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Title: White Heather (Volume III of 3) - A Novel
Author: Black, William, 1841-1898
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "White Heather (Volume III of 3) - A Novel" ***

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3) ***



                             WHITE HEATHER

                                A Novel


                                   BY

                             WILLIAM BLACK

                      AUTHOR OF ’MACLEOD OF DARE,’
                       ’JUDITH SHAKESPEARE,’ ETC.



                           _IN THREE VOLUMES_

                               VOL. III.



                                 London
                           MACMILLAN AND CO.
                                  1885

                _The right of translation is reserved._



                  Printed by R. & R. CLARK, Edinburgh.



                        *CONTENTS OF VOL. III.*


                               CHAPTER I.

A MESSAGE

                              CHAPTER II.

IN GLASGOW TOWN

                              CHAPTER III.

A RESOLVE

                              CHAPTER IV.

A BOLDER STEP

                               CHAPTER V.

A MEETING

                              CHAPTER VI.

CONFESSION

                              CHAPTER VII.

AT THE PEAR-TREE WELL

                             CHAPTER VIII.

THE COMING OF TROUBLES

                              CHAPTER IX.

IN OTHER CLIMES

                               CHAPTER X.

A CHALLENGE

                              CHAPTER XI.

A WEDDING

                              CHAPTER XII.

IN DARKENED WAYS

                             CHAPTER XIII.

IN ABSENCE

                              CHAPTER XIV.

WANDERINGS IN THE WEST

                              CHAPTER XV.

A PLEDGE REDEEMED

                              CHAPTER XVI.

THE FACTOR OF BALNAVRAIN



                            *WHITE HEATHER.*



                              *CHAPTER I.*

                              *A MESSAGE.*


Clear and brilliant in their blue and white are these shining northern
skies; and the winds that come blowing over the moorland are
honey-scented from the heather; and the wide waters of the loch are all
of a ruffled and shimmering silver, with a thin fringe of foam along the
curving bays. And this is Love Meenie that comes out from the cottage
and comes down to the road; with perhaps less of the wild-rose tint in
her cheeks than used to be there, and less of the ready light of
gladness that used to leap into her blue-gray eyes; but still with that
constant gentleness of expression that seems to bring her into accord
with all the beautiful things in the landscape around her.  And, indeed,
on this particular morning she is cheerful enough; walking briskly,
chatting to the ancient terrier that is trotting at her side, and
equably regarding now the velvet-soft shadows that steal along the
sunlit slopes of Clebrig, and now the wheeling and circling of some
peewits that have been startled from their marshy haunts by the side of
the stream.

’And who knows but that there may be a message or a bit of news for us
this morning?’ she says to the faithful Harry.  ’For yonder comes the
mail.  And indeed it’s well for you, my good little chap, that you can’t
understand how far away Glasgow is; I suppose you expect to see your
master at any minute, at every turn of the road.  And if he should send
you a message—or Maggie either—how am I to tell you?’

The pretty Nelly is at the door of the inn, scattering food to the
fowls.

’It’s a peautiful moarning, Miss Douglas,’ she says.

And here is Mr. Murray, with his pipe, and his occultly humorous air.

’And are you come along for your letters, Miss Meenie?’ he says.  ’Ay,
ay, it is not an unusual thing for a young leddy to be anxious about a
letter—it is not an unusual thing at ahl.’

And now the mail-car comes swinging up to the door; the one or two
passengers alight, glad to stretch their legs; the letter bags are
hauled down, and Miss Douglas follows them indoors.  Mrs. Murray, who
acts as post-mistress, is not long in sorting out the contents.

’Two for me?’ says Meenie.  ’And both from Glasgow? Well, now, that does
not often happen.’

But of course she could not further interrupt the post-mistress in the
performance of her duties; so she put the letters in her pocket; passed
out from the inn and through the little crowd of loiterers; and made for
the high-road and for home.  She was in no hurry to open these budgets
of news.  Such things came but once in a while to this remote hamlet;
and when they did come they were leisurely and thoroughly perused—not
skimmed and thrown aside. Nevertheless when she got up to the high-road
she thought she would pause there for just a second, and run her eye
over the pages, lest there might be some mention of Ronald’s name.  She
had heard of him but little of late; and he had never once written to
her—perhaps he had no excuse for doing so.  It was through Maggie that
from time to time she got news of him; and now it was Maggie’s letter
that she opened first.

Well, there was not much about Ronald.  Maggie was at school; Ronald was
busy; he seldom came over to the minister’s house.  And so Meenie, with
a bit of a sigh, put that letter into her pocket, and turned to the
other.  But now she was indifferent and careless.  It was not likely
that her sister had anything to say about Ronald; for he had not yet
called at the house.  Moreover, Mrs. Gemmill, from two or three
expressions she had used, did not seem anxious to make his acquaintance.

And then the girl’s breath caught, and she became suddenly pale.
’_Drinking himself to death, in the lowest of low company_’—these were
the words confronting her startled eyes; and the next instant she had
darted a glance along the road, and another back towards the inn, as if
with a sudden strange fear that some one had overseen.  No, she was all
alone; with the quickly closed letter in her trembling hand; her brain
bewildered; her heart beating; and with a kind of terror on her face.
And then, rather blindly, she turned and walked away in the other
direction—not towards her own home; and still held the letter tightly
clasped, as if she feared that some one might get at this ghastly
secret.

’_Ronald!—Ronald!_’—there was a cry of anguish in her heart; for this
was all too sharp and sudden an end to certain wistful dreams and
fancies.  These were the dreams and fancies of long wakeful nights, when
she would lie and wonder what was the meaning of his farewell look
towards her; and wonder if he could guess that his going away was to
change all her life for her; and wonder whether, if all things were to
go well with him, he would come back and claim her love—that was there
awaiting him, and would always await him, whether he ever came back or
no.  And sometimes, indeed, the morning light brought a joyous assurance
with it; she knew well why he had not ventured to hand her that
tell-tale message that he had actually written out and addressed to her;
but in the glad future, when he could come with greater confidence and
declare the truth—would she allow father, or mother, or any one else to
interfere?  On these mornings the Mudal-Water seemed to laugh as it went
rippling by; it had a friendly sound; she could hear it

_’Move the sweet forget-me-nots_
_That grow for happy lovers.’_

And at such times her favourite and secret reading was of women who had
been bold and generous with their love; and she feared she had been
timid and had fallen in too easily with her mother’s schemes for her;
but now that she understood herself better—now that her heart had
revealed itself plainly to her—surely, if ever that glad time were to
come—if ever she were to see him hasten along to the little
garden-gate—on the very first moment of his arrival—she would not stint
her welcome of him?  White, white were the mornings on which such
fancies filled her head; and the Mudal laughed along its clear brown
shallows; and there was a kind of music in the moorland air.

’_Drinking himself to death, in the lowest of low company:_’ black night
seemed to have fallen upon her, and a wild bewilderment, and a crushing
sense of hopelessness that shut out for ever those fair visions of the
future.  She did not stay to ask whether this might not be a woman’s
exaggeration or the mere gossip of a straitlaced set; the blow had
fallen too suddenly to let her reason about it; she only knew that the
very pride of her life, the secret hope of her heart, had been in a
moment extinguished.  And Ronald—Ronald that was ever the smartest and
handsomest of them all—the gayest and most audacious, the very king of
all the company whithersoever he went—was it this same Ronald who had in
so short a time become a bleared and besotted drunkard, shunning the
public ways, hiding in ignoble haunts, with the basest of creatures for
his only friends? And she—that had been so proud of him—that had been so
assured of his future—nay, that had given him the love of her life, and
had sworn to herself that, whether he ever came to claim it or no, no
other man should take his place in her heart—she it was who had become
possessed of this dreadful secret, while all the others were still
imagining that Ronald was as the Ronald of yore.  She dared not go back
to Inver-Mudal—not yet, at least.  She went away along the highway; and
then left that for a path that led alongside a small burn; and by and
by, when she came to a place where she was screened from all observation
by steep and wooded banks, she sat down there with some kind of vague
notion that she ought more carefully to read this terrible news; but
presently she had flung herself, face downward, on the heather, in an
utter agony of grief, and there she lay and sobbed and cried, with her
head buried in her hands.  ’_Ronald!  Ronald!_’ her heart seemed to call
aloud in its despair; but how was any appeal to be carried to him—away
to Glasgow town?  And was this the end?  Was he never coming back?  The
proud young life that promised so fair to be sucked under and whirled
away in a black current; and as for her—for her the memory of a few
happy days spent on Mudal’s banks, and years and years of lonely
thinking over what might have been.

A sharp whistle startled her; and she sprang to her feet, and hastily
dried her eyes.  A Gordon setter came ranging through the strip of
birch-wood, and then its companion; both dogs merely glanced at her—they
were far too intent on their immediate work to take further notice.  And
then it quickly occurred to her that, if this were Lord Ailine who was
coming along, perhaps she might appeal to him—she might beg of him to
write to Ronald—or even to go to Glasgow—for had not these two been
companions and friends?  And he was a man—he would know what to do—what
could she do, a helpless girl?  Presently Lord Ailine appeared, coming
leisurely along the banks of the little stream in company with a keeper
and a young lad; and when he saw her, he raised his cap and greeted her.

’Don’t let us disturb you, Miss Douglas,’ said he. ’Gathering flowers
for the dinner-table, I suppose?’

’I hope I have done no harm,’ said she, though her mind was so agitated
that she scarcely knew what she said. ’I—I have not seen any birds—nor a
hare either.’

’Harm?  No, no,’ he said good-naturedly.  ’I hope your mamma is quite
well.  There’s a haunch of a roe-buck at the lodge that Duncan can take
along this afternoon——’

’Your lordship,’ said the keeper reprovingly, ’there’s Bella drawing on
to something.’

’Good morning, Miss Douglas,’ he said quickly, and the next moment he
was off.

But even during that brief interview she had instinctively arrived at
the conclusion that it was not for her to spread about this bruit in
Inver-Mudal.  She could not.  This news about Ronald to come from her
lips—with perhaps this or that keeper to carry it on to the inn and make
it the topic of general wonder there?  They would hear of it soon
enough.  But no one—not even any one in her own household—would be able
to guess what it meant to her; as yet she herself could hardly realise
it, except that all of a sudden her life seemed to have grown dark.

She had to get back to the cottage in time for the mid-day dinner, and
she sate at table there, pale and silent, and with a consciousness as of
guilt weighing upon her.  She even did her best to eat something, in
order to avoid their remarks and looks; but she failed in that, and was
glad to get away as soon as she could to the privacy of her own room.

’I’m sure I don’t know what’s the matter with Williamina,’ Mrs. Douglas
said with a sigh.  ’She has not been looking herself for many a day
back; and she seems going from bad to worse—she ate hardly a scrap at
dinner.’

Of course it was for the Doctor to prescribe.

’She wants a change,’ he said.

’A change,’ the little dame retorted with some asperity, for this was a
sore subject with her.  ’She would have had a change long before now,
but for her and you together. Three months ago I wanted her sent to
Glasgow——’

’Glasgow—for any one in indifferent health—’ the highland Doctor managed
to interpolate; but she would not listen.

’I’m sure I don’t understand the girl.  She has no proper pride.  Any
other girl in her position would be glad to have such chances, and eager
to make use of them. But no—she would sooner go looking after a lot of
cottar’s children than set to work to qualify herself for taking her
proper place in society; and what is the use of my talking when you
encourage her in her idleness?’

’I like to have the girl at home,’ he said, rather feebly.

’There,’ she said, producing a letter and opening it—although he had
heard the contents a dozen times before. ’There it is—in black and
white—a distinct invitation. "Could you let Meenie come to us for a
month or six weeks when we go to Brighton in November?"’

’Well,’ said the good-natured Doctor, ’that would be a better kind of a
change.  Sea-air—sunlight—plenty of society and amusement.’

’She shall not go there, nor anywhere else, with my cousin and his
family, until she has fitted herself for taking such a position,’ said
the little woman peremptorily.  ’Sir Alexander is good-nature itself,
but I am not going to send him a half-educated Highland girl that he
would be ashamed of.  Why, the best families in England go to Brighton
for the winter—every one is there.  It would be worse than sending her
to London.  And what does this month or six weeks mean?—Surely it is
plain enough.  They want to try her.  They want to see what her
accomplishments are. They want to see whether they can take her abroad
with them, and present her at Paris and Florence and Rome. Every year
now Sir Alexander goes abroad at Christmas time; and of course if she
satisfied them she would be asked to go also—and there, think of that
chance!’

’The girl is well enough,’ said he.

She was on the point of retorting that, as far as he knew anything about
the matter, Williamina was well enough. But she spared him.

’No, she has no proper pride,’ the little Dresden-china woman continued.
’And just now, when everything is in her favour.  Agatha never had such
chances.  Agatha never had Williamina’s good looks.  Of course, I say
nothing against Mr. Gemmill—he is a highly respectable man—and if the
business is going on as they say it is going, I don’t see why they
should not leave Queen’s Crescent and take a larger house—up by the West
End Park.  And he is an intelligent man, too; the society they have is
clever and intellectual—you saw in Agatha’s last letter about the
artists’ party she had—why, their names are in every newspaper—quite
distinguished people, in that way of life.  And, at all events, it would
be a beginning. Williamina would learn something.  Agatha is a perfect
musician—you can’t deny that.’

But here the big Doctor rebelled; and he brought the weight of his
professional authority to bear upon her.

’Now, look here, Jane, when I said that the girl wanted a change, I
meant a change; but not a change to singing-lessons, and music-lessons,
and German lessons, and Italian lessons, and not a change to an
atmosphere like that of Glasgow.  Bless my soul, do you think _that_
kind of change will bring back the colour to her cheek, and give her an
appetite, and put some kind of cheerfulness into her? Queen’s Crescent!
She’s not going to Queen’s Crescent with my will.  Brighton, if you
like.’

’Brighton?  To get herself laughed at, and put in the background, as a
half-educated ignorant Highland peasant girl?  So long as she is what
she is, she shall not go to Brighton with my will.’

So here was an absolute dead-lock so far as Meenie’s future was
concerned; but she knew nothing of it; and if she had known she would
not have heeded much.  It was not of her own future she was thinking.
And it seemed so terrible to her to know that there was nothing she
would not have adventured to save this man from destruction, and to know
that she was incapable of doing anything at all.  If she could but see
him for a moment—to make an appeal to him; if she could but take his
hand in hers; would she not say that there had been timidity, doubt,
misapprehension in the past, but that now there was no time for any of
these; she had come to claim him and save him and restore him to
himself—no matter what he might think of her?  Indeed she tried to put
all thought of herself out of the matter.  She would allow no self-pride
to interfere, if only she could be of the smallest aid to him, if she
could stretch out her hand to him, and appeal to him, and drag him back.
But how?  She seemed so helpless.  And yet her anxiety drove her to the
consideration of a hundred wild and impossible schemes, insomuch that
she could not rest in her own room, to which she had retreated for
safety and quiet.  She put on her bonnet again and went out—still with
that guilty consciousness of a secret hanging over her; and she went
down the road and over the bridge; and then away up the solitary valley
through which the Mudal flows.  Alas! there was no laughing over the
brown shallows now; there was no thinking of

  _’the sweet forget-me-nots,_
_That grow for happy lovers’;_

all had become dark around her; and the giant grasp of Glasgow had taken
him away from her, and dragged him down, and blotted out for ever the
visions of a not impossible future with which she had been wont to
beguile the solitary hours.  ’_Drinking himself to death, in the lowest
of low company:_’ could this be Ronald, that but a few months ago had
been the gayest of any, with audacious talk of what he was going to try
for, with health and happiness radiant in his eyes?  And it seemed to
her that her sister Agatha had been proud of writing these words, and
proud of the underlining of them, and that there was a kind of vengeance
in them; and the girl’s mouth was shut hard; and she was making vague
and fierce resolutions of showing to all of them—far and near—that she
was not ashamed of her regard for Ronald Strang, gamekeeper or no
gamekeeper, if ever the chance should serve. Ashamed!  He had been for
her the very king of men—in his generosity, his courage, his gentleness,
his manliness, his modesty, and his staunch and unfaltering fealty to
his friends.  And was he to fall away from that ideal, and to become a
wreck, a waif, an outcast; and she to stand by and not stretch out a
hand to save?

But what could she do?  All the day she pondered; all the evening; and
through the long, silent, and wakeful night.  And when, at last, as the
gray of the dawn showed in the small window, she had selected one of
these hundred bewildered plans and schemes, it seemed a fantastic thing
that she was about to do.  She would send him a piece of white heather.
He would know it came from her—he would recognise the postmark, and also
her handwriting. And if he took it as a message and an appeal, as a
token of good wishes and friendliness, and the hope of better fortune?
Or if—and here she fell a-trembling, for it was a little cold in these
early hours—if he should take it as a confession, as an unmaidenly
declaration?  Oh, she did not care.  It was all she could think of
doing; and do something she must.  And she remembered with a timid and
nervous joy her own acknowledged influence over him—had not Maggie
talked of it a thousand times?—and if he were to recognise this message
in its true light, what then?  ’_Ronald!  Ronald!_’ her heart was still
calling, with something of a tremulous hope amid all its grief and pity.

She was out and abroad over the moorland long before any one was astir,
and searching with an anxious diligence, and as yet without success.
White heather is not so frequently met with in the North as in the West
Highlands; and yet in Sutherlandshire it is not an absolute rarity; many
a time had she come across a little tuft of it in her wanderings over
the moors.  But now, search as she might, she could not find the
smallest bit; and time began to press; for this was the morning for the
mail to go south—if she missed it, she would have to wait two more days.
And as half-hour after half-hour went by, she became more anxious and
nervous and agitated; she went rapidly from knoll to knoll, seeking the
likeliest places; and all in vain.  It was a question of minutes now.
She could hear the mail-cart on the road behind her; soon it would pass
her and go on to the inn, where it would remain but a brief while before
setting out again for Lairg.  And presently, when the mail-cart did come
along and go by, then she gave up the quest in despair; and in a kind of
bewildered way set out for home. Her heart was heavy and full of its
disappointment; and her face was paler a little than usual; but at least
her eyes told no tales.

And then, all of a sudden, as she was crossing the Mudal bridge, she
caught sight of a little tuft of gray away along the bank and not far
from the edge of the stream.  At first she thought it was merely a patch
of withered heather; and then a wild hope possessed her; she quickly
left the bridge and made her way towards it; and the next moment she was
joyfully down on her knees, selecting the whitest spray she could find.
And the mail-cart?—it would still be at the inn—the inn was little more
than half a mile off—could she run hard and intercept them after all,
and send her white-dove message away to the south?  To think of it was
to try it, at all events; and she ran as no town-bred girl ever ran in
her life—past the Doctor’s cottage, along the wide and empty road, past
the keeper’s house and the kennels, across the bridge that spans the
little burn.  Alas! there was the mail-cart already on its way.

’Johnnie, Johnnie!’ she called.

Happily the wind was blowing towards him; he heard, looked back, and
pulled up his horses.

’Wait a minute—I have a letter for you to take!’ she called, though her
strength was all gone now.

And yet she managed to get quickly down to the inn, and astonished Mrs.
Murray by breathlessly begging for an envelope.

’Tell Nelly—tell Nelly,’ she said, while her trembling fingers wrote the
address, ’to come and take this to the mail-cart—they’re waiting—Johnnie
will post it at Lairg.’

And then, when she had finished the tremulous address, and carefully
dried it with the blotting-paper, and given the little package to Nelly,
and bade her run—quick, quick—to hand it to the driver, then the girl
sank back in the chair and began laughing in a strange, half-hysterical
way, and then that became a burst of crying, with her face hidden in her
hands.  But the good-hearted Mrs. Murray was there; and her arms were
round the girl’s neck; and she was saying, in her gentle Highland way—

’Well, well, now, to think you should hef had such a run to catch the
mail-cart—and no wonder you are dead-beat—ay, ay, and you not looking so
well of late, Miss Meenie. But you will just rest here a while; and
Nelly will get you some tea; and there is no need for you to go back
home until you have come to yourself better.  No, you hef not been
looking well lately; and you must not tire yourself like this—dear me,
the place would be quite different althogether if anything was to make
you ill.’



                             *CHAPTER II.*

                           *IN GLASGOW TOWN.*


It was as late as half-past ten o’clock—and on a sufficiently gray and
dull and cheerless morning—that Ronald’s landlady, surprised not to have
heard him stirring, knocked at his room.  There was no answer.  Then she
knocked again, opened the door an inch or two, and dropped a letter on
the floor.

’Are ye no up yet?’

The sound of her voice aroused him.

’In a minute, woman,’ he said sleepily; and, being thus satisfied, the
landlady went off, shutting the door behind her.

He rose in the bed and looked around him, in a dazed fashion.  He was
already partially dressed, for he had been up two hours before, but had
thrown himself down on the bed again, over-fatigued, half-stupefied, and
altogether discontented.  The fact is, he had come home the night before
in a reckless mood, and had sate on through hour after hour until it was
nearly dawn, harassing himself with idle dreams and idle regrets,
drinking to drown care, smoking incessantly, sometimes scrawling
half-scornful rhymes.  There were all the evidences now on the table
before him—a whisky-bottle, a tumbler, a wooden pipe and plenty of
ashes, a sheet of paper scrawled over in an uncertain hand.  He took up
that sheet to recall what he had written:

_King Death came striding along the road,_
  _And he laughed aloud to see_
_How every rich man’s mother’s son_
  _Would take to his heels and flee._

_Duke, lord, or merchant, off they skipped,_
  _Whenever that he drew near;_
_And they dropped their guineas as wild they ran,_
  _And their faces were white with fear._

_But the poor folk labouring in the fields_
  _Watched him as he passed by;_
_And they took lo their spades and mattocks again,_
  _And turned to their work with a sigh._

_Then farther along the road he saw_
  _An old man sitting alone;_
_His head lay heavy upon his hands,_
  _And sorrowful was his moan._

_Old age had shrivelled and bent his frame;_
  _Age and hard work together_
_Had scattered his locks, and bleared his eyes—_
  _Age and the winter weather._

_’Old man,’ said Death, ’do you tremble to know_
  _That now you are near the end?’_
_The old man looked: ’You are Death,’ said he,_
  _’And at last I’ve found a friend.’_


It was a strange kind of mood for a young fellow to have fallen into;
but he did not seem to think so.  As he contemplated the scrawled
lines—with rather an absent and preoccupied air—this was what he was
saying to himself—

’If the old gentleman would only come striding along the Port Dundas
Road, I know one that would be glad enough to go out and meet him and
shake hands with him, this very minute.’

He went to the window and threw it open, and sate down: the outer air
would be pleasanter than this inner atmosphere, impregnated with the
fumes of whisky and tobacco; and his head was burning, and his pulses
heavy. But the dreariness of this outlook!—the gray pavements, the gray
railway station, the gray sheds, the gray skies; and evermore the dull
slumberous sound of the great city already plunged in its multitudinous
daily toil.  Then he began to recall the events of the preceding
evening; and had not Mrs. Menzies promised to call for him, about
eleven, to drive him out to see some of her acquaintances at Milngavie?
Well, it would be something to do; it would be a relief to get into the
fresher air—to get away from this hopeless and melancholy neighbourhood.
Kate Menzies had high spirits; she could laugh away remorse and
discontent and depression; she could make the hours go by somehow.  And
now, as it was almost eleven, he would finish his dressing and be ready
to set out when she called; as for breakfast, no thought of that entered
his mind.

Then he chanced to see something white lying on the floor—an
envelope—perhaps this was a note from Kate, saying she was too busy that
morning and could not come for him?  He went and took up the letter; and
instantly—as he regarded the address on it—a kind of bewilderment,
almost of fear, appeared on his face.  For well he knew Meenie’s
handwriting: had he not pondered over every characteristic of it—the
precise small neatness of it, the long loops of the _l_’s, the German
look of the capital R? And why should Meenie write to him?

He opened the envelope and took out the bit of white heather that Meenie
had so hastily despatched: there was no message, not the smallest scrap
of writing.  But was not this a message—and full of import, too; for
surely Meenie would not have adopted this means of communicating with
him at the mere instigation of an idle fancy?  And why should she have
sent it—and at this moment?  Had she heard, then?  Had any gossip about
him reached Inver-Mudal?  And how much had she heard?  There was a kind
of terror in his heart as he went slowly back to the window, and sate
down there, still staring absently at this token that had been sent him,
and trying hard to make out the meaning of it.  What was in Meenie’s
mind?  What was her intention?  Not merely to give him a sprig of white
heather with wishes for good luck; there was more than that, as he
easily guessed; but how much more? And at first there was little of joy
or gladness or gratitude in his thinking; there was rather fear, and a
wondering as to what Meenie had heard of him, and a sickening sense of
shame.  The white gentleness of the message did not strike him; it was
rather a reproach—a recalling of other days—Meenie’s eyes were regarding
him with proud indignation—this was all she had to say to him now.

A man’s voice was heard outside; the door was brusquely opened; Jimmy
Laidlaw appeared.

’What, man, no ready yet?  Are ye just out o’ your bed?  Where’s your
breakfast?  Dinna ye ken it’s eleven o’clock?’

Ronald regarded him with no friendly eye.  He wished to be alone; there
was much to think of; there was more in his mind than the prospect of a
rattling, devil-may-care drive out to Milngavie.

’Is Kate below?’ said he.

’She is that.  Look sharp, man, and get on your coat. She doesna like to
keep the cob standing.’

’Look here, Laidlaw,’ Ronald said, ’I wish ye would do me a good turn.
Tell her that—that I’ll be obliged if she will excuse me; I’m no up to
the mark; ye’ll have a merrier time of it if ye go by yourselves; there
now, like a good fellow, make it straight wi’ her.’

’Do ye want her to jump doon ma throat?’ retorted Mr. Laidlaw, with a
laugh.  ’I’ll tak’ no sic message. Come, come, man, pull yoursel’
thegither.  What’s the matter?  Hammer and tongs in your head?—the fresh
air ’ll drive that away.  Come along!’

’The last word’s the shortest,’ Ronald said stubbornly. ’I’m not going.
Tell her not to take it ill—I’m—I’m obliged to her, tell her——’

’Indeed, I’ll leave you and her to fight it out between ye,’ said
Laidlaw.  ’D’ye think I want the woman to snap my head off?’

He left, and Ronald fondly hoped that they would drive away and leave
him to himself.  But presently there was a light tapping at the door.

’Ronald!’

He recognised the voice, and he managed to throw a coat over his
shoulders—just as Kate Menzies, without further ceremony, made her
appearance.

’What’s this now?’ exclaimed the buxom widow—who was as radiant and
good-natured and smartly dressed as ever—’what does this daft fellow
Laidlaw mean by bringing me a message like that?  I ken ye better,
Ronald, my lad. Down in the mouth?—take a hair o’ the dog that bit ye.
Here, see, I’ll pour it out for ye.’

She went straight to the bottle, uncorked it, and poured out about a
third of a tumblerful of whisky.

’Ronald, Ronald, ye’re an ill lad to want this in the morning; but what
must be, must; here, put some life into ye.  The day’ll be just splendid
outside the town; and old Jaap’s with us too; and I’ve got a hamper; and
somewhere or other we’ll camp out, like a band of gypsies. Dinna fear,
lad; I’ll no drag ye into the MacDougals’ house until we’re on the way
back; and then it’ll just be a cup o’ tea and a look at the bairns, and
on we drive again to the town.  What’s the matter?  Come on, my
lad!—we’ll have a try at "Cauld Kail in Aberdeen" when we get away frae
the houses.’

’Katie, lass,’ said he, rather shamefacedly, ’I’m—I’m sorry that I
promised—but I’ll take it kind of ye to excuse me—I’m no in the humour
someway—and ye’ll be better by yourselves——’

’Ay, and what good ’ll ye do by pu’ing a wry mouth?’ said she
tauntingly.  ’"The devil was ill, the devil a saint would be."  Here,
man! it’s no the best medicine, but it’s better than none.’

She took the whisky to him, and gave him a hearty slap on the shoulder.
There was a gleam of sullen fire in his eye.

’It’s ill done of ye, woman, to drive a man against his will,’ he said,
and he retreated from her a step or two.

’Oh,’ said she proudly, and she threw the whisky into the coal-scuttle,
and slammed the tumbler down on the table, for she had a temper too, ’if
ye’ll no be coaxed, there’s them that will.  If that’s what Long John
does for your temper, I’d advise you to change and try Talisker.  Good
morning to ye, my braw lad, and thank ye for your courtesy.’

She stalked from the room, and banged the door behind her when she left.
But she was really a good-hearted kind of creature; before she had
reached the outer door she had recovered herself; and she turned and
came into the room again, a single step or so.

’Ronald,’ she said, in quite a different voice, ’it ’ll no be for your
good to quarrel wi’ me—

’I wish for no quarrel wi’ ye, Katie, woman——’

’For I look better after ye than some o’ them.  If ye’ll no come for the
drive, will ye look in in the afternoon or at night, if it suits ye
better?  Seven o’clock, say—to show that there’s no ill feeling between
us.’

’Yes, I will,’ said he—mainly to get rid of her; for, indeed, he could
scarcely hear what she was saying to him for thinking of this strange
and mysterious message that had come to him from Meenie.

And then, when she had gone, he rapidly washed and dressed, and went
away out from the house—out by the Cowcaddens, and Shamrock Street, and
West Prince’s Street, and over the Kelvin, and up to Hillhead, to
certain solitary thoroughfares he had discovered in his devious
wanderings; and all the time he was busy with various interpretations of
this message from Meenie and of her reasons for sending it.  At first,
as has been said, there was nothing for him but shame and
self-abasement; this was a reproach; she had heard of the condition into
which he had fallen; this was to remind him of what had been. And
indeed, it was now for the first time that he began to be conscious of
what that condition was.  He had fled to those boon-companions as a kind
of refuge from the hopelessness of the weary hours, from the despair
with regard to the future that had settled down over his life.  He had
laughed, drunk, smoked, and sung the time away, glad to forget.  When
haunting memories came to rebuke, then there was a call for another
glass, another song.  Nay, he could even make apologies to himself when
the immediate excitement was over.  Why should he do otherwise?  The
dreams conjured up by the Americans had no more charms for him.  Why
should he work towards some future that had no interest for him?

_Death is the end of life; ah, why_
_Should life all labour be?_

And so Kate Menzies’s dog-cart became a pleasant thing, as it rattled
along the hard stony roads; and many a merry glass they had at the
wayside inns; and then home again in the evening to supper, and singing,
and a good-night bacchanalian festival at the Harmony Club.  The hours
passed; he did not wish to think of what his life had become; enough if,
for the time being, he could banish the horrors of the aching head, the
hot pulse, the trembling hands.

But if Meenie had heard of all this, how would it appear to her? and he
made no doubt that she had heard.  It was some powerful motive that had
prompted her to do this thing.  He knew that her sister had been making
inquiries about him; his brother’s congregation was a hot-bed of gossip;
if any news of him had been sent by that agency, no doubt it was the
worst.  And still Meenie did not turn away from him with a shudder?  He
took out the envelope again.  What could she mean?  Might he dare to
think it was this—that, no matter what had happened, or what she had
heard, she still had some little faith in him, that the recollection of
their old friendship was not all gone away? Reproach it might be—but
perhaps also an appeal?  And if Meenie had still some interest in what
happened to him——?

He would go no farther than that.  It was characteristic of the man
that, even with this white token of goodwill and remembrance and good
wishes before his eyes—with this unusual message just sent to him from
one who was generally so shy and reserved—he permitted to himself no
wildly daring fancies or bewildering hopes.  Nor had the majesty of the
Stuarts of Glengask and Orosay anything to do with this restraint: it
was the respect that he paid to Meenie herself.  And yet—and yet this
was a friendly token; it seemed to make the day whiter somehow; it was
with no ill-will she had been thinking of him when she gathered it from
one of the knolls at the foot of Clebrig or from the banks of
Mudal-Water.  So white and fresh it was; it spoke of clear skies and
sweet moorland winds: and there seemed to be the soft touch of her
fingers still on it as she had pressed it into the envelope; and it was
Meenie’s own small white hand that had written that rather trembling
’_Mr. Ronald Strang_.’  A gentle message; he grew to think that there
was less of reproach in it; if she had heard evil tidings of him,
perhaps she was sorry more than anything else; Meenie’s eyes might have
sorrow in them and pain, but anger—never.  And her heart—well, surely
her heart could not have been set bitterly against him, or she would not
have sent him this mute little token of remembrance, as if to recall the
olden days.

And then he rose and drove against the bars that caged him in.  Why
should the ghastly farce be played any longer?  Why should he go through
that dull mechanical routine in which he had no interest whatever?  Let
others make what money they choose; let others push forward to any
future that they might think desirable; let them aim at being first in
the world’s fight for wealth, and having saloon-carriages, and
steam-yachts on Lake Michigan, and cat-boats on Lake George: but as for
him, if Lord Ailine, now, would only let him go back to the little
hamlet in the northern wilds, and give him charge of the dogs again, and
freedom to ask Dr. Douglas to go with him for a turn at the mountain
hares or for a day’s salmon-fishing on the Mudal—in short, if only he
could get back to his old life again, with fair skies over him, and
fresh blowing winds around him, and wholesome blood running cheerily
through his veins?  And then the chance, at some hour or other of the
long day, of meeting Meenie, and finding the beautiful, timid, Highland
eyes fixed on his: ’Are you going along to the inn, Ronald?’ he could
almost hear her say.  ’And will you be so kind as to take these letters
for me?’

But contracted habits are not so easily shaken off as all that; and he
was sick and ill at ease; and when the hour came for him to go down and
see Kate Menzies and her friends, perhaps he was not altogether sorry
that he had made a definite promise which he was bound to keep.  He left
the envelope, with its piece of white heather, at home.

Nevertheless, he was rather dull, they thought; and there was some
facetious raillery over his not having yet recovered from the frolic of
the previous night; with frequent invitations to take a hair of the dog
that had bitten him. Kate was the kindest; she had been a little alarmed
by the definite repugnance he had shown in the morning; she was glad to
be friends with him again.  As for him—well, he was as good-natured as
ever; but rather absent in manner; for sometimes, amid all their
boisterous _camaraderie_, he absolutely forgot what they were saying;
and in a kind of dream he seemed to see before him the sunlit
Strath-Terry, and the blue waters of the loch, and Mudal’s stream
winding through the solitary moorland waste—and a young girl there
stooping to pick up something from the heather.



                             *CHAPTER III.*

                              *A RESOLVE.*


The days passed; no answer came to that mute message of hers; nay, how
could she expect any answer?  But these were terrible days to her—of
mental torture, and heart-searching, and unceasing and unsatisfied
longing, and yearning, and pity.  And then out of all this confusion of
thinking and suffering there gradually grew up a clear and definite
resolve.  What if she were to make of that bit of white heather but an
_avant-courier_?  What if she were herself to go to Glasgow, and seek
him out, and confront him, and take him by the hand?  She had not
overrated her old influence with him: well she knew that.  And how could
she stand by idle and allow him to perish?  The token she had sent him
must have told him of her thinking of him; he would be prepared; perhaps
he would even guess that she had come to Glasgow for his sake?  Well,
she did not mind that much; Ronald would have gentle thoughts of her,
whatever happened; and this need was far too sore and pressing to permit
of timid and sensitive hesitations.

One morning she went to her father’s room and tapped at the door.

’Come in!’

She was rather pale as she entered.

’Father,’ she said, ’I would like to go to Glasgow for a while.’

Her father turned in his chair and regarded her.

’What’s the matter with ye, my girl?’ he said.  ’You’ve not been looking
yourself at all for some time back, and these last few days you’ve
practically eaten nothing.  And yet your mother declares there’s nothing
the matter. Glasgow?  I dare say a change would do you good—cheer you up
a bit, and that; but—Glasgow?  More schooling, more fees, that would be
the chief result, I imagine; and that’s what your mother’s driving at.
I think it’s nonsense: you’re a grown woman; you’ve learned everything
that will ever be of any use to you.’

’I ought to have, any way, by this time,’ Meenie said simply.  ’And
indeed it is not for that, father.  I—I should like to go to Glasgow for
a while.’

’There’s Lady Stuart would have ye stay with them at Brighton for a few
weeks; but your mother seems to think you should go amongst them as a
kind of Mezzofanti—it’s precious little of that there’s about Sir
Alexander, as I know well.  However, if you’re not to go to them until
you are polished out of all human shape and likeness, I suppose I must
say nothing——’

’But I would rather go and stay with Agatha, father,’ the girl said.

He looked at her again.

’Well,’ said he, ’I do think something must be done. It would be a fine
thing for you—you of all creatures in the world—to sink into a hopeless
anæmic condition. Lassie, where’s that eldritch laugh o’ yours gone to?
And I see you go dawdling along the road—you that could beat a young
roedeer if you were to try.  Glasgow?—well, I’ll see what your mother
says.’

’Thank you, father,’ she said, but she did not leave at once.  ’I think
I heard you say that Mr. Blair was going south on Monday,’ she timidly
suggested.

This Mr. Blair was a U.P. minister from Glasgow, who was taking a
well-earned holiday up at Tongue—fishing in the various lochs in that
neighbourhood—and who was known to the Douglases.

’You’re in a deuce of a hurry, Miss,’ her father said, but
good-naturedly enough.  ’You mean you could go to Glasgow under his
escort?’

’Yes.’

’Well, I will see what your mother says—I suppose she will be for making
a fuss over the necessary preparations.’

But this promise and half permission had instantly brought to the girl a
kind of frail and wandering joy and hope; and there was a brief smile on
her face as she said—

’Well, you know, father, if I have to get any things I ought to get them
in Glasgow.  The preparations at Inver-Mudal can’t take much time.’

’I will see what your mother thinks about it,’ said the big,
good-humoured Doctor, who was cautious about assenting to anything until
the ruler and lawgiver of the house had been consulted.

The time was short, but the chance of sending Meenie to Glasgow under
charge of the Rev. Mr. Blair was opportune; and Mrs. Douglas had no
scruple about making use of this temporary concern on the part of her
husband about Meenie’s health for the working out of her own ends.  Of
course the girl was only going away to be brightened up by a little
society.  The change of air might possibly do her good.  There could be
no doubt she had been looking ill; and in her sister’s house she would
have every attention paid her, quite as much as if she were in her own
home.  All the same, Mrs. Douglas was resolved that this opportunity for
finally fitting Meenie for that sphere in which she hoped to see her
move should not be lost.  Agatha should have private instructions. And
Agatha herself was a skilled musician.  Moreover, some little society—of
a kind—met at Mr. Gemmill’s house; the time would not be entirely lost,
even if a little economy in the matter of fees was practised, in
deference to the prejudices and dense obtuseness of one who ought to
have seen more clearly his duty in this matter—that is to say, of
Meenie’s father.

And so it was that, when the Monday morning came round, Meenie had said
good-bye to every one she knew, and was ready to set out for the south.
Not that she was going by the mail.  Oh no, Mr. Murray would not hear of
that, nor yet of her being sent in her father’s little trap.  No; Mr.
Murray placed his own large waggonette and a pair of horses at her
disposal; and when the mail-cart came along from Tongue, Mr. Blair’s
luggage was quickly transferred to the more stately vehicle, and
immediately they started.  She did not look like a girl going away for a
holiday.  She was pale rather, and silent; and Mr. Blair, who had
memories of her as a bright, merry, clear-eyed lass, could not
understand why she should be apparently so cast down at the thought of
leaving her father’s home for a mere month or so.  As for old John
Murray, he went into the inn, grumbling and discontented.

’It is a strange thing,’ he said,—for he was grieved and offended at
their sending Meenie away, and he knew that Inver-Mudal would be a quite
different place with her not there,—’a strange thing indeed to send a
young girl away to Glasgow to get back the roses into her cheeks.  Ay,
will she get them there?  A strange thing indeed.  And her father a
doctor too.  It is just a teffle of a piece of nonsense.’

The worthy minister, on the other hand, was quite delighted to have so
pretty a travelling companion with him on that long journey to the
south; and he looked after her with the most anxious paternal
solicitude, and from time to time he would try to cheer her with the
recital of ancient Highland anecdotes that he had picked up during his
fishing excursions.  But he could see that the girl was preoccupied; her
eyes were absent and her manner distraught; sometimes her colour came
and went in a curious way, as if some sudden fancy had sent a tremor to
her heart.  Then, as they drew near to the great city—it was a
pallid-clear morning, with some faint suggestions of blue overhead that
gave the wan landscape an almost cheerful look—she was obviously
suffering from nervous excitement; her answers to him were inconsequent,
though she tried her bravest to keep up the conversation. The good man
thought he would not bother her.  No doubt it would be a great
change—from the quiet of Inver-Mudal to the roar and bustle of the vast
city; and no doubt the mere sight of hundreds and hundreds of strangers
would in itself be bewildering.  Meenie, as he understood, had been in
Glasgow before, but it was some years ago, and she had not had a long
experience of it; in any case, she would naturally be restless and
nervous in looking forward to such a complete change in her way of life.

As they slowed into the station, moreover, he could not help observing
how anxiously and eagerly she kept glancing from stranger to stranger,
as they passed them on the platform.

’There will be somebody waiting for you, Miss Meenie?’ he said at a
venture.

’No, no,’ she answered, somewhat hurriedly and shame-facedly as he
thought—and the good minister was puzzled; ’Agatha wrote that Mr.
Gemmill would be at the warehouse, and—and she would be busy in the
house on a Monday morning, and I was just to take a cab and come on to
Queen’s Crescent.  Oh!  I shall manage all right,’ she added, with some
bravado.

And yet, when they had seen to their luggage, and got along to the
platform outside the station, she seemed too bewildered to heed what was
going on.  Mr. Blair called a cab and got her boxes put on the top; but
she was standing there by herself, looking up and down, and regarding
the windows of the houses opposite in a kind of furtive and
half-frightened way.

’This is Port Dundas Road?’ she said to the minister (for had not
Maggie, in her voluminous communications about Ronald, described the
exact locality of his lodging, and the appearance of the station from
his room?).

’It is.’

She hesitated for a second or two longer; and then, recalling herself
with an effort, she thanked the minister for all his kindness, and bade
him good-bye, and got into the cab.  Of course she kept both windows
down, so that she could command a view of both sides of the
thoroughfares as the man drove her away along the Cowcaddens and the New
City Road.  But alas! how was she ever to find Ronald—by accident, as
she had hoped—in that continuous crowd?  She had pictured to herself her
suddenly meeting him face to face; and she would read in his eyes how
much he remembered of Inver-Mudal and the olden days.  But among this
multitude, how was such a thing possible?  And then it was so necessary
that this meeting should be observed by no third person.

However, these anxious doubts and fears were forcibly driven from her
head by her arrival at Queen’s Crescent, and the necessity of meeting
the emergencies of the moment.  She had but a half recollection of this
secluded little nook, with its semicircle of plain, neat, well-kept
houses, looking so entirely quiet and respectable; and its pretty little
garden, with its grass-plots, and its flower-plots, and its trim walks
and fountain—all so nice and neat and trim, and at this minute looking
quite cheerful in the pallid sunshine.  And here, awaiting her at the
just opened door, was her sister Agatha—a sonsy, sufficiently
good-looking young matron, who had inherited her buxom proportions from
her father, but had got her Highland eyes, which were like Meenie’s,
from her mother.  And also there were a smaller Agatha—a self-important
little maiden of ten—and two younger children; and as the advent of this
pretty young aunt from Sutherlandshire was of great interest to them,
there was a babble of inquiries and answers as they escorted her into
the house.

’And such a surprise to hear you were coming,’ her sister was saying.
’We little expected it—but ye’re none the less welcome—and Walter’s just
quite set up about it. Ay, and ye’re not looking so well, my father
says?—let’s see.’

She took her by the shoulders and wheeled her to the light.  But, of
course, the girl was flushed with the excitement of her arrival, and
pleased with the attentions of the little people, so that for the moment
the expression of her face was bright enough.

’There’s not much wrong,’ said the sister, ’but I don’t wonder at your
being dull in yon dreadful hole.  And I suppose there’s no chance of
moving now.  If my father had only kept to Edinburgh or Glasgow, and got
on like anybody else, we might all have been together, and among friends
and acquaintances; but it was aye the same—give him the chance of a
place where there was a gun or a fishing-rod handy, and that was enough.
Well, well, Meenie, we must wake ye up a bit if you’ve been feeling
dull; and Walter—he’s as proud as a peacock that you’re come; I declare
it’s enough to make any other woman than myself jealous, the way he
shows your portrait to anybody and everybody that comes to the house;
and I had a hint from him this morning that any bit things ye might
need—mother’s letter only came on Saturday—that they were to be a
present from him, and there’s nothing stingy about Wat, though I say it
who shouldn’t.  And you’ll have to share Aggie’s bed for a night or two
until we have a room got ready for you.’

’If I had only known that I was going to put you about, Agatha——’

’Put us about, you daft lassie!’ the elder sister exclaimed. ’Come away,
and I’ll show you where your things will have to be stored for the
present.  And my father says there are to be no finishing lessons, or
anything of that kind, for a while yet; you’re to walk about and amuse
yourself; and we’ve a family-ticket for the Botanic Gardens—you can take
a book there or some knitting; and then you’ll have to help me in the
house, for Walter will be for showing you off as his Highland
sister-in-law, and we’ll have plenty of company.’

And so the good woman rattled on; and how abundantly and secretly glad
was Meenie that not a word was said of Ronald Strang!  She had felt
guilty enough when she entered the house; she had come on a secret
errand that she dared not disclose; and one or two things in her
sister’s letters had convinced her that there were not likely to be very
friendly feelings towards Ronald in this little domestic circle.  But
when they had gone over almost every conceivable topic, and not a single
question had been asked about Ronald, nor any reference even made to
him, she felt immensely relieved.  To them, then, he was clearly of no
importance.  Probably they had forgotten that she had once or twice
asked if he had called on them.  Or perhaps her sister had taken it for
granted that the piece of news she had sent concerning him would
effectually and for ever crush any interest in him that Meenie may have
felt. Anyhow, his name was not even mentioned; and that was so far well.

But what a strange sensation was this—when in the afternoon she went out
for a stroll with the smaller Agatha—to feel that at any moment, at the
turning of any corner, she might suddenly encounter Ronald.  That
ever-moving crowd had the profoundest interest for her; these rather
grimy streets a continuous and mysterious fascination.  Of course the
little Agatha, when they went forth from the house, was for going up to
the West End Park or out by Billhead to the Botanic Gardens, so that the
pretty young aunt should have a view of the beauties of Glasgow.  But
Meenie had no difficulty in explaining that green slopes and trees and
things of that kind had no novelty for her, whereas crowded streets and
shops and the roar of cabs and carriages had; and so they turned
city-wards when they left the house, and went away in by Cambridge
Street and Sauchiehall Street to Buchanan Street.  And was this the way,
then, she asked herself (and she was rather an absent companion for her
little niece), that Ronald would take on leaving his lodgings to get
over to the south side of the city, where, as she understood from his
sister’s letters, lived the old forester who was superintending his
studies?  But there were so many people here!—and all seemingly
strangers to each other; scarcely any two or three of them stopping to
have a chat together; and all of them apparently in such a hurry. Argyll
Street was even worse; indeed, she recoiled from that tumultuous
thoroughfare; and the two of them turned north again.  The lamplighter
was beginning his rounds; here and there an orange star gleamed in the
pallid atmosphere; here and there a shop window glowed yellow. When they
got back to Queen’s Crescent they found that Mr. Gemmill had returned;
it was his tea-time; and there was a talk of the theatre for the older
folk.

Well, she did not despair yet.  For one thing, she had not been anxious
to meet Ronald during that first plunge into the great city, for Agatha
was with her.  But that was merely because the little girl had obtained
a holiday in honour of her aunt’s coming; thereafter she went to school
every morning; moreover, the household happened to be a maidservant
short, and Mrs. Gemmill was busy, so that Meenie was left to do pretty
much as she liked, and to go about alone.  And her walks did not take
her much to the Botanic Gardens, nor yet to the West End Park and Kelvin
Grove; far rather she preferred to go errands for her sister, and often
these would take her in by Sauchiehall Street and the top of Buchanan
Street; and always her eyes were anxious and yet timorous, seeking and
yet half-fearing to find.  But where was Ronald?  She tried different
hours.  She grew to know every possible approach to that lodging in the
Port Dundas Road.  And she had schooled herself now so that she could
search long thoroughfares with a glance that was apparently careless
enough; and she had so often pictured to herself their meeting, that she
knew she would not exhibit too great a surprise nor make too open a
confession of her joy.

And at last her patient waiting was rewarded.  It was in Renfield Street
that she suddenly caught sight of him—a long way off he was, but coming
towards her, and all unconscious of her being there.  For a moment her
schooling of herself gave way somewhat; for her heart was beating so
wildly as almost to choke her; and she went on with her eyes fixed on
the ground, wondering what she should say, wondering if he would find
her face grown paler than it used to be, wondering what he would think
of her having sent him the bit of white heather.  And then she forced
herself to raise her eyes; and it was at the very same instant that he
caught sight of her—though he was yet some distance off—and for the
briefest moment she saw his strange and startled look.  But what was
this?  Perhaps he fancied she had not seen him; perhaps he had reasons
for not wishing to be seen; at all events, after that one swift
recognition of her, he had suddenly slunk away—down some lane or
other—and when she went forward, in rather a blind and bewildered
fashion, behold! there was no Ronald there at all.  She looked
around—with a heart as if turned to stone—but there was no trace of him.
And then she went on, rather proudly—or perhaps, rather, trying to feel
proud and hurt; but there was a gathering mist coming into her eyes; and
she scarcely knew—nor cared—whither she was walking.



                             *CHAPTER IV.*

                            *A BOLDER STEP.*


As for him, he slunk aside hurriedly and all abashed and dismayed.  He
did not pause until he was safe away from any pursuit; and there was a
lowering expression on his face, and his hand shook a little.  He could
only hope that she had not seen him.  Instantly he had seen her, he knew
that he dared not meet the beautiful clear eyes, that would regard him,
and perhaps mutely ask questions of him, even if there was no indignant
reproach in them.  For during these past few days he had gradually been
becoming conscious of the squalor and degradation into which he had
sunk; and sometimes he would strive to raise himself out of that; and
sometimes he would sink back despairing, careless of what might become
of him or his poor affairs.  But always there was there in his room that
mystic white token that Meenie had sent him; and at least it kept him
thinking—his conscience was not allowed to slumber; and sometimes it
became so strong an appeal to him—that is to say, he read into the
message such wild and daring and fantastic possibilities—that he would
once more resume that terrible struggle with the iron bands of habit
that bound him.

’What is the matter wi’ Ronald?’ Kate Menzies asked of her cronies.  ’He
hasna been near the house these three or four days.’

’I’m thinking he’s trying to earn the Blue Ribbon,’ said old Mr. Jaap.

’And no thriving weel on’t, poor lad,’ said Jimmy Laidlaw.  ’Down in the
mouth’s no the word.  He’s just like the ghost o’ himsel’.’

’I tell ye what, Mistress,’ said the big skipper, who was contemplating
with much satisfaction a large beaker of hot rum and water, ’the best
thing you could do would be just to take the lad in hand, and marry him
right off.  He would have somebody to look after him, and so would you;
as handsome a couple as ever stepped along Jamaica Street, I’ll take my
oath.’

The buxom widow laughed and blushed; but she was bound to protest.

’Na, na, Captain, I ken better than that.  I’m no going to throw away a
business like this on any man.  I’ll bide my ain mistress for a while
longer, if ye please.’

And then mother Paterson—who had a handy gift of facile
acquiescence—struck in—

’That’s right, Katie dear!  Ye’re sich a wise woman. To think ye’d throw
away a splendid place like this, and a splendid business, on any man,
and make him maister!  And how long would it be before he ate and drank
ye out o’ house and ha’?—set him up with a handsome wife and a splendid
business thrown at his heed, and scarcely for the asking! Na, na, Katie,
woman, ye ken your own affairs better than that; ye’re no for any one to
come in and be maister here.’

’But I’m concerned about the lad,’ said Kate Menzies, a little absently.
’He met wi’ none but friends here.  He might fa’ into worse hands.’

’Gang up yersel’, Mistress, and hae a talk wi’ him,’ said the skipper
boldly.

Kate Menzies did not do that; but the same evening she wrote Ronald a
brief note.  And very well she could write too—in a dashing, free
handwriting; and gilt-edged was the paper, and rose-pink was the
envelope.


’DEAR RONALD—Surely there is no quarrel between us. If I have offended
you, come and tell me; don’t go away and sulk.  If I have done or said
anything to offend you, I will ask your pardon.  Can I do anything more
than that?  Your cousin and friend,

’KATE MENZIES.’


Of course he had to answer such an appeal in person: he went down the
next morning.

’Quarrel, woman?  What put that into your head?  If there had been
anything of that kind, I would have told you fast enough; I’m not one of
the sulking kind.’

’Well, I’m very glad to ken we’re just as good friends as before,’ said
Kate, regarding him, ’but I’m not glad to see the way ye’re looking,
Ronald, my lad.  Ye’re not yourself at all, my man—what’s got ye
whitey-faced, limp, shaky-looking like that?  See here.’

She went to the sideboard, and the next instant there was on the table a
bottle of champagne, with a couple of glasses, and a flask of angostura
bitters.

’No, no, Katie, lass, I will not touch a drop,’ said he: and he rose and
took his cap in his hand.

’You will not?’ she said.  ’You will not?  Why, man, you’re ill—you’re
ill, I tell ye.  It’s medicine!’

He gripped her by the hand, and took the bottle from her, and put it
down on the table.

’If I’m ill, I deserve to be, and that’s the fact, lass. Let be—let be,
woman; I’m obliged to ye—some other time—some other time.’

’Then if you winna, I will,’ she said, and she got hold of the bottle
and opened it and poured out a glass of the foaming fluid.

’And dinna I ken better what’s good for ye than ye do yersel’?’ said she
boldly.  ’Ay, if ye were ruled by me, and drank nothing but what ye get
in this house, there would be little need for ye to be frightened at
what a wean might drink.  Ye dinna ken your best friends, my lad.’

’I know you wish me weel, Katie, lass,’ said he, for he did not wish to
appear ungrateful, ’but I’m better without it.’

’Yes,’ said she tauntingly.  ’Ye’re better without sitting up a’ night
wi’ a lot o’ roystering fellows, smoking bad tobacco and drinking bad
whisky.  What mak’s your face sae white?  It’s fusel-oil, if ye maun
ken.  Here, Ronald, what canna hurt a woman canna hurt a man o’ your
build—try it, and see if ye dinna feel better.’

She put a good dash of bitters into the glass, and poured out the
champagne, and offered it to him.  He did not wish to offend her; and he
himself did not believe the thing could hurt him; he took the glass and
sipped about a teaspoonful, and then set it down.

Kate Menzies looked at him, and laughed aloud, and took him by the
shoulders and pushed him back into his chair.

’There’s a man for ye!  Whatna young ladies’ seminary have ye been
brought up at?’

’I’ll tell ye, lass,’ he retorted.  ’It was one where they taught folk
no to force other folk to drink against their will.’

’Then it was different frae the one where I was brought up, for there,
when the doctor ordered anybody to take medicine, they were made to take
it.  And here’s yours,’ she said; and she stood before him with the
glass in her hand.  She was good-natured; it would have been ungracious
to refuse; he took the glass from her and drank off the contents.

Now a glass of champagne, even with the addition of a little angostura
bitters, cannot be called a very powerful potion to those accustomed to
such things; but the fact was that he had not touched a drop of any
alcoholic fluid for two days; and this seemed to go straight to the
brain. It produced a slight, rather agreeable giddiness; a sense of
comfort was diffused throughout the system; he was not so anxious to get
away.  And Kate began talking—upbraiding him for thinking that she
wanted to see him otherwise than well and in his usual health, and
declaring that if he were guided by her, there would be no need for him
to torture himself with total abstinence, and to reduce himself to this
abject state.  The counsel (which was meant in all honesty) fell on
yielding ears; Kate brought some biscuits, and filled herself out
another glass.

’That’s what it is,’ she said boldly, ’if you would be ruled by my
advice there would be no shaking hands and white cheeks for ye.  Feeling
better, are ye?—ay, I warrant ye!  Here, man, try this.’

She filled his glass again, adding a good dose of bitters.

’This one I will, but not a drop more,’ said he.  ’Ye’re a desperate
creature, lass, for making folk comfortable.’

’I ken what’s the matter wi’ you better than ye ken yoursel’, Ronald,’
said she, looking at him shrewdly.  ’You’re disappointed—you’re out o’
heart—because thae fine American friends o’ yours hae forgotten you; and
you’ve got sick o’ this new work o’ yours; and you’ve got among a lot o’
wild fellows that are leading ye to the devil.  Mark my words.
Americans!  Better let a man trust to his ain kith and kin.’

’Well, Katie, lass, I maun say this, that ye’ve just been ower kind to
me since ever I came to Glasgow.’

’Another glass, Ronald——’

’Not one drop—thank ye’—and this time he rose with the definite resolve
to get away, for even these two glasses had caused a swimming in his
head, and he knew not how much more he might drink if he stayed.

’Better go for a long walk, then,’ said Kate, ’and come back at three
and have dinner with us.  I’ll soon put ye on your legs again—trust to
me.’

But when he went out into the open air, he found himself so giddy and
half-dazed and bewildered that, instead of going away for any long walk,
he thought he would go back home and lie down.  He felt less happy now.
Why had he taken this accursed thing after all his resolves?

And then it was—as he went up Renfield Street—that he caught his first
glimpse of Meenie.  No wonder he turned and slunk rapidly away—anxious
to hide anywhere—hoping that Meenie had not seen him.  And what a
strange thing was this—Meenie in Glasgow town!  Oh, if he could only be
for a single day as once he had been—as she had known him in the happy
times when life went by like a laugh and a song—how wonderful it would
be to go along these thoroughfares hoping every moment to catch sight of
her face!  A dull town?—no, a radiant town, with music in the air, and
joy and hope shining down from the skies!  But now—he was a cowering
fugitive—sick in body and sick in mind—trembling with the excitement of
this sudden meeting—and anxious above all other things that he should
get back to the seclusion of his lodging unseen.

Well, he managed that, at all events; and there he sate down, wondering
over this thing that had just happened. Meenie in Glasgow town!—and why?
And why had she sent him the white heather?  Nay, he could not doubt but
that she had heard; and that this was at once a message of reproach and
an appeal; and what answer had he to give supposing that some day or
other he should meet her face to face?  How could he win back to his
former state, so that he should not be ashamed to meet those clear, kind
eyes?  If there were but some penance now—no matter what suffering it
entailed—that would obliterate these last months and restore him to
himself, how gladly would he welcome that!  But it was not only the
bodily sickness—he believed he could mend that; he had still a fine
physique; and surely absolute abstention from stimulants, no matter with
what accompanying depression, would in time give him back his health—it
was mental sickness and hopelessness and remorse that had to be cured;
and how was that to be attempted?  Or why should he attempt it? What
care had he for the future?  To be sure, he would stop drinking,
definitely; and he would withdraw himself from those wild companions;
and he would have a greater regard for his appearance; so that, if he
should by chance meet Meenie face to face, he would not have to be
altogether so ashamed.  But after?  When she had gone away again?  For
of course he assumed that she was merely here on a visit.

And all this time he was becoming more and more conscious of how far he
had fallen—of the change that had come over himself and his
circumstances in these few months; and a curious fancy got into his head
that he would like to try to realise what he had been like in those
former days.  He got out his blotting-pad of fragments—not those
dedicated to Meenie, that had been carefully put aside—and about the
very first of them that he chanced to light upon, when he looked down
the rough lines, made him exclaim—

’God bless me, was I like _that_—and no longer ago than last January?’

The piece was called ’A Winter Song’; and surely the man who could write
in this gay fashion had an abundant life and joy and hope in his veins,
and courage to face the worst bleakness of the winter, and a glad
looking-forward to the coming of the spring?

_Keen blows the wind upon Clebrig’s side,_
  _And the snow lies thick on the heather;_
_And the shivering hinds are glad to hide_
  _Away from the winter weather._

_Chorus: But soon the birds will begin to sing,_
      _And we will sing too, my dear,_
    _To give good welcoming to the spring_
      _In the primrose time o’ the year!_

_Hark how the black lake, torn and tost,_
  _Thunders along its shores;_
_And the burn is hard in the grip of the frost,_
  _And white, snow-white are the moors._

_Chorus: But soon the birds will begin to sing, etc._

_O then the warm west winds will blow,_
  _And all in the sunny weather,_
_It’s over the moorlands we will go,_
  _You and I, my love, together._

_Chorus: And then the birds will begin to sing,_
      _And we will sing too, my dear,_
    _To give good welcoming to the spring,_
      _In the primrose-time o’ the year!_

Why, surely the blood must have been dancing in his brain when he wrote
that  and the days white and clear around him; and life merry and
hopeful enough.  And now? Well, it was no gladdening thing to think of:
he listlessly put away the book.

And then he rose and went and got a pail of water and thrust his head
into that—for he was glad to feel that this muzzy sensation was going;
and thereafter he dried and brushed his hair with a little more care
than usual; and put on a clean collar.  Nay, he began to set the little
room to rights—and his life in Highland lodges had taught him how to do
that about as well as any woman could; and he tried to brighten the
window panes a little, to make the place look more cheerful; and he
arranged the things on the mantel-shelf in better order—with the bit of
white heather in the middle.  Then he came to his briar-root pipe; and
paused.  He took it up, hesitating.

’Yes, my friend, you must go too,’ he said, with firm lips; and he
deliberately broke it, and tossed the fragments into the grate.

And then he remembered that it was nearly three o’clock, and as he
feared that Kate Menzies might send some one of her friends to fetch
him, or even come for him herself, he put on his cap, and took a stick
in his hand, and went out.  In half an hour or so he had left the city
behind him and was lost in that melancholy half-country that lies around
it on the north; but he cared little now how the landscape looked; he
was wondering what had brought Meenie to Glasgow town, and whether she
had seen him, and what she had heard of him.  And at Inver-Mudal too?
Well, they might think the worst of him there if they chose.  But had
Meenie heard?

He scarcely knew how far he went; but in the dusk of the evening he was
again approaching the city by the Great Western Road; and as he came
nearer to the houses, he found that the lamps were lit, and the great
town settling down into the gloom of the night.  Now he feared no
detection; and so it was that when he arrived at Melrose Street he
paused there.  Should he venture into Queen’s Crescent?—it was but a
stone’s throw away.  For he guessed that Meenie must be staying with her
sister; and he knew the address that she had given him, though he had
never called; nay, he had had the curiosity, once or twice in passing,
to glance at the house; and easily enough he could now make it out if he
chose.  He hesitated for a second or two; then he stealthily made his
way along the little thoroughfare; and entered the crescent—but keeping
to the opposite side from Mrs. Gemmill’s dwelling—and there quietly
walked up and down.  He could see the windows well enough; they were all
of them lit; and the house seemed warm and comfortable; Meenie would be
at home there, and among friends, and her bright laugh would be heard
from room to room.  Perhaps they had company too—since all the windows
were ablaze; rich folk, no doubt, for the Gemmills were themselves
well-to-do people; and Meenie would be made much of by these strangers,
and they would come round her, and the beautiful Highland eyes would be
turned towards them, and they would hear her speak in her quiet, gentle,
quaint way.  Nor was there any trace of envy or jealousy in this man’s
composition—outcast as he now deemed himself.  Jealousy of Meenie?—why,
he wished the bountiful heavens to pour their choicest blessings upon
her, and the winds to be for ever soft around her, and all sweet and
gracious things to await her throughout her girlhood and her womanhood
and her old age.  No; it did not trouble him that these rich folk were
fortunate enough to be with her, to listen to her, to look at the clear,
frank eyes; it might have troubled him had he thought that they might
not fully understand the generous rose-sweetness of her nature, nor
fully appreciate her straightforward, unconscious simplicity, nor be
sufficiently kind to her.  And it was scarcely necessary to consider
that; of course they all of them would be kind to her, for how could
they help it?

But his guess that they might be entertaining friends was wrong.  By and
by a cab drove up; in a few minutes the door was opened; he ventured to
draw a little nearer; and then he saw three figures—one of them almost
assuredly Meenie—come out and enter the vehicle.  They drove off; no
doubt they were going to some concert or theatre, he thought; and he was
glad that Meenie was being amused and entertained so; and was among
friends.  And as for himself?—

’Well,’ he was inwardly saying, as he resumed his walk homeward, ’the
dreams that look so fine when one is up among the hills are knocked on
the head sure enough when one comes to a town.  I’ll have no more to do
with these books; nor with the widow Menzies and her friends either.
To-morrow morning I’m off to the recruiting-sergeant—that’s the best
thing for me now.’

By the time he had got home he was quite resolved upon this.  But there
was a note lying there on the table for him. ’That woman again,’ he said
to himself.  ’Katie, lass, I’m afraid you and I must part, but I hope
we’ll part good friends.’

And then his eyes grew suddenly startled.  He took up the note, staring
at the outside, apparently half afraid. And then he opened it and
read—but in a kind of wild and breathless bewilderment—these two or
three lines, written in rather a shaky hand—


’DEAR RONALD—I wish to see you.  Would it trouble you to be at the
corner of Sauchiehall Street and Renfield Street to-morrow morning at
eleven?—I will not detain you more than a few minutes.  Yours sincerely,

’MEENIE DOUGLAS.’


There was not much sleep for him that night.



                              *CHAPTER V.*

                              *A MEETING.*


Indeed there was no sleep at all for him that night.  He knew not what
this summons might mean; and all the assurance and self-confidence of
former days was gone now; he was nervous, distracted, easily alarmed;
ready to imagine evil things; and conscious that he was in no fit state
to present himself before Meenie.  And yet he never thought of slinking
away.  Meenie desired to see him, and that was enough.  Always and ever
he had been submissive to her slightest wish.  And if it were merely to
reproach him, to taunt him with his weakness and folly, that she had now
sent for him, he would go all the same.  He deserved that and more.  If
only it had been some one else—not Meenie—whose resolute clear eyes he
had to meet!

That brief interview over—and then for the Queen’s shilling: this was
what was before him now, and the way seemed clear enough.  But so
unnerved was he that the mere idea of having to face this timid girl
made him more and more restless and anxious; and at last, towards three
o’clock in the morning, he, not having been to bed at all, opened the
door and stole down the stair and went out into the night.  The black
heavens were pulsating from time to time with a lurid red sent over from
the ironworks in the south; somewhere there was the footfall of a
policeman unseen; the rest was darkness and a terrible silence.  He
wandered away through the lonely streets, he scarcely knew whither.  He
was longing that the morning should come, and yet dreading its approach.
He reached the little thoroughfare that leads into Queen’s Crescent: but
he held on his way without turning aside; it was not for this poor
trembling ghost and coward to pass under her window, with ’Sleep dwell
upon thine eyes, peace in thy breast’ as his unspoken benediction.  He
held on his way towards the open country, wandering quite aimlessly, and
busy only with guesses and forebodings and hopeless desires that he
might suddenly find before him the dark-rolling waters of Lethe, and
plunge into them, and wash away from him all knowledge and recollection
of the past. When at length he turned towards the city, the gray dawn
was breaking in the dismal skies; the first of the milk-carts came
slowly crawling into the town; and large waggons laden with vegetables
and the like.  He got back to his lodgings; threw himself on the bed;
and there had an hour or two of broken and restless sleep.

When he awoke he went quickly to the window.  The skies were heavy;
there was a dull drizzle in the thick atmosphere; the pavements were
wet.  It was with a sudden sense of relief that he saw what kind of a
day it was. Of course Meenie would never think of coming out on so wet
and miserable a morning.  He would keep the appointment, doubtless; she
would not appear—taking it for granted he would not expect her; and
then—then for the recruiting-sergeant and a final settlement of all
these ills and shames.  Nevertheless he dressed himself with scrupulous
neatness; and brushed and rebrushed his clothes; and put on his
deerstalker’s cap—for the sake of old days. And then, just as he was
leaving, he took a little bit of the white heather, and placed it in his
waistcoat pocket; if the talisman had any subtle power whatever, all the
good luck that he could wish for was to find Meenie not too bitter in
her scorn.

He made his way to the corner of Sauchiehall Street some little time
before the appointed hour.  But it was actually raining now; of course
Meenie would not come. So he idly paced up and down; staring absently at
the shop windows; occasionally looking along the street, but with no
great expectation; and thinking how well content and satisfied with
themselves these people seemed to be who were now hurrying by under
their streaming umbrellas. His thoughts went far afield.
Vimiera—Salamanca—Ciudad Rodrigo—Balaklava—Alma—Lucknow—Alumbagh—these
were the names and memories that were in his head. An old school
companion of his own had got the V.C. for a conspicuous act of daring at
the storming of the Redan, and if that were not likely to be his proud
fate, at least in this step he was resolved upon he would find safety
and a severance from degrading bonds, and a final renunciation of futile
ambitions and foolish and idle dreams.

He was looking into a bookseller’s window.  A timid hand touched his
arm.

’Ronald!’

And oh! the sudden wonder and the thrill of finding before him those
beautiful, friendly, glad eyes, so true, so frank, so full of all
womanly tenderness and solicitude, and abundant and obvious kindness!
Where was the reproach of them?  They were full of a kind of half-hidden
joy—timid and reluctant, perhaps, a little—but honest and clear and
unmistakable; and as for him—well, his breath was clean taken away by
the surprise, and by the sudden revulsion of feeling from a listless
despair to the consciousness that Meenie was still his friend; and all
he could do was to take the gentle hand in both of his and hold it fast.

’I—I heard that you were not—not very well, Ronald,’ she managed to say.

And then the sound of her voice—that brought with it associations of
years—seemed to break the spell that was on him.

’Bless me, Miss Douglas,’ he said, ’you will get quite wet!  Will you
not put up your umbrella—or—or take shelter somewhere?’

’Oh, I do not mind the rain,’ she said, and there was a kind of
tremulous laugh about her lips, as if she were trying to appear very
happy indeed.  ’I do not mind the rain.  We did not heed the rain much
at Inver-Mudal, Ronald, when there was anything to be done.  And—and so
glad I am to see you!  It seems so long a time since you left the
Highlands.’

’Ay; and it has been a bad time for me,’ he said; and now he was
beginning to get his wits together again.  He could not keep Miss
Douglas thus standing in the wet. He would ask her why she had sent for
him; and then he would bid her good-bye and be off; but with a glad,
glad heart that he had seen her even for these few seconds.

’And there are so many things to be talked over after so long a time,’
said she; ’I hope you have a little while to spare, Ronald——’

’But to keep you in the rain, Miss Douglas——’

’Oh, but this will do,’ said she (and whatever her inward thoughts were,
her speech was blithe enough).  ’See, I will put up the umbrella, and
you will carry it for me—it is not the first time, Ronald, that you and
I have had to walk in the rain together, and without any umbrella.  And
do you know why I do not care for the rain?’ she added, glancing at him
again with the frank, affectionate eyes; ’it’s because I am so glad to
find you looking not so ill after all, Ronald.’

’Not so ill, maybe, as I deserve to be,’ he answered; but he took the
umbrella and held it over her; and they went down Renfield Street a
little way and then into West Regent Street; and if she did not put her
hand on his arm, at least she was very close to him, and the thrill of
the touch of her dress was magnetic and strange.  Strange, indeed; and
strange that he should find himself walking side by side with Meenie
through the streets of Glasgow town; and listening mutely and humbly the
while to all her varied talk of what had happened since he left
Inver-Mudal.  Whatever she had heard of him, it seemed to be her wish to
ignore that.  She appeared to assume that their relations to each other
now were just as they had been in former days. And she was quite bright
and cheerful and hopeful; how could he know that the first glance at his
haggard face had struck like a dagger to her heart?

Moreover, the rain gradually ceased; the umbrella was lowered; a light
west wind was quietly stirring; and by and by a warmer light began to
interfuse itself through the vaporous atmosphere.  Nay, by the time they
had reached Blythswood Square, a pallid sunshine was clearly shining on
the wet pavements and door-steps and house-fronts; and far overhead, and
dimly seen through the mysteriously moving pall of mist and smoke, there
were faint touches of blue, foretelling the opening out to a joyfuller
day.  The wide square was almost deserted; they could talk to each other
as they chose; though, indeed, the talking was mostly on her side.
Something, he scarcely knew what, kept him silent and submissive; but
his heart was full of gratitude towards her; and from time to time—for
how could he help it?—some chance word or phrase of appeal would bring
him face to face with Meenie’s eyes.

So far she had cunningly managed to avoid all reference to his own
affairs, so that he might get accustomed to this friendly conversation;
but at length she said—

’And now about yourself, Ronald?’

’The less said the better,’ he answered.  ’I wish that I had never come
to this town.’

’What?’ she said, with a touch of remonstrance in her look.  ’Have you
so soon forgotten the fine prospects you started away with?  Surely not!
Why, it was only the other day I had a letter from Miss Hodson—the young
American lady, you remember—and she was asking all about you, and
whether you had passed the examination yet; and she said her father and
herself were likely to come over next spring, and hoped to hear you had
got the certificate.’

He seemed to pay no heed to this news.

’I wish I had never left Inver-Mudal,’ he said.  ’I was content there;
and what more can a man wish for anywhere? It’s little enough of that
I’ve had since I came to this town. But for whatever has happened to me,
I’ve got myself to blame; and—and I beg your pardon, Miss Douglas, I
will not bother you with any poor concerns of mine——’

’But if I wish to be bothered?’ she said quickly.  ’Ronald, do you know
why I have come from the Highlands?’

Her face was blushing a rosy red; but her eyes were steadfast and clear
and kind; and she had stopped in her walk to confront him.

’I heard the news of you—yes, I heard the news,’ she continued; and it
was his eyes, not hers, that were downcast; ’and I knew you would do
much for me—at least, I thought so,—and I said to myself that if I were
to go to Glasgow, and find you, and ask you for my sake to give me a
promise——’

’I know what ye would say, Miss Douglas,’ he interposed, for she was
dreadfully embarrassed.  ’To give up the drink.  Well, it’s easily
promised and easily done, now—indeed, I’ve scarce touched a drop since
ever I got the bit of heather you sent me.  It was a kind thing to think
of—maybe I’m making too bold to think it was you that sent it——’

’I knew you would know that it was I that sent it—I meant you to know,’
she said simply.

’It was never any great love of the drink that drove me that way,’ he
said.  ’I think it was that I might be able to forget for a while.’

’To forget what, Ronald?’ she asked, regarding him.

’That ever I was such a fool as to leave the only people I cared for,’
he answered frankly, ’and come away here among strangers, and bind
myself to strive for what I had no interest in.  But bless me, Miss
Douglas, to think I should keep ye standing here—talking about my poor
affairs——’

’Ronald,’ she said calmly, ’do you know that I have come all the way to
Glasgow to see you and to talk about your affairs and nothing else; and
you are not going to hurry away?  Tell me about yourself.  What are you
doing?  Are you getting on with your studies?’

He shook his head.

’No, no.  I have lost heart that way altogether.  Many’s the time I have
thought of writing to Lord Ailine, and asking to be taken back, if it
was only to look after the dogs. I should never have come to this town;
and now I am going away from it, for good.’

’Going away?  Where?’ she said, rather breathlessly.

’I want to make a clean break off from the kind of life I have been
leading,’ said he, ’and I know the surest way. I mean to enlist into one
of the Highland regiments that’s most likely to be ordered off on
foreign service.’

’Ronald!’

She seized his hand and held it.

’Ronald, you will not do that!’

Well, he was startled by the sudden pallor of her face; and bewildered
by the entreaty so plainly visible in the beautiful eyes; and perhaps he
did not quite know how he answered.  But he spoke quickly.

’Oh, of course I will not do that,’ he said, ’of course I will not do
that, Miss Douglas, so long as you are in Glasgow.  How could I?  Why,
the chance of seeing you, even at a distance—for a moment even—I would
wait days for that.  When I made up my mind to enlist, I had no thought
that I might ever have the chance of seeing you. Oh no; I will wait
until you have gone back to the Highlands—how could I go away from
Glasgow and miss any single chance of seeing you, if only for a moment?’

’Yes, yes,’ she said eagerly, ’you will do nothing until then, anyway;
and in the meantime I shall see you often——’

His face lighted up with surprise.

’Will you be so kind as that?’ he said quickly.  And then he dropped her
hand.  ’No, no.  I am so bewildered by the gladness of seeing you
that—that I forgot.  Let me go my own way.  You were always so generous
in your good nature that you spoiled us all at Inver-Mudal; here—here it
is different.  You are living with your sister, I suppose? and of course
you have many friends, and many things to do and places to visit.  You
must not trouble about me; but as long as you are in Glasgow—well, there
will always be the chance of my catching a glimpse of you—and if you
knew what it was—to me——’

But here he paused abruptly, fearful of offending by confessing too
much; and now they had resumed their leisurely walking along the
half-dried pavements; and Meenie was revolving certain little schemes
and artifices in her brain—with a view to their future meeting.  And the
morning had grown so much brighter; and there was a pleasant warmth of
sunlight in the air; and she was glad to know that at least for a time
Ronald would not be leaving the country.  She turned to him with a
smile.

’I shall have to be going back home now,’ she said, ’but you will not
forget, Ronald, that you have made me two promises this morning.’

’It’s little you know, Miss Douglas,’ said he, ’what I would do for you,
if I but knew what ye wished.  I mean for you yourself.  For my own
self, I care but little what happens to me.  I have made a mistake in my
life somehow.  I——’

’Then will you promise me more, Ronald?’ said she quickly; for she would
not have him talk in that strain.

’What?’

’Will you make me a promise that you will not enlist at all?’

’I will, if it is worth heeding one way or the other.’

’But make me the promise,’ said she, and she regarded him with no
unfriendly eyes.

’There’s my hand on’t.’

’And another—that you will work hard and try and get the forestry
certificate?’

’What’s the use of that, lass?’ said he, forgetting his respect for her.
’I have put all that away now.  That’s all away beyond me now.’

’No,’ she said proudly.  ’No.  It is not.  Oh, do you think that the
people who know you do not know what your ability is?  Do you think they
have lost their faith in you?  Do you think they are not still looking
forward and hoping the time may come that they may be proud of your
success, and—and—come and shake hands with you, Ronald—and say how glad
they are?  And have you no regard for them, or heed for their—their
affection towards you?’

Her cheeks were burning red, but she was far too much in earnest to
measure her phrases; and she held his hand in an imploring kind of way;
and surely, if ever a brave and unselfish devotion and love looked out
from a woman’s eyes, that was the message that Meenie’s eyes had for him
then.

’I had a kind of fancy,’ he said, ’that if I could get abroad—with one
o’ those Highland regiments—there might come a time when I could have
the chance of winning the V.C.—the Victoria Cross, I mean; ay, and it
would have been a proud day for me the day that I was able to send that
home to you.’

’To me, Ronald?’ she said, rather faintly.

’Yes, yes,’said he.  ’Whatever happened to me after that day would not
matter much.’

’But you have promised——’

’And I will keep that promise, and any others you may ask of me, Miss
Douglas.’

’That you will call me Meenie, for one?’ she said, quite simply and
frankly.

’No, no; I could not do that,’ he answered—and yet the permission
sounded pleasant to the ear.

’We are old friends, Ronald,’ she said.  ’But that is a small matter.
Well, now, I must be getting back home; and yet I should like to see you
again soon, Ronald, for there are so many things I have to talk over
with you. Will you come and see my sister?’

His hesitation and embarrassment were so obvious that she instantly
repented her of having thrown out this invitation; moreover, it occurred
to herself that there would be little chance of her having any private
speech of Ronald (which was of such paramount importance at this moment)
if he called at Queen’s Crescent.

’No, not yet,’ she said, rather shamefacedly and with downcast eyes;
’perhaps, since—since there are one or two private matters to talk over,
we—we could meet just as now? It is not—taking up too much of your time,
Ronald?’

’Why,’ said he, ’if I could see you for a moment, any day—merely to say
"good morning"—that would be a well-spent day for me; no more than that
used to make many a long day quite happy for me at Inver-Mudal.’

’Could you be here to-morrow at eleven, Ronald?’ she asked, looking up
shyly.

’Yes, yes, and gladly!’ he answered; and presently they had said
good-bye to each other; and she had set out for Queen’s Crescent by
herself; while he turned towards the east.

And now all his being seemed transfused with joy and deep gratitude; and
the day around him was clear and sweet and full of light; and all the
world seemed swinging onward in an ether of happiness and hope.  The
dreaded interview!—where was the reproach and scorn of it? Instead of
that it had been all radiant with trust and courage and true affection;
and never had Meenie’s eyes been so beautiful and solicitous with all
good wishes; never had her voice been so strangely tender, every tone of
it seeming to reach the very core of his heart.  And how was he to
requite her for this bountiful care and sympathy—that overawed him
almost when he came to think of it? Nay, repayment of any kind was all
impossible: where was the equivalent of such generous regard?  But at
least he could faithfully observe the promises he had made—yes, these
and a hundred more; and perhaps this broken life of his might still be
of some small service, if in any way it could win for him a word of
Meenie’s approval.

And then, the better to get away from temptation, and to cut himself
wholly adrift from his late companions, he walked home to his lodgings
and packed up his few things and paid his landlady a fortnight’s rent in
lieu of notice, as had been agreed upon.  That same night he was
established in new quarters, in the Garscube Road; and he had left no
address behind him; so that if Kate Menzies, or the skipper, or any of
his cronies of the Harmony Club were to wonder at his absence and seek
to hunt him out, they would seek and hunt in vain.



                             *CHAPTER VI.*

                             *CONFESSION.*


That night he slept long and soundly, and his dreams were all about
Inver-Mudal and the quiet life among the hills; and, strangely enough,
he fancied himself there, and Meenie absent; and always he was wondering
when she was coming back from Glasgow town, and always he kept looking
for her as each successive mail-cart came through from the south.  And
then in the morning, when he awoke, and found himself in the great city
itself, and knew that Meenie was there too, and that in a few hours they
were to meet, his heart was filled with joy, and the day seemed rich and
full of promise, and the pale and sickly sunlight that struggled in
through the window panes and lit up the dusty little room seemed a
glorious thing, bringing with it all glad tidings. ’You, fortunate
Glasgow town!’ he had rhymed in the olden days; and this was the welcome
that Glasgow town had for Meenie—sunlight, and perhaps a glimpse of blue
here and there, and a light west wind blowing in from the heights of
Dowanhill and Hillhead.

He dressed with particular care; and if his garments were not of the
newest fashionable cut, at least they clung with sufficient grace and
simplicity of outline to the manly and well-set figure.  And he knew
himself that he was looking less haggard than on the previous day.  He
was feeling altogether better; the long and sound sleep had proved a
powerful restorative; and his heart was light with hope.  The happy
sunlight shining out there on the gray pavements and the gray fronts of
the houses!—was there ever in all the world a fairer and joyfuller city
than this same Glasgow town?

He was in Blythswood Square long before the appointed hour; and she also
was a little early.  But this, time it was Meenie who was shy and
embarrassed; she was not so earnest and anxious as she had been the day
before, for much of her errand was now satisfactorily accomplished; and
when, after a moment’s hesitation, he asked her whether she would not go
and have a look at the terraces and trees in the West End Park, it
seemed so like two lovers setting out for a walk together that the
conscious blood mantled in her cheeks, and her eyes were averted.  But
she strove to be very business-like; and asked him a number of questions
about Mr. Weems; and wondered that the Americans had said nothing
further about the purchase of an estate in the Highlands, of which there
had been some little talk.  In this way—and with chance remarks and
inquiries about Maggie, and the Reverend Andrew, and Mr. Murray, and
Harry the terrier, and what not—they made their way through various
thoroughfares until they reached the tall gates of the West End Park.

Here there was much more quietude than in those noisy streets; and when
they had walked along one of the wide terraces, until they came to a
seat partly surrounded by shrubs, Meenie suggested that they might sit
down there, for she wished to reason seriously with him.  He smiled a
little; but he was very plastic in her hands.  Nay, was it not enough
merely to hear Meenie speak—no matter what the subject might be?  And
then he was sitting by her side, with all that wide prospect stretched
out before them—the spacious terraces, the groups of trees, the curving
river, and the undulating hills beyond.  It was a weird kind of a
morning, moreover; for the confused and wan sunlight kept struggling
through the ever-changing mist, sometimes throwing a coppery radiance on
the late autumn foliage, or again shining pale and silver-like as the
fantastic cloud-wreaths slowly floated onward.  The view before them was
mysterious and vast because of its very vagueness; and even the new
University buildings—over there on the heights above the river—looked
quite imposing and picturesque, for they loomed large and dusky and
remote through the bewildering sunlit haze.

’Now, Ronald,’ she said, ’I want you to tell me how it was you came to
lose heart so, and to give up what you undertook to do when you left
Inver-Mudal.  Why, when you left you were full of such high hopes; and
every one was sure of your success; and you were all anxiety to begin.’

’That’s true, Miss Douglas,’ he answered, rather absently. ’I think my
head must have been in a kind of a whirl at that time.  It seemed so
fine and easy a thing to strive for; and I did not stop to ask what use
it would be to me, supposing I got it.’

’The use?’ she said.  ’A better position for yourself—isn’t it natural
to strive for that?  And perhaps, if you did not care much to have more
money for yourself—for you have very strange notions, Ronald, about some
things—you must see how much kindness can be done to others by people
who are well off.  I don’t understand you at all——’

’Well, then,’ said he, shifting his ground, ’I grew sick and tired of
the town life.  I was never meant for that. Every day——’

’But, Ronald,’ she said, interrupting him in a very definite tone of
remonstrance, ’you knew that your town life was only a matter of months!
And the harder you worked the sooner it would be over!  What reason was
that?’

’There may have been other reasons,’ he said, but rather unwillingly.

’What were they?’

’I cannot tell you.’

’Ronald,’ she said, and the touch of wounded pride in her voice thrilled
him strangely, ’I have come all the way from the Highlands—and—and done
what few girls would have done—for your sake; and yet you will not be
frank with me—when all that I want is to see you going straight towards
a happier future.’

’I dare not tell you, you would be angry.’

’I am not given to anger,’ she answered, calmly, and yet with a little
surprised resentment.  For she could but imagine that this was some
entanglement of debt, or something of the kind, of which he was ashamed
to speak; and yet, unless she knew clearly the reasons that had induced
him to abandon the project that he had undertaken so eagerly, how was
she to argue with him and urge him to resume it?

’Well, then, we’ll put it this way,’ said he, after a second or two of
hesitation—and his face was a little pale, and his eyes were fixed on
her with an anxious nervousness, so that, at the first sign of
displeasure, he could instantly stop. ’There was a young lass that I
knew there—in the Highlands—and she was, oh yes, she was out of my
station altogether, and away from me—and yet the seeing her from time to
time, and a word now and again, was a pleasure to me, greater maybe than
I confessed to myself—the greatest that I had in life, indeed.’

She made no sign, and he continued, slowly and watchfully, and still
with that pale earnestness in his face.

’And then I wrote things about her—and amused myself with fancies—well,
what harm could that do to her?—so long as she knew nothing about it.
And I thought I was doing no harm to myself either, for I knew it was
impossible there could be anything between us, and that she would be
going away sooner or later, and I too.  Yes, and I did go away, and in
high feather, to be sure, and everything was to be for the best, and I
was to have a fight for money like the rest of them.  God help me,
lassie, before I was a fortnight in the town, my heart was like to
break.’

She sate quite still and silent, trembling a little, perhaps, her eyes
downcast, her fingers working nervously with the edge of the small shawl
she wore.

’I had cut myself away from the only thing I craved for in the
world—just the seeing and speaking to her from time to time, for I had
no right to think of more than that; and I was alone and down-hearted;
and I began to ask myself what was the use of this slavery.  Ay, there
might have been a use in it—if I could have said to myself, "Well, now,
fight as hard as ye can, and if ye win, who knows but that ye might go
back to the north, and claim her as the prize?"  But that was not to be
thought of.  She had never hinted anything of the kind to me, nor I to
her; but when I found myself cut away from her like that, the days were
terrible, and my heart was like lead, and I knew that I had cast away
just everything that I cared to live for. Then I fell in with some
companions—a woman cousin o’ mine and some friends of hers—and they
helped to make me forget what I didna wish to think of, and so the time
passed.  Well, now, that is the truth; and ye can understand, Miss
Douglas, that I have no heart to begin again, and the soldiering seemed
the best thing for me, and a rifle-bullet my best friend.  But—but I
will keep the promise I made to ye—that is enough on that score; oh yes,
I will keep that promise, and any others ye may care to ask; only I
cannot bide in Glasgow.’

He heard a faint sob; he could see that tears were gliding stealthily
down her half-hidden face; and his heart was hot with anger against
himself that he had caused her this pain.  But how could he go away?  A
timid hand sought his, and held it for a brief moment with a tremulous
clasp.

’I am very sorry, Ronald,’ she managed to say, in a broken voice.  ’I
suppose it could not have been otherwise—I suppose it could not have
been otherwise.’

For some time they sate in silence—though he could hear an occasional
half-stifled sob.  He could not pretend to think that Meenie did not
understand; and this was her great pity for him; she did not drive him
away in anger—her heart was too gentle for that.

’Miss Douglas,’ said he at length, ’I’m afraid I’ve spoiled your walk
for you wi’ my idle story.  Maybe the best thing I can do now is just to
leave you.’

’No—stay,’ she said, under her breath; and she was evidently trying to
regain her composure.  ’You spoke—you spoke of that girl—O Ronald, I
wish I had never come to Glasgow!—I wish I had never heard what you told
me just now!’

And then, after a second—

’But how could I help it—when I heard what was happening to you, and all
the wish in the world I had was to know that you were brave and well and
successful and happy?  I could not help it! ... And now—and now—Ronald,’
she said, as if with a struggle against that choking weight of sobs; for
much was demanded of her at this moment; and her voice seemed powerless
to utter all that her heart prompted her to say, ’if—if that girl you
spoke of—if she was to see clearly what is best for her life and for
yours—if she was to tell you to take up your work again, and work hard,
and hard, and hard—and then, some day, it might be years after this,
when you came back again to the north, you would find her still
waiting?——’

’Meenie!’

He grasped her hand: his face was full of a bewilderment of hope—not
joy, not triumph, but as if he hardly dared to believe what he had
heard.

’O Ronald,’ she said, in a kind of wild way,—and she turned her wet eyes
towards him in full, unhesitating abandonment of affection and trust,
nor could she withdraw the hand that he clasped so firmly,—’what will
you think of me?—what will you think of me?—but surely there should be
no hiding or false shame, and surely there is for you and for me in the
world but the one end to hope for; and if not that—why, then, nothing.
If you go away, if you have nothing to hope for, it will be the old
misery back again, the old despair; and as for me—well, that is not of
much matter.  But, Ronald—Ronald—whatever happens—don’t think too hardly
of me—I know I should not have said so much—but it would just break my
heart to think you were left to yourself in Glasgow—with nothing to care
for or hope for——’

’Think of you!’ he cried, and in a kind of wonder of rapture he was
regarding Meenie’s tear-filled eyes, that made no shame of meeting his
look.  ’I think of you—and ever will—as the tenderest and kindest and
truest-hearted of women.’  He had both her hands now; and he held them
close and warm.  ’Even now—at this minute—when you have given yourself
to me—you have no thought of yourself at all—it is all about me, that am
not worth it, and never was.  Is there any other woman in the world so
brave and unselfish!  Meenie, lass—no, for this once—and no one will
ever be able to take the memory away from me—for this once let me call
you my love and my darling—my true-hearted love and darling!—well, now,
that’s said and done with; and many a day to come I will think over
these few minutes, and think of sitting here with you in this West End
Park on the bench here, and the trees around, and I will say to myself
that I called Meenie my love and my darling, and she was not angry—not
angry.’

’No, not angry, Ronald,’ and there was a bit of a strange and tender
smile shining through the tears in the blue-gray eyes.

’Ay, indeed,’ said he, more gravely, ’that will be something for me;
maybe, everything.  I can scarcely believe that this has just
happened—my heart’s in a flame, and my head’s gone daft, I think; and it
seems as if there was nothing for me but to thank God for having sent
you into the world and made you as unselfish and generous as you are.
But that’s not the way of looking at it, my—my good lass.  You have too
little thought for yourself.  Why, what a coward I should be if I did
not ask you to think of the sacrifice you are making!’

’I am making no sacrifice, Ronald,’ she said, simply and calmly.  ’I
spoke what my heart felt; and perhaps too readily.  But I am going back
to the Highlands.  I shall stay there till you come for me, if ever you
come for me.  They spoke of my going for a while to my mother’s cousins;
but I shall not do that; no, I shall be at Inver-Mudal, or wherever my
father is, and you will easily get to know that, Ronald.  But if things
go ill, and you do not come for me—or—or, if ye do not care to come for
me—well, that is as the world goes, and no one can tell before-hand. Or
many years may go by, and when you do come for me, Ronald, you may find
me a gray-haired woman—but you will find me a single woman.’

She spoke quite calmly; this was no new resolve; it was his lips, not
hers, that were tremulous, for a second or so.  But only for a second;
for now he was all anxiety to cheer her and comfort her as regards the
future.  He could not bring himself to ask her to consider again; the
prize was too precious; rather he spoke of all the chances and hopes of
life, and of the splendid future that she had placed before him.  Now
there was something worth striving for—something worth the winning.  And
already, with the wild audacity that was now pulsating in his veins, he
saw the way clear—a long way, perhaps, and tedious, but all filled with
light and strewn with blossoms here or there (these were messages, or a
look, or a smile, from Meenie), and at the end of it, waiting to welcome
him, Love-Meenie, Rose-Meenie, with love-radiance shining in her eyes.

He almost talked her into cheerfulness (for she had grown a little
despondent after that first devotion of self-surrender); and by and by
she rose from the bench.  She was a little pale.

’I don’t know whether I have done well or ill, Ronald,’ she said, in a
low voice, ’but I do not think I could have done otherwise.  It is for
you to show hereafter that I have done right.’

’But do you regret?’ he said quickly.

She turned to him with a strange smile on her face.

’Regret?  No.  I do not think I could have done otherwise.  But it is
for you to show to all of them that I have done right.’

’And if it could only be done all at once, Meenie; that’s where the
soldier has his chance——’

’No, it is not to be done all at once,’ she said; ’it will be a hard and
difficult waiting for you, and a slow waiting for me——’

’Do you think I care for any hardness or difficulty now?’ he said.
’Dear Meenie, you little know what a prize you have set before me.  Why,
now, here, every moment that I pass with you seems worth a year; and yet
I grudge every one——’

’But why?’ she said, looking up.

’I am going over to Pollokshaws the instant I leave you to try to pick
up the threads of everything I had let slip. Dear lass, you have made
every quarter of an hour in the day far too short; I want twelve hours
in the day to be with you, and other twelve to be at my work.’

’We must see each other very little, Ronald,’ she said, as they set out
to leave the Park.  ’People would only talk——’

’But to-morrow——’

’No.  My sister is going down to Dunoon to-morrow to see about the
shutting up of the house for the winter, and I am going with her.  But
on Friday—if you were in the Botanic Gardens—early in the
forenoon—perhaps I could see you then?’

’Yes, yes,’ said he eagerly; and as they went down towards the Woodland
Road he strove to talk to her very cheerfully and brightly indeed, for
he could not but see that she was a little troubled.

Then, when they were about to part, she seemed to try to rouse herself a
little, and to banish whatever doubts and hesitations may have been
harassing her mind.

’Ronald,’ she said, with a bit of a smile, ’when you told me of that
girl in the Highlands that you knew, you said you—you had never said
anything to her that would lead her to imagine you were thinking of her.
But you wrote her a letter.’

’What?’

’Yes; and she saw it,’ Meenie continued; but with downcast eyes.  ’It
was not meant for her to see; but she saw it.  It was some verses—very
pretty they were—but—but rather daring—considering that——’

’Bless me,’ he exclaimed, ’did you see that?’

She nodded.  And then his mind went swiftly back to that period.

’Meenie, that was the time you were angry with me.’

She looked up.

’And yet not so very angry, Ronald.’


’_But Love from Love towards school with hoary looks._’  Not always.
Five miles an hour or so was the pace at which Ronald sped over to
Pollokshaws: and very much astonished was the nervous little Mr. Weems
over the new-found and anxious energy of his quondam pupil.  Ronald
remained all day there, and, indeed, did not leave the cottage until it
was very late.  As he walked back into the town all the world around him
lay black and silent; no stars were visible; no crescent moon; nor any
dim outline of cloud; but the dusky heavens were flushed with the red
fires of the ironworks, as the flames shot fiercely up, and sent their
sullen splendour across the startled night. And that, it may have
occurred to him, was as the lurid glare that had lit up his own life for
a while, until the fires had gone down, and the world grown sombre and
dead; but surely there was a clear dawn about to break by and by in the
east—clear and silvery and luminous—like the first glow of the morn
along the Clebrig slopes.



                             *CHAPTER VII.*

                        *AT THE PEAR-TREE WELL.*


He was almost glad that Meenie was going away for these two days, for he
was desperately anxious to make up for the time he had lost; and the
good-natured little Mr. Weems, instead of showing any annoyance or
resentment, rather aided and abetted this furious zeal on the part of
his pupil.  All the same, Ronald found occasion to be within easy
distance of the railway station on the morning of Meenie’s departure
and about a few minutes to eight he saw herself and her sister step out
of one of the cabs that were being driven up.  If only he could have
signalled a good-bye to her!  But he kept discreetly in the background;
glad enough to see that she was looking so fresh and bright and
cheerful—even laughing she was, over some little mishap, as he imagined.
And then so trim and neat she was in her travelling attire; and so
daintily she walked—the graceful figure moving (as he thought) as if to
a kind of music.  The elder sister took the tickets; then they entered
one of the carriages; and presently the train had slowly rolled away
from the platform and was gone.

That glimpse of Meenie had filled his heart with unutterable delight; he
scarcely knew what he was doing when he got out into the open air again.
The day seemed a festal day; there was gladness abroad in the very
atmosphere; it was a day for good-companionship, and the drinking of
healths, and the wishing of good wishes to all the world.  His thoughts
were all with Meenie—in that railway carriage flying away down to
Greenock; and yet here, around him, there was gladness and happiness
that seemed to demand some actual expression and recognition! Almost
unconsciously—and with his brain busy with very distant matters—he
walked into a public-house.

’Give me a glass of Highland whisky, my lad,’ said he to the young man
standing behind the counter: ’Talisker, if ye have it.’

The whisky was measured out and placed before him. He did not look at
it.  He was standing a little apart. And now Meenie would be out by
Pollokshields, in the whiter air; by and by she would pass through
Paisley’s smoke; then through the placid pastoral country until she
would come in sight of Dumbarton’s castled crags and the long wide
valley of the Clyde.  And then the breezy waters of the Firth; and the
big steamboat; and Meenie walking up and down the white deck, and
drawing the sealskin coat a little tighter round the slight and graceful
figure. There would be sunlight there; and fresh sea-winds blowing up
from Arran and Bute, from Cumbrae and Cantire. And Meenie—

But at this moment his attention was somehow drawn to the counter, and
he was startled into a consciousness of where he was and what he was
doing.  He glanced at the whisky—with a kind of shiver of fright.

’God forgive me—I did not want it,’ he said to the astonished youth who
was looking at him, ’but here’s the money for ’t.’

He put down the few coppers on the counter and hurriedly left the place.
But the sudden fright was all.  As he sped away out to Pollokshaws he
was not haunted by any consciousness of having escaped from danger.  He
was sure enough of himself in that direction.  If a mortal craving for
drink had seized him, he would almost have been glad of the fight; it
would be something to slay the dragon, for Meenie’s sake.  But he had
naturally a sound and firm constitution; his dissipation had not lasted
long enough to destroy his strength of will; and indeed this incident of
the public-house, so far from terrifying him with any doubts as to the
future, only served to remind him that dreams and visions—and brains
gone ’daft’ with access of joy—are not appropriate to the thoroughfares
of a business city.

No; as he walked rapidly away from the town, by way of Strathbungo and
Crossmyloof and Shawlands, what he was chiefly busy with was the
hammering out of some tune that would fit the winter song he had chanced
upon a few days before.  And now he did not regard those gay and
galloping verses with a stupefied wonder as to how he ever came to write
them; rather he tried to reach again to that same pitch of
light-heartedness; and of course it was for Meenie’s delight, and for
hers only, that this tune had to be got at somehow.  It was a laughing,
glad kind of a tune that he wanted:

_O then the warm west winds will blow,_
  _And all in the sunny weather_
_It’s over the moorlands we will go,_
  _You and I, my love, together._

_Chorus: And then the birds will begin to sing,_
      _And we will sing too, my dear,_
    _To give good welcoming to the spring,_
      _In the primrose-time o’ the year—_

  _In the primrose-time,_
  _In the primrose-time,_
  _In the primrose-time o’ the year—_
_To give good welcoming to the spring._
  _In the primrose-time o’ the year._

Yes; and it was in the coming spring-time that he was to try for the
certificate in forestry; and thereafter—if he were so fortunate as to
get that—he might set forth on the path that the Americans had so
confidently sketched out for him—the path that was now to lead him to
Meenie, as the final crown and prize.  ’You may find me a gray-haired
woman, Ronald,’ she had said, ’but you will find me a single woman.’
But still he was young in years; and there was hope and courage in his
veins; and what if he were to win to her, after all, before there was a
single streak of middle age in the beautiful and abundant brown tresses?

Then, again, on the evening before the morning on which he was to meet
her in the Botanic Gardens, he undid the package containing that
anthology of verse devoted to Meenie; and began to turn the pieces over,
wondering which, or if any of them, would please her, if he took them to
her.  But this was rather a visionary Meenie he found in these verses;
not the real and actual Meenie who had sate beside him on a bench in the
West End Park, and placed her hand in his, and pledged her life to him,
while the beautiful, tear-filled eyes sought his so bravely.  And could
he not write something about this actual Meenie; and about Glasgow; and
the wonder she had brought into the great, prosaic city?  He tried his
hand at it, anyway, for a little while:

_The dim red fires of yonder gleaming forge_
  _Now dwell triumphant on the brow of night;_
_A thousand chimneys blackest smoke disgorge,_
  _Repelling from the world the stars’ pale light:_

_A little taper shines adown the street,_
  _From out her casement where she lingers still_
_To listen to the sound of passing feet,_
  _That all the night with leaden echoes fill——_

But he soon stopped.  This was not like Meenie at all—Meenie, who was
ever associated in his mind with flowers and birds and fair sunlight and
the joy of the summer hills. He threw that spoiled sheet into the fire;
and sought among the old pieces for one that he might copy out fairly
for her; and this is what he eventually chose:

_All on a fair May morning_
  _The roses began to blow;_
_Some of them tipped with crimson,_
  _Some of them tipped with snow._

_But they looked the one to the other,_
  _And they looked adown the glen;_
_They looked the one to the other,_
  _And they rubbed their eyes again,_

_’O there is the lark in the heavens,_
  _And the mavis sings in the tree;_
_And surely this is the summer,_
  _But Meenie we cannot see._

_’Surely there must be summer_
  _Coming to this far clime;_
_And has Meenie, Love Meenie, forgotten,_
  _Or have we mistaken the time?’_

_Then a foxglove spake to the roses:_
  _’O hush you and cease your din;_
_For I’m going back to my sleeping,_
  _Till Meenie brings summer in.’_


Well, it was but a trifle; but trifles are sometimes important things
when seen through lovers’ eyes.

Next morning he went along to the Botanic Gardens; paid his sixpence
with equanimity (for he had dispensed with the ceremony of dining the
previous day) and entered. It was rather a pleasant morning; and at
first sight he was rather shocked by the number of people—nursemaids and
children, most of them—who were idly strolling along the trimly-kept
walks or seated in front of the wide open parterres.  How was he to find
Meenie in such a great place; and, if he did find her, were they to walk
up and down before so many eyes?  For he had guessed that Meenie would
be in no hurry to tell her sister of what had happened—until the future
seemed a little more clear and secure; it would be time enough to
publish the news when that had assumed a more definite character.

But on and on he went—with glances that were keen and sharp enough—until
suddenly, just as he had passed the greenhouses, he came almost face to
face with Meenie, who was seated on a bench, all by herself, with a book
before her.  But she was not reading.  ’O and proudly rose she up’; and
yet shyly, too; and as he took her hand in his, the joy with which she
regarded him needed no confession in words—it was written there in the
clear tender eyes.

’Indeed I am so glad to see you, Ronald!’ she said. ’I have been so
miserable these two days—

’But why?’ he asked.

’I don’t know, hardly.  I have been wondering whether I had done right;
and then to go about with my sister, keeping this secret from her; and
then I was thinking of the going away back to Inver-Mudal, and never
seeing you, and not knowing how you were getting on.  But now—now that
you are here, it seems all quite right and safe. You look as if you
brought good news.  What does he think, Ronald?’

’He?’ he repeated.  ’Who?’

’The old man out there at Pollokshaws, is it?’

Ronald laughed.

’Oh, the old gentleman seems pretty confident; but for very shame’s sake
I had to let him have a holiday to-day.  I am not going over till
to-morrow.’

’And he thinks you will pass?’

’He seems to think so.’

’I wish the time were here now, and that it was all well over,’ she
said.  ’Oh, I should be so proud, Ronald; and it will be something to
speak of to every one; and then—then that will be but the beginning; and
day by day I shall be expecting to hear the news.  But what a long, long
time it seems to look forward to.’

’Ay, lass; and it will be worse for you than for me; for there will be
the continual trying and hoping for me, and for you nothing but the
weary waiting.  Well——’

’Oh, but do you think I am afraid?’ she said bravely. ’No.  I have faith
in you, Ronald.  I know you will do your best.’

’I should deserve to be hanged and buried in a ditch if I did not,’ said
he.  ’But we will leave all that for a while, Meenie; I want you to come
for a stroll along the banks over the Kelvin.  Would ye wonder to find
some sea-gulls flying about?—they’re there, though; or they were there a
week or two ago.  And do you know that I got a glimpse of you at the
railway station on Wednesday morning?——’

’I did not see you, Ronald,’ she said, with some surprise.

’No, no; I kept out o’ the way.  It’s not for me, lass, it’s for you to
say when any of your folk are to be told what we are looking forward to;
and for my part I would as lief wait till I could put a clearer plan
before them—something definite.’

’And that is my opinion too, Ronald,’ she answered, in rather a low
voice.  ’Let it be merely an understanding between you and me.  I am
content to wait.’

’Well, then,’ said he, as they reached the top of the high bank
overhanging the river, and began to make their way down the narrow
little pathways cut through the trees and shrubs, ’here is a confession:
I was so glad to see you on that morning—and so glad to see you looking
so well—that I half lost my senses, I think; I went away through the
streets in a kind o’ dream; and, sure as I’m here, I walked into a
public-house and ordered a glass of whisky——’

She looked up in sudden alarm.

’No, no, no,’ said he contentedly, ’you need not fear that, my good
lassie; it was just that I was bewildered with having seen ye, and
thinking of where ye were going. I walked out o’ the place without
touching it.  Ay, and what think ye o’ Dunoon?  And what kind of a day
was it when ye got out on the Firth?’

So she began to tell him of all her adventures and experiences; and by
this time they had got down near to the water’s edge; and here—of what
value would his knowledge of forestry have been otherwise?—he managed to
find a seat for her.  They were quite alone here—the brown river before
them; several sea-gulls placidly paddling on its surface, others flying
and dipping overhead; and if this bank of the stream was in shadow, the
other—with some small green meadows backed by clumps of elms and
maples—was bright and fair enough in the yellow autumn sunshine.  They
were in absolute silence, too, save for the continual soft murmur of the
water, and the occasional whirring by of a blackbird seeking safety
underneath a laurel bush.

’Meenie,’ said he, putting one hand on her shoulder, ’here are some
verses I copied out for ye last night—they’re not much worth—but they
were written a long time ago, when little did I think I should ever dare
to put them into your hand.’

She read them; and there was a rose colour in her face as she did so:
not that she was proud of their merit, but because of the revelation
they contained.

’A long time ago?’ she said, with averted eyes—but her heart was beating
warmly.

’Oh,’ he said, ’there are dozens and dozens of similar things, if ever
ye care to look at them.  It was many a happy morning on the hill, and
many a quiet night at home, they gave me; but somehow, lass, now that I
look at them, they hardly seem to grip ye fast enough.  I want something
that will bind ye closer to myself—something that ye can read when you
are back in the Highlands—something that is known only to our two
selves.  Well, now, these things that I have written from time to
time—you’re a long way off in them somehow—the Meenie that’s in them is
not this actual Meenie, warm and kind and generous and breathing——’

’And a little bit happy, Ronald, just at present,’ she said, and she
took his hand.

’And some day, when I get through with busier work, I must try to write
you something for yourself——’

’But, Ronald, all these pieces you speak of belong to me,’ she said
promptly, ’and I want them, every one—every, every one.  Yes, and I
specially want that letter—if you have not kept it, then you must
remember it, and write it out for me again——’

’I came across it last night,’ said he, with an embarrassed laugh.
’Indeed I don’t wonder you were angry.’

’I have told you before, Ronald, that I was not angry,’ she said, with a
touch of vexation.  ’Perhaps I was a little—a little frightened—and
scarcely knowing how much you meant——’

’Well, you know now, Meenie dear; but last night, when I was going over
those scraps of things, I can tell you I was inclined to draw back.  I
kept saying to myself—"What! is she really going to see herself talked
about in this way?"  For there’s a good deal of love-making in them,
Meenie, and that’s a fact; I knew I could say what I liked, since no one
would be any the wiser, but, last night, when I looked at some of them,
I said—"No; I’m not going to provoke a quarrel with Meenie. She would
fling things about, as the American used to say, if she saw all this
audacious song-writing about her."’

’I’ll chance that quarrel, Ronald,’ she answered to this, ’for I want
every, every, every one of them; and you must copy them all, for I am
going to take them with me when I leave Glasgow.’

’And, indeed,’ said he, ’you’ll understand them better in the Highlands;
for they’re all about Ben Loyal, and the Mudal, and Loch Naver, and
Clebrig.’

’And to think you hid them from me all that time!’

’Why, Meenie darling, you would have called on the whole population to
drive me out of the place if I had shown them to you.  Think of the
effect produced by a single glance at one of them!—you tortured me for
weeks wondering how I had offended you.’

’Well, you can’t offend me now, Ronald, _that way_,’ said she, very
prettily.

And so their lovers’ talk went on, until it was time for Meenie to think
of returning home.  But just beyond these Botanic Gardens, and down in a
secluded nook by the side of the river, there is a little spring that is
variously known as the Three-Tree Well and the Pear-Tree Well.  It is a
limpid little stream, running into the Kelvin; it rises in a tiny cavern
and flows for a few yards through a cleft in the rocks.  Now these
rocks, underneath the overarching trees, have been worn quite smooth
(except where they are scored with names) by the footsteps of generation
after generation of lovers who, in obedience to an old and fond custom,
have come hither to plight their troth while joining hands over the
brooklet.  Properly the two sweethearts, each standing on one side,
ought to join their hands on a Bible as they vow their vows, and
thereafter should break a sixpence in twain, each carrying away the
half; but these minor points are not necessary to the efficacy of this
probably pagan rite.  And so—supposing that Ronald had heard of this
place of sacred pilgrimage, and had indeed discovered its whereabouts in
his rambles around Glasgow—and supposing him to have got a friendly
under-gardener to unlock a gate in the western palisades of the
Gardens—and then, if he were to ask Meenie to step down to the
river-side and walk along to the hallowed well?  And yet he made of it
no solemn ceremony; the morning was bright and clear around them; and
Meenie was rather inclined to smile at the curious old custom.  But she
went through it nevertheless; and then he slept across the rill again;
and said he—

’There’s but this remaining now, Meenie darling—"Ae fond kiss and then
we sever."’

She stepped back in affright.

’Ronald, not with that song on your lips!  Don’t you remember what it
goes on to say?’

’Well, I don’t,’ he answered good-naturedly; for he had quoted the
phrase at random.

’Why, don’t you remember?—

_"Had we never loved sae kindly,_
_Had we never loved sae blindly,_
_Never met—or never parted,_
_We had ne’er been broken-hearted."_


’My good-hearted lass,’ said he, interlinking his arm with hers, ’ye
must not be superstitious.  What’s in a song? There’ll be no severance
betwixt you and me—the Pear-Tree Well has settled that.’

’And that is not at all superstition?’ said she, looking up with a
smile—until she suddenly found her blushing face overshadowed.



                            *CHAPTER VIII.*

                       *THE COMING OF TROUBLES.*


These were halcyon days.  Those two had arrived at a pretty accurate
understanding of the times of each other’s comings and goings; and if
they could snatch but five minutes together, as he was on his way over
to the south, well, that was something; and not unfrequently the
lingering good-bye was lengthened out to a quarter of an hour; and then
again when high fortune was in the ascendant, a whole golden hour was
theirs—that was as precious as a year of life.  For their
hastily-snatched interviews the most convenient and secret rendezvous
was Hill Street, Garnet Hill; a quiet little thoroughfare, too steep for
cabs or carriages to ascend.  And very cheerful and bright and pleasant
this still neighbourhood looked on those October mornings; for there was
yet some crisp and yellow foliage on the trees; and the little patches
of green within the railings lay warm in the light; and on the northern
side of the street the house-fronts were of a comfortable sunny gray.
Ordinarily there were so few people about that these two could walk hand
in hand, if they chose; or they could stand still, and converse face to
face, when some more than usually interesting talk was going forward.
And it was quite astonishing what a lot of things they had to say to
each other, and the importance that attached to the very least of them.

But one piece of news that Meenie brought to these stolen interviews was
by no means insignificant: she was now receiving marked attentions from
a young Glasgow gentleman—attentions that her sister had perceived at a
very early period, though Meenie had striven to remain blind to them.
Nor was there anything very singular in this.  Mr. Gemmill was
exceedingly proud of his pretty sister-in-law; he had asked lots of
people to the house for the very purpose of meeting her; she was the
centre of interest and attraction at these numerous gatherings; and what
more natural than that some susceptible youth should have his mind
disturbed by an unwitting glance or two from those clear Highland eyes?
And what rendered this prospect so pleasing to the Gemmills was this:
the young man who had been stricken by these unintentional darts was no
other than the only son of the founder of the firm in which Mr. Gemmill
was a junior partner—the old gentleman having retired from the business
some dozen years before, carrying with him a very substantial fortune
indeed, to which this son was sole heir. In more ways than one this
match, if it were to be a match, would be highly advantageous; and Mrs.
Gemmill, while saying little, was secretly rejoiced to see everything
going on so well.  If Meenie chanced to ask what such and such a piece
was (Mr. Frank Lauder played a little), even that slight expression of
interest was inevitably followed by her receiving the sheet of music by
post next morning.  Flowers, again: one cannot very well refuse to
accept flowers; they are not like other gifts; they may mean nothing.
Then, it was quite remarkable how often he found himself going to the
very same theatre or the very same concert that the Gemmills had
arranged to take Meenie to; and naturally—as it chanced he had no one
going with him—he asked to be allowed to go with them.  He even talked
of taking a seat in Maple Street Church (this was the church that the
Gemmills attended), for he said that he was tired to death of the
preaching of that old fogey, Dr. Teith, and that Mr. Smilie’s last
volume of poems (Mr. Smilie was the Maple Street Church minister) had
aroused in him a great curiosity to hear his sermons.

And as for Mr. Frank Lauder himself—well, he was pretty much as other
young Glasgow men of fashion; though, to be sure, these form a race by
themselves, and a very curious race too.  They are for the most part a
good-natured set of lads; free and generous in their ways; not anything
like the wild Lotharios which, amongst themselves, they profess to be;
well dressed; a little lacking in repose of manner; many of them given
to boating and yachting—and some of them even expert seamen; nearly all
of them fond of airing a bit of Cockney slang picked up in a London
music hall during a fortnight’s visit to town.  But their most odd
characteristic is an affectation of knowingness—as if they had read the
book of nature and human nature through to the last chapter; whereas
these well-dressed, good-natured, but rather brainless young men are as
innocently ignorant of that book as of most other books. Knowing but one
language—and that imperfectly—is no doubt a bar to travel; but surely
nowhere else on the face of the globe could one find a set of young
fellows—with similar opportunities set before them—content to remain so
thoroughly untutored and untravelled; and nowhere else a set of youths
who, while professing to be men of the world, could show themselves so
absolutely unversed in the world’s ways.  But they (or some of them)
understand the lines of a yacht; and they don’t drink champagne as sweet
as they used to do; and no doubt, as they grow into middle age, they
will throw aside the crude affectations of youth, and assume a
respectable gravity of manner, and eventually become solid and
substantial pillars of the Free, U.P., and Established Churches.

This Frank Lauder was rather a favourable specimen of his class;
perhaps, in his extreme desire to ingratiate himself with Meenie, he
assumed a modesty of demeanour that was not quite natural to him.  But
his self-satisfied jocosity, his mean interpretation of human motives,
his familiarly conventional opinions in all matters connected with the
arts, could not always be hidden beneath this mask of meekness; and
Meenie’s shrewd eyes had discerned clearly of what kind he was at a very
early period of their acquaintance.  For one thing, her solitary life in
the Highlands had made of her a diligent and extensive reader; while her
association with Ronald had taught her keen independence of judgment;
and she was almost ashamed to find how absolutely unlettered this youth
was, and how he would feebly try to discover what her opinion was, in
order to express agreement with it.  That was not Ronald’s way. Ronald
took her sharply to task when she fell away from his standard—or rather
their conjoint standard—in some of her small preferences.  Even in
music, of which this young gentleman knew a little, his tastes were the
tastes of the mob.

’Why do you always get away from the room when Mr. Lauder sits down to
the piano?’ her sister said, with some touch of resentment.

’I can endure a little Offenbach,’ she answered saucily, ’when I’m
strong and in good health.  But we get a little too much of it when he
comes here.’

Of course Ronald was given to know of these visits and of their obvious
aim; but he did not seem very deeply concerned.

’You know I can’t help it, Ronald,’ she said, one morning, as they were
slowly climbing the steep little Randolph Terrace together, her hand
resting on his arm. ’I can’t tell him to go away while my sister keeps
asking him to the house.  They say that a girl can always show by her
manner when any attention is displeasing to her. Well, that depends.  I
can’t be downright rude—I am staying in my sister’s house.  And then, I
wouldn’t say he was conceited—I wouldn’t say that, Ronald—but—but he is
pretty well satisfied with himself; and perhaps not so sensitive about
one’s manner towards him as some might be.  As for you, Ronald,’ she
said, with a laugh, ’I could send you flying, like a bolt from a bow,
with a single look.’

’Could you, lass?’ said he.  ’I doubt it.  Perhaps I would refuse to
budge.  I have got charge of you now.’

’Ah, well, I am not likely to try, I think,’ she continued. ’But about
this Mr. Lauder, Ronald—you see, he is a very important person in Mr.
Gemmill’s eyes; for he and his father have still some interest in the
warehouse, I suppose; and I know he thinks it is time that Mr. Gemmill’s
name should be mentioned in the firm—not mere "Co."  And that would
please Agatha too; and so they’re very polite to him; and they expect me
to be very polite to him too.  You see, Ronald, I can’t tell him to go
away until he says something—either to me or to Agatha; and he won’t
take a hint, though he must see that I would rather not have him send
flowers and music and that; and then, again, I sometimes think it is not
fair to you, Ronald, that I should allow anything of the kind to go
on—merely through the difficulty of speaking——’

He stopped, and put his hand over the hand that lay on his arm: there
was not a human being in sight.

’Tell me this, Meenie darling: does his coming to the house vex you and
trouble you?’

’Oh no—not in the least,’ said she, blithely and yet seriously.  ’I am
rather pleased when he comes to the house.  When he is there of an
evening, and I have the chance of sitting and looking at him, it makes
me quite happy.’

This was rather a startling statement, and instantly she saw a quick,
strange look in his eyes.

’But you don’t understand, Ronald,’ she said placidly, and without
taking away her eyes from his.  ’Every time I look at him I think of
you, and it’s the difference that makes me glad.’

Halcyon days indeed; and Glasgow became a radiant golden city in this
happy autumn time; and each meeting was sweeter and dearer than its
predecessor; and their twin lives seemed to be floating along together
on a river of joy. With what a covetous care she treasured up each
fragment of verse he brought her, and hid it away in a little thin
leathern case she had herself made, so that she could wear it next her
heart.  He purchased for her little presents—such as he could afford—to
show her that he was thinking of her on the days when they could not
meet; and when she took these, and kissed them, it was not of their
pecuniary value she was thinking.  As for her, she had vast schemes as
to what she was going to make for him when she got back to the
Highlands.  Here, in Glasgow, nothing of the kind was possible.  Her
sister’s eyes were too sharp, and her own time too much occupied.
Indeed, what between the real lover, who was greedy of every moment she
could spare for these secret interviews, and the pseudo lover, who kept
the Queen’s Crescent household in a constant turmoil of engagements and
entertainments and visits, Rose Meenie found the hours sufficiently
full; and the days of her stay in Glasgow were going by rapidly.

’But Scripture saith, an ending to all fine things must be;’ and the
ending, in this case, was the work of the widow Menzies.  Kate felt
herself at once aggrieved and perplexed by Ronald’s continued absence;
but she was even more astonished when, on sending to make inquiries, she
found he had left his lodgings and gone elsewhere, leaving no address.
She saw a purpose in this; she leapt to the conclusion that a woman had
something to do with it; and in her jealous anger and mortification she
determined on leaving no stone unturned to discover his whereabouts. But
her two cronies, Laidlaw and old Jaap (the skipper was away at sea
again), seemed quite powerless to aid her. They knew that Ronald
occasionally used to go over to Pollokshaws; but further than that,
nothing.  He never came to the Harmony Club now; and not one of his
former companions knew anything about him.  Old Mr. Jaap hoped that no
harm had come to the lad, whom he liked; but Jimmy Laidlaw was none so
sorry over this disappearance: he might himself have a better chance
with the widow, now that Kate’s handsome cousin was out of the way.

It was Kate herself who made the discovery, ami that in the simplest
manner possible.  She and mother Paterson had been away somewhere
outside the town for a drive: and they were returning by the Great
Western Road, one evening towards dusk, when all at once the widow
caught sight of Ronald, at some distance off, and just as he was in the
act of saying good-bye to a woman—to a young girl apparently.  Kate
pulled up the cob so suddenly that she nearly pitched her companion
headlong into the street.

’What is it, Katie dear?’

She did not answer; she let the cob move forward a yard or two, so as to
get the dog-cart close in by the pavement; and then she waited—watching
with an eager scrutiny this figure that was now coming along.  Meenie
did not notice her; probably the girl was too busy with her own
thoughts; but these could not have been sad ones, for the bright young
face, with its tender colour rather heightened by the sharpness of the
evening air, seemed happy enough.

’Flying high, he is,’ was Kate Menzies’s inward comment as she marked
the smart costume and the well-bred air and carriage of this young lady.

And then, the moment she had passed, Kate said quickly—

’Here, auntie, take the reins, and wait here.  Never mind how long.
He’ll no stir; if you’re feared, bid a laddie stand by his head.’

’But what is’t, Katie dear?’

She did not answer; she got down from the trap; and then, at first
quickly, and afterwards more cautiously, she proceeded to follow the
girl whom she had seen parting from Ronald.  Nor had she far to go, as
it turned out. Meenie left the main thoroughfare at Melrose Street—Kate
Menzies keeping fairly close up to her now; and almost directly after
was standing at the door of her sister’s house in Queen’s Crescent,
waiting for the ringing of the bell to be answered.  It needed no
profound detective skill on the part of Mrs. Menzies to ascertain the
number of the house, so soon as the girl had gone inside; and thereafter
she hurried back to the dog-cart, and got up, and continued her driving.

’Well, that bangs Banagher!’ she said, with a loud laugh, as she smartly
touched the cob with the whip.  ’The Great Western Road, of a’ places in
the world!  The Great Western Road—and he goes off by the New City
Road—there’s a place for twa lovers to forgather!

_"We’ll meet beside the dusky glen, on yon burn side,_
_Where the bushes form a cosie den, on yon burn side."_

But the Great Western Road—bless us a’, and the laddie used to write
poetry!’

’But what is it, Katie?’

’Why, it’s Ronald and his lass, woman: didna ye see them?  Oh ay, he’s
carried his good looks to a braw market—set her up wi’ her velvet hat
and her sealskin coat, and living in Queen’s Crescent forbye.  Ay, ay,
he’s ta’en his pigs to a braw market——’

’It’s no possible, Katie dear!’ exclaimed mother Paterson, who affected
to be very much shocked.  ’Your cousin Ronald wi’ a sweetheart?—and him
so much indebted to you——’

’The twa canary birds!’ she continued, with mirth that sounded not quite
real.  ’But never a kiss at parting, wi’ a’ they folk about.  And that’s
why ye’ve been hiding yourself away, my lad?  But I jalouse that that
braw young leddy o’ yours would laugh the other side of her mouth if her
friends were to find out her pranks.’

And indeed that was the thought that chiefly occupied her mind during
the rest of the drive home.  Arrived there, she called for the
Post-Office Directory, and found that the name of the people living in
that house in Queen’s Crescent was Gemmill.  She asked her cronies, when
they turned up in the evening, who this Gemmill was; but neither of them
knew.  Accordingly, being left to her own resources, and without letting
even mother Paterson know, she took a sheet of paper and wrote as
follows—

’SIR—Who is the young lady in your house who keeps appointments with
Ronald Strang, formerly of Inver-Mudal? Keep a better look-out.  Yours,
A Friend.’

And this she enclosed in an envelope, and directed it to Mr. Gemmill of
such and such a number, Queen’s Crescent, and herself took it to the
post.  It was a mere random shot, for she had nothing to go upon but her
own sudden suspicions; but she was angry and hot-headed; and in no case,
she considered, would this do any harm.

She succeeded far better than she could have expected. Mr. Gemmill
handed the anonymous note to his wife with a brief laugh of derision.
But Agatha (who knew more about Ronald Strang than he) looked startled.
She would not say anything.  She would not admit to her husband that
this was anything but an idle piece of malice. Nevertheless, when Mr.
Gemmill left for the city, she began to consider what she should do.

Unfortunately, as it happened that morning, Meenie just played into her
sister’s hand.

’Aggie dear, I am going along to Sauchiehall Street for some more of
that crimson wool: can I bring you anything?’

’No, thank you,’ she said; and then instantly it occurred to her that
she would go out and follow her sister, just to see whether there might
be any ground for this anonymous warning.  It certainly was a strange
thing that any one should know that Meenie and Ronald Strang were even
acquainted.

And at first—as she kept a shrewd eye on the girl, whom she allowed to
precede her by some distance—all seemed to go well.  Meenie looked
neither to the right nor to the left as she walked, with some quickness,
along St. George’s Road towards Sauchiehall Street.  When she reached
the wool shop and entered, Mrs. Gemmill’s conscience smote her—why
should she have been so quick to harbour suspicions of her own sister?
But she would still watch her on the homeward way—just to make sure.

When Meenie came out again from the shop she looked at her watch; and it
was clear that she was now quickening her pace as she set forth.  Why
this hurry, Mrs. Gemmill asked herself?—the girl was not so busy at
home.  But the solution of the mystery was soon apparent.  Meenie
arrived at the corner of Hill Street; gave one quick glance up the quiet
little thoroughfare; the next moment Mrs. Gemmill recognised well
enough—for she had seen him once or twice in the Highlands—who this
well-built, straight-limbed young fellow was who was now coming down the
steep little street at such a swinging pace. And Meenie went forward to
meet him, with her face upturned to his; and she put her hand on his arm
quite as if that were her familiar custom; and away these two
went—slowly, it is true, for the ascent was steep—and clearly they were
heeding not anything and not anybody around.

Agatha turned away and went home; she had seen enough.  To say that she
was deeply shocked would hardly be true; for there are very few young
women who have not, at some time or other in their lives, made an
innocent little arrangement by which they might enjoy an unobserved
interview with the object of their choice; and, if there are any such
extremely proper young persons, Agatha Gemmill knew that she had not
been in the category herself.  But she was resolved upon being both
indignant and angry. It was her duty.  There was this girl wilfully
throwing away all the chances of her life.  A gamekeeper!—that her
sister should be for marrying a gamekeeper just at the time that Mr.
Gemmill expected to have his name announced as a partner in the great
firm!  Nay, she made no doubt that Meenie had come to Glasgow for the
very purpose of seeking him out.  And what was to become of young Frank
Lauder?  Indeed, by the time Meenie returned home, her sister had
succeeded in nursing up a considerable volume of wrath; for she
considered she was doing well to be angry.

But when the battle-royal did begin, it was at first all on one side.
Meenie did not seek to deny anything.  She quite calmly admitted that
she meant to marry Ronald, if ever their circumstances should be so
favourable.  She even confessed that she had come to Glasgow in the hope
of seeing him.  Had she no shame in making such an avowal?—no, she said,
she had none; none at all.  And what had she meant by encouraging Mr.
Lauder?—she had not encouraged him in any way, she answered; she would
rather have had none of his attentions.

But it was when the elder sister began to speak angrily and
contemptuously of Ronald that the younger sister’s eyes flashed fire and
her lips grew pale.

’A gentleman?’ she retorted.  ’I might marry a gentleman? I tell you
there is no such gentleman—in manner, in disposition, in education—I say
there is no such gentleman as he is comes to this house!’

’Deary me!’ said Agatha sarcastically, but she was rather frightened by
this unwonted vehemence.  ’To think that a gamekeeper——’

’He is not a gamekeeper!  He will never be a gamekeeper again.  But if
he were, what should I care?  It was as a gamekeeper that I learnt to
know him.  It was as a gamekeeper that I gave him my love.  Do you think
I care what occupation he follows when I know what he is himself?’

’Hoity-toity!  Here’s romance in the nineteenth century!—and from you,
Meenie, that were always such a sensible girl!  But I’ll have nothing to
do with it.  Back you pack to the Highlands, and at once; that’s what I
have got to say.’

’I am quite willing to go back,’ the girl said proudly.

’Ah, because you think you will be allowed to write to him; and that all
the fine courting will go on that way; and I’ve no doubt you’re thinking
he’s going to make money in Glasgow—for a girl as mad as you seem to be
will believe anything.  Well, don’t believe _that_.  Don’t believe you
will have any fine love-making in absence, and all that kind of stuff.
Mother will take good care.  I should not wonder if she sent you to a
school in Germany, if the expense were not too great—how would you like
that?’

’But she will not.’

’Why, then?’

’Because I will not go.’

’Here’s bravery!  I suppose you want something more heroic—drowning
yourself because of your lost love—or locking yourself up in a convent
to escape from your cruel parents—something that will make the papers
write things about you?  But I think you will find a difference after
you have been two or three months at Inver-Mudal.  Perhaps you will have
come to your senses then.  Perhaps you will have learnt what it was to
have had a good prospect of settling yourself in life—with a respectable
well-conducted young man—of good family—the Lauders of Craig themselves
are not in the least ashamed that some of the family have been in
business—yes, you will think of that, and that you threw the chance away
because of an infatuation about a drunken ne’er-do-weel——’

’He is not—he is not!’ she said passionately; and her cheeks were white;
but there was something grasping her heart, and like to suffocate her,
so that she could not protest more.

’Anyway, I will take care that I shall have nothing to do with it,’ the
elder sister continued; ’and if you should see him again before you go,
I would advise you to bid him good-bye, for it will be the last time.
Mother will take care of that, or I am mistaken.’

She left the room; and the girl remained alone—proud and pale and
rebellious; but still with this dreadful weight upon her heart, of
despair and fear that she would not acknowledge.  If only she could see
Ronald!  One word from him—one look—would be enough.  But if this were
true?—if she were never to be allowed to hear from him again?—they might
even appeal to himself, and who could say what promise they might not
extract from him, if they were sufficiently cunning of approach?  They
might say it was for her welfare—they might appeal to his honour—they
might win some pledge from him—and she knowing nothing of it all!  If
only she could see him for one moment! The very pulses of her blood
seemed to keep repeating his name at every throb—yearning towards him,
as it were; and at last she threw herself down on the sofa and buried
her head in the cushion, and burst into a wild and long-continued fit of
weeping and sobbing.  But this in time lightened the weight at her
heart, at any rate; and when at length she rose—with tear-stained cheeks
and tremulous lips and dishevelled hair—there was still something in her
look that showed that the courage with which she had faced her sister
was not altogether gone; and soon the lips had less of tremulousness
about them than of a proud decision; and there was that in the very
calmness of her demeanour that would have warned all whom it might
concern that the days of her placid and obedient girlhood were over.



                             *CHAPTER IX.*

                           *IN OTHER CLIMES.*


Never was there a gayer party than this that was walking from the hotel
towards the shores of Lake George, on a brilliant and blue-skied October
morning.  Perhaps the most demure—or the most professedly demure—was
Miss Carry Hodson herself, who affected to walk apart a little; and
swung carelessly the fur cape she carried in her hand; and refused all
kinds of attentions from a tall, lank, long-haired young man who humbly
followed her; and pretended that she was wholly engrossed with the air
of

_’I’m in love, sweet Mistress Prue,_
  _Sooth I can’t conceal it;_
_My poor heart is broke in two—-_
  _You alone can heal it.’_

As for the others of this light-hearted and laughing group of young
folk, they were these: Miss Kerfoot, a fresh-coloured, plump,
pleasant-looking girl, wearing much elaborate head-gear rather out of
proportion to her stature; her married sister, Mrs. Lalor, a grass-widow
who was kind enough to play chaperon to the young people, but whose
effective black eyes had a little trick of roving on their own
account—perhaps merely in quest of a joke; Dr. Thomas P. Tilley, an
adolescent practitioner, who might have inspired a little more
confidence in his patients had he condescended to powder his profuse
chestnut-brown hair; and, finally, the long and lank gentleman who
waited so humbly on Miss Hodson, and who was Mr. J. C. Huysen, of the
_Chicago Citizen_. Miss Carry had at length—and after abundant meek
intercession and explanations and expressions of remorse—pardoned the
repentant editor for his treatment of Ronald. It was none of his doing,
he vowed and declared.  It was some young jackass whom the proprietors
of the paper had introduced to him.  The article had slipped in without
his having seen it first.  If only her Scotch friend would write
something more, he would undertake that the _Chicago Citizen_ would
treat it with the greatest respect.  And so forth.  Miss Carry was for a
long time obdurate, and affected to think that it was poetical jealousy
on his part (for the lank-haired editor had himself in former days
written and published sentimental verse—a fact which was not forgotten
by one or two of the wicked young men on the staff of the _N. Y. Sun_
when Mr. Huysen adventured into the stormy arena of politics); but in
the end she restored him to favour, and found him more submissive than
ever. And in truth there was substantial reason for his submission.  The
_Chicago Citizen_ paid well enough, no doubt; but the editor of that
journal had large views; and Miss Hodson’s husband—if all stories were
true—would find himself in a very enviable position indeed.

’Mayn’t I carry your cape for you, Miss Hodson?’ the tall editor said,
in the most pleading way in the world.

’No, I thank you,’ she answered, civilly enough; but she did not turn
her head; and she made believe that her mind was wholly set on

_’I’m in love, sweet Mistress Prue,_
  _Sooth I can’t conceal it.’_

This timid prayer and its repulse had not escaped the sharp observation
of Miss Kerfoot.

’Oh,’ said she, ’there’s no doing anything with Carry, ever since we
came to Fort George.  Nothing’s good enough for her; the hills are not
high enough; and the place is not wild enough; and there’s no catching
of salmon in drenching rain—so there’s no amusement for her. Amusement?
I know where the trouble is; I know what amusement she wants; I know
what makes her grumble at the big hotels, and the decent clothes that
people prefer to wear, and the rattlesnakes, and all the rest.  Of
course this lake can’t be like the Scotch lake; there isn’t a handsome
young gamekeeper here for her to flirt with.  Flirtation, was it?  Well,
I suppose it was, and no more.  I don’t understand the manners and
customs of savage nations. Look at her now.  Look at that thing on her
head.  I’ve heard of girls wearing true-love knots, and rings, and
things of that kind, to remind them of their sweethearts; but I never
heard of their going about wearing a yellow Tam-o’-Shanter.’

Miss Carry smiled a superior smile; she would pay no heed to these
ribald remarks; apparently she was wholly engrossed with

_’I’m in love, sweet Mistress Prue.’_


’It isn’t fair of you to tell tales out of school, Em,’ the young matron
said.

’But I wasn’t there.  If I had been, there would have been a little
better behaviour.  Why, I never!  Do you know how they teach girls to
use a salmon-rod in that country?’

The question was addressed to Mr. Huysen; but Miss Kerfoot’s eyes were
fixed on Miss Carry.

’No, I don’t,’ he answered.

’Oh, you don’t know,’ she said.  ’You don’t know. Really.  Well, I’ll
tell you.  The gamekeeper—and the handsomer the better—stands
overlooking the girl’s shoulder; and she holds the rod; and he grips her
hand and the rod at the same time.’

’But I know how,’ the young Doctor interposed. ’See here—give me your
hand—I’ll show you in a minute.’

’Oh no, you shan’t,’ said she, instantly disengaging herself; ’this is a
respectable country.  We don’t do such things in New York State.  Of
course, over there it’s different.  Oh yes; if I were there
myself—and—and if the gamekeeper was handsome enough—and if he asked me
to have a lesson in salmon-fishing—don’t you think I would go?  Why, I
should smile!’

But here Miss Carry burst out laughing; for her friend had been caught.
These two girls were in the habit of talking the direst slang between
themselves (and occasionally Miss Carry practised a little of it on her
papa), but this wickedness they did in secret; outsiders were not
supposed to know anything of that.  And now Dr. Tilley did not seem very
much pleased at hearing Miss Kerfoot say ’I should smile’; and Miss
Kerfoot looked self-conscious and amused and a little embarrassed; and
Carry kept on laughing.  However, it all blew over; for now they were
down at the landing stage; and presently the Doctor was handing them
into the spick and span new cat-boat that he had just had sent through
from New York that autumn.

Indeed it was a right joyous party that now went sailing out on the
clear lapping waters; for there was a brisk breeze blowing; and two
pairs of sweethearts in one small boat’s cargo make a fair proportion;
and Lake George, in October, before the leaves are beginning to fall, is
just about as beautiful a place as any one can want. The far low hills
were all red and brown and yellow with maple and scrub oak, except where
the pines and the hemlocks interposed a dark blue-green; and nearer at
hand, on the silvery surface of the lake, were innumerable small wooded
islands, with a line of white foam along the windward shores; and
overhead a perfectly cloudless sky of intense and brilliant blue.  And
if these were not enough for the gay voyagers, then there were other
things—laughter, sarcasm, subtle compliments, daring or stolen glances;
until at last the full tide of joy burst into song. Who can tell which
of them it was that started

_’I’se gwine back to Dixie, no more I’se gwine to wander,_
_My heart’s turned back to Dixie, I can’t stay here no longer’?_

No matter; nor was it of much consequence whether the words of the song
were of a highly intellectual cast, nor whether the music was of the
most distinguished character, so long as there was a chorus admirably
adapted for soprano, alto, tenor, and bass.  It was very speedily clear
that this was not the first time these four had practised the chorus
(Mrs. Lalor was allowed to come in just where she pleased), nor was
there any great sadness in their interpretation of the words—

    I’se gwine back to Dix-ie, I’se gwine back to
    Dix-ie, I’s gwine where to or-ange blos-soms grow, ...
    ... For I hear the chil-dren call-ing, I see their sad tears
    fall-ing, My heart’s turn’d back to Dix-ie, And I must go.

[Illustration: Music fragment]

It is impossible to say how often they repeated the chorus; until Mrs.
Lalor asked the girls why they were so fond of singing about orange
blossoms, and then presently they turned to something else.

All this time they were beating up against a stiff but steady head-wind;
the Doctor at the tiller; the lank editor standing by the mast at the
bow; the girls and their chaperon snugly ensconced in the capacious
cockpit, but still having to dodge the enormously long boom when the
boat was put about.  The women-folk, of course, paid no attention to the
sailing; they never do; they were quite happy in leaving the whole
responsibility on the owner of the craft; and were entirely wrapped up
in their own petty affairs.  Nay, so recklessly inconsiderate were they
that they began to be angry because Dr. Tilley would not get out his
banjo—which was in the tiny cabin, or rather locker, at the bow.  They
wanted to sing ’Dancing in the Barn,’ they said.  What was the use of
that without a banjo to play the dance music?

’Very well,’ said the complaisant Doctor, ’we’ll run into some quiet
creek in one of the islands; and then I’ll see what I can do for you.’

No, no, they said; they wanted to sing sailing; they did not wish to go
ashore, or near the shore.  Well, the amiable Doctor scarce knew how to
please them, for he could not steer the boat and play the banjo at the
same time; and he was not sure about entrusting the safety of so
precious a cargo to the uncertain seamanship of the editor.  However,
they were now a long way from Fort George; they might as well take a run
back in that direction; and so—the boat having been let away from the
wind and put on a fair course for the distant landing-stage—Mr. Huysen
was called down from the bow and directed as to how he should steer; and
then the Doctor went forward and got out the banjo.

Now this ’Dancing in the Barn’ (the words are idiotic enough) has a very
catching air; and no sooner had the Doctor—who was standing up on the
bit of a deck forward, where Jack Huysen had been—begun the tinkling
prelude than the girls showed little movements of hands and feet, as if
they were performing an imaginary ’cake-walk.’

_’Oh, we’ll meet at the ball in the evening,_
_Kase I love to pass the time away’_

—they were all singing at it now; they did not wait for any chorus; and
Miss Carry had caught Miss Em’s hand, and was holding it on high, and
keeping time to the music, as if she were in reality leading her down
the barn.

    As we move so grace-ful-ly
    We’re as hap-py as can be
    Den swing you partners all to-

[Illustration: Music fragment]

ge-ther, Kase now’s the time for you to larn, Ban-jos
ring-ing, Nig-gers sing-ing, And danc-ing in the barn.

[Illustration: music fragment]

Then came in the rippling dance—played as a solo on the banjo; and so
catching was it that the two girls stood up, and made believe to dance a
little.  You see, the boat was running free before the wind, and there
was scarcely any appreciable motion, though she was going at a good
speed, for her mainsail was enormously large and the breeze was brisk.

’I say, Huysen,’ the Doctor called, while he was playing the dance,
’look what you’re about.  Never mind the singing.  Keep her bow straight
for the landing-stage.’

Then the next verse began—

_’Den we’s off to work in de morning,_
  _Singing as we go out to de field,’_

and they all went at it with a will.  And then the chorus; and then the
light rippling dance—

[Illustration: music fragment]

and the two girls were on their feet again, making believe to posture a
little, while the sharp clear notes of the banjo tinkled and tinkled,
amid the steady swishing noise of the water along the side of the boat.
But all of a sudden there was a startled cry of warning—the banjo was
dropped on the deck, and the Doctor sprung aft in a vain effort to check
what he had seen was coming; the next moment the great boom came heavily
swinging along, accelerating its pace as it went out to leeward, until
there was a frightful crash that seemed to tear the whole craft to
pieces.  And then, in this wild lurch, what had happened?  Tilley was
the first to see.  There was something in the water.  He tore off his
coat and slipped over the boat’s side—heeding nothing of the piercing
screams of those he had left, but shaking the wet from his eyes and nose
and mouth, and looking all around him like a Newfoundland dog.  Then he
caught sight of a small floating object—some dozen yards away—and he
made for that: it was the yellow Tam-o’-Shanter, he could see; then he
heard a half-stifled cry just behind him, and turning round was just
able to catch hold of Carry Hodson before she sank a second time.
However, she was quite passive—perhaps she had been stunned by a blow
from the boom; and he was an excellent swimmer; and he could easily keep
her afloat—if only Jack Huysen knew enough about sailing to get the boat
back speedily.  It was in vain to think of swimming with her to the
shore; the land was too far off; and the weight of her wet clothes was
increasing.  He looked after the boat; it seemed a terrible distance
away; but as far as he could make out—through the water that was
blinding his eyes—they had got her round into the wind again and were no
doubt trying to make for him.

Meanwhile, Jack Huysen had been so thunderstruck by what had occurred;
when his own carelessness or an awkward gust of wind had caused the
great boom to gybe, that for some seconds he seemed quite paralysed, and
of course all this time the little craft was swinging along before the
breeze.  The shrieks of the women bewildered him, moreover.  And then it
occurred to him that he must get back—somehow, anyhow; and more by
instinct than of knowledge he jammed down the helm, and rounded the boat
into the wind, where the big sail began to flop about with the loose
mainsheet dragging this way and that.  And then he set about trying
little experiments—and in a frantic nervousness all the same; he knew,
or he discovered, that he must needs get in the mainsheet; and
eventually the boat began to make uncertain progress—uncertain, because
he had been terrified, and was afraid to keep proper way on her, so that
she staggered up into the wind incessantly.  But this at all events kept
them near the course they had come; and from time to time she got ahead
a bit; and the women had ceased their shrieking, and had subsided, the
one into a terrified silence, the other into frantic weeping and
clasping of her hands.

’Can’t you—can’t you look out?  Why don’t you look out for them?’ he
cried, though he scarce knew what he said, so anxious was he about the
tiller and those puffs of wind that made the boat heel over whenever he
allowed the sail to fill.

And then there was a cry—from Mrs. Lalor.

’Look—look—this way—you’re going away from them.’

He could only judge by the direction of her gaze; he put the boat about.
She began to laugh, in a hysterical fashion.

’Oh yes, yes, we are getting nearer—we are getting nearer—he sees us—Em,
Em, look!—poor Carry!—Oh, quick, quick with the boat—quick, quick,
quick!’

But the wringing of her hands was of little avail; and indeed when they
did eventually draw cautiously close to the two people in the water, the
business of getting them dragged on board proved a difficult and anxious
matter, for the girl was quite unconscious and lay in their hands like a
corpse.  The young Doctor was very much exhausted too; but at least he
preserved his senses.  He sat down for a minute to recover his breath.

’Jack,’ he gasped, ’put my coat round her—wrap her warm—Mrs. Lalor, get
off her boots and stockings—chafe her feet and hands—quick.’

And then he rose and went to where she was lying and stooped over her.

’Yes, yes, her heart is beating—come away with that coat, man.’

But it was his own coat that Jack Huysen had quickly taken off; and when
Carry Hodson was wrapped in it, and when the women were doing what they
could to restore her circulation, he fetched the other coat for the
young Doctor, and made him put that on, though the latter declared he
was all right now.  And then the Doctor took the tiller, slacked out the
mainsheet, and once more they were running before the wind towards Fort
George.  Not a word had been said about the cause of the mishap or its
possible consequences.

These at first—and to Jack Huysen’s inexpressible joy—seemed to be
trivial enough.  Immediately she had recovered consciousness she sate
up, and began to say a few words—though with some difficulty; and
indeed, so brave was she, and so determined to do something to relieve
the obvious anxiety of these good friends of hers, that when at length
they reached the landing-stage and got ashore she declared that she was
quite recovered, that she could walk to the hotel as well as any of
them, that she had never felt better in her born days.  Nay, she made a
joke of the whole matter, and of her heavy skirts, and of the possible
contents of Jack Huysen’s coat-pockets; and when they did reach the
hotel, and when she had changed her wet garments, she came down again
looking perfectly well—if a little bit tired.

It was not until the afternoon that she began to complain of shiverings;
and then again, when dinner time arrived, Mrs. Lalor came down with the
message that Carry had a slight headache, and would rather remain in her
room.  Next morning, too, she thought she would rather not get up; she
had a slight cough, and her breathing was difficult; she had most relief
when she lay quite still.

’What does this mean, Tom?’ Jack Huysen said—and as if he feared the
answer.

’I hope it means nothing at all,’ was the reply; but the young Doctor
looked grave, and moved away, as if he did not wish to have any further
talking.

However, there was no perceptible change for the worse that day; and
Miss Carry, when she could speak at all, said that she was doing very
well, and implored them to go away on their usual excursions, and leave
her to herself. A servant might sit outside in the passage, she said; if
she wanted her, she could ring.  Of course, this only sufficed to set
Emma Kerfoot into a fit of weeping and sobbing—that Carry should think
them capable of any such heartlessness.

But on the following morning matters were much more serious.  She could
hardly speak at all; and when she did manage to utter a few panting
words she said it was a pain in her chest that was troubling her—not
much; no, no, not much, she said; she wished they would all go away and
amuse themselves; the pain would leave; she would be all right by and
by.

’Jack, look here,’ said the young Doctor, when they were together; ’I’m
afraid this is pneumonia—and a sharp attack too.’

’Is it dangerous?’ Huysen said quickly, and with rather a pale face.

The answer to this was another question;

’She left her mother at home, didn’t she?’

’Yes,’ said he breathlessly.  ’Do you want to send for her?  But that
would be no use.  Her mother could not travel just now; she’s too much
of an invalid; why, it was she who sent Carry away on this holiday.’

’Her father, then?’

’Why, yes, he’s at home just now.  Shall I telegraph for him?’

’No—not yet—I don’t want to frighten her.  We’ll see in the morning.’

But long before the morning came they discovered how things were going
with her.  Late that night Mrs. Lalor, who had undertaken to sit up till
her sister should come to relieve her, stole noiselessly along to the
room of the latter and woke her.

’Em, darling, who is Ronald?’ she whispered.

’Ronald?  I don’t know,’ was the answer—for she was still somewhat
confused.

’Carry is asking that one Ronald should be sent for—do come and see her,
Em—I think she’s wandering a little—she says there’s never any luck in
the boat except when Ronald is in it—I don’t understand it at all——’

’But I do—I do now,’ said the girl, as she hastily got up and put a
dressing-gown and some wraps around her.

’And you’ll have to send for the Doctor at once, Mary—he said he would
not be in bed till two.  She must be in a fever—that’s delirium—if she
thinks she is in the Highlands again.’

And delirium it was, though of no violent kind.  No, she lay quite
placidly; and it was only at times that she uttered a few indistinct
words; but those around her now perceived that her brain had mixed up
this Lake George with that other Scotch lake they had heard of, and they
guessed that it was about salmon-fishing she was thinking when she said
that it was Ronald that always brought good luck to the boat.



                              *CHAPTER X.*

                             *A CHALLENGE.*


On the evening of the day on which Agatha Gemmill had made her
portentous discovery about the secret interviews between her sister and
Ronald, Mr. Gemmill—a little, red-headed man with shrewd blue eyes—came
home in very good spirits.

’Look here, Aggie—here’s an invitation for you,’ he was beginning—when
he saw-that something was wrong. ’What is it now?’ he asked.

And then the story was told him—and not without a touch of indignation
in the telling.  But Mr. Gemmill did not seem so horror-stricken as his
wife had expected; she began to emphasise the various points; and was
inclined to be angry with him for his coolness.

’Girls often have fancies like that—you know well enough, Agatha,’ he
said.  ’All you have to do is to take a gentle way with her, and talk
common sense to her, and it will be all right.  If you make a row, you
will only drive her into obstinacy.  She will listen to reason; she’s
not a fool; if you take a quiet and gentle way with her——’

’A quiet and gentle way!’ his wife exclaimed.  ’I will take no way with
her at all—not I!  I’m not going to have any responsibility of the kind.
Back she goes to the Highlands at once—that’s all the way I mean to take
with her.  See, there’s a letter I’ve written to mother.’

’Then you mean to make a hash of this affair amongst you,’ said he, with
calm resignation.  ’You will merely drive the girl into a corner; and
her pride will keep her there——’

’Oh yes, men always think that women are so easily persuaded,’ his wife
broke in.  ’Perhaps you would like to try arguing with her yourself?
But, any way, I wash my hands of the whole matter.  I shall have her
packed off home at once.’

’I don’t think you will,’ the husband said quietly. ’I was going to tell
you: the Lauders are giving a big dinner-party on the 27th—that is a
fortnight hence; and here is an invitation for the three of us; and
Frank Lauder as good as admitted this morning that the thing was got up
for the very purpose of introducing Meenie to the old folk. Well, then,
I have already written and accepted; and I will tell you this—I’m not
going to offend the old gentleman just because you choose to quarrel
with your sister.’

’Quarrel?’ she retorted.  ’Oh yes—she never can do any wrong.  She has
made a fool of you with her pretty eyes—as she does to every man that
comes to the house. Why, they’re like a set of great babies when she’s
in the room; and you would think from the way they go on that she was
the Queen of Sheba—instead of the ill-tempered little brat she is.’

But Mrs. Gemmill was a sensible woman too.

’Of course we can’t offend the old people.  She’ll have to stay.  But as
soon as that is over, off she goes to the Highlands again; and there she
can stop until she has recovered her senses.’

However, this invitation was but an additional grievance. She went with
it at once to Meenie’s room.

’Look at that.  Read that.’

The girl glanced at the formal note—with no great interest.

’Do you know what that means?  That was meant to introduce you to Frank
Lauder’s family and friends.’

’I do not wish to go,’ Meenie said perversely.

’But you’ll have to go, for we have accepted for you. We can’t offend
and insult people simply because you are bent on making a fool of
yourself.  But this is what I want to say: I had intended sending you
back to Inver-Mudal at once; but now you will have to stay with us
another fortnight.  Very well, during that time I forbid you to have any
communication with that man, of any kind whatever—do you hear?’

She sate silent.

’Do you hear?’

’Yes, I hear,’ she said.

’Well?’

’Very well.’

’But it is not very well,’ the elder sister said angrily. ’I want to
know what you mean to do.’

The answer was given with perfect calmness.

’I mean to do precisely as I have been doing.  I am not ashamed of
anything I have done.’

’What?  You are not ashamed?  Do you mean to tell me that you will keep
on meeting that man—in the public streets—making a spectacle of yourself
in the streets of Glasgow—and bringing disgrace on yourself and your
family?’

’You are talking like a mad woman,’ Meenie said proudly.

’You will see whether I act like one.  I say you shall not be allowed to
misconduct yourself while you are under this roof—that I will make sure
of.’

’What will you do?’ the girl said, in a strangely taunting tone: indeed,
one could scarcely have believed that this was Meenie that was speaking.
’Lock me up in my room? They only do that in books.  Besides, Mr.
Gemmill would prevent your doing anything so ridiculous.’

’Oh, it’s he that would come to let you out?’ the elder sister said.
’You’ve discovered that, have you?  What more, I wonder!’

But here the scene, which threatened to become more and more stormy,
came to a sudden end.  There was a sharp call from below—Mr. Gemmill
having doubtless overheard some of these wild words.

’Agatha, come downstairs at once!’

So the girl was left once more alone—proud and pale and trembling a
little, but with her mind more obdurate than ever.  Nor would she go
down to supper that night. Mr. Gemmill went twice to the door of her
room (his wife would not budge a foot) and begged her to come
downstairs. The first time she said she did not wish for any supper.
The second time she said that if her conduct had been so disgraceful she
was not fit to associate with his family.  And so, being by nature a
kindly-hearted man, he went away and got some food for her, and carried
the little tray to her room with his own hands—a proceeding that only
made his wife the angrier.  Why should she be spoilt and petted with
such foolish indulgence?  Starvation was the best cure for her pride.
But of course he was like the rest of the men—made simpletons of by a
pair of girl’s gray eyes.

Alas! all her pride and courage went from her in the long dark hours of
the night, and her sister’s threats assumed a more definite and terrible
meaning.  It was true she had a fortnight’s respite—during that
fortnight she was her own mistress and could do as she pleased—but
after?  Would she be shut up in that little hamlet in the northern
wilds, with absolutely no means of learning anything about Ronald, not
permitted to mention his name, cut off from him as though he were in
another world?  She saw month after month go by—or year after year
even—with no word or message coming to keep alive the fond hope in her
breast.  He might even be dead without her knowing.  And how all too
short this fortnight seemed, during which she might still have some
chance of seeing him and gaining from him some assurance with regard to
a future that looked more than ever uncertain and vague.

The next day it had been arranged between them that they were not to
meet, for he was to be at home all that day and busy; but her anxiety
was too great; she resolved to go to his lodgings and ask for him.  She
had never done that before; but now the crisis was too serious to let
her heed what any one might say—indeed she did not think for a moment
about it.  So all the morning she went about the house, performing such
small duties as had been entrusted to her, and wondering when the heavy
rain would leave off.  At last, about noon, when the dismal skies gave
no sign of clearing, she got her ulster and deerstalker’s cap, put on a
thick pair of boots, and, armed with a stout umbrella, went out into the
black and dripping world.  No one had attempted to hinder her.

And yet it was with some curious sense of shame that she timidly rang
the bell when she reached these obscure lodgings.  The door was in a
dusky entry; the landlady who answered the summons did not notice how
the girl’s cheeks were unusually flushed when she asked if Mr. Ronald
Strang were at home.

’Yes, he is,’ the woman said; and then she hesitated, apparently not
quite knowing whether she should ask the young lady to step within or
not.

’Will you tell him that I should like to see him for a moment—here!’ she
said.

In less than a minute Ronald was with her—and he had brought his cap in
his hand; for he had guessed who this was; and instinctively he knew
that he could not ask her to come within doors.  But when she said she
had something to say to him, and turned to face the dismal day outside,
he could not but glance at the swimming pavements and the murky
atmosphere.

’On such a morning, Meenie—

’Oh, but I am well wrapped up,’ she said, quite happily—for the mere
sight of him had restored her courage, ’and you shall have the
umbrella—yes—I insist—take it—well, then, I ask you to take it as a
favour, for I am not going to have you get wet on my account.’

Of course he took the umbrella—to hold over her; and so they went out
into the wet streets.

’I am so glad to see you, Ronald,’ she said, looking up with a face that
told its own story of joy and confidence; ’don’t blame me; I have been
miserable; I could not help coming to ask you for a little—a little
comfort, I think, and hope——’

’But what have you been doing to your eyes, Meenie, darling?  What kind
of a look is that in them?’

’Well, I cried all last night—all the night through, I believe,’ said
she simply; but there was no more crying in her eyes, only light and
love and gladness.  ’And now, the moment I see you I think I must have
been so foolish.  The moment I see you everything seems right; I am no
longer afraid; my heart is quite light and hopeful again.’

’Ay, and what has been frightening you, then?’

And then she told him all the story—as they walked along the wet
pavements, with the bedraggled passers-by hurrying through the rain, and
the tramway-cars and omnibuses and carts and cabs keeping up their
unceasing roar.  But Agatha’s threats were no longer so terrible to
her—now that she had hold of Ronald’s arm; she glanced up at him from
time to time with eyes full of courage and confidence; a single glimpse
of him had driven away all these dire spectres and phantoms.  Indeed, if
the truth were known, it was he who was most inclined to take this news
seriously; though, of course, he did not show that to her.  No; he
affected to laugh at the idea that they could be kept from communicating
with each other; if she were to be sent back to Inver-Mudal, he said,
that was only anticipating what must have happened in any case; it would
no doubt be a pity to miss these few stolen minutes from time to time;
but would not that be merely a spur to further and constant exertion?

’Ay, lass,’ said he, ’if I could have any reasonable and fair prospect
to put before them, I would just go to your friends at once; but all the
wishing in the world, and all the work in the world, will not make next
spring come any the quicker; and until I’m a certificated forester I’m
loth to bother Lord Ailine, or anybody else, about a place.  But what o’
that?  It’s not a long time; and unless Mr. Weems is making a desperate
fool o’ me, I’ve a good chance; and Lord Ailine will do his best for me
among his friends, that I know well.  In the meantime, if they will not
let you write to me——’

’But, Ronald, how can they help my writing to you, or coming to see you,
if I wish?’

’I was not thinking of your sister and her folk,’ he answered—and he
spoke rather gravely.  ’I was thinking of your father and mother.  Well,
it is not a nice thing for a young lass to be in opposition to her own
folk; it’s a sore trouble to both sides; and though she may be brave
enough at first, time will tell on her—especially when she sees her own
father and mother suffering through her defiance of them.’

’Then I am not to write to you, Ronald, if they say no?’ she asked
quickly, and with her face grown anxious again.

Well, it was a difficult question to answer off-hand; and the noise in
the streets bothered him; and he was terribly troubled about Meenie
having to walk through the rain and mud.

’Will you do this for me, Meenie?’ he said.  ’I cannot bear to have ye
getting wet like this.  If we were to get into an omnibus, now, and go
down the town, I know a restaurant where we could go in and have a
comfortable corner, and be able to talk in peace and quiet.  You and I
have never broken bread together, quite by ourselves. Will you do that?’

She did not hesitate for a moment.

’Yes—if you think so—if you wish it,’ she said.

And so they went down to the restaurant, which was rather a big place,
cut into small compartments; and one of these they had to themselves,
for it was but half-past twelve as yet; and by and by a frugal little
lunch was before them.  The novelty of the situation was so amusing—to
Meenie at least—that for a time it drove graver thoughts away
altogether.  She acted as mistress of the feast; and would insist on his
having this or that; and wondered that he had never even tasted
Worcester sauce; and was altogether tenderly solicitous about him;
whereas he, on the other hand, wished not to be bothered by any of these
things, and wanted only to know what Meenie meant to do when she went
back to Inver-Mudal.

’But you must tell me what you would have me do,’ she said timidly.

’Well, I don’t want you to quarrel with your mother and father on my
account, and be living in constant wretchedness.  If they say you are
not to write to me, don’t write——’

’But you said a little while ago there would be no difficulty in our
hearing from each other,’ she said, with wide open eyes.

’I have been thinking about it, good lass,’ said he, ’and I don’t want
you to anger your folk and have a heavy heart in consequence.  In the
meantime you must look to them—you must do what they say.  By and by it
may be different; in the meantime I don’t want you to get into
trouble——’

’Then it’s little you know how this will end, Ronald,’ she said, rather
sadly.  ’I have thought over it more than you have.  If I go back to
Inver-Mudal prepared to do everything they wish me to do—I mean my
mother, not my father, for I don’t know what he might say—then it isn’t
only that you will never hear from me, and that I shall never hear a
word from you; there’s more than that: I shall never see you again in
this world.’

He turned very pale; and, scarcely knowing what he did, he stretched his
hand over the narrow little table, and seized her hand, and held it
firm.

’I will not let you go, then.  I will keep you here in Glasgow, with me,
Meenie.  Do you think I can let you go away for ever?  For you are mine.
I don’t care who says ay or no; you are mine; my own true-hearted girl;
the man or woman is not born that will sunder us two.’

Of course he had to speak in a low tone; but the grip of his hand was
sufficient emphasis.  And then he said, regarding her earnestly and yet
half-hesitatingly—

’There is one way that would give you the right to judge what was best
for yourself—that would give you the right to act or say what you
pleased—even to leave your father’s house, if that was necessary.  Will
you become my wife, Meenie, before you go back to Inver-Mudal?’

She started, as well she might; but he held her hand firm.

’The thing is simple.  There is my brother the minister. We could walk
over to his house, go through the ceremony in a few minutes, and you
could go back to your sister’s, and no one be a bit the wiser.  And then
surely you would be less anxious about the future; and if you thought it
right to send me a letter, you would be your own mistress as to that—

’It’s a terrible thing, Ronald!’

’I don’t see that, Meenie, dear; I’ve heard of more than one young
couple taking their fate in their own hand that way.  And there’s one
thing about it—it "maks sikker."’

They had some anxious talk over this sudden project—he eager, she
frightened—until the restaurant began to get crowded with its usual
middle-day customers.  Then Ronald paid his modest score, and they left;
and now, as they made away for the western districts of the city, the
day was clearing up somewhat, and at times a pale silvery gleam shone
along the wet pavements.  And still Meenie was undecided; and sometimes
she would timidly steal a glance at him, as if to assure herself and
gain courage; and sometimes she would wistfully look away along this
busy Sauchiehall Street, as if her future and all the coming years were
somehow at the end of it.  As for him, now that he had hit upon this
daring project, he was eager in defence of it; and urged her to give her
consent there and then; and laboured to prove to her how much happier
she would be at Inver-Mudal—no matter what silence or space of time
might interpose between them—with the knowledge that this indissoluble
bond united them.  Meenie remained silent for the most part, with
wistful eyes; but she clung to his arm as if for protection; and they
did not hasten their steps on their homeward way.

When they parted she had neither said yes nor no; but she had promised
to write to him that night, and let him know her decision.  And in the
morning, he got this brief message—the handwriting was not a little
shaky, but he had scarcely time to notice that, so rapid was the glance
he threw over the trembling lines:—


’DEAR RONALD—If it can be done quite, quite secretly—yes.  L.M.’


The signature, it may be explained, consisted of the initials of a pet
name that he had bestowed on her.  She had found it first of all in some
of those idle verses that he now copied out for her from time to time;
and she had asked him how he had dared to address her in that way, while
as yet they were but the merest acquaintances. However, she did not seem
very angry.



                             *CHAPTER XI.*

                              *A WEDDING.*


This golden-radiant city of Glasgow!—with its thousand thousand
activities all awakening to join the noise and din of the joyous
morning, and its over-arching skies full of a white light of hope and
gladness and fair assurance of the future.  The clerks and warehousemen
were hurrying by to their desks and counters; work-folk were leisurely
getting home for their well-earned breakfast; smart young men and
slim-waisted women were already setting the shop windows to rights;
great lorries were clattering their loads of long iron bars through the
crowded streets; and omnibuses and tramway-cars and railway-trains were
bringing in from all points of the compass their humming freight of
eager human bees to this mighty and dusky hive.  But dusky it did not
appear to him, as he was speedily making his way across the town towards
his brother’s house.  It was all transfigured and glorified—the
interminable thoroughfares, the sky-piercing chimneys, the masses of
warehouses, the overhead network of telegraph-lines, the red-funnelled
steamers moving slowly away through the pale blue mist of the
Broomielaw: all these were spectral in a strange kind of way, and yet
beautiful; and he could not but think that the great mass of this busy
multitude was well content with the pleasant morning, and the nebulous
pale-golden sunlight, and the glimpses of long cirrus cloud hanging far
above the city’s smoke.  For the moment he had ceased to hang his
happiness on the chance of his succeeding with the Highland and
Agricultural Society.  Something far more important—and wonderful—was
about to happen.  He was about to secure Meenie to himself for ever and
ever.  Not a certificate in forestry, but Meenie’s marriage-lines—that
was what would be in his pocket soon!  And after?—well, the long months,
or even years, might have to go by; and she might be far enough away
from him, and condemned to silence—but she would be his wife.

And then, just as he had reached the south side of the river, he
paused—paused abruptly, as if he had been struck. For it had suddenly
occurred to him that perhaps, after all, this fine project was not
feasible.  He had been all intent on gaining Meenie’s acquiescence; and,
having got that, had thought of nothing but winning over the Reverend
Andrew into being an accomplice; but now he was quickly brought up by
this unforeseen obstacle—could Meenie, not being yet twenty-one, go
through even this formal ceremony without the consent of her parents?
It seemed to him that she could not—from his reading of books.  He knew
nothing of the marriage law of Scotland; but it appeared to him, from
what he could recollect of his reading, that a girl under twenty-one
could not marry without her parents’ consent.  And this was but the
letting in of waters. There were all kinds of other things—the necessity
of having lived a certain time in this or that parish; the proclamation
of banns—which would be merely an invitation to her relatives to
interfere; and so on.  He resumed his walk; but with less of gay
assurance.  He could only endeavour to fortify himself with the
reflection that in the one or two instances of which he had heard of
this very thing being done the young people had been completely
successful and had kept their secret until they judged the time fitting
for the disclosing of it.

When he reached his brother’s house, the Reverend Andrew was in his
study, engaged in the composition of the following Sunday’s sermon; he
was seated at a little table near the fire; a pot of tea on the
chimney-piece; a large Bible and Cruden’s Concordance lying open on the
sofa beside him.  The heavy, bilious-hued man rose leisurely, and rubbed
his purplish hands, and put them underneath his coat-tails, as he turned
his back to the fire, and stood on the hearth-rug, regarding his
brother.

’Well, Ronald, lad, ye’re not frightened for a cold morning, to come out
with a jacket like that.’

’The morning’s well enough,’ said Ronald briefly; and forthwith he laid
before his brother the errand on which he had come, and besought his
assistance, if that were practicable.  He told the story simply and
concisely; not pleading any justification; but rather leaving the facts
to speak for themselves.  And would his brother help?—in other words,
supposing there were no other obstacle in the way, would Andrew perform
this ceremony for them, and so render their future proof against all
contingencies?  He was not asked for any advice; he was not asked to
assume any responsibility; would he merely exercise this clerical
function of his on their behalf—seeing how urgent matters were?

The Reverend Andrew was very much puzzled, not to say perturbed.  He
began to walk up and down the room; his head bent forward, his hands
still underneath his coat-tails.

’You put me in a box, Ronald, and that’s a fact,’ said he.  ’I’m
thinking my wishes as a brother will be for setting themselves up
against my duty as a minister of the Gospel.  For I dare not counsel any
young girl to defy the authority of her own people——’

’She has not asked you for any counsel,’ Ronald said curtly.  ’And
besides we don’t know what the authority might be.  I dare say, if her
father knew all the circumstances, he would be on our side; and I
suppose he has as much right to speak as her little spitfire of a
mother.’

This was hard on Mrs. Douglas, who had always treated Ronald with
courtesy—if of a lofty and distant kind; but impetuous young people,
when their own interests are at stake, are seldom just to their elders.
However, the Reverend Andrew now began to say that, if he were
altogether an outsider, nothing would give him greater pleasure than to
see this wish of his brother’s accomplished.  He had observed much, he
said; he had heard more; he knew the saving influence that this girl had
exercised on Ronald’s life; he could pray for nothing better than that
these two should be joined in lawful bonds, towards the strengthening of
each other, and the establishment of a mutual hope and trust.

’But it would never do for me to be mixed up in it, Ronald,’ he
continued.  ’When it came to be known, think of what ill-minded folk
might say.  I must have regard to my congregation as well as to myself;
and what if they were to accuse me of taking part in a conspiracy?’

’A conspiracy?’ Ronald repeated sharply.  ’What kind of a conspiracy?
To steal away a rich heiress—is that it?  God bless me, the lass has
nothing beyond what she stands up in!  There’s the sealskin coat
Glengask gave her; they can have that back, and welcome.  What
conspiracy would ye make out?’

’No, no, lad; I’m thinking what ill tongues might say.’

’Let them lick their own venom till they rot!  What care I?’

’Yes, yes, yes, lad; but ye’re not a placed minister; ye’ve but yourself
and her to think of.  Now, just wait a bit.’

He had gone back to his chair by the fire, and was seated there, staring
into the red coals.

’I suppose you’ve heard of Dugald Mannering, of Airdrie?’ he said, at
length.

’Yes, indeed,’ was the answer.  ’Meenie—that is—Miss Douglas and I went
to hear him the Sunday before last, but there was not a seat to be got
anywhere—no, nor standing-room either.’

This Mr. Mannering was a young divine of the U.P. Church who had an
extraordinary popularity at this time among the young people of the
south of Scotland, and especially the young people of Glasgow, and that
from a variety of causes.  He was a singularly eloquent
preacher—flowing, ornate, and poetical; he was entirely unconventional,
not to say daring, in his choice of subjects; his quotations were as
commonly from Shakespeare and Coleridge and Byron and Browning as from
the usual pulpit authorities; he was exceedingly handsome, and rather
delicate-looking—pale and large-eyed and long-haired; and he had refused
the most flattering offers—’calls’ is the proper word—from various
west-end congregations of Glasgow, because he considered it his duty to
remain among the mining-folk of Airdrie.  When he did accept an
invitation to preach in this or that city church, the young people from
far and near came flocking to hear him; and a good many of their elders
too, though these were not without certain prickings of conscience as to
the propriety of devoting the Lord’s day to what was remarkably like a
revel in pure literature.

’Dugald’s coming over here this afternoon,’ the elder brother continued,
as if he were communing with himself. ’He’s an enthusiastic kind of
fellow—he’ll stick at nothing, if he thinks it’s right.  I wish, now, I
had that portrait—but Maggie’s away to school by this time——’

’What portrait?’ Ronald asked.

The Reverend Andrew did not answer, but rose, and slowly and
thoughtfully left the room.  When he came back he had in his hand a
photograph of Meenie framed in a little frame of crimson velvet, and
that he put on the table: Ronald recognised it swiftly enough.

’He has got an eye for a handsome young lass, has Dugald,’ the minister
said shrewdly.  ’I’ll just have that lying about, as it were.  Ay, it’s
a straightforward, frank face, that; and one that has nothing to hide.
I’ll just have it lying about when Dugald comes over this afternoon, and
see if he doesna pick it up and have a good look at it.’

’But what mean ye, Andrew?’ his brother said.

’Why, then, lad, I think I’ll just tell Dugald the whole story; and if
he’s not as hot-headed as any of ye to carry the thing through, I’ll be
surprised.  And I suppose if he marries ye, that’s just as good as any
one else?—for to tell you the truth, Ronald, I would rather not be mixed
up in it myself.’

’And the banns?’ said Ronald quickly.  ’And the length of time in the
parish?  And the consent of her mother and father?’

The minister waved his hand with a superior air; these were trivial
things, not to say popular errors; what had been of real consequence was
the extent to which he dared implicate himself.

’I will not say,’ he observed slowly, ’that I might not, in other
circumstances, have preferred the publication of banns.  It would have
been more in order, and more seemly; for I do not like the interference
of the secular arm in what should be a solely sacred office.  Besides
that, there is even a premium put on publicity, as is right; five
shillings for the one proclamation, but only half-a-crown if you have
them proclaimed two following Sundays.  Well, well, we mustn’t complain;
I see sufficient reason; from all I can learn—and you were ever a
truth-teller, Ronald, in season and out of season, as well I mind—it
seems to me you are fulfilling the laws of God, and breaking none of
man’s making; so just you go to the Registrar of the parish, and give
him the particulars, and deposit a half-crown as the worthy man’s fee,
and then, eight days hence, you call on him again, and he’ll give you a
certificate entitling you to be married in any house or church in the
Kingdom of Scotland.  And if there’s no other place handy, ye’re welcome
to the room you’re standing in at this minute; though I would as lief
have the marriage take place anywhere else, and that’s the truth,
Ronald; for although I can defend what little I have done to my own
conscience, I’m no sure I should like to stand against the
clishmaclavers of a lot of old wives.’

’Where am I to find the Registrar, Andrew?’ he asked: he was a little
bewildered by the rapidity with which this crisis seemed approaching.

’I suppose you’ve a good Scotch tongue in your head, and can ask for the
loan of a Directory,’ was the laconic answer.  The Reverend Andrew had
taken up the photograph again, and was regarding it.  ’An honest, sweet
face; as pretty a lass as ever a man was asked to work and strive for
and to win.  Well, I do not wonder, Ronald, lad—with such a prize before
you——  But off you go now, for I must get to my work again; and if you
come over and have a cup of tea in the afternoon, between four and five,
I suppose Dugald Mannering will be here, and maybe ye’ll be the best
hand to explain the whole situation of affairs.’

And so Ronald left to seek out the Registrar; and as he went away
through the busy and sunlit streets, he was asking himself if there was
not one of all those people who could guess the secret that he carried
with him in his bosom, and that kept his heart warm there.

The Rev. Dugald Mannering, as it turned out, was not nearly so eager and
enthusiastic as Ronald’s brother had prophesied; for it behoves a
youthful divine to maintain a serious and deliberative countenance, when
weighty matters are put before him for judgment.  But afterwards, when
the two young men were together walking away home through the dusky
streets of Glasgow, the U.P. minister became much more frank and
friendly and communicative.

’I see your brother’s position well enough, Mr. Strang,’ said he.  ’I
can understand his diffidence; and it is but right that he should be
anxious not to give the envious and ill-natured a chance of talking.  He
is willing to let the ceremony take place in his house, because you are
his brother.  If I were you, I would rather have it take place anywhere
else—both as being fairer to him, and as being more likely to ensure
secrecy, which you seem to think necessary.’

Ronald’s face burned red: should he have to ask Meenie to come to his
humble lodgings, with the wondering, and perhaps discontented and
suspicious, landlady, as sole on-looker?

’Well, now,’ the young preacher continued, ’when I come to Glasgow,
there are two old maiden aunts of mine who are good enough to put me up.
They live in Rose Street, Garnethill; and they’re very kind old people.
Now I shouldn’t wonder at all if they took it into their head to
befriend the young lady on this occasion—I mean, if you will allow me to
mention the circumstances to them; indeed, I am sure they would;
probably they would be delighted; indeed I can imagine their
experiencing a fearful joy on finding this piece of romance suddenly
tumbling into the middle of their prim and methodical lives.  The dear
old creatures!—I will answer for them.  I will talk to them as soon as I
get home now.  And do you think you could persuade Miss Douglas to call
on them?’

Ronald hesitated.

’If they were to send her a message, perhaps——’

’When are you likely to see her?’

’To-morrow morning, at eleven,’ he said promptly.

’Very well.  I will get one of the old ladies to write a little note to
Miss Douglas; and I will post it to you to-night; and to-morrow morning,
if she is so inclined, bring her along and introduce yourself and
her—will you?  I shall be there, so there won’t be any awkwardness; and
I would not hurry you, but I’ve to get back to Airdrie to-morrow
afternoon.  Is it a bargain?’

’So far as I am concerned—yes; and many thanks to ye,’ Ronald said, as
he bade his companion good-bye and went away home to his solitary
lodgings.

But when, the next morning, in Randolph Terrace—and after he had rapidly
told her all that had happened—he suggested that she should there and
then go along and call on the Misses Mannering, Meenie started back in a
kind of fright, and a flush of embarrassment overspread her face. And
why—why—he asked, in wonder.

’Oh, Ronald,’ she said, glancing hurriedly at her costume, ’these—these
are the first of your friends you have asked me to go to see, and do you
think I could go like _this_?’

’_This_’ meant that she had on a plain and serviceable ulster, a smart
little hat with a ptarmigan’s wing on it, a pair of not over-new gloves,
and so forth.  Ronald was amazed.  He considered that Meenie was always
a wonder of neatness and symmetry, no matter how she was attired.  And
to think that any one might find fault with her!

’Besides, they’re not my friends,’ he exclaimed.  ’I never saw them in
my life.’

’They know who your brother is,’ she said.  ’Do you think I would give
any one occasion to say you were marrying a slattern?  Just look.’

She held out her hands; the gloves were certainly worn.

’Take them off, and show them the prettiest-shaped hands in Glasgow
town,’ said he.

’And my hair—I know it is all rough and untidy—isn’t it now?’ she said,
feeling about the rim of her hat.

’Well, it is a little,’ he confessed, ’only it’s far prettier that way
than any other.’

’Ronald,’she pleaded, ’some other time—on Friday morning—will Friday
morning do?’

’Oh, I know what you want,’ said he.  ’You want to go and get on your
sealskin coat and your velvet hat and a new pair of gloves and all the
rest; and do you know what the old ladies are like to say when they see
you?—they’ll say, "Here’s a swell young madam to be thinking of marrying
a man that may have but a couple o’ pounds a week or so at first to keep
house on."’

’Oh, will they think that?’ she said quickly.  ’Well, I’ll—I’ll go now,
Ronald—but please make my hair smooth behind—and is my collar all
right?’

And yet it was not such a very dreadful interview, after all; for the
two old dames made a mighty fuss over this pretty young creature; and
vied with each other in petting her, and cheering her, and counselling
her; and when the great event was spoken of in which they also were to
play a part they affected to talk in a lower tone of voice, as if it
were something mysterious and tragic and demanding the greatest caution
and circumspection.  As for the young minister, he sate rather apart,
and allowed his large soft eyes to dwell upon Meenie, with something of
wistfulness in his look.  He could do so with impunity, in truth, for
the old ladies entirely monopolised her.  They patted her on the
shoulder, to give her courage; they spoke as if they themselves had gone
through the wedding ceremony a hundred times.  Was she sure she would
rather have no other witnesses?  Would she stand up at the head of the
room now, and they would show her all she would have to do? And they
stroked her hand; and purred about her; and were mysteriously elated
over their share in this romantic business; insomuch that they
altogether forgot Ronald—who was left to talk politics with the
absent-eyed young parson.

Between this interview and the formal wedding a whole week had to
elapse; and during that time Agatha Gemmill saw fit to deal in quite a
different way with her sister.  She was trying reason now, and
persuasion, and entreaty; and that at least was more agreeable to Meenie
than being driven into a position of angry antagonism.  Moreover, Meenie
did not seek to vaunt her self-will and independence too openly.  Her
meetings with Ronald were few; and she made no ostentatious parade of
them.  She was civil to Mr. Frank Lauder when he came to the house.
Indeed, Mr. Gemmill, who arrogated to himself the success of this milder
method of treating the girl, was bold enough to declare that everything
was going on well; Meenie had as much common sense as most folk; she was
not likely to throw herself away; and when once she had seen old Mr.
Lauder’s spacious mansion, and picture galleries, and what not, and
observed the style in which the family lived, he made do doubt but that
they would soon have to welcome Frank Lauder as a brother-in-law.

Trembling, flushed at times, and pale at others, and clinging nervously
to Ronald’s arm, Meenie made her way up this cold stone staircase in
Garnethill, and breathless and agitated she stood on the landing, while
he rang the bell.

’Oh, Ronald, I hope I am doing right,’ she murmured.

’We will let the future be the judge of that, my good girl,’ he said,
with modest confidence.

The old dames almost smothered her with their attentions and kindness;
and they had a bouquet for her—all in white, as became a bride; and they
had prepared other little nick-nacks for her adornment, so that they had
to carry her off to their own room, for the donning of these. And when
they brought her back—rose-red she was, and timid, and trembling—each of
them had one of her hands, as if she was to be their gift to give away;
and very important and mysterious were they about the shutting of the
doors, and the conducting the conversation in whispers. Then the
minister came forward, and showed them with a little gesture of his hand
where they should stand before him.

The ceremonial of a Scotch wedding is of the simplest; but the address
to the young people thus entering life together may be just anything you
please.  And in truth there was a good deal more of poetry than of
theology in these mellifluent sentences of the Rev. Mr. Mannering’s, as
he spoke of the obligations incurred by two young folk separating
themselves from all others and resolved upon going through the world’s
joys and sorrows always side by side; and the old dames were much
affected; and when he went on to quote the verses

_’And on her lover’s arm she leant,_
  _And round her waist she felt it fold,_
_And far across the hills they went_
  _In that new world which is the old,’_

they never thought of asking whether the lines were quite apposite; they
were sobbing unaffectedly and profusely; and Meenie’s eyes were rather
wet too.  And then, when it was all over, they caught her to their arms
as if she had been their own; and would lead her to the sofa, and
overwhelm her with all kinds of little attentions and caresses. Cake and
wine, too—of course she must have some cake and wine!

’Should I, Ronald?’ she said, looking up, with her eyes all wet and
shining and laughing: it was her first appeal to the authority of her
husband.

’As you like—as you like, surely.’

But when they came to him he gently refused.

’Not on your wedding day!’ the old ladies exclaimed—and then he raised
the glass to his lips; and they did not notice that he had not touched
it when he put it down again.

And so these two were married now—whatever the future might have in
store for them; and in a brief space of time—as soon, indeed, as she
could tear herself away from these kind friends, she had dispossessed
herself of her little bits of bridal finery; and had bade a long and
lingering good-bye to Ronald; and was stealing back to her sister’s
house.



                             *CHAPTER XII.*

                          *IN DARKENED WAYS.*


It was with feelings not to be envied that Jack Huysen stalked up and
down the verandah in front of this Fort George hotel, or haunted the
long, echoing corridors, eager to question any one who had access to the
sick room.  All the mischief seemed to be of his doing; all the help and
counsel and direction in this time of distress seemed to be afforded by
his friend Tilley.  It was he—that is, Huysen—whose carelessness had led
to the boating catastrophe; it was the young Doctor who had plunged into
the lake and saved Carry’s life.  Not only that, but it was on his
shoulders that there now seemed to rest the burden of saving her a
second time; for she had gone from bad to worse; the fever had increased
rapidly; and while Doctor Tilley was here, there, and everywhere in his
quiet but persistent activity, taking elaborate precautions about the
temperature of the room, instructing the two trained nurses whom he had
telegraphed for from New York, and pacifying the mental vagaries of the
patient as best he might, what could Jack Huysen do but wander about
like an uneasy spirit, accusing himself of having wrought all this evil,
and desperately conscious that he could be of no use whatever in
mitigating its results.

She was not always delirious.  For the most part she lay moaning
slightly, breathing with the greatest difficulty, and complaining of
that constant pain in her chest; while her high pulse and temperature
told how the fever was rather gaining upon her than abating.  But then
again, at times, her face would grow flushed; and the beautiful soft
black eyes would grow strangely bright; and she would talk in panting
whispers, in an eager kind of way, and as if she had some secret to
tell.  And always the same delusion occupied her mind—that this was Loch
Naver; that they had got into trouble somehow, because Ronald was not in
the boat; that they had sent for Ronald, but he had gone away; and so
forth.  And sometimes she uttered bitter reproaches; Ronald had been
ill-treated by some one; nay, she herself had been to blame; and who was
to make up to him for what he had suffered at her hands?

’Not that he cared,’ she said, rather proudly and contemptuously, one
hushed evening that the Doctor was trying to soothe her into quietude.
’No, no.  Ronald care what a conceited scribbling schoolboy said about
him? No!  I should think not.  Perhaps he never knew—indeed, I think he
never knew.  He never knew that all our friends in Chicago were asked to
look on and see him lectured, and patronised, and examined.  Oh! so
clever the newspaper-writer was—with his airs of criticism and
patronage! But the coward that he was—the coward—to strike in the
dark—to sit in his little den and strike in the dark!  Why didn’t Jack
Huysen drag him out?  Why didn’t he make him sign his name, that we
could tell who this was with his braggart airs?  The coward!  Why,
Ronald would have felled him!  No! no!  He would not have looked the way
the poor pretentious fool was going.  He would have laughed.  Doctor, do
you know who he was?  Did you ever meet him?’

’But who, Miss Carry?’ he said, as he patted her hot hand.

She looked at him wonderingly.

’Why, don’t you know?  Did you never hear?  The miserable creature that
was allowed to speak ill of our Ronald.  Ah! do you think I have
forgotten?  Does Jack Huysen think I have forgotten?  No, I will not
forget—you can tell him, I will not forget—I will not forget—I will not
forget—’

She was growing more and more vehement; and to pacify her he had to
assure her that he himself would see this matter put straight; and that
it was all right, and that ample amends would be made.

Of course, he paid no great attention to these delirious wanderings; but
that same evening, when he had gone into the smoking-room to report to
Jack Huysen how things were going, this complaint of Miss Carry’s
happened to recur to his mind.

’Look here, Jack, what’s this that she’s always talking about—seems to
worry her a good deal—some newspaper article—and you’re mixed up in it,
too—something you appear to have said or done about that fellow her
father took such a fancy for—I mean, when they were in Scotland——’

’Oh, I know,’ said the editor, and he blushed to the very roots of his
long-flowing hair.  ’I know.  But it’s an old story.  It’s all forgotten
now.’

’Well, it is not,’ the young Doctor said ’and that’s the fact.  She
worries about it continually.  Very strange, now, how her mind just
happened to take that bent.  I don’t remember that we were talking much
about the Scotch Highlands.  But they must have been in her head when
she fell ill; and now it’s nothing else.  Well, what is it about the
newspaper article, anyway?’

’Why, nothing to make a fuss about,’ Jack Huysen said, but rather
uneasily.  ’I thought it was all forgotten.  She said as much.  Wonder
you don’t remember the article—suppose you missed it—but it was about
this same Highland fellow, and some verses of his—it was young Regan
wrote it—confound him, I’d have kicked him into Lake Michigan before I
let him write a line in the paper, if I’d have known there was going to
be this trouble about it. And I don’t think now there was much to find
fault with—I only glanced over it before sending it to her, and it
seemed to me favourable enough—of course, there was a little of the _de
haut en bas_ business—you know how young fellows like to write—but it
was favourable—very favourable, I should say—however, she chose to work
up a pretty high old row on the strength of it when she came home, and I
had my work cut out for me before I could pacify her.  Why, you don’t
say she’s at that again?  Women are such curious creatures; they hold on
to things so; I wonder, now, why it is she takes such an interest in
that fellow—after all this time?’

’Just as likely as not the merest coincidence—some trifle that got hold
of her brain when she first became delirious,’ the young Doctor said.
’I suppose the boating, and the lake, and all that, brought back
recollections of the Highlands; and she seems to have been fascinated by
the life over there—the wildness of it caught her imagination, I
suppose.  She must have been in considerable danger once or twice, I
should guess; or perhaps she is mixing that up with the mishap of the
other day.  Well, I know I wish her father were here.  We can’t do more
than what is being done; still, I wish he were here.  If he can get
through to Glen Falls to-night, you may depend on it he’ll come along
somehow.’

By this time Jack Huysen was nervously pacing up and down—there was no
one but themselves in the room.

’Now, look here, Tom,’ he said, presently, ’I wish you would tell me,
honour bright: was it a squall that caught the boat, or was it downright
carelessness on my part?  I may as well know.  I can’t take more shame
to myself anyhow—and to let you jump in after her, too, when I’m a
better swimmer than you are—I must have lost my head altogether——’

’And much good you’d have done if you had jumped in,’ the Doctor said,
’and left the two women to manage the boat.  How should we have got
picked up, then?’

’But about that gybing, now—was it my fault?’

’No, it was mine,’ the Doctor said curtly.  ’I shouldn’t have given up
the tiller.  Fact is, the girls were just mad about that "Dancing in the
Barn"; and I was fool enough to yield to them.  I tell you, Jack, it
isn’t half as easy as it looks steering a boat that’s running fair
before the wind; I don’t blame you at all; I dare say there was a nasty
puff that caught you when you weren’t looking; anyhow, it’s a blessing
no one was hit by the boom—that was what I feared at first for Miss
Hodson when I found her insensible—I was afraid she had been hit about
the head——’

’And you don’t think it was absolute carelessness?’ the other said
quickly.  ’Mind, I was steering straight for the pier, as you said.’

’Oh, well,’ said the young Doctor evasively, ’if you had noticed in
time, you know—or when I called to you—but perhaps it was too late then.
It’s no use going back on that now; what we have to do now is to fight
this fever as well as we can.’

’I would take it over from her if I could,’ Jack Huysen said, ’and
willingly enough.’

It was not until early the next morning that Mr. Hodson arrived.  He
looked dreadfully pale and harassed and fatigued; for the fact was he
was not in Chicago when they telegraphed for him; some business affairs
had called him away to the south; and the news of his daughter’s illness
followed him from place to place until it found him in a remote corner
of Louisiana, whence he had travelled night and day without giving
himself an hour’s rest.  And now he would not stay to dip his hands and
face in cold water after his long and anxious journey; he merely asked a
few hurried questions of the Doctor; and then, stealthily and on
tip-toe, and determined to show no sign of alarm or perturbation, he
went into Carry’s room.

She had been very delirious during the night—talking wildly and
frantically in spite of all their efforts to soothe her; but now she lay
exhausted, with the flushed face, and bluish lips, and eager, restless
eyes so strangely unlike the Carry of other days.  She recognised him at
once—but not as a new-comer: she appeared to think he had been there all
the time.

’Have you seen him, pappa?’ she said, in that eager way.  ’Did you see
him when you were out?’

’Who, darling?’ he said, as he sate down beside her and took her wasted
hand in his.

’Why, Ronald, to be sure!  Oh, something dreadful was about to happen to
him—I don’t know what it was—something dreadful and dreadful—and I
called out—at the window—at the window there—and nurse says it is all
right now—all right now——’

’Oh yes, indeed,’ her father said gently, ’you may depend it is all
right with Ronald now.  Don’t you fret about that.’

’Ah, but we neglected him, pappa, we neglected him; and I worst of any,’
she went on, in that panting, breathless way.  ’It was always the
same—always thinking of doing something for him, and never doing it.  I
meant to have written to the innkeeper for his address in Glasgow; but
no—that was forgotten too.  And then the spliced rod, that George was to
have got for me—I wanted Ronald to have the best salmon-rod that America
could make—but it was all talking—all talking.  Ah, it was never talking
with him when he could do us a service—and the other boatmen getting
money, of course—and he scarcely a "thank you" when we came away.  Why
didn’t George get the fishing-rod?——’

’It’s all right, Carry, darling,’ her father said, whispering to her,
’you lie quiet now, and get well, and you’ll see what a splendid
salmon-rod we’ll get for Ronald.  Not that it would be of much use to
him, you see, when he’s in Glasgow with his books and studies; but it
will show him we have not forgotten him.  Don’t you trouble about it,
now; I will see it is all right; and you will give it to him yourself,
if we go over there next spring, to try the salmon-fishing again.’

’Then you will take George with you, pappa,’ she said, regarding him
with her burning eyes.

’Oh yes; and you——’

’Not me, not me,’ she said, shaking her head.  ’I am going away.  The
Doctor doesn’t know; I know.  They have been very kind; but—but—ask
them, pappa, not to bother me to take things now—I want to be let alone,
now you are here—it will only be for a little while——’

’Why, what nonsense you talk!’ he said—but his heart was struck with a
sudden fear, for these few straggling sentences she had uttered without
any appearance of delirium. ’I tell you, you must hasten to get well and
strong; for when George and you and I go to Scotland, there will be a
great deal of travelling to do.  You know we’ve got to fix on that piece
of land, and see how it is all to be arranged and managed, so that
George will have a comfortable little estate of his own when he comes of
age; or maybe, if it is a pretty place, we may be selfish and keep it in
our own hands—eh, Carry?—and then, you see, we shall have to have Ronald
travel about with us, to give us his advice; and the weather may be bad,
you know, you’ll have to brace yourself up. There, now, I’m not going to
talk to you any more just now.  Lie still and quiet; and mind you do
everything the Doctor bids you—why, you to talk like that!—you!  I never
thought you would give in, Carry: why, even as a schoolgirl you had the
pluck of a dozen!  Don’t you give in; and you’ll see if we haven’t those
two cobles out on Loch Naver before many months are over.’

She shook her head languidly; her eyes were closed now.  And he was for
slipping out of the room but that she clung to his hand for a moment.

’Pappa,’ she said, in a low voice, and she opened her eyes and regarded
him—and surely at this moment, as he said to himself, she seemed
perfectly sane and reasonable, ’I want you to promise me something.’

’Yes, yes,’ he said quickly: what was it he would not have promised in
order to soothe and quiet her mind at such a time?

’I don’t know about going with you and George,’ she said, slowly, and
apparently with much difficulty.  ’It seems a long way off—a long
time—and—and I hardly care now what happens.  But you will look after
Ronald; you must promise me that, pappa; and tell him I was sorry; I
suppose he heard the shooting was taken, and would know why we did not
go over in the autumn; but you will find him out, pappa, and see what he
is doing; and don’t let him think we forgot him altogether.’

’Carry, darling, you leave that to me; it will be all right with Ronald,
I promise you,’ her father said eagerly.  ’Why, to think you should have
been worrying about that!  Oh! you will see it will be all right about
Ronald, never fear!—what would you say, now, if I were to telegraph to
him to come over and see you, if only you make haste and get well?’

These assurances, at all events, seemed to pacify her somewhat; and as
she now lay still and quiet, her father stole out of the room, hoping
that perhaps the long-prayed-for sleep might come to calm the fevered
brain.

But the slow hours passed, and, so far from any improvement becoming
visible, her condition grew more and more serious.  The two doctors—for
Doctor Tilley had summoned in additional aid—were assiduous enough; but,
when questioned, they gave evasive answers; and when Mr. Hodson begged
to be allowed to telegraph to a celebrated Boston physician, who was
also a particular friend of his own, asking him to come along at once,
they acquiesced, it is true, but it was clearly with the view of
satisfying Mr. Hodson’s mind, rather than with any hope of advantage to
the patient.  From him, indeed, they scarcely tried to conceal the
extreme gravity of the case.  Emma Kerfoot and Mrs. Lalor were quieted
with vague assurances; but Mr. Hodson knew of the peril in which his
daughter lay; and, as it was impossible for him to go to sleep, and as
his terrible anxiety put talking to these friends out of the question,
he kept mostly to his own room, walking up and down, and fearing every
moment lest direr news should arrive.  For they had been much of
companions, these two; and she was an only daughter; and her bright,
frank, lovable character—that he had watched from childhood growing more
and more beautiful and coming into closer communion with himself as year
after year went by—had wound its tendrils round his heart.  That Carry,
of all people in the world, should be taken away from them so, seemed so
strange and unaccountable: she that was ever so full of life and gaiety
and confidence.  The mother had been an invalid during most of her
married life; the boy George had not the strongest of constitutions; but
Carry was always to the fore with her audacious spirits and
light-heartedness, ready for anything, and the best of travelling
companions.  And if she were to go, what would his life be to him?—the
light of it gone, the gladness of it vanished for ever.

That afternoon the delirium returned; and she became more and more
wildly excited; until the paroxysm passed beyond all bounds.  She
imagined that Ronald was in some deadly peril; he was alone, with no one
to help; his enemies had hold of him; they were carrying him off, to
thrust him into some black lake; she could hear the waters roaring in
the dark.  It was in vain that the nurse tried to calm her and to reason
with her; the wild, frightened eyes were fixed on vacancy; and again and
again she made as if she would rush to his help, and would then sink
back exhausted and moaning, and heaping reproaches on those who were
allowing Ronald to be stricken down unaided. Then the climax came, quite
unexpectedly.  The nurse—who happened at the moment to be alone with her
in the room—went to the side-table for some more ice; and she was
talking as she went; and trying to make her charge believe that
everything was going on well enough with this friend of hers in
Scotland.  But all of a sudden, when the nurse’s back was thus turned,
the girl sprang from the bed and rushed to the window.  She tore aside
the curtains that had been tied together to deaden the light; she tugged
and strained at the under sash; she was for throwing herself out—to fly
to Ronald’s succour.

’See, see, see!’ she cried, and she wrenched herself away from the
nurse’s frightened grasp.  ’Oh, don’t you see that they are killing
him—they are killing him—and none to help!  Ronald—Ronald!  Oh, what
shall I do? Nurse, nurse, help me with the window—quick—quick—oh, don’t
you hear him calling?—and they are driving him down to the lake—he will
be in the water soon—and lost—lost—lost—Ronald!—Ronald!—’

Nay, by this time she had actually succeeded in raising the under sash
of the window a few inches—notwithstanding that the nurse clung round
her, and tried to hold her arms, while she uttered shriek after shriek
to call attention; and there is no doubt that the girl, grown quite
frantic, would have succeeded in opening the window and throwing herself
out, had not Mrs. Lalor, alarmed by the shrieking of the nurse, rushed
in.  Between them they got her back into bed; and eventually she calmed
down somewhat; for, indeed, this paroxysm had robbed her of all her
remaining strength.  She lay in a kind of stupor now; she paid no heed
to anything that was said to her; only her eyes were restless—when any
one entered the room.

Dr. Tilley was with her father; the younger man was apparently calm,
though rather pale; Mr. Hodson made no effort to conceal his agony of
anxiety.

’I can only tell you what is our opinion,’ the young Doctor said,
speaking for himself and his brother practitioner.  ’We should be as
pleased as you could be to have Dr. Macartney here; but the delay—well,
the delay might prove dangerous.  Her temperature is 107—you know what
that means?’

’But this rolling up in a wet sheet—there is a risk, isn’t there?’ the
elder man said; and how keenly he was watching the expression of the
young Doctor’s face!

’I have only seen it used in extreme cases,’ was the answer.  ’If she
were my own daughter, or sister, that is what I would do.’

’You have a right to speak—you have already saved her life once,’ her
father said.

’If we could only bring about a profuse perspiration,’ the young Doctor
said, a little more eagerly—for he had been maintaining a professionally
dispassionate manner; ’and then if that should end in a long deep
sleep—everything would go well then.  But at present every hour that
passes is against us—and her temperature showing no sign of abating.’

’Very well,’ her father said, after a moment’s involuntary hesitation.
’If you say the decision rests with me, I will decide.  We will not wait
for Macartney.  Do what you propose to do—I know you think it is for the
best.’

And so it proved.  Not once, but twice, within a space of seven days,
had this young Doctor saved Carry Hodson’s life.  That evening they were
all seated at dinner in the big dining-hall—Mrs. Lalor and her sister,
Jack Huysen, and Carry’s father—though the food before them did not seem
to concern them much.  They were talking amongst themselves, but rather
absently and disconnectedly; and, what was strange enough, they spoke in
rather low tones, as if that were of any avail.  Dr. Tilley came in, and
walked quickly up to the table; and quite unwittingly he put his hand on
Emma Kerfoot’s shoulder.

’I have good news,’ said he, and there was a kind of subdued triumph in
his eyes.  ’She is sleeping as soundly—as soundly as any human being
ever slept—everything has come off well—why, I am as happy as if I had
been declared President!’  But instantly he perceived that this
exuberance of triumph was not in accordance with professional gravity.
’I think there is every reason to be satisfied with the prospect,’ he
continued in more measured tones, ’and now that Dr. Sargent is with her,
and the night nurse just come down, I think I will take the opportunity
to get something to eat—for I have forgotten about that since
breakfast.’

’Oh, Tom!’ cried Miss Kerfoot reproachfully; and presently everybody at
the table was showering attentions on this young man.

’And may I go in and see her now?’ said Miss Kerfoot, preparing to steal
away.

’No,’ was the peremptory answer.  ’No one.  Every half hour of a sleep
like that is worth its weight in gold—well, that’s a muddle, but you
know what I mean.  It’s worth a cart-load of gold, anyway.  I hope
she’ll go on for twenty-four hours, or thirty-six, for the matter of
that.  Oh, I can tell you it is quite refreshing to look at her—talk
about the sleep of an infant!—you never saw an infant sleeping as deep
and sound as that; and I shouldn’t wonder now if her temperature were
down another degree by midnight.’

But he saw that Mr. Hodson was still terribly agitated.

’Well, sir, would you like to go in and see her for a moment?  I have
told the nurse to leave the door half an inch open, and there’s a screen
to keep off the draught; I dare say we can slip in without disturbing
her.’

And so it was that Mr. Hodson saw his daughter again—not with flushed
cheeks and dilated eye, but lying still and calm, a very weight of sleep
appearing to rest on her eyelids.  And when he came out of the room
again, he pressed the young man’s hand—it was a message of thanks too
deep for words.

All that night she slept; and all next day she slept, without a moment’s
intermission.  When, at length, she opened her eyes, and stirred a
little, Emma Kerfoot was by the bedside in an instant.

’Dear Carry!’ she said.  ’Do you want anything?’

She shook her head slightly; she was excessively weak; but the look in
her eyes was one of calm intelligence; it was clear that the delirium
had left her.

’Do you know that your father is here?’

’Why?’ she managed to say.

’Because you have been so ill!  Don’t you know? Don’t you recollect?’

’Yes—I know, a little,’ she said.  ’Where is Jack Huysen?’

’He is here in the hotel too.  Oh, how glad they will all be to hear
that you are quite yourself again.  And I must go and tell them, as soon
as nurse comes; for, you know, you’ll have a long pull before you,
Carry; and if you don’t get quite well again not one of us will ever
forgive ourselves for bringing you to Lake George.  And there’s Jack
Huysen, poor fellow, he has just been distracted; and all the time you
were ill you never had a word for him—though he used to haunt the
passage outside just like a ghost—well, well, you’ll have to make it up
to him.’

At this moment the nurse appeared, and Miss Kerfoot was free to depart
on her joyful errand.  Of course, she was for summoning everybody—and
Jack Huysen among the rest; but the doctors interposed; their patient
must be kept perfectly quiet; in the meantime no one but her father was
to have access to her room.

Now Mr. Hodson, when he was seated there by her side, and chatting
lightly and carelessly about a variety of indifferent matters (she
herself being forbidden to speak), considered that he could not do
better than relieve her mind of any anxiety she may have entertained on
Ronald’s account.  All through her delirium that was the one thing that
seemed to trouble her; and, lest she should revert to it, he thought he
might as well give her ample assurance that Ronald should be looked
after.  However, to his great surprise, he found that she was quite
ignorant of her having made these appeals on behalf of Ronald.  She did
not seem to know that she had been in dire distress about him,
reproaching herself for their treatment of him, and begging her father
to make such atonement as was yet possible.  No; when she was allowed to
speak a little, she said quite calmly that it was a pity they had not
been able to go to Scotland that autumn; that they should have written
to Ronald to see how he was getting on; and that her father, if he
visited the old country, in the coming spring, ought surely to seek him
out, and remind him that he had some friends in America who would be
glad to hear of his welfare.  But Mr. Hodson said to himself that he
would do a little more than that.  He was not going to recall the
promise that he had made to his daughter when, as he thought, she lay
near to the very gates of death. What had put that pathetic solicitude
into her mind he knew not; but she had made her appeal, with dumb
fever-stricken eyes and trembling voice; and he had answered her and
pledged his word.  Ronald should be none the loser that this sick girl
had thought of him when that she seemed to be vanishing away from them
for ever; surely in that direction, as well as any other, the father
might fitly give his thank-offering—for the restitution to life of the
sole daughter of his house?



                            *CHAPTER XIII.*

                             *IN ABSENCE.*


Loch Naver lay calm and still under the slow awakening of the dawn.  All
along the eastern horizon the low-lying hills were of a velvet-textured
olive-green—a mysterious shadow-land where no detail was visible; but
overhead the skies were turning to a clear and luminous gray; the
roseate tinge was leaving the upper slopes of Ben Loyal and Ben Clebrig;
and the glassy surface of the lake was gradually whitening as the
red-golden light changed to silver and broadened up and through the wide
sleeping world.  An intense silence lay over the little hamlet among the
trees; not even a dog was stirring; but a tiny column of pale blue smoke
issuing from one of the chimneys told that some one was awake
within—probably the yellow-haired Nelly, whose duties began at an early
hour.

And what was Meenie—or Rose Meenie, or Love Meenie, as she might be
called now, after having all those things written about her—what was she
doing awake and up at such a time?  At all events, her morning greeting
was there confronting her.  She had brought it and put it on the little
dressing-table; and as she brushed out her beautiful abundant brown
tresses, her eyes went back again and again to the pencilled lines, and
she seemed not ill-pleased.  For this was what she read:

_The hinds are feeding upon the hill,_
_And the hares on the fallow lea;_
  _Awake, awake, Love Meenie!_
_Birds are singing in every tree;_

_And roses you’ll find on your window-sill_
_To scent the morning air;_
  _Awake, awake, Love Meenie,_
_For the world is shining fair!_

_O who is the mistress of bird and flower?_
_Ben Clebrig knows, I ween!_
  _Awake, awake, Love Meenie,_
_To show them their mistress and queen!_

And it could hardly be expected that she should bring any very keen
critical scrutiny to bear on these careless verses of Ronald’s (of which
she had now obtained a goodly number, by dint of wheedling and entreaty,
and even downright insistence), seeing that nearly all of them were
written in her praise and honour; but even apart from that she had
convinced herself that they were very fine indeed; and that one or two
of them were really pathetic; and she was not without the hope that,
when the serious affairs of life had been attended to, and a little
leisure and contemplation become possible, Ronald might turn to his
poetical labours again and win some little bit of a name for himself
amongst a few sympathetic souls here and there.  That he could do so, if
he chose, she was sure enough.  It was all very well for him to make
light of these scraps and fragments; and to threaten to destroy them if
she revealed the fact of their existence to anybody; but she knew their
worth, if he did not; and when, in this or that magazine or review, she
saw a piece of poetry mentioned with praise, her first impulse was to
quickly read it in order to ask herself whether Ronald—given time and
opportunity—could not have done as well.  Moreover, the answer to that
question was invariably the same; and it did not leave her unhappy.  It
is true (for she would be entirely dispassionate) he had not written
anything quite so fine as ’Christabel’—as yet; but the years were before
him; she had confidence; the world should see—and give him a fitting
welcome all in good time.

When, on this clear morning, she was fully equipped for her walk, she
stole silently down the stair, and made her way out into the now
awakening day.  The little hamlet was showing signs of life.  A
stable-lad was trying to get hold of a horse that had strayed into the
meadow; a collie was barking its excitement over this performance; the
pretty Nelly appeared carrying an armful of clothes to be hung out to
dry.  And then, as Meenie passed the inn, she was joined by Harry the
terrier, who, after the first grovelling demonstrations of joy, seemed
to take it for granted that he was to be allowed to accompany her.  And
she was nothing loth.  The fact was, she was setting out in quest of
that distant eyrie of Ronald’s of which he had often told her; and she
doubted very much whether she would be able to find it; and she
considered that perhaps the little terrier might help her.  Would he not
naturally make for his master’s accustomed resting-place, when they were
sufficiently high up on the far Clebrig slopes?

So they went away along the road together; and she was talking to her
companion; and telling him a good deal more about Glasgow, and about his
master, than probably he could understand.  Considering, indeed, that
this young lady had just been sent home in deep disgrace, she seemed in
excellent spirits.  She had borne the parting admonitions and
upbraidings of her sister Agatha with a most astonishing indifference;
she had received her mother’s reproaches with a placid equanimity that
the little woman could not understand at all (only that Meenie’s face
once or twice grew fixed and proud when there was some scornful
reference to Ronald); and she had forthwith set about nursing her
father—who had caught a severe chill and was in bed—with an amiable
assiduity, just as if nothing had happened. As regards her father, he
either did not know, or had refused to know, about Meenie’s lamentable
conduct.  On this one point he was hopelessly perverse; he never would
listen to anything said against this daughter of his; Meenie was always
in the right—no matter what it was.  And so, notwithstanding that she
had been sent home as one in disgrace, and had been received as one in
disgrace, she installed herself as her father’s nurse with an amazing
self-content; and she brought him his beef-tea and port-wine at the
stated intervals (for the good Doctor did not seem to have as much faith
in drugs as might have been anticipated); and she kept the peat-fire
piled up and blazing; and she methodically read to him the _Inverness
Courier_, the _Glasgow Weekly Citizen_, and the _Edinburgh Scotsman_;
and when these were done she would get out a volume of old ballads, or
perhaps ’The Eve of St. Agnes,’ or ’Esmond,’ or ’As You Like It,’ or the
’Winter’s Tale.’  It did not matter much to him what she read; he liked
to hear the sound of Meenie’s voice—in this hushed, half-slumberous,
warm little room, while the chill north winds howled without, chasing
each other across the driven loch, and sighing and sobbing away along
the lonely Strath-Terry.

But on this fair morning there was not a breath stirring; and the
curving bays and promontories and birch-woods, and the far hills beyond,
were all reflected in the magic mirror of the lake, as she sped along
the highway, making for the Clebrig slopes.  And soon she was mounting
these—with the light step of one trained to the heather; and ever as she
got higher and higher the vast panorama around her grew wider and more
wide, until she could see hills and lochs and wooded islands that never
were visible from Inver-Mudal.  In the perfect silence, the sudden whirr
of a startled grouse made her heart jump.  A hare—that looked remarkably
like a cat, for there was as much white as bluish-brown about it—got up
almost at her feet and sped swiftly away over heath and rock until it
disappeared in one of the numerous peat-hags.  There was a solitary
eagle slowly circling in the blue; but at so great a height that it was
but a speck.  At one moment she thought she had caught sight of the
antlers of a stag; and for a second she stopped short, rather
frightened; but presently she had convinced herself that these were but
two bits of withered birch, appearing over the edge of a rock far above
her.  It was a little chillier here; but the brisk exercise kept her
warm.  And still she toiled on and on; until she knew, or guessed, that
she was high enough; and now the question was to discover the
whereabouts of the clump of rocks under shelter of which Ronald was
accustomed to sit, when he had been up here alone, dreaming day-dreams,
and scribbling the foolish rhymes that had won to her favour, whatever
he might think of them.

At first this seemed a hopeless task; for the whole place was a
wilderness of moss and heather and peat-hags, with scarcely a
distinctive feature anywhere.  But she wandered about, watching the
little terrier covertly; and at last she saw him put his nose in an
inquiring way into a hole underneath some tumbled boulders.  He turned
and looked at her; she followed.  And now there could be no doubt that
this was Ronald’s halting-place and pulpit of meditation; for she
forthwith discovered the hidden case at the back of the little
cave—though the key of that now belonged to his successor.  And so, in
much content, she sate herself down on the heather; with all the wide,
sunlit, still world mapped out before her—the silver thread of Mudal
Water visible here and there among the moors, and Loch Meadie with its
islands, and Ben Hope and Ben Loyal, and Bonnie Strath-Naver, and the
far Kyle of Tongue close to the northern Sea.

Now, what had Love Meenie climbed all this height for? what but to read
herself back into the time when Ronald used to come here alone; and to
think of what he had been thinking; and to picture herself as still an
unconscious maiden wandering about that distant little hamlet that
seemed but two or three dots down there among the trees.  This, or
something like it, has always been a favourite pastime with lovers; but
Meenie had an additional source of interest in the possession of a
packet of those idle rhymes, and these were a kind of key to bygone
moods and days.  And so it was here—in this strange stillness—that
Ronald had written these verses about her; and perhaps caught a glimpse
of her, with his telescope, as she came out from the cottage to
intercept the mail; when little indeed was she dreaming that he had any
such fancies in his head.  And now as she turned over page after page,
sometimes she laughed a little, when she came to something that seemed a
trifle audacious—and she scarcely wondered that he had been afraid of
her seeing such bold declarations: and then again a kind of compunction
filled her heart; and she wished that Ronald had not praised her so; for
what had she done to deserve it; and how would her coming life be made
to correspond with these all too generous and exalted estimates of her
character?  Of course she liked well enough to come upon praises of her
abundant brown hair, and her Highland eyes, and the rose-leaf tint of
her cheeks, and the lightness of her step; for she was aware of these
things as well as he; and glad enough that she possessed them, for had
they not commended her to him?  But as for these other wonderful graces
of mind and disposition with which he had adorned her?  She was sadly
afraid that he would find her stupid, ill-instructed, unread, fractious,
unreasonable, incapable of understanding him.  Look, for example, how he
could imbue these hills and moors and vales with a kind of magic, so
that they seemed to become his personal friends.  To her they were all
dead things (except Mudal Water, at times, on the summer evenings), but
to him they seemed instinct with life.  They spoke to him; and he to
them; he understood them; they were his companions and friends; who but
himself could tell of what this very hill of Clebrig was thinking?—

_Ben Clebrig’s a blaze of splendour_
  _In the first red flush of the morn,_
_And his gaze is fixed on the eastward_
  _To greet the day new-born;_
_And he listens a-still for the bellow_
  _Of the antlered stag afar,_
_And he laughs at the royal challenge,_
  _The hoarse, harsh challenge of war._

_But Ben Clebrig is gentle and placid_
  _When the sun sinks into the west,_
_And a mild and a mellow radiance_
  _Shines on his giant crest;_
_For he’s looking down upon Meenie_
  _As she wanders along the road,_
_And the mountain bestows his blessing_
  _On the fairest child of God._

There again: what could he see in her (she asked herself) that he should
write of her so?  He had declared to her that the magic with which all
this neighbourhood was imbued was due to her presence there; but how
could she, knowing herself as she did, believe that?  And how to show
her gratitude to him; and her faith in him; and her confidence as to the
future?  Well, she could but give to him her life and the love that was
the life of her life—if these were worth the taking.

But there was one among these many pieces that she had pondered over
which she returned to again and again, and with a kind of pride; and
that not because it sounded her praises, but because it assured her
hopes.  As for Ronald’s material success in life, she was troubled with
little doubt about that.  It might be a long time before he could come
to claim his wife; but she was content to wait; in that direction she
had no fears whatever.  But there was something beyond that.  She looked
forward to the day when even the Stuarts of Glengask and Orosay should
know what manner of man this was whom she had chosen for her husband.
Her mother had called him an uneducated peasant; but she paid no heed to
the taunt; rather she was thinking of the time when Ronald—other things
being settled—might perhaps go to Edinburgh, and get to know some one
holding the position there that Jeffrey used to hold (her reading was a
little old-fashioned) who would introduce him to the world of letters
and open the way to fame.  She knew nothing of Carry Hodson’s luckless
attempt in this direction; she knew, on the contrary, that Ronald was
strongly averse from having any of these scraps printed; but she said to
herself that the fitting time would come.  And if these unpolished
verses are found to belie her confident and proud prognostications as to
the future, let it be remembered that she was hardly nineteen, that she
was exceedingly warm-hearted, that she was a young wife, and day and
night with little to think about but the perfections of her lover, and
his kindness to her, and his praise of her, and the honour in which he
held her.  However, this piece was not about Meenie at all—he had called
it

                          _BY ISLAY’S SHORES._

_By Islay’s shores she sate and sang:_
  _’O winds, come blowing o’er the sea,_
_And bring me back my love again_
  _That went to fight in Germanie!’_

_And all the livelong day she sang,_
  _And nursed the bairn upon her knee:_
_’Balou, balou, my bonnie bairn,_
  _Thy father’s far in Germanie,_

_But ere the summer days are gane,_
  _And winter blackens bush and tree,_
_Thy father will we welcome hame_
  _Frae the red wars in Germanie.’_

_O dark the night fell, dark and mirk;_
  _A wraith stood by her icily:_
_’Dear wife, I’ll never more win hame,_
  _For I am slain in Germanie._

_On Minden’s field I’m lying stark,_
  _And Heaven is now my far countrie,_
_Farewell, dear wife, farewell, farewell,_
  _I’ll ne’er win hame frae Germanie.’_

_And all the year she came and went,_
  _And wandered wild frae sea to sea;_
_’O neighbours, is he ne’er come back,_
  _My love that went to Germanie?’_

_Port Ellen saw her many a time;_
  _Round by Port Askaig wandered she:_
_’Where is the ship that’s sailing in_
  _With my dear love frae Germanie?’_

_But when the darkened winter fell:_
  _’It’s cold for baith my bairn and me;_
_Let me lie down and rest awhile:_
  _My love’s away frae Germanie._

_O far away and away he dwells;_
  _High Heaven is now his fair countrie;_
_And there he stands—with arms outstretched—_
  _To welcome hame my bairn and me!’_


And if Meenie’s eyes were filled with tears when she had re-read the
familiar lines, her heart was proud enough; and all her kinsmen of
Glengask and Orosay had no terrors for her; and her mother’s taunts no
sting.  Of course, all this that she hoped for was far away in the
future; but even as regarded the immediate years before her she refused
to be harassed by any doubt.  Perhaps she would not have asserted in set
terms that a knack of stringing verses together proved that the writer
had also the capacity and knowledge and judgment necessary to drain and
fence and plant and stock a Highland estate; abstract questions of the
kind had little interest for her; what she did know—what formed the
first article of her creed, and the last, and the intervening
thirty-seven—was that Ronald could do anything he put his mind to.  And
this was a highly useful and comfortable belief, considering all her
circumstances.

And so she sped away down the mountain-side again—glad to have
discovered Ronald’s retreat; and so light and swift was her step that
when she at length reached the inn she found herself just ahead of the
mail coming in from the south.  Of course she waited for letters; and
when Mrs. Murray had opened the bags, it was found there were three for
the Doctor’s cottage.  The first was from Ronald; that Meenie whipped
into her pocket.  The second was for Mrs. Douglas, and clearly in
Agatha’s handwriting.  The third, addressed to Meenie, had an American
stamp on it; and this was the one that she opened and read as she
quietly walked homeward.

It was a long letter; and it was from Miss Carry Hodson; who first of
all described the accident that had befallen her, and her subsequent
illness; and plainly intimated that no such thing would have happened
had her Highland friends been in charge of the boat.  Then she went on
to say that her father had just sailed for Europe; that he had business
to transact in Scotland; that he wished to see Ronald; and would Miss
Douglas be so very kind as to ask the innkeeper, or the post-master at
Lairg, or any one who knew Ronald’s address in Glasgow, to drop a
post-card to her father, addressed to the Langham Hotel, London, with
the information. Moreover, her father had intimated his intention of
taking the Loch Naver salmon-fishing for the next season, if it was not
as yet let; and in that case the writer would be overjoyed to find
herself once more among her Inver-Mudal friends.  Finally, and as a kind
of reminder and keepsake, she had sent by her father a carriage-rug made
mostly of chipmunk skins; and she would ask Miss Douglas’s acceptance of
it; and hoped that it would keep her knees snug and warm and comfortable
when the winds were blowing too sharply along Strath-Terry.

Of course, all this was wonderful news to come to such a quiet and
remote corner of the world; but there was other news as well; and that
by an odd coincidence. Some little time after Mrs. Douglas had received
the letter from Agatha, she came to Meenie.

’Williamina,’ said she, ’Agatha writes to me about Mr. Frank Lauder.’

’Yes?’ said Meenie, rather coldly.

’He intends renting the salmon-fishing on the loch for the next season;
and he will be alone at the inn.  Agatha hopes that we shall be
particularly civil to him; and I hope—I say, I hope—that every one in
this house will be.  It is of the greatest importance, considering how
he stands with regard to Mr. Gemmill.  I hope he will be received in
this house with every attention and kindness.’

And then the pompous little dame left.  It was almost a challenge she
had thrown down; and Meenie was at first a little bewildered.  What
then?—would this young man, for the six weeks or two months of his stay,
be their constant visitor?  He would sit in the little parlour, evening
after evening; and how could she keep him from talking to her, and how
could she keep him from looking at her?  And Ronald—her husband—would be
far away; and alone, perhaps; and not allowed a word with her; whereas
she would have to be civil and polite to this young man; and even if she
held her eyes downcast, how could she help his regarding her face?

And then she suddenly bethought her of Miss Hodson’s letter.  What?—was
Mr. Hodson after the fishing too? And ought not the last tenant to have
the refusal?  And should not the Duke’s agent know?  And why should she
not write him a note—just in case no inquiry had been made?  She had not
much time to think about the matter; but she guessed quickly enough
that, if an American millionaire and the son of a Glasgow merchant are
after the same thing, and that thing purchasable, the American is likely
to get it.  And why should Ronald’s wife be stared at and talked to by
this young man—however harmless and amiable his intentions?

So she went swiftly to her own room and wrote as follows:—


’DEAR MR. CRAWFORD—I have just heard from Miss Hodson, whose father was
here last spring, that he is on his way to Europe; and that he hopes to
have the fishing again this year.  I think I ought to let you know, just
in case you should have any other application for the loch.  I am sure
Miss Hodson will be much disappointed if he does not get it.  Yours
sincerely,

’MEENIE S. DOUGLAS.’


’There,’ said she, and there was a little smile of triumph about her
mouth, ’if that doesn’t put a spoke in the wheel of Mr. Frank Lauder,
poor fellow, I don’t know what will.’

’Spiteful little cat,’ her sister Agatha would have called her, had she
known; but women’s judgments of women are not as men’s.



                             *CHAPTER XIV.*

                       *WANDERINGS IN THE WEST.*


On a singularly clear and brilliant morning in February a large and
heavy screw-steamer slowly crept out of the land-locked little harbour
of Portree, and steadily made away for the north.  For her the squally
Ben Inivaig at the mouth of the channel had no terrors; indeed, what
could any vessel fear on such a morning as this?  When they got well out
into Raasay Sound, it seemed as if the whole world had been changed into
a pantomime-scene.  The sky was calm and cloudless; the sea was as glass
and of the most dazzling blue; and those masses of white that appeared
on that perfect mirror were the reflections of the snow-powdered
islands—Raasay, and Fladda, and South Rona—that gleamed and shone and
sparkled there in the sun.  Not often are the wide waters of the Minch
so fair and calm in mid-winter; the more usual thing is northerly gales,
with black seas thundering by into Loch Staffin and Kilmaluag Bay, or
breaking into sheets and spouts of foam along the headlands of Aird
Point and Ru Hunish.  This was as a holiday trip, but for the sharp
cold.  The islands were white as a solan’s wing—save along the shores;
the sea was of a sapphire blue; and when they got up by Rona light
behold the distant snow-crowned hills of Ross and Cromarty rose faint
and spectral and wonderful into the pale and summer-like sky.  The men
sung ’_Fhir a Bhata_’ as they scoured the brass and scrubbed the decks;
the passengers marched up and down, clapping their hands to keep them
warm; and ever as the heavy steamer forged on its way, the world of blue
sea and sky and snow-white hills opened out before them, until some
declared at last that in the far north they could make out the Shiant
Isles.

Now under shelter of the companion-way leading down into the saloon
three men were standing, and two of them were engaged in an animated
conversation.  The third, who was Mr. Hodson, merely looked on and
listened, a little amused, apparently.  One of the others—a tall,
heavy-bearded, north-Highland-looking man—was Mr. Carmichael, a famous
estate-agent in London, who had run two or three commissions together as
an excuse for this midwinter trip. The third member of the group was
Ronald, who was hammering away in his usual dogmatic fashion.

’Pedigree?  The pride of having ancestors?’ he was saying.  ’Why,
there’s not a man alive whose ancestry does not stretch as far back as
any other man’s ancestry.  Take it any way ye like: if Adam was our
grandfather, then we’re all his grandchildren; or if we are descended
from a jellyfish or a monkey, the line is of the same length for all of
us—for dukes, and kings, and herd-laddies.  The only difference is this,
that some know the names of their forefathers, and some don’t; and the
presumption is that the man whose people have left no story behind them
is come of a more moral, useful, sober, hard-working race than the man
whose forbears were famous cut-throats in the middle ages, or dishonest
lawyers, or king’s favourites.  It’s plain John Smith that has made up
the wealth of this country; and that has built her ships for her, and
defended her, and put her where she is; and John Smith had his ancestors
at Cressy and Agincourt as well as the rest—ay, and they had the bulk of
the fighting to do, I’ll be bound; but I think none the worse of him
because he cannot tell you their names or plaster his walls with coats
of arms.  However, it’s idle talking about a matter of sentiment, and
that’s the fact; and so, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll just go down into the
cabin, and write a couple o’ letters.’

A minute or so after he had disappeared, Mr. Hodson (who looked
miserably cold, to tell the truth, though he was wrapped from head to
heel in voluminous furs) motioned his companion to come a few yards
aside, so that they could talk without fear of being overheard.

’Now,’ said he, in his slow and distinct way, ’now we are alone, I want
you to tell me what you think of that young man.’

’I don’t like his politics,’ was the prompt and blunt answer.

’No more do I,’ said Mr. Hodson coolly.  ’But for another reason.  You
call him a Radical, I call him a Tory. But no matter—I don’t mean about
politics.  Politics?—who but a fool bothers his head about
politics—unless he can make money out of them?  No, I mean something
more practical than that.  Here have you and he been together these
three days, talking about the one subject nearly all the time—I mean the
management of these Highland estates, and the nature of the ground, and
what should be done, and all that.  Well, now, you are a man of great
experience; and I want you to tell me what you think of this young
fellow.  I want you to tell me honestly; and it will be in strict
confidence, I assure you.  Now, has he got a good solid grip of the
thing?  Does he know?  Does he catch on?  Is he safe?  Is he to be
trusted?——’

’Oh, there, there, there!’ said the big estate-agent, interrupting
through mere good-nature.  ’That’s quite another thing—quite another
thing.  I’ve not a word to say against him there—no, quite the other
way—a shrewd-headed, capable fellow he is, with a groundwork of
practical knowledge that no man ever yet got out of books.  As
sharp-eyed a fellow as I have come across for many a day—didn’t you see
how he guessed at the weak points of that Mull place before ever he set
foot ashore?  Quick at figures, too—oh yes, yes, a capable fellow I call
him; he has been posting himself up, I can see; but it’s where his
practical knowledge comes in that he’s of value.  When it’s a question
of vineries, or something like that, then he goes by the book—that’s
useless.’

Mr. Hodson listened in silence; and his manner showed nothing.

’I have been thinking he would be a valuable man for me,’ the agent said
presently.

’In your office?’ said Mr. Hodson, raising his eyes.

’Yes.  And for this reason.  You see, if he would only keep away from
those d—d politics of his, he is a very good-natured fellow, and he has
got an off-hand way with him that makes shepherds, and keepers, and
people of that kind friendly; the result is that he gets all the
information that he wants—and that isn’t always an easy thing to get.
Now if I had a man like that in my office, whom I could send with a
client thinking of purchasing an estate—to advise him—to get at the
truth—and to be an intelligent and agreeable travelling-companion at the
same time—that would be a useful thing.’

’Say, now,’ continued Mr. Hodson (who was attending mostly to his own
meditations), ’do you think, from what you’ve seen of this young man,
that he has the knowledge and business-capacity to be overseer—factor,
you call it, don’t you?—of an estate—not a large estate, but perhaps
about the size of the one we saw yesterday or this one we are going to
now?  Would he go the right way about it? Would he understand what had
to be done—I mean, in improving the land, and getting the most out of
it——’

Mr. Carmichael laughed.

’It’s not a fair question,’ said he.  ’Your friend Strang and I are too
much of one opinion—ay, on every point we’re agreed—for many’s the long
talk we’ve had over the matter.’

’I know—I know,’ Mr. Hodson said.  ’Though I was only half-listening;
for when you got to feu-duties and public burdens and things of that
kind I lost my reckoning. But you say that you and Strang are agreed as
to the proper way of managing a Highland estate: very well: assuming
your theories to be correct, is he capable of carrying them out?’

’I think so—I should say undoubtedly—I don’t think I would myself
hesitate about trusting him with such a place—that is, when I had made
sufficient inquiries about his character, and got some money guarantee
about his stewardship. But then, you see, Mr. Hodson, I’m afraid, if you
were to let Strang go his own way in working up an estate, so as to get
the most marketable value into it, you and he would have different
opinions at the outset.  I mean with such an estate as you would find
over there,’ he added, indicating with his finger the long stretch of
wild and mountainous country they were approaching.  ’On rough and hilly
land like that, in nine cases out of ten, you may depend on it, it’s
foresting that pays.’

’But that’s settled,’ Mr. Hodson retorted rather sharply. ’I have
already told you, and Strang too, that if I buy a place up here I will
not have a stag or a hind from end to end of it.’

’Faith, they’re things easy to get rid of,’ the other said
good-naturedly.  ’They’ll not elbow you into the ditch if you meet them
on the road.’

’No; I have heard too much.  Why, you yourself said that the very name
of American stank in the nostrils of the Highlanders.’

’Can you wonder?’ said Mr. Carmichael quietly: they had been talking the
night before of certain notorious doings, on the part of an American
lessee, which were provoking much newspaper comment at the time.

’Well, what I say is this—if I buy a place in the Highlands—and no one
can compel me to buy it—it is merely a fancy I have had for two or three
years back, and I can give it up if I choose—but what I say is, if I do
buy a place in the Highlands, I will hold it on such conditions that I
shall be able to bring my family to live on it, and that I shall be able
to leave it to my boy without shame.  I will not associate myself with a
system that has wrought such cruelty and tyranny.  No; I will not allow
a single acre to be forested.’

’There’s such a quantity of the land good for nothing but deer,’ Mr.
Carmichael said, almost plaintively.  ’If you only saw it!—you’re going
now by what the newspaper writers say—people who never were near a
deer-forest in their lives.’

’Good for nothing but deer?  But what about the black cattle that
Ronald—that Strang—is always talking about?’ was the retort—and Mr.
Hodson showed a very unusual vehemence, or, at least, impatience.
’Well, I don’t care. That has got nothing to do with me.  But it has got
to do with my factor, or overseer, or whatever he is.  And between him
and me this is how it will lie: "If you can’t work my estate, big or
small as it may be, without putting the main part of it under deer, and
beginning to filch grazings here and there, and driving the crofters
down to the sea-shore, and preventing a harmless traveller from having a
Sunday walk over the hills, then out you go.  You may be fit for some
other place: not for mine."  Then he went on in a milder strain.  ’And
Strang knows that very well.  No doubt, if I were to put him in a
position of trust like that, he might be ambitious to give a good
account of his stewardship; I think, very likely he would be, for he’s a
young man; but if I buy a place in the Highlands, it will have to be
managed as I wish it to be managed.  When I said that I wanted the most
made out of the land, I did not mean the most money.  No.  I should be
glad to have four per cent for my investment; if I can’t have that, I
should be content with three; but it is not as a commercial speculation
that I shall go into the affair, if I go into it at all.  My wants are
simple enough.  As I tell you, I admire the beautiful, wild country; I
like the people—what little I have seen of them; and if I can get a
picturesque bit of territory somewhere along this western coast, I
should like to give my family a kind of foothold in Europe, and I dare
say my boy might be glad to spend his autumns here, and have a turn at
the grouse.  But for the most part of the time the place would be under
control of the factor; and I want a factor who will work the estate
under certain specified conditions.  First, no foresting.  Then I would
have the crofts revalued—as fairly as might be; no crofter to be liable
to removal who paid his rent.  The sheep-farms would go by their market
value, though I would not willingly disturb any tenant; however, in that
case, I should be inclined to try Strang’s plan of having those black
cattle on my own account.  I would have the cottars taken away from the
crofts (allowing for the rent paid to the crofter, for that would be but
fair, when the value of the crofts was settled), and I would build for
them a model village, which you might look upon as a philanthropic fad
of my own, to be paid for separately.  No gratuitous grazing anywhere to
crofter or cottar; that is but the parent of subsequent squabbles.  Then
I would have all the draining and planting and improving of the estate
done by the local hands, so far as that was practicable.  And then I
should want four per cent return on the purchase-money; and I should not
be much disappointed with three; and perhaps (though I would not admit
this to anybody) if I saw the little community thriving and
satisfied—and reckoning also the honour and glory of my being a king on
my own small domain—I might even be content with two per cent.  Now, Mr.
Carmichael, is this practicable?  And is this young fellow the man to
undertake it?  I would make it worth his while.  I should not like to
say anything about payment by results or percentage on profits; that
might tempt him to screw it out of the poorer people when he was left
master—though he does not talk like that kind of a fellow.  I wrote to
Lord Ailine about him; and got the best of characters.  I went and saw
the old man who is coaching him for that forestry examination; he is
quite confident about the result—not that I care much about that myself.
What do you say now?  You ought to be able to judge.’

Mr. Carmichael hesitated.

’If you got the estate at a fair price,’ he said at length, ’it might be
practicable, though these improvement schemes suck in money as a sponge
sucks in water.  And as for this young fellow—well, I should think he
would be just the man for the place—active, energetic, shrewd-headed,
and a pretty good hand at managing folk, as I should guess. But, you
know, before giving any one an important post like that—and especially
with your going back to America for the best part of every year—I think
you ought to have some sort of money guarantee as a kind of safeguard.
It’s usual.  God forbid I should suggest anything against the lad—he’s
as honest looking as my own two boys, and I can say no more than
that—still, business is business. A couple of sureties, now, of £500
apiece, might be sufficient.’

’It’s usual?’ repeated Mr. Hodson absently.  ’Yes, I suppose it is.
Pretty hard on a young fellow, though, if he can’t find the sureties.  A
thousand pounds is a big figure for one in his position.  He has told me
about his father and his brother: they’re not in it, anyhow—both of them
with hardly a sixpence to spare.  However, it’s no use talking about it
until we see whether this place here is satisfactory; and even then
don’t say a word about it to him; for if some such post were to be
offered to him—and if the securities were all right and so forth—it has
got to be given to him as a little present from an American young lady,
if you can call it a present when you merely propose to pay a man a fair
day’s wage for a fair day’s work. And I am less hopeful now; the three
places we have looked at were clearly out of the question; and my
Highland mansion may prove to be a castle in Spain after all.’

Late that night they reached their destination; and early next morning
at the door of the hotel—which looked strangely deserted amid the wintry
landscape—a waggonette was waiting for them, and also the agent for the
estate they were going to inspect.  They started almost directly; and a
long and desperately cold drive it proved to be; Mr. Hodson, for one,
was glad enough when they dismounted at the keeper’s cottage where their
tramp over the ground was to begin—he did not care how rough the country
might be, so long as he could keep moving briskly.

Now it had been very clear during these past few days that Ronald had
not the slightest suspicion that Mr. Hodson, in contemplating the
purchase of a Highland estate (which was an old project of his), had
also in his eye some scheme for Ronald’s own advancement.  All the way
through he had been endeavouring to spy out the nakedness of the land,
and to demonstrate its shortcomings.  He considered that was his
business.  Mr. Hodson had engaged him—at what he considered the
munificent terms of a guinea a day and all expenses paid—to come and
give his advice; and he deemed it his duty to find out everything,
especially whatever was detrimental, about such places as they visited,
so that there should be no swindling bargain.  And so on this Ross-shire
estate of Balnavrain, he was proving himself a hard critic.  This was
hopelessly bleak; that was worthless bog-land;—why was there no fencing
along those cliffs?—where were the roads for the peats?—who had had
control over the burning of the heather?—wasn’t it strange that all
along these tops they had not put up more than a couple of coveys of
grouse, a hare or two, and a single ptarmigan?  But all at once, when
they had toiled across this unpromising and hilly wilderness, they came
upon a scene of the most startling beauty—for now they were looking down
and out on the western sea, that was a motionless mirror of blue and
white; and near them was a wall of picturesquely wooded cliffs; and
below that again, and sloping to the shore, a series of natural plateaus
and carefully planted enclosures; while stretching away inland was a
fertile valley, with smart farmhouses, and snug clumps of trees, and a
meandering river that had salmon obviously written on every square foot
of its partially frozen surface.

’What a situation for a house!’ was Ronald’s involuntary exclamation—as
he looked down on the sheltered semicircle below him, guarded on the
east and north by the cliffs, and facing the shining west.

’I thought ye would say that,’ the agent said, with a quiet smile.
’It’s many’s the time I’ve heard Sir James say he would give £20,000 if
he could bring the Castle there; and he was aye minded to build
there—ay, even to the day of his death, poor man; but then the Colonel,
when the place came to him, said no; he would rather sell Balnavrain;
and maist likely the purchaser would be for building a house to his ain
mind.’

’And a most sensible notion too,’ Mr. Hodson said. ’But look here, my
friend: you’ve brought us up to a kind of Pisgah; I would rather go down
into that land of Gilead, and see what the farmhouses are like.’

’Ay, but I brought ye here because it’s about the best place for giving
ye an idea of the marches,’ said the man imperturbably, for he knew his
own business better than the stranger.  ’Do ye see the burn away over
there beyond the farmhouse?’

’Yes, yes.’

’Well, that’s the Balnavrain march right up to the top; and then the
Duchess runs all along the sky-line yonder—to the black scaur.’

’You don’t say!’ observed Mr. Hodson.  ’I never heard of a Duchess doing
anything so extraordinary.’

’But we march with the Duchess,’ said the other, a little bewildered.

’That’s a little more decorous, anyway.  Well now, I suppose we can make
all that out on the Ordnance Survey map when we get back to the hotel.
I’m for getting down into the valley—to have a look around; I take it
that if I lived here I shouldn’t spend all the time on a mountain-top.’

Well, the long and the short of it was that, after having had two or
three hours of laborious and diligent tramping and inspection and
questioning and explanation, and after having been entertained with a
comfortable meal of oat-cake and hot broth and boiled beef at a
hospitable farmhouse, they set out again on their cold drive back to the
hotel, where a long business conversation went on all the evening,
during dinner and after dinner.  It was very curious how each of these
three brought this or that objection to the place—as if bound to do so;
and how the fascination of the mere site of it had so clearly captivated
them none the less.  Of course, nothing conclusive was said or done that
night; but, despite these deprecatory pleas, there was a kind of tacit
and general admission that Balnavrain, with proper supervision and
attention to the possibilities offered by its different altitudes, might
be made into a very admirable little estate, with a dwelling-house on it
second in point of situation to none on the whole western sea-board of
the Highlands.

’Ronald,’ said Mr. Hodson that evening, when Mr. Carmichael had gone off
to bed (he was making for the south early in the morning), ’we have had
some hard days’ work; why should we let Loch Naver lie idle?  I suppose
we could drive from here somehow?  Let us start off to-morrow; and we’ll
have a week’s salmon-fishing.’

’To Inver-Mudal?’ he said—and he turned quite pale.

’Yes, yes, why not?’ Mr. Hodson answered.  But he had noticed that
strange look that had come across the younger man’s face; and he
attributed it to a wrong cause. ’Oh, it will not take up so much of your
time,’ he continued.  ’Mr. Weems declares you must have your certificate
as a matter of course.  And as for expenses—the present arrangement must
go on, naturally, until you get back to Glasgow.  What is a week, man?
Indeed, I will take no denial.’

And Ronald could not answer.  To Inver-Mudal?—to meet the girl whom he
dared not acknowledge to be his wife?—and with his future as hopelessly
uncertain as ever. Once or twice he was almost driven to make a
confession to this stranger, who seemed so frankly interested in him and
his affairs; but no; he could not do that; and he went to bed wondering
with what strange look in her eyes Meenie would find him in
Inver-Mudal—if he found it impossible to resist the temptation of being
once more within sight of her, and within hearing of the sound of her
voice.



                             *CHAPTER XV.*

                          *A PLEDGE REDEEMED.*


Mr. Hodson could by no means get to understand the half-expressed
reluctance, the trepidation almost, with which Ronald seemed to regard
this visit to Inver-Mudal.  It was not a matter of time; for his studies
for the examination were practically over.  It was not a matter of
expense; for he was being paid a guinea a day.  It was not debt; on that
point Mr. Hodson had satisfied himself by a few plain questions; and he
knew to a sovereign what sum Ronald had still in the bank.  Nor could he
believe, after the quite unusual terms in which Lord Ailine had written
about the young man’s conduct and character, that Ronald was likely to
have done anything to cause him to fear a meeting with his former
friends.  And so, having some little experience of the world, he guessed
that there was probably a girl in the case; and discreetly held his
peace.

But little indeed was he prepared for the revelation that was soon to be
made.  On the afternoon of one of these cold February days they were
driving northward along Strath-Terry.  A sprinkling of snow had fallen
in the morning; the horses’ hoofs and the wheels of the waggonette made
scarcely any sound in this prevailing silence. They had come in sight of
Loch Naver; and the long sheet of water looked quite black amid the
white undulations of the woods and the moorland and the low-lying hills.
Now at this point the road leading down to the village makes a sudden
turn; and they were just cutting round the corner when Ronald, who had
been anxiously looking forward, caught sight of that that most he longed
and that most he feared to see.  It was Meenie herself—she was walking
by the side of the way, carrying some little parcel in her hand; and
they had come upon her quite unexpectedly, and noiselessly besides; and
what might she not betray in this moment of sudden alarm?  He gripped
the driver’s arm, thinking he might stop the horses; but it was now too
late for that.  They were close to her; she heard the patter of horses’
hoofs; she looked up, startled; and the next moment—when she saw Ronald
there—she had uttered a quick, sharp cry, and had staggered back a step
or so, until in her fright she caught at the wire fence behind her.  She
did not fall; but her face was as white as the snow around her; and when
he leapt from the waggonette, and seized her by both wrists, so as to
hold her there, she could only say, ’Ronald, Ronald,’ and could seek for
no explanation of this strange arrival.  But he held her tight and firm;
and with a wave of his hand he bade the driver drive on and leave them.
And Mr. Hodson lowered his eyes, thinking that he had seen enough; but
he formally raised his hat, all the same; and as he was being driven on
to the inn, he returned to his surmise that there was a girl in the
case—only who could have imagined that it was the Doctor’s daughter?

Nor was there a single word said about this tell-tale meeting when
Ronald came along to the inn, some few minutes thereafter.  He seemed a
little preoccupied, that was all.  He rather avoided the stormy welcome
that greeted him everywhere; and appeared to be wholly bent on getting
the preparations pushed forward for the fishing of the next day.  Of
course everything had to be arranged; for they had had no thought of
coming to Inver-Mudal when they sailed from Glasgow; there was not even
a boat on the loch, nor a single gillie engaged.

But later on that evening, when the short winter day had departed, and
the blackness of night lay over the land, Ronald stole away from the
inn, and went stealthily down through the fields till he found himself
by the side of the river.  Of course, there was nothing visible; had he
not known every foot of the ground, he dared not have come this way; but
onward he went like a ghost through the dark until he finally gained the
bridge, and there he paused and listened.  ’Meenie!’ he said, in a kind
of whisper; but there was no reply.  And so he groped his way to the
stone dyke by the side of the road, and sate down there, and waited.

This was not how he had looked forward to meeting Meenie again.  Many a
time he had pictured that to himself—his getting back to Inver-Mudal
after the long separation—the secret summons—and Meenie coming silently
out from the little cottage to join him.  But always the night was a
moonlight night; and the wide heavens calm and clear; and Loch Naver
rippling in silver under the dusky shadows of Ben Clebrig.  Why, he had
already written out that summons; and he had sent it to Meenie; and no
doubt she had read it over to herself more than once; and wondered when
the happy time was to be.  The night that he had looked forward to was
more like a night for a lovers’ meeting: this was the message he had
sent her—

_O white’s the moon upon the loch,_
  _And black the bushes on the brae,_
_And red the light in your window-pane:_
  _When will ye come away,_
    _Meenie,_
  _When will ye come away?_

_I’ll wrap ye round and keep ye warm,_
  _For mony a secret we’ve to tell,_
_And ne’er a sound will hinder us_
  _Down in yon hidden dell,_
    _Meenie,_
  _Down in yon hidden dell._

_O see the moon is sailing on_
  _Through fleecy clouds across the skies,_
_But fairer far the light that I know,_
  _The love-light in your eyes,_
    _Meenie,_
  _The love-light in your eyes._

_O haste and haste; the night is sweet,_
  _But sweeter far what I would hear;_
_And I have a secret to tell to you,_
  _A whisper in your ear,_
    _Meenie,_
  _A whisper in your ear._


But here was a bitter cold winter night; and Meenie would have to come
through the snow; and dark as pitch it was—he would have to guess at the
love-light in her eyes, so cruelly dense was this blackness all around.

Then his quick ear detected a faint sound in the distance—a hushed
footfall on the snow; and that came nearer and nearer; he went out to
the middle of the road.

’Is that you, Meenie?’

The answer was a whisper—

’Ronald!’

And like a ghost she came to him through the dark; but indeed this was
no ghost at all that he caught to him and that clung to him, for if her
cheeks were cold her breath was warm about his face, and her lips were
warm, and her ungloved hands that were round his neck were warm, and all
the furry wrappings that she wore could not quite conceal the joyful
beating of her heart.

’Oh, Ronald—Ronald—you nearly killed me with the fright—I thought
something dreadful had happened—that you had come back without any
warning—and now you say instead that it’s good news—oh, let it be good
news, Ronald—let it be good news—if you only knew how I have been
thinking and thinking—and crying sometimes—through the long days and the
long nights—let it be good news that you have brought with you, Ronald!’

’Well, lass’ (but this was said after some little time; for he had other
things to say to her with which we have no concern here), ’it may be
good news; but it’s pretty much guess-work; and maybe I’m building up
something on my own conceit, that will have a sudden fall, and serve me
right.  And then even at the best I hardly see——’

’But, Ronald, you said it was good news!’  And then she altered her
tone.  ’Ah, but I don’t care!  I don’t care at all when you are here.
It is only when you are away that my heart is like lead all the long
day; and at night I lie and think that everything is against us—and such
a long time to wait—and perhaps my people finding out—but what is it,
Ronald, you had to tell me?’

’Well, now, Meenie,’ said he.

’But that is not my name—to you,’ said she; for indeed she scarce knew
what she said, and was all trembling, and excited, and clinging to
him—there, in the dark, mid the wild waste of the snow.

’Love-Meenie and Rose-Meenie, all in one,’ said he, ’listen, and I’ll
tell you now what maybe lies before us. Maybe, it is, and that only; I
think this unexpected coming to see you may have put me off my head a
bit; but if it’s all a mistake—well, we are no worse off than we were
before.  And this is what it is now: do you remember my telling you that
Mr. Hodson had often been talking of buying an estate in the
Highlands?—well, he has just been looking at one—it’s over there on the
Ross-shire coast—and it’s that has brought us to the Highlands just now,
for he would have me come and look at it along with him. And what would
you think if he made me the factor of it? Well, maybe I’m daft to think
of such a thing; but he has been talking and talking in a way I cannot
understand unless some plan of that kind is in his head; ay, and he has
been making inquiries about me, as I hear; and not making much of the
forestry certificate, as to whether I get it or no; but rather, as I
should guess, thinking about putting me on this Balnavrain place as soon
as it becomes his own.  Ay, ay, sweetheart; that would be a fine thing
for me, to be in a position just like that of Mr. Crawford—though on a
small scale; and who could prevent my coming to claim my good wife then,
and declaring her as mine before all the world?’

’Yes, yes, Ronald,’ she said eagerly, ’but why do you talk like that?
Why do you speak as if there was trouble? Surely he will make you
factor!  It was he that asked you to go away to Glasgow; he always was
your friend; if he buys the estate, who else could he get to manage it
as well?’

’But there’s another thing, sweetheart,’ said he, rather hopelessly.
’He spoke about it yesterday.  Indeed, he put it plain enough.  He asked
me fairly whether, supposing somebody was to offer me the management of
an estate, I could get guarantees—securities for my honesty, in fact;
and he even mentioned the sum that would be needed. Well, well, it’s
beyond me, my girl—where could I find two people to stand surety for me
at £500 apiece?’

She uttered a little cry, and clung closer to him.

’Ronald—Ronald—surely you will not miss such a chance for that—it is a
matter of form, isn’t it?—and some one——’

’But who do I know that has got £500, and that I could ask?’ said he.
’Ay, and two of them.  Maybe Lord Ailine might be one—he was always a
good friend to me—but two of them—two of them—well, well, good lass, if
it has all got to go, we must wait for some other chance.’

’Yes,’ said Meenie bitterly, ’and this American—he calls himself a
friend of yours too—and he wants guarantees for your honesty!’

’It’s the usual thing, as he said himself,’ Ronald said. ’But don’t be
downhearted, my dear.  Hopes and disappointments come to every one, and
we must meet them like the rest.  The world has always something for
us—even these few minutes—with your cheeks grown warm again—and the
scent of your hair—ay, and your heart as gentle as ever.’

But she was crying a little.

’Ronald—surely—it is not possible this chance should be so near us—and
then to be taken away.  And can’t I do something?  I know the Glengask
people will be angry—but—but I would write to Lady Stuart—or if I could
only go to her, that would be better—it would be between woman and
woman, and surely she would not refuse when she knew how we were
placed—and—and it would be something for me to do—for you know you’ve
married a pauper bride, Ronald—and I bring you nothing—when even a
farmer’s daughter would have her store of napery and a chest of drawers
and all that—but couldn’t I do this, Ronald?—I would go and see Lady
Stuart—she could not refuse me!’

He laughed lightly; and his hands were clasped round the soft brown
hair.

’No, no, no, sweetheart; things will have come to a pretty pass before I
would have you exposed to any humiliation of that sort.  And why should
you be down-hearted?  The world is young for both of us.  Oh, don’t you
be afraid; a man that can use his ten fingers and is willing to work
will tumble into something sooner or later; and what is the use of being
lovers if we are not to have our constancy tried?  No, no; you keep a
brave heart: if this chance has to be given up, we’ll fall in with
another; and maybe it will be all the more welcome that we have had to
wait a little while for it.’

’A little while, Ronald?’ said she.

He strove to cheer her and reassure her still further; although, indeed,
there was not much time for that; for he had been commanded to dine with
Mr. Hodson at half-past seven; and he knew better than to keep the man
who might possibly be his master waiting for dinner.  And presently
Meenie and he were going quietly along the snow-hushed road; and he bade
her good-bye—many and many times repeated—near the little garden-gate;
and then made his way back to the inn.  He had just time to brush his
hair and smarten himself up a bit when the pretty Nelly—who seemed to be
a little more friendly and indulgent towards him than in former
days—came to say that she had taken the soup into the parlour, and that
the gentleman was waiting.

Now Mr. Hodson was an astute person; and he suspected something, and was
anxious to know more; but he was not so ill-advised as to begin with
direct questions. For one thing, there was still a great deal to be
talked over about the Balnavrain estate—which he had almost decided on
purchasing; and, amongst other matters, Ronald was asked whether the
overseer of such a place would consider £400 a year a sufficient salary,
if a plainly and comfortably built house were thrown in; and also
whether, in ordinary circumstances, there would be any difficulty about
a young fellow obtaining two sureties to be responsible for him. From
that it was a long way round to the Doctor’s daughter; but Mr. Hodson
arrived there in time; for he had brought for her a present from his own
daughter; and he seemed inclined to talk in a friendly way about the
young lady. And at last he got the whole story.  Once started, Ronald
spoke frankly enough.  He confessed to his day-dreams about one so far
superior to him in station; he described his going away to Glasgow; his
loneliness and despair there; his falling among evil companions and his
drinking; the message of the white heather; his pulling himself up; and
Meenie’s sudden resolve and heroic self-surrender. The private marriage,
too—yes, he heard the whole story from beginning to end; and the more he
heard the more his mind was busy; though he was a quiet kind of person,
and the recital did not seem to move him in any way whatever.

And yet it may be doubted whether, in all the county of Sutherland, or
in all the realm of England, there was any happier man that night than
Mr. Josiah Hodson.  For here was something entirely after his own heart.
His pet hobby was playing the part of a small beneficent Providence; and
he had already befriended Ronald, and was greatly interested in him;
moreover, had he not promised his daughter, when she lay apparently very
near to death, that Ronald should be looked after?  But surely he had
never looked forward to any such opportunity as this!  And then the girl
was so pretty—that, also, was something.  His heart warmed to the
occasion; dinner being over, they drew their chairs towards the big
fireplace where the peats were blazing cheerfully; Ronald was bidden to
light his pipe; and then; the American—in a quiet, indifferent,
sententious way, as if he were talking of some quite abstract and
unimportant matter—made his proposal.

’Well, now, Ronald,’ said he, as he stirred up some of the peats with
his foot, ’you seemed to think that £400 a year and a house thrown in
was good enough for the overseer of that Balnavrain place.  I don’t know
what your intentions are; but if you like to take that situation, it’s
yours.’

Ronald looked startled—but only for a moment.

’I thank ye, sir; I thank ye,’ he said, with rather a downcast face.  ’I
will not say I had no suspicion ye were thinking of some such kindness;
and I thank ye—most heartily I thank ye.  But it’s beyond me.  I could
not get the securities.’

’Well, now, as to that,’ the American said, after a moment’s
consideration, ’I am willing to take one security—I mean for the whole
amount; and I want to name the person myself.  If Miss Douglas will go
bail for you—or Mrs. Strang, I suppose I should call her—then there is
no more to be said.  Ronald, my good fellow, if the place is worth your
while, take it; it’s yours.’

A kind of flash of joy and gratitude leapt to the younger man’s eyes;
but all he could manage to say was—

’If I could only tell _her_!’

’Well, now, as to that again,’ said Mr. Hodson, rising slowly, and
standing with his back to the fire, ’I have got to take along that
present from my daughter—to-morrow morning would be best; and I could
give her the information, if you wished.  But I’ll tell you what would
be still better, my friend: you just let me settle this little affair
with the old people—with the mamma, as I understand. I’m not much of a
talkist; but if you give me permission I’ll have a try; I think we might
come to some kind of a reasonable understanding, if she doesn’t flatten
me with her swell relations.  Why, yes, I think I can talk sense to her.
I don’t want to see the girl kept in that position; your Scotch
ways—well, we haven’t got any old ballads in my country, and we like to
have our marriages fair and square and aboveboard: now let me tell the
old lady the whole story, and try to make it up with her.  She can’t
scold my head off.’

And by this time he was walking up and down the room; and he continued—

’No; I shall go round to-morrow afternoon, when we come back from the
fishing.  And look here, Ronald; this is what I want you to do; you must
get the other boat down to the lake—and you will go in that one—and get
another lad or two—I will pay them anything they want. I can’t have my
overseer acting as gillie, don’t you see—if I am going to talk with his
mother-in-law; you must get out the other boat; and if you catch a
salmon or two, just you send them along to the Doctor, with your
compliments—do you hear, your compliments, not mine.  Now——’

’And I have not a word of thanks!’ Ronald exclaimed. ’My head is just
bewildered——’

’Say, now,’ the American continued quietly—in fact, he seemed to be
considering his finger-nails more than anything else, as he walked up
and down the room—’say, now, what do you think the Doctor’s income
amounts to in the year?  Not much?  Two hundred pounds with all expenses
paid?’

’I really don’t know,’ Ronald said—not understanding the drift of this
question.

’Not three hundred, anyway?’

’I’m sure I don’t know.’

’Ah.  Well, now, I’ve got to talk to that old lady to-morrow about the
prospects of her son-in-law—though she don’t know she has got one,’ Mr.
Hodson was saying—half to himself, as it were.  ’I suppose she’ll jump
on me when I begin.  But there’s one thing.  If I can’t convince her
with four hundred a year, I’ll try her with five—and Carry shall kiss me
the difference.’



                             *CHAPTER XVI.*

                      *THE FACTOR OF BALNAVRAIN.*


Well, now, some couple of months or so thereafter, this same Miss Carry
was one of a party of four—all Americans—who set out from Lairg station
to drive to Inver-Mudal; and very comfortable and content with each
other they seemed to be when they were ensconced in the big waggonette.
For a convalescent, indeed, Miss Hodson appeared to be in excellent
spirits; but there may have been reasons for that; for she had recently
become engaged; and her betrothed, to mark that joyful circumstance, had
left for Europe with her; and it was his first trip to English shores;
and more especially it was his first trip to the Highlands of Scotland;
and very proud was she of her self-imposed office of chaperon and
expounder and guide.  Truth to tell, the long and lank editor found that
in many respects he had fallen upon troublous times; for not only was he
expected to be profoundly interested in historical matters about which
he did not care a red cent, and to accept any and every inconvenience
and discomfort as if it were a special blessing from on high, and to be
ready at all moments to admire mountains and glens and lakes when he
would much rather have been talking of something more personal to Miss
Carry and himself, but also—and this was the cruellest wrong of all—he
had to listen to continued praises of Ronald Strang that now and again
sounded suspiciously like taunts.  And on such occasions he was puzzled
by the very audacity of her eyes.  She regarded him boldly—as if to
challenge him to say that she did not mean every word she uttered; and
he dared not quarrel with her, or dispute; though sometimes he had his
own opinion as to whether those pretty soft dark eyes were quite so
innocent and simple and straightforward as they pretended to be.

’Ah,’ said she, as they were now driving away from the village into the
wide, wild moorland, ’ah, when you see Ronald, you will see a man.’

She had her eyes fixed on him.

’I suppose they don’t grow that kind of a thing in our country,’ he
answered meekly.

’I mean,’ she said, with a touch of pride, ’I mean a man who is not
ashamed to be courteous to women—a man who knows how to show proper
respect to women.’

’Why, yes, I’ll allow you won’t find that quality in an American,’ he
said, with a subtle sarcasm that escaped her, for she was too obviously
bent on mischief.

’And about the apology, now?’

’What apology?’

’For your having published an insulting article about Ronald, to be
sure.  Of course you will have to apologise to him, before this very day
is over.’

’I will do anything else you like,’ the long editor said, with much
complaisance.  ’I will fall in love with the young bride, if you like.
Or I’ll tell lies about the weight of the salmon when I get back home.
But an apology? Seems to me a man making an apology looks about as
foolish as a woman throwing a stone: I don’t see my way to that.
Besides, where does the need of it come in, anyhow?  You never read the
article.  It was very complimentary, as I think; yes, it was so; a whole
column and more about a Scotch gamekeeper——’

’A Scotch gamekeeper!’ Miss Carry said proudly. ’Well, now, just you
listen to me.  Ronald knows nothing at all about this article; if he
did, he would only laugh at it; but he never heard of it; and it’s not
to be spoken of here.  But I mean to speak of it, by and by.  I mean to
speak of it, when I make the acquaintance of—what’s his distinguished
name?——’

But here Miss Kerfoot—who, with her married sister, occupied the other
side of the waggonette—broke in.

’You two quarrelling again!’  And then she sighed. ’But what is the good
of a drive, anyway, when we haven’t got Doctor Tom and his banjo?’

’A banjo—in Strath-Terry?’ Miss Carry cried.  ’Do you mean to say you
would like to hear a banjo tinkle-tinkling in a country like this?’

’Yes, my dyaw,’ said Miss Kerfoot coolly: she had been making some
studies in English pronunciation, and was getting on pretty well.

’I suppose you can’t imagine how Adam passed the time without one in the
Garden of Eden—wanted to play to Eve on the moonlight nights—a
cake-walk, I suppose—pumpkin-pie—why, I wonder what’s the use of
bringing you to Europe.’

For answer Miss Kerfoot began to hum to herself—but with the words
sounding clearly enough—

  _’I’se gwine back to Dixie,_
    _I’se gwine back to Dixie,_
_I’se gwine where the orange blossoms grow;_

    _O, I’d rather be in Dixie,_
    _I’d rather be in Dixie,_
_For travelling in the Highlands is so——’_

But here remorse of conscience smote her; and she seized Carry’s hand.

’No, I won’t say it—you poor, weak, invalid thing. And were they
worrying you about the Highlands, and the slow trains, and the stuffy
omnibus at Lairg?  Well, they shan’t say anything more to you—that they
shan’t; and you are to have everything your own way; and I’m going to
fall in love with Ronald, just to keep you company.’

But alas! when they did eventually get to Inver-Mudal, there was no
Ronald to be found there.  Mr. Murray was there, and Mrs. Murray, and
the yellow-haired Nelly; and the travellers were told that luncheon was
awaiting them; and also that Mr. Hodson had had the second boat put in
readiness, lest any of them should care to try the fishing in the
afternoon.

’But where is Ronald?’ said Miss Carry, not in the least concealing her
vexation.

’Don’t cry, poor thing,’ Miss Kerfoot whispered to her. ’It shall have
its Ronald!’

’Oh, don’t bother!’ she said angrily.  ’Mr. Murray, where is Ronald?  Is
he with my father on the loch?’

’No, no; it’s the two gillies that’s with Mr. Hodson on the loch,’ the
innkeeper said.  ’And do not you know, Miss, that Ronald is not here at
ahl now; he is away at the place in Ross-shire.’

’Oh yes, I know that well enough,’ she said, ’but my father wrote that
he was coming over to see us for a day or two; and he was to be here
this morning—and his wife as well.  But it is of no consequence.  I
suppose we had better go in and have lunch now.’

Miss Kerfoot was covertly laughing.  But there was a young lad there
called Johnnie—a shy lad he was, and he was standing apart from the
others, and thus it was that he could see along the road leading down to
the Mudal bridge.  Something in that direction attracted Johnnie’s
attention; he came over and said a word or two to Mr. Murray; the
innkeeper went to the gable of the house, so that he could get a look up
Tongue way, and then he said—

’Oh yes, I think that will be Ronald.’

’Don’t you hear?’ said Miss Kerfoot, who was following the others into
the inn.  ’They say that Ronald is coming right now.’

Miss Carry turned at once, and went to where the inn-keeper was
standing.  Away along there, and just coming over the bridge, was a
dog-cart, with two figures in it. She watched it.  By and by it was
pulled up in front of the Doctor’s cottage; she guessed that that was
Meenie who got down from the vehicle and went into the house; no doubt
this was Ronald who was now bringing the dog-cart along to the inn.  And
then the others were summoned; and presently Ronald had arrived and was
being introduced to them; and Miss Carry had forgotten all her
impatience, for he looked just as handsome and good-natured and
modest-eyed as ever; and it was very clear that Miss Kerfoot was much
impressed with the frankness and simplicity of his manner; and the
editor strove to be particularly civil; and Mrs. Lalor regarded the
new-comer with an obviously approving glance.  For they all had heard
the story; and they were interested in him, and in his young wife;
besides, they did not wish to wound the feelings of this poor invalid
creature—and they knew what she thought of Ronald.

And how was he to answer all at once these hundred questions about the
Ross-shire place, and the house that was building for them, and the farm
where he and his wife were temporarily staying?

’Come in and have lunch with us, Ronald,’ said Miss Carry, in her usual
frank way, ’and then you will tell us all about it.  We were just going
in; and it’s on the table.’

’I cannot do that very well, I thank ye,’ said he, ’for I have to go
back to the Doctor’s as soon as I have seen the mare looked after—

’Oh, but I thought you were coming down to the loch with us!’ she said,
with very evident disappointment.

’Yes, yes, to be sure!’ said he.  ’I’ll be back in a quarter of an hour
at the furthest; and then I’ll take one of the lads with me and we’ll
have the other boat got out as well.’

’But you don’t understand, Ronald,’ she said quickly. ’The other boat is
there—ready—and two gillies, and rods, and everything.  I only want you
to come with us for luck; there’s always good luck when you are in the
boat.  Ah, do you know what they did to me on Lake George?’

’Indeed, I was sorry to hear of it, Miss,’ said he gravely.

’Miss!’ she repeated, with a kind of reproach; but she could not keep
the others waiting any longer; and so there was an appointment made that
they were all to meet at the loch-side in half an hour; and she and her
friends went into the house.

When it came to setting out, however, Mrs. Lalor begged to be excused;
she was a little bit tired, she said, and would go and lie down.  So the
other three went by themselves; and when they got down to the loch, they
not only found that Ronald was there awaiting them, but also that Mr.
Hodson had reeled up his lines and come ashore to welcome them.  Of
course that was the sole reason. At the same time the gillies had got
out three remarkably handsome salmon and put them on the grass; and that
was the display that met the eyes of the strangers when they drew near.
Mr. Hodson was not proud; but he admitted that they were good-looking
fish.  Yes; it was a fair morning’s work.  But there were plenty more
where these came from, he said encouragingly; they’d better begin.

Whereupon Miss Carry said promptly—

’Come along, Em.  Mr. Huysen, will you go with pappa, when he is ready?
And Ronald will come with us, to give us good luck at the start.’

Miss Kerfoot said nothing, but did as she was bid; she merely cast a
glance at Mr. Huysen as they were leaving; and her eyes were demure.

However, if she considered this manoeuvre—as doubtless she did—a piece
of mere wilful and perverse coquetry on the part of her friend, she was
entirely mistaken.  It simply never would have entered Miss Carry’s head
that Ronald should have gone into any other person’s boat, so long as
she was there—nor would it have entered his head either.  But besides
that, she had brought something for him; and she wished to have time to
show it to him; and so, when the boat was well away from the shore, and
when he had put out both the lines, she asked him to be so kind as to
undo the long case lying there, and to put the rod together, and say
what he thought of it.  It was a salmon-rod, she explained; of American
make; she had heard they were considered rather superior articles; and
if he approved of this one, she begged that he would keep it.

He looked up with a little surprise.

’Ye are just too kind,’ said he.  ’There’s that beautiful rug that you
sent to my wife, now——’

’But isn’t it useful?’ she said, in her quick, frank way. ’Isn’t it
comfortable?  When you were coming along this morning, didn’t she find
it comfortable?’

’Bless me!’ he cried.  ’Do you think she would put a beautiful thing
like that into a dog-cart to be splashed with mud, and soiled with one’s
boots?  No, no; it’s put over an easy-chair at the Doctor’s, until we
get a house of our own, and proud she is of it, as she ought to be.’

And proud was he, too, of this beautiful rod—if he declared that it was
far too fine for this coarse trolling work; and Miss Kerfoot arrived at
the impression that if he could not make pretty speeches of thanks,
there was that in his manner that showed he was not ungrateful.

Nor was Miss Carry’s faith in Ronald’s good luck belied; for they had
not been more than twenty minutes out on the loch when they had got hold
of something; and at once she rose superior to the excitement of the
gillies, and to the consternation of her American friend. Perhaps she
was showing off a little; at all events, she seemed quite cool and
collected, as if this strain on the rod and the occasional long scream
of the reel were a usual kind of thing; and Ronald looked on in quiet
composure, believing that his pupil was best left alone.  But alas!
alas! for that long illness.  The fish was a heavy one and a game
fighter; Miss Carry’s arms were weaker than she had thought; at the end
of about a quarter of an hour—during which time the salmon had been
plunging and boring and springing, and making long rushes in every
conceivable manner—she began to feel the strain. But she was a brave
lass; as long as ever she could stand upright, she held on; then she
said, rather faintly—

’Ronald!’

’Take the rod,’ she said, ’the fish isn’t played out; but I am.’

’What’s the matter?’ said he, in great alarm, as she sank on to the
seat.

’Oh, nothing, nothing,’ she said, though she was a little pale.  ’Give
Em the rod—give Miss Kerfoot the rod—quick, Em, get up and land your
first salmon.’

’Oh my gracious, no!  I should die of fright!’ was the immediate answer.

But Ronald had no intention of allowing Miss Carry’s salmon to be handed
over to any one else.  He turned to the gillies.

’Is there not a drop of whisky in the boat?  Quick, lads, if you have
such a thing—quick, quick!—

They handed him a small green bottle; but she shrank from it.

’The taste is too horrid for anything,’ she said.  ’But I will have
another try.  Stand by me, Ronald; and mind I don’t fall overboard.’

She got hold of the rod again; he held her right arm—but only to steady
her.

’Carry—Carry!’ her friend said anxiously.  ’I wish you’d leave it alone.
Remember, you’ve been ill—it’s too much for you—oh, I wish the thing
would go away!’

’I mean to wave the banner over this beast, if I die for it,’ Miss Carry
said, under her breath; and Ronald laughed—for that was more of his way
of thinking.

’We’ll have him, sure enough,’ he said.  ’Ay, and a fine fish, too, that
I know.’

’Oh, Ronald!’ she cried.

For there was a sudden and helpless slackening of the line.  But she had
experience enough to reel up hard; and presently it appeared that the
salmon was there—very much there, in fact, for now it began to go
through some performances—within five-and-twenty yards of the boat—that
nearly frightened Miss Kerfoot out of her wits.  And then these cantrips
moderated slowly down; the line was got in shorter; Ronald, still
steadying Miss Carry’s right arm with his left hand, got hold of the
clip in the other; and the young lady who was the spectator of all this
manoeuvring began rather to draw away in fear, as that large white
gleaming thing showed nearer and nearer the coble.  Nay, she uttered a
quick cry of alarm when a sudden dive of the steel hook brought out of
the water a huge silvery creature that the next moment was in the bottom
of the boat; and then she found that Carry had sunk down beside her,
pretty well exhausted, but immensely proud: and that the gillies were
laughing and vociferous and excited over the capture; and Ronald calmly
getting out his scale-weight from his pocket.  The other boat was just
then passing.

’A good one?’ Mr. Hodson called out.

’Just over sixteen pounds, sir.’

’Well done.  But leave us one or two; don’t take them all.’

Miss Carry paid no heed.  She was far too much exhausted; but pleased
and satisfied, also, that she had been able to see this fight to the
end.  And she remembered enough of the customs of the country to ask the
two gillies to take a dram—though it had to come from their own bottle;
she said she would see that that was replenished when they got back to
the inn.

It was a beautiful clear evening as they all of them—the fishing having
been given up for the day—walked away through the meadows, and up into
the road, and so on to the little hamlet; the western sky was shining in
silver-gray and lemon and saffron; and there was a soft sweet feeling
almost as of summer in the air, though the year was yet young.  They had
got six fish all told; that is to say, Mr. Hodson’s boat had got one
more in the afternoon; while Miss Carry had managed to pick up a small
thing of eight pounds or so just as they were leaving off.  The fact
was, they did not care to prosecute the fishing till the last moment;
for there was to be a little kind of a dinner-celebration that evening;
and no doubt some of them wanted to make themselves as smart as
possible—though the possibilities, as a rule, don’t go very far in the
case of a fishing-party in a Highland inn—all to pay due honour to the
bride.

And surely if ever Meenie could lay claim to the title of Rose-Meenie it
was on this evening when she came among these stranger folk—who were
aware of her story, if not a word was said or hinted of it—and found all
the women be-petting her.  And Mrs. Douglas was there, radiant in silk
and ribbons, if somewhat austere in manner; and the big good-natured
Doctor was there, full to overflowing with jests and quips and occult
Scotch stories; and Mr. and Mrs. Murray had done their very best for the
decoration of the dining-room—though Sutherlandshire in April is far
from being Florida.  And perhaps, too, Miss Carry was a little paid out
when she saw the perfectly servile adulation which Mr. J. C. Huysen (who
had a sensitive heart, according to the young men of the _N. Y. Sun_)
laid at the feet of the pretty young bride; though Mr. Hodson rather
interfered with that, claiming Mrs. Strang as his own.  Of course, Miss
Kerfoot was rather down-hearted, because of the absence of her Tom and
his banjo; but Ronald had promised her she should kill a salmon on the
morrow; and that comforted her a little.  Mrs. Lalor had recovered, and
was chiefly an amused spectator; there was a good deal of human nature
about; and she had eyes.

Altogether it was a pleasant enough evening; for, although the Americans
and the Scotch are the two nations out of all the world that are the
most madly given to after-dinner speech-making, nothing of the kind was
attempted: Mr. Hodson merely raised his glass and gave ’The Bride!’ and
Ronald said a few manly and sensible words in reply. Even Mrs. Douglas
so far forgot the majesty of Glengask and Orosay as to become quite
complaisant; perhaps she reflected that it was, after all, chiefly
through the kindness of these people that her daughter and her
daughter’s husband had been placed in a comfortable and assured
position.

Ronald and Meenie had scarcely had time as yet to cease from being
lovers; and so it was that on this same night he presented her with two
or three more of those rhymes that sometimes he still wrote about her
when the fancy seized him.  In fact, he had written these verses as he
sate on the deck of the big screw-steamer, when she was slowly steaming
up the Raasay Sound.

_O what’s the sweetest thing there is_
  _In all the wide, wide world?—_
_A rose that hides its deepest scent_
  _In the petals closely curled?_

_Of the honey that’s in the clover;_
  _Or the lark’s song in the morn;_
_Or the wind that blows in summer_
  _Across the fields of corn;_

_Or the dew that the queen of the fairies_
  _From her acorn-chalice sips?_
_Ah no; for sweeter and sweeter far_
  _Is a kiss from Meenie’s lips!_

And Meenie was pleased—perhaps, indeed, she said as much and showed as
much, when nobody was by; but all the same she hid away the little
fragment among a mass of similar secret treasures she possessed; for she
was a young wife now; and fully conscious of the responsibilities of her
position; and well was she aware that it would never do for any one to
imagine that nonsense of that kind was allowed to interfere with the
important public duties of the factor of Balnavrain.



                                THE END.



           *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *



                       *NOVELS BY WILLIAM BLACK.*

                        _Crown 8vo.  6s. each._


THE STRANGE ADVENTURES OF A PHAETON.  Illustrated.
A PRINCESS OF THULE.
THE MAID OF KILLEENA; and other Tales.
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MACLEOD OF DARE.  With Illustrations.
WHITE WINGS; a Yachting Romance.
THE BEAUTIFUL WRETCH; The Four Macnicols; A Pupil of Aurelius.
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YOLANDE: The Story of a Daughter.
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THE WISE WOMEN OF INVERNESS, a Tale; and other Miscellanies.

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A DAUGHTER OF HETH.
KILMENY.
THREE FEATHERS.
LADY SILVERDALE’S SWEETHEART.
IN SILK ATTIRE.
SUNRISE.

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Tom Brown’s Schooldays.
Tom Brown at Oxford.
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BY THE AUTHOR OF "JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN."

The Ogilvies.  Illustrated by J. M. M’RALSTON.
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Heartsease.
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My Young Alcides.
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The Caged Lion.
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Love and Life.
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Lady Hester and the Danvers Papers.
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Unknown to History.
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Castle Daly.
A Doubting Heart.
Oldbury.
A York and a Lancaster Rose.
Clemency Franklyn.


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The American.
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Daisy Miller: An International Episode: Four Meetings.
Roderick Hudson.
The Madonna of the Future, and other Tales.
Washington Square: The Pension Beaurepas: A Bundle of Letters.
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Stories Revived.  Two Series.


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Haworth’s.
Louisiana; and That Lass o’ Lowrie’s.


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Hester.
Sir Tom.
The Wizard’s Son.
A Beleaguered City.


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