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Title: A Princess of Thule
Author: Black, William
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                         A PRINCESS OF THULE.

                                  BY

                            WILLIAM BLACK,

                               AUTHOR OF

            “A DAUGHTER OF HETH,” “MADCAP VIOLET,” “STRANGE
                    ADVENTURES OF A PHAETON,” ETC.

                               NEW YORK:
                        JOHN W. LOVELL COMPANY,
                         14 & 16 VESEY STREET.



                         A PRINCESS OF THULE.

                           By WILLIAM BLACK.



CHAPTER I.

“LOCHABER NO MORE.”


On a small headland of the distant island of Lewis, an old man stood
looking out on a desolate waste of rain-beaten sea. It was a wild and
wet day. From out of the lowering Southwest fierce gusts of wind were
driving up volumes and flying rags of clouds, and sweeping onward at the
same time the gathering waves that fell hissing and thundering on the
shore. Far as the eye could reach, the sea and the air and the sky
seemed to be one indistinguishable mass of whirling and hurrying vapor,
as if beyond this point there were no more land, but only wind and
water, and the confused and awful voice of their strife.

The short, thick-set, powerfully-built man who stood on this solitary
point paid little attention to the rain that ran off the peak of his
sailor’s cap, or to the gusts of wind that blew about his bushy gray
beard. He was still following, with an eye accustomed to pick out
objects far at sea, one speck of purple that was now fading into the
gray mist of the rain; and the longer he looked the less it became,
until the mingled sea and sky showed only the smoke that the great
steamer left in its wake. As he stood there, motionless and regardless
of everything around him, did he cling to the fancy that he could still
trace out the path of the vanished ship? A little while before it had
passed almost close to him. He had watched it steam out of Stornoway
Harbor. As the sound of the engines came nearer and the big boat went
by, so that he could have almost called to it, there was no sign of
emotion on the hard and stern face, except, perhaps, that the lips were
held firm and a sort of frown appeared over the eyes. He saw a tiny
white handkerchief being waved to him from the deck of the vessel; and
he said, almost as though he were addressing some one there:

“My good little girl!”

But in the midst of that roaring of the sea and the wind how could any
such message be delivered? And already the steamer was away from the
land, standing out to the lonely plain of waters, and the sound of the
engines had ceased, and the figures on the deck had grown faint and
visionary. But still there was that one speck of white visible; and the
man knew that a pair of eyes that had many a time looked into his
own--as if with a faith that such intercommunion could never be
broken--were now trying, through overflowing and blinding tears, to send
him a last look of farewell.

The gray mists of the rain gathered within their folds the big vessel
and all the beating hearts it contained, and the fluttering of that
little token disappeared with it. All that remained was the sea,
whitened by the rushing of the wind and the thunder of waves on the
beach. The man, who had been gazing so long down into the Southeast,
turned his face landward and set out to walk over a tract of wet grass
and sand toward a road that ran near by. There was a large wagonette of
varnished oak and a pair of small powerful horses waiting for him there;
and having dismissed the boy who had been in charge, he took the reins
and got up. But even yet the fascination of the sea and of that sad
farewell was upon him, and he turned once more, as if, now that sight
could yield him no further tidings, he would send her one more word of
good-by. “My poor little Sheila!” That was all he said; and then he
turned to the horses and sent them on, with his head down to escape the
rain, and a look on his face like that of a dead man.

As he drove through the town of Stornoway the children playing within
the shelter of the cottage doors called to each other in a whisper and
said: “That is the King of Borva.”

But the elderly people said to each other, with a shake of the head, “It
iss a bad day, this day, for Mr. Mackenzie, that he will be going home
to an empty house. And it will be a ferry bad thing for the poor folk of
Borva, and they will know a great difference, now that Miss Sheila iss
gone away, and there is nobody--not anybody at all--left in the island
to tek the side of the poor folk.”

He looked neither to the right nor to the left, though he was known to
many of the people, as he drove away from the town into the heart of the
lonely and desolate land. The wind had so far died down, and the rain
had considerably lessened, but the gloom of the sky was deepened by the
drawing on of the afternoon, and lay heavily over the dreary wastes of
moor and hill. What a wild and dismal country was this which lay before
and all around him, now that the last traces of human occupation were
passed! There was not a cottage, not a stone wall, not a fence, to break
the monotony of the long undulations of moorland, which in the distance
rose into a series of hills that were black under the darkened sky. Down
from those mountains ages ago, glaciers had slowly crept to eat out
hollows in the plains below; and now in those hollows were lonely lakes,
with not a tree to break the line of their melancholy shores. Everywhere
around were the traces of this glacier drift--great gray boulders of
gneiss fixed fast into the black peat moss, or set amid the browns and
greens of the heather. The only sound to be heard in this wilderness of
rock and morass was the rushing of various streams, rain-swollen and
turbid, that plunged down their narrow channels to the sea.

The rain now ceased altogether, but the mountains in the far south had
grown still darker, and to the fishermen passing by the coast it must
have seemed as though the black peaks were holding converse with the
lowering clouds, and that the silent moorland beneath was waiting for
the first roll of the thunder. The man who was driving along this lonely
route sometimes cast a glance down toward this threatening of a storm,
but he paid little heed to it. The reins lay loose on the backs of the
horses, and at their own pace they followed, hour after hour, the rising
and falling road that led through the moorland and past the gloomy
lakes. He may have recalled mechanically the names of those stretches of
water--The Lake of the Sheiling, the Lake of the Oars, the Lake of the
Fine Sand, and so forth--to measure the distance he had traversed; but
he seemed to pay little attention to the objects around him, and it was
with a glance of something like surprise, that he suddenly found himself
overlooking that great sea-loch on the western side of the island in
which was his home.

He drove down the hill to the solitary little inn of Gara-na-hina. At
the door, muffled up in a warm woolen plaid, stood a young girl,
fair-haired, blue-eyed, and diffident in look.

“Mr. Mackenzie,” she said, with that peculiar and pleasant intonation
that marks the speech of the Hebridean who has been taught English in
the schools, “it was Miss Sheila wrote to me to Suainabost, and she said
I might come down from Suainabost and see if I can be of any help to you
in the house.”

The girl was crying, although the blue eyes looked bravely through the
tears as if to disprove the fact.

“Ay, my good lass,” he said, putting his hand gently on her head, “and
it wass Sheila wrote to you?”

“Yes, sir, and I hef come down from Suainabost.”

“It is a lonely house you will be going to,” he said, absently.

“But Miss Sheila said I wass--I wass to--” But here the young girl
failed in her effort to explain that Miss Sheila had asked her to go
down to make the house less lonely. The elderly man in the wagonette
seemed scarcely to notice that she was crying; he bade her come up
beside him; and when he had got her into the wagonette he left some
message with the innkeeper, who had come to the door, and drove off
again.

They drove along the high land that overlooks a portion of Loch Roag,
with its wonderful network of islands and straits, and then they stopped
on the lofty plateau of Callernish, where there was a man waiting to
take the wagonette and horses.

“And you would be seeing Miss Sheila away, sir?” said the man; “and it
was Duncan Macdonald will say that she will not come back no more to
Borva.”

The old man with the big gray beard only frowned and passed on. He and
the girl made their way down the side of the rocky hill to the shore,
and here there was an open boat awaiting them. When they approached, a
man considerably over six feet in height, keen-faced, gray-eyed,
straight-limbed and sinewy in frame, jumped into the big and rough boat
and began to get ready for their departure. There was just enough wind
to catch the brown mainsail, and the King of Borva took the tiller, his
henchman sitting down by the mast. And no sooner had they left the shore
and stood out towards one of the channels of this arm of the sea, than
the tall, spare keeper began to talk of that which made his master’s eye
grow dark. “Ah, well,” he said, in the plaintive drawling of his race,
“and it iss an empty house you will be going to, Mr. Mackenzie; and it
iss a bad thing for us all that Miss Sheila hass gone away; and it iss
many’s ta time she will hef been wiss me in this very boat--”

“---- ---- ---- ---- you, Duncan Macdonald!” cried Mackenzie, in an access
of fury, “what will you talk of like that? It iss every man, woman and
child on the island will talk of nothing but Sheila! I will drive my
foot through the bottom of the boat if you do not hold your peace!”

The tall gillie patiently waited until his master had exhausted his
passion, and then he said, as if nothing had occurred: “And it will not
do much good, Mr. Mackenzie, to tek ta name o’ God in vain; and there
will be much more of trinking in ta island, and it will be a great
difference mirover. And she will be so far away that no one will see her
no more--far away beyond ta sound of Sleat, and far away beyond Oban, as
I hef heard people say. And what will she do in London, when she has no
boat at all, and she will never go out to ta fishing? And I will hear
people say that you will walk a whole day and never come to ta sea, and
what will Miss Sheila do for that? And she will tame no more o’ ta wild
ducks’ young things, and she will find out no more o’ ta nests in the
rocks, and she will hef no more horns when the deer is killed, and she
will go out no more to see ta cattle swim across Loch Roag when they go
to ta sheilings. It will be all different, all different, now; and she
will never see us no more. And it iss as bad as if you was a poor man,
Mr. Mackenzie, and had to let your sons and your daughters go away to
America, and never come back no more. And she ta only one in your house!
And it wass the son of Mr. Macintyre, of Sutherland, he would have
married her, and come to live on ta island, and not have Miss Sheila go
away among strangers that doesna ken her family, and will put no store
by her, no more than if she was a fisherman’s lass. It wass Miss Sheila
herself had a sore heart tis morning when she went away; and she turned
and she looked at Borva as the boat came away, and I said, ’Tis iss the
last time Miss Sheila will be in her boat, and she will not come no more
again to Borva.”

Mr. Mackenzie heard not one word or syllable of all this. The dead,
passionless look had fallen over the powerful features, and the deep-set
eyes were gazing, not on the actual Loch Roag before them, but on a
stormy sea that lies between Lewis and Skye, and on a vessel
disappearing in the midst of the rain. It was by a sort of instinct that
he guided this open boat through the channels, which were now getting
broader as they neared the sea, and the tall and grave-faced keeper
might have kept up his garrulous talk for hours without attracting a
look or a word.

It was now the dusk of the evening, and wild and strange indeed was the
scene around the solitary boat as it slowly moved along. Large
islands--so large that any one of them might have been mistaken for the
mainland--lay over the dark waters of the sea, remote, untenanted and
silent. There were no white cottages along these rocky shores; only a
succession of rugged cliffs and sandy bays, but half mirrored in the
sombre water below. Down in the South the mighty shoulders and peaks of
Suainabhal and its sister mountains were still darker than the darkening
sky; and when at length the boat had got well out from the network of
islands and fronted the broad waters of the Atlantic, the great plain of
the western sea seemed already to have drawn around it the solemn mantle
of the night.

“Will you go to Borvapost, Mr. Mackenzie, or will we run her into your
own house?” asked Duncan--Borvapost being the name of the chief village
on the island.

“I will not go on to Borvapost,” said the old man, peevishly. “Will they
not have plenty to talk about at Borvapost?”

“And it iss no harm tat ta folk will speak of Miss Sheila,” said the
gillie with some show of resentment: “it iss no harm tey will be sorry
she is gone away--no harm at all, for it was many things tey had to
thank Miss Sheila for; and now it will be all ferry different--”

“I tell you, Duncan Macdonald, to hold your peace!” said the old man,
with a savage glare of the deep-set eyes; and then Duncan relapsed into
a sulky silence, and the boat held on its way.

In the gathering twilight a long gray curve of sand became visible, and
into the bay thus indicated Mackenzie turned his small craft. This
indentation of the island seemed as blank of human occupation as the
various points and bays they had passed, but as they neared the shore a
house came into sight, about half way up the slope rising from the sea
to the pasture land above. There was a small stone pier jutting out at
one portion of the bay, where a mass of rocks was embedded in the white
sand; and here at length the boat was run in, and Mackenzie helped the
young girl ashore.

The two of them, leaving the gillie to moor the little vessel that had
brought them from Callernish, went silently toward the shore, and up the
narrow road leading to the house. It was a square, two-storied
substantial building of stone, but the stone had been liberally oiled to
keep out the wet, and the blackness thus produced had not a very
cheerful look. Then, on this particular evening the scant bushes
surrounding the house hung limp and dark in the rain, and amid the
prevailing hues of purple, blue-green and blue, the bit of scarlet
coping running around the black house was wholly ineffective in
relieving the general impression of dreariness and desolation.

The King of Borva walked into a large room, which was but partially lit
by two candles on the table and by the blaze of a mass of peats in the
stone fire-place, and threw himself into a big easy-chair. Then he
suddenly seemed to recollect his companion, who was timidly standing
near the door, with her shawl still around her head.

“Mairi,” he said, “go and ask them to give you some dry clothes. Your
box it will not be here for half an hour yet.” Then he turned to the
fire.

“But you yourself, Mr. Mackenzie, you will be ferry wet--”

“Never mind me, my lass; go and get yourself dried.”

“But it wass Miss Sheila,” began the girl diffidently--“it wass Miss
Sheila asked me--she asked me to look after you, sir--”

With that he rose abruptly, and advanced to her and caught her by the
wrist. He spoke quite quietly to her, but the girl’s eyes, looking up at
the stern face, were a trifle frightened.

“You are a ferry good little girl, Mairi,” he said slowly, “and you will
mind what I say to you. You will do what you like in the house, you will
take Sheila’s place as much as you like, but you will mind this--not to
mention her name, not once. Now go away, Mairi, and find Scarlett
Macdonald, and she will give you some dry clothes; and you will tell her
to send Duncan down to Borvapost, and bring up John the Piper and
Alisternan-Each, and the lads of the _Nighean dubh_, if they are not
gone home to Habost yet. But it iss John the Piper must come directly.”

The girl went away to seek counsel of Scarlett Macdonald, Duncan’s wife,
and Mr. Mackenzie proceeded to walk up and down the big and half-lit
chamber. Then he went to the cupboard, and put out on the table a number
of tumblers and glasses, with two or three odd-looking bottles of
Norwegian make, consisting of four semicircular tubes of glass, meeting
at top and bottom, leaving the center of the vessel thus formed open. He
stirred up the blazing peats in the fire-place. He brought down from a
shelf a box filled with coarse tobacco, and put it on the table. But he
was evidently growing impatient, and at last he put on his cap again and
went out into the night.

The air blew cold in from the sea, and whistled through the bushes that
Sheila had trained about the porch. There was no rain now, but a great
and heavy darkness brooded overhead, and in the silence he could hear
the breaking of the waves along the hard coast. But what was this other
sound he heard, wild and strange in the stillness of the night--a shrill
and plaintive cry that the distance softened, until it almost seemed to
be the calling of a human voice? Surely those were words he heard, or
was it only that the old, sad air spoke to him?

    For Lochaber no more, Lochaber no more,
    Maybe to return to Lochaber no more.

That was the message that came to him out of the darkness, and it seemed
to him as if the sea and the night and the sky were wailing over the
loss of his Sheila. He walked away from the house and up the hill
behind. Led by the sound of the pipes, that grew louder and more
unearthly as he approached, he found himself at length on a bit of high
table-land overlooking the sea, where Sheila had had a rude bench of
iron and wood fixed into the rock. On this bench sat a little old man,
humpbacked and bent, and with long white hair failing down to his
shoulders. He was playing the pipes--not wildly and fiercely, as if he
were at a drinking-bout of the lads come home from the Caithness
fishing, nor yet gaily and proudly, as if he were marching at the head
of a bridal procession, but slowly, mournfully, monotonously, as though
he were having the pipes talk to him.

Mackenzie touched him on the shoulder, and the old man started. “Is it
you, Mr. McKenzie?” he said in Gaelic. “It is a great fright you have
given me.”

“Come down to the house, John. The lads from Habost and Alister, and
some more will be coming; and you will get a ferry good dram, John, to
put wind in the pipes.”

“It’s no dram I’m thinking of, Mr. Mackenzie,” said the old man. “And
you will have plenty of company without me. But I will come down to the
house, Mr. Mackenzie--oh, yes, I will come down to the house--but _in a
little while_ I will come to the house.”

Mackenzie turned from him with a petulant exclamation, and went along
and down the hill rapidly, as he could hear voices in the darkness. He
had just got into the house when his visitors arrived. The door of the
room was opened, and there appeared some six or eight tall and stalwart
men, mostly with profuse brown beards and weather-beaten faces, who
advanced into the chamber with some show of shyness. Mackenzie offered
them a rough and hearty welcome, and as soon as their eyes had got
accustomed to the light bade them help themselves to the whisky on the
table. With a certain solemnity each poured out a glass and drank
“_Shlainte!_” to his host as if it were some funeral rite. But when he
bade them replenish their glasses, and got them seated with their faces
to the blaze of the peats, then the flood of Gaelic broke loose. Had the
wise little girl from Suainabost warned these big men? There was not a
word about Sheila uttered. All their talk was of the reports that had
come from Caithness, and of the improvements of the small harbor near
the Butt, and of the black sea-horse that had been seen in Lock
Suainabhal, and of some more sheep having been found dead on the Pladda
Isles, shot by the men of the English smacks. Pipes were lit, the peat
stirred up anew, another glass or two of whisky drunk, and then, through
the haze of the smoke, the brown faces of the men could be seen in eager
controversy, each talking faster than the other, and comparing facts and
fancies that had been brooded over through solitary nights of waiting on
the sea. Mackenzie did not sit down with them; he did not even join them
in their attention to the curious whisky-flasks. He paced up and down
the opposite side of the room, occasionally being appealed to with a
story or question, and showing by his answers that he was but vaguely
hearing the vociferous talk of his companions. At last he said, “Why the
teffle does not John the Piper come? Here, you men--you sing a song,
quick! None of your funeral songs, but a good brisk one of trinking and
fighting.”

But were not nearly all their songs--like those of all dwellers on a
rocky and dangerous coast--of a sad and sombre hue, telling of maidens
whose lovers were drowned, and of wives bidding farewell to husbands
they were never to see again? Slow and mournful are the songs that the
Northern fishermen sing as they set out in the evening, with the
creaking of the long oars keeping time to the music, until they get out
beyond the shore to hoist the red mainsail and catch the breeze blowing
over from the regions of the sunset. Not one of these Habost fishermen
could sing a brisk song, but the nearest approach to it was a ballad in
praise of a dark-haired girl, which they, owning the _Nighean dubh_,
were bound to know. And so one young fellow began to sing, “Mo Nighean
dubh d’fhas boidheach dubh, mo Nighean dubhna treig mi,”[1] in a slow
and doleful fashion, and the others joined in the chorus with a like
solemnity. In order to keep time, four of the men followed the common
custom of taking a pocket handkerchief (in this case an immense piece of
brilliant red silk, which was evidently the pride of its owner), and
holding it by the four corners letting it slowly rise and fall as they
sang. The other three men laid hold of a bit of rope, which they used
for the same purpose. “Mo Nighean dubh,” unlike most of the Gaelic
songs, has but a few verses; and, as soon as they were finished, the
young fellow, who seemed pleased with his performance, started another
ballad. Perhaps he had forgotten his host’s injunction, perhaps he knew
no merrier song, but at any rate he began to sing the “Lament of
Monaltrie.” It was one of Sheila’s songs. She had sung it the night
before in this very room, and her father had listened to her describing
the fate of young Monaltrie as if she had been foretelling her own, and
scarcely dared to ask himself if ever again he should hear the voice
that he loved so well. He could not listen to the song. He abruptly left
the room and went out once more into the cool night-air and the
darkness. But even here he was not allowed to forget the sorrow he had
been vainly endeavoring to banish, for in the far distance the pipes
still played the melancholy wail of Lochaber.

    Lochaber no more! Lochaber no more!

--that was the only solace brought him by the winds from the sea; and
there were tears running down the hard gray face as he said to himself,
in a broken voice, “Sheila, my little girl, why did you go away from
Borva?”



CHAPTER II.

THE FAIR-HAIRED STRANGER.


“Why you must be in love with her yourself!”

“I in love with her? Sheila and I are too old friends for that!”

The speakers were two young men seated in the stern of the steamer
Clansman as she ploughed her way across the blue and rushing waters of
the Minch. One of them was a tall young fellow of three-and-twenty, with
fair hair and light blue eyes, whose delicate and mobile features were
handsome enough in their way, and gave evidence of a nature at once
sensitive, nervous and impulsive. He was clad in light gray from head to
heel--a color that suited his fair complexion and yellow hair; and he
lounged about the white deck in the glare of the sunlight, steadying
himself from time to time as an unusually big wave carried the Clansman
aloft for a second or two, and then sent her staggering and groaning
into a hissing trough of foam. Now and again he would pause in front of
his companion, and talk in a rapid, playful, and even eloquent fashion
for a minute or two; and then, apparently a trifle annoyed by the slow
and patient attention which greeted his oratorical efforts, would start
off once more on his unsteady journey up and down the white planks.

The other was a man of thirty-eight, of middle height, sallow complexion
and generally insignificant appearance. His hair was becoming
prematurely gray. He rarely spoke. He was dressed in a suit of rough
blue cloth, and indeed looked somewhat like a pilot who had gone ashore,
taken to study and never recovered himself. A stranger would have
noticed the tall and fair young man who walked up and down the gleaming
deck, evidently enjoying the brisk breeze that blew about his yellow
hair, and the sunlight that touched his pale and fine face or sparkled
on his teeth when he laughed, but would have paid little attention to
the smaller, brown-faced, gray-haired man, who lay back on the bench
with his two hands clasped around his knee, and with his eye fixed on
the southern heavens, while he murmured to himself the lines of some
ridiculous old Devonshire ballad or replied in monosyllables to the
rapid and eager talk of his friend.

Both men were good sailors, and they had need to be, for although the
sky above them was as blue and clear as the heart of the sapphire, and
although the sunlight shone on the decks and the rigging, a strong
north-easter had been blowing all the morning, and there was a
considerable sea on. The far blue plain was whitened with the tumbling
crests of the waves, that shone and sparkled in the sun, and ever and
anon a volume of water would strike the Clansman’s bow, rise high in the
air with the shock, and fall in heavy showers over the forward decks.
Sometimes, too, a wave caught her broadside, and sent a handful of spray
over the two or three passengers who were safe in the stern; but the
decks here remained silvery and white, for the sun and wind speedily
dried up the traces of the sea-showers.

At length the taller of the young men came and sat down by his
companion: “How far to Stornoway yet?”

“An hour.”

“By Jove, what a distance! All day yesterday getting up from Oban to
Skye, all last night churning our way up to Loch Gair, all to-day
crossing to this outlandish island, that seems as far away as
Iceland;--and for what?”

“But don’t you remember the moonlight last night as we sailed by the
Cuchullins? And the sunrise this morning as we lay in Loch Gair? Were
not these worth coming for.”

“But that was not what you came for, my dear friend. No. You came to
carry off this wonderful Miss Sheila of yours, and of course you wanted
somebody to look on; and here I am, ready to carry the ladder and the
dark lantern and the marriage-license. I will saddle your steeds for you
and row you over lakes, and generally do anything to help you in so
romantic an enterprise.”

“It is very kind of you, Lavender,” said the other with a smile, “but
such adventures are not for old fogies like me. They are the exclusive
right of young fellows like you, who are tall and well-favored, have
plenty of money and good spirits, and have a way with you that all the
world admires. Of course the bride will tread a measure with you. Of
course all the bridesmaids would like to see you marry her. Of course
she will taste the cup you offer her. Then a word in her ear, and away
you go as if it were the most natural thing in the world, and as if the
bridegroom was a despicable creature merely because God had only given
him five feet six inches. But you couldn’t have a Lochinvar five feet
six.”

The younger man blushed like a girl and laughed a little, and was
evidently greatly pleased. Nay, in the height of his generosity he began
to protest. He would not have his friend imagine that women cared only
for stature and good looks. There were other qualities. He himself had
observed the most singular conquests made by men who were not
good-looking, but who had a certain fascination about them. His own
experience of women was considerable, and he was quite certain that the
best women, now--the sort of women whom a man would respect--the women
who had brains--

And so forth and so forth. The other listened quite gravely to these
well-meant, kindly, blundering explanations, and only one who watched
his face narrowly could have detected in the brown eyes a sort of amused
consciousness of the intentions of the amiable and ingenuous youth.

“Do you really mean to tell me, Ingram,” continued Lavender, in his
rapid and impetuous way, “do you mean to tell me that you are not in
love with this Highland princess? For ages back you have talked of
nothing but Sheila. How many an hour have I spent in clubs, up the
river, down at the coast, everywhere, listening to your stories of
Sheila, and your praises of Sheila, and your descriptions of Sheila! It
was always Sheila, and again Sheila, and still again Sheila. But, do you
know, either you exaggerated or I failed to understand your
descriptions; for the Sheila I came to construct out of your talk, is a
most incongruous and incomprehensible creature. First, Sheila knows
about stone and lime and building; and then I suppose her to be a
practical young woman, who is a sort of overseer to her father. But
Sheila, again, is romantic and mysterious, and believes in visions and
dreams; and then I take her to be an affected school-miss. But then
Sheila can throw a fly and play her sixteen-pounder, and Sheila can
adventure upon the lochs in an open boat, managing the sail herself; and
then I find her to be a tom-boy. But, again, Sheila is shy and rarely
speaks, but looks unutterable things with her soft and magnificent eyes;
and what does that mean but that she is an ordinary young lady, who has
not been in society, and who is a little interesting, if a little
stupid, while she is unmarried, and who, after marriage, calmly and
complacently sinks into the dull domestic hind, whose only thought is of
butchers’ bills and perambulators!”

This was a fairly long speech, but it was no longer than many which
Frank Lavender was accustomed to utter when in the vein for talking. His
friend and companion did not pay much heed. His hands were still clasped
around his knee, his head leaning back, and all the answer he made was
to repeat, apparently to himself, these not very pertinent lines:

    “In Ockington, in Devonsheer,
    My vather he lived vor many a yeer:
    And I, his son, with him did dwell,
    To tend his sheep: ’twas doleful well.
                Diddle-diddle!”

“You know, Ingram, it must be precious hard for man who has to knock
about in society, and take his wife with him, to have to explain to
everybody that she is in reality a most unusual and gifted young person,
and that she must not be expected to talk. It is all very well for him
in his own house--that is to say, if he can preserve all the sentiment
that made her shyness fine and wonderful before their marriage--but a
man owes a little to society, even in choosing a wife.”

Another pause.

    “It happened on a zartin day
    Four-score o’ the sheep they rinned astray
    Says vather to I, ‘Jack, rin arter ’m, du!’
    Says I to vather, ‘I’m darned if I du!’
                Diddle-diddle!”

“Now you are the sort of a man, I should think, who would never get
careless about your wife. You would always believe about her what you
believed at first; and I dare say you would live very happily in your
own house if she was a decent sort of woman. But you would have to go
out into society sometimes; and the very fact that you had not got
careless--as many men would, leaving their wives to produce any sort of
impression they might--would make you vexed that the world could not,
off-hand, value your wife as you fancy she ought to be valued. Don’t you
see?”

This was the answer:

    “Puvoket much at my rude tongue,
    A dish o’ brath at me he vlung,
    Which so incensed me to wrath,
    That I up an’ knack un instantly to arth,
                Diddle-diddle!”

“As for your Princess Sheila, I firmly believe you have some romantic
notion of marrying her and taking her up to London with you. If you
seriously intend such a thing, I shall not argue with you. I shall
praise her by the hour together, for I may have to depend on Mrs. Edward
Ingram for my admission to your house. But if you only have the fancy as
a fancy, consider what the result would be. You say she has never been
to a school; that she has never had the companionship of a girl of her
own age; that she has never read a newspaper; that she has never been
out of this island; and that almost her sole society has been that of
her mother, who educated her and tended her, and left her as ignorant of
the real world as if she had lived all her life in a lighthouse.
Goodness gracious! what a figure such a girl would cut in South
Kensington!”

“My dear fellow,” said Ingram at last, “don’t be absurd. You will soon
see what are the relations between Sheila Mackenzie and me, and you will
be satisfied. I marry her? Do you think I would take the child to London
to show her its extravagance and shallow society, and break her heart
with thinking of the sea, and of the rude islanders she knew, and of
their hard and bitter struggle for life? No. I should not like to see my
wild Highland doe shut up in one of your southern parks, among your tame
fallow-deer. She would look at them askance. She would separate herself
from them, and by and by she would make one wild effort to escape and
kill herself. That is not the fate in store for our good little Sheila;
so you need not make yourself unhappy about her or me.

    ‘Now all ye young men, of every persuasion,
      Never quarl wi’ your vather upon any occasion;
      For instead of being better, you’ll vind you’ll be wuss,
      For he’ll kick you out o’ doors, without a varden in your puss!
                                          Diddle-diddle!’”

“Talking of Devonshire, how is that young American lady you met at
Torquay in the Spring?”

“There, now, is the sort of woman a man would be safe in marrying!”

“And how?”

“Oh, well, you know,” said Frank Lavender, “I mean the sort of woman who
would do you credit--hold her own in society, and that sort of thing.
You must meet her some day. I tell you, Ingram, you will be delighted
and charmed with her manners, and her grace, and the clever things she
says; at least, everybody else is.”

“Ah, well!”

“You don’t seem to care much for brilliant women,” remarked the other,
rather disappointed that his companion showed so little interest.

“Oh, yes, I like brilliant women very well. A clever woman is always a
pleasanter companion than a clever man. But you were talking of the
choice of a wife; and pertness in a girl, although it may be amusing at
the time, may become something else by and by. Indeed, I shouldn’t
advise a young man to marry an epigrammatist, for you see her shrewdness
and smartness are generally the result of experiences in which _he_ has
had no share.”

“There may be something in that,” said Lavender; “but of course, you
know, with a widow it is different; and Mrs. Lorraine never does go in
for the _ingenue_.”

The pale blue cloud that had for some time been lying faintly along the
horizon now came nearer and more near, until they could pick out
something like the configuration of the island, its bays and
promontories and mountains. The day seemed to become warmer as they got
out of the driving wind of the Channel, and the heavy roll of the sea
had so far subsided. Through comparatively calm water the great Clansman
drove her away, until, on getting near the land and under shelter of the
peninsula of Eye, the voyagers found themselves on a beautiful blue
plain, with the spacious harbor of Stornoway opening out before them.
There, on the one side, lay a white and cleanly town, with its shops,
and quays and shipping. Above the bay in front stood a great gray
castle, surrounded by pleasure-grounds and terraces and gardens; while
on the southern side the harbor was overlooked by a semi-circle of
hills, planted with every variety of tree. The white houses, the blue
bay and the large gray building set amid green terraces and overlooked
by wooded hills, formed a bright and lively little picture on this fresh
and brilliant forenoon; and young Lavender, who had a quick eye for
compositions which he was always about to undertake, but which never
appeared on canvas, declared enthusiastically that he would spend a day
or two in Stornoway on his return from Borva, and take home with him
some sketch of the place.

“And is Miss Sheila on the quay, yonder?” he asked.

“Not likely,” said Ingram. “It is a long drive across the island, and I
suppose she would remain at home to look after our dinner in the
evening.”

“What? The wonderful Princess Sheila look after our dinner! Has she
visions among the pots and pans, and does she look unutterable things
when she is peeling potatoes?”

Ingram laughed: “There will a pretty alteration in your tune in a couple
of days. You are sure to fall in love with her, and sigh desperately for
a week or two. You always do when you meet a woman anywhere. But it
won’t hurt you much, and she wont know anything about it.”

“I should rather like to fall in love with her to see how furiously
jealous you would become. However, here we are.”

“And there is Mackenzie--the man with the big gray beard and the peaked
cap--and he is talking to the chamberlain of the island.”

“What does he get up on his wagonette for, instead of coming on board to
meet you?”

“Oh, that is one of his little tricks,” said Ingram, with a good-humored
smile. “He means to receive us in state, and impress you, a stranger,
with his dignity. The good old fellow has a hundred harmless ways like
that, and you must humor him. He has been accustomed to be treated _en
roi_, you know.”

“Then the papa of the mysterious princess is not perfect?”

“Perhaps I ought to tell you now that Mackenzie’s oddest notion is that
he has a wonderful skill in managing men, and in concealing the manner
of his doing it. I tell you this that you mayn’t laugh and hurt him when
he is attempting something that he considers particularly crafty, and
that a child could see through.”

“But what is the aim of it all?”

“Oh, nothing.”

“He does not do a little bet occasionally?”

“Oh, dear! no. He is the best and honestest fellow in the world, but it
pleases him to fancy that he is profoundly astute, and that other people
don’t see the artfulness with which he reaches some little result that
is not of the least consequence to anybody.”

“It seems to me,” remarked Mr. Lavender, with a coolness and shrewdness
that rather surprised his companion, “that it would not be difficult to
get the King of Borva to assume the honors of a papa-in-law.”

The steamer was moored at last; the crowd of fishermen and loungers drew
near to meet their friends who had come up from Glasgow--for there are
few strangers, as a rule, arriving at Stornoway to whet the curiosity of
the islanders--and the tall gillie who had been standing by Mackenzie’s
horses came on board to get the luggage of the young men.

“Well, Duncan,” said the elder of them, “and how are you, and how is Mr.
Mackenzie, and how is Miss Sheila? You have not brought her with you, I
see.”

“But Miss Sheila is ferry well, whatever, Mr. Ingram, and it is a great
day, this day, for her, tat you will be coming to the Lewis; and it wass
tis morning she wass up at ta break o’ day, and up ta hills ta get some
bits o’ green things for ta rooms you will hef, Mr. Ingram. Ay, it iss a
great day, tis day, for Miss Sheila.”

“By Jove, they all rave about Sheila up in this quarter!” said Lavender,
giving Duncan a fishing-rod and a bag he had brought from the cabin. “I
suppose in a week’s time I shall begin to rave about her, too. Look
sharp, Ingram, and let us have audience of His Majesty.”

The King of Borva fixed his eye on young Lavender, and scanned him
narrowly as he was being introduced. His welcome of Ingram had been
most gracious and friendly, but he received his companion with something
of a severe politeness. He requested him to take a seat beside him, so
that he might see the country as they went across to Borva; and Lavender
having done so, Ingram and Duncan got into the body of the wagonette,
and the party drove off.

Passing through the clean and bright little town, Mackenzie suddenly
pulled up his horses in front of a small shop, in the windows of which
some cheap bits of jewelry were visible. The man came out, and Mr.
Mackenzie explained with some care and precision that he wanted a silver
brooch of a particular sort. While the jeweler had returned to seek the
article in question, Frank Lavender was gazing around him in some wonder
at the appearance of so much civilization on this remote and rarely
visited island. There were no haggard savages, unkempt and scantily
clad, coming forth from their dens in the rocks to stare wildly at the
strangers. On the contrary, there was a prevailing air of comfort and
“bien-ness” about the people and their houses. He saw handsome girls
with coal-black hair and fresh complexions, who wore short and thick
blue petticoats, with a scarlet tartan shawl wrapped around their bosom
and fastened at the waist; stalwart, thick-set men, in loose blue jacket
and trowsers and scarlet cap, many of them with bushy red beards; and
women of extraordinary breadth of shoulder, who carried enormous loads
in a creel strapped on their backs, while they employed their hands in
contentedly knitting stockings as they passed along. But what was the
purpose of these mighty loads of fish-bones they carried--burdens that
would have appalled a railway porter of the South?

“You will see, sir,” observed the King of Borva, in reply to Lavender’s
question, “there is not much of the phosphates in the grass of this
island; and the cows they are mad to get the fish-bones to lick, and it
is many of them you cannot milk unless you put the bones before them.”

“But why do the lazy fellows lounging about there let the women carry
those enormous loads?”

Mr. Mackenzie stared: “Lazy fellows! They hef harder work than any who
will know of in your country; and besides the fishing, they will do the
ploughing and much of the farm work. And iss the women to do none at
all? That iss the nonsense that my daughter talks; but she has got it
out of books, and what do they know how the poor people hef to live?”

At this moment the jeweler returned with some half dozen brooches
displayed on a plate, and shining with all the brilliancy of cairngorm
stones, polished silver and variously-colored pebbles.

“Now, John Mackintyre, this is a gentleman from London,” said Mackenzie,
regarding the jeweler sternly, “and he will know all apout such fine
things, and you will not put a big price on them.”

It was now Lavender’s turn to stare, but he good-naturedly accepted the
duties of referee, and eventually a brooch was selected and paid for,
the price being six shillings. Then they drove on again.

“Sheila will know nothing of this; it will be a great surprise for her,”
said Mackenzie, almost to himself, as he opened the white box, and saw
the glaring piece of jewelry lying on the white cotton.

“Good Heavens, sir,” cried Frank Lavender, “you don’t mean to say you
bought that brooch for your daughter?”

“And why not?” said the King of Borva, in great surprise.

The young man perceived his mistake, grew considerably confused, and
only said: “Well, I should have thought that--that some small piece of
gold jewelry, now, would be better suited for a young lady.”

Mackenzie smiled shrewdly: “I had something to go on. It was Sheila
herself was in Stornoway three weeks ago, and she was wanting to buy a
brooch for a young girl who had come down to us from Suainabost, and is
very useful in the kitchen, and it wass a brooch, just like this one,
she gave to her.”

“Yes, to a kitchen-maid,” said the young man, meekly.

“But Mairi is Sheila’s cousin,” said Mackenzie, with continued surprise.

“Lavender does not understand Highland ways yet, Mr. Mackenzie,” said
Ingram, from behind. “You know we, in the South, have different
fashions. Our servants are nearly always strangers to us--not relations
and companions.”

“Oh, I hef peen in London myself,” said Mackenzie, in somewhat of an
injured tone; and then he added, with a touch of satisfaction: “and I
hef been in Paris, too.”

“And Miss Sheila, has she been in London?” asked Lavender, feigning
ignorance.

“She has never been out of the Lewis.”

“But don’t you think the education of a young lady should include some
little experience of traveling?”

“Sheila, she will be educated quite enough; and is she going to London
or Paris without me?”

“You might take her.”

“I have too much to do on the island now, and Sheila has much to do. I
do not think she will ever see any of those places, and she will not be
much the worse.”

Two young men off for their holidays, a brilliant day shining all around
them, the sweet air of the sea and the moorland blowing about them--this
little party that now drove away from Stornoway ought to have been in
the best of spirits. And indeed the young fellow who sat beside
Mackenzie was bent on pleasing his host by praising everything he saw.
He praised the gallant little horses that whirled them past the
plantations and into the open country. He praised the rich black peat
that was visible in long lines and heaps, where the townspeople were
slowly eating into the moorland. Then all these traces of occupation
were left behind, and the travelers were alone in the untenanted heart
of the island, where the only sounds audible were the humming of insects
in the sunlight and the falling of the streams. Away in the south the
mountains were of a silvery and transparent blue. Nearer at hand the
rich reds and browns of the moorland softened into a tender and
beautiful green on nearing the margins of the lakes; and these stretches
of water were now as fair and bright as the sky above them, and were
scarcely ruffled by the moorfowl moving out from the green rushes. Still
nearer at hand great masses of white rock lay embedded in the soft soil;
and what could have harmonized better with the rough and silver-gray
surface than the patches of rose-red bell-heather that grew up in the
clefts or hung over their summits. The various and beautiful colors
around seemed to tingle with light and warmth as the clear sun shone on
them and the keen mountain air blew over them; and the King of Borva was
so far thawed by the enthusiasm of his companions that he regarded the
fair country with a pleased smile, as if the enchanted land belonged to
him, and as if the wonderful colors and the exhilarating air and the
sweet perfumes were of his own creation.

Mr. Mackenzie did not know much about tints and hues, but he believed
what he heard; and it was perhaps, after all, not very surprising that a
gentleman from London, who had skill of pictures and other delicate
matters, should find strange marvels in a common stretch of moor, with a
few lakes here and there, and some lines of mountains only good for
sheilings. It was not for him to check the raptures of his guest. He
began to be friendly with the young man, and could not help regarding
him as a more cheerful companion than his neighbor Ingram, who would sit
by your side for an hour at a time without breaking the monotony of the
horses’ tramp with a single remark. He had formed a poor opinion of
Lavender’s physique from the first glimpse he had of his white fingers
and girl-like complexion; but surely a man who had such a vast amount of
good spirits and such a rapidity of utterance must have something
corresponding to these qualities in substantial bone and muscle. There
was something pleasing and ingenuous too about this flow of talk. Men
who had arrived at years of wisdom, and knew how to study and use their
fellows, were not to be led into these betrayals of their secret
opinions; but for a young man--what could be more pleasing than to see
him lay open his soul to the observant eye of a master of men? Mackenzie
began to take a great fancy to young Lavender.

“Why,” said Lavender, with a fine color mantling in his cheeks as the
wind caught them on a higher portion of the road, “I had heard of Lewis
as a most bleak and desolate island, flat moorland and lake, without a
hill to be seen. And everywhere I see hills, and yonder are great
mountains which I hope to get nearer before we leave.”

“We have mountains in this island,” remarked Mackenzie slowly as he kept
his eye on his companion, “we have mountains in this island sixteen
thousand feet high.”

Lavender looked sufficiently astonished, and the old man was pleased. He
paused for a moment or two and said. “But this iss the way of it: you
will see that the middle of the mountains it has all been washed away by
the weather, and you will only have the sides now dipping one way and
the other at each side o’ the island. But it iss a very clever man in
Stornoway will tell me that you can make out what wass the height o’ the
mountain, by watching the dipping of the rocks on each side; and it iss
an older country, this island, than any you will know of; and there
were the mountains sixteen thousand feet high long before all this
country and all Scotland and England wass covered with ice.”

The young man was very desirous to show his interest in this matter, but
did not know very well how. At last he ventured to ask whether there
were any fossils in the blocks of gneiss that were scattered over the
moorland.

“Fossils?” said Mackenzie. “Oh, I will not care much about such small
things. If you will ask Sheila, she will tell you all about it, and
about the small things she finds growing on the hills. That is not of
much consequence to me; but I will tell you what is the best thing the
island grows; it is good girls and strong men--men that can go to the
fishing and come back to plough the fields and cut the peat and build
the houses, and leave the women to look after the fields and the gardens
when they go back again to the fisheries. But it is the old people--they
are ferry cunning, and they will not put their money in the bank at
Stornoway, but will hide it away about the house, and then they will
come to Sheila and ask for money to put a pane of glass in their house.
And she has promised that to every one who will make a window in the
wall of their house; and she is very simple with them and does not
understand the old people that tell lies. But when I hear of it I say
nothing to Sheila--she will know nothing about it--but I have a watch
put upon the people; and it was only yesterday I will take back two
shillings she gave to an old woman of Borvabost that told many lies.
What does a young thing know of these old people? She will know nothing
at all, and it is better for some one else to look after them, but not
to speak one word of it to her.”

“It must require great astuteness to manage a primitive people like
that,” said young Lavender, with an air of conviction; and the old man
eagerly and proudly assented, and went on to tell of the manifold
diplomatic arts he used in reigning over his small kingdom, and how his
subjects lived in blissful ignorance that this controlling power was
being exercised.

They were startled by an exclamation from Ingram, who called to
Mackenzie to pull up the horses just as they were passing over a small
bridge.

“Look there, Lavender, did you ever see salmon jumping like that? Look
at the size of them!”

“Oh, it iss nothing,” said Mackenzie, driving on again. “Where you will
see the salmon, it is in the narrows of Loch Roag, where they come into
the rivers, and the tide is low. Then you will see them jumping; and if
the water wass too low for a long time, they will die in hundreds and
hundreds.”

“But what makes them jump before they get into the rivers?”

Old Mackenzie smiled a crafty smile, as if he had found out all the ways
and the secrets of the salmon. “They will jump to look about them--that
iss all.”

“Do you think a salmon can see where he is going?”

“And maybe you will explain this to me, then,” said the king, with a
compassionate air, “how iss it the salmon will try to jump over some
stones in the river, and he will see he can’t go over them; but does he
fall straight down on the stones and kill himself? Neffer--no, neffer.
He will get back to the pool he left by turning in the air; that is what
I hef seen hundreds of times myself.”

“Then they must be able to fly as well as see in the air.”

“You may say about it what you will please, but that is what I
know--that is what I know ferry well myself.”

“And I should think there were not many people in the country who knew
more about salmon than you,” said Frank Lavender. “And I hear, too, that
your daughter is a great fisher.”

But this was a blunder. The old man frowned; “Who will tell you such
nonsense? Sheila has gone out many times with Duncan, and he will put a
rod in her hand; yes, and she will have caught a fish or two, but it iss
not a story to tell. My daughter she will have plenty to do about the
house without any of such nonsense. You will expect to find us all
savages, with such stories of nonsense.”

“I am sure not,” said Lavender, warmly. “I have been very much struck
with the civilization of the island, so far as I have seen it; and I can
assure you I have always heard of Miss Sheila as a singularly
accomplished young lady.”

“Yes,” said Mackenzie, somewhat mollified, “Sheila has been well brought
up; she is not a fisherman’s lass, running about wild and catching the
salmon. I cannot listen to such nonsense, and it iss Duncan will tell
it.”

“I can assure you, no. I have never spoken to Duncan. The fact is,
Ingram mentioned that your daughter had caught a salmon or two--as a
tribute to her skill, you know.”

“Oh, I know it wass Duncan,” said Mackenzie, with a deeper frown coming
over his face. “I will hef some means taken to stop Duncan from talking
such nonsense.”

The young man knowing nothing as yet of the childlike obedience paid to
the King of Borva by his islanders, thought to himself, “Well, you are a
strong and self-willed old gentleman, but if I were you I should not
meddle much with that tall keeper with the eagle beak and the gray eyes.
I should not like to be a stag, and know that fellow was watching me
somewhere with a rifle in his hands.”

At length they came upon the brow of the hill overlooking
Gara-na-hina[2] and the panorama of the western lochs and mountains.
Down there on the side of the hill was the small inn, with its little
patch of garden; then a few moist meadows leading over to the estuary of
the Black river; and beyond that an illimitable prospect of heathy
undulations rising into the mighty peaks of Cracabhal, Mealasabhal and
Suainabhal. Then on the right, leading away to the as yet invisible
Atlantic, lay the blue plain of Loch Roag, with a margin of yellow
seaweed along its shores, where the rocks revealed themselves at low
water, and with a multitude of large, variegated and verdant islands
which hid from sight the still greater Borva beyond.

They stopped to have a glass of whisky at Gara-na-hina, and Mackenzie
got down from the wagonette and went into the inn.

“And this is a Highland loch!” said Lavender, turning to his companion
from the South. “It is an enchanted sea; you could fancy yourself in the
Pacific, if only there were some palm trees on the shores of the
islands. No wonder you took for an Eve any sort of woman you met in such
a paradise!”

“You seem to be thinking a good deal about that young lady.”

“Well, who would not wish to make the acquaintance of a pretty girl,
especially when you have plenty of time on your hands, and nothing to do
but pay her little attentions, you know, and so forth, as being the
daughter of your host?”

There was no particular answer to such an incoherent question, but
Ingram did not seem so well pleased as he had been with the prospect of
introducing his friend to the young Highland girl whose praises he had
been reciting for many a day.

However, they drank their whisky, drove on to Callernish, and here
paused for a minute or two to show the stranger a series of large
so-called Druidical stones which occupy a small station overlooking the
loch. Could anything have been more impressive than the sight of these
solitary gray pillars placed on this bit of table-land high over the
sea, and telling of a race that vanished ages ago, and left the
surrounding plains, and hills, and shores a wild and untenanted
solitude? But, somehow Lavender did not care to remain among those
voiceless monuments of a forgotten past. He said he would come and
sketch them some other day. He praised the picture all around, and then
came back to the stretch of ruffled blue water lying at the base of the
hill. “Where was Mr. Mackenzie’s boat?” he asked.

They left the high plain, with its _Tuirsachan_,[3] or Stones of
Mourning, and descended to the side of the loch. In a few moments,
Duncan, who had been disposing of the horses and the wagonette, overtook
them, got ready the boat, and presently they were cutting asunder the
bright blue plain of summer waves.

At last they were nearing the King of Borva’s home, and Ingram began to
study the appearance of the neighboring shores, as if he would pick out
some feature of the island he remembered. The white foam hissed down the
side of the open boat. The sun burned hot on the brown sail. Far away
over the shining plain the salmon were leaping into the air, catching a
quick glint of silver on their scales before they splashed again into
the water. Half a dozen sea-pyes, with their beautiful black and white
plumage and scarlet beaks and feet, flew screaming out from the rocks
and swept in rapid circles above the boat. A long flight of solan geese
could just be seen slowly sailing along the westward horizon. As the
small craft got out toward the sea the breeze freshened slightly, and
she lay over somewhat as the brine-laden winds caught her and tingled on
the cheeks of her passengers from the softer South. Finally, as the
great channel widened out, and the various smaller islands disappeared
behind, Ingram touched his companion on the shoulder, looked over to a
long and low line of rock and hill, and said, “Borva!”

And this was Borva!--nothing visible but an indefinite extent of rocky
shore, with here and there a bay of white sand, and over that a
table-land of green pasture, apparently uninhabited.

“There are not many people on the island,” said Lavender, who seemed
rather disappointed with the look of the place.

“There are three hundred,” said Mackenzie with the air of one who had
experienced the difficulties of ruling over three hundred islanders.

He had scarcely spoken when his attention was called by Duncan to some
object that the gillie had been regarding for some minutes back.

“Yes, it is Miss Sheila,” said Duncan.

A sort of flush of expectation passed over Lavender’s face, and he
sprang to his feet. Ingram laughed. Did the foolish youth fancy he could
see half as far as this gray-eyed, eagle-faced man, who had now sunk
into his accustomed seat by the mast? There was nothing visible to
ordinary eyes but a speck of a boat, with a single sail up, which was,
apparently, in the distance, running in for Borva.

“Ay, ay, ay,” said Mackenzie in a vexed way, “it is Sheila, true enough;
and what will she do out in the boat at this time, when she wass to be
at home to receive the gentlemen that hef come all the way from London?”

“Well, Mr. Mackenzie,” said Lavender, “I should be sorry to think that
our coming had interfered in any way whatever with your daughter’s
amusements.”

“Amusements!” said the old man with a look of surprise. “It iss not
amusements she will go for; that is no amusements for her. It is for
some teffle of a purpose she will go, when it iss the house that is the
proper place for her, with friends coming from so great a journey.”

Presently it became clear that a race between the two boats was
inevitable, both of them making for the same point. Mackenzie would take
no notice of such a thing, but there was a grave smile on Duncan’s face,
and something like a look of pride in his keen eyes.

“There iss no one, not one,” he said, almost to himself, “will take her
in better that Miss Sheila--not one in ta island. And it wass me tat
learnt her every bit o’ ta steering about Borva.”

The strangers could now make out that in the other boat there were two
girls--one seated in the stern, the other by the mast. Ingram took out
his handkerchief and waved it: a similar token of recognition was
floated out from the other vessel. But Mackenzie’s boat presently had
the better of the wind, and slowly drew on ahead, until, when her
passengers landed on the rude stone quay, they found the other and
smaller craft still some little distance off.

Lavender paid little attention to his luggage. He let Duncan do with it
what he liked. He was watching the small boat coming in, and getting a
little impatient, and perhaps a little nervous, in waiting for a glimpse
of the young lady in the stern. He could vaguely make out that she had
an abundance of dark hair looped up; that she wore a small straw hat
with a short white feather in it; and that, for the rest, she seemed to
be habited entirely in some rough and close-fitting costume of dark
blue. Or was there a glimmer of a band of rose-red around her neck?

The small boat was cleverly run alongside the jetty: Duncan caught her
bow and held her fast, and Miss Sheila, with a heavy string of lythe in
her right hand, stepped, laughing and blushing, on to the quay. Ingram
was there. She dropped the fish on the stones and took his two hands in
hers, and without uttering a word, looked a glad welcome into his face.
It was a face capable of saying unwritten things--fine and delicate in
form, and yet full of an abundance of health and good spirits that shone
in deep gray-blue eyes. Lavender’s first emotion was one of surprise
that he should have heard this handsome, well-knit and proud-featured
girl called “little Sheila,” and spoken of in a pretty and caressing
way. He thought there was something almost majestic in her figure, in
the poising of her head and the outline of her face. But presently he
began to perceive some singular suggestions of sensitiveness and
meekness in the low, sweet brow, in the short and exquisitely curved
upper lip, and in the look of the tender blue eyes, which had long,
black eyelashes to give them a peculiar and indefinable charm. All this
he noticed hastily and timidly as he heard Ingram, who still held the
girl’s hands in his, saying, “Well, Sheila, and you haven’t quite
forgotten me? And you are grown such a woman now: why, I musn’t call you
Sheila any more, I think. But let me introduce you to my friend, who has
come all the way from London to see all the wonderful things at Borva.”

If there was any embarrassment or blushing during that simple ceremony
it was not on the side of the Highland girl, for she frankly shook hands
with him and said, “Are you very well?”

The second impression which Lavender gathered from her was, that nowhere
in the world was English pronounced so beautifully as in the Island of
Lewis. The gentle intonation with which she spoke was so tender and
touching--the slight dwelling on the _e_ in “very” and “well” seemed to
have such a sound of sincerity about it that he could have fancied he
had been a friend of hers for a lifetime. And if she said “ferry” for
“very,” what then? It was the most beautiful English he had ever heard.

The party now moved off toward the shore, above the long white curve of
which Mackenzie’s house was visible. The old man himself led the way,
and had, by his silence, apparently not quite forgiven his daughter for
having been absent from home when his guests arrived.

“Now, Sheila,” said Ingram, “tell me all about yourself; what have you
been doing?”

“This morning?” said the girl, walking beside him, with her hand laid on
his arm, and with the happiest look on her face.

“This morning, to begin with. Did you catch those fish yourself?”

“Oh, no, there was no time for that. And it was Mairi and I saw a boat
coming in, and it was going to Mevaig, but we overtook it, and got some
of the fish, and we thought we should be back before you came. However,
it is no matter since you are here. And you have been very well! And did
you see any differences in Stornoway when you came over?”

Lavender began to think that Styornoway sounded ever so much more
pleasant than mere Stornoway.

“We had not a minute to wait in Stornoway. But tell me, Sheila, all
about Borva and yourself; that is better than Stornoway. How are your
schools getting on? And have you bribed or frightened all the children
into giving up Gaelic yet? How is John the Piper? and does the Free
Church minister still complain of him? And have you caught any more wild
ducks and tamed them? And are there any gray geese up at Lochan-Eilean?”

“Oh, that is too many at once,” said Sheila, laughing. “But I am afraid
your friend will find Borva very lonely and dull. There is not much
there at all, for all the lads are away at the Caithness fishing. And
you should have shown him all about Stornoway, and taken him up to the
castle and the beautiful gardens.”

“He has seen all sorts of castles, Sheila, and all sorts of gardens in
every part of the world. He has seen everything to be seen in the great
cities and countries that are only names to you. He has traveled in
France, Italy, Russia, Germany, and seen all the big towns that you hear
of in history.”

“That is what I should like to do if I were a man,” said Sheila; “and
many and many a time I wished I had been a man, that I could go to the
fishing and work in the fields, and, then, when I had enough money, go
away and see other countries and strange people.”

“But if you were a man I should not have come all the way from London to
see you,” said Ingram, patting the hand that lay on his arm.

“But if I were a man,” said the girl, quite frankly, “I should go up to
London to see you.”

Mackenzie smiled grimly, and said, “Sheila, it is nonsense you will
talk.”

At this moment Sheila turned around and said, “Oh, we have forgotten
poor Mairi. Mairi, why did you not leave the fish for Duncan? They are
too heavy for you. I will carry them to the house.”

But Lavender sprang forward, and insisted on taking possession of the
thick cord with its considerable weight of lythe.

“This is my cousin, Mairi,” said Sheila; and forthwith the young,
fair-faced, timid-eyed girl shook hands with the gentlemen, and said,
just as if she had been watching Sheila, “And are you ferry well, sir?”

For the rest of the way up to the house Lavender walked by the side of
Sheila; and as the string of lythe had formed the introduction to their
talk, it ran pretty much upon natural history. In about five minutes
she had told him more about sea-birds and fish than ever he knew in his
life; and she wound up this information by offering to take him out on
the following morning, that he might himself catch some lythe.

“But I am a wretchedly bad fisherman, Miss Mackenzie,” he said. “It is
some years since I tried to throw a fly.”

“Oh, there is no need for good fishing when you catch lythe,” she said
earnestly. “You will see Mr. Ingram catch them. It is only a big white
fly you will need, and a long line, and when the fish takes the fly,
down he goes--a great depth. Then when you have got him and he is
killed, you must cut the sides, as you see that is done, and string him
to a rope and trail him behind the boat all the way home. If you do not
do that it is no use at all to eat. But if you like the salmon-fishing
my papa will teach you that. There is no one,” she added proudly, “can
catch salmon like my papa--not even Duncan--and the gentlemen who come
in the autumn to Stornoway, they are quite surprised when my papa goes
to fish with them.”

“I suppose he is a good shot, too,” said the young man, amused to notice
the proud way in which the girl spoke of her father.

“Oh, he can shoot anything. He will shoot a seal if he comes up but for
one moment above the water; and all the birds--he will get you all the
birds if you will wish to take any away with you. We have no deer on the
island--it is too small for that--but in the Lewis and in Harris there
are many, many thousands of deer, and my papa has many invitations when
the gentlemen come up in the autumn; and if you look in the game-book of
the lodges you will see there is not any one who has shot so many deer
as my papa--not any one whatever.”

At length they reached the building of dark and rude stone-work, with
its red coping, its spacious porch, and its small enclosure of garden in
front. Lavender praised the flowers in this enclosure; he guessed they
were Sheila’s particular care; but in truth there was nothing rare or
delicate among the plants growing in this exposed situation. There were
a few clusters of large yellow pansies, a calceolaria or two, plenty of
wallflower, some clove-pinks, and an abundance of sweet-william in all
manner of colors. But the chief beauty of the small garden was a
magnificent tree-fuchsia which grew in front of one of the windows, and
was covered with deep rose-red flowers set amid its small and deep-green
leaves. For the rest, a bit of honeysuckle was turned up one side of the
porch, and at the small wooden gate there were two bushes of sweetbrier
that filled the warm air with fragrance.

Just before entering the house the two strangers turned to have a look
at the spacious landscape lying all around in the perfect calm of a
Summer day. And lo! before them there was but a blinding mass of white
that glared upon their eyes, and caused them to see the far sea and the
shores and hills as but faint shadows appearing through a silvery haze.
A thin fleece of cloud lay across the sun, but the light was
nevertheless so intense that the objects near at hand--a disused boat
lying bottom upward, an immense anchor of foreign make, and some such
things--seemed to be as black as night as they lay on the warm road. But
when the eye got beyond the house and the garden, and the rough hillside
leading down to Loch Roag, all the world appeared to be a blaze of calm,
silent and luminous heat. Suainabhal and its brother mountains were only
as clouds in the south. Along the western horizon the portion of the
Atlantic that could be seen lay like a silent lake under a white sky. To
get any touch of color they had to turn eastward, and there the sunlight
faintly fell on the green shores of Borva, on the narrows of Loch Roag,
and the loose red sail of a solitary smack that was slowly coming round
a headland. They could hear the sound of the long oars. A pale line of
shadow lay in the wake of the boat, but otherwise the black hull and the
red sail seemed to be coming through a plain of molten silver. When the
young men turned to go into the house the hall seemed a cavern of
impenetrable darkness, and there was a flush of crimson light dancing
before their eyes.

When Ingram had his room pointed out Lavender followed him into it and
shut the door.

“By Jove, Ingram,” he said, with a singular light of enthusiasm on his
handsome face, “what a beautiful voice that girl has! I have never heard
anything so soft and musical in all my life, and then when she smiles
what perfect teeth she has! And then, you know, there is an appearance,
a style, a grace about her figure--but, I say, do you seriously mean to
tell me you are not in love with her?”

“Of course I am not,” said the other, impatiently, as he was busily
engaged with his portmanteau.

“Then let me give you a word of information,” said the young man, with
an air of profound shrewdness; “she is in love with you.”

Ingram rose with some little touch of vexation on his face; “Look here,
Lavender, I am going to talk to you seriously. I wish you wouldn’t fancy
that every one is in that condition of simmering love-making you delight
in. You never were in love, I believe--I doubt whether you ever will
be--but you are always fancying yourself in love, and writing very
pretty verses about it and painting very pretty heads. I like the verses
and the paintings well enough, however they are come by; but don’t
mislead yourself into believing that you know anything whatever of a
real or serious passion by having engaged in all sorts of imaginative
and semi-poetical dreams. It is a much more serious thing than that,
mind you, when it comes to a man. And, for Heaven’s sake, don’t
attribute any of that sort of sentimental make-believe to either Sheila
Mackenzie or myself. We are not romantic folks. We have no imaginative
gifts whatever, but we are very glad, you know, to be attentive and
grateful to those who have. The fact is, I don’t think it quite fair--”

“Let us suppose I am lectured enough,” said the other, somewhat stiffly.
“I suppose I am as good a judge of the character of women as most other
men, although I am no great student, and have no hard and dried rules of
philosophy at my fingers’ ends. Perhaps, however, one may learn more by
mixing with other people and going out into the world, than by sitting
in a room with a dozen of books, and persuading one’s self that men and
women are to be studied in that fashion.”

“Go away, you stupid boy, and unpack your portmanteau, and don’t quarrel
with me,” said Ingram, putting out on the table some things he had
brought for Sheila; “and if you are friendly with Sheila and treat her
like a human being, instead of trying to put a lot of romance and
sentiment about her, she will teach you more than you could learn in a
hundred drawing-rooms in a thousand years.”



CHAPTER III.

THERE WAS A KING IN THULE.


He never took that advice. He had already transformed Sheila into a
heroine during the half hour of their stroll from the beach and around
the house. Not that he fell in love with her at first sight, or anything
even approaching to that. He merely made her the central figure of a
little speculative romance, as he had made many another woman before. Of
course, in these little fanciful dramas, written along the sky-line, as
it were, of his life, he invariably pictured himself as the fitting
companion of the fair creatures he saw there. Who but himself could
understand the sentiment of her eyes, and teach her little love-ways,
and express unbounded admiration of her? More than one practical young
woman, indeed, in certain circles of London society, had been informed
by her friends that Mr. Lavender was dreadfully in love with her; and
had been much surprised, after this confirmation of her suspicions, that
he sought no means of bringing the affair to a reasonable and sensible
issue. He did not even amuse himself by flirting with her, as men would
willingly do who could not be charged with any serious purpose whatever.

His devotion was more mysterious and remote. A rumor would get about
that Mr. Lavender had finished another of those charming heads in
pastel, which, at a distance, reminded one of Greuze, and that Lady
So-and-so, who had bought it forthwith, had declared that it was the
image of this young lady, who was partly puzzled and partly vexed by the
incomprehensible conduct of her reputed admirer. It was the fashion, in
these social circles, to buy those heads of Lavender when he chose to
paint them. He had achieved a great reputation by them. The good people
liked to have genius in their own set whom they had discovered, and who
was only to be appreciated by persons of exceptional taste and
penetration. Lavender, the uninitiated were assured, was a most
brilliant and cultivated young man. He had composed some charming songs,
he had written, from time to time, some quite delightful little poems,
over which fair eyes had grown full and liquid. Who had not heard of
the face that he painted for a certain young lady whom every one
expected him to marry?

The young man escaped a great deal of the ordinary consequences of this
petting, but not all. He was at bottom really true-hearted, frank and
generous--generous even to an extreme--but he had a habit of producing
striking impressions which dogged and perverted his every action and
speech. He disliked losing a few shillings at billiards, but he did not
mind losing a few pounds; the latter was good for a story. Had he
possessed any money to invest in shares, he would have been irritated by
small rises or small falls; but he would have been vain of a big rise,
and he would have regarded a big fall with equanimity, as placing him in
a dramatic light. The exaggerations produced by this habit of his
fostered strange delusions in the minds of people who did not know him
very well: and sometimes the practical results, in the way of expected
charities or what not, amazed him. He could not understand why people
should have made such mistakes, and resented them as an injustice.

And as they sat at dinner on this still, brilliant evening in Summer, it
was Sheila’s turn to be clothed in the garments of romance. Her father,
with his great gray beard and heavy brow, became the King of Thule,
living in this solitary house overlooking the sea, and having memories
of a dead sweetheart. His daughter, the princess, had the glamor of a
thousand legends dwelling in her beautiful eyes; and when she walked by
the shores of the Atlantic, that were now getting yellow under the
sunset, what strange and unutterable thoughts must appear in the wonder
of her face! He remembered no more how he had pulled to pieces Ingram’s
praises of Sheila. What had become of the “ordinary young lady, who
would be a little interesting, if a little stupid, before marriage, and
after marriage sink into the dull, domestic hind?” There could be no
doubt that Sheila often sat silent for a considerable time, with her
eyes fixed on her father’s face when he spoke, or turning to look at
some other speaker. Had Lavender now been asked if this silence had not
a trifle of dullness in it, he would have replied by asking if there
were dullness in the stillness and the silence of the sea. He grew to
regard her calm and thoughtful look as a sort of spell; and if you had
asked him what Sheila was like, he would have answered by saying that
there was moonlight in her face.

The room, too, in which this mystic princess sat, was strange and
wonderful. There were no doors visible, for the four walls were
throughout covered by paper of foreign manufacture, representing
spacious Tyrolese landscapes and incidents of the chase. When Lavender
had first entered this chamber his eye had been shocked by these coarse
and prominent pictures--by the green rivers, the blue lakes and the
snow-peaks that rose above certain ruddy chalets. Here a chamois was
stumbling down a ravine, and there an operatic peasant some eight or ten
inches in actual length, was pointing a gun. The large figures, the
coarse colors, the impossible scenes--all this looked, at first sight,
to be in the worst possible taste, and Lavender was convinced that
Sheila had nothing to do with the introduction of this abominable
decoration. But somehow, when he turned to the line of ocean that was
visible from the window, to the lonely shores of the island and the
monotony of colors showing in the still picture without, he began to
fancy that there might be a craving up in these latitudes for some
presentation, however rude and glaring, of the richer and more
variegated life of the South. The figures and mountains on the walls
became less prominent. He saw no incongruity in a whole chalet giving
way and allowing Duncan, who waited at table, to bring from this
aperture to the kitchen a steaming dish of salmon, while he spoke some
words in Gaelic to the servants at the other end of the tube. He even
forgot to be surprised at the appearance of little Mairi, with whom he
had shaken hands a little while before, coming round the table with
potatoes. He did not, as a rule, shake hands with servant-maids, but was
not this fair-haired, wistful-eyed girl some relative, friend or
companion of Sheila’s, and had he not already begun to lose all
perception of the incongruous or the absurd in the strange pervading
charm with which Sheila’s presence filled the place?

He suddenly found Mackenzie’s deep-set eyes fixed upon him, and became
aware that the old man had been mysteriously announcing to Ingram that
there were more political movements abroad than people fancied. Sheila
sat still and listened to her father as he expounded these things, and
showed that, although at a distance, he could perceive the signs of the
times. Was it not incumbent, moreover, on a man who had to look after a
number of poor people and simple folks, that he should be on the alert?

“It iss not bekass you will live in London you will know everything,”
said the King of Borva, with a certain significance in his tone. “There
iss many things a man does not see at his feet that another man will see
who is a good way off. The International, now--”

He glanced furtively at Lavender.

“--I hef been told there will be agents going out every day to all parts
of this country and other countries, and they will hef plenty of money
to live like gentlemen, and get among the poor people, and fill their
minds with foolish nonsense about a revolution. Oh yes, I hear about it
all, and there iss many members of Parliament in it; and it is every day
they will get farther and farther, all working hard, though no one sees
them who does not understand to be on the watch.”

Here again the young man received a quiet, scrutinizing glance; and it
began to dawn upon him, to his infinite astonishment, that Mackenzie
half suspected him of being an emissary of the International. In the
case of any other man he would have laughed and paid no heed, but how
could he permit Sheila’s father to regard him with any such suspicion?

“Don’t you think, sir,” he said boldly, “that those Internationalists
are a lot of incorrigible idiots?”

As if a shrewd observer of men and motives were to be deceived by such a
protest! Mackenzie regarded him with increased suspicion, although he
endeavored to conceal the fact that he was watching the young man from
time to time. Lavender saw all the favor he had won during the day
disappearing, and moodily wondered when he should have a chance of
explanation.

After dinner they went outside and sat down on a bench in the garden,
and the men lit their cigars. It was a cool and pleasant evening. The
sun had gone down in the red fire behind the Atlantic, and there was
still left a rich glow of crimson in the West, while overhead, in the
pale yellow of the sky, some filmy clouds of rose-color lay motionless.
How calm was the sea out there, and the whiter stretch of water coming
into Loch Roag! The cool air of the twilight was scented with
sweetbrier. The wash of the ripples along the coast could be heard in
the stillness. It was a time for lovers to sit by the sea, careless of
the future or the past.

But why would this old man keep prating of his political prophecies?
Lavender asked of himself. Sheila had spoken scarcely a word all the
evening; and of what interest could it be to her to listen to theories
of revolution and the dangers besetting our hot-headed youth? She merely
stood by the side of her father, with her hand on his shoulder. He
noticed, however, that she paid particular attention whenever Ingram
spoke; and he wondered whether she perceived that Ingram was partly
humoring the old man, at the same time that he was pleasing himself with
a series of monologues, interrupted only by his cigar.

“That is true enough, Mr. Mackenzie,” Ingram would say, laying back with
his two hands clasped around his knee, as usual; “you’ve got to be
careful of the opinions that are spread abroad, even in Borva, where not
much danger is to be expected. But I don’t suppose our young men are
more destructive in their notions than young men always have been. You
know every fellow starts in life by knocking down all the beliefs he
finds before him, and then spends the rest of his life in setting them
up again. It is only after some years he gets to know that all the
wisdom of the world lies in the old commonplaces he once despised. He
finds that the old familiar ways are the best, and he sinks into being a
commonplace person, with much satisfaction to himself. My friend
Lavender, now, is continually charging me with being commonplace. I
admit the charge. I have drifted back into all the old ways and
beliefs--about religion and marriage, and patriotism, and what not--that
ten years ago I should have treated with ridicule.”

“Suppose the process continues?” suggested Lavender, with some evidence
of pique.

“Suppose it does,” continues Ingram carelessly. “Ten years hence I may
be proud to become a vestryman, and have the most anxious care about the
administration of the rates. I shall be looking after the drainage of
houses and the treatment of paupers, and the management of
Sunday-schools--but all this is an invasion of your province, Sheila,”
he suddenly added, looking up to her.

The girl laughed and said, “Then I have been commonplace from the
beginning?”

Ingram was about to make all manner of protests and apologies, when
Mackenzie said, “Sheila, it wass time you go in-doors, if you have
nothing about your head. Go in and sing a song to us, and we will listen
to you; and not a sad song, but a good merry song. These teffles of the
fishermen, it iss always drownings they will sing about from the morning
till the night.”

Was Sheila about to sing in this clear, strange twilight, while they sat
there and watched the yellow moon come up behind the Southern hills?
Lavender had heard so much of her singing of these fishermen’s ballads
that he could think of nothing more to add to the enchantment of this
wonderful night. But he was disappointed. The girl put her hand on her
father’s head, and reminded him that she had had her big greyhound,
Bras, imprisoned all the afternoon, that she had to go down to
Borvapost, with a message for some people who were leaving by the boat
in the morning, and would the gentleman therefore excuse her not singing
to them for this one evening?

“But you cannot go away down to Borvapost by yourself, Sheila,” said
Ingram. “It will be dark before you return.”

“It will not be darker than this all the night through,” said the girl.

“But I hope you will let us go with you,” said Lavender, rather
anxiously; and she assented with a gracious smile, and went to fetch the
great deerhound that was her constant companion.

And lo! he found himself walking with a princess in the wonderland
through that magic twilight that prevails in Northern latitudes.
Mackenzie and Ingram had gone on in front. The large deerhound, after
regarding him attentively, had gone to his mistress’ side, and remained
closely there. Lavender could scarcely believe his ears that the girl
was talking to him lightly and frankly, as though she had known him for
years, and was telling him of all her troubles with the folks at the
Borvapost, and of those poor people whom she was now going to see. No
sooner did he understand that they were emigrants, and that they were
going to Glasgow before leaving finally for America, than in quite an
honest and enthusiastic fashion he began to bewail the sad fate of such
poor wretches as have to forsake their native land, and to accuse the
aristocracy of the country of every act of selfishness, and to charge
the Government of shameful indifference. But Sheila brought him up
suddenly. In the gentlest fashion she told him that she knew of these
poor people, and how emigration affected them, and so forth, until he
was ready to curse the hour in which he had blundered into taking a side
on a question about which he cared nothing and knew less.

“But some other time,” continued Sheila, “I will tell you what we do
here, and I will show you a great many letters I have from friends of
mine who have gone to Greenock and to New York and Canada. Oh, yes, it
is very bad for the old people; they never get reconciled to the
change--never; but it is very good for the young people, and they are
glad of it, and are much better off than they were here. You will see
how proud they are of the better clothes they have, and of good food,
and of money to put in the bank; and how could they get that in the
Highlands, where the land is so poor that a small piece is no use, and
they have not money to rent the large sheep farms? It is very bad to
have people go away--it is very hard on many of them--but what can they
do? The piece of ground that was very good for the one family, that is
expected to keep the daughters when they marry, and the sons when they
marry, and then there are five or six families to live on it. And hard
work--that will not do much with very bad land and the bad weather we
have here. The people get downhearted when they have their crops spoiled
by the long rain, and they cannot get their peats dried; and very often
the fishing turns out bad, and they have no money at all to carry on the
farm. But now you will see Borvapost.”

Lavender had to confess that this wonderful princess would persist in
talking in a very matter-of-fact way. All the afternoon, while he was
weaving a luminous web of imagination around her, she was continually
cutting it asunder, and stepping forth as an authority on the growing of
some wretched plants or the means by which rain was to be excluded from
window-sills. And now, in this strange twilight, when she ought to have
been singing of the cruelties of the sea or listening to half-forgotten
legends of mermaids, she was engaged with the petty fortunes of men and
girls who were pleased to find themselves prospering in the Glasgow
police force or educating themselves in a milliner’s shop in Edinburgh.
She did not appear conscious that she was a princess. Indeed, she seemed
to have no consciousness of herself at all, and was altogether occupied
in giving him information about practical subjects in which he
professed a profound interest he certainly did not feel.

But even Sheila, when they had reached the loftiest part of their route,
and could see beneath them the island and the water surrounding it, was
struck by the exceeding beauty of the twilight, and as for her
companion, he remembered it many a time thereafter as if it were a dream
of the sea. Before them lay the Atlantic--a pale line of blue, still,
silent and remote. Overhead, the sky was of a clear, pale gold, with
heavy masses of violet cloud stretched across from North to South, and
thickening as they got near to the horizon. Down at their feet, near the
shore, a dusky line of huts and houses was scarcely visible, and over
these lay a pale blue film of peat-smoke that did not move in the still
air. Then they saw the bay into which the White Water runs, and they
could trace the yellow glimmer of the river stretching into the island
through a level valley of bog and morass. Far away, toward the East, lay
the bulk of the island--dark green undulations of moorland and pasture;
and there, in the darkness, the gable of one white house had caught the
clear light of the sky, and was gleaming Westward like a star. But all
this was as nothing to the glory that began to shine in the Southeast,
where the sky was of a pale violet over the peaks of Melasabhal and
Suainabhal. There, into the beautiful dome, rose the golden crescent of
the moon, warm in color, as though it still retained the last rays of
the sunset. A line of quivering gold fell across Loch Roag, and touched
the black hull and spars of the boat in which Sheila had been sailing in
the morning. That bay down there, with its white sands and massive
rocks, its still expanse of water and its background of mountain peaks
palely colored by the yellow moonlight, seemed really a home for a magic
princess who was shut off from all the world. But here, in front of
them, was another sort of sea and another sort of life--a small fishing
village, hidden under a cloud of pale peat-smoke, and fronting the great
waters of the Atlantic itself, which lay under a gloom of violet clouds.

“Now,” said Sheila, with a smile, “we have not always weather as good as
this in the island. Will you not sit on the bench over there with Mr.
Ingram, and wait until my papa and I come up from the village again?”

“May not I go down with you?”

“No. The dogs would learn you were a stranger, and there would be a
great deal of noise, and there will be many of the poor people asleep.”

So Sheila had her way; and she and her father went down the hillside
into the gloom of the village, while Lavender went to join his friend
Ingram, who was sitting on the wooden bench silently smoking a clay
pipe.

“Well, I have never seen the like of this,” said Lavender, in his
impetuous way; “it is worth going a thousand miles to see. Such colors
and such clearness! and then the splendid outlines of those mountains,
and the grand sweep of this loch! This is the sort of thing that drives
me to despair, and might make one vow never to touch a brush again. And
Sheila says it will be like this all the night through.”

He was unaware that he had spoken of her in a very familiar way, but
Ingram noticed it.

“Ingram,” he said, suddenly, “that is the first girl I have ever seen
whom I should like to marry.”

“Stuff!”

“But it is true. I have never seen any one like her--so handsome, so
gentle, and yet so very frank in setting you right. And then she is so
sensible, you know, and not too proud to have much interest in all sorts
of common affairs--”

There was a smile in Ingram’s face, and his companion stopped in some
vexation: “You are not a very sympathetic confidant.”

“Because I know the story of old. You have told it me about twenty
women; and it is always the same. I tell you, you don’t know anything at
all about Sheila Mackenzie yet; perhaps you never may. I suppose you
will make a heroine of her, and will fall in love with her for a
fortnight, and then go back to London and get cured by listening to the
witticisms of Mrs. Lorraine.”

“Thank you very much.”

“Oh, I didn’t mean to offend you. Some day, no doubt, you will love a
woman for what she is, not for what you fancy her to be; but that is a
piece of good fortune that seldom occurs to a youth of your age. To
marry in a dream, and wake up six months afterwards--that is the fate of
ingenuous twenty-three. But don’t you let Mackenzie hear you talk of
marrying Sheila, or he’ll have some of his fishermen throw you into Loch
Roag.”

“There, now, that _is_ one point I can’t understand about her,” said
Lavender, eagerly. “How can a girl of her shrewdness and good sense have
such a belief in that humbugging old idiot of a father of hers, who
fancies me a political emissary, and plays small tricks to look like
diplomacy? It is always ‘My papa can do this,’ and ‘My papa can do
that,’ and ‘There is no one at all like my papa.’ And she is continually
fondling him, and giving little demonstrations of affection, of which he
takes no more notice than if he were an Arctic bear.”

Ingram looked up with some surprise in his face. “You don’t mean to say,
Lavender,” he said, slowly, “that you are already jealous of the girl’s
own father?”

He could not answer, for at this moment Sheila, her father and the big
greyhound came up the hill. And again it was Lavender’s good fortune to
walk with Sheila across the moorland path they had traversed some little
time before. And now the moon was still higher in the heavens, and the
yellow lane of light that crossed the violet waters of Loch Roag
quivered in a deeper gold. The night air was scented with the Dutch
clover growing down by the shore. They could hear the curlew whistling
and the plover calling amid that monotonous plash of the waves that
murmured all around the coast. When they returned to the house the
darker waters of the Atlantic and the purple clouds of the West were
shut out of sight, and before them there was only the liquid plain of
Loch Roag, with its pathway of yellow fire, and far away on the other
side the shoulders and peaks of the Southern mountains, that had grown
gray and clear and sharp in the beautiful twilight. And this was
Sheila’s home.



PART II.



CHAPTER IV.

ROMANCE-TIME.


Early morning at Borva, fresh, luminous and rare; the mountains in the
South grown pale and cloud-like under a sapphire sky; the sea ruffled
into a darker blue by a light breeze from the west; and the sunlight
lying hot on the red gravel and white shells around Mackenzie’s house.
There is an odor of sweetbrier about, hovering in the warm, still air,
except at such times as the breeze freshens a bit, and brings around the
shoulder of the hill the cold, strange scent of the rocks and the sea
beyond.

And on this fresh and pleasant morning Sheila sat in the big garden-seat
in front of the house, talking to the stranger to whom she had been
introduced the day before. He was no more a stranger, however, to all
appearance, for what could be more frank and friendly than their
conversation, or more bright and winning than the smile with which she
frequently turned to speak or to listen? Of course, this stranger could
not be her friend as Mr. Ingram was--that was impossible. But he talked
a great deal more than Mr. Ingram, and was apparently more anxious to
please and be pleased; and indeed was altogether very winning and
courteous and pleasant in his ways. Beyond this vague impression Sheila
ventured upon no further comparison between the two men. If her older
friend had been down, she would doubtless have preferred talking to him
about all that had happened in the island since his last visit; but here
was this newer friend thrown, as it were, upon her hospitality, and
eager, with a most respectful and yet simple and friendly interest, to
be taught all that Ingram already knew. Was he not, too, in mere
appearance like one of the princes she had read of in many an ancient
ballad--tall and handsome and yellow-haired, fit to have come sailing
over the sea, with a dozen merry comrades, to carry off some sea-king’s
daughter to be his bride? Sheila began to regret that the young man
knew so little about the sea and the Northern islands and those old-time
stories; but then he was very anxious to learn.

“You must say _Mach-Klyoda_ instead of Macleod,” she was saying to him,
“if you like _Styornoway_ better than Stornoway. It is the Gaelic, that
is all.”

“Oh, it is ever so much prettier,” said young Lavender, with a quite
genuine enthusiasm in his face, not altogether begotten of the letter
_y_; “and, indeed, I don’t think you can possibly tell how singularly
pleasant and quaint it is to an English ear to hear just that little
softening of the vowels that the people have here, I suppose you don’t
notice that they say _gyarden_, for garden--”

“They!” As if he had paid attention to the pronunciation of any one
except Sheila herself.

“But not quite so hard as I pronounce it. And so with a great many other
words, that are softened and sweetened and made almost poetical in their
sound by the least bit of inflection. How surprised and pleased English
ladies would be to hear you speak! Oh! I beg your pardon--I did not mean
to--I--I beg your pardon--”

Sheila seemed a little astonished by her companion’s evident
mortification, and said with a smile, “If others speak so in the island,
of course I must too; and you say it does not shock you.”

His distress at his own rudeness now found an easy vent. He protested
that no people could talk English like the people of Lewis. He gave
Sheila to understand that the speech of English folks was as the
croaking of ravens compared with the sweet tones of the Northern isles;
and this drew him on to speak of his friends in the South, and of
London, and the chances of Sheila ever going thither.

“It must be so strange never to have seen London,” he said. “Don’t you
ever dream of what it is like? Don’t you ever try to think of a great
space, nearly as big as this island, all covered over with large houses,
the roads between the houses all made of stone, and great bridges going
over the rivers, with railway trains standing? By the way, you have
never seen a railway engine?”

He looked at her for a moment in astonishment, as if he had not hitherto
realized to himself the absolute ignorance of the remote princess.
Sheila, with some little touch of humor appearing in her calm eyes,
said: “But I am not quite ignorant of all these things. I have seen
pictures of them, and my papa has described them so often that I will
feel as if I had seen them all; and I do not think that I should be
surprised, except, perhaps, by the noise of the big towns. It was many a
time my papa told me of that; but he says I cannot understand it, nor
the great distance of land you travel over to get to London. That is
what I do not wish to see. I was often thinking of it, and that to pass
so many places that you do not know would make you very sad.”

“That can be easily avoided,” he said, lightly. “When you go to London
you must go from Glasgow or Edinburgh in a night train, and fall fast
asleep, and in the morning you will find yourself in London, without
having seen anything.”

“Just as if one had gone across a great distance of sea, and come to
another island you will never see before,” said Sheila, with the
gray-blue eyes under the black eyelashes grown strange and distant.

“But you must not think of it as a melancholy thing,” he said, almost
anxiously. “You will find yourself among all sorts of gaities and
amusements; you will have cheerful people around you, and plenty of
things to see; you will drive in beautiful parks, and go to theatres,
and meet people in large and brilliant rooms, filled with flowers, and
silver, and light. And all through the winter, that must be so cold and
dark up here, you will find an abundance of warmth and light, and plenty
of flowers, and every sort of pleasant thing. You will hear no more of
those songs of drowned people; and you will be afraid no longer of
storms, or listen to the waves at night; and by-and-by, when you have
got quite accustomed to London, and got a great many friends, you might
be disposed to stay there altogether; and you would grow to think of
this island as a desolate and melancholy place, and never seek to come
back.”

The girl rose suddenly and turned to a fuchsia tree, pretending to pick
some of its flowers. Tears had sprung to her eyes unbidden, and it was
in rather an uncertain voice that she said, still managing to conceal
her face: “I like to hear you talk of those places, but--but I will
never leave Borva.”

What possible interest could he have in combating this decision so
anxiously, almost so imploringly? He renewed his complaints against the
melancholy of the sea and the dreariness of the Northern winters. He
described again and again the brilliant lights and colors of town life
in the South. As a mere matter of experience and education she ought to
go to London; and had not her papa as good as intimated his intention of
taking her?

In the midst of these representations a step was heard in the hall, and
then the girl looked around with a bright light on her face.

“Well, Sheila,” said Ingram, according to his custom, and both the
girl’s hands were in his the next minute, “you are down early. What have
you been about? Have you been telling Mr. Lavender about the Black Horse
of Loch Suainabhal?”

“No; Mr. Lavender has been telling me of London.”

“And I have been trying to induce Miss Mackenzie to pay us a visit, so
that we may show her the difference between a city and an island. But
all to no purpose. Miss Mackenzie seems to like hard winters, and
darkness, and cold; and as for that perpetual and melancholy and cruel
sea that in the winter time, I should fancy, might drive anybody into a
lunatic asylum--”

“Ah, you must not talk badly of the sea,” said the girl, with all her
courage and brightness returned to her face: “It is our very good
friend. It gives us food, and keeps many people alive. It carries the
lads away to other places, and brings them back with money in their
pockets--”

“And sometimes it smashes a few of them on the rocks, or swallows up a
dozen families, and the next morning it is as smooth and treacherous and
fair as if nothing had happened.”

“But that is not the sea at all,” said Sheila; “that is the storms that
will wreck the boats; and how can the sea help that? When the sea is
left alone the sea is very good to us.”

Ingram laughed aloud and patted the girl’s head fondly; and Lavender,
blushing a little, confessed he was beaten, and that he would never
again, in Miss Mackenzie’s presence, say anything against the sea.

The King of Borva now appearing, they all went in to breakfast; and
Sheila sat opposite the window, so that all the light coming in from the
clear sky and the sea was reflected upon her face, and lit up every
varying expression that crossed it or that shone up in the beautiful
deeps of her eyes. Lavender, his own face in shadow, could look at her
from time to time, himself unseen; and as he sat in almost absolute
silence, and noticed how she talked with Ingram, and what deference she
paid him, and how anxious she was to please him, he began to wonder if
he should ever be admitted to a like friendship with her. It was so
strange, too, that this handsome, proud-featured, proud-spirited girl
should so devote herself to the amusement of a man like Ingram, and,
forgetting all the court that should have been paid to a pretty woman,
seem determined to persuade him that he was conferring a favor upon her
by every word and look. Of course, Lavender admitted to himself, Ingram
was a very good sort of a fellow--a very good sort of a fellow, indeed.
If any one was in a scrape about money, Ingram would come to the rescue
without a moment’s hesitation, although the salary of a clerk in the
Board of Trade might have been made the excuse, by any other man, for a
very justifiable refusal. He was very clever, too--had read much, and
all that kind of thing. But he was not the sort of man you might expect
to get on well with women. Unless with very intimate friends he was a
trifle silent and reserved. Often he was inclined to be pragmatic and
sententious, and had a habit of saying unpleasantly better things when
some careless joke was being made.

He was a little dingy in appearance, and a man who had a somewhat cold
manner, who was sallow of face, who was obviously getting gray, and who
was generally insignificant in appearance, was not the sort of man, one
would think, to fascinate an exceptionally handsome girl, who had brains
enough to know the fineness of her own face. But here was this princess
paying attentions to him, such as must have driven a more impressionable
man out of his senses, while Ingram sat quiet and pleased, sometimes
making fun of her, and generally talking to her as if she were a child.
Sheila had chatted very pleasantly with him, Lavender, in the morning,
but it was evident that her relations with Ingram were of a very
different kind, such as he could not well understand. For it was
scarcely possible that she could be in love with Ingram, and yet, surely
the pleasure that dwelt in her expressive face, when she spoke to him or
listened to him, was not the result of a mere friendship.

If Lavender had been told at that moment that these two were lovers, and
that they were looking forward to an early marriage, he would have
rejoiced with an enthusiasm of joy. He would have honestly and cordially
shaken Ingram by the hand; he would have made plans for introducing the
young bride to all the people he knew; and he would have gone straight
off, on reaching London, to buy Sheila a diamond necklace, even if he
had to borrow the money from Ingram himself.

“And have you got rid of the _Airgiod-cearc_,[4] Sheila?” said Ingram,
suddenly breaking in upon these dreams; “or does every owner of hens
still pay his annual shilling to the Lord of Lewis?”

“It is not away yet,” said the girl, “but when Sir James comes in the
autumn I will go over to Stornoway and ask him to take away the tax; and
I know he will do it, for what is the shilling worth to him, when he has
spent thousands and thousands of pounds on the Lewis? But it will be
very hard on some of the poor people that only keep one or two hens; and
I will tell Sir James of all that--”

“You will do nothing of the kind, Sheila,” said her father, impatiently.
“What is the _Airgiod-cearc_ to you, that you will go over to Stornoway
only to be laughed at and make a fool of yourself?”

“That is nothing--not anything at all,” said the girl, “if Sir James
will only take away the tax.”

“Why, Sheila, they would treat you as another Lady Godiva,” said Ingram,
with a good-humored smile.

“But Miss Mackenzie is quite right,” exclaimed Lavender, with a sudden
flush of color leaping into his handsome face, and an honest glow of
admiration into his eyes. “I think it is a very noble thing for her to
do, and nobody, either in Stornoway or anywhere else, would be such a
brute as to laugh at her for trying to help those poor people, who have
not too many friends and defenders, God knows.”

Ingram looked surprised. Since when had the young gentleman across the
table acquired such a singular interest in the poorer classes, of whose
very existence he had for the most part seemed unaware? But the
enthusiasm in his face seemed quite honest; there could be no doubt of
that. As for Sheila, with a beating heart she ventured to send to her
companion a brief and timid glance of gratitude, which the young man
observed, and never forgot.

“You will not know what it is all about,” said the King of Borva, with a
peevish air, as though it were too bad that a person of his authority
should have to descend to details about a petty hen-tax. “It is many and
many a tax and a due Sir James will take away from his tenants in the
Lewis, and he will spend more money a thousand times than ever he will
get back; and it was this _Airgiod-cearc_, it will stand in the place of
a great many things taken away, just to remind the folk that they have
not their land all in their own right. It is many things you will have
to do in managing the poor people, not to let them get too proud, or
forgetful of what they owe to you; and now there is no more tacksmen to
be the masters of the small crofters, and the crofters they would think
they were landlords themselves if there were no dues for them to pay.”

“I have heard of those middlemen; they were dreadful tyrants and
thieves, weren’t they?” said Lavender. Ingram kicked his foot under the
table. “I mean, that was the popular impression of them--a vulgar error,
I presume,” continued the young man, in the coolest manner. “And so you
have got rid of them? Well, I dare say many of them were honest men, and
suffered very unjustly in common report.”

Mackenzie answered nothing, but his daughter said quickly: “But you
know, Mr. Lavender, they have not gone away merely because they cease to
have the letting of the land to the crofters. They have still their old
holdings, and so have the crofters, in most cases. Every one now holds
direct from the proprietor, that is all.”

“So that there is no difference between the former tacksman and his
serf, except the relative size of their farms?”

“Well, the crofters have no leases, but the tacksmen have,” said the
girl, somewhat timidly; and then she added: “But you have not decided
yet, Mr. Ingram, what you will do to-day. It is too clear for the salmon
fishing. Will you go over to Meavig and show Mr. Lavender the Bay of Uig
and the seven hunters?”

“Surely we must show him Borvapost first, Sheila,” said Ingram. “He saw
nothing of it last night in the dark, and I think if you offered to take
Mr. Lavender around in your boat, and show him what a clever sailor you
are, he would prefer that to walking over the hill.”

“I can take you all around in the boat, certainly,” said the girl, with
a quick blush of pleasure; and forthwith a message was sent to Duncan
that cushions should be taken down to the Maighdean-mhara, the little
vessel of which Sheila was both skipper and pilot.

How beautiful was the fair sea-picture that lay around them as the
Maighdean-mhara stood out to the mouth of Loch Roag on this bright
Summer morning! Sheila sat in the stern of the small boat, her hand on
the tiller. Lufrath lay at her feet, his nose between the long and
shaggy paws. Duncan, grave and watchful as to the wind and the points of
the coast, sat amidships, with the sheets of the mainsail held fast, and
superintended the seamanship of his young mistress with a respectful but
most evident pride. And as Ingram had gone off with Mackenzie to walk
over the White Water before going down to Borvapost, Frank Lavender was
Sheila’s sole companion out in this wonderland of rock and sea and blue
sky.

He did not talk much to her, and she was so well occupied with the boat
that he could regard with impunity the shifting lights and graces of her
face and all the wonder and winning depths of her eyes. The sea was blue
around them; the sky overhead had not a speck of cloud in it; the white
sand-bays, the green stretches of pasture and the far and spectral
mountains trembled in a haze of sunlight. Then there was all the delight
of the fresh and cool wind, the hissing of the water along the boat, and
the joyous rapidity with which the small vessel, lying over a little,
ran through the crisply curling waters, and brought into view the newer
wonders of the opening sea.

Was it not all a dream, that he should be sitting by the side of this
sea-princess, who was attended only by her deerhound and the tall
keeper? And if a dream, why should it not go on forever? To live forever
in this magic land--to have the princess herself carry him in this
little boat into the quiet bays of the islands, or out at night, in the
moonlight, on the open sea--to forget forever the godless South and its
social phantasmagoria, and live in this beautiful and distant solitude,
with the solemn secrets of the hills and the moving deep forever present
to the imagination, might not that be a nobler life? And some day or
other he would take this island-princess up to London, and he would bid
the women that he knew--the scheming mothers and the doll-like
daughters--stand aside from before this perfect work of God. She would
carry with her the mystery of the sea in the deeps of her eyes, and the
music of the far hills would be heard in her voice, and all the
sweetness and purity and brightness of the clear Summer skies would be
mirrored in her innocent soul. She would appear in London as some
wild-plumaged bird hailing from distant climes, and before she had lived
there long enough to grow sad, and have the weight of the city cloud the
brightness of her eyes, she would be spirited away again into this
strange sea-kingdom, where there seemed to be perpetual sunshine and the
light music of the waves.

Poor Sheila! She little knew what was expected of her, or the sort of
drama into which she was being thrown as a central figure. She little
knew that she, a simple Highland girl, was being transformed into a
wonderful creature of romance, who was to put to shame the gentle dames
and maidens of London society, and do many other extraordinary things.
But what would have appeared the most extraordinary of all these
speculations, if she had only known of them, was the assumption that she
would marry Frank Lavender. _That_ the young man had quite naturally
taken for granted; but, perhaps, only as a basis for his imaginative
scenes. In order to do these fine things she would have to be married to
somebody, and why not to himself? Think of the pride he would have in
leading this beautiful girl, with her quaint manners and fashion of
speech, into a London drawing-room! Would not every one wish to know
her? Would not everyone listen to her singing of those Gaelic songs?
for, of course, she must sing well. Would not all his artist friends be
anxious to paint her? and she would go to the Academy to convince the
loungers there how utterly the canvas had failed to catch the light and
dignity and sweetness of her face.

When Sheila spoke he started.

“Did you not see it?”

“What?”

“The seal; it rose for a moment just over there,” said the girl, with a
great interest visible in her eyes.

The beautiful dreams he had been dreaming were considerably shattered by
this interruption. How could a fairy princess be so interested in some
common animal showing its head out of the sea? It also occurred to him,
just at this moment, that if Sheila and Mairi went out in this boat by
themselves, they must be in the habit of hoisting up the mainsail; and
was such rude and coarse work befitting the character of a princess?

“He looks very like a black man in the water, when his head comes up,”
said Sheila--“when the water is smooth, so that you will see him look at
you. But I have not told you yet about the Black Horse that
Alister-nan-Each saw at Loch Suainabhal one night. Loch Suainabhal, that
is inland and fresh water--so it was not a seal; but Alister was going
along the shore, and he saw it lying up by the road, and he looked at it
for a long time. It was quite black, and he thought it was a boat; but
when he came near, he saw it begin to move, and then it went down across
the shore, and splashed into the loch. And it had a head bigger than a
horse, and quite black, and it made a noise as it went down the shore to
the loch.”

“Don’t you think Alister must have been taking a little whisky, Miss
Mackenzie?”

“No, not that, for he came to me just after he will see the beast.”

“And do you really believe he saw such an animal?” said Lavender, with a
smile.

“I do not know,” said the girl, gravely. “Perhaps it was only a fright,
and he imagined he saw it; but I do not know it is impossible there can
be such an animal at Loch Suainabhal. But that is nothing; it is of no
consequence. But I have seen stranger things than the Black Horse, that
many people will not believe.”

“May I ask what they are?” he said, gently.

“Some other time, perhaps, I will tell you; but there is much
explanation about it, and, you see, we are going in to Borvapost.”

Was this, then, the capital of the small empire over which the princess
ruled? He saw before him but a long row of small huts or hovels,
resembling beehives, which stood above the curve of a white bay, and at
one portion of the bay was a small creek, near which a number of large
boats, bottom upward, lay on the beach. What odd little dwellings those
were! The walls, a few feet high, were built of rude blocks of stone or
slices of turf, and from those low supports rose a rounded roof of
straw, which was thatched over by a further layer of turf. There were
few windows, and no chimneys at all--not even a hole in the roof. And
what was meant by the two men, who, standing on one of the turf walls,
were busily engaged in digging into the rich brown and black thatch and
heaving it into a cart? Sheila had to explain to him that while she was
doing everything in her power to get the people to suffer the
introduction of windows, it was hopeless to think of chimneys; for by
carefully guarding against the egress of the peat smoke, it slowly
saturated the thatch of the roof, which at certain periods of the year
was then taken off to dress the fields, and a new roof of straw put on.

By this time they had run the Maighdean-mhara--the “Sea Maiden” into a
creek, and were climbing up the steep beach of shingle that had been
worn smooth by the unquiet waters of the Atlantic.

“And will you want to speak to me, Ailasa?” said Sheila, turning to a
small girl who had approached her somewhat diffidently.

She was a pretty little thing, with a round, fair face, tanned by the
sun, brown hair and soft, dark eyes. She was bare-headed, bare-footed
and bare-armed, but she was otherwise smartly dressed, and she held in
her hand an enormous flounder, apparently about half as heavy as
herself.

“Will ye hef the fesh, Miss Sheila,” said the small Ailasa, holding out
the flounder, but looking down all the same.

“Did you catch it yourself, Ailasa?”

“Yes, it wass Donald and me; we wass out in a boat, and Donald had a
line.”

“And it is a present for me?” said Sheila, patting the small head and
its wild and soft hair. “Thank you, Ailasa. But you must ask Donald to
carry it up to the house and give it to Mairi. I cannot take it with me
just now, you know.”

There was a small boy cowering behind one of the upturned boats, and by
his furtive peepings showing that he was in league with his sister.
Ailasa, not thinking that she was discovering his whereabouts, turned
quite naturally in that direction, until she was suddenly stopped by
Lavender, who called to her and put his hand in his pocket. But he was
too late. Sheila had stepped in, and with a quick look, which was all
the protest that was needed, shut her hand over the half crown he had in
his fingers.

“Never mind, Ailasa,” she said. “Go away and get Donald, and bid him
carry the fish up to Mairi.”

Lavender put up the half-crown in his pocket in a somewhat dazed
fashion; what he chiefly knew was that Sheila had for a moment held his
hand in hers, and that her eyes had met his.

Well, that little incident of Ailasa and the flounder was rather
pleasant to him. It did not shock the romantic associations he had begun
to weave around his fair companion. But when they had gone up to the
cottages--Mackenzie and Ingram not yet having arrived--and when Sheila
proceeded to tell him about the circumstances of the fishermen’s lives,
and to explain how such and such things were done in the fields and
pickling-houses, and so forth, Lavender was a little disappointed.
Sheila took him into some of the cottages, or rather hovels, and he
vaguely knew in the darkness that she sat down by the low glow of the
peat-fire, and began to ask the women about all sorts of improvements in
the walls and windows and gardens, and what not. Surely it was not for a
princess to go advising people about particular sorts of soap, or
offering to pay for a pane of glass if the husband of the woman would
make the necessary aperture in the stone-wall. The picture of Sheila
appearing as a sea-princess in a London drawing-room was all very
beautiful in its way, but here she was discussing as to the quality
given to broth by the addition of a certain vegetable which she offered
to send down from her own garden, if the cottager in question would try
to grow it.

“I wonder, Miss Mackenzie,” he said, at length, when they got outside,
his eyes dazed with the light and smarting with the peat-smoke, “I
wonder you can trouble yourself with such little matters, that those
people should find out for themselves.”

The girl looked up with some surprise: “That is the work I have to do.
My papa cannot do everything in the island.”

“But what is the necessity for your bothering yourself about such
things? Surely they ought to be able to look after their own gardens and
houses. It is no degradation--certainly not; for anything you interested
yourself in would become worthy of attention by the very fact--but,
after all, it seems such a pity you should give up your time to these
commonplace details.”

“But some one must do it,” said the girl, quite innocently, “and my papa
has no time. And they will be very good in doing what I ask
them--everyone in the island.”

Was this a willful affectation? he said to himself. Or was she really
incapable of understanding that there was anything incongruous in a
young lady of her position, education and refinement busying herself
with the curing of fish and the cost of lime? He had himself marked the
incongruity long ago, when Ingram had been telling him of the remote and
beautiful maiden whose only notions of the world had been derived from
literature--who was more familiar with the magic land in which Endymion
wandered than with any other--and that at the same time she was about as
good as her father at planning a wooden bridge over a stream. When
Lavender had got outside again--when he found himself walking with her
along the white beach in front of the blue Atlantic--she was again the
princess of his dreams. He looked at her face, and he saw in her eyes
that she must be familiar with all the romantic nooks and glades of
English poetry. The plashing of the waves down there and the music of
her voice recalled the sad legends of the fishermen he hoped to hear her
sing. But ever and anon there occurred a jarring recollection--whether
arising from a contradiction between his notion of Sheila and the actual
Sheila, or whether from some incongruity in itself, he did not stop to
consider. He only knew that a beautiful maiden who had lived by the sea
all her life, and who had followed the wanderings of Endymion in the
enchanted forest, need not have been so particular about a method of
boiling potatoes, or have shown so much interest in a pattern for
children’s frocks.

Mackenzie and Ingram met them. There was the usual “Well, Sheila?”
followed by a thousand questions about the very things she had been
inquiring into. That was one of the odd points about Ingram that puzzled
and sometimes vexed Lavender; for if you are walking home at night it is
inconvenient to be accompanied by a friend who would stop to ask about
the circumstances of some old crone hobbling along the pavement, or who
could, on his own door-step, stop to have a chat with a garrulous
policeman. Ingram was about as odd as Sheila herself in the attention he
paid to those wretched cotters and their doings. He could not advise on
the important subject of broth, but he would have tasted it by way of
discovery, even if it had been presented to him in a tea-cup. He had
already been prowling around the place with Mackenzie. He had inspected
the apparatus in the creek for hauling up the boats. He had visited the
curing houses. He had examined the heaps of fish drying on the beach. He
had drunk whisky with John the Piper and shaken hands with
Alister-nan-Each. And now he had come to tell Sheila that the piper was
bringing down luncheon from Mackenzie’s house, and that after they had
eaten and drunk on the white beach they would put out the
Maighdean-mhara once more to sea, and sail over to Mevaig, that the
stranger might see the wondrous sands of the Bay of Uig.

But it was not in consonance with the dignity of a king that his guests
should eat from off the pebbles, like so many fishermen, and when Mairi
and another girl brought down the baskets, luncheon was placed in the
stern of the small vessel, while Duncan got up the sails and put out
from the stone quay. As for John the Piper, was he insulted for having
been sent on a menial errand? They had scarcely got away from the shore
when the sounds of the pipes were wafted to them from the hillside
above, and it was the “Lament of Mackrimmon” that followed them out to
sea:

    Mackrimmon shall no more return,
    Oh never, never more return!

That was the wild and ominous air that was skirling up on the hillside;
and Mackenzie’s face, as he heard it, grew wroth. “That teffle of a
piper, John!” he said, “will be playing _Cha till mi tuiligh?_”

“It is out of mischief, papa,” said Sheila--“that is all.”

“It will be more than mischief if I burn his pipes and drive him out of
Borva. Then there will be no more of mischief.”

“It is very bad of John to do that,” said Sheila to Lavender, apparently
in explanation of her father’s anger, “for we have given him shelter
here when there will be no more pipes in all the Lewis. It was the Free
Church ministers, they put down the pipes, for there was too much
wildness at the marriages when the pipes would play.”

“And what do the people dance to now?” asked the young gentleman, who
seemed to resent this paternal government.

Sheila laughed in an embarrassed way.

“Miss Mackenzie would rather not tell you,” said Ingram. “The fact is,
the noble mountaineers of these districts have had to fall back on the
Jew’s harp. The ministers allow the instrument to be used--I suppose
because there is a look of piety in the name. But the dancing doesn’t
get very mad when you have two or three young fellows playing a
strathspey on a bit of a trembling wire.”

“That teffle of a piper John!” growled Mackenzie, under his breath; and
so the Maighdean-mhara lightly sped on her way, opening out the various
headlands of the islands, until at last she got into the narrows by
Eilean-Aird-Meinish, and ran up the long arm of the sea to Mevaig.

They landed and went up the rocks. They passed two or three small white
houses overlooking the still, green waters of the sea, and then,
following the line of a river, plunged into the heart of a strange and
lonely district, in which there appeared to be no life. The river track
took them up a green glen, the sides of which were about as sheer as a
railway cutting. There were no trees or bushes about, but the green
pasture along the bed of the valley wore its brightest colors in the
warm sunlight, and far up on the hillsides the browns and crimsons of
the heather and the silver gray of the rocks trembled in the white haze
of the heat. Over that again the blue sky, as still and silent as the
world below.

They wandered on, content with idleness and a fine day. Mr. Mackenzie
was talking with some little loudness, so that Lavender might hear, of
Mr. John Stuart Mill, and was anxious to convey to Ted Ingram that a
wise man, who is responsible for the well-being of his fellow creatures,
will study all sides of all questions, however dangerous. Sheila was
doing her best to entertain the stranger, and he, in a dream of his own,
was listening to the information she gave him. How much of it did he
carry away? He was told that the gray goose built its nest in the rushes
at the edge of lakes; Sheila knew several nests in Borva. Sheila also
caught the young of the wild duck when the mother was guiding them down
the hill-rivulets to the sea. She had tamed many of them, catching them
thus before they could fly. The names of most of the mountains about
here ended in _bhal_, which was a Gaelic corruption of the Norse
_fiall_, a mountain. There were many Norse names all through the Lewis,
but more particularly towards the Butt. The termination _bost_, for
example, at the end of many words, meant an inhabited place, but she
fancied _bost_ was Danish. And did Mr. Lavender know of the legend
connected with the air of _Cha till, cha till mi tuille?_

Lavender started as from a trance, with an impression that he had been
desperately rude. He was about to say that the gray gosling in the
legend could not speak Scandinavian, when he was interrupted by Mr.
Mackenzie turning and asking him if he knew from what ports the English
smacks hailed that came up hither to the cod and the ling fishing for a
couple of months in the autumn. The young man said he did not know.
There were many fishermen at Brighton. And when the King of Borva turned
to Ingram, to see why he was shouting with laughter, Sheila suddenly
announced to the party that before them lay the great Bay of Uig.

It was certainly a strange and impressive scene. They stood on the top
of a lofty range of hills, and underneath them lay a vast semicircle,
miles in extent, of gleaming white sand, that had in by-gone ages been
washed in by the Atlantic. Into this vast plain of silver whiteness the
sea, entering by a somewhat narrow portal, stretched in long arms of a
pale blue. Elsewhere the great crescent of sand was surrounded by a low
line of rocky hill, showing a thousand tints of olive-green and gray and
heather purple; and beyond that again rose the giant bulk of
Mealasabhal, grown pale in the heat, into the Southern sky. There was
not a ship visible along the blue plain of the Atlantic. The only human
habitation to be seen in the strange world beneath them was a solitary
manse. But away toward the summit of Mealasabhal two specks slowly
circled in the air, which Sheila thought were eagles; and far out on the
Western sea, lying like dusky whales in the vague blue, were the Plada
Islands--the remote and unvisited Seven Hunters--whose only inhabitants
are certain flocks of sheep belonging to dwellers on the main land of
Lewis.

The travelers sat down on a low rock of gneiss to rest themselves, and
then and there did the King of Borva recite his grievances and rage
against the English smacks. Was it not enough that they should in
passing steal the sheep, but that they should also, in mere wantonness,
stalk them as deer, wounding them with rifle bullets, and leaving them
to die among the rocks. Sheila said bravely that no one could tell that
it was the English fishermen who did that. Why not the crews of merchant
vessels, who might be of any nation? It was unfair to charge upon any
body of men such a despicable act, when there was no proof of it
whatever.

“Why, Sheila,” said Ingram, with some surprise, “you never doubted
before that it was the English smacks that killed the sheep.”

Sheila cast down her eyes and said nothing.

Was the sinister prophecy of John the Piper to be fulfilled? Mackenzie
was so much engaged in expounding politics to Ingram, and Sheila was so
proud to show her companion all the wonders of Uig, that when they
returned to Mevaig in the evening the wind had altogether gone down and
the sea was as a sea of glass. But if John the Piper had been ready to
foretell for Mackenzie the fate of Mackrimmon, he had taken means to
defeat destiny by bringing over from Borvapost a large and heavy boat
pulled by six rowers. These were not strapping young fellows, clad in
the best blue cloth to be got in Stornoway, but elderly men, gray,
wrinkled, weather-beaten and hard of face, who sat stolidly in the boat
and listened with a sort of bovine gaze to the old hunchback’s wicked
stories and jokes. John was in a mischievous mood, but Lavender, in a
confidential whisper, informed Sheila, that her father would speedily be
avenged on the inconsiderate piper.

“Come, men, sing us a song, quick!” said Mackenzie, as the party took
their seats in the stern and the great oars splashed into the sea of
gold. “Look sharp, John, and no teffle of a drowning song!”

In a shrill, high, querulous voice the piper, who was himself pulling
one of the two stroke oars, began to sing, and then the men behind him
gathering courage, joined in an octave lower, their voices being even
more uncertain and lugubrious than his own. These poor fishermen had not
had the musical education of Clan-Alpine’s warriors. The performance was
not enlivening, and as the monotonous and melancholy sing-song that kept
time to the oars told its story in Gaelic, all that the English
strangers could make out was an occasional reference to Jura or Scarba
or Isla. It was, indeed, the song of an exile shut up in “sea-worn
Mull,” who was complaining of the wearisome look of the neighboring
islands.

“But why do you sing such Gaelic as that, John?” said young Lavender,
confidently. “I should have thought a man in your position--the last of
the Hebridean bards--would have known the classical Gaelic. Don’t you
know the classical Gaelic?”

“There iss only the wan sort of Kâllic, and it is a ferry goot sort of
Kâllic,” said the piper, with some show of petulance.

“Do you mean to tell me you don’t know your own tongue? Do you not know
what the greatest of all the bards wrote about your own island? ‘O et
præsidium et dulce decus meum, _agus_, Tityre tu catulæ recubans sub
tegmine _Styornoway_, Arma virumque cano, _Macklyoda_ et _Borvapost_ sub
tegmine fagi?’”

Not only John the Piper, but all the men behind him, began to look
amazed and sorely troubled; and all the more so that Ingram--who had
picked up more Gaelic words than his friend--came to his assistance, and
began to talk to him in this unknown tongue. They heard references in
the conversation to persons and things with which they were familiar in
their own language, but still accompanied by much more they could not
understand.

The men now began to whisper awe-stricken questions to each other, and
at last John the Piper could not restrain his curiosity. “What in the
name of Kott is tat sort of Kâllic?” he asked, with some look of fear in
his eyes.

“You are not such a student, John,” said Lavender, carelessly, “but
still a man in your position should know something of your own language.
A bard, a poet, and not know the classical form of your own tongue!”

“Is it ta Welsh Kâllic?” cried John, in desperation, for he knew that
the men behind him would carry the story of his ignorance all over
Borvapost.

“The Welsh Gaelic? No. I see you will have to go to school again.”

“There iss no more Kâllic in ta schools,” said the piper, eagerly
seizing the excuse. “It iss Miss Sheila; she will hef put away all ta
Kâllic from ta schools.”

“But you were born half a century before Miss Sheila; how is it that you
neglected to learn that form of Gaelic that has been sacred to the use
of the bards and poets since the time of Ossian?”

There were no more quips or cranks for John the Piper during the rest
of the pull home. The wretched man relapsed into a moody silence and
worked methodically at his oar, brooding over this mysterious language
of which he had not even heard. As for Lavender, he turned to Mackenzie
and begged to know what he thought of affairs in France.

And so they sailed back to Borvapost over the smooth water that lay like
a lake of gold. Was it not a strange sight to see the Atlantic one vast
and smooth yellow plain under the great glow of saffron that spread
across the regions of the sunset? It was a world of light, unbroken but
by the presence of a heavy coaster that had anchored in the Bay, and
that sent a long line of trembling black down on the perfect mirror of
the sea. As they got near the shore, the portions that were in shadow
showed with a strange distinctness the dark green of the pasture and the
sharp outlines of the rocks; and there was a cold scent of sea-weed in
the evening air. The six heavy oars plashed into the smooth bay. The big
boat was moored to the quay, and its passengers landed once more in
Borva. And when they turned, on their way home, to look from the brow of
the hill, on which Sheila had placed a garden seat, lo! all the West was
on fire, the mountains in the South had grown dark on their Eastern
side, and the plain of the sea was like a lake of blood, with the heavy
hull and masts of the coaster grown large and solemn and distant. There
was scarcely a ripple around the rocks at their feet to break the
stillness of the approaching twilight.

So another day had passed, devoid of adventure or incident. Lavender had
not rescued his wonderful princess from an angry sea, nor had he shown
prowess in slaying a dozen stags, nor in any way distinguished himself.
To all outward appearance the relations of the party were the same at
night as they had been in the morning. But the greatest crises of life
steal on us imperceptibly, and have sometimes occurred and wound us in
their consequences before we know. The memorable things in a man’s
career are not always marked by some sharp convulsion. The youth does
not necessarily marry the girl whom he happens to fish out of a
mill-pond; his life may be far more definitely shaped for him at a
prosaic dinner-table, where he fancies he is only thinking of the wines.
We are indeed but as children seated on the shore, watching the ripples
that come on to our feet; and while the ripples unceasingly repeat
themselves, and while the hour that passes is but as the hour before it,
constellation after constellation has gone by over our heads unheeded,
and we wake with a start to find ourselves in a new day, with all our
former life cut off from us and become as a dream.



CHAPTER V.

SHEILA SINGS.


A knocking at Ingram’s door.

“Well, what’s the matter?”

“Will ye be goin’ to ta fishin’, Mr. Ingram?”

“Is that you, Duncan? How the devil have you got over from Mevaig at
this hour of the morning?”

“Oh, there wass a bit breeze tis morning, and I hef prought over ta
Maighdean-mhara. And there iss a very good ripple on ta water, if you
will tak ta other gentleman to try for ta salmon.”

“All right. Hammer at his door until he gets up. I shall be ready in ten
minutes.”

About half an hour thereafter the two young men were standing at the
front of Mackenzie’s house examining the enormous rod that Duncan had
placed against the porch. It was still early morning, and there was a
cold wind blowing in from the sea, but there was not a speck of cloud in
the sky, and the day promised to be hot. The plain of the Atlantic was
no longer a sheet of glass; it was rough and gray, and far out an
occasional quiver of white showed where a wave was hissing over. There
was not much of a sea on, but the heavy wash of the water around the
rocks and sandy bays could be distinctly heard in the silence of the
morning.

And what was this moving object down there by the shore where the
Maighdean-mhara lay at anchor? Both the young men at once recognized the
glimmer of the small white feather and the tightly-fitting blue dress of
the sea-princess.

“Why, there is Sheila!” cried Ingram. “What in all the world is she
about at such an hour?”

At this moment Duncan came out with a book of flies in his hand, and he
said in rather a petulant way, “And it iss no wonder Miss Sheila will be
out. And it was Miss Sheila herself will tell me to see if you will go
to ta White Water and try for a salmon.”

“And she is bringing up something from the boat; I must go and carry it
for her,” said Lavender, making down the path to the shore with the
speed of a deer.

When Sheila and he came up the hill, there was a fine color in the
girl’s face from her morning’s exertions, but she was not disposed to go
in-doors to rest. On the contrary, she was soon engaged in helping Mairi
to bring in some coffee to the parlor, while Duncan cut slices of ham
and cold beef big enough to have provisioned a fishing-boat bound for
Caithness. Sheila had had her breakfast; so she devoted all her time to
waiting upon her guests, until Lavender could scarcely eat through the
embarrassment produced by her noble servitude. Ingram was not so
sensitive, and made a very good meal indeed.

“Where’s your father, Sheila?” said Ingram, when the last of their
preparations had been made and they were about to start for the river.
“Isn’t he up yet?”

“My father?” said the girl, with the least possible elevation of her
eyebrows--“he will be down at Borvapost an hour ago. And I hope that
John the Piper will not see him this morning. But we must make haste,
Mr. Ingram, for the wind will fall when the sun gets stronger, and then
your friend will have no more of the fishing.”

So they set out, and Ingram put Sheila’s hand on his arm, and took her
along with him in that fashion, while the tall gillie walked behind with
Lavender, who was or was not pleased with the arrangement. The young
man, indeed, was a trifle silent, but Duncan was in an amiable and
communicative mood, and passed the time in telling him stories of the
salmon he had caught, and of the people who had tried to catch them and
failed. Sheila and Ingram certainly went a good pace up the hill and
around the summit of it, and down again into the valley of the White
Water. The light step of the girl seemed to be as full of spring as the
heather on which she trod; and as for her feet getting wet, the dew must
have soaked them long ago. She was in the brightest of spirits. Lavender
could hear her laughing in a low, pleased fashion, and then presently
her head would be turned up toward her companion, and all the light of
some humorous anecdote would appear in her face and in her eloquent
eyes, and it would be Ingram’s turn to break out into one of those
short, abrupt laughs that had something sardonic in them.

But hark! From the other side of the valley comes another sound, the
faint and distant skirl of the pipes, and yonder is the white-haired
hunchback, a mere speck in a waste of brown and green morass. What is he
playing to himself now?

“He is a foolish fellow, that John,” said the tall keeper, “for if he
comes down to Borvapost this morning, it iss Mr. Mackenzie will fling
his pipes in ta sea, and he will haf to go away and work in ta
steamboat. He iss a very foolish fellow; and it wass him tat wass goin’
in ta steamboat before, and he went to a tailor in Styornoway, and he
said to him, ‘I want a pair o’ troosers.’ And the tailor said to him,
‘What sort o’ troosers iss it you will want?’ And he said to him, ‘I
want a pair o’ troosers for a steamboat.’ A pair o’ troosers for a
steamboat!--he is a teffle of a foolish fellow. And it wass him that
went in ta steamboat with a lot o’ freens o’ his, that wass a goin’ to
Skye to a big weddin’ there; and it wass a very bad passage, and when
tey got into Portree, the captain said to him, ‘John, where iss all your
freens that tey do not come ashore?’ And he said to him, ‘I hef peen
down below, sir, and four-thirds o’ ta whole o’ them are a’
half-troonded and sick and tead.’ Four-thirds o’ ta whole o’ them! And
he iss just the ferry man to laugh at every other pody when it iss a
mistake you will make in ta English.”

“I suppose,” said Lavender, “you found it rather difficult to learn good
English?”

“Well, sir, I hefna got ta good English yet. But Miss Sheila she has put
away all the Gaelic from the schools, and the young ones they will learn
more of ta good English after that.”

“I wish I knew as much Gaelic as you know English,” said the young man.

“Oh, you will soon learn. It iss ferry easy if you will only stay in ta
island.”

“It would take me several months to pick it up, I suppose?”

“Oh, yes--nine or six--that will do,” said Duncan. “You will begin to
learn ta names o’ ta Islands and ta places. There now, as far as you can
see is ta Seann Bheinn; and it means ta old hill. And there is a rock
there; it is Stac-nan-Balg--”

Here Duncan looked rather perplexed.

“Yes,” said Lavender; “what does that mean?”

“It means--it means,” said Duncan, in still greater perplexity, and
getting a little impatient, “it means--_stac_, tat iss a steep rock;
Stac-nan-Balg--it means--well, sir, _it is ower deep for ta English_.”

The tone of mortification in which Duncan uttered these words warned
Lavender that his philological studies might as well cease; and indeed
Sheila and Ingram had by this time reached the banks of the White Water,
and were waiting Duncan and his majestic rod.

It was much too bright and pleasant a morning for good fishing, but
there was a fair ripple on the pools of the stream where ever and anon a
salmon fresh run from the sea would leap into the air, showing a
gleaming curve of silver to the sunlight. The splash of the big fish
seemed an invitation, and Duncan was all anxiety to teach the stranger,
who, as he fancied, knew nothing about throwing a fly. Ingram lay down
on a rock some little distance back from the banks, and put his hands
beneath his head and watched the operations going forward. But was it
really Duncan who was to teach the stranger? It was Sheila who picked
out flies for him. It was Sheila who held the rod while he put them on
the line. It was Sheila who told where the bigger salmon usually
lay--under the opposite bank of the broad and almost lake-like pool into
which the small but rapid White Water came tumbling and foaming down its
narrow channel of rocks and stones.

Then Sheila waited to see her pupil begin. He had evidently a little
difficulty about the big double-handed rod, a somewhat more formidable
engine of destruction than the supple little thing with which he had
whipped the streams of Devonshire and Cornwall.

The first cast sent both flies and a lump of line tumbling on to the
pool, and would have driven the boldest of salmon out of its wits. The
second pretty nearly took a piece out of Ingram’s ear, and made him
shift his quarters with rapidity. Duncan gave him up in despair. The
third cast dropped both flies with the lightness of a feather in the
running waters of the other side of the pool; and the next second there
was a slight wave along the surface, a dexterous jerk with the butt, and
presently the line was whirled out into the middle of the pool, running
rapidly off the reel from the straining rod.

“Plenty o’ line, sir, plenty o’ line!” shouted Duncan, in a wild fever
of anxiety, for the fish had plunged suddenly.

Ingram had come running down to the bank. Sheila was all excitement and
interest as she stood and watched every slackening or tightening of the
line as the fish went up the pool and down the pool, and crossed the
current in his efforts to escape. The only self-possessed person,
indeed, was Lavender himself, who presently said, “Miss Mackenzie, won’t
you take the rod now and have the honor of landing him? I don’t think he
will show much more fight.”

At this moment, however, the line slackened suddenly, and the fish threw
himself clean out of the water, turning a complete somersault. It was a
dangerous moment, but the captive was well hooked, and in his next
plunge Lavender was admonished by Duncan to keep a good strain on him.

“I will take the second one,” Sheila promised, “if you like; but you
must surely land your first salmon yourself.”

I suppose nobody but a fisherman can understand the generosity of the
offer made by the young man. To have hooked your first salmon--to have
its first wild rushes and plunges safely over--and to offer to another
the delight of bringing him victoriously to bank! But Sheila knew. And
what could have surpassed the cleverness with which he had hooked the
fish, and the coolness and courage he showed throughout the playing of
him, except this more than royal offer on the part of the young hero?

The fish was losing strength. All the line had been got in, although the
forefinger of the fisherman felt the pulse of his captive, as it were,
ready for any expiring plunge. They caught occasional glimpses of a
large white body gliding through the ruddy-brown water. Duncan was down
on his knees more than once, with the landing-net in his hand, but again
and again the big fish would sheer off, with just such indications of
power as to make his conqueror cautious. At length he was guided slowly
in to the bank. Behind him the landing-net was gently let into the
water--then a quick forward movement, and a fourteen pounder was scooped
up and flung upon the bank, landing-net and all. “Hurrah!” cried Ingram,
and Lavender blushed like a school-girl; and Sheila, quite naturally and
without thinking, shook hands with him and said, “I congratulate you;”
and there was more congratulation in her glad eyes than in that simple
little gesture.

It was a good beginning, and of course the young man was very much
pleased to show Sheila that he was no mere lily-fingered idler about
town. He buckled to his work in earnest. With a few more casts he soon
got into the way of managing the big rod; and every time the flies fell
lightly on the other side of the pool, to be dragged with gentle jerks
across the foaming current of the stream. Ingram went back to his couch
on the rock. He lay and watched the monotonous flinging back of the long
rod, the light whistle of the line through the air, and the careful
manipulation of the flies through the water. Or was it something else
that he was watching--something that awakened in his mind a sudden sense
of surprise and fear, and a new and strange consciousness that he had
been guiltily remiss?

Sheila was wholly pre-occupied with her companion and his efforts. He
had had one or two rises, but had struck either too soon or too late,
until at last there was a terrific plunge and rush, and again the line
was whirled out. But Duncan did not like the look of it somehow. The
fish had been sheering off when it was hooked, and the deep plunge at
the outset was ugly.

“Now will you take the rod?” said Lavender to Sheila.

But before she could answer the fish had come rushing up to the surface,
and had thrown itself out of the water, so that it fell on the opposite
bank. It was a splendid animal, and Duncan, despite his doubts, called
out to Lavender to slacken his hold. There was another spring into the
air, the fish fell with a splash into the water, and the line was flying
helplessly into the air with the two flies floating about.

“Ay,” said Duncan, with a sigh, “it wass foul-hooked. It wass no chance
of catching him whatever.”

Lavender was most successful next time, however, with a pretty little
grilse of about half a dozen pounds, that seemed to have in him the
spirit and fight of a dozen salmon. How he rushed and struggled, how he
plunged and sulked, how he burrowed along the banks, and then ran out to
the middle of the pool, and then threw himself into the air, with the
line apparently, but not really, doubling up under him. All these things
can only be understood by the fisherman who has played in a Highland
stream a wild and powerful little grilse fresh in from the salt water.
And it was Sheila who held him captive, who humored him when he sulked,
and gently guided him away from dangerous places, and kept him well in
hand when he tried to cross the current, until at last, all the
fierceness gone out of him, he let himself be tenderly inveigled into
the side of the pool, where Duncan, by a dexterous movement, surrounded
him with network and placed his shining body among the bright green
grass.

But Ingram was not so overjoyed this time. He complimented Sheila in a
friendly way, but he was rather grave, and obviously did not care for
this business of fishing. And so Sheila, fancying that he was rather
dull because he was not joining in the sport, proposed that he should
walk back to the house with her, leaving Mr. Lavender with Duncan. And
Ingram was quite ready to do so.

But Lavender protested that he cared very little for salmon-fishing. He
suggested that they should all go back together. The sun was killing the
wind, and soon the pools would be as clear as glass. Had they not better
try in the afternoon, when, perhaps, the breeze would freshen? And so
they walked back to the house.

On the garden-seat a book lay open. It was Mr. Mill’s “Essay on
Liberty,” and it had evidently been left there by Mr. Mackenzie,
perhaps--who knows?--to hint to his friends from the South that he was
familiar with the problems of the age. Lavender winked to Ingram, but
somehow his companion seemed in no humor for a joke.

They had luncheon then, and after luncheon Ingram touched Lavender on
the shoulder, and said, “I want to have a word with you privately. Let’s
walk down to the shore.”

And so they did; and when they had got some little distance from the
house, Ingram said: “Look here, Lavender. I mean to be frank with you. I
don’t think it fair that you should try to drag Sheila Mackenzie into a
flirtation. I knew you would fall in love with her. For a week or two,
that does not matter--it harms no one. But I never thought of the chance
of her being led into such a thing, for what is a mere passing amusement
to you would be a very serious thing to her.”

“Well?”

“Well? Is not that enough? Do you think it fair to take advantage of
this girl’s innocence of the world?”

Lavender stopped in the middle of the path, and said, somewhat stiffly,
“This may be as well settled at once. You have talked of flirtation and
all that sort of thing. You may regard it as you please, but before I
leave this island I mean to ask Sheila Mackenzie to be my wife.”

“Why, you are mad!” cried Ingram, amazed to see that the young man was
perfectly serious.

The other shrugged his shoulders.

“Do you mean to say,” continued Ingram, “that even supposing Sheila
would consent--which is impossible--you would try to take away that girl
from her father?”

“Girls must leave their fathers sometime or other,” said Lavender,
somewhat sullenly.

“Not unless they are asked.”

“Oh, well, they are sure to be asked, and they are sure to go. If their
mothers had not done so before them, where would they be? It’s all very
well for you to talk about it, and argue it out as a theory, but I know
what the facts of the case are, and what any man in my position would
do; and I know that I am careless of any consequences, so long as I can
secure her for my wife.”

“Apparently you are--careless of any consequences to herself or those
about her.”

“But what is your objection, Ingram?” said the young man, suddenly
abandoning his defiant manner; “why should you object? Do you think I
would make a bad husband to the woman I married?”

“I believe nothing of the sort. I believe you would make a very good
husband, if you were to marry a woman whom you know something about, and
whom you had really learned to love and respect through your knowledge
of her. I tell you, you know nothing about Sheila Mackenzie as yet. If
you were to marry her to-morrow, you would discover in six months she
was a woman wholly different from what you had expected.”

“Very well, then,” said Lavender, with an air of triumph; “you can’t
deny this; you think so much of her that the real woman I would discover
must be better than the one I imagine; and so you don’t expect I shall
be disappointed?”

“If you marry Sheila Mackenzie you will be disappointed--not through her
fault, but your own. Why, a more preposterous notion never entered a
man’s head! She knows nothing of your friends or your ways of life; you
know nothing of hers. She would be miserable in London, even if you
could persuade her father to go with her, which is the most unlikely
thing in the world. Do give up this foolish idea, like a good fellow,
and do it before Sheila is dragged into a flirtation that may have the
most serious consequences to her.”

Lavender would not promise, but all that afternoon various resolutions
and emotions were struggling within him for mastery, insomuch that
Duncan could not understand the blundering way in which he whipped the
pools. Mackenzie, Sheila and Ingram had gone off to pay a visit to an
old crone who lived in a neighboring island, and in whom Ingram had been
much interested a few years before; so that Lavender had an opportunity
of practicing the art of salmon-fishing without interruptions. But all
the skill he had shown in the morning seemed to have deserted him; and
at last he gave the rod to Duncan, and sitting down on a top-coat flung
on the wet heather, indolently watched the gillie’s operations.

Should he at once fly from temptation and return to London? Would it not
be heroic to leave this old man in possession of his only daughter?
Sheila would never know of the sacrifice, but what of that? It might be
for her happiness that he should go.

But when a young man is in love, or fancies himself in love, with a
young girl, it is hard for him to persuade himself that anybody else can
make her as happy as he might. Who could be so tender to her, so
watchful over her, as himself? He does not reflect that her parents have
had the experience of years in taking care of her, while he would be a
mere novice at the business. The pleasure with which he regards the
prospect of being constantly with her he transfers to her, and she seems
to demand it of him as a duty that he should confer upon her this new
happiness.

Lavender met Sheila in the evening, and he was yet undecided. Sometimes
he fancied, when their eyes met unexpectedly, that there was something
wistful as well as friendly in her look; was she, too, dreaming of the
vague possibilities of the future? This was strange, too, that after
each of these little chance reveries she seemed to be moved by a
resolution to be more than usually affectionate toward her father, and
would go around the table and place her hand on his shoulder and talk
to him. Perhaps these things were but delusions begotten of his own
imaginings, but the possibility of their being real agitated him not a
little, and he scarcely dared to think what might follow.

That evening Sheila sang, and all his half-formed resolutions vanished
into air. He sat in a corner of the curious, dimly-lit and old-fashioned
chamber, and, lying back in the chair, abandoned himself to dreams as
Sheila sang the mystic songs of the Northern coast. There was something
strangely suggestive of the sea in the room itself, and all her songs
were of the sea. It was a smaller room than the large apartment in which
they had dined, and it was filled with curiosities from distant shores,
and with the strange captures made by the Borva fishermen. Everywhere,
too, were the trophies of Mackenzie’s skill with rod and rifle. Deer’s
horns, seal skins, stuffed birds, salmon in glass cases, masses of
coral, enormous shells, and a thousand similar things made the little
drawing-room a sort of grotto; but it was a grotto within hearing of the
sound of the sea, and there was no musty atmosphere in a room that was
open all day to the cold winds of the Atlantic.

With a smoking tumbler of whisky and water before him, the King of Borva
sat at the table, poring over a large volume containing plans for
bridges. Ingram was seated at the piano in continual consultation with
Sheila about her songs. Lavender, in the dusky corner, lay and listened,
with all sorts of fancies crowding in upon him as Sheila sang of the sad
and wild legends of her home. Was it by chance, then, he asked himself,
that these songs seemed so frequently to be the lamentation of a
Highland girl for a fair-haired lover beyond the sea? First of all, she
sang the “Wail of Dunevegan,” and how strangely her voice thrilled with
the sadness of the song!--

    Morn, oh mantle thy smiles of gladness!
    Night, oh come with thy clouds of sadness!
    Earth, thy pleasures to me seem madness!
    Macleod, my leal love, since thou art gone.
          Dunevegan, oh! Dunevegan, oh!
          Dunevegan! Dunevegan!

It was as in a dream that he heard Ingram talking in a matter-of-fact
way about the airs, and asking the meaning of certain lines of Gaelic to
compare them with the stiff and old-fashioned phrases of the
translation. Surely this girl must have sat by the shore and waited for
her absent lover, or how could she sing with such feeling?--

    Say, my love, why didst thou tarry
          Far over the deep sea?
    Knew’st thou not my heart was weary,
    Heard’st thou not how I sighed for thee?
    Did no light wind bear my wild despair
          Far over the deep sea?

He could imagine that beautiful face grown pale and wild with anguish.
And then some day, as she went along the lonely island, with all the
light of hope gone out of her eyes, and with no more wistful glances
cast across the desolate sea, might not the fair-haired lover come at
last, and leap ashore to clasp her in his arms, and hide the
wonder-stricken eyes and the glad face in his bosom? But Sheila sang of
no such meeting. The girl was always alone, her lover gone away from her
across the sea or into the wilds.

    Oh long on the mountain he tarries, he tarries:
      Why tarries the youth with the bright yellow hair?
    Oh long on the mountain he tarries, he tarries:
      Why seeks he the hill when his flock is not there?

That was what he heard her sing, until it seemed to him that her singing
was a cry to be taken away from these melancholy surroundings of sea and
shore, and carried to the secure and comfortable South, to be cherished
and tended and loved. Why should this girl be left to live a cruel life
up in these wilds, and to go through this world without knowing anything
of the happy existence that might have been hers? It was well for harder
and stronger natures to withstand the buffetings of wind and rain, and
be indifferent to the melancholy influences of the lonely sea and the
darkness of the Northern winters; but for her--for this beautiful,
sensitive, tender-hearted girl--surely some other and gentler fate was
in store. What he, at least, could do, he would. He would lay his life
at her feet; and if she chose to go away from this bleak and cruel home
to the sunnier South, would not he devote himself, as never a man had
given himself to a woman before, to the constant duty of enriching her
life with all the treasures of admiration and respect and love?

It was getting late, and Sheila retired. As she bade “good night” to
him, Lavender fancied her manner was a little less frank toward him than
usual, and her eyes were cast down. All the light of the room seemed to
go with her when she went.

Mackenzie mixed another tumbler of toddy, and began to expound to
Ingram his views upon deer-forests and sheep-farms. Ingram lit a cigar,
stretched out his legs and proceeded to listen with much complacent
attention. As for Lavender, he sat awhile, hearing vaguely the sounds of
his companions’ voices, and then, saying he was a trifle tired, he left
and went to his own room. The moon was then clearly shining over
Suainabhal, and a pathway of glimmering light lay across Loch Roag.

He went to bed, but not to sleep. He had resolved to ask Sheila
Mackenzie to be his wife, and a thousand conjectures as to the future
were floating about his imagination. In the first place, would she
listen to his prayer? She knew nothing of him beyond what she might have
heard from Ingram. He had had no opportunity, during their friendly
talking, of revealing to her what he thought of herself; but might she
not have guessed it? Then her father--what action might not this
determined old man take in the matter? Would his love for his daughter
prompt him to consider her happiness alone?

All these things, however, were mere preliminaries, and the imagination
of the young man soon overleapt them. He began to draw pictures of
Sheila as his wife in their London home, among his friends, at Hastings,
at Ascot, in Hyde Park. What would people say of the beautiful
sea-princess with the proud air, the fearless eye and the gentle and
musical voice? Hour after hour he lay and could not sleep; a fever of
anticipation, of fear and hope combined, seemed to stir in his blood and
throb in his brain. At last, in a paroxysm of unrest, he rose, hastily
dressed himself, stole down stairs, and made his way out into the cool
air of the night.

It could not be the coming dawn that revealed to him the outlines of the
shore and the mountains and the loch? The moon had already sunk in the
Southwest; not from her came that strange clearness by which all these
objects were defined. Then the young man bethought him of what Sheila
had said of the twilight in these latitudes, and, turning to the North,
he saw there a pale glow which looked as if it were the last faint
traces of some former sunset. All over the rest of the heavens something
of the same metallic clearness reigned, so that the stars were pale, and
a gray hue lay over the sea, and over the island, the white bays, the
black rocks and the valleys, in which lay a scarcely perceptible mist.

He left the house and went vaguely down to the sea. The cold air,
scented strongly with the seaweed, blew about him, and was sweet and
fresh on the lips and the forehead. How strange was the monotonous sound
of the waves, mournful and distant, like the sound in a sea-shell! That
alone spoke in the awful stillness of the night, and it seemed to be
telling of those things which the silent stars and the silent hills had
looked down on for ages and ages. Did Sheila really love this terrible
thing, with its strange voice talking in the night, or did she not
secretly dread it and shudder at it when she sang of all that old
sadness? There was ringing in his ears the “Wail of Dunevegan” as he
listened for a while to the melancholy plashing of the waves all around
the lonely shores; and there was a cry of “Dunevegan, oh! Dunevegan,
oh!” weaving itself curiously with those wild pictures of Sheila in
London, which were still floating before his imagination.

He walked away around the coast, seeing almost nothing of the objects
around him, but conscious of the solemn majesty of the mountains and the
stillness of the throbbing stars. He could have called aloud, “Sheila!
Sheila!” but that all the place seemed associated with her presence; and
might he not turn suddenly to find her figure standing by him, with her
face grown wild and pale as it was in the ballad, and a piteous and
awful look in her eyes? He scarcely dared look around, lest there should
be a phantom Sheila appealing to him for compassion, and complaining
against him with her speechless eyes for a wrong that he could not
understand. He fled from her, but he knew that she was there; and all
the love in his heart went out to her as if beseeching her to go away
and forsake him, and forgive him the injury of which she seemed to
accuse him. What wrong had he done her that he should be haunted by this
spectre, that did not threaten, but only looked piteously toward him
with eyes full of entreaty and pain?

He left the shore, and blindly made his way up to the pasture-land
above, careless whither he went. He knew not how long he had been away
from the house, but here was a small fresh-water lake set around about
with rushes, and far over there in the East lay a glimmer of the
channels between Borva and Lewis. But soon there was another light in
the East, high over the low mists that lay along the land. A pale
blue-gray arose in the cloudless sky, and the stars went out one by
one. The mists were seen to lie in thicker folds along the desolate
valleys. Then a faintly yellow-whiteness stole up into the sky, and
broadened and widened, and, behold! the little moorland loch caught a
reflection of the glare, and there was a streak of crimson here and
there on the dark-blue surface of the water. Loch Roag began to
brighten. Suainabhal was touched with rose-red on its Eastern slopes.
The Atlantic seemed to rise out of its purple sleep with the new light
of a new dawn; and then there was a chirruping of birds over the heath,
and the first shafts of the sunlight ran along the surface of the sea,
and lit up the white wavelets that were breaking on the beach. The new
day struck upon him with a strange sense of wonder. Where was he?
Whither had gone the wild visions of the night, the feverish dread, the
horrible forebodings? The strong mental emotion that had driven him out
now produced its natural reaction; he looked about in a dazed fashion at
the revelation of light around him, and felt himself trembling with
weakness. Slowly, blindly, and hopelessly he set to walk back across the
island, with the sunlight of the fresh morning calling into life ten
thousand audible things of the moorland around him.

And who was this that stood at the porch of the house in the clear
sunshine? Not the pale and ghastly creature who had haunted him during
those wild hours, but Sheila herself, singing some snatches of a song,
and engaged in watering the two bushes of sweet-brier at the gate. How
bright and roseate and happy she looked, with the fine color of her face
lit up by the fresh sunlight, and the brisk breeze from the sea stirring
now and again the loose masses of her hair! Haggard and faint as he was,
he would have startled her if he had gone up to her then. He dared not
approach her. He waited until she had gone around to the gable of the
house to water the plants there, and then he stole into the house and
upstairs, and threw himself upon the bed. And outside he still heard
Sheila singing lightly to herself as she went about her ordinary duties,
little thinking in how strange and wild a drama her wraith had that
night taken part.



PART III.



CHAPTER VI.

AT BARVAS BRIDGE.


Very soon, indeed, Ingram began to see that his friend had spoken to him
quite frankly, and that he was really bent on asking Sheila to become
his wife. Ingram contemplated this prospect with some dismay, and with
some vague consciousness that he was himself responsible for what he
could not help regarding as a disaster. He had half expected that Frank
Lavender would, in his ordinary fashion, fall in love with Sheila--for
about a fortnight. He had joked him about it, even before they came
within sight of Sheila’s home.

He had listened with a grim humor to Lavender’s outbursts of admiration,
and only asked himself how many times he had heard the same phrases
before. But now things were looking more serious, for the young man had
thrown himself into the prosecution of his new project with all the
generous poetic enthusiasm of a highly impulsive nature. Ingram saw that
everything a young man could do to win the heart of a young girl
Lavender would do; and Nature had dowered him richly with various means
of fascination. Most dangerous of all of these was a gift of sincerity
that deceived himself. He could assume an opinion or express an emotion
at will, with such genuine fervor that he himself forgot how recently he
had acquired it, and was able to convince his companion for the moment
that it was a revelation of his inmost soul. It was this charm of
impetuous sincerity which had fascinated Ingram himself years before,
and made him cultivate the acquaintance of a young man whom he at first
regarded as a somewhat facile, talkative and histrionic person. Ingram
perceived, for example, that young Lavender had so little regard for
public affairs that he would have been quite content to see our Indian
empire go, for the sake of eliciting a sarcasm from Lord Westbury; but
at the same time, if you had appealed to his nobler instincts, and
placed before him the condition of a certain populace suffering from
starvation, he would have done all in his power to aid them; he would
have written letters to the newspapers, would have headed subscriptions,
and would have ended by believing that he had been the constant friend
of the people of India throughout his life, and was bound to stick to
them to the end of it.

As often as not he borrowed his fancies and opinions from Edward Ingram
himself, who was amused and gratified at the same time to find his
humdrum notions receive a dozen new lights and colors when transferred
to the warmer atmosphere of his friend’s imagination. Ingram would even
consent to receive from his younger companion advice, impetuously urged
and richly illustrated, which he had himself offered in similar terms
months before. At this very moment he could see that much of Lavender’s
romantic conceptions of Sheila’s character was only an exaggeration of
some passing hints he, Ingram, had dropped, as the Clansman was steaming
into Stornoway. But then they were ever so much more beautiful. Ingram
held to his conviction that he himself was a distinctly commonplace
person. He had grown reconciled to the ordinary grooves of life. But
young Lavender was not commonplace; he fancied he could see in him an
occasional flash of something that looked like genius; and many and many
a time, in regarding the brilliant and facile powers, the generous
impulses, and the occasional ambitions of his companion, he wondered
whether these would ever lead to anything in the way of production, or
even of consideration of character, or whether they would merely remain
the passing sensations of an indifferent idler. Sometimes, indeed, he
devoutly wished that Lavender had been born a stonemason.

But all these pleasant and graceful qualities, which had made the young
man an agreeable companion, were a serious danger now; for was it not
but too probable that Sheila, accustomed to the rude and homely ways of
the islanders, would be attracted and pleased and fascinated by one who
had about him so much of a soft and Southern brightness with which she
was wholly unfamiliar? This open-hearted frankness of his placed all his
best qualities in the sunshine, as it were: she could not fail to see
the singular modesty and courtesy of his bearing towards women, his
gentle manners, his light-heartedness, his passionate admiration of the
self-sacrifice of others, and his sympathy with their sufferings! Ingram
would not have minded much if Lavender alone had been concerned in the
dilemma now growing imminent; he would have left him to flounder out as
he had got out of previous ones. But he had been surprised and pained,
and even frightened, to detect in Sheila’s manner some faint
indications--so faint that he was doubtful what construction to put on
them--of a special interest in the young stranger whom he had brought
with him to Borva.

What could he do in the matter supposing his suspicions were correct?
Caution Sheila?--it would be an insult. Warn Mackenzie?--the King of
Borva would fly into passion with everybody concerned, and bring endless
humiliation on his daughter, who had probably never dreamed of regarding
Lavender except as a chance acquaintance. Insist upon Lavender going
South at once?--that would merely goad the young man into obstinacy.
Ingram found himself in a grievous difficulty, afraid to say how much of
it was of his own creation. He had no selfish sentiments of his own to
consult: if it were to become evident that the happiness of Sheila and
of his friend depended on their marrying each other, he was ready to
forward such a project with all the influence at his command. But there
were a hundred reasons why he should dread such a marriage. He had
already mentioned several of them to Lavender in trying to dissuade the
young man from his purpose. A few days had passed since then, and it was
clear that Lavender had abandoned all notion of fulfilling those
resolutions he had vaguely formed. But the more Ingram thought over the
matter, and the further he recalled the ancient proverbs and stories
about the fate of intermeddlers, the more evident it became to him that
he could take no immediate action in the affair. He would trust to the
chapter of accidents to save Sheila from what he considered a disastrous
fate. Perhaps Lavender would repent. Perhaps Mackenzie, continually on
the watch for small secrets, would discover something, and bid his
daughter stay in Borva while his guests proceeded on their tour through
Lewis. In any case, it was not all certain that Lavender would be
successful in his suit. Was the heart of a proud-spirited, intelligent
and busily-occupied girl to be won in a matter of three weeks or a
month? Lavender would go South, and no more would be heard of it.

This tour around the island of Lewis, however, was not likely to favor
much any such easy escape from the difficulty. On a certain morning the
larger of Mr. Mackenzie’s boats carried the holiday party away from
Borva; and, even at this early stage, as they sat at the stern of the
heavy craft, Lavender had arrogated to himself the exclusive right of
waiting upon Sheila. He had constituted himself her companion in all
their excursions about Borva which they had undertaken, and now, on this
longer journey, they were to be once more thrown together. It did seem a
little hard that Ingram should be relegated to Mackenzie and his
theories of government; but did he not profess to prefer that? Like most
men, who have got beyond five-and-thirty, he was rather proud of
considering himself an observer of life. He stood aside, as a spectator,
and let other people, engaged in all manner of eager pursuits, pass
before him for review. Toward young folks, indeed, he assumed a
good-naturedly paternal air, as if they were but, as shy-faced children,
to be humored. Were not their love affairs a pretty spectacle? As for
himself, he was far beyond all that. The illusions of love-making, the
devotion, and ambition, and dreams of courtship were no longer possible
to him, but did they not constitute, on the whole, a beautiful and
charming study, that had about it, at times, some little touches of
pathos? At odd moments, when he saw Sheila and Lavender walking together
in the evening, he was himself half inclined to wish that something
might come of the young man’s determination. It would be so pleasant to
play the part of a friendly counselor, to humor the follies of the young
folks, to make jokes at their expense, and then, in the midst of their
embarrassment and resentment, to go forward and pet them a little, and
assure them of a real and earnest sympathy.

“Your time is to come,” Lavender said to him suddenly after he had been
exhibiting some of his paternal forbearance and consideration; “you will
get a dreadful twist some day, my boy. You have been doing nothing but
dreaming about women, but some day or other you will wake up and find
yourself captured and fascinated beyond anything you have ever seen in
other people, and then you will discover what a desperately real thing
it is.”

Ingram had a misty impression that he had heard something like this
before. Had he not given Lavender some warning of the same kind? But he
was so much accustomed to hear those vague repetitions of his own
remarks, and was, on the whole, so well pleased to think that his
commonplace notions should take root and flourish in this goodly soil,
that he never thought of asking Lavender to quote his authority for
those profound observations on men and things.

“Now, Miss Mackenzie,” said the young man as the big boat was drawing
near to Callernish, “what is to be our first sketch in Lewis?”

“The Callernish Stones, of course,” said Mackenzie himself; “it iss more
than one hass come to the Lewis to see the Callernish Stones.”

Lavender had promised to the King of Borva a series of water-color
drawings of Lewis, and Sheila was to choose the subjects from day to
day. Mackenzie was gratified by this proposal, and accepted it with much
magnanimity; but Sheila knew that before the offer was made Lavender had
come to her and asked her if she cared about sketches, and whether he
might be allowed to take a few on this journey and present them to her.
She was very grateful, but suggested that it might please her papa if
they were given to him. Would she superintend them, then, and choose the
topics for illustration? Yes, she would do that; and so the young man
was furnished with a roving commission.

He brought her a little sepia sketch of Borvapost, its huts, its bay,
and its upturned boats on the beach. Sheila’s expressions of praise, the
admiration and pleasure that shone in her eyes, would have turned any
young man’s head. But her papa looked at the picture with a critical
eye, and remarked, “Oh, yes, it is ferry good, but is not the color of
Loch Roag at all. It is the color of a river where there is a flood of
rain. I have neffer at all seen Loch Roag a brown color--neffer at all.”

It was clear then, that the subsequent sketches could not be taken in
sepia, and so Lavender proposed to make a series of pencil-drawings,
which could be washed in with color afterward. There was one subject,
indeed, which since his arrival in Lewis he had tried to fix on paper by
every conceivable means in his power, and that was Sheila herself. He
had spoiled innumerable sheets of paper in trying to get some likeness
of her which would satisfy himself, but all his usual skill seemed
somehow to have gone from him. He could not understand it. In ordinary
circumstances he could have traced in a dozen lines a portrait that
would at least have shown a superficial likeness: he could have
multiplied portraits by the dozen of old Mackenzie or Ingram or Duncan,
but here he seemed to fail utterly. He invited no criticism, certainly.
These efforts were made in his own room, and he asked no one’s opinion
as to the likeness. He could, indeed, certify to himself that the
drawing of the features was correct enough. There was the sweet and
placid forehead, with its low masses of dark hair; there the short upper
lip, the finely carved mouth, the beautifully-rounded chin and throat;
and there the frank, clear, proud eyes, with their long lashes and
highly-curved eyebrows. Sometimes, too, a touch of color added warmth to
the complexion, put a glimmer of the blue sea beneath the long, black
eyelashes, and drew a thread of scarlet around the white neck.

But was this Sheila? Could he take this sheet of paper to his friends in
London and say, Here is the magical princess whom I hope to bring to you
from the North, with all the glamour of the sea around her? He felt
instinctively that there would be an awkward pause. The people would
praise the handsome, frank, courageous head, and look upon the bit of
red ribbon around the neck as an effective artistic touch. They would
hand him back the paper with a compliment, and he would find himself in
an agony of unrest because they had misunderstood the portrait, and seen
nothing of the wonder that encompassed this Highland girl as if with a
garment of mystery and dreams.

So he tore up portrait after portrait--more than one of which would have
startled Ingram by its truth--and then, to prove to himself that he was
not growing mad, he resolved to try a portrait of some other person. He
drew a head of old Mackenzie in chalk, and was amazed at the rapidity
and facility with which he executed the task. Then there could be no
doubt as to the success of the likeness nor as to the effect of the
picture. The King of Borva, with his heavy eyebrows, his aquiline nose,
his keen gray eyes and flowing beard, offered a fine subject; and there
was something really royal and massive and noble in the head that
Lavender, well satisfied with his work, took down stairs one evening.
Sheila was alone in the drawing-room, turning over some music.

“Miss Mackenzie,” he said, rather kindly, “would you look at this?”

Sheila turned around, and the sudden light of pleasure that leapt to her
face was all the praise and all the assurance he wanted. But he had more
than that. The girl was grateful to him beyond all the words she could
utter; and when he asked her if she would accept the picture, she
thanked him by taking his hand for a moment, and then she left the room
to call in Ingram and her father. All the evening there was a singular
look of happiness on her face. When she met Lavender’s eyes with hers
there was a frank and friendly look of gratitude ready to reward him.
When had he earned so much before by a simple sketch? Many and many a
portrait, carefully executed and elaborately framed, had he presented to
his lady friends in London, to receive from them a pretty note and a few
words of thanks when next he called. Here with a rough chalk sketch he
had awakened an amount of gratitude that almost surprised him, in the
most beautiful and tender soul in this world; and had not this princess
among women taken his hand for a moment as a childlike way of expressing
her thanks, while her eyes spoke more than her lips? And the more he
looked at those eyes, the more he grew to despair of ever being able to
put down the magic of them in lines and colors.

At length, Duncan got the boat into the small creek at Callernish, and
the party got out on the shore. As they were going up the steep path
leading to the plain above, a young girl met them, who looked at them in
rather a strange way. She had a fair, pretty, wondering face, with
singularly high eyebrows, and clear, light blue eyes.

“How are you, Eily?” said Mackenzie, as he passed on with Ingram.

But Sheila, on making the same inquiry, shook hands with the girl, who
smiled in a confidential way, and, coming quite close, nodded and
pointed down to the water’s edge.

“Have you seen them to-day, Eily?” said Sheila, still holding the girl
by the hands, and looking at the fair, pretty, strange face.

“It wass sa day before yesterday,” she answered, in a whisper, while a
pleased smile appeared on her face, “and sey will be here sa night.”

“Good-bye, Eily; take care you don’t stay out at night and catch cold,
you know,” said Sheila; and then, with another little nod and a smile,
the young girl went down the path.

“It is Eily of-the-Ghosts, as they call her,” said Sheila to Lavender as
they went on; “the poor thing fancies she sees little people about the
rocks, and watches for them. But she is very good and quiet, and she is
not afraid of them, and she does no harm to any one. She does not belong
to the Lewis--I think she is from Islay--but she sometimes comes to pay
us a visit at Borva, and my papa is very kind to her.”

“Mr. Ingram does not appear to know her; I thought he was acquainted
with every one in the island,” said Lavender.

“She was not here when he has been in the Lewis before,” said Sheila;
“but Eily does not like to speak to strangers, and I do not think you
could get her to speak to you if you tried.”

Lavender had paid but little attention to the “false men” of Callernish
when first he saw them, but now he approached the long lines of big
stones upon this lonely plateau with a new interest; for Sheila had
talked to him about them many a time in Borva, and had asked his opinion
about their origin and their age. Was the central circle of stones an
altar, with the other series marking the approaches to it? Or, was it
the grave of some great chieftain, with the remaining stones indicating
the graves of his relations and friends? Or was it the commemoration of
some battle in olden times, or the record of astronomical or geometrical
discoveries, or a temple once devoted to serpent-worship, or what?
Lavender, who knew absolutely nothing at all about the matter, was
probably as well qualified as anybody else to answer these questions,
but he forebore. The interest, however, that Sheila showed in such
things he very rapidly acquired. When he came to see the rows of stones
a second time he was much impressed by their position on this bit of
hill overlooking the sea. He sat down on his camp-stool with the
determination that, although he could not satisfy Sheila’s wistful
questions, he would present her with some little sketch of these
monuments and their surroundings, which might catch up something of the
mysterious loneliness of the scene.

He would not, of course, have the picture as it then presented itself.
The sun was glowing on the grass around him, and lighting up the tall,
gray pillars of stone with a cheerful radiance. Over there the waters of
Loch Roag were bright and blue, and beyond the lake the undulations of
moorland were green and beautiful, and the mountains in the South grown
pale as silver in the heat. Here was a pretty young lady, in a rough
blue traveling dress and a hat and feather, who was engaged in picking
up wild flowers from the warm heath. There was a gentleman from the
office of the Board of Trade, who was sitting on the grass, nursing his
knees and whistling. From time to time the chief figure in the
foreground was an elderly gentleman, who evidently expected that he was
going to be put into the picture, and who was occasionally dropping a
cautious hint that he did not always wear this rough-and-ready sailor’s
costume. Mackenzie was also most anxious to point out to the artist the
names of the hills and districts lying to the south of Loch Roag,
apparently with the hope that the sketch would have a certain
topographical interest for future visitors.

No; Lavender was content at that moment to take down the outlines of the
great stones and the configuration of the lake and hill beyond, but by
and by he would give another sort of atmosphere to this wild scene. He
would have rain and darkness spread over the island, with the low hills
in the South grown desolate and remote, and the waters of the sea
covered with gloom. No human figure should be visible on this remote
plain, where these strange memorials had stood for centuries exposed to
Western gales and the stillness of the Winter nights, and the awful
silence of the stars. Would not Sheila, at least, understand the
bleakness and desolation of the picture? Of course her father would like
to have everything blue and green. He seemed a little disappointed when
it was clear that no distant glimpse of Borva could be introduced into
the sketch. But Sheila’s imagination would be captured by this sombre
picture, and perhaps by and by in some other land, amid fairer scenes
and in a more generous climate, she might be less inclined to hunger for
the dark and melancholy North when she looked on this record of its
gloom and sadness.

“Iss he going to put any people in the pictures?” said Mackenzie in a
confidential whisper to Ingram.

Ingram got up from the grass, and said with a yawn, “I don’t know. If he
does, it will be afterward. Suppose we go along to the wagonette and
see if Duncan has brought everything up from the boat?”

The old man seemed rather unwilling to be cut out of this particular
sketch, but he went, nevertheless; and Sheila, seeing the young man left
alone, and thinking that not quite fair, went over to him and asked if
she might be permitted to see as much as he had done.

Lavender shut up the book.

“No,” he said with a laugh, “you shall see it to-night. I have
sufficient memoranda to work something out of by and by. Shall we have
another look at the circle up there?”

He folded up and shouldered his camp-stool, and they walked up to the
point at which the lines of the “mourners” converged. Perhaps he was
moved by a great antiquarian curiosity; at all events, he showed a
singular interest in the monuments, and talked to his companion about
all the possible theories connected with such stones in a fashion that
charmed her greatly. She was easily persuaded that the Callernish
“Fir-Bhreige” were the most interesting relics in the world. He had seen
Stonehenge, but Stonehenge was too scattered to be impressive. There was
more mystery about the means by which the inhabitants of a small island
could have hewn and carved and erected these blocks; there was,
moreover, the mystery about the vanished population itself. Yes, he had
been to Carnac also. He had driven down from Auray in a lumbering old
trap, his coachman being unable to talk French. He had seen the
half-cultivated plain on which there were rows and rows of small stones,
scarcely to be distinguished from the stone walls of the adjoining
farms. What was there impressive about such a sight when you went into a
house and paid a franc to be shown the gold ornaments picked up about
the place? Here, however, was a perfect series of those strange
memorials, with the long lanes leading up to a circle, and the tallest
of all the stones placed on the Western side of the circle, perhaps as
the headstone of the buried chief. Look at the position, too--the silent
hill, the waters of the sea-loch around it, and beyond that the
desolation of miles of untenanted moorland. Sheila looked pleased that
her companion, after coming so far, should have found something worth
looking at in the Lewis.

“Does it not seem strange,” he said suddenly, “to think of young folks
of the present day picking up wild flowers from among these old
stones?” He was looking at a tiny bouquet which she had gathered.

“Will you take them?” she said, quite simply and naturally, offering him
the flowers. “They may remind you some time of Callernish.”

He took the flowers and regarded them for a moment in silence, and then
he said gently, “I do not think I shall want these to remind me of
Callernish. I shall never forget our being here.”

At this moment, perhaps fortunately, Duncan appeared, and came along
toward the young people with a basket in his hand.

“It wass Mr. Mackenzie will ask if ye will tek a glass o’ whisky, sir,
and a bit o’ bread and cheese. And he wass sayin’ there was no hurry at
all, and he will wait for you for two hours or half an hour whatever.”

“All right, Duncan; go back and tell him I have finished, and we shall
be there directly. No, thank you, don’t take out the whisky--unless,
Miss Mackenzie,” added the young man with a smile, “Duncan can persuade
you.”

Duncan looked with amazement at the man who dared to joke about Miss
Sheila taking whisky, and without waiting for any further commands
indignantly shut the lid of the basket and walked off.

“I wonder, Miss Mackenzie,” said Lavender, as they went along the path
down the hill--“I wonder what you would say if I happened to call you
Sheila by mistake?”

“I should be glad if you did that. Every one calls me Sheila,” said the
girl quietly enough.

“You would not be vexed?” he said, regarding her with a little surprise.

“No; why should I be vexed?” she answered; and she happened to look up,
and he saw what a clear light of sincerity there was shining in her
eyes.

“May I then call you Sheila?”

“Yes.”

“But--but--” he said, with a timidity and embarrassment of which she
showed no trace whatever--“but people might think it strange, you know;
and yet I should greatly like to call you Sheila; only, not before other
people perhaps.”

“But why not?” she said, with her eyebrows just raised a little. “Why
should you wish to call me Sheila at one time and not at the other? It
is no difference whatever, and every one calls me Sheila.”

Lavender was a little disappointed. He had hoped, when she consented in
so friendly a manner to his calling her by any name he chose, that he
could have established this little arrangement, which would have had
about it something of the nature of a personal confidence. Sheila would
evidently have none of that. Was it that she was really so simple and
frank in her ways that she did not understand why there should be such a
difference, and what it might imply, or was she well aware of everything
he had been wishing, and able to assume this air of simplicity and
ignorance with a perfect grace? Ingram, he reflected, would have said at
once that to suspect Sheila of such duplicity was to insult her; but
then Ingram was perhaps himself a trifle too easily imposed on, and he
had notions about women, despite all his philosophical reading and such
like, that a little more mingling in society might have caused him to
alter. Frank Lavender confessed to himself that Sheila was either a
miracle of ingenuousness or a thorough mistress of the art of assuming
it. On the one hand, he considered it almost impossible for a woman to
be so disingenuous; on the other hand, how could this girl have taught
herself, in the solitude of a savage island, a species of histrionicism
which women in London circles strove for years to acquire, and rarely
acquired in any perfection? At all events, he said to himself, while he
reserved his opinion on this point, he was not going to call Sheila,
Sheila before folks who would know what that meant. Mr. Mackenzie was
evidently a most irascible old gentleman. Goodness only knew what sort
of law prevailed in these wild parts; and to be seized at midnight by a
couple of brawny fishermen, to be carried down to a projecting ledge of
rock! Had not Ingram already hinted that Mackenzie would straightway
throw into Loch Roag the man who should offer to carry away Sheila from
him?

But how could these doubts of Sheila’s sincerity last? He sat opposite
her in the wagonette, and the perfect truth of her face, of her frank
eyes and of her ready smile met him at every moment, whether he talked
to her or to Ingram, or listened to old Mackenzie, who turned from time
to time from the driving of the horses to inform the stranger of what
he saw around him. It was the most brilliant of mornings. The sun burned
on the white road, on the green moorland, on the gray lichened rocks
with their crimson patches of heather. As they drove by the curious
convolutions of this rugged coast the sea that lay beyond these
recurring bays and points was of a windy green, with here and there a
streak of white, and the fresh breeze blowing across to them tempered
the fierce heat of the sun. How cool, too, were those little fresh-water
lakes they passed, the clear blue and white of them stirred into
wavelets that moved the reeds and left air-bubbles about the
half-submerged stones! Were not those wild geese over there, flapping in
the water with their huge wings and taking no notice of the passing
strangers? Lavender had never seen this lonely coast in times of gloom,
with those little lakes becoming sombre pools, and the outline of the
rocks beyond lost in the driving mist of the sea and the rain. It was
altogether a bright and beautiful world he had got into, and there was
in it but one woman, beautiful beyond his dreams. To doubt her was to
doubt all women. When he looked at her he forgot the caution and
distrust and sardonic self-complacency his Southern training had given
him. He believed, and the world seemed to be filled with a new light.

“That is Loch-na-Muil’ne,” Mackenzie was saying, “and it iss the Loch of
the Mill; and over there, that is Loch-a-Bhaile, and that iss the Loch
of the Town; but where iss the loch and the town now? It wass many
hundreds of years before there will be numbers of people in this place;
and you will come to Dun Charlobhaidh, which is a great castle, by and
by. And what wass it will drive away the people, and leave the land to
the moss, but that there wass no one to look after them? ‘When the
natives will leave Islay, farewell to the peace of Scotland.’ That iss a
good proverb. And if they have no one to mind them, they will go away
altogether. And there is no people more obedient than the people of the
Highlands--not anywhere; for you know that we say: ‘Is it the truth, as
if you were speaking before kings?’ And now, there is the castle, and
there wass many people living here when they could build that.”

It was, in truth, one of those circular forts, the date of which has
given rise to endless conjecture and discussion. Perched up on a hill,
it overlooked a number of deep and narrow valleys that ran landward,
while the other side of the hill sloped down to the sea-shore. It was a
striking object, this tumbling mass of dark stones standing high over
the green hollows and over the light plain of the sea. Was there not
here material for another sketch for Sheila? While Lavender had gone
away over the heights and hollows to choose his point of view a rough
and ready luncheon had been spread out in the wagonette, and when he
returned, perspiring and considerably blown, he found old Mackenzie
measuring out equal portions of peat-water and whisky, Duncan flicking
the enormous “clegs” from off the horses’ necks, Ingram trying to
persuade Sheila to have some sherry out of a flask he carried, and
everybody in very good spirits over such an exciting event as a roadside
luncheon on a summer forenoon.

The King of Borva had by this time become excellent friends with the
young stranger who had ventured into his dominions. When the old
gentleman had sufficiently impressed on everybody that he had observed
all necessary precautions in studying the character and inquiring into
the antecedents of Lavender, he could not help confessing to a sense of
lightness and vivacity that the young man seemed to bring with him and
shed around him. Nor was this matter of the sketches the only thing that
had particularly recommended Lavender to the old man. Mackenzie had a
most distinct dislike to Gaelic songs. He could not bear the monotonous
melancholy of them. When Sheila, sitting by herself, would sing these
strange old ballads of an evening, he would suddenly enter the room,
probably find her eyes filled with tears, and then he would in his
inmost heart devote the whole of Gaelic minstrelsy and all its authors
to the infernal gods. Why should people be forever maddening themselves
with the stories of other folks’ misfortunes? It was bad enough for
those poor people, but they had borne their sorrows and died, and were
at peace. Surely it was better that we should have songs about
ourselves--drinking or fighting, if you like--to keep up the spirits, to
lighten the serious cares of life, and drown for a while the
responsibility of looking after a whole population of poor,
half-ignorant, unphilosophical creatures.

“Look now,” he would say, speaking of his own tongue, “look at this
teffle of a language! It has no present tense to its verbs; the people
they are always looking forward to a melancholy future or looking back
to a melancholy past. In the name of Kott, hef we not got ourselves to
live? This day we live in is better than any day that wass before or iss
to come, bekass it is here we are alive. And I will hef no more of these
songs about crying, and crying, and crying!”

Now Sheila and Lavender, in their musical mutual confidences, had at an
early period discovered that each of them knew something of the older
English duets, and forthwith they tried a few of them, to Mackenzie’s
extreme delight. Here, at last, was a sort of music he could
understand--none of your moanings of widows and cries of luckless girls
to the sea, but good commonsense songs, in which the lads kissed the
lasses with a will, and had a good drink afterward and a dance on the
green on their homeward way. There was fun in those happy May-fields,
and good health and briskness in the ale-house choruses, and throughout
them all a prevailing cheerfulness and contentment with the conditions
of life certain to recommend itself to the contemplative mind.

Mackenzie never grew tired of hearing those simple ditties. He grew
confidential with the young man, and told him that those fine,
commonsense songs recalled pleasant scenes to him. He, himself, knew
something of English village life. When he had been up to see the great
Exhibition, he had gone to visit a friend living in Brighton, and he had
surveyed the country with an observant eye. He had remarked several
village-greens, with the May-poles standing here and there in front of
the cottages, emblazoned with beautiful banners. He had, it is true,
fancied that the May-pole should be in the centre of the green; but the
manner in which the waves of population swept here and there, swallowing
up open spaces and so forth, would account to a philosophical person for
the fact that the May-poles were now close to the village shops.

“Drink to me only with thine eyes,” hummed the King of Borva to himself
as he sent the two little horses along the coast road on this warm
Summer day. He had heard the song for the first time on the previous
evening. He had no voice to speak of; he had missed the air, and these
were all the words he remembered; but it was a notable compliment, all
the same, to the young man who had brought these pleasant tunes to the
island.

And so they drove on through the keen salt air, with the sea shining
beside them and the sky shining over them; and in the afternoon they
arrived at the small, remote and solitary inn of Barvas, placed near the
confluence of several rivers that flow through Loch Barvas (or Barabbas)
to the sea. Here they proposed to stop the night, so that Lavender, when
his room had been assigned to him, begged to be left alone for an hour
or two, that he might throw a little color into his sketch of
Callernish. What was there to see at Barvas? Why, nothing but the
channels of the brown streams, some pasture land and a few huts, then
the unfrequented lake, and beyond that, some ridges of white sand
standing over the shingly beach of the sea. He would join them at
dinner. Mackenzie protested in a mild way; he really wanted to see how
the island was to be illustrated by the stranger. There was a greater
protest, mingled with compassion and regret, in Sheila’s eyes; but the
young man was firm. So they let him have his way, and gave him full
possession of the common sitting-room, while they set off to visit the
school and the Free Church manse and what not in the neighborhood.

Mackenzie had ordered dinner at eight, to show that he was familiar with
the ways of civilized life; and when they returned at that hour,
Lavender had two sketches finished.

“Yes, they are very good,” said Ingram, who was seldom enthusiastic
about his friend’s work.

But old Mackenzie was so vastly pleased with the picture, which
represented his native place in the brightest of sunshine and colors,
that he forgot to assume a critical air. He said nothing against the
rainy and desolate version of the scene that had been given to
Sheila--it was good enough to please the child. But here was something
brilliant, effective, cheerful; and he alarmed Lavender not a little by
proposing to get one of the natives to carry this treasure, then and
there, back to Borvapost. Both sketches were ultimately returned to his
book, and then Sheila helped him to remove his artistic apparatus from
the table on which their plain and homely meal was to be placed. As she
was about to follow her father and Ingram, who had left the room, she
paused for a moment, and said to Lavender, with a look of frank
gratitude in her eyes: “It is very good of you to have pleased my papa
so much. I know when he is pleased, though he does not speak of it; and
it is not often he will be so much pleased.”

“And you, Sheila?” said the young man, unconscious of the familiarity he
was using, and only remembering that she had scarcely thanked him for
the other sketch.

“Well, there is nothing that will please me so much as to see him
pleased,” she said, with a smile.

He was about to open the door for her, but he kept his hand on the
handle, and said, earnestly enough: “But that is such a small matter--an
hour’s work. If you only knew how gladly I would live all my life here
if only I could do you some greater service--”

She looked a little surprised, and then for one brief second reflected.
English was not wholly familiar to her; perhaps she had failed to catch
what he really meant. But at all events she said, gravely and simply:
“You would soon tire of living here; it is not always a holiday.” And
then, without lifting her eyes to his face, she turned to the door, and
he opened it for her, and she was gone.

It was about ten o’clock when they went outside for their evening
stroll, and all the world had grown enchanted since they had seen it in
the colors of the sunset. There was no night, but a strange clearness
over the sky and the earth, and down in the South the moon was rising
over the Barvas hills. In the dark-green meadows the cattle were still
grazing. Voices of children could be heard in the far distance, with the
rumbling of a cart coming through the silence, and the murmur of the
streams flowing down to the loch. The loch itself lay like a line of
dusky yellow in a darkened hollow near the sea, having caught on its
surface the pale glow of the Northern heavens, where the sun had gone
down hours before. The air was warm, and yet fresh with the odors of the
Atlantic, and there was a scent of Dutch clover coming across from the
sandy pastures nearer the coast. The huts of the small hamlet could but
faintly be made out beyond the dark and low-lying pastures, but a long,
pale line of blue smoke lay in the motionless air, and the voices of the
children told of open doors. Night after night this same picture, with
slight variations of position, had been placed before the stranger who
had come to view these solitudes, and night after night it seemed to him
to grow more beautiful. He could put down on paper the outlines of an
every-day landscape, and give them a dash of brilliant color to look
well on a wall; but how to carry away, except in the memory, any
impression of the strange, lambent darkness, the tender hues, the
loneliness and the pathos of those Northern twilights?

They walked down by the side of one of the streams towards the sea. But
Sheila was not his companion on this occasion. Her father laid hold of
him, and was expounding to him the rights of capitalists and various
other matters.

But by and by Lavender drew his companion on to talk of Sheila’s mother;
and here, at least, Mackenzie was neither tedious nor ridiculous nor
unnecessarily garrulous. It was with a strange interest the young man
heard the elderly man talk of his courtship, his marriage, the character
of his wife, and her goodness and beauty. Was it not like looking at a
former Sheila? and would not this Sheila now walking before him go
through the same tender experiences, and be admired and loved and petted
by everybody as this other girl had been, who brought with her the charm
of winning ways, and a gentle nature, into these rude wilds? It was the
first time he had heard Mackenzie speak of his wife, and it turned out
to be the last; but from that moment the older man had something of
dignity in the eyes of this younger man, who had merely judged him by
his little foibles and eccentricities, and would have been ready to
dismiss him contemptuously as a buffoon. There was something, then,
behind that powerful face, with its deep cut lines, its heavy eyebrows,
and piercing and sometimes sad eyes, besides a mere liking for tricks of
childish diplomacy? Lavender began to have some respect for Sheila’s
father, and made a resolution to guard against the impertinence of
humoring him too ostentatiously.

Was it not hard, though, that Ingram, who was so cold and
unimpressionable, who smiled at the notion of marrying, and who was
probably enjoying his pipe quite as much as Sheila’s familiar talk,
should have the girl all to himself on this witching night? They reached
the shores of the Atlantic. There was not a breath of wind coming in
from that sea, but the air seemed even sweeter and cooler as they sat
down on the great bank of shingle. Here and there birds were calling,
and Sheila could distinguish each one of them. As the moon rose a faint
golden light began to tremble here and there on the waves, as if some
subterranean caverns were lit up and sending up to the surface faint and
fitful rays of their splendor. Farther along the coast the tall banks
of white sand grew white in the twilight, and the outlines of the dark
pasture-land behind grew more distinct.

But when they rose to go back to Barvas the moonlight had grown full and
clear, and the long and narrow loch had a pathway of gold across,
stretching from the reeds and sedges of the one side to the reeds and
sedges of the other. And now Ingram had gone on to join Mackenzie, and
Sheila walked behind with Lavender, and her face was pale and beautiful
in the moonlight.

“I shall be very sorry when I have to leave Lewis,” he said, as they
walked along the path leading through the sand and the clover; and there
could be no doubt that he felt the regret expressed in the words.

“But it is no use to speak of leaving us yet,” said Sheila, cheerfully;
“it is a long time before you will go away from the Lewis.”

“And I fancy I shall always think of the island just as it is now--with
the moonlight over there, and a loch near, and you walking through the
stillness. We have had so many evening walks like this.”

“You will make us very vain of our island,” said the girl with a smile,
“if you will speak like that always to us. Is there no moonlight in
England? I have pictures of English scenery that will be far more
beautiful than any we have here; and if there is the moon here, it will
be there too. Think of the pictures of the river Thames that my papa
showed you last night--”

“Oh, but there is nothing like this in the South,” said the young man
impetuously. “I do not believe there is in the world anything so
beautiful as this. Sheila, what would you say if I resolved to come and
live here always?”

“I should like that very much--more than you would like it, perhaps,”
she said, with a bright laugh.

“That would please you better than for you to go always and live in
England, would it not?”

“But that is impossible,” she said. “My papa would never think of living
in England.”

For some time after he was silent. The two figures in front of them
walked steadily on, an occasional roar of laughter from the deep chest
of Mackenzie startling the night air, and telling of Ingram’s being in a
communicative mood. At last Lavender said: “It seems to me a great pity
that you should live in this remote place, and have so little amusement,
and see so few people of tastes and education like your own. Your papa
is so much occupied--he is so much older than you, too--that you must be
left to yourself so much; whereas if you had a companion of your own
age, who could have the right to talk frankly to you, and go about with
you and take care of you.”

By this time they had reached the little wooden bridge crossing the
stream, and Mackenzie and Ingram had got to the inn, where they stood in
front of the door in the moonlight. Before ascending the steps of the
bridge, Lavender, without pausing in his speech, took Sheila’s hand and
said suddenly: “Now, don’t let me alarm you, Sheila, but suppose at some
distant day--as far away as you please--I came and asked you to let me
be your companion then and always, wouldn’t you try?”

She looked up with a startled glance of fear in her eyes, and withdrew
her hand from him.

“No, don’t be frightened,” he said, quite gently. “I don’t ask you for
any promise. Sheila, you must know I love you--you must have seen it.
Will you not let me come to you at some future time--a long way
off--that you may tell me then? Won’t you try to do that?”

There was more in the tone of his voice than in his words. The girl
stood irresolute for a second or two, regarding him with a strange,
wistful, earnest look; and then a great gentleness came into her eyes,
and she put out her hand to him and said in a low voice, “perhaps.”

But there was something so grave and simple about her manner at this
moment that he dared not somehow receive it as a lover receives the
first admission of love from the lips of a maiden. There had been
something of a strange inquiry in her face as she regarded him for a
second or two; and now that her eyes were bent on the ground, it seemed
to him that she was trying to realize the full effect of the concession
she had made. He would not let her think. He took her hand and raised it
respectfully to his lips, and then he led her forward to the bridge. Not
a word was spoken between them while they crossed the shining space of
moonlight to the shadow of the house; and as they went in-doors he
caught but one glimpse of her eyes, and they were friendly and kind
toward him, but evidently troubled. He saw no more that night.

So he had asked Sheila to be his wife, and she had given him some timid
encouragement as to the future. Many a time within these last few days
had he sketched out an imaginative picture of the scene. He was familiar
with the passionate rapture of lovers on the stage, in books, and in
pictures; and he had described himself (to himself) as intoxicated with
joy, anxious to let the whole world know of his good fortune, and above
all to confide the tidings of his happiness to his constant friend and
companion. But now, as he sat in one corner of the room, he almost
feared to be spoken to by the two men who sat at the table with steaming
glasses before them. He dared not tell Ingram: he had no wish to tell
him, even if he had got him alone. And as he sat there and recalled the
incident that had just occurred by the side of the little bridge, he
could not wholly understand its meaning. There had been none of the
eagerness, the coyness, the tumult of joy he had expected; all he could
remember clearly was the long look that the large, earnest, troubled
eyes had fixed upon him, while the girl’s face, grown pale in the
moonlight, seemed somehow ghost-like and strange.



CHAPTER VII.

AN INTERMEDDLER.


But in the morning all these idle fancies fled with the life and color
and freshness of a new day. Loch Barvas was ruffled into a dark blue by
the Westerly wind, and doubtless the sea out there was running in, green
and cold, to the shore. The sunlight was warm about the house. The trout
were leaping in the shallow brown streams, and here and there a white
butterfly fluttered across the damp meadows. Was not that Duncan down by
the river, accompanied by Ingram? There was a glimmer of a rod in the
sunshine; the two poachers were after trout for Sheila’s breakfast.

Lavender dressed, went outside and looked about for the nearest way down
to the stream. He wished to have a chance of saying a word to his friend
before Sheila or her father should appear. And at last he thought he
could do no better than go across to the bridge, and so make his way
down to the banks of the river.

What a fresh morning it was, with all sorts of sweet scents in the air!
And here, sure enough, was a pretty picture in the early light--a young
girl coming over the bridge carrying a load of green grass on her back.
What would she say if he asked her to stop for a moment that he might
sketch her pretty costume? Her head-dress was a scarlet handkerchief,
tied behind; she wore a tight-fitting bodice of cream-white flannel and
petticoats of gray flannel, while she had a waist-belt and pouch of
brilliant blue. Did she know of these harmonies of color or of the
picturesqueness of her appearance as she came across the bridge in the
sunlight? As she drew near she stared at the stranger with the big, dumb
eyes of a wild animal. There was no fear, only a sort of surprised
observation in them. And as she passed she uttered, without a smile,
some brief and laconic salutation in Gaelic, which, of course, the young
man could not understand. He raised his cap, however, and said “Good
morning!” and went on, with a fixed resolve to learn all the Gaelic that
Duncan could teach him.

Surely the tall keeper was in excellent spirits this morning. Long
before he drew near, Lavender could hear, in the still of the morning,
that he was telling stories about John the Piper, and of his adventures
in such distant parts as Portree and Oban, and even in Glasgow.

“And it was Allan M’Gillivray, of Styornoway,” Duncan was saying, as he
industriously whipped the shallow runs of the stream, “will go to
Glasgow with John; and they went through ta Crinan Canal. Wass you
through ta Crinan Canal, sir?”

“Many a time.”

“Ay, jist that. And I hef been told it iss like a river with ta sides o’
a house to it; and what would Allan care for a thing like that, when he
hass been to America more than twice or four times? And it wass when he
fell into the canal, he was ferry nearly trooned for all that; and when
they pulled him to ta shore he wass a ferry angry man. And this iss what
John says that Allan will say when he wass on the side of the canal:
‘Kott,’ says he, ‘if I was trooned here, I would show my face in
Styornoway no more.’ But perhaps it iss not true, for he will tell many
lies, does John the Piper, to hef a laugh at a man.”

“The Crinan Canal is not to be despised, Duncan,” said Ingram, who was
sitting on the red sand of the bank, “when you are in it.”

“And do you know what John says that Allan will say to him the first
time they went ashore at Glasgow?”

“I am sure I don’t.”

“It was many years ago, before that Allan will be going many times to
America, and he will neffer hef seen such fine shops and ta big houses
and hundreds and hundreds of people, every one with shoes on their feet.
And he will say to John, ‘John, ef I had known in time I should hef been
born here.’ But no one will believe it iss true, he is such a teffle of
a liar, that John; and he will hef some stories about Mr. Mackenzie
himself, as I hef been told, that he will tell when he goes to
Styornoway. But John is a ferry cunning fellow, and will not tell any
such stories in Borva.”

“I suppose if he did, Duncan, you would dip him in Loch Roag.”

“Oh, there iss more than one,” said Duncan, with a grim twinkle in his
eye--“there iss more than one that would hef a joke with him if he was
to tell stories about Mr. Mackenzie.”

Lavender had been standing listening, unknown to both. He now went
forward and bade them good-morning, and then, having had a look at the
trout that Duncan had caught, pulled Ingram up from the bank, put his
arm in his and walked away with him.

“Ingram,” he said, suddenly, with a laugh and a shrug, “you know I
always come to you when I’m in a fix.”

“I suppose you do,” said the other, “and you are always welcome to
whatever help I can give you. But sometimes it seems to me you rush into
fixes with the sort of notion that I am responsible for getting you
out.”

“I can assure you nothing of the kind is the case. I could not be so
ungrateful. However, in the meantime--that is--the fact is, I asked
Sheila last night if she should marry me.”

“The devil you did!”

Ingram dropped his companion’s arm and stood looking at him.

“Well, I knew you would be angry,” said the younger man in a tone of
apology. “And I know I have been too precipitate, but I thought of the
short time we should be remaining here, and of the difficulty of getting
an explanation made at an another time; and it was really only to give
her a hint as to my own feelings that I spoke. I could not bear to wait
any longer.”

“Never mind about yourself,” said Ingram, somewhat curtly. “What did
Sheila say?”

“Well, nothing definite. What could you expect a girl to say after so
short an acquaintance? But this I can tell you, that the proposal is not
altogether distasteful to her, and that I have permission to speak to
her at some future time, when we have known each other longer.”

“You have?”

“Yes.”

“You are quite sure?”

“Certain.”

“There is no mistake about her silence, for example, that might have led
you into misinterpreting her wishes altogether?”

“Nothing of the kind is possible. Of course I could not ask the girl for
any promise, or anything of that sort. All I asked was, whether she
would allow me at some future time to ask her more definitely; and I am
so well satisfied with her reply that I am convinced I shall marry her.”

“And is this the fix you wish me to help you out of?” said Ingram,
rather coldly.

“Now, Ingram,” said the younger man in penitential tones, “don’t cut up
rough about it. You know what I mean. Perhaps I have been hasty and
inconsiderate about it; but one thing you may be sure, that Sheila will
never have to complain of me if she marries me. You say I don’t know her
yet, but there will be plenty of time before we are married. I don’t
propose to carry her off to-morrow morning. Now, Ingram, you know what I
mean about helping me in the fix--helping me with her father you know,
and with herself, for the matter of that. You can do anything with her,
she has such a belief in you. You should hear how she talks of you--you
never heard anything like it.”

It was an innocent bit of flattery, and Ingram smiled good-naturedly at
the boy’s ingenuousness. After all, was he not more loveable and more
sincere in this little bit of simple craft, used in the piteousness of
his appeal, than when he was giving himself the airs of a
man-about-town, and talking of women in a fashion which, to do him
justice, expressed nothing of his real sentiments?

Ingram walked on, and said in his slow and deliberate way, “You know I
opposed this project of yours from the first. I don’t think you have
acted fairly by Sheila or her father, or myself who brought you out
here. But if Sheila has been drawn into it, why, then, the whole affair
is altered, and we’ve got to make the best of a bad business.”

“I was sure you would say that,” exclaimed the younger man with a
brighter light appearing on his face. “You may call me all the hard
names you like; I deserve them all, and more. But then, as you say,
since Sheila is in it, you’ll do your best, won’t you?”

Frank Lavender could not make out why the taciturn and sallow-faced man
walking beside him seemed to be greatly amused by this speech, but he
was in no humor to take offence. He knew that once Ingram had promised
him his help he would not lack all the advocacy, the advice, and even
the money--should that become necessary--that a warm-hearted and
disinterested friend could offer. Many and many a time Ingram had helped
him, and now he was to come to his assistance in the most serious crisis
of his life. Ingram would remove Sheila’s doubts. Ingram would persuade
old Mackenzie that girls had to get married some time or other, and that
Sheila ought to live in London. Ingram would be commissioned to break
the news to Mrs. Lavender. But here, when the young man thought of the
interview with his aunt which he would have to encounter, a cold shiver
passed through his frame. He would not think of it. He would enjoy the
present hour. Difficulties only grew the bigger the more they were
looked at; when they were left to themselves they frequently
disappeared. It was another proof of Ingram’s kindness that he had not
even mentioned the old lady down in Kensington who was likely to have
something to say about this marriage.

“There are a great many difficulties in the way,” said Ingram,
thoughtfully.

“Yes,” said Lavender, with much eagerness, “but then, look! You may be
sure that if we get over these, Sheila will know well who managed it,
and she will not be ungrateful to you, I think. If we ever should be
married I am certain she will always look on you as her greatest
friend.”

“It is a big bribe,” said the elder man, perhaps a trifle sadly; and
Lavender looked at him with some vague return of a suspicion that some
time or other Ingram must himself have been in love with Sheila.

They returned to the inn, where they found Mackenzie busy with a heap of
letters and newspapers that had been sent across to him from Stornoway.
The whole of the breakfast-table was littered with wrappers and big blue
envelopes; where was Sheila, who usually waited on her father at such
times to keep his affairs in order?

Sheila was outside, and Lavender saw her through the open window. Was
she not waiting for him, that she should pace up and down by herself,
with her face turned away from the house? He immediately went out and
went over to her, and she turned to him as he approached. He fancied she
looked a trifle pale, and far less bright and joyous than the ordinary
Sheila.

“Mr. Lavender,” she said, walking away from the house, “I wish very much
to speak to you for a moment. Last night it was all a misfortune that I
did not understand; and I wish you to forget that a word was ever spoken
about that.”

Her head was bent down and her speech was low and broken; what she
failed to explain in words her manner explained for her. But her
companion said to her, with alarm and surprise in his tone: “Why,
Sheila! You cannot be so cruel! Surely you need not feel any
embarrassment through so slight a promise. It pledges you to nothing--it
leaves you quite free; and some day, if I come and ask you then a
question I have not asked you yet, then will be time enough to give me
an answer.”

“Oh, no, no!” said the girl, obviously in great distress, “I cannot do
that. It is unjust to you to let you think of it and hope about it. It
was last night everything was strange to me--I did not understand
then--but I have thought about it all the night through, and now I
know.”

“Sheila!” called her father from the inside of the inn, and she turned
to go.

“But you do not ask that, do you?” he said. “You are only frightened a
little bit just now, but that will go away. There is nothing to be
frightened about. You have been thinking over it, and imagining
impossible things; you have been thinking of leaving Borva altogether--”

“Oh, that I can never do!” she said, with a pathetic earnestness.

“But why think of such a thing?” he said. “You need not look at all the
possible troubles of life when you take such a simple step as this.
Sheila, don’t be hasty in any such resolve; you may be sure all the
gloomy things you have been thinking of will disappear when we get close
to them. And this is such a simple thing. I don’t ask you to say you
will be my wife--I have no right to ask you yet--but I have only asked
permission of you to let me think of it; and even Mr. Ingram sees no
great harm in that.”

“Does _he_ know?” she said, with a start of surprise and fear.

“Yes,” said Lavender, wishing he had bitten his tongue in two before he
had uttered the word. “You know we have no secrets from each other; and
to whom could I go for advice but to your oldest friend?”

“And what did he say?” she asked, with a strange look in her eyes.

“Well, he sees a great many difficulties, but he thinks they will easily
be got over.”

“Then,” she said, with her eyes again cast down and a certain sadness in
her tone, “I must explain to him, too, and tell him I had no
understanding of what I said last night.”

“Sheila, you won’t do that!” urged the young man. “It means nothing--it
pledges you to nothing.”

“Sheila! Sheila!” cried her father, cheerily, from the window, “come in
and let us hef our breakfast.”

“Yes, papa,” said the girl, and she went into the house, followed by her
companion.

But how could she find an opportunity of making this explanation?
Shortly after breakfast the wagonette was at the door of the little
Barvas inn, and Sheila came out of the house and took her place in it
with an unusual quietness of manner and hopelessness of look. Ingram,
sitting opposite to her, and knowing nothing of what had taken place,
fancied that this was but an expression of girlish timidity, and that it
was his business to interest her and amuse her until she should forget
the strangeness and newness of her position. Nay, as he had resolved to
make the best of matters as they stood, and as he believed that Sheila
had half confessed to a special liking for his friend from the South,
what more fitting thing could he do than endeavor to place Lavender in
the most favorable light in her eyes? He began to talk of all the
brilliant and successful things the young man had done as fully as he
could before himself. He contrived to introduce pretty anecdotes of
Lavender’s generosity; and there were plenty of these, for the young
fellow had never a thought of consequences if he was touched by a tale
of distress, and if he could help the sufferer either with his own or
any one else’s money. Ingram talked of all their excursions together, in
Devonshire, in Brittany and elsewhere, to impress on Sheila how well he
knew his friend and how long their intimacy had lasted. At first the
girl was singularly reserved and silent, but somehow, as pleasant
recollections were multiplied, and as Lavender seemed to have been
always the associate and companion of this old friend of hers, some
brighter expression came into her face and she grew more interested.
Lavender, not knowing whether or not to take her decision of that
morning as final, and not wholly perceiving the aim of this kindly chat
on the part of his friend, began to see, at least, that Sheila was
pleased to hear the two men help out each other’s stories about their
pedestrian excursions, and that she at last grew bold enough to look up
and meet his eyes in a timid fashion when she asked him a question.

So they drove along by the side of the sea, the level and well-made road
leading them through miles and miles of rough moorland, with here and
there a few huts or a sheep-fold to break the monotony of the undulating
sky-line. Here and there, too, there were great cuttings of the
peat-moss, with a thin line of water in the foot of the deep, black
trenches. Sometimes, again, they would escape altogether from any traces
of human habitation, and Duncan would grow excited in pointing out to
Miss Sheila the young grouse that had run off the road into the heather,
where they stood and eyed the passing carriage with anything but a
frightened air. And while Mackenzie hummed something resembling, but
very vaguely resembling, “Love in thine eyes sits beaming,” and while
Ingram, in his quiet, desultory, and often sardonic fashion, amused the
young girl with stories of her lover’s bravery and kindness and
dare-devil escapades, the merry trot of the horses beat time to the
bells on their necks, the fresh West wind blew a cloud of white dust
away over the moorland behind them, there was a blue sky shining all
around them, and the blue Atlantic basking in the light.

They stopped a few moments at both the hamlets of Suainabost and Tabost
to allow Sheila to pay a hurried visit to one or two of the huts, while
Mackenzie, laying hold of some of the fishermen he knew, got them to
show Lavender the curing-house, in which the young gentleman professed
himself profoundly interested. They also visited the school-house, and
Lavender found himself beginning to look upon a two-storied building
with windows as something imposing, and a decided triumph of human skill
and enterprise. But what was the school-house of Tabost to the grand
building at the Butt? They had driven away from the high-road by a path
leading through long and sweet-smelling pastures of Dutch clover; they
had got up from these sandy swathes to a table-land of rock; and here
and there they got glimpses of fearful precipices leading sheer down to
the boiling and dashing sea. The curious contortions of the rocks, the
sharp needles of them springing in isolated pillars from out of the
water, the roar of the eddying currents that swept through the chasms
and dashed against the iron-bound shore, the wild sea-birds that flew
about and screamed over the rushing waves and the surge, naturally
enough drew the attention of the strangers altogether away from the
land; and it was with a start of surprise they found themselves before
an immense mass of yellow stone-work--walls, house, and tower--that
shone in the sunlight. And here were the lighthouse-keeper and his wife,
delighted to see strange faces and most hospitably inclined; insomuch
that Lavender, who cared little for luncheon at any time, was
constrained to take as much bread and cheese and butter and whisky as
would have made a ploughman’s dinner. It was a strange sort of a meal
this, away out at the end of the world, as it were. The snug little room
might have been in the Marylebone road; there were photographs about, a
gay label on the whisky bottle, and other signs of an advanced
civilization; but outside nothing but the wild precipices of the coast,
a surging sea that seemed almost to surround the place, the wild
screaming of the sea-birds, and a single ship appearing like a mere
speck on the Northern horizon.

They had not noticed the wind much as they drove along; but now, when
they went out on the high table-land of rock, it seemed to be blowing
half a gale across the sea. The sunlight sparkled on the glass of the
lighthouse, and the great yellow shaft of stone stretched away upward
into a perfect blue. As clear a blue lay far beneath them when the sea
came rushing in among the lofty crags and sharp pinnacles of rock,
bursting into foam at their feet and sending long jets of white spray up
into the air. In front of the great wall of rock the sea-birds wheeled
and screamed, and on the points of some of the islands stood several
scarts, motionless figures of jet black on the soft brown and green of
the rock. And what was this island they looked down upon from over one
of the bays? Surely a mighty reproduction by Nature herself of the
Sphynx of the Egyptian plains. Could anything have been more striking
and unexpected and impressive than the sudden discovery of this great
mass of rock resting in the wild sea, its hooded head turned away toward
the North and hidden from the spectator on land, its gigantic bulk
surrounded by a foam of breakers? Lavender, with his teeth set hard
against the wind, must needs take down the outlines of this strange
scene upon paper, while Sheila crouched at her father’s side for
shelter, and Ingram was chiefly engaged in holding on to his cap.

“It blows here a bit,” said Lavender amid the roar of the waves. “I
suppose in the Winter-time the sea will sometimes break across this
place?”

“Ay, and over the top of the light-house, too,” said Mackenzie with a
laugh, as though he was rather proud of the way his native seas behaved.

“Sheila,” said Ingram, “I never saw _you_ take refuge from the wind
before.”

“It is because we will be standing still,” said the girl, with a smile
which was scarcely visible, because she had half hidden her face in her
father’s great gray beard. “But when Mr. Lavender is finished we will go
down to the great hole in the rocks that you will have seen before, and
perhaps he will make a picture of that, too.”

“You don’t mean to say you would go down there, Sheila?” said Ingram,
“and in this wind!”

“I have been down many times before.”

“Indeed, you will do nothing of the kind, Sheila,” said her father; “you
will go back to the light-house if you like--yes, you may do that--and I
will go down the rocks with Mr. Lavender; but it iss not for a young
lady to go about among the rocks, like a fisherman’s lad that wants the
birds’ eggs or such nonsense.”

It was quite evident that Mackenzie had very little fear of his daughter
not being able to accomplish the descent of the rocks safely enough; it
was a matter of dignity. And so Sheila was at length persuaded to go
across the plain to a sheltered place, to await there until the others
should clamber down to the great and naturally-formed tunnel through the
rocks that the artist was to sketch.

Lavender was ill at ease. He followed his guide mechanically as they
made their way, in zigzag fashion, down the precipitous slopes and over
slippery plateaus; and when at last he came in sight of the mighty arch,
the long cavern, and the glimmer of sea and shore that could be seen
through it, he began to put down the outlines of the picture as rapidly
as possible, but with little interest in the matter. Ingram was sitting
on the bare rocks beside him, Mackenzie was some distance off--should he
tell his friend of what Sheila had said in the morning? Strict honesty,
perhaps, demanded as much, but the temptation to say nothing was great.
For it was evident that Ingram was now well inclined to the project, and
would do his best to help it on; whereas, if once he knew that Sheila
had resolved against it, he, too, might take some sudden step--such as
insisting on their immediate return to the midland--which would settle
the matter forever. Sheila had said she would herself make the necessary
explanation to Ingram, but she had not done so: perhaps she might lack
the courage or an opportunity to do so, and in the meantime was not the
interval altogether favorable to his chances? Doubtless she was a little
frightened at first. She would soon get less timid, and would relent and
revoke her decision of the morning. He would not, at present at any
rate, say anything to Ingram.

But when they had got up again to the summit of the rocks, an incident
occurred that considerably startled him out of these vague and anxious
speculations. He walked straight over to the sheltered spot in which
Sheila was waiting. The rushing of the wind doubtless drowned the sound
of his footsteps, so that he came on her unawares; and on seeing him she
rose suddenly from the rock on which she had been sitting, with some
effort to hide her face away from him. But he had caught a glimpse of
something in her eyes that filled him with remorse.

“Sheila,” he said, going forward to her, “what is the matter? What are
you unhappy about?”

She could not answer; she held her face turned from him and cast down;
and then, seeing her father and Ingram in the distance, she set out to
follow them to the lighthouse. Lavender walking by her side, and
wondering how he could deal with the distress that was only too clearly
written on her face.

“I know it is I who have grieved you,” he said in a low voice, “and I am
very sorry. But if you will tell me what I can do to remove this
unhappiness I will do it now. Shall I consider our talking together of
last night as if it had not taken place at all?”

“Yes,” she said in as low a voice, but clear and sad, and determined in
its tone.

“And I shall speak no more to you about this affair until I go away
altogether?”

And again she signified her assent, gravely and firmly.

“And then,” he said, “you will soon forget all about it, for, of course,
I shall never come back to Lewis again.”

“Never?”

The word had escaped her unwillingly, and it was accompanied by a quick
upturning of the face and a frightened look in the beautiful eyes.

“Do you wish me to come back?” he said.

“I should not wish you to go way from the Lewis through any fault of
mine, and say that we should never see you again,” said the girl in
measured tones, as if she were nerving herself to make the admission,
and yet fearful of saying too much.

By this time Mackenzie and Ingram had gone around the big wall of the
light-house; there were no human beings on this lonely bit of heath but
themselves. Lavender stopped her and took her hand, and said, “Don’t you
see, Sheila, how I must never come back to Lewis if all this is to be
forgotten? And all I want you to say is, that I may come some day to see
if you can make up your mind to be my wife. I don’t ask that yet; it is
out of the question, seeing how short a time you have known anything
about me, and I cannot wish you to trust me as I can trust you. It is a
very little thing I ask--only to give me a chance at some future time,
and then, if you don’t care for me sufficiently to marry me, or if
anything stands in the way, all you need do is to send me a single word,
and that will suffice. This is no terrible thing that I beg from you,
Sheila. You needn’t be afraid of it.”

But she was afraid; there was nothing but fear and doubt and grief in
her eyes, as she gazed in the unknown world laid open before her.

“Can’t you ask someone to tell you that it is nothing dreadful--Mr.
Ingram, for example?”

“I could not.”

“Your papa, then,” he said, driven to this desperate resource by his
anxiety to save her from pain.

“Not yet--not just yet,” she said, almost wildly; “for how could I
explain to him? He would ask me what my wishes were; what could I say? I
do not know; I cannot tell myself; and--and--I have no mother to ask.”
And here all the strain of self-control gave way, and the girl burst
into tears.

“Sheila, dear Sheila,” he said, “why don’t you trust your own heart, and
let that be your guide? Won’t you say this one word, _Yes_, and tell me
that I am to come back to Lewis some day, and ask to see you, and get a
message from one look of your eyes? Sheila, may not I come back?”

If there was a reply it was so low that he scarcely heard it; but
somehow--whether from the small hand that lay in his, or from the eyes
that sent one brief message of trust and hope through their tears--his
question was answered; and from that moment he felt no more misgivings,
but let his love for Sheila shine out and blossom in whatever light of
fancy and imagination he could bring to bear on it, without any doubts
as to the future.

How the young fellow laughed and joked as the party drove away again
from the Butt, down the long coast-road to Barvas! He was tenderly
respectful and a little moderate in tone when he addressed Sheila, but
with the others he gave way to a wild exuberance of spirits that
delighted Mackenzie beyond measure. He told stories of the odd old
gentlemen of his club, of their opinions, their ways, their dress. He
sang the song of the Arethusa and the wilds of Lewis echoed with a
chorus which was not just as harmonious as it might have been. He sang
the “Jug of Punch,” and Mackenzie said that was a teffle of a good song.
He gave imitations of some of Ingram’s companions at the Board of Trade,
and showed Sheila what the inside of a government office was like. He
paid Mackenzie the compliment of asking him for a drop of something out
of his flask, and in return he insisted on the King smoking a cigar
which, in point of age and sweetness and fragrance, was really the sort
of a cigar you would naturally give to the man whose only daughter you
wanted to marry.

Ingram understood all this, and was pleased to see the happy look that
Sheila wore. He talked to her with even a greater assumption than usual
of fatherly fondness; and if she was a little shy, was it not because
she was conscious of so great a secret? He was even unusually
complaisant to Lavender, and lost no opportunity of paying him indirect
compliments that Sheila could overhear.

“You poor young things!” he seemed to be saying to himself, “you’ve got
all your troubles before you; but, in the meantime you can make
yourselves as happy as you can.”

Was the weather at last about to break? As the afternoon wore on the
heavens became overcast, for the wind had gone back from the course of
the sun, and had brought up great masses of cloud from the rainy
Southwest.

“Are we going to have a storm?” said Lavender, looking along the
Southern sky, where the Barvas hills were momentarily growing blacker
under the gathering darkness overhead.

“Storm?” said Mackenzie, whose notions of what constituted a storm were
probably different from those of his guest. “No, there will be no storm.
But it is no bad thing if we get back to Barvas very soon.”

Duncan sent the horses on, and Ingram looked out Sheila’s water-proof
and the rugs. The Southern sky certainly looked ominous. There was a
strange intensity of color in the dark landscape, from the deep purple
of the Barvas hills, coming forward to the deep green of the
pasture-land around them, and the rich reds and browns of the heather
and the peat-cuttings. At one point of the clouded and hurrying sky,
however, there was a soft and vaporous line of yellow in the gray; and
under that, miles away in the West, a great dash of silver light struck
upon the sea, and glowed there so that the eye could scarcely bear it.
Was it the damp that brought the perfumes of the moorlands so distinctly
toward them--the bog-myrtle, the water-mint and the wild thyme? There
were no birds to be heard. The crimson masses of heather on the gray
rocks seemed to have grown richer and deeper in color, and the Barvas
hills had become large and weird in the gloom.

“Are you afraid of thunder!” said Lavender to Sheila.

“No,” said the girl, looking frankly toward him with her glad eyes, as
though he had pleased her by asking that not very striking question. And
then she looked around at the sea and the sky in the South, and said
quietly: “But there will be no thunder; it is too much wind.”

Ingram, with a smile which he could scarcely conceal, hereupon remarked,
“You’re sorry, Lavender, I know. Wouldn’t you like to shelter somebody
in danger, or attempt a rescue, or do something heroic?”

“And Mr. Lavender would do that if there was any need,” said the girl,
bravely, “and then it would be nothing to laugh at.”

“Sheila, you bad girl! how dare you talk like that to me?” said Ingram;
and he put his arm within hers and said he would tell her a story.

But this race to escape the storm was needless, for they were just
getting within sight of Barvas when a surprising change came over the
dark and thunderous afternoon. The hurrying masses of cloud in the West
parted for a little space, and there was a sudden and fitful glimmer of
a stormy blue sky. Then a strange soft yellow and vaporous light shone
across to the Barvas hills and touched up palely the great slopes,
rendering them distant, ethereal and cloud-like. Then a shaft or two of
wild light flashed down upon the landscape beside them. The cattle shone
red in the brilliant green pastures. The gray rocks glowed in their
setting of moss. The stream going by Barvas Inn was a streak of gold in
its sandy bed. And then the sky above them broke into great billows of
cloud--tempestuous and rounded masses of golden vapor that burned with
the wild glare of the sunset. The clear spaces in the sky widened, and
from time to time the wind sent ragged bits of yellow cloud across the
shining blue. All the world seemed to be on fire, and the very smoke of
it, the majestic masses of vapor that rolled by overhead, burned with a
bewildering glare. Then, as the wind still blew hard, and kept veering
around to the Northwest, the fiercely-lit clouds were driven over one
by one, leaving a pale and serene sky to look down on the sinking sun
and the sea. The Atlantic caught the yellow glow on its tumbling waves,
and a deeper color stole across the slopes and peaks of the Barvas
hills. Whither had gone the storm? There were still some banks of clouds
away up in the Northeast, and in the clear green of the evening sky they
had their distant grays and purples faintly tinged with rose.

“And so you are anxious and frightened, and a little pleased?” said
Ingram to Sheila that evening, after he had frankly told her what he
knew, and invited her further confidence. “That is all I can gather from
you, but it is enough. Now you can leave the rest to me.”

“To you?” said the girl, with a blush of pleasure and surprise.

“Yes. I like new experiences. I am going to become an intermeddler now.
I am going to arrange this affair, and become the negotiator between all
the parties; and then, when I have secured the happiness of the whole of
you, you will all set upon me and beat me with sticks, and thrust me out
of your houses.”

“I do not think,” said Sheila, looking down, “that you need have much
fear of that, Mr. Ingram.”

“Is the world going to alter because of me?”

“I would rather not have you try to do anything that is likely to get
you into unhappiness,” she said.

“Oh, but that is absurd. You timid young folks can’t act for yourselves.
You want agents and instruments that have got hardened by use. Fancy the
condition of our ancestors, you know, before they had the sense to
invent steel claws to tear their food in pieces--what could they do with
their fingers? I am going to be your knife and fork, Sheila, and you’ll
see what I shall carve out for you. All you’ve got to do is to keep your
spirits up, and believe that nothing dreadful is going to take place
merely because some day you will be asked to marry. You let things take
their ordinary course. Keep your spirits up--don’t neglect your music or
your dinner or your poor people down in Borvapost--and you’ll see it
will all come right enough. In a year or two, or less than that, you
will marry contentedly and happily, and your papa will drink a good
glass of whisky at the wedding and make jokes about it, and everything
will be as right as the mail. That’s my advice; see you attend to it.”

“You are very kind to me,” said the girl, in a low voice.

“But if you begin to cry, Sheila, then I throw up my duties. Do you
hear? Now look: there goes Mr. Lavender down to the boat with a bundle
of rugs, and I suppose you mean me to imperil my precious life by
sailing about these rocky channels in the moonlight? Come along down to
the shore; and mind you please your papa by singing ‘Love in thine eyes’
with Mr. Lavender, and if you would add to that ‘The Minute Gun at Sea,’
why, you know, I may as well have my little rewards for intermeddling
now, as I shall have to suffer afterward.”

“Not through me,” said Sheila, in rather an uncertain voice; and then
they went down to the Maighdean-mhara.



PART IV.



CHAPTER VIII.

“O TERQUE QUATERQUE BEATE!”


Consider what a task this unhappy man Ingram had voluntarily undertaken!
Here were two young people presumably in love. One of them was laid
under suspicion by several previous love affairs, though none of these,
doubtless, had been so serious as the present. The other scarcely knew
her own mind, or, perhaps, was afraid to question herself too closely,
lest all the conflict between duty and inclination, with its fears and
anxieties and troubles, should be too suddenly revealed. Moreover, this
girl was the only daughter of a solitary and irascible old gentleman
living in a remote island; and Ingram had not only undertaken that the
love affairs of the young folks should come all right--thus assuming a
responsibility which might have appalled the bravest--but was also
expected to inform the King of Borva that his daughter was about to be
taken away from him.

Of course, if Sheila had been a properly brought up young lady, nothing
of this sort would have been necessary. We all know what the properly
brought up young lady does under such circumstances. She goes straight
to her papa and mamma and says, “My dear papa and mamma, I have been
taught by my various instructors that I ought to have no secrets from my
dear parents; and I therefore hasten to lay aside any little shyness or
modesty or doubt of my own wishes I might feel, for the purpose of
explaining to you the extent to which I have become a victim to the
tender passion, and of soliciting your advice. I also place before you
these letters I have received from the gentleman in question: probably
they were sent in confidence to me, but I must banish any scruples that
do not coincide with my duty to you. I may say that I respect, and even
admire Mr. So-and-So; and I should be unworthy of the care bestowed upon
my education by my dear parents, if I were altogether insensible to the
advantages of his worldly position. But beyond this point I am at a loss
to define my sentiments; and so I ask you, my dear papa and mamma, for
permission to study the question for some little time longer, when I may
be able to furnish you with a more accurate report of my feelings. At
the same time, if the interest I have in this young man is likely to
conflict with the duty I owe to my dear parents, I ask to be informed of
the fact; and I shall then teach myself to guard against the approach of
that insidious passion which might make me indifferent to the higher
calls and interests of life.”

Happy the man who marries such a woman! No agonizing quarrels and
delirious reconciliations, no piteous entreaties, and fits of remorse,
and impetuous self-sacrifices await him, but a beautiful, methodical,
placid life, as calm and accurate, and steadily progressive as the
multiplication table. His household will be a miracle of perfect
arrangement. The relations between the members of it will be as strictly
defined as the pattern of the paper on the walls. And how can a quarrel
arise when a dissecter of the emotions is close at hand to say where the
divergence of opinion or interest began. And how can a fit of jealousy
be provoked in the case of a person who will split up her affections
into fifteen parts, give ten-fifteenths to her children,
three-fifteenths to her parents, and the remainder to her husband?
Should there be any dismal fractions going about, friends and
acquaintances may come in for them.

But how was Sheila to go to her father and explain to him what she could
not explain to herself? She had never dreamed of marriage. She had never
thought of having to leave Borva and her father’s house. But she had
some vague feeling that in the future lay many terrible possibilities
that she did not as yet dare to look at--until, at least, she was more
satisfied as to the present. And how could she go to her father with
such a chaos of unformed wishes and fears to place before him? That such
a duty should have devolved upon Ingram was certainly odd enough, but it
was not her doing. His knowledge of the position of these young people
was not derived from her. But, having got it, he had himself asked her
to leave the whole affair in his hands, with that kindness and
generosity which had more than once filled her heart with an unspeakable
gratitude toward him.

“Well, you _are_ a good fellow!” said Lavender to him, when he heard of
this decision.

“Bah!” said the other with a shrug of his shoulders, “I mean to amuse
myself. I shall move you about like pieces on a chess-board, and have a
pretty game with you. How to checkmate the king with a knight and a
princess in any number of moves you like--that is the problem; and my
princess has a strong power over the king where she is just now.”

“It’s an uncommonly awkward business, you know, Ingram,” said Lavender,
ruefully.

“Well, it is. Old Mackenzie is a tough old fellow to deal with, and
you’ll do no good by making a fight of it. Wait! Difficulties don’t look
so formidable when you take them one by one as they turn up. If you
really love the girl, and mean to take your chance of getting her, and
if she cares enough for you to sacrifice a good deal for your sake,
there is nothing to fear.”

“I can answer for myself, anyway,” said Lavender, in a tone of voice
that Ingram rather liked; the young man did not always speak with the
same quietness, thoughtfulness, and modesty.

And how naturally and easily it came about, after all! They were back
again at Borva. They had driven around and about Lewis, and had finished
up with Stornoway; and, now that they had got back to the island in Loch
Roag, the quaint little drawing-room had, even to Lavender, a homely
and friendly look. The big stuffed fishes and the sponge shells were old
acquaintances; and he went to hunt up Sheila’s music just as if he had
known that dusky corner for years.

“Yes, yes,” called Mackenzie, “it iss the English songs we will try
now.”

He had a notion that he was himself rather a good hand at a part
song--just as Sheila had innocently taught him to believe that he was a
brilliant whist player when he had mastered the art of returning his
partner’s lead--but fortunately at this moment he was engaged with a
long pipe and a big tumbler of hot whisky and water. Ingram was
similarly employed, lying back in a cane-bottomed easy-chair, and
placidly watching the smoke ascending to the roof. Sometimes he cast an
eye to the young folks at the other end of the room. They formed a
pretty sight, he thought. Lavender was a good-looking fellow enough, and
there was something pleasing in the quiet and assiduous fashion in which
he waited upon Sheila, and in the almost timid way in which he spoke to
her. Sheila herself sat at the piano, clad all in slate-gray silk, with
a narrow band of scarlet velvet around her neck; and it was only by a
chance turning of the head that Ingram caught the tender and handsome
profile, broken only by the onward sweep of the long eyelashes.

    “Love in thine eyes for ever plays,”

Sheila sang, with her father keeping time by patting his forefinger on
the table.

    “He in thy snowy bosom strays,”

sang Lavender; and then the two voices joined together:

    “He makes thy rosy lips his care,
     And walks the mazes of thy hair.”

Or were there not three voices? Surely, from the back part of the room
the musicians could hear a wandering bass come in from time to time,
especially at such portions as “Ah, he never--ah, he never touched thy
heart!” which old Mackenzie considered very touching. But there was
something quaint and friendly and pleasant in the pathos of those
English songs, which made them far more acceptable to him than Sheila’s
wild and melancholy legends of the sea. He sang “Ah, he never, never
touched thy heart!” with an outward expression of grief, but with much
inward satisfaction. Was it the quaint phraseology of the old duets that
awoke in him some faint ambition after histrionic effect? At all events,
Sheila proceeded to another of his favorites, “All’s Well,” and here,
amid the brisk music, the old man had an excellent opportunity of
striking in at random

    The careful watch patrols the deck
    To guard the ship from foes or wreck.

These two lines he had absolutely mastered, and always sang them,
whatever might be the key he happened to light on, with great vigor. He
soon went to the length of improvising a part for himself in the closing
passages, and laid down his pipe altogether as he sang--

    What cheer? Brother, quickly tell!
    Above! Below! Good-night! All, all’s well!

From that point, however, Sheila and her companion wandered away into
fields of melody whither the King of Borva could not follow them; so he
was content to resume his pipe and listen placidly to the pretty airs.
He caught but bits and fragments of phrases and sentiments, but they
evidently were comfortable, merry, good-natured songs for the young
folks to sing. There was a good deal of love-making, and rosy morns
appearing, and merry zephyrs, and such odd things, which, sung briskly
and gladly by two young and fresh voices, rather drew the hearts of
contemplative listeners to the musicians.

“They sing very well, whatever,” said Mackenzie with a critical air to
Ingram, when the young people were so busily engaged with their own
affairs as apparently to forget the presence of the others. “Oh yes,
they sing very well whatever; and what should the young folks sing about
but making love and courting, and all that?”

“Natural enough,” said Ingram, looking rather wistfully at the two at
the other end of the room. “I suppose Sheila will have a sweetheart some
day?”

“Oh, yes, Sheila will hef a sweetheart some day,” said her father,
good-humoredly. “Sheila is a good-looking girl; she will hef a
sweetheart some day.”

“She will be marrying, too, I suppose,” said Ingram cautiously.

“Oh, yes, she will marry--Sheila will marry; what will be the life of a
young girl if she does not marry?”

At this moment, as Ingram afterward described it, a sort of “flash of
inspiration” darted in upon him, and he resolved there and then to brave
the wrath of the old king, and place all the conspiracy before him, if
only the music kept loud enough to prevent his being overheard.

“It will be hard on you to part with Sheila when she marries,” said
Ingram, scarcely daring to look up.

“Oh, ay, it will be that,” said Mackenzie, cheerfully enough. “But it
iss every one will hef to do that, and no great harm comes of it. Oh,
no, it will not be much whatever; and Sheila, she will be very glad in a
little while after, and it will be enough for me to see that she is
ferry contented and happy. The young folk must marry, you will see; and
what is the use of marrying if it is not when they are young? But
Sheila, she will think of none of these things. It was young Mr.
MacIntyre of Sutherland--you hef seen him last year in Stornoway; he has
three thousand acres of a deer forest in Sutherland--and he will be
ferry glad to marry my Sheila. But I will say to him, ‘It is not for me
to say yes or no to you, Mr. MacIntyre: it is Sheila herself will tell
you that.’ But he was afraid to speak to her; and Sheila herself will
know nothing of why he came twice to Borva the last year.”

“It is very good of you to leave Sheila quite unbiased in her choice,”
said Ingram: “many fathers would have been sorely tempted by that deer
forest.”

Old Mackenzie laughed a loud laugh of derision that fortunately did not
stop Lavender’s execution of “I would that my love would silently.”

“What the teffle,” said Mackenzie, “hef I to want a deer forest for my
Sheila? Sheila is no fisherman’s lass. She has plenty for herself, and
she will marry just the young man she wants to marry, and no other one;
that is what she will do, by Kott!”

All this was most hopeful. If Mackenzie had himself been advocating
Lavender’s suit, could he have said more? But, notwithstanding all these
frank and generous promises, dealing with a future which the old man
considered as indefinitely remote, Ingram was still afraid of the
announcement he was about to make.

“Sheila is fortunately situated,” he said, “in having a father who
thinks only of her happiness. But I suppose she has never yet shown a
preference for any one?”

“Not for any one but yourself,” said her father, with a laugh.

And Ingram laughed, too, but in an embarrassed way, and his sallow face
grew darker with a blush. Was there not something painful in the
unintentional implication that of course Ingram could not be considered
a possible lover of Sheila’s, and that the girl herself was so well
aware of it that she could openly testify to her regard for him?

“And it would be a good thing for Sheila,” continued her father, more
gravely, “if there was any young man about the Lewis that she would tek
a liking to; for it will be some day I can no more look after her, and
it would be bad for her to be left alone all by herself in the island.”

“And you don’t think you see before you now some one who might take on
him the charge of Sheila’s future?” said Ingram, looking toward
Lavender.

“The English gentleman?” said Mackenzie, with a smile. “No, that anyway
is not possible.”

“I fancy it is more than possible,” said Ingram, resolved to go straight
at it. “I know for a fact that he would like to marry your daughter, and
I think that Sheila, without knowing it herself almost, is well inclined
toward him.”

The old man started up from his chair: “Eh? what! my Sheila?”

“Yes, papa,” said the girl, turning around at once.

She caught sight of a strange look on his face, and in an instant was by
his side; “Papa, what is the matter with you?”

“Nothing, Sheila, nothing,” he said, impatiently. “I am a little tired
of the music, that is all. But go on with the music. Go back to the
piano, Sheila, and go on with the music, and Mr. Ingram and me, we will
go outside for a little while.”

Mackenzie walked out of the room, and said aloud in the hall, “Ay, are
you coming, Mr. Ingram? It iss a fine night, this night, and the wind is
in a very good way for the weather.”

And then, as he went out to the front, he hummed aloud, so that Sheila
should hear:

    Who goes there? Stranger, quickly tell!
    A friend! The word? Good-night! All’s well!
    All’s well! Good-night! All’s well!

Ingram followed the old man outside with a somewhat guilty conscience
suggesting odd things to him. Would it not be possible now to shut one’s
ears for the next half hour? Angry words were only little perturbations
in the air. If you shut your ears till they were all over, what harm
could be done? All the big facts of life would remain the same. The sea,
the sky, the hills, the human beings around you, even your desire of
sleep for the night, and your wholesome longing for breakfast in the
morning, would all remain, and the angry words would have passed away.
But perhaps it was a proper punishment that he should now go out and
bear all the wrath of this fierce old gentleman, whose daughter he had
conspired to carry off. Mackenzie was walking up and down the path
outside, in the cool and silent night. There was not much moon now, but
a clear and lambent twilight showed all the familiar features of Loch
Roag and the Southern hills, and down there in the bay you could vaguely
make out the Maighdean-mharra rocking in the tiny waves that washed in
on the white shore. Ingram had never looked on this pretty picture with
a less feeling of delight!

“Well, you see, Mr. Mackenzie,” he was beginning, “you must make this
excuse for him--”

But Mackenzie put aside Lavender at once. It was all about Sheila that
he wanted to know. There was no anger in his words; only a great anxiety
and sometimes an extraordinary and pathetic effort to take a
philosophical view of the situation. What had Sheila said? Was Sheila
deeply interested in the young man? Would it please Sheila if he was to
go in-doors and give at once his free consent to her marrying this Mr.
Lavender?

“Oh, you must not think,” said Mackenzie, with a certain loftiness of
air, even amidst his great perturbation and anxiety--“you must not think
I hef not foreseen all this. It wass some day or other Sheila will be
sure to marry; and although I did not expect--no, I did not expect
_that_--that she would marry a stranger and an Englishman, if it will
please her, that is enough. You cannot tell a young lass the one she
should marry; it iss all a chance the one she likes, and if she does not
marry him it is better she will not marry at all. Oh, yes, I know that
ferry well. And I hef known there wass a time coming when I would give
away my Sheila to some young man; and there iss no use complaining of
it. But you hef not told me much about this young man, or I hef
forgotten; it is the same thing whatever. He has not much money, you
said--he is waiting for some money. Well, this is what I will do, I will
give him all my money if he will come and live in the Lewis.”

All the philosophy he had been mustering up fell away from that last
sentence. It was like the cry of a drowning man who sees the last
lifeboat set out for shore, leaving him to his fate. And Ingram had not
a word to say in reply to that piteous entreaty.

“I do not ask him to stop in Borva; no, it iss a small place for one
that hass lived in a town. But the Lewis, that is quite different; and
there iss very good houses in Stornoway.”

“But, surely, sir,” said Ingram, “you need not consider all this just
yet. I am sure neither of them has thought any such thing.”

“No,” said Mackenzie, recovering himself, “perhaps not. But we hef our
duties to look at the future of young folks. And you will say that Mr.
Lavender hass only expectations of money?”

“Well, the expectation is almost a certainty. His aunt, I have told you,
is a very rich old lady, who has no other near relations, and she is
extremely fond of him, and would do anything for him. I am sure the
allowance he has now is greatly in excels of what she spends on
herself.”

“But they might quarrel, you know--they might quarrel. You hef always to
look to the future; they might quarrel and what will he do then?”

“Why, you don’t suppose he couldn’t support himself if the worst were to
come to the worst? He is an amazingly clever fellow--”

“Ah, that is very good,” said Mackenzie in a cautious sort of way, “but
has he ever made any money?”

“Oh, I fancy not--nothing to speak of. He has sold some pictures, but I
think he has given more away.”

“Then it iss not easy, tek my word for it, Mr. Ingram, to begin a new
trade when you are twenty-five years of age, and the people who will tek
your pictures for nothing, will they pay for them if you wanted the
money?”

It was obviously the old man’s eager wish to prove to himself that,
somehow or other, Lavender might come to have no money, and be made
dependent on his father-in-law. So far, indeed, from sharing the
sentiments ordinarily attributed to that important relative, he would
have welcomed with a heartfelt joy the information that the man who,
as he expected, was about to marry his daughter, was absolutely
penniless. Not even all the attractions of that deer forest in
Sutherlandshire--particularly fascinating as they must have been to a
man of his education and surroundings--had been able to lead the old
King of Borva even into hinting to his daughter that the owner of that
property would like to marry her. Sheila was to choose for herself. She
was not like a fisherman’s lass, bound to consider ways and means. And
now that she had chosen, or at least indicated the possibility of her
doing so, her father’s chief desire was that his future son-in-law
should come and take and enjoy his money, so only that Sheila might not
be carried away from him forever.

“Well, I will see about it,” said Mackenzie, with an affectation of
cheerful and practical shrewdness. “Oh, yes, I will see about it when
Sheila has made up her mind. He is a very good young man, whatever--”

“He is the best-hearted fellow I know,” said Ingram, warmly. “I don’t
think Sheila has much to fear if she marries him. If you had known him
as long as I have, you would know how considerate he is to everybody
about him, how generous he is, how good-natured and cheerful, and so
forth; in short, he is a thorough good fellow, and that’s what I have to
say about him.”

“It iss well for him he will hef such a champion,” said Mackenzie, with
a smile; “there is not many Sheila will pay attention to as she does to
you.”

They went indoors again, Ingram scarcely knowing how he had got so
easily through the ordeal, but very glad it was over.

Sheila was still at the piano, and on their entering she said, “Papa,
here is a song you must learn to sing with me.”

“And what iss it, Sheila?” he said, going over to her.

“‘Time has not thinned my flowing hair.’”

He put his hand on her head and said, “I hope it will be a long time
before he will thin your hair, Sheila.”

The girl looked up surprised. Scotch folks are, as a rule, somewhat
reticent in their display of affection, and it was not often that her
father talked to her in that way. What was there in his face that made
her glance instinctively toward Ingram. Somehow or other her hand sought
her father’s hand, and she rose and went away from the piano, with her
head bent down and tears beginning to tell in her eyes.

“Yes, that is a capital song,” said Ingram, loudly. “Sing ‘The
Arethusa,’ Lavender--‘Said the saucy Arethusa.’”

Lavender, knowing what had taken place, and not daring to follow with
his eyes Sheila and her father, who had gone to the other end of the
room, sang the song. Never was a gallant and devil-may-care sea-song
sung so hopelessly without spirit. But the piano made a noise, and the
verses took up time. When he had finished he almost feared to turn
around, and yet there was nothing dreadful in the picture that presented
itself. Sheila was sitting on her father’s knee, with her head buried in
his bosom, while he was patting her head and talking in a low voice to
her. The King of Borva did not look particularly fierce.

“Yes, it iss a teffle of a good song,” he said, suddenly. “Now get up,
Sheila, and go and tell Mairi we will have a bit of bread and cheese
before going to bed. And there will be a little hot water wanted in the
other room, for this room it iss too full of the smoke.”

Sheila, as she went out of the room, had her head cast down, and,
perhaps, an extra tinge of color in her young and pretty face. But
surely, Lavender thought to himself as he watched her anxiously, she did
not look grieved. As for her father, what should he do now? Turn
suddenly around and beg Mackenzie’s pardon, and throw himself on his
generosity? When he did, with much inward trembling, venture to approach
the old man, he found no such explanation possible. The King of Borva
was in one of his grandest moods--dignified, courteous, cautious, and
yet inclined to treat everybody and everything with a sort of lofty good
humor. He spoke to Lavender in the most friendly way, but it was about
the singular and startling fact that modern research had proved many of
the Roman legends to be utterly untrustworthy. Mr. Mackenzie observed
that the man was wanting in proper courage who feared to accept the
results of such inquiries. It was better that we should know the truth,
and then the kings who had really made Rome great might emerge from the
fog of tradition in their proper shape. There was something quite
sympathetic in the way he talked of those ill-treated sovereigns, whom
the vulgar mind had clothed in mist.

Lavender was sorely beset by the rival claims of Rome and Borva upon his
attention. He was inwardly inclined to curse Numa Pompilius--which would
have been ineffectual--when he found that personage interfering with a
wild effort to discover why Mackenzie should treat him in this way. And
then it occurred to him that, as he had never said a word to Mackenzie
about this affair, it was too much to expect that Sheila’s father should
himself open the subject. On the contrary, Mackenzie was bent on
extending a grave courtesy to his guest, so that the latter should not
feel ill at ease until it suited himself to make any explanations he
might choose. It was not Mackenzie’s business to ask this young man if
he wanted to marry Sheila. No. The king’s daughter, if she were to be
won at all, was to be won by a suitor; and it was not for her father to
be in a hurry about it. So Lavender got back into the region of early
Roman history, and tried to recall what he had learned in Livy, and
quite coincided with everything that Niebuhr had said or proved, and
with everything that Mackenzie thought Niebuhr had said or proved. He
was only too glad, indeed, to find himself talking to Sheila’s father in
this friendly fashion.

Then Sheila came in and told them that supper was laid in the adjoining
room. At that modest meal a great good humor prevailed. Sometimes, it is
true, it occurred to Ingram that Sheila occasionally cast an anxious
glance to her father, as if she were trying to discover whether he was
really satisfied, or whether he were not merely pretending satisfaction
to please her; but for the rest the party was a most friendly and merry
one. Lavender, naturally enough, was in the highest of spirits, and
nothing could exceed the light-hearted endeavors he made to amuse, and
interest, and cheer his companions. Sheila, indeed, sat up later than
usual, even although pipes were lit again, and the slate-gray silk
likely to bear witness to the fact in the morning. How comfortable and
homely was this sort of life in the remote stone building overlooking
the sea! He began to think that he could live always in Borva if only
Sheila were with him as his companion.

Was it an actual fact, then, he asked himself next morning, that he
stood confessed to the small world of Borva as Sheila’s accepted lover?
Not a word on the subject had passed between Mackenzie and himself, and
yet he found himself assuming the position of a younger relative, and
rather expecting advice from the old man. He began to take a great
interest too, in the local administration of the island. He examined the
window-fastenings of Mackenzie’s house, and saw that they would be
useful in the winter, and expressed to Sheila’s father his confidential
opinion that the girl should not be allowed to go out in the
Maighdean-mhara without Duncan.

“She will know as much about boats as Duncan himself,” said her father,
with a smile. “But Sheila will not go out when the rough weather
begins.”

“Of course, you keep her indoors then,” said the younger man, already
assuming some little charge over Sheila’s comfort.

The father laughed aloud at this simplicity on the part of the
Englishman:

“If we wass to keep indoors in the bad weather, it would be all the
winter we would be indoors! There iss no day at all Sheila will not be
out some time or other; and she is never so well as in the hard weather,
when she will be out always in the snow and the frost, and hef plenty of
exercise and amusement.”

“She is not often ailing, I suppose?” said Lavender.

“She is as strong as a young pony, that’s what Sheila is,” said her
father, proudly. “And there’s no one in the island will run so fast, or
walk so long without tiring, or carry things from the shore as she
will--not one.”

But here he suddenly checked himself. “That is,” he said, with some
little expression of annoyance, “I wass saying Sheila could do that if
it wass any use; but she will not do such things, like a fisherman’s
lass that hass to keep in the work.”

“Oh, of course not,” said Lavender, hastily. “But still, you know, it is
pleasant to know she is so strong and well.”

And at this moment Sheila herself appeared, accompanied by her great
deerhound, and testifying by the bright color in her face to the
assurances of her health her father had been giving. She had just come
up and over the hill at Borvapost, while as yet breakfast had not been
served. Somehow or other, Lavender fancied she never looked so bright
and bold and handsome as in the early morning, with the fresh sea-air
tingling the color of her cheeks, and the sunlight shining in the clear
eyes or giving from time to time a glimpse of her perfect teeth. But
this morning she did not seem quite so frankly merry as usual. She
patted her deerhound’s head, and rather kept her eyes away from her
father and his companions. And then she took Brass away to give him his
breakfast, just as Ingram appeared to bid her good-morning and ask her
what she meant by being about so early.

How anxiously Lavender now began to calculate on the remaining days of
their stay in Borva! They seemed so few. He got up at preposterously
early hours to make each day as long as possible, but it slipped away
with a fatal speed; and already he began to think of Stornoway and the
Clansman and his bidding good-bye to Sheila. He had said no more to her
of any pledge as regarded the future. He was content to see that she was
pleased to be with him; and happy indeed were their rambles about the
island, their excursions in Sheila’s boat, their visits to the White
Water in search of salmon. Nor had he yet spoken to Sheila’s father. He
knew that Mackenzie knew, and both seemed to take it for granted that no
good could come of a formal explanation until Sheila herself should make
her wishes known. That, indeed, was the only aspect of the case that
apparently presented itself to the old King of Borva. He forgot
altogether those precautions and investigations which are supposed to
occupy the mind of a future father-in-law, and only sought to see how
Sheila was affected toward the young man who was soon about to leave the
island. When he saw her pleased to be walking with Lavender and talking
with him of an evening, he was pleased, and would rather have a cold
dinner than break in upon them to hurry them home. When he saw her
disappointed because Lavender had been unfortunate in his
salmon-fishing, he was ready to swear at Duncan for not having had the
fish in better temper. And the most of his conversation with Ingram
consisted of an endeavor to convince himself that, after all, what had
happened was for the best, and that Sheila seemed to be happy.

But somehow or other, when the time for their departure was drawing
near, Mackenzie showed a strange desire that his guests should spend the
last two days in Stornoway. When Lavender first heard this proposal he
glanced towards Sheila, and his face showed clearly his disappointment.

“But Sheila will go with us, too,” said her father, replying to that
unuttered protest in the most innocent fashion; and then Lavender’s face
brightened again, and he said that nothing would give him greater
pleasure than to spend two days in Stornoway.

“And you must not think,” said Mackenzie, anxiously, “that one day or
two days or a great many days will show you all the fine things about
Stornoway. And if you were to live in Stornoway you would find very good
acquaintances and friends there; and in the autumn, when the shooting
begins, there are many English who will come up, and there will be ferry
great doings at the castle. And there is some gentlemen now at Grimersta
whom you hef not seen, and they are ferry fine gentlemen; and at
Garra-na-hina there iss two more gentlemen for the salmon-fishing. Oh,
there iss a great many fine people in the Lewis, and it is not all as
lonely as Borva.”

“If it is half as pleasant a place to live in as Borva, it will do,”
said Lavender, with a flush of enthusiasm in his face, as he looked
toward Sheila, and saw her pleased and downcast eyes.

“But it iss not to be compared,” said Mackenzie, eagerly. “Borva, that
is nothing at all; but the Lewis, it is a ferry different thing to live
in the Lewis; and many English gentlemen hef told me they would like to
live always in the Lewis.”

“I think I should, too,” said Lavender, lightly and carelessly, little
thinking what importance the old man immediately and gladly put upon the
admission.

From that moment, Lavender, though unconscious of what had happened, had
nothing to fear in the way of opposition from Sheila’s father. If he had
there and then boldly asked Mackenzie for his daughter, the old man
would have given his consent freely, and bade Lavender to go to Sheila
herself.

And so they set sail, one pleasant afternoon, from Borvapost, and the
light wind that ruffled the blue of Loch Roag gently filled the mainsail
of the Maighdean-mhara as she lightly ran down the tortuous channel.

“I don’t like to go away from Borva,” said Lavender, in a low voice, to
Sheila, “but I might have been leaving the island with greater regret,
for, you know, I expect to be back soon.”

“We shall always be glad to see you,” said the girl; although he would
rather have had her say “I” than “we,” there was something in the tone
of her voice that contented him.

At Garra-na-hina, Mackenzie pointed out with a great interest to
Lavender a tall man who was going down through some meadows to the
Amhuinn Dhubh, “the Black River.” He had a long rod over his shoulder,
and behind him, at some distance, followed a shorter man, who carried a
gaff and landing-net. Mackenzie anxiously explained to Lavender that the
tall figure was that of an Englishman. Lavender accepted the statement.
But would he not go down to the river and make his acquaintance!
Lavender could not understand why he should be expected to take so great
an interest in an ordinary English sportsman.

“Ferry well,” said Mackenzie, a trifle disappointed, “but you would find
several of the English in the Lewis if you was living here.”

These two days in Stornoway were very pleasant. On their previous visit
to the town, Mackenzie had given up much of his time to business
affairs, and was a good deal away from his guests, but now he devoted
himself to making them particularly comfortable in the place, and
amusing them in every possible way. He introduced Lavender, in especial,
to all his friends there, and was most anxious to impress on the young
man that life in Stornoway was, on the whole, rather a brilliant affair.
Then was there a finer point from which you could start at will for
Inverness, Oban, and such great centres of civilization? Very soon there
would even be a telegraphic cable laid to the mainland. Was Mr. Lavender
aware that frequently you could see the Sutherland hills from this very
town of Stornoway?

There Sheila laughed, and Lavender, who kept watching her face always,
to read all her fancies and sentiments and wishes in the shifting lights
of it, immediately demanded an explanation.

“It is no good thing,” said Sheila, “to see the Sutherland hills often,
for when you see them it means to rain.”

But Lavender had not been taught to fear the rain of the Western Isles.
The weather seemed to have conspired with Mackenzie to charm the young
man with the island. At this moment, for example, they were driving away
from Stornoway along the side of the great bay Northward, until it finds
its furtherest promontory in Tiumpan Head. What magnificence of color
shone around them in the hot sunlight! Where the ruffled blue sea came
near the long sweep of yellow sand, it grew to a bright transparent
green. The splendid curve of the bay showed a gleaming line of white
where the waves broke in masses of hissing foam; and beyond that curve
again long promontories of dark red conglomerate ran out into the darker
waters of the sea, with their summits shining with the bright sea-grass.
Here, close at hand, were warm meadows, with calves and lambs cropping
the sweet-scented Dutch clover. A few huts, shaped like bee-hives, stood
by the roadside, close by some deep peat cuttings. There was a cutting
in the yellow sand of the bay for the pulling up of the captured whales.
Now and then you could see a solan dart down from the blue heavens into
the deep blue of the sea, sending up a spurt of water twenty feet high
as he disappeared; and far onward between the red precipices and the
ruffled waters herds of white sea-fowl flew from crag to crag, or
dropped upon the sea to rise and fall with the waves.

At the small hamlet of Gress they got a large rowing-boat manned by
sturdy fishermen, and set out to explore the great caves formed in the
mighty wall of conglomerate that here fronts the sea. The wild-fowl flew
about them, screaming and yelling at being disturbed. The long swell of
the sea lifted the boat, passed from under it, and went on with majestic
force to crash on the glowing red crags and send jets of foam flying up
the face of them. They captured one of the sea-birds--a young thing
about as big as a hen, with staring eyes, scant feathers, and a long
beak with which it instinctively tried to bite its enemies--and the
parents of it kept swooping down over the boat, uttering shrill cries,
until their offspring was restored to the surface of the water. They
went into the great loud-sounding caverns, getting a new impression of
the extraordinary clearness of the sea-water by the depth at which the
bottom was visible; and here their shouts occasionally called up from
some dim twilight recess, far in among the perilous rocks, the head of a
young seal which would instantly dive again and be seen no more. They
watched the salmon splash in the shallower creeks where the sea had
scooped out a tiny bay of ruddy sand, and then a slowly rolling porpoise
would show his black back above the water and silently disappear again.
All this was pleasant enough on a pleasant morning, in fresh sea-air and
sunlight, in holiday time; and was there any reason, Mackenzie may
fairly have thought, why this young man, if he did marry Sheila, should
not come and live in a place where so much healthy amusement was to be
found?

And in the evening, too, when they had climbed to the top of the hills
on the South of Stornoway harbor, did not the little town look
sufficiently picturesque, with its white houses, its shipping, its great
castle and plantations lying in shadow under the green of the Eastern
sky? Then away to the West what a strange picture presented itself!
Thick bands of gray cloud lay across the sky, and the sunlight from
behind them sent down great rays of misty yellow on the endless miles of
moor. But how was it that, as these shafts of sunlight struck on the far
and successive ridges of the moorland, each long undulation seemed to
become transparent, and all the island appeared to consist of great
golden-brown shells heaped up behind each other, with the sunlight
shining through?

“I have tried a good many new effects since coming up here,” said
Lavender, “but I shall not try _that_.”

“Oh, it iss nothing--it iss nothing at all,” said Mackenzie with a
stupid air of unconcern. “There iss much more beautiful things than that
in the island, but you will hef need of a ferry long time before you
will find it all out. That--that iss nothing at all.”

“You will perhaps make a picture of it some other time,” said Sheila,
with her eyes cast down, and as he was standing by her at the time, he
took her hand and pressed it and said, “I hope so.”

Then, that night. Did not every hour produce some new and wonderful
scene, or was it only that each minute grew to be so precious, and that
the enchantment of Sheila’s presence filled the air around him? There
was no moon, but the stars shone over the bay and the harbor and the
dusky hills beyond the castle. Every few seconds the light-house at
Arnish Point sent out its wild glare of orange fire into the heart of
the clear darkness, and then as suddenly faded out and left the eyes too
bewildered to make out the configuration of the rocks. All over the
Northwest there still remained the pale glow of the twilight, and
somehow Lavender seemed to think that that strange glow belonged to
Sheila’s home in the West, and that the people in Stornoway knew nothing
of the wonders of Loch Roag and of the nights there. Was he likely ever
to forget?

“Good-bye, Sheila,” he said next morning, when the last signal had been
given and the Clansman was about to move from her moorings.

She had bidden good-bye to Ingram already, but somehow she could not
speak to his companion just at this last moment. She pressed his hand
and turned away, and went ashore with her father. Then the big steamer
throbbed its way out of the harbor, and by and by the island of Lewis
lay but as a thin blue cloud along the horizon; and who could tell that
human beings, with strange hopes and fancies and griefs, were hidden
away in that pale line of vapor?



CHAPTER IX.

‘FAREWELL, MACKRIMMON!’


A night journey from Greenock to London is a sufficiently prosaic affair
in ordinary circumstances, but it need not be always so. What if a young
man, apparently occupied in making himself comfortable and in talking
nonsense to his friend and companion, should be secretly calculating how
the journey could be made most pleasant to a bride, and that bride his
bride? Lavender made experiments with regard to the ways and tempers of
guards; he borrowed planks of wood with which to make sleeping-couches
of an ordinary first-class carriage; he bribed a certain official to
have the compartment secured; he took note of the time when, and the
place where refreshments could be procured; all these things he did,
thinking of Sheila. And when Ingram, sometimes surprised by his
good-nature, and occasionally remonstrating against his extravagance, at
last fell asleep on the more or less comfortable cushions stretched
across the planks, Lavender would have him wake up again, that he might
be induced to talk once more about Sheila. Ingram would make use of
some wicked words, rub his eyes, ask what was the last station they had
passed, and then begin to preach to Lavender about the great obligations
he was under to Sheila, and what would be expected of him in after
times.

“You are coming away just now,” he would say, while Lavender, who could
not sleep at all, was only anxious that Sheila’s name should be
mentioned, “enriched with a greater treasure than falls to the lot of
most men. If you know how to value that treasure, there is not a king or
emperor in Europe who should not envy you.”

“But don’t you think I value it?” the other would say, anxiously.

“We’ll see about that afterwards, by what you do. But in the meantime
you don’t know what you have won. You don’t know the magnificent
single-heartedness of that girl, her keen sense of honor, nor the
strength of character, of judgment and decision that lies beneath her
apparent simplicity. Why, I have known Sheila now--But what’s the use of
talking?”

“I wish you would talk, though, Ingram,” said his companion, quite
submissively. “You have known her longer than I. I am willing to believe
all you say of her, and anxious, indeed, to know as much about her as
possible. You don’t suppose I fancy she is anything less than you say?”

“Well,” said Ingram, doubtfully, “perhaps not. The worst of it is, that
you take such odd readings of people. However, when you marry her, as I
now hope you may, you will soon find out; and then, if you are not
grateful, if you don’t understand and appreciate _then_ the fine
qualities of this girl, the sooner you put a millstone around your neck
and drop over Chelsea Bridge the better.”

“She will always have in you a good friend to look after her when she
comes to London.”

“Oh, don’t imagine I mean to thrust myself in at your breakfast table to
give you advice. If a husband and wife cannot manage their own affairs
satisfactorily, no third person can; and I am getting to be an elderly
man, who likes peace and comfort and his own quiet.”

“I wish you wouldn’t talk such nonsense,” said Lavender impetuously.
“You know you are bound to marry, and the woman you ask to marry you
will be a precious fool if she refuses. I don’t know, indeed, how you
and Sheila ever escaped--”

“Look here, Lavender,” said his companion, speaking in a somewhat more
earnest fashion, “if you marry Sheila Mackenzie I suppose I may see
something of both of you from time to time. But you are naturally
jealous and exacting, as is the way with many good fellows who have had
too much of their own will in the world; and if you start off with the
notion now that Sheila and I might ever have married, or that such a
thing was ever thought of by either of us, the certain consequence will
be that you will become jealous of me, and that in time I shall have to
stop seeing either of you if you happen to be living in London.”

“And if ever the time comes,” said Lavender, lightly, “when I prove
myself such a fool, I hope I shall remember that a millstone can be
bought in Victoria road and that Chelsea Bridge is handy.”

“All right; I’m going to sleep.”

For sometime after Ingram was permitted to rest in peace, and it was not
until they had reached some big station or other toward morning that he
woke. Lavender had never closed his eyes.

“Haven’t you been asleep?”

“No.”

“What’s the matter now?”

“My aunt.”

“You seemed to have acquired a trick recently of looking at all the
difficulties of your position at once. Why don’t you take them singly?
You’ve just got rid of Mackenzie’s opposition; that might have contented
you for a while.”

“I think the best plan will be to say nothing of this to my aunt, at
present. I think we ought to get married first, and when I take Sheila
to see her as my wife, what can she say then?”

“But what is Sheila likely to say before then? And Sheila’s father? You
must be out of your mind.”

“There will be a pretty scene, then, when I tell her.”

“Scenes don’t hurt anybody, unless when they end in brickbats or
decanters. Your aunt must know you would marry some day.”

“Yes, but you know whom she wished me to marry.”

“That’s nothing. Every old lady has a fancy for imagining possible
marriages; but your aunt is a reasonable woman, and could not possibly
object to your marrying a girl like Sheila.”

“Oh, couldn’t she? Then you don’t know her; ‘Frank, my dear, what are
the arms borne by your wife’s family?’ ‘My dear aunt I will describe
them to you as becomes a dutiful nephew. The arms are quarterly; first
and fourth, vert, a herring, argent; second and third, azure, a
solan-goose, volant, or. The crest, out of a crown vallery, argent, a
cask of whisky, gules. Supporters, dexter, a gillie; sinister, a
fisherman.’”

“And a very good coat-of-arms, too. You might add the motto _Ultimus
regum_. Or _Atavis editus regibus_. Or _Tyrrhena regum progenies_. To
think that your aunt would forbid you wedding a king’s daughter!”

“I should wed the king’s daughter, aunt or no aunt, in any case; but,
you see, it would be uncommonly awkward, just as old Mackenzie would
want to know something more particular about my circumstances; and he
might ask for references to the old lady herself, just as if I were a
tenant about to take a house.”

“I have given him enough references. Go to sleep, and don’t bother
yourself.”

But now Ingram found himself just as unable as his companion to escape
into unconsciousness, and so he roused himself thoroughly, and began to
talk about Lewis and Borva and the Mackenzies, and the duties and
responsibilities Lavender would undertake in marrying Sheila.

“Mackenzie,” he said, “will expect you to live in Stornoway at least
half the year, and it will be very hard on him if you don’t.”

“Oh, as to that,” said the other, “I should have no objection; but, you
see, if I am to get married I really think I ought to try to get into
some position of earning my own living or helping toward it, you know; I
begin to see how galling this sort of dependence on my aunt might be if
I wished to act for myself. Now, if I were to begin to do anything, I
could not go and bury myself in Lewis for half the year--just at first;
by and by, you know, it might be different. But don’t you think I ought
to begin and do something?”

“Most certainly. I have often wished you had been born a carpenter or
painter or glazier.”

“People are not born carpenters or glaziers, but sometimes they are born
painters. I think I have been born nothing; but I am willing to try,
more especially as I think Sheila would like it.”

“I know she would.”

“I will write and tell her the moment I get to London.”

“I would fix first what your occupation was to be, if I were you. There
is no hurry about telling Sheila, although she will be very glad to get
as much news of you as possible, and I hope you will spare no time or
trouble in pleasing her in that line. By-the-way, what an infamous shame
it was of you to go and gammon old Mackenzie into the belief that he can
read poetry! Why, he will make that girl’s life a burden to her. I heard
him propose to read _Paradise Lost_ to her as soon as the rain set in.”

“I didn’t gammon him,” said Lavender, with a laugh, “Every man thinks he
can read poetry better than every other man, even as every man fancies
that no one gets cigars as good and as cheap as he does, and that no one
can drive a horse safely but himself. My talking about his reading was
not as bad as Sheila’s persuading him that he can play whist. Did you
ever know a man who did not believe that everybody else’s reading of
poetry was affected, stilted and unbearable? I know Mackenzie must have
been reading poetry to Sheila long before I mentioned it to him.”

“But that suggestion about his resonant voice and the Crystal Palace!”

“That was a joke.”

“He did not take it as a joke, and neither did Sheila.”

“Well, Sheila would believe that her father could command the Channel
fleet, or turn out the present ministry, or build a bridge to America,
if only anybody hinted it to her. Touching that Crystal Palace; did you
observe how little notion of size she could have got from pictures when
she asked me if the Crystal Palace was much bigger than the hot-houses
at Lewis Castle?”

“What a world of wonder the girl is coming into!” said the other,
meditatively. “But it will be all lit up by one sun if only you take
care of her and justify her belief in you.”

“I have not much doubt,” said Lavender, with a certain modest confidence
in his manner, which had repeatedly of late pleased his friend.

Even Sheila herself could scarcely have found London more strange than
did the two men who had just returned from a month’s sojourn in the
Northern Hebrides. The dingy trees in Euston Square, the pale sunlight
that shone down on the gray pavements, the noise of the omnibuses and
carts, the multitude of strangers, the blue and mist-like smoke that
hung about Tottenham Court Road--all were as strange to them as the
sensation of sitting in a hansom and being driven along by an unseen
driver. Lavender confessed afterward that he was pervaded by an odd sort
of desire to know whether there was anybody in London at all like
Sheila. Now and again a smartly-dressed girl passed along the pavement;
what was it that made the difference between her and the other girl whom
he had just left? yet he wished to have the difference as decided as
possible, when some bright, fresh-colored, pleasant-looking girl passed,
he was anxious to prove to himself that she was not to be compared with
Sheila. Where in all London could you find eyes that told so much? He
forgot to place the specialty of Sheila’s eyes in the fact of their
being a dark gray-blue under black eyelashes. What he did remember was
that no eyes could possibly say the same things to him as they had said.
And where in all London was the same sweet aspect to be found, or the
same unconsciously proud and gentle demeanor, or the same tender
friendliness expressed in a beautiful face? He would not say anything
against London women for all that. It was no fault of theirs that they
could not be sea-kings’ daughters, with the courage and frankness and
sweetness of the sea gone into their blood. He was only too pleased to
have proved to himself, by looking at some half-dozen pretty shop-girls,
that not in London was there any one to compare with Princess Sheila.

For many a day thereafter Ingram had to suffer a good deal of this sort
of lover’s logic, and bore it with great fortitude. Indeed, nothing
pleased him more than to observe that Lavender’s affection, so far from
waning, engrossed more and more of his thought and his time; and he
listened with unfailing good-nature and patience to the perpetual talk
of his friend about Sheila and her home, and the future that might be in
store for both of them. If he had accepted half the invitations to
dinner sent down to him at the Board of Trade by his friend, he would
scarcely ever have been out of Lavender’s club. Many a long evening
they passed in this way--either in Lavender’s rooms in King street or in
Ingram’s lodgings in Sloane street. Ingram quite consented to lie in a
chair and smoke, sometimes putting in a word of caution to bring
Lavender back from the romantic Sheila to the real Sheila, sometimes
smiling at some wild proposal or statement on the part of his friend,
but always glad to see that the pretty idealisms planted during their
stay in the far North were in no danger of dying out down here in the
South. Those were great days, too, when a letter arrived from Sheila.
Nothing had been said about their corresponding, but Lavender had
written shortly after his arrival in London and Sheila had answered for
her father and herself. It wanted but a very little amount of ingenuity
to continue the interchange of letters thus begun; and when the
well-known envelope arrived high holiday was immediately proclaimed by
the recipient of it. He did not show Ingram these letters, of course,
but the contents of them were soon bit by bit revealed. He was also
permitted to see the envelope, as if Sheila’s handwriting had some
magical charm about it. Sometimes, indeed, Ingram had himself a letter
from Sheila, and that was immediately shown to Lavender. Was he
pleased to find that these communications were excessively
business-like--describing how the fishing was going on, what was doing
in the schools, and how John the Piper was conducting himself, with talk
about the projected telegraphic cable, the shooting in Harris, the
health of Bras, and other esoteric matters?

Lavender’s communications with the King of Borva were of a different
nature. Wonderful volumes on building, agriculture, and what not,
tobacco hailing from certain royal sources in the neighborhood of the
Pyramids, and now and again a new sort of rifle or some fresh invention
in fishing-tackle--these were the sort of things that found their way to
Lewis. And then in reply came haunches of venison, and kegs of rare
whisky and skins of wild animals, which, all very admirable in their
way, were a trifle cumbersome in a couple of moderate rooms in King
street, St. James’. But here Lavender hit upon a happy device. He had
long ago talked to his aunt about the mysterious potentate in the far
North, who was the ruler of man, beast and fish, and who had an only
daughter. When these presents arrived, Mrs. Lavender was informed that
they were meant for her, and was given to understand that they were the
propitiatory gifts of a half-savage monarch who wished to seek her
friendship. In vain did Ingram warn Lavender of the possible danger of
this foolish joke. The young man laughed, and would come down to Sloane
street with another story of his success as an envoy of the distant
King.

And so the months went slowly by, and Lavender raved about Sheila, and
dreamed about Sheila, and was always going to begin some splendid
achievement for Sheila’s sake, but never just managed to begin. After
all, the future did not look very terrible, and the present was
satisfactory enough. Mrs. Lavender had no objection whatever to
listening to his praises of Sheila, and had even gone the length of
approving of the girl’s photograph when it was shown her. But at the end
of six months Lavender suddenly went down to Sloane street, found Ingram
in his lodgings, and said, “Ingram, I start for Lewis to-morrow.”

“The more fool you!” was the complacent reply.

“I can’t bear this any longer; I must go and see her.”

“You’ll have to bear worse if you go. You don’t know what getting to
Lewis is in the Winter. You’ll be killed with cold before you see the
Minch.”

“I can stand a good bit of cold when there’s a reason for it,” said the
young man; “and I have written to Sheila to say I should start
to-morrow.”

“In that case I had better make use of you. I suppose you won’t mind
taking up to Sheila a sealskin jacket that I have bought for her?”

“That you have bought for her!” said the other.

How could he have spared fifteen pounds out of his narrow income for
such a present? And yet he laughed at the idea of his ever having been
in love with Sheila.

Lavender took the sealskin jacket with him, and started on his journey
to the North. It was certainly all that Ingram had prophesied in the way
of discomfort, hardship and delay. But one forenoon, Lavender, coming up
from the cabin of the steamer into which he had descended to escape from
the bitter wind and the sleet, saw before him a strange thing. In the
middle of the black sea and under a dark gray sky lay a long wonder-land
of gleaming snow. Far as the eye could see the successive headlands of
pale white jutted out into the dark ocean, until in the South they faded
into a gray mist and became invisible. And when they got into Stornoway
harbor, how black seemed the waters of the little bay, and the hulls of
the boats, and the windows of the houses against the blinding white of
the encircling hills!

“Yes,” said Lavender to the captain, “it will be a cold drive across to
Loch Roag. I shall give Mackenzie’s man a good dram before we start.”

But it was not Mackenzie’s notion of hospitality to send Duncan to meet
an honored guest, and ere the vessel was fast moored Lavender had caught
sight of the well-known pair of horses and the brown wagonette, and
Mackenzie stamping up and down in the trampled snow. And this figure
close down to the edge of the quay? Surely, there was something about
the thick gray shawl, the white feather, the set of the head, that he
knew!

“Why, Sheila!” he cried, jumping ashore before the gangway was shoved
across, “whatever made you come to Stornoway on such a day?

“And it is not much my coming to Stornoway, if you will come all the way
from England to the Lewis,” said Sheila, looking up with her bright and
glad eyes.

For six months he had been trying to recall the tones of her voice in
looking at her picture, and had failed; now he fancied that she spoke
more sweetly and musically than ever.

“Ay, ay,” said Mackenzie, when he had shaken hands with the young man,
“it wass a piece of foolishness, her coming over to meet you in
Styornoway; but the girl will be neither to hold nor to bind when she
teks a foolishness into her head.”

“Is this the character I hear of you, Sheila?” he said; and Mackenzie
laughed at his daughter’s embarrassment, and said she was a good lass
for all that, and bundled both the young folks into the inn, where
luncheon had been provided, with a blazing fire in the room, and a
kettle of hot water steaming beside it.

When they got to Borva, Lavender began to see that Mackenzie had laid
the most subtle plans for reconciling him to the hard weather of these
Northern Winters; and the young man, nothing loth, fell into his ways,
and was astonished at the amusement and interest that could be got out
of a residence in this bleak island at such a season. Mackenzie
discarded at once the feeble protection against cold and wet which his
guest had brought with him. He gave him a pair of his own knickerbockers
and enormous boots; he made him wear a frieze coat borrowed from Duncan;
he insisted on his turning down the flap of a sealskin cap and tying the
ends under his chin; and thus equipped they started on many a rare
expedition around the coast. But on their first going out, Mackenzie,
looking at him, said with some chagrin, “Will they wear gloves when they
go shooting in your country?”

“Oh,” said Lavender, “these are only a pair of old dogskins I use
chiefly to keep my hands clean. You see I have cut out the trigger
finger. And they keep your hands from being numbed, you know, with the
cold or the rain.”

“There will be not much need of that after a little while,” said
Mackenzie; and indeed, after half an hour’s tramping over snow and
climbing over rocks, Lavender was well inclined to please the old man by
tossing the gloves into the sea, for his hands were burning with heat.

Then the pleasant evenings after all the fatigues of the day were over,
clothes changed, dinner despatched, and Sheila at the open piano in that
warm little drawing-room, with its strange shells and fishes and birds!

    Love in thine eyes for ever plays;
    He in thy snowy bosom strays,

they sang, just as in the by-gone times of Summer; and now old Mackenzie
had got on a bit further in his musical studies, and could hum with the
best of them,

    He makes thy rosy lips his care,
    And walks the mazes of thy hair.

There was no Winter at all in the snug little room, with its crimson
fire and closed shutters and songs of happier times. “When the rosy morn
appearing” had nothing inappropriate in it; and if they particularly
studied the words of “Oh wert thou in the cauld blast,” it was only that
Sheila might teach her companion the Scotch pronunciation, as far as she
knew it. And once, half in joke, Lavender said he could believe it was
Summer again if Sheila had only on her slate-gray silk dress, with the
red ribbon around her neck; and sure enough, after dinner she came down
in that dress, and Lavender took her hand and kissed it in gratitude.
Just at that moment, too, Mackenzie began to swear at Duncan for not
having brought him his pipe, and not only went out of the room for it,
but was a full half hour in finding it. When he came in again he was
singing carelessly,

    Love in thine eyes for ever plays.

just as if he had got his pipe around the corner.

For it had been all explained by this time, you know, and Sheila had in
a couple of trembling words pledged away her life, and her father had
given his consent. More than that he would have done for the girl, if
need were; and when he saw the perfect happiness shining in her
eyes--when he saw that, through some vague feelings of compunction or
gratitude, or even exuberant joy, she was more than usually affectionate
toward himself--he grew reconciled to the ways of Providence, and was
ready to believe that Ingram had done them all a good turn in bringing
his friend from the South with him. If there was any haunting fear at
all, it was about the possibility of Sheila’s husband refusing to live
in Stornoway even for half the year or a portion of the year; but did
not the young man express himself as delighted beyond measure with Lewis
and the Lewis people, and the sports and scenery and climate of the
island? If Mackenzie could have bought fine weather at twenty pounds a
day, Lavender would have gone back to London with the conviction that
there was only one thing better than Lewis in Summer-time, and that was
Lewis in time of snow and frost.

The blow fell. One evening a distinct thaw set in, during the night the
wind went around to Southwest, and in the morning, lo! the very
desolation of desolation. Suainabhal, Mealasabhal, Cracabhal were all
hidden away behind dreary folds of mist; a slow and steady rain poured
down from the lowering skies on the wet rocks, the marshy pasture land
and the leafless bushes; the Atlantic lay dark under a gray fog, and you
could scarcely see across the loch in front of the house. Sometimes the
wind freshened a bit, and howled about the house or dashed showers
against the streaming panes; but ordinarily there was no sound but the
ceaseless hissing of the rain on the wet gravel at the door and the rush
of the waves along the black rocks. All signs of life seemed to have
fled from the earth and the sky. Bird and beast had alike taken shelter,
and not even a gull or a sea-pye crossed the melancholy lines of
moorland, which were half obscured by the mist of the rain.

“Well, it can’t be fine weather always,” said Lavender, cheerfully,
when Mackenzie was affecting to be greatly surprised to find such a
thing as rain in the Island of Lewis.

“No, that iss quite true,” said the old man. “It wass ferry good weather
we were having since you hef come here. And what iss a little rain?--Oh,
nothing at all. You will see it will go away whenever the wind goes
around.”

With that Mackenzie would again go out to the front of the house, take a
turn up and down the wet gravel, and pretend to be scanning the horizon
for signs of a change. Sheila, a good deal more honest, went about her
household duties, saying merely to Lavender, “I am very sorry the
weather has broken, but it may clear before you go away from Borva.”

“Before I go? Do you expect it to rain for a week?”

“Perhaps it will not, but it is looking very bad to-day,” said Sheila.

“Well, I don’t care,” said the young man, “though it should rain the
skies down, if only you would keep in doors, Sheila. But you do go out
in such a reckless fashion. You don’t seem to reflect that it is
raining.”

“I do not get wet,” she said.

“Why, when you came up from the shore half an hour ago your hair was as
wet as possible, and your face all red and gleaming with the rain.”

“But I am none the worse. And I am not wet now. It is impossible that
you will always keep in a room if you have things to do; and a little
rain does not hurt any one.”

“It occurs to me, Sheila,” he observed slowly, “that you are an
exceedingly obstinate and self-willed young person, and that no one has
ever exercised any proper control over you.”

She looked up for a moment with a sudden glance of surprise and pain;
but she saw in his eyes that he meant nothing, and she went forward to
him, putting her hand in his hand, and saying with a smile, “I am very
willing to be controlled.”

“Are you really?”

“Yes.”

“Then hear my commands. You shall _not_ go out in time of rain without
putting something over your head or taking an umbrella. You shall _not_
go out in the Maighdean-mhara without taking some one with you besides
Mairi. You shall never, if you are away from home, go within fifty
yards of the sea, so long as there is snow on the rocks.”

“But that is so very many things already; is it not enough?” said
Sheila.

“You will faithfully remember and observe these rules?”

“I will.”

“Then you are a more obedient girl then I imagined or expected; and you
may now, if you are good, have the satisfaction of offering me a glass
of sherry and a biscuit, for, rain or no rain, Lewis is a dreadful place
for making people hungry.”

Mackenzie need not have been afraid. Strange as it may appear, Lavender
was well content with the wet weather. No depression or impatience or
remonstrance was visible on his face when he went to the blurred
windows, day after day, to see only the same desolate picture--the dark
sea, the wet rocks, the gray mists over the moorland and the shining of
the red gravel before the house. He would stand with his hands in his
pocket and whistle “Love in thine eyes forever plays,” just as if he
were looking out on a cheerful Summer sunrise. When he and Sheila went
to the door, and were received by a cold blast of wet wind and a driving
shower of rain, he would slam the door to again, with a laugh, and pull
the girl back into the house. Sometimes she would not be controlled; and
then he would accompany her about the garden as she attended to her
duties, or would go down to the shore with her to give Bras a run. From
these excursions he returned in the best of spirits, with a fine color
in his face; until, having got accustomed to heavy boots, impervious
frieze and the discomfort of wet hands, he grew to be about as
indifferent to the rain as Sheila herself, and went fishing or shooting
or boating with much content, whether it was wet or dry.

“It has been the happiest month of my life--I know that,” he said to
Mackenzie as they stood together on the quay at Stornoway.

“And I hope you will hef many like it in the Lewis,” said the old man,
cheerfully.

“I think I should soon learn to become a Highlander up here,” said
Lavender, “if Sheila would only teach me the Gaelic.”

“The Gaelic!” cried Mackenzie impatiently. “The Gaelic! It is none of
the gentlemen who will come here in the Autumn will want the Gaelic; and
what for would you want the Gaelic--ay, if you was staying here all the
year round?”

“But Sheila will teach me all the same, won’t you, Sheila?” he said,
turning to his companion, who was gazing somewhat blankly at the rough
steamer and at the rough gray sea beyond the harbor.

“Yes,” said the girl; she seemed in no mood for joking.

Lavender returned to town more in love than ever; and soon the news of
his engagement was spread abroad, he nothing loath. Most of his
club-friends laughed, and prophesied it would come to nothing. How could
a man in Lavender’s position marry anybody but an heiress? He could not
afford to go and marry a fisherman’s daughter. Others came to the
conclusion that artists and writers and all that sort of people were
incomprehensible, and said “Poor beggar!” when they thought of the
fashion in which Lavender had ruined his chances in life. His lady
friends, however, were much more sympathetic. There was a dash of
romance in the story; and would not the Highland girl be a curiosity a
little while after she came to town! Was she like any of the pictures
Mr. Lavender had hanging up in his rooms? Had he not even a sketch of
her? An artist, and yet not have a portrait of the girl he had chosen to
marry? Lavender had no portrait of Sheila to show. Some little
photographs he had he kept for his own pocket-book, while in vain had he
tried to get some sketch or picture that would convey to the world of
his friends and acquaintances some notion of his future bride. They were
left to draw on their imagination for some presentment of the coming
princess.

He told Mrs. Lavender, of course. She said little, but sent for Edward
Ingram. Him she questioned in a cautious, close and yet apparently
indifferent way, and then merely said that Frank was very impetuous,
that it was a pity he had resolved on marrying out of his own sphere of
life, but that she hoped the young lady from the Highlands would prove a
good wife to him.

“I hope he will prove a good husband to her,” said Ingram, with unusual
sharpness.

“Frank is very impetuous.” That was all Mrs. Lavender would say.

By and by, as the spring grew on, and the time of the marriage was
coming nearer, the important business of taking and furnishing a house
for Sheila’s reception occupied the attention of the young man from
morning till night. He had been somewhat disappointed at the cold
fashion in which his aunt looked upon his choice, admitting everything
he had to say in praise of Sheila, but never expressing any approval of
his conduct, or hope about the future; but now she showed herself most
amiably and generously disposed. She supplied the young man with
abundant funds wherewith to furnish the house according to his own
fancy. It was a small place, fronting a somewhat commonplace square in
Notting Hill, but it was to be a miracle of artistic adornment inside.
He tortured himself for days over rival shades and hues; he drew designs
for the chairs; he himself painted a good deal of paneling; and, in
short, gave up his whole time to making Sheila’s future home beautiful.
His aunt regarded these preparations with little interest, but she
certainly gave her nephew ample means to indulge the eccentricities of
his fancy.

“Isn’t she a dear old lady?” said Lavender one night to Ingram. “Look
here! A check, received this morning, for two hundred pounds, for plate
and glass.”

Ingram looked at the bit of pale green paper: “I wish you had earned the
money yourself, or done without the plate until you could buy it with
your own money.”

“Oh, confound it, Ingram! you carry your puritanical theories too far.
Doubtless I shall earn my own living by and by. Give me time.”

“It is now nearly a year since you thought of marrying Sheila Mackenzie,
and you have not done a stroke of work yet.”

“I beg your pardon. I have worked a good deal of late, as you will see
when you come up to my rooms.”

“Have you sold a single picture since last summer?”

“I cannot make people buy my pictures if they don’t choose to do so.”

“Have you made any effort to get them sold, or to come to any
arrangement with any of the dealers?”

“I have been too busy of late--looking after this house, you know,” said
Lavender with an air of apology.

“You were not too busy to paint a fan for Mrs. Lorraine, that people say
must have occupied you for months.”

Lavender laughed: “Do you know, Ingram, I think you are jealous of Mrs.
Lorraine, on account of Sheila? Come, you shall go and see her.”

“No, thank you.”

“Are you afraid of your Puritan principles giving way?”

“I am afraid that you are a very foolish boy,” said the other, with a
good-humored shrug of resignation; “but I hope to see you mend when you
marry.”

“Ah, then you _will_ see a difference!” said Lavender, seriously; and so
the dispute ended.

It had been arranged that Ingram should go up to Lewis to the marriage,
and after the ceremony in Stornoway return to Borva with Mr. Mackenzie,
to remain with him a few days. But at the last moment Ingram was
summoned down to Devonshire on account of the serious illness of some
near relative, and accordingly Frank Lavender started by himself to
bring back with him his Highland bride. His stay in Borva was short
enough on this occasion. At the end of it there came a certain wet and
boisterous day, the occurrences in which he afterwards remembered as if
they had taken place in a dream. There were many faces about, a
confusion of tongues, a good deal of dram-drinking, a skirl of pipes,
and a hurry through the rain; but all these things gave place to the
occasional glance he got from a pair of timid and trusting and beautiful
eyes. Yet Sheila was not Sheila in that dress of white, with her face a
trifle pale. She was more his own Sheila when she had donned her rough
garments of blue, and when she stood on the wet deck of the vessel, with
a great gray shawl around her, talking to her father with a brave effort
at cheerfulness, although her lip would occasionally quiver as one or
other of her friends from Borva--many of them barefooted children--came
up to bid her good-bye. Her father talked rapidly, with a grand
affectation of indifference. He swore at the weather. He bade her see
that Bras was properly fed, and if the sea broke over his box in the
night, he was to be rubbed dry, and let out in the morning for a run up
and down the deck. She was not to forget the parcel directed to an
innkeeper at Oban. They would find Oban a very nice place at which to
break the journey to London, but as for Greenock, Mackenzie could find
no words with which to describe Greenock.

And then, in the midst of all this, Sheila suddenly said, “Papa, when
does the steamer leave?”

“In a few minutes. They have got nearly all the cargo on board.”

“Will you do me a great favor, papa?”

“Ay, but what is it, Sheila?”

“I want you not to stay here till the boat sails, and then you will have
all the people on the quay vexing you when you are going away. I want
you to bid good-bye to us now, and drive away around to the point, and
we shall see you the last of all when the steamer has got out of the
harbor.”

“Ferry well, Sheila, I will do that,” he said, knowing well why the girl
wished it.

So father and daughter bade good-bye to each other; and Mackenzie went
on shore with his face down, and said not a word to any of his friends
on the quay, but got into the wagonette, and, lashing his horses, drove
rapidly away. As he had shaken hands with Lavender, Lavender had said to
him, “Well, we shall soon be back in Borva again to see you;” and the
old man had merely tightened the grip of his hand as he left.

The roar of the steam-pipes ceased, the throb of the engines struck the
water, and the great steamer steamed away from the quay and out of the
plain of the harbor into a wide world of gray waves and wind and rain.
There stood Mackenzie as they passed, the dark figure clearly seen
against the pallid colors of the dismal day; and Sheila waved a
handkerchief to him until Stornoway and its lighthouse and all the
promontories and bays of the great island had faded into the white mists
that lay along the horizon. And then, her arm fell to her side, and for
a moment she stood bewildered, with a strange look in her eyes of grief,
and almost of despair.

“Sheila, my darling, you must go below now,” said her companion; “you
are almost dead with cold.”

She looked at him for a moment as though she had scarcely heard what he
said. But his eyes were full of pity for her; he drew her closer to him,
and put his arms around her, and then she hid her head in his bosom and
sobbed there like a child.



PART V.



CHAPTER X.

FAIRY-LAND.


“Welcome to London--!”

He was about to add “Sheila,” but suddenly stopped. The girl, who had
hastily come forward to meet him with a glad look in her eyes and with
both hands out-stretched, doubtless perceived the brief embarrassment of
the moment, and was perhaps a little amused by it. But she took no
notice of it; she merely advanced to him and caught both his hands, and
said, “And are you very well?”

It was the old and familiar salutation, uttered in the same odd, gentle,
insinuating fashion, and in the same low and sweet voice. Sheila’s stay
in Oban and the few days she had already spent in London, had not taught
her the difference between “very” and “ferry.”

“It is so strange to hear you speak in London--Mrs. Lavender,” he said,
with rather a wry face as he pronounced her full and proper title.

And now it was Sheila’s turn to look a bit embarrassed and color, and
appear uncertain whether to be vexed or pleased, when her husband
himself broke in in his usual impetuous fashion: “I say, Ingram, don’t
be a fool! Of course you must call her Sheila--unless when there are
people here, and then you must please yourself. Why, the poor girl has
enough of strange things and names about her already. I don’t know how
she keeps her head. It would bewilder me, I know; but I can see that,
after she has stood at the window for a time, and begun to get dazed by
all the wonderful sights and sounds outside, she suddenly withdraws and
fixes all her attention on some little domestic duty, just as if she
were hanging on to the practical things of life to assure herself it
isn’t all a dream. Isn’t that so, Sheila?” he said, putting his hand on
her shoulder.

“You ought not to watch me like that,” she said with a smile. “But it is
the noise that is most bewildering. There are many places I will know
already when I see them, many places and things I have known in
pictures; but now the size of them, and the noise of carriages, and the
people always passing, always different, always strangers, so that you
never see the same people any more. But I am getting very much
accustomed to it.”

“You are trying very hard to get accustomed to it, any way, my good
girl,” said her husband.

“You need not be in a hurry; you may begin to regret some day that you
have not a little of that feeling of wonder left,” said Ingram. “But you
have not told me anything of what you think about London, and of how you
like it, and how you like your house, and what you have done with Bras,
and a thousand other things.”

“I well tell you all that directly, when I have got for you some wine
and some biscuits.”

“Sheila, you can ring for them,” said her husband, but she had by that
time departed on her mission. Presently she returned, and waited upon
Ingram just as if she had been in her father’s house in Borva, with the
gentlemen in a hurry to go out to the fishing, and herself the only one
who could serve them.

She put a small table close by the French window; she drew back the
curtains as far as they would go, to show the sunshine of a bright
forenoon in May lighting up the trees in the square and gleaming on the
pale and tall fronts of the houses beyond; and she wheeled in three low
easy-chairs, so as to front this comparatively cheerful prospect.
Somehow or other, it seemed quite natural that Sheila should wheel in
those chairs. It was certainly no disrespect on the part of either her
husband or her visitor which caused both of them to sit still and give
her her own way about such things. Indeed, Lavender had not as yet ever
attempted to impress upon Sheila the necessity of cultivating the art of
helplessness.

That, with other social graces, would, perhaps, come in good time. She
would soon acquire the habits and ways of her friends and acquaintances,
without his trying to force upon her a series of affectations, which
would only embarrass her and cloud the perfect frankness and spontaneity
of her nature. Of one thing he was quite assured--that whatever mistakes
Sheila might make in society they would never render her ridiculous.
Strangers might not know the absolute sincerity of every word and act,
which gave her a courage that had no fear of criticism, but they could
at least see the simple grace and dignity of the girl, and that natural
ease of manner which is beyond the reach of cultivation, being mainly
the result of a thorough consciousness of honesty. To burden her with
rules and regulations of conduct would be to produce the very
catastrophes he wished to avoid. Where no attempt is made, failure is
impossible; and he was meanwhile well content that Sheila should simply
appear as Sheila, even although she might draw in a chair for a guest,
or so far forget her dignity as to pour out some wine for her husband.

“After all, Sheila,” said Lavender, “hadn’t I better begin and tell
Ingram about your surprise and delight when you came near Oban and saw
the tall hotels and the trees? It was the trees, I think, that struck
you most, because, you know, those in Lewis--well, to tell the
truth--the fact is, the trees of Lewis--as I was saying, the trees of
Lewis are not just--they cannot be said to be--”

“You bad boy, to say anything against the Lewis!” exclaimed Sheila; and
Ingram held that she was right, and that there were certain sorts of
ingratitude more disgraceful than others, and that this was just about
the worst.

“Oh, I have brought all the good away from Lewis,” said Lavender with a
careless impertinence.

“No,” said Sheila, proudly. “You have not brought away my papa, and
there is not any one in this country I have seen as good as he is.”

“My dear, your experience of the thirty millions of folks in these
islands is quite convincing. I was wholly in the wrong; and if you
forgive me we shall celebrate our reconciliation in a cigarette--that is
to say, Ingram and I will perform the rites, and you can look on.”

So Sheila went away to get the cigarettes also.

“You don’t say you smoke in your drawing-room, Lavender?” said Ingram,
mindful of the fastidious ways of his friend, even when he had
bachelor’s rooms in King street.

“Don’t I, though? I smoke everywhere--all over the place. Don’t you see
we have no visitors yet. No one is supposed to know we have come South.
Sheila must get all sorts of things before she can be introduced to my
friends and my aunt’s friends, and the house must be put to rights, too.
You wouldn’t have her go to see my aunt in that sailor’s costume she
used to rush about in up in Lewis?”

“That is precisely what I would have,” said Ingram, “She cannot look
more handsome in any other dress.”

“Why, my aunt would fancy I had married a savage; I believe she fears
something of the sort now.”

“And you haven’t told even her that you are in London?”

“No.”

“Well, Lavender, that is a precious silly performance. Suppose she hears
of your being in town, what will you say to her?”

“I should tell her I wanted a few days to get my wife properly dressed
before taking her about.”

Ingram shrugged his shoulders: “Perhaps you are right. Perhaps, indeed,
it would be better if you waited six months before you introduced Sheila
to your friends. At present you seem to be keeping the foot-lights
turned down until everything is ready for the first scene, and then
Sheila is to burst upon society in a blaze of light and color. Well,
that is harmless enough; but look here! You don’t know much about her
yet; you will be mainly anxious to hear what the audience, as it were,
say of her; and there is just a chance of your adopting their
impressions and opinions of Sheila, seeing that you have no very fixed
ones of your own. Now, what your social circle may think about her is a
difficult thing to decide; and I confess I would rather have seen you
remain six months in Lewis before bringing her up here.”

Ingram was at least a candid friend. It was not the first nor the
hundredth time that Frank Lavender had to endure small lectures, uttered
in a slow, deliberate voice, and yet with an indifference of manner
which showed that Ingram cared very little how sharply his words struck
home. He rarely even apologized for his bluntness. These were his
opinions; Lavender could take them or leave them, as he liked. And the
younger man, after finding his face flush a bit on being accused of
wishing to make a dramatic impression with Sheila’s entrance into London
society, laughed in an embarrassed way, and said, “It is impossible to
be angry with you, Ingram, and yet you do talk so absurdly. I wonder who
is likely to know more about the character of a girl than her own
husband?”

“You may in time; you don’t now,” said Ingram, carefully balancing a
biscuit on the point of his finger.

“The fact is,” said Lavender, with good-natured impatience, “you are the
most romantic card I know, and there is no pleasing you. You have all
sorts of exalted notions about things, about sentiments and duties, and
so forth. Well, all that is true enough, and would be right enough if
the world were filled with men and women like yourself; but then it
isn’t, you see, and one has to give in to conventionalities of dress and
living and ceremonies, if one wants to retain one’s friends. Now, I like
to see you going about with that wide-awake--it suits your brown
complexion and beard--and that stick that would do for herding sheep;
and the costume looks well, and is business-like and excellent when
you’re off for a walk over the Surrey downs or lying on the river-banks
about Henley or Cookham; but it isn’t, you know, the sort of costume for
a stroll in the Park.”

“Whenever God withdraws from me my small share of common sense,” said
Ingram, slowly, “so far that I shall begin to think of having my clothes
made for the purpose of walking in Hyde Park, well--”

“But don’t you see,” said Lavender, “that one must meet one’s friends,
especially when one is married; and when you know that at a certain hour
in the forenoon they are all to be found in a particular place, and that
a very pleasant place, and that you will do yourself good by having a
walk in the fresh air, and so forth, I really don’t see anything very
immoral in going down for an hour or so to the Park.”

“Don’t you think the pleasure of seeing one’s friends might be postponed
till one had done some sort of good day’s work?”

“There now!” cried Lavender, “that is another of your delusions. You are
always against superstitions, and yet you make work a fetish. You do
with work just as women do with duty; they carry about with them a
convenient little God, and they are always worshiping it with small
sacrifices, and complimenting themselves on a series of little
martyrdoms that are of no good to anybody. Of course, duty wouldn’t be
duty if it wasn’t disagreeable, and when they go nursing the sick--and
they could get it better done for fifteen shillings a week by somebody
else--they don’t mind coming back to their families with the seeds of
typhus about their gowns; and when they crush the affections in order
to worship at the shrine of duty, they don’t consider that they may be
making martyrs of other folks, who don’t want martyrdom and get no sort
of pleasure out of it. Now, what in all the world is the good of work as
work? I believe that work is an unmistakable evil, but when it is a
necessity I suppose you get some sort of selfish satisfaction in
overcoming it; and doubtless if there was any immediate necessity in my
case--I don’t deny the necessity may arise, and that I should like
nothing better than to work for Sheila’s sake--”

“Now, you are coming to the point,” said Ingram, who had been listening
with his usual patience to his friend’s somewhat chaotic speculations.
“Perhaps you may have to work for your wife’s sake and your own; and I
confess I am surprised to see you so content with your present
circumstances. If your aunt’s property legally reverted to you, if you
had any sort of family claim on it, that would make some little
difference; but you know that any sudden quarrel between you might leave
you penniless to-morrow.”

“In which case I should begin to work to-morrow, and I should come to
you for my first commission.”

“And you shouldn’t have it. I would leave you to go and fight the world
for yourself; without which a man knows nothing of himself or of his
relations with those around him.”

“Frank, dear, here are the cigarettes,” said Sheila, at this point; and
as she came and sat down the discussion ceased.

For Sheila began to tell her friend of all the strange adventures that
had befallen her since she left the far island of Lewis--how she had
seen with fear the great mountains of Skye lit up by the wild glare of a
stormy sunrise; how she had seen with astonishment the great fir woods
of Armadale; and how green and beautiful were the shores of the Sound of
Mull. And then Oban, with its shining houses, its blue bay, and its
magnificent trees, all lit up by a fair and still sunshine! She had not
imagined there was anywhere in the world so beautiful a place, and could
scarcely believe that London itself was more rich and noble and
impressive; for there were beautiful ladies walking along the broad
pavements, and there were shops with large windows that seemed to
contain everything that the mind could desire, and there was a whole
fleet of yachts in the bay. But it was the trees, above all, that
captivated her; and she asked if they were lords who owned those
beautiful houses built up on the hill, and half smothered among lilacs
and ash trees and rowan trees and ivy.

“My darling,” Lavender had said to her, “if your papa were to come and
live here, he could buy half a dozen of those cottages, gardens and all.
They are mostly the property of well-to-do shopkeepers. If this little
place takes your fancy, what will you say when you go South--when you
see Wimbledon and Richmond and Kew, with their grand old commons and
trees? Why, you could hide Oban in a corner of Richmond Park!”

“And my papa has seen all those places!”

“Yes. Don’t you think it strange he should have seen them all, and known
he could live in any one of them, and then gone away back to Borva?”

“But what would the poor people have done if he had never gone back?”

“Oh, some one else would have taken his place.”

“And then, if he were living here or in London, he might have got tired,
and he might have wished to go back to the Lewis and see all the people
he knew; and then he would come among them like a stranger, and have no
house to go to.”

Then Lavender said quite gently, “Do you think, Sheila, you will ever
tire of living in the South?”

The girl looked up quickly, and said, with a sort of surprised
questioning in her eyes, “No, not with you. But then we shall often go
to the Lewis?”

“Oh, yes,” her husband said, “as often as we can conveniently. But it
will take some time at first, you know, before you get to know all my
friends who are to be your friends, and before you get properly fitted
into our social circle. That will take you a long time, Sheila, and you
may have many annoyances or embarrassments to encounter; but you won’t
be very much afraid, my girl?”

Sheila merely looked up to him; there was no fear in the frank, brave
eyes.

The first large town she saw struck a cold chill to her heart. On a wet
and dismal afternoon they sailed into Greenock. A heavy smoke hung about
the black building-yards and the dirty quays; the narrow and squalid
streets were filled with mud, and only the poorer sections of the
population waded through the mire or hung disconsolately about the
corners of the thoroughfares. A gloomier picture could not well be
conceived; and Sheila, chilled with the long and wet sail, and
bewildered by the noise and bustle of the harbor, was driven to the
hotel with a sore heart and a downcast face.

“This is not like London, Frank?” she said, pretty nearly ready to cry
with disappointment.

“This? No. Well, it is like a part of London, certainly, but not the
part you will live in.”

“But how can we live in the one place without passing the other and
being made miserable by it? There was no part of Oban like this.”

“Why, you will live miles away from the docks and quays of London. You
might live for a lifetime in London without ever knowing it had a
harbor. Don’t you be afraid, Sheila. You will live in a district where
there are far finer houses than any you saw in Oban, and far finer
trees; and within a few minutes’ walk you will find great gardens and
parks, with lakes in them and wild fowls, and you will be able to teach
the boys about how to set the helm and the sails when they are launching
their small boats.”

“I should like that,” said Sheila, her face brightening.

“Perhaps you would like a boat yourself?”

“Yes,” she said, frankly. “If there were not many people there, we might
go out sometimes in the evening--”

Her husband laughed and took her hand: “You don’t understand, Sheila.
The boats the boys have are little things a foot or two long--like the
one in your papa’s bedroom in Borva. But many of the boys would be
greatly obliged to you if you would teach them how to manage the sails
properly, for sometimes dreadful shipwrecks occur.”

“You must bring them to our house. I am very fond of little boys, when
they begin to forget to be shy, and let you become acquainted with
them.”

“Well,” said Lavender, “I don’t know many of the boys who sail boats in
the Serpentine; you will have to make their acquaintance yourself. But I
know one boy whom I must bring to the house. He is a German-Jew boy, who
is going to be another Mendelssohn, his friends say. He is a pretty boy,
with ruddy-brown hair, big black eyes, and a fine forehead, and he
really sings and plays delightfully. But you know, Sheila, you must not
treat him as a boy; for he is over fourteen, I should think; and if you
were to kiss him--”

“He might be angry,” said Sheila, with perfect simplicity.

“I might,” said Lavender; and then, noticing that she seemed a little
surprised, he merely patted her head and bade her go and get ready for
dinner.

Then came the great climax of Sheila’s southward journey--her arrival in
London. She was all anxiety to see her future home; and, as luck would
have it, there was a fair spring morning shining over the city. For a
couple of hours before she had sat and looked out of the carriage-window
as the train whirled rapidly through the scarcely awakened country, and
she had seen the soft and beautiful landscapes of the South lit up by
the early sunlight. How the bright little villages shone, with here and
there a gilt weathercock glittering on the spire of some small gray
church, while as yet in many valleys a pale gray mist lay along the bed
of the level streams, or clung to the dense woods on the upland heights!
Which was the more beautiful--the sharp, clear picture, with its
brilliant colors and its awakening life, or the more mystic landscape
over which was still drawn the tender veil of the morning haze? She
could not tell. She only knew that England, as she then saw it, seemed a
great country that was very beautiful, that had few inhabitants, and
that was still and sleepy and bathed in sunshine. How happy must the
people be who lived in those quiet green valleys by the side of slow and
smooth rivers, and amid great woods and avenues and stately trees, the
like of which she had not imagined in her dreams.

But from the moment they got out at Euston Square she seemed a trifle
bewildered, and could only do implicitly as her husband bade
her--clinging to his hand, for the most part, as if to make sure of
guidance. She did, indeed, glance somewhat nervously at the hansom into
which Lavender put her, apparently asking how such a tall and narrow
two-wheeled vehicle could be prevented toppling over. But when he,
having sent on all their luggage by a respectable old four-wheeler, got
into the hansom beside her, and put his hand inside her arm, and bade
her be of good cheer, that she should have such a pleasant morning to
welcome her to London, she said, “Yes,” mechanically, and only looked
out in a wistful fashion at the great houses and trees of Euston
Square, the mighty and roaring stream of omnibuses, the droves of
strangers, mostly clad in black, as if they were going to church, and
the pale blue smoke that seemed to mix with the sunshine and make it
cold and distant.

They were in no hurry, these two, on that still morning, and so, to
impress Sheila all at once with a sense of the greatness and grandeur of
London, he made the cabman cut down by Park Crescent and Portland Place
to Regent Circus. Then they went along Oxford Street; and there were
crowded omnibuses taking young men into the city, while all the
pavements were busy with hurrying passersby. What multitudes of unknown
faces, unknown to her and unknown to each other? These people did not
speak; they only hurried on, each intent upon his own affairs, caring
nothing, apparently, for the din around them, and looking so strange and
sad in their black clothes in the pale and misty sunlight.

“You are in a trance, Sheila,” he said.

She did not answer. Surely she had wandered into some magical city, for
now the houses on one side of the way suddenly ceased, and she saw
before her a great and undulating extent of green, with a border of
beautiful flowers, and with groups of trees that met the sky all along
the Southern horizon. Did the green and beautiful country she had seen
shoot in thus into the heart of the town, or was there another city far
away on the other side of the trees? The place was almost as deserted as
those still valleys she had passed by in the morning. Here, in the
street, there was the roar of a passing crowd, but there was a long and
almost deserted stretch of park, with winding roads and umbrageous
trees, on which the wan sunlight fell from between loose masses of
half-golden cloud.

Then they passed Kensington Gardens, and there were more people walking
down the broad highways between the elms.

“You are getting nearly home now, Sheila,” he said, “and you will be
able to come and walk in these avenues whenever you please.”

Was this, then, her home? this section of a barrack-row of dwellings,
all alike in steps, pillars, doors and windows? When she got inside the
servant who had opened the door bobbed a curtsey to her; should she
shake hands with her and say, “And are you ferry well?” But at this
moment Lavender came running up the steps, playfully hurried her into
the house and up the stairs, and led her into her own drawing-room.
“Well, darling, what do you think of your home, now that you see it?”

Sheila looked around timidly. It was not a big room, but it was a palace
in height and grandeur and color compared with that little museum in
Borva in which Sheila’s piano stood. It was all so strange and
beautiful--the split pomegranates and quaint leaves on the upper part of
the walls, and underneath a dull slate-color, where the pictures hung;
the curious paintings on the frames of the mirrors; the brilliant
curtains, with their stiff and formal patterns. It was not very much
like a home as yet; it was more like a picture that had been carefully
planned and executed; but she knew how he had thought of pleasing her in
choosing these things, and without saying a word she took his hand and
kissed it. And then she went to one of the three tall French windows and
looked out on the square. There, between the trees, was a space of
beautiful soft green, and some children dressed in bright dresses, and
attended by a governess in sober black, had just begun to play croquet.
An elderly lady with a small white dog was walking along one end of the
graveled paths. An old man was pruning some bushes.

“It is very still and quiet here,” said Sheila. “I was afraid that we
should have to live in that terrible noise always.”

“I hope you won’t find it dull, my darling,” he said.

“Dull, when you are here?”

“But I cannot always be here, you know?”

She looked up.

“You see, a man is so much in the way if he is dawdling about the house
all day long. You would begin to regard me as a nuisance, Sheila, and
would be for sending me out to play croquet with those young Carruthers,
merely that you might get the rooms dusted. Besides, you know I couldn’t
work here: I must have a studio of some sort--in the neighborhood, of
course. And then you will give me your orders in the morning as to when
I am to come round for luncheon or dinner.”

“And you will be alone all day at your work?”

“Yes.”

“Then I will come and sit with you, my poor boy,” she said.

“Much work I should do in that case!” he said. “But we’ll see. In the
meantime go up stairs and get your things off; that young person below
has breakfast ready, I dare say.”

“But you have not shown me yet where Mr. Ingram lives,” said Sheila
before she went to the door.

“Oh, that is miles away. You have only seen a little bit of London yet.
Ingram lives about as far away from here as the distance you have just
come, but in another direction.”

“It is like a world made of houses,” said Sheila, “and all filled with
strangers. But you will take me to see Mr. Ingram?”

“By-and-by, yes. But he is sure to drop in on you as soon as he fancies
you are settled in your new home.”

And here, at last, was Mr. Ingram come; and the mere sound of his voice
seemed to carry her back to Borva, so that in talking to him and waiting
on him as of old, she would scarcely have been surprised if her father
had walked in to say that a coaster was making for the harbor, or that
Duncan was going over to Stornoway and Sheila would have to give him
commissions. Her husband did not take the same interest in the social
and political affairs of Borva that Mr. Ingram did. Lavender had made a
pretence of assisting Sheila in her work among the poor people, but the
effort was a hopeless failure. He could not remember the name of a poor
family that wanted a new boat, and was visibly impatient when Sheila
would sit down to write out for some aged crone a letter to her grandson
in Canada. Now, Ingram, for the mere sake of occupation, had qualified
himself during his various visits to Lewis, so that he might have become
the home minister of the King of Borva; and Sheila was glad to have one
attentive listener as she described all the wonderful things that had
happened in the island since the previous Summer.

But Ingram had got a full and complete holiday on which to come up and
see Sheila; and he had brought with him the wild and startling proposal
that in order that she should take her first plunge into the pleasures
of civilized life, her husband and herself should drive down to Richmond
and dine at the Star and Garter.

“What is that?” said Sheila.

“My dear girl,” said the husband, seriously, “your ignorance is
something fearful to contemplate. It is quite bewildering. How can a
person who does not know what the Star and Garter is, be told what the
Star and Garter is?”

“But I am willing to go and see,” said Sheila.

“Then I must look after getting a brougham,” said Lavender, rising.

“A brougham on such a day as this?” exclaimed Ingram. “Nonsense! Get an
open trap of some sort; and Sheila, just to please me, will put on that
very blue dress she used to wear in Borva, and the hat and the white
feather, if she has got them.”

“Perhaps you would like me to put on a sealskin cap and a red
handkerchief instead of a collar,” observed Lavender, calmly.

“You may do as you please. Sheila and I are going to dine at the Star
and Garter.”

“May I put on that blue dress?” said the girl, going up to her husband.

“Yes, of course, if you like,” said Lavender, meekly, going off to order
the carriage, and wondering by what route he could drive those two
maniacs down to Richmond, so that none of his friends should see them.

When he came back again, bringing with him a landau, which could be shut
up for the homeward journey at night, he had to confess that no costume
seemed to suit Sheila so well as the rough sailor-dress; and he was so
pleased with her appearance that he consented at once to let Bras go
with them in the carriage, on condition that Sheila should be
responsible for him. Indeed, after the first shiver of driving away from
the square was over, he forgot that there was much unusual about the
look of his odd pleasure-party. If you had told him eighteen months
before, that on a bright day in May, just as the people were going home
from the Park for luncheon, he would go for a drive in a hired trap,
with one horse, his companions being a man with a brown wide-awake, a
girl, dressed as though she were the owner of a yacht, and an immense
deerhound, and that in this fashion he would dare to drive up to the
Star and Garter and order dinner, he would have bet five hundred to one
that such a thing would never occur so long as he preserved his senses.
But somehow he did not mind much. He was very much at home with those
two people beside him; the day was bright and fresh; the horse went a
good pace; and once they were over Hammersmith Bridge and out among
fields and trees, the country looked exceedingly pretty, and the beauty
of it was mirrored in Sheila’s eyes.

“I can’t quite make you out in that dress, Sheila,” he said “I am not
sure whether it is real and business-like or a theatrical costume. I
have seen girls on Ryde Pier with something of the same sort on, only a
good deal more pronounced, you know, and they looked like sham
yachtsmen; and I have seen stewardesses wearing that color and texture
of cloth--”

“But why not have it as it is,” said Ingram--“a solitary costume
produced by certain conditions of climate and duties, acting in
conjunction with a natural taste for harmonious coloring and simple
form? That dress, I will maintain, sprang as naturally from the salt sea
as Aphrodite did; and the man who suspects artifice in it or invention,
has had his mind perverted by the skepticism of modern society.”

“Is my dress so very wonderful?” said Sheila, with a grave complaisance.
“I am pleased that the Lewis has produced such a fine thing, and perhaps
you would like me to tell you its history. It was my papa bought a piece
of blue serge in Stornoway; it cost three shillings sixpence a yard, and
a dressmaker in Stornoway cut it for me, and I made it myself. That is
all the history of the wonderful dress.”

Suddenly Sheila seized her husband’s arm. They had got down to the river
by Mortlake; and there, on the broad bosom of the stream, a long and
slender boat was shooting by, pulled by four oarsmen clad in white
flannel.

“How can they go out in such a boat?” said Sheila, with great alarm
visible in her eyes. “It is scarcely a boat at all; and if they touch a
rock or the wind catches them--”

“Don’t be frightened, Sheila,” said her husband. “They are quite safe.
There are no rocks in our rivers, and the wind does not give us squalls
here like those on Loch Roag. You will see hundreds of those boats by
and by, and perhaps you yourself will go out in one.”

“Oh, never, never!” she said, almost with a shudder.

“Why, if the people here heard you they would not know how brave a
sailor you are. You are not afraid to go out at night by yourself on the
sea, and you won’t go on a smooth inland river--”

“But those boats; if you touch them they must go over.”

She seemed glad to get away from the river. She could not be persuaded
of the safety of the slender craft of the Thames; and indeed for some
time after seemed so strangely depressed that Lavender begged and prayed
of her to tell him what was the matter. It was simple enough. She had
heard him speak of his boating adventures. Was it in such boats as that
she had just seen? and might he not be some day going out in one of
them, and an accident--the breaking of an oar, a gust of wind--

There was nothing for it but to reassure her by a solemn promise that in
no circumstances whatever would he, Lavender, go into a boat without her
express permission, whereupon Sheila was as grateful to him as though he
had dowered her with a kingdom.

This was not the Richmond Hill of her fancy--this spacious height, with
its great mansions, its magnificent elms, and its view of all the
Westward and wooded country, with the blue-white streak of the river
winding through the green foliage. Where was the farm? The famous Lass
of Richmond Hill must have lived on a farm, but here surely were the
houses of great lords and nobles, which had apparently been there for
years and years. And was this really a hotel that they stopped at--this
great building that she could only compare to Stornoway Castle?

“Now, Sheila,” said Lavender, after they had ordered dinner and gone
out, “mind you keep a tight hold on that leash, for Bras will see
strange things in the Park.”

“It is I who will see strange things,” she said; and the prophecy was
amply fulfilled. For as they went along the broad path, and came better
into view of the splendid undulation of woodland and pasture and fern,
when on the one hand they saw the Thames, far below them, flowing
through the green and spacious valley, and on the other hand caught some
dusky glimpse of the far white houses of London, it seemed to her that
she had got into a new world, and that this world was far more beautiful
than the great city she had left. She did not care so much for the
famous view from the hill. She had cast one quick look to the horizon,
with one throb of expectation that the sea might be there. There was no
sea there--only the faint blue of long lines of country apparently
without limit. Moreover, over the Western landscape a faint haze
prevailed, that increased in the distance and softened down the more
distant woods into a sober gray. That great extent of wooded plain,
lying sleepily in its pale mists, was not so cheerful as the scene
around her, where the sunlight was sharp and clear, the air fresh, the
trees flooded with a pure and bright color.

Here, indeed, was a cheerful and beautiful world, and she was full of
curiosity to know all about it and its strange features. What was the
name of this tree? and how did it differ from that? Were not these
rabbits over by the fence? and did rabbits live in the midst of trees
and bushes? What sort of wood was the fence made of? and was it not
terribly expensive to have such a protection? Could not he tell the cost
of a wooden fence? Why did they not use wire netting? Was not that a
loch away down there? and what was its name? A loch without a name! Did
the salmon come up to it? and did any sea birds ever come inland and
build their nests on its margin?

“Oh, Bras, you must come and look at the loch. It is a long time since
you will see a loch.”

And away she went through the thick breckan, holding on to the swaying
leash that held the galloping grayhound, and running swiftly as though
she had been making down for the shore to get out the Maighdean-mhara.

“Sheila,” called her husband, “don’t be foolish!”

“Sheila,” called Ingram, “have pity on an old man!”

Suddenly she stopped. A brace of partridges had sprung up at some
distance, and, with a wild whirr of their wings, were now directing
their low and rapid flight toward the bottom of the valley.

“What birds are those?” she said peremptorily.

She took no notice of the fact that her companions were pretty nearly
too blown to speak. There was a brisk life and color in her face, and
all her attention was absorbed in watching the flight of the birds.
Lavender fancied he saw in the fixed and keen look something of old
Mackenzie’s gray eye; it was the first trace of a likeness to her father
he had seen.

“You bad girl!” he said, “they are partridges.”

She paid no heed to this reproach, for what were those other things over
there underneath the trees? Bras had pricked up his ears, and there was
a strange excitement in his look and in his trembling frame.

“Deer!” she cried, with her eyes as fixed as were those of the dog
beside her.

“Well,” said the husband calmly; “what although they are deer?”

“But Bras--” she said; and with that she caught the leash with both her
hands.

“Bras won’t mind them if you keep him quiet. I suppose you can manage
him better than I can. I wish we had brought a whip.”

“I would rather let him kill every deer in the Park than touch him with
a whip,” said Sheila proudly.

“You fearful creature, you don’t know what you say. That is high
treason. If George Ranger heard you he would have you hanged in front of
the Star and Garter.”

“Who is George Ranger?” said Sheila with an air, as if she had said, “Do
you know that I am the daughter of the King of Borva, and whoever
touches me will have to answer to my papa, who is not afraid of any
George Ranger?”

“He is a great lord who hangs all persons who disturb the deer in this
Park.”

“But why do they not go away?” said Sheila, impatiently. “I have never
seen any deer so stupid. It is their own fault if they are disturbed;
why do they remain so near to people and to houses?”

“My dear child, if Bras wasn’t here you would probably find some of
those deer coming up to see if you had any bits of sugar or pieces of
bread about your pockets.”

“Then they are like sheep--they are not like deer,” she said, with some
contempt. “If I could only tell Bras that it is sheep he will be looking
at, he would not look any more. And so small they are! They are as small
as the roe, but they have horns as big as many of the red deer. Do
people eat them?”

“I suppose so.”

“And what will they cost?”

“I am sure I can’t tell you.”

“Are they as good as the roe or the big deer?”

“I don’t know that, either. I don’t think I ever ate fallow-deer. But
you know they are not kept here for that purpose. A great many gentlemen
in this country keep a lot of them in their parks merely to look pretty.
They cost a great deal more than they produce.”

“They must eat up a great deal of fine grass,” said Sheila, almost
sorrowfully. “It is a beautiful ground for sheep--no rushes, no
peat-moss, only fine, good grass and dry land. I should like my papa to
see all this beautiful ground.”

“I fancy he has seen it.”

“Was my papa here?”

“I think he said so.”

“And did he see those deer?”

“Doubtless.”

“He never told me of them.”

By this time they had pretty nearly got down to the little lake, and
Bras had been alternately coaxed and threatened into a quiescent mood.
Sheila evidently expected to hear a flapping of sea-fowls’ wings when
they got near the margin, and looked all around for the first sudden
dart from the banks. But a dead silence prevailed, and as there were
neither fish nor birds to watch, she went along to a wooden bench and
sat down there, one of her companions on each hand. It was a pretty
scene that lay before her--the small stretch of water ruffled with the
wind, but showing a dash of blue sky here and there, the trees in the
inclosure beyond clad in their summer foliage, the smooth green sward
shining in the afternoon sunlight. Here, at least, was absolute quiet
after the roar of London; and it was somewhat wistfully that she asked
her husband how far this place was from her home, and whether, when he
was at work, she could not come down here by herself.

“Certainly,” he said, never dreaming that she would think of doing such
a thing.

By-and-by they returned to the hotel, and while they sat at dinner a
great fire of sunset spread over the West, and the far woods became of a
rich purple, streaked here and there with lines of a pale white mist.
The river caught the glow of the crimson clouds above, and shone duskily
red amid the dark green of the trees. Deeper and deeper grew the color
of the sun as it sank to the horizon, until it disappeared behind one
low bar of purple cloud, and the wild glow in the West slowly faded
away, the river became pallid and indistinct, the white mists over the
distant woods seemed to grow denser, and then, as here and there a lamp
was lit far down in the valley, one or two pale stars appeared in the
sky overhead, and the night came on apace.

“It is so strange,” Sheila said, “to find the darkness coming on and not
to hear the sound of the waves. I wonder if it is a fine night at
Borva!”

Her husband went over to her and led her back to the table, where the
candles, shining over the white cloth and the colored glasses, offered a
more cheerful picture than the deepening landscape outside. They were in
a private room, so that when dinner was over, Sheila was allowed to
amuse herself with the fruit, while her two companions lit their cigars.
Where was the quaint old piano now, and the glass of hot whisky and
water, and the “Lament of Monaltrie” or “Love in thine eyes for ever
plays?” It seemed but for the greatness of the room, to be a repetition
of one of those evenings at Borva, that now belonged to a far off past.
Here was Sheila, not minding the smoke, listening to Ingram as of old,
and sometimes saying something in that sweetly inflected speech of hers;
here was Ingram, talking, as it were, out of a brown study, and morosely
objecting to pretty nearly everything Lavender said, but always ready to
prove Sheila right; and Lavender himself, as unlike a married man as
ever, talking impatiently, impetuously and wildly, except at such times
as he said something to his young wife, and then some brief smile and
look, or some pat on the hand said more than words. But where, Sheila
may have thought, was the one wanting to complete the group? Has he gone
down to Borvapost to see about the cargoes of fish to be sent off in the
morning? Perhaps he is talking to Duncan outside about the cleaning of
the guns, or making up cartridges in the kitchen. When Sheila’s
attention wandered away from the talk of her companions she could not
help listening for the sound of the waves; and as there was no such
message coming to her from the great wooded plain without, her fancy
took her away across that mighty country she had traveled through, and
carried her up to the island of Loch Roag, until she almost fancied she
could smell the peat-smoke in the night air, and listen to the sea, and
hear her father pacing up and down the gravel outside the house, perhaps
thinking of her as she was thinking of him.

This little excursion to Richmond was long remembered by those three. It
was the last of their meetings before Sheila was ushered into the big
world to busy herself with new occupations and cares. It was a pleasant
little journey throughout, for as they got into the landau to drive back
to town, the moon was shining high up in the Southern heavens, and the
air was mild and fresh, so that they had the carriage opened, and
Sheila, well wrapped up, lay and looked around her with a strange wonder
and joy as they drove underneath the shadow of the trees and out again
into the clear sheen of the night. They saw the river, too, flowing
smoothly and palely down between its dark banks; and somehow here the
silence checked them, and they hummed no more those duets they used to
sing up at Borva. Of what were they thinking, then, as they drove
through the clear night along the lonely road? Lavender, at least, was
rejoicing at his great good fortune that he had secured for ever to
himself the true-hearted girl who now sat opposite to him, with the
moonlight touching her face and hair; and he was laughing to himself at
the notion that he did not properly appreciate her, or understand her,
or perceive her real character. If not he, who then? Had he not watched
every turn of her disposition, every expression of her wishes, every
grace of her manner and look of her eyes? and was he not overjoyed to
find that the more he knew of her the more he loved her?

Marriage had increased rather than diminished the mystery and wonder he
had woven about her. He was more her lover now than he had been before
his marriage. Who could see in her eyes what he saw? Elderly folks can
look at a girl’s eyes and see that they are brown or blue or green, as
the case may be; but the lover looks at them and sees in them the magic
mirror of a hundred possible worlds. How can he fathom the sea of dreams
that lies there, or tell what strange fancies or reminiscences may be
involved in an absent look? Is she thinking of starlit nights on some
distant lake, or of the old by-gone days on the hills? All her former
life is told there, and yet but half told, and he longs to become
possessed of all the beautiful past that she has seen. Here is a
constant mystery to him, and there is a singular and wistful attraction
for him in those still deeps where the thoughts and dreams of an
innocent soul lie but half revealed. He does not see those things in the
eyes of women he is not in love with; but when, in after years, he is
carelessly regarding this or the other woman, some chance look, some
brief and sudden turn of expression, will recall to him, as with a
stroke of lightning, all the old wonder-time, and his heart will go nigh
to breaking to think that he has grown old, and that he has forgotten so
much, and that the fair, wild days of romance and longing are passed
away forever.

“Ingram thinks I don’t understand you yet, Sheila,” he said to her,
after they had got home and their friends had gone.

Sheila only laughed, and said, “I don’t understand myself sometimes.”

“Eh? What?” he cried. “Do you mean to say that I have married a
conundrum? If I have I don’t mean to give you up, anyway, so you may go
and get a biscuit and a drop of the whisky we brought from the North
with us.”



CHAPTER XI.

THE FIRST PLUNGE.


Frank Lavender was a good deal more concerned than he chose to show
about the effect that Sheila was likely to produce on his aunt; and when
at length the day arrived on which the young folks were to go down to
Kensington Gore, he had inwardly to confess that Sheila seemed a great
deal less perturbed than himself. Her perfect calmness and
self-possession surprised him. The manner in which she had dressed
herself, with certain modifications which he could not help approving,
according to the fashion of the time, seemed to him a miracle of
dexterity; and how had she acquired the art of looking at ease in this
attire, which was much more cumbrous than she had usually worn in Borva?

If Lavender had but known the truth, he would have begun to believe
something of what Ingram had vaguely hinted. This poor girl was looking
toward her visit to Kensington Gore as the most painful trial of her
life. While she was outwardly calm and firm, and even cheerful, her
heart sank within her as she thought of the dreaded interview. Those
garments which she wore with such an appearance of ease and comfort, had
been the result of many an hour of anxiety, for how was she to tell,
from her husband’s raillery, what colors the terrible old lady in
Kensington would probably like? He did not know that every word he said
in joke about his aunt’s temper, her peevish ways, the awful
consequences of offending her, and so forth, were like so many needles
stuck into the girl’s heart, until she was ready to cry out to be
released from this fearful ordeal. Moreover, as the day came near what
he could not see in her she saw in him. Was she likely to be reassured
when she perceived that her husband, in spite of all his fun, was really
anxious, and when she knew that some blunder on her part might ruin him?
In fact, if he had suspected for a moment that she was really trembling
to think of what might happen, he might have made some effort to give
her courage. But apparently Sheila was as cool and collected as if he
had been going to see John the Piper. He believed she could have gone to
be presented to the Queen without a single tremor of heart.

Still, he was a man, and therefore bound to assume an air of patronage.
“She won’t eat you, really,” he said to Sheila, as they were driving in
a hansom down Kensington Palace Gardens. “All you have got to do is to
believe in her theories of food. She won’t make you a martyr to them.
She measures every half ounce of what she eats, but she won’t starve
you; and I am glad to think, Sheila, that you have brought a remarkably
good and sensible appetite with you from the Lewis. Oh, by the way, take
care you say nothing against Marcus Aurelius.”

“I don’t know who he was, dear,” observed Sheila, meekly.

“He was a Roman emperor and a philosopher. I suppose it was because he
was an emperor that he found it easy to be a philosopher. However, my
aunt is nuts on Marcus Aurelius: I beg your pardon, you don’t know the
phrase. My aunt makes Marcus Aurelius her Bible, and she is sure to read
you bits from him, which you must believe, you know.”

“I will try,” said Sheila, doubtfully, “but if--”

“Oh, it has nothing to do with religion. I don’t think anybody knows
what Marcus Aurelius means, so you may as well believe it. Ingram swears
by him, but he is always full of odd crotchets.”

“Does Mr. Ingram believe in Marcus Aurelius?” said Sheila, with some
accession of interest.

“Why, he gave my aunt the book years ago--confound him!--and ever since
she has been a nuisance to her friends. For my own part, you know, I
don’t believe that Marcus Aurelius was quite such an ass as Plato. He
talks the same sort of perpetual commonplaces, but it isn’t about the
true, the good and the beautiful. Would you like me to repeat one of the
dialogues of Plato--about the immorality of Mr. Cole and the moral
effect of the South Kensington Museum?”

“No, dear, I shouldn’t,” said Sheila.

“You deprive yourself of a treat, but never mind. Here we are at my
aunt’s house.”

Sheila timidly glanced at the place, while her husband paid the cabman.
It was a tall, narrow, dingy-looking house of dark brick, with some
black-green ivy at the foot of the walls, and with crimson curtains
formally arranged in every one of the windows. If Mrs. Lavender was a
rich old lady, why did she live in such a gloomy building? Sheila had
seen beautiful white houses in all parts of London; her own house, for
example, was ever so much more cheerful than this one, and yet she had
heard with awe of the value of this depressing little mansion in
Kensington Gore.

The door was opened by a man, who showed them upstairs and announced
their names. Sheila’s heart beat quickly. She entered the drawing-room
with a sort of mist before her eyes, and found herself going forward to
a lady who sat at the farther end. She had a strangely vivid impression,
amid all her alarm, that this old lady looked like the withered kernel
of a nut. Or, was she not like a cockatoo? It was through no
anticipation of dislike to Mrs. Lavender that the imagination of the
girl got hold of that notion. But the old lady held her head like a
cockatoo. What was there, moreover, about the decorations of her head
that reminded one of a cockatoo when it puts up its crest and causes its
feathers to look like sticks of celery.

“Aunt Caroline, this is my wife.”

“I am glad to see you, dear,” said the old lady, giving her hand, but
not rising. “Sit down. When you are a little nervous you ought to sit
down. Frank, give me that ammonia from the mantelpiece.”

It was a small glass phial, and labeled “Poison.” She smelt the stopper,
and then handed it to Sheila, telling her to do the same.

“Why did your maid do your hair in such a way?” she asked suddenly.

“I haven’t got a maid,” said Sheila, “and I always do my hair so.”

“Don’t be offended. I like it. But you must not make a fool of yourself.
Your hair is too much that of a country beauty going to a ball. Paterson
will show you how to do your hair.”

“Oh, I say, aunt,” cried Lavender, with a fine show of carelessness,
“you mustn’t go and spoil her hair. I think it is very pretty as it is,
and that woman of yours would simply go and make a mop of it. You’d
think the girls nowadays dressed their hair by shoving their head into a
furze bush and giving it a couple of turns.”

She paid no heed to him, but turned to Sheila and said, “You are an only
child?”

“Yes.”

“Why did you leave your father?”

The question was rather a cruel one, and it stung Sheila into answering
bravely. “Because my husband wished me.”

“Oh! You think your husband is to be the first law of your life?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Even when he is only silly Frank Lavender?”

Sheila rose. There was a quivering of her lips, but no weakness in the
proud, indignant look of her eyes:

“What you may say of me, that I do not care. But I will not remain to
hear my husband insulted.”

“Sheila,” said Lavender, vexed and anxious, and yet pleased at the same
time by the courage of the girl--“Sheila, it is only a joke. You must
not mind; it is only a bit of fun.”

“I do not understand such jests,” she said, calmly.

“Sit down, like a good girl,” said the old lady with an air of absolute
indifference. “I did not mean to offend you. Sit down and be quiet. You
will destroy your nervous system if you give way to such impulses. I
think you are healthy. I like the look of you, but you will never reach
a good age, as I hope to do, except by moderating your passions. That is
well; now take the ammonia again and give it to me. You don’t wish to
die young, I suppose?”

“I am not afraid of dying,” said Sheila.

“Ring the bell, Frank.”

He did so, and a tall, spare, grave-faced woman appeared.

“Paterson, you must put luncheon on at two-ten. I ordered it at
one-fifty, did I not?”

“Yes, m’m.”

“See that it is served at two-ten, and take this young lady and get her
hair properly done. You understand? My nephew and I will wait luncheon
for her.”

“Yes, m’m.”

Sheila rose with a great swelling in her throat. All her courage had
ebbed away. She had reflected how pained her husband would be if she did
not please this old lady; and she was now prepared to do anything she
was told, to receive meekly any remarks that might be made to her, to be
quite obedient and gentle and submissive. But what was this tall and
terrible woman going to do to her? Did she really mean to cut away those
great masses of hair to which Mrs. Lavender had objected! Sheila would
have let her hair be cut willingly for her husband’s sake; but as she
went to the door some wild and despairing notions came into her head of
what her husband might think of her when once she was shorn of this
beautiful personal feature. Would he look at her with surprise--perhaps
even with disappointment?

“Mind you don’t keep luncheon late,” he said to her as she passed him.

She but indistinctly heard him, so great was the trembling within her.
Her father would scarcely know his altered Sheila when she went back to
Borva; and what would Mairi say--Mairi who had many a time helped her to
arrange those long tresses, and who was as proud of them as if they were
her own? She followed Mrs. Lavender’s tall maid up-stairs. She entered a
small dressing-room and glanced nervously around. Then she suddenly
turned, looked for a moment at the woman, and said, with tears rushing
up into her eyes: “Does Mrs. Lavender wish me to cut my hair?”

The woman regarded her with astonishment. “Cut, miss?--ma’am. I beg your
pardon. No, ma’am, not at all. I suppose it is only some difference in
the arrangement, ma’am. Mrs. Lavender is very particular about the hair,
and she has asked me to show several ladies how to dress the hair in the
way she likes. But perhaps you would prefer letting it remain as it is,
ma’am?”

“Oh, no, not at all,” said Sheila. “I should like to have it just as
Mrs. Lavender wishes--in every way just as she wishes. Only it will not
be necessary to cut any?”

“Oh, no, miss--ma’am; and it would be a great pity, if I may say so, to
cut _your_ hair.”

Sheila was pleased to hear that. Here was a woman who had a large
experience in such matters among those very ladies of her husband’s
social circle whom she had been a little afraid to meet. Mrs. Paterson
seemed to admire her hair as much as the simple Mairi had done; and
Sheila soon began to have less fear of the terrible tiring woman, who
forthwith proceeded with her task.

The young wife went down stairs with a tower upon her head. She was very
uncomfortable. She had seen, it is true, that this method of dressing
the hair really became her--or rather would become her in certain
circumstances. It was grand, imposing, statuesque, but then she did not
feel statuesque just at this moment. She could have dressed herself to
suit this style of hair; she could have worn it with confidence if she
had got it up herself; but here she was the victim of an experiment. She
felt like a school girl about, for the first time, to appear in public
in a long dress, and she was terribly afraid her husband would laugh at
her. If he had any such inclination he courteously suppressed it. He
said the massive simplicity of this dressing of the hair suited her
admirably. Mrs. Lavender said that Paterson was an invaluable woman; and
then they went down to the dining-room on the ground floor, where
luncheon had been laid.

The man who had opened the door waited on the two strangers; the
invaluable Paterson acted as a sort of hench-woman to her mistress,
standing by her chair and supplying her wants. She also had the
management of a small pair of silver scales, in which pretty nearly
everything that Mrs. Lavender took in the way of solid food was
carefully and accurately weighed. The conversation was chiefly
alimentary, and Sheila listened with a growing wonder to the description
of the devices by which the ladies of Mrs. Lavender’s acquaintances were
wont to cheat fatigue or win an appetite or preserve their color. When
by accident the girl herself was appealed to, she had to confess to an
astonishing ignorance of all such resources. She knew nothing of the
relative strengths and effects of wines, though she was frankly ready
to make any experiment her husband recommended. She knew what camphor
was, but had never heard of bismuth. On cross-examination she had to
admit that eau-de-cologne did not seem to her likely to be a pleasant
liquor before going to a ball. Did she not know the effect on brown hair
of washing it in soda-water every night? She was equably confessing her
ignorance on all such points when she was startled by a sudden question
from Mrs. Lavender. Did she know what she was doing?

She looked at her plate; there was on it a piece of cheese to which she
had thoughtlessly helped herself. Somebody had called it Roquefort--that
was all she knew.

“You have as much there, child, as would kill a ploughman; and I suppose
you would not have had the sense to leave it.”

“Is it poison?” said Sheila, regarding her plate with horror.

“All cheese is. Paterson, my scales.”

She had Sheila’s plate brought to her, and the proper modicum of cheese
cut, weighed and sent back.

“Remember, whatever house you are in, never to have more Roquefort than
that.”

“It would be simpler to do without,” said Sheila.

“It would be simple enough to do without a great many things,” said Mrs.
Lavender, severely. “But the wisdom of living is to enjoy as many
different things as possible, so long as you do so in moderation and
preserve your health. You are young--you don’t think of such things. You
think, because you have good teeth and a clear complexion, you can eat
anything. But that won’t last. A time will come. Do you not know what
the great Emperor Marcus Antoninus says?--‘In a little while thou wilt
be nobody and nowhere, like Hadrianus and Augustus.’”

“Yes,” said Sheila.

She had not enjoyed her luncheon much; she would rather have had a ham
sandwich and a glass of spring water on the side of a Highland hill than
this varied and fastidious repast accompanied by a good deal of
physiology; but it was too bad that, having successfully got through it,
she should be threatened with annihilation immediately afterward. It was
no sort of consolation to her to know that she would be in the same
plight with two emperors.

“Frank, you can go and smoke a cigar in the conservatory if you please.
Your wife will come up-stairs with me and have a talk.”

Sheila would much rather have gone into the conservatory also, but she
obediently followed Mrs. Lavender up-stairs and into the drawing-room.
It was rather a melancholy chamber, the curtains shutting out most of
the daylight, and leaving you in a semi-darkness that made the place
look big and vague and spectral. The little, shrivelled woman, with the
hard and staring eyes and silver-gray hair, bade Sheila sit down beside
her. She herself sat by a small table, on which there were a tiny pair
of scales, a bottle of ammonia, a fan, and a book bound in an
old-fashioned binding of scarlet morocco and gold. Sheila wished this
old woman would not look at her so. She wished there was a window open
or a glint of sunlight coming in somewhere. But she was glad that her
husband was enjoying himself in the conservatory, and that for two
reasons. One of them was, that she did not like the tone of his talk
while he and his aunt had been conversing together about the cosmetics
and such matters. Not only did he betray a marvelous acquaintance with
such things, but he seemed to take an odd sort of pleasure in exhibiting
his knowledge. He talked about the tricks of fashionable women in a
mocking way that Sheila did not quite like; and of course she naturally
threw the blame on Mrs. Lavender. It was only when this old lady exerted
a godless influence over him that her good boy talked in such a fashion.
There was nothing of that about him in Lewis, nor yet at home in a
certain snug little smoking-room which these two had come to consider
the most comfortable corner in the house. Sheila began to hate women who
used lip-salve, and silently recorded a vow that never, never, never
would she wear anybody’s hair but her own.

“Do you suffer from headaches?” said Mrs. Lavender, abruptly.

“Sometimes,” said Sheila.

“How often? What is an average? Two a week?”

“Oh, sometimes I have not a headache for three or four months at a
time.”

“No toothache?”

“No.”

“What did your mother die of?”

“It was a fever,” said Sheila, in a low voice, “and she caught it while
she was helping a family that was very bad with the fever.”

“Does your father ever suffer from rheumatism?”

“No,” said Sheila. “My papa is the strongest man in the Lewis--I am sure
of that.”

“But the strongest of us, you know,” said Mrs. Lavender, looking hardly
at the girl--“the strongest of us will die and go into the general order
of the universe; and it is a good thing for you that, as you say, you
are not afraid. Why should you be afraid? Listen to this passage.” She
opened the red book, and guided herself to a certain page by one of a
series of colored ribbons: “‘He who fears death either fears the loss of
sensation or a different kind of sensation. But if thou shalt have no
sensation, neither wilt thou feel any harm; and if thou shalt acquire
another kind of sensation, thou will be a different kind of living
being, and thou wilt not cease to live.’ Do you perceive the wisdom of
that?”

“Yes,” said Sheila, and her own voice seemed hollow and strange to her
in this big and dimly-lit chamber.

Mrs. Lavender turned over a few more pages and proceeded to read again;
and as she did so, in a slow, unsympathetic, monotonous voice, a spell
came over the girl, the weight at her heart grew more and more
intolerable, and the room seemed to grow darker: “‘Short, then, is the
time which every man lives, and small the nook of the earth where he
lives; and short, too, the longest posthumous fame, and even this only
continued by a succession of poor human beings, who will very soon die,
and who know not even themselves, much less him who died long ago.’ You
cannot do better than ask your husband to buy you a copy of this book
and give it special study. It will comfort you in affliction, and
reconcile you to whatever may happen to you. Listen: ‘Soon will the
earth cover us all! then the earth, too, will change, and the things
also which result from change will continue to change forever, and these
again forever. For if a man reflects on the changes and transformations
which follow one another like wave after wave, and with their rapidity,
he will despise everything which is perishable.’ Do you understand
that?”

“Yes,” said Sheila, and it seemed to her that she was being suffocated.
Would not the gray walls burst asunder and show her one glimpse of the
blue sky before she sank into unconsciousness? The monotonous tones of
this old woman’s voice sounded like the repetition of a psalm over a
coffin. It was as if she was already shut out of life, and could only
hear, in a vague way, the dismal words being chanted over her by the
people in the other world. She rose, steadied herself for a moment by
placing her hand on the back of the chair, and managed to say: “Mrs.
Lavender, forgive me for one moment; I wish to speak to my husband.”

She went to the door--Mrs. Lavender being too surprised to follow
her--and made her way down stairs. She had seen the conservatory at the
end of a certain passage. She reached it, and then she scarcely knew any
more, except that her husband caught her in his arms as she cried: “Oh,
Frank, Frank, take me away from this house! I am afraid; it terrifies
me!”

“Sheila, what on earth is the matter? Here, come out into the fresh air.
By Jove, how pale you are! Will you have some water?”

He could not get to understand thoroughly what had occurred. What he
clearly did learn from Sheila’s disjointed and timid explanations was
that there had been another “scene,” and he knew that of all things in
the world his aunt hated “scenes” the worst. As soon as he saw that
there was little the matter with Sheila beyond considerable mental
perturbation, he could not help addressing some little remonstrance to
her, and reminding her how necessary it was that she should not offend
the old lady up-stairs.

“You should not be so excitable, Sheila,” he said. “You take such
exaggerated notions about things. I am sure my aunt meant nothing
unkind. And what did you say when you came away?”

“I said I wanted to see you. Are you angry with me?”

“No, of course not. But then, you see, it is a little vexing just at
this moment. Well, let us go up-stairs at once, and try to make up some
excuse, like a good girl. Say you felt faint--anything.”

“And you will come with me?”

“Yes. Now do try, Sheila, to make friends with my aunt. She is not such
a bad sort of creature as you seem to think. She’s been very kind to
me--she’ll be very kind to you when she knows you more.”

Fortunately no excuse was necessary, for Mrs. Lavender, in Sheila’s
absence, had arrived at the conclusion that the girl’s temporary
faintness was due to that piece of Roquefort.

“You see, you must be careful,” she said, when they entered the room.
“You are unaccustomed to a great many things you will like afterward.”

“And the room is a little close,” said Lavender.

“I don’t think so,” said his aunt, sharply; “look at the barometer.”

“I didn’t mean for you and me, Aunt Caroline,” he said, “but for her.
Sheila has been accustomed to live almost wholly in the open air.”

“The open air in moderation is an excellent thing. I go out myself every
afternoon, wet or dry. And I was going to propose, Frank, that you
should leave her here with me for the afternoon, and come back and dine
with us at seven. I am going out at four-thirty, and she could go with
me.”

“It’s very kind of you, Aunt Caroline, but we have promised to call on
some people close by here at four.”

Sheila looked up frightened. The statement was an audacious perversion
of the truth. But then Frank Lavender knew very well what his aunt meant
by going into the open air every afternoon, wet or dry. At one certain
hour her brougham was brought around, she got into it and had both doors
and windows hermetically sealed, and then, in a semi-somnolent state,
she was driven slowly and monotonously around the Park. How would Sheila
fare if she were shut up in this box? He told a lie with great
equanimity, and saved her.

Then Sheila was taken away to get on her things, and her husband waited,
with some little trepidation, to hear what his aunt would say about her.
He had not long to wait.

“She’s got a bad temper, Frank.”

“Oh, I don’t think so, Aunt Caroline,” he said, considerably startled.

“Mark my words, she’s got a bad temper, and she is not nearly so soft as
she tries to make out. That girl has a great deal of firmness, Frank.”

“I find her as gentle and submissive as a girl could be--a little too
gentle, perhaps, and anxious to study the wishes of other folks.”

“That is all very well with you. You are her master. She is not likely
to quarrel with her bread and butter. But you’ll see if she does not
hold her own when she gets among your friends.”

“I hope she will hold her own.”

The old lady only shook her head.

“I am sorry you should have taken a prejudice against her, Aunt
Caroline,” said the young man, humbly.

“I take a prejudice! Don’t let me hear the word again, Frank. You know I
have no prejudices. If I cannot give you a reason for anything, I
believe then I cease to believe it.”

“You have not heard her sing,” he said, suddenly remembering that this
means of conquering the old lady had been neglected.

“I have no doubt she has many accomplishments,” said Aunt Caroline,
coldly. “In time, I suppose, she will get over that extraordinary accent
she has.”

“Many people like it.”

“I dare say you do--at present. But you may tire of it. You married her
in a hurry, and you have not got rid of your romance yet. At the same
time, I dare say she is a very good sort of girl, and will not disgrace
you if you instruct and manage her properly. But remember my words--she
has a temper, and you will find it out if you thwart her.”

How sweet and fresh the air was, even in Kensington, when Sheila, having
dressed and come down stairs, and after having dutifully kissed Mrs.
Lavender and bade her good-bye, went outside with her husband! It was
like coming back to the light of day from inside the imaginary coffin in
which she had fancied herself placed. A soft West wind was blowing over
the Park, and a fairly clear sunlight shining on the May green of the
trees. And then she hung on her husband’s arm, and she had him to speak
to instead of the terrible old woman who talked about dying.

And yet she hoped she had not offended Mrs. Lavender, for Frank’s sake.
What he thought about the matter he prudently resolved to conceal.

“Do you know that you have greatly pleased my aunt?” he said, without
the least compunction. He knew that if he breathed the least hint about
what had actually been said, any possibly amity between the two women
would be rendered impossible forever.

“Have I, really?” said Sheila, very much astonished, but never thinking
for a moment of doubting anything said by her husband.

“Oh, she likes you awfully,” he said, with an infinite coolness.

“I am so glad!” said Sheila, with her face brightening. “I was so
afraid, dear, I had offended her. She did not look pleased with me.”

By this time they had got into a hansom, and were driving down to the
South Kensington Museum. Lavender would have preferred going into the
Park, but what if his aunt, in driving by, were to see them? He
explained to Sheila the absolute necessity of his having to tell that
fib about the four o’clock engagement; and when she heard described the
drive in the closed brougham, which she had escaped, perhaps she was not
so greatly inclined as she ought to have been to protest against that
piece of wickedness.

“Oh, yes, she likes you awfully,” he repeated, “and you must get to like
her. Don’t be frightened at her harsh way of saying things; it is only a
mannerism. She is really a kind-hearted woman, and would do anything for
me. That’s her best feature, looking at her character from my point of
view.”

“How often must we go to see her?” asked Sheila.

“Oh, not very often. But she will get up dinner parties, at which you
will be introduced to batches of her friends. And then the best thing
you can do is to put yourself under her instructions, and take her
advice about your dress and such matters, just as you did about your
hair. That was very good of you.”

“I am glad you were pleased with me,” said Sheila. “I will do what I can
to like her. But she must talk more respectfully of you.”

Lavender laughed that little matter off as a joke, but it was no joke to
Sheila. She would try to like that old woman--yes; her duty to her
husband demanded that she should. But there are some things that a
wife--especially a girl who has been newly made a wife--will never
forget; which, on the contrary, she will remember with burning cheeks
and anger and indignation.



PART VI.



CHAPTER XII.

TRANSFORMATION.


Had Sheila, then, Lavender could not help asking himself, a bad temper,
or any other qualities and characteristics which were apparent to other
people, but not to him? Was it possible that, after all, Ingram was
right, and that he had yet to learn the nature of the girl he had
married? It would be unfair to say that he suspected something wrong
about his wife--that he fancied she had managed to conceal
something--merely because Mrs. Lavender had said that Sheila had a bad
temper; but here was another person who maintained that when the days of
his romance were over he would see the girl in another light.

Nay, as he continued to ask himself, had not the change already begun?
He grew less and less accustomed to see in Sheila a beautiful wild
sea-bird that had fluttered down for a time into a strange home in the
South. He had not quite forgotten or abandoned those imaginative scenes
in which the wonderful sea-princess was to enter crowded drawing-rooms
and have all the world standing back to regard her and admire her and
sing her praises. But now he was not so sure that that would be the
result of Sheila’s entrance into society. As the date of a certain
dinner-party drew near, he began to wish she was more like the women he
knew. He did not object to her strange, sweet ways of speech, nor to her
odd likes and dislikes, nor even to an unhesitating frankness that
nearly approached rudeness sometimes in its scorn of all compromise with
the truth; but how would others regard these things? He did not wish to
gain the reputation of having married an oddity.

“Sheila,” he said, on the morning of the day on which they were going to
this dinner-party, “you should not say _like-a-ness_. There are only two
syllables in _likeness_. It really does sound absurd to hear you say
_like-a-ness_.”

She looked up to him, with a quick trouble in her eyes. When had he
spoken to her so petulantly before? And then she cast down her eyes
again, and said, submissively, “I will try not to speak like that. When
you go out I take a book and read aloud, and try to speak like you; but
I cannot learn all at once.”

“_I_ don’t mind,” he said; “but, you know, other people must think it so
odd. I wonder why you should always say _gyarden_ for _garden_ now, when
it is just as easy to say _garden_?”

Once upon a time he had said there was no English like the English
spoken in Lewis, and had singled out this very word as typical of one
peculiarity in the pronunciation. But she did not remind him of that.
She only said, in the same simple fashion, “If you will tell me my
faults, I will try to correct them.”

She turned away from him to get an envelope for a letter she had been
writing to her father. He fancied something was wrong, and perhaps some
touch of compunction smote him, for he went after her and took her hand,
and said, “Look here, Sheila. When I point out any trifles like that,
you must not call them faults, and fancy that I have any serious
complaint to make. It is for your own good that you should meet the
people who will be your friends on equal terms, and give them as little
as possible to talk about.”

“I should not mind their talking about me,” said Sheila, with her eyes
still cast down, “but it is your wife they must not talk about; and if
you will tell me anything I do wrong I will correct it.”

“Oh, you must not think it is anything so serious as that. You will soon
pick up from the ladies you will meet some notion of how you differ from
them; and if you should startle or puzzle them a little at first by
talking about the chances of the fishing or the catching of wild duck,
or the way to reclaim bog-land, you will soon get over all that.”

Sheila said nothing, but she made a mental memorandum of three things
she was not to speak about. She did not know why these subjects should
be forbidden, but she was in a strange land and going to see strange
people, whose habits were different from hers. Moreover, when her
husband had gone she reflected that these people, having no fishing and
peat-mosses, and no wild-duck, could not possibly be interested in such
affairs; and thus she fancied she perceived the reason why she should
avoid all mention of these things.

When, in the evening, Sheila came down dressed and ready to go out,
Lavender had to admit to himself that he had married an exceedingly
beautiful girl, and that there was no country gawkiness about her
manner, and no placid insipidity about her proud and handsome face. For
one brief moment, he triumphed in his heart, and had some wild glimpse
of his old project of startling his small world with this vision from
the Northern seas. But when he got into the hired brougham, and thought
of the people he was about to meet, and of the manner in which they
would carry away such and such impressions of the girl, he lost faith in
that admiration. He would much rather have had Sheila unnoticeable and
unnoticed--one who would quietly take her place at the dinner-table, and
attract no more special attention than the flowers, for example, which
every one would glance at with some satisfaction, and then forget in the
interest of talking and dining. He was quite conscious of his own
weakness in thus fearing social criticism. He knew that Ingram would
have taken Sheila anywhere in her blue serge dress, and been quite
content and oblivious of observation. But then Ingram was independent of
these social circles in which a married man must move, and in which his
position is often defined for him by the disposition and manners of his
wife. Ingram did not know how women talked. It was for Sheila’s own
sake, he persuaded himself, that he was anxious about the impression she
should make, and that he had drilled her in all that she should do and
say.

“Above all things,” he said, “mind you take no notice of me. Another man
will take you in to dinner, of course, and I shall take in somebody
else, and we shall not be near each other. But it’s after dinner, I
mean: when the men go into the drawing-room don’t you come and speak to
me or take any notice of me whatever.”

“Mayn’t I look at you, Frank?”

“If you do, you’ll have half a dozen people all watching you, saying to
themselves or to each other, ‘Poor thing! she hasn’t got over her
infatuation yet. Isn’t it pretty to see how naturally her eyes turn
toward him?’”

“But I shouldn’t mind them saying that,” said Sheila, with a smile.

“Oh, you musn’t be pitied in that fashion. Let them keep their
compassion to themselves.”

“Do you know, dear,” said Sheila, very quietly, “that I think you
exaggerate the interest people will take in me? I don’t think I can be
of such importance to them. I don’t think they will be watching me as
you fancy.”

“Oh, you don’t know,” he said. “I know they fancy I have done something
romantic, heroic and all that kind of thing, and they are curious to see
you.”

“They cannot hurt me by looking at me,” said Sheila simply. “And they
will soon find out how little there is to discover.”

The house being in Holland Park, they had not far to go; and just as
they were driving up to the door a young man, slight, sandy-haired, and
stooping, got out of a hansom and crossed the pavement.

“By Jove!” said Lavender, “there is Redburn. I did not know he knew Mrs.
Lorraine and her mother. That is Lord Arthur Redburn, Sheila; mind, if
you should talk to him, not to call him ‘my lord.’”

Sheila laughed and said, “How am I to remember all these things?”

They got into the house, and by-and-by Lavender found himself, with
Sheila on his arm, entering a drawing-room to present her to certain of
his friends. It was a large room, with a great deal of gilding and color
about it, and with a conservatory at the further end; but the blaze of
light had not so bewildering an effect on Sheila’s eyes as the
appearance of two ladies to whom she was now introduced. She had heard
much about them. She was curious to see them. Many a time had she
thought over the strange story Lavender had told her of the woman who
heard that her husband was dying in a hospital during the war, and
started off, herself and her daughter, to find him out; how there was in
the same hospital another dying man whom they had known some years
before, and who had gone away because the girl would not listen to him;
how this man, being very near to death, begged that the girl would do
him the last favor he would ask of her, of wearing his name and
inheriting his property; and how, some few hours after the strange and
sad ceremony had been performed, he breathed his last, happy in holding
her hand. The father died next day, and the two widows were thrown upon
the world, almost without friends, but not without means. This man,
Lorraine, had been possessed of considerable wealth, and the girl who
had suddenly become mistress of it found herself able to employ all
possible means in assuaging her mother’s grief. They began to travel.
The two women went from capital to capital, until at last they came to
London; and here, having gathered around them a considerable number of
friends, they proposed to take up their residence permanently. Lavender
had often talked to Sheila about Mrs. Lorraine; about her shrewdness,
her sharp sayings, and the odd contrast between this clever, keen, frank
woman of the world and the woman one would have expected to be the
heroine of a pathetic tale.

But were there two Mrs. Lorraines? That had been Sheila’s first question
to herself when, after having been introduced to one lady under that
name, she suddenly saw before her another, who was introduced to her as
Mrs. Kavanagh. The mother and daughter were singularly alike. They had
the same slight and graceful figure, which made them appear, taller than
they really were, the same pale, fine, and rather handsome features, the
same large, clear gray eyes, and apparently the same abundant mass of
soft, fair hair, heavily plaited in the latest fashion. They were both
dressed entirely in black, except that the daughter had a band of blue
round her slender waist. It was soon apparent, too, that the manner of
the two women was singularly different; Mrs. Kavanagh bearing herself
with a certain sad reserve that almost approached melancholy at times,
while her daughter, with more life and spirit in her face, passed
rapidly through all sorts of varying moods until one could scarcely tell
whether the affectation lay in a certain cynical audacity in her speech,
or whether it lay in her assumption of a certain coyness and archness,
or whether there was any affectation at all in the matter. However that
might be, there could be no doubt about the sincerity of those gray eyes
of hers. There was something almost cruelly frank in the clear look of
them; and when her face was not lit by some passing smile, the pale and
fine features seemed to borrow something of severity from her
unflinching, calm and dispassionate habit of regarding those around her.

Sheila was prepared to like Mrs. Lorraine from the first moment she had
caught sight of her. The honesty of the gray eyes attracted her. And,
indeed, the young widow seemed very much interested in the young wife,
and, so far as she could, in that awkward period just before dinner,
strove to make friends with her. Sheila was introduced to a number of
people, but none of them pleased her as well as Mrs. Lorraine. Then
dinner was announced, and Sheila found that she was being escorted
across the passage to the room on the other side by the young man whom
she had seen get out of the hansom.

This Lord Arthur Redburn was the younger son of a great Tory duke; he
represented in the House a small country borough, which his father
practically owned; he had a fair amount of ability, an uncommonly high
opinion of himself, and a certain affectation of being bored by the
frivolous ways and talk of ordinary society. He gave himself credit for
being the clever member of the family; and if there was any cleverness
going, he had it; but there were some who said that his reputation in
the House and elsewhere as a good speaker was mainly based on the fact
that he had an abundant assurance, and was not easily put out.
Unfortunately, the public could come to no decision on the point, for
the reporters were not kind to Lord Arthur, and the substance of his
speeches was as unknown to the world as his manner of delivering them.

Now, Mrs. Lorraine had intended to tell this young man something about
the girl whom he was to take in to dinner, but she herself had been so
occupied with Sheila that the opportunity escaped her. Lord Arthur
accordingly knew only that he was beside a very pretty woman, who was a
Mrs. Somebody--the exact name he had not caught--and that the few words
she had spoken were pronounced in a curious way. Probably, he thought,
she was from Dublin.

He also arrived at the conclusion that she was too pretty to know
anything about the Deceased Wife’s Sister bill, in which he was, for
family reasons, deeply interested, and considered it more likely that
she would prefer to talk about theatres and such things.

“Were you at Covent Garden last night?” he said.

“No,” answered Sheila. “But I was there two days ago, and it is very
pretty to see the flowers and the fruit; and then they smell so sweetly
as you walk through.”

“Oh, yes, it is delightful,” said Lord Arthur. “But I was speaking of
the theatre.”

“Is there a theatre in there?”

He stared at her, and inwardly hoped she was not mad.

“Not in among the shops, no. But don’t you know Covent Garden Theatre?”

“I have never been in any theatre, not yet,” said Sheila.

And then it began to dawn upon him that he must be talking to Frank
Lavender’s wife. Was there not some rumor about the girl having come
from a remote part of the Highlands? He determined on a bold stroke:
“You have not been long enough in London to see the theatres, I
suppose?”

And then Sheila, taking it for granted that he knew her husband very
well, and that he was quite familiar with all the circumstances of the
case, began to chat to him freely enough. He found that this Highland
girl, of whom he heard vaguely, was not at all shy. He began to feel
interested. By and by he actually made efforts to assist her frankness,
by becoming equally frank, and by telling her all he knew of the things
with which they were mutually acquainted. Of course, by this time they
had got up into the Highlands. The young man had himself been in the
Highlands--frequently, indeed. He had never crossed to Lewis, but he had
seen the island from the Sutherlandshire coast. There were very many
deer in Sutherlandshire, were there not? Yes, he had been out a great
many times, and had had his share of adventures. Had he not gone out
there before daylight, and waited on the top of a hill, hidden by some
rocks, to watch the mist clear along the hillsides and in the valley
below? Did he not tremble when he fired his first shot, and had not
something passed before his eyes, so that he could not see for a moment
whether the stag had fallen, or was away like lightning down the bed of
the stream? Somehow or other, Lord Arthur found himself relating all his
experiences, as if he were a novice begging for the good opinion of a
master. She knew all about it, obviously, and he would tell her his
small adventures, if only that she might laugh at him. But Sheila did
not laugh. She was greatly delighted to have this talk about the hills,
and the deer, and the wet mornings. She forgot all about the dinner
before her. The servants whipped off successive plates without her
seeing anything of them; they received random answers about wine, so
that she had three full glasses standing by her untouched! She was no
more in Holland Park at that moment than were the wild animals of which
she spoke so proudly and lovingly. If the great and frail masses of
flowers on the table brought her any perfume at all, it was a scent of
peat-smoke. Lord Arthur thought that his companion was a little too
frank and confiding, or rather that she would have been had she been
talking to any one but himself. He rather liked it. He was pleased to
have established friendly relations with a pretty woman in so short a
space; but ought not her husband to give her a hint about not admitting
all and sundry to the enjoyment of these favors? Perhaps, too, Lord
Arthur felt bound to admit to himself there were some men who, more than
others, inspired confidence in women. He laid no claims to being a
fascinating person, but he had had his share of success, and considered
that Sheila showed discrimination, as well as good nature, in talking so
to him. There was, after all, no necessity for her husband to warn her.
She would know how to guard against admitting all men to a like
intimacy. In the meantime, he was very well pleased to be sitting beside
this pretty and agreeable companion, who had an abundant fund of good
spirits, and who showed no sort of conscious embarrassment in thanking
you with a bright look of her eyes, or by a smile when you told her
something that pleased or amused her.

But these flattering little speculations were doomed to receive a sudden
check. The juvenile M. P. began to remark that a shade occasionally
crossed the face of his fair companion, and that she sometimes looked a
little anxiously across the table, where Mr. Lavender and Mrs. Lorraine
were seated, half hidden from view by a heap of silver and flowers in
the middle of the board. But though they could not easily be seen,
except at such moments as they turned to address some neighbor, they
could be distinctly enough heard when there was any lull in the general
conversation. And what Sheila heard did not please her. She began to
like that fair, clear-eyed young woman less. Perhaps her husband meant
nothing by the fashion in which he talked of marriage and the condition
of a married man, but she would rather have not heard him talk so.
Moreover, she was aware that in the gentlest possible fashion Mrs.
Lorraine was making fun of her companion, and exposing him to small and
graceful shafts of ridicule; while he seemed, on the whole, to enjoy
these attacks.

The ingenuous self-love of Lord Arthur Redburn, M. P., was severely
wounded by the notion that, after all, he had been made a cat’s paw of
by a jealous wife. He had been flattered by this girl’s exceeding
friendliness; he had given her credit for genuine impulsiveness, which
seemed to him as pleasing as it was uncommon; and he had, with the
moderation expected of a man in politics, who hoped some day to assist
in the government of the nation, by accepting a junior lordship, admired
her. But was it all pretence? Was she paying court to him merely to
annoy her husband? Had her enthusiasm about the shooting of red deer
been prompted by a wish to attract a certain pair of eyes at the other
side of the table? Lord Arthur began to sneer at himself for having been
duped. He ought to have known. Women were as much women in a Hebridean
Island as in Bayswater. He began to treat Sheila with a little more
coolness, while she became more and more pre-occupied with the couple
across the table, and sometimes was innocently rude in answering his
questions somewhat at random.

When the ladies were going into the drawing-room, Mrs. Lorraine put her
hand within Sheila’s arm and led her to the entrance to the
conservatory. “I hope we shall be friends,” she said.

“I hope so,” said Sheila, not very warmly.

“Until you get better acquainted with your husband’s friends you will
feel rather lonely at being left as at present, I suppose.”

“A little,” said Sheila.

“It is a silly thing altogether. If men smoked after dinner I could
understand it. But they merely sit, looking at wine they don’t drink,
talking a few commonplaces and yawning.”

“Why do they do it, then?” said Sheila.

“They don’t do it everywhere. But here we keep to the manners and
customs of the ancients.”

“What do you know about the manners of the ancients?” said Mrs.
Kavanagh, tapping her daughter’s shoulder as she passed with a sheet of
music.

“I have studied them frequently, mamma,” said the daughter with
composure, “in the monkey-house at the Zoological Gardens.”

The mamma smiled, and passed on to place the music on the piano. Sheila
did not understand what her companion had said; and indeed Mrs. Lorraine
immediately turned, with the same calm, fair face and fearless eyes, to
ask Sheila whether she would not, by and by, sing one of those Northern
songs of which Mr. Lavender had told her.

A tall girl with her back hair tied in a knot and her costume copied
from a well-known pre-Raphaelite drawing, sat down to the piano and sang
a mystic song of the present day, in which the moon, the stars and other
natural objects behaved strangely, and were somehow mixed up with the
appeal of a maiden who demanded that her dead lover should be reclaimed
from the sea.

“Do you ever go down to your husband’s studio?” said Mrs. Lorraine.

She glanced toward the lady at the piano.

“Oh, you may talk,” said Mrs. Lorraine, with the least expression of
contempt in her gray eyes. “She is singing to gratify herself, not us.”

“Yes, I sometimes go down,” said Sheila in as low a voice as she could
manage without falling into a whisper, “and it is such a dismal place.
It is very hard on him to have to work in a big bare room like that,
with the windows half blinded. But sometimes I think Frank would rather
have me out of the way.”

“And what would he do if both of us were to pay him a visit?” said Mrs.
Lorraine. “I should so like to see the studio! Won’t you call for me
some day and take me with you?”

Take her with her, indeed! Sheila began to wonder that she did not
propose to go alone. Fortunately, there was no need to answer the
question, for at this moment the song came to an end, and there was a
general movement and murmur of gratitude.

“Thank you,” said Mrs. Lorraine to the lady who had sung the song, and
was now returning to the photographs she had left, “thank you very much.
I knew some one would instantly ask you to sing that song; it is the
most charming of all your songs, I think, and how well it suits your
voice, too!”

Then she turned to Sheila again: “How did you like Lord Arthur
Redburn?”

“I think he is a very good young man.”

“Young men are never good, but they may be very amiable,” said Mrs.
Lorraine, not perceiving that Sheila had blundered on a wrong adjective,
and that she had really meant that she thought him honest and pleasant.

“You did not speak at all, I think, to your neighbor on the right; that
was wise of you. He is a most insufferable person, but mamma bears with
him for the sake of his daughter, who sang just now. He is too rich. And
he smiles blandly, and takes a sort of after-dinner view of things, as
if he coincided with the arrangements of Providence. Don’t you take
coffee? Tea, then. I have met your aunt--I mean Mr. Lavender’s aunt;
such a dear old lady she is.”

“I don’t like her,” said Sheila.

“Oh, don’t you really?”

“Not at present, but I shall try to like her.”

“Well,” said Mrs. Lorraine, calmly, “you know she has her peculiarities.
I wish she wouldn’t talk so much about Marcus Antoninus and doses of
medicine. I fancy I smell calomel when she comes near. I suppose if she
were in a pantomime, they’d dress her up as a phial, tie a string around
her neck and label her ‘POISON.’ Dear me, how languid one gets in this
climate! Let us sit down. I wish I was as strong as mamma.”

They sat down together, and Mrs. Lorraine evidently expected to be
petted and made much of by her new companion. She gave herself pretty
little airs and graces, and said no more cutting things about anybody.
And Sheila somehow found herself being drawn to the girl, so that she
could scarcely help taking her hand, and saying how sorry she was to see
her so pale and fine and delicate. The hand, too, was so small that the
tiny white fingers seemed scarcely bigger than the claws of a bird. Was
not that slender waist, to which some little attention was called by a
belt of bold blue, just a little too slender for health, although the
bust and shoulders were exquisitely and finely proportioned?

“We were at the Academy all the morning, and mamma is not a bit tired.
Why has not Mr. Lavender anything at the Academy? Oh, I forgot,” she
added, with a smile. “Of course, he has been very much engaged. But now
I suppose he will settle down to work.”

Sheila wished that this fragile-looking girl would not so continually
refer to her husband, but how was any one to find fault with her when
she put a little air of plaintiveness into the ordinarily cold gray
eyes, and looked at her small hand as much as to say, “The fingers there
are very small, and even whiter than the glove that covers them. They
are the fingers of a child, who ought to be petted.”

Then the men came in from the dining-room. Lavender looked around to see
where Sheila was--perhaps with a trifle of disappointment that she was
not the most prominent figure there. Had he expected to find all the
women surrounding her and admiring her, and all the men going up to pay
court to her? Sheila was seated near a small table, and Mrs. Lorraine
was showing her something. She was just like anybody else. If she was a
wonderful sea-princess who had come into a new world, no one seemed to
observe her. The only thing that distinguished her from the women around
her was her freshness of color, and the unusual combination of black
eyelashes and dark blue eyes. Lavender had arranged that Sheila’s first
appearance in public should be at a very quiet little dinner party, but
even here she failed to create any profound impression. She was, as he
had to confess to himself again, just like anybody else.

He went over to where Mrs. Lorraine was, and sat down beside her.
Sheila, remembering his injunctions, felt bound to leave him there; and
as she rose to speak to Mrs. Kavanagh, who was standing by, that lady
came and begged her to sing a Highland song. By this time Lavender had
succeeded in interesting his companion about something or other, and
neither of them had noticed that Sheila had gone to the piano, attended
by the young politician who had taken her in to dinner. Nor did they
interrupt their talk merely because some one had played a few bars of
prelude. But what was this that suddenly startled Lavender to the heart,
causing him to look up with surprise? He had not heard the air since he
was in Borva, and when Sheila sang

    Hark, hark! the horn
    On mountain-breezes borne,
    Awake, it is morn,
        Awake, Monaltrie!

all sorts of reminiscences came rushing in upon him. How often had he
heard that wild story of Monaltrie’s flight sung out in the small
chamber over the sea, with a sound of the waves outside and a scent of
sea-weed coming in at the door and the window! It was from the shores of
Borva that young Monaltrie must have fled. It must have been in Borva
that his sweetheart sat in her bower and sang, the burden of all her
singing being, “Return, Monaltrie!” And then, as Sheila sang now, making
the monotonous and plaintive air wild and strange--

    What cries of wild despair
    Awake the sultry air?
    Frenzied with anxious care,
        She seeks Monaltrie--

he heard no more of the song. He was thinking of by-gone days in Borva,
and of old Mackenzie living in his lonely house there. When Sheila had
finished singing he looked at her, and it seemed to him that she was
still that beautiful princess whom he had wooed on the shores of the
Atlantic. And if those people did not see her as he saw her, ought he to
be disappointed because of their blindness?

But if they saw nothing mystic or wonderful about Sheila, they, at all
events, were considerably surprised by the strange sort of music she
sang. It was not of a sort commonly heard in a London drawing-room. The
pathos of its minor chords, its abrupt intervals, startling and wild in
their effect, and the slowly subsiding wail in which it closed, did not
much resemble the ordinary drawing-room “piece.” Here, at least, Sheila
had produced an impression; and presently there was a heap of people
around the piano, expressing their admiration, asking questions, and
begging her to continue. But she rose. She would rather not sing just
then. Whereupon Lavender came to her and said, “Sheila, won’t you sing
that wild one about the farewell--that has the sound of the pipes in it,
you know?”

“Oh, yes,” she said directly.

Lavender went back to his companion.

“She is very obedient to you,” said Mrs. Lorraine, with a smile.

“Yes, at present,” he said; and he thought meanly of himself for saying
it, the moment the words were uttered:

    Oh, soft be thy slumbers, by Tigh na-linne’s waters;
    Thy late-wake was sung by Macdiarmid’s fair daughters;
    But far in Lochaber the true heart was weeping,
    Whose hopes are entombed in the grave where thou’rt sleeping.

So Sheila sang, and it seemed to the people that this ballad was even
more strange than its predecessor. When the song was over, Sheila seemed
rather anxious to get out of the crowd, and, indeed, walked away into
the conservatory to have a look at the flowers.

Yes, Lavender had to confess to himself, Sheila was just like anybody
else in this drawing-room. His sea-princess had produced no startling
impression. He forgot that he had just been teaching her the necessity
of observing the ways and customs of the people around her, so that she
might avoid singularity.

On one point, at least, she was resolved she would attend to his
counsels; she would not make him ridiculous by any show of affection
before the eyes of strangers. She did not go near him the whole evening.
She remained for the most part in that half-conservatory, half-ante-room
at the end of the drawing-room; and when any one talked to her she
answered, and when she was left alone she turned to the flowers. All
this time, however, she could observe that Lavender and Mrs. Lorraine
were very much engrossed in their conversation; that she seemed very
much amused, and he at times a trifle embarrassed; and that both of them
had apparently forgotten her existence. Mrs. Kavanagh was continually
coming to Sheila and trying to coax her back into the larger room, but
in vain. She would rather not sing any more that night. She liked to
look at the flowers. She was not tired at all, and she had already seen
those wonderful photographs about which everybody was talking.

“Well, Sheila, how did you enjoy yourself?” said her husband, as they
were driving home.

“I wish Mr. Ingram had been there,” said Sheila.

“Ingram! He would not have stopped in the place five minutes, unless he
could play the part of Diogenes and say rude things to everybody all
around. Were you at all dull?”

“A little.”

“Didn’t somebody look after you?”

“Oh, yes; many persons were very kind. But--but--”

“Well?”

“Nobody seemed to be better off than myself. They all seemed to be
wanting something to do; and I am sure they were all very glad to come
away.”

“No, no, no, Sheila. That is only your fancy. You were not much
interested, that is evident; but you will get on better when know more
of the people. You were a stranger--that is what disappointed you--but
you will not always be a stranger.”

Sheila did not answer. Perhaps she contemplated, with no great hope or
longing, the possibility of her coming to like such a method of getting
through an evening. At all events, she looked forward with no great
pleasure to the chance of her having to become friends with Mrs.
Lorraine. All the way home Sheila was examining her own heart to try to
discover why such bitter feelings should be there. Surely that girl was
honest; there was honesty in her eyes. She had been most kind to Sheila
herself. And was there not at times, when she abandoned the ways and
speech of a woman of the world, a singular coy fascination about her
that any man might be excused for yielding to, even as any woman might
yield to it? Sheila fought with herself, and resolved that she would
cast forth from her heart those harsh fancies and indignant feelings
that seemed to have established themselves there. She would _not_ hate
Mrs. Lorraine.

As for Lavender, what was he thinking of, now that he and his young wife
were driving home from their first experiment in society? He had to
confess to a certain sense of failure. His dreams had not been realized.
Every one who had spoken to him had conveyed to him, as freely as good
manners would admit, their congratulations and their praises of his
wife. But the impressive scenes he had been forecasting were out of the
question. There was a little curiosity about her on the part of those
who knew her story, and that was all. Sheila bore herself very well. She
made no blunders. She had a good presence, she sang well, and every one
could see that she was handsome, gentle and honest. Surely, he argued
with himself, that ought to content the most exacting. But, in spite of
all argument, he was not content. He did not regret that he had
sacrificed his liberty in a freak of romance; he did not even regard the
fact of a man in his position having dared to marry a penniless girl as
anything very meritorious or heroic; but he had hoped that the dramatic
circumstances of the case would be duly recognized by his friends, and
that Sheila would be an object of interest and wonder and talk in a
whole series of social circles. But the result of his venture was
different. There was only one married man the more in London, and London
was not disposed to pay any particular heed to that circumstance.



CHAPTER XIII.

BY THE WATERS OF BABYLON.


If Frank Lavender had been told that his love for his wife was in danger
of waning, he would have laughed the suggestion to scorn. He was as fond
of her and as proud of her as ever. Who knew as well as himself the
tenderness of her heart, the delicate sensitiveness of her conscience,
the generosity of self-sacrifice she was always ready to bestow? and was
he likely to become blind, so that he should fail to see how fair and
frank and handsome she was? He had been disappointed, it is true, in his
fancies about the impression she would produce on his friends; but what
a trifle was that! The folly of those fancies was his own. For the rest,
he was glad that Sheila was not so different from the other women whom
he knew. He hit upon the profound reflection, as he sat alone in his
studio, that a man’s wife, like his costume, should not be so remarkable
as to attract attention. The perfection of dress was that you should be
unconscious of its presence; might that not be so with marriage? After
all, it was better he had not bound himself to lug about a lion whenever
he visited people’s houses.

Still, there was something. He found himself a good deal alone. Sheila
did not seem to care much for going into society; and, although he did
not much like the notion of going by himself, nevertheless one had
certain duties towards one’s friends to perform. She did not even care
to go down to the Park of a forenoon. She always professed her readiness
to go, but he fancied it was a trifle tiresome for her; and so, when
there was nothing particular going on in the studio, he would walk down
through Kensington Gardens himself, and have a chat with some friends,
followed generally by luncheon with this or the other party of them.
Sheila had been taught that she ought not to come so frequently to that
studio. Bras would not lie quiet. Moreover, if dealers or other
strangers should come in, would they not take her for a model? So
Sheila stayed at home; and Mr Lavender, after having dressed with care
in the morning--with very singular care, indeed, considering that he was
going to his work--used to go down to his studio to smoke a cigarette.
The chances were that he was not in the humor for working. He would sit
down in an easy-chair and kick his heels on the floor for a time,
watching, perhaps, the sunlight come in through the upper part of the
windows and paint yellow squares on the opposite wall. Then he would go
out, and lock the door behind him, leaving no message whatever for those
crowds of importunate dealers, who, as Sheila fancied, were besieging
him with offers in one hand and purses of gold in the other.

One morning, after she had been in-doors for two or three days, and had
grown hopelessly tired of the monotony of watching that sunlit square,
she was filled with an unconquerable longing to go away, for however
brief a space, from the sight of houses. The morning was sweet, and
clear, and bright, white clouds were slowly crossing a fair blue sky,
and a fresh and cool breeze was blowing in at the open French windows.

“Bras,” she said, going down stairs and out into the small garden, “we
are going into the country.”

The great deerhound seemed to know, and rose and came to her with great
gravity, while she clasped on the leash. He was no frisky animal to show
his delight by yelping and gamboling, but he laid his long nose in her
hand, and slowly wagged the down-drooping curve of his shaggy tail; and
then he placidly walked by her side up into the hall, where he stood
awaiting her.

She would go along and beg of her husband to leave his work for a day,
and go with her for a walk down to Richmond Park. She had often heard
Mr. Ingram speak of walking down, and she remembered that much of the
road was pretty. Why should not her husband have one holiday?

“It is such a shame,” she had said to him that morning as he left, “that
you will be going into that gloomy place, with its bare walls and
chairs, and the windows so that you cannot see out of them!”

“I must get some work done somehow, Sheila,” he said, although he did
not tell her that he had not finished a picture since his marriage.

“I wish I could do some of it for you,” she said.

“You! All the work you’re good for is catching fish and feeding ducks
and planting things in gardens. Why don’t you come down and feed the
ducks in the Serpentine?”

“I should like to do that,” she answered. “I will go any day with you.”

“Well,” he said, “you see, I don’t know until I get along to the studio
whether I can get away for the forenoon; and then if I were to come back
here, you would have little or no time to dress. Good-bye, Sheila.”

“Good-bye,” she said to him; giving up the Serpentine without much
regret.

But the forenoon had turned out so delightful that she thought she would
go along to the studio, and hale him out of that gaunt and dingy
apartment. She should take him away from town; therefore, she might put
on that rough, blue dress in which she used to go boating in Loch Roag.
She had lately smartened it up a bit with some white braid, and she
hoped he would approve.

Did the big hound know the dress? He rubbed his head against her arm and
hand when she came down, and looked up and whined almost inaudibly.

“You are going out, Bras, and you must be a good dog and not try to go
after the deer. Then I will send a very good story of you to Mairi; and
when she comes to London after the harvest is over, she will bring you a
present from the Lewis, and you will be very proud.”

She went out into the square, and was, perhaps, a little glad to get
away from it, as she was not sure of the blue dress and the small hat
with its sea-gull’s feather being precisely the costume which she ought
to wear. When she got into the Uxbridge road she breathed more freely,
and in the lightness of her heart she continued the conversation with
Bras, giving that attentive animal a vast amount of information, partly
in English, partly in Gaelic, which he answered only by a low whine or a
shake of his shaggy head.

But these confidences were suddenly interrupted. She had got down to
Addison Terrace, and was contentedly looking at the trees and chatting
to the dog, when by accident her eyes happened to light on a brougham
that was driving past. In it--she beheld them both clearly for a brief
second--were her husband and Mrs. Lorraine so engaged in conversation
that neither of them saw her. Sheila stood on the pavement for a couple
of minutes absolutely bewildered. All sorts of wild fancies and
recollections came crowding in upon her--reasons why her husband was
unwilling that she should visit his studio, why Mrs. Lorraine never
called on her, and so forth, and so forth. She did not know what to
think for a time; but presently all this tumult was stilled, and she had
resolved her doubts and made up her mind as to what she should do. She
would not suspect her husband--that was the one sweet security to which
she clung. He had made use of no duplicity; if there were duplicity in
the case at all he could not be the author of it. The reasons for his
having of late left her so much alone were the true reasons. And if this
Mrs. Lorraine should amuse him and interest him, who ought to grudge him
this break in the monotony of his work? Sheila knew that she herself
disliked going to those fashionable gatherings to which Mrs. Lorraine
went, and to which Lavender had been accustomed to go before he was
married. How could she expect him to give up all his old habits and
pleasures for her sake? She would be more generous. It was her own fault
that she was not a better companion for him, then, to think hardly of
him because he went to the Park with a friend instead of going alone?

Yet there was a great bitterness and grief in her heart as she turned
and walked on. She spoke no more to the deerhound by her side. There
seemed to be less sunlight in the air, and the people and carriages
passing were hardly so busy and cheerful and interesting as they had
been. But all the same, she would go to Richmond Park, and by herself;
for what was the use in calling in at the studio? and how could she go
back home and sit in the house, knowing that her husband was away at
some flower-show or morning concert, or some such thing, with that young
American lady?

She knew no other road to Richmond than that by which they had driven
shortly after her arrival in London; and so it was that she went down
and over Hammersmith Bridge, and around by Mortlake, and so on by East
Sheen. The road seemed terribly long. She was an excellent walker, and
in ordinary circumstances would have done the distance without fatigue;
but when at length she saw the gates of the Park before her, she was at
once exceedingly tired and almost faint from hunger. Here was the hotel
in which they had dined; should she enter? The place seemed very grand
and forbidding; she had scarcely even looked at it as she went up the
steps with her husband by her side. However, she would venture, and
accordingly she went up into the vestibule, looking rather timidly
about. A young gentleman, apparently not a waiter, approached her and
seemed to wait for her to speak. It was a terrible moment. What was she
to ask for? and could she ask it of this young man? Fortunately, he
spoke first, and asked her if she wished to go into the coffee-room, and
if she expected any one.

“No, I do not expect any one,” she said; and she knew that he would
perceive the peculiarity of her accent; “but if you will be kind enough
to tell me where I may have a biscuit--”

It occurred to her that to go into the Star and Garter for a biscuit was
absurd; and she added, wildly, “or anything to eat.”

The young man obviously regarded her with some surprise, but was very
courteous, and showed her into the coffee-room and called a waiter to
her. Moreover, he gave permission for Bras to be admitted into the room,
Sheila promising that he would lie under the table and not budge an
inch. Then she looked around. There were only three persons in the
room--one, an old lady seated by herself in a far corner, the other two
being a couple of young folks too much engrossed with each other to mind
any one else. She began to feel more at home. The waiter suggested
various things for lunch, and she made her choice of something cold.
Then she mustered up courage to ask for a glass of sherry. How she would
have enjoyed all this as a story to tell to her husband but for that
incident of the morning! She would have gloried in her outward bravery,
and made him smile with a description of her inward terror. She would
have written about it to the old man in Borva, and bid him consider how
she had been transformed, and what strange scenes Bras was now
witnessing.

But all that was over. She felt as if she could no longer ask her
husband to be amused by her childish experiences; and as for writing to
her father, she dared not write to him in her present mood. Perhaps some
happier time would come. Sheila paid her bill. She had heard her husband
and Mr. Ingram talking about tipping waiters, and knew that she ought to
give something to the man who had attended on her. But how much? He was
a very august-looking person, with formally-cut whiskers and a severe
expression of face. When he had brought back the change to her she
timidly selected a half-crown and offered it to him. There was a little
glance of surprise; she feared she had not given him enough. Then he
said “Thank you!” in a vague and distant fashion, and she knew that she
had not given him enough. But it was too late. Bras was summoned from
under the table, and again she went out into the fresh air.

“Oh, my good dog!” she said to him, as they together walked up to the
gates and into the Park, “this is a very extravagant country. You have
to pay half-a-crown to a servant for bringing you a piece of cold pie,
and then he looks as if he were not paid enough. And Duncan, who will do
everything about the house, and will give us all our dinners, it’s only
a pound a week he will get, and Scarlett has to be kept out of that. And
wouldn’t you like to see poor old Scarlett again?”

Bras whined, as if he understood every word.

“I suppose now she is hanging out the washing on the gooseberry bushes,
and you know the song she always used to sing then? Don’t you know that
Scarlett carried me about long before you were born, for you are a mere
infant compared with me? And she used to sing to me:

    “Ged’ bheirte mi’ bho’n bhas so,
      Mho Sheila bheag òg!”

And that is what she is singing just now in the garden; and Mairi she is
bringing the things out of the washing house. Papa is over in Stornoway
this morning, arranging his accounts with the people there; and perhaps
he is down at the quay, looking at the Clansman, and wondering when she
is to bring me into the harbor. The castle is all shut up, you know,
with cloths over all the wonderful things, and the curtains all down,
and most of the shutters shut. Do you think papa has got my letter in
his pocket, and does he read it over and over again, as I read all his
letters to me over and over again? Ah-h! You bad dog!”

Bras had forgotten to listen to his mistress in the excitement of seeing
in the distance a large herd of deer under certain trees. She felt by
the leash that he was trembling in every limb with expectation, and
straining hard on the collar. Again and again she admonished him in
vain, until she had at last to drag him away down the hill, putting a
small plantation between him and the herd. Here she found a large
umbrageous chestnut tree, with a wooden seat around its trunk, and so
she sat down in the green twilight of the leaves, while Bras came and
put his head in her lap. Out beyond the shadow of the tree all the world
lay bathed in sunlight, and a great silence brooded over the long
undulations of the Park, where not a human being was within sight. How
strange it was, she fell to thinking, that within a short distance there
were millions of men and women, while here she was absolutely alone? Did
they not care, then, for the sunlight and the trees and the sweet air?
Were they so wrapped up in those social observances that seemed to her
so barren of interest?

“They have a beautiful country here,” she said, talking in a rambling
and wistful way to Bras, and scarcely noticing the eager light in his
eyes, as if he were trying to understand. “They have no rain and no fog;
almost always blue skies, and the clouds high up and far away. And the
beautiful trees they have, too! you never saw anything like that in the
Lewis, not even at Stornoway. And the people are so rich and beautiful
in their dress, and all the day they have only to think how to enjoy
themselves and what new amusements is for the morrow. But I think they
are tired of having nothing to do; or, perhaps, you know, they are tired
because they have nothing to fight against--no hard weather and hunger
and poverty. They do not care for each other as they would if they were
working on the same farm, and trying to save up for the Winter; or if
they were going out to the fishing, and very glad to come home again
from Caithness to find all the old people very well and the young ones
ready for a dance and a dram, and much joy and laughing and telling of
stories. It is a very great difference there will be in the people--very
great.”

Bras whined: perhaps he understood her better now that she had
involuntarily fallen into something of her old accent and habit of
speech.

“Wouldn’t you like, Bras, to be up in Borva again--only for this
afternoon? All the people would come running out; and it is little
Ailasa, she would put her arms around your neck; and old Peter
McTavish, he would hear who it was, and come out of his house groping by
the wall, and he would say, ‘Pless me! iss it you, Miss Sheila, indeed
and mirover? It iss a long time since you hef left the Lewis.’ Yes it is
a long time--a long time; and I will be almost forgotten what it is like
sometimes when I try to think of it. Here it is always the same--the
same houses, the same soft air, the same still sunlight, the same things
to do and places to see--no storms shaking the windows or ships running
into the harbor, and you cannot go down to the shore to see what has
happened, or up the hill to look how the sea is raging. But it is one
day we will go back to the Lewis--oh, yes, we will go back to the
Lewis!”

She rose and looked wistfully around her, and then turned with a sigh to
make her way to the gates. It was with no especial sort of gladness that
she thought of returning home. Here, in the great stillness, she had
been able to dream of the far island which she knew, and to fancy
herself for a few minutes there; now she was going back to the dreary
monotony of her life in that square, and to the doubts and anxieties
which had been suggested to her in the morning. The world she was about
to enter once more seemed so much less homely, so much less full of
interest and purpose, than that other and distant world she had been
wistfully regarding for a time. The people around her hid neither the
joys nor the sorrows with which she had been taught to sympathize. Their
cares seemed to her to be exaggeration of trifles--she could feel no
pity for them; their satisfaction was derived from sources
unintelligible to her. And the social atmosphere around her seemed still
and close and suffocating; so that she was like to cry out at times for
one breath of God’s clear wind--for a shaft of lightning even--to cut
through the sultry and drowsy sameness of her life.

She had almost forgotten the dog by her side. While sitting under the
chestnut she had carelessly and loosely wound the leash around his neck
in the semblance of a collar, and when she arose and came away she let
the dog walk by her side without undoing the leash and taking proper
charge of him. She was thinking of far other things, indeed, when she
was startled by some one calling to her, “Look out, Miss, or you’ll have
your dog shot!”

She turned and caught a glimpse of what sent a thrill of terror to her
heart. Bras had sneaked off from her side--had trotted lightly over the
breckans, and was now in full chase of a herd of deer which were flying
down the slope on the other side of the plantation. He rushed now at
one, now at another, the very number of chances presented to him proving
the safety of the whole herd. But as Sheila, with a swift flight that
would have astonished most town-bred girls, followed the wild chase and
came to the crest of the slope, she could see that the hound had at
length singled out a particular deer--a fine buck, with handsome horns,
that was making straight for the foot of the valley. The herd, that had
been much scattered, were now drawing together again, though checking
nothing of their speed; but this single buck had been driven from his
companions, and was doing his utmost to escape from the fangs of the
powerful animal behind him.

What could she do but run wildly and breathlessly on? The dog was now
far beyond the reach of her voice. She had no whistle. All sorts of
fearful anticipations rushed in on her mind, the most prominent of all
being the anger of her father if Bras were shot. How could she go back
to Borva with such a tale? and how could she live in London without this
companion who had come with her from the far North? Then what terrible
things were connected with the killing of deer in a royal park! She
remembered vaguely what Mr. Ingram and her husband had been saying; and
while these things had been crowding in upon her she felt her strength
beginning to fail, while both the dog and the deer had disappeared
altogether from sight.

Strange, too, that in the midst of her fatigue and fright, while she
still managed to struggle on with a sharp pain at her heart and a sort
of mist before her eyes, she had a vague consciousness that her husband
would be deeply vexed, not by the conduct or the fate of Bras, but by
her being the heroine of so mad an adventure. She knew that he wished
her to be serious and subdued and proper, like the ladies whom she met,
while an evil destiny seemed to dog her footsteps and precipitate her
into all sorts of erratic mishaps and “scenes.” However, this adventure
was likely soon to have an end. She could go no further. Whatever had
become of Bras, it was in vain for her to think of pursuing him. When
she at length reached a broad and smooth road leading through the
pasture, she could only stand still and press her two hands over her
heart, while her head seemed giddy, and she did not see two men who had
been standing on the road close by, until they came up and addressed
her.

Then she started and looked around, finding before her two men who were
apparently laborers of some sort, one of them having a shovel over his
shoulder.

“Beg your pardon, miss, but wur that your dawg?”

“Yes,” she said, eagerly. “Could you get him? Did you see him go by? Do
you know where he is?”

“Me and my mate saw him go by, sure enough; but as for getting him--why
the keepers’ll have shot him by this time.”

“Oh, no?” cried Sheila, almost in tears, “they must not shoot him. It
was my fault. I will pay them for all the harm he has done. Can’t you
tell me which way he will go past?”

“I don’t think, miss,” said the spokesman, quite respectfully, “as you
can go much furder. If you would sit down and rest yourself, and keep an
eye on this ’ere shovel, me and my mate will have a hunt arter the
dawg.”

Sheila not only accepted the offer gratefully, but promised to give them
all the money she had if only they would bring back the dog unharmed.
She made this offer in consequence of some talk between her husband and
her father which she had overheard. Lavender was speaking of the
civility he had frequently experienced at the hands of Scotch shepherds,
and of the independence with which they refused to accept any
compensation even for services which cost them a good deal of time and
trouble. Perhaps it was to please Sheila’s father, but, at any rate, the
picture the young man drew of the venality and the cupidity of the folks
in the South was a desperately dark one. Ask the name of a village, have
your stick picked up for you from the pavement, get into a cab or get
out of it, and directly there was a touch of the cap and an unspoken
request for coppers. Then, as the services rendered rose in importance,
so did the fees--to waiters, to coachmen, to gamekeepers. These things
and many more sank into Sheila’s heart. She heard and believed, and came
down to the South with the notion that every man and woman who did you
the least service expected to be paid handsomely for it. What,
therefore, could she give those two men if they brought back her
deerhound but all the money she had?

It was a hard thing to wait here in the greatest doubt and uncertainty
while the afternoon was visibly waning. She began to grow afraid.
Perhaps the men had stolen the dog, and left her with this shovel as a
blind. Her husband must have come home, and would be astonished and
perplexed by her absence. Surely, he would have the sense to dine by
himself, instead of waiting for her; and she reflected with some glimpse
of satisfaction that she had left everything connected with dinner
properly arranged, so that he should have nothing to grumble at.

“Surely,” she said to herself as she sat there, watching the light on
the grass and the trees getting more and more yellow--“surely I am very
wicked or very wretched to think of his grumbling in any case. If he
grumbles, it is because I will attend too much to the affairs of the
house, and not amuse myself enough. He is very good to me, and I have no
right to think of his grumbling. And I wish I cared to amuse myself
more--to be more of a companion to him; but it is so difficult among all
those people.”

The revery was interrupted by the sound of footsteps on the grass
behind, and she turned quickly to find the two men approaching her, one
of them leading the captive Bras by the leash. Sheila sprang to her feet
with a great gladness. She did not care even to accuse the culprit,
whose consciousness of guilt was evident in his look and in the droop of
his tail. Bras did not once turn his eyes to his mistress. He hung down
his head, while he panted rapidly, and she fancied she saw some smearing
of blood on his tongue and on the side of his jaw. Her fears on this
head were speedily confirmed.

“I think, miss, as you’d better take him out o’ the Park as soon as may
be, for he’s got a deer killed close by the Robin Hood Gate, in the
trees there; and if the keepers happen on it afore you leave the Park,
you’ll get into trouble.”

“Oh, thank you!” said Sheila, retaining her composure bravely, but with
a terrible sinking of the heart, “and how can I get to the nearest
railway station?”

“You’re going to London, miss?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I suppose the nearest is Richmond, but it would be quieter for
you--don’t you see, miss--if you was to go along to the Roehampton Gate
and go to Barnes.”

“Will you show me the gate?” said Sheila, choosing the quieter route at
once.

But the men themselves did not at all like the look of accompanying her
and this dog through the Park. Had they not already condoned a felony,
or done something equally dreadful, in handing to her a dog that had
been found keeping watch and ward over a slain buck? They showed her the
road to the Roehampton Gate, and then they paused before continuing on
their journey.

The pause meant money. Sheila took out her purse. There were three
sovereigns and some silver in it, and the entire sum, in fulfillment of
her promise, she held out to him who had so far conducted the
negotiations.

Both men looked frightened. It was quite clear that either good feeling
or some indefinite fear of being implicated in the killing of the deer
caused them to regard this big bribe as something they could not meddle
with; and at length, after a pause of a second or two, the spokesman
said with great hesitation, “Well, miss, you kept your word, but me and
my mate--well, if so be as it’s the same to you--’d rather have summut
to drink your health.”

“Do you think it is too much?”

The man looked at his neighbor, who nodded.

“It was only for ketchin’ of a dawg, miss, don’t you see?” he remarked
slowly, as if to impress upon her that they had had nothing to do with
the deer.

“Will you take this, then?” and she offered them half a crown each.

Their faces lightened considerably; they took the money, and with a
formal expression of thanks moved off, but not before they had taken a
glance around to see that no one had been a witness of this interview.

And so Sheila had to walk away by herself, knowing that she had been
guilty of a dreadful offence, and that at any moment she might be
arrested by the officers of the law. What would the old King of Borva
say if he saw his only daughter in the hands of two policemen? and would
not all Mr. Lavender’s fastidious and talkative and wondering friends
pass about the newspaper report of her trial and conviction? A man was
approaching her. As he drew near her heart failed her, for might not
this be the mysterious George Ranger himself, about whom her husband and
Mr. Ingram had been talking? Should she drop on her knees at once and
confess her sins, and beg him to let her off? If Duncan were with her,
or Mairi, or even old Scarlett Macdonald, she would not have cared so
much, but it seemed so terrible to meet this man alone.

However, as he drew near he did not seem a fierce person. He was an old
gentleman, with voluminous white hair, who was dressed all in black, and
carried an umbrella on this warm and bright afternoon. He regarded her
and the dog in a distant and contemplative fashion, as though he would
probably try to remember some time after that he had really seen them;
and then he passed on. Sheila began to breathe more freely. Moreover,
here was the gate, and once she was in the high road, who could say
anything to her? Tired as she was, she still walked rapidly on; and, in
due time, having had to ask the way once or twice, she found herself at
Barnes Station.

By-and-by the train came in; Bras was committed to the care of the
guard, and she found herself alone in a railway carriage for the first
time in her life. Her husband had told her that whenever she felt
uncertain of her whereabouts, if in the country, she was to ask for the
nearest station and get a train to London; if in town she was to get
into a cab and give the driver her address. And, indeed, Sheila had been
so much agitated and perplexed during this afternoon that she acted in a
sort of mechanical fashion, and really escaped the nervousness which
otherwise would have attended the novel experience of purchasing a
ticket and arranging about the carriage of a dog in the break-van. Even
now, when she found herself traveling alone, and shortly to arrive at a
part of London she had never seen, her crowding thoughts and fancies
were not about her own situation, but about the reception she would
receive from her husband. Would he be vexed with her? Or pity her? Had
he called with Mrs. Lorraine to take her somewhere, and found her gone?
Had he brought home some bachelor friends to dinner, and been chagrined
to find her not in the house?

It was getting dusk when the slow four-wheeler approached Sheila’s home.
The hour for dinner had long gone by. Perhaps her husband had gone away
somewhere looking for her, and she would find the house empty.

But Frank Lavender came to meet his wife in the hall, and said, “Where
have you been?”

She could not tell whether there was anger or kindness in his voice, and
she could not well see his face. She took his hand and went into the
dining-room, which was also dusk, and standing there told him all her
story.

“This is too bad, Sheila,” he said, in atone of deep vexation. “By Jove!
I’ll go and thrash the dog within an inch of his life.”

“No,” she said, drawing herself up; and for one brief second--could he
have but seen her face--there was a touch of old Mackenzie’s pride and
firmness about the ordinarily gentle lips. It was but for a second. She
cast down her eyes and said, meekly, “I hope you won’t do that, Frank.
The dog is not to blame. It was my fault.”

“Well, really, Sheila,” he said, “you are very thoughtless. I wish you
would take some little trouble to act as other women act, instead of
constantly putting yourself and me in the most awkward positions.
Suppose I had brought any one home to dinner, now? And what am I to say
to Ingram? for, of course, I went direct to his lodgings when I
discovered that you were nowhere to be found. I fancied some mad freak
had taken you there; and I should not have been surprised. Indeed, I
don’t think I should be surprised at anything you do. Do you know who
was in the hall when I came in this afternoon?”

“No,” said Sheila.

“Why, that wretched old hag who keeps the fruit-stall. And it seems you
gave her and all her family tea and cake in the kitchen last night.”

“She is a poor woman,” said Sheila, humbly.

“A poor old woman!” he said, impatiently. “I have no doubt she is a
lying old thief, who would take an umbrella or a coat, if only she could
get the chance. It is really too bad, Sheila, you having all those
persons about you, and demeaning yourself by attending on them. What
must the servants think of you?”

“I do not heed what any servants think of me,” she said.

She was now standing erect, with her face quite calm.

“Apparently not,” he said, “or you would not go and make yourself
ridiculous before them.”

Sheila hesitated for a moment, as if she did not understand; and then
she said, as calmly as before, but with a touch of indignation about the
proud and beautiful lips, “And if I make myself ridiculous by attending
to poor people, it is not my husband who should tell me so.”

She turned and walked out, and he was too surprised to follow her. She
went up stairs to her own room, locked herself in and threw herself on
the bed. And then all the bitterness of her heart rose up as if in a
flood--not against him, but against the country in which he lived, and
the society which had contaminated him, and the ways and habits which
seemed to create a barrier between herself and him, so that she was a
stranger to him, and incapable of becoming anything else. It was a crime
that she should interest herself in the unfortunate creatures round
about her, that she should talk to them as if they were not human beings
like herself, and have a great sympathy with their small hopes and aims;
but she would not have been led into such a crime if she had cultivated
from her infancy upward a consistent self-indulgence, making herself the
centre of a world of mean desires and petty gratifications. And then she
thought of the old and beautiful days up in the Lewis, where the young
English stranger seemed to approve of her simple ways and her charitable
work, and where she was taught to believe that in order to please him
she had only to continue to be what she was then.

There was no great gulf of time between that period and this; but what
had not happened in the interval? She had not changed--at least she
hoped she had not changed. She loved her husband with her whole heart
and soul; her devotion was as true and constant as she herself could
have wished it to be when she dreamed of the duties of a wife in the
days of her maidenhood. But all around her was changed. She had no
longer the old freedom--the old delight in living from day to day--the
active work, and the enjoyment of seeing where she could help and how
she could help the people around her. When, as if by the same sort of
instinct that makes a wild animal retain in captivity the habits which
were necessary to its existence when it lived in freedom, she began to
find out the circumstances of such unfortunate people as were in her
neighborhood, some little solace was given to her; but these people were
not friends to her, as the poor folk of Borvapost had been. She knew,
too, that her husband would be displeased if he found her talking with
a washerwoman over her family matters, or even advising one of her own
servants about the disposal of her wages; so that, while she concealed
nothing from him, these things nevertheless had to be done exclusively
in his absence. And was she in so doing really making herself
ridiculous? Did he consider her ridiculous? Or was it not merely the
false and enervating influences of the indolent society in which he
lived that had poisoned his mind, and drawn him away from her as though
into another world?

Alas! if he were in this other world, was not she quite alone? What
companionship was there possible between her and the people in this new
and strange land into which she had ventured? As she lay on the bed,
with her head hidden down in the darkness, the pathetic wail of the
captive Jews seemed to come and go through the bitterness of her
thoughts, like some mournful refrain: “By the rivers of Babylon, there
we sat down; yea, we wept when we remembered Zion.” She almost heard the
words, and the reply that rose up in her heart was a great yearning to
go back to her own land, so that her eyes were filled with tears in
thinking of it, and she lay and sobbed there in the dusk. Would not the
old man living all by himself in that lonely island be glad to see his
little girl back again in the old house? And she would sing to him as
she used to sing, not as she had been singing to those people whom her
husband knew, “For there they that carried us away captive required of
us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us
one of the songs of Zion.” And she had sung in the strange land, among
the strange people, with her heart breaking, with thoughts of the sea
and the hills, and the rude and sweet and simple ways of the old by-gone
life she had left behind her.

“Sheila!”

She thought it was her father calling to her, and she rose with a cry of
joy. For one wild moment she fancied that outside were all the people
she knew--Duncan and Scarlett and Mairi--and that she was once more at
home, with the sea all around her, and the salt, cold air.

“Sheila, I want to speak to you.”

It was her husband. She went to the door, opened it, and stood there
penitent and with downcast face.

“Come, you must not be silly,” he said, with some kindness in his voice.
“You have had no dinner. You must be hungry.”

“I do not care for any; there is no use troubling the servants when I
would rather lie down,” she said.

“The servants! You surely don’t take so seriously what I said about
them, Sheila? Of course you don’t need to care what the servants think.
And in any case they have to bring up dinner for me, so you may as well
come and try.”

“Have you not had dinner?” she said timidly.

“Do you think I could sit down and eat with the notion that you might
have tumbled into the Thames or been kidnapped, or something?”

“I am very sorry,” she said, in a low voice, and in the gloom he felt
his hand taken and carried to her lips. Then they went down stairs in
the dining-room, which was now lit up by a blaze of gas and candles.

During dinner, of course, no very confidential talking was possible,
and, indeed, Sheila had plenty to tell of her adventures at Richmond.
Lavender was now in a more amiable mood, and was disposed to look on the
killing of the roebuck as rather a good joke. He complimented Sheila on
her good sense in having gone in at the Star and Garter for lunch; and
altogether better relations were established between them.

But when dinner was finally over, and the servants dismissed, Lavender
placed Sheila’s easy-chair for her as usual, drew his own near hers, and
lit a cigarette.

“Now, tell me, Sheila,” he said, “were you really vexed with me when you
went up stairs and locked yourself in your room? Did you think I meant
to displease you or say anything harsh to you?”

“No, not any of those things,” she said calmly; “I wished to be
alone--to think over what had happened. And I was grieved by what you
said, for I think you cannot help looking at many things not as I will
look at them. That is all. It is my bringing up in the Highlands,
perhaps.”

“Do you know, Sheila, it sometimes occurs to me that you are not quite
comfortable here? And I can’t make out what is the matter. I think you
have a perverse fancy that you are different from the people you meet,
and that you cannot be like them, and all that sort of thing. Now, dear,
that is only a fancy. There need be no difference if you only will take
a little trouble.”

“Oh, Frank!” she said, going over and putting her hand on his shoulder,
“I cannot take that trouble. I cannot try to be like those people. And I
see a great difference in you since you have come back to London, and
you are getting to be like them and say the things they say. If I could
only see you, my own darling, up in the Lewis again, with rough clothes
on and a gun in your hand, I should be happy. You were yourself up
there, when you were helping us in the boat, or when you were bringing
home the salmon, or when we were all together at night in the little
parlor, you know--”

“My dear, don’t get excited. Now sit down and I will tell you all about
it. You seem to have the notion that people lose all their finer
sentiments simply because they don’t, in society, burst into raptures
over them. You mustn’t imagine all those people are selfish and callous
merely because they preserve a decent reticence. To tell you the truth,
that constant profession of noble feelings you would like to see would
have something of ostentation about it.”

Sheila only sighed. “I do not wish them to be altered,” she said by and
by, with her eyes growing pensive; “all I know is, that I could not live
the same life. And you--you seemed to be happier up in the Highlands
than you have ever been since.”

“Well, you see, a man ought to be happy when he is enjoying a holiday in
the country along with the girl he is engaged to. But if I had lived all
my life killing salmon and shooting wild duck, I should have grown up an
ignorant boor, with no more sense of--”

He stopped for he saw that the girl was thinking of her father.

“Well, look here, Sheila. You see how you are placed--how we are placed,
rather. Wouldn’t it be more sensible to get to understand those people
you look askance at, and establish better relations with them, since you
have got to live among them? I can’t help thinking you are too much
alone, and you can’t expect me to stay in the house always with you. A
husband and wife cannot be continually in each other’s company, unless
they want to grow heartily tired of each other. Now, if you would only
lay aside those suspicions of yours, you would find the people just as
honest and generous and friendly as any other sort of people you ever
met, although they don’t happen to be fond of expressing their goodness
in their talk.”

“I have tried, dear--I will try again,” said Sheila.

She resolved that she would go down and visit Mrs. Lavender next day,
and try to be interested in the talk of such people as might be there.
She would bring away some story about this or the other fashionable
woman or noble lord, just to show her husband that she was doing her
best to learn. She would drive patiently around the Park in that close
little brougham, and listen attentively to the moralities of Marcus
Aurelius. She would make an appointment to go with Mrs. Lavender to a
morning concert: and she would endeavor to muster up courage to ask any
ladies who might be there to lunch with her on that day, and go
afterward to this same entertainment. All these things, and many more,
Sheila silently vowed to herself she would do, while her husband sat and
expounded to her his theories of the obligations which society demanded
of its members.

But her plans were suddenly broken asunder.

“I met Mrs. Lorraine accidentally to-day,” he said.

It was his first mention of the young American lady. Sheila sat in mute
expectation.

“She always asks very kindly after you.”

“She is very kind.”

He did not say, however, that Mrs. Lorraine had more than once made
distinct propositions, when in his company, that they should call in for
Sheila, and take her out for a drive or to a flower show, or some such
place, while Lavender had always some excuse ready.

“She is going to Brighton to-morrow, and she was wondering whether you
would care to run down for a day or two.”

“With her?” said Sheila, recoiling from such a proposal, instinctively.

“Of course not. I should go. And then, at last, you know, you would see
the sea, about which you have been dreaming for ever so long.”

The sea! There was a magic in the very word that could, almost at any
moment, summon tears to her eyes. Of course she accepted right gladly.
If her husband’s duties were so pressing that the long-talked-of journey
to Lewis and Borva had to be repeatedly and indefinitely postponed, here
at least would be a chance of looking again at the sea--of drinking in
the freshness and light and color of it--of renewing her old and
intimate friendship with it that had been broken off for so long by her
stay in this city of perpetual houses and still sunshine.

“You can tell her you will go when you see her to-night at Lady Mary’s.
By the way, isn’t it time for you to begin to dress?”

“Oh, Lady Mary’s!” repeated Sheila mechanically, who had quite forgotten
about her engagement for that evening.

“Perhaps you are too tired to go,” said her husband.

She was a little tired, in truth. But surely, just after her promises,
spoken and unspoken, some little effort was demanded of her; so she
bravely went to dress, and in about three-quarters of an hour was ready
to drive down to Curzon Street. Her husband had never seen her look so
pleased before in going out to any party. He flattered himself that his
lecture had done her some good. There was fair common sense in what he
had said, and although, doubtless, a girl’s romanticism was a pretty
thing, it would have to yield to the actual requirements of society. In
time he should educate Sheila.

But he did not know what brightened the girl’s face all that night, and
put a new life into the beautiful eyes, so that even those who knew her
best were struck by her singular beauty. It was the sea that was
coloring Sheila’s eyes. The people around her, the glare of the candles,
the hum of talking and the motion of certain groups dancing over there
in the middle of the throng--all were faint and visionary, for she was
busily wondering what the sea would be like the next morning, and what
strange fancies would strike her when once more she walked on sand and
heard the roar of waves. That, indeed, was the sound that was present in
her ears while the music played and the people murmured around her. Mrs.
Lorraine talked to her, and was surprised and amused to notice the eager
fashion in which the girl spoke of their journey of the next day. The
gentleman who took her in to supper found himself catechised about
Brighton in a manner which afforded him more occupation than enjoyment.
And when Sheila drove away from the house at two in the morning she
declared to her husband that she had enjoyed herself extremely, and he
was glad to hear it; and she was particularly kind to himself in getting
him his slippers, and fetching him that final cigarette which he always
had on reaching home; and then she went off to bed to dream of ships
and flying clouds and cold winds, and a great and beautiful blue plain
of waves.



PART VII.



CHAPTER XIV.

DEEPER AND DEEPER.


Next morning Sheila was busy with her preparations for departure, when
she heard a hansom drive up. She looked out and saw Mr. Ingram step out;
and before he had time to cross the pavement she had run around and
opened the door, and stood at the top of the steps to receive him. How
often had her husband cautioned her not to forget herself in this
monstrous fashion!

“Do you think I had run away? Have you come to see me?” she said, with a
bright, roseate gladness on her face, which reminded him of many a
pleasant morning in Borva.

“I did not think you had run away, for, you see, I have brought you some
flowers;” but there was a sort of blush in the sallow face, and perhaps
the girl had some quick fancy or suspicion that he had brought this
bouquet to prove that he knew everything was right, and that he expected
to see her. It was only a part of his universal kindness and
thoughtfulness, she considered.

“Frank is up stairs,” she said, “getting ready some things to go to
Brighton. Will you come into the breakfast-room? Have you had
breakfast?”

“Oh, you were going to Brighton?”

“Yes,” she said, and somehow something moved her to add quickly, “but
not for long, you know. Only a few days. It is many a time you will have
told me of Brighton long ago in the Lewis, but I cannot understand a
large town being beside the sea, and it will be a great surprise to me,
I am sure of that.”

“Ay, Sheila,” he said, falling into the old habit quite naturally, “you
will find it different from Borvapost. You will have no scampering about
the rock, with your head bare and your hair flying about. You will have
to dress more correctly there than here even; and, by the way, you must
be busy getting ready; so I will go.”

“Oh, no,” she said, with a quick look of disappointment, “you will not
go yet. If I had known you were coming--but it was very late when we got
home this morning: two o’clock it was.”

“Another ball?”

“Yes,” said the girl, but not very joyfully.

“Why, Sheila,” he said, with a grave smile on his face, “you are
becoming quite a woman of fashion now. And you know I can’t keep up an
acquaintance with a fine lady, who goes to all these grand places, and
knows all sorts of swell people; so you’ll have to cut me, Sheila.”

“I hope I shall be dead before that time ever comes,” said the girl,
with a sudden flash of indignation in her eyes. Then she softened: “But
it is not kind for you to laugh at me.”

“Of course I did not laugh at you,” he said, taking both her hands in
his, “although I used to sometimes when you were a little girl and
talked very wild English. Don’t you remember how vexed you used to be,
and how pleased you were when your papa turned the laugh against me by
getting me to say that awful Gaelic sentence about ‘A young calf ate a
raw egg!’”

“Can you say it now?” said Sheila, with her face getting bright and
pleased again. “Try it after me. Now listen.”

She uttered some half dozen of the most extraordinary sounds that any
language ever contained, but Ingram would not attempt to follow her. She
reproached him with having forgotten all that he had learnt in Lewis,
and said she should no longer look on him as a possible Highlander.

“But what are _you_ now?” he asked. “You are no longer that wild girl
who used to run out to sea in the Maighdean-mhara whenever there was the
excitement of a storm coming on.”

“Many times,” she said, slowly and wistfully, “I will wish that I could
be that again for a little while.”

“Don’t you enjoy, then, all those fine gatherings you go to?”

“I try to like them.”

“And you don’t succeed?”

He was looking at her gravely and earnestly, and she turned away her
head and did not answer. At this moment Lavender came down stairs and
entered the room.

“Halloo, Ingram, my boy! glad to see you! What pretty flowers! It’s a
pity we can’t take them to Brighton with us.”

“But I intend to take them,” said Sheila, firmly.

“Oh, very well, if you don’t mind the bother,” said her husband. “I
should have thought your hands would have been full; you know you’ll
have to take everything with you you would want in London. You will find
that Brighton isn’t a dirty little fishing-village in which you’ve only
to tuck up your dress and run about anyhow.”

“I never saw a dirty little fishing-village,” said Sheila, quietly.

Her husband laughed: “I meant no offense. I was not thinking of
Borvapost at all. Well, Ingram, can’t you run down and see us while we
are at Brighton?”

“Oh, do, Mr. Ingram?” said Sheila, with quite a new interest in her
face; and she came forward as though she would have gone down on her
knees and begged this great favor of him. “Do Mr. Ingram! We should try
to amuse you some way, and the weather is sure to be fine. Shall we keep
a room for you? Can you come on Friday and stay till Monday? It is a
great difference there will be in the place if you come down.”

Ingram looked at Sheila, and was on the point of promising, when
Lavender added: “And we shall introduce you to that young American lady
whom you are so anxious to meet.”

“Oh, is she to be there?” he said, looking rather curiously at Lavender.

“Yes, and her mother. We are going down together.”

“Then I’ll see whether I can in a day or two,” he said, but in a tone
which pretty nearly convinced Sheila that she should not have her stay
at Brighton made pleasant by the company of her old friend and
associate.

However, the mere anticipation of seeing the sea was much; and when they
had got into a cab and were going down to Victoria Station, Sheila’s
eyes were filled with a joyful anticipation. She had discarded
altogether the descriptions of Brighton that had been given her. It is
one thing to receive information, and another to reproduce it in an
imaginative picture; and in fact her imagination was busy with its own
work while she sat and listened to this person or the other speaking of
the seaside town she was going to. When they spoke of promenades and
drives and miles of hotels and lodging houses, she was thinking of the
sea-beach and of the boats and of the sky-line with its distant ships.
When they told her of private theatricals and concerts and fancy-dress
balls, she was thinking of being out on the open sea, with a light
breeze filling the sails, and a curl of white foam rising at the bow and
sweeping and hissing down the sides of the boat. She would go down among
the fishermen when her husband and his friends were not by, and talk to
them, and get to know what they sold their fish for down here in the
South. She would find out what their nets cost, and if there was anybody
in authority to whom they could apply for an advance of a few pounds in
case of hard times. Had they their cuttings of peat free from the
nearest mossland? and did they dress their fields with the thatch that
had got saturated with the smoke? Perhaps some of them could tell her
where the crews hailed from that had repeatedly shot the sheep of the
Flannen Isles. All these and a hundred other things she would get to
know; and she might procure and send to her father some rare bird or
curiosity of the sea, that might be added to the little museum in which
she used to sing in days gone by, when he was busy with his pipe and his
whisky.

“You are not much tired, then, by your dissipation of last night?” said
Mrs. Kavanagh to her at the station, as the slender, fair-haired, grave
lady looked admiringly at the girl’s fresh color and bright gray-blue
eyes. “It makes one envy you to see you looking so strong and in such
good spirits.”

“How happy you must be always!” said Mrs. Lorraine; and the younger lady
had the same sweet, low and kindly voice as her mother.

“I am very well, thank you,” said Sheila, blushing somewhat, and not
lifting her eyes, while Lavender was impatient that she had not answered
with a laugh and some light retort, such as would have occurred to
almost any woman in the circumstances.

On the journey down, Lavender and Mrs. Lorraine, seated opposite each
other in two corner seats, kept up a continual cross-fire of small
pleasantries, in which the young American lady had distinctly the best
of it, chiefly by reason of her perfect manner. The keenest thing she
said was said with a look of great innocence and candor in the large
gray eyes; and then directly afterward she would say something very nice
and pleasant in precisely the same voice, as if she could not understand
that there was any effort on the part of either to assume an advantage.
The mother sometimes turned and listened to this aimless talk with an
amused gravity, as of a cat watching the gambols of a kitten, but
generally she devoted herself to Sheila, who sat opposite her. She did
not talk much, and Sheila was glad of that, but the girl felt that she
was being observed with some little curiosity. She wished that Mrs.
Kavanagh would turn those observant gray eyes of hers away in some other
direction. Now and again Sheila would point out what she considered
strange or striking in the country outside, and for a moment the elderly
lady would look out. But directly afterward the gray eyes would come
back to Sheila, and the girl knew they were upon her.

At last she so persistently stared out of the window that she fell to
dreaming, and all the trees and the meadows and the farm-houses and the
distant heights and hollows went past her as though they were in a sort
of mist, while she replied to Mrs. Kavanagh’s chance remarks in a
mechanical fashion, and could only hear as a monotonous murmur the talk
of the two people at the other side of the carriage. How much of the
journey did she remember? She was greatly struck by the amount of open
land in the neighborhood of London--the commons between Wandsworth and
Streatham, and so forth--and she was pleased with the appearance of the
country about Red Hill. For the rest, a succession of fair green
pictures passed by her, all bathed in a calm, half-misty Summer
sunlight; then they pierced the chalk-hills (which Sheila, at first
sight, fancied were of granite) and rumbled through the tunnels.
Finally, with just a glimpse of a great mass of gray houses filling a
vast hollow and stretching up the bare green downs beyond, they found
themselves in Brighton.

“Well, Sheila, what do you think of the place?” her husband said to her
with a laugh as they were driving down the Queen’s road.

She did not answer.

“It is not like Borvapost, is it?”

She was too bewildered to speak. She could only look about her with a
vague wonder and disappointment. But surely this great city was not the
place they had come to live in? Would it not disappear somehow, and they
would get away to the sea and the rocks and the boats?

They passed into the upper part of West Street, and here was another
thoroughfare, down to which Sheila glanced with no great interest. But
the next moment there was a quick catching of her breath, which almost
resembled a sob, and a strange glad light sprang into her eyes. Here, at
last, was the sea! Away beyond the narrow thoroughfare she could catch a
glimpse of a great green plain--yellow-green it was in the
sunlight--that the wind was whitening here and there with tumbling
waves. She had not noticed that there was any wind in-land--there
everything seemed asleep--but here there was a fresh breeze from the
South, and the sea had been rough the day before, and now it was of this
strange olive color, streaked with the white curls of foam that shone in
the sunlight. Was there not a cold scent of sea-weed, too, blown up this
narrow passage between the houses?

And now the carriage cut around the corner and whirled out into the
glare of the Parade, and before her the great sea stretched out its
leagues of tumbling and shining waves, and she heard the water roaring
along the beach, and far away at the horizon she saw a phantom ship. She
did not even look at the row of splendid hotels and houses, at the
gayly-dressed folks on the pavement, at the brilliant flags that were
flapping and fluttering on the New Pier and about the beach. It was the
great world of shining water beyond that fascinated her, and awoke in
her a strange yearning and longing, so that she did not know whether it
was grief or joy that burned in her heart and blinded her eyes with
tears. Mrs. Kavanagh took her arm as they were going up the steps of the
hotel, and said in a friendly way, “I suppose you have some sad memories
of the sea?”

“No,” said Sheila, bravely, “it is always pleasant to me to think of the
sea; but it is a long time since--since--”

“Sheila,” said her husband, abruptly, “do tell me if all your things are
here;” and then the girl turned, calm and self-collected, to look after
rugs and boxes.

When they were finally established in the hotel, Lavender went off to
negotiate for the hire of a carriage for Mrs. Kavanagh during her stay,
and Sheila was left with the two ladies. They had tea in their
sitting-room, and they had it at one of the windows, so that they could
look out on the stream of people and carriages now beginning to flow by
in the clear yellow light of the afternoon. But neither the people nor
the carriages had much interest for Sheila, who, indeed, sat for the
most part silent, intently watching the various boats that were putting
out or coming in, and busy with conjectures which she knew there was no
use placing before her two companions.

“Brighton seems to surprise you very much,” said Mrs. Lorraine.

“Yes,” said Sheila, “I have been told all about it, but you will forget
all that; and this is very different from the sea at home--at my home.”

“Your home is in London now,” said the elder lady, with a smile.

“Oh, no!” said Sheila, most anxiously and earnestly. “London, that is
not our home at all. We live there for a time--that will be quite
necessary--but we shall go back to the Lewis some day soon--not to stay
altogether, but enough to make it as much our home as London.”

“How do you think Mr. Lavender will enjoy living in the Hebrides?” said
Mrs. Lorraine, with a look of innocent and friendly inquiry in her eyes.

“It was many a time that he has said he never liked any place so much,”
said Sheila with something of a blush; and then she added with growing
courage, “for you must not think he is always like what he is here. Oh,
no! When he is in the Highlands there is no day that is nearly long
enough for what has to be done in it; and he is up very early, and away
to the hills or the loch with a gun or a salmon-rod. He can catch the
salmon very well--oh, very well for one that is not accustomed--and he
will shoot as well as any one that is in the island, except my papa. It
is a great deal to do there will be in the island, and plenty of
amusement; and there is not much chance--not any whatever--of his being
lonely or tired when we go to live in the Lewis.”

Mrs. Kavanagh and her daughter were both amused and pleased by the
earnest and rapid fashion in which Sheila talked. They had generally
considered her to be a trifle shy and silent, not knowing how afraid she
was of using wrong idioms or pronunciations; but here was one subject on
which her heart was set, and she had no more thought as to whether she
said _like-a-ness_ or _likeness_, or whether she said _gyarden_ or
_garden_. Indeed, she forgot more than that. She was somewhat excited by
the presence of the sea and the well-remembered sound of the waves; and
she was pleased to talk about her life in the North, and about her
husband’s stay there, and how they should pass the time when she
returned to Borva. She neglected altogether Lavender’s instructions that
she should not talk about fishing or cooking or farming to his friends.
She incidentally revealed to Mrs. Kavanagh and her daughter a great deal
more about the household at Borva than he would have wished to be known.
For how could they understand about his wife having her own cousin to
serve at table? And what would they think of a young lady who was proud
of making her father’s shirts? Whatever these two ladies may have
thought, they were very obviously interested, and if they were amused,
it was in a far from unfriendly fashion. Mrs. Lorraine professed herself
quite charmed with Sheila’s descriptions of her island-life, and wished
she could go up to Lewis to see all these strange things. But when she
spoke of visiting the island when Sheila and her husband were staying
there, Sheila was not nearly so ready to offer her a welcome as the
daughter of a hospitable old Highland man ought to have been.

“And will you go out in a boat now?” said Sheila, looking down to the
beach.

“In a boat! What sort of a boat?” said Mrs. Kavanagh.

“Any of those little sailing boats; it is very good they are, as far as
I can see.”

“No, thank you,” said the elder lady, with a smile, “I am not fond of
small boats, and the company of the men who go with you might be a
little objectionable, I should fancy.”

“But you need not take any men,” said Sheila; “the sailing of one of
those little boats, it is very simple.”

“Do you mean to say you could manage the boat by yourself?”

“Oh yes! It is very simple. And my husband he will help me.”

“And what would you do if you went out?”

“We might try the fishing. I do not see where the rocks are, but we
would go off to the rocks and put down the anchor and try the lines. You
would have some ferry good fish for breakfast in the morning.”

“My dear child,” said Mrs. Kavanagh, “you don’t know what you propose to
us. To go and roll about in an open boat in these waves--we should be
ill in five minutes. But I suppose you don’t know what seasickness is?”

“No,” said Sheila, “but I will hear my husband speak of it often. And it
is only in crossing the Channel that people will get sick.”

“Why, this is the Channel.”

Sheila stared. Then she endeavored to recall her geography. Of course,
this must be a part of the Channel, but if the people in the South
became ill in this weather, they must be feeble creatures. Her
speculations on this point were cut short by the entrance of her
husband, who came to announce that he had not only secured a carriage
for a month, but that it would be around at the hotel door in half an
hour; whereupon the two American ladies said they would be ready, and
left the room.

“Now go off and get dressed, Sheila,” said Lavender.

She stood for a moment irresolute.

“If you wouldn’t mind,” she said, after a moment’s hesitation--“if you
would allow me to go by myself--if you would go to the driving, and let
me go down to the shore!”

“Oh, nonsense!” he said. “You will have people fancying you are only a
school-girl. How can you go down to the beach by yourself among all
those loafing vagabonds, who would pick your pockets or throw stones at
you? You must behave like an ordinary Christian. Now do, like a good
girl, get dressed and submit to the restraints of civilized life. It
won’t hurt you much.”

So she left, to lay aside, with some regret, her rough blue dress, and
he went down-stairs to see about ordering dinner.

Had she come down to the sea, then, only to live the life that had
nearly broken her heart in London? It seemed so. They drove up and down
the Parade for about an hour and a half, and the roar of the carriages
drowned the rush of the waves. Then they dined in the quiet of this
still Summer evening, and she could only see the sea as a distant and
silent picture through the windows, while the talk of her companions was
either about the people whom they had seen while driving, or about
matters of which she knew nothing. Then the blinds were drawn and the
candles lit, and still their conversation murmured around her unheeding
ears. After dinner, her husband went down to the smoking-room of the
hotel to have a cigar, and she was left with Mrs. Kavanagh and her
daughter. She went to the window, and looked through a chink in the
Venetian blinds. There was a beautiful clear twilight abroad, the
darkness still of a soft gray, and up in the pale yellow-green of the
sky a large planet burned and throbbed. Soon the sea and the sky would
darken, the stars would come forth in thousands and tens of thousands,
and the moving water would be struck with a million trembling spots of
silver as the waves came onward to the beach.

“Mayn’t we go out for a walk till Frank has finished his cigar?” said
Sheila.

“You couldn’t go out walking at this time of night,” said Mrs. Kavanagh,
in a kindly way, “you would meet the most unpleasant persons. Besides
going out into the night air would be most dangerous.”

“It is a beautiful night,” said Sheila, with a sigh. She was still
standing at the window.

“Come,” said Mrs. Kavanagh, going over to her, and putting her hand in
her arm, “we cannot have any moping, you know. You must be content to be
dull with us for one night; and after to-night we shall see what we can
do to amuse you.”

“Oh, but I don’t want to be amused!” cried Sheila, almost in terror, for
some vision flashed on her mind of a series of parties. “I would much
rather be left alone and allowed to go about by myself. But it is very
kind of you,” she hastily added, fancying that her speech had been
somewhat ungracious--“it is very kind of you, indeed.”

“Come, I promised to teach you cribbage, didn’t I?”

“Yes,” said Sheila, with much resignation, and she walked to the table,
and sat down.

Perhaps, after all, she could have spent the rest of the evening with
some little equanimity in patiently trying to learn this game, in which
she had no interest whatever, but her thoughts and fancies were soon
drawn away from cribbage. Her husband returned. Mrs. Lorraine had been
for some little time at the big piano at the other side of the room,
amusing herself by playing snatches of anything she happened to
remember, but when Mr. Lavender returned she seemed to wake up. He went
over to her, and sat down by the piano.

“Here,” she said, “I have all the duets and songs you spoke of, and I am
quite delighted with those I have tried. I wish mamma would sing a
second to me; how can one learn without practising? And there are some
of those duets I really should like to learn after what you have said of
them.”

“Shall I become a substitute for your mamma?” he said.

“And sing the second, so that I may practise? Your cigar must have left
you in a very amiable mood.”

“Well, suppose we try,” he said; and he proceeded to open out the roll
of music which she had brought down.

“Which shall we take first?” he asked.

“It does not much matter,” she answered, indifferently, and indeed she
took up one of the duets at haphazard.

What was it made Mrs. Kavanagh’s companion suddenly lift her eyes from
the cribbage-board and look with surprise to the other end of the room?
She had recognized the little prelude to one of her own duets, and it
was being played by Mrs. Lorraine. And it was Mrs. Lorraine who began to
sing in a sweet, expressive and well-trained voice of no great power--

    Love in thine eyes forever plays;

and it was she to whom the answer was given--

    He in thy snowy bosom strays;

and then Sheila, sitting stupefied and pained and confused, heard them
sing together--

    He makes thy rosy lips his care,
    And walks the mazes of thy hair.

She had not heard the short conversation which had introduced this
music; and she could not tell but that her husband had been practising
these duets--her duets--with some one else. For presently they sang
“When the rosy morn appearing,” and “I would that my love could
silently,” and others, all of them, in Sheila’s eyes, sacred to the time
when she and Lavender used to sit in the little room in Borva. It was no
consolation to her that Mrs. Lorraine had but an imperfect acquaintance
with them; that oftentimes she stumbled and went back over a bit of the
accompaniment; that her voice was far from being striking. Lavender, at
all events, seemed to heed none of these things. It was not as a music
master that he sang with her. He put as much expression of love into his
voice as ever he had done in the old days when he sang with his future
bride. And it seemed so cruel that this woman should have taken Sheila’s
own duets from her to sing before her with her own husband.

Sheila learnt little more cribbage that evening. Mrs. Kavanagh could not
understand how her pupil had become embarrassed, inattentive, and even
sad, and asked her if she was tired. Sheila said she was very tired and
would go. And when she got her candle, Mrs. Lorraine and Lavender had
just discovered another duet, which they felt bound to try together as
the last.

This was not the first time she had been more or less vaguely pained by
her husband’s attentions to this young American lady; and yet she would
not admit to herself that he was any in the wrong. She would entertain
no suspicion of him. She would have no jealousy in her heart, for how
could jealousy exist with a perfect faith? And so she had repeatedly
reasoned herself out of these tentative feelings, and resolved that she
would do neither her husband nor Mrs. Lorraine the injustice of being
vexed with them. So it was now. What more natural than that Frank should
recommend to any one the duets of which he was particularly fond? What
more natural than that this young lady should wish to show her
appreciation of those songs by singing them? and who was to sing with
her but he? Sheila would have no suspicion of either; and so she came
down next morning determined to be very friendly with Mrs. Lorraine.

But that forenoon another thing occurred which nearly broke down all her
resolves.

“Sheila,” said her husband, “I don’t think I ever asked you whether you
rode?”

“I used to ride many times at home,” she said.

“But I suppose you’d rather not ride here,” he said. “Mrs. Lorraine and
I propose to go out presently; you’ll be able to amuse yourself somehow
till we come back.”

Mrs. Lorraine had indeed gone to put on her habit, and her mother was
with her.

“I suppose I may go out,” said Sheila. “It is so very dull indoors, and
Mrs. Kavanagh is afraid of the East wind, and she is not going out.”

“Well, there’s no harm about your going out,” answered Lavender, “but I
should have thought you’d have liked the comfort of watching the people
pass, from the window.”

She said nothing, but went off to her own room and dressed to go out.
Why, she knew not, but she felt that she would rather not see her
husband and Mrs. Lorraine start from the hotel-door. She stole
down-stairs without going into the sitting-room, and then, going through
the great hall and down the steps, found herself free and alone in
Brighton.

It was a beautiful, bright, clear day, though the wind was a trifle
chilly, and all around her there was a sense of space and light and
motion in the shining skies, the far clouds and the heaving and noisy
sea. Yet she had none of the gladness of heart with which she used to
rush out of the house at Borva to drink in the fresh, salt air, and feel
the sunlight on her cheeks. She walked away, with her face wistful and
pensive, along the King’s road, scarcely seeing any of the people who
passed her; and the noise of the crowd and of the waves hummed in her
ears in a distant fashion, even as she walked along the wooden railing
over the beach. She stopped and watched some men putting off a heavy
fishing-boat, and she still stood and looked long after the boat was
launched. She would not confess to herself that she felt lonely and
miserable; it was the sight of the sea that was melancholy. It seemed so
different from the sea off Borva, that had always to her a familiar and
friendly look, even when it was raging and rushing before a Southwest
wind. Here this sea looked vast and calm and sad, and the sound of it
was not pleasant to her ears, as was the sound of the waves on the rocks
at Borva. She walked on, in a blind and unthinking fashion, until she
had got far up the Parade, and could see the long line of monotonous
white cliff meeting the dull blue plain of the waves until both
disappeared in the horizon.

She returned to the King’s road a trifle tired, and sat down on one of
the benches there. The passing of the people would amuse her; and now
the pavement was thronged with a crowd of gayly-dressed folks, and the
centre of the thoroughfare brisk with the constant going and coming of
riders. She saw strange old women painted, powdered and bewigged in
hideous imitation of youth, pounding up and down the level street, and
she wondered what wild hallucinations possessed the brains of these poor
creatures. She saw troops of beautiful young girls, with flowing hair,
clear eyes and bright complexions, riding by, a goodly company, under
charge of a riding-mistress, and the world seemed to grow sweeter when
they came into view. But while she was vaguely gazing and wondering and
speculating, her eyes were suddenly caught by two riders whose
appearance sent a throb to her heart. Frank Lavender rode well, so did
Mrs. Lorraine; and, though they were paying no particular attention to
the crowd of passers-by, they doubtless knew that they could challenge
criticism with an easy confidence. They were laughing and talking to
each other as they went rapidly by; neither of them saw Sheila. The girl
did not look after them. She rose and walked in the other direction,
with a greater pain at her heart than had been there for many a day.

What was this crowd? Some dozen or so of people were standing around a
small girl, who, accompanied by a man, was playing a violin, and playing
it very well, too. But it was not the music that attracted Sheila to the
child, but partly that there was a look about the timid, pretty face and
modest and honest eyes that reminded her of little Ailasa, and partly
because, just at this moment, her heart seemed to be strangely sensitive
and sympathetic. She took no thought of the people looking on. She went
forward to the edge of the pavement, and found that the small girl and
her companion were about to go away. Sheila stopped the man.

“Will you let your little girl come with me into this shop?”

It was a confectioner’s shop.

“We were going home to dinner,” said the man, while the small girl
looked up with wondering eyes.

“Will you let her have dinner with me, and you will come back in a half
an hour?”

The man looked at the little girl; he seemed to be really fond of her,
and saw that she was very willing to go. Sheila took her hand and led
her into the confectioner’s shop, putting her violin on one of the small
marble tables while they sat down at another. She was probably not aware
that two or three idlers had followed them, and were staring with might
and main in at the door of the shop.

What could this child have thought of the beautiful and yet sad-eyed
lady who was so kind to her, who got her all sorts of things with her
own hands and asked her all manner of questions in a low, gentle and
sweet voice? There was not much in Sheila’s appearance to provoke fear
or awe. The little girl, shy at first, got to be a little more frank,
and told her hostess when she rose in the morning, how she practised,
the number of hours they were out during the day, and many of the small
incidents of her daily life. She had been photographed, too, and her
photograph was sold in one of the shops. She was very well content; she
liked playing, the people were kind to her, and she did not often get
tired.

“Then I shall see you often if I stay in Brighton?” said Sheila.

“We go out every day when it does not rain very hard.”

“Perhaps some wet day you will come and see me, and you will have some
tea with me; would you like that?”

“Yes, very much,” said the small musician, looking up frankly.

Just at this moment, the half hour having fully expired, the man
appeared at the door.

“Don’t hurry,” said Sheila to the little girl; “sit still and drink out
the lemonade, then I will give you some little parcels which you must
put in your pocket.”

She was about to rise to go to the counter when she suddenly met the
eyes of her husband, who was calmly staring at her. He had come out,
after their ride, with Mrs. Lorraine to have a stroll up and down the
pavements, and had, in looking in at the various shops, caught sight of
Sheila quietly having luncheon with this girl whom she had picked up in
the streets.

“Did you ever see the like of that?” he said to Mrs. Lorraine. “In open
day, with people staring in, and she has not even taken the trouble to
put the violin out of sight!”

“The poor child means no harm,” said his companion.

“Well, we must get her out of this somehow,” he said; and so they
entered the shop.

Sheila knew she was guilty the moment she met her husband’s look, though
she had never dreamed of it before. She had, indeed, acted quite
thoughtlessly--perhaps chiefly moved by a desire to speak to some one
and to befriend some one in her own loneliness.

“Hadn’t you better let this little girl go?” said Lavender to Sheila,
somewhat coldly, as soon as he had ordered an ice for his companion.

“When she has finished her lemonade she will go,” said Sheila, meekly.
“But I have to buy some things for her, first.”

“You have got a whole lot of people around the door,” he said.

“It is very kind of the people to wait for her,” answered Sheila, with
the same composure. “We have been here half an hour. I suppose they will
like her music very much.”

The little violiniste was now taken to the counter and her pockets
stuffed with packages of sugared fruits and other deadly delicacies;
then she was permittted to go with half a crown in her hand. Mrs.
Lorraine patted her shoulder in passing, and said she was a pretty
little thing.

They went home to luncheon. Nothing was said about the incident of the
forenoon, except that Lavender complained to Mrs. Kavanagh in a humorous
way, that his wife had a most extraordinary fondness for beggars, and
that he never went home of an evening without expecting to find her
dining with the nearest scavenger and his family. Lavender, indeed, was
in an amiable frame of mind at the meal (during the progress of which
Sheila sat by the window, of course, for she had already lunched in
company with the tiny violiniste), and was bent on making himself as
agreeable as possible to his two companions. Their talk had drifted
toward the wanderings of the two ladies on the Continent; from that to
the Niebelungen frescoes in Munich; from that to the Niebelungen itself,
and then by easy transition to the ballads of Uhland and Heine. Lavender
was in one of his most impulsive and brilliant moods--gay and jocular,
tender and sympathetic by turns, and so obviously sincere in all that
his listeners were delighted with his speeches and assertions and
stories, and believed them as implicitly as he did himself.

Sheila, sitting at a distance, saw and heard, and could not help
recalling many an evening in the far North when Lavender used to
fascinate every one around him by the infection of his warm and poetic
enthusiasm. How he talked, too--telling the stories of these quaint and
pathetic ballads in his own rough and ready translations--while there
was no self-consciousness in his face, but a thorough warmth of
earnestness; and sometimes, too, she would notice a quiver of the under
lip that she knew of old, when some pathetic point or phrase had to be
indicated rather than described. He was drawing pictures for them as
well as telling stories--of the three students entering the room in
which the landlady’s daughter lay dead--of Barbarossa in his cave--of
the child who used to look up at Heine as he passed her in the street,
awe-stricken by his pale and strange face--of the last of the band of
companions who sat in the solitary room in which they had sat, and drank
to their memory--of the King of Thule, and the deserter from Strasburg,
and a thousand others.

“But is there any of them--is there anything in the world--more pitiable
than that pilgrimage to Kevlaar?” he said. “You know it, of course. No?
Oh, you must, surely. Don’t you remember the mother who stood by the
bedside of her sick son, and asked him whether he would not rise to see
the great procession go by the window; and he tells her that he cannot,
he is so ill; his heart is breaking for thinking of his dead Gretchen?
_You_ know the story, Sheila. The mother begs him to rise and come with
her, and they will join the band of pilgrims going to Kevlaar, to be
healed there of their wounds by the Mother of God. Then you find them at
Kevlaar, and all the maimed and the lame people have come to the shrine;
and whichever limb is diseased, they make a waxen image of that and lay
it on the altar, and then they are healed. Well, the mother of this poor
lad takes wax and forms a heart out of it, and says to her son, ‘Take
that to the Mother of God, and she will heal your pain.’ Sighing, he
takes the wax heart in his hand, and, sighing, he goes to the shrine;
and there, with tears running down his face, he says: ‘O beautiful Queen
of Heaven, I am come to tell you my grief. I lived with my mother in
Cologne; near us lived Gretchen, who is dead now. Blessed Mary, I bring
you this wax heart, heal the wound in my heart.’ And then--and then--”

Sheila saw his lip tremble. But he frowned and said impatiently: “What a
shame it is to destroy such a beautiful story! You can have no idea of
it--of its simplicity and tenderness--”

“But pray let us hear the rest of it,” said Mrs. Lorraine, gently.

“Well, the last scene, you know, is a small chamber, and the mother and
her sick son are asleep. The Blessed Mary glides into the chamber and
bends over the young man, and puts her hand lightly on his heart. Then
she smiles and disappears. The unhappy mother has seen all this in a
dream, and now she awakes, for the dogs are barking loudly. The mother
goes over to the bed of her son, and he is dead, and the morning light
touches his pale face. And then the mother folds her hands, and says--”

He rose hastily with a gesture of fretfulness, and walked over to the
window at which Sheila sat, and looked out. She put her hand up to his;
he took it.

“The next time I try to translate Heine,” he said, making it appear that
he had broken off through vexation, “something strange will happen.”

“It is a beautiful story,” said Mrs. Lorraine, who had herself been
crying a little bit in a covered way, “I wonder I have not seen a
translation of it. Come, mamma, Lady Leveret said we were not to be
after four.”

So they rose and left, and Sheila was alone with her husband, and still
holding his hand. She looked up at him timidly, wondering, perhaps, in
her simple way, as to whether she should not now pour out her heart to
him and tell him all her griefs and fears and yearnings. He had
obviously been deeply moved by the story he had told so roughly; surely
now was a good opportunity of appealing to him, and begging for sympathy
and compassion.

“Frank,” she said, and she rose and came close, and bent down her head
to hide the color in her face.

“Well?” he answered, a trifle coldly.

“You won’t be vexed with me,” she said, in a low voice, and with her
heart beginning to beat rapidly.

“Vexed with you; about what?” he said, abruptly.

Alas! all her hopes had fled. She shrank from the cold stare with which
she knew he was regarding her. She felt it to be impossible that she
should place before him those confidences with which she had approached
him; and so, with a great effort, she merely said: “Are we to go to Lady
Leveret’s?”

“Of course we are,” he said, “unless you would rather go to see some
blind fiddler or beggar. It is really too bad of you, Sheila, to be so
forgetful; what if Lady Leveret, for example, had come into that shop?
It seems to me you are never satisfied with meeting the people you ought
to meet, but that you must go and associate with all the wretched
cripples and beggars you can find. You should remember you are a woman,
and not a child--that people will talk about what you do if you go on in
this mad way. Do you ever see Mrs. Kavanagh or her daughter do any of
these things?”

Sheila had let go his hand; her eyes were still turned toward the
ground. She had fancied that a little of that emotion that had been
awakened in him by the story of the German mother and her son might warm
his heart toward herself, and render it possible for her to talk to him
frankly about all that she had been dimly thinking, and more definitely
suffering. She was mistaken, that was all.

“I will try to do better, and please you,” she said; and then she went
away.



CHAPTER XV.

A FRIEND IN NEED.


Was it a delusion that had grown up in the girl’s mind, and held full
possession of it--that she was in a world with which she had no
sympathy, that she should never be able to find a home there, that the
influences of it were gradually and surely stealing from her her
husband’s love and confidence? Or was this longing to get away from the
people and the circumstances that surrounded her but the unconscious
promptings of an incipient jealousy? She did not question her own mind
closely on these points. She only vaguely knew that she was miserable,
and that she could not tell her husband of the weight that pressed on
her heart.

Here, too, as they drove along to have tea with a certain Lady Leveret,
who was one of Lavender’s especial patrons, and to whom he had
introduced Mrs. Kavanagh and her daughter, Sheila felt that she was a
stranger, an interloper, a “third wheel to the cart.” She scarcely spoke
a word. She looked at the sea, but she had almost grown to regard that
great plain of smooth water as a melancholy and monotonous thing--not
the bright and boisterous sea of her youth, with its winding channels,
its secret bays and rocks, its salt winds and rushing waves. She was
disappointed with the perpetual wall of white cliff, where she had
expected to see something of the black and rugged shore of the North.
She had as yet made no acquaintance with the sea-life of the place; she
did not know where the curers lived; whether they gave the fishermen
credit and cheated them; whether the people about here made any use of
the back of the dog-fish, or could, in hard seasons, cook any of the
wild-fowl; what the ling and the cod and the skate fetched; where the
wives and the daughters sat and spun and carded their wool; whether they
knew how to make a good dish of cockles boiled in milk. She smiled to
herself when she thought of asking Mrs. Lorraine about any such things;
but she still cherished some vague hope that before she left Brighton
she would have some little chance of getting near to the sea and
learning a little of the sea-life down in the South.

And as they drove along the King’s Road on this afternoon she suddenly
called out, “Look, Frank!”

On the steps of the Old Ship Hotel stood a small man with a brown face,
a brown beard and a beaver hat, who was calmly smoking a wooden pipe,
and looking at an old woman selling oranges in front of him.

“It is Mr. Ingram,” said Sheila.

“Which is Mr. Ingram?” asked Mrs. Lorraine, with considerable interest,
for she had often heard Lavender speak of his friend. “Not that little
man?”

“Yes,” said Lavender, coldly; he could have wished that Ingram had had
some little more regard for appearances in so public a place as the main
thoroughfare of Brighton.

“Won’t you stop and speak to him?” said Sheila, with great surprise.

“We are late already,” said her husband. “But if you would rather go
back and speak to him than go on with us, you may.”

Sheila said nothing more; and so they drove on to the end of the
Parade, where Lady Leveret held possession of a big white house with
pillars, overlooking the broad street and the sea.

But next morning she said to him, “I suppose you will be riding with
Mrs. Lorraine this morning?”

“I suppose so.”

“I should like to go and see Mr. Ingram, if he is still there,” she
said.

“Ladies don’t generally call at hotels and ask to see gentlemen; but of
course you don’t care for that.”

“I shall not go if you do not wish me.”

“Oh, nonsense. You may as well go. What is the use of professing to keep
observances that you don’t understand? And it will be some amusement for
you, for I dare say both of you will immediately go and ask some old
cab-driver to have luncheon with you, or buy a nosegay of flowers for
his horse.”

The permission was not very gracious, but Sheila accepted it, and very
shortly after breakfast she changed her dress and went out. How pleasant
it was to know that she was going to see her old friend, to whom she
could talk freely! The morning seemed to know of her gladness, and to
share in it, for there was a brisk Southerly breeze blowing fresh in
from the sea, and the leaves were leaping white in the sunlight. There
was no more sluggishness in the air, or the gray sky, or the leaden
plain of the sea. Sheila knew that the blood was mantling in her cheeks;
that her heart was full of joy; that her whole frame so tingled with
life and spirit that, had she been in Borva, she would have challenged
her deerhound to a race, and fled down the side of the hill with him to
the small bay of white sand below the house. She did not pause for a
minute when she reached the hotel. She went up the steps, opened the
door, and entered the square hall. There was an odor of tobacco in the
place, and several gentlemen standing about rather confused her, for she
had to glance at them in looking for a waiter. Another minute would
probably have found her a trifle embarrassed, but that, just at this
crisis, she saw Ingram himself come out of a room, with a cigarette in
his hand. He threw away the cigarette, and came forward to her, with
amazement in his eyes.

“Where is Mr. Lavender? Has he gone into the smoking-room for me?” he
asked.

“He is not here,” said Sheila. “I have come for you by myself.”

For a moment, too, Ingram felt the eyes of the men on him, but directly
he said, with a fine air of carelessness, “Well, that is very good of
you. Shall we go out for a stroll until your husband comes?”

So he opened the door and followed her outside into the fresh air and
the roar of the waves.

“Well, Sheila,” he said, “this is very good of you, really; where is Mr.
Lavender?”

“He generally rides with Mrs. Lorraine in the morning.”

“And what do you do?”

“I sit at the window.”

“Don’t you go boating?”

“No, I have not been in a boat. They do not care for it. And yesterday
it was a letter to papa I was writing, and I could tell him nothing
about the people here or the fishing.”

“But you could not in any case, Sheila. I suppose you would like to know
what they pay for their lines, and how they dye their wool, and so on;
but you would find the fishermen here don’t live in that way at all.
They are all civilized, you know. They buy their clothing in the shops.
They never eat any sort of seaweed or dye with it, either. However, I
will tell you all about it by-and-by. At present I suppose you are
returning to your hotel.”

A quick look of pain and disappointment passed over her face as she
turned to him for a moment with something of entreaty in her eyes.

“I came to see you,” she said. “But perhaps you have an engagement. I do
not wish to take up any of your time; if you please, I will go back
alone to--”

“Now, Sheila,” he said, with a smile, and with the old friendly look she
knew so well, “you must not talk like that to me. I won’t have it. You
know I came down to Brighton because you asked me to come; and my time
is altogether at your service.”

“And you have no engagement just now?” said Sheila, with her face
brightening.

“No.”

“And you will take me down to the shore to see the boats and nets? Or
could we go out and run along the coast for a few miles? It is a very
good wind.”

“Oh, I should be very glad,” said Ingram slowly. “I should be delighted.
But, you see, wouldn’t your husband think it--wouldn’t he you
know--wouldn’t it seem just a little odd to him if you were to go away
like that?”

“He is to go riding with Mrs. Lorraine,” said Sheila quite simply. “He
does not want me.”

“Of course you told him you were coming to see--you were going to call
at the Old Ship?”

“Yes. And I am sure he would not be surprised if I did not return for a
long time.”

“Are you quite sure, Sheila?”

“Yes, I am quite sure.”

“Very well. Now I shall tell you what I am going to do with you. I shall
first go and bribe some mercenary boatman to let us have one of those
small boats committed to our own exclusive charge. I shall constitute
you skipper and pilot of the craft, and hold you responsible for my
safety. I shall smoke a pipe to prepare me for whatever may befall.”

“Oh, no,” said Sheila. “You must work very hard, and I will see whether
you remember all that I taught you in the Lewis. And if we can have some
long lines we might get some fish. Will they pay more than thirty
shillings for their long lines in this country?”

“I don’t know,” said Ingram. “I believe most of the fishermen here live
upon the shillings they get from the passers-by after a little
conversation about the weather and their hard lot in life; so that one
doesn’t talk to them more than one can help.”

“But why do they need the money? Are there no fish?”

“I don’t know that, either. I suppose there is some good fishing in the
Winter, and sometimes in the Summer they get some big shoals of
mackerel.”

“It was a letter I had last week from the sister of one of the men of
the Nighean-dubh, and she will tell me that they have been very lucky
all through the last season, and it was near six thousand ling they
got.”

“But I suppose they are in debt to some curer up about Habost?”

“Oh, no; not at all. It is their own boat; it is not hired to them. And
it is a very good boat whatever.”

That unlucky “whatever” had slipped out inadvertently: the moment she
had uttered it she blushed and looked timidly toward her companion,
fearing that he had noticed it. He had not. How could she have made such
a blunder? she asked herself. She had been most particular about the
avoidance of the word, even in the Lewis. The girl did not know that
from the moment she had left the steps of the Old Ship in company with
that good friend of hers she had unconsciously fallen into much of her
old pronunciation and her old habit of speech; while Ingram, much more
familiar with the Sheila of Borvapost and Loch Roag than with the Sheila
of Notting Hill and Kensington Gardens did not perceive the difference,
but was mightily pleased to hear her talk in any fashion whatsoever.

By fair means or foul, Ingram managed to secure a pretty little sailing
vessel which lay at anchor out near the New Pier, and when the pecuniary
negotiations were over, Sheila was invited to walk down over the loose
stones of the beach and take command of the craft. The boatman was still
very doubtful. When he had pulled them out to the boat, however, and put
them on board, he speedily perceived that his handsome young lady not
only knew everything that had to be done in the way of getting the small
vessel ready, but had a very smart and business-like way of doing it. It
was very obvious that her companion did not know half as much about the
matter as she did; but he was obedient and watchful, and presently they
were ready to start. The man put off in his boat to shore again, much
relieved in mind, but not a little puzzled to understand where the young
lady had picked up not merely her knowledge of boats, but the ready way
in which she put her delicate hands to hard work, and the prompt and
effectual fashion in which she accomplished it.

“Shall I belay away the jib or reef the upper hatchways?” Ingram called
out to Sheila when they had fairly got under way.

She did not answer for a moment; she was still watching with a critical
eye the manner in which the boat answered to her wishes; and then, when
everything promised well and she was quite satisfied, she said, “If you
will take my place for a moment and keep a good lookout, I will put on
my gloves.”

She surrendered the tiller and the mainsail sheets into his care, and,
with another glance ahead, pulled out her gloves.

“You did not use to fear the saltwater or the sun on your hands,
Sheila,” said her companion.

“I do not now,” she said, “but Frank would be displeased to see my hands
brown. He has himself such pretty hands.”

What Ingram thought about Frank Lavender’s delicate hands he was not
going to say to his wife; and indeed he was called upon at this moment
to let Sheila resume her post, which she did with an air of great
satisfaction and content.

And so they ran lightly through the curling and dashing water on this
brilliant day, caring little indeed for the great town that lay away to
leeward, with its shining terraces surmounted by a faint cloud of smoke.
Here all the roar of carriages and people was unheard; the only sound
that accompanied their talk was the splashing of the waves at the prow,
and the hissing and gurgling of the water along the boat. The South wind
blew fresh and sweet around them, filling the broad white sails and
fluttering the small pennon up there in the blue. It seemed strange to
Sheila that she should be so much alone with so great a town close
by--that under the boom she could catch a glimpse of the noisy Parade
without hearing any of its noise. And there, away to windward, there was
no mere trace of city life--only the great blue sea, with its waves
flowing on toward them from out of the far horizon, and with here and
there a pale ship just appearing on the line where the sky and ocean
met.

“Well, Sheila, how do you like being on the sea again?” said Ingram,
getting out his pipe.

“Oh, very well. But you must not smoke Mr. Ingram; you must attend to
the boat.”

“Don’t you feel at home in her yet?” he asked.

“I am not afraid of her,” said Sheila, regarding the lines of the small
craft with the eye of a shipbuilder, “but she is very narrow in the
beam, and she carries too much sail for so small a thing. I suppose they
have not any squalls on this coast, where you have no hills and no
narrows to go through.”

“It doesn’t remind you of Lewis, does it?” he said, filling his pipe all
the same.

“A little--out there it does,” she said, turning to the broad plain of
the sea, “but it is not much that is in this country that is like the
Lewis; sometimes I think that I shall be a stranger when I go back to
the Lewis, and the people will scarcely know me, and everything will be
changed.”

He looked at her for a second or two. Then he laid down his pipe, which
had not been lit, and said to her gravely, “I want you to tell me,
Sheila, why you have got into a habit lately of talking about many
things, and especially about your home in the North, in that sad way.
You did not do that when you came to London first; and yet it was then
that you might have been struck and shocked by the difference. You had
no home-sickness for a long time. But is it home-sickness, Sheila?”

How was she to tell him? For an instant she was on the point of giving
him all her confidence; and then, somehow or other, it occurred to her
that she would be wronging her husband in seeking such sympathy from a
friend as she had been expecting, and expecting in vain, from him.

“Perhaps it is home-sickness,” she said, in a low voice, while she
pretended to be busy tightening up the mainsail sheet. “I should like to
see Borva again.”

“But you don’t want to live there all your life?” he said. “You know
that would be unreasonable, Sheila, even if your husband could manage
it; and I don’t suppose he can. Surely your papa does not expect you to
go and live in Lewis always?”

“Oh, no,” she said, eagerly. “You must not think my papa wishes anything
like that. It will be much less than that he was thinking of when he
used to speak to Mr. Lavender about it. And I do not wish to live in the
Lewis always; I have no dislike to London--none at all--only
that--that--” And here she paused.

“Come, Sheila,” he said in the old paternal way to which she had been
accustomed to yield up all her own wishes in the old days of their
friendship, “I want you to be frank with me, and tell me what is the
matter. I know there is something wrong; I have seen it for some time
back. Now, you know I took the responsibility of your marriage on my
shoulders, and I am responsible to you, and to your papa and myself for
your comfort and happiness. Do you understand?”

She still hesitated, grateful in her inmost heart, but still doubtful as
to what she should do.

“You look on me as an intermeddler,” he said with a smile.

“No, no,” she said; “you have always been our best friend.”

“But I have intermeddled, none the less. Don’t you remember when I told
you that I was prepared to accept the consequences?”

It seemed so long a time since then!

“And once having to intermeddle, I can’t stop it, don’t you see? Now,
Sheila, you’ll be a good little girl and do what I tell you. You’ll take
the boat a long way out; we’ll put her head around, take down the sails,
and let her tumble about and drift for a time, till you tell me all
about your troubles, and then we’ll see what can be done.”

She obeyed in silence with her face grown grave enough in anticipation
of the coming disclosures. She knew that the first plunge into them
would be keenly painful to her, but there was a feeling at her heart
that, this penance over, a great relief would be at hand. She trusted
this man as she would have trusted her own father. She knew that there
was nothing on earth he would not attempt if he fancied it would help
her. And she knew, too, that having experienced so much of his great
unselfishness and kindness and thoughtfulness, she was ready to obey him
implicitly in anything that he could assure her was right for her to do.

How far away seemed the white cliffs now, and the faint green downs
above them! Brighton, lying farther to the West, had become dim and
yellow, and over it a cloud of smoke lay thick and brown in the
sunlight. A mere streak showed the line of the King’s road and all its
carriages and people; the beach beneath could just be made out by the
white dots of the bathing-machines; the brown fishing-boats seemed to be
close in shore; the two piers were foreshortened into small dusky masses
marking the beginning of the sea. And then from these distant and
faintly-defined objects out here to the side of the small white and pink
boat, that lay lightly in the lapping water, stretched that great and
moving network of waves, with here and there a sharp gleam of white foam
curling over amid the dark blue-green.

Ingram took his seat by Sheila’s side, so that he should not have to
look in her downcast face; and then with some little preliminary
nervousness and hesitation, the girl told her story. She told it to
sympathetic ears, and yet Ingram, having partly guessed how matters
stood, and anxious, perhaps, to know whether much of her trouble might
not be merely the result of fancies which could be reasoned and
explained away, was careful to avoid anything like corroboration. He
let her talk in her own simple and artless way: and the girl spoke to
him, after a little while, with an earnestness which showed how deeply
she felt her position. At the very outset she told him that her love for
her husband had never altered for a moment--that all the prayers and
desire of her heart were that they two might be to each other as she had
at one time hoped they would be when he got to know her better.

She went over all the story of her coming to London, of her first
experiences there, of the conviction that grew upon her that her husband
was somehow disappointed with her, and was anxious now that she should
conform to the ways and habits of the people with whom he associated.
She spoke of her efforts to obey his wishes, and how heartsick she was
with her failures, and of the dissatisfaction which he showed. She spoke
of the people to whom he devoted his life, of the way in which he passed
his time, and of the impossibility of her showing him, so long as he
thus remained apart from her, the love she had in her heart for him, and
the longing for sympathy which that love involved. And then she came to
the question of Mrs. Lorraine; and here it seemed to Ingram she was
trying at once to put her husband’s conduct in the most favorable light,
and to blame herself for her unreasonableness. Mrs. Lorraine was a
pleasant companion to him, she could talk cleverly and brightly, she was
pretty, and she knew a large number of his friends. Sheila was anxious
to show that it was the most natural thing in the world that her
husband, finding her so out of communion with his ordinary surroundings,
should make an especial friend of this graceful and fascinating woman.
And if at times it hurt her to be left alone--but here the girl broke
down somewhat, and Ingram pretended not to know that she was crying.

These were strange things to be told to a man, and they were difficult
to answer. But out of these revelations--which rather took the form of a
cry than of any distinct statement--he formed a notion of Sheila’s
position sufficiently exact; and the more he looked at it the more
alarmed and pained he grew, for he knew more of her than her husband
did. He knew the latent force of character that underlay all her
submissive gentleness. He knew the keen sense of pride her Highland
birth had given her; and he feared what might happen if this sensitive
and proud heart of hers were driven into rebellion by some possibly
unintentional wrong. And this high-spirited, fearless, honor-loving
girl--who was gentle and obedient, not through any timidity or limpness
of character, but because she considered it her duty to be gentle and
obedient--was to be cast aside and have her tenderest feelings outraged
and wounded for the sake of an unscrupulous, shallow-brained woman of
fashion, who was not fit to be Sheila’s waiting-maid. Ingram had never
seen Mrs. Lorraine, but he had formed his own opinion of her. The
opinion, based upon nothing, was wholly wrong, but it served to
increase, if that were possible, his sympathy with Sheila, and his
resolve to interfere on her behalf at whatever cost.

“Sheila,” he said, gravely putting his hand on her shoulder as if she
were still the little girl who used to run wild with him about the Borva
rocks, “you are a good woman.”

He added to himself that Lavender knew little of the value of the wife
he had got, but he dared not say that to Sheila, who would suffer no
imputation against her husband to be uttered in her presence, however
true it might be, or however much she had cause to know it to be true.

“And, after all,” he said in a lighter voice, “I think I can do
something to mend all this. I will say for Frank Lavender that he is a
thoroughly good fellow at heart, and that when you appeal to him, and
put things fairly before him, and show him what he ought to do, there is
not a more honorable and straightforward man in the world. He has been
forgetful, Sheila. He has been led away by these people, you know, and
has not been aware of what you were suffering. When I put the matter
before him, you will see it will be all right; and I hope to persuade
him to give up this constant idling and take to his work, and have
something to live for. I wish you and I together could get him to go
away from London altogether--get him to take to serious landscape
painting on some wild coast--the Galway coast, for example.”

“Why not the Lewis?” said Sheila, her heart turning to the North as
naturally as the needle.

“Or the Lewis. And I should like you and him to live away from hotels
and luxuries, and all such things; and he would work all day, and you
would do the cooking in some small cottage you could rent, you know.”

“You make me so happy in thinking of that,” she said, with her eyes
growing well again.

“And why should he not do so? There is nothing romantic or idyllic about
it, but a good, wholesome, plain sort of life, that is likely to make an
honest painter of him, and bring both of you some well-earned money. And
you might have a boat like this.”

“We are drifting too far in,” said Sheila, suddenly rising. “Shall we go
back now?”

“By all means,” he said; and so the small boat was put under canvas
again, and was soon making way through the breezy water.

“Well, all this seems simple enough, doesn’t it?” said Ingram.

“Yes,” said the girl, with her face full of hope.

“And then, of course, when you are quite comfortable together, and
making heaps of money, you can turn around and abuse me, and say I made
all the misery to begin with.”

“Did we do so before when you were very kind to us?” she said in a low
voice.

“Oh, but that was different. To interfere on behalf of two young folks
who are in love with each other is dangerous, but to interfere between
two people who are married--that is a certain quarrel. I wonder what you
will say when you are scolding me, Sheila, and bidding me get out of the
house? I have never heard you scold. Is it Gaelic or English you
prefer?”

“I prefer whichever can say the nicest things to my very good friends,
and tell them how grateful I am for their kindness to me.”

“Ah, well, we’ll see.”

When they got back to shore it was half-past one.

“You will come and have some luncheon with us?” said Sheila when they
had gone up the steps and into the King’s road.

“Will that lady be there?”

“Mrs. Lorraine? Yes.”

“Then I’ll come some other time.”

“But why not come now?” said Sheila. “It is not necessary that you will
see us only to speak about those things we have been talking over?”

“Oh, no, not at all. If you and Mr. Lavender were by yourselves, I
should come at once.”

“And are you afraid of Mrs. Lorraine?” said Sheila, with a smile. “She
is a very nice lady, indeed: you have no cause to dislike her.”

“But I don’t want to meet her, Sheila, that is all,” he said; and she
knew well, by the precision of his manner, that there was no use trying
to persuade him further.

He walked along to the hotel with her, meeting a considerable stream of
fashionably-dressed folks on the way; and neither he nor she seemed to
remember that his costume--a blue pilot jacket, not a little worn and
soiled with the salt water, and a beaver hat that had seen a good deal
of rough weather in the Highlands--was a good deal more comfortable than
elegant. He said to her, as he left her at the hotel: “Would you mind
telling Lavender I shall drop in at half-past three, and that I expect
to see him in the coffee-room? I shan’t keep him five minutes.”

She looked at him for a moment, and he saw that she knew what this
appointment meant, for her eyes were full of gladness and gratitude. He
went away pleased at heart that she put so much trust in him. And in
this case he should be able to reward that confidence, for Lavender was
really a good sort of fellow, and would at once be sorry for the wrong
he had unintentionally done, and be only too anxious to set it right. He
ought to leave Brighton at once, and London, too. He ought to go away
into the country or by the seaside, and begin working hard to earn money
and self-respect at the same time; and then, in his friendly solitude,
he would get to know something about Sheila’s character, and begin to
perceive how much more valuable were these genuine qualities of heart
and mind than any social graces such as might lighten up a dull
drawing-room. Had Lavender yet learnt to know the worth of an honest
woman’s perfect love and unquestioning devotion? Let these things be put
before him, and he would go and do the right thing, as he had many a
time done before, in obedience to the lecturing of his friend.

Ingram called at half-past three, and went into the coffee-room. There
was no one in the long, large room, and he sat down at one of the small
tables by the windows, from which a bit of lawn, the King’s road and the
sea beyond were visible. He had scarcely taken his seat when Lavender
came in.

“Halloo, Ingram! how are you?” he said in his freest and friendliest
way. “Won’t you come up-stairs? Have you had lunch? Why did you go to
the Ship?”

“I always go to the Ship,” he said. “No, thank you, I won’t go
up-stairs.”

“You are a most unsociable sort of brute!” said Lavender frankly. “Will
you take a glass of sherry?”

“No, thank you.”

“Will you have a game of billiards?”

“No, thank you. You don’t mean to say you would play billiards on such a
day as this?”

“It _is_ a fine day, isn’t it?” said. Lavender, turning carelessly to
look at the sunlit road and the blue sea. “By the way, Sheila tells me
you and she were out sailing this morning. It must have been very
pleasant, especially for her; for she is mad about such things. What a
curious girl she is, to be sure! Don’t you think so?”

“I don’t know what you mean by curious,” said Ingram, coldly.

“Well, you know, strange--odd--unlike other people in her ways and her
fancies. Did I tell you about my aunt taking her to see some friends of
hers at Norwood? No? Well, Sheila had got out of the house somehow (I
suppose their talking did not interest her), and when they went in
search of her they found her in the cemetery, crying like a child.”

“What about?”

“Why,” said Lavender, with a smile, “merely because so many people had
died. She had never seen anything like that before; you know the small
church-yards up in Lewis, with their inscriptions in Norwegian and
Danish and German. I suppose the first sight of all the white stones at
Norwood was too much for her.”

“Well, I don’t see much of a joke in that,” said Ingram.

“Who said there was any joke in it?” cried Lavender, impatiently. “I
never knew such a cantankerous fellow as you are. You are always
fancying I am finding fault with Sheila, and I never do anything of the
kind. She is a very good girl indeed. I have every reason to be
satisfied with the way our marriage has turned out.”

“_Has she?_”

The words were not important, but there was something in the tone in
which they were spoken that suddenly checked Frank Lavender’s careless
flow of speech. He looked at Ingram for a moment with some surprise, and
then he said, “What do you mean?”

“Well, I will tell you what I mean,” said Ingram, slowly. “It is an
awkward thing for a man to interfere between husband and wife, I am
aware--he gets something else than thanks for his pains, ordinarily--but
sometimes it has to be done, thanks or kicks. Now, you know, Lavender, I
had a good deal to do with helping forward your marriage in the North;
and I don’t remind you of that to claim anything in the way of
consideration, but to explain why I think I am called on to speak to you
now.”

Lavender was at once a little frightened and a little irritated. He half
guessed what might be coming, from the slow and precise manner in which
Ingram talked. That form of speech had vexed him many a time before, for
he would rather have had any amount of wild contention and bandying
about of reproaches than the calm, unimpassioned and sententious setting
forth of his shortcomings to which this sallow little man was, perhaps,
too much addicted.

“I suppose Sheila has been complaining to you, then?” said Lavender,
hotly.

“You may suppose what absurdities you like,” said Ingram, quietly; “but
it would be a good deal better if you would listen to me patiently, and
deal in a common sense fashion with what I have got to say. It is
nothing very desperate. Nothing has happened that is not of easy remedy,
while the remedy would leave you and her in a much better position, both
as regards your own estimation of yourselves and the opinion of your
friends.”

“You are a little roundabout, Ingram,” said Lavender, “and ornate. But I
suppose all lectures begin so. Go on.”

Ingram laughed: “If I am too formal it is because I don’t want to make
mischief by any exaggeration. Look here! A long time before you were
married I warned you that Sheila had very keen and sensitive notions
about the duties that people ought to perform, about the dignity of
labor, about the proper occupations of a man, and so forth. These
notions you may regard as romantic and absurd, if you like, but you
might as well try to change the color of her eyes as attempt to alter
any of her beliefs in that direction.”

“And she thinks that I am idle and indolent because I don’t care what a
washerwoman pays for her candles?” said Lavender, with impetuous
contempt. “Well, be it so. She is welcome to her opinion. But if she is
grieved at heart because I can’t make hob-nailed boots, it seems to me
that she might as well come and complain to myself, instead of going and
detailing her wrongs to a third person, and calling for his sympathy in
the character of an injured wife.”

For an instant the dark eyes of the man opposite him blazed with a quick
fire, for a sneer at Sheila was worse than an insult to himself; but he
kept quite calm, and said, “That, unfortunately, is not what is
troubling her.”

Lavender rose abruptly, took a turn up and down the empty room, and
said, “If there is anything the matter, I prefer to hear it from
herself. It is not respectful to me that she should call in a third
person to humor her whims and fancies.”

“Whims and fancies!” said Ingram, with that dark light returning to his
eyes. “Do you know what you are talking about? Do you know that while
you are living on the charity of a woman you despise, and dawdling about
the skirts of a woman who laughs at you, you are breaking the heart of a
girl who has not her equal in England? Whims and fancies! Good God, I
wonder how she ever could have--”

He stopped, but the mischief was done. These were not prudent words to
come from a man who wished to step in as a mediator between husband and
wife; but Ingram’s blaze of wrath, kindled by what he considered the
insufferable insolence of Lavender in thus speaking of Sheila, had swept
all notions of prudence before it. Lavender, indeed, was much cooler
than he was, and said, with an affectation of carelessness, “I am sorry
you should vex yourself so much about Sheila. One would think you had
had the ambition yourself, at some time or other, to play the part of
husband to her; and doubtless then you would have made sure that all her
idle fancies were gratified. As it is, I was about to relieve you from
the trouble of further explanation by saying that I am quite competent
to manage my own affairs, and that if Sheila has any complaint to make
she must make it to me.”

Ingram rose, and was silent for a moment.

“Lavender,” he said, “it does not matter much whether you and I
quarrel--I was prepared for that, in any case--but I ask you to give
Sheila a chance of telling you what I had intended to tell you.”

“Indeed, I shall do nothing of the sort. I never invite confidence. When
she wishes to tell me anything she knows I am ready to listen. But I am
quite satisfied with the position of affairs as they are at present.”

“God help you, then!” said his friend, and went away, scarcely daring to
confess to himself how dark the future looked.



PART VIII.



CHAPTER XVI.

EXCHANGES.


Just as Frank Lavender went down stairs to meet Ingram, a letter which
had been forwarded from London was brought to Sheila. It bore the Lewis
postmark, and she guessed it was from Duncan, for she had told Mairi to
ask the tall keeper to write, and she knew he would hasten to obey her
request at any sacrifice of comfort to himself. Sheila sat down to read
the letter in a happy frame of mind. She had every confidence that all
her troubles were about to be removed, now that her good friend Ingram
had come to her husband; and here was a message to her from her home,
that seemed, even before she read it, to beg of her to come thither
light-hearted and joyous. This was what she read:

“BORVAPOST, THE ISLAND OF LEWIS,

“_the third Aug., 18--_.

     “HONORED MRS. LAVENDER:--It waz Mairi waz sayin that you will want
     me to write to you, bit I am not good at the writin whatever, and
     it was 2 years since I was written to Amerika, to John Ferkason
     that kept the tea-shop in Stornoway, and was trooned in coming home
     the very last year before this. It waz Mairi will say you will like
     a letter as well as any one that waz goin to Amerika, for the news
     and the things, and you will be as far away from us as if you waz
     living in Amerika or Glaska. But there is not much news, for the
     lads they hev all pulled up the boats, and they are away to Wick,
     and Sandy McDougal that waz living by Loch Langavat, he will be
     going too, for he waz up at the sheilings when Mrs. Paterson’s
     lasses was there with the cows, and it waz Jeanie the youngest and
     him made it up, and he haz twenty-five pounds in the bank, which is
     a good thing too mirover for the young couple. It waz many a one
     waz sayin when the cows and the sheep waz come home from the
     sheilings that never afore waz Miss Sheila away from Lock Roag when
     the cattle would be swimmin across the loch to the island; and I
     will say to many of them verra well you will wait and you will see
     Miss Sheila back again in the Lews, and it wazna allwas you would
     lif away from your own home where you waz born and the people will
     know you from the one year to the next. John McNichol of Habost he
     will be verra bad three months or two months ago, and we waz
     thinkin he will die, and him with a wife and five bairns too, and
     four cows and a cart, but the doctor took a great dale of blood
     from him, and he is now verra well whatever, though wakely on the
     legs. It would hev been a bad thing if Mr. McNichol was dead, for
     he will be verra good at pentin a door, and he has between fifteen
     pounds and ten pounds in the bank at Stornoway, and four cows, too,
     and a cart, and he is a ferra religious man, and has great skill o’
     the psalm-tunes, and he toesna get trunk now more as twice or as
     three times in the two weeks. It was his dochter Betsy, a verra
     fine lass that waz come to Borvabost, and it waz the talk among
     many that Alister-nan-each he waz thinkin of making up to her, but
     there will be a great laugh all over the island, and she will be
     verra angry and say she will not have him, no, if his house had a
     door of silfer to it, for she will have no one that toesna go to
     the Caithness fishins wi the other lads. It waz blew verra hard
     here the last night or two or three. There is a great deal of
     salmon in the rivers; and Mr. Mackenzie he will be going across to
     Grimersta the day after to-morrow, or the next day before that,
     and the English gentlemen have been there more as two or three
     weeks, and they will be getting verra good sport whatever. Mairi
     she will be writen a letter to you to-morrow, Miss Sheila, and she
     will be telling you all the news of the house. Mairi was sayin she
     will be goin to London when the harvest was got in, and Scarlett
     will say to her that no one will let her land on the island again
     if she toesna bring you back with her to the island and to your own
     house. If it waz not too much trouble, Miss Sheila, it would be a
     proud day for Scarlett if you waz send me a line or two lines to
     say if you will be coming to the Lews this summer or before the
     winter is over whatever. I remain, Honored Mrs. Lavender, your
     obedient servant,

“DUNCAN MACDONALD.”



“This summer or winter,” said Sheila to herself, with a happy light on
her face: “why not now?” Why should she not go down stairs to the
coffee-room of the hotel and place this invitation in the hand of her
husband and his friend? Would not its garrulous simplicity recall to
both of them the island they used to find so pleasant? Would not they
suddenly resolve to leave London and its ways and people, even this
monotonous sea out there, and speed away Northwardly till they came in
sight of the great and rolling Minch, with its majestic breadth of sky
and its pale blue islands lying far away at the horizon? Then the happy
landing at the Stornoway--her father and Duncan and Mairi all on the
quay--the rapid drive over to Loch Roag, and the first glimpse of the
rocky bays and clear water and white sand about Borva and Borvabost! And
Sheila would once more--having cast aside this cumbrous attire that she
had to change so often, and having got out that neat and simple costume
that was so good for walking or driving or sailing--be proud to wait
upon her guests, and help Mairi in her household ways, and have a pretty
table ready for the gentlemen when they returned from the shooting.

Her husband came up the hotel stairs and entered the room. She rose to
meet him, with the open letter in her hand.

“Sheila,” he said (and the light slowly died away from her face), “I
have something to ask of you.”

She knew by the sound of his voice that she had nothing to hope; it was
not the first time she had been disappointed, and yet this time it
seemed especially bitter somehow. The awakening from these illusions was
sudden.

She did not answer, so he said, in the same measured voice: “I have to
ask that you will have henceforth no communication with Mr. Ingram; I do
not wish him to come to the house.”

She stood for a moment, apparently not understanding the meaning of what
he said. Then, when the full force of this decision and request came
upon her, a quick color sprang to her face, the cause of which, if it
had been revealed to him in words, would have considerably astonished
her husband. But that moment of doubt, of surprise, and of inward
indignation, was soon over. She cast down her eyes and said, meekly:
“Very well, dear.”

It was now his turn to be astonished, and mortified as well. He could
not have believed it possible that she should so calmly acquiesce in the
dismissal of one of her dearest friends. He had expected a more or less
angry protest, if not a distinct refusal, which would have given him an
opportunity for displaying the injuries he conceived himself to have
suffered at their hands. Why had she not come to himself? This man
Ingram was presuming upon his ancient friendship, and on the part he had
taken in forwarding the marriage up at Borva. He had always, moreover,
been somewhat too much of a schoolmaster, with his severe judgments, his
sententious fashion of criticising and warning people, and his readiness
to prove the whole world wrong in order to show himself to be right. All
these and many other things Lavender meant to say to Sheila so soon as
she had protested against his forbidding Ingram to come any more to the
house. But there was no protest. Sheila did not even seem surprised. She
went back to her seat by the window, folded up Duncan’s letter, and put
it in her pocket; and then she turned to look at the sea.

Lavender regarded her for a moment, apparently doubting whether he
should himself prosecute the subject; then he turned and left the room.

Sheila did not cry or otherwise seek to compassionate herself. Her
husband had told her to do a certain thing, and she would do it. Perhaps
she had been imprudent in having confided in Mr. Ingram, and if so, it
was right that she should be punished. But the regret and pain that lay
deep in her heart were that Ingram should have suffered through her, and
that she had no opportunity of telling him that, though they might not
see each other, she would never forget her friendship for him, or cease
to be grateful to him for his unceasing and generous kindness to her.

Next morning Lavender was summoned to London by a telegram which
announced that his aunt was seriously ill. He and Sheila got ready at
once, left by a forenoon train, had some brief luncheon at home, and
then went to see the old lady in Kensington Gore. During their journey
Lavender had been rather more kind and courteous toward Sheila than was
his wont. Was he pleased that she had so readily obeyed him in this
matter of giving up about the only friend she had in London, or was he
moved by some visitation of compunction? Sheila tried to show that she
was grateful for his kindness, but there was that between them which
could not be removed by chance phrases or attentions.

Mrs. Lavender was in her own room. Paterson brought word that she wanted
to see Sheila first alone; so Lavender sat down in the gloomy
drawing-room by the window, and watched the people riding or driving
past, and the sunshine on the dusty green trees in the Park.

“Is Frank Lavender below?” said the thin old woman, who was propped up
in bed, with some scarlet garment around her, that made her resemble
more than ever the cockatoo of which Sheila had thought on first seeing
her.

“Yes,” said Sheila.

“I want to see you alone. I can’t bear him dawdling about a room and
staring at things, and saying nothing. Does he speak to you?”

Sheila did not wish to enter into any controversy about the habits of
her husband, so she said: “I hope you will see him before he goes, Mrs.
Lavender. He is very anxious to know how you are, and I am glad to find
you looking so well. You do not look like an invalid at all.”

“Oh, I’m not going to die yet,” said the little dried old woman, with
the harsh voice, the staring eyes, and the tightly twisted gray hair. “I
hope you didn’t come to read the Bible to me; you wouldn’t find one
about, in any case, I should think. If you like to sit down and read the
sayings of the Emperor Marcus Antoninus, I should enjoy that; but I
suppose you are too busy thinking what dress you’ll wear at my funeral.”

“Indeed, I was thinking of no such thing,” said Sheila, indignantly, but
feeling all the same that the hard, glittering, expressionless eyes were
watching her.

“Do you think I believe you?” said Mrs. Lavender. “Bah! I hope I am able
to recognize the facts of life. If you were to die this afternoon, I
should get a black silk, trimmed with crape, the moment I got on my feet
again, and go to your funeral in the ordinary way. I hope you will pay
me the same respect. Do you think I am afraid to speak of these things?”

“Why should you speak of them?” said Sheila, despairingly.

“Because it does you good to contemplate the worst that can befall you,
and if it does not happen you may rejoice. And it will happen. I know I
shall be lying in this bed, with half a dozen of you around about trying
to cry, and wondering which will have the courage to turn and go out of
the room first. Then there will be the funeral day, and Paterson will be
careful about the blinds, and go about the house on her tip-toes, as if
I were likely to hear! Then there will be a pretty service up in the
cemetery, and a man who never saw me will speak of his dear sister
departed; and then you’ll all go home and have your dinner. Am I afraid
of it?”

“Why should you talk like that?” said Sheila, piteously. “You are not
going to die. You distress yourself and others by thinking of those
horrible things.”

“My dear child, there is nothing horrible in nature. Everything is part
of the universal system which you should recognize and accept. If you
had but trained yourself now, by the study of philosophical works, to
know how helpless you are to alter the facts of life, and how it is the
best wisdom to be prepared for the worst, you would find nothing
horrible in thinking of your own funeral. You are not looking well.”

Sheila was startled by the suddenness of the announcement: “Perhaps I am
a little tired with the traveling we have done to-day.”

“Is Frank Lavender kind to you?”

What was she to say with those two eyes scanning her face? “It is too
soon to expect him to be anything else,” she said, with an effort at a
smile.

“Ah! So you are beginning to talk in that way? I thought you were full
of sentimental notions of life when you came to London. It is not a good
place for maturing such things.”

“It is not,” said Sheila, surprised into a sigh.

“Come nearer. Don’t be afraid I shall bite you. I am not so ferocious as
I look.”

Sheila rose and went closer to the bedside, and the old woman stretched
out a lean and withered hand to her: “If I thought that that silly
fellow wasn’t behaving well to you--”

“I will not listen to you,” said Sheila, suddenly withdrawing her hand,
while a quick color leapt to her face--“I will not listen to you if you
speak of my husband in that way.”

“I will speak of him any way I like. Don’t get into a rage. I have known
Frank Lavender a good deal longer than you have. What I was going to say
is this, that if I thought he was not behaving well to you, I would play
him a trick. I would leave my money, which is all he has got to live on,
to you; and when I died he would find himself dependent on you for every
farthing he wanted to spend.”

And the old woman laughed, with very little of the weakness of an
invalid in the look of her face. But Sheila, when she had mastered her
surprise and resolved not to be angry, said calmly, “Whatever I have,
whatever I might have, that belongs to my husband, not to me.”

“Now you speak like a sensible girl,” said Mrs. Lavender. “That is the
misfortune of a wife, that she cannot keep her own money to herself. But
there are means by which the law may be defeated, my dear. I have been
thinking it over--I have been speaking of it to Mr. Ingram; for I have
suspected for some time that my nephew, Mr. Frank, was not behaving
himself.”

“Mrs. Lavender,” said Sheila, with a face too proud and indignant for
tears, “you do not understand me. No one has the right to imagine
anything against my husband and to seek to punish him through me. And
when I said that everything I have belongs to him, I was not thinking of
the law--no--but only this: that everything I have, or might have, would
belong to him, as I myself belong to him, of my own free will and gift;
and I would have no money or anything else that was not entirely his.”

“You are a fool.”

“Perhaps,” said Sheila, struggling to repress her tears.

“What if I were to leave every farthing of my property to a hospital?
Where would Frank Lavender be then?”

“He could earn his own living without any such help,” said Sheila,
proudly; for she had never yet given up the hope that her husband would
fulfill the fair promise of an earlier time, and win great renown for
himself in striving to please her, as he had many a time vowed he would
do.

“He has taken great care to conceal his powers in that way,” said the
old woman, with a sneer.

“And if he has, whose fault is it?” the girl said, warmly. “Who has kept
him in idleness but yourself? And now you blame him for it. I wish he
had never had any of your money--I wish he were never to have any more
of it.”

And then Sheila stopped, with a terrible dread falling over her. What
had she not said? The pride of her race had carried her so far, and she
had given expression to all the tumult of her heart; but had she not
betrayed her duty as a wife, and grievously compromised the interests of
her husband? And yet the indignation in her bosom was too strong to
admit of her retracting those fatal phrases and begging forgiveness. She
stood for a moment irresolute, and she knew that the invalid was
regarding her curiously, as though she were some wild animal, and not an
ordinary resident in Bayswater.

“You are a little mad, but you are a good girl, and I want to be friends
with you. You have in you the spirit of a dozen Frank Lavenders.”

“You will never make friends with me by speaking ill of my husband,”
said Sheila, with the same proud and indignant look.

“Not when he ill-uses you?”

“He does not ill-use me. What has Mr. Ingram been saying to you?”

The sudden question would certainly have brought about a disclosure if
any were to have been made; but Mrs. Lavender assured Sheila that Mr.
Ingram had told her nothing, that she had been forming her own
conclusions, and that she still doubted that they were right.

“Now sit down and read to me. You will find Marcus Antoninus on the top
of those books.”

“Frank is in the drawing-room,” observed Sheila, mildly.

“He can wait,” said the old woman, sharply.

“Yes, but you cannot expect me to keep him waiting,” with a smile which
did not conceal her very definite purpose.

“Then ring, and bid him come up. You will soon get rid of those absurd
sentiments.”

Sheila rang the bell, and sent Mrs. Paterson down for Lavender, but she
did not betake herself to Marcus Antoninus. She waited a few minutes,
and then her husband made his appearance, whereupon she sat down and
left to him the agreeable duty of talking with this toothless old
heathen about funerals and lingering death.

“Well, Aunt Lavender, I am sorry to hear you have been ill, but I
suppose you are getting all right again, to judge by your looks.”

“I am not nearly as ill as you expected.”

“I wonder you did not say ‘hoped,’” remarked Lavender, carelessly. “You
are always attributing the most charitable feelings to your
fellow-creatures.”

“Frank Lavender,” said the old lady, who was a little pleased by this
bit of flattery, “if you come here to make yourself impertinent and
disagreeable, you can go down-stairs again. Your wife and I get on very
well without you.”

“I am glad to hear it,” he said: “I suppose you have been telling her
what is the matter with you.”

“I have not. I don’t know. I have had a pain in the head and two fits,
and I dare say the next will carry me off. The doctors won’t tell me
anything about it, so I suppose it is serious.”

“Nonsense!” cried Lavender. “Serious! To look at you one would say you
never had been ill in your life.”

“Don’t tell stories, Frank Lavender. I know I look like a corpse, but I
don’t mind it, for I avoid the looking-glass, and keep the spectacle for
my friends. I expect the next fit will kill me.”

“I’ll tell you what it is, Aunt Lavender, if you would only get up and
come with us for a drive in the Park, you would find there was nothing
of an invalid about you; and we should take you home to a quiet dinner
at Notting Hill, and Sheila would sing to you all the evening, and
to-morrow you would receive the doctors in state in your drawing-rooms,
and tell them you were going for a month to Malvern.”

“Your husband has a fine imagination, my dear,” said Mrs. Lavender to
Sheila. “It is a pity he puts it to no use. Now I shall let both of you
go. Three breathing in this room are too many for the cubic feet of air
it contains. Frank, bring over those scales and put them on the table,
and send Paterson to me as you go out.”

And so they went down stairs and out of the house. Just as they stood on
the steps, looking for a hansom, a young lad came forward and shook
hands with Lavender, glancing nervously at Sheila.

“Well, Mosenberg,” said Lavender, “you’ve come back from Leipsic at
last? We got your card when we came home this morning from Brighton. Let
me introduce you to my wife.”

The boy looked at the beautiful face before him with something of a
distant wonder and reverence in his regard. Sheila had heard of the lad
before--of the Mendelssohn that was to be--and liked his appearance at
first sight. He was a rather handsome boy of fourteen or fifteen, of the
fair Jew type, with large, dark, expressive eyes, and long, wavy,
light-brown hair. He spoke English fluently and well; his slight German
accent was, indeed, scarcely so distinct as Sheila’s Highland one, the
chief peculiarity of his speaking being a preference for short
sentences, as if he were afraid to venture upon elaborate English. He
had not addressed a dozen sentences to Sheila before she had begun to
have a liking for the lad, perhaps on account of his soft and musical
voice, perhaps on account of the respectful and almost wondering
admiration that dwelt in his eyes. He spoke to her as if she were some
saint, who had but to smile to charm and bewilder the humble worshipper
at her shrine.

“I was intending to call upon Mrs. Lavender, madame,” he said. “I heard
that she was ill. Perhaps you can tell me if she is better.”

“She seems to be very well to-day, and in very good spirits,” Sheila
answered.

“Then I will not go in. Did you propose to take a walk in the Park,
madame?”

Lavender inwardly laughed at the audacity of the lad, and, seeing that
Sheila hesitated, humored him by saying, “Well, we were thinking of
calling on one or two people before going home to dinner. But I haven’t
seen you for a long time, Mosenberg, and I want you to tell me how you
succeeded at the Conservatoire. If you like to walk with us for a bit,
we can give you something to eat at seven.”

“That would be very pleasant for me,” said the boy, blushing somewhat,
“if it does not incommode you, madame?”

“Oh, no; I hope you will come,” said Sheila, most heartily; and so they
set out for a walk through Kensington Gardens, northward.

Precious little did Lavender learn about Leipsic during that walk. The
boy devoted himself wholly to Sheila. He had heard frequently of her,
and he knew of her coming from the wild and romantic Hebrides; and he
began to tell her of all the experiments that composers had made in
representing the sound of seas and storms, and winds howling through
caverns washed by the waves. Lavender liked music well enough, and could
himself play and sing a little, but this enthusiasm rather bored him. He
wanted to know if the yellow wine was still as cool and clear as ever
down in the twilight of Auerbach’s cellar, what burlesques had lately
been played at the theatre, and whether such and such a beer-garden was
still to the fore; whereas, he heard only analyses of overtures, and
descriptions of the uses of particular musical instruments, and a wild
rhapsody about moonlit seas, the sweetness of French horns, the King of
Thule, and a dozen other matters.

“Mosenberg,” he said, “before you go calling on people you ought to
visit an English tailor. People will think you belong to a German band.”

“I have been to a tailor,” said the lad, with a frank laugh. “My
parents, madame, wish me to be quite English; that is why I am sent to
live in London, while they are in Frankfort. I stay with some very good
friends of mine, who are very musical, and they are not annoyed by my
practising, as other people would be.”

“I hope you will sing something to us this evening,” said Sheila.

“I will sing and play for you all the evening,” he said, lightly, “until
you are tired. But you must tell me when you are tired, for who can
tell how much music will be enough? Sometimes two or three songs are
more than enough to make people wish you away.”

“You need have no fear of tiring me,” said Sheila. “But when you are
tired I will sing for you.”

“Yes, of course you sing, madame,” he said, casting down his eyes: “I
knew that when I saw you.”

Sheila had got a sweetheart, and Lavender saw it and smiled
good-naturedly. The awe and reverence with which this lad regarded the
beautiful woman beside him, was something new and odd in Kensington
Gardens. Yet it was the way of those boys. He had himself had his
imaginative fits of worship, in which some very ordinary young woman,
who ate a good breakfast and spent an hour and a half in arranging her
hair before going out, was regarded as some beautiful goddess fresh
risen from the sea, or descended from the clouds. Young Mosenberg was
just at the proper age for these foolish dreams. He could sing songs to
Sheila, and reveal to her in that way a passion of which he dared not
otherwise speak. He would compose pieces of music for her, and dedicate
them to her, and spend half his quarterly allowance in having them
printed. He would grow to consider him, Lavender, a heartless brute, and
cherish dark notions of poisoning him, but for the pain it might cause
to her.

“I don’t remember whether you smoke, Mosenberg,” Lavender said, after
dinner.

“Yes--a cigarette sometimes,” said the lad; “but if Mrs. Lavender is
going away perhaps she will let me go into the drawing-room with her.
There is that sonata of Muzio Clementi, madame, which I will try to
remember for you if you please.”

“All right,” said Lavender; “you’ll find me in the next room on the left
when you will get tired of your music and want a cigar. I think you used
to beat me at chess, didn’t you?”

“I do not know. We will try once more to-night.”

Then Sheila and he went into the drawing-room by themselves, and while
she took a seat near the brightly-lit fire-place, he opened the piano at
once and sat down. He turned up his cuffs, he took a look at the pedals,
he threw back his head, shaking his long brown hair; and then, with a
crash like thunder, his two hands struck the keys. He had forgotten all
about that sonata; it was a fantasia of his own, based on the airs in
_Der Freischutz_, that he played; and as he played Sheila’s poor little
piano suffered somewhat. Never before had it been so battered about, and
she wished the small chamber were a great hall to temper the voluminous
noise of this opening passage. But presently the music softened. The
white, lithe fingers ran lightly over the keys, so that the notes seemed
to ripple out like the prattling of a stream, and then again some
stately and majestic air or some joyous burst of song would break upon
this light accompaniment, and lead up to another roar and rumble of
noise. It was a very fine performance, doubtless, but what Sheila
remarked most was the enthusiasm of the lad. She was to see more of
that.

“Now,” he said, “that is nothing. It is to get one’s fingers accustomed
to the keys you play anything that is loud and rapid. But if you please,
madame, shall I sing you something?”

“Yes, do,” said Sheila.

“I will sing for you a little German song which, I believe, Jenny Lind
used to sing; but I never heard her sing. You know German?”

“Very little, indeed.”

“This is only the cry of some one who is far away about his sweetheart.
It is very simple, both in the words and the music.”

And he began to sing, in a voice so rich, so tender and expressive that
Sheila sat amazed and bewildered to hear him. Where had this boy caught
such a trick of passion, or was it really a trick that threw into his
voice all the pathos of a strong man’s love and grief? He had a powerful
baritone, of unusual compass and rare sweetness; but it was not the
finely-trained art of his singing, but the passionate abandonment of it,
that thrilled Sheila, and, indeed, brought tears to her eyes. How had
this mere lad learned all the yearning and despair of love that he sang?

              Dir debt die Brust,
              Dir schlägt dies Herz.
              Du meine Lust!
              O du, mein Schmerz!
    Nur an den Winden, den Sternen der Höh,
    Muss ich verkünden mein süsses Weh!--

as though his heart were breaking? When he had finished he paused for a
moment or two before leaving the piano, and then he came over to where
Sheila sat. She fancied there was a strange look in his face, as of one
who had been really experiencing the wild emotions of which he sang; but
he said, in his ordinary, careful way of speaking, “Madame, I am sorry I
cannot translate the words for you into English. They are too simple;
and they have, what is common in most German songs, a mingling of the
pleasure and the sadness of being in love, that would not read natural
perhaps in English. When he says to her that she is his greatest delight
and also his greatest grief, it is quite right in the German, but not in
the English.”

“But where have you learned all these things?” she said to him, talking
to him as if he were a mere child, and looking without fear into his
handsome boyish face and fine eyes. “Sit down and tell me. That is the
song of some one whose sweetheart is far away, you said. But you sang it
as if you yourself had some sweetheart far away.”

“So I have, madame,” he said, seriously: “when I sing the song, I think
of her then, so that I almost cry for her.”

“And who is she?” said Sheila, gently. “Is she very far away?”

“I do not know,” said the lad, absently. “I do not know who she is.
Sometimes I think she is a beautiful woman away at St. Petersburg,
singing in the opera house there. Or I think she has sailed away in a
ship from me.”

“But you do not sing about any particular person?” said Sheila, with an
innocent wonder appearing in her eyes.

“Oh, no, not at all,” said the boy; and then he added, with some
suddenness, “Do you think, madame, any fine songs like that, or any fine
words that go to the heart of people are written about any one person?
Oh, no! The man has a great desire in him to say something beautiful or
sad, and he says it--not to one person, but to all the world; and all
the world takes it from him as a gift. Sometimes, yes, he will think of
one woman, or he will dedicate the music to her, or he will compose it
for her wedding, but the feeling in his heart is greater than any that
he has for her. Can you believe, madame, that Mendelssohn wrote the
Hochzeitm--the Wedding March--for any one wedding? No. It was all the
marriage joy of the world he put into his music, and every one knows
that. And you hear it at this wedding, at that wedding, but you know it
belongs to something far away and more beautiful than the marriage of
any one bride with her sweetheart. And if you will pardon me, madame,
speaking about myself, it is about some one I never knew, who is far
more beautiful and precious to me than any one I ever knew, that I try
to think when I sing these sad songs, and then I think of her far away,
and not likely ever to see me again.”

“But some day you will find that you have met her in real life,” Sheila
said. “And you will find her far more beautiful and kind to you than
anything you dreamed about; and you will try to write your best music to
give to her. And then, if you should be unhappy, you will find how much
worse is the real unhappiness about one you love than the sentiment of a
song you can lay aside at any moment.”

The lad looked at her. “What can you know about unhappiness, madame?” he
said, with a frank and gentle simplicity that she liked.

“I,” said Sheila. “When people get married and begin to experience the
cares of the world, they must expect to be unhappy sometimes.”

“But not you,” he said, with some touch of protest in his voice, as if
it were impossible the world should deal harshly with so young and
beautiful and tender a creature. “You can have nothing but enjoyment
around you. Every one must try to please you. You need only condescend
to speak to people, and they are grateful to you for a great favor.
Perhaps, madame, you think I am impertinent?”

He stopped and blushed, while Sheila, herself with a little touch of
color, answered him that she hoped he would always speak to her quite
frankly, and then suggested that he might sing once more for her.

“Very well,” he said, as he sat down to the piano: “this is not any more
a sad song. It is about a young lady who will not let her sweetheart
kiss her, except on conditions. You shall hear the conditions, and what
he says.”

Sheila began to wonder whether this innocent-eyed lad had been imposing
on her. The song was acted as well as sung. It consisted chiefly of a
dialogue between the two lovers; and the boy, with a wonderful ease and
grace and skill, mimicked the shy coquetries of the girl, her fits of
petulance and dictation, and the pathetic remonstrances of her
companion, his humble entreaties and his final sullenness, which is only
conquered by her sudden and ample consent. “What a rare faculty of
artistic representation this precocious boy must have,” she thought, “if
he really exhibits all those moods and whims and tricks of manner
without having himself been in the position of the despairing and
imploring lover!”

“You were not thinking of the beautiful lady in St. Petersburg when you
were singing just now,” Sheila said, on his coming back to her.

“Oh, no,” he said, carelessly; “that is nothing. You have not to imagine
anything. These people, you see them on every stage in the comedies and
farces.”

“But that might happen in actual life,” said Sheila, still not quite
sure about him. “Do you know that many people would think you must have
yourself been teased in that way, or you could not imitate it so
naturally?”

“I! Oh, no, madame,” he said, seriously; “I should not act that way if I
were in love with a woman. If I found her a comedy-actress, liking to
make her amusement out of our relations, I should say to her:
‘Good-evening, mademoiselle; we have both made a little mistake.’”

“But you might be so much in love with her that you could not leave her
without being very miserable.”

“I might be very much in love with her, yes; but I would rather go away
and be miserable than be humiliated by such a girl. Why do you smile,
madame? Do you think I am vain, or that I am too young to know anything
about that? Perhaps both are true, but one cannot help thinking.”

“Well,” said Sheila, with a grandly maternal air of sympathy and
interest, “you must always remember this--that you have something more
important to attend to than merely looking out for a beautiful
sweetheart. That is the fancy of a foolish girl. You have your
profession, and you must become great and famous in that; and then some
day, when you meet this beautiful woman and ask her to be your wife, she
will be bound to do that, and you will confer honor on her as well as
secure happiness to yourself. Now, if you were to fall in love with some
coquettish girl like her you were singing about, you would have no more
ambition to become famous, you would lose all interest in everything
except her, and she would be able to make you miserable by a single
word. When you have made a name for yourself, and got a good many more
years, you will be better able to bear anything that happens to you in
your love or in your marriage.”

“You are very kind to take so much trouble,” said young Mosenberg,
looking up with big, grateful eyes.

“Perhaps, madame, if you are not very busy during the day, you will let
me call in sometimes, and if there is no one here I will tell you about
what I am doing, and play for you or sing for you, if you please.”

“In the afternoons I am always free,” she said.

“Do you never go out?” he asked.

“Not often. My husband is at his studio most of the day.”

The boy looked at her, hesitated for a moment, and then said, with a
sudden rush of color to his face, “You should not stay so much in the
house. Will you sometimes go for a little walk with me, madame, to
Kensington Gardens, if you are not busy in the afternoon?”

“Oh, certainly,” said Sheila, without a moment’s embarrassment. “Do you
live near them?”

“No; I live in Sloane Street, but the underground railways brings me
here in a very short time.”

That mention of Sloane Street gave a twinge to Sheila’s heart. Ought she
have been so ready to accept offers of new friendship just as her old
friend had been banished from her?

“In Sloane Street? Do you know Mr. Ingram?”

“Oh yes, very well. Do you?”

“He is one of my oldest friends,” said Sheila, bravely; she would not
acknowledge that their intimacy was a thing of the past.

“He is a very good friend to me--I know that,” said young Mosenberg,
with a laugh. “He hired a piano merely because I used to go into his
rooms at night; and now he makes me play over my most difficult music
when I go in, and he sits and smokes a pipe and pretends to like it. I
do not think he does, but I have got to do it all the same, and then
afterward I sing for him songs that I know he likes. Madame, I think I
can surprise you.”

He went to the piano and began to sing, in a very quiet way:

    Oh soft be thy slumbers by Tigh-na-linne’s waters;
    Thy late-wake was sung by MacDiarmid’s fair daughters;
    But far in Lochaber the true heart was weeping,
    Whose hopes are entombed in the grave where thou’rt sleeping.

It was the lament of the young girl whose lover had been separated from
her by false reports, and who died before he could get back to Lochaber
when the deception was discovered. And the wild, sad air the girl is
supposed to sing seemed so strange with those new chords that this
boy-musician gave it, that Sheila sat down and listened to it as though
it were the sound of the seas about Borva coming to her with a new voice
and finding her altered and a stranger.

“I know nearly all of those Highland songs that Mr. Ingram has got,”
said the lad.

“I did not know that he had any,” Sheila said.

“Sometimes he tries to sing one himself,” said the boy, with a smile,
“but he does not sing very well and he gets vexed with himself in fun,
and flings things about the room. But you will sing some of these songs,
madame, and let me hear how they are sung in the North?”

“Some time,” said Sheila, “I would rather listen just now to all you can
tell me of Mr. Ingram--he is such a very old friend of mine, and I do
not know how he lives.”

The lad speedily discovered that there was at least one way of keeping
his new and beautiful friend profoundly interested; and, indeed, he went
on talking until Lavender came into the room in evening dress. It was
eleven o’clock, and young Mosenberg started up with a thousand apologies
and hopes that he had not detained Mrs. Lavender. No, Mrs. Lavender was
not going out; her husband was going around for an hour to a ball that
Mrs. Kavanagh was giving, but she preferred to stay at home.

“May I call upon you to-morrow afternoon, madame?” said the boy, as he
was leaving.

“I shall be very glad if you will,” Sheila answered.

And as he went along the pavement young Mosenberg observed to his
companion that Mrs. Lavender did not seem to have gone out much, and
that it was very good of her to have promised to go with him
occasionally into Kensington Gardens.

“Oh, has she?” said Lavender.

“Yes,” said the lad, with some surprise.

“You are lucky to be able to get her to leave the house,” her husband
said; “I can’t.”

Perhaps he had not tried so much as the words seemed to imply.



CHAPTER XVII.

GUESSES.


“Mr. Ingram,” cried young Mosenberg, bursting into the room of his
friend, “do you know that I have seen your princess from the island of
the Atlantic? Yes, I met her yesterday, and I went up to the house, and
I dined there and spent all the evening there.”

Ingram was not surprised, nor, apparently, much interested. He was
cutting open the leaves of a quarterly review, and a freshly-filled pipe
lay on the table beside him. A fire had been lit, for the evenings were
getting chill occasionally; the shutters were shut; there was some
whiskey on the table; so that this small apartment seemed to have its
share of bachelor’s comforts.

“Well,” said Ingram quietly, “did you play for her?”

“Yes.”

“And sing for her, too?”

“Yes.”

“Did you play and sing your very best for her?”

“Yes, I did. But I have not told you half yet. This afternoon I went up,
and she went out for a walk with me; and we went down through Kensington
Gardens, and all around by the Serpentine--”

“Did she go into that parade of people?” said Ingram, looking up with
some surprise.

“No,” said the lad, looking rather crestfallen, for he would have liked
to show off Sheila to some of his friends; “she would not go; she
preferred to watch the small boats on the Serpentine, and she was very
kind, too, in speaking to the children, and helping them with their
boats, although some people stared at her. And what is more than all
these things, to-morrow night she comes with me to a concert in the St.
James’ Hall--yes.”

“You are very fortunate,” said Ingram, with a smile, for he was well
pleased to hear that Sheila had taken a fancy to the boy, and was likely
to find his society amusing. “But you have not told me yet what you
think of her.”

“What I think of her?” said the lad, pausing in a bewildered way, as if
he could find no words to express his opinion of Sheila. And then he
said suddenly, “I think she is like the Mother of God.”

“You irreverent young rascal!” said Ingram, lighting his pipe, “how dare
you say such a thing?

“I mean in the pictures--in the tall pictures you see in some churches
abroad, far up in a half darkness. She has the same sweet, compassionate
look, and her eyes are sometimes a little sad; and when she speaks to
you, you think you have known her for a long time, and that she wishes
to be very kind to you. But she is not a princess at all, as you told
me. I expected to find her a grand, haughty, willful--yes: but she is
much too friendly for that; and when she laughs you see she could not
sweep about a room and stare at people. But if she was angry or proud,
perhaps then--”

“See you don’t make her angry, then,” said Ingram. “Now go and play over
all you were practicing in the morning. No? stop a bit. Sit down and
tell me something more about your experiences of Shei--of Mrs.
Lavender.”

Young Mosenberg laughed, and sat down; “Do you know, Mr. Ingram, that
the same thing occurred the night before last? I was about to sing some
more, or I was asking Mrs. Lavender to sing some more--I forget
which--but she said to me, ‘Not just now. I wish you to sit down and
tell me all you know about Mr. Ingram.’”

“And she no sooner honors you with her confidence than you carry it to
every one?” said Ingram, somewhat fearful of the boy’s tongue.

“Oh, as to that,” said the lad, delighted to see that his friend was a
little embarrassed; “as to that, I believe she is in love with you.”

“Mosenberg,” said Ingram with a flash of anger in the dark eyes, “if you
were half a dozen years older I would thrash the life out of you. Do you
think that is a pretty sort of joke to make about a woman? Don’t you
know the mischief your gabbling tongue might make? for how is every one
to know that you are talking merely impertinent nonsense?”

“Oh,” said the boy, audaciously, “I did not mean anything of the kind
you see in comedies or in operas, breaking up marriages and causing
duels. Oh, no. I think she is in love with you, as I am in love with
her; and I am, ever since yesterday.”

“Well, I will say this for you,” remarked Ingram, slowly, “that you are
the cheekiest young beggar I have the pleasure to know. You are in love
with her, are you? A lady admits you to her house, is particularly kind
to you, talks to you in confidence, and then you go and tell people you
are in love with her!”

“I did not tell people,” said Mosenberg, flushing under the severity of
the reproof; “I told you only, and I thought you would understand what I
meant. I should have told Lavender himself just as soon--yes; only he
would not care.”

“How do you know?”

“Bah!” said the boy, impatiently. “Cannot one see it? You have a pretty
wife--much prettier than any one you would see at a ball at Mrs.
Kavanagh’s--and you leave her at home, and you go to the ball to amuse
yourself.”

This boy, Ingram perceived, was getting to see too clearly how matters
stood. He bade him go and play some music, having first admonished him
gravely about the necessity of keeping some watch and ward over his
tongue. Then the pipe was re-lit, and a fury of sound arose at the other
end of the room.

So Lavender, forgetful of the true-hearted girl who loved him, forgetful
of his own generous instincts, forgetful of the future that his fine
abilities promised, was still dangling after this alien woman, and
Sheila was left at home, with her troubles and piteous yearnings and
fancies as her only companions? Once upon a time Ingram could have gone
straight up to him and admonished him, and driven him to mend his ways.
But now that was impossible.

What was still possible? One wild project occurred to him for a moment,
but he laughed at it and dismissed it. It was that he should go boldly
to Mrs. Lorraine herself, ask her plainly if she knew what cruel injury
she was doing to this young wife, and force her to turn Lavender adrift.
But what enterprise of the days of old romance could be compared with
this mad proposal? To ride up to a castle, blow a trumpet, and announce
that unless a certain lady were released forthwith, death and
destruction would begin--all that was simple enough, easy and according
to rule; but to go into a lady’s drawing-room without an introduction,
and request her to stop a certain flirtation--that was a much more awful
undertaking. But Ingram could not altogether dismiss this notion from
his head. Mosenberg went on playing--no longer his practising-pieces,
but all manner of airs which he knew Ingram liked--while the small,
sallow man with the brown beard lay in his easy-chair and smoked his
pipe, and gazed attentively at his toes on the fender.

“You know Mrs. Kavanagh and her daughter, don’t you, Mosenberg?” he
said, during an interval in the music.

“Not much,” said the boy. “They were in England only a little while
before I went to Leipsic.”

“I should like to know them.”

“That is very easy. Mr. Lavender will introduce you to them. Mrs.
Lavender said he went there very much.”

“What would they do, do you think, if I went up and asked to see them?”

“The servant would ask if it was about beer or coals that you called.”

A man will do much for a woman who is his friend, but to be suspected of
being a brewer’s traveler, to have to push one’s way into a strange
drawing-room, to have to confront the awful stare of the inmates, and
then to have to deliver a message which they will probably consider as
the very extreme of audacious and meddling impertinence! The prospect
was not pleasant, and yet Ingram, as he sat and thought over it that
evening, finally resolved to encounter all these dangers and wounds. He
could help Sheila in no other way. He was banished from her house.
Perhaps he might induce this American girl to release her captive, and
give Lavender back to his own wife. What were a few twinges of one’s
self-respect, or risks of a humiliating failure, compared with the
possibility of befriending Sheila in some small way?

Next morning he went early into Whitehall, and about one o’clock in the
forenoon started off for Holland Park. He wore a tall hat, a black
frock-coat and yellow kid gloves. He went in a hansom, so that the
person who opened the door should know that he was not a brewer’s
traveler. In this wise he reached Mrs. Kavanagh’s house, which Lavender
had frequently pointed out to him in passing, about half-past one, and
with some internal tremors, but much outward calmness, went up the broad
stone steps.

A small boy in buttons opened the door.

“Is Mrs. Lorraine at home?”

“Yes, sir,” answered the boy.

It was the simplest thing in the world. In a few seconds he found
himself in a big drawing-room, and the youth had taken his card
up-stairs. Ingram was not very sure whether his success, so far, was due
to the hansom, or to his tall hat, or to a silver-headed cane which his
grandfather had brought home from India. However, here he was in the
house, just like the hero of one of those fine old farces of our youth,
who jumps from the street into a strange drawing-room, flirts with the
maid, hides behind a screen, confronts the master, and marries his
daughter, all in half an hour, the most exacting unities of time and
place being faithfully observed.

Presently the door was opened, and a young lady, pale and calm and sweet
of face, approached him, and not only bowed to him, but held out her
hand.

“I have much pleasure in making your acquaintance, Mr. Ingram,” she
said, gently and somewhat slowly. “Mr. Lavender has frequently promised
to bring you to see us, for he has spoken to us so much about you that
we begun to think we already knew you. Will you come with me up stairs,
that I may introduce you to mamma?”

Ingram had come prepared to state harsh truths bluntly, and was ready to
meet any sort of anger or opposition with a perfect frankness of
intention. But he certainly had not come prepared to find the
smart-tongued and fascinating American widow, of whom he had heard so
much, a quiet, self possessed and gracious young lady, of singularly
winning manners, and clear and resolutely honest eyes. Had Lavender been
quite accurate, or even conscientious in his garrulous talk about Mrs.
Lorraine?

“If you will excuse me,” said Ingram, with a smile that had less of
embarrassment about it than he could have expected, “I would rather
speak to you for a few minutes first. The fact is, I have come on a
self-imposed errand; and that must be my apology for--for thrusting
myself--”

“I am sure no apology is needed,” said the girl. “We have always been
expecting to see you. Will you sit down?”

He put his hat and his cane on the table, and as he did so he recorded a
mental resolution not to be led away by the apparent innocence and
sweetness of this woman. What a fool he had been to expect her to appear
in the guise of some forward and giggling coquette, as if Frank
Lavender, with all his faults, could have suffered anything like
coarseness of manners! But was this woman any the less dangerous that
she was refined and courteous, and had the speech and bearing of a
gentlewoman?

“Mrs. Lorraine,” he said, lowering his eyebrows somewhat, “I may as well
be frank with you. I have come upon an unpleasant errand--an affair,
indeed, which ought to be no business of mine; but sometimes, when you
care a little for some one, you don’t mind running the risk of being
treated as an intermeddler. You know that I know Mrs. Lavender. She is
an old friend of mine. She was almost a child when I knew her first, and
I still have a sort of notion that she is a child, and that I should
look after her, and so--and so--”

She sat quite still. There was no surprise, no alarm, no anger when
Sheila’s name was mentioned. She was merely attentive, but now seeing
that he hesitated, she said, “I do not know what you have to say, but if
it is serious, may not I ask mamma to join us?”

“If you please, no. I would rather speak with you alone, as this matter
concerns yourself only. Well, the fact is, I have seen for some time
back that Mrs. Lavender is very unhappy. She is left alone; she knows no
one in London; perhaps she does not care to join much in those social
amusements that her husband enjoys. I say this poor girl is an old
friend of mine; I cannot help trying to do something to make her less
wretched; and so I have ventured to come to you to see if you could
assist me. Mr. Lavender comes very much to your house, and Sheila is
left all by herself; and doubtless she begins to fancy that her husband
is neglectful, perhaps indifferent to her, and may get to imagine things
that are quite wrong, you know, and that could be explained away by a
little kindness on your part.”

Was this, then, the fashion in which Jonah had gone up to curse the
wickedness of Nineveh? As he had spoken he had been aware that those
sincere, somewhat matter-of-fact and far from unfriendly eyes that were
fixed on him, had undergone no change whatever. Here was no vile
creature who would start up with a guilty conscience to repel the
remotest hint of an accusation; and indeed, quite unconsciously to
himself, he had been led on to ask for her help. Not that he feared her.
Not but that he could have said the harshest things to her which there
was any reason for saying. But somehow there seemed to be no occasion
for the utterance of any cruel truths.

The wonder of it was, too, that instead of being wounded, indignant and
angry, as he had expected her to be, she betrayed a very friendly
interest in Sheila, as though she herself had nothing whatever to do
with the matter.

“You have undertaken a very difficult task, Mr. Ingram,” she said with a
smile. “I don’t think there are many married ladies in London who have a
friend who would do as much for them. And, to tell you the truth, both
my mamma and myself have come to the same conclusion as yourself about
Mr. Lavender. It is really too bad, the way in which he allows that
pretty young thing to remain at home, for I suppose she would go more
into society if he were to coax her and persuade her. We have done what
we could in sending her invitations, in calling on her, and in begging
Mr. Lavender to bring her with him. But he has always some excuse for
her, so that we never see her. And yet I am sure he does not mean to
give her pain; for he is very proud of her, and madly extravagant
wherever she is concerned; and sometimes he takes sudden fits of trying
to please her and be kind to her that are quite odd in their way. Can
you tell me what we should do?”

Ingram looked at her for a moment, and said gravely and slowly, “Before
we talk anymore about that I must clear my conscience. I perceive that I
have done you a wrong. I came here prepared to accuse you of drawing
away Mr. Lavender from his wife, of seeking amusement and perhaps some
social distinction, by keeping him continually dangling after you; and I
meant to reproach you, or even threaten you, until you promised never to
see him again.”

A quick flush, partly of shame, partly of annoyance, sprang to Mrs.
Lorraine’s fair and pale face; but she answered calmly, “It is perhaps
as well that you did not tell me this a few minutes ago. May I ask what
has led you to change your opinion of me, if it has changed?”

“Of course it has changed,” he said, promptly and emphatically. “I can
see that I did you a great injury, and I apologize for it, and beg your
forgiveness. But when you ask me what has led me to change my opinion,
what am I to say? Your manner, perhaps, more than what you have said has
convinced me that I was wrong.”

“Perhaps you are again mistaken,” she said coldly; “you get rapidly to
conclusions.”

“The reproof is just,” he said. “You are quite right. I have made a
blunder; there is no mistake about it.”

“But do you think it was fair,” she said with some spirit--“do you think
it was fair to believe all this harm about a woman you had never seen?
Now, listen. A hundred times I have begged Mr. Lavender to be more
attentive to his wife--not in these words, of course, but as directly as
I could. Mamma has given parties, made arrangements for visits, drives
and all sorts of things, to tempt Mrs. Lavender to come to us, and all
in vain. Of course you can’t thrust yourself on any one like that.
Though mamma and myself like Mrs. Lavender very well, it is asking too
much that we should encounter the humiliation of intermeddling.”

Here she stopped suddenly, with the least show of embarrassment. Then
she said, frankly, “You are an old friend of hers. It is very good of
you to have risked so much for the sake of that girl. There are very few
gentlemen whom one meets who would do as much.”

Ingram could say nothing, and was a little impatient with himself. Was
he to be first reproved, and then treated with an indulgent kindness by
a mere girl?

“Mamma,” said Mrs. Lorraine, as an elderly lady entered the room, “let
me introduce you to Mr. Ingram, whom you must already know. He proposes
we should join in some conspiracy to inveigle Mrs. Lavender into
society, and make the poor little thing amuse herself.”

“Little!” said Mrs. Kavanagh, with a smile; “she is a good deal taller
than you are, my dear. But I am afraid, Mr. Ingram, you have undertaken
a hopeless task. Will you stay to luncheon and talk it over with us?”

“I hope you will,” said Mrs. Lorraine; and naturally enough he
consented.

Luncheon was just ready. As they were going into the room on the
opposite side of the hall, the younger lady said to Ingram in a quiet
undertone, but with much indifference of manner, “You know, if you
think I ought to give up Mr. Lavender’s acquaintance altogether, I will
do so at once. But perhaps that will not be necessary.”

So this was the house in which Sheila’s husband spent so much of his
time, and these were the two ladies of whom so much had been said and
surmised? There were three of Lavender’s pictures on the walls of the
dining-room, and as Ingram inadvertently glanced at them, Mrs. Lorraine
said to him, “Don’t you think it is a pity Mr. Lavender should continue
drawing those imaginative sketches of heads? I do not think, myself,
that he does himself justice in that way. Some bits of landscape, now,
that I have seen, seemed to me to have quite a definite character about
them, and promised far more than anything else of his I have seen.”

“That is precisely what I think,” said Ingram, partly amused and partly
annoyed to find that this girl, with her clear gray eyes, her soft and
musical voice, and her singular delicacy of manner, had an evil trick of
saying the very things he would himself have said, and leaving him with
nothing but a helpless “Yes.”

“I think he ought to have given up his club when he married. Most
English gentlemen do that when they marry, do they not?” said Mrs.
Kavanagh.

“Some,” said Ingram. “But a good deal of nonsense is talked about the
influence of clubs in that way. It is really absurd to suppose that the
size or the shape of a building can alter a man’s moral character.”

“It does, though,” said Mrs. Lorraine confidently. “I can tell directly
if a gentleman has been accustomed to spend his time in clubs. When he
is surprised or angry or impatient, you can perceive blanks in his
conversation which in a club, I suppose, would be filled up. Don’t you
know poor old Colonel Hannen’s way of talking, mamma? This old
gentleman, Mr. Ingram, is very fond of speaking to you about political
liberty and the rights of conscience; and he generally becomes so
confused that he gets vexed with himself, and makes odd pauses, as if he
were invariably addressing himself in very rude language indeed.
Sometimes you would think he was like a railway engine, going blindly
and helplessly on through a thick and choking mist; and you can see
that if there were no ladies present he would let off a few
crackers--fog-signals, as it were--just to bring himself up a bit, and
let people know where he was. Then he will go on again, talking away
until you fancy yourself in a tunnel, with a throbbing noise in your
ears and all the daylight shut out, and you perhaps getting to wish that
on the whole you were dead.”

“Cecilia!”

“I beg your pardon, mamma,” said the younger lady, with a quiet smile;
“you look so surprised that Mr. Ingram will give me credit for not often
erring in that way. You look as though a hare had turned and attacked
you.”

“That would give most people a fright,” said Ingram, with a laugh. He
was rapidly forgetting the object of his mission. The almost childish
softness of voice of this girl, and the perfect composure with which she
uttered little sayings that showed considerable sharpness of observation
and a keen enjoyment of the grotesque, had an odd sort of fascination
for him. He totally forgot that Lavender had been fascinated by it, too.
If he had been reminded of the fact at this moment, he would have said
that the boy had, as usual, got sentimental about a pretty pair of big
gray eyes and a fine profile, while he, Ingram, was possessed by nothing
but a purely intellectual admiration of certain fine qualities of wit,
sincerity of speech and womanly shrewdness.

Luncheon, indeed, was over before any mention was made of the Lavenders;
and when they returned to that subject it appeared to Ingram that their
relations had in the meantime got to be very friendly, and that they
were really discussing this matter as if they formed a little family
conclave.

“I have told Mr. Ingram, mamma,” Mrs. Lorraine said, “that so far as I
am concerned I will do whatever he thinks I ought to do. Mr. Lavender
has been a friend of ours for some time, and of course he cannot be
treated with rudeness or incivility; but if we are wounding the feelings
of any one by asking him to come here--and he certainly visited us
pretty often--why, it would be easy to lessen the number of his calls.
Is that what we should do, Mr. Ingram? You would not have us quarrel
with him?”

“Especially,” said Mrs. Kavanagh, with a smile, “that there is no
certainty he will spend more of his time with his wife merely because he
spends less of it here. And yet I fancy he is a very good-natured man.”

“He _is_ very good-natured,” said Ingram, with decision. “I have known
him for years, and I know that he is exceedingly unselfish, and that he
would do a ridiculously generous thing to serve a friend, and that a
better-intentioned fellow does not breathe in the world. But he is at
times, I admit, very thoughtless and inconsiderate.”

“That sort of good-nature,” said Mrs. Lorraine, in her gentlest voice,
“is very good in its way, but rather uncertain. So long as it shines in
one direction, it is all right and quite trustworthy, for you want a
hard brush to brush sunlight off a wall. But when the sunlight shifts
you know--”

“The wall is left in the cold. Well,” said Ingram, “I am afraid it is
impossible for me to dictate to you what you ought to do. I do not wish
to draw you into any interference between husband and wife, or even to
let Mr. Lavender know that you think he is not treating Shei--Mrs.
Lavender--properly. But if you were to hint to him that he ought to pay
some attention to her--that he should not be going everywhere as if he
were a young bachelor in chambers; if you would discourage his coming to
see you without bringing her also, and so forth--surely he would see
what you mean. Perhaps I ask too much of you, but I had intended to ask
more. The fact is, Mrs. Kavanagh, I had done your daughter the injustice
of supposing--”

“I thought we had agreed to say no more about that,” said Mrs. Lorraine,
quickly, and Ingram was silent.

Half an hour thereafter he was walking back though Holland Park, through
the warm light of an autumn afternoon. The place seemed much changed
since he had seen it a couple of hours before. The double curve of big
houses had a more friendly and hospitable look; the very air seemed to
be more genial and comfortable since he had driven up here in the
hansom.

Perhaps Mr. Ingram was at this moment a little more perturbed, pleased
and bewildered than he would have liked to confess. He had discovered a
great deal in these two hours, been much surprised and fascinated, and
had come away fairly stupefied with the result of his mission. He had
indeed been successful; Lavender would now find a different welcome
awaiting him in the house in which he had been spending nearly all his
time, to the neglect of his wife. But the fact is, that as Edward Ingram
went rapidly over in his own mind everything that had occurred since his
entrance into that house, as he anxiously recalled the remarks made to
him, the tone and looks accompanying them, and his own replies, it was
not of Lavender’s affairs alone that he thought. He confessed to himself
frankly that he had never yet met any woman who had so surprised him
into admiration on their first meeting.

Yet what had she said? Nothing very particular. Was it the bright
intelligence of the gray eyes, that seemed to see everything he meant
with an instant quickness, and that seemed to agree with him even before
he spoke? He reflected, now that he was in the open air, that he must
have persecuted these two women dreadfully. In getting away from
Lavender’s affairs they had touched on pictures, books, and what not--on
the young poet who was playing Alfred de Musset in England; on the great
philosopher who had gone into the House to confuse and bewilder the
country gentlemen there; on all sorts of topics, indeed, except those
which, as Ingram had anticipated, such a creature as Mrs. Lorraine would
naturally have found interesting. And he had to confess to himself that
he had lectured his two helpless victims most unmercifully. He was quite
conscious that he sometimes laid down the law in an authoritative and
even sententious manner. On first going into the house certain things
said by Mrs. Lorraine had almost surprised him into a mood of mere
acquiescence; but after luncheon he had assumed his ordinary manner of
tutor in general to the universe, and had informed these two women, in a
distinct fashion, what their opinions ought to be on half the social
conundrums of the day.

He now reflected, with much compunction, that this was highly improper.
He ought to have asked about flower-shows, and inquired whether the
Princess of Wales was looking well of late. Some reference to the late
Parisian comedy might have introduced a disquisition on the new grays
and greens of the French milliners, with a passing mention made of the
price paid for a pair of ponies by a certain marquise unattached. He had
not spoken of one of these things; perhaps he could not if he had tried.
He remembered, with an awful consciousness of guilt, that he had
actually discoursed of woman suffrage, of the public conscience of New
York, of the extirpation of the Indians, and a dozen different things
not only taking no heed of any opinions that his audience of two might
hold, but insisting on their accepting his opinions as the expression of
absolute and incontrovertible truth.

He became more and more dissatisfied with himself. If he could only go
back now, he would be much more wary, more submissive and complaisant,
more anxious to please. What right had he to abuse the courtesy and
hospitality of those two strangers, and lecture them on the Constitution
of their own country? He was annoyed beyond expression that they had
listened to him with so much patience.

And yet he could not have seriously offended them for they had earnestly
besought him to dine with them on the following Tuesday evening to meet
an American judge; and when he had consented, Mrs. Lorraine had written
down on a card the date and hour, lest he should forget. He had the card
in his pocket; surely he could not have offended them? If he had pursued
this series of questions, he might have gone on to ask himself why he
should be so anxious not to have offended these two new friends. He was
not ordinarily very sensitive to the opinions that might be formed of
him--more especially by persons living out of his own sphere, with whom
he was not likely to associate. He did not, indeed, as a general rule,
suffer himself to be perturbed about anything; and yet, as he went along
the busy thoroughfare at this moment, he was conscious that rarely in
his life had he been so ill at ease.

Something now occurred that startled him out of his reverie. Communing
with himself, he was staring blankly ahead, taking little note of the
people whom he saw. But somehow, in a vague and dream-like way, he
seemed to become aware that there was some one in front of him--a long
way ahead as yet--whom he knew. He was still thinking of Mrs. Lorraine,
and unconsciously postponing the examination of this approaching figure,
or rather pair of figures, when, with a sudden start, he found Sheila’s
sad and earnest eyes fixed upon him. He woke up as from a dream. He saw
that young Mosenberg was with her, and naturally the boy would have
approached Ingram, and stopped and spoken. But Ingram paid no attention
to him. He was, with a quick pang at his heart, regarding Sheila, with
the knowledge that on her rested the cruel decision as to whether she
should come forward or not. He was not aware that her husband had
forbidden her to have any communication with him; yet he had guessed as
much, partly from his knowledge of Lavender’s impatient disposition, and
partly from the glance he caught of her eyes when he woke up from his
trance.

Young Mosenberg turned with surprise to his companion. She was passing
on; he did not even see that she had bowed to Ingram, with a face
flushed with shame and pain, and with eyes cast down. Ingram, too, was
passing on, without even shaking hands with her or uttering a word.
Mosenberg was too bewildered to attempt any protest; he merely followed
Sheila, with a conviction that something desperate had occurred, and
that he would best consult her feelings by making no reference to it.

But that one look that the girl had directed to her old friend before
she bowed and passed on had filled him with despair. It was somehow like
the piteous look of a wounded animal, incapable of expressing its pain.
All thoughts and fancies of his own little vexations or embarrassments
were instantly banished from him: he could only see before him those sad
and piteous eyes, full of kindness to him, he thought, and of grief that
she should be debarred from speaking to him, and of resignation to her
own lot.

Gwdyr House did not get much work out of him that day. He sat in a small
room in a back part of the building, looking out on a lonely little
square, silent and ruddy with the reflected light of the sunset.

“A hundred Mrs. Kavanaghs,” he was thinking to himself bitterly enough,
“will not save my poor Sheila. She will die of a broken heart. I can see
it in her face. And it is I who have done it--from first to last it is I
who have done it; and now I can do nothing to help her.”

That became the burden and refrain of all his reflections. It was he who
had done this frightful thing. It was he who had taken away the young
Highland girl, his good Sheila, from her home, and ruined her life and
broken her heart. And he could do nothing to help her.



CHAPTER XVIII.

SHEILA’S STRATAGEM.


“We met Mr. Ingram to-day,” said young Mosenberg, ingeniously.

He was dining with Lavender, not at home, but at a club in St. James’
street; and either his curiosity was too great, or he had forgotten
altogether Ingram’s warnings to him that he should hold his tongue.

“Oh, did you?” said Lavender, showing no great interest. “Waiter, some
French mustard. What did Ingram say to you?”

The question was asked with much apparent indifference, and the boy
stared. “Well,” he said at length, “I suppose there is some
misunderstanding between Mrs. Lavender and Mr. Ingram, for they both saw
each other, and they both passed on without speaking. I was very
sorry--yes. I thought they were friends--I thought Mr. Ingram knew Mrs.
Lavender even before you did; but they did not speak to each other, not
one word.”

Lavender was in one sense pleased to hear this. He liked to hear that
his wife was obedient to him. But, he said to himself with a sharp
twinge of conscience, she was carrying her obedience too far. He had
never meant that she should not even speak to her old friend. He would
talk to her about it as soon as he got home, and in as kindly a way as
was possible.

Mosenberg did not play billiards, but they remained late in the
billiard-room, Lavender playing pool and getting out of it rather
successfully. He could not speak to Sheila that night, but next morning,
before going out, he did.

“Sheila,” he said, “Mosenberg told me last night that you met Mr. Ingram
and did not speak to him. Now, I didn’t mean anything like that. You
must not think me unreasonable. All I want is that he shall not
interfere with our affairs and try to raise some unpleasantness between
you and me, such as might arise from the interference of even the
kindest of friends. When you meet him outside or at any one’s house, I
hope you will treat him just as usual.”

Sheila replied calmly, “If I am not allowed to receive Mr. Ingram here,
I cannot treat him as a friend elsewhere. I would rather not have
friends whom I can only speak to in the streets.”

“Very well,” said Lavender, wincing under the rebuke, but fancying that
she would soon repent her of this resolve. In the meantime, if she would
have it so, she would have it so.

So that was an end of this question of Mr. Ingram’s interference for
the present. But very soon--in a couple of days, indeed--Lavender
perceived the change that had been wrought in the house in Holland Park
to which he had been accustomed to resort.

“Cecelia,” Mrs. Kavanagh had said on Ingram’s leaving, “you must not be
rude to Mr. Lavender.” She knew the perfect independence of that gentle
young lady, and was rather afraid it might carry her too far.

“Of course I shall not be, mamma,” Mrs. Lorraine had said. “Did you ever
hear of such a courageous act as that man coming up to two strangers and
challenging them, all on account of a girl married to some one else? You
know that was the object of his visit. He thought I was flirting with
Mr. Lavender and keeping him from his wife. I wonder how many men there
are in London who would have walked twenty yards to help in such a
matter?”

“My dear, he may have been in love with that pretty young lady before
she was married.”

“Oh, no,” said the clear-eyed daughter, quietly but quite confidently.
“He would not be so ready to show his interest in her if that were so.
Either he would be modest, and ashamed of his rejection, or vain, and
attempt to make a mystery about it.”

“Perhaps you are right,” said the mother. She seldom found her daughter
wrong on such points.

“I am sure I am right, mamma. He talks about her as fondly and
frequently and openly as a man might talk about his own daughter.
Besides, you can see that he is talking honestly. The man couldn’t
deceive a child if he were to try. You see everything in his face.”

“You seem to have been much interested in him,” said Mrs. Kavanagh, with
no appearance of sarcasm.

“Well, I don’t think I meet such men often, and that is the truth. Do
you?” This was carrying the war into the enemy’s country.

“I like him very well,” raid Mrs. Kavanagh. “I think he is honest. I do
not think he dresses very carefully; and he is perhaps too intent on
convincing you that his opinions are right.”

“Well, for my part,” said her daughter, with just the least tinge of
warmth in her manner, “I confess I like a man who has opinions, and is
not afraid to say so. I don’t find many who have. And for his dressing,
one gets rather tired of men who come to you every evening to impress
you with the excellence of their tailor. As if women were to be captured
by millinery! Don’t we know the value of linen and woolen fabrics?”

“My dear child, you are throwing away your vexation on some one whom I
don’t know. It isn’t Mr. Lavender?”

“Oh, dear, no! He is not so silly as that; he dresses well, but there is
perfect freedom about his dress. He is too much of an artist to
sacrifice himself to his clothes.”

“I am glad you have a good word for him at last. I think you have been
rather hard on him since Mr. Ingram called; and that is the reason I
asked you to be careful.”

She was quite careful, but as explicit as good manners would allow. Mrs.
Lorraine was most particular in asking about Mrs. Lavender, and in
expressing her regret that they so seldom saw her.

“She has been brought up in the country, you know,” said Lavender with a
smile; “and there the daughters of a house are taught a number of
domestic duties that they would consider it a sin to neglect. She would
be unhappy if you caused her to neglect them; she would take her
pleasure with a bad conscience.”

“But she cannot be occupied with them all day.”

“My dear Mrs. Lorraine, how often have we discussed the question! And
you know you have me at a disadvantage, for how can I describe to you
what those mysterious duties are? I only know that she is pretty nearly
always busy with something or other; and in the evening, of course, she
is generally too tired to think of going out anywhere.”

“Oh, but you must try to get her out. Next Tuesday, now, Judge ---- is
going to dine with us, and you know how amusing he is. If you have no
other engagement, couldn’t you bring Mrs. Lavender to dine with us on
that evening?”

Now, on former occasions something of the same sort of invitation had
frequently been given, and it was generally answered by Lavender giving
an excuse for his wife, and promising to come himself. What was his
astonishment to find Mrs. Lorraine plainly and most courteously
intimating that the invitation was addressed distinctly to Mr. and Mrs.
Lavender as a couple! When he regretted that Mrs. Lavender could not
come, she said quietly, “Oh, I am so sorry! You would have met an old
friend of yours here, as well as the judge--Mr. Ingram.”

Lavender made no further sign of surprise or curiosity than to lift his
eyebrows and say, “Indeed!”

But when he left the house certain dark suspicions were troubling his
mind. Nothing had been said as to the manner in which Ingram had made
the acquaintance of Mrs. Kavanagh and her daughter, but there was that
in Mrs. Lorraine’s manner which convinced Lavender that something had
happened. Had Ingram carried his interference to the extent of
complaining to them? Had he overcome a repugnance which he had
repeatedly admitted, and thrust himself upon these two people for this
very purpose of making him, Lavender, odious and contemptible?
Lavender’s cheeks burned as he thought of this possibility. Mrs.
Lorraine had been most courteous to him, but the longer he dwelt on
these vague surmises the deeper grew his consciousness that he had been
turned out of the place, morally if not physically. What was that excess
of courtesy but a cloak? If she had meant less, she would have been more
careless; and all through the interview he had remarked that, instead of
the free warfare of talk that generally went on between them, Mrs.
Lorraine was most formally polite and apparently watchful of her words.

He went home in a passion, which was all the more consuming that it
could not be vented on any one. As Sheila had not spoken to Ingram--as
she had even nerved herself to wound him by passing him without notice
in the street--she could not be held responsible; and yet he wished that
he could have upbraided some one for this mischief that had been done.
Should he go straight down to Ingram’s lodgings and have it out with
him? At first he was strongly inclined to do so, but wiser counsels
prevailed. Ingram had a keen and ready tongue, and a way of saying
things that made them rankle afterward in the memory. Besides, he would
go into court with a defective case. He could say nothing unless Ingram
admitted that he had tried to poison the mind of Mrs. Lorraine against
him; and, of course, if there was a quarrel, who would be so foolish as
to make such an admission? Ingram would laugh at him, would refuse to
admit or deny, would increase his anger without affording him an
opportunity of revenging himself.

Sheila could see that her husband was troubled, but could not divine the
cause, and had long ago given up any habit of inquiry. He ate his dinner
almost in silence, and then said he had to make a call on a friend, and
that he would perhaps drop in to the club on his way home, so that she
was not to sit up for him. She was not surprised or hurt at the
announcement. She was accustomed to spend her evenings alone. She
fetched down his cigar-case, put it in his top-coat pocket, and brought
him the coat. Then he kissed her and went out.

But this evening, at least, she had abundant occupation, and that of a
sufficiently pleasant kind. For some little time she had been harboring
in her mind a dark and mysterious plot, and she was glad of an
opportunity to think it out and arrange its details. Mairi was coming to
London, and she had carefully concealed the fact from her husband. A
little surprise of a dramatic sort was to be prepared for him--with what
result who could tell? All of a sudden Lavender was to be precipitated
into the island of Lewis as nearly as that could be imitated in a house
at Notting Hill.

This was Sheila’s scheme, and on these lonely evenings she could sit by
herself with much satisfaction and ponder over the little points of it
and its possible success. Mairi was coming to London under the escort of
a worthy Glasgow fishmonger whom Mr. Mackenzie knew. She would arrive
after Lavender had left for his studio. Then she and Sheila would set to
work to transform the smoking-room, that was sometimes called a library,
into something resembling the quaint little drawing-room in Sheila’s
home. Mairi was bringing up a quantity of heather gathered fresh from
the rocks beside the White Water; she was bringing up some peacocks’
feathers, too, for the mantle-piece, and two or three big shells; and,
best of all, she was to put in her trunk a real and veritable lump of
peat, well dried and easy to light. Then you must know that Sheila had
already sketched out the meal that was to be placed on the table so soon
as the room had been done up in Highland fashion and this peat lit so as
to send its fragrant smoke abroad. A large salmon was to make its
appearance first of all. There would be bottles of beer on the table;
also one of those odd bottles of Norwegian make filled with whisky. And
when Lavender went with wonder into the small room, when he smelt the
fragrant peat smoke--and every one knows how powerful the sense of
smell is in recalling by-gone associations--when he saw the smoking
salmon and the bottled beer and the whisky, and when he suddenly found
Mairi coming into the room and saying to him in her sweet Highland
fashion, “And are you ferry well, sir?”--would not his heart warm to the
old ways and kindly homeliness of the house in Borva, and would not some
glimpse of the happy and half-forgotten time that was now so sadly and
strangely remote, cause him to break down that barrier between himself
and Sheila that this artificial life in the South had placed there?

So the child dreamed, and was happy in dreaming of it. Sometimes she
grew afraid of her project: she had not had much experience in
deception, and the mere concealment of Mairi’s coming was a hard thing
to bear. But surely her husband would take this trick in good part. It
was only, after all, a joke. To put a little barbaric splendor of
decoration into the little smoking-room, to have a scent of peat-smoke
in the air, and to have a timid, sweet-voiced, pretty Highland girl
suddenly make her appearance, with an odor of the sea about her, as it
were, and a look of fresh breezes in the color of her cheeks--what
mortal man could find fault with this innocent jest? Sheila’s moments of
doubt were succeeded by long hours of joyous confidence, in which a
happy light shone on her face. She went through the house with a brisk
step; she sang to herself as she went; she was kinder than ever to the
small children who came into the square every forenoon, and whose
acquaintance she had very speedily made; she gave each of her
crossing-sweepers threepence instead of twopence in passing. The
servants had never seen her in such good spirits; she was exceptionally
generous in presenting them with articles of attire; they might have had
half the week in holidays, if Mr. Lavender had not to be attended to. A
small gentleman of three years of age lived next door, and his
acquaintance also she had made, by means of his nurse. At this time his
stock of toys, which Sheila had kept carefully renewed, became so big
that he might, with proper management, have set up a stall in the
Lowther Arcade.

Just before she left Lewis her father had called her to him and said:
“Sheila, I wass wanting to tell you about something. It is not every one
that will care to hef his money given away to poor folk, and it wass
many a time I said to myself that when you were married maybe your
husband would think you were giving too much money to the poor folk, as
you wass doing in Borva. And it iss this fifty pounds I hef got for you,
Sheila, in ten bank notes, and you will take them with you for your own
money, that you will not hef any trouble about giving things to people.
And when the fifty pounds will be gone, I will send you another fifty
pounds; and it will be no difference to me whatever. And if there is any
one in Borva you would be for sending money to, there is your own money;
for there is many a one would take the money from Sheila Mackenzie that
would not be for taking it from an English stranger in London. And when
you will send it to them, you will send it to me; and I will tek it to
them, and will tell them that this money is from my Sheila, and from no
one else whatever.”

This was all the dowry that Sheila carried with her to the South.
Mackenzie would willingly have given her half his money, if she would
have taken it, or if her husband had desired it; but the old King of
Borva had profound and far-reaching schemes in his head about the small
fortune he might otherwise have accorded to his daughter. This wealth,
such as it was, was to be a magnet to draw this young English gentleman
back to the Hebrides. It was all very well for Mr. Lavender to have
plenty of money at present: he might not always have it. Then the time
would come for Mackenzie to say, “Look here, young man: I can support
myself easily and comfortably by farming and fishing. The money I have
is at your disposal so long as you consent to remain in Lewis--in
Stornoway, if you please; elsewhere, if you please--only in Lewis. And
while you are painting pictures, and making as much money as you can
that way, you can have plenty of fishing and shooting and amusement; and
my guns and boats and rods are all at your service.” Mr. Mackenzie
considered that no man could resist such an offer.

Sheila, of course, told her husband of the sum of money she owned, and
for a long time it was a standing joke between them. He addressed her
with much respect, and was careful to inform her of the fluctuations of
the money-market. Sometimes he borrowed a sovereign of her, and never
without giving her an I O U, which was faithfully reclaimed. But by and
by she perceived that he grew less and less to like the mention of this
money. Perhaps it resembled too closely the savings which the
over-cautious folks about Borvapost would not entrust to a bank, but
kept hid about their huts in the heel of a stocking. At all events,
Sheila saw that her husband did not like her to go to this fund for her
charities; and so the fifty pounds that her father had given her had
lasted a long time. During this period of jubilation, in which she
looked forward to touching her husband’s heart by an innocent little
strategem, more frequent appeals were made to the drawer in which the
treasure was locked up, so that, in the end, her private dowry was
reduced to thirty pounds.

If Ingram could have but taken part in this plan of hers! The only
regret that was mingled with her anticipations of a happier future
concerned this faithful friend of hers, who seemed to have been cut off
from them forever. And it soon became apparent to her that her husband,
so far from inclining to forget the misunderstanding that had arisen
between Ingram and himself, seemed to feel increased resentment,
insomuch that she was most careful to avoid mentioning his name.

She was soon to meet him, however. Lavender was resolved that he would
not appear to have retired from the field merely because Ingram had
entered it. He would go to this dinner on the Tuesday evening, and
Sheila would accompany him. First, he asked her. Much as she would have
preferred not visiting these particular people, she cheerfully
acquiesced; she was not going to be churlish or inconsiderate on the
very eve of her dramatic _coup_. Then he went to Mrs. Lorraine, and said
he had persuaded Sheila to come with him; and the young American lady
and her mamma were good enough to say how glad they were she had come to
this decision. They appeared to take it for granted that it was Sheila
alone who had declined former invitations.

“Mr. Ingram will be there on Tuesday evening,” said Lavender to his
wife.

“I was not aware he knew them,” said Sheila, remembering, indeed, how
scrupulously Ingram had refused to know them.

“He has made their acquaintance for his own purposes, doubtless,” said
Lavender. “I suppose he will appear in a frock-coat, with a bright blue
tie, and he will say ‘Sir’ to the waiters when he does not understand
them.”

“I thought you said Mr. Ingram belonged to a very good family,” said
Sheila, quietly.

“That is so. But each man is responsible for his own manners; and as all
the society he sees consists of a cat and some wooden pipes in a couple
of dingy rooms in Sloane Street, you can’t expect him not to make an ass
of himself.”

“I have never seen him make himself ridiculous; I do not think it
possible,” said Sheila, with a certain precision of speech which
Lavender had got to know meant much. “But that is a matter for himself.
Perhaps you will tell me what I am to do when I meet him at Mrs.
Kavanagh’s house.”

“Of course you must meet him as you would any one else, you know. If you
don’t wish to speak to him, you need not do so. Saying ‘Good evening’
costs nothing.”

“If he takes me into dinner?” she asked, calmly.

“Then you must talk to him as you would to any stranger,” he said,
impatiently. “Ask him if he has been to the opera, and he won’t know
there is no opera going on. Tell him that the town is very full, and he
won’t know that everybody has left. Say you may meet him again at Mrs.
Kavanagh’s, and you’ll see that he doesn’t know they mean to start for
the Tyrol in a fortnight. I think you and I must also be settling soon
where we mean to go. I don’t think we can do better than go to the
Tyrol.”

She did not answer. It was clear that he had given up all intention of
going up to Lewis, for that year at least. But she would not beg him to
alter his decision just yet. Mairi was coming, and that experiment of
the enchanted room has still to be tried.

As they drove around to Mrs. Kavanagh’s house on that Tuesday evening,
she thought, with much bitterness of heart, of the possibility of her
having to meet Mr. Ingram in the fashion her husband had suggested.
Would it not be better, if he did take her in to dinner, to throw
herself entirely on his mercy, and ask him not to talk to her at all.
She would address herself, when there was a chance, to her neighbor on
the other side; if she remained silent altogether, no great harm would
be done.

When she went into the drawing-room her first glance around was for him,
and he was the first person whom she saw; for, instead of withdrawing
into a corner to make one neighbor the victim of his shyness, or
concealing his embarrassment in studying the photographic albums, Mr.
Ingram was coolly standing on the hearth-rug, with both hands in his
trousers pockets, while he was engaged in giving the American judge a
great deal of authoritative information about America. The judge was a
tall, fair, stout, good-natured man, fond of joking and a good dinner,
and he was content at this moment to sit quietly in an easy-chair, with
a pleasant smile on his face, and be lectured about his own country by
this sallow little man, whom he took to be a professor of modern history
at some college or other.

Ingram, as soon as he found that Sheila was in the room, relieved her
from any doubt as to his intentions. He merely came forward, shook hands
with her, and said, “How do you do, Mrs. Lavender?” and went back to the
judge. She might have been an acquaintance of yesterday or a friend of
twenty years’ standing; no one could tell by his manner. As for Sheila,
she parted with his hand reluctantly. She tried to look, too, what she
dared not say; but whatever of regret and kindness and assurance of
friendship was in her eyes he did not see. He scarcely glanced at her
face; he went off at once, and plunged again into the Cincinnati
Convention.

Mrs. Kavanagh and Mrs. Lorraine were exceedingly and almost obtrusively
kind to her, but she scarcely heard what they said to her. It seemed so
strange and so sad to her that her old friend should be standing near
her, and she so far removed from him that she dared not go and speak to
him. She could not understand it sometimes: everything around her seemed
to get confused, until she felt as if she were sinking in a great sea,
and could utter but one despairing cry as she saw the light disappear
above her head. When they went in to dinner she saw that Mr. Ingram’s
seat was on Mrs. Lorraine’s right hand, and, although she could hear him
speak, as he was almost right opposite to her, it seemed to her that his
voice sounded as if it were far away. The man who had taken her in was a
tall, brown-whiskered and faultlessly dressed person who never spoke, so
that she was allowed to sit and listen to the conversation between Mrs.
Lorraine and Mr. Ingram. They appeared to be on excellent terms. You
would have fancied they had known each other for years. And as Sheila
sat and saw how pre-occupied and pleased with his companion Mr. Ingram
was, perhaps now and again the bitter question arose to her mind whether
this woman, who had taken away her husband, was seeking to take away her
friend also. Sheila knew nothing of all that happened within these past
few days. She knew only that she was alone, without either husband or
friend, and it seemed to her that this pale American girl had taken both
away from her.

Ingram was in one of his happiest moods, and was seeking to prove to
Mrs. Lorraine that this present dinner-party ought to be an especially
pleasant one. Everybody was going away somewhere, and of course she must
know that the expectation of traveling was much more delightful than the
reality of it. What could surpass the sense of freedom, of power, of
hope, enjoyed by the happy folks who sat down to an open atlas and began
to sketch out routes for their coming holidays? Where was he going? Oh,
he was going to the North. Had Mrs. Lorraine never seen Edinburgh Castle
rising out of a gray fog, like the ghost of some great building
belonging to the times of Arthurian romance? Had she never seen the
Northern twilights, and the awful gloom and wild colors of Lock Coruisk
and the Skye hills? There was no holiday-making so healthy, so free from
restraint, as that among the far Highland hills and glens, where the
clear mountain air, scented with miles and miles of heather, seemed to
produce a sort of intoxication of good spirits within one. Then the
yachting around the wonderful islands of the West--the rapid runs of a
bright forenoon, the shooting of the wild sea-birds, the scrambled
dinners in the small cabin, the still nights in the small harbors, with
a scent of sea-weed aboard, and the white stars shining down on the
trembling water. Yes, he was going yachting this autumn; in about a
fortnight he hoped to start. His friend was at present away up Loch
Boisdale, in South Uist, and he did not know how to get there except by
going to Skye, and taking his chance of some boat going over. Where
would they go then? He did not know. Wherever his friend liked. It would
be enough for him if they kept always moving about, seeing the strange
sights of the sea and the air and the lonely shores of those Northern
islands. Perhaps they might even try to reach St. Kilda--

“Oh, Mr. Ingram, won’t you go and see my papa?”

The cry that suddenly reached him was like the cry of a broken heart. He
started as from a trance, and found Sheila regarding him with a piteous
appeal in her face: she had been listening intently to all he had said.

“Oh yes, Sheila,” he said kindly, and quite forgetting that he was
speaking to her before strangers: “of course I must go and see your papa
if we are any way near the Lewis. Perhaps you may be there then?”

“No,” said Sheila, looking down.

“Won’t you go to the Highlands this Autumn?” Mrs. Lorraine asked in a
friendly way.

“No,” said Sheila in a measured voice, as she looked her enemy fair in
the face; “I think we are going to the Tyrol.”

If the child had only known what occurred to Mrs. Lorraine’s mind at
this moment! Not a triumphant sense of Lavender’s infatuation, as Sheila
probably fancied, but a very definite resolution that if Frank Lavender
went to the Tyrol, it was not with either her or her mother he should
go.

“Mrs. Lavender’s father is an old friend of mine,” said Ingram, loud
enough for all to hear; “and, hospitable as all Highlanders are, I have
never met his equal in that way, and I have tried his patience a good
many times. What do you think, Mrs. Lorraine, of a man who would give up
his best gun to you, even though you couldn’t shoot a bit, and he
particularly proud of his shooting? And so if you lived with him for a
month or six months--each day the best of everything for you, the second
best for your friend, the worst for himself. Wasn’t it so, Lavender?”

It was a direct challenge sent across the table, and Sheila’s heart beat
quick lest her husband should say something ungracious.

“Yes, certainly,” said Lavender with a readiness that pleased Sheila.
“I, at least, have no right to complain of his hospitality.”

“Your papa is a very handsome man,” said Mrs. Lorraine to Sheila,
bringing the conversation back to their own end of the table. “I have
seen few finer heads than that drawing you have. Mr. Lavender did that,
did he not? Why has he never done one of you?”

“He is too busy, I think, just now,” Sheila said, perhaps not knowing
that from Mrs. Lorraine’s waist-belt at that moment depended a fan which
might have given evidence as to the extreme scarcity of time under
which Lavender was supposed to labor.

“He has a splendid head,” said Ingram. “Did you know that he is called
the King of Borva up there?”

“I have heard of him being called the King of Thule,” said Mrs.
Lorraine, turning with a smile to Sheila, “and of his daughter being
styled a princess. Do you know the ballad of the King of Thule, in
_Faust_, Mrs. Lavender?”

“In the opera?--yes,” said Sheila.

“Will you sing it for us after dinner?”

“If you like.”

The promise was fulfilled, in a fashion. The notion that Mr. Ingram was
about to go away up to Lewis, to the people who knew her and to her
father’s house, with no possible answer to the questions which would
certainly be showered upon him as to why she had not come also, troubled
Sheila deeply. The ladies went into the drawing-room, and Mrs. Lorraine
got out the song. Sheila sat down to the piano, thinking far more of
that small stone house at Borva than of the King of Thule’s castle
overlooking the sea; and yet somehow the first lines of the song, though
she knew them well enough, sent a pang to her heart as she glanced at
them. She touched the first notes of the accompaniment, and she looked
at the words again:

    “Over the sea, in Thule of old,
     Reigned a king who was true-hearted,
     Who, in remembrance of one departed--”

A mist came over her eyes. Was she the one who had departed, leaving the
old king in his desolate house by the sea, where he could only think of
her as he sat in his solitary chamber, with the night winds howling
around the shore outside? When her birthday had come around she knew
that he must have silently drank to her, though not out of a beaker of
gold. And now, when mere friends and acquaintances were free, to speed
away to the North, and get a welcome from the folks in Borva, and listen
to the Atlantic waves dashing lightly in among the rocks, her hope of
getting thither had almost died out. Among such people as landed on
Stornoway quay from the big Clansman her father would seek one face, and
seek it in vain. And Duncan and Scarlett, and even John the Piper--all
the well-remembered folks who lived far away across the Minch--they
would ask why Miss Sheila was never coming back.

Mrs. Lorraine had been standing aside from the piano. Noticing that
Sheila had played the introduction to the song twice over in an
undetermined manner, she came forward a step or two and pretended to be
looking at the music. Tears were running down Sheila’s face. Mrs.
Lorraine put her hand on the girl’s shoulder, and sheltered her from
observation, and said aloud: “You have it in a different key, have you
not? Pray don’t sing it; sing something else. Do you know any of
Gounod’s sacred songs? Let me see if we can find anything for you in
this volume.”

They were a long time finding anything in that volume. When they did
find it, behold! it was one of Mrs. Lorraine’s songs, and that young
lady said if Mrs. Lavender would only allow herself to be superseded for
a few minutes. And so Sheila walked, with her head down, to the
conservatory, which was at the other end of the piano; and Mrs. Lorraine
not only sung this French song, but sang every one of the verses; and at
the end of it she had quite forgotten that Sheila had promised to sing.

“You are very sensitive,” she said to Sheila, coming into the
conservatory.

“I am very stupid,” Sheila said with her face burning. “But it is a long
time since I will see the Highlands--and Mr. Ingram was talking of the
places I know--and--and--so--”

“I understand well enough,” said Mrs. Lorraine tenderly, as if Sheila
was a mere child in her hands. “But you must not get your eyes red. You
have to sing some of those Highland songs for us, when the gentlemen
come in. Come up to my room and I will make your eyes all right. Oh, do
not be afraid! I shall not bring you down like Lady Leveret. Did you
ever see anything like that woman’s face to-night? It reminds me of the
window of an oil and color shop. I wonder she does not catch flies with
her cheeks.”

So all the people, Sheila learned that night, were going away from
London, and she and her husband would join in the general stampede of
the very last dwellers in town. But Mairi? What was to become of her
after that little plot had been played out? Sheila could not leave Mairi
to see London by herself; she had been enjoying beforehand the delight
of taking the young girl about and watching the wonder of her eyes. Nor
could she fairly postpone Mairi’s visit, and Mairi was coming up in
another couple of days.

On the morning on which the visitor from the far Hebrides was to make
her appearance in London, Sheila felt conscious of a great hypocrisy in
bidding good-bye to her husband. On some excuse or other she had had
breakfast ordered early, and he found himself ready at half-past nine to
go out for the day.

“Frank,” she said, “will you come in to lunch at two?”

“Why?” he asked; he did not often have luncheon at home.

“I will go into the Park with you in the afternoon if you like,” she
said; all the scene had been diligently rehearsed on one side, before.

Lavender was a little surprised, but he was in an amiable mood.

“All right!” he said. “Have something with olives in it. Two, sharp.”

With that he went out, and Sheila, with a wild commotion at her heart,
saw him walk away through the square. She was afraid Mairi might have
arrived before he left. And, indeed, he had not gone above a few
minutes, when a four-wheeler drove up, and an elderly man got out and
waited for the timid-faced girl inside to alight. With rush like that of
a startled deer, Sheila was down the stairs, along the hall and on the
pavement; and it was: “Oh, Mairi; and have you come at last? And are you
very well? And how are all the people in Borva? And Mr. M’Alpine, how
are you? and will you come into the house?”

Certainly, that was a strange sight for a decorous London square--the
mistress of a house, a young girl with bare head, coming out on the
pavement to shake hands in a frantic fashion with a young maid-servant
and an elderly man whose clothes had been pretty well tanned by sunlight
and sea-water! And Sheila would herself help to carry Mairi’s luggage
in. And she would take no denial from Mr. M’Alpine, whose luggage was
also carried in. And she would herself pay the cabman, as strangers did
not know about these things, Sheila’s knowledge being exhibited by her
hastily giving the man five shillings for driving from Euston Station.
And there was breakfast waiting for them both as soon as Mairi could get
her face washed; and would Mr. M’Alpine have a glass of whisky after the
night’s traveling? and it was very good whisky whatever, as it had come
all the way from Stornoway. Mr. M’Alpine was nothing loath.

“And wass you pretty well, Miss Sheila?” said Mairi, looking timidly and
hastily up, and forgetting altogether that Sheila had another name now.
“It will be a great thing for me to go back to sa Lewis, and tell them I
wass seeing you, and you wass looking so well. And I will be thinking I
wass neffer coming to any one I knew any more; and it is a great fright
I hef had since we came away from sa Lewis; and I wass thinking we would
neffer find you among all sa people and so far away across sa sea and sa
land. Eh--!” The girl stopped in astonishment. Her eyes had wandered up
to a portrait on the walls; and here, in this very room, after she had
traveled over all this great distance, apparently leaving behind her
everything but the memory of her home, was Mr. Mackenzie himself,
looking at her from under his shaggy eyebrows.

“You must have seen that picture in Borva, Mairi,” Sheila said. “Now
come with me, like a good girl, and get yourself ready for breakfast. Do
you know, Mairi, it does my heart good to hear you talk again? I don’t
think I shall be able to let you go back to the Lewis.”

“But you hef changed ferry much in your way of speaking, Miss--Mrs.
Lavender,” said Mairi, with an effort. “You will speak just like sa
English now.”

“The English don’t say so,” replied Sheila, with a smile, leading the
way up stairs.

Mr. M’Alpine had his business to attend to, but, being a sensible man,
he took advantage of the profuse breakfast placed before him. Mairi was
a little too frightened and nervous and happy to eat much, but Mr.
M’Alpine was an old traveler, not to be put out by the mere meeting of
two girls. He listened in a grave and complacent manner to the rapid
questions and answers of Mairi and her hostess; but he himself was too
busy to join in the conversation much. At the end of breakfast he
accepted, after a little pressing, half a glass of whisky; and then,
much comforted and in a thoroughly good humor with himself and the
world, got his luggage out again and went on his way toward a certain
inn in High Holborn.

“Ay, and where does the queen live, Miss Sheila?” said Mairi. She had
been looking at the furniture in Sheila’s house, and wondering if the
queen lived in a place still more beautiful than this.

“A long way from here.”

“And it iss no wonder,” said Mairi, “she will neffer hef been in sa
Lewis. I wass neffer thinking the world wass so big, and it wass many a
time since me and Mr. M’Alpine hef come away from Styornoway I wass
thinking it wass too far for me effer to get back again. But it iss many
a one will say to me, before I hef left the Lewis, that I wass not to
come home unless you wass coming, too, and I wass to bring you back with
me, Miss Sheila. And where is Bras, Miss Sheila?”

“You will see him by and by. He is out in the garden now.” She said
“gyarden” without knowing it.

“And will he understand the Gaelic yet?”

“Oh, yes,” Sheila said. “And he is sure to remember you.”

There was no mistake about that. When Mairi went into the back garden
the demonstrations of delight on the part of the great deerhound were as
pronounced as his dignity and gravity would allow. And Mairi fairly fell
upon his neck and kissed him, and addressed to him a hundred endearing
phrases in Gaelic, every word of which it was quite obvious that the dog
understood. London was already beginning to be less terrible to her. She
had met and talked with Sheila. Here was Bras. A portrait of the King of
Borva was hung up inside, and all around the rooms were articles which
she had known in the North, before Sheila had married and brought them
away into this strange land.

“You have never asked after my husband, Mairi,” said Sheila, thinking to
confuse the girl.

But Mairi was not confused. Probably she had been fancying that Mr.
Lavender was down at the shore, or had gone out fishing, or something of
that sort, and would return soon enough. It was Sheila, not he, whom she
was concerned about. Indeed, Mairi had caught up a little of that
jealousy of Lavender which was rife among the Borva folks. They would
speak no ill of Mr. Lavender. The young gentleman whom Miss Sheila had
chosen had by that very fact a claim upon their respect. Mr.
Mackenzie’s son-in-law was a person of importance. And yet in their
secret hearts they bore a grudge against him. What right had he to come
away up to the North and carry off the very pride of the island? Were
English girls not good enough for him, that he must needs come up and
take away Sheila Mackenzie, and keep her there in the South so that her
friends and acquaintances saw no more of her? Before the marriage Mairi
had a great liking and admiration for Mr. Lavender. She was so pleased
to see Miss Sheila pleased that she approved of the young man, and
thanking him in her heart for making her cousin and mistress so
obviously happy. Perhaps, indeed, Mairi managed to fall in love with him
a little bit herself, merely by force of example and through sympathy
with Sheila; and she was rapidly forming very good opinions of the
English race and their ways and their looks. But when Lavender took away
Sheila from Borva a change came over Mairi’s sentiments. She gradually
fell in with the current opinions of the island--that it was a great
pity Sheila had not married young Mr. MacIntyre of Sutherland, or some
one who would have allowed her to remain among her own people. Mairi
began to think that the English, though they were handsome and
good-natured, and free with their money, were on the whole a selfish
race, inconsiderate and forgetful of promises. She began to dislike the
English, and wished they would stay in their own country, and not
interfere with other people.

“I hope he is very well,” said Mairi, dutifully; she could at least say
that honestly.

“You will see him at two o’clock. He is coming in to luncheon; and he
does not know you are here, and you are to be a great surprise to him,
Mairi. And there is to be a greater surprise still; for we are going to
make one of the rooms into the drawing-room at home; and you must open
your boxes, and bring me down the heather and the peat, Mairi, and the
two bottles; and then, you know, when the salmon is on the table, and
the whisky and the beer, and Bras lying on the hearth-rug, and the
peat-smoke all through the room, then you will come in and shake hands
with him, and he will think he is in Borva again.”

Mairi was a little puzzled. She did not understand the intention of this
strange thing. But she went and fetched the materials she had brought
with her from Lewis, and Sheila and she set to work.

It was a pleasant enough occupation for this bright forenoon, and
Sheila, as she had heard Mairi’s sweet Highland speech, and as she
brought from all parts of the house the curiosities sent her from the
Hebrides, would almost have fancied she was superintending a “cleaning”
of that museum-like little drawing-room at Borva. Skins of foxes, seals
and deer, stuffed eagles and strange fishes, masses of coral and
wonderful carvings in wood brought from abroad, shells of every size
from every clime--all these were brought together into Frank Lavender’s
smoking-room. The ordinary ornaments of the mantelpiece gave way to
fanciful arrangements of peacock’s feathers. Fresh-blown ling and the
beautiful spikes of the bell-heather formed the staple of the
decorations, and Mairi had brought enough to adorn an assembly room.

“That is like the Lewis people,” Sheila said, with a laugh; she had not
been in as happy a mood for many a day. “I asked you to bring one peat,
and of course you brought two. Tell the truth, Mairi: could you have
forced yourself to bring one peat?”

“I wass thinking it was safer to bring sa two,” replied Mairi, blushing
all over the fair and pretty face.

And, indeed, there being two peats, Sheila thought she might as well try
an experiment with one. She crumbled down some pieces, put them on a
plate, lit them, and placed the plate outside the open window, on the
soil. Presently a new, sweet, half-forgotten fragrance came floating in,
and Sheila almost forgot the success of the experiment in the
half-delighted, half-sad reminiscences called up by the scent of the
peat. Mairi failed to see how any one could willfully smoke a house--any
one, that is to say, who did not save the smoke for his thatch. And who
was so particular as Sheila had been about having the clothes come in
from the washing dried so that they should not retain this very odor
that seemed now to delight her?

At last the room was finished, and Sheila contemplated it with much
satisfaction. The table was laid, and on the white cloth stood the
bottles most familiar to Borva. The peat-smoke still lingered in the
air; she could not have wished anything to be better.

Then she went off to look after the luncheon, and Mairi was permitted to
go down and explore the mysteries of the kitchen. The servants were not
accustomed to this interference and oversight, and might have resented
it, only that Sheila had proved a very good mistress to them, and had
shown, too, that she would have her own way when she wanted it.
Suddenly, as Sheila was explaining to Mairi the use of some particular
piece of mechanism, she heard a sound that made her heart jump. It was
now but half-past one, and yet that was surely her husband’s foot in the
hall. For a moment she was too bewildered to know what to do. She heard
him go straight into the very room she had been decorating, the door of
which she had left open. Then, as she went upstairs, with her heart
still beating fast, the first thing that met her eyes was a tartan shawl
belonging to Mairi that had been accidentally left in the passage. Her
husband must have seen it.

“Sheila, what nonsense is this?” he said.

He was evidently in a hurry, and yet she could not answer; her heart was
throbbing too quickly.

“Look here,” he said, “I wish you’d give up this grotto-making till
to-morrow. Mrs. Kavanagh, Mrs. Lorraine and Lord Arthur Redmond are
coming here to luncheon at two. I suppose you can get something decent
for them. What is the matter? What is the meaning of all this?”

And then his eyes rested on the tartan shawl, which he had really not
noticed before.

“Who is in the house?” he said. “Have you asked some washerwoman to
lunch?”

Sheila managed at last to say, “It is Mairi come from Stornoway. I was
thinking you would be surprised to see her when you came in.”

“And these preparations are for her?”

Sheila said nothing; there was that in the tone of her husband’s voice
which was gradually bringing her to herself and giving her quite
sufficient firmness.

“And now that this girl has come up, I suppose you mean to introduce her
to all your friends; and I suppose you expect those people who are
coming in half an hour to sit down at table with a kitchen-maid?”

“Mairi,” said Sheila, standing quite erect, but with her eyes cast down,
“is my cousin.”

“Your cousin! Don’t be ridiculous, Sheila. You know very well that Mairi
is nothing more or less than a scullery-maid; and I suppose you mean to
take her out of the kitchen and introduce her to people, and expect her
to sit down at table with them. Is not that so?” She did not answer, and
he went on, impatiently: “Why was I not told that this girl was coming
to stay at my house? Surely I have some right to know what guests you
invite, that I may be able at least to ask my friends not to come near
the house while they are in it.”

“That I did not tell you before--yes, that was a pity,” said Sheila,
sadly and calmly. “But it will be no trouble to you. When Mrs. Lorraine
comes up at two o’clock there will be luncheon for her and for her
friends. She will not have to sit down with any of my relations or with
me, for if they are not fit to meet her, I am not; and it is not any
great matter that I do not meet her at two o’clock.”

There was no passion of any sort in the measured and sad voice, nor in
the somewhat pale face and downcast eyes. Perhaps it was this composure
that deceived Frank Lavender; at all events, he turned and walked out of
the house, satisfied that he would not have to introduce this Highland
cousin to his friends, and just as certain that Sheila would repent of
her resolve and appear in the dining-room as usual.

Sheila went down stairs to the kitchen, where Mairi still stood awaiting
her. She gave orders to one of the servants about having luncheon laid
in the dining-room at two, and then she bade Mairi follow her up-stairs.

“Mairi,” she said, when they were alone, “I want you to put your things
in your trunk at once--in five minutes, if you can; I shall be waiting
for you.”

“Miss Sheila!” cried the girl, looking up to her friend’s face with a
sudden fright seizing her heart, “what is the matter with you? You are
going to die!”

“There is nothing the matter, Mairi. I am going away.”

She uttered the words placidly, but there was a pained look about the
lips that could not be concealed, and her face, unknown to herself, had
the whiteness of despair in it.

“Going away!” said Mairi, in a bewildered way. “Where are you going,
Miss Sheila?”

“I will tell you by and by. Get your trunk ready, Mairi. You are keeping
me waiting.”

Then she called for a servant, who was sent for a cab; and by the time
the vehicle appeared Mairi was ready to get into it, and her trunk was
put on the top. Then, clad in the rough blue dress she used to wear in
Borva, and with no appearance of haste or fear in the calm and
death-like face, Sheila came out from her husband’s house and found
herself alone in the world. There were two little girls, the daughters
of a neighbor, passing by at the time; she patted them on the head and
bade them good-morning. Could she recollect, five minutes thereafter,
having seen them? There was a strange and distant look in her eyes.

She got into the cab, and sat down by Mairi, and then took the girl’s
hand. “I am sorry to take you away, Mairi,” she said; but she was
apparently not thinking of Mairi, nor of the house she was leaving, nor
yet of the vehicle in which she was so strangely placed. Was she
thinking of a certain wild and wet day in the far Hebrides, when a young
bride stood on the decks of a great vessel and saw the home of her
childhood and the friends of her youth fade back into the desolate waste
of the sea? Perhaps there may have been some unconscious influence in
this picture to direct her movements at this moment, for of definite
resolves she had none. When Mairi told her that the cabman wanted to
know whither he was to drive, she merely answered: “Oh, yes, Mairi, we
will go to the station;” and Mairi added, addressing the man: “It was
the Euston Station.” Then they drove away.

“Are you going home?” said the young girl, looking up with a strange
foreboding and sinking of the heart to the pale face and distant
eyes--“are you going home, Miss Sheila?”

“Oh, yes, we are going home, Mairi,” was the answer she got, but the
tone in which it was uttered filled her mind with doubt, and something
like despair.



PART IX.



CHAPTER XIX.

A NEW DAY BREAKS.


Was this, then, the end of the fair and beautiful romance that had
sprung up and blossomed so hopefully in the remote and bleak island,
amid the silence of the hills and moors and the wild twilights of the
North, and set around about, as it were, by the cold sea-winds and the
sound of the Atlantic waves? Who could have fancied, looking at those
two young folks as they wandered about the shores of the island, as they
sailed on the still moonlight nights through the channels of Loch Roag,
or as they sang together of an evening in the little parlor of the house
at Borvapost, that all the delight and wonder of life then apparently
opening out before them was so soon and so suddenly to collapse, leaving
them in outer darkness and despair? All their difficulties had been got
over. From one side and from another they had received generous help,
friendly advice, self-sacrifice, to start them on a path that seemed to
be strewn with sweet-smelling flowers. And here was the end--a wretched
girl, blinded and bewildered, flying from her husband’s house and
seeking refuge in the great world of London, careless whither she went.

Whose was the fault? Which of them had been mistaken up there in the
North, laying the way open for a bitter disappointment? Or had either of
them failed to carry out that unwritten contract entered into in the
halcyon period of courtship, by which young people promise to be and
remain to each other all that they then appeared?

Lavender, at least, had no right to complain. If the real Sheila turned
out to be something different from the Sheila of his fancy, he had been
abundantly warned that such would be the case. He had even accepted it
as probable, and said that as the Sheila whom he might come to know
must doubtless be better than the Sheila whom he had imagined, there was
little danger in store for either. He would love the true Sheila even
better than the creature of his brain. Had he done so? He found beside
him this proud and sensitive Highland girl, full of generous impulses
that craved for the practical work of helping other people, longing,
with the desire of a caged bird, for the free winds and light of heaven,
the sight of hills and the sound of seas, and he could not understand
why she could not conform to the usages of city life. He was
disappointed that she did not do so. The imaginative Sheila, who was to
appear as a wonderful sea-princess in London drawing-rooms, had
disappeared now; and the real Sheila, who did not care to go with him
into that society which he loved, or affected to love, he had not
learned to know.

And had she been mistaken in her estimate of Frank Lavender’s character?
At the very moment of her leaving her husband’s house, if she had been
asked the question, she would have turned and proudly answered, “No!”
She had been disappointed--so grievously disappointed that her heart
seemed to be breaking over it--but the manner in which Frank Lavender
had fallen away from all the promises he had given was due, not to
himself, but to the influence of the society around him. Of that she was
quite assured. He had shown himself careless, indifferent, inconsiderate
to the verge of cruelty; but he was not, she had convinced herself,
consciously cruel, nor yet selfish, nor radically bad-hearted in any
way. In her opinion, at least, he was courageously sincere, to the verge
of shocking people who mistook his frankness for impudence. He was
recklessly generous: he would have given the coat off his back to a
beggar, at the instigation of a sudden impulse, provided he could have
got into a cab before any of his friends saw him. He had rare abilities,
and at times wildly ambitious dreams, not of his own glorification, but
of what he would do to celebrate the beauty and the graces of the
princess whom he fancied he had married. It may seem hard of belief that
this man, judging him by his actions at this time, could have had
anything of thorough self-forgetfulness and manliness in his nature. But
when things were at their very worst, when he appeared to the world as a
self-indulgent idler, careless of a noble woman’s unbounded love; when
his indifference, or worse, had actually driven from his house a young
wife who had especial claims on his forbearance and consideration--there
were two people who still believed in Frank Lavender. They were Sheila
Mackenzie and Edward Ingram; and a man’s wife and his oldest friend
generally know something about his real nature, its besetting
temptations, its weakness, its strength and its possibilities.

Of course Ingram was speedily made aware of all that had happened.
Lavender went home at the appointed hour to luncheon accompanied by his
three acquaintances. He had met them accidentally in the forenoon, and
as Mrs. Lorraine was most particular in her inquiries about Sheila, he
thought he could not do better than ask her there and then with her
mother and Lord Arthur, to have luncheon at two. What followed on his
carrying the announcement to Sheila we know. He left the house, taking
it for granted that there would be no trouble when he returned. Perhaps
he reproached himself for having spoken so sharply, but Sheila was
really very thoughtless in such matters. At two o’clock everything would
be right. Sheila must see how it would be impossible to introduce a
young Highland serving-maid to two fastidious ladies and the son of a
great Conservative peer.

Lavender met his three friends once more, and walked up to the house
with them, letting them in, indeed, with his own latch-key. Passing the
dining-room, he saw that the table was laid there. This was well. Sheila
had been reasonable.

They went up-stairs to the drawing-room. Sheila was not there. Lavender
rang the bell, and bade the servant tell her mistress she was wanted.

“Mrs. Lavender has gone out, sir,” said the servant.

“Oh, indeed!” he said, taking the matter quite coolly. “When?”

“A quarter of an hour ago, sir. She went out with the--the young lady
who came this morning.”

“Very well. Let me know when luncheon is ready.”

Lavender turned to his guests, feeling a little awkward, but appearing
to treat the matter in a light and humorous way. He imagined that
Sheila, resenting what he had said, had resolved to take Mairi away and
find her lodgings elsewhere. Perhaps that might be done in time to let
Sheila come back to receive his guests.

Sheila did not appear, however, and luncheon was announced.

“I suppose we may as well go down,” said Lavender, with a shrug of his
shoulders. “It is impossible to say when she may come back. She is such
a good-hearted creature that she would never think of herself or her own
affairs in looking after this girl from Lewis.”

They went down stairs and took their places at the table.

“For my part,” said Mrs. Lorraine, “I think it is very unkind not to
wait for poor Mrs. Lavender. She may come in dreadfully tired and
hungry.”

“But that would not vex her so much as the notion that you had waited on
her account,” said Sheila’s husband, with a smile; and Mrs. Lorraine was
pleased to hear him sometimes speak in a kindly way of the Highland girl
whom he had married.

Lavender’s guests were going somewhere after luncheon, and he had
half-promised to go with them, Mrs. Lorraine stipulating that Sheila
should be induced to come also. But when luncheon was over and Sheila
had not appeared, he changed his intention. He would remain at home. He
saw his three friends depart, and went into the study and lit a cigar.

How odd the place seemed. Sheila had left no instructions about the
removal of those barbaric decorations she had placed in the chamber; and
here around him seemed to be the walls of the old-fashioned little room
at Borvapost, with its big shells, its peacocks’ feathers, its skins and
stuffed fish, and masses of crimson bell-heather. Was there not, too, an
odor of peat-smoke in the air?--and then his eyes caught sight of the
plate that still stood on the windowsill, with the ashes of the burned
peat on it.

“The odd child she is!” he thought, with a smile, “to go playing at
grotto-making, and trying to fancy she was up in Lewis again! I suppose
she would like to let her hair down again, and take off her shoes and
stockings, and go wading along the sand in search of shell-fish.”

And then, somehow, his fancies went back to the old time when he had
first seen and admired her wild ways, her fearless occupations by sea
and shore, and the delight of active work that shone on her bright face
and in her beautiful eyes. How lithe and handsome her figure used to be
in that blue dress, when she stood in the middle of the boat, her head
bent back, her arms upstretched and pulling at some rope or other, and
all the fine color of exertion in the bloom of her cheeks! Then the
pride with which she saw her little vessel cutting through the
water!--how she tightened her lips with a joyous determination as the
sheets were hauled close, and the gunwale of the small boat heeled over
so that it almost touched the hissing and gurgling foam!--how she
laughed at Duncan’s anxiety as she rounded some rocky point, and sent
the boat spinning into the clear and smooth waters of the bay! Perhaps,
after all, it was too bad to keep the poor child so long shut up in a
city. She was evidently longing for a breath of sea air, and for some
brief dash of that brisk, fearless life on the sea-coast that she used
to love. It was a happy life, after all; and he had himself enjoyed it
when his hands and face got browned by the sun, when he grew to wonder
how any human being could wear black garments and drink foreign wines
and smoke cigars at eighteenpence a piece, so long as frieze coats,
whisky and a brier-root pipe were procurable. How one slept up in that
remote island, after all the laughing and drinking and singing of the
evening were over! How sharp was the monition of hunger when the keen
sea air blew about your face on issuing out in the morning! and how
fresh and cool and sweet was that early breeze, with the scent of
Sheila’s flowers in it! Then the long, bright day at the river-side,
with the black pools rippling in the wind, and in the silence of the
rapid whistle of the silken line through the air, with now and then the
“blob” of a big salmon rising to a fly further down the pool! Where was
there any rest like the rest of the mid-day luncheon, when Duncan had
put the big fish, wrapped in rushes, under the shadow of the nearest
rock, when you sat down on the warm heather and lit your pipe, and began
to inquire where you had been bitten on hands and neck by the ferocious
“clegs” while you are too busy in playing a fifteen-pounder to care?
Then, perhaps, as you were sitting there in the warm sunlight, with all
the fresh scents of moorland around, you would hear a light footstep on
the soft moss; and, turning around, here was Sheila herself, with a
bright look in her pretty eyes, and a half blush on her cheek, and a
friendly inquiry as to the way the fish had been behaving. Then the
beautiful, strange, cool evenings on the shores of Loch Roag, with the
wild, clear light still shining in the Northern heavens, and the sound
of the waves getting to be lonely and distant; or, still later, out in
Sheila’s boat, with the great yellow moon rising up over Suainabhal and
Mealasabhal into a lambent vault of violet sky; a pathway of quivering
gold lying across the Loch; a mild radiance glittering here and there on
the spars of the small vessel, and out there the great Atlantic lying
still and distant as in a dream. As he sat in this little room and
thought of all these things, he grew to think he had not acted quite
fairly to Sheila. She was so fond of that beautiful island life, and she
had not even visited the Lewis since her marriage. She should go now. He
would abandon the trip to the Tyrol, and as soon as arrangements could
be made they would together start for the North, and some day find
themselves going up the steep shore to Sheila’s home, with the old King
of Borva standing in the porch of the house, and endeavoring to conceal
his nervousness by swearing at Duncan’s method of carrying the luggage.

Had not Sheila’s stratagem succeeded? That pretty trick of hers in
decorating the room so as to resemble the house at Borvapost had done
all that she could have desired. But where was she?

Lavender rose hastily and looked at his watch. Then he rang the bell,
and a servant appeared. “Did not Mrs. Lavender say when she would
return?” he asked.

“No, sir.”

“You don’t know where she went?”

“No, sir. The young lady’s luggage was put in the cab, and they drove
away without leaving any message.”

He scarcely dared confess to himself what fears began to assail him. He
went up-stairs to Sheila’s room, and there everything appeared to be in
its usual place, even to the smallest article on the dressing-table.
They were all there, except one. That was a locket, too large and clumsy
to be worn, which some one had given her years before she left Lewis,
and in which her father’s portrait had been somewhat rudely set. Just
after their marriage Lavender had taken out this portrait, touched it up
a bit into somewhat of a better likeness, and put it back; and then she
had persuaded him to have a photograph of himself colored and placed on
the opposite side. This locket open, and showing both portraits, she had
fixed on to a small stand, and in ordinary circumstances it always stood
on one side of her dressing-table. The stand was there, the locket was
gone.

He went down-stairs again. The afternoon was drawing on. A servant came
to ask him at what hour he wished to dine; he bade her wait till her
mistress came home and consult her. Then he went out.

It was a beautiful, quiet afternoon, with a warm light from the West
shining over the now yellowing trees of the squares and gardens. He
walked down toward Notting Hill Gate Station, endeavoring to convince
himself that he was not perturbed, and yet looking somewhat anxiously at
the cabs that passed. People were now coming out from their business in
the city by train and omnibus and hansom; and they seemed to be hurrying
home in very good spirits, as if they were sure of the welcome awaiting
them there. Now and again you would see a meeting--some demure young
person, who had been furtively watching the railway station, suddenly
showing a brightness in her face as she went forward to shake hands with
some new arrival, and then tripping briskly away with him, her hand on
his arm. There were men carrying home fish in small bags, or baskets of
fruit--presents to their wives, doubtless, from town. Occasionally an
open carriage would go by, containing one grave and elderly gentleman
and a group of small girls--probably his daughters, who had gone into
the city to accompany their papa homeward. Why did these scenes and
incidents, cheerful in themselves, seem to him somewhat saddening as he
walked vaguely on? He knew, at least, that there was little use in
returning home. There was no one in that silent house in the square. The
rooms would be dark in the twilight. Probably dinner would be laid, with
no one to sit down at the table. He wished Sheila had left word where
she was going.

Then he bethought himself the way in which they had parted, and of the
sense of fear that had struck him the moment he left the house, that
after all he had been too harsh with the child. Now, at least, he was
ready to apologize to her. If only he could see Sheila coming along in
one of those hansoms--if he could see, at any distance, the figure he
knew so well walking toward him on the pavement--would he not instantly
confess to her that he had been wrong, even grievously wrong, and beg
her to forgive him? She should have it all her own way about going up to
Lewis. He would cast aside this society life he had been living, and to
please her he would go in for any sort of work or amusement of which she
approved. He was so anxious, indeed, to put these virtuous resolutions
into force that he suddenly turned and walked rapidly back to the house,
with the wild hope that Sheila might have already come back.

The windows were dark, the curtains were yet drawn, and by this time the
evening had come on and the lamps in the square had been lit. He let
himself into the house by his latch-key. He walked into all the rooms
and up to Sheila’s room; everything remained as he had left it. The
white cloth glimmered in the dusk of the dining-room, and the light of
the lamp outside in the street touched here and there the angles of the
crystal and showed the pale colors of the glasses. The clock on the
mantelpiece ticked in the silence. If Sheila had been lying dead in that
small room up-stairs, the house could not have appeared more silent and
solemn.

He could not bear this horrible solitude. He called one of the servants
and left a message for Sheila, if she came in in the interval, that he
would be back at ten o’clock: then he went out, got into a hansom and
drove down to his club in St. James’ Street.

Most of the men were dining: the other rooms were almost deserted. He
did not care to dine just then. He went into the library: it was
occupied by an old gentleman who was fast asleep in an easy-chair. He
went into the billiard-rooms, in the vague hope that some exciting game
might be going on: there was not a soul in the place, the gases were
down, and an odor of stale smoke pervaded the dismal chambers. Should he
go to the theatre? His sitting there would be a mockery while this vague
and terrible fear was present to his heart. Or go down to see Ingram, as
had been his wont in previous hours of trouble? He dared not go near
Ingram without some more definite news about Sheila. In the end he went
out into the open air, as if he were in danger of being stifled, and,
walking indeterminately on, found himself once more at his own house.

The place was still quite dark; he knew before entering that Sheila had
not returned, and he did not seem to be surprised. It was now long after
their ordinary dinner hour. When he went into the house he bade the
servants light the gas and bring up dinner; he would himself sit down at
this solitary table, if only for the purpose of finding occupation and
passing this terrible time of suspense.

It never occurred to him, as it might have occurred to him at one time,
that Sheila had made some blunder somewhere and been unavoidably
detained. He did not think of any possible repetition of her adventures
in Richmond Park. He was too conscious of the probable reason of
Sheila’s remaining away from her own home; and yet from minute to minute
he fought with that consciousness, and sought to prove to himself that,
after all, she would soon be heard driving up to the door. He ate his
dinner in silence, and then drew a chair up to the fire and lit a cigar.

For the first time in his life he was driven to go over the events that
had occurred since his marriage, and to ask himself how it had all come
about that Sheila and he were not as they once had been. He recalled the
early days of their friendship at Borva; the beautiful period of their
courtship; the appearance of the young wife in London, and the close
relegation of Sheila to the domestic affairs of the house, while he had
chosen for himself other companions, other interests, other aims. There
was no attempt at self-justification in these communings, but an effort,
sincere enough in its way, to understand how all this had happened. He
sat and dreamed there before the warmth of the fire, with the slow and
monotonous ticking of the clock unconsciously acting on his brain. In
time the silence, the warmth, the monotonous sound, produced their
natural effects, and he fell fast asleep.

He awoke with a start. The small silver-toned bell on the mantelpiece
had struck the hour of twelve. He looked around, and knew that the evil
had come upon him, for Sheila had not returned, and all his most
dreadful fears of that evening were confirmed. Sheila had gone away and
left him. Whither had she gone?

Now there was no more indecision in his actions. He got his hat, plunged
into the cold night air, and finding a hansom, bade the man drive as
hard as he could go down to Sloane Street. There was a light in Ingram’s
windows, which were on the ground floor; he tapped with his stick on one
of the panes--an old signal that had been in constant use when he and
Ingram were close companions and friends. Ingram came to the door and
opened it; the light of a lamp glared in on his face. “Halloo,
Lavender!” he said, in a tone of surprise.

The other could not speak, but he went into the house, and Ingram,
shutting the door and following him, found that the man’s face was
deadly pale.

“Sheila--” he said, and stopped.

“Well, what about her?” said Ingram, keeping quite calm, but with wild
fancies about some terrible accident almost stopping the pulsations of
his heart.

“Sheila has gone away.”

Ingram did not seem to understand.

“Sheila has gone away, Ingram,” said Lavender, in an excited way. “You
don’t know anything about it? You don’t know where she has gone? What am
I to do, Ingram? How am I to find her? Good God! don’t you understand
what I tell you? And now it is past midnight, and my poor girl may be
wandering about the streets!”

He was walking up and down the room, paying almost no attention, in his
excitement, to the small, sallow-faced man who stood quite quiet, a
trifle afraid, perhaps, but with his heart full of a blaze of anger.

“She has gone away from your house?” he said, slowly. “What made her do
that?”

“I did,” said Lavender, in a hurried way. “I have acted like a brute to
her--that is true enough. You needn’t say anything to me, Ingram; I feel
myself far more guilty than anything you could say. You may heap
reproaches on me afterward, but tell me, Ingram, what am I to do? You
know what a proud spirit she has; who can tell what she might do? She
wouldn’t go home--she would be too proud. She may have gone and drowned
herself.”

“If you don’t control yourself and tell me what has happened, how am I
to help you?” said Ingram, stiffly, and yet disposed somehow--perhaps
for the sake of Sheila, perhaps because he saw that the young man’s
self-embarrassment and distress were genuine enough not to be too rough
with him.

“Well, you know, Mairi--” said Lavender, still walking up and down the
room in an excited way. “Sheila had got the girl up here without
telling me; some friends of mine were coming home to luncheon; we had
some disagreement about Mairi being present, and then Sheila said
something about not remaining in the house if Mairi did not; something
of that sort. I don’t know what it was, but I know it was all my fault,
and if she has been driven from the house I did it; that is true enough.
And where do you think she has gone, Ingram? If I could only see her for
three minutes I would explain everything; I would tell her how sorry I
am for everything that has happened, and she would see, when she went
back, how everything would be right again. I had no idea that she would
go away. It was mere peevishness that made me object to Mairi meeting
those people; and I had no idea that Sheila would take it so much to
heart. Now tell me what you think should be done, Ingram. All I want is
to see her just for three minutes to tell her it was all a mistake and
that she will never have to fear anything like that again.”

Ingram heard him out, and said with some precision, “Do you mean to say
that you fancy all this trouble is to be got over that way? Do you know
so little of Sheila, after the time you have been married to her, as to
imagine that she has taken this step out of some momentary caprice, and
that a few words of apology and promise will cause her to rescind it?
You must be crazed, Lavender, or else you are actually as ignorant of
the nature of that girl as you were up in the Highlands.”

The young man seemed to calm down his excitement and impatience, but it
was because of a new fear that had struck him, and that was visible in
his face.

“Do you think she will never come back, Ingram?” he said, looking
aghast.

“I don’t know; she may not. At all events, you may be quite sure that,
once having resolved to leave your house, she is not to be pacified and
cajoled by a few phrases and a promise of repentance on your part. That
is quite sure. And what is quite as sure, is this, that if you knew just
now where she was, the most foolish thing you could do would be to go
and see her.”

“But I must go and see her--I must find her out, Ingram,” he said,
passionately. “I don’t care what becomes of me. If she won’t go back
home, so much the worse for me; but I _must_ find her out, and know that
she is safe. Think of it, Ingram! Perhaps she is walking about the
streets somewhere at this moment; and you know her proud spirit. If she
were to go near the river----”

“She won’t go near the river,” said Ingram, quietly, “and she won’t be
walking about the streets. She is either in the Scotch mail-train, going
up to Glasgow, or else she has got some lodgings somewhere, along with
Mairi. Has she any money?”

“No,” said Lavender. And then he thought for a minute. “There was some
money her father gave her in case she might want it at a pinch; she may
have that--I hope she has that. I was to have given her money to-morrow
morning. But hadn’t I better go to the police-stations, and see, just by
way of precaution, that she has not been heard of? I may as well do that
as nothing. I could not go home to that empty house--I could not sleep.”

“Sheila is a sensible girl: she is safe enough,” said Ingram. “And if
you don’t care about going home, you may as well remain here. I can give
you a room up-stairs when you want it. In the meantime, if you will pull
a chair to the table and calm yourself, and take it for granted that you
will soon be assured of Sheila’s safety, I will tell you what I think
you should do. Here is a cigar to keep you occupied; there are whiskey
and cold water back there if you like. You will do no good by punishing
yourself in small matters, for your trouble is likely to be serious
enough, I can tell you, before you get Sheila back, if ever you get her
back. Take the chair with the cushion.”

It was so like the old days when these two used to be companions! Many
and many a time had the younger man come down to these lodgings, with
all his troubles and wild impulses and pangs of contrition ready to be
revealed. And then Ingram, concealing the liking he had for the lad’s
generous waywardness, his brilliant and facile cleverness and his dashes
of honest self depreciation, would gravely lecture him and put him right
and send him off comforted. Frank Lavender had changed much since then.
The handsome boy had grown into a man of the world: there was less
self-revelations in his manner, and he was less sensitive to the
opinions and criticisms of his old friend; but Ingram, who was not prone
to idealism of any sort, had never ceased to believe that this change
was but superficial, and that, in different circumstances and with
different aims, Lavender might still fulfill the best promise of his
youth.

“You have been a good friend to me, Ingram,” he said, with a hot blush,
“and I have treated you as badly as I have treated--by Jove! what a
chance I had at one time!”

He was looking back on all the fair pictures his imagination had drawn
while yet Sheila and he were wandering about that island in the Northern
seas.

“You had,” said Ingram, decisively. “At one time I thought you the most
fortunate man in the world. There was nothing left for you to desire, so
far as I could see. You were young and strong, with plenty of good
spirits and sufficient ability to earn yourself an honorable living, and
you had won the love of the most beautiful and best-hearted woman I have
known. You never seemed to me to know what that meant. Men marry
women--there is no difficulty about that--and you can generally get an
amiable sort of person to become your wife and have a sort of affection
for you, and so on. But how many have bestowed on them the pure and
exalted passion of a young and innocent girl, who is ready to worship
with all the fervor of a warmly imaginative and emotional nature the man
she has chosen to love? And suppose he is young, too, and capable of
understanding all the tender sentiments of a high-spirited, sensitive
and loyal woman, and suppose that he fancies himself as much in love
with her as she with him? These conditions are not often fulfilled, I
can tell you. It is a happy fluke when they are. Many a day ago I told
you that you should consider yourself more fortunate than if you had
been made an emperor; and indeed it seemed to me that you had everything
in the shape of worldly happiness easily within your reach. How you came
to kick away the ball from your feet--well, God only knows. The thing is
inconceivable to me. You are sitting here as you used to sit two or
three years ago, and in the interval you have had every chance in life;
and now, if you are not the most wretched man in London, you ought at
least to be the most ashamed and repentant.”

Lavender’s head was buried in his hands: he did not speak.

“And it is not only your own happiness you have destroyed. When you saw
that girl first she was as light-hearted and contented with her lot as
any human being could be. From one week’s end to the other not the
slightest care disturbed her mind. And then, when she intrusted her
whole life to you--when she staked her faith in human nature on you, and
gave you all the treasures of hope and reverence and love that lay in
her pure and innocent soul--my God! what have you done with these? It is
not that you have shamed and insulted her as a wife, and driven her out
of her home--there are other homes than yours where she would be welcome
a thousand times over--but you have destroyed her belief in everything
she had taught herself to trust, you have outraged the tenderest
sentiments of her heart, you have killed her faith as well as ruined her
life. I talk plainly; I cannot do otherwise. If I help you now, don’t
imagine I condone what you have done; I would cut my right hand off
first. For Sheila’s sake I will try to help you.”

He stopped just then, however, and checked the indignation that had got
the better of his ordinarily restrained manner and curt speech. The man
before him was crying bitterly, his face hidden in his hands.

“Look here, Lavender,” he said presently, “I don’t want to be hard on
you. I tell you plainly what I think of your conduct, so that no
delusions may exist between us. And I will say this for you, that the
only excuse you have--”

“There is no excuse,” said the other, sadly enough. “I have no excuse,
and I know it.”

“The only thing, then, you can say in mitigation of what you have done
is that you never seem to have understood the girl whom you married. You
started with giving her a fancy character when you first went to the
Lewis, and once you had got the bit in your teeth, there was no stopping
you. If you seek now to get Sheila back to you, the best thing you can
do, I presume, would be to try to see her as she is, to win her regard
that way, to abandon that operatic business, and learn to know her as a
thoroughly good woman, who has her own ways and notions about things,
and who has a very definite character underlying that extreme gentleness
which she fancies to be one of her duties. The child did her dead best
to accommodate herself to your idea of her, and failed. When she would
rather have been living a brisk and active life in the country or by the
seaside, running wild about a hillside, or reading strange stories in
the evening, or nursing some fisherman’s child that had got ill, you
had her dragged into a sort of society with which she had no sympathy
whatever. And the odd thing to me is that you yourself seemed to be
making an effort that way. You did not always devote yourself to
fashionable life. Where are all the old ambitions you used to talk about
in the very chair you are now sitting in?”

“Is there any hope of my getting Sheila back?” he said, looking up at
last. There was a vague and bewildered look in his eyes. He seemed
incapable of thinking of anything but that.

“I don’t know,” said Ingram. “But one thing is certain: you will never
get her back to repeat the experiment that has just ended in this
desperate way.”

“I should not ask that,” he said, hurriedly; “I should not ask that at
all. If I could but see her for a moment, I would ask her to tell me
everything she wanted, everything she demanded as conditions, and I
would obey her. I will promise to do everything that she wishes.”

“If you saw her you could give her nothing but promises,” said Ingram.
“Now, what if you were to try to do what you know she wishes, and then
go to her?”

“You mean--” said Lavender, glancing up with another startled look on
his face. “You don’t mean that I am to remain away from her a long
time--go into banishment, as it were--and then some day come back to
Sheila and beg her to forget all that happened long before?”

“I mean something very like that,” said Ingram, with composure. “I don’t
know that it would be successful. I have no means of ascertaining what
Sheila would think of such a project--whether she would think that she
could ever live with you again.”

Lavender seemed fairly stunned by the possibility of Sheila’s resolving
never to see him again, and began to recall what Ingram had many a time
said about the strength of purpose she could show when occasion needed.

“If her faith in you is wholly destroyed, your case is hopeless. A woman
may cling to her belief in a man through good report and evil report,
but if she once loses it, she never recovers it. But there is this hope
for you: I know very well that Sheila had a much more accurate notion of
you than you ever had of her; and I happen to know, also, that at the
very time when you were most deeply distressing her here in London, she
held the firm conviction that your conduct toward her--your habits, your
very self--would alter if you could only be persuaded to get out of the
life you have been leading. That was true, at least up to the time of
your leaving Brighton. She believed in you then. She believed that if
you were to cut society altogether, and go and live a hardworking life
somewhere, you would soon become once more the man she fell in love with
up in Lewis. Perhaps she was mistaken: I don’t say anything about it
myself.”

The terribly cool way in which Ingram talked--separating, defining,
exhibiting, so that he and his companion should get as near as possible
to what he believed to be the truth of the situation--was oddly in
contrast with the blind and passionate yearning of the other for some
glimpse of hope. His whole nature seemed to go out in a cry to Sheila
that she would come back and give him a chance of atoning for the past.
At length he rose. He looked strangely haggard, and his eyes scarcely
seemed to see the things around him. “I must go home,” he said.

Ingram saw that he merely wanted to get outside and walk about in order
to find some relief from this anxiety and unrest, and said: “You ought,
I think, to stop here and go to bed. But if you would rather go home, I
will walk up with you, if you like.”

When the two men went out the night air smelt sweet and moist, for rain
had fallen, and the city trees were still dripping with the wet, and
rustling in the wind. The weather had changed suddenly, and now, in the
deep blue overhead, they knew the clouds were passing swiftly by. Was it
the coming light of the morning that seemed to give depth and richness
to that dark-blue vault, while the pavements of the streets and the
houses grew vaguely distinct and gray? Suddenly, in turning the corner
into Piccadilly, they saw the moon appear in a rift of those passing
clouds, but it was not the moonlight that shed this pale and wan
grayness down the lonely streets. It is just at this moment, when the
dawn of the new day begins to tell, that a great city seems at its
deadest; and in the profound silence and amid the strange
transformations of the cold and growing light a man is thrown in upon
himself, and holds communion with himself, as though he and his own
thoughts were all that was left in the world. Not a word passed between
the two men, and Lavender, keenly sensitive to all such impressions, and
now and again shivering slightly, either from cold or nervous
excitement, walked blindly along the deserted streets, seeing far other
things than the tall houses and the drooping trees and the growing light
of the sky.

It seemed to him at this moment that he was looking at Sheila’s funeral.
There was a great stillness in that small house at Borvapost. There was
a boat--Sheila’s own boat--down at the shore there, and there were two
or three figures in black in it. The day was gray and rainy; the sea
washed along the melancholy shores; the far hills were hidden in mist.
And now he saw some people come out of the house into the rain, and the
bronze and bearded men had oars with them, and on the crossed oars there
was a coffin placed. They went down the hillside. They put the coffin in
the stern of the boat, and in absolute silence, except for the wailing
of the women, they pulled away down the dreary Loch Roag till they came
to the island where the burial ground is. They carried the coffin up to
that small enclosure, with its rank grass growing green and the rain
falling on the rude stones and memorials. How often had he leaned on
that low stone wall, and read the strange inscriptions in various
tongues over the graves of mariners from distant countries who had met
with their death on this rocky coast? Had not Sheila herself pointed out
to him, with a sad air, how many of these memorials bore the words, “who
was drowned;” and that, too, was the burden of the rudely spelt legends
beginning “Heir rutt in Gott,” or “Her under hviler stovit,” and
sometimes ending with the pathetic “Wunderschen ist unsre Hoffnung.” The
fishermen brought the coffin to the newly-made grave, the women standing
back a bit, old Scarlett Macdonald stroking Mairi’s hair, and bidding
the girl control her frantic grief, though the old woman herself could
hardly speak for her tears and lamentations. He could read the words
“Sheila Mackenzie” on the small silver plate; she had been taken away
from all association with him and his name. And who was this old man
with the white hair and the white beard, whose hands were tightly
clenched, and his lips firm, and a look as of death in the sunken and
wild eyes? Mackenzie was gray a year before--

“Ingram,” he said, suddenly, and his voice startled his companion, “do
you think it is possible to make Sheila happy again?”

“How can I tell?” said Ingram.

“You used to know everything she could wish--everything she was thinking
about. If you find her out now, will you get to know? Will you see what
I can do--not by asking her to come back, not by trying to get back my
own happiness, but anything, it does not matter what it is, I can do for
her? If she would rather not see me again, I will stay away. Will you
ask her, Ingram?”

“We have got to find her first,” said his companion.

“A young girl like that,” said Lavender, taking no heed of the
objection, “surely she cannot always be unhappy. She is so young and
beautiful, and takes so much interest in many things; surely she may
have a happy life.”

“She might have had.”

“I don’t mean with me,” said Lavender, with his haggard face looking
still more haggard in the increasing light. “I mean anything that can be
done--any way of life that will make her comfortable and contented
again--anything that I can do for that. Will you try to find it out,
Ingram?”

“Oh, yes, I will,” said the other, who had been thinking with much
foreboding of all those possibilities ever since they left Sloane
Street, his only gleam of hope being a consciousness that this time at
least there could be no doubt of Frank Lavender’s absolute sincerity, of
his remorse, and his almost morbid craving to make reparation if that
were still possible.

They reached the house at last. There was a dim orange-colored light
shining in the passage. Lavender went on and threw open the door of the
small room which Sheila had adorned, asking Ingram to follow him. How
wild and strange this chamber looked, with the wan glare of the dawn
shining on its barbaric decorations from the sea-coast--on the shells
and skins and feathers that Sheila had placed around! That white light
of the morning was now shining everywhere into the silent and desolate
house. Lavender found Ingram a bedroom, and then he turned away, not
knowing what to do. He looked into Sheila’s room; there were dresses,
bits of finery, and what not, that he knew so well, but there was no
light breathing audible in the silent and empty chamber. He shut the
door as reverently as though he were shutting it on the dead, and went
down stairs and threw himself, almost fainting with despair and fatigue
on the sofa, while the world outside awoke to a new day with all its
countless and joyous activities and duties.



CHAPTER XX.

A SURPRISE.


There was no letter from Sheila in the morning; and Lavender, as soon as
the post had come and gone, went up to Ingram’s room and woke him. “I am
sorry to disturb you, Ingram,” he said, “but I am going to Lewis. I
shall catch the train to Glasgow at ten.”

“And what do you want to go to Lewis for?” said Ingram, starting up. “Do
you think Sheila would go straight back to her own people with all this
humiliation upon her? And supposing she is not there, how do you propose
to meet old Mackenzie?”

“I am not afraid of meeting any man,” said Lavender. “I want to know
where Sheila is. And if I see Mackenzie I can only tell him frankly
everything that has happened. He is not likely to say anything of me
half as bad as what I think of myself.”

“Now listen,” said Ingram, sitting up in bed, with his brown beard and
grayish hair in a considerably disheveled condition. “Sheila may have
gone home, but it isn’t likely. If she has not, your taking the story up
there and spreading it abroad would prepare a great deal of pain for her
when she might come back at some future time. But suppose you want to
make sure that she has not gone to her father’s house. She could not
have got down to Glasgow sooner than this morning by last night’s train,
you know. It is to-morrow morning, not this morning, that the Stornoway
steamer starts; and she would be certain to go direct to it at the
Glasgow Broomielaw and go around the Mull of Cantyre, instead of
catching it up at Oban, because she knows the people in the boat, and
she and Mairi would be among friends. If you really want to know whether
she has gone North, perhaps you could do no better than run down to
Glasgow to-day, and have a look at the boat that starts to-morrow
morning. I would go with you myself, but I can’t escape the office to
day.”

Lavender agreed to do this, and was about to go. But before he bade his
friend good-bye he lingered for a second or two in a hesitating way, and
then he said: “Ingram, you were speaking the other night of your going
up to Borva. If you should go--”

“Of course I shan’t go,” said the other, promptly. “How could I face
Mackenzie when he began to ask me about Sheila? No, I cannot go to Borva
while this affair remains in its present condition; and, indeed,
Lavender, I mean to stop in London till I see you out of your trouble
somehow.”

“You are heaping coals of fire on my head.”

“Oh, don’t look at it that way. If I can be of any help to you, I shall
expect, this time, to have a return for it.”

“What do you mean?”

“I will tell you when we get to know something of Sheila’s intentions.”

And so Frank Lavender found himself once more, as in the old times, in
the Euston Station, with the Scotch mail ready to start, and all manner
of folks bustling about with that unnecessary activity which betokens
the excitement of a holiday. What a strange holiday was his! He got into
a smoking-carriage in order to be alone, and he looked out on the people
who were bidding their friends good-bye. Some of them were not very
pretty, many of them were ordinary, insignificant, commonplace looking
folks, but it was clear that they had those about them who loved them
and thought much of them. There was one man whom, in other
circumstances, Lavender would have dismissed with contempt as an
excellent specimen of the unmitigated cad. He wore a white waistcoat,
purple gloves, and a green sailor’s knot with a diamond in it, and there
was a cheery, vacuous smiling expression on his round face as he
industriously smoked a cheroot and made small jokes to the friends who
had come to see him off. One of them was a young woman, not very
good-looking, perhaps, who did not join in the general hilarity, and it
occurred to Lavender that the jovial man with the cheroot was, perhaps,
cracking his little jokes to keep up her spirits. At all events he
called her “my good lass,” from time to time, and patted her on the
shoulder, and was very kind to her. And when the guard came up and bade
everybody get in, the man kissed the girl and shook hands with her and
bade her good-bye; and then she, moved by some sudden impulse, caught
his face in both her hands and kissed him once on each cheek. It was a
ridiculous scene. People who wear green ties with diamond pins care
nothing for decorum. And yet Lavender, when he averted his eyes from
this parting, could not help recalling what Ingram had been saying the
night before, and wondered whether this outrageous person with his
abominable decorations and his genial grin might not be more fortunate
than many a great statesman or warrior or monarch.

He turned around to find the cad beside him; and presently the man, with
an abounding good-nature, began to converse with him, and explained that
it was ’igh ’oliday with him, for that he had got a pass to travel first
class as far as Carlisle. He hoped they would have a jolly time of it
together. He explained the object of his journey in the frankest
possible fashion, made a kindly little joke upon the hardship of parting
with one’s sweetheart, said that a faint heart never won fair lady, and
that it was no good crying over spilt milk. She would be all right, and
precious glad to see him when he came back in three weeks’ time, and he
meant to bring her a present that would be good for sore eyes.

“Perhaps you’re a married man, sir, and got past all them games?” said
the cad, cheerily.

“Yes, I am married,” said Lavender, coldly.

“And you’re going further than Carlisle, you say, sir? I’ll be sworn the
good lady is up somewhere in that direction, and she won’t be
disappointed when she sees you--oh, no! Scotch, sir?”

“I am not Scotch,” said Lavender, curtly.

“And she?”

Should he have to throw the man out of the window? “Yes.”

“The Scotch are a strange race--very,” said the genial person, producing
a brandy flask. “They drink a trifle, don’t they? and yet they keep
their wits about them if you’ve dealings with them. A very strange race
of people, in my opinion--very. Know the story of the master who fancied
his man was drunk? ‘Donald, you’re trunk,’ says he. ‘It’s a tam lee,’
says Donald. ‘Donald, ye ken ye’re trunk,’ says the master. ‘Ah ken ah
wish to Kott ah was!’ says Donald. Good story, ain’t it, sir?”

Lavender had heard the remarkable old joke a hundred times, but just at
this moment there was something odd in this vulgar person suddenly
imitating, and imitating very well, the Highland accent. Had he been way
up in the North? or had he merely heard the story related by one who had
been? Lavender dared not ask, however, for fear of prolonging a
conversation in which he had no wish to join. Indeed, to get rid of the
man, he shoved a whole bundle of the morning papers into his hand.

“What’s your opinion of politics at present, sir?” observed his friend,
in an off-hand way.

“I haven’t any,” said Lavender, compelled to take back one of the
newspapers and open it.

“I think myself they’re in a bad state; that’s my opinion. There ain’t a
man among them that knows how to keep down those people; that’s my
opinion, sir. What do you think?”

“Oh, I think so, too,” said Lavender. “You’ll find a good article in
that paper on University Tests.”

The cheery person looked rather blank.

“I would like to hear your opinion about ’em, sir,” he said. “It ain’t
much good reading only one side of a question; but when you can talk
about and discuss it, now--”

“I am sorry I can’t oblige you,” said Lavender, goaded into making some
desperate effort to release himself. “I am suffering from a relaxed
throat at present. My doctor has warned me against talking too much.”

“I beg your pardon, sir. You don’t seem very well; perhaps the throat
comes with a little feverishness, you see--a cold, in fact. Now if I was
you I would try tannin lozenges for the throat. They’re uncommon good
for the throat; and a little quinine for the general system--that would
put you as right as a fiver. I tried it myself when I was down in
‘Ampshire last year. And you wouldn’t find a drop of this brandy a bad
thing, either, if you don’t mind rowing in the same boat as myself.”

Lavender declined the proffered flask, and subsided behind a newspaper.
His fellow-traveler lit another cheroot, took up Bradshaw, and settled
himself in a corner.

Had Sheila come up this very line some dozen hours before? Lavender
asked himself as he looked out on the hills and valleys and woods of
Buckinghamshire. Had the throbbing of the engine and the rattle of the
wheels kept the piteous eyes awake all through the dark night, until the
pale dawn showed the girl a wild vision of Northern hills and moors
telling her she was getting nearer to her own country? Not thus had
Sheila proposed to herself to return home on the first holiday time that
should occur to them both. He began to think of his present journey as
it might have been in other circumstances. Would she have remembered any
of those pretty villages which she saw one early morning long ago, when
they were bathed in sunshine and scarcely awake to the new day? Would
she be impatient at the delays at the stations, and anxious to hurry on
to Westmoreland and Dumfries, to Glasgow and Oban and Skye, and then
from Stornoway across the island to the little inn at Garra-na-hina?

Here, as he looked out of the window, the first indication of the wilder
country became visible in the distant Berkshire hills. Close at hand the
country lay green and bright under a brilliant sun, but over there in
the East some heavy clouds darkened the landscape, and the far hills
seemed to be placed amid a gloomy stretch of moorland. Would not Sheila
have been thrilled by this glimpse of the coming North? She would have
fancied that greater mountains lay far behind these rounded slopes
hidden in mist. She would have imagined that no human habitations were
near those rising plains of sombre hue, where the red deer and the fox
ought to dwell. And in her delight at getting away from the fancied
brightness of the South, would she not have been exceptionally grateful
and affectionate toward himself, and striven to please him with her
tender ways?

It was not a cheerful journey, this lonely trip to the North. Lavender
got to Glasgow that night, and next morning he went down, long before
any passengers could have thought of arriving, to the Clansman. He did
not go near the big steamer, for he was known to the captain and the
steward; but he hung about the quays, watching each person who went on
board. Sheila certainly was not among the passengers by the Clansman.

But she might have gone to Greenock and waited for the steamer there.
Accordingly, after the Clansman had started on her voyage, he went into
a neighboring hotel and had some breakfast, after which he crossed the
bridge to the station and took rail for Greenock, where he arrived some
time before the Clansman made her appearance. He went down to the quay.
It was yet early morning, and a cool fresh breeze was blowing in across
the broad waters of the Frith, where the sunlight was shining on the
white sails of the yachts and on the dipping and screaming sea-gulls.
Far away beyond the pale blue mountains opposite, lay the wonderful
network of sea-loch and island through which one had to pass to get to
the distant Lewis. How gladly at this moment would he have stepped on
board the steamer with Sheila, and put out on that gleaming plain of
sea, knowing that by and by they would sail into Stornoway harbor and
find the wagonette there. They would not hasten the voyage. She had
never been around the Mull of Cantyre, and so he would sit by her side
and show her the wild tides meeting there, and the long jets of white
foam shooting up the great wall of rock. He would show her the coast of
Ireland; and then they would see Islay, of which she had many a ballad
and story. They would go through the narrow sound that is overlooked by
the gloomy mountains of Jura. They would see the distant islands, where
the chief of Colonsay is still mourned for on the still evenings by the
hapless mermaiden, who sings her wild song across the sea. They would
keep wide of the dangerous currents of Corryvreckan, and by and by they
would sail into the harbor of Oban, the beautiful sea-town where Sheila
first got a notion of the greatness of the world lying outside of her
native island.

What if she were to come down now from this busy little seaport, which
lay under a pale blue smoke, and come out upon this pier to meet the
free sunlight and the fresh sea-air blowing all about? Surely at a great
distance he could recognize the proud, light step, and the proud, sad
face. Would she speak to him, or go past him, with firm lips and piteous
eyes, to wait for the great steamer that was now coming along out of the
Eastern mist. Lavender glanced vaguely around the quays and the
thoroughfares leading to them, but there was no one like Sheila there.
In the distance he could hear the throbbing of the Clansman’s engines as
the big steamer came on through the white plain. The sun was warmer now
on the bright waters of the Frith, and the distant haze over the pale
blue mountains beyond had grown more luminous. Small boats went by, and
here and there a yachtsman, scarlet-capped and in white costume, was
taking a leisurely breakfast on his deck. The sea-gulls circled about,
or dipped down on the waters, or chased each other with screams and
cries. Then the Clansman sailed into the quay, and there was a flinging
of ropes and general hurry and bustle; while people came crowding around
the gangways, calling out to each other in every variety of dialect and
accent.

Sheila was not there. He lingered about, and patiently waited for the
starting of the steamer, not knowing how long she ordinarily remained in
Greenock. He was in no hurry, indeed, for after the vessel had gone he
found himself with a whole day before him, and with no fixed notion as
to how it could be passed. In other circumstances he would have been in
no difficulty as to the spending of a bright forenoon and afternoon by
the side of the sea. Or he could have run through to Edinburgh and
called on some artist friends there. Or he could have crossed the Frith
and had a day’s ramble among the mountains. But now that he was
satisfied that Sheila had not gone home, all his fancies and hopes went
back to London; she was in London. And while he was glad that she had
not gone straight to her own people with a revelation of her wrongs, he
scarcely dared speculate on what adventures and experiences might have
befallen those two girls turned out into a great city, of which they
were about equally ignorant.

The day passed somehow, and at night he was on his way to London. Next
morning he went down to Whitehall and saw Ingram.

“Sheila has not gone back to the Highlands, so far as I can make out,”
he said.

“So much the better,” was the answer.

“What am I to do? She must be in London, and who knows what may befall
her?”

“I cannot tell you what you should do. Of course you would like to know
where she is; and I fancy she would have no objection herself to letting
you know that she was all right, so long as she knew that you would not
go near her. I don’t think she has taken so decided a step merely for
the purpose of being coaxed back again. That is not Sheila’s way.”

“I won’t go near her,” he said; “I only want to know that she is safe
and well. I will do whatever she likes, but I must know where she is,
and that she has come to no harm.”

“Well,” said Ingram, slowly, “I was talking the matter over with Mrs.
Lorraine last night--”

“Does _she_ know?” said Lavender, wincing somewhat.

“Certainly,” Ingram answered. “I did not tell her. I had promised to go
up there about something quite different, when she immediately began to
tell me the news. Of course it was impossible to conceal such a thing.
Don’t all the servants about know?”

“I don’t care who knows,” said Lavender, moodily. “What does Mrs.
Lorraine say about this affair?”

“Mrs. Lorraine says that it serves you right,” said Ingram, bluntly.

“Thank her very much! I like candor, especially in a fair weather
friend.”

“Mrs. Lorraine is a better friend to you than you imagine,” Ingram said,
taking no notice of the sneer. “When she thought that your going to
their house continually was annoying Sheila, she tried to put a stop to
it for Sheila’s sake. And now, at this very moment, she is doing her
very best to find out where Sheila is; and if she succeeds she means to
go and plead your cause with the girl.”

“I will not have her do anything of the kind,” said Lavender, fiercely.
“I will plead my own cause with Sheila. I will have forgiveness from
Sheila herself alone--not brought to me by any intermeddling woman.”

“You needn’t call names,” said Ingram, coolly. “But I confess I think
you are right; and I told Mrs. Lorraine that was what you would
doubtless say. In any case she can do no harm in trying to find out
where Sheila is.”

“And how does she propose to succeed? Pollaky, the ‘Agony’ column,
placards, or a bellman? I tell you, Ingram, I won’t have that woman
meddle in my affairs--coming forward as a Sister of Mercy to heal the
wounded, bestowing mock compassion, and laughing all the time.”

“Lavender, you are beside yourself. That woman is one of the most
good-natured, shrewd, clever, and amiable women I have ever met. What
has enraged you?”

“Bah! She’s got hold of you, too, has she? I tell you she is a rank
impostor.”

“An impostor!” said Ingram, slowly. “I have heard a good many people
called impostors. Did it ever occur to you that the blame of the
imposture might possibly lie with the person imposed on? I have heard of
people falling into the delusion that a certain modest and simple-minded
man was a great politician or a great wit, although he had never claimed
to be anything of the kind; and then when they found out that in truth
he was just what he had pretended to be, they called out against him as
an impostor. I have heard, too, of young gentlemen accusing women of
imposture whose only crime was that they did not possess qualities which
they had never pretended to possess, but which the young gentlemen
fancied they ought to possess. Mrs. Lorraine may be an impostor to you.
I think she is a thoroughly good woman, and I know she is a very
delightful companion. And if you want to know how she means to find
Sheila out, I can tell you. She thinks that Sheila would probably go to
a hotel, but that afterward she would try to find lodgings with some of
the people whom she had got to know through her giving them assistance.
Mrs. Lorraine would like to ask your servants about the women who used
to come for this help. Then, she thinks, Sheila would probably get some
one of these humble friends to call for her letters, for she would like
to hear from her father, and she would not care to tell him that she had
left your house. There is a great deal of supposition in all this, but
Mrs. Lorraine is a shrewd woman, and I would trust to her instinct in
such matters a long way. She is quite sure that Sheila would be too
proud to tell her father, and very much averse, also, to inflicting so
severe a blow on him.”

“But surely,” Lavender said hastily, “if Sheila wishes to conceal this
affair for a time, she must believe it to be only temporary? She cannot
propose to make the separation final?”

“That I don’t know anything about. I would advise you to go and see Mrs.
Lorraine.”

“I won’t go and see Mrs. Lorraine.”

“Now, this is unreasonable, Lavender, you begin to fancy that Sheila had
some sort of dislike to Mrs. Lorraine, founded on ignorance, and
straightway you think it is your duty to go and hate the woman. Whatever
you may think of her, she is willing to do you a service.”

“Will you go, Ingram, and take her to those servants?”

“Certainly I will, if you commission me to do so,” said Ingram readily.

“I suppose they all know?”

“They do.”

“And every one else?”

“I should think few of your friends would remain in ignorance of it.”

“Ah, well,” said Lavender, “if only I could get Sheila to overlook what
is past this once, I should not trouble my dear friends and
acquaintances for their sympathy and condolence. By the time I saw them
again I fancy they would have forgotten our names.”

There was no doubt of the fact that the news of Sheila’s flight from her
husband’s house had traveled very speedily around the circle of
Lavender’s friends, and doubtless in due time it reached the ears of his
aunt. At all events, Mrs. Lavender sent a message to Ingram, asking him
to come and see her. When he went he found the little dry, hard-eyed
woman in a terrible passion. She had forgotten all about Marcus Aurelius
and the composure of a philosopher, and the effect of anger on the
nervous system. She was bolstered up in bed, for she had had another bad
fit, but she was brisk enough in her manner and fierce enough in her
language.

“Mr. Ingram,” she said, the moment he had entered, “do you consider my
nephew a beast?”

“I don’t,” he said.

“I do,” she retorted.

“Then you are quite mistaken, Mrs. Lavender. Probably you have heard
some exaggerated story of all this business. He has been very
inconsiderate and thoughtless, certainly, but I don’t believe he quite
knew how sensitive his wife was; and he is very repentant now, and I
know he will keep his promises.”

“You would apologize for the devil,” said the little old woman,
frowning.

“I would try to give him his due, at all events,” said Ingram, with a
laugh. “I know Frank Lavender very well--I have known him for years--and
I know there is good stuff in him, which may be developed in proper
circumstances. After all, what is there more common than for a married
man to neglect his wife? He only did unconsciously and thoughtlessly
what heaps of men do deliberately.”

“You are making me angry,” said Mrs. Lavender, in a severe voice.

“I don’t think it fair to expect men to be demigods,” Ingram said,
carelessly. “I never met any demigods myself; they don’t live in my
neighborhood. Perhaps if I had had some experience of a batch of them, I
should be more censorious of other people. If you set up Frank for a
Bayard, is it his fault or yours?”

“I am not going to be talked out of my common sense, and me on my
death-bed,” said the old lady, impatiently, and yet with some secret
hope that Ingram would go on talking and amuse her. “I won’t have you
say he is anything but a stupid and ungrateful boy, who married a wife
far too good for him. He is worse than that--he is much worse than that;
but as this may be my death-bed, I will keep a civil tongue in my head.”

“I thought you didn’t like his wife very much?” said Ingram.

“I am not bound to like her because I think badly of him, am I? She was
not a bad sort of a girl, after all--temper a little stiff, perhaps; but
she was honest. It did one’s eyes good to look at her bright face. Yes,
she was a good sort of a creature in her way. But when she ran off from
him, why didn’t she come to me?”

“Perhaps you never encouraged her.”

“Encouragement! Where ought a married woman go to but to her husband’s
relatives? If she cannot stay with him, let her take the next best
substitute. It was her duty to come to me.”

“If Sheila had fancied it to be her duty, she would have come here at
any cost.”

“What do you mean, Mr. Ingram?” said Mrs. Lavender, severely.

“Well, supposing she didn’t like you--” he was beginning to say
cautiously, when she sharply interrupted him: “She didn’t like me, eh?”

“I said nothing of the kind. I was about to say that if she had thought
it her duty to come here, she would have come in any circumstances.”

“She might have done worse. A young woman risks a great deal in running
away from her husband’s home. People will talk. Who is to make people
believe just the version of the story that the husband or the wife
would prefer?”

“And what does Sheila care,” said Ingram, with a hot flush in his face,
“for the belief of a lot of idle gossips and slanderers?”

“My dear Mr. Ingram,” said the old lady, “you are not a woman, and you
don’t know the bother one has to look after one’s reputation. But that
is a question not likely to interest you. Let us talk of something else.
Do you know why I wanted you to come and see me to-day?”

“I am sure I don’t.”

“I mean to leave you all my money.”

He stared. She did not appear to be joking. Was it possible that her
rage against her nephew had carried her to this extreme resolve?

“Oh!” he stammered, “but I won’t have it, Mrs. Lavender.”

“But you’ll have to have it,” said the little old woman, severely. “You
are a poor man. You could make good use of my money--better than a
charity board that would starve the poor with a penny out of each
shilling, and spend the other elevenpence in treating their friends to
flower-shows and dinners. Do you think I mean to leave my money to such
people? You shall have it. I think you would look very well driving a
mail-phaeton in the park; and I suppose you would give up your pipes and
your philosophy and your bachelor walks into the country. You would
marry, of course; every man is bound to make a fool of himself that way
as soon as he gets money enough to do it with. But perhaps you might
come across a clever and sensible woman, who would look after you and
give you your own way while having her own. Only don’t marry a fool.
Whatever you do don’t marry a fool, or all your philosophers won’t make
the house bearable to you.”

“I am not likely to marry anybody, Mrs. Lavender,” said Ingram,
carelessly.

“Is there no woman you know whom you would care to marry?”

“Oh,” he said, “there is one woman--yes--who seems to me about
everything a man could wish, but the notion of my marrying her is
absurd. If I had known in time, don’t you see, that I should ever think
of such a thing, I should have begun years ago to dye my hair. I can’t
begin now. Gray hair inspires reverence, I believe, but it is a bad
thing to go courting with.”

“You must not talk foolishly,” said the little old lady, with a frown.
“Do you think a sensible woman wants to marry a boy who will torment her
with his folly and his empty head and his running after a dozen
different women? Gray hair! If you think gray hair is a bad thing to go
courting with, I will give you something better. I will put something in
your head that will make the young lady forget your gray hair. Oh, of
course you will say that she cannot be tempted, and that she despises
money. If so, how much the better? but I have known more women than you,
and my hair is grayer than yours, and you will find that a little money
won’t stand in the way of your being accepted.”

He had made some gesture of protest, not against her speaking of the
possible marriage, which scarcely interested him so remote was the
possibility, but against her returning to this other proposal. And when
he saw the old woman really meant to do this thing, he found it
necessary to declare himself explicitly on the point.

“Oh, don’t imagine, Mrs. Lavender,” he said, “that I have any wild
horror of money, or that I suppose any one else would have. I should
like to have five times or ten times as much as you seem generously
disposed to give me. But here is the point, you see. I am a vain person.
I am very proud of my own opinion of myself, and if I acceded to what
you propose--if I took your money--I suppose I should be driving about
in that fine phæton you speak of. That is very good. I like driving, and
I should be pleased with the appearance of the trap and the horses. But
what do you fancy I should think of myself--what would be my opinion of
my own nobleness and generosity and humanity--if I saw Sheila Mackenzie
walking by on the pavement, without any carriage to drive in, perhaps
without a notion as to where she was going to get her dinner? I should
be a great hero to myself then, shouldn’t I?”

“Oh, Sheila again!” said the old woman in a tone of vexation. “I can’t
imagine what there is in that girl to make men rave so about her. That
Jew-boy is become a thorough nuisance; you would fancy she had just
stepped down out of the clouds to present him with a gold harp, and
that he couldn’t look up to her face. And are you just as bad. You are
worse, for you don’t blow it off in steam. Well, there need be no
difficulty. I meant to leave the girl in your charge. You take the money
and look after her; I know she won’t starve. Take it in trust for her,
if you like.”

“But that is a fearful responsibility, Mrs. Lavender,” he said in
dismay. “She is a married woman. Her husband is the proper person--”

“I tell you, I won’t give him a farthing!” she said, with a sudden
sharpness that startled him--“not a farthing! If he wants money let him
work for it, as other people do; and then, when he has done that, if he
is to have any of my money, he must be beholden for it to his wife and
to you.”

“Do you think that Sheila would accept anything that she would not
immediately hand over to him?”

“Then he must come first to you.”

“I have no wish to inflict humiliation on any one,” said Ingram,
stiffly. “I don’t want to play the part of a little Providence, and mete
out punishment in that way. I might have to begin with myself.”

“Now, don’t be foolish,” said the old lady, with a menacing composure.
“I give you fair warning; the next fit will do for me. If you don’t care
to take my money, and keep it in trust for this girl you profess to care
so much about, I will leave it to found an institution, mind you. I mean
to teach people what they should eat and drink, and the various effects
of food on various constitutions.”

“It is an important subject,” Ingram admitted.

“Is it not? What is the use of giving people laborious information about
the idle fancies of generations that lived ages before they were born,
while you are letting them poison their system, and lay up for
themselves a fearfully painful old age, by the continuous use of
unsuitable food? That book you gave me, Mr. Ingram, is a wonderful book,
but it gives you little consolation if you know another fit is coming
on. And what is the good of knowing about Epictetus and Zeno and the
rest if you’ve got rheumatism? Now, I mean to have classes to teach
people what they should eat and drink; and I’ll do it if you won’t
assume the guardianship of my nephew’s wife.”

“But this is the wildest notion I ever heard of,” Ingram protested
again. “How can I take charge of her? If Sheila, herself, had shown any
disposition to place herself under your care, it might have been
different.”

“Oh, it would have been different!” cried the old lady, with a shrill
laugh. “It would have been different! And what did you say about her
sense of duty to her husband’s relatives? Did you say anything about
that?”

“Well--” Ingram was about to say, being lost in amazement at the odd
glee of this withered old creature.

“Where do you think a young wife should go if she runs off from her
husband’s house?” cried Mrs. Lavender, apparently much amused by his
perplexity. “Where can she best escape calumny? Poor man! I won’t
frighten you or disturb you any longer. Ring the bell, will you? I want
Paterson.”

Ingram rang.

“Paterson,” said Mrs. Lavender, when the tall and grave woman appeared,
“ask Mrs. Lavender if she can come here for a few minutes.”

Ingram looked at the old woman to see if she had gone mad, and then,
somehow, he instinctively turned to the door. He fancied he knew that
quick, light step. And then, before he well knew how, Sheila had come
forward to him with her hands outstretched and with something like a
smile on her pale face. She looked at him for a second; she tried to
speak to him, but there was a dangerous quivering of the lips, and then
she suddenly burst into tears, and let go his hands and turned away. In
that brief moment he had seen what havoc had been wrought within the
past two or three days. There were the same proud and handsome features,
but they were pale and worn, and there was a piteous and weary look in
the eyes that told of the trouble and heart-rending of sleepless nights.

“Sheila,” he said, following her and taking her hand, “does any one know
of your being here?”

“No,” she said, still holding her head aside and downcast; “no one. And
I do not wish any one to know. I am going away.”

“Where?”

“Don’t you ask too much, Mr. Ingram,” said the old lady, from amid her
cushions and curtains. “Give her that ammonia--the stopper only. Now,
sit down, child, and dry your eyes. You need not be ashamed to show Mr.
Ingram that you knew where you ought to come when you left your
husband’s house. And if you won’t stop here, of course I can’t compel
you, though Mr. Ingram will tell you you might do worse.”

“Sheila, why do you wish to go away? Do you mean to go back to the
Lewis?”

“Oh, no, no!” she said, almost shuddering.

“Where do you wish to go?”

“Anywhere--it does not matter. But I cannot remain here. I should meet
with--with many people I used to know. Mrs. Lavender, she is kind enough
to say she will get me some place for Mairi and me; that is all, as yet,
that is settled.”

“Is Mairi with you?”

“Yes: I will go and bring her to you. It is not any one in London she
will want to see as much as you.”

Sheila left the room, and by and by came back, leading the young
Highland girl by the hand. Mairi was greatly embarrassed, scarcely
knowing whether she should show any gladness at meeting this old friend
amid so much trouble. But when Ingram shook hands with her, and after
she had blushed and looked shy and said, “And are you ferry well, sir?”
she managed somehow to lift her eyes to his face; and then she said
suddenly: “And it is a good day, this day, for Miss Sheila, that you
will come to see her, Mr. Ingram, for she will hef a friend now.”

“You silly girl,” said Mrs. Lavender, sharply, “why will you say ‘Miss
Sheila?’ Don’t you know she is a married woman?”

Mairi glanced in a nervous and timid manner toward the bed. She was
evidently afraid of the little shrivelled old woman with the staring
black eyes and the harsh voice.

“Mairi hasn’t forgotten her old habits, that is all,” said Ingram,
patting her good-naturedly on the head.

And then he sat down again, and it seemed so strange to see these two
together again, and to hear the odd inflection of Mairi’s voice, that he
almost forgot that he had made a great discovery in learning of Sheila’s
whereabouts, and wholly forgot that he had just been offered, and had
just refused, a fortune.



CHAPTER XXI.

MEETING AND PARTING.


The appearance of Sheila in Mrs. Lavender’s house certainly surprised
Ingram, but the motives which led her to go thither were simple enough.
On the morning on which she had left her husband’s house, she and Mairi
had been driven up to Euston Square Station before she seemed capable of
coming to any decision. Mairi guessed at what had happened with a great
fear at her heart, and did not dare to speak of it. She sat, mute and
frightened, in a corner of the cab, and only glanced from time to time
at her companion’s pale face and troubled and distant eyes.

They were driven in to the station. Sheila got out, still seeming to
know nothing of what was around her. The cabman took down Mairi’s trunk
and handed it to a porter.

“Where for, miss?” said the man. And she started.

“Where will you be going, Miss Sheila?” said Mairi, timidly.

“It is no matter just now,” said Sheila to the porter, “if you will be
so kind as to take charge of the trunk. And how much must I pay the
cabman from Notting Hill?”

She gave him the money and walked into the great stone-paved hall, with
its lofty roof and sounding echoes.

“Mairi,” she said, “I have gone away from my own home, and I have no
home for you or myself either. What are we to do?”

“Are you quite sure, Miss Sheila,” said the girl, dismayed beyond
expression, “that you will not go back to your own house? It wass a bad
day this day that I wass come to London to find you going away from your
own house;” and Mairi began to cry. “Will we go back to the Lewis, Miss
Sheila?” she said. “It is many a one there will be proud and pleased to
see you again in sa Lewis, and there will be plenty of homes for you
there--oh yes, ferry many that will be glad to see you! And it wass a
bad day sa day you left the Lewis whatever; and if you will go back
again, Miss Sheila, you will neffer hef to go away again, not any
more.”

Sheila looked at the girl--at the pretty pale face, the troubled
light-blue eyes and the abundant fair-yellow hair. It was Mairi, sure
enough, who was talking to her, and yet it was in a strange place. There
was no sea dashing outside, no tide running in from the Atlantic. And
where was old Scarlett, with her complaints and her petulance and her
motherly kindness?

“It is a pity you have come to London, Mairi,” Sheila said, wistfully;
“for I have no house to take you into, and we must go now and find one.”

“You will not go back to sa Lewis, Miss Sheila?”

“They would not know me in the Lewis any more, Mairi. I have been too
long away, and I am quite changed. It is many a time I will think of
going back; but when I left the Lewis I was married, and now--. How
could I go back to the Lewis, Mairi? They would look at me. They would
ask questions. My father would come down to the quay, and he would say:
‘Sheila, have you come back alone?’ And all the story of it would go
about the island, and every one would say I had been a bad wife, and my
husband had gone away from me.”

“There is not any one,” said Mairi, with the tears starting to her eyes
again--“not from one end of sa island to sa other--would say that of
you, Miss Sheila; and there is no one would not come to meet you, and be
glad sat you will come again to your own home. And as for going back, I
will be ferry glad to go back whatever, for it was you I was come to
see, and not any town; and I do not like this town, what I hef seen of
it, and I will be ferry glad to go away wis you, Miss Sheila.”

Sheila did not answer. She felt that it was impossible she could go back
to her own people with this disgrace upon her, and did not even argue
the case with herself. All her trouble now was to find some harbor of
refuge into which she could flee, so that she might have quiet and
solitude, and an opportunity of studying all that had befallen her. The
noise around her--the arrival of travelers, the transference of luggage,
the screaming of trains--stunned and confused her; and she could only
vaguely think of all the people she knew in London, to see to whom she
could go for advice and direction. They were not many. One after the
other she went over the acquaintances she had made, and not one of them
appeared to her in the light of a friend. One friend she had who would
have rejoiced to be of the least assistance to her, but her husband had
forbidden her to hold communication with him, and she felt a strange
sort of pride, even at this moment, in resolving to obey that
injunction. In all this great city that lay around her there was no
other to whom she could frankly and readily go. That one friend she had
possessed before she came to London: in London she had not made another.

And yet it was necessary to do something, for who could tell but that
her husband might come to this station in search of her? Mairi’s
anxiety, too, was increasing every moment, insomuch that she was fairly
trembling with excitement and fatigue. Sheila resolved that she would go
down and throw herself on the tender mercies of that terrible old lady
in Kensington Gore. For one thing, she instinctively sought the help of
a woman in her present plight; and perhaps this harshly-spoken old lady
would be gentle to her when all her story was told. Another thing that
prompted this decision was a sort of secret wish to identify herself
even yet with her husband’s family--to prove to herself, as it were,
that they had not cast her off as being unworthy of him. Nothing was
farther from her mind at this moment than any desire to pave the way for
reconciliation and reunion with her husband. Her whole anxiety was to
get away from him, to put an end to a state of things which she had
found to be more than she could bear. And yet if she had had friends in
London called respectively Mackenzie and Lavender, and if she had been
equally intimate with both, she would at this moment have preferred to
go for help to those bearing the name of Lavender.

There was doubtless something strangely inconsistent in this instinct of
wifely loyalty and duty in a woman who had just voluntarily left her
husband’s house. Lavender had desired her not to hold communication with
Edward Ingram; even now she would respect his wish. Lavender would
prefer that she should in any great extremity go to his aunt for
assistance and counsel; and to his aunt, despite her own dislike of the
woman, she would go. At this moment, when Sheila’s proud spirit had
risen up in revolt against a system of treatment that had become
insufferable to her, when she had been forced to leave her home and
incur the contemptuous compassion of friends and acquaintances, if
Edward Ingram himself had happened to meet her, and had begun to say
sharp things of Lavender, she would have sharply recalled him to a sense
of discretion that one must use in speaking to a wife of her husband.

The two homeless girls got into another cab, and were driven down to
Kensington Gore. Sheila asked if she could see Mrs. Lavender. She knew
that the old lady had had another bad fit; but she was supposed to be
recovering rapidly. Mrs. Lavender would see her in her bedroom, and so
Sheila went up. The girl could not speak.

“Yes, I see it--something wrong about that precious husband of yours,”
said the old lady, watching her keenly. “I expected it. Go on. What is
the matter?”

“I have left him,” Sheila said, with her face very pale, but no sign of
emotion about the firm lips.

“Oh, good gracious, child! Left him? How many people know it?”

“No one but yourself and a young Highland girl, who has come up to see
me.”

“You came to me, first of all?”

“Yes.”

“Have you no other friends to go to?”

“I considered that I ought to come to you.”

There was no cunning in the speech; it was the simple truth. Mrs.
Lavender looked at her hard for a second or two, and then said, in what
she meant to be a kind way: “Come here, and sit down, child, and tell me
all about it. If no one else knows it there is no harm done. We can
easily patch it up before it gets abroad.”

“I did not come to you for that, Mrs. Lavender,” said Sheila, calmly.
“That is impossible; that is all over. I have come to ask you where I
can get lodgings for my friend and myself.”

“Tell me all about it first, and then we’ll see whether it can’t be
mended. Mind, I am on your side, though I am your husband’s aunt. I
think you’re a good girl; a bit of a temper, you know, but you manage to
keep it quiet ordinarily. You tell me all about it, and you’ll see if I
haven’t means to bring him to reason. Oh, yes, oh, yes, I’m an old
woman, but I can find some means to bring him to reason.” And she
laughed an odd, shrill laugh.

A hot flush came over Sheila’s face. Had she come to this old woman only
to make her husband’s degradation more complete? Was he to be
intimidated into making friends with her by a threat of the withdrawal
of that money that Sheila had begun to detest? And this was what her
notions of wifely duty had led to!

“Mrs. Lavender,” she said, with the proud lips very proud indeed, “I
must say this to you before I tell you anything. It is very good of you
to say you will take my side, but I did not come to you to complain. And
I would rather not have any sympathy from you if it only means that you
will speak ill of my husband. And if you think you can make him do
things because you give him money, perhaps that is true at present, but
it may not always be true, and you cannot expect me to wish it to
continue. I would rather have my present trouble twenty times over than
see him being brought over to any woman’s wishes.”

Mrs. Lavender stared at her. “Why, you astonishing girl, I believe you
are still in love with that man!”

Sheila said nothing.

“Is it true?” she said.

“I suppose a woman ought to love her husband,” Sheila answered.

“Even if he turns her out of the house?”

“Perhaps it is she who is to blame,” Sheila, said, humbly, “Perhaps her
education was wrong, or she expects too much that is unreasonable, or
perhaps she has a bad temper. You think I have a bad temper, Mrs.
Lavender, and might it not be that?”

“Well, I think you want your own way, and doubtless you expect to have
it now. I suppose I am to listen to all your story, and I must not say a
word about my own nephew. But sit down and tell me all about it, and
then you can justify him afterward, if you like it.”

It was probably, however, the notion that Sheila would try to justify
Lavender all through that put the old lady on her guard, and made her,
indeed, regard Lavender’s conduct in an unfairly bad light. Sheila told
the story as simply as she could, putting everything down to her
husband’s advantage that was possible, and asking for no sympathy
whatsoever. She only wanted to remain away from his house; and by what
means could she and this young cousin of hers find cheap lodgings where
they could live quietly and without much fear of detection?

Mrs. Lavender was in a rage, and as she was not allowed to vent it on
the proper object, she turned upon Sheila herself. “The Highlanders are
a proud race,” she said sharply. “I should have thought that rooms in
this house, even with the society of a cantankerous old woman, would
have been tolerated for a time.”

“It is very kind of you to make the offer,” Sheila said, “but I do not
wish to have to meet my husband or any of his friends. There is enough
trouble without that. If you could tell me where to get lodgings not far
from this neighborhood, I would come to see you sometimes at such hours
as I know he cannot be here.”

“But I don’t understand what you mean. You won’t go back to your
husband, although I could manage that for you directly--you won’t hear
of negotiations, or of any prospect of your going back--and yet you
won’t go home to your father.”

“I cannot do either,” Sheila said.

“Do you mean to live in these lodging always?”

“How can I tell?” said the girl, piteously. “I only wish to be away, and
I cannot go back to my papa, with all this story to tell him.”

“Well, I didn’t want to distress you,” said the old woman. “You know
your own affairs best. I think you are mad. If you would calmly reason
with yourself, and show to yourself that in a hundred years, or less
than that, it won’t matter whether you gratified your pride or no, you
would see that the wisest thing you can do now is to take an easy and
comfortable course. You are in an excited and nervous state at present,
for example; and that is destroying so much of the vital portion of your
frame. If you go into these lodgings and live like a rat in a hole, you
will have nothing to do but to nurse these sorrows of yours, and find
them grow bigger and bigger while you grow more and more wretched. All
that is mere pride and sentiment and folly. On the other hand, look at
this. Your husband is sorry you are away from him; you may take that for
granted. You say he was merely thoughtless; now he has got something to
make him think, and would, without doubt, come and beg your pardon if
you gave him a chance. I write to him, he comes down here, you kiss and
make good friends again, and to-morrow morning you are comfortable and
happy again.

“To-morrow morning!” said Sheila sadly. “Do you know how we should be
situated to-morrow morning? The story of my going away would become
known to his friends; he would go among them as though he had suffered
some disgrace, and I the cause of it. And though he is a man, and would
soon be careless of that, how could I go with him amongst his friends,
and feel that I had shamed him? It would be worse than ever between us;
and I have no wish to begin again what ended this morning--none at all,
Mrs. Lavender.”

“And do you mean to say that you intend to live permanently apart from
your husband?”

“I do not know,” said Sheila, in a despairing tone. “I cannot tell you.
What I feel is that, with all this trouble, it is better that our life
as it was in that house should come to an end.”

Then she arose. There was a tired look about the face, as if she were
too weary to care whether this old woman would help her or no. Mrs.
Lavender regarded her for a moment, wondering, perhaps, that a girl so
handsome, fine-colored, and proud-eyed should be distressing herself
with imaginary sentiments, instead of taking life cheerfully, enjoying
the hour as it passed, and being quite assured of the interest and
liking and homage of every one with whom she came in contact. Sheila
turned to the bed once more, about to say that she had troubled Mrs.
Lavender too much already, and that she would look after these lodgings.
But the old woman apparently anticipated as much, and said, with much
deliberation, that if Sheila and her companion would only remain one or
two days in the house, proper rooms should be provided for them
somewhere. Young girls could not venture into lodgings without strict
inquiries being made. Sheila should have suitable rooms, and Mrs.
Lavender would see that she was properly looked after and that she
wanted for nothing. In the meantime she must have some money.

“It is kind of you,” said the girl, blushing hotly, “but I do not
require it.”

“Oh, I suppose we are too proud,” said the old woman. “If we disapprove
of our husband taking money, we must not do it either. Why, child, you
have learnt nothing in London. You are a savage yet. You must let me
give you something for your pocket, or what are you to do? You say you
have left everything at home. Do you think hairbrushes, for example,
grow on trees; that you can go into Kensington Gardens and stock your
rooms?”

“I have some money--a few pounds--that my papa gave me,” Sheila said.

“And when that is done?”

“He will give me more.”

“And yet you don’t wish him to know you have left your husband’s house!
What will he make of these repeated demands for money?”

“My papa will give me anything I want without asking any questions.”

“Then he is a bigger fool than I expected. Oh, don’t get into a temper
again. Those sudden shocks of color, child, show me that your heart is
out of order. How can you expect to have a regular pulsation if you
flare up at anything one may say? Now go and fetch me your Highland
cousin.”

Mairi came into the room in a very timid fashion, and stared with her
big, light-blue eyes into the dusky recess in which the little old woman
sat up in bed. Sheila took her forward: “This is my cousin Mairi, Mrs.
Lavender.”

“And are you ferry well, ma’am?” said Mairi, holding out her hand very
much as a boy pretends to hold out his hand to a tiger in the Zoological
Gardens.

“Well, young lady,” said Mrs. Lavender, staring at her, “and a pretty
mess you have got us into?”

“Me!” said Mairi, almost with a cry of pain. She had not imagined before
that she had anything to do with Sheila’s trouble.

“No, no, Mairi,” her companion said, taking her hand, “it was not you.
Mrs. Lavender, Mairi does not understand our way of joking in London.
Perhaps she will learn before she goes back to the Highlands.”

“There is one thing,” said Mrs. Lavender, observing that Mairi’s eyes
had filled the moment she was charged with bringing trouble on
Sheila--“there is one thing you people from the Highlands seem never
disposed to learn, and that is to have a little control over your
passions. If one speaks to you a couple of words, you either begin to
cry or go off into a flash of rage. Don’t you know how bad that is for
the health?”

“And yet,” said Sheila with a smile--and it seemed so strange to Mairi
to see her smile--“we will not compare badly in health with the people
about us here.”

Mrs. Lavender dropped the question, and began to explain to Sheila what
she advised her to do. In the meantime both the girls were to remain in
her house. She would guarantee their being met by no one. When suitable
rooms had been looked out by Paterson, they were to remove thither. The
whole situation of affairs was at once perceived by Mrs. Lavender’s
attendant, who was given to understand that no one was to know of young
Mrs. Lavender’s being in the house. Then the old woman, much contented
with what she had done, resolved that she would reward herself with a
joke, and sent for Edward Ingram.

When Sheila, as already described, came into the room, and found her old
friend there, the resolution she had formed went clean out of her mind.
She forgot entirely the ban that had been placed on Ingram by her
husband. But after her first emotion on seeing him was over, and when he
began to discuss what she ought to do, and even to advise her in a
diffident sort of way, she remembered all that she had forgotten, and
was ashamed to find herself sitting there and talking to him as if it
were in her father’s house at Borva. Indeed, when he proposed to take
the management of her affairs into his own hands, and to go and look at
certain apartments that Paterson had proposed, she was forced, with
great heart-burning and pain, to hint to him that she could not avail
herself of his kindness.

“But why?” he asked, with a stare of surprise.

“You remember Brighton,” she answered, looking down. “You had a bad
return for your kindness to me then.”

“Oh, I know,” he said carelessly. “And I suppose Mr. Lavender wished you
to cut me after my impertinent interference. But things are very much
changed now. But for the time he went North, he has been with me nearly
every hour since you left.”

“Has Frank been to the Lewis?” she said suddenly, with a look of fear on
her face.

“Oh, no; he had only been to Glasgow to see if you had gone to catch the
Clansman and go North from there.”

“Did he take trouble to do all that?” she asked, slowly and wistfully.

“Trouble!” cried Ingram. “He appears to me neither to eat nor sleep day
or night, but to go wandering about in search of you in every place
where he fancies you may be. I never saw a man so beside himself with
anxiety.”

“I did not wish to make him anxious,” said Sheila in a low voice, “Will
you tell him that I am well?”

Mrs. Lavender began to smile. Were there not evident signs of softening?
But Ingram, who knew the girl better, was not deceived by these
appearances. He could see that Sheila merely wished that her husband
should not suffer pain on her account; that was all.

“I was about to ask you,” he said gently, “what I may say to him. He
comes to me continually, for he has always fancied that you would
communicate with me. What shall I say to him, Sheila?”

“You may tell him that I am well,” she answered.

Mairi had by this time stepped out of the room. Sheila sat with her eyes
fixed on the floor, her fingers working nervously with a paper knife she
held.

“Nothing more than that?” he said.

“Nothing more.”

He saw by her face, and he could tell by the sound of her voice, that
her decision was resolute.

“Don’t be a fool, child!” said Mrs. Lavender emphatically. “Here is your
husband’s friend, who can make everything straight and comfortable for
you in an hour or two, and you quietly put aside the chance of
reconciliation and bring on yourself any amount of misery. I don’t speak
for Frank. Men can take care of themselves; they have clubs and friends,
and amusements for the whole day long. But you!--what a pleasant life
you would have, shut up in a couple of rooms, scarcely daring to show
yourself at a window! Your fine sentiments are all very well, but they
won’t stand in the place of a husband to you; and you will soon find out
the difference between living by yourself like that, and having some one
in the house to look after you. Am I right, Mr. Ingram, or am I wrong?”

Ingram paused for a moment, and said, “I have not the same courage that
you have, Mrs. Lavender, I dare not advise Sheila one way or the other
at present. But if she feels in her own heart that she would rather
return now to her husband, I can safely say that she would find him
deeply grateful to her, and that he would try to do everything that she
desired. That I know. He wants to see you, Sheila, if only for five
minutes, to beg your forgiveness.

“I cannot see him,” she said, with the same sad and settled air.

“I am not to tell him where you are?”

“Oh no!” she cried, with a sudden and startled emphasis. “You must not
do that, Mr. Ingram. Promise me that you will not do that?”

“I do promise you; but you put a painful duty on me, Sheila, for you
know how he will believe that a short interview with you would put
everything right; and he will look on me as preventing that.”

“Do you think a short interview at present would put everything right?”
she said, suddenly looking up, and regarding him with her clear,
steadfast eyes.

He dared not answer. He felt, in his inmost heart, that it would not.

“Ah, well,” said Mrs. Lavender, “young people have much satisfaction in
being proud. When they come to my age, they may find they would have
been happier if they had been less disdainful.”

“It is not disdain, Mrs. Lavender,” said Sheila, gently.

“Whatever it is,” said the old woman, “I must remind you two people that
I am an invalid. Go away and have luncheon. Paterson will look after
you. Mr. Ingram, give me that book, that I may read myself into a nap,
and don’t forget what I expect of you.”

Ingram suddenly remembered. He and Sheila and Mairi sat down to luncheon
in the dining-room, and while he strove to get them to talk about Borva,
he was thinking all the time of the extraordinary position he was
expected to assume toward Sheila. Not only was he to be the repository
of the secret of her place of residence, and the message-carrier between
herself and her husband, but he was also to take Mrs. Lavender’s
fortune, in the event of her dying, and hold it in trust for the young
wife. Surely this old woman, with her suspicious ways and her worldly
wisdom, would not be so foolish as to hand him over all her property,
free of conditions, on the simple understanding that when he chose he
could give what he chose to Sheila? And yet that was what she had vowed
she would do, to Ingram’s profound dismay.

He labored hard to lighten the spirits of those two girls. He talked of
John the Piper, and said he would invite him up to London, and described
his probable appearance in the Park. He told them stories of his
adventures while he was camping out with some young artists in the
Western Highlands, and told them anecdotes, old, recent and of his own
invention, about the people he had met. Had they heard of the steward on
board one of the Clyde steamers who had a percentage on the drink
consumed in the cabin, and who would call out to the captain: “Why wass
you going so fast? Dinna put her into the quay so fast! There is a gran’
company down below, and they are drinking fine!” Had he ever told them
of the porter at Arran who had demanded sixpence for carrying up some
luggage, but who, after being sent to get a sovereign changed, came back
with only eighteen shillings, saying: “Oh, yes, it iss sexpence! Oh, ay,
it iss sexpence! But it iss two shullens _ta you_!” Or of the other,
who, after being paid, hung about the cottage-door for nearly an hour,
until Ingram, coming out, asked him why he waited; whereupon he said,
with an air of perfect indifference: “Oo, ay, there was something said
about a dram; but hoot toot! it is of no consequence whatever!” And was
it true that the sheriff of Stornoway was so kind-hearted a man that he
remitted the punishment of certain culprits, ordained by the statute to
be whipped with birch rods, on the ground that the island of Lewis
produced no birch, and that he was not bound to import it? And had Mairi
heard any more of the Black Horse of Loch Suainabhal? And where had she
pulled those splendid bunches of bell-heather?

He suddenly stopped, and Sheila looked up with inquiring eyes. How did
he know that Mairi had brought those things with her? Sheila saw that he
must have gone up with her husband and must have seen the room which she
had decorated in imitation of the small parlor at Borvapost. She would
rather not think of that room now.

“When are you going to the Lewis?” she asked of him with her eyes cast
down.

“Well, I think I have changed my mind about that, Sheila. I don’t think
I shall go to the Lewis this Autumn.”

Her face became more and more embarrassed. How was she to thank him for
his continued thoughtfulness and self-sacrifice?

“There is no necessity,” he said lightly. “The man I am going with has
no particular purpose in view. We shall merely go cruising about those
wonderful lochs and islands, and I am sure to run against some of those
young fellows I know, who are prowling about the fishing-villages with
portable easels. They are good boys, those boys. They are very
hospitable, if they have only a single bedroom in a small cottage as
their studio and reception-room combined. I should not wonder, Sheila,
if I went ashore somewhere, and put up my lot with those young fellows,
and listened to their wicked stories, and lived on whisky and herrings
for a month. Would you like to see me return to Whitehall in kilts? And
I should go into the office and salute everybody with ‘And are you ferry
well?’ just as Mairi does. But don’t be downhearted, Mairi. You speak
English a good deal better than many English folks I know; and by the
time you go back to the Lewis we shall have you fit to become a
school-mistress, not only in Borva, but in Stornoway itself.”

“I was told it is ferry good English they have in Stornoway,” said
Mairi, not very sure whether Mr. Ingram was joking or not.

“My dear child,” he cried, “I tell you it is the best English in the
world. If the queen only knew, she would send her grandchildren to be
educated there. But I must go now. Good-bye, Mairi. I mean to come and
take you to a theater some night soon.”

Sheila accompanied him out into the hall. “When shall you see him,” she
said, with her eyes cast down.

“This evening,” he answered.

“I should like you to tell him that I am well, and that he need not be
anxious about me.”

“And that is all?”

“Yes, that is all.”

“Very well, Sheila. I wish you had given me a pleasanter message to
carry, but when you think of doing that I shall be glad to take it.”

Ingram left and hastened in to his office. Sheila’s affairs were
considerably interfering with his attendance there--there could be no
question of that--but he had the reputation of being able to get through
his work thoroughly, whatever might be the hours he devoted to it, so
that he did not greatly fear being rebuked for his present
irregularities. Perhaps if a grave official warning had been probable,
even that would not have interfered with his determination to do what
could be done for Sheila.

But this business of carrying a message to Lavender was the most serious
he had yet undertaken. He had to make sundry and solemn resolves to put
a bold face on the matter at the outset, and declare that wild horses
would not tear from him any further information. He feared the piteous
appeals that might be made to him; the representations that, merely for
the sake of an imprudent promise, he was delaying a reconciliation
between these two until that might be impossible; the reasons that would
be urged on him for considering Sheila’s welfare as paramount to his own
scruples. He went through the interview as he foresaw it, a dozen times
over, and constructed replies to each argument and entreaty. Of course,
it would be simple enough to meet all Lavender’s demands with a simple
“No,” but there are circumstances in which the heroic method of solving
difficulties becomes a trifle inhuman.

He had promised to dine with Lavender that evening at his club. When he
went along to St. James’ Street at the appointed hour his host had not
arrived. He walked for about ten minutes, and then Lavender appeared,
haggard and worn out with fatigue. “I have heard nothing--I can hear
nothing--I have been everywhere,” he said, leading the way at once into
the dining-room. “I am sorry I have kept you waiting, Ingram.”

They sat down at a small side table: there were few men in the club at
this late season, so that they could talk freely enough when the waiter
had come and gone.

“Well, I have some news for you, Lavender,” Ingram said.

“Do you know where she is?” said the other eagerly.

“Yes.”

“Where?” he almost called aloud in his anxiety.

“Well,” Ingram said slowly, “she is in London, and she is very well; and
you need have no anxiety about her.”

“But where is she?” demanded Lavender, taking no heed of the waiter,
who was standing by and uncorking a bottle.

“I promised her not to tell you.”

“You have spoken with her, then?”

“Yes.”

“What did she say? Where has she been? Good Heavens, Ingram! you don’t
mean to say you are going to keep it a secret?”

“Oh, no,” said the other; “I will tell you everything she said to me, if
you like. Only I will not tell you where she is.”

“I will not ask you,” said Lavender at once, “if she does not wish me to
know. But you can tell me about herself? What was she looking like? Is
Mairi with her?”

“Yes, Mairi is with her. And, of course, she is looking a little
troubled and pale, and so forth, but she is very well, I should think,
and quite comfortably situated. She said I was to tell you that she was
well, and that you need not be anxious.”

“She sent a message to me?”

“That is it.”

“By Jove, Ingram! how can I ever thank you enough? I feel as glad just
now as if she had really come home again. And how did you manage it?”

Lavender, in his excitement and gratitude, kept filling up his friend’s
glass the moment the least quantity had been taken out of it; the wonder
was he did not fill all the glasses on that side of the table, and
beseech Ingram to have two or three dinners all at once.

“Oh, you needn’t give me any credit about it,” Ingram said. “I stumbled
against her by accident: at least, I did not find her out myself.”

“Did she send for you?”

“No. But look here, Lavender, this sort of cross-examination will lead
to but one thing; and you say yourself you won’t try to find out where
she is.”

“Not from you, any way. But how can I help wanting to know where she is?
And my aunt was saying just now that very likely she had gone right away
to the other end of London--to Peckham or some such place.”

“You have seen Mrs. Lavender, then?”

“I have just come from there. The old heathen thinks the whole affair
rather a good joke; but perhaps that was only her way of showing her
temper, for she was in a bit of rage, to be sure. And so Sheila sent me
that message?”

“Yes.”

“Does she want money? Would you take her some money from me?” he said
eagerly. Any bond of union between him and Sheila would be of some
value.

“I don’t think she needs money; and in any case I know she wouldn’t take
it from you.”

“Well, now, Ingram, you have seen her and talked with her, what do you
think she intends to do? What do you think she would have me do?”

“These are very dangerous questions for me to answer,” Ingram said. “I
don’t see how you can expect me to assume the responsibility.”

“I don’t ask you to do that at all. But I never found your advice to
fail. And if you give me any hint as to what I should do, I will do it
upon my own responsibility.”

“Then I won’t. But this I will do; I will tell you as nearly as ever I
can what she said, and you can judge for yourself.”

Very cautiously, indeed, did Ingram set out on this perilous
undertaking. It was no easy matter so to shut out all references to
Sheila’s surroundings that no hint should be given to this anxious
listener as to her whereabouts. But Ingram got through it successfully;
and when he had finished Lavender sat some time in silence, merely
toying with his knife, for, indeed, he had eaten nothing. “If it is her
wish,” he said slowly, “that I should not go to see her, I will try to
do so. But I should like to know where she is. You say she is
comfortable, and she has Mairi for a companion; and that is something.
In the meantime I suppose I must wait.”

“I don’t see, myself, how waiting is likely to do much good,” said
Ingram. “That won’t alter your relations much.”

“It may alter her determination. A woman is sure to soften into charity
and forgiveness; she can’t help it.”

“If you were to ask Sheila now, she would say she had forgiven you
already. But that is a different matter from getting her to resume her
former method of life with you. To tell you the truth, I should strongly
advise her, if I were to give advice at all, not to attempt anything of
the sort. One failure is bad enough, and has wrought sufficient
trouble.”

“Then what am I to do, Ingram?”

“You must judge for yourself what is the most likely way of winning back
Sheila’s confidence in you, and the most likely conditions under which
she might be induced to join you again. You need not expect to get her
back into that square, I should fancy; _that_ experiment has rather
broken down.”

“Well,” said Lavender, “I shan’t bore you any more just now about my
affairs. Look after your dinner, old fellow; your starving yourself
won’t help me much.”

“I don’t mean to starve myself at all,” said Ingram, steadily making his
way through the abundant dishes his friend had ordered. “But I had a
very good luncheon this morning with--”

“With Sheila,” Lavender said, quickly.

“Yes. Does it surprise you to find that she is in a place where she can
get food? I wish the poor child had made better use of her
opportunities.”

“Ingram,” he said, after a minute, “could you take some money from me,
without her knowing of it, and try to get her some of the little things
she likes--some delicacies, you know; they might be smuggled in, as it
were, without her knowing who paid for them? There was ice-pudding, you
know, with strawberries in it, that she was fond of--”

“My dear fellow, a woman in her position thinks of something else than
ice-pudding in strawberries.”

“But why shouldn’t she have it all the same? I would give twenty pounds
to get some little gratification of that sort conveyed to her; and if
you could try, Ingram--”

“My dear fellow, she has got everything she can want; there was no
ice-pudding at luncheon, but doubtless there will be at dinner.”

So Sheila was staying in a house in which ices could be prepared?
Lavender’s suggestion had had no cunning intention in it, but here was
an obvious piece of information. She was in no humble lodging-house,
then. She was either staying with some friends--and she had no friend
but Lavender’s friends--or she was staying at a hotel. He remembered
that she had once dined at the Langham, Mrs. Kavanagh having persuaded
her to go to meet some American visitors. Might she have gone thither?

Lavender was somewhat silent during the rest of that meal, for he was
thinking of other things besides the mere question as to where Sheila
might be staying. He was trying to imagine what she might have felt
before she was driven to this step. He was trying to recall all manner
of incidents of their daily life that he now saw might have appeared to
her in a very different light from that in which he saw them. He was
wondering, too, how all this could be altered, and a new life begun for
them both, if that were still possible.

They had gone up stairs into the smoking-room when a card was brought to
Lavender.

“Young Mosenberg is below,” he said to Ingram. “He will be a livelier
companion for you than I could be. Waiter, ask this gentleman to come
up.”

The handsome Jew boy came eagerly into the room, with much excitement
visible on his face.

“Oh, do you know,” he said to Lavender, “I have found out where Mrs.
Lavender is--yes. She is at your aunt’s house. I saw her this afternoon
for one moment--” He stopped, for he saw by the vexation on Ingram’s
face that he had done something wrong. “Is it a mistake?” he said. “Is
it a secret?”

“It is not likely to be a secret if you have got hold of it,” said
Ingram, sharply.

“I am very sorry,” said the boy. “I thought you were all anxious to
know--”

“It does not matter in the least,” said Lavender quietly to both of
them. “I shall not seek to disturb her. I am about to leave London.”

“Where are you going?” said the boy.

“I don’t know yet.”

That, at least, had been part of the result of his meditations; and
Ingram, looking at him, wondered whether he meant to go away without
trying to say one word to Sheila.

“Look here, Lavender,” he said, “you must not fancy we were trying to
play any useless and impertinent trick. To-morrow or next day Sheila
will leave your aunt’s house, and then I should have told you that she
had been there, and how the old lady received her. It was Sheila’s own
wish that the lodgings she is going to should not be known. She fancies
that would save both of you a great deal of unnecessary and fruitless
pain, do you see? That really is her only object in wishing to have any
concealment about the matter.”

“But there is no need of any such concealment,” he said. “You may tell
Sheila that if she likes to stay on with my aunt, so much the better;
and I take it very kind of her that she went there, instead of going
home or to a strange house.”

“Am I to tell her that you mean to leave London?”

“Yes.”

They went into the billiard-room. Mosenberg was not permitted to play,
as he had not dined in the club, but Ingram and Lavender proceeded to
have a game, the former being content to accept something like thirty in
a hundred. It was speedily very clear that Lavender’s heart was not in
the contest. He kept forgetting which ball he had been playing, missing
easy shots, playing a perversely wrong game, and so forth. And yet his
spirits were not much downcast.

“Is Peter Hewetson still at Tarbert, do you know?” he asked of Ingram.

“I believe so. I heard of him lately. He and one or two more are there.”

“I suppose you’ll look in on them if you go North?”

“Certainly. The place is badly perfumed, but picturesque, and there is
generally plenty of whisky about.”

“When do you go North?”

“I don’t know. In a week or two.”

That was all Lavender hinted of his plans. He went home early that
night, and spent an hour or two in packing up some things, and in
writing a long letter to his aunt, which was destined considerably to
astonish that lady. Then he lay down and had a few hours’ rest.

In the early morning he went out and walked across Kensington Gardens
down to the Gore. He wished to have one look at the house in which
Sheila was, or perhaps he might, from a distance, see her come out on a
simple errand? He knew, for example, that she had a superstitious liking
for posting her letters herself; in wet weather or dry, she invariably
carried her own correspondence to the nearest pillar-post. Perhaps he
might have one glimpse at her face, to see how she was looking, before
he left London.

There were few people about; one or two well-known lawyers and merchants
were riding by to have their morning canter in the Park; the shops were
being opened. Over there was the house--with its dark front of bricks,
its hard ivy, and its small windows with formal red curtains--in which
Sheila was immured. That was certainly not the palace that a beautiful
sea-princess should have inhabited. Where were the pine woods around it,
and the lofty hills, and the wild beating of the waves on the sands
below! And now it seemed strange and sad that just as he was about to go
away to the North, and breathe the salt air again, and find the strong
West winds blowing across the mountain peaks and through the furze,
Sheila, a daughter of the sea and the rocks, should be hiding herself in
obscure lodgings in the heart of the great city. Perhaps--he could not
but think at this time--if he had only the chance of speaking to her for
a couple of moments, he could persuade her to forgive him everything
that had happened, and go away with him--away from London and all the
associations that had vexed her and almost broken her heart--to the
free, and open, and joyous life on the far sea coasts of the Hebrides.

Something caused him to turn his head for a second, and he knew that
Sheila was coming along the pavement--not from, but towards the house.
It was too late to think of getting out of her way, and yet he dared not
go up to her and speak to her, as he had wished to do. She, too, had
seen him. There was a quick, frightened look in her eyes, and then she
came along, with her face pale and her head downcast. He did not seek to
interrupt her. His eyes, too, were lowered as she passed him without
taking any notice of his presence, although the sad face and the
troubled lips told of the pain at her heart. He had hoped, perchance,
for one word, for even a sign of recognition, but she went by him
calmly, gravely and silently. She went into the house and he turned away
with a weight at his heart, as though the gates of heaven had been
closed against him.



PART X.



CHAPTER XXII.

“LIKE HADRIANUS AND AUGUSTUS.”


The island of Borva lay warm and green and bright under a blue sky;
there were no white curls of foam on Loch Roag, but only the long
Atlantic swell coming in to fall on the white beach; away over there in
the South the fine grays and purples of the giant Suainabhal shone in
the sunlight amid the clear air; and the beautiful sea-pyots flew about
the rocks, their screaming being the only sound audible in the
stillness. The King of Borva was down by the shore, seated on a stool,
and engaged in the idyllic operation of painting a boat which had been
hauled up on the sand. It was the Maighdean-mhara. He would let no one
else on the island touch Sheila’s boat. Duncan, it is true, was
permitted to keep her masts and sails and seats sound and white, but as
for the decorative painting of the small craft--including a little bit
of amateur gilding--that was the exclusive right of Mr. Mackenzie
himself. For, of course, the old man said to himself, Sheila was coming
back to Borva one of these days, and she would be proud to find her own
boat bright and sound. If she and her husband should resolve to spend
half the year in Stornoway, would not the small craft be of use to her
there? and sure he was that a prettier little vessel never entered
Stornoway Bay. Mr. Mackenzie was at this moment engaged in putting a
thin line of green around the white bulwarks that might have been
distinguished across Loch Roag, so keen and pure was the color.

A much heavier boat, broad-beamed, red-hulled and brown-sailed, was
slowly coming around the point at this moment. Mr. Mackenzie raised his
eyes from his work, and knew that Duncan was coming back from
Callernish. Some few minutes thereafter the boat was run into her
moorings, and Duncan came along the beach with a parcel in his hand.
“Here wass your letters, sir,” he said. “And there iss one of them will
be from Miss Sheila, if I wass make no mistake.”

He remained there. Duncan generally knew pretty well when a letter from
Sheila was among the documents he had to deliver, and on such an
occasion he invariably lingered about to hear the news, which was
immediately spread abroad throughout the island. The old King of Borva
was not a garrulous man, but he was glad that the people about him
should know that his Sheila had become a fine lady in the South, and saw
fine things and went among fine people. Perhaps this notion of his was a
sort of apology to them--perhaps it was an apology to himself--for his
having let her go away from the island; but at all events the simple
folks about Borva knew that Miss Sheila, as they still invariably called
her, lived in the same town as the queen herself, and saw many lords and
ladies, and was present at great festivities, as became Mr. Mackenzie’s
only daughter. And naturally these rumors and stories were exaggerated
by the kindly interest and affection of the people into something far
beyond what Sheila’s father intended; insomuch that many an old crone
would proudly and sagaciously wag her head, and say that when Miss
Sheila came back to Borva strange things might be seen, and it would be
a proud day for Mr. Mackenzie if he was to go down to the shore to meet
Queen Victoria herself, and the princes and princesses, and many fine
people, all come to stay at his house and have great rejoicings in
Borva.

Thus it was that Duncan invariably lingered about when he brought a
letter from Sheila; and if her father happened to forget or be
pre-occupied, Duncan would humbly but firmly remind him. On this
occasion Mr. Mackenzie put down his paint-brush and took the bundle of
letters and newspapers Duncan had brought him. He selected that from
Sheila, and threw the others on the beach beside him.

There was really no news in the letter. Sheila merely said that she
could not as yet answer her father’s question as to the time she might
probably visit Lewis. She hoped that he was well, and that, if she could
not get up to Borva that Autumn, he would come South to London for a
time, when the hard weather set in in the North. And so forth. But there
was something in the tone of the letter that struck the old man as
being unusual and strange. It was very formal in its phraseology. He
read it twice over very carefully, and forgot altogether that Duncan was
waiting. Indeed, he was going to turn away, forgetting his work and the
other letters that still lay on the beach, when he observed that there
was a postscript on the other side of the last page. It merely said:
“Will you please address your letters now to No.--Pembroke road, South
Kensington, where I may be for some time?”

That was an imprudent postscript. If she had shown the letter to any one
she would have been warned of the blunder she was committing. But the
child had not much cunning, and wrote and posted the letter in the
belief that her father would simply do as she asked him, and suspect
nothing and ask no questions.

When old Mackenzie read that postscript he could only stare at the paper
before him.

“Will there be anything wrong, sir?” said the tall keeper, whose keen
gray eyes had been fixed on his master’s face.

The sound of Duncan’s voice startled and recalled Mr. Mackenzie, who
immediately turned, and said lightly, “Wrong? What wass you thinking
would be wrong? Oh, there is nothing wrong, whatever. But Mairi, she
will be greatly surprised, and she is going to write no letters until
she comes back to tell you what she has seen; that is the message there
will be for Scarlett--she is very well.”

Duncan picked up the other letters and newspapers.

“You may tek them to the house, Duncan,” said Mr. Mackenzie; and then he
added carelessly, “Did you hear when the steamer was thinking of leaving
Stornoway this night?”

“They were saying it would be seven o’clock or six, as there was a great
deal of cargo to get on her.”

“Six o’clock? I am thinking, Duncan, I would like to go with her as far
as Oban or Glasgow. Oh, yes, I will go with her as far as Glasgow. Be
sharp, Duncan, and bring in the boat.”

The keeper stared, fearing his master had gone mad. “You wass going with
her this ferry night?”

“Yes. Be sharp, Duncan,” said Mackenzie, doing his best to conceal his
impatience and determination under a careless air.

“But, sir, you canna do it,” said Duncan, peevishly. “You hef no things
looked out to go. And by the time we would get to Callernish, it was a
ferry hard drive, there will be to get to Stornoway by six o’clock; and
there is the mare, sir, she will hef lost a shoe--”

Mr. Mackenzie’s diplomacy gave way. He turned upon his keeper with a
sudden fierceness and with a stamp of his foot; “---- ---- you, Duncan
MacDonald! is it you or me that is the master? I will go to Stornoway
this ferry moment if I hef to buy twenty horses!” And there was a light
under the shaggy eyebrows that warned Duncan to have done with his
remonstrances.

“Oh, ferry well, sir--ferry well, sir,” he said, going off to the boat,
and grumbling as he went. “If Miss Sheila was here, it would be no going
away to Glesca without any things wis you, as if you wass a poor
traffelin tailor that hass nothing in the world but a needle and a
thimble mirover. And what will the people in Styornoway hef to say, and
sa captain of sa steamboat, and Scarlett? I will hef no peace from
Scarlett if you was going away like this. And as for sa sweerin, it is
no use sa sweerin, for I will get sa boat ready--oh, yes, I will get sa
boat ready; but I do not understand why I will get sa boat ready.”

By this time, indeed, he had got along to the larger boat, and his
grumblings were inaudible to the object of them. Mr. Mackenzie went to
the small landing-place and waited. When he got into the boat and sat
down in the stern, taking the tiller in his right hand, he still held
Sheila’s letter in the other hand, although he did not need to re-read
it.

They sailed out into the blue waters of the loch and rounded the point
of the island in absolute silence. Duncan meanwhile being both sulky and
curious. He could not make out why his master should so suddenly leave
the island, without informing any one, without even taking with him that
tall and roughly-furred black hat which he sometimes wore on important
occasions. Yet there was a letter in his hand, and it was a letter from
Miss Sheila. Was the news about Mairi, the only news in it?

Duncan kept looking ahead to see that the boat was steering her right
course for the Narrows, and was anxious, now that he had started, to
make the voyage in the least possible time, but all the same his eyes
would come back to Mr. Mackenzie, who sat very much absorbed, steering
almost mechanically, seldom looking ahead, but instinctively guessing
his course by the outlines of the shore close by. “Was there any bad
news, sir, from Miss Sheila?” he was compelled to say, at last.

“Miss Sheila!” said Mr. Mackenzie, impatiently. “Is it an infant you are
that you will call a married woman by such a name?”

Duncan had never been checked before for a habit which was common to the
whole Island of Borva.

“There iss no bad news,” continued Mackenzie, impatiently. “Is it a
story you would like to tek back to the people of Borvapost?”

“It wass no thought of such a thing wass come into my head, sir,” said
Duncan. “There iss no one in sa island would like to carry bad news
about Miss Sheila; and there iss no one in sa island would like to hear
it--not any one whatever--and I can answer for that.”

“Then hold your tongue about it. There is no bad news from Sheila,” said
Mackenzie; and Duncan relapsed into silence, not very well content.

By dint of very hard driving, indeed, Mr. Mackenzie just caught the boat
as she was leaving Stornoway harbor, the hurry he was in fortunately
saving him from the curiosity and inquiries of the people he knew on the
pier. As for the frank and good-natured captain, he did not show that
excessive interest in Mr. Mackenzie’s affairs that Duncan had feared;
but when the steamer was well away from the coast, and bearing down on
her route to Skye, he came and had a chat with the King of Borva about
the condition of affairs on the West of the island; and he was good
enough to ask, too, about the young lady that had married the English
gentleman. Mr. Mackenzie said briefly that she was very well, and
returned to the subject of the fishing.

It was on a wet and dreary morning that Mr. Mackenzie arrived in London;
and as he was slowly driven through the long and dismal thoroughfares
with their gray and melancholy houses, their passers-by under umbrellas,
and their smoke and drizzle and dirt, he could not help saying to
himself: “My poor Sheila!” It was not a pleasant place surely to live in
always, although it might be all very well for a visit. Indeed, the
cheerless day added to the gloomy forebodings in his mind, and it
needed all his resolve and his pride in his own diplomacy to carry out
his plan of approaching Sheila.

When he got down to Pembroke Road he stopped the cab at the corner and
paid the man. Then he walked along the thoroughfare, having a look at
the houses. At length he came to the number mentioned in Sheila’s
letter, and he found that there was a brass plate on the door bearing an
unfamiliar name. His suspicions were confirmed.

He went up the steps and knocked; a small girl answered the summons. “Is
Mrs. Lavender living here?” he said.

She looked for a moment with some surprise at the short, thick-set man,
with his sailor costume, his peaked cap, and his voluminous gray beard
and shaggy eyebrows; and then she said that she would ask, and what was
his name? But Mr. Mackenzie was too sharp not to know what that meant.

“I am her father. It will do ferry well if you will show me the room.”

And he stepped inside. The small girl obediently shut the door, and then
led the way up-stairs. The next minute Mr. Mackenzie had entered the
room, and there before him was Sheila, bending over Mairi and teaching
her how to do some fancy-work.

The girl looked up on hearing some one enter, and then, when she
suddenly saw her father there, she uttered a slight cry of alarm and
shrunk back. If he had been less intent on his own plans he would have
been amazed and pained by this action on the part of his daughter, who
used to run to him, on great occasions and small, whenever she saw him;
but the girl had for the last few days been so habitually schooling
herself into the notion that she was keeping a secret from him--she had
become so deeply conscious of the concealment intended in that brief
letter--that she instinctively shrank from him when he suddenly
appeared. It was but for a moment.

Mr. Mackenzie came forward with a fine assumption of carelessness and
shook hands with Sheila and with Mairi and said, “How do you do, Mairi!
And are you ferry well, Sheila? And you will not expect me this morning;
but when a man will not pay you what he wass owing, it wass no good
letting it go on in that way; and I hef come to London--”

He shook the rain-drops from his cap, and was a little embarrassed.

“Yes, I hef come to London to have the account settled up; for it wass
no good letting him go on for effer and effer. Ay, and how are you,
Sheila?”

He looked about the room; he would not look at her. She stood there
unable to speak, and with her face grown wild and pale.

“Ah, it wass raining hard all the last night, and there wass a good deal
of water came into the carriage; and it is a ferry hard bed you will
make of a third-class carriage. Ay, it wass so. And this a new house you
will hef, Sheila?”

She had been coming nearer to him, with her face down and the speechless
lips trembling. And then suddenly, with a strange sob, she threw herself
into his arms and hid her head, and burst into a wild fit of crying.

“Sheila,” he said, “what ails you? What iss all the matter?”

Mairi had covertly got out of the room.

“Oh, papa, I have left him,” the girl cried.

“Ay,” said her father, quite cheerfully--“oh, ay, I thought there was
some little thing wrong when your letter wass come to us the other day.
But it is no use making a great deal of trouble about it, Sheila, for it
is easy to have all those things put right again--oh, yes, ferry easy.
And you have left your own home, Sheila? And where is Mr. Lavender?”

“Oh, papa,” she cried, “you must not try to see him. You must promise
not to go to see him. I should have told you everything when I wrote,
but I thought you would come up and blame it all on him, and I think it
is I who am to blame.”

“But I do not want to blame any one,” said her father. “You must not
make so much of these things, Sheila. It is a pity--yes, it is a ferry
great pity--your husband and you will hef a quarrel; but it iss no
uncommon thing for these troubles to happen, and I am coming to you this
morning, not to make any more trouble, but to see if it cannot be put
right again. And I will not blame anyone; but if I wass to see Mr.
Lavender--”

A bitter anger had filled his heart from the moment he had learned how
matters stood, and yet he was talking in such a bland, matter-of-fact,
almost cheerful fashion that his own daughter was imposed upon, and
began to grow comforted. The mere fact that her father now knew all her
troubles, and was not disposed to take a very gloomy view of them, was
of itself a great relief to her. And she was greatly pleased, too, to
hear her father speak in the same light and even friendly fashion of her
husband. She had dreaded the possible results of her writing home and
relating what had occurred. She knew the powerful passion of which this
lonely old man was capable, and if he had come suddenly down South with
a wild desire to revenge the wrongs of his daughter, what might not have
happened?

Sheila sat down, and with averted eyes told her father the whole story,
ingenuously making all possible excuses for her husband, and intimating
strongly that the more she looked over the history of the past time the
more she was convinced that she was herself to blame. It was but natural
that Mr. Lavender should like to live in the manner to which he had been
accustomed. She had tried to live that way, too, and the failure to do
so was surely her fault. He had been very kind to her. He was always
buying her new dresses, jewelry, and what not, and was always pleased to
take her to be amused anywhere. All this she said, and a great deal
more; and although Mr. Mackenzie did not believe the half of it, he did
not say so.

“Ay, ay, Sheila,” he said, cheerfully; “but if everything was right like
that, what for will you be here?”

“But everything was not right, papa,” the girl said, still with her eyes
cast down. “I could not live any longer like that, and I had to come
away. That is my fault, and I could not help it. And there was a
misunderstanding between us about Mairi’s visit--for I had said nothing
about it--and he was surprised--and he had some friends coming to see us
that day--”

“Oh, well, there iss no great harm done--none at all,” said her father,
lightly, and, perhaps, beginning to think that after all something was
to be said for Lavender’s side of the question. “And you will not
suppose, Sheila, that I am coming to make any trouble by quarreling with
any one. There are some men--oh, yes, there are ferry many--that would
have no judgment at such a time, and they would think only about their
daughter, and hef no regard for any one else, and they would only make
effery one angrier than before. But you will tell me, Sheila, where Mr.
Lavender is.”

“I do not know,” she said. “And I am anxious, papa, you should not go to
see him. I have asked you to promise that to please me.”

He hesitated. There were not many things he could refuse his daughter,
but he was not sure he ought to yield to her in this. For were not these
two a couple of foolish young things, who wanted an experienced and cool
and shrewd person to come with a little dexterous management and arrange
their affairs for them?

“I do not think I have half explained the difference between us,” said
Sheila, in the same low voice. “It is no passing quarrel, to be mended
up and forgotten; it is nothing like that. You must leave it alone,
papa.”

“That is foolishness, Sheila,” said the old man, with a little
impatience. “You are making big things out of ferry little, and you will
only bring trouble to yourself. How do you know but that he wishes to
hef all this misunderstanding removed, and hef you go back to him?”

“I know that he wishes that,” she said, calmly.

“And you speak as if you wass in great trouble here, and yet you will
not go back?” he said, in great surprise.

“Yes, that is so,” she said. “There is no use in my going back to the
same sort of life; it was not happiness for either of us, and to me it
was misery. If I am to blame for it, that is only a misfortune.”

“But if you will not go back to him, Sheila,” her father said, “at least
you will go back with me to Borva.”

“I cannot do that either,” said the girl, with the same quiet yet
decisive manner.

Mr. Mackenzie rose with an impatient gesture and walked to the window.
He did not know what to say. He was very well aware that when Sheila had
resolved upon anything, she had thought it well over beforehand, and was
not likely to change her mind. And yet the notion of his daughter living
in lodgings in a strange town--her only companion a young girl who had
never been in the place before--was vexatiously absurd.

“Sheila,” he said, “You will come to a better understanding about that.
I suppose you wass afraid the people would wonder at your coming back
alone. But they will know nothing about it. Mairi she is a very good
lass; she will do anything you will ask of her; you hef no need to think
she will carry stories. And every one wass thinking you will be coming
to the Lewis this year, and it is ferry glad they will be to see you;
and if the house at Borvapost hass not enough amusement for you after
you hef been in a big town like this, you will live in Stornoway with
some of our friends there, and you will come over to Borva when you
please.”

“If I went up to the Lewis,” said Sheila, “do you think I could live
anywhere but in Borva? It is not any amusements I will be thinking
about. But I cannot go back to the Lewis alone.”

Her father saw how the pride of the girl had driven her to this
decision, and saw, too, how useless it was for him to reason with her
just at the present moment. Still, there was plenty of occasion here for
the use of a little diplomacy merely to smooth the way for the
reconciliation of husband and wife, and Mr. Mackenzie concluded in his
own mind that it was far from injudicious to allow Sheila to convince
herself that she bore part of the blame of this separation. For example,
he now proposed that the discussion of the whole question be postponed
for the present, and that Sheila should take him about London and show
him all that she had learned; and he suggested that they should then and
there get a hansom cab and drive to some exhibition or other.

“A hansom, papa?” said Sheila. “Mairi must go with us, you know.”

This was precisely what he had angled for, and he said, with a show of
impatience, “Mairi! How can we take about Mairi to every place? Mairi is
a ferry good lass--oh, yes--but she is a servant-lass.”

The words nearly stuck in his throat; and indeed had any other addressed
such a phrase to one of his kith and kin there would have been an
explosion of rage; but now he was determined to show to Sheila that her
husband had some cause for objecting to this girl sitting down with his
friends.

But neither husband nor father could make Sheila forswear allegiance to
what her own heart told her was just and honorable and generous; and
indeed her father was not displeased to see her turn around on himself
with just a touch of indignation in her voice. “Mairi is my guest,
papa,” she said. “It is not like you to think of leaving her at home.”

“Oh, it wass of no consequence,” said old Mackenzie, carelessly; indeed
he was not sorry to have met with this rebuff. “Mairi is a ferry good
girl--oh, yes--but there are many who would not forget she is a
servant-lass, and would not like to be always taking her with them. And
you hef lived a long time in London?”

“I have not lived long enough in London to make me forget my friends, or
insult them,” Sheila said, with proud lips, and yet turning to the
window to hide her face.

“My lass, I did not mean any harm whatever,” her father said, gently. “I
wass saying nothing against Mairi. Go away and bring her into the room,
Sheila, and we will see what we can do now, and if there is a theater we
can go to this evening. And I must go out, too, to buy some things; for
you are a ferry fine lady now, Sheila, and I was coming away in such a
hurry.”

“Where is your luggage, papa?” she said, suddenly.

“Oh, luggage!” said Mackenzie, looking around in great embarrassment.
“It was luggage you said, Sheila? Ay, well, it wass a hurry I wass in
when I came away--for this man will have to pay me at once whatever--and
there wass no time for any luggage--oh, no, there wass no time, because
Duncan he wass late with the boat, and the mare she had a shoe to put
on--and--and--oh, no, there was no time for any luggage.”

“But what was Scarlett about to let you come away like that?” said
Sheila.

“Scarlett? Well, Scarlett did not know; it was all in such a hurry. Now
go and bring in Mairi, Sheila, and we will speak about the theatre.”

But there was to be no theatre for any of them that evening. Sheila was
just about to leave the room to summon Mairi, when the small girl who
had let Mackenzie into the house appeared and said, “Please, m’m, there
is a young woman below who wishes to see you. She has a message to you
from Mrs. Paterson.”

“Mrs. Paterson?” Sheila said, wondering how Mrs. Lavender’s hench-woman
should have been entrusted with any such commission. “Will you please
ask her to come up?”

The girl came up-stairs, looking rather frightened and much out of
breath.

“Please, m’m, Mrs. Paterson has sent me to tell you, and would you
please come as soon as it is convenient? Mrs. Lavender has died. It was
quite sudden--only she recovered a little after the fit, and then sank;
the doctor is there now, but he wasn’t in time, it was all so sudden.
Will you please come around, m’m?”

“Yes--I shall be there directly,” said Sheila, too bewildered and
stunned to think of the possibility of meeting her husband there.

The girl left, and Sheila still stood in the middle of the room
apparently stupefied. That old woman had got into such a habit of
talking about her approaching death that Sheila had ceased to believe
her, and had grown to fancy that these morbid speculations were indulged
in chiefly for the sake of shocking bystanders. But a dead man or a dead
woman is suddenly invested with a great solemnity; and Sheila, with a
pang of remorse, thought of the fashion in which she had suspected this
old woman of a godless hypocrisy. She felt, too, that she had unjustly
disliked Mrs. Lavender--that she had feared to go near her, and blamed
her unfairly for many things that had happened. In her own way that old
woman in Kensington Gore had been kind to her; perhaps the girl was a
little ashamed of herself at this moment that she did not cry.

Her father went out with her, and up to the house with the dusty ivy and
the red curtains. How strangely like was the aspect of the house inside
to the very picture that Mrs. Lavender had herself drawn of her death!
Sheila could remember all the ghastly details that the old woman seemed
to have a malicious delight in describing; and here they were--the
shutters drawn down, the servants walking about on tip-toe, the strange
silence in one particular room. The little shriveled old body lay quite
still and calm now; and yet as Sheila went to the bedside, she could
hardly believe that within that forehead there was not some
consciousness of the scene around. Lying almost in the same position,
the old woman, with a sardonic smile on her face, had spoken of the time
when she should be speechless, sightless and deaf, while Paterson would
go about stealthily as if she was afraid the corpse would hear. Was it
possible to believe that the dead body was not conscious at this moment
that Paterson was really going about in that fashion--that the blinds
were down, friends standing some little distance from the bed, a couple
of doctors talking to each other in the passage outside?

They went into another room, and then Sheila, with a sudden shiver,
remembered that soon her husband would be coming, and might meet her and
her father there.

“You have sent for Mr. Lavender?” she said calmly to Mrs. Paterson.

“No, ma’am,” Paterson said with more than her ordinary gravity and
formality; “I did not know where to send for him. He left London some
days ago. Perhaps you would read the letter, ma’am?”

She offered Sheila an open letter. The girl saw that it was in her
husband’s handwriting, but she shrank from it as though she were
violating the secrets of the grave.

“Oh, no,” she said, “I cannot do that.”

“Mrs. Lavender, ma’am, meant you to read it, after she had had her will
altered. She told me so. It is a very sad thing, ma’am, that she did not
live to carry out her intentions; for she has been inquiring, ma’am,
these last few days, as to how she could leave everything to you, ma’am,
which she intended; and now the other will--”

“Oh, don’t talk about that!” said Sheila. It seemed to her that the dead
body in the other room would be laughing hideously, if only it could, at
this fulfillment of all the sardonic prophecies that Mrs. Lavender used
to make.

“I beg your pardon, ma’am,” Paterson said, in the same formal way, as if
she was a machine set to work in a particular direction. “I only
mentioned the will to explain why Mrs. Lavender wished you to read this
letter.”

“Read the letter, Sheila,” said her father.

The girl took it and carried it to the window. While she was there, old
Mackenzie, who had fewer scruples about such matters, and who had the
curiosity natural to a man of the world, said to Mrs. Paterson--not loud
enough for Sheila to overhear--“I suppose, then, the poor old lady has
left her property to her nephew?”

“Oh, no, sir,” said Mrs. Paterson, somewhat sadly, for she fancied she
was the bearer of bad news. “She had a will drawn out only a short time
ago, and nearly everything is left to Mr. Ingram.”

“To Mr. Ingram?”

“Yes,” said the woman, amazed to see that Mackenzie’s face, so far from
evincing displeasure, seemed to be as delighted as it was surprised.

“Yes, sir,” said Mrs. Paterson, “I was one of the witnesses. But Mrs.
Lavender changed her mind, and was very anxious that everything should
go to your daughter, if it could be done; and Mr. Appleyard, sir, was to
come here to-morrow forenoon.”

“And has Mr. Lavender got no money whatever?” said Sheila’s father, with
an air that convinced Mrs. Paterson that he was a revengeful man, and
was glad his son-in-law should be so severely punished.

“I don’t know, sir,” she replied, careful not to go beyond her own
sphere.

Sheila came back from the window. She had taken a long time to read and
ponder over that letter, though it was not a lengthy one. This was what
Frank Lavender had written to his aunt:

     “MY DEAR AUNT LAVENDER--I suppose when you read this you will think
     I am in a bad temper because of what you said to me. It is not so.
     But I am leaving London, and I wish to hand over to you, before I
     go, the charge of my house, and to ask you take possession of
     everything in it that does not belong to Sheila. These things are
     yours, as you know, and I have to thank you very much for the loan
     of them. I have to thank you for the far too liberal allowance you
     have made me for many years back. Will you think I have gone mad if
     I ask you to stop that now? The fact is, I am going to have a try
     at earning something, for the fun of the thing; and to make the
     experiment satisfactory, I start to-morrow morning for a district
     in the West Highlands, where the most ingenious fellow I know
     couldn’t get a penny loaf on credit. You have been very good to me,
     Aunt Lavender: I wish I had made better use of your kindness. So
     good-bye just now, and if ever I come back to London again, I shall
     call on you and thank you in person.

“I am your affectionate nephew,

“FRANK LAVENDER.”



So far the letter was almost business-like. There was no reference to
the causes which were sending him away from London, and which had
already driven him to this extraordinary resolution about the money he
had got from his aunt. But at the end of the letter there was a brief
postscript, apparently written at the last moment, the words of which
were these: “Be kind to Sheila. Be as kind to her as I have been cruel
to her. In going away from her I feel as though I were exiled by man and
forsaken by God.”

She came back from the window, the letter in her hand.

“I think you may read it, too, papa,” she said, for she was anxious that
her father should know that Lavender had voluntarily surrendered this
money before he was deprived of it. Then she went back to the window.

The slow rain fell from the dismal skies on the pavement, and the
railings and the now almost leafless trees. The atmosphere was filled
with a thin, white mist, and the people going by were hidden under
umbrellas. It was a dreary picture enough; and yet Sheila was thinking
of how much drearier such a day would be on some lonely coast in the
North, with the hills obscured behind the rain, and the sea beating
hopelessly on the sand. She thought of some small and damp Highland
cottage, with narrow windows, a smell of wet wood about, and the
monotonous drip from over the door. And it seemed to her that a stranger
there would be very lonely, not knowing the ways or the speech of the
simple folk, careless, perhaps, of his own comfort, and only listening
to the plashing of the sea and the incessant rain on the bushes and on
the pebbles of the beach. Was there any picture of desolation, she
thought, like that of a sea under rain, with a slight fog obscuring the
air, and with no wind to stir the pulse with the noise of waves? And if
Frank Lavender had only gone as far as the Western Highlands, and was
living in some house on the coast, how sad and still the Atlantic must
have been all this wet forenoon, with the islands of Colonsay and
Oronsay lying remote and gray and misty in the far and desolate plain of
the sea!

“It will take a great deal of responsibility from me, sir,” Mrs.
Patterson said to old Mackenzie, who was absently thinking of all the
strange possibilities now opening out before him, “if you will tell me
what is to be done. Mrs. Lavender had no relatives in London except her
nephew.”

“Oh, yes,” said Mackenzie, waking up--“oh, yes, we will see what is to
be done. There will be the boat wanted for the funeral--.” He recalled
himself with an impatient gesture. “Bless me!” he said, “what was I
saying? You must ask some one else--you must ask Mr. Ingram. Hef you not
sent for Mr. Ingram?”

“Oh, yes, sir, I have sent to him; and he will most likely come in the
afternoon.”

“Then there are the executors mentioned in the will--that wass something
you should know about--and they will tell you what to do. As for me, it
is ferry little I will know about such things.”

“Perhaps your daughter, sir,” suggested Mrs. Paterson, “will tell me
what she thinks should be done with the rooms. And as for luncheon, sir,
if you would wait--”

“Oh, my daughter?” said Mr. Mackenzie, as if struck by a new idea, but
determined, all the same, that Sheila should not have this new
responsibility thrust on her--“My daughter?--well, you was saying, mem,
that my daughter would help you? Oh, yes, but she is a ferry young
thing, and you was saying we must hef luncheon! Oh, yes, but we will not
give you so much trouble, and we hef luncheon ordered at the other house
whatever, and there is the young girl there that we cannot leave all by
herself. And you hef a great experience, mem, and whatever you do, that
will be right; do not have any fear of that. And I will come around when
you want me--oh, yes, I will come around at any time--but my daughter,
she is a ferry young thing, and she would be of no use to you
whatever--none whatever. And when Mr. Ingram comes you will send him
around to the place where my daughter is, for we will want to see him,
if he hass the time to come. Where is Shei--where is my daughter?”

Sheila had quietly left the room and stolen into the silent chamber in
which the dead woman lay. They found her standing close by the bedside,
almost in a trance.

“Sheila,” said her father, taking her hand, “come away now, like a good
girl. It is no use your waiting here; and Mairi; what will Mairi be
doing?”

She suffered herself to be led away, and they went home and had
luncheon; but the girl could not eat for the notion that somewhere or
other a pair of eyes were looking at her, and were hideously laughing at
her, as if to remind her of the prophecy of that old woman, that her
friends would sit down to a comfortable meal and begin to wonder what
sort of mourning they would have.

It was not until the evening that Ingram called. He had been greatly
surprised to hear from Mrs. Paterson that Mr. Mackenzie had been there,
along with his daughter; and he now expected to find the old King of
Borva in a towering passion. He found him, on the contrary, as bland and
as pleased as decency would admit of, in view of the tragedy that had
occurred in the morning; and, indeed, as Mackenzie had never seen Mrs.
Lavender, there was less reason why he should wear the outward semblance
of grief. Sheila’s father asked her to go out of the room for a little
while; and when she and Mairi had gone, he said, cheerfully, “Well, Mr.
Ingram, and it is a rich man you are at last.”

“Mrs. Paterson said she had told you,” Ingram said, with a shrug. “You
never expected to find me rich, did you?”

“Never,” said Mackenzie, frankly. “But it is a ferry good thing--oh,
yes, it is a ferry good thing--to hef money and be independent of
people. And you will make a good use of it, I know.”

“You don’t seem disposed, sir, to regret that Lavender has been robbed
of what should have belonged to him?”

“Oh, not at all,” said Mackenzie, gravely and cautiously, for he did not
want his plans to be displayed prematurely. “But I hef no quarrel with
him; so you will not think I am glad to hef the money taken away for
that. Oh, no; I hef seen a great many men and women, and it was no
strange thing that these two young ones, living all by themselves in
London, should hef a quarrel. But it will come all right again if we do
not make too much about it. If they like one another they will soon come
together again, tek my word for it, Mr. Ingram; and I hef seen a great
many men and women. And as for the money--well, as for the money, I hef
plenty for my Sheila, and she will not starve when I die--no, nor before
that, either; and as for the poor old woman that has died, I am ferry
glad she left her money to one that will make a good use of it, and will
not throw it away whatever.”

“Oh, but you know, Mr. Mackenzie, you are congratulating me without
cause. I will tell you how the matter stands. The money does not belong
to me at all; Mrs. Lavender never intended it should. It was meant to go
to Sheila--”

“Oh, I know, I know,” said Mr. Mackenzie with a wave of his hand. “I
wass hearing all that from the woman at the house. But how will you
know what Mrs. Lavender intended? You hef only that woman’s story for
it. And here is the will and you hef the money, and--and--” Mackenzie
hesitated for a moment, and then said with a sudden vehemence, “--and,
by Kott, you shall keep it!”

Ingram was a trifle startled. “But look here, sir,” he said, in a tone
of expostulation, “you make a mistake. I myself know Mrs. Lavender’s
intentions. I don’t go by any story of Mrs. Paterson’s. Mrs. Lavender
made over the money to me with the express injunctions to place it at
the disposal of Sheila whenever I should see fit. Oh, there’s no mistake
about it, so you need not protest, sir. If the money belonged to me, I
should be delighted to keep it. No man in the country more desires to be
rich than I; so don’t fancy I am flinging away a fortune out of
generosity. If any rich and kind-hearted old lady will send me five
thousand or ten thousand pounds, you will see how I shall stick to it.
But the simple truth is, this money is not mine at all. It was never
intended to be mine. It belongs to Sheila.”

Ingram talked in a very matter-of-fact way; the old man feared what he
said was true.

“Ay, it is a ferry good story,” said Mackenzie, cautiously, “and maybe
it is all true. And you wass saying you would like to hef money?”

“I most decidedly should like to have money.”

“Well, then,” said the old man, watching his friend’s face, “there is no
one to say that the story is true, and who will believe it? And if
Sheila wass to come to you and say she did not believe it, and she would
not have the money from you, you would have to keep it, eh?”

Ingram’s sallow face blushed crimson.

“I don’t know what you mean,” he said, stiffly. “Do you propose to
pervert the girl’s mind and make me a party to a fraud?”

“Oh, there is no use getting into an anger,” said Mackenzie, suavely,
“when common sense will do as well whatever. And there wass no
perversion and there wass no fraud talked about. It wass just this, Mr.
Ingram, that if the old lady’s will leaves you her property, who will
you be getting to believe that she did not mean to give it to you?”

“I’ll tell you now whom she meant to give it to,” said Ingram, still
somewhat hotly.

“Oh, yes--oh, yes, that iss ferry well. But who will believe it?”

“Good Heavens, sir! who will believe I could be such a fool as to fling
away this property if it belonged to me?”

“They will think you a fool to do it now--yes, that is sure enough,”
said Mackenzie.

“I don’t care what they think. And it seems rather odd, Mr. Mackenzie,
that you should be trying to deprive your own daughter of what belongs
to her.”

“Oh, my daughter is ferry well off whatever; she does not want any one’s
money,” said Mackenzie. And then a new notion struck him; “Will you tell
me this, Mr. Ingram? If Mrs. Lavender left you her property in this way,
what for did she want to change her will, eh?”

“Well, to tell you the truth, I refused to take the responsibility. She
was anxious to have this money given to Sheila, so that Lavender should
not touch it; and I don’t think it was a wise intention, for there is
not a prouder man in the world than Lavender, and I know that Sheila
would not consent to hold a penny that did not equally belong to him.
However, that was her notion, and I was the first victim of it. I
protested against it and I suppose that set her to inquiring whether the
money could not be absolutely bequeathed to Sheila direct. I don’t know
anything about it myself; but that’s how the matter stands, as far as I
am concerned.”

“But you will think it over, Mr. Ingram,” said Mackenzie, quietly--“you
will think it over, and be in no hurry. It is not every man that has a
lot of money given to him. And it is no wrong to my Sheila at all, for
she will have quite plenty; and she would be ferry sorry to take the
money away from you, that is sure enough; and you will not be hasty, Mr.
Ingram, but be cautious and reasonable, and you will see the money will
do you far more good than it would do Sheila.”

Ingram began to think that he had tied a millstone around his neck.



CHAPTER XXIII.

IN EXILE.


One evening in the olden time Lavender and Sheila and Ingram and old
Mackenzie were all sitting high up on the rocks near Borvapost,
chatting to each other, and watching the red light pale on the bosom of
the Atlantic as the sun sank behind the edge of the world. Ingram was
smoking a wooden pipe. Lavender sat with Sheila’s hand in his. The old
King of Borva was discoursing of the fishing populations around the
Western coasts, and their various ways and habits.

“I wish I could have seen Tarbert,” Lavender was saying, “but the Iona
just passed the mouth of the little harbor as she comes up Loch Fine. I
know two or three men who go there every year to paint the fishing-life
of the place. It is an odd little place, isn’t it?”

“Tarbert?” said Mr. Mackenzie--“you was wanting to know about Tarbert?
Ah, well, it is a better place now, but a year or two ago it was ferry
like hell. Oh, yes, it was, Sheila, so you need not say anything. And
this wass the way of it, Mr. Lavender, that the trawling was not made
legal then, and the men they were just like devils, with the swearing
and the drinking and the fighting that went on; and if you went into the
harbor in the open day, you would find them drunk and fighting, and some
of them with blood on their faces, for it wass a ferry wild time. It
wass many a one will say that the Tarbert-men would run down the police
boat some dark night. And what was the use of catching the trawlers now
and again, and taking their boats and their nets to be sold at Greenock,
when they went themselves over to Greenock to the auction and brought
them back? Oh, it was a great deal of money they made then: I hef heard
of a crew of eight men getting thirty pounds each man in the course of
one night, and that not seldom, mirover.”

“But why didn’t the government put it down?” Lavender asked.

“Well, you see,” Mackenzie answered with the air of a man well
acquainted with the difficulties of ruling--“you see it wass not quite
sure that the trawling did much harm to the fishing. And the
Jackal--that was the government steamer--she was not much good in
getting the better of the Tarbert-men, who are ferry good with their
boats in the rowing, and are very cunning whatever. You know, the buying
boats went out to sea, and took the herring there, and then the trawlers
they would sink their nets and come home in the morning as if they had
not caught one fish, although the boat would be white with the scales
of the herring. And what is more, sir, the government knew ferry well
that if trawling was put down, then there would be a ferry good many
murders; for the Tarbert-men, when they came home to drink whisky, and
wash the whisky down with porter, they were ready to fight anybody.”

“It must be a delightful place to live in,” Lavender said.

“Oh, but it is ferry different now,” Mackenzie continued--“ferry
different. The men they are nearly all Good Templars now, and there is
no drinking whatever, and there is reading-rooms and such things, and
the place is ferry quiet and respectable.”

“I hear,” Ingram remarked, “that good people attribute the change to
moral suasion, and that wicked people put it down to want of money.”

“Papa, this boy will have to be put to bed,” Sheila said.

“Well,” Mackenzie answered, “there is not so much money in the place as
there wass in the old times. The shopkeepers do not make so much money
as before, when the men were wild and drunk in the daytime, and had
plenty to spend when the police-boat did not catch them. But the
fishermen, they are ferry much better without the money; and I can say
for them, Mr. Lavender, that there is no better fishermen on the coast.
They are very fine, tall men, and they are ferry well dressed in their
blue clothes, and they are manly fellows, whether they are drunk or
whether they are sober. Now look at this, sir, that in the worst of
weather they will neffer tek whisky with them when they go out to the
sea at night, for they think it is cowardly. And they are ferry fine
fellows, and gentlemanly in their ways, and they are ferry good-natured
to strangers.”

“I have heard that of them on all hands,” Lavender said, “and some day I
hope to put their civility and good-fellowship to the proof.”

That was merely the idle conversation of a summer evening; no one paid
any further attention to it, nor did even Lavender himself think again
of his vaguely-expressed hope of some day visiting Tarbert. Let us now
shift the scene of this narrative to Tarbert itself.

When you pass from the broad and blue waters of Loch Fyne into the
narrow and rocky channel leading into Tarbert harbor, you find before
you an almost circular bay, around which stretches an irregular line of
white houses. There is an abundance of fishing-craft in the harbor,
lying in careless and picturesque groups, with their brown hulls and
spars sending a ruddy reflection down on the lapping water, which is
green under the shadow of each boat. Along the shores stand the tall
poles on which the fishermen dry their nets, and above these, on the
summit of a rocky crag, rise the ruins of an old castle, with the
daylight shining through the empty windows.

Beyond the houses, again, lie successive lines of hills, at this moment
lit up by shafts of sunlight that lend a glowing warmth and richness to
the fine colors of a late Autumn. The hills are red and brown with
rusted bracken and heather, and here and there the smooth waters of the
bay catch a tinge of other and varied hues. In one of the fishing-smacks
that lie almost under the shadow of the tall crag on which the castle
ruins stand, an artist has put a rough-and ready easel, and is
apparently busy at work painting a group of boats just beyond. Some
indication of the rich colors of the craft--their ruddy sails, brown
nets and bladders, and their varnished but not painted hulls--already
appears on the canvas; and by and by some vision may arise of the far
hills in their soft Autumnal tints, and of the bold blue and white sky
moving overhead. Perhaps the old man who is smoking in the stern of one
of the boats has been placed there on purpose. A boy seated on some nets
occasionally casts an anxious glance toward the painter, as if to
inquire when his penance will be over.

A small open boat, with a heap of stones for ballast, and with no great
elegance in shape of rigging, comes slowly in from the mouth of the
harbor, and is gently run alongside the boat in which the man is
painting. A fresh-colored young fellow, with voluminous and curly brown
hair, who has dressed himself as a yachtsman, calls out, “Lavender, do
you know the White Rose, a big schooner yacht?--about eighty tons, I
should think.”

“Yes,” Lavender said, without turning around or taking his eyes off the
canvas.

“Whose is she?”

“Lord Newstead’s.”

“Well, either he or his skipper hailed me just now, and wanted to know
whether you were here. I said you were. The fellow asked me if I was
going into the harbor. I said I was. So he gave me a message for
you--that they would hang about outside for half an hour or so, if you
would go out with them, and take a run up to Ardishaig.”

“I can’t, Johnny.”

“I’d take you out, you know.”

“I don’t want to go.”

“But look here, Lavender,” said the young man, seizing hold of
Lavender’s boat, and causing the easel to shake dangerously; “he asked
me to luncheon, too.”

“Why don’t you go, then?” was the only reply, uttered rather absently.

“I can’t go without you.”

“Well, I don’t mean to go.”

The younger man looked vexed for a moment, and then said, in a tone of
expostulation, “You know it is very absurd of you going on like this,
Lavender. No fellow can paint decently if he gets out of bed in the
middle of the night, and waits for daylight to rush up to his easel. How
many hours have you been at work already to-day? If you don’t give your
eyes a rest, they will get color-blind to a dead certainty. Do you think
you will paint the whole place off the face of the earth, now that the
other fellows have gone?”

“I can’t be bothered talking with you, Johnny. You’ll make me throw
something at you. Go away.”

“I think it’s rather mean, you know,” continued the persistent Johnny,
“for a fellow like you, who doesn’t need it, to come and fill the market
all at once, while we unfortunate devils can scarcely get a crust. And
there are two heron just around the point, and I have my breech-loader
and a dozen cartridges here.”

“Go away, Johnny.” That was all the answer he got.

“I’ll go out and tell Lord Newstead that you are a cantankerous brute. I
suppose he’ll have the decency to offer me luncheon, and I dare say I
could get him a shot at these heron. You are a fool not to come,
Lavender;” and so saying, the young man pushed out again, and he was
heard to go away talking to himself about obstinate idiots and greed and
the certainty of getting a shot at the heron.

When he had quite gone, Lavender who had scarcely raised his eyes from
his work, suddenly put down his palette and brushes--he almost dropped
them, indeed--and quickly pat up both his hands to his head, pressing
them on the side of his temples. The old fisherman in the boat beyond
noticed this strange movement, and forthwith caught a rope, hauled the
boat across a stretch of water, and then came scrambling over bowsprit,
lowered sails and nets, to where Lavender had just sat down.

“Wass there anything the matter, sir?” he said, with much evidence of
concern.

“My head is a little bad, Donald,” Lavender said, still pressing his
hands to his temples, as if to get rid of some strange feeling. “I wish
you would pull in to the shore and get me some whisky.”

“Oh, ay,” said the old man, hastily scrambling into the little black
boat lying beside the smack; “and it is no wonder to me that this will
come to you, sir, for I hef never seen any of the gentlemen so long at
the pentin as you--from the morning till the night; and it is no wonder
to me that this will come to you. But I will get you the whushky; it is
a grand thing, the whushky.”

The old fisherman was not long in getting ashore and running up to the
cottage where Lavender lived, and getting a bottle of whisky and a
glass. Then he got down to the boat again, and was surprised that he
could nowhere see Mr. Lavender on board the smack. Perhaps he had lain
down on the nets in the bottom of the boat.

When Donald got out to the smack he found the young man lying
insensible, his face white and his teeth clenched. With something of a
cry the old fisherman jumped into the boat, knelt down, and proceeded in
a rough-and-ready fashion to force some whisky into Lavender’s mouth.
“Oh, ay, oh, yes, it is a grand thing, the whushky,” he muttered to
himself. “Oh, yes, sir, you must hef some more; it is no matter if you
will choke. It is ferry good whushky and will do you no harm whatever;
and oh, yes, sir, that is ferry well, and you are all right again, and
you will sit quite quiet now, and you will hef a little more whushky.”

The young man looked around him. “Have you been ashore, Donald? Oh,
yes--I suppose so. Did I tumble? Well, I’m all right, now; it was the
glare of the sea that made me giddy. Take a dram for yourself, Donald.”

“There is but the one glass, sir,” said Donald, who had picked up
something of the notions of gentlefolks, “but I will just tek the
bottle;” and so, to avoid drinking out of the same glass (which was
rather a small one), he was good enough to take a pull, and a strong
pull, at the black bottle. Then he heaved a sigh, and wiped the top of
the bottle with his sleeve. “Yes, as I was saying, sir, there was none
of the gentlemen I hef effer seen in Tarbert will keep at the pentin so
long ass you; and many of them will be stronger ass you, and will be
more accustomed to it whatever. But when a man is making money--” and
Donald shook his head: he knew it was useless to argue.

“But I am not making money, Donald,” Lavender said, still looking a
trifle pale. “I doubt whether I have made as much as you have since I
came to Tarbert.”

“Oh, yes,” said Donald contentedly, “all the gentlemen will say that.
They never hef any money. But wass you ever with them when they could
not get a dram because they had no money to pay for it?”

Donald’s test of impecuniosity could not be gainsaid. Lavender laughed,
and bade him get back into the other boat.

“‘Deed I will not,” said Donald, sturdily.

Lavender stared at him.

“Oh, no; you wass doing quite enough the day already, or you would not
hef tumbled into the boat whatever. And supposing that you was to hef
tumbled into the water, you would have been trooned as sure as you wass
alive.”

“And a good job, too, Donald,” said the younger man idly looking at the
lapping green water.

Donald shook his head gravely: “You would not say that if you had
friends of yours that was trooned, and if you had seen them when they
went down in the water.”

“They say it is an easy death, Donald.”

“They neffer tried it that said that,” said the old fisherman gloomily.
“It wass one day the son of my sister wass coming over from
Saltcoats--but I hef no wish to speak of it; and that wass but one among
ferry many that I have known.”

“How long is it since you were in the Lewis, did you say?” Lavender
asked, changing the subject. Donald was accustomed to have the talk
suddenly diverted into this channel. He could not tell why the young
English gentleman wanted him continually to be talking about the Lewis.

“Oh, it is many and many a year ago, as I hef said; and you will know
far more about the Lewis than I will. But Stornoway, that is a fine big
town; and I hef a cousin there that keeps a shop, and is a very rich man
whatever, and many’s the time he will ask me to come and see him. And if
the Lord be spared, maybe I will some day.”

“You mean if you be spared, Donald.”

“Oh, ay; it is all wan,” said Donald.

Lavender had brought with him some bread and cheese in a piece of paper
for luncheon; and this store of frugal provisions having been opened
out, the old fisherman was invited to join in--an invitation he gravely
but not eagerly accepted. He took off his blue bonnet and said grace;
then he took the bread and cheese in his hand and looked around
inquiringly. There was a stone jar of water in the bottom of the boat;
that was not what Donald was looking after. Lavender handed him the
black bottle he had brought out from the cottage, which was more to his
mind. And then, this humble meal dispatched, the old man was persuaded
to go back to his post, and Lavender continued his work.

The short afternoon was drawing to a close when young Johnny Eyre came
sailing in from Loch Fyne, himself and a boy of ten or twelve managing
that crank little boat with its top-heavy sails. “Are you at work yet,
Lavender?” he said. “I never saw such a beggar. It’s getting quite
dark.”

“What sort of luncheon did Newstead give you, Johnny?”

“Oh, something worth going for, I can tell you. You want to live in
Tarbert for a month or two to find out the value of decent cooking and
good wine. He was awfully surprised when I described this place to him.
He wouldn’t believe you were living here in a cottage: I said a garret,
for I pitched it hot and strong, mind you. I said you were living in a
garret, that you never saw a razor, and lived on oatmeal-porridge and
whisky, and that your only amusement was going out at night and risking
your neck in this delightful boat of mine. You should have seen him
examining this remarkable vessel. And there were two ladies on board,
and they were asking after you, too.”

“Who were they?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t catch their names when I was introduced; but the
noble skipper called one of them Polly.”

“Oh, I know.”

“Ain’t you coming ashore, Lavender? You can’t see to work now.”

“All right! I shall put my traps ashore, and then I’ll have a run with
you down Loch Fyne if you like, Johnny.”

“Well, I don’t like,” said the handsome lad, frankly, “for it’s looking
rather squally about. It seems to me you’re bent on drowning yourself.
Before those other fellows went, they came to the conclusion that you
had committed a murder.”

“Did they, really?” Lavender said, with little interest.

“And if you go away and live in that wild place you were talking of
during the Winter, they will be quite sure of it. Why, man, you’d come
back with your hair turned white. You might as well think of living by
yourself at the Arctic Pole.”

Neither Johnny Eyre nor any of the men who had just left Tarbert knew
anything of Frank Lavender’s recent history, and Lavender himself was
not disposed to be communicative. They would know soon enough when they
went up to London. In the meantime they were surprised to find that
Lavender’s habits were very singularly altered. He had grown miserly.
They laughed when he told them he had no money, and he did not seek to
persuade them of the fact; but it was clear, at all events, that none of
them lived so frugally or worked so anxiously as he. Then, when his work
was done in the evening, and when they met alternately at each other’s
rooms to dine off mutton and potatoes, with a glass of whisky and a pipe
and a game of cards to follow, what was the meaning of those sudden fits
of silence that would strike in when the general hilarity was at its
pitch? And what was the meaning of the utter recklessness he displayed
when they would go out of an evening in their open sailing boats to
shoot sea-fowl, or make a voyage along the rocky coast in the dead of
night to wait for the dawn to show them the haunts of the seals? The
Lavender they had met occasionally in London was a fastidious
dilettante, self-possessed, and yet not disagreeable fellow; this man
was almost pathetically anxious about his work, oftentimes he was morose
and silent, and then again there was no sort of danger or difficulty he
was not ready to plunge into when they were sailing about the iron-bound
coast. They could not make it out, but the joke among themselves was
that he had committed a murder, and therefore he was reckless.

This Johnny Eyre was not much of an artist, but he liked the society of
artists; he had a little money of his own, plenty of time, and a love of
boating and shooting, and so he had pitched his tent at Tarbert, and was
proud to cherish the delusion that he was working hard and earning fame
and wealth. As a matter of fact, he never earned anything, but he had
very good spirits, and living in Tarbert is cheap.

From the moment that Lavender had come to the place, Johnny Eyre had
made him his special companion. He had a great respect for a man who
could shoot anything anywhere; and when he and Lavender came back
together from a cruise, there was no use saying which had actually done
the brilliant deeds the evidence of which was carried ashore. But
Lavender, oddly enough, knew little about sailing, and Johnny was
pleased to assume the airs of an instructor on this point; his only
difficulty being that his pupil had more than the ordinary hardihood of
an ignoramus, and was rather inclined to do reckless things even after
he had sufficient skill to know that they were dangerous.

Lavender got into the small boat, taking his canvas with him, but
leaving his easel in the fishing-smack. He pulled himself and Johnny
Eyre ashore; they scrambled up the rocks and into the road, and then
they went into the small white cottage in which Lavender lived. The
picture was, for greater safety, left in Lavender’s bed-room, which
already contained about a dozen canvases with sketches in various stages
on them. Then he went out to his friend again.

“I’ve had a long day to-day, Johnny. I wish you’d go out with me; the
excitement of a squall would clear one’s brain, I fancy.”

“Oh, I’ll go out if you like,” Eyre said, “but I shall take very good
care to run in before the squall comes, if there’s any about. I don’t
think there will be, after all. I fancied I saw a flash of lightning
about half an hour ago down in the South, but nothing has come of it.
There are some curlew about, and the guillemots are in thousands. You
don’t seem to care about shooting guillemots, Lavender?”

“Well, you see, potting a bird that is sitting on the water--” said
Lavender, with a shrug.

“Oh, it isn’t as easy as you might imagine. Of course you could kill
them if you liked, but everybody ain’t such a swell as you are with a
gun; and mind you, it’s uncommonly awkward to catch the-right moment
for firing, when the bird goes bobbing up and down on the waves,
disappearing altogether every second. I think it’s very good fun myself.
It’s very exciting when you don’t know the moment the bird will dive,
and whether you can afford to go any nearer. And as for shooting them on
the water, you have to do that, for when do you get a chance of shooting
them flying?”

“I don’t see much necessity for shooting them at any time,” said
Lavender, as he and Eyre went down to the shore again; “but I am glad to
see you get some amusement out of it. Have you got cartridges with you?
Is your gun in the boat?”

“Yes. Come along. We’ll have a run out anyhow.”

When they had pulled out again to that cockle-shell craft with its stone
ballast and big brown mainsail, the boy was sent ashore and the two
companions set out by themselves. By this time, the sun had gone down,
and a strange green twilight was shining over the sea. As they got
farther out the dusky shores seemed to have a pale mist hanging around
them, but there were no clouds on the hills, for a clear sky shone
overhead, awaiting the coming of the stars. Strange indeed was the
silence out here, broken only by the lapping of the water on the sides
of the boat and the calling of birds in the distance. Far away the
orange ray of a lighthouse began to quiver in the lambent dusk. The pale
green light on the waves did not die out, but the shadows grew darker,
so that Eyre, with his gun close at hand, could not make out his groups
of guillemots, although he heard them calling all around. They had come
out too late, indeed, for any such purpose.

Thither on those beautiful evenings, after his day’s work was over,
Lavender was accustomed to come, either by himself or with his present
companion. Johnny Eyre did not intrude on his solitude: he was
invariably too eager to get a shot, his chief delight being to get to
the bow, to let the boat drift for a while silently through the waves,
so that she might come unawares on some flock of sea-birds. Lavender,
sitting in the stern with the tiller in his hand, was really alone in
this world of water and sky, with all the majesty of the night and the
stars around him.

And on these occasions he used to sit and dream of the beautiful time
long ago in Loch Roag, when nights such as these used to come over the
Atlantic, and find Sheila and himself sailing on the peaceful waters, or
seated high up on the rocks listening to the murmur of the tide. Here
was the same strange silence, the same solemn and pale light in the sky,
the same mystery of the moving plain all around them that seemed somehow
to be alive, and yet voiceless and sad. Many a time his heart became so
full of recollections that he had almost called aloud “Sheila! Sheila!”
and waited for the sea and the sky to answer him with the sound of her
voice. In these by-gone days he had pleased himself with the fancy that
the girl was somehow the product of all the beautiful aspects of Nature
around her. It was the sea that was in her eyes, it was the fair
sunlight that shone in her face, the breath of her life was the breath
of the moorland winds. He had written verses about this fancy of his;
and he had conveyed them secretly to her, sure that she, at least, would
find no defects in them. And many a time, far away from Loch Roag and
from Sheila, lines of this conceit would wander through his brain, set
to the saddest of all music, the music of irreparable loss. What did
they say to him, now that he recalled them like some half-forgotten
voice out of the strange past?

    For she and the clouds and the breezes were one,
    And the hills and the sea had conspired with the sun
    To charm and bewilder all men with the grace
    They combined and conferred on her wonderful face.

The sea lapped around the boat, the green light on the waves grew
somehow less intense, in the silence the first of the stars came out,
and somehow the time in which he had seen Sheila in these rare and
magical colors seemed to become more and more remote:

    An angel in passing looked downward and smiled,
    And carried to heaven the fame of the child;
    And then what the waves and the sky and the sun
    And the tremulous breath of the hills had begun
    Required but one touch. To finish the whole,
    God loved her and gave her a beautiful soul.

And what had he done with this rare treasure intrusted to him? His
companions, jesting among themselves, had said that he had committed a
murder; in his own heart there was something at this moment of a
murderer’s remorse.

Johnny Eyre uttered a short cry. Lavender looked ahead, and saw that
some black object was disappearing among the waves.

“What a fright I got!” Eyre said, with a laugh. “I never saw the fellow
come near, and he came up just below the bowsprit. He came keeling over
as quiet as a mouse. I say, Lavender, I think we might as well cut it
now; my eyes are quite bewildered with the light on the water. I
couldn’t make out a kraken if it was coming across our bows.”

“Don’t be in a hurry, Johnny. We’ll put her out a bit, and then let her
drift back. I want to tell you a story.”

“Oh, all right,” he said; and so they put her head around and soon she
was lying over before the breeze, and slowly drawing away from those
outlines of the coast which showed them where Tarbert harbor cut into
the land. And then once more they let her drift, and young Eyre took a
nip of whisky and settled himself so as to hear Lavender’s story,
whatever it might be.

“You knew I was married?”

“Yes.”

“Didn’t you ever wonder why my wife did not come here?”

“Why should I wonder? Plenty of fellows have to spend half the year
apart from their wives; the only thing in your case I couldn’t
understand was the necessity for your doing it. For you know that’s all
nonsense about your want of funds.”

“It isn’t nonsense, Johnny. But now, if you like, I will tell you why my
wife has never come here.”

Then he told the story, out there under the stars, with no thought of
interruption, for there was a world of moving water around them. It was
the first time he had let any one into his confidence, and perhaps the
darkness aided his revelations; but at any rate he went over all the old
time, until it seemed to his companion that he was talking to himself,
so aimless and desultory were his pathetic reminiscences. He called her
Sheila, though Eyre had never heard her name. He spoke of her father as
though Eyre must have known him. And yet this rambling series of
confessions and self-reproaches and tender memories did form a certain
sort of narrative, so that the young fellow sitting quietly in the boat
there got a pretty fair notion of what had happened.

“You are an unlucky fellow,” he said to Lavender. “I never heard
anything like that. But you know you must have exaggerated a good deal
about it. I should like to hear her story. I am sure you could not have
treated her like that.”

“God knows how I did, but the truth is just as I have told you; and
although I was blind enough at the time, I can read the whole story now
in letters of fire. I hope you will never have such a thing constantly
before your eyes, Johnny.”

The lad was silent for some time, and then he said, rather timidly, “Do
you think, Lavender, she knows how sorry you are?”

“If she did, what good would that do?” said the other.

“Women are awfully forgiving, you know,” Johnny said, in a hesitating
fashion. “I--I don’t think it is quite fair not to give her a chance--a
chance of--of being generous, you know. You know, I think the better a
woman is, the more inclined she is to be charitable to other folks who
mayn’t be quite up to the mark, you know; and you see, it ain’t every
one who can claim to be always doing the right thing; and the next best
thing to that is to be sorry for what you’ve done and try to do better.
It’s rather cheeky, you know, my advising you, or trying to make you
pluck up your spirits; but I’ll tell you what it is, Lavender, if I knew
her well enough, I’d go straight to her to-morrow, and I’d put in a good
word for you, and tell her some things she doesn’t know; and you’d see
if she wouldn’t write you a letter, or even come and see you.”

“That is all nonsense, Johnny, though its very good of you to think of
it. The mischief I have done isn’t to be put aside by the mere writing
of a letter.”

“But it seems to me,” Johnny said, with some warmth, “that you are as
unfair to her as to yourself in not giving her a chance. You don’t know
how willing she may be to overlook everything that is past.”

“If she were, I am not fit to go near her. I couldn’t have the cheek to
try, Johnny.”

“But what more can you be than sorry for what is past,” said the younger
fellow, persistently. “And you don’t know how pleased it makes a good
woman to give her the chance of forgiving anybody. And if we were all to
set up for being archangels, and if there was to be no sort of getting
back for us after we had made a slip, where should we be? And in place
of going to her and making it all right, you start away for the Sound of
Islay; and, by Jove! won’t you find out what spending a winter under
these Jura mountains means! I have tried it and I know.”

A flash of lightning, somewhere down among the Arran hills, interrupted
the speaker, and drew the attention of the two young men to the fact
that in the East and Southeast the stars were no longer visible, while
something of a brisk breeze had sprung up.

“This breeze will take us back splendidly,” Johnny said, getting ready
again for the run to Tarbert.

He had scarcely spoken when Lavender called attention to a fishing-smack
that was apparently making for the harbor. With all sails set she was
sweeping by them like some black phantom across the dark plain of the
sea. They could not make out the figures on board of her, but as she
passed some one called out to them.

“What did he say?” Lavender asked.

“I don’t know,” his companion said; “but it was some sort of warning, I
suppose. By Jove, Lavender, what is that?”

Behind them there was a strange hissing noise that the wind brought
along to them, but nothing could be seen.

“Rain, isn’t it?” Lavender said.

“There never was rain like that,” his companion said. “That is a squall,
and it will be here presently. We must haul down the sails. For God’s
sake, look sharp, Lavender!”

There was certainly no time to lose, for the noise behind them was
increasing and deepening into a roar, and the heavens had grown black
overhead, so that the spars and ropes of the crank little boat could
scarcely be made out. They had just got the sails down when the first
gust of the squall struck the boat as with a blow of iron, and sent her
staggering forward into the trough of the sea. Then all around them came
the fury of the storm, and the cause of the sound they heard was
apparent in the foaming water that was torn and scattered abroad by the
gale. Up from the black Southeast came the fierce hurricane, sweeping
everything before it, and hurling this creaking and straining boat about
as if it were a cork. They could see little of the sea around them, but
they could hear the awful noise of it, and they knew they were being
swept along on those hurrying waves toward a coast which was invisible
in the blackness of the night.

“Johnny, we’ll never make the harbor. I can’t see a light,” Lavender
cried. “Hadn’t we better try to keep her up the loch?”

“We _must_ make the harbor,” his companion said; “she can’t stand this
much longer.”

Blinding torrents of rain were now being driven down by the force of the
wind, so that all around them nothing was visible but a wild boiling and
seething of clouds and waves. Eyre was up at the bow trying to catch
some glimpse of the outlines of the coast, or to make out some light
that would show them where the entrance to Tarbert harbor lay. If only
some lurid shaft of lightning would pierce the gloom! for they knew that
they were being driven headlong on an iron-bound coast; and, amid all
the noise of the wind and the sea, they listened with a fear that had no
words for the first roar of the waves along the rocks.

Suddenly Lavender heard a shrill scream, almost like the cry a hare
gives when it finds the dog’s fangs in its neck; and at the same moment,
amid all the darkness of the night, a still blacker object seemed to
start out of the gloom right ahead of them. The boy had no time to shout
any warning beyond that cry of despair, for with a wild crash the boat
struck on the rocks, rose and struck again, and was then dashed over by
a heavy sea, both of its occupants being thrown into the fierce swirls
of foam that were dashing in and through the rocky channels. Strangely
enough, they were thrown together; and Lavender, clinging to the
sea-weed, instinctively laid hold of his companion just as the latter
appeared to be slipping into the gulf beneath.

“Johnny,” he cried, “hold on!--hold on to me--or we shall both go in a
minute.”

But the lad had no life left in him, and lay like a log there, while
each wave that struck and rolled hissing and gurgling through the
channels between the rocks seemed to drag at him and seek to suck him
down into the darkness. With one despairing effort, Lavender struggled
to get him farther up on the slippery sea-weed, and succeeded. But his
success had lost him his own vantage ground, and he knew that he was
going down into the whirling waters beneath, close by the broken boat
that was still being dashed about by the waves.



CHAPTER XXIV.

“HAME FAIN WOULD I BE.”


Unexpected circumstances had detained Mrs. Kavanagh and her daughter in
London long after everybody else had left, but at length they were ready
to start for their projected trip into Switzerland. On the day before
their departure Ingram dined with them--on his own invitation. He had
got into the habit of letting them know when it would suit him to devote
an evening to their instruction; and it was difficult indeed to say
which of the two ladies submitted the more readily and meekly to the
dictatorial enunciation of his opinions. Mrs. Kavanagh, it is true,
sometimes dissented in so far as a smile indicated dissent, but her
daughter scarcely reserved to herself so much liberty. Mr. Ingram had
taken her in hand, and expected of her the obedience and respect due his
superior age.

And yet, somehow or other, he occasionally found himself indirectly
soliciting the advice of this gentle, clear-eyed and clear-headed young
person, more especially as regarded the difficulties surrounding Sheila;
and sometimes a chance remark of hers, uttered in a timid or careless or
even mocking fashion, would astonish him by the rapid light it threw on
these dark troubles. On this evening--the last evening they were
spending in London--it was his own affairs which he proposed to mention
to Mrs. Lorraine, and he had no more hesitation in doing so than if she
had been his oldest friend. He wanted to ask her what he should do about
the money Mrs. Lavender had left him; and he intended to be a good deal
more frank with Mrs. Lorraine than with any of the others to whom he had
spoken about the matter. For he was well aware that Mrs. Lavender had at
first resolved that he should have at least a considerable portion of
her wealth, or why should she have asked him how he would like to be a
rich man?

“I do not think,” said Mrs. Lorraine, quietly, “that there is any use in
your asking me what you should do, for I know what you will do, whether
it accords with any one’s opinion or no. And yet you would find a great
advantage in having money.”

“Oh, I know that,” he said readily, “I should like to be rich beyond
anything that ever happened in a drama; and I should take my chance of
all the evil influences that money is supposed to exert. Do you know, I
think you rich people are very unfairly treated.”

“But we are not rich,” said Mrs. Kavanagh, passing at the time. “Cecilia
and I find ourselves very poor sometimes.”

“But I quite agree with Mr. Ingram, mamma,” said Cecilia--as if any one
had had the courage to disagree with Mr. Ingram!--“rich people are
shamefully ill-treated. If you go to a theatre now you find that all the
virtues are on the side of the poor, and if there are a few vices, you
get a thousand excuses for them. No one takes account of the temptations
of the rich. You have people educated from their infancy to imagine that
the whole world was made for them, every wish they have gratified, every
day showing them people dependent on them and grateful for favors; and
no allowance is made for such a temptation to become haughty,
self-willed and overbearing. But of course it stands to reason that the
rich never have justice done them in plays and stories, for the people
who write are poor.”

“Not all of them.”

“But enough to strike an average of injustice. And it is very hard. For
it is the rich who buy books and who take boxes at the theaters, and
then they find themselves grossly abused; whereas the humble peasant,
who can scarcely read at all, and who never pays more than sixpence for
a seat in the gallery, is flattered and coaxed and caressed until one
wonders whether the source of virtue is the drinking of sour ale. Mr.
Ingram, you do it yourself. You impress mamma and me with the belief
that we are miserable sinners if we are not continually doing some act
of charity. Well, that is all very pleasant and necessary, in
moderation; but you don’t find the poor folks so very anxious to live
for other people. They don’t care much what becomes of us. They take
your port wine and flannels as if they were conferring a favor on you,
but as for _your_ condition and prospect in this world and the next,
they don’t trouble much about that. Now, mamma, just wait a moment.”

“I will not. You are a bad girl,” said Mrs. Kavanagh, severely. “Here
has Mr. Ingram been teaching you and making you better for ever so long
back, and you pretend to accept his counsel and reform yourself; and
then all at once you break out and throw down the tablets of the law and
conduct yourself like a heathen.”

“Because I want him to explain, mamma. I suppose he considers it wicked
for us to start for Switzerland to-morrow. The money we shall expend in
traveling might have dispatched a cargo of muskets to some missionary
station, so that--”

“Cecilia!”

“Oh, no,” Ingram said carelessly, and nursing his knee with both his
hands as usual, “traveling is not wicked; it is only unreasonable. A
traveler, you know, is a person who has a house in one town, and who
goes to live in a house in another town, in order to have the pleasure
of paying for both.”

“Mr. Ingram,” said Mrs. Kavanagh, “will you talk seriously for one
minute, and tell me whether we are to expect to see you in the Tyrol?”

But Ingram was not in a mood for talking seriously, and he waited to
hear Mrs. Lorraine strike in with some calmly audacious invitation. She
did not, however, and he turned around from her mother to question her.
He was surprised to find that her eyes were fixed on the ground and that
something like a tinge of color was in her face. He turned rapidly away
again. “Well, Mrs. Kavanagh,” he said, with a fine air of indifference,
“the last time we spoke about that I was not in the difficulty I am in
at present. How could I go traveling just now, without knowing how to
regulate my daily expenses? Am I to travel with six white horses and
silver bells, or trudge on foot with a wallet?”

“You know quite well,” said Mrs. Lorraine, warmly, “you know you will
not touch that money that Mrs. Lavender has left you.”

“Oh, pardon me,” he said: “I should rejoice to have it if it did not
properly belong to some one else. And the difficulty is, that Mr.
Mackenzie is obviously very anxious that neither Mr. Lavender nor Sheila
should have it. If Sheila gets it, of course she will give it to her
husband. Now, if it is not to be given to her, do you think I should
regard the money with any particular horror and refuse to touch it?
That would be very romantic, perhaps, but I should be sorry, you know,
to give my friends the most disquieting doubts about my sanity. Romance
goes out of a man’s head when the hair gets gray.”

“Until a man has gray hair,” Mrs. Lorraine said, still with some
unnecessary fervor, “he does not know that there are things much more
valuable than money. You wouldn’t touch that money just now, and all the
thinking and reasoning in the world will never get you to touch it.”

“What am I to do with it?” he said, meekly.

“Give it to Mr. Mackenzie in trust for his daughter,” Mrs. Lorraine said
promptly; and then, seeing that her mother had gone to the end of the
drawing-room to fetch something or other, she added quickly, “I should
be more sorry than I can tell you to find you accepting this money. You
do not wish to have it. You do not need it. And if you did take it, it
would prove a source of continual embarrassment and regret to you, and
no assurances on the part of Mr. Mackenzie would be able to convince you
that you had acted rightly by his daughter. Now, if you simply hand over
your responsibilities to him, he cannot refuse them, for the sake of his
own child, and you are left with the sense of having acted nobly and
generously. I hope there are many men who would do what I ask you to do,
but I have not met many to whom I could make such an appeal with any
hope. But, after all, that is only advice. I have no right to ask you to
do anything like that. You asked me for my opinion about it. Well, that
is it. But I should not have asked you to act on it.”

“But I will,” he said, in a low voice; and then he went to the other end
of the room, for Mrs. Kavanagh was calling him to help her in finding
something she had lost.

Before he had left that evening Mrs. Lorraine said to him, “We go by the
night mail to Paris to-morrow night, and we shall dine here at five.
Would you have the courage to come up and join us in that melancholy
ceremony?”

“Oh, yes,” he said; “if I may go down to the station to see you away
afterward.”

“I think if we got you so far we should persuade you to go with us,”
Mrs. Kavanagh said, with a smile.

He sat silent for a minute. Of course she could not seriously mean such
a thing. But, at all events, she would not be displeased if he crossed
their path while they were actually abroad.

“It is getting too late in the year to go to Scotland now,” he said,
with some hesitation.

“Oh, most certainly,” Mrs. Lorraine said.

“I don’t know where the man in whose yacht I was to have gone may be
now. I might spend half my holiday in trying to catch him.”

“And during that time you would be alone,” Mrs. Lorraine said.

“I suppose the Tyrol is a very nice place,” he suggested.

“Oh, most delightful!” she exclaimed. “You know, we should go around by
Switzerland, and go up by Luzerne and Zurich to the end of the Lake of
Constance. Bregenz, mamma, isn’t that the place where we hired that
good-natured man the year before last?”

“Yes, child.”

“Now, you see, Mr. Ingram, if you had less time than we--if you could
not start with us to-morrow--you might come straight down by
Schaffhausen and the steamer, and catch us up there, and then mamma
would become your guide. I am sure we should have some pleasant days
together till you got tired of us, and then you could go off on a
walking tour if you pleased. And then, you know, there would be no
difficulty about our meeting at Bregenz, for mamma and I have plenty of
time, and we should wait there for a few days, so as to make sure.”

“Cecilia,” said Mrs. Kavanagh, “you must not persuade Mr. Ingram against
his will. He may have other duties--other friends to see, perhaps.”

“Who proposed it, mamma?” said the daughter, calmly.

“I did, as a mere joke. But of course, if Mr. Ingram thinks of going to
the Tyrol, we should be most pleased to see him there.”

“Oh, I have no other friends whom I am bound to see,” Ingram said, with
some hesitation, “and I should like to go to the Tyrol. But--the fact
is--I am afraid--”

“May I interrupt you?” said Mrs. Lorraine. “You do not like to leave
London so long as your friend Sheila is in trouble. Is not that the
case? And yet she has her father to look after her. And it is clear you
cannot do much for her when you do not even know where Mr. Lavender is.
On the whole, I think you should consider yourself a little bit now,
and not get cheated out of your holidays for the year.”

“Very well,” Ingram said, “I shall be able to tell you to-morrow.”

To be so phlegmatic and matter-of-fact a person, Mr. Ingram was sorely
disturbed on going home that evening, nor did he sleep much during the
night. For the more that he speculated on all the possibilities that
might arise from his meeting these people in the Tyrol, the more
pertinaciously did this refrain follow these excursive fancies: “If I go
to the Tyrol I shall fall in love with that girl, and ask her to marry
me. And if I do so, what position should I hold, with regard to her, as
a penniless man with a rich wife?”

He did not look at the question in such a light as the opinion of the
world might throw on it. The difficulty was that she herself might
afterwards come to think of their mutual relations. True it was that no
one could be more gentle and submissive to him than she appeared to be.
In matters of opinion and discussion he already ruled with an autocratic
authority which he fully perceived himself, and exercised, too, with
some sort of notion that it was good for this clear-headed young woman
to have to submit to control. But of what avail would this moral
authority be as against the consciousness she would have that it was her
fortune that was supplying both with the means of living?

He went down to his office in the morning with no plans formed. The
forenoon passed, and he had decided on nothing. At mid-day he suddenly
bethought him that it would be very pleasant if Sheila would go and see
Mrs. Lorraine; and forthwith he did that which would have driven Frank
Lavender out of his senses--he telegraphed to Mrs. Lorraine to bring
Sheila and her father to dinner at five. He certainly knew that such a
request was a trifle cool, but he had discovered that Mrs. Lorraine was
not easily shocked by such audacious experiments on her good nature.
When he received the telegram in reply he knew it granted what he had
asked. The words were merely, “Certainly, by all means, but not later
than five.”

Then he hastened down to the house in which Sheila lived, and found that
she and her father had just returned from visiting some exhibition. Mr.
Mackenzie was not in the room.

“Sheila,” Ingram said, “what would you think of my getting married?”

Sheila looked up with a bright smile and said: “It would please me very
much--it would be a great pleasure to me; and I have expected it for
some time.”

“You have expected it?” he repeated, with a stare.

“Yes,” she said quietly.

“Then you fancy you know--” he said, or rather stammered, in great
embarrassment, when she interrupted him by saying,

“Oh yes, I think I know. When you came down every evening to tell me all
the praises of Mrs. Lorraine, and how clever she was, and kind, I
expected you would come some day with another message; and now I am very
glad to hear it. You have changed all my opinions about her, and--”

Then she rose and took both his hands, and looked frankly into his face.

“And I do hope most sincerely you will be happy, my dear friend.”

Ingram was fairly taken aback at the consequences of his own imprudence.
He had never dreamed for a moment that any one would have suspected such
a thing; and he had thrown out the suggestion to Sheila almost as a
jest, believing, of course, that it compromised no one. And here, before
he had spoken a word to Mrs. Lorraine on the subject, he was being
congratulated on his approaching marriage.

“Oh, Sheila,” he said, “this is all a mistake. It was a joke of mine. If
I had known you would think of Mrs. Lorraine, I would not have said a
word about it.”

“But it is Mrs. Lorraine?” Sheila said.

“Well, but I have never mentioned such a thing to her--never hinted it
in the remotest manner. I dare say if I had she might laugh the matter
aside as too absurd.”

“She will not do that,” Sheila said. “If you ask her to marry you, she
will marry you; I am sure of that from what I have heard, and she would
be very foolish if she was not proud and glad to do that. And you--what
doubt can you have, after all that you have been saying of late?”

“But you don’t marry a woman merely because you admire her cleverness
and kindness,” he said; and then he added suddenly: “Sheila, would you
do me a great favor? Mrs. Lorraine and her mother are leaving for the
Continent to-night. They dine at five, and I am commissioned to ask you
and your papa if you would go up with me and have some dinner with them,
you know, before they start. Won’t you do that, Sheila?”

The girl shook her head, without answering. She had not gone to any
friend’s house since her husband had left London, and that house, above
all others, was calculated to awaken in her bitter recollections.

“Won’t you, Sheila?” he said. “You used to go there. I know they like
you very much. I have seen you very well pleased and comfortable there,
and I thought you were enjoying yourself.”

“Yes, that is true,” said Sheila; and then she looked up with a strange
sort of smile on her lips. “But ‘what made the assembly shine?’”

That forced smile did not last long; the girl suddenly burst into tears,
and rose and went away to the window. Mackenzie came into the room: he
did not see his daughter was crying. “Well, Mr. Ingram, and are you
coming with us to the Lewis? We cannot be staying in London, for there
will be many things wanting the looking after in Borva, as you will know
ferry well. And yet Sheila she will not go back; and Mairi, too, she
will be forgetting the ferry sight of her own people; but if you wass
coming with us, Mr. Ingram, Sheila she would come too, and it would be
ferry good for her whatever.”

“I have brought you another proposal. Will you take Sheila to see the
Tyrol, and I will go with you?”

“The Tyrol?” said Mr. Mackenzie. “Ay, it is a ferry long way away, but
if Sheila will care to go to the Tyrol--oh, yes, I will go to the Tyrol
or anywhere if she will go out of London, for it is not good for a young
girl to be always in the one house, and no company and no variety; and I
was saying to Sheila what good will she do sitting by the window and
thinking over things, and crying sometimes. By Kott, it is a foolish
thing for a young girl and I will hef no more of it!”

In other circumstances Ingram would have laughed at this dreadful
threat. Despite the frown on the old man’s face, the sudden stamp of his
foot, and the vehemence of his words, Ingram knew that if Sheila had
turned around and said that she wished to be shut up in a dark room for
the rest of her life, the old King of Borva would have said: “Ferry
well, Sheila,” in the meekest way, and would have been satisfied if only
he could share her imprisonment with her.

“But first of all, Mr. Mackenzie, I have another proposal to make to
you,” Ingram said, and then he urged upon Sheila’s father to accept Mrs.
Lorraine’s invitation.

Mr. Mackenzie was nothing loth. Sheila was living by far too monotonous
a life. He went over to the window to her and said, “Sheila, my lass,
you was going nowhere else this evening; and it would be ferry
convenient to go with Mr. Ingram, and he would see his friends away, and
we could go to a theatre then. And it is no new thing for you to go to
fine houses and see other people; but it is new to me, and you wass
saying what a beautiful house it wass many a time, and I hef wished to
see it. And the people are ferry kind, Sheila, to send me an invitation;
and if they wass to come to the Lewis, what would you think if you asked
them to come to your house and they paid no heed to it? Now, it is after
four, Sheila, and if you wass to get ready now--”

“Yes, I will go and get ready, papa,” she said.

Ingram had a vague consciousness that he was taking Sheila up to
introduce to her Mrs. Lorraine in a new character. Would Sheila look at
the woman she used to fear and dislike in a wholly different fashion,
and be prepared to adorn her with all the graces which he had so often
described to her? Ingram hoped that Sheila would get to like Mrs.
Lorraine, and that by-and-by a better acquaintance between them might
lead to a warm and friendly intimacy. Somehow, he felt that if Sheila
would betray such a liking--if she would come to him and say honestly
that she was rejoiced he meant to marry--all his doubts would be cleared
away. Sheila had already said pretty nearly as much as that, but then it
followed what she understood to be an announcement of his approaching
marriage, and, of course, the girl’s kindly nature at once suggested a
few pretty speeches. Sheila now knew that nothing was settled; after
looking at Mrs. Lorraine in the light of these new possibilities, would
she come to him and counsel him to go on and challenge a decision?

Mr. Mackenzie received with a grave dignity and politeness the more than
friendly welcome given him by both Mrs. Kavanagh and her daughter, and
in view of their approaching tour he gave them to understand that he had
himself established somewhat familiar relations with foreign countries
by reason of his meeting with the ships and sailors hailing from those
distant shores. He displayed a profound knowledge of the habits and
customs and of the natural products of many remote lands, which were
much farther afield than a little bit of inland Germany. He represented
the island of Borva, indeed, as a sort of lighthouse from which you
could survey pretty nearly all the countries of the world, and broadly
hinted that, so far as insular prejudice being the fruit of living in
such a place, a general intercourse with diverse peoples tended to widen
the understanding and throw light on the various social experiments that
had been made by the lawgivers, the philanthropists, the philosophers of
the world.

It seemed to Sheila, as she sat and listened, that the pale, calm and
clear-eyed young lady opposite her was not quite so self-possessed as
usual. She seemed shy and a little self-conscious. Did she suspect that
she was being observed, Sheila wondered? and the reason? When dinner was
announced she took Sheila’s arm, and allowed Mr. Ingram to follow them,
protesting, into the other room, but there was much more of
embarrassment and timidity than of an audacious mischief in her look.
She was very kind indeed to Sheila, but she had wholly abandoned that
air of maternal patronage which she used to assume toward the girl. She
seemed to wish to be more friendly and confidential with her, and indeed
scarcely spoke a word to Ingram during dinner, so persistently did she
talk to Sheila, who sat next her.

Ingram got vexed. “Mrs. Lorraine,” he said, “you seem to forget that
this is a solemn occasion. You ask us to a farewell banquet, but instead
of observing the proper ceremonies, you pass the time in talking about
fancy work and music, and other ordinary, everyday trifles.”

“What are the ceremonies?” she said.

“Well,” he answered, “you need not occupy the time with crochet--”

“Mrs. Lavender and I are very well pleased to talk about trifles.”

“But I am not,” he said bluntly, “and I am not going to be shut out by a
conspiracy. Come, let us talk about your journey.”

“Will my lord give his commands as to the point at which we shall start
the conversation!”

“You may skip the Channel.”

“I wish I could,” she remarked, with a sigh.

“We shall land you in Paris. How are we to know that you have arrived
safely?”

She looked embarrassed for a moment, and then said: “If it is of any
consequence for you to know, I shall be writing in any case to Mrs.
Lavender about some little private matter.”

Ingram did not receive this promise with any great show of delight. “You
see,” he said, somewhat glumly, “if I am to meet you anywhere, I should
like to know the various stages of your route, so that I could guard
against our missing each other.”

“You have decided to go, then?”

Ingram, not looking at her, but looking at Sheila, said: “Yes;” and
Sheila, despite all her efforts, could not help glancing up with a brief
smile and blush of pleasure that were quite visible to everybody.

Mrs. Lorraine struck in with a sort of nervous haste: “Oh, that will be
very pleasant for mamma, for she gets rather tired of me at times when
we are traveling. Two women who always read the same sort of books and
have the same opinions about the people they meet, and have precisely
the same tastes in everything, are not very amusing companions for each
other. You want a little discussion thrown in.”

“And if we meet Mr. Ingram we are sure to have that,” Mrs. Kavanagh
said, benignly.

“And you want somebody to give you new opinions and put things
differently, you know. I am sure mamma will be most kind to you if you
can make it convenient to spend a few days with us, Mr. Ingram.”

“Oh, that will be delightful!” Mrs. Lorraine cried, suddenly taking
Sheila’s hand. “You will come, won’t you? We should have such a pleasant
party. I am sure your papa will be most interested: and we are not tied
to any route: we should go wherever you pleased.”

She would have gone on beseeching and advising, but she saw something in
Sheila’s face which told her that all her efforts would be unavailing.

“It is very kind of you,” Sheila said, “but I do not think I can go to
the Tyrol.”

“Then you shall go back to the Lewis, Sheila,” her father said.

“I cannot go back to the Lewis, papa,” she said simply; and at this
point Ingram, perceiving how painful the discussion was for the girl,
suddenly called attention to the hour, and asked Mrs. Kavanagh if all
her portmanteaus were strapped up.

They drove in a body down to the station, and Mr. Ingram was most
assiduous in supplying the two travelers with an abundance of everything
they could not possibly want. He got them a reading-lamp, though both of
them declared they never read in a train. He got them some
eau-de-cologne, though they had plenty in their traveling-case. He
purchased for them an amount of miscellaneous literature that would have
been of benefit to a hospital, provided the patients were strong enough
to bear it. And then he bade them good-bye at least half a dozen times
as the train was slowly moving out of the station, and made the most
solemn vows about meeting them at Bregenz.

“Now, Sheila,” he said, “shall we go the theatre?”

“I do not care to go unless you wish,” was the answer.

“She does not care to go anywhere now,” her father said; and then the
girl, seeing that he was rather distressed about her apparent want of
interest, pulled herself together and said cheerfully, “Is it not too
late to go to a theatre? And I am sure we could be very comfortable at
home. Mairi, she will think it unkind if we go to the theatre by
ourselves.”

“Mairi!” said her father, impatiently, for he never lost an opportunity
of indirectly justifying Lavender, “Mairi has more sense than you,
Sheila, and she knows that a servant-lass has to stay at home, and she
knows that she is ferry different from you; and she is a ferry good girl
whatever, and hass no pride, and she does not expect nonsense in going
about and such things.”

“I am quite sure, papa, you would rather go home and sit down and have a
talk with Mr. Ingram, and a pipe and a little whisky, than go to any
theatre.”

“What I would do! And what I would like!” said her father, in a vexed
way. “Sheila, you have no more sense as a lass that wass still at the
school. I want you to go to the theatre and amuse youself, instead of
sitting in the house and thinking, thinking, thinking. And all for
what?”

“But if one has something to be sorry for, is it not better to think of
it?”

“And what hef you to be sorry for?” said her father, in amazement, and
forgetting that, in his diplomatic fashion, he had been accustoming
Sheila to the notion that she, too, might have erred grievously and been
in part responsible for all that had occurred.

“I have a great deal to be sorry for, papa,” she said; and then she
renewed her entreaties that her two companions should abandon their
notion of going to a theatre, and resolve to spend the rest of the
evening in what she consented to call her home.

After all, they formed a comfortable little company when they sat around
the fire, which had been lit for cheerfulness rather than warmth, and
Ingram at least was in a particularly pleasant mood. For Sheila had
seized the opportunity, when her father had gone out of the room for a
few minutes, to say suddenly, “Oh, my dear friend, if you care for her,
you have a great happiness before you.”

“Why, Sheila?” he said, staring.

“She cares for you more than you can think: I saw it to-night in
everything she said and did.”

“I thought she was just a trifle saucy, do you know. She shunted me out
of the conversation altogether.”

Sheila shook her head and smiled. “She was embarrassed. She suspects
that you like her, and that I know it, and that I came to see her. If
you ask her to marry you she will do it gladly.”

“Sheila,” Ingram said, with a severity that was not in his heart, “you
must not say such things. You might make fearful mischief by putting
these wild notions into people’s heads.”

“They are not wild notions,” she said, quietly. “A woman can tell what
another woman is thinking about better than a man.”

“And am I to go to the Tyrol and ask her to marry me?” he said, with the
air of a meek scholar.

“I should like to see you married--very, very much, indeed,” Sheila
said.

“And to her?”

“Yes, to her,” the girl said frankly. “For I am sure she has great
regard for you, and she is clever enough to put value on--on--but I
cannot flatter you, Mr. Ingram.”

“Shall I send you word about what happens in the Tyrol?” he said, still
with the humble air of one receiving instructions.

“Yes.”

“And if she rejects me what shall I do?”

“She will not reject you.”

“Shall I come to you for consolation, and ask you what you meant by
driving me on such a blunder?”

“If she rejects,” Sheila said with a smile, “it will be your own fault,
and you will deserve it. For you are a little too harsh with her, and
you have too much authority, and I am surprised that she will be so
amiable under it. Because, you know, a woman expects to be treated with
much gentleness and deference before she has said she will marry. She
likes to be entreated, and coaxed, and made much of, but instead of that
you are very overbearing with Mrs. Lorraine.”

“I did not mean to be, Sheila,” he said, honestly enough. “If anything
of the kind happened it must have been in a joke.”

“Oh, no, not a joke,” Sheila said, “and I have noticed it before--the
very first evening you came to their house. And perhaps you did not know
of it yourself; and then Mrs. Lorraine she is clever enough to see that
you did not mean to be disrespectful. But she will expect you to alter
that a great deal if you ask her to marry you; that is, until you are
married.”

“Have I ever been overbearing to you, Sheila?” he asked.

“To me? Oh, no. You have always been very gentle to me; but I know how
that is. When you first knew me I was almost a child, and you treated me
like a child; and ever since then it has always been the same. But to
others--yes, you are too unceremonious; and Mrs. Lorraine will expect
you to be much more mild and amiable, and you must let her have opinions
of her own.”

“Sheila, you give me to understand that I am a bear,” he said, in tones
of injured protest.

Sheila laughed: “Have I told you the truth at last? It was no matter so
long as you had ordinary acquaintances to deal with. But now if you wish
to marry that pretty lady, you must be much more gentle if you are
discussing anything with her; and if she says anything that is not very
wise, you must not say bluntly that it is foolish, but you must smooth
it away, and put her right gently, and then she will be grateful to
you. But if you say to her: ‘Oh, that is nonsense!’ as you might say to
a man, you will hurt her very much. The man would not care--he would
think you were stupid to have a different opinion from him; but a woman
fears she is not as clever as the man she is talking to, and likes his
good opinion; and if she says something careless like that, she is
sensitive to it, and it wounds her. To-night you contradicted Mrs.
Lorraine about the h in those Italian words, and I am quite sure you
were wrong. She knows Italian much better than you do, and yet she
yielded to you very prettily.”

“Go on, Sheila, go on,” he said, with a resigned air. “What else did I
do?”

“Oh, a great many rude things. You should not have contradicted Mrs.
Kavanagh about the color of an amethyst.”

“But why? You know she was wrong; and she said herself, a minute
afterwards that she was thinking of a sapphire.”

“But you ought not to contradict a person older than yourself,” said
Sheila, sententiously.

“Goodness gracious me! Because one person is born in one year, and one
in another, is that any reason why you should say that an amethyst is
blue? Mr. Mackenzie, come and talk to this girl. She is trying to
pervert my principles. She says that in talking to a woman you have to
abandon all hope of being accurate, and that respect for the truth is
not to be thought of. Because a woman has a pretty face she is to be
allowed to say that black is white, and white pea-green. And if you say
anything to the contrary, you are a brute, and had better go and bellow
by yourself in a wilderness.”

“Sheila is quite right,” said old Mackenzie, at a venture.

“Oh, do you think so?” Ingram asked coolly. “Then I can understand how
her moral sentiment has been destroyed, and it is easy to see where she
has got a set of opinions that strike at the very roots of a respectable
and decent society.”

“Do you know,” said Sheila, seriously, “that it is very rude of you to
say so, even in jest. If you treat Mrs. Lorraine in this way--”

She suddenly stopped. Her father had not heard, being busy among his
pipes. So the subject was discreetly dropped, Ingram reluctantly
promising to pay some attention to Sheila’s precepts of politeness.

Altogether, it was a pleasant evening they had, but when Ingram had
left, Mr. Mackenzie said to his daughter, “Now, look at this Sheila.
When Mr. Ingram goes away from London, you hef no friend at all then in
the place, and you are quite alone. Why will you not come to the Lewis,
Sheila! It is no one there will know anything of what has happened here;
and Mairi she is a good girl, and she will hold her tongue.”

“They will ask me why I come back without my husband,” Sheila said,
looking down.

“Oh, you will leave that all to me,” said her father, who knew he had
surely sufficient skill to thwart the curiosity of a few simple
creatures in Borva. “There is many a girl hass to go home for a time
while her husband he is away on his business; and there will no one hef
the right to ask you any more than I will tell them; and I will tell
them what they should know--oh, yes, I will tell them ferry well--and
you will hef no trouble about it. And, Sheila, you are a good lass, and
you know that I hef many things to attend to that is not easy to write
about--”

“I do know that, papa,” the girl said, “and many a time have I wished
you would go back to the Lewis.”

“And leave you here by yourself? Why, you are talking foolishly, Sheila.
But now, Sheila, you will see how you could go back with me; and it
would be a ferry different thing for you running about in the fresh air
than shut up in a room in the middle of a town. And you are not looking
ferry well, my lass, and Scarlett she will hef to take the charge of
you.”

“I will go to the Lewis with you, papa, when you please,” she said, and
he was glad and proud to hear her decision, but there was no happy light
of anticipation in her eyes, such as ought to have been awakened by this
projected journey to the far island which she had known as her home.

And so it was that one rough and blustering afternoon the Clansman
steamed into Stornoway harbor, and Sheila, casting timid and furtive
glances toward the quay, saw Duncan standing there, with the wagonette
some little distance back under charge of a boy. Duncan was a proud man
that day. He was the first to shove the gangway on to the vessel, and he
was the first to get on board; and in another minute Sheila found the
tall, keen-eyed, brown-faced keeper before her, and he was talking in a
rapid and eager fashion, throwing in an occasional scrap of Gaelic in
the mere hurry of his words.

“Oh, yes, Miss Sheila, Scarlett she is ferry well whatever, but there is
nothing will make her so well as your coming back to sa Lewis; and we
wass saying yesterday that it looked as if it wass more as three or four
years, or six years, since you went away from sa Lewis, but now it iss
no time at all, for you are just the same Miss Sheila as we knew before;
and there is not one in all Borva but will think it iss a good day this
day that you will come back.”

“Duncan,” said Mackenzie, with an impatient stamp of his foot, “why will
you talk like a foolish man? Get the luggage to the shore, instead of
keeping us all the day in the boat.”

“Oh, ferry well, Mr. Mackenzie,” said Duncan, departing with an injured
air, and grumbling as he went, “it iss no new thing to you to see Miss
Sheila, and you will have no thocht for any one but yourself. But I will
get out the luggage--oh yes, I will get out the luggage.”

Sheila, in truth, had but little luggage with her, but she remained on
board the boat until Duncan was quite ready to start, for she did not
wish just then to meet any of her friends in Stornoway. Then she stepped
ashore and crossed the quay, and got into the wagonette; and the two
horses, whom she had caressed for a moment, seemed to know that they
were carrying Sheila back to her own country, from the speed with which
they rattled out of the town and away into the lonely moorland.

Mackenzie let them have their way. Past the solitary lakes they went,
past the long stretches of undulating morass, past the lonely sheilings
perched far upon the hills; and the rough and blustering wind blew about
them, and the gray clouds hurried by, and the old strong-bearded man who
shook the reins and gave the horses their heads could have laughed aloud
in his joy that he was driving his daughter home. But Sheila--she sat
there as one dead: and Mairi, timidly regarding her, wondered what the
impassable face and the bewildered, sad eyes meant. Did she not smell
the sweet, strong smell of the heather? Had she no interest in the great
birds that were circling in the air over by the Barbhas mountains? Where
was the pleasure she used to exhibit in remembering the curious names
of the small lakes they passed?

And lo! the rough gray day broke asunder, and a great blaze of fire
appeared in the West, shining across the moors and touching the blue
slopes of the distant hills. Sheila was getting near the region of
beautiful sunsets and lambent twilights and the constant movement and
mystery of the sea. Overhead the heavy clouds were still hurried on by
the wind; and in the South the Eastern slopes of the hills and the moors
were getting to be of a soft purple; but all along the West, where her
home was, lay a great flush of gold, and she knew that Loch Roag was
shining there, and the gable of the house at Borvapost getting warm in
the beautiful light.

“It is a good afternoon you will be getting to see Borva,” her father
said to her; but all the answer she made was to ask her father not to
stop at Garra-na-hina, but to drive straight on to Callernish. She would
visit the people at Garra-na-hina some other day.

The boat was waiting for them at Callernish, and the boat was the
Maighdean-mhara.

“How pretty she is! How have you kept her so well, Duncan?” said Sheila,
her face lighting up for the first time as she went down the path to the
bright painted little vessel that scarcely rocked in the water below.

“Bekaas we neffer knew but that it was this week or the week before, or
the next week you would come back, Miss Sheila, and you would want your
boat; but it was Mr. Mackenzie himself, it wass he that did all the
pentin of the boat; and it iss as well done as Mr. McNicol could have
done it, and a great better than that mirover.”

“Won’t you steer her yourself, Sheila?” her father suggested, glad to
see that she was at last being interested and pleased.

“Oh, yes, I will steer her, if I have not forgotten all the points that
Duncan taught me?”

“And I am sure you hef not done that, Miss Sheila,” Duncan said, “for
there wass no one knew Loch Roag better as you, not one, and you hef not
been so long away; and when you tek the tiller in your hand, it will all
come back to you, just as if you wass going away from Borva the day
before yesterday.”

She certainly had not forgotten, and she was proud and pleased to see
how well the shapely little craft performed its duties. They had a
favorable wind, and ran rapidly along the opening channels until, in due
course, they glided into the well-known bay over which, and shining in
the yellow light from the sunset, they saw Sheila’s home.

Sheila had escaped so far the trouble of meeting friends, but she could
not escape her friends in Borvapost. They had waited for her for hours,
not knowing when the Clansman might arrive at Stornoway; and now they
crowded down to the shore, and there was a great shaking of hands, and
an occasional sob from some old crone, and a thousand repetitions of the
familiar “And are you ferry well, Miss Sheila?” from small children who
had come across from the village in defiance of mothers and fathers. And
Sheila’s face brightened into a wonderful gladness, and she had a
hundred questions to ask for one answer she got, and she did not know
what to do with the number of small brown fists that wanted to shake
hands with her.

“Will you let Miss Sheila alone?” Duncan called out, adding something in
Gaelic which came strangely from a man who sometimes reproved his own
master for swearing. “Get away with you, you brats; it wass better you
would be in your beds than bothering people that wass come all the way
from Stornoway.”

Then they all went up in a body to the house, and Scarlett, who had
neither eyes, ears nor hands, but for the young girl who had been the
very pride of her heart, was nigh driven to distraction by Mackenzie’s
stormy demands for oatcake and glasses and whisky. Scarlett angrily
remonstrated with her husband for allowing this rabble of people to
interfere with the comfort of Miss Sheila; and Duncan, taking her
reproaches with great good-humor, contented himself with doing her work,
and went and got the cheese and the plates and the whisky, while
Scarlett, with a hundred endearing phrases, was helping Sheila to take
off her traveling things. And Sheila, it turned out, had brought with
her, in her portmanteau, certain huge and wonderful cakes, not of
oatmeal, from Glasgow; and these were soon on the great table in the
kitchen, and Sheila herself distributing pieces to those small folks who
were so awe-stricken by the sight of this strange dainty that they
forgot their injunctions and thanked her timidly in Gaelic.

“Well, Sheila, my lass,” said her father to her, as they stood at the
door of the house and watched the troop of their friends, children and
all, go over the hill to Borvapost in the red light of the sunset, “and
are you glad to be home again?”

“Oh, yes,” she said, heartily enough, and Mackenzie thought that things
were going on favorably.

“You hef no such sunsets in the South, Sheila,” he observed, loftily
casting his eyes around, although he did not usually pay much attention
to the picturesqueness of his native island. “Now look at the light on
Suainabhal. Do you see the red on the water down there, Sheila? Oh, yes;
I thought you would say it wass ferry beautiful--it is a ferry good
color on the water. The water looks ferry well when it is red. You hef
no such things in London--not any, Sheila. Now, we must go in-doors, for
these things you can see any day here, and we must not keep our friends
waiting.”

An ordinary, dull-witted or careless man might have been glad to have a
little quiet after so long and tedious a journey, but Mr. Mackenzie was
no such person. He had resolved to guard against Sheila’s first evening
at home being in any way languid or monotonous, and so he had asked one
or two of his especial friends to remain and have supper with them.
Moreover, he did not wish the girl to spend the rest of the evening out
of doors when the melancholy time of the twilight drew over the hills,
and the sea began to sound remote and sad. Sheila should have a
comfortable evening in-doors; and he would himself, after supper, when
the small parlor was well lit up, sing for her one or two songs, just to
keep the thing going, as it were. He would let nobody else sing. These
Gaelic songs were not the sort of music to make people cheerful. And if
Sheila herself would sing for them?

And Sheila did. And her father chose the songs for her, and they were
the blithest he could find, and the girl seemed really in excellent
spirits. They had their pipes and hot whisky and water in this little
parlor; Mr. Mackenzie explaining that although his daughter was
accustomed to spacious and gilded drawing-rooms where such a thing was
impossible, she would do anything to make her friends welcome and
comfortable, and they might fill their glasses and their pipes with
impunity. And Sheila sang again and again, all cheerful and sensible
English songs, and she listened to the odd jokes and stories her
friends had to tell her; and Mackenzie was delighted with the success of
his plans and precautions. Was not her very appearance now a triumph?
She was laughing, smiling, talking to every one; he had not seen her so
happy for many a day.

In the midst of it all, when the night had come apace, what was this
wild skirl outside that made everybody start? Mackenzie jumped to his
feet, with an angry vow in his heart that if this “teffle of a piper,
John” should come down the hill playing “Lochaber no more,” or “Cha til
mi tuladh,” or any other mournful tune, he would have his chanter broken
in a thousand splinters over his head. But what was the wild air that
came nearer and nearer, until John marched into the house, and came,
with ribbons and pipes, to the very door of the room, which was flung
open to him? Not a very appropriate air, perhaps, for it was

    The Campbells are coming, oho! oho!
    The Campbells are coming, oho! oho!
    The Campbells are coming to bonny Lochleven.
    The Campbells are coming, oho! oho!

But it was, to Mr. Mackenzie’s rare delight, a right good joyous tune,
and it was meant as a welcome to Sheila; and forthwith he caught the
white-haired piper by the shoulder, and dragged him in, and said: “Put
down your pipes, and come into the house, John--put down your pipes and
tek off your bonnet, and we shall hef a good dram together this night,
by Kott! And it is Sheila herself will pour out the whisky for you,
John; and she is a good Highland girl, and she knows the piper was never
born that could be hurt by whisky, and the whisky was never yet made
that could hurt a piper. What do you say to that, John?”

John did not answer; he was standing before Sheila with his bonnet in
his hand, but with his pipes still proudly over his shoulder. And he
took the glass from her and called out “Shlainte!” and drained every
drop of it out, to welcome Mackenzie’s daughter home.



PART XI.



CHAPTER XXV.

THE VOYAGE OF THE PHŒBE.


It was a cold morning in January, and up here among the Jura hills the
clouds had melted into a small and chilling rain that fell ceaselessly.
The great “Paps of Jura” were hidden in the mist; even the valleys near
at hand were vague and dismal in the pale fog; and the Sound of Islay,
lying below, and the far sea beyond, were gradually growing
indistinguishable. In a rude little sheiling, built on one of the
plateaus of rock, Frank Lavender sat alone, listening to the plashing of
the rain without. A rifle that he had just carefully dried lay across
his knees. A brace of deer-hounds had stretched out their paws on the
earthen floor, and had put their long noses between their paws to
produce a little warmth. It was, indeed, a cold and damp morning, and
the little hut was pervaded with a smell of wet wood and also of peat
ashes, for one of the gillies had tried to light a fire, but the peats
had gone out.

It was Lavender who had let the fire go out. He had forgotten it. He was
thinking of other things--of a song, mostly, that Sheila used to sing,
and lines of it went hither and thither through his brain as he recalled
the sound of her voice:

    Haste to thy barque,
      Coastwise steer not:
    Sail wide of Mull,
      Jura near not!

    Farewell, she said,
      Her last pang subduing,
    Brave Mac Intyre,
      Costly thy wooing!

There came into the sheiling a little, wiry old keeper with shaggy gray
hair and keen black eyes. “Cosh bless me!” he said, petulantly, as he
wrung the rain out of his bonnet, “you hef let the peats go out, Mr.
Lavender, and who will tell when the rain will go off?”

“It can’t last long, Neil. It came on too suddenly for that. I thought
we were going to get one fine day when we started this morning, but you
don’t often manage that here, Neil.”

“Indeed, no, sir,” said Neil, who was not a native of Jura, and was as
eager as any one to abuse the weather prevailing there: “it is a ferry
bad place for the weather. If the Almichty were to tek the sun away a’
tagether, it would be days and weeks and days before you would find it
oot. But it iss a good thing, sir, you will get the one stag before the
mist came down; and he is not a stag, mirover, but a fine big hart, and
a royal, too, and I hef not seen many finer in the Jura hills. Oh, yes,
sir, when he wass crossing the burn I made out his points ferry well,
and I wass saying to myself, ‘Now, if Mr. Lavender will get this one, it
will be a grand day this day, and it will make up for many a wet day
among the hills.’”

“They haven’t come back with the pony yet?” Lavender asked, laying down
his gun and going to the door of the hut.

“Oh, no,” Neil said, following him. “It iss a long way to get the powny,
and maybe they will stop at Mr. MacDougall’s to hef a dram. And Mr.
MacDougall was saying to me yesterday that the ferry next time you wass
shoot a royal he would hef the horns dressed and the head stuffed to
make you a present, for he is ferry proud of the picture of Miss
Margaret; and he will say to me many’s sa time that I wass to gif you
the ferry best shooting, and not to be afraid of disturbing sa deer when
you had a mind to go out. And I am not sure, sir, we will not get
another stag to tek down with us yet, if the wind would carry away the
mist, for the rain that is nearly on now; and as you are ferry wet, sir,
already, it is no matter if we go down through the glen and cross the
water to get the side of Ben Bheulah.”

“That is true enough, Neil, and I fancy the clouds are beginning to
lift. And there they come with the pony.”

Neil directed his glass toward a small group that appeared to be coming
up the side of the valley below them, and that was still at some
considerable distance.

“Cosh bless me!” he cried, “what is that? There iss two strangers--oh
yes, indeed, and mirover--and there is one of them on the pony.”

Lavender’s heart leaped within him. If they were strangers they were
coming to see him, and how long was it since he had seen the face of any
of his old friends and companions? It seemed to him years.

“Is it a man or a woman on the pony, Neil?” he asked hurriedly, with
some wild fancy flashing through his brain. “Give me the glass.”

“Oh, it is a man,” said Neil, handing over the glass, “What would a
woman be doing up sa hills on a morning like this?”

The small party below came up out of the gray mist, and Lavender in the
distance heard a long view-halloo.

“Cott tam them!” said Neil, at a venture. “There is not a deer on Benan
Cabrach that will not hear them.”

“But if these strangers are coming to see me, I fear we must leave the
deer alone, Neil.”

“Ferry well, sir, ferry well, sir; it is a bad day whatever, and it is
not many strangers will come to Jura. I suppose they hef come to Port
Ascaig, and taken the ferry across the sound.”

“I am going to meet them on chance,” Lavender said; and set off along
the side of the deep valley, leaving Neil with the dogs and the rifles.

“Hillo, Johnny!” he cried, in amazement, when he came upon the advancing
group. “And you too, Mosenberg! By Jove, how did you ever get here?”

There was an abundance of handshaking and incoherent questions when
young Mosenberg jumped down on the wet heather, and the three friends
had actually met. Lavender scarcely knew what to say, these two faces
were so strange, and yet so familiar--their appearance there was so
unexpected, his pleasure so great.

“I can’t believe my eyes yet, Johnny. Why did you bring him here? Don’t
you know what you’ll have to put up with in this place? Well, this does
do a fellow’s heart good! I am awfully pleased to see you, and it is
very kind of you.”

“But I am very cold,” the handsome Jew boy said, swinging his arms and
stamping his feet. “Wet boats, wet carts, wet roads, wet saddles, and
everywhere cold, cold, cold.”

“And he won’t drink whisky; so what is he to expect?” Johnny Eyre said.

“Come along up to a little hut here,” Lavender said, “and we’ll try to
get a fire lit. And I have some brandy there.”

“And you have plenty of water to mix with it,” said the boy, looking
mournfully around. “Very good. Let us have the fire and the warm drink;
and then--you know the story of the music that was frozen in the
trumpet, and that all came out when it was thawed at a fire? When we get
warm we have very great news to tell you--oh, very great news indeed.”

“I don’t want any news--I want your company. Come along, like good
fellows, and leave the news for afterward. The men are going on with a
pony to fetch a stag that has been shot; they won’t be back for an hour,
I suppose, at the soonest. This is the sheiling up here where the brandy
is secreted. Now, Neil, help us to get up a blaze. If any of you have
newspapers, letters, or anything that will set a few sticks on fire--”

“I have a box of wax matches,” Johnny said, “and I know how to light a
peat-fire better than any man in the country.”

He was not very successful at first, for the peats were a trifle damp;
but in the end he conquered, and a very fair blaze was produced,
although the smoke that had filled the sheiling had nearly blinded
Mosenberg’s eyes. Then Lavender produced a small tin pot and a solitary
tumbler, and they boiled some water and lit their pipes, and made
themselves seats of peat around the fire. All the while a brisk
conversation was going on, some portions of which astonished Lavender
considerably.

For months back, indeed, he had almost cut himself off from the
civilized world. His address was known to one or two persons, and
sometimes they sent him a letter; but he was a bad correspondent. The
news of his aunt’s death did not reach him till a fortnight after the
funeral, and then it was by a singular chance that he noticed it in the
columns of an old newspaper. “That is the only thing I regret about
coming away,” he was saying to those two friends of his. “I should like
to have seen the old woman before she died; she was very kind to me.”

“Well,” said Johnny Eyre, with a shake of the head, “that is all very
well; but a mere outsider like myself--you see, it looks to me a little
unnatural that she should go and leave her money to a mere friend, and
not to her own relations.”

“I am very glad she did,” Lavender said. “I had as good as asked her to
do it long before. And Ted Ingram will make a better use of it than I
ever did.”

“It is all very well for you to say so now, after all this fuss about
those two pictures; but suppose she had left you to starve?”

“Never mind suppositions,” Lavender said, to get rid of the subject.
“Tell me, Mosenberg, how is that overture of yours getting on?”

“It is nearly finished,” said the lad, with a flush of pleasure, “and I
have shown it in rough to two or three good friends, and--shall I tell
you?--it may be performed at the Crystal Palace. But that is a chance.
And the fate of it, that is also a chance. But you--you have succeeded
all at once, and brilliantly, and all the world is talking of you and
yet you go away among mountains, and live in the cold and wet, and you
might as well be dead.”

“What an ungrateful boy it is!” Lavender cried. “Here you have a
comfortable fire, and hot brandy-and-water, and biscuits, and cigars if
you wish; and you talk about people wishing to leave these things and
die! Don’t you know that in half an hour’s time you will see that pony
come back with a deer--a royal hart--slung across it; and won’t you be
proud when MacDougall takes you out and gives you a chance of driving
home such a prize? Then you will carry the horns back to London, and you
will have them put up, and you will discourse to your friends of the
span and the pearls of the antlers and the crockets. To-night after
supper you will see the horns and the head brought into the room, and if
you fancy that you yourself shot the stag, you will see that this life
among the hills has its compensations.”

“It is a very cold life,” the lad said, passing his hands over the fire.

“That is because you won’t drink anything,” said Johnny Eyre, against
whom no such charge could be wrought. “And don’t you know that the
drinking of whisky is a provision invented by Nature to guard human
beings like you and me from cold and wet? You are flying in the face of
Providence if you don’t drink whisky among the Scotch hills.”

“And have you people to talk to?” said Mosenberg, looking at Lavender
with a vague wonder, for he could not understand why any man could
choose such a life.

“Not many.”

“What do you do on the long evenings when you are by yourself?”

“Well, it isn’t very cheerful, but it does a man good service sometimes
to be alone for a time; it lets him find himself out.”

“You ought to be up in London, to hear all the praise of the people
about your two pictures. Every one is talking of them; the newspapers,
too. Have you seen the newspapers?”

“One or two. But all I know of these two pictures is derived from offers
forwarded me by the secretary at the exhibition rooms. I was surprised
when I got them at first. But never mind them. Tell me more about the
people one used to know. What about Ingram now? Has he cut the Board of
Trade? Does he drive in the Park? Is he still in his rooms in Sloane
Street?”

“Then you have had no letters from him?” Mosenberg said, with some
surprise.

“No. Probably he does not know where I am. In any case--”

“But he is going to be married,” Mosenberg cried. “You did not know
that. And to Mrs. Lorraine.”

“You don’t say so? Why, he used to hate her; but that was before he knew
her. To Mrs. Lorraine?”

“Yes. And it is amusing. She is so proud of him. And if he speaks at the
table she will turn away from you, as if you were not worth listening
to, and have all her attention for him. And whatever is his opinion, she
will defend that, and you must not disagree with her. Oh, it is very
amusing!” and the lad laughed and shook back his curls.

“It is an odd thing,” Lavender said: “but many a time, long before
Ingram ever saw Mrs. Lorraine, I used to imagine these two married. I
knew she was just the sort of clever, independent, clear-headed woman to
see Ingram’s strong points, and rate them at their proper value. But I
never expected anything of the sort, of course; for I had always a
notion that some day or other he would be led into marrying some pretty,
gentle, soft-headed young thing, whom he would have to take through
life in a protecting sort of way, and who would never be a real
companion for him. So he is to marry Mrs. Lorraine, after all. Well, he
won’t become a man of fashion, despite all his money. He is sure to
start a yacht, for one thing. And they will travel a deal. I suppose I
must write and congratulate him.”

“I met them on the day I went to see your picture,” Mosenberg said.
“Mrs. Lorraine was looking at it a long time, and at last she came back
and said, ‘The sea in that picture makes me feel cold.’ That was a
compliment, was it not? Only you cannot get a good view very often, for
the people will not stand back from the pictures. But every one asks why
you do not keep these two over for the Academy.”

“I shall have other two for the Academy, I hope.”

“Commissions?” Johnny asked with a practical air.

“No. I have had some offers, but I prefer to leave the thing open. But
you have not told me how you got here yet,” Lavender added, continually
breaking away from the subject of the pictures.

“In the Phœbe,” Eyre said.

“Is she in the bay?”

“Oh, no. We had to leave her at Port Ellen to get a few small repairs
done, and Mosenberg and I came on by road to Port Ascaig. Mind you, she
was quite small enough to come round the Mull at this time of year.”

“I should think so. What’s your crew?”

“Two men and a lad, besides Mosenberg and myself; and I can tell you we
had our hands full sometimes.”

“You’ve given up open boats with stone ballast, now,” Lavender said with
a laugh.

“Rather. But it was no laughing matter,” Eyre added, with a sudden
gravity coming over his face. “It was the narrowest squeak I ever had,
and I don’t know now how I clung on to that place till the day broke.
When I came to myself and called out for you, I never expected to hear
you answer; and in the darkness, by Jove! your voice sounded like the
voice of a ghost. How you managed to drag me so far up that sea-weed I
can’t imagine; and then the dipping down and under the boat--”

“It was that dip down that saved me,” Lavender said. “It brought me to,
and made me scramble like a rat up the other side as soon as I felt my
hands on the rock again. It was a narrow squeak, as you say, Johnny. Do
you remember how black the place looked when the first light began to
show in the sky? and how we kept each other awake by calling? and how
you called ‘Hurrah!’ when we heard Donald? and how strange it was to
find ourselves so near the mouth of the harbor, after all? During the
night I fancied we must have been thrown on Battle Island, you know.”

“I do not like to hear about that,” young Mosenberg said. “And always,
if the wind came on strong or if the skies grew black, Eyre would tell
me all the story over again when we were in the boat coming down by
Arran and Cantyre. Let us go out and see if they come with the deer. Has
the rain stopped?”

At this moment, indeed, sounds of the approaching party were heard, and
when Lavender and his friends went to the door the pony, with the deer
slung on to him, was just coming up. It was a sufficiently picturesque
sight--the rude little sheiling with its peat fire, the brown and wiry
gillies, the slain deer roped on to the pony, and all around the wild
magnificence of hill and valley clothed in moving mists. The rain had
indeed cleared off, but these pale white fogs still clung around the
mountains and rendered the valleys vague, and Lavender informed Neil
that he would make no further effort that day; he gave the men a glass
of whisky all round, and then, with his friends, he proceeded to make
his way down to the small white cottage fronting the Sound of Islay,
which had been his home for months back.

Just before setting off, however, he managed to take young Mosenberg
aside for a moment. “I suppose,” he said, with his eyes cast down--“I
suppose you heard something from Ingram of--of Sheila?”

“Yes,” said the lad, rather bashfully. “Ingram had heard from her. She
was still in Lewis.”

“And well?”

“I think so--yes,” said Mosenberg; and then he added, with some
hesitation, “I should like to speak to you about it when we have the
opportunity. There were some things that Mr. Ingram said--I am sure he
would like you to know them.”

“There was no message to me?” Lavender asked, in a low voice.

“From her? No. But it was the opinion of Mr. Ingram--”

“Oh, never mind that, Mosenberg,” said the other, turning away wearily.
“I suppose you won’t find it too fatiguing to walk from here back? It
will warm you, you know, and the old woman down there will get you
something to eat. You may make it luncheon or dinner, as you like, for
it will be nearly two by the time you get down. Then you can go for a
prowl around the coast: if it does not rain I shall be working as long
as there is daylight. Then we can have a dinner and supper combined in
the evening. You will get venison and whisky.”

“Don’t you ever have anything else?”

“Oh, yes, the venison will be in honor of you: I generally have mutton
and whisky.”

“Look here, Lavender,” the lad said, with considerable confusion, “the
fact is, Eyre and I--we brought you a few things in the Phœbe--a
little wine, you know, and some such things. To-morrow, if you could get
a passenger to go down to Port Ellen--but no. I suppose we must go and
work the boat up the sound.”

“If you do that, I must go with you,” Lavender said, “for the chances
are that your skipper doesn’t know the currents in the sound; and they
are rather peculiar, I can tell you. So Johnny and you have brought me
some wine? I wish we had it now, to celebrate your arrival, for I am
afraid I can offer you nothing but whisky.”

The old Highland woman who had charge of the odd little cottage in which
Lavender lived was put into a state of violent consternation by the
arrival of these two strangers; but as Lavender said he would sleep on a
couple of chairs and give his bed to Mosenberg and the sofa to Eyre, and
as Mosenberg declared that the house was a marvel of neatness and
comfort, and as Johnny assured her that he had frequently slept in a
herring-barrel, she grew gradually pacified. There was a little
difficulty about plates and knives and forks at luncheon, which
consisted of cold mutton and two bottles of ale that had somehow been
overlooked; but all these minor inconveniences were soon smoothed over,
and then Lavender, carrying his canvas under his arm and a portable
easel over his shoulder, went down to the shore, bade his companions
good-bye for a couple of hours, and left them to explore the winding and
rocky coast of Jura.

In the evening they had dinner in a small parlor, which was pretty well
filled with a chest of drawers, a sofa and a series of large canvases.
There was a peat-fire burning in the grate and two candles on the table,
but the small room did not get oppressively hot, for each time the door
was opened a draught of cold sea-air rushed in from the passage,
sometimes blowing out one of the candles, but always sweetening the
atmosphere. Then Johnny had some fine tobacco with him, and Mosenberg
had brought Lavender a present of a meerschaum pipe, and presently a
small kettle of hot water was put in requisition, and the friends drew
round the fire.

“Well, it _is_ good of you to come and see a fellow like this,” Lavender
said, with a very apparent and hearty gratitude in his face. “I can
scarcely believe my eyes that it is true. And can you make any stay,
Johnny? Have you brought your colors with you?”

“Oh, no; I don’t mean to work,” Johnny said. “I have always had a fancy
for a mid-winter cruise. It’s a hardening sort of thing, you know. You
soon get used to it, don’t you, Mosenberg?” And Johnny grinned.

“Not yet--I may afterward,” said the lad. “But at present this is more
comfortable than being on deck at night when it rains and you know not
where you are going.”

“But that was only your own perversity. You might just as well have
stopped in the cabin, and played that cornopean, and made yourself warm
and comfortable. Really, Lavender, it’s very good fun, and if you only
watch for decent weather you can go anywhere. Fancy our coming around
the Mull with the Phœbe yesterday! And we had quite a pleasant trip
across to Islay.”

“And where do you propose to go after leaving Jura?” Lavender asked.

“Well, you know the main object of our cruise was to come and see you.
But if you care to come with us for a few days, we will go wherever you
like.”

“If you are going farther North, I must go with you,” Lavender said,
“for you are bound to drown yourself some day, Johnny, if some one
doesn’t take care of you.”

There was no deep design in this project of Johnny’s, but he had had a
vague impression that Lavender might like to go North, if only to have a
passing glimpse at the island he used to know.

“One of my fellows is well acquainted with the Hebrides,” he said. “If
you don’t think it too much of a risk, I should like it myself, for
those Northern islands must look uncommonly wild and savage in Winter,
and one likes to have new experiences. Fancy, Mosenberg, what material
you will get for your next piece; it will be full of storms and seas and
thunder. You know how the wind whistles through the overture to the
_Diamants de la Couronne_.”

“It will whistle through us,” said the boy, with an anticipatory shiver,
“but I do not mind the wind if it is not wet. It is the wet that makes a
boat so disagreeable. Everything is so cold and clammy; you can touch
nothing, and when you put your head up in the morning, pah! a dash of
rain and mist and salt water altogether gives you a shock.”

“What made you come around the Mull, Johnny, instead of cutting through
the Crinan?” Lavender asked of his friend.

“Well,” said the youth, modestly, “nothing, except that two or three men
said we couldn’t do it.”

“I thought so,” Lavender said. “And I see I must go with you, Johnny.
You must play no more of these tricks. You must watch your time, and run
her quietly up the Sound of Jura to Crinan; and watch again, and get her
up to Oban; and watch again, and get her up to Loch Sligachan. Then you
may consider. It is quite possible you may have fine, clear weather if
there is a moderate Northeast wind blowing--”

“A Northeast wind!” Mosenberg cried.

“Yes,” Lavender replied, confidently, for he had not forgotten what
Sheila used to teach him, “that is your only chance. If you have been
living in fog and rain for a fortnight you will never forget your
gratitude to a Northeaster when it suddenly sets in to lift the clouds
and show you a bit of blue sky. But it may knock us about a bit in
crossing the Minch.”

“We have come around the Mull, and we can go anywhere,” Johnny said.
“I’d back the Phœbe to take you safely to the West Indies; wouldn’t
you, Mosenberg?”

“Oh, no,” the boy said. “I would back her to take you, not to take me.”

Two or three days thereafter the Phœbe was brought up the sound from
Port Ellen, and such things as were meant as a present to Lavender were
landed. Then the three friends embarked, for the weather had cleared
considerably, and there was indeed, when they set out, a pale wintry
sunshine gleaming on the sea and on the white deck and spars of the
handsome little cutter which Johnny commanded. The Phœbe was
certainly a great improvement on the crank craft in which he used to
adventure his life on Loch Fyne; she was big enough, indeed, to give
plenty of work to everybody on board of her; and when she had once got
into harbor and things put to rights, her chief stateroom proved a jolly
and comfortable little place enough. They had some pleasant evenings in
this way after the work of the day was over, when the swinging lamps
shone down on the table that was furnished with glasses, bottles, cigars
and cards. Johnny was very proud of being in command and of his exploit
in doubling the Mull. He was continually consulting charts and
compasses, and going on deck to communicate his last opinion to his
skipper. Mosenberg, too, was getting better accustomed to the hardships
of yachting, and learning how to secure a fair amount of comfort.
Lavender never said that he wished to go near Lewis, but there was a
tacit understanding that their voyage should tend in that direction.

They had a little rough weather on reaching Skye, and in consequence
remained in harbor a couple of days. At the end of that time a happy
opportunity presented itself of cutting across the Little Minch--the
Great Minch was considered a trifle risky--to Loch Maddy in North Uist.
They were now in the Western Islands, and strange indeed was the
appearance which the bleak region presented at this time of the
year--the lonely coast, the multitudes of wild fowl, the half-savage,
wondering inhabitants, the treeless wastes and desolate rocks. What
these remote and melancholy islands might have looked like in fog and
misty rain could only be imagined, however, for, fortunately, the
longed-for Northeaster had set in, and there were wan glimmerings of
sunshine across the sea and the solitary shores. They remained in Loch
Maddy but a single day, and then, still favored by a brisk Northeast
breeze, made their way through the Sound of Harris and got to leeward of
the conjoint island of Harris and Lewis. There, indeed, were the great
mountains which Lavender had seen many a time from the North, and now
they were close at hand, and dark and forbidding. The days were brief at
this time, and they were glad to put into Loch Resort, which Lavender
had once seen in company with old Mackenzie when they had come into the
neighborhood on a salmon-fishing excursion.

The Phœbe was at her anchorage, the clatter on deck over, and Johnny
came below to see what sort of repast could be got for the evening. It
was not a very grand meal, but he said: “I propose that we have a bottle
of champagne to celebrate our arrival at the island of Lewis. Did you
ever see anything more successfully done? And now, if this wind
continues, we can creep up to-morrow to Loch Roag, Lavender, if you
would like to have a look at it.”

For a moment the color forsook Lavender’s face. “No, thank you, Johnny,”
he was about to say, when his friend interrupted him: “Look here,
Lavender; I know you would like to see the place, and you can do it
easily without being seen. No one knows me. When we anchor in the bay, I
suppose Mr. Mackenzie--as is the hospitable and praiseworthy custom in
these parts--will send a message to the yacht and ask us to dine with
him. I, at any rate, can go up and call on him, and make excuses for
you; and then I could tell you, you know--” Johnny hesitated.

“Would you do that for me, Johnny?” Lavender said. “Well, you are a good
fellow!”

“Oh,” Johnny said lightly, “it’s a capital adventure for me; and perhaps
I could ask Mackenzie--Mr. Mackenzie; I beg your pardon--to let me have
two or three clay pipes, for this briar-root is rapidly going to the
devil.”

“He will give you anything he has in the house; you never saw such a
hospitable fellow, Johnny. But you must take great care what you do.”

“You must trust to me. In the meantime let’s see what Pate knows about
Loch Roag.”

Johnny called down his skipper, a bluff, short, red-faced man, who
presently appeared, his cap in his hand.

“Will you have a glass of champagne, Pate?”

“Oh, ay, sir,” he said, not very eagerly.

“Would you rather have a glass of whisky?”

“Well, sir,” Pate said, in accents that showed that his Highland
pronunciation had been corrupted by many years’ residence in Greenock,
“I was thinkin’ the whisky was a wee thing better for ye on a cauld
nicht.”

“Here you are, then! Now, tell me, do you know Loch Roag?”

“Oh, ay, fine. Many’s the time I hiv been in to Borvapost.”

“But,” said Lavender, “do you know the loch itself? Do you know the bay
on which Mackenzie’s house stands?”

“Weel, I’m no’ sae sure aboot that, sir. But if ye want to gang there,
we can pick up some bit body at Borvapost that will tak’ us around.”

“Well,” Lavender said, “I think I can tell you how to go. I know the
channel is quite simple--there are no rocks about--and once you are
round the point you will see your anchorage.”

“It’s twa or three years since I was there, sir,” Pate remarked, as he
put the glass back on the table. “I mind there was a daft auld man there
that played the pipes.”

“That was old John the Piper,” Lavender said. “Don’t you remember Mr.
Mackenzie, whom they call the King of Borva?”

“Weel, sir, I never saw him, but I was aware he was in the place. I have
never been up here afore wi’ a party of gentlemen, and he wasna coming
down to see the like o’ us.”

With what a strange feeling Lavender beheld, the following afternoon,
the opening to the great loch that he knew so well! He recognized the
various rocky promontories, the Gaelic names of which Sheila had
translated for him. Down there in the South were the great heights of
Suainabhal and Cracabahl and Mealasabhal. Right in front was the sweep
of Borvapost Bay, and its huts and its small garden patches; and up
beyond it was the hill on which Sheila used to sit in the evening to
watch the sun go down behind the Atlantic. It was like entering again a
world with which he had once been familiar, and in which he had left
behind a peaceful happiness he had sought in vain elsewhere. Somehow, as
the yacht dipped to the waves and slowly made her way into the loch, it
seemed to him that he was coming home--that he was returning to the old
and quiet joys he had experienced there--that all the past time that had
darkened his life was now to be removed. But when, at last, he saw
Mackenzie’s house high up there over the tiny bay, a strange thrill of
excitement passed through him, and that was followed by a cold feeling
of despair, which he did not seek to remove.

He stood on the companion, his head only being visible, and directed
Pate until the Phœbe had arrived at her moorings, and then he went
below. He had looked wistfully for a time up to the square, dark house,
with its scarlet copings, in the vague hope of seeing some figure he
knew; but now sick at heart, and fearing that Mackenzie might make him
out with a glass, he sat down in the state-room, alone and silent and
miserable.

He was startled by the sound of oars, and got up and listened. Mosenberg
came down and said, “Mr. Mackenzie has sent a tall, thin man--do you
know him?--to see who we are, and whether we will go up to his house.”

“What did Eyre say?”

“I don’t know. I suppose he is going.”

Then Johnny himself came below. He was a sensitive young fellow, and at
this moment he was very confused, excited and nervous. “Lavender,” he
said, stammering somewhat, “I am going up now to Mackenzie’s house. You
know whom I shall see; shall I take any message--if I see a chance--if
your name is mentioned--a hint, you know--”

“Tell her,” Lavender said, with a sudden pallor of determination in his
face; but he stopped, and said abruptly, “Never mind, Johnny; don’t say
anything about me.”

“Not to-night, anyway,” Johnny said to himself as he drew on his best
jacket, with its shining brass buttons, and went up the companion to see
if the small boat was ready.

Johnny had had a good deal of knocking about the Western Highlands, and
was familiar with the frank and ready hospitality which the local
lairds--more particularly in the remote islands; where a stranger
brought recent newspapers and a breath of the outer world with
him--granted to all comers who bore with them the credentials of owning
a yacht. But never before had he gone up to a strange house with such
perturbation of spirit. He had been so anxious, too, that he had left no
time for preparation. When he started up the hill he could see, in the
gathering dusk, that the tall keeper had just entered the house, and
when he arrived there he found absolutely nobody about the place.

In ordinary circumstances he would simply have walked in and called some
one from the kitchen. But he now felt himself somewhat of a spy, and was
not a little afraid of meeting the handsome Mrs. Lavender, of whom he
had heard so much. There was no light in the passage, but there was a
bright red gloom in one of the windows, and almost inadvertently he
glanced in there. What was this strange picture he saw? The red flame of
the fire showed him the grand, figures on the walls of Sheila’s
dining-room, and lit up the white table-cover and the crystal in the
middle of the apartment. A beautiful young girl, clad in a tight blue
dress, had just arisen from beside the fire to light two candles that
were on the table; and then she went back to her seat and took up her
sewing, but not to sew, for Johnny saw her gently kneel down beside a
little bassinet that was a mass of wonderful pink and white, and he
supposed the door in the passage was open, for he could hear a low voice
humming some lullaby-song sung by the young mother to her child. He went
back a step bewildered by what he had seen. Could he fly down to the
shore, and bring Lavender up to look at this picture through the window,
and beg of him to go in and throw himself on her forgiveness and mercy?
He had not time to think twice. At this moment Mairi appeared in the
dusky passage, looking a little scared, although she did not drop the
plates she carried: “Oh, sir, and are you the gentleman that has come in
the yacht? And Mr. Mackenzie, he is upstairs just now, but he will be
down ferry soon; and will you come in and speak to Miss Sheila?”

“_Miss Sheila!_” he repeated to himself with amazement; and the next
moment he found himself before this beautiful young girl, apologizing to
her, stammering, and wishing that he had never undertaken such a task,
while he knew that all the time she was calmly regarding him with her
large, calm and gentle eyes, and that there was no trace of
embarrassment in her manner.

“Will you take a seat by the fire until papa comes down?” she said. “We
are very glad to have any one come to see us; we do not have many
visitors in the winter.”

“But I am afraid,” he stammered, “I am putting you to trouble;” and he
glanced at the swinging pink and white couch.

“Oh, no,” Sheila said with a smile; “I was just about to send my little
boy to bed.”

She lifted the sleeping child and rolled it in some enormous covering of
white and silken-haired fur, and gave the small bundle to Mairi to carry
to Scarlett.

“Stop a bit!” Johnny called out to Mairi; and the girl started and
looked around, whereupon he said to Sheila, with much blushing, “Isn’t
there a superstition about an infant waking to find silver in its hands?
I am sure you wouldn’t mind my--”

“He cannot hold anything yet,” Sheila said, with a smile.

“Then, Mairi, you must put this below his pillow. Is not that the same
thing for luck?” he said, addressing the young Highland girl as if he
had known her all his life; and Mairi went away proud and pleased to
have this precious bundle to carry, and talking to it with a thousand
soft and endearing phrases in her native tongue.

Mackenzie came in and found the two talking together. “How do you do,
sir?” he said, with a grave courtesy. “You are ferry welcome to the
island, and if there is anything you want for the boat you will hef it
from us. She is a little thing to hef come so far.”

“She’s not very big,” Johnny said, “but she’s a thorough good sailer;
and then we watch our time, you know. But I don’t think we shall go
farther North than Lewis.”

“Hef you no friends on board with you?” Mackenzie asked.

“Oh, yes,” Johnny answered, “two. But we did not wish to invade your
house in a body. To-morrow--”

“To-morrow!” said Mackenzie, impatiently; “no, but to-night! Duncan,
come here! Duncan, go down to the boat that has just come in and tell
the gentlemen--”

“I beg your pardon, sir,” Johnny cried, “but my two friends are
regularly done up--tired; they were just going to turn in when I left
the yacht. To-morrow, now, you will see them.”

“Oh, ferry well, ferry well,” said Mackenzie, who had hoped to have a
big dinner party for Sheila’s amusement. “In any way, you will stop and
hef some dinner? It is just ready--oh, yes--and it is not a ferry fine
dinner, but it will be different from your cabin for you to sit ashore.”

“Well, if you will excuse me--” Johnny was about to say, for he was so
full of the news he had to tell that he would have sacrificed twenty
dinners to get off at this moment. But Mr. Mackenzie would take no
denial. An additional cover was laid, for the stranger, and Johnny sat
down to stare at Sheila in a furtive way, and to talk to her father
about everything that was happening in the great world.

“And what now is this,” said Mackenzie, with a lofty and careless
air--“what is this I see in the papers about pictures painted by a
gentleman called Lavender? I hef a great interest in these exhibitions.
Perhaps you hef seen the pictures?”

Johnny blushed very red, but he hid his face over his plate, and
presently he answered, without daring to look at Sheila: “I should think
I have seen them! Why, if you care for coast landscapes, I can tell you
you never saw such thorough good work in all your life! Why, everybody’s
talking of them. You never heard of a man making such a name for himself
in so short a time.”

He ventured to look up. There was a strange, proud light in the girl’s
face, and the effect of it on this bearer of good tidings was to make
him launch into such praises of these pictures as considerably
astonished old Mackenzie. As for Sheila, she was proud and happy, but
not surprised. She had known it all along. She had waited for it
patiently, and it had come at last, although she was not to share in his
triumph.

“I know some people who know him,” said Johnny, who had taken two or
three glasses of Mackenzie’s sherry, and felt bold; “and what a shame it
is he should go away from all his friends, and almost cease to have any
communication with them! And then, of all the places in the world to
spend the Winter in, Jura is about the--”

“Jura!” said Sheila, quickly, and he fancied that her face paled
somewhat.

“I believe so,” he said; “somewhere on the Western coast, you know, over
the Sound of Islay.”

Sheila was obviously very much agitated, but her father said, in a
careless way, “Oh, yes, Jura is not a ferry good place in the Winter.
And the West side, you said? Ay, there are not many houses on the West
side; it is not a ferry good place to live in. But it will be ferry
cheap, whatever.”

“I don’t think that is the reason of his living there,” said Johnny,
with a laugh.

“But,” Mackenzie urged, rather anxiously, “you wass not saying he would
get much for these pictures? Oh, no, who will give much money for
pictures of rocks and sea-weed? Oh, no!”

“Oh, won’t they, though?” Johnny cried. “They give a deal more for that
sort of picture now than for the old-fashioned cottage-scenes, with a
young lady dressed in a drugget petticoat and a pink jacket, sitting
peeling potatoes. Don’t you make any mistake about that. The public are
beginning to learn what real good work is, and, by Jove! don’t they pay
for it, too? Lavender got eight hundred pounds for the smaller of the
two pictures I told you about.”

Johnny Eyre was beginning to forget that the knowledge he was showing of
Frank Lavender’s affairs was suspiciously minute.

“Oh, no, sir,” Mackenzie said, with a frown. “It is all nonsense the
stories that you hear. I hef had great experience of these exhibitions.
I hef been to London several times, and every time I wass in the
exhibitions.”

“But I should know something of it, too, for I am an artist myself.”

“And do you get eight hundred pounds for a small picture?” Mackenzie
asked severely.

“Well, no,” said Johnny, with a laugh. “But then I am a duffer.”

After dinner Sheila left the room: Johnny fancied he knew where she was
going. He pulled in a chair to the fire, lit his pipe, and said he would
have but one glass of toddy, which Mackenzie proceeded to make for him.
And then he said to the old King of Borva, “I beg your pardon, sir, but
will you allow me to suggest that that young girl who was in here before
dinner should not call your daughter Miss Sheila before strangers!”

“Oh, it is very foolish,” said Mackenzie, “but it is an old habit, and
they will not stop it. And Duncan, he is worse than any one.”

“Duncan, I suppose, is the tall fellow who waited at dinner?”

“Oh, ay, that is Duncan.”

Johnny’s ingenious bit of stratagem had failed. He wanted to have old
Mackenzie call his daughter Mrs. Lavender, so that he might have had
occasion to open the question and plead for his friend. But the old man
resolutely ignored the relationship between Lavender and his daughter so
far as this stranger was concerned, and so Johnny had to go away partly
disappointed.

But another opportunity might occur, and in the meantime was not he
carrying rare news down to the Phœbe? He had lingered too long in the
house, but now he made up for lost time, and once or twice nearly missed
his footing in running down the steep path. He had to find the small
boat for himself, and go out on the slippery stones and seaweed to get
into her. Then he pulled away from the shore, his oars striking white
fire into the dark water, the water gurgling at the bow. Then he got
into the shadow of the black hull of the yacht, and Pate was there to
lower the little gangway.

When Johnny stepped on deck, he paused, in considerable doubt as to what
he should do. He wished to have a word with Lavender alone; how could he
go down with such a message as he had to deliver to a couple of fellows
probably smoking and playing chess?

“Pate,” he said, “tell Mr. Lavender I want him to come on deck for a
minute.”

“He’s by himsel’, sir,” Pate said. “He’s been sitting by himsel’ for the
last hour. The young gentleman’s lain doon.”

Johnny went down into the little cabin. Lavender, who had neither book
nor cigar, nor any other sign of occupation near him, seemed in his
painful anxiety almost incapable of asking the question that rose to his
lips.

“Have you seen her, Johnny?” he said, at length, with his face looking
strangely careworn.

Johnny was an impressionable young fellow. There were tears running
freely down his cheeks as he said, “Yes, I have, Lavender, and she was
rocking a child in a cradle.”



CHAPTER XXVI.

REDINTEGRATIO AMORIS.


That same night Sheila dreamed a strange dream, and it seemed to her
that an angel of God came to her and stood before her, and looked at her
with his shining face and his sad eyes. And he said, “Are you a woman,
and yet slow to forgive? Are you a mother, and have you no love for the
father of your child?” It seemed to her that she could not answer. She
fell on her knees before him, and covered her face with her hands and
wept. And when she raised her eyes again the angel was gone, and in his
place Ingram was there, stretching out his hand to her and bidding her
rise and be comforted. Yet he, too, spoke in the same reproachful tones,
and said, “What would become of us all, Sheila, if none of our actions
were to be condoned by time and repentance? What would become of us if
we could not say, at some particular point of our lives, to the by-gone
time, that we had left it, with all its errors and blunders and follies,
behind us, and would, with the help of God, start clear on a new sort of
life? What would it be if there were no forgetfulness for any of us--no
kindly vail to come down and shut out the memory of what we have
done--if the staring record were to be kept forever before our eyes? And
you are a woman, Sheila; it should be easy for you to forgive and to
encourage, and to hope for better things of the man you love? Has he not
suffered enough? Have you no word for him?”

The sound of her sobbing in the night-time brought her father to the
door. He tapped at the door, and said, “What is the matter, Sheila?”

She awoke with a slight cry, and he went into the room and found her in
a strangely troubled state, her hands outstretched to him, her eyes wet
and wild. “Papa, I have been very cruel. I am not fit to live any more.
There is no woman in the world would have done what I have done.”

“Sheila,” he said, “you hef been dreaming again about all that folly and
nonsense. Lie down, like a good lass. You will wake the boy if you do
not lie down and go to sleep; and to-morrow we will pay a visit to the
yacht that hass come in, and you will ask the gentlemen to look at the
Maighdean-mhara.”

“Papa,” she said, “to-morrow I want you to take me to Jura.”

“To Jura, Sheila? You cannot go to Jura. You cannot leave the baby with
Mairi, Sheila.”

“I will take him with me,” she said.

“Oh, it is not possible at all, Sheila. But I will go to Jura--oh yes, I
will go to Jura. Indeed, I was thinking last night that I would go to
Jura.”

“Oh no, _you_ must not go,” she cried. “You would speak harshly--and he
is very proud--and we should never see each other again. Papa, I know
you will do this for me--you will let me go.”

“It is foolish of you, Sheila,” her father said, “to think that I do not
know how to arrange such a thing without making a quarrel of it. But you
will see all about it in the morning. Just now you will lie down, like a
good lass, and go to sleep. So good-night, Sheila, and do not think of
it any more till the morning.”

She thought of it all through the night, however. She thought of her
sailing away down through the cold wintry seas to search that lonely
coast. Would the gray dawn break with snow, or would the kindly heavens
lend her some fair sunlight as she set forth on her lonely quest? And
all the night through she accused herself of being hard of heart, and
blamed herself, indeed, for all that had happened in the by-gone time.
Just as the day was coming in she fell asleep, and she dreamed that she
went to the angel whom she had seen before, and knelt down at his feet
and repeated in some vague way the promises she had made on her marriage
morning. With her head bent down she said that she would live and die a
true wife if only another chance were given her. The angel answered
nothing, but he smiled with his sad eyes and put his hand for a moment
on her head, and then disappeared. When she awoke Mairi was in the room
silently stealing away the child, and the white daylight was clear in
the windows.

She dressed with trembling hands, and yet there was a faint suffused
sense of joy in her heart. She wondered if her father would keep to his
promise of the night before, or whether it had been made to get her to
rest. In any case she knew that he could not refuse her much; and had
not he himself said that he had intended going away down to Jura?

“Sheila, you are not looking well this morning,” her father said; “it is
foolish for you to lie awake and think of such things. And as for what
you were saying about Jura, how can you go to Jura? We hef no boat big
enough for that. I could go--oh yes, _I_ could go--but the boat I would
get at Stornoway you would not get in at all, Sheila; and as for the
baby--”

“But, then, papa,” she said, “did not the gentleman who was here last
night say that they were going back by Jura? And it is a big yacht, and
he has only two friends on board. He might take us down.”

“You cannot ask a stranger, Sheila. Besides, the boat is too small a one
for this time of the year. I should not like to see you go in her,
Sheila.”

“I have no fear,” the girl said.

“No fear!” her father said impatiently. “No, of course you hef no fear;
that is the mischief. You will take no care of yourself whatever.”

“When is the young gentleman coming up, this morning?”

“Oh, he will not come up again till I go down. Will you go down to the
boat, Sheila, and go on board of her?”

Sheila assented, and some half hour thereafter she stood at the door,
clad in her tight-fitting blue serge, with the hat and sea-gull’s wing
over her splendid masses of hair. It was an angry-looking morning
enough; rags of gray clouds were being hurried past the shoulders of
Suainabhal; a heavy surf was beating on the shore.

“There is going to be rain, Sheila,” her father said, smelling the
moisture in the keen air. “Will you hef your waterproof?”

“Oh, no,” she said, “if I am to meet strangers, I cannot wear a
waterproof.”

The sharp wind had brought back the color to her cheeks, and there was
some gladness in her eyes. She knew she might have a fight for it before
she could persuade her father to set sail in this strange boat; but she
never doubted for a moment, recollecting the gentle face and modest
manner of the youthful owner, that he would be really glad to do her a
service, and she knew that her father’s opposition would give way.

“Shall we take Bras, papa?”

“No, no,” her father said “we will hef to go in a small boat. I hope you
will not get wet, Sheila; there is a good breeze on the water this
morning.”

“I think they are much safer in here than going around the islands just
at present,” Sheila said.

“Ay, you are right there, Sheila,” her father said, looking at the
direction of the wind. “They got in in a ferry good time. And they may
hef to stay for a while before they can face the sea again.”

“And we shall become very great friends with them, papa, and they will
be glad to take us to Jura,” she said with a smile, for she knew there
was not much of the hospitality of Borvapost bestowed with ulterior
motives.

They went down the steep path to the bay, where the Phœbe was
lurching and heaving in the rough swell, her bowsprit sometimes nearly
catching the crest of a wave. No one was on deck. How were they to get
on board?

“They can’t hear you in this wind,” Sheila said. “We will have to haul
down our own boat.”

And that, indeed, they had to do, though the work of getting the little
thing down the beach was not very arduous for a man of Mackenzie’s
build.

“I am going to pull you out to the yacht, papa,” Sheila said.

“Indeed you will do no such thing,” her father said, indignantly. “As if
you wass a fisherman’s lass, and the gentlemen never wass seeing you
before! Sit down in the stern, Sheila, and hold on ferry tight, for it
is a rough water for this little boat.”

They had almost got out, indeed, to the yacht before any one was aware
of their approach, but Pate appeared in time to seize the rope that
Mackenzie flung him, and with a little scrambling, they were at last
safely on board. The noise of their arrival, however, startled Johnny
Eyre, who was lying on his back smoking a pipe after breakfast. He
jumped up and said to Mosenberg, who was his only companion, “Halloa!
here’s this old gentleman come on board. He knows you. What’s to be
done?”

“Done?” said the boy, with a moment’s hesitation; and then a flush of
decision sprang into his face. “Ask him to come down. Yes, I will speak
to him, and tell him that Lavender is on the island. Perhaps he meant to
go into the house; who knows? If he did not, let us make him.”

“All right?” said Johnny; “let’s go a buster.”

Then he called up the companion to Pate to send the gentleman below,
while he flung a few things aside to make the place more presentable.
Johnny had been engaged a few minutes before in sewing a button on a
woolen shirt, and that article of attire does not look well beside a
breakfast-table.

His visitors began to descend the narrow wooden steps, and presently
Mackenzie was heard to say, “Tek great care, Sheila; the brass is ferry
slippery.”

“Oh, thunder!” Johnny said, looking at Mosenberg.

“Good morning, Mr. Eyre,” said the old King of Borva, stooping to get
into the cabin; “it is a rough day you are getting. Sheila, mind your
head till you have passed the door.”

Mackenzie came forward to shake hands, and, in doing so, caught sight of
Mosenberg. The whole truth flashed upon him in a moment, and he
instantaneously turned to Sheila, and said, quickly, “Sheila, go up on
deck for a moment.”

But she, too, had seen the lad, and she came forward, with a pale face,
but with a perfectly self-possessed manner, and said, “How do you do? It
is a surprise your coming to the island, but you often used to talk of
it.”

“Yes,” he stammered, as he shook hands with her and her father, “I often
wished to come here. What a wild place it is! And have you lived here,
Mrs. Lavender, all the time since you left London?”

“Yes, I have.”

Mackenzie was getting very uneasy. Every moment he expected Lavender
would enter this confined little cabin; and was this the place for these
two to meet, before a lot of acquaintances?

“Sheila,” he said, “it is too close for you here, and I am going to have
a pipe with the gentlemen. Now if you wass a good lass you would go
ashore again, and go up to the house, and say to Mairi that we will all
come for luncheon at one o’clock, and she must get some fish up from
Borvapost. Mr. Eyre, he will send a man ashore with you in his own boat,
that is bigger than mine, and you will show him the creek to put into.
Now go away, like a good lass, and we will be up ferry soon--oh, yes, we
will be up directly at the house.”

“I am sure,” Sheila said to Johnny Eyre, “we can make you more
comfortable up at the house than you are here, although it is a nice
little cabin.” And then she turned to Mosenberg and said, “And we have a
great many things to talk about.”

“Could she suspect?” Johnny asked himself, as he escorted her to the
boat and pulled her in himself to the shore. Her face was pale, and her
manner a trifle formal, otherwise she showed no sign. He watched her go
along the stones till she reaches the path, then he pulled out to the
Phœbe again and went down below to entertain his host of the previous
evening.

Sheila walked slowly up the rude little path, taking little heed of the
blustering wind and the hurrying clouds. Her eyes were bent down, her
face was pale. When she got to the top of the hill, she looked, in a
blank sort of way, all around the bleak moorland, but probably she did
not expect to see any one there. Then she walked, with rather an
uncertain step, into the house. She looked into the room, the door of
which stood open. Her husband sat there, with his arms outstretched on
the table and his head buried in his hands. He did not hear her
approach, her footfall was so light, and it was with the same silent
step she went into the room and knelt down beside him and put her hands
and face on his knee, and said simply, “I beg for your forgiveness.”

He started up and looked at her as though she were some spirit, and his
own face was haggard and strange. “Sheila,” he said in a low voice,
laying his hand gently on her head, “It is I who ought to be there, and
you know it. But I cannot meet your eyes. I am not going to ask for your
forgiveness just yet; I have no right to expect it. All I want is this;
if you will let me come and see you just as before we were married, and
if you will give me a chance of winning your consent ever again, we can
at least be friends until then. But why do you cry, Sheila? You have
nothing to reproach yourself with.”

She rose and regarded him for a moment with her streaming eyes, and
then, moved by the passionate entreaty of her face, and forgetting
altogether the separation and time of trial he had proposed, he caught
her to his bosom and kissed her forehead, and talked soothingly and
caressingly to her as if she were a child.

“I cry,” she said, “because I am happy--because I believe all that time
is over--because I think you will be kind to me. And I will be a good
wife to you, and you will forgive me all that I have done.”

“You are heaping coals of fire on my head, Sheila,” he said, humbly.
“You know I have nothing to forgive. As for you, I tell you I have no
right to expect your forgiveness yet. But I think you will find out
by-and-by that my repentance is not a mere momentary thing. I have had a
long time to think over what has happened, and what I lost when I lost
you, Sheila.”

“But you have found me again,” the girl said, pale a little, and glad to
sit down on the nighest couch, while she held his hand and drew him
toward her. “And now I must ask you for one thing.”

He was sitting beside her; he feared no longer to meet the look of those
earnest, meek, affectionate eyes.

“This is it,” she said. “If we are to be together--not what we were, but
something quite different from that--will you promise me never to say
one word about what is past--to shut it out altogether--to forget it!”

“I cannot, Sheila,” he said. “Am I to have no chance of telling you how
well I know how cruel I was to you--how sorry I am for it?”

“No,” she said, firmly. “If you have some things to regret, so have I;
and what is the use of competing with each other as to which has the
most forgiveness to ask for? Frank, dear, you will do this for me? You
will promise never to speak one word about that time?”

How earnest the beautiful, sad face was! He could not withstand the
entreaty of the piteous eyes. He said to her, abashed by the great love
that she showed, and hopeless of making other reparation than obedience
to her generous wish, “Let it be so, Sheila. I will never speak a word
about it. You will see otherwise than in words whether I forget what is
passed, and your goodness in letting it go. But, Sheila,” he added, with
downcast face, “Johnny Eyre was here last night. He told me--” He had to
say no more. She took his hand and led him gently and silently out of
the room.

Meanwhile the old King of Borva had been spending a somewhat anxious
time down in the cabin of the Phœbe. Many and many a day had he been
planning a method by which he might secure a meeting between Sheila and
her husband, and now it had all come about without his aid, and in a
manner which rendered him unable to take any precautions. He did not
know but that some awkward accident might destroy all the chances of the
affair. He knew that Lavender was on the island. He had frankly asked
young Mosenberg as soon as Sheila had left the yacht.

“Oh, yes,” the lad said, “he went away into the island early this
morning. I begged of him to go to your house; he did not answer. But I
am sure he will, I know he will.”

“My Kott!” Mackenzie said, “and he has been wandering about the island
all the morning, and he will be very faint and hungry, and a man is
neffer in a good temper then for making up a quarrel. If I had known the
last night, I could hef had dinner with you all here, and we should hef
given him a good glass of whisky, and then it wass a good time to tek
him up to the house.”

“Oh, you may depend on it, Mr. Mackenzie,” Johnny Eyre said, “that
Lavender needs no stimulus of that sort to make him desire a
reconciliation. No, I should think not. He has done nothing but brood
over this affair since ever he left London; and I should not be
surprised if you scarcely knew him, he is so altered. You would fancy he
had lived ten years in the time.”

“Ay, ay,” Mackenzie said, not listening very attentively, and evidently
thinking more of what might be happening elsewhere; “but I was thinking,
gentlemen, it wass time for us to go ashore and go up to the house, and
hef something to eat.”

“I thought you said one o’clock for luncheon, sir,” young Mosenberg
said.

“One o’clock!” Mackenzie repeated, impatiently. “Who the teffle can wait
till one o’clock, if you hef been walking about an island since the
daylight, with nothing to eat or drink.”

Mr. Mackenzie forgot that it was not Lavender he had asked to lunch.

“Oh, yes,” he said, “Sheila hass had plenty of time to send down to
Borvapost for some fish; and by the time you get up to the house you
will see that it is ready.”

“Very well,” Johnny said, “we can go up to the house, anyway.”

He went up the companion, and he had scarcely got his head above the
level of the bulwarks when he called back, “I say Mr. Mackenzie, here is
Lavender on the shore, and your daughter is with him. Do they want to
come on board, do you think? Or do they want us to go ashore?”

Mackenzie uttered a few phrases in Gaelic, and got up on deck instantly.
There, sure enough, was Sheila, with her hand on her husband’s arm, both
looking toward the yacht. The wind was blowing too strong for them to
call. Mackenzie wanted himself to pull in for them, but this was
overruled, and Pate was despatched.

An awkward pause ensued. The three standing on deck were sorely
perplexed as to the forthcoming interview, and as to what they should
do. Were they to rejoice over a reconciliation, or ignore the fact
altogether and simply treat Sheila as Mrs. Lavender? Her father, indeed,
fearing that Sheila would be strangely excited, and would probably burst
into tears, wondered what he could get to scold her about.

Fortunately, an incident partly ludicrous broke the awkwardness of their
arrival. The getting on deck was a matter of some little difficulty; in
the scuffle Sheila’s small hat, with its snow-white feather, got
unloosed somehow, and the next minute it was whirled away by the wind
into the sea. Pate could not be sent after it just at the moment, and it
was rapidly drifting away to leeward, when Johnny Eyre, with a laugh and
a “Here goes!” plunged in after the white feather that was dipping and
rising in the waves like a sea-gull. Sheila uttered a slight cry, and
caught her husband’s arm. But there was not much danger. Johnny was an
expert swimmer, and in a few minutes he was seen to be making his way
backward with one arm, while in the other hand he held Sheila’s hat.
Then Pate had by this time got the small boat around to leeward, and
very shortly after Johnny, dripping like a Newfoundland dog, came on
deck and presented the hat to Sheila, amidst a vast deal of laughter.

“I am so sorry,” she said; “but you must change your clothes quickly. I
hope you will have no harm from it.”

“Not I,” he said; “but my beautiful white decks have got rather into a
mess. I am glad you saw them while they were dry, Mrs. Lavender. Now I
am going below to make myself a swell, for we’re all going to have
luncheon on shore, ain’t we?”

Johnny went below very well pleased with himself. He had called her Mrs.
Lavender without wincing. He had got over all the awkwardness of a
second introduction by the happy notion of plunging after the hat. He
had to confess, however, that the temperature of the sea was not just
what he would have preferred for a morning bath.

By and by he made his appearance in his best suit of blue and brass
buttons, and asked Mrs. Lavender if she would now come down and see the
cabin.

“I think you want a good glass of whisky,” old Mackenzie said, as they
all went below; “the water it is ferry cold just now.”

“Yes,” Johnny said, blushing, “we shall all celebrate the capture of the
hat.”

It was the capture of the hat, then, that was to be celebrated by this
friendly ceremony. Perhaps it was, but there was no mirth now on
Sheila’s face.

“And you will drink first, Sheila,” her father said, almost solemnly,
“and you will drink to your husband’s health.”

Sheila took the glass of raw whisky in her hand, and looked around
timidly. “I cannot drink this, papa,” she said. “If you will let me--”

“You will drink that glass to your husband’s health, Sheila,” old
Mackenzie said, with unusual severity.

“She shall do nothing of the sort if she doesn’t like it?” Johnny Eyre
cried, suddenly, not caring whether it was the wrath of old Mackenzie or
of the devil that he was braving; and forthwith he took the glass out of
Sheila’s hand and threw the whisky on the floor. Then he pulled out a
champagne bottle from a basket and said, “This is what Mrs. Lavender
will drink.”

Mackenzie looked staggered for a moment; he had never been so braved
before. But he was not in a quarrelsome mood on such an occasion; so he
burst into a loud laugh and cried, “Well, did ever any man see the like
o’ that? Good whisky--ferry good whisky--and flung on the floor as if it
was water, and as if there wass no one in the boat that would hef drunk
it! But no matter, Mr. Eyre, no matter; the lass will drink whatever you
give her, for she’s a good lass; and if we have all to drink champagne,
that is no matter, too, but there is a man or two up on deck that would
not like to know the whisky was spoiled.”

“Oh,” Johnny said, “there is still a drop left for them. And this is
what you must drink, Mrs. Lavender.”

Lavender had sat down in a corner of the cabin, his eyes averted. When
he heard Sheila’s name mentioned he looked up, and she came forward to
him. She said in her simple way, “I drink this to you, my dear husband;”
and at the same moment the old King of Borva came forward and held out
his hand, and said, “Yes, and by Kott, I drink to your health, too, with
ferry good will!”

Lavender started to his feet. “Wait a bit, Mr. Mackenzie. I have got
something to say to you before you ought to shake my hand.”

But Sheila interposed quickly. She put her hand on his arm and looked
into his face. “You will keep your promise to me,” she said; and that
was an end of the matter. The two men shook hands; there was nothing
said between them, then or again, of what was over and gone.

They had a pleasant enough luncheon together, up in that quaint room
with the Tyrolese pictures on the wall, and Duncan for once respected
old Mackenzie’s threats as to what would happen if he called Sheila
anything but Mrs. Lavender before these strangers. For some time
Lavender sat almost silent, and answered Sheila, who continuously talked
to him, in little else than monosyllables. But he looked at her a great
deal, sometimes in a wistful sort of way, as if he were trying to recall
the various fancies her face used to produce in his imagination.

“Why do you look at me so?” she said to him in an undertone.

“Because I have made a new friend,” he said.

But when Mackenzie began to talk of the wonders of the island and the
seas around it and to beg the young yachtsmen to prolong their stay,
Lavender joined with a will in that conversation, and added his
entreaties.

“Then you are going to stay?” Johnny Eyre said, looking up.

“Oh, yes,” he answered, as if the alternative of going back with them
had not presented itself to him. “For one thing, I have got to look out
for a place where I can build a house. That is what I mean to do with my
savings just at present; and if you would come with me, Johnny, and have
a prowl around the island to find out some pretty little bay with a good
anchorage in it--for you know I am going to steal that Maighdean-mhara
from Mr. Mackenzie--then we can begin and make ourselves architects, and
plan out the place that is to be. And then some day--”

Mackenzie had been sitting in mute astonishment, but he suddenly broke
in upon his son-in-law. “On this island? No, by Kott, you will not do
that! On this island? And with all the people at Stornoway? Hoots, no!
that will neffer do. Sheila she has no one to speak to on this island,
as a young lass should hef; and you, what would you do yourself in the
bad weather? But there is Stornoway. Oh, yes, that is a fine big place,
and many people you will get to know there, and you will hef the
newspapers and the letters at once: and there will be always boats there
that you can go to Oban, to Greenock, to Glasgow--anywhere in the
world--whenever you hef a mind to do that; and then when you go to
London, as you will hef to go many times, there will be plenty there to
look after your house when it is shut up, and keep the rain out, and the
paint and the paper good, more as could be done on this island. On this
island!--how would you live on this island?”

The old King of Borva spoke quite impatiently and contemptuously of the
place. You would have thought his life on this island was a species of
penal servitude, and that he dwelt in his solitary house only to think
with a vain longing of the glories and delights of Stornoway. Lavender
knew well what prompted these scornful comments on Borva. The old man
was afraid that the island would really be too dull for Sheila and her
husband, and that, whereas the easy compromise of Stornoway might be
practicable, to set up house in Borva might lead them to abandon the
North altogether.

“From what I have heard of it from Mr. Lavender,” Johnny said with a
laugh, “I don’t think this island such a dreadful place; and I’m hanged
if I have found it so, so far.”

“But you will know nothing about it--nothing whatever,” said Mackenzie
petulantly. “You do not know the bad weather, when you cannot go down
the loch to Callernish, and you might have to go to London just then.”

“Well, I suppose London could wait,” Johnny said.

Mackenzie began to get angry with this young man. “You hef not been to
Stornoway,” he said, severely.

“No, I haven’t,” Johnny replied with much coolness, “and I don’t hanker
after it. I get plenty of town life in London; and when I come up to the
sea and the islands, I’d rather pitch my tent with you, sir, than live
in Stornoway.”

“Oh, but you don’t know, Johnny, how fine a place Stornoway is,”
Lavender said, hastily, for he saw the old man was beginning to get
vexed. “Stornoway is a beautiful little town, and it is on the sea,
too.”

“And it hass fine houses, and ferry many people, and ferry good society
whatever,” Mackenzie added with some touch of indignation.

“But you see, this is how it stands, Mr. Mackenzie,” Lavender put in
humbly. “We should have to go to London from time to time, and we should
then get quite enough of city life, and you might find an occasional
trip with us not a bad thing. But up here I should have to look on my
house as a sort of workshop. Now, with all respect to Stornoway, you
must admit that the coast about here is a little more picturesque.
Besides, there’s another thing. It would be rather more difficult at
Stornoway to take a rod or a gun out of a morning. Then there would be
callers bothering you at your work. Then Sheila would have far less
liberty in going about by herself.”

“Eighthly and tenthly, you’ve made up your mind to have a house here,”
cried Johnny Eyre, with a loud laugh.

“Sheila says she would like to have a billiard-room,” her husband
continued. “Where could you get that in Stornoway?”

“And you must have a large room for a piano, to sing in and play in,”
the young Jew boy said, looking at Sheila.

“I should think a one-storied house, with a large verandah, would be the
best sort of thing,” Lavender said, “both for the sun and the rain; and
then one could have one’s easel outside, you know. Suppose we all go for
a walk around the shore by-and-by. There is too much of a breeze to take
the Phœbe down the loch.”

So the King of Borva was quietly overruled, and his dominions invaded in
spite of himself. Sheila could not go out with the gentlemen just then;
she was to follow in about an hour’s time. Meanwhile they buttoned their
coats, pulled down their caps tight, and set out to face the grey skies
and the Wintry wind. Just as they were passing away from the house,
Mackenzie, who was walking in front with Lavender, said in a cautious
sort of way, “You will want a deal of money to build this house you wass
speaking about, for it will hef to be all stone and iron, and very
strong whatever, or else it will be a plague to you from the one year to
the next with the rain getting in.”

“Oh, yes,” Lavender said, “it will have to be done well once for all;
and what with rooms big enough to paint in and play billiards in, and
also a bedroom or two for friends who may come to stay with us, it will
be an expensive business. But I have been very lucky, Mr. Mackenzie. It
isn’t the money I have, but the commissions I am offered, that warrant
my going in for this house. I’ll tell you about all these things
afterward. In the meantime I shall have twenty-four hundred pounds, or
thereabouts, in a couple of months.”

“But you hef more than that now,” Mackenzie said, gravely. “This is what
I wass going to tell you. The money that your aunt left, that is yours,
every penny of it--oh, yes, every penny and every farthing of it is
yours, sure enough. For it wass Mr. Ingram hass told me all about it;
and the old lady, she wanted him to take care of the money for Sheila;
but what wass the good of the money to Sheila? My lass, she will hef
plenty of money of her own; and I, wanted her to hef nothing to do with
what Mr. Ingram said; but it wass all no use, and there iss the money
now for you and for Sheila, every penny and every farthing of it.”

Mackenzie ended by talking in an injured way, as if this business had
seriously increased his troubles.

“But you know,” Lavender said, with amazement--you know as well as I do
that this money was definitely left to Ingram, and--you may believe me
or not--I was precious glad of it when I heard it. Of course it would
have been of more use to him if he had not been about to marry this
American lady.”

“Oh, you hef heard that, then?” Mackenzie said.

“Mosenberg brought me the news. But are you quite sure about this
affair? Don’t you think this is merely a trick of Ingram’s to enable him
to give the money to Sheila? That would be very like him. I know him of
old.”

“Well, I cannot help it if a man will tell lies,” said Mackenzie. “But
that is what he says is true. And he will not touch the money--indeed,
he will hef plenty, as you say. But there it is for Sheila and you, and
you will be able to build whatever house you like. And if you was
thinking of having a bigger boat than the Maighdean-mhara--” the old man
suggested.

Lavender jumped at that notion directly. “What if we could get a yacht
big enough to cruise anywhere in the Summer months?” he said. “We might
bring a party of people all the way from the Thames to Loch Roag, and
cast anchor opposite Sheila’s house. Fancy Ingram and his wife coming up
like that in the Autumn; and I know you could go over to Sir James, and
get us some shooting.”

Mackenzie laughed grimly: “We will see--we will see about that. I think
there will be no great difficulty about getting a deer or two for you,
and as for the salmon, there will be one or two left in the White Water.
Oh yes, we will have a little shooting and a little fishing for any of
your friends. And as for the boat, it will be ferry difficult to get a
good big boat for such a purpose without you was planning and building
one yourself; and that will be better, I think, for the yachts nowadays
they are all built for the racing, and you will have a beat fifty tons,
sixty tons, seventy tons, that hass no room in her below, but is nothing
but a big heap of canvas and spars. But if you was wanting a good,
steady boat, with good cabins below for the leddies, and a good saloon
that you could have your dinner in all at once, then you will maybe come
down with me to a shipbuilder I know in Glasgow--oh, he is a ferry good
man--and we will see what can be done. There is a gentleman now in
Dunoon--and they say he is a ferry great artist, too--and he hass a
schooner of sixty tons that I hef been in myself, and it wass just like
a steamer below for the comfort of it. And when the boat is ready I will
get you ferry good sailors for her, that will know every bit of the
coast from Loch Indaal to the Butt of Lewis, and I will see that they
are ferry cheap for you, for I hef plenty of work for them in the
Winter. But I was no saying yet,” the old man added, “that you were
right about coming to live in Borva. Stornoway is a good place to live
in; and it is a fine harbor for repairs, if the boat was wanting
repairs.”

“If she were, couldn’t we send her around to Stornoway?”

“But the people in Stornoway--it iss the people in Stornoway,” said
Mackenzie, who was not going to give in without a grumble.

Well, they did not fix on a site for the house that afternoon. Sheila
did not make her appearance. Lavender kept continually turning and
looking over the long undulations of rock and moorland; and at length he
said, “Look here, Johnny, would you mind going on by yourselves? I think
I shall walk back to the house.”

“What is keeping that foolish girl?” her father said, impatiently. “It
is something about the dinner now, as if any one was particular about a
dinner in an island like this, where you can expect nothing. But at
Stornoway--oh, yes, they hef many things there.”

“But I want you to come and dine with us on board the Phœbe to-night,
sir,” Johnny said. “It will be rather a lark, mind you; we make up a
tight fit in that cabin. I wonder if Mrs. Lavender would venture; do you
think she would, sir?”

“Oh, no, not this evening, anyway,” said her father; “for I know she
will expect you all to be up at the house this evening; and what would
be the use of tumbling about in the bay when you can be in a house? But
it is very kind of you. Oh, yes, to-morrow night, then, we will go down
to the boat, but this night I know Sheila will be ferry sorry if you do
not come to the house.”

“Well, let’s go back now,” Johnny said, “and if we’ve time we might go
down for our guns and have a try along the shore for an hour or so
before the daylight goes. Fancy that chance at those wild duck!”

“Oh, but that is nothing,” Mackenzie said. “To-morrow you will come with
me up to the loch, and there you will hef some shooting; and in many
other places I will show you you will hef plenty of shooting.”

They had just got back to the house when they found Sheila coming out.
She had, as her father supposed, been detained by her preparations for
entertaining their guests; but now she was free until dinner-time, and
so the whole party went down to the shore to pay a visit to the Phœbe
and let Mackenzie have a look at the guns on board. Then they went up to
the house, and found the tall and grim keeper with the baby in his arms,
while Scarlett and Mairi were putting the finishing touches on the
gleaming white table and its show of steel and crystal.

How strange it was to Sheila to sit at dinner there, and listen to her
husband talking of boating and fishing and what not as he used to sit
and talk in the olden time to her father, on the Summer evenings, on the
high rocks over Borvapost! The interval between that time and this
seemed to go clean out of her mind. And yet there must have been some
interval, for he was looking older and sterner and much rougher about
the face now, after being buffeted about by wind and rain and sun during
that long and solitary stay in Jura. But it was very like the old times
when they went into the little drawing-room, and when Mairi brought in
the hot water and the whisky, the tobacco and the long pipes, when the
old King of Borva sat himself down in his great chair by the table, and
when Lavender came to Sheila and asked her if he should get out her
music and open the piano for her.

“Madam,” young Mosenberg said to her, “it is a long time since I heard
one of your strange Gaelic songs.”

“Perhaps you never heard this one,” Sheila said, and she began to sing
the plaintive “Farewell to Glenshalloch.” Many a time, indeed, of late
had she sung its simple and pathetic air as a sort of lullaby, perhaps
because it was gentle, monotonous and melancholy, perhaps because there
were lines here and there that she liked. Many a time had she sung--

    Sleep sound, my sweet babe, there is naught to alarm thee,
    The sons of the valley no power have to harm thee,
    I’ll sing thee to rest in the balloch untrodden,
    With a coronach sad for the slain of Culloden.

But long before she had reached the end of it her father’s patience gave
way, and he said, “Sheila, we will hef no more of those teffles of
songs! We will hef a good song; and there is more than one of the
gentlemen can sing a good song, and we do not wish to be always crying
over the sorrows of other people. Now be a good lass, Sheila, and sing
us a good cheerful song.”

And Sheila, with great good nature, suddenly struck a different key, and
sang with a spirit that delighted the old man.

    The standard on the braes o’ Mar
      Is up and streaming rarely;
    The gathering pipe on Lochnagar
      Is sounding lang and clearly;
    The Highlandmen from hill and glen,
    In martial hue, with bonnets blue,
    Wi’ belted plaids and burnished blades,
      Are coming late and early.

“Now, that is a better kind of song--that is a teffle of a good song,”
Mackenzie cried, keeping time to the music with his right foot, as if he
were a piper playing in front of his regiment. “Wass there anything like
that in your country, Mr. Mosenberg?”

“I don’t know, sir,” said the lad meekly, “but if you like, I will sing
you one of our soldiers’ songs. They have plenty of fire in them, I
think.”

Certainly, Mackenzie had plenty of brilliant and cheerful and stirring
music that evening, but that which pleased him most, doubtless, was to
see, as all the world could see, the happiness of his good lass. Sheila,
proud and glad, with a light on her face that had not been there for
many a day, wanted to do everything at once to please and amuse her
guests, and most of all to wait upon her husband; and Lavender was so
abashed by her sweet service and her simple ways that he could show his
gratitude only by some furtive and kindly touch of the hand as Sheila
passed.

It seemed to him she had never looked so beautiful, and never, indeed
since they left Stornoway together had he heard her quiet, low laugh so
full of enjoyment. What had he done, he asked himself, to deserve her
confidence, for it was the hope in her proud and gentle eyes that gave
that radiant brightness to her face. He did not know. He could not
answer. Perhaps the foregiveness she had so freely and frankly tendered,
and the confidence she now so clearly showed in him, sprang from no
judgment or argument, but were only the natural fruit of an abounding
and generous love. More than once that night he wished that Sheila could
read the next half-dozen years as though in some prophetic scroll, that
he might show her how he would endeavor to prove himself, if not
unworthy--for he could scarcely hope that--at least conscious of her
great and unselfish affection, and as grateful for it as a man could be.

They pushed their enjoyment to such a late hour of the night that when
they discovered what time it was, Mackenzie would not allow one of them
to venture out into the dark to find the path down to the yacht, and
Duncan and Scarlett were forthwith called on to provide the belated
guests with some more or less haphazard sleeping accommodation.

“Mr. Mackenzie,” said Johnny, “I don’t mind a bit if I sleep on the
floor. I’ve just had the jolliest night I ever spent in my life.
Mosenberg, you’ll have to take the Phœbe back to Greenock by
yourself; I shall never leave Borva any more.”

“You will be sober in the morning, Mr. Eyre,” young Mosenberg said; but
the remark was unjust, for Johnny’s enthusiasm had not been produced by
the old king’s whisky, potent as that was.



CHAPTER XXVII.