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Title: Red Rowans
Author: Steel, Flora Annie Webster, 1847-1929
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Transcriber's Notes:

   1. Page scan source:
      http://books.google.com/books?id=N48nAAAAMAAJ
      (New York Public Library)

   2. The diphthong oe is represented by [oe].



                              RED ROWANS



                              RED ROWANS



                                  BY

                           MRS. F. A. STEEL

                AUTHOR OF "MISS STUART'S LEGACY," ETC.



                               New York
                          MACMILLAN AND CO.
                              AND LONDON
                                 1895
                        _All rights reserved_



                           Copyright, 1894,
                         By MACMILLAN AND CO.



                      RED ROWANS: A LOVE STORY.



                              PROLOGUE.

             "Love took up the Harp of Life and
              .... smote the Chord of Self."


"Am I really like yon?"

A small brown hand pointed peremptorily to a finished drawing on a
sketcher's easel hard by, and a pair of blue eyes frowned somewhat
imperiously at a young man, who, with one knee on the ground, was
busily searching in the long grass for a missing brush, while palette
and colours lay beside him ready to be packed up. The frown, however,
was lost on the back of his head, for he gave a decisive denial,
without turning round to look at the questioner.

The girl's eyes shifted once more to the drawing, and an odd, wistful
curiosity came to her face as she took a step nearer to the easel.
What she saw there was really rather a clever study of herself as she
had been standing a few moments before, erect, yet with a kind of
caress towards the branch full of scarlet rowan berries, which one
round firm arm bent down from the tree above, against her glowing
face. There was a certain strength in the treatment; the artist had
caught something of the glorious richness of colouring in the figure
and its background, but the subject had been too much for him, and he
admitted it frankly. In truth, it would have needed a great painter to
have done Jeanie Duncan justice as she stood under the rowan tree that
autumn evening, and Paul Macleod was at best but a dabbler in art.
Still, it was a truthful likeness, though the nameless charm which
belongs to one face and not to another of equal beauty of form--in
other words, the mysterious power of attraction--had escaped pencil
and brush. There was nothing spiritual in this charm; it was
simply the power which physical beauty has sometimes to move the
imagination--almost the spiritual nature of men; and, such as it was,
it breathed from every curve of Jeanie Duncan's face and form. She was
very young, not more than seventeen at the most, and, as yet, in that
remote Highland glen, where every girl, regardless of her appearance,
had a jo, the pre-eminence of her own good looks had never dawned upon
her. So there was no mock humility in the words which followed on
rather a long pause.

"I'll no be sae bonnie, I'm thinking."

Something in her tone struck through even her companion's absorption;
for Paul Macleod was given to forgetting his world over trivialities.
He looked up sharply, rose hastily, stepped across to where she stood,
and laid his hand on her shoulder in easy familiarity.

"Why, Jeanie, what's the matter now?"

She moved away impatiently from his touch, and, as if from habit, her
arm, showing white under the russet bedgown she wore, went up to the
branch above her head. And there she stood once more with the ripe red
berries against her ripe red lips.

"I'm sayin' I'll no be sae bonnie as yon."

"Your eyes are not quite so blue, certainly; your cheeks not quite so
pink, your hair not quite so golden, nor your----"

"That's enough, sir; ye needn't fash yourself more. I'm no for sale by
public roup. I was sayin' myself that I'll no be near sae bonnie as
yon."

The rowan berries were being viciously stripped from their stems, and
allowed to fall in a defiant patter on the ground; yet there were
audible tears in the young voice.

"You little goose! I didn't know you were so vain, Jeanie," he began.

"I'm no vain," she interrupted, sharply. "It's no that, Mr. Paul. I
dinna care--at least no much--but if a lassie's bonnie----" she paused
suddenly and let the branch go. It swung back, sending a red shower of
overripe berries pattering round the girl and the man.

"Well, Jeanie! If a lassie's bonnie?" repeated Paul Macleod, watching
the rapid changes in her vivid face with amused admiration; "if a
lassie's bonnie, what happens?"

She confronted him with a certain dignity new to his experience of
her.

"Ye ken fine, Mr. Paul, the difference it makes to a lassie if she is
real bonnie. Wasn't it yourself was lilting the 'Beggar-Maid' at me
the morn?"

"Gracious Heavens, Jeanie! Ambitious as well! On which of the crowned
heads of Europe have you set your young affections? Tell me, that I
may kill him!"

His arm slipped easily to her waist, and he bent to look in the face
which fell as it were before his touch. Yet it was paler than it had
been; for Jeanie Duncan neither giggled nor blushed.

"It's no matter where I set my heart," she said, curtly, "when I'm no
bonnie."

"Who said so? Not I," he remarked, coolly.

"You said my eyes were no sae blue, my lips no sae red, my hair----"

"Thank heaven they're not! Why, Jeanie! You must surely know that you
are a thousand times more beautiful than that--that chromo-lithograph
over there, which is only fit for a second-class Christmas number or
an undergraduate's room!"

She withdrew herself from his arm, looking at him doubtfully, ready to
flare up in an instant.

"You're no pokin' fun at me?"

"Poking fun! Why"--his voice deepened suddenly, he stretched his hand
towards her again--"you are simply the most beautiful woman I have
ever seen."

There was no mistaking the ring of reality in his tone, and yet there
was nothing emotional about it. He seemed to be asserting the fact as
much for his own benefit as for hers; and she also was lost in
herself, in her own eagerness, as she looked again at the portrait.

"But it's real bonnie, Mr. Paul! Will it be as bonnie as the
Beggar-Maid?"

"Still harping upon kings!" he said, coming back to her lightly. "Take
my advice, Jeanie, and be content with commoners."

"But if I'm no content?"

"Uneasy lies the head! Don't you remember my reading that to you the
other day?"

She flashed round on him in an instant, superb in her quick response,
her quick resentment.

"I mind mony a thing ye've read, mony a thing ye've said, mony a thing
ye've done. I've a deal to mind; too much, may be."

It came as a shock to Paul Macleod. For his heart had, as yet, an
uncomfortable knack of acknowledging the truth. His head, however,
came to the rescue as usual, by swift denial that those long days
spent in painting Jeanie's portrait under the rowan tree were hardly
wise.

"One can't have too much of a good thing, and it has been pleasant,
hasn't it?"

"Mither says it's bin a sair waste o' time," replied the girl,
evasively.

"I haven't wasted mine," retorted the young man airily. "Just look at
that masterpiece! And I've been as good as a quarter's schooling to
you, little one; think of the information I've imparted to my model,
the books I've lent, the--the things I've taught----"

"Aye. You've taught me a deal. I ken that fine."

He gave an impatient toss of his head as he turned away to pack up his
belongings; the girl helping him silently as if accustomed to the
task.

Not a soul was in sight, though a wreath of blue peat smoke behind a
neighbouring clump of firs showed the near presence of a cottage. Save
for this one sign there was no trace of humanity in the scene except
those two in the foreground; both in their way types of youth, health,
and beauty--of physical nature at its best. But the solitude was not
silent. A breeze coming up with sunsetting rustled the rowan leaves,
and surged among the silver firs, in echo, as it were, to the long
hush of distant breakers on a rocky shore which came rhythmically to
mingle with the nearer rush of the burns streaking the hillside; while
far and near the air was filled with the wailing cry of lambs newly
separated from the ewes; most melancholy and depressing of all sounds,
especially when the sadness of coming night settles over earth and
sky, sending the shadows to creep up the hillsides and drive the
sunshine before their purple battalions. A veritable battle, this, of
assault and defence; each point of vantage, each knoll held by the
besieged until, surrounded by the enemy, the sunlight dies by inches,
gallantly, hopelessly, and the struggle begins again higher up.

The girl and boy--for Paul Macleod was still in the early
twenties--felt oppressed by their surroundings, and after the manner
of youthful humanity they resented a feeling which had no foundation
in themselves. Were they not happy, alive to the uttermost, ready to
face the unknown, eager for the experience which the world seemed to
find so dreary? Why should they be saddened by things which were not
as _they_ were; which had had their day, or did not care to have it?

"Come with me as far as the gate, Jeanie," he said, impatiently. "Ah!
I know you don't generally, but you might to-day. Then you can lock
it. If any of old Mackenzie's lambs were to get through to their
mothers he would lay the blame on you."

"Why not to you, Mr. Paul?"

He laughed rather contemptuously. "Because the road leads to your
croft, not mine; besides, no one ever lays blame to me. I never get
into trouble, somehow. I have all the luck that way, it seems, while
my brother--who is really no worse, I suppose--is always in hot water.
I never saw such a fellow."

"They're saying," began Jeanie--half to cover the fact that she had
taken the first step down the sheep track--"that the laird----" she
stopped abruptly and looked furtively at her companion.

"You may as well tell me what they are saying, Jeanie," he remarked,
coolly. "You always have to in the end, you know, and so there is no
use in making a fuss."

She was not a girl to be at every one's command, but sooner or later
most women find it pleasant to be under orders, for a time, at any
rate; doubtless as the result of that past slavery of which we hear so
much nowadays. The feeling will be eradicated in the next generation
or so, but it must be allowed for in this.

"They're sayin' Gleneira will have to sell the place, and"--she looked
at the face beside her critically, as if to judge how far she might
go--"they're sayin' it's a pity you were no the laird, Mr. Paul, for
you love every stick and stone about, and he is never coming near it
at all, at all."

The young man walked on in silence.

"Did ye know that I've never seen the laird, Mr. Paul, though me an'
mither has lived at the croft since I can mind anything; but, then,
she is no going down the strath, and he is no carin' for the fishin',
as you are; you're knowin' every stone in the river, I'm thinkin'."

He turned to her with a quick laugh as if to dismiss the subject. "And
every face beside it; for I like pretty things, and some of them are
pretty. I'll tell you what it is, Jeanie, Gleneira's the most
beautiful place I ever saw; and you are the most beautiful girl in it.
Beggar-Maids haven't a chance, so I shall expect to be invited to your
nuptials with King Cophetua; a poor laird's Jock like myself can't
compete with a crowned head." The bitterness of his tone had more to
do with the prospect of having to let Gleneira go, than to the
manifest difficulty of appropriating Jeanie Duncan without offending
his head or her heart.

"There's better worth having than crowns, maybe," said the girl,
doggedly.

"Right! crowned heads may be penniless; let us say an old monarch wi'
siller."

"There's better worth having than siller, maybe."

Paul looked at her curiously. Apparently it was not for nothing that
he had amused his sitter by reciting the almost endless repertoire of
old ballads and songs in which he had taken delight since his earliest
boyhood. For it was part of his rather complex nature that he should
admire the romance and sentiment in which, with the easily adopted
cynicism of a clever lad, he professed to disbelieve. It suited him as
a refuge from himself; and yet the fact that Jeanie Duncan had
accepted this admiration as a proof of eternal truth did not displease
him.

"Better worth than siller!" he echoed, wilfully provoking the answer
which he knew would come. "Why! there is nothing better worth than
siller--in the end."

"Aye, there is," she put in confidently, "there's love. You've tell't
me the sang, many a time;--It's love that gar's the world gang round."

Was it? They stood at the gate together, she holding it open for him
to pass, and the question came upon him suddenly. The old question
which comes to most men. Was it worth it? Should he, or should he not,
go the commonplace way of the world, and take what he could get? Yes,
if he could take it without bringing something into his life for ever,
which in all human probability he would not care to keep--_for ever_.
Even memory was a tie; and yet--his heart beat quicker, and the
knowledge that passion was beginning to disturb the balance of his
reason came home to him, bringing with it the same quick denial with
which he had met his own doubt as to the wisdom of the past. It was
his way of defending the emotional side of his nature.

"Take care, Jeanie!" he said, seizing on the first commonplace detail
which met his eye, "that gate is newly tarred; you'll dirty your
hands."

For the first time the girl challenged him deliberately.

"I'm no carin'," she said defiantly, "my hands is used to dirt. I'm
not like you. It'll no hurt me."

She closed the gate behind him sturdily, fastening the padlock, and
then without another word turned to go. In so doing she roused in an
instant all his obstinacy, all the imperious contrariety which would
not tolerate the decision of another, even though it tallied with his
own.

"Are you going without saying good-bye, Jeanie? That's rude," he
began, stretching his hand over the gate, and once more wilfully
provoking a situation. "Nonsense! The least you can do is to shake
hands, and say thank you for all the benefits----"

He paused, and the next instant had vaulted over the gate and was
kissing away her tears and calling everything to witness that he had
not meant to be unkind, that she was the dearest little girl in
creation. Both of which assertions were absolutely true to him at the
time; she had looked too bewilderingly sweet in her sudden burst of
grief for prudence.

For the next half-hour, if there be another motive power besides Love
behind the veiled mystery of Life bidding the world go round, these
two young people did not trouble themselves about it. The descending
mists crept down to meet the shadows, the shadows crept up to meet the
mists, but sea and sky and land were full of light for the boy and
girl absorbed in the vast selfishness of passion. So lost in the
glamour with which the great snare for youth and freedom is gilded,
that neither of them thought at all of the probable ending to such a
fair beginning. Jeanie, because to her this new emotion was something
divine; Paul, because her estimate of it aided a certain
fastidiousness which, in the absence of better motives, had served
hitherto to keep him fairly straight. So, in a measure, the idyllic
beauty of the position as they sate, side by side on a lichen-covered
stone looking into each other's eyes, and supremely satisfied with
each other's appearance, served to make Paul Macleod's professions
more passionate than they would have been had she been less innocent.

It was not until with a wrench he had acknowledged that it really was
time for her to be going home, and he was striding down the road
alone, that a chill came over him with the question--

"_Que diable allait il faire dans cette galere?_"

It was one which, like a floating log after the rapids are past,
always came to the surface of Paul Macleod's life when the turmoil of
emotion was over. This time it brought an unpleasant surprise with it,
for to tell truth he had imagined himself secure against assault. He
had considered the situation calmly; had, so to speak, played with it,
asserting his power of evading its natural consequences if he chose,
of accepting them if he considered it worth while. And now, with his
heart still beating, his face still flushed, and with Jeanie's kisses
still tingling on his lips, it was no use denying that he had been
taken by storm. And it annoyed him. Suddenly the thought that it was
just the sort of scrape his brother would have fallen into came to
enhance the odd contempt which Paul Macleod's head always had for his
heart. The certainty, however, that he shared that brother's extremely
emotional nature was so unwelcome that it served for a time to
strengthen him in denial of his own weakness of will. After all,
impulse was the essence of passion. Had he not, recognising this,
voluntarily bade reason and prudence step aside. Would not any man
have been a fool to think twice of the future with Jeanie Duncan's
face ready to be kissed? It was worth something; in a way it was worth
all the rest of the world put together. So the serio-comedy might have
ended as such serio-comedies usually do but for the merest triviality;
nothing more nor less than the perception that he had tarred his hands
in vaulting over the gate! The offending stains sobered him, as no
advice, no reasoning, no reproof, could have done. To begin with,
there was no possibility of denying to himself that, be Love what it
may, he, Paul Macleod, would never in a calm moment of volition have
dirtied his hands in that fashion. He hated to be touched or soiled by
common things, without, as it were, a "by your leave." Then there was
a prophetic tinge in the consequences of his setting barriers at
defiance which appealed to his imagination. After all, would it be
worth while to carry about for the rest of your life an indelible mark
of a past pleasure, which could scarcely fail to become a disagreeable
reminiscence, no matter what was the _denouement_ of the present
situation? Marriage? Hardly that. Not only was he too poor to marry
for love, but was it by any means certain that such love as this was
worth the sacrifice of freedom. On the other hand, the only possible
alternative was, to begin with, such shocking bad form. The Macleods
of Gleneira had always kept straight in Gleneira itself. Besides, if
he harmed the girl in any way, he knew perfectly well that the regret
would be a tie to him all his life. That was the worst of having an
imagination. Other men might do it; he could not, if only for his own
sake. Then there was Jeanie, to think of poor little Jeanie, who
didn't even grasp the fact that she was in danger--who would----

Ah! Was it worth while? The question came back insistently, as, with a
plentiful supply of the salt butter recommended by the housekeeper at
Gleneira, he tried to get rid of the tar. He was no milksop, though he
liked delicate surroundings, and found a certain refinement necessary
to his comfort, but, if he had no objections to soiling his hands in
obedience to his own sovereign will and pleasure, he was always eager
to have them clean again. And so it was with his life.

Poor little Jeanie Duncan! She in her innocent self-abandonment would
have welcomed anything which would have marked her as his indelibly.
And yet a real regard for her prompted his calculations. If he had
held her cheaper he would not have dreaded the remorse which would be
a tie to him all his life. It never occurred to him that this
squeamishness had come too late, or that the fine-weather flirtation
had in itself done the mischief; that the injury to an innocent girl
lies in the mind only.

"Tell Donald that I shall want the light cart at five to-morrow
morning. I have to catch the Oban steamer," he said to the astonished
housekeeper as he sate down to his solitary dinner; for he had come to
Gleneira with the intention of spending long-leave in pottering about
the old place with gun and rod.

So while Jeanie Duncan slept the sleep of perfect content, her lover
drove past the cottage in the grey mist of a rainy autumn morning
feeling intensely virtuous; and all the more so because his heart
really ached, even at the sight of the tarred gate. And no doubt
nine-tenths of the men he knew would have applauded his resolution in
running away, patted him on the back, told him he was a very fine
fellow, and said that but for his self-control the affair might have
ended miserably. Perhaps they would have been right; though, as a
matter of fact, Paul Macleod was running away from the natural
consequence of his own actions.

Jeanie Duncan read his note of farewell with a scared white face. It
was gentle, regretful, kindly, and it killed her belief in Love for
ever. And unfortunately Love had not come to her in its sensual guise.
It had represented to her all the Truth, and Goodness, and Beauty in
the world. So she lost a good deal; and naturally enough a great
restlessness and desire for something to fill the empty space took
possession of her. Finally, when Spring drew on, and the first broods
were trying their wings, she--to use the phrase adopted by those who
tired of life in the remote glens--"thought of service in Glasgow."
Vague euphemism for much seeing of that unseen world beyond the hills.

But while Paul Macleod in his travels carried with him the
consciousness of virtue, she had for memory the knowledge that she had
been weighed in the balance and found wanting.

Two very different legacies from the same past.



                              CHAPTER I.


Within the long, low cottage the black smoke-polished rafters rose in
inky darkness above the rough whitewashed walls, and the mud floor
showed the traces of past leaks in many a hill and hollow. The two
tiny windows were set breathlessly agape, and through the open door a
flood of hot bright sunshine threw a bar of mote-speckled light across
the room, gilding the heads of the scholars who sat swinging their
legs on the benches and sending a sort of reflected glint from the
white wall up into the sombre shadow of the roof. Such was the
Episcopal Grant-in-Aid School of Gleneira one July day, some ten years
after Paul Macleod had driven down in the mist to catch the Oban
steamer.

Without, was a pale, heat-blanched sky set in tall spectral-looking
hills which had lost contour and individuality in a haze, blending
rock and heather, grass and fern, hollows and heights, into one
uniform tint of transparent blue. Between the mountains there was a
little level growth of green corn flecked by yellow marigolds, white
ox-eyes, and scarlet poppies; then a stretch of dusty road, ending in
cool shadows of sycamore and pine, beside the school-house garden.

A wonderful garden this. Of Liliputian size, yet holding in its tiny
clasp a specimen of almost every plant that grows and blows. Three
potato haulms, four cabbages, a dozen onions, half a yard of peas; a
tuft of parsley, two bronze-leaved beet-roots, a head of celery. This,
flanked by a raspberry cane, a gooseberry bush, and supported by an
edge of strawberry plants, constituted the kitchen garden. Beyond, in
the trim box-edged border leading to the school-house door, were
pansies, roses, geraniums, lilies, and peonies; every conceivable
flower, each family represented by one solitary scion. Last, not
least, the quaint drops of the Dielytra; which the children with
awestruck voices call "The Bishop." For when you strip away the pink,
sheathing petals, is there not inside a man in full white lawn
sleeves? And is not a man in lawn sleeves a disturbing element in a
remote Highland glen, where half the people are rigid Presbyterians?
Here in this little garden the bees hum lazily and the butterflies
come and go; sometimes one, misled by the stream of sunshine pouring
through the open door, floats in among the yawning scholars, rousing
them to momentary alertness and a faint wonder as to the ultimate fate
of the wanderer; whether he will philosophically give up the
enterprise or, foolishly persistent, lose himself amid the
smoke-blackened rafters.

The passing interest, however, dies down again into the sleepy stolid
indifference which is the outward and visible sign of that inward
desire for freedom felt by each child in the school. No keen longing,
but simply a dull wish to be out on the hillside, down by the burn,
under the trees; anywhere away from catechisms, collects, or shoes and
stockings. The last being the worst infliction of all to these wild
little Highland colts accustomed for six days of the week to bare
feet, since the coarse knitted hose and hobnailed boots belonging to
the seventh are a direful aggravation of the tortures of Sunday
school; while even the glorious gentility bestowed by a pair of side
springs is but poor compensation for the discomfort to the wearer.

Perhaps that was the reason why each pair of legs on the benches
swayed helplessly to the rhythm of a singularly unmelodious hymn which
the scholars were singing, led by the master in a muffled nasal chant.
The tune itself was old and quaint, having in its recurring semitones
a barbaric monotony which a lighter phrase here and there showed was
not so much due to the composition in itself as to its present
interpreter. The words were still more quaint, forming a sort of
Litany of the Prophets, with innumerable verses and many vain
repetitions.

Nevertheless, it was an evident favourite with the children; partly,
it may be hoped, from its own intrinsic merits, mostly, it is to be
feared, from the startling novelties in Scripture history which it was
capable of promulgating when, as in the present case, the schoolmaster
was engaged in his secondary profession of postmaster.

As the tune rose and fell, there came every now and again a pause, so
sudden, so absolute that a passer-by on the dusty road might well have
asked himself if some direful catastrophe had not occurred. Nothing of
the sort. A glance within would have shown him everything at its
usual; the scholars in rows, from the kilted urchin of four--guiltless
of English--to whom school is the art of sitting still, to the girl of
fourteen, blissfully conscious of a new silk handkerchief and the
admiration it excites in the bashful herd-boy on the opposite bench.
In the corner, at a table with a slanting desk, the master was busy
sorting the letters which Donald Post, as he is called, has just
brought in; the latter meanwhile mopping his hot face and disburdening
his bag of minor matters in the shape of tea, sugar, and bread, and
himself of the budget of news he has accumulated during his
fourteen-mile walk; in an undertone, however, for the hymn goes on.

"_Whair is noo' the pro-phet Dan'l?_" droned the master, followed by a
wavering choir of childish trebles and gruff hobbledehoy voices,
"_Whair is noo' the pro-phet Dan'l?_"

The exigencies of the tune necessitated a repetition of the momentous
question again and yet again, the tune dying away into a pause, during
which the master's attention wandered to a novel superscription on a
letter. The children held their breath, the hum of the bees outside
became audible, all nature seemed in suspense awaiting the answer.

"I'm thinking it will be from Ameriky," hazarded the master
thoughtfully to Donald Post, and, the solution seeming satisfactory,
he returned with increased energy to the triumphant refrain

"_Safe intil the Pro-mised Land_."

The children caught it up _con amore_ with a vague feeling of relief.
A terrible thing indeed, to Presbyterians or Episcopalians alike, if
the Prophet Daniel had been left hanging between heaven and another
place! So great a relief, that the gay progress of the tune and the
saint was barely marred by the master's renewed interest in a
postcard; which distraction led him into making an unwarrantable
statement that--

"_He went up in a fiery char-yot_."

True, the elder pupils tittered a little over the assertion, but the
young ones piped away contentedly, vociferously. The Promised Land
once attained, the means were necessarily quite a secondary
consideration; and mayhap to their simple imaginings a fiery chariot
was preferable to the den of lions.

"_Where is noo' the twal A-postles?_" led off the master again, after
a whispered remark to Donald Post, which provoked so interesting a
reply that the fate of the twelve remained trembling in the balance
long enough for the old refrain to startle the scholars from growing
inattention.

"_Safe intil the Promised Land_."

The sound echoed up into the rafters. Truly a blessed relief to reach
the haven after delays and difficulties.

"_They went through_"--began the master. But whether in orthodox
fashion it would have been "_great tri-bu-la-tion_," or whether, on
the principle of compensation, the den of lions would have been
allowed twelve saints, will never be known. The mote-speckled beam of
sunshine through the door was darkened by a slight girlish figure, the
children hustled to their feet with much clatter of the unaccustomed
boots and shoes, and the schoolmaster, drowning his last nasal note
under a guilty cough, busied himself over a registered letter. For
Miss Marjory Carmichael objected on principle to the Litany of the
Prophets.

The rather imperious frown, struggling with an equally obstinate smile
which showed on the newcomer's face, vanished at the sight of Donald
Post.

"Any for me?" she asked eagerly. It was a charming voice, full of
interest and totally devoid of anxiety. An acute ear would have told
at once that life had as yet brought nothing to the speaker which
would make post-time a delight or a dread. She had for instance no
right to expect a love-letter or a dun; and her eagerness was but the
desire of youth for something new, her expectancy only the girlish
belief in something which must surely come with the coming years. For
the rest, a winsome young lady with a pair of honest hazel eyes and
honest walking boots.

"'Deed no, Miss Marjory," replied the schoolmaster, selecting a thin
envelope and holding it up shamelessly to the light--a bold stroke to
divert attention from the greater offence of the hymn, "Forbye ain wi'
the Glasky post-mark that will just be ain o' they weary circulars,
for as ye may see for yoursel', Miss Marjory, the inside o't's
leethographed."

"Thank you, Mr. McColl," said the girl, severely, as she took the
letter, "but if you have no objection I should prefer finding out its
contents in a more straightforward fashion."

"Surely! Surely!" Mr. McColl, having got a little more than he
expected, gave another exculpatory cough, and looked round to Donald
Post for moral support. Perhaps from a sense that he often needed a
like kindness, this was an appeal which the latter never refused, and
if he could not draw upon real reminiscence for a remark or anecdote
bearing on the point, he never had any hesitation in giving an
I. O. U. on fancy and so confounding his creditors. On the present
occasion, however, he was taken at a disadvantage, being engaged in
trying to conceal from Marjory's uncompromising eyes a bottle of
whiskey which formed a contraband item in his bag; consequently he had
only got as far as a preliminary murmur that "there wass a good mony
wass liking to be reading their ain letters but that it was James
Macniven"--when the schoolmaster plucked up courage for further
defence.

"Aye! Aye! 'tis but natur'l to sinfu' man to be liking his ain. Not
that they circulars interestin' readin', even if a body is just set on
learnin' like Miss Marjory. And I'm thinkin' it will only be from a
wine mairchant likely. It's extraordinair' the number of circulars
they'll be sending out; but the whiskey is a' the same. Bad, filthy
stuff, what will give parral--y--ses to them that drinks it."

This second bid for favour, accompanied as it was by an unfortunate
glance for support at Donald--who was struggling unsuccessfully with
the neck of the black bottle--proved too much for Marjory's dignity,
and the consequent smile encouraged Mr. McColl to go on, oblivious
apparently of his last remark.

"And it's whiskey we shall all be wanting, and plenty of it, to drink
the young laird's health. But I was forgetting you could scarcely have
heard the news, Miss Marjory, since it is only coming in the post just
now. It is the laird, Miss Marjory, that is to be home to-morrow by
the boat!"

The girl forgot an incipient frown in sheer surprise. "Here! Captain
Macleod?"

"Aye! it's the machine is to meet him at the ferry, the light cart for
his traps, and the house to be ready." In his desire for importance
Mr. McColl in the last words had given himself away completely, for
Marjory lived at Gleneira Lodge with her cousin, the factor.

"The house to be got ready! Impossible! Mrs. Cameron had heard nothing
when I came out. Where did the news come from?" Marjory's voice,
especially to those who knew and loved her, as these good folks did,
never admitted of refusal, so the postmaster coughed again between the
thumps of the office stamp, which he had begun to use in a hurry.

"It will be Mistress Macniven that was telling Donald Post, and Donald
Post he will be telling it to me." The words came in a sort of
sing-song, echoed by Donald himself in a croon of conviction.

"Hou-ay! it was Mistress Macniven wass tellin' it to me, and it iss me
that iss tellin' it to Mr. McColl, and it is fine news--tamn me, but
it is fine news whatever."

A twinkle came to Marjory's eyes, for in her character of Grand
Inquisitress to the Glen, such startling language was too evidently a
drag across the trail.

"But where did Mrs. Macniven hear it?"

"Aye! aye!" assented Donald, rising to go abruptly, "that is what it
will be, but she was tellin' it to me, whatever."

"I don't believe a word of it," continued the girl; "Captain Macleod
would have written to my cousin, I know. It is just idle gossip."

This was too much for the postmaster, who posed, as well as he might,
for being an authority on such questions. In the present instance he
preferred the truth to incredulity.

'"Deed, Miss Marjory," he said, with unblushing effrontery, "it'll
just be one o' they postcards."

"Hou-ay!" echoed Donald, softly. "She'll be yon o' they postcards,
whatever."

"A postcard! What postcard?"

Mr. McColl handed her one with the air of a man who has done his duty.
"Will you be taking it with you, or shall I be giving it to Donald,
here?"

Marjory looked at him with speechless indignation; at least, she
trusted that was her expression, though the keen sense of humour,
which is the natural heritage of the Celt, struggled with her dignity
at first.

"I am really ashamed of you, Mr. McColl," she said at last, with
becoming severity. "Of you and Mrs. Macniven; you ought to know better
than pry into other folks' secrets."

But now that the cat was out of the bag, the postmaster showed fight.
"'Deed, and I'm no for seeing it was a secret at all! It is a penny
people will be paying if they're needin' secrets. And the laird is not
so poor, but he would put a penny to it if he was caring; though yon
crabbed writin' they teach the gentlefolk nowadays, is as most as gude
as an envelope. Lorsh me! Miss Marjory, but my laddies would be
gettin' tawse for a postcard like yon. It was just awful ill to read."

"To read! Mr. McColl, I really am surprised at you! It is most
dishonourable to read other people's letters," protested the girl,
with great heat.

"Surely! Surely! but yon's a postcard."

From this position he refused to budge an inch, being backed up in it
by Donald, who, being unable to read, was busy in stowing away various
letters in different hiding-places in his person, with a view to their
future safe delivery at the proper destination. "It was a ferry useful
thing," he said, "was postcards, and if Miss Marjory would mind it
wass, when old Mistress Macgregor died her sons wass sending to Oban
for the whiskey to come by the ferry. But it wass the day before the
buryin' that a postcard wass coming to say the whiskey was to be at
the pier. But young Peter's cart wass going to the ferry to fetch the
whiskey and he was meeting Peter and telling him of the postcard. So
if it had not been for the postcaird it wass no whiskey they would be
having to Mistress Macgregor's funeral, whatever." A judicious
mingling of fact and fiction which outlasted Marjory's wrath. She put
the cause of offence in her pocket, remarking pointedly that as Donald
had such a budget of important news to retail, that would most likely
be the quickest mode of delivery, and then turned to her task of
giving the children their usual Sunday lesson, which she began with
such a detailed homily on the duty towards your neighbour, that Mr.
McColl took the excuse of Donald's departure to accompany him into the
garden, and remain there until she passed on to another subject.

For Marjory Carmichael ruled the Glen absolutely; perhaps because she
was the only young lady in it. Girls there were and plenty, but none
in her own class of life, and the result on her character had been to
make her at once confident and unconscious of her own powers. She was
not, for instance, at all aware what a very learned young person she
was, and the fact that she had been taught the differential calculus
and the theory of Greek accents affected her no more than it affects
the average young man of one-and-twenty. The consequence being a
restfulness which, as a rule, is sadly wanting in the clever girls of
the period, who never can forget their own superiority to the mass of
their female relations. Having been brought up entirely among men, her
strongest characteristic was not unnaturally an emotional reserve, and
up to the present her life had been pre-eminently favourable to the
preservation of that bloom which is as great a charm to a girl as it
is to a flower, and which morbid self-introspection utterly destroys.
To tell the truth, however, she was apt to be over contemptuous of
gush, while her hatred of scenes was quite masculine. In fact, at
one-and-twenty, Marjory knew more about her head than her heart,
chiefly because, as yet, the call on her affections had been very
small. Her father, a shiftless delicate dreamer, brought up by a
brother years his senior, had married against that brother's wish, the
offence being aggravated by the fact that the bride with whom he ran
away was his brother's ward. One of those calm but absolutely hopeless
quarrels ensued which come sometimes to divide one portion of a family
from the other, without apparently much regret on either side. The
young couple had the butterfly instinct, and lived for the present.
They also had the faculty for making friends in a light airy fashion,
and after various vicissitudes, borne with the gayest good temper,
some one managed to find him a post as consul in some odd little
seaport in the south, where sunshine kept them alive and contented
until Marjory chose to put in an appearance and cost her mother's
life. The blow seemed to make the husband still more dreamy and
unpractical than ever, and, when cholera carried him off suddenly four
years afterwards, he made no provision whatever for the child's
future, save a scrawl, written with difficulty at the last moment,
begging his brother to look after Marjory for the sake of old times.

Perhaps it was the best thing he could have done, since nothing short
of despair would have affected Dr. Carmichael, who had by this time
become so absorbed in the effort to understand life that he had almost
forgotten how to feel it. People wondered why a man, who had gained a
European reputation for his researches, should have cared to linger on
in a remote country district like Gleneira, and some went so far as to
hint that something more than mere displeasure at his brother's
disobedience lay at the bottom of his dislike to the marriage and his
subsequent misanthropy.

Be that as it may, his first look at little Marjory's curly head was
absolutely unemotional, and he remarked to his housekeeper that it was
a good thing she seemed to take more after her mother than her father,
who had always been a cause of anxiety. For the rest, it was a pity
she was not a boy. Orphans should always be boys; it simplified
matters so much for the relations. However, Mrs. Campbell, the
housekeeper, must make the best of it, and bring her up as a girl. He
could not.

But Marjory took a different view of the situation, and before six
months had passed it dawned upon the Doctor that, as often as not, she
was trotting round with her doll in his shadow as he paced the garden,
or sitting in a corner of his study intent on some game of her own.

She was a singularly silent unobjectionable child at such times; at
others, if he might judge from the sounds that reached him, quite the
reverse. He laid down his pen to watch her as she sate in the sunshine
by the window one day, and heard her instantly tell her doll, that if
she was naughty and disturbed Dr. Carmichael she must be sent into the
garden. Another day he came upon her in his chair poring over a Greek
treatise in an attitude which even he recognised as a faithful copy of
his own. Finally, he discovered that she had taught her doll to draw
geometrical figures such as she often saw on the papers littered about
the room. This palpable preference for him and his occupations being
distinctly flattering, he began to take more notice of her, and try
experiments with her memory. So, by degrees, becoming interested in
her quick intelligence, he deliberately began to educate her, as he
would have educated a boy, with a view to her making her own living in
the future. As indeed she would have to do, in the event of his death;
since years before her advent he had sunk all his private means in an
annuity, and the expenses of his scientific work did not allow of his
saving much. The prospect neither pleased nor displeased the girl. It
came simply, naturally, to her, as it does to a boy. On the other
hand, she certainly worked harder than any boy would have done, partly
because she took it for granted that the tasks set her by Dr.
Carmichael were very ordinary ones, and partly because of that
feminine tolerance of mere drudgery which makes it so difficult to
compare the intellectual work of a man and a woman. For while you can
safely assume that an undergraduate has not worked more than so many
hours or minutes a day, it is quite possible that a girl student may
have sate up half the night over a trivial exercise. The primal curse
on labour, it must be remembered, was not extended to the woman, who
had a peculiar ban of her own.

So, by the time she was seventeen, Marjory Carmichael was learned
beyond her years in Greek and Latin, and displayed a genius for
mathematics which fairly surprised her uncle. Then he died suddenly,
leaving her to the guardianship of a distant relation and ardent
disciple in Edinburgh, who was instructed to spend what small sum
might remain, after paying just debts, on completing the girl's
education, and starting her, not before the age of twenty-one, in a
career; preferably teaching, which he considered the most suitable
opening for her. She was strong, he said, in the letter in which he
informed Dr. Kennedy of his wishes, and singularly sensible for a
girl, despite a distressing want of proportion in her estimate of
things. Being neither sentimental nor sensitive, she was not likely to
give trouble. So far good, but at the very end of the letter came a
remark showing that the old man was not quite the fossil he pretended
to be. It ran thus: "All this concerns her head only; of her heart I
know nothing. Let us hope she has none; for it is a terrible drawback
to a woman who has brains. Anyhow, it has had no education from me."

The description somehow did not prepare Dr. Tom Kennedy for either the
face or manner which greeted him on his arrival at the house of
mourning, but then he himself had the softest heart in the world, and
the mere sight of a lonely slip of a thing in a black dress gave him a
pang. But that was only for a moment; five minutes afterwards he
wondered how that suggestion of kissing and comforting her in
semi-fatherly fashion could have arisen. Yet the same evening after
she had bidden him good-night with a little stilted hope that he would
be comfortable, the temptation returned with redoubled force, when, on
going into the study for another volume of the book he had taken up to
his bedroom to read, he found her fast asleep in the dead man's chair,
her arms flung out over the table, her cheek resting on one of the
ponderous volumes which had been the dead man's real companions. Her
fresh young face looked happy enough in its sleep, though the marks of
tears were still visible, and yet Dr. Kennedy felt another pang. Had
the child no better confidante than that musty, fusty old book? Yet he
did not dare to rouse her, even though the room struck cold and
dreary, for he felt that the knowledge that he had so far been witness
of her weakness would be an offence, a barrier between them, and that
was the last thing he desired. So he crept out of the room again
discreetly, and smoked another cigar over the not uninteresting
novelty of his guardianship. For Tom Kennedy was sentimental, and
gloried in the fact.

"You are very kind," said Marjory to him, a day or two afterwards,
with a half-puzzled and critical appreciation of his tact and
consideration. "But I don't see why you should take such trouble about
me. I shall get on all right, I expect. I think it is a mistake that
uncle has forbidden my beginning work till I am twenty-one, but, as it
can't be helped, I must go on as I've been doing, I suppose. I would
rather not go to school if that can be arranged. You see I don't know
any girls, and I am not sure if I should get on with them. If I could
stop here, Mr. Wilson at the Manse would look over my work, and I
could come up to Edinburgh for my examinations, you know."

Evidently his guardianship was not going to be a burden to him. This
clear-eyed young damsel, despite a very dainty feminine appearance,
was evidently quite capable of looking ahead.

"I will do my best to arrange everything as you wish," he replied,
feeling somehow a little hurt in his feelings. "My great object, of
course, will be that you shall be as happy as possible."

"Happy?" she echoed, quaintly. "Uncle never said anything about that.
I'm not sure if I want that sort of thing."

"What sort of thing?" he put in, rather aghast.

"Oh! nonsense, and all that; and yet----" She looked at him with
almost tragic earnestness. "I am not sure if I don't like it after
all. It is funny, but it is nice."

"What is nice?"

"You're being so kind. Only I think it would make me lazy, and that
wouldn't do at all. Uncle used to say I must never forget that I had
to earn my own living."

"And I--well! I'm afraid I should like to make you forget it," he
answered; "but we needn't quarrel about it, I suppose. At any rate,
not for the next four years."

"But I don't mean to quarrel with you at all," she said, very
sedately. "I mean to be friends; it is so much more convenient."
Perhaps it was on the whole; even though as the years went on Dr.
Thomas Kennedy, aged forty, began to wish that her twenty-first
birthday would find her willing to continue the tie on another
footing. And yet he recognised, not without a certain admiration, that
she was not likely to be happy, even if married to one whom she
trusted and liked as she trusted and liked him, unless she had first
faced the world by herself. Of course, if she were to fall in love it
would be different; then, like other women, she might take a certain
pride in giving up her future. But she was scarcely likely to fall in
love with him, unless he made love to her, and that was exactly what
he could not do. In a sort of whimsical way he told himself it would
not be fair, since in his heart of hearts he did not believe in the
master passion! not, at least, in the romantic form in which alone it
would appeal to a girl like Marjory. To affect her it must be
something very intense indeed; something, in short, which his infinite
tenderness for the girl prevented him from giving. Perhaps if there
had been any symptoms of another lover appearing on the scene all this
philosophic consideration might have disappeared under the pressure of
rudimentary jealousy; but there were none. Indeed, barring the
Episcopalian clergyman, who was quite out of the question, there was
no young man of Marjory's own rank, or near it, at Gleneira, where he
had arranged for her to stay on with a distant cousin of his own. And
neither Will Cameron, the factor, nor old Mr. Wilson, at the Manse,
nor any of the occasional visitors were more likely to stir the
romantic side of the girl's nature than he was himself. Less likely,
indeed, since he had the manifest charm of being a person of more
importance. In appearance he was a small, dark man with a vivacious
face and something of a foreign manner, the latter being due to his
having wandered about on the Continent for years seeking surgical
experience at the cannon's mouth. So, on his last visit to Gleneira,
where he spent all his rare holidays, he had told himself point-blank
that he of all men in the world was bound in honour not to take
advantage of his ward's innocence and undisguised affection. She was
exceptionally fitted for the future she had mapped out for herself, so
in a way he was bound to let her try it.

Consequently, as she sate that July afternoon teaching the children
their duty to their neighbour, there was no _arrière pensée_ of any
kind in her affectionate reliance on Cousin Tom's unfailing interest.
That would last until she grew tired of teaching, and he grew old.
Then, always supposing that it was agreeable to both parties, they
might settle down somewhere and be the best of friends till death did
them part.

Weary of teaching! That did not seem likely, to judge by the way she
taught; and yet through all her work she was conscious of that
postcard in her pocket; conscious of the fact that there was no
denying Donald's proposition, and that it brought great news whatever.
But as she followed the trooping children out of doors to the
horse-chestnut shade, she took no notice whatever of Mr. McColl's
evident desire to re-open the question, and, with a curt remark that
the children knew their duty to their neighbour admirably, she set off
with a light, rapid step down the white road.

Mr. McColl looked after her admiringly, unresentfully. Miss Marjory
was Miss Marjory, and without her help his grant in aid would be but a
poor thing, what with the Bishop's lawn sleeves and the new standards;
both of which are stumbling-blocks in a remote Highland parish even
when there is no other school within ten miles. Well, well, it was
grand news for the Glen that the laird was to be home, and there were
others besides Miss Marjory who would be glad to hear it.



                             CHAPTER II.


Mr. McColl was right, as Marjory herself had ere long to acknowledge;
for she had not gone far ere quick steps echoed behind her, and,
looking round, she saw the Reverend James Gillespie trying to overtake
her. She paused in resigned vexation, experience having taught her the
wisdom of waiting for him; the fact being that the fusion point of
mind and body was with him extremely low, and heat had a disastrous
effect on both; so she waited--that honest walking boot of hers
beating a very girlish tattoo of impatience the while against a rock.

"This is great news, Miss Marjory," he began, breathlessly. "Great
news--I may say, good news--is--is it not?"

The latter rather alarmed inquiry being the result of a glance at her
face; for she was in a contradictory mood, and the Reverend James
never had any fixed opinions in minor matters. He took them from his
friends and was, in consequence, often in the position of a child who,
having filled both hands with biscuits, is suddenly offered a sweetie.
Even then he was quite ready to swallow the new contribution if it was
firmly put into his mouth. There was no little excuse for him,
however, since his present environment in a measure forced him to a
poor opinion of himself in the past. The fact being that until the age
of fifteen he had been nothing more than the son of a poor crofter on
the estate of Gleneira. A clever lad, no doubt, who might perchance
rise to something above his father's fate. And then the Bishop, on the
lookout for recruits to the Gaelic-speaking clergy necessary to carry
on the work in the remoter glens, where the Episcopal faith still
lingers, had chosen him out like Samuel for the service of the Lord.
It had been a veritable translation, for the Bishop, being High
Church, had exalted views of the priesthood. The result being that
James Gillespie, fulfilled with a virtuous desire to justify the
Bishop's choice, soon lost the small amount of individuality he had
originally possessed. Educated by the Bishop, ordained by the Bishop,
made the Bishop's chaplain in order that the Bishop might coach him
through the rocks of social etiquette, he became, not unnaturally, a
sort of automaton, safe so far as his knowledge of the Bishop's views
went, but no further. On these points he was logic proof; on others
the veriest weathercock at the mercy of every breeze that blew. For
the rest, a good-looking, florid, fair young man, dressed rigorously
in clerical costume. This again being in deference to the Bishop who,
honest man, having his fair share of the serpent's wisdom, saw the
necessity of hedging this prophet in his own country about with every
dignity which might serve to emphasise the difference between his past
and present. The more so because the sparse congregations amid the
fastnesses of the hills were in the charge of different pastors. Once
a month or so the Reverend Mr. Wilson, from the Manse miles away down
the Strath, would drive up in a machine, put up with the Camerons at
the Lodge, and deliver a very cut-and-dried little sermon in the
school-house. On these occasions the Reverend Mr. Gillespie used to
trudge over the hills with his surplice in a brown paper parcel, so
leaving the Geneva gown and bands a fair field while he delivered an
equally cut-and-dried little homily to the still more outlying
faithful in a barn. About this arrangement, necessitated by ancient
custom, even the Bishop constrained his tongue, seeing that Mr. Wilson
belonged to the Church of Scotland, as by law established, and, what
is more, to the very highest and driest portion of it. He was a
courtly old gentleman, with a white tie, yards long, wound round his
neck numberless times, and finished off by an odd little bow made out
of the extreme ends; a learned old man with a turn of the leg,
suggesting a youth when calves were visible, and a vast store of
classical quotations remaining over from the days when he lectured on
the humanities at St. Andrews. Neither did the Bishop consider the
Reverend Father Macdonald, who came once in three months or so, and
generally on a week day, an intruder. On the contrary, the Reverend
James had instructions to ask him to dinner, and, if it was a Friday,
to have cockle soup and stewed lentils for him; that is to say, if the
invitation was accepted, which it was not as a rule, the Father
preferring to eat potatoes and butter at the Camerons, and endure the
old lady's good-natured scorn, for the sake of hearing Marjory sing
Scotch songs and play Scarlatti. For Dr. Carmichael's one relaxation
had been, music, in which, as in other things, the girl had proved
herself to be an apt pupil. As often as not, too, on these occasions,
old Mrs. Cameron would send a man with the dogcart down the Strath to
fetch up Mr. Wilson, and then the two old enemies could fence at each
other courteously over the single glass of port, for which the Jesuit
had a dispensation. And, if the buttons seemed inclined to come off
the foils, Marjory, in the next room, would strike up, "Come, bring to
me a stoup o' wine, and bring it in a silver tassie." Then their old
heads would wag, and they would give over the endless battle for the
sake of hearing a "bonnie lassie" sing their favourite song. But it
was very different when the Free Church missioner came round, for he
was an earnest, red-haired person, who any day of the week would
gladly have testified against Black Prelacy to the bitter end of the
stake. He was a stumbling-block, even to Marjory, who professed calm
tolerance; but then those courtly old admirers of hers, to say nothing
of Cousin Tom's rather foreign manners, had spoilt her. So that amid
all her theories--the theories of clever youth instinct with the love
of justice and liberty--she could not help being repelled by the
roughness of life when, as it were, she touched and handled it. The
people themselves, however, thought it a sign of strength to bang the
pulpit and bellow, as, indeed, it was, undoubtedly. So the consensus
of opinion in all sects was that the Free Church had the finest
preacher. Not that it mattered much in a place where church-going on a
Sunday was a recognised dissipation, which had to last for a week.
Thus, no matter who was in the pulpit, the little school-house on a
fine day overflowed; and even the Reverend Father Macdonald had not a
few applicants for a blessing against witchcraft if the cows did not
milk properly. This, however, was done on the sly, by accident as it
were, when the petitioners chanced to meet priestly authority in the
post-office.

In order, therefore, to hold his own amid the hosts of Midian, the
Reverend James spent quite a large slice of his modest income on
all-round collars and silk cassocks; and even when the old Adam arose
at the sight of a red-brown river, and he _had_ to creep away with a
hazel rod and a bag of worms to some seething pool where the sea-trout
lay, he still kept to his professional garments and sate on a rock
with his long coat-tails pinned behind his back, looking like a
gigantic crow about to fly.

Despite this and other ridiculous habits, Marjory, with her clear,
honest eyes saw the real desire to do his duty to Church and State
underlying the young man's indecision; but, fortunately for him, she
had no notion that of late this had taken the form of wishing to marry
her. The fact being that in a recent visit the Bishop had not only
remarked that the parish clergy should be the husbands of one wife,
but had rather pointedly referred to the immense improvement in the
school standard, since Miss Carmichael had begun to practise teaching
there. The direct consequence of which had been to make the Reverend
James believe himself in love, and at the same time to make him regard
all Marjory's opinions as episcopally blessed. An effort needing
mental gymnastics of the highest class, especially when, as now, she
was bent on mischief.

"Good news," she echoed. "Well, I hardly know; that must surely depend
entirely on what sort of person Captain Macleod turns out to be." This
she knew must, to begin with, savour of blasphemy to one born and bred
on the estate.

"Naturally, I may say, of course, but----" he looked at her
pathetically, like a dog when asked to perform a difficult trick;
"you--you--you surely have not heard anything against him, have you?"

Marjory's eyes twinkled, but only for a moment; after all it was poor
fun depolarising his mental compass.

"Anything against him? No; except that he is too good-looking, I am
told."

"Handsome is that handsome does," remarked the Reverend James,
cheerfully; it was a favourite proverb at the palace, and he felt sure
of his ground. Unfortunately, since it roused Marjory to
contradiction.

"Nonsense! As if all the goodness in the world could change a snub
nose into a Grecian."

"But surely, my dear Miss Marjory," protested the young man feebly,
"the proverb does not assert--em--that sort of thing. I have always
understood it--em--I mean the latter half--perhaps I should say the
simile--alludes to moral worth."

"Now, Mr. Gillespie! does that mean you consider beauty and goodness
to be the same, or simply that you deny the value of physical beauty
altogether?" asked Marjory in aggrieved tones.

"I--I don't think I mean either," he replied, so naively that she was
obliged to laugh; "but indeed," he went on, "it seems to me, as I
remember the Bishop said in his sermon on All Souls, that beauty and
goodness are in a measure synonymous, that----"

"Do you mean," she interrupted hastily, but with a sort of quick
hesitation which came often to her speech when she was really
interested, "that not only are good things necessarily beautiful in a
way, but that beautiful things must be good? Look at Tito! All his
vileness did not mar the perfection of his beauty. It was a tower of
strength to him till the day of his death. It must be so--you can't
help it. The thing is good in itself."

Never having read "Romola," the Reverend James fell back discreetly on
a more unimpeachable proverb, by remarking, with the air of a man
making a valuable contribution to the argument:--

"Beauty is but skin deep."

"Who wants it to be more?" she asked, hotly. "That is all you see. No
one asks whether the muscles follow the proper curves beneath the
skin, or the bones are strong. And, after all, it seems to me that
goodness and beauty appeal to the same chord--the love of everything
that is clear, defined, orderly. Ugliness is so incoherent, so
indistinct, Mr. Gillespie! Did it ever strike you how unnecessarily
ugly we all are? Now, don't deny the fact. Remember the Bishop's hymn
says, 'only man is vile.'"

"But that really does apply to his moral."

"I don't agree with you. Some of us, perhaps, are wicked, but most of
us are hideous."

"Do you really think so?" And the self-conscious look on his smug,
comely face was too much for her gravity. She laughed merrily.

"There are exceptions to every rule, Mr. Gillespie; I only meant to
say that since the strongest and best, and therefore, according to
you, the most beautiful, had survived in the struggle for
existence----"

"By the bye," he put in, for him quite eagerly, "the Bishop has just
sent me an excellent reply to the Darwinian----"

Marjory went on remorselessly, "That we were singularly plain-looking,
as a rule. For my part I would gladly have eliminated the Carmichael
nose if I had had any choice in the matter."

The remark left a grand opening for a compliment if he could at the
moment have thought of anything save the crude assertion that he
considered it the most beautiful nose in the world. So he remained
silent, casting about in his mind for a less absolute form, with such
concentrated admiration in his face, that even Marjory could not avoid
noticing it, and with a sudden curl of her lip, changed the subject by
asking him, in her best categorical manner, when he had last been to
see old Peggy, who was bad with her rheumatism. Now old Peggy's
cottage was not an inviting-looking abode--a boulder-built hut with a
peat roof and a rudimentary chimney--and it lay close by in a hollow
between the road and a bog full of waving cotton grass. So the
Reverend James regretfully gave up his opportunity as lost for the
time; but a gleam of manly resolution came to him as he looked first
at the hut, then down the road, the pleasant sunshiny road stretching
away to where a thin blue smoke from the chimneys of Gleneira Lodge
rose above the silver firs and copper beeches to the right of the big
house. All that distance to traverse with Marjory, as against Peggy
Duncan the pauper, who was bad enough at the best, but, with the
rheumatism, simply appalling.

"I'm afraid I haven't time to-day," he began, with admirable regret,
which, however, changed to consternation as his companion paused and
held out her hand.

"Then good-bye! I promised to look in on my way home. And on the whole
it is better as it is, for it is positively unsafe to visit old Peggy
in couples when she is ill. So long as she has but one visitor, you
know, the fear of losing a gossip bridles her tongue; but when there
are two, one is always a scapegoat." Now, Marjory looked at her
companion gravely, and spoke deliberately, "You wouldn't, I'm sure,
care to hear me abused; so it is wiser for me to go alone. Good-bye."

She was off as she spoke down the brae, leaving him disappointed, yet
still vaguely content, the very thought of in the future having a wife
who would go and visit old Peggy filling him with peace, for that old
woman was a sore trial to his dignity, since she invariably made a
point of remembering his youth as a barefoot cotter's boy. But then at
heart she was a Presbyterian who did not believe in the sanctity of
orders. So he went on his way down the loch fairly satisfied with
himself, while Marjory took his place beside the sick bed of the
rheumatic old woman.

The girl gave one regretful glance at the sunshine before she dived
into the darkness of the cottage. It was mean and squalid in the
extreme, yet to those accustomed to the dirt and warmth, the
discomfort and the cosiness of a Highland hut, its air of tidiness was
unusual. The mud floor was even and clean swept, the single pane of
glass doing duty as a window was neither broken nor patched with rags,
while the crazy, smoke-blackened dresser was ranged with common
earthenware. A gathering peat, just edged with fire, lay on the huge
stone hearth, above which a tiny black pot hung in the thin column of
pale blue smoke which, as it rose to the dim rafters, was illumined by
the only ray of sunlight in the house--that which streamed through the
round hole in the roof which did duty as a chimney. Beside the hearth
a fair-haired boy of about six lay fast asleep, while from a settle in
the darkness a pair of gleaming green eyes revealed the presence of a
cat.

Nothing more to be seen by Marjory's sun-blinded sight. Not a sound to
be heard, until suddenly a grey hen roosting in the rafters began to
cluck uproariously with much sidelong prancings of a pair of yellow
legs, and downward dips of a quaint, irascible, tufted head. Instantly
from a recess bed arose a patient moan and a pious aspiration that the
Lord's will might be done at all costs.

"Good afternoon, Peggy! I hope your sleep has done you good," said
Marjory blithely, as she sate down on the edge of the bed, and looked
steadily at the occupant's face. Old Peggy Duncan, with the assertion
that she had not slept for days trembling on her tongue, wavered
before the girl's decision, and murmured something about closing an
eye.

"That is better than nothing, isn't it?" continued the uncompromising
visitor. "And as for wee Paulie! he's been having a fine snooze.
Haven't you, Paulie?"

The child by the fire, rubbing his eyes drowsily, smiled back at her
rather sheepishly.

"'Deed it's so," broke in the querulous voice, satisfied at finding a
legitimate object for complaint. "He's just the laziest, weariest
wean, and no caring a tinker's damn for his nanny. Just lyin'
sleepin', and me in an agony. Could ye not watch?--Ay!--Ay! But what
can one expect o' a child o' the devil----"

"Peggy! You're a wicked old woman to speak like that. Paul does more
than most boys twice his age. I'll be bound he has been stuffing
indoors with you all day long without a grumble. Run away now, dear
laddie, and get the fresh air."

The order, spoken in Gaelic, produced a sudden flash of life all over
the little fellow, and he was out of the door in a second. Marjory
looked after him with a pleasant smile.

"He is a pretty boy, isn't he, Peggy?--quite the prettiest in the
glen."

"Aye! he has the curse o' beauty. Sae had his mither. Ay! an' her
father before her. Thank the Lord, Miss Marjory, you're no bonnie."

"I shall do nothing of the sort, Peggy. And how is the pain? Better
for that liniment I rubbed in yesterday?"

"Better!" There was a world of satisfied scorn in the old voice.
"Better frae ae teaspoonful o' stuff. Lord be gude to us, Miss
Marjory! Naethin' short o' a meeracle'll better me, an' ye talk o' a
carnal rubbin' doing it."

"It would be a miracle if it did, wouldn't it, Peggy?" retorted the
girl, calmly; "but if it did no good at all there is no use in
repeating it, so I'll be off and leave you to your sleep again."

"Hoot awa! an' you tired wi' your walk. Just sit ye down and rest a
bit and dinna mind me. I'm used to being no minded, ye ken. Wha minds
a bit pauper body but the pairish? Two an' saxpence a week, an' a boll
o' meal term-day that's no meal at a', but just grits; grits and
dirt. I'm no wondering that they puts soddy (soda) until't at the
poor's-house to gar't swall. Ay! Aye! and me lyin' a week without
spiritual food, an' I cravin' for it from anyone."

"Now, Peggy, you know quite well you told Mr. Gillespie you wanted
none of his priestcraft, the last time he was here. You are just a
bad, ungrateful old woman, and I've a great mind to go away without
making you a cup of tea or telling you the news."

The old face set close in its white cap frills brightened visibly at
the last words. "Weel! Weel! I must na be hard on the puir lad. There
be divers gifts, an' may be he's gotten one somewhere. And but for the
pain makin' me clean wud, I'd have had the tea for you. Just cry on
Paulie--the kettle's on the fire, and he'll no be long, puir lammie."

But Marjory preferred to leave the boy to his play, and set about the
task herself quickly, dexterously, while old Peggy watched her with
sagacious eyes; for she herself had been a notable worker, and had
still a regretful admiration for the capability in others. Rather a
despicable object, perhaps, this fretful rheumatic old woman,
grumbling and growling at everything; and yet, could the secrets of
all hearts be revealed, she might have seemed more of a heroine and
martyr than many a canonised saint. A youth of ceaseless plodding toil
had been given in stolid honesty to her master's interests; then late
in life, when the hopes of womanhood were almost over, had come a
brief St. Martin's summer, where a wandering Englishman engaged on
some mining venture close by had married the sober lass as a means of
being comfortable for the time, and after a year had deserted her
shamefully, leaving her to work harder than ever for the sake of the
little daughter who remained to show that Peggy's short spell of love
had not been a dream. Some, indeed, there were who maintained that it
had never had any solid foundation, and that the marriage had been but
a pretence. This coming to the mother's ears had roused in her a
fierce anger, which in its turn gave rise to a passionate desire to
prove this child of hers to be above their petty spite, superior to
their plodding lives. And in a measure she succeeded. Jeanie Duncan
grew up in what, to a girl of her class, was luxury, while her mother
sold brown sugar, herrings, tarred rope, and tobacco--in fact, kept a
general store. Until the girl, like many another, fretted at home,
sought service, and disappeared beyond the circle of blue hills; to be
followed after a time by her mother.

But though pretty Jeanie Duncan never returned, old Peggy did,
bringing with her a baby. Not an unusual sequel to the story; and so,
though the neighbours shook their heads, there was no need to question
the woman. What else could have been expected from flighty Jeanie
Duncan, whose head had been turned by Mr. Paul's painting her picture.
And Peggy said nothing, even while she concealed nothing. Silent from
her youth, she was more silent than ever as she reverted again to the
hard toil of those early days, until one January the cold settled into
her ill-clad old bones when she was gathering sticks in the woods and
left her a cripple. And then the loss of her independence broke her
spirit and turned her into a fretful scold. A dreary, toil-worn,
barren youth, desertion, degradation, outrage of love and pride--all
this gamut of grief had she sounded without an answering groan. The
straw which broke her patience was not the hardness but the charity of
her fellow-creatures. A most irrational old lady, no doubt, yet not
altogether blameworthy in her self-satisfied appreciation of the tea
"that was no from the pairish, praise be to the Lord," and very human,
certainly, in her eager desire to hear the news of that parish. Yet
her face when Marjory told her of the laird's return seemed to settle
into a strange indifference. "The laird! It will be Mr. Paul you're
meaning."

"Yes, Mr. Paul; he is the laird now, you know, and he hasn't been here
for nine years. He has been away in India with his regiment."

"Lord sakes! as if I did na' know that; he has been the laird these
sax years gone. I mind it weel. And I mind him, too; ower weel, maybe.
A winsome laddie, fond of painting; but 'Thou shalt not make to
thyself the likeness,' ye ken. So he is coming home at last--bonnie
nae doot; and she, my Jeanie, is dust and ashes."

It was seldom that Peggy alluded to her dead daughter, and there was a
wistful look in the crabbed old face. Marjory, quickly responsive,
stroked the crabbed old hand which lay on the coverlet gently; but old
Peggy would none of her sympathy and drew it away, while her voice
took almost a triumphant tone.

"Ay! Dust and ashes! That's what we a' come to. Young and auld, Miss
Marjory, my dear, rich and poor. Ay! and pairish officers, forbye;
it's no to be escapit, thank the Lord! And if you're going ye might
just open yon drawer in the aumry an' tak' oot my deid claes. There's
a bonnie blaze in the fire that maun-na be wasted, and in life we are
in death, ye ken, so it's as weel to hae them aired. There's a deal o'
sickness comin' frae damp linen, and I'm sae subjec' to the
rheumatism."

"That would be one of the ills you would leave behind you, Peggy,"
suggested Marjory, with a tender smile at the oddity of the old
woman's thought.

"I'm sure I hope sae, for it wad be maist terrible in the wings,"
replied Peggy, gravely. Her eyes, following the girl as she complied
with the grim request, lit up with satisfaction, her mouth trembled in
the effort for calm indifference.

"Ay! sure enough it's the best of cloth, yon, and there is twa rows
back stitchin' as fine as fine, and a frill down the front. Some has a
lace edgin', but I'm no sure o' furbelows. It wad no be decent for me
to come before my Maker prinked oot like a young lass; though Mary
McAndrews, who was a gude four year aulder nor me, had real
Valenciennes. But, there! she was ae' flighty, puir thing; her mind
set on bows and gum flowers, no on things above. Fine cloth an' a
cambric frill's gude eneuch for my funeral; an' the coffin no from the
pairish, thank the Lord!"

As old Peggy lay there in the bay bed gossiping over her shroud she
was a grim sight; yet a pathetic one, since there is nothing in the
wide world which appeals to the humanity within us so much as the
tired, toil-wasted hands of old age folded on a coverlet waiting for
death. Marjory, with her strong young ones straightening the dead
clothes, felt a strange thrill at her heart, even as she thought of
the long years of welcome struggle before she, too, would be glad of
rest.

"So Mr. Paul is to come hame again?" quavered the old voice, softened
inexplicably by that chill thought of death. "Aye, aye! he will be
bonnie still, for he was aye of the kind to mak' a bonnie corp. And no
that bad for a man--not by ordinair. Weel! when ye see him tell him
that ould Peggy's gone on the pairish, but that it'll no be a pairish
funeral. For there's twa bottles gude whiskey in the draw wi' the deid
claes, my dear, and that's eneuch to carry me to my grave as I sou'd
be carried."



                             CHAPTER III.


Will Cameron the grieve, or, in plain English, the land steward of the
Gleneira property, was leaning lazily over the shrubbery gate,
watching two men mowing a narrow strip of grass on either side of the
grand approach leading up to the Big House; a proceeding which gave
the whole place a most ridiculous half-shaven air. It had its merits,
however, in Mr. Cameron's eyes, seeing that it was supposed to make
the roadway look kempt while it preserved the rest of the lawn for
hay; an economy sorely needed at the Big House, after the late laird's
riotous living. Even now, when matters had mended somewhat, honest
Will did not care to think of those times when all he saw of the laird
of Gleneira was a signature on I O U's; for, when all was said and
done, his own honesty seemed bound up in that of the old place. A
gardener was nailing up the creepers covering the porch; the windows
of the house were set wide open, and through them a noise of hammering
and brushing floated out into the crisp morning air as Marjory came
up the road from the lodge; her footsteps crunching in the loose
sea-gravel, which not even the coming and going of years had worn into
compactness, and leant over the gate likewise. Will shifted a little,
almost unconsciously, to make room for her, with loose-limbed easy
good-nature, and in so doing revealed the whole attitude of his
individuality towards Marjory Carmichael. Briefly she was the dearest
girl in the world, but rather apt to make a fellow move on, when he
would much rather have stopped where he was. Yet they were the best of
friends, almost playmates, although he was double her age and
distinctly bald. For the rest a very straightforward simple person,
with nothing complex about him. One of those men whom Nature has made
firstly a sportsman, secondly a farmer; in other words, a descendant
of both Cain and Abel. Marjory herself was very fond of him, and no
wonder, since during the years she had spent with his mother he had
set himself to make things pleasant for her as a man about a house can
do when he has absolutely no ulterior object in view. The mere
suggestion of such an object would have filled him with terror, for
Marjory's energy was appalling.

"What a pretty place it is after all," she said suddenly, and in so
saying spoke the truth. Framed in by an amphitheatre of purple
heather-clad hills and dark green fir-clad spurs, Gleneira House with
its swelling lawns stretching away to the rocky beach of the loch, its
tall silver pines and clumps of rhododendrons looked bright and
cheerful despite the nameless want which hangs always round an empty
house; the dead look, as if, the soul having passed from it, naught
remained save for it to hasten back to the dust whence it came. There
was something, however, which struck one as homelike in its low
irregular outline, its bow windows set in rose, jasmine, and magnolia;
above all in its clustered stacks of chimneys rising without respect
to symmetry and suggesting comfortable firesides within. Cosy
firesides in corners, not set back to back in pairs after the modern
fashion. A conglomerate building altogether, not unlike a two-storied
summer-house full of French windows. An airy feminine sort of house,
unlike the usual aggressively stony Scotch mansions, yet fitting in
strangely with its fairylike background of hills, and woods, and
lochs.

"Very pretty, but awfully out of repair," replied Will,
disconsolately. "The roof won't last much longer."

"Why doesn't he--Captain Macleod I mean--put on a new one?"

"My dear Marjory! He can't afford it. A man has to spend a lot in an
expensive regiment like his, and----"

"Nine years since he was in the Glen," interrupted the girl, bent on
her own thoughts. "I don't remember him a bit. What is he like, Will?"

"Awfully handsome; about the handsomest boy I ever saw, and I don't
suppose he has changed much."

"I know that--anything more?"

"Spends a heap of money."

"I know--anything more?"

"Yes; you will like him."

"Why?"

"Women always do."

Marjory turned down the corners of her mouth; a trick which with her
meant disapproval, disgust, dislike, disappointment,--such a variety
of small d's that Will was wont to say it was quite as reprehensible
as the collective big one of his sex.

"He really is an awfully nice fellow," continued Will; "but the place
is going to rack and ruin. The farm houses are so poor that the south
country men won't take them, and a slack style of tenant only means
going from bad to worse. He ought to marry money. It is the only way
out of the difficulty, since he won't skin the woods or let the
place."

"Why doesn't he come and live here as his fathers did," put in the
girl, quickly; "why shouldn't he be satisfied to do his duty to the
people as his fathers did?"

"Because his income isn't what theirs was to begin with. The place is
heavily mortgaged; everyone knows it, so there is no reason why I
shouldn't say so. Then Alick Macleod ran through a heap of money
somehow, and left a lot of debts which had to be paid off. I don't say
that the Captain mightn't have been more economical, but it isn't all
his fault. And then he won't touch the estate. That is right enough in
a way, and yet Smith, the hook-and-eye man, offered twice its value
for that bit of moor that marches with his forest."

"And Captain Macleod refused?"

"Declined with thanks; and wrote me privately not to bother him again
with any proposals of that sort from a bloated mechanic."

Marjory's mouth turned down again. "Indeed! that was very noble of
him."

"So it was in a way," replied her companion, sticking to his own
ill-concealed satisfaction, "for the man is offensive to the last
degree. He has invented a tartan, and has a piper to play him to bed."

"If he likes it, why not? Every man must have invented his own tartan,
once upon a time, you know; the Macleods into the bargain."

Will Cameron smiled languidly. "You are a beggar to argue, Marjory.
But as I said before, the laird must marry money."

"Sell himself instead of his property?"

"Why not? he is worth buying, and she needn't be ugly."

"Ugly! as if that were the only question! I believe it is all you men
think of. Why, Will, you haven't told me anything about Captain
Macleod except that he is good-looking; and I knew that before. I
wanted to hear what he was like--he himself, I mean."

He looked at her with comical amusement. "You have come to the wrong
man, my dear. I never could tell my own character, much less anybody
else's. But here is old John, beaming with satisfaction at the thought
of coming slaughter among the birds. Ask him!"

"Is it what the laird is like?" echoed the bent but active old man,
pausing with a troop of wiry-haired terriers at his heels. "Then he is
real bonnie, Miss Marjory; that's what he is."

"So I told her; but she wants to know more." John Macpherson scratched
his ear dubiously, then brightened up. "Then it's a terrible good shot
he will be. Aye! ever since he was a laddie no higher than my heart.
Just a terrible good shot, that's what he is."

"After all," remarked Will, as the old man passed on, "that gives you
as good a clue to the laird as anything else would do. Old John meant
that as the highest praise. The coachman in all probability would say
he was a first-rate rider. I have heard mother call him a good young
man, but that was when _I_ had lost five pounds at the Skye gathering,
and he had won. The fact being that he had a knack of warping people's
judgment; it was he, by the way, who advised me to bet on a man who
couldn't putt a bit. He used always to twist me round his little
finger when we were boys together--and by Jove! he had a temper.
Sulky, too, and obstinate as a mule."

"Thank you," interrupted Marjory, drily; "that's quite enough. Well, I
hope nobody nice will buy him."

Will Cameron flushed up quite hotly. "Now, I call that really nasty,
Marjory, when it can't matter to you. And you know as well as I do
that we want money awfully; you, who are always railing at the black
huts, and the lack of chimneys, and----"

But Marjory, after a habit of hers when she was not quite sure of her
ground, had shifted it, and passed on to the house, whence the sounds
of sweeping and hammering continued. Will shook his head at her
retreating figure, smiled, and called out cheerfully:--

"Tell mother not to hurry, he can't come till the evening boat."

Vain message, since you might just as well have made such an appeal to
old Time himself as to Mrs. Cameron, who, despite her seventy years
and portly figure, was bustling about, the very personification of
order, even in her haste. You felt instinctively that every symptom of
hurry was the result of a conscientious conception of the importance
of her part in the day's proceedings, and that to be calm would have
been considered culpable. Yet, as she trotted about, her voluminous
black skirts tucked through their placket-hole, not a hair of her flat
iron-grey curls was astray, not a fold of her white muslin kerchief,
or frill of her starched lace cap was awry, though her aides-de-camp,
a couple of sonsy Highland maids, were generally dishevelled, cross,
and hot.

"Eh! Marjory, my dear," she cried, catching sight of the latter, as
she entered the large low hall, set round with antlers; "ye're just in
the nick to help count the napery while I see to the laird's chamber.
He will be for having his old wee roomie, I misdoubt me; he was always
for having his own way, too. But he will just no have it, that's all.
Folks must accept their position, aye! and maintain their privileges
in these days, when every bit servant lassie claims a looking-glass to
prink at." The last words were delivered full in the face of a pert
South country maid, who, with an armful of towels, passed by in rather
an elaborate pink dress. It was merely a snap shot, however, for the
old lady hurried on her appointed way, leaving Marjory and the
offender, who was quite accustomed to being a target, in charge of the
dark lavender-scented linen closet. Pleasant work at all times this,
of handling the cool, smooth piles; the only household possessions
which never seem to suffer from being laid away, which come out of
their scented tomb with their smoothness emphasised by long pressure,
their folds sharply accurate, their very gloss seeming to have grown
in the dark. No fear of moth here; no hint of decay. Marjory, singling
out a fine tablecloth and napkins for the laird's first meal at home,
and choosing the whitest of sheets and pillow-cases for his bed, found
herself unable to believe that long years had passed since some
woman's hand had carefully put them away. It seemed impossible that it
should be so, and that they should be ready to begin their work as if
not a day had passed. Unchanged in a world of change! But the guest
himself would be more changed than his surroundings; for he could only
have been a boy--not much older than she herself--when he was last at
Gleneira. The thought lingered, and after her task was over she
wandered from room to room trying to put herself in his place, and
guess how it would strike him. For it was pleasant sometimes, when one
had an hour to spare, to spend it in that fanciful world of feeling,
with which her practical life had so little to do.

His mother's sitting-room! That could not fail to be sad, even though
the fair-haired original of the faded portrait in pastels over the
mantelpiece had passed from life when he was still a child. Yet, if
_she_ by any chance could see even the smallest thing that had once
belonged to that mother whose memory was a mere abstraction, who had
never really existed for her at all, she would feel sad, and so he
must also who had known his. Well, Captain Macleod's mother must have
been dreadfully fond of fancy work, to judge by the room! And yet, not
so long ago, she herself had been full of childish admiration for that
terrible screen in the corner, which now only excited a wild wonder
how any responsible human being could have wasted hours--nay! days,
months--in producing such a fearful result. It represented a
Highlander in full national costume, done in cross-stitch; the flesh
was worked in small pink beads, giving a horrible pimply appearance to
the face and a stony glare to the eyes; in the distance rose purple
silk hills, and the foreground consisted of an over-grown velvet pile
mongrel with a tail in feather stitch. In those childish days of
admiration, however, it had had a fearful charm of its own, born of
its inaccessibility. For, once within a certain radius, the whole
picture disappeared into a senseless medley of silk, worsted, and
beads. Only distance lent design, making four white beads and a black
one a recognisable equivalent for the human eye. As she stood looking
at it now, an amused smile curved her lips, with the remembrance that
in still more childish days she had mixed up this magnificent
Highlander with her conceptions of the absent laird. Probably it was
quite as like him now as the crayon drawing, labelled "Paul," of a
pallid boy holding a toy ship, which hung on the wall beside the
pastel. On the other side was another pallid boy holding another ship,
and labelled "Alick." As far as she could judge Alick might have grown
up to be Paul, and Paul to be Alick. Only Paul held his ship in his
right hand, and Alick in his left; but that was, of course, only
because their portraits had to look at each other across the picture
of their mother; because, as it were, of the exigencies of Art. She
smiled to herself as she drifted on lazily to what Mrs. Cameron had
considered the keystone of the laird's position. It was a dim,
dignified room, with a dreadful bed. So large, so square, so evenly
surrounded with Macleod tartan hangings that a sleeper immured therein
might well on waking lose his airs, and which way he was lying. A bed
which might have a dozen ghostly occupants, and the flesh and blood
one be none the wiser of those dead and gone lairds of Gleneira.
Marjory, oppressed by the very look of it, threw the windows, wide as
they would set, to the air and sunshine. Even so, it was a dreary,
depressing room, especially to one coming alone, unwelcomed by
kindred, to his old home. With a sudden impulse of pity she drew from
her belt a bunch of white heather and stag-horn moss which she had
gathered that morning, and arranged it neatly in a little empty vase
which stood on the wide dressing-table. A poor effort, yet it gave a
certain air of expectancy to the room; more appropriate also to the
occasion than more elaborate garden flowers would have been, since
white heather stood for luck, and the stag-horn moss was the badge of
the Macleod clan. A charming little welcome, truly, if the laird had
eyes to see! Her face, reflected in the looking-glass as she stood
smiling over her task, would, however, have been a more charming
welcome still could the laird have seen it. And then the sound of
wheels on the loose gravel outside sent her to the window in sudden
alarm; but it was only the Manse machine, drawn by the old grey horse,
with Father Macdonald on the front seat beside Mr. Wilson, who, as he
caught sight of her, stood up with profound bows, disclosing a curly
brown Brutus wig. And there was Will lounging at the horse's head, and
his mother on the steps with dignified gesticulations. Beyond towards
the Strath was the wide panorama of hill and moor and sea, flooded in
light. The sudden feeling that it is good to be here, which comes even
to untransfigured humanity at times, filled the girl's heart with
content as she nodded back to her two devoted old friends who were now
both standing up in the dogcart, waving their hats. How good everyone
was to her! How happy they all were together in the Glen! And she had
never before seemed to realise it so completely.

"Heard I ever the like?" rose in Mrs. Cameron's most imperious tones.
"To pass by the house wi' an empty stomach, and it not even a fast! A
fast, say I? A feast for Gleneira, and twa glasses o' port wine for
Father Macdonald whether he will or no. Marjory, my lass, away with
them like good boys to the parlour and cry on Kirsty for the glasses.
Will, ye gawk, are there no grooms in Gleneira House that you must be
standing there doing their wark. Now, Mr. Wilson, just come you down
to _terry-firmy_, as you would say yourself. You're no golden calf,
man, to be put up on a pedestal."

"My dear Madam!" cried he, gaily, clambering down with no small regard
to the Graces. "If it is a question of worship, 'tis I who should be
at your feet. _Facilius crescit quam_."

"_A cader va chi troppo in alto sale_," interrupted Father Macdonald,
clambering down on his side. He was a small man with round childish
face, possessed of that marvellously delicate yet healthy complexion
which one sees in Sisters of Charity; in those, briefly, who take no
care for beauty and lead a life of austerity and self-denial. A
complexion which a society woman would have given her eyes to possess.

"Hoot away wi' your gifts o' tongues," retorted the old lady, in mock
indignation at the perennial jest of strange quotations. "Marjory,
just take them ben and stop their mouths wi' cake and wine. And make
them drink luck to the auld house that is to be graced wi' its
master."

"Ah, my dear Madam," said the incorrigible offender, ambling up the
steps, and giving a sly glance at Marjory, "you agree with our friend
Cicero, '_Nec, domo dominus sed domino domus honestanda est_.'"

Mrs. Cameron treated the remark with silent contempt, and Marjory,
leading the way into the morning room where Paul Macleod's portrait
hung on the wall, looked back with a kind smile at the two old men
who, never having owned chick or child of their own, treated her as a
daughter. A sort of dream-daughter, dear yet far removed from the hard
realities of every-day familiarity.

"I'm so glad you were passing to-day, father," she said eagerly; "I
found a little Neapolitan song among some old music here, and I want
you to see if I sing it right."

Mr. Wilson, seated in the armchair, his legs disposed elegantly,
straightened his necktie, and made a remark to the effect that the
Neapolitans were the most debased Christian population in Europe. And
that despite the fact that they lived, as it were, under the very nose
of the Pope. An attack which was the result of an ever-green jealousy
in regard to the little Jesuit's superior knowledge.

"Neapolitan! Ah! my dear young lady, the patois is almost beyond me.
If it had been Roman!" The smooth childlike face grew almost wistful
thinking of the days so long ago spent in the still seclusion of the
Scotch college, or out in the noisy colour of the Roman streets; a
quaint memory for the old man who for fifty years had never seen a
town, whose very occupation was passing away from his life, as, one by
one, the old adherents to the old faith still lingering among the
mountain fastnesses, died and were buried by him.

"Ah! you will manage," said Marjory, cheerfully. "It isn't as if you
didn't know the subject, for it is sure to be all about love. Songs
always are."

So, while the cake and wine were coming in, she sate down to the piano
and sang, guided by the two old men, of love; for Mr. Wilson, great on
philology, had his views on the mutations of vowels and consonants,
and stood beside the little priest beating time to the phrases with
his gold eyeglasses.

Mrs. Cameron found them so, and rallied them on their taste when there
was good port-wine on the table.

"My dear Madam," retorted Mr. Wilson, positively shining with delight
at his own opportunity of showing that his acquaintance was not
confined to dead languages. "We have only put the 'Weib und Gesang'
before the 'Wein'; and I am sure anyone who had the privilege of
hearing Miss Marjory sing would do the same."

She made him a little mock curtsey, but Mrs. Cameron would none of it,
and cut a huge slice of cake. "No! no! minister; from the very
beginning o' things men-folks cared more for their stomachs than their
hearts. If Eve, poor body, had only given Adam a better dinner he
wouldna have been wantin' to eat apples betwixt whiles, and a deal o'
trouble might have been saved. But a woman's different. She takes it
ill if a man doesn't fall in love with her; she's aye wantin'----"

"I'm sure I don't want anything," put in Marjory, with her head in the
air.

"Don't be talkin' havers, child. I tell ye a woman's aye wantin' it.
Auld as I am----"

"My dear Madam," expostulated Mr. Wilson.

"Haud your whist, minister," interrupted Mrs. Cameron, tartly; "what
will you be knowing o' a woman's heart? I tell you she may be auld and
grey, she may hae left half the pleasures o' this world behind her,
she may hae been a wife for two score years, and spent her heart's
bluid in rearing weans, but what's left o' the heart will be turnin'
wi' regret to the time when the auld body who sits on the tither side
o' the fire--girding at his food, maybe--was courtin' her. Or, maybe,
when some ither auld body that's no at the tither side of the fire was
courtin'. There's no sayin'."

There was a silence: and then the old priest said under his breath:
"_Amor a nullo amato amor perdona_."

Mr. Wilson nodded his brown Brutus wig in assent. He did not mind that
sort of Italian. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of the humanities
could understand so much. So they were merry over the cake and wine;
merry even over the parting with it in obedience to the minister's
Horatian order: "_Lusisti satis, editsi satis, alque bibisti, Tempus
abire ibe est_"--which Mrs. Cameron insisted on having explained to
her word by word. It was a complete exposition, she asserted, of the
whole duty of man as viewed by men. To eat, to drink, to amuse
themselves, and then to run away.

That same evening, in the mirk end of the gloaming, Marjory, walking
in the garden between the great borders of clove pinks which were
sending out their fragrance to meet the coming night, heard the _feu
de joie_, arranged by old John Macpherson to greet the laird's
arrival, go off like the beginning of a battle. Half an hour
afterwards Will Cameron returned, calling loudly for his supper, and
full of enthusiasm.

"Upon my word, Marjory, I think he is handsomer and more charming than
ever."

"Favour is deceitful and beauty is vain," said the young lady, taking
a leaf out of Mr. Gillespie's book.



                             CHAPTER IV.


People who only know the West Highlands in the rainy months of August
and September, when a chill damp, almost suggestive of winter, comes
to the air, will scarcely credit the intense heat which June and July
often bring to the narrow glens, shut in on all sides by sun-baked
mountains. Then the springs fail, and the cattle break through the
fences, seeking the nearest point of the river; or stand knee-deep in
the estuary water, flicking away the plague of flies with their tails,
and lowing seaward to the returning tides. Then the burns, fine as a
silver thread down the mountain sides, run with a clear bell-like
tinkle through the boulders over which they will dash with a roar and
a rush in the coming Lammas floods. Then the cotton grass hangs
motionless on its hair-like stem, and the bog myrtle gives out a hot,
dry, aromatic scent, to mingle with that of the drying grass. On such
days as these, everything having life instinctively seeks the shade.
So Marjory Carmichael, on the morning after the laird's return, left
the dusty high-road, crossed the fast hardening bogs by the tussocks
of gay mosses tufted with bell-heather, and so continued her walk
along the alder-fringed bank of the river. Even at that early hour not
a leaf was stirring; the very bees hung lazily on the pale lilac
scabious flowers, and the faint hush of the river had a metallic
sound. Marjory, clambering down a fern-clad bank, sat down beneath a
clump of hazels, set with green nuts. Below her the river, between the
alder stems, showed olive and gold in sunlight or shade, with every
now and again a foam fleck sailing by; for, some fifty yards above her
resting-place, the Eira, fresh from a boisterous half-mile scramble
among the rocks, rushed through a narrow chasm at racing speed, and
fell recklessly, dashing itself into a white heat of hurry in a
seething whirling pool set in sheer walls of rock, and thence finding
outlet for its passion in a wider basin, and so, with ever clearing
face, sliding into peace in the dark oily pool beneath the bank where
Marjory sate. Her favourite nook, however, in all the river side, lay
higher up, close to the leap, where she could watch the gleaming
sea-trout and an occasional salmon patiently trying at the fall, see
the flash of the rapids beyond the fringing ferns, or mark the
drifting shadows on the opposite hillside. But the single rowan tree,
clinging with distorted roots to the heather-tufted cliff, flung its
branches over the fall, and gave no shade elsewhere; hence on this
hottest of hot July mornings Marjory chose the hazel hollow instead,
and leaning back among the flowering grasses, which sent a pinkish
bloom of tiny fallen blossom on her curly hair, drew a long, closely
written letter from her pocket, turned to its last sheet, and began to
read it. Not for the first time, but then Cousin Tom's letters were
worth a dozen of most people's, especially when they had something to
say, as this one had:--

"What a hurry you seem to be in to begin work; and I am always in such
a hurry to begin play. But then you have arrived, or are about to
arrive, at the years of discretion, and I am a mere child of
forty-one. Twenty years between us, dear! It is a lifetime; and what
right have I, or any other old foozle, to dictate to you, Mademoiselle
Grands-serieux, who, clever as she is, hardly knows, I think, when her
most affectionate and unworthy guardian is attempting a jest. It is an
evil habit in the old. Expect to hear from the School Committee in
Hounslow before many days are over. I think all is settled fairly, but
I hear there is no chance of your being needed before the beginning of
November. And this is still July. Three whole months, therefore, ere
Mademoiselle need take up the burden of teaching vulgar little boys
the elements of Euclid. And yet the momentous coming of age, when
Wisdom, let us hope, is to be justified of one of her children, is
this week. Marjory, my dear! Fate has given you a real holiday at
last! Of course, I am an incorrigible idler compared to you, but,
believe me, my heart has ached at times over your sense of duty! Life
is not all work, even if it is not all beer and skittles. So take the
goods the gods provide (as dear old Wilson would say in the proper
tongue--my Latin is merely a catalogue of dry bones)--put away all the
books--let two and two be five or five hundred for the time, while you
cross the Asses' Bridge with the rest of humanity. Wake up, my dear
little girl! or rather begin to dream! Of what? you ask. Of anything,
my dear, except Woman's Suffrage. By the way, I have six new reasons
against the latter, which I will detail to Mademoiselle Grands-serieux
when a detestable bacillus, who will neither be born nor die, permits
of my joining her in the earthly paradise. Meanwhile have a good
time--a real good time."

Marjory leant back again on a great basket of spreading lastrea which
gave out scent like honey as she crushed it. Cousin Tom was
delightful, and perhaps he was right. The sudden content with Life as
it was which had come to her the day before when she realised its
peace, its beauty, its kindliness, returned now. Through the arching
hazel boughs the sunlight filtered down in a tempered brilliance
restful to the eyes; a grasshopper shrilled in the bents; a yellow
butterfly, settling on a leaf beside her, folded its wings and,
apparently, went to sleep. An earthly paradise, indeed! Surely if one
could dream anywhere it would be here.

Suddenly a faint _shwish-shwish_ broke the silence. _Shwish-shwish_,
at regularly recurring intervals. Marjory, recognising the sound,
wondered listlessly who could be fishing the lower pool at this early
hour. One of the keepers, perhaps, hopeful of a trout for his master's
breakfast; rather a forlorn chance even in the pot above, with that
cloudless sky. A jarring whizz, accompanied by a convulsion in the
alder branches, broke in on her drowsiness, making her sit up with
intelligent appreciation of the cause. The somebody, whoever he might
be, was "in" to the tree. Another convulsion, gentler, but more
prolonged; another short and sharp, as if somebody were losing his
temper. Then a persuasive wiggle to all points of the compass in turn,
and finally the whirr of a check reel.

Somebody being evidently about to try conclusions with Nature, Marjory
leant forward in deep interest, knowing by bitter experience that it
was two to one against humanity. At last, as she expected, there came
a series of short, sharp jerks; then something she had not expected.
On the morning air one comprehensive monosyllable--"Damn." That was
all. No affix, no suffix; without nominative or accusative; soft, but
trenchant.

"A gentleman," said Marjory to herself, without a moment's hesitation,
as she rose to peer through the thick tangle of alders. If so, the
laird, of course. Yes! It must be he, on the opposite bank, standing
irresolute; weighing the pros and cons of breaking in, no doubt.
Marjory's experienced eyes following the taut line, rested finally on
the cast looped round a branch just above her, and apparently within
reach. The mere possibility was sufficient to make her forget all save
the instinct to help.

"Don't break, please, I can get it."

Her eager voice, unmistakably girlish and refined, echoed across to
Paul Macleod, who, after a moment's astonished search, traced it to a
face half-seen among the parting leaves. He took off his hat
mechanically, for though it might have been a pixie's there was no
mistaking its gender, and the sex found a large measure of outward
respect in Paul Macleod. For the rest, help offered was with him
invariably help accepted; a fact which accounted for a large portion
of his popularity, since people like those around whom the memory of
their own benevolence can throw a halo. So he stood watching Marjory
settle methodically to her task, wondering the while who the girl
could possibly be. For that she had white hands and trim ankles was
abundantly evident, and neither of these charms was to be expected in
the rustic beauties of the Glen.

"I am afraid I am giving you a lot of trouble," he said
sympathetically, as for the third time the branch flew back from
Marjory's hold with a sudden spring.

"Not at all," she gasped jerkily; one cannot speak otherwise on tiptoe
with both hands above one's head.

"Perhaps I had better help."

"Perhaps you had," she answered resentfully, desisting for a moment
after a fourth rebuff. "There is no positive necessity for you to
remain idle. You might for instance reel in as I pull."

His faint smile was tempered by respect. The young lady on the
opposite bank knew what she was about, and, perhaps, might even be
good looking, if she were not quite so red in the face. So he obeyed
meekly, and was rewarded by a gasp of triumph.

"There! I've got it. I knew you could help if you tried."

"I'm immensely obliged," he began; then the girl's foot slipped, the
branch sprang from her hand, she made an ineffectual jump after it,
and the next instant the all but disentangled cast, flung into the air
by the rebound, was hard and fast in a higher twig.

Marjory could have stamped with despite; thought it wiser to laugh,
but found the opposite bank full of silent, grieved sympathy.

"I'll get it yet," she called across the water, with renewed
determination.

"I think, if you'll allow me, I will break in," came the deferential
voice after a time. "It really must be very tiring to jump like that."

"Not at all; thank you," she retorted, without a pause. "I never--give
in."

"So it appears. Will you allow me to come over and help?"

Come over and help, indeed! Marjory's growing anger slackened to
contempt. As if he could come over without a detour of half a mile
down or quarter of a mile up the river; and he must know it, unless he
had no memory. "You can't," she jerked between her efforts. "You
had--better slack line--and sit down--I'll get it somehow."

Very much "somehow." Her hat fell off first. Then, after a desperate
spring, in which she succeeded in clutching a lower branch, a hairpin
struck work. Hot, dishevelled, exasperated, yet still determined, she
persevered without deigning another reference to the silence over the
way, until an arm clothed in grey tweed reached over hers and bent the
branch down within her reach. She looked round, and, even in her
surprise, the great personal charm and beauty of the face looking into
hers struck her almost painfully; for it seemed to soothe her quick
vexation, and so to claim something from her.

"I jumped," he said, answering the look on hers. "It is quite easy by
the fall."

Something new to her, something which sent a lump to her throat, made
her turn away and say stiffly: "I am sorry I gave you the trouble of
coming. It would have been better if you had broken in. Good morning."

He stood grave as a judge, courteous, deferential, yet evidently
amused, still bending down the bough.

"Will you not finish the task you began? You said you never gave in;
besides, I can hardly do it for myself." The fact was palpable; it
required two hands to disentangle a singularly awkward knot. To deny
this would be to confess her own annoyance, so she turned back again.
Rather an awkward task with a face so close to your own, watching your
ineptitude. And yet she forgot her impatience in a sudden thought. If
he had fallen! If that face had had the life crushed out of it!

"You ought not to have jumped," she said, impulsively. "It was very
dangerous."

"Pardon me; I have done it hundreds of times when I was a boy."

"Boys may do foolish things."

He smiled. "And men should not; but are dangerous things necessarily
foolish?"

"Needlessly dangerous things are so, surely?"

"In that case, what becomes of courage?"

She paused, frankly surprised both at herself and him. How came it
that he understood so quickly, that she followed him so clearly? Yet
it was pleasant.

"Courage has nothing to do with the question."

His smile broadened. "Thanks. I began by saying so. The fact being
that the jump is not dangerous."

"No one else jumps it," she persisted.

"Pardon me for mentioning that I am an unusually good jumper.
Besides--


             "The game is never yet worth a rap
                For a rational man to play,
              Into which some misfortune, some mishap
                Cannot possibly find its way."


Again something new to her, something which this time sent a thrill of
answering recklessness through her veins, something of the mere joy
and pride of life made her ask in quick interest--"Who wrote that?"

"A man who gave in at last; he shot himself."

Marjory's face paled. Yes; men did that sort of thing, she knew. She
had read of it, and accepted the truth of it calmly. Now for the first
time she felt that she understood it, that she too stood on the brink
of the Great Unknown Sea, which might bring her to the haven where she
would be, or to shipwreck. Then in quick relief came a new cause for
resentment in the perception, as she began to wind up the now
disentangled cast, that a large portion of line remained attached to
it. In other words, her companion had deliberately cut it, and brought
his rod with him; had risked his life not for the sake of his flies,
but simply to amuse himself at her expense.

"I think that is all I can do for you," she said, in a white heat of
annoyance. "Good morning, Captain Macleod."

The name slipped from her unawares, and she recognised her own mistake
immediately. Her knowledge of his identity being a sort of
introduction, from which she could scarcely escape. For his position
as laird of Gleneira, owner of the very ground on which she was
trespassing, could not be ignored. She could not dismiss him like a
tramp. He took the advantage she had given him, coolly.

"Thanks, so many," he said, holding back a branch to allow of her
passing before him, "but I am going also. It is too bright for sport.
In truth, I never expected any, and only came out to renew my
acquaintance with the river, and discover, what I expected, that I
have almost forgotten how to throw a fly."

"Indeed, you have not forgotten how to break in, at any rate," she
replied viciously; then ashamed of her unnecessary heat, since surely
it was none of her business if he broke every cast he possessed, she
added, in superior tones, "there is no reason, however, why you should
not get a fish in the Long Pool. The sun won't touch it for half an
hour."

"The Long Pool," he echoed, "which is that? I'm afraid I have almost
forgotten it, too."

It was a palpable excuse for continuing the conversation, and as such
Marjory resented it; at the same time, no one ever appealed to her for
information without meeting with prompt attention, the teaching
element being strong in her. So was impatience at crass stupidity; or,
as Captain Macleod preferred to call it, a deficient bump of locality.

"I'll see you as far as the Alder Island," she said at last, with some
irritation, "then you can't possibly make a mistake." That, at any
rate, would be better than trailing the whole two miles back to
Gleneira beside him. Not that he was forward or objectionable; on the
contrary, he treated her with a deference which would have been
pleasant had it not covered a quiet coercion which was perfectly
intolerable. So the glint of the Long Pool behind the Alder Island
came as a relief, and she pointed to it in a sort of triumph.

"I'm afraid it is no use," he said despondently. "Too fine; besides, I
haven't had my breakfast, and it is growing late. I'll get Cameron to
come down afterwards and show me the casts. A river changes in ten
years."

"You can't possibly judge from here; and I can show you the cast
perfectly," she retorted. It had come to a stand-up fight with the
gloves on between his will and hers, and accustomed as she was to
instant submission from everybody of the opposite sex, she would not
confess her own defeat by getting rid of him with a crude dismissal.
To begin with he scarcely merited the insult, and, in addition, it
might be awkward afterwards. So she pointed out the probable lie of
the fish, and, her sporting instincts overcoming her contempt,
exclaimed against the gaudy cast he selected--a cast no decent fish
would have looked at except in flood time.

"No! no!" she cried, in real eagerness. "Something less like a
firework, if you have one--a brown body and turkey wing. Ah! here's
the very thing. I don't believe in the steel loops, though, do you--?
Will doesn't. And you have bridge rings I see; I never saw them
before. They look good. Now then! Just below the break, down the slidy
bit, and across to the ripple--Oh-h!"

The exclamation was caused by a fall as of a coiled hawser on the
water, and a separate "blob" of each fly on the surface.

"You had better try again," she said gravely, "and don't thrash so;
use your wrist."

"If there was more wind," he suggested.

"Nonsense! you ought to be able to throw that distance anyhow. It's
all knack; it will come back after a cast or two. I'm sure it will."

Apparently she was wrong. The line ceased, it is true, to fall in a
heap like an umbrella, yet failed by many feet to reach the break
above the slidy bit.

"Give me the rod a moment," she cried, "and I'll show you the turn of
the wrist. You'll recognise it then."

There was an instant's pause as she stood, one foot planted against a
stone, her lithe figure thrown backwards, her chin following the
little toss of her head, tilted sideways; so that her eager young face
was in full view of her companion; and then the long line flew out in
the spey cast and seemed to nestle down just where the water broke.

"Bravo!" cried Captain Macleod, as much to the picture as to the
skill. And then before he could say another word came an eddy, a noise
like the cloop of a cork, a glint of a silvery side, and the whirr of
the reel. Things to drive all else from a fisherman's brain.

"In to him!" shouted the Captain, excitedly; "and a beauty, too. No!
no; keep it. I'd rather you kept it! I'd like to see you land him--if
you can."

The implied doubt, joined to the vicious shooting of something like a
huge silver whiting with its tail in its mouth into the air, warning
the girl of the danger of a slack line, had the desired effect. She
set her teeth and gave herself up to repairing the error of
indecision. The fish, having got his head, was now further down the
pool than he should have been, and close to an ugly snag, towards
which he bored with the strange cunning which seems born in fish.
Marjory gave him the butt bravely, but he fought like a demon, and for
one instant the reel gave out an ominous clicking.

"Perhaps I had better," came an eager voice beside her. "It is heavier
than I thought."

"Please not! Please let me keep it now! I'd rather lose him--there!" A
rapid wind-up emphasised her excitement. "I can manage him, you
see--if you will go down--there by the white stones--I'll get him
into the shallow--the tackle is so light I can scarcely bring him
up--and--and--don't be in a hurry--I'll bring him in right over the
click."

The old imperiousness was back in full swing, and once again she had a
willing slave, eager as she was for the sight of something long and
brown curving, snakelike, into the shallow as if of its own free will,
or coming in despairingly "this side up." It was a sharp, swift
struggle, all the sharper and swifter because of that ominous snag
over the way; and then an eight-pound grilse with the sea-lice still
on him lay on the bank.

"Oh! What a beautiful creature! One of the prettiest I have ever
seen," cried Marjory, ecstatically, on her knees beside the prize.

"Very much so, indeed." Captain Macleod's voice was absent, and his
eyes were not on the fish. "You killed him splendidly."

The light went out of the girl's face; she rose to her feet slowly.

"I wish I had given you the rod," she said, still looking down on the
palpitating, quivering bar of silver.

"That is most forgiving of you!"

She turned upon him almost indignantly. "Oh! I wasn't thinking of all
that--that stuff! I was thinking--it seems so cruel."

"Many things seem so afterwards. One might spend a lifetime in
regretting, if it was worth it; but it isn't."

"Isn't it? I wish anyhow that I hadn't killed that fish."

"Why not go further back, and wish you hadn't interfered to safe my
cast? for, as it happens, the one you chose out was the very one Fate
had ordained should remain in an alder bush----"

"Perhaps I do," she replied stiffly, realising how he had played upon
her for the first time. The knowledge, rather to her own surprise,
brought tears to her eyes.

"I don't wonder that you regret having helped me," he said with a
sudden change of manner. "If you will tell me where to leave the fish
I will no longer trouble you. I am sorry for having given you so much
already."

There was no mistaking the hidden depth of his apology. As he stood
there in the sunlight, looking at her gravely, Marjory felt to the
full the charm of his gracious presence. Who could really be angry
with him for such a trifle? For it was a trifle after all.

"My name is Marjory Carmichael," she said briefly, "and I live at the
Lodge with the Camerons. But I don't want the fish. I don't indeed."

"Then you shall not have it. I owe you some obedience, do I not?--and
thanks beyond measure."

He stood there with his cap off smiling at her, and she, feeling
apologetic in her turn, hesitated. After all, if he was going her way
it would be foolishness itself to tramp that mile and a half with an
interval of fifty yards or so between them.

"And now I must emulate your skill," he said cheerfully, "though I
can't expect your luck." And as she moved away she saw his flies
settle softly as thistledown in the right place. Well! that was better
than keeping up the pretence.

As for him, though he continued to fish conscientiously, his thoughts
were with the figure of the retreating girl. She had amused him and
interested him greatly. A relation, he supposed, of Dr. Carmichael's;
in fact, he had a dim recollection of a curly-haired child scampering
about on a Sheltie ten years before; though he had never known the
doctor, who had lived as a recluse. But how came she here still, and
with the Camerons? A cut above them surely! By Jove! how she had hung
on to that grilse, and how nearly she had cried over it afterwards.
Maudlin sentimentality, of course, and yet he had felt the same a
hundred times over a wounded deer. The look in her eyes had been like
that, somehow; uncommonly pretty eyes they were, too, into the
bargain!



                              CHAPTER V.


Paul Macleod sate in the business-room, where so many lairds of
Gleneira had received rents and signed cheques, playing his part with
great propriety, much to Will Cameron's delight and astonishment.
Captain Macleod was, undoubtedly, the laird, and as such bound to a
semi-parental interest in every living thing, to say nothing of every
stick and stone about the old place. On the other hand, he had been
away in a perfectly different environment for nearly ten years, and it
seemed nothing short of marvellous to the factor that he should
remember every farmer and cottier, nay, more, their wives, and sons,
and daughters, by name. And so, perhaps it was; though, to tell truth,
the mental qualities it represented were small, being no more nor less
than a quick responsiveness to the renewal of past sensation; that
very responsiveness which ten years before had made Paul shrink from
giving an unpleasant memory a place in his life. Moralists are apt to
sneer at the popularity which the possessor of this faculty enjoys;
and, of course, it is easy to cheapen the sympathy of the man, who
when he sees you, is instantly reminded of all the past connected with
you in detail, and proceeds to inquire eagerly about your ox and ass,
your manservant and your maidservant, and everything that is within
your gate. Yet, when all is said and done, and though he certainly
gives the false impression that these things have never been out of
his mind, the gift is not only an enviable one, but in itself argues a
quicker sensibility than that possessed by his more stolid, if more
honest, neighbours.

So there was no effort to Paul Macleod in taking up the thread of his
past life at Gleneira; at the same time, he felt no more regret at
hearing, as he did through Will's answers to his inquiries, of Jeanie
Duncan's death, somewhere in the vague South country, than he did for
many another item of news. Partly because that old life had really
passed out of existence for him altogether, and partly because Will,
being a good-natured kindly soul, said nothing about the child which
poor old Peggy had brought with her. There are many men of this
sort--more men for the matter of that than there are women--who hate
to face the sad aspect of life, and slur over a painful story whenever
they can.

Thus Captain Macleod was able to quit the past and plunge into the
future without even the slight regret which the news must have brought
him; for in his way he had really loved Jeanie, and the thought that
his admirable self-sacrifice had not availed to keep her memory
pleasant, would have been a distinct annoyance. As it was, he began at
once on plans and arrangements, which convinced Will Cameron that the
laird must be going, unconsciously, to follow his advice, and marry a
rich wife. Nothing else could explain the fact that Gleneira House had
to be generally smartened up for the present, pending more solid
repairs during winter, that carriages and horses had to be bought at
once, and preparations of all sorts made for the houseful of guests
which would come with the shooting season. In the matter of slates,
glass, stables, and garden, Will Cameron felt himself equal to the
occasion, but when chintzes and furniture came under discussion he
meekly suggested a reference to Maples', or Morris, or his mother.

"I should prefer Mrs. Cameron," replied the laird, with a laugh. "If I
wanted the other sort of thing my sister Blanche would do it for me
fast enough. Take a brougham by the day--to save her own horse, you
know--and re-create poor old Gleneira. First day, paper, painting,
draping; second day, furnishing; third day, creeping things
innumerable--you know them. Chenille things climbing up the lamp, a
Japanese toad on the writing-table, and a spider on the edge of a
teacup." He rose and went to the window. "But that sort of thing is
desecration of this," he went on, looking out on the opalescent
shimmer of sea and sky and hills; "though it does well enough in South
Kensington. I never could fit myself out, even in clothes, with a view
to both hemispheres, and though some folk profess to prepare for
heaven and enjoy earth at the same time, I'm not made that way."

He pulled himself up with an airy smile, and turned round again.

"So let us be off to Mrs. Cameron, and perhaps that young lady who is
staying with you--I met her by the river this morning----"

"Marjory," put in Will, eagerly; "why, yes, of course, she is the very
person we want--has awfully good taste."

"Indeed," said the other, smiling again. He was thinking that in that
case he could not claim distinction since she had not favoured him
with much of her approval. Not that it mattered, since he had quite
made up his mind that during the next few weeks, before his married
sister came to do hostess, Marjory would be a decided acquisition to
the limited society at his command; for Paul was distinctly gregarious
in his tastes. It did not take much to amuse him; but he needed some
gentle interest to start the wheels of his pleasure, and that interest
was, preferably, a woman. So, being able thus to combine duty and
amusement by a visit to the Lodge, he calmly suggested an adjournment
on the spot, to which Will agreed, blissfully oblivious of the fact
that not half-an-hour before he had left his mother in the agonies of
redding up the best parlour, with a view to the laird's expected visit
in the afternoon.

No doubt when the women of the future have won large interests for
themselves, such a spectacle as Mrs. Cameron presented when she saw
two tweed-clad figures lounging up the path together will be
impossible. Even nowadays the attempt to describe her feelings must
fall far short of the reality, since few of this generation can grasp
the mental position of the last, and Mrs. Cameron belonged to the
generation before that. Of far better birth than many a farmer's wife
who would be ashamed at being discovered engaged in household work,
Mrs. Cameron would as a rule have gloried in what was to her the sole
aim and object of woman's creation; but this was no ordinary occasion;
how could that be one which necessitated clean muslin curtains at a
time when clean muslin curtains should not be, a cake made after her
mother's original recipe baking in the oven, and a bottle of her dead
husband's very best Madeira waiting to be decanted on the sideboard?

She stood transfixed on the steps, in the very act of running a tape
through the stiffened hem of the curtain, an operation which in itself
had reduced her patience to the lowest ebb; and then, after an
instant's pause, her resentment found an outlet in one expressive
epithet.

"The Gowk!" For it was Will's fault, of course; had not the lad been a
perfect dispensation ever since he was born? (this being her favourite
word for describing all the inevitable trials of her life). Besides,
after the manner of most housewifely women, she always visited any
failure in domestic arrangements on the head of the nearest male
belonging to the family. No one but a man, no one but a man, sent to
make _her_ life a burden, could have been guilty of such a disgraceful
blunder, when a word, a hint, could have kept the laird from coming
until the afternoon. The conviction brought a sort of martyred
resignation with it, as she continued in a lower key, "and the parlour
as bare as the loof o' my hand, save for the tea leaves on the
drugget."

A more forlorn picture of discomfort could not have been suggested,
and Marjory, standing by with needle and thread, promptly suggested
that the laird should be shown into her study, since she was on the
point of going out; an assertion which mollified the old lady by its
suggestion that the visit must be to her alone. And wherefore not,
since she had seen three generations of Macleods come and go? So, with
vague remarks about sparing the rod and spoiling the child, which it
is to be supposed bore reference to poor Will's education, she hurried
off to meet her guest in the old-fashioned style, and take it out of
the offender--who in the meantime had, for hospitality's sake, to go
scot free--by a display of almost subservient humility to their
employer.

"Come ben! Come ben, Gleneira, to your ain house. And tho' it is no so
tidy as I might have wished" (here a savage glance at her son
emphasised the stab) "it is not for me to say you nay, for even if we
have been here father and son, a' these years, it is no for us to be
forgettin' oor position and dependence."

"Don't keep the laird standing on the steps all day," put in Will,
hurriedly; "he wants to have a crack with you, mother; let us go into
the parlour."

"The parlour, William, as you should ken fine, is being redd up, so I
must fain ask the laird's pardon for takin' him to our boarder's wee
sitting-room."

As a rule Mrs. Cameron would sooner have died than call Marjory a
boarder, and so level herself to the bit farmer-bodies who let
lodgings in the summer time; but at present any weapon against her
son's dignity was welcome, and she rejoiced to see him growing more
and more impatient. Letting lodgings, indeed! Aye, that was what the
poor shiftless creature would come to if he hadn't her to make both
ends meet!

"My dear Mrs. Cameron," replied Paul, still holding her old hand and
looking sentimentally into her old face, "the pleasure of seeing you
is all I care for now. To begin with, it makes me feel years younger.
And how young I was when you caught me stealing your jam! I have
never forgotten the lecture you gave me, never! And then, do you
remember----?" He was fairly afloat on the sea of reminiscence now,
much to the old lady's gratification. But since this was distinctly an
irregular method of getting through a state visit, she led the way
defiantly to Marjory's little snuggery upstairs, with another sniff at
poor Will, which sent him off muttering something about letting its
owner know; a remark which increased his mother's wrath, and made her
more than ever set on a strict observance of the ceremony due to the
occasion. So she sat exactly opposite Paul on a high chair, and began
_seriatim_ on all domestic events in the Gleneira family during the
past nine years, until his head whirled, and the life which had seemed
to him so varied and gay, reduced itself to a mere excerpt from the
first column of the Times. Yet his deferential courtesy never failed,
and, as usual, brought him its own reward; for after a time, the old
lady, finding it impossible to resist his charm, thawed completely,
and finally getting quite jolly, frankly confessed her annoyance, and
hurried off to see if the cake were not sufficiently baked to admit of
Gleneira's breaking bread in the house, just for luck's sake.

Paul, left alone, began to frown. This was Miss Carmichael's room;
but, apparently, she meant to steer clear of it while he was there.
Girls did that sort of thing; it made them feel independent.
Meanwhile, what sort of a girl was she, judged by her room; that sort
of knowledge often came in very useful when the dear creatures were
shy. Fond of flowers, certainly, and in a rational way; these were not
arranged in bouquets, but set one or two in a vase wherever a vase
could stand, so that you could see them. Books? A closed bookcase full
of the dreariest backs; they must have belonged to her uncle, or
perhaps to old Cameron, who had been a bit of a student; but scarcely
to a girl who could throw a salmon line like Miss Carmichael. Yes! She
had certainly looked as well as she was ever likely to look, when
swaying her lithe body to the sway of the rod. Pictures? A good
photograph that, over the mantelpiece, of Andrea del Sarto's
Maddelena; from the original, of course, and full size. That was the
best of photographs, you could have them exact, and sometimes half an
inch made such a difference. How well he remembered his first sight of
the picture in that dark corner of the Borghese gallery, and the
effect its dreamy eyes had had on him; the wonder, too, whether the
casket really held a very precious ointment, or a still more precious
_acquatofana_. Either was possible with that dim, mysterious smile;
and the woman herself--for it was Del Sarto's wife, of course--had
been a lying devil who made her husband's life a perfect hell. Now,
had Miss Carmichael chosen that photograph for herself; and, if so,
why? Since it did not fit the salmon fishing any better than the
books. Ah! there in the bow window, cut off from the rest of the room
by muslin drapery, was a low wicker chair, placed close to a revolving
bookstand.

"Now for the last new novel," he said to himself cynically. "What is
the odds on anything in these latter times. I have seen nice girls
since I came home reading things in public which I would not leave
about in the smoking-room for fear the housemaid might be shocked.
Eheu!"

It was a sort of prolonged low whistle of surprise and disappointment,
mingled with a distinct personal aversion to the treatise on Conic
Sections, which he took up inadvertently. The fact being that Paul
Macleod had at one period of his life thought of Woolwich, and that
particular book had, as it were, stood in the way of his ambition.
Perhaps it was that which made him fling it down contemptuously,
with a sort of vague indictment against the owner. She had not looked
like it certainly, yet for all he knew she might be one of those
clear-headed, hard-hearted nondescripts--the opposite extreme from
that angel-faced, sensual-minded demon over the mantelpiece--who
despised the emotions they were born to create, and would scorn to
have a foolish, illogical, unreasoning, lovable sentimentality. There
he paused abruptly, and whistled again; for on the stand among the
books was a little vase holding some white heather and stag-horn moss.
A curious coincidence truly, even if it were nothing more. He stood
looking at it for a minute or two, and then quite coolly exchanged it
for a similar bouquet which he was wearing in his buttonhole; a
bouquet which he had found in a vase on his dressing-table.

Just then the door opened, at first gently, then hurriedly, while
Marjory's voice exclaimed in joyous relief, "Gone at last! What a
relief!"

Paul emerged from his concealment with outstretched hand.
"Good-morning, Miss Carmichael," he said in that charming voice of
his, "delighted to find you at home." She looked at him with level,
puzzled eyes.

"I think you must have heard what I said just now, didn't you?" Her
directness went straight through the veneer of conventional
politeness, and startled him into corresponding frankness.

"Yes; every word," he said, turning to take up his cap.

"Oh, please don't," she broke in eagerly. "It will make me feel so
ashamed. And it was only because I wanted to finish some papers and
send them off. You see to-morrow is my birthday, and I promised Tom to
take a holiday. But I forgot," she added with a quick apologetic
smile, "you don't know who Tom is, and it can't interest you----"

"I beg your pardon," he interrupted, returning somewhat to his more
elaborate manner; "it interests me exceedingly to know who Tom is."

Again her perfect unconsciousness drove him back to simplicity.

"Tom is my guardian--Dr. Thomas Kennedy. I don't suppose _you_ have
heard of him, but most people have; I mean of that sort. He is in
Paris now busy over a bacillus."

"Indeed!" said Paul, beginning to weary; "and so to-morrow is your
birthday, and you are to have a holiday; a whole holiday. That sounds
very virtuous, Miss Carmichael, to a man who has perpetual holidays."

"But I am going to have six weeks! A real vacation. The first I've
ever had; because you see I've never been to school or college, and
work has always been more or less of an amusement to me. One must have
something to do, you know."

"Pardon me, but I seldom find the necessity. Life in itself occupies
all my spare time; I mean all the time I can spare from things that
are necessary to keep in life."

She looked at him again with frankly puzzled, half-amused eyes. "How
funny that sounds. I don't understand it a bit, but I daresay I shall
when I have really been idle for two or three weeks. Tom says it will
do me good before I start regular work. I am going to teach in a Board
school in November."

"That seems a pity."

"Why? I have to earn my own living, remember!"

"Pardon me for saying that that seems to me a greater pity still."

The puzzled, amused look grew more pronounced. "And that sounds still
funnier. Can't you see that some of us must work; there are so many of
us nowadays. Besides, I like work; uncle used to say that was lucky,
because I had to. You see I am absolutely alone in the world."

"And that is the greatest pity of all." His voice, soft, kind,
courteous, carried them beyond the lightness of ordinary conversation
in a moment, and Marjory, recognising the fact, felt none of her
usually quick resentment at the intrusion of a stranger into her inner
life; for she was not of those who parade their possession of a soul,
perhaps because she took it as a matter of course.

"I suppose it is, in a way," she assented; "but I have been accustomed
to the position all my life, and somehow I never regret it."

"That seems to me rather unnatural in a girl."

"It is very lucky," she retorted. "What would become of me if I were
afraid?"

"You would probably lead a far happier life."

"Why?"

They were standing opposite each other, looking into each other's
faces, and the beauty of his, the unconsciousness of hers, held them
both captive.

"Because in all probability you would marry."

There was a silence for a moment, but Paul Macleod, no mean judge of
character, partly because of the complexity of his own, had rightly
gauged the measure of what he had to deal with. What many girls might
have deemed an impertinence Marjory passed by as a mere truism.

"I have often thought of that myself," she replied quietly; "but I
think you are mistaken."

It was his turn now to put that terse, unconditional "Why?"

"I am not likely to marry; as uncle used to say, I have not purchasing
power equal to my requirements."

"Meaning, of course, that your ideal is too high. I should have
fancied so. You are very young, Miss Carmichael. And I am old;
besides, ten years knocking about in Indian cantonments disposes
effectually of the theory of twin souls. It is very beautiful, no
doubt; but I fancy mine must have died in the measles, or some other
infantile ailment. It did not survive to riper years, at any rate. But
here comes Mrs. Cameron, so I shall escape scathing this time. I
generally do."

Marjory felt she could well believe it, palpably unjust though such
immunity might be, as she watched the laird give back the fervid
greeting of the Reverend James Gillespie, who followed close on the
tray of cake and wine.

"My dear sir; welcome to the Glen," cried the young clergyman. "I have
been up at the Big House, and, hearing you were at the Lodge, ventured
to follow you. As parish clergyman----"

"'Deed no! Gillespie," put in Mrs. Cameron, sharply.

"I did not say minister, my dear Madam," retorted the Reverend James
with uncommon spirit; "I said clergyman; and considering that the
lairds of Gleneira have ever clung loyally to the Church." Here
something in the old lady's face made him, as it were, climb down
again. "Well, let us say parish priest."

"'Deed no, again," interrupted the good lady, with a grim smile. "What
would Father Macdonald be saying?"

The Reverend Mr. Gillespie climbed down still further for the sake of
peace, though the vexed question of effectual orders was a favourite
hunting-ground of the Bishop's. "As a native of Gleneira, deeply
interested in the spiritual and moral welfare of its inhabitants,
allow me to express my sincere pleasure in your return. Believe me,
Gleneira, the people welcome you to their midst."

"It is really awfully kind of you all, when I have been such a
shocking ne'er-do-weel absentee. I assure you, Miss Carmichael, that
the number of times I've had to drink my own health in raw whiskey
this morning is incredible; enough to ruin it for the next year."

The Reverend James put on his most professional air. "Too true. As the
Bishop says, whiskey is indeed the bane----"

"Hoot, no!" interrupted Mrs. Cameron from the cake and wine; "good
whiskey ne'er harmed a good man. It is just the idle, feckless bodies
getting drunken that gives it a bad name."

"But that is just the point, my dear lady," expostulated the young
man, feeling sure of his ground. "It is for the sake of the weaker
brother."

"Havers!" began Mrs. Cameron; but the Reverend James was firm, and
quoted the text.

"Aye, aye!" continued the old lady, "I ken where it comes from fine,
more's the pity, for I don't hold wi' it. It's just a premium on being
a poor body, and is the clear ruination o' this world whatever it may
be of the next. Gie me a useless, through--other man or woman, and
hey! it's a weaker brother an' maun' be cockered up."

She showed so much animation that her opponent retired from the
contest discreetly by turning to the laird and beginning on a stock
subject.

"I am sorry to say, Gleneira, that despite my own efforts, and the
Bishop's earnest desire for the erection of a church, matters remain
much as they were, when you were here last. That is to say, service
has still to be conducted in the school-house, which, er--in addition
to other illegitimate uses"--he glanced casually at his old enemy at
this point--"also serves as a post-office; a plan which has great and
undeniable inconvenience."

"And convenience, too," put in Mrs. Cameron, remorselessly. "You see,
laird, the post is no delivered on the Sabbath-day, this bein' a
Christian land, and so when folk go to kirk they can kill twa birds
wi' one stane."

This was too much. "In my opinion," retorted the Reverend James,
pompously, "it would be far less objectionable if Donald _did_ deliver
the letters than that the last words of the blessing should be the
signal for handing them round the congregation. But as is so often the
case in Scotland, the veneration for the day--which, by the way, is
not the Sabbath----"

"No, no!" interrupted the old lady, "I'm no going that gate. I've told
ye oft, Mr. Gillespie, it is naught to me if it's the Sabbath or
Sunday, or Lord's-day or the first day o' the week we are keeping. But
I ken fine that in my learnin' days I was taught to keep it holy, so
if there is ony mistake it was none o' my makin'. It's the fault of
the minister."

Mr. Gillespie coughed. "The hours of service are eleven o'clock for
matins, and four o'clock for evensong. Miss Marjory kindly helps us
with the harmonium. Indeed, one of my reasons for coming on here was
to ask her to settle the hymns for Sunday first, unless, indeed, you
yourself would select one suitable--er--to the occasion."

Paul took the proffered hymn-book with visible embarrassment, and
looked appealingly towards Marjory, but it was impossible to laugh,
for the Reverend James's proposition was saved from absurdity by its
absolute simplicity.

"Really! my dear sir," he began, when Mrs. Cameron came to his rescue.

"Gie the laird a harvest hymn, Mr. Gillespie. I'll warrant he has sown
his wild oats, though maybe after all, you would no care to be reapin'
them, Gleneira."

He laughed very boyishly. "My dear old friend, if they were fifty
shillings a quarter, I should be the richest man in Lorneshire,
instead of the poorest."

"Poor," she echoed grimly; "you couldna' be poor if you tried. It is
no in some men. And now, Gleneira, there's some o' the farm folk
waiting to drink your health outside, so come awa'. And you, too,
Marjory, my dear, for you're a Gleneira lass when all's said and done.
And the parson can tak' a glass for his oft infirmities if he'll no do
it for anything less important."

They followed her out into the sunshine, where, in a solemn
semi-circle, they found half-a-dozen or more of men and halflings,
headed, of course, by old John Macpherson as spokesman. He held a wine
glass in one hand, a black bottle in the other, and the liltiness of
his attitude, joined to a watery benevolence in his eye, told a tale
of previous exertions towards the laird's good health. It was evident
that, for the time being, he was an optimist, viewing the world as the
best of all possible worlds. A glass more, and he would be ready to
defend the proposition with his fists; another, and he would have wept
over its denial, for Aladdin's genii of the bottle was not more
powerful in metamorphosis than Scotch whiskey was on John Macpherson.

"An' here's to you, Gleneira," he said, when Paul returned the glass.
"An' it's wissing you as rich as the Duke o' Wellington--Pech!
Mistress Cameron, but yon's gude whiskey--water never touched it."

Even the refilled glass, as it passed from hand to hand, seemed to
have a vicarious effect on old John, who waxed more and more lilty,
and finally, when the others moved off, lingered for an audible
whisper, accompanied by an admiring glance at the laird.

"Gorsh! Miss Marjory, wass I no tellin' you he was bonnie, and iss he
not bonnie, whatever?"

"A leading question, John," said Paul, readily; "witness can't be
expected to answer it."

But the argumentative mood was beginning. "An' what for no. Miss
Marjory will be a Highland lass, an' a Highland lass will no be so
shamefast, but they will be knowing a bonnie lad when they see one."

"I quite agree with you, John," said the girl, quickly, with a
suspicion of both a frown and a smile on her face.

Paul Macleod, as he walked home, found himself fully occupied in
trying, as it were, to piece the girl's character together to his
satisfaction. She was a novel experience, a pleasant one into the
bargain.

So when she came to breakfast next morning, a bouquet of hot-house
flowers lay on her plate with Captain Macleod's best wishes for her
birthday.

"I think it is very kind of him," she said judicially, in reply to
Mrs. Cameron's rapture over the laird's condescension; "but Peter
Morrison will be furious at having his show spoilt. And he has
amputated the poor things at the knee. Men ought never to pick
flowers, they don't understand them, except gardeners, and they never
want to pick them at all."

When she went up that afternoon to the Big House in order to aid Mrs.
Cameron's taste in the matter of new curtains, there was a little
bunch of white heather and stag-horn moss tucked into her belt. In
finding room amongst the vases for the newcomers this had seemed too
pretty to throw away, that was all. But Paul Macleod's keen eyes fell
on it at once with a certain satisfaction; nevertheless, he made no
allusion to the subject, a reticence which he would not have observed
towards most women of his acquaintance. It was sufficient for him to
be aware of its complicated history. That sort of thing gave an
infinite zest to life.



                             CHAPTER VI.


Even in the dusty glare of a dusty July sun, one of the largest houses
in Queen's Gardens looked cool and pleasant with its delicate shades
of grey on wall and portico, its striped jalousies and tiled window
gardens gay with scarlet geraniums, yellow calceolarias, and blue
lobelias; flowers, all of them, which seem somehow to have lost their
flowerfulness by being so constantly associated in one's mind with
area railings, barrel organs, and the eternal rat-tat of the postman's
knock--to be brief, with London. For all the passer-by knew or cared,
those lines of brilliant red, yellow, and blue blossoms might have
been cunningly composed of paper, and would have served their purpose
to the full as well had they been so, since no one, even inside the
house, ever looked on them in the light of living, breathing plants
going through a process of asphyxiation. It is difficult no doubt to
resist the temptation to have pot-plants in London, but how often when
brought face to face with the hideous ravages which a day or two of
its poisonous atmosphere makes on our favourites has not the true
flower-lover felt nothing short of murder. The inhabitants of the
house in Queen's Gardens, however, had not even this chance for
remorse, since the boxes were kept bright by contract, and if any poor
plant was ill-advised enough to droop and complain, it was promptly
rooted up and replaced by the man who came in the early mornings to
"walk the hospitals" before the family appeared on the scene.

Within the house, the same spick and span, utterly impersonal
attention to beauty prevailed. From basement to attic it was simply
perfect in its appointments. As it might well be, since an artist in
copper utensils had been let loose in the kitchen, the greatest
authority in the world on wall papers had been allowed his will in
friezes and dados; and so on from cellar to roof. There is, of course,
a good deal to be said in favour of this modern specialism. It is
distinctly comforting to know, that if you have not reached
perfection, you have at any rate paid for it; but to some barbarians
the loss of individuality in such houses is very grievous. To begin
with, you lose a most delightful study of character. And after all, if
Mrs. Jones has a sneaking admiration for a pea-green carpet with pink
cabbage roses sprinkled over it, why, in heaven's name, should she
conceal the fact? No green that ever was dyed is greener than grass,
no flower that ever was woven is half as brilliant as the
blossom-mosaic which Nature spreads for you to tread upon when the
snow melts from the upland Alps. Yet the house was charming enough in
detail if a little confusing _en masse_ to those sensitive to their
surroundings; since the drawing-room was Queen Anne, the dining-room
Tudor, and various other corridors and apartments Japanesque,
Renaissance, Early English, or Pompeian.

This again did not affect the inmates, who, indeed, would have scorned
to feel as if time and space had been annihilated in the course of
half-a-dozen steps; such fanciful imaginations being almost wicked,
when time and space were distinctly necessary to the due performance
of your duty in that state of life to which it had pleased Providence
to call you.

On this particular morning in July, Mr. and Mrs. Woodward and their
daughter Alice were seated at the breakfast table in the usual
comfortable indifferent silence of people who keep a diary of outside
engagements in a conspicuous place on the writing-table, and whose
inner lives move in decorous procession from morn till eve. A canary
was singing joyfully, but at the same time keeping a watchful eye on
the grey Persian cat which walked up and down rubbing itself, as it
passed and repassed, against Mrs. Woodward's gown, with an anxious
look on the bread and milk she was crumbling for it. Mr. Woodward, at
the other side of a central palm tree, studied the share list. Miss
Alice Woodward, who had evidently come down later than the others, was
still engaged listlessly on toast and butter; finally making a remark
in an undertone to her mother that as Jack had settled to ride with
her in the Park at eleven, she supposed it was about time to get
ready; a remark which resulted in her pushing away her plate
languidly.

"You have eaten no breakfast, my dear, and you are looking pale," said
her mother, comfortably; "I will get you some more Blaud's from the
Stores."

"Oh! I'm all right," replied the girl. "It's hot, and--and things are
tiresome. They generally are at the end of the season, aren't they?"

She drifted easily, rather aimlessly, out of the room. Like everything
else in the house she was costly and refined; pretty in herself but
without any individuality. For the rest, blonde and graceful, with a
faintly discontented droop of the mouth, and large, full, china-blue
eyes.

Mr. Woodward watched her retreat furtively till the door closed behind
her, then laid down his paper and addressed his wife with the air of a
man who attends strictly to business. That was, in fact, his attitude
towards his daughter at all times. He did not, he said, understand
girls, but he did his duty by them.

"I heard from Macleod this morning, my dear."

Mrs. Woodward went on crumbling bread gently, and there was a pause.
"Well, what does he say?"

"That the house will be ready for visitors by the 8th of next month,
and that it will give him great pleasure to welcome us as soon after
that date as we can manage."

"Nothing more?"

"Only the old story; that he is most anxious for our consent in order
that he may speak definitely. There, read it yourself, a sensible,
gentlemanly letter. I really don't think she could do better."

His tone was precisely what it would have been had he been
recommending the purchase of debenture stock in a safe concern.

"Then I suppose we may consider it settled; I mean, if Alice likes the
place."

"Just so; but I'm told it is charming; there is a man--in
hooks-and-eyes, by the way--who has the moor next it. I met him at the
Kitcheners' dinner. He said it only wanted money, and she will bring
that. Besides, the man himself is all that can be desired, even by a
girl."

Mrs. Woodward nodded her head. "Yes, that is such a comfort, and Lady
George is so nice. Alice is quite fond of her, which is a great point
with a sister-in-law. In fact, everything seems most satisfactory."
She paused a moment, and a faint shade of doubt showed on her face.
"Only, of course, there is Jack."

"Jack! heaven and earth, Sophia! what has Jack to do with it?"

"Nothing, of course, only you know, or at any rate you might have seen
that he--well, that he may object."

Mr. Woodward's face passed from sheer amazement to that peculiar
expression of virtuous indignation which so many English fathers
reserve for those who, without a nomination, have the temerity to
admire their daughters.

"Jack! that boy Jack?"

"He is older than Alice, my dear," put in his wife, with meek
obstinacy. She, on the contrary, was smiling, for, no matter how
ineligible the victim, a scalp is always a scalp to a mother; and
Jack was not ineligible. On the contrary, he was the head of the
soap-boiling business, now that her husband had received a
consideration for his interest, and retired into the more genteel
trade of blowing soap bubbles on 'Change.

"Pooh!" retorted Mr. Woodward, angrily, "if he is troublesome send him
to me, I'll settle him. The lad must marry position, like Alice." He
paused, and his manner changed. "You don't, of course, mamma,
insinuate that--that Alice--that your daughter has been foolish
enough----"

Mrs. Woodward rose with dignity, and gave the cat its bread and milk.
"_My_ daughter is a dear, good, sensible girl, Mr. Woodward; but that
doesn't alter the fact that your _nephew_ may be foolish. I consider
it extremely likely that he may be; it runs in the family."

Mr. Woodward took up the share list again, using it--after the manner
of his kind when in domestic difficulties--as a shield, and his wife
put a fresh lump of sugar in the canary's cage, saw to its seed and
water, and left the room placidly. The bird was her bird, the cat her
cat, and therefore she did her duty by them. In the same conscientious
spirit she interviewed the housekeeper and ordered a very good dinner
for her husband because he was her husband. Some people have the knack
of getting a vast deal of purely selfish satisfaction out of their own
virtues. Finally, she went into the morning-room, and began to think
over the best way of doing her duty by her daughter also; for there
was this difficulty in the way, here, that she and Alice were too much
alike for sympathy. They found each other out continually, and, what
is more, placidly disapproved of the various little weaknesses they
shared in common. It is this inevitable likeness which is really at
the bottom of that state of affairs, which is expressed in the
feminine phrase, "they don't get on at home, somehow." But Alice was
not a revolting daughter. Apart from other considerations, she would
have thought it vulgar not to behave nicely to her parents, while Mrs.
Woodward herself would have felt her complacent self-respect
endangered if she had not had a high estimate of her own child; and
Alice was, in this aspect, a far easier subject than her brother Sam,
who, to tell truth, gave even his mother a few qualms in regard to his
personal appearance.

But Alice was perfect in that respect, simply perfect. Not too
pronouncedly pretty; not the sort of girl whose photograph would be
put up surreptitiously in the shop windows, but really quite
unexceptionable as she came in to her mother's room and stood at the
window in her trim habit waiting for the horses to come round. Then
she turned to her mother composedly.

"Father had a letter from Captain Macleod this morning, hadn't he?
When does he expect us?"

Mrs. Woodward gave a sigh of relief. It was an advantage sometimes to
be seen through, especially when you were anxious to give a word of
warning before that long ride with Jack in the Park, and you did not
quite know how to set about it.

"On the 8th; that will suit your father nicely; he will have done his
meetings by then. And you will like the change, won't you, darling?"

"Immensely, of course. Then we had better go round to Redfern's to-day
and order tailor-made things; something that looks rough, you know,
but isn't. I hate rough things, they make me feel creepy. Ah! there is
Jack coming round the gardens. Good-bye, dearest."

She stooped to kiss her mother dutifully ere leaving, and Mrs.
Woodward seized the opportunity.

"Good-bye, darling, and before you go, Alice, about Jack."

"What about Jack, mamma?"

"You might tell him--perhaps."

"What shall I tell him?" asked the girl, a trifle petulantly. "That we
are going down to stay at Gleneira with the Macleods. That is really
all there is to tell--as yet."

"I know that, my dear; still--still it would be better if Jack did not
follow you about so much."

"Of course, it would be better, and I have told him so often; I will
tell him again, if you like, so don't be anxious, you good, pretty
little mamma. I am very fond of Jack--he is a dear fellow--but I don't
intend to marry him. I see quite well how foolish it would be for us
both."

Mrs. Woodward, as she watched the riders pass down the road, told
herself that Alice was one in a thousand, and deserved to be happy, as
no doubt she would be if she married Paul Macleod, who was so very
nice-looking. This point of good looks was one upon which Mrs.
Woodward laid great insistence, and it enabled her to spend the next
hour or two in finishing a sentimental novel in which the lovers,
after sternly rejecting the counsels of parents and guardians, were
rewarded in the third volume with £50,000 a year and a baronetcy. For,
like most mothers, poor Mrs. Woodward was sadly at sea on the
matrimonial question. Its romantic side appealed to her fancy, its
business side to her experience, since no woman can have done her duty
in the married state for a quarter of a century without seeing that
where personal pleasure has been the motive power in one point, sheer
personal self-abnegation has been the motive in ten.

Meanwhile the cousins, after cantering round the Row, had reined in
their horses for a walk. Alice rode well, and the exercise had brought
an unwonted animation to her appearance. Jack, on the other hand, was
a tall, burly young fellow, a trifle over-dressed, but otherwise
unobjectionable, looked his best, with a heartwhole admiration for his
companion on his honest face. What a pretty couple they would make,
thought an old spinster, taking her constitutional in Kensington
Gardens, and began straightway to dream of a certain hunt ball where
someone had danced with her five times before supper. How many times
afterwards she had never had to confess, even to her twin sister;
thanks to the extras, which, of course, need not count. And yet
nothing had come of it! And just as she got so far in her
reminiscences Alice was saying to Jack pleasantly, "I shall miss these
rides of ours, Jack, shan't you?"

"Why should you miss them?" he asked anxiously, for there was a
superior wisdom in her tone which he knew and dreaded. "I'm going down
to Heddingford when you go. We can ride there."

"But we are going to Scotland first; didn't mamma tell you? We are to
stay with Captain Macleod."

Poor Jack's heart gave a great throb of pain.

"Macleod?" he echoed, "that is the tall, handsome fellow, isn't it,
who used to hang round you before I came up from the works?"

This allusion to Paul's good looks was unfortunate, since Jack's were
not improved by the sudden flush which crimsoned even his ears.

"I don't know what you mean by hanging round," retorted the girl,
quickly. "It is a very vulgar expression."

This again was unwise, for Jack, knowing his strong point was not
refinement, felt instantly superior to such trivialities, and took the
upper hand.

"Call it what you like, Ally. You know perfectly well what I mean, and
what he meant, too."

There was no denying it, and, after all, why should it be denied? Had
she not a right to have other lovers besides Jack?

"Let us come for another canter," she said, in the tone of voice which
an elder sister might have used to a troublesome little brother, who
required to be coaxed out of ill humour. "There is no use being cross
about it, you know."

She went a little too far, and roused him into laying his hand on her
rein, abruptly. And the action startled her, for she hated any display
of emotion, being, in truth, totally unaccustomed to it.

"Not yet, Ally! I want to have this out first. It is time I did. And
yet I don't know how to begin; perhaps because it never had a
beginning. I've always cared for you--you know that. Ever since----"
the young man's eyes grew moist suddenly over some childish
recollection, and then an almost savage look came to his face. "And
you--you cared. I'm sure you cared----"

Some people have the knack of saying the wrong thing, and in this case
poor Jack Woodward gave his mistress a handle both to her pride and
her prudence.

"Care," she echoed, in a patronising tone. "Of course, Jack, I cared.
I cared for you very much, and I care for you now. So much so that I
am not going to let you be foolish any more. We didn't understand what
things really meant in those old days----"

"You don't understand now," he broke in hotly.

"Don't I," she continued; "perhaps I don't, for I don't really see
what there is to make such a fuss about. And it is very selfish----"

"Do you mean to say that it is selfish of me to love you?" he cried.
"Selfish to----"

She interrupted him again with the same facile wisdom.

"Very selfish, if we stand in each other's way. And, after all, Jack,
what we both need to make life really successful is something we
have neither of us got. We are only soap-boilers, you know, and
society----"

"Society!" he echoed sternly. "What has society to do with it? I
didn't think you were so worldly."

"I am not worldly," she retorted, in quite an aggrieved tone; "unless,
indeed, it is worldly to be sensible, to think of you as well as of
myself--to be unselfish and straightforward."

"Straightforward! What, do you call it straightforward to let me hang
round you as I have done?"

"Really, Jack, you are _impayable_ with your hangings round! Can you
not find a less objectionable phrase?"

She was fencing with him, and he saw it, saw it and resented it with
the almost coarse resentment of a nature stronger and yet less
obstinate than hers.

"Yes, if you like. I'll say you have played fast and loose with me--as
you have. You have known for years that I cared for you, and that I
intended to marry you. And when a girl allows that sort of thing to go
on without a word, and doesn't mean it, I say she is a flirt--a
heartless flirt, and I have nothing more to do with her."

He turned his horse as he spoke, and without another word rode off,
leaving her to go home with the groom. Inexcusable violence, no doubt.
Alice told herself so again and again in the vain effort to get rid of
a certain surprised remorse, for the girl was emphatically a moral
coward, and any display of high-handed resentment, so far from rousing
her opposition, invariably made her doubtful of her own wisdom. She
hated scenes most cordially, hated, above all things, to have
opprobrious epithets hurled at her; for she clung with almost piteous
tenacity to her own virtue. It was too hard, too unkind of Jack to
blame her, and yet despite this, his condemnation seemed to dim that
lodestar of her firmament--common sense. After all, if he liked her,
why should they not marry? Why should such devotion be sacrificed to
the Moloch of position? In truth, as she thought over the incident, an
odd mixture of anger and regret came to upset her usual placidity, so
that, much to her own surprise, she broke down helplessly into tears
over her mother's conventional inquiry as to how she had enjoyed her
ride. Nor could she find any reason for this unwonted emotion, beyond
the fact that Jack had been brutal and called her a flirt, and had
ridden away, declaring that he would have nothing more to say to her.
That such would be the case Mrs. Woodward, as she administered sal
volatile and talked about the trying heat, felt was most devoutly to
be wished; but a long course of three volume novels warned her of the
danger of trusting to the permanence of lovers' quarrels. So after her
daughter had been provided with darkness and eau-de-cologne, and a
variety of other feminine remedies against the evil effects of
emotion, she went off to her own sitting-room to consider the position
by the light of her five-and-forty years of human experience. To begin
with, the girl's feelings were clearly more deeply implicated than
she, or for the matter of that Alice herself, had imagined. The
question, therefore, came uppermost whether this fact ought to be
admitted or deprecated; whether in short this evident dislike to
giving her cousin pain was the result of a romantic attachment or
simply the natural kindliness of a girl for a young fellow she had
known from infancy. Now the cogitations of mothers over their
daughters' matrimonial prospects are always fair game for both
moralist and novelist. For some mysterious reason the least display of
prudence is considered worldly; yet, on the face of it, a woman who
has had, say, five-and-twenty years of married life cannot possibly
fail to see how much of her own life has been made or marred by
influences which she never considered in accepting Dick, Tom, or
Harry. In nine cases out of ten it is the remembrance of her own
ignorance which makes her espouse the cause of the lover who can bring
the greatest number of chances for content. And it is idle to deny,
for instance, that a girl marrying into a family which will welcome
her is far less likely to quarrel with her husband than one who is
looked on askance by her mother-in-law. There is, in sober truth, an
immense deal to be said in favour of the French theory which holds
that given a favourable nidus, and kindly atmosphere, the germ of
happiness is more likely to grow into a goodly tree, and bear fruit a
thousandfold, than when it is planted in a hurry by two inexperienced
gardeners in the first pot which they fancy in the great Mart. Owing,
however, to our somewhat startling views as to the sanctity of the
romantic passion over the claims of duty towards oneself and others,
these minor considerations are considered mercenary to the last
degree, and the mother who is courageous enough to confess them openly
is held up to obloquy. Why, it is difficult to say, since none of us
really believe in the popular theory. It will not hold water for an
instant when put to the practical test of experience; even if we leave
out of consideration the fact that fully one-half of the people one
meets have never felt, and have never felt the desire to feel, an
absorbing passion.

Mrs. Woodward, for instance, had not; moreover she had brought Alice
up from the cradle to share her views of life, and had never once
found her way barred by any bias towards a more passionate outlook. In
fact, she was, in her mother's estimate, the very last girl in the
world to find sentiment soothing. On the contrary, it distressed her,
made her cry, necessitated her lying down with smelling-salts and a
hot-bottle. Then above all things she loved a certain refined
distinction and exclusiveness. Even as a child she had held her head
high in the soap-boiling connection, and though she would no doubt be
very fairly happy with Jack, the Macleod family was distinctly more
suitable. The question, therefore, soon resolved itself, not into
whether the outworks of the girl's placidity should be defended, but
how this could best be effected. How in short Jack could be prevented
from posing as a martyr; for Mrs. Woodward was sharp enough to see
that, at present at any rate, the danger lay entirely in her
daughter's remorse.

"It was very unkind of Jack I must say," she commented skilfully on
the story which Alice unfolded to her after a time; "but you mustn't
be hard on him, my dear. Men never have so much self-control as we
have, and no doubt the knowledge that you were right vexed him. They
get over these little rebuffs very quickly."

"It--it seemed to hurt him though--and I hate--all that sort of
thing," murmured the girl doubtfully, looking as if she were going to
cry again.

"And it hurts you apparently, though you know quite well that you only
did your duty."

"I suppose so," remarked Alice, still more doubtfully; "only I wish he
hadn't been so unreasonable."

"So do I; but in these cases the girl always has to have sense for
both. Besides Jack has a vile temper. But it is soon over. You will
see that he will come to dinner as usual--it is the opera night, and
he wouldn't miss that for anything--not even for you, my dear."

Alice smiled a watery smile, and said she did not think it meant so
little to him as all that; but Mrs. Woodward maintained her position,
having, in fact, some grounds for her belief, owing to the despatch of
a certain little note which she had sent off before coming in to
console Alice, and which ran thus:--


"Dear Jack,--Alice tells me you were very much put about to-day
regarding our visit to Scotland; why, I can scarcely understand. Dear
boy, if only for your own sake--since you can scarcely wish to quarrel
with her, or us--do try and keep that temper of yours a little more
under control. The poor girl came home crying, and I really cannot
allow you to go out with her again if you are so inconsiderate. You
ought to know quite well how sensitive she is, so for goodness' sake
don't let this stupid misunderstanding disturb us all.--Your
affectionate Aunt,

                                  "Sophia Woodward."

P.S.--"We dine earlier to-day, as Alice wants to be in time for the
overture, 'Tannhauser.'"


A note which meant all or nothing according to the wishes of the
reader. In this case it meant all, for Jack, returning to his rooms
after a disastrous attempt to begin his future rôle in life by playing
whist with the old fogies at his club, was feeling that life, even as
a misogynist, was unendurable, when the sight of his aunt's
handwriting made his heart beat. The note was not in the least what he
had expected to receive, and made him somehow feel as if he had
grossly exaggerated the necessity for grief.

"Aunt Soph is on my side, anyhow," said the young man, with a certain
elation, "and I was a brute, I'm afraid."

The result being, that before Alice, who had been spending the
afternoon with Paul Macleod's sister, Lady George Temple, had returned
from her drive, Jack, with a big gardenia in his coat, was ushered
into the drawing-room, where his aunt, in satin and diamonds, was
skimming through the last few pages of another novel which had to be
returned to the library that evening.

"Good boy!" she said, smiling. "Now, I hope you won't spoil Alice's
pleasure to-night by even alluding to your rudeness."

Jack looked a little aghast. "But, Aunt Sophia, I must beg her
pardon."

"Then you had better do it at once," replied Mrs. Woodward, "and get
it over. For there she is at the door. You can run downstairs and meet
her, for she will have to go up to dress at once. She is late as it
is."

Begging your mistress's pardon on the way upstairs, before the eyes of
a butler and a footman, was not quite what Jack had pictured to
himself; but it was better than nothing, and Alice's unfeigned look of
relief at seeing him could not be mistaken.

Mrs. Woodward slept soundly that night, feeling that she had done a
good day's work, and steered the bark of her daughter's happiness out
of a great danger. And happiness to her philosophy meant much, since
virtue was so very much easier of attainment when life went smoothly.
This was partly the reason why she did not detail the past danger to
her husband after the manner of some wives, who love to chase sleep
from their good man's eyes by breaking in upon the delicious
drowsiness of the first ten minutes in bed by perfectly needless
revelations of past woe.

The tie, in fact, between these two whose night-capped heads reposed
side by side, was a curious one if absolutely commonplace. It
consisted of a vast amount of mutual respect for each other's position
as husband or wife, a solid foundation of placid affection, and no
confidence. For instance, Mrs. Woodward knew considerably more about
her son Sam Woodward's debts than his father did, to say nothing of
minor points in the matter of household management; but then at least
two-thirds of Mr. Woodward's life was absolutely unknown to the wife
of his bosom. He breakfasted and dined at home on week days, and on
Sundays he added lunch to the other meals; what is more, he never
deserted her for the club on the occasion of "At Homes." But of his
life between 10 A.M. and 7 P.M. she knew nothing, except that he
lunched at a bar in the City. So far as this went, he was to her
exactly what he was to the outside world; that is to say, Mr.
Woodward, the lucky financier, whose name meant money. Even the
success or failure of the companies which she saw advertised with his
name as director did not interest her, for she knew by experience that
money and to spare was always forthcoming. And to tell the truth, Mr.
Woodward was a singularly lucky man. When the smash came to the
company "For Preserving the North American Indian from Total
Extinction by Supplying him with a Sparkling Beverage, Exhilarating
but non-Alcoholic, to take the Place of the Deleterious Fire Water,"
he had happened to sell his last remaining share the day before; and
even when the scheme for supplying hard-boiled eggs to the settlers in
Africa failed, it did not affect the home supply at all. And yet Mr.
Woodward's character as a business man stood above suspicion, and the
worst that had ever been said of him was that he could sail a point or
two nearer to the wind with safety than most men.

So that night he also slept the sleep of the just, undisturbed by the
thoughts of Jack's temerity. Even if he had known of it, it is to be
feared that he would have set the question aside with the mental
verdict that it was clearly the business of the girl's mother to see
to such things. Poor mothers! who as they look at the bald head on the
pillow beside their own cannot but feel, even while they would not now
part with it for all the world, that life would have been less
disappointing if circumstances had been more kind.

As for Alice herself, she slept peacefully also, the doubt which poor
Jack's pain had raised in her gentle mind having been allayed by his
prompt submission. And Jack snored--positively snored; for he was
rather fatigued with his own excitement, being of the sort which takes
most things not so much keenly as heavily. To tell the truth, also,
his determination to marry his cousin was so fixed that the greater
part of his pain had been sheer inability to grasp the idea of denial;
so that he reverted gladly to the old position without asking
questions as a less tenacious man might have done.



                             CHAPTER VII.


Lord George Temple sate moodily in the armchair of his study in his
little house in Mayfair chewing the end of a cigar and looking
disconsolately at a tray of whiskey and water and a plate of oval thin
Captain's biscuits on the table. He was a red-haired smooth-faced man
with rather a long upper lip, and a good-natured, somewhat whimsical
expression.

"It is a confounded shame!" he said to his wife, who, with an opera
cloak slipping from her pretty bare shoulders, was resting for a
moment before going upstairs to bed. "Graham gives his cook
twenty-five pounds a year--I heard her telling you so one day when she
was wanting a new one--and yet there wasn't a thing fit to eat on the
table----"

"Well, I don't know," put in Lady George, absently; "I think those
stuffed larks came from Mirobolants. I saw that style of decoration in
his place the other day, and I'm quite sure the iced soufflé was
Bombardi's; I know the shape."

"Exactly what I said!" continued the husband, "not a thing fit for a
gouty man to eat at the table, and yet a woman on twenty-five pounds
ought to be up to roast chicken and a rice pudding."

Blanche Temple looked at her spouse with the compassionate air of
tolerance which she invariably extended to his views.

"But you can't give your friends roast chicken and rice pudding; you
can't, indeed, nowadays. People wouldn't come."

"My dear girl," interrupted Lord George, obstinately, "there were four
men at the table who, like myself, partook of soup, fish, and cheese
straws. And one poor beggar didn't even have the soup." The thought
was apparently comforting, for he began more contentedly on a biscuit.
But his wife was now interested in the subject. Most things interested
her, either to affirmation or denial, for Paul Macleod's sister was a
very clever woman, if at the same time curiously conventional.

"Well! I don't know who eats the things, then," she said, aggrievedly.
"Why, the last time we had a dinner-party--I mean when the Woodwards
were here--I'm sure Paul ought to be infinitely obliged to me for the
trouble I take--the cook who came in used pounds on pounds of stock
meat, and quarts on quarts of cream; to say nothing of a whole bottle
of whiskey. 'You had better give it her, my lady,' said Jane, 'for
fear as the dinner might 'ave no appearance.'"

Among other unknown and despised talents which did not suit Lady
George's theory of her own rôle in life was a distinct turn for
mimicry. Her admirable impersonation of Jane, therefore, made her
husband burst out laughing; since by a whimsical perversion of affairs
he loved his wife dearly for the very qualities which she feigned not
to possess. For Blanche was essentially a theatrical woman, loving to
pose in all the relations of life, her present one being that of a
dutiful sister. On Paul's return from India she had not only hastened
to impress on him the absolute necessity for his marrying an heiress
if he wished to keep Gleneira in the family, but had also introduced
him to Alice Woodward, as a girl who would suit the part admirably.
For Lady George knew her brother's foibles thoroughly, and understood
that if he married for money, the bride must be a person who would
neither offend his refinement, nor require much display of affection;
since Paul would certainly never give himself away by pretending a
depth of sentiment he did not feel, and yet would not marry without
something of the sort. That she felt was the worst of him. _Au fond_
he was absolutely truthful to himself.

"Of course you could sell if you liked," she had said to him
skilfully, well knowing that the very thought was utterly repugnant;
"trade is always ready to buy a Highland property. The only
alternative is to marry a girl with money. I know one, pretty,
lady-like, refined; a girl of whom you would be very fond if she were
your wife. Her father is a speculator. Not quite so safe, of course,
as a solid business--buttons or tallow--though, by the way, he has
something to do with soap. Still, these Woodwards are quite
presentable, and _Monsieur le père_ has his wits about him. And then
you know there are always settlements, and deeds of gift, and those
sort of things which creditors make such a fuss about."

Her brother winced visibly. "I should prefer not to have a row with
anybody else's creditors," he said shortly. "_I_ shall have enough
apparently to do in keeping my own quiet. England is a terribly
expensive place to live in."

"London, you mean," retorted his sister, gaily. "You can always go
down to Gleneira and vegetate."

That had been at the beginning of the season, and now Paul had gone
down, not to vegetate, but to prepare the old place for the visit of
inspection; not without a certain resentful irritation at the
necessity for it. Though at the same time it put the affair on an
easier footing for the present.

Afterwards, however, Paul had every intention of imparting sentiment
into the transaction, if it could be done; and he knew himself to have
a vast capacity for falling in love, after the approved romantic
fashion, with any pretty girl who was willing to let him make love to
her. So his sister, bewailing the pounds of stock meat and quarts of
cream expended on his behalf, yet felt that she had been successful;
but, then, she would hardly have recognised herself if she had not
been so, since in her own little world, which she carefully avoided
extending unwisely either upwards or downwards, Lady George Temple was
always cited as a success in all the rôles which she felt called upon
to play.

"I heard from Paul to-day, by the way," she said, as she gathered up
her gloves and fan. "He wants me to go and call on that Mrs. Vane. You
remember who I mean, of course?"

"No, I don't," replied Lord George, relapsing into moodiness over the
biscuits.

"You never do remember what I mean, dear! But she is the Colonel's
wife, who nursed Paul when he nearly died in India. Of course they do
it very often, I know, and it is more confusing than sending for a
woman whom you can pay and get rid of afterwards. Still, she really
did save his life--under Providence, of course--at least, Paul always
said so. Well, her husband, who, I believe, drank, or did something,
died two years ago, leaving her dreadfully off, so she went to live
with somebody--an uncle or an aunt, who, I fancy, must have left her
some money, for she has just taken a house somewhere in Chelsea. And
Paul, who hasn't seen her since those old days, has asked her to
Gleneira, and wants me to make her acquaintance first. Rather a bore,
for I wish to have a particularly pleasant party, and she will most
likely be an old frump."

"Scarcely, my dear, if she nursed your brother, and he survived,"
remarked Lord George, gravely.

His wife frowned. "How can you be so absurd, dear; she must be quite
old, for Paul wrote she was a perfect mother to him, and that is quite
six years ago."

Lord George's eyes twinkled again. "My dear Blanche, you and Paul have
exaggerated notions on the subject of a mother's----" He paused, at a
rattle on the door-handle, and looked apprehensively at his wife. The
next instant two charming little figures in frilled white nightgowns
burst into the room, and flinging themselves into their mother's arms
began to cover her with kisses. The daintiest little creatures, a boy
and a girl, with angelic faces and shrill, excited, happy, little
voices.

"Oh, you bad children!" cried Blanche, without a trace of vexation.
"So you wanted to see mother, did you? And now you have seen her, off
to bed with you before Nannie comes after you, there's dear ones!
Quick! or she will be coming."

"Quick, Adam! Quick, Evie!" echoed the happy voices excitedly, in a
rush to the open door, which ended in a sudden pull up, and a still
more excited cry. "Oh, mammy! Oh, daddy! here's Blazes comin' down the
stairs."

Lord George's face lost its apprehensiveness in resignation. Yet, as
he settled himself back in his chair, his long upper lip betrayed a
disposition to smile, for Blasius, his youngest son, was apt to amuse
him. A very different child this, short, squat, and red-haired, who,
after sundry thumpings and bumpings outside, suggestive of falls,
appeared, rubbing his eyes sleepily, at the door; then the broad,
good-natured face expanded into a grin. "_Bickys'!_" he said,
laconically, as he toddled across to the tray.

"Oh! what a welly greedy little boy, ain't he, Evie?" said Adam. "We
come to see our darlin' mummie, didn't we, duckums?" He was at her
side for a swift caress, and back again to stand expectantly beside
his sister, whose little dancing feet were keeping time to her nodding
golden head. As pretty a picture of light-hearted innocent enjoyment
as heart could desire, even at eleven o'clock at night!

"Give him a biscuit, do, and let him go," said Lady George, hurriedly.
"It won't hurt him, they are quite plain. Dada will give you a
biscuit, Blasius, and then you can go back to bed, like a dear, can't
you?"

Blasius' large, round, blue eyes assumed a look of vacuity as the
sentence proceeded; but as he stood sturdily on his little bare feet
beside his father both little chubby hands went out at once, and a
singularly full voice for so young a child gave out conglomerately:--

"Blathe's--'ll--take two, ta."

Lord George shot a glance at his wife and complied; while from the
door came a little whisper, intended to be one of horror. "Oh, Addie!
ain't he a welly greedy little boy?"

"And now Blasius will go to bed like a good boy, with his good little
brother and sister," remarked Lady George, with forced optimism. "Adam
and----" Her voice failed before a soft thud as Blasius sat down
solidly, and stuck his little bare feet beyond his little white
nightgown.

"Mummie can go, Blazeth'll stay with dada--ta."

Those two at the door stood bolt upright, with sidelong looks of pious
horror at each other--

"Oh, Evie!   \
              >  Ain't he a weally naughty little boy?"
"Oh, Addle!  /

"Blasius _must_ go to bed," began his mother, quite firmly,
"or--or--mummie will be very much grieved. Her little boy wouldn't
like to grieve his mummie, would he?"

Lord George, who had looked hopeful at the decision of tone, sank back
in his chair and twiddled his thumbs.

"You had better ring for nurse at once, Blanche. It always comes to
that in the end, and the child will get cold."

His wife frowned. Her theories had been so successful with Adam and
Eve that the necessity for reverting to the _vi et armis_ with this
baby was grievous. She sate down beside him on the floor, and began in
mellifluous tones.

"Listen, Blasius. Mummie wants her little Blasius to do something to
please her; she wants him to do something very much----" She got no
further, being gagged by a little soft hand and a very hard biscuit
together.

"Blazeth's not a deedy 'ickle boy. Blazeth'll give poor 'ickle mummie
hith bicky, and be a dood 'ickle boy. Then daddy'll gif him anofer."

Little chortles of intense enjoyment came from those angelic faces at
the door.

"Go to bed, children; off with you at once," said their father,
quickly, whereupon an obedient patter of bare feet fled up the stairs
with an accompanying cackle of high, eager voices, busy over the pros
and cons of Blasius versus authority.

"Do you think she'll assuade him, Evie? I don't." "I think he ought to
be smacked, I do." "I'd let him cry, it don't hurt a child to cry.
Nanna's mother says it's good for the lungs." "And Blazes likes to
cry, he does." "I say, Addie! how long will it be afore Duckum's
mummie has to ring the bell?"

The last wonder being faintly audible from the landing above, settled
the business downstairs. Lord George rose and took the law into his
own hands.

"Oh, George!" cried his wife, reproachfully, "how can you expect to
train up children in the way they should go if you are so impatient?
If once I could have got Blasius to understand what was really
required of him----"

Here the advent of a big, stalwart figure in a wrapper, bearing a
white shawl, brought such sudden comprehension to the stalwart little
one, that the room for one brief moment resounded with yells. The next
found the door closed upon them, and Lady George looked disconsolately
at her husband, as she listened to the retreating struggles of her
youngest born.

"I cannot think what makes him so different from the others," she
said, gloomily.

"My dear," replied her husband, consolingly, "Cain came after Adam and
Eve; perhaps the next will be Abel. Besides, Blasius was a risky name.
I told you so at the time."

"Saint Blasius was a very worthy man," retorted his spouse, hotly,
"and, considering that you and the boy were both born on his day, I
must say I think it quite natural that I should call my child George
Blasius--or, let me see, was it Blasius George?"

"It is a matter of no importance, my dear," replied her husband,
drily. He did not remind his wife, nor did she choose to remember that
at the time she had been playing the ultra ritualistic rôle. To tell
the truth, she did not care to be brought face to face with her past
impersonations, unless the fancy seized her to revert to them; when,
at a moment's notice, she could resume the character as if she had
never ceased to play it.

So, the next day, with a view to making a suitable impression on
Paul's widow, as she chose to call Mrs. Vane, she put on her most
dowdy garments, and actually went in an omnibus down the King's-road.
Thus far her environment suited her foregone conclusions, but, as she
stood in the wide stretch down by the river, the brilliant sunshine
streaming upon a very bright knocker and a very white door, a certain
feeling of distrust crept over her. Nor was the darkened room into
which she was ushered reassuring. The parquet floors were almost bare,
the windows beneath the striped Venetian awnings were set wide open to
a balcony wreathed with blossoming creepers, and hung with cages of
singing birds. A scent of flowers was in the air, a coolness, an
emptiness, and yet the first impression was one of ease and comfort.
Not the room, this, of an old frump. And this was not an old frump
rising from a cushioned lounge and coming forward like a white shadow
in the half light.

"How good of you to come!"

Lady George, dazzled as she was by the change from the sunlight
outside to the darkness within, yet saw enough to make her gasp. Lo!
this little bit of a woman with syren written all over her from the
tip of her dainty Parisian shoe to the crown of her fair, curly head,
was Paul's widow. His mother, forsooth! A pretty mother, indeed!

Having got so far as this, Blanche, being, amongst other things,
somewhat of an artist, felt bound to admit that Violet Vane was very
pretty indeed; so pretty that it was a pleasure to watch the piquant
face, full of a quaint sort of humour and freshness, grow clear of the
shadows. In this half light she looked younger, no doubt, than she
really was; still, even in the garish day, Lady George felt
instinctively that her charm would remain. In fact, she was not at
all, no! not in the least, a suitable companion for Paul, when so much
depended on his being reasonable.

"I haven't seen your brother for years," came the sweet but rather
thin voice. "It is so good of him to remember me. So more than good of
him to ask me down to Gleneira that I mean to go, if only to ensure
the kindness being credited to him. I wonder if he is much changed?"

There was a certain challenge in the speech which Lady George was
quick enough to recognise, and, as she recognised it, wondered if her
own astonishment had been too palpable, as that in itself would be a
mistake, so she replied deftly:

"He is not changed in one thing--his gratitude to you. And I am
grateful also, for Paul is very dear to me. The dearest fellow in the
world, is he not?"

It was a statement to which, in the language of poker, Mrs. Vane could
hardly go one better, and therefore it left her, as it were, to an
under-study of devotion.

"He used to be very nice when I knew him; but, then, sick people are
always nice; they are so much at one's mercy," said the little lady,
airily. They were, in their way, admirable types of their kind, these
two women; both artificial, yet with an artificiality which sprang
from the head in the one case, from the heart in the other; for Mrs.
Vane saw through herself, and Lady George did not.

"So that is Paul's sister," said the former to herself as, on the way
back to her lounge, after escorting her visitor in friendliest fashion
to the stairs, she paused to take up a photograph case lying on the
table. It contained Paul's portrait as he had been before the time
when she had watched his fair head tossing restlessly on the pillow in
that hot Indian room which nothing would cool. The memory of those
dreary days and nights came back to her in a rush, making her,
paradoxically, look years older, worn, haggard, and anxious. She
seemed to be back in them; to hear the gathering cry of the jackals
prowling past the open door, to see the flicker of the oil night-light
gleam on the splintered ice, turning it for a brief second to
diamonds, as she prepared it for the burning forehead above those
bright, yet glazed eyes; and, more than all, she seemed to feel the
old passionate protest against the possibility of his passing for ever
out of her life joined to the fierce determination to save him to the
uttermost. From what? from herself, perhaps. For Mrs. Vane had
performed the most unselfish act of her life when she had laughed and
scoffed at the devotion and gratitude of her patient. She had had
many, she said, and they had always felt like that during some period
of their convalescence. There was nothing for these sequelæ of jungle
fever like three months' leave to the bears in Kashmir; and, if he
liked, he might bring her home one of those little silk carpets for
her sitting-room as a fee; she would prefer a carpet to anything else.
And so Paul had come back with his unromantic offering, cured, as she
had prophesied, of his feverishness, but not of his friendliness. That
had lasted, despite a separation of years. And something else had
lasted also, to judge by the look on Mrs. Vane's face as she stood
with Paul's photograph in her hand.

Lady George Temple took a cab home, and tried to regain a sense of
lost importance by having the children down to tea. Paul had kept this
thing secret from her; he had allowed her for years to speak kindly,
effusively of the woman who had saved his life as if she were an old
frump, when she was really--Blanche, being a person of sense, felt
forced to acknowledge the truth--one of the most charming little
creatures imaginable, with just that half-sympathetic, half-bantering
manner which was so taking. And Paul, having done this, her own rôle
of devoted sisterhood suffered thereby; so she fell back upon her
motherhood.

Thus, when her husband returned, he found the room littered with
Kindergarten toys, while Adam was threading beads by the
multiplication table, and Eve was busily engaged in marking the course
of the River Congo in red back-stitching on a remarkably black
continent of Africa, which was afterwards to do duty as a
kettleholder. Blasius, meanwhile, having been so far beguiled into the
Zeit-Geist as to consent to build a puff-puff out of some real
terra-cotta bricks and columns which were intended for an
architectural object lesson.

"Oh, George!" began his wife, pausing with a lump of sugar in the
tongs over his cup, "Paul's widow is dreadful; I don't know what I
shall do with her."

"Hand her over to me--I can generally manage to get on with people,"
he said, watching the tongs greedily; for the question of sugar in his
tea was the cause of much dispute between him and his wife. A slow
smile came to her face as she replaced the lump.

"No! my dear; it wouldn't be good for you," she said, coming back to
the present, and then she frowned. "I cannot think what induced Paul
to ask her just when so much depends on the Woodwards feeling
themselves to be _the_ guests _par excellence_," she continued, after
a brief but picturesque description of the offender. "And this woman
is sure to sing, and play, and dance, and act. I saw it in her face."

"Jolly sort of person to have in a country house, I should say,"
remarked her husband, secretly impressed.

"I knew _you_ would say that, George," put in his wife, resignedly.
"Yes! she is just the sort of woman men love to dangle round."

"Then ask someone to dangle. That will leave the coast clear for Paul
and Miss Woodward."

Lady George raised her eyebrows scornfully. "As if that would do any
good! That sort of woman always insists on having the best men, and
Paul looks that in most society; besides I don't feel called upon to
pave the way to an heiress for anyone else but my brother. That is
what it would come to. No! I cannot conceive why Paul should make
things so--so much more difficult for himself."

"Natural depravity, my dear," suggested her husband, helping himself
on the sly to sugar. "There is such a thing--Hullo! what's that?"

That was the sudden discovery on Blazes' part that an Ionic column,
when used as an engine funnel, would, if hit violently with a good,
squat Norman one, break off in the middle; a discovery which was
followed by an outburst of that craze for destruction which healthy
children display on the least provocation.

"He--he is not a 'Kindergarten' child," remarked his mother,
plaintively, when after a time the upstairs bell had once more been
rung and the offender carried off shrieking amid awed whispers of
intense enjoyment, about "welly welly naughty little boys" from Adam
and Eve.

"No, my dear, he isn't," assented Lord George, cheerfully. "Some of us
are made that way; his uncle, for instance; but he isn't a fool, and
he knows which side his bread is buttered; a fact which has a
marvellous effect in keeping a man straight."

"My dear George! what a terrible thing to say. It is a reversion to
that fear of punishment----"

"My dear! I should like a second cup of tea, and this time I think you
might let me have a small lump of sugar--quite a small one."

That evening Blanche wrote a long letter to her brother, which gave
her some trouble to compose. In it she lavished endless praises on
dear Mrs. Vane, who, to judge from her _looks_, must have had great
_trouble_, and fully deserved dear, kind Paul's grateful remembrance
of past services; which, by the way, she seemed to have extended to
many other fortunate invalids. Altogether a most delightful woman, of
_varied experiences_ if a trifle _manierée_; "though this," she added,
"my dear Paul, is, I fear, a common fault with women who have been
made much of _by many men_."

As it so happened he read this remark at a small picnic party where
Marjory, the only lady present, was dispensing tea to Will Cameron,
himself, the Reverend James Gillespie, Father Macdonald, Mr. Wilson,
and Donald Post, who had been waylaid on the road just above the
little creek on the loch, where they had lit their fire, to say
nothing of the minister's man holding the Manse dogcart until its
occupants should choose to tear themselves away from temptation and
proceed on their journey.

"_Quid datur a Divis felice optatius hora?_" quoted the minister
gallantly, as he set aside the girl's offer of another cup and rose to
go, while little Father Macdonald, following his example, quoted a
verse from Tasso to show that the memory of a pleasant hour might give
even greater pleasure than the hour itself. Paul Macleod, watching
them, and fully alive to the adoring look on the Reverend James's
face, continuing, as it were the kindly affection of Will's, gave a
short laugh as he tore up his letter and threw it into the embers of
the dying fire.

Marjory looked at him inquiringly.

"Only something that seems singularly out of place with my present
surroundings," he said in quick response; "but the world has a knack
of seeming very far away when one is in Gleneira."



                            CHAPTER VIII.


It was true. The more so because the heat-haze lingered, turning the
hills which lay between the Glen and the world beyond it, into a pale
blue, formless wall, which seemed somehow more of an arbitrary
division than it would have done had the contours of each successive
rise been clearly visible. The fierce sun beat down on the limestone
rocks, giving a russet tinge even to their mosses, and Paul Macleod's
useless rod lay in its case, since the river was reduced to a mere
tinkle of clear water in a moraine of boulders. So he took to
haymaking instead, partly because it suited his mood to play the rôle
of country proprietor--for to a certain extent he shared his sister's
dramatic temperament--and partly because Marjory always brought Will
Cameron's tea into the fields. It was quite idyllic to watch her from
afar, making it ready on the outskirts of a nut coppice or belt of
firs, and then to see her stand out into the rolling, undulating waves
of new cut grass which were creeping up the hillsides before the
scythes, and call to them in her clear, young voice, for, of course,
the laird could not be left out in the heat when his factor was
enjoying the cool. So he used to lounge about as Will did in the
scented hay, and talk nonsense, with infinite grace and skill, until,
with the extinction of his pipe, the latter's tardy sense of duty
would take fire, and he would insist on a return to work.

On the whole, it was scarcely what Paul would have expected to amuse
him, and yet, after ten years of a land where hay-fields are not, and
it is unsafe to sit about for fear of snakes, it was strangely
pleasant. And so delightfully innocent! This came home to him
one night when, on going to his room, he saw his purse on the
dressing-table, and remembered that for a whole week he had not opened
it. The world had gone on as if there were no such thing in it as
money. He mentioned the fact next day among the hay-cocks, declaring
that if someone would only be responsible for his bills, he himself
would never care to see a shilling again.

"Not I," said Will, rather dolefully; "for I'm afraid, Gleneira, these
masons and carpenters will cost a lot more than we fancied. It is
always the way when one touches a place. I remember when Inveresta
began he told me I wasn't to exceed a thousand, and before he was half
way through his list of absolute necessaries, the figures had passed
fifteen hundred. And yet I don't think it can be helped."

He blew disconsolately at his pipe as if it were in fault, for he
prided himself on managing the estates in his charge with strict
economy, but Paul smiled indifferently.

"My owner will be able to pay, I expect, when I get one. For when the
worst comes to the worst, Miss Carmichael, I can always put myself up
to auction. Do you think I should fetch a fair price? Item, one
Highland estate, seriously damaged by the Crofter Commission, and an
ancestral tree, ditto, by Darwinism. N.B.--Property encumbered by
several mortgages and one extravagant proprietor." He lay back against
a hay-cock with his hands behind his head, looking the personification
of lazy content as he watched her face shift and change. "You don't
seem to approve of my plan," he went on, in the same light tones, "but
the idea has infinite charm for me; it would save so much trouble, and
do so little harm. People sell themselves to the devil, we are told,
and that may be reprehensible--at any rate, it would be uncomfortable.
But what inconvenience or immorality can there be in making yourself
over, soul and body, to some virtuous Christian man or woman who, in
all probability, is far more capable of running the coach respectably
than you are?"

"The same immorality as there is in any other form of suicide, I
suppose," she replied coldly; but he was not to be put off.

"And what immorality is there in suicide, Miss Carmichael? I hold that
my life is my own, unless I make over the responsibility of it to
someone else, which you say is wrong. Therefore, I have a perfect
right to do what I please with it."

"Once you have overcome the initial difficulty of discovering what you
do please," she retorted sharply. And he smiled.

"You use a detective camera apparently, but I admit it. I am only
certain of one thing, it pleases me to please myself. It pleases me
now to forget that there is such a thing as money, and to go to bed at
ten o'clock."

"Which shows that you are virtuously inclined, and that,
therefore----"

"I refuse to be whitewashed by your charity," he interrupted. "I am of
the earth, earthy; though sometimes I can lie on my back in the hay
and see heaven opening----" His voice, with a sudden cadence in it,
ceased as he sprang lightly to his feet.

"Come along, Cameron--you are intolerably long over that pipe--my
energy, Miss Carmichael, does not arise from Goodness, but from Greed.
If the hay is not in tonight, it may rain; if it rains, the hay will
be spoilt. If it is spoilt I shall have to buy more, and if I buy more
I shall not have that shilling to spend on myself. It comes to that in
the end, even in Arcadia."

There were similar endings to many conversations in which Marjory
tilted bravely at various objects, which, in her heart of hearts, she
feared might be windmills. For she was never quite sure if he was in
earnest or not, and even when he had palpably played the fool with her
pet theories, or scouted a serious thought, a word, even a look, would
come to redeem the past, and give a curious zest to the future. Yet in
a way it distressed her also by confusing her clear-cut, unswerving
outlook on life. A man even professing such atrocious sentiments ought
to be unendurable, and this man was not. Far from it. And what was
almost more disconcerting, he evidently understood her better than
honest Will did; while, as for the Reverend James! the very thought
made her laugh. Yet, on the whole, she welcomed a reasonable cause
which, despite the holiday she had imposed on herself in obedience to
Cousin Tom's wishes, came to make an absence from the hay-fields less
marked, and a reversion to the young clergyman's company quite
natural. This being nothing more or less than a visit from the Bishop,
which, coming as it did in this holiday time, gave to the person who
was ostensibly responsible for the pupils' duties towards their
neighbours fearful anticipations of failure. For James Gillespie
was one of those persons who cannot teach; well meaning, fairly
well-educated, people who know the information they wish to impart and
cannot impart it, people who, in a repetition, invariably prompt the
wrong word, and send the hesitating memory hopelessly astray. And this
was a question of repetition, since the Bishop never interfered with
the secular teaching, which he left, with a Levite shake of the head,
to the Government inspector. So Marjory, relieved she scarcely knew
why, spent these afternoons in hammering the necessary precision into
the children's heads while the Reverend James sate watching her
rapturously and feeling that the whole parish, including himself,
would have no excuse for not knowing its duty towards its neighbour if
she were the clergyman's wife.

And on the third day someone else seemed bitten with a desire to
learn, for Captain Macleod strolled in lazily and sate down on the
furthest bench, saying he had come to fetch the letters, and with her
permission would await their arrival in the cool. Why his presence
should have immediately aroused her to a resentful consciousness of
the adoring expression on the face beside her, she did not understand,
but the certainty and the uncertainty of it combined made her turn to
her companion with an audible asperity of tone:

"I really think, Mr. Gillespie, that you might try and get the little
ones perfect in their hymn. You must remember that the last time the
Bishop inspected he told the children that the youngest Christian
should know one hymn, and the infants are not even perfect in the
'Happy Land.'"

To hear being to obey, Mr. Gillespie retired towards the post-office
portion of the room where, with a semicircle of tiny bare-legged
lassies and laddies before him, he sate beside Paul Macleod and began
his task. It was rather a Herculean one, owing to the fact that his
pupils having no English, as the phrase runs, the simple stanzas were
to them mere gibberish.

"It is three months they will be learnin' it, whatever," said Mr.
McColl, cheerfully, when the last of the semicircle had failed
hopelessly.

"It is impossible, quite impossible," retorted Mr. Gillespie, in a
white heat of anxiety. "Some of them must have picked up something in
that case----"

"'Deed, no, sir. Naethin's impossible with bairnies. And wee Paulie
there has it fine, for he is at me to learn it on him many a time,
because Miss Marjory was saying he would be a fool if he didn't. Speak
up, Paulie," he added, in the Gaelic, "you have it fine."

Wee Paulie hung his close-cropped fair head with its odd little fringe
left over the forehead, so that nothing was to be seen but a rising
flush, and murmured some half-inaudible words, whereat the biggest boy
in Marjory's class said triumphantly:

"He is saying that he will no be saying it to him, but to her."

"Hush! Donald," came the quick, clear, dictatorial young voice; "that
is not the way to speak. Stand down two places. Paul, come here."

The big Paul, seated on the back bench, looked up and smiled, feeling
it would be rather pleasant than otherwise to obey; and little Paul
pattered shamefacedly across to the girl's side, yet with a confident
air which raised the sleek head a little, and showed a pair of very
long lashes on the flushed cheeks. As he edged close Marjory passed
her arm round him, and with the other hand raised his chin square and
straight.

"Now, Paul, if you please," she said, in the Gaelic; "clasp your
hands, and say it right out--to the whole school, remember. You know
it quite well, and you should never, never pretend that you don't know
when you do. It is mean."

Big Paul, thinking that even reproof sounded pleasant in that voice,
and, at any rate, must be bearable in that position, smiled again, and
continued smiling unavoidably, as little Paul reeled off the whole
hymn from beginning to end in confused, unintelligible fluency, broken
only by hurried gasps for breath.

"A pretty little fellow," said Captain Macleod, in an undertone to his
neighbour. "Who is he?"

"Old Peggy Duncan's grandson--Jeanie Duncan's child--you must remember
her."

The words seemed to jar the very foundations of happy, idle, careless
content, and Paul, even in his surprise, felt aggrieved.

"Of course I remember her; but they told me she was dead. Who did she
marry?"

The Reverend James Gillespie put on his most professional manner. "I'm
afraid it is a very sad story, but no one really knows the facts of
the case. She left home, as you may have heard----"

"Yes! I have heard," put in Paul, suddenly, resentfully. "And I--I can
understand the rest. It's a common enough story, in all conscience."

"Too true, too true," began his companion, but the laird had risen,
and, with a remark that he would wait outside for the tardy letters,
left the schoolhouse. Apparently he tired even of that, for when
Marjory, after lingering longer than was necessary over the
arrangements for the morrow's inspection with Mr. Gillespie, came out
with a half-annoyed expectation of finding the tall figure still
lounging under the horse-chestnut tree, it had gone, rather to her
surprise.

Still, it would ensure her the solitary walk home which she loved;
since really it was too much to expect her to devote a whole afternoon
to the Reverend James who, curtly dismissed to a neglected parishioner
up the Glen, watched her pass down the loch with wistful yet still
admiring eyes until she disappeared behind a knoll of ash trees,
hiding the bridge which carried the road to the other side of the
river, and so down the seashore to Gleneira House and Lodge. A road
which, beautiful at all times, was never so beautiful as in the
sunsetting. There was one point, however, where its beauty seemed to
culminate, where, after climbing a rocky knoll cushioned with bosses
of bell-heather and the close oak scrub which springs from the roots
of past cuttings, it dipped down to the very edge of the water. Here,
on spring tides, the waves crept up to smooth away the wheel marks,
and leave a scalloped fringe of seaweed on the turf beyond. And hence
you could see straight through the cleft of the Narrowest, where the
hills embosoming the upper portion of the loch sloped down into the
gentler contours of the lower, right away to the Linnhe Loch, and so
beyond the purple bluff of Mull to the wide Atlantic. On that evening
the sun was setting into it in a golden glory, guiltless of a cloud.
And Marjory, cresting the knoll, thought instantly that here, indeed,
was a chance of the Green Ray. For ever since she had read Jules
Verne's book the idea of this, the last legacy of a dying day, had
remained with her fancifully. Many and many a time, half in jest, half
in earnest, she had watched for it, wondering if she would feel
different after she had seen it. If, in fairy-tale fashion, the world
would seem the better for it. Even if the legend was no legend, and
the phenomenon simply a natural one, due to refraction, there must be
something exhilarating in seeing that which other people had not seen;
in seeing the world transfigured, even for a second, for you, and you
only. Unless, indeed, others were watching with you. And, then, what a
strange tie that would be! To have seen something together that the
rest of the world had not seen; something at which it would laugh, but
which you knew to be true. The quaintness of the idea attracted her as
she walked over the crisp shingle to sit on a rock close to the
incoming tide. Out yonder on the far sea horizon it was a blaze of
light, but closer in the loch showed like a golden network of ripples
with ever-widening meshes enclosing the purple water till it ended, at
her very feet, in a faint foam-edge. There was no sound save the
blab-blabbing of the tiny wavelets on the rocks as they whispered to
each other of the havoc they had done far out at sea, or met every now
and again with a little tinkle of laughter to drown a stone.

To Marjory, looking and listening so intently that consciousness
seemed to leave eyes and ears, came a sudden dread, not for herself,
but for others different from what she was.

"Drowned--dead, drowned--drowned and cold--dead, dead, drowned!" Those
whispering voices seemed to repeat it over and over again, as for the
first time in her life she realised that others might not steer
straight for the sun across the ocean of life, as she did,
unswervingly. Of course, in a scholastic, unreal way she knew well
that there were swift currents to betray, big loadstone rocks to make
the compass waver, but till she had met Paul Macleod the possibility
of anyone deliberately and wilfully weighting his log and depolarising
his compass had not occurred to her. It is so, often, with those who,
as she was, are almost overburdened with that mysterious outcome of
past sacrifices, a sense of duty. But Paul, she recognised clearly,
might steer straight for the rocks, though his knowledge of seamanship
was equal to her own. On that point she would take no denial. It was
her one solace against her own interest in him. But for it what scorn
would be too great for the weakness of her tolerance for a handsome
face, a soft voice, and the most engaging of manners. No! The
charm--for there was undoubtedly a charm--lay elsewhere; in his
considerateness, his quick sympathy. This did not come, as he averred,
from a mere selfish desire to be liked, a mere selfish consideration
for his own comfort. It might suit him to say so, to declare his
disbelief in anything higher, to scoff, for instance, at the Green
Ray. The girl's thoughts rebounded swiftly to their starting-point,
and brought back sight to her dream-blinded eyes.

Too late! Too late! The last outermost edge of the sun had dipped
beneath the sea; the fateful moment was past, and with the little
chill shudder of a breeze which had crept like a sigh over the water
at the Death of Day, the little wavelets at her feet were whispering--

"Drowned--dead--drowned! Who cares? Drowned! drowned! drowned!"

She rose suddenly and stretched her hands out to the fast fading glow,
as if in entreaty. But only for a second; the next the voice of
someone coming up the opposite side of the knoll carolling a Gaelic
song made her turn quickly to see Paul Macleod outlined against the
blue of the hills as he paused on the summit to take breath and look
up into the child's face above him with a smile; for little Paul was
perched on his shoulder.

The western glow, already leaving the earth, fell full on those two
faces, and on the firm delicate hands, holding the child secure. It
was like a St. Christopher, thought Marjory, with a pulse, almost of
pain, at her heart. For it left her bereft of something; of something
that had gone out irrevocably to be Paul's henceforth, even though the
first glimpse of her standing below made him loosen his clasp almost
roughly.

"Is that you, Miss Carmichael?" he called, walking on to meet her;
"I'm doing good Samaritan against the grain; but I found the little
imp on the road. He had fallen from a rowan tree and sprained his
ankle."

She found it easier for some reason to speak to the child in reproof.
"I've told you so often not to climb so recklessly," she said in
Gaelic.

"He was getting berries for you; there was a bunch half ripe at the
very top; at least so he says," replied Captain Macleod in the same
language, then at her look of surprise added a trifle bitterly--"you
see I remember--we lairds don't often speak it--more's the pity--but I
have an uncomfortable memory for the days of my youth."

"It was very good of you," she began, when he cut her short.

"It was least trouble to carry him. He was whimpering like a little
cur at the river pool, so I elected to bring him along instead of
going back half a mile to ask someone else to do it for me. His
grandmother's cottage is just below the point there, isn't it? He can
walk as far as that." As he spoke he swung the child to the ground
lightly. "And you needn't look so fierce, Miss Carmichael; it won't
hurt him."

She took no notice of his remark, except to ask the child if he could
manage.

"If you speak in that tone of voice he will say 'no,' of course; but I
assure you it is all right. I've tied it up tight, and it wasn't very
bad to begin with."

It had indeed been very neatly bandaged with a handkerchief torn into
strips, and the sight softened her rising indignation. "Possibly, but
it will be none the worse for being put in hot water. Come, Paulie,
lean on me, and if it's bad I'll carry you----"

Before she could finish, the child was back on his namesake's
shoulder.

"If you will show me the way down, I'll save you the trouble."

The accent he laid deliberately on the pronoun took half the virtue
from his action, and yet the certainty that he had purposely put it
there showed her that he was alive to something else, and made her
lead the way silently to the cottage; and, even when there, the
remembrance of the St. Christopher picture joined to the unconscious
Highland hospitality, which forbids an unsought parting on the
threshold, made her ask if he would not come in and let old Peggy
thank him for his kindness.

"I doubt if she would," he replied curtly; "anyhow I won't risk it."

Perhaps he exercised a wise discretion. Marjory herself was inclined
to think so, in view of the old woman's general attitude towards the
world.

"Pickin' rowan berries, was he," she echoed wrathfully, turning as she
so often did when angry to the broader Scotch of her youth; "they're
the deil's ain beads for young folk--aye! I mind it was so in the
beginning!" Her restless claw-like fingers busied themselves over the
coverlid, and her restless eyes followed Marjory, who was attending to
the sprained foot, which to say sooth was not a very serious matter.
"And Mr. Paul hefted the wean, and wouldna' come in bye to say a word
to the auld wife. That was real kind, or maybe it wasn't; but there!
he never brocht luck to my hoose, an' he wouldn't raise a finger to
do't. It's the way o' the warld, the way o' the warld."

"That is not fair, Peggy," retorted the girl, roused as she always was
by injustice. "The laird was speaking of you only the other day. He is
much annoyed at your having been allowed to go on the roll, and
said----"

The old pauper's hands stopped their uncanny fingerings, and every
line of the old face hardened.

"If I choose to be on the pairish, I'll be on the pairish. It's better
than Mr. Paul's charity, an' ye may just tell him sae frae old Peggy
Duncan. I may be wrang, I may be richt, an' Him above only kens hoo it
is, but I was no born on his land, and I'm no his poor."

"All the kinder of him to offer help," persisted Marjory. "And you
have no right, just because you are in an evil temper, to speak as if
he had done you some wrong."

"Wha says he did?--not I! D'ye think I soud be lyin' here wi' him oot
ben if he had. Na! Na! Half deid as they are, my auld fingers wad be
at his bonnie fause face." The very vigour of her own voice seemed to
choke her, and she fell into a fit of coughing, then lay back
exhausted into a more Christian frame of mind. "God guid us, Miss
Marjory," she gasped, "but I'm jest an awfu' limmer whiles. If I was
to be nippit awa' this nicht I ken fine whaur I'd wauken."

"And quite right, too," replied her visitor, severely, recognising the
half-apologetic tenor of the last remark, and, seizing the opportunity
for a bit of her mind before old Peggy, with some sidelong sally,
should escape deftly from the difficulty, after her wont.

"Aye, aye! The tongue is an unruly member, and yet I bridle it whiles
for fear o' findin' myself in the same mansion wi' the pairish
officer. Eh! yon's an awfu' man, Miss Marjory, for sweerin', and I
just couldna' thole him. So, if ye like, ye may give old Peggy
Duncan's thanks to the laird, when you see him, for bringing the
laddie hame. Maybe it was kind o' him."

"It was kind of him, very kind," said the girl, stoutly, feeling dimly
pleased to hear herself say so, and know that there could be no
mistake about that. And yet she felt vexed when she found him waiting
for her on the road when she came out into the darkening dusk.

"I thought it was the proper thing to do," he replied, to her little
stiff expression of regret that he should have troubled himself so
far.

"What was the proper thing?" she asked captiously. "I am quite
accustomed to walking home in the dark."

"Proper to act up to your opinion of me, and be self-sacrificing,
perhaps." He paused, then said, suddenly, "Don't let us quarrel, Miss
Carmichael; it is such a lovely evening."

True a thousand-fold! True beyond measure! The light had left
everything, save the sky and the sea as they walked on side by side
silently.

"How's the patient?" he said, at last, reverting somewhat to the old,
airy, half-bantering tone.

"Well; thanks to you. If he had walked home he might have been laid up
for days."

"I did as little as I could, I assure you."

"On the contrary, you did more than was necessary. Paul told me how
you comforted him, and sang songs all the way to cheer him up."

She would not allow him this denial of his own virtues, or accept his
estimate of himself.

"That was to cheer myself up, and forget my dislike to carrying a
dirty little boy, I expect. The study of one's own motives, Miss
Carmichael----"

He got no further, for she turned to him with a quick gesture of
pained denial. "Don't--please don't. Why should you slander yourself?"

Something in her tone roused a response in him for a moment, but the
next he had smothered it in a sort of reckless desire to shock this
girl with the intelligent, trustful eyes--to force her from her belief
in him.

"Slander," he echoed; "there is no slander, I assure you. What do you
know about my life? Would it help you to understand my complicated
state of mind about that boy, for instance, if I told you that I was
once madly in love with his mother, and that I still think her the
most beautiful woman I ever saw?"

He had not intended this confidence; yet now he had given it, he did
not regret the impulse, nor did he wonder at it, since the thought of
that past idyll had been interfering so much with the present one
during the afternoon, that he felt inclined to get rid of both once
and for all.

"I have always heard she was very beautiful," replied Marjory, slowly;
"but, of course, I did not know----"

He burst into a hard laugh. "That I fell in love with her! Really,
Miss Carmichael, you are most disconcertingly cool!"

"I was going to say," she put in, unmoved, "that I did not know she
was the sort of person----"

"I would fall in love with? Indeed! Perhaps, as you appear to have
formed some sort of estimate as to the qualities likely to attract me,
you might give me a hint or two. It might help me in the selection of
a wife." He hardly knew what he was saying, for his temper had got the
better of him; indeed, he did not care for the moment what he said,
save that it should be something that would put an end to this
confidence of hers. But he had reckoned without her absolute
unconsciousness; what is more, without her fearlessness and high
spirit.

"I said nothing about a wife," she replied quietly. "Why should I? You
were talking of love, and I knew that you had made up your mind to
marry for money."

"So I have; what then?"

"Nothing, except this--that since you can set love aside so easily, I
fail to see what effect the memory of a past one could have on your
present life--that is all."

He looked at her in the growing darkness, wishing that he could see
her face more clearly; wishing still more keenly that he could see
straight into her mind and satisfy himself that this calm indifference
was simply cold-bloodedness. But what if it was something more? If
here, at last, he had found that of which most men dream at times; the
refuge from themselves. And when he spoke again his voice had changed
its tone, though the bitterness remained in the words.

"You make no allowance, then, for the power of a sentiment, especially
when it is morbid and unhealthy. And yet such things mean more to most
of us than right or wrong; because they are more human."

There was a pause; then she turned to him with a smile, which he felt,
more than saw.

"I am afraid I don't understand what you mean."

"Perhaps it is as well you do not," he replied; and changed the
subject.

But from that day their mutual attitude towards each other altered,
perhaps unconsciously. To tell the truth, the remembrance of the St.
Christopher rose up between her and Paul in his less admirable
impersonations. All the more so, perhaps, because of his strange,
impulsive confidence regarding his love for the boy's mother. He must
have been quite a boy himself at the time, she thought; no older than
she was now, and boys were so much younger than girls for their age.
She felt vaguely sorry for that young Paul and his fruitless love; for
Marjory, like most girls who have been much in contact with the poor,
accepted the facts of life calmly, looking at them straight in the
face, and calling them by their names fairly, ere she passed them by.
And so no doubt of that past to which Paul had alluded so frankly ever
crossed her mind. She felt, almost unconsciously, that he would not
have spoken about it to her had there been any cause for such
suspicion. So the only effect of his attempt to shock her was to bring
into stronger relief her confidence in his gentlemanly instincts. And
Paul, seeing this, metaphorically took off his shoes before the holy
ground which she prepared for him, even while he fretted against the
necessity imposed upon him by that better part of his nature, which,
in environments like these, would have its say. And then, even as he
discussed the matter with himself cynically, telling himself at one
and the same time that she was not human enough to see, and that it
would be cowardly to open her eyes, there would come with a rush a
fierce resentment at all reason. This was holiday time, and it would
soon be over for him. A week or two more and Gleneira would be full of
London ways and London talk; it would be time enough then to remember
the world, the flesh, and the devil.



                             CHAPTER IX.


There was some excuse for his refusal to face a struggle, for in the
sunshiny days which followed, Nature herself held high holiday, and
the most prosaic might well have found it impossible to avoid falling
in with her gracious mood. The heather-flush was beginning to creep
over the curves of moor, the rowan berries ripened under the sun's
kiss, the juicy _guienne_ cherries purpled the children's mouths, and
the oat fields hid their poverty in a cloak of golden marigold. Down
in the shady nooks the stately foxgloves still lingered, while on the
sunniest spots the bracken was gathering the sun-gold into its
delicate tracery against the coming gloom of winter. Such times come
rarely; times when it is possible to forget the world of toil and
trouble, of sin, sorrow, and shame, which lies beyond the circle of
the everlasting hills; times when one is content to let life slip
past, without counting its pulse-beat; times when one seems to enter
in spirit with that divine rest, because the whole world seems good in
our eyes.

Paul, dulled as he was by world-tarnish, felt the charm; Marjory,
fresh from her sober youth, yielded to it gladly. Will Cameron, with
the hay safe housed and harvest secure in the future, said the weather
was too good for farming, and gave himself a holiday, and even Mr.
Gillespie, free from inspection anxieties, and rejoicing in the
Bishop's praise, fell back for a while on college sermons, and studied
future ones in stones and running brooks. Only Mrs. Cameron, despising
the heat, bustled from kitchen to store-room, from store-room to
dairy, indignant over the irregular meals, and the still more
irregular milk. It was enough, she said, to turn that of human
kindness sour to have charge of five Ayrshires and two Jerseys in such
weather, with an English cook coming, or a Frenchman maybe--the laird
was equal to that iniquity--who would use crocks on crocks of powdered
butter. She knew them! graceless, godless creatures, and Will, instead
of wandering like a tinkler about the place, should be at the markets
buying pigs, to eat up the sinful waste of good victuals which would
begin ere long at the Big House. It was very well of William to smile,
and for the laird to say he didn't mind; but what would Lady George
say to the cook? And how did William expect to supply the Big House as
it should be supplied, when every crofter body was asking one and
eightpence a pound for butter she wouldn't look at? And it all
trysted, every pound of it, to the English folk over at the Forest,
who were coming down like a flight of locusts, devouring the land with
pipers and bad whiskey, and a set of idle, pasty-faced, meat-eating
English maids, ruining the country side with bad examples! There would
have to be a judgment, nothing less, when Sheenach--barefooted
Sheenach from the blackest hut on the property--Marjory would
mind it, seeing that she held it to be a disgrace to a Christian
landholder--set her up for new-fangled notions indeed!--had actually
spoken to her, Mrs. Cameron, about beer-money! The kitchen girl over
at the Forest, forsooth, got it, and three shillings a week for
washings. Heard one ever the like! a barefoot lass that had not spent
three shillings on washings since she was born, and would have to look
to it for white robes in the future. And Mistress Mackenzie at the
ferry house saying calmly that her prices would be doubled from the
10th August.

"It is too true, mother," Will would say consolingly. "I'd like to see
the Commission have its way, and destroy the Forests altogether, if
only to teach the people what it would mean. But there! parcel post is
only twopence a pound, and we can get butter from Devonshire. They pay
high rents there, you know, so they can afford to sell produce
cheaper." But even this paradox would not soothe the old lady's ire,
and the three idlers would escape from the butter-problem into the
wilderness of beauty beyond the fat pastures which fed the dairy; in
so doing, no doubt, following the example of the offending English
folk, who do not care to trouble their holiday with thoughts of the
dishonesty and greed they foster and encourage.

Many a tramp had these three over hill and dale. Sometimes climbing
the boulder-strewn heights whence sea and land showed like a map; more
often lingering by the river lazily, as it made its way through the
grassy uplands in a series of foamy leaps and oily pauses. For here
the sea-trout were to be beguiled by patience; if not by that, then by
the red-tailed fly which Will used with the consummate skill of the
real pot-fisher. Paul, on the other hand, beset by lingering
prejudice, would lounge on the bank intermittently, offering the rod
to Marjory in order to bring him luck; while she, engaged in
collecting a perfect herbarium, would deprecate her own past skill in
the Long Pool.

"And the admirable underhand cast was a chance also?" he retorted
drily. "Really, Miss Carmichael, my modesty is catching."

Marjory laughed. "Oh, no! I learnt that from Will. I never could make
out whither he went on Sundays, till one day I came upon him in that
little strip of pasture in the middle of the larch plantation,
flicking at dandelions with his ten-foot rod. Then he confessed that
it was his usual occupation of a Sabbath afternoon, because it was so
deadly dull with nothing to do at home. So after that I flicked, too.
We used to do it against each other for hours, didn't we, Will?"

"Ten for a dandie, twenty for a daisy, fifty for a bumble-bee,"
murmured Will from under his tilted hat, as he lay on the grass.

"An instance of the deceit which the irrational worship of the Sabbath
is apt to produce," remarked the Reverend James Gillespie, whose
conscience invariably assailed him when he had not made a professional
remark for some time.

"It is so refreshing to hear you accuse Miss Carmichael," said Paul,
gravely. "Deceit is a mortal sin, isn't it, Mr. Gillespie?"

The Reverend James hesitated. He looked sorely out of place amid the
wilderness in his black garments, with Paul in his loose Indian suits,
and Will guiltless of coat and waistcoat.

"Deceit, cheating--whoever doth wickedly, etc.--generally comes under
common theft--non-bailable," murmured the tilted hat softly; for Will,
in his youth, had studied law.

"I congratulate you, Miss Carmichael," said Paul, still gravely, "on
having attained the position of a real criminal. I have a sneaking
admiration for them."

"Why?"

"Because they have done--what I have been afraid to do!"

So the day would slip by in idle talk and idler work, until the
lengthening shadows warned them they were far from home, and Will
would grow restless over the prospect of dinner _versus_ the tea, with
which he had more than once been put off on occasions of gross
irregularity. While Paul would boast of his freedom from all control,
or offer to stand in the breach by begging a meal at the Lodge; since
even Mrs. Cameron's tongue softened when it spoke to the laird, and a
vein of humour ran through her blame.

"It's clean reediklous, Gleneira," she would say. "Here it is gone
ten, and supper was bidden at eight. An' if you expec' me, a Christian
woman, to tell Kursty that _my_ son is even as them who mocked Elijah,
or that it was I that made a mistake, you're just wrong. An' a' for a
wheen trouties, that's no good for kipper or for anything but to
cocker yourselves up wi' at breakfast, instead of being contented with
good porridge, as your fathers were. But there! we ken find that Esau
sold his birthright for a mess o' pottage."

"And I don't wonder at it," Paul would reply gravely; "if he was half
so hungry as I am. How much was it, Cameron, that the hook-and-eye man
offered me for Gleneira? A man must eat, you know."

Whereupon the old lady would remark that, as she at least knew her
duty, his father's son should never lack bread in her house, and so
bustle away good-humouredly to hurry on supper. The unpunctuality was
not, however, always their fault; and on one occasion followed on an
incident which had a curious effect in still further softening
Marjory's judgment on handsome, idle, kindly Paul, and introducing
that vein of pity, which, in women of her type, seems an almost
necessary ingredient of affection. It may be only a triviality, the
half-humorous despair of a buttonless shirt, the possibility of dirty
tablecloths, or it may go further into uncared-for sickness and
loneliness, but the thought of personal discomfort to a man whom she
likes is always grievous to women who have not been educated out of
their housewifely instincts.

It came about in this wise. There was a certain Loch of the Fairies
which, despite its great beauty, Marjory had seldom seen, for this
reason. It lay hidden in the highest corries of the deer forest,
accessible only by the burn watering the sheltered glen which, from
time immemorial, had been the sanctuary; and not even for Marjory
would old John Macpherson disturb his deer, or allow them to be
disturbed. But Paul thought differently when he found that the girl's
face brightened at the idea of an excursion thither; for, to him, the
nearest pleasure was invariably the best.

"As well be hung for a sheep as a lamb," he said, with a laugh. "We
will start early and make a day of it. And I'll ask Gillespie to come.
He is always telling cock-and-bull stories about the big fish there,
so we will set him to catch one. I never did."

And Will Cameron agreed also, saying he would take the opportunity to
meet the forest keeper on the march, and settle the position of a new
fence to keep the hinds from straying. Only old John shook his head,
with mutterings regarding future sport and old traditions.

"As if _that_ were not worth all the sport in the world," said Paul,
almost exultantly, as, climbing the last bracken-set knoll, and
leaving the last Scotch fir hanging over a wild leap of the burn, they
filed past a sheer bluff, and saw in front of them a long, narrow,
almost level glen, through which the stream slid in alternate reaches
and foaming falls. On either side almost inaccessible cliffs; in front
of them, cutting the blue sky clearly, a serrated wall of rock closing
up the valley. Great sharp-edged fragments from the heights above lay
strewn among the sweeping stretches of heather, whence a brood of
grouse rose, blundering to the anxious cackle of the hen.

"There they are," said Will, from force of habit in a whisper, "up on
the higher pasture. I thought they would be; so we shan't disturb them
a bit if we keep to the burn."

Marjory, shading her eyes from the sun, stood looking on one of the
prettiest sights in the world; a herd of red deer dotted over a hill
slope, or seen outlined against the horizon line. Paul, from sheer
habit also, had slipped to the ground, and had his glass on them.
"Splendid royal to the left, Cameron--wonder if we shall get him this
year--and, by George, there's the old crooked horn! I remember, Miss
Carmichael, trying to put a bullet into him--well, we won't say how
many years ago."

"What a slaughterhouse a man's memory must be," remarked Marjory, with
her head in the air.

"Not in this case, at any rate," retorted Paul. "Sometimes I am
merciful--or miss; which answers the purpose quite as well." As he
spoke the memory of Jeanie Duncan rose quite causelessly to his mind,
and he started to his feet impatiently; for somehow little Paul's
existence had taken the bloom off his self-complacency in regard to
that episode.

"Now for the Pixie's loch," he cried gaily. "The ladies have it all
their own way there in destruction, if tales be true. I wonder which
of us three unfortunate males she will choose as her victim to-day?"

Marjory, looking down as they crested the last boulder-strewn rise on
the almost black and oily sheet of water in the crater-like cup of the
corrie, felt that she did not wonder at the legends which had gathered
round the spot. The very perfection of its loneliness, its beauty,
marked it as a thing apart from the more familiar charm of the world
around it. There seemed scarce foothold for a goat on those pillared
cliffs which sank sheer into the dark water, and the streak or two of
snow lingering still in a northern recess marked, she felt sure, some
deep crevasse hidden from sight by the innocent-looking mantle of
white. Nor could one judge of the depth of the lake by the jagged
points of rocks which rose here and there from the surface of the
water, for, as she stood, she leant against a fragment of some earlier
world, which looked as if it must have fallen from the sky, since the
vacant place left by such a huge avalanche must have remained visible
for ever in the rocks above. So those out yonder might go down and
down, forming vast caves where the Pixie might hold her court of
drowned, dead men. She turned to look at Paul suddenly,
apprehensively; perhaps because, even in her innocence, she recognised
instinctively that there, with all its gifts, with all its charm, lay
the nature to which the syren's song is irresistible. But he, stopping
on the brink to dip his hand into the water, was looking back at her
with a laugh.

"By Jove!" he said, "isn't it cold? Enough to give anyone the
shivers."

As he spoke, far out on the glassy glint of water came a speck of
stronger light, widening to a circle, widening, widening ever, in
softening ripples.

"There! I told you so!" cried the Reverend James, excitedly; "a
five-pounder at least!" After which, naturally, there was no time for
sentiment, no time for anything but an unconfessed race as to which of
the three should have his fly on the water first. Marjory, left to her
own devices, wandered as far as she could round the level edge, which
to the south lay between the lake and the cliff, until she came to the
moss-clad moraine, through which the water found its way to new life
in the first long leap of the burn below; for the loch itself was fed
by unseen springs. She could hear the stream beneath her feet tinkling
musically, and gurgling softly, as if laughing at something it had
left behind, or something it was going to meet; and the sound
oppressed her vaguely. Here, in an angle of sand, stood a half-ruined
boat-house, and within it a boat painted gaily, yet with an air of
disuse about it which made Marjory go inside and look at it more
closely. It seemed sound enough, and yet, as she wandered on, she
hoped that the fishers might not be tempted to use it out on those
unknown depths. Then, coming on a great bank of dewberries, she sank
down into the yielding heather and gave herself up to enjoyment,
finally stretching herself at long length on the springy softness, and
watching the lake through her half-closed eyelids. Suddenly, with a
smile, she began to sing, and then as suddenly ceased. Cliffs could
give back an echo, certainly, but not so clear an one as the tenor
tone which followed close on that first phrase of the "Lorelei." An
instant after Paul's figure showed round a rock below, busily engaged
with a swishing trout rod.


             "Die schönste Mädchen sitzet
              Dort oben wunderbar."


An echo, indeed! and Marjory sat up among the dewberries, feeling
indignant.

"Captain Macleod," she called aggressively, "have you caught
anything?"

He turned, as if he had been unaware of her presence, and raised his
cap. "It is not a question of my catching anything, Miss Carmichael,
but of my being caught. There is a syren about somewhere; I heard her
just now; did you?"

"I generally hear myself when I am singing," she replied coldly.
"Where is Will?"

"Will," replied Paul, cheerfully, "is swearing round the corner. He
has just had a splendid rise, and his hook drew. No further
description necessary."

She laughed, and Captain Macleod went on in the easy familiar tone
which had taken the sting out of so many other remarks which, to
Marjory's unsophisticated ears, had savoured of impertinence.

"If we neither of us get another this round, we are going to start
over the hills for the fence. I want to see it myself. You will find a
splendid place for tea about a quarter of a mile down below the fall.
Heaps of sticks--bits of the primeval forest washed out of the
moss--so you will manage nicely; besides Gillespie will be here."

It was just such a careless, brotherly speech as Will might have made,
and Marjory appreciated it. Besides the thought of an hour or two,
absolutely to herself, in those solitudes had an indescribable charm;
indescribable because, to those who know it not of themselves, words
are useless, and those who do need them not. For her, with a stainless
past and a hopeful future, it was bliss unalloyed to wander down the
burn-side, resting here and there, watching the ring-ouzel skim from
shelter, or an oak-eggar moth settle lazily on a moss-cushion. And
yet, as she sate perched on a rock far down the valley above a deeper
pool than usual, she amused herself by singing the "Lorelei" from
beginning to end, secure from unwelcome echoes. So back on her traces
to the baskets which had been hidden in the fern, and the preparations
for tea. The relics of the primeval forest burnt bravely aided by some
juniper branches, the kettle was filled, boiled, and set securely on a
stony hob; and then, free from cares, Marjory chose out a springy nest
among the short heather and curled herself round lazily to watch the
sky line where before long two figures should come striding into
sight, dark against the growing gold of the westering sun. Blissful
indeed; extremely comfortable also.

When she woke Paul Macleod was calling her by name, and she started up
in a hurry. "I came on as fast as I could lest you should be
wearying," he said, and his face showed he spoke the truth. "It was
further than we thought for. Where's Gillespie? He can't be fishing
still, surely. I didn't see him on the shore as I came past."

Marjory, confused as she was by sudden awakening, remembered one
thing, and one thing only--the boat--the old rotten-looking boat.

"You didn't see him--and he hasn't been here! Oh! Captain Macleod, I
do hope nothing has happened--the boat----"

"Nonsense!" replied Paul, decisively, "nothing can have happened.
Still, it's late--you have been asleep some time, I expect. Perhaps he
has missed you, and gone home."

"He could not miss the fire," she said quickly, "and he cannot swim.
If he has taken the boat, and if----"

"There is no use imagining evil," put in Paul, drily; "as you are
anxious I will go----"

"I will come with you," she said eagerly; "if I put some more wood on
the fire----"

"It will be ready for us when we return," remarked Paul, cheerfully,
"and Gillespie will want his tea. I expect he is in to the big trout
or----" he paused before her anxious face and told her again that
nothing could have happened. She surely did not believe in pixies?
Still, he grew graver when a look at the boat-house proved it to be
empty, and his first shout brought no answer, except a confused,
resounding echo.

"If he had gone beyond that bluff into the inaccessible part, which he
is likely to have done with the boat--he might not hear. Come on--and
don't imagine the worst. If, when we can see all the water----"

He paused, and said no more, as, with her following fast at his heels,
he hurried up the brae which hid the further reach of the lake. So,
being a step or two ahead, and several inches taller than she was, a
view halloo, followed by a laugh, was her first intimation that the
search had come to an end. The next instant she had joined the laugh,
for a more ridiculous sight than the Reverend James Gillespie
presented as he stood up, in full clerical costume, on an uneven rock
some two feet square, in the very middle of the loch, could scarcely
be imagined. The cause, however, was clear in the half-sunk,
water-logged boat, jammed on a jagged rock, which was just visible
above the water close by.

"Have you been there long?" called Paul, recovering himself.

"All the afternoon," came back in hoarse and distinctly cross tones.
"I shouted till I could shout no more. I thought you had all gone
home!"

"Gone to sleep," remarked Paul, aside, as he sate down and began
deliberately to unlace his boots. "Now, Miss Carmichael, if you will
look after the tea, I'll rescue the shipwrecked mariner, and bring him
to be comforted."

Marjory, eyeing the stretch of black water nervously, suggested he had
better wait for Will to turn up; but Paul laughed. "I'm relieved to
find you have some anxiety left for me--yet it is really absurd. I
could swim ten times the distance ten times over; besides, I'll bring
him back with the oars if that will satisfy you?"

She felt that it ought, yet as she turned to leave him, the keen pang
at her heart surprised her, and not even his gay call of reassurance,
"Two teas, please, hot, in ten minutes," given, she knew, from such
kindly motives, availed to drive away a sudden thought of that
gracious face--drowned--dead--drowned. Such irrational fears, when
they come at all, come overwhelmingly; since the mind, imaginative
enough even to admit them, is their natural prey. Yet this very
imagination of her own was in itself startling to the girl, who caught
herself wishing she had not sung the "Lorelei," with a sort of
surprised pain at her own fancifulness. It was absurd, ridiculous, and
yet the sight of Will's loose-limbed figure coming to meet her,
brought distinct relief as she bade him go on and help Captain
Macleod. Even so, as she blew at the fire and made the tea, the
thought would come that a man who could not swim would be of no
possible use if--if--if---- So, in the midst of her imaginings, came
at last the sight of three figures striding down the brae, talking and
laughing; at least, two of them were so engaged, the Reverend James
having scarcely recovered his temper, and being, in addition, almost
quite inaudible from his previous efforts to make himself heard.

"The pixie wouldn't have him, said he wouldn't suit the place," said
Paul, gravely, when, with the aid of several cups of tea, the victim
had finished his tale of the big trout, which had deliberately dragged
him on to a jag, knocked a hole in the bottom of the rotten old boat,
and left him helpless, taking advantage--and this seemed the greatest
offence--of the confusion consequent on the man[oe]uvre, to swim away
with ten yards of good trout line and an excellent cast. At least,
this was Will's view of the situation, the Reverend James attempting
hoarsely to give greater prominence to the saving of his own life,
while Paul gave a graphic description of their procession down the
loch to the landing-place, with the clerical costume packed out of
harm's way in the fishing-basket which was swung to the butt end of
the rod, and Marjory indignantly disclaimed the slumber of the Seven
Sleepers, declaring that the shouting must have gone on when she had
been down the burn. So, chattering and laughing, the tea things were
packed up, and they started homewards.

"Let us have a race down the level," said Paul, suddenly; "that water
was cold as ice."

Five minutes after, when Marjory caught him up, as he lingered a
little behind the two others, who were just disappearing behind the
bluff at the entrance to the sanctuary, she was startled at his face.

"Ague," he said, in answer to her look. "That is the worst of India. I
told you the water was cold enough to give anyone the shivers." He
tried to laugh it off, but he was blue and pinched, his teeth were
chattering, and with every step the effort to stand steady became more
apparent. The sight of his helplessness made the girl forget
everything but her womanly instinct to give comfort.

"You had far better sit down for a while," she said, eagerly. "I can
easily light a fire, and we have the kettle. Some hot whiskey and
water----" But Paul was actually beyond refusal; he sate down weakly,
utterly knocked over for the time, and unable to do anything but
mutter, between the chatterings of his teeth, that it would not last
long--that it would be all right when the hot fit began--that she had
better go on and leave him. To all of which Marjory replied, in
businesslike fashion, by bringing him a great bundle of bracken as a
pillow, spreading her waterproof over him, and piling it over with
more fern, till he smiled faintly, and chattered something about there
being no necessity for covering him up with leaves--he was not dead
yet. Then the fire had to be lit, the kettle boiled, a jorum of hot
toddy brewed, a stone warmed and set to hands and feet.

"Now, if you lie still for half an hour," she said magisterially, "I
expect you will be much better when I come back." And he was hot--as
fire, of course, and shaky still, but minus the cramps, and very
apologetic for the delay.

"You couldn't possibly help it," she interrupted quickly. "You
looked--you looked----" and then something seemed to rise up in her
throat and keep her silent. But it was just this look of utter
helplessness which remained in her mind, bringing with it always a
tender compassion; and as the remembrance of him with little Paul on
his shoulder served to soften her towards his atrocious sentiments, so
that of his sudden physical collapse served to lessen the sort of
resentment she had hitherto felt to the charm of his great good looks.
She could not have explained how either of these facts came about; she
was not even aware that it was so, and yet it did make a difference in
her attitude towards him. A pity for his weakness, for his faults and
failings, came to take the place of condemnation.

So the days passed, until one evening as they trudged home from an
unsuccessful raid on the river, Mr. Gillespie remarked that the
herring were in at Craignish, and the mackerel often came at the back
of the herring, so, maybe, it would be worth while to have a try at
them.

"Better than the river, anyhow," grumbled Will, who, even with the
red-tailed fly, felt the horrid weight of an empty creel on his
shoulders.

Paul looked at Marjory. It had come to that in most things by this
time, and as often as not, as now, no words were necessary. "Then I
will tell John Macpherson to have the boat ready to-morrow, for it is
my last day--of leisure, I mean. My sister comes on Saturday, my
guests follow on Monday, and after that--the deluge, I suppose."

"I should not wonder," remarked Will, gravely; "the midges were awful
to-day."

Both Paul and Marjory laughed; they could not help it, despite their
vague regret that holiday time was over.



                              CHAPTER X.


Paul's last day was one of those never-to-be-forgotten days, when the
mist lies in light wreaths below the mountain tops, which rise clear
and sharp against an intense blue sky; when masses of white cloud hang
in mid-air, bringing with each new moment some fresh beauty, born of
shadow, to sea and shore; when a cool breeze blows unevenly, every now
and again darkening the water to a purple, and cresting the waves with
foam-streaks edged with turquoise.

"None too soon," said Paul, briefly, as the "Tubhaneer" (so called
from her washing-tub-like build) cast off her moorings, and stood out
for the middle of the loch. "I told you it would be the deluge after
to-day, Miss Carmichael. We shall have rain to-morrow."

Will nodded his head.

"Oh, don't talk of to-morrow!" said Marjory, quickly; "to-day is
enough, surely."

Paul, from amid-ships, applauded softly, and she attempted a frown,
which ended feebly in a smile. And wherefore not? Sufficient, indeed,
unto that day was the pleasure thereof. The red-brown sail drew
bravely, the long line lay curled up forward, the oyster dredger
rested athwart, the rifles were with Paul amid-ships, the lithe rods
swept out astern behind Marjory as she leant lightly over the tiller,
her eyes upon the quivering sail; for it needed every inch she could
gain to avoid a tack, even though the current of the outgoing tide was
aiding them to slip through the Narrowest to the open sea beyond.

"Where will the white rock be?" she asked of Donald Post, who, being
learned in banks and baits, would often set his wife to carry the bag
while he was off and away after the sea fishing. He was now opening
mussels with a crunching sound, regular as a machine.

'"Deed an' she will be right ahead of us whatever," he replied,
without a pause.

"There will be plenty of water, I suppose?"

'"Deed she will no be havin' much on her, anyhow."

"Then how shall I steer?"

"Just as she is, Miss Marjory, just as she is; she will be doing fine,
I'm thinking."

"A miss is as good as a mile," murmured Paul, engaged in stretching
his long length comfortably over some ballast kegs. "Can you swim?"

Marjory nodded. "Then save me, please; I really am not inclined to
exert myself."

"So it appears," remarked Will Cameron, in an injured tone. He and the
Reverend James were forward, busy over the tangled lengths of the long
line, and the necessity for restraining his tongue before the cloth
was telling even on the former's easy temper; for a long line in a
tangle is quite indescribable in Parliamentary language.

"Keep her in a bit, Marjory. We must anchor over the fishing-house
bank for a while, and get bait for this--this _thing_."

"Then I shall have to tack."

"Tack, indeed! If you don't like it, I'll steer and you can tackle
this--this _thing_. Look out, Donald!--two trees and the white stone."

Round went the tiller. "Now, John!" said the girl; the sail came down
with a clatter, the way slackened, the anchor, poised in Donald's
watchful hands, splashed overboard, and the "Tubhaneer" drew up to it
with her mast, and the two trees, and the white stone in a line.

"Well done, Miss Marjory; that was well done, whatever," rose Donald's
voice softly, between renewed crunching; and two minor splashes
following close on each other told that the Parson and Will had their
hand-lines down. Then came a silence, broken only by the fitful gurgle
of the water against the "Tubhaneer" as she swung round to the tide,
and that monotonous crunch, crunch of the mussel-knife.

"John Roy, he wass takin' five whitin's from the bank last week," rose
Donald's voice once more, quite causelessly. "It wass a bit of himself
he was catching them with. It iss nothin' the whitin's iss liking so
much as a bit of himself."

Then silence again, his hearers being too much accustomed to the
intricacies of Donald's style to be startled by this novel fact in
natural history. So, amid the stillness, a sudden jerk of the Reverend
James's right hand, a pause of intense expectation--to judge by the
rapt look on his comely face--then disappointment from bow to stern,
and a general slackness.

"It will just be ain o' they pickers," mused Donald, recovering from
his momentary idleness; "or maybe a sooker. It iss the pickers and
sookers in this place that just beats all. Oo-aye! If it wass not a
picker, it will be a sooker."

"What is the difference between a picker and a sucker, Donald?" asked
Marjory, severely practical.

"'Deed, then, Miss Marjory, and it iss not any difference there will
be between them at all. It is a sooker that will not be caring a tamn
for the hook, and it is the picker that will not be caring a tamn
either."

"Ahem!" interrupted Mr. Gillespie, with reproachful glance at Donald's
unconscious back; "I believe, Miss Marjory, that pickers or suckers is
really only the local name for young codlings, lythe, or cuddies. In
fact, for all young fish."

"She is not them at all," retorted Donald, scornfully. "It iss sookers
and pickers, and not young fish they will be, and it iss not a local
name, whatever." The last came with such a glance of sovereign
contempt for the offender, that Paul, from his ballast kegs, smiled up
at Marjory, who smiled back at him.

"Got him at last! and a good one too!" sang out Will, ending the
discussion by a new topic of all-absorbing interest, which held the
boat's crew in suspense till the rasping rub of the line over the side
and the drip of water falling back on water ceased in a disgusted
exclamation from the captor of a small flounder, hooked foul.

"Little deevil," murmured John Macpherson, in such a self-communing
tone, that the Reverend James felt the observation must pass.

"It iss pulling like that they are," commented Donald, affably. "John
Roy he was fishin' at the ferry-house, and thinkin' it wass a
_skatach_ he got, and cryin' on me for the gaff he wass, but it was
two flukies he was hookin' by their tails."

Marjory looked as if she were inclined to dispute the fact, then
joined in the dreamful silence, which, with spasmodic awakenings as
fish after fish came over the side, lasted until there was enough
bait, and Will gave the word to move on. Then the anchor came up laden
with a root of oarweed, in which strange shells and starfish lay
entangled; so it was handed aft for Marjory to see.

"It is squeakin' like a mice yon beast will be," said Donald, pointing
to a sea-urchin. "Aye! an' bitin' most tarrible he is."

"That is quite impossible," interrupted the girl, cutting short
various other facts which trembled on Donald's lips. "They couldn't
bite if they tried."

"Then it is squeakin' like a mice they are, whatever," he retorted
doggedly; "for John Roy wass tellin' it to me." John Roy being
Donald's Mrs. Harris, the subject admitted of no further discussion,
and the ensuing pause was broken by a sudden question from Paul.

"Do you ever find niggerheads about here now? I remember when I was a
boy in petticoats----"

He took the tiny cowrie of dazzling whiteness she handed him by way of
answer, and said no more. How many years, he wondered, was it since he
had last thought of niggerheads? Truly the world was a strange place,
and a man's brain stranger still.

And now the long line, duly baited for skate and haddock, was being
paid out and left drifting, moored to floats which seemed to dance
away on the waves, as the "Tubhaneer" with sail full spread made for
the last, low, sunlit point, and so, entering the Linnhe Loch, headed
straight for the blue Kingairloch Hills. To the left lay Lismore, a
glimmering strip of green and gold amid the shining sea; behind was
Port Appin, with its heather-crested bluff, and spidery-black pier;
before them the serrated line of Ardnamurchan, and beyond, faint in
the distance, the headland of Mull jutting into a glint of the
Atlantic. To the right rose Shuna with its swelling grassy slopes and
cross-signed pebble shores, like a fairy island in the summer sea. So
further afield Appin House, set in fir knolls, Ardgour lighthouse
glimmering to the left, and beyond, all the hills rising clear and
cloudless to the peak of Ben Nevis.

On Ami's bay a cluster of boats in shore told that the herring were
in.

"They never come to Loch Eira now," remarked Will, idly. "It is funny,
but they don't."

"It will not be funny at all, sir," expostulated Donald. "It wass
comin' they were every year, sure's I sit here, but it wass old John
Mackenzie he wass going after them on the Sabbath, and it wass not
coming any more after that they were."

"And that is a fact, of course?" asked Will, gravely.

"It will not be a fact at all, sir," echoed Donald, "but it was old
John himself wass tellin' it to me."

"I believe it to be quite true, Mr. Cameron," put in the Reverend
James; "indeed I remember the Bishop commenting upon the circumstance
in a sermon. He brought it in most beautifully, and so conclusively."

"It wass a burnin' shame of the old _bodach_, whatever," grumbled John
Macpherson. "Ay! Ay! a dirty trick, whatever."

Marjory, watching the sea-pyots wheel and veer against the blue of the
distant hills, smiled to herself. The mere thought of the Bishop in
his lawn sleeves seemed unreal out there in the sunshine. Everything
was unreal save the boat skimming with a little hiss through the
water.

"There's a steamer rounding the point below Lismore," said Will. "What
will she be, I wonder?"

"She will be the salt ship from Glasgow for the harrin'," replied
Donald, after prolonged deliberation. "That iss what she will be, an'
ferry welcome. I mind when the harrin' were in Glen Etive, and the
salt ship she wass not comin' at all, the people wass diggin' holes in
the peat, and fillin' them with the harrin'. It wass not keepin' ferry
well, but it was eating them were. A terrible year for sickness it
wass, though the harrin' was that plenty, they wass takin' them in
buckets."

"'Deed an' it was a dirty trick of that old _bodachs_ to be driving
them away," grumbled Macpherson, "a dirty trick--Gorsh me!--yon's a
seal--quick, Mr. Paul!"

There was a sudden, still stir in the crew, and all eyes turned to
where a smooth brown head slipped oilily through the water. Marjory
held her breath half-shrinkingly, yet said no word. Not even when Paul
whispered "Ready, Cameron?" and, heralded by a little flash and puff,
the simultaneous report of the rifles frightened the sea-pyots into
screaming flight. The head disappeared as the bullets went ricocheting
over the water in soft _ping-pings_.

"Too high," said one voice, mournfully.

"Yes! but the direction was good."

These remarks, which in constant substance but varying form follow
most unsuccessful shots, appeared satisfactory to the speakers; for
Paul retired to the thwarts again, and Will resumed his pipe, while
Macpherson looked pensively through one of the rifles to see if it had
leaded, and the general excitement died down.

"It is curious," remarked Marjory, disdainfully relieved, and
speaking, as it were, to the circumambient air, "how even a remote
prospect of killing something will rouse a man's love of destruction."

Paul, leaning one arm on the thwart, looked up at her solemnly.

"True--too true. We are destructive, or rather, accurately speaking,
we should like to be destructive--only we aren't. That was a bad miss
of mine. But if we like to destroy, you women love to annex. Witness
that pile of seaweed and shells beside you. You don't really want it,
and ten to one when it comes to the bother of carrying it home, you
will leave it behind you."

"Pardon me," remarked the girl, "you shall carry it for me."

"A foregone conclusion, if you wish it, of course; but in that case
you will simply add my services to your possessions. And in like
manner you will dispense with them when I cease to be amusing. Woman
all over!"

"Thanks, Gleneira!" laughed Will. "It does me good to hear Marjory
kept in order. She bullies me awfully about shooting seals, and I
fully expected her to sneeze or cough. She generally does."

"I knew you wouldn't hit," retorted Marjory, scornfully, "and it
pleased you."

"'Pleased 'er and didn't 'urt me,' as the navvy said when his wife
beat him," put in Paul. "By Jove! Miss Carmichael, if I had known what
you thought, I would have put a bullet----"

"Hist!" cried Marjory, holding up her hand. There, within a stone's
throw, was the smooth brown head, with large, liquid, confiding eyes
turned towards the boat. Not a ripple, not a sound, showed that it was
in motion, and yet it slipped past rapidly.

"Gorsh me! but the beast's tame," whispered John, unable to contain
himself in the inaction; but the whisper might as well have been a
clap of thunder, for the round head sank noiselessly into the water,
leaving scarcely a ripple behind it.

"Why didn't you shoot, Captain Macleod?" asked Marjory, with an odd
little tremor in her voice, at which she herself was dimly surprised;
"you might have hit that time, for it couldn't have been more than
fifteen yards off."

"I never thought of it," he replied quietly; "the beast looked so
jolly."

"It looked quite as jolly when it was far away, no doubt."

"But I couldn't see it. And if we discuss that point I shall find it
as much out of my range as the seal was. So give me a good mark for
refraining when I did see its jolliness."

"Besides, it would have been no good trying. It would have been down
like a shot if we had stirred a finger," said Will, philosophically.

Paul Macleod sighed. "There goes my last claim to saintship. You are a
perfect devil's advocate, Cameron."

"But, really, Miss Marjory," put in the Reverend James, who had, as
usual, been left far behind in the quick interchange of thought, "I do
not see why you should object to shooting a seal. Man is permitted by
a merciful Creator to destroy animal life----"

"In order to preserve his own, and even then it seems a pity,"
interrupted the girl, eagerly. "Oh, I daresay, Captain Macleod, the
feeling isn't strong enough to make me turn vegetarian, but it _is_
wanton cruelty to kill a poor seal which is of no use to anyone!"

"There you go!" grumbled Will. "Why! I wanted its paws awfully for
tobacco pouches--mine is quite worn out."

"Your remark, Cameron, is childish and unreasonable," replied Paul,
from his lounge. "You cannot expect Miss Carmichael's tolerance of
humanity to extend to tobacco pouches. Let us be thankful it concedes
mutton chops."

"A seal is a ferry clever beast, whatever," put in Donald. "It wass
John Roy wass walking on the rocks at Craignish, and he wass seeing a
big seal, and heavin' stones at it, and--gorsh me!--but it wass takin'
the stones and fro'ing them back at John. And, tamn me! but the
creature wass a better shot than John--oo--aye! a far better shot
whatever."

"And that is a fact, Donald?" asked Will, solemnly.

"Not a fack at all, sir; but John Roy he wass tellin' it to me."

"Not so clever as the Kashmir bear, Donald?" put in Paul. "When it has
to cross a stream in flood it carries a big boulder on its head to
keep itself steady."

"An' is that a fack, sir," asked Donald, readily.

"The people were telling it to me, anyhow!"

"Then they were big liars whatever," said Donald, with such an
inimitable air of shocked conviction that a general shout of laughter
rose on the sunny air.

Oh, bright, glad day! Oh, careless, foolish talk! Oh, deep abiding
sense of peace and good-will in all that sea-girt mountain world which
rose around them, havening their little boat! Could it be that there
was trouble, or toil, or tears, yonder where the mist floated so
tenderly, or there, where cottage and castle, meadow and moor, wheat
and tares were blended into one purple glory? There were not many such
days in life, so let us cherish the mere memory of them!

The mackerel, it is true, were not to be beguiled, but what matter?
The boat skimmed over the blue water; two red-brown sails stood out to
the West or East.

"No use trying any more," said Will at last, with a shake of the head
over Paul's placid repose; for lunch had come to fill up the measure
of content, and the laird was back among the ballast with a large
basket of strawberries. "I think, Donald, we might try the big lythe
off Shuna."

"The tide will no be answerable awhile, sir, but there will be no
excuse for the _bedach ruachs_ at the rocks; no excuse at all."

"Let us hope the fish will have a sense of duty," murmured Paul from
the strawberries; "cold-blooded creatures generally have."

They anchored out of the tide race in a backwater of the current, and
Marjory, looking over the side, could see far down into the green
depth where pale, pulsating Medusas came floating by, and every now
and again a flash of light told of a passing fish.

"Too much tide," began Paul, eyeing the set of the lines from his
retreat, when four mighty and coincident strikes silenced his wisdom
for a while. But only for a while, since amid the rasp and rub of wet
lines against the side came Will's voice despondently.

"I'm in to some of you others."

"So am I--and I----" echoed Marjory and the Reverend James. Only Donald
Post whispered softly, "It is the deevil is on mine whatever," and
Paul, without stirring hand and foot, suggested the mainland of
Scotland. But it was neither. The lines passed to the stern produced
conjointly a codling, which after swallowing two baits had tried at a
third, and so hooked itself foul in the fourth.

"There's an object lesson for you, Miss Carmichael," said Paul,
teasingly. "How about your theory of the cruel hook and the poor
fish?"

"It is not feeling a tamn, fish is," commented Donald, calmly
disgorging the baits. "It was fishin' for _bodachs_ old John Boy was,
and he was catchin' her foul by the eye, and the eye she come out. But
John Roy wass leavin' it on the hook and the _bodach_ was comin' again
an' takin' his own eye."

"And there is a fact for you," continued Paul.

"No! No! sir," protested Donald, with a twinkle in his eye; "it will
no be a fack whatever, but John Roy he wass tellin' it to me." Whereat
there was laughter again.

So, as the day drew down, they landed on Shuna to boil the kettle for
tea with driftwood gathered from the shore, and wonder idly as the
flames leapt up to shrivel the lowermost leaves of the rowan tree by
the spring, whence the wreckage which burnt so bravely had come; for
storm and stress seemed far from their world.

Then, while the boatmen took their turn at the scones and cake, the
jam and toast, they climbed the grassy slopes, and, sitting down by
the old tower, watched the sunset idly; for all things, even pleasure,
seem idle on such days as these. The clouds had pricked westwards, as
if to aid the Atlantic in a coming storm, but below their heavy purple
masses lay a strip of greeny gold sky, into which the sun was just
sinking from a higher belt of crimson-tinted bars.

"No Green Ray for us to-night," said Marjory, with a smile.

Paul raised his eyebrows. "No Green Ray on this or any other night, in
my candid opinion."

The Reverend James looked puzzled. "I have often heard you mention
this Green Ray, Miss Marjory, but I am not quite sure to what you
allude."

"To a fiction of Jules Verne's, that is all," put in Paul, quickly.

"Nothing of the sort; people have seen it," corrected the girl,
eagerly.

"Say they have seen it," murmured Paul, obstinately, and Marjory
frowned.

"I will explain it to you, Mr. Gillespie," she went on, with assertion
in her voice. "It is a green ray of light which shoots through the
sea, just as the topmost curve of the sun touches the water. I watch
for it often. I intend to watch for it till I see it, as others have
done."

"And what good will it do to you when you have seen it?" asked Paul.
They were speaking to each other, despite the pretence of general
conversation; but it was so often.

"I haven't the least idea," she answered airily; "for all that, I look
forward to seeing it as a great event in my life."

"Great events are dangerous; like some very valuable medicines,
uncertain in their effects. Birth, for instance--you may be born a
fool or a wise man. Marriage--a chance of the die--so I'm told.
Death." He pointed dramatically upwards and downwards with a whimsical
look on his anxious, gracious face.

"I deny it, I deny it altogether," cried the girl, forgetting herself
and him in her eagerness. "You are either in existence before birth,
or you are not. In the one case you must remain yourself, in the other
you, being nonexistent, cannot suffer chance or change. It is the same
with death. If there is no _you_ to survive, death itself ceases to be
since you are non-existent. If there is, you must remain yourself."

"Surely, my dear Miss Marjory," said the Reverend James, breaking in
on the girl's half-questioning appeal, "we are to be changed in the
twinkling of an eye?"

"And marriage, Miss Carmichael?" put in Paul, quietly, passing by the
last remark as if it, too, had been non-existent. "You left out
marriage in your philosophy."

Her face fell, yet softened.

"I do not know; it is like the Green Ray, something to dream about."

"To dream about! Ah! that sort of marriage is, I own, beyond the
vision of ordinary humanity."

"But indeed there is nothing scientifically impossible in the Green
Ray. You have only to get the angle of refraction equal to the----"

"Spare me, please. If I have to swallow romance I prefer it
undisguised. Even as a boy I refused powders in jam."

"Wish I had," grumbled Will, knocking the ashes out of his pipe. "I
have never been able to eat black-currant jelly in consequence. And it
is awfully nice in itself. Come, Marjory, we ought to be going."

"It is very hard to get rid of acquired tastes," muttered Paul, in an
undertone, as he rose, and quite familiarly held out his hand to help
Marjory to her feet also. "For instance, it will be difficult to
forget the flavour of the past fortnight."

"Why should you forget it?" They were standing apart from the others,
who were looking eastward to see if the boatmen were ready.

"Because the pleasure of it has been demoralising."

"I don't believe in the demoralising effect of pleasure."

"Perhaps not. You are one of the virtuously constituted whose pleasure
consists in behaving nicely. Mine doesn't."

Her hand went out in an impulsive gesture of denial.

"Why should you say that? You are not----"

"How can you know what I am?" he began bitterly, yet indifferently;
his eyes, not upon her, but fixed far on the distant horizon, as if
arraigning some unseen power which had made him what he was. Then he
paused abruptly, and infinite surprise drove everything else from his
face.

"Look!" he cried.

"Look?--what?--where?"

"Look!" His hand was on hers now, and its trembling touch seemed to
give her sight.

It was a new heaven and a new earth! For, on the outermost edge of the
world, the last beam of light from the sunken sun shot through the
waves, flooding sky, and sea, and shore, with a green light, soft and
pellucid as the heart of an emerald. But only for an instant. The next
he had loosed her hand and the light was gone.

"What are you staring at so, Miss Carmichael?" His mocking tone jarred
her through and through. She looked at him in sheer bewilderment.

"The--the Green Ray!"

"The Green Ray!" he echoed, in the same tones. "I say, Cameron! Here
is your cousin declaring she has seen the Green Ray. Did you see
anything?"

"Only the seal you were watching out on the rocks yonder," called
Will. "Splendid shot, wasn't it?"

"The Green Ray!" echoed the Reverend James, bustling up. "Dear me, how
interesting, and I missed it, somehow. What was it like, Miss
Marjory?"

The girl stood with her clear, cold eyes fixed on Paul's face. "I
scarcely know. You had better ask Captain Macleod. If I saw anything,
he saw it also; and saw it first!"

"But you have such a much more vivid imagination than I," he replied
easily, "that what would be to me merely an unusually beautiful
effect, might be to you a miracle. It is simply a question of
temperament, and mine is severely practical. In fact, Cameron, if we
are to get home to-night, it's time we were going."

"By George!" said Will, when, with a general scramble, they had stowed
everything on board, "it's later than I thought, the tide has turned,
and the wind is almost down. We must take the sweeps, I am afraid."

"All right," said Paul. "Hand us over an oar."

He was a different man; the lazy content was gone, and he gave a
stroke from a straight back which made Donald gasp between his
efforts--"Gorsh me! but he is a fine rower, is the laird!"

But there was silence--the silence of hard work--for the most part, as
they toiled home with wind and tide against them. Yet the scene was
beautiful as ever in the growing moonlight.

"We are not more than a mile from the house here, Marjory," said Will,
as they rounded a point below the Narrowest; "but it will take us a
good hour to get her to the boat-house, and I can't leave her here;
it's spring tides, and the painter's not long enough. But I'll land
you on that rock, and the laird will see you home. Mother will be
getting anxious."

"I would rather stay," she was beginning, when Paul cut her short.

"Back water, bow; pull, Donald. Luff her a bit. Miss Carmichael,
please. That will do." They were alongside the little jetty of rock,
and he was out. "Your hand, please, the seaweed is awfully slippery.
Donald, pass up those shells, will you, they are in my handkerchief.
All right, Cameron. Give way."

It had all passed so quickly, and this masterful activity of Paul's
was so surprising, that Marjory, rather to her own surprise, found
herself following close on his heels as he forced a way for her
through the dense thickets of bracken, or held back a briar from the
path in silence. Yet the silence did not seem oppressive; it suited
her own confusion, her own vague pleasure and pain. She had seen the
Green Ray, but she had seen it through Paul Macleod's eyes. Yes;
whether he would or not, they had seen it hand in hand. He might deny
it, but the fact remained. He was one of those who could see it!

And Paul, as he walked on, felt that the silence intensified his clear
pleasure and clearer pain. For there was no vagueness in _his_
emotions. It was not the first time that the touch of a woman's hand
had thrilled him through and through, as Marjory's had done as they
looked out over the sunset sea; but it was the first time that such a
thrill had not moved him to look upon the woman's face! And they had
stood still, hand in hand, like a couple of children, staring at the
Green Ray! What a fool he had been! What did it mean save something at
which he had always scoffed, at which he meant always to scoff! And
then the Green Ray? Was his brain softening that he should see visions
and dream dreams? He, Paul Macleod, who loved and forgot all, save his
own physical comfort. As everyone did in the end. And yet it was a
familiar pleasure to be in love again honestly, a pleasure to feel his
heart beating, to know that the girl he fancied was there beside him
in the moonlight, that he could tell her of his heart-beats if he
chose. But he did not choose. Love of that sort came and went! Did he
not know it? Did he not know his own nature, and was not that enough?
And yet, when they reached the high road a sudden desire to make her
also understand it, made him say, abruptly:

"When do you begin work? In London, isn't it?"

"Yes; in November."

"And you are really going to waste life in a dull, dirty school,
teaching vulgar little boys and girls."

"I shall teach them not to be vulgar."

He shrugged his shoulders. "You cannot fight against Nature, Miss
Carmichael; as we are born, we remain. You will only kill yourself in
your efforts at regeneration."

"I think not. I am very strong to begin with, and then I hate rusting
in idleness."

"Rust may be better than tarnish. When I think of you here in this
paradise--a fool's paradise, perhaps--and of what you must encounter
there, it seems preposterous for you to mix yourself up. But you do
not understand; you never will." He had forgotten his new outlook in
the old resentment at her unconsciousness.

"Understand what? I can understand most things if I try."

"Can you? I doubt it. You cannot understand me, for instance, but that
is beside the question. The only comfort is that real life will
disgust you. Then you will return to the home you should never have
left."

"I have no home--you know that."

"You can make one by marrying, as other girls do."

"I am not like other girls, thank you----"

"Do you think I can't see that?" he broke out quite passionately.
"Should I be talking to you as I am if you were--why, I can't even
speak to you of what some of them are. It is because you are not as
other girls----"

"Then you wish me to behave as they do. You are scarcely logical." Her
tone was as ice, and, chilling his passion, sent him back to his
cynicism.

"Logic and love do not generally run in double harness, Miss
Carmichael; but if you prefer the former, I am quite prepared to stick
to it. Someone wants a wife, someone wants a home. It is a mere case
of barter. What can be more natural, sensible----"

"And degrading."

"Pardon me, not always. I will take my own case if you will allow me.
We have touched on it often before. Let us speak frankly now. I need
money, not for myself alone; for the property. You have hinted a
thousand times that I am a bad landlord; so I am. How can I help it
without money?"

"You could be a better landlord than you are."

"If I chose to live on porridge and milk; but I don't choose, and I
don't choose to sell. I prefer to stick to champagne and devilled
bones, and give up another personal pleasure instead. And you say it
is degrading."

"I said nothing of the sort. I spoke of myself. It would degrade me. I
do not presume to speak of you."

"But you think it all the same."

"And if I do, what is that to you?" she cried suddenly, in hot anger.
"I do condemn you, if you will have the truth. I think you will
deliberately turn your back on the best part of life if you marry for
mere comfort--and, what is more, that you will regret it."

"Possibly. I regret most things after a time. Let us wait and see
whether you or I find the greatest happiness in life. Only we are not
likely to agree even there, for we shall not see the world in the same
light."

"Unless High Heaven vouchsafes us another Green Ray," she said coldly.

The allusion aroused all his own vexation with himself, all his
impatience at her influence over him. They were passing the short cut
leading to the Lodge, and he paused.

"I don't think I need intrude on Mrs. Cameron tonight," he said.
"Good-bye, Miss Carmichael." Then suddenly he turned with a smile of
infinite grace. "Let us shake hands over it to show there is no
ill-feeling. It is my last holiday, remember; and, according to
you, I am going into penal servitude for life. But I'll chance my
ticket-of-leave. I am generally fairly virtuous when I have enough to
eat and drink. And we have had a good time, haven't we?"

"Very," said Marjory. And though he tried hard to get up another
thrill as their hands met, he failed utterly. He might have been
saying good-bye to his grandmother for all the emotion it roused in
him; and as he strode home he scarcely knew if the fact were
disconcerting or satisfactory. The latter, in so far that it proved
his feeling for Marjory must be of a placid, sentimental form, to
which he was unaccustomed. What else could it be in such surroundings,
and with a girl who hadn't a notion what love meant?

And Marjory, as she crossed the few yards between her and Mrs.
Cameron's comments, felt vexed that she was not more angry with the
culprit. But once again the thought of the St. Christopher, and of
Paul's blue, chattering lips, when he had the chills at the Pixie's
Lake, came to soften her and make her forget all but admiration and
pity.



                             CHAPTER XI.


Rain! Rain! Rain! One drop chasing the other down the window-pane like
boys upon a slide. Beyond them a swaying network of branches rising
out of the grey mist-curtain veiling the landscape, and every now and
again a wild whirl of wind from the southwest, bringing with it a
fiercer patter on the pane. Those who know the West coast of Scotland
in the mood with which in nine cases out of ten it welcomes the
Sassenach, will need no further description of the general depression
and discomfort in Gleneira House a week after Paul had said good-bye
to Marjory at the short cut. For he had been right, the deluge had
come; and even Mrs. Cameron, going her rounds through byre and barn in
pattens, with petticoats high kilted to her knees, shook her head,
declaring that if it were not for the promise she would misdoubt that
the long-prophesied judgment had overtaken this evil generation. And
she had lived in the Glen for fifty years.

Poor Lady George, who had arrived at Gleneira wet, chilled,
uncomfortable, yet still prepared to play her rôle of hostess to
perfection, fell a victim to a cold, which, as she complained, put it
out of her power to give a good rendering to the part. Since it was
manifestly impossible to receive her visitors, arriving in their
turn wet, chilled, uncomfortable, with anything like the optimism
required, for protestations that Highland rain did no harm, and hot
whiskey-and-water did good, were valueless, when you sneezed three
times during your remark. If she could only have gone to bed for one
day, there would have been some chance for her; but that was
impossible, since nowadays one couldn't have a good old-fashioned cold
in one's head without the risk of breaking up one's party from fear of
influenza! So she went about in a very smart, short, tweed costume,
with gaiters, and affected a sort of forced indifference even when the
cook, imported at fabulous wages, gave up her place on the third day,
saying she could not live in a shower bath, and was not accustomed to
a Zoölogical Gardens in the larder; when the upper housemaid gave
warning because hot water was not laid on to the top of the house, and
the kitchenmaid refused to make the porridge for the half-dozen
Highland lassies, who did all the work, on the ground that no
self-respecting girl would encourage others in such barbarous habits.
But all this, thank heaven! was on the other side of the swing door;
still, though the guests could scarcely give warning, matters were not
much brighter in, what servants call, collectively, the dining-room.
Breakfast was a godsend, for a judicious admixture of scones and jams,
and a little dexterous manipulation of the time at which people were
expected to come down, made it last till eleven at the earliest. And
then the hall was a providence. Large, and low, and comfortable, with
a blazing fire, and two doors, where the ladies could linger and talk
bravely of going out. Looking like it, also, in tweeds even shorter
and nattier than Lady George's, yet for all that succumbing after a
time to the impossibility of holding up an umbrella in such a gale of
wind, joined to gentle doubts as to whether a waterproof was
waterproof. Then there was lunch. But it was after lunch, when people
had manifestly over-eaten themselves, that the real strain of the day
began. So that the Reverend James Gillespie, coming to call, despite
the pouring rain, as in duty bound, was delighted with the warmth of
his reception, and Lady George, making the most of the pleasing
novelty, reverted unconsciously to a part suitable to the occasion.

"Dear me!" she said plaintively; "this is very distressing! Imagine,
my dear Mrs. Woodward! Mr. Gillespie assures me that there is no
church in the Glen, only a schoolhouse. Paul, dear, how came you never
to mention this, you bad boy?"

Paul, who, after sending the most enthusiastic men forth on what he
knew must be a fruitless quest after grouse, was devoting himself to
the ladies, and in consequence felt unutterably bored, as he always
did when on duty, turned on his sister captiously:

"I thought you would have remembered the fact. I did, and you are
older than I am. Why, you used always to cry--just like Blazes
does--if my mother wouldn't let you open the picture papers during
service."

Lady George bridled up. It was so thoughtless of Paul, bringing all
the disagreeables in life into one sentence; and reminiscences of that
sort were so unnecessary, for everyone knew that even the best
childhood could not stand the light of adult memory.

"But surely there was a talk, even then, of a more suitable building.
I suppose it fell through. High time, is it not, dear Mrs. Woodward,
for our absentee landlord to repair his neglect?"

"The farm-steadings have first claim to repair, I'm afraid, Blanche,"
returned Paul, refusing his part. "The church will have to stand over
as a luxury."

Lady George, even in her indignation, hastened to cover the
imprudence, for the Woodwards were distinctly high.

"Not a bit of it, Paul! We will all set to work at once, Mr.
Gillespie, and see what can be done--won't we, dear Mrs. Woodward?"

"I would suggest writing to the Bishop as the first step," said the
Reverend James, modestly.

"And then a fancy fair," continued Lady George.

"Delightful! a fancy fair, by all means," echoed an elderly
schoolfellow of Blanche's, who had been invited on the express
understanding that she was to do the flowers and second all
suggestions.

"I trust you will have nothing of the kind, Blanche," put in Paul,
with unusual irritation. "I hate charitable pocket-picking. I beg your
pardon for the crude expression, Miss Woodward, but I have some
excuse. On one occasion in India I was set on by every lady in the
station, with the result that I found twenty-five penwipers of sorts
in my pocket when I got home."

"Twenty-five, that was a large number," said Alice, stifling a yawn.
"What did you do with them?"

"Put them away in lavender as keepsakes, of course."

"My dear Paul," put in his sister, hurriedly, recognising his unsafe
mood. "We do things differently in England. We do not set on young
men; we do not have----"

"A superfluity of penwipers," interrupted her brother, becoming
utterly exasperated; but as he looked out of the window he saw
something which made him sit down again beside Alice Woodward, and
devote himself to her amusement. Yet it was a sight which with most
men would have had exactly the opposite effect, for it was a glimpse
of a well-known figure battling with the wind and the rain along the
ferry road. But Paul Macleod had made up his mind; besides, rather to
his own surprise, the past few days had brought him very little of the
restless desire to be with Marjory, which he had expected from his
previous experiences in love. It was evidently a sentimental attack,
unreal, fanciful, Arcadian, like the episode in which it had arisen.
And yet a remark of his sister's at afternoon tea set him suddenly in
arms.

"Mr. Gillespie told me there was a girl staying at the Camerons',
Paul, who was a sort of governess, or going to be one. And I
thought--if she hadn't a dreadful accent, or anything of that sort,
you know, of having her in the mornings for the children."

"Miss Carmichael, Blanche," he broke in, at a white heat, "is a very
charming girl, and I was going to ask you to call upon her, as soon as
the weather allowed of it. I have seen a good deal of her during the
last few weeks, and should like you to know her."

Really, in his present mood, Paul was almost as bad as a dynamite
bomb, or a high-pressure boiler in the back kitchen! Still, mindful of
her sisterly devotion, Lady George covered his indiscretion
gracefully.

"Oh, she is that sort of person, is she? I must have misunderstood Mr.
Gillespie, and I will call at once, for it is so pleasant, isn't it,
Alice dear, for girls to have companions."

And yet, as she spoke, she told herself that this was an explanation
of her brother's patience in solitude, and that it would be far safer,
considering what Paul was, to keep an eye on this possible flirtation.
Meanwhile, the offender felt a kind of shock at the possibilities her
easy acquiescence opened up. He had been telling himself, with a
certain satisfaction, that the idyll was over, leaving both him and
her little the worse for it; and now, apparently, he was to have an
opportunity of comparing the girl he fancied, and the girl he meant to
marry, side by side. It was scarcely a pleasing prospect, and the
knowledge of this made him once more return to his set purpose of
fostering some kind of sentiment towards Alice Woodward. But the fates
were against him. Lord George, coming in wet, but lively, from a
constitutional, began enthusiastically, between his drainings of the
teapot, in search of something to drink, on the charms of a girl he
had met on the road. "A real Highland girl," continued the amiable
idiot, regardless of his wife's storm signals, "with a lot of jolly
curly hair: not exactly pretty, you know, but fresh as a daisy, bright
as a bee. I couldn't help thinking, you know, how much better you
would all feel, Blanche, if you went out for a blow instead of
sticking at home."

"We should not come into the drawing-room with dirty boots if we did,
should we, Alice dear? Just look at him, Mrs. Woodward! He isn't fit
for ladies' society, is he?"

Lord George gave a hasty glance at his boots, swallowed his tepid
washings of the teapot with a muttered apology, and retired, leaving
his wife to breathe freely.

"That must be Miss Carmichael, I suppose," she remarked easily. "I am
beginning to be quite anxious to see this paragon, Paul."

"Nothing easier," replied her brother, shortly; "if you will be ready
at three to-morrow afternoon, I'll take you over and introduce you."

Positively she felt relieved when, with some excuse about seeing
whether the sportsmen had returned, he left the drawing-room. It was
like being on the brink of a volcano when he was there, and yet, poor,
dear old fellow, he behaved very sweetly.

She said as much to him, being clever enough to take his real
affection for her into consideration, during a brief quarter of an
hour's respite from duty which she managed in his business-room before
dinner.

"I wish _I_ had a snuggery like this, Paul," she said, plaintively
shaking her head over his long length spread out on one side of the
fire, and Lord George's on the other, "but women always bear the brunt
of everything. If the barometer would go up I could manage; but it
_will_ go down, and though I've taken away the one from the hall,
Major Tombs has an aneroid in his room, and _will_ speak about it. And
Ricketts--I have had her for five years, George, you remember--gave me
warning to-day. It seems Jessie took advantage of the fire in
Ricketts's room to dry one of Paul's wet suits, and Ricketts thought
it was a burglar. She went into hysterics first, and now says she
never was so insulted in her life."

Paul laughed. "Would it do any good if I apologised?"

"Wish it had been mine," grumbled Lord George. "This is my last coat
but one, and the sleeves of it are damp. I can't think why the dickens
the women can't turn 'em inside out."

"Oh! of course, it's the women again, George, but the footman wants to
know if he is expected to grease boots, and I don't know what to say.
Someone used to grease them, I remember----"

"Oh! if it comes to that," said Paul, hotly, "I'll grease 'em myself.
Why should you bother, Blanche?"

"Now that is _so_ like a man! Someone must bother; and really servants
are so troublesome about boots, though I must own one would think you
men were centipedes; there are fifty pairs in the laundry at present.
And Mrs. Woodward says her husband has smoked too many cigars and
drunk too much whiskey and soda. As if it were my fault." Poor Lady
George spoke quite tearfully.

"Well, I offered to take him out, but he said his waterproof wasn't
waterproof. What the dickens does a man mean by coming to the West
Highlands without a waterproof? One doesn't expect anything else in a
woman, of course, but a man!"

Lady George dried her eyes disconsolately. "Oh! it is no use, George,
importing the antagonism of sex into the matter. It is bad enough
without that. If we only had a billiard-room I could manage. Do you
know I think it quite criminal to build a house in the country without
one."

"There are the Kindergarten toys, my dear," suggested her husband;
"the children seem to have tired of them."

"Oh, don't try to be funny, please!" retorted his wife; "that would be
the last straw. And nurse says it is because they cannot get out that
they are so cross. Just when I was counting on them, too, as a
distraction."

"Well, Blazes was that effectually this morning," replied her husband,
with an air of conviction; "he howled straight on end for two hours,
and when I went into the nursery to see what was up, I found the poor
little beggar sobbing over some grievance or another."

Lady George flushed up. "It was only because he couldn't come down
with the others--I really can't have him; he is so unreasonable, and
Mrs. Woodward doesn't believe in my system."

"Never mind, my dear Blanche," said her brother, consolingly. "It
seems to answer nicely with good children, and children ought to be
good, you know. And the barometer is going up, it really is."

"For wind, I suppose," replied his sister, tragically. Apparently it
was for wind; at any rate, Will Cameron coming up to see the laird on
business next day observed casually that this must be about the end of
it; an optimistic remark which has a certain definite significance in
a land of gales. Even the sportsmen were driven to the cold comfort of
examining the action of each other's weapons with veiled contempt,
discussing the respective merits of each other's accoutrements, from
cartridge cases to leggings, and trying to forget that the wild
weather was making the birds still wilder than they had been already.
It appeared to have the same effect upon humanity. Sam Woodward, who
had been a thorn in poor Lady George's side from the beginning, fell
out with the only man who could tolerate him, and thereafter told his
sister it was a beastly hole, and that he meant to make the _mater_
give him some oof, when he would cut and run to some place where
they weren't so beastly stuck up. Mr. Woodward, senior, after
roaming about disconsolately waiting for the post, was only
appeased by Lady George's suggestion that he would be doing yeoman's
service to the cause of civilisation if he composed a letter to the
Postmaster-General, calling attention to the disgraceful irregularity
in her Majesty's mails to Gleneira; whereupon he retired into the
library and wasted several sheets of foolscap.

It was on the children, however, that the weather had the most
disastrous effect; so much so that Lord George, returning in the
afternoon from a blow with Paul--whose patience had given way over a
point-blank refusal on the under footman's part to stop another hour
if he was not allowed a fire in his room before dinner--found his wife
in the nursery standing helplessly before Blazes, who, in his flannel
nightgown, was seated stolidly on the floor. Adam and Eve, meanwhile,
were eyeing the scene from their beds, where, however, they had a
liberal supply of toys.

"Oh, George!" she cried appealingly, "he has such a hard, hard heart;
and I am sure he must get it from your side of the family, so _do_ you
think you could do anything with him?"

"Put him to bed like the others," suggested his father, weakly,
showing signs, at the same time, of beating a retreat, but pausing at
the sight of his wife's face, which, to tell the truth, was not far
from tears.

"So I have, but he gets out again, and nurse can't hold him in all the
time. Besides, it was Mrs. Woodward's fault for being so disagreeable
about my system; but the children were naughty, poor dears; only, of
course, Adam and Eve went to bed when they were told--you see, they
are _reasonable_, and knew that if they _did_ they would be allowed to
come down again to dessert--and then they didn't really mind going to
bed to please me, the little dears. But Blasius actually slapped Mrs.
Woodward's face, and then she said he ought to be whipped. So we had
quite a discussion about it, and, in the heat of the moment, I told
Blasius he must stop in bed till he said he was sorry. And now I can't
make him stop in bed or say a word. He just sits and smiles."

Here their mother's tone became so unlike smiles that Adam and Eve,
from their little beds, begged their ducksom mummie not to cry, even
though Blazes was the baddest little boy _they_ had ever seen.

"If he won't say it, you can't make him," remarked Lord George aside,
with conviction. "If I were you I'd chance it."

"But I can't. You see, I told Mrs. Woodward I could manage my own
children, and so I've made quite a point of it with Blasius. I can't
give in."

Lord George, who was in the Foreign Office, and great on diplomatic
relations, whistled softly. "Always a mistake to claim when you can't
coerce--or retaliate." Then he added, as if a thought had struck him,
"Look here! has he had his tea? No! then hand him over to me; I'll put
him in the little room by the business room. Nobody will hear him
there even if he does howl, and as he gets hungry he will cave in, I
expect. At any rate, he can't get out of bed there, and I don't think
he can like it."

But for some unexplained reason, possibly original sin, Blasius
elected to be quite cheerful over the transfer. He informed the nurse,
as she put on his dressing-gown, that he was going to "'moke with
daddy," and when he reached the little bare room, which was almost a
closet, he tucked the same dressing-gown round his little legs very
carefully as he plumped down on the floor.

"Blazeth's goin' to stay here a long, long time," he said,
confidently. "Dood-night, daddy dear."

In fact, he was so quiet that more than once his father, smoking in
the next room, got up to open the door softly and peer in to see if by
chance any evil could have befallen the small rebel; only to retire
finally, quite discomforted by the superior remark that "when
Blazeth's horry Blazeth's 'll let daddy know." To retire and meditate
upon the mysterious problem of fatherhood, and that duty to the soul
which, somehow or another, you have beckoned out of the unknown. In
nine times out of ten, thoughtlessly, to suit your own pleasure; in
ninety-nine times out of a hundred to bring it up to suit your own
convenience, to minister to your amusement, to justify your theories.

Lady George, coming in with the falling twilight, when the duties of
afternoon tea were over in the drawing-room, found her husband, minus
a cigar, brooding over the fire.

"I've done it, Blanche," he said defiantly.

"Done what?"

"Beaten him. I knew I should some day."

His wife gave quite a sharp little cry. "Oh, George! and I trusted
you. I trusted you so entirely, because you knew it was wrong. And now
it can never be undone--never! You have ruined everything--all the
confidence, and the love--Oh! George, how could you?"

The man's face was a study, but it was one which few women could
understand, for there is something in a righteous disregard of
weakness which seems brutal to most of them; for to them justice, like
everything else, is an emotion.

"The little beggar bit me," he began, rather sheepishly, and then
suddenly he laughed. "He was awfully quiet, you know, and I thought he
was really getting hungry; so I went in, and by Jove! Blanche, he had
eaten nearly a whole dog biscuit! Paul keeps them there, you know, for
the puppy. Well, I felt he had me on the hip as it were, and if it
hadn't been for your face, I'd have given in--like a fool. So I sate
down and talked to him--like--like a father. And then he suddenly
slipped off my knee like an eel, and bit me on the calf. Got tired, I
suppose, and upon my soul, I don't wonder--we had been at it for
hours, remember. And then--I don't think I lost my temper, Blanche--I
don't, indeed; but it seemed to come home to me that it was he or I--a
sort of good fight, you know. So I told him that I wasn't going to be
bothered by him any more. He had had his fun, and must pay for it, as
he would have to do till the day of his death. And then I gave him a
regular spanking--yes! I did--and he deserved it."

There was the oddest mixture of remorse, defiance, pain, and pride in
her husband's honest face, but Lady George could see nothing, think of
nothing, save the overthrow of her system, her belief.

"I wonder you aren't ashamed of yourself!" she cried, quite
passionately. "It isn't as if he could reason about it as you can--it
isn't as if he understood--it is brute force to him, nothing more----"

"That's just it, you see," protested the culprit, feebly, "if he
_could_ reason."

"And now the memory must be between you two always, and it isn't as it
used to be in the old barbarous days. Parents nowadays care for
something more than the old tyranny. We have a respect for our
children as for human beings like ourselves. And now you will never
be--or at least you _ought_ never to be able to look him in the face
again! Just think what it means, George!" Blanche, as she stood there
with disclaiming hands and eloquent voice, felt herself no mean
exponent of the new order of things, and rose to the occasion. "If he
had been a man, you dared not have beaten him, so it was mean, brutal,
unworthy. How can you expect the child to forget it? Would you, if you
were in his place? No! He will never forget it, and the memory must
come between you----"

"Blazeth's horry."

A round, full, almost manly voice, and a round, broad face, seamed
with tears, yet strangely cheerful withal, as if, the bolt having
fallen, the sky was clear once more.

Blanche dropped to her knees, and, secure in her own conscience, held
out her arms to the little advancing figure, but the child steered
past them. It was fact, and fact alone, which impressed the sturdy
brain, which day by day was gathering up its store of experience
against the hand-to-hand fight with life, which, please God, would
come by and bye--the life which was no Kindergarten game, the life of
strange, unknown dangers, against which the only weapon is the sheer
steel of self-control. And this was a little foretaste of the fight in
which daddy had won; daddy, who could do nothing but clasp the little
figure close to his heart as it climbed to his knee, and then walk
away with it to the window to hide his own tears.

His wife, standing where Blasius had passed her by, could see those
two round, red heads, so strangely like each other, though the one had
a shock of rough hair and the other was beginning to grow bald. And
she could hear that round full voice with a ring of concern in it.

"Blazeth's horry he hurt daddy such a lot. And daddy hurt Blazeths
awful; but he's a dood boy now. And oh, daddy! I don't fink them
bickeys is half as nice as daddy's--and Blazeths would like one,
becauth he's a dood boy."

The storm was over. The sky was clear, and Lord George, as he carried
his youngest born pick-a-back upstairs to the nursery, felt that there
was a stronger tie between them than there had ever been before; a
strange new tie between him and the little soul he had beckoned out of
the unknown--the little soul to whom in future "Daddy says not" would
represent that whole concentrated force of law and order from which it
was at present sheltered, but which by and bye would be its only
teacher. And yet, when brought face to face with his wife's arguments,
he, being of the dumb kind, could only say:

"You see, my dear, Blazes is _not_ a Kindergarten child, now is he?"



                             CHAPTER XII.


And still it rained!

"Paul, this is awful," mourned poor Lady George, on the eighth
morning. "The post hasn't come at all for two days, and it is
positively heartrending to see poor Mr. Woodward trying to read
Monday's share-list for the third time. Then the beef hasn't come
either, and their maid won't eat any other meat. Hot roast twice a
day, and cold for lunch. All the servants have given warning, and I
don't believe the Woodwards will stand it."

"Let them give warning, too," broke in her brother, hotly; then seeing
his sister's face, went on after his wont, consolingly. "Don't bother,
please, I'm not worth it. Besides, if Miss Woodward is going to do me
the honour of marrying Gleneira, it is as well that she should learn
to stand a little damp."

"A little damp! Besides, she will have time to learn afterwards--women
always do after they are married--till then, they really have a right
to be amused. Can't you suggest something to cheer us up? I'm at my
wits' end. Even the book-box has gone astray, and it is so hard to
make conversation when you don't see the society papers."

"Shall I black my face or stand on my head and sing a comic song? I've
done both in my salad days."

"Oh, don't be unkind, Paul, when I have taken so much trouble!"

"You have, indeed," he echoed, walking to the window moodily, feeling
at once irritated and annoyed. Personally he would have found no
difficulty in amusing himself with Marjory, whom he had not seen for a
week, so close at hand. And suddenly the thought of someone else who
had had the knack of making time pass pleasantly occurred to him.
"I'll tell you what I'll do, Blanche, I'll wire to Mrs. Vane to come
at once. I expected to hear two days ago if she was to be with us this
week or next; but she would come anywhere to do a kindness, and she
would keep us alive--rain or no rain."

"It would be too late," returned his sister, dejectedly. "To do any
good she should be here to-day. I will not be responsible for another
hour--another minute of this detestable climate." She spoke quite
tragically, but her brother was staring out of the window with all his
eyes.

"By all that's impossible! Yes, it is. Hooray, Blanche! There she is."

"Who! What!"

"Violet! Violet Vane in Macniven's machine. How on earth----" He was
out of the door full of excitement, followed by his sister, who was
heard giving tragic orders for hot baths and blankets.

"She must be half drowned," said Mrs. Woodward, hastening from her
room at the sound of wheels to join the little circle crowding round
the window to watch the arrival. "She will go to bed at once, of
course."

"And have something warm," said one voice.

"More likely inflammation of the lungs. I remember----" suggested
another.

"Bronchitis, at least--poor thing--poor thing----" put in a third.

To which Cassandra chorus came the sound of a musical laugh and a
perfect ripple of chatter, as Paul, with a new cheerfulness in his
face, ushered in the daintiest little figure, which, as he held the
door open, looked back at him to finish the recital of her adventures
with words, "It was such fun."

"My dear Mrs. Vane," cried Lady George, "you must be dead!"

"Only with laughing, I assure you. I am not a bit wet, thanks. I got
them to lend me a tarpaulin jacket and a sou'-wester. But Captain
Macleod tells me I was not expected--I am so sorry, but really I did
write."

"The post is shamefully irregular," put in Mr. Woodward, majestically;
"it did not come yesterday, and I have no doubt it will not come
to-day."

"But it has! I brought it. Peter Macniven--that was my
driver--proposed I should give it a lift, and Donald Post said it
would save time if I took out the Gleneira letters myself. So I did.
They are in my bag downstairs, Paul--quite a large bundle for Mr.
Woodward; and all the picture papers, and a packet of chocolates from
Fuller's. And, oh! by the way, Lady George, there was a basket of beef
and a box of books lying for you at the Oban pier, so I took the
liberty of bringing them along."

"My dear--my dear Mrs. Vane!"

Lady George positively could say no more. Here was a guest, indeed. It
was as if a glint of sunshine had come into the house; so that after a
time the young man with a big head, whom Lady George had invited
because he could recite poetry to the young ladies, and who had for
the last few days been elaborating a sonnet on suicide, went hurriedly
out of the room to commit to paper the opening lines of a lyric, "To a
sea breeze sweeping away a storm." It was the same with everyone in
the house, and even the maids bustled to get her room in order, and
the butler, after laying an extra place at the dinner-table, remarked
in the housekeeper's room that now, perhaps, the dining-room would
have conversation that was worth listening to.

Only Paul, remembering her ways of old, and that, spirits or no
spirits, the long journey must have fatigued one who was past the
first untiringness of youth, urged her to rest; but with a little
familiar nod of comprehension she set the very idea aside with scorn.
Thereby, to say sooth, starting fair with him by arousing once more
that tender admiration for pluck which, despite asseverations to the
contrary, most men have for courage and fire in a woman. Paul Macleod,
at any rate, felt it keenly when she came, plumaged like some delicate
butterfly, into the drawing-room before dinner, causing Mr. Woodward
to put down the share-list without a sigh, and Sam, who had been
laying down the law loudly, to become bashfully silent. And then when,
in consequence of her being the Honourable Mrs. Vane by virtue of a
most dishonourable husband, Paul took her down to dinner, how
different that dinner was! He recognised it gratefully; recognised the
readiness of her smile, the art which her bright eyes had of making
people believe in themselves and feel that they, too, had something to
say worth the saying. The art, in short, of the hostess, which Lady
George, with all her cleverness, had not; for the simple reason that
she thought too much about the effect she was producing. And Violet
Vane's worst enemies might call her artificial, but they could never
have called her self-conscious or selfish. While, as for the
artificiality, a woman must needs be that who is deadly weary, and who
has given herself bright eyes and a ready tongue by means of chloric
ether. Violet had to slip away for another dose ere she could face
what to her was the dreariest, deadliest hour of the day--the time
when the ladies wait patiently for the men to come up from the wine
and the cigars; for she was frankly, unblushingly, a man's woman, and
would confess as much to anyone with a smile. And wherefore not? She
had lived among them all her life. She had no babies to discuss, had
no experience of English housekeeping, and felt no sympathy with
woman's rights or wrongs; for the simple reason that she herself had
never felt the least disqualification of sex. She was _bonne camarade_
in every fibre of her mind and body; yet withal a thorough little
lady.

"Paul, my friend," she said, as he made his way straight to her sofa,
where, with wide, bright eyes, she had been taking sights for future
steering, "you can have five minutes by the clock, and then monsieur
will be on duty again. Will he not? Yes! no doubt five minutes is
short; it will not suffice to tell me all you have to tell, will it?
But I would rather leave it for to-morrow. For I am tired, Paul, so
tired, and I don't want to be cross."

Something in her voice touched him. "Of course, you are tired. I know
that. But when was our dear lady ever cross?"

The old familiar title, given in the remote Indian station to the
dainty little woman who had made life so pleasant to so many, came to
his lips naturally, and the scent of the jasmine she wore carried him
back to the days when it had seemed an integral part of consciousness;
since life was divided into delirium-haunted forgetfulness and
confused awakenings to the familiar perfume. And those are things a
man never forgets. She laughed, though the words sent a throb to her
heart.

"Cross?" she echoed; "I am always cross when people are dull. And you
are dull to-night, Paul. Why?"

Those bright eyes were full of meaning, and he hesitated over the
remark that he had been waiting for the sunshine of her presence. She
laughed again, this time with an odd little ring in it. "My dear Paul,
you should not need sunshine nowadays." There was no mistaking her
intent, and he winced visibly.

"I always said you had antennae, Violet," he replied, with a flush;
"but how on earth have you found that out already?"

She paused for a moment, and a mad desire to quote a proverb about
thieves came over her. So it was true, then! True, and she--she was
too late! She set her teeth firmly over her own pain. "Does it
generally need such great acumen to discover when Paul Macleod is in
love, _mon ami?_"

The sarcasm struck home, and he rose, feeling the position untenable.
"Come and sing," he said; "it is years since I heard you."

She shook her head. "It will not do, Paul; not even though it is five
years six months seventeen days and a few hours or so since we sang
'La ci darem' together. The five minutes is not up yet, so sit down,
please, and tell me who these people are whom you want to amuse. Or,
stay! I will catalogue them, and then you can correct my mistakes.
Your sister? How handsome she is, yet not in the least like you. Lord
George? A perfect angel, with a twinkle in his eye. He is to be my
best friend. Your Miss Woodward? Alice is a pretty name, Paul; and her
hair shall be of what colour it shall please God. Am I right,
Benedict? Papa Woodward? Have a care, Paul! he studies the share-list
too much; so have it in Government securities. Mamma Woodward? What
her daughter will be at that age; it is such an advantage to a man,
Paul, to see exactly what his future will be. Master Woodward? No! I
will leave you to describe him."

Paul winced again. "You are very clever, Violet--suppose you pass on
to the others----"

"I told you I was evil-tempered. Then there is the young man who
wrote a sonnet to somebody's eyebrow--probably mine--between the soup
and fish. Two young ladies colourless--your sister is clever, too,
Paul--and a couple of men to match. Finally the Moth."

"Who?"

"Miss Jones, or is she Miss Smith? I met her in Devonshire with
another school friend. She was Watteau then--cream and roses. I met
her, too, on a yacht--anchors and lanyards. And here, like Lady
George, she is _moyen-âge_."

"But why the Moth?"

"Because she takes her colour from what she preys upon; and she frets
my garment! That is all, except the lady who bicycles and thinks
Gleneira too hilly, and the man who takes photographs."

"My dear Violet!" laughed Paul; "you are a witch."

"Pardon me! I am an ass--all ears. And Bertie, Palmer, and Gordon come
next week. I'm glad of that; one can't make bricks without mud. Straw
requires the baser clay."

"Straw! that is hardly complimentary to your sex!"

"Pardon me again! the highest duty of a woman is to please man, and he
is proverbially tickled by a straw. So now for the neighbours."

"None."

Violet Vane's eyebrows went up in derision. "There is no Sahara in
Lorneshire, and you have been here for three weeks--or is it a month?"

"To be accurate, a month and four days."

"Dear me! what a long time it takes to put up curtains."

"Very. I am sure those five minutes are over, Violet. Won't you come
and sing for us?"

"How--how dreadfully dull you must have been, Paul!"

"Dreadfully. Blanche! will you try and persuade Mrs. Vane to sing to
us--she is obdurate with me."

Lady George, delighted at her brother's virtue in seeking to break up
a _tête-a-tête_, was urgent in her appeals, and Mrs. Vane passed to
the piano, airily.

"There is music here," cried Lord George, officiously producing a book
from the canterbury. Mrs. Vane took it with a gracious smile.

"Bach! Corelli! This is yours, I suppose, Miss Woodward?"

"No! I don't play," replied Alice, and Mrs. Vane turned instantly to
the flyleaf.

"There are no songs in that book," remarked Paul, black as thunder,
laying his hands on the volume. "Not that it matters--for Mrs. Vane
used not to need music----"

"Nor does she now," retorted the little lady, laughing, as she sate
down, saying as she did so, in an undertone, "Does Marjory Carmichael
play Bach well, Paul? I hope so; he is dreadful when murdered."

The reply, if reply there came, was lost in her sudden burst into one
of those French _chansons_ in which laughter and tears are so closely
interwoven that the mixture is apt to confuse the insular
understanding. Her singing was, like herself, bright, gracious,
fluent, with the rare perfection of training which conceals art.

"She reminds me of Piccolomini," said Mr. Woodward, in pompous
delight, feeling himself the better for the remark, after the fashion
of men who are no longer afraid of being considered old. "A most
charming little person altogether. Who is she?"

"The widow of an Honourable--a Colonel--one of the Wentworths, I
suppose," replied Lady George, yielding to the reflected glory of a
successful guest. "She was very kind to Paul when he was ill in India,
and we are all very fond of her. A most desirable friend for him to
have."

"Most desirable!" echoed Mr. Woodward; and Blanche felt that she had
been wise, since no one could tell how Paul would behave with a woman
of that sort. She might have felt still more doubtful if she had seen
the desirable friend after she reached the seclusion of her own room,
sitting dry-eyed and haggard before the looking-glass, as if to read
the ravages of time in each faintly-growing wrinkle.

"I have been a fool!" she said, half aloud, as she rose; "but it may
not be too late. I thought at first he was in love with that girl; but
it is not she. Oh, why! Why didn't I tell him I was rich now, instead
of waiting like a romantic idiot to see if he could still care for me?
Care for me! As if any man wouldn't care for a woman such as I, if she
chose to let him care. Well! I must sleep now; I can't afford to look
older than I am." So she opened her dressing-case, took out a bottle
of chloral, measured herself out a full dose, and half an hour
afterwards was sleeping peacefully, like a child.

When she woke the sun was streaming in at the open window--for she was
one of those to whom the close atmosphere of English houses is
unendurable--and she curled herself round comfortably in her bed to
consider the new aspect of affairs before rising to face them. In a
way she was to be pitied, for in sending Paul Macleod to Kashmir, in
order to buy a silk carpet, she had really touched the highest point
of self-abnegation of which she was capable. She had done it to save
him; for what? For this colourless girl who would never understand his
odd mixture of sentimentality and worldliness? No! not for that. Even
as a friend she could not stand by and see him ruin his prospects of
happiness in that fashion. Had she not hesitated herself in those old
days, when, by simply leaving a man who disgraced her every hour and
moment of his life, she could, after a brief period, no doubt of
horrible humiliation, have married Paul herself? She had hesitated
because of his future, for nothing else; and was she to stand by and
see him ruin it for no just cause, since she was wealthy enough now
for all his wants? There was a sufficiency of high moral tone in this
view of the question to serve her purpose, which she strengthened by
telling herself that if she had found Paul properly devoted to his
heiress, she would once more have sacrificed herself. All is fair,
says the proverb, in love and war; but Mrs. Vane felt much was fair
because it was not love, and came down to breakfast determined to see
what could be done. For Paul's sake first, of course, and then?--for
the present Mrs. Vane decided to leave that alone.

Despite the sunshine, the menkind came down slackly, grumbling at a
real shooting day being just "nippet awa by the Sawbath." Obedient,
nevertheless, to the order for church parade at the schoolhouse,
which, being of modest dimensions, overflowed after a time into the
road, where the latest comers contented themselves with sitting on the
turf-capped dyke beneath the chestnut tree, where they could just hear
the swell of the responses, and join in the hymns if they chose. Mrs.
Vane, standing during the _Venite_ beside Paul, could see these
outdoor worshippers, and rather envied them, being at heart a thorough
little Bohemian. Yet the interior interested her quick brain also, and
she watched Lady George with furtive amusement, as the course of
service brought to that lady a dim suspicion that she had lost her
place. For, despite Mr. Gillespie's suggestion of a second and English
"diet" for the visitors, Blanche had preferred to bring them to the
Gaelic; moved thereto by a vague feeling that it gave, as it were, a
_cachet_ to the laird of Gleneira, with whose importance she was
anxious to impress the Woodwards. The effect, however, was somewhat
disastrous, since Alice looked shocked and surprised, Sam laughed, and
Mrs. Woodward, after a frantic effort to follow the Psalms, gave up
the struggle. Mr. Woodward had--Blanche felt fortunately--remained at
home, for he was of the stern, uncompromising section of British
laymen who only attend service on high days, and have, in consequence,
strong opinions as to the necessity of the Athanasian Creed to the
stability of the English Church. Paul, tall and listless, looked so
persistently towards one dark corner, that at last Mrs. Vane's
watchful eyes, following his, discovered an attraction in the girl
playing the harmonium. And then it struck her that the voluntary had
been a bit of Corelli! Yet that was not the sort of face to make Paul
stare, as he undoubtedly was staring. She looked up at him quickly,
and with a real shock recognised something in his expression which she
had not expected, something which roused her to a sudden flame. It was
almost a relief when Donald Post, stealing in on tiptoe noisily,
caused a general stir, followed by an all-pervading smell of
sealing-wax from the other dark corner, which showed that Mr. McColl
was sealing up the bag; Lady George's face the while being an
unsuccessful attempt to combine horror and unconsciousness, while her
husband's, much to her annoyance, openly reflected the children's
unabashed interest. It was a greater relief still, when the sermon
came to an end, the letters were handed round, and, with joyful barks,
the collies rushed out, followed by the quality. All but Mrs. Vane,
who stood listening to a fugue of Bach's with a little fine smile on
her face. Inaction was over, and she must survey this new difficulty
without delay.

"Don't wait," she said to Paul, lightly; "I love Bach, and Miss
Carmichael plays charmingly."

He said a bad word under his breath as he passed out, and yet for the
life of him he could not be angry with her. She saw through him, of
course; right through to the very worst part of him, and yet she was
his friend. When he joined the gathering outside Lady George was
already shaking hands benignly with all and sundry, whispering between
whiles to Mrs. Woodward that it was a Highland custom, and so much
more conducive to proper relations between landlord and tenant than
the English standoffishness. In fact, she was in her element, in a new
part of great capabilities. Paul, on the other hand, merely nodded and
smiled; but his great personal beauty, his reputation as a soldier and
a sportsman, went further towards popularity among both the men and
the women than all his sister's condescension. And still the Bach
fugue went on, being, in truth, susceptible of many repeats and _da
capos_, while Marjory, over the music desk, gave annoyed glances at
the dainty little figure at the door. During the past week of Paul's
absence, the charm of his personality had faded, leaving behind it the
memory that he was hardly of her world; that even if he had been, he
was hardly the sort of man with whom she could have sympathy. And yet,
with the sight of him, had come back the old excuses, the old
conviction that he slandered himself. It did not make her feel any the
more kindly towards the world which held him back from his better
self; towards women, for instance, like this one at the door.

"Are you not coming, Violet? The others have gone on."

Paul's voice had a note of warning in it, but she never heeded his
thunderings like others did, and in that lay the secret of her power
over him.

"I am waiting for you to introduce me to Miss Carmichael," she said
calmly; "then we can walk home together. I want to ask her where she
learned to play Bach."

A transparent prevarication, but one it was impossible to set aside;
nor, to tell truth, did Paul wish to set it aside. The temptation
presented to him by this little Eve in a Paris costume, was far too
welcome for that; so welcome that the very excess of his own fierce
desire to yield to it made him silent, while Mrs. Vane set herself
deliberately to pierce through the girl's shield of stiff politeness.
Not a difficult task with one so quick to respond to the least touch
of sympathy; besides, Mrs. Vane in her girlhood had lived in the great
world of music, among people who were to Marjory as prophets and
kings. So she was soon deep in eager inquiry, and positively felt
impatient as, when they were passing old Peggy's cottage, little Paul
started up from the brackens with a quick message that his grannie
would like to see Miss Marjory, if she could spare time.

"What a pretty little fellow," remarked Mrs. Vane. "Is Paul a common
name about here? or is it a compliment to the laird?" She asked the
question carelessly, and was genuinely surprised at the look it
brought to the elder Paul's face.

"It is certainly not out of compliment to me, so I presume it is a
common name--since you gave no other alternative." This was a manifest
loss of temper on his part, not to be justified so far as she could
see; therefore, in her opinion, a thing to be decently covered at the
time, however much it might mean when considered. So she remarked
that, common or not, it was a name she liked. And then she said
good-bye charmingly, warning Miss Carmichael that she must expect to
be disturbed for more Bach; and so drifted on daintily.

"She is quite delightful, your Miss Carmichael," she began,
negligently, after a pause.

Paul, who, after a handshake with Marjory, had rejoined her, looking
better pleased with himself, decided on adopting her mood.

"Very; though I fail to see why you should use the possessive pronoun.
She would not thank you, believe me."

"Because you discovered her, that is all. She is charming. Like
Brynhild, brave and bold."

"Cruel and cold."

"Nonsense. Men like you, my friend, of the earth earthy, are alarmed
by the glistening circle of fire. Few have the courage to leap it and
wake the heart within. Gudrun, duly decked in diamonds and given away
by her father in St. George's, Hanover-square, is more in your line.
Better so, for Sigurd is a double-faced scoundrel, and Brynhild's
heart is too good to break." Her voice grew serious, a little bitter
smile came to her face; for Violet had a heart of her own.

"I quite agree with you."

The jest was gone both from his mind and hers, and she changed the
subject adroitly, certain of one thing, that here was a weapon ready
to her hand. Love _versus_ Greed-of-Gold! Really, that method of
putting it sounded quite pretty. And then suddenly a fierce pang of
jealousy shot through her as she thought of the look she had caught
unawares on Paul's face. Alice Woodward would never rouse such a look
as that--never! Would it not be better to leave things as they were?
But, then, why should they not be turned to something better? If,
somehow, they could be manipulated so as to disgust him both with mere
money and mere affection, it would be better for all concerned. For
him, above all, since he could neither live without love or money; and
she could give him both.

As they talked commonplaces during the remainder of the walk, Paul
felt more contented than he had done for a week, even while he was
asking himself captiously why this should be so. To see the girl you
like, and say not a single word to her ear alone, to shake hands with
her and feel no desire to prolong the touch, to look in her face and
see nothing that was not clear and cold in her eyes, was not, could
not, be comforting. Clearly his feeling for her was not to be classed
as a passion. And yet how glad he had been to see her. How contented
he had been to walk beside her, and what a sense of _bien-être_ her
presence gave him. And it was distinctly satisfactory to find it so
little disturbing. Then, recognising the fact that he was becoming
absent in the effort to remember the exact look on her face as she
shook hands with him, he set the thought of her from him angrily. He
would not be the sport of a mere sentimental fancy, unworthy of a man
who had the courage to face his own manhood.



                            CHAPTER XIII.


The next morning Paul, smoking his usual cigar of proprietorship about
the stables and dog kennels, saw Mrs. Vane coming with a pretty little
air of hesitation along one of the shrubbery paths.

"_Ben trovato!_ Who would have thought of finding you here?" she cried
gaily, just as if she had not been watching to catch him from her
window for the last ten minutes. "I have missed my way to the Lodge;
show it to me, please."

He looked into her clever, charming face, understanding perfectly what
she was at, and yet the _finesse_ did not irritate him as it would
have done in another woman. Besides, in this instance, she was just a
little too clever, as he meant to prove to her.

"By all means," he replied coolly; "I was just going there myself to
apologise to Mrs. Cameron for my sister's negligence, but really the
weather has been so bad."

Mrs. Vane shot an amused glance at her tall companion. So Paul meant
to ride the high horse, that poorest of all defences against a quick
wit; like that of lance against bayonet, dignified and circumambient,
but quite ineffectual.

"But I am not going to see Mrs. Cameron," she retorted frankly; "I am
going to see if Miss Carmichael will be kind and play Bach to me; it
is a long time since I heard him played so well. You used to be fond
of him, too, in the old days, Paul. Don't you remember how you used to
lie on the sofa after that fever and declare that a wife's first duty
was to be able to play to her husband? But girls--at least, most
girls--don't care to play nowadays unless they are professionals. And
if they are professionals they don't care to be wives--not even to a
Highland laird."

"In regard to the present musician," replied Paul, beginning to
dismount, "I am sure no such scheme of self-sacrifice ever entered her
head. Miss Carmichael is charming, I admit; but she has a mission in
life, and it is not to regulate me. That, I think, is a fair and full
statement of the truth, except that before I came here she used to
practise occasionally on the piano at the Big House, and, I presume,
left her music there by mistake."

Mrs. Vane stopped in an attitude of tragic despair. "There! I have
gone and forgotten it after all, and that was my excuse for going so
soon. You see, your sister said it had better be taken back at once,
as none of the girls in the house played, and so it wouldn't be
wanted."

Paul bit his lip at the double thrust. "Perhaps it is as well you
_have_ forgotten it," he said angrily; "Miss Carmichael will, no
doubt, be able to use it herself some day soon."

"That will be delightful," replied Mrs. Vane, with a sudden cessation
of attack.

Five minutes after, rather to his own surprise, Paul Macleod found
himself talking to Marjory as he might have talked to any other girl
of his acquaintance, and wondering how he could have been such a fool
as to imagine himself to be in love with her. After all, he told
himself, his first theory had been right, and the ridiculously
unconventional familiarity of the past idyll was mainly responsible
for the mawkish sentimentality which had attacked him of late, but
which, thank heaven! was now over. How could it be otherwise with a
girl like Marjory--a perfect iceberg of primness and propriety?

His sense of security, joined to a certain unconfessed resentment at
her apparent indifference as to whether he came or not, drove him into
more effusive apologies on his sister's behalf than he would otherwise
have made, and brought down on him a remark from Mrs. Cameron that
"Indeed and in truth Marjory would no be going to make strangers of
the laird and his sister, and he so kind, in and out o' the house for
weeks, just like a bairn of her own." Whereat Mrs. Vane, stifling a
desire to laugh at Paul's evident confusion, came to the rescue with a
well-timed diversion about some of the household troubles which had
been occupying Lady George.

'"Deed!" said Mrs. Cameron, after listening sympathetically, "I can
well believe it! But the warld will come to an end soon, that's one
comfort. You see, it'll just no be possible' for Providence to put up
wi' it much longer, for it's a' I can do to have patience wi' my small
corner of the vineyard, an' that, praise be, is no sae bad as it might
be, seeing that I can hand my ain wi' most folk."

"But Providence can do that also, surely, Mrs. Cameron?" laughed Paul.

"Maybe, an' maybe not. I grant ye it comes quits at the hinder end,
what wi' worms that die not, an' fires that be not quenched. But it's
a weary long time to blow at the flames o' wrath, and wadna suit me
that's aye for havin' it out and done wi'. Lord sakes! life wad no be
worth havin' if I had to write down a' the servant lassies cantrip's
in a big bookie against term day, an' keep my tongue on them
meanwhiles. And it is little the hussies would care if I did, for they
wad ken find I'd just forgive them when the day of reckoning came, an'
forgiveness just beats all for spoiling folk."

"It's lucky for some of us," put in Mrs. Vane, with a laugh, "that
Providence isn't of your way of thinking."

"'Deed, I am not as sure of that neither. Folk would think twice o'
breaking the law if it waant for the grips they have on mercy. It is
just, you see, in the nature o' man to stand by his luck if the odds
are even; but if he knows he'll get paicks he will just keep the body
in subjection. It is the same in all things. Just look at the
difference in the manners o' folks nowadays! Not half so good as in
the old times when they had to stand sponsor for each word with a
pistol shot. Why, I mind, Gleneira, your grandfather calling out
Glenrannooh for passing him on the kirk steps without a reverence!"

"I didn't know you were so bloodthirsty," remarked Paul; "and though I
quite agree with you, theoretically, I must be careful, since you
evidently don't believe in apologies."

"Apologies," echoed Mrs. Cameron, scornfully. "No! no! Gleneira.
They're fine healin' balm to the sinner, but I'll have none coming
between me and my rights. There was James Gillespie telling little
Sandy McColl to go an' apologise to wee Peter Rankin for pulling his
hair, instead o' just giving the laddie a good skelping, and daring
him to do it again. So the bairns just bided their time and had it out
in a natural way, and you never saw such sichts they were. I'm no
saying folk should not be repentant o' their sins, but they should
just take the consequences along wi' the forgiveness."

"Or follow my example and take neither," suggested the laird.

Mrs. Cameron looked at him sharply, then shook her head. "Havers! that
is what no mortal man can do, least of all, you, Gleneira, with your
soft heart."

"Soft heart!" echoed Paul, derisively. "It is only that towards you,
Mrs. Cameron; to the world in general it is hard as adamant. Don't you
agree with me, Miss Carmichael?"

"Hard enough to ensure your peace of mind, I hope," she replied
quietly.

Violet Vane's bright eyes were on them both, and she gave an odd
little laugh. "I wonder if it is! I should like to vivisect you and
find out, Captain Macleod; only the process of seeing the 'wheels go
wound,' as Toddie says in 'Helen's Babies,' might end in stopping them
altogether. Perhaps it would be as well--for other people's hearts."

"The heart is no easily damaged, anyway," put in Mrs. Cameron, with
the air of one who knows. "Folks like to think it is, but it is
maistly the stomach that goes wrang. I've seen a heap o' broken hearts
in my time cured wi' camomile tea; it's just grand for the digestion."

"I shall order Peter Macpherson to lay down a large bed at once,"
began Paul, gravely.

"For the sake of your victims, I suppose," interrupted Mrs. Vane.
"Commend me to Captain Macleod, Mrs. Cameron, for shameless conceit."

"Pardon me," put in Paul, "for my own." He gave a glance at Marjory,
who was standing apart with a little fine smile of contempt on her
face, but she took no notice of him. To tell truth she scarcely knew
why she felt scornful, and, when they had gone, she sate down in
defiance of her promise to her books again, telling herself that Paul
by himself, willing to fall in with her life, was quite a different
being from Paul expecting her to be friends with his friends--people
whose dresses fitted them like a glove, and who looked charming. Yes,
that was the right word!--charming from the sole of their feet to the
crown of their heads. As if she had anything in common with such
people!--or, for the matter of that, with Paul, himself--she, whose
fate it was to work, and who liked that fate? Yet almost before
Captain Macleod and his companion had reached home after the _détour_
he begged for round the garden, Marjory had thrown down her book in a
temper at her own stupidity, run upstairs for her hat, and was off for
a wild, solitary scramble over the hills.

Paul and his companion, meanwhile, strolling idly through the vineries
and hothouses, she with dainty dress, draped gingerly from fear of
stain, and vivid, whimsical face, diving like a honey-sucker at the
perfumed flowers, were enjoying themselves thoroughly in their own
way; so that the former, coming out at last from an atmosphere of
stephanotis and tropical heat to face the bright, sharp air of a
Highland glen, gave a little shiver, and told himself inconsequently
that Violet was the most charming companion in the world. And so she
was, being blessed with the infallible range-finder called tact; for
half the misunderstandings of life come from people either blazing
away at a bird that is out of shot, or blowing one to pieces,--that is
to say, from a failure to appreciate distance and the fact that,
though our best friend may be, so to speak, well within range over
night, that is no reason why we should reach him with the same sight
the next morning. In most of us feeling, tastes, dislikes, fluctuate
with every hour; nay, more, the individual, as a whole, hovers like
the needle of a barometer on either side of change, so that the more
sensitive of us are conscious of the difference in ourselves at
different times in the day, and it becomes possible for us to be
certain that we might do that at ten o'clock at night which we could
not do at ten o'clock in the day. Yet, despite this undoubted fact,
most of us resent the change of position in regard to our outlook in
life which it entails, the change of key which strict harmony
requires. Mrs. Vane, however, was not one of the many, and, as a rule,
when she played a dissonant note she did it out of malice
aforethought; as she did now when, looking back at the garden with its
low espaliers and broad walks bordered by old-fashioned flowers, she
paused to say sweetly, "It is a charming place, Paul; you ought to be
very happy here with her."

He frowned as he held the door open for his companion to pass through;
but he was beginning to remember that she used the bayonet deftly, and
came to close quarters at once.

"The personal pronoun, third person singular, feminine gender,
accusative case, is rather too vague to interest me, I'm afraid. Can't
you suggest something more concrete?"

She laughed as she pointed gaily to an upper path which, after a time,
would merge into theirs. "See! yonder are the young ladies, going
home, as we should be also, since you will be wanted. Don't let me
keep you, please. They will walk faster than I do, and I am used to
being left behind to fend for myself."

"Not by me," he replied, with a certain self-complacency, "and you
never will be, I trust. I should be a brute indeed were I to forget
all your kindness."

"_Dieu mercie_," she flashed out, in sudden, uncontrollable
resentment, "how I hate gratitude! It takes half the flavour out of
life. I often think I should have been happier if I had not been so
kind to people."

"I have no doubt you made _them_ much happier, if that is any
consolation to you."

"Not in the slightest." Then as suddenly her irritation passed, and
she looked up at him with a whimsical smile. "Paul," she said, "I
believe Miss Carmichael used to set you copies--or is it Miss
Woodward? anyhow, you are detestably didactic to-day; so it is just as
well the others are joining us, or you would be telling me that 'Evil
communications corrupt good manners.'"

"The process is pleasant, anyhow," he replied, in one of those moments
of recognition which come to us, even with familiar friends, as some
quality or charm strikes us afresh; "and you couldn't corrupt my good
temper, for you always put me into one, somehow. I believe you use
arts and spells."

She shrugged her shoulders gaily. "Burn me as a witch, by all means!
You can afford it since the next fairly good-looking woman you meet
will have exactly the same consolatory power. As you said, the
personal pronoun, feminine gender, third person singular, has a wide
application for Paul Macleod. Ah! Miss Woodward, what lovely ferns! We
have just been going round the houses, and there is a hibiscus out
which you ought to see. It put me in mind of India; you sent the seed
home from our garden, I think, didn't you, Captain Macleod? We might
go back and look at it now, and return by the beach, mightn't we? It
is no longer, and far prettier."

The result of which easy, deft manipulation of a chance meeting being
that, ere the memory of his pleasant stroll with her had passed from
Paul's somewhat vagrant mind, he was performing the same pilgrimage
again under different guidance. Now, Alice Woodward was always counted
a most agreeable girl in her world, and Paul, as in duty bound, laid
himself out to please; yet all the time they were chatting amicably
about Shakespeare and the musical glasses he was conscious of an
effort, and of a desire to know what the other girls who were lagging
behind with Violet could be laughing at so gaily.

"That is the hibiscus," he said, stopping abruptly before the flower
which, with its creamy petals and crimson heart, had ten minutes
before carried him back to another hemisphere, another life--a
pleasant, younger life, with more possibilities of passion in it than
the present one.

"It is very pretty," replied Alice, blandly, rather absently. "The
colours are lovely. I really think colours improve every year. Do you
remember at Constantinople, Captain Macleod, everyone agreed that
there was a decided advance on Venice? In that ballet before the
procession, you know, they really were exquisite."

Paul assented cheerfully, even though he felt such memories were as
water after wine to Mrs. Vane's appeal to the past. "It used to grow
by the well. Ah, Paul! how young you were on those days, and how you
used to enjoy life."

That was true; and yet a well-cooked dinner and roomy stalls at a
first-class _spectacle_ brought solid comfort more suitable to the
coming years; besides, Violet had always had the knack of taking the
colour out of other women, and while adapting herself more readily to
her surroundings than most, never lost a peculiar piquant charm of her
own which did not clash with her environment. Yet, as they strolled
home by the beach, it occurred to him that they were all, himself
included, out of touch with the glorious world of sea and sky and
mountain in which they stood. And Mrs. Vane agreed, or, at any rate,
was quick enough to read his thought, for as the girls trooped up the
stairs finishing a discussion on the relative merits of two balls, she
lingered in the hall to say quizzically:

"Is her name Virginia, Paul? and do you fancy a desert island? That
comes of having so much of the natural Adam left in you."

"Oh, dear me! what has Blasius been doing now?" asked Lady George,
plaintively, overhearing the last words as she came out of the morning
room. At the same moment, as if in answer, the sturdy stump
intermingled with bumps which usually marked Blazes' rapid descent
from the nursery regions, was heard as a sort of running accompaniment
to a steady stream of violent objurgations delivered with immense
zest, in his round, full voice: "_Haud up! Ger' out, ye brute! Stiddy,
yer deevil! Stiddy yer!_"

"Nurse!" cried poor Blanche, aghast, to the stately figure, descending
behind the stumbling, bumping, yet swift offender, "what does this
mean? Where has Master Blasius picked up----"

"Oh! if it comes to picking up, milady, that's easy sayin'. Master
Blazes told me last night 'is bath was 'devilish 'ot,' and when I
spoke to him serious told me it was the Capting."

"Really, Paul, I think you might be more careful," began his sister,
aggrievedly, when he interrupted her.

"I'm not responsible for _that_, anyhow! What on earth is he up to
now?" For Blasius, having reached the bottom of the stairs, had, so to
speak, fallen tooth and nail on the sheepskin rug, which he was
bestriding with vehement kicks and upbraidings, as he clutched on to
the wool wildly--

"_Ger' up, ye deevil! Haud still, ye dommed brute!_"

"It is through Mary's young man as she's took up with bein' a
shepherd, milady," said nurse, swooping down on the child. "An'
through her never 'aving seen sheep shore, that's what it is."

Paul burst into a guffaw of laughter. "Old Angus! I swear to you,
Violet, it's the living image of old Angus. What a mimic the child
is!"

"Do be quiet, Paul!" said his sister, hastily. "How can I---- Nurse,
tell Mary that I am much displeased, and that if I hear of her
watching the shepherd again----"

"I 'ave told her, milady," retorted the nurse, with as much dignity as
kicks and strugglings left to her, "and there an't no fear. Master
Blazes'll forget it sharp enough when he don't 'ear it. It is the
things 'as he do 'ear, constant"--a backward glance at Paul from the
turn of the stair emphasised the reproach.

"It is really very distressing," mourned Lady George, turning in grave
regret to Mrs. Vane, and then, seeing unqualified amusement in that
lady's face, yielding a little to her own sense of humour. "But he
really did it splendidly, though where the child gets the talent from,
I don't know. But fancy, Paul, if Mrs. Woodward had been here! I
should have died of shame, for she spent half an hour yesterday in
lecturing me. 'Dear Lady George,' she said, 'you mean well, and of
course the younger generation are always right.' Now, what are you all
laughing at?"

"At you and your son, my dear," replied Paul. "That was Mrs. Woodward
to the life! So cheer up, Blanche. He will make his fortune on the
stage--or as a sheep farmer." And so full of smiles over the
recollection of the small sturdy figure struggling with the woolly
mat, he went off, feeling that in one way or another the morning had
passed pleasantly enough. Rationally also, without any attempt at
Arcadia. That danger was over, and incidentally he owed Mrs. Vane
another debt of gratitude for having driven him into calling at the
Lodge, and so discovering that Marjory, seen in ordinary society, was
not nearly so distracting a person as she had been when earth, and
air, and water had seemed to conspire in suggesting a new world of
dreams, where love was something very different to what it was in real
life.

But Paul Macleod was not the only one of the party who felt satisfied
with the morning's work. Mrs. Vane, as she idled away an hour or two
in her room--one of her country-house maxims being that the less
people saw of you between meals the better--told herself that there
was time yet to stave off the immediate danger with Alice Woodward.
That was the one thing to be attained somehow--how, she did not care.
Paul had been flirting with Marjory, of course. Deny what he would,
the look she had surprised on his face on the Sunday did not come
there for nothing; besides, the girl herself had been too cold, too
distant, for absolute indifference. That farce of everything being
over for ever was easily played in absence, but was apt to break down
at a renewal of intimacy. It would be well to try if it would, at any
rate; and under any circumstances Paul was not likely to settle
matters with Alice until the party was on the eve of breaking up;
since it was always more convenient in these matters to have a way of
escape if you were refused.

Mrs. Woodward was of the same opinion, and said so to her husband
when, on laying his night-capped head on the conjugal pillow that
evening, he began to sound her as to the prospects of escape from the
dilatory posts, which, to tell truth, afforded him daily occupation.
For on the stroke of eleven he could fuss round, watch in hand,
counting the minutes of delay, and, after Donald had come and gone,
there was always that letter to the _Times_, exposing the iniquity of
whiskey bottles and pounds of tea in Her Majesty's mail bag, to be
composed against Lord George's return from the hill to the
smoking-room, when it had to be read aloud, amended, discussed, and
finally set aside till the next day. Then Donald would be later than
ever, and Mr. Woodward, tempted by the thought of detailing still more
horrible delinquencies, would withhold his letter for further
amendment.

"I suppose it is all right, mamma," he began cautiously. "At least, I
noticed that the young people seemed to be--er--getting on to-day."

"Quite right," yawned the partner of his joys and sorrows. "How lucky
it was that Jack had to go to Riga about that tallow business."

Even in the dark, with his head in night-cap, Mr. Woodward's paternal
dignity bristled.

"Lucky! You speak, my dear, as if he had had claims, and I deny----"

"You can deny what you please, Mr. Woodward. I think it was lucky, for
now he need know nothing of the engagement till he returns."

"Perhaps. My dear, by the way, have you any idea when the engagement
is likely to--ahem--er--come off?"

Mrs. Woodward yawned once, twice. This was a detail scarcely
sufficient to warrant her being kept awake. "I can't say--not till we
are going to leave, I should think. That sort of thing breaks up a
party dreadfully. Why?"

Mr. Woodward sighed. "Only the posts really are so irregular. As I
said in my letter of to-day----"

But this was too much for anyone's patience. "You can tell me
to-morrow, my dear," said the wife of his bosom, firmly. "I shouldn't
wonder if it were later than ever, for Lady George told me it was fair
day, or fast day, or something of that sort in Oban."

Mr. Woodward gave a groan, and turned over to compose a still more
scathing report of the Gleneira mail.

About the same time Blanche Temple, who, on her husband's late arrival
from the smoking-room, was found by him in dressing-gown and slippers
over the fire, reading a novel, and enjoying the only free time, she
said, a Highland hostess could hope for, was telling her lord and
master much the same tale. The young people were getting on, Paul was
really behaving charmingly, and little Mrs. Vane, contrary to her
expectations, seemed quite inclined to throw them together, so that
the future seemed clear. And Alice Woodward, had she been awake, would
doubtless have added her voice to the general satisfaction, for it was
distinctly pleasant to see the other girls' evident admiration of
Paul's good looks, and to hear their raptures over the beauty of
Gleneira. For a few months in autumn it would certainly be pleasant to
play the part Lady George was playing now, and for the rest of the
year there would be Constantinople, and civilisation generally.

But the very next day at dinner something occurred to disturb one
person's peace, for Paul, as Mrs. Vane used to say, was a bad landlord
even to himself. His mind was not well fenced, and the gates, which
should have barred vagrant thoughts from intrusion, were as often as
not wide open or sadly out of repair. And this interruption was
trivial, being only a remark in his sister's clear, high-pitched
voice:

"Mr. Gillespie was here again about that bazaar, and I believe, Paul,
he is in love with that Miss Carmichael of yours. At least, he talked
of her in a way--it would be most suitable, of course, and I really
think we ought to encourage it. It would give us old fogies something
to amuse us, wouldn't it, Mrs. Woodward?"

"I disapprove of matchmaking on principle, Lady George," replied that
lady, severely; "but this, as you say, appears very suitable indeed.
She is a governess, or something of that sort of thing, I believe, and
they generally make admirable wives for poor clergymen. Understand
Sunday-schools, and don't expect to be taken about everywhere."

"What an admirable wife for any poor man," put in a subaltern from
Paul's regiment, who had been asked down to make the sexes even; a
nice, fair-haired lad, given as yet to blushing over his own successes
in society. "If you will introduce me, Lady George, I might cut out
the curate."

"He isn't the curate," said his hostess, smiling. "By the way, Paul,
what are they in Scotland?"

"Dissenting ministers!" retorted her brother, sullenly, angry with
her, and with himself; the one for inflicting, the other for feeling,
this sudden pain. Blanche's face was a study in outraged dignity.

"My dear Paul!" she began, and then paused, speechless.

"He is very good-looking, I think," said the echo diligently, "and I
hear----"

"What is that?" put in Lord George from afar. "Miss Carmichael and the
parson! Pooh! she is far too good for that blatant young----"

"George!" exclaimed his better half, this time with authority, "pray
remember that he is our clergyman--our parish clergyman."

"We are not likely to forget his pretensions to that position,
Blanche, considering how often he comes here," put in Paul, at a white
heat over what he told himself was an unwarrantable liberty with a
young lady's name, and feeling as if he could rend the whole company;
especially the unsuspecting subaltern.

"What a refreshing thing it is," came Mrs. Vane's half-jesting voice,
"to find the sexes have so high an opinion of each other! Go where you
will, Lady George, the news of an engagement makes nine-tenths of the
men swear she is too good for him, and all the women say he is too
good for her. Touching tributes; but what gender is truth?"

"Masculine, of course!" put in her next-door neighbour, who prided
himself on being smart. "That dissentient tenth proves discrimination
the unanimity prejudice."

"Pardon me, it may only mean that men mix their prejudices as they do
their wines, while we women are consistent and prefer simplicity."

"I can hardly be expected at the present moment to say that I do,"
retorted her companion.

"I shall remember that against you," laughed the little lady.
"Meanwhile I agree with the men. The young lady is too good for any of
you; she is charming."

"Give me first introduction, please," pleaded the subaltern. "I always
like people who are too good for me."

"That explains the universality of your affections, I suppose, Mr.
Palmer," remarked Mrs. Vane, demurely.

"But really, Paul," said his sister, returning to the subject with
injured persistency when the laugh had subsided. "I cannot see why Mr.
Gillespie should not pay his pastoral visits if he chooses; besides we
had to discuss the church."

"Then I trust the service won't be a repetition of the last one,"
replied her brother, still woefully out of temper; "I, for one, will
refuse to go if it is. You agree with me, don't you, Miss Woodward?"

She smiled at him placidly. "Well! it was rather funny, wasn't it?"

"Funny!" echoed Sam Woodward. "I'll tell you what, it was the rummiest
go!" and he was proceeding to detail the whole to the new arrival whom
he had taken down to dinner, when Lady George, with a withering glance
in his direction, proceeded in a higher key.

"The new church, I mean, Paul. We have arranged it all delightfully
while you horrid men have been killing birds. Alice is making a
subscription book with a Gothic window on the outside--illuminated,
you know--and a little appeal on the first page. It is to have an
initial letter, is it not, dear? Then by and bye, next year, perhaps,
when London isn't quite empty, Mrs. Woodward has promised her house
for a Highland fair--tartan things, and snoods--and--and----"

"Queighs," suggested her husband, demurely, but she scorned the
interruption. "And spinning chairs."

"Spinning chairs?" echoed Mr. Woodward, who, hearing for the first
time that his house was to be made use of, felt bound to show some
interest in the matter.

"Yes! those things with very little seat, no back, and a lot of
carving. All the stall-keepers are to be dressed out of Scott's novels
and Mr. St. Clare is going to write--what was it, Mr. St. Clare?"

"A rondelet," muttered the poet, gloomily, looking up from the
chocolate creams with which he was trying to make life worth living.

"Of course! a rondelet--that is the thing with very few words and a
great many rhymes, isn't it? And of course you, Paul, will wear the
kilt--local colour is everything."

"My dear girl," cried Paul, too aghast for ill-humour. "I haven't worn
the kilt for years--pray consider----"

"The local colour of your knees," put in Lord George, brutally. "Never
mind, old man, a bottle of patent bronzine, like Blanche uses for her
slippers----"

"George!" cried his wife, rising with an awful dignity. "Shall we go
into the drawing-room, Mrs. Woodward?"

"It was only his knees, my dear," protested the discomforted nobleman
in a whisper as she swept past him. "Hang it all! if a man mayn't
mention his brother-in-law's knees or his wife's slippers."

But she was out of hearing, so he sate down in his chair again and
poured himself out a bumper of port viciously.



                             CHAPTER XIV.


While the Big House was going on its way from cellar to attic, as if
it had been within the sound of Bow Bells instead of in a remote
Highland glen, Marjory for the first time in her life felt time heavy
on her hands; a thing not to be tolerated for an instant by a young
person of her views and prospects. She told herself that if this was
the result of her holiday, the sooner she set to work and forgot that
pleasant, idle time the better. For it had been pleasant, and Paul
Macleod had been kind. But what of that? His ways were not her
ways--his thoughts were not her thoughts; and then suddenly would come
the memory of that short instant on Isle Shuna when they had stood
hand in hand watching the Green Ray. Or was that only another result
of idleness?--that she should be growing fanciful. Paul himself had
denied seeing it, and after all, despite his kindness, he was the last
person to have sympathy with her ideals; yet such sympathy was the
only thing which could make her care for him or his society. She told
herself all this, over and over again, until she believed it; for
Marjory had not yet learnt to differentiate her head from her heart.
Many women never learn the art, and though some, no doubt, find the
difficulty lies in discovering their heads, a far greater number stop
short at a calm affection in the catalogue of their emotions.

Still, for some reason or another, as yet inexplicable to the girl
herself, the melodious carol of a blackbird singing his heart out in a
cherry tree sent a pain to her own. It seemed to fill the world with
unrest, even though the house lay still as the grave; for Mrs. Cameron
and the lassies were away at the milking. She covered her ears to shut
out the sound and bent closer to her book, until suddenly she found
herself blindfolded by a pair of strong, slender, supple hands--hands
that could not be mistaken for an instant.

"Tom!" she cried. "Oh, Tom! is it you?"

"Tom it is," said a voice with a pleasant intonation scarcely foreign,
and yet assuredly not wholly English. "_E' bene!_ Mademoiselle
Grands-serieux! So this is the way you hold high holiday?"

He pointed to the open book, then, as she clung delighted to his arm,
put on an air of simulated disgust, perhaps to conceal the keen joy
which her welcome afforded him.

"Conic sections again, and I wandering round 'permiskus' calling for
some of my relations to kill the fatted calf!"

"The prodigal didn't come 'permiskus.' He wired ahead and they saw him
from afar."

"Then he didn't get an unexpected holiday, come express from Paris to
Oban, and then walk thirty miles over the hills because he had missed
the mail cart and was a fool----"

"But why a fool?"

"Why? Because the bosom of my family was absorbed in conic sections!
And if that reason won't do, you really must wait until I have had
some veal--for to tell truth I'm ravenous--mostly for drinks!"

He watched her as she flew off, singing as she went like any blackbird
out of sheer lightness of heart, and asked himself if this were not
enough? If he were bound to wait for something more? For Dr. Tom
Kennedy was not a man to require much time for such thoughts,
especially when he had been thinking of Marjory and his welcome all
that trudge of thirty miles over bog and heather. But the answer came
slowly, for he was quite as much in the dark on the vexed question of
Love and Marriage as most people, and the little Blind Boy with the
bow and arrows was as yet a part of his Pantheon. And yet there was
temptation enough to set mere romance aside, when, after anticipating
his every want, and fussing over him after the manner of a hen with a
solitary chicken, Marjory drew a low stool beside his chair, and, with
her elbows resting on her knees and her radiant face supported on her
hands, looked over him, as it were, in sheer content.

"You don't know how nice it is to have you back," she said, suddenly
stretching out one hand to him--a favourite gesture of hers when
eager. He took it in both of his, bent over it, and kissed it.

"'Tis worth the parting, child, to come back--to this."

She laughed merrily. "You have such pretty manners, Tom! I expect you
learnt them from grandpapa the Marquis and the _haute noblesse_. And
then in Paris, I suppose----"

His heart contracted, but he interrupted her gaily. "I decline to be
scheduled in that fashion. My manners are my own, thank Heaven! in
spite of Galton on heredity. Oh! Marjory, my dear! what a relief it is
to get away from it all--from the eternal hunt for something that
escapes you--from the first chapter of Genesis to the Book of
Revelation; and now that I come to think of it, there is something new
about you--what is it?"

She shook her head hastily. "Nothing. You said that last time, I
believe--people always look different. You have got greyer."

He rubbed his close-cropped head disconsolately. "Have I?--well, I
can't help it. I'm getting old."

"Nonsense! And I won't have you say you are glad to get away from
work--from the best work in the world! How can you tire of the only
thing worth anything, and of the search for truth?"

"Because I'm forty-three--more than double your age. By the way, there
was a man I know who married a girl of sixteen when he was thirty-two.
And when he saw it down on the register it struck him all of a heap
that when she was forty he would be eighty. Matrimony, apparently,
isn't good for arithmetic--nor for the matter of that, arithmetic for
matrimony!"

"What silly stories you have, Tom," laughed the girl, "and in other
ways you really are so sensible."

He rose suddenly and went to the window--a small, slight man, with a
keen brown face--and then, as if in excuse for the move, he picked a
spray or two of white jasmine and stuck them in his buttonhole. Then
he turned to her with a smile. "I should have been a deal more
sensible if people hadn't taught me things when I was young. Original
sin isn't in it with education. Come, Marjory! let us go and find my
cousin--or there will be a row in the house."

"I like that!" retorted the girl, taking possession of his arm; "as if
anyone in the place dare say a word against you. Why, she told Dr.
Macrea the other day that she didn't intend to die till she could have
you to attend her!" Whereat they both laughed.

But, in truth, there was much laughter and general good-will at the
Lodge that evening, when Dr. Kennedy insisted on Mrs. Cameron bringing
her knitting to the garden bench, while he and Marjory and Will
strolled about among the flowers, or stood talking here and there as
the fancy took them.

"Why do you always wear jasmine, Tom?" asked the girl, idly bending to
catch a closer whiff of the buttonhole. "I suppose _she_ used to give
it to you."

"What she?"

"The one _she_ of a man's life, of course."

"Fabulous creature! If they come at all, they come in crowds. Yes! now
I think of it, I fancy you are right. I was twelve, and she a
distracting young flirt of six. Her name was Pauline. I remember it,
because she was the last!----"

"Oh, Tom! how can you!"

"Fact; for twenty years after that the responsibilities of searching
for truth prevented my thinking of fictions."

"And after that?"

"My dear Marjory, no history is ever written up to date. Even in your
beloved school-primers the last years of Her Gracious Majesty's reign
are glozed over by generalities. You see it is never safe to hazard an
opinion till events have proved it to be right. And then decent
reserve over the immediate past saves a lot of worry. I should hate to
confess that I had told a lie yesterday, though I might own up
placidly to one seven years ago. Yes! seven years should be close time
for confession. A man renews his vile body in that period, and can
take credit for having changed his morals also."

"But it is more than seven years since you were thirty-two."

"You have a head for arithmetic, my dear, not for--the other thing;
and it is possible that I am still only in the second volume of my
fiction."

"You mean in love. What a delightfully funny idea!"

"Mrs. Cameron!" cried the doctor, "do you see anything comic in the
spectacle of Methuselah wishing to get married; for I don't. I think
it is melancholy in the extreme."

In truth he did think so, for though, when he was away, his own
sentimentality seemed sufficient for them both, the first look at
Marjory's face always told him that, if the received theories were
true, there was something yet to come before he had any right--in a
way any desire--to ask Marjory to be his wife. If they were true!
There lay the problem which he found so much difficulty in solving.
Like most men of his profession, he was almost over familiar with the
material side of the question, and, being naturally of delicate fibre,
an instinctive revolt made him exaggerate the part which romance was
to play in the purification of passion. To marry when you loved each
other was one thing; for one to love, and both to remain friends, was
another! And between these two ideals he hesitated; for Dr. Kennedy's
power lay not so much in strength as in a certain fineness of
perception and delicacy of touch. And yet at times a doubt
lingered--the doubt which had made him fall foul of the things he had
been taught in his youth. But even through this there ran a vein of
protest against the lack of colour which a more prosaic, more
material, and yet less animal view of the relations which ought to
exist between a man and woman would involve. For he was sentimental to
a degree, and told himself that the very fact of his age made it more
than ever necessary that his wife should be inspired to do her duty by
something more than mere affection. That is to say, once more, if
current theories were true! He came back to this point again and
again, unable to settle it to his own satisfaction, and finding his
chief comfort in the fact that Marjory had, hitherto, never shown the
least sign of loving anyone. If that were to continue in the future,
he could imagine the doubts and difficulties disappearing altogether;
but for this time was required, time for her to understand her own
nature. His knowledge, his experience of life, the position in which
he stood towards her, all combined to make him hyper-sensitive lest in
any way he should wrong her innocence and ignorance. Besides, he
himself would have been bitterly dissatisfied with the position. That
was the solid truth, which went further than anything else in making
him stand aloof; though, no doubt, he would have denied the fact
strenuously, since to men of his stamp a sentimental grief is better
than no sentiment at all. Yet the grief sate on him lightly because of
its very sentimentality, and because--though this again he would
strenuously have denied--in his heart of hearts he felt that it was
largely of his own making, and that one part of his nature was
satisfied and to spare. In these days, when the happiness of the
individual is both aim and end, it is curious to see how persistently
one form of happiness is ignored; the happiness which indubitably
comes from doing what you would _not_ wish to do, unless you conceived
it to be your duty. And yet the very people who deny the possibility
of this content are the first to point out that, when all is said and
done, a man can only do what he wishes to do.

So that when, on the next morning, Dr. Kennedy, who had listened to
the tale of what had been going on and what was going on in the Big
House with a certain foreboding, came to Marjory and urged her to
accompany him on a visit there in the afternoon, he did so with the
distinct intention of feeling the self-complacency of duty performed.
And Marjory, in her turn, thus brought face to face with the very
reasonable proposition, found it hard to make an excuse that did not
rouse her own indignation by being over serious. After all, why should
she not comply with Captain Macleod's urgent invitations? There was
nothing to be afraid of. Nevertheless, when she appeared, clothed in
white raiment with her best gloves on, she had so solemn and sedate an
air that the doctor felt aghast at his own act.

"Don't look so like Iphigenia, my dear," he said; "or let us give it
up."

"Certainly not. If it's the right thing to do, it has got to be done;
but I do feel like a sacrificial lamb. You don't, of course; but then
you are accustomed to society, a great deal of society, and I'm not.
Do you know, Tom, I have scarcely ever seen more than three or four
people of my own rank together in my life, and I positively don't know
any girls."

"Time you did," he replied stoutly.

"But I doubt if I have any manners," she protested.

He had, at any rate; and new as the experience of the large party
gathered in the big drawing-room was to her, she found immediate
confidence in the perception that her companion would stand the test
of any society; indeed, as she sate talking to Alice Woodward, she
could not help noticing with a certain amused pride Lady George's
frigid politeness give way to interested endeavours to find out who
this most unusually well-bred specimen of a country doctor could be;
for Paul was not there to aid his sister's ignorance.

But by and bye Mrs. Vane came in and made her way straight to Marjory
with pretty little words of welcome, yet with the Anglo-Indian lady's
reminiscent interest at the sight of a real live man at afternoon tea.

"Who is he?" she asked; "did he come with you?"

"He is my guardian--Dr. Kennedy."

"Kennedy! not the famous Dr. Kennedy--Tom Kennedy of Paris?" And
before Marjory could get beyond the first syllable of acquiescence,
Mrs. Vane had crossed the room and was standing opposite Lady George.

"I would ask you to introduce me to Dr. Kennedy," she said, "but it
would be of no use, for while he has made a name for himself since I
knew him, I have lost mine. So I will only ask him if he remembers the
jasmine bush at the Château Saumarez?"

There was an instant's bewilderment, and then Tommy Kennedy, who had
risen at her first word, took a step forward and both his hands went
out gladly.

"Pauline!"

"Just so--and you are Alphonse! What a small place the world is after
all! To think of finding you at Gleneira. Lady George, you were
talking of theatricals this morning, and the idea fell through because
no one--not even your brother--would do the _jeune premier_ with me.
He is found! Dr. Kennedy is one of the best amateur actors in Paris."

"The past tense, if you please, my dear lady," protested the doctor.
"Consider my grey hairs."

"That is a remark which should not have been made, for we are
contemporaries. He was my first--no! one of my first loves, Lady
George. We used to give each other sweeties over the garden wall when
his grandmother, the Marquise de Brisson, was not looking; but the
jasmine bush, Alphonse, was at your uncle's, Prince Rosignacs's. Why!
you have a bit in your buttonhole now, and I----" She pointed to the
spray fastened into the laces of her tea-gown.

"_Ce soir ma robe en est tout embaumée_."

"_Respires-en moi l'adorant souvenir_," quoted Dr. Kennedy, looking at
the lapel of his coat tenderly; and Marjory, standing a little apart,
a mute spectator of the scene, felt a sudden sense of loneliness. He,
too, was at home in this idle, careless life, and she was the only one
who was out of it. It came upon her by surprise, for though she had
known and been proud of the fact that her guardian belonged by virtue
of his mother's birth to the best of French society, she had had no
actual experience of him in the part of a man of the world. But he was
that, and of a good world, too, she recognised frankly as she sate
listening to the now animated conversation about people she had never
heard of, things she had never seen, and at the same time trying to be
agreeable to the girls who, dutiously, had taken her in hand. She felt
that it was a duty, and a sort of indifferent resentment possessed
her, even when Lady George hoped she would accompany Dr. Kennedy, who
had kindly promised to dine with them next day and talk over the now
possible theatricals. Yet, rather to his surprise, she accepted
without even a look at his face, and made quite a polite little speech
about hoping to see more of the girls; and so, with a certain
independent grace, passed out into the hall, leaving him detained for
a moment by some last remark. She could hear Mrs. Vane's light laugh,
his voice, and then another laugh, as she stood waiting beside the
deferential butler, and all involuntarily her lip curled.

"Miss Carmichael! How glad I am!" It was Paul, newly in from
the moor, looking his best, as a handsome man does, in his rough
shooting-clothes. He had a tuft of white heather and stag-horn moss in
one hand, and with a sudden impulse he held it out gaily to her.
"Tit-for-tat! you welcomed me here--though I never thanked you for so
doing, did I? It is my turn now."

He had meant the offering for Violet Vane or Alice Woodward, whichever
he met first, but now it seemed as if fate had sent it for Marjory and
for no one else. He felt as if it were so, he looked as if it were so,
and for the first time in her life Marjory felt an odd little thrill
run through her veins.

"Thank you," she said soberly. "Yes! I did give it to you; so now we
are quits--I mean," she corrected hastily, "that--that we are on the
same footing."

There was quite a tremor in her voice, too, as, seeing Dr. Kennedy
beside her, she turned to him quickly. "This is Captain Macleod,
Tom;--he has been very kind to me."

In nine cases out of ten Paul Macleod on being introduced to a man
belonging to a girl in Marjory's position, and, as it were, having a
claim on her, would have been studiously, frigidly courteous, and no
more; and so might have once and for all chilled Marjory's sudden
confidence and relief in finding an old friend in her new environment;
but it is difficult for an emotional man to be cold, when a sudden
glow of content makes him feel absurdly happy. Consequently he went
out of his way to be frank and kindly in expressing his pleasure at
making the acquaintance of one of whom Miss Carmichael had so often
spoken.

"In terms of reprobation, no doubt," replied Dr. Kennedy, lightly; "a
guardian is a disagreeable appendage, though I try to be as little of
a nuisance as I can."

"So do I," retorted Paul, with a smile; "but Miss Carmichael is so
dreadfully hard to please."

As Dr. Kennedy's keen brown eyes took in the figure before him, he
told himself that the girl must be hard indeed to please if she could
find fault with it.

"That is the handsomest man I've seen for a long time," he said as
they walked home. "What is he like inside?"

Marjory paused with her head on one side, considering. "Oh! nice in a
way--the way of the world, I suppose, and I thought him nicer than
ever to-day; being in his own house agrees with him. Oh, Tom! how I
wish you hadn't accepted that invitation to dinner!"

Yet when she returned from the Big House, she had a little flush on
her cheek, and when Dr. Kennedy challenged her to tell truth in answer
to Mrs. Cameron's inquiry as to how she got on, she answered with a
laugh and a nod: "Why not--it was rather interesting; quite an
evolutionary process. Before I went I was protoplasmic--all in a
jelly. Then at dinner we were all amoebic--digestive apparatus and
nothing else. Afterwards, with the ladies, I felt like a worm, or a
fish out of water. Then I wanted to have wings like a bird and fly
away, but I couldn't, for the quadrumana appeared from the
dining-room, and we all became apes!"

"What is the lassie talking about?" put in Mrs. Cameron, with a toss
of her head. "Can you no answer a straight question wi' a straight
answer? What then, I say, what then?"

"Yes! what then, Marjory?" asked Tom Kennedy, quickly; he knew the
answer, and yet he wanted to hear it from her lips, because it would
satisfy him that so far he had been right.

"And then--why then I suppose I became a girl--at any rate I enjoyed
it. They were all so kind, and Mrs. Vane--I suppose in your world,
Tom, there are heaps of women like that?"

"Not many so charming," he answered heartily. In truth it had been
very pleasant meeting her again after so many years; for a man, even
when he is in love, or supposes himself to be in love, with one woman,
is never proof against the pleasure of being made much of by another.
And Dr. Kennedy, with a quaint simplicity and wisdom, was perfectly
aware of his own reputation as one of the boldest adventurers in new
fields of discovery, and told himself that people made much of him for
their own sake, and because he carried his restless energy with him
into society as well as into his work. For energy is, as a rule, a
godsend to _fin-de-siècle_ men and women. So the conceit of it slipped
off him like water from a duck's back, leaving him free to take his
world as he found it.

But Marjory felt once more the little chill of regret for the things
she had not known in his life.

"There is one thing I forget to ask you," she said quickly. "Your name
is not Alphonse, is it?"

"No! But she thought Tom unromantic, and so I promised to change my
name if she changed hers."

"Men don't generally do as much as that," grumbled Will. "So they are
going to have theatricals, are they? That means that all the horses
will be dead lame, and the laird will be wanting more."

"How on earth do you make that out?" asked Dr. Kennedy.

"Women," said Will, laconically. "Something will always be wanted in a
hurry, the telegraph station is ten miles off, and women seem to think
a horse can change its legs when it comes home."

There was some truth in his remark during the next ten days. Gleneira
House lived in a continual bustle which gave no time for thought,
save, perhaps, to Mrs. Vane, who, busy as she was, found time to
congratulate herself so far on the success of her plans; for Marjory
and Paul had perforce to meet constantly, and more than once something
occurred to encourage her belief that there was material for mischief
ready to her hand if it was needed.

But other material came to light also, or so it seemed to her cynical
experience; and the clue to it came one day when she and Marjory, who
had grown keen, as was only natural, over the novelty of amusement,
were searching through an old portfolio of Paul's sketches for hints
likely to be of use for a drop scene.

It was nothing more than the portrait of a girl with a bunch of red
rowans held up to her cheek.

"That is very well done, Paul," said Mrs. Vane, holding it up for him
to see, as he stood a little way off. "Who was the beautiful model?"

He came over to her hastily. "Oh! no one you know; and it isn't really
worth looking at. A wretched caricature--I did not know it was there."

Something in his voice roused the amused malice which always lurked
behind Mrs. Vane's treatment of Paul's foibles.

"I disagree with you; look, Miss Carmichael! Don't you think that
quite the best thing we have seen of Captain Macleod's doing?"

"It is a lovely face," said the girl, "and it reminds me of someone----"
Then she looked up in sudden interest. "Surely it is Paul--little
Paul, I mean, Peggy Duncan's grandson; perhaps----" She stopped
abruptly, remembering the big Paul's confession, and blushed, she
scarcely knew why. Then, feeling vexed with herself for doing so, put
down the sketch, and taking up another, made some trivial remark about
its being very pretty. But Mrs. Vane had not done with the sketch.
"That Highland type of face----" she began.

"There is no need to theorise over the likeness in this case,"
interrupted Paul, seeing through her, as he nearly always did. "It was
little Paul's mother; and as I think I told you once, Miss Carmichael,
the most beautiful woman I ever saw. That is why I call it a
caricature, Mrs. Vane."

The anger in his voice was not to be mistaken, and Marjory, as he
moved away to resume his _tête-a-tête_ with Alice Woodward, was left
with an uncomfortable feeling that she had somehow betrayed a secret,
though her common, sense resented the imputation. But Mrs. Vane looked
after his retreating figure with one of her fine smiles. So the memory
of this particular most-beautiful-woman-in-the-world--there must have
been a good many of them in Paul Macleod's life--was not pleasant to
him. Wherefore? The question came quite idly, and passed from her mind
without an answer. Marjory, on the other hand, took hers--as to
whether she was to blame or not--seriously to heart. So much so, that
when she had speech with Paul alone, which occurred naturally enough
when he brought her a cup of tea, as she sate stitching away for dear
life at some ridiculous theatrical property near the window, so as to
get the full advantage of the waning light, she reverted to the
subject at once.

"Don't," he interrupted hurriedly, almost before she had begun.
"Please don't; I would so much rather you said nothing more about it."

"But I don't understand."

"Thank heaven you don't," he replied.

"Why should you say that?" she cried reproachfully. "I cannot see why
I should not, if I can. I am not a fool----"

"Marjory!" interrupted Dr. Kennedy, coming forward, "little Paul
Duncan has just come round from the Lodge with a message that his
grannie wants to see you. We might go round that way; it is getting
late as it is."

"There's no hurry," put in Paul. "I will tell them to give the boy a
piece, and he can wait till Miss Carmichael has finished giving me
absolution."

"That is the wrong way about, surely?" she said.

"It is the usual way between a man and a woman," replied Paul, "and
will be to the end of the chapter, I'm afraid."

Half an hour afterwards Mrs. Vane, who had come out into the hall with
some parting instructions to Marjory, stood looking down with the
others at little Paul Duncan, who, weary of waiting, had cuddled
himself round on the doorstep and fallen into the heavy sleep of
childhood. "He looks very delicate," said Violet, kindly stooping over
him as he lay with one hand tucked into the back of his neck in rather
an unusual posture; and then suddenly she looked up at the big Paul,
for the trick had taken her back to the old days when she had watched
his sleep with jealous care, lest her patient should be disturbed; and
how often had she not wondered why he chose so uncomfortable a
position?

Impossible! and yet there was a likeness. The name, too, and his
evident dislike to the mention of the boy's mother! It must mean
something--what? The thought left her pale, so that Paul, turning back
with her when those two had gone, noticed it, telling her that she was
overworking herself.

"Of course I am overworking," she retorted, with a strange mixture of
self-pity, blame, and fierce resentment. "I always do. Is it my fault
if I do things quicker than other people? Is it my fault if I see
things more clearly? You think I am always managing, managing; and so
I am. How can I help it when, everything keeps coming into my mind,
and no one thinks or cares?"

"My dear Violet! You have been overworking, indeed. You must take it
easier, or we shall be having you laid up----"

"And then what would Paul Macleod do?" she went on, with a reckless
laugh. "No! I won't make myself so disagreeable as all that--if I can
help it, Paul; but how can one help being disagreeable at times when
one is wise--wise and old? Oh, Paul, how old I am!"

"I don't see it," he answered, with an amused smile.

"You! you never see anything," she began; then suddenly returned to
her own light, half-jesting manner. "No! that is not true; you see
most things, but you are too young to understand me. Dreadfully young
for your age, Paul, so it is lucky there are so many of us to look
after you."

When she went upstairs to dress for dinner she sate down before the
looking-glass and stared at herself with a sort of repugnance. Yes!
she was old, hatefully old, in mind, in knowledge of the world, in
experience. That thought which had flashed through her brain at the
sight of little Paul lying asleep on the doorstep was not a nice
thought. Yet could she help its flashing? and, if there was anything
in the thought, might not the knowledge strengthen her hand in the
coming fight? For a fortnight's daily experience of Alice Woodward's
calm attractions had raised Mrs. Vane's opposition to her marriage
with Paul to virtuous horror. No true friend, she told herself, would
hesitate to throw every difficulty in the way of so disastrous a
connection. At the same time she felt almost afraid to reach out after
this new weapon, lest it might prove too heavy for those delicate
hands of hers, accustomed for the most part to leading reins. It was
one thing to goad and guide people into the right path, another to
split open their heads with a sledgehammer. Though how this could be
such a lethal weapon she could not see, since she knew enough of Paul
Macleod to doubt if he would have had the hardihood to mention Jeanie
Duncan to Marjory if there had been anything between them in the past.
And yet? So she stood before possibilities, shivering on the brink,
and finally telling herself there would be time enough to think of
such things if less heroic measures failed. It was a mistake to touch
pitch needlessly; at the same time it was as well to make sure there
was pitch in the pot. So the next day saw her, on some airy pretence
of getting old Peggy to knit stockings, sitting beside the old pauper
and bringing to bear on her ailments and wrongs all the gay
cheerfulness and sympathy which Paul declared always put him in a good
humour.



                              CHAPTER XV.


Apparently it had the same effect on Peggy Duncan, for the next
Saturday when, as usual, her ancient schoolfellow and crony, Janet,
came to give the hovel that weekly redding up which was beyond little
Paul's ability, the old lady lay in her bed discoursing at length on
the "bit thing just made up o' fal-lals that sits in the auld chair as
if 't belonged to her, and chirrups awa like the lady's o' heaven's
hen. A sicht guid for sair e'en, no like what the house was maistly
acquaint wi'--just puir, ill-fa'ured warlocks."

Whereupon Janet Faa tossed her head, and muttered in an undertone that
Peggy might speak for herself; she was no warlock whatever. But she
went on with her work, patiently, being accustomed to such sly hits
and finding the description of Mrs. Vane's dresses and the puckles o'
tea that appeared from her pocket far more interesting than the old
lady's usual snappishness. But then, under any circumstances, Peggy's
tongue would have been softened by the knowledge that help was more
than ever necessary that day, since visitors were expected to tea. So
the old woman watched the preparations with wrathful eyes, and did not
even quarrel with the polish of the two silver spoons, which, usually
secreted with her other treasures in the bottom drawer of the bureau,
now graced the clean tablecloth. To tell truth, however, fault-finding
would have had no practical effect, since Janet never took the
slightest notice of it, beyond remarking every now and again: "Whist,
woman! whist! It is no breath you will be having to crack with the
doctor."

On the other hand, wee Paulie, who contributed his share by timidly
presenting a mug full of early rowan-berries and heather for the
middle of the table, was sternly bidden to take away the ugly trash,
and solemnly warned against the sin of mistaking weeds for flowers,
and thus setting himself up to be a judge instead of abiding by the
will of Providence. The rebuke, however, did not seem to touch the
child, who, with many previous memories of Miss Marjory's liking for
the said "ugly trash," set the posy aside on a shelf at the back of
the bed, and so beyond the reach of his grandmother's eyes.

"If Towpie wad lay anither egg," said the old lady at last, surveying
the _tout ensemble_ with a smile struggling with the frown which was
necessary to keep Janet Faa in subjection, "it wad nae be sae bad; but
I misdoot the silly thing is for clucking."

"But it is two eggs there are, Peggy, woman, and the shentlemans is
never for eatin' but one egg," protested Janet, who occasionally
helped at the Big House, and was great, in consequence, on the ways
and customs of the quality.

Peggy sniffed. "That may be your way o' thinkin', it's no mine. Ye
soudna press on a guest what ye're no able to tak' yoursel'. And I'd
no cook it, ye ken--I'd just offer it up to show there was ane--Lord
sakes! wha's yon at the door, an' me wi' my bald head. Quick, Janet,
woman, my mutch, and pit it straight, woman! I'll no have it cockit
over an ear as if I were tipsy."

"It will only be the master," said little Paul, coming from the door.
"He will be having a letter for you he says with a penny to pay."

"Then bid him tak' it back and pay himsel' if he's carin' for it. I'm
no. There's no letters for me that I'm carin' to have, and I'll just
no be fashed wi' them when there is company comin'--Hoot awa' wi' the
man comin' pryin', pryin', and me puttin' on my mutch for him."

"But, Mistress Duncan," came in remonstrant tones from the door.

"Oh! you're there are ye. Weel! I'm obleeged to ye, sir, for comin'
sae far oot o' ye're road. An' I must pit ye to the trouble o' takin'
it back again, and tellin' them as sent it that Peggy Duncan is on the
pairish an' hasna a penny to spare for their trash."

Mr. McColl, standing outside, looked longingly at the blue envelope,
with the seal of a well-known firm of Writers-to-the-Signet upon it,
and hesitated. Was it worth paying a penny on the chance of being the
first to spread news? A momentous question, which left a tremble in
his voice as he called again. "But there will be naethin' to pay,
Mistress Duncan. Here! Paulie, my man, rin with it to your grannie.
And it will be Scriven an' Plead's name on the anvelope, and they will
be the foremost Writers-to-the-Signet in Glasgow, whatever."

"They may be Writers to onybody else," retorted Peggy, taking the
bulky letter, however, and nodding to Mr. McColl, who had seized the
opportunity of slipping in so far. "But I dinna ken what right they
have to be Writers to me."

The master put in a deft suggestion. "Then ye can see inside, Mistress
Duncan. If you are carin' for't I could be readin' it to you before I
was goin' on. I'm no in a hurry."

Peggy's black eyes glittered with sheer malice as she tucked the
envelope away under her pillow, and lay back on it defiantly.

"An' I'm no in a hurry, either, Mr. McColl, an' I would be asking you
to have a sup tea, but that I'm expectin' the quality; sae gude day to
ye, and mony thanks for your kindness."

And yet when poor Mr. McColl had retired discomfited, bemoaning the
loss of his penny, and Janet Faa, having done her part of the
business, had left the kettle in charge of little Paul, who sate
outside watching for the first glimpse of Miss Marjory, the old woman
brought out the envelope again and looked at it wistfully. Perhaps the
thoughts of the long years, during which she had waited in vain for
some word of the husband who had deserted her, came back to her; yet
as she muttered to herself--as she did often when alone--it was not
that thought which came uppermost.

"Aye! aye! it's a fine thing the readin' o' writin'. If it were aboot
the lassie now; and me promising never to speir, never to let ony
other body know! I canna break my word, an' me sae near the Judgment.
It is no as if I were a Papist, like Janet, puir body, that can just
awa' an' get absolution, ye ken. I maun carry my sins wi' me, and it
will be ill eneuch flyin' wi' what I've got."

"May I come in, Mrs. Duncan?" said a clear voice, breaking in on the
old woman's preoccupation. As a matter of fact, however, the
permission was scarcely needed, for Violet Vane was already in the
room, close to the bed, her eyes on the letter; yet her first words
made it appear as if her attention had been given to something else.

"Ah! you are expecting visitors, and I shall be in the way."

"Naethin' o' the sort, ma'am," replied Peggy, hastily, as usual on the
lookout for a grievance. "I'm no sae sair put to it yet but that I can
spare a cup o' tea for them that takes the trouble to come and see the
auld wife."

"And a very good cup of tea, too," put in Mrs. Vane. "What you gave me
the other day was delicious. I only meant that strangers may not be
welcome when friends are talking secrets."

"I've nae friends and nae secrets," retorted the old woman, looking up
quickly.

"Then you are lucky," continued her visitor, lightly. "Friends are
often troublesome, especially over secrets; nine times out of ten you
daren't ask their advice for fear of their knowing too much."

"Ye'll no be askin' mony folks' advice, I'm thinking," said Peggy,
shrewdly. "Ye've plenty brains; eneuch for yoursel' and ithers to the
bargain."

Mrs. Vane laughed. "Perhaps; but other folks' brains are better than
one's own sometimes. When I am in a difficulty I go to someone who is
as near a perfect stranger to me as possible and ask for advice. I
needn't take it, you know--Gracious! what is that?" That was a
clamorous cackling at the foot of the bed, and the stately march
therefrom of Towpie, the hen, triumphant over the laying of an egg in
her favourite nest.

"Oh ye o' little faith!" cried Peggy; "and me misca'ing the puir
beastie! It's a special Providence, aye, aye. He neither slumbers nor
sleeps, ye ken. And you will no be goin' to stop at Gleneira long, I'm
thinking." The question followed fast on the quotation as if there was
some connection in the old woman's mind between them.

"I leave it very soon, I'm sorry to say, as I think it the loveliest
place in the world; and it is sad to know that I shall not see it
again."

The envelope had come put of its hiding-place again during this
speech, and Peggy was turning it over and over as if to attract
attention to it; but she failed, and had to resort to more direct
methods.

"I canna think why they pit sic'can a big seal to a letter. Will there
be something on it that shoudna be broken?"

"Not that I can see," replied Mrs. Vane, taking it up carelessly.
"Only the name, 'Scriven and Plead'--lawyers, Peggy--for there below
is W. S. Glasgow. It is what people call a lawyer's letter, I expect."

"An' what will that be about?"

"Heaps of things. I couldn't say without reading it; shall I?" But
Peggy's claw-like hand shot forth in quick negation.

"I'll no be troubling you. I thocht, maybe, ye micht hae had
experience o' such things."

"So I have, Peggy. Sometimes they are wills, and sometimes they are
money."

"Aye!" interrupted the old woman, with a sinister chuckle, "but when
they're written to bit pauper bodies like me?"

"Then they are generally questions," replied Mrs. Vane, and though she
spoke easily she was conscious of a certain agitation of mind.
"Agreeable or disagreeable. Something to help a lawyer in tracing
somebody, or finding out some secret."

Peggy lay back on her pillows with a sort of groan. "'Tis only the
pain, ma'am," she explained, then paused awhile; "I was thinkin' maybe
'twas that. An' if you coudna answer them, what then?"

"Nothing; they can't make you; only it is impossible to tell if you
can or cannot till you know the questions."

"But if I canna know them without breaking a covenant? I might just
let the letter bide, maybe?"

Mrs. Vane hesitated an instant to run over the pros and cons hastily.
There was some secret, that was evident, and though the letter might
not be concerned with it, on the other hand it might. Peggy was
disinclined to trust it to her on the instant, but might think better
of it by and bye; anyhow, the first thing to ensure was that no one
else should have the chance.

"In that case, of course, you should, as you say, let it be. If it is
really important they will write again, and then it would be worth
while considering the matter. In the meanwhile, as a perfect stranger,
I should advise your setting it aside."

Peggy looked at her admiringly. "It's a fine thing to hae deceesion o'
character, and me just fashing myself about it."

"Shall I put it away for you in a safe place?" asked her visitor, as
the old lady proceeded to put the letter back under the pillow.

"It's safe eneuch there," she retorted sardonically. "I'll no move
till they lift me to my coffin, an' that will no be far, for it's to
stand on the table whaur the tea is setten oot. I've planned it a' ye
see wi' Janet, and there's twa bottles o' gude whiskey wi' the deid
claes in the bottom drawer. Ye canna expec' sinfu' man tae sit wi' a
corp without spirits."

Despite the humour of the thought, which at another time would have
outweighed the grimness, Mrs. Vane shivered. It seemed to her as if
old Peggy were a corp already in that dim box bed, where she lay so
still, only her angry eyes and twitching fingers showing sign of life.
It was a relief to hear the grumbling voice again.

"Weel, yon's settled, thanks to you, an' I'll no be kep' lingerin' in
the deid thraw about papers that, for a' I ken, wad be as weel in the
fire. O, ma'am! ye dinna ken what it feels like to think o' bein'
called to the Throne, an' no bein' able to stir for the weight o' yer
sins. For a broken word is as heavy as lead ye ken."

"Why should you talk of being called, Peggy," protested Mrs. Vane,
uneasily. "You are no worse than you were." But here in her
nervousness she forgot her tact, and the old woman was in arms at
once. "Maybe ye ken better nor me, ma'am, that's only tholing the pain
alone in the night watches."

"Then you should get some of the neighbours to sit up."

"Neebors!" interrupted Peggy, with an eldritch laugh. "They'll have
eneuch to do in settin' up wi' my corp; sae let them sleep on now an'
take _their_ rest."

Mrs. Vane shivered again, and, a sudden distaste to the whole business
coming over her, made an excuse to escape; yet when, almost at the
threshold, she met Marjory and Dr. Kennedy on their way to Peggy's
entertainment, she paused with the lightest of laughs to tell them
that the old woman was in one of her worst moods, and would make their
hair stand on end. For her part she had had her fill of horrors, and
intended to shock Mrs. Woodward by asking for a spoonful of brandy in
her tea! It was a relief to joke over it for the time, even though in
her heart she knew that she would have a _mauvais quart d'heure_
sooner or later; most likely later, when the time came for sleep and
she would have to seek the aid of that bottle of chloral--for Mrs.
Vane's mind was fragile as her body, and could not stand any great
strain. She could handle the reins deftly, and drive her team gaily
along the turnpike road, but she had never driven across country. So
it was a further relief to meet the butler in the hall carrying a
fresh teapot of tea into the drawing-room, while the footman followed
decorously bearing eight cups on a tray. Lady Hooker, the former
functionary replied, in answer to her inquiries, had driven over from
the Forest to see her ladyship in a _châr-a-banc_, with seven other
ladies, some children, and a piper playing on the box. He added the
last item in tones of tolerant contempt, born of a dispute downstairs
as to whether the musician should have his tea in the housekeeper's
room or the servants' hall; the womenkind, dazzled by his gorgeous
array, favouring the former, the menkind the latter, on the ground
that fine feathers did not make fine birds, and that without them he
was only Roderick the gillie's brother and a "hignorant 'ighland
beast" to boot.

Lady George's face relaxed even at the sight of another woman, seeing
that that other was Mrs. Vane; for as she said afterwards, "It is
nearly twenty miles, you know, and a bad road, so the horses were
bound to have an hour's rest, and it requires a dreadful expenditure
of tissue to make tea last an hour; yet, if you don't, you have to put
on your boots in a hurry and begin the conservatories and the garden,
which no one wants to see in the least. Really, in the country, it
would be a charity to have a room where people could wait until the
horses came round, or rather, till the coachman got tired of flirting
with the maids, for in the end it comes to that, you know."

To tell truth, there was cause for Lady George's welcome of
reinforcements, for, despite the fact that the hall positively reeked
of mackintoshes, the drawing-room was redolent of the shower-proof
mantles worn by a bevy of ladies of the type so common on Mr.
McBrayne's steamers; ladies whose conception of the Highlands and
islands might be likened to a volume of Scott bound in waterproof!

"We brought our sandwiches for lunch with us," explained one in reply
to Mrs. Vane's commonplace about the long drive; "and dear Lady Hooker
said we might rely on Highland hospitality for tea; and really it was
exquisite, a dream of beauty, and so interesting, too! Dear Lady
Hooker says that a portion of Waverley was really written in this
neighbourhood."

"I hope they were not the opening ones, then," remarked Mrs. Vane,
carelessly. "They always make me inclined to agree for the time with
the man who said it was a pity Sir Walter wrote in such small print."

A perfectly bovine silence fell on her group, broken, however, by a
determined voice from over the way:

"I agree with you absolutely, at least, as absolutely as the
limitations of human life allow. There is a lack of spiritual insight
in Sir Walter, a want of emotional instinct, an almost brutal content
with things as they are. His style is doubtless good, but personally I
confess to being unable to appreciate it fully. Even on a second
reading I find the story distracts my mind."

The speaker was a slim, rather elegant-looking girl, with an odd
mixture of eagerness and stolidity on her face.

"She writes a great deal," said Mrs. Vane's next-door neighbour in an
undertone of gratification, as if she gained a certain distinction by
being of the same party.

"Only a hundred brace!" came Lady Hooker's voice, compassionately.
"That's very poor, scarcely worth writing for--but then, you don't
rent the place, of course; that makes the difference. Sir Joseph
doesn't go in for grouse, of course; he is a deer man. But we couldn't
get on under five hundred brace for the table, we really couldn't.
Cooks are so extravagant. You will hardly believe it, Lady Temple, but
my Glasgow beef bill last week was over nine pounds, and we had three
sheep besides, and--how many deer was it, Miss Jones? Six? Yes, six
deer."

"That seems enough even for Noah's Ark or a menagerie," said Mrs.
Vane, sympathetically, and Lady George gave her a grateful smile.

"But then, of course, the servants won't touch venison," went
on Lady Hooker, contentedly; "though really it makes very fair
clear soup--it does, indeed. Even Sir Joseph does not object; and
he is so particular. When we had the Marquis of Steyne's place in
Ross-shire----"

"Ah! there are the children," said Lady George, with a sigh of relief.
"I thought, Lady Hooker, that my little boy and girl--oh, nurse! I did
not intend Master Blasius----"

But nurse apparently had other views--possibly that of hearing the
pipes downstairs--for she feigned not to hear, and set Blazes down on
his feet with that final "jug" behind to his smock frock which is the
usual parting admonition to behave nicely.

"Eve, my darling! Adam, my love! go and shake hands' with your little
visitors," said Lady George, keeping an apprehensive eye on Blazes,
who, with his legs very far apart, was clacking the whip he had
brought down with him, and making extraordinary cluckings in the roof
of his mouth, like a whole bevy of broody hens, in which occupation,
what with his close-cropped hair and white smock, he looked a carter
to the life. "Really, nurse!" she continued nervously; "I think,
perhaps, it would be better. He is so much younger than the others,
you see, Lady Hooker."

But nurse was not to be put off with this subterfuge, and as she
happened to be keeping company with the carrier, she felt outraged by
the palpable suspicion. "Indeed, your ladyship," she said, in an
indignant whisper, "it is only the man as drives the ferry cart, and
'e is most respectable!"

So it appeared, for beyond the usual "_ger'up_" Blasius' vocabulary
was, if anything, too endearing. So much so, that Lady George
suggested that since the children had had their tea, she thought it
would be nice for them to play on the lawn. She would ring for the
nursemaid to keep an eye on them, not that it would be necessary,
since she could trust darling Adam and Eve not to get into mischief
anywhere--out of Paradise. But here a difficulty presented itself. One
little girl, a very pretty child dressed in white serge and fur,
refused to go, and stood burying her face in the window curtain, and
digging the toe of one shoe into the carpet after the manner of
children who have made up their minds to give trouble.

"She isn't my girl," came Lady Hooker's loud voice. "Sir Joseph
wouldn't tolerate that sort of thing, he is so particular. When we had
the Duke's place in Sutherland----"

"Cressida, my sweet!" said the authoress, plaintively; "if you can
possibly wish to go, do wish; it would be so much more convenient for
dear little mother. I never coerce her, on principle, Lady George--she
is the only tie I have to life."

"Separated from her husband," put in Mrs. Vane's next-door neighbour,
in the same self-complacent whisper. "It is quite the proper thing
when you write, you know."

"That is what Lady George says also," broke in Mrs. Woodward, a little
spitefully. "And I tell her that children were made to obey their
parents----"

"Should be made to obey them, you mean, dear Mrs. Woodward,"
interrupted her hostess, rising to the bait; "but, as I say, it
depends upon experience. You may have found it necessary with--with
yours, but mine----"

"And mine also!" broke in the lady who wrote, enthusiastically.
"Cressida's mind is so beautiful in its intense naturalness, so
delicate in texture. It is the instinctive shyness of a sensitive
organism which----" She started, and turned round, for a loud, full,
yet childish voice rose confidently above her words.

"Blazeth' goin' to kiss the little gurl, then she won't be flighted,
but come along o' Blazeths."

And she did, hand in hand, admiringly, while he cracked his whip and
cried, "_Ger'rup!_" to amuse her.

"And he can do old Angus awful well, too," whispered Eve to her
companion, as they passed out of the door. "We'll get him to do it by
the burn when Mary isn't looking. Mary doesn't like it, you know,
because her young man is a shepherd, too; but he really is quite a
genteel young fellar, and kept company with the under 'rouse last year
at the Forest--that's your place, isn't it?"

"It's a deal bigger than this," remarked the other. "And we have deers
and grouses."

So the game of brag--which children play more naïvely than their
elders--began, while the authoress was explaining at length how it
came about that Cressida had consented to Blasius's methods of
persuasion.

"I don't think you need distress yourself," remarked Mrs. Vane, with
an odd little smile; "Blazes is really a remarkable boy; he invariably
goes down straight to first principles, and that is a deadly method of
argument--especially with our sex."

"Sex!" echoed the authoress, scenting the foe. "I deny the right of
man----"

"Lady George!" said Mrs. Vane, hastily, "perhaps some of these ladies
might like to see the conservatories. I have on my boots."

Blanche gave her another glance of heartfelt gratitude, and as she saw
her bear off a large contingent, told herself that she was worth three
of Alice Woodward, who was only equal to the bread and butter! And
Paul was anything but bread and butter! The thought, as such vagrant
ones have a trick of doing, begged for more consideration as she sate
turning a polite ear and tongue to the task of amusing the authoress,
who had remained behind; Mrs. Woodward meanwhile appearing deeply
interested in a certain place the Hookers had had in Perthshire, where
the gillies expected champagne and _pâti de foie gras_ for their ball
supper. And she was fast approaching that condition of mind in which
the only thing which prevents our owning up that we are out of our
depth is the conviction that we know quite as much of what we are
talking about as the other party to the conversation, when the sudden
reappearance of the garden contingent bearing two bundles wrapped in
waterproofs supplied an all too efficient distraction.

For the waterproofs being set on the ground disclosed the coy Cressida
and Blasius, both dripping, and inconceivably smeared with tar; but
both to all appearance in the highest of spirits.

Poor Lady George stood up tragically.

"Yes!" replied Mrs. Vane, striving to be grave. "They are bad
children--all bad children," she added, turning to the group of elder
ones behind.

"Oh, but we wasn't there!" came in a chorus, led by Adam and Eve, "we
wasn't, really. It's all his fault."

"Don't! Don't come near me, child!" cried the devoted mother, hastily
retreating from the embrace of her only tie to life. "Cressida!
What--what have you been doing?"

"Oh mummie! it was bewful. First he washted me, and then I washted
him, an' then we washted each other, didn't we, Blazes? and we said,
Haud up--ye----"

"The child is dripping!" interrupted Lady George, hastily. "I will
ring for nurse. Oh! Blasius, how could you think of such a thing?"

Mrs. Vane pointed slily to the furred white pelisse. "It is rather
tempting," she said, aside; but Blanche was not to be mollified.

"And Mary? Where was Mary?"

"Mary's dancing the Highland fling with James in the boot hole,"
blabbed Eve, readily. "An' we wanted to dance too, but nursie was
there, an' so we comed away."

"But where did you go? What were you doing? How came you not to see?
you two whom I can generally trust," persisted Lady George, growing
tearful from vexation, yet feeling vaguely that it all arose from
people bringing a piper with them when they came to call--a piper who
disorganised the household and introduced Highland flings into the
boot hole! "I insist, children, on hearing what you were all doing."

There was a dead silence, until for the first time Blazes lifted up
his loud, mellow voice, as he stood disregarded by a chair smearing
his tarry hands stolidly over its cover in a vain effort to amend
matters before nurse appeared.

"They was flicking piggy wif a pin, and piggy was 'quealin' louder nor
Blazeths."

And even Lady George--when the _châr-a-banc_ had driven off, piper and
mackintoshes and all, with Cressida kissing her still tarry hands to a
struggling figure in Mary's arms at the nursery window--was forced to
admit that Blazes generally went straight to the point; and that after
all it had helped to pass the time. And as for Mary, she declared that
her ladyship might say what she liked about 'orseplay, an' lendin'
'erself to savage an' indignified dances in a boot 'ole, but 'ighland
flings wasn't in it--for a stetch in yer side an' no 'airpins to speak
of--with Master Blazes when you 'ad to 'old 'im and 'e didn't meant to
be 'eld.



                              CHAPTER XVI.


For the next few days after the visit to old Peggy, which convinced
her that some secret lay in the old woman's keeping, Mrs. Vane
refrained from any attempt to interfere with Providence. To begin
with, she felt vaguely that the Scotch marriage laws were dangerous,
and the very fact that she knew enough of Paul to be sure that this
was not likely to be a mere vulgar entanglement, made her hesitate
before her own suspicions. On the other hand, this possibility of a
new string to her bow inclined her to slack off the other; the more so
because here again she was beginning to be afraid of her own weapon.
She had always recognised that, but for her interference, Paul would
have held to that discretion which is the better part of valour, have
seen no more of Marjory, and forgotten her; also, that the girl
herself had been quite as ready to dismiss this strange, if alluring,
figure from her thoughts, as belonging to a society--nay! to a
world--in which she had no part. But now? Mrs. Vane, as she watched
the easy familiarity which had of necessity recommenced between them,
as she noted the girl's quick, healthy response to the thousand and
one new thoughts and ways of this new life, could not help wondering
if the awakening to new pleasures might not rouse into action a new
set of emotions and instincts. For Marjory, as for Paul, there was
also danger; to her from the unfamiliarity, to him from the very
familiarity of the environment, which threw him back on past
experience, and rendered it well-nigh impossible for him to forget his
own nature, and dream himself in Arcadia. And then Dr. Kennedy's
appearance had complicated matters for Mrs. Vane, who, kindly to all,
had a weak spot in her heart for the friend of her earliest youth. It
did not take long for her sharp eyes to pierce through his pretence of
mere guardianship, and it gave her quite a pang to think of giving him
one. Yet here she comforted herself by the palpable jealousy which
Marjory showed towards those youthful days; a jealousy she did not
scruple to stimulate, for Mrs. Vane, with all her _finesse_,
occasionally made a mistake, and in the present instance did not
realise that in thus, as it were, emphasising a hitherto unknown side
of Dr. Kennedy's life she was adding to the strangeness of the
environment in which Marjory found herself; and at the same time
suggesting that it was no new thing to the one person to whose opinion
she was inclined to defer. So that, instead of helping her old friend
by the time-honoured device of exciting jealousy as a prelude to love,
Mrs. Vane, in reality, made it easier for the girl to drift from her
moorings.

"You are very kind to your ward," said the little lady one day,
feeling impelled to give comfort as she noticed Dr. Kennedy's eyes
following Marjory rather wistfully. "But virtue has its own reward. Do
not pretend you don't understand, _Monsieur le Docteur!_ for you do.
And I will give you my opinion--when she has seen a little more of the
world she will see what _it_ has seen already--that there are not many
men in it like Dr. Tom Kennedy."

"She will see exactly what she chooses to see, _Madame!_" he replied,
with one of his little foreign bows, which, to Marjory, seemed to
reveal him in a new and worldly light.

"Exactly," retorted the little lady; "and being of the Truth will
choose the Truth." And then suddenly her mood changed, and she laid
her hand close to his on the table as if to attract his attention to
her quick emotion. "Ah, _mon ami_, I envy you! you can afford to wait
for Paradise, and I have had mine. At least, I feel as if I had eaten
my apple and been turned out into the cold, for there hasn't been much
happiness in my life."

He looked at her with 'grave pity, noting with the eye of one
accustomed to the work the thousand and one little signs of wear and
tear in the clever, mobile face.

"You have put plenty into other people's lives, anyhow," he said, in
kindly, if cold, comfort; and his words were true. With all her faults
Mrs. Vane had given more to the world than she had ever taken from it.

Marjory, watching the little scene from afar, felt something of this,
as she told herself it was quite natural that Tom should enjoy the
companionship of his old friend. Who, in fact, would not enjoy talking
to so brilliant and charming a woman? at least, in this new world,
which could not somehow be cleft in two by a straight line dividing
right from wrong, darkness from light.

Yet, though she acknowledged this, she was as far as ever from
understanding it, and as ready as ever to disdain anything which
bordered on sentiment; on that unknown ground of Love or Passion.

Dr. Kennedy, repeating to her his part of _jeune premier_ in the
little play which was to precede some tableaux, realised her lack of
change in this respect with mingled gratification and regret.

"I must keep my own counsel," he recited, in the even yet jerky tone
sacred to the learning of parts, "em--and not let her suspect the deep
attachment she has inspired--inspired--inspired. Now, don't tell me,
please; I know what comes next. Yes! I do, Mademoiselle! In nine cases
out of ten a proposal! So there! Well, where were we? Ah! 'But, soft'
(depends greatly on the stage floor, my dear sir). 'But, soft! she
comes!' Go on, Marjory. 'Enter Blanche--she comes,' is your cue."

"'Tis he! Henri!' Oh! Tom, do let us skip all that bosh!"

Dr. Kennedy put down the hazel root he was whittling into a shepherd's
crook and looked at her in feigned surprise. "Bosh! Why, I intend to
work this up until I draw tears from every eye."

"Not from mine, Tom," smiled Marjory; "that sort of thing always makes
me laugh."

They were lounging under the beech tree which grew close to the burn
at the bottom of the garden, and the dappled sunshine and shade from
the green canopy overhead made the green draperies outlining the fine
curves of Marjory's slender figure seem like a dress of leaves.
Leaning forward on the grass, her chin resting on her hands, her curly
head thrown back half-defiantly to look him in the face, she reminded
Dr. Kennedy of Rosalind; yet it was of another heroine that he spoke.

"Poor Juliet! I suppose she ought not to have survived to the
nineteenth century!"

Marjory's eyebrows puckered themselves in doubt. "I don't mean that;
perhaps I don't know what I mean; but Juliet loved Romeo, and
these"--she nodded at the little book between her elbows in careless
contempt--"they--they--Tom! you must allow there is too much of--of
that sort of thing."

He went on whittling for a moment; it was the first time he had ever
touched on the subject with Marjory, and he felt at once curious and
constrained.

"I am afraid that sort of thing--as you call it--will not reduce
itself to please you; it is part, and perhaps a necessary part, of
life," he said shortly.

"A part!" returned the girl, eagerly. "Not all? Now, in the novels and
these plays one hears of little else. It is all hero and heroine;
work, ambition, failure, success, are nowhere. It is very
uninteresting--don't you think so?"

Dr. Kennedy's face was a study in humour and gravity.

"Upon my word, I don't know, my child! But most people think otherwise
at some time of life. And you are a little hard, surely; you should
remember that after all the love-season is generally the crisis of
life's fever. Put it another way; the touchstone by which we can test
the lovers' ideal;" he paused till his innate doubt made him add: "At
least it should be so, though I'm afraid it isn't--not always."

She looked at him, and a troubled expression came to her eyes. "I
suppose not," she said absently; "that has always been a puzzle to me.
To love, and yet not to approve, seems to me a contradiction in
terms." The chips flew faster from the knot Dr. Kennedy was smoothing.

"You talk as if love were reducible to logic, but it isn't." Then
the impossibility of a mutual understanding made him add more gently:
"It isn't a thing you can reason about. It comes and goes as it
chooses--not as you choose. That is the difficulty."

"Difficulty," echoed Marjory, raising herself with a belligerent
air to clasp her hands about her knees and subside again into a
half-dreamy defiance as she sate looking out over the burn to the
sunlit point stretching into the blue loch. "It is manifestly unfair
if it is so; only I don't think it is. Else how is it possible to hold
love sacred? How is it possible to believe in it?"

"I am afraid it will be believed in to the end of the chapter all the
same," replied her hearer, with a smile. "And it isn't so unfair when
all is said and done, since 'a love that is tender and true and strong
crowneth the life of the giver.'"

She turned on him sharply. "Where does that come from? Some extremely
sentimental---- Why, Tom! I believe you wrote that--now did you? Come!
own up!"

"I might have guessed it wouldn't pass muster with a young person who
has taken honours in English literature and knows the Elizabethan
poets by heart," he replied gravely. "Yes! Marjory, I am responsible
for that particular version of a time-honoured, crusted old sentiment.
I wrote it in delirium, or something like it--if that is any excuse."

She edged closer to him in girlish eagerness. "This is quite
delightful. I never knew you wrote rhymes. I do, and burn them; but
_you!_ Come, tell me the rest at once."

"Perhaps I burn them, too."

"Oh! but that is only pretence, you know, just to keep oneself in
subjection. One remembers them all the same. I do. So now, once,
twice, thrice!"

He gave an odd little grimace. "It was last year when I had fever," he
began apologetically.

"In Paris?"

"No! They had sent me to the country, and there was a stream and some
reeds. I could see them as I lay in bed, and so---- Now, mind, if once
I begin to swear I won't leave off under half-a-crown!"

"I wouldn't mind giving three shillings if it were worth it; so go on,
Tom, why should you be bashful?"

"Because I was delirious when I wrote it, of course," he replied; yet
there was a real tremor in his voice, as he began:--


      "Where the river's golden sheen floats by
       The plumes of the tall reeds touch the sky,
           Like arrows from out a quiver.
       But one bends over to reach the stream,
       Dreaming of naught but the golden gleam,
           Weary for love of the river.

      "'Oh, river! river! thou flowest fast;
       Yet leave me one kiss as thou goest past--
           One kiss, to be mine for ever!'
       She bent her head to the shining flood;
       On swept the river in careless mood,
           Mocking her poor endeavour.

      "'Oh, river! river! give back to me
       Some token of all I have given to thee,
           To show thou art my lover!'
       But the only answer to her prayer
       Was the shade of her own love mirrored there,
           With the reeds that grew above her.

      "The proud reeds chid her, yet still she sighed,
       Wondering such love could be so denied;
           While ever towards the ocean,
       Dreaming deep dreams of that future free,
       The river swept on to the unknown sea,
           Careless of her devotion.

      "A bird flew down when the sun set red,
       To sing his hymn from the reed's bowed head
           To God, the All-good Giver.
       Bowed by the weight of the singing bird,
       At long, long last the waters stirred,
           As the reed's plume touched the river.

      "'Oh! glad and sweet,' sang the bird, 'is Life,
       And Death is sweet, bringing Peace to Strife,
           But Love is God's best treasure.
       It cometh best when it comes unsought,
       It giveth all, and it asketh naught,
           For true love hath no measure,'

      "The bird flew home when its song had ceased.
       The reed, from its one dear kiss released,
           Shall give another never;
       But a silver crown of dewdrops shone,
       Telling of true love given, not won,
           In the reed's bright plume for ever.

      "Go forth, my song! so that all may learn
       Love, like the reed's, needeth no return,
           Save the baptism of the river.
       Though the heart be sad, and the way be long,
       A love that is tender, and true, and strong,
           Crowneth the life of the giver."


Dr. Kennedy recited well; the tremor of his voice had soon passed, and
with it, apparently, all sense of the personal application of the
verses; for as he sate, still whittling away at the hazel root, his
keen brown face wore a half-humorous and half-puzzled look, and after
a decent pause he gave an odd sort of laugh.

"It sounds pretty," he said; "but upon my word I don't know quite what
I meant, and I am almost certain it was not love, not what is
generally understood by love."

Marjory looked at him judgmatically. "Nonsense! Of course it was love,
and what is more, Tom, I think you must have been in love when you
wrote it. Now confess, were you not?"

Once again the temptation to say "Yes! with you," rose uppermost; only
to meet with the old revulsion of feeling, born of the knowledge of
things hidden from her, and please God! always to be so hidden. In
love! Great heavens, no! if that were love. And yet, how could he
answer for her nature as well as his own? For a nature which his
practised eye told him was full of vitality, full of possibilities;
and young, ah! so young as yet in its knowledge of itself. If he told
her that he loved her and asked her to marry him, the chances were ten
to one that she would say "Yes." And yet the conviction that it was so
brought him no content, but only something of tender reluctance for
her, of vague contempt for himself.

"In love!" he echoed. "I was in a delirium if you meant that, or near
it. Temperature a hundred and five point two, and Abbeville--he was
nursing me--good luck to him!--had just confessed there was not much
chance; as if I hadn't known that for days!"

"And you never told me," she said, after a pause.

"No; I didn't want to bother you, and----" He looked up to see her
face white, and his manner changed. "Don't, child! it's past and
over--besides I have a knack of pulling through--I am sorry I
mentioned it, now."

"What is it?" she asked, in a constrained voice. "I should like to
know, if I may?"

"My dear! of course you may. Pyæmia; the knife slipped, that was all.
The veriest scratch. What a fool I was to mention it!"

"Don't say that," she flashed out suddenly. "Don't you know that I
like to hear everything--everything----" She paused, and her quick
resentment seemed to die down before a keener thought, and she sate
silent for a while. "I can scarcely think what it would have meant to
me," she went on, half to herself, before she turned her face to him
again. "I should have been quite alone in the world then, you know,
Tom."

"Until you made a home of your own, perhaps," he replied quietly,
being, like most men of his temperament, somewhat given to
self-torture.

"Perhaps; but it would never be the same," she said, as quietly. "It
would never seem to be the haven of rest that the thought of your
goodness is to me now. Do you know, Tom, that I always hearten myself
up by saying that if I am tired I can always ask you to let me rest,
and you would, wouldn't you?" As she spoke she stretched out her hand
towards him in her favourite gesture of appeal, and both of his,
leaving their work, had reached to it eagerly and clasped it close.

"Marjory!" he said, a surge of sheer happiness flooding heart and
brain with unalloyed content. "Promise me that always--and--and I am
satisfied."

"Promise what?" she asked, smiling through the sudden tears which
brightened her eyes. "That I will come home to rest if I am tired? Of
course I shall. What is the use of having you, Tom, the best, the
kindest, if I don't make use of you? And I will. I'll come home fast
enough, you'll see, if----" She paused to give a wise shake of her
head, and then, clasping the hand he had released over the other which
lay upon her knee, she looked out absently over the running water at
her feet.

"I wonder how I shall like it?" she continued. "I wonder if it will be
what I have fancied it?"

"Probably not," replied her companion, with a quick dread at his
heart. For how could it be so? What could this girl's imagining have
to do with that world which he knew so well: so well that the finer
tissue in him rebelled against the teaching which his very profession
forced him to accept as true, at any rate for the majority of men and
women. "Probably not," he repeated more quietly, "though that is just
the sort of thing it is impossible to predict of a girl who has been
brought up as you have. So it must be settled by experience."

Half an hour afterwards Paul Macleod, coming over to the Lodge on the
pretence of giving notice of an afternoon rehearsal, found them still
busy over the loves and woes of Henri and Blanche. In fact, Dr.
Kennedy was on his knees disclaiming his part passionately; whereat
the newcomer frowned. First at the sight, secondly at his own dislike
to it.

"I have been trying to teach Miss Carmichael how to refuse an aspirant
firmly, yet sympathetically," said the doctor, coolly, rising to his
feet and putting the handkerchief he had spread on the ground into his
pocket; "but she finds a difficulty, apparently, in keeping her
countenance. It is a mistake, Marjory. Half the unhappy marriages in
the world come from the difficulty which the untutored mind has in
saying 'No' with decent courtesy. It is so much easier to say 'Yes,'
since that requires no diplomacy. If I had daughters I should always
impress on them that the eleventh commandment does not consist in
'Thou shalt not refuse.'"

"I shouldn't have thought it necessary to impress that on the girls of
the present day," remarked Paul, rather hastily, and Marjory flushed
up at once.

"It is never safe to generalise from a single experience, Captain
Macleod," she retorted, "and yours may have been exceptionally
fortunate--hitherto."

"Perhaps it has--hitherto," he replied, and, after delivering his
message, went off in a huff. Yet he felt himself more on a plane with
Marjory than he had ever done before, slightly to his discomfiture;
for this atmosphere of quick give and take, this suspicion of jealous
anger, was familiar to him, and he could not mistake its
possibilities. So he devoted himself more than usual to his duty, and
though, of course, he made up his tiff a trifle sentimentally with
Marjory, he chose to be rather lordly over her relations with Dr.
Kennedy, and even went so far as to mention to his sister that he
suspected her _protégé_, Mr. Gillespie, was forestalled.

"My dear Paul!" said Lady George, distractedly, "I really don't care
at the present moment who marries who. I might be in a better world
for that matter, if I weren't in Purgatory."

"Wherefore?" asked Paul, kindly.

"Oh! the supper, and the servants, and the general civility," replied
Blanche, who was in reality enjoying the bustle, but, at the same
time, liked to pose as a victim. "Really, in these out-of-the-way
places one has to be a virtuous woman, and bring one's food from afar;
and then there is always Blasius. I suppose it is the name, as you
say, George, but, really, I don't believe that child _can_ do what is
right."

"Nonsense, my dear," retorted her spouse, who ever since he undertook
to interpret the laws of nature to his youngest born had been a trifle
jealous of his pupil's reputation. "Blasius won the Derby in '73. What
has the child been doing now?"

"Oh! nothing much; only he wouldn't eat his dinner just now because it
was only an egg, and the others had mutton. He really is too young to
have meat every day; so, as I was busy, I told nurse to put him to
bed, and he is sitting up in it making the most unearthly noises, as
if the whole farmyard were in the top landing. Listen! you can hear
him down here."

There could be no doubt of it, and as they stood in the hall, looking
up involuntarily, a perfect babel of cluckings and cacklings, crowings
and quackings, seemed to come down the stairs with Mary, the
nursemaid, who was bearing the dirty dishes from the nursery dinner;
among them Blazes' despised egg.

"The worst of it is," went on Lady George, in her high, plaintive
voice, "you never really know what the child means. Why, for instance,
should he cackle, as if he had laid an egg himself?"

'"Um!" grumbled her husband. "More to the purpose why he refused his
dinner? Here, let me look at that tray, will you? By Jove, Blanche!"
he went on, holding out the egg-cup excitedly, "it's bad--no child
could be expected to eat that--what a fool!"

He was half-way up the stairs impetuously when his wife begged him to
be discreet, and wait for her.

"It is just what I said," she confided to Paul, who followed full of
laughter. "You never can tell what he means till afterwards; now, of
course, I can guess that--that----" She paused, feeling that words
were unnecessary before the spectacle of Blasius, standing beside the
round, white pillow of his cot, and cackling vehemently. But Lord
George was too angry for amusement, and after an elaborate apology to
Blazes for the mistake, handed him over to the nurse with a sharp
order to re-dress him and take more care in future, which enabled that
functionary to veil her real regret under a show of indignation until
Blasius, who was sitting on her knee, and could presumably see more of
the truths than others, said consolingly:

"Never mind, nursie! Cocky eat his own egg next time." Whereupon, she
burst into tears and hugged him for a darling, and a treasure, and the
one comfort of her life.

"I don't think his meaning was obscure that time, Blanche," said her
husband, as they went downstairs. "If Cocky had committed the
indiscretion of laying a bad egg, why then--God bless the boy, he is a
little trump!"

"And has a wisdom beyond his years," added Paul, rather cynically;
"for he lays the blame where it should be given--on the Creator."

"My dear Paul! what a dreadful thing to say; please remember he is
your god-son."

"Well, if he doesn't hear it from me he will from others, my dear
girl," replied her brother, with a shrug of the shoulders. "It is the
teaching of to-day. We are none of us responsible beings."

"And upon my soul," growled Lord George, "I'm inclined to agree with
it in one sense--think of that fool of a nurse!--you should dismiss
her, Blanche."

"But, my dear Paul," persisted Lady George, disregarding her husband's
suggestion, "the question of heredity does not exclude the forces of
education. We can be altered----"

"I've heard you say a dozen times, Blanche, that an altered body is
never satisfactory, even with the best of dressmakers," interrupted
Paul, as he turned off to the smoking-room. "So why should you think
it would answer with a soul?"

"There is something the matter with Paul," remarked his sister, who
disliked above all things to have the logical sequence of her own
theories flung in her face; "but that is only to be expected. When one
is busy troubles come crowding in on every side. However, I have
written to Lady Hooker, and begged her as a personal favour not to
bring the piper to-morrow night; for, though I have warned the
servants about Highland flings, you cannot expect people to overcome
their natural instincts nowadays, and of course we shall be enjoying
ourselves, in a way, upstairs."

"I hope so," assented her husband, gloomily; "and I suppose, my dear,
I shall get my towel-horse back when it is all over."

"Now, George! isn't that like a man?" cried his wife, triumphantly,
as if appealing to him for verification of a new and interesting
fact about himself. "As if you didn't know that tableaux in the
drawing-room and towel-horses in the bedrooms were quite incompatible
when scenery is required--especially rustic scenery. And Mrs. Vane
requires so many rocks! You may be thankful it wasn't _boulders_, for
then the pillows would have gone, and what would you have said to
that?"

Lord George said nothing, but as he followed his brother-in-law's
example and turned off to the smoking-room, some connection of ideas
made him hum to himself:--


             "Out of my stony grief Bethels I'll raise."


"Really, George!" called his wife, indignantly; "you and Paul are
_impayable_. It is a wonder Adam and Eve are so good."



                             CHAPTER XVII.


Private theatricals as a rule need no description, but these in the
barn at Gleneira House merit at least so much attention, in that,
for the major part of the audience, they were the first attempt at
play-acting it had ever seen; since even in the British Isles culture
and civilisation have not harried the glens which are hidden away in
the hearts of the hills. To tell truth, not a few of the audience came
doubtfully with a fear lest they might be backsliders; but, as luck
would have it, the Free Church section, being in process of choosing a
new minister, felt it could afford, for once, to test the iniquity of
the stage by actual experience. Besides, if the laird led the way,
there were still sufficient of the clan to follow him even to the jaws
of hell. So they came and waited for the curtain to rise, with a
quaint trepidation lest they should really enjoy themselves, and so
give place to the devil.

But there was someone else besides the "_unco guid_" who felt vaguely
as if it would have been better she had not been there, as if she
wished that both the immediate past and the present had never come to
pass. And that was Marjory, as she stood at the far corner by the
door, whence she could escape easily when she was wanted behind the
scenes. Perhaps her face showed something of this, for Paul Macleod,
pausing beside her for a moment, said in a low tone:

"I've seen Mrs. Vane act in 'Her Bitterest Foe' before, and she alone
would carry it off. Then Bertie is splendid at the heavy parts, and
Dr. Kennedy, by all accounts, is almost professional. There is no
fear, I'm sure."

She turned to him quickly. "Do I look nervous? I think I am, chiefly
from the novelty. It is the first play I've ever seen, remember."

He knew that, and yet the idea struck him again with a certain regret
for her and for himself. For her that she should see one at all, for
himself that he should have seen so many. "After all," he parodied
lightly, "it is better sometimes never to have lived than to have
lived it all! There goes the prompter's bell, so keep your eyes open,
Miss Carmichael."

There was no need for the advice, since the first look filled the girl
with astonishment at the almost ridiculous reality which the glare of
the footlights gave to the shreds and patches of scenery she had
helped to put together. No wonder, therefore, if Mrs. Vane, in her
simple black dress, looked the _ingenue_ to perfection, and Major
Bertie's honest English face had quite a German cut about it. And how
well they acted! The ring of rough tenderness in the General's voice
was all that could be desired, while Mrs. Vane was faultlessly simple
and girlish. It could scarcely, Marjory told herself, be better; and
oh, how dreadful--how unbearable it would be if Tom fell below that
high standard! Another minute and his cue would come; so much she
knew, and a really hot regret rose up in her that she had not insisted
on invading the privacy of the rehearsals; then she would have known
what to expect. Yet what could he do with such a part? A part which
had always sounded to her so unreal, so unlike the man himself, so
unlike---- Then who was this hasty, hot-headed, imperious, impetuous
boy who burst upon the stage? She gave quite a little gasp of dismay,
and then forgot everything save that figure kneeling at its mistress's
feet, and pouring out its love, its grief, its remorse.

"Bravo!" said Paul, under his breath, then added, in a different tone,
"You see there is no need to be nervous--he does it _con amore_."

A sudden jealousy had leapt up in him at the thought that Marjory
might listen to such wooing, and as he moved away to the vacant place
left for him by Alice Woodward, he told himself, with resentful
cynicism, that it was not the first time Dr. Kennedy had played the
lover's part, and that even Marjory should be satisfied by the
plaudits which were sure to follow.

But she was not thinking of applause. She was too startled, too dazed
to think at all, for something new and hitherto undreamt of in her was
responding passionately to the passionate appeal to which she
listened, and her clasp on the chair behind which she stood slackened
in relief as the kiss of forgiveness was given. Oh, that was right!
Who, loving the man, would not forgive? Who could help it in such
case? And this--yes! this was love!

It seemed to her as if the play passed in a moment, and yet that it
had stolen the reality from all the rest of her life; nor did she
realise who the actors were until, amid the applause with which the
curtain came down, she heard two familiar voices from the row of
chairs in front of her.

"Bravo! Bravissimo!" said one. "That was well done. He has my
compliments."

"And mine," quoth the other, solemnly jocose. "But to think of it? Oh,
Thomas, my lad, _quod medicorum est promettant medice_, but this is no
healing o' hearts, man! Eh! Father Macdonald, but we will have at the
learned impostor; we will!"

"_Amor al cor gentil ralto s'apprende_," put in the gentler voice, in
the same jocose strain; and then they both laughed.

Marjory stepped back involuntarily as if to avoid hearing more; but
she had heard enough, for there, as she raised her eyes, stood Dr.
Kennedy and Mrs. Vane, bowing their acknowledgments of the recall. The
old life had come back again, but with a strange new thrill in it
which made her heart beat, yet left her dazed and weary.

"If I could always act with Tom Kennedy," said Mrs. Vane, jubilant
over the success, when Marjory went behind the scenes to aid in the
coming tableaux, "I should make my fortune. He is the only amateur I
ever saw who knows how to make love!"

"He did it very well," assented Marjory, coldly. She felt glad that he
was too busy with the scenery for her to have speech with him; she
would not have known what to say--for she had liked it--she had
understood--and yet!---- It was bad enough to listen for a moment to
Paul's approval when he came round, escorting Alice Woodward, who was
wanted for the statue in "Winter's Tale."

"You should be satisfied," he said with intent. "Personally I never
saw it better done, on--or off the stage."

But then a look at the girl's face drove him back quick as thought to
the old Arcadian days when they had been so friendly.

"I wish the whole business were over," he said sharply. "It's an awful
nuisance, and you will all be dead tired to-morrow."

"But Lord George will have his towel-horse again!" she answered,
lightly turning to a current jest as a shelter from the sense of his
thoughtfulness for her. "And there are but three more tableaux."

"Three," he echoed; "there are only two on the programme."

"But the other is Mrs. Vane's _bon-bouche_ to the house party. She
said they deserved a surprise; but I believe she would just as soon
let it slide--for she is very tired, Captain Macleod. Only it would be
hard on Mr. Gillespie, who is full of his part; besides it really
should be the prettiest of all--Mrs. Vane took so much trouble over
it."

"Are you in it--and Dr. Kennedy?" he asked quickly.

"No, only I--and Mr. Gillespie, of course. You see it was for the
house party."

And Paul, as he went off to do host, wondered angrily what Violet
could mean; she always meant something--at least that was his
experience of her. The wonder lingered as he sate decorously between
Mrs. Woodward and Lady Hooker in the front row, listening between the
scenes to the account the latter gave of some tableaux she had got up
when they rented the Marquis of Tweedie's place in Peebleshire, and
whispering to the former, when the curtain rose finally on Alice as
Joan of Arc at the stake, that he hoped it was the last time her
daughter would suffer martyrdom in his house. For Paul invariably said
the right thing, if it paid him to do so, no matter what his real
feelings were at the moment; at the present time they were somewhat
mixed; the preponderant one being irritation at the whole round world.

And now, that being the last tableau on the programme, the guests were
manifestly becoming filled with uneasy wonder as to whether they were
expected to make the move or not, when the tinkle of the bell warned
them of something more, and after a minute's pause the lights went out
suddenly. Then from the darkness came Wagner's "March of the Gods to
Walhalla," and the curtain, rising slowly, showed a scene which well
deserved the murmur of recognition which ran round the more critical
part of the audience.

"Shouldn't have thought towel-horses could have done it--but she is a
deuced clever little soul," murmured Lord George to his neighbour, and
in truth, considering the resources at Mrs. Vane's command, the effect
was well-nigh marvellous. In the distance lay a stretch of sea and sky
lit by the light of a dying sunset which gained an almost real
radiance from the darkness of the foreground, where, with its back to
the audience, its foot upon the brink, a mailed figure, sword in hand,
bent, as if meditating a leap over the shadowy gulf which lay between
it and a low platform of rock overhanging the misty blue depths of the
distant sea. And on the rock, her silver helmet laid aside, her head
pillowed on her white arm, slept a warrior-maiden with her face turned
to the sunsetting. She was clad in soft, filmy, white draperies, but
the corselet of silver she wore above them rose and fell evenly with
her calm breathing; while round about her--so close that it seemed to
touch her wavy hair and silver, wing-shod feet--flickered and flamed a
mystic circle of fire.

"What is it? What is it meant to be?" came eagerly from many of the
audience. And Paul knew--knew all too well--but he sate silent,
crushing down his anger at the skill of the thrust.

"What is it?" echoed Alice Woodward, who, with an opera cloak thrown
over her last costume, had returned to her rôle of spectator. "Why,
Brynhild, of course, mamma! The Nibelungen, you know--we heard that
German tenor in it, if you remember. Mrs. Vane has staged it
beautifully, hasn't she, Captain Macleod; and how well the dress suits
Miss Carmichael's style. That is Mr. Gillespie, of course; he looks
taller in armour. You know, mamma, it is a sort of allegory. Sigurd
has to leap----" She paused abruptly to look at her companion. He had
started to his feet, and a quick cry of "Take care! Take care!" rose
from various parts of the house, for a breath of wind, coming from
some opening door, had bent the flames perilously near to those filmy
draperies.

"Look out, Gillespie! for God's sake look out!" he shouted; but the
mailed figure, failing to understand, turned to the audience, and the
next instant Paul, tearing off his coat the while, had leapt over the
footlights, and scattering the circle in his hurry was on his knees
beside Marjory crushing out the fire which had caught her dress. The
heated spirit spilt on the floor blazed up fiercely, almost hiding
those two, and rousing a shriek of dismay from the ladies.

"Down with the curtain and keep the draught out!" shouted Paul; "and
run back the carpet some of you. Lie still a moment, please--it is
beyond you."

As a matter of fact the sudden burst of flame was nearer to the mailed
figure, who, being penned in between it and the falling curtain, chose
the footlights and landed in Mrs. Woodward's arms a second before Dr.
Kennedy's voice rang out reassuringly to say it was all right.

"You might bring a blanket, Kennedy," said Paul, still with his arms
round Marjory. "If you will excuse me a moment longer, Miss
Carmichael, it will be wiser--muslin is so apt to flare. Tell me if I
am hurting you."

Perhaps he did not mean--being a gentleman in most ways--to lower his
voice in the least, and yet he did lower it. He could scarcely help
himself with that touch thrilling through him, and at the sound of the
tenderness in his own tones something in him seemed to cast itself
loose from all anchorage and, spreading white wings over the tempest
of emotion that arose in him, to bear him swiftly to a haven of
perfect content.

"I'm not hurt at all," she said; yet she looked at his face so close
to hers with startled eyes, and gave a little shiver; then went on
hastily. "But you--your shirt sleeve is all burnt--it is smouldering
still. Tom! come quick! No! No!--not for me. There was a spark still,
Captain Macleod--I saw it----"

"It is out now at any rate--be still for one more second, please.
Thanks, Kennedy--just slip it under while I lift. So--a perfect
roly-poly! That is well over!"

He spoke lightly again, but he had grown very pale, and much to his
annoyance found himself in the doctor's hands for a scorch on his arm.
However, as his sister said plaintively, that and the unfortunate
break-up of Lord George's lamented towel-horse in the hurry was the
only mischief done. It might have been much worse, and though of
course it was really quite a lovely tableau--for which Mrs. Vane
deserved the highest praise--still it was a dangerous experiment. It
generally was dangerous to play with fire, remarked Paul, impatiently,
and had not his sister better make some diversion among the guests, or
they would be leaving with a sense of judgment on their souls. A reel
or two would hearten them up, while a glass of whiskey, and some weak
negus for the ladies before they went away, would finish the business.
Of course there was no piper, but Miss Carmichael could play "The
de'il amang them" to perfection, and would do that much to help
Gleneira, he felt sure.

There is no greater test of the quality of a man's fibre than the way
in which he stands the goad of mental pain. Paul Macleod, smarting
under the sting which the certain knowledge that he loved Marjory
Carmichael as he had never loved any woman before and yet that she was
beyond his reach brought to him, showed this indubitably. All his
reckless self-will, all his wild resentment against controlling
circumstance, rose up in him, and only the fact that he had no
possible opportunity of so doing, prevented him from then and there
making his proposal to Alice Woodward. This may seem a strange
sequence to the discovery that you love another woman, but it was just
this discovery which set him in arms against himself. For this love
was a new emotion--a love which suited the girl with her clear eyes--a
love such as he had hitherto scouted as a dream fit only for
passionless, sexless idealists.

And the result of this deliberate choice of lower levels was in its
way stranger still. For Alice Woodward, whose emotion under any
circumstances could never have risen to a higher point than calm
affection, felt more content than she had ever done over the future,
and actually lingered in her mother's room--a most unusual event in
that reserved family--to remark that Gleneira was really delightful in
the fine weather when the house was full of people.

"Captain Macleod showed immense presence of mind, too," assented Mrs.
Woodward, contributing her quota to the general satisfaction.

"Very!" admitted Alice, colouring a little, "and he behaved so nicely
afterwards. In such good spirits, you know, though of course he must
have been in pain."

So they retired to bed, well content with the state of affairs. Not so
Mrs. Vane, who, long after the others were asleep, sate waiting for a
well-known footstep to pass her door, on its way to the laird's own
room, which lay, quaintly apart from the others, with a little further
flight of stairs all to itself. And none came, though from below she
heard the voices of the menkind dispersing when their smoke was over,
and from above Lord George's stealthy tread as he passed the nursery.
And yet she had made up her mind that she must say a word to
Paul--must make certain of the truth--before she slept. She had not
been deceived; he was angry with her. Nay, worse! he was unhappy, yet
in a mood to make that unhappiness permanent. That must be prevented
somehow; so after a time she stole out into the passages, dark save
for the master's light--that light which has brought home the pang of
widowhood to so many a woman's heart, as she pauses on her way
upstairs to put it out. If she knew anything of Paul's nature, he
would not be in the smoking-room; once the necessity for restraint was
over, he would have taken the earliest opportunity of escaping from
the eyes of others. The business-room most likely, where he was secure
from most interruptions; but not from hers, though as he started to
his feet as she came in, he looked as though he had expected
otherwise.

"I waited for you upstairs," she said boldly, "for I must speak to you
to-night"--then she paused, startled; for she had expected anger, and
Paul had sunk wearily into his chair again, resting his head on his
hand.

"Can't you let me be--surely you have done mischief enough already?"
he said; and then he turned to look at her, and think, even in his
resentment, that she had always liked him, always been good to him. "I
don't understand why you brought this about--not the accident, of
course; that no one could have foreseen, but all the other part. For
you did bring it about. Why? Do you want me to marry----_her?_ You
know you don't. Then why should you have schemed to give me pain?"

He spoke with a concentrated bitterness which told her that his
patience was far spent. When she had left her room to seek him she had
been prepared to speak the truth, if need be, to a certain extent, but
now her quick wit showed her that she must risk all.

"No!" she answered quietly. "I do not wish you to marry Marjory
Carmichael; but neither do I wish you to marry that iceberg of a
girl, and be miserable. Let me have my say, Paul, for the sake of old
times. She does not love you, my poor Paul--I doubt if she can love
anything--and you do not love her, you do not even admire her. But you
did love the other, and when I saw you pretending that you did not, I
said to myself, 'He shall know the difference.'"

"That is a kind of knowledge a man can generally find out for
himself," broke in Paul, cynically. "But, still, I don't see--what
possible use?----" He paused, and turned from her again to his old
attitude.

"What use!" she echoed, laying her hand on his shoulder. "Listen! and
I will tell you the truth--tell it you utterly. You are very dear to
me, Paul, and come what may I am your friend. Do you think, then, that
I could stand by and see you bring misery into your life needlessly;
quite needlessly, for you could do better for yourself than that. Long
ago, Paul, so long ago that the folly of it is over for you, and so I
can speak of it--you loved me; and I----" she paused, but went on
steadily. "I loved you--don't start, my friend, it is true; see! to
your face I say it is true. I loved you. But I kept the secret then,
Paul, for the sake of your future, as I tell it now for the sake of
your future, so that you may believe that I am a friend indeed; for a
woman will not stand by and see another woman sacrifice the happiness
of a man for whom she once sacrificed her own. That is why I say you
must not marry Alice Woodward--you must not, Paul! Give her up!"

"And, then?"

Her eyes met his unflinchingly.

"Yes, Paul! think what you like; I do not care. As for that, I should
make you a better wife than Alice Woodward, for there would be the
memory of a past love between us, at any rate--a fair, honest love."
He had risen from his chair, and stood looking down on the brave,
spirited little figure before him with irrepressible admiration. What
pluck, what address she had! How skilfully she had steered her way
through dangers that would have wrecked another woman's self-esteem!
And with the memory of the past surging up in him he could not deny
her right to speak.

"I am no fool, Paul," she went on, holding up her hand to check some
half-hesitating words upon his lips. "I know what I say. I know, too,
what most men would say if a woman spoke to them as I have spoken to
you to-night. Well! I risk all that. I never lacked courage in your
cause, Paul, and if I gave up my love in those old passionate days for
your sake, do you think I would let its shadow come between you and
happiness? You are marrying the girl for her money. Well, others have
money also. I have it now, if it comes to that. I do not ask you to
marry me, Paul," she added, with a sudden, hard little laugh. "I have
not needed Leap Year in my calendar of life, but I do ask you to
think. There are rich girls whom you might love."

"That is so like a woman! Have you forgotten your own handiwork
already? You would have me forget now that I am in love, but I shall
never forget."

"Never is a long word," she answered, resuming her ordinary manner,
"and you forget so easily, my poor Paul!"

"You have no right to say that, Violet," he broke in, hotly. "Have I
forgotten you? Have I forgotten your kindness? Do you think I would
let any other soul alive speak to me as you have done to-night?"

She swept him a swift, gracious little curtsey. "_Dieu mercie,
Monsieur!_" she laughed, "the temptation would be too great, I
suppose? But I will tell you, if you like, why you have not forgotten.
Because I have kept myself _en evidence_; that is why. You say that I
see clearly, my friend. It is true. I see so clearly that the glamour
goes even from my own actions. You are the captive of my bow and
spear, Paul, but you would have escaped if you could. And Alice
Woodward cannot spin webs as I do; she will never be able to keep you,
and then----? Good-night." She held out her hand suddenly, but Paul
stood irresolute.

"You are clear sighted, indeed. God knows you read me like a book
sometimes." He hesitated, then went on hurriedly, "I wonder if--if
Miss Carmichael----"

Violet Vane shook her head with a smile. "That is the kind of
knowledge a man can generally find out for himself, my friend!
Personally, I think she will marry Tom Kennedy if she is left alone."

"Thank you. You certainly have courage, Violet."

"The courage of a surgeon who sees the knife is kindest in the end. I
have told you that you would be miserable with the woman you do not
love. I now tell you that you would not be happy with the woman you do
love."

"And why?"

"Because you have not the making of an archangel in you; that is why.
Do you think you have, Paul?" She stood for a moment at the door to
look up at him, as if she were making quite an ordinary remark. "But
there is the earth in the middle between the heavens above and the
waters beneath. Don't forget that, _my friend_."

When she had left him he lit another cigar out of sheer inability to
think of doing anything more decided, anything which in any way
affected his future, even to the extent of taking a night's repose;
that feeling of uncertainty being largely a result of sheer surprise
that he should have allowed Violet Vane's man[oe]uvring to pass
unreproved. And this, in its turn, convinced him, as nothing else
would have done, that she understood him as no one else could do.

And she? When he, coming up to his room, turned out the lamp on the
stair, he left the house in darkness, save for the candle he carried.
Yet Mrs. Vane was not even undressed. She was face down on her bed
trying to forget everything; above all, that old Peggy Duncan
possessed a secret which might--which might----

For her own reference to the past had brought that other past back
upon her, and, as she buried her hot face in the pillow, she told
herself that she had not, after all, spoken the truth. She had said
that his happiness was her motive, when it was her own. And wherefore
not?



                            CHAPTER XVIII.


Marjory sate at the window pretending to be busy over laces and
ribbons, but in reality watching Dr. Kennedy's deft hands lit up by
the shaft of light from his microscope lamp, as, with the aid of a
tiny pair of tweezers, and a watchmaker's glass fixed in one eye, he
laid out the almost invisible film of some sea plant on a slide. For
they, that is to say, Marjory, Will, and the doctor, had spent the day
after the theatricals in dredging for oysters, as a relief to what the
latter called fishing for men; and something interesting had come up
in the dredger, which had to be set up despite the waning light. He
looked more natural when so employed, and yet, despite the grizzling
hair and the thin brown face, she seemed to trace in him as she had
never done before a hint of that figure on last night's stage, which
had opened her eyes to love in its passion, its unreason. And with
this fancy came the remembrance of Paul Macleod's swift resource, his
kindness, his courage. And both memories confused her, making her feel
as if the old landmarks had been removed, and she could not be certain
even of those she knew intimately; as if a man's ideals might yield no
clue to his actions. For Tom must surely have felt that storm and
stress before he could portray it so vividly? And then, even if this
were not so, his vast experience of things which she had been
accustomed to despise remained inexplicable.

"I had no idea that you were so frivolous, Tom," she said suddenly,
laying down even her pretence of work.

He wheeled round in his chair instantly, and let the glass fall from
his eye. "Are you aware that that is a very odd remark to make to a
man who believes he has found a new infusorian which may revolutionise
all our theories, especially when it is made by a young lady who is
busy, or ought to be busy, over her first ball-dress."

"Ought I?" She smiled back a little wearily. "I'm afraid I'm a bad
pupil, Tom. I was just wishing Lady George could have postponed it
till you had gone."

He gave a little grimace. "Thank you, my dear, I daresay it would be
pleasanter,----"

"Don't tease, Tom. You know what I mean, perfectly; it interrupts the
holiday."

"Which is perilously near its close, by the way. I have to go back
next Thursday."

"Yes, I know. But don't talk of it; let us enjoy it while it lasts!"

He turned back to his work again hurriedly. "Now, that is what I
should call truly frivolous. So be it. However, _Vogue la galère!_ It
is a very easy philosophy, at any rate."

They were silent again for a space, and then she began again. "What I
meant was, that you must have seen so much of the world; and then you
are so interested in it. Last night," she hesitated a little, "it
struck me, Tom, that for all I knew, you might have--have seen
something like it when you were through the Franco-Prussian war, for
instance. You--you were quite a boy then, weren't you?"

"A baby, so to speak. I remember nearly fainting over the first wound
I saw. Yes, Marjory, I've seen such romantic young fools many a time.
I see a good deal of that sort of thing necessarily in my profession.
It is human nature."

"I suppose so," she said curtly. "Well, I suppose I ought to go and
dress. Oh, Tom! why couldn't Lady George have put it off, and why
won't you let me stay at home?"

"Because, when, after infinite toil, you have caught a netful of
mankind for theatricals, you naturally choose the next day for a
dance. And because a girl ought to go to a ball. How can she tell her
_metier_ if she only keeps to one? Besides, it is your holiday."

"I shan't like it a bit, and I shall feel dowdy in this thing."
She held up a white stuff gown, with the oddest mixture of
self-complacency and disdain. "Of course, it will do quite well, and
it would have been recklessly extravagant of me to get another, seeing
that I shan't want evening dresses at a Board School; but I shall be a
dowdy all the same."

"I doubt it," remarked her guardian, busy adjusting his screws. "Now,
you really ought to go and dress, my dear. In my time girls----"

"In your time!" she flashed out. "Why? Why, you are quite up to date,
Tom, and I--I am hopelessly _arriérée_, especially in my dress! Oh,
dear f I suppose I must----"

A minute afterwards she came flying down the stairs, followed by Mrs.
Cameron, who had evidently been on the watch for the occasion in
Marjory's room, and was determined not to lose the scene downstairs.
It was rather a pretty one, though the first words were distinctly
sordid.

"Oh, Tom! what did it cost?"

"Now, that really is the rudest question! I'm surprised at you,"
returned Dr. Kennedy, trying to jest, though something in the girl's
face told him she was not far from tears.

"But it is dreadful," she began.

"Naethin' o' the sort," broke in Mrs. Cameron, breathlessly. "Just
don't belie the nature God gave to you. It's just beautiful, and the
doctor and me has been agog these three days lest it should not come
in time, for it is ill getting things to Gleneira from Paris."

"Paris!" echoed Marjory. "Yes, I thought it looked like Paris! How
foolish of you, Tom!"

"And so that is all the thanks you're giving him. Wait, my lass, till
you're as auld as I am, with no a soul in the wide world caring a
bawbee if you're clad in sackcloth and ashes, and then see if ye
woudna like to be made a lily o' the field. Just arrayed in glory
wi'out a toil or a spin."

"Quite right, Mrs. Cameron," put in Dr. Kennedy, with a laugh. "She
will have plenty of toiling and spinning by and bye; why shouldn't she
be a flower and do credit to us all for one evening?"

She looked at him from head to foot. "A flower for you to wear in your
buttonhole, apparently. Tom, are all men alike?"

"I am human, at any rate," he said quietly.

"Oh, come away, come away!" cried Mrs. Cameron, impatiently. "Come and
put it on, like a good lassie, and don't be chopping logic. It's time
enough to be an angel when you've done being a girl, and you'll have
more chance o' bein' one if ye make the best o' your gifts in this
world, I can tell you. So come away, my dear, there may be a stitch or
two a-wantin', and the time is none too long."

But Marjory stood her ground even after the old lady had bustled
upstairs again, and she looked so serious that Dr. Kennedy was driven
into suggesting that if she preferred it, she might wear her old gown.

"It is not that," she said slowly. "It is beautiful. I could see that,
at a glance; but--Tom, did Mrs. Vane choose it?"

His laugh had a certain content in it. "My dear child, I prefer people
to be dressed as I like, and I am generally supposed to have good
taste."

"Very, I should say," she remarked, with a curious accent of regret in
her voice.

But the fact was indubitable. When she came down again in a shimmer of
silver and white, set cunningly with frosted rowan berries showing a
glint of scarlet here and there, she knew so well that her dress was
perfect, that from a new bashfulness she turned the tables on him
swiftly.

"Tom," she cried, "I declare you have waxed the ends of your
moustache!"

"And if I had been in Italy, I should have curled my hair, too," he
replied imperturbably. "It is not a crime."

"And that coat! It is not your ordinary one."

"It is not. The one I use here--since you are so particular--is a
dress jacket; the correct thing, I assure you, for a shooting lodge.
But I have the misfortune to be honorary surgeon to a potentate
somewhere, who insists on brass buttons on state occasions, so I don't
happen to have the intermediate affair. Besides, there are to be
lord-lieutenants and generals hanging round this evening from the Oban
gathering. If that is satisfactory to your highness, we should be
going."

"And that red thing in your buttonhole?" she persisted, going close up
to him and touching the bit of ribbon with dainty curious finger. "It
is the Legion of Honour, I suppose."

"It is called so; you look as if that were a crime also."

"I did not know you had it, that was all," she said. And then, Will,
coming in full of fuss because his very occasional white tie had not
been folded properly in the wash, changed the _venue_ by declaring
that fine feathers make fine birds, and that he was half ashamed to
belong to them.

"Naethin' o' the sort, Will," snapped Mrs. Cameron. "It's the fine
birds that grows the fine feathers, as ye'd see ony day o' the week if
ye went to my hen yard."

"And it is always the male bird which attends most to personal
appearance," remarked Marjory, sedately. Yet, despite her pretended
disdain, as they passed down the drawing-room corridor at Gleneira
House, she paused involuntarily to look for a second at what she saw
reflected in a pier glass at the end.

"We do look nice, Tom," she said, with a faint laugh; "but I feel like
the old woman. I'm sure it isn't I. Now, you look as if you were born
to it."

He had not the heart to tell her that she looked it also, so took
refuge in claiming his right of the first waltz.

"But I can't dance. You seem to forget, Tom, that I have never even
seen a waltz danced."

His face fell. "What an ass I am, when I could have taught you in half
an hour. But you would pick it up in the first turn; let us try, at
any rate."

"Please don't ask me," she began. "I don't want to dance. In fact, I
didn't tell you--on purpose."

"That was unkind," he replied, and this plain statement of his
unvarnished opinion making the girl see her silence in the same light,
she added, hastily, "I will dance later on, if it will please you."

He laid his hand on hers as it rested on his arm and looked at her
with a kindly smile. "That is right! It always gives me pleasure when
Mademoiselle Grauds-serieux unbends a little. I want you to enjoy
yourself to-night. Why not? You are young, happy, and will probably
be--pardon my incurable frivolity--the best-dressed girl in the room.
But there is our hostess, and after that I had better go and find a
partner. It is a duty at the beginning of a ball. Shall we say number
four or six for ours?"

"Oh, six, please; something may have happened by that time."

She felt, to tell the truth, as if something must be going to happen,
as she sate watching the scene from the quiet corner where Dr. Kennedy
left her. The lights, the music, the buzz of conversation seemed to go
to her head, and the sight of him skimming past like a swallow made
her suddenly regret her refusal. It seemed easy and pleasant. Yes; it
must be pleasant, and there were four more dances to sit out before
her chance came.

"Is it one of the mortal sins, Miss Carmichael?" came Paul's voice
behind her. He had seen her enter with Dr. Kennedy, and, aided by Mrs.
Vane's one-syllabled verdict "Worth," had guessed the history of the
dress. And there he was looking very handsome, his arm still in a
sling so as to give him a pretext for laziness if he chose, and
meaning mischief out of sheer contrariety.

"I can't dance," she answered, flushing a little, "but I am going to
try number six with Tom. I am almost sorry now I didn't say four; I
think I should like it."

"Try four with me," he answered, seating himself beside her.

"But it will hurt your arm," she began.

"If it does we can sit down again; but I don't think it will. I find I
can generally do what I want to do without serious injury either to my
mind or my body." And then he added in a lower tone, "I should not ask
you if I was incapable; but if you would rather not trust me I must
submit."

"But Tom--Dr. Kennedy----" she began, doubtfully.

"Is dancing number four with Mrs. Vane. I heard them settle it just
now."

Why this information should have influenced her decision is not clear,
since she was perfectly prepared to see them dance not once but many
times together; yet it did, as Paul had guessed it would. Still, when
he had gone to play the part of host elsewhere, she began to regret
her promise, and the sight of him returning with the first bars of
number four to claim her made her attempt escape by pleading the risk
to his scorched arm. "It was surely," she said, "rash to have removed
the sling."

"I am always rash," he replied. "Come! you owe me some reward, and I
am quite capable of taking care of you."

His words brought back the remembrance of the night before, and sent a
thrill through her; the next instant it seemed to her that she was
alone with him again, despite the whirl of dancers around them. Alone
with him, and a bunch of red rowans which, for the first time, she
noticed he wore in his buttonhole, and to which he began drawing her
attention at once.

"We wear the same badge once more, you see, Miss Carmichael," he said
fluently. "It must be your welcome to a new world, as the white
heather was to me. Only, as usual, I am natural, and you are
artificially iced. Which is best? Well, if you will defend your
position, I will defend mine; for we must agree to differ since I
cannot freeze, and I sometimes wonder if you can thaw. Perhaps if I
had let you burn a little longer last night I might have found out and
been happy. I almost wish I had, only then--only then," he repeated in
a louder tone of triumph, "I shouldn't have had the pleasure of taking
you a whole turn round the room without your remembering that it _was_
your first turn--No! don't stop just because you do remember; another
turn will finish your lesson."

"That was very clever of you!" laughed Marjory, as they went on, she
gaining confidence at every step.

"I think it was," he replied; but he did not add that his art had
extended to exchanging the bouquet he had originally worn for some
rowan berries filched from the decorations.

But Mrs. Vane, who had been more or less responsible for the discarded
jasmine, noticed it at once, and her voice was hard as she remarked to
her partner, "Your pupil has preferred another professor, Dr. Kennedy;
the patient instead of the physician. It is really very foolish of
Paul, with his arm."

Tom Kennedy felt glad of the possibility of ignoring the first part of
her remark, for he was conscious of bitter disappointment, not to say
vexation. "He is not likely to hurt; it was the merest scorch." And
then his obstinacy made him add, as much for his own edification as
for hers, "She is lucky to begin so well; a tall man can steer better
as a rule."

Mrs. Vane smiled. "That is overdone, my friend; there is not a better
steerer in the room than you are."

"How can you tell; you need no guidance?" he began, when she stopped
him peremptorily.

"Don't, please; if you knew how sick of it I am. It comes, I know, as
part of the business with the lights, and the music, and the coffee,
and the ices; but you and I are such old friends." There was rather a
crush at the moment, and her partner being too busy to speak, she had
the conversation to herself for the time, and went on evenly, "How
well they dance! and her dress is simply perfection. I must get you to
choose mine. Yes! they look a charming couple; for he is wonderfully
handsome--handsomer than when he was younger--don't you think so?"

"I never met him before this summer," replied her victim; and, to
change the subject, added, "but I knew his brother Alick in Paris.
Very like him, but not so fine a fellow--rather--well! he got into a
very fast set, and that accounts for a great deal."

Mrs. Vane looked up in sudden interest. "Ah! I had almost forgotten.
Of course, he had a brother who died."

"Yes! quite suddenly. By all accounts none too soon for the estates.
He had half ruined them."

"And so the present laird has to marry money, if he will. But you
never can count on Paul Macleod doing the wise thing. A pretty face, a
dress from Worth's, a---- Is that the end? Then I should like a cup of
coffee, if you please."

And as they passed down the corridor she passed to other subjects,
leaving that barb to rankle. She was not often so cruel, but, to tell
truth, she was really angry with Paul, and told herself there was no
use in trying to keep him out of mischief. Doubtless, she had so far
startled him by her plain speaking as to prevent him from bringing
matters to a crisis with Alice; but here, at the slightest
provocation, he was flirting outrageously with Marjory, and
looking----

"A message for you, sir," said the butler, coming up to Dr. Kennedy,
as they were about to return to the ball-room. "A little boy, sir, to
say a Mrs. Duncan is ill, and wants to see you."

"Little Paul!" cried Mrs. Vane; "poor old woman! I am sorry. Where is
he, Grierson? In the housekeeper's room? Then don't let us disturb
you; I'll show Dr. Kennedy the way."

"Why should you trouble?" he began.

"'Tis no trouble, my friend, and you may need something to take with
you."

"I may need nothing," he answered. "I was round seeing her, as you
know, a few days ago; and she might die at any moment; her heart is
almost worn out."

Mrs. Vane's gave a sudden throb. What if she died, and carried the
secret with her, just when it was most needed? The thought became
insistent as she listened to the boy's frightened tale of how his
grandmother had looked so strange, and bidden him seek Dr. Kennedy,
and then seemed to fall asleep.

"You had better keep the lad here awhile," said the latter, in an
undertone. "He has been delayed by not knowing where to find me, and,
without stimulants at hand, a fainting fit might pass into death." He
turned to ask for some brandy, and was off into the still moonlit
night hastily.

She stood looking after him for a moment, and then made her way back
to the ball-room mechanically. Another waltz had begun, and she
hastily scanned the dancers for Paul's figure, but neither he nor
Marjory were to be seen. Without an instant's hesitation she went to
the conservatory, and found--what she knew she would find.

"Excuse my interrupting you," she said, "but I have a message from Dr.
Kennedy for Miss Carmichael. He has been called away for half an hour,
but will be back then; and he hopes, my dear," she laid her hand on
Marjory's arm affectionately, "that you will be ready for number ten.
Meanwhile, Paul, you ought either to continue the lesson, or find Miss
Carmichael another tutor. Ah! Major Bertie, have you found me! and I
have turned the heel of my slipper and must go and put on another
pair, but perhaps Miss Carmichael will console you."

She waited till they had moved out of sight, and then turned to Paul,
almost passionately:

"And you--you are engaged for this dance, I presume?"

"You presume a little too far, my dear Violet," he replied
dangerously. "I am a helpless cripple, and I cannot run in harness,
no matter how skilful the whip may be. If you are going back to the
ball-room may I give you my one arm?"

"No, thanks. I shall stay here."

Never in their lives before had they come so near a quarrel, and, even
though Mrs. Vane was wise enough to see the provocation which her own
loss of temper had given him, the fact decided her. The change of
slippers included other alterations in her toilette, and five minutes
afterwards she was following Dr. Kennedy to Peggy Duncan's cottage.
The walk was nothing on that warm September night, and the excuse of a
desire to help sufficiently reasonable, her kindness in such ways
being proverbial. Many a deathbed had been cheered by her cheerful
aid, and yet, nerved as she was by experience, she shrank back at the
sight which met her eyes as she lifted the latch of the cottage and
entered. For the deep box bed, whereon old Peggy had passed so many
years, had been inconvenient, and Dr. Kennedy had lifted her to the
table, where she lay unconscious, looking like death itself, in the
limp, powerless sinking into the pillow of her grey head. The old
woman's dreary prophecy came back to Mrs. Vane, though this was not
certain death, as yet; since, with his back towards her, his warm
hands clasping those cold ones, his face bent on the watch for some
sign of life, stood Dr. Kennedy, trying the last resource of
artificial respiration. There is nothing in the whole range of
experience more absorbing, more pathetic than this struggle of the
living for the dying, whether it be for the new-born babe doubtful of
existence, or, as here, for an old worn-out heart. And if it is so,
even among a crowd of eager helpers, what was it here in the little
circle of dim light hedged in by darkness? Those two alone, so
strangely contrasted. It had been a sharp, fierce transition, even to
his experience, from, the ball-room full of lights and laughter; for
Tom Kennedy was not of those whom use hardens. He was one of those to
whom ever-widening vision discloses no clear horizon of dogmatic
belief or unbelief, but a further distance fading away into the great,
inconceivable, infinite mystery between which and him lay Life--Life,
whose champion he was, whose colours he wore unflinchingly, counting
neither its evil or its good. Life--nothing else. It is a queer
mistress, taken so, but an absorbing one, and he scarcely slackened
the rhythmic sweep of his arms even in his surprise at the figure
which, after a moment's pause, stepped forward.

"You ought not to have come--it's no place for you; you had better go
back and send me help; though I fear it is no use," he said
authoritatively. For answer she slid her hands under the blanket he
had thrown over the old woman's limbs, and began to rub them with a
regularity matching his own.

"They would not help so well as I."

"You have done it before then?"

"Often--once all night long in cholera--a great friend--he died at
dawn." Yet the memory which had brought tears many a time failed to
touch her now, for her mind was intent on something else.

"Was she unconscious when you came?" she asked.

"Not quite. There were some letters on her mind, and after she had
given them to me she went off--one often finds it so."

Then they were given! and she was too late! Yet stay! where could they
be--in his coat, of course, which he had taken off and thrown aside on
a chair for the sake of greater ease. Doubtless in the coat, for he
must have had it on at first, when the old woman was still conscious.

"Perhaps hot water," she suggested, looking towards the kettle
swinging over the dying embers, but he shook his head, and she stayed
where she was. Ah! that was surely a change--a greyer tinge on the
worn, wrinkled old face, the faintest suspicion of a greater rest in
the slack limbs.

Dr. Kennedy paused, still holding the hands in his, and bent closer.

In the great silence, Mrs. Vane seemed to hear her heart beating at
the thought--not of rest, but unrest; for something would have to be
done soon, if done at all. Nay! done now, for with a half-impatient
sigh the doctor gave up the struggle, folded the old hands upon the
old breast, and walked away to stand for a moment or two looking
moodily into the dull fire.

"It is always a disappointment," he said, turning to her again, and
mechanically going over to the dresser, where in the interval,
calculating on habit, she had set a bowl of water and a towel. And she
calculated rightly. As with his back towards her he washed his hands,
hers were in the pocket of his coat, and two packets of letters lay on
the floor behind the chair, as if they had slipped out, before she
went forward, coat in hand.

"Thanks!" he said, still in the meshes of habit; but then he paused,
and for an instant her heart was in her mouth, even though she had her
excuse ready should he discover the absence of the letters. It was
only, however, a remembrance of her which came to him.

"I must call someone," he said; "and you should go home at once. It
was good of you to come."

"Yes! you had better call someone. I will stay till you return--I
would rather."

"You are not afraid?--Ah! I forgot you had lived your life in India. I
shall not be more than ten minutes if I go up the hill to the
shepherd's; that will be the quickest."

"Do not hurry on my account," she replied, quietly beginning to pile
some fresh peats on the fire. The doctor, as he turned for a last
look, his hand on the latch, told himself she was a plucky little soul
indeed; and yet, had he known it, her heart was melting within her at
the deed she was about to do, and her only strength lay in the thought
that it was for Paul's sake; for herself she would scorn such
meanness.

The candle flickering to an end gave her little time, however, for
consideration, and almost as the door closed the letters were in her
hands. One long, blue, red-sealed, intact, as she remembered it, the
other an open envelope yellow with age, tied round with thread, and
containing several papers. Her wits were quick, and even as she
looked, the certainty came to her that if the blue letter asked
questions the other might answer them; besides there was no necessity
for breaking a seal; she shrank from that as yet. Even now her hand
shook, so that as she drew out the contents of the smaller envelope,
something fell from it to the ground. She stooped to pick it up just
as the candle flared up in the socket, and by the sudden blaze of
light she saw on the fallen paper a signature, and a line or two of
print.

Great heavens! a marriage certificate--Ronald Alister Macleod! Who was
he?--Paul's brother, of course.

These thoughts flashing through her brain did not prevent her
starting, as the flickering light seemed to give a semblance of
movement to Peggy's folded hands. The next instant she was in
darkness, still holding the letters, and she knelt hastily to coax a
flame from the peats, for time was passing, and she must know--must
read. Then, in swift suggestion, came the thought of substituting
another packet; Dr. Kennedy would be none the wiser, and that would
give her time. There must be other letters or papers at hand if she
could find them. Oh for a light!--and yet people deemed such deeds to
be deeds of darkness!----

As if in answer to her thought, a tongue of bluish flame leapt through
the warmed peats, and by its light she found herself fumbling at the
old bureau. For it was, as it always is at such times, as if fate were
driving her against her will. Even as she acted, she felt that she had
not meant to act thus--to search and pry! The old woman's cherished
shroud, folded and frilled, made her shut one drawer hastily. And that
was a step--a step surely, and yet not an atom of paper was to be seen
anywhere! Ah! there was an old Bible on the shelf with blank pages.
She had torn some out, and slipped them into the envelope none too
soon, for Dr. Kennedy was at the door, breathless with running.

"I hurried all I could," he said; "for I felt I ought not to have left
you--it was not fair. But they are coming, and then I will take you
home." The words seemed to bring a remembrance, for he paused and
began to feel in his pocket.

"What is it?" she asked, with a catch in her voice.

"The letters. I had them, certainly----"

"Perhaps they dropped--ah! here they are on the floor."

"Thanks." Then he paused, looking curiously at them. "I wonder why I
fancied this one was tied with thread?"

Even in her anxiety she could not resist a smile at the keenness of
the man; and how dull _she_ had been, for there on the dresser stood
two candles in brass candlesticks. If she had only noticed them she
would have had time--would not, perhaps, have had this terror at her
heart.

"It may have been tied," she said coolly; "and something may have
dropped out when it fell. I'll light the candles and see." Then as she
came forward with them in her hand, the deadly anxiety in her would
brook no delay, and she asked, "Do you miss anything?"

"I do not know--I have not the least notion what it was supposed
to contain; but this seems only to be an entry of births,
marriages----Great heavens! are you ill?" For Mrs. Vane, who had
stooped down on pretence of searching the floor, but in reality to
hide her intense relief, was standing as if petrified, her face white
as death.

"Nothing," she gasped, with an attempt at composure--"the strain, I
suppose--it is foolish."

More than foolish, she told herself. It was perfectly insensate of her
not to have remembered the custom of entering such items in the family
Bible; and now she might unwittingly have given away the information
she was attempting to conceal. If so, it would be better for her to
know at once.

"Such registers contain many secrets," she began, when a look of
curiosity in Dr. Kennedy's eyes made her pause.

"Secrets," he echoed; "why should there be any? though there is one in
a way," he added, holding out the paper to her. It was the last entry
to which he pointed, and it ran thus: "Jeanie Duncan, born 17th April,
18--; married----; died 20th August, 18--." "A sad blank that," he
continued, adding, after a pause: "Perhaps the other letter may be
more important."

Perhaps it might be, and Mrs. Vane, as she waited, felt her breath
coming fast and short. It seemed an eternity of time until once more
he held something out for her to read, and turning silently to where
the dead woman lay, drew the sheet tenderly over the worn face. "The
irony of fate, indeed," he murmured as she read:--


"Dear Madam,--We have to advise you of the death of our esteemed
client, Mr. John Duncan, of Melbourne, Australia, and to inform you
that under his will you, as his widow, come into property amounting to
close on £100,000."


Mrs. Vane's hand holding the letter fell to her side, and Dr.
Kennedy's voice said gravely:

"Strange, isn't it, that the letter was never opened? All that money,
and a pauper's death----"

The voice was his, but it might have been the accusing angel's for the
effect it had on Violet Vane. She gave one step forward, her arms
outstretched as if for pity, and with a little cry sank to her knees.
Her head was pillowed on the old woman's breast when Dr. Kennedy,
catching her as she fell, found that she had fainted, and
anathematised himself as a consummate ass for taking her at her own
estimation. Plucky as she was, the contrast had been too sharp. Life
and Death--Poverty and Riches. The whole gamut of harmonies and
discords lay in these words.



                             CHAPTER XIX.


Mrs. Vane being one of those heaven-sent pivots or jewels, without
which the wheels of society are apt to come to a standstill, it was
only natural that her sudden collapse, joined to the general
depression which invariably follows on a country house entertainment,
should have reduced the inmates of Gleneira to a condition of blank
discontent. To tell truth, a large proportion of them had reasonable
cause for a vague uneasiness, if not for actual discomfort, though
Lady George wrinkled her high, white forehead in tragic perplexity
over some of the resulting phenomena.

"Of course," she said at lunch, "I was quite prepared that the cook
should give warning. They always do when they have worked hard, and,
really, the supper left nothing to be desired; besides, it is an empty
form when we are all going away next week. But why the housemaid
should want a new set of brushes _to-day_, when she knows I have to
send to Glasgow for them; and why Ean, the boy--such a good-looking
boy, too--who cleans the boots, should demand an immediate rise in
wages, I cannot think."

"What's enough for one ain't enough for two," broke in Eve from her
sago pudding, with an indescribable twang and a semi-sentimental air.
"Mary's going to marry him; he asked her in the boot hole when the
piper was playing the 'Blue Bells of Scotland' in the kitching. The
thought of her 'ighland laddie bein' gone was too much for her
feelinks, so she accepted him, and he gave her a kiss."

"Eve!" cried her mother, in horrified accents, "don't say such
things."

"But it's true, ducksie mummie," retorted the young lady, unabashed.
"Mary said so. We heard her telling nurse, didn't we, Adam?"

"Yes, we did, Evie; and nursie said----"

"Paul!" cried Lady George, in desperation, "you might give the
children some of that trifle before you; it won't hurt them once in a
way. And I really think it was too bad of the Hookers to bring the
piper to the ball, after my making such a point of his not coming to
the play. I call it most unneighbourly."

"My dear Blanche," protested Paul, "what is the use of being a rich
Highland proprietor if you don't have a piper, and what is the use of
having a piper if he mayn't play at functions? You agree with me,
don't you, Miss Woodward?"

Alice, looking dainty in the elaborate simplicity of a Paris
_batiste_, agreed with a smile, as she had learnt to do as a matter of
course whenever he chose to make these little appeals for sympathy,
with their underlying suggestion of a common future. He was really
very handsome and charming; everything a girl could desire in a
husband.

"It is all very well for you to talk of functions," continued his
sister, in aggrieved tones, "but the question is, what is a function?
Marriages, of course, and, I suppose, funerals; but that reminds me.
We really must have that projected picnic to the old burying-ground
this week. I want Mr. Woodward to see it, and he was talking of London
this morning."

The end of the sentence was prompted by that desire of the hostess to
see her team of guests working fairly together for their own good,
which Lady George felt to be a part of her duty, and the guest thus
challenged had not opened his mouth since he sate down, except to fill
it with cold beef and pickles, which he swallowed gloomily, like a man
who, having missed his connection, is trying to while away the time
before the next train in the refreshment room.

"You are very kind," he said, in sepulchral tones, "but the
method in which Her Majesty's mails are delivered--or rather not
delivered, in this place, renders it necessary that I should
return at once. Just before lunch I received a letter which, I give
you my honour, had been mislaid in the post-bag--a most important
letter--a--a most---- However, as I was to have told you after lunch,
I--I feel it my duty--but, of course, this--er--will not make any
change in--in plans."

He glanced comprehensively at his daughter, and Paul Macleod, seated
at the bottom of the table, felt as if the guard had come into the
refreshment room and said, "Time up, gentleman!" The closing scene of
the comedy was close at hand, and though he was quite prepared for it,
he still objected to the _force majeure_ which compelled him to go
through with it; just as he objected to that other restraint which the
knowledge of his absurd feeling for Marjory brought with it. The whole
position irritated him to the last degree, and in one and the same
breath he told himself that he wished the business were over, and that
it had never begun. And yet, when he and Alice, in strolling round the
garden together, found themselves among the orange blossoms, he grew
quite sentimental. The heavy perfume and, artificial atmosphere seemed
to suit the growth of his physical content. Then, courteous by nature
to all women, he had already felt that this girl had a stronger claim
on his consideration than others, and this feeling produced just that
calm, continual attention which suited her lack of sentiment. There
was nothing in it to disturb her placidity or shake the quiet
conviction that in deciding on Gleneira and its owner she was
distinctly doing her duty by everybody, herself included. For Jack had
apparently acquiesced in her decision; at least, he wrote quite
cheerfully from Riga. So she listened contentedly to the covert
lovemaking which long experience had made so easy to Paul Macleod,
provided his companion had a decent share of good looks. In fact, one
of his chief causes of irritation in regard to Marjory was that he
never had the slightest desire to flirt with her.

Meanwhile Mrs. Vane remained in her room by Dr. Kennedy's orders, who,
to tell truth, was rather surprised to find how severe a shock her
nervous system had sustained. When, in consequence of a little note
saying that if he would so far forego his holiday as to take her for a
patient, she would far rather see an old friend than a strange doctor,
he had gone over to see her, he had found her far worse than he had
expected. The truth being that she was in a fever of excitement to
know whether he suspected anything, and to hear all the particulars of
this strange bequest to poor old Peggy. If she had only known what the
long blue envelope had contained, she would not have advised the delay
in opening it, which had led to the poor old soul dying a pauper's
death, dying with bitter thoughts in her heart of the world she was
leaving. Mrs. Vane would have liked to tell so much to the doctor as a
sort of salve to her conscience, but she did not dare to do this.
There was a certain packet of letters locked away in her dressing-case
which forbade her risking the least inquiry. Yet she could not refrain
from asking if any other papers had been found which--which threw any
light----

Dr. Kennedy, noting the nervous intertwining of her fingers, made a
mental note of bromide for the prescription he intended writing, and
then set himself quietly to tell her all he knew, just as if he were
exhibiting another sedative. The somewhat romantic aspects of the case
had evidently excited her imagination, and it would do her good to
talk over it soberly.

"Then there were no other papers, after all," she said, with a sigh of
relief. "You seemed surprised at the time, I remember, but now you are
satisfied."

"I must be--no one could have taken them, and I certainly did not drop
anything from my pocket when I went to fetch help, for I have been
over the ground this morning. Besides, she only gave me two
things--the envelope and something else. I certainly thought it was a
bundle of letters, but I must have been mistaken."

"But there was no entry in the register, was there, which would
account for old Peggy's anxiety that you should have it?" persisted
Mrs. Vane, with a little hurry in her breath.

"None. Except that she had something on her mind always, I feel sure,
regarding that unfortunate daughter of hers. She never behaved
naturally to little Paul; and now, of course, it is doubtful if he
will get the money. I must see the lawyers about it as I go through
Edinburgh. If old Peggy had only lived to make a will----"

Mrs. Vane rose from her pillow and looked him full in the face, with a
startled expression.

"You mean she would have had the power to leave it to him."

"Yes, apparently she would have, to judge by the will. You had better
lie down again, Mrs. Vane! So--quite flat, please."

He chose out the smelling salts unerringly, as if he knew all
about such things, from the bevy of silver-topped bottles on the
dressing-table, and when he saw her colour returning, went back with
the same certainty, apparently, of finding sal volatile or red
lavender.

"Chloral!" he said, turning to her quickly as he smelt at a bottle.
"You mustn't take that, Mrs. Vane. I forbid it, and I expect you to
obey orders."

A touch of her own airy, charming wilfulness showed on her face as she
looked at him while he stood dropping something into a glass for her
to take. "I won't--not while you are here."

"Nor when I am gone, I hope. It isn't worth it--Pauline."

She gave him an odd look, then buried her face in the pillow and began
to sob. Inarticulate, hysterical sobbing about Pauline--or was it
Paul? Dr. Kennedy could not be sure.

"She is utterly upset; a case of complete nervous prostration," he
said, as he was leaving, in answer to Captain Macleod's eager
inquiries. "I don't wonder, for she works herself to death to make
things pleasant for everybody. Don't let them worry her by going to
sit with her, and that sort of thing. She is best alone. Or, if you
could spare ten minutes or so this afternoon--I've told her to get up
for a little change--she would like it, I know. She is very fond of
you."

"We are such old friends," put in Paul, quickly. "And she has sate up
with _me_ often enough, God knows. I shouldn't be alive but for her.
Of course, I will go."

"Talk of old times, then. It will make her forget the present, and
that will be good for her."

So Paul went up with the afternoon tea tray and a bunch of jasmine,
which he had been down to the garden to gather, and talked about old
times in his softest voice, while Mrs. Vane sate and listened in the
big chair by the window. And she cheered up so much under the
treatment, that he sent the maid down for another plate of bread and
butter.

It was very pleasant, but whether, as the unconscious suggester of the
entertainment had said, it was good for her, was another matter,
though, in a way, it relieved her nervous strain by making her more
certain of what she was going to do. Of one thing there could be no
doubt--the man who sate and talked to her, who forestalled her every
want, must not suffer. Paul must be saved, somehow, and so, for the
present, no one must know of that marriage certificate hidden in her
dressing-case, which would, if it were genuine, give Gleneira to Peggy
Duncan's grandson. Perhaps, after all, he would get his father's
money, and if so, a hundred thousand pounds would be enough for
anyone. Why should he rob Paul--her handsome, kindly Paul--of his
birthright? Of course, in one way that would make matters smooth for
her, since his engagement would certainly come to an end if he ceased
to be a Highland proprietor. The Woodwards would, in that case, never
hear of its being fulfilled. But it would give him such pain, and she
was not selfish enough to gain her own pleasure at such a price, if it
could be avoided. She was Paul's friend, his true friend, and she
would take the responsibility of concealing this thing for the
present; for ever, if need be. And then she gave up thinking, and took
to dreaming of what life would be if they two lived at Gleneira. They
would not be dull; men were never dull with her. He had not been dull
that afternoon when they had sate and talked. Ah! how pleasant it had
been, and surely to gain such content, both for him and for her, it
was allowable to conceal those letters for a time--only for a time?

And while they were talking upstairs, Lady George had been
entertaining a solitary visitor in the drawing-room, the rest of the
party having gone out to take luncheon to the shooters on the hill.
This was the Reverend James Gillespie--who had come with a strict
attention to those trivialities of etiquette, which the Bishop had
often assured him should be a distinguishing mark of those set up to
teach the people--to inquire for the ladies after their fatigues. Now,
Lady George _was_ fatigued, hence, indeed, the fact that she had
remained at home; and there is no doubt that she said, "Bother the
man!" when first informed that the Reverend James was in the
drawing-room. Then the love of posing came to her rescue. Here she
was, alone, wearied out, unable to go forth and enjoy herself. What an
opportunity for patient unselfishness! Besides, it was tea-time; she
could have the children down and provoke that ardent admiration of her
system which the Reverend James extended to everything at Gleneira.

"Tell nurse to let Miss Eve and Master Adam have tea with me," she
said, as she swept downstairs. "I expect Master Blasius has not been a
good boy; in fact, I am sure he hasn't, but he can have jam in the
nursery. He will like that just as well."

Unfortunately, it is never safe for a grown-up to predicate the
thoughts of a child. Perhaps, because something may strike the opening
mind as novel, or desirable, which the mature one has tried and found
wanting. Be that as it may, ten minutes after Adam and Eve had left
the nursery spick and span, hand-in-hand, Blazes was captured for the
fifth time on his way down the stairs in that curious succession of
bumps and slides, which was his favourite method of progression. And
the look of determination on his round, broad, good-natured face was
not in the least shaken by nurse's vehement upbraidings.

"There ain't no use talkin' to 'im when he's like that," she said,
aside to Mary; "and he ain't a bit cross or naughty--look at 'im
smilin' be'ind my back--but my tea I must 'ave in peace an' quiet. So
into bed 'e goes, tucked up without 'is nighty, an' a bit of sugar to
suck. The joke of it'll keep 'im quiet a bit."

Apparently, it did, for he lay in the night nursery chuckling to
himself, that "Blazeths wath a pore 'ickle beggar boy wif no thoes or
'tockings, an' no thirt to hith back," until nurse, sympathising with
the sentimental Mary, forgot to be vigilant.

Meanwhile, Adam, in his green plush Vandyck suit, and Eve in a smock
to match, were seated, with decorously still tan legs, at the
tea-table, eating thin bread-and-butter daintily.

"It is most gratifying," the Reverend James was remarking, in his most
professional manner, "to--to see such good children as yours, Lady
George. It is a lesson in the art of education."

"It is most gratifying to hear one's parish priest say so, Mr.
Gillespie," she replied, with meek dignity; "but, as you know, I make
it a study. I devote myself to them. I feel that one cannot too soon
recognise the sanctity, the individuality of the soul, the human
rights which these little ones share equally with us. Equally, did I
say? Nay, in fuller measure, since they are nearer Heaven than we
are--since they are pure and innocent, with better rights than ours to
happiness."

The Reverend James cleared his throat. There was a flavour of
unorthodoxy about the latter part of these remarks which, in the
present position of spiritual authority to which Lady George had
exalted him, he could scarcely pass over.

"It is a fallen humanity we must not forget, my dear lady," he began;
"these children----"

Lady George's maternal pride flashed up; besides she was beginning to
get a little tired of the Reverend James.

"I see very few signs of fallen humanity about mine," she interrupted.

"But, my dear lady, you must remember also that your children have
privileges--they are baptized and regenerate--they are not in a state
of nature--Good Heavens, my dear lady! what is the matter?"

The Gorgon's stony stare was genial in comparison with poor Blanche's
look of petrification.

"Blasius!" she cried, starting to her feet, "go away! go away at
once."

But Blasius had no such intention. He advanced with a confidential nod
to his mother, a perfect picture of sturdy, healthy, naked babyhood;
beautiful in its curves and dimples.

"Blazeth's a pore 'ickle beggar boy wif no thoes or 'tockings
or---- Oh, mummie! that tickles awful!"

The mellow chant ended abruptly, for Lady George had dashed at him
with an Algerian antimacassar, and now held him in her arms, trying
hard to be grave. She might have succeeded but for the Reverend
James's face of bland concern. That finished her, and she gave up the
struggle in a peal of laughter, in which her companion tried to join
feebly.

"Bring Master Blasius' flannel dressing-gown, please," she said, when
nurse, full of explanations and excuses, flew in in a flurry; "that
and the antimacassar will keep him warm, and he can have his tea with
me."

This incident, however, made it quite impossible for her to continue
the rôle she had been playing before. How could she? with Blasius
huddled up on her lap, eating bread and jam between his attempts to
count his bare toes; an arithmetical problem which he insisted on
solving, despite her efforts with the antimacassar. Not that the
necessity for change mattered, since she had a variety of other parts
to fall back upon, and so, being slightly bored by the Reverend
James's failure to respond, and evident disposition to remain
the spiritual director, she assumed that of Great Lady and
Helper-in-General to her world. In which character, she gave it as her
opinion that all parish clergymen should be married--if only in order
to make them understand children, and grasp the true bearings of the
education question.

Whereat he blushed violently, and five minutes afterwards had confided
his hopes regarding Marjory to his hostess's sympathising ears.
Nothing could be more suitable, she told him; in fact, the idea had
occurred to her before, and she had no doubt that he would bring his
suit to a successful issue. Only, as a woman of the world who had seen
more of life than he had, she would advise a little boldness, a trifle
more self-assertion. His position, she said, was really an excellent
one on the whole, and she need hardly say that both she and her
brother would welcome Mrs. Gillespie as one of themselves.

So, with a complete reversal of their mutual positions, they parted,
and the Reverend James as he walked home, full of blushes and budding
hopes, told himself that since Lady George agreed with the Bishop it
was time he bestirred himself. The picnic at the old burying-ground
would afford him an excellent opportunity of proposing, and if he made
up his mind definitely on that point, it would make him less nervous.

So when he reached home he went to the calendar of the daily lesson,
which hung by his bed, and ticked off the five days remaining to him,
just as schoolboys tick off their holidays. Five days--and then--yes!
then he would ask Marjory to marry him.



                             CHAPTER XX.


A morning in late September on a Highland loch. How good it is to be
there! The centre just rippled with crisp waves, while shorewards the
rocks show mirrored clearly in the smooth water, each bunch of russet
bracken or tuft of yellow bent almost more brilliant in the reflection
than the reality. The hills free from haze, standing like sentinels,
solid and firm; the wild cherry leaves aping the scarlet of the rowan
berries, the birch trees beginning to drop their golden bribe into the
still, emerald laps of the mossy hollows, as if seeking to buy the
secret of perpetual summer.

A scene where it is meet to put off the travel-stained shoes which
have borne our feet along the trivial round, the common tasks of life,
and go back to the bare feet of simple pleasure. The pleasure of
children on the seashore, of young lambs in a blossoming meadow.

Yet there was an air of conscious effort, a virtuous look of duty on
many of the faces which assembled at the boat-house in order to be
ferried over to the other side of the loch, whence the ascent to the
old burying-ground was to be made.

The shadow of coming separation lay upon most of the party; on none
more than Tom Kennedy, who had filched a few extra hours of Marjory's
companionship from the Great Enemy by scorning the mail cart in favour
of a solitary walk over the crest of Ben Morven to the nearest coach,
the place settled on for the picnic being so far on his way. And she,
though all unconscious of the keen pain at his heart, felt vaguely
that she would miss the touch of his kind hand, the sound of his kind
voice more than ever now, now that it seemed the only thing remaining
of the old calm confidence. Lady George was a prey to a thousand
cares, beginning with the lunch and culminating in the certainty that
some one of the three children--whom her husband had insisted on
bringing--would be drowned; just at the last, too, when she had
brought them safely through all the dangers of Gleneira, for they and
their nurse were to start by the early boat next morning. But the day
was indeed to be a fateful one, for was not this Paul's last chance of
speaking to Alice? and did not Mrs. Woodward, for all her conspicuous
calm, show to the watchful eye that she also was aware of the fact?
Paul himself showed nothing; but, then, he was always exasperatingly
cool when a little touch of excitement would, on the whole, be
pleasing.

But of all the faces that of the Reverend James Gillespie displayed
the sense of duty most clearly, and what Paul lacked in animation he
made up for in sheer restlessness, since the time had come when he
must carry out his intention and ask Marjory Carmichael to marry him.
If only because it would be advisable to set up house at the November
term, when they would have a chance of furnishing cheaply and of
getting a good servant. So he wandered about in a fuss, alternately
trying to make an opportunity, and then flying from it, until Paul,
always observant, began to wonder what was up, and then, chancing upon
one of the bashful lover's bolder attempts, swore under his breath at
the fellow's impudence. Tom Kennedy was a gentleman, and Marjory, with
her iceberg of a heart would be happy enough in his keeping by and
bye; but this rampant, red-faced fool! And then he laughed, thinking
suddenly, causelessly, of a certain little face, looking very winsome
despite its weariness, which would have laughed too; for Mrs. Vane had
somehow failed to rally from the shock of old Peggy's death with her
usual elasticity, and was still in her room visible only to a favoured
few, Paul amongst the number. Only that morning she had looked at him
with her pretty, quizzical eyes and met his offer to escort her so far
on her southward journey with the remark that by that time he would no
longer be his own master.

And it was true. Before he rowed across the loch again his future
would be settled, he would be Alice Woodward's Highland proprietor.

"Your left, please, Miss Carmichael," he said, giving stroke with a
longer swing; "there is a nice, comfortable landing-place just beyond
the white stone, and I hate getting my feet wet, even in helping
ladies to keep theirs dry."

"But we shall miss----" began Marjory.

"Do as you're bid, my dear," put in Will Cameron, resignedly, from the
bow; "haven't you learnt by this time that the laird knows where he
wants to steer and sticks to it? After all, it saves a lot of trouble
to others."

"Right you are!" assented Paul, gaily; "your left, please; not so much
as that; thank you! I've no desire to find the sunken rocks."

The words were light, and a boat-load of people were listening to
them; yet Marjory, guiding the tiller ropes, felt that they were
spoken for her ear alone; that she and Paul were face to face, as they
so often were before his future, and the fact annoyed her. Yet, as
they stepped out on the little causeway of rock jutting forward like a
peer, the waves blab, blabbing upon its sides, reminded her of the
evening when she had sate listening to them and Paul had come along
the shore behind her, like another St. Christopher, bearing the burden
of the world's immortality--its childhood.

"Tom," she said, in a low voice, turning to him in swift appeal, why
she knew not, "let us get away from all this; we might go along the
point and look for clams, as we used to do. Remember, it is the last I
shall see of you; so don't talk about manners and being wanted; don't
think of what other people think."

She spoke petulantly, but there were sudden tears in her eyes. Yet as
they moved off together neither of then realised that a fateful moment
had come and gone; that the trivial words covered an unconscious
revolt of one side of her woman's nature against the other, and that
if, instead of hunting clams like a couple of children, he had taken
her hand and told her the truth of love and marriage, as he had seen
it in life, she would have turned instinctively from the world's
apotheosis of passion, and so have found a compass to guide her out of
danger; but Tom Kennedy, being conscious that he himself was once more
under the glamour which had come and gone many times already even in
his sober life, could not find it in his heart to decry it utterly. So
they stalked clams instead, advancing on tiptoe over the wet sand with
eyes alert for every sign of an air-hole, and then pouncing like a cat
on a mouse to seize the collapsing tube before it sank down, down,
into the depths of gravel where even finger nails could not follow it.
And to them, as they laughed and hunted, came the Reverend James,
restless as ever, yet showing to advantage in a sport which he had
practised from his barefoot childhood.

It was good to see his fair, florid face come up red with smug triumph
from each dive as he added another clam to the heap, until Marjory
forgot everything else in emulation, and Tom Kennedy, smiling at her
eagerness, sate down to a cigarette beside Lord George, who, engaged
in the same business, was watching the children paddle in the
shallows.

A silent, yet sympathetic audience were these two men of middle age,
smiling to themselves over the gay voices and childish sallies. Over
Eve's eleventh ineffectual attempt to swallow an oyster which would
have been successful if Adam hadn't made her laugh; over Marjory's
indignant claim to a clam, which, during the dispute, disappeared for
ever. Smiling, too, over Blasius' solemn face as he informed daddy
that there was a "big crawly wild beast down there wif wobbly legs,
and Blazeths wanted daddy's hand. Blazeths wathn't afwaid, but he
wanted daddy's hand."

The incoming tide was drowning the round brown heads of the boulders
out on the far point, as those two red ones, so curiously alike, bent
over the "wild beast wif wobbly legs," which Adam and Eve, with
wide-eyed superiority, said was nothing but a crab, a tiny crab! A
heron, driven from its last inch of seaweed, flapped slowly across the
bay, its trailing feet almost touching the water, and the sea-pyots
circled screaming round the invaders of their happy hunting-ground. In
the bend of the bay beneath a clump of alders showed a cluster of gay
dresses busy about a tablecloth, and above them, in wooded curves
merging into sheer slopes of rock and bent, rose Ben Morven. Half-way
up, right in the open, a single holly tree, like a black shadow,
marking the turn to the old burying-ground. Lord George came back from
the wild beast with a sober face, and eyes still watching that little
red head, bent now over a stick with which the wobbly legs were being
boldly prodded to a walk.

"Queer start, children--aren't they?" he remarked confidentially, as
he lit another cigarette. "I never thought of it before I married,
give you my word. I suppose men don't--more's the pity." He gave a
glance at his companion's face, and went on with more assurance: "You
see no one ever talks of the paternal instinct; the women are supposed
to have it all their own way, in the maternal business, and it's a
shame, for a man needs that sort of thing more than they do. A woman
can't be done out of her motherhood, but a man loses everything except
a passing pleasure if he doesn't keep straight. Look at that boy,
Kennedy! He is the very moral of me, and I had to whack him the other
day. Well, I assure you, that I felt for the first time in my life
that I was immortal--that I had a stake in time and eternity. Why
don't they teach us this when we are young? Why don't they say
something about it in the marriage service, instead of letting a
couple of young fools undertake responsibilities for which they are
not fit?"

Tom Kennedy shook his head. "Because we are not brave enough to face
our own instincts and call a spade a spade. I served a few years in
India once, and Hindooism is, I think, the only religion which sets
personal feelings aside utterly; and there the idea has been overlaid
with a horrible sensuality. Though on the whole it is not more
sickening than our artificial sentiment. But it's a weary subject.
Everyone talks of it, and yet no one cares to go back to the
beginning; to give up the romance----"

His eyes wandered to Marjory, and he was silent. It was true. When all
was said and done he craved for it.

"Well," remarked Lord George, judgmatically, after a pause, "there is
something wrong, somewhere. Take my own case. I married, as most
fellows do, to please myself, without a thought of the consequences.
And though, of course, some romance is necessary to make a man give up
his club and undertake the responsibility of a boy like Blazes--Good
Lord! and I promised his mother to keep him out of mischief!"

The last words being evoked by the sight of his youngest born prone on
his back kicking madly in six inches of water, with the crab attached
to his big toe.

"I wanted it to come a walk wif Blazeths," he wailed pathetically;
"and it bited Blazeths instead, with a wobbly leg."

"I knew how it would be, George," said his wife, with patient dignity,
when the culprits appeared before her. "But you are so self-confident.
You are always undertaking responsibilities for which Nature has not
fitted you. Give him to nurse, and cut the cucumber, do--there's a
good boy."

Lord George shot a queer glance at Dr. Kennedy, and did as he was bid;
as most people did when Blanche put on her superior manner.

"And, Dr. Kennedy," she continued, "I want you to do something for me.
The Hookers have brought--no! I don't mean the piper, George, though
they have brought him--not that it matters so much, for I have told
John Macpherson to keep him in the 'Tubhaneer,' which is anchored in
the stream, so he can do no harm, and the pipes will sound nice over
the water--No, Dr. Kennedy, it is a German professor, very
distinguished, but none of the Hooker party speak German. George will,
of course, take him in tow by and bye, being in the Foreign Office;
but just now, I thought--if you would not mind. Thanks, so much! it
always looks well to have more than one linguist. At present, I have
sent him to admire the view with Major Bertie, who says 'wunderschön'
at intervals; but that can't last long, you know."

"My dear Blanche, you are as good as a play!" protested her husband,
convulsed with laughter, at her unconscious mimicry, and even Dr.
Kennedy found it hard to keep his countenance over her innocent
surprise. Yet he was in no mood for amusement, and his face showed it
when, lunch being over, he drew out his watch, and looked meaningly to
Marjory.

"Is it time?" she asked, with a sudden sinking of the heart.

"Quite time," echoed Paul, coolly, from his place by Alice Woodward;
"that is to say, if we are to be back to tea. It is a longer pull than
it looks. Now, good people! who is for the burying-ground? You are
coming, of course, Miss Woodward; I want you to see all the beauties
of Gleneira, and the view is splendid."

The Reverend James, who had made up his mind that the descent, when
Marjory should have lost her natural escort, would be the very time
for his purpose, stood up manfully, and Major Bertie, under orders for
the time being to the athletic daughter of a neighbouring laird,
followed suit; but the rest, for the most part, declined what they
stigmatised as a gruesome invitation. The pull was not only long but
stiff, especially after lunch, and the view from below, enhanced by
idleness and a quiet cigar, good enough for them.

So it was a small single file which, led by Paul, and brought up by
John Macpherson with the whiskey flask in case of accidents, toiled up
through the fern brakes, till half-way up the hill they struck the
path, and paused for breath beside a spring roughly set in masonry.
Beside it lay a pile of broken broomsticks, one of which Alice
Woodward took up, intending to use it as a staff.

"It will be the staves they are using to carry the coffins," remarked
old John, cheerfully, as he wiped his forehead with his coat sleeve;
"it is breaking them they are when they come down, at the wishing
well; and the lassies will come with them to wish for a jo---- Ay! ay!
it will be what they were using for old Peggy that the leddy will be
choosing, for it's new whatever."

Alice dropped the stick with a little shiver of disgust, and Paul
moved on impatiently, while John, in reply to a query from the Major,
went on from behind in garrulous tones, "Ou, ay! it is a job,
whatever, but it's most the auld bodies like Peggy that's wantin' to
come to the auld place, and they're fine and light; all but the old
_bodach_, Angus MacKinnon, and by 'sunder he will be a job when his
turn comes, for he's as big as a stirk. Ay! ay! as big as a stirk,
whatever."

"There! is not that worth the climb?" cried Paul, with a ring of real
pleasure in his voice which Marjory remembered so well on many a
similar occasion, as they reached the twin holly trees--sacred to an
older cult than that which had prompted the selection of a burial site
whence Iona might sometimes be seen--and sank down upon the short
thyme-set turf to admire the view.

"We are in luck!" cried Marjory, breathlessly. "Look! yonder is Iona."

Out on the verge, between the golden sea and the golden sky, lay a
faint purple cloud no bigger than a man's hand.

"But why Iona?" asked Alice Woodward. "I mean why did they want to be
buried in sight of it?"

"As a perpetual witness to their faith when they could no longer
profess it, I suppose," said Tom Kennedy. "I like the idea."

"Would be rather difficult to carry out in Kensal Green, I should
say," put in Paul, lightly. "It wouldn't do to bury by belief
nowadays."

"But, surely," protested the Reverend James, "the Church custom of
burying towards the east is strictly enforced in all English
cemeteries." He might as well have kept silence as far as those
three--who by chance were sitting together--were concerned, for their
thoughts were far ahead of him.

"I don't know," replied Dr. Kennedy, absently, "I think a broad
division would suffice. Those who hope--not necessarily for themselves
personally--and those who don't. And most of us, who care to think at
all, look 'sunward,' as Myers says, 'through the mist, and speak to
each other softly of a hope.'"

"A mistake," broke in Paul's clearer voice. "It is better to thank
with brief thanksgiving 'Whatever gods there be, that no life lives
for ever----'"

"Finish the quotation, please," put in Marjory, quickly. "'That e'en
the weariest river winds somewhere safe to sea.' What more can anyone
want?" She stretched her hand, as she spoke, to the glitter and gleam
on the far horizon, and then turned with a smile to her companions.
"And this is the sunniest spot in the whole glen--the first to
get the light, and the last to lose it. I couldn't wish for a better
resting-place."

"I should prefer the society of a cemetery," remarked Paul; "one's
tombstone would not be so detestably conspicuous as it would be up
here. Imagine it--Macleod of Gleneira, etc., etc.!"

"Why should you have a tombstone at all?" asked the girl, lightly. "I
hate them; horrid, unsatisfactory things, full of texts that have
nothing to do with you, yourself."

"Well," put in Major Bertie, who had just returned from a tour of
inspection, "there's an epitaph up there, which, as the Americans say,
wraps round everything, and makes discontent impossible--'To John
Stewart, his ancestors and descendants.' That ought to satisfy you,
Miss Carmichael; or you might compose your own curious derangement,
like a fellow I knew in the regiment--classical sort of chap. He used
to write the most touching things, and weep over them profusely. Got
blown up in the Arsenal one day, and didn't need any of them. It's a
fact, Macleod. Before your time. So, if you have a fancy that way,
Miss Carmichael----"

"I'll note it in my will," she replied evasively; then, hearing a low
voice beside her quoting the lines beginning, "He is beyond the shadow
of night," she turned to Paul in quick surprise.

"I have the knack of reading your thoughts, you see, though I don't
share them," he said quietly, adding in a lower tone: "And now,
Kennedy, I hurry no man's cattle, but if you are to catch that coach
you should be going, especially if Miss Carmichael is to see you to
the top of the ridge."

The inexpressible charm, which was his by nature, born of a gracious
remembrance of other folk's interest, was on him as he spoke, and
contrasted sharply with the lack of it in the Reverend James
Gillespie, who jumped to his feet in a moment in a desperate resolve.

"If you like, Miss Marjory, I will go so far, and escort you back."

Paul looked at him distastefully from head to foot, and Dr. Kennedy
frowned, and set the suggestion aside decisively. "Thanks, Gillespie,
but I have some business to talk over with my ward. Good-bye, Macleod,
and thanks--for many kindnesses."

"Good-bye, and--and good luck! Miss Woodward, if you don't mind, I
think we ought to be starting tea-wards. The downward path is easy,
but there are plenty of beauties to admire on the way. I am always too
much out of breath to do so on the upward path. Excelsior is not my
motto."

Yet as they paused at the first turn he looked back towards the two
figures cresting the rise, and remarked easily to his companion that
Miss Carmichael was quite a picture on the hillside, and walked like a
shepherd. And then, as easily, he proposed taking a _détour_ through a
nut wood, and so by a path he knew back to the beach.

"Alice would like a cup of tea, please; she is rather tired," he said
to his sister, when they arrived there, and Lady George gave a little
gasp of relief. "Oh, Paul! I'm so glad! What a dear boy you are!"

And about the same time Tom Kennedy and Marjory Carmichael stood side
by side on a neck of land connecting one range of hills with another.
The bog myrtle, crushed under their feet, sent an aromatic,
invigorating scent into the air. The fresh cool sea breeze, which had
gathered a heather perfume in its passage over the windswept moor,
blew in their faces, and a golden mist cloud, growing above the rising
shadow of the little valley on either side of them, shut out the world
below. The only sign of life, save those two standing hand in hand,
being a stone-chat twittering on a boulder, and a group of scared
sheep, waiting with backward turned heads for the next movement to
send them with a headlong rush and a clatter of stones into the mists
below.

But none came. For those two stood silent for a time.

"Oh, Tom!" she said at last; "was there ever anyone so good, so kind
as you are?"

He paused a moment, looking into her tearful eyes, and something of
the earth earthy, seemed to slip from him, leaving him a clearer
vision.

"You shall answer that question for yourself, some day, my friend," he
said. "A year hence--two years--three years. What does it matter?
_Auf-wieder-sehn!_"

"_Auf-wieder-sehn!_"

The echo of her own reply came back to her from the mist as she stood,
after he had gone, looking into the valley.

_Auf-wieder-sehn!_ Yes!--to such a tie as that there could be no other
parting.



                             CHAPTER XXI.


The Reverend James Gillespie had a certain coarse fibre in him, which
made it only natural that the snub direct he had received from Dr.
Kennedy should make him more determined than he had been before
on a _tête-a-tête_ with Marjory. Consequently, much to her disgust,
she found him solemnly waiting for her on a tombstone in the old
burying-ground. The spectacle was an irritating one.

"Why didn't you go down with the others?" she asked crossly. "You know
quite well I didn't need--anyone." A certain politeness prevented her
employing the personal pronoun. Not that her lover would have cared,
since he came of a class in which a certain amount of shrewishness in
the wooed is not only considered correct, but, to a certain extent,
propitious. And, although he had a veneer of polish on those points
which had come into friction with his new world, love-making was not
one of them. There he was, simply the cottier's son, full of inherited
tradition in regard to rural coquetry. A fact which, at the outset,
put Marjory at a disadvantage, since he refused to take the
uncompromising hint, which she gave as soon as it dawned upon her what
his purpose really was. And yet she could hardly refuse the man before
he had asked her the momentous question. So it was with concentrated
mixture of sheer wrath and intense amusement that she suddenly found
him, as they paused by the wishing-well, on his knees before her
declaiming his passion in set terms. The disposition to box his ears
vanished in almost hysterical laughter, until the blank surprise on
his face recalled her to the fact that the man was, at any rate,
paying her the highest tribute in his power, and had a right to be
heard. But not in that ridiculous position!

"You had better get up, Mr. Gillespie," she said peremptorily; "the
ground is quite damp, and I can hear what you have to say much better
when you are standing."

The facts were undeniable but the prosaic interruption had checked the
flow of Mr. Gillespie's eloquence, and he stood red and stuttering
until Marjory's slender stock of patience was exhausted, and she
interrupted him, loftily:

"I suppose you meant just now to ask me to be your wife? If that was
so----"

Her tone roused his temper. "Such was my intention," he interrupted
sulkily. "I thought I spoke pretty plainly, and I fancy you must have
been prepared for it."

Prepared! prepared for this!--this outrage on her girlish dreams. For
it was her first proposal. What right had this man to thrust himself
into her holy of holies and smirch the romance--the beauty of it all?
It is the feeling with which many a girl listens for the first time to
a lover.

"Prepared!" she echoed. "Are you mad? The very idea is preposterous!"

His face was a study. "The Bishop," he began, "and Lady George didn't
seem to--to think----"

"Then I am to understand that you have consulted them?" she asked, in
supreme anger; but his sense of duty came to his aid and made him
bold.

"The Bishop, of course. Apart from his spiritual authority, he has
claims upon me which I should be indeed ungrateful to ignore, and--and
it meant much to be sure of your welcome."

The real good feeling underlying the stilted words went straight to
Marjory's sense of justice, and made her, metaphorically, pass the
Bishop. Besides, this little discussion had, as it were, taken the
personal flavour from the point at issue and left her contemptuously
tolerant, as she had been many and many a time over the Reverend
James's views of life.

"And Lady George," she asked, categorically, magisterially; "has she
also claims to be consulted?"

He coughed. "I rather think she broached the subject. She--she saw I
loved you." And here the man himself broke through the clerical
coating. "For I do love you. It isn't preposterous. I would do my best
to make you a good husband, and--and you could teach the school
children anything you liked."

"The Bishop wouldn't approve of that," she replied impatiently, yet in
kinder tones. "Oh! Mr. Gillespie, it only shows how little you
understand--how little you know. You would never have dreamed of such
a thing, you and the Bishop, if you had had the least conception of
what I really am. Perhaps I had no right to call it preposterous, but
it is impossible, utterly impossible, and he ought to have seen it."

This slur on his patron's acumen roused the young man's doggedness. "I
do not see why it should be either preposterous or impossible, unless
you love someone else."

Then she turned and rent him, a whole torrent of indignant regret and
dislike seeming to loosen her tongue. "Love! Oh! don't dare to mention
the word. You don't understand it--it is profanation--I don't know
anything about it myself, but _this_ must be wrong. Ah! Mr. Gillespie,
for goodness sake let us talk about something else!"

"Then I am to understand that you refuse," he began.

"Refuse! of course I refuse." She felt she would have liked to go down
among the whole posse of people--Paul Macleod among the number, for
all she knew--who had deemed such a thing possible, and cry: "Listen!
I have refused him, do you hear? I hate him, and you, too." But the
next moment the very thought of coming amongst them, with him, as if
of her own free will, seemed to her unbearable, and she stopped short
in the headlong course downwards, which she had begun.

"I suppose you couldn't help it," she said, with a catch in her
breath, "and it is very kind of you, of course, and I am obliged and
all that; but if you wouldn't mind leaving me I should prefer it. I
don't want any tea, thanks; all I want is to get home."

"I--I am sorry," he stammered, utterly taken aback.

"Oh, don't be sorry!" she interrupted; "it has nothing to do with you,
I assure you. Only it is so strange at first. Good-bye."

She was off at a dignified walk, with her head in the air, in an
opposite direction before he had recovered from his mingled surprise
and consternation at the effect his proposal had had on her. At any
rate, she had not been indifferent, and this thought bringing a
certain consolation with it, he made his way down to the picnic party,
and was soon recovering his equanimity over scones and jam.

Marjory, on the other hand, felt her indignation grow as she hurried
along, regardless of briars and brakes, to the shore beyond the
Narrowest, where, out of sight of the others, she might hope to find a
boat which would ferry her across the loch.

She found one, but hardly what she desired, since, as she made her way
through the alder brakes to a projecting rock, she saw the "Tubhaneer"
lying close in, with Paul Macleod and Alice Woodward in the stern,
while her brother and two of the children were lolling about in the
bows. They had been amusing themselves by tacking lazily about in the
slack water.

She would have beaten a quick retreat had not Paul's eye been quicker
and a swift turn of the rudder shown her that she was observed.

"Oh, don't trouble," she called, "I only want to get across, and I'll
find one of the rowing boats about, I expect."

"They are above," he called back; "the tide is running out fast now,
so I sent them to the upper bay. Just step on the further rock, if you
can, and I'll run her up to it for a second."

There was something in the easy familiarity and decision of his manner
which always soothed her into reasonable compliance, and the next
minute she found herself apologising to Alice Woodward as the bellying
sail slanted them across the loch.

"Oh, Alice won't mind," said Paul, cheerfully; "she likes sailing,
don't you, Alice?"

Marjory looked at them, as they looked at each other, and was silent.

So that was settled. And that again was Love. Love and Marriage! What
a ghastly farce it was when you came close to it!

"I'm sorry Kennedy has gone," remarked Paul, with his eyes on her
face; "he is one of the best fellows I ever met. We shall have to
tack, Sam; the tide is too strong."

Even so; the uncertain breeze failing ere they reached the slack
water, they missed the landing-stage by a few yards and drifted into
the shallow, seaweedy bay below. But Paul was over the side, knee-deep
among the boulders, ere Marjory could expostulate. "Steady her a bit,
Sam, you can get a grip on that oarweed. Now then, Miss Carmichael, if
you please; I'm a duffer at steering, but I can lift you across
easily, if you'll allow me--thanks."

She would have preferred to wade but for the opposition it would have
provoked, and when, after a few slippery strides, he set her down on
the shingle, turned to go with the briefest of acknowledgments.

"Wait a bit, please," he said, quietly. "Alice, I must see Miss
Carmichael past the gate. MacInnes' bull is loose, and he isn't always
quite canny. I'll be back in a minute. Keep the helm in, Sam, and
don't let her drift; the current runs like a mill race round the
point."

They were already well over the soft, sea-pink set turf; Marjory
walking fast, with heightened colour.

"There is really no need for you to keep Miss Woodward waiting," she
said impatiently. "I am quite accustomed to take care of myself."

"Alice will not mind."

Alice! Was he so eager for her to realise the new position that he
must needs enforce the knowledge of it upon her in this fashion?

"I am glad Miss Woodward does not mind. I should."

"I am perfectly aware of that--you have not her philosophic
acquiescence in the inevitable. It is a pity, for you fret yourself
needlessly over people--who are not worth it."

Was he not worth it? The thought made her walk faster, until a sudden
cry from behind made her companion pause and look back hastily.

"Good God! they'll be on the rocks," he cried, as, without an
instant's delay, he dashed across the sward down to the shore,
followed closely by Marjory, whose heart throbbed with sudden fear as
she realised what had occurred. The boat which they had left safely in
the backwater a minute before, was now racing down the stream with
sails full set. How this had occurred was another question, which
could not then be answered. Possibly Sam, proud of his new seamanship,
had proposed a sail. Anyhow, there they were in the stream, and even
without knowledge of that sunken shelf of rock half a mile further
down the curve, over which the water rushed in a fall at this time of
the tide, the young man sufficiently grasped the danger of the
situation to be doing his best to lower the sail again. But the rope
had kinked in the pulley, and the sudden discovery that he had
forgotten to re-ship the rudder--which Paul had removed in order to
bring the boat closer into shore--completed his consternation,
rendering him absolutely helpless. All this Captain Macleod took in as
he ran, and ere Marjory had reached him he had kicked off his boots
and flung coat and waistcoat aside to free himself for the sharp,
short struggle with the racing tide, in which lay his only chance of
reaching the boat. Then he waded breast high in the slack water, and
bided his time. It needed quick thought and quicker decision to seize
the exact moment when, by one supreme effort, he could hope to
succeed; and yet Marjory, watching with held breath, felt a wild rush
of exultation, not of fear, as with one splendid stroke he shot far
into the current. Swimming has always an effortless look, and the
sweeping stream, carrying him down, remorselessly aided the illusion,
so that not even Marjory, with her knowledge of the tide, guessed how
nearly Paul Macleod's strength was spent as his hand touched the
gunwale. But touch it he did, and the next moment, with Sam's help, he
was aboard and busy at the sail, while Alice Woodward, deeming the
danger over, began to cry helplessly, and even Marjory breathed again.
Only for a moment, however; the next, though the sail was down, she
realised that the boat was still in the current, and that Paul was
vainly trying to tear up a thwart. The rudder! the rudder must have
gone adrift in Sam's clumsy efforts to ship it!

Then they were no better off than before--nay, worse! since they were
nearer those unseen rocks, and he--_he_ was in danger now.

What was to be done? The thought was agonising as, scarcely knowing
why, she kept abreast of the drifting boat, stumbling over the
boulders, slipping on the seaweed, unable to see, to think, to do
anything save listen to the ominously rising roar of the water which
just beyond the turn fell in a regular cascade over that black jagged
shelf of rock.

Ah, those helpless children! and Paul! She must do something--try to
do something. And then on a sudden it came to her, as such things do
come, as if they had all been settled beforehand clear and connected.
At the last spit of land, not fifty yards above the fall, a streak of
sand bank, capped by a pile of boulders, jutted out. If she could
cross the dip and reach them! The herons used to sit there till well
on to half-tide, and once she and Will had found oysters. The trivial
thoughts came, as they will come in times of stress, flashing through
the brain without obscuring it. Even as she thought them, her mind was
busy over the one certainty, that somehow she must give help! By
cutting across the next grassy curve she would be there in time. They
might think she was deserting them. What then? If she could succeed
even so far, _he_ would know that it was not so--_he_ would understand
that she meant to be nearer--nearer.

He did; and a great glow of pride in her pluck came to him, when, as
the boat swept round the curve, he saw her floundering, half swimming
towards the boulders, and at the sight bent quickly for a coil of
rope. But she had not thought of that--her one impulse having been to
get nearer.

And now she is as far as she can go. Sheer at her feet, sliding among
the stones, is the stream--below her is the roar and rush of the fall,
save to her left, where it shelves to an eddy--above her is the boat
drifting, drifting, more slowly now, for the shelf of rock backs the
water a little. Then for the first time she realises what is to be
done, for there is Paul at the bows with the coil poised in his hand.

Of course! that was it! that was it!

She dug her heels into the crevices of the boulders as she stood
knee-deep among them, and kept her eyes upon his face.

"Now!"

As the cry left her lips, something like a black snake shot out
through the air and flung itself across her breast, stinging and
almost blinding her with pain; but there was no time for pain--no
time! To seize it, bend it round the nearest boulder, and so twice
round her waist with a loop through across her arm, took all her
thoughts, all her strength, till, with a slow rasping noise of the wet
rope slipping on stone, the strain began and the knot grew tight.
Tight.--tighter--then a slip--then tighter again.

Pain--yes, it was pain. My God! what pain. Ah! another slip. But
Paul--was that a knife he had in his hand? No! No! that should never
be; there should be no more slipping even if she drowned for it. With
more of sheer obstinacy than courage she flung herself sideways in the
water among the rocks. So, with her whole body wedged in behind the
two boulders, there could be no more slipping. There could be nothing
more but life or death for both of them.

And it was life. Paul Macleod, standing knife in hand, ready to cut
the rope, felt the claim of her pluck to fair play, and paused. She
should do this thing if she could! And even as the decision came to
him, came also the knowledge that she had done it, as, with a sidelong
sway the boat brought up and drifted into slacker water.

Five minutes after he was untying the knot and binding his wet
handkerchief round her bruised arm.

"Salt water," he said, a trifle unsteadily, "is the best thing in the
world for bruises, and you are more bruised than hurt, I fancy. No!
Blanche," for Alice Woodward's shrieks had by that time attracted
plenty of help, and the boats had come over in hot haste from the
other side; "don't fuss over Miss Carmichael with sal volatile and
salts. She doesn't need it. But we are both wet through, and if she is
wise she will walk home with me at once. It is better than waiting for
the carriage."

"Yes, please," she replied, catching eagerly at the chance of escape
from the general excitement and gratitude. "Indeed, I would rather,
Lady George; I am not a bit hurt, only, as your brother says, wet
through, so I had better get home at once."

They started off together at a brisk pace, but silently, until as they
topped the nearest rise, the chill evening wind striking through her
wet garments, made her shiver. Then he held out his hand to her
suddenly, with a smile.

"Come! let us run. It will take off the stiffness and keep us both
warm." So hand in hand, like a couple of children, they ran through
the autumn woods, startling the roe deer from the oak coverts, and the
sea-gulls from the little sheltered bays. Hand in hand, while the
shadows darkened and the gold in the west faded to grey. Warm, human
hand in hand, confident, content in their companionship, and seeking
nothing more than that confidence, that content.

"I don't think you'll take cold," said Paul, with the blood tingling
in his veins, and his breath coming fast.

"I don't think I shall," she laughed.



                            CHAPTER XXII.


But the remembrance of that thoughtless run through the darkening
woods seemed incredible--to the girl, at least--when next morning her
companion in it came down, as in duty bound, to inquire after the
result of her wetting, for he was palpably conventional and
commonplace. Partly because Lady George accompanied him, eager to
renew her protestations of gratitude, and partly because it was his
way whenever he had made any special departure from the ordinary line
of conduct, which he laid down for himself. This evident artificiality
had the effect of producing the same sort of unreality in Marjory, so
that the only straightforward part of the interview came from Lord
George, who, with an odd little quake in his voice, thanked her for
the fact that Blazes was at the present moment rehearsing the scene in
the nursery.

"You should see the little beggar," he said. "'Pon my word he doesn't
seem to have missed a single detail. Has Sam to the life, and we have
been obliged to forbid Alice's screams; they were heard all over the
house."

"And what does he say was his own part in the business?" asked
Marjory. "All I remember is a face--very like yours, Lord George--with
great wide eyes, while Eve and Adam were hiding theirs."

Lord George gave another odd little sound between a laugh and a sob.
"He says he sate still and swore, like Uncle Paul!"

"I'm afraid I did, Miss Carmichael," confessed the culprit, with a
flash of the old manner; "but really, the tangle that young idiot had
got things into, and stramash----" He turned to the window with a
frown, and looked out. "You are the heroine of the hour, I see," he
added cynically. "There is the Manse machine, with your two devoted
admirers in it, come to congratulate you. Blanche, if you have induced
Miss Carmichael to dine with us to-night--our last night--we had
better quit the court. By the way, Mrs. Vane desired me to say, Miss
Carmichael, that she did not intend to leave Gleneira without seeing
you again; so, as she is not well enough to come to the Lodge, you may
be induced to take pity on her."

The covert implication that some such inducement was necessary to
overcome her reluctance, stung the girl's pride, without her
recognising the cause of it, and she accepted the invitation
hurriedly, telling herself she was glad it was the last, and that
after to-morrow she could return to the old peaceful days. The thought
made her turn with a quick expansion of face and manner to the two old
men who advanced to meet them, as she accompanied Lady George to the
garden-gate. Two old men almost tremulous with pride and delight.

"_Tanto fortior tanto felicior!_" cried the little Father, his fresh,
round face beaming with sheer content.

"So, so, young lady! we have heard the story," put in the minister,
full of courtly bows, in which those suggestions of a shapely calf had
a fair field. "True is it that _Fortis cadere, cedere non potest_. Ah,
Lady George! I have to express my great thankfulness that a dreadful
bereavement has been spared you, under Providence, by our dear young
friend's courage; or, rather, by her wisdom, since, without the quick
thought, the former would have been useless. In this case, to
paraphrase the saying, _tam Minerva quam Marte_, as even a soldier
must allow."

"You will not find me backward, sir, in acknowledging either Miss
Carmichael's wisdom or her courage," replied Paul, thus challenged;
but his tone had that suggestion of a hidden meaning in it, to which
Lady George objected, and rightly, as bad form; so she covered it by a
remark upon the beauty of a boy, who stood holding open the gate.

"He is a little like that crayon portrait of you when you were a boy,
Paul," she added cheerfully.

"He is old Peggy's grandson," replied Marjory, "and as he has been
left to Dr. Kennedy's care, I am to look after him. He will be my
first pupil."

"Then the likeness will soon disappear," said Paul, in a low voice, as
he passed out.

"Perhaps he will be not the worse of that," retorted Marjory, in the
same tone.

"I don't know. Men who are brought up by women are generally prigs."

"And women who have been brought up by men?" she asked sharply, not
thinking of herself or her past.

"Are brave," he said quietly.

Brave! So he thought that of her. The one word was worth all the rest.
And as she went up the path again with Father Macdonald on her right
hand and Mr. Wilson on her left, all their fine phrases seemed
forgotten in that simple acknowledgment. She would remember that
always, even when the old peaceful days came back, as they would on
the morrow. There was only the dinner at the Big House between her and
that desirable consummation; but that was an ordeal without Tom, who
was at home anywhere.

To tell truth, it would have been an ordeal to one less reluctant than
Marjory; for a general air of uncertainty, like that of amateur
theatricals when the prompter is best man, pervaded the party. Mrs.
Woodward called her host by his Christian name with a manifest effort
of memory, and when Sam ventured on a like familiarity with Blanche,
her face betrayed her real feelings. Indeed, she took a private
opportunity of confiding to Lord George her relief that it was only a
one-night part, as she could not stand it much longer.

"Yet you condemn poor Paul to a life-long connection with that young
bounder. Upon my soul! you women are queer creatures;" and the
perversity of the feminine nature appeared to absorb him for the rest
of the evening. Even Mrs. Vane, who ventured down to dinner for the
first time, could make nothing of the ghastly function, so she retired
immediately afterwards on plea of being tired, chiefly because she
wished to have an opportunity of seeing Marjory alone, which she
secured by bidding her in a whisper be sure and come to her room after
she had said good-bye to everyone else.

Her departure reduced the drawing-room to flat despair.

"It is the sadness of farewell," remarked Miss Smith, part of whose
contract was that she was to remain to the last and see nothing was
forgotten; not even a decent show of sentiment.

"Parting is such sweet sorrow," murmured the Major under his
moustache. He was the most cheerful of the party, since his flirtation
had resulted in another week's grouse shooting with his charmer's
father.

"Mr. St. Clare has written such a sweet thing called 'Good-bye,'"
continued the Moth, appealing to the Poet. "He might recite it to
cheer us up."

"I wonder how many poets there are who haven't written a piece on that
subject," put in Paul, hastily, as Mr. St. Clare gave a preliminary
cough, "and yet it will supply tons of agony to generations still
unborn."

"There are forty songs of that name," remarked Alice, practically. "I
wanted one for a friend, and the music man told me so."

Then the remembrance of that friend, a certain young fellow with a
pleasant baritone voice, busy over tallow at Riga, gave her quite a
pang of regret.

"Mostly trash, too," assented the Major; "Tosti's is the best, but
even there one is all battered to pieces before the end."

"That is true," put in Marjory, eagerly. "You see, the poet begins by
fine-drawing the agony, the composer follows suit, and the singer
carries out the distortion. So in the third verse there is nothing for
it but to 'kill the coo.'"

"I haven't heard 'Auld Robin Gray' for twenty years," murmured Lord
George. "No one sings anything but German nowadays. German or comic
operas."

"Miss Carmichael sings Scotch songs; I've heard her," said Paul from
the skein of silk he was holding for Alice Woodward.

"Oh, do!" cried the Moth. "Something touching."

"Somethin' to cheer us up, you mean," put in Sam; "somethin' with a
chorus, you know."

"Something old-fashioned," protested Lord George.

"Something appropriate to the occasion," suggested his wife.

"Something Miss Carmichael approves of," came from the skein of silk.

The girl stood by the piano for an instant, looking at them all with a
touch of fine scorn in her face.

"I will do my best," she said at last, with a laugh. The next instant,
with a crash of chords, her clear, fresh, young voice rang through the
room in that gayest and saddest of songs:--


             "A weary lot is thine, fair maid,
                A weary lot is thine;
              To pull the thorn thy brow to braid,
                And press the rue for wine.
              A lightsome eye, a soldier's mien,
                A feather of the blue,
              A doublet of the Lincoln green,
                No more of me you knew,
                        My love,
              No more of me you knew."


Paul's hands turning the skeins paused, his eyes were on the girl's
face as, with a mixture of recklessness and regret, she went on--


             "The morn is merry June, I trow,
                The rose is budding fain,
              But she shall bloom in winter snow
                Ere we two meet again!
              He turned his charger as he spake
                Upon the river shore,
              Said 'Adieu for evermore,
                        My love,
              And adieu for evermore.'"


"What a heartless, unromantic, roving wretch!" remarked Lady George,
in the pause which followed the refrain. "I hope he was jilted after
all by the heiress; there generally is an heiress in these cases."
Then, becoming aware of the possible indiscretion of her words, she
looked at her brother hurriedly.

"In that case he married and lived happily ever afterwards; at least,
that is what I should have done in his case. And I don't think he was
so heartless, after all. He told the truth. It isn't as if he had
sneaked away without saying good-bye."

Marjory rose from the piano with a little shrug of her shoulders.

"I must say good-night, at any rate, Lady George, and sneak up to see
Mrs. Vane; for it is getting late, and you have all to be up so
early."

Paul, standing at the door holding it open for her to pass through,
was the last of the group to whom she had to give the conventional
farewell.

"Good-bye," she said, feeling above her real regret a relief that this
was the end.

"_Auf-wieder-sehn_," he replied. That was what Tom had said. As she
ran upstairs to Mrs. Vane's room she was telling herself passionately
that she did not want to see Captain Macleod again--that she would
rather he went out of her life altogether, and cease to make her
wonder at his changeful moods.

"_Entrez_," said the soft voice to her knock, and the next moment she
felt herself in an atmosphere in which she had never been before. The
semi-darkness of the pink-shaded light, the littered dressing-table,
the soft perfume, the thousand and one evidences of an almost sensuous
ease were to her absolutely novel. And the small figure, nestling in
the armchair, so dainty in its laces and little velvet-shod feet. All
that meant something she had never grasped before, something which
attracted and yet repelled her.

"How pretty it is," she said, in sudden impulse, as her fingers
stroked one of the soft folds almost caressingly. Mrs. Vane's hand
went out swiftly, and drew hers closer.

"Don't, child! That does for me, not for you. So this is good-bye. You
are not sorry?" Her eyes scanned the girl's closely, and then she
smiled. "If you are, you will get over it soon. That is the best of
work. I often wish I had some--to make me forget myself."

"But you do work--you work harder than anyone I know, in a way. Why,
to-night we were quite dull; so dull without you! Everyone missed you;
and yet----"

"And yet? out with it, little one!"

"I was wondering if it was worth it?"

"Yes! if you have a craze to be admired, as I have. But I didn't ask
you to come here in order to talk about myself. You would not
understand me if I did. Pray Heaven you never may. So you have said
good-bye to them all, and you are not sorry! That is well. Now, let me
wish you good luck, and give you a word of advice."

"Twenty, if you like."

"Make the most of that luck--and _Alphonse_."

"You mean Dr. Kennedy?" asked the girl, stiffly.

"Dr. Kennedy. There are not many like him in this world."

"I doubt if there are any. At least, I have not met them," she
replied, with a quick flush of impatience.

"I am glad to hear you say that. Good-bye, my dear, and forget us all
as soon as you can."

"I shall remember your kindness--for you have been kind--all of you.
Good-bye."

When the door had closed, Mrs. Vane leant back in her chair with a
sigh of relief. That was over then, and, so far as she could judge,
without harm to the girl. And now--now she could face the other
problem. Perhaps there need be no harm there, either, but she must
think--she must think. So in the softness, and the dimness, and the
luxury, her face grew more anxious, more weary, until the memory of
Marjory's words came back to her.

Was it worth it all? Whether it was worth it or not did not matter;
the plotting and planning had become a second nature to her--she must
think--she must think!

And Marjory, passing out into the calm cool of the night, gave a sigh
of relief also. It was over; that strange life, so different from the
future one which lay before her. Was she sorry? Yes! a little. No one
could know Paul Macleod and not feel a regret at the thought of his
future. Yet she was glad it was over despite that queer sort of numb
pain at her heart at the thought of his unfailing kindness to her. And
now she would never see him again, never---- A red star showed low
down behind a turn in the rhododendrons, and a moment after Paul's
voice said easily, as he threw away his cigar:

"You have not been long."

So it was not over! That was her first thought, and then came a quick
flutter at her heart. Over! was not it rather just beginning for
this--_this_ was new. Her pride rose in arms against it instantly.

"I did not expect--" she began almost haughtily.

"Did you not? That was rather foolish of you. You expected me to let
you walk home alone; but I think I know my duties; as a host, at any
rate."

It was true. He did know them. There could not be two opinions as to
his considerate courtesy to all. She admitted the fact to herself
gladly, telling herself that it was quite natural he should see her
home, though the possibility of his doing so had not occurred to her.
Hitherto, of course, Tom had been with her; to-night she was alone. It
was the usual thing; yet not usual, surely, that they should be
walking fast through the darkness without a word, just as if they had
quarrelled. What was there to quarrel about? Nothing. Not his
engagement certainly, though he might think so if she kept silent on a
fact which no one had attempted to conceal. Hitherto she had had no
opportunity of alluding to it, but now there was no excuse. The merest
acquaintance would be expected to take such an opportunity of wishing
him good luck, unless--unless some personal motive prevented it. And
there was none. How could there be? since Paul was surely welcome to
do as he liked.

Yet, for a time, the crunch of the gravel beneath their feet as they
walked on in silence was the only sound upon the cool night air. But
the glimmering white of the Lodge gate nerved her to the effort.

"I want to congratulate you, Captain Macleod," she began, when he
interrupted her quickly.

"Hush! If there cannot be truth, don't let there be falsehood between
us."

It was as if a thunderbolt had fallen, piercing her ignorance. She
stopped short, her pulses bounding to that strange new thrill in his
voice which seemed to make her forget her surprise, her indignation.
She had to steady her own tones ere she could reply.

"There has been no falsehood on my part."

"Has there not? Then there shall be none on mine. Marjory! I love you!
Nay! you shall listen----" His outstretched arm barred her quick
movement of disdain. "I shall not keep you long, but you must hear the
truth. I've loved you from the beginning--I love you now--I feel as if
I should love you always----"

She stood there as if she had been turned to stone, listening,
listening, like a child to some fairy tale; and in the darkness a look
that had never been there before crept to her clear eyes, and a quiver
to her mouth.

"Yes! I love you; not only as most men count love, so that the
touch of your hand thrills me, and the thought of your kisses is as
heaven---- Don't shrink from the truth--you must face it sometime--why
not now? It is so, and God knows it is no new thing to me. But this is
new--that you are my soul--if I have one--Marjory! Marjory! Why have
you made me feel like this?--why would you never see me as I really
am?--why would you always believe me better than I was?"

His passionate questioning seemed to pass her by. She stood silent
till, in the darkness, he seized her hands and drew her closer to him,
peering into her face as if to read the answer there.

"For pity's sake don't look so kind, so sweet," he burst out
vehemently, for even in the faint starlight he could see something of
her eyes. "Tell me how vile I am--then I could go--then I could leave
you! Listen to me, Marjory--" his voice grew calmer, and a sort of
bitter entreaty came to its passionate anger--"I know quite well--I am
certain that my only chance of living what you hold to be a worthy
life lies with you, and yet I have renounced it--I do renounce it
without a shadow of remorse. Is not that enough? You are my better
self, my one hope of redemption, yet still I say, Adieu, my love,
adieu, for evermore!"

And then the half-seen softness of her face seemed to madden him.
"Before God you _shall_ see me as I am. You _shall_ understand."

His arms clasped her close, his reckless, passionate kiss was on her
lips, and then----

Then he stood as it were before the tribunal which he had
invoked--that tribunal of perfect knowledge, of blinding truth, in
which alone lies the terror of judgment.

"Marjory!" The whisper could scarcely be heard. "Marjory! is it true?
My God! is it true that you love me?" He still held her, but with a
touch which had changed utterly, and his tone was almost pitiful in
its appeal. "Marjory! why--why did I not know? Why did you hide
yourself from me?"

"I did not know myself," she answered, and her voice had a
ring of pain in it; "how could I know? But it would have made no
difference--no difference to you."

The keenest reproach could not have hit him so hard as this
instinctive defence of her own ignorance, her own innocence; it
pierced the armour of his worldliness and went straight to that part
of his nature which, even at his worst, held fast to life in a sort of
veiled self-contempt.

"You are right; it would have made no difference, no difference to
such as I am." Then in the darkness he was at her feet kissing the hem
of her garment.

"Adieu, my love; adieu for evermore!"

The next instant the sound of his retreating footsteps broke the
stillness, and she was alone.

Alone, with a smile upon her face--a smile of infinite tenderness for
his manhood and for her own new-found womanhood, which tingled in each
vein and seemed to fill the whole world with the cry, "He loves me! he
loves me!"

So this was Love. This unreasoning joy, this absorbing desire to hap
and to hold, to let all else slip by and be forgotten as nothing
worth; to live for oneself alone--oneself, since he and she were
one--one only!

Yes; she loved him like that. And he? The memory of his voice, the
clasp of his hand, the touch of his lips came back to her in a rush,
dazing and bewildering her utterly, so that she stretched her arms
into the night and whispered into the darkness: "Paul, come back! you
must come back and tell me what it means. Paul! Paul!"

But he was gone; and then the pity of it, the shame that he had left
her came home to her, not for herself, but for him, and with a little
short, sharp cry, such as will come with sudden physical pain, she
turned on her way tearless, composed, half stunned by her own emotion.

When she had undressed she blew out the candle, and, kneeling by the
window, pressed her forehead against the cool glass while she gazed
unseeingly into the night.

So this was Love!--the Love which the poets called divine--the Love to
which she had looked forward all her life. What did it mean? What was
it, this feeling which had come to her unbidden, unrecognised? For now
with opened eyes she understood that it had been there almost from the
beginning; that it had been the cause of all her moods and his. The
curious attraction and repulsion, the unrest, the desire to influence
him. Ought she to have known this sooner? Perhaps; and yet, how could
she when neither her own nature or her education had given her a hint
of this thing? The Love she had dreamed of had been a thing of the
mind, of conscious choice, and this was not. No! best to tell the
truth--it was not!

As she knelt there, alone in her ignorance, not so much of evil as of
the realities of life, she could yet see that this unreasoning
attraction--though with her it could not but be indissolubly mixed up
with something higher, something nobler than itself; something which
craved a like nobility in its object--was yet in its very essence of
the earth earthy.

Without that something what was it?

She was clear sighted was this girl, whose reasoning powers had been
trained to be truthful; so she did not attempt to deny that Paul
Macleod was not her ideal of what a man should be. That her whole soul
went out in one desire that he should be so, and in a tender longing
to help him, to comfort and console him, did not alter the fact. That
desire, that longing, was apart from this bewildering emotion which
filled the world with the cry, "He loves me! He loves me!" She loved
him as he was; not as he ought to be.

As he was! And then her eyes seemed to come back from the darkness and
find a light as she remembered those words of his: "It is not only as
if I loved you as men count love."

Then he, too, understood--he, too, was torn in twain. A sense of
companionship seemed to come to her; she rose from her knees and crept
to bed. And as she lay awake the slow tears fell on her pillow. So
this was Love! this bitter pain, this keener joy; but underneath his
stress of passion, and her fainter reflection of it, lay something
which might bring peace if he would let it, and the thought of this
made her whisper softly:--

"Paul, I love you. Come back to me, Paul, and we will forget our
love."

But up at the Big House he was cursing his own folly in yielding to
the temptation of seeing Marjory home. Yet what had come over him? He,
who for the most part behaved with some regard to gentlemanly
instincts. What had he done? The memory of it, seen by the light of
his knowledge of evil, filled him with shame. Well! that finished it.
When she had time to think she would never forgive him. She would
understand, and that look would fade from her face--that look
which---- But she was right! Even if he had seen it before, it would
have made no difference; he would have gone on his way all the same.
Why had he ever seen it to give him needless pain, and be a miserable
memory? The only thing was to forget it--to forget, not the love which
thrilled him--that, Heaven knows, could be easily forgotten--but that
other! Yes! he must forget it. That was the only thing to be done now.



                            CHAPTER XXIII.


Luckily, perhaps, for his determination to forget, a variety of causes
combined to give Paul Macleod breathing space before he had, as it
were, to take up the burden of his engagement with Alice Woodward. To
begin with, he had to pay a visit on the way south, and the delights
of really good partridge shooting are of a distinctly soothing nature.
There is something fat and calm and comfortable about the stubbles
and turnip fields which makes one think kindly of county magistrates
and quarter sessions, of growing stout, and laying down bins of port
wine. A very different affair this from cresting the brow of a
heather-covered hill, with a wild wind from the west scattering the
coveys like bunches of brown feathers, while the next brae rises
purple before you, and another--and another--and another! Up and up,
with a strain and an effort, yet with the pulse of life beating its
strongest.

Then, when the North mail finally set him down at Euston, the
Woodwards had gone to Brighton; and there was that going on in the
artistic little house in Brutonstreet, which would have made it unkind
for him to leave town and follow them, even if his own inclination had
not been to stay and see what the days brought forth. For Blasius was
ill, dangerously ill, and Lord George was a piteous sight as he
wandered aimlessly down to the Foreign Office, and, after a vain
effort to remain at work, wandered home again with the eager question
on his lips, "Is there any change?"

But there was none. The child, after the manner of his sturdy kind,
took the disease as hardly as it could be taken, and then fought
against it as gamely. So the little life hung in the balance, till
there came a day when the pretence of the Foreign Office was set
aside, and Lord George sate in the nursery with his little son in his
arms, an unconscious burden in the red flannel dressing-gown, which
somehow seemed connected with so much of Blazes' short life. Blanche,
almost worn out, stood by the open window holding Paul's hand--Paul,
who was always so sympathetic, so kindly when one was in trouble. So
they waited to see whether the child would choose life or death; while
outside the people were picking their way gingerly through the mingled
sunshine and shade of a thunder shower. It was so silent that you
could hear the clock on the stairs ticking above the faint patter on
the window-pane, almost hear the splash of the slow tear-drop which
trickled down Lord George's cheek, and fell on Blazes' closed hand.
And then, suddenly, a pair of languid eyes opened, and the little
voice, mellow still, despite its weakness, said quietly:

"Ith's waining. Blazeth wants a wumberwella."

In the days following, if Blazes had wanted the moon, Lord George
would have entered into diplomatic relations with the man in it,
regarding a cession of territory; but the child, according to the
doctors, wanted sea air more than anything else. So, naturally enough,
they all migrated to Brighton, and, though he did not realise it, the
general sense of relief and contentment pervading the whole party did
much to make Paul Macleod feel the shackles bearable. Then Mrs.
Woodward and Alice were at one of the big hotels, the Temples were in
lodgings, while he, himself, had rooms at a golfing club, to which he
belonged; an arrangement which gave everyone a certain freedom.
Finally, as Paul discovered on the very first day, Alice showed much
more to advantage on the parade, or riding over the downs, or putting
on the green, than she had ever done at Gleneira.

"Oh, yes!" she said gaily, "I am a regular cockney at heart. I love
the pavements, and I hate uncivilised ways. I know when Blanche told
me she had to see the sheep cut up at Gleneira, I made a mental note
that I wouldn't. I couldn't, for I hate the sight of raw meat."

"You bear the butchers' shops with tolerable equanimity," returned her
lover, who hardly liked her constant allusions to Highland barbarism;
"as a matter of fact, raw meat intrudes itself more on your notice in
town than it ever does in the country."

"Perhaps; but then the sheep with the flowery pattern down their backs
don't look like sheep, and as for the beef, why, you can't connect the
joints with any part of the animal. At least, I can't, and I don't
believe you can, either. Now what part of the beast is an aitchbone?"

Paul set the question aside by proposing a canter, and by the time
that was over he was quite ready to be sentimental; for Alice looked
well on horseback in a sort of willowy, graceful fashion, which made
the pastime seem superabundantly feminine.

Still, the subject had a knack of cropping up again and again; and
once, when she had excused herself for some aspersion by saying,
good-naturedly, that it was a mere matter of association, and that she
was of the cat kind, liking those things to which she was accustomed,
he had taken her up short by saying she would have to get accustomed
to Gleneira.

"Shall I?" she asked. "Somehow, I don't think we shall live there very
much. It is nice enough for six weeks' shooting; but, even then, the
damp spotted some of my dresses."

"You are getting plenty of new ones at any rate," retorted Paul, for
the room was littered with _chiffons_.

She raised her pretty eyebrows. "Oh, these are only patterns. I always
send for them when I'm away from town. It is almost as good as
shopping. But I don't mean to buy much now. I shall wait for the
winter sales. They are such fun, and I like getting my money's
worth--though, of course, father gives me as much as I want. Still, a
bargain is a bargain, isn't it?"

Paul acquiesced, but the conversation rankled in his mind. To begin
with, it gave him an insight into a certain _bourgeoise_ strain in the
young lady's nature, and though he told himself that nothing else was
to be expected from Mr. Woodward's daughter--who derived her chief
charm from the fact that her father _had_ made bargains and got his
money's worth--that did not make its presence any more desirable. And
then he could not escape the reflection that _he_ was a bargain, and
that the whole family into which he was marrying would make a point of
having their money's worth.

He would have realised this still more clearly if he could have seen
one of the daily letters which Mrs. Woodward, with praiseworthy
regularity, wrote to her lord and master in London, for it is a sort
of shibboleth of the married state that those in it should write to
each other every day whether they have anything to say or not.

"Alice," she wrote, "is so sensible and seems quite content. At one
time I feared a slight entanglement with Jack, but Lady George has
been most kind and taken her to all the best places, which is, of
course, what we have a right to expect. By the way, there is an Irish
member here--O'Flanagin, or something like that--and he declares the
Land League will spread to the West Highlands. So you must be sure and
tie up the money securely, as it does not seem quite a safe
investment."

Mr. Woodward, on receiving this missive, swore audibly, asserting that
the devil might take him if he knew of any investment which could be
called safe in the present unsettled state of the markets! For his
visit to Gleneira, where, as he angrily put it, telegrams came
occasionally and the post never--had somehow been the beginning of one
of those streaks of real ill-luck which defy the speculator. The
result being that Mr. Woodward generally left his office in the city
poorer by some thousands than he had entered it in the morning, and
though he knew his own fortune to be beyond the risk of actual
poverty, it altered his outlook upon life, and threatened his credit
as a successful financier.

Nor did it threaten his alone; there were uncomfortable rumours of
disaster in the air, which, in course of time, came to Lady George's
ears.

"I do hope Mr. Woodward is not mixed up in it," she said to Paul, as
she sate working bilious-looking sunflowers on a faded bit of stuff
for the Highland bazaar; "but he was a little _distrait_ when he came
down last Sunday, and he didn't eat any dinner to speak of--we dined
with them, you remember."

"Perhaps I gave him too good a lunch at the club," replied her
brother, jocosely; "besides, he wouldn't let a few losses spoil his
appetite. He is well secured, and then he could always fall back on
his share in the soap-boiling business."

"I was not thinking of him, Paul, I was thinking of you. You could not
boil soap."

The fact was indubitable, and though her brother laughed, he felt
vaguely that there were two sides to a bargain, and when his sister
began on the subject again, he met her hints with a frown.

"I am perfectly aware," he said, "that Patagonians are dangerous, and
Mr. Woodward knows it as well as I do."

"But he was nicked--that is how that city man I met at dinner last
night put it--he was nicked in Atalantas also."

"If you had asked me, Blanche, instead of inquiring from strangers, as
you seem to have done," interrupted her brother, with great heat, "I
could have told you he was nicked, as you choose to call it,
heavily--very heavily. He has been unlucky of late. He admits it."

"Good heavens, Paul! what are you going to do?"

"Nothing. He is quite capable of managing his own affairs."

"Don't pretend to be stupid, Paul! I mean your engagement."

"What has business to do with that?" he asked, quickly taking the high
hand; but Lady George was his match there.

"Everything, unless you have fallen in love with her."

Home thrusts of this sort are, however, unwise, since they rouse the
meanest antagonist to resistance.

"Have it so if you will. I am quite ready to admit that love has
nothing to do with business. Honour has. I am engaged to Miss
Woodward, and that is enough for me."

Lady George shrugged her shoulders. There was a manly dogmatism about
his manner which was simply unbearable.

"My dear boy," she said, "if a man begins to talk about honour it is
time for a woman to beat a retreat. Since you have such strict notions
on the subject, I presume you have explained to Mr. Woodward the exact
state of affairs at Gleneira? The estate overburdened, and not a penny
of ready money to be had except by sale."

"I really can't discuss the subject with you, Blanche. Women never
understand a man's code of honour on these points; and they never
understand business."

She crushed down an obvious retort in favour of peace, for she was
genuinely alarmed. So much so, that the moment she returned to town
she went to see Mrs. Vane, thinking it more than likely that Paul
might have confided something to her. She was just the sort of little
woman in whom men did confide, and Paul was perfectly silly about her,
though, of course, she was a very charming little woman.

Now, Mrs. Vane had heard the rumours of Mr. Woodward's losses before,
and heard them with a glad heart, since the possibility of having to
use those letters which were locked up in her dressing-case weighed
upon her. But she had not heard them from Paul; had not seen him, in
fact, as she had only returned from the country two days before, and
had since been ill with fever.

Nevertheless, the very next afternoon, in obedience to a little note
left at his club, Paul walked into her flower-decked drawing-room and
gave an exclamation of surprise and concern at the white face and
figure on the sofa.

"You have been ill," he said quickly; "why didn't you let me know
before?"

"Only a go of fever; and I've danced all night long--some of the
dances with you, Paul--when I had a worse bout, and no one found me
out. Let me make you a cup of tea."

"Please not. I'll take one. Yes! I remember; that was our regimental
ball, and there were so few ladies; you never spared yourself, Violet,
never knew how to take care of yourself."

"Perhaps not. I must pay someone to do it, I suppose, like other old
women; for all my friends are deserting me. Two married last month,
and I hear from Mrs. Woodward that your wedding-day is fixed."

"I was not aware of it," he replied, with a frown; "but if it were, I
fail to see why I should desert--my friends."

Mrs. Vane laughed. "My dear Paul! you are something of a man of the
world; did you ever know of anyone like you keeping up a friendship
with anybody like me after his marriage? I mean out of the pages of a
French novel. Certainly not; and I am quite resigned to the prospect.
I suffered the blow in a minor degree when you left India. Besides, I
should not anyhow see much of you if you lived at Gleneira; and you
will have to do so, won't you, till Mr. Woodward recovers himself?"

Paul stirred his tea moodily. "So you have heard, too," he said
distastefully.

"Everybody has heard, of course. Such things are a godsend at this
time of the year. Lady Dorset was quite pathetic over your bad luck
yesterday, but I told her no one would think the _worse_ of you or
Miss Woodward if you were to think _better_ of it, since poverty--even
comparative poverty--would suit neither of you."

The spirited pose of her head, as she spoke, the bold challenge of her
tone, were admirable.

"You said that! Would you have me break my word because my promised
wife had a few pounds less than I expected?"

She laughed again. "How lofty you are, Paul! You caught that trick
from Marjory Carmichael. By the way, I heard from her to-day--she
comes up to town soon."

"So I believe." His heart gave a throb at the sound of her name, but
he would not confess it, even to himself. "Excuse me if I hark back to
the other subject. I should like to hear what you have to say on it.
Women have such curious notions of honour, at least, Blanche----"

"So Lady George has been taking you to task, has she? That was very
unwise of her. For my part I have no opinion. I never liked the
engagement, as you know; I like it still less now, when, if tales be
true, Mr. Woodward will not be able to make his daughter so handsome
an allowance as--as you expected. But they may not be true."

"There is no reason why I should not tell you that they are true. The
allowance will be about a quarter of what was intended. Mr. Woodward
spoke to me to-day about it, hinting that it might make a difference;
but, of course, I cut him short."

"Of course." There was a fine smile for an instant on her face ere she
went on. "Still, he was right, it does make a difference."

"Undoubtedly it makes a difference," echoed Paul, testily. "No one
knows that better than I do. But that is no reason why I should back
out of my word. We shall have to vegetate at Gleneira, I suppose, or
live in a villa somewhere----"

"My poor Paul, how funny you are!" she interrupted, taking up a letter
which had been lying beside her, and giving it a little flourish.
"That is just what you could have done--with someone else! So you will
do for a girl you do not love, what you would not do for one--but it
is really too funny! One half of you being unable to exist without
love, the other without money, you cut the Gordian knot by
experimenting on life without either! Now, I should have tried to
secure both--you might have managed that, I think." She paused a
moment, and then went on. "As it is, my friend is not unwilling to
play the hero, to a limited extent, because it soothes him and makes
him feel less mercenary. Ah! my dear Paul, I understand. Only, might
it not be more heroic and less mercenary to give Miss Woodward a
chance of something more to her taste than a villa somewhere?--plus,
of course, the heroic husband! She may not like heroics; some of us
don't. You must be prepared for that."

The gentle raillery of her tone had a touch of seriousness in it which
seemed to throw a new light on his view of the subject.

"You mean that it is likely----"

"Yes. I think it extremely likely that the Woodwards would rather
break it off."

"But why?" he asked, angrily rising to pace the room; "my prospects
have not changed."

"'They twain shall be one flesh,'" quoted Mrs. Vane, lightly. "And do
you really think so much of your heroism, that--unaided by love,
remember--you will fancy it will compensate Alice Woodward, who
loves the pavement, for the damp and dulness of Gleneira? I remember,
Paul"--her voice grew a trifle unsteady--"having to decide a similar
question, once. To decide whether I could compensate the man I loved
for something--well, for something which was not more dear to him than
civilisation is to this young lady, and, though I loved him, I knew I
could not."

"And--and were you right?" he asked with a sudden interest.

"Of course I was right. He recovered the loss of me rapidly, and yet I
am not unattractive--what is more, I am generally considered good
company, which I defy anyone to be if he careers up and down the room
like a Polar bear. Please sit down and let me make you a nice cup of
tea. The last, I am sure, must have been horrid. You don't know how to
take care of yourself a bit, Paul, but _you_ are lucky. _You_ will get
plenty of people to pay for the privilege of doing so."

He told himself that she talked a great deal of nonsense at times, but
that she did it, as she did everything else, with infinite verve and
grace. Blanche, who had not said half as much, had made him angry; and
here he was seated beside Violet's sofa, enjoying his tea, and feeling
that sense of _bien être_ which he always felt in her company.

Yet even she might have failed in producing this for once, if he could
have overheard a conversation which was going on over another cup of
tea in Queen's Gardens, where Mrs. Woodward, with a real frown on her
usually placid face, was listening to her husband's account of his
interview with Paul that morning.

"Very honourable, no doubt, but exceedingly unsatisfactory," she
remarked, with asperity. "I must say that I think you failed."

"Did you wish me to give the man his _congé_, my dear?" interrupted
her spouse, irritably. "If so, you should have told me so distinctly,
but if it comes to that I can write and dismiss him."

"You have such a crude way of putting things, James, and though I
don't presume to understand business affairs I must own it seems
inexplicable how these difficulties have come about. And Alice is so
accustomed to civilisation, and Jack is coming back from Riga next
week, so it does seem to me a flying in the face of Providence."

Mr. Woodward looked at her in impatient amaze. "Good heavens! Maria,
what do you mean? Who or what is flying in the face of Providence?"

"Everyone! Everything! It seems as if he had been away on purpose, so
that there should be no fuss. And they have always been so fond of
each other. Alice would be miserable if she had to think about money;
so why should she be sacrificed to Captain Macleod's notions of
honour----"

"My dear!----"

"Yes, James! Sacrificed! You say you told him plainly the state of the
case, and he----"

"Behaved as a gentleman would. Expressed sorrow at my losses, but gave
me to understand that it would make no difference to him."

"And to Alice? He never gave a thought to her, I suppose; but you men
are all alike--selfish to the core."

"Really, my dear," protested Mr. Woodward, roused by this general
attack.

"Well, _you_ are selfish. Are you not sitting there calmly proposing
to sacrifice Alice to an adventurer--a principled adventurer if you
like, though that is a miserable attempt to--what was it you used to
call guaranteed stock?"

"A disastrous attempt to combine safety and speculation," suggested
her husband, meekly.

"Just so! and this is a disastrous attempt to combine common sense and
romance. But I will not have Alice sacrificed. I will speak to the man
myself."

"You shall do nothing of the sort, my dear. If necessary, I can do it;
but there is no hurry."

"It must be settled before next week, unless you want a fuss; I tell
you that."

"It shall be settled; but I must talk to Alice first. It is surely
possible she may be in love with the man?"

Mrs. Woodward shook her head wisely.

"But why, in heaven's name, Maria? He is handsome--gentlemanly--well
born. Why should she not love him?"

"Because she is in love with Jack."

"God bless my soul!"



                            CHAPTER XXIV.


When Paul Macleod left Mrs. Vane's drawing-room that afternoon she
told herself that she could, for once, afford to sit with folded hands
and let the world go its own way for a time. Everything seemed working
for her, so there was no need for her to work for herself. The
question of those letters could very well wait for a time. For all she
knew to the contrary, the lawyers might have similar proof of little
Paul's legitimacy; if they had not, why they ought to have. Unless,
indeed, that marriage certificate had nothing to do with the boy at
all. That in itself was conceivable with such a woman as Jeanie Duncan
must have been. Anyhow, for the present, the child was in comfortable
circumstances, since Dr. Kennedy had taken him in charge, and, as
Marjory mentioned in her letter, he was to come to London and become a
scholar at her school. The first thing was to see this foolish,
ridiculous engagement broken off, and then if the big Paul were wise,
and realised that both love and money were at his command, it might be
possible to tell him the truth. But under no other circumstances,
since none could console him as she could for the loss of Gleneira.
Therefore, for the sake of everybody concerned, the best thing that
could happen was that she should be Paul's wife. A great tenderness
showed in her face at the very thought. "Poor Paul," she said half
aloud; "he would be quite happy with me, quite content, and I, oh!
surely I deserve something after all these years? I am getting tired
of doing everything for people I do not care about, as I have done all
my life long."

And it was true. In all the trivial details of life she was as
thoroughly unselfish a woman as ever stepped, ready at a moment's
notice to weary herself out for the sake of making the world more
pleasant to others.

So those letters should remain locked up, perhaps for ever. In sober
truth she could scarcely imagine herself using them. Their
melodramatic force was so unlike the gentle spiriting by which she
usually effected her object; and though she could never recall the
night of poor old Peggy's death without a shudder, her sound common
sense told her that after all in advising the old woman not to open
the lawyer's letter, she had done so in ignorance. She had acted, as
she thought, for the best, and everybody was liable to make mistakes.

So much for the one party to the interview; the other, once the spell
of Mrs. Vane's personality was removed, felt vaguely that matters were
becoming uncomfortable. It had never occurred to him before that _he_
ran the chance of being jilted, and the bare idea filled him with
indignation; and yet he saw the justice of Mrs. Vane's remarks. He was
not a good match for a girl who wished for nothing better than to
remain in that state of social comfort to which it had pleased
Providence to call her. But, if this were so, it would be better to
save his dignity by broaching the possibility himself. Anything was
better than being dismissed like a footman. He was never long in
deciding a question of this sort, yet, quick as he was, he found
himself not a moment too soon, for when he walked round to see Mr.
Woodward next morning, before that gentleman went down to office, he
found him in the act of writing a note asking him to call.

"The fact is, Macleod," said the elder man, a little nervously, "I
wanted to continue our talk about your engagement to my daughter."

Paul flushed up, but took the bull by the horns without a moment's
hesitation.

"I came for that purpose, sir. It has occurred to me that I have
somewhat overlooked Miss Woodward's side of the question, and I shall
be infinitely obliged if you would treat me with perfect frankness in
regard to what you, no doubt, know better than I."

The dignity of this speech soothed him, and he awaited the reply with
tolerable equanimity.

"Very straightforward--very straightforward on your part, Macleod,"
said the man of business, approvingly. "One can scarcely be too
careful in regard--er--in regard to such contracts; and your remark
makes me regret more than ever--my--my duty. For you really have been
all that is--all our fancy painted you, I may say. But that does not
alter the fact that I am now a comparatively poor man. Of course, I
may, I very probably shall, recoup. At the same time it is not the
sort of security for--for--marriage settlements and trustees; you
understand me, of course. Now, what we have to face is this: Do you
think my daughter is suited to be the wife of a poor man--even a
possibly poor man? I don't. And, then, would she be content if she had
to live most of the year at Gleneira, away from society and--and
telegraph posts--I mean posts and telegraphs? It's a pretty
place, Macleod, and an interesting place--with--with a sort
of--er--_respectability_ about it, but it is a devilish bit out of the
way."

"Perhaps; but I would do my best to make your daughter forget that,"
said Paul, gloomily; the sense of being weighed in the balance and
found wanting--he, Paul Macleod, whom so many women had fancied--was
exquisitely painful.

Mr. Woodward blew his nose elaborately. "Just so; of course, of
course! Very right and proper; very much so, indeed; only, my dear
Macleod, marriage, after all, is a speculation, and I don't like to
see my girl putting her capital into a concern which hasn't even a
good prospectus. How many shareholders would even my name produce, if
all we could say of a new railway was that, though the chances
were dead against traffic, we would do our best to ensure it? Of
course--er--if you were violently attached to each other one might
allow something for the--er--the good-will of the business. Under
those circumstances, I am led to believe--though I know nothing about
it myself--that young people are content to live--er--on a
ridiculously small income. My own impression is, however, that Alice
is not that sort of girl; but, of course, I may be mistaken."

"In that case," put in Paul, loftily, "it would be best to refer to
Alice herself."

"Exactly what we--I mean--er--decidedly. You two can settle it for
yourselves. Her mother and I have no wish to interfere unnecessarily.
That, I think you will own, is fair dealing, though, of course, as a
business man I have felt it my duty to warn her against risking what
is virtually her all in a concern which, to put it briefly, has an
unpromising prospectus. And, if you will allow me, I will give you the
same advice."

There was a pompous warmth in his shake of the hand, but as he
accompanied his visitor to the door his tone changed to a confidential
whisper:

"You see it isn't as if it were a limited liability, but the Lord only
knows how many children you might have."

Paul, as he made his way to the little boudoir where Alice frittered
away so much of her time over _chiffons_ and picture papers, felt that
he was being pursued by a Nemesis of his own creating. He had entered
into this engagement by the light of reason, in obedience to the
dictates of sound common sense, and it seemed likely that he would be
driven from it by the same means. He found her, for a wonder, busy
with needle and thread, and though the subject of it was only the
stitching of tinsel round some remarkably large velvet leaves pasted
on satin, it gave her a more solid air than she usually had. That, and
a brighter flush upon her cheek, told him that he was expected, and
forewarned him of her decision. Indeed, he felt that words were really
unnecessary, and that he might just as well have turned round and gone
downstairs again, leaving her white fingers busy with the gold thread.
But there was a certain strain of savagery in Paul Macleod, as there
is in most men when their dignity is touched, and he resolved to go
through with it.

"I have just seen your father," he began, "and now I have come to
you."

She might have been excused for turning a little pale and letting her
work drop, for his tone was not reassuring. He saw her dread of a
scene, and gave a faint laugh.

"There is no need to be afraid, Alice. I have never made myself
disagreeable to you yet, and I am not likely to begin now, when I have
come to ask you plainly whether you could be happy with me? Could
you?"

She clasped and unclasped her hands quite nervously. "I am ready to
try--if you like--if you think I ought to."

"That has nothing to do with it. Put me out of the question, please.
Of course, it is always painful for a man to know that a woman does
not care for him sufficiently----"

"It is not that," she broke in hurriedly. "I would not have promised
if I had not liked you--it is the dulness, and the poverty. I have
never been accustomed to it, and I might not be contented, and then
how could I be a good wife if I were not happy? It is not as if there
would be distractions, but there would be none, and I don't like the
country as some girls do--Marjory Carmichael, for instance."

He looked at her sharply, but her eyes met his without any hidden
meaning in them.

"She would not be dull, but I should, and then how could I cheer you
up? For you need cheering at Gleneira--you know you do."

The truth irritated him. "From which I infer that you would rather be
free. Well! you have only to take me or leave me," he said curtly.

She caught in her breath, and, as usual, the display of temper made
her piteous. "Don't be angry, Paul! There is nothing to be angry
about. If you wish it, I will try; but we can always be friends, and
if it is wiser to part, then it is wiser."

"That is for you to decide. I am at your orders." He stood there
looking very handsome, and she gave a sigh of indecision, though a
certain resentment at being, as it were, thrust into the breach, came
to her aid.

"Do you think it wiser?" he repeated.

"How can I tell? All I want to do is my duty, and I am afraid----"

"If you are afraid, that is enough," he said, losing patience.
"Good-bye, Alice; if you had decided otherwise I would have tried to
be a good husband to you."

A faint flush came to her cheek. "And I would have tried to be a good
wife; but----"

"Well?"

"Don't you think that with you trying to be a good husband
and I trying to be a good wife, life would have been a little
dreary--sometimes?"

The curse of home truths seemed in the air, and Paul felt he had no
answer ready, and yet he liked her the better for the first touch of
sarcasm he had ever heard from her lips. It reminded him of Mrs. Vane.

As he shook hands with her, the servant entering announced Mr. John
Woodward, and Paul, going downstairs, met a big, florid young man
coming up with a gardenia in his buttonhole, and a parcel tied with
gold thread in his hands. It was a box of Paris chocolates which Jack
had purchased on his way from Riga. The two scowled at each other as
they passed, after the manner of Englishmen who have never been
introduced, and Paul, as he put on his hat, felt a sudden insane
desire to go up again, and tell Alice that he had changed his mind.
And yet, as he walked aimlessly through the Park, and so northward
into the streets beyond, the certainty that life had been changed in
the twinkling of an eye came slowly to him, and as it did he scarcely
knew whither to turn for a little solid self-esteem. Of late he had
been nurturing his own magnanimity, and, as Mrs. Vane had told him to
his face, the fact that Alice Woodward's fortune was for the time
diminished, and in the future uncertain, had not been without its
consolation. It prevented him from feeling that people knew, to a
fraction, what price he had put upon himself. And now, though he was,
as it were, a "genuine reduction," he had been rejected! Rejected! the
thought was intolerable. Even the memory of Marjory, and the look in
her eyes which he had seen that last night, brought him cold comfort,
for he told himself that, even if he had wished to do so, he could
never go to her and say he had been jilted; yet he would not tell her
a lie.

But he did not want to seek consolation from Marjory; after all, it
had only been the old story of a passing fancy fostered by romantic
surroundings. Since he had left Gleneira he had scarcely thought of
her, and for himself would have been quite content to fulfil his
engagement. Therein, to tell truth, lay the whole sting of the
position.

So he wandered on until he found himself in Regent's Park, and then,
with that idle distaste to some decisive action which a return
clubwards would necessitate, in the Zoölogical Gardens. It was years
since he had been there of a morning without a band and a crowd. Years
since he had brought papers of nuts and biscuits, and given them to
the bears. But now he was free--yes! that was one comfort! he was free
to do as he liked, so he watched the Polar bear--which made him smile
at the recollection of Mrs. Vane's sally--and found a certain dreamy
pleasure in strolling round by the antelopes and recognising beasts
the like of which he had shot in strange climes. There is always some
satisfaction to be got from bygone prowess in sport, and, as he
finally found himself leaning over the railings of a tank where a pair
of dippers were bobbing about, he had in a measure forgotten the
present in the past.

So, as he watched the birds indifferently, a sleek round head slid
suddenly, oilily from the water, and a pair of wistful brown eyes
looked into his.

The card affixed to the railings only bore the legend:


                          "_Phoca vitulina_;
                          or, Common Seal."


Yet no magician's wand could have been more powerful in
transformation--say, rather translation--than the sight of the
creature so designated was to Paul Macleod. In the twinkling of an eye
the London haze--that condensed essence of millions of men, women, and
children, struggling confusedly for breath--had passed from him, and
he was in a new heaven and a new earth. A boat was rocking idly on the
summer sea, the blue clouds were sailing overhead, the world, its ways
and works, were beyond the rampart of encircling hills, while a girl,
with clear bright eyes, leant against the rudder.

"Why didn't you shoot, Captain Macleod?" He could hear the odd little
tremor in her voice, as she gave the challenge, and feel the dim
surprise of his own answer: "I never thought of it!"

Then, with a rush, the one side of his nature challenged the other.
Why--why had he done these things? Why had he given up paradise? Had
he not been happy? In very truth, had he even thought of the world and
its ways, of himself and his instincts, when he was beside her? Yet,
what a return had he not made to this girl who had taught him to
forget these things. Had he not in a way taught her to know them? Had
he not roused in her something, blameless enough, God knows! in its
way, beautiful enough, though of the earth earthy, compared to that
other strange comradeship, in which there seemed no possibility of
passion, no sense of sex. In truth, he had taught her to love him as
women and men will love to the end of all things. Taught her, and left
her to face it alone--as he had left Jeanie Duncan long years ago.

The unbidden remembrance brought a new shame with it for that old
offence, even while it intensified the sudden remorse he felt for the
present one; since Jeanie, in all her sweet maidenhood, had never
seemed so hedged about from evil as this Brynhild, whose very
womanhood had been hidden beneath her glittering armour of mail. That
he should have thought these things showed the strain of romance, the
touch of mysticism, which was in him by right of his race, and though,
as ever, he chafed against these things, he could not escape from
them, or from the self-contempt which took possession of him. Ever
since the night when he had said good-bye, as he had boasted, to the
best part of him, there had been something to prevent his realising
the extent of his degradation. First, the relief of certainty,
bringing with it a very real content; then, the anxiety for the child,
bringing out all the kindliness of his nature--finally, the knowledge
that he was not, after all, so mercenary. But now he was defenceless
against his own worldliness, against the memory of his wanton insult
to Marjory--for it was an insult, nothing less.

As he wandered moodily back into the town, back to face his world and
its comments, it seemed to him as if there were not a rag anywhere
wherewith to cover his wounded self-esteem. One thing he could do: he
could go down and ask Marjory to marry him. He owed her so much. She
would refuse him, of course, since she was not the sort to care for
other folks' rejections; and he knew, by long experience, how keenly
such love as he had seen in her eyes resented neglect, how quick it
was in changing to repulsion if the pride were outraged.

Yes! he would go down to Gleneira and regain some of his belief in
himself by giving Marjory her revenge. Then he would go abroad and
shoot lions, or do something of that sort. Everyone would know he had
been jilted, so he might as well play the part to the bitter end, and
behave as a man ought to behave who has had a disappointment.

Meanwhile he might as well go and see Violet, and congratulate her on
her acumen. He might even go so far as to tell her that, taking her
words to heart, he was about to propose poverty to the girl he loved,
as he had proposed it to the girl he had not loved. She, of course,
not knowing of that wanton insult, would not understand how idle a
proposition it would be; but she liked to be thought clever--liked to
be at the bottom of everything.

So he was not exactly in an amiable or easily managed mood as he
followed the servant upstairs at Mrs. Vane's house. And, as luck would
have it, he came at a time when she herself was too disturbed to have
the cool head and steady nerve necessary to steer him into the haven
where she would have him. Yet it was a trifling thing which had upset
her: merely the certainty that little Paul Duncan would not get a
penny of his grandmother's money. There it was in black and white, set
down in the wills and bequests column of the _Illustrated London
News_. Now, the difference between keeping a boy with a hundred
thousand pounds from possibly inheriting some acres of heavily
mortgaged bog and heather, and keeping a nameless, penniless waif from
a name and some hundreds a year was palpable. She was no hardened
criminal, and for the first time she found herself really facing the
question: "Am I to do this thing, or am I not to do it?"

Should she put those letters in the fire and say no more about them,
or should she tell the truth?

Though she knew its contents almost by heart, she took the slender
packet out once more and looked doubtfully at the marriage
certificate.

"Captain Macleod," said the servant at the door, for Paul was a
privileged visitor, with the _entrée_ at all times to Mrs. Vane's
little sitting-room. She had barely time to thrust the paper under a
book ere he was beside her.

"How you startled me!" she said, with a nervous laugh, as she took his
hand. "I did not expect you to-day; you were here yesterday."

"I came to inquire for your fever," he replied a trifle coldly. "You
have it again, I see--and feel. You should be in bed as it is."

He wheeled the armchair to the fire, brought a cushion from the sofa,
and waited, holding it in his hand to settle it comfortably for her as
she sate down.

She gave an odd little sort of choke.

"What a coddle you are, Paul! There is nothing really the matter with
me. I grow old, that is all; I grow old." It was not a good beginning
for an interview in which she would need all her self-control, all her
common sense; and had the letter been within reach at that moment it
would have received scant justice at her hands, for nothing in the
wide world seemed worth consideration save this man with his kind ways
and soft voice. He, at any rate, must not suffer.



                             CHAPTER XXV.


The room was growing dusk. That pleasant duskiness which obliterates
corners and seems to concentrate comfort on the flame-lit circle by
the fire.

"What a good nurse you are, Paul," she said, with an effort after her
usual airiness. "The woman you marry will be lucky."

"I'm glad someone thinks so," he remarked briefly, "for there does not
seem to be much competition----"

"Paul!" she interrupted, with a sudden flutter at her heart. "Do you
mean----"

"Yes! you were right, as usual, if that is any comfort to you. I have
got my dismissal. Does that satisfy you?"

She looked at him frankly. "It does. You do not like it, of course,
but I cannot be sorry. She was never good enough for you, even when
she was rich, and when she was poor----"

"Don't let us discuss it, please. The thing is over; and what with
those who are too good and those who are not good enough I seem to
have made a muddle of it. By the way, I suppose Miss Carmichael is
still at Gleneira?"

"Certainly--but--but why? I fail to see the connection." It was not
true; she saw it clearly enough, and her voice showed it.

"Only because I am going down there to-morrow."

"To burn your wings again?--that is foolish!"

"I have no wings to burn; but I am going to ask her to marry me--to
face the villa with me, as you put it."

Mrs. Vane started from her pillow with fear, surprise, dislike in
every feature.

"Are you mad, Paul? The girl does not care for you; I'm certain of
that. Then she is half engaged, I believe, to Alphonse--Dr. Kennedy, I
mean. Her letter is full of him; you can see it if you like."

"I have no doubt of it; he is a far more admirable person than I am. I
fully expect she will refuse me, but I mean to ask her all the same."

"But why? Since you have told me so much you may as well tell me all.
Why?"

"Because I choose, and because I like following your good advice."

"My advice?" she echoed; "my advice? That is too much." Then
recognising the fact that no good would follow on direct opposition,
she tacked skilfully. "If you choose, I suppose you will do it, though
I cannot for the life of me see why you should put yourself to
needless pain, for it must be pain, since you were certainly in love
with her at Gleneira----"

"I believe I was," he interrupted, "but I'll risk the pain."

"No doubt," she answered bitterly; "self-inflicted pain is always
bearable. But for the girl--why not consider her comfort? It is always
a disagreeable thing to refuse, and a man who forces a girl into that
position without due cause is----"

"Is what?"

"A presumptuous cad, my dear Paul."

"Thank you! You are clever, Violet, and your conclusions are generally
right; but in this case you argue without knowledge of the premises."

"I know that Paul Macleod never did and never will come under that
category," she replied readily, "and that is enough for me."

"If it were true, but it is not." He had not meant to tell her the
truth, but a certain contrariety led him on. "I used not to be one,
perhaps; but I was one to her. That last night, after I was engaged to
Alice, I told her that I loved her."

A little fine smile showed on Mrs. Vane's face. "Well, it was not fair
on Alice, but it was very like Paul. Only why repeat the mistake?"

"You do not understand. I was half mad, I think, at leaving her--and
at her unconsciousness. And then--and then, I kissed her."

"Really? That was very naughty, of course; but still more like Paul."

He winced, as if she had struck him. "Don't laugh, Violet, as if it
were the old story; it isn't."

His tone struck a chill of fear to her heart, yet she still kept up
her amused serenity. "Is it not? Yet she is surely not the first girl
you have kissed without a 'by your leave.'"

He was silent, and then to her infinite surprise, as he sate leaning
forward looking into the fire, covered his face with his hands as if
to shut out an unwelcome sight.

"You don't understand," he said, in a low voice. "She hadn't a
reproach--she--I can see the look in her eyes still."

There was another silence, and then Mrs. Vane's voice came with an
indescribable chill in it:

"You mean that she loved you, or you think she did."

"I am sure of it. She did not deny it. Violet! she is the first woman,
I verily believe, who has loved me truly, and I repaid her by insult."

A dangerous rush of sheer anger came to send tact and prudence to the
wind for the time. "You say that! The only woman! Then I say, Paul,
that you insult others by your doubts--others who have loved you
longer. Paul!" She was very close upon the verge, when she pulled
herself up short, and gave a little laugh. "You cannot think her love
very deep if you say she will refuse you. But what reason have you to
think she will? Because you kissed her? That is absurd, and you know
it. I believe you wish her to accept you."

"Do I?" he asked wearily; "for the life of me I scarcely know; but I
mean to ask her. I must. Surely you can see that; you generally
understand me."

"I do understand you, Paul; better perhaps than you understand
yourself. That is why I tell you not to go down to Gleneira. You are
_tête montée_ now. You are not yourself. Look the matter in the face!
Supposing she were to accept you; what then?"

He paused a moment. "I should marry her, I suppose--but she won't. I
am not the sort of fellow she could marry." His voice had the
tenderest ring in it, but his head was turned away. To see it she
leant forward closer to him, almost on her knees, and the firelight
lit up her eager, appealing face.

"Paul, don't deceive yourself with doubts. You love her more than
ever, and if, as you say, she loves you, the result is a foregone
conclusion, if you meet. It is a future of poverty, and, oh, how you
will regret it! Don't go, Paul, I beg of you; I beseech you--I am an
old friend, my dear."

As she laid her flashing jewelled hands on his shoulder, his went up
mechanically and drew them down. So holding them in his, he looked
into her face kindly. "You are, indeed--but I must go--I have no
choice."

His soft, caressing touch made her risk all, and her breath came fast
in swift denial. "No choice! That is not true! You said but now, no
one had loved you truly but this girl. Think, Paul, did not I? You
know I did. Was it for my own sake that I gave you up--that I sent you
away? You know it was not. I am not of the sort on whom the world
turns its back. I would have faced it gladly. It was for you. Because
you loved your profession--because--but you know it all! Even when I
was free, but poor, I would not claim you. Will Marjory do as much for
you? Will she say, 'I love you, but I will not injure you by marrying
you'? I think not. But I should not injure you now--I am rich, I am
rich, and I love you."

Once before she had told him so plainly, but it had then been with an
easy self-control, suggesting the idea but withholding its inception.
Now she was pleading as if for life.

"You are very good," he muttered, feeling the truth of what she said.

"Yes!" she echoed, with a tinge of bitterness at her lack of power to
move him more. "How good you will never know. I have stood between you
and more evil than you dream of; and now I ask you to stay with me,
Paul, not because I love you, but because you are always happy with
me, because you will be safe with me--with me--only with me."

That was true also; he was always happy with her. But safe?

"I do not understand," he said. "Why should I be safer with you? I
know of no danger." Then he clasped her hands tighter, looking into
her face curiously. "What is it, Violet? Is there danger? You
speak---- By Heaven! there is something, Violet! What is it?"

She drew from him quickly, realising her own imprudence, for she was
not prepared for any decisive step. "Nothing, Paul--nothing to speak
of," she said, rising to her feet with a hasty laugh, but her voice
shook, her hands were trembling. "Since you will not listen, go to
Marjory; she can protect you as well as I can."

"I don't care to hide behind any woman," he said sternly. "Not even
behind you. What is it? You are not the kind of woman to say that sort
of thing unless you meant it. What danger do you know that I do not?"

Even to hear his questioning roused her to a sense of what the
knowledge would mean to him, and the instinct of defence overcame even
her pride. "Am I not the sort of woman? All women are alike when they
are jealous. Can't you see it, Paul--can't you understand? or will you
force me to say it all over again? I know nothing, positively nothing,
to prevent your marrying Marjory. Go down to Gleneira if you will."

He shook his head. "Don't prevaricate, Violet. I had rather you lied
to me, but for pity's sake do neither. Be my friend and tell me the
truth."

For an instant his gentleness overcame her fence. "I cannot, Paul--I
cannot," she almost wailed; then remembering herself, she went on,
"How can I, when there is nothing to tell?"

"I will not leave the room till I know," was his reply. "There _is_
something, and you shall tell me. You will not; then I must find out
for myself--there was a letter in your hand. Let me go, Violet! I
don't want to hurt you, but I must and will have that letter,
unless---- No! I cannot trust you for the truth. I must see that
letter for myself."

She knew enough of him to recognise that now his imperious temper was
roused, her only chance lay in an appeal to his affection.

"Listen, Paul! I have done so much for you. Pay me back now--only this
little thing. I don't want you to see that letter--you have no right
to see it."

He shook his head, and she flung the hands she had been detaining from
her with a cry.

"You do not trust me! You do not trust me! That is hard after all
these years."

"No! I cannot trust you, dear; you are too good to me," he said
gently, as he walked over to the table.

The dusk had grown into dark, and he passed on to the window, in hopes
of sufficient light to decipher the letter he held; failing that he
came back to the fire.

"Don't strain your eyes over it," she said bitterly, as she leant--as
if tired out--against the mantelpiece, watching him sombrely. "I
strained mine over it once--needlessly. I will ring for lights, and
you can surely wait for so much, now you have got your own way."

So they waited in silence, standing side by side before the fire, till
the servant had set the shaded lamp on the table, and drawn the window
curtains carefully, methodically. Then he glanced at the
superscription, and pointing to it, said, "Why did you read it?" for
across the first blank page was scrawled legibly, "Not to be read by
anyone till Paul Macleod of Gleneira is dead."

"Because I chose--the reason why _you_ read it, I suppose."

The old admiration for her spirit which, even now, did not hesitate to
meet him boldly on his own ground, rose in him as, instinctively, he
turned to the signature for some further light to guide him in reading
the closely written sheets. Then his eye caught a name at the bottom
of a page where the writing merged from ink to a faint pencil.

"Jeanie Duncan!" he exclaimed, half aloud; "what can she have to do
with me?" The instant after he turned to Mrs. Vane, as those who are
puzzled turn to those who are better informed. "Janet Macleod! did she
marry a Macleod after all?"

"She married your brother Alick, and the boy is their son. Now you
know the worst--and _I_ have told you it--_I_, who would not hurt you
for the world."

"She married---- Then little Paul?" He stood as if unable to grasp the
meaning of his own words.

"Sit down, dear, and read it, since you have chosen to read. There is
no hurry. You know the worst," she said gently.

So with a sort of dazed incredulity he read on in silence:


"Paul Macleod! yes! Paul! you shall read this some day; some day soon.
I am revenged. You were ashamed of me, and now I am the laird of
Gleneira's wife. Yet I did not mean to be revenged till he came, like
a fool, and put it into my head. I was getting tired of the life,
too--of the hard, thankless life. It was by chance I fell in with him
in Paris. I went there with someone and stayed on; so he could not
guess that I was Jeanie Duncan, whom he had never seen. And I hated
him because he was your brother; so he grew mad after me, and promised
marriage. Then the thought came--I, whom the laird's Jock did not
think good enough to love or marry, will take the laird himself, and
flaunt it over them all. So we were married, and then, before I had
time to settle anything, he died--died of drink, Paul!

"Well! I hated him, so I did not care. I hated him for being so like
you, and caring for me when you did not----

"And now, if it is a boy, I will have my revenge--my just revenge--and
turn you out of the old place. But I wait, because, if it is a girl,
you will not care, and I will not have you jeer because my revenge has
failed. I pray day and night that it may be a boy, and lest I should
die, I write all about it, and put my marriage lines with the letter.
Then my son can come, and turn you out. I did not seek revenge,
remember. It came into my hand, and it is just. You know that it is
just!

                                  "Jeanie Duncan.

"P.S.--Look in the photograph shops in Paris for 'La Belle Écossaise,'
if you wish to know what I was like when _he_ married me."


Paul, reading methodically, paused for a second, passed his hand
across his forehead as if to clear his mind, and then went on to a
fainter pencil scrawl:


"Well! I have waited, Paul! It is a boy--so like you, Paul! I lie and
think--for they say I am dying, and so it cannot hurt now--that he
_is_ your son, and that we were married in the old days. But it is all
a lie! He is _his_ son, and I will have my revenge! If only I could
remember anything but the old days, Paul! Ah! surely when people love
as we did---- No! I do not understand. Only, the boy is so like you. I
lie and think, and I feel he must never turn you out. Never! never!
Only, if you die, then the boy must have his rights, for he is your
son.

                                  "Janet Macleod.

"P.S.--Mother will keep this; she has come to see me die, so it will
be quite safe. She does not know I am married, and I have written
outside that no one is to read it till you are dead. Ah, Paul! I wish
you could have seen it. Forgive me, Paul--forgive me that he is not
your son!"


A greyness had come to the handsome face, and, as he folded up the
letter methodically, his hands trembled.

"How long?" he asked; and it seemed almost as if he could not finish
the sentence.

"Since the night of old Peggy's death. I suspected something, so I
stole it."

"You suspected!" he interrupted quickly. "What could you suspect?"
Then he laughed bitterly. "I suppose you suspected I was the boy's
father, and thought the knowledge would be useful. If I had been it
would have been better." His hand holding the letter came down heavily
on the mantelpiece as he rose in sudden passion. "My God! what a
devilish revenge!"

She gave a quick catch in her breath. She had been silent till now,
but now it was time to begin--time to make him think.

"You forget that she repented--that she gave up her revenge. That is
why I said nothing, Paul. I am a woman, too, and I know how she
repented. I did not dare to speak--to disobey her dying wish; who has
a right to do that, Paul?--no one."

"But the boy," he murmured, "the boy."

"The boy will not suffer. If you die he will have his rights, as his
mother wished. If he were really your son he would not have Gleneira
till then, and you can look after him. It is not as if he were in
want, dear."

He sate listening, listening to that soft, persuasive voice, which had
such a knack of following his every thought, and yet of leading them.

"I had no right to steal the letters, of course," it went on a little
louder, "but I am not sorry; for others might not have understood, and
so the poor thing's repentance would have come to naught. Now, no one
knows but you and I. You who loved her, I who pity her; because I love
you, Paul, as she loved you."

She came a step closer with wide-open, serious eyes, and touched him
on the breast with her slender white hand. The faint perfume of
jasmine which always lingered round her stole in on his senses
familiarly, taking him back to many a past pleasure and kindness
associated with it, and, half unconsciously, his empty hand clasped
hers; and so they stood looking, not at each other, but into the fire.

"So it is easy to fulfil her wish--her dying wish. You did her a
wrong, Paul, in the old days, and you owe her reparation. She did not
wish you to read the letter, remember; but that can be as if it had
not been. Give it to me, dear! I would have burnt it before, as she
would have wished it burnt, but I wanted you to know for certain what
she had wished."

Her small, white hand was on his, the paper rustled and seemed to slip
from his hold while he stood, as if mesmerised, looking into the fire.
It was all true--every word of it true.

"Give it to me, Paul. You are thinking of the boy; but we could bring
him up, you and I, if you would have it so. Paul! This is my reward at
last! I can do this for you, now that I am rich."

But still his fingers resisted faintly, and there was a pause, a long
pause. Then the hand which lay in his seemed to slacken, to lie in his
like a dead hand, and her voice came with a sob in its softness:

"Paul! do this for me, and I will ask no more. Paul! let me save
you--save you and Marjory!"

It was her last plea. She had kept it back till now, hoping against
hope, and, as she made it, she touched the highest point of
self-forgetfulness it is possible for a woman to reach. But in
touching it she struck a false note in the syren's song, and Paul
Macleod's hand closed like a vice over his one tie to an honest
life--the letter.

The name had roused him. "Marjory!" he echoed absently. Then he turned
and looked at his companion compassionately, yet decisively. "You mean
to be kind, Violet, but you don't understand," he said quietly; then
raised her little slack hand, stooped to kiss it, and left her so,
standing by the fire alone. She had played for her love boldly,
skilfully, and she had lost. She had tried to save Paul for his own
sake, and she had failed. Yet even so, the innate courage of the woman
faced the facts without a tear, without a complaint.

"It is my own fault," she said, half aloud. "I ought to have burnt the
letter long ago, but I was not meant for that sort of thing. My heart
is too soft." Then she smiled a little bitterly. It was at the
remembrance of Paul Macleod's assertion, "You do not understand!" If
she did not understand him, who could?



                            CHAPTER XXVI.


Nearly a month had gone by since Marjory Carmichael had whispered to
the darkness, "Come back to me, Paul, and we will forget our love."
The sudden awakening to the realities, not only of life but of her own
nature, caused by his reckless avowal of love, had passed, as all
awakenings must, into calm acquiescence in the commonplace facts of
consciousness. There was no denying of the truth possible to her clear
sight, and as she sate on the last day of October, on the last day of
holiday before she and little Paul set off together to make
acquaintance with a new world, she laid down her pen in the middle of
a sentence in the letter she was writing to Tom Kennedy, and looked
out over the stormy whitecrested waves of the loch set in its rampart
of grey, snow-powdered, mist-shrouded hills, and wondered how she
could have been so blind for so long. Blind to half the great problems
of life! And then, with a smile, infinitely sweeter than it used to be
because infinitely stronger, she took up a letter which lay beside
her, and leaning back in her chair began to read it over again, just
as she had re-read a letter down by the river side three months
before, on the day when her holiday began--on the day when she had
first seen Paul Macleod.

But it was a very different letter from the one Dr. Kennedy had sent
her then; for all unconsciously the girl, in the first bewilderment of
her awakening, had stretched out her hands to him, as it were, for
help, and he had given her what he could, smiling a trifle bitterly as
he wrote to think how little that was. "You ask me to tell you the
truth," she read, "but how can I when I do not know it myself? If I
had, the world might have been different--for us both. Only this
seems clear, that friendship is a bigger thing than love, unless
they both grow from the same root, and then--I fancy, Mademoiselle
Grands-serieux, that the botanists ought to characterise the product
as a sport! It is rare enough--God knows! I have sate for hours over
the puzzle, trying to get at the bottom of myself, only to come back
to the old paradox that Love is not worth calling Love unless it is
something which is not Love. And that is no solution. Pure and simple,
unveiled of mist and sentiment, it is all too easy of explanation. It
is ever-present, and must be so--it seems--till the end of all things.
Then there is--shall we call it the transcendental form conceivable
only to those who recognise some innate, or almost innate, sense of
order or beauty in mankind. That too, given this premise, is easy. I
believe I understand it. I am sure you do. It is the hybrid of these
two held up to our admiration, and believed in by the majority of
cultivated people, which beats me altogether. Look round you, dear,
and think for yourself. A man and a woman have mental sympathy with
each other. What has that to do with marriage? A man and a woman are
married. What has that to do with mental sympathy? The two things are
not incompatibles. Heaven forbid! But have friendship and what the
world calls love any real connection, and what part have they to play
in marriage? That sounds like a conundrum, and perhaps it is as well,
since we were getting too serious, and that is a fatal mistake when
there is no answer to the riddle. But there is a sacrilegious little
story, my dear, regarding the reasons for not enforcing celibacy on
the clergy, which is not altogether irrelevant to our subject. Luther,
I believe, is responsible for declaring that marriage is a
'discipline' not to be surpassed in spiritual efficacy; a discipline
before which hair shirts and flagellations are sensual indulgence.
N.B.--Was Luther any relation of the Cornish man who said, 'Women was
like pilchards; when 'ums bad 'ms bad, and when 'ms good they is but
middlin'?' I beg your pardon, Mademoiselle G.S., but one must
laugh--if one is not to cry. What if love were the mutual attraction
of certain elements, which combined and neutralised in the children,
would go to form a more useful compound of humanity? Would not this go
further towards raising our instincts out of the mire than all the
romance in the world? And then it would account, of course--since
chemicals are apt to evolve heat in combining--for a good deal of
friction in the married state, which in its turn must polish the
sufferers! But as this theory canonises Mrs. Caudle, and makes
wife-beating a virtue, perhaps we had better change the subject by
saying, as we said at the beginning--friendship is a bigger thing than
love, and so pass on to the lives we have to lead, love or no love."

So with kindly thought, and a plentiful humour irradiating every page,
he went on to tell her of his work, of stirring scenes in that
hand-to-hand fight with Death, the great enemy of Love, in which he
lived. A tender, charming letter, such as his were always. Letters
which none know how to write save those who, despising the control of
time and space, have learnt to lean over the edge of the world, and
claim a part in some far-off life. Letters which, without one word of
sentiment from beginning to end, leave both the writer's and reader's
hearts full of a great kindliness and peace.

They set Marjory a thinking, as they were meant to do, and the result
was good, since her clear common sense never failed her. Yet side by
side with that common sense existed a certain fanciful idealism, which
took the place of the former in matters beyond the limits of plain
reason. And this, as she read, made her pause to wonder if Tom could
be right, and the calm content which came to her from him, so
different from the unrest which the mere thought of Paul produced,
meant that they were too nearly akin to need neutralisation. Then she
laid down the letter and took up the pen again, striving unconsciously
to imitate his playful touch.

"No, Tom!" she wrote; "I am not growing morbid. I am not, as you call
it, trying to measure my world with home-made imitations of the
imperial quart; still, I do wish I knew what the cubit was! Then I
would add it to my stature and rise superior--perhaps. If I had known
what I know now when my holiday began would it have made any
difference? If I had had a mother, if I had been brought up with other
girls, should I have gone on as I did, using a wrong terminology? I
will tell you something, Tom. What I thought was love in those old
days is just what I feel for you, dear. Perhaps I might have thought
so all my life if I had not met him. And now, if I meet him again,
Tom, what will happen? I sit down before the proposition; but it is
not to be solved like a problem in Euclid, because I have discovered
that my heart and my brain are quite separate, and I used to think
they were both a part of me. Don't tell me, please, that I am wrong.
Perhaps I am physiologically. I know all about that horrid little
V-shaped spot in the _medulla oblongata_, isn't it, where a pin-point
will stop Tears and Laughter, Love and Friendship for ever. What then?
Does it make it easier to understand why the heart beats, to know that
we can stop its beating? I wish I knew! I wish I knew! I don't want it
to beat, but it will. Oh! what a mercy it is that we two do not love
each other!"

She laid down the pen as a knock came to the door.

"A strange shentlemen to see Miss Carmichael," said the new servant
who had replaced the peccant Kirsty discovered--direful offence--in
putting a dirty skimmer into the milk.

Now, in the country a "strange gentleman" generally resolves itself
into the piano-tuner, so Marjory bade him be shown up with a certain
calm impatience at the necessity for explaining that his services
would not be wanted; then, the thread of her thoughts broken rudely,
she sate waiting, her eyes fixed absently on the words, "that we two
do not love each other!"

She looked up from them to see Paul Macleod standing at the door. He
had come back to her!

Five minutes before she had asked, almost passionately, of her friend
what she would do in such case. Now there was but one answer.

"Paul!" Her outstretched hand sought his, as he stood tall and
straight trying to master his emotion, to preserve the calm to which
he had schooled himself through the long journey which had ended
here--here, where he might once have found rest; here, where all, save
such self-respect as apology might leave him, was lost for ever.

"Paul--Oh! how tired you look--how cold your hands are! Come,
dear--come and warm yourself; you must be perished!"

He did not speak, perhaps because the hoar frost of pride which had
chilled his eyes melted before the radiance of hers; and hoar frost is
but water after all. So she drew him to the fire, and then, still
holding one hand as if loth to lose touch of it, knelt on one knee to
stir the peats to a brighter blaze.

"I'm so glad you have come back," she said, with a little tremble in
her voice; "so glad!" And then she looked up suddenly into the face
above her, surprised at the almost painful strength of his grip. For
Paul Macleod's composure was almost gone, and he was struggling hard
for self-control. What she saw kept her silent; but she bent towards
him till her soft, warm cheek touched his hand caressingly. The
action, with its tale of tender solicitude, its boundless sympathy,
was too much for him. He drew in his breath hard, and resting his arm
on the mantelpiece turned from her to hide his face upon it, and so
escape the pity in her eyes.

And he had dreamed of something so different! Of something coldly
just, reasonably reproachful! Without a word she had guessed, had
_known_, that he must be free to come, because he _had_ come back.

"What is it, dear?" she asked softly, as she stood beside him. "Are
you afraid that I am angry? Are you afraid that I care--about _that?_
Paul! I do not choose to care--I will not. Look at me, and you will
see if that is not the truth!"

What he saw was a face soft with the passion he knew so well--the
passion which lies so perilously close to self--which claims so much,
and resents so easily. But it was radiant also, as with a white flame
of cleansing fire, pitiless in its purity.

"What is it to me?" she went on, her voice ringing clearer. "What is
it to any woman unless she stoops to care? Oh! I understand now,
Paul--I understand things of which I never even dreamed before; things
which have been in your life--things which might have been in mine,
perhaps--God knows!--if I had been in your place. But they are no more
to me than this--a grief, a regret, because they are a stain upon your
past, as all wrong must be. They are no more to me than that, because
I do not choose to count them more!"

So, with a smile in her eyes, and a quiver of pain on her lips, she
raised her face to his and kissed him.

Thus neither humiliation nor forgiveness was allowed a part in this
woman's reading of the Divine Comedy. Perhaps she was wrong, and yet
no scorn, no righteous indignation, could have made Paul Macleod feel
more acutely the gulf which lay between his past and hers. Between
their futures also. They might be friends, but from that pure Love of
hers he was for ever outcast, though she might not know it--though he
might spend his life in trying to conceal the fact that he lived on a
lower plane than she did. Why! the past was with him _now_, even at
the touch of her lips. He loved her, as he had loved so often before.

"Marjory!" he cried passionately, "I don't deserve it, but I can't
miss it--if you will put up with me?"

She drew herself away, and looked at him with a half-tender,
half-mocking expression.

"Put up with you? What else is there to be done now that you have come
back to me?"

What else, indeed! She was right; it was he who had taken the
responsibility, he who defied natural consequences in this dreaming of
something beyond and above his past. He was not hardened enough to be
blind to this, and the thought showed on his face.

"Come," she said consolingly, "sit down and tell me all about it--why
you came back, I mean; I know why you went away."

If she did, he felt that she was wiser than he, since, sitting so
beside her, sure of her sympathy, her confidence, it seemed incredible
that he should have fled from this sure haven of his own free will. He
told her all, it seemed to him without a pang; told her of his
dismissal, of the change in his prospects. Yet, when he put Jeanie
Duncan's letter into her hands, and walked away to the window while
she read it, he felt more of a cur than he had ever done in all his
life before. What would the girl say? What could she say but that it
served him right? If she dismissed him also, and told him that she did
not care to exchange her love for his, would not that serve him right
also!

And so, as he stood frowning moodily at the growing glint of sunshine
far out in the West driving the mists in dense masses up the Glen, her
voice came to him as she laid down the letter with a sigh:

"I am glad she called him Paul."

He turned quickly to her in a sort of incredulous amaze! Was that all
she had to say? A sort of chill crept over him, even though he found
himself at her feet, with her hands in his, kissing them softly as he
told her, with a break in his voice, that she was too good--too good
for any man. The thought brought him a certain consolation, as she
went on, evidently with the desire of taking all sting from his
memories--to speak of the strange coincidence of little Paul's
devotion to her, and of her liking for the lovable little lad. Surely,
if Gleneira had to go, he would far rather it went to him than to some
stranger, who would care nothing for her and her ways.

"Why?" she said, a trifle tearfully; "he has been so much with me
lately, since old Peggy died, that I felt quite lost without him when
he went yesterday for a farewell visit up the Glen to the Macintoshes.
The boys were his great playmates. So you see, Paul, it will not
matter so much, for he will live with us, of course, and it is a long,
long time before he comes of age. And even then I don't believe he
will turn you out of house and home altogether. We will teach him
better things than that! Won't we?"

In truth, spoken of in her calm, clear voice, and with her wise eyes
on his, and that sweet convincing "we" in her phrases, the prospect
did not seem so hopeless. Yet he caught himself wishing that she had
not taken his renunciation quite so much as a matter of course;
wishing that she appreciated his victory over temptation more keenly.
Yet, how could she, when he had not told her that part of the
business, or how near he had been to purchasing peace with dishonour
by destroying Jeanie Duncan's letter and the marriage certificate it
contained. But there were many things in his past, he told himself,
with a sigh, of which it was better she should continue to know
nothing; for her own sake, not for his. He could scarcely fear her
blame, and it would have been a certain comfort to, as it were, bring
her closer to him by confession. But Paul Macleod was too much of a
gentleman for that kind of self-indulgence, and he was realising for
the first time in his life the supreme impotence of repentance either
in the past or the future. Had he not, even at the time, repented him
of the evil in regard to Jeanie Duncan; yet had not a Nemesis grown
out of his very repentance?

"Come with me part of the way back, dear," he said, when the necessity
for writing business letters broke through even his desire to linger
within touch of her kind hand. "I can't bear somehow to lose sight of
you for an instant, but I must go--there are the lawyers--and Dr.
Kennedy."

"I can tell Tom if you like," replied Marjory. "I write to him most
days."

Something rose up in her hearer and cursed Tom, though the next moment
he was reviling himself. That sort of thing would have to be put away
for ever when he was Marjory's husband.

"You will have to marry me as soon as you can," he said, with what to
her seemed great irrelevance.

"I will marry you as soon as you like, Paul; you know that," she
replied cheerfully.

Yes! so far was easy; but afterwards? How would she ever put up with
him? Yet the question was once more forgotten in the charm of the
present.

It was the end of a soft day, and the summitless mountains looked
purple and green under the mist wreaths which every now and again
seemed to descend to fill the valley and leave sparkling drops of dew
on the little curls below Marjory's cap, while the river ran roaring
beside them, making a kind of droning accompaniment to the shriller
drip from the trees upon the stones. Then the fine rain would cease,
the birds begin to twitter, rustling the damp leaves, and sending a
faster shower on the path; while from the West a gleaming blade of
light would sever the mists, and give a glimpse of a new heaven and a
new earth, where the sun was setting peacefully.

As she walked along beside him, her face seemed to hold the sunshine,
his the mist, and once, in the middle of some talk over the future, he
paused to hark back to the past.

"If we could begin it all over again from the day I first met you on
the river, I think I might have a better chance--at least, I would not
play the fool so utterly--at least, my memories of _you_ would be free
from pain--and I should have left undone the things that I have done."

"Why should you say that?" she asked. "Is it not enough that what you
did made me love you?"

"Your godfathers and godmothers should have christened you
Barnabasina," he replied, with an effort after his old, light manner,
"for you are verily a daughter of consolation, Marjory; but even you
cannot take the sting out of some things. If I could have the past
over again! Nothing short of that will satisfy me."

Her quick, bright face grew brighter.

"Then you shall have it, dear, as far as I'm concerned. Yes! you
shall! It will be pleasant for me, too. Don't laugh at my fancy, for I
like fancies sometimes; they help one along the dead level bits of the
road. I'll say 'good-bye' here, Paul, here in the very spot where you
said good-bye before--do you think I could forget it? And then
to-morrow----" she hesitated in her very eagerness.

"Yes, to-morrow, Marjory?" he echoed.

"To-morrow you shall meet me at the old place on the river--you
remember it, of course, and we shall begin all over again--all over
again from the very beginning, to the very end. I remember them all,
Paul; everything, I believe, that you ever said--everything, at any
rate, that you ever said which I disliked. Is that unkind? And so when
the time comes for those bits you shall not say them--we will cut them
out of the past."

"It will be Hamlet with the Prince left out," he said, falling in with
her playful mood.

"Not a bit of it! Besides if it were I should not mind. It was never
the prince I liked, but Paul--the real Paul."

"I wonder which one that is," he replied quickly, yet with a smile;
for her radiant face would not be cheated of its due.

"We shall see to-morrow--good-bye, Paul."

He shook his head.

"No! No! Marjory. Neither that, nor adieu, any more. Till
to-morrow--_Auf-wieder-sehn_, my love! _Auf-wieder-sehn_."



                            CHAPTER XXVII.


The beginning of a new day, a new life!

That, perhaps, should have been Marjory's first thought when, drawing
up the blind, she stood in the early dawn at the window looking out on
a world white with hoar frost. But it was not; for her eyes fell upon
a bunch of late rowans still adorning the tree, which stood so close
that, on windy nights, the berries would tap against the panes like
some ghostly visitant claiming admittance. They also were veiled
in a silvery tracery, and so the trivial remembrance of a certain
ball-dress came uppermost, instead of any sober reflection. As a
matter of fact, the larger half of existence can be excellently
executed on a penny whistle.

What a very good imitation those berries had been which Tom had sent
from Paris; and how unlikely it was, since she and Paul were both
poor, that she would have so magnificent a garment again. It would not
be wanted, that was one comfort, if they lived quietly at Gleneira,
which, of course, they must do, unless Paul were to try and get back
to active service again. She must talk that over with him--that and
many another thing--when they began life again down by the river side.

"It's ill singing the mavis' song but in the mavis' time," quoted Mrs.
Cameron, with a wise shake of the head, when Marjory came whistling
down the stairs to breakfast. "And half-past eight o' the clock on a
chill November morn in a white world is no the time for anything save
a sup o' hot porridge."

"I wasn't singing the mavis' song," she laughed; "it was the lark's,
and they always begin early." And her clear voice broke gaily into the
phrase, "And Ph[oe]bus 'gins to rise."

"Then it's ill singing on an empty stomach," persisted the old lady;
"and ill manners, too, to be sae blithe when ye are leaving us. What's
up wi' you, lassie?"

Marjory gave her a queer look. "Everything! it's going to be a fine
day for one thing."

"Wha kens? That's no a thing ye can say at half-past eight o' the
clock. Sing you the 'Flowers of the Forest,' my bairn; that's more o'
the truth in this world."

Her old, faded voice quavered over the first line, "I've seen the
morning, wi' gold the hills adorning," and Marjory's clear, young one
took up the song cheerfully, "And loud tempest storming before the mid
o' day." Then she paused mischievously. "That's a foolish version,
though; the old one is better: 'I've heard the lilting at our yowe
milking, Lassies a' lilting before the dawn o' day.' And dawn is
before half-past eight o' the clock, even in November."

Mrs. Cameron looked at her somewhat mollified, beating time with her
mittened fingers to the familiar rhythm.

"Weel! weel! One way or the t'ither it's the bonniest song ever sung
in this world, and I mind, when I was a lassie, thinkin' that my
jo--he wasna John, my dear,--sang it like the angels out o' heaven.
But there! commend me to a lassie that's in love wi' the most
ordinair' o' men for a blaspheemous sacrileegous creature, if he's
weel favoured, and that's the truth. There isn't one o' the cardinal
virtues, but she'll dig up--maybe from some ither decent man's kale
yard and plant it amang his weeds wi' a light heart. Aye! and watter
it wi' tears too when she finds it no thrivin'. It's the way o' women,
and she's happier when she gives up the gairdening and sets to rear
bairns instead."

"I wish Will could hear you admit that children are a comfort,"
laughed Marjory, from her porridge.

"And what's hindering him but sloth?" asked the old lady, rushing
eagerly to an old battle ground. "But there! was it not predicted as
the end o' a' things. Just a great Darkness as o' Night, and that is
what folks is coming to nowadays. It just beats me to roust the
hussies from their beds before six. And it's no from them bein'
hirelings a'together, for it's the same with the cottages. Where the
peat smoke used to go up wi' the mist wreaths at the earliest blink,
there's naething but an empty lum. Aye! and a cauld hearth! Not even a
gathering peat to keep the warmth o' home aboot the place. But there!
what could ye expec' wi' such names as they give the matches--Lucifers
and Damnstickers."

"My dear mother!" exclaimed Will, in horrified accents, as he lounged
in lazily.

"I'm no swearing, William," she retorted, with great dignity. "Tho'
maybe I hae a claim to be angry an' sin not, wi' a farmer son that
comes down to his breaking o' bread when the beasts have begun to chew
the cud."

"My dear mother!" quoth Will, good-naturedly. "You look after the
beasts, and my corn is all carried."

"Weel! weel! When I'm carried to me grave ye'll find the difference,
even if ye get a wife. Aye, aye! I ken fine what she'll be like--just
one o' the sort wi' a hump somewhere. I kenna whaur the fashion'll put
it then, since 'of that hour knoweth no man,' but it will be
somewheres, an' her hair will be as if a clucking hen had bin scrapin'
in't."

"I deny it; I deny it," laughed Will; "when I marry, I shall marry a
girl just like Marjory. Only she shall not be quite so tall, or so
clever, and shall be thinner, and less opinionated--more of my sort,
and----"

"And her hair shall be of a different colour," laughed Marjory, in her
turn; "I'm glad I don't leave you heartbroken--or anyone else,
either," she added, half to herself.

And as she passed through her little sitting-room, before starting on
her rendezvous with Paul, she paused for an instant before her letter
to Tom Kennedy, which still lay unfinished, as she had left it, and
looked down again on those last words. They were true still, and with
a sudden impulse she took up the pen to say so.

"Tom!" she wrote, "the problem is solved! Paul has come back to me,
and we are going to begin a new life together. Yet, I stretch out my
hands to you, dear, as I did before, and say 'Friendship is a bigger
thing than love!'"

Then she went gaily through the garden to pick a late carnation for
Paul's buttonhole, and as she picked it she sang the "Flowers o' the
Forest."


             "I've seen Tweed's silver streams,
              Glittering in the sunny beams,
              Grow drumly and dark as he row'd on his way."


The tune, with its haunting cadences, lingered in her mind, and more
than once fell from her lips, when with a light heart she faced the
ups and downs of the white road as it crept round the loch to where
the bridge, spanning the river, would enable her to strike across the
moss-hags to the alder-fringed bank above. And Paul would be on the
other side as he had been before. But he should not jump this time,
for that was one of the things she did not like; those things which
she was going to take out of his life and hers. The very thought,
indeed, of the risk of a slip made her shiver as she paused for a
moment on the bridge, and saw the yellow-brown flood, swollen with the
night's rain, rushing against the piers.

"Drumly and dark!" Drumly it was, yet scarcely dark. It ran too fast
for that, and up yonder, where she was to meet Paul, it would be a
mass of foam with yellow lights in it. A sort of syllabub of a river
pouring over the curved edge of the rock heavily. Not like water at
all, but like some drugged draught; falling not with a roar or a rush,
but with slow, deafening boom. The waters of Lethe might fall so, she
fancied. Well! Paul should run no risk of them to-day, for she was
before her time, and would be there to warn him. So thinking, she
clambered down to the water's edge, and seating herself on the only
level slab of rock, which projected slightly over the boiling pool
below, she faced the downward course of the river, certain thus of
seeing the first glimpse of her lover's tall figure above the bracken
which crested the almost perpendicular rocks on the other side.

"I've seen this morning." It was a most distracting tune! All the more
so because the words would follow Mrs. Cameron's sentimental lead,
instead of keeping to the old lament with the lilt of battle and
sudden death in it.


      "The flowers o' the forest that fought aye the foremost,
       The prime o' our land are cauld in the clay."


That was why they played it as a Dead March in the Highland regiments.
If Paul decided not to retire, it might be played at his funeral some
day. At Paul's funeral! The very thought seemed impossible; and yet
the girl's heart throbbed more with pride than fear. "That fought aye
the foremost." Yes! if she were a soldier's wife that was what a
soldier should do, even if she had to sit "drearie, lamenting her
dearie."

It was too bad, she told herself, for the tune to haunt her so, since
Paul would be coming soon now, and when they had first met her head
had not been full of the "Flowers of the Forest" and such things; she
had been reading one of Tom's letters. How foolish of her not to have
brought one to complete the illusion! unless, indeed, there were, by
chance, one in her pocket. Yes! a scrap of one, old enough to rouse
her curiosity and engross her attention as she smoothed it out and
began to read.

"To be disappointed in love! The phrase is arbitrarily bound up with
the state of celibacy. Wherefore, my dear Marjory? wherefore? If love,
as we once agreed, I think, is the touchstone of life, then marriage
appears to me to be the continual essay of love, where, alas! the gold
does not often reach the standard for hall marking; therefore it is
conceivably better to be continually in love and not to marry. I don't
know how it is, Mademoiselle Grands-serieux, but my philosophy
invariably ends in paradoxes of doubtful propriety--now, doesn't it?"

She looked up smiling, then rose to her feet quickly, for there was a
rustle behind her. Paul might have been there ahead of her after all,
and have gone up to look at the river. Yes! there was someone at the
head of the fall, where the solitary rowan tree leant above the
alder-bushes, for the branches swayed.

"Paul!" she cried across the boom of the river, "is that you? Come
down a bit; I'm here!"

"I'm coming, Miss Marjory, I'm coming," answered a childish voice;
"but it is the berries I'm getting for you first. It is the last I
will be getting you in Gleneira, I'm thinking, and they're real
beauties, whatever."

Great heavens! how reckless of the boy! yet, was not recklessness in
the blood? There he was, clinging to an overhanging branch; any
instant he might fall, and---- "Paul!" she cried quickly,
peremptorily; "come down at once. I don't want them."

She saw his bright, flushed face through the sparse yellowing leaves,
close to the bunch of red berries, clutched by the little brown hand.
So like that picture of his mother--so like--so like Paul, too!--her
Paul. Ah, God in heaven!

The child had slipped. "Hold tight, Paul! Hold tight!"

Vain cry! Almost before it was uttered the seething foam with the
sunny glints in it had stifled his swift scream.

Marjory made no sound. White, desperate, she leant over the slippery
edge of the shelf, clutched at something that seethed upwards for a
second, lost her balance, and was gone--in silence. The heavy foam
closed over her like a snow-drift with the sun on it, and all the help
the bravest heart could have given was the hope that unconsciousness
might come quickly through some kindly rock, and not in the slow agony
of suffocation.

It was all over in a minute, for Nature knows her own mind when she is
in the tragic mood. She allows no time for unavailing tears. When, not
a minute afterwards, Paul Macleod's cry of "Marjory! Marjory!" with
its ring of glad certainty, echoed over the pool, there was not a sign
to show that she would ever give answer to his call again.

"Marjory! Marjory! Marjory!"

Pitiful appeal, though he knew it not, not even when a vague wonder at
her tardiness clouded the careless joy which had come to him with this
dawn of a new day, a new life. For the night seemed to have stolen his
fears as fit companions for its shadows, and left him nothing but his
hopes.

"Marjory! Marjory! Marjory!"

Is there anything in the wide world so terrible as the slow dread
which comes as the minutes pass unavailingly by?--as the certainty
that something has gone amiss seems to grow from the very passion of
protestation against the possibility?--and then, when fear has gone,
and unknown grief is the companion of the fruitless search, in which a
wild hope will spring up sometimes to intensify the pain? Of such
things all men may surely pray that fancy, and not memory, may speak.

It was Tom Kennedy's letter--lighter than the love which had penned
it--that gave the first clue, and the hope went out from Paul
Macleod's face for ever when his quick eye found it like a foam bubble
in a backwater near the ford.

"It will be in the Long Pool we must be looking," whispered the rough,
tender voices to each other, but Paul heard. Paul knew, Paul
understood what would come--if not that night, then the next day--or
the next.

But Fate was merciful, and did not prolong the agony.

"Don't look, laird! Oh, my dear! you that I carried in my arms as a
laddie--don't look," sobbed old Macpherson, as, with the first streak
of the following dawn, the men who had been working all the night long
bent over the oil-strewn, torch-lit depth through which the grapnel
came up, slowly, heavily.

But Paul was no coward. He had looked death steadily in the face many
and many a time.

"Stand back, John!" he said quietly. "I'll lift her in."

And as he held her there in his arms while they drifted down stream a
space to a shelving grassy bank, he bent over her calm face, and
thanked "whatever gods there be," passionately, for the gift of that
sharp cut just showing beneath the damp curls through which some
friendly rock had brought a quick end to life. As he looked up again,
the dawn was out-paling the stars, and the birds in the alder-bushes
were stirring into song.

"What day is it?" he asked, drearily, of old John; and that sudden
forgetfulness was the only sign he showed at the time of the terrible
shock he had sustained. Yet none who noticed it could ever forget the
look which came to his face, when, guided by the clue given by the
child's cap still clenched in the girl's hand, a further search ended
in the discovery of little Paul's body, and Marjory's lover realised
that she must have lost her life in the effort to save his namesake.
Indeed, in after years, old John, telling the tale, would often say
that he never went in such fear of seeing murder done as when Mr.
Gillespie had suggested the touching propriety of burying the brave
girl and her little friend side by side. He had even taken the bunch
of rowan berries found in the boy's fingers from the girl's breast,
where they had laid them, as no doubt they had been intended to lie,
saying, in a sort of fury, that nothing of the child's should come
near her. But beyond that he made no sign.

And old John said true. Paul Macleod came back courteous and calm
among the many mourners who climbed one sunny afternoon to that sunny
spot on the southern slope of the hill, where Marjory had said the
light lingered longest. James Gillespie, his fair, florid face gaining
a dignity from his office, leading the way bareheaded, in his white
surplice, through the dead bracken and over the heathery slopes, while
his voice steadied itself over the words of consolation and hope. Tom
Kennedy, and Will, the laird, and Mr. Wilson--who, old as he was,
would not be gainsaid--carrying their dear dead, resting at times upon
some lichen-covered rock, or aided by other hands, tenderly,
sorrowfully, willing as theirs, falling for a time a step behind. All,
save Paul, who, setting even old John's offer of help aside, kept his
clasp tight upon the tough ash staff until, as they passed the
wishing-well on their downward way, he broke it across his knee
fiercely and flung the pieces on the dismal little pile. And then it
was that Father Macdonald, who, with sad, serene eyes, and softly
moving lips, had followed at a little distance, pleaded with the Great
Judge for another soul needing mercy.

And Paul came back courteous and calm also from that smaller, drearier
procession, which laid the new-found heir among his forbears in the
stone vault belonging to the Macleods, far over by Ardmore point, in
the old kirk-yard. Dr. Kennedy, knowing all the circumstances, would
fain have spared the empty honour to the dead boy, but all his
arguments in favour of silence were unavailing. So old Peggy's little
grandson rested under a broad, silver plate, proclaiming him to be the
only son of Ronald Alister Macleod, of Gleneira, and Janet Duncan, his
wife. The sleet showers were slanting bitterly; and the outgoing tide,
buffeting with the westerly wind, almost swamped the little white
coffin as it lay in the bottom of the "Tubhaneer," while Paul sate
steering for the point steadily, as if he were not chilled through to
the marrow of both body and soul.

It was the drenching he got, no doubt, as he stood alone, as chief
mourner, on the bare, wind-swept point, that made him look so ghastly.
He said so, at any rate, when Dr. Kennedy, noting his appearance with
professional eyes, recommended him to go to bed. It was Indian ague,
he said, nothing more; he was subject to it; had, in fact, had several
similar attacks at Gleneira.

So he retired, courteously, calmly as ever, to the Big House, where he
set aside all offers of companionship. And there, Dr. Kennedy, with
that look on Paul Macleod's handsome face haunting his professional
soul, sought him next morning on pretence of saying goodbye. But by
that time Paul was past anything save that odd, rhythmical tossing
from side to side of the restless head, which comes when the brain is
conscious of nothing but the fever raging in it.

Lord George came down at once, gentle as any woman, and surprised to
hear the long tale Dr. Kennedy had to tell, for Paul had only written
of the sad accident. And Lady George followed, with two plain, black
dresses and a little assortment of highly starched linen collars and
cuffs in her portmanteaux, ready at all points to take up the rôle of
nurse; though why a woman should nurse better in handcuffs, which
prevent all natural play of the wrist, and why a patient should be
supposed to like the dangling of starched cap-strings in his face, is
another matter.

And still the head tossed restlessly, and the parched lips went on
muttering, muttering. At the first, of many things faintly articulate;
many things, and of many places; then, by degrees, centring round one
time, one scene; finally emerging into a monotonous whisper--

"Violet! Violet! Violet!"

"I think we had better telegraph for Mrs. Vane," said Dr. Kennedy,
looking grave; "his mind has gone back to that time when she nursed
him through something similar. It is often so in brain cases, and we
cannot afford to lose a chance of saving him--sane. That previous
attack lessens the chance terribly."

She came, of course, without an instant's delay, as she would have
come to anyone who needed her extraordinary tact and care; and Dr.
Kennedy gave a sigh of relief when, stealing in for a look about dawn
on the next day, he found her seated on a stool beside the low camp
bed, one hand laid lightly on the sick man's breast, the other as
lightly keeping the ice bag on his forehead, while he lay still, quite
still.

"I used to do it before," she whispered, "and it seems to soothe
him--do you think it foolish?"

For Dr. Kennedy, with a smile, had looked round the room, wondering at
the woman's quick touch which had transformed it. A night-light
flickered from the floor in one corner, the curtains had gone and the
bed was shifted to the centre, so that the mingled light of waning
night and dawning day fell sideways on the patient, and he could have
seen--if he could have seen at all--the door set wide open to the long
corridor to which some of Peter Macpherson's orange trees, the scarlet
hibiscus, and a few hot-house plants gave the look of a verandah. A
faint scent from them filled the air, and the large, empty room,
almost devoid of furniture, had lost its snug English comfort
altogether.

"Foolish?" he echoed, going to the window, and looking out, absently.
"Who can say? The brain knows its own secrets. He seems to have
responded to the suggestion, and, for all we can tell, is ten years
younger to-day than he was yesterday."

"I wish he were! I wish he were." The whisper came so passionately,
that Dr. Kennedy turned and looked at her curiously, sadly.

"He is no worse, surely," she asked, rising softly, her hands seeming
to melt away, as it were, leaving the sick man unconscious of their
going. "Surely he is not worse?"

"No! I was only thinking it might be better for us all if his memory
stopped where it is now--if he could forget."

She clasped her hands together tightly. "If he could!--if only he
could forget--I would not care how much I remembered."



                              EPILOGUE.


It was once more autumn. The rowans were as red, the heather as
purple, as it had been in the year when Jeanie Duncan had sate for her
portrait and Marjory Carmichael had taken her holiday; as red, as
purple, as both will be until--


      "The slow sea rise and the sheer cliff crumble,
         Till terrace and meadow the deep gulfs drink,
       Till the strength of the waves of the high tides humble
         The fields that lessen, the rocks that shrink."


For Nature is supremely indifferent whether she gives birth to fools
or knaves, or whether the Great Reaper fills his sheaf with wheat or
tares.

The evening shadows were lengthening in the Glen, and from the little
school-house by the horse-chestnut tree the cadence of children's
voices rose and fell over the stirring measure of a processional hymn.

"Not so fast! not so fast! who told you to gallop it like that?" cried
a smartly dressed young woman at the harmonium; a young lady with that
curious resemblance to a commonplace book, which the profession of
teaching brings to all but clever faces.

"Miss Marjory was saying it should be gay-like," murmured a rebellious
voice among the elder scholars; the younger pausing with awed glances
at the only authority they had known.

"Then she was wrong," retorted the Reverend James Gillespie's owner.
"It should be stately and solemn as befits a--a hymn. Don't you agree
with me, James?"

"Perfectly, perfectly. The Bishop agrees also." His face beamed
unalloyed content; for he had read "dust to dust, ashes to ashes,"
over many a coffin since his voice broke down one November morning
some years ago, and the memory of one funeral scarcely troubles him
more than another; each and all have a place in that growing sense of
his sacerdotal position, which makes him greatly regret that in those
earlier days he did not wear a biretta when exercising his priestly
function in committing his flock to their graves.

And the evening shadows were lengthening also along the white road
that curves and crests the points and bays of the loch. A glint of
light where Paul had stood like St. Christopher, a deeper shadow where
Marjory had sate listening to the blabbing of the waves. Light and
shadow mingled in the woods, through which they had run hand in hand,
though with every moment the sunset glow left some golden birch or
scarlet cherry; and down among the tall, silver firs by the house a
faint white mist was beginning to rise over the trim lawns.

"It is growing chill, Paul!" said an anxious voice.

"To be continued in our next, Blazes; your aunt is inexorable!" The
tone was gracious as ever, but thinner, as Paul Macleod rose from his
lounge chair.

"But, Uncle Paul! How many runs did you make?" cried Blasius, eagerly.
It had been his first term at Harrow, and this tale he had been
hearing of past prowess in cricket was too interesting to be thus left
pointless.

"How many? I forget. Perhaps your aunt will remember----"

A little spasm of pain passed over Violet's face. "How lazy you are,
Paul! You will end by remembering nothing."

"Why should I remember when you do it so much better than I? It was a
good lot, Blasius, and I recollect being awfully proud at the time.
But these things slip by, somehow. When you are as old as I am----"

"You really ought to go in, Paul!" came that warning voice, with a
studied patience in it. "This is not the Riviera, remember."

"No, worse luck! I suppose it is the proper thing to come down here,
but it is an awful bore in some ways. Ah! there's George, back from
the hill--well, he likes it, that is one comfort."

Blanche stood at the jasmine-covered porch to welcome her husband, for
the advancing years had, as is so often the case, decided her final
selection of a part in favour of the devoted wife--the fact being that
she was becoming a trifle too matronly for most of the others, while
the growing independence of the children stood in the way of a
satisfactory rendering of the maternal one.

"Taking him in? That is right," she said approvingly, to her
sister-in-law, as Paul, on his wife's arm, paused to look at the birds
old John's son was laying out on the step. Old John himself, sturdy on
his legs as ever, but mindful of the dignity due to head keeperdom,
standing by. And then, not to be outdone, she turned to her husband.
"George! you ought not to dawdle about in wet feet. Please go in, too,
and change."

"Wet? My dear, the moors are as dry as a bone. Aren't they, John?"

"As dry as they will have been these fifty years, whatever," replied
the old man. "As dry as they would be that summer, Gleneira, when you
and----"

"Do come in, Paul!" came the anxious voice, again. "Look, how the mist
is rising----"

"By Jove! that's a fine young bird!" interrupted Paul, inconsequently,
with a flash of his old interest. "By the way, Violet, you might tell
the cook not to roast them to cinders as she did last night, and,
while I remember it, I wish you'd speak to Cunningham about that
horse----"

"Really, Paul!" said his sister; "I think you might give the grooms
their orders yourself."

He smiled kindly, and laid his other hand upon his wife's, as together
they went slowly to the smoking-room.

"I am afraid I give you a lot of trouble," he said apologetically, as
he held the door open for her to pass through--"but I have such a
wretched memory, and you are so kind."

"Don't say that, Paul! don't say that; what does it matter? I am quite
happy if you are."

She watched his face curiously, eagerly, almost passionately; but she
saw nothing save that easy, kindly smile.

Had her wish been fulfilled? and had he left memory behind in the
Valley of the Shadow, where he had left so much of the old Paul? She
could scarcely tell, for he never spoke of that one summer, but lived
his life as if it had not been.


                          *   *   *   *   *


But the light was lingering still on that steep slope, whence the
purple cloud of Iona could be seen lying like an amethyst on the
golden shield of the sea--for the sky was hung with blood-red pennants
as if the hosts of heaven were going forth to war.

And Tom Kennedy looked out over sea and sky from the gravestone which
told that Marjory Carmichael died in attempting to save the life of
Paul Macleod. There was a bunch of red rowans on the green grass. He
brings one every year when, his brief holiday over, he climbs over the
hill--as he did on the last day he saw her--on his way back to the
work-a-day world, and that hand-to-hand fight with Death in others
which will cease with his own.

His eyes are troubled, for it comes back to him every year as he sits
there that he might have saved her--if he had known.

Known what? A smile comes to his face as he takes out an old letter
and reads the last words she ever wrote to him, "Yet I stretch out my
hands to you and say, again and again, Friendship is a bigger thing
than Love!"

The mists are rising even there as he turns to breast the hill, the
cloud wreaths sweep solemnly in from the sea in stately curves, and as
he pauses on the summit for a last look downwards, lo! there is
nothing at all in earth, or sea, or sky, save himself and a grey,
encircling mist. Love and Friendship, Life and Death, Sunshine and
Shade! Where are they?



                               THE END.





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