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Title: Stand Fast, Craig-Royston! (Volume III)
Author: Black, William, 1841-1898
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Stand Fast, Craig-Royston! (Volume III)" ***

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(VOLUME III) ***



                       STAND FAST, CRAIG-ROYSTON!

                                A Novel


                                   BY

                             WILLIAM BLACK,

                               AUTHOR OF
             "A DAUGHTER OF HETH," "MACLEOD OF DARE," ETC.



                          _IN THREE VOLUMES._
                               VOL. III.



                                LONDON:
           SAMPSON LOW, MARSTON, SEARLE, & RIVINGTON, LIMITED
                          St. Dunstan’s House
                    FETTER LANE, FLEET STREET, E.C.
                                 1891.

                        [_All rights reserved._]



                                LONDON:
              PRINTED BY WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, LIMITED,
                   STAMFORD STREET AND CHARING CROSS.



                         CONTENTS OF VOL. III.

CHAPTER

      I. In Vain—in Vain
     II. Beyond Seas
    III. West and East
     IV. Enlightenment
      V. Marriage not a la Mode
     VI. A Split at Last
    VII. New Ways of Life
   VIII. In a Northern Village
     IX. A Babble o’ Green Fields: the End



                       STAND FAST, CRAIG-ROYSTON!



                               CHAPTER I.

                            IN VAIN—IN VAIN.


One evening Mr. Courtnay Fox, the London correspondent of the Edinburgh
_Chronicle_, was as usual in his own room in the office in Fleet-street,
when a card was brought to him.

"Show the gentleman up," said he to the boy.

A couple of seconds thereafter Vincent Harris made his appearance.

"Mr. Fox?" said he, inquiringly.

The heavy-built journalist did not rise to receive his visitor; he
merely said—

"Take a chair.  What can I do for you?"

"No, thanks," said Vincent, "I don’t wish to detain you more than a
moment.  I only wanted to see if you could give me any information about
Mr. George Bethune."

"Well, that would be only fair," said the big, ungainly man, with the
small, keen blue eyes glinting behind spectacles; "that would be only a
fair exchange, considering I remember how Mr. Bethune came down here one
night and asked for information about you."

Vincent looked astonished.

"And I was able," continued Mr. Fox, "to give him all the information he
cared for—namely, that you were the son of a very rich man.  I presume
that was all he wanted to know."

There was something in the tone of this speech—a familiarity bordering
on insolence—that Vincent angrily resented; but he was wise enough to
show nothing: his sole anxiety was to have news of Maisrie and her
grandfather; this man’s manner did not concern him much.

"I do not ask for information about Mr. Bethune himself; I dare say I
know him as well as most do," said he with perfect calmness.  "I only
wish to know where he is."

"I don’t know where he is," said the burly correspondent, examining the
stranger with his small shrewd eyes, "but I guarantee that, wherever he
is, he is living on the best.  Shooting stags in Scotland most likely—"

"They don’t shoot stags in December," said Vincent, briefly.

"Or careering down the Mediterranean in a yacht—gad, an auxiliary screw
would come in handy for the old man," continued Mr. Fox, grinning at his
own gay facetiousness; "anyhow, wherever he is, I’ll bet he’s enjoying
himself and living on the fat of the land.  Merry as a cricket—bawling
away at his Scotch songs: I suppose that was how he amused himself when
he was in Sing Sing—perhaps he learnt it there—"

"I thought you would probably know where he is," said Vincent, not
paying much heed to these little jocosities, "if he happened to be
sending in to you those articles on the Scotch ballads—"

"Articles on Scotch ballads!" said Mr. Fox, with a bit of a derisive
laugh.  "Yes, I know.  A collation of the various versions: a cold
collation, I should say, by the time he has got done with them. Why, my
dear sir, have you never heard of Professor Childs, of Harvard College?"

"I have heard of Professor Child," said Vincent.

"Well, well, well, well, what is the difference?" said the ponderous
correspondent, who rolled from side to side in his easy-chair as if he
were in a bath, and peered with his minute, twinkling eyes.  "And indeed
it matters little to me what kind of rubbish is pitchforked into the
_Weekly_.  If my boss cares to do that kind of thing, for the sake of a
’brother Scot,’ that’s his own look-out.  All I know is that not a scrap
of the cold collation has come here, or has appeared in the _Weekly_ as
yet; so there is no clue that way to the whereabouts of old Father
Christmas, old Santa Claus, the Wandering Scotch Jew—if that is what you
want."

"I am sorry to have troubled you," said Vincent, with his hand on the
door.

"Stop a bit," said Mr. Fox, in his blunt and rather impertinent fashion.
"You and I might chance to be of use to each other some day.  I like to
know the young men in politics.  If I can do you a good turn, you’ll
remember it; or rather you won’t remember it, but I can recall it to
you, when I want you to do me one.  Take a seat.  Let’s make a compact.
When you are in the House, you’ll want the judicious little paragraph
sent through the provinces now and again: I can manage all that for you.
Then you can give me an occasional tip: you’re in ——’s confidence,
people say—as much as any one can expect to be, that is. Won’t you take
a seat?—thanks, that will be better. I want to know you.  I’ve already
made one important acquaintanceship through your friend Mr. Bethune: it
was quite an event when the great George Morris condescended to visit
this humble office——"

"George Morris!" said Vincent.

"Perhaps you know him personally?" Mr. Fox said, and he went on in the
most easy and affable fashion: "I may say without boasting that I am
acquainted with most people—most people of any consequence: it is part
of my business.  But George Morris, somehow, I had never met.  You may
imagine, then, that when he came down here, to ask a few questions, I
was precious glad to be of such service as I could; for I said to myself
that here was just the man for me.  Take a great scandal, for
example—they do happen sometimes, don’t they?—even in this virtuous land
of England: very well—I go to George Morris—a hint from him—and there I
am first in the field: before the old mummies of the London press have
had time to open their eyes and stare."

Vincent had brought a chair from the side of the room, and was now
seated: there was only the table, littered with telegrams and proofs,
between those two.

"Did I understand you to say," he asked, with his eyes fixed on this
man, "that George Morris had come to you to make inquiries about Mr.
Bethune?"

"You understood aright."

"Who sent him?" demanded Vincent, abruptly—for there were strange
fancies and still darker suspicions flying through his head.

But Courtnay Fox smiled.

"George Morris, you may have heard, was not born yesterday.  His
business is to get out of you what he can, and to take care you get
nothing out of him.  It was not likely he would tell me why he came
making these inquiries—even if I had cared to ask, which I did not."

"You told him all you knew, of course, about Mr. Bethune?" Vincent went
on, with a certain cold austerity.

"I did."

"And how much more?"

"Ah, very good—very neat," the spacious-waisted journalist exclaimed
with a noisy laugh.  "Very good indeed.  But look here, Mr. Harris, if
the great solicitor was not born yesterday, you were—in a way; and so I
venture to ask you why you should take such an interest in Mr. Bethune’s
affairs?"

Vincent answered him without flinching.

"Because, amongst other things, certain lies have been put in
circulation about Mr. Bethune, and I wished to know where they arose.
Now I am beginning to guess."

For an instant Mr. Courtnay Fox seemed somewhat disconcerted; but he
betrayed no anger.

"Come, come," said he, with an affectation of good humour, "that is a
strong word.  Morris heard no lies from me, I can assure you.  Why,
don’t we all of us know who and what old George Bethune is!  He may
flourish and vapour successfully enough elsewhere; but he doesn’t impose
on Fleet-street; we know him too well.  And don’t imagine I have any
dislike towards your venerable friend; not the slightest; in fact, I
rather admire the jovial old mountebank.  You see, he doesn’t treat me
to too much of his Scotch _blague_; I’m not to the manner born; and he
knows it.  Oh, he’s skilful enough in adapting himself to his
surroundings—like a trout, that takes the colour of the pool he finds
himself in; and when he gets hold of a Scotchman, I am told his acting
of the rugged and manly independence of the Scot—of the Drury Lane Scot,
I mean—is splendid.  I wonder he doesn’t go and live in Edinburgh.  They
take things seriously there.  They might elevate him into a great
position—make a great writer of him—they’re in sore need of one or two;
and then every now and again he could step out of his cloud of
metaphysics, and fall on something.  That’s the way the Scotchmen get
hold of a subject; they don’t take it up as an ordinary Christian would;
they fall on it.  We once had an English poet called Milton; but Masson
fell on him, and crushed him, and didn’t even leave us an index by which
to identify the remains.  Old Bethune should go back to Scotland, and
become the Grand Lama of Edinburgh letters: it would be a more dignified
position than cadging about for a precarious living among us poor
southrons."

Vincent paid but small heed to all this farrago: he was busily thinking
how certain undoubted features and circumstances of old George Bethune’s
life might appear when viewed through the belittling and sardonic
scepticism of this man’s mind; and then again, having had that hue and
shape conferred upon them, how would they look when presented to the
professional judgment of such a person as Mr. George Morris?

"The Scotch are the very oddest people in all the world," Mr. Fox
continued, for he seemed to enjoy his own merry tirade.  "They’ll clasp
a stranger to their bosom, and share their last bawbee with him, if only
he can prove to them that he, too, was born within sight of
MacGillicuddy’s Reeks——"

"MacGillicuddy’s Reeks are in Ireland," said Vincent.

"Well, MacGillicuddy’s Breeks—no, that won’t do; they don’t wear such
things in the north.  Any unpronounceable place—any kind of puddle or
barren rock: to be born within sight of that means that you own
everything of honesty, and manliness, and worth that’s going—yes,
worth—worth is a sweet word—manly worth—it is the prerogative of persons
who have secured the greatest blessing on earth, that of being born
north of the Tweed.  Now, why doesn’t old George Bethune go away back
there; and wave his tartan plaid, and stamp, and howl balderdash, and
have monuments put up to him as the White-haired Bard of Glen-Toddy?
That surely would be better than hawking bogus books about London and
getting subscriptions for things that never appear; though he manages to
do pretty well.  Oh, yes, he does pretty well, one way and another.  The
cunning old cockroach—to take that girl around with him, and get her to
make eyes at tradesmen, so as to swindle them out of pounds of tea!"

But at this a sudden flame seemed to go through the young man’s
brain—and unhappily he had his stick quite close by.  In an instant he
was on his feet, his right hand grasping the cane, his left fixed in the
coat-collar of the luckless journalist, whose inert bulk he was
attempting to drag from the chair.

"You vile hound!" Vincent said with set teeth—and his nostrils were
dilated and his eyes afire, "I have allowed you to insult an old man—but
now—now you have gone too far.  Come out of that—and I will break every
bone in your body——!"

Down came the stick; but by a fortunate accident it caught on the back
of the chair, and the force of the blow sent it flying in two.

"For God’s sake—stop!" the other cried—but in a terrified whisper—and
his face was as white as death.  "What are you doing!—are you mad!—I beg
your pardon—can I do more?  I beg your pardon—for God’s sake, have a
little common sense!"

Vincent looked at the man: more abject cowardice he had never beheld
than was displayed in every trembling limb of his huge carcase, in every
feature of the blanched face.  He flung him from him—in disdain.

"Yes," said Mr. Fox, with a desperate effort at composure, and he even
tried to put his coat collar to rights, though his fingers were all
shaking, and himself panting and breathless.  "You—you may thank
me—for—for having saved you.  If—I had touched that bell—if I had called
out—you would have been ruined—ruined for life—a pretty story for —— to
hear—about his favourite protégé—increase your chances of getting into
Parliament, wouldn’t it?  Can’t you take a bit of a joke?—you’re not a
Scotchman!"

Vincent was still standing there, with louring brow.

"When you are busy with your jokes," said he, "I would advise you to
keep any friends of mine out of them—especially a girl who has no one to
defend her.  But I am glad I came here to-night. I begin to understand
in whose foul mind arose those distortions, and misrepresentations, and
lies. So it was to you George Morris came when he wanted to know about
Mr. Bethune and his granddaughter?  An excellent authority!  And it was
straight from you, I suppose, that George Morris went to my father with
his wonderful tale——"

"One moment," said Courtnay Fox—and he appeared to speak with a little
difficulty: perhaps he still felt the pressure of knuckles at his neck.
"Sit down.  I wish to explain.  Mind you, I could make this a bad
night’s work for you, if I chose. But I don’t, for reasons that you
would understand if you were a little older and had to earn your own
living, as I have.  It is my interest to make friends——"

"And an elegant way you have of making them," said Vincent, scornfully.

"——and I want to assure you that I never said anything to George Morris
about Mr. Bethune that was not quite well-known.  Nor had I the least
idea that Morris was going to your father; or that you had the least
interest or concern in the matter. As for a bit of chaff about Scotland:
who would mind that?  Many a time I’ve had it out with Mr. Bethune
himself in this very room; and do you suppose he cared?—his
grandiloquent patriotism soared far away above my little Cockney jests.
So I wish you to perceive that there was no enmity in the affair, no
intention to do harm, and no misrepresentation; and when you see that,
you will see also that you have put yourself in the wrong, and I hope
you will have the grace to apologise."

It was a most creditable effort to escape from a humiliating position
with some semblance of dignity.

"Apologise for what?" said Vincent, staring.

"Why, for your monstrous and outrageous conduct of this evening!"

—"I am to apologise?" said Vincent, with his brows growing dark again.
"You introduce into your scurrilous talk the name of a young lady who is
known to me—you speak of her in the most insulting and gratuitous
fashion—and—and I am to apologise!  Yes, I do apologise: I apologise for
having brought such a fool of a stick with me: I hope it will be a
heavier one if I hear you make use of such language again."

"Come, come, threats will not serve," said Mr. Fox—but he was clearly
nervous and apprehensive. "Wouldn’t it be better for you, now, to be a
little civil—and—and I could promise to send you Mr. Bethune’s address
if I hear of it?  Wouldn’t that be better—and more reasonable?  Yes, I
will—I promise to send you his address if it comes in any way to this
office—isn’t that more reasonable?"

"I thank you," said Vincent, with formal politeness; and with an equally
formal ’Good night’ the young man took his leave.  Mr. Courtnay Fox
instantly hid the broken portions of the cane (until he should have a
chance of burning them), and, ringing the bell, called in a loud and
manly voice for the latest telegrams.

So Vincent was once more thrown back on himself and his own resources.
During these past few days he had sought everywhere for the two lost
ones; and sought in vain.  First of all he had made sure they had left
Brighton; then he had come to London; and morning, noon, and night had
visited their accustomed haunts, without finding the least trace of
them.  He went from this restaurant to that; in the morning he walked
about the Parks; he called at the libraries where they were known; no
sign of them could be found anywhere.  And now, when he thought of
Maisrie, his heart was no longer angry and reproachful: nay, he grew to
think it was in some wild mood of self-sacrifice that she had resolved
to go away, and had persuaded her grandfather to take her.  She had got
some notion into her head that she was a degraded person; that his
friends suspected her; that no future as between him and her was
possible; that it was better they should see each other no more. He
remembered how she had drawn up her head in maidenly pride—in
indignation, almost: his relatives might be at peace: they had nothing
to fear from her.  And here was the little brooch—with its tiny white
dove, that was to rest on her bosom, as if bringing a message of love
and safety—all ready for her; but her place was empty; she had gone from
him, and perhaps for ever.  The very waiters in the restaurants, when he
went there all alone, ventured to express a little discreet surprise,
and make enquiries: he could say nothing.  He had the sandal-wood
necklace, to be sure; and sometimes he wore it over his heart; and on
the way home, through the dark thoroughfares, at times a faint touch of
the perfume reached his nostrils—but there was no Maisrie by his side.
And then again, a sudden, marvellous vision would come before him: of
Maisrie, her hair blown by the winds, her eyes piteous and full of
tears, her eyebrows and lashes wet with the flying spray; and she would
say ’Kiss me, Vincent, kiss me!’ as if she had already resolved to go,
and knew that this was to be a last, despairing farewell.

The days passed; and ever he continued his diligent search, for he knew
that these two had but little money, and guessed that they had not
departed on any far travel, especially at this time of the year.  He
went down to Scotland, and made enquiries among the Edinburgh newspaper
offices—without avail.  He advertised in several of the London daily
journals: there was no reply.  He told the head-waiter at the Restaurant
Mentavisti, that if Mr. Bethune and his granddaughter—who were
well-known to all in the place—should make their appearance any evening,
and if he, the headwaiter, could manage to send some one to follow them
home and ascertain their address, that would mean a couple of sovereigns
in his pocket; but the opportunity never presented itself.  And
meanwhile this young man, taking no care of himself, and fretting from
morning till evening, and often all the sleepless night through as well,
was gradually losing his colour, and becoming like the ghost of his own
natural self.

Christmas came.  Harland Harris and Vincent went down to pass the
holidays with Mrs. Ellison, at Brighton; and for the same purpose Lord
Musselburgh returned to the Bedford Hotel.  The four of them dined
together on Christmas evening. It was not a very boisterous party,
considering that the pragmatical and pedantic voice of the man of wealth
was heard discoursing on such light and fanciful themes as the payment
of returning officers’ expenses, the equalisation of the death duties,
and the establishment of state-assisted intermediate schools; but
Musselburgh threw in a little jest now and again, to mitigate the
ponderosity of the harangue.  Vincent was almost silent.  Since coming
down from London, he had not said a single word to any one of them about
Mr. Bethune or his granddaughter: no doubt they would have told him—and
perhaps rejoiced to tell him—that he had been betrayed.  But Mrs.
Ellison, sitting there, and watching more than listening, was concerned
about the looks of her boy, as she called him; and before she left the
table, she took up her glass, and said—

"I am going to ask you two gentlemen to drink a toast—and it is the
health of the coming member for Mendover.  And I’m going to ask him to
pull himself together, and show some good spirits; for there’s nothing a
constituency likes so much as a merry and good-humoured candidate."

It was clear moonlight that night: Vin’s room faced the sea.  Hour after
hour he sate at the window, looking on the wide, grey plain and the
faint blue-grey skies; and getting no good of either; for the
far-searching doves of his thoughts came back to him without a twig of
hope in their bill. The whole world seemed empty—and silent.  He began
to recall the time in which he used to think—or to fear—that some day a
vast and solitary sea would come between Maisrie and himself; it was
something he had dreamed or imagined; but this was altogether different
now—this blank ignorance of where she might be was a far more terrible
thing. He went over the different places he had heard her mention—Omaha,
Chicago, Boston, Toronto, Montreal, Quebec: they only seemed to make the
world the wider—to remove her further away from him, and interpose a
veil between.  She had vanished like a vision; and yet it was but the
other day that he had found her clinging tight to his arm, her beautiful
brown hair blown wet about her face, her eyes with love shining through
her tears, her lips—when he kissed them—salt with the flying spray. And
no longer—after that first and sudden outburst of indignant wrath—did he
accuse her of any faithlessness or treachery: rather it was himself whom
he reproached.  Had he not promised, at the very moment when she had
made her maiden confession to him, and spoken to him as a girl speaks
once only in her life, had he not promised that always and always he
would say to himself ’Wherever Maisrie is—wherever she may be—she loves
me, and is thinking of me?’  This was the Mizpah set up between those
two; and he had vowed his vow. What her going away might mean he could
not tell; but at all events it was not permitted him to doubt—he dared
not doubt—her love.

As for these repeated allegations that old George Bethune was nothing
less than a mendicant impostor, what did that matter to him?  Even if
these charges could be substantiated, how was that to affect Maisrie or
himself?  No association could sully that pure soul.  Perhaps it was the
case that Mr. Bethune was not over-scrupulous and careful about money
matters; many otherwise excellent persons had been of like habit.  The
band of private inquiry agents had amongst them discovered that the old
man had allowed Vincent to pay the bill at the various restaurants they
frequented.  Well, that was true.  Among the vague insinuations and
assumptions that had been pieced together to form an indictment, here
was one bit of solid fact.  And what of it?  Of what importance were
those few trumpery shillings?  It was of little moment which paid: here
was an arrangement, become a habit, that had a certain convenience.  And
Vincent was proud to set against that, or against any conclusions that
might be drawn from that, the incident of old George Bethune’s stopping
the poor woman in Hyde Park, and handing over to her all he
possessed—sovereigns, shillings, and pence—so that he did not even leave
himself the wherewithal to buy a biscuit for his mid-day meal.  Perhaps
there were more sides to George Bethune’s character than were likely to
occur to the imagination of Messrs. Harland Harris, Morris, and Company?

The white moon sailed slowly over to the west; the house was still; the
night outside silent; but there was no peace for him at all.  If only he
could get to see Maisrie—for the briefest moment—that he might demand
the reason of her sudden flight! Was it some over-strung sensitiveness
of spirit? Did she fear that no one would understand this carelessness
of her grandfather about money-matters; and that she might be suspected
of complicity, of acquiescence, in certain doubtful ways? Was that the
cause of her strange sadness, her resignation, her hopelessness?  Was
that why she had spoken of her ’degradation’—why she had declared she
could never be his wife—why she had begged him piteously to go away, and
leave this bygone friendship to be a memory and nothing more?  ’Can you
not understand, Vincent!’ she had said to him, in heart-breaking
accents, as though she could not bring herself to the brutality of
plainer speech.  Well, he understood this at all events: that in
whatever circumstances Maisrie Bethune may have been placed, no
contamination had touched _her_; white as the white moonlight out there
was that pure soul; he had read her eyes.

The next morning Lord Musselburgh was out walking in the King’s Road
with the fair young widow who hoped soon to be re-transformed into a
wife.

"That friend of yours down at Mendover," said she,—"what is his
name?—Gosford?—well, he seems an unconscionable time dying.  I wish he’d
hurry up with his Chiltern Hundreds and put an end to himself at once.
That is what is wanted for Vin—the novelty and excitement of finding
himself in the House of Commons.  Supposing Mr. Gosford were to resign
at once, how soon could Vin be returned?  There’s some procedure, isn’t
there?—the High Sheriff or somebody, issues a writ, or something——?"

"I really cannot say," her companion answered blandly.  "I belong to a
sphere in which such violent convulsions are unknown."

"At all events, Parliament will meet about the middle of February?" she
demanded.

"I presume so," was the careless answer.

"I wish the middle of February were here now, and Vin all securely
returned," said she.  "I suppose that even in the case of a small
borough like Mendover, one’s constituents can keep one pretty busy?
They will watch how you vote, won’t they?—and remonstrate when you go
wrong; and pass resolutions; and expect you to go down and be
cross-examined.  Then there are always public meetings to be addressed;
and petitions to be presented; and people wanting admission to the
Speaker’s Gallery——"

"Why, really, Madge, there’s a sort of furious activity about you this
morning," said he.  "You quite take one’s breath away.  I shouldn’t be
surprised to see you on a platform yourself."

"It’s all for Vin’s sake I am so anxious," she exclaimed.  "I can see
how miserable and sad the poor boy is—though he bears it so
bravely—never a word to one of us, lest we should ask him if he believes
in those people now.  I wonder if he can. I wonder if he was so blinded
that even now he will shut his eyes to their true character?"

"They are quite gone away, then?" her companion asked.

"Oh, yes," she made answer.  "I hope so. Indeed, I know they are.  And
on the whole it was opportune, just as this election was coming on; for
now, if ever, Vin will have a chance of throwing off an infatuation that
seemed likely to be his ruin, and of beginning that career of which we
all hope such great things."

She glanced round, cautiously; and lowered her voice.

"But, oh, my goodness, if ever he should find out the means we took to
persuade them to go, there will be the very mischief to pay: he will
tear us to pieces!  You know how impetuous and proud he is; and then
those people have appealed to him in a curious way—their
loneliness—their poverty—and their——  Yes, I will admit it—certain
personal qualities and characteristics.  I don’t deny it; any more than
I would deny that the girl was extremely pretty, and the old man
picturesque, and even well-mannered and dignified in his way. All the
more dangerous—the pair of them.  Well, now they are gone, I breathe
more freely.  While they were here, no argument was of any avail.  Vin
looked into the girl’s appealing face—and everything was refuted.  And
at all events we can say this to our own conscience—that we have done
them no harm.  We are not mediæval tyrants; we have not flung the
venerable patriot and the innocent maiden into a dungeon, to say nothing
of breaking their bones on a rack.  The venerable patriot and the
innocent maiden, I have no doubt, consider themselves remarkably well
off.  And that reminds me that Harland Harris, although he is of opinion
that all property should be under social control——"

"Not all property, my dear Madge," said Lord Musselburgh, politely.  "He
would say that all property should be under social control—except his
property."

"At all events, it seems to me that he occasionally finds it pretty
convenient to have plenty of money at his own individual command.  Why,
for him to denounce the accumulation of capital," she continued, with a
pretty scorn, "when no one makes more ostentatious use of the power of
money!  Is there a single thing he denies himself—one single thing that
is only possible to him through his being a man of great wealth?  I
shouldn’t wonder if, when he dies, he leaves instructions to have the
electric light turned on into his coffin, just in case he should wake up
and want to press the knob."

"Come, come, Madge," said Musselburgh.  "Be generous.  A man cannot
always practice what he preaches.  You must grant him the privilege of
sighing for an ideal."

"Harland Harris sighing for an ideal," said Mrs. Ellison, with something
of feminine spite, "would make a capital subject for an imaginative
picture by Watts—if my dear brother-in-law weren’t rather stout, and
wore a black frock-coat."

Meanwhile, Vincent returned to London, and renewed his solitary search;
it was the only thing he felt fit for; all other employments had no
meaning for him, were impossible.  But, as day by day passed, he became
more and more convinced that they must have left London: he knew their
familiar haunts so well, and their habits, that he was certain he must
have encountered them somewhere if they were still within the great
city.  And here was the New Year drawing nigh, when friends far
separated recalled themselves to each other’s memory, with hopes and
good wishes for the coming time.  It seemed to him that he would not
have felt this loneliness so much, if only he had known that Maisrie was
in this or that definite place—in Madrid—in Venice—in Rome—or even in
some huge steamship ploughing its way across the wide Atlantic.

But a startling surprise was at hand.  About half-past ten on the last
night of the old year a note was brought upstairs to him by a servant.
His face grew suddenly pale when he saw the handwriting, which he
instantly recognised.

"Who brought this?" he said, breathlessly.

"A man, sir."

"Is he waiting?"

"No, sir; he said there was no answer."

"What sort of man?" asked Vincent, with the same rapidity—and not yet
daring to open the letter.

"A—a common sort of man, sir."

"Very well—you needn’t wait."

The moment that the servant had retired, Vincent tore open the envelope;
and the first thing that he noticed, with a sudden sinking of the heart,
was that there was no address at the head of the letter. It ran thus—the
handwriting being a little tremulous here and there—


’DEAR VINCENT,

When you receive this, we shall be far away; but I have arranged that
you shall get it just before the New Year, and it brings my heart-felt
wishes for your happiness, as well as the good-bye that I cannot say to
you personally now.  What I foresaw has come to pass; and it will be
better for all of us, I think; though it is not with a very light heart
that I write these few lines to you. Sometimes I wish that we had never
met each other; and then again I should never have known all your
kindness to me and to my grandfather, which will always be something to
look back upon; and also the companionship we had for a time, which was
so pleasant—you would understand how pleasant to me, if you had known
what had gone before, and what is now likely to come after.  But do not
think I repine: more has been done for me than ever I can repay; and as
I am the only one to whom my grandfather can look now for help and
sympathy, I should be ungrateful indeed if I grudged it.

Forgive me, dear friend, if I speak so much of myself; my thoughts are
far more often concerned about you than with anything that can happen to
me.  And I know that this step we are taking, though it may pain you for
a little while, will be salutary in the end.  You have a great future
before you; your friends expect much of you; you owe it to yourself not
to disappoint them.  And after a little while, you will be able to go
back to the places where we used to go; and there will be nothing but
friendly recollections of pleasant evenings; and I am sure nothing need
ever come between us (as you feared) I mean in the way of having kind
thoughts of each other, always and always; and when you marry no one
will more heartily wish you every happiness and blessing than I shall.
This is to be my last letter to you; I have promised.  I wish I could
make it convey to you all I think; but you will understand, dear
Vincent, that there is more in it than appears in these stiff and cold
words.  And another kindness I must beg of you, dear friend, before
saying good-bye—and farewell—it is this, Would you try to forget a
_little_ of what I said to you that morning on the pier?  If you thought
anything I said was a little more than a girl should have confessed,
would you try to forget it, dear Vincent?  I was rather miserable—I
foresaw we should have to say good-bye to each other, when you would not
see it, for you were always so full of courage and confidence; and
perhaps I told you more than I should have done—and you will try to
forgot that.  I don’t want you to forget it _all_, dear Vincent; only
what you think was said too frankly—or hurriedly—at such a moment.

And now, dearest friend, this is good-bye; and it is good-bye for ever,
as between you and me.  I will pray for your happiness always.

MAISRIE.

P.S.—There was one thing I said to you that you _promised_ you would not
forget.

M.’


Was he likely to forget it, or any single word she had uttered, on that
wild, wind-tossed morning? But in the meantime the immediate question
was—How and whence had this letter come?  For one thing, it had been
brought by hand; so there was no post-mark.  Who, then, had been the
messenger? How had he come to be employed?  What might he not know of
Maisrie’s whereabouts?  Was there a chance of finding a clue to Maisrie,
after all, and just as the glad New Year was coming in?

It was barely eleven o’clock.  He went down into the hall, whipped on
overcoat and hat, and the next moment was striding away towards Mayfair;
he judged, and judged rightly, that a boon companion and poet was not
likely to be early abed on such a night.  When he reached the
lodging-house in the little thoroughfare off Park-street, he could hear
singing going forward in the subterranean kitchen: nay, he could make
out the raucous chorus—

      _Says Wolseley, says he,_
      _To Arabi,_
    _You can fight other chaps, but you can’t fight me._


He rapped at the door; the landlady’s daughter answered the summons; she
showed him into a room, and then went below for her father.  Presently
Mr. Hobson appeared—quite creditably sober, considering the occasion.

"Did you bring a note down to me to-night, Hobson?" was the young man’s
first question.

"I did, sir."

His heart leapt up joyously: his swift surmise had been correct.

"And has Miss Bethune been here recently?" he asked, with the greatest
eagerness.

"No, no, sir," said Hobson, shaking his head. "That was giv me when they
was going away, and says she, ’Hobson,’ says she, ’I can trust you; and
there’s never a word to be said about this letter—not to hany one
whatever; and the night afore New Year’s Day you’ll take it down
yourself, and leave it for Mr. Harris.’  Which I did, sir; though not
waitin,’ as I thought there wasn’t a answer; and ope there’s nothing
wrong, sir."

Vincent was standing in the middle of the room—not listening.

"You have heard or seen nothing, then, of Mr. Bethune or of Miss
Bethune, since they left?" he asked, absently.

"Nothing, sir—honly that I took notice of some advertisements, sir, in
the papers—"

"I know about those," said Vincent.

So once more, as on many and many a recent occasion, his
swiftly-blossoming hopes had been suddenly blighted; and there was
nothing for him but to wander idly and pensively away back to Grosvenor
Place.  The New Year found him in his own room—with Maisrie’s letter
before him; while, with rather a careworn look on his face he studied
every line and phrase of her last message to him.

But the New Year had something else in store for him besides that.  He
was returned, unopposed, for the borough of Mendover.  And about the
first thing that his constituents heard, after the election, was that
their new member proposed to pay a visit to the United States and
Canada, and that at present no date had been fixed for his coming back.



                              CHAPTER II.

                              BEYOND SEAS.


Out here on the deck of this great White Star Liner—with the yellow
waters of the Mersey lapping in the sunlight, and a brisk breeze
blowing, and the curious excitement of departure thrilling through all
the heterogeneous crowd of passengers—here something of hope came to him
at last. This was better than haunting lonely restaurants, or walking
through solitary streets; he seemed to know that Maisrie was no longer
in the land he was leaving; she had fled away across the ocean—gone back
to the home, to some one of the various homes, of her childhood and
girlhood.  And although it appeared a mad thing that a young man should
set out to explore so vast a continent in search of his lost love, it
was not at all the impossible task it looked.  He had made certain
calculations. Newspaper offices are excellent centres of intelligence;
and Scotch-American newspaper offices would still further limit the
sphere of his inquiries.  He had dreamed of a wide and sorrowful sea
lying between him and her; but instead of that imaginary and impassable
sea, why, there was only the familiar Atlantic, that nowadays you can
cross in less than a week.  And when he had found her, and seized her
two hands fast, he would reproach her—oh, yes, he would reproach
her—though perhaps there might be more of gladness than of anger in his
tones....  ’Ah, false love—traitress—coward heart—that ran away!  What
Quixotic self-sacrifice was it, then, that impelled you?—what fear of
relatives?—what fire of wounded pride?  No matter now: you are caught
and held.  You gave yourself to me; you cannot take yourself away again;
nor shall any other.  No more sudden disappearances—no more trembling
notes of farewell—while I have you by the hand!’

The last good-byes had been called by the people crowded on the deck of
the tender, the great ship was cautiously creeping down the stream, and
the passengers, having done with the waving of handkerchiefs (and here
and there a furtive drying of eyes) set about preparing for the
voyage—securing their places at table, investigating their cabins, and
getting their things unpacked.  These occupations kept most of them in
their state-rooms until close on dinner-time, so that they had not much
chance of examining each other; but it is wonderful how rumour runs in a
ship—especially if the Purser be a cheerful and communicative sort of
person; and so it was that when all were assembled in the long and
gorgeous saloon, two things had already become known; first, that the
tall and handsome young Englishman who seemed to have no companion or
acquaintance on board was the newly-elected member for Mendover; and
second, that the extremely pretty woman who had the seat of honour at
the Captain’s table was a Mrs. de Lara, a South American, as might have
been guessed from her complexion, her eyes, and hair.  It appeared to be
a foregone conclusion that Mrs. de Lara was to be the belle of the ship
on this voyage; such things are very soon settled; perhaps one or two of
the commercial gentlemen may have crossed with her before, and seen her
exercise her sway.  As for Vin Harris, his unopposed return for such an
insignificant place as Mendover would not have secured much notice
throughout the country had it not been that, immediately after the
election, the great —— had been kind enough to write to the new member a
charming note of congratulation, which, of course, had to be published.
It was a significant pat on the back, of which any young man might very
well have been proud; and Mrs. Ellison bought innumerable copies of that
morning’s newspapers, and cut the letter out, and sent it round to her
friends, lest they should not have seen it.  Mr. Ogden was also so
condescending as to send a similar message—but that was not published.

Now during the first evening on board ship, strangers mostly remain
strangers to each other; but next morning things become
different—especially if the weather be fine, and everyone is on deck.
Small courtesies are tendered and accepted; people get introduced, or
introduce each other, on the smallest pretence—except the old stagers,
the wary ones, who hang aloof, in order to pick and choose.  As for
Vincent, he was well content with his own society, varied by an
occasional chat with the Purser, when that ubiquitous official could
spare a few moments.  He was not anxious to make acquaintances.  His
thoughts were far ahead. He saw—not the thin, blue line of the Irish
coast that actually was visible on the horizon—but the shallow waters at
Sandy Hook, the broad bay, the long dusky belt of the city, with its
innumerable spires jutting up into the white sky.  He was wondering how
long ago it was since Maisrie and her grandfather had crossed the
Newfoundland Banks: it was a long start, but he would overtake them yet.
Perhaps, when he was down in the big and busy town, making his inquiries
from one newspaper-office to another he might suddenly find himself face
to face with the splendid old man, and the beautiful, pensive-eyed
girl....  ’Ah, Maisrie, you thought you would escape?—but I have you
now—never to let you go again!  And if you would rather not return to
England—if your pride has been wounded—if you are indignant at what has
been said or suspected of you and your grandfather—well, then, I will
remain with you here!  My love is more to me than my home: we will fight
the world together—the three of us together: remaining here, if that
pleases you better—only, no further thought of separation between you
and me!’

On this brisk and bracing morning he was leaning idly with his elbows on
the rail, and looking towards the distant line of the Irish coast that
was slowly becoming more definite in form, when Mr. Purser Collins came
up to him.

"There’s a very charming lady would like to make your acquaintance,"
said the officer.  "Will you come with me, and I will introduce you?"

"Oh, very well," Vincent said, but with no great eagerness.  "Tell me
her name now that I may make sure of it."

"You are favoured—Mrs. de Lara."

"Oh, really," he said, indifferently.  "She seems to me to have had half
the men on the ship fetching and carrying for her all the morning."

And indeed, when he followed the Purser in order to be introduced to
this lady, he found her pretty well surrounded by assiduous gentlemen;
and ’if you please—if you please,’ Mr. Collins had to keep repeating,
before he could bring the new comer into the august presence.  Mrs. de
Lara—who, on closer inspection, turned out to be quite a young woman,
with a pale, clear, olive complexion, softly-lustrous dark eyes that
could say a good deal, a pretty smile and dimple, and magnificent
hair—received him very graciously; and at once, and completely, and
without the slightest compunction, proceeded to ignore the bystanders
who had been so officiously kind to her.  Of course their conversation
was at first the usual nothings.  Wonderful weather. Might be midsummer,
but for the cold wind. Captain been on the bridge ever since Liverpool,
poor man; get some rest after leaving Queenstown. Was she a good
sailor?—Some ladies remained in their berths all the way over.  Dry
champagne, and plenty of it, the only safe-guard?  Crossed many times?
And so forth.  But at length she said—

"Couldn’t you find a chair, and bring it along?"

Now the assiduous gentlemen had managed to find a very snug corner for
Mrs. de Lara, where there was just room for two deck chairs—her own and
that of her companion and friend, Miss Martinez; and Vincent, being
rather shy, had no intention of jamming himself into this nook.  He made
some little excuse—and remained standing with the others: whereupon Mrs.
de Lara said to her companion—

"Isabel, will you go and see that the letters I left in my cabin are all
properly stamped and put in the post-bag for Queenstown.  Thank you,
dear!"

Then, the moment her faithful friend was gone, she said, with something
of a French manner—

"Here is a seat for you: come, tell me what the news of the ship is!"

Vincent could not very well refuse; though the result of her open
preference and selection was that her other obsequious admirers fell
away one by one, under some pretence of playing rope-quoits or
shovel-board: so that, eventually, he and she were left alone together,
for Miss Martinez did not return.

"Now," said the young grass-widow, whose very pretty chin was cushioned
on abundant furs, "I am going to make you happy.  But first of all I
must tell you—you are in love."

"Oh, really?" said Vincent.

"Ah, yes, yes, yes," she said, with a charming insistence.  "I have
watched you.  I know.  You keep apart; you look far away; you speak to
no one.  And then I said to myself that I would make you happy.  How?
By asking you to tell me all about her."

Whereupon Vincent said to himself, ’You’re a very impertinent
woman—although you’ve got pretty eyes.’  And again he said, ’But after
all you are a woman; and perhaps from you I may learn something more
about Maisrie.’  So he said aloud—

"The deck of a steamer is hardly the place for secrets."

"Why not?" she protested.  "Besides, it is no secret—to anyone with
eyes.  Come, tell me all about her—and be happy!  I wish to interest
you; I wish you to interest me; and so let us talk about the only thing
that is worth talking about—that is, love.  No, there are two things,
perhaps—love, and money; but love is so full of surprises; it is the
perpetual miracle that no one can understand; it is such a wonderful,
unexpected, desperate kind of thing, that it will always be the most
interesting. Now!"

"Well," said he—for there was something catching in the mad audacity of
this young matron—"it must be secret for secret.  My story for yours!"

She laughed long and heartily—until her merriment brought tears to her
eyes.

"Why, I’m an old married woman!" she exclaimed.  "Ah, I see what your
bargain means. You only want to put me off.  You think the time and
place are not romantic enough; some night—out in mid-Atlantic—with
perhaps a moon—and you’ll be more communicative, when you forsake the
smoking-room for half-an-hour, and send me a little message to meet you.
Very well. Perhaps there are too many people tramping up and down.
Shall we have a tramp too?  Sitting still so stiffens one.  There—can
you pull off the rugs, do you think?  They’ve swathed me up like a
mummy.  Now give me your arm; and mind you don’t let me go flying—I’m
never steady on my feet for the first day or two."

Well, he found the grass-widow a most charming companion—bright,
loquacious, and happy, until, indeed, they steamed into the entrance to
Cork Harbour.  Here, as most of the passengers were going on board the
tender, for a scamper ashore, while the ship waited for the mails to
arrive, Mrs. de Lara began to look a little wistful.  All of a sudden it
occurred to him that he ought, if only in common gratitude for her
marked condescension, to ask her if she would care to go also.

"Oh—Mrs. de Lara," said he, "wouldn’t you like to go ashore, and have a
look round Queenstown?"

Her face lighted up in an instant; but there was a curious, amused
expression in her eyes.

"I couldn’t go alone with you, you know," said she.

"Why not?" said he.

She did not answer that question.

"If you like to ask Miss Martinez as well as myself," she continued,
"I’m sure we should be delighted—and it would be very kind of you."

"Of course I will!" he said—and at once he went off in search of the
needful companion.  A few minutes thereafter the three of them were on
board the tender, along with the rest of this crowd of eager, chattering
passengers.

And a very pleasant visit it was they paid to the picturesque
watering-place and its wide-stretching bay.  First of all he took his
two guests to a hotel, and gave them an excellent lunch, at which Mrs.
de Lara made merry like an enfranchised schoolgirl; then he got an open
carriage, and they were driven all about the place; and he bought them
such fruit and flowers as he could find, until they were quite laden by
the time they got back to the tender.  They were in plenty of time; the
mails were late.  When they eventually returned on board the steamer,
Vincent was on the whole very well pleased with that little excursion;
only he hoped that the new acquaintanceship that had been formed had not
been too conspicuously displayed, for people are given to talking during
the _longueurs_ of an Atlantic voyage.

And indeed it very soon appeared that after this little adventure ashore
Mrs. de Lara meant to claim him as her own.  When she came on deck for
the usual promenade before dinner, she sent for him (though there were
plenty of gentlemen only too anxious to wait on her), and she took his
arm during that perfunctory march up and down.  Then she said to him—

"Would you think me very rude if I asked you to come and sit at our
table?  The fact is, I want somebody to be good to me, and to look after
me; and the Captain, although he is a most delightful man when he
happens to be there, is nearly always away, on duty, no doubt.  I hate
sitting next an empty chair—that throws me on to Miss Martinez and she
and I have exhausted all our subjects long ago.  You’ve no particular
friend, have you?  Come to our table!"

"But I couldn’t think of turning anybody out!" he protested.

"Oh, that’s all right!" she made answer, cheerfully enough.  "Miss
Martinez will get a place somewhere else—Mr. Collins will arrange that—I
dare say she will be rather pleased to be set free."

And so it came to pass that at dinner Vincent found himself in the seat
that had been vacated by the useful Isabel; and perhaps his promotion
provoked a few underhand comments and significant glances at certain of
the other tables, for very small trifles are noted on board ship.  At
all events he only knew that Mrs. de Lara was as engaging, and
complaisant, and loquacious as ever; and that she talked away with very
little regard as to who might overhear her.  Nor was she any longer the
merry, rattle-pated creature of the Queenstown hotel.  Oh, no.  Her
conversation now was of a quite superior order.  It was literary; and
she had caught up plenty of the phrases of the rococo school; she could
talk as well as another of environments, conditions, the principal note,
style charged with colour, and the like.  Nay, she adventured upon an
epigram now and again—or, at least, something that sounded like an
epigram.  "England," she said, "was a shop; France a stage; Germany a
camp; and the United States a caucus."  And again she said, "There are
three human beings whom I wish to meet with before I die: a pretty
Frenchwoman, a modest American, and an honest Greek.  But I am losing
hope."  And then there was a tirade against affectation in writing.
"Why should the man thrust himself upon me?" she demanded.  "I don’t
want to know him at all.  I want him to report honestly and simply what
he has seen of the world and of human nature, and I am willing to be
talked to, and I am willing to believe; but when he begins to posture
and play tricks, then I become resentful. Why should he intrude his own
personality at all?—he was never introduced to me; I have no wish for
his acquaintance.  So long as he expresses an honest opinion, good and
well; I am willing to listen; but when he begins to interpose his clever
little tricks and grimaces, then I say, ’Get away, mountebank—and get a
red-hot poker ready for pantaloon.’"  And in this way she went on,
whimsical, petulant, didactic by turns, to the stolid astonishment of a
plethoric and red-faced old lady opposite, who contributed nothing to
the conversation but an indigestion cough, and sate and stared, and
doubtless had formed the opinion that any one who could talk in that
fashion before a lot of strangers was no better than she should be.

But it was not of literature that Mrs. de Lara discoursed when Vincent
returned that evening to the saloon, after having been in the
smoking-room for about an hour, watching the commercials playing poker
and getting up sweepstakes on the next day’s run.  When she caught sight
of him, she immediately rose and left the group of newly-formed
acquaintances with whom she had been sitting—in the neighbourhood of the
piano—and deliberately came along and met him half-way.

"Let us remain here," said she; "and then if we talk we shan’t interfere
with the music."

She lay back in her chair as if waiting for him to begin; he was
thinking how well her costume became her—her dress of black silk touched
here and there with yellow satin—the sharp scarlet stroke of her fan—the
small crescent of diamonds in her jet-black hair.  Then the softened
lamplight seemed to lend depth and lustre to her dark eyes; and gave
something of warmth, too, to the pale and clear complexion.  She had
crossed her feet; her fan lay idle in her lap; she regarded him from
under those long, out-curving lashes.

"They cannot hear you," she said—perhaps thinking that he was silent out
of politeness to the innocent young damsels who were doing their best at
the piano—"and you cannot hear them, which is also fortunate.  Music is
either divine—or intolerable; what they are doing is not divine; I have
been listening.  But good music—ah, well, it is not to be spoken of.
Only this; isn’t it strange that the two things that can preserve
longest for you associations with some one you have been fond of are
music and scent?  Not painting—not any portrait; not poetry—not anything
you have read, or may read: but music and scent.  You will discover that
some day."

He laughed.

"How curiously you talk!  I dare say I am older than you—though that is
not saying much."

"But I have seen the world," said she, with a smile, almost of sadness.

"Not half of what I have seen of it, I’ll answer for that."

"Oh, but you," she continued, regarding him with much favour and
kindliness, "you are an _ingénu_—you have the frank English
character—you would believe a good deal—in any one you cared for, I
mean."

"I suppose I should," he said, simply enough. "I hope so."

"But as I say," she resumed, "the two things that preserve associations
the longest—and are apt to spring on you suddenly—are music and scent.
You may have forgotten in every other direction; oh, yes, forgetting is
very easy, as you will find out; for ’constancy lives in realms above,’
and not here upon earth at all: well, when you have forgotten the one
you were fond of, and cannot remember, and perhaps do not care to
remember all that happened at that too blissful period of life—then, on
some occasion or another there chances to come a fragment of a song, or
a whiff of scent, and behold! all that bygone time is before you again,
and you tremble, you are bewildered!  Oh, I assure you," she went on,
with a very charming smile, "it is not at all a pleasant experience.
You think you had buried all that past time, and hidden away the ghosts;
you are beginning to feel pretty comfortable and content with all
existing circumstances; and then—a few notes of a violin—a passing touch
of perfume—and your heart jumps up as if it had been shot through with a
rifle-ball. What is your favourite scent?" she asked, somewhat abruptly.

"Sandal-wood," said he (for surely that was revealing no secret?)

"Then she wore a string of sandal-wood beads," said Mrs. de Lara, with a
quick look.

He was silent.

"And perhaps she gave them to you as a keep-sake?" was the next
question.

Here, indeed, he was startled; and she noticed it; and laughed a little.

"No, I am not a witch," she said.  "All that has happened before now: do
you think you are the first?  Why, I’m sure, now, you’ve worn those
beads next your heart, in the daytime, and made yourself very
uncomfortable; yes, and you’ve tried wearing them at night, and couldn’t
sleep because they hurt you.  Never mind, I will tell you what to do:
get them made into a watch chain, with small gold links connecting the
beads; and when you wear it with evening dress, every woman will
recognise it as a love-gift—every one of them will say ’A girl gave him
that.’"

"Perhaps I might not wish to make a display of it," said Vincent.

"Then you’re in the first stage of inconstancy," said she, promptly.
"If you’re not madly anxious that the whole world should know you have
won her favour, then you’ve taken the first step on the downward road to
indifference; you are regarding certain things as bygone, and your eyes
are beginning to rove elsewhere.  Well, why not?  It’s the way of the
world.  It’s human nature.  At the same time I want to hear some more
about the young lady of the sandal-wood necklace."

"I have told you more than I intended," he answered her.

"You haven’t told me anything: I guessed for myself."

"Well, now, I am going to ask your advice," said he—for how could he
tell but that this bright, alert, intrepid person, with her varied
experience of the world, might be able to help him?  She was far
different from Maisrie, to be sure; different as night from day; but
still she was a woman; and she might perhaps be able to interpret a
nature wholly alien from her own.

So she sate mute and attentive, and watching every expression of his
face, while he put before her a set of imaginary circumstances.  It was
not his own story; but just so much of it as might enable her to give
him counsel.  And he had hardly finished when she said—

"You don’t know where to find her; and yet you have never thought of a
means of bringing her to you at once?"

"What means?" said he.

"Why, it is so simple!" she exclaimed.  "Have you no invention?  But I
will tell you, then.  As soon as you land in New York, get yourself
knocked over by a tram-car.  The accident to the rich young Englishman
who has just arrived in America will be in all the papers, and will lose
nothing in the telling. Your father’s name is known; you have recently
been elected a member of Parliament; they will make the most of the
story—and of course you needn’t say your life is _not_ in danger.  Then
on the wings of love the fair one comes flying; flops down by the side
of your bed, in tears; perhaps she would even consent to a marriage—if
you were looking dreadfully pale; then you could get well again in
double quick time—and live happy ever after."

She was still watching him from under her long, indolent lashes; and of
a sudden she changed her tone.

"Are you vexed?  You find me not sympathetic? Perhaps I am not.  Perhaps
I am a little incredulous.  You have told me very little; but I surmise;
and when a young lady remains away from her lover, and does not wish it
to be known where she is, then I confess I grow suspicious.  Instead of
’Seek the woman,’ it is ’Find the man’—oh, I mean in most cases—I mean
in most cases—not in all—you must not misunderstand me!"

"In this case you are mistaken, then," said Vincent, briefly.

Indeed the gay young grass-widow found that she could not get very far
into Vincent’s confidence in this matter; and when she indulged in a
little pleasantry, he grew reserved and showed a disposition to
withdraw; whereupon she thought it better to give up the subject
altogether.  But she did not give him up; on the contrary, she took
possession of him more completely than ever; and made no secret of the
favour she bestowed on him.  For example, there was an amateur
photographer on board; and one morning (everybody knew everybody else by
this time) he came up to Mrs. de Lara, who was seated in her deck-chair,
with a little band of devoted slaves and admirers surrounding her.

"Mrs. de Lara," said he, "I’ve taken nearly everybody on board except
you.  Aren’t you going to give me a chance?"

"Oh, yes," said she.  "Yes, certainly."  Then she looked round, and
added, in the most natural way in the world—"But where is Mr. Harris?"

"He’s in the saloon writing letters—I saw him there a minute ago," said
one of the bystanders.

"Won’t somebody go and fetch him?" she continued. "We ought to be all
in—if Mr. Searle can manage it."

Accordingly Vincent was summoned from below, and forthwith made his
appearance.

"You come and sit by me, Mr. Harris," said the young matron.  "It would
look absurd to have one sitting and all the others standing."

"Oh, no—this will do," said Vincent, seating himself on a signal-cannon
that was close to the rail, while he steadied himself by putting a hand
on the shrouds.

"Not at all," she protested, with a certain imperious wilfulness.
"You’re too far over; you’ll be out of the picture altogether.  There is
Isabel’s chair over there: fetch that."

And, of course, he had to do as he was bid; though it was rather a
conspicuous position to assume. Then, when that negative was taken, she
would have the grouping altered; Vincent had to stand by her side, with
his arm on her chair; again he had to seat himself on the deck at her
feet; whatever suggestions were made by the artist, she managed somehow
that she and Vincent should be together. And when, next day, the
bronze-brown proofs were handed about, they were very much
admired—except, perhaps, by the lady-passengers, who could not
understand why Mrs. de Lara should pose as the only woman on board the
steamer.

But it was not Mrs. de Lara who was in his thoughts when, early one
morning, he found himself on the upper deck, just under the bridge, with
his eyes fixed on a far strip of land that lay along the western
horizon.  Not a thin sharp line of blue, but a low-lying bulky mass of
pale neutral tint; and there were faint yellow mists hanging about it,
and also covering the smooth, long-undulating surface of the sea.
However, the sunrise was now declared; this almost impalpable fog would
soon be dispersed; and the great continent behind that out-lying coast
would gradually awaken to the splendour of the new day.  And in what
part of its vast extent was Maisrie now awaiting him?—no, not awaiting
him, but perhaps thinking of him, and little dreaming he was so near?

They cautiously steamed over the shallow waters at Sandy Hook; they
sailed up the wide bay; momentarily the long flat line of New York, with
its towering buildings and steeples jutting up here and there, was
drawing nigh.  Mrs. de Lara, rather wistfully, asked him whether she was
ever likely to see him again; he answered that he did not know how soon
he might have to leave New York; but, if she would be so kind as to give
him her address, he would try to call before he went.  She handed him
her card; said something about the pleasant voyage they had had; and
then went away to see that Isabel had not neglected anything in her
packing.

They slowed into the wharf; the luggage was got ashore and examined—in
this universal scrimmage he lost sight of Mrs. de Lara and her faithful
companion: and by and by he was being jolted and pitched and flung about
in the coach that was carrying him to the hotel he had chosen.  With an
eager curiosity he kept watching the passers-by on the side-walk,
searching for a face that was nowhere to be seen.  He had heard and
known of many strange coincidences: it would only be another one—if a
glad and wonderful one—were he to find Maisrie on the very first day of
his arrival in America.

As soon as he had got established in his hotel, and seen that his
luggage had been brought up, he went out again and made away for the
neighbourhood of Printing House Square.  It needs hardly be said that
the _Western Scotsman_ was not in possession of a vast white marble
building, with huge golden letters shining in the afternoon sun; all the
same he had little difficulty in finding the small and unpretentious
office; and his first inquiry was for Mr. Anstruther.  Mr. Anstruther
had been there in the morning; but had gone away home, not feeling very
well.  Where did he live?—over in Brooklyn.  But he would be at the
office the next day?  Oh, yes; almost certainly; it was nothing but a
rather bad cold; and as they went to press on the following evening, he
would be pretty sure to be at the office in the morning.

Then Vincent hesitated.  This clerk seemed a civil-spoken kind of young
fellow.

"Do you happen to know if—if a Mr. Bethune has called at this office of
late?"

"Bethune?—not that I am aware of," was the answer.

"He is a friend of Mr. Anstruther’s," Vincent went on, led by a vague
hope, "an old gentleman with white hair and beard—a handsome old man.
There would be a young lady with him most probably."

"No, sir; I have not seen any one of that description," said the clerk.
"But he might have called on Mr. Anstruther at his home."

"Oh, yes, certainly—very likely," said Vincent. "Thank you.  I will come
along to-morrow morning, and hope to find Mr. Anstruther quite well
again."

So he left and went out into the gathering dusk of the afternoon; and as
he had nothing to do now, he walked all the way back to his hotel,
looking at the various changes that had taken place since last he had
been in the busy city.  And then, when he reached the sumptuous and
heavily-decorated apartment that served him at once as sitting-room and
bed-room, he set to work to put his things in order, for they had been
rather hurriedly jammed into his portmanteau on board ship.

He was thus engaged when there came a knock at the door.

"Entrez!" he called out, inadvertently (with some dim feeling that he
was in a foreign town.)

The stranger needed no second invitation.  He presented himself.  He was
a small man, with a sallow and bloodless face, a black beard closely
trimmed, a moustache allowed to grow its natural length, and dark,
opaque, impassive eyes.  He was rather showily dressed, and wore a
pince-nez.

For a second he paused at the door to take out his card-case; then,
without uttering a word, he stepped forward and placed his card on the
table. Vincent was rather surprised at this form of introduction; but of
course he took up the card.  He read thereon.  ’_Mr. Joseph de Lara._’

"Oh, really," said he (but what passed through his mind was—’Is that
confounded woman going to persecute me on shore as well as at sea?’).
"How do you do?  Very glad to make your acquaintance."

"Oh, indeed, are you?" the other said, with a peculiar accent, the like
of which Vincent had never heard before.  "Perhaps not, when you know
why I am here.  Ah, do not pretend!—do not pretend!"

Vincent stared at him, as if this were some escaped lunatic with whom he
had to deal.

"Sir, I am here to call you to account," said the little foreigner, in
his thick voice.  "It has been the scandal of the whole ship—the talk of
all the voyage over—and it is an insult to me—to me—that my wife should
be spoken of.  Yes, you must make compensation—I demand compensation—and
how?  By the only way that is known to an Englishman.  An Englishman
feels only in his pocket; if he does wrong, he must pay; I demand from
you a sum that I expend in charity——"

Vincent who saw what all this meant in a moment, burst out laughing—a
little scornfully.

"You’ve come to the wrong shop, my good friend!" said he.

"What do you mean?  What do you mean?" the little dark man exclaimed,
with an affectation of rising wrath: "Look at this—I tell you, look at
this!"  He drew from his pocket one of the photographs which had been
taken on board the steamer, and smacked it with the back of his hand.
"Do you see that?—the scandal of the whole voyage!  My wife
compromised—the whole ship talking—you think you are to get off for
nothing? No!  No! you do not!  The only punishment that can reach you is
the punishment of the pocket—you must pay."

"Oh, don’t make a fool of yourself!" said Vincent, with angry contempt.
"I’ve met members of your profession before.  But this is too thin."

"Oh—too thin?  You shall find out!" the other said, vindictively—and yet
the black and beady eyes behind the pince-nez were impassive and
watchful.  "There, on the other side of my card, is my address.  You can
think over it.  Perhaps I shall see you to-morrow.  If I do not—if you
do not come there to give the compensation I demand, I will make this
country too hot to hold you—yes, very much too hot, as you shall
discover.  I will make you sorry—I will make you sorry—you shall see——"

He went on vapouring in this fashion for some little time longer,
affecting all the while to become more and more indignant; but at length
Vincent, growing tired, walked to the door and opened it.

"This is the way out," he said curtly.

Mr. de Lara took the hint with a dignified equanimity.

"You have my address," he said, as he passed into the corridor; "I do
not wish to do anything disagreeable—unless I am compelled.  You will
think over it; and I shall see you to-morrow, I hope.  I wish to be
friendly—it will be for your interest, too.  Good night!"

Vincent shut the door and went and sate down, the better to consider.
Not that he was in the least perturbed by this man’s ridiculous threats;
what puzzled him—and frightened him almost—was the possible connection
of the charming and fascinating Mrs. de Lara with this barefaced attempt
at blackmail.  But no; he could not, he would not, believe it!  He
recalled her pretty ways, her frankness, her engaging manner, her good
humour, her clever, wayward talk, her kindness towards himself; and he
could not bring himself to think that all the time she had been planning
a paltry and despicable conspiracy to extort money, or even that she
would lend herself to such a scheme at the instigation of her scapegrace
husband.  However, his speculations on these points were now interrupted
by the arrival of the dinner-hour; and he went below to the table
d’hôte.

During dinner he thought that a little later on in the evening he would
go along to Lexington Avenue, and call on a lawyer whose acquaintance he
had made on a former visit to New York.  He might by chance be at home
and disengaged; and an apology could be made for disturbing him at such
an unusual hour.  And this, accordingly, Vincent did; found that Mr.
Griswold was in the house; was shown into the study; and presently the
lawyer—a tall, thin man, with a cadaverous and deeply-lined face and
cold grey eyes—came in and received his unexpected visitor politely
enough.

"De Lara?" said he, when Vincent had told his story.  "Well, yes, I know
something of De Lara. And a very disagreeable fellow he is to have any
dealings with."

"But I don’t want to have any dealings with him," Vincent protested,
"and I don’t see how there should be any necessity.  The whole thing is
a preposterous attempt at extortion.  If only he were to put down on
paper what he said to me this evening, I would show him something—or at
least I should do so if he and I were in England."

"He is not so foolish," the lawyer said.  "Well, what do you propose to
do?—compromise for the sake of peace and quietness?"

"Certainly not," was the instant reply.

"He’s a mischievous devil," said Mr. Griswold, doubtfully.  "And of
course you don’t want to have things said about you in newspapers,
however obscure.  Might get sent over to England.  Yes, he’s a
mischievous devil when he turns ugly.  What do you say now?—for the sake
of peace and quietness—a little matter of a couple of hundred
dollars—and nobody need know anything about it——"

"Give a couple of hundred dollars to that infernal scoundrel?—I will see
him d——d first!" said Vincent, with a decision that was unmistakeable.

"There’s no reason why you should give him a cent—not the slightest,"
the lawyer went on.  "But some people do, to save trouble.  However, you
will not be remaining long in this city; I see it announced that you are
going on a tour through the United States and Canada."

"The fact is, Mr. Griswold," said Vincent, "I came along—at this unholy
hour, for which I hope you will forgive me—not to ask you what I should
do about that fellow’s threats—I don’t value them a pin’s-point—but
merely to see if you knew anything about those two——"

"The De Lara’s?"

"Yes, what does he do, to begin with?  What’s his occupation—his
business?"

"Nominally," said Mr. Griswold, "he belongs to my own profession; but I
fancy he is more mixed up with some low-class newspapers.  I have heard,
indeed, that one of his sources of income is levying black-mail on
actresses.  The poor girls lose nerve, you understand: they won’t fight;
they would rather ’see’ him, as the phrase is, than incur his enmity."

"Well, then, what I want to know still more particularly," the young man
proceeded, "is this: is Mrs. de Lara supposed to take part in these
pretty little plans for obtaining money?"

The lawyer smiled.

"You ought to know her better than I do; in fact, I don’t know her at
all."

Vincent was silent for a second.

"No; I should not have imagined it of her.  It seems incredible.  But if
you don’t know her personally, perhaps you know what is thought of her?
What is her general reputation?"

"Her reputation?  I can hardly answer that question.  I should say," Mr.
Griswold went on, in his slow and deliberate manner, "that there is a
kind of—a kind of impression—that, so long as the money was forthcoming,
Mrs. de Lara would not be too anxious to inquire where it came from."

"She was at the Captain’s table!" Vincent exclaimed.

"Ship captains don’t know much about what is going on on shore," was the
reply.  "Besides, if Mrs. de Lara wanted to sit at the Captain’s table,
it’s at the Captain’s table you would find her, and that without much
delay!  In any case why are you so anxious to find out about Mrs. de
Lara’s peculiarities—apart from her being a very pretty woman?"

"Oh," said Vincent, as he rose to apologise once more for this
intrusion, and to say good-night, "one is always meeting with new
experiences.  Another lesson in the ways of the world, I suppose."

But all the same, as he walked slowly and thoughtfully back to his
hotel, he kept saying to himself that he would rather not believe that
Mrs. de Lara had betrayed him and was an accomplice in this shameless
attempt to make money out of him.  Nay, he said to himself that he would
refuse to believe until he was forced to believe: though he did not go a
step further, and proceed to ask himself the why and wherefore of this
curious reluctance.



                              CHAPTER III.

                             WEST AND EAST.


When Vincent went along the next morning to the office of the _Western
Scotsman_, he was at once shown into the editorial room, and there he
found before him a short, thick-set man with a leonine profusion of
light chestnut hair thrown back from a lofty forehead, somewhat
irregular features, and clear blue eyes that had at present something of
a cold scrutiny in them.  To any one else, the editor of the _Western
Scotsman_ might have appeared a somewhat commonplace-looking person; but
to Vincent he was far from commonplace.  Here was one who had befriended
the two world-wanderers; who had known them in the bygone years; perhaps
Maisrie herself had sat, in this very room, patiently waiting, while the
two men talked.  And yet when he asked for news of old George Bethune
and his granddaughter, Mr. Anstruther’s manner was unaccountably
reserved.

"No," said he, "I know nothing of them, nothing whatever; but I can well
understand that George Bethune might be in New York, or might have
passed through New York, without calling on me."

"Why?" said Vincent in surprise.

"Oh, well," said the Editor, with some touch of asperity and even of
indignation, "I should like to believe the best of an old friend; and
certainly George Bethune always seemed to me a loyal Scot—proud of his
country—proud of the name he bears, as well he might; but when you find
him trying to filch the idea of a book—from a fellow-countryman, too—and
making use of the letter of introduction I gave him to Lord Musselburgh
to get money——"

"But that can all be explained," said Vincent, eagerly—and he even
forgot his immediate disappointment in his desire to clear away those
imputations from Maisrie’s grandfather.  "The money was repaid to Lord
Musselburgh as soon as it was found that the American book was coming
out; I know it was—I am certain of it; and when the volume did come out,
no one was so anxious to welcome it, and give it a helping hand, as Mr.
Bethune himself.  He wrote the review in the _Edinburgh Chronicle_——"

"Oh, did he?" said the Editor, with some slight alteration in his tone.
"I am glad of that.  I could see it was written by some one with ample
knowledge: in fact, I quoted the article in the _Scotsman_, it seemed to
me so well done.  Yes, I am glad of that," Mr. Anstruther repeated.

"And then," continued Vincent, "the old man may easily have persuaded
himself that, being familiar with the subject, he was entitled to
publish a volume on the other side of the water.  But I know this, that
what he desired above all was that honour should be done to those
Scotchmen who had written about their affection for their native country
while living in other lands, and that the people at home should know
those widely-scattered poets; and when he found that this work had
already been undertaken, and was actually coming out, there was no
jealousy in his mind—not the slightest—he was only anxious that the book
should be known everywhere, but especially in Scotland."

"I can assure you I am very glad to hear it," said Mr. Anstruther, who
was clearly much mollified by this vague but earnest vindication.  "And
I may say that when some one came here making inquiries about George
Bethune, I did not put matters in their worst light——"

"Oh, some one has been here making inquiries?" said Vincent, quickly.

"About a month ago, or more."

"Who was it?"

"I forget the name," the Editor replied.  "In fact, I was rather vexed
at the time about my friend Ross’s book—and Mr. Bethune getting money
from Lord Musselburgh; and I did not say very much.  I am glad there is
some explanation; one likes to think the best of a brother Scot.  But
you—you are not a Scot?" he demanded with a swift glance of inquiry.

"No, I am not," said Vincent, "but I am very much interested in Mr.
Bethune and his granddaughter; and as they quite suddenly disappeared
from London, I thought it very likely they had returned to the United
States; and also, if they had come to New York, I imagined you would be
sure to know."

"One thing is pretty certain," said Mr. Anstruther.  "If George Bethune
is in this city, he will be heard of to-morrow evening."

"To-morrow evening?" Vincent repeated, vaguely.

"The twenty-fifth!" exclaimed the Editor, with an astonished stare.

And yet the young man seemed none the wiser.

"It is evident you are no Scotchman," Mr. Anstruther said at length, and
with good humour. "You don’t remember that ’a blast o’ Janwar win’ blew
hansel in on Robin’?  The twenty-fifth of January—the birthday of Robert
Burns!"

"Oh, yes—oh, certainly," said Vincent, with guilty haste.

"There will be a rare gathering of the clans to-morrow night," the
Editor continued; "and if George Bethune is on this side the water,
he’ll either show up himself or somebody will have heard of him."

"I think he must be over here," Vincent said. "At first I imagined he
might have gone to Scotland: he was thinking of a topographical and
antiquarian book on the various places mentioned in the Scotch songs—and
he had often spoken of making a pilgrimage through the country for that
purpose.  So I went down to Scotland for a few days, but I could hear
nothing of him."

"What do you say—that you have been quite recently in Scotland?" Mr.
Anstruther said, with a sudden accession of interest.

"About three weeks ago," was the answer.

"Well, well, well!" the Editor exclaimed, and he regarded the young man
with quite a kindly curiosity.  "Do ye tell me that!  In Scotland—not
more than three weeks since!  And whereabouts—whereabouts?"

"I was in Edinburgh most of the time," Vincent said.

"In Edinburgh?—did ye see the Corstorphine Hills?" was the next eager
question; and the man’s eyes were no longer coldly scrutinising, but
full of a lively interest and friendliness.  "Ay, the Corstorphine
Hills: ye would see them if ye went up to the top of Nelson’s Monument,
and looked away across the town—away along Princes Street—that wonderful
view!—wonderful!—when I think of it, I seem to see it all a
silver-white—and Scott’s Monument towering high in the middle, like some
splendid fountain turned to stone.  Ay, ay, and ye were walking along
Princes Street not more than three weeks ago; and I suppose ye were
thinking of old Christopher, and the Ettrick Shepherd, and Sir Walter,
and Jeffrey, and the rest of them? Dear me, it’s a kind of strange
thing!  Did ye go out to Holyrood?  Did ye climb up Arthur’s Seat?  Did
ye see Portobello, and Inch Keith, and the Berwick Law——"

"’The boat rocks at the pier o’ Leith,’" Vincent quoted, with a smile.

The other’s eyes flashed recognition; and he laughed aloud.

"Ay, ay, that was a great favourite with the old man.  Many’s the time
he has announced himself coming up these very stairs with that."

"Did Maisrie ever come with him?" Vincent asked—with his heart going a
bit quicker.

"His granddaughter?  Oh, yes, to be sure—sometimes. He was fond of
coming down the night before we went to press, and looking over the
columns of Scotch news, and having a chat.  You see we have to boil down
the smaller Scotch papers for local news—news that the bigger papers
don’t touch; and very often you notice a name that is familiar to you,
or something of that kind.  Well, now, I wish the old man was here this
very minute! I do indeed—most heartily.  We’d let bygones be bygones—no
doubt I was mistaken—I’ll back George Bethune for a true and loyal Scot.
Ah say, man," continued Mr. Anstruther, pulling out his big silver
watch—and now all his assumption of the reserved American manner was
gone, and he was talking with enthusiastic emphasis—"There’s a
countryman of mine—a most worthy fellow—close by here, who would be glad
to see any friend of old George Bethune’s.  It’s just about his lunch
time; and he’ll no grudge ye a farl of oatcake and a bit of Dunlop
cheese; in fact nothing pleases him better than keeping open house for
his cronies.  A man of sterling worth; and a man of substance, too:
sooner or later, I expect, he’ll be going away back to the old country
and buying a bit place for himself in his native county of Aberdeen.
Well, well," said the Editor, as he locked his desk, and put on his hat,
and opened the door for his visitor, "and to think it was but the other
day ye were walking along Princes Street in Edinburgh!  Did ye go out at
night, when the old town was lit up?—a grand sight, wasn’t it—nothing
like it in the world!  Ye must tell honest John—John MacVittie, that
is—that ye’ve just come straight from the ’land of brown heath and
shaggy wood,’ and ye’ll no want for a welcome!"

And indeed it was a very frank and friendly welcome he received when
they at length reached Mr. MacVittie’s place of business, and were shown
into the merchant’s private room.  Here they found himself and his two
partners (all Scotchmen) about to sit down at table; and places were
immediately prepared for the new-comers.  The meal was a much more
varied affair than the Editor had foreshadowed: its remarkable feature
being, as Vincent was informed, that nearly everything placed on the
board had been sent over from Scotland.  Mr. MacVittie made a little
apology.

"It’s a kind of hobby of mine," said he; "and even with perishable
things it’s not so difficult nowadays, the ice-houses of the big
steamers being so convenient. What would you like to drink, sir?  I can
give ye a choice of Talisker, Glenlivet, Long John, and Lagavulin; but
perhaps ye would prefer something lighter in the middle of the day.  I
hope you don’t object to the smell of the peats; we Scotch folk are
rather fond of it; I think our good friend here, Anstruther, would
rather have a sniff of the peat than the smell of the best canvas-back
duck that was ever carried through a kitchen.  I get those peats sent
over from Islay: you see, I try to have Scotland—or some fragments of
it—brought to me, since I cannot go to it."

"But why don’t you go to Scotland, sir?" said Vincent—knowing he was
speaking to a man of wealth.

"At my time of life," Mr. MacVittie answered, "one falls into certain
ways and grooves, and it’s an ill job getting out of them.  No, I do not
think I shall ever be in Scotland again, until I’m taken there—in a box.
I shall have to be like the lady in ’The Gay Goss-hawk’—

    ’An asking, an asking, my father dear,
      An asking grant ye me!
    That if I die in merry England,
      In Scotland you’ll bury me.’"


"Oh, nonsense, John!" one of his partners cried. "Nonsense, man!  We’ll
have you building a castle up somewhere about Kincardine O’Neil; and
every autumn we’ll go over and shoot your grouse and kill your salmon
for you.  That’s liker it!"

Now here were three sharp and shrewd business men met together in the
very heart of one of the great commercial cities of the world; and the
fourth was a purveyor of news (Vincent did not count: he was so
wonderstruck at meeting people who had known George Bethune and Maisrie
in former days, and so astonished and fascinated by any chance reference
to them that he did not care to propound any opinions of his own: he was
well content to listen) and it might naturally have been supposed that
their talk would have been of the public topics of the hour—politics
home and foreign, the fluctuations of trade, dealings with that
portentous surplus that is always getting in the way, and so forth.  But
it was nothing of the kind.  It was all about the dinner of the Burns’
Society of New York, to be given at Sutherland’s in Liberty-street the
following evening, in celebration of the birthday of the Scotch poet;
and Tom MacVittie—a huge man with a reddish-brown beard and a bald
head—in the enthusiasm of the moment was declaring that again and again,
on coming across a song, by some one of the minor Scotch poets, that was
particularly fine, he wished he had the power to steal it and hand it
over to the Ayrshire bard—no doubt on the principle that, ’whosoever
hath, to him shall be given.’  Then there was a comparison of this gem
and that; favourites were mentioned and extolled; the air was thick with
Willie Laidlaw, Allan Cunningham, Nicol, Hogg, Motherwell, Tannahill,
and the rest; while the big Tom MacVittie, returning to his original
thesis, maintained that it would be only fair punishment if John Mayne
were mulcted of his ’Logan Braes,’ because of his cruel maltreatment of
’Helen of Kirkconnell.’

"Yes, I will say," he continued—and his fist was ready to come down on
the table if needs were. "Robbie himself might well be proud of ’Logan
Braes;’ and John Mayne deserves to have something done to him for trying
to spoil so fine a thing as ’Helen of Kirkconnell.’  I cannot forgive
that. I cannot forgive that at all.  No excuse.  Do ye think the man
that wrote the ’Siller Gun’ did not know he was making the fine old
ballad into a fashionable rigmarole?  Confound him, I would take ’Logan
Braes’ from him in a minute, if I could, and hand it over to Robbie——"

"Did you ever notice," interposed the editor of the Scotch paper, "the
clever little trick of repetition in the middle of every alternate
verse——

    ’By Logan’s streams that rin so deep,
    Fu’ aft wi’ glee I’ve herded sheep;
    Herded sheep, or gathered slaes,
    Wi’ my dear lad on Logan braes.
    But wae’s my heart, thae days are gane,
    And I wi’ grief may herd alane;
    While my dear lad maun face his faes,
    Far, far frae me and Logan braes.’

I do not remember Burns using that device, though it was familiar in
Scotch song—you recollect ’Annie Laurie’—-’her waist ye weel might
span.’  And Landor used it in ’Rose Aylmer’—

    ’Rose Aylmer, all were thine.
    Rose Aylmer, whom these wakeful eyes—’"


"I would like now," continued Tom MacVittie, with a certain impatience
over the introduction of a glaiket Englisher, "to hand over to Robbie
’There’s nae luck about the house.’  The authorship is disputed anyhow;
though I tell you that if William Julius Mickle ever wrote those verses
I’ll just eat my hat—and coat, too!  It was Jean Adams wrote that song;
I say it was none other than Jean Adams.  Mickle—and his Portuguese
stuff——"

"God bless me, Tom, do you forget ’Cumnor Hall’?" his brother exclaimed.

"’Cumnor Hall?’  I do not forget ’Cumnor Hall?’" Tom MacVittie rejoined,
with a certain disdain.  "’Cumnor Hall!’—a wretched piece of fustian,
that no one would have thought of twice, only that Walter Scott’s ear
was taken with the first verse.  Proud minions—simple nymphs—Philomel on
yonder thorn: do ye mean that a man who wrote stuff like that could
write like this—

    ’Rise up and mak’ a clean fireside,
      Put on the mickle pot;
    Gie little Kate her cotton gown,
      And Jock his Sunday’s coat;
    And mak’ their shoon as black as slaes,
      Their stockins’ white as snaw;
    It’s a’ to pleasure our gudeman—
      He likes to see them braw.’

That’s human nature, man; there you’ve the good-wife, and the goodman,
and the bairns; none o’ your Philomels, and nymphs, and swains!  That
bletherin’ idiot, Dr. Beattie, wrote additional verses—well, he might
almost be forgiven for the last couplet,

    ’The present moment is our ain,
      The neist we never saw.’——"


"That was a favourite quotation of old George Bethune’s," said the elder
MacVittie, with a smile, to Vincent.

The young man was startled out of a reverie.  It was so strange for him
to sit and hear conversation like this, and to imagine that George
Bethune had joined in it, and no doubt led it, in former days, and that
perhaps Maisrie had been permitted to listen.

"Yes," he made answer, modestly; "and no man ever carried the spirit of
it more completely into his daily life."

"What makes ye think he is in New York, or in the United States, at
least?" was the next question.

"I can hardly say," said Vincent, "except that I knew he had many
friends here."

"If George Bethune is in New York," Tom MacVittie interposed, in his
decisive way, "I’ll wager he’ll show up at Sutherland’s to-morrow
night—I’ll wager my coat and hat!"

And then the Editor put in a word.

"If I thought that," said he, "I would go along to the Secretary, and
see if I could have a ticket reserved for him.  I’m going to ask Mr.
Harris here to be my guest; for if he isn’t a Scotchman, at least he has
been in Scotland since any of us were there."

"And I hope you don’t need to be a Scotchman in order to have an
admiration for Robert Burns," said Vincent; and with that appropriate
remark the symposium broke up; for if MacVittie, MacVittie, and Hogg
chose to enliven their brief mid-day meal with reminiscences of their
native land and her poets, they were not in the habit of wasting much
time or neglecting their business.

A good part of the next day Vincent spent in the society of Hugh
Anstruther; for in the stir and ferment then prevailing among the Scotch
circles in New York, it was possible that George Bethune might be heard
of at any moment; and, indeed, they paid one or two visits to
Nassau-street, to ask of the Secretary of the Burns Society whether Mr.
Bethune had not turned up in the company of some friend applying for an
additional ticket.  And in the meantime Vincent had frankly confessed to
this new acquaintance what had brought him over to the United States.

"Man, do ye think I could not guess that!" Hugh Anstruther exclaimed: he
was having luncheon with Vincent at the latter’s hotel.  "Here are you,
a fresh-elected member of Parliament—and I dare say as proud as Punch in
consequence; and within a measurable distance of your taking your place
in the House, you leave England, and come away over to America to hunt
up an old man and a young girl.  Do I wonder?—I do not wonder. A bonnier
lassie, a gentler creature, does not step the ground anywhere; ay, and
of good birth and blood, too; though there may be something in that to
account for George Bethune’s disappearance.  A proud old deevil, ye see;
and wilful; and always with those wild dreams of his of getting a great
property——"

"Well, but is there the slightest possibility of their ever getting that
property?" Vincent interposed.

"There is a possibility of my becoming the President of the United
States of America," was the rather contemptuous (and in point of fact,
inaccurate) answer.  "The courts have decided: you can’t go and disturb
people who have been in possession for generations—at least, I should
think not!  As for the chapter of accidents: no doubt the estates might
come to them for want of a more direct heir; such things certainly do
happen; but how often? However, the old man is opinionated."

"Not as much as he was," Vincent said.  "Not on that point, at least.
He does not talk as much about it as he used—so Maisrie says."

"Oh, Maisrie?  I was not sure.  A pretty name. Well, I congratulate you;
and when, in the ordinary course of things, it falls upon you to provide
her with a home, I hope she will lead a more settled, a happier life,
than I fancy she could have led in that wandering way."

Vincent was silent.  There were certain things about which he could not
talk to this new acquaintance, even though he now seemed so well
disposed towards old George Bethune and that solitary girl. There were
matters about which he had given up questioning himself: mysteries that
appeared incapable of explanation.  In the meantime his hopes and
speculations were narrowed down to this one point: would Maisrie’s
grandfather—from whichsoever part of the world he might hail—suddenly
make his appearance at this celebration to-night? For in that case she
herself could not be far off.

And wildly enthusiastic this gathering proved to be, even from the
outset.  Telegrams were flying this way and that (for in the old country
the ceremonies had begun some hours previously); there was no
distinction between members and friends; and as Scot encountered Scot,
each vied with the other in recalling the phrases and intonation of
their younger years.  In the midst of this turmoil of arrival and joyous
greeting, Vincent’s gaze was fixed on the door; at any moment there
might appear there a proud-featured old man, white-haired, keen-eyed, of
distinguished bearing—a striking figure—and not more picturesque than
welcome! For would not Maisrie, later on in the evening, be still
waiting up for him?  And if, at the end of the proceedings, one were to
walk home with the old man, and have a chance of saying five words to
Maisrie herself, by way of good-night?  No, he would not reproach her!
He would only take her hand, and say, ’To-morrow—to-morrow, Maisrie, I
am coming to scold you!’

Thin Scot, burly Scot, red-headed Scot, black-a-vised Scot, Lowlander
and Highlander—all came trooping in, eager, talkative, delighted to meet
friends and acquaintances; but there was no George Bethune.  And when
they had settled down in their places, and when dinner had begun, Hugh
Anstruther, who was ’Croupier’ on this occasion, turned to his guest and
said:—

"You must not be disappointed.  I hardly expected him; I could not hear
of any one who had invited him.  But it is quite likely he may turn up
latter on—very likely, indeed, if he is anywhere within travelling
distance of New York. George Bethune is not the one to forget the
twenty-fifth of January; and of course he must know that many of his
friends are assembled here."

Then presently the Croupier turned to his guest and said in an
undertone—

"There’s a toast that’s not down in the list; and I’m going to ask ye to
drink it; we’ll drink it between ourselves.  Fill your glass, man—bless
me, what’s the use of water!—see, here’s some hock—Sutherland’s famous
for his hock—and now this is the toast.  ’Here’s to Scotch lassies,
wherever they may be!’"

"Yes—’wherever they may be,’" Vincent repeated, absently.

"Oh, don’t be downhearted!" his lion-maned friend said, with cheerful
good humour.  "If that self-willed old deevil has taken away the lassie,
thinking to make some grand heiress of her, he’ll find it’s easier to
talk about royal blood than to keep a comfortable house over her head;
and some day he may be glad enough to bring her back and see her safely
provided with a husband well-to-do and able to take care of her.  Royal
blood?—I’m not sure that I haven’t heard him maintain that the Bethunes
were a more ancient race than the Stewarts.  I shouldn’t wonder if he
claimed to be descended from Macbeth, King of Scotland.  Oh, he holds
his head high, the old scoundrel that has ’stole bonny Glenlyon away.’
But you’ll be even with him yet; you’ll be even with him yet.  Why, if
he comes in to-night, and finds ye sitting here, he’ll be as astonished
as Maclean of Duart was at Inverary, when he looked up from the banquet
and saw his wife at the door."

So Vincent had perforce to wait in vague expectancy; but nevertheless
the proceedings of the evening interested him not a little, and all the
more that he happened to know two of the principal speakers.  For to Mr.
Tom MacVittie was entrusted the toast of the evening—"The Immortal
Memory of Robert Burns"—and very eloquently indeed did the big merchant
deal with that well-worn theme. What the subject lacked in novelty was
amply made up by the splendid enthusiasm of his audience: the most
familiar quotations—rolled out with MacVittie’s breadth of accent and
strong north-country burr—were welcome as the songs of Zion sung in a
strange land; this was the magic speech that could stir their hearts,
and raise visions of their far-off and beloved native home.  Nor were
they at all _laudatores temporis acti_—these perfervid and kindly Scots.
When the Croupier rose to propose the toast that had been allotted to
him—"The Living Bards of Scotland"—cheer after cheer greeted names of
which Vincent, in his southern ignorance, had never even heard.  Indeed,
to this stranger, it seemed as if the Scotland of our own day must be
simply alive with poets; and not of the kind that proclaimed at Paisley
"They sterve us while we’re leevin, and raise moniments to us when we’re
deed;" but of a quiet and modest character, their subjects chiefly
domestic, occasionally humorous, more frequently exhibiting a sincere
and effective pathos.  For, of course, the Croupier justified himself
with numerous excerpts; and there was no stint to the applause of this
warm-blooded audience; insomuch that Vincent’s idle fancies went
wandering away to those (to him) little known minstrels in the old land,
with a kind of wish that they could be made aware how they were regarded
by their countrymen across the sea.  Nay, when the Croupier concluded
his speech, "coupling with this toast" a whole string of names, the
young man, carried away by the prevailing ardour, said—

"Mr. Anstruther, surely nothing will do justice to this toast but a drop
of whiskey!"

—and the Croupier, passing him the decanter, said in reply——

"Surely—surely—on an evening like this; and yet I’m bound to say that if
it had not been for the whiskey, my list of living Scotch poets would
have been longer."

The evening passed; and Vincent’s hopes, that had been too lightly and
easily raised, were slowly dwindling.  Had George Bethune been in New
York, or within any reasonable distance of it, he would almost certainly
have come to this celebration, at which several of his old friends were
assembled.  As Vincent walked home that night to his hotel, the world
seemed dark and wide; and he felt strangely alone.  He knew not which
way to turn now.  For one thing, he was not at all convinced, as Hugh
Anstruther appeared to be, that it was Mr. Bethune who had taken his
granddaughter away, and that, sooner or later, he would turn up at one
or other of those trans-Atlantic gatherings of his Scotch friends.
Vincent could not forget Maisrie’s last farewell; and if this separation
were of her planning and executing, then there was far less chance of
his encountering them in any such haphazard fashion.  ’It is good-bye
for ever between you and me,’ she had written.  And of what avail now
were her wild words, ’Vincent, I love you!—I love you!—you are my
dearest in all the world! You will remember, always and always, whenever
you think of me, that that is so: you will not forget: remember that I
love you always, and am thinking of you!’  Idle phrases, that the winds
had blown away!  Of what use were they now?  Nay, why should he believe
them, any more than the pretty professions that Mrs. de Lara had made on
board the steamer?  Were they not both women, those two?  And then he
drew back with scorn of himself; and rebuked the lying Satan that seemed
to walk by his side.  Solitariness—wounded pride—disappointment—almost
despair—might drive him to say or imagine mad things at the moment; but
never—never once—in his heart of hearts had he really doubted Maisrie’s
faith and honour.  All other things might be; not that.

He resolved to leave New York and go out west; it was just possible that
Maisrie had taken some fancy for revisiting the place of her birth; he
guessed they might have certain friends there also. Hugh Anstruther came
to the railway station to see him off.

"Yes," he said, "you may hear something about them in Omaha; but it is
hardly probable; for those western cities grow at a prodigious pace, and
the traces of people who leave them get very soon obliterated.  Besides,
the population is more or less shifting; there are ups and downs; and
you must remember it is a considerable time since Mr. Bethune and his
granddaughter left Omaha. However, in case you don’t learn anything of
them there, I have brought you a letter of introduction to Daniel
Thompson of Toronto—the well-known banker—you may have heard of him—and
he is as likely as any one to know anything that can be known of George
Bethune.  They are old friends."

Vincent was very grateful.

"And I suppose," he said, as he was getting his smaller belongings into
the car, "I shan’t hear anything further of that fellow de Lara?"

"Not a bit—not a bit!" the good-natured Scotch Editor made answer.  "You
took the right way with him at the beginning.  He’ll probably call you a
scoundrel and a blackguard in one or two obscure papers; but that won’t
break bones."

"I have a stout oak cudgel that can, though," said Vincent, "if there
should be need."

It was a long and a lonely journey; Vincent was in no mood for making
acquaintances; and doubtless his fellow-passengers considered him an
excellent specimen of the proud and taciturn travelling Englishman.  But
at last he came in sight of the wide valley of the Missouri, with its
long mud-banks and yellow water-channels; and beyond that again the flat
plain of the city, dominated by the twin-spired High School perched on a
distant height. And he could see how Omaha had grown even within the
short time that had elapsed since his last visit; where he could
remember one-storeyed tenements stuck at haphazard amongst trees and
waste bits of green there were now streets with tram-cars and important
public buildings; the city had extended in every direction; it was a
vast wilderness of houses that he beheld beyond the wide river. Perhaps
Maisrie had been surprised too—on coming back to her old home?  Alas! it
seemed so big a place in which to search for any one; and he knew of no
kindly Scotch Editor who might help.

And very soon he got to recognise that Hugh Anstruther’s warnings had
been well founded.  Omaha seemed to have no past, nor any remembrance of
bygone things; the city was too busy pushing ahead to think of those who
had gone under, or left.  It is true that at the offices of the Union
Pacific Railway, he managed to get some scant information about the
young engineer with whom fortune had dealt so hardly; but these were not
personal reminiscences; there were new men everywhere, and Maisrie’s
father had not been known to any of them.  As for the child-orphan and
the old man who had come to adopt her, who was likely to remember them?
They were not important enough; Omaha had its ’manifest destiny’ to
think of; besides, they were now gone some years—and some years in a
western city is a century.

This was not a wholesome life that Vincent was leading—so quite alone
was he—and anxious—and despairing.  He could not sleep very well.  At
intervals during the night he would start up, making sure that he heard
the sound of a violin; and sometimes the distant and almost inaudible
notes seemed to have a suggestion of Maisrie’s voice in them—’_I daurna
tryst wi’ you, Willie ... I daurna tryst ye here ... But we’ll hold our
tryst in heaven, Willie ... In the spring-time o’ the year_’—and then he
would listen more and more intently, and convince himself it was only
the moaning of the wind down the empty street.  He neglected his meals.
When he took up a newspaper, the printed words conveyed no meaning to
him.  And then he would go away out wandering again, through those
thoroughfares that had hardly any interest for him now; while he was
becoming more and more hopeless as the long hours went by, and feeling
himself baffled at every point.

But before turning his face eastward again, he had written to Mr. Daniel
Thompson of Toronto, mentioning that he had a letter of introduction
from Hugh Anstruther, and stating what had brought him out here to the
west.  Then he went on:

"Mr. Bethune was never very communicative about money-matters—at least,
to me; indeed, he seemed to consider such things too trivial for talking
about.  At the same time I understood from him that when his son, Miss
Bethune’s father, died, there was either some remnant of his shattered
fortunes—or perhaps it was some fund subscribed by sympathising
friends—I never could make out which, and was not curious enough to
inquire—that produced a certain small annual income.  Now I thought that
if I could discover the trustees who paid over this income, they would
certainly know where Mr. Bethune and his granddaughter were now living;
or, on the other hand, supposing the fund was derived from some
investment, if I could find out the bank which held the securities, they
also might be able to tell me.  But all my inquiries have been in vain.
I am a stranger; people don’t want to be bothered; sometimes I can see
they are suspicious.  However, it has occurred to me that you, as an old
friend of Mr. Bethune, might chance to know who they are who have this
fund in trust; and if you could tell me, you would put me under a
life-long debt of gratitude.  If you were aware of all the
circumstances, you would be convinced that no ill-use is likely to be
made of the information. When I first became acquainted with Mr. Bethune
and his granddaughter, they seemed to me to be living a very happy and
simple and contented life in London; and I am afraid I am in some
measure responsible for their having suddenly resolved to leave these
quiet circumstances, and take to that wandering life of which Miss
Bethune seemed so sadly tired.  If I can get no news of them here, I
propose returning home by Toronto and Montreal, and I shall then give
myself the pleasure of calling upon you, when I may be able to assure
you that, if you should hear anything of Mr. Bethune and Miss Bethune,
you would be doing no injury to them, or to any one, in letting me
know."

Then came the answer—from a cautious Scot.

"Dear Sir,—As you rightly observe, my old friend George Bethune was
never very communicative about money matters; and perhaps he was even
less so with me than with others—fearing that any such disclosures might
be misconstrued into an appeal for help.  I was vaguely aware, like
yourself, that he had some small annual income—for the maintenance of
his granddaughter, as I understood; but from whence it was derived I
had, and have, no knowledge whatever; so that I regret I cannot give you
the information you seek.  I shall be pleased to see you on your way
through Toronto; and still further pleased to give you any assistance
that may lie in my power."

There was not much encouragement in this letter; but after these weary
and lonely days in this hopeless city, he was glad to welcome any
friendly hand held out to him.  And he grew to think that he would be
more likely to hear of Maisrie in Toronto or Montreal than in this big
town on the banks of the Missouri.  Canada had been far longer her home.
She used to talk of Toronto or Montreal—more rarely of Quebec—as if she
were familiar with every feature of them; whereas she hardly ever
mentioned Omaha.  He remembered her telling him how she used to climb up
to the top of the tower of Toronto College, to look away across the wide
landscape to the lofty column of soft white smoke that rose from Niagara
Falls into the blue of the summer sky. He recalled her description of
the small verandahed villa in which they lived, out amongst the sandy
roads and trees and gardens of the suburbs.  Why, it was the _Toronto
Globe_ or the _Toronto Mail_ that old George Bethune was reading, when
first he had dared to address them in Hyde Park.  Then Montreal: he
recollected so well her talking of the Grey Nunnery, of Notre Dame, of
Bonsecours Market, of the ice palaces, and toboggan slides, and similar
amusements of the hard northern winter. But a trivial little incident
that befell him on his arrival in Toronto persuaded him, more than any
of these reminiscences, that in coming to Canada he was getting nearer
to Maisrie—that at any moment he might be within immediate touch of her.

It was rather late in the evening when he reached his hotel; he was
tired; and he thought he would go soon to bed.  His room looked out into
a side street that was pretty sure to be deserted at this hour; so that,
just as he was turning off the light, he was a trifle surprised to hear
a slight and distant sound as of singing; and from idle curiosity he
went to the window.  There was a full moon; the opposite pavement and
the fronts of the houses were white in the cold and clear radiance;
silence reigned save for this chance sound he had heard.  At the same
moment he descried the source of it.  There were two young girls coming
along the pavement opposite—hurrying home, apparently, arm-in-arm—while
they amused themselves by singing a little in an underhand way, one of
them even attempting a second from time to time.  And how could he
mistake the air?—it was the _Claire Fontaine_!  The girls were singing
in no sad fashion; but idly and carelessly to amuse themselves on their
homeward way; and indeed so quietly that even in this prevailing silence
he could only guess at the words—

    J’ai perdu ma maîtresse
    Sans l’avoir mérité,
    Pour un bouquet de roses
    Que je lui refusai.

      *      *      *      *      *

    Je voudrais que la rose
    Fût encore au rosier,
    Et moi et ma maîtresse
    Dans les mêms amitiés.

And then the two slight, dark figures went by in the white moonlight;
and eventually the sound ceased in the distance.  But he had been
greatly cheered and comforted.  This was a friendly and familiar air.
He had reached Maisrie’s home at last; _la Claire Fontaine_ proclaimed
it.  And if, when he neared the realms of sleep, his heart was full of
the old refrain—

    Lui ya longtemps que je t’aime,
    Jamais je ne t’oublierai,

there was something of hopefulness there as well: he had left the
despair of Omaha behind him.



                              CHAPTER IV.

                             ENLIGHTENMENT.


Next morning he was up and out betimes—wandering through this town that
somehow seemed to be pervaded by Maisrie’s presence, or, at least, by
recollections of her and associations with her.  He had hardly left his
hotel when he heard a telegraph-boy whistling the air of ’Isabeau s’y
promène.’  He went from one street to another, recognising this and that
public building: the polished marble pillars shining in the cold, clear
sunlight.  Then he walked away up College Avenue, and entered Queen’s
Park; and there, after some little delay, he obtained permission to
ascend to the top of the University tower.  But in vain he sought along
the southern horizon for the cloud of soft white smoke of which Maisrie
had often spoken; the distant Niagara was frozen motionless and mute.
When he returned to the more frequented thoroughfares, the business-life
of the city was now in full flow; nevertheless he kept his eyes on the
alert; even amid this hurrying crowd, the figure of George Bethune would
not readily escape recognition. But, indeed, he was only seeking to pass
the time, for he thought he ought not to call on the banker before
mid-day.

Mr. Daniel Thompson he found to be a tall, spare man, of well over
sixty, with short white whiskers, a face otherwise clean shaven, and
eyes that were shrewd and observant, but far from unkindly.  He listened
to the young man’s tale with evident interest.

"And so you have come all the way across the Atlantic," said he, "to
look for my old friend George Bethune and little Maggie."

"Maggie," repeated Vincent, somewhat startled. "Maisrie, you mean."

"Maisrie!" the banker said, with a certain impatience.  "Does he still
keep up that nonsense? The girl’s name is Margaret; Margaret
Bethune—surely a good enough name for any Christian. But his head is
just full of old ballads and stuff of that kind; any fancy that strikes
him is just as real to him as fact; I dare say he could persuade himself
that he was intimately acquainted with Sir Patrick Spens and the Scots
lords who were drinking in Dunfermline town——"

"But in any case," Vincent protested (for how could he surrender the
name that was so deeply graven on his heart)?  "Maisrie is only a form
of Margaret—as Marjorie is—a pet name—"

"Maisrie!" said the banker, contemptuously. "Who ever heard of any human
creature being called Maisrie—outside of poetry-books and old ballads?
I warned the little monkey, many and many a day ago, when I first got
her to write to me, that she must sign her own name, or she would see
what I would do to her.  Well, how is the little Omahussy?  What does
she look like now?  A sly little wretch she used to be—making people
fond of her with her earnest eyes—"

"I don’t think you quite understand," said Vincent, who resented this
familiar tone, though in truth it only meant an affectionate kindliness.
"Miss Bethune is no longer the little girl you seem to imagine; she is
quite a young lady now—and taller than most."

"The little Omahussy grown up to be a tall young lady?" said he, in a
pleased fashion.  "Yes, yes, I suppose so.  No doubt.  And tall, you
say? Even when she was here last she was getting on; but the only
photograph I have of her was done long before that—when she was hardly
more than twelve; and then I’m an old bachelor, you see; I’m not
accustomed to watch children grow up; and somehow I remember her mostly
as when I first knew her—a shy young thing, and yet something of a
little woman in her ways.  Grown up good-looking, too, I suppose?—both
her father and mother were handsome."

"If you saw her now," said Vincent, "I think you would say she was
beautiful; though it might not be her beauty that would take your
attention the most."

The elderly banker regarded this young man for a second or so—and with a
favouring glance: he was clearly well impressed.

"I hope you will not consider me intrusive or impertinent if I ask you a
question," said he.  "I am an old friend of George Bethune’s—perhaps the
oldest alive now; and besides that I have always regarded myself as a
sort of second father to the little Margaret—though their wandering way
of life has taken her out of my care.  Now—don’t answer unless you
like—tell me to mind my own business—but at the same time one would
almost infer, from your coming over here in search of them, that you
have some particular interest in the young lady——"

"It is the chief interest of my life," said Vincent, with simple
frankness.  "And that is why I cannot rest until I find them."

"Well, now, one question more," the banker continued.  "I don’t wish to
pry into any young lady’s secrets—but—but perhaps there may be some
understanding between her and you?"

"I hope so," said Vincent.

"And the young wretch never wrote me a line to tell me of it!" Mr.
Thompson exclaimed—but it was very obvious that this piece of news had
caused him no chagrin.  "The little Omahussy grows up to be a fine and
tall young lady; chooses her sweetheart for herself; thinks of getting
married and all the rest of it; and not a word to me! Here is filial
gratitude for you!  Why, does she forget what I have promised to do for
her?  Not that I ever said so to her; you don’t fill a school-girl’s
head full of wedding fancies; but her grandfather knew; her grandfather
must have told her when this affair was settled between you and her——"

But here Vincent had to interpose and explain that nothing was settled;
that unhappily everything was unsettled; and further he went on to tell
of all that had happened preceding the disappearance of Maisrie and her
grandfather.  For this man seemed of a kindly nature; he was an old
friend of those two; then Vincent had been very much alone of late—there
was no one in Omaha in whom he could confide.  Mr. Thompson listened
with close attention; and at last he said—

"I can see that you have been placed in a very peculiar position; and
that you have stood the test well.  The description of my old friend
Bethune that your father put before you could be made to look very
plausible; and I imagine that most young men would have been staggered
by it.  I can fancy that a good many young men would have been apt to
say ’Like grandfather, like granddaughter’—and would have declined to
have anything more to do with either.  And yet I understand that,
however doubtful or puzzled you may have been, at least you never had
any suspicion of Margaret?"

"Suspicion?" said Vincent.  "Of the girl whom I hope to make my wife?  I
need not answer the question."

Mr. Thompson give a bit of a laugh, in a quiet, triumphant manner.

"Evidently my little Omahussy had her eyes widely and wisely open when
she made her choice," said he, apparently to himself.

"And what can I do now?" Vincent went on, in a half-despairing way.
"You say you are certain they are not in Canada or they would have come
to see you.  The Scotchmen in New York told me they were positive Mr.
Bethune was not there, or he would have shown up at the Burns
Anniversary. Well, where can I go now?  I must find her—I cannot rest
until I have found her—to have everything explained—and—and to find out
her reason for going away——"

"I wonder," said Mr. Thompson, slowly, "what old George had in his head
this time?  To him, as I say, fancies are just as real as facts, and I
cannot but imagine that this has been his doing.  She would not ask him
to break up all his arrangements and ways of living for her sake; she
was too submissive and dependent on him for that; it is she who has
conformed to some sudden whim of his. You had no quarrel with him?"

"A quarrel?  Nothing of the kind—not the shadow of a quarrel!" Vincent
exclaimed.

"Did you mention to him those reports about himself?" was the next
question.

"Well, yes, I did, in a casual sort of way," the young man answered
honestly.  "But it was merely to account for any possible opposition on
the part of my father; and, in fact, I wanted Mr. Bethune to consent to
an immediate marriage between Maisrie and myself."

"And what did Margaret say to that?" Mr. Thompson proceeded to ask; he
was clearly trying to puzzle out for himself the mystery of this
situation.

"You mean the last time I saw her—the very last time?" the young man
answered him.  "Well, she seemed greatly troubled: as I mentioned to
you, there was some wild talk about degradation—fancy degradation having
anything to do with Maisrie Bethune!—and she said it would be better for
us to separate; and she made me promise certain things.  But I wouldn’t
listen to her; I was going down to Mendover; I made sure everything
would come right as soon as I could get back.  And then, when I got
back, they were gone—and not a trace of them left behind."

"Had old George got any news about the Balloray estates?" the banker
asked, with a quick look.

"Not that I know of," Vincent answered.  "Besides, if there had been any
news of importance, it would have been in the papers; we should all have
seen it!"

"And you and Margaret parted on good terms?"

"Good terms?" said Vincent.  "That is hardly the phrase.  But beyond
what I told you, I cannot say more.  There are some things that are for
myself alone."

"Quite right—quite right," said Mr. Thompson, hastily, "I quite
understand."

At this moment a card was brought in.

"Tell the gentleman I will see him directly," was the reply.

Vincent, of course, rose.

"I confess," said the banker, "that the whole affair perplexes me; and I
should like a little time to think it over.  Have you any engagement for
this evening?"

"No," said Vincent; "I only arrived in Toronto last night: and I don’t
suppose I know any one in the town."

"Come and dine with me at my club, then, this evening, will you?  Just
our two selves: the —— club, at seven.  I want to talk to you about this
matter; for I have a particular interest, as you may suppose, in the
little Maggie; and I want to know what it all means.  I should like to
learn something more about you, too, in view of certain possibilities.
And perhaps I can give you a few hints about my old friend George, for
you don’t quite seem to understand, even with all the chances you have
had.  Yes, I can see a little doubt in your mind at times.  You would
rather shut your eyes—for Margaret’s sake, no doubt; but I want to show
you that there isn’t much of that needed, if you only look the right
way.  However, more of that when we meet.  At seven, then.  Sorry to
seem so rude—but this is an appointment——"

That proved to be a memorable evening.  To begin with small things:
Vincent, after his late solitary wanderings in unfamiliar conditions of
life, now and suddenly found himself at home.  The quiet, old-fashioned
unobtrusive comfort of this club; the air of staid respectability; the
manner of the waiters; the very cooking, and the order in which the
wines were handed—all appeared to him to be so thoroughly English; and
the members, judging by little points here and there, seemed also to be
curiously English in their habits and ways. He had received a similar
impression on his first visit to Toronto; but on this occasion it was
more marked than ever; perhaps the good-humoured friendliness of this
Scotch banker had something to do with it, and their being able to talk
about people in whom they had a common concern. However, it was after
dinner, in a snug corner of the smoking-room, that Mr. Thompson
proceeded to talk of his old friend in a fashion that considerably
astonished the young man who was his guest.

"Yes," he continued, after he had examined and cross-examined Vincent
with regard to certain occurrences, "there is no doubt at all that
George Bethune is a rank old impostor; but the person on whom he has
mostly imposed, all his life through, has been—George Bethune.  I
suppose, now, every one of us has in his nature a certain amount of
self-deception; it would be a pity if it weren’t so.  But here is this
man who has been gifted with a quite unlimited faculty of
self-deception; and with a splendid imagination, too—the imagination of
a poet, without a poet’s responsibilities; so that he lives in a world
entirely of his own creation, and sees things just as he wants to see
them.  As I say, he has the imagination of a poet, and the unworldliness
of a poet, without any one calling him to do anything to prove his
powers; he is too busy constructing his own fanciful universe for
himself; and all the common things of life—debts, bills, undertakings,
and so forth—they have no existence for him.  Ah, well, well," Mr.
Thompson went on, as he lay back in his chair, and watched the blue
curls of smoke from his cigar, "I don’t know whether to call it a pity
or not.  Sometimes one is inclined to envy him his happy temperament.  I
don’t know any human creature who has a braver spirit, whose conscience
is clearer to himself, who can sleep with greater equanimity and
content. Why should he mind what circumstances are around him when in a
single second he can transport himself to the Dowie Dens o’ Yarrow or be
off on a raid with Kinmont Willie?  And there’s nothing that he will not
seize if he has a mind to it—a sounding name, a tradition, a historical
incident—why, he laid hold of the Bonnie mill-dams o’ Binnorie, carried
them off bodily to Balloray, and I suppose wild horses wouldn’t tear
from him the admission that Balloray never had anything to do with those
mill-dams or the story of the two sisters——"

"I know," said Vincent; "Maisrie told me about that."

"Maisrie!" said Mr. Thompson, with a return of his former impatience.
"That is another of his fantasticalities.  I tell you her name is
Margaret——."

"But she has been Maisrie to me, and Maisrie she will be to me always,"
Vincent made answer stoutly—for surely he had some right to speak on
this matter too.  "As I said this morning, it is only a pet name for
Margaret; and if she chooses to use it, to please her grandfather, or to
please herself even——"

"Stay a moment: I want to show you something."

The banker put his hand into his breast-pocket; and pulled out an
envelope.

"Not the photograph?" said Vincent, rather breathlessly.

Mr. Thompson smiled in his quiet, sagacious way.

"When I mentioned this portrait to you to-day," said he, "I saw
something in your eyes—though you were too modest to put your request
into words.  Well, I have brought it; here it is; and if you’ll look at
the foot you’ll see that the little Omahussy signs herself, as she ought
to sign herself, ’Margaret Bethune.’"

And what a revelation was this, of what Maisrie had been in the years
before he had known her! The quaint, prim, small miss!—he could have
laughed, with a kind of delight: only that here were those calm, grave,
earnest eyes, that seemed to know him, that seemed to speak to him.
Full of wistfulness they were, and dreams: they said to him, ’I am
looking forward; I am waiting till I meet you—my friend; life has that
in store—for you and me.’

"I thought you would be interested," said Mr. Thompson, blandly.  "And I
know you would like me to give you that photograph: perhaps you think
you have some right to it, having won the young lady herself——"

"Won her?" said Vincent, still contemplating this strange, quaint
portrait that seemed to speak to him somehow.  "It hardly looks like
it."

"Well, I cannot give you the photograph," the elderly Scotchman
continued, in his friendly way, "but, if you like, I will have it
copied—perhaps even enlarged, if it will stand it—and I will send you
one——"

"Will you?" said Vincent, with a flash of gratitude in his eyes.  "To me
it would be simply a priceless treasure."

"I just thought it would be," Mr. Thompson said, considerately.  "I’ve
seen something of the ways of young people in my time.  Yes; I’ll send
you a copy or two as soon as I can get them done."

Vincent handed back the photograph—reluctantly, and keeping his eyes on
it until it had disappeared.

"I brought it out to show you she could sign her name properly when
under proper instruction," the banker continued.  "And now to return to
her grandfather, who seems to have puzzled you a little, as well might
be the case.  I can see how you have been trying to blind yourself to
certain things: no doubt you looked towards Margaret, and thought she
would make up for all.  But I surmise you have been a little unjust to
my old friend; notwithstanding your association with him, you have not
quite understood him; and perhaps that is hardly to be wondered at.  And
certainly you would never take him to be what I consider him to be—a
very great man who has been spoiled by a fatal inheritance.  I do truly
and honestly believe there were the makings of a great man in George
Bethune—a man with his indomitable pluck and self-reliance, his
imagination, his restless energy, his splendid audacity and independence
of character. Even now I see something heroic in him: he seems to me a
man of heroic build—of heroic attitude towards the rest of the world:
people may say what they like about George Bethune; but I know him
better than most, and I wholly admire him and love him.  If it hadn’t
been for that miserable property!  I suppose, now, a large estate may
turn out a fortunate or unfortunate legacy accordingly as you use it;
but if your legacy is only the knowledge that the estate ought to be
yours, and isn’t, that is a fine set of circumstances!  And I have
little doubt it was to forget that wretched lawsuit, to escape from a
ceaseless and useless disappointment, that he took refuge in a world of
imagination, and built up delusions round about him—just as other people
take refuge in gin or in opium.  At all events, his spirit has not been
crushed.  Did you ever hear him whine and complain?—I should think not!
He has kept a stout heart, has old George Bethune.  Perhaps, indeed, his
pride has been excessive.  Here am I, for example: I’m getting well on
in years, and I haven’t a single near relative now living; I’ve scraped
together a few sixpences in my time; and nothing would give me greater
pleasure than if George Bethune were to come to me and ask me to share
my purse with him.  And he knows it too.  But would he?  Not a bit!
Rather than come to me and get some useful sum, he would go and get a
few pounds out of some newspaper-office on account of one of his frantic
schemes to do something fine for poor old Scotland. No," the banker
proceeded, with rather an injured air, "I suppose I’m not distinguished
enough. Friend George has some very high and mighty notions about the
claims of long descent—and _noblesse oblige_—and all that.  It is a
condescension on his part to accept help from any one; and it is the
privilege of those who have birth and lineage like himself to be allowed
to come to his aid.  I’m only Thompson.  If I were descended from
Richard Coeur de Lion I suppose it would be different.  Has he ever
accepted any money from you?"

"Never," said Vincent—who was not going to recall a few restaurant bills
and cab fares.

"No," resumed the banker, "Your name is Harris.  But when it comes to
Lord Musselburgh, that is quite different, that is all right.  No doubt
Lord Musselburgh was quite proud to be allowed to subscribe—how much was
it?—towards a book that never came out."

"Oh, but I ought to explain that that money was paid back," said
Vincent, quickly.

"Paid back?" repeated the banker, staring. "That is a new feature,
indeed!  The money paid back to Lord Musselburgh?  How did that come
about?  How did friend George yield to a weakness of that kind?"

"The fact is," said Vincent, blushing like a school-boy, "I paid it."

"Without letting the old gentleman know?"

"Yes."

"Then excuse my saying so," Mr. Thomson observed, "but you threw away
your money to very little purpose.  If George Bethune is willing to take
a cheque from Lord Musselburgh—if he can do so without the slightest
loss of self-respect or dignity—why should not his lordship be allowed
to help a brother Scot?  Why should you interfere?"

"It was for Maisrie’s sake," said Vincent, looking down.

"Ah, yes, yes," the banker said, knitting his brows.  "That is where the
trouble comes in.  I shouldn’t mind letting George Bethune go his own
way; he is all right; his self-sufficiency will carry him through
anything: but for a sensitive girl like that it must be terrible.  I
wonder how much she suspects," he went on.  "I wonder how much she sees.
Or if it is possible he has blinded her as well as himself to their
circumstances?  For you must remember this—I am talking to you now, Mr.
Harris, as one who may have a closer relationship with these two—you
must remember this, that to himself George Bethune’s conscience is as
clear as that of a one-year-old child.  Do you think he sees anything
shady or unsatisfactory in these little transactions or forgetfulnesses
of his?  He is careless of money because he despises it.  If he had any,
and you wanted it, it would be yours."

"I know that," said Vincent, eagerly; and he told the story of their
meeting the poor woman in Hyde Park.

"Take that string of charges you spoke of," the banker resumed.  "I have
not the least doubt that from the point of view of the people who
discovered those things their story was quite accurate.  Except,
perhaps, about his calling himself Lord Bethune: I don’t believe that,
and never heard of it; that was more likely a bit of toadyism on the
part of some bar-loungers.  But, as I say, from a solicitor’s point of
view, George Bethune would no doubt be regarded as a habitual impostor;
whereas to himself he is no impostor at all, but a perfectly honourable
person, whose every act can challenge the light of day.  If there is any
wrong or injury in the relations between him and the world, be sure he
considers himself the wronged and injured one: though you must admit he
does not complain.  The question is—does Margaret see?  Or has he
brought her up in that world of imagination—careless of the real facts
of life—persuading yourself of anything you wish to believe—thinking
little of rent or butchers’ bills so long as you can escape into the
merry green-wood and live with Burd Helens and May Colleans and the
like?  You see, when I knew her she was little more than a child; it
would never occur to her to question the conduct of her grandfather; but
now you say she is a woman—she may have begun to look at things for
herself——"

Mr. Thompson paused, and eyed his companion curiously.  For a strange
expression had come into Vincent’s face.

"What then?" asked the banker.

"I am beginning to understand," the young man said, "and—and—perhaps
here is the reason of Maisrie’s going away.  Suppose she imagined that I
suspected her grandfather—suppose she thought I considered those reports
true: then she might take that as a personal insult; she might be too
proud to offer any defence; she would go to her grandfather and say
’Grandfather, if this is what he and his friends think of us, it is time
we should take definite steps to end this companionship.’  It has been
all my doing, then, since I was so blind?" Vincent continued, evidently
in deep distress.  "I don’t wonder that she was offended and
insulted—and—and she would be too proud to explain.  I have all along
had a kind of notion that she had something to do, perhaps everything to
do, with their going away. And yet——"

He was silent.  Mr. Thompson waited for a second or two, not wishing to
interrupt: then he said—

"Of course you know her better than I do; but that is not how I should
read the situation.  It is far more probable that her own eyes have been
gradually opening—not to what her grandfather is, but to what he may
appear to be in the eyes of the world; and when she has come more and
more to perceive the little likelihood of his being considerately
judged, she may have determined that you should be set free from all
association with him and with her.  I think that is far more likely, in
view of the things you have told me.  And I can imagine her doing that.
A resolute young creature; ready to sacrifice herself; used to
wandering, too—her first solution of any difficulty would be to ’go
away.’  A touch of pride, perhaps, as well.  I dare say she has
discovered that if you look at George Bethune through blue spectacles,
his way of life must look rather questionable; but if you look at him
through pink spectacles, everything is pleasant, and fine, and even
grand.  But would she ask anyone to put on a pair of pink spectacles?
No; for she has the stiff neck of the Bethunes.  I imagine she can hold
her head as high as any one, now she is grown up. And of course she will
not ask for generous interpretation; she will rather ’go away.’"

Vincent was still silent; but at length he said—as if speaking to
himself—

"I wonder what Maisrie must have thought of me."

He had evidently been going over all that had happened in those bygone
days—by the light of this new knowledge.

"What do you mean?" the banker said.

"Why, if there were any generous interpretation needed or expected,
surely it should have come first of all from me.  The outside world
might be excused for thinking this or that of Mr. Bethune; but I was
constantly with him; and then, look at the relations that existed
between Maisrie and myself.  I thought I was doing enough in the way of
generosity when I tried to shut my eyes to certain things; whereas I
should have tried to see more clearly.  I might have understood—if any
one.  I remember now Maisrie’s saying to me on one occasion—it was about
that book on the Scottish-American poets—she said quite piteously:
’Don’t you understand?  Don’t you understand that grandfather can
persuade himself of anything? If he has thought a thing over, he
considers it done, and is ready for something else.’  And then there was
another time——"

"Come, come," said Mr. Thompson, good-naturedly, "I don’t see you have
much to reproach yourself with.  You must admit that that affair—if he
really did see the proof-sheets in New York—looked pretty bad.  You say
yourself that Hugh Anstruther was staggered by it——"

"Yes, he was," said Vincent, "until I explained that the money had been
repaid to Lord Musselburgh, and also that I had no doubt Mr. Bethune
considered himself, from his knowledge of the subject, quite entitled to
publish a volume on the other side of the water.  Mr. Ross’s book was
published only on this side—at least, that is my impression."

"Did you tell Anstruther who repaid the money to Lord Musselburgh?" Mr.
Thompson asked, with a shrewd glance.

"No," answered Vincent, looking rather shame-faced.

"Ah, well," the banker said, "a freak of generosity is very pardonable
in a young man, especially where a young lady is concerned.  And you had
the means besides.  Your father is a rich man, isn’t he?"

"Oh, yes, pretty well."

"And you—now forgive my curiosity—it only arises from my interest in
Margaret—I dare say you are allowed a sufficient income?"

"I have more money than I need," said Vincent, frankly, "but of course
that would not be the case if I married Maisrie Bethune, for then I
should have to depend on my own resources.  I should have to earn my own
living."

"Oh, earn your own living?  Well, that is very commendable, in any case.
And how do you propose to earn your own living?"

"By writing for the newspapers."

"Have you had any experience?" Maisrie’s ’second father’ continued.

"Yes, a little; and I have had fair encouragement. Besides, I know one
or two important people in the newspaper world."

"And what about your seat in Parliament?"

"That would not interfere: there are several journalists in the House."

The banker considered for a little while.

"Seems a little hazardous, doesn’t it, to break away from a certainty of
income?" he asked, at length.  "Are you quite convinced that if you
married Margaret your relatives would prove so implacable?"

"It isn’t what they would do that is the question," Vincent responded,
with promptitude.  "It is what I should be inclined to do.  At present
they regard Maisrie as nothing more nor less than a common adventuress
and swindler—or rather an uncommon one—a remarkably clever one.  Now do
you think I am going to take her by the hand, and lead her up to them,
and say, ’Dear Papa,’ or ’Dear Aunt,’ as the case may be, ’Here is the
adventuress and swindler whom I have married, but she is not going to be
wicked any more; she is going to reform; and I beg you to receive her
into the family, and forgive her all that she has been; and also I hope
that you will give me money to support her and myself.’  You see,"
continued Vincent, "before I did that I think I would rather try to find
out how much a week I could make by writing leading-articles."

"Quite right—quite right," said Mr. Thompson, with a smile: for why this
disdain?—_he_ had not counselled the young man to debase himself so.

"And then it isn’t breaking away from any certainty of income," Vincent
proceeded, "but quite the reverse.  The certainty is that as soon as I
announce my intention of marrying Miss Bethune, my father will suggest
that I should shift for myself.  Very well.  I’m not afraid.  I can take
my chance, like another.  They say that poverty is a good test of
affection: I am ready to face it, for one."

"Oh, as for that," the banker interposed, "I wish you to understand
this—that your bride won’t come to you empty-handed.  George Bethune may
hold aloof from me as long as he likes.  If he thinks it is more
dignified for him to go cadging about with vague literary projects—all
for the honour and glory of Scotland, no doubt—instead of letting his
oldest friend share his purse with him, I have nothing to say.  My
name’s only Thompson; _noblesse oblige_ has nothing to do with me.  But
when my little Margaret walks into church to meet the man of her choice,
it will be my business to see that she is suitably provided for.  I do
not mean to boast, or make rash promises, or raise false expectations;
but when her husband brings her away it will be no pauper he is taking
home with him.  And I want to add this, since we are talking in
confidence: I hope her husband will be none other than yourself.  I like
you.  I like the way you have spoken of both grandfather and
granddaughter; and I like your independence.  By all means when you get
back to the old country: by all means carry out that project of yours of
earning an income for yourself.  It can do you no harm, whatever
happens; it may be invaluable to you in certain circumstances.  And in
the meantime, if I may still further advise, give up this search of
yours for the present.  I dare say you are now convinced they are not on
this side the water; well, let that suffice for the time being.  Here is
Parliament coming together; you have your position to make; and the
personal friend and protégé of —— should surely have a great chance in
public life.  Of course, you will say it is easy to talk.  But don’t
misunderstand me.  What can you do except attend to these immediate and
practical affairs? If George Bethune and Margaret have decided, for
reasons best known to themselves, to sever the association between you
and them, mere advertising won’t bring them back.  And searching the
streets of this or that town is a pretty hopeless business. No; if you
hear of them, it will not be in that way: it will be through some
communication with some common friend, and just as likely as not that
friend will be myself."

All this seemed very reasonable—and hopeless. Vincent rose.

"I must not keep you up too late," said he, in am absent sort of way.
"I suppose you are right—I may as well go away back to England at once.
But of course I will call to see you before I go—to-morrow if I may—to
thank you for all your kindness."

"Ah, but you must keep up your heart, you know," the banker said,
regarding the young man in a favouring way.  "No despair.  Why, I am
sure to hear from one or other of them; they cannot guess that you have
been here; even if they wish to keep their whereabouts concealed from
you they would have no such secret from me.  And be sure I will send you
word the moment I hear anything. I presume the House of Commons will be
your simplest and surest address."

As he walked away home that night Vincent had many things to ponder
over; but the question of questions was as to whether Maisrie had
indignantly scorned him for his blindness in not perceiving more clearly
her grandfather’s nature and circumstances, or for his supineness in
wavering, and half-admitting that these charges might bring disquiet.
For now the figure of old George Bethune seemed to stand out distinctly
enough: an amiable and innocent monomaniac; a romantic enthusiast; a
sublime egotist; a dreamer of dreams; a thaumaturgist surrounding
himself with delusions and not knowing them to be such.  And if Daniel
Thompson’s reading of the character of his old friend was accurate—if
George Bethune had merely in splendid excess that faculty of
self-deception which in lesser measure was common to all mortals—who was
going to cast the first stone?



                               CHAPTER V.

                        MARRIAGE NOT A LA MODE.


London had come to life again; the meeting of Parliament had summoned
fathers of families from distant climes and cities—from Algiers and
Athens, from Constantinople and Cairo; the light blazed at the summit of
the Clock-tower; cabs and carriages rattled into Palace Yard.  And here,
at a table in the Ladies’ Dining-room of the House of Commons, sate Mrs.
Ellison and her friend Louie Drexel, along with Lord Musselburgh and
Vincent Harris, the last-named playing the part of host.  This Miss
Drexel was rather an attractive-looking little person, brisk and trim
and neat, with a healthy complexion, a pert nose, and the most
astonishingly clear blue eyes.  Very frank those eyes were; almost
ruthless in a way; about as ruthless as the young lady’s tongue, when
she was heaping contempt and ridicule on some conventionality or social
superstition.  "Seeva the Destroyer" Vincent used gloomily to call her,
when he got a little bit tired of having her flung at his head by the
indefatigable young widow.  Nevertheless she was a merry and vivacious
companion; with plenty of independence, too: if she was being flung at
anybody’s head it was with no consent of her own.

"You don’t say!" she was observing to her companion.  "Fancy any one
being in Canada in the winter and not going to see the night tobogganing
at Rideau Hall!"

"I never was near Ottawa," said Vincent, in answer to her; "and,
besides, I don’t know the Viceroy."

"A member of the British Parliament—travelling in Canada: I don’t think
you would have to wait long for an invitation," said she.  "Why, you
missed the loveliest thing in the world—just the loveliest thing in the
whole world!—the toboggan-slide all lit up with Chinese lanterns—the
black pine woods all around—the clear stars overhead. Then they have
great bonfires down in the hollow—to keep the chaperons from freezing:
poor things, it isn’t much fun for them; I dare say they find out what a
good thing hot coffee is on a cold night. And you were at Toronto?" she
added.

"Yes, I was at Toronto," he answered, absently: indeed at this time he
was thinking much oftener of Toronto than this young lady could have
imagined—wondering when, or if ever, a message was coming to him from
the friendly Scotch banker there.

Mrs. Ellison was now up in town making preparations for her approaching
marriage; but so anxious was she that Louie Drexel and Vincent should
get thrown together, that she crushed the natural desire of a woman’s
heart for a fashionable wedding, and proposed that the ceremony should
be quite a quiet little affair, to take place at Brighton, with Miss
Drexel as her chief attendant and Vincent as best man.  And of course
there were many consultations; and Mrs. Ellison and her young friend
were much together; and they seemed to think it pleasanter, in their
comings and goings, to have a man’s escort, so that the Parliamentary
duties of the new member for Mendover were very considerably interfered
with.

"Look here, aunt," said he, at this little dinner, "do you think I went
into the House of Commons simply to get you places in the Ladies’
gallery and entertain you in the Ladies’ Dining-room?"

"I consider that a very important part of your duties," said the young
widow, promptly.  "And I tell you this: when we come back from the
Riviera, for the London season, I hope to be kept informed of everything
that is going on—surely, with a husband in one House and a nephew in the
other!"

"But what I want to know is," said Lord Musselburgh on this same
occasion, "what Vin is going to do about the taxation of ground rents.
I think that is about the hardest luck I ever heard of. Here is a young
man, who no sooner gets into Parliament than he is challenged to say
whether he will support the taxation of ground rents; and lo and behold!
every penny of his own fortune is invested in ground rents!  Isn’t that
hard?  Other things don’t touch him.  Welsh Disestablishment will
neither put a penny in his pocket nor take one out; while he can make
promises by the dozen about the abolition of the tea duty, extension of
Factory Acts, triennial Parliaments, and all the rest of it.  Besides,
it isn’t only a question of money. He knows he has no more right to tax
ground rents than to pillage a baker’s shop; he knows he oughtn’t to
give the name of patriot to people who merely want to steal what doesn’t
belong to them; and I suppose he has his own ideas about contracts
guaranteed by law, and the danger of introducing the legislation of
plunder.  But what is he going to do?  What are you going to do, Marcus
Curtius? Jump in, and sacrifice yourself, money and principles and all?"

"You are not one of my constituents," said Vincent, "and I decline to
answer."

Day after day went by, and week after week; but no tidings came of the
two fugitives.  In such moments of interval as he could snatch from his
various pursuits (for he was writing for an evening paper now, and that
occupied a good deal of his time) his imagination would go wandering
away over the surface of the globe, endeavouring to picture them here or
there.  He had remembered Maisrie’s injunction; he could not forget
that; but of what avail was it now?  Busy as he was, he led a solitary
kind of life; much thinking, especially during the long hours of the
night, was eating into his spirit; in vain did Mrs. Ellison scheme and
plan all kinds of little festivities and engagements in order to get him
interested in Louie Drexel.  But he was grateful to the girl, in a sort
of way; when they had to go two and two (which Mrs. Ellison endeavoured
to manage whenever there was a chance) she did all the talking; she did
not seem to expect attention; she was light-hearted and amusing enough.
He bought her music; sent her flowers; and so forth; and no doubt Mrs.
Ellison thought that all was going well; but it is to be presumed that
Miss Drexel herself was under no misapprehension, for she was an
observant and shrewd-witted lass.  Once, indeed, as they were walking up
Regent-street, she ventured to hint, in a sisterly sort of fashion, that
he might be a little more confidential with her; but he did not respond
to this invitation; and she did not pursue the subject further.

Then the momentous wedding-day drew near; and it was with curious
feelings that Vincent found himself on the way to Brighton again.  But
he was not alone.  The two Drexel girls and Lord Musselburgh were with
him, in this afternoon Pullman; and Miss Louie was chattering away like
twenty magpies.  Always, too, in an oddly personal way. You—the person
she was addressing—you were responsible for everything that had happened
to her, or might happen to her, in this country; you were responsible
for the vagaries of the weather, for the condition of the cab that
brought her, for the delay in getting tickets.

"Why," she said to Vincent, "you know perfectly well that all that your
English poets have written about your English spring is a pure
imposture. Who would go a-Maying when you can’t be sure of the weather
for ten minutes at a time?  ’Hail, smiling morn!’—just you venture to
say that, on the finest day you ever saw in an English spring; the
chances are your prayer will be answered, and the chances are that the
morn does begin to hail, like the very mischief.  You know perfectly
well that Herrick is a fraud.  There never were such people as Corydon
and Phyllis—with ribbons at their knees and in their caps.  The
farm-servants of Herrick’s time were no better off than the
farm-servants of this present time—stupid, ignorant louts, not thinking
of poetry at all, but living the most dull and miserable of lives, with
an occasional guzzle.  But in this country, you believe anything that is
told you.  One of your great men says that machine-made things are bad;
and so you go and print your books on hand-made paper—and worry
yourselves to death before you can get the edges out.  I call the man
who multiplies either useful or pretty things by machinery a true
philanthropist; he is working for the mass of the people; and it’s about
time they were being considered.  In former days——"

"Don’t you want to hire a hall, Louie?" said her sister Anna.

"Oh, I’ve no patience with sham talk of that kind!" continued Miss
Drexel, not heeding the interruption.  "As I say, in former days no one
was supposed to have anything fine or beautiful in their house, except
princes and nobles.  The goldsmiths, and the lapidaries, and the
portrait-painters—and the poor wretches who made Venetian lace—they all
worked for the princes and nobles; and the common people were not
supposed to have anything to do with art or ornament; they could herd
like pigs.  Well, I’m for machinery.  I’m for chromolithography, when it
can give the labourer a very fair imitation of a Landseer or a Millais
to hang up in his cottage; I’m for the sewing-machine that can give the
£150-a-year people a very good substitute for Syrian embroidery to put
in their drawing-room. You’ve been so long used to princes and nobles
having everything and the poor people nothing——"

"But we’re learning the error of our ways," said Vincent, interposing.
"My father is a Socialist."

"A Socialist," observed Lord Musselburgh, "who broke the moulds of a
dessert-service lest anybody else should have plates of the same
pattern!"

"Who has been telling tales out of school?" Vincent asked; but the
discussion had to end here, for they were now slowing into the station.

Nor did Mrs. Ellison’s plans for throwing those two young people
continuously and obviously together work any better in Brighton; for
Vincent had no sooner got down than he went away by himself, seeking out
the haunts he had known when Maisrie and her grandfather had been there.
Wretchedness, loneliness, was destroying the nerve of this young man. He
had black moods of despair; and not only of despair, but of remorse; he
tortured himself with vain regrets, as one does when thinking of the
dead. If only he could have all those opportunities over again, he would
not misunderstand or mistrust! If only he could have them both here!—the
resolute, brave-hearted old man who disregarded all mean and petty
troubles while he could march along, with head erect, repeating to
himself a verse of the Psalms of David, or perhaps in his careless
gaiety singing a farewell to Bonny Mary and the pier o’ Leith.  And
Maisrie?—but Maisrie had gone away, proud, and wounded, and indignant.
She had found him unworthy of the love she had offered him.  He had not
risen to her height.  She would seek some other, no doubt, better fitted
to win her maiden trust.  He thought of ’Urania’—

    ’Yet show her once, ye heavenly Powers,
    One of some worthier race than ours!
    One for whose sake she once might prove
    How deeply she who scorns can love.’

And that other one, that worthier one, she would welcome—

    ’And she to him will reach her hand,
    And gazing in his eyes will stand,
    And know her friend, and weep for glee,
    And cry: _Long, long I’ve looked for thee_.’

Then again his mood would change.  If Maisrie were only here—if but for
a second or so he could look into her clear, pensive, true eyes, surely
he could convince her of one thing—that even when his father had offered
him chapter and verse to prove that she was nothing but the accomplice
of a common swindler, his faith in her had never wavered, never for an
instant.  And would she not forgive his blindness in not understanding
so complex a character as that of her grandfather? He had not told her
of his half-suspicions; nay, he had treated those charges with an open
contempt.  And if her quick eyes had perceived that behind those
professions there lingered some unconfessed doubt, would she not be
generous and willing to pardon?  It was in her nature to be generous.
And he had borne some things for her sake that he had never revealed to
any mortal.

He ought to have been attending to his groomsman’s duties, and acting as
escort to the young ladies who had gone down; but instead of that he
paid a visit to German-place, to look at the house in which the two
Bethunes had lodged; and he slowly passed up and down the Kemp-Town
breakwater, striving to picture to himself the look in Maisrie’s eyes
when her soul made confession; and he went to the end of the Chain Pier,
to recall the tempestuous morning on which Maisrie, with her wet hair
blown about by the winds, and her lips salt with the sea-spray, had
asked him to kiss her, as a last farewell.  And his promise?—"Promise
me, Vincent, that you will never doubt that you are my dearest in all
the world; promise me that you will say to yourself always and always,
’Wherever Maisrie is at this moment, she loves me—she is thinking of
me.’"  He had made light of her wild words; he could not believe in any
farewell; and now—now all the wide, unknown world lay between him and
her, and there was nothing for him but the memory of her broken accents,
her sobs, her distracted, appealing eyes.

Mrs. Ellison affected not to notice his remissness; nay, she went on the
other tack.

"Don’t you think it is a pity, Vin," she said on one occasion when she
found him alone—and there was a demure little smile on her very pretty
and expressive face: "Don’t you think it is a pity the two marriages
couldn’t be on the same day?"

"What two marriages?" he demanded, with a stare.

"Oh, yes, we are so discreet!" she said, mockingly.  "We wouldn’t
mention anything for worlds. But other people aren’t quite blind, young
gentleman. And I do think it would have been so nice if the four of us
could have gone off on this trip together; Louie despises
conventions—she wouldn’t mind.  Many’s the time I’ve thought of it; four
make such a nice number for driving along the Riviera; and four who all
know each other so well would be quite delightful.  If it came to that,
I dare say it could be arranged yet: I’m sure I should be willing to
have our marriage postponed for a month, and I have no doubt I could
persuade Hubert to agree: then the two weddings on the same day would be
jolly—"

"What are you talking about, aunt!" he exclaimed.

"Oh, well," she said, with a wise and amiable discretion, "I don’t want
to hurry on anything, or even to interfere.  But of course we all expect
that the attentions you have been paying to Louie Drexel will lead to
something—and it would have been very nice if the two weddings could
have been together."

He was still staring at her.

"Mind you," she went on, "I wish you distinctly to understand that Louie
has not spoken a single word to me on the subject—"

"Well, I should hope not!" said Vincent, with quick indignation.

"Oh, don’t be angry!  Do you think a girl doesn’t interpret things?"
continued Mrs. Ellison. "She has her own pride, of course; she wouldn’t
speak until she is spoken to.  But _I_ can speak; and surely you know
that it is only your interests I have at heart.  And that is why we have
been so glad to see this affair coming along—"

"Who have been glad to see it?" he asked again.

"Well, Hubert, for one.  And I should think your father.  Of course they
must see how admirable a wife she would make you, now you are really
embarked in public life.  Clever, bright, amusing; of a good family;
with a comfortable dowry, no doubt—but that would be of little
consequence, so long as your father was pleased with the match: you will
have plenty.  And this is my offer, a very handsome one, I consider it:
even now, at the last moment, I will try to get Hubert to postpone our
marriage, if you and Louie will have your wedding on the same day with
us.  I have thought of it again and again; but somehow I didn’t like to
speak.  I was waiting for you to tell me that there was a definite
understanding between you and Louie Drexel——"

"Well, there is not," he said calmly.  "Nor is there ever likely to be."

"Oh, come, come," she said insidiously, "don’t make any rash resolve,
simply because I may have interfered a little too soon.  Consider the
circumstances.  Did you ever hear of any young man getting into
Parliament with fairer prospects than you?  Your friendship with —— is
of itself enough to attract attention to you.  You have hardly opened
your mouth in the House yet; all the same I can see a disposition on the
part of the newspapers to pet you——"

"What has that got to do with Louie Drexel?" Vincent asked bluntly.

"Everything," was the prompt reply.  "You must have social position.
You must begin and entertain—and make your own circle of friends and
allies.  Then I shall want you to come to Musselburgh House—you and your
wife—so that my dinner parties shan’t be smothered up with elderly
people and political bores.  You can’t begin too early to form your own
set; and not only that, but with a proper establishment and a wife at
the head of it, you can pay compliments to all kinds of people, even
amongst those who are not of your own set.  Why shouldn’t you ask Mr.
Ogden to dinner, for example?—there’s many a good turn he might do you
in time to come.  Wait till you see how I mean to manage at Musselburgh
House—if only Hubert would be a little more serious, and profess
political beliefs even if he hasn’t any.  For I want you to succeed,
Vincent.  You are my boy.  And you don’t know how a woman who can’t
herself do anything distinguished is proud to look on and admire one of
her own family distinguishing himself, and would like to have all the
world admiring him too. I tell you you are losing time; you are losing
your opportunities.  What is the use—what on earth can be the use,"
continued this zealous and surely disinterested councillor, "of your
writing for newspapers?  If the articles were signed, then I could
understand their doing you some good; or if you were the editor of an
important journal, that would give you a position.  But here you are
slaving away—for what?  Is it the money they give you? It would be odd
if the son of Harland Harris had to make that a consideration.  What
otherwise, then?  Do you think half-a-dozen people know that you write
in the —— ——."

"My dear aunt," he answered her, "all that you say is very wise and very
kind; but you must not bother about me when your own affairs are so much
more important.  If I have been too attentive to Miss Drexel—I’m sure I
wasn’t aware of it, but I may have been—I will alter that——"

"Oh, Vin, don’t be mean!" Mrs. Ellison cried. "Don’t do anything shabby.
You won’t go and quarrel with the girl simply because I ventured to hope
something from your manner towards her—you wouldn’t do such a thing as
that——"

"Certainly not," said he, in a half-amused way. "Miss Drexel and I are
excellent friends——"

"And you will continue to be so!" said Mrs. Ellison, imploringly.  "Now,
Vincent, promise me! You know there are crises in a woman’s life when
she expects a little consideration—when she expects to be petted—and
have things a little her own way: well, promise me now you will be very
kind to Louie—kinder than ever—why, what an omen at a wedding it would
be if my chief attendant and the groomsman were to fall out——"

"Oh, we shan’t fall out, aunt, be sure of that," he said good-naturedly.

"Ah, but I want more," she persisted.  "I shall consider myself a horrid
mischief-maker if I don’t see that you are more attentive and kind to
Louie Drexel than ever.  It’s your duty.  It’s your place as groomsman.
You’ll have to propose their health at the wedding-breakfast; and of
course you’ll say something nice about American girls—could you say
anything too nice, I wonder?—and you’ll have to say it with an air of
conviction.  For they’ll expect you to speak well, of course: you, a
young member of Parliament; and where could you find a more welcome
toast, at a wedding-breakfast, than the toast of the unmarried young
ladies?  Yes, yes; you’ll have plenty of opportunity of lecturing a
sleepy House of Commons about Leasehold Enfranchisement and things of
that kind; but this is quite another sort of chance; and I’m looking
forward to my nephew distinguishing himself—as he ought to do, when he
will have Louie and Anna Drexel listening."  And here this astute and
insidious adviser ceased, for her future husband came into the room, to
pay his last afternoon call.

Whether Vincent spoke well or ill on that auspicious occasion does not
concern us here: it only needs to be said that the ceremony, and the
quiet little festivities following, all passed off very satisfactorily;
and that bride and bridegroom (the former being no novice) drove away
radiant and happy, amid the usual symbolic showers.  It was understood
they were to break their journey southward at Paris for a few days; and
Vincent—who had meanwhile slipped along to his hotel to change his
attire—went up to the railway station to see them off.  He was surprised
to find both the Drexel girls there.

"Now, look here, Vin," said the charming, tall, pretty-eyed, and not
inexperienced bride, "I want you to do me a favour.  If a woman isn’t to
be humoured and petted on her wedding day—when, then?  Well, Louie and
Anna don’t return to town till to-morrow morning; and what are they to
do in that empty house with old Mrs. Smythe?  I want you to take them in
hand for the afternoon—to please me.  Leave that wretched House of
Commons for one more evening: in any case you couldn’t go up now before
the five o’clock express."

And then she turned to the two young ladies. "Louie, Vincent has
promised to look after you two girls; and he’ll see you safely into your
train to-morrow morning.  So you must do your best to entertain him in
the meanwhile; the afternoon will be the dullest—you must find something
to amuse yourselves with——"

Miss Drexel seemed a little self-conscious, and also inclined to laugh.

"If he will trust himself entirely to us," said she, with covertly merry
eyes fixed on the bride, "Anna and I will do our best.  But he must put
himself entirely in our charge.  He must be ruled and governed.  He must
do everything we ask——"

"Training him for a husband’s duties," said Lord Musselburgh, without
any evil intention whatever; for indeed he was more anxious about
getting a supply of foot-warmers into the carriage that had been
reserved for him.

Then the kissing had to be gone through; there were final farewells and
good wishes; away went the train; there was a fluttering of
handkerchiefs; and here was Vincent Harris, a captive in the hands of
those two young American damsels—who, at first, did not seem to know
what to do with him.

But very soon their shyness wore off; and it must be freely conceded
that they treated him well.  To begin with, they took him down into the
town, and led him to a little table at a confectioner’s, and ordered two
ices for themselves and for him a glass of sherry and a biscuit.  When
that fluid was placed before him, he made no remark: his face was
perfectly grave.

"What’s the matter now?" Louie Drexel asked, looking at him.

"I said nothing," he answered.

"What are you thinking, then?"

"Nothing—nothing."

"But I insist on knowing."

"Oh, very well," he said.  "But it isn’t my fault. I promised to obey.
If you ask me to drink a glass of confectioner’s sherry I will do
so—though it seems a pity to die so young."

"What would you rather have then—tea or an ice?"

She got an ice for him; and duly paid for the three—much to his
consternation, but he had undertaken to be quite submissive.  Then they
took him for a walk and showed him the beauties of the place, making
believe to recognise the chief features and public buildings of New
York.  Then they carried him with them to Mrs. Ellison’s house, and
ascended into the drawing room there, chatting, laughing,
nonsense-making, in a very frank and engaging manner.  Finally, towards
six o’clock, Miss Drexel rang the bell, and ordered the carriage.

"Oh, I say, don’t do that," Vincent interposed, grown serious for a
moment.  "People don’t like tricks being played with their horses.  You
may do anything else in a house but that."

"And pray who asked you to interfere?" she retorted, in a very imperious
manner; so there was nothing for it but acquiescence and resignation.

And very soon—in a few minutes, indeed—the carriage was beneath the
windows: coachman on the box, footman at the door, maidservant
descending the steps with rugs, all in order.  It did not occur to
Vincent to ask how those horses came to be harnessed in so miraculously
brief a space of time; he accepted anything that might befall; he was as
clay in the hands of the potter.  And really the two girls did their
best to make things lively—as they drove away he knew not, and cared
not, whither.  The younger sister was rather more subdued, perhaps; but
the elder fairly went daft, as the saying is; and her gaiety was
catching.  Not but that she could be dexterous in the midst of her
madness.  For example, she was making merry over the general inaptitude
of Englishmen for speech-making; and was describing scenes she had
herself witnessed in both Houses of Parliament, when she suddenly
checked herself.

"At all events," she said, "I will say this for your House of Commons,
that there are a number of very good-looking men in it.  No one can deny
that.  But the House of Lords—whew!  You know, my contention is that my
pedigree is just as long as that of any of your lords; but I’ve got to
admit that, some of them more nearly resemble their ancestors—I mean
their quadrumanous ancestors—"

"Louie!" said the sister, reprovingly.

And she was going on to say some very nice things about the House of
Commons (as contrasted with the Upper Chamber) when Vincent happened to
look out into the now gathering dusk.

"Why," said he, "we’re at Rottingdean; and we’re at the foot of an
awfully steep hill; I must get out and walk up."

"No, no, no," said Miss Drexel, impatiently. "The horses have done
nothing all day but hang about the church door.  You English are so
absurdly careful of your horses: more careful of them than of
yourselves—as I’ve noticed myself at country houses in wet weather.  I
wonder, when I get back home, if the people will believe me when I tell
them that I’ve actually seen horses in England with leather shoes over
their feet to keep the poor things warm and comfortable.  Yes, in this
very town of Brighton—"

But here Miss Louie had the laugh turned against her, when he had
gravely to inform her that horses in England wore over-shoes of leather,
not to keep their feet warm, but to prevent their cutting the turf when
hauling a lawn-roller.

"But where are we going?" said he again.

"Oh, never mind," she answered, pertly.

"All right—all right," he said, and he proceeded to ensconce himself
still more snugly in the back seat.  "Well, now, since you’ve told us of
all the absurd and ludicrous things you’ve seen in England, won’t you
tell us of some of the things you have admired?  We can’t be insane on
every point, surely."

"I know what you think I am," she said of a sudden.  "A
comparison-monger."

"You were born in America," he observed.

"And you despise people who haven’t the self-sufficiency, the stolid
satisfaction, of the English."

"We don’t like people who are too eager to assert themselves—who are
always beating drums and tom-toms—quiet folk would rather turn aside,
and give them the highway."

"But all the same, you know," Miss Drexel proceeded, "some of your
countrymen have been very complimentary when they were over with us: of
course you’ve heard of the one who said that the biggest things he had
seen in America were the eyes of the women?"

"What else could he say?—an Englishman prides himself on speaking the
truth," he made answer, very properly.

By this time, however, he was beginning seriously to ask himself whither
those two young minxes meant to take him—a runaway expedition carried
out with somebody else’s horses!  At all events they were going to have
a fine night for it.  For by now it ought to have been quite dark; but
it was not dark: the long-rolling downs, the wide strip of turf along
the top of the cliffs, and the far plain of the sea were all spectrally
visible in a sort of grey uncertainty; and he judged that the moon was
rising, or had risen in the east.  What did Charles and Thomas, seated
on the box, think of this pretty escapade?  In any case, his own part
and lot in the matter had already been decided: unquestioning obedience
was what had been demanded of him.  It could not be that Gretna Green
was the objective point?—this was hardly the way.

At last they descended from those grey moonlit solitudes, and got down
into a dusky valley, where there were scattered yellow lights—lamp
lights and lights of windows.  "This is Newhaven," he thought to
himself; but he did not say anything; for Miss Drexel was telling of a
wild midnight frolic she and some of her friends had had on Lake
Champlain. Presently the footfalls of the horses sounded hollow; they
were going over a wooden bridge.  Then they proceeded cautiously for a
space, and there was a jerk or two; they were crossing a railway line.
And now Vincent seemed to understand what those mad young wretches were
after.  They were going down to the Newhaven Pier Hotel.  To dine there?
Very well; but he would insist on being host.  It was novel, and odd,
and in a certain way fascinating, for him to sit in a restaurant and
find himself entertained by two young ladies—-find them pressing another
biscuit on him, and then paying the bill; but, of course, the serious
business of dinner demanded the intervention of a man.

What followed speedily drove these considerations out of his head.  The
enterprising young damsels having told the coachman when to return with
the carriage, conducted their guest to the hotel, and asked for the
coffee-room.  A waiter opened the door for them.  The next thing that
Vincent saw was that, right up at the end of the long room, Lord
Musselburgh and his bride were seated at a side table, and that they
were regarding the new comers—especially himself—with some little
amusement.  They themselves were in no wise disconcerted, as they ought
to have been.

"Come along!" the bridegroom said, rather impatiently.  "You’re nearly
half-an-hour late, and we’re famishing.  Here, waiter, dinner at once,
please!  Vin, my boy, you sit next Miss Drexel—that’s all right!"

At this side-table, covers were already laid for five.  As Vincent took
his place, he said:—

"Well, this is better than being had up before a magistrate for stealing
a carriage and a pair of horses!"

"Sure they didn’t let on?" the bride demanded, with a glance at the two
girls.

"Not a word!" he protested.  "I had not the remotest idea where or what
we were bound for. Looked more like Gretna Green than anything else."

"The nearest way to Gretna Green," said she, regarding Vincent with
significant eyes, "is through Paris—to the British Embassy."

Now although this remark (which Miss Drexel affected not to hear—she was
so busy taking off her gloves) seemed a quite haphazard and casual
thing, it very soon appeared, during the progress of this exceedingly
merry dinner, that Lady Musselburgh, as she now was, had been wondering
whether they might not carry the frolic a bit further; whether, in
short, this little party of five might not go on to Paris together by
the eleven o’clock boat that same night.

"Why, Louie, you despise conventionalities," she exclaimed.  "Well, now
is your chance!"

Miss Louie pretended to be much frightened.

"Oh, but I couldn’t do that!" she cried.  "Neither Nan nor I have any
things with us."

"The idea of American girls talking of taking things with them to
Paris!" the bride said, with a laugh.  "That is the very reason you
should go to Paris—to get the things."

"Do you really mean to cross to-night?" Vincent asked, turning to
Musselburgh.

"Oh, yes, certainly.  The fixed service—eleven o’clock—so there’s no
hurry, whatever you decide on."

For he, too, seemed rather taken with this audacious project; said he
thought it would be good fun; pleasant company, and all that; also he
darkly hinted—perhaps for the benefit of the American young ladies—that
Paris had been altogether too pallid of late, and wanted a little
crimson added to its complexion.  And indeed as the little banquet
proceeded, these intrepid schemes widened out, in a half-jocular way.
Why should the runaway party stop at Paris?  Why should they not all go
on to the Mediterranean together, to breathe the sweet airs blown in
from the sea, and watch the Spring emptying her lavish lap-full of
flowers over the land?  Alas! it fell to Vincent’s lot to demolish these
fairy-like dreams.  He said he would willingly wait to see the recruited
party off by that night’s steamer; and would send any telegrams for
them, or deliver any messages; but he had to return to London the next
morning, without fail.  And then Miss Louie Drexel said it was a pity to
spoil a pleasant evening by talking of impossibilities; and that they
had already sufficiently outraged conventionalities by running away with
a carriage and pair and breaking in upon a wedding tour.  So the
complaisant young bride had for the moment to abandon her half-serious,
half-whimsical designs; and perhaps she even hoped that Miss Drexel had
not overheard her suggested comparison between the British Embassy at
Paris and Gretna Green.

At nine o’clock the carriage came round, and at nine o’clock the younger
people, having got their good-byes said all over again, set out for
home.

"I suppose we ought to keep this little expedition a secret," said
Vincent, as they were climbing up from the dusky valley to the moonlight
above, which was now very clear and white.

"Why?" said Miss Louie.

"Rather unusual—isn’t it?" he asked, doubtfully, for he knew little of
such matters.

"That’s what made it so nice," she answered, promptly.  "Don’t you think
they were charmed? Fancy their being quite alone in that big hotel,
waiting for a steamer!  We had it all planned out days ago.  Didn’t you
suspect in the least—when you knew they were going by Newhaven and
Dieppe, and that they would have to wait till eleven to-night?  I’m sure
they would have been delighted if we had gone over to Paris with them,
and down to the Mediterranean: but I suppose that would have been a
little too much—just a little too much!"

And if Miss Drexel was vivacious and talkative or her way out, she was
equally so on the way back; so that Vincent, in such cheerful company,
had little reason to regret their having captured and run away with him.
Then again the night was surpassingly beautiful—the moonlight grey on
the land and white on the sea; the heavens cloudless; the world
everywhere apparently silent and asleep. Not that they were to get all
the way home without a little bit of an adventure, however.  When they
reached the top of the height just west of Rottingdean, Louie Drexel
proposed that they should get out and walk along the cliff for a while,
leaving the carriage to go slowly on by road.  This they accordingly
did; and very soon the carriage was out of sight; for at this point the
highway is formed by a deep cutting in the chalk.  It was pleasant to be
by themselves on such a night—high up on this lofty cliff, overlooking
the wide, far-shimmering, silver sea.

Presently there came into the stillness a sound of distant voices; and
shortly afterwards, at the crest of the hill, a band of strayed
revellers appeared in sight, swaying much in their walk, and singing
diverse choruses with energy rather than with skill.  They were in high
good humour, all of them.  As they drew near, Vincent perceived that one
of them was a soldier; and he seemed the centre of attraction; this one
and that clung to his arm, until their legs, becoming involved, carried
them wide away, when two other members of the group would occupy the
twin places of honour.  The soldier was drunk, too; but he had the
honour of the flag to maintain; and made some heroic effort to march
straight.

Now what with their insensate howling and staggering, they were almost
on Vincent and his two companions before they were aware; but instantly
there was a profusion of offers of hospitality.  The gentleman must
drink with them, at the Royal Oak. The gentleman declined to drink, and
civilly bade them good-night.  At the same moment another member of the
jovial crew appeared to have discovered that there were also two young
ladies here; most probably he had a dim suspicion there might only be
one; however, it was this one, the one nearest, he insisted should also
go down and have a glass at the Royal Oak.  It was all done in good
fellowship, with no harm meant; but when at the same time this
particular roysterer declared he would have his sweetheart come along o’
him, and caught Miss Louie by the arm, he had distinctly overstept the
bounds of prudence.

"Hands off!" said Vincent; and he slung the fellow a clip on the ear
that sent him staggering, until his legs got mixed up somehow, and away
he went headlong on to the grass.

Then he said in a rapid undertone to the two girls—

"Off you go to the carriage—quick!"

He turned to the now murmuring group.

"What do you want?" he said.  "I can’t fight all of you: I’ll fight the
soldier—make a ring, to see fair play——"

He glanced over his shoulder: the two girls had disappeared: now he
breathed freely.

"But, look here," said he in a most amicable tone, "you’ve had a
glass—any one can see that—and it’s no use a man trying to fight if he’s
a bit unsteady on his pins; you know that quite well. And I don’t want
to fight any of you.  If you ask me in a friendly way, I’ll go down to
the Royal Oak and have something with you; or I’ll treat you, if you
like that better.  I call that fair."

And they seemed to think it fair, too; so they picked up their companion
(who looked drowsy) and helped him along.  But they hadn’t gone
half-a-dozen yards when two dark figures appeared at the top of the
chalk cutting; and these, when they came quickly up, Vincent to his
surprise discovered to be the coachman and footman.

"Where are the young ladies?" he demanded, instantly and angrily.

"Miss Drexel is on the box, sir—she sent us to you," said the
coachman—staring with amazement at the revellers, and no doubt wondering
when the fighting was about to begin.

"Oh, go away back!" said he.  "Get the ladies into the carriage and
drive them home!  I’m going to have a drink with these good fellows—I’ll
follow on foot!"

"I’m quite sure, sir, Miss Drexel won’t go," said the coachman.

But here the soldier stepped forward.  He had arrived at some nebulous
perception of the predicament; and he constituted himself spokesman of
the party.  They had no wish to inconvenience the gentleman.  He hoped
some other night—proud to see such a gentleman—wouldn’t interfere with
ladies—not interfere with anybody—all gentlemen and good friends—no use
in animosity—no offence I meant—no offence taken——

This harangue might have gone on all night had not Vincent cut it short
by requesting to be allowed to hand his friends five shillings to drink
his health withal; and away the jocund brethren went to obtain more
liquor—if haply they could induce the landlord of the Royal Oak to serve
them.

And here, sure enough, was Miss Louie Drexel seated sedately on the box,
whip and reins in hand; and there was Miss Anna, in the white moonlight,
at the horses’ heads.  When Vincent and his two companions were in the
carriage again, he said to the elder of them—

"Why didn’t you drive away home?"

"Drive away home?" said she, with some touch of vibrant indignation in
her voice.  "And leave you there?  I was just as near as possible going
back myself, with the whip in my hand.  Do you think I couldn’t have
lashed my way through those drunken fools?"



                              CHAPTER VI.

                            A SPLIT AT LAST.


The renovation of Musselburgh House took more time than had been hoped;
bride and bridegroom remained abroad, basking in the sweet airs and
sunlight of the Mediterranean spring; and it was not until well on in
the month of May that they returned to London.  Immediately after their
arrival Vincent called on them—one afternoon on his way down to St.
Stephen’s.  He stayed only a few minutes; and had little to say.  But
the moment he had left Lady Musselburgh turned to her husband.

"Oh, Hubert, isn’t it dreadful!  Did you ever see such a change in any
human being?  And no one to tell us of it—not even his own father—nor a
word from Louie Drexel, though she wrote often enough about him and what
he was doing in the House——"

"Yes, he does look ill," said Lord Musselburgh, with a seriousness not
usual with him.  "Very ill, indeed.  Yet he doesn’t seem to know
it—declares there is nothing the matter with him—shows a little
impatience, even, when you begin to ask questions. I suppose he has been
working too hard; too eager and anxious all the way round; too
ambitious—not like most young men.  He’d better give up that
newspaper-nonsense, for one thing."

"Oh, it isn’t that, Hubert; it isn’t that!" she exclaimed, in rather
piteous accents; and she walked away to the window (this was the very
room in which Vincent had first set eyes on Maisrie Bethune and her
grandfather).

She stood there, alone, for a time.  Then her husband went and joined
her, and linked his arm within hers.  She was crying a little.

"I did it for the best, Hubert," she sobbed.

"Did what for the best?"

"Getting that girl away.  I never thought it would come to this."

"Now, now, Madge," said he, in a very affectionate fashion, "don’t you
worry about nothing—or rather, it isn’t nothing, for Vin does look
pretty seedy; but you mustn’t assume that you are in any way
responsible.  People don’t die nowadays of separation and a broken
heart—not nowadays.  He is fagged; he is not used to the late hours of
the House of Commons; then there’s that newspaper work——"

"But his manner, Hubert, his manner!" she exclaimed.  "He seemed as if
he no longer cared for anything in life; he hardly listened when I told
him where we had been; he appeared to be thinking of something quite
different—as if he were looking at ghosts."

"And perhaps he was looking at ghosts," said her husband.  "For it was
by that table there he first saw those two people who have made all this
trouble.  But why should you consider yourself responsible, Madge?  It
wasn’t your money that sent them out of the country.  It wasn’t you who
found out what they really were."

She passed her handkerchief across her eyes.

"I was quite sure," she went on—not heeding this consolation—"that as
soon as she was got away—as soon as he was removed from the fascination
of her actual presence—he would begin to see things in their true light.
And then, thrown into the society of a charming and clever girl like
Louie Drexel, I hoped everything for him.  And is this all that has come
of it, that he looks as if he were at death’s door?  It isn’t the House
of Commons, Hubert; and it isn’t the newspaper-work: it is simply that
he still believes in that girl, and that he is eating his heart out
about her absence, and has no one to confide in.  For that is the worst
of it all: it is all a sealed book now, as between him and us.  He was
for leaving my house in Brighton—oh, the rage he was in with me about
her!—and it would have been for the last time too, I know; only that I
promised never again to mention the subject to him, and on that
condition we have got on fairly well since.  But how am I to keep
silence any longer? I cannot see my boy like that.  I must speak to him;
I must ask him if he is still so mad as to believe in the honesty of
those two people; and then, if I find that his infatuation still exists,
even after all this time, then I must simply tell him that they took
money to go away.  How can he get over that?  How can he get over that,
Hubert?"

In her despair, this was almost a challenge as well as an appeal.  But
her husband was doubtful.

"When a man is in love with a woman," said he, "he can forgive a good
lot—confound it, he can forgive everything, or nearly everything, so
long as she can persuade him she loves him in return——"

"But not this, Hubert, not this!" the young wife exclaimed.  "Even if he
could forgive her being a thief and the accomplice of an old charlatan
and swindler—and what an ’if!—imagine that of Vincent—of Vincent, who is
as proud as Lucifer—imagine that of him!—but even if he were willing to
forgive all that, how could he forgive her being bought over, her taking
money to remain away from him?  No, no, Hubert: surely there is a limit,
even to a young man’s folly!"

"Of course you know best," her husband said, in a dubious kind of way.
"I’ve seen some queer things in my time, with young men.  And Vin is an
obstinate devil, and tenacious: he sticks to anything he takes up: look
at him and that wretched newspaper-work, for example.  If he has
persuaded himself of the innocence and honour of this girl, it may be
hard to move him.  And I remember there was something very winning and
attractive about her—something that bespoke favour——"

"That was what made her so useful to that old impostor!" Lady
Musselburgh said, vindictively.

"Of course," he admitted, "as you say, here is the undoubted fact of
their taking the money.  If Vin is to be convinced at all, it is
possible that may convince him."

"Very well, then," said she, with decision, "he must and shall be
convinced; and that no further off than to-morrow morning.  I’ll tell
Harland I’m coming along to lunch; so that he may be in the house, to
give me any papers I may want.  And surely, surely, when Vincent
perceives what these people are, and what an escape he has had, he will
cease to mope and fret: at his time of life there ought to be other
things to think of than a girl who has deceived him all the way through,
and ended by taking money to leave the country!"

But notwithstanding all this brave confidence, Lady Musselburgh felt
very nervous and anxious as she went down next morning to Grosvenor
Place. She was alone—her husband was coming along later, for lunch; and
she went on foot, to give her a little more time to arrange her plan of
procedure. For this was her last bolt, and she knew it.  If his fatal
obstinacy withstood this final assault, then there was no hope for him,
or for her far-reaching schemes with regard to him.

She went into the drawing-room; and he came as soon as he was sent for.
These two were now alone.

"Do you know, Vin," she began at once, "Hubert and I have been much
concerned about you; for though you won’t admit there is anything the
matter, the change in your appearance struck us yesterday the moment you
came in: indeed, it made me quite anxious; and after you were gone,
Hubert and I talked a little about you and your affairs—you may be sure
with only the one wish in our minds.  Hubert thinks you are over-fagged;
that you are too close in your attendance at the House; and that you
should give up your newspaper-writing for a time.  I wish it were no
more than that.  But I suspect there is something else——"

"Aunt," said he, interrupting her—and yet with something of a tired air,
"do you think there is any use in talking, and inquiring, and
suggesting? What has happened, has happened.  It is something you don’t
understand; and something you couldn’t put right—with all your good
wishes."

"Yes, yes," she said eagerly, for she was rejoiced to find that he took
her interference so amiably: "that is quite right; and mind you, I don’t
forget the agreement we came to at Brighton, that a certain subject
should never be referred to by either of us.  I quite remember that; and
you know I have never sought to return to it again in any way whatever.
But your looks yesterday, Vin, frightened me; and at this moment—why,
you are not like my dear boy at all.  I wish in all seriousness you had
come over to Paris with us—you and Louie—and gone with us to the
Mediterranean; we should not have allowed you to fall into this
condition—"

"Oh, I’m well enough, aunt!" said he.

"You are not well!" she insisted.  "And why? Because your mind is ill at
ease—"

"And very little comfort I have to hope for from you," said he,
remembering former conversations: but there was no bitterness in his
tone—only a sort of resigned hopelessness.

"Now, that is not fair, Vin!" she protested. "If I said things to you
you did not like, what motive had I but your happiness?  And now at this
moment, if I re-open that subject, it is not the kind of comfort you
apparently hope for that I am prepared to bring you, but something quite
different. I should like to heal your mental ailment, once and for all,
by convincing you of the truth."

"Yes, I think we have heard something of that sort on previous
occasions," he said, rather scornfully.  "The truth as it is in George
Morris!  Well, I will tell you what would be more useful, more to the
point, and more becoming.  Before saying anything further about that old
man and his granddaughter, I think you ought to go and seek them out,
and go down on your knees to them, and ask their pardon—"

"For what?"

"For what you have already said of them—and suspected."

"Really you try my patience too much!" she exclaimed, with some show of
temper.  "What have I said or suspected of them that was not amply
justified by the account of them that your father offered to show you?
Of course you wouldn’t look at it.  Certainly not!  Facts are
inconvenient things, most uncomfortable things, where one’s
prepossessions are involved.  But I had no objection to looking at it—"

"I suppose not!" said he.

"And my eyes were not blinded: I could accept evidence when it was put
before me."

"Evidence!" he repeated.  "You forget that I have been across the
Atlantic since that precious document was compiled.  I heard how that
evidence had been got: I could see how it could be perverted to suit the
malignant theories of a pack of detectives. And if I came back with any
settled conviction, it was that you and one or two others—myself, too,
in a way—could do no better than go and humble ourselves before that old
man and that girl, and beg for their forgiveness, and their
forgetfulness of the wrongs and insults we have put upon them."

"Oh, this is beyond anything!" she cried—rather losing command of
herself.  "You drive me to speak plain.  Everything your father and I
could think of was tried to cure you of this mad infatuation—the most
patient inquiry—expenditure of money—representations that would have
convinced any sane person.  Nothing was of any use.  What was to be done
next?  Well, we could only buy up those honourable persons—who were not
adventurers in any kind of way—oh, certainly not!—but all the same they
were willing to be bought; and so, on payment of a substantial
consideration, they agreed to pack up their traps and be off.  What do
you think of that?  What do you say to that?  Where was the old
gentleman’s indomitable pride?—where was the girl’s pretended affection
for you?—when they consented to take a good round sum of money and be
off?  How can you explain that away?"

She regarded him with a certain defiance—for she was moved to anger by
his obduracy.  But if she expected him to wince under this sudden stab
she was mistaken.

"How do I know that this is true?" he said, calmly.

"I am not in the habit of speaking untruths," she said, slightly drawing
herself up.

"Oh, of course not," he answered.  "But all through this matter there
has been a good deal of twisting about and misrepresentation.  I should
like to know from whom Mr. Bethune got this money—and in what form."

Well, she was prepared.

"I suppose you would be convinced," said she, "if I showed you the
receipt—a receipt for £5,000—which he signed and gave to George Morris?"

"Where is that receipt?" he asked.

"In this house.  I will go to your father, and get it.  Shall I ask him
at the same time for those other documents which you would not read?
Perhaps all taken together they might enable you to realise the truth at
last."

"No, thank you," said he, coldly.  "I know how those other documents
were procured.  I shall be glad to see the receipt."

She hurried away, anxious to strike while the iron was hot, and certain
she had already made a profound impression.  And so she had, in one way,
all unknowing.  When she left the room, he remained standing, gazing
blankly at the sides of the books on the table: outwardly impassive, but
with his brain working rapidly enough.  He made no manner of doubt that
she could produce this receipt.  He took it for granted that George
Bethune had accepted the money.  Of course, Maisrie had nothing to do
with it; her grandfather kept her in ignorance of his pecuniary affairs;
and it would be enough for him to say that she must go away with him
from England—she was obedient in all things.  And no doubt the old man
had been cajoled and flattered into believing he was acting justly and
in the best interests of every one concerned; there could have been
little difficulty about that; he was quick to persuade himself of
anything that happened to fall in with the needs of the moment.  All
this Vincent understood at once. But when he came to consider that it
was his own relatives who had brought upon him all the long torture and
suffering of these bygone months—and not only that: for what was he or
his hidden pain?—but also that they had once more driven forth those two
tired wanderers—the old man who had some wistful notion of ending his
days in his own country, the young girl whose maiden eyes had just made
confession of her love-secret—then his heart grew hot within him.  It
was too cruel.  When Lady Musselburgh returned with the receipt in her
hand, he took the paper, and merely glanced at it.

"And whose clever and original idea was this?" he demanded—with what she
took to be indifference.

"But Vincent—are you convinced at last!" she exclaimed.  "Surely you
must see for yourself now.  You will give up thinking of them—thinking
of that girl especially when you see what she is——"

"Whose idea was it to get them sent away?" he repeated.

"Well, it was my idea," she said; "but your father paid the money."

He was silent for a second or two, and then he said slowly——

"And you are my nearest relatives; and this is what you have done, not
to me only, but to one who is dearer to me than life.  So be it.  But
you cannot expect me to remain longer under this roof, or to sit down at
table, anywhere, with my cruellest enemies——"

She turned very pale.

"Vincent!" she exclaimed.

"It is a question of taking sides," he went on, with perfect composure;
"and I go over to the other side.  They most need help: they are poor
and friendless.  I hope the mischief you have done is not irreparable; I
cannot tell; but I dare say when you and I meet again time will have
shown."

She was thunderstruck and stupefied; she did not even seek to detain him
as he left the room. For there was a curious air of self-possession, of
resolution, about his manner: this was no pique of disappointed passion,
nor any freak of temper. And she could not but ask herself, in a
breathless sort of way, whether after all he might not be in the right
about those people; and, in that case, what was this that she had
brought about?  She was frightened—too frightened to reason with
herself, perhaps: she only saw Vincent leaving his father’s roof—cutting
himself off from his own family—and she had a dumb consciousness that it
was her work, through some fatal error of judgment. And she seemed to
know instinctively that this step that he had taken was irrevocable—and
that she was in some dim way responsible for all that had occurred.

When Lord Musselburgh arrived, he and Harland Harris came upstairs
together; and almost directly afterwards luncheon was announced.  As
they were about to go down to the dining-room the great
Communist-capitalist looked round with a little air of impatience and
said—

"But where is Vin?"

"He was here a short time ago," said Lady Musselburgh: she dared not say
more.

Mr. Harris, from below, sent a message to his son’s room: the
answer—which Lady Musselburgh heard in silence—was that they were not to
wait luncheon for him.

"Too busy with his reply to the _Sentinel_," Musselburgh suggested.
"Sharp cuts and thrusts going.  I wonder that celestial minds should
grow so acrid over such a subject as the nationalisation of tithe."

There was some scuffle on the stairs outside, to which nobody (except
Lady Musselburgh, whose ears were painfully on the alert) paid any
attention; but when a hansom was called up to the front door, Harland
Harris happened to look out.

"What, is he going off somewhere?  I never knew any creature so careless
about his meals.  I presume his indifference means a good digestion."

"Oh, Vin’s digestion is all right," Lord Musselburgh said.  "I hear he
dines every night at the House of Commons—and yet he is alive——"

"But there are his portmanteaus!" Mr. Harris exclaimed, and he even rose
and went to the window for a second.  Well, he was just in time to see
Vincent step into the cab, and drive off; and therewith he returned to
his place at table, and proceeded, in his usual bland and somewhat
patronising manner, to tell Lord Musselburgh of certain experiments he
was having made in copper-lustre.  He was not in the least concerned
about that departing cab; nor did he know that that was the last glimpse
of his son he was to have for many and many a day.

And meanwhile Lady Musselburgh sate there frightened, and guilty, and
silent.  And that without reason; for what she had done she had done
with the full concurrence and approval of her brother-in-law and her
_fiancé_ (as he then was).  Yet somehow she seemed to feel herself
entirely answerable for all that had happened—for the failure of all her
schemes—for the catastrophe that had resulted. And the moment she got
outside her brother-in-law’s house, she began and confessed the whole
truth to her husband.

"But why didn’t you tell Harris?" said he, pausing as if even now he
would go back.

"Oh, I couldn’t, Hubert; I daren’t!" she said, evidently in great
distress.  "I was so confident everything would come right—I advised
him—I persuaded him to pay the £5,000——"

"Oh, nonsense!" was the impatient reply.  "A man doesn’t hand over
£5,000 unless he is himself convinced that it is worth while.  And he
got what he bargained for.  Those people have gone away; they don’t
interfere any more——"

"Ah, but that is not all," Lady Musselburgh put in, rather sadly.  "I
made so sure that Vin would forget—that as soon as the hallucination had
worn off a little, he would see what those people really were, and turn
his eyes elsewhere: yet apparently he believes in their honesty more
firmly than ever—talks of my going and asking their pardon—and the like;
and now he has wholly broken away from us—declares he will never be
under the same roof with us, or sit down at the same table with us.  He
has gone over to the other side, he says, because they are poor and
friendless.  Poor and friendless!" she repeated, with a snap of
anger—"living on the fat of the land through their thieving!  And yet——"

And here again she paused, as if recalling something to herself: "Do you
know, Hubert, I was startled and frightened by Vin’s manner to-day; for
I had suddenly to ask myself whether after all it was possible he might
be in the right, and we altogether wrong.  In all other things he shows
himself so clear-headed and able and shrewd; and then he has seen the
world; you would not take him to be one who could be easily deceived.
Sometimes I hardly know what to think.  But at all events, this is what
you must do now, Hubert: you must get hold of him, and persuade him to
go back home, before Harland knows anything of what had been intended.
He can invent some excuse about the portmanteaus.  You can go down to
the House to-night, and see him there; and if you persuade him to return
to Grosvenor Place, that will be so much of the mischief set straight.
That is the first thing to be done; but afterwards——"

It was quite clear that she knew not what to think, for she went on
again, almost as if talking to herself—

"Of course, if the girl were a perfectly good and honest girl, and above
suspicion of every kind, Vin’s constancy and devotion to her would be a
very fine and noble thing; and I for one should be proud of him for it.
But as things are, it is a monomania—nothing else than a monomania!  He
must see that she is in league with that old man to get money on false
pretences."

"He sees nothing of the kind," said her husband bluntly.  "She may or
she may not be; I know little or nothing about her; but if she is, Vin
doesn’t see it: you may make up your mind about that."

"And yet he seems sharp-sighted in other things," said Lady Musselburgh
in a pensive sort of way; and then she added: "However, the first step
to be taken is to get him back to his own family; and none can do that
so well as you, Hubert; you are his old friend; and you stand between
us, as it were.  And there’s one thing about Vin: he can’t disappear out
of the way; you can always get hold of him—at the House of Commons."

Lord Musselburgh had not been long married; he did as he was bid.  And
very eagerly did Vincent welcome this ambassador, when he encountered
him in the Lobby.

"Come out on to the Terrace.  I was just going to write to you: I want
you to do me the greatest service you can imagine!"

"Here I am, ready to do anybody any number of services," said Lord
Musselburgh, as they proceeded to stroll up and down this dark space,
with the wide river flowing silently by, and the innumerable small beads
of gold showing where London lay in the dusk.  "Only too happy.  And I
am in the best position for being mediator, for I have nothing to gain
from either side—except, of course that I should be extremely sorry to
see you quarrelling with your relations.  This is always a mistake, Vin,
my boy: bad for you, bad for them.  And I hope you will let me go back
with the important part of my commission done—that is to say, I was to
persuade you to return to Grosvenor Place, just as if nothing had
happened.  My wife is awfully upset about it—thinks it is entirely owing
to her; whereas I don’t see that it is at all.  She has been trying to
do her best for everybody—for your father as well as for yourself.  And
the notion that you should cut yourself off from your family naturally
seems very dreadful to her; and if I can take her the assurance that you
don’t mean anything of the kind—very well!"

"Oh, but look here, Musselburgh," said Vincent, "you entirely mistake.
It was not about that I wished to see you: not at all: on that point it
is useless saying anything.  You must assure Lady Musselburgh that this
is no piece of temper on my part—nothing to be smoothed over, and hushed
up. I have seen all along that it was inevitable.  From the moment that
my aunt and my father took up that position against—against Maisrie
Bethune and her grandfather—I foresaw that sooner or later this must
come.  I have tried to reason with them; I have assured them that their
suspicions and their definite charges were as cruel as they were false;
and all to no purpose.  And this last thing: this bribing of an old man,
who can be too easily persuaded, to take his granddaughter away with him
and subject her to the homeless life she had led for so many
years—perhaps there are some other considerations I need not
mention—this is too much. But I knew that sooner or later a severance
would come between them and me; and I am not unprepared. You wondered at
my drudging away at that newspaper work, when my father was allowing me
a handsome income.  Now do you see the use of it?  I am independent.  I
can do as I please.  I can’t make a fortune; but I can earn enough to
live—and something more.  Let them go their way, as I go mine: it has
not been all my doing."

Lord Musselburgh was disconcerted; but he was a dutiful husband; he went
on to argue.  He found he might as well attempt to argue with a
milestone. Nothing could shake this young man’s determination.

"I told Lady Musselburgh I had gone over to the other side, this time
for good," said he.  "We are in opposite camps now.  We have been so all
along—but not openly.  This piece of treachery has been too much for me:
we are better apart: I could not sit down at table with people who had
acted like that—whatever their motives were.  But you, Musselburgh, you
were not concerned in that wretched piece of scheming; and as I tell
you, you can do me the greatest possible service.  Will you do it?  Or
will you rather cast in your lot with them?"

"Oh, well," said Musselburgh, rather disappointedly, "I don’t see why I
should be compelled to take sides.  I want to do my best for everybody
concerned.  I’ve just come into the family, as you might say; and it
seems a pity there should be any quarrel or break up.  I had a kind of
notion that we should all of us—but particularly my wife and myself and
you and—and—your wife—I thought our little party of four might have a
very pleasant time together, both at home and abroad.  My wife and I
have often talked of it, and amused ourselves with sketching out plans.
Seems such a pity——"

"Yes," said Vincent, abruptly, "but there are other things in life
besides going to Monte Carlo and staking five-franc pieces."

"What is this that you want me to do?" his friend asked next—seeing that
those inducements did not avail.

"Well," said Vincent, "I suppose you know that Lady Musselburgh showed
me this morning the receipt Mr. Bethune gave George Morris for the
£5,000.  It was a simple receipt: nothing more. But everybody knows
George Morris is not the man to part with money unconditionally; there
must have been arrangements and pledges; and I want to discover what Mr.
Bethune undertook to do, where he undertook to go.  Morris won’t tell
me, that is certain enough: but he would probably tell you."

Lord Musselburgh hesitated.

"Why," said he, "you know why that money was paid.  It was paid for the
express purpose of getting them away—so that you should not know where
they are——"

"Precisely so," said Vincent.  "And you would therefore be undoing a
part of the wrong that has been done them, by your wife and my father."

"Oh, I don’t call it doing a wrong to a man to give him £5,000," said
Lord Musselburgh, with a touch of resentment.  "He needn’t have taken
the money unless he liked."

"Do you know what representations were made to him to induce him to take
it?" Vincent said.

"Well, I don’t," was the reply.  "They settled all that amongst
themselves; and I was merely made acquainted with the results.  It would
hardly have been my place to interfere, you see; it was before my
marriage, remember; in any case, I don’t know that I should have wanted
to have any say in the matter.  However, the actual outcome we all of us
know; and you must confess, Vin, whatever persuasions were used, it
looks a rather shady transaction."

"Yes—on the part of those who induced him to accept the bribe!" Vincent
said, boldly.

"Oh, come, come," Lord Musselburgh interposed, rather testily, "don’t be
so bigoted.  It isn’t only your considering that girl to be everything
that is fine and wonderful—I can understand that—the glamour of love can
do anything; but you go too far in professing the greatest admiration
and respect for this old man.  Leave us some chance of agreeing with
you, of believing you sane.  For you can’t deny that he took the money:
there is the plain and simple fact staring you in the face.  More than
that, his taking it was the justification of those who offered it: it
proved to them that he was not the kind of person with whom you should
be connected by marriage.  I say nothing about the young lady; I don’t
know her; perhaps her association all these years with this old—well, I
won’t call him names—has not affected her in any way; perhaps she
believes in him as implicitly as you appear to do.  But as for him:
well, take any unprejudiced outsider, like myself; what am I to think
when I find him accepting this money from strangers?"

"Yes," said Vincent, a little absently, "I suppose, to an outsider, that
would look bad.  But it is because you don’t know him, Musselburgh; or
the story of his life; or his circumstances.  I confess that at one time
there were things that disquieted me; I rather shut my eyes to them; but
now that I understand what this man is, and what he has gone through,
and how he bears himself, it isn’t only pity I feel for him, it is
respect, and more than respect.  But it’s a long story; and it would
have to be told to sympathetic ears; it would be little use telling it
to my father or to my aunt—they have the detectives’ version before
them—they have the detectives’ reading of the case."

"Well, tell me, at least," said his friend.  "I want to get at the
truth.  I have no prejudice or prepossession one way or the other.  For
another thing, I like to hear the best of everybody—and to believe it,
if I can; it makes life pleasanter; and I can’t forget, either, that it
was through me you got to know George Bethune."

It was a long story, as Vincent had said; and it was a difficult one to
set in order and in a proper light: but it was chiefly based on what had
been told him by the Toronto banker; and Mr. Thompson’s generous
interpretation of it ran through it all.  Lord Musselburgh listened with
the greatest interest and attention.  What seemed mostly to strike him
was the banker’s phrase—’Call George Bethune an impostor, if you like;
but the man he has imposed on, his whole life through, has been—George
Bethune.’

"Well, it’s all very extraordinary," he said, when Vincent had finished.
"I wish I had taken the trouble to become a little better acquainted
with him; one is so apt to judge by the outside; I thought he was merely
a picturesque old fellow with a mad enthusiasm about Scotland.  And yet
I don’t know what to say even now.  All that you have told me sounds
very plausible and possible—if you take that way of looking at it; and
the whole thing seems so pitiable, especially for the girl: he has his
delusions and self-confidence—she has only her loneliness.  But at the
same time, Vin, you must admit that these little weaknesses of his might
easily be misconstrued——"

"Certainly," said Vincent, with promptitude. "It is just as Mr. Thompson
said: if you choose to look at George Bethune through blue spectacles,
his way of life must appear very doubtful: if you choose to look at him
through pink spectacles, there is something almost heroic about him.
And I think, Musselburgh, if you knew the lion-hearted old man a little
better, you wouldn’t shrink from acknowledging that there was something
fine and even grand in his character.  As for Maisrie—as for Miss
Bethune—she asks for no generous consideration, or forbearance, or
anything of the kind; she asks for no leniency of judgment, and needs
none; she is beyond and above all that.  I know her—none better than I;
and she has only to remain what she is—’dass Gott sie erhalte, so schön
und rein und hold’!"

There was a break in his voice as he spoke.  Lord Musselburgh was silent
for a moment—he felt like an intruder upon something too sacred.  And
yet he had his mission; so presently he forced himself to resume:

"Well, after all, Vin, I think you must grant that there is something to
be said for your relatives, even if they have been mistaken.  They could
not know all that you know—all that you learned in Canada as well; they
could only judge from the outside; they could only believe what they
heard——"

"Why did they interfere at all?" Vincent demanded, in his turn.  "Why
had they Mr. Bethune’s steps dogged by detectives?"

"You should be the last to protest.  It was entirely for your sake that
it was done."

"Yes," said Vincent, with a certain scorn.  "It was for my sake they
were so ready to suspect—it was for my sake they were so eager to regard
everything from the attorney’s point of view! They would not take my
word for anything; they would rather trust to their private enquiry
offices. I was supposed to be so easily blinded; the swindlers had such
a willing dupe; no reliance was to be placed but on the testimony of
spies.  What childish rubbish!  Why, I introduced my aunt to Mr. Bethune
and his granddaughter: she could not find a word to say against them—but
her suspicions remained all the same!  And then apparently she went and
consulted with my father.  It was so dreadful that I was being cheated
by those two dangerous characters!  Couldn’t the lawyers and their
private inquiry agents—couldn’t they make out some story that would
appal me?  Couldn’t they make up some bogey—straw, and an old coat—that
would terrify me out of my wits?  And then when I wasn’t appalled by
their idle trash of stories—oh, for goodness sake, get those desperate
creatures smuggled away out of the country!  No safety unless they were
hidden away somewhere! And then they went to the old man; and I can
imagine how they persuaded him.  The greatest kindness to every one
concerned if only he would fall in with their views; he would save his
granddaughter from entering a family who had mistaken, but undoubted,
prejudices against her; and of course they couldn’t allow him to put
himself so much about without endeavouring to pay part of the cost. It
was no solatium to the young lady—oh, no, certainly not!—probably she
was destined for much higher things; and it was no gift to himself; it
was merely that the relatives of that hot-headed young man were desirous
of pleasing themselves by showing how much they appreciated his, Mr.
Bethune’s, generosity in making this little sacrifice. Well, they
succeeded: but they little knew—and they little know—what they have
done!"

Perhaps there was something in the proud and withal disdainful tones of
the young man’s voice that was quite as convincing as his words; at all
events, his friend said—

"Well, I sympathise with you, Vin, I do really. But you see how I am
situated.  I am an emissary—an intermediary—I want peace——"

"It is no use saying peace where there is no peace," Vincent broke in.
"Nor need there be war. Silence is best.  Let what has been done go; it
cannot be undone now."

"Vincent—if you would only think how fond your aunt is of you—if you
would think of her distress——"

"It was she who ought to have considered first," was the rejoinder.  "Do
you imagine I have suffered nothing, before I went to America, and then,
and since?  But that is of little account.  I could forgive whatever has
happened to myself.  It is when I think of some one else—sent adrift
upon the world again—but it is better not to talk!"

"Well, yes," persisted Lord Musselburgh, who was in a sad quandary; for
the passionate indignation of this young man seemed so much stronger
than any persuasive argument that could be brought against it, "I can
perfectly understand how you may consider yourself wronged and injured;
and how much more you feel what you consider wrong and injury done to
others; but you ought to be a little generous, and take motives into
account. Supposing your father and your aunt were mistaken in acting as
they did, it was not through any selfishness on their part.  It was for
your welfare, as they thought.  Surely you must grant that to them."

"I will grant anything to them, in the way of justification," said
Vincent, "if they will only take the first step to make atonement for
the mischief they have wrought.  And that they can do through you.  They
can tell you on what conditions Mr. Bethune was persuaded to take the
money; so that I may go to him, and bring him back—and her."

"But probably they don’t know where he is!" his friend exclaimed, in
perfect honesty.  "My impression was that Mr. Bethune agreed to leave
this country for a certain time; but of course no one would think of
banishing him to any particular spot."

"And so they themselves don’t know where Mr. Bethune has gone?" said
Vincent, slowly.

"I believe not.  I am almost certain they don’t. But I will make
inquiries, if you like.  In the meantime," said Musselburgh, returning
to his original prayer, "do consider, Vin, and be reasonable, and go
back to your father’s house to-night. Don’t make a split in the family.
Give them credit for wishing you well.  Let me take that message from
you to my wife—that you will go home to Grosvenor Place to-night."

"Oh, no," said Vincent, with an air of quiet resolve.  "No, no.  This is
no quarrel.  This is no piece of temper.  It is far more serious than
that; and, as I say, I have seen all along that it was inevitable.
After what I have told you, you must recognise for yourself what the
situation is.  I have spoken to you very freely and frankly; because I
know you wish to be friendly; and because I think you want to see the
whole case clearly and honestly. But how could I talk to them, or try to
explain? Do you think I would insult Miss Bethune by offering them one
word of excuse, either on her behalf or on that of her grandfather?  No,
and it would be no use besides.  They are mad with prejudice.  No doubt
they say I am mad with prepossession.  Very well; let it stand so."

Lord Musselburgh at length perceived that his task was absolutely
futile.  His only chance now was to bring Vincent into a more placable
disposition by getting him the information he sought; but he had not
much hope on that score; for people do not pay £5,000 and then at once
render up all the advantages they fancy they have purchased.  So here
was a deadlock—he moodily said to himself, as he walked away home to
Piccadilly.

And as for Vincent?  Well, as it chanced, on the next morning—it was a
Wednesday morning—when he went across from the Westminster Palace Hotel
to the House of Commons, and got his usual little bundle of letters, the
very first one that caught his eye bore the Toronto post-mark.  How
anxiously he had looked for it from day to day—wondering why Mr.
Thompson had heard no news—and becoming more and more heart-sick and
hopeless as the weary time went by without a sign—and behold! here it
was at last.



                              CHAPTER VII.

                           NEW WAYS OF LIFE.


But no sooner had he torn open the envelope than his heart seemed to
stand still—with a sort of fear and amazement.  For this was Maisrie’s
own handwriting that he beheld—as startling a thing as if she herself
had suddenly appeared before him, after these long, voiceless months.
Be sure the worthy banker’s accompanying letter did not win much regard:
it was this sheet of thin blue paper that he quickly unfolded, his eye
catching a sentence here and there, and eager to grasp all that she had
to say at once.  Alas! there was no need for any such haste: when he
came to read the message that she had sent to Toronto, it had little to
tell him of that which he most wanted to know.  And yet it was a
marvellous thing—to hear her speak, as it were!  There was no date nor
place mentioned in the letter; but none the less had this actual thing
come all the way from her; her fingers had penned those lines; she had
folded up this sheet of paper that now lay in his hands.  It appeared to
have been written on board ship: further than that all was uncertain and
unknown.

He went into the Library, and sought out a quiet corner; there was
something in the strange reticence of this communication that he wished
to study with care.  And yet there was an apparent simplicity, too.  She
began by telling Mr. Thompson that her grandfather had asked her to
write to him, merely to recall both of them to his memory; and she went
on to say that they often talked of him, and thought of him, and of
bygone days in Toronto.  "Whether we shall ever surprise you by an
unexpected visit in Yonge-street," she proceeded, "I cannot tell; for
grandfather’s plans seem to be very vague at present, and, in fact, I do
not think he likes to be questioned.  But as far as I can judge be does
not enjoy travelling as much as he used; it appears to fatigue him more
than formerly; and from my heart I wish he would settle down in some
quiet place, and let me care for him better than I can do in long
voyages and railway-journeys.  You know what a brave face he puts on
everything—and, indeed, becomes a little impatient if you show anxiety
on his behalf; still, I can see he is not what he was; and I think he
should rest now. Why not in his own country?—that has been his talk for
many a day; but I suppose he considers me quite a child yet, and won’t
confide in me; so that when I try to persuade him that we should go to
Scotland, and settle down to a quiet life in some place familiar to him,
he grows quite angry, and tells me I don’t understand such things.  But
I know his own fancy goes that way.  The other morning I was reading to
him on deck, and somehow I got to think he was not listening; so I
raised my head; and I saw there were tears running down his cheeks—he
did not seem to know I was there at all—and I heard him say to
himself—’The beech-woods of Balloray—one look at them—before I die!’
And now I never read to him any of the Scotch songs that mention
places—such as Yarrow, or Craigieburn, or Logan Braes—he becomes so
strangely agitated; for some time afterwards he walks up and down, by
himself, repeating the name, as if he saw the place before him; and I
know that he is constantly thinking about Scotland, but won’t
acknowledge it to me or to any one.

"Then here is another piece of news, which is all the news one can send
from on board a ship; and it is that poor dear grandfather has grown
very _peremptory_!  Can you believe it?  Can you imagine him irritable
and impatient?  You know how he has always scorned to be vexed about
trifles; how he could always escape from everyday annoyances and
exasperations into his own dream-world; but of late it has been quite
different; and as I am constantly with him, I am the chief sufferer.  Of
course I don’t mind it, not in the least; if I minded it I wouldn’t
mention it, you may be sure; I know what his heart really feels towards
me.  Indeed, it amuses me a little; it is as if I had grown a child
again, it is ’Do this’ and ’Do that’—and no reason given.  Ah, well,
there is not much amusement for either of us two: it is something."  And
here she went on to speak of certain common friends in Toronto, to whom
she wished to be remembered; finally winding up with a very pretty
message from "Yours affectionately, Margaret Bethune."

Then Vincent bethought him of the banker; what comments had he to make?

"Dear sir, I enclose you a letter, received to-day, from the pernicious
little Omahussy, who says neither where she is nor where she is going,
gives no date nor the name of the ship from which she writes, and is
altogether a vexatious young witch. But I imagine this may be the old
gentleman’s doing; he may have been ’peremptory’ in his instructions;
otherwise I cannot understand why she should conceal anything from me.
And why should he?  There also I am in the dark; unless, indeed
(supposing him to have some wish to keep their whereabouts unknown to
you) he may have seen an announcement in the papers to the effect that
you were going to the United States and Canada, in which case he may
have guessed that you would probably call on one whose name they had
mentioned to you as a friend of theirs.  And not a bad guess either:
George Bethune is long-headed—when he comes down from the clouds; though
why he should take such elaborate precautions to keep away from you, I
cannot surmise."

Vincent knew only too well!  The banker proceeded:—

"I confess I am disappointed—for the moment. I took it for granted you
would have no difficulty in discovering where they were; but, of course,
if friend George is not going to give his address to anybody, for fear
of their communicating with you, some time may elapse before you hear
anything definite.  I forgot to mention that the postmark on the
envelope was Port Said——"

Port Said!  Had Maisrie been at Port Said—and not so long ago either?
Instantly there sprang into the young man’s mind a vision of the place
as he remembered it—a poor enough place, no doubt, but now all lit up by
this new and vivid interest: he could see before him the rectangular
streets of pink and white shanties, the sandy roads and arid squares,
the swarthy Arabs and yellow Greeks and Italians, the busy quays and
repairing-yards and docks, the green water and the swarming boats. And
did Maisrie and her grandfather—while the great vessel was getting in
her coals, and the air was being filled with an almost imperceptible
black dust—did they escape down the gangway, and go ashore, and wander
about, looking at the strange costumes, and the sun-blinds, and the
half-burnt tropical vegetation?  Mr. Thompson went on to say that he
himself had never been to Port Said; but that he guessed it was more a
calling-place for steamers than a pleasure or health resort; and no
doubt the Bethunes had merely posted their letters there en route.  But
were they bound East or West? There was no answer to this question—for
they had not given the name of the ship.

So the wild hopes that had arisen in Vincent’s breast when he caught
sight of Maisrie’s handwriting had all subsided again; and the world was
as vague and empty as before.  Sometimes he tried to imagine that the
big steamer which he pictured to himself as lying in the harbour at Port
Said was homeward-bound; and that, consequently, even now old George
Bethune and his granddaughter might have returned to their own country;
and then again something told him that it was useless to search papers
for lists of passengers—that the unknown ship had gone away down the Red
Sea and out to Australia or New Zealand, or perhaps had struck north
towards Canton or Shanghai.  He could only wait and watch—and he had a
sandal-wood necklace when he wished to dream.

But the truth is he had very little time for dreaming; for Vin Harris
was now become one of the very busiest of the millions of busy creatures
crowding this London town.  He knew his best distraction lay that way;
but there were other reasons urging him on.  As it chanced, the great
statesman who had always been Vincent’s especial friend and patron,
finding that his private secretary wished to leave him, decided to put
the office in commission; that is to say, he proposed to have two
private secretaries, the one to look after his own immediate affairs and
correspondence, the other to serve as his ’devil,’ so to speak, in
political matters; and the latter post he offered to Vincent, he having
the exceptional qualification of being a member of the House.  It is not
to be supposed that the ex-Minister was influenced in his choice by the
fact that the young man was now on the staff of two important papers,
one a daily journal, the other a weekly; for such mundane considerations
do not enter the sublime sphere of politics; nor, on the other hand, is
it to be imagined that Vincent accepted the offer with all the more
alacrity that his hold on those two papers might probably be
strengthened by his confidential relations with the great man.  Surmises
and conjectures in such a case are futile—the mere playthings of one’s
enemies.  It needs only to be stated that he accepted the office with
every expectation of hard work; and that he got it.  Such hunting up of
authorities; such verification of quotations; such boiling-down of
blue-books; such constant attendance at the House of Commons: it was all
hardly earned at a salary of £400 a year.  But very well he knew that
there were many young men in this country who would have rejoiced to
accept that position at nothing a year; for it is quite wonderful how
private secretaries of Parliamentary chiefs manage, subsequently, to
tumble in for good things.

Then it is probable that his journalistic enterprises—which necessarily
became somewhat more intermittent after his acceptance of the
secretaryship—brought him in, on the average, another £400 a year.  On
this income he set seriously to work to make himself a miser.  His
tastes had always been simple—and excellent health may have been at once
the cause and the effect of his abstemiousness; but now the meagre fare
he allowed himself, and his rigidly economical habits in every way, had
a very definite aim in view.  He was saving money; he was building up a
miniature fortune—by half-crowns and pence.  Food and drink cost him
next to nothing; if he smoked at all, it was a pipe the last thing in
the morning before going to bed.  Omnibusses served his turn unless some
urgent business on behalf of his chief demanded a hansom.  He could not
give up his club; for that was in a way a political institution; and
oftentimes he had to rush up thither to find someone who was not in the
precincts of St. Stephen’s; but then, on the other hand, in a good club
things are much cheaper than in any restaurant or in the members’
dining-room of the House of Commons.  It was remarkable how the little
fortune accumulated; and it was a kind of amusement in a fashion.  He
pinched himself—and laughed.  He debated moral questions—for example as
to whether it was lawful to use club-stationery in writing articles for
newspapers; but he knew something of the ways of Government offices, and
perhaps his conscience was salved by evil example.  What the manager of
the Westminster Palace Hotel thought of his manner of living can be
imagined—if so august an official cared to enquire into such details.
His solitary room, breakfast, and washing: no more: those were small
bills that he called for week by week.  And so his little hoard of
capital gradually augmented—very gradually, it is true, but surely, as
the rate of interest on deposits rose and fell.

In the meanwhile Lord Musselburgh had not been very successful in his
endeavours to bring about a reconciliation between Vin Harris and his
family; nor had he been able to obtain the information that Vincent
demanded.

"You see, Vin," he said (they were again walking up and down the
lamp-lit Terrace, by the side of the deep-flowing river), "my wife is
awfully upset over this affair.  She thinks it is entirely owing to her
mismanagement.  She would never have told you about the £5,000 if she
had not been certain that that would be conclusive proof to you of the
character of those two people; and now that she sees what has come of
her telling you so much, she is afraid to tell you any more.  Not that I
suppose there is much to tell.  Mr. Bethune and Miss Bethune are no
longer in this country; but I doubt whether any one can say precisely
where they are——"

"Nonsense!" Vincent broke in, impatiently. "They’re humbugging you,
Musselburgh. Consider this for a moment.  Do you imagine that George
Morris handed over that £5,000, as a lump sum, without making
stipulations, and very definite stipulations?  Do you imagine he would
be content to take the word of a man whom he considered a thief?  It is
absurd to think so.  _Do ut facias_ would be his motto; and he would
take precious good care to keep control over the money in case of
non-fulfilment——"

"But there is the receipt!" put in Lord Musselburgh.

"A receipt—for theatrical purposes!" said Vincent, with something of
contempt.  "You may depend on it the money was not handed over in that
unconditional fashion: that is not the way in which George Morris would
do business.  He has got some hold over Mr. Bethune; and he must know
well enough where he is.  Supposing Mr. Bethune had that money in his
pocket, what is to prevent his returning to this country to-morrow?
Where would be the penalty for his breaking his covenant?  You don’t
trust a man whom you consider a swindler; you must have some guarantee;
and the guarantee means that you must be able to get at him when you
choose.  It stands to reason!"

"Yes, I suppose so—it would seem so," said Lord Musselburgh, rather
doubtfully; "but at all events it isn’t George Morris who is going to
open his mouth.  I’ve been to him; he declines; refers me to your
family.  And then, you see, Vin, I’m rather in an awkward position.  I
don’t want to take sides; I don’t want to be a partisan; I would rather
act as the friend of all of you; but the moment I try to do anything I
am met by a challenge—and a particularly inconvenient challenge it is.
Do I believe with them, or do I believe with you?  I told your aunt what
you said about Mr. Bethune—how you described his character, and all
that; but I didn’t do it as well as you; for she remains unconvinced.
As you told the story, it seemed natural and plausible; but as I told
it—and I was conscious of it at the time—it was less satisfactory. And
mind you, if you stick to hard facts, and don’t allow for any
interpretation——"

"If you look through the blue spectacles, in short——"

"Precisely.  Well, then, you are confronted with some extremely awkward
things.  I don’t wonder that your aunt asks pertinently why, if you are
to begin and extend this liberal construction of conduct—this allowing
for motives—this convenient doctrine of forgiving everything to
self-deception—I don’t wonder that she asks why anybody should be sent
to prison at all."

"Oh, as for that," said Vincent, frankly, "I don’t say it would be good
for the commonwealth if all of us were George Bethunes.  Far from it.  I
look upon him as a sort of magnificent lusus naturæ; and I would not
have him other than he is—not in any one particular.  But a nation of
George Bethunes?—it would soon strike its head against the stars."

"Very well, then," said his friend, "you are not contending for any
general principle.  I don’t see why you and your family shouldn’t be
prepared to agree.  You may both of you be right.  You don’t insist upon
having the justifications you extend to Mr. Bethune extended to everyone
else, or to any one else; you make him the exception; and you needn’t
quarrel with those who take a more literal view of his character."

"Literal?" said Vincent, with a certain coldness. "Blindness—want of
consideration—want of understanding—is that to be literal?  Perhaps it
is.  But I thought you said something just now about Mr. Bethune and a
prison: will you tell me of any one action of his that would suggest
imprisonment?"

"Your aunt was merely talking of theories," said Musselburgh, rather
uneasily, for he had not intended to use the phrase.  "What I urge is
this—why shouldn’t both of you admit that there may be something in the
other’s view of Mr. Bethune, and agree to differ?  I stand between you:
I can see how much can be advanced on both sides."

"And so you would patch up a truce," said Vincent.  "How long would it
last?  Of course I do not know for what period of banishment my kind
relatives stipulated; £5,000 is a considerable sum to pay; I suppose
they bargained that Mr. Bethune and his granddaughter should remain away
from England for some time.  But not for ever?  Even then, is it to be
imagined that they cannot be found? Either in this country or abroad,
Miss Bethune and I meet face to face again; and she becomes my wife—I
hope.  It is what I live for.  And then?  Where will your patched-up
truce be then?  Besides, I don’t want any sham friendships with people
who have acted as they have done——"

"It was in your interest, Vin," his friend again urged.  "Why not give
them a little of the lenient judgment you so freely extend to those
others——"

"To those others?" replied Vincent, firing up hotly.  "To whom?"

"To Mr. Bethune, then," was the pacific reply.

"I don’t think Mr. Bethune ever consciously wronged any human being.
But they—were they not aware what they were doing when they played this
underhand trick?—sending that girl out into the world again, through her
devotion to her grandfather?  I have told you before: there is no use
crying peace, peace, when there is no peace.  Let them undo some of the
mischief they have done, first: then we will see.  And look at this
silly affectation of secrecy!  They told me too much when they told me
they had paid money to get George Bethune out of the country: then I
understood why Maisrie went: then I knew I must have patience until she
came back—in the same mind as when she left, that I know well.  I was
puzzled before, and sometimes anxious; but now I understand; now I am
content to wait.  And I have plenty to do in the meantime.  I have to
gain a proper foothold—and make some provision for the future as well:
already I am independent of anybody and everybody.  And perhaps, in time
to come, when it is all over, when all these things have been set right,
I may be able to forgive; but I shall not be able to forget."

This was all the message that Lord Musselburgh had to take home with
him, to his wife’s profound distress.  For she was very fond of her
nephew, and very proud of him, too, and of the position he had already
won for himself; and what she had done she had done with the best
intentions towards him. Once, indeed, she confessed to her husband that
in spite of herself she had a sort of sneaking admiration for Vincent’s
obdurate consistency and faith; insomuch (she said) that—if only the old
man and all his chicaneries were out of the way—she could almost find it
in her heart to try to like the girl, for Vincent’s sake.

"The real question," she continued, "the thing that concerns me most of
all to think of is this: can a girl who has been so dragged through the
mire have retained her purity of mind and her proper self-respect?
Surely she must have known that her grandfather was wheedling people out
of money right and left—and that he took her about with him to enlist
sympathy?  Do you suppose she was not perfectly aware that Vincent
invariably paid the bills at those restaurants?  When tradespeople were
pressing for money, do you fancy she was in ignorance all the time?
Very well: what a life for any one to lead!  How could she hold up her
head amongst ordinarily honest and solvent people? Even supposing that
she herself was all she ought to be, the humiliation must have sunk
deep.  And even if one were to try to like her, there would always be
that consciousness between her and you. You might be sorry for her, in a
kind of way; but you would be still sorrier for Vincent; and that would
be dreadful."

"My dear Madge," her husband said—in his character of mediator and
peacemaker, "you are arguing on a series of assumptions and prejudices.
If Vin does hold on to his faith in those two—and if he does in the end
marry Miss Bethune—I shall comfort myself with the conviction that he
was likely to know more about them than anybody else. He and they have
been on terms of closest intimacy, and for a long time; and you may be
pretty sure that the girl Vin wants to marry is no tarnished kind of a
person—in his eyes."

"Ah, yes—in his eyes!" said Lady Musselburgh, rather sadly.

"Well, his eyes are as clear as most folks’—at least, I’ve generally
found them so," her husband said—trying what a little vague optimism
would do.

One afternoon Vincent was walking along Piccadilly—and walking rapidly,
as was his wont, for the twin purposes of exercise and economy—when he
saw, some way ahead of him, Lady Musselburgh crossing the pavement to
her carriage.  She saw him, too, and stopped—colour mounting to her
face. When he came up he merely lifted his hat, and would have kept on
his way but that she addressed him.

"Vincent!" she said, in an appealing, half-reproachful fashion.

And then she said—

"I want you to come into the house for a few minutes—I must speak with
you."

"Is there any use?" he asked, rather coldly.

However, she was very much embarrassed, as her heightened colour showed;
and he could not keep her standing here in Piccadilly; he said ’Very
well,’ and followed her up the steps and into the house.  When they had
got into the drawing-room she shut the door behind them, and began at
once—with not a little piteous agitation in her manner.

"Vin, this is too dreadful!  Can nothing be done?  Why are you so
implacable?  I suppose you don’t understand what you have been to me,
always, and how I have looked to your future as something almost
belonging to me, something that I was to be proud of; and now that it is
all likely to come true, you go and make a stranger of yourself!  When I
see your name in the papers, or hear you spoken of at a dinner-table—it
is someone who is distant from me, as if I had no concern with him any
longer.  People come up to me and say ’Oh, I heard your nephew speak at
the Mansion House the other afternoon,’ or ’I met your nephew at the
Foreign Office last night;’ and I cannot say ’Don’t you know; he has
gone and made himself a stranger to us—?’"

"I wonder who it was who made a stranger of me!" he interposed—but quite
impassively.

"I can only say, again and again, that it was done for the best, Vin!"
she answered him.  "The mistake I made was in letting you know.  But I
took it for granted that as soon as you were told that those people had
accepted money from us to go away—"

"Those people?  What people?" he demanded, with a sterner air.

"Oh, I meant only Mr. Bethune himself," said she, hastily.  "Oh, yes,
certainly, only him; there were no negotiations with any one else."

"Negotiations!" he said, with a touch of scorn. "Well, perhaps you can
tell me what those negotiations were?  How long did Mr. Bethune
undertake to remain out of this country?"

"Three years, Vin," said she, timidly regarding him.

"Three years?" he repeated, in an absent way.

"But there is no reason," she added quickly, "why he should not return
at any moment if he wishes: so I understand: of course, I did not make
the arrangement—but I believe that is so."

"Return at any moment?" he said, slowly. "Do you mean to tell me that
you put £5,000 into that old man’s hands, on condition he should leave
the country for three years, and that all the same you left him free to
return at any moment?"

"Of course he would forfeit the money," said she, rather nervously.

"But how could he forfeit the money if he already has it?  He has got
the money: you showed me the receipt.  Come, aunt," said he, in quite a
different tone, "Let us be a little more honest and above-board.  Shall
I tell you how I read the whole situation?  You can contradict me if I
am wrong.  But that receipt you showed me: wasn’t it produced for merely
theatrical purposes? Wasn’t it meant to crush and overwhelm me as a
piece of evidence?  The money wasn’t handed over like that, was it?
Supposing I were to conjecture that somebody representing you or
representing my father has still got control over that money; and that
it is to be paid in instalments as it is earned—by absence?  Well isn’t
that so?"

He fixed his eyes on her; she hesitated—and was a little confused.

"I tell you, Vin," she said, "I had personally nothing to do with making
the arrangement; all that was left in George Morris’s hands; and of
course he would take whatever precautions he thought necessary.  And why
should you talk about theatrical purposes?  I really did think that when
I could show you Mr. Bethune was ready to take money from strangers to
go away from England you would change your opinion of him.  But
apparently, in your eyes, he can do no wrong.  He is not to be judged by
ordinary rules and standards. Everything is to be twisted about on his
behalf, and forgiven, or even admired.  Nobody else is allowed such
latitude of construction; and everything is granted to him—because he is
George Bethune. But I don’t think it is quite fair: or that you should
take sides against your own family."

This was an adroit stroke, following upon a very clever attempt to
extricate herself from an embarrassing position; but his thoughts were
otherwise occupied.

"I should like you to tell me," said he, "if you can, what moral wrong
was involved in Mr. Bethune consenting to accept that money.  Where was
the harm—or the ignominy?  Do you think I cannot guess at the
representations and inducements put before him, to get him to stay
abroad for three years?  Why, I could almost tell you, word for word,
what was said to him!  Here was an arrangement that would be of
incalculable benefit to everybody concerned.  He would be healing up
family dissensions.  He would be guarding his granddaughter from a
marriage that could only bring her disappointment and humiliation.
Three years of absence and forgetfulness would put an end to all those
projects.  And then, of course, you could not ask him to throw up his
literary engagements and incur the expense of travel, without some
compensation. Here is a sum of £5,000, which will afford him some kind
of security, in view of this disturbance of his engagements.  A receipt?
oh, yes, a receipt, if necessary!  But then, again, on second thoughts,
wouldn’t it only be prudent to lodge this £5,000 with some third person,
some man of position whom all could trust, and who would send it in
instalments, to avoid the risk of carrying so large a sum about with
one?  There might be a little harmless condition or two attached,
moreover.  You undertake, for example, that the young people shall not
have communication with each other; you say your granddaughter will do
as you wish in all things.  Very well, take her away: disappear, both of
you; you are doing us an immense kindness, and you are acting in the
best interests of all concerned. Never mind a little misery here or
there, or the risk of a broken heart; we can afford to pay for such
things; we can afford to have the moulds of a dessert service
destroyed—and a little matter of £5,000 is not much, when we have
plans....  And so those two go out into the world again."  He paused for
a second.  "Well, aunt, you’ve had your way; and there’s no more to be
said, except this, perhaps, that you don’t seem to realise the greatest
of all the mistakes you have made.  Your three years, even if they
should be three years of absence, will not be years of forgetfulness on
either Maisrie Bethune’s part or mine.  Oh, no; nothing of the kind;
don’t cherish any illusions on that score. It happened curiously that
just before they left Brighton she and I had a little talk over one or
two things; and she asked me for a promise, which I gave her, and which
I mean to keep."

Well, the handsome lad now standing before her had a great hold on her
affection; and she even admired, in a covert way, this very bigotry of
constancy and unswerving faith of his, so that for an instant her head
swam, and she was on the point of crying out ’Vincent—Vincent—go and
bring her to me—and I will take her to my heart—for your sake!’  But the
next moment she had recovered from that mad impulse: she saw that what
had been done was not to be undone in that happy-go-lucky fashion, even
if it could be undone at all; and she was silent and embarrassed.  It
was he who spoke.

"Well, you must excuse me, aunt; I’ve to be down at the House by
question time."

"You’re not going like that, Vin!" she exclaimed.

"What do you want of me?" he asked in a coldly civil way.

"I—I—want you to be as you once were, to all of us," she cried, rather
incoherently.  "I want you to go back to Grosvenor Place; and to accept
the allowance your father has made you ever since you came of age; and
to resume the old bygone relations with us.  Surely it might be
possible, with a little consideration on both sides.  What we have done
was done entirely out of thoughtfulness for you; and if we have made a
mistake—we are only human beings!  And remember, it is quite possible
that you may be mistaken too, Vin; you may be mistaken just as much as
we—and—and—"

"What you propose, aunt," said he (for time was precious with him) "even
if it were practicable, would only be temporary.  I am looking forward
to marrying Maisrie Bethune—in spite of your three years of
forgetfulness!—and when that happens, your patched-up state of affairs
would all come to bits again.  So what is the use of professing a sort
of sham reconciliation?  I have no wish to return to Grosvenor Place.  I
have taken some rooms at the foot of Buckingham-street; and I have a key
that lets me through by the Embankment Gardens into Villiers-street; it
will be convenient for getting to the House.  And I can tide along
pretty well without any allowance from my father; in fact, I’m saving a
little money in a quiet way—"

"But at what a cost, Vincent—at what a cost!" she protested.  "I wish
you could see how worn and ill you are looking—

"Well, I’ve had some things to think of lately—thanks to my kind
relatives!" said he.  "But really I must be off—"

"Vincent," she said, making one last despairing effort to bring things
back to their former footing, "when are you going to ask Louie Drexel
and me to dine with you at the House?"

"I’m so busy, aunt, just now," said he, as he opened the door for her.
Then he saw her into her carriage; and she drove away—a most perplexed
and unhappy woman.

These rooms that Vincent had taken at the foot of Buckingham-street were
right up at the top of the building; and commanded a spacious prospect
of the river, the Embankment gardens, the bridges, the great dusky world
of London lying all around, and the dome of St. Paul’s rising dim and
phantasmal in the east.  They were bachelor chambers, that had doubtless
seen many tenants (the name of one, George Brand, was still over the
door, and Vincent did not think it worth while to change it), but the
young man had no sooner entered into possession than he began a series
of alterations and improvements that bachelor chambers did not seem to
demand.  Not in any hurry, however; nor perhaps with any fixed intent;
it was a kind of amusement for this or that odd half-hour he could
snatch from his multifarious duties.  To begin with, he had the woodwork
painted a deep Indian red, and the walls a pearly-blue grey: while the
former colour was repeated in the Japanese window-curtains, and the
latter by the great world outside, on the lambent moonlight nights, or
sometimes in the awakening of the dawn, as he lay in a low easy-chair,
and watched the vast, silent city coming out of its sleep.  This
top-floor was a very still place, except for the early chattering of the
tree-sparrows, into whose nests, swaying on the branches just beneath
him, he could have tossed a biscuit.  And then his peregrinations
through London, rapid though they were as a rule, occasionally brought
him face-to-face with a bric-a-brac shop; and from time to time he
picked up one thing or another, just as it happened to strike his fancy.
Perhaps these modest purchases were just a trifle too elegant for a
bachelor’s apartments; the sitting-room away up in that lofty situation
came to look rather like a boudoir; for example, there was a music-stand
in rosewood and ormulu—a tall stand it was, as if for a violin
player—which he himself never used. Pictures he could not afford; but
books he could; and the volumes which were one by one added to those
shelves were of a more graceful and literary stamp than you would have
expected to find in the library of a young and busy member of
Parliament. It was not a lordly palace of art, this humble suite of
apartments in the neighbourhood of the Strand; but there was a
prevailing air of selection and good taste; perhaps, one ought to say,
of expectancy, also, in the presence of things not yet in use.  Then the
two large and low windows of the sitting-room were all surrounded with
ivy, of long training; but besides that, there were flower-boxes; and at
a moment’s notice, and at small expense, these could be filled with
potted geraniums, if one wished to be gay.  And always outside was the
varied panorama of the mighty city; the wide river and the bridges, the
spires and the towers, the far masses of buildings becoming more and
more spectral as they receded into the grey and wavering mist.
Sometimes the rose and saffron of the dawn were there, ascending with a
soft suffusion behind the purple dome of St. Paul’s; sometimes there
were blown and breezy days, with flying showers and watery gleams of
sunlight; and sometimes the night lay blue and still and clear, the
Surrey side in black and mysterious shadow, the white moon high in the
south.  These silent altitudes were a fine place for dreaming, after all
the toil and moil of the working-hours were over; and a fine place for
listening, too; sometimes, towards the morning, just as the leaves began
to stir, you could fancy the wind was bringing a message with it—it
seemed, coming from far away, to say something about _Claire Fontaine_.



                             CHAPTER VIII.

                         IN A NORTHERN VILLAGE.


But there were to be no three years of absence, still less of
forgetfulness.  One afternoon, on Vincent’s going down to the House, he
found a telegram along with his letters.  He opened it mechanically,
little thinking; but the next moment his eyes were staring with
amazement.  For these were the words he saw before him:—"_Grandfather
very ill; would like to see you.  Maisrie Bethune, Crossmains, by
Cupar_."  Then through his bewilderment there flashed the sudden
thought: why, the lands of Balloray were up in that Fifeshire
region!—had, then, the old man, tired of his world-wanderings, and
feeling this illness coming upon him, had he at length crept home to
die, perhaps as a final protest?  And Maisrie was alone there, among
strangers, with this weight of trouble fallen upon her.  Why could not
these intervening hours, and the long night, and the great distance, be
at once annihilated?—he saw Maisrie waiting for him, with piteous eyes
and outstretched hands.

He never could afterwards recall with any accuracy how he passed those
hours: it all seemed a dream.  And a dream it seemed next day, when he
found himself in a dogcart, driving through a placid and smiling
country, with the sweet summer air blowing all around him.  He talked to
the driver, to free his mind from anxious and futile forecasts.
Crossmains, he was informed, was a small place.  There was but the one
inn in it—the Balloray Arms.  Most likely, if two strangers were to
arrive on a visit, they would put up at the inn; but very few people did
go through—perhaps an occasional commercial traveller.

"And where is Balloray House—or Balloray Castle?" was the next question.

"Just in there, sir," said the man, with a jerk of his whip towards the
woods past which they were driving.

And of course it was with a great interest and curiosity that Vincent
looked out for this place of which he had heard so much.  At present
nothing could be seen but the high stone wall that surrounds so many
Scotch estates; and, branching over that, a magnificent row of beeches;
but by and bye they came to a clearing in the "policies"; and all at
once the Castle appeared in sight—a tall, rectangular building, with a
battlemented parapet and corner turrets, perched on a spacious and lofty
plateau.  It looked more modern than he had imagined to himself; but
perhaps it had been recently renovated.  From the flag-staff overtopping
the highest of the turrets a flag idly dropped and swung in the blue of
the summer sky: no doubt the proprietor was at home—in proud possession;
while the old man who considered himself the rightful owner of the place
was lying, perhaps stricken unto death, in some adjacent cottage or
village inn.  Then the woods closed round again; and the mansion of
Balloray was lost from view.

Vincent was not in search of the picturesque, or he might have been
disappointed with this village of Crossmains—which consisted of but one
long and wide thoroughfare, bordered on each hand with a row of bare and
mean-looking cottages and insignificant houses.  When they drove up to
the inn, he did not notice that it was a small, two-storied, drab-hued
building of the most common-place appearance; that was not what he was
thinking of at all; his heart was beating high with emotion—what wonder
might not meet his eager gaze at any instant?  And indeed he had hardly
entered the little stone passage when Maisrie appeared before him; she
had heard the vehicle arrive, and had quickly come down-stairs; and now
she stood quite speechless—her trembling, warm hands clasped in his, her
face upturned to him, her beautiful sad eyes all dimmed with tears, and
yet having a kind of joy in them, too, and pride.  She could not say a
single word: he would have to understand that she was grateful to him
for his instant response to her appeal.  And perhaps there was more than
gratitude; she seemed to hunger to look at him—for she had not seen him
for so long a while: perhaps she had never thought to see him again.

"Have you any better news, Maisrie?" said he.

She turned and led the way into a little parlour.

"Yes," said she (and the sound of her voice startled him: the Maisrie of
his many dreams, sleeping and waking, had been all so silent!).
"Grandfather is rather better.  I think he is asleep now—or almost
asleep.  It is a fever—a nervous fever—and he has been so exhausted—and
often delirious; but he is quieter now—rest is everything—"

"Maisrie," he said again (in his bewilderment) "it is a wonderful thing
to hear you speak!  I can hardly believe it.  Where have you been all
this while?  Why did you go away from me?"

"I went because grandfather wished it," said she. "I will tell you some
other time.  He is anxious to see you.  He has been fretting about so
many things; and he will not confide in me—not entirely—I can see that
there is concealment.  And Vincent," she went on, with her appealing
eyes fixed on him, "don’t speak to him about Craig-Royston!—and don’t
let him speak about it.  When he got ill in Cairo, it was more
home-sickness than anything else, as I think; and he said he wanted to
go and die in his own country and among his own people; and so we began
to come to Scotland by slow stages.  And now that we are here, there is
no one whom he knows; he is quite as much alone here as he was in Egypt;
far more alone than we used to be in Canada.  I fancy he expects that a
message may come for me from Balloray—that I am to go there and be
received; and of course that is quite impossible; I do not know them,
they do not know me; I don’t suppose they are even aware that we are
living in this place.  But if he is disappointed in that, it is
Craig-Royston he will think of next—he will want to go there to seek out
relatives on my account.  Well, Vincent, about Craig-Royston——"

She hesitated; and the pale and beautiful face became suffused with a
sort of piteous embarrassment.

"But I understand, Maisrie, quite well!" said he, boldly.  "Why should
you be troubled about that?  You have found out there is no such
place?—but I could have told you so long ago!  There was a district
so-named at one time; and that is quite enough for your grandfather; a
picturesque name takes his fancy, and he brings it into his own life.
Where is the harm of that?  There may have been Grants living there at
one time—and they may have intermarried with the Bethunes: anyhow your
grandfather has talked himself into believing there was such a
relationship; and even if it is a delusion, what injury does it do to
any human creature?  Why," he went on, quite cheerfully, to reassure her
and give her comfort, "I am perfectly aware that no Scotch family ever
had ’Stand Fast, Craig-Royston!’ as its motto.  But if the phrase caught
your grandfather’s ear, why should not he choose it for his motto?
Every motto has been chosen by some one at some one time.  And then, if
he thereafter came to persuade himself that this motto had been worn by
his family, or by some branch of his family, what harm is there in that?
It is only a fancy—it is an innocent delusion—it injures no one——"

"Yes, but, Vincent," she said—for these heroic excuses did not touch the
immediate point—"grandfather is quite convinced about the Grants of
Craig-Royston; and he will be going away in search of them, so that I
may find relatives and shelter. And the disappointment will be terrible.
For he has got into a habit of fretting that never was usual with him.
He has fits of distrusting himself, too, and begins to worry about
having done this or done that; and you know how unlike that is to his
old courage, when he never doubted for a moment but that everything he
had done was done for the best.  And to think that he should vex himself
by imagining he had not acted well by me—when he has given his whole
life to me, as long as I can remember——"

"Maisrie," said he, "when your grandfather gets well, and able to leave
this place, where are you going?"

"How can I say?" she made answer, wistfully enough.

"For I do not mean to let you disappear again. No, no.  I shall not let
you out of my sight again. Do you know that I have a house waiting for
you, Maisrie?"

"For me?" she said, looking up surprised.

"For whom else, do you imagine?  And rather pretty the rooms are, I
think.  I have got a stand for your music, Maisrie: that will be handier
for you than putting it on the table before you."

She shook her head, sadly.

"My place is with my grandfather, Vincent," she said.  "And now I will
go and see how he is. He wished to know as soon as possible of your
arrival."

She left the room and was absent only for a couple of minutes.

"Yes; will you come upstairs, Vincent?" she said on her return.  "I’m
afraid you will find him much changed.  And sometimes he wanders a
little in his talking; you must try to keep him as quiet as may be."

As they entered the room, an elderly Scotchwoman—most probably the
landlady—who had been sitting there, rose and came out.  Vincent went
forward.  Despite Maisrie’s warning he was startled to notice the
ravages the fever had wrought; but if the proud and fine features were
pinched and worn, the eyes were singularly bright—bright and furtive at
the same time.  And at sight of his visitor, old George Bethune made a
desperate effort to assume his usual gallant air.

"Ha?" said he—though his laboured breathing made this affectation of
gaiety a somewhat pitiable thing—"the young legislator—fresh from the
senate—the listening senate, the applause of multitudes——"

He turned his restless eyes on Maisrie; and said in quite an altered
tone——

"Go away, girl, go away!"

Well, Maisrie’s nerves were all unstrung by anxiety and watching; and
here was her lover just arrived, to listen to her being so cruelly and
sharply rebuked; and so, after a moment of indecision, she lost her
self-control, she flung herself on her knees by the side of the bed, and
burst out crying.

"Don’t speak to me like that, grandfather," she sobbed, "don’t speak to
me like that!"

"Well, well, well," said he, in an altered tone, "I did not mean to hurt
you.  No, no, Maisrie; you’re a good lass—a good lass—none better in the
whole kingdom of Scotland.  I was not thinking—I beg your pardon, my
dear—I beg your pardon."

She rose, and kissed his hand, and left the room. Then old George
Bethune turned to his visitor, and began to talk to him in a curiously
rapid way—rapid and disconnected and confused—while the brilliant eyes
were all the time fixed anxiously on the young man.

"Yes, I am glad you have come—I have been sorely perplexed," he said, in
his husky and hurried fashion; "—perhaps, when one is ill, confidence in
one’s own judgment gives way a little—and it is not—every one whom you
can consult. But that is not the main thing—not the main thing at all—a
question of money is a minor thing—but yesterday—I think it was
yesterday—my voice seemed to be going from me—and I thought—I would
leave you a message.  The book there—bring it—"

He looked towards a red volume that was lying on the window-sill.
Vincent went and fetched it; though even as he did so, he thought it
strange that a man who was perhaps lying on his deathbed should bother
about a book of ballads.  But when, he might have asked himself, had
George Bethune ever seemed to realise the relative importance of the
things around him?  To him a harebell brought from the Braes of
Gleniffer was of more value than a king’s crown.

"Open at the mark," said the sick man, eagerly. "See if you
understand—without much said—to her, I mean.  Poor lass—poor lass—I
caught her crying once or twice—while we were away—and I have been
asking myself whether—whether it was all done for the best."  Then he
seemed to pull himself together a little.  "Yes, yes, it was done for
the best—what appeared best for every one; but now—well, now it may be
judged differently—I am not what I was—I hope I—have done no wrong."

Vincent turned to the marked page; and there he found a verse of one of
the ballads pencilled round, with the last line underscored.  This is
what he read:

    He turned his face unto the wa’,
      And death was with him dealing;
    "Adieu, adieu, my dear friends a’—
      _Be kind to Barbara Allen!_"


The old man was watching him anxiously and intently.

"Yes, I understand," Vincent said.  "And I think you may depend on me."

"Then there is another thing," the old man continued—his mind leaping
from one point to another with marvellous quickness, though he himself
seemed so languid and frail.  "I—I wish to have all things left in
order.  If the summons—comes—I must be able to meet it—with head up—fear
never possessed me during life.  But who has not made mistakes—who has
not made mistakes?—not understood at the time.  And yet perhaps it was
not a mistake—I am not the man I was—I have doubts—I thought I was doing
well by all—but now—I am uneasy—questions come to me in the
night-time—and I have not my old strength—I cannot cast them behind me
as in better days."

He glanced towards the door.

"Keep Maisrie out," said he.  "Poor lass—poor lass—I thought I was doing
well for her—but when I found her crying—  Take care she does not come
back for a minute or two——"

"She won’t come until you send for her," Vincent interposed.

"Then I must make haste—and you must listen. The money—that I was
persuaded to take from your family—that must be paid back—to the last
farthing; and it will not be difficult—oh, no, not difficult—not much of
it has been used—Bevan and Morris will tell you—Bevan and Morris, Pall
Mall, London.  And indeed I meant to do what I promised—when I went
away—but when I got ill—I could not bear the idea of being buried out of
Scotland—I was like the Swiss soldier—in the trenches—who heard the
Alphorn—something arose in my breast—and Maisrie, she was always a
biddable lass—she was just as willing to come away. But the money—well,
is there one who knows me who does not know how I have scorned that—that
delight of the ignoble and base-born?—and yet this is different—this
must be paid back—for Maisrie’s sake—every farthing—to your family. She
must be no beggar—in their eyes.  And you must not tell her anything—I
trust you—if I can trust you to take care of her I can trust you in
smaller things—so take a pencil now—quick—when I remember it—and write
down his address—Daniel Thompson——"

"Of Toronto?" said Vincent.  "I know him."

At this moment George Bethune turned his head a little on one side, and
wearily closed his eyes. Vincent, assuming that he now wished for
rest—that perhaps he might even have sunk into sleep, which was the
all-important thing for him—thought it an opportune moment to retire;
and on tiptoe made for the door.  But even that noiseless movement was
sufficient to arouse those abnormally sensitive faculties; those
restless eyes held him again.

"No—no—do not go," the old man said, in the same half-incoherent, eager
fashion.  "I must have all put in order—Daniel
Thompson—banker—Toronto—he will make all that straight with your family.
For Maisrie’s sake—and more than that he would do for her—and be proud
and glad to do it too.  He will be her friend—and you—well, I leave her
to you—you must provide a house for her."

"It is ready," said Vincent.

"She will make a good wife—she will stand firm by the man she
marries—she has courage—and a loyal heart.  Perhaps—perhaps I should
have seen to it before—perhaps you should have had your way at
Brighton—and she—well, she was so willing to go—that deceived me.  And
there must be laughing now for her—it is natural for a young lass to be
glad and merry—not any more weeping—she is in her own land.  Why," said
he, and his eyes burned still more brightly, and his speech became more
inconsecutive, though always hurried and panting.  "I remember a story—a
story that a servant lass used to tell me when I was a child—I used to
go into the kitchen—when she was making the bread—it was a story about a
fine young man called Eagle—he had been carried away to an eagle’s nest
when he was an infant—and his sweetheart was called Angel.  Well, I do
not remember all the adventures—I have been thinking sometimes that they
must have been of Eastern origin—Eastern origin—yes—the baker who tried
to burn him in an oven—the Arabian Nights—but no matter—at the end he
found his sweetheart—and there was a splendid wedding.  And just as they
were married, a white dove flew right down the middle of the church, and
called aloud ’_Kurroo, kurroo; Eagle has got his Angel now!_’  I used to
imagine I could see them at the altar—and the white dove flying down the
church——

"Don’t you think you should try to get a little rest now?" Vincent said,
persuasively.  "You have arranged everything—all is put in order.  But
what we want is for you to get rest and quiet, until this illness leaves
you, and you grow strong and well again."

"Yes, yes," said the old man, quickly, "that is quite right—that is
so—for I must pay off Thompson, you know, I must pay off Thompson.
Thompson is a good fellow—and an honest Scot—but he used to talk a
little.  Let him do this—for Maisrie’s sake—afterwards—afterwards—when I
am well and strong again—I will square up accounts with him. Oh, yes,
very easily," he continued; and now he began to whisper in a mysterious
manner.  "Listen, now—I have a little scheme in mind—not a word to
anybody—there might be some one quick to snatch it up.  It is a volume I
have in mind—a volume on the living poets of Scotland—think of that,
now—a splendid subject, surely!—the voice of the people—everyday sorrows
and joys—the minstrelsy of a whole race.  There was the American
book—but something went wrong—I did not blame any one—and I was glad it
was published—Carmichael let me review it—yes, yes, there may be a
chance for me yet—I may do something yet—for auld Scotland’s sake!  I
have been looking into the _domus exilis Plutonia_—the doors have been
wide open—but still there may be a chance—there is some fire still
burning within.  But my memory is not what it was," he went on, in a
confused, perplexed way.  "I once had a good memory—an excellent
memory—but now things escape me. Yesterday—I think it was yesterday—I
could not tell whether Bob Tennant was still with us—and his verses to
Allander Water have all gone from me—all but a phrase—’How sweet to roam
by Allander’—’How sweet to roam by Allander’—no, my head is not so clear
as it ought to be——"

"No, of course not," said Vincent, in a soothing sort of way.  "How
could you expect it, with this illness?  But these things will all come
back.  And I’m going to help you as much as I can.  When I was in New
York I heard your friend, Hugh Anstruther, deliver a speech about those
living Scotch poets, and he seemed to be well acquainted with them; I
will write to him for any information you may want.  So now—now that is
all settled; and I would try to rest for a while, if I were you: that is
the main thing—the immediate thing."

But the old man went on without heeding him, muttering to himself, as it
were:

"Chambers’s Journal—perhaps as far back as thirty years since—there’s
one verse has rung in my ears all this time—but the rest is all
blank—and the name of the writer forgotten, if it ever was published ...
’’Tis by Westray that she wanders ... ’Tis by Westray that she strays
... O waft me, Heavens, to Westray ... in the spring of the young days!’
... No, no, it cannot be Westray—Westray is too far north—Westray?—Yet
it sounds right ... ’’Tis by Westray that she wanders ... ’tis by
Westray that she strays—’"

There was a tap at the door, and the doctor appeared: a little, old,
white-haired man, of sharp and punctilious demeanour.  Behind him was
the landlady, hanging back somewhat as if it were for further
instructions; so, she being there to help, Vincent thought he would go
downstairs and seek out Maisrie.  He found her in the little
parlour—awaiting him.

"What do you think, Vincent?" she said, quickly.

"I haven’t spoken to the doctor yet," he made answer.  "Of course,
everyone can see that your grandfather is very ill; but if courage will
serve, who could have a better chance?  And I will tell you this,
Maisrie, he is likely to have more peace of mind now.  He has been
vexing himself about many things, as you guessed; and although he was
wandering a good deal while I was with him—perhaps all the time—I could
not quite make sure—still, it is wonderful how he has argued these
matters out, and how clearly you can follow his meaning.  It was about
you and your future he was most troubled—in the event of anything
happening to him; and he has not been afraid to look all possibilities
in the face; he told me the doors of the _domus exilis Plutonia_ had
stood wide open before him, and I know he was not the one to be alarmed,
for himself. But about you, Maisrie: do you know that he has given you
over to me—if the worst comes to the worst?  He asked me to provide a
home for you: I told him it was already there, awaiting you.  You see I
have not forgotten what you said to me at Brighton; and I knew that some
day you and I should find ourselves, as we now find ourselves, face to
face—perhaps in sad circumstances, but all the more dependent on each
other——"

"Do you think he is so very ill, Vincent?" she said: she seemed to have
no thought of herself—only of her grandfather.

"You must see he is very ill, Maisrie—very," he answered her.  "But, as
I say, if splendid courage will serve, then you may hope for the best.
And he ought to be quieter in mind now.  We will hear what the doctor
has to say——"

But at this moment there was an unwonted sound without in the still
little village—the sound of carriage-wheels on the stony street; and
presently some vehicle, itself unseen, was heard to stop in front of the
inn.  In another second or so, a servant-girl opened the door of the
parlour and timidly said to Maisrie—

"Miss Bethune, Miss."

"Miss Bethune?" Maisrie repeated, wondering.

"From the Castle, Miss," the girl said, in awe-stricken tones.

And it was curious that at such a crisis Maisrie’s eyes should turn
instinctively to Vincent—as if to appeal for advice.  Of course his
decision was taken on the instant.

"Ask Miss Bethune to step this way, then," he said to the girl.

Maisrie rose—pale a little, but absolutely self-possessed.  She did not
know who this might be—perhaps the bearer of grave and harassing tidings
for her grandfather; for she had grown to fear Balloray, and all its
associations and belongings. As it turned out she had not much to fear
from this emissary.  There came into the room a tall and elegant lady of
about thirty, not very pretty, but very gentle-looking, with kind grey
eyes.  For a brief second she seemed embarrassed on finding a third
person present; but that passed directly; she went up to Maisrie, and
took her hand and held it, and said, in a voice so sweet and winning
that it went straight to the heart—

"Dr. Lenzie has told me of your trouble.  I’m very, very sorry.  Will
you let me help you in any way that is possible?  May I send to
Edinburgh for a trained nurse to give you assistance; and in the
meantime, if you wished it, I could send along my maid to do anything
you wanted—"

Maisrie pressed her to be seated, and tried, in rather uncertain
accents, to thank her for her exceeding kindness.  For this stranger,
with the greatest tact, made no apology for her intrusion; it was no
case of the castle coming to the cottage, with acts of officious
benevolence; it was simply one woman appealing to another woman to be
allowed to help her in dire straits.  Whether she knew that the old man
upstairs claimed to be the rightful owner of Balloray, whether she knew
that the beautiful pensive-eyed girl who was speaking to her had
indirectly suffered through that legal decision of generations ago,
Vincent could not at the moment guess: what was obvious was merely this
womanly act of sympathy and charity, for which Maisrie Bethune showed
herself abundantly grateful.  When the doctor came down, this visitor
with the friendly eyes and the soft voice explained that, just in case
the patient should need brandy to keep up his strength, she had taken
the liberty of bringing some with her—of good quality: the resources of
the Balloray Arms being limited in that respect.  As she said this she
hesitatingly blushed a little; and Vincent thought she looked really
beautiful.  He recalled to himself his aunt, Lady Musselburgh; and
wondered whether she, with all her fine presence and eloquent eyes,
could look as nobly beautiful as this poor woman, who was rather plain.

The doctor’s report was on the whole encouraging; the temperature of the
patient was the least thing lower, and he was more equable in mind.

"He appears to have been greatly pleased by your visit, sir," the little
doctor said, in a strong east-country accent, to the young man.  "Very
pleased indeed.  And it is just wonderful how he can reason and explain;
though I’m not so sure he’ll be able to remember all he’s been saying.
But now, he tells me, all his dispositions are made; he is content;
there is nothing more on his mind—except, as I gather, about some book."

"I know all about that," said Maisrie.  "I can pacify him about that;
and I’m going upstairs directly."

Of course she had to wait and see Miss Bethune and the doctor leave;
then she turned to Vincent.

"Will you go out for a walk, Vincent?  I have asked Mrs. MacGill to let
you have some dinner at seven."

"Oh, don’t you bother about me, Maisrie!" he said.  "Can’t I be of any
use to you upstairs?"

"Not unless grandfather asks for you again—then I will send for you,"
she answered.

She was going away when he interrupted her for a moment.

"I will come up whenever you want me," he said; and then he added:
"But—but—you know him so much better than I do, Maisrie.  Do you think
we should tell him of Miss Bethune having been here?"

"Oh, no, no, Vincent!" she said, in earnest remonstrance.  "Nothing
would excite him more terribly.  You know he has already been talking of
some message coming from Balloray to me—of the possibility of it—and
this would set his brain working in a hundred different directions.  He
might think they were coming to take me away from him—perhaps to do me
some harm—or he might imagine that I had humbled myself before them, to
make friends with them, and that would trouble him more than anything
else: you cannot tell what wild fancies might not get into his head. So
there must not be a word said about Miss Bethune, Vincent."

"Of course you know best, Maisrie," said he. And still he did not let
her go.  What was he to say next, to detain her?  It was so long since
he had heard her voice!  "When you go upstairs, Maisrie, I wish you
would look at the book of ballads that is lying on the table.  There are
some lines marked—you will see a bit of paper to tell you the page.  Do
you know what that means? Your grandfather thought that he might not
have strength enough left to speak to me when I came; and so this was to
be a last message for me.  Isn’t it strange that in the face of so
serious an illness he should be thinking about a ballad; but you know
better than anyone that ballads are as real to your grandfather as the
actual things around him.  And I want you to look at that message.  I
have told your grandfather that he may depend on me."

She went upstairs; he passed out into the golden glow of the afternoon.
It was not a beautiful village, this: plain, unlovely, melancholy in the
last degree; moreover, his own mind was filled with dim and dark
forebodings; so that a sort of gloom of death and separation seemed to
hang over those houses.  Nor was there anything to look at, for the
distraction of thought.  An English village would have had a picturesque
old church and a pretty churchyard; here there was nothing but a small
mission-house of the most dull and forbidding exterior, while, just
beyond the last of the hovels, there was a cemetery—a mound enclosed by
a stone wall.  He went to the gate, and stood there a long time, with
some curious fancies and imaginings coming into his head.  He seemed to
see an open grave there, and a small knot of people, himself the chief
mourner.  And then, after the simple and solemn ceremony, he saw himself
leave the sad enclosure and go away back through the unlovely street,
rather fearing what lay before him.  For how was he to attempt to
console the solitary girl awaiting him there in her despair and her
tears?  But behold now, if there were any charity and commiseration left
in the world—if one, hitherto obdurate, would but consent to bury her
enmity in that open grave they had left—as well she might, for there was
no one to offend her now—and if she were to reach out a woman’s hand to
this lonely girl, and take her with her, and shelter her, until the time
of her sorrow was over?  This was a bleak, plain, commonplace sort of a
burial ground into which he was gazing: but none the less had human
hearts come away from it heavy and remorseful—remorseful when it was too
late.  And if some little atonement were to be offered in the way he had
imagined—if it were the only thing now left?  This girl, sitting alone
there in her desperate grief—without kindred—without friends—without any
home or habitation to turn her face to: surely her situation was of all
things possible most forlorn—surely no woman’s heart could resist that
mute appeal for sympathy and association?

As he walked slowly and aimlessly back to the inn, he began to think he
had been a little too hard on those relatives of his.  Death, or even
the menace of death, was a solvent of many things: it made all
antagonisms, animosities, indignations appear so trivial and unworthy.
He could not but remember that it was not through any selfishness those
relatives of his had acted (unless some small trace of family ambition
were a minor motive): what they had done they had done, as they
imagined, to serve him; there might have been errors of judgment, but no
ill-will on their part. And now, in this terrible crisis, if he were to
write to Lady Musselburgh—write in all conciliation and kindness—and
tell her how Maisrie Bethune was situated, would she not allow her heart
to answer? She was a woman; she professed to be a Christian. And if the
worst befel, or even if the worst were threatened, surely she would come
at once to Scotland, and make what little amends were now within her
power?  How many homes had she—in London, Brighton, Mendover—how many
friends, relations, well-wishers—as compared with this tragically lonely
girl, who had nothing but the wide world around her, and no one offering
her a sympathetic hand?  He would write to his aunt a long and urgent
letter—appealing to her own better nature—and asking to be allowed to
summon her, by telegram, if there were need.  He would even humble and
abase himself—for Maisrie’s sake.

But when he got back to the inn, he found that all these sombre
prognostications were, happily, not immediately called for.  On the
contrary, Maisrie came running down to say that her grandfather had been
asleep, or apparently asleep, and that, when he woke up, he seemed much
refreshed, with his memory grown infinitely clearer.  He was especially
proud that he could remember the verses about Allander Water.  He wanted
Vincent to go up to him at once.

"And you must please him, Vincent," she said, breathlessly, "by
promising to do everything to help him with the book.  Promise whatever
he wishes.  But be sure you don’t mention that Miss Bethune was
here—don’t say a word about that—or anything about Balloray."



                              CHAPTER IX.

                   A BABBLE O’ GREEN FIELDS: THE END.


There was a wonderful vitality, especially of the brain, in this old
man; after long periods of languor and exhaustion, with low moanings and
mutterings quite unintelligible to the patient watchers, he would flame
up into something like his former self, and his speech would become
eager and voluble, and almost consecutive.  It was in those intervals
that he showed himself proud of his recovered memory: again and again
they could hear him repeat the lines that for a time had baffled him—

    ’How sweet to roam by Allander, to breathe the balmy air,
    When cloudless are the summer skies, and woods and fields are
            fair;
    To see the skylark soaring high, and chanting on the wing,
    While in yon woods near Calder Kirk the wild birds sweetly
            sing.’

He was busy with the new book—choosing and arranging; and Maisrie, as
his amanuensis, jotted down memoranda as to the poets to be included,
and the pieces most characteristic of them.  For he was not to be
pacified into silence and acquiescence—in these clearer moods.  There
was hurry, he said. Some one else might step in.  And he cross-examined
Vincent about the quotations that Hugh Anstruther had made at the Burns’
Celebration in New York.

"I hardly remember," Vincent answered him. "There were a good many.  But
there was one piece I thought rather pathetic—I don’t recall the name of
it—but it was about a little pair of shoes—the mother thinking of her
dead child."

"What?—what?" said the old man, quickly. "Not James Smith’s?  Not ’The
Wee Pair o’ Shoon’?"

"Well, yes, I think that was the title," said Vincent.

An anxious and troubled expression came into the sick man’s eyes: he was
labouring with his memory—and Maisrie saw it.

"Never mind, grandfather: never mind just now: if you want it, I’ll
write to Mr. Anstruther for it. See, I will put it down in the list; and
I’ll send for it; and it will be back here in plenty of time."

"But I know it quite well!" he said, fretfully, "The last verse anyway.
’The eastlin wind blaws cauld, Jamie—the snaw’s on hill and plain——’"
He repeated those two lines over and over again, with half-shut eyes;
and then all at once he went on with the remainder—

    "’The flowers that decked my lammie’s grave
      Are faded noo, an’ gane!
    O, dinna speak!  I ken she dwells
      In yon fair land aboon;
    But sair’s the sicht that blin’s my e’e—
      That wee, wee pair o’ shoon.’"


There was a kind of proud look in his face as he finished.

"Yes, yes; it’s a fine thing to have a good memory—and I owe that to my
father—he said there never was a minute in the day that need be
wasted—you could always repeat to yourself a verse of the Psalms of
David.  I think the first word of approval—I ever got from him—ye see,
Maisrie, we were brought up under strict government in those days—was
when I repeated the CXIX. Psalm—the whole twenty-two parts—with hardly a
mistake. And what a talisman to carry about with ye—on the deck of a
steamer—on Lake Ontario—in the night—with the stars overhead—then the
XLVI. Psalm comes into your mind—you are back in Scotland—you see the
small church, and the boxed-in pews—the men and women standing up to
sing—the men all in black—I wonder if they have _Ballerma_ in the Scotch
churches now—and _Drumclog_—and _New St. Ann’s_—"

He shut his eyes—those unnaturally brilliant eyes—for a second or so;
but the next second they were open and alert again.

"The book, Maisrie—the book—are you getting on?—no delay—no delay—in
case someone should interfere.  Ye’ve got Shairp in, haven’t ye?—the
burn of Quair—up yonder—above the Minch Moor—

      ’I heard the cushies croon,
      Through the gowden afternoon,
    And Quair burn singin’ doon to the vale o’ Tweed.’

Well do I know the very spot where he must have written those verses.
Yes, yes; well I remember it," he continued, more absently.  "But I have
had my last look.  I will see it no more—no more. You, Maisrie, you will
go there—your young husband will take you there—"

"Grandfather, we will all go there together!" said Maisrie, piteously.

"And both of you," the old man went on, paying no attention to her, for
he was apparently gazing at some distant thing, "both of you are young,
and light of step—and light of heart, which is still better—well, well,
my lass, perhaps not so light of heart as might be at your years—but all
that will change for you—and I think when you are up at the burn of
Quair—you will find it—in your mind—to cross the Minch Moor to Yarrow
Water.  Newark Castle you will see—then you will turn to go down the
Yarrow Vale—but not with any sad heart, Maisrie—I forbid ye that—it’s a
beautiful place, Yarrow, though it had its tragedies and sorrows in the
olden time—and you—you are young—you have life before you—and I tell ye
it is with a light and glad heart you must go down the Yarrow Vale. Why,
lass, you’ll come to Mount Benger—you’ll come to Dryhope Tower—you’ll
come to Altrive—and St. Mary’s Loch—and the Loch o’ the Lows—and
Chapel-hope—but mind ye now—if it’s bad weather—ye’re not to come
running away, and altogether mistaking the place—ye’ll just stop
somewhere in the neighbourhood until it clears." And then he added, in a
wistful kind of way: "I once had thoughts—of taking ye there myself,
Maisrie."

"And so you will, grandfather!" she pleaded.

"No more—no more," he said, as if not heeding her.  "And why should a
young life be clouded?—the two of them—they’ll be fine company for each
other—when they’re wandering—along by the side of Yarrow Water."  But
here he recalled himself; and would have Maisrie sit down again to that
list; in order that the book might be pushed rapidly forward.

It was on this same evening that Dr. Lenzie, on arriving to pay his
accustomed visit, went into the little parlour and sent for Vincent.
Vincent came downstairs.

"Do ye see that?" said he, holding out a book that was in his hand.

Vincent took the volume from him and glanced at the title—Recent and
Living Scottish Poets, by A. G. Murdoch.  He was not in the least
astonished—but he was angry and indignant.

"Very well," said he, "what of it?  Do you mean to say you are going to
vex an old man, who may be on his death-bed, by bringing charges of
plagiarism against him?  I dare say Mr. Bethune never saw the book, or,
if he has seen it, he has forgotten it."

"I perceive ye do not understand," said the little doctor, without
taking offence.  "When I came to know what undertaking it was that Mr.
Bethune had on his mind, I made sure I had either seen or heard of some
such collection; and I sent to Edinburgh; and here it is, just arrived.
Now the one thing he seems anxious about, the one that troubles him, is
getting on with this work; and it occurred to me that if I could show
him there was a similar book already published, he might cease
fretting——"

"Cease fretting!" Vincent exclaimed, with a stare of astonishment.  And
then he hesitated. "Well, you are an older man than I, and you have more
experience in these cases; but I should have said that a cruel
disappointment such as this is sure to cause would distress his mind
beyond measure.  He must occupy himself with something; his brain is
incessantly working; and so long as he is talking of getting out his
book, he is at least looking forward with hope.  But if you show him
this volume, it will be a crushing blow; the very thing he seems to live
for will be taken from him; he will feel injured by being anticipated,
and brood over it.  Of course I have no right to speak; I am not a
relative; but ask his granddaughter—she knows him better than any one——"

"Perhaps you are right—perhaps you are right," said the little doctor.
"It was merely an idea of mine—thinking it would quiet him.  But on
reflection I will not risk it; it may be better not to risk it."

"In that case," Vincent struck in, promptly, "will you let me tie up the
book in paper, and will you take it away with you when you go?  I mean,
that I don’t wish Miss Bethune to see it.  She has plenty to think of at
present: don’t worry her with a trifling matter like this.  It is of no
consequence to her, or to any human being, how many collections of
Scotch poems may be published—the more the merrier—so long as readers
can be found for them; but she is anxious and nervous and tired at
present—and it might surprise her, perhaps vex her, to find that this
volume had been published."

"Oh, certainly, certainly," the doctor said, taking the failure of his
ingenuous little scheme with much equanimity.  "I will put the book into
that sideboard drawer until I come down; and then I can take it away
with me without her or any one having seen it."

The next day brought Vincent an unexpected and welcome surprise.  He had
been out-of-doors for a brief breathing-space, and was returning to the
inn, when he saw in the distance, coming down the Cupar road, a
waggonette and pair.  He seemed somehow to recognise the two figures
seated in the carriage; looked again; at last made certain—they were
Lord and Lady Musselburgh.  Of course, in such circumstances, when they
drove up to the door of the inn, there was no great joyfulness of
greeting; only a few customary questions, and professions of hope for
the best; but at the same time, Vincent, who was touched by this
friendly act, could not help saying—

"Well, this is like you, aunt."

"Oh, your letter was too much for me, Vin," she said, with frank good
nature.  "I did not wait for the telegram—I trust there will be no need
to telegraph for anybody.  But I don’t want you to give me any credit.
I want to appear as I am; and I’ve always told you I’m a selfish
woman—the generous creature is Hubert here, who insisted on coming all
this distance with me.  And now I want you to understand the full extent
of my selfishness. You are doing no good here—of course.  You are
probably in the way.  But all your affairs in London will be compromised
if you remain here: ——’s private secretary cannot be absent at such a
time——"

"There’s St. John!" Vincent exclaimed, referring to his colleague in the
office that had been put in commission.

"He’s not in the House," rejoined this practical and very charming
person; "and the short and the long of it is that you must get back to
London at once.  That is part of my scheme; the other is, that I shall
take your place.  I shall be of more use. You say there is no immediate
danger.  So much the better.  Go away back to your post.  If anything
should happen—I could be of more service than you.  What could you do?
Miss Bethune could not return to London with you—and go into lodgings of
your choosing.  I will look after her—if she will allow me—if she will
let bygones be bygones.  I will ask her pardon, or do anything; but I
don’t suppose she is thinking of that at present. You go back with
Hubert and leave me here.  I can shift for myself."

"I think it is a sensible arrangement," her husband said, idly looking
around at the rather shabby furniture.

"It is very kind of you, aunt," Vincent said—"and very far from being
selfish.  But it is impossible.  I must remain here.  I have duties here
as well as elsewhere—perhaps more important in my own sight.
But—but—now that you are here—"

"Oh, yes, I’ll stay," said she good-naturedly. "Well, Hubert, it is you
who are packed off: I suppose you can return to Edinburgh to-night. I
brought a few things with me, Vincent, in case I should be wanted: will
you fetch them in from the waggonette?  Still, I wish I could persuade
you to go back to London!"

And in this manner it was that Lady Musselburgh became installed in the
inn, making some little excuses to Maisrie.  She and her husband had
been in the neighbourhood.  They had heard of Mr. Bethune’s serious
illness, and of Vincent’s having come down from town.  Could she be of
any help? And so forth.  Maisrie thanked her, of course; but did not
take much notice of her; the girl just then having many things in her
mind.  For her grandfather’s delirium was at times more pronounced now;
and in these paroxysms she alone could soothe him.

Lady Musselburgh, indeed, rather hung back from entering the sick-room,
without stating her reasons to anyone.  On every occasion that she saw
Maisrie she was most kind and considerate, and solicitous about the girl
herself; but she betrayed no great concern about the old man, further
than by making the usual enquiries. When Vincent suggested to her that,
if she did not go into the room and see Mr. Bethune, his granddaughter
might think it strange, she said in reply—

"But he won’t remember me, Vin.  We never met but at Henley."

"He remembers everything that ever happened to him," was the answer.
"His memory is wonderful. And perhaps—afterwards—you may wish you had
said a civil word or two."

"Oh, very well," she said.  "Whatever you think right.  Will you come
with me now?"

She seemed a little apprehensive—she did not say why.  They went
upstairs together.  The door of the sick-room was open.  Maisrie, when
she perceived this visitor, rose from her seat by the bedside; but Lady
Musselburgh motioned her to keep her place, while she remained standing
in the middle of the room, waiting to see if Mr. Bethune would take any
notice of her.  But his eyes were turned away; and he was muttering to
himself almost inaudibly—they could only catch a word here and
there—Galashiels—Torwoodlee—Selkirk—Jedburgh—no doubt he was going over
in his own mind those scenes of his youth.  Then Maisrie said, very
gently—

"Grandfather!"

He turned his eyes, and they rested on the stranger for a second or so,
with a curiously puzzled expression.  She went forward to the bedside.

"I’m afraid you don’t remember me," said she, diffidently.  "It was at
Henley we met——"

"I remember you very well, madam, very well indeed," said he, receiving
her with a sort of old-fashioned and ceremonious politeness—as far as
the wasted frame and poor wandering wits would allow.  "I am sorry—to
have to welcome you—to so poor a house—these are altered conditions
truly—"  He was still looking curiously at her. "Yes, yes, I remember
you well, madam—and—and I will not fail to send you my monograph on
the—the Beatons of the Western Isles—I will not fail to send it—but if
ye will forgive me—my memory is so treacherous—will you forgive me,
madam, if your name has escaped me for the moment—"

"This is Lady Musselburgh, grandfather," Maisrie interposed, quietly.

"Musselburgh—Musselburgh," he said; and then he went on, amid the pauses
of his laborious breathing: "Ah, yes—your husband, madam, is a fine
young man—and a good Scot—audacious, intrepid, and gallant—perhaps a
little cynical in public affairs—great measures want earnest
convictions—it may be that his lot has fallen in over-pleasant
places—and he has chosen the easier path. Well, why not?—why not?  There
are some whose fate it is to—to fight a hard fight; while others—others
find nothing but smoothness and peace—let them thank Heaven for it—and
enjoy it.  I hope he will hold on his way with a noble
cheerfulness—despising the envy of enemies—a noble cheerfulness—I hope
it may be his always—indeed, I know none deserving of better fortune."

It was now abundantly clear to Lady Musselburgh that he did not in any
way associate her with the arrangement that had been effected by George
Morris; and she was much relieved.

"I mustn’t disturb you any longer," said she. "Indeed, I only came along
to see if I could be of any assistance to Miss Bethune.  I hear she has
been doing far too much.  Now that is very unwise; for when you are
getting better, and need constant care, then she will find herself quite
worn out."

"Yes, yes, that is right," said he, "I wish ye would persuade her—take
her in hand—make her look after herself—but she has a will of her own,
the creature—a slim bit of a lass, ye might think—but it’s the spirit
that endures—shining clear—clearer and clearer in dark times of trouble.
And she—she has had her own troubles—and suffering—but never a word of
complaining—obedient—willing—ready at all times and
seasons—loyal—dutiful—and brave.  What more could I say of her?—what
more?  Sometimes I have thought to myself—there was the—the courage of a
man in that slim bit creature—and the gentleness of all womankind as
well—"

"Grandfather," said Maisrie, "you mustn’t talk any more now—you are
keeping Lady Musselburgh waiting."

"But, madam," he continued, not heeding the girl at all, "you must
remember her descent—she comes of an inflexible race—she is of pure
blood—it is the thoroughbred that holds on till its heart breaks in two.
How could she help being proud-spirited, and silent in endurance, and
brave? Perhaps you may know that it was of one of her ancestors—as he
lay in his grave—that some one said—’There lies one who never feared the
face of man,’—a noble inscription for a tombstone—’who never feared the
face of man’—"

Maisrie leant over and said to him, quite gently—

"Grandfather, you are forgetting; it was of John Knox that was said."

He looked at her doubtfully; and then seemed to be puzzling with his own
memory.

"Perhaps—perhaps," he said; and then he added, quite humbly, "I beg your
pardon for misleading you, madam—I did not intend it—but I forget
things—and Maisrie is generally right. John Knox?—perhaps—perhaps—I
thought it was a Beaton or a Bethune—but I cannot remember which of
them—perhaps she is right—"

He closed his eyes, and turned away a little, as if to debate this
question with himself—or perhaps to seek some rest: seeing which Lady
Musselburgh and Vincent quietly withdrew, and went downstairs. "Poor old
man!" said she, when they were in the small parlour.  "There is a great
change in him, entirely apart from his illness.  Even in manner he is
not nearly so—so grandiose as he used to be: sometimes he was quite
humble.  And as for her—my heart bleeds for her.  I will do anything you
like, Vin—if she will accept.  What is more, I will confess to you now
that, as far as she is concerned, I am convinced I was quite wrong. You
were right: your eyes were wide open, after all. How can one judge of
any one by an afternoon and an evening at Henley?  That was my only
chance. Then perhaps there was a little excuse for prejudice—there was
the association—.  But we’ll say no more about that.  I confess I was
wrong; you were right.  That girl is as true as steel.  If she gives her
husband half the devotion she bestows on that old man, he’ll do very
well."  She looked at her nephew.  Then she said suddenly: "Vin, you
don’t say a word.  I believe you have never forgiven me one bit!"

"Oh, yes, I have, aunt," he made answer, uneasily. "But there are some
things that need never have happened."

She regarded him again.

"Vin, you are too unforgiving!  But can I not make up?  See, now!  If
Miss Bethune is left alone—I should like to call her Maisrie, if she
will let me: indeed I should: but it is so difficult to get any nearer
her—she is all wrapped up in her anxiety about her grandfather: well, if
she is left alone, I will take her with me.  I will take her to London.
She will stay with me; there will be a home for her there, at any rate;
and we may become better friends. Oh, I know we shall; it is only that
at present she cares for nothing, and thinks of nothing, but her duty
towards her grandfather.  I intend to be very kind to her—I intend to
win her affection if I can—"

"And I shall be very grateful to you, aunt," said he.  "But it is hardly
time yet to speak of such a thing: Mr. Bethune has always had a
wonderful constitution."

"Did you notice how reticent the doctor was this morning?" she
asked,—and he did not answer.

But at least one thing that Lady Musselburgh had observed and mentioned
was true: much, if not all, of the old grandiose manner had gone away
from George Bethune.  If on rare occasions some flash of defiance flamed
up—as if he were still face to face with adversity and disappointment,
and determined not to abate one jot of his pride and independence—he was
ordinarily quite gentle and even humble, especially towards Maisrie.  On
this same evening he said—

"Margaret" (as he sometimes called her now, forgetting) "will ye read to
me the XLVI. Psalm?"

She went and got the book and began—

    "God is our refuge and our strength,
      In straits a present aid;
    Therefore, although the earth remove,
      We will not be afraid:
    Though hills amidst the sea be cast;
      Though waters roaring make,
    And troubled be; yea, though the hills
      By swelling seas do shake.

    "A river is, whose streams do glad
      The city of our God;
    The holy place, wherein the Lord
      Most high hath his abode.
    God in the midst of her doth dwell;
      Nothing shall her remove:
    The Lord to her our helper will,
      And that right early, prove."


But when she had got so far, he said—

"Margaret—I hope ye will not take it ill—if I interrupt ye—it is no
unkindness I mean, my lass—but, ye see, ye’ve got the English speech, as
is natural—and I was trying to think how my father used to read out the
Psalm at family worship—and ye’ve not got the Scotch way—nor the strong
emphasis—how could ye?—how could ye?  Ye’ll not take it ill," he went
on, with the most piteous concern visible in his face—"ye’ll not think
it’s any unkindness——"

"No, no, no, grandfather!" she said.  "Of course not.  Shall I ask Mrs.
MacGill to come up, to read to you in the Scotch way?"

"No, no one but you, Maisrie—no one but you—perhaps if you take the
CXXVI. Psalm—’When Sion’s bondage God turned back, as men that dreamed
were we’—I mind, they used to sing that to the tune of _Kilmarnock_—and
the young women’s voices sounded beautiful.  But you’re not vexed,
Maisrie!—for I did not mean any unkindness to ye, my dear——"

"No, no, grandfather," she said; and she turned to this other Psalm, and
read it to him; and even after that it was some time before she could
assure him that she had not been in the least hurt.

Two more of those long and anxious days went by; the fever waxing and
waning by turns; but all the time the strength of that once powerful
frame was slowly ebbing away.  For one thing, his mind was well content.
He had no more anxiety about Maisrie; he appeared to regard her future
as well assured.  He lay quietly murmuring to himself; and they could
make out, from chance sentences here and there, that he was going over
his boyhood’s days again—bird’s-nesting in the spring woods, making
swaying seats out of the shelving branches of the beeches, guddling for
trout in the small hill burns.  An old refrain seemed to haunt him—

    ’Beyond thee, dearie, beyond thee, dearie,
      And O to be lying beyond thee:
    O sweetly, soundly, weel may he sleep,
      That’s laid in the bed beyond thee.’

’_Die Vögelein schweigen im Walde_’: that phrase also returned again and
again.  And then he would go back to his school-days, and tell Maisrie
about a little patch of garden that had been given all to himself; how
he had watched the yellow spears of the crocuses pierce the dry earth,
and the green buds begin to show on the currant-bushes; how he had
planted scarlet-runners, and stuck the wands in, and trained the young
shoots; how he had waited for the big red globes of the peonies to
unroll; how he had white monkshood, and four distinct colours of
columbine.  Then his pets; his diversions; his terrible adventures—half
drowned in a mill-dam—lost in a snowstorm on Laidlaw moor—the horrors of
a certain churchyard which he had sometimes to pass, alone, on the dark
winter evenings.  Maisrie did not seek to interrupt him.  There was no
agitation in these wandering reminiscences.  Nay, they seemed to soothe
him; and sometimes he sank into an altogether dozing state.

"Vincent," said Lady Musselburgh, when these two happened to find
themselves together, in the room below, "have you no authority over that
girl? She is killing herself!"

"It is no use remonstrating," said he.  "She knows what the doctor has
not dared to tell her. She sees that her grandfather is so weak he may
slip away at any moment, without a word or a sign."

But on the evening of this second day, the old man, with such remnant of
his former resolution and defiance as still clung to him, seemed to try
to shake off this fatal lethargy—if only to say farewell.  And in this
last hour or so of his life, the spectacle that George Bethune presented
was no unworthy one.  Death, or the approach of death, which ennobles
even the poorest and the meanest, was now dealing with this man; and all
the husks and histrionic integuments that had obscured or hidden his
true nature seemed to fall away from him.  He stood out himself—no
pressure of poverty distorting his mind—no hopeless regrets embittering
his soul.  It was Scotland he thought of.  In those last minutes and
moments, the deepest passion of his heart—an intense and proud love of
his native land—burned pure and strong and clear; and if he showed any
anxiety at all, it was merely that Maisrie, who was a kind of stranger,
should form a liking for this country to which she, too, in a measure,
belonged—that she should see it under advantageous conditions—that she
should think of all that had been said of those hills and vales, and
endow them with that added charm.

"But I do not fear," he said (his eyes, with some brilliancy still left
in them, fixed on her, his voice low and panting).  "You have an
inheritance, Maisrie—it is in your blood—a sympathy—an insight—Scotland
claims you—as one of her own. I knew that when—when—you used to play the
Scotch airs for me—the trembling string, that made the soul tremble
too—’The sun shines bright in France’—’The Lowlands o’ Holland, that
twined my love and me’—it was Scotch blood that made them thrill.  Ye’ll
not be disappointed, Margaret—ye’ll understand—when ye get to Yarrow—and
Ettrick Water—and the murmur of the Tweed.  I meant—to have taken ye
myself—but it was not to be—ye’ll have younger and happier guidance—as
is but natural—I—I wish ye both well.  And—and I would like ye—to go in
the spring-time, Maisrie—and—and if ye could find out William
Motherwell’s grave—I have forgotten where it is—my memory is not what it
used to be—but if ye could find out Motherwell’s grave—ye might put a
handful of primroses on it—for the sake of—of _Jeanie Morrison_."

He relapsed into silence; his breathing grew more laboured—and also
feebler; it was evident to those standing by that the end was not far
off now. Maisrie sate holding his hand in hers; the fountain of her
tears all dried up; her tragic grief seemed to have turned her to stone.
Even those spring days of which he had spoken—when she would have her
young husband by her side—they would want something.  Her grandfather
had been kind to her; and they had been through many years together.

He lay thus for nearly half-an-hour, the tide of life slowly receding.
He made but one final effort to speak—nay, for a second, it seemed as if
he would raise his head to give effect to his last proud protestation.

"Maisrie—Maisrie—they never saw me cowed—never once!  I met—ill
fortune—or good—face to face ... I held—by the watchword—of our
house—Stand—Fast—Craig-Royston! ..."

It was his last breath.  And so, with a lie on his lips, but with none
in his heart, old George Bethune passed away: passed away from a world
that had perhaps understood him but none too well.



                                THE END.



          LONDON: PRINTED BY WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, LIMITED,
                   STAMFORD STREET AND CHARING CROSS.



           *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *



                        NOVELS BY WILLIAM BLACK.

                        _Crown 8vo.  6s. each._

THE NEW PRINCE FORTUNATUS.
IN FAR LOCHABER.
THE STRANGE ADVENTURES OF A HOUSE-BOAT.
A DAUGHTER OF HETH.
KILMENY.
THREE FEATHERS.
LADY SILVERDALE’S SWEETHEART.
IN SILK ATTIRE.
SUNRISE.
THE PENANCE OF JOHN LOGAN.

                 SAMPSON LOW AND CO., LIMITED, LONDON.


A PRINCESS OF THULE.
THE STRANGE ADVENTURES OF A PHAETON.
THE MAID OF KILLEENA.
MADCAP VIOLET.
GREEN PASTURES AND PICCADILLY.
MACLEOD OF DARE.
WHITE WINGS.
THE BEAUTIFUL WRETCH.
SHANDON BELLS.
YOLANDE.
JUDITH SHAKESPEARE.
THE WISE WOMEN OF INVERNESS.
WHITE HEATHER.
SABINA ZEMBRA.

                       MACMILLAN AND CO., LONDON.





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