all so much
alike that Gilian, with many other boys, never learned to know one from
the other, so it was ever Marget who was behind the counter, a thin old
lady of carefully nurtured gentility, with cheeks like a winter apple
for hue, with eyebrows arching high in a perpetual surprise at so
hurried and ridiculous a world, and a curled brown wig that was
suspected of doing duty for the three sisters who were never seen but
one at a time. Marget Maclean's little shop was the dullest in the
street, but it was the anteroom of fairydom for Gilian who borrowed
books there with the pence cozened from Miss Mary. In the choosing of
them he had no voice. He had but to pay his penny and Marget would peer
through her glasses at the short rows of volumes until she came upon the
book she thought most suited for her customer.

"You will find that a good one," she would say. "The one you mention
is not at all good; it was very fashionable last spring, but it is not
asked for now at all." And in proof that the volume she recommended
was quite genteel, she would add: "That one was up at the Castle last
Saturday. Lady Charlotte's maid, you will notice, wet all the pages
crying over the places where the lover went to sea another voyage. It
is a very clever book, my dear, and I think there is a moral, I do not
remember what the moral is, but I know there is one or else I would not
recommend it. It is in large black type you see, and there is a great
deal of speaking in parlours in it, which is always informing and nice
in a book."

"You have none of Mr. Scott's poetry?" asked Gilian one day, moved
thereto by an extract read by Brooks to his scholars.

"Scott, Scott," said Miss Marget. "Now let me think, my dear."

She turned her odd thin figure and her borrowed curls bobbed behind her
ears as she tilted up her head and glanced along the shelves for what
she knew was not there.

"No, my boy," she said. "We have none of Mr. Scott's works at present.
There is a demand among some people for Mr. Scott I believe, but," here
she frowned slightly, "I do not think you are old enough for poetry.
It is too romantic, and--it lingers in the memory. I have not read him
myself though I hear he is clever--in a way. I would not say that I
object to Mr. Scott, but I do not recommend him to my young customers."

So off Gilian would go with his book under his arm to the Ramparts. The
Ramparts were about the old Tolbooth and kept crime within and the sea
without. Up would the tide come in certain weathers thrashing on the
granite cubes, beating as it might be for freedom to the misunderstood
within, beating and hissing and falling back and dashing in again and
streaming out between the joints of masonry in briny jets. Half-way up
the Ramparts was a foot-wide ledge, and here the boy would walk round
the bastions and in the square face to the sea would sit upon the ledge
with his legs dangling over the water and read his volume. It might be
the "Mysteries of Udolpho," "Thaddeus of Warsaw," "Moll Flanders," or
"Belinda," the story of one Random, a wandering vagabond, or Crusoe, but
no matter where the story led, the boy whose feet dangled over the sea
was there. And long though the tale might be Gilian pieced it out in
fancy by many pages. His situation on the Ramparts was an aid to his
imagination, for as he sat there the sea would be sluggishly rolling
below or beating in petulant waves and he floated, as it were, between
sea and sky, as free from earth's clogging influence as the gannet that
soared above.

He sought the Ramparts because for a boy of his age to read in books,
except as a task of the school, was something shameful; and he had been
long accustomed to the mid-air trip upon the walls ere some other boys
discovered him guilty, flushing and trembling with a story book in his
hand. They looked with astonishment at their discovery and were prepared
to jeer when his wits came to his rescue. He tore out one or two leaves
of the book, twisted them into a rough semblance of a boat and cast them
in the water.

"Watch," said he, "you'll see the big ones are sunk sooner than the
little ones."

"Do not tear the good book," said one of the boys, Young Islay, shocked,
or pretending to be so, at the destruction.

"Oh! it's only a stupid story," said Gilian, tearing again at the
treasure, with an agony that could have been no greater had it been his
heart. He had to forego many books from Marget Maclean to make up for
this one, but at least he had escaped the irony of his companions.

Yet not books were his first lovers and friends and teachers, so much as
the creatures of the wild, and the aspects of nature. Often the Dominie
missed him from his accustomed place at the foot of the class, and there
was no explanation to offer when he returned. He had suffered again the
wood's fascination. In the upper part of the glen he had been content
with little clumps and plantings, the caldine woods of Kincreggan or the
hazels whereof the shepherds made their crooks. But the forest lay for
miles behind the town, a great land of shade and pillars where the winds
roved and tangled. It abounded in wild life, and sounded ever in spring
and summer with songs and cries. Into its glades he would wander and
stand delirious to the solitude, tingling to the wild. The dim vistas
about him had no affrights; he was at home, he was the child of the
tranquil, the loving mother, whose lap is the pasture-land and forest.
Autumn fills those woods with the very breath of melancholy, no birds
will sing in the multitudinous cloisters except the birds of the night
whose melody is one doleful and mocking note. The bracken burns and
withers, lush grass rots and whitens above the fir-roots, the birds flit
from shade to shade with no carolling. And over all will stand the trees
sleeping with their heads a-nod.

He would walk among the noisy fallen leaves, posturing the heroes of his
reading or his own imagination about him in the landscape--a pleasant
recreation. He would set Bruce the king himself sitting at a cave-mouth,
a young gentleman with a queue like Turner's, pondering upon freedom,
while the spiders wrought for his instruction; deer breaking from covert
to dash away, or moving in stately herds across the forest openings,
became a foreign cavalry. Sometimes he would take a book to the upper
hunting-roads, where rarely any intrusion came except from some gillie
or fisher of the lochs far back in the moors, and stretched on dry
bracken he would read and dream for hours.

It was in such an attitude Young Islay found him on the Saturday after
the episode on the Ramparts. Gilian was in the midst of the same book,
trying hard to fill up the gaps that his sacrifice of leaves had brought
into the narrative, and Young Islay going a-fishing in the moor-lochs,
a keen sportsman all alone, stood over him a very much surprised
discoverer.

He gave an halloo that brought Gilian to his feet alarmed, for it
happened to fit in with some passage in his mind where foes cried. In
vain the book went behind the Paymaster's boy; Islay saw the ragged
pages.

"Oh!" he cried, "you'll not cheat me this time; you're reading." An
annoying contempt was in his manner, and as he stood with his basket
slung upon his back, and his rod in the crook of an arm, like a gun,
a straight, sturdy lad of neat limb, a handsome face, and short black
curls, he was, for a moment, more admirable in Gilian's eyes than the
hero of the book he was ashamed to show.

"I had it in my pocket," said Gilian, in a poor, ineffective
explanation, relinquishing the volume with a grudge to the examination
of this cynic.

"You pretended on the Ramparts you were tearing it up like any other
boy," said Young Islay, "and I was sure you were doing nothing of the
kind." He turned over the pages with scornful fingers. "It's not a
school-book, there's not a picture in it, it's full of talking--fancy
being here with that rubbish, when you might be fishing with me!"

Gilian snatched the volume from him. "You don't know anything about it!"
he cried.

"I know _you_ at any rate," said Young Islay craftily. "You were ashamed
of your book; you come here often with books; you do nothing like
anybody else; you should have been a girl!"

All the resentment of the Paymaster's boy sprung to his head at this
taunt; he threw the book down and dashed a small fist in Young Islay's
face. There he found a youth not slow to reply. Down went the rod and
the book, and with the fishing-basket swinging and beating at his back,
Young Islay fell upon the zealous student. Gilian's arms, as he defended
or aimed futile blows, felt, in a little, as heavy as lead. Between
each blow he aimed there seemed to be a great space of time, and yet his
enemy was striking with rapidity.

"Are you beaten?" at last cried Young Islay, drawing back for a truce.

"No," said Gilian, gasping. "I'm only tired,'' but he looked bloody and
vanquished.

"It's the same thing," said Young Islay, picking up his rod. "You can
do nothing with your hands; I--I can do anything." And he drew up with a
bantam's vanity. He moved off. The torn book was in his path. He kicked
it before him like a football until he reached the ditch beside the
hunting road, and there he left it. A little later Gilian saw him in a
distant vista of the trees as an old hunter of the wood, with a gun
in his hand and his spoil upon his back, breasting the brae with long
strides, a figure of achievement altogether admirable.



CHAPTER X--ON HIS MAJESTY'S SERVICE

Marget Maclean (or one of her sisters) was accustomed when the mails
contained a letter on His Majesty's Service for the Paymaster, to put
on a bonnet, and in a mild flurry cross the street, feeling herself a
sharer in the great matters of State. So important was the mission
that she had been known even to shut her shop door for the time of
her absence upon eager and numerous youths waiting the purchase of her
superior "black man," a comfit more succulent with her than with Jenny
Anderson in Crombie's Land, or on older patrons seeking the hire of the
new sensation in literature--something with a tomb by Mrs. Radcliffe.

"Tell your mistress I wish to see her," she would say on these occasions
with great pomp to Peggy, but even Miss Mary was not sufficiently close
to State to be entrusted with the missive. "Goodday, Miss Campbell, I
called to see Captain John on important business," and the blue document
with its legend and seal would be clutched with mittened hands tight to
the faded bodice.

Miss Mary shared some of this awe for State documents; at least she
helped out the illusion that they were worth all this anxiety on the
part of the post-office, and she would call the Paymaster from
his breakfast. His part on the other hand was to depreciate their
importance. He would take the most weighty and portentous with an air of
contempt.

"What's this, Miss Maclean?" he would say impatiently with the
snuff-pinch suspended between his pocket and his nose. "A king's letter.
Confound the man! what can he be wanting now?" Then with a careless
forefinger he would break the seal and turn the paper outside in,
heedless (to all appearance) as if it were an old copy of the _Courier_.

One day such a letter sent his face flaming as he returned to the
breakfast table. He looked at Miss Mary, sitting subdued behind her urn
and Gilian at her side, and then at his brothers, hardly yet awake
in the early morning, whose breakfasts in that small-windowed room it
needed two or three candles to illuminate.

"The county corps is coming south this way," said he, with a great
restraint upon his feelings.

Cornal Colin turned on him a lustreless eye.

"What havers are you on now, John?" said he, with no pause in the
supping of his porridge. Dugald paid no heed. With a hand a little
palsied he buttered a scone, and his lower lip was dropped and his eyes
were vacant, showing him far absent in the spirit. Conversation was
never very rife at the Paymaster's breakfast table.

"I'm telling you the county corps is coming south," said Mars, with what
for him to the field officer was almost testiness. "Here's a command for
billeting three hundred men on Friday night on their way to Dumbarton."

Up stood the Cornal with a face transfigured. He stretched across the
table and almost rudely clutched the paper from his brother's hand, cast
a fast glance at the contents and superscription, then sat again and
gave a little choked cheer, the hurrah of spent youth and joyfulness.
"Curse me! but it's true," he cried to the General. "The old 91st under
Crawford--Jiggy Crawford we called him for his dance in the ken at
Madrid before he exchanged--Friday, Friday; where's my uniform, Mary?
They'll be raw recruits, I'll warrant, not the old stuff, but--are you
hearing, Dugald? Oh! the Army, the Army! Let me see--yes, it says six
pipers and thirty band. My medals, Mary, are they in the shuttle of my
kist yet? The 91st--God! I wish it was our own; would I not show them!
You are not hearing a word I am saying, Dugald."

He paused in a feverish movement in his chair, thrust off from him
with a clatter of dishes and a spilling of milk the breakfast still
unfinished, and stared with annoyance at the General. Dugald picked at
his fish with no appetite, seeing nothing, hearing nothing, a silent old
man palsied on one side, with a high bald head full of visions. "What's
that about the Argyls?" he said at last, with a start, brought to by the
tone and accent of his brother.

Cornal Colin cleared his throat, and read the notification of the billet

"Friday, did you say Friday?" asked Dugald, all abstraction gone.

"This very Friday."

The old man rose and threw back his shoulders with some of the gallantry
of his prime. He walked without a word to the window and looked at the
deserted street. Ten--fifteen--twenty years fell from his back as thus
he stood in the mingled light of the wan reluctant morning and the
guttering candles on the table. To Miss Mary, looking at him there
against the morning light, his figure--black and indefinite--was the
figure that went to Spain, the strong figure, the straight figure, the
figure that filled its clothes with manliness. There was but the oval
of the bald high head to spoil the illusion. He turned again and looked
into the candle-lit room, but seeing nothing there, for all his mind was
elsewhere.

"I thought," he muttered, brokenly, "I thought I would never see
red-coat again." Then he straightened his shoulders anew, and flexed the
sinews of his knees, and pressed the palsied hand against the breeches'
seam. The exertion brought a cough to his throat, a choking resistless
cough of age and clogging humours. It was Time's mocking reminder that
the morning parade was over for ever, and now the soldier must be at
ease. He gasped and spluttered, his figure lost its tenseness, and from
the fit of coughing he came back again an old and feeble man. He looked
at his hand trembling against his waist, at his feet in their large and
clumsy slippers; he looked at the picture of himself upon the wall, then
quitted the room with something like a sob upon his lip.

"Man! he's in a droll key about it!" said the Paymaster, breaking the
silence. "What in all the world is his vexation?"

Miss Mary put down her handkerchief impatiently and loaded Gilian at her
side with embarrassing attentions.

"What--in--all--the--world--is--his vexation?" mocked the Cornal in the
Captain's high and squeaking voice, reddening at the face and his
scar purpling. "That's a terribly stupid question to put, Jock.
What--in--all--the--world--is--his--vexation? If you had the soger's
heart and your brother's past you would not be asking what an ancient's
sorrow at his own lost strength might mean. Oh, man, man! make a
pretence at spirit even if the Almighty denied it to you!"

He tossed the letter from him, almost in his brother's face.

The Paymaster held his anger in leash. He was incapable of comprehending
and he was, too, afraid. With a forced laugh, he pressed the creases
from the document.

"Oh, I'm glad enough to see the corps," said he, "if that's what you
mean. If I have not your honours from the Army, I'm as fond of Geordie's
uniform as any man of my years. I'll get the best billets in the town
for----"

The Cornal scowled and interjected, "Ay, ay, and you'll make all the
fraca that need be about the lads, and cock your hat to the fife, and
march and act the veteran as if you were Moore himself, but you'll
be far away from knowing what of their pomp and youth is stirring the
hearts of your brother Dugald and me. The Army is all bye for us, Jock,
Boney's by the heels; there's younger men upon the roster if the foreign
route is called again in the barrack yard."

His glance fell upon Gilian, wide-eyed, wonderful, in the shade beside
Miss Mary's chair, and he turned to him with a different accent.

"There _you_ are!" said he, "my wan-faced warlock. What would Colin
Campbell, Commander of the Bath, not give to be your age again and all
the world before him? Do you say your prayers at night, laddie, before
you go to your naked bed in the garret? I'll warrant Mary taught you
that if she taught you nothing else. Pray every night then that Heaven
may give you thew and heart and a touch of the old Hielan' glory that
this mechanic body by my side has got through the world wanting. Oh,
laddie, laddie, what a chance is yours! To hear the drum in the morning
and see the sun glint on the line; to sail away and march with pipe or
bugle in foreign countries; to have a thousand good companions round
about the same camp-fires and know the lift and splendour of parades in
captured towns. It's all bye for me; I'm an old pensioner rotting to the
tomb in a landward burgh packed with relics like myself, and as; God's
in heaven, I often wish I was with brother Jamie yonder fallen in my
prime with a clod stopping the youth and spirit in my throat."

"Tut, tut, now we're in our flights!" said the Paymaster, not very
audibly, so that in his transport the Cornal never heard.

"_Are_ you for the Army?" asked the Cornal, like a recruiting sergeant
bringing the question home to a lad at a country fair; and he fixed
Gilian with an eye there was no baffling.

"I would--I would like it fine," said Gilian stammering, "if it was all
like that."

"Like what?" asked the Cornal, subdued, and a hand behind his ear to
listen.

"Like that--" repeated the boy, trembling though Miss Mary's fingers
were on his. "All the morning time, all with trumpets and the same
friends about the camp-fire. Always the lift inside and the notion to go
on and on and----"

He stopped for want of English words to tell the sentiment completely.

The Cornal looked at him now wistfully.

"I would not say, Gilian," said he, "but what there might be the makings
of a soger in you yet. If you have not the sinews for it you have
the sense. You'll see a swatch on Friday of what I talked about and
we'll--Come away this minute, Mary, and look me out my uniform. Jiggy
Crawford! Young Jiggy that danced in the booze-house in Madrid! He was
Ensign then and now he has his spurs and handles tartan. He is at the
very topmost of the thing and I am going down, down, down, out, out,
out, like this, and this, and this," and so saying he pinched out the
candle flames one by one. The morning swept into the room, no longer
with a rival, lighting up this parlour of old people, showing the
wrinkles and the grey hairs and the parchment-covered knuckles, and in
its midst the Paymaster's boy with a transfigured face and a head full
of martial glory.



CHAPTER XI--THE SOUND OF THE DRUM

And the same spirit, martial, poetic, make-believe, stayed with Gilian
up till the Friday. It was hard indeed to escape it, for was not the
town about him in a ferment of anticipation? In our sleeping community
we know no longer what of zest the very name of the Army had for the
people now asleep in the rank grasses of Kilmalieu. The old war-dogs
made more lingering sederunts in the change-houses, the low taverns in
the back lands sounded with bragging chorus and debate, and in the room
of the Sergeant More the half-pay gentlemen mixed more potently their
midday drams. The burgh ceased its industry, and the Duke, coming down
the street upon his horse, saw most of the people who should be working
for his wages leaning upon the gables indolent or sitting at the open
windows with the tumblers at their hands, singing naughty songs.

He leaned over, and with his crop rapped upon the factor's door. Old
Islay came out with a quill behind his ear and a finger to his brow.

"What is wrong in the place to-day?" asked his Grace with a flourish of
his crop about him to the lounging rascals and the groups at the tavern
doors. "Am I paying good day's wages for the like of that?"

Islay Campbell bobbed and smirked. "It's the coming of the army," said
he. "The county corps comes to-morrow and your men are all dukes to-day.
They would not do a hand's turn for an emperor."

"Humph!" said Duke George. "I wish I could throw off life's
responsibilities so easily. The rogues! the rogues!" he mused, soothing
his horse's neck with a fine and kindly hand. "I suppose it's in
them, this unrest and liability to uproar under the circumstances.
My father--well, well, let them be." His heels turned the horse in a
graceful curvet "I'm saying, Islay," he cried over his shoulder, "have a
free cask or two at the Cross in the morning."

But it was in the Paymaster's house that the fullest stress, the most
nervous restlessness of anticipation were apparent. The Paymaster's
snuff was now in two vest-pockets and even then was insufficient, as
he went about the town from morning till night babbling in excited
half-sentences of war, and the fields he had never fought in, to men who
smiled behind his back. His brothers' slumbers in the silent parlour had
been utterly destroyed till "Me-the-day!" Miss Mary had to cry at last
when her maid brought back untasted viands, "I wish the army was never
to darken our gates, for two daft men up there have never taken a
respectable meal since the billet order came. Dugald will be none the
better for this."

All this excitement sustained the tremulous feeling at the boy's
heart. There must be something after all, he thought, in the soldier's
experience that is precious and lasting when those old men could find in
a rumour the spark to set the smouldering fire in a blaze. He wondered
to see the heavy eyelids of the General open and the pupils fill as
he had never seen them do before, to hear a quite new accent, though
sometimes a melancholy, in his voice, and behold a distaste to his
familiar chair with its stuffed and lazy arms. The Cornal's character
suffered a change too. He that had been gruff and indifferent took on a
pleasing though awkward geniality. He would jest with Miss Mary till
she cried "The man's doited!" though she clearly liked it; to Gilian he
began the narration of an unending series of campaign tales.

Listening to those old chronicles, Gilian made himself ever their hero.
It was he who took the flag at Fuentes d'Onoro, cutting the Frenchman to
the chin; it was he who rode at Busaco and heard the Marshal cry "Well
done!"; when the shots were threshing like rain out of a black cloud at
Ciudad Rodrigo, and the soldiers were falling to it like ripe grain
in thunderplumps, he was in the front with every "whe--e--et" of the
bullets at his ear bringing the moment's alarm to his teeth in a checked
sucking-in of air. Back to the school he went, a head full of dreams,
to sit dumb before his books, with unwinking eyes fixed upon the
battle-lines upon the page--the unbroken ranks of letters, or upon the
blistered and bruised plaster of the wall to see horsemen at the charge
and flags flying. Then in the absence of Brooks at the tavern of
Kate Bell, Gilian led the school in a charge of cavalry, shouting,
commanding, cheering, weeping for the desertion of his men at deadly
embrasures till the schoolboys stood back amazed at his reality, and
he was left to come to himself with a shiver, alone on the lid of the
master's desk in the middle of the floor, utterly ashamed before the
vexed but sadly tolerant gaze of the dominie.

Old Brooks took him by the ear, not painfully, when he had scrambled
down from the crumbled battlements where his troops had left him.

"At the play-acting again, Master Gilian?" said the dominie a little
bitterly, a little humorously. "And what might it be this time?"

"Sogers," said the boy most red and awkward.

"Ay, ay," said Brooks, releasing his ear and turning his face to him
with a kind enough hand on his shoulder. "Soldiers is it? And the
playground and the play-hour are not enough for a play of that kind.
Soldiers! H'm! So the lessons of the gentlemen up-bye are not to be in
vain. I thought different, could I be wrong now? And you're going to
meet Captain Campbell's most darling wish. Eh? You have begun the trade
early, and I could well desire you had a better head for the counts.
Give me the mathematician and I will make something of him; give me a
boy like yourself, with his head stuffed with feathers and the airs of
heaven blowing them about through the lug-holes and--my work's hopeless.
Laddie, laddie, go to your task! If you become the soldier you play-act
to-day you'll please the Paymaster; I could scarcely wish for better
and--and--I maybe wished for worse."

That night Gilian went to bed in his garret while yet the daylight was
abroad and the birds were still chattering in the pear-trees in the
garden. He wished the night to pass quickly that the morrow and the
soldiers should find him still in his fine anticipation.

He woke in the dark. The house was still. A rumour of the sea came up
to his window and a faint wind sighed in the garden. Suddenly, as he lay
guessing at the hour and tossing, there sounded something far-off and
unusual that must have wakened half the sleeping town. The boy sat
up and listened with breath caught and straining ears. No, no, it was
nothing; the breeze had gone round; the night was wholly still; what he
had heard was but in the fringes of his dream. But stay! there it was
again, the throb of a drum far-off in the night. It faded again in
veering currents of the wind, then woke more robust and unmistakable.
The drums! the drums! the drums! The rumour of the sea was lost, no more
the wind sighed in the pears, all the voices of nature were dumb to that
throb of war. It came nearer and nearer and still the boy was all in
darkness in a house betraying no other waking than his own, quivering
to an emotion the most passionate of his life. For with the call of the
approaching drums there entered to him all the sentiment of the family
of that house, the sentiment of the soldier, the full proclamation of
his connection with a thousand years of warrior clans.

The drums, the drums, the drums! Up he got and dressed and silently down
the stair and through a sleeping household to the street. He of all that
dwelling had heard the drums that to ancient soldiers surely should have
been more startling, but the town was in a tumult ere he reached the
Cross. The windows flared up in the topmost of the tall lands, and
the doors stood open to the street while men and women swept along the
causeway. The drums, the drums, the drums! Oh! the terror and the joy of
them, the wonder, the alarm, the sweet wild thrill of them for Gilian as
he ran bare-legged, bare-headed, to the factor's corner there to stand
awaiting the troops now marching on the highway through the wood! There
was but a star or two of light in all the grudging sky, and the sea, a
beast of blackness, growled and crunched upon the shore. The drums, the
drums, the drums! Fronting that monotonous but pregnant music by the
drummers of the regiment still unseen, the people of the burgh waited
whispering, afraid like the Paymaster's boy to shatter the charm of
that delightful terror. Then of a sudden the town roared and shook to
a twofold rattle of the skins and the shrill of fifes as the corps
from the north, forced by their jocular Colonel to a night march, swept
through the arches and wheeled upon the grassy esplanade. Was it a trick
of the soldier who in youth had danced in the ken in Madrid that he
should thus startle the hosts of his regiment, and that passing through
the town, he should for a little make his men move like ghosts, saying
no word to any one of the aghast natives, but moving mechanically in the
darkness to the rattle of the drums? The drums, the drums, the drums!
Gilian stood entranced as they passed, looming large and innumerable in
the darkness, unchallenged and uncheered by the bewildered citizens. It
was the very entrance he could have chosen. For now they were ghosts,
legions of the air in borrowed boots of the earth, shades of some army
cut down in swathes and pitted in the fashion of the Cornal's bloodiest
stories. And now they were the foreign invader, dumb because they did
not know the native language, pitying this doomed community but moving
in to strike it at the vitals.



CHAPTER XII--ILLUSION

He followed them to the square, still with the drums pounding and the
fifes shrilling, and now the town was awake in every window. At a word
the Colonel on his horse dispelled the illusion. "Halt!" he cried; the
drum and fife ceased, the arms grounded, the soldiers clamoured for
their billets. Over the hill of Strone the morning paled, out of
the gloom the phantom body came a corps most human, thirsty, hungry,
travel-strained.

Gilian ran home and found the household awake but unconscious of the
great doings in the town.

"What!" cried the Cornal, when he heard the news. "They came here this
morning and this is the first we have of it." He was in a fever of
annoyance. "Dugald, Dugald, are you hearing? The Army's in the town, it
moved in when we were snoring and only the boy heard it. I hope Jiggy
Crawford does not make it out a black affront to him that we were not
there to welcome him. My uniform, Mary, my uniform, it should be aired
and ironed, and here at my hand, and I'll warrant it's never out of the
press yet. It was the boy that heard the drums; it was you that heard
the drums, Gilian. Curse me, but I believe you'll make a soger yet!"

For the next few days, Gilian felt he must indeed be the soldier the
Paymaster would make him, for soldiering was in the air. The red-coats
gaily filled the street; parade and exercise, evening dance and the
continuous sound of pipe and drum left no room for any other interest in
life. Heretofore there was ever for the boy in his visions of the Army a
background of unable years and a palsied hand, slow decay in a parlour,
with every zest and glamour gone. But here in the men who stepped always
to melody there was youth, seemingly a singular enjoyment of life, and
watching them he was filled with envy.

When the day came that they must go he was inconsolable though he made
no complaint. They went in the afternoon by the lowlands road that bends
about the upper bay skirting the Duke's flower gardens, and with the
Cornal and the Paymaster he went to see them depart, the General left
at home in his parlour, unaccountably unwilling to say good-bye. The
companies moved in a splendour of sunshine with their arms bedazzling to
look upon, their pipers playing "Bundle and Go."

"Look at the young one!" whispered the Cornal in his brother's ear,
nudging him to attention. Gilian was walking in step to the corps, his
shoulders hack, his head erect, a hazel switch shouldered like a musket.
But it was the face of him that most compelled attention for it revealed
a multitude of emotions. His fancy ran far ahead of the tramping force
thudding the dust on the highway. He was now the Army's child
indeed, stepping round the world to a lilt of the bagpipes, with the
_currachd_--the caul of safety--as surely his as it was Black Duncan the
seaman's. There were battles in the open, and leaguering of towns,
but his was the enchanted corps moving from country to country through
victory, and always the same comrades were about the camp-fire at night.
Now he was the foot-man, obedient, marching, marching, marching, all
day, while the wayside cottars wondered and admired; now he was the
fugleman, set before his company as the example of good and honest and
handsome soldiery; now he was Captain--Colonel--General, with a horse
between his knees, his easy body swaying in the saddle as he rode among
the villages and towns. The friendly people ran (so his fancy continued)
to their close-mouths to look upon his regiment passing to the roll and
thunder of the drums and the cheery music of the pipes. Long days of
march and battle, numerous nights of wearied ease upon the heather, if
heather there should be, the applause of citadels, the smile of girls.
The smile of girls! It came on him, that, with a rush of blood to his
face and a strange tingling at the heart as the one true influence to
make the soldier. For what should the soldier wander but to come again
home triumphant, and find on the doorstep of his native place the
smiling girls?

"Look at him, look at him!" cried the Cornal again with a nudge at his
brother's arm. They were walking over the bridge and the pipes still
were at their melody. Jiggy Crawford's braid shone like moving torches
at his shoulder as the sun smote hot upon his horse and him. The trees
upon the left leaned before the breeze to share this glory; far-off
the lonely hills, the great and barren hills, were melancholy that they
could not touch closer on the grandeur of man. As it were in a story of
the shealings, the little ones of the town and wayside houses pattered
in the rear of the troops, enchanted, their bare legs stretching to the
rhythm of the soldiers' footsteps, the children of hope, the children
of illusion and desire, and behind them, sad, weary, everything
accomplished, the men who had seen the big wars and had many times
marched thus gaily and were now no more capable.

"It is the last we'll ever see of it, John," said the Cornal. "Oh, man,
man, if I were young again!" His foot was very heavy and slow as he
followed the last he would witness of what had been his pride; his
staff, that he tried to carry like a sword, roust go down now and then
to seek a firmness in the sandy foot-way. Not for long at a time but in
frequent flashes of remembrance he would throw back his shoulders and
lift high his head and step out in time to the music.

The Paymaster walked between him and Gilian, a little more robust and
youthful, altogether in a different key, a key critical, jealous of the
soldier lads that now he could not emulate. They were smart enough, he
confessed, but they were not what the 46th had been; Crawford had a good
carriage on his horse but--but--he was not----

"Oh, do not haver, Jock," said the Cornal, angrily at last; "do
not haver! They are stout lads, good lads enough, like what we were
ourselves when first the wars summoned us, and Crawford, as he sits
there, might very well be Dugald as I saw him ride about the bend of the
road at San Sebastian and look across the sandy bay to see the rock we
had to conquer. Let you and me say nothing that is not kind, Colin; have
we not had our own day of it with the best? and no doubt when we were at
the marching there were ancients on the roadside to swear we were never
their equal. They are in there in the grass and bracken where you and
I must some day join them and young lads still will be marching out to
glory."

"In there among the grass and bracken," thought Gilian, turning a moment
to look up the slope that leads to Kilmalieu. The laurel drugged the
air with death's odour. "In the grasses and the bracken," said Gilian,
singing it to himself as if it were a coronach. Was that indeed the end
of it all, of the hope, the lilt, the glory? And then he had a great
pity for the dead that in their own time had been on many a march
like this. Their tombs are thick in Kilmalieu. It seemed so cruel,
so heedless, so taunting thus to march past them with no obeisance or
remembrance, that to them, the dead soldiers, all his heart went out,
and he hated the quick who marched upon the highway.

But Crawford, like the best that have humour, had pity and pathos too.
"Slow march!" he cried to his men, and the pipers played "Lochaber No
More."

"He's punctilious in his forms," said the Paymaster, "but it's
thoughtful of him too."

"There was never but true _duine uasail_ put on the tartan of Argyll,"
said the Cornal.

The pipes ceased; the drums beat again, echoing from the Sgornach rock
and the woody caverns of Blaranbui, Glenshira filled to the lip with
rolling thunder, the sea lulled to a whisper on the shore. Gilian and
the children were now all that were left to follow the soldiers, for the
oldsters had cheered feebly and gone back. And as he walked close up on
the rear of the troops, his mind was again on the good fortune of those
that from warfare must return. To come home after long years, and go up
the street so well acquaint, sitting bravely on his horse, paled in
the complexion somewhat from a wound, perhaps with the scar of it as
perpetual memorial, and to behold pity and pride in the look of them
that saw him! It would be such a day as this, he chose, with the sun
upon his braid and the sheen upon his horse's neck. The pipers would
play merrily and yet with a melancholy too, and so crowded the causeways
by the waiting community that even the windows must be open to their
overflowing.

And as thus he walked and dreamt saying no word to any of the chattering
bairns about him he was truly the Army's child. The Paymaster was right,
and generous to choose for him so fine a calling; the Cornal made
no error, the soldier's was the life for youth and spirit. He had
no objection now to all their plans for his future, the Army was his
choice.

It was then, at the Boshang Gate that leads to Dhuloch, Maam, Kilblaan
and all the loveliness of Shira Glen, that even his dreaming eyes found
Nan the girl within the gates watching the soldiers pass. Her face was
flushed with transport, her little shoes beat time to the tread of the
soldiers. They passed with a smile compelled upon their sunburnt faces,
to see her so sweet, so beautiful, so sensible to their glory. And
there was among them an ensign, young, slim, and blue-eyed; he wafted
a vagabond kiss as he passed, blowing it from his finger-tips as he
marched in the rear of his company. She tossed her hair from her temples
as the moon throws the cloud apart and beamed brightly and merrily and
sent him back his symbol with a daring charm.

Gilian's dream of the Army fled. At the sight of Nan behind the Boshang
Gate he was startled to recognise that the girls he had thought of
as smiling on the soldier's return had all the smile of this one, the
nut-brown hair of this one, her glance so fearless and withal so kind
and tender. At once the roll of the drums lost its magic for his ear;
a caprice of sun behind a fleck of cloud dulled the splendour of the
Colonel's braid; Gilian lingered at the gate and let the soldiers go
their way.

For a little the girl never looked at him as he stood there with
the world (all but her, perhaps) so commonplace and dull after the
splendours of his mind. Her eyes were fixed upon the marching soldiers
now nearing the Gearron and about her lips played the smile of wonder
and pleasure.

At last the drumming ceased as the soldiers entered the wood of Strone,
still followed by the children. In the silence that fell so suddenly,
the country-side seemed solitary and sad. The great distant melancholy
hills were themselves again with no jealousy of the wayside trees
dreaming on their feet as they swayed in the lullaby wind. Nan turned
with a look yet enraptured and seemed for the first time to know the boy
was there on the other side of the gate alone.

"Oh!" she said, with the shudder of a woman's delight in her accent. "I
wish I were a soldier."

"It might be good enough to be one," he answered, in the same native
tongue her feeling had made her choose unconsciously to express itself.

"But this is the worst of it," she said, pitifully; "I am a girl, and
Sandy is to be the soldier though he was too lazy to come down the glen
to-day to see them away, and I must stay at home and work at samplers
and seams and bake bannocks."

With wanton petulant fingers she pulled the haws from the hedge beside
her, and took a strand of her hair between her teeth and bit it in her
reverie of wilfulness.

"Perhaps," said Gilian, coming closer, "it is better to be at home and
soldiering in your mind instead of marching and fighting." It was a
thought that came to him in a flash and must find words, but somehow he
felt ashamed when he had uttered them.

"I do not understand you a bit," said Nan, with a puzzled look in her
face. "Oh, you mean to pretend to yourself," she added immediately.
"That might be good enough for a girl, but surely it would not be good
enough for you. You are to be a soldier, my father says, and he laughs
as if it were something droll."

"It is not droll at all," said Gilian stammering, very much put out.
"There are three old soldiers in our house and----"

"One of them Captain Mars, Captain Mars, Who never saw scars!" said the
girl mischievously, familiar with the town's song. "I hope you do not
think of being a soldier like Mars. Perhaps that is what my father
laughs at when he says the Paymaster is to make you a soldier."

"Oh, that!" said Gilian, a little relieved. "I thought you were thinking
I would not be man enough for a soldier."

Nan opened the gate and came out to measure herself beside him. "You're
a little bigger than I am," said she, somewhat regretfully. "Perhaps you
will be big enough for a soldier. But what about that when you think you
would sooner stay at home and pretend, than go with the army? Did you
see the soldier who kissed his hand to me? The liberty!" And she laughed
with odd gaiety as if her mood resented the soldier's freedom.

"He was very thin and little," said Gilian, enviously.

"I thought he was quite big enough," said Nan promptly, "and he was so
good-looking!"

"Was he?" asked Gilian gloomily. "Well, he was not like the Cornal or
the General. They were real soldiers and have seen tremendous wars."

"I daresay," said Nan, "but no more than my father. I cannot but wonder
at you; with the chance to be a soldier like my father or--or the
General, being willing to sit at home pretending or play-acting it in
school or----"

"I did not say I would prefer it," said the boy; "I only said it could
be done."

"I believe you would sooner do it that way than the other," she said,
standing back from him, and looking with shrewd scrutiny. "Oh, I don't
like the kind of boy you are."

"Except when you are singing, and then you like to have me listening
because I understand," said Gilian, smiling with pleasure at his own
astuteness.

She reddened at his discovery and then laughed in some confusion. "You
are thinking of the time I sang in the cabin to Black Duncan. You looked
so white and curious sitting yonder in the dark, I could have stopped my
song and laughed."

"You could not," he answered quite boldly, "because your eyes were----"

"Never mind that," said she abruptly. "I was not speaking of singing or
of eyes, but I'm telling you I like men, men, men, the kind of men who
do things, brave things, hard things, like soldiers. Oh, I wish I was
the soldier who kissed his hand to me! What is pretending and thinking?
I can do that in a way at home over my sampler or my white seam. But to
be commanding, and fighting the enemies of the country, to be good with
the sword and the gun and strong with a horse, like my father!"

"I have seen your father," said Gilian. "That is the kind of soldier
I would like to be." He said so, generously, with some of the Highland
flauery; he said so meaning it, for Turner the bold, the handsome, the
adventurer, the man with years of foreign life in mystery, was always
the ideal soldier of Brooks' school.

"You are a far nicer boy than I thought you were," said she enjoying
the compliment. "Only--only--I think when you can pretend so much
to yourself you cannot so well do the things you pretend. You can be
soldiering in your mind so like the real thing that you may never go
soldiering at all. And of course that would not be the sort of soldier
my father is."

A mellowed wail of the bagpipe came from Strone, the last farewell of
the departing soldiers; it was but a moment, then was gone. The wind
changed from the land, suddenly the odours of the traffics of peace blew
familiarly, the scents of gathered hay and the more elusive perfume of
yellowing corn. A myriad birds, among them the noisy rooks the blackest
and most numerous, sped home. In the bay the skiffs spread out their
pinions, the halyards singing in the blocks, the men ye-hoing. For a
space the bows rose and fell, lazy, reluctant to be moving in their
weary wrestle with the sea, then tore into the blue and made a feather
of white. Gilian looked at them and saw them the birds of night and sea,
the birds of prey, the howlets of the brine, flying large and powerful
throughout the under-sky that is salt and swinging and never lit by moon
or star. And as the boats followed each other out of the bay, a gallant
company, the crews leaned on tiller or on mast and sang their Gaelic
_iorrams_ that ever have the zest of the oar, the melancholy of the
wave.

As it were in a pious surrender to the influence of the hour, he and
the girl walked slowly, silently, by the wayside, busy with their own
imaginings. They were all alone.

Beyond the Boshang Gate is an entrance to the policies, the parks, the
gardens, of the Duke, standing open with a welcome, a trim roadway edged
with bush and tree. Into it Nan and Gilian walked, almost heedless, it
might seem, of each other's presence, she plucking wild flowers as she
went from bush to bush, humming the refrain of the fishers' songs, he
with his eyes wide open looking straight before him yet with some vague
content to have her there for his companion.

When they spoke again they were in the cloistered wood, the sea hidden
by the massive trees.

"I will show you my heron's nest," said Gilian, anxious to add to the
riches the ramble would confer on her.

She was delighted. Gilian at school had the reputation of knowing
the most wonderful things of the woods, and few were taken into his
confidence.

He led her a little from the path to the base of a tall tree with its
trunk for many yards up as bare as a pillar.

"There it is," he said, pointing upward to a knot of gathered twigs
swaying in the upper branches.

"Oh! is it so high as that?" she cried, with disappointment. "What is
the use of showing me that? I cannot see the inside and the birds."

"But there are no birds now," said Gilian; "they are flown long ago.
Still I'm sure you can easily fancy them there. I see them quite
plainly. There are three eggs, green-blue like the sky up the glen, and
now--now there are three grey hairy little birds with tufts on their
heads. Do you not see their beaks opening?"

"Of course I don't," said Nan impatiently, straining her eyes for the
tree-top. "If they are all flown how can I see them?"

Gilian was disappointed with her. "But you think you see them, you think
very hard," he said, "and if you think very hard they will be there
quite true."

Nan stamped her foot angrily. "You are daft," said she. "I don't believe
you ever saw them yourself."

"I tell you I did," he protested hotly.

"Were you up the tree?" she pressed, looking him through with eyes that
then and always wrenched the prosaic truth from him.

He flushed more redly than in his eagerness of showing the nest, his
eyes fell, he stammered.

"Well," said he, "I did not climb the tree. What is the good when I know
what is there? It is a heron's nest."

"But there might have been no eggs and no birds in it at all," she
argued.

"That's just it," said he eagerly. "Lots of boys would be for climbing
and finding that out, and think how vexatious it would be after all that
trouble! I just made the eggs and the young ones out of my own mind, and
that is far better."

At the innocence of the explanation Nan laughed till the woods rang. Her
brown hair fell upon her neck and brow, the flowers tumbled at her feet
all mingled and beautiful as if summer has been raining on its queen. A
bird rose from the thicket, chuck-chucking in alarm, then fled, trailing
behind him a golden chain of melody.



CHAPTER XIII--A GHOST

I think that in the trees, the dryads, the leaf-haunters invisible, so
sad in childlessness, ceased their swinging to look upon the boy and
girl so enviable in their innocence and happiness. Gilian knelt and
gathered up the flowers. It was, perhaps, more to hide his vexation than
from courtesy that he did so, but the act was so unboylike, so deferring
in its manner, that it restored to Nan as much of her good humour as her
laughter had not brought back with it. As he lifted the flowers and put
them together, there seemed to come from the fresh lush stalks of them
some essence of the girl whose hands had culled and grasped them, a
feeling of her warm palm. And when handing her the re-gathered flowers
he felt the actual touch of her fingers, his head for a second swam. He
wondered. For in the touch there had been something even more potent
and pleasing than in the mother-touch of Miss Mary's hand that day when
first he came to the town, the mother-touch that revealed a world not
of kindness alone--for that was not new, he had it from the little old
woman whose face was like a nut--but of understanding and sympathy.

"Have you any more wonders to show?" said Nan, now all in the humour of
adventure.

"Nothing you would care for," he said. "There are lots of places just
for thinking at, but----"

"I would rather them to be places to be seeing at," said Nan.

Gilian reflected, and "You know the Lady's Linn?" he said.

She nodded.

"Well," said he. "Do you know the story of it, and why it is called the
Lady's Linn?"

Nan confessed her ignorance; but a story--oh, that was good enough!

"Come to the Linn and I'll show you the place, then," said Gilian, and
he led her among the grasses, among the tall commanding brackens, upon
the old moss that gave no whisper to the footfall, so that, for
the nymphs among the trees, the pair of them might be comrades too,
immortal. A few moments brought them to the Linn, a deep pool in the
river bend, lying so calm that the blue field of heaven and its wisps
of cloud astray like lambs were painted on its surface. Round about, the
banks rose steep, magnificent with flowers.

"See," said Gilian, pointing to the reflection at their feet. "Does it
not look like a piece of the sky tumbled among the grasses? I sometimes
think, to see it like that, that to fall into it would be to tangle with
the stars."

Nan only laughed and stooped to lift a stone.

She threw it into the very midst of the pool, and the mirror of the
heavens was shattered.

"I never thought I could throw into the sky so far," she said
mischievously, pleased as it seemed to spoil the illusion in so sudden
and sufficient a manner.

"Oh!" he cried, pained to the quick, "you should not have done that, it
will spoil the story."

"What is the story?" she said, sitting and looking down upon the
troubled pool.

"You must wait till the water is calm again," said he, seating himself a
little below her on the bank, and watching the water-rings subside.
Then when the pool had regained its old placidity, with the flecked sky
pictured on it, he began his Gaelic story.

"Once upon a time," said he, in the manner of the shealing tales, "there
was a lady with eyes like the sea, and hair blowing like the tassel of
the fir, and she was a daughter of the King in Knapdale, and she looked
upon the world and she was weary. There came a little man to her from
the wood and he said, 'Go seven days, three upon water and four upon
land, and you will come to a place where the moon's sister swims, and
there will be the earl's son and the husband.' The lady travelled seven
days, three upon water and four upon land, and she came to the Linn
where the sister of the moon was swimming. 'Where is my earl's son
that is to be-my husband?' she asked: and the moon's sister said he was
hunting in the two roads that lie below the river bed. The lady, who was
the daughter of the King of Knapdale, shut her eyes that were like the
sea, and tied in a cushion above her head her hair that was like the
tassel of the fir, and broke the crystal door of dream and reached the
two hunting roads in the bed of the river. 'We are two brothers,' said
the watchers, standing at the end of the roads, 'and we are the sons of
earls.' She thought and thought 'I am Sir Sleep,' said the younger. 'And
will you be true?' said she. 'Almost half the time, he answered. She
thought and thought. 'I am very weary,' she said. 'Then come with
me,' said the other, 'I am the Older Brother.' She heard above her the
clanging at the door of dream as she went with the Older Brother. And
she was happy for evermore."

"Oh, that is a stupid story," said Nan. "It's not a true story at all.
You could tell it to me anywhere, and why should we be troubled walking
to the Linn?"

"Because this is the Lady's Linn," said Gilian, "and to be telling a
story you must be putting a place in it or it will not sound true. And
Gillesbeg Aotram who told me the story--"

"Gillesbeg Aotram!" she said in amaze. "He's daft. If I thought it was a
daft man's story I had to hear I----"

"He's not daft at all," protested Gilian. "He's only different from his
neighbours."

"That is being daft," said she. "But it is a very clever tale and you
tell it very well. You must tell me more stories. Do you know any more
stories? I like soldier stories. My father tells me a great many."

"The Cornal tells me a great many too," said Gilian, "but they are all
true, and they do not sound true, and I have to make them all up again
in my own mind. But this is not the place for soldier stories; every
place has its own kind of story, and this is the place for fairy stories
if you care for them."

"I like them well enough," she answered dubiously, "though I like better
the stories where people are doing things."

They rose from their seat of illusion beside the Linn where the King of
Knapdale's daughter broke the gate of sleep and dream. They walked into
the Duke's flower garden. And now the day was done, the sun had gone
behind Creag Dubh while they were sitting by the river; a grey-brown
dusk wrapped up the country-side. The tall trees that were so numerous
outside changed here to shorter darker foreign trees, and yews that
never waved in winds, but seemed the ghosts of trees, to thickets
profound, with secrets in their recesses. In and out among these
unfamiliar growths walked Nan and her companion, their pathway crooking
in a maze of newer wonders on either hand. One star peered from the sky,
the faint wind of the afternoon had sunk to a hint of mingled and moving
odours.

Gilian took the girl's hand, and thus together they went deeper into the
garden among the flowers that perfumed the air till it seemed drugged
and heavy. They walked and walked in the maze of intersecting roads
whose pebbles grated to the foot, and, so magic the place, there seemed
no end to their journey.

Nan became alarmed. "I wish I had never come," said she. "I want home."
And the tears were very close upon her eyes.

"Yes, yes," said Gilian, leading her on through paths he had never seen
before. "We will get out in a moment. I know--I think I know, the road.
It is this way--no, it is this way--no, I am wrong."

But he did not cease to lead her through the garden. The long unending
rows of gay flowers stretching in the haze of evening, the parterres
spread in gaudy patches, the rich revelation of moss and grass between
the trees and shrubs were wholly new to him; they stirred to thrills of
wonder and delight.

"Isn't it fine, fine?" he asked her in a whisper lest the charm should
fly.

She answered with a sob he did not hear, so keen his thrall to the
enchantment. No sign of human habitation lay around except the gravelled
walks; the castle towers were hid, the boat-strewn sea was on their
left no more. Only the clumps of trees were there, the mossy grass, the
flowers whose beauty and plenteousness mocked the posie in the girl's
hands. They walked now silent, expectant every moment of the exit that
somehow baffled, and at last they came upon the noble lawn. It stretched
from their feet into a remote encroaching eve, no trees beyond visible,
no break in all its grey-green flatness edged on either hand by wood.
And now the sky had many stars.

Their gravelled path had ceased abruptly; before them the lawn spread
like a lake, and they were shy to venture on its surface.

"Let us go on; I must go home, I am far from home," said Nan, in a
trepidation, her flowers shed, her eyes moist with tears. And into
her voice had come a strain of dependence on the boy, an accent more
pleasing than any he had heard in her before.

"We must walk across there," he said, looking at the far-off vague edge;
but yet he made no move to meet the wishes of the girl now clinging to
his arm.

"Come, come," said she, and pressed him gently at the arm; but yet he
stood dubious in the dusk.

"Are you afraid?" she asked, herself whispering, she could not tell why.

He felt his face burn at the reflection; he shook her hand off
almost angrily. "Afraid!" said he. "Not I; what makes you think that?
Only--only----" His eyes were staring at the lawn.

"Only what?" she whispered again, seeking his side for the comfort of
his presence.

"It is stupid," he confessed, shame in his accent, "but they say the
fairies dance there, and I think we might be looking for another way."

At the confession, Nan's mood of fear that Gilian had conferred on her
was gone. She drew back and laughed with as much heartiness as at his
story of the heron's nest. The dusk was all around and they were all
alone, lost in a magic garden, but she forgot all in this new revelation
of her companion's strange belief. She turned and ran across the lawn,
crying as she went, "Follow me, follow me!" and Gilian, all the ecstasy
of that lingering moment on the edge of fancy gone, ran after her,
feeling himself a child of dream, and her the woman made for action.

A sadden opening in the thicket revealed the shore, the highway, the
quay with its bobbing lamps, the town with its upper windows lighted. At
the gateway of the garden the Cornal met them, He was close on them in
the dusk before he knew them, and seeing Gilian he peered closely in
the girl face.

"Who's this?" said he abruptly.

Gilian hesitated, vaguely fearing to reveal her identity, and Nan shrank
back, all her memories of conversation in Maam telling her that here was
an enemy.

Again the Cornal bent and looked more closely, lifting her chin up that
he might see the better. She flashed a glance of defiance in his scarred
old parchment face, and he drew his hand back as if he had been stung.

"Nan! Nan!" cried he, with a curious voice. "What witchery is this?" He
was in a tremble, Then he started and laughed bitterly. "Oh no, not
Nan!" said he. "Oh no, not Nan!" with the most rueful accent, almost
chanting it as if it were a dirge.

"'It _is_ Nan," said Gilian.

"It is her breathing image," said the old man. "It is Nan, no doubt, but
not the Nan I knew."

She turned and sped home by the seaside, without farewell, alarmed at
this oddity, and Gilian and the Cornal stood alone, the Cornal looking
after her with a wistfulness in his very attitude.

"The same, the same, the very same!" said he to himself, in words the
boy could plainly hear. "Her mother to the very defiance of her eye."
He clutched Gilian rudely by the shoulder. "What," said he; "were you
wandering about with that girl for? Answer me that. They told me you
were off after the soldiers, and I came up here hoping it true. It would
have been the daft but likeable cantrip I should have forgiven in any
boy of mine; it would have shown some sign of a sogerly emprise. And
here you are, with a lass wandering! Where were you?"

Gilian explained.

"In the flower garden? Ay! ay! A lassie on the roadside met your fancy
more than Geordie's men of war. Thank God, I was never like that! And
Turner's daughter above all! If she's like her mother in her heart
as she's like her in the face, it might be a bitter notion for your
future."

He led the way home, muttering to himself. "Nan! Nan! It gave me the
start! It was nearly a stroke for me! The same look about her! She is
dead, dead and buried, and in her daughter she defies us still!"



CHAPTER XIV--THE CORNAL'S LOVE STORY

Miss Mary, in great tribulation, was waiting on them at the stair-foot,
her face, with all its trouble in dark and throbbing lines, lit up by
the lamp above the merchant's door. When she saw her brother coming with
Gilian she ran forward on the footway, caught the boy by the hand and
drew him in.

"I am very angry, oh, I am terribly angry with you!" she cried. "Do not
speak a word to me." She pushed him into a chair and spread thick butter
on a scone and thrust it in his hand. "To frighten us like this! The
Captain is all over the town for you, and the General has sent men to
drag for you about the quay."

Peggy the maid smiled over her mistress's shoulder at the youth. He ate
his scone with great complacency, heartened by this token that something
of Miss Mary's vexation was assumed. Not perhaps her vexation--for were
her eyes not red as with weeping?--but her anger, if she had really been
angry.

"You are a perfect heartbreak," she went on

"The Cornal heard you had run off after the sogers, and------"

"Would that vex you?" asked Gilian.

"It would not vex Colin; he would give his only infant, if he had one,
to the army; but I was thinking of you left behind in the march about
the loch-head, and lost and starving somewhere about the wood of
Dunderave."

"I would not starve in Dunderave so long as the nut and bramble were
there," said Gilian, rejoicing in her kindly perturbation. "And I could
not be lost anywhere--"

"--Except in the Duke's flower garden, wasting the time with--with--a
woman's daughter," said the Cornal, putting his head in at the kitchen
door. He frowned upon his sister for her too prompt kindness to the
rover, and she hid behind her a cup of new-skimmed cream. "Come upstairs
and have a talk with Dugald and me," he went on to the boy.

"Will it not do in the morning?" asked Miss Mary, all shaking, dreading
her darling's punishment.

"No," said the Cornal, "Now or never. Oh! you need have no fears that I
would put him to the triangle."

"Then I may go too?" said Miss Mary.

The Cornal put the boy in front of him and pushed him towards the
stair-foot. "You stay where you are," he said to his sister. "This will
be a man's sederunt."

They went up the stair together and entered the parlour, to find the
General half-sleeping in his lug-chair. He started at the apparition of
the entering youth.

"You are not drowned after all," said he, "and there's my money gone
that I spent for a gross of stenlock hooks to grapple you."

"Sit down there," said the Cornal, pointing to the chair in which Gilian
had first stood court-martial. The bottle was brought forth from the
cupboard; the glasses were ranged again by the General. In the grate a
sea-coal fire burned brightly, its glance striking golden now and then
upon the polished woodwork of the room and all its dusky corners, more
golden, more warm, more generous, than the wan disheartened rays of
the candles that shook a smoky flame above the board. Gilian waited his
punishment with more wonderment than fear. What could be said to him for
a misadventure? He had done no harm except to cause an hour or two of
apprehension, and if he had been with one whose company was forbidden it
had never been forbidden to him.

"It's a fine carry-on this," said the Cornal, breaking the silence. "Ay,
it's a fine carry-on." He stretched the upper part of his body over the
low table with his arms spread out, and looked into the boy's eyes with
a glance more judicial than severe. "Here are we doing our best to make
a man of you, more in a brag against gentry that need not be named in
this house than for human kindness, though that is not wanting I assure
you, and what must you be at but colloguing and, perhaps, plotting
with the daughter of the gentry in question? I will not exactly say
plotting," he hastened to amend, remembering apparently that before him
were but the rudiments of a man. "I will not say plotting, but at least
you were in a way to make us a laugh to the whole community. Do you know
anything of the girl that you were with?"

"I met her in the school before she got her governess."

"Oh, ay! they must be making the leddy of her; that was the spoiling of
her mother before her. As if old Brooks could not be learning any woman
enough schooling to carry on a career in a kitchen. And have you seen
her elsewhere?"

"I heard her once singing on her father's vessel," said Gilian.

"She was singing!" cried the Cornal, standing to his feet and thumping
the table till the glasses rang. "Has she that art of the devil too? Her
mother had it; ay! her mother had it, and it would go to your head like
strong drink. Would it not, Dugald? You know the dame I mean."

"It was very taking, her song," said the General simply, playing with
the empty glass, his eyes upon the table.

"And what now did she sing? Would it be----"

"It was 'The Rover' and 'The Man with the Coat of Green,'" said Gilian
in an eager recollection.

"Man! did I not ken it?" cried the Cornal. "Oh! I kent it fine. 'The
Rover' was her mother's trump card. I never gave a curse for a tune, but
she had a way of lilting that one that was wonderful."

"She had, that," said the General, and he sighed.

The room, it seemed to Gilian, was a vault, a cavern of melancholy, with
only the flicker of the coal to light it up in patches. These old men
sighing were its ghosts or hermits, and he himself a worldling fallen
invisible among their spoken thoughts. To him the Cornal no longer spoke
directly; he was thinking aloud the thoughts alike of the General and
himself--the dreams, the actions, the joys, the bitterness of youth.
He sat back in his chair, relaxed, his hand wrinkled and grey, with no
lusty blood rushing any more under the skin; upon the arms his fingers
beating tattoo for his past.

"You'll be wondering that between the Turners and us is little love
lost, though no doubt Miss Mary with her clinking tongue has given you
a glisk of the reason. He'll be wondering, Dugald, he'll be wondering,
I'll warrant. And, man, there's nothing by-ordinar wonderful in it, for
are we not but human men? There was a woman in Little Elrig who took
Dugald's fancy (if you will let me say it, Dugald), and he was willing
to draw in with her and give her a name as reverend as any in the shire,
for who are older than the Campbells of Keils? It's an old story, and in
a way it was only yesterday: sometimes I think it must be only a dream.
But, dream or waking, I can see plainly my brother Dugald there, home on
leave, make visitation to Glen Shira. I have seen him ambling up there
happy on his horse (it was Black Geordie, Dugald,--well I mind him), and
coming down again at night with a glow upon his countenance. Miss Mary,
she would be daffing with him on his return, with a 'How's her leddyship
to-day, Dugald?' and he would be in a pleasant vexation at this guessing
of what he thought his secret. It was no secret: was ever such a thing
secret in the shire of Argyll? We all knew it. She was Mary's friend
and companion; she would come to our house here on a Saturday; I see her
plainly on that chair at the window."

The General turned with a gasp, following his brother's glance. "I wish
to God you would not be so terribly precise," was what he said. And then
he fingered at his glass anew.

"Many a time she sat there with our sister, the smell of the wallflower
on the sill about her, and many a time she sang 'The Rover' in this
room. In this very room, Dugald: isn't every word I'm saying true?
Of course it is. God! as if a dream could be so fine! Well, well! my
brother, who sits there all bye with such affairs, went away on another
war. She was vexed. The woods of Shira Glen were empty for her after
that, I have no doubt, now that their rambles were concluded; she was
lonely on the Dhuloch-side, where many a time he convoyed her home in
the summer gloaming. He came back a tired man, a man hashed about with
wounds and voyaging, cold nights, wet marches, bitter cruel fare, not
the same at all in make or fashion, or in gaiety, that went away. The
girl--the girl was cold. I hate to say it, Dugald, but what is the harm
in a story so old? She came about Miss Mary in this house as before, no
way blate, but it was 'Hands off!' for the man who had so liked her."

He paused and stretched to fill his glass, but as he seized the bottle
the hand shook so that he laid the vessel down in shame. The boy
stood entranced, following the story intimately, guessing every coming
sentence, filling up its bald outline with the pictures of his brain;
riding with the General, almost in his prime and almost handsome, and
hearing the woman sing in the window chair; feeling the soldier's return
to a reception so cruel. The General said nothing, but sat musing, his
eyes, wide and distant, on the board. And out in the street there was
the traffic of the town, the high calls of lads in their boisterous
evening play, the laugh of a girl. From the kitchen came the rattle of
Peggy's operations, and in a low murmur Miss Mary's voice as she hummed
to herself, her symptom of anxiety, as she was sieving the evening milk
in the pantry.

The Cornal gulped the merest thimbleful of spirits and resumed in a
different key.

"Then, then," said he, "then I became the family's fool. Oh, ay!"--and
he laughed with a crackle at the throat and no merriment--"I was the
family fool; there was aye a succession of them in our house, one after
another, dancing to this woman's piping. For a while nobody saw it;
Dugald never saw it, for he was sitting moping, wearying for some
work anywhere away from this infernal clime of rain and sleep and old
sorrows; Mary never noticed it--at least not for a little; she could not
easily fancy her companion the character she was. But I would be meeting
the girl here and there about the country, in the glen, in the town,
as well as here in this very parlour where I had to sit and look
indifferent, though--though my heart stounded, and I never met her but
I felt a traitor to my brother. You will believe that, Dugald?" said he,
recognition for a moment flashing to his eye.

And the General nodded, stretching himself weary on the chair.

"Oh, ay! even then I wished myself younger, for she was not long beyond
her teens, and walking beside her I would be feeling musty and old,
though I was not really old, as my picture there above the chimneypiece
will show. I was not old, in heart--it pattered like a bairn's steps to
every glimpse and sentence of her. I lost six months at this game, my
corps calling me, but I could not drag myself away. Once I spoke of
going, and she sang 'The Rover'--by God! it scaled me to her footsteps.
I stayed for very pity of myself, seeing myself a rover indeed if I
went, more distressed than ever gave the key to any song. The woods, the
woods in spring; the country full of birds; Dhuloch lap-lapping on the
shore; the summer with hay filling the field, and the sky blue from hill
to hill, the nights of heather and star--oh, yes, she led me a pretty
dance, I'm thinking, and sometimes I will be wondering if it was worth
the paying for."

The Paymaster's house was grown very still. Gilian ceased to make the
pictures in his mind.

"I met her ghost up there on the road this very night, and I had a hand
below her chin," said the Cornal with a gulp.

"You did not dare, you did not dare!" cried his brother, an apple-red
upon his check, and half rising in his chair.

"Surely, surely--in a ghost," said the Cornal. "I would never have
mentioned it had it been herself. Sit down, Dugald. It was her daughter.
I never saw her so close before, and the look of her almost gave me a
stroke. It was what I felt when I first saw her mother with a younger
man than you or I. Just like that I met them in the gloaming, with
Turner very jaunty at her side, rapping his leg with his riding-cane,
half a head higher than myself, a generation less in years. It was a
cursed bitter pill, Dugald! Then I understood what you had meant and
what Mary meant by her warnings. But I was cool--oh yes! I think I was
cool. I only made to laugh and pass on, and she stopped me with her own
hand. 'I kept it from you as long as I could,' she said: 'it was cruel,
it was the blackest of sins, but this is the man for me.'"

"That was the man for her," echoed the General, his sentence stifled in
a sigh.

"'This is the man for me.' Turner stood beside her, looking with an
admiration, but to do him justice, ill at case, and with some--with
some--with some pity for me. Oh! that stunned me! 'Is it so indeed?' I
said in a little when I came to myself, feeling for the first time old.
'And must it be farewell with me as with my brother Dugald?'"

"You should not have said that at all," said the General. "I would not
have said it."

"I daresay not; I daresay not," said the Cornal slowly, pondering on it.
"But, mind you, I was in a curious position, finding myself the second
fool of a family that had got fair warning. She birked up and took her
gallant's arm. Said I then, 'We'll maybe get you yet; I have a younger
brother still.' It was a stupid touch of bravado. 'Jock!' said she,
laughing, all her sorrow for her misdoing gone; 'Jock! Not the three of
you together; give me youth and action.' Then she went away with her new
fancy, and I was left alone. I was left alone. I was left alone."

His voice, that had risen to a shout as he gave the woman's words,
declined to a crackle, a choked harsh utterance that almost failed to
cross the table.

Up got the General. "Never mind, never mind, Colin," said he as it were
to a vexed child. "We took our scuds gamely, and there was no more to
do. God knows we have had plenty since--made wanderers for the King, ill
fed for the King, wounded and blooded for the King. What does it matter
for one that was a girl and is now no more but a clod in Kilmalieu? I'm
forgetting it all fast I would never be minding it at all but for you
and Miss Mary there, and that picture of the man I was once, on the
wall. I mind more of Badajos and San Sebastian--that was the roaring,
the bloody, the splendid time!--than of the girl that played us on
her string--three brothers at a single cast--a witch's fishing. What
nonsense is this to be bringing up at our time of life? In the hearing
of a wean too."

A cough choked him and he stopped. At Gilian, sitting still and
seemingly uncomprehending, the Cornal looked as at a stranger. "So
it is," said he; "just a wean! I forgot, some way. How old are
you--sixteen? Nonsense! By the look of you I would say a hundred. Oh,
you're an old-farrent one, sitting there with your lugs cocked. And what
do you think is the moral of my story? Eh?--the moral of it? The lesson
of it? What? What? What?"

Gilian had the answer in a flash. "It is to be younger than the other
man; it is----"

"What?" cried the Cornal. "That's the moral? To be younger than the
other man. No more than that? To be young? Old Brooks never put you to
your Æsops when that's all you can make of it."

The General sat back and folded his soft thick hands upon his lap. He
drew in his breath and blew it out again with the gasp of the wearied
emerging from water. "Do you know, Dugald," said he, "there's something
in that view of it? We were not young enough. We had too sober an eye
on life. Youth is not in the straight back or the clear eye; there is
something more, and--the person you mentioned had it, and has it yet."

"That's all havers," said the Cornal; "all havers. I was as jocular at
the time as Jiggy Crawford himself. It did not come natural, but I could
force myself to it. The blame was not with us. She was a wanton hussy
first and last, and God be with her!"

He gripped the boy by the jacket collar. "Up and away," said he. "If my
tale's in vain, there's no help for it. I cannot make it plainer. Do
not be a fool, wasting the hours that are due to your tasks in loitering
with the daughter of a woman who has her mother's eye and her mother's
songs, and maybe her mother's heart."

He pushed the boy almost rudely out at the parlour door.



CHAPTER XV--ON BOARD THE "JEAN"

Gilian went up to his attic, stood looking blankly from the window at
the skylights on the other side of the street, his head against the
camecil of the room. He was bewildered and pleased. He was bewildered
at this new candour of the Cornal that seemed to rank him for the first
time more than a child; he was pleased to have his escapade treated in
so tolerant a fashion, and to be taken into a great and old romance,
though there was no active feud in it as in Marget Maclean's books.
Besides, the sorrow of the old man's love story touched him. To find a
soft piece in that old warrior so intent upon the past and a splutter
of glory was astonishing, and it was pitiful too that it should be a
tragedy so hopeless. He 'listed once more on the Cornal's side in the
feud against Maam, even against Nan herself for her likeness to her
mother, forgetting the charm of her song, the glamour at the gate, and
all the magic of the garden. He determined to keep at a distance if he
was to be loyal to those who had adopted him. There was no reason,
he told himself, why he should vex the Paymaster and his brothers by
indulging his mere love of good company in such escapades as he had in
the ship and in the Duke's garden. There was no reason why---- His head
unexpectedly bumped against the camceil of the room. He was startled at
the accident. It revealed to him for the first time how time was passing
and he was growing. When he had come first to the Paymaster's that
drooping ceil was just within the reach of his outstretched hand; now he
could touch it with his brow.

"Gilian! Gilian!" cried Miss Mary up the stair.

He went down rosy red, feeling some unrest to meet a woman so soon after
the revelation of a woman's perfidy, so soon indeed after a love-tale
told among men. The parlour, as he passed its slightly open door, was
still; its candles guttered on the table. The fire was down to the
ash. He knew, without seeing it, that the old men were seated musing as
always, ancient and moribund.

Miss Mary gave him his supper. For a time she bustled round him, with
all her vexation gone, saying nothing of his sederunt with her brothers.
Peggy was at the well, spilling stoup after stoup to make her evening
gossip the longer, and the great flagged kitchen was theirs alone.

"What--what was the Cornal saying to you?" at last she queried, busying
herself as she spoke with some uncalled-for kitchen office to show the
indifference of her question.

"Oh, he was not angry," said Gilian, thinking that might satisfy.

"I did not think he would be," she said. Then in a little again,
reluctantly: "But what was he talking about?"

The boy fobbed it off again. "Oh, just about--about--a story about a
woman in Little Elrig."

"Did you understand?" she said, stopping her fictitious task and
gasping, at the same time scrutinising him closely.

"Oh, yes--no, not very well," he stammered, making a great work with his
plate and spoon.

"Do not tell _me_ that," she said, coming over courageously and laying
her hand upon his shoulder. "I know you understand every word of the
story, if it is the story I mean."

He did not deny it this time. "But I do not know whether it is the same
story or not," he said, eagerly wishing she would change the subject.

"What I mean," said she, "is a story about a woman who was a friend of
mine--and--and she quarrelled with my brothers. Is that the one?"

"That was the one," said he.

Miss Mary wrung her hands. "Oh!" she cried piteously, "that they should
be thinking about that yet! wiser-like would it be for them to be
sitting at the Book. Poor Nan! Poor Nan! my dear companion! Must they
be blaming her even in the grave? You understand it very well. I know by
your face you understand it. She should not have all the blame. They
did not understand; they were older, more sedate than she was; their
merriment was past; there was no scrap left of their bairnhood that
even in the manliest man finds a woman's heart quicker than any other
quality. I think she tried to--to--to--like them because they were my
brothers, but the task beat her for all her endeavour. It is an old,
dait story. I am wondering at them bringing it up to you. What do
you think they would bring it up to you for?" And she scrutinised him
shrewdly again.

"I think the girl the Cornal saw me with put him in mind of her mother,"
said Gilian, pushing the idea no further.

She still looked closely at him. "The girl cannot help that," said she.
"She is very like her mother in some ways--perhaps in many. Maybe that
was the Cornal's reason for telling you the story."

There was not, for once, the response of understanding in Gilian's face.
She could say no more. Was he not a boy yet, perhaps with the impulse
she and the Cornal feared, all undeveloped? And at any rate she dare not
give him the watchword that all their remembrances led up to--the word
Beware.

But Gilian guessed the word, and his assumption of ignorance was to
prevent Miss Mary from guessing so much. Only he misunderstood. He looked
upon the desire to keep him from the company of the people of Maam as
due to the old rancours and jealousies, while indeed it was all in his
interest.

But in any case he respected the feelings of the Paymaster's family,
and thereafter for long he avoided as honestly as a boy might all
intercourse with the girl, whom circumstance the mischievous, the
henchman of the enemy, put in his way more frequently almost than any
of her sex. He must be meeting her in the street, the lane, the
market-place, in the highway, or in walks along the glen. He kept aloof
as well as he might (yet ever thinking her for song and charm the most
interesting girl he knew), and the days passed; the springs would be
but a breath of rich brown mould and birch, the summers but a flash
of golden days growing briefer every year, the winters a lessening
interlude of storm and darkness.

Gilian grew like a sapling in all seasons, in mind and fancy as in body.
Ever he would be bent above the books of Marget Maclean, getting deeper
to the meaning of them. The most trivial, the most inadequate and common
story had for him more than for its author, for under the poor battered
phrase that runs through book and book, the universal gestures of
bookmen, he could see history and renew the tragedies that suggested
them at the outset. He was no more Brooks' scholar though he sat upon
his upper forms, for, as the dominie well could see, he was launching
out on barques of his own; the plain lessons ot the school were without
any interest as they were without any difficulty to him. He roamed about
the woods, he passed precious hours upon the shore, his mind plangent
like the wave.

"A droll fellow that of the Paymaster's," they said of him in the
town. For as he aged his shyness grew upon him, and he went about the
community at ease with himself only when his mind was elsewhere.

"A remarkable young gentleman," said Mr. Spencer one day to the
Paymaster. "I am struck by him, sir, I am struck. He has an air of
cleverness, and yet they tell me he is--"

"He is what?" asked the Paymaster, lowering his brows suspicious on the
innkeeper's hesitation.

"They tell me he is not so great a credit to old Brooks as he might
expect," said the innkeeper, who was not lacking in boldness or plain
speaking if pushed to it.

"Ay, they say that?" repeated the Paymaster, pinching his snuff
vigorously. "Maybe they're right too. I'll tell you what. The lad's head
is stuffed with wind. He goes about with notions swishing round inside
that head of his, as much the plaything of nature as the reed that
whistles in the wind at the riverside and fancies itself a songster."

Mr. Spencer tilted his London hat down upon his brow, fumbled with his
fob-chain, and would have liked to ask the Paymaster if his well-known
intention to send Gilian on the same career he and his brothers had
followed was to be carried into effect But he felt instinctively that
this was a delicate question. He let it pass unput.

Bob MacGibbon had no such delicacy. The same day at their meridian in
the "Abercrombie" he broached the topic.

"I'll tell you what it is, Captain: if that young fellow of yours is
ever to earn salt for his kail, it is time he was taking a crook in his
hand."

"A crook in his hand?" said the Paymaster. "Would you have nothing else
for him but a crook?"

"Well," said MacGibbon, "I supposed you would be for putting him into
Ladyfield. If that is not your notion, I wonder why you keep it on for."

"Ladyfield!" cried the Paymaster. "There was no notion further from my
mind. Farming, for all Duke George's reductions, is the last of trades
nowadays. I think I told you plain enough that we meant to make him a
soger."

MacGibbon shrugged his shoulders. "If you did I forgot," said he. "It
never struck me. A soger? Oh, very well. It is in your family: your
influence will be useful." And he changed the subject.

At the very moment that thus they discussed him, Gilian, a truant from
school, which now claimed his attention, as Brooks sorrowfully said,
"when he had nothing else to do and nowhere else to go," was on an
excursion to the Waterfoot, where the Duglas in a sandy delta unravels
at the end into numerous lesser streams, like the tip of a knotless
fishing-line. It was a place for which he had an exceeding fondness.
For here in the hot days of summer there was a most rare seclusion. No
living thing shared the visible land with him except the sea-birds, the
white-bellied, the clean and wholesome and free, talking like children
among the weeds or in their swooping essays overhead. A place of islets
and creeks, where the mud lay golden below the river's peaty flow;
he had but to shut his eyes for a little and look upon it lazily,
and within him rose the whole charm and glamour of oceans and isles.
Swimming in the briny deeps that washed the rocks, he felt in that
solitude so sufficient, so much in harmony with the spirit of the place,
its rumination, its content, its free and happy birds, as if he were
Ellar in the fairy tale. The tide caressed; it put its arms round him;
it laughed in the sunshine and kissed him shyly at the lips. Into
the swooping concourse of the birds he would send, thus swimming, his
brotherly halloo. They called back; they were not afraid, they need not
be--he loved them.

To-day he had come down to the Waterfoot almost unknowing where he
walked. Though the woods were bare there was the look of warmth in their
brown and purple depths; only on the upper hills did the snow lie in
patches. Great piles of trunks, the trunks of old fir and oak, lay above
high-water mark. He turned instinctively to look for the ship they were
waiting for, and behind him, labouring at a slant against the wind,
was the _Jean_ coming from the town to pick her cargo from this narrow
estuary.

He was plucked at the heart by a violent wish to stay. At the poop he
could see Black Duncan, and the seaman's histories, the seaman's fables
all came into his mind again, and the sea was the very highway of
content. The ship was all alone upon the water, not even the tan of a
fisher's lug-sail broke the blue. A bracing heartening air blew from
French Foreland And as he was looking spellbound upon the little vessel
coming into the mouth of the river, he was startled by a strain of
music. It floated, a rumour angelic, upon the air, coming whence he
could not guess--surely not from the vessel where Black Duncan and two
others held the deck alone?

It was for a time but a charm of broken melody in the veering wind,
distinct a moment, then gone, then back a faint echo of its first
clearness. It was not till the vessel came fairly opposite him that the
singer revealed herself in Nan sitting on a water-breaker in the lee of
the companion hatch.

For the life of him he could not turn to go away. He rebelled against
the Paymaster's service, and remained till the ship was in the river
mouth beside him.

"Ho '_ille 'ille!_" Black Duncan cried upon him, leaning upon his tarry
gunnle, and smiling to the shore like a man far-travelled come upon a
friendly face in some foreign port. The wooded rock gave back the call
with interest. Round about turned the seaman and viewed the southern
sky. A black cloud was pricked upon the spur of Cowal. "There's wind
there," said he, "and water too! I'm thinking we are better here than
below Otter this night. Nan, my dear, it is home you may get to-day, but
not without a wetting. I told you not to come, and come you would."

She drummed with her heels upon the breaker, held up a merry chin, and
smiled boldly at her father's captain. "Yes, you told me not to come,
but you wanted me to come all the time. I know you did. You wanted
songs, you wanted all the songs, and you had the ropes off the pawl
before I had time to change my mind."

"You should go home now," said the seaman anxiously. "Here is our young
fellow, and he will walk up to the town with you."

She pretented to see Gilian for the first time, staring at him boldly,
with a look that made him certain she was thinking of the many times he
had manifestly kept out of her way. It made him uneasy, but he was more
uneasy when she spoke.

"The Paymaster's boy," said she. "Oh! he would lose himself on the way
home, and the fairies might get him. When I go I must find my own way.
But I am not going now, Duncan. If it will rain, it will rain and be
done with it, and then I will go home."

"Come on board," said Duncan to the boy. "Come on board, and see my
ship, then; she is a little ship, but she is a brave one, I'm telling
you; there is nothing of the first of her left for patches."

Gilian looked longingly at the magic decks confused with ropes, and the
open companion faced him, leading to warm depths, he knew by the smoke
that floated from the funnel. But he paused, for the girl had turned
her head to look at the sea, and though he guessed somehow she might be
willing to have him with her for his youth, he did not care to venture.

Then Black Duncan swore. He considered his invitation too much of a
favour to have it treated so dubiously. Gilian saw it and went upon the
deck.

Youth, that is so long (and all too momentary), and leaves for ever such
a memory, soon, forgets. So it was that in a little while Gilian and Nan
were on the friendliest of terms, listening to Black Duncan's stories.
As they listened, the girl sat facing the den stair, so that her eyes
were lit to their depths, her lips were flaming red. The seaman and the
boy sat in shadow. The seaman, stretched upon a bunk with his feet to
the Carron stove, the boy upon a firkin, could see her every wave of
fancy displayed upon her countenance. She was eager, she was piteous,
she was laughing, in the right key of response always when the
stories that were told were the straightforward things of a sailor's
experience--storms, adventures, mishaps, passion, or calm. She had grown
as Gilian had grown, in mind as in body; and thinking so, he was pleased
exceedingly. But the tales that the boy liked were the tales that were
not true, and these, to Gilian's sorrow, she plainly did not care for;
he could see it in the calmness of her features. When she yawned at a
tale of Irish mermaidens he was dashed exceedingly, for before him again
was the sceptic who had laughed at his heron's nest and had wantonly
broken the crystal of the Lady's Linn. But by-and-by she sang, and oh!
all was forgiven her. This time she sang some songs of her father's, odd
airs from English camp-fires, braggart of word, or with the melodious
longings of men abroad from the familiar country, the early friend.

"I wish I was a soldier," he found himself repeating in his thought. "I
wish I was a soldier, that such songs might be sung for me."

A fury at the futility of his existence seized him. He would give
anything to be away from this life of ease and dream, away where things
were ever happening, where big deeds were possible, where the admiration
and desire were justified. He felt ashamed of his dreams, his pictures,
his illusions. Up he got from his seat upon the firkin, and his head was
in the shadows of the smoky timbers.

"Sit down, lad, sit down," said the seaman, lazy upon his arm upon the
shelf. "There need be no hurry now; I hear the rain."

A moan was in the shrouds, the alarm of a freshening wind. Some drops
trespassed on the cabin floor, then the rain pattered heavily on the
deck. The odours of the ship passed, and in their place came the smell
of the cut timber on the shore, the oak's sharpness, the rough sweetness
of the firs, all the essence, the remembrance of the years circled
upon the ruddy trunks, their gatherings of storm and sunshine, of dew,
showers, earth-sap, and the dripping influence of the constant stars.

"I cannot stay here, I cannot stay here! I must go," cried the lad, and
he made to run on deck.

But Duncan put a hand out as the lowest step was reached, and set him
back in his place.

"Sit you there!" said he. "I have a fine story you never heard yet And a
fighting story too."

"What is it? What is it?" cried Nan. "Oh! tell us that one. Is it a true
one?"

"It is true--in a way," said the seaman. "It was a thing that happened
to myself."

Gilian delayed his going--the temptation of a new story was too much for
him.

"Do you take frights?" Black Duncan asked him. "Frights for things that
are not there at all?"

Gilian nodded.

"That is because it is in the blood," said the seaman; "that is the kind
of fright of my story."

And this is the story Black Duncan told in the Gaelic.



CHAPTER XVI--THE DESPERATE BATTLE

"Black darkness came down on the wood of Creag Dubh, and there was I
lost in the middle of it, picking my way among the trees. Fir and oak
are in the wood. In the oak I could walk straight with my chin in the
air, facing anything to come; in the fir the little branches scratched
at my neck and eyes, and I had to crouch low and go carefully.

"I had been at a wedding in the farm-house of Leacann. Song and story
had been rife about the fire; but song and story ever have an end, and
there was I in the hollow of the wood after song and story were by, the
door-drink still on my palate, and I looking for my way home. It was
nut-time. I had a pouch of them in my jacket, and I cracked and ate them
as I went. Not a star pricked the sky; the dark was the dark of a pot in
a cave and a snail boiling under the lid of it. I had cracked a nut and
the kernel of it fell on the ground, so I bent and felt about my feet,
though my pouch was so full of nuts that they fell showering in the
fin dust. I swept every one with a shell aside, hunting for my cracked
fellow, and when I found him never was nut so sweet!

"Then came to me the queerest of notions, that some night before in this
same wood I had lost a nut, and the darkness was the dark of a pot in
a cave and a snail under the lid of it. And yet the time or season that
ever I cracked nuts in Creag Dubh was what I could never give name to.

"'Where was it? When was it?' said I to myself, bent double creeping
under the young larch with my plaid drawn up to fend my eyes, and the
black fright crept over me. An owl's whoop would have been cheery, or
the snort of a hind--and Creag Dubh is in daytime stirring with bird
and beast--but here was I stark lonely in the heart of it, never a sound
about, far from the hunting road, and my mind back among the terrors of
a thousand years ere ever the Feinne were sung.

"In this dreamy quirk of the mind I felt I was a hunter and a man of
arms. I was searching for a something here in this ghostly wood. The
cudgel and knife of folks I could not understand were coming on me!
Fast, fast, and hard I crunched my nuts, chewing shell and meat fiercely
between my teeth to fill the skull of my head with noise and shut out
the quietness. Never a taste of what I ate, sour or sweet. But so hard
and fast I crunched that soon my store of nuts was done, and there I
was helpless with my ears open to the roaring wave of sound that we call
silence. I stood a little, and though my back grewed at the chill of the
dreadful spaces behind me, I held my breath to study the full fright
of the hour. Something was coming to me; I knew it. When this thing
happened before, when a skin was my kilt and my shanks were bare,
whatever I had to meet had met me in the round space among the
candle-wood roots. The hair on my wrists stirred, a cry came to my
throat and was over the edge of it and into the dark night like a man's
heart scurrying craven to the door.

"Through the wood went that craven roar, the wood all its own and, a
stranger, I listened to my own voice wake up Echo far off on Ben Dearg.

"The doors of Echo shut on the only thing I knew and was half friendly
with in the Duke's wood, and down on me again came the quietest
quietness.

"'Be taking thy feet from here' said I to myself, taking out my
sailor-knife and scrugging my bonnet well on my brow. And there was no
wind, not a breath, on Creag Dubh. The stars black out, the rough ground
broken to my foot, the branches scraping unfriendly, I went on through
the trees.

"When one goes up from the Leacann hunting road into the farm-lands
he comes in a while on a space among the trees, clean shorn like the
shearing of a hook but for white hay that lies there thick and rustling
in the spring of the year. 'Black Duncan,' said I, 'be pulling thyself
together, gristle and bone, for here's the fright that stirs about the
dark with fingers and claws.' I was the first man (said my notion) who
ever set foot on the braes of Argyll, newly from Erin and Argyll thick
with ghosts; daytime or dark the woods were full of things that hate the
stranger. Under my feet the rotting dust of the fir-trees felt soft and
clogging, like the banks of new-delved graves. My back shivered again
to the feel of the space behind me; in my bonnet stirred my hair. I went
into the glade with a dry tongue rasping on the roof of my mouth.

"When the Terror came up against me, I could have laughed in my sudden
ease of mind, for here at last was something to be sure of, in a way.
And I gripped back as it gripped fast at me, feeling it hairy at the
neck and the crook of the arms--a breathing and lusty body.

"'What have I here?' I asked, but never an answer. At my throat went ten
clawed fingers, and there was Duncan at dismal battle, fighting for life
with what he could not see, in his own home woods, but they so strange
and never a friend to help!

"For a time I had no chance with the knife; but at last 'Steel, my
darling!' said I, and I struck low in the soft spaces. 'Gloop,' said the
knife, and Death was twisting at my feet.

"Did Duncan put hurry on his heels and fly? The hurry was not in me
but the deep heart's wonder. My first dead thing that in life had ever
struck back held me till the morning with a girl's enchantment I went
down on a knee in the grass and felt him, a soft lump, freezing slowly
from the heel to the knee, from the knee to the neck. Some rags of
costume were on him, a kilt of coarse plaiding and a half-shirt of skin,
soaked in sweat at the armpits and wet with blood at the end.

"I waited till the morning to see what I had. 'This,' said I, hunched
on a mound, 'is all as it was before.' The first sound I heard was the
squeal of a beast caught at the throat among the bracken, then a hind
snored among the grass. The morning walked solemn among the trees,
stopping at every step to listen; birds put their claws down and shook
themselves free of sleep and dew; a polecat slinking past me started
at my eye and went back to his hole. Began the fir-trees waving in the
wind, and then the day was open wide and far.

"In the dark I had strained my eyes to see what was at my feet till my
eyeballs creaked in their hollows, yet now I had no desire to turn
about from the cheerful dawn and look behind, but I did it with my heart
thudding.

"Nothing was there to see, lappered blood, nor mark of body on grass!

"My knife, without a stain on the steel of it, was still in my hand.
I wiped it with a tuft of bracken, and I laughed with something of a
bitterness.

"'So!' said I, 'the old story, the old story! It happened me before, and
in a hundred years from now Black Duncan will be at the killing again.'"



CHAPTER XVII--THE STORM

The vessel, straining at the rope that bound her to the shore, lay with
a clumsy shoulder over the bank that shelved abruptly into the great
depths where slimy weeds entangled. Her sails were housed and snug, the
men in the bows lay under the flapping corner of the jib and played at
cards, though the noise of the raindrops on their canvas roof might well
disturb them. Gilian made no pause; he ran up at the tale's conclusion,
at a bound he was on the shore, staggering upon the rocks and slipping
upon the greasy weeds till he came to the salt bent grass, and with
firmer footing ran like a young deer for the shelter of the wood. The
rain battered after him, the wind rose. In front, the wood, so still an
hour before, in its winter slumber, with no birds now to mar its dreams,
had of a sudden roused to the rumour of the storm. As by an instinct,
the young trees on the edge seemed to shudder before the winds came to
them. Their slim tips could not surely be bowing, even so little, to the
gale that was yet behind Gilian. But he passed them and plunged under
the tall firs, and he felt secure only when the ruddy needles of other
years were a soft carpet underfoot It was true he found shelter here
from the rain that slanted terrifically, but it was not for sanctuary
from the elements he sought the rude aisles, though now he appreciated
the peace of them. It was for escape from himself, from his sense of
hopeless, inexplicable longing, from some tremendous convulsion of his
mind created by Black Duncan's fable.

The wood was all a wood of fir, not old nor very young, but at that mid
age when it has to all of country blood an invitation to odorous dusks
and pathless wanderings below laced branches. The sun never could reach
the heart of it, except at the hour of setting, when it flamed bloody
through the pillars. The rain never seemed to penetrate, for the
fir-needles underfoot grew more dusty year by year. But when the rain
beat as it did now, through the whole of it went a sound of gobbling
and drumming, and the wind, striking upon the trunks as if they were the
strings of Ossian, harped a great and tremendous tune, wanting start or
ending. And by-and-by there came company for Gilian as he sheltered
in the wood. Birds of all kinds beat hurriedly through the trees and
settled upon the boughs with a shudder of the quill, pleased to be out
of the inclement open and cosily mantled in.

The boy went into the very inmost part of the wood without knowing
the reason why thus he should fly from the ship that so recently had
enchanted him, from the tales he loved. But in the soothing presence of
the firs and the content of the animals sheltering from the storm,
he found a momentary peace from the agitation that had set up in him,
roused at the song of the girl, the story of the mariner. The emotions,
the fears, longings, discontents that jangled through him as they had
never done before relapsed to a mood level and calm, as if they, too,
had sheltered from the storm like the birds upon the trees.

But by-and-by he became ashamed of his action, that must seem so foolish
to the friends he had left in the ship without a word of explanation.
His face flamed hotly at the thought of his rude departure. He would
give a world to be able to go back again as if nothing had happened and
sit unchallenged in the cosy den of the Jean. And musing thus he went
through the wood till he came upon the bank of the Duglas, roaring grey
and ragged, a robber from the hills, bearing spoil of the upper reaches,
the town-lands, the open and windswept plains. It carried the trunks of
great trees that had lain since other storms upon its banks, and with a
great chafing and cracking no less than the wooden bridge from Clonary
which the children were wont to cross from those parts on their way to
school.

"That will go battering on the vessel," he thought, looking amazed
at its ponderous beams flicking through the water and over the little
cascades as if they had been feathers blown by an evening breeze. "That
will go battering on the _Jean_" he thought, and of a sudden it seemed
his manifest duty to warn the occupants of the ship to defend themselves
from the unexpected attack.

He followed the bridge for a little, fascinated, wondering what was to
become of it next in the tumult of waters till he came to the falls,
where he had looked for a check to it. But it stayed no more than a
moment on the lip of the precipice swung up a jagged edge above the
deep, then crashed into the linn, where it seemed to swerve and turn,
giddy with its adventure. Gilian stood spellbound on the banks looking
at it so far down, then he turned, and cutting off the bend of the
river, made for the shore.

He crashed through bracken and bramble and through the fir-wood again,
startling the sheltering birds by his hurry, emerging upon the face
of the brae in sight of the _Jean_ and the sea. In his absence a great
change had come upon the wave, upon the hilly distance, upon the whole
countenance of nature. The rain was no longer in drumming torrents, but
in a soft and almost imperceptible veil; but if the rain had lost the
wind had gained. And as he passed from the edge of the wood, all the
trees seemed to twang and creak, or cracked loudly, parting perhaps at
some dear nerve where sap and beauty would no longer course. In every
bush along the edge of the wood there seemed a separate chorus of
voices, melodious and terrific, whistle and whoop, shriek and moan. Even
the grass nodding in the wind lent a thin voice to the chorus, a voice
such as only the sharp and sea-trained ear may comprehend, that beasts
hear long before the wind itself is apparent, so that they remove
themselves to the bieldy sides of the hills before tumult breaks.

But it was the aspect of the sea that most surprised the boy, for where
before there had been but a dreaming plain of smiles there was the riot
of waters. The black lips of the wave parted and showed the white fangs
underneath, or spat the spume of passion into the face of the day. It
looked as if every glen and every gully, every corry and eas on that
mountainous coast was spending its breath upon the old sea, the poor
old sea that would be let alone to dream and rest, but must suffer the
humours of the mischievous winds.

It was but for a moment Gilian lent his eye to the open and troubled
expanse. He saw there no sign of ship, but looking lower into shore
he beheld the _Jean_ in travail at the Duglas mouth. The tide had come
fully in while he was absent, the delta that before had been so much
lagoon and isle was become an estuary, where, in the unexpected tide
and rush of the river, the logs of fir and oak were all adrift about the
sides of the vessel. Every hand was busy. They poled off as best they
might the huge trunks that battered at the carvel planks and pressed
upon the twanging cable. Forward of the mast Black Duncan stood
commanding in loud shouts that could not reach the boy through the
wind's bellowing, and as he shouted, he lent, like a good seaman, vigour
to a spar and pushed off the besieging timbers, all his weight
aslant upon the wood, his arms tense, a great and wholesome figure of
endeavour.

But not Black Duncan nor his striving seamen so busy in that confusion
of wind and water were the first to catch the boy's eye. It was Nan,
struggling by her captain's side at the unshipped tiller, and in the
staggering ship seeking to send it home in the avoiding helm-head. Her
hair blew round her with the vaunting spirit of a banner, her body in
every move was rich with a sort of exaltation.

As yet the bridge had not reached them. It might have been checked
altogether in the linn, or it might still be slowly grinding its way
round the great bend of the river, that Gilian had cut off by his plunge
through the wood. But at least he was there to alarm, for its assault,
borne down on the spate, would be worse by far than that of the timber.
He beat his way again, bent, through the wind, to the water-edge now
so far in and separate from the ship, and cried out a loud warning. It
seemed to himself as he did so the voice of an infant, so weak was it,
so shrill and piping, buffeted about by Heaven's large and overwhelming
utterance. They paid no heed at first, but by-and-by they heard him.

"The bridge! God! do you tell me?" cried Black Duncan in a visible
consternation. "Is it far up?"

Gilian put his hand to his mouth and trumpeted his response.

"The bend! My sorrow! she's as good as on us then. We must be at our
departures."

The mariners scurried about the deck; Black Duncan threw off the
prisoning cable; there were shouts, swift looks, and a breathless pause;
the _Jean_ swung round before the corner of her jib laboured clumsily
for a moment unbelieving of her release, then drifted slowly from the
river mouth, her little boat and her tiller left behind, the first
caught by the warring tree-trunks, the latter dashed from Nan's hands
by the swing of an unfastened boom. As helpless as the logs she had been
encountering, she was loose before the wind that drove her parallel with
the shore at no safe distance from its fringe of rocks.

Gilian, scarcely knowing what he did, ran along the shore, following
her course, looking at her with a wild eye. The men were calling to
him, waving, pointing, but what they meant he could not surmise; all his
interest was in the girl who stood motionless, seemingly aghast at her
mishap, with her hair still blowing about her.

To the north where he was running, black masses of clouds were piling,
and the sea, so far as the eye could reach, was weltering more cruelly
than before. Seagulls screamed without ceasing, and the human imitation
of their calls roused uncanny notions that they welcomed the vessel to
her doom. She seemed so helpless, so hopeless, dashed upon by the spume
of those furious lips, bit by the grinding teeth.

But yet he ran on and on over the salt grass or the old wrack that the
sea-spray wet to a new slime, never pausing but for a moment now and
then to try and understand what the men on deck were shouting to him.

Off the shore north of the Duglas is a rock called Ealan Dubh, or the
Black Island, a single bare and rounded block without a blade of grass
on it, that juts out of the sea in all weathers and tides and is grown
on thickly with little shell-fish. To-day it could not be seen, but the
situation of it was plain in the curling crest of the white waves that
bent constantly over it Straight for this rock the _Jean_ was driving
and a great pity came over Gilian, a pity for himself as he anticipated
the sickening crash upon the rock, the rip of the timber, the gurgle at
the holes, the sundering of the bolted planks, the collapse of the mast,
the ultimate horrible plunge. He was Black Duncan, the swimmer, fighting
hard for life between the ship and the shore; he was the girl, with wet
hair flapping blindly at the eyes, clinging with bleeding finger-nails
to the rough shells that clustered on the rock. It was horrible,
horrible! And then many tales from the shelves of Marget Maclean came
to his memory where one in such circumstances had done a brave thing. To
save the girl and bring her from the rock ashore--that was the thing
to be done--but how? Even the sea fairy, as he had said, might be worth
drowning for. Helplessly he looked up and down the shore. There was
nothing to see but the torn fringe of the tide, the waving branches of
the coast He had no more than grasped the solitude of the country-side
(feeling himself something of God's proxy thus to be watching the
destruction of the ship) when the _Jean_ went upon the rock. Her shock
upon it was not to be heard from the shore, and she did not break up
all at once as he had anticipated; she paused as it might seem, quite
willingly, in her career before the wind and slewed round a tarry
broadside to the crested wave. She began to settle in the water by her
riven quarter, but Gilian did not see that, for it came about slowly.
All he could see was that Black Duncan and his men upon the higher part
of the slanted deck were calling to him more loudly than before and
pointing with frenzied gestures back in the direction whence they had
come.

He looked back, he could not comprehend.

More loudly yet they called. They clustered, the three of them on the
shrouds, and in one voice tried to bellow down the gale.

He could not understand. He turned a pitiful figure on the shore, his
mind tumultuous with wrestling thoughts and dreads, with images of the
rough depths where the girl's hair would sway like weed in a green haze
in an everlasting stillness.

Again the seamen called, and it seemed, as he looked at their
meaningless gesticulations, that the bowsprit of the vessel now pointed
higher than before. The appalling story thus told to him had barely got
home when he saw a change in the conduct of the seamen. They ceased to
cry and wave; they looked no longer at him but in the direction whence
he had come, and turning, he saw the vessel's little boat bobbing in
the sea-troughs. It had an occupant too, a lad not greatly older than
himself, using only a guiding oar, who so was directing the boat in the
drifting waves towards the Ealan Dubh and the counter of the _Jean_.

Then the whole folly of his conduct, the meaning of the seamen's cries,
the obvious and simple thing he should have done came to Gilian--he
discovered himself the dreamer again. A deep contempt for himself came
over him and he felt inclined to run back to the solace of the woods
with a shame more burdensome than before, but the doings of the lad who
had but to wade to pick up the lost boat and was now bearing down on the
doomed vessel prevented him. He watched with a fascination the things
being done that he should have done himself, he made himself, indeed,
the lad who did them. It was as if in a dream, looking upon himself with
a stranger's admiration, he saw the little boat led dexterously beside
the vessel in spite of the tumbling waves, and Black Duncan, out
upon her bowsprit, board her, lift his master's daughter in, and row
laboriously ashore. Then Gilian turned and made a poor, contemptuous
retreat.



CHAPTER XVIII--DISCOVERY

The town was dripping at its eaves and glucking full of waters at
rone-mouths and syvers when he got into it after his disgraceful retreat
He was alone in the street as he walked through it, a wet woebegone
figure with a jacket-collar high up to the ears to meet the nip of the
elements. Donacha Breck, leaning over his counter and moodily looking at
the hens sheltering their wind-blown feathers under his barrow, saw him
pass and threw over his shoulder to his wife behind a comment upon the
eccentricity of the Paymaster's boy.

"He's scarcely all there," said he, "by the look of him. He's wandering
about in the rah as if it was a fine summer day and the sun shining."

Crossing from the school to his lodging, an arm occupied by a great
bundle of books, the other contending with an umbrella, was the dominie,
and he started at the sight of his errant pupil who nearly ran against
him before his presence was observed.

"Well, Gilian?" said he, a touch of irony in his accent, himself looking
a droll figure, hunched round his books and turning like a weathercock
jerkily to keep the umbrella between him and the wind that strained its
whalebone ribs till they almost snapped.

Gilian stopped, looked hard at the ground, said never a word. And old
Brooks, over him, gazed at the wet figure with puzzlement and pity.

"You beat me; you beat me quite!" said he. "There's the making of a fine
man in you; you have sharpness, shrewdness, a kind of industry, or what
may be doing for that same; every chance of a paternal kind--that's to
say a home complete and comfortable--and still you must be acting like
a wean! You were not at the school to-day. I'm keeping it from Miss
Campbell as long as I can, but I'll be bound to tell her of your truancy
this time."

He risked the surrounding hand a moment from his books, bent a little
and tapped the boy's jacket pocket.

"Ay! A book again!" said he slyly. "What is it this time? But never
mind; it does not matter. I'll warrant it is not Mr. Butter's Spellings
nor Murray the Grammarian, but some trash of a novelle. Any exercise for
_your_ kind but the appointed task! I wish--I wish--Tuts! laddie, you
are wet to the skin, haste ye home and get a heat."

Gilian did not need a second bidding; but ran up the street, without
slacking his pace till he got to the foot of the Paymaster's stair,
where the wind from the pend-close was howling most dismally. He
lingered on the stair, extremely loth to face Miss Mary with a shame
so plain upon his countenance as he imagined it must be. No way that he
could tell the story of the _Jean's_ disaster would leave out his sorry
share in it. A quick ear heard him on the stair; the door opened.

"Oh, you rascal!" cried Miss Mary, her anxious face peering down at him.
"You were never in the school till this time." She put her hand upon
his bonnet and his sleeve and found them soaking. "Oh, I knew it! I knew
it!" she cried. "Just steeping!"

He found an unexpected relief in her consternation at his condition and
in her bustle to get him into dry clothing. After the experience he had
come through, the storm and the spectacle he had seen as in a dream
from the shore, he indulged in the cordiality and cosiness of the
warm kitchen for a little with selfish gladness. But it was only for a
little; the disaster to the vessel and the consciousness that his own
part in the business would certainly come to light, overwhelmed him
again, and it was a most dolorous face that looked at Miss Mary over the
viands she had just put before him.

"What ails the callant?" she demanded in a tremble, staring at him.

He burst into tears, the first she had seen on his face since ever he
had come to her house, and all her mother's heart was sore.

"What mischief were you in?" she asked, putting an arm about his neck,
and her troubled face down upon his hair as he shook in his chair. "I am
sure you were not to blame. It could not have been much, Gilian.
Tuts! tuts!" And so she went on in a ludicrous way, coaxing him to
indifference for the sin she fancied.

At last he told her the beginnings of his tragedy, that he had seen the
_Jean_ wrecked on Ealan Dubh, and the girl Nan on board of her. She was
for a moment dumb with horror, believing the end had come to all upon
the vessel, but on this Gilian speedily assured her, and "Oh, am n't I
glad!" said she with a simple utterance and a transport on her visage
that showed how deep was her satisfaction.

"How did they get ashore?" she asked,

"In the small boat," said Gilian uncomfortably. "It caught on the logs
at the mouth of the river when she drifted off, and--and--"

"And a boy went out in it and brought them help!" she cried, finely
uplifted in a delight that she had guessed the cause of his trepidation.
"Oh, you darling! And not to say a word of it! Am not I the proud woman
this day? My dear companion Nan's girl!"

She caught him fervently as he rose ashamed from his seat to explain
or to make an escape from the punishment that was in her error, a
punishment more severe than if he had been blamed. She was one never
prone to the displays of love and rapture, but this time her joy
overcame her, and she kissed him with something of a redness on her
face. It was to the boy as if he had been smitten on the mouth. He drew
back almost rudely in so great a confusion that it but confirmed her
guess. "You must come and tell my brothers," said she, "this very
moment. Don't say anything about the lass, but they'll be keen to hear
about the vessel They sit there hearing nothing of the world's news,
unless it comes to the fireside for them, and then I've noticed they're
as ready to listen as Peggy would be at the Cross well."

She had him half way to the parlour before he thought of a protest, he
had found such satisfaction in being relieved from her mistaken pride
in him. Then he concluded it was as well to go through with it, thinking
that if the rescue of the girl was not to be in the story, his own
shortcomings need not emerge. She pushed him before her into the room;
her brothers were seated at the fire, and they only turned when her
voice, in a very unaccustomed excitement, broke the quietness of the
chamber.

"Do you hear this?" she cried, and her hand on Gilian's shoulder; "a
vessel's sunk on the Ealan Dubh."

"I knew there would be tales to tell of this," said the General. "The
wind came too close on the frost. I mind at Toulouse----"

"And Gilian was down at the Waterfoot and saw it all," she broke in upon
the reminiscence.

"Was he, faith?" said the Cornal. "I like my tales at first hand. Tell
us all about it, laddie; what vessel was she?"

He wheeled his chair about as he spoke, and roused himself to attention.
It was a curious group, too much like his old court-martial to be
altogether to the boy's taste. For Miss Mary stood behind him, with an
air of proud possession of him that was disquieting, and the two men
seemed to expect from him some very exciting history indeed.

"Well, well!" said the Cornal, drumming with his fingers on his
chair-arm impatiently, "you're in no great hurry with your budget. What
vessel was it?"

"It was the _Jean_," said Gilian, bracing himself up for a plunge.

"Ye seem to be a wondrous lot mixed up with the fortunes of that
particular ship," said the Cornal sourly. "What way did it happen?"

"She was in the mouth of the river," said Gilian, "and the spate of the
river brought down the wooden bridge at Clonary. I saw it coming, and I
cried to them, and Black Duncan cast off, leaving boat and tiller. She
drove before the wind and went on Ealan Dubh, and sunk, and--that was
all."

The story, as he told it, was as bald of interest as if it were a page
from an old almanack.

"What came of the men?" said the Cornal. "The loss of the _Jean_ does
not amount to muckle; there was not a plank of her first timbers left in
her."

"They got ashore in the small boat," said Gilian.

"Which was left behind, I think you said at first," said the Cornal,
annoyed at some apparent link a missing in the chain of circumstance.
"If the boat was left behind as well as the tiller--I think you
mentioned the tiller--how did they get ashore in it? Did you see them
get ashore?"

"I saw Black Duncan and the girl, but not the others," answered Gilian,
all at once forgetting that some caution was needed here.

Up more straightly sat the Cornal, and fixed him with a stern eye.

"Oh, ay!" said he; "she was in the story too, and you fancied you
might hide her. I would not wonder now but you had been in the vessel
yourself."

Gilian was abashed at his own inadvertence, but he hastened to explain
that he was on the shore watching the vessel when she struck.

"But you were on the vessel some time?" said the Cornal, detecting some
reservation.

"Oh, Colin, Colin, I wonder at you!" cried Miss Mary, now in arms for
her favourite, and utterly heedless of the frown her brother threw at
her for her interference. "You treat the boy as if he was a vagabond
and--"

"--Vagabond or no vagabond," said the Cornal, "he was where he should
not be. I'm wanting but the truth from him, and that, it seems, is not
very easy to get."

"You are not just at all," she protested. Then she went over and
whispered something in his ear. His whole look changed; where had
been suspicion came something of open admiration, but he gave it no
expression on his tongue.

"Take your time, Gilian," said he; "tell us how the small boat got to
the vessel."

"The boy went down to the river mouth," said Gilian, "and--"

"--The boy?" said the Cornal. "Well, if you must be putting it that
idiotic way, you must; anyway, we're waiting on the story."

"--The boy went down to the river mouth and got into the small boat.
She was half full of water and he baled her as well as he could with his
bonnet, then pushed her off! She went up and down like a cork, and he
was terrified. He thought when he went in first she would be heavy to
row, but he found the lightness of her was the fearful thing. The wind
slapped like a big open hand, and the water would scoop out on either
side--"

"Take it easy, man, take it easy; slow march," said the Cornal. For
Gilian had run into his narrative in one of his transports and the words
could not come fast enough to his lips to keep up with his imagination.
His face was quivering with the emotions appropriate to the chronicle.

"--Then I put out the oar astern----"

"--Humph! _You_ did; that's a little more sensible way of putting it."

"I put the oar astern," said Gilian, never hearing the comment, but
carried away by his illusion; "and the wind carried us up the way of
Ealan Dubh. Sometimes the big waves would try to pull the oar from my
hands, wanting fair play between their brothers and the ship. ('Havers!'
muttered the Cornal.) And the spindrift struck me in the eyes like hands
full of sand. I thought I would never get to the vessel. I thought
she would be upset every moment, and I could not keep from thinking of
myself hanging on to the keel and my fingers slipping in weariness."

"A little less thinking and more speed with your boat would be welcome,"
said the Cornal impatiently. "I'm sick sorry for them, waiting there on
a wreck with so slow a rescue coming to them."

Gilian hesitated, with his illusion shattered, and, all unnerved, broke
for the second time into tears.

"Look at that!" cried Miss Mary pitifully, herself weeping; "you are
frightening the poor laddie out of his wits," and she soothed Gilian
with numerous Gaelic endearments.

"Tuts! never mind me," said the Cornal, rising and coming forward to
clap the boy on the head for the very first time. "I think we can guess
the rest of the story. Can we not guess the rest of the story, Dugald?"

The General sat bewildered, the only one out of the secret, into which
Miss Mary's whisper to the Cornal has not brought him.

"I am not good at guessing," said he; "a man at my time likes everything
straight forward." And there was a little irritation in his tone.

"It's only this, Dugald," said his brother, "that here's a pluckier
young fellow than we thought, and good prospects yet for a soger in the
family. I never gave Jock credit for discretion, but, faith, he seems to
have gone with a keen eye to the market for once in his life! If it was
not for Gilian here, Turner was wanting a daughter this day; we could
hardly have hit on a finer revenge."

"Revenge!" said the General, a flash jumping to his eyes, then dying
away. "I would not have said that, Colin; I would not have said that. It
is the phrase of a rough, quarrelsome young soldier, and we are elders
who should be long by with it."

"Anyhow," said the Cornal, "here's the makings of a hero." And he beamed
almost with affection on Gilian, now in a stupor at the complexity his
day's doings had brought him to.

The Paymaster's rattan sounded on the stair, and "Here's John," said his
sister. "He'll be very pleased, I'm sure."

It was anything but a pleased man who entered the room, his face puffed
and red and his eyes searching around for his boy. He pointed a shaking
finger at him.

"What, in God's name, do you mean by this?" he asked vaguely.

"Don't speak to the boy in that fashion," said the Cornal in a
surprising new paternal key. "If he has been in mischief he has got out
of it by a touch of the valiant--"

"Valiant!" cried the Paymaster with a sneer. "He made an ass of himself
at the Waterfoot, and his stupidity would have let three or four people
drown if Young Islay, a callant better than himself had not put out a
boat and rescued them. The town's ringing with it."

The scar on the Cornal's face turned almost black. "Is that true that my
brother says?" said he.

Gilian searched in a reeling head for some answer he could not find; his
parched lips could not have uttered it, even if he had found it, so he
nodded.

"Put me to my bed, somebody," said the General, breaking in suddenly
on the shock of the moment, and staggering to one side a little as he
spoke. "Put me to my bed, somebody. I am getting too old to understand!"



CHAPTER XIX--LIGHTS OUT!

AS he spoke he staggered to the side, and would have fallen but for his
sister's readiness. About that tall rush of a brother she quickly
placed an arm and kept him on his feet with infinite exertion, the
while uttering endearments long out of fashion for her or him, but come
suddenly, at this crisis, from the grave of the past--the past where she
and Dugald had played as children, with free frank hearts loving each
other truly.

"Put me to my bed," said he again thickly, and his eyes blurred with the
utmost weariness. "Put me to my bed. O God! what is on me now? Put me to
my bed."

"Dugald! Dugald! Dugald!" she cried. "My darling brother, here is Mary
with you; it is just a turn." But as she said the flattering thing her
face was hopeless. The odour of the southernwood on the window-sill
changed at once to laurel, rain-drenched, dark, and waving over tombs
for the boy spellbound on the floor. All his shameful perturbation
vanished, a trifling thing before the great Perturber's presence.

The brothers went quickly beside their sister, and took him to
his bedroom, furnished sparsely always by his own wish that denied
indulgence in anything much beyond a soldier's campaign quarters.

Dr. Anderson came, and went, shaking hands with Miss Mary in the lobby
and his eyes most sternly bent upon the inside of his hat "Before
morning at the very most," he said in his odd low-country voice. No more
than that, and still it thundered at her soul like an infernal doom. Up
she gathered her apron, up to her face, and fled in among her pots and
pans, and loudly she moved among them to drown her lamentation.

Dr. Colin came later and prayed in the two languages over a figure on
the bed, and then went home to write another sermon than the one already
started. The room he left was silent for a while, till of a sudden the
eyes of the General opened and he looked upon the sorry company.

"Bring me MacGibbon," said he in a voice extremely sensible.

Gilian ran up the street and fetched the old comrade, who put his hand
upon the General's head.

"Dugald, do you ken me?" said he.

"Do I ken you?" said the General with an unpractised smile. "You're the
laddie that burned the master's cane. I would know your voice if you
were in any guise, and what masquerade is this that you should be so
old? We're to be the first to move in the morning, under arms at scream
of day.... Lord, but I'm tired! Bob, Bob, they're not thinking of us
at home in the old place I'll warrant, and to-morrow we may be stricken
corpses for the king without so much as Macintyre's stretching-board to
give us a soger's chest and shoulders."

"Was there anything I could do, Dugald?" said the comrade, a ludicrous
man with his paunch now far beyond the limit of the soldier's belt he
used to buckle easily, wearing in a clownish notion of deference to this
soldier's passing a foolish small Highland bonnet he had donned in old
campaigns.

"There was something running in my mind," said the man in the bed.
"I think I would be wanting you to take word home in case anything
happened. I was thinking of--of--of--what was her name, now? You know
the one I mean--her ladyship in Glen Shira. Am I not stupid to
forget it? that's the worst of the bottle! What was her name, now?...
_Battalion will form an hollow square_.... The name, the name, what was
it?... _On the center companies, 'kwards wheel_.... I'm wearied to the
marrow of my bones, all but the right arm, that's like a feather, that's
like a... _By the right angle of the front face; sub-divisions to the
right and left half wheel. Re-form the square. Hall! Dress!_... What's
that piper doing out there? MacVurich, come in! This is not a reel at
a Skye wedding.... Let me see, I have the name on the tip of my
tongue--what could it be, now? _Steady, men!_"

The door of the chamber was pushed in a little, and to Gilian's mouth
his heart rose up at the manifestation, for what was this with no
footstep on the wooden stair? About him he felt of a sudden cold airs
waft, and the door ajar with no one entering glued his gaze upon its
panels. The others in the room had not perceived it. Miss Mary, grown
of a sudden plain and old, looked up in the Cornal's face, craving there
for something for the ease of sorrow, as if he that had wandered so far
and seen the Enemy so often and so ugly had some secret to share with
her whereby this ancient trouble could be marred. There she found no
consolation. No magician but only the brother looked over an untidy
scarf and a limp high collar at the delirious man in bed. The Paymaster
stood at the window frowning out upon the street; MacGibbon coughed
in short dry jerky coughs, patted with a bony hand upon the coverlet,
turned his head away. A stillness that was like a swoon came over all.

"Is that you, mother?" It was the General who broke the quiet, and his
eyes were on his sister. A flush had fallen like a sunset on his face,
his eyes were very clear and full, and, with his shaven cheeks, he might
in the mitigate light of the chamber have been a lad new waked from an
unpleasant dream. His sister put her head upon the pillow beside him and
an arm about his shoulders.

"Oh, Dugald, Dugald!" said she, "it is not mother yet, but only Mary."
And the bedstead shook with the stress of her grief.

"Mary, is it?" said he, shutting his eyes again. "What are you laughing
at? I was not up there at all; I never saw her to-day, upon my word;
I was just giving Black George an exercise no further than the Boshang
Gate.... I'm saying, though, you need not let on about it to Colin...
Colin, Colin, Colin, I wish we were home; the leaf must be fine and
green upon Dunchuach.... They're over the river at Aldea Tajarda, and
we push on to Cieudada.... What's that, Mackay? let go the girl! And you
the Highland gentleman! _Lo sien--sien--siento mucho, Senora_."

"I am at your shoulder, Dugald, do you not know me?" asked the Cornal,
gently putting his sister aside. His brother looked and smiled again,
but did not seem to see him.

"What was her name? and I'll send her my love and duty, for, man,
between us, I was fond of her,... There was a song she had:

     The Rover went a-roving far upon the foreign seas,
     Oh, hail to thee, my dear, and fare-ye-weel.

Only it was in the Gaelic she sung it"

His voice, that was very weak and thin now, cracked, and no sound came
though his lips moved.

Miss Mary took a cup and wet his lips. He seemed to think it a
Communion, for again he shut his eyes, and "God," said he, "I am a
sinful man to be sitting at Thy tables, but Thou knowest the soldier's
trade, the soldier's sacrifice, and Thou art ready to forgive."

And still Gilian was in his bewilderment and fear about the open door.
Had anything come in that was there beside them at the bed? Down in the
kitchen Peggy poked the fire with less than her customary vigour, but
between her cheerful and worldly occupation and this doleful room, felt
Gilian, lay a space--a stairway full of dreads. All the stories he had
heard of Death personified came to him fast upon each other, and they
are numerous about winter fires in the Highland glens. He could fancy
almost that he saw the plaided spectre by the bedside, arms akimbo,
smiling ghastly, waiting till his prey was done with earthly
conversation. It was horrible to be the only one in that chamber to know
of the terrific presence that had entered at the door, and the boy's
mouth parched with old, remote, unreasonable fears.

They did not disappear, those childish terrors, even when a kitten
moved across the floor and began to toy with the vallance of the bed,
explaining at once the door's opening. For might not the kitten, he
thought, be more than Peggy's foundling be the other Thing disguised?
He watched its gambols at the feet of that distressed household, watched
its pawing at the fringe, turning round upon itself in playfulness,
emblem surely of the cruel heedlessness of nature.

MacGibbon moved to the window and stood beside the Paymaster, saying no
word, but looking out at the vacant street, its causeway still shining
with the rain. They were turning their backs, as it were, on a sorrow
irremediable. Miss Mary and the Cornal stood alone by the dying man. He
lay like a log but that his left hand played restlessly on the coverlet,
long in the fingers, sinewy at the wrist. Miss Mary took it in hers
and put palm to palm, and caressed the back with her other hand with an
overflowing of affection that murmured at her throat.

And now that MacGibbon did not see and the Cornal had blurred eyes upon
his brother's boyish countenance, she felt free to caress, and she laid
the poor hand against her cheek and coyly kissed it.

The General turned his look upon her wet face with a moment's
comprehension. "Tuts! never mind, Mary, my dear," said he, "it might
have been with Jamie yonder on the field, and there--there you have a
son--in a manner--left to comfort you." Then he began to wander anew. "A
son," said he, "a son. Whose son? Turner threw our sonlessness in our
Jock's face, but it was in my mind there was a boy somewhere we expected
something of."

Miss Mary beckoned on Gilian to come forward to the bedside. He rose
from the chair he sat on in the farthest corner with his dreads and
faltered over.

"What boy's this?" said the General, looking at him with surmising eyes.
"He puts me in mind of--of--of--of an old tale somewhere with a sunny
day in it. Nan! Nan! Nan!--that's the name. I knew I would come on
it, for the sound of it was always like a sunny day in Portugal or
Spain--_He estado en Espana_."

"This is the boy, Dugald," said Miss Mary; "this is just our Gilian."

"I see that. I know him finely," said the General, turning upon him a
roving melancholy eye: "Jock's recruit.... Did you get back from your
walk, my young lad? I never could fathom you, but perhaps you have your
parts.... Well, well... what are ye dreaming on the day?... Eh? Ha! ha!
ha! Aye dreaming, that was you; you'll be dreaming next that the lassie
likes you. Mind, she jilted Jock, she jilted Colin, she jilted me; were
we not the born idiots? yet still-and-on.... Sixty miles in twenty-four
hours; good marching, lads, good marching, for half-starved men, and not
the true heather-bred at that."

The voice was becoming weaker in every sentence, the flush was paling
on the countenance. Standing by the bedside, the Cornal looked upon his
brother with a most rueful visage, his face hoved up with tears.

"This beats all!" said he, and he turned and went beside the men at the
window, leaving Miss Mary caressing still at the hand upon the coverlet,
and with an arm about the boy.

"He was a strong, fine, wiry man in his time," said MacGibbon, looking
over his shoulder at this end of a stormy life. "I mind him at Talavera;
I think he was at his very best there."

The Paymaster looked, too, at the figure upon the bed, looked with a
bent head, under lowered eyebrows, his lip and chin brown with snuffy
tears.

"At sixteen he threw the cabar against the champion of the three shires,
and though he was a sober man a bottle was neither here nor there with
him," said the Cornal.

Miss Mary was upon her knees.

"The batteries are to open fire on San Vincent; seven eighteen-pounders
and half a dozen howitzers are scarcely enough for that job. Tell
Mackellar to move up two hundred yards farther on the right."

The General babbled again of his wars in a child's accent, that rose now
and then stormily to the vehemence of the battle-field. "_Columns deploy
on the right centre company.... No, no, close column on the rear of the
Grenadiers_.... I wish, I wish.... Jock, Jock, where's your boy now? I
cannot see him, I'm sore feared he's hiding in the sutler's vans. I knew
him for a dreamer from the first day I saw him.... That's Williams gone
and my step to Major come. God sain him! we could have better spared
another man.... _Halt, dress!_"

He opened his eyes again and they fell upon Gilian. "You mind me of a
boy I once knew," said he. "Poor boy, poor boy, what a pity of you! My
sister Mary would have liked you. I think we never gave her her due, and
indeed she had a generous hand."

"Here she's at your side, dear Dugald," said his sister, and her head
went down upon his breast.

"So she is," said he, arousing to the fact; "I might be sure she would
be there!" He disengaged the hand she had in hers, and wearily placed
it for a moment on her hair with an awkward effort at fondling. "Are
you tired, my dear?" he said, repeating it in the Gaelic. "It's a dreich
dreich dying on a feather bed." He smiled once more feebly, and Gilian
screamed, for the kitten had touched him on the leg.

"Go downstairs, this is no place for you, my dear," said Miss Mary; and
he went willingly, hearing a stertorous breathing in the bed behind him.



PART II



CHAPTER XX--THE RETURN

When the General died, the household in the high burgh land suffered a
change marvellous enough considering how little that old man musing in
his parlour had had to do for years with its activities. Cornal Colin
would sit of an evening with candles extravagantly burning more numerous
than before to make up for the glowing heart extinguished; the long
winter nights, black and stifling and immense around the burgh town, and
the wind with a perpetual moan among the trees, would find him abandoned
to his sorry self, looking into the fire, the week's paper on his knees
unread, and him full of old remembrances and regrets. It had become for
him a parlour full of ghosts. He could not, in October blasts, but
think of Jamie yonder on the cold foreign field with no stone for his
memorial; Dugald, so lately gone, an old man, bent and palsied, would
return in the flicker of the candle, remitted to his prime, the very
counterpart of the sturdy gallant on the wall. Sometimes he would talk
with these wraiths, and Miss Mary standing still in the lobby, her heart
tortured by his loneliness, would hear him murmuring in these phantom
visitations. She would, perhaps, venture in now and then timidly, and
take a seat unbidden on the corner of a chair near him, and embark
on some topic of the day. For a little he would listen almost with a
brightness, but brief, brief was the mood; very soon would he let his
chin fall upon his breast, and with pouted lips relapse into his
doleful meditation.

All life, all the interests, the activities of the town seemed to drift
by him; folk saw him less and less often on the plain stones of
the street; children grew up from pinafores to kilts, from kilts to
breeches, never knowing of his presence in that community that at last
he saw but of an afternoon in momentary glimpses from the window.

On a week-end, perhaps, the veterans would come up to cheer him if they
could; tobacco that he nor any of his had cared for in that form
would send its cloud among Miss Mary's dear naperies, but she never
complained: they might have fumed her out of press and pantry if
they brought her brother cheer. They talked loudly; they laughed
boisterously; they acted a certain zest in life: for a little he would
rouse to their entertainment, fiddling heedlessly with an empty glass,
but anon he would see the portrait of Dugald looking on them wondering
at their folly, and that must daunten him. It would not take long till
some extravagance of these elders made him wince, and there was Cornal
Colin again in the dolours, poor company for them that would harbour
any delusion of youth. It was pitiful then to see them take their
departures, almost slinking, ashamed to have sounded the wrong note in
that chamber of sober recollections. Miss Mary, lighting them to the
door with one of her mother's candlesticks, felt as she had the light
above her head and showed them down the stair as if she had been the
last left at a funeral feast. Her shadow on the wall, dancing before her
as she returned, seemed some mockery of the night.

Only Old Brooks could rouse the Cornal to some spirit of liveliness.
In a neighbourly compassion the dominie would come in of a Sunday or a
Friday evening, leaving for an hour or two the books he was so fond of
that he must have a little one in his pocket to feel the touch of when
he could not be studying the pages. Seated in the Cornal's chair, he had
a welcome almost blithe. For he was a man of great urbanity, sobered by
thought upon the complexities of life, but yet with sparkling courage.

He found the brothers now contemptuous of the boy who showed no sign
of adaptability or desire for that gallant career that had been theirs.
These, indeed, were the cold days for Gilian in a household indifferent
to him save Miss Mary, who grew fonder every day, doting upon him like a
lover for a score of reasons, but most of all because he was that rarity
the perpetual child, and she must be loving somewhere.

"I have not seen the lad at school for a week now," Brooks said,
compelled at last by long truancies.

"So?" said the Cornal, showing no interest "It is not my affair. John
must look after his own recruit, who seems an uncommon tardy one, Mr.
Brooks--an uncommon tardy."

"But I get small satisfaction from the Captain."

"I daresay, I daresay; would you wonder at that in our Jock? He's my
brother, but some way there is wanting in him the stuff of Jamie and
of Dugald. Even in his throes upon his latter bed Dugald could see what
Jock could never see--the doom in this lad's countenance. As for me, I
was done with the fellow after the trick he played us in his story of
the wreck on Ealan Dubh. I blame him, in a way, for my brother Dugald's
stroke."

The dominie looked in a startled remonstrance. "I would not blame him
for that, Cornal," he said: "that was what the Sheriff calls _damnum
fatale_. Upon my word, though Gilian has been something of a heart-break
to myself, I must say you give him but scant justice among you here."

"I can see in him but youth wasted, and the prodigal of that is
spendthrift indeed."

"I would not just say wasted," protested the dominie. "There's the
makings of a fine man in him if we give him but a shove in the right
direction. He baffles me to comprehend, and yet"--this a little
shamefacedly--"and yet I've brought him to my evening prayers. I
would like guidance on the laddie. With him it's a spoon made or a horn
spoiled. Sometimes I feel I have in him fine stuff and pliable, and I'll
be trying to fathom how best to work it, but my experience has always
been with more common metal, and I am feared, I'm feared, we may be
botching him."

"That was done for us in the making of him," said the Cornal.

"I would not say that either, Cornal," said the dominie firmly. "But I'm
wae to see him brought up on no special plan. The Captain seems to have
given up his notion of the army for him."

"You can lead a horse to the water, but you cannot make him drink.
What's to be made of him? Here's he sixteen or thereabouts, and just a
bairn over lesson-books at every chance."

Brooks smiled wistfully. "It is not the lesson-books, Cornal, not the
lesson-books exactly. I wish it was, but books of any kind--come now,
Cornal, you can hardly expect me to condemn them in the hands of youth,"
He fondled the little Horace in his pocket as a man in company may
squeeze his wife's hand. "They made my bread and butter, did the books,
for fifty years, and Gilian will get no harm there. The lightest of
novelles and the thinnest of ballants have something precious for a lad
of his kind."

The Cornal made no response; the issue was too trivial to keep him from
his meditation. His chin sunk upon his chest as it would not have done
had the dominie kept to the commoner channels of his gossip, that was
generally on universal history, philosophy of a rough and ready rural
kind, and theology handled with a freedom that would have seriously
alarmed Dr. Colin if he could have heard his Session Clerk in the
operation.

"Eh? Are you hearing me, Cornal?" he pressed, eager to compel something
for the youth whose days were being wasted.

"Speak to Miss Mary," was all the Cornal would say. "I have nothing to
do with him, and John's heedless now, for he knows his plan for the army
is useless."

The dominie shook his head. "Man!" he cried. "I cannot even tell of his
truancy there, for her heart's wrapped up in the youth. When she speaks
to me about him her face is lighted up like a day in spring, and I dare
not say cheep to shatter her illusion."

Gilian, alas! knew how little these old men now cared for him. The
Cornal had long since ceased his stories; the Paymaster, coming in from
his meridian in the Sergeant More, would pass him on the stair with as
little notice as if he were a stranger in the street. Miss Mary was his
only link between his dreams, his books, and the common life of the day,
and it was she who at last made the move that sent him back to Ladyfield
to learn with Cameron the shepherd--still there in the interests of the
Paymaster who had whimsically remained tenant--the trade that was not
perhaps best suited for him, but at least came somehow most conveniently
to his practice. But for the loss of her consoling and continual company
there would have been almost joy on his part at this returning to the
scene of his childhood. He went back to it on a summer day figuring to
himself the content, the carelessness that had been his there before,
and thinking, poor fool, they were waiting where he had left them.

Ladyfield was a small farm of its kind with four hundred sheep, seven
cows, two horses, a goat or two and poultry. When the little old woman
with a face like a nut was alive she could see the whole tack at one
sweep of the eye from the rowan at the door, on the left up to the
plateau where five burns were born, on the right to the peak of
Drimfern. A pleasant place for meditation, bleak in winter for the want
of trees, but in other seasons in a bloom of colour.

Though he was there 'prentice to a hard calling, Gilian's life was more
the gentle's than the shepherd's. He might be often on the hill, but it
was seldom to tend his flock and bring them to fank for clip or keeling,
it was more often to meditate with a full pagan eye upon the mysteries
of the countryside. A certain weeping effect of the mists on the
ravines, one particular moaning sound of the wind among the rocks, had
a strange solace for his ear, chording with some sweet melancholy of his
spirit He loved it all, yet at times he would flee from the place as if
a terror were at his heels and in a revolt against the narrowness of his
life, hungering almost to starvation for some companionship, for some
salve to an anxious mind, and, in spite of his shyness, bathe in the
society of the town--an idler. The people as he rode past would
indicate him with a toss of the head over their shoulders, and say, "The
Paymaster's boy," and yet the down was showing on his lip. He would go
up the street looking from side to side with an expectancy that had no
object; he stared almost rudely at faces, seeking for he knew not what.

It was not the winters with their cold, their rain, their wind and
darkness, that oppressed him most in his banishment, but the summers. In
the winter the mists crowded so close about, and the snow so robbed
the land of all variety, that Ladyfield house with its peats burning
ceaselessly, its clean paven court, its store of books he had gathered
there, was an enviable place for compactness and comfort, and he could
feel as if the desirable world was in his immediate neighbourhood. Down
in the street he knew the burgh men were speeding the long winter nights
with song and mild carousal; the lodges and houses up the way, each
with its spirit keg and licence, gave noisiness to the home-returning of
tenants for Lochow from the town, and as they went by Ladyfield in the
dark they would halloo loudly to the recluse lad within who curled, nor
shot, nor shintied, nor drank, nor did any of the things it was youth's
manifest duty to do.

But the summer made his station there in Ladyfield almost intolerable.
For the roads, crisp, yellow, straight, demanded his going on them;
the sun-dart among distant peaks revealed the width and glamour of the
world. "Come away," said the breezes; passing gipsies all jangling with
tins upon their backs awoke dreams poignant and compelling. When the
summer was just on the turn at that most pitiful' of periods, the
autumn, he must go more often down to town.



CHAPTER XXI--THE SORROWFUL SEASON

It was on a day in a month of August he went to town to escape the
lamentation of the new-weaned lambs, that made the glen sorrowful
from Camus to Kincreggan. A sound pleasant in the ears of Cameron the
shepherd, who read no grief in it, but the comfortable tale of progress,
growth, increasing flocks, but to Gilian almost heartrending. The
separation for which the ewes wailed and their little ones wept, seemed
a cruelty; that far-extending lamentation of the flocks was part of some
universal coronach for things eternally doomed. Never seemed a landscape
so miserable as then. The hills, in the morning haze, gathered in
upon his heart and seemed to crush it. A poor farmer indeed to be thus
affected by short brute sorrows, but so it was with Gilian, and on some
flimsy excuse he left Ladyfield in the afternoon and rode to town.
He had grown tall and slim in those latter days; his face would have
seemed--if not handsome altogether--at least notable and pleasant to
any other community than this, which ever preferred to have its men
full-cheeked, bronzed, robust. He had an air of gentility oddly out of
place with his immediate history; in his walk and manner men never saw
anything very taking, but young women of the place would feel it,
puzzle themselves often as to what the mystery of him was that made his
appearance on the street or on the highway put a new interest in the
day.

The Paymaster was standing gossiping at the inn door with Mr. Spencer,
Rixa, and General Turner himself--no less, for the ancient rancour at
the moment was at rest.

"Here he comes," said old Mars sourly, as Gilian turned round the Arches
into the town. "He's like Gillesbeg Aotram, always seeking for something
he'll never find."

"Your failure!" said Turner playfully, but with poor inspiration, as in
a moment he realised.

The Paymaster bridled. He had no answer to a truth so manifest to
himself. In a lightning-flash he remembered his boast in the schoolroom
at the dregy, and hoped Turner had not so good a memory as himself. He
could only vent his annoyance on Gilian, who drew up his horse with
a studied curvet--for still there was the play-actor in him to some
degree.

"Down again?" said he with half a sneer. There is a way of leaning on
a stick and talking over the shoulder at an antagonist that can be very
trying to the antagonist if he has any sense of shyness.

"Down again," agreed Gilian uncomfortably, sorry he had had the courtesy
to stop. The others moved away, for they knew the relations of the man
and his adopted son were not of the pleasantest.

"An odd kind of farm training!" said the old officer. "I wish I could
fathom whether you are dolt or deep one."

Gilian might have come off the horse and argued it, for he had an answer
pat enough. He sat still and fingered the reins, looking at the old
man with the puffed face, and the constricted bull neck, and
self-satisfaction written upon every line of him, and concluding it was
not worth while to explain to a nature so shallow. And the man, after
all, was his benefactor: scrupulous about every penny he spent on
himself, he had paid, at Miss Mary's solicitations, for the very horse
the lad bestrode.

"Do you know what Turner said there?" asked the Paymaster, still with
his contemptuous side to the lad. "He called you our failure. God, and
it's true! Neither soldier nor shepherd seems to be in you, a muckle
bulrush nodding to the winds of Heaven! See that sturdy fellow at the
quay there?"

Gilian looked and saw Young Islay, a smart ensign home on leave from the
county corps that even yet was taking so many fine young fellows from
that community.

"There's a lad who's a credit to all about him, and he had not half your
chances; do you know that?"

"He seems to have the knack of turning up for my poor comparison ever
since I can mind," said Gilian, good-humouredly. "And somehow," he
added, "I have a notion that he has but half my brains as well as half
my chances." He looked up to see Turner still at the inn door. "General
Turner," he cried, his face reddening and his heart stormy, "I hear
that in your frank estimate I'm the Paymaster's failure; is it so bad as
that? It seems, if I may say it, scarcely fair from one of your years to
one of mine."

"Shut your mouth!" said the Paymaster coarsely, as Turner came forward.
"You have no right to repeat what I said and show the man I took his
insolence to heart."

"I said it; I don't deny," answered the General, coming forward from
the group at the door and putting his hand in a friendly freedom on the
horse's neck and looking up with some regret in Gilian's face. "One
says many things in an impetus. Excuse a soldier's extravagance. I never
meant it either for your ear or for unkindness. And you talk of ages:
surely a man so much your senior has a little privilege?"

"Not to judge youth, sir, which he may have forgotten to understand,"
said Gilian, yet very red and uneasy, but with a wistful countenance.
"If you'll think of it I'm just at the beginning of life, a little more
shy of making the plunge perhaps than Young Islay there might be, or
your own son Sandy, who's a credit to his corps, they say."

"Quite right, Gilian, and I ask your pardon," said the General, putting
out his hand. "God knows who the failures of this life are; some of them
go about very flashy semblances of success. In these parts we judge by
the external signs, that are not always safest; for my son Sandy, who
looks so thriving and so douce when he comes home, is after all a scamp
whose hands are ever in his simple daddy's pockets." But this he said
laughing, with a father's reservation.

The Paymaster stared at this encounter, in some ways so much beyond his
comprehension. "Humph!" he ejaculated; and Gilian rode on, leaving in
the group behind him an uncomfortable feeling that somehow, somewhere,
an injustice had been done.

Miss Mary's face was at the window whenever his horse's hooves came
clattering on the causeway--she knew the very clink of the shoes.
"There's something wrong with the laddie to-day," she cried to Peggy;
"he looks unco dejected;" and her own countenance fell in sympathy with
her darling's mood.

She met him on the stair as if by accident, pretending to be going
down to her cellar in the pend. They did not even shake hands; it is
a formality neglected in these parts except for long farewells or
unexpected meetings. Only she must take his bonnet and cane from him and
in each hand take them upstairs as if she were leading thus two little
children, her gaze fond upon the back of him.

"Well, auntie!" he said, showing at first no sign of the dejection she
had seen from the window. "Here I am again. I met the Captain up at the
inn door, and he seems to grudge me the occasional comfort of hearing
any other voice than my own. I could scarcely tell him as I can tell
you, that the bleating of the lambs gave me a sore heart. The very hills
are grieving with them. I'm a fine farmer, am I not? Are you not
vexed for me?" His lips could no longer keep his secret, their corners
trembled with the excess of his feeling.

She put a thin hand upon his coat lapel, and with the other picked
invisible specks of dust from his coat sleeve, her eyes revealing by
their moisture a ready harmony with his sentiment.

"Farmer indeed!" said she with a gallant attempt at badinage; "you're as
little for that, I'm afraid, as you're for the plough or the army."
She led him into her room and set a chair for him as if he had been a
prince, only to have an excuse for putting an arm for a moment almost
round his waist. She leaned over him as he sat and came as close as she
dared in contact with his hair, all the time a glow in her face.

"And what did you come down for?" she asked, expecting an old answer he
never varied in.

He looked up and smiled with a touch of mock gallantry wholly new. "To
see you, of course," said he, as though she had been a girl.

She was startled at this first revelation of the gallant in what till
now had been her child. She flushed to the coils above her ear. Then she
laughed softly and slapped him harmlessly on the back. "Get away with
you," she said, "and do not make fun of a douce old maiden!" She drew
back as she spoke and busily set about some household office, fearing,
apparently, that her fondness had been made too plain.

"Do you know what the Captain said?" he remarked in a tone less hearty,
moving about the room in a searching discontent.

"The old fool!" she answered irrelevantly, anticipating some
unpleasantness. "He went out this morning in a tiravee about a button
wanting from his waistcoat. It's long since I learned never to heed him
much."

It was a story invented on the moment; in heavenly archives that sin of
love is never indexed Her face had at once assumed a look of anxiety,
for she felt that the encounter had caused Gilian's dejection as he rode
down the street.

"What was he saying?" she asked at last, seeing there was no sign of
his volunteering more. And she spoke with a very creditable show of
indifference, and even hummed a little bar of song as she turned some
airing towels on a winter-dyke beside the fire.

"Do you think I'm a failure, auntie?" asked he, facing her. "That was
what he called me."

She was extremely hurt and angry.

"A failure!" she cried. "Did any one ever hear the like? God forgive me
for saying it of my brother, but what failure is more notorious than his
own? A windy old clerk-soger with his name in a ballant, no more like
his brothers than I'm like Duke George."

"You do not deny it!" said Gilian simply.

She moved up to him and looked at him with an affection that was a
transfiguration.

"My dear, my dear!" said she, "is there need for me to deny it? What are
you yet but a laddie?"

He fingered the down upon his lip.

"But a laddie," she repeated, determined not to see. "All the world's
before you, and a braw bonny world it is, for all its losses and its
crosses. There is not a man of them at the inn door who would not
willingly be in your shoes. The sour old remnants--do I not know them?
Grant me patience with them!"

"It was General Turner's word," said Gilian, utterly unconsoled, and he
wondered for a moment to see her flush.

"He might have had a kinder thought," said she, "with his own affairs,
as they tell me, much ajee, and Old Islay pressing for his loans. I'll
warrant you do not know anything of that, but it's the clavers of the
Crosswell." She hurried on, glad to get upon a topic even so little away
from what had vexed her darling. "Old Islay has his schemes, they say,
to get Maam tacked on to his own tenancy of Drimlee and his son out of
the army, and the biggest gentleman farmer in the shire. He has the ear
of the Duke, and now he has Turner under his thumb. Oh my sorrow, what a
place of greed and plot!"

"That Turner said it, showed he thought it!" said Gilian, not a whit
moved from bitter reflection upon his wounded feelings.

"Amn't I telling you?" said Miss Mary. "It's just his own sorrows
souring him. There's Sandy, his son, a through-other lad (though I aye
liked the laddie and he's young yet), and his daughter back from her
schooling in Edinburgh, educated, or polished, or finished off as they
call it--I hope she kens what she's to be after next, for I'm sure her
father does not."

Gilian's breast filled with some strange new sense of sudden relief. It
was as if he had been climbing out of an airless, hopeless valley, and
emerged upon a hill-crest, and was struck there by the flat hand of
the lusty wind and stiffened into hearty interest in the rolling and
variegated world around. In a second, the taunt of the General of Maam
was no more to him than a dream. A dozen emotions mastered him, and he
tingled from head to foot, for the first time man.

"Oh, and _she's_ back, is she?" said he with a crafty indifference, as
one who expects no answer.

Miss Mary was not deceived. She had moved to the window and was looking
down into the street where the children played, but the new tone of his
voice, and the pause before it, gave her a sense of desertion, and she
grieved. On the ridges of the opposite lands, sea-gulls perched and
preened their feathers, pigeons kissed each other as they moved about
the feet of the passers-by. A servant lass bent over a window in the
dwelling of Marget Maclean and smiled upon a young fisherman who went up
the middle of the street, noisily in knee-high boots. The afternoon was
glorious with sun.



CHAPTER XXII--IN CHURCH

If the lambs were still wailing when Gilian got back to Ladyfield he
never heard them. Was the glen as sad and empty as before? Then he was
absent, indeed! For he was riding through an air almost jocund, and his
spirit sang within him. The burns bubbled merrily among the long grasses
and the bracken, the myrtle cast a sharp and tonic sweetness all around.
The mountain bens no more pricked the sky in solemn loneliness, but
looked one to the other over the plains--companions, lovers, touched to
warmth and passion by the sun of the afternoon. It was as if an empty
world had been fresh tenanted. Gilian, as he rode up home, woke to
wonder at his own cheerfulness. He reflected that he had been called a
failure--and he laughed.

Next day he was up with the sun, and Cameron was amazed at this new
zeal that sent him, crook in hand, to the hill for some wanderers of the
flock, whistling blithely as he went. Long after he was gone he could
see him, black against the sky, on the backbone of the mountain, not
very active for a man in search of sheep. But what he could not see so
far was Gilian's rapture as he looked upon the two glens severed by so
many weary miles of roadway, but close together at his feet. And the
chimneys of Maam (that looks so like an ancient castle at Dim Loch head)
were smoking cheerily below. Looking down upon them he made a pretence
to himself after a little that he had just that moment remembered who
was now there. He even said the words to himself, "Oh! Nan--Miss Nan is
there!" in the tone of sudden recollection, and he flushed in the cold
breeze of the lonely mountain, half at the mention of the name, half at
his own deceit with himself.

He allowed himself to fancy what the girl had grown to in her three
years' absence among Lowland influences, that, by all his reading, must
be miraculous indeed. He saw her a little older only than she had been
when they sat in the den of the _Jean_ or walked a magic garden, the
toss of spate-brown hair longer upon her shoulders, a little more
sedateness in her mien. About her still hung the perfume of young birch,
and her gown was still no lower than her knees. He met her (still in his
imagination upon the hill-top) by some rare chance, in the garden where
they had strayed, and his coolness and ease were a marvel to himself.

"Miss Nan!" he cried. "They told me you were returned and----" What was
to follow of the sentence he could not just now say.

She blushed to see him; his hand tingled at the contact with hers. She
answered in a pleasant tone of Edinburgh gentility, like Lady Charlotte,
and they walked a little way together, conversing wondrously upon life
and books and poems, whose secrets they shared between them. He was able
to hold her fascinated by the sparkle of his talk; he had never before
felt so much the master of himself, and his head fairly hummed with high
notions. They talked of their childhood----

Here Gilian dropped from the clouds, at first with a sense of some
unpleasant memory undefined, then with shivering, ashamed, as his last
meeting with the girl flashed before him, and he saw himself again
fleeing, an incapable, from the sea-beach at Ealan Dubh.

If she should remember that so vividly as he did! The thought was one to
fly from, and he sped down the hill furiously, and plied himself busily
for the remainder of the day with an industry Cameron had never seen him
show before. Upon him had obviously come a change of some wholesome and
compelling kind. He knew it himself, and yet--he told himself--he could
not say what it was.

Sunday came, and he went down to church in the morning as usual, but
dressed with more scruples than was customary. Far up the glen the bell
jangled through the trees of the Duke's policies, and the road was busy
with people bound for the sermon of Dr. Colin. They walked down the glen
in groups, elderly women with snow-white piped caps, younger ones
with sober hoods, and all with Bibles carried in their napkins and
southernwood or tansy between the leaves. The road was dry and sandy;
they cast off their shoes, as was their custom, and walked barefoot,
carrying them in their hands till they came to the plane-tree at the
cross-roads, and put them on again to enter the town with fit decorum.
The men followed, unhappy in their unaccustomed suits of broad-cloth or
hodden, dark, flat-faced, heavy of foot, ruminant, taming their secular
thoughts as they passed the licensed houses to some harmony with the
sacred nature of their mission. The harvest fields lay half-garnered,
smoke rose indolent and blue from cot-houses and farm-towns; very high
up on the hills a ewe would bleat now and then with some tardy sorrow
for her child. A most tranquil day, the very earth breathing peace.

The Paymaster and Miss Mary sat together in Keils pew, Gilian with them,
conscious of a new silk cravat. But his mind almost unceasingly was set
upon a problem whose solution lay behind him. Keils pew was in front,
the Maam pew was at least seven rows behind, in the shadow of the loft,
beneath the cushioned and gated preserve of the castle. One must not at
any time look round, even for the space of a second, lest it should be
thought he was guilty of some poor worldly curiosity as to the occupants
of the ducal seat, and to-day especially, Gilian dared not show
an unusual interest in the Turner pew. His acute ear had heard its
occupants enter after a loud salutation from the elder at the plate to
the General, he fancied there was a rustle of garments such as had not
been heard there for three years. All other sounds in the church--the
shuffle of feet, the chewing of sweets with which the worshippers in
these parts always induce wakefulness, the noisy breathing of Rixa as
he hunched in his corner beside the pulpit--seemed to stop while a skirt
rustled. A glow went over him, and unknowing what he did he put forward
his hand to take his Bible off the book-board.

Miss Mary from the corners of her eyes, and without turning her face in
the slightest degree from the pulpit where Dr. Colin was soon to appear,
saw the action. It was contrary to every form in that congregation; it
was a shocking departure from the rule that no one should display sign
of life (except in the covert conveyance of a lozenge under the napkin
to the mouth, or a clearance of the throat), and she put a foot with
pressure upon that of Gilian nearest her. Yet as she did so, no part of
her body seen above the boards of the pew betrayed her movement.

Gilian flushed hotly, drew back his hand quickly, without having touched
the book, and bent a stern gaze upon the stairs by which Dr. Colin would
descend to his battlements.

It was a day of stagnant air, and the church swung with sleepy
influences. The very pews and desks, the pillars of the loft and the
star-crowned canopy of the pulpit, seemed in their dry and mouldy
antiquity to give forth soporific dry accessions to that somnolent
atmosphere, and the sun-rays, slanted over the heads of the worshippers,
showed full of dust. Outside, through the tall windows, could be seen
the beech-trees of the Avenue, and the crows upon them busy at their
domestic affairs. Children in the Square cried to each other, a man's
footsteps passed on the causeway, returned, and stopped below the
window. Everybody knew it was Black Duncan the seaman, of an older
church, and reluctant, yet anxious, to share in some of the Sabbath
exercises.

Gilian, with the back of the pew coming up near his neck, wished
fervently it had been built lower, for he knew how common and
undignified his view from the rear must thus be made. Also he wished
he could have had a secret eye that he might look unashamed in the
direction of his interest He tingled with feeling when he fancied
after a little (indeed, it was no more than fancy) that there was a
perceptible odour of young birch. Again he was remitted to his teens,
sitting transported in the _Jean_, soaring heavenward upon a song by a
bold child with spate-brown hair. He put forward his hand unconsciously
again, and this time he had the Bible on his knee before Miss Mary could
check him.

She looked down with motionless horror at his fingers feverishly
turning over the leaves, and saw that he had the volume upside down.
Her pressure on his foot was delayed by astonishment. What could this
conduct of his mean? He was disturbed about something; or perhaps he was
unwell. And as she saw him still holding the volume upside down on his
knee and continuing to look at it with absent eyes she put her mittened
hand into the pocket of her silk gown, produced a large peppermint
lozenge, and passed it into his hand.

This long unaccustomed courtesy found him awkwardly unprepared, and his
fingers not closing quickly enough on the sweet it fell on the floor.
It rolled with an alarming noise far to the left, and stirred the
congregation like a trumpet. Though little movement showed it, every
eye was on the pew from which this disturbance came, and Miss Mary
and Gilian knew it. Miss Mary did not flinch; she kept a steadfast eye
straight in front of her, but to those behind her the sudden colour of
her neck betrayed her culpability. Gilian was wretched, all the more
because he heard a rustle of the skirts behind in Turner's pew, and his
imagination saw Miss Nan suppressing her laughter with shaking hair and
quite conscious that he had been the object of Miss Mary's attention.
He felt the blood that rushed to his body must betray itself behind. All
the gowk in him came uppermost; he did not know what he was doing; he
put the Bible awkwardly on the book-board in front of him, and it,
too, slid to the floor with a noise even more alarming than that of the
rolling sweet.

The Paymaster, clearing his throat harshly, wakened from a dover to
the fact that these disturbances were in his own territory, and saw the
lad's confusion. If that had not informed him the mischievous smile of
Young Islay in Gilian's direction would have done so. He half turned his
face to Gilian, and with shut lips whispered angrily:

"Thumbs! thumbs!" he said. "God forgive you for a gomeral!" And then he
stared very sternly at Rixa, who saw the movement of the swollen
neck above the 'kerchief, knew that the Paymaster was administering
a reproof, and was comforted exceedingly by this prelude to the day's
devotions.

Gilian left the book where it lay to conceal from those behind that he
had been the delinquent. But he felt, at the same time, he was detected.
What a contrast the lady behind must find in his gawkiness compared with
the correct and composed deportment of the Capital she had come from! He
must be the rustic indeed to her, handling lollipops yet like a child,
and tumbling books in a child's confusion. As if to give more acuteness
to his picture of himself he saw a foil in Young Islay so trim and
manly in the uniform old custom demanded for the Sunday parade, a shrewd
upward tilt of the chin and lowering of the brow, his hand now and then
at his cheeks, not so much to feel its pleasing roughness, as to show
the fine fingers of which he was so conscious. It demanded all his
strength to shake himself into equanimity, and Miss Mary felt rather
than saw it.

What ailed him? Something unusual was perturbing him. An influence, an
air, a current of uneasiness flowed from him and she shared his anxiety,
not knowing what might be its source. His every attitude was a new and
unaccustomed one. She concluded he must be unwell, and a commotion set
up in her heart, so that Dr. Colin's opening prayer went sounding past
her a thing utterly meaningless like the wind among trees, and love
that is like a high march wall separated her and her favourite from the
world.

She surrendered even her scruples of kirk etiquette to put out a hand
timidly as they stood together at the prayer, and touched Gilian softly
on the sleeve with a gush of consolation in the momentary contact.

But he never felt the touch, or he thought it accidental, for he was
almost feverishly waiting till that interminable prayer was ended that
he might have the last proof of the presence of the girl behind him.
The crimson hangings of the canopy shook in the stridor of Dr. Colin's
supplication, the hollows underneath the gallery rumbled a sleepy echo;
Rixa breathed ponderously and thought upon his interlocutors, but no
other life was apparent; it was a man crying in the wilderness, and
outside in the playground of the world the children were yet calling and
laughing content, the rooks among the beeches surveyed, carelessly, the
rich lush policies of the Duke.

Gilian was waiting on the final proof, that was only in the girl's own
voice. He remembered her of old a daring and entrancing vocalist, in
the harmony one thread of gold among the hodden grey of those simple
unstudied psalmodists.

The prayer concluded, the congregation, wearied their long stand,
relapsed in their hard seats with a sense of satisfaction, the psalm was
given out, the precentor stuck up on the desk before him the two tablets
bearing the name of the tune, "Martyrs," and essayed at a beginning. He
began too high, stopped and cleared his throat. "We will try it again,"
said he, and this time led the voices all in unison. Such a storm was
in Gilian's mind that he could not for a little listen to hear what he
expected. He had forgotten his awkwardness, he had forgotten his shame;
his erratic and fleet-winged fancy had sent him back to the den of
the Jean, and he was in the dusk of the ship's interior listening to a
girl's song, moved more profoundly than when he had been actually
there by some message in the notes, some soothing passionate melancholy
without relation to the words or to the tune, some inexplicable and
mellow vibration he had felt first as he stood, a child, on the road
from Kilmalieu, and a bird solitary in the winds, lifting with curious
tilt of feathers over the marshy field, had piped dolorously some
mystery of animal life man must have lost when he ceased to sleep stark
naked to the stars. In his mind he traced the baffling accent, failing
often to come upon it, anon finding it fill all his being with an
emotion he had never known before.

Miss Mary was now more alarmed than ever. For he was not singing, and
his voice was for wont never wanting in that stormy and uncouth unison
of sluggish men's voices, women's eager earnest shrilling. It was as if
he had been absent, and so strong the illusion that she leaned to the
side a little to touch him and assure herself he was there.

And that awakened him! He listened with his workaday ears to separate
from the clamour, as he once had done, the thread of golden melody. For
a moment he was amazed and disappointed; no unusual voice was there. If
Miss Nan was behind him, she was taking only a mute part in the praise,
amused mildly perhaps--he could not blame--by this rough contrast with
the more tuneful praise she was accustomed to elsewhere.

And then--then he distinguished her I No, he was wrong; no, he was
right, there it was again, not so loud and clear as he had expected, but
yet her magic, unmistakably, as surely as when first it sounded to
him in "The Rover" and "The Man with the Coat of Green." A thrill went
through him. He rose at the close of the psalm, and trod upon clouds
more airily, high-breastedly, uplifted triumphantly, than Ronaig of Gaul
who marched, in the story, upon plunging seas from land to land.

"He has been eating something wrong," concluded Miss Mary, finding
ease of a kind in so poor an excuse for her darling's perturbation. It
accounted to her for all his odd behaviour during the remainder of the
service, for his muteness in the psalmody, his restless disregard of the
sermon, his hurry to be out of the straight-backed, uncomfortable pew.

As he stood to his feet to follow the Paymaster she ventured a hand
from behind upon his waist, pretending to hasten the departure, but in
reality to get some pleasure from the touch. Again he never heeded; he
was staring at the Maam pew, from which the General and his brother were
slowly moving out.

There was no girl there!

He could scarcely trust his eyes. The aisle had a few women in it,
moving decorously to the door with busy eyes upon each other's clothes;
but no, she was not there, whose voice had made the few psalms of the
day the sweetest of his experience. When he got outside the door and
upon the entrance steps the whole congregation was before him; his
glance went through it in a flash twice, but there was no Miss Nan. Her
father and his brother walked up the street alone. Gilian realised that
his imagination, and his imagination only, had tenanted the pew. She was
not there!



CHAPTER XXIII--YOUNG ISLAY

"The clash in the kirkyard is worth half a dozen sermons," say the
unregenerate, and though no kirkyard is about the Zion of our parish,
the people are used to wait a little before home-going and talk of a
careful selection of secular affairs; not about the prices of hoggs
and queys, for that is Commerce, nor of Saturday night's songs in the
tavern, for that (in the Sabbath mind) is Sin. But of births, marriages,
courtships, weather, they discourse. And Gilian, his head dazed, stood
in a group with the Paymaster and Miss Mary, and some of the people of
the glens, who were the ostensible reason for the palaver. At first he
was glad of the excuse to wait outside, for to have gone the few yards
that were necessary down the street and sat at Sunday's cold viands even
with Peggy's brew of tea to follow would be to place a flight of stairs
and a larch door between him and---- And what? What was he reluctant
to sever from? He asked himself that with as much surprise as if he had
been a stranger to himself. He felt that to go within at once would be
to lose something, to go out of a most agreeable atmosphere. He was not
hungry. To sit with old people over an austere table with no flowers
on it because of the day, and see the Paymaster snuff above his tepid
second day's broth, and hear the Cornal snort because the mince-collops
his toothless-ness demanded on other days of the week were not available
to-day, would be, somehow, to bring a sordid, unable, drab and weary
world close up on a vision of joy and beauty. He felt it in his flesh,
in some flutter of the breast It was better to be out here in the sun
among the chattering people, to have nothing between him and Glen Shira
but a straight sweep of wind-blown highway. From the steps of the church
he could see the Boshang Gate and the hazy ravines and jostling elbows
of the hills in Shira Glen. He saw it all, and in one bound his spirit
vaulted there, figuring her whose psalm he had but heard in the delusion
of desire.

The Duke came lazily down the steps, threw a glance among his clan
and tenantry, cast his plaid, with a fine grace, about his shoulders,
touching his bonnet with a finger as hat or bonnet rose in salutation,
and he went fair up in the middle of the street.

The conversation ceased, and people looked after him as on an Emperor.

"He's going to London on Tuesday, I hear," said Major Hall to Mr.
Spencer. It was the Majors great pride to know the prospective movements
at the Castle sooner than any one else, and he was not above exchanging
snuff-mulls with Wat Thomson, the ducal boot-brusher, if ducal news
could only be got thereby.

"London, London; did you say, London, sir?" said the innkeeper, looking
again with an envy after his Grace, the name at once stirring in him the
clime from which he was an exile. And the smell of peaty clothes smote
him on the nostril for the first time that day. He had been so many
Sundays accustomed to it that as a rule he no longer perceived it, but
now it rose in contrast to the beefy, beer-charged, comfortable odours
of his native town.

"Ah! he's going on Tuesday," said the Paymaster, "but when Duke George's
gone, there are plenty of Dukes to take his place. Every officer in his
corps will be claiming a full command, quarrelling among themselves.
There'll be Duke Islay----"

"Hus--s--sh!" whispered Major Hall discreetly from the corner of his
mouth. "Here's his young fellow coming up behind." Then loudly, "It's a
very fine season indeed, Captain Campbell, a very fine season."

Young Islay came forward with a salute for the Captain and his sister.
He was Gilian's age and size, but of a different build, broader at the
shoulder, fuller at the chest, black of hair, piercing of eye, with
just enough and no more of a wholesome conceit of himself to give his
Majesty's uniform justice. When he spoke it was with a clear and manly
tone deep in the chest.

He shook hands all round, he was newly come home from the lowlands, his
tunic was without speck or crease, his chin was smooth, his strong
hands were white; as Gilian returned his greeting he felt himself in an
enviable and superior presence.

Promptly, too, there came like a breath upon glass a remembrance of the
ensign of the same corps who kissed his hand to Nan on just such another
day of sunshine at Boshang Gate.

"Glad to see you back, Islay," said the Paymaster, proffering his
Sabbath snuff-mull. "Faith, you do credit to the coat!" And he cast an
admiring eye upon the young soldier.

Young Islay showed his satisfaction in his face.

"But it's a smaller coat than yours, Captain," said he, "and easier
filled nowadays than when fighting was in fashion. I'm afraid the old
school would have the better of us."

It was a touch of Gaelic courtesy to an elder, well-meant, pardonable;
it visibly pleased the old gentleman to whom it was addressed, and he
looked more in admiration than before upon this smart young officer.

"Up the Glen yet, Gilian?" said Islay, with the old schoolboy freedom,
and Gilian carelessly nodded, his eyes once more roving on the road
to Boshang Gate. Young Islay looked at him curiously, a little smile
hovering about the corners of his lips, for he knew the dreamer's
reputation.

The Paymaster gave a contemptuous "Humph!" "Up the Glen yet. You may
well say it," said he. "And like to be. It's a fine clime for stirks."

Gilian did not hear it, but Miss Mary felt it sting to her very heart,
and she moved away, pressing upon her favourite's arm to bring him with
her. "We must be moving," said she; "Peggy will be scolding about the
dinner spoiled with waiting."

But no one else seemed willing to break up the group. Young Islay had
become the centre of attraction. MacGibbon and Major Hall, the Sheriff,
Mr. Spencer and the dominie, listened to his words as to a sage,
gratified by his robust and handsome youth, and the Turners had him
by the arm and questioned him upon his experience. Major Mac-Nicol,
ludicrous in a bottle-green coat with abrupt tails and an English beaver
hat of an ancient pattern, jinked here and there among the people,
tip-toeing, round shouldered, with eyes peering and alarmed, jerking
his head across his shoulder at intervals to see that no musket barrel
threatened, and at times, for a moment or two, he would hang upon the
outskirts of Young Islay's _levée_, with a hand behind an ear to listen
to his story, filled for a little space with a wave of vague and bitter
recollection that never broke upon the shore of solid understanding,
enchanted by a gleam of red and gold, the colours of glory and of youth.

"Let us go home," whispered Miss Mary, pulling gently at Gilian's coat.

"Wait, wait, no hurry for cold kail hot again," said the Paymaster,
every instinct for gossip alert and eager.

"And you showed him the qualities of a Highland riposte! Good lad! Good
lad! I'm glad that Sandy and you learned something of the art of fence
before they tried you in the Stirling fashion," General Turner was
saying. "You'll be home for a while won't you? Come up and see us at
Maam; no ceremony, a bird, a soldier's jug, and----"

"And a soldier's song from Miss Nan, I hope," continued the young
officer, smiling. "That would be the best inducement of all I hear she's
home again from the low country, and thought she would have been in
church to-day."

"City ways, you know, Islay, city ways," said Turner, tapping the young
fellow playfully on the shoulder with his cane. "She did not come down
because she must walk! I wonder what Dr. Colin would say if he found me
yoking a horse to save a three miles Sabbath daunder to the kirk. Come
up and have your song, though, any day you like; I'll warrant you never
heard better."

"I'm certain I never did," admitted Young Islay heartily.

"And when I think," said the General softly, more closely pressing the
young fellow's arm, "that there might be no song now at all but for your
readiness with an oar, I'm bound to make a tryst of it: say Tuesday."

"Certainly!" said Young Islay. "About my readiness with an oar, now,
that was less skill than a boy's luck. I can tell you I was pretty
frightened when I baled--good heavens, how long ago I--the water from
the punt, and felt the storm would smother me!" He was flushing to speak
of a thing so much to his credit, and sought relief from his feelings by
a random remark to the Paymaster's boy.

"You mind?" said he, with a laughing look at Gilian, who wished now that
he were in the more comfortable atmosphere of the Paymaster's parlour
for he was lamentably outside the interests of this group. "You mind?"
he pressed again, as if the only victim of that storm and stranding
could ever forget!

"I remember very well," said Gilian in an Anglified accent that renewed
all Miss Mary's apprehension, for it showed an artificial mood. "I came
out of that with small credit," he went on, sparing himself nothing. "I
suppose I would have risked my life half a dozen times over to be of any
service; what was wanting was the sense to know what I should do. There
you had the advantage of me. And did you really bail the boat with your
bonnet?"

"Faith I did!" said Young Islay, laughing.

"I knew it," said Gilian. "I knew your feelings and your acts as well
as if it had been myself that had been there. I wish my comprehension of
the act to be done was as ready as my imagination. I wish--"

A shyness throttled the words in his mouth when he found all the company
looking upon him, all amused or a little pitiful except the dominie,
whose face had a kindly respect and curiosity, and Miss Mary, who was
looking wistfully in his eyes.

"There are two worlds about us," said Brooks; "the manifest, that is as
plain as a horn-book from A to Ampersand; the other, that is in the mind
of man, no iota less real, but we are few that venture into it further
than the lintel of the door." And he had about his eyes an almost
fatherly fondness for Gilian, who felt that in the words were some
justification for him, the dreamer.

The street was emptying, one by one the people had dispersed. Young
Islay's group broke up, and went their several ways. The Paymaster and
Miss Mary and Gilian went in to dinner.

"What's the matter with you, my dear?" whispered Miss Mary at the turn
of the stair when her brother had gone within.

"Matter?" said Gilian, surprised at her discovery. "Nothing that I know
of. What makes you think there is anything the matter with me?"

She stopped him at the stair-head, and here in the dusk of it she was
again the young companion. "Gilian, Gilian," said she, with stress in
her whisper and a great affection in the face of her. "Do you think I
can be deceived? You are ill; or something troubles you. What were you
eating?"

He laughed loudly; he could not help it at so prosaic a conclusion.

"What carry-on is that on the stair on a Lord's day?" cried the
Paymaster angrily and roughly from his room as he tugged short-tempered
at the buckle of his Sabbath stock.

"Then there's something bothering you, my dear," said Miss Mary again,
paying no heed to the interruption. And Gilian could not release his arm
from her restraint.

"Is there, Auntie?" said he. "Perhaps. And still I could not name it.
Come, come, what's the sense of querying a man upon his moods?"

"A man!" said Miss Mary.

"On the verge at least," said he, with a confidence he had never had in
his voice before, taking a full breath in his chest.

"A man!" said she again. And she saw, as if a curtain had fallen from
before her eyes, that this was no more the fair-haired, wan-faced,
trembling child who came from Ladyfield to her heart.

"I wish, I wish," said she all trembling, "the children did not grow at
all!"



CHAPTER XXIV--MAAM HOUSE

Maam House stands mid-way up the Glen, among pasture and arable land
that seems the more rich and level because it is hemmed in by gaunt
hills where of old the robber found a sequestration, and the hunter of
deer followed his kingly recreation. The river sings and cries, almost
at the door, mellow in the linns and pools, or in its shallow links
cheerily gossiping among grey stones; the Dhu Loch shines upon its
surface like a looking-glass or shivers in icy winds. Round about the
bulrush nods; old great trees stand in the rains knee-deep like the
cattle upon its marge pondering, and the breath of oak and hazel hangs
from shore to shore.

To her window in the old house of Maam would Nan come in the mornings,
and the beauty of Dhu Loch would quell the song upon her lips. It
touched her with some melancholy influence. Grown tall and elegant,
her hair in waves about her ears, in a rich restrained tumult about
her head, her eyes brimming and full of fire, her lips rich, her bosom
generous--she was not the Nan who swung upon a gate and wished that
hers was a soldier's fortune. This place lay in her spirit like a
tombstone--the loneliness of it, the stillness of it, the dragging days
of it, with their dreary round of domestic duties. She was not a week
home, and already sleep was her dearest friend, and to open her eyes
in the morning upon the sunny but silent room and miss the clangour of
Edinburgh streets was a diurnal grief.

What she missed of the strident town was the clustering round of fellow
creatures, the eternal drumming of neighbour hearts, the feet upon the
pavement and the eager faces all around that were so full of interest
they did not let her seek into the depths of her, where lay the old
Highland sorrows that her richest notes so wondrously expressed. The
tumult for herl Constant touch with the active, the gay! Solitude
oppressed her like a looming disease. Sometimes, as in those mornings
when she looked abroad from her window upon the Glen, she felt sick
of her own company, terrified at the pathetic profound to which the
landscape made her sink. Then she wept, and then she shook the mood
from her angrily and flashed about the house of Maam like a sunbeam
new-washed by the rain.

Her father used to marvel at those sudden whims of silence and of song.
He would come in on some poor excuse from his stable or cunningly listen
above his book and try to understand; but he, the man of action,
the soldier, the child of undying ambitions, was far indeed from
comprehension. Only he was sure of her affection. She would come and sit
upon his knee, with arms around his neck, indulgent madly in a child's
caresses. Her uncle James, finding them thus sometimes, would start
at an illusion, for it looked as if her mother was back again, and her
father, long so youthful of aspect, seemed the sweetheart husband once
more.

"Ah! you randy!" he would say to his niece, scowling upon her; "the
sooner you get a man the better!"

"If there is one in the world half so handsome as my father--yes," she
would answer merrily, nestling more fondly in the General's breast, till
he rose and put her off with laughing confusion.

"Away! away!" he would cry in pretended annoyance. "You make my grey
hairs ridiculous."

"Where are they?" she would say, running her white fingers over his head
and daintily refastening the ribbon of that antiquated queue that made
him always look the chevalier. She treated him, in all, less like a
father than a lover, exceedingly proud of him, untiring of his countless
tales of campaign and court, uplifted marvellously with his ambitious
dreams of State preferment. For General Turner was but passing the
time in Maam till by favour promised a foreign office was found for him
elsewhere.

"And when the office comes," said he, "then I leave my girl. It is the
one thing that sobers me."

"Not here! not here!" she cried, alarm in eye and tone. So he found,
for the first time, her impatience with the quiet of Maam. He was, for a
little, dumb with regret that this should be her feeling.

"Where better, where safer, my dear?" he asked.

"Come up to the bow-window." And he led her where she could see their
native glen from end to end.

In the farm-towns the cots were displayed; smoke rose from their
chimneys in the silent air, grey blue banners of peace. "Bide at home,
my dear," said he softly, "bide at home and rest. I thought you would
have been glad to be back from towns among our own kindly people in the
land your very heart-blood sprang from. Quiet, do you say? True, true,"
and still he surveyed the valley himself with solemn eyes. "But there
is content here, and every hearth there would make you welcome if it was
only for your name, even if the world was against you."

She saw the reapers in the fields, heard their shearing songs that are
sung for cheer, but somehow in this land are all imbued with melancholy.
Loud, loud against that sorrow of the brooding glen rose up in her
remembrance the thoughtless clamour of the lowland world, and she
shivered, as one who looks from the window of a well-warmed room upon
a night of storm. Her father put an arm about her waist. "Is it not
homely?" said he, dreading her reply. "I can bear it--with you," she
answered pitifully. "But if you go abroad, it would kill me. I must have
something that is not here; I must have youth and life--and--life."

"At your age I would not have given Maam and the glen about it for my
share of Paradise."--"But now?" said she.

He turned hastily from the window and nervously paced the room.

"No matter about me," he answered in a little. "Ah! you're your mother's
child. I wish--I wish I could leave you content here." He felt at
his chin with a nervous hand, muttered, looked on her askance, pitied
himself that when he went wandering he must not have the consoling
thought that she was safe and happy in her childhood's home.

"I wish I had never sent you away," he said. "You would have been more
content to-day. But that's the manner of the world, we must pay our way
as we go, in inns and in knowledge."

She ran up with tripping feet and kissed him rapturously.

"No lowland tricks!" he cried, pleased and yet ashamed at a display
unusual in these parts. "Fancy if some one saw you!"

"Then let them look well again," she said, laughingly defiant, and he
had to stoop to avoid the assault of her ripe and laughing lips. The
little struggle had brought a flame to her eye that grew large and
lambent; where her lower neck showed in a chink of her kerchief-souffle
it throbbed and glowed. The General found himself wondering if this was,
indeed, his: child, the child he had but the other day held in the crook
of his arm and dandled on his knee.

"I wish," said he again, while she neatly tied the knot upon his queue,
"I wish we had a husband for you, good or--indifferent, before I go."

"Not indifferent, father," she laughed. "Surely the best would not be
too good for your daughter! As if I wanted a husband of any kind!"

"True, true," he answered thoughtfully. "You are young yet. The best
would not be too good for you; but I know men, my dear, and the woman's
well off who gets merely the middling in her pick of them. And that
minds me, I had one asking for you at the kirk on Sunday. A soldier, no
less. Can you guess him?"

"The Paymaster's Boy," said she promptly, curiosity in her countenance.

Her father laughed.

"Pooh!" he exclaimed. "Is that all you have of our news here that you
don't know Gilian's farming, or making a show of farming, in Ladyfield?
He never took to the Army after all, and an old brag of Mars is very
humorous now when I think of it."

"I told him he never would," said Nan, with no note of triumph in the
accuracy of her prediction. "I thought he could play-act the thing in
his mind too well ever to be the thing itself."

"It was Young Islay I meant," said her father. "A smart fellow; he's
home on leave from his corps, and he promises to come some day this week
to see the girl whose father has some reason to be grateful to him."

She flushed all at once, overtaken by feelings she could not have
described--feelings of gratitude for the old rescue, of curiosity,
pleasure, and a sudden shyness. Following it came a sudden recollection
of the old glamour that was about the ensign--such another, no doubt, as
Young Islay--who had given her the first taste of gallantry as he passed
with the troops in a day of sunshine. She looked out at the window to
conceal her eyes, and behold! the glen was not so melancholy as it was
a little ago. She wished she had put on another gown that afternoon, the
rustling one of double tabinet that her Edinburgh friends considered too
imposing for her years, but that she herself felt a singular complacence
in no matter what her company might be.

"A smart fellow," repeated her father musingly, flicking some dust from
his shoes, unobserving of her abstraction. "I wish Sandy took a lesson
or two from him in application."

"Ah!" she cried, "you're partial just because----"

And she hesitated.

--"Just because he saved my lassie's life," continued Turner, and seized
by an uncommon impulse he put an arm round her and bent to kiss her
not unwilling lips. He paused at the threshold, and drew back with a
half-shamed laugh.

"Tuts!" said he. "You smit me with silly lowland customs. Fancy your old
Highland daddie kissing you! If it had been the young gentleman we speak
of----"

A loud rap came to the knocker of the front door, and Nan's hands went
flying to her hair in soft inquiries; back to her face came its colour.

It was Young Islay. He came into the room with two strides from the
stair-head and a very genteel obeisance to the lady, a conceit of
fashion altogether foreign to glens, but that sent her back in one dart
of fancy to the parlour of Edinburgh, back to the warm town, back to
places of gaiety, and youth, and enterprise, back to soft manners, the
lip gossiping at the ear, shoes gliding upon waxen floors, music, dance,
and mirth. Her heart throbbed as to a revelation, and she could have
taken him in her arms for the sake of that brave life he indicated.

His eyes met hers whenever he entered, and he could not draw them away
till hers, wavering before him, showed him he was daring. He turned and
shook hands with the General, and muttered some commonplace, then back
again he came to that pleasant face so like and yet so unlike the face
he had known when a boy.

"You'll hardly know each other," said the father, amused at this common
interest. "Isn't she a most elderly person to be the daughter of so
young and capable a man?"

Young Islay ranged his mind for a proper compliment, but for once he was
dumb; in all the oft-repeated phrases of his gallant experiences there
was no sentiment to do justice to a moment like this. "I am delighted to
meet you again," he said slowly, his mind confused with a sense of the
inadequacy of the thing and the inexplicable feelings that crowded into
him in the presence of a girl who, three years ago, would have no more
disturbed him than would his sister. She was the first to recover from
the awkwardness of the moment.

"I was just wishing I had on another gown," she said more frankly than
she felt, but bound to give utterance to the last clear thought in her
mind. "I had an idea we might have callers."

"You could have none that became you better," said the lad boldly,
feasting upon her charms of lip and eye. And now he was the
soldier--free, bold, assured.

"What? In the way of visitors," laughed her father, and she flushed
again.

"I spoke of the gown," said Young Islay (and he had not yet seen it,
it might have been red or blue for all he could tell). "I spoke of the
gown; if it depends on that for you to charm your company, you should
wear no other."

"A touch of the garrison, but honest enough to be said before the
father!" thought General Turner.

Nan laughed. She courtesied with an affected manner taught in Edinburgh
schools.

"Sir," she said, "you are a soldier, and of course the gown at the
moment in front of you is always the finest in the world. Don't tell me
it is not so," she hastened to add, as he made to protest, "because I
know my father and all the ways of his trade, and--and--and if you were
not the soldier even in your pleasantries to ladies I would not think
you the soldier at all."

The General smiled and nudged the young fellow jocosely. "There," said
he, "did I not tell you she was a fiery one?"

"I hope you did not discuss me in that fashion," said Nan, pausing with
annoyance as she moved aside a little, all her pride leaping to her
face.

"Your father will have his joke," said Young Islay quickly. "He barely
let me know you were here."

The General smiled again in admiration of the young fellow's astuteness,
and Nan recovered.

They went to the parlour. Through the window came the songs of the
reapers and the twitter of birds busy among the seeds at the barn-door.
Roses swinging on the porch threw a perfume into the room. Young Islay
felt, for the first time in his life, a sense of placid happiness. And
when Nan sang later--a newer, wider world, more years, more thoughts,
more profound depths in her song--he was captive.

To his aid he summoned all his confidence; he talked like a prince (if
they talk head-up, valiantly, serene and possessing); he moved about the
room studiously unconscious and manly; he sat with grace and showed his
hand, and all the time he claimed the girl for his. "You are mine, you
are mine!" he said to himself over and over again, and by the flush on
her neck as she sat at the harpsichord she might be hearing, through
some magic sense, his bold unspoken thought.

Evening crept, lights came, the father went out to give some orders at
the barn; they were left alone. The instrument that might have been a
heavenly harp at once lost its dignity and relapsed to a tinkling wire,
for Nan was silent, and there crowded into Young Islay's head all the
passion of his people. He rose and strode across the room; he put an arm
round her waist and raised her, all astounded, from the chair.

She turned round and tried to draw back, looking startled at his eyes
that were wide with fire.

"What do you mean?" she gasped.

"Need you ask it?" he said in a new voice, raising an arm round her
shoulder. His fingers unexpectedly touched her warm skin beneath the
kerchief-souffle. The feeling ran to his heart, and struck him there
like an earthquake. Down went his head, more firm his hold upon the
lady's waist; she might have been a flower to crush, but yet he must be
rude and strong; he bent her back and kissed her. Her lips parted as if
she would cry out against this outrage, and he felt her breath upon his
cheek, an air, a perfume maddening. "Nan, Nan, you are mine, you are
mine!" said he huskily, and he kissed her again.

Out in the fields, a corncrake raised its rasping vesper and a shepherd
whistled on his dogs. The carts rumbled as they made for the sheds. The
sound of the river far off in the shallows among the saugh-trees came on
a little breeze, a murmur of the sad inevitable sea that ends all love
and passion, the old Sea beating black about the world.

In the room was an utter silence. She had drawn back for a moment
stupefied, checking in her pride even the breathing of her struggle. He
stood bent at the head a little, contrite, his hat, that he had
lifted, in his hand. And they gazed at each other--people who had found
themselves in some action horribly rude and shameful.

"I think you must have made a mistake, or have been drinking," she said
at last, her breast now heaving stormily and her eyes ablaze with anger.
"I am not the dairy-maid."

"I could not help it," he answered lamely. "You--you--you made me do it.
I love you!" She drew back shocked.

He stepped forward again, manly, self-possessed again, and looked her
hungrily in the eyes. "Do you hear that?" he said. "Do you hear that? I
love you! I love you! There you look at me, and I'm inside like a fire.
What am I to do? I am Highland; I am Long Islay's grandson. I am a
soldier. I am Highland, and if I want you I must have you."

She drew softly towards the door as if to escape, but heard her father's
voice without, and it gave her assurance. A pallor had come upon her
cheek, only her lips were bright as if his kiss had seared them.

"You are Highland, you are Highland, are you?" she said, restraining her
sobs. "Then where is the gentleman? Do you fancy I have been growing up
in Maam all the years you were away among canteens for you to come home
and insult me when you wished?"

He did not quail before her indignation, but he drew back with respect
in every movement.

"Madame," he said, with a touch of the ballroom, "you may miscall me
as you will; I deserve it all. I have been brutal; I have frightened
you--that would not harm a hair of your head for a million pounds; I
have disgraced the hospitality of your father's house. I may have ruined
myself in your eyes, and to-morrow I'll writhe for it, but now--but
now--I have but one plea: I love you! I'll say it, though you struck me
dumb for ever."

She recovered a little, looked curiously at him, and "Is it not
something of a liberty, even that?" she asked. "You bring the manners of
the Inn to my father's house." The recollection of her helplessness in
his grasp came to her again, and stained her face as it had been with
wine.

He turned his hat in his hand, eyeing her dubiously but more calmly than
before.

"There you have me," he said, with a large and helpless gesture, "I am
not worth two of your most trivial words. I am a common rude soldier
that has not, as it were, seen you till a moment ago, and when I was at
your--at your lips, I should have been at your shoes."

She laughed disdainfully a little.

"Don't do that," said he, "you make me mad." Again the tumult of his
passion swept him down; he put a foot forward as if to approach her, but
stopped short as by an immense inward effort. "Nan, Nan, Nan," he cried
so loudly that a more watchful father would have heard it outside. "Nan,
Nan, Nan, I must say it if I die for it: I love you! I never felt--I
do not know--I cannot tell what ails me, but you are mine!" Then all at
once again his mood and accent changed. "Mine! What can I give? What can
I offer? Here's a poor ensign, and never a war with chances in it!"

He strode up and down the room, throwing his shadow, a feverish phantom,
on the blind, and Nan looked at him as if he had been a man in a play.
Here was her first lover with a vengeance! They might be all like that;
this madness, perhaps, was the common folly. She remembered that to him
she owed her life, and she was overtaken by pity.

"Let us say no more about it," she said calmly. "You alarmed me very
much, and I hope you will never do the like again. Let me think I myself
was willing"--he started--"that it was some--some playful way of paying
off the score I owe you."

"What score?" said he, astonished. "You saved my life," she answered,
all resentment gone. "Did I?" said he. "It would be the last plea I
would offer here and now. That was a boy's work, or luck as it might be;
this is a man before you. I am not wanting gratitude, but something far
more ill to win. Look at me," he went on; "I am Highland, I'm a soldier,
I'm a man. You may put me to the door (my mother in heaven would not
blame you), but still you're mine."

He was very handsome as he stood upon the floor resolute, something of
the savage and the dandy, a man compelling. Nan felt the tremor of an
admiration, though the insult was yet burning on her countenance.

"Here's my father," she said, quickly sitting at the harpsichord again,
with her face away from it and the candle-light. Into the room stepped
the General, never knowing he had come upon a storm. Their silence
surprised him. He looked suspiciously at the lad, who still stood on the
floor with his hat in his hand.

"You're not going yet, Islay?" said he, and there was no answer.

"Have you two quarrelled?" he asked, again glancing at his daughter's
averted face.

Young Islay stammered his reply. "I have been a fool, General, that's
all," said he. "I brought the manners of the Inn, as your daughter says,
into your house, and--"

The father caught him by the sleeve and bent a most stern eye.

"Well, well?" he pushed.

"And--the rest, I think, should be between yourself and me," said Young
Islay, looking at Nan now with her back to them, and he and the father
went out of the room.



CHAPTER XXV--THE EAVESDROPPER

There was no moon, but the sky hung thick with stars, and the evening
was a rare dusk where bush and tree stood half revealed, things
sinister, concealing the terrific elements of dreams. Over the hills
came Gilian, a passionate pilgrim of the night. The steeps, the gullies,
the hazel thickets he trod were scarcely real for him, he passed them
as if in a swoon, he felt himself supreme, able to step from ben to ben,
inspired by the one exaltation that puts man above all toils, fears,
weariness and doubts, brother of the April eagle, cousin-german of the
remote and soaring star.

He approached the house of Maam by a rough sheep-path along the side of
the burn, leaped from boulder to boulder to keep the lights of the house
in view, brushed eagerly through the bracken, ran masterfully in the
flats. When he came close to the house, caution was necessary lest late
harvesters should discover him. He went round on the outside of the
orchard hedge, behind the milk-house wall, and stood in the concealment
of a little alder planting. The house was lit in several windows, it
struck--thought he--warm upon a neck and flashed back in a melting eye
within; his heart drummed furiously.

In the farmyard the workers were preparing to depart for the night from
their long day of toil. All but the last of the horses had been stabled;
the shepherds were returning from the fanks; two women, the weariness of
their bodies apparent in their attitudes even in the dusk, stood for
a little in the yard, then with arms round each other's waists went
towards the cot-house, singing softly as they went. The General's voice
in Gaelic rose over all but the river's murmur, as he called across
the wattle gate to a herd-boy bearing in peat for the night and morning
fires. And the night was all wrapt in an odour of bog myrtle and
flowers.

That outer world, for once, had no interest for Gilian; his eyes were on
the windows, and though the interior of Maam was utterly unknown to him
from actual sight, he was fancying it in every detail. He knew the upper
room where Nan slept; he had watched the light come to it and disappear,
every night since she had returned, though he could not guess how in
that eminent flame she was reading the memorials, the letters, the
diaries of her lost lowland life and weeping for her solitude.

The light was not there now; it was too early in the evening, so she
must be in the room whose two windows shone on the grass between
the house and the barn. He could see them plainly as he stood in the
planting, and he busied himself, forgetting all the outside interests of
the house, in picturing its interior. Nan, he told himself, sat sewing
or reading within, still the tall lady of his day-dreams, for he had not
yet seen her since her return.

And then he heard her harpsichord, its unfamiliar music amazing him by
its relation to some world he did not know, the world from which she
had just returned. She was playing the prelude of the simplest song that
ever had been taught in an Edinburgh academy, yet these ears, accustomed
only to rough men's voices, the song of birds, now and then a harsh
fiddle grating for its life about the country-side, or the pipe of the
hills, imbued the thin and lonely symphony with associations of life
genteel and wide, rich and warm and white-handed. Never seemed Miss Nan
so far removed as then from him, the home-staying dreamer. Up rose his
startled judgment and called him fool.

But hark! her voice came in and joined the harpsichord--surely this time
he was not mistaken? Her voice! it was certainly her voice! He held his
breath to listen for fear he should lose the softest note as it came
from her lips. Now he was well repaid for his nights of traverse on the
hills, his watching, his disappointment! The very night held breath to
listen to that song, not the song that had been sung in the _Jean_, but
another, the song of a child no more, but of a woman, full of passion,
antique love and sorrow, of the unsatisfied and yearning years.

The music ceased; the night for a space swooned into a numb and desolate
silence. Then in the field behind, the last corncrake harshly called; a
shepherd whistled on his dogs; a cart rumbled over the cobbles, making
for the shed. The sound of the river as it came to him among the
alder-trees seemed the sound the wave makes in the ears of the sinking
and exhausted swimmer.

Gilian turned over in his pocket a lucky flint arrowhead, and wished for
a glimpse of Nan.

He had no sooner done so than her shadow showed upon the blind, hurried
and nervous as in some affright.

His heart leaped; he made a step forward as if he would storm that
citadel of his fancy, but he checked himself on a saner thought that he
was imbuing the shadow with fears that were not there. He drew a deep
breath and turned his lucky arrowhead again. For a second or two there
was no response. Then another shadow came upon the blinds--a man's,
striding for a little back and forward, as if in perturbation. Who could
it be? the trembling outsider asked himself. Not the father; there was
no queue to the shadow, and a vague suggestion of the General's voice
had come but a moment before from another part of the steading. Not the
uncle? This was no long, bent, bearded apparition, but the figure of
youth. Gilian promptly fancied himself the substance of the shadow in
that envied light and presence, seeing the glow of fire and candle
in Nan's eyes as she turned to the accepted lover. "Nan, Nan!" he
whispered, "I love you! I love you!"

A faint breath from a new point came through the trees, the dryads
sighing for all this pitiful illusion. It struck chill upon his face;
he shivered and prepared to set off for home across the hill. A last
reluctant glance was thrown at the window, and he had turned towards the
milk-house wall when a sound of opening doors arrested him. Now he could
not escape unobserved; he withdrew into the shadow of the trees again.

The General and another came out and stood midway between the house
and the planting. There they spoke in constrained words that did not at
first reach him. Against the grey dun of the sky he could separate their
figures, but he could not guess the identity of the General's companion.

In a second or two they moved nearer and he was an unwilling listener,
though a keenly interested one.

"Come, come," said the General, in a tone of some annoyance, "you had me
out to hear your explanation, and now I'm to be kept chittering in the
night air till you range your inside for words."

The other murmured something in a voice that did not intelligently reach
the planting.

"Ay, you did, did you?" said the General in reply, very dryly, and then
he paused. "I'll warrant you found a tartar," he said in a little.

The other answered softly in a word or two.

There was another pause, and then the General laughed, not with much
geniality. "That was all the news you brought me out here for?" said he.
"Come, come, the lady can look after herself so far as that goes. Either
that or she's not her mother's child. And yet--and yet, I would not
be saying. Edinburgh and all their low-country notions make some
difference; I see them in her. This is not the girl I sent off south
on a mail-gig--just like a parcel. Curse the practice that we must be
risking the things of our affection among strangers!"

There was no more than the brief and muffled answer, like that of a man
ashamed.

"I've seen that before," said the General stiffly. "It's not uncommon at
the age, but it's unusual to take the old gentleman into the garden at
night without his bonnet to tell him so little as that."

The answer, still muffled to the listener in the planting, poured forth
quickly.

"Highland," said the General, "queer Highlands! And it must be now or
never with us, must it? Well, young gentleman, you have nerve at least,"
and he quoted a Gaelic proverb. He put his hand on the shoulder of the
other and leaned to whisper. Gilian could make the action out against
the sky. Then "Good-night" and the father's footsteps went back to the
door and the unknown proceeded down the glen.

On an impulse irresistible, Gilian followed at a discreet distance,
keeping on the verges of the grass beside the road, so that his
footsteps might not betray him. All the night was tenantless but for
themselves and some birds that called dolefully in the woods. The river,
broadened by the burns on either hand that joined it, grew soon to a
rapid and tumultuous current washing round the rushy bends, and the Dhu
Loch when they came to it had a ripple on its shore, so that they
were at the bridge and yet the one who led was not aware that he was
followed. He leaned upon the crenelated parapet and hummed a strain of
song as Gilian came up to him with a swinging step, now on the footway.

Young Islay started at this approach without warning, but he was not
afraid. He peered into Gilian's face when he had come up to him.

"Oh, you!" said he. "I got quite a start, I thought at first it was
Drimmin dorran's ghost." This, laughingly, of a shade with a reputation
for haunting these evening solitudes.

"You're late on the road?" he went on curiously.

"No later than yourself," answered Gilian, vaguely grieving to find that
this was the substance of his shadow on the blind and the audience for
Miss Nan's entertainment.

"Oh! I was--I was on a visit," said Young Islay. He went closer up to
Gilian and added eagerly, as one glad to unbosom, "Man! did you ever
hear--did you ever hear Miss Nan sing?"

"Long ago," said Gilian; "it's an old story." "Lucky man!" said Young
Islay enviously, "to be here so long to listen when I was far away."

"She was away herself a good deal," said Gilian, "but when we heard her
we quite appreciated our opportunities, I assure you."

"Did you, faith?" said Young Islay, with a jealous tone. "You seem," he
went on, "to have made very little use of them. I wonder where the eyes
of you could be. I never saw her, really, till an hour or two ago. I
never heard her sing before, but yet, some way----" He hesitated in
embarrassment.

Gilian made no answer. He felt it the most natural thing in the world
that any one seeing and hearing Nan should appreciate herself and her
singing. There was no harm in that.

The night was solemn with the continual cry of the owls that abound in
the woody shoulder of Duntorvil; a sweet balmy influence loaded the air,
stars gathered in patches between drifts of cloud. For some distance the
young men walked together silent, till Young Islay spoke.

"I've been away seeing the world," said he hurriedly, like a man at a
confession, "not altogether with my father's wish, who would sooner I
stayed at home and farmed Drimlee; moving from garrison to garrison,
giving my mind no hearth to stay at for more than a night at a time, and
I've been missing the chance of my life. I went up the way there an hour
or two since--Young Islay, a soldier, coarse, ashamed of sentiment, and
now I go down another man altogether. I would not say it to any one but
yourself; you're a sort of sentimental person in a wholesale way;
you'll understand. Eh, what? You'll understand!" He threw out his chest;
breathed fully. "I'm a new man, I'm telling you. I wonder where the eyes
of you fellows were?"

Even yet Gilian did not grudge Young Islay the elation that was so
manifest.

"You understand, we did not see much of her in these parts lately, much
more than yourself. I have not seen her myself since she returned. Has
she changed much?"

"Much!" exclaimed Young Islay, laughing. "My son! she is not the girl I
knew at all. When I went in there--into the room up, there you know, I
was--I was--baffled to know her. I think I expected to see the same girl
I had--I had--you mind, brought the boat out to, the same loose hair,
the same--you know, I never expected to see a princess in Maam. A
princess, mind you, and she looked all the more that because her uncle
met me at the stair-foot as I was going in. A sour old scamp yon! He was
teasing out his beard, and, 'A nice piece there,' said he, nodding at
the door, 'and I'm sure her father would be glad to have her off his
hands.' I laughed and----"

"I would have struck him on the jaw," said Gilian with great heat.

"Oh!" said Young Islay, astonishment in his voice. He said no more for a
little. Then, "I was not very well pleased myself with the remark when
I went into the room and saw the lady it referred to. You're not--you're
not chief in that quarter, are you?"

"Chief!" repeated Gilian. "You're ahead of me even in seeing the lady."

"Oh well, that's all right," said Young Islay, seemingly relieved. "Look
here; I'm gone, that's the long and the short of it! I'm seeing a week
or two of hard work before me convincing her ladyship that a young
ensign in a marching regiment is maybe worth her smiling on."

Gilian turned cold with apprehension. This, indeed, was a revelation of
love-making in garrison fashion.

"You don't know the girl at all," he said.

"So much the better," said Young Islay; "that means that she does not
know me, and that's all the better start for me, perhaps. It's a great
advantage, for I've noticed that they're all the most interested--the
sex of them--in a novelty. I have a better chance than the best man in
these parts, that has been under her eye all the time I was away. I'll
have stiff work, perhaps, but I want her, and between ourselves, and not
to make a brag of it, I'll have her. Youll not breathe that," he added,
turning in apprehension, stopping opposite Gilian and putting his hand
on his coat lapel. "I am wrong to mention it at all even to you, but I
must out with what I feel to somebody. The thing is dirling in my
blood. Listen, do you hear that?" He threw out his chest again, held
his breath, and Gilian could almost swear he heard his heart throb with
feeling.

"Does she want you? That's the question, I suppose," said Gilian weakly.

"That is not the question at all, it's do I want her? There must be a
beginning somewhere. Look at me; I'm strong, young, not very ugly (at
least they tell me), I'm the grandson of Long Islay, who had a name for
gallantry; the girl has no lover--Has she?" he asked eagerly, suddenly
dropping his confidence.

"Not that I'm aware of," said Gilian.

"Well, there you are! What more is to be said? In these things one has
but to wish and win--at least that's been my training and my conviction.
Here she's lonely--I could see it in her; the company of her father is
not likely to be long for her, and her Uncle Jamie is not what you would
call a cheerful spark. Upon my soul, I believe I could get her if I was
a hunchback.... Mind, I'm not lightlying the lady; I could not do that
in this mood, but I'm fair taken with her; she beats all ever I saw. You
know the feeling? No, you don't; you're too throng at book notions. God!
God! God! I'm all ashake!"

He looked at Gilian, trying in the dark to make out how he was taking
this, to make sure he was not laughing at him. Gilian, on the contrary,
was feeling very solemn. He felt that this was a dangerously effective
mood for a lover, and he knew the lad before him would always bring
it to actual wooing if it got that length. He had no answer, and Young
Islay again believed him the abstracted dreamer.

"I have this advantage," he went on, unable to resist. "She likes
soldiers; she said as much; it was in her mother and in her; she likes
action, she likes spirit. She has them herself in faith! she almost
boxed my ears when--when--but I could swear she was rather tickled at my
impudence."

"Your impudence!" repeated Gilian, "were you in that mood?"

"Oh, well, you know--I had the boldness to----

"To what?" said Gilian; apprehending some disaster.

"Just a trifle," said Young Islay, shrewdly affecting indifference. "A
soldier's compliment; we are too ready with them in barrack-yards, you
know." And he sighed as he remembered the red ripe lips, the warm breath
on his face, and the tingling influence of the skin he touched under the
kerchief.

They walked on in silence again for a while. The night grew dark with
gathering clouds. Lights far out at sea showed the trailing fishers; a
flaring torch told of a trawler's evening fortune made already. And soon
they were at the Duke's lodge and Gilian's way up Glen Aray lay before
him. He was pausing to say good-night, confused, troubled by what he had
heard, feeling he must confess his own regard for the girl and not let
this comparative stranger so buoyantly outdo him in admiration.

"Now," said he, hesitating, "what would you think I was in Glen Shira
myself for?"

"Eh?" said Young Islay, scarcely hearing, and he hummed the refrain of
the lady's song.

"In Glen Shira; what was I doing there?" repeated Gilian. He wanted no
answer. "It was on the odd chance that I might see Miss Nan. We are
not altogether without some taste in these parts, though wanting the
advantage of travel and garrison gallantry. I was in the garden when you
were inside. I heard her singing, and I think I got closer on herself
and her song than you did."

"My dear Gilian," said Young Islay, "I once fought you for less than
that." He laughed as he said it. "If you mean," he went on, "that you
are in love with Miss Nan, that's nothing to wonder at, the miracle
would be for you to be indifferent. We're in the same hunt, are we then?
Well, luck to the winner! I can say no fairer than that. Only you'll
have to look sharp, my boy, for I'm not going to lose any time, I assure
you. If you're going to do all your courtship of yon lady from outside
her window, you'll not make much progress, I'm thinking. Good-night;
good-night!" He went off laughing, and when he had gone away a few yards
Gilian, walking slowly homewards, heard him break whistling into the air
that Nan had sung in the parlour of Maam.



CHAPTER XXVI--AGAIN IN THE GARDEN

Only for a single sleepless night was Gilian dashed by this evidence
that the world was not made up of Miss Nan and himself alone.
Depressions weighed on him as briefly as the keener joys elated, and
in a day or two his apprehension of Young Islay had worn to a thin
gossamer, and he was as ardent a lover as any one could be with what
still was no more than a young lady of the imagination. And diligently
he sought a meeting. It used to be the wonder of Mr. Spencer of the
Inns, beholding this cobweb-headed youth continually coming through the
Arches and hanging expectant about the town-head, often the only figure
there in these hot silent days to give life to the empty scene. There is
a stone at Old Islay's corner that yet one may see worn with the feet of
Gilian, so often he stood there turning on his heel, lending a gaze to
the street where Nan might be, and another behind to the long road over
the bridge whence she must sometime come. Years after he would stop
again upon the blue slab and recall with a pensive pleasure those old
hours of expectation.

For days he loitered in vain, the wonder of the Inns and its
frequenters. Nan never appeared. To her father a letter had come; the
Duke had come up on the back of it; there had been long discourse and
a dram of claret wine in the parlour; the General came out when his
Grace's cantering horse had ceased its merry hollow sound upon the
dry road to Dhu Loch, and breathed fully like one relieved from an
oppression. Later Old Islay had come up, crabbed and snuffy, to glower
on Nan as he passed into the house behind her father, and come out anon
smiling and even joco with her, mentioning her by her Christian name
like the closest friend of the family. Then for reasons inscrutable her
father would have her constant in his sight, though it was only, as it
seemed, to pleasure an averted eye.

By-and-by Gilian turned his lucky flint one morning in a fortunate
inspiration, and had no sooner done so than he remembered a very
plausible excuse for going to a farm at the very head of Glen Shira. He
started forth with the certainty, somehow, that he should meet the lady
at last.

He had transacted his business and was on his way to the foot of the
glen when he came upon her at Boshang Gate. Her back was to him; she
was looking out to sea, leaning upon the bars as if she were a weary
prisoner.

She turned at the sound of his footstep, a stranger utterly to his eyes
and imagination, but not to his instinct, her hair bound, her apparel
mature and decorous, her demeanour womanly. And he had been looking all
the while for a little girl grown tall, with no external difference but
that!

She took an impulsive step towards him as he hesitated with his hand
dubious between his side and his bonnet, a pleasant, even an eager smile
upon her face.

"You are quite sure you are you?" she said, holding out her hand before
he had time to say a word. "For I was standing there thinking of you, a
little white-faced fellow in a kilt, and here comes your elderly wraith
at my back like one of Black Duncan's ghosts!"

"I would be the more certain it was myself," he answered, "if you had
not been so different from what I expected."

"Oh! then you had not forgotten me altogether?" she said, waiting
her answer, a mere beginner in coquetry emboldened to practice by the
slightly rustic awkwardness of the lad.

"Not--not altogether," said he, unhappily accepting the common locution
of the town, that means always more than it says.

A spark of humour flashed to merriment in her eyes and died to a demure
ember again before he noticed it. "Here's John Hielan'man," she said to
herself, and she recalled, not to Gilian's credit in the comparison, the
effrontery of Young Islay.

The situation was a little awkward, for he held her hand too long,
taking all the pleasure he could from a sudden conviction that in all
the times he had seen Glen Shira it had never seemed fully furnished and
habitable till now. This creature, so much the mistress of herself, and
dainty and cheerful, made up for all its solitude; she was the one thing
(he felt) wanting to make complete the landscape.

Her blush and a feeble effort to disengage her hand brought him to
himself.

"I am pleased to see you back," said he shyly, as he released her. "I
had not forgotten--oh no, I had not forgotten you. It would be easy to
convince you of that, I think, but in all my recollection of Miss Nan
I had more of the girl in the den of the _Jean_ in my mind than the
Edinburgh lady."

"You'll be meaning that I am old and--and pretty no longer," said she.
"Upon my word, you are honestly outspoken in these parts nowadays." She
pouted, with lines of annoyance upon her brow, which seriously disturbed
him, and so obviously that she was compelled to laugh.

Not a word could he find to say to raillery which was quite new to him,
and so for the sake of both of them as they stood at the gate Miss Nan
had to ply an odd one-sided conversation till he found himself at his
ease. By-and-by his shyness forsook him.

The sun was declining; the odours of the traffic of peace blew from the
land; one large and ruddy star lit over Strone. The fishers raised their
sails, and as their prows beat the sea they chanted the choruses of the
wave.

A recollection of all this having happened before seized them together;
she looked at him with a smile upon her lips, and he was master of her
thought before she had expressed it.

"I know exactly what you are thinking of," he said.

"It was the odd thing about you that you often did," she replied. "It's
a mercy you do not know it always, John Hielan'man," she thought.

"You are remembering the evening we walked in the Duke's garden," he
said. "It looks but yesterday, and I was a child, and now I'm as old--as
old as the hills." He looked vaguely with half-shut eyes upon the
looming round of Cowal, where Sitbean Sluaidhe was tipped with brass.
"As old as the hills," he went on, eager to display himself, and also
to show he appreciated her advantages. "Do you know I begin to find them
irksome? They close in and make a world so narrow here! I envy you the
years you have been away. In that time you have grown, mind and body,
like a tree. I stunt, if not in body, at least in mind, here in the
glens."

She looked at him covertly with her face still half averted, and found
him now more interesting than she had expected, touched with something
of romance and mystery, his eyes with that unfathomed quality that to
some women makes a strange appeal.

"One sees much among strangers," she confessed. "I thought you had been
out of here long ago. You remember when I left for Edinburgh they talked
of the army for you?"

"The army," he said, wincing imperceptibly. "Oh! that was the
Paymaster's old notion. Once I almost fell in with it, and as odd a
thing as you could imagine put an end to the scheme. Do you know what it
was?" He glanced at her with a keen scrutiny.

"No, tell me," she said.

"It was the very day we were here last, when the county corps moved
off to Stirling. I was in the rear of them very much a soldier indeed,
shouldering a switch, feeling myself a Major-General at the very least,
when a girl sitting on the gate there, waving a tiny shoe, caught my
eye, drew me back from the troops I was following, and extinguished my
martial glory as if it were a flambeau thrown in the sea. I think that
was the very last of the army for me."

"I don't understand it," she said.

"Nor I," he confessed frankly; "only there's the fact! All I know is
that you cut me off from every idea of the army then and there. I forgot
all about it, and it had been possessing my mind for a week before,
night and day."

"I think I remember now that I told you, did I not, that you were not
likely to be a soldier because you could pretend it too well ever to be
the thing in actuality."

"I remember that too. _Dhe!_ how the whole thing comes back! I wonder--"

"Well!" she pressed.

"I wonder if we walked in the Duke's garden again, if we could restore
the very feelings of that time--the innocence and ignorance of it?"

"I don't know that I want to do so," said she, laughing.

"Might we not----" He paused, afraid of his own temerity.

"Try it, you were going to say," she continued.

"You see I have little of your own gift. I'm willing. I am going to the
town, and we might as well go through the grounds as not."

Something in his manner attracted her; even his simple deference, though
she was saying "John Hielan'man, John Hielan'man!" to herself most of
the time and amused if not contemptuous. He was but a farmer--little
more, indeed, than a shepherd, yet something in his air and all his
speech showed him superior to his circumstances. He was a god-send to
her dreariness in this place Edinburgh and the noisy world had made her
fretful of, and she was in the mood for escapade.

They walked into the policies, that were no way changed. Still the
flowers grew thick on the dykes; the tall trees swayed their boughs:
still the same, and yet for Gilian there was, in that faint tinge of
yellow in the leaves, some sorrow he had not guessed in the day they
were trying to recall.

"It is all just as it was," said she. "All just as it was; there are the
very flowers I plucked," and she bent and plucked them again.

"We can never pluck our flowers twice," said he. "The flowers you
gathered then are ghosts."

"Not a bit," said she. "Here they are re-born," and she went as before
from bush to bush and bank to bank, humming a strain of sailor song.

They went under the trees on which he had fancied his heron's nest, and
they looked at each other, laughing.

"Wasn't I a young fool?" he asked. "I was full of dream and conceit in
those days."

"And now?" she asked, burying her face in the flowers and eyeing him
wonderingly.

"Oh, now," said he, "I have lost every illusion." "Or changed them
for others, perhaps." He started at the suggestion. "I suppose you are
right, after all," he said. "I'm still in a measure the child of fancy.
This countryside moves me--I could tenant it with a thousand tales;
never a wood or thicket in it but is full of song. I love it all, and
yet it is my torture. When I was a child the Paymaster once got me on
the bridge crying my eyes out over the screech of a curlew--that has
been me all through life--I must be wondering at the hidden meanings
of things. The wind in the winter trees, the gossip of the rivers, the
trail of clouds, waves washing the shore at night--all these things have
a tremendous importance to me. And I must laugh to see my neighbours
making a to-do about a mercantile bargain. Well, I suppose it is the old
Highlands in me, as Miss Mary says." "I have felt a little of it in a
song," said Nan. "You could scarce do otherwise to sing them as you do,"
he answered. "I never heard you yet but you had the magic key for every
garden of fancy. One note, one phrase of yours comes up over and over
again that seems to me filled with the longings of thousand years."

He turned on her suddenly a face strenuous, eyes led with passion.

"I wish! I wish!" said he all fervent, "I wish could fathom the woman
within."

"Here she's on the surface," said Nan, a little impatiently, arranging
her flowers. And then she looked him straight in the eyes. "Ladyfield
seems a poor academy," she said, "if it taught you but to speculate on
things unfathomable. I always preferred the doer to the dreamer. The
mind of man is a far more interesting thing than the song of the river
I'm thinking, or the trailing of mist. And woman----" she laughed and
paused.

"Well?" He eyed her robust and wholesome figure.

"Should I expose my sex, John Hielan'man, or should I not?" she
reflected with an amused look in her face yet. "Never bother to look
below the surface for us," she said. "We are better pleased, and you
will speed the quicker to take us for what we seem. What matters of us
is--as it is with men too--plain enough on the surface. Dear, dear! what
nonsense to be on! You are far too much of the mist and mountain for me.
As if I had not plenty of them up in Maam! Oh! I grow sick of them!" She
began to walk faster, forgetting his company in the sudden remembrance
of her troubles; and he strode awkwardly at her heels, not very
dignified, like a menial overlooked. "They hang about the place like a
menace," said she. "No wonder mother died! If she was like me she must
have been heart-broken when father left her to face these solitudes."

"It is so, it is so," confessed the lad. "But they would not be
wearisome with love. With love in that valley it would smile like an
Indian plain."

"How do _you_ ken?" said she, stopping suddenly at this.

"It would make habitable and even pleasant," said he, "a dwelling where
age and bitterness had their abode."

"Faith, you're not so blate as I thought you!" she said, setting aside
the last of her affected shy simplicity.

"Blate!" he repeated, "I would not have thought that was my failing. Am
I not cracking away to you like an old wife?"

"Just to hide the blateness of you," she answered. "You may go to great
depths with hills and heughs and mists--and possibly with women too when
you get the chance, but, my dear Gilian, you're terribly shallow to any
woman with an eye in her head."

"Did you say 'Gilian'?" he asked, stopping and looking at her with a
high colour.

"Did I?" she repeated, biting her lips. "What liberty!"

"No, no," he cried----

"I thought myself young enough to venture it; but, of course, if you
object----"

He looked at her helplessly, realising that she was making fun of him,
and she laughed. All her assurance was back to her, she knew the young
gentleman was one she could twist round her little finger.

"Well, well," she went on after a silence, "you seem poorly provided
with small talk. In Edinburgh, now, a young man with your chances would
be making love to me by this time."

He stared at her aghast. "But, but----"

"But I would not permit it, of course not! We were brought up very
particularly in Miss Simpson's, I can assure you." This with a prim
tightening of her lips and a severity that any other than our dreamer
would have understood. To Nan there came a delight in this play with
an intelligence she knew so keen, though different from her own. It was
with a holiday feeling she laughed and shone, mischievously eyeing
him and trying him with badinage as they penetrated deeper into the
policies.

They reached the Lady's Linn, but did not repeat old history to the
extent of seating themselves on the banks, though Gilian half suggested
it in a momentary boldness.

"No, no," said she. "We were taught better than that in Miss Simpson's.
And fancy the risks of rheumatism! You told me one of Gillesbeg Aotram's
stories here; what was it again?"

He repeated the tale of the King of Knapdale's Daughter. She listened
attentively, sometimes amused at his earnestness, that sat on him
gaukily, sometimes serious enough, touched with the poetry he could put
into the narrative.

"It is a kind of gruesome fable," she said when he was done, and she
shuddered slightly. "The other brother was Death, wasn't he? When you
told it to me last I did not understand."

They walked on through the intersecting paths whose maze had so
bewildered them before: "After all, it is not a bit like what it was,"
said she. "I thought it would take a wizard to get out of here, and now
I can see over the bushes and the sea is in sight all the time."

"Just so," he answered, "but you could see over no bushes in those days,
and more's the pity that you can see over them now, in the Duke's garden
as well as in life, for it's only one more dream spoiled, my dear Nan."

"Oh! there is not much blateness there! You are coming on, John
Hielan'man." But this was to herself.

"Then to you this is just the same as when we lost our way?"

"The same and not all the same," he admitted. "I can make it exactly the
same if I forgot to look at you, for that means sensations I never knew
then. I cannot forget the place has been here night and day, summer
and winter, rain and sun, since we last were in it, and time makes no
difference; it is the same place. But it is not the same in some other
way, some sad way I cannot explain."

The night was full of the fragrance of flowers and the foreign trees.
There was no breath of wind. They were shades in some garden of dream
compelled to stand and ponder for ever in an eternal night of numerous
beneficent stars. No sound manifested except the lady's breathing, that
to another than the dreamer would have told an old and wholesome Panic
story, for her bosom heaved, that breath was sweeter than the flowers.
And the dryads, no whit older as they swung among the trees, still all
childless, must have laughed at this revelation of an age of dream. Than
that sound of maiden interest, and the far-off murmur of the streams
that fell seaward from the woody hills, there was at first no other
rumour to the ear.

"Listen," said Gilian again, and he turned an anxious ear towards that
grey grassy sea. His hand grasped possessingly the lady's arm.

"Faith, and you are _not_ blate," said she whimsically, but indifferent
to remove herself from a grasp so innocent.

She listened. The far bounds of the lawn were lost in gloom, in its
midst stood up vague in the dusk a great druidic stone. And at last she
could distinguish faintly, far-away, as by some new sense, a murmur of
the twilight universe, the never-ending moan of this travailing nature.
A moment, then her senses lost it, and Gilian yet stood in his rapt
attention. She withdrew her arm gently.

"Hush, hush!" he said. "Do you not fancy you hear a discourse?"

"I do?" she answered a little impatiently, but not without a kindly
sense of laughter as at a child "Bees and midges, late things like
ourselves. You are not going to tell me they are your fairies."

"They are, of course they are," he protested, laughing. "At least a
second ago I could have sworn they were the same that gave me my dread
on the night the Cornal met us. Even yet"--his humour came back--"even
yet I fear to interrupt their convocations. Let us go round by the other
path."

"What, and waste ten minutes more!" she cried "Follow me, follow me!"

And she sped swiftly over the trim grass, bruising the odours of the
night below her dainty feet He followed, chagrined, ashamed of himself,
very much awake and practical, realising how stupid if not idiotic all
his conversation must seem to her. Where was the mutual exchange of
sentiments on books, poetry, life? He had thrown away his opportunity.
He overtook her in a few steps, and tore the leaves from his story book
again to please or to deceive the Philistine.

"I thought we could bring it all back again--that was the object of my
rhapsody, and you seem to have kept good memory of the past."

They were under the lamps of the lodge gates. She eyed him shrewdly.

"And you do not believe these things yourself? So? I have my own notions
about that. Do you know I begin to think you must be a poet. Have you
ever written anything?"

He found himself extremely warm. Her question for the first time
suggested his own possibilities. No, he had never made poetry, he
confessed, though he had often felt it, as good as some of the poetry he
had read in Marget Maclean's books that were still the favourites of his
leisure hours.

"It'll be in that like other things," she said with some sense of her
own cruelty. "You must be dreaming it when you might be making it."

"I never had the inspiration----"

"What, you say that to a lady who has been talking fair to you!" she
pointed out.

"But now, of course---"

"Just the weather, Gilian," she hastened to interject. "A bonny night
with stars, the scent of flower, a misty garden--I could find some
inspiration in them myself for poetry, and I make no pretence at it."

"There was a little more," he said meaningly; "but no matter, that may
wait," and he proceeded immediately to the making of a poem as he went,
the subject a night of stars and a maiden. They had got into the dark
upper end of the town overhung by the avenue trees, the lands were
spotted with the lemon lights of the evening candles, choruses came from
the New Inns where fishermen from Cowal met to spend a shilling or
two in the illusion of joy. Mr. Spencer saw them as he passed and was
suffused by a kindly glow of uncommon romance. He saw, as he thought, a
pair made for each other because they were of an age and of a size (as
if that meant much); what should they be but lovers coming from the
gardens of Duke George in such a night and the very heavens twinkling
with the courtship of the stars? He looked and sighed. Far off in the
south was an old tale of his own; the lady upstairs eternally whining
because she must be banished to the wilds away from her roaring native
city was not in it. "Lucky lad!" said he to himself. "He is not so shy
as we thought him." They came for a moment under the influence of the
swinging lamp above his door, then passed into the dusk. He went into
his public room, and "Mary," he cried to a maid, "a little drop of the
French for Sergeant Cameron and me. You will allow me, Sergeant? I feel
a little need of an evening brace." And he drank, for the sake of bygone
dusks, with his customer.

Nan and Gilian now walked on the pavement, a discreet distance apart.
She stopped at the mantua-makers door. He lingered on the parting, eager
to prolong it. The street was deserted; from the Sergeant More's came
the sound of song; some fallen leaves ran crisp along the stones, blown
by an air of wind. He had her by the hand, still loath to leave, when
suddenly the door of the mantua-maker's opened and out came a little
woman, who, plunging from the splendour of two penny dips into the outer
mirk, ran into his arms before she noticed his presence. She drew back
with an apology uttered in Gaelic in her hurried perturbation. It was
Miss Mary.

"Auntie," he said, no more.

She glanced at his companion and started as if in fear, shivered, put
out a hand and bade her welcome home.

"Dear me! Miss Nan," said she, "amn't I proud to see you back? What
a tall lady you have grown, and so like--so like----" She stopped
embarrassed.

Her hand had gone with an excess of kindness upon the girl's arm ere she
remembered all that lay between them and the heyday of another Nan than
this. Of Gilian she seemed to take no notice, which much surprised him
with a sense of something wanting.

At last they parted, and he went up with Miss Mary to the Paymaster's
house.



CHAPTER XXVII--ALARM

Nan's uncle, moving with hopeless and dragging steps about the sides
of Maam hill, ruminating constantly on nature's caprice with sheep and
crop, man's injustice, the poverty of barns, the discomforts of seasons,
nourishing his sour self on reflections upon all life's dolours, would
be coming after that for days upon the girl and Gilian gathering berries
or on some such childish diversion in the woods behind the river. A
gaunt, bowed man in the decline of years, with a grey tangle of beard--a
fashion deemed untidy where the razor was on every other man's face--he
looked like a satyr of the trees, when he first came to the view of
Gilian. He saw those young ones from remote vistas of the trees, or from
above them in cliffs as they plucked the boughs. In lanes of greenwood
he would peer in questioning and silent, and there he was certain to
find them as close as lovers, though, had he known it, there was never
word of love. And though Gilian was still, for the sake of a worn-out
feud with the house of the Paymaster, no visitor to Maam, that saturnine
uncle would say nothing. For a little he would look, they uncomfortable,
then he would smile most grim, a satyr, as Gilian told himself, more
than ever.

He came upon them often. Now it would be at the berries, now among the
bulrushes of Dhu Loch. They strayed like children. Often, I say, for
Gilian had no sooner hurried through his work in these days than he was
off in the afternoon, and, on some pretence, would meet the girl on a
tryst of her own making. She was indifferent--I have no excuse for her,
and she's my poor heroine--about his wasted hours so long as she had
her days illumined by some flicker of life and youth. He never knew
how often it was from weeping over a letter from Edinburgh, or a song
familiar elsewhere, upon the harpsichord, she would come out to meet
him. All she wanted was the adventure, though she did not understand
this herself. If no one else in a bonnet came to Maam--and Young Islay
was for reasons away in the Lowlands--this dreamer of the wild, with
the unreadable but eloquent face and the mysterious moods would do very
well. I will not deny that there might even be affection in her trysts.
So far as she knew they were no different from trysts made by real
lovers elsewhere since the start of time, for lovers have ever been
meeting in the woods of these glens without saying to each other why.

Gilian went little to town in that weather, he was getting credit
with Miss Mary, if not with her brothers, for a new interest in his
profession. Nor did Nan. Her father did not let her go much without
himself, he had his own reasons for keeping her from hearing the gossip
of the streets.

A week or two passed. The corn, in the badger's moon, yellowed and
hung; silent days of heat haze, all breathless, came on the country;
the stubble fields filled at evening with great flights of birds moving
south. A spirit like Nan's, that must ever be in motion, could not but
irk to share such a doleful season; she went more than ever about
the house of Maam sighing for lost companions, and a future not to be
guessed at. Only she would cheer up when she had her duties done for the
afternoon and could run out to the hillside to meet Gilian if he were
there.

She was thus running, actually with a song on her lips, one day, when
she ran into the arms of her uncle as he came round the corner of the
barn.

"Where away?" said he shortly, putting her before him, with his hands
upon her shoulders.

She reddened, but answered promptly, for there was nothing clandestine
in her meetings on the bare hillside with Gilian.

"The berries again," she said. "Some of the people from Glen Aray are
coming over."

"Some of the people," he repeated ironically; "that means one particular
gentleman. My lassie, there's an end coming to that."

He drew a large-jointed coarse hand through his tangled beard and
chuckled to himself.

"Are you aware of that?" he went on. "An end coming to it. Oh! I see
things; I'm no fool: I could have told your father long ago, but he's
putting an end to it in his own way, and for his own reasons."

"I have no idea what you mean," she said, surprised at the portentous
tone. She was not a bit afraid of him, though he was so little in
sympathy with her youth, so apparently in antagonism to her.

"What would you say to a man?" he asked cunningly.

"It would depend, uncle," she said readily and cheerfully, though a
sudden apprehension smote her at the heart. "It would depend on what he
said to me first."

The old man grinned callously as the only person in the secret.

"Suppose he said: 'Come away home, wife, I've paid a bonny penny for
ye'?"

"Perhaps I would say, if I was in very good humour at the time, 'You've
got a bonny wife for your bonny penny.' More likely I would be throwing
something at him, for I have my Uncle Jamie's temper they say, but I'm
nobody's wife, and for want of the asking I'm not likely to be."

"Well, we'll see," said the uncle oracularly. Then abruptly, "Have you
heard that your father's got an appointment?"

"I--I heard just a hint of it, of course he has not told me all about
it yet," she answered with a readiness that surprised herself when she
reflected on it later, for the news now so unexpectedly given her in the
momentary irritation of the old man was news indeed, and though she was
unwilling to let him see that it was so, a tremendous oppression seized
her; now she was to be lonely indeed. Half uttering her thoughts she
said, "I'll sooner go with him than stay here and----"

"Oh, there's no going yonder," said the uncle. "Sierra Leone is not a
healthy clime for men, let alone for women. That's where the man comes
in. He could hardly leave you alone to stravaige about the hills there
with all sorts of people from Glen Aray."

"The white man's grave!" said she, appalled.

"Ay!" said he, "but he's no ordinary white man; he's of good stock."

"And--and--he has found a man for me," she said bitterly. "Could I not
be left to find one for myself?"

Her uncle laughed his hoarse rude laugh again, and still combed his
tangled beard.

"Not to his fancy," he answered. "It's not every one who would suit." He
smiled grimly--a wicked elder man. "It's not every one would suit," he
repeated--as if he was anxious to let the full significance of what
he meant sink to her understanding. And he combed his rough beard with
large-jointed knotted fingers, and looked from under his heavy eyebrows.

"Seeing the business is so commercial," said she, "I'm sure that between
the two of you you will make a good bargain. I am not sure but I might
be glad to be anywhere out of this if father's gone and I not with
him." She said it with outer equanimity, and unable to face him a moment
longer without betraying her shame and indignation, she left him and
went to the corn-field where Black Duncan was working alone.

That dark mariner was to some extent a grieved sharer of her solitude
in Maam. The loss of the _Jean_ on Ealan Dubh had sundered him for ever
from his life of voyaging. The distant ports in whose dusks wild beasts
roared and spices filled the air were far back in another life for
him; even the little trips to the Clyde were, in the regrets of memory,
experiences most precious. Now he had to wear thick shoes on the hill of
Maam or sweat like a common son of the shore in the harvest-fields.
At night upon his pillow in the barn loft he would lie and mourn for
unreturning days and loud and clamorous experience. Or at morning ere
he started the work of the day he would ascend the little tulloch behind
the house and look far off at a patch of blue--the inner arm of the
ocean.

Nan found him in one of his cranky moods, fretful at circumstances,
and at her father who kept him there on the shore, and had no word of
another ship to take the place of the _Jean_. Of late he had been worse
than usual, for he had learned that the master was bound for abroad, and
though he was a sure pensioner so long as Maam held together, it meant
his eternal severance from the sea and ships.

Nan threw herself upon the grass beside him as he twisted hay-bands for
the stacks, and said no more than "Good afternoon" for a little.

He gloomed at her, and hissed between his teeth a Skye pibroch. For a
time he would have her believe he was paying no attention, but ever and
anon he would let slip a glance of inquiry from the corner of his
eyes. He was not too intent upon his own grievances to see that she was
troubled with hers, but he knew her well enough to know that she must
introduce them herself if they were to be introduced at all.

He changed his tune, let a little more affability come into his face,
and it was an old air of her childhood on the _Jean_ he had at his
lips. As he whistled it he saw a little moisture at her eyes; she was
recalling the lost old happiness of the days when she had gone about
with that song at her lips. But he knew her better than to show that he
perceived it.

"Have you heard that father's going away, Duncan?" she asked in a
little.

"I have been hearing that for five years," said he shortly. He had not
thought her worries would have been his own like this.

"Yes, but this time he goes."

"So they're telling me," said Black Duncan.

He busied himself more closely than ever with his occupation.

"Do you think he should be taking me?" she asked in a little.

He stopped his work immediately, and looked up startled.

"The worst curse!" said he in Gaelic. "He could not be doing that. He
goes to the Gold Coast. Do I not know it--the white man's grave?"

"But this Glen Shira," said she, pretending merriment, "it's the white
girl's grave for me, Duncan. Should not I be glad to be getting out
of it?" And now her eyes were suffused with tears though her lips were
smiling.

"I know, I know," said he, casting a glance up that lone valley that was
so much their common grief. "And could we not be worse? I'm sure Black
Duncan, reared in a bothy in Skye, who has been tossed by the sea, and
been wet and dry in all airts of the world, would be a very thankless
man if he was not pleased to be here safe and comfortable, on a steady
bed at night, and not heeding the wind nor the storm no more than if he
was a skart."

"Oh! you're glad enough to be here, then?" said she.

"Am I?" said he. And he sighed, so comical a sound from that hard
mariner that she could not but laugh in spite of the anxieties
oppressing her.

"I'm not going with him," she proceeded.

"I know," said he. "At least I heard--I heard otherwise, and I wondered
when you said it, thinking perhaps you had made him change his mind."

"You thought I had made him change--what do you mean?" she pressed,
feeling herself on the verge of an explanation, but determined not to
ask directly.

Black Duncan became cautious.

"You need not be asking me anything: I know nothing about it," said he
shortly. "I am very busy--I----" He hissed at his work more strenuously
than ever.

Then Nan knew he was not to be got at that way.

"Oh, well, never mind," said she; "tell me a story."

"I have no time just now," he answered.

Nan's uncle came round the corner of the dyke, no sound from his
footsteps, his hands in his pockets, his brows lowering. He looked at
the two of them and surmised the reason of Nan's discourse with Black
Duncan.

"Women--" said he to himself vaguely. "Women--" said he, pausing for
a phrase to express many commingled sentiments he had as to their
unnecessity, their aggravation, and his suspicion of them. He did not
find the right one. He lifted his hand, stroked again the tangled beard,
then made a gesture, a large animal gesture--still the satyr--to the
sky. He turned and went down to the riverside. Mid-way he paused and
stroked his beard again, and looked grimly up at where the maid and
the manservant were blue-black against the evening sky. He shrugged his
shoulders, "Women," said he, "they make trouble. I wish--I wish----" He
had no word to finish the sentence with, he but sighed and proceeded on
his way.

Nan seemed to be lazily watching his figure as she sat in the grass,
herself observed by Black Duncan. But she really saw him not.

"Ah well! never mind the story, Duncan," she said at last; "I know you
are tired and not in the mood for _sguullachd_, and if you like I will
sing you my song."

"You randy!" he said to himself, "you are going to have it out of me, my
dear." And he bent the more industriously to his task.

"Stop! stop!" he cried before she had got halfway through the old song
of "The Rover." "Stop! stop!" said he. He threw the binding bands from
him and faced the crimson west, with his back to her.

"Any port but that, my dear! If you are grieving because you think you
are going abroad you need not be anything of the kind, my leddy. This
is the place for you, about your father's door and him away where the
fevers are--aye and the harbours too with diversions in every one of
them."

"And Uncle Jamie's going to keep me, is he?" said she. "Lucky me! I was
aye so fond of gaiety, you mind."

"Whoever it is that's to keep you it might be worse," said he.

"Then there's somebody."

"Somebody," he repeated; "the cleverest young----"

"Stop! stop!" she cried, rising suddenly to her feet; "do not dare to
mention a name; spare me that."

He looked at her in amazement.

"Do you think I'm a stone, Duncan?"

"You would not be asking me that twice if I was younger myself," he said
redly, looking at her fine figure, the blush like a sunset on her neck,
the palpitation of her bosom, the flash and menace of her eyes.

"Well, well, well, go on, tell me more," she cried when she had
recovered herself. "What more is there?"

"You are the one that should know most," said he.

"I know nothing at all," she answered bitterly. "It seems that
nowadays the lady is the last to be taken into confidence about her own
marriage."

"Are you telling me?" he asked incredulously.

"I'm swearing it down your throat," she cried. "If I had a friend in
this countryside he would be pitying my shame that I must be bargained
for like beast at a fair and not have a word in the bargain."

"My name's what my name may be," said he, putting out an arm and
addressing the world, "and you are my master's daughter; I would cut off
that hand to save you a minute's vexation. What did Black Duncan know
but that you had the picking of the gentleman yourself--and you might
have picked worse, though I tell you I did not care to hear about the
money in it."

"The money," she exclaimed, turning pale to the lips; "then--then--then
there's money in it?"

"He's a smart young fellow----"

"No name, no name, or you are no friend of mine! Money, you say?"

"I could have picked no better for you myself."

"Did you say money?"

"I thought once there might be something."

"Money, money," she repeated to herself.

"A tocher should not be all on one side," said he, "and I know the
gentleman would be glad to have you----"

"Perhaps the whole countryside knows more about it than I do; it could
scarcely know less. I wondered why they were looking at me in the church
on Sunday. Oh! I feel black burning shame--shame--shame!"

She put her hands to her face to hide her tears; she trembled in every
part.

"They know; the cries are in at least," said Duncan.

"The cries! the cries!" she repeated. "Is my fate so near at hand as
that?"

"You'll be a married woman before the General takes the road," said he.

She took her hands from her face; her eyes froze and snapped, cold as
ice, the very redness of her weeping cooling pale in her passion. She
had no words to utter; she left him hurriedly, and ran fast into the
house.



CHAPTER XXVIII--GILIAN'S OPPORTUNITY

Her father was at the door when she went in. Now for the first time she
knew the reason for his change of manner lately, for that bustle about
trivial affairs when she was near, that averted eye when she was
fond and humorous. She went past him, unable to speak more than an
indifferent word, and great was his relief at that, for he had been
standing there bracing his courage to consult her on what she must be
told of sooner or later. He looked after her as she sped upstairs. "I
wonder how she'll take it?" he said to himself, greatly perplexed. "A
father has some unco' tasks to perform, and here's a father not very
well fitted by nature for the management of a daughter." He took off his
hat and dried a clammy brow that showed how much the duty postponed had
been disturbing him. "It's for the best, but it's a vulgar business even
then. If it was her uncle, now, he would wake her out of her sleep to
tell her the news. Poor girl, poor girl! I wish she had her mother."

He went into the barn, where corn was piling up, the straw filling the
gloomy gable-ends with rustling gold. Loud he stormed among some workers
there; loud he stormed, for him a thing unusual; and they bent silent
to their work and looked at one another knowingly, sensible that he
was ashamed of himself. Sitting dry-eyed on the edge of her bed, Nan
reflected upon her next step. At a cast of her mind round all the
countryside she could think of no woman to turn to in this trouble, and
only with a woman could she share it. Her pride first, and then the fear
of her father's anger, left her only certain limits in which to operate.
Her pride would not let her even show curiosity in the identity of the
man who was to be her doom, nor confess to another that she did not know
his name. And the whole parish, if it was acquainted with her sale (as
now she deemed it), must be her enemy. Against any other outrage than
this she would have gone straight to her father. He that she loved and
caressed, on whose knees sometimes even yet she sat, would not be deaf
to any ordinary plea or protest of hers. She would need but to nestle in
his arms, and loose and tie the antique queue, and perhaps steal a
kiss willingly surrendered, and all would be well But this, all her
instincts, all her knowledge of her father told her, was no ordinary
decision of his. He had gone too far to draw back. The world knew it;
he feared to face her because for once to please her he could not cancel
what was done. There was no hope, she told herself, in that direction;
even if there was she would not have gone there, for the sordid horror
of this transaction put a gulf between them. Feverishly she turned over
her lowland letters, and there she found but records of easy heart and
gaiety; no sacrificing friends were offering themselves in the pages
she had mourned over in her moods of evening loneliness. And again she
brought her mind back to her own country, and sitting still dry-eyed,
with a burning skin, upon her bed, reviewed her relatives and friends,
weighing which would be most like to help her.

She almost laughed when she found she had reduced all at last to one
eligible--Elasaid, her old Skye nurse, and the mother of Black Duncan,
who was in what was called the last of the shealings, by the lochs of
Karnes. Many a time her mother had gone to the shealing a young matron
for motherly counsel, but Nan herself had never been there, though
Elasaid had come to Nan to nurse her when her mother died. In the
shealing, she felt sure, there was not only counsel, but concealment if
occasion demanded that.

But how was she to get there, lost as it was somewhere miles beyond the
corner of the Salachary hill, in the wild red moors between the two big
waters?

First she thought of Young Islay--first and with a gladness at the sense
of his sufficiency in such an enterprise. His was the right nature for
knight-errantry in a case like hers, but then she reflected that he was
away from home--her father had casually let that drop in conversation
at breakfast yesterday; and even if he had been at home, said cooler
thought, she would hesitate to enlist him in so sordid a cause.

Then Gilian occurred--less well adapted, she felt, for the
circumstances; but she could speak more freely to him than to any other,
and he was out there in the hazel-wood, no doubt, still waiting for
her. Gilian would do, Gilian would have to do. If he could have seen how
unimpassioned she was in coming to this conclusion he would have been
grieved.

She went out at once, leisurely and with her thoughts constrained
upon some unimportant matter, so that her face might not betray her
tribulation when she met him.

In the low fields her uncle was scanning the hills with his hands arched
above his eyes to shield them from the glare of the westering sun,
groaning for the senselessness of sheep that must go roaming on
altitudes when they are wanted specially in the plains. She evaded his
supercilious eyes by going round the hedges, and in ten minutes she came
upon Gilian, waiting patiently for her to keep her own tryst. His first
words showed her the way to a speedy explanation.

"Next week," said he, "we'll try Strongara; the place is as full of
berries as the night is full of stars. Here they're not so ripe as on
the other side."

"Next week the berries might be as numerous as that at the very door of
Maam," said she, "and I none the better for them."

"What's the matter?" he cried, appalled at the omen of her face.

"My father is going abroad at once," she answered.

"Abroad?" he repeated. He had a branch of bramble in his hand, plucked
for the crimson of its leafage. He drew it through his hands and the
thorns bled the palms, but he never felt the pain. She was going too!
She was going away from Maam! He might never see her again! These late
days of tryst and happiness in the woods and on the hills were to be at
an end, and he was again to be quite alone among his sheep with no voice
to think on expectantly in slow-passing forenoons, and no light to shine
like a friendly eye from Maam in evening dusks!

"Well," she said, looking curiously at him. "My father is going abroad,
have you heard?"

"I have not," he answered; and she was relieved, for in that case he had
not learned the full ignominy of her story.

"Can you not say so little as 'good luck' to us?" she asked in her
lightest manner.

"You--you are going with him, then?" said Gilian, and he delighted in
the sharp torture of the thorns that bled his hands.

"No," she answered, "it's worse than that, for I stay. You have not
heard? Then you are the only one in the parish, I am sure, so ignorant
of my poor business. They're--they're looking for a man for me. Is it
not a pretty thing, Gilian?" She laughed with a bitterness that shocked
him. "Is it not a pretty thing, Gilian?" she went on. "I'm wondering
they did not lead me on a halter round the country and take the best
offer at a fair I It was throwing away good chances to give me to the
first offerer, was it not, Gilian?"

"Who is it?" he asked, every nerve jarring at the story.

"Do you think I would ask?" she said sharply. "It does not matter who it
is; and it is the last thing I would like to know, for then I would know
who knew my price in the market."

"Your father would never do it!"

"My father would not do but what he thought he must. He is poor, though
I never thought him so poor as this; and I daresay he would like to see
me settled before he goes. It is the black settling when I'm cried in
the kirk before I'm courted."

"They can never marry you against your will," said Gilian in a dull,
lifeless way, as if he had no great belief in what he laid forth.

"And that would be true," she said, "if I had a friend in the whole
countryside. I have not one except----"

He flushed and waited, and so did she expectantly, thinking he
would make the fervent protest most lads would do under the same
circumstances. But in the moment's pause he could not find the words for
his profound feeling.

"Except old Elasaid, the nurse on the Kames moor," she continued.

"Oh, her!" said he lamely.

"There's no one else I could think of."

"Look at me," he cried; "look at me; am I not your true friend? I
will do anything in the world for you." But he still went on torturing
himself with his bramble branch, the most insensible of lovers.

She was annoyed at his want of the commonest courage or tact. "John
Hielan'man! John Hielan'-man!" she said inwardly, trying a little
coquetry of the downcast eyes to tempt him. For now she was desolate
that she almost loved this gawky youth throbbing in sympathy with her
tribulation.

"I believe you are my true friend, I believe you arc my true friend, and
there is no one else," she said, blushing now with no coquetry, and if
he had not been a fool and his fate against him, he might at a hand's
movement or a word have had her in his arms. The word to say was
sounding loud and strong within him; he took her (only, alas! in fancy)
to his breast, but what was she the wiser?

"And I can do nothing?" he said pitifully. "Nothing!" said she; "you
can do everything." "Show me how, then," he said eagerly. She had been
gazing away from him with her eyes on Maam, that looked so sombre a
home, and was certainly now so cruel a home, and she turned then, almost
weeping, her breath rising and falling, audible to his ear, the sweetest
of sounds.

"Will you take me away from here?" she asked in entreaty. "I must go
away from here."

"I will take you anywhere you wish," said he.

He held out his hands in a gesture of sudden offering, and she felt
a happiness as one who comes upon a familiar and kind face all
unexpectedly in a strange country. Her face betrayed her gladness.

"I will take you, and who would be better pleased?" said Gilian.

She explained her intention briefly. She must leave Maam at the latest
to-morrow night without being observed, and he must show her the way to
Elasaid's shealing.

"Ah! give me the right," he said, "and I will take you to the world's
end." He put out his hands and nigh encircled her, but shyness sent him
back to a calmer distance.

"John Hielan'man!" she repeated to herself, annoyed at this tardiness,
but she outwardly showed no knowledge of it.

They planned what only half in fun she called their elopement. He was to
come across to Maam in the early morning.



CHAPTER XXIX--THE ELOPEMENT

He had ideas of his own as to how this enterprise should be conducted,
but on Nan's advice he had gone about it in the fashion of Marget
Maclean's novels, even to the ladder. It was not a rope ladder, but a
common one of wood that Black Duncan was accustomed to use for ascent to
his sleep in the loft.

Gilian, apprised by Nan of its exact situation, crept breathlessly into
the barn, left his lantern at the door, and felt around with searching
fingers. The place was all silent but for the seaman's snores as he
slept the sleep of a landsman upon his coarse pallet. Outside a cock
crew; its sudden alarm brought the sweat to Gilian's brow; he clutched
with blind instinct, found what he wanted, turned and hastened from the
dusty barn.

The house of Maam was jet-black among its trees, no light peeped even in
Nan's room.

Carefully he put the ladder against the wall beneath her window, and as
he did so he fancied he heard a movement above. He stood with his hand
on one of the rungs, dubious, hesitating. For the first time a sense
of the risks of the adventure swept into that mind of his, always the
monopoly of imagination and the actor. He was ashamed to find himself
half-wishing she might not come. He tried to think it was all a dream,
and he pinched his arm to try and waken himself. But the blank black
walls of Maam confronted him; the river was crying in its reeds; it was
a real adventure that must be gone on with.

He lit the lantern. Through the open door of it as he did so the flood
of light revealed his face anxious and haggard, his eyes uncertain. He
closed the lantern and looked around.

Through the myriad holes that pierced the tin, pin-points of fire lanced
the night, streaming in all directions, throwing the front of the house
at once into cold relief with a rasping, harled, lime surface. The
bushes were big masses of shade; the trees, a little more remote, seemed
to watch him with an irony that made him half ashamed. What an appalling
night! Over him came the sentiments of the robber, the marauder, the
murderer. As he held the lantern on his finger a faint wind swung it,
and its lances of light danced rhythmic through the gloom. He put it
under his plaid, and prepared to give the signal whistle. For the life
of him he could not give it utterance; his lips seemed to have frozen,
not with fear, for he was calm in that way, but with some commingling
of emotions where fear was not at all. When he gave breath to his
hesitating lips, it went through inaudible.

What he might have done then may only be guessed, for the opening of the
window overhead brought an end to his hesitation.

"Is it you?" said Nan's voice, just a little revealing her anxiety in
its whisper. He could not see her now that his lantern was concealed,
but he looked up and fancied her eyes were shining more lambent than his
own lantern that smelled unpleasantly.

He wet his lips with his tongue. "The ladder is ready; it's up against
your window, don't you see it?" he said, also whispering, but astounded
at the volume of his voice.

"Tuts!" she exclaimed impatiently, "why don't you show a light? How can
I see it without a light?"

"Dare I?" he asked, astonished.

"Dare! dare! Oh dear!" she repeated. "Am I to do the daring and break my
neck perhaps?"

Out flashed the lantern from beneath his plaid and he held it up to the
window. Nan leant over and all his hesitation fled. He had never seen
her more alluring. Her hair had become somehow unfastened, and, without
untidiness, there lay a lock across her brow; all her blood was in her
face, her eyes might indeed have been the flames he had fancied, for
to the appeal of the lantern they flashed back from great and rolling
depths of luminousness. Her lips seemed to have gathered up in sleep the
wealth of a day of kissing. A screen of tartan that she had placed about
her shoulders had slipped aside in her movement at the window and showed
her neck, ivory pale and pulsing.

"Come along, come along!" he cried in an eager whisper, and he put up
his arms, lantern and all, as if she were to jump. Something in his
first look made her pause.

"Do you really want to go?" he asked, and she was drawing her screen
by instinct across her form. An observer, if there had been such, might
well have been amused to see an elopement so conducted. There was still
no sound in the night, except that the cock crew at intervals over in
the cottars. The morning was heavy with dew; the scent of bog-myrtle
drugged the air.

"Do I really want?" she repeated. "Mercy! what a question. It seems
to me that yesterday would have been the best time to ask it. Are you
rueing your bargain?" She looked at him with great dissatisfaction as he
stood at the foot of the ladder, by no means a handsome cavalier, as
he carried his plaid clumsily. He was made all the more eager by her
coldness.

"Come, come!" he cried; "the house will be awake before you are ready,
and I cannot be keeping this lantern lighted for fear some one sees it."

"We are safe for an hour yet, if we cared to waste the time," she said
composedly, "and if you're sure you want it----"

"Want you, Nan," he corrected, "That's a little more like it," she said
to herself, and she dropped the customary bundle at his feet He picked
it up gingerly, as if it were a church relic; that it was a possession
of hers, apparel apparently, made him feel a slight intoxication. No
swithering now; he would carry out the adventure if it led to the end
of the world! He hugged the bundle under his arm, as if it were a
woman, and felt a fictional glow from the touch of it. "Well?" said she
impatiently, for he was no longer looking at her, no longer, indeed,
conceding her so little as the light of the lantern, which he had placed
on the ground, so that its light was dissipated around, while none of it
reached the top of the ladder.

"Well," she repeated sharply, for he had not answered.

He looked up with a start. "Are you not coming?" he said, with a tone to
suggest that he was waiting impatiently.

She had the window wide open now; she leaned out on her arms ready to
descend; the last rung of the ladder was a foot lower than the sill
of the window; she looked in perplexity at her cavalier, for it was
impossible to put much of grace into an emergence and a descent like
this.

"I am just coming," she said, but still she made no other move, and he
held up the lantern for her to sec the better.

"Well, be careful!" he advised, and he thought how delightful it was to
have the right to say so much.

"O Gilian!" she said helplessly, "you are far from gleg."

He gazed ludicrously uncomprehending at her, and in his sense of almost
conjugal right to the girl failed to realise her delicacy.

"Go round to the barn and make sure that Duncan is not moving; he's the
only one I fear," she said. "Leave the lantern."

He did as he was told; he put the lantern on the ground; he went round
again to the barn, put his head in, and satisfied himself that his
seaman was still musical aloft. Then he hurried back. He found the
lantern swinging on Nan's finger, and her composed upon the ground, to
which she had made a speedy descent whenever he had disappeared.

"Oh! I wanted to help you," said he.

"Did you?" said she, looking for a sign of the humorist, but he was as
solemn as a sermon.

They might have been extremely sedate in Miss Simpson's school in
Edinburgh, but at that moment Miss Nan would have forgiven some apparent
appreciation of her cleverness in getting him out of the way while she
came feet first through a window. They stood for a moment in expectancy,
as if something was going to happen, she still holding the lantern,
trembling a little, as it might be with the cold, he with her bundle
under his arm pressed affectionately.

"And--and--do we just go on?" she asked suggestively.

"The quicker the better," said he, but he made no movement to depart,
for his mind was in the house of Maam, and he felt the father's sorrow
and alarm at an empty bed, a daughter gone.

She put out an arm, flushing in the dark as she did so, as if to place
it on his neck, but drew back and put the lantern fast behind her, lest
her fervour had been noticed by the ironic and jealous night. He, she
saw, could not notice; the thing was not in his mind.

"In the stories they just move off, then?" said she shyly. "There was
the meeting, the meeting--no more, and they just went away?"

"And the sooner the better," said he, again leading the way at
last, after taking the lantern from her, and "John Hielan'man, John
Hielan'man!" she cried vexatiously within.

She followed, pouting her lips in the darkness. "It's quite different
from what I expected," she said, whispering as they passed the front
door and down by the burn.

"And with me too," he confessed. "I had it made up in my mind all
otherwise. There should have been moonlight and a horse, and many other
things." "It seems to me you are not making so much as you might of what
there is," she suggested. "Are you sure it is not a trouble to carry the
lantern and the bundle too?"

"Oh! no, no!" he cried softly, but eagerly, every chivalric sentiment
roused lest she should deprive him of the pleasure of doing all he could
for her. She sighed.

"Are you vexed you have come?" he asked, stopping and turning on her his
yet wan face full of regret and of dubiety too.

"The thing is done," she answered abruptly, and they were stepping
carefully over the burn that ran about its boulders in the dark,
gurgling. "Are you sure you are not sorry yourself?"

"I am not a bit sorry," he said, "but--but----"

"Your 'buts' are too late, Gilian," she went on firmly. "If you rued the
enterprise now, I would go myself." But she relaxed some of the coldness
of her mood as he shifted his lantern to the other hand and put a
bashful but firm and supporting hand below her arm to secure her footing
in the rough ascent. This was a little more like what she had expected,
she told herself, though she missed something of warmth in the action.
How could she tell that the hand that held her was trembling with
passion, that her shawl fringe as it was blown across his face by the
breeze was something he could have kissed rapturously?

And now they were well up the hillside. The house of Maam, the garden,
the plantings, the noisy river, were down in the valley, all surrendered
to the night. Their lantern, swinging on the lad's finger, threw a
path of light before them, showing the short cropped grass, the rushy
patches, or the gall they trod odorously, or the heather in its rare
clumps. No sound came louder than the tumbling waters; their voices,
as they spoke even yet guardedly as people will in enterprises the
most solitary when their consciences are unresting, seemed strange and
unfamiliar to each other.

Soon they were on the summit of the hill range and below them lay the
two glens, and the first breath of the morning came behind from Strone,
where dawn threw a wan grey flag across the world. They plunged into the
caldine trees of Strongara, sped fast across Aray at Three Bridges, and
the dawn was on Balantyre, where the farm-touns high and low lay like
thatched forts, grey, cold, unwelcoming in the morning, with here and
there a stream of peat reek from the _greasach_ of the night's fires.
They became, as it might be, children again as they hastened through
the country. He lost all his diffident dubiety and was anew the bold
adventurer, treading loverlike upon the very stars. A passion of
affection was on him; he would take her unresisting hand and lead her
as though she were his, really, and before them was their moated castle.
And Nan forgot herself in the fresh zest of the dewy morning that now
was setting the birds to their singing in the dens that hang above the
banks of the Balantyre burn.

A rosy flush came to the hills where on the upper edges spread the
antlers of deer sniffing the wind, rejoicing in the magnificence of the
fine highland country in its autumn time. Nan hummed and broke into a
strain of the verse of Donacha Ban that chants the praise of day and
deer-hunting; she charmed her comrade; he felt the passion of the
possessor and stopped and turned upon her and made to kiss. She laughed
temptingly, drew back, warding her lips with the screen that now she
had arranged in a new and pleasing fashion on her shoulders so that she
looked some Gaelic huntress of the wilds. "So, so, Gilian!" said she,
"you have found that there might be more in the books than simply to
take the girl away with not so much as 'Have you a mouth?' when she
stepped out at the window."

"What a fool I was!" he cried. "I was thinking of it all the time, but
did not dare." But awakened to the actuality of what he now had dared,
he was ashamed to go further.

Nan laughed. He looked odd indeed standing facing her with the lantern
burning yet in his hand though the day was almost wide-awake. He was a
poet bearing his own light about the world extravagantly while the sun
was shining for common mortals.

"Out with your light!" said she. And then she added: "If you dared not
do it in the dark when you met me first, you cannot do it now," and he
was dashed exceedingly. He puffed out the flame.

"That's aye me!" he said as they resumed their journey up the second
hill of their morning escapade. "I am too often a day behind the fair.
I was--I was--kissing you a score of times in fancy and all the time you
were willing in the actual fact."

"Was I indeed?" she retorted shortly, with a movement to bring her shawl
more closely round her. "Do not be so flattering. I like you little
over-blate, Gilian, but I like you less over-bold. If you could see
yourself you would know which suits you best."

He had no answer. He must face his brae with lacerated feelings, now a
step removed from the girl who walked with him. But only for a little
was he depressed. She saw she had vexed him, and soon she was humming
again, and again they were children of illusion and content.

They reached the pass that led to the lochs, and now Gilian had to
confess himself in a strange country, but he did not reveal the fact to
his companion. They talked of their coming sojourn in these lovely wilds
that her mother had known and loved. The sun would shine constantly for
them; the lakes--the little and numerous lakes--would be fringed
with dreams and delight, starshine would find them innocent among the
heather, remitted to the days of old when they were happy and careless,
when no trouble marred their sky. Only now and then, as they sped on
their way, Gilian wished fervently he knew more of where he was going,
and was certain that life in the wilds would be so pleasant and easy as
they pictured it.

When they came at last upon the slope of Cruach-an-Lochain that revealed
the great valley of the lakes, they stood raptured by the spectacle
before them. Far off, the great hollow among the hills was hazy and
mysterious, but spread before them was the moor, tangled with grass and
heather, all vacant in the morning dream. A tremor of wind was in the
grass about their feet, a little mist tarried about the warm side of Ben
Bhreac, caught among the juniper bushes the hunters had put there for
shelter. All over brooded calm, a land forgetful of its stormy elements,
of the dripping nights, the hail-beat, shrewd ost and hurricane. They
could not, the pair of them, flying from a world of anxieties, but stop
and look at the spectacle, when they came on the face of the Cruach. For
a little they did not speak.

"My God!" said Gilian at last, a lump somewhere at his throat. "It seems
as if this place had been waiting on us tenantless since the start of
time. Where have we been to be so long and so far away from it? _Mo
chridhe, mo chridhe!_"

"Now that I see it," said she doubtfully, "it seems melancholy enough. I
wish----" She hung upon her sentence, with a rueful gaze out of her eyes
at the scene.

"Melancholy!" he repeated. "Of course, of course," he quickly came
to her reflection, "what could it be but melancholy with all the past
unrecoverable behind it? It must be brooding for its people gone. Empty,
empty, but I see all the old peoples roaming in bands over it, the sun
smiting them, the rain drenching, I cannot but be thinking of shealing
huts that spotted the levels, of bairns crying about the doors, of
nights of _ceilidh_ round peat fires dead and cold now, but yet with the
smoke of them hanging somewhere round the universe."

He stopped, and turned away from her, concealing his perturbation.

She shivered at the thought and partly from weariness and hunger, with
a little sucking in of the breath his ear caught, and he turned, a
different man.

"You are tired; will we rest before we go further?" "Is it far?" she
asked.

He reddened. He cast a fast glance round the country as if to look for
some familiar landmark, but all was strange to him.

"I do not know," he confessed humbly. "I was never on the moor before."

"Mercy!" she said. "I thought there was never a lad from town but had
fished here."

"But I was different," he replied. "The woods and waters about the door
were enough for me. But we'll get to Elasaid's very soon, I'm sure, and
find fire, food, and rest."

She bit her nether lip in annoyance at a courtier so ill-prepared for
their adventure. She turned to look back to the familiar country they
were leaving behind them, and for a moment wished she had never come.

"I wish we could have them now," she said at last; the words drawn from
her by her weariness.

"And so we can," said he eagerly, with a delight at a reflection that
sprung into his mind like a revelation. "We can go down to the water
there and build a fire, and rest and eat. It will be like what I
fancied, a real adventure of hunters, and I will be the valet, and you
will be the--the queen."

So they went down to the lake side. Heathery braes rose about it,
reflected in its dark water; an islet overgrown with scrub lay in
the middle of it, the very haunt of possible romance; Gilian straight
inhabited the same with memories and exploits. Nan sat her down on the
springy heather that swept its scents about her, she leaned a tired
shoulder on it, and the bells of the ling blushed as they swayed against
her cheek. Gilian put down his lantern, a ludicrous companion in broad
sunshine, and was dashed by the sudden recollection that though he had
talked of something to eat, he had really no means of providing it!

The girl observed his perturbation and shrewdly guessed the reason.

"Well?" she said maliciously, without a smile; "and where are we to get
the food you so nicely spoke of?"

He stood stupefied, and so dolorous a spectacle that she could not but
laugh.

"You have got none at all, but imagined our feast--as usual," she said,
unfolding her bundle. "It was well I did not depend on your forethought,
Gilian," and she took a flask of milk and some bread from within. He was
as much vexed at the spoiling of his illusion about the contents of the
bundle as at the discovery of his thoughtlessness. What he had been
so fervently caressing against his side had been no more romantic than
bread and cheese and some more substantial augmentation for the poor
table of the old woman they were going to meet!

The side of the loch bristled with dry heather roots; he plucked them
and placed them on the side of a boulder beside Nan, and set fire to
them, and soon a cheerful blaze competed with the tardy morning chill.
They sat beside it singularly uplifted by this domestic hearth among the
wilds; he felt himself a sort of householder, and to share as he did the
fare of the girl was a huge delight. Her single cup passed between them;
at first he was shy to touch at all the object her lips had kissed; he
showed the feeling in his face, and she laughed again.

He joined in the merriment, quite comprehending. Next time the cup came
his way he boldly turned it about so that where last she had sipped came
to his lips, and there he lingered--just a shade too long for the look
of the thing. What at first she but blushed and smiled at, she frowned
upon at last with a sparkle of the eye her Uncle Jamie used to call in
the Gaelic the torch of temper. Gilian missed it; that touch of his lip
upon her cup had recalled the warmth of her hand upon the flowers he had
gathered when she had let them fall in the Duke's garden, but this was
closer and more stirring. As he knelt on the heather he felt himself a
worshipper of ancient days, and her the goddess of long-lost times. An
uplifting was in his eyes; it would have been great and beautiful to any
one that could have understood, but her it only vexed. When he handed
back the cup she tossed it from her. It broke--sad omen!--on their first
hearthstone. "That'll do," said she shortly, "it's time we were going."
And she gathered hastily the remains of their breakfast and made for a
departure.

He surveyed her dubiously, wondering why she so abruptly checked the
advances he could swear she had challenged.

"I am sorry I vexed you," he stammered. She brought down her brows
questioningly. There was something pleasant and tempting though
queenlike and severe in her straightened figure standing over him curved
and strong and full, her screen fallen to her waist, a strand of her
hair blown about her cheek by a saucy wind.

"Vexed?" she queried, and then smiled indifferent. "What would I be
vexed at? We are finished, are we not? Must we be burdening ourselves
unnecessarily going on a road you neither know the length or nature of?"

And without a word more they proceeded towards the shealing that was to
be the end of their adventure.



CHAPTER XXX--AMONG THE HEATHER

Old Elasaid met them at the door. She was a woman with eyes profound
and piercing under hanging brows, a woman grey even to the colour of her
cheeks and the checks of the gown that hung loosely on her gaunt figure.
It was with no shealing welcome, no kind memory of the old nurse even,
she met them, but stood under her lintel looking as it were through them
to the airt of the country whence they had come. She passed the time of
day as if they had been strangers, puckering her mouth with a sort of
unexpressed disapproval. They stood before her very much put out at a
reception so different from what they had looked for, and Gilian knew
that there must be something decisive to say but could not find it in
his head.

"Well," said the old woman at last, "this'll be the good man, I'm
thinking?" But still she had that in her tone, a sour dissatisfaction
that showed she had her doubts.

Gilian was not unhappy at the assumption, but felt warm, and Nan
reddened.

"Not at all," she answered with some difficulty. "It's just a friend who
convoyed me up."

"Well I kent it," said the old woman, who spoke English to show she was
displeased, and there was in her voice a tone of satisfaction with her
own shrewdness. "When I saw you coming up the way there I thought there
was something very unlike the thing about this person with you. The
other one would have been a little closer on your elbow, and a lantern's
a very queer contrivance to be stravaiging with on a summer day."

All her contempt seemed to be for Gilian, and he felt mightily
uncomfortable.

"Tell me this," she went on, suddenly taking Nan by the arm and bending
a most condemnatory face on her; "tell mc this: did you run away from
the other one?"

"Mercy on me!" cried the girl. "Is the story up here already?"

"Oh, we're not so far back," said the dame, who did not add that her son
the seaman had told her the news on his last weekly visit.

"Then I'll need the less excuse for being here," said Nan, trying to
find in the hard and unapproving visage any trace of the woman who in
happier days used to be so kind a nurse.

"No excuse at all!" said old Elasaid. "If it's your father's wish you're
flying from, you need not come here." She stepped within the house,
pulled out the wattle door and between it and the fir post stuck a
disapproving face.

"Go away! go away!" she cried harshly, "I have no room for a baggage of
that kind." Then she shut the door in their faces; they could hear the
bar run to in the staples.

For a minute or two they stood aghast and silent, and Nan was
plainly close on tears. But the humour of the thing struck her quick
enough--sooner than Gilian saw it--and she broke into laughter, subdued
so that it might not reach the woman righteous within, and her ear maybe
at the door chink. It was not perhaps of the heartiest merriment, but
it inspired her companion with respect for her spirit in a moment so
trying. She was pale, partly with weariness, partly with distress at
this unlooked-for reception; but her lips, red and luscious, smiled for
his encouragement.

"Must we go back?" he asked, irresolute, as they made some slow steps
away from the door.

"Back!" said Nan, her eyes flashing. "Am I mad? Are you speaking for
yourself? If it must be back for you let me not be keeping you. After
all you bargained for no more than to take me to old Elasaid's, and now
that I'm here and there's none of the Elasaid I expected to meet me,
I'll make the rest of my way somewhere myself." But her gaze upon that
rolling and bleak moorland was far less confident than her words.

Gilian made no reply. He only looked at her reproaching for her
bitterness, and humbly took up step by her side as she walked quickly
away from the scene of the cold reception.

They had gone some distance when Elasaid opened her door again and came
out to look after them. She saw a most touching helplessness in the
manner of their uncertain walk across the heather, with no fixed mind
as to which direction was the best, stopping and debating, moving now
a little to the east, now a little to the west, but always further into
the region of the lochs. She began to blame herself for her hastiness.
She had expected that, face to face with her disapproval, the foolish
young people would have gone back the road they came; but here they were
going further than ever away from the father in whose interest she had
loyally refused her hospitality. She cried loudly after them with a
short-breathed Gaelic halloo, too much like an animal's cry to attract
their attention. Nan did not hear it at all; Gilian but dreamed it, as
it were, and though he took it for the call of a moor-fowl, found it in
his ready fancy alarmingly like the summons of an irate father. But now
he dared betray no hesitancy; he did not even turn to look behind him.

Elasaid cried again, but still in vain. She concluded they were
deliberately deaf to her, and "Let them go!" she said crabbedly,
flaunting an eloquent arm to the winds, comforting herself with the
thought that there was no other house in all that dreary country to give
them the shelter she had denied.

The sun by this time was pouring into the moor from a sky without a
speck of cloud. Compared with the brown and purple of the moor and the
dull colour of Ben Bhreac--the mount away to the southeast--the heavens
were uncommonly blue, paling gradual to their dip. In another hour than
this distressed and perplexed one, our wanderers would have felt some
jocund influence in a forenoon so benign and handsome.

And now, too, the country began to show more of its true character. Its
little lochs--a great chain of them--dashed upon their vision in patches
of blue or grey or yellow. The valley was speckled with the tarns.
Gilian forgot the hazards of the enterprise and the discomforts to be
faced; he had no time to think of what was to be done next for them in
their flight, so full was he with the romance of those multitudinous
lakelets lost in the empty and sunny wilds, some with isle, all with
shelving heathery braes beside them, or golden bights where the little
wave lapped. He turned to his companion with an ecstasy.

"Did you ask me if I rued it?" he said. "Give me no better than to stay
here for ever--with you to share it."

She met his ardour with coolness. "I wish you had been so certain of
that a little ago," she said; "you seem very much on the swither. Have
you thought of what's to be done next? It is all very well to be putting
our backs to the angry Elasaid behind us there, but all the time I'm
wondering what's to be the outcome."

He confessed himself at a loss. She eyed him without satisfaction. This
young gentleman, who seemed so enchanting in circumstances where no
readiness of purpose was needed, looked very inadequate in the actual
stress of things, in the broad daylight, his flat bonnet far back on
his brow, his face wan, his plaid awry. And there was something in his
carriage of the ridiculous lantern that made her annoyed at herself for
some reason.

She stopped, and they hung hesitating, with the lapwings crying about
them, and no other sound in the air.

"I'm going back," said she, as if she meant it. His face fell. This time
there was no mistaking his distress.

"No, no, you cannot, Nan," he said. "We will get out of it somehow; you
cannot return, and what of me? It would be ill to explain."

"We're neither whaup nor deer," said she, shrugging her shoulders, "to
live here wild the rest of our days."

Gilian looked about him rather helplessly, and he started at the sight
of a gable wall, with what in a shealing might pass for a window in it,
and he knew it for a relic of the old days, when the moor in its levels
here would be spotted with happy summer homes, when the people of Lochow
came from the shores below and gave their cattle the juicy grazing of
these untamed pastures, themselves living the ancient life, with singing
and spinning in the open, gathering at nights for song or dance and tale
in the fine weather.

"There's something of shelter at least," he said, pointing to it. She
looked dubiously at the dry-stone walls almost tumbling, the cabars
of what had been a byre fallen over half the interior, and at the rank
nettles--head-high almost--about the rotten door.

"Is this home-coming?" she said whimsically, forcing a smile, but she
was glad to see it. By this time she was master of her companion's mind,
and could guess that it would be to him a palace for them both. But they
went up towards the abandoned hut, glad enough, both of them, to see an
edifice, even in decay, showing man had once been there, where now the
world about seemed given over to vacant sunshine or the wild winds of
heaven, the rains, and doleful birds. It stood between two lochs that
were separated from each other by but a hundred yards of heather and
rush, its back-end to one of the lochs, the door to Ben Bhreac.

Gilian went first and trod down the nettles, making a path that she
might the more comfortably reach this sanctuary so melancholy. She
gathered up her gown close round her, dreading the touch of these kind
plants that hide the shame of fallen lintels and the sorrow of cold
hearths, and timidly went to the door, her shawl fallen from one of her
shoulders and dragging at the other. She put her head within, and as she
did so, the lad caught the shawl, unseen by her, and kissed the fringe,
wishing he could do so to her lips.

A cold damp air was in the dwelling, that had no light but from the half
open door and the vent in the middle of the roof.

She drew back shuddering in spite of herself, though her whole desire
was to seem content with any refuge now that she had brought him so far
on what looked like a gowk's errand.

He ventured an assuring arm around her waist and they went slowly
in together, and stood silent in the middle of the floor where the
long-dead fire had been, saying nothing at all till their eyes had grown
accustomed to the gloom.

What she felt beyond timidity she betrayed not, but Gilian peopled the
house at an instant with all its bygone tenants, seeing the peats ruddy
on the stones, the smoke curling up among the shining cabars, hearing
ghosts gossiping in muffled Gaelic round the fire.

Yet soon they found even in this relic of old long-gone people the air
of domesticity; it was like a shelter even though so poor a one; it
was some sort of an end to her quest for a refuge, though the more she
looked at its dim interior the more content she was with the outside
of it. Where doubtless many children had played, on the knowe below a
single shrub of fir-wood beside the loch, Nan spread out the remains of
her breakfast again and they prepared to make a meal. Gilian gathered
the dry heather tufts, happy in his usefulness, thinking her quite
content too, while all the time she was puzzling as to what was next to
be done. Never seemed a bleak piece of country so lovely to him as now.
As he rose from bending over the heather and looked around, seeing
the moor in its many colours stretch in swelling waves far into the
distance, the lochans winking to the day and over all a kind soft sky,
he was thrilling with his delight.

She summoned him in a little to eat. He looked at her scanty provender,
and there was as much of truth as self-sacrifice in his words as he
said: "I do not care for eating; I am just satisfied with seeing you
there and the world so fine." And still exulting in that rare solitude
of two he went farther off by Little Fox Loch and sought for white
heather, symbol of luck and love, as rare to find among the red as
true love is among illusion. Searching the braes he could hear, after a
little, Nan sing at the shealing hut. A faint breeze brought the strain
to him faintly so that it might be the melody of fairydom heard at eves
on grassy hillocks by the gifted ear, the melody of the gentle other
world, had he not known that it had the words of "The Rover." Nan was
singing it to keep up her heart, far from cheerful, tortured indeed
with doubt and fear, and yet the listener found in the notes content
and hope. When he came back with his spray of white heather he was so
uplifted with the song that he ran up to her for once with no restraint
and made to fasten it at her neck. She was surprised at his new freedom
but noway displeased. A little less self-consciousness as he fumbled
at the riband on her neck would have satisfied her more, but even that
disappeared when he felt her breath upon his hair and an unconscious
touch of her hand on his arm as he fastened the flower. She let her eyes
drop before his bold rapture, he could have kissed her there and then
and welcome. But he only went halfway. When the heather was fastened,
he took her hand and lifted it to his lips, remembering some inadequate
tale in the books of Margot Maclean.

"John Hielan'man! John Hielan'man!" she said within herself, and
suddenly she tore the white spray from her bosom and threw it
passionately at her feet, while tears of vexation ran to her eyes.

"Forgive me, forgive me, I have vexed you again," said Gilian, contrite.
"I should not be so bold."

She could not but smile through her tears.

"If you will take my heather again and say nothing of it, I will never
take the liberty again," he went on, eager to make up for his error.

"Then I will not take it," she answered.

"It was stupid of me," said he.

"It is," she corrected meaningly.

"I never had any acquaintance with--with--girls," he added, trying to
find some excuse for himself.

"That is plain enough," she agreed cordially, and she followed it with a
sigh.

For a minute they stood thus irresolute and then the lad bent and lifted
the ill-used heather. He held it in his hand for a moment tenderly as if
it was a thing that lived, and sighed over it, and then, fearing that,
too, might seem absurd to her and vexatious, he made an effort and
twirled it between a finger and thumb by its stem like any casual
wild-flower culled without reflection.

"What are you going to do with it now?" she asked him, affecting
indifference, but eyeing it with interest; and he made no answer, for
how could he tell her he meant to keep it always for remembrance? "Give
it to me," she said suddenly, and took it from his fingers. She ran into
the house and placed it in the only fragment of earthenware left by the
departed tenants. "It will do very well there," she said.

"But I meant it for you," said Gilian ruefully, "It is a sign of good
luck."

"It is a sign of more than that, I've heard many a time," she replied,
and he became very red indeed, for he knew that as well as she, though
he had not said it. "I'll take it for the luck," she went on.

"And for mine too," said Gilian.

"That's not so blate, John Hielan'man!" said she again to herself. "And
for yours too," she conceded, smiling. "When you find that I have taken
it away from there you will know it is for your luck too."

"And it will be at your breast then?" he cried eagerly.

She laughed and blushed and laughed again, most sweetly and most merrily.
"It will be at--at--at my heart," she said.

"Ah," said he, in an instinct of fear that quelled his rapture; "ah, if
they take you from me!"

"When I take your heather," said she, "it will be for ever at my heart."

Oh! then that savage moorland was Paradise for the dreamer, and he was
a coquette's slave, fettered by a compliment. The afternoon passed, for
him at least, in a delirium of joy; she, though she never revealed it,
was never at a moment's rest from her plans of escape from her folly.
Late in the afternoon she came to a lame conclusion.

"You will go down to the town to-night," she said, "and----"

"And you!" he cried, alarmed at the notion of severance.

"I'll stay here, of course. You'll tell Miss Mary that we--that I am
here, and she will tell you what we--what I, must do."

"But--but--" he stammered, dubious of the plan.

"Of course I can go home again to Maam now," she broke in coldly, and
she was vexed for the alarm and grief he showed at the alternative.

"I will go; I will go at once," he cried, but first he went far down on
Blaraghour for wood for a fire to cheer her loneliness, and the dusk was
down on them before he left her.

She gave him her hand at the door, a hand for once with helpless
dependence in the clinging and the confidence of it, and he held it long
without dissent from her. Never before had she seemed so beautiful or
so affable, so necessary to his life. Her trials had paled the colour of
her face and her eyes had a hint of tears. Over his shoulder she would
now and then cast a glance of apprehension at the falling night and
check a shudder of her frame.

"Good-night!" he said.

"Good-night!" she answered, and yet she did not loose her prisoned hand.

He sighed, and brought, in spite of her, an echo from her heart.

Then he drew her suddenly to his arms and scorched her face with lips of
fire.

Nan released herself and fled within. The door closed; she dared not
make her trial the more intense by seeing the night swallow up her only
living link with the human world beyond the vague selvedge of the moor.

And Gilian, till the dawn came over Cruach-an-Lochain, walked by the
side of Little Fox Loch, within view of the hut that held his heart.



CHAPTER XXXI--DEFIANCE

That there was some unusual agitation in the town Gilian could gather as
soon as he had set foot within the Arches in the early morning. It was
in the air, it was mustering many women at the well. There they stood in
loud and lingering groups, their stoups running over extravagantly while
they kept the tap running, unconscious what they were about Or they had
a furtive aspect as they whispered in the closes, their aprons wrapping
their folded arms. At the door of the New Inns, Mr. Spencer was laying
forth a theory of abduction. He had had English experience, he knew
life; for the first time since he had come to this place of poor
happenings he had found something he could speak upon with authority
and an audience to listen with respect What his theory was, Gilian might
have heard fully as he passed; but he was thinking of other things,
and all that came to him were two or three words, and one of the errant
sentences was seemingly about himself. That attracted all his attention.
He gave a glance at the people at the door--the inn-keeper, MacGibbon,
with an unusual Kilmarnock bonnet on that seemed to have been donned
in a hurry; Rixa, in a great perturbation, having just come out of a
shandry-dan with which he had been driving up Glen Shira; Major Paul,
and Wilson the writer. The inn-keeper, who was the first to see the lad,
stopped his speech with confusion and reddened. They gave him a stare
and a curt acknowledgment of his passage of the time of day as the
saying goes, looked after him as he passed round Old Islay's corner, and
found no words till he was out of sight.

"That puts an end to that notion, at any rate," said the Sheriff, almost
pleased to find the Londoner in the wrong with his surmises. And the
others smiled at Mr. Spencer as people do who told you so. Two minutes
ago they were half inclined to give some credit to the plausibility of
his reasoning.

The inn-keeper was visibly disturbed. "Dear me! I have been doing the
lad an injustice after all; I could have sworn he was the man in it if
it was anybody."

"Pooh!" said Rixa, "the Paymaster's boy! I would as soon expect it of
Gillesbeg Aotram."

They went into the hostelry, and Gilian, halfway round the factor's
corner, was well-nigh ridden down by Turner on a roan horse spattered
on the breast and bridle with the foam of a hard morn's labour. He had
scoured the countryside on every outward road, and come early at the
dawn to the ferry-house and rapped wildly on the shutter. But nowhere
were tidings of his daughter. Gilian felt a traitor to this man as he
swept past, seeing nothing, with a face cruel and vengeful, the flanks
of his horse streaked with crimson. The people shrunk back in their
closes and their shop-doors as he passed all covered upon with the
fighting passion that had been slumbering up the glen since ever he came
home from the Peninsula.

It was the breakfast hour in the Paymaster's. Miss Mary was going in
with the Book and had but time to whisper welcome to her boy on the step
of the door, for the brothers waited and the clock was on the stroke.
Gilian had to follow her without a word of explanation. He was hungry;
he welcomed the little respite the taking of food would give him from
the telling of a confidence he felt ashamed to share with Miss Mary.

The Paymaster mumbled a blessing upon the vivours, then fed noisily,
looking, when he looked at Gilian at all, but at the upper buttons of
his coat as if through him, and letting not so little as the edge of his
gaze fall upon his face. That was a studious contempt, and Gilian knew
it, and there were many considerations that made him feel no injury
at it. But the Cornal's utter indifference--that sent his eye
roaming unrecognising into Gilian's and away again without a spark of
recognition--was painful. It would have been an insufferable meal, even
in his hunger, but for Miss Mary's presence. The little lady would be
smiling to him across the table without any provocation whenever her
brothers' eyes were averted, and the faint perfume of a silk shawl she
had about her shoulders endowed the air with an odour of domesticity,
womanhood, maternity.

For a long time nobody spoke, and the pigeons came boldly to the sill of
the open window and cooed.

At last said the Paymaster, as if he were resuming a conversation: "I
met him out there on horseback; the hunt is still up, I'm thinking."

"Ay?" said the Cornal, as if he gripped the subject and waited the
continuance of the narrative.

"He'll have ranged the country, I'm thinking," went on his brother. "I
could not but be sorry for the man."

Miss Mary cast upon him a look he seldom got from her, of warmth more
than kinship, but she had nothing to say; her voice was long dumb in
that parlour where she loved and feared, a woman subjugate to a sex far
less worthy than her own and less courageous.

"Humph!" said the Cornal. He felt with nervous inquiry at his ragged
chin, inspired for a second by old dreads of untidy morning parades.

"I had one consolation for my bachelordom in him," went on the younger
brother, and then he paused confused.

"And what might that be?" asked the Cornal.

"It's that I'm never like to be in the same scrape with a child of
mine," he answered, pretending a jocosity that sat ill on him. Then
he looked at Miss Mary a little shamefaced for a speech so uncommonly
confidential.

The Cornal opened his mouth as if he would laugh, but no sound came.

"I'm minding," said he, speaking slowly and in a muffled accent he was
beginning to have always; "I'm minding when that same, cast in your face
by the gentleman himself, greatly put you about Jock, Jock, I mind you
were angry with Turner on that score! And no child to have the same
sorrows over! Well--well----" He broke short and for the first time let
his eyes rest with any meaning on Gilian sitting at the indulgence of a
good morning's appetite.

Miss Mary put about the breakfast dishes with a great hurry to be
finished and out of this explosive atmosphere.

"There was an odd rumour--" said the Paymaster. He paused a moment,
looking at the inattentive youth opposite him. He saw no reason to stay
his confidences, and the Cornal was waiting expectingly on him. "An odd
rumour up the way; I heard it first from that gabbling man Spencer at
the Inns. It was that a young gentleman of our acquaintance might have
had a hand in the affair. I could not say at the first whether the
notion vexed or pleased me, but I assured him of the stupidity of it."
He looked his brother in the eyes, and fixing his attention cunningly
dropped a lid to indicate that the young gentleman was beside them.

The Cornal laughed, this time with a sound.

"Lord," he cried. "As if it was possible! You might go far in that
quarter for anything of dare-deviltry so likeable. What's more, is the
girl daft? Her mother had caprice enough, but to give her her due she
took up with men of spirit There was my brother Dugald---- But this one,
what did Dugald call him--aye! on his very death-bed? The dreamer, the
dreamer! It will hold true! Him, indeed!" And he had no more words for
his contempt.

All the time, however, Gilian was luckily more or less separate from
his company by many miles of fancy, behind the hills among the lochs
watching the uprising of Nan, sharing her loneliness, seeing her feet
brush the dew from the scented gall. But the Cornal's allusion brought
him to the parlour of his banishment, away from that dear presence. He
listened now but said nothing. He feared his very accent would betray
his secret.

"I'll tell you what it is," said the Cornal again, "whoever is with her
will rue it; mind, I'm telling you. It's like mother like child."

"I'm glad," said the Paymaster, "I had nothing to do with the sex of
them." He puffed up as he spoke it; there was an irresistible comedy
in the complacence of a man no woman was ever like to run after at his
best. His sister looked at him; his brother chuckled noiselessly.

"You--you--you----" said the elder brother grimly, but again he did not
finish the sentence.

The meal went on for a time without any speech, finished, and Miss Mary
cried at the stair-head for her maid, who came up and sat demurely at
the chair nearest the door while the Cornal, as hurriedly as he might,
ran over the morning's sacred exercise from the Bible Miss Mary laid
before him. The Paymaster took his seat beside the window, looking out
the while and heedless of the Scriptures, watched the fishermen crowding
for their mornings into the house of Widow Gordon the vintner. Miss Mary
stole glances at her youth, the maid Peggy fidgeted because she had left
the pantry door open and the cat was in the neighbourhood. As the old
man's voice monotonously occupied the room, working its way mumblingly
through the end of Exodus, conveying no meaning to the audience, Gilian
heard the moor-fowl cry beside Little Fox. The dazzle of the sunshine,
the sparkle of the water, the girl inhabiting that solitary spot, seemed
very real before him, and this dolorous routine of the elderly in a
parlour no more than a dream from which he would waken to find himself
with the girl he loved. Upon his knees beside his chair while the Cornal
gruffly repeated the morning prayer he learned from his father, he
remained the remote wanderer of fancy, and Miss Mary knew it by the
instinct of affection as she looked at the side of his face through
eyelids discreetly closed but not utterly fastened.

The worship was no sooner over than Gilian was for off after Miss Mary
to her own room, but the Paymaster stayed him with some cold business
query about the farm, and handed him a letter from a low-country wool
merchant relative to some old transaction still unsettled. Gilian read
it, and the brothers standing by the window resumed their talk about
the missing girl: it was the subject inspired by every glance into
the street where each passerby, each loiterer at a close mouth, was
obviously canvassing the latest news.

"There's her uncle away by," said the Paymaster, straining his head to
follow a figure passing on the other side of the street. "If they had
kept a stricter eye on her from the first when they had her they might
have saved themselves all this."

"Stricter eye!" said the Cornal. "You ken as much about women as I ken
about cattle. The veins of her body were full of caprice, that's what
ailed her, and for that is there any remede? I'm asking you. As if I did
not ken the mother of her! Man, man, man! She was the emblem and type of
all her sex, I'm thinking, wanting all sobriety, hating the thought of
age in herself and unfriendly to the same in others. A kind of a splash
on a fine day upon the deep sea, laughing over the surface of great
depths. I knew her well, Dugald knew her----"

"You had every chance," said the Paymaster, who nowadays found more
courage to retort when his brother's shortness and contempt annoyed him.

"More chance, of course I had," said the Cornal. "I'm thinking you had
mighty little from yon lady."

"Anyway, here's her daughter to seek," said the Paymaster, feeling
himself getting the worst of the encounter; "my own notion is that she's
on the road to Edinburgh. They say she had aye a crave for the place;
perhaps there was a pair of breeches there behind her. Anyway, she's
making an ass of somebody!"

Gilian threw down the letter and stood to his feet with his face white.
"You're a liar!" said he.

No shell in any of their foreign battles more astounded the veterans he
was facing with wide nostril and a face like chalk.

"God bless me, here's a marvel!" cried the Cornal when he found voice.

"You--you--you damned sheep!" blurted the Paymaster. "Do you dare speak
to me like that? For tuppence I would give you my rattan across the
legs." His face was purple with anger; the stock that ran in many folds
about his neck seemed like a garotte. He lifted up his hand as if to
strike, but his brother caught his arm.

"Let the lad alone," said he. "If he had a little more of that in his
make I would like him better."

Together they stood, the old men, facing Gilian with his hands clenched,
for the first time in his life the mutineer, feeling a curious heady
satisfaction in the passion that braced him like a sword and astounded
the men before him.

"It's a lie!" he cried again, somewhat modifying his accusation. "I know
where she is, and she's not in Edinburgh nor on her way to it."

"Very well," said the Paymaster, "ye better go and tell Old Islay where
she is; he's put about at the loss of a daughter-in-law he paid through
the nose for, they're saying."

The blow, the last he had expected, the last he had reason to look for,
struck full and hard. He was blind then to the old men sneering at him
there; his head seemed charged with coiling vapours; his heart, that had
been dancing a second ago on the wave of passion, swamped and sank. He
had no more to say; he passed them and left the room and went along the
lobby to the stair-head, where he stood till the vapours had somewhat
blown away.



CHAPTER XXXII--AN OLD MAID'S SECRET

Miss Mary bustled about her kitchen with a liveliness that might
have deceived any one but Gilian, who knew her to be in a tremendous
perturbation. She clattered among pans, wrestled with her maid over
dishes and dusters, and kept her tongue incessantly going on household
details. With a laughable transparency she turned in a little to the lad
and said something about the weather. He sat down in a chair and gloomed
into the fire, Miss Mary watching his every sigh, but yet seemingly
intent upon her duties.

"Donacha Breck's widow was over before we were up to-day, for something
for her hoast," she said. "She had tried hyssop and pennyroyal masked in
two waters, but I gave her sal prunelle and told her to suck it till
the cough stopped. There's a great deal of trouble going about just now:
sometimes I think----" She stopped incontinent and proceeded to sweep
the floor, for she saw that Gilian was paying no attention to her. At
length he looked at her and then with meaning to Peggy bent over her
jaw-box.

"Peggy," said Miss Mary, "go over and tell the mantua-maker that she
did not put the leavings in the pocket of my jacket, and there must have
been a good deal."

Peggy dried her arms, tucked up the corner of her apron, and departed,
fully aware of the stratagem, but no way betraying the fact When she was
gone, Miss Mary faced him, disturbed and questioning.

"We had a quarrel in there," said he shortly, "I am not going to put up
with what they said about any friend of mine."

She had no need to ask who he spoke of. "Is it very much to you?" said
she, turning away and busy with her brush that she might be no spectator
of his confusion. A great fear sprang up in her; the boy who had grown
up a man for her in the space of a Sunday afternoon was capable of new
developments even more rapid and extraordinary.

"It should be very much to anybody," said he, "to anybody with the spark
of a gentleman, when the old and the soured and the jealous----"

"I'm thinking you are forgetting, Gilian," said she, facing him now with
a flush upon her face.

"What? what?" he asked, perplexed. "You think I should be grateful. I
cannot help it; you were the kind one and----"

"I was not thinking of that at all," she rejoined "I was just thinking
you had forgotten that I was their sister, and that I must be caring
much for them. If my brothers have said anything to vex you, and that
has been a too common thing--my sorrow!--in this house, you should be
minding their years, my dear. It is the only excuse I can offer, and I
am willing to make up for their shortcomings by every kindness." And she
smiled upon the lad with the most wonderful light of affection in her
eyes.

"Oh," he cried, "am I not sure of that, Auntie? You are too good to me.
What am I to be complaining--the beggarly orphan?"

"Not that, my dear," she cried courageously, "not that! In this house,
when my brothers' looks were at their blackest for you, there has always
been goodwill and motherliness. But you must not be miscalling them that
share our roof, the brothers of Dugald and of Jamie." Her voice broke in
a gasp of melancholy; she stretched an arm and dusted from a corner
of the kitchen a cobweb that had no existence, her eyesight dim with
unbrimming tears. At any other time than now Gilian would have been
smitten by her grief, for was he not ever ready to make the sorrows of
others his own? But he was frowning in a black-browed abstraction on
the clay scroll of the kitchen floor, heartsick of his dilemma and the
bitterness of the speeches he had just heard.

Miss Mary could not be long without observing, even in her own troubles,
that he was unusually vexed. She was wise enough to know that a fresh
start was the best thing to put them at an understanding.

"What did you come to tell me to-day?" she asked, composing herself
upon a chair beside him and taking up some knitting, for hers were the
fingers that were never idle.

"Come down to tell you? Come down to tell you?" he repeated, in surprise
at her penetration, and in some confusion that he should so sharply be
brought to his own business.

"Just so," she said. "Do you think Miss Mary has no eyes, my dear, or
that they are too old for common use? There was something troubling you
as you came in at the door; I saw it in your face--ay, I heard it in
your step on the stair."

He fidgeted and evaded her eyes. "I heard outside that--that Turner's
daughter had not been got, and it vexed me a little."

"Turner's daughter!" she said. "It used to be Miss Nan; it was Miss Nan
no further gone than Thursday, and for what need we be so formal to-day?
You are not heeding John's havers about your name being mixed up with
the affair in a poor Sassanach inn-keeper's story? Eh, Gilian?" And she
eyed him shrewdly, more shrewdly than he was aware of.

Still he put her off. He could not take her into his confidence so soon
after that cold plunge into truth in the parlour. He wanted to get out
of doors and think it all over calmly. He pretended anger.

"What am I to be talked to like this for? All in this house are on me.
Is it wonderful that I should have my share in the interest the whole of
the rest of the parish has in this young lady lost?"

He rose to leave the room. Miss Mary stopped him with the least touch
upon the arm, a lingering, gentle touch of the finger-tips, and yet
caressing.

"Gilian," she said softly, "do you think you can be deceiving me?
_M'eudail, m'ieudail!_ I know there is a great trouble in your mind, and
is it not for me to share?"

"There is something, but I cannot tell you now what it is, though I came
here to tell you," he answered, making no step to go.

"Gilian," said she, standing before him, and the light from the window
touching her ear so that, beside the darkness of her hair (for she had
off her cap), it looked like a pink flower, "Gilian, can you not
be telling me? Do you think I cannot guess what ails you, nor fancy
something for its cure?"

He saw from the shyness of her face that she had an inkling of at least
the object of his interest.

"But I cannot be mentioning it here," he said, feebly enough. "It's a
matter a man must cherish to himself alone, and not be airing before
others. I felt, in there, to have it in my mind before two men who had
worked and fought and adventured all their lives, and come to this at
last, was a childish weakness."

She caught hold of his coat lapel, and fingered it, and looked as she
spoke, not at the face above her, but at some vision over his shoulder.
"Before them, my dear," she said. "That well might be, though even they
have not always been the hard and selfish veterans. What about me, my
dear? Can I not be understanding, think you, Gilian?"

"It is such a foolish thing," said he weakly, "a thing of interest only
to the very young."

"And am I so old, my dear," she said, "not to have been young once? Do
you think this little wee wife with her hair getting grey--not so grey
either, though--was always in old maid dolours in her garret thinking of
hoasts and headaches and cures for them, and her brothers' slippers
and her own rheumatics on rainy days? Oh, my dear, my dear! you used to
understand me as if it had been through glass--ay, from the first day
you saw me, and my brother's sword must be sending me to my weeping; can
you not understand me now? I am old, and the lowe of youth is down in
its ember, but once I was as young--as young--as--as--as the girl you
are thinking of."

He drew back, overwhelmed with confusion, but she found the grip of his
coat again and followed up her triumph.

"Did you think I could not guess so little as that, my dear? Oh, Gilian,
sometimes I'll be sitting in there all my lone greeting my eyes out over
darning hose, and minding of what I have been and what I have seen, and
the days that will never come any more. The two upstairs will be minding
only to envy and to blame--me, I must be weeping as much for my sin as
for my sorrow. Do I look so terrible old, Gilian, that you cannot think
of me as not so bad-looking either, with a bonny eye, they said, and a
jimp waist, and a foot like the honey-bee? It was only yesterday; ah, it
was a hundred years ago! I was the sisterly slave. No dancing for me. No
romping for Mary at hairst or Hogmanay. My father glooming and binding
me motherless to my household tasks, so that Love went by without seeing
me. My companions, and she the dearest of them all, enjoying life to the
full, and me looking out at this melancholy window from year to year,
and seeing the traffic of youth and all the rest of it go by."

She released his lapel and relapsed, all tears, upon her chair.

"Auntie, Auntie!" he cried, "do not let my poor affairs be vexing you."
He put, for the first time in his life, an arm about her waist, bending
over her, with all forgotten for the moment save that she had longed for
love and seemingly found it not. At the touch of his arm she trembled
like a maiden in her teens and forced a smile upon her face. "Let me
go," she said, and yet she gloried in that contact as she sat in the
chair and he bent over her.

"And was there no one came the way?" he asked. "Was I not worth it, do
you think?" she replied, yet smiling in her tears. "Oh, Gilian, not this
old woman, mind you, but the woman I was. And yet--and yet, it is true,
no one came; or if they came, they never came that I wanted." "And he?"
said Gilian.

She paused and sighed, her thin little hands, so white for all their
toil in that hard barracks, playing upon her lap. "He never had the
chance. My father's parlour had no welcome, a soldier's household left
no vacant hours for an only daughter's gallivanting. I had to be content
to look at him--the one I mean--from the window, see him in the church
or passing up and down the street. They had up Dr. Brash at me--I mind
his horn specs, and him looking at my tongue and ordering a phlebotomy.
What I wanted was the open air, a chance of youth, and a dance on the
green. Instead of that it was always 'Hof Mary!' and 'Here, Mary,' and
'What are you wasting your time for, Mary?'" She was all in a tremble,
moist no more with tears, but red and troubled at her eyes. "And
then--then--then he married her. If he had taken any one else it would
not have seemed so hard. I think I hated her for it. It was long before
I discovered they were chief, for my brothers that were out and in kept
it from me for their own reasons, and they never kent my feeling. But
when she was cried and married and kirked, each time it was a dagger at
my heart. Amn't I the stupid old _cailleach_, my dear, to be talking
of such a thing? But oh! to see them on the street together; to see him
coming home on his furloughs--I am sure I could not be but unfond of her
then! I mind once I wished her dead, that maybe he might--he might see
something in me still. That was when Nan was born and--"

"What," cried Gilian, "and was he Nan's father? I--I did not know."

She turned upon him an old face spoiled by the memories of the moment.
"Who else would it be, my dear?" said she, as if that settled it. "And
you are the first in the world I mentioned it to. He has never seen me
close in the face to guess it for himself, before or since. It might
have happened if I wished, after, but that was the punishment I gave
myself for my unholy thought about my friend his wife."

"Ah, little Auntie, little Auntie," said he in Gaelic "Little Auntie,
little Auntie!" No more than that, and yet his person was stormy with
grief for her old sorrow. He put his arm about her neck now--surely
never Highland lad did that before in their position, and tenderly, as
if he had practised it for years, he pressed her to his breast and side.

"And is it all by now but a recollection?" said he softly.

"All by long syne," said she, dashing the tears from her face and
clearing herself from that unusual embrace. "Sometimes I'll be thinking
it was better as it was, for I see many wives and husbands, and the dead
fire they sit at is less cheery than one made but never lighted. You
mustn't be laughing at an old lady, Gilian."

"I would never be doing that, God knows," he answered solemnly.

"And I am sure you would not, my dear," she said, looking trustfully at
him; "though sometimes I must be laughing at myself for such a folly.
Lads and lasses have spoken to me about their courtships and their
trials, and they never knew that I had anything but an old maid's notion
of the thing. And that's the way with yourself, is it not, Gilian? Will
you tell me now?"

Still he hung hesitating.

"Do you--are you fond of the girl?" said she and now it was he who was
in the chair and she was bending over him.

"Do I not?" he cried, sudden and passionate lest his confidence should
fail. "Ay, with all my heart."

"Poor Gilian!" said she.

"Yes, poor Gilian!" he repeated bitterly, thinking on all that lay
between him and the girl of his devotion. Now, if ever, was the time to
tell the real object of his visit, how that those old surmisers upstairs
were wider of the mark than the innkeeper, and that the person for whom
the hunt was up through half the shire was sequestered in the lonely
shealing hut on the moor of Karnes.

"I am sorry," she went on, and there was no mistake about it, for her
grief was in her face. "I am sorry, but you must forget, my dear. It is
easy--sometimes--to forget, Gilian; you must be just throng with work
and duty, and by-and-by you'll maybe wonder at yourself having been in
the notion of Nan Gordon's daughter, made like her mother (and God bless
her!) for the vexation of youth, but never for sober satisfaction. I am
wae for you, Gilian, and I cannot help you, though I would tramp from
here to Carlisle in my bauchles if it would bring her to you."

"You maybe would not need to go so far," he answered abruptly. "There is
a hut behind the hill there, and neither press nor fire nor candle nor
companion in it, and Nan--Miss Nan, is waiting there for me to go back
to her, and here I'm wasting precious hours. Do you not see that I'm
burning like a fire?"

"And you have the girl in the moor?" she cried incredulously.

"That I have!" he answered, struck by the absolute possession her
sentence suggested. "I have her there. I took her there. I took her from
her father's home. She came willingly, and there she is, for me!"

He held out his arms with a gesture indescribable, elate, nervous with
his passion. "Auntie, think of it: you mind her eyes and her hair, yon
turn of the neck, and her song? They're mine, I'm telling you."

"I mind them in her mother," said the little lady, stunned by this
intelligence. "I mind them in her mother, and they were not at all, in
her, for those who thought they were for them. This--this is a terrible
thing, Gilian," she said piteously.

He rose, and "What could I do?" he asked. "I loved her, and was I to
look at her father selling her to another one who never had her heart?"

"Are you sure you have it yourself, Gilian?" she asked, and her face was
exceedingly troubled.

"It's a thing I never asked," he confessed carelessly. "Would she be
where she is without it being so?"

"Where her mother's daughter might be in any caprice of spirit I would
not like to guess," said Miss Mary, dubious. "And I think, if I was the
man, it would be the first thing I would be making sure about."

"What would she fly with me for if it was not for love?" he asked.

"Ask a woman that," she went on. "Only a woman, and only some kinds
of women, could tell you that. For a hundred reasons good enough for
herself, though not for responsibility."

He bit his lips in perplexity, feeling all at sea, the only thing clear
to his mind being that Nan was alone on the moor, her morning fire
sending a smoke to the sky, expectation bringing her now and then to the
door to see if her ambassador was in view.

For the sake of that sweet vision he was bound to put another question
to Miss Mary--to ask her if the reference by her brother to Old Islay
bore the import he had given it. He braced himself to it--a most
unpleasant task.

"It's true," she said. "Do you mean to tell me you did not know he was
the man?" "I did not. And the money?" "Oh, the money!" said Miss Mary
oddly, as if now a great deal was explained to her. "Did Nan hear
anything of that?"

"She knows everything--except the man's name. She was too angry to hear
that."

"Except the man's name," repeated Miss Mary. "She did not know it was
Young Islay." She turned as she spoke, and busied herself with a duster
where there was no need for it. And when she showed him her face again,
there were tears there, not for her own old trials, but for his.

"You must go back there," she said firmly, though her lips were
trembling, "and you will tell Miss Nan that whatever Old Islay would do,
his son would never put that affront on her. At the worst, the money was
no more than a tocher with the lad; it was their start in Drimlee
and Maam that are now together for the sake of an old vanity of the
factors.... You must tell all that," she went on, paying no heed to the
perplexity in his face. "It would be unfair to do less, my dear; it will
be wiser to do all. Then you will do the other thing--if need be--what
you should have done first and foremost; youll find out if the girl is
in earnest about yourself or only indulging a cantrip like her mother's
daughter. Ask her--ask her--oh! what need I be telling you? If you have
not the words in your heart I need not be putting them in your mouth.
Run away with you now!" and she pushed him to the door like a child that
had been caressed and counselled.

He was for going eagerly without a word more, but she cried him back.
For a moment she clung to his arm as if she was reluctant to part with
him.

"Oh!" she cried, laughing, and yet with tears in her voice, "a
bonny-like man to be asking her without having anything to offer."

He would have interrupted her, but she would not let him.

"Go your ways," she told him, "and bring her back with you if you can.
Miss Mary has something in a stocking foot, and no long need for it."



CHAPTER XXXIII--THE PROMISE

When Gilian came down the stair and to the mouth of the pend close, he
stood with some of the shyness of his childhood that used to keep him
swithering there with a new suit on, uneasy for the knowledge that the
colour and cut of it would be the talk of the town as soon as it was
seen, and that some one would come and ask ofthand if Miss Mary was
still making-down from the Paymaster's waistcoats. It was for that he
used at last to show a new suit on the town by gentle degrees, the first
Sunday the waistcoat, the next Sunday the waistcoat and trousers, and
finally the complete splendour. Now he felt kenspeckle, not in any suit
of material clothes but in a droll sense of nakedness. He had told his
love and adventure in a place where walls heard and windows peered,
and a rumour out of the ordinary went on the wind into every close and
soared straight to the highest tenement--even to the garret rooms. He
felt that the women at the wells, very busy, as they pretended, over
their boynes and stoups, would whisper about him as he passed, without
looking up from their occupation.

Down the street towards the church there was scarcely any one to be seen
except the children out for the mid-day airing from Brooks's school, and
old Brooks himself going over to Kate Bell's for his midday waters with
a daundering step as if he had no special object, and might as readily
be found making for the quay or the coffee-house. The children were
noisy in the playground, the boys playing at port-the-helm, a foolish
pastime borrowed in its parlance and its rule from the seafarers who
frequented the harbour, and the girls more sedately played peeveral-al
and I dree I dree! dropped it, their voices in a sweat unison chanting,
yet with a sorrow in the cadence.

Up the street some men sat on the Cross steps waiting the coming of the
ferry-boat from Kilcatrine, for it was the day of the weekly paper. Old
Islay went from corner to corner, looking eager out to sea, his hands
deep in the pockets of his long coat. Major McNicol put his head
cautiously out at his door that his servant lass held open and scanned
the deadly world where Frenchmen lay in ambush. He caught a glimpse of
Gilian spying from the pend close and darted in trembling, but soon came
out again, with the maid patting him kindly and assuringly on the back.
From close to close he made a tactical advance--swift dashes between on
his poor bent old limbs, and he drew up by Gilian's side.

"All's well!" said he with a breath of relier. "Man! but they're throng
to-day; the place is fair botching with them."

Gilian expressed some commonplace and left the shelter of the pend close
and went up the street round the factor's corner. He looked behind him
there. The ferry-boat from Kilcatrine was in. Young Islay had stepped
the first off the skiff and was speaking--not to his father, but to
General Turner, whose horse, spattered with foam and white with autumn
dust, a boy held at the quay head. The post-runner took a newspaper from
his pocket and handed it to the men waiting at the Cross; they hastened
into the vintners, and one of them read aloud to the company with no
need to replenish his glass. Against the breast wall the tide at the
full lapped with a pleasant sound. Mr. Spencer came out to the front of
the Inns, smoking a segar, very perjink with a brocade waistcoat and a
collar so high it rasped his ears.

Everything visible impressed itself that day acutely on Gilian as he
went out of the town; not only as if he were naked but as if he were
raw and feeling flesh, and he was glad when the turn of the road at the
Arches hid this place from his view.

A voice cried behind him, and turning around he found Peggy running
after him with a basket, Miss Mary's afterthought for the fugitive girl
on the moor.

Very quickly he sped up the hills; Nan ran out to meet him as he came up
the brae from Little Fox. She had been crying in the morning till tears
would come no longer, but now she was composed; at least her eyes
were calm and her cheeks lost the pallor they had from a night almost
sleepless in that lonely dwelling. As he saw her running out to meet him
he filled with elation and with apprehension. She was so beautiful, so
airy, so seemingly his alone as she ran out thus from their refuge, that
he grudged the hours he had been gone from her.

"Oh," she cried, "the Spring was no more welcome to the wood. I hope you
have brought good news, Gilian." And up she went to him and linked an
arm through his with some of the composure of the companion and some of
the ardour of the sweetheart.

"I think it's all well," said he, putting his arm round her as they went
up towards the hut together.

"Is it only thinking?" she asked with disappointment in her voice, all
the ardour gone from her face, and her arm withdrawn. "I was so certain
it would be sureness for once. Will Miss Mary not help me? I am sorry I
asked her. It was not right, perhaps, that my father's daughter should
be expecting anything from the sister of the Campbells of Keil." She was
all tremulous with vexed pride and disappointment.

"Miss Mary is your very kind friend, Nan," he protested, "and she will
help you as readily as she will help me."

"I am to go down then?" she cried, uplifted again.

"Well, yes--that is, it is between ourselves."

"That's what I would be thinking myself, John Hielan'man," she thought.
And still with all her contempt for his shrinking uncertainty there was
a real fondness that might in an hour have come to full blossom in that
solitude where they so depended on each other.

"I was to ask you something," he said.

"My wise Miss Mary!" said Nan to herself. "Women have all the wits." But
she said nothing aloud, waiting for his explanation.

"I thought there was no need of it myself, but she said she knew
better."

"Very likely she was right too," said Nan. "And now you must tell me
all about what is going on down-by. Are they looking for me? What is my
father saying? Do they blame me?"

Gilian told her all he knew or thought desirable, as they went up to the
hut and prepared for the first meal Nan had that day. It was good that
the weather favoured them. No sign of its habitual rain and wind hung
over the moorland. Soft clouds, white like the wool of lambs new-washed
in running waters, hung motionless where the sky met the moor, but over
them still was the deep blue, greying to the dip.

They lit a fire in the hut with scraps of candle-fir Gilian had picked
up on the way from the town, and a cheerful flame illumined the mean
interior, but in a while they preferred to go outside and sit by the
edge of Little Fox. In a hollow there the wilds seemed more compact
about them; the sense of solitude disappeared; it was just as if one
of their berrying rambles in the woods behind Maam had been prolonged
a little farther than usual Lazily they reclined upon the heather, soft
and billowy to their arms; the kind air fanned them, a melody breathed
from the rippling shore.

All the reading in Marget Maclean's books, the shy mornings, the
pondering eves, the ruminations lonely by wood and shore, had prepared
Gilian for such an hour, and now he felt its magic. And as they sat thus
on the bank of the little lake, Nan sung, forgetting herself in her song
as she ever must be doing. The waves stilled to listen; the birds on the
heather came closer; the clouds, like wool on the edge of Ben Bhreac,
tarried and trembled. And Gilian, as he heard, forgetting all that
ancient town below of unable elders and stagnant airs, illusion gone
and glory past, its gossip at well and close, its rancours of clan and
family, knew the message now of the bird that cried across the swampy
meadow-land at Kilmalieu. Love, love, love--and death. It was the
message of bird and flower, of wave and wind, the deep and constant note
in Nan's song, whatever the words might be. No more for a moment the
rustic, the abashed shepherd, but with the secret of the world filling
his heart, he crept closer to Nan's side as she leaned upon the heather,
and put an arm around her waist.

"Nan, Nan," he cried, "could we not be here, you and I, alone together
for ever?"

The gaudy bubble of her expectation burst; she released herself from his
grasp with "John Hielan'-man! John Hielan'man!" in her mind.

"And was that Miss Mary's question? I thought she was a more sensible
friend to both of us."

"Never a better," said he. "She offered her all and----"

"What!" cried Nan, anger flaring in her face, "are you in the market
too?"

He stammered an excuse.

"It was not a gift," said he, "but to you and me; and that, indeed, was
as much as Old Islay meant, to give him his due."

"Old Islay, Old Islay!" she repeated, turning her face from him to hide
its sudden remorse. "Islay, Islay," she repeated to herself. He noticed
the hand she leaned upon, so soft, so white, so beautiful, trembled in
its nest among the heather. He was so taken up with it there among the
heather, so much more beautiful than the fairest flower, that he did not
notice how far he had given up his secret.

He caught the hand and fondled it, and still she repeated to herself
like a coronach, "Islay, Islay." For once more the rude arm was round
her waist in Maam, and the bold soldier was kissing her on the lips.

Gilian stood up and "Oh!" he cried, as he looked from her to the
landscape, and back from the landscape to her again, "Oh!" he cried, "I
wondered, when you were gone in Edinburgh, what was wanting here. When
Miss Mary told me you were come home, I felt it was the first time the
sun had shone, and the birds had found a song."

"Young Islay!" she still was thinking, hearing the dreamer but to
compare him with the practitioner she knew.

And then the dreamer, remembering that his question was still unput,
uttered it shyly and awkwardly. "Do you love me?" said he.

It was for this she had fled from Young Islay, who knew his mind and had
no fear to speak it!

"Do I love you?" she repeated. "Are you not too hasty?"

"Am I?" he said, alarmed. And she sighed.

"Oh yes, of course you are! You know so little of me. You have taken me
from my father's house by a ladder at night, and share a moor with me,
and you know I have no friend to turn to in the world but yourself. You
have eyes and ears, and still you must be asking if it is not hasty to
find out if I love you. It is a wonder you have the boldness to say the
word itself."

"Well," he pursued gawkily, though he perceived her drift clearly, "here
I am, and I do love you. Oh, what a poor word it is, that love, for the
fire I feel inside me. There is no word for that, there is nothing but a
song for it that some day I must be making. Love, quo' she; oh, I could
say that truly of the heather kissing your hand, ay, of the glaur your
feet might walk on upon a wet day!"

"My best respects to you, Master Gilian!" said Nan. "You have the fine
tongue in your head after all. What a pity we have been wasting such a
grand opportunity for it here!" and there was an indulgence in her eye,
though now and then the numb regret of a blunder made came upon her
spirit.

"Will you come down with me?" he went on, far too precipitate for her
fancy.

"When?" she asked, thoughtlessly robbing a heather-tuft bell by bell
with idle fingers.

"Now; Miss Mary expects us this evening."

"Miss Mary!" said she, a little amused and annoyed. "You would never
have come to the bit but for her."

"Perhaps not," he confessed, "but here I am, and God bless her for
bringing me to it! Will you--will you take my white heather now?" And he
stood, something of a lout, with nervous hands upon his hips.

"It looks very pretty where it is," she answered playfully. "And for
what should I be decking myself in the wilderness?"

She wanted the obvious compliment, but this was a stock from a kail
garden, and "Oh, John Hielan'man!" she cried aloud for the first time.

"You promised, you know," he said lamely.

"That was yesterday, and this is to-day, and----" she could not finish
for thinking of Young Islay.

"Must I be taking it to you?" he went on, making to move to the door of
the hut where lay the symbol of his love and the token of her surrender.

"Wait! wait!" she cried, standing to her feet and approaching him. "Is
that all there is in the bargain? Are there no luck-pennies at this sort
of market?"

He understood her and kissed her with a heart furious within but in his
movement hesitating, shy and awkward.

For her life she could not but recall the other--the more confident and
practised one she had fled from. She drew off, red, to give her no more
than her due, for the treachery of her mind.

"Leave it," she said to him. "I will get it myself. Does anyone besides
Miss Mary know we are here?"

"No."

"Then she will tell nobody our secret. You will go down now. We could
scarcely go together. You will go down now, and tell her I will follow
in the dusk."

"You have given me no answer, Nan," he pleaded; "the heather!"

"The heather will be at my heart!" she cried hurriedly.

It was a promise that sang in his head as he went on his way, the herald
of joy, the fool of illusion.



CHAPTER XXXIV--CHASE

When he had gone and was no farther than the shoulder of the brae lying
between the hut and Little Fox, and there was no longer any chance of
his turning to repeat his wild adieux, Nan went into the old hut and put
the sprig of white heather at her bosom, and gave way to a torrent of
tears. She could not have done so in the sunshine outside, but in that
poor interior, even with the day spying through the roof, she had the
sense of seclusion. She cried for grief and bitterness. No folly she
had ever committed seemed so great as this her latest, that she should
blindly have fled from a danger unmeasured into a situation that
abounded with difficulties. She blamed herself, she blamed her father,
she blamed Gilian for his inability to be otherwise than God had made
him. In contrast to his gawky shyness--the rusticity of the farm and
hill, rose up constant in her remembrance the confident young gentleman
she had run away from without so much as a knowledge of his name. She
cried, and the afternoon came, a blush of fire and flowing gold upon
the hills, the purple of the steeps behind her darkened; upon Big Fox
behind, some wild duck floated and gossiped.

She was still at her crying, a maiden altogether disconsolate, with no
notion of where next she should turn to, afraid to go home yet never
once thinking of going to Miss Mary's refuge as she had promised, and
the world was all dolorous round her, when a step sounded near the door.
She started in terror and shrank into the darkest corner of the hut.
The footstep came not quite close to the door; it was as if the stranger
feared to find a house empty and hesitated before setting foot on the
threshold. From where she stood she could not see him, though his breath
was to be heard, short and panting. The square of the open door was
filled with green and purple--the green of the rank nettle, the purple
of the bell-heather she had been always careful to spare as she had gone
in and out.

Who could it be? Her first thought was of some fisherman or sportsman
late upon the hill and attracted by the smoke of the hut that had so
long known no fire. Then she thought of her father, more kindly and more
contrite to him than she had ever felt before. If it was her father,
what should she do? Would she run out and dare all for his forgiveness
of her folly, and take his terms if that were possible now that her name
and his were ridiculous through all the shire? But it could not be her
father. Her father would not be alone and----

Into the square of light stepped Young Islay! He was all blown with the
hurry of his ascent after hearing from Black Duncan (who had heard from
Elasaid) that Nan had been there in the morning, and now there was no
sign of life about the silent hut except the bluereek that rose over the
mouldering thatch. He was a brave youth, but for once he feared to try
his fate.

As he stood in the doorway and looked into the dark interior, where a
poor fire smouldered in the centre of the floor, he seemed so woebegone
that Nan could not but smile in spite of her trepidation. He but looked
a second, then turned to seek her elsewhere.

As he turned away she called faintly, all blushing and all tears, but
yet with a smile on her face that never sat so sweetly there as when
her feelings mingled. He started as at the voice of a ghost, and hung
hesitating on the threshold till she stepped from her gloomy corner into
the light of the afternoon. As he saw her where a moment before was
a vacancy he could scarcely believe his eyes. But he did not hesitate
long. In an instant, encouraged by her tears and smiles, he had an arm
round her.

"Nan! Nan!" he cried, "I have found you! I never was so happy in my
life!"

For a moment she did not put him off; and he took her hesitation for
content.

"What did it mean? Were you flying from me?" he asked.

All her hardships, all the wrong and degradation leaped into her
recollection. She withdrew herself firmly from that embrace that might
be the embrace of love and possession or of simple companionship in
trial.

"I would never have been here but for you," said she. "Did you--did you
pay much?"

"Ah!" he cried ruefully, "there's where you do me injustice! Did you
know me so little--and indeed you know me but little enough, more's my
sorrow--did you know me so little that you must believe me a savage to
be guilty of a crime like that? Must I be saying that before God I did
not know that my father and--and--"

"--And my father."

"--And your father, though I would be the last to charge him, were
scheming in any commercial way on my behalf? Come, come, I was not
blate, was I? the last time we were together; my impudence was not in
the style of a man who would go the other way about a wooing, was it?"

"Then you did not know?" She blushed and paused.

"I knew nothing," he protested. "I knew nothing but that I loved you,
and you know that too if telling can inform you. I told my father that,
and he was well enough pleased, and I could not guess he would make a
fool of me and a victim of you in my absence."

She stood trembling to this revelation of his innocence, and, once more
the confident lover, Young Islay tried to take her in his arms.

She ran from him, not the young lady of Edinburgh but a merry-hearted
child, making for the side of Little Fox, the air as she went flapping
her gown till it beat gaily like a flag. She ran light-footed, laughing
in her sudden ease of mind, and on the more distant of the two slopes
of Cruach-an-Lochain, antlers rose inquiring; then a red deer looked and
listened, forgetting to crop the poor grass at his feet.

For a second or two Young Islay paused, wondering at her caprice;
then he caught the spirit of it and followed with a halloo. A pleasant
quarry--the temptation of it made his blood tingle as no sport in the
world could do; his halloo came back in echoes from the hill, jocund and
hearty echoes, and Sir Deer at a bound went far to the rear among the
bracken.

Nan sped panting yet laughing. Then she heard his cry. "I am coming, I
am coming," he called. It might have been the pibroch of the dawn, the
hopeful conquering dawn on valley rims. She put more vigour into her
flight; her lips set hard; she thought if he caught her before she
reached the spot where Gilian last had kissed her, she must be his for
good.

"Run as you like, I am coming," cried her pursuer, and he was easily
overtaking her. Then he saw how hard and earnestly she strove. With a
grimace to himself, he slackened his pace and let her gain ground. "I
must be doing my best for Gilian," she thought; but as she risked a
glance over her shoulder and saw the pursuit decline, saw his face
handsome and laughing and eager, full of the fun of the adventure,
across a widening space, saw him kiss his hand to her as he ran
leisurely, she forgot that she had meant to run for fair play and
Gilian, and she, too, slackened her pace.

A moment more and he caught her, and she relapsed in his arms with a
sigh of exertion and surrender.

"Faith, you are worth running for!" said he, turning her to him to
see into her eyes. For a little he looked at the flushed and beautiful
countenance. Her bosom throbbed against his breast; her head thrown
back, showed the melting passion of her eyes like slumbering lakes only
half hid by her trembling lids, her lips red and full, tempting, open
upon pearls. She was his, he told himself, all his, and yet--and yet,
he had half a regret that now he had caught he need chase no more--the
regret of the hunter when the deer is home, of the traveller who has
reached the goal after pleasant journeyings.

His pause was but for a moment, then on her lips he pressed his; on all
her glowing face fell the fever of his kisses.

"Nan, Nan!" he whispered, "you are mine, did I not tell you?"

"I suppose I am," she whispered faintly. Then to herself, "Poor Gilian!"

"And yet," said he, "I'm not worth it."

"I daresay not," she confessed, nestling the more closely in his arras.
"But you won me when you saved my life."

"Did I?" said he. "How very wise of me! Give me a kiss, then!"

She tried to free herself, and the white heather at her neck fell
between them. She stooped for it and he to get her kiss, but she was
first successful. To him she held out the twig of pale bells.

"The kiss or that; you can have either," she said. "One is love and the
other is luck."

"Then, sweetheart, I'll have both," said Young Islay.



CHAPTER XXXV--AN EMPTY HUT

The town bell rang, the little shops were shuttered. Miss Mary, with a
new cap on to do justice to the occasion, had sat for hours with Gilian
at the window, waiting; the Cornal was in bed, and the Paymaster,
dubious but not unpleased, was up at MacGibbon's telling the story over
a game of dambrod. And still Nan did not appear. There was a sign of
changing weather above Strone, and Gilian was full of sorrow to think of
the girl travelling to him through darkness and rain, so he started out
to meet her by the only path on which she must come.

He reached the lochs as the night was drawing in. The moor was sounding
loud and eerie with the call of large birds. Very cold and uncharitable,
a breeze came from Cruach-an-Lochain, and in the evening dusk the
country seemed most woefully poor and uninhabitable. So it appeared to
Gilian for a moment when at last he came to the head of the brae where
he should have his first sight of the light that could make that wild as
warm and hospitable and desirable as a king's court. There was no light
now! At first he doubted his eyesight; then he thought he was not at the
right point of view; then he was compelled to confess to himself that
darkness was assuredly where before had been a bright spot like one of
the stars that shine in murky heavens in the midst of storms to prove
that God does not forget.

She had been kept, the dear heart, he told himself; she had been kept by
her modesty waiting for the dusk, and fallen asleep for weariness.

He went awkwardly off the customary track so that he might reach the
shealing the quicker by a short cut that led through boggy grass. He
stumbled in hags and tripped on ancient heather-tufts; the birds
wheeled and mocked over him, something in their note most melancholy and
menacing to his ear.

The loch with the islet was muttering in its sleep, and woke with the
shriek of a thousand frightened birds when this phantom stumbled on
its solitude. The tiny island even in the dusk rose black like a hearse
plume in the water. At his feet he felt upon a stone the tinkle of
broken glass, and he stooped to feel. His finger came upon the portions
of the broken cup, and he remembered, with shame for his own share in
the scene, how Nan had punished his awkwardness by casting from her the
vessel of which this was the fragment She had had her lips to this, her
fingers had touched it; it was a gem to put in his pocket, and he put
it there. He searched round again as he repeated in his mind all the
incidents of that first morning in the moor, and a little farther on he
came upon the ashes of their dead fire. Poor dead fire, grey old ashes,
flame quenched, warmth departed, loneliness come--the reflections made
him shiver.

As he stood there in what was now the dark night, he might have been a
phantom mourning for the unrecoverable, the ghost of old revelries, the
shade of pleasant bygone hearths and love the ancient.

He shook himself into the present world, and left behind the ashes of
their fire and made for the shealing hut, all the way solacing himself
with fancy. The girl was his, but he never let his mind linger on the
numerous difficulties that lay inevitably between the present hour and
his possession of her. He projected himself into the future with a
blank unexplained behind, and saw them at unextinguishable hearths, love
accompanying them through generations. Through the heather he brushed
eagerly now, his eyes intent upon the dim summits of the brae from which
again he should see the light of the shealing if it was there. Loch
Little Fox, and Great Fox, and all the black and sobbing pools among
the heather he passed on the light feet of love, and when he came to the
brae top and still found no beacon there, he was exceedingly dashed.

"I hope, I hope there is nothing wrong," he said aloud. And he hurried
the faster.

The sky was full of clouds, all but a patch star-sown over Ben Bhreac,
and all through the hollows and hags ran a wail of rain-wind most
mournful. The birds that had been crying over the pools departed, and
there was no sound of animal life. The wind moaned and the pools sobbed.
About the black edifice in which he thought was all he prized most dear
on earth, blackness hung like a terror. Breathless he stood at the door.
It was wide open! It was wide open! It was wide open to the night wind!
As if a hand of ice had clutched him at the heart he shook and staggered
back.

"God of Grace!" he cried in his mother tongue, then "Nan! Nan!" he
called to the dark within. There was no answer, and a bird flew out
above his head.

He cried no more there, but out he ran into the vacant moor and loudly
he called to the night, "Nan! Nan!" till his voice seemed to himself
some terrific chant of long-dead peoples come first to this strange land
and crying for each other in the wilderness where they were lost.

"Nan! Nan!" he cried, sometimes entreating, sometimes peremptory, as
though she might be hiding in the dark in some childish caprice. "Nan!
Nan!" he called plaintively, and he called sharply too and loudly, the
possessor. The sides of Ben Bhreac woke to answer "Anan," as people
reply in dreams; and the stars of heaven in their little garden over
the hill had no interest whatever in his crying; they hung out cool and
imperturbable, and the wind wailed, but not for his anxieties, on the
reeds of Little Fox.

Then he pressed his hand upon his heart to still its uproar and strained
his ears to listen. No sound of a girl's voice, no foot upon the
heather. He could scarcely believe his senses. In his mind, as he
approached the house she had seemed as essential a part of it as the sky
was portion of the universe, and here she was gone!

"After all, she may be in the house asleep," he thought, cheating
himself into a moment's comfort; and back he went again. He listened at
the threshold for a breath: no sound came to him; the fire was all out,
the air was the air of a dungeon. "Nan!" he called timidly. He got no
reply.

Timidly now he stepped into that chamber that had been sacred to him
before--the holy of holies--and fumbled with a steel. The sparks showed
him his hands trembling, but at first he did not dare to look behind him
for fears intangible. The dried heather stems caught the flame of the
tinder; there was but a handful of them; they flared up in a moment's
red glare on the interior, then died out crackling. It was enough to
show him the place was empty. It showed him, too, his lantern, the poor
companion of his adventure, lying on the floor as if it had been tumbled
there in some hasty escape; he picked it up and lit it, the gleam
lighting a ghastly face. And then he went out again, not knowing why or
what he might do there, but bound to be moving and away from that empty
shell where had been his kernel untasted. The wind had risen and was
rising higher still. On Little Fox side he stood, a ludicrous object,
with the pin-points of light pricking the darkness. He was there the
dreamer and the hesitator, his eyes vacant. He wore a short ill-fitting
jacket; his vest had come unbuttoned in the haste of his clamber up
the moor; his bonnet was drawn low upon his brow. As he cherished the
lantern from the wind with his back bent he was no figure of the ideal
lover, but yet some tragedy was in the look of him--some great and
moving fate that might have made the night pity him. Down again to
their little knowe he went, and cast himself upon it and surrendered to
emotion. It was for him the grave of love, the new-reared mound of his
affection. Even yet he could see where she had pressed down the heather
as she reclined. Looking at the heather he remembered the white spray of
his affection that she had said would be the sign of his fate. He went
back quickly to the hut, the wind still puffing at his foolish lantern,
and he found the heather gone. It comforted him exceedingly. She had
gone, why or where he could not guess, but she had taken with her the
token of his love and thereby left him her capitulation. His heather was
at her heart!

Wearied utterly, as much by the stress of his passions as by the ardours
of the day, he took possession of her couch and slept till morning.



CHAPTER XXXVI--CONCLUSION

Fair day in the town, and cattle roved about the street, bellowing, the
red and shaggy fellows of the moors, mourning in Gaelic accent and with
mild large eyes pondering on the mysteries of change. Behind them went
the children, beating them lightly on the flanks with hazel wands,
imagining themselves travellers over the markets of the world, and
others, the older ones, the bolder ones, went from shop to shop for
farings, eating, as they went, the parley-man and carvey-cake of the
Fair day. Farmers and shepherds gossiped and bargained on the footpaths
or on the grass before the New Inns; the Abercrombie clattered with
convivial glass and sometimes rose the chorus to a noisy ditty of Lorn.
Old Brooks, with his academy shut for holiday, stood at the Church
corner with a pocket full of halfpence for his bairns, and a little
silver in his vest for the naughty ones he had thrashed with the ferule
and grieved for. "To be good and clever is to be lucky enough," he said;
"I must be kind to my poor dunces." Some of them, he saw, went with his
gift straight to Marget Maclean's. "Ah," he said, smiling to himself,
"they're after the novelles! I wish Virgil was so much the favourite, or
even the Grammarian."

All in the pleasant sunshine the people walked abroad on the
plain-stones; a piper of the company of Boboon the wanderer, with but
two drones to his instrument, played the old rant of the clan as Duke
George went past on a thoroughbred horse.

"Do you hear yon?" asked the Paymaster, opening the parlour window to
let in that mountain strain his brother loved so truly.

The Cornal cocked an ear, drew down shaggy brows on his attention, and
studied, musingly, the tune that hummed from the reeds below.

"'Baile Inneraora'!" said he. "I wish it was 'Bundle and Go.' That's
the tune now for Colin Campbell, for old Colin Campbell, for poor Colin
Campbell who once was young and wealthy. I've seen the day that rant
would set something stirring here "--and he struck a bony hand upon
his breast "Now there's not a move"--and he searched still with fingers
above his heart. "Not a move! There's only a clod inside where once
there was a bird."

He stood with his head a little to the side, listening to the piper till
the tune died, half accomplished, at a tavern door. Then the children
and the bellowing kine had the world to themselves again. The sound of
carriage wheels came from the Cross, and of the children calling loud
for bridal bowl-money.

"What's that?" asked the Cornal, waking from his reverie; and his
brother put his head out at the window. He drew back at once with his
face exceeding crimson.

"What is't?" said the Cornal, seeing his hesitation.

"A honeymoon pair," said the brother, and fumbled noisily with the
newspaper he had in his hand.

"Poor creatures! And who is it? Though I never get over the door you'll
tell me nothing."

The Paymaster answered shortly. "It's the pair from Maam," said he, and
back to his paper again.

Up to his brow the Cornal put a trembling hand and seemed amazed and
startled. Then he recollected, and a sad smile came to his visage.
"Not a clod altogether yet!" said he, half to himself and half to his
brother. "I felt the flutter of a wing. But it's not your grief or mine
this time, Jock; it's your poor recruit's."

"He's down in Miss Mary's room, and that's the place for the like of
him."

"Is it?" said the Cornal. "Dugald understood him best of any of us; he
saw this coming, and I mind that he grieved for the fellow."

"He's grieving plenty for himself, and let him!" said the Paymaster,
setting aside his journal. "Look what he dropped from his pocket this
morning. Peggy thought it was mine and she took it to me. Mine! Fancy
that! I'm jalousing she was making a joke of me." He produced, as he
spoke, a scrap of paper with some verses on it and handed it to his
brother.

The Cornal held the document far from his failing eyes and perused the
writing. It was the first of those heart-wrung fancies that went to the
making of the volume that lies before me as I write--the familiar lament
for the lost "Maid of the Moor" that shepherds still are singing on his
native hills.

"A ballant!" said he, wondering, and with some contempt.

"That's just what it is," said his brother. "There was never the like
broke out in this family before, I'm glad to say."

The Cornal screwed his lips firmly. "It's what I would call going
altogether too far," he said. "I'm feared your recruit will affront us
again. A song, now! did you ever know the like of it? I'll not put up
with it! Did you say he was down with Miss Mary?"

"I saw her laying the corner of the table," said the Paymaster, "and
I'll warrant it was not to feed herself at this time of day."

The Cornal looked again at the verses, clearing his eyes with his hand,
as if he might happily be mistaken. But no, there were the foolish
lines, and some sentiments most unmanly frank of love and idleness among
the moor and heather. He growled; he frowned below his shaggy brows:
"Come down this instant and put an end to it," said he.

"He's with Mary," his brother reminded him, hesitating.

"I don't care a curse if he was with the Duke," said the Cornal. "I'll
end this carry-on in an honest and industrious family."

He led the way downstairs, the Paymaster following softly, both in their
slippers. Noiselessly they pushed open the door of Miss Mary's room and
gazed within. She and her darling were looking over the window at the
tumultuous crowd of children scrambling for Young Islay's bowl-money
scattered by Black Duncan in the golden syver sand. Miss Mary in that
position could not but have her arm about his waist, and her hand
unconsciously caressed the rough home-spun of his jacket. The brothers,
unobserved, stood silent in the doorway.

"That's the end of it!" said Gilian bitterly, as he came wholly into
the room. His face, shone on by the sun that struck above the tall lands
opposite from fiery clouds, was white to the lips. Miss Mary looked up
into his eyes, mourning in her very inmost for his torture.

"I would say 'fair wind to her,' my dear, and a good riddance," said
she, and yet without conviction in her tone.

"I will say 'fair wind' readily," he answered, "but I cannot be
forgetting. I know she likes--she loves me still."

Miss Mary showed her pity in her face, but nothing at all had she to
say.

"You are not doubting it, are you?" he cried eagerly; and, still
unnoticed in the doorway, the Paymaster grimaced his contempt, but his
brother, touched by some influence inexplicable, put the poem in his
pocket and delayed the entry.

"Are you doubting?" again cried the lad, determined on his answer but
dreading a denial.

"It is not your bowl-money the bairns are gathering at the Cross," said
Miss Mary simply.

"True," he acknowledged; "but she went because she must. She loves me
still, I'm telling you; she has my heather at her heart!"

Miss Mary understood. She looked at her dreamer and stifled a sigh. Then
she saw her brothers in the doorway, silent, and her hand went down and
met his and fondled it for his assurance as on the day he first stood,
the frightened stranger, on that floor, and she had sheltered his
shyness in the folds of her bombazine gown.


THE END





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