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Title: Sir Robert's Fortune
Author: Oliphant, Mrs. (Margaret)
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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                         SIR ROBERT’S FORTUNE

                                A Novel

                                  BY

                             MRS. OLIPHANT

        AUTHOR OF “CHRONICLES OF CARLINGFORD” “HARRY JOSCELYN”
                  “HE THAT WILL NOT WHEN HE MAY” ETC.

                       [Illustration: colophon]

                               NEW YORK

                     HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS
                                 1894

                Copyright, 1894, by HARPER & BROTHERS.

                        _All rights reserved._


            _Printed by the Mershon Company, Rahway, N.J._



SIR ROBERT’S FORTUNE



CHAPTER I


“We are to see each other no more.”

These words were breathed rather than spoken in the dim recess of a
window, hidden behind ample curtains, the deep recess in which the
window was set leaving room enough for two figures standing close
together. Without was a misty night, whitened rather than lighted by a
pale moon.

“Who says so?”

“Alas! my uncle,” said the white figure, which looked misty, like the
night, in undistinguishable whiteness amid the darkness round.

The other figure was less distinguishable still, no more than a faint
solidity in the atmosphere, but from it came a deeper whisper, the low
sound of a man’s voice. “Your uncle!” it said.

There was character in the voices enough to throw some light upon the
speakers, even though they were unseen.

The woman’s had a faint accentuation of feeling, not of anxiety, yet
half defiance and half appeal. It seemed to announce a fact
unchangeable, yet to look and hope for a contradiction. The man’s had a
tone of acceptance and dismay. The fiat which had gone forth was more
real to him than to her, though she was in the position of asserting and
he of opposing it.

“Yes,” she said, “Ronald, my uncle--who has the strings of the purse and
every thing else in his hands----”

There was a moment’s pause, and then he said: “How does he mean to
manage that?”

“I am to be sent off to-morrow--it’s all settled--and if I had not
contrived to get out to-night, you would never have known.”

“But where? It all depends upon that,” he said with a little impatience.

“To Dalrugas,” she answered, with a sigh; and then: “It is miles and
miles from anywhere--a moor and a lodge, and not even a cottage near.
Dougal and his wife live there, and take care of the place; not a soul
can come near it--it is the end of the world. Oh, Ronald, what shall I
do? what shall I do?”

Once more in the passionate distress of the tone there was an appeal,
and a sort of feverish hope.

“We must think; we must think,” he said.

“What will thinking do? It will not change my uncle’s heart, nor the
distance, nor the dreadful solitude. What does he care if it kills me?
or any body?” The last words came from her with a shriller tone of
misery, as if it had become too much to bear.

“Hush, hush, for Heaven’s sake; they will hear you!” he said.

On the other side of the curtain there was a merry crowd in full career
of a reel, which in those days had not gone out of fashion as now. The
wild measure of the music, now quickening to lightning speed, now
dropping to sedater motion, with the feet of the dancers keeping time,
filled the atmosphere--a shriek would scarcely have been heard above
that mirthful din.

“Oh, why do you tell me to hush?” cried the girl impetuously. “Why
should I mind who hears? It is not for duty or love that I obey him, but
only because he has the money. Am I caring for his money? I could get my
own living: it would not want much. Why do I let him do what he likes
with me?”

“My darling,” said the man’s voice anxiously, “don’t do any thing rash,
for God’s sake! Think of our future. To displease him, to rebel, would
spoil every thing. I see hope in the loneliness, for my part. Be
patient, be patient, and let me work it out.”

“Oh, your working out!” she cried. “What good has it done? I would cut
the knot. It would be strange if we two could not get enough to live
upon--or myself, if you are afraid.”

He soothed her, coming closer, till the dark shadow and the white one
seemed but one, and murmured caressing words in her ears: “Let us wait
till the case is desperate, Lily. It is not desperate yet. I see chances
in the moor and the wilderness. He is playing into our hands if he only
knew it. Don’t, don’t spoil every thing by your impatience! Leave it to
me, and you’ll see good will come out of it.”

“I would rather take it into my own hands!” she cried.

“No, dearest, no! I see--I see all sorts of good in it. Go quite
cheerfully, as if you were pleased. No, your own way is best--don’t let
us awake any suspicions--go as if you were breaking your heart.”

“There will be no feigning in that,” she said; “I shall be breaking my
heart.”

“For a moment,” he said. “‘Weeping endureth for a night, but joy cometh
in the morning.’”

“Don’t, Ronald! I can’t bear to hear you quoting Scripture.”

“Why not? I am not the devil, I hope,” he said, with a low laugh.

There was a question in the girl’s hot, impatient heart, and then a
quick revulsion of feeling. “I don’t know what to do, or to think; I
feel as if I could not bear it,” she said, the quick tears dropping from
her eyes.

He wiped them tenderly away with the flourish of a white handkerchief in
the dark. “Trust to me,” he said soothingly. “Be sure it is for our
good, this. Listen: they are calling for you, Lily.”

“Oh, what do I care? How can I go among them all, and dance as if I
were as gay as the rest, when my heart is broken?”

“Not so badly broken but that it will mend,” he whispered, as with a
clever, swift movement he put aside the curtain and led her through. He
was so clever: where any other man would have been lost in perplexity,
or even despair, Ronald Lumsden always saw a way through. He was never
at a loss for an expedient: even that way of getting back to the room
out of the shadow of the curtains no one could have performed so easily,
so naturally as he did. He met and entered into the procession of
dancers going out of the room after the exertions of that reel as if he
and his partner formed part of it, and had been dancing too. People did
not “sit out” in those days, and Ronald was famous for his skill in the
national dance. Nobody doubted that he had been exerting himself with
the rest. Lily was half English--that is, she had been sent to England
for part of her education, and so far as reels were concerned, had lost
some of her native skill, and was not so clever. She was not, indeed,
supposed to be clever at all, though very nice, and pretty enough, and
an heiress--at least she was likely to be an heiress, if she continued
to please her uncle, who was not an easy man to please, and exacted
absolute obedience. There were people who shook their heads over her
chances, declaring that flesh and blood could not stand Sir Robert
Ramsay’s moods; but up to this time Lily had been more or less
successful, and the stake being so great, she had, people said, “every
encouragement” to persevere.

But Lily was by no means so strong as her lover, who joined the throng
as if he had formed part of it, with a perfect air of enjoyment and
light-heartedness. Lily could not look happy. It may be said that in his
repeated assurance that all would be right, and that he would find a way
out of it, she ought to have taken comfort, feeling in that a pledge of
his fidelity and steadiness to his love. But there was something in this
readiness of resource which discouraged, she could not have told why,
instead of making her happy. It would have been so much simpler, so
much more satisfactory, to have given up all thoughts of Sir Robert’s
money, and trusted to Providence and their own exertions to bring them
through. Lily felt that she could make any sacrifice, live upon nothing,
live anywhere, work her fingers to the bone, only to be independent, to
be free of the bondage of the uncle and the consciousness that it was
not for love but for his money that she had to accept all his caprices
and yield him obedience. If Ronald would but have yielded, if he would
have been imprudent, as so many young men were, how thankful she would
have been! She would have been content with the poorest living anywhere
to be free, to be with him whom she loved. She would have undertaken the
conduct of their little _ménage_ herself, without even thinking of
servants; she would have cooked for him, cleaned the house for him,
shrunk from nothing. But that, alas, was not Ronald’s way of looking at
the matter. He believed in keeping up appearances, in being rich at
almost any cost, and, at best, in looking rich if he were not really so;
and, above all and beyond all, in keeping well with the uncle, and
retaining the fortune. He would not have any doubt thrown on the
necessity of that. He was confident of his own powers of cheating the
uncle, and managing so that Lily should have all she wanted, in spite of
him, by throwing dust in his eyes. But Lily’s soul revolted against
throwing dust in any one’s eyes. This was the great difference between
them. I do not say that there was any great sin in circumventing a harsh
old man, who never paused to think what he was doing, or admitted a
question as to whether he was or was not absolutely in the right. He was
one of the men who always know themselves to be absolutely right;
therefore he was, as may be said, fair game. But Lily did not like it.
She would have liked a lover who said: “Never mind, we shall be happy
without him and his fortune.” She had tried every thing she knew to
bring young Lumsden to this point. But she was not able to do so: his
opinion was that every thing must be done to preserve the fortune, and
that, however hard it might be, there was nothing so hard but that it
must be done to humor old Sir Robert, to prevent him from cutting his
niece out of his will. Was not this right? Was it not prudent, wise, the
best thing? If he, an advocate without a fee, a briefless barrister,
living as best he could on chance windfalls and bits of journalism, had
been as bold as she desired, and carried her off from the house in Moray
Place to some garret of his own up among the roofs, would not every-body
have said that he had taken advantage of her youth and inexperience, and
deprived her of all the comforts and luxuries she was used to? That Lily
cared nothing for those luxuries, and that she was of the mettle to
adapt herself to any circumstances, so long as she had somebody to love
and who loved her, was not a thing to reckon with public opinion about;
and, indeed, Ronald Lumsden would have thought himself quite unjustified
in reckoning with it at all. To tell the truth, he had no desire on his
own part to give up such modest luxuries for himself as were to be had.

The day of clubs was not yet, at least in Edinburgh, to make life easy
for young men, but yet to get along, as he was doing precariously, was
easier for one than it would be for two. Even Lily, all hot for
sacrifice and for ministering with her own hands to all the needs of
life, had never contemplated the idea of doing without Robina, her maid,
who had been with her so many years that it was impossible for either of
them to realize what life would be if they were separated. Even if it
should be a necessary reality, Robina was included as a matter of
course. How it might be that Lily should require to scrub, and clean,
and cook with her own hands, while she was attended by a lady’s maid,
was a thing she had never reasoned out. You may think that a lady’s maid
would probably be of less use than her mistress had such service been
necessary; but this was not Robina’s case, who was a very capable person
all round, and prided herself on being able to “turn her hand” to any
thing. But then a runaway match was the last thing that was in
Lumsden’s thoughts.

It was a dance which every-body enjoyed that evening in the big,
old-fashioned rooms in George Square. George Square has fallen out of
knowledge in all the expansions of new Edinburgh, the Edinburgh that
lies on the other side of the valley, and dates no farther back than
last century. It also is of last century, but earlier than the Moray
Places and Crescents; far earlier than the last developments, the
Belgravia of the town. There Sir Walter once lived, in, I think, his
father’s house; and these substantial, ample, homely houses were the
first outlet of the well-to-do, the upper classes, of Edinburgh out of
the closes and high-up apartments, approached through the atrocities of
a common stair, in which so refined and luxurious a sybarite as Lawyer
Pleydell still lived in Sir Walter’s own time. These mansions are
severely plain outside--“undemonstrative,” as Scotch pride arrogantly
declares itself to be, aping humility with a pretence to which I, for
one, feel disposed to allow no quarter; but they are large and pleasant
inside, and the big square rooms the very thing to dance in or to feast
in. They were full of a happy crowd, bright in color and lively in
movement, with a larger share of golden hair and rosy cheeks than is to
be seen in most assemblies, and, perhaps, a greater freedom of laughter
and talk than would have been appropriate to a solemn ball in other
localities. For Edinburgh was not so large then as now, and they all
knew each other, and called each other by their Christian names--boy and
girl alike--with a general sense of fraternity modified by almost as
many love affairs as there were pairs of boys and girls present. There
were mothers and aunts all round the wide walls, but this did not subdue
the hilarity of the young ones, who knew each other’s mothers and aunts
almost as well as they knew their own, and counted upon their
indulgence. Lily Ramsay was almost the only girl who had nobody of her
own to turn to; but this only made her the more protected and
surrounded, every-body feeling that the motherless girl had a special
claim. They were by no means angels, these old-fashioned Edinburgh folk:
sharper tongues could not be than were to be found among them, or more
wicked wits; but there was a great deal of kindness under the terrible
turbans which crowned the heads of the elder ladies and the scarfs which
fell from their bare shoulders, and they all knew every one, and every
one’s father and mother for generations back. Their dress was queer, or
rather, I should have said, it was queer before the present revival of
the early Victorian or late Georgian style began. They wore puffed-out
sleeves, with small feather pillows in them to keep them inflated; they
had bare shoulders and ringlets; they had scarfs of lace or silk,
carefully disposed so as not to cover any thing, but considered very
classical and graceful, drawn in over the elbows, by people who knew how
to wear them, making manifest the slender waist (or often the outlines
of a waist which had ceased to be slender) behind. And they had, as has
been said, a dreadful particular, which it is to be hoped the blind fury
of fashion will not bring up again--turbans upon their heads. Turbans
such as no Indian or Bedouin ever wore, of all colors and every kind of
savage decoration, such as may be seen in pictures of that alarming age.

When young Lumsden left his Lily, it was in the midst of a group of
girls collected together in the interval between two dances, lamenting
that the programme was nearly exhausted, and that mamma had made a point
of not staying later than three o’clock. “Because it disturbs papa!”
said one of them indignantly, “though we all know he would go on snoring
if the Castle Rock were to fall!” They all said papa and mamma in those
days.

“But mamma says there are so many parties going,” said another: “a ball
for almost every night next week; and what are we to do for dresses?
Tarlatan’s in rags with two, and even a silk slip is shameful to look at
at the end of a week.”

“Lily has nothing to do but to get another whenever she wants it,” said
Jeanie Scott.

“And throw away the old ones, she’s such a grand lady,” said Maggie
Lauder.

“Hold all your tongues,” said Bella Rutherford; “it does her this good,
that she thinks less about it than any of us.”

“She has other things to think of,” cried another; and there was a laugh
and a general chorus, “So have we all.” “But, Lily! is Sir Robert as
dour as ever?” one of the rosy creatures cried.

“I don’t think I am going to any more of your balls,” said Lily; “I’m
tired of dancing. We just dance, dance, and think of nothing else.”

“What else should we think about at our age?” said Mary Bell, opening
wide a pair of round blue eyes.

“We’ll have plenty other things to think about, mamma says, and that
soon enough,” said Alison Murray, who was just going to be married, with
a sigh. “But there’s the music striking up again, and who’s my partner?
for I’m sure I don’t remember whether its Alick Scott, or Johnnie
Beatoun, or Bob Murray. Oh! is it you, Bob?” she said with relief,
putting her hand upon an outstretched arm. They were almost all in a
similar perplexity, except, indeed, such as had their own special
partner waiting. Lily was almost glad that it was not Ronald, but a big
young Macgregor, who led her off to the top of the room to a sedate
quadrille. The waltz existed in those days, but it was still an
indulgence, and looked upon with but scant favor by the mothers. The
elder folks were scandalized by the close contact, and even the girls
liked best that it should be an accepted lover, or at the least a
brother or cousin, whose arm encircled their waist. So they still
preferred dances in which there were “figures,” and took their pleasure
occasionally in a riotous “Lancers” or a merry reel with great relief.
Lily was young enough to forget herself and her troubles even in the
slow movement of the quadrilles, with every-body else round chattering
and beaming and forgetting when it was their turn to dance. But she said
to herself that it was the last. Of all these dances of which they spoke
she would see none. When the others gathered, delighted to enjoy
themselves, she would be gazing across the dark moor, hearing nothing
but the hum of insects and the cry of the curlew, or, perhaps, a
watchful blackbird in the little clump of trees. Well! for to-night she
would forget.

I need not say it was Lumsden who saw her to her own door on the other
side of the square. No one there would have been such a spoil-sport as
to interfere with his right whatever old Sir Robert might say. They
stole out in a lull of the leave-taking, when the most of the people
were gone, and others lingered for just this “one more” for which the
girls pleaded. The misty moonlight filled the square, and made all the
waiting carriages look like ghostly equipages bent upon some mystic
journey in the middle of the night. They paused at the corner of the
square, where the road led down to the pleasant Meadows, all white and
indefinite in the mist, spreading out into the distance. Lumsden would
fain have drawn her away into a little further discussion, wandering
under the trees, where they would have met nobody at that hour; but Lily
was not bold enough to walk in the Meadows between two and three in the
morning. She was willing, however, to walk up and down a little on the
other side of the square before she said good-night. Nobody saw them
there, except some of the coachmen on the boxes, who were too sleepy to
mind who passed, and Robina, who had silently opened the door and was
waiting for her mistress. Robina was several years older than Lily, and
had relinquished all thoughts of a sweetheart in her own person. She
stood concealing herself in the doorway, ready, if any sound should be
made within which denoted wakefulness on the part of Sir Robert, to
snatch her young lady even from her lover’s arms; and watching, with
very mingled feelings, the pair half seen--the white figure congenial to
the moonlight, and the dark one just visible, like a prop to a flower.
“Lily’s her name and Lily’s her nature,” said Robina to herself, with a
little moisture in her kind eyes; “but, oh! is he worthy of her, is he
worthy of her?” This was too deep a question to be solved by any thing
but time and proof, which are the last things to satisfy the heart. At
last there was a lingering parting, and Lily stole, in her white wraps,
all white from top to toe, into the dark and silent house.



CHAPTER II


Lily’s room was faintly illuminated by a couple of candles, which, as it
was a large room with gloomy furniture, made little more than darkness
visible, except about the table on which they stood, the white cover of
which, and the dressing-glass that stood upon it, diffused the light a
little. It was not one of those dainty chambers in which our Lilys of
the present day are housed. One side of the room was occupied by a large
wardrobe of almost black mahogany, polished and gleaming with many
years’ manipulation, but out of reach of these little lights. The bed
was a large four-post bed, which once had been hung with those moreen
curtains which were the triumph of the bad taste of our fathers, and had
their appropriate accompaniment in black hair-cloth sofas and chairs.
Lily had been allowed to substitute for the moreen white dimity, which
was almost as bad, and hung stiff as a board from the valance ornamented
with bobs of cotton tassels. She could not help it if that was the best
that could be done in her day. Every thing, except the bed, was dark,
and the distance of the large room was black as night, except for the
relief of an open door into a small dressing-room which Robina occupied,
and in which a weird little dip candle with a long wick unsnuffed was
burning feebly. Nobody can imagine nowadays what it was to have candles
which required snuffing, and which, if not attended to, soon began to
bend and topple over, with a small red column of consumed wick, in the
midst of a black and smoking crust. A silver snuffer tray is quite a
pretty article nowadays, and proves that its possessor had a
grandfather; but then! The candles on the dressing-table, however, were
carefully snuffed, and burned as brightly as was possible for them while
Robina took off her young mistress’s great white Indian mantle, with its
silken embroideries, and undid her little pearl necklace. Lily had the
milk-white skin of a Scotch girl, and the rose-tints; but she was brown
in hair and eyes, as most people are in all countries, and had no glow
of golden hair about her. She was tired and pale that night, and the
tears were very near her eyes.

“Ye’ve been dancing more than ye should; these waltzes and new-fangled
things are real exhaustin’,” Robina said.

“I have been dancing very little,” said Lily; “my heart was too heavy.
How can you dance when you have got your sentence in your pocket, and
the police coming for you to haul you away to the Grassmarket by skreigh
of day?”

“Hoot, away with ye!” cried Robina, “what nonsense are ye talking? My
bonnie dear, ye’ll dance many a night yet at a’ the assemblies, and go
in on your ain man’s airm----”

“It’s you that’s talking nonsense now. On whose arm? Have we not got our
sentence, you and me, to be banished to Dalrugas to-morrow, and never to
come back--unless----”

“Ay, Miss Lily, unless! but that’s a big word.”

“It is, perhaps, a big word; but it cannot touch me, that am not of the
kind that breaks my word or changes my mind,” said Lily, raising her
head with a gesture full of pride.

“Oh, Miss Lily, my dear, I ken what the Ramsays are!” cried the faithful
maid; “but there might be two meanings till it,” and she breathed a half
sigh over her young mistress’s head.

“You think, I know--and maybe I once thought, too; but you may dismiss
that from your mind, as I do,” said the girl, with a shake of the head
as if she were shaking something off. And then she added, clasping her
hands together: “Oh, if I were strong enough just to say, ‘I am not
caring about your money. I am not afraid to be poor. I can work for my
own living, and you can give your siller where you please!’ Oh, Beenie,
that is what I want to say!”

“No, my darlin’, no; you must not say that. Oh, you must not say that!”
Robina cried.

“And why? I must not do this or the other, and who are you that dares to
say so? I am my mother’s daughter as well as my father’s, and if that’s
not as good blood, it has a better heart. I might go there--they would
not refuse me.”

“Without a penny,” said Robina. “Can you think o’t, Miss Lily? And is
that no banishment too?”

Lily rose from her chair, shaking herself free from her maid, with her
pretty hair all hanging about her shoulders. It was pretty hair, though
it was brown like every-body else’s, full of incipient curl, the
crispness yet softness of much life. She shook it about her with her
rapid movement, bringing out all the undertones of color, and its wavy
freedom gave an additional sparkle to her eyes and animation to her
look. “Without a penny!” she cried. “And who is caring about your
pennies? You and the like of you, but not me, Beenie--not me! What do I
care for the money, the filthy siller, the pound notes, all black with
the hands they’ve come through! Am I minding about the grand dinners
that are never done, and the parties, where you never see those you want
to see, and the balls, where---- Just a little cottage, a drink of milk,
and a piece of cake off the girdle, and plenty to do: it’s that that
would please me!”

“Oh, my bonnie Miss Lily!” was all that Beenie said.

“And when I see,” said the girl, pacing up and down the room, her hair
swinging about her shoulders, her white under-garments all afloat about
her in the energy of her movements, “that other folk think of that
first. Whatever you do, you must not risk your fortune. Whatever you
have to bear, you must not offend your uncle, for he has the
purse-strings in his hand. Oh, my uncle, my uncle! It’s not,” she cried,
“that I wouldn’t be fond of him if he would let me, and care for what he
said, and do what he wanted as far as I was able: but his money! I
wish--oh, I wish his money--his money--was all at the bottom of the
sea!”

“Whisht! whisht!” cried Beenie, with a movement of horror. “Oh, but
that’s a dreadful wish! You would, maybe, no like it yourself, Miss
Lily, for all you think now; but what would auld Sir Robert be without
his money? Instead of a grand gentleman, as he is, he would just be a
miserable auld man. He couldna bide it; he would be shootin’ himself or
something terrible. His fine dinners and his house, and his made dishes
and his wine that costs as much as would keep twa-three honest families!
Oh, ye dinna mean it, ye dinna mean it, Miss Lily! You dinna ken what
you are saying; ye wouldna like it yoursel’, and, oh, to think o’ him!”

Lily threw herself down in the big chair, which rose above her head with
its high back and brought out all her whiteness against its sober cover.
She was silenced--obviously by the thought thus suggested of Sir Robert
as a poor man, which was an absurdity, and perhaps secretly, in that
innermost seclusion of the heart, which even its possessor does not
always realize, by a faint chill of wonder whether she would indeed and
really like to be poor, as she protested she should. It was quite true
that a drink of milk and a piece of oatcake appeared to her as much
nourishment as any person of refinement need care for. In the novels of
her day, which always affect the young mind, all the heroines lived upon
such fare, and were much superior to beef and mutton. But there were
undoubtedly other things--Robina, for instance; although no thought of
parting from Robina had ever crossed Lily’s mind as a necessary part of
poverty. But she was silenced by these thoughts. She had not, indeed,
ever confessed in so many words even to Robina, scarcely to herself,
that it was Ronald who cared for the money, and that it was the want of
any impulse on his part to do without it that carried so keen a pang to
her heart. Had he cried, “A fig for the money!” then it might have been
her part to temporize and be prudent. The impetuosity, the recklessness,
should not, she felt, be on her side.

It was on the very next day that her decision was to be made, and it had
not been till all other means had failed that Sir Robert had thus put
the matter to the touch. He had opposed her in many gentler ways before
it came to that. Sir Robert was not a brute or a tyrant--very far from
it. He was an old gentleman of fine manners, pluming himself on his
successes with “the other sex,” and treating all women with a superfine
courtesy which only one here and there divined to conceal contempt. Few
men--one may say with confidence, no elderly man without wife or
daughters--has much respect for women in general. It is curious, it is
to some degree reciprocal, it is of course always subject to personal
exceptions; yet it is the rule between the two sections of humanity
which nevertheless have to live in such intimate intercourse with each
other. In an old bachelor like Sir Robert, and one, too, who was
conscious of having imposed upon many women, this prepossession was more
strong than among men of more natural relationships. And Lily, who was
only his niece, and had not lived with him until very lately, had not
overcome all prejudices in his mind, as it is sometimes given to a
daughter to do. He had thought first that he could easily separate her
from the young man who did not please him, and bestow her, as he had a
right to bestow his probable heiress, on whom he pleased. When this
proved ineffectual, he cursed her obstinacy, but reflected that it was a
feature in women, and therefore nothing to be surprised at. They were
always taken in by fictitious qualities--who could know it better than
he?--and considered it a glory to stick to a suitor unpalatable to
their belongings. And then he had threatened her with the loss of the
fortune which she had been brought up to expect. “See if this fine
fellow you think so much of will have you without your money,” he said.
Lily had never in so many words put Lumsden to the trial, never proposed
to him to defy Sir Robert; but she had made many an attempt to discover
his thoughts, and even to push him to this rash solution, and, with an
ache at her heart, had felt that there was at least a doubt whether the
fine fellow would think so much of her if she were penniless. She had
never put it to the test, partly because she dared not, though she had
not been able to refrain from an occasional burst of defiance and hot
entreaty to Sir Robert to keep his money to himself. And now she was to
decide for herself--to give Ronald over forever, or to give over
Edinburgh and the society in which she might meet him, and keep her love
at the cost of martyrdom in her uncle’s lonely shooting-box on the
moors. There was, of course, a second alternative--that which she had so
often thought of: to refuse, to leave Sir Robert’s house, to seek refuge
in some cottage, to live on milk and oatcake, and provide for herself.
If the alternative had been to run away with her lover, to be married to
him in humility and poverty, to keep his house and cook his dinners and
iron his linen, Lily would not have hesitated for a moment. But he had
not asked her to do this--had not dreamed of it, it seemed; and to run
away alone and work for herself would be, Lily felt, to expose him to
much animadversion as well as herself; and, most of all, it would betray
fully to herself and to her uncle, with that sneer on his face, the
certainty that Ronald would not risk having her without her money, that
discovery which she held at arm’s-length and would not consent to make
herself sure of. All these thoughts were tumultuous in her mind as she
opened her eyes to the light of a new day. This was the final moment,
the turning-point of her life. She thought at first when she woke that
it was still the same misty moonlight on which she had shut her eyes,
and that there must still be some hours between her and the day. But it
was only an easterly haar with which the air was full--a state of
atmosphere not unknown in Edinburgh, and which wraps the landscape in a
blinding shroud as of white wool, obliterating every feature in a place
which has so many. Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Craigs and the Castle
Rock had all disappeared in it from those who were in a position to see
them; and here, in George Square, even the brown houses opposite had
gone out of sight, and the trees in the garden loomed dimly like ghosts,
a branch thrust out here and there. Lily asked herself, was it still
night? And then her mind awoke to a state of the atmosphere not at all
unusual, and a sense that the moment of her fate had arrived, and that
every thing must be settled for her for good or for evil this day.

She was very quiet, and said scarcely any thing even to Robina, who
dressed her young mistress with the greatest care, bringing out a dress
of which Sir Robert had expressed his approval, without consulting Lily,
who indeed paid little attention to this important matter. Considering
the visions of poverty and independence that ran in her mind, it was
wonderful how peaceably she resigned herself to Robina’s administration.
Sometimes, when a fit of that independence seized her, she would push
Robina away and do every thing for herself. Beenie much exaggerated the
misfortunes of the result in such moments. “Her hair just a’ come down
tumbling about her shoulders in five minutes,” she said, which was not
true: though Lily did not deny that she was not equal to the elaborate
braids which were in fashion at the moment, and could not herself plait
her hair in any thing more than three strands, while Beenie was capable
of seven, or any number more.

But to-day she was quite passive, and took no interest in her
appearance. Her hair was dressed in a sort of coronet, which was a mode
only used on grand occasions. Ordinarily it was spread over the back of
the head in woven coils and circles. There was not any thing
extraordinary in Lily’s beauty. It was the beauty of youth and
freshness and health, a good complexion, good eyes, and features not
much to speak of. People did not follow her through the streets, nor
stand aside to make way for her when she entered a room. In Edinburgh
there were hundreds as pretty as she; and yet, when all was said, she
was a pretty creature, good enough and fair enough to be a delight and
pride to any one who loved her. She had innumerable faults, but she was
all the sweeter for them, and impulses of temper, swift wrath, and
indignation, and impatience, which proved her to be any thing but
perfect. Sometimes she would take you up at a word and misinterpret you
altogether. In all things she was apt to be too quick, to run away with
a meaning before you, if you were of slow movement, had got it half
expressed. And this and many other things about her were highly
provoking, and called forth answering impatience from others. But for
all this she was a very lovable, and, as other girls said, nice, girl.
She raised no jealousies; she entertained no spites. She was always
natural and spontaneous, and did nothing from calculation, not even so
much as the putting on of a dress. It did not occur to her even to
think, to enquire whether she was looking her best when the hour had
come at which she was to go to Sir Robert. Robina took her by the
shoulders and turned her slowly round before the glass; but Lily did not
know why. She gave her faithful servant a faint smile over her own
shoulder in the mirror, but it did not enter into her mind that it was
expedient to look her best when she went down stairs to her uncle. If
any one had put it into words, she would have asked, what did he care?
Would he so much as notice her dress? It was ridiculous to think of such
a thing--an old man like Sir Robert, with his head full of different
matters. Thus, without any thought on that subject, she went slowly down
stairs--not flying, as was her wont--very sedately, as if she were
counting every step; for was it not her fate and Ronald’s which was to
be settled to-day?



CHAPTER III


“So you are there, Lily,” Sir Robert said.

“Yes, uncle, I am here.”

“There is one thing about you,” he said, with a laugh: “you never shirk.
Now judicious shirking is not a bad thing. I might have forgotten all
about it----”

“But I couldn’t forget,” said Lily firmly. These words, however, roused
her to sudden self-reproach. If she had not been so exact, perhaps the
crisis might have been tided over and nothing happened. It was just like
her! Supposing her little affairs were of more importance than any thing
else in the world! This roused her from the half-passive condition in
which she had spent the morning, the feeling that every thing depended
on her uncle, and nothing on herself.

“Now that you are here,” he said, not at all unkindly, “you may as well
sit down. While you stand there I feel that you have come to scold me
for some fault of mine, which is a reversal of the just position, don’t
you think?”

“No, uncle,” replied Lily, “of course I have not come to scold you--that
would be ridiculous; but I am not come to be scolded either, for I have
not done any thing wrong.”

“We’ll come to that presently. Sit down, sit down,” he said with
impatience. Lily placed herself on the chair he pushed toward her, and
then there was a moment’s silence. Sir Robert was an old man (in Lily’s
opinion) and she was a young girl, but they were antagonists not badly
matched, and he had a certain respect for the pluck and firmness of this
little person who was not afraid of him. They were indeed so evenly
matched that there ensued a little pause as they both looked at each
other in the milky-white daylight, full of mist and cold, which filled
the great windows. Sir Robert had a fire, though fires had been given
up in the house. It burned with a little red point, sultry and
smouldering, as fires have a way of doing in summer. The room was large
and sombre, with pale green walls hung with some full-length portraits,
the furniture all large, heavy, and dark. A white bust of himself stood
stern upon a black pedestal in a corner--so white that amid all the
sober lines of the room it caught the eye constantly. And Sir Robert was
not a handsome man. His features were blunt and his air homely; his head
was not adapted for marble. In that hard material it looked frowning,
severe, and merciless. The bust had lived in this room longer than Sir
Robert had done, and Lily had derived her first impressions of him from
its unyielding face. The irregularities of the real countenance leaned
to humor and a shrewdness which was not unkindly; but there was no
relenting in the marble head.

“Well,” he said at last, “now we’ve met to have it out, Lily. You take
me at my word, and it is best so. How old are you now?”

“I don’t see,” said Lily breathlessly, “what that can have to do with
it, uncle! but I’m twenty-two--or at least I shall be on the 20th of
August, and that is not far away.”

“No, it is not far away. Twenty-two--and I am--well, sixty-two, we may
say, with allowances. That is a great difference between people that
meet to discuss an important question--on quite an equal footing, Lily,
as you suppose.”

“I never pretended--to be your equal, uncle!”

“No, I don’t suppose so--not in words, not in experience, and such
like--but in intention and all that, and in knowing what suits
yourself.”

Lily made no reply, but she looked at him--silent, not yielding, tapping
her foot unconsciously on the carpet, nervous, yet firm, not disposed to
give way a jot, though she recognized a certain truth in what he said.

“This gives you, you must see, a certain advantage to begin with,” said
Sir Robert, “for you are firmly fixed upon one thing, whatever I say or
any one, and determined not to budge from your position; whereas I am
quite willing to hear reason, if there is any reason to show.”

“Uncle!” Lily said, and then closed her lips and returned to her
silence. It was hard for her to keep silent with her disposition, and
yet she suddenly perceived, with one of those flashes of understanding
which sometimes came to her, that silence could not be controverted,
whereas words under Sir Robert’s skilful attack would probably topple
over at once, like a house of cards.

“Well?” he said. While she, poor child, was panting and breathless, he
was quite cool and collected. At present he rather enjoyed the sight of
the little thing’s tricks and devices, and was amused to watch how far
her natural skill, and that intuitive cunning which such a man believes
every woman to possess, would carry her. He was a little provoked that
she did not follow that impetuous exclamation “Uncle!” with any thing
more.

“Well,” he repeated, wooing her, as he hoped, to destruction, “what
more? Unless you state your case how am I to find out whether there is
any justice in it or not?”

“Uncle,” said Lily, “I did not come to state my case, which would not
become me. I came because you objected to me, to hear what you wanted me
to do.”

“By Jove!” said Sir Robert, with a laugh; and then he added, “To be so
young you are a very cool hand, my dear.”

“How am I a cool hand? I am not cool at all. I am very anxious. It does
not matter much to you, Uncle Robert, what you do with me; but,” said
Lily, tears springing to her eyes, “it will matter a great deal to me.”

“You little----” He could not find an epithet that suited, so left the
adjective by itself, in sheer disability to express himself. He would
have said hussy had he been an Englishman. He was tempted to say cutty,
being a Scot--innocent epithets enough, both, but sufficient to make
that little---- flare up. “You mean,” he said, “I suppose, that you have
nothing to do with it, and that the whole affair is in my hands.”

“Yes, uncle, I think it is,” said Lily very sedately.

He looked at her again with another ejaculation on his lips, and then he
laughed.

“Well, my dear,” he said, “if that is the case, we can make short work
of it--as you are in such a submissive frame of mind and have no will or
intentions on your own part.”

Here Lily’s impatient spirit got the better of the hasty impulse of
policy which she had taken up by sudden inspiration. “I never said
that!” she cried.

“Then you will be so good as to explain to me what you did say, or
rather what you meant, which is more important still,” Sir Robert said.

“I meant--just what I have always meant,” said Lily, drawing back her
chair a little and fixing her eyes upon her foot, which beat the floor
with a nervous movement.

“And what is that?” he asked.

Lily drew back a little more, her foot ceased to tap, her hands clasped
each other. She looked up into his face with half-reproachful eyes full
of meaning. “Oh, Uncle Robert, you know!”

Sir Robert jumped up from his chair, and then sat down again.
Demonstrations of wrath were of no use. He felt inclined to cry, “You
little cutty!” again, but did not. He puffed out a quick breath, which
was a sign of great impatience, yet self-repression. “You mean, I
suppose, that things are exactly as they were--that you mean to pay no
attention to my representations, that you choose your own will above
mine--notwithstanding that I have complete power over you, and can do
with you what I will?”

“Nobody can do that,” said Lily, only half aloud. “I am not a doll,”
she said, “Uncle Robert. You have the power--so that I don’t like to
disobey you.”

“But do it all the same!” he cried.

“Not if I can help it. I would like to do it. I would like to be
independent. It seems dreadful that one should be obliged to do, not
what one wishes, but what another person wills. But you have the
power----”

“Of the ways and means,” he said; “I have the purse-strings in my hand.”

It was Lily’s turn now to start to her feet. “Oh, how mean of you, how
base of you!” she said. “You, a great man and a soldier, and me only a
girl. To threaten me with your purse-strings! As if I cared for your
purse-strings. Give it all away from me; give it all--that’s what I
should like best. I will go away with Beenie, and we’ll sew, or do
something else for our living. I’m very fond of poultry--I could be a
henwife; or there are many other things that I could do. Give it all
away! Tie them up tight. I just hate your money and your purse-strings.
I wish they were all at the bottom of the sea!”

“You would find things very different if they were, I can tell you,” he
said, with a snort.

“Oh, yes, very different. I would be free. I would take my own way. I
would have nobody to tyrannize over me. Oh, uncle! forgive me! forgive
me! I did not mean to say that! If you were poor, I would take care of
you. I would remember you were next to my father, and I would do any
thing you could say.”

He kept his eyes fixed on her as she stood thus, defiant yet
compunctious, before him. “I don’t doubt for a moment you would do every
thing that was most senseless and imprudent,” he said.

Then Lily dropped into her chair and cried a little--partly that she
could not help it, partly that it was a weapon of war like another--and
gained a little time. But Sir Robert was not moved by her crying; she
had not, indeed, expected that he would be.

“I don’t see what all this has to do with it,” he said. “Consider this
passage of arms over, and let us get to business, Lily. It was necessary
there should be a flash in the pan to begin.”

Lily dried her eyes; she set her little mouth much as Sir Robert set
his, and then said in a small voice: “I am quite ready, Uncle Robert,”
looking not unlike the bust as she did so. He did not look at all like
the bust, for there was a great deal of humor in his face. He thought he
saw through all this little flash in the pan, and that it had been
intended from the beginning as a preface of operations and by way of
subduing him to her will. In all of which he was quite wrong.

“I am glad to hear it, Lily. Now I want you to be reasonable: the
thunder is over and the air is clearer. You want to marry a man of whom
I don’t approve.”

“One word,” she said with great dignity. “I am wanting to marry--nobody.
There is plenty of time.”

“I accept the correction. You want to carry on a love affair which you
prefer at this moment. It is more fun than marrying, and in that way you
get all the advantages I can give you, and the advantage of a lover’s
attentions into the bargain. I congratulate you, my dear, on making the
best, as the preacher says, of both worlds.”

Lily flushed and clasped her hands together, and there came from her
expanded nostrils what in Sir Robert’s case we have called a snort of
passion. Lily’s nostrils were small and pretty and delicate. This was a
puff of heated breath, and no more.

“Eh?” he said; but she mastered herself and said nothing, which made it
more difficult for him to go on. Finally, however, he resumed.

“You think,” he said, “that it will be more difficult for me to restrain
you if you or your lover have no immediate intention of marrying. And
probably he--for I do him the justice to say he is a very acute
fellow--sees the advantage of that. But it will not do for me. I must
have certainty one way or another. I am not going to give the comfort of
my life over into your silly hands. No, I don’t even say that you are
sillier than most of your age--on the contrary; but I don’t mean,” he
added deliberately, “to put my peace of mind into your hands. You will
give me your word to give up the lad Lumsden, or else you will pack off
without another word to Dalrugas. It is a comfortable house, and Dougal
and his wife will be very attentive to you. What’s in a locality? George
Square is pleasant enough, but it’s prose of the deepest dye for a lady
in love. You’ll find nothing but poetry on my moor. Poetry,” he added,
with a laugh, “sonnets such as you will rarely match, and moonlight
nights, and all the rest of it; just the very thing for a lovelorn
maiden: but very little else, I allow. And what do you want more? Plenty
of time to think upon the happy man.”

His laugh was fiendish, Lily thought, who held herself with both her
hands to keep still and to retain command of herself. She made no
answer, though the self-restraint was almost more than she could bear.

“Well,” he said, after a pause, “is this what you are going to decide
upon? There is something to balance all these advantages. While you are
thinking of him he will probably _not_ return the compliment. Out of
sight, out of mind. He will most likely find another Lily not so closely
guarded as you, and while you are out of the way he will transfer his
attention to her. It will be quite natural. There are few men in the
world that would not do the same. And while you are gazing over the
moor, thinking of him, he will be taking the usual means to indemnify
himself and forget you.”

“I am not afraid,” said Lily tersely.

“Oh, you are not afraid? It’s little you know of men, my dear. Lumsden’s
a clever, ambitious young fellow. He perhaps believes he’s fond of you.
He is fond of any thing that will help him on in the world and give him
what he wants--which is a helping hand in life, and ease of mind, and
money to tide him over till he makes himself known. Oh, he’ll succeed in
the end, there is little doubt of that; but he shall not succeed at my
expense. Now, Lily, do not sit and glare, like a waxen image, but give
me an answer like a sensible girl, as you can be if you like. Will you
throw away your happy life, and society and variety and pleasure, and
your balls and parties, all for the sake of a man that the moment your
back is turned will think no more of you?”

“Uncle,” said Lily, clearing her throat. But she could not raise her
voice, which extreme irritation, indignation, and the strong effort of
self-restraint seemed to have stifled. She made an effort, but produced
nothing but a hoarse repetition of his name.

“I hope I have touched you,” he said. “Come, my dear, be a sensible
lassie, and be sure I am speaking for your good. There are more fish in
the sea than ever came out in a net. I will find you a better man than
Lumsden, and one with a good house to take you home to, and not a
penniless----”

“Stop!” she cried, with an angry gesture. “Stop! Do you think I am
wanting a man? Me! Just any man, perhaps, you think, no matter who? Oh,
if I were only a laddie instead of a useless girl you would never, never
dare, great man as you are, to speak like that to me!”

“Certainly I should not,” he said, with a laugh, “for you would have
more sense, and would not think any woman was worth going into exile
for. But, girl as you are, Lily, the choice is in your own hands. You
can have, not love in a cottage, but love on a moor, which soon will be
unrequited love, and that, we all know, is the most tragic and
interesting of all.”

“Uncle,” said Lily, slowly recovering herself, “do you think it is a
fine thing for a man like you, a grand gentleman, and old, and that
knows every thing, to make a jest and a mockery of one that is young
like me, and has no words to make reply? Is it a joke to think of me
breaking my heart, as you say, among all the bonnie sunsets and the
moonlight nights and the lonely, lonely moor? I may have to do it if
it’s your will; but it’s not for the like of you, that have your
freedom and can do what you choose, to make a mock at those that are
helpless like me.”

“Helpless!” he said. “Nothing of the sort; it is all in your own hands.”

And then there was again a pause. He thought she was making up her mind
to submit to his will. And she was bursting with the effort to contain
herself, and all her indignation and wrath. Her pride would not let her
burst forth into cries and tears, but it was with the greatest
watchfulness upon herself that she kept in these wild expressions of
emotion, and the hot refusals that pressed to her lips--refusals to obey
him, to be silenced by him, to be sentenced to unnatural confinement and
banishment and dreary exile. Why should one human creature have such
power of life and death over another? Her whole being revolted in a
passion of restrained impatience and rage and fear.

“Well,” he said lightly, “which is it to be? Don’t trifle with your own
comfort, Lily. Just give me the answer that you will see no more of
young Lumsden. Give him no more encouragement; think of him no more.
That is all I ask. Only give me your promise--I put faith in you. Think
of him no more; that is all I ask.”

“All you ask--only that!” said Lily in her fury. “Only that! Oh, it’s
not much, is it? not much--only that!” She laughed, too, with a sort of
echo of his laugh; but somehow he did not find it to his mind.

“That is all,” he said gravely; “and I don’t think that it is very much
to ask, considering that you owe every thing to me.”

“It would have been better for me if I had owed you nothing, uncle,”
said Lily. “Why did you ever take any heed of me? I would have been
earning my own bread and had my freedom and lived my own life if you had
left me as I was.”

“This is what one gets,” he said, as if to himself, with a smile, “for
taking care of other people’s children. But we need not fall into
general reflections, nor yet into recriminations. I would probably not
do it again if I had it to do a second time; but the thing I want from
you at the present moment is merely a yes or no.”

“No!” Lily said almost inaudibly; but her tightly closed lips, her
resolute face, said it for her without need of any sound.

“No?” he repeated, half incredulous; then, with a nod, flinging back his
head: “Well, my dear, you must have your wilful way. Dalrugas will daily
be growing bonnier and bonnier at this season of the year; and to-morrow
you will get ready to go away.”



CHAPTER IV


“I have been a fool,” said Lily. “I have not said any thing that I meant
to say. I had a great many good reasons all ready, and I did not say one
of them. I just said silly things. He played upon me like a fiddle; he
made me so angry I could not endure myself, and then I had either to
hold my tongue or say things that were silly and that I ought not to
have said.”

“Oh, dear me, dear me,” cried Robina, “I just thought you would do that.
If I had only been behind the door to give ye a look, Miss Lily. Ye are
too impetuous when you are left to yourself.”

“I was not impetuous; I was just silly,” Lily said. “He provoked me till
I did not know what I was saying, and then I held my tongue at the wrong
places. But it would just have come to the same whatever I had said.
He’ll not yield, and I’ll not yield, and what can we do but clash? We’re
to start off for Dalrugas to-morrow, and that’s all that we have to
think of now.”

“Oh, Miss Lily!” cried Robina. She wrung her hands, and, with a look of
awe, added: “It’s like thae poor Poles in ‘Elizabeth’ going off in
chains to that place they call Siberée, where there’s nothing but snow
and ice and wild, wild forests. Oh, my bonnie lamb! I mind the woods up
yonder where it’s dark i’ the mid of day. And are ye to be banished
there, you that are just in your bloom, and every body at your feet? Oh,
Miss Lily, it canna be, it canna be!”

“It will have to be,” said Lily resolutely, “and we must make the best
of it. Take all the working things you can think of; I’ve been idle, and
spent my time in nothings. I’ll learn all your bonnie lace stitches,
Beenie, and how to make things and embroideries, like Mary, Queen of
Scots. We’ll be two prisoners, and Dougal will turn the key on us every
night, and we’ll make friends with somebody like Roland, the page, that
will make false keys and let us down from the window, with horses
waiting; and then we’ll career across the country in the dead of night,
and folk will take us for ghosts; and then--we’ll maybe ride on
broomsticks, and fly up to the moon!” cried Lily, with a burst of
laughter, which ended in a torrent of tears.

“Oh, my bonnie dear! oh, my lamb!” cried Beenie, taking the girl’s head
upon her ample breast. It is not to be imagined that these were
hysterics, though hysterics were the fashion of the time, and the young
ladies of the day indulged in them freely at any contrariety. Lily was
over-excited and worn out, and she had broken down for the moment. But
in a few minutes she had raised her head, pushed Beenie away, and got up
with bright eyes to meet her fate.

“Take books too,” she cried, “as many as you can, and perhaps he’ll let
us keep our subscription to the library, and they can send us things by
the coach. And take all my pencils and my colors. I’ll maybe turn into a
great artist on the moors that Uncle Robert says are so bonnie. He went
on about his sunsets and his moonlights till he nearly drove me mad,”
cried Lily, “mocking! Oh, Beenie, what hard hearts they have, these old
men!”

“I would just like,” cried the faithful maid, “to have twa-three words
with him. Oh, I should like to have twa-three words with him, just him
and me by our twa sels!”

“And much good that would do! He would just turn you outside in with his
little finger,” said Lily in high scorn. But naturally Robina was not of
that opinion. She was ready to go to the stake for her mistress, and
facing Sir Robert in his den was not a bad version of going to the
stake. It might procure her instant dismissal for any thing Beenie knew;
he might tell old Haygate, the old soldier-servant, who was now his
butler, and an Englishman, consequently devoid of sympathy, to put her
to the door; anyhow, he would scathe her with satirical words and that
look which even Lily interpreted as mocking, and which is the most
difficult of all things to bear. But Beenie had a great confidence that
there were “twa-three things” that nobody could press upon Sir Robert’s
attention but herself. She thought of it during the morning hours to the
exclusion of every thing else, and finally after luncheon was over, when
Lily was occupied with some youthful visitors, Beenie, with a beating
heart, put her plan into execution. Haygate was out of the way, too, the
Lord be praised. He had started out upon some mission connected with the
wine-cellar; and Thomas, the footman, was indigenous, had been Tommy to
Robina from his boyhood, and was so, she said, like a boy of her own. He
would never put her to the door, whatever Sir Robert might say. She went
down accordingly to the dining-room, after the master of the house had
enjoyed his good lunch and his moment of somnolence after it (which he
would not for the world have admitted to be a nap), and tapped lightly,
tremulously, with all her nerves in a twitter, at the door. To describe
what was in Beenie’s heart when she opened it in obedience to his call
to come in was more than words are capable of: it was like going to the
stake.

“Oh, Beenie! so it is you,” the master said.

“’Deed, it’s just me, Sir Robert. I thought if I might say a word----”

“Oh, say a dozen words if you like; but, mind, I am going out, and I
have no time for more.”

“Yes, Sir Robert.” Beenie came inside the door, and closed it softly
after her. She then took up the black silk apron which she wore,
denoting her rank as lady’s maid, to give her a countenance, and made an
imaginary frill upon it with her hands. “I just thought,” she said, with
her head bent and her eyes fixed on this useful occupation, “that I
would like to say twa-three words about Miss Lily, Sir Robert----”

“Oh,” he said, “and what might you have to say about Miss Lily? You
should know more about her, it is true, than any of us. Has she sent you
to say that she has recovered her senses, and is going to behave like a
girl of sense, as I always took her to be?”

Beenie raised her eyes from her fantastic occupation, and looked at Sir
Robert. She shook her head. She formed her lips into a round “No,”
pushing them forth to emphasize the syllable. “Eh, Sir Robert,” she said
at last, “you’re a clever man--you understand many a thing that’s just
Greek and Hebrew to the likes of us; but ye dinna understand a lassie’s
heart. How should ye?” said Beenie, compassionately shaking her head
again.

Sir Robert’s luncheon had been good; he had enjoyed his nap; he was
altogether in a good humor. “Well,” he said, “if you can enlighten me on
that point, Beenie, fire away!”

“Weel, Sir Robert, do ye no think you’re just forcing her more and more
into it, to make her suffer for her lad, and to have nothing to do but
think upon him and weary for him away yonder on yon solitary moor? Eh,
it’s like driving her to the wilderness, or away to Siberée, that awfu’
place where they send the Poles, as ye will read in ‘Elizabeth,’ to make
them forget their country, and where they just learn to think upon it
more and more. Eh, Sir Robert, we’re awfu’ perverse in that way! I would
have praised him up to her, and said there was no man like him in the
world. I would have said he was just the one that cared nothing for
siller, that would have taken her in her shift--begging your pardon for
sic a common word; I would have hurried her on to fix the day, and made
every thing as smooth as velvet; and then just as keen as she is for it
now I would have looked to see her against it then.”

“I allow,” said Sir Robert, with a laugh, “that you have a cloud of
witnesses on your side; but I am not quite sure that I put faith in
them. If I were to hurry her on to fix the day, as you say, I would get
rid, no doubt, of the trouble; but I am much afraid that Lily, instead
of starting off on the other tack, would take me at my word.”

“Sir,” said Beenie in a lowered voice, coming a step nearer, “if we were
to leave it to him to show her the contrary, it would be more effectual
than any thing you could say.”

“So,” said Sir Robert, with a long whistle of surprise, “you trust him
no more than I do? I always thought you were a woman of sense.”

“I am saying nothing about that, Sir Robert,” Beenie replied.

“But don’t ye see, you silly woman, that he would take my favor for
granted in that case, and would not show her to the contrary, but would
marry her in as great haste as we liked, feeling sure that I had
committed myself, and would not then draw back?”

“He would do ye nae justice, Sir Robert, if he thought that.”

“What do you mean, you libellous person? You think I would encourage her
in her folly in the hope of changing her mind, and then deceive and
abandon her when she had followed my advice? No,” he said, “I am not so
bad as that.”

“You should ken best, Sir Robert,” said Beenie, “but for me, I would not
say. But if ye will just permit me one more word. Here she has plenty of
things to think of: her parties and her dress, and her friends and her
other partners--there’s three young leddies up the stair at this moment
talking a’ the nonsense that comes into their heads--but there she would
have no person----”

“Not a soul, except Dougal and his wife,” said Sir Robert, with a
chuckle.

“And nothing to think of but just--him. Oh, Sir Robert, think what ye
are driving the bairn to! No diversions and no distractions, but just to
think upon him night and day. There’s things she finds to object to in
him when he’s by her side--just like you and me. But when she’s there
she’ll think and think upon him till she makes him out to be an angel o’
light. He will just get to be the only person in the world. He will
write to her----”

“That he shall not do! Dougal shall have orders to stop every letter.”

Beenie smiled a calm, superior smile. “And ye think Dougal--or any man
in the world--can keep a lad and lass from communication. Eh, Sir
Robert, you’re a clever man! but just as ignorant, as ignorant as any
bairn.”

Sir Robert was much amused, but he began to get a little impatient. “If
they can find means of communicating in spite of the solitude and the
miles of moor and Dougal, then I really think they will deserve to be
permitted to ruin all their prospects,” he said.

“Sir Robert!”

“No more,” he said. “I have already heard you with great patience,
Beenie. I don’t think you have thrown any new light on the subject. Go
and pack your boxes; for the coach starts early to-morrow, and you
should have every thing ready both for her and yourself to-night.”

Beenie turned away to the door, and then she turned round again. She
stood pinching the imaginary frill on her apron, with her head held on
one side, as if to judge the effect. “Will that be your last word, Sir
Robert?” she said. “She’s your brother’s bairn, and the only one in the
family--and a tender bit thing, no used to unkindness, nor to be left
all her lane as if there was naebody left in the world. Oh, think upon
the bit thing sent into the wilderness! It is prophets and great men
that are sent there in the way of Providence, and no a slip of a lassie.
Oh, Sir Robert, think again! that’s no your last word?”

“Would you like me to ring for Haygate and have you turned out of the
house? If you stay another minute, that will be my last word.”

“Na,” said Beenie, “Haygate’s out, Sir Robert, and Tommy’s not the
lad----”

“Will you go, you vixen?” Sir Robert shouted at the top of his voice.

“I’ll go, since I cannot help it; but if it comes to harm, oh, Sir
Robert! afore God the wyte will be on your head.”

Beenie dried her eyes as she went sorrowfully upstairs. “The wyte will
be on his head; but, oh, the sufferin’ and the sorrow that will be on
hers!” Beenie said to herself.

But it was evident there was no more to be said. As she went slowly
upstairs with a melancholy countenance, she met at the door of the
drawing-room the three young ladies who had been--according to her own
description--“talking a’ the nonsense that came into their heads,” with
Lily in the midst, who was taking leave of them. “Oh, there is Robina,”
they all cried out together. “Beenie will tell us what it means. What is
the meaning of it all? She says she is going away. Beenie, Beenie,
explain this moment! What does she mean about going away?”

“Eh, my bonnie misses,” cried Beenie, “who am I that I should explain my
mistress’s dark sayings? I am just a servant, and ken nothing but what’s
said to me by the higher powers.”

There was what Beenie afterward explained as “a cackle o’ laughing” over
these words, which were just like Beenie, the girls said. “But what do
you know from the higher powers? And why, why is Lily to be snatched
away?” they said. Robina softly pushed her way through them with the
superior weight of her bigness. “Ye must just ask herself, for it is
beyond me,” she said.

Lily rushed after her as soon as the visitors were gone, pale with
expectation. “Oh, Beenie, what did he say?” she cried.

“What did who say, Miss Lily? for I do not catch your meaning,” said the
faithful maid.

“Do you mean to say that you did not go down stairs----”

“Yes, Miss Lily, I went down the stairs.”

“To see my uncle?” said the girl. “I know you saw my uncle. I heard your
voice murmuring, though they all talked at once. Oh, Beenie, Beenie,
what did he say?”

“Since you will have it, Miss Lily, I did just see Sir Robert. There was
nobody but me in the way, and I saw your uncle. He was in a very good
key after that grand dish of Scots collops. So I thought I would just
ask him if it was true.”

“And what did he say?”

Beenie shook her head and said, “No,” in dumb show with her pursed-out
lips. “He just said it was your own doing, and not his,” she added,
after this impressive pantomime.

“Oh, how did he dare to say so! It was none of my doing--how could he
say it was my doing? Was I likely to want to be banished away to
Dalrugas moor, and never see a living soul?”

“He said you wouldna yield, and he wouldna yield; and in that case, Miss
Lily, I ask you what could the like of me do?”

“_I_ would not yield,” said Lily. “Oh, what a story! what a story! What
have I got to yield? It was just him, him, his own self, and nobody
else. He thinks more of his own will than of all the world.”

“He said you would not give up your love--I am meaning young Mr.
Lumsden--no, for any thing he could say.”

“And what would I give him up for?” cried Lily, changing in a moment
from pale to red. “What do I ever see of Sir Robert, Beenie? He’s not up
in the morning, and he’s late at night. I have heard you say yourself
about that club---- I see him at his lunch, and that’s all, and how can
you talk and make great friends when your mouth is full, and him so
pleased with a good dish and angry when it’s not to his mind? Would I
give up Ronald, that is all I have, for Sir Robert with his mouth full?
And how does he dare to ask me--him that will not do a thing for me?”

“That is just it,” said Beenie, shaking her head; “you think a’ the
reason’s on your side, and he thinks a’ the reason is on his; and he’ll
have his own gate and you’ll have your will, and there is no telling
what is to be done between you. Oh, Miss Lily, my bonnie dear, you are
but a young thing. It’s more reasonable Sir Robert should have his will
than you. He’s gone through a great deal of fighting and battles and
troubles, and what have you ever gone through but the measles and the
king-cough, that couldna be helped? It’s mair becoming that you should
yield to him than he should yield to you.”

“And am I not yielding to him?” said Lily. “I just do whatever he tells
me. If he says, ‘You are to come out with me to dinner,’ though I know
how wearisome it will be, and though I had the nicest party in the world
and all my own friends, I just give in to him without a word. I wear
that yellow gown he gave me, though it’s terrible to behold, just to
please him. I sit and listen to all his old gentlemen grumbling, and to
him paying his compliments to all his old ladies, and never laugh. Oh,
Beenie, if you could hear him!” and here Lily burst into the laugh which
she had previously denied herself. “But when he comes and tells me to
give up Ronald for the sake of his nasty, filthy siller----”

“Miss Lily, that’s no Mr. Ronald’s opinion.”

“Oh!” cried Lily, stamping her foot upon the ground, while hot tears
rushed to her eyes, “as if that did not make it a hundred times worse!”
she cried.

And then there was a pause, and Beenie, with great deliberation, began
to take out a pile of dresses from the wardrobe, which she opened out
and folded one after another, patting them with her plump hands upon the
bed. Lily watched her for some moments in silence, and then she said
with a faltering voice: “Do you really think, then, that there is no
hope?”

Robina answered in her usual way, pursing out her lips to form the “No”
which she did not utter audibly. “Unless you will yield,” she said.

“Yield--to give up Ronald? To meet him and never speak to him? To let
him think I’m a false woman, and mansworn? I will never do that,” Lily
said.

“But you’ll no marry him, my lamb, without your uncle’s consent?”

“He’ll not ask me!” cried Lily, desperate. “Why do you torment me when
you know that is just the worst of all? Oh, if he would try me! And who
is wanting to marry him--or any man? Certainly not me!”

“If you were to give your uncle your word--if you were to say, ‘We’ll
just meet at kirk and market and say good-even and good-morrow,’ but nae
mair. Oh, Miss Lily, that is not much to yield to an old man.”

“I said as good as that, but he made no answer. Beenie, pack up the
things and let us go quietly away, for there is no help for us in any
man.”

“A’ the same, if I were you, I would try,” said Robina, taking the last
word.

Lily said nothing in reply; but that night, when she was returning with
Sir Robert from a solemn party to which she had accompanied him, she
made in the darkness some faltering essay at submission. “I would have
to speak to him when we meet,” she said, “and I would have to tell him
there was to be no more--for the present. And I would not take any step
without asking you, Uncle Robert.”

Sir Robert nearly sprang from his carriage in indignation at this
halting obedience. “If you call that giving up your will to mine, I
don’t call it so!” he cried. “‘Tell him there is to be no more--for the
present!’ That is a bonnie kind of submission to me, that will have none
of him at all.”

“It is all I can give,” said Lily with spirit, drawing into her own
corner of the carriage. Her heart was very full, but not to save her
life could she have said more.

“Very well,” said Sir Robert; “Haygate has his orders, and will see you
off to-morrow. Mind you are in good time, for a coach will wait for no
man, nor woman either; and I’ll bid you good-by now and a better
disposition to you, and a good journey. Good-night.”

And at seven o’clock next morning, in the freshness of the new day, the
North mail sure enough carried Lily and Robina away.



CHAPTER V


A highland moor is in itself a beautiful thing. When it is in full bloom
of purple heather, with all those breaks and edges of emerald green
which betray the bog below, with the sweet-scented gale sending forth
its odor as it is crushed underfoot, and the yellow gorse rising in
broken lines of gold, and here and there a half-grown rowan, with its
red berries, and here and there a gleam of clear dark water, nothing can
be more full of variety and the charm of wild and abounding life. But
when the sky is gray and the weather bleak, and the heather is still in
the green, or dry with the gray and rustling husks of last year’s bloom;
when there is little color, and none of those effects of light and shade
which make a drama of shifting interest upon the Highland hills and
lochs, all this is very different, and the long sweep of wild and broken
ground, under a low and dark sky, becomes an image of desolation instead
of the fresh and blooming and fragrant moor of early autumn. Dalrugas
was a tall, pinched house, with a high gable cut in those rectangular
lines which are called crow steps in Scotland, rising straight up from
the edge of the moor. The height and form of this gave a parsimonious
and niggardly look--though the rooms were by no means contemptible
within--which was increased by the small windows pierced high up in the
wall. There was no garden on that side, not so much as the little plot
to which even a cottage has a right. Embedded within the high,
sharp-cornered walls behind was a kitchen-garden or kale-yard, where the
commonest vegetables were grown with a border of gooseberries and a few
plants of sweet-william and appleringie; but this was not visible to
give any softness to the prospect. The heather came up uncompromisingly,
with a little hillock of green turf here and there, to the very walls,
which had once been whitewashed, and still in their forlorn dinginess
lent a little variety to the landscape; but this did but add to the
cold, pinched, and resistant character of the house. It looked like a
prim ancient lady, very spare, and holding her skirts close round her in
the pride of penury and evil fortune. The door was in the outstanding
gable, and admitted directly into a low passage from which a spiral
stair mounted to the rooms above. On the ground-floor there was a low,
dark-pannelled dining-room and library full of ancient books, but these
rooms were used only when Sir Robert came for shooting, which happened
very rarely. The drawing-room upstairs was bare also, but yet had some
lingerings of old-fashioned grace. From the small, deep-set, high
windows there was a wide, unbroken view over the moor. The moor
stretched everywhere, miles of it, gray as the low sky which hung over
it, a canopy of clouds. The only relief was a bush of gorse here and
there half in blossom, for the gorse is never wholly out of blossom, as
every-body knows, and the dark gleam of the water in a cutting, black as
the bog which it was meant to drain. The dreary moorland road which
skirted the edge passed in front of the house, but was only visible from
these windows at a corner, where it emerged for a moment from a group of
blighted firs before disappearing between the banks of heather and whin,
which had been cut to give it passage. This was the only relief from the
monotony of the moor.

It was in this house that Lily and her maid arrived after a journey
which had not been so uncheerful as they anticipated. A journey by
stage-coach through a beautiful country can scarcely be dreary in the
worst of circumstances. The arrivals, the changes, the villages and
towns passed through, the contact with one’s fellow-creatures which is
inevitable, shake off more or less the most sullen discontent; and Lily
was not sullen, while Beenie was one of the most open-hearted of human
creatures, ready to interest herself in every one she met, and to talk
to them and give her advice upon their circumstances. The pair met all
sorts of people on their journey, and they made almost as many
friendships, and thus partially forgot the penitential object of their
own travels, and that they were being sent off to the ends of the earth.

It was only when “the gig” met them at the village, where the coach
stopped on its northern route, that their destination began to oppress
either the mistress or the maid. This was on the afternoon of a day
which had been partially bright and partially wet, the best development
of weather to be hoped for in the North. The village was a small
collection of cottages, partly with tiled roofs, making a welcome gleam
of color, but subdued by a number of those respectable stone houses with
blue tiles, which were and are the ideal of comfortable sobriety, which,
in defiance of all the necessities of the landscape, the Scotch middle
class has unfortunately fixed upon. The church stood in the midst--a
respectable oblong barn, with a sort of long extinguisher in the shape
of a steeple attached to it. On the outskirts the cottages became less
comfortable and more picturesque, thatched, and covered with lichens. It
was a well-to-do village. The “merchant,” as he was called, _i. e._, the
keeper of the “general” shop, was a Lowland Scot, very contemptuous of
“thae Highlanders,” and there was a writer or solicitor in the place,
and a doctor, besides the minister, who formed a little aristocracy. The
English minister so called, that is, the Episcopalian, came
occasionally--once in two or three Sundays--to officiate in a smaller
barn, without any extinguisher, which held itself a little apart in a
corner, not to mingle with the common people who did not possess
Apostolical Succession; though, indeed, in those days there was little
controversy, the Episcopalians being generally of that ritual by birth,
and unpolemical, making no pretensions to superiority over the native
Kirk.

The gig that met the travellers at Kinloch-Rugas was a tall vehicle on
two wheels, which had once been painted yellow, but which was scarcely
trim enough to represent that type of respectability which a certain
young Thomas Carlyle, pursuing the vague trade of a literary man in
Edinburgh, had declared it to be. It was followed closely by a rough
cart, in which Beenie and the boxes were packed away. They were not
large boxes. One, called “the hair trunk,” contained Lily’s every-day
dresses, but no provision for any thing beyond the most ordinary needs,
for there was no society nor any occasion for decorative garments on the
moors. Beenie’s box was smaller, as became a serving-woman. These
accessories were all in the fashion of their time, which was (like
Waverley, yet, ah, so unlike!) sixty years since or thereabout--in the
age before railways, or at least before they had penetrated to the
distant portions of the country. The driver of the gig was a middle-aged
countryman, very decent in a suit of gray “plaidin”--what we now call
tweed--with a head of sandy hair grizzled and considerably blown about
by the wind across the moor. His face was ruddy and wrinkled, of the
color of a winter apple, in fine shades of red and brown, his shaggy
eyebrows a little drawn together--by the “knitting of his brows under
the glaring sun,” and the setting of his teeth against the breeze. He
said, “Hey, Beenie!” as his salutation to the party before he doffed his
bonnet to the young lady. Lily was not sure that it was quite
respectful, but Dougal meant no disrespect. He was a little shy of her,
being unfamiliar with her grown-up aspect, and reverential of her young
ladyhood; but he was at his ease with Robina, who was a native of the
parish, the daughter of the late blacksmith, and “weel connectit” among
the rustic folk. It would have been an ease to Dougal to have had the
maid beside him instead of the mistress, and it was to Beenie he
addressed his first remarks over his shoulder, from pure shyness and
want of confidence in his own powers of entertaining a lady. “Ye’ll have
had a long journey,” he said. “The coach she’s aye late. She’s like a
thriftless lass, Beenie, my woman. She just dallies, dallies at the
first, and is like to break her neck at the end.”

“But she showed no desire to break her neck, I assure you,” said Lily.
“She was in no hurry. We have just taken it very easy up hill and down
dale.”

“Ay, ay!” he said, “we ken the ways o’ them.” With a glance over his
shoulder: “Are you sure you’re weel happit up, Beenie, for there’s a
cauld wind crossing the moor?”

“And how is Katrin, Dougal?” Lily asked, fastening her cloak up to her
throat.

“Oh, she’s weel eneuch; you’ll see little differ since ye left us last.
We’re a wee dried up with the peat-reck, and a wee blawn aboot by the
wind. But ye’ll mind that fine, Beenie woman, and get used to’t like her
and me.”

Lily laid impatient fingers on the reins, pulling Dougal’s hand, as if
he had been the unsteady rough pony he drove. “Speak to me,” she said,
“you rude person, and not to Beenie. Do you think I am nobody, or that I
cannot understand?”

“Bless us all! No such a thought was in my head. Beenie, are ye sitting
straight? for when the powny’s first started whiles he lets out.”

“Let me drive him!” Lily cried. “I’ll like it all the better if he lets
out; and you can go behind if you like and talk to Beenie at your ease.”

“Na, na,” said Dougal, with a grin. “He kens wha’s driving him. A bit
light hand like yours would have very sma’ effect upon Rory. Hey,
laddies! get out of my powny’s way!”

Rory carried out the prognostics of his driver by tossing his shaggy
head in the air, and making a dash forward, scattering the children who
had gathered about to stare at the new arrivals; though before he got to
the end of the village street he had settled into his steady pace, which
was quite uninfluenced by any skill in driving on Dougal’s part, but was
entirely the desire and meaning of that very characteristic member of
society--himself. The day had settled into an afternoon serenity and
unusual quietness of light. The mountains stood high in the even air,
without any dramatic changes, Schehallion, with his conical crest,
dominating the lesser hills, and wearing soberly his mantle of purple,
subdued by gray. The road lay for a few miles through broken ground,
diversified with clumps of wood, wind-blown firs, and beeches tossing
their feathery branches in the air, crossing by a little bridge a brown
and lively trout stream, which went brawling through the village, but
afterward fell into deeper shadows, penetrating between close fir-woods,
before it reached the edge of the moor, round which it ran its lonely
way. Lily’s spirits began to rise. The sense of novelty, the pleasant
feeling of arrival, and of all the possibilities which relieve the
unknown, rose in her breast. Something would surely happen; something
would certainly be found to make the exile less heavy, and to bring back
a little hope. The little river greeted her like an old friend. “Oh, I
remember the Rugas,” she cried. “What a cheery little water! Will they
let me fish in it, Dougal? Look how it sparkles! I think it must
remember me.”

“It’s just a natural objick,” said Dougal. “It minds naebody; and what
would you do--a bit lady thing--fishing troot? Hoots! a crookit pin in a
burn would set ye better, a little miss like you.”

In those days there were no ladies who were salmon fishers. Such a thing
would have seemed to Dougal an outrage upon every law.

“Don’t be contemptuous,” said Lily, with a laugh. “You’ll find I am not
at all a little miss. Just give me the reins and let me wake Rory up. I
mean to ride him about the moor.”

“I’m doubting if you’ll do that,” said Dougal, with politeness, but
reserve.

“Why shouldn’t I do it? Perhaps you think I don’t know how to ride. Oh,
you can trust Rory to me, or a better than Rory.”

“There’s few better in these parts,” said Dougal with some solemnity.
“He’s a beast that has a great deal of judgment. He kens well what’s his
duty in this life. I’m no thinking you’ll find it that easy to put him
to a new kind of work. He has plenty of his ain work to do.”

“We’ll see about that,” said Lily.

“Ah,” replied Dougal cautiously, “we’ll just see about that. We must na
come to any hasty judgment. Cheer up, lad! Yon’s the half of the road.”

“Is this only the half of the road?” said Lily, with a shudder. They
were coming out of the deep shade of the woods, and now before them, in
its full width and silence, stretched the long levels of the moor. It
was even now, in these days before the heather, a beautiful sight, with
the mountains towering in the background, and the bushes of the ling,
which later in the year would be glorious with blossoms, coming down,
mingled with the feathery plumes of the seeding grass, to the very edge
of the road: beautiful, wild, alive with sounds of insects, and that
thrill of the air which we call silence--silence that could be heard.
The wide space, the boundless sky, the freedom of the pure air, gave a
certain exaltation to Lily’s soul, but at the same time overwhelmed her
with a sense of the great loneliness and separation from all human
interests which this great vacancy made. “Only half-way,” she repeated,
with a gasp.

“It’s a gey lang road, but it’s a very good road, with few bad bits. An
accustomed person need have nae fear by night or day. There was an ill
place, where ye cross the Rugas again, at the head of the Black Scaur;
but it’s been mended up just uncommon careful, and ye need have nae
apprehension; besides that, there’s me that ken every step, and Rory
that is maist as clever as me.”

“But it’s the end of the world,” Lily said.

“No that, nor even the end of the parish, let alone the countryside,”
said Dougal. “It’s just ignorance, a’ that. It’s the end o’ naething but
your journey, and a bonnie place when you’re there; and a good dinner
waiting for ye; and a grand soft bed, and your grandmither’s ain
cha’lmer, that was one of the grandest leddies in the North Country. Na,
na, missy, it’s no the end of the world. If ye look far ahead, yonder by
the east, as soon as we come to the turn of the road, ye’ll maybe, if
it’s clear, see the tower. That’s just a landmark over half the parish.
Ye’ll mind it, Beenie? It’s lang or ye’ve seen so bonnie a sight.”

“Oh, ay, I mind it,” said Beenie, subdued. She had once thought, with
Dougal, that the tower of Dalrugas was a fine sight. But she had tasted
the waters of civilization, and the long level of the moor filled her
breast, like that of her mistress, with dismay; though, indeed, it was
with the eyes of Lily, rather than her own, that the kind woman saw this
scene. For herself things would not be so bad. Dougal and Katrin in the
kitchen would form a not uncongenial society for Robina. She did not
anticipate for herself much difficulty in fitting in again to a familiar
place; and she would always have her young mistress to pet and console,
and to take care of. But Lily--where would Lily find anything to take
her out of herself? Beenie realized, by force of sympathy, the weary
gazing from the windows, the vacant landscape, through which no one ever
would come, the loneliness indescribable of the great solitary moor; not
one of her young companions to come lightly over the heather; neither a
lad nor lass in whom the girl would find a playfellow. “Ay, I mind it,”
said Beenie, shaking her head, with big tears filling her eyes.

Lily, for her part, did not feel disposed to shed any tears; her mind
was full of indignation and harsher thoughts. Who could have any right
to banish her here beyond sight or meeting of her kind? And it was not
less but more bitter to reflect that the domestic tyrant who had
banished her was scarcely so much to blame as the lover who would risk
nothing to save her. If he had but stood by her--held out his hand--what
to Lily would have been poverty or humbleness? She would have been
content with any bare lodging in the old town, high among the roofs. She
would have worked her fingers to the bone--at least Beenie would have
done so, which was the same thing. That was a sacrifice she would have
made willingly; but this that was demanded--who had any right to exact
it? and for what was it to be exacted? For money, miserable money, the
penny siller that could never buy happiness. Lily’s eyes burned like
coal. Her cheeks scorched and blazed. Oh, how hard was fate, and how
undeserved! For what had she done? Nothing, nothing to bring it upon
herself.

It was another long hour before the gig turned the corner by the trees,
where there was a momentary view of Dalrugas, and plunged again between
the rising banks, where the road ran in a deep cutting, ascending the
last slopes. “We’ll be at the house in five minutes,” Dougal said.



CHAPTER VI


Katrin stood under the doorway, looking out for the party: a spare,
little, active woman, in that native dress of the place, which consisted
of a dark woollen skirt and pink “shortgown,” a garment not unlike the
blouse of to-day, bound in by the band of her white apron round a
sufficiently trim waist. She was of an age when any vanity of personal
appearance, if ever sanctioned at all, is considered, by her grave race,
to be entirely out of place; but yet was trim and neat by effect of
nature, and wore the shortgown with a consciousness that it became her.
A gleam of sunshine had come out as the two vehicles approached in a
little procession; and Katrin had put up her hand to her eyes to shade
them from that faint gleam of sun as she looked down the road. The less
of sun there is the more particular people are in shielding themselves
from it; which is a mystery, like so many other things in life, small as
well as great. Katrin thought the dazzle was overwhelming as she stood
looking out under the shadow of her curved hand. The doorway was rather
small, and very dark behind her, and the strong gleam of light
concentrated in her pink shortgown, and made a brilliant spot of the
white cap on her head. And to Katrin the two vehicles climbing the road
were as a crowd, and the arrival an event of great excitement, making an
era in life. She was interested, perhaps, like her husband, most
particularly in Robina, who would be an acquisition to their own
society, with all her experience of the grand life of the South; but she
bore a warm heart also to the little lady who had been at Dalrugas as a
child, and of whose beauty, and specially of whose accomplishments,
there had been great reports from the servants in town to the servants
on the moor. She hastened forward to place a stool on which Miss Lily
could step down, and held out both her hands to help, an offer which was
made quite unnecessary by the sudden spring which the girl made,
alighting “like a bird” by Katrin’s side. “Eh, I didna mind how light a
lassie is at your age,” cried the housekeeper, startled by that quick
descent. “And are ye very wearied? and have ye had an awfu’ journey?
and, eh, yonder’s Beenie, just the same as ever! I’m as glad to see ye
as if I had come into a fortune. Let me take your bit bag, my bonnie
lady. Give the things to me.”

“Yes, Beenie is just the same as ever--and you also, Katrin, and the
moor,” said Lily, with a look that embraced them all. She had subdued
herself, with a natural instinct of that politeness which comes from the
heart, not to show these humble people, on her first arrival, how little
she liked her banishment. It was not their fault; they were eager to do
their utmost for her, and welcomed her with a kindness which was as near
love as any inferior sentiment could be--if it was, indeed, an inferior
sentiment at all. But when she stood before the dark doorway, which
seemed the end of all things, it was impossible not to betray a little
of the loneliness she felt. “And the moor,” she repeated. But Katrin
heard the words in another sense.

“Ay, my bonnie lamb! the moor, that is the finest sight of a’. It’s just
beautiful when there’s a fine sunset, as we’re going to have the night
to welcome ye hame. Come away ben, my dear; come away in to your ain
auld house. Oh! but I’m thankful and satisfied to have ye here!”

“Not my house, Katrin. My uncle would not like to hear you say so.”

“Hoot, away! Sir Robert’s bark is waur than his bite. What would he have
sent such orders for, to make every thing sae comfortable, if there had
been any doubt that it was your very ain house, and you his chosen heir?
If Dougal were to let ye see the letter, a’ full of loving kindness, and
that he wanted a safe hame for his bit lassie while he was away. Oh,
Miss Lily, he’s an auld man to be marching forth again at the head of
his troop to the wars.”

“He is not going to the wars,” said Lily. She could not but laugh at the
droll supposition. Sir Robert, that lover of comfort and luxury,
marching forth on any expedition, unless it were an expedition of
pleasure! “There are no wars,” she added. “We are at peace with all the
world, so far as I can hear.”

“Weel, I was wondering,” said Katrin. “Dougal, he says, that reads the
papers, that there’s nae fighting neither in France nor what they ca’ed
the Peninshula in our young days. But he says there are aye wars and
rumor of wars in India, and such like places. So we thought it might,
maybe, be that. Weel, I’m real content to hear that Sir Robert, that’s
an old man, is no driven to boot and saddle at his age.”

“He is going, perhaps, to London,” Lily said.

“Weel, weel, and that’s no muckle better than a fight, from a’ we
hear--an awfu’ place, full of a’ the scum of the earth. Puir auld
gentleman! It maun be the king’s business, or else something very
important of his ain, that takes him there. Anyway, he’s that particular
about you, my bonnie lady, as never was. You’re to have a riding-horse
when ye please, and Dougal to follow you whenever he can spare the time;
and there’s a new pianny-fortey come in from Perth, and a box full of
books, and I canna tell you all what. And here am I keeping you at the
door, havering all the time. You’ll mind the old stair, and the broken
step three from the top; or maybe you will like to come into the
dining-room first and have a morsel to stay your stomach till the
dinner’s served; or maybe you would like a drink of milk; or maybe----
Lord bless us! she’s up the stair like a fire flaught and paying no
attention; and, oh, Beenie, my woman, is this you?”

Beenie was more willing to be entertained than her mistress, whose
sudden flight upstairs left Katrin stranded in the full tide of her
eloquence. She was glad to be set down to a cup of tea and the nice
scones, fresh from the girdle, with which the housekeeper had intended
to tempt Lily. “I’ll cover them up with the napkin to keep them warm,
and when ye have ta’en your cup o’ tea, ye’ll carry some up to her on a
tray, or I’ll do it mysel’, with good will; but I mind ye are aye
fondest of taking care of your bonnie miss yoursel’.”

“We’ll gie her a wee moment to settle down,” said Robina: “to take a
good greet,” was what she said to herself. She swallowed her tea, always
with an ear intent on the sounds upstairs. She had seen by Lily’s
countenance that she was able for no more, and that a moment’s interval
was necessary; and there she sat consuming her heart, yet perhaps
comforted a little by having the good scones to consume, too. “Oh,” she
said, “ye get nothing like this in Edinburgh; ae scone’s very different
from another. I have not tasted the like of this for many a year.”

“Ye see,” said Katrin, with conscious success, “a drop of skim-milk like
what ye get in a town is very different from the haill cream of a
milking; and I’m no a woman to spare pains ony mair than stuff. She’s a
bonnie, bonnie creature, your young lady, Beenie--a wee like her
mother, as far as I mind, that was nothing very much in the way of
blood, ye ken, but a bonnie, bonnie young woman as ever stood. The auld
leddy and Sir Robert were real mad against Mr. Randall for making such a
poor match; but now there’s nobody but her bairn to stand atween the
house and its end. He’ll be rael fond of her, Sir Robert--his bonny wee
heir!”

“Ay,” said Beenie, “in his ain way.”

“Weel, it wasna likely to be in a woman’s way like yours or mine. The
men they’ve aye their ain ways of looking at things. I’ll warrant
there’s plenty of lads after her, a bonnie creature like that; and the
name of Sir Robert’s siller and a’.”

“Oh, ay! she hasna wanted for lads,” Beenie said.

“And what’ll be the reason, Beenie, since the auld gentleman’s no going
to the wars, as Dougal and me thought--what’ll be the reason, are ye
thinkin’, for the young leddy coming here? He said it was to be safe at
hame while he was away.”

“Maybe he would be right if that’s what he says.”

“Oh, Beenie, woman,” cried Katrin, “you’re secret, secret! Do you think
we are no just as keen as you to please our young leddy and make her
comfortable? or as taken up to ken why she’s been sent away from a’ her
parties and pleasurings to bide here?”

“There’s no many parties nor pleasurings here for her,” said Dougal,
joining the two women in the low but airy kitchen, where the big fire
was pleasant to look upon, and the brick floor very red, and the
hearthstone very white. The door, which stood always open, afforded a
glimpse of the universal background, the everywhere-extending moor, and
the air came in keen, though the day was a day in June. Dougal pushed
his bonnet to one side to scratch his grizzled head. In these regions,
as indeed in many others, it is not necessary to take off one’s headgear
when one comes indoors. “There’s neither lad to run after her nor
leddies to keep her company. If she’s light-headed, or the like of
that, there canna be a better place than oor moor.”

“Light-headed!” said Robina in high scorn. “It just shows how little you
ken. And where would I be, a discreet person, if my young leddy was
light-headed? She’s just as modest and as guid as ever set foot on the
heather. My bonnie wee woman! And as innocent as the babe new-born.”

Dougal pushed his cap to the other side of his head, as if that might
afford enlightenment. “Then a’ I can say is that it’s very queer.” And
he added after an interval: “I never pretend to understand Sir Robert;
he’s an awfu’ funny man.”

“He might play off his fun better than upon Miss Lily,” said his wife in
anxious tones.

“And that minds me that I’m just havering here when I should be carrying
up the tray,” said Beenie. “Some of those cream scones--they’re the
nicest; and that fine apple jelly is the best I’ve tasted for long. And
now the wee bit teapot, and a good jug of your nice fresh milk that she
will, maybe, like better than the tea.”

“And my fine eggs--with a yolk like gold, and white that is just like
curds and cream.”

“Na,” said Beenie, waving them away, “that would just be too much; let
me alone with the scones, and the milk and the tea.”

She went up the spiral stairs, making a cheerful noise with her cups and
her tray. A noise was pleasant in this quiet place. Beenie understood,
without knowing how, that the little clatter, the sound of some one
coming, was essential to this new life; and though her arm was very
steady by nature, she made every thing ring with a little tinkle of
cheerfulness and “company.” The drawing-room of the house, which opened
direct from the stairs with little more than a broadened step for a
landing, was a large room occupying all the breadth of the tall gable,
which was called the tower. It was not high, and the windows were small,
set in deep recesses, with spare and dingy curtains. The carpet was of
design unconjecturable, and of dark color worn by use to a deep
dinginess of mingled black and brown. The only cheerful thing in the
room was a rug before the fireplace, made of strips of colored cloth,
which was Katrin’s winter work to beguile the long evenings, and in
which the instinct of self-preservation had woven many bits of red,
relics or patterns of soldiers’ coats. The eye caught that one spot of
color instinctively. Beenie looked at it as she put down her tray, and
Lily had already turned to it a dozen times, as if there was something
good to be got there. The walls were painted in panels of dirty green,
and hung with a few pictures, which made the dinginess hideous--staring
portraits executed by some country artist, or, older relics still, faces
which had sunk altogether into the gloom. Three of the windows looked
out on the moor, one in a corner upon the yard, where Rory and his
companion were stabled, and where there was an audible cackle of fowls,
and sometimes Katrin’s voice coming and going “as if a door were shut
between you and the sound.” Lily had been roaming about, as was evident
by the cloak flung in one corner, the hat in another, the gloves on the
table, the little bag upon the floor. She had gravitated, however, as
imaginative creatures do, to the window, and sat there when Beenie
entered as if she had been sitting there all her life, gazing out upon
the monotonous blank of the landscape and already unconscious of what
she saw.

“Well, Miss Lily,” said Robina cheerfully, “here we are at last; and
thankfu’ I am to think that I can sit still the day, and get up in peace
the morn without either coach or boat to make me jump. And here’s your
tea, my bonnie dear--and cream scones, Katrin’s best, that I have not
seen the like of since I left Kinloch-Rugas. Edinburgh’s a grand place,
and many a bonnie thing is there; and maybe we’ll whiles wish ourselves
back; but nothing like Katrin’s scones have ye put within your lips for
many a day. My dear bonnie bairn, come and sit down comfortable at this
nice little table and get your tea.”

“Tea!” said Lily; her lips were quivering, so that a laugh was the only
escape--or else the other thing. “You mind nothing,” she cried, “so long
as you have your tea.”

“Weel, it makes up for many things, that’s true,” said Beenie, eager to
adopt her young mistress’s tone. “Bless me, Miss Lily, it’s no the
moment to take to that weary window and just stare across the moor when
ye ken well there is nothing to be seen. It will be time enough when
we’re wearied waiting, or when there’s any reasonable prospect----”

“What do you mean?” cried Lily, springing up from her seat. “Reasonable
prospect--of what, I would like to know? and weary waiting--for whom?
How dare you say such silly words to me? I am waiting for nobody!” cried
Lily, in her exasperation clapping her hands together, “and there is no
reasonable prospect--if it were not to fall from the top of the tower,
or sink into the peat-moss some lucky day.”

“You’re awfu’ confident, Miss Lily,” said the maid, “but I’m a great
deal older than you are, and it would be a strange thing if I had not
mair sense. I just tell you there’s no saying; and if the Queen of Sheba
was here, she could utter no more.”

“You would make a grand Queen of Sheba,” said Lily, with eyes sparkling
and cheeks burning; “and what is it your Majesty tells me? for I cannot
make head nor tail of it for my part.”

“I just tell you, there’s no saying,” Beenie repeated very deliberately,
looking the young lady in the face.

Poor Lily! her face was glowing with sudden hope, her slight fingers
trembled. What did the woman mean who knew every thing? “When we’re
wearied waiting--when there’s no reasonable prospect.” Oh, what, what
did the woman mean? Had there been something said to her that could not
be said to Lily? Were there feet already on the road, marching hither,
hither, bringing love and bringing joy? “There’s no saying.” A woman
like Robina would not say that without some reason. It was enigmatical;
but what could it mean but something good? and what good could happen
but one thing? Beenie, in fact, meant nothing but the vaguest of
consolations--she had no comfort to give; but it was not in a woman’s
heart to shut out imagination and confess that hope was over. Who would
venture to say that there was no hope, any day, any moment, in a young
life, of something happening which would make all right again? No oracle
could have said less; and yet it meant every thing. Lily, in the light
of possibility that suddenly sprang up around her, illuminating the moor
better than the pale sunshine, and making this bare and cold room into a
habitable place, took heart to return to the happy ordinary of
existence, and remembered that she was hungry and that Katrin’s scones
were very good and the apple jelly beautiful to behold. It was a prosaic
result, you may say, but yet it was a happy one, for she was very tired,
and had great need of refreshment and support. She took her simple meal
which was so pretty to look at--never an inconsiderable matter on a
woman’s table; the scones wrapped in their white napkin, the jug of
creamy milk, the glass dish with its clear pink jelly. She ate and drank
with much satisfaction, and then, with Beenie at her side, went
wandering over the house to see if there was any furniture to be found
more cheerful than the curtains and carpets in the drawing-room. The
days of “taste” had not arisen--no fans from Japan had yet been seen in
England, far less upon the moors; but yet the natural instinct existed
to attempt a little improvement in the stiff dulness of the place. Lily
was soon running over all the house with a song on her lips--commoner in
those days when music was not so carefully cultivated--and a skipping
measure in the patter of her feet. “Hear till her,” said Dougal to
Katrin; “our peace and quiet’s done.” “Hear till her indeed, ye auld
crabbit body! It’s the blessing o’ the Lord come to the house,” said
Katrin to Dougal. He pushed his cap now to one side, now to the other,
with a scratch of impartial consultation what was to come of it--but
also a secret pleasure that brought out a little moisture under his
shaggy eyebrows. The old pair sat up a full half-hour later, out of pure
pleasure in the consciousness of the new inmate under that roof where
they had so long abode in silence. And Lily rushed upstairs and
downstairs, and thrilled the old floor with her hurried feet, but kept
always saying over to herself those words which were the fountain of
contentment--or rather expectation, which is better: “There’s no
saying--there’s no saying!” If Beenie knew nothing in which there was a
reasonable hope, how could she have suffered herself to speak?



CHAPTER VII


When Lily got up next morning, it was to the cheerful sounds of the
yard, the clucking of fowls, the voices of the kitchen calling to each
other, Katrin darting out a sentence as she came to the door, Dougal
growling a bass order to the boy, the sounds of whose hissing and
movement over his stable-work were as steady as if Rory were being
groomed like a racer till his coat shone. It is not pleasant to be
disturbed by Chanticleer and his handmaidens in the middle of one’s
morning sleep, nor to hear the swing of the stable pails, and the hoofs
of the horses, and the shouts to each other of the outdoor servants. I
should not like to have even one window of my bedchamber exposed to
these noises. But Lily sprang up and ran to the window, cheered by this
rustic Babel, and looked out with keen pleasure upon the rush of the
fowls to Katrin’s feet as she stood with her apron filled with grain,
flinging it out in handfuls, and upon the prospect through the stable of
the boy hissing and rubbing down Rory, who clattered with his impatient
hoofs and would not stand still to have his toilet made. Dougal was
engaged in the byre, in some more important operations with the cow,
whose present hope and representative--a weak-kneed, staggering
calf--looked out from the door with that solemn stare of wondering
imbecility which is often so pathetic. Lily did not think of pathos. She
was cheered beyond measure to look out on all this active life instead
of the silent moor. The world was continuing to go round all the same,
the creatures had to be fed, the new day had begun--notwithstanding that
she was banished to the end of the world; and this was no end of the
world after all, but just a corner of the country, where life kept going
on all the same, whether a foolish little girl had been to a ball
overnight, or had arrived in solitude and tears at the scene of her
exile. A healthful nature has always some spring in it at the opening of
a new day.

She went over the place under Katrin’s guidance, when she had dressed
and breakfasted, and was as ready to be amused and diverted as if she
had found every thing going her own way; which shows that Lily was no
young lady heroine, but an honest girl of twenty-two following the
impulses of nature. The little establishment at Dalrugas was not a farm.
It had none of the fluctuations, none of the anxieties, which befall a
humble agriculturist who has to make his living out of a few not very
friendly acres, good year and bad year together. Dougal loved, indeed,
to grumble when any harm came over the potatoes, or when his hay was
spoiled, as it generally was, by the rain. He liked to pose as an
unfortunate farmer, persecuted by the elements; but the steady wages
which Sir Robert paid, with the utmost regularity, were as a rock at the
back of this careful couple, whose little harvest was for the sustenance
of their little household, and did not require to be sold to produce the
ready money of which they stood so very little in need. Therefore all
was prosperous in the little place. The eggs, indeed, produced so
plentifully, were not much profit in a place where every-body else
produced eggs in their own barnyards; but a sitting from Katrin’s fowls
was much esteemed in the countryside, and brought her honor and
sometimes a pleasant present in kind, which was to the advantage both of
her comfort and self-esteem. But a calf was a thing which brought in a
little money; and the milk formed a great part of the living of the
house in various forms, and when there was any over, did good to the
poor folk who are always with us, on the banks of the Rugas as in other
places. Dougal would talk big by times about his losses--a farmer,
however small, is nothing without them; but his loss sat very lightly on
his shoulders, and his comfort was great and his little gains very
secure. The little steading which lurked behind Sir Robert’s gray house,
and was a quite unthought-of adjunct to it, did very well in all its
small traffic and barter under such conditions. The mission of Dougal
and his wife was to be there, always ready to receive the master when he
chose to “come North,” as they called it, with the shooting-party, for
whom Katrin always kept her best sheets well aired. But Sir Robert had
no mind to trust himself in the chilly North: that was all very well
when a man was strong and active, and liked nothing so much as to tramp
the moor all day, and keep his friends at heck and manger. But a man’s
friends get fewer as he gets old, and other kinds of pleasure attract
him. It was perhaps a dozen years since he had visited his spare
paternal house. And Dougal and Katrin had come to think the place was
theirs, and the cocks and the hens, and the cows and ponies, the chief
interest in it. But they were no niggards; they would have been glad to
see Sir Robert himself had he come to pay them a visit; they were still
more glad to see Lily, and to make her feel herself the princess, or it
might be altogether more correct to say the suzerain, under whom they
reigned. They did not expect her to interfere, which made her welcome
all the more warm. As for Sir Robert, he might perhaps have interfered;
but even in the face of that doubt Dougal and Katrin would have acted as
became them, and received him with a kindly welcome.

“Ye see, this is where I keep the fowls,” said Katrin. “It was a kind of
a gun-room once; but it’s a place where a shootin’ gentleman never sets
his fit, and there’s no a gun fired but Dougal’s auld carabeen. What’s
the use of keeping up thae empty places, gaun to rack and ruin, with
grand names till them? The sitting hens are just awfu’ comfortable in
here; and as for Cockmaleerie, he mairches in and mairches out, like Mr.
Smeaton, the school-master, that has five daughters, besides his wife,
and takes his walks at the head of them. A cock is wonderful like a man.
If you just saw the way auld Smeaton turns his head, and flings a word
now and then at the chattering creatures after him! We’ve put the
pig-sty out here. It’s no just the place, perhaps, so near the house;
but it’s real convenient; and as the wind is maistly from the east, ye
never get any smell to speak of. Besides, that’s no the kind of smell
that does harm. The black powny he’s away to the moor for peat; but
there’s Rory, aye taking another rug at his provender. He’s an auld
farrant beast. He’s just said to himself, as you or me might do: ‘Here’s
a stranger come, and I am the carriage-horse; and let’s just make the
most of it.’”

“He must be very conceited if he thinks himself a carriage-horse,” said
Lily, with a laugh.

“’Deed, and he’s the only ane; and no a bad substitute. As our auld
minister said the day yon young lad was preaching: ‘No a bad
substitute.’ I trow no, seeing he’s now the assistant and successor, and
very well likit; and if it could only be settled between him and Miss
Eelen there could be naething more to be desired. But that’s no the
question. About Rory, Miss Lily----”

“I would much rather hear about Miss Helen. Who is Miss Helen? Is it the
minister’s little girl that used to come out to Dalrugas to play with
me?”

“She’s a good ten years older than you, Miss Lily.”

“I don’t think so. I was--how old?--nine; and I am sure she was not
grown up, nor any thing like it. And so she can’t make up her mind to
take the assistant and successor? Tell me, Katrin, tell me! I want to
hear all the story. It is something to find a story here.”

“There are plenty of stories,” said Katrin; “and I’ll tell you every one
of them. But about Miss Eelen. She’s a very little thing. You at nine
were bigger than she was--let us say--at sixteen. There maun be five
years atween you, and now she’ll be six-and-twenty. No, it’s no auld,
and she’s but a bairn to look at, and she will just be a fine friend for
you, Miss Lily; for though they’re plain folk, she has been real well
brought up, and away at the school in Edinburgh, and plays the pianny,
and a’ that kind of thing. I have mair opinion mysel’ of a good seam;
but we canna expect every-body to have that sense.”

“And why will she have nothing to say to the assistant and successor?
and what is his name?”

“His name is Douglas, James Douglas, of a westland family, and no that
ill-looking, and well likit. Eh, but you’re keen of a story, Miss Lily,
like a’ your kind. But I never said she would have naething to say to
him. She is just great friends with him. They are aye plotting thegether
for the poor folk, as if there was nothing needed but a minister and
twa-three guid words to make heaven on earth. Oh, my bonnie lady, if it
could be done as easy as that! There’s that drunken body, Johnny Wright,
that keeps the merchant’s shop.” Katrin was a well-educated woman in her
way, and never put _f_ for _w_, which is the custom of her district; but
she said _chop_ for _shop_, an etymology which it is unnecessary to
follow here. “But it’s a good intention--a good intention. They are aye
plotting how they are to mend their neighbors; and the strange thing
is---- But, dear, bless us! what are we to be havering about other
folk’s weakness when nae doubt we have plenty of our ain?”

“I am not to be cheated out of my story, Katrin. Do you mean that the
young minister is not a good man himself?”

“Bless us, no! that’s not what I mean. He’s just as pious a lad and as
weel living---- It’s no that--it’s no that. It’s just one o’ thae
mysteries that you’re far o’er-young to understand. She’s been keen to
mend other folk, poor lass; and that the minister should speak to them,
and show them the error o’ their ways! But the dreadful thing is that
her poor bit heart is just bound up in a lad--a ne’er-do-weel, that is
the worst of them all. Oh, dinna speak of it, Miss Lily, dinna speak of
it! I’ll tell you anither time; or, maybe, I’ll no tell ye at all. Come
in and see the kye. They’re honest creatures. There’s nothing o’ the
deevil and his dreadful ways in them.”

“I wouldna be ower sure of that,” said Dougal, who came to meet them to
the door of the byre, his cap hanging on to the side of his head, upon
one grizzled lock, so many pushes and scratches had it received in the
heat of his exertions. “There’s Crummie, just as little open to raison
as if she were a wuman. No a step will she budge, though it’s clean
strae and soft lying that I’m offering till her. Gang ben, and try what
ye can do. She’s just furious. I canna tell what she thinks, bucking at
me, and butting at me, as if I was gaun to carry her off to the butcher
instead of just setting her bed in comfort for her trouble. None of the
deil in them! What d’ye say to Rory? He’s a deil a’thegether, from the
crown of his head to his off leg, the little evil spirit! And what’s
that muckle cock ye’re so proud o’? Just Satan incarnate, that’s my
opinion, stampin’ out his ain progeny when they’re o’ the same sect as
himsel’. Dinna you trust to what she says, Miss Lily. There’s nae place
in this world where _he_ is not gaun about like a roarin’ lion, seekin’,
as the Scripture saith, whom he may devour.”

“Eh, man,” said his wife, coming out a little red, yet triumphant, “but
you’re a poor hand with your doctrines and your opinions! A wheen soft
words in poor Crummie’s ear, and a clap upon her bonnie broad back, poor
woman, and she’s as quiet as a lamb. Ye’ve been tugging at her, and
swearing at her, though I aye tell ye no. Fleeching is aye better than
fechting, if ye would only believe me--whether it’s a woman or a bairn
or a poor timorsome coo.”

“Ye’re a’ alike,” said Dougal, with a grunt, returning to his work. “I’m
thinking,” he said, pausing to deliver his broadside, “that, saving your
presence, Miss Lily, weemen are just what ye may call the head of the
irrational creation. It’s men that’s a little lower than the angels;
we’re them that are made in the image of God. But when ye speak o’ the
whole creation that groaneth and travaileth, I’m thinking----”

“Ye’ll just think at your work, and haud your ill tongue before the
young lady,” cried his wife in high wrath. But she, too, added as he
swung away with a big laugh: “Onyway, by your ain comparison, we’re at
the head and you’re at the tail. Come away, Miss Lily, and see the
bonnie doos. There is nae ill speaking among them. I’m no so sure,” she
added, however, when out of hearing of her husband, “I’ve heard yon
muckle cushat, the one with the grand ruff about his neck, swearin’ at
his bonnie wifie, or else I’m sair mista’en. It’s just in the nature o’
the men-kind. They like ye weel enough, but they maun aye be gibing at
ye, and jeerin’ at ye--but, bless me, a bit young thing like you, it’s
no to be expeckit ye could understand.”

The pigeons were very tame, and alighted not only on Katrin’s capacious
shoulders, who “shoo’d” them off, but on Lily’s, who liked the
sentiment, and to find herself so familiarly accosted by creatures so
highly elevated above mere cocks and hens--“the bonnie creatures,” as
Katrin said, who sidl’d and bridl’d about her, with mincing steps and
graceful movements. “The doocot” was an old gray tower, standing apart
from the barnyard, in a small field, the traditional appendage of every
old Scotch house of any importance. To come upon Rory afterward,
dragging after him the boy, by name Sandy, and not unlike, either in
complexion or shape, to the superior animal whom he was supposed to be
taking out for exercise, brought back, if not the former discussion on
the prevalence of evil, at least a practical instance of “the deevil”
that was in the pony, and was an additional amusement. Lily made instant
trial of the feminine ministrations which had been so effective with the
cow, whispering in Rory’s ear, and stroking his impatient nose, without,
however, any marked effect.

“He’ll soon get used to ye,” Katrin said consolingly, “and then you’ll
can ride him down to the town, and make your bit visits, and get any
thing that strikes your fancy at the shop. Oh, you’ll find there’s
plenty to divert ye, my bonnie leddy, when once ye are settled down.”

Would it be so? Lily felt, in the courage of the morning, that it might
be possible. She resolved to be good, as a child resolves; there should
be no silly despair, no brooding nor making the worst of things. She
would interest herself in the beasts and the birds, in Rory, the pony,
and Crummie, the cow. She would always have something to do. Her little
school accomplishment of drawing, in which she had made some progress
according to the drawing-master, she would take that up again. The kind
of drawing Lily had learned consisted in little more than copying other
drawings; but that, when it had been carefully done, had been thought a
great deal of at school. And then there was the fine fancy-work which
had been taught her--the wonderful things in Berlin wool, which was
adapted to so many purposes, and occupied so large a share of feminine
lives. Miss Martineau, that strong-minded politician and philosopher,
amused her leisure with it, and why should not Lily? But Berlin
patterns, and all the beautiful shades of the wool, could not, alas! be
had on Dalrugas moor. Lily decided bravely that she would knit stockings
at least, and that practice would soon overcome that difficulty about
turning the heel which had damped her early efforts. She would knit warm
stockings for Sir Robert--warm and soft as he liked them--ribbed so as
to cling close to his handsome old leg, and show its proportions, and
so, perhaps, touch his heart. And then there would, no doubt, turn up,
from time to time, something to do for the poor folk. Surely, surely
there would be employment enough to “keep her heart.” Then she would go
to Kinloch-Rugas and see “Miss Eelen,” Helen Blythe, the minister’s
daughter, whom she remembered well, with the admiration of a little girl
for one much older than herself. Here was something that would interest
her and occupy her mind, and prevent her from thinking. And then there
were the old books in the library, in which she feared there would be
little amusement, but probably a great many good books that she had not
read, and what a fine opportunity for her to improve her mind! Her
present circumstances were quite usual features in the novels before the
age of Sir Walter: a residence in an old castle or other lonely house,
where a persecuted heroine had the best of reading, and emerged quite an
accomplished woman, was the commonest situation. She said to herself
that there would be plenty to do, that she would not leave a moment
without employment, that her life would be too busy and too full to
leave any time for gazing out at that window, watching the little bit of
road, and looking, looking for some one who never came. Having drawn up
this useful programme, and decided how she was to spend every day, Lily,
poor Lily, all alone--even Beenie having gone down stairs for a long
talk with Katrin--seated herself, quite unconsciously, at the window,
and gazed and gazed, without intermission, at the little corner of the
road that climbed the brae, and across the long level of the unbroken
moor.



CHAPTER VIII


The days that succeeded were very much like this first day. In the
morning Lily went out “among the beasts,” and visited, with all the
interest she could manage to excite in herself, the byre and the stable,
the ponies and the cows. She persuaded herself into a certain amusement
in contrasting the very different characters of Rory, the spoiled and
superior, with that little sturdy performer of duty without vagary, who
had not even a name to bless himself with, but was to all and sundry the
black powny and no more. Poor little black powny, he supported Rory’s
airs without a word; he gave in to the fact that he was the servant and
his stable companion the gentleman. He went to the moor for peat, and to
the howe for potatoes, and to the town for whatever was wanted, without
so much as a toss of his shaggy head. Nothing tired the black powny, any
more than any thing ever tired the “buoy” who drove and fed and groomed
him, as much grooming as he ever had. Sandy was the “buoy,” just as his
charge was the black powny. They went everywhere together, lived
together, it was thought even slept together; and though the “buoy” in
reality occupied the room above the stable, which was entered by a
ladder--the loft, in common parlance--the two shaggy creatures were as
one. All these particulars Lily learned, and tried to find a little fun,
a little diversion in them. But it was a thin vein and soon exhausted,
at least by her preoccupied mind.

The post came seldom to this place at the end of the world. It never
indeed came at all. When there were other errands to do in the village,
the buoy and the black powny called at the post-office to ask for
letters--when they remembered; but very often Sandy did not mind, _i.
e._, recollect, to do this, and it did not matter much. Sir Robert,
indeed, had made known his will that there were to be no letters, and
correspondence was sluggish in those days. Lily had not bowed her spirit
to the point of promising that she would not write to whomsoever she
pleased, but she was too proud to be the first to do so, and, save a few
girl epistles for which, poor child, she did not care, and which secured
her only a succession of disappointments, nothing came to lighten her
solitude. No, she would not write first, she would not tell him her
address. He could soon find that out if he wanted to find it. Sir Robert
Ramsay was not nobody, that there should be any trouble in finding out
where his house was, however far off it might be. Poor Lily, when she
said this to herself, did not really entertain a doubt that Ronald would
manage to write to her. But he did not do so. The post came in at
intervals, the powny and the boy went to the town, and minded or did
not mind to call for the letters: but what did it matter when no letters
ever came? Ah, one from Sir Robert, hoping she found the air of the moor
beneficial; one from a light-hearted school-fellow, narrating all the
dances there had been since Lily went away, and the last new fashion,
and how like Alice Scott it was to be the first to appear in it. But no
more. This foolish little epistle, at first dashed on the ground in her
disappointment, Lily went over again, through every line, to see whether
somewhere in a corner there did not lurk the name which she was sick
with longing to see. It might so easily have been here: “I danced with
Ronald Lumsden and he was telling me,” or, “Ronald Lumsden called and
was asking about you.” Such a crumb of refreshment as that Lily would
have been glad of; but it never came.

Yet she struggled bravely to keep up her heart. One of those early days,
after sundry attempts on the moor, where she gradually vanquished him,
Lily rode Rory into Kinloch-Rugas with only a few controversies on the
way. She was light and she was quiet, making no clattering at his heels
as the gig did, and by degrees Rory habituated himself to the light
burden and the moderate amount of control which she exercised over him.
It amused him after a while to see the whisk of her habit, which proved
to be no unknown drag or other mechanism, but really a harmless thing,
not heavy at all, and as she gave him much of his own way and lumps of
sugar and no whip to speak of, he became very soon docile--as docile as
his nature permitted--and gave her only as much trouble as amused Lily.
They went all the way to the toun together, an incongruous but friendly
pair, he pausing occasionally when a very tempting mouthful of
emerald-green grass appeared among the bunches of ling, she addressing
him with amiable remonstrances as Dougal did, and eventually touching
his point of honor or sense of shame, so that he made a little burst of
unaccustomed speed, and got over a good deal of ground in the stimulus
thus applied. He was not like the trim and glossy steeds on which, with
her long habit reaching half-way to the ground, and a careful groom
behind, Lily had ridden out with Sir Robert in the days of her grandeur,
which already seemed so far off. But she was, perhaps, quite as
comfortable in the tweed skirt, in which she could spring unfettered
from Rory’s back and move about easily without yards of heavy cloth to
carry. The long habit and the sleek steed and the groom turned out to
perfection would have been out of place on the moor; but Rory, jogging
along with his rough coat, and his young mistress in homespun were
entirely appropriate to the landscape.

It required a good many efforts, however, before the final code of amity
was established between them, the rule of bearing and forbearing, which
encouraged Lily to so long a ride. When she slipped off his back at the
Manse door, Rory tossed his shaggy head with an air of relief, and
looked as if he might have set off home immediately to save himself
further trouble; but he thought better of it after a moment and a few
lumps of sugar, and was soon in the careful hands of the minister’s man,
who was an old and intimate friend, and on the frankest terms of
remonstrance and advice. Lily was not by any means so familiar in the
minister’s house. She went through the little ragged shrubbery where the
big straggling lilac bushes were all bare and brown, and the berries of
the rowan-trees beginning to redden, but every thing unkempt and
ungracious, the stems burned, and the leaves blown away before their
time by an unfriendly wind. The monthly rose upon the house made a good
show with its delicate blossoms, looking far too fragile for such a
place, yet triumphant in its weakness over more robust flowers; and a
still more fragile-looking but tenacious and indestructible plant, the
great white bindweed or wild convolvulus, covered the little porch with
its graceful trails of green, and delicate flowers, which last so short
a time, yet form so common a decoration of the humblest Highland
cottages. Lily paused to look through the light lines of the climbing
verdure as she knocked at the Manse door. It was so unlike any thing
that could be expected to bloom and flourish in the keen northern air.
It gave her a sort of consoling sense that other things as unlike the
sternness of the surroundings might be awaiting her, even here, at the
end of the world.

And nothing could have been more like the monthly rose on the dark gray
wall of the Manse than Helen Blythe, who came out of the homely parlor
to greet Lily when she heard who the visitor was. “Miss Eelen” was
Lily’s senior by even more than had been supposed, but she did not show
any sign of mature years. She was very light of figure and quick of
movement, with a clear little morning face extremely delicate in color,
mild brown eyes that looked full of dew and freshness, and soft brown
hair. She came out eagerly, her “seam” in her hand, a mass of whiteness
against her dark dress, saying, “Miss Ramsay, Dalrugas?” with a quick
interrogative note, and then Helen threw down her work and held out both
her hands. “Oh, my bonnie little Lily,” she cried in sweet familiar
tones. “And is it you? and is it really you?”

“I think I should have known you anywhere,” said Lily. “You are not
changed, not changed a bit; but I am not little Lily any longer. I am a
great deal bigger than you.”

“You always were, I think,” said Helen, “though you were only a bairn
and me a little, little woman, nearly a woman, when you were here last.
Come ben, my dear, come ben and see papa. He does not move about much or
he would have come to welcome you. But wait a moment till I get my seam,
and till I find my thimble; it’s fallen off my finger in the fulness of
my heart, for I could not bide to think about that when I saw it was
you. And, oh, stand still, my dear, or you’ll tramp upon it! and it’s my
silver thimble and not another nearer than Aberdeen.”

“I’ve got one,” cried Lily, “and you shall have it, Helen, for I fear, I
fear it is not so very much use to me.”

“Oh, whisht, my dear. You must not tell me you don’t like your seam.
How would the house go on, and what would folk do without somebody to
sew? For my part I could not live without my seam. Canny, canny, my
bonnie woman, there it is! They are just dreadful things for running
into corners--almost as bad as a ring. But there is a mischief about a
ring that is not in a thimble,” said Helen, rising, with her soft cheeks
flushed, having rescued the errant thimble from the floor.

“And are you always at your seam,” said Lily, “just as you were when I
was little, and you used to come to Dalrugas to play?”

“I don’t think you were ever so little as me,” said Helen with her
rustic idiom and accent, her low voice and her sweet look, both as fresh
as the air upon the moor. She did not reach much higher than Lily’s
shoulder. She had the most serene and smiling face, full, one would have
said, of genuine ease of heart. Was this so? or was her mind full, as
Katrin had said, of unhappy love and anxious thoughts? But it was
impossible to believe so, looking at this soft countenance, the mouth
which had not a line, and the eyes which had not a care.

Nowadays the humblest dwelling which boasts two rooms to sit in
possesses a dining-room and drawing-room, but at that period
drawing-rooms were for grand houses only, and the parlor was the name of
the family dwelling-place. It was very dingy, if truth must be told. The
furniture was of heavy mahogany, with black hair-cloth. Though it was
still high summer, there was a fire in the old-fashioned black grate,
and close beside, in his black easy chair, was the minister, a heavy old
man with a bad leg, who was no longer able to get about, and indeed did
very little save criticise the actions of his assistant and successor, a
man of new-fangled ways and ideas unlike his own. He had an old plaid
over his shoulders, for he was chilly, and a good deal of snuff hanging
about the lapels of his coat. His countenance was large and
fresh-colored, and his hair white. In those days it was not the fashion
to wear a beard.

“So that’s Miss Lily from the town,” he said. “Come away ben, come ben.
Set a chair by the fire for the young lady, Eelen, for she’ll be cold
coming off the moor. It’s always a cold bit, the moor. Many a cough I’ve
catched there when I was more about the countryside than I am now. Old
age and a meeserable body are sore hindrances to getting about. Ye know
neither of them, my young friend, and I hope you’ll never know.”

“Well, papa, it is to be hoped Lily will live to be old, for most folk
desires it,” said Helen. _Papaw_, a harsh reporter would have considered
her to say, but it was not so broad as a _w_; it was more like two
_a’s_--_papaa_--which she really said. She smiled very benignantly upon
the old gentleman and the young creature whom he accosted. The name of
gout was never mentioned, was, indeed, considered an unholy thing, the
product of port-wine and made dishes, and not to be laid to the account
of a clergyman. But Mr. Blythe contemplated with emotion, supported on
his footstool, the dimensions of a much swollen toe.

“Well,” said he, “I hope she’ll never live to have the rose in her foot,
or any other ailment of the kind. And how’s Sir Robert, my dear? Him and
me are neighbor-like; there is not very much between us. Is he coming
North this year to have a pop at the birds, or is he thinking like me, I
wonder, that a good easy chair by the fire is the best thing for an auld
man? and a brace of grouse well cooked and laid upon a toast more
admirable than any number of them on the moor?”

“I don’t think he is coming for the shooting,” said Lily, doubtful. Sir
Robert was in many respects what was then called a dandy, and any thing
more unlike the exquisite arrangements for his comfort, carried out by
his valet, than the old clergyman’s black cushion and footstool and
smouldering fire could not be.

“You’ll have had an illness yourself,” said the minister, “though you do
not look like it, I must say. Does she, now, Eelen, with a color like
that? But your uncle would have done better, my dear, to take you
travelling, or some place where ye would have seen a little society and
young persons like yourself, than to send you here. He’ll maybe have
forgotten what a quiet place it is, and no fit for the like of you. But
I’ll let him know, I’ll let him know as soon as he comes up among us,
which no doubt he will soon do now.”

“Now, papa,” said Helen, “you will just let Sir Robert alone, and no
plot with him to carry Lily away from me: for I am counting very much
upon her for company, and it will do her no harm to get the air of the
moor for a while and forget all the dissipations of Edinburgh. You will
have to tell me all about them, Lily, for I’m the country mouse that has
never been away from home. Eh,” said Helen, “I have no doubt every thing
is far grander when you’re far off from it than when you’re near. I dare
say you were tired of the Edinburgh parties, and I would just give a
great deal to see one of them. And most likely you thought the Tower
would be delightful, while we are only thinking how dull it will be for
you. That is aye the way; what we have we think little of, and what we
have not we desire.”

“I was not tired,” said Lily, “except sometimes of the grand dinners
that Uncle Robert is so fond of, and I cannot say that I expected the
Tower to be delightful; but you know I have no father of my own, and I
must just do what I am told.”

“My dear,” said the old minister, “I see you have a fine judgment; for
if you had a father of your own, like Eelen there, you would just turn
him round your little finger; and I’m much surprised you don’t do the
same, a fine creature like you, with your uncle too.”

“Whisht, papa,” said Helen; “we’ll have in the tea, which you know
you’re always fond of to get a cup when you can, and it’ll be a
refreshment to Lily after her ride. And in the meantime you can tell her
some of your stories to make her laugh, for a laugh’s a fine thing for a
young creature whatsoever it’s about, if it’s only havers.”

“Which my auld stories are, ye think?” said the minister. “Go away, go
away and mask your tea. Miss Lily and me will get on very well without
you. I’ll tell ye no stories. They are all very old, and the most of
them are printed. If I were to entertain ye with my anecdotes of auld
ministers and beadles and the like, ye would perhaps find them again in
a book, and ye would say to yourself, ‘Eh, there’s the story Mr. Blythe
told me, as if it was out of his own head,’ and you would never believe
in me more. But for all that it’s no test being in a book; most of mine
are in books, and yet they are mine, and it was me that put them
together all the same. But I have remarked that our own concerns are
more interesting to us than the best of stories, and I’m a kind of
spiritual father to you, my dear. If I did not christen you, I
christened your father. Tell me, now that Eelen’s out of the way, what
is it that brought ye here? Is it something about a bonnie lad, my
bonnie young lass? for that’s the commonest cause of banishment, and as
it cannot be carried out with the young man, it’s the poor wee lassies
that have the brunt to bear----”

“I never said,” cried Lily, angry tears coming to her eyes, “that there
was any reason or that it was for punishment. I just came here
because--because Uncle Robert wanted me to come,” she added in a little
burst of indignation, yet dignity; “and nobody that I know has a right
to say a word.”

“Just so,” said Mr. Blythe; “he wanted you, no doubt, to give an eye to
Dougal and Katrin, who might be taking in lodgers or shooting the moors
for their own profit for any thing that he can tell. He’s an
auld-farrant chield, Sir Robert. He would not say a word to you, but he
would reckon that you would find out.”

“Mr. Blythe,” cried Lily with fresh indignation, “if you think my uncle
sent me here for a spy, to find out things that do not exist----”

“No, my dear, I don’t, I don’t,” said the minister. “I am satisfied he
has a mind above that, and you too. But he’s not without a thread of
suspicion in him; indeed, he’s like most men of his years and
experience, and believes in nobody. No, no, Dougal does not put the moor
to profit, which might be a temptation to many men; but he has plenty of
sport himself in a canny way, and there’s a great deal of good game just
wasted. You may tell Sir Robert that from his old friend. Just a great
deal of good game wasted. He should come and bring a few nice lads to
divert you, and shoot the moor himself.”

“That’s just one of papa’s crazes,” said Helen, returning with her
teapot in her hand, the tray, with all its jingling cups and saucers,
having been put on the table in the meantime. “He thinks the gentlemen
should come back from wherever they are, or whatever they may be doing,
to shoot the moors. It would certainly be far more cheery for the
countryside, but very likely Sir Robert cares nothing about the moor,
and is just content with the few brace of grouse that Dougal sends him.
I believe it’s considered a luxury and something grand to put on the
table in other places, but we have just too much of it here. Now draw to
the table and take your tea. The scones are just made, and I can
recommend the shortbread, and you must be wanting something after your
ride. I have told John to give the powny a feed, and you will feel all
the better, the two of you, for a little rest and refreshment. Draw in
to the table, my bonnie dear.”

These were before the days of afternoon tea; but the institution existed
more or less, though not in name, and “the tea” was administered before
its proper time or repeated with a sense of guilt in many houses, where
the long afternoon was the portion of the day which it was least easy to
get through--when life was most languid, and occupation at a lull. Lily
ate her shortbread with a girl’s appetite, and took pleasure in her
visit. When she mounted Rory again and set forth on her return, she
asked herself with great wonder whether it was possible that there could
be any thing under that soft aspect of Helen Blythe, her serene
countenance and delicate color, which could in any way correspond with
the trouble and commotion in her own young bosom? Helen had, indeed, her
father to care for, she was at home, and had, no doubt, friends; but was
it possible that a thought of some one who was not there lay at the
bottom of all?

Lily confessed to Robina when she got home that she had been much
enlivened by her visit, and that Helen was coming to see her, and that
all would go well; but when Beenie, much cheered, went down stairs to
her tea, Lily unconsciously drew once more to that window, that
watchtower, from which nobody was ever visible. The moor lay in all the
glory of the evening, already beginning to warm and glow with the
heather, every bud of which awoke to brightness in the long rays of the
setting sun. It was as if it came to life as the summer days wore toward
autumn. The mountains stood round, blue and purple, in their unbroken
veil of distance and visionary greatness, but the moor was becoming
alive and full of color, warming out of all bleakness and grayness into
life and light. The corner of the road under the trees showed like a
peep into a real world, not a dreary vacancy from which no one came.
There was a cart slowly toiling its way up the slope, its homely sound
as it came on informing the silence of something moving, neighborly,
living. Lily smiled unconsciously as if it had been a friend. And when
the cart had passed, there appeared a figure, alone, walking quickly,
not with the slow wading, as if among the heather, of the rare, ordinary
passer-by. Lily’s interest quickened in spite of herself as she saw the
wayfarer breasting the hill. Who could he be, she wondered. Some
sportsman, come for the grouse--some gentleman, trained not only to
moorland walking, but to quick progress over smoother roads. He skimmed
along under the fir-trees at the corner, up the little visible ascent.
Lily almost thought she could hear his steps sounding so lightly, like a
half-forgotten music that she was glad, glad to hear again; but he
disappeared soon under the rising bank, as every thing did, and she was
once more alone in the world. The sun sank, the horizon turned gray,
the moor became once more a wilderness in which no life or movement was.

No!--what a jump her heart gave!--it was no wilderness: there was the
same figure again, stepping out on the moor. It had left the road, it
was coming on with springs and leaps over the heather toward the house.
Who was it? Who was it? And then he, he! held up his hand and beckoned,
beckoned to Lily in the wilderness. Who was he? Nobody--a wandering
traveller, a sportsman, a stranger. Her heart beat so wildly that the
whole house seemed to shake with it. And there he stood among the
heather, his hat off, waving it, and beckoning to her with his hand.



CHAPTER IX


The situation of Ronald Lumsden, for whom Lily felt herself to have
sacrificed so much, and who showed, as she felt at the bottom of her
heart, so little inclination to sacrifice any thing for her, was, in
reality, a difficult one. It would have been false to say that he did
not love her, that her loss was no grief to him, or that he could make
himself comfortable without her--which was what various persons thought
and said, and he was not unaware of the fact. Neither was he unaware
that Lily herself had a half grudge, a whole consciousness, that the way
out of the difficulty was a simple one; and that he should have been
ready to offer her a home, even though it would not be wealthy, and the
protection of a husband’s name and care against all or any uncles in the
world. He knew that she was quite willing to share his poverty, that she
had no objection to what is metaphorically called a garret--and would
really have resembled one more than is common in such cases: a little
flat, high up under the roofs of an Edinburgh house--and to make it into
a happy and smiling little home. And as a matter of fact that garret
would not have been inappropriate, or have involved any social downfall
either on his side or Lily’s. Young Edinburgh advocates in those days
set up their household gods in such lofty habitations without either
shame or reluctance. Not so very long before the man whom we and all the
world know as Lord Jeffrey set out in the world on that elevation and
made his garret the centre of a new kind of empire. There was nothing
derogatory in it: invitations from the best houses in Edinburgh would
have found their way there as freely as to George Square; and Lily’s
friends and his own friends would have filled the rooms as much as if
the young pair had been lodged in a palace. He could not even say to
himself that there would have been privations which she did not
comprehend in such a life; for, little though they had, it would have
been enough for their modest wants, and there was a prospect of more if
he continued to succeed as he had begun to do. Many a young man in
Edinburgh had married rashly on as little and had done very well indeed.
All this Ronald knew as well as any one, and the truth of it rankled in
his mind and made him unhappy. And yet on the other side there was, he
felt, so much to be said! Sir Robert Ramsay’s fortune was not a thing to
be thrown away, and to compare the interest, weight, and importance of
that with the suffering involved to young people who were sure of each
other in merely waiting for a year or two was absurd. According to all
laws of experience and life it was absurd. Lily was very little over
twenty; there was surely no hurry, no need to bring affairs to a climax,
to insist on marrying when it would no doubt be better even for her to
wait. This was what Lumsden said to himself. He would rather, as a
matter of preference, marry at once, secure the girl he loved for his
life-companion, and do the best he could for her. But when all things
were considered, would it be sensible, would it be right, would it be
fair?

This was how he conversed with himself during many a lonely walk, and
the discussion would break out in the midst of very different thoughts,
even on the pavement of the Parliament House as he paced up and down.
Sir Robert’s fortune--that was a tangible thing. It meant in the future,
probably in the near future, for Sir Robert was a self-indulgent old
man, a most excellent position in the world, safety from all pecuniary
disasters, every comfort and luxury for Lily, who would then be a great
lady in comparison with the struggling Edinburgh advocate. And the cost
of this was nothing but a year’s, a few years’, waiting for a girl of
twenty-two and a young man of twenty-eight. How preposterous, indeed, to
discuss the question at all! If Lily had any feeling of wrong in that
her lover did not carry her off, did not in a moment arrange some
makeshift of a poor life, the prelude to a continual, never-ending
struggle, it could only be girlish folly on Lily’s part, want of power
to perceive the differences and the expediencies. Could any thing be
more just than this reasoning? There is no one in his senses who would
not agree in it. To wait a year or two at Lily’s age--what more natural,
more beneficial? He would have felt that he was taking advantage of her
inexperience if he had urged her to marry him at such a cost. And
waiting cost nothing, at least to him.

Not very long after Lily left Edinburgh Lumsden had encountered Sir
Robert one evening at one of the big dinner-parties which were the old
gentleman’s chief pleasure, and he had taken an opportunity to address
the young fellow on the subject which could not be forgotten between
them. He warned Lumsden that he would permit no nonsense, no clandestine
correspondence, and that it was a thing which could not be done, as his
faithful servants at Dalrugas kept him acquainted with every thing that
passed, and he would rather carry his niece away to England or even
abroad (that word of fear and mystery) than allow her to make a silly
and unequal marriage. “You are sensible enough to understand the
position,” the old man had said. “From all I hear of you you are no
hot-headed young fool. What you would gain yourself would be only a wife
quite unused to shifts and stress of weather, and probably a mere
burden upon you, with her waiting-woman serving her hand and foot, and
her fine-lady ways--not the useful helpmate a struggling man requires.”

“I should not be afraid of that,” said Lumsden, with a pale smile, for
no lover, however feeble-hearted, likes to hear such an account of his
love, and no youth on the verge of successful life can be any thing but
impatient to hear himself described as a struggling man. “I expect to
make my way in my profession, and I have reason to expect so. And
Lily----”

“Miss Ramsay, if you please. She is a fine lady to the tips of her
fingers. She can neither dress nor eat nor move a step without Robina at
her tail. She is not fitted, I tell you, for the wife of a struggling
man.”

“But suppose I tell you,” cried Lumsden with spirit, “that I shall be a
struggling man only for a little while, and that she is in every way
fitted to be _my_ wife?”

“Dismiss it from your mind, sir; dismiss it from your mind,” said Sir
Robert. “What will the world say? and what the world says is of great
consequence to a man that has to struggle, even if it is only at the
beginning. They will say that you’ve worked upon a girl’s inexperience
and beguiled her to poverty. They will say that she did not know what
she was doing, but you did. They will say you were a fool for your own
sake, and they will say you took advantage of her.”

“All which things will be untrue,” said Lumsden hotly.

But then they were disturbed and no more was said. This conversation,
though so brief, was enough to fill a man’s mind with misgivings, at
least a reasonable man’s, prone to think before and not after the event.
Lumsden was not one that is carried away by impulse. The first effect
was that he did not write, as he had intended, to Lily. What was the use
of writing if Sir Robert’s faithful servants would intercept the
letters? Why run any risk when there lay behind the greater danger of
having her carried off to England or “abroad,” where she might be lost
and never heard of more? Ronald pondered all these things much, but his
pondering was in different circumstances from Lily’s. She had nothing to
divert her mind; he had a great deal. Society had ended for her, but it
was in full circulation, and he had his full share in every thing, where
he was. The pressure is very different in cases so unlike. The girl had
nothing to break the monotony of hour after hour, and day after day. The
young man had a full and busy life: so long in the Parliament House, so
long in his chambers; a consultation; a hard piece of mental work to
make out a case; a cheerful dinner in the evening with some one; a
wavering circle of other men always more or less surrounding him. The
difficulty was not having too much time to think, but how to have time
enough; and the season of occupation and company and events hurried on
so that when he looked back upon a week it appeared to him like a day.
And he had no way of knowing how it lingered with Lily. He wondered a
little and felt it a grievance that she did not write to him, which
would have been so very easy. There were no faithful servants on his
side to intercept letters. She might have at least sent him a line to
announce her safe arrival, and tell him how the land lay. He on his side
could quite endure till the Vacation, when he had made up his mind to do
something, to have news of her somehow. Even this determination made it
more easy for him to defer writing, to make no attempt at communication;
for why warn Sir Robert’s servants and himself of what he intended to
do, so that they might concert means to balk him? whereas it was so very
doubtful whether any thing he sent would reach Lily. Thus he reasoned
with himself, with always the refrain that a year or two of waiting at
his own age and Lily’s could do no one any harm.

Yet Ronald was but mortal, though he was so wise. Sir Robert left
Edinburgh, going to pay his round of visits before he went abroad, which
he invariably did every autumn. There was no Monte Carlo in those days,
and old gentlemen had not acquired the habit of sunning themselves on
the Riviera; but, on the other hand, there was much more to attract them
at the German baths, which had many of the attractions now concentrated
at Monte Carlo; and Florence possessed a court and society where life
went on in that round of entertainment and congregation which is
essential to old persons of the world. Sir Robert disappeared some time
before the circles of the Parliament House broke up, and young Lumsden
was thus freed from the disagreeable consciousness of being more or less
under the personal observation of his enemy. And he loved Lily, though
he was willing to wait and to be temporarily separated from her in the
interests of their future comfort and Sir Robert’s fortune. So that,
when he was released from his work, and free to direct his movements for
a time as he pleased, an attraction which he could not resist led him to
the place of his lady’s exile. All the good reasons which his
ever-working mind brought forth against this were, I am happy to say,
ineffectual. He said to himself that it was a foolish thing; that if
reported to Sir Robert--and how could it fail to be reported to Sir
Robert, since his servants were so faithful, and it would be impossible
to keep them in the dark?--would only precipitate every thing and lead
to Lily’s transfer to a safer hiding-place. He repeated to himself that
to wait for a year or two at twenty-two and at twenty-eight was no real
hardship: it was rather an advantage. But none of these wise
considerations affected his mind as they ought to have done. He had a
hunger and thirst upon him to see the girl he loved. He wanted to make
sure that she was there, that there was a Lily in the world, that
eventually she would be his and share his life. It was _plus fort que
lui_.

He went home, however, as in duty bound, to the spare old house on the
edge of the Highlands, where he and all his brothers and sisters had
been born and bred; where there was a little shooting, soon exhausted by
reason of the many guns brought to bear upon it, and a good deal of
company in a homely way, impromptu dances almost every night, as is the
fashion in a large family, which attracts young people round it far and
near. But in all this simple jollity Ronald only felt more the absence
of his love, and the vacant place in the world which could only be
filled by her; though what, perhaps, had as great an effect upon him as
any thing else was that his favorite sister, whom, next to her, perhaps
he liked best in the world, knew about Lily, having been taken into his
confidence before he had realized all the difficulties, and talked to
him perpetually about her, disapproving of his inactivity and much
compassionating the lonely girl. “Oh, if I were only near enough, I
would go and see her and keep up her heart!” Janet Lumsden would cry,
while her brother was fast getting into the condition of mind in which
to see her, to make sure of her existence, was a necessity. In this
condition the old house at home, with all its simple gayeties and
tumult, became intolerable to him. He could have kicked the brother who
demanded his sympathy in his engagement to a young lady with a fortune,
neither the young lady nor the fortune being worthy to be compared to
Lily, though the family was delighted by such a piece of good luck for
Rob. And it set all his nerves wrong to see the flirtations that went on
around him, though they were frank and simple affairs, the inevitable
preferences which one boy and girl among so many would naturally show
for each other. All this seemed vulgar, common, intolerable, and in the
worst taste to Ronald. It was not that he was really more refined than
his brothers, but that his own affairs had gone (temporarily) so wrong,
and his own chosen one was so far out of the way. All the jolly, hearty
winter life at home jarred on him and upset his nerves, those artificial
things which did not exist in Perthshire at that period, whatever they
may do now.

At last, when he could not endure it any longer, he announced that he
was going a-fishing up toward the North. He was not a great fisherman,
and the brothers laughed at Ronald setting out with his rod; but he had
the natural gift, common to all Scotsmen of good blood, of knowing most
people throughout his native country, or at least one part of his native
country, and being sure of a welcome in a hundred houses in which a son
of Lumsden of Pontalloch was a known and recognizable person, though
Lumsden of Pontalloch himself was by no means a rich or important man.
This is an advantage which the _roturier_ never acquires until at least
he has passed through three or four generations. Ronald Lumsden knew
that he would never be at a loss, that if rejected in one city he could
flee into another, and that if any impertinent questions were put to him
by Sir Robert’s own faithful servants, he could always say that he was
going to stay at any of the known houses within twenty miles. This
hospitality perhaps exists no longer, for many of these houses now,
probably the greater part of them, are let to strangers and foreigners,
to whom even the native names are strange and the condition of the
country means nothing. But it was so still in those days.

He set out thus, more or less at his ease, and lingered a little on his
way. Then he bethought himself, or so he said, of the Rugas, in which he
had fished once as a boy, and which justified him in getting off the
coach at the little inn, not much better than a village public-house,
where a bare room and a hard bed were to be had, and a right to fish
could be negotiated for. He had a day’s fishing to give himself a
countenance, enquiring into the history generally of the country, and
which houses were occupied, and which lairds “up for the shooting.”

“Sir Robert here? Na, Sir Robert’s not here. Bless us a’, what would
bring him here, an auld man like that, that just adores his creature
comforts, and never touches a gun, good season or bad. No, he’s no here,
nor he hasna been here this dozen years. But I’ll tell you wha’s here,
and that’s a greater ferlie: his bonnie wee niece, Maister James’s
daughter, Miss Lily, as they call her. And it’s no for the shooting,
there’s nae need to say, nor for the fishing either, poor bit thing.
But what it is for is more than I can tell ye. It’s just a black,
burning shame----”

“Why is it a shame? Is the house haunted, or what’s the matter?” Ronald
said, averting his face.

“Haunted! that’s a pack of havers. I’m not minding about haunted. But I
tell ye what, sir, that bit lassie (and a bonnie bit lassie she is) is
all her lane there, like a lily flower in the wilderness; for Lily she’s
called, and Lily she is--a bit willowy slender creature, bowing her head
like a flower on the stalk.” The landlord, who was short and red and
stout, leaned his own head to one side to simulate the young lady’s
attitude. “She’s there and never sees a single soul, and it’s mair than
her life’s worth if ye take my opinion. If there was any body to keep
her company, or even a lot of sportsmen coming and going, it would be
something; but there she is, all her lane.”

“Miss Ramsay! I have met her in Edinburgh,” Ronald said.

“Then, if I were you, I would just take my foot in my hand and gang ower
the moor and pay her a visit. She will have a grand tocher and she is a
bonnie lass, and nowadays ye canna pick up an heiress at every roadside.
It would be just a charity to give the poor thing a little diversion and
make a fool o’ yon old sneck-drawer to his very beard. Lord! but I
wouldna waste a meenit if I were a young man.”

Ronald laughed, but put on a virtuous mien. He said he had come for the
fishing, not to pay visits, and to the fishing he would go. But when he
had spent the morning on the river, it occurred to him that he might
take “a look at the moor”; and this was how it was that he stole under
the shadow of the bank when the last rays of the sunset were fading, and
suddenly came out upon the heather under Dalrugas Tower.



CHAPTER X


Lily could not believe her eyes. That it was Ronald who approached the
house, leaping over the big bushes of ling, seeking none of the little
paths that ran here and there across the moor, did not occur to her. She
was afraid that it was some stranger or traveller, probably an
Englishman, who, seeing a woman’s head at a window, thought it an
appropriate occasion for impertinently attempting to attract her
attention. It was considered in those days that Englishmen and wanderers
unknown in the district were disposed to be jocularly uncivil when they
had a chance, and indeed the excellent Beenie, who had but few personal
attractions, had rarely gone out alone in Edinburgh, as Lily had often
been told, without being followed by some adventurous person eager to
make her acquaintance. Lily’s first thought was that here must be one of
Beenie’s many anonymous admirers, and after having watched breathlessly
up to a certain point she withdrew with a sense of offence, somewhat
haughtily, surprised that she, even at this height and distance, could
be taken for Beenie, or that any such methods should be adopted to
approach herself. But her heart had begun to beat, she knew not why, and
after a few minutes’ interval she returned cautiously to the window. She
did not see any one at first, and with a sigh of relief but
disappointment said to herself that it was nobody, not even a lover of
Beenie, who might have furnished her with a laugh, but only some
passer-by pursuing his indifferent way. Then she ventured to put out her
head to see where the passing figure had gone; and lo, at the foot of
the tower, immediately below the window, stood he whom she believed to
be so far away. There was a mutual cry of “Ronald” and “Lily,” and then
he cried, “Hush, hush!” in a thrilling whisper, and begged her to come
out. “Only for a moment, only for a word,” he cried through the pale air
of the twilight. “Has any thing happened?” cried Lily, bewildered. She
had no habit of the clandestine. She forgot that there was any sentence
against their meeting, and felt only that when he did not come to her,
but called to her to go to him, there must be something wrong.

But presently the sense of the position came back to her. Dougal and
Katrin had given no sign of consciousness that any restraint was to be
exercised, they had not opposed any desire of hers, or attempted to
prevent her from going out as she pleased; therefore the thought that
they were now themselves at supper and fully occupied, though it came
into her mind, did not affect her, nor did she feel it necessary to
whisper back in return. But he beckoned so eagerly that Lily yielded to
his urgency. She ran down stairs, catching up a plaid as she went, and
in a moment was on the moor and by Ronald’s side. “At last,” he said,
“at last!” when the first emotion of the meeting was over.

“Oh, it is me that should say ‘at last,’” said the girl; “it is not you
that have been alone for weeks and weeks, banished from every thing you
know: not a kent face, not a kind word, and not a letter by the post.”

“I gave a promise I would not write. Indeed, I wanted to give them no
handle against us, but to come the first moment I could without exciting
suspicion.”

“You are very feared of exciting suspicion,” she said, shaking her head.

“Have I not cause? Your uncle upbraided me that I was taking advantage
of your inexperience, persuading you to do things you would repent
after. Can I do this, Lily? Can I lay myself open to such a reproach?
Indeed, I do know the facts of things better than you.”

“I don’t know what you call the facts of things,” she said. “Do you know
the facts of this--the moor and nothing but the moor, and the two-three
servants, and the beasts? Could you contrive to get your diversion out
of the ways of a pony, and the cackle of the cocks and hens? Not but
they are very diverting sometimes,” said Lily, her heart rising. She was
impatient with him. She was even angry with him. He it was who was to
blame for her banishment, and he had been long, long in doing any thing
to enliven it; but still he was here, and the world was changed. Her
heart rose instinctively; even while she complained the things she
complained of grew attractive in her eyes. The pony’s humors brought
smiles to her face, the moor grew fair, the diversion which she had
almost resented when it was all she had now appeared to her in a happy
glow of amusement; though she was complaining in this same breath of the
colorlessness of her life, it now seemed to her colorless no more.

He drew her arm more closely through his. “And do you think I had more
diversion?” he asked, “feeling every street a desert and my rooms more
vacant than the moor? But that’s over, my Lily, Heaven be praised. I’m
thought to be fishing, and fish I will, hereaway and thereaway, to give
myself a countenance, but always within reach. And the moor will be
paradise when you and I meet here every day.”

“Oh, Ronald, if we can keep it up,” Lily murmured in spite of herself.

“Why shouldn’t we keep it up, as long, at least, as the Vacation lasts?
After that, it is true, I’ll have to go back to work; but it is a long
time before that, and I will go back with a light heart to do my best,
to make it possible to carry you off one day and laugh at Sir Robert,
for that is what it must come to, Lily. You may have objections, but you
must learn to get over them. If he stands out and will not give in to
us, we must just take it in our own hands. It must come to that. I would
not hurry or press a thing so displeasing if other means will do. And in
the meantime we’ll be very patient and try to get over your uncle by
fair means. But if he is obstinate, dear, that’s what it will have to
come to. No need to hurry you; we’re young enough. But you must prepare
your mind for it, Lily, for that is what will have to come if he does
not give way.”

Lily clung to her lover’s arm in a bewilderment of pleasure which was
yet confusion of thought, as if the world had suddenly turned upside
down. This was her own sentiment, which Ronald had never shared: how in
a moment had it become his, changing every thing, making the present
delightful and the future all hope and light? Sir Robert’s fortune had,
then, begun to appear to him what it had been to her, so secondary a
matter! and Sir Robert himself only a relative worthy of consideration
and deference, but not a tyrant obstructing all the developments of
life. She could not say: “This is how I have felt all through,” for,
indeed, it had never been possible to her to say to him: “Take me; let
us live poorly, but together,” as she had always felt. Was it he who had
felt this all through and not she at all? Lily was bewildered, her
standing-ground seemed to have changed, the whole position was
transformed. Surely it must have been she who held back, who wanted to
delay and temporize, not the lover, to whom the bolder way was more
natural. She did not seem to feel the ground beneath her, all had so
twisted and changed. “That is what it must come to; you must prepare
your mind for it, Lily.” Had that solid ground been cut from under her?
was she walking upon air? Her head felt a little giddy and sick in the
change of the world; yet what a change! all blessedness and happiness
and consolation, with no trouble in it at all.

“I have thought so sometimes myself,” she said in the great bewilderment
of her mind.

“But in the meantime we must be patient a little,” he said. “Of course I
am going to take my vacation here where we can be together. What kind of
people are those servants? Do they send him word about every thing and
spy upon all your movements? Never mind, I’ll find a way to baffle them;
I am here for the fishing, you know, and after a little while I’ll find
a lodging nearer, so that we may be the most of the time together while
pretending to fish. If we keep up in this direction, we will be out of
the reach of the windows, and you can set Beenie to keep watch and ward.
For I suppose you still tell Beenie every thing, and she is as faithful
to you as Sir Robert’s servants are to him?”

“I have no doubt they are faithful,” said Lily, a little chilled by this
speech, “but they are not spies at all. They never meddle with me. I am
sure they never write to him about what I am doing; besides, Sir Robert
is a gentleman; he would never spy upon a girl like me.”

“We must not be too sure of that. He sent you here to be spied upon, at
least to be kept out of every-body’s sight. I would not trust him, nor
yet his servants. And I am nearer to you than Sir Robert, Lily. I am
your husband that is going to be. It might be wrong for you to meet any
other man, which you would never think of doing, but there’s nothing
wrong in meeting me.”

“I never thought so,” said Lily, subdued. “I am very, very glad to have
you here. It will make every thing different. Only there is no need to
be alarmed about Dougal and Katrin. I think they are fonder of me than
of Uncle Robert. They are not hard upon me, they are sorry for me. But
never mind about that. Will you really, really give up your vacation and
your shooting, and all your pleasure at home, to come here and bide with
me?”

“That and a great deal more,” said Ronald fervently. He felt at that
moment that he could give every thing up for Lily. He was very much
pleased, elevated, gratified by what he himself had said. He had taken
the burden of the matter on his own shoulders, as it was fit that a man
should do. He had felt when they last parted that in some way, he could
not exactly say what, he had not come up to what was expected of him. He
had not reached the height of Lily’s ideal. But now every thing was
different. He had spoken out, he had assumed a virtue of which he had
not been quite sure whether he had it or not; but now he was sure. He
would not forsake her, he would never ask her to wait unduly or to
suffer for him now. To be sure, they would have to wait--they were young
enough, there was no harm in that--but not longer than was fit, not to
make her suffer. He drew her arm within his, leading her along through
the intricacies of the firm turf that formed a green network of softness
amid the heather. It was not for her to stumble among the big bushes of
ling or spring over the tufts. His business was to guard her from all
that, to lead her by the grassy paths, where her soft footsteps should
find no obstacle. There is a moment in a young man’s life when he thinks
of this mission of his with a certain enthusiasm. Whatever else he might
do, this was certainly his, to keep a woman’s foot from stumbling, to
smooth the way for her, to find out the easiest road. The more he did it
the more he felt sure that it was his to do, and should be, through all
the following years.

Lily was a long time out of doors that night. Robina came upstairs from
the lengthened supper, which was one of the pleasantest moments of the
day down stairs, when all the work was done, and all were free to talk
and linger without any thought of the beasts or the poultry. The cows
and the ponies were all suppered and put to bed. All the chickens,
mothers and children, had their heads under their wings. The
watchfullest of cocks was buried in sleep, the dogs were quiet on the
hearthstone. Then was the time for those “cracks” which the little party
loved. Beenie told her thrice-told tale of the wonders of Sir Robert’s
kitchen, and the goings on of Edinburgh servants, while Katrin gave
forth the chronicles of the countryside, and Dougal, not to be outdone,
poured forth rival recollections of things which he had seen when the
laird’s man, following his master afar, and of the tragedy of Mr. James,
Lily’s father, who had died far from home. They would sometimes talk all
together without observing it, carrying on each in his various strain.
And as there was nobody to interrupt, supper-time was long, and full of
varied interest. Sandy, the boy, sat at the foot of the table with
round and wondering eyes. But though he laid up many an image for future
admiration, his interest flagged after a while, and an oft-repeated
access of sleep made him the safest of listeners. “G’y way to your bed,
laddie,” Katrin would say, not without kindness. “Lord bless us!” cried
Dougal, giving his kick of dismissal under the table. “D’ye no hear what
the mistress tells ye?” But this was the only thing that disturbed the
little party. And Beenie usually came upstairs to find Lily with her
pale face, she who had no cronies, nor any one with whom to forget
herself in talk, “wearying” for her sole attendant.

But on this night Beenie found no one there when she came upstairs,
running, and a little guilty to think of the solitude of her little
mistress. For a moment Beenie had a great throb of terror in her breast:
the window was open, a faint and misty moon was shining forlorn over the
moor, there were no candles lighted, nor sign of any living thing.
Beenie coming in with her light was like a searcher for some dreadful
thing, entering a place of mystery to find she knew not what. She held
up her candle and cast a wild glance round the room, as if Lily might
have been lying in a heap in some corner; then, with a suppressed
scream, rushed into the adjacent bedroom, where the door stood open and
all was emptiness. Not there, not there! The distracted woman flew to
the open window with a wild apprehension that Lily, in her despair,
might have thrown herself over. “Oh, Miss Lily, Miss Lily!” she cried,
setting down her light and wringing her hands. Every horrible thing that
could have happened rushed through Beenie’s mind. “And what will they
say to me, that let her bide her lane and break her heart?” she moaned
within herself. And so strong was the certainty in her mind that
something dreadful had happened that when a sound struck her ear, and
she turned sharp round to see the little mistress, whom she had in
imagination seen laid out white and still upon her last bed, standing
all radiant in life and happiness behind her, the scream which burst
forth from Beenie’s lips was wilder than ever. Was it Lily who stood
there, smiling and shining, her eyes full of the dew of light, and every
line of her countenance beaming? or was it rather Lily’s glorified
ghost, the spirit that had overcome all troubles of the flesh? It was
the mischievous look in Lily’s eyes that convinced her faithful servant
that this last hypothesis could not be the explanation. For mischief
surely will not shine in glorified eyes, or the blessed amuse themselves
with the consternation of mortals. And Beenie’s soul, so suddenly
relieved of its terrors, burst out in an “Oh, Miss Lily!” the perennial
remonstrance with which the elder woman had all her life protested
against, yet condoned and permitted, the wayward humors of the girl.

“Well, Beenie! and how long do you think you will take to your supper
another time?” Lily said.

“Oh, Miss Lily, and where have you been? I’ve had a fright that will
make me need no more suppers as long as I live. Supper, did ye say? Me
that thought that you were out of the window, lying cauld and stark at
the foot of the tower. Oh, my bonnie dear, my heart’s beating like a
muckle drum. Where have ye been?”

“I have been on the moor,” said Lily dreamily. “I’ve had a fine walk,
half the way to the town, while you have been taken up with your
bannocks and your cheese and your cracks. I had a great mind to come
round to the window and put something white over my head and give you a
good fright, sitting there telling stories and thinking nothing of me.”

“Eh, I wasna telling stories--no me!”

Why Beenie made this asseveration I cannot tell, for she did nothing but
tell stories all the time that Dougal, Katrin, and she were together;
but it was natural to deny instinctively whatever accusation of neglect
was brought against her. “And eh,” she cried, with natural art, turning
the tables, “what a time of night to be out on that weary moor, a young
lady like you. Your feet will be wet with the dew, and no a thing upon
your shoulders to keep you from the cold. Eh, Miss Lily, Miss Lily!”
cried Robina, with all the fictitious indignation of a counter
accusation, “them that has to look after you and keep you out of
mischief has hard ado.”

“Perhaps you will get me a little supper now that you have had plenty
for yourself,” said Lily, keeping up the advantage on her side. But she
was another Lily from that pale flower which had looked so sadly over
the moor before Robina went down stairs to her prolonged meal, a radiant
creature with joy in every movement. What could it be that had happened
to Lily while her faithful woman was down stairs?



CHAPTER XI


Lily kept the secret to herself as long as it was in mortal power to do
so. She sent Beenie off to bed, entirely mystified and unable to explain
to herself the transformation which had taken place, while she herself
lay down under the canopies of the “best bed” and watched the misty
moonlight on the moor, and pictured to herself that Ronald would be only
now arriving, after his long walk, at his homely lodging. But what did
it matter to him to be late, to walk so far, to traverse, mile after
mile in the dark, that lonesome road? He was a man, and it was right and
fit for him. If he had been walking half the night, it would have been
just what the rural lads do, proud of their sweethearts, for whom they
sacrifice half their rest.

    “I’ll take my plaid and out I’ll steal,
      And o’er the hills to Nannie O.”

That was the sentiment for the man, and Lily felt her heart swell with
the pride of it and the satisfaction. She had thought--had she really
thought it?--that he was too careful, too prudent, more concerned about
her fortune than her happiness, but how false that had all been! or how
different he was now! “To carry you off some day and laugh at Sir
Robert, for that is what it must come to, Lily.” Ah, she had always
known that this was what it must come to; but he had not seen it, or at
least she had thought he did not see it in the Edinburgh days. He had
learned it, however, since then, or else, which was most likely, it had
always been in him, only mistaken by her or undeveloped; for it takes
some time, she said to herself, before a man like Ronald, full of faith
in his fellow-creatures, could believe in a tyranny like Sir Robert’s,
or think that it was any thing but momentary. To think that the
heartless old man should send a girl here, and then go away and probably
forget all about her, leaving her to pine away in the wilderness--that
was a thing that never would have entered into Ronald’s young and
wholesome mind. But now he saw it all, and that passiveness which had
chilled and disappointed Lily was gone. That was what it must come to.
Ah, yes, it was this it must come to: independence, no waiting on an old
man’s caprices, no dreadful calculations about a fortune which was not
theirs, which Lily did not grudge Sir Robert, which she was willing,
contemptuously, that he should do what he pleased with, which she would
never buy at the cost of the happiness of her young life. And now Ronald
thought so too. The little flat high up under the tiles of a tall old
Edinburgh house began to appear again, looming in the air over the wild
moor. What a home it would be, what a nest of love and happiness! Ronald
never should repent, oh, never, never should he repent that he had
chosen Lily’s love rather than Sir Robert’s fortune. How happy they
would be, looking out over all the lights and shadows with the great
town at their feet and all their friends around! Lily fell asleep in
this beatitude of thought, and in the same awakened, wondering at
herself for one moment why she should feel so happy, and then
remembering with a rush of delightful retrospection. Was it possible
that all the world had thus changed in a moment, that the clouds had
all fled away, that these moors were no longer the wilderness, but a
little outlying land of paradise, where happiness was, and every thing
that was good was yet to be?

Beenie found her young mistress radiant in the morning as she had left
her radiant when she went to bed. The young girl’s countenance could not
contain her smiles; they seemed to ripple over, to mingle with the
light, to make sunshine where there was none. What could have happened
to her in that social hour when Robina was at supper with her friends,
usually one of the dullest of the twenty-four to lonely Lily? Whom could
she have seen, what could she have heard, to light those lamps of
happiness in her eyes? But Robina could not divine what it was, and Lily
laughed and flouted, and reproached her with smiles always running over.
“You were so busy with your supper you never looked what might be
happening to me. You and Katrin and Dougal were so full of your cracks
you had no eyes for a poor lassie. I might have been lost upon the moor
and you would never have found it out. But I was not lost, you see, only
wonderfully diverted, and spent a happy evening, and you never knew.”

“Miss Lily,” said Beenie, with tears, “never more, if I should starve,
will I go down to my supper again!”

“You will just go down to your supper to-night and every night, and have
your cracks with Dougal and Katrin, and be as happy as you can, for I am
happy too. I am lonely no more. I am just the Lily I used to be before
trouble came--oh, better! for it’s finer to be happy again after trouble
than when you are just innocent and never have learned what it is.”

“The Lord bless us all!” cried Beenie solemnly, “the bairn speaks as if
she had gone, like Eve, into the thickest of the gairden and eaten of
the tree----”

“So I have,” said Lily. “I once was just happy like the bairn you call
me, and then I was miserable. And now I know the difference, for I’m
happy again, and so I will always be.”

“Oh, Miss Lily,” said Beenie, “to say you will always be is just flying
in the face of Providence, for there is nobody in this world that is
always happy. We would be mair than mortal if we could be sure of that.”

“But I am sure of it,” said Lily, “for what made me miserable was just
misjudging a person. I thought I understood, and I didn’t understand.
And now I do; and if I were to live to a hundred, I would never make
that mistake again. And it lies at the bottom of every thing. I may be
ill, I may be poor, I may have other troubles, but I can never, never,”
said Lily, placing piously her hands together, “have that unhappiness
which is the one that gives bitterness to all the rest--again.”

“My bonnie lady! I wish I knew what you were meaning,” Beenie said.

Lily kept her hands clasped and her head raised a little, as if she were
saying a prayer. And then she turned with a graver countenance to her
wondering maid. “Do you think,” she said, “that Dougal or Katrin--but I
don’t think Katrin--writes to Uncle Robert and tells him every thing I
do?”

“Dougal or Katrin write to Sir Robert? But what would they do that for?”
said Beenie, with wide-open eyes.

“Well, I don’t know--yes, I do know. I know what has been said, but I
don’t believe it. They say that Sir Robert’s servants write every thing
to him and tell all I do.”

“You do nothing, Miss Lily. What should they write? What do they ken?
They ken nothing. Miss Lily, Sir Robert, he’s a gentleman. Do you think
he would set a watch on a bit young creature like you? He may be a hard
man, and no considerate, but he is not a man like that.”

“That’s what I said!” cried Lily; “but tell me one thing more. Do they
know--did he tell them why--what for he sent me here?”

A blush and a cloud came over her sensitive face, and then a smile
broke forth like the sunshine, and chased the momentary trouble away.

“Not a word, Miss Lily, not a word. Was he likely to expose himsel’ and
you, that are his nearest kin? No such thing. Many, many a wonder they
have taken, and many a time they have tried to get it out of me; but I
say it was just because of having no fit home for a young lady, and him
aye going away to take his waters, and to play himself at divers places
that were not fit for the like of you. They dinna just believe me, but
they just give each other a bit look and never say a word. And it’s my
opinion, Miss Lily, that they’re just far fonder of you, Mr. James’s
daughter, than they are of Sir Robert, for Dougal was Mr. James’s ain
man, and to betray you to your uncle, even if there was any thing to
tell--which there is not, and I’m hoping never will be--is what they
would not do. You said yourself you did not believe that Katrin would
ever tell upon you; and I’m just as sure of Dougal, that is very fond of
you, though he mayna show it. And then there’s the grand security of a’,
Miss Lily, that there is nothing to tell.”

“To be sure, that is, as you say, the grand security of all!” Then
Lily’s face burst into smiles, and she flung discretion to the winds.
“Beenie,” she said, “you would never guess. I was very lonely at the
window last night, wondering and wondering if I would just bide there
all my life, and never see any body coming over the moor, when, in a
moment, I saw somebody! He was standing among the heather at the foot of
the tower.”

“Miss Lily!”

“Just so,” said the girl, nodding her head in the delight of her heart,
“it was just--him. When every thing was at the darkest, and my heart was
broken. Oh, Beenie! and it’s quite different from what I thought. I
thought he was more for saving Uncle Robert’s fortune than for making me
happy. I was just a fool for my pains. ‘If he stands out, we must just
take it in our own hands; it must come to that; you must just prepare
your mind for it, Lily.’ That was what he said, and me misjudging and
making myself miserable all the time. That is why I say I will never be
miserable again, for I will misjudge Ronald no more.”

“Eh, Miss Lily!” Beenie said again. Her mind was in a confusion even
greater than that of her young mistress; and she did not know what to
say. If Lily had misjudged him, so had she, and worse, and worse, she
said to herself! Beenie had not been made miserable, however, by the
mistake as Lily had been, and she was not uplifted by the discovery, if
it was a discovery; a cold doubt still hovered about her heart.

“I will tell you the truth. I will not hide any thing from you,” said
Lily. “He is at Kinloch-Rugas; he is staying in the very town itself. He
has come here for the fishing. He’ll maybe not catch many fish, but
we’ll both be happy, which is of more importance. Be as long as you like
at your supper, Beenie, for then I will slip out and take my walk upon
the moor, and Dougal and Katrin need never know any thing except that I
am, as they think already, a silly lassie keeping daft-like hours. If
they write that to Uncle Robert, what will it matter? To go out on the
moor at the sunset is not silly; it is the right thing to do. And the
weather is just like heaven, you know it is, one day rising after
another, and never a cloud.”

“’Deed, there are plenty of clouds,” said Beenie, “and soon we’ll have
rain, and you cannot wander upon the moor then, not if he were the
finest man in all the world.”

“We’ll wait till that time comes, and then we’ll think what’s best to
do; but at present it is just the loveliest weather that ever was seen.
Look at that sky,” said Lily, pointing to the vault of heavenly blue,
which, indeed, was not cloudless, but better, flushed with beatific
specks of white like the wings of angels. And then the girl sprang out
of bed and threw herself into Robina’s arms. “Oh, I’ve been faithless,
faithless!” she cried; “I’ve thought nothing but harm and ill. And I was
mistaken, mistaken all the time! I could hide my face in the dust for
shame, and then I could lift it up to the skies for joy. For there’s
nothing matters in this world so long as them you care for are good and
true and care for you. Nothing, nothing, whether it’s wealth or poverty,
whether it’s parting or meeting. I thought he was thinking more of the
siller than of true love. The more shame to me in my ignorance, the
silly, silly thing I was. And all the time it was just the contrary, and
true love was what he was thinking of, though it was only for an
unworthy creature like me.”

“I wouldna be so humble as that, my bonnie dear. Ye are nane unworthy;
you’re one that any person might be proud of to have for their ain. I’m
saying nothing against Mr. Ronald, wha is a fine young man and just
suits ye very well if every thing was according. Weel, weel, you need
not take off my head. Ye can say what you like, but he would just be
very suitable if he had a little more siller or a little more heart. Oh,
I am not undoubting his heart in that kind of a way. He’s fond enough of
you, I make no doubt of that. It’s courage is what he wants, and the
heart to take things into his own hands.”

“Beenie,” said the young mistress with dignity, “when the like of you
takes a stupid fit, there is nothing like your stupidity. Oh! it’s worse
than that--it is a determination not to understand that takes the
patience out of one. But I will not argue; I might have held my tongue
and kept it all to myself, but I would not, for I’ve got a bad habit of
telling you every thing. Ah! it’s a very bad habit, when you set
yourself like a stone wall, and refuse to understand. Go away now, you
dull woman, and leave me alone; and if you like to betray me and him to
those folk in the kitchen, you will just have to do it, for I cannot
stop you; but it will be the death of me.”

“_I_ betray you!” said Beenie with such a tone of injured feeling as all
Lily’s caresses, suddenly bestowed in a flood, could not calm; but peace
was made after a while, and Robina went forth to the world as
represented by Katrin and Dougal with an increase of dignity and
self-importance which these simple people could not understand.

“Bless me, you will have been hearing some grand news or other,” said
Katrin.

“Me! How could I hear any news, good or bad, and me the same as in
prison?” said Beenie, upon which both her companions burst into derisive
laughter.

“An easy prison,” said Katrin, “where you can come and gang at your
pleasure and nobody to say, ‘Where are ye gaun?’”

“You’re on your parole, Beenie,” said Dougal, “like one of the officers
in the time of the war.”

“That is just it,” said Robina; “you never said a truer word. I’m just
on my parole. I can go where I please, but no go away. And I can do what
I please, but no what I want to do. That’s harder than stone walls and
iron bars.”

“But what can ye be wanting to do sae out of the ordinary?” said Katrin.
“Me, I thought we were such good friends just living very peaceable, and
you content, Beenie, more or less, as weel as a middle-aged woman with
nothing happening to her is like to be.”

“I wasna consulting you about my age or what I expected,” Beenie replied
with quick indignation. It was a taunt that made the tears steal to her
eyes. If Katrin thought it was such a great thing to be married, and
that she, Robina, had not had her chance like another! But she drew
herself up and added grandly: “It is my young lady that is in prison,
poor thing, shut out from all her own kind. And how do I ken that you
two are not just two jailers over her, keeping the poor thing fast that
she should never make a step, nor see a face, but what Sir Robert would
have to know?”

The two guardians of Dalrugas consulted each other with a glance. “Oh,
is that hit?” said Katrin. It is seldom, very seldom, that a Scotch
speaker makes any havoc with the letter _h_, but there is an occasional
exception to this rule for the sake of emphasis. “Is that hit” is a
stronger expression than “is that it.” It isolates the pronoun and gives
it force. Dougal for his part pushed his cap off his head till it hung
on by one hair. It had been Robina’s object to keep them in the dark;
but her attempt was not successful. It diverted rather a stream of light
upon a point which they had not yet taken into consideration at all.
Many had been the wonderings at first over Lily’s arrival, and Sir
Robert’s reason for sending her here, but no guidance had been afforded
to the curious couple, and their speculations had died a natural death.

But Robina’s unguarded speech woke again all the echoes. “It will just
be a lad, after a’,” Katrin said to her spouse, when Robina, perceiving
her mistake, retired.

“I wouldna say but what it was,” answered Dougal.

“And eh, man,” said his wife, “you and me, that just stable our beasts
real peaceable together, would not be the ones to make any outcry if it
was a bonnie lad and one that was well meaning.”

“If the lad’s bonnie or not is naething to you or me,” said the husband.

“I’m no speaking of features, you coof, and that ye ken weel; but one
that means weel and would take the poor bit motherless lassie to a hame
of her ain: eh, Dougal man!” said Katrin, with the moisture in her eyes.

“How do we ken,” said Dougal, “if there is a lad--which is no way
proved, but weemen’s thoughts are aye upon that kind of thing--that he
is no just after Sir Robert’s fortune, and thinking very little of the
bonnie lass herself?”

“Eh, but men are ill-thinking creatures,” said Katrin. “Ye ken by
yourselves, and mind all the worldly meanings ye had, when a poor lass
was thinking but of love and kindness. And what for should the gentleman
be thinking of Sir Robert’s fortune? He has, maybe, as good a one of his
ain.”

“No likely,” said Dougal, shaking his head. But he added: “I’ll no play
false to Maister James’s daughter whatever, and you’ll no let me hear
any clashes out of your head,” he said, with magisterial action striding
away.

“When it was me that was standing up for her a’ the time!” Katrin cried
with an indignation that was not without justice.



CHAPTER XII


Next night the supper was much prolonged in the kitchen at Dalrugas. The
three _convives_--for Sandy tumbled off to sleep and was hustled off to
bed at an early hour--told stories against each other with devotion,
Katrin adding notes and elucidations to every anecdote slowly worked out
by her husband, and meeting every wonder of Beenie’s by a more
extraordinary tale. But while they thus occupied themselves with a
strong intention and meaning that Lily’s freedom should be complete, the
thrill of consciousness about all three was unmistakable. How it came
about that they knew this to be the moment when Lily desired to be
unwatched and free neither Dougal nor Katrin could have told. Lily had
been roaming about the moor for a great part of the day, sometimes with
Beenie, sometimes alone; but they had taken no more notice than usual.
Perhaps they thought of the country custom which brings the wooer at
nightfall; perhaps something magnetic was in the air. At all events this
was the effect produced. They sat down in the early twilight, which had
not yet quite lost its prolonged midsummer sweetness, and the moon was
shining, whitening the great breadth of the moor, before they rose. They
had neither heard nor seen any thing of Lily on the previous evening,
though she had gone out with more haste and less precaution than now;
but her movements to-night seemed to send the thrill of a pulse beating
all through the gaunt, high house. Each of them heard her flit down
stairs, though her step was so light. The husband and wife gave each
other a glance when they heard the sound, though it was no more than the
softest touch, of the big hall-door as she drew it behind her; and
Beenie raised her voice instinctively to drown the noise, as if it had
been something loud and violent. They all thought they heard her step
upon the grass, which was impossible, and the sound of another step
meeting hers. They were all conscious to their finger-tips of what poor
little Lily was about, or what they thought she was about; though,
indeed, Lily had flown forth like a dove, making no noise at all, even
in her own excited ears.

And as for any sound of their steps upon the mossy greenness of the
grass that intersected the heather, and made so soft a background for
the big hummocks of the ling, there was no such thing that any but fairy
ears could have heard. Ronald was standing in the same place, at the
foot of the tower, when Lily flew out noiseless, with the plaid over her
arm. He had brought a basket of fish, which he placed softly within the
hall-door.

“You see, I am not, after all, a fisher for nothing,” he whispered, as
he put the soft plaid about her shoulders.

“Whisht! don’t say any thing,” said Lily, “till we are further off the
house.”

“You don’t trust them, then?” he said.

“Oh, I trust them! but it’s a little dreadful to think one has to trust
any body and to be afraid of what a servant will say.”

“So it is,” he agreed, “but that is one of the minor evils we must just
put up with, Lily. We would not if we could help it. Still, when your
uncle compels you and me to proceedings like this, he must bear the
guilt of it, if there is any guilt.”

“‘Guilt’ is a big word,” said Lily; and then she added: “I suppose it is
what a great many do and think no shame.”

“Shame!” he said, “for two lovers to meet that are kept apart for no
reason in the world! If we were to meet Sir Robert face to face, I hope
my Lily would not blush, and certainly there would be no shame in me. He
dared us to it when he sent you away, and I don’t see how he can expect
any thing different. I would be a poor creature if, when I was free
myself, I let my bonnie Lily droop alone.”

“A poor Lily you would have found me if it had lasted much longer,” she
said, “but, oh, Ronald! never think of that now. Here we are together,
and we believe in each other, which is all we want. To doubt, that is
the dreadful thing--to think that perhaps there are other thoughts not
like your own in his mind, and that however you may meet, and however
near you may be, you never know what he may be thinking.” Lily shuddered
a little, notwithstanding that he had put the plaid so closely round
her, and that her arm was within his.

“Yes,” said Ronald, “and don’t you think there might be the same dread
in him? that his Lily was doubting him, not trusting, perhaps turning
away to other----”

“Don’t say that, Ronald, for it is not possible. You could not ever have
doubted me. Don’t say that, or I’ll never speak to you again.”

“And why not I as well as you?” said Ronald. “There is just as much
occasion. I believe there is no occasion, Lily. Don’t mistake me again,
but just as much occasion.”

She looked at him for a moment with her face changing as he repeated:
“Just as much occasion.” And then, with a happy sigh: “Which is none,”
she said.

“On either side. The one the same as the other. Promise me you will
always keep to that, and never change your mind.”

She only smiled in reply; words did not seem necessary. They understood
each other without any such foolish formula. And how was it possible she
should change her mind? how ever go beyond that moment, which was
eternity, which held all time within the bliss of its content? The
entreaty to keep to that seemed to Lily to be without meaning. This was
always; this was forever. Her mind could no more change than the great
blue peak of Schiehallion could change, standing up against the lovely
evening sky. She had recognized her mistake, with what pride and joy!
and that was over forever. It was a chapter never to be opened again.

The lingering sunset died over the moor, with every shade of color that
the imagination could conceive. The heather flamed now pink, now rose,
now crimson, now purple; little clouds of light detached themselves from
the pageant of the sunset and floated all over the blue, like
rose-leaves scattered and floating on a heavenly breeze; the air over
the hills thrilled with a vibration more delicate than that of the heat,
but in a similar confusion, like water, above the blue edges of the
mountains. Then the evening slowly dimmed, the colors going out upon the
moor, tint by tint, though they still lingered in the sky; then in the
east, which had grown gray and wistful, came up all at once the white
glory of the moon. It was such an evening as only belongs to the North,
an enchanted hour, neither night nor day, bound by no vulgar conditions,
lasting forever, like Lily’s mood, no limits or boundaries to it,
floating in infinite vastness and stillness between heaven and earth.
The two who, being together, perfected this spotless period, wandered
over all the moor, not thinking where they were going, winding out and
in among the bushes of the heather, wherever the spongy turf would bear
a footstep. They forgot that they were afraid of being seen: but,
indeed, there was nobody to see them, not a soul on the high-road nor on
the moor. They forgot all chances of betrayal, all doubts about Sir
Robert’s servants, every thing, indeed, except that they were together
and had a thousand things to say to each other, or nothing at all to say
to each other, as happened, the silence being as sweet as the talk, and
the pair changing from one to the other as caprice dictated: now all
still breathing like one being, now garrulous as the morning birds. They
forgot themselves so far that, after two or three false partings,
Ronald taking Lily home, then Lily accompanying Ronald back again to the
edge of the moor, he walked with her at last to the very foot of the
tower, from whence he had first called her, though there were audible
voices just round the corner, clearly denoting that the other inmates
were taking a breath of air after their supper at the ha’-door. There
was almost a pleasure in the risk, in coming close up to those
by-standers, yet unseen, and whispering the last good-night almost
within reach of their ears.

“I do not see why I should carry on the farce of fishing all day long,”
said Ronald, “and see you only in the evening. You can get out as easily
in the afternoon as in the evening, Lily.”

“Oh, yes, quite as easy. Nobody minds me where I go.”

“Then come down to the waterside. It is not too far for you to walk. I
will be by way of fishing up the stream; and I will bring my lunch in my
pocket and we will have a little picnic together, you and me.”

“I will do that, Ronald; but the evening is the bonnie time. The
afternoon is just vulgar day, and this is the enchanted time. It is all
poetry now.”

“It is you that are the poetry, Lily. Me, I’m only common flesh and
blood.”

“It is the two of us that make the poetry,” said Lily; “but the
afternoon will be fine, too, and I will come. I will allow you to catch
no fish--little bonnie things, why should they not be happy in the
water, like us on the bank?”

“I like very well to see them in the basket, and to feel I have been so
clever as to catch them,” said Ronald.

“And so do I,” cried Lily, with a laugh so frank that they were both
startled into silence, feeling that the audience round the corner had
stopped their talk to listen. This, the reader will see not all
protestations, not all sighs of sentiment, was the manner of their talk
before they finally parted, Ronald making a long circuit so as to
emerge unseen and lower down upon the high-road, on the other side of
the moor. Was it necessary to make any such make-believe? Lily walked
round the corner, with a blush yet a smile, holding her head high,
looking her possible critics in the face. It was Dougal and Katrin, who
had come out of doors to breathe the air after their supper, and to see
the bonnie moor. Within, in the shadow of the stairs, was a vision of
Beenie, very nervous, her eyes round and shining with eagerness and
suspense. Lily coming in view, all radiant in the glory of her youth,
full of happiness, full of life, too completely inspired and lighted up
with the occasion to take any precautions of concealment, was like a
revelation. She was youth and joy and love impersonified, coming out
upon the lower level of common life, which was all these good people
knew, like a star out of the sky. Katrin, arrested in the question on
her lips, gazed at her with a woman’s ready perception of the new and
wonderful atmosphere about her. Dougal, half as much impressed, but not
knowing why, pushed his cap on one side as usual, inserting an
interrogative finger among the masses of his grizzled hair.

“So you’ve been taking your walk, Miss Lily,” said Katrin, subdued out
of the greater vigor of remark which she had been about to use.

“Yes, Katrin, while you have been having your supper. Your voices sound
very nice down stairs when you are having your cracks, but they make me
feel all the more lonely by myself. It’s more company on the moor,” Lily
said, with an irrestrainable laugh. She meant, I suppose, to
deceive--that is, she had no desire to betray herself to those people
who might betray her--but she was so unused to any kind of falsehood
that she brought out her ambiguous phrase so as to make it imply, if not
express, the truth.

“I am glad you should find it company, Miss Lily. It’s awfu’ bonnie and
fresh and full of fine smells, the gale under your foot, and the
wholesome heather, and a’ thae bonnie little flowers.”

“Losh me! I would find them puir company for my part,” said Dougal; “but
there is, maybe----”

“Hold your peace, you coof. Do ye think the like of you can faddom a
young leddy that is just close kin to every thing that’s bonnie? You, an
auld gillie, a Highland tyke, a----”

“Don’t abuse Dougal, though you have paid me the prettiest compliment.
Could I have the powny to-morrow, Dougal, to go down the water a bit?
and I will take a piece with me, Katrin, in case I should be late; and
then you need never fash your heads about me whether I come in to dinner
or not.”

“My bonnie leddy, I like every-body to come in to their denner,” said
Katrin, with a cloud upon her face.

“So do I, in a usual way. But I have been here a long time. How long,
Beenie? A whole month, fancy that! and they tell me there is a very
bonnie glen down by the old bridge that people go to see.”

“So there is, a real bonnie bit. I’ll take ye there some day mysel’, and
Beenie, she can come in the cairt with the black powny gin she likes.
She’ll mind it well; a’ the bairns are keen to gang in the vacance to
the Fairy Glen.”

“I’ll not wait for Beenie this time, or you either, Dougal,” said Lily,
again with a laugh. “I will just take Rory for my guide and find it out
for myself. I think,” she added, with a deeper blush and a faltering
voice, “that Miss Helen from the Manse----”

She did not get far enough to tell that faltering fib. “Oh, if you are
to be with Miss Eelen! Miss Eelen knows every corner of the Fairy Glen.
I will be very easy in my mind,” said Katrin, “if Miss Eelen’s there;
and I’ll put up that cold chicken in a basket, and ye shall have a nice
lunch as ever two such nice creatures could sit down to. But ye’ll mind
not to wet your feet, nor climb up the broken arch of the auld brig
yonder. Eh, but that’s an exploit for a stirring boy, and no a diversion
for leddies. And ye’ll just give the powny a good feed, and take him
out a while in the morning, Dougal, that he mayna be too fresh.”

“I’m just thinking,” said Dougal, “there’s a dale to do the morn; but if
ye were to wait till the day after, I could spare the time, Miss Lily,
to take you mysel’.”

“And if it’s just preceesely the morn that Miss Eelen’s coming!” cried
Katrin, with great and solid effect, while Lily, alarmed, began to
explain and deprecate, pleading that she could find the way herself so
easily, and would not disturb Dougal for the world. She hurried in after
this little episode to avoid any further dangers, to be met by Beenie’s
round eyes and troubled face in the dark under the stair. “Oh, Miss
Lily!” Beenie cried, putting a hand of remonstrance on her arm, which
Lily shook off and flew upstairs, very happy, it must be allowed, in her
first attempt at deceit. Robina looked more scared and serious than ever
when she appeared with a lighted candle in the drawing-room, shaking her
solemn head. Her eyes were so round, and her look so solemn, that she
looked not unlike a large white owl in the imperfect light, and so Lily
told her with a tremulous laugh, to avert, if possible, the coming
storm. But Beenie’s storm, though confused and full of much vague rumble
of ineffectual thunder, was not to be averted. She repeated her
undefined but powerful remonstrance, “Oh, Miss Lily!” as she set down
the one small candle in the midst of the darkness, with much shaking of
her head.

“Well, what is it? Stop shaking your head, or you will shake it off, and
you and me will break our backs looking for it on the floor, and speak
out your mind and be done with it!” cried Lily, stamping her foot upon
the carpet. Robina made a solemn pause, before she repeated, still more
emphatically, her “Oh, Miss Lily!” again.

“To bring in Miss Eelen’s name, puir thing, puir thing, that has nothing
to do with such vanities, just to give ye a countenance and be a screen
to you, and you going to meet your lad, and no leddy near ye at a’.”

“Don’t speak so loud!” cried Lily with an affectation of alarm; and
then she added: “I never said Helen was coming; I only----”

“Put it so that Katrin thought that was what you meant. Oh, I ken fine!
It’s no a falsehood, you say, but it’s a falsehood you put into folk’s
heads. And, ’deed, Katrin was a great fool to take heed for a moment of
what you said, when it was just written plain in your eyes and every
line of your countenance, and the very gown on your back, that you had
come from a meeting with your lad!”

“I wish you would not use such common words, Beenie! as if I were the
house-maid meeting my lad!”

“I fail to see where the difference lies,” said Beenie with dignity;
“the thing’s just the same. You’re maybe no running the risks a poor
lass runs, that has naebody to take care of her. But this is no more
than the second time he’s come, and lo! there’s a wall of lees rising
round your feet already, trippin’ ye up at every step. What will ye say
to Katrin, Miss Lily, the morn’s night when ye come hame? Will ye keep
it up and pretend till her that Miss Eelen’s met ye at the auld brig? or
will ye invent some waur story to account for her no coming? or what, I
ask ye, will ye do?”

“Katrin,” said Lily, with burning cheeks, but a haughty elevation of the
head, “has no right to cross-question me.”

“Nor me either, Miss Lily, ye will be thinking?”

“It does not matter what I’m thinking. She is one thing and you are
another. I have told you---- Oh, Beenie, Beenie,” cried the girl
suddenly, “why do you begin to make objections so soon? What am I doing
more than other girls do? Who is it I am deceiving? Nobody! Uncle Robert
wanted to make me promise I would give him up, but I would not promise.
I never said I would not see him and speak to him and make him welcome
if he came to me; there was never a word of that between us. And as for
Katrin!” cried Lily with scorn. “Why, Grace Scott met Robbie Burns out
at Duddingston, and told her mother she had only been walking with her
cousin, and you just laughed when you told me. And her mother! very
different, very different from Katrin. You said what an ill lassie! but
you laughed and you said Mrs. Scott was wrong to force them to it. That
was all the remark you made, Robina, my dear woman,” said Lily,
recovering her spirit; “so I am not going to put up with any criticism
from you.”

“Oh, Miss Lily!” Robina said. But what could she add to this mild
remonstrance, having thus been convicted of a sympathy with the vagaries
of lovers which she did not, indeed, deny? And it cannot be said that
poor Lily’s suggested falsehood did much harm. Katrin, for her part, had
very little faith in Miss Eelen as the companion of the young lady’s
ramble. She too shook her head as she packed her basket. “I see now,”
she said, “the meaning o’t, which is aye a satisfaction. It’s some fine
lad that hasna siller enough to please Sir Robert. And he’s come after
her, and they’re counting on a wheen walks and cracks together, poor
young things. Maybe if she had had a mother it would have been
different, or if poor Mr. James had lived, poor man, to take care of his
ain bit bairn. Sir Robert’s a dour auld carl; he’s not one I would put
such a charge upon. What does he ken about a young leddy’s heart, poor
thing? But they shall have a good lunch whatever,” the good woman said.

And when the sun was high over the moor and every thing shining, not too
hot nor too bright, the tempered and still-breathing noon of the North,
Lily set out upon her pony with the basket by her saddle, and all the
world smiling and inviting before her. Never had such a daring and
delightful holiday dawned upon her before. Almost a whole day to spend
together, Ronald all that she dreamed, and not an inquisitive or
unkindly eye to look upon them, not even Beenie to disturb their
absorption in each other. She waved her whip in salutation to the others
behind as they stood watching her set out. “A bonnie day to ye, Miss
Lily,” cried Katrin. “And you’ll no be late?” said anxious Beenie.
“’Od,” cried Dougal, with his cap on his ear, “I wish I had just put
off thae potataies and gone with her mysel’----” “Ye fuil!” said his
wife, and said no further word. And Lily rode away in heavenly content
and expectation over the moor.



CHAPTER XIII


The day was one of those Highland days which are a dream of freshness
and beauty and delight. I do not claim that they are very frequent, but
sometimes they will occur in a cluster, two or three together, like a
special benediction out of heaven. The sun has a purity, a clearness, an
ecstasy of light which it has nowhere else. It looks, as it were, with a
heavenly compunction upon earth and sky, as if to make up for the many
days when it is absent, expanding over mountain and moor with a smiling
which seems personal and full of intention. The air is life itself,
uncontaminated with any evil emanation, full of the warmth of the sun,
and the odor of the fir-trees and heather, and the murmur of all the
living things about. The damp and dew which linger in the shady places
disappear as if by magic. No unkindly creature, no venomous thing, is
abroad; no noise, no jar of living, though every thing lives and grows
and makes progress with such silent and smiling vigor. The two lovers in
the midst of this incense-breathing nature, so still, yet so strong, so
peaceful, yet so vigorous, felt that the scene was made for them, that
no surroundings could have been more fitly prepared and tempered for the
group which was as the group in Eden before trouble came. They wandered
about together through the glen, and by the side of the shining brown
trout stream, which glowed and smiled among the rocks, reflecting every
ray and every cloud as it hurried and sparkled along, always in haste,
yet always at leisure. They lingered here and there, in a spot which was
still more beautiful than all the others, though not so beautiful as
the next, which tempted them a little further on. Sometimes Ronald’s rod
was taken out and screwed together; sometimes even flung over a dark
pool, where there were driftings and leapings of trout, but pulled in
again before, as Lily said, any harm was done. “For why should any
peaceful creature get a sharp hook in its jaw because you and me are
happy?” she said. “That’s no reason.” Ronald, but for the pride of
having something to carry back in his basket, was much of her opinion.
He was not a devoted fisherman. Their happiness was no reason, clearly,
for interfering with that of the meanest thing that lived. And they
talked about every thing in heaven and earth, not only of their own
affairs, though they were interesting enough. Lily, who for a month had
spoken to nobody except Beenie, save for that one visit to the Manse,
had such an accumulation of remark and observation to get through on her
side, and so much to demand from him, that the moments, and, indeed, the
hours, flew. It is astonishing, even without the impulse of a long
parting and sudden meeting, what wells of conversation flow forth
between two young persons in their circumstances. Perhaps it would not
sound very wise or witty if any cool spectator listened, but it is
always delightful to the people concerned, and Lily was not the first
comer, so to speak. She was full of variety, full of whim and fancy, no
heaviness or monotony in her. Perhaps this matters less at such a moment
of life than at any other. The dullest pair find the art of entertaining
each other, of keeping up their mutual interest. And now that the cold
chill of doubt in respect to Ronald was removed from her mind Lily
flowed like the trout stream, as dauntless and as gay, reflecting every
gleam of light.

“The worst thing is,” Ronald said, “that the Vacation will come to an
end, not now or soon, Heaven be praised; but the time will come when I
shall have to go back and pace the Parliament House, as of old, and my
Lily will be left alone in the wilderness.”

“Not alone, as I was before,” said Lily--“never that any more; for now
I have something to remember, and something to look forward to. You’ve
been here, Ronald; nothing can take that from us. I will come and sit on
this stone, and say to myself: ‘Here we spent the day; and here we had
our picnic; and this was what he said.’ And I will laugh at all your
jokes over again.”

“Ah!” he said, “it’s but a grim entertainment that. I went and stood
behind those curtains in that window, do you remember? in George Square,
and said to myself: ‘Here my Lily was; and here she said----’ But,
instead of laughing, I was much more near crying. You will not find much
good in that.”

“You crying!” she said, with the water in her eyes, and a little soft
reproving blow of her fingers upon his cheek. “I do not believe it. But
I dare say I shall cry and then laugh. What does it matter which? They
are just the same for a girl. And then I shall say to myself: ‘At the
New Year he is coming back again, and then----’”

“What shall we do at the New Year?” he said. “No days like this then.
How can I take my Lily out on the moor among the snow?”

“If I am a Lily, I am one that can bloom anywhere--in the snow as well
as the sun.”

“And so you are, my dearest, making a sunshine in a shady place. But
still we must think of that. Winter and summer are two different things.
Cannot we find a friend to take us in?”

“I will tell you where we shall find a friend. You’ll come to the Tower
with your boldest face as if it was the first time you had been near.
And you will ask: ‘Does Miss Ramsay live here?’ And Katrin will say:
‘’Deed does she, sir. Here and no other place.’ And you will smite your
thigh in your surprise, and say: ‘I thought I had heard that! I am a
friend from Edinburgh, and I just stopped on the road to [here say any
name you please] to say “Good-day” to the young lady, if she was here.’
And then you will look about, and you will say: ‘It is rather a lonesome
place.’”

“Go on,” said Ronald, laughing; “I like the dialogue--though whether we
should trust your keepers so far as that----”

“My keepers! They are my best of friends! Well, Katrin will look round
too, and she will say, as if considering the subject for the first time:
‘In winter it is, maybe, a wee lonesome--for a young leddy. Ye’ll maybe
be a friend of Sir Robert’s, too?’ And you will say: ‘Oh, yes, I am a
great friend of Sir Robert’s.’ And she will open the door wide and say:
‘Come ben, sir, come ben. It will be a great divert to our young leddy
to see a visitor. And you’re kindly welcome.’ That’s what she will say.”

“Will she say all that, and shall I say all that? Perhaps I shall,
including that specious phrase about being a friend of Sir Robert’s,
which would surprise Sir Robert very much.”

“Well, you know him, surely, and you are not unfriends. It strikes me
that, to be a lawyer, Ronald, you are full of scruples.”

“What a testimonial to my virtue!” he said, with a laugh. “But it is not
scruples; it is pure cowardice, Lily. Are they to be trusted? If Sir
Robert were to be written to, and I to be forbidden the door, and my
Lily carried off to a worse wilderness, abroad, as he threatened!”

“I will tell you one thing: I will not go!” said Lily, “not if Sir
Robert were ten times my uncle. But you need not fear for Katrin. She
likes me better than Sir Robert. You may think that singular, but so it
is. And I am much more fun,” cried Lily, “far more interesting! I
include you, and you and me together, we are a story, we are a romance!
And Katrin will like us better than one of the Waverley novels, and she
will be true to us to the last drop of her blood.”

“These Highlanders, you never can be sure of them,” said Ronald, shaking
his head. He spoke the sentiment of his time and district, which was
too near the Highland line to put much confidence in the Celt.

“But she is not a Highlander. She is Aberdeen,” cried Lily. “Beenie is a
Highlander, if you call Kinloch-Rugas Highland, and she is as true as
steel. Oh, you are a person of prejudices, Ronald; but I trust all the
world,” she cried, lifting her fine and shining face to the shining sky.

“And so do I,” he cried, “to-day!” And they paused amid all
considerations of the past and future to remember the glory of the
present hour, and how sweet it was above every thing that it should be
to-day.

Thus the afternoon fled. They made their little table in the sunshine,
for shade is not as desirable in a Highland glen as in a Southern
valley, and ate their luncheon merrily together, Lily recounting, with a
little shame, how it had been intended for Helen Blythe instead of
Ronald Lumsden. “I was very near telling a fib,” she said
compunctiously, “but I did not do it. I left it to Katrin’s
imagination.”

“Helen Blythe must have a robust appetite if all this was for her,” he
said. “Is this an effort of imagination too? But come, Lily, we must do
our duty by the view. There is the old brig to climb, and all the Fairy
Glen to see.”

“I promised not to climb the old brig,” she said. “But that promise, I
suppose, was only to hold in case it was Helen Blythe that was with me,
for she could give little help if I slipped, whereas you----”

“I? I hope I can take care of my Lily,” said the young man; and after
they had packed their basket, and put it ready to be tied once more to
Rory’s saddle, who was picnicking too on the grass in one continuous and
delicate meal, they wandered off together to make the necessary
pilgrimage, though the old brig and the Fairy Glen attracted but little
of the attention of the pair, so fully engrossed in each other. They
climbed the broken arch, however, which was half embedded in the slope
of the bank, and overgrown with every kind of green and flourishing
thing, arm in arm, Ronald swinging his companion lightly over the
dangerous bits, for love, while Lily, for love, consented to be aided,
though little needing the aid. And how it happened will never be known,
but their happy progress came to a sudden pause on an innocent bit of
turf where no peril was. If it were Ronald who stepped false, or Lily,
neither of them could tell, but in a moment calamity came. He disengaged
himself from her, almost roughly, pushing her away, and thus, instead of
dragging her with him, crashed down alone through the briers and bushes,
with a noise which, to Lily, filled the air like thunder. When she had
slipped and stumbled in her fright and anxiety after him, she found him
lying, trying to laugh, but with his face contorted with pain, among the
nettles and weeds at the bottom. “What has happened? What has happened?”
she cried.

“What an ass I am,” said he, “and what a nuisance for you, Lily! I
believe I have sprained my ankle, of all the silly things to do! and at
this time, of all others, betraying you!”

Lily, I need not say, was for a moment at her wit’s end. There were no
ambulance classes in those days, nor attempts to train young ladies in
the means of first help. But there is always the light of nature, a
thing much to be trusted to, all the same. Lily took his handkerchief,
because it was the largest, and bound up his foot, as far as that was
possible, cutting open the boot with his knife; and then they held a
brief council of war. Ronald wished to be left there while she went for
help, but there was no likelihood of obtaining help nearer than
Kinloch-Rugas, and finally it was decided that, in some way or other, he
should struggle on to Rory’s back, and so be led to the Manse, where a
welcome and aid were sure to be found. It was a terrible business
getting this accomplished, but with patience, and a good deal of pain,
it was done at last, the injured foot supported _tant bien que mal_ in
the stirrup, and a woful little group set forth on the way to the
village. But I do wrong to say it was a woful group, for, though the
pain made Ronald faint, and though Lily’s heart was full of anguish and
anxiety, they both exerted themselves to the utmost, each for the sake
of the other. Lily led the reluctant pony along, sometimes running by
his side, sometimes dragging him with both her hands, too much occupied
for thought. What would people think did not occur to her yet. People
might think what they liked so long as she got him safe to the Manse.
She knew that they would be kind to him there. But what an end it was to
the loveliest of days: and the sun was beginning to get low, and the
road so long.

“Oh, Rory, man!” cried poor Lily, apostrophizing the pony after the
manner of Dougal. “If you would only go steady and go soft to-day!
To-morrow you may throw me if you like, and I will never mind; but, oh,
go canny, if there is any heart in you, to-day!” I think that Rory felt
the appeal by some magnetism in her touch if not by her words, on which
point I cannot say any thing positively; but he did at least overcome
his flightiness, and accomplished the last half of the road at a steady
trot, which gave Ronald exquisite pain, and kept Lily running, but
shortened considerably the period of their suffering. They were received
with a great outcry of sympathy and compassion at the Manse, where
Ronald was laid out at once on the big hair-cloth sofa, and his foot
relieved as much as Helen’s skill, which was not inconsiderable, could
do. It was he who made the necessary explanations, Lily, in her trouble,
having quite forgot the necessity for them.

“I was so happy,” he said, “so fortunate as to be seen by Miss Ramsay,
who knew me--the only creature hereabouts who does; and you see what she
has done for me: helped me to struggle up, put me on her pony, and
brought me here--a perfect good Samaritan.”

“Oh, don’t, don’t speak like that!” said Lily in her distress. She felt
she could not at this moment bear the lie. Nobody had ever seen Lily
Ramsay so dishevelled before: her hair shaken out by her run, her skirt
torn where she had caught her foot in it in her struggles to help
Ronald, and covered with the dust of the road.

“She would just be that,” said Helen Blythe, receiving the narrative
with faith undoubting, “and what a good thing it was you, my dear, that
knew the gentleman, and not a strange person! And what a grand thing
that you were riding upon Rory! Just lie as quiet as you can; the hot
bathing will relieve the pain, and now the boot’s off ye’ll be easier;
and the doctor will come in to see you as soon as he comes home. Don’t
ye make a movement, sir, that ye can help. Just lie quiet, lie quiet!
that is the chief remedy of all.”

“He is Mr. Lumsden, Helen,” said Lily, composed, “a friend of my
uncle’s, from Edinburgh. Oh, I am glad he is in your hands. He had
slipped down the broken arch at the old brig, where all the tourists go;
and I had ridden there to-day just to see it.”

“Eh, my dear, how thankful you must be,” was all Helen’s reply; but it
seemed to Lily that the old minister in his big chair by the fireside
gave her a glance which was not so all-believing as Helen’s.

“It was just an extraordinary piece of good luck for the young man,” the
minister said. “Things seldom happen so pat in real life. But a young
lady like you, Miss Lily, likes the part of the good Samaritan.”

She could not look him full in the face, and the laugh with which he
ended his speech seemed the most cruel of mocking sounds to poor Lily.
She put up her hands to her tumbled hair.

“May I go to your room and make myself tidy?” she said to Helen. “I had
to run most of the way with Rory, and my skirt so long for riding. I
don’t know what sort of dreadful person they must have thought me in the
town.”

“Nobody but will think all the better of you for your kindness,” said
Helen, “and we’ll soon mend your skirt, for there’s really little harm
done. And I think you should have the gig from the inn to drive you
back, my dear, for your nerves are shaken, and the afternoon’s getting
late, and you must not stir from here till you have got a good rest and
a cup of tea.”

“The gig may perhaps take me back to the inn first,” said Ronald, “for
it is there I am staying--for the fishing,” he added, unable to keep out
of his eyes a half-comic glance at the companion of his trouble.

“Indeed, you are going back to no inn,” said Helen; “you are just going
to stay at the Manse, where you will be much better attended to; and
Lily, my dear, you’ll come and see Mr. Lumsden, that owes so much to you
already, and that will help to make him feel at home here.”

But when Lily came down stairs, smoothed and brushed, with her hair
trim, and the flush dying off her cheeks, and her skirt mended, though
in many ways the accident had ended most fortunately, she could not meet
the smile in the old minister’s eyes.



CHAPTER XIV


There was great excitement in the Tower when the gig from “the toun” was
seen slowly climbing the brae. Almost every-body in the house was in
commotion, and Beenie, half crazy with anxiety, had been at the window
for hours watching for Lily’s return, and indulging in visions and
conjectures which her companions knew nothing of. All that Dougal and
Katrin thought of was an accident. Though, as they assured each other,
Rory’s bark was worse than his bite, it was yet quite possible that in
one of his cantrips he might have thrown the inexperienced rider in her
long skirt; and even if she was not hurt, she might have found it
impossible to catch him again and might have to toil home on foot, which
would account for the lateness of the hour. Or she might have sprained
her ankle or even broken her arm as she fell, and been unable to move.
When these fears began to take shape, the boy had been sent off flying
on the black pony to the scene of the picnic, the only argument against
this hypothesis being that, had any such accident happened, Rory by this
time would in all probability have reached home by himself. Beenie, I
need not say, was tormented by other fears. Was it possible that they
had fled together, these two who had now fully discovered that they
could not live without each other? Had he carried her away, as it had
been on the cards he should have done three months ago? and a far better
solution than any other of the problem. These ideas alternated in
Robina’s mind with the suggestion of an accident. She did not believe in
an accident. Lily had always been masterful, able to manage any thing
that came in her way, “beast or bird,” as Beenie said, and was it likely
she would be beaten by Rory, a little Highland pony, when she had ridden
big horses by Sir Robert’s side, and never stumbled? Na. “She’ll just
have gone away with him,” Beenie said to herself, and though she felt
wounded that the plan had not been revealed to her, she was not sorry,
only very anxious, feeling that Lily would certainly find some
opportunity of sending her a word, and telling her where to join them.
“It is, maybe, the best way out of it,” she said over and over again to
herself, and accordingly she was less moved by Katrin’s wailings than
that good woman could understand. Katrin and Dougal were out upon the
road, while Beenie kept her station at the window. And Dougal’s fears
for the young lady were increased by alarms about his pony, an older and
dearer friend than Lily. “If the poor beast has broken his knees, I’ll
ne’er forgive myself for letting that bit lassie have the charge of him
alone.”

“The charge of him!” said his wife in high indignation, “and her that
has, maybe, twisted her ankle, or broken her bonnie airm, the darlin’,
and a’ the fault of that ill-willy beast. And it’s us that has the
chairge of her.”

This argument silenced Dougal for the moment, but he still continued to
think quite as much of Rory as of the young lady, whichever of the two
was responsible for the trouble which had occurred. When the boy came
back to report that there was nothing to be found at the old brig but
great marks on the ruin, as if somebody had “slithered down,” branches
torn away, and the herbage crushed at the bottom, the alarm in the house
rose high. And Dougal had fixed his cap firmly on the top of his head,
as a man prepared for any emergency, and taken his staff in his hand to
take the short cut across the moor, and find out for himself what the
catastrophe had been, when a shout from Sandy on the top of the bank,
and Beenie at the window, stopped further proceedings. There was Lily,
pale, but smiling, in the gig from the inn, and Rory, tossing his red
head, very indignant at the undignified position in which he found
himself, tied to that shabby equipage. “The puir beast, just nickering
with joy at the sight of home, but red with rage to be trailed at the
tail of an inn geeg,” Dougal said, hurrying to loose the rope and lead
the sufferer in. He was not without concern for Lily, but she was
evidently none the worse, and he asked no more.

“I have had such an adventure,” she said, as soon as she was within
hearing, “but I am not hurt, and nothing has happened to me. Such an
adventure! What do you think, Beenie? A gentleman climbed up the old
brig while we were there, and slipped and fell; and when I ran to see,
who should it be but Mr. Lumsden, Ronald Lumsden, whom we used to see so
much in Edinburgh.” Here Lily’s countenance bloomed so suddenly red out
of her paleness that Katrin had a shock of understanding, and saw it all
in a moment, if not more than there was to see. “And he had sprained his
ankle,” Lily said, a paleness following the flush; “he couldn’t move.
You may fancy what a state we were in.”

“Eh,” said Katrin, with her eyes fixed on Lily’s face, “what a good
thing Miss Eelen was with you, for she kens as much about that sort o’
thing as the doctor himsel’.”

“I got him on the pony at last,” said Lily, “and we bound up his foot,
and then we took him to the Manse. It was the nearest, and the doctor
just at their door. But, oh, what a race I had with the pony, leading
him, and sometimes he led me till I had to run; and I put my foot
through my skirt, see? We mended it up a little at the Manse, and drew
it out of the gathers. But look here: a job for you, Beenie. And my hair
came down about my shoulders, and if you had seen the figure I was,
running along the road----”

“But Miss Eelen with ye made a’ right,” said Katrin. “Ah, what a
blessing that Miss Eelen was with ye.”

Lily was getting out of the gig, from the high seat of which she had
hastened to make her first explanations. It was not an easy thing
getting out of a high gig in those days, and “the geeg from the inn”
was, naturally, without any of the latest improvements. She had to turn
her back to the spectators as she clambered down, and if her laugh
sounded a little unsteady, that was quite natural. “She is, indeed, as
good as the doctor,” she said; “if you had seen how she cut open the
boot and made him comfortable! And Rory behaved very well, too,” she
said. “I spoke to him in his ear as you do, Dougal. I said: ‘Rory, Rory,
my bonnie man, go canny to-day; you can throw me to-morrow, if you like,
an I’ll never mind, but, oh, go canny to-day.’ And you did, Rory, you
dear little fellow, and dragged me, with my hair flying like a wild
creature, along the road,” she added, with a laugh, taking the rough and
tossing head into her hands, and aiming a kiss at Rory’s shaggy
forehead. But the pony was not used to such dainties and tossed himself
out of her hands.

“You’re awfu’ tired, Miss Lily, though you’re putting so good a face
upon it, and awfu’ shaken with the excitement, and a’ that. And to think
o’ you being the one to find him--just the right person, the one that
knew him--and to think of him being here, Maister Lumsden, touring or
shooting or something, I suppose.”

Beenie’s speech ended spasmodically in a fierce grip of the arm with
which Lily checked her as she went upstairs.

“What need have you,” said the young lady in an angry whisper, “to
burden your mind with lies? Say I have to do it, and, oh, I hate it! but
you have no need. Hold your tongue and keep your conscience free.”

“Eh, Miss Lily,” said Beenie in the same tone, “I’m no wanting to be
better than you. If ye tell a lee, and it’s but an innocent lee, I’ll
tell one too. If you’re punished for it, what am I that I shouldna take
my share with my mistress? But about the spraining o’ the ankle, my
bonnie dear: that’s a’ true?”

Lily answered with a laugh to the sudden doubt in Robina’s eyes. She was
very much excited, too much so to feel how tired she was, and capable of
nothing without either laughter or tears. “Oh, yes, it’s quite true;
and, oh, Beenie, he is badly hurt and suffering a great deal of pain.
Poor Ronald! But he will be safe in Helen’s hands. If he were only out
of pain! Perhaps it is a good thing, Beenie. That is what he whispered
when I came away. Oh, how hard it was to come away and leave him there
ill, and his foot so bad! but I am to go down to-morrow, and it will be
a duty to stay as long as I can to cheer him up and to save Helen
trouble, who has so many other things to do. I am not hard-hearted; but
he says himself, if he were only out of pain, perhaps it’s a good
thing.”

Here Lily stopped and cried, and murmured among her tears: “If it had
only been me! It’s easier for a girl to bear pain than a man.”

“But if it had been you, Miss Lily, it would have been no advantage. You
can go to him at the Manse, but he could not have come to you here.”

“That is true,” cried Lily, laughing; “you are a clever Beenie to think
of that. But how am I to live till to-morrow, all the long night
through, and all the morning without news?”

“A young gentleman doesna die of a sprained ankle,” said Beenie
sedately, “and if you are a good bairn, and will go early to bed, and
take care of yourself, I’ll see that the boy goes into the toun the
first thing in the morning to hear how he is.”

“You are a kind Beenie,” cried Lily, clasping her arms about her maid’s
neck. But it was a long time before Robina succeeded in quieting the
girl’s excitement. She had to hear the story again half-a-dozen times
over, now in its full reality, now in the form which it had to bear for
the outside world, with all the tears and laughter which accompanied it.
“And he grew so white, so white, I thought he was going to faint,” said
Lily, herself growing pale.

“I’m thankful ye were spared that. It is very distressing to see a
person faint, Miss Lily.”

“And then he cheered up and gave a grin in the middle of his pain: I
will not call it a smile, for it was no more than a grin, half fun and
half torture. Poor Ronald! oh, my poor lad, my poor lad!”

“He was a lucky lad to get you to do all that for him, Miss Lily.”

“Me! What did it matter if it was me or you or a fishwife,” said Lily,
“when a man is in such dreadful pain?”

They discussed it over and over again from every point of view, until
Lily fell asleep from sheer weariness in the hundredth repetition of the
story. Beenie, for her part, was exceedingly discreet at supper that
evening. Indeed, she was altogether too discreet to be successful with a
quick observer like Katrin, who saw, by the extreme precautions of her
friend, and the close-shut lips with which Beenie minced and bridled,
and made little remarks about nothing in particular, that there was
something to conceal. Katrin was very near to penetrating the mystery
even now, but she said nothing except those somewhat ostentatious
congratulations to all parties on the fact that Miss Eelen was there,
which were designed to show the growing conviction that Miss Eelen was
not there at all. Beenie was quite quick enough to perceive this, but
she exercised much control over herself, and made no signs before
Dougal. He was chiefly occupied by the address to Rory which Lily had
made, which struck him as an excellent joke, and which he repeated to
himself from time to time, with a laugh which came from the depths of
his being. “She said till him: ‘Ye can throw me the morn, and welcome,
if ye’ll go canny the day.’ Losh, what a spirit she has, that lassie,
and the fun in her! ‘Go canny the day, and ye can throw me, if ye like,
the morn.’ And Rory to take it a’ in like a Christian!” He laughed till
he held his sides, and then he said feebly: “It’ll be the death of me.”

The joke did not strike the women as so brilliant. “I hope he’ll no take
her at her word,” said Beenie.

“Na, na, he’ll no take her at her word: he’s ower much of a gentleman;
but if he does, you’ll see she’ll stand it and never a word in her head.
That’s what I call real spirit, feared at nothing. ‘Go canny the day,
and you can throw me, if you like, the morn.’ I think I never heard any
thing so funny in a’ my born days.”

“You’re easy pleased,” said his wife, though she was quite inclined to
consider Lily’s speeches as brilliant, and herself as the flower of
human kind, but to let a man suppose that he was the discoverer of all
this was not to be thought of. She communicated, however, some of her
suspicions to Dougal, for want of any other confidant, when they were
alone in the stillness of their chamber. “I have my doubts,” said
Katrin, “that it was nae surprise to her at a’ to find the gentleman,
and that it was him that was the Miss Eelen that met her at the auld
brig.”

“Him that was Miss Eelen? And how could he be Miss Eelen, a muckle man?”
said Dougal.

“Oh, ye gowk!” said his wife, and she put back her discoveries into her
bosom, and said no more.

Lily was very restless next day until she was able to get away on her
charitable mission. “I must go now,” she said, “to help to take care of
him, or Helen will have no time for her other business, and she has so
much to do.”

“You maun take care and no find another gentleman with a broken foot,”
said Katrin; “you mightn’t be able to manage Rory so well a second
time.”

“Oh, I am not afraid of Rory,” the girl cried. “I just speak to him, as
Dougal does, in his ear.”

“Mind you what you’ve promised him, Miss Lily,” said that authority,
chuckling; “he is to cowp you over his head, if he likes, the day.”

“He’ll not do that!” cried Lily confidently, waving her hand to the
assembled household, who were standing outside the door to see her
start. What a diversion she was, with her comings and goings, her
adventures and mishaps, to that good pair! How dull it must have been
for them before Lily came to excite their curiosity and brighten their
sense of humor. Dougal returned to his work, shaking once more with a
laugh that went down to his boots and thrilled him all over, saying to
himself: “He’s ower much of a gentleman to take her at her word;” while
Katrin stood shading her eyes with her hand, and looking wistfully after
the young creature in her confidence and gayety of youth. “Eh, but I
hope the lad’s worthy of her,” was what Katrin said.

Ronald was lying once more upon the big hair-cloth sofa, as she had left
him. He would not stay in bed, Helen lamented, though it would have been
so much better for him. “But a simple sprain,” she said, “no
complication. If I could have persuaded him to bide quiet in his bed, he
would have been well at the end of the week; but nothing would please
him but to be down here, limping down stairs, at the risk of a fall,
with two sticks and only one foot. My heart was in my mouth at every
step.”

“But he is none the worse,” cried Lily, “and I can understand Mr.
Lumsden, Helen. It is far, far more cheery here, where he can see every
thing that is going on, and have you and Mr. Blythe to talk to. A sprain
makes your ankle bad, but not your mind.”

“That is true,” said Ronald, “and what I have been laboring to say, but
had not the wit. My ankle is bad, but not my mind. I am in no such
hurry to get well as Miss Blythe thinks. Don’t you see,” he said,
looking up in Lily’s face, as she stood beside him, “in what clover I am
here?”

Lily answered the look, but not the words. A tremulous sense of ease and
happiness arose in her being. The moor was sweet when he was there, and
to look for that hour in the evening had been enough for the first days
to make her happy. But to start out to meet him, nobody knowing, glad as
she had been to do it, cost Lily a pang. There are some people to whom
the stolen joys are the most sweet, but Lily was not one of these. The
clandestine wounded her sense of delicacy, if not her conscience. She
was doing no wrong, she had said to herself, but yet it felt like wrong
so long as it was secret, so long as a certain amount of deception was
necessary to procure it. She was like the house-maid, stealing out to
meet her lover. To the house-maid there was nothing unbecoming in that,
but there was to Lily. She had suffered even while she was happy. But
now the clandestine was all over. The constant presence of the old
minister, who regarded them with eyes in which there was too much
insight and satire for Lily’s peace of mind, was troublesome, but it was
protection; it set her heart at rest. The accident restored all at once
the ease of nature. “It is the best thing that could have happened,”
Ronald said, when Helen left them alone, and Mr. Blythe had hidden
himself behind the large, broad sheet of _The Scotsman_, the new clever
Whig paper which had lately begun to bring the luxury of news twice a
week to the most distant corners of the land. “I don’t mean to get
better at the end of the week. It was a dreadful business yesterday, but
I see the advantage of it now.”

“Was it so dreadful yesterday, poor Ronald?” she said in the voice of a
dove, cooing at his ear.

“It was not delightful yesterday, though I had the sweetest Lily. But
now I warn you, Lily, I mean to keep ill as long as I can. You will come
and stay with me; it is your duty, for nobody knows me at Kinloch-Rugas
but only you, and you are the good Samaritan. You put me on your own
beast, and brought me to the inn.”

“Oh, do not speak like that, do not put me in mind that we are both
deceivers! I have forgotten it, now that we are here.”

“We are no deceivers,” he said. “It is all quite true; you put me on
your own beast. And where did you get all that strength, Lily? You must
have almost lifted me in your arms, you slender little thing, a heavy
fellow like me!”

“Oh, you did very well on your one foot,” said Lily, trying to laugh;
but she shuddered and the tears came into her eyes. She was aching still
with the strain that necessity had put upon her, but he did not think of
that--he only thought how strong she was.

“Here, you two,” said the minister, “I’m going to read you a bit out of
the paper. It is just full of stories, as good as if I had told them
myself.”

“Oh, never heed with your stories, father,” said Helen; “keep them till
Lily goes away, for she has a wonderful way with her, and keeps things
going. Our patient will not be dull while Lily is here.”

Was that all she meant, or did Helen, too, suspect something? The two
lovers interchanged a glance, half of alarm, half of laughter, but Helen
went and came, unconscious, sometimes pausing to turn the cushion under
the bad foot, or to suggest a more comfortable position, with nothing
but kindness in her mild eyes.



CHAPTER XV


Ronald was, as he had prophesied, a long time getting well. Even Helen
was a little puzzled, she who thought no evil, at the persistency of his
suffering; at the end of the second week he could, indeed, stumble about
with his two sticks, but still complained of great pain when he tried
to walk. The prolonged presence of the visitor began at last to become a
little trouble, even to the hospitable Manse, where strangers were
entertained so kindly, but where there was but one maid-of-all-work,
with the occasional services, chiefly outdoors, of the minister’s man;
and an invalid of Ronald’s robust character, whose presence necessitated
better fare and gave a great deal of additional work, was a serious
addition both to the expenses and labors of the house. It would have
been much against the traditions of the Manse to betray this in any way;
but there was no doubt that the minister was a little more sharp in his
speeches, and apt to throw a secret dart, in the disguise of a jest, at
the guest whose convalescence was so prolonged. Lily rode down from
Dalrugas every day to help to nurse the patient, that Helen might not
have the whole burden of his helplessness on her shoulders; but Lily,
too, became aware that, delightful though this freedom of meeting was,
and the long hours of intercourse which were made legitimate as being a
form of duty, they were beginning to last too long and awaken uneasy
thoughts. Helen, who was so tender to her at first, became a little
wistful as the days went on. The gentle creature could think no harm,
but perhaps it was her father’s remarks which put it into her head that
the two young people were making a convenience of her hospitality, and
that all was not honest in the tale which had brought so unlooked-for a
visitor under the shelter of her roof. And then the village, as was
inevitable, made many remarks. “Bless me, but the young leddy at
Dalrugas is an awfu’ constant visitor, Miss Eelen. She comes just as if
she was coming to her lessons every morning at the same hour.” “She is
the kindest heart in the world,” said Helen. “You see, this gentleman
that sprained his foot is a friend of her uncle’s, and she could not
take him to Dalrugas, where there is nobody but servants; and she will
not let me have all the trouble of him. A man, when he is ill, takes a
great deal of attendance,” said the minister’s daughter, with a smile.

“Losh! I would just let him attend upon himsel’,” said one.

“He should send for a sister, or somebody belonging to him,” said
another.

“Oh, not that,” said Helen--“I could not put up a lady, there is but
little room in the Manse--and with Miss Lily’s help we can pull
through.”

“He should get an easy post-chaise from Aberdeen--there’s plenty easy
carriages to be got there nowadays--and go back to his ain folk. He’s a
son of Lumsden of Pontalloch, they tell me; that’s not so far but that
he might get there in a day.”

“I have no doubt he will do that as soon as he is well enough,” said
Helen; but all these remarks made her uneasy. Impossible for Scotch
hospitality to give a hint, to intimate a thought, that the visitor had
overstayed his welcome--and a man that had been hurt and was, perhaps,
still suffering! “No, no,” she said, shaking her head. But it troubled
her gentle mind that Lily’s visits should be so remarked, and it was
strange--or was it only the village gossip that made her feel that it
was strange? Lily perceived all this with an uneasy perception of new
elements in the air.

“Ronald,” she said one day, when they were alone for a few minutes, “you
could put your foot to the ground without hurting when you try. You will
have to go away.”

“Why should I go away?” he said, with a laugh. “I am very comfortable.
It is not luxury, but it does very well when I see my Lily every
day----”

“But, oh,” she cried, the color coming to her cheeks, which had been
growing pale these few days, “there are things of more consequence than
Lily! The Manse people are not rich----”

“You need not tell me that,” he said, looking round at the shabby
furniture with a smile.

“But, oh, Ronald, you don’t see! They try to get nice things for you,
they spend a great deal of trouble upon you, and they were glad at
first--but it is now a fortnight.”

“Lily, my love,” he said quickly, “if you have ceased to care for this
chance of meeting every day--if you want me to go away, of course I will
go.”

“Do you think it likely I should have ceased to care?” she said, with
tears in her eyes. “But we must think of other people, too.”

“Thinking of other people is generally a mistake. We all know how to
take care of ourselves best--unless it is here and there some one like
you, if there is any one like my Lily. But, dear, I give very little
trouble. What is there to do for me? Another bed to make, another knife
and fork--or spoon, I should say, for we have broth, broth, and nothing
but broth--and a little grouse now and then, sent to them by somebody,
and therefore costing nothing.”

“It is ungenerous to say that!” Lily cried.

“My dearest, you will tell me what present I can send them when at last
I am forced to tear myself away. A good present that will make up to
them--a chest of tea, or a barrel of wine, or---- But I don’t want to go
away, Lily; I would rather stay here and see you every day until I am
forced to go back to my work.”

“Oh, and so would I!” cried Lily; “but,” she added, with a sigh, “we
must think of them. Mr. Blythe sits always, always in this room. It is
the sunny room in the house, and he likes it best. But you see he has
gone into his little study this day or two--which is very dreary--all
because we are here.”

“Very considerate of him,” said Ronald, with a laugh, “if that is a
reason for going away, that they now leave us sometimes alone. I fear it
will not move me, Lily; you must find a better than that.”

“Oh, Ronald, will you not see?” cried Lily in distress. But what could a
girl do? She could not put understanding into his eyes nor consideration
into his heart. He was willing to take advantage of these good people,
and the inducement was strong. She spoke against her own heart when she
urged him to go away, and she was glad to be laughed out of her
scruples, to be told of the “good present” that would make up for every
thing, of the gratitude that he would always feel, and his conviction
that he gave very little trouble, and added next to nothing to their
expenses. “Broth is not expensive,” he said, “and the grouse, you know,
Lily, the grouse!” Lily turned her head away, sick at heart. Oh, it was
not how he should speak of the people who were so kind to him; but
still, when she mounted Rory--now quite docile and accustomed to trot
every day into Kinloch-Rugas--in the afternoon, she could not but be
glad to think that she might still come to-morrow, that there was at
least another day.

One of these afternoons the parlor was full of people, under whose eyes
Lily could not continue to sit by the side of the sofa and minister to
the robust invalid’s wants. There was the doctor, who gave him a little
slap on his leg and said: “I congratulate ye on a perfect cure. You can
get up and walk when you like, like the man in the Bible.” And the
school-master’s wife, who said: “Eh, what a good thing for you, Mr.
Lumsden, and you been on your back so long.” And there was the assistant
and successor, Mr. Douglas, who was visibly anxious to get rid of all
interlopers and speak a word to Helen. Oh, why did he not follow Helen
when she went out to open the door for her visitors, and leave Lily free
to say once more to Ronald, but more energetically: “You must go!”

“I was wanting to say, sir,” said Mr. Douglas, “and I may add that I
have Miss Eelen’s opinion all on my side, that I would like very much if
you would say a parting word to the lads that are going out to Canada.
We have taken a great deal of trouble with them, and a word from the
minister----”

“You are the minister yourself, Douglas; they know more of you than they
do of me.”

“Not so, Mr. Blythe. I am your assistant, and Miss Eelen she is your
daughter and the best friend they ever had; but it’s your blessing the
callants want, and a word from you----”

“My blessing!” the old man said, with an uneasy laugh. “You’re
forgetting, my young man, that there’s no sacerdotal pretensions in the
auld Kirk.”

“You blessed them when they were christened, sir, and you blessed them
and gave them the right hand of fellowship when they came to the Lord’s
table. I’m thinking nothing of sacerdotalism. I’m thinking of human
nature. We have no bishops, but while we have ordained ministers we must
always have fathers in God.”

Mr. Blythe had never been of this new-fangled type of devotion. He had
been an old Moderate, very shy of overmuch religion, and relying upon
habit and tradition and a good deal of wholesome neglect. But the young
man’s earnestness, backed as it was by the serious light in Helen’s
eyes, brought a color to his old face. He was a little ashamed of the
importance given to him, and half angry at the young people’s high-flown
notions. “I am not sure,” he said, “that I go with you, Douglas, nor
with Eelen either, in your dealings with these lads. You just cultivate
a kind of forced religion in them, that makes a fine show for a moment;
it’s the seed that fell by the wayside and sprang up quickly, but had no
root in itself.”

“We can never tell that, sir,” said the assistant; “it may help them
when they have no ordinances to mind them of their duty. If they
remember their Creator in the days of their youth----”

“’Deed,” said the old minister, “it is just as often as not to forget
every thing all the quicker when they come to man’s estate. Solomon knew
mainy things, but not the lads in a parish so near the Highlant line.”

“Anyway, father, it will be kindly like, and them going so far, far
away.”

“That is just it,” said Mr. Blythe: “why should they go far, far away?
Why couldn’t ye let them jog on as their fathers did before them? I’m
not an advocate for emigration. There are plenty of things the lads
could do without leaving their own country. Let them go to Glasgow,
where there’s work for every-body, or to the South. You think you can do
every thing with your arrangements and your exhortations, and looking
after more than ye were ever asked to look after. I have never approved
of all these meetings and things, and your classes and your lessons, and
all the fyke you make about a few country callants. Let them alone to
their fathers’ advice and their mothers’. You may be sure the women will
all warn them to keep off the drink--and much good it will do, whatever
you may say, either them or you.”

“But just a word of farewell, sir,” pleaded the assistant; “we ask no
more.”

“And that is just a great deal too much in present circumstances,” cried
the old minister. “Where would ye have me speak to them--a dozen big
country lads, like colts out of the stable? I cannot go out to the cold
vestry at night, me that seldom leaves the house at all. And the
dining-room is too small, and what other room have we free? Eelen, you
know that as well as me. I cannot have them up in my bedchalmer, and the
kitchen, with lasses in it, would be no place for such a ceremonial. No,
no; we have no room, that is true.”

“I hope, sir,” said Ronald from his sofa, “you are not saying this from
consideration for me. I’d like nothing better than to see the boys, and
hear your address to them. It would be good, I am sure, and I am as much
in need of good advice as any of them can be.”

“You are very considerate, Mr. Lumsden,” said the minister, after a
pause. “It is a great thing to have an inmate that takes so much
thought. But how can I tell that it would not be bad for you in your
delicate state, with your nurses at your side all the day?”

“Delicate! I am not delicate!” cried Ronald, with a flush. “It is only,
you know, this confounded foot.”

“Well, Douglas,” said the minister, “between Mr. Lumsden’s confoondit
foot and your confoondit pertinacity, what am I to do? Since your
patient, Eelen, is so kind and permits the use of our best parlor, have
them in, have ben your callants. I must not be less gracious than my own
guest,” the old man said.

Lily went away trembling after this scene, giving Ronald a beseeching
glance, but she had no opportunity for a word. Next day, still
tremulous, she returned, to find him still there, a little defiant, not
to be driven out. But a short time after, when she was again preparing
to go into the “toun”--without any pleasant looks now from her
household, or complaisance on the part of Dougal, who openly bemoaned
his pony--the whole population of Dalrugas turned out to see the inn
“geeg” once more climbing the brae. It contained Ronald and his
portmanteau, speeding off to catch the coach, but incapable, as he said,
in the hearing of every-body, of going away without thanking and saying
farewell to his kind nurse. “Do you know what this young lady did for
me?” he said to the little company, which included Rory, ready saddled,
and the black pony harnessed, with the boy at his head. “She lifted me,
I think, from where I lay, and put me on her own beast, like the good
Samaritan. She was more than the good Samaritan to me. Look at her, like
a fairy princess, and me a heavy lump, almost fainting, and with but one
foot. That is what charity can do.”

“Well, it was a wonderful thing,” Katrin allowed, “but maist more than
that was riding down ance errand to the town to take care of ye every
day.”

“Ah, that was for Miss Blythe’s sake and not mine,” he said. “May I come
in, Miss Ramsay, to give you her message? Oh, Robina, I am glad to see
you here. I can carry the last news to Sir Robert, and tell him how both
mistress and maid are thriving on the moor.”

It was all false, false, as false as words that were true enough in
themselves could be. Lily ran up the spiral stair, while Beenie helped
him to follow. The girl’s heart was beating high with more sensations
than she could discriminate. This was the parting, then, after so long a
time together; the farewell, which was more dreadful than words could
say--and yet she was glad he was going. He was her own true-love, and
nobody was like him in the world, and yet Lily’s mind revolted against
every word he said.

“Why did you say all that?” she cried, breathless, when they were alone.
“It was not wanted, surely, here!”

“Necessary fibs,” he said. “You are too particular, Lily, for me that am
only carrying out my rôle. You see, I am obeying you and going away at
last.”

“Oh, Ronald, it was not that I wanted you to go away.”

“No, if I could have gone away, yet stayed all the same. But one can’t
do two opposite things at the same time. And, Lily, it must be good-by
now--for a little while. You will look out for me at the New Year.”

“Do you call it just a little while to the New Year?” she cried, with
the tears in her eyes.

“Three months, or a little more. I shall not come to Kinloch-Rugas; I’ll
find a lodging in some little farm. And in the meantime you will write
to me, Lily, and I will write to you.”

“Yes, Ronald,” she said, giving him both her hands. Was this to be all?
It was not for her to ask; it was for him to say:

“My bonnie Lily! If I could but carry you off, never to part more! But
if nothing happens to release you, if Sir Robert does not relent, mind,
my dearest, we must make up our minds and take it into our own hands. He
is not to keep us apart forever. You will let me know all that goes on,
and whether those people down stairs have reported the matter; and I,
for my part, will take my measures. When we meet again, every thing will
be clearer. And, Lily, on your side, you will tell me every thing, that
we may see our way.”

“There will be nothing to tell you, Ronald. There will be no report
sent; Uncle Robert, I think, has forgotten my existence. There will be
nothing, nothing to say but that it is weary living alone here on the
moor.”

“Not more weary than my life in Edinburgh, pacing up and down the
Parliament House, and looking out for work. But we’ll see what is going
to happen before the New Year; and I will send the present to those good
Manse folk, and you will keep up with them, for they may be very useful
friends. Is it time for me to go? Well, I will go if I must; and good-by
for the present, my darling, good-by till the New Year!”

Was it possible that he was gone, that it was all over, and Lily left
again alone on the moor? She ran to Beenie’s room, which was on the
other side of the house, to watch the inn “geeg” as long as it was in
sight. Nothing is ever said of what is intended to be said in a hasty
last meeting like this. It was worse than no meeting at all, leaving all
the ravelled ends of parting. And was it true that all was over, and
Ronald gone and nothing more to be done or said?



CHAPTER XVI


The dead calm into which Lily fell after all the agitations of this
wonderful period was like death itself, she thought, after the tumult
and commotion of a climax of life. Those days during which she had
trotted down to the village on Rory, the mountain breezes in her face,
and all the warmest emotions stirred in her breast, days full of anxiety
and expectation, sometimes of more painful feelings, agitations of all
kinds, but threaded through and through with the consciousness that for
hours to come she would be with her lover, ministering to his wants,
hearing him speak, going over and over with him, in the low-voiced talk
to which the old minister behind his newspaper gave, or was supposed to
give, no heed, their own prospects and hopes, their plans for the
future--all those things that are more engrossing and delightful to talk
of than any other subjects in heaven or earth--were different from all
the days that had passed over her before. Her youthful existence was
like a dream, thrown back into the distance by the superior force and
meaning of all that had happened since: both the loneliness and the
society, the bitter time of self-experience and solitude, the joy of the
reunion, the love so crossed and mingled which had grown with greater
intensity with every chance. The little simple Lily who had “fallen in
love,” as she thought, with Ronald Lumsden, as she might have fallen in
love with any one of a half-dozen of young men, was very, very different
from the Lily who had been torn out of her natural life on his account,
who had doubted him and found him wanting, who had been converted into
the faith of an enthusiast in him, and conviction that it was she, and
not he, that was in the wrong. Their stolen meetings on the moor, which
had startled her back into the joy of existence, which had been so few,
yet so sweet; their little meal together, which was like a high ceremony
and sacrament of a deeper love and union; the tremendous excitement of
the accident, and the agitated chapter of constant yet disturbed
intercourse which followed (disturbed at last by a renewed creeping in
of the old doubts, and anxiety to push him forward, to make him act, to
make him think not always of himself, as he was so apt to do)--all these
things had formed an epoch in her life, behind which every thing was
childish and vague. She herself was not the same. It happens often in a
woman’s life that the change from youth and its lighter atmosphere of
natural, simple things comes before the mind is developed, before the
character is able to bear that wonderful transformation. Lily at first
had been essentially in this condition. Her trial came to her before she
had strength for it, and every new point of progress was marked, so to
speak, with a new wound, quickly healed over, as became her youth, yet
leaving a scar, as all internal wounds do. Even when the thrill of
happiness had been in her young frame and mind it had been intensified
by a thrill of pain: the pang of secrecy, the sharp sting of
falsehood--falsehood which was abhorrent to Lily’s nature. She had
laughed as other girls laugh at the stratagems of lovers, their devices
to escape the observation of jealous parents, the evils that are said to
be legitimate in love and war. Nobody is so severe as to judge harshly
these aberrations from duty. Even the sternest parent smiles at them
when they are not directed against himself. But when it came to
inventing a story day by day; when it came to deceiving Katrin, with her
sharp eyes, at one end, and Helen’s unsuspicious soul at the other--then
Lily could not bear the tangled web in which she had wound herself. She
had to go on; it was too late to tell the truth now, she had said to
herself, day by day, her heart aching from those thanks which Helen
showered upon her for her kind attendance upon the unexpected guest. “If
it had not been for you, Lily, what could I have done?” the minister’s
daughter had said, again and again; and Lily’s heart had grown sick in
the midst of her strained and painful happiness at Ronald’s side.

Now this was over and another phase come. She had urged him to go,
feeling the position untenable any longer in a way which his robust
self-confidence had not felt; but when suddenly he had taken the step
she urged, Lily felt herself flung back upon herself, the words taken
out of her mouth, and the meaning from her mind. All her little fabric
of life tumbled down about her. Those habits which are formed so
quickly, which a few days suffice to bind upon the soul like iron,
dropped from her, and she felt as if the framework by which she was
sustained had broken down, and she could no longer hold herself erect.
Her life seemed suddenly to have lost all its meaning, all its
occupations. There was no sense in going on, no reason for its
continuance merely to eat meals, to take walks, to go to bed and to get
up again. She looked behind her, to the immediate past, with a pang, and
before her, to the immediate future, with a blank sense of vacancy which
was almost despair. When the “geeg” that carried him away was gone quite
out of sight, Lily went slowly back to the drawing-room, and seated
herself at the window from which she had first seen him appearing across
the moor. It had been then all ablaze with the heather, which now had
died away into rustling bunches of dead flowers, all dried like husks
upon the stalks, gray and dreary, like the dull evening of a glowing
day. Her heart beat dull with the reverberation of all those
convulsions that had gone through it. And now they were all over, like
the glow of the heather--and what was before her? The winter creeping
on, with its short days and long nights; storm and rain, when even Rory
would not face the keen wind; solitude unbroken for weeks and months;
and beyond that what was there to look forward to? Oh, if it had been
but poverty--the little flat under the roofs in a tall Edinburgh house,
and to work her fingers to the bone! Poor Lily, who knew so little what
working your fingers to the bone meant! who thought that would be
blessedness beside one you loved, and in the world where you were born!
So, no doubt, it would have been; but yet, in all probability, though
she did not intend it so, it would have been Robina’s fingers, not hers,
that were worked to the bone.

I would not have the reader think that, translated into ordinary
parlance, all this meant the vulgar fact that Lily was longing to be
married, and would not accept the counsels of patience and wait, though
she was only twenty-three, and had so many, many years before her. Had
Ronald been an eager lover, ready to brave fortune for her sake, and
consider that, for love, the world were well lost, she would no doubt
have taken the other side of the question, and preached patience to him,
and borne her own part of the burden with a smile. But it is very
different when it is the lover who is prudent, and when the girl, with
an unsatisfied heart, has to wait and know that her happiness, her
society, her life, are of less value to him than the fortune which he
hopes, by patience, to secure along with her; also that she can do
nothing to emancipate herself, nothing to escape from whatever painful
circumstances may surround her, till he gives the word, which he shows
no inclination to give, and which womanly pride and feeling forbid her
even to suggest; also, and above all, that in his hesitation, in his
prudence and delay, he is falling short of the ideal which every lover
should fulfil or lose his place and power. This was the worst of all:
not only that Ronald was acting so, but that it was so far, far
different from the manner in which Ronald, had he been the Ronald she
thought, would have acted. This gave the bitterness under which Lily’s
heart sank. Again, she did not know what he meant to do, or if he meant
to do any thing, or if she were to remain as she was, perhaps for long
years, consuming her heart in loneliness and vacancy, diversified by
moments of clandestine meeting and unlovely happiness, bought by deceit.
She could not again yield to that, she said to herself, with passionate
tears. Though her heart were to break, she would not heal it at the cost
of lies. It might not have given Lily many compunctions, perhaps, to
have deceived her uncle; but to deceive Helen, to deceive kind Katrin
and Dougal, to give false accounts of the simplest circumstances--oh!
no, no; never again, never again! She said this to herself, with
passionate tears falling like rain, as she sat at her lonely window on
many a dreary day, straining her eyes across the moor, where the rain so
often fell to double the effect of those tears. Let them give each other
up mutually; let them part and be done with it if he chose; but to
deceive every-body and meet secretly, or meet openly upon the falsest of
pretences--oh! no, no, Lily said to herself, never more!

But how these decisions melted when, in the heart of the winter, there
began to dawn the promise of the New Year, it is easy to imagine, and I
do not need to say. Lily, it must be remembered, had no one but Ronald
to represent to her happiness and life. She had never had many people to
love. Her father and mother had both died before she was old enough to
know them. She had no aunt, though that is often an unsatisfactory
relation, not even cousins whom she knew, which is strange to think of
in Scotland--nobody to take her part or whom she could repose her heart
upon but Beenie, her maid, to whom Lily’s concerns were her own
sublimated, and who could only agree in and intensify Lily’s own natural
impulses and thoughts. Ronald was all she had, the only one who could
help her, the sole deliverer possible, and opener to her of the gates of
life. To be sure, she might have renounced him and so returned to her
uncle, to be dragged about in a back seat of his chariot, if not at its
wheels; though, indeed, even this was problematical, for Sir Robert was
a selfish old man, who was, on the whole, very glad to have got rid of
the burden of a young woman to take about with him, and considered that
she would do very well at the old Tower, and might be quite content with
such a quiet and comfortable home, a good cook (which Katrin was), a
pony to ride upon, and the run of the moor. He had half forgotten her
existence by this time, as Lily divined, and was absent “abroad” in that
vague and wide world of which stayers at home in Scotland knew so much
less then than every-body knows now. And as the time approached for
Ronald’s return, Lily, in her longing for him, added to her longing for
something, for some one, for society, emancipation, something that was
life, began to forget all her old aches and troubles of mind; the doubts
flew away; she remembered only that Ronald was coming, that he was
coming, that the sun was about to shine again, that there was happiness
in prospect, love and company and talk and sympathy, and all that is
good in youth and life. This time she must manage so that the deceit of
old would be necessary no longer. Helen should know that the two who had
met so often in the Manse parlor had come to love each other. What so
natural, what so fitting, seeing they had spent so much time together
under her own wing and her own mild eyes? And Katrin and Dougal should
be permitted to see what Lily was very sure they had divined already,
that the poor gentleman whom Lily had nursed so faithfully was more to
her than any other gentleman in the world. He should come to Dalrugas to
see her, and be with her openly as her lover in the sight of all men. If
Sir Robert heard of it, why, then she must escape, she must fly; the
pair must at last take it, as Ronald had said, into their own hands--and
Lily did not feel that she would be very sorry if this took place. At
all events now every thing should be open and honest, clandestine no
more.

It seemed as if he had come to the same decision when he arrived on the
night which was then called in Scotland, and is perhaps still to some
extent, Hogmanay--why I do not know, nor I believe does any one--the
last night of the year. He came in the early twilight, when the short,
dark day was ending, and the long, cheerful evening about to begin. What
a cheerful evening it was! the fire so bright, the candles twinkling,
the curtains drawn, and from the kitchen the sound of the children
singing who had come out in a band all the way from the village to call
upon Katrin:

    “Get up, gudewife, and shake your feathers,
     And dinna think that we are beggars,
     For we are bairns, come out to play;
     Get up and gie’s our Hogmanay.”

Lily was about to go down, flying down the spiral stairs, her heart
beating loud with expectation, wondering breathlessly when he would
come, how he would come, who alone could bring the Hogmanay cheer to
her, and in the meantime ready, for pure excitement, and to keep herself
still, to join the women in the kitchen, and fill the children’s wallets
with cakes, cakes _par excellence_, the oatmeal cakes to wit, which are
still what is meant in Scotland by that word, baked thin and crisp, and
fresh from the girdle, making a pleasant smell; and over and above these
with shortbread, in fine, brown farls, the true New Year’s dainty, and
great pieces of bun, the Scotch bun, which is something between a
plum-pudding and the Pan Giallo of the Romans, a mass of fruit held
together by flour and water. Great provision of these delights was in
the kitchen, which was all “redd up” and shining for the festival, with
Katrin in her best cap, and Beenie in a silk gown and muslin apron, a
resplendent figure. A band of “guisards” had accompanied the children,
ready to enact some scene of the primitive drama of prehistoric
tradition. Lily was hastening down to join this party, in a white dress
which she too had put on in honor of the occasion. The kitchen was very
noisy, full of these visitors, and nobody but she heard the summons at
the big hall-door. Lily hesitated for a moment, her heart giving a bound
as loud as the knock--then opened it. And there he stood--the hero and
the centre of all!

“And, eh, what a lucky thing to come this night that Miss Lily may have
her ploy too! You will just stop and eat your bit dinner with her,
Maister Lumsden!” Katrin cried.

“Will it be a ploy for Miss Lily? I would like to be sure of that.”

“Eh, nae need to pit it in words,” said Katrin: “look at her bonnie
e’en; and reason good, seeing that she has never spoken to one of her
own kind, and least of all to a young gentleman, since the day ye gaed
away.”

“I am staying at Tam the shepherd’s, on the other side of the moor,”
said Ronald.

“Losh me! at Tam the shepherd’s, for the shootin’?” she asked in a tone
of consternation.

“Well,” he said, with a laugh, “you can judge, Katrin, for yourself.”

“Ay, ay,” she said, brightening all over, “I judge for mysel’, sir, and
I see it’s just the auld story. Tam the shepherd’s an awfu’ haverel, but
his wife’s an honest woman, and clean,” she added, “as far as she kens.
But you shall have a good dinner with Miss Lily, I promise you, for once
in a way.”

Lily only half listened, but she heard all that was said. And her heart
danced to see his open look, and the words in which there was no
pretence of shooting, or any reason, save the evident one, for his
presence there. The excuses were all over; there was to be no more
deception. Honestly he came as her lover, endeavoring to throw no dust
in the eyes of her humble guardians. If they had been noble guardians,
holding her fate in their hands, Lily could not have been more happy.
They were not to be deceived. Openness and honesty were to be around
her in the house which was her home. What was wanted but this to make
her the happiest girl that ever piled shortbread into a child’s wallet
in honor of Hogmanay, and the New Year which was coming to-morrow? A new
year, a new life, a different world! Katrin came up to her with
half-affected horror and tender kindness, grasping her arm. “Eh, Miss
Lily,” she cried, “you’ll just ruin the family, and we’ll no have a
single farl of shortbread left for our ain use; and the morn’s the New
Year! Ye are giving every thing away. Na, na, we must mind oursel’s a
wee. No more for you, my wee man. Miss Lily’s just ower good to you. Run
up the stairs, my bonnie leddy, for Beenie is setting the table, and
you’ll get your dinner, you and the gentleman, before the guisards
begin.”

“The gentleman!” Lily felt her countenance flame, as she laughed and
turned away. “How kind you are, Katrin,” she said, “to provide me with
company, too, me that never sees any body.”

“Am I no kind,” cried Katrin in triumph, “and him for coming just at the
right moment? I am awfu’ pleased that you have a pairty of your ain to
bring in a good New Year.”

How strange, how delightful it was to sit down opposite to him at the
table, to eat Katrin’s excellent dinner, which, though it was almost
impromptu, was so good--trout and game, the Highland luxuries, which
were, indeed, almost daily bread on the edge of the moor, but not to
Ronald, who amid all their happiness was man enough to like his dinner
and praise it. “This is how we shall sit at our own table, and laugh at
all our little troubles when they are over,” he said.

“Oh, Ronald!” said Lily, with a little cloud in the midst of joy. They
might be little troubles to him, but not to her, all lonely in the
wilderness.

“At all events they will soon be over,” he said. His eyes were bright
and his tones assured; there was no longer any doubt in his look, which
she examined in the moments when he was not looking at her with an
anxious criticism. “And tell me about the good folk at the Manse, and
kind Miss Eelen and her assistant and successor. Is he to be her
assistant, too, as well as her father’s? I had a famous letter from the
old gentleman about the wine I sent him. And, Lily, I think that with
very little trouble I will get him to do all we want as soon as you can
make up your mind to it. After all this time we must not have any more
delay.”

“To do all we want?” she said, looking up at him with surprise. The
dinner was over by this time, and they had left the table and were
standing by the fire.

“Yes,” he said. “What do we want but to belong to each other, Lily? You
don’t need grand gowns or all the world at your wedding. Oh, yes, I
should have liked to see my Lily with all her friends about her, and
none so sweet as herself. But since we cannot do that, why should we
mind it, when the old minister here can make every thing right in half
an hour?”

“Ronald,” she said, with a gasp, “you take away my breath!”

“Why,” he cried, “is not this what has been in our minds for ever so
long? Have you not promised, however poor I was, in whatever
straits----”

“Yes, yes, there is no question of that.”

“And why, then, should it take away your breath? My bonnie Lily, is it
not an old bargain now? We have waited and waited, but nothing has come
of waiting. And Providence has put us in a quiet place, with nothing but
friends round, and a good old minister, a kind old fellow, who likes a
good glass of wine and knows what he’s drinking!” He laughed at this as
he drew her closer toward him. “Lily, with every thing in our favor, you
will not put me off and make a hesitation now?”

Oh, this was not quite the way, not the way she looked for! Yet she drew
her breath hard, that breath which fluttered in spite of herself, and
put both her hands in his. No, after so long waiting why should she make
a hesitation now? And then they went down to the kitchen together, arm
in arm, Lily yielding to the delightful consciousness that there was no
need for concealment, to see the guisards act their primitive drama, and
to bring in the New Year.

Oh, the New Year! which was coming in amid that rustic mirth among those
true, kind, humble friends to whom the young pair were as gods in the
glory of their love and youth. Lily trembled in her joy: what bride does
not? What would it bring to them, that New Year?



CHAPTER XVII


This New Year’s Eve remained, amid all the experiences of Lily, a thing
apart. It became painful to her to think of it in after times, but in
the present it was like a completion and climax of life, still all in
the visionary stage, yet so close on the verge of the real that she
became herself like an instrument, thrilling to every touch, answering
every air that blew, every word that was said, in each and all of which
there were meanings hidden of which none was aware but herself. There
was the little dinner first, so carefully prepared by Katrin, so
tenderly served by Beenie, the two young people sitting on either side
of the table as if at their bridal banquet, while the sound of the
festivities going on in the kitchen came up by times when the door was
opened: a squeak of the fiddle, the sound of the stamping of the
guisards as they performed their little archaic drama, adding a franker
note of laughter to the keen supreme pleasure that reigned above. Beenie
went and came, always bringing with her along with every new dish that
little gust of laughter and voices from below, to which she kept open
half an ear, while with the other she attended to what her little
mistress said.

“You maun come down, Miss Lily, to do them a grace: they a’ say they’ll
no steer till they’ve seen the young leddy; and they’re decent lads
just come out to play, as the bairns say in their sang, neither beggars
nor yet stravaigers, but lads from the town, to please ye with their bit
performance; and I ken a’ their mothers!” Beenie cried with a little
outburst of affectionate emotion.

When Lily went down accordingly, followed closely by her lover, the
little primitive drama was repeated, with more stamping and shouting
than ever; and then there was an endless reel, to the sound of the
squeaking fiddle, in which Lily danced as long as she could hold out,
and Beenie held out, as it seemed, forever, wearing out all the lads.

“Eh! I was a grand dancer in my time,” she admitted, when she had breath
enough, while the fiddle squeaked on and on.

And then, as was right, Ronald said good-night as the rural band
streamed away from the door. The curious group of the guisards, some of
them in white shirts outside their garments, some in breastplates of
tin, with an iron pot on their heads by way of helmet, “set him home”
with much respectful kindness. “But I wuss ye were coming with us to the
toun, for Tam the shepherd’s is no a howff for a gentleman,” they said.

“Any hole will do for me,” said Ronald in the exhilaration of the
evening; and all the house came out of doors to speed the parting
guests. The moon shone mistily over the long stretch of the moor,
throwing up a sinister gleam here and there from the deep cuttings, and
flinging a veil as of gossamer over the great breadth of the country.
The air was fresh, not over-cold, “saft,” as Dougal called it, with the
suggestion of rain, and the sudden irruption of voices and steps into
the supreme and brooding silence made the strangest effect in the middle
of the night. Lily stood watching them as they streamed away, Ronald so
distinct from them all as they streamed down under the shadow of the
bank, to show again, chiefly by reason of their disguises, upon the road
a little way down. Lily lingered until a speck of white in the distance
was all that was visible. She was wrapped in a plaid which Ronald had
put round her, drawing the soft green and checkered folds closely around
her face, and as warm physically as she was at heart. Now he was
himself; he had flung all prudences and fancies to the wind; he had
forgotten Sir Robert and his fortune, and every other common thing that
could come between. Lily danced up the spiral staircase with a heart
that sang still more than her lips did as she “turned” the tune to which
they had been dancing. No one can keep still to whom “Tullochgoram” is
sung or played. She danced up the stairs, keeping time faster and faster
to the mad melody--the essence unadulterated of reckless fun and
drollery.

“Eh, my bonnie leddy!” Beenie cried, who had gone before with the
candles; while Katrin stood looking after her, and Dougal locked and
bolted the great hall-door. Katrin shook her head a little: she was much
experienced. “Eh, if he be but worthy of her!” she sighed.

“It’s late, late at nicht, and the New Year well begun,” said Robina.
“Eh, Miss Lily, you’ll never forget this New Year?”

“Why should I forget it?” said Lily. “You had better wait till it is
past before you say that. But maybe you are right, after all, for there
never was a Hogmanay like this; and to think that the morn will come,
and that it will be no more like the other days than this has been!
Beenie, did you ever hear that folk might be as feared for joy as for
trouble? or is it only me that am so timorsome, and cannot tell which it
is going to be?”

“’Deed, and I’ve heard o’ that many’s the day. It’s just the common way,
my bonnie dear. Many a bonnie lassie would fain flee to the ends of the
earth the day before her bridal that is just pleased enough when a’s
said and done. You mustna lose heart.”

“I’m not losing heart,” said Lily. “The day before my bridal! Is that
what it is? I will just be happy to-night and never think of the morn;
for when I begin to think, it takes so many things to be satisfied, and
I would like to be satisfied just for once, and take no thought.”

Robina had a great deal to do in Lily’s room that night. She kept moving
to and fro, softly opening and shutting drawers and presses, laying away
her mistress’s things with a care that was scarcely necessary, and meant
only restlessness and excitement and an incapacity to keep still. Long
before she had done moving about the half-lighted room Lily was fast
asleep, her excitement, though presumably greater, not being enough to
keep sleep from the eyes which were dazzled with the sudden gleam of
something so new and strange in her life, as well as tired with an
unusual vigil. Lily slept as soundly as a child till the clear, somewhat
shrill daylight, touched with frost, shone upon her late in the wintry
morning and called her up much more effectually than the wavering call
of Beenie, who was hanging over her in the morning, as she had been at
night, the first to meet her eyes.

“Eh, Miss Lily, what a grand sleep ye have had!” Beenie cried. She had
slept but little herself, her head full of the new situation and all the
strange things that might be to come. The house in general had a sense
of excitement breathing through it, not visible, indeed, in Dougal, who
was, as usual, wrestling with the powny outside, but very apparent in
Katrin, who went about her morning work with an extremely serious face,
as if all the cares of the world were on her shoulders. Robina and she
had various stolen moments of communication through the day, indeed,
which testified to a degree of confidence between them, and a mutual
preoccupation.

“I’m no to say a word to her; but how am I to keep my tongue in my head
when Dauvit himself says that when he was musin’ the fire burnt!”

“Losh,” cried Katrin, “if it was naething but haudin’ your tongue! but
what I’ve to think of is mair than that. Eh, I’m doing that for Miss
Lily I would do for none of my kin, no, nor Dougal himself; and I wish I
was just clean out of it, for I’m no fond of secrets--they are uncanny
things.”

“Eh, woman! ye wouldna betray them?” Beenie cried.

“Betray them? Am I a person to betray what’s trusted to me? But I wish
there were nae secrets in this world. It’s just aye cheating somebody.
Ye canna be straichtforward, do what ye will, when ye’ve got other
folks’ secrets to keep, let alone them that are your ain.”

“I’m no sae particular,” said Beenie, with a little toss of her head,
“and there will be no stress upon ye for long. It’s just the ae step.”

“I have my doubts,” said Katrin, shaking her head.

“Ye have your doubts? And what doubts would ye have? It will a’ be plain
when ance it’s done. There are nae mair secrets after that! It’s just as
I said, the ae step. Eh me, I could have likit it far better in Sir
Robert’s grand house in George Square, and a’ Edinburgh there, and the
Principal himself to join their hands thegether, and my bonnie Miss Lily
in the white satin, and the auld lady’s grand necklace about her bonnie
white neck. But we canna have every thing our ain gate. The Manse parlor
is just a’ that can be desired in the circumstances we’re noo in; and
when it’s done, it will just be done and naething more to say.”

But Katrin still shook her head. She was a far-seeing woman. “I’m no
just sure we will be out of it sae easy as that,” she said.

This talk was not completed at once, but came in on various occasions, a
few words here and there, as opportunity secured; and the two women,
though both were excited and disturbed, did no doubt enjoy the rôle of
conspirator, more or less, and felt that those secret consultations
added a zest to life. Beenie, whose lips were sealed in the presence of
her mistress, and Katrin, who had to maintain an aspect of absolute calm
in the sight of Dougal, could not but feel a consciousness of
superiority, which consoled them for much that was uncomfortable. But,
indeed, it was exasperatingly easy to deceive Dougal. He suspected
nothing; secrets or mysteries had never come his way. Life meant to him
his daily work, his daily parritch, the comfort of a crack now and then
with his friends, a glass of toddy on an occasion, and the prevailing
consciousness of being well done for at all times, with a clean
hearthstone, and the parritch and the broth both well boiled and
appetizing, more than fell to the lot of ordinary men. If he had known
even that Katrin was keeping a secret from him, it is doubtful whether
he would have been at all moved. He would have thought it some
whigmaleerie of the wife’s, and would have remained perfectly easy in
his mind, in the conviction that she would tell him if it was any thing
he had to do with, and if not, wha was minding? Nothing that she did or
said roused his curiosity to any great degree. There had need to be
something more serious than Dougal to account for the little contraction
over Katrin’s eyes.

This was, perhaps, more visible, however, after the conversation she had
with Mr. Lumsden on the afternoon of New Year’s Day. I cannot tell what
he said to her, but there was something in it additional to what he had
said on the evening before, when he had told her and Beenie what their
parts were to be in the little drama for which he had not yet fully
prepared the chief actor of all. Lily waited for him at the window with
a heart that beat high in her breast on that frosty morning, when all
the stretches of the moor were crisp and white, and every little
rowan-tree and bush of withered heather shone like something of frosted
silver across the gray surface, tinged with a lower tone of whiteness.
Lily saw him almost before he had come within the range of mortal
vision, so far off that the road itself could not be seen, and only a
faint speck that moved was distinguishable in the chill and frozen
silence. The speck moved on, disappeared, came out again till it grew
into absolute sight and knowledge, near enough to be recognized from the
window, and hastily met at the door with a sweep of flying feet and
hands outstretched. “My bonnie Lily! the only flower that’s not
frosted!” he said. The change that had taken place between them was made
plain by this: that he came quite openly to the door, and that Lily
flew to meet him. There was no longer any occasion for the supposed
accident of meetings on the moor. How this change came about Lily did
not stop to enquire. It was, and that was enough; and she was too happy
in it ever to wonder what could have been said or done underneath to
make the lover’s appearance now a thing expected, and which it was
unnecessary to attempt to conceal.

“It will perhaps be for to-morrow and perhaps for the day after; I am
not certain yet,” Ronald said.

“What will perhaps be for to-morrow?” Lily cried, with a sudden flush on
her cheek.

“We are not going to make any fuss about it, Lily. You promised me you
would not desire that. It’s very easy to be married in our country. If
we were to call Dougal up and Katrin, and say we were man and wife, we
would be married just as fast as by all the ministers in the world.”

“Ronald!” cried Lily, growing pale.

“I am not suggesting such a thing. Do you think that I would put a scorn
on my bonnie Lily with a marriage like that? Not I! What I cannot bear
is that you should be stinted of one thing you would like--though, for
my part, the less the better, I say, and the most agreeable to me. But
no; I am not that kind of man. I like the sanction of the Kirk. I like
every thing done decently and in order. That is why I say to-morrow or
the next day, for I have not yet seen Mr. Blythe.”

“And is it to be so soon as that?” said Lily with awe.

“My darling, what object have we in waiting? The vacation is short
enough anyway. We must not lose a day. You promised to be ready at a
moment’s warning. Well, I’m giving you a day’s warning. If every thing
had been right, it would have been you to fix the time, and all your
fancies consulted. But we’re past that, Lily. You know you put yourself
into my hands to have it done as soon as was possible.”

“Did I?” said Lily, confused; and then she added: “I know. I am not one
to make a trouble. It is best to be done when we can--and as soon as we
can--and end this dreary life.”

“That is what I knew you would say. No certainty, no ground to stand on,
and not knowing what might happen at any moment. No, Lily, it is no time
for scruples now.”

“Still,” said Lily, “I would have liked to have heard all your plans and
what we are to do. It is fine planning. It is aye a pleasure, even when
it comes to nothing. And now, when it must come to something----”

“That’s the difference, I suppose, between man and woman,” said Ronald,
with a laugh. “I have no thought of any thing but one thing. I care
nothing about plans. You, that are all made up of imagination, you shoot
past and begin again. But me, I think only of getting my Lily, of having
her for my own. I have neither plots nor plans in my head.”

“It is a good thing, then, that women think of them, for we can’t do
without them,” Lily said. But she was soothed and pleased that her
bridegroom should have no thought but for herself. Perhaps this was what
was most fit for the man. The woman had the outset to think of, the new
house to live in, and every thing else that was involved. The reverse
thought gives pleasure in other circumstances. There is no consistency
in the reasonings of this period of life.

“Let us go out now,” said Ronald; “the frost is hard, and it’s fine dry
walking; we’ll get a turn round the moor, and then I will be off to the
‘toun’ to see the minister, and to-night I’ll come back and tell you all
about it. Wrap up well, for it’s cold, but so bright that it does the
heart good. But it is the day itself, and because it is the day, that
does the heart most good,” he said, once more wrapping Lily up, close
round her pretty throat, with the soft, voluminous folds of the plaid.
The two faces so close together, the light in her eyes, the contagious
happiness in his face, took every shadow from Lily’s heart. There had
been no shadows, only a faint sort of floating gossamer, which had no
meaning, and now it melted all away.

The ramble round the moor filled all the bright noon of the wintry day.
It was not possible to wander among the ling bushes, or by the soft,
meandering lines of turf. All was crisp with the curling whiteness of
the frost, except here and there where a prominent point had been melted
and darkened by the sun. They went along the road, which crackled under
their feet, with small ice crystals in every fissure. The mountains
stood blue in a faint haze that seemed to breathe into the still air,
and the moor stretched white, like a piece of crisp embroidery, under
the shining of the light. How wintry the air was, and how exhilarating,
tightening the nerves and stimulating every force! Toward the north the
sky was heavy and spoke of snow, but there were soft breaks of blue and
lines of yellow light in the brighter quarter. They walked now quickly
as they faced the wind, now slowly as they turned their backs upon it,
and, wrapped in their soft plaids, felt the soft glow and warmth mount
to their youthful cheeks. I doubt if any summer ramble, in the sweetest
air and among the flowers, was more full of pleasure. They talked to
each other incessantly, but perhaps not very much that would bear
repeating; yet there was a little veiled conflict certainly going on all
the time, scarcely conscious, hidden in innocent questions and
suggestions, in innocent seeming evasions. Lily wanted to ask so much,
but half feared to put a direct question lest it should be an offence,
while he wanted to keep every question at arm’s-length, but did not dare
to do so lest it should excite suspicion. There was an occasional flash
of the rapiers, soon covered up in the softest tones and touches, but
still they kept their distinct parts: she anxious to see a little
beyond, he eager to keep her within the limits of the day. He parried
all her thrusts with this pretence: that his thoughts could not stray
beyond to-morrow. “Sufficient unto the day is the happiness thereof,” he
said.

Then they went in and had their mid-day meal together, once more
attended by Beenie, with a world of meaning in every glance. “They are
just twa bonnie doos crooning on a branch,” she said to Katrin, as she
came down stairs for another dish. “Doos!” cried Katrin; “they have a
very good will to their meat, that’s a’ that I can say.” “They are like
twa bonnie squirrels in a wood,” cried Beenie, at her next dive into the
kitchen, “givin’ aye a look the one to the ither.” “Squirrels, my certy!
but I wouldna like to gether the nits for them a’ the year through,”
said Katrin. But when Beenie came back for the pudding, and declared
that “they were like twa bonnie fishes side by side in the burn, the ane
mair silvery and golden than the other,” Katrin’s amazement and
ridicule, and the excitement underneath, found vent in a shriek which
brought Dougal hurrying in from the barn. “Losh, woman! are ye burnt in
the fire, or have ye spilt the boiling pot upon ye, or what have ye
done?” “I’ll gie you the boiling pot yourself, and a dishclout to pin to
your tail, and that will learn ye to ask fule questions!” Katrin said.



CHAPTER XVIII


Ronald walked into Kinloch-Rugas after the plentiful lunch upon which
Katrin had made so many remarks. His head was buzzing and his bosom
thrilling with the excitement natural at that period of existence. He
loved Lily--as well as he was capable of loving--with all the mingled
sentiment and passion, the emotions high and low, the very human and
half divine, which are involved in that condition of mind. He was a
healthy, vigorous, and in no way vicious young man. If he had not the
highest ideal, he had not at all the lowered standard of a man whose
mind has been debased by evil communications. He was, in his way, a true
lover, at the climax of life which is attained by a bridegroom. His
thoughts were set to a kind of rhythmic measure of “Lily, Lily,” as he
walked swiftly and strongly down the long road toward the village. If
his mind had been laid bare by a touch of the angel’s spear, it would
not, I fear, have satisfied Lily, nor any one who loved her, but it
sufficiently satisfied himself. He did not want to look beyond the next
step, which, he had convinced himself, was the right step to take; what
was to follow was, he tried to assure himself, in the providence of God;
or, if that was too serious (but Ronald was a serious man, willingly
conceding to God the right to influence human affairs), it was open to
all the developments, chances even, if you like to say so, of natural
events. Who could say what would happen on the morrow? In the meantime a
reasonable man’s concern was with the events of the day. And though he
was not a highly strung person by nature, he was to-day all lyrical, and
thrilling with the emotions of a bridegroom. He was not unworthy of the
position. His very foot acknowledged that thrill, and struck the ground
in measure, as if the iron strings of frost had been those of a harp.
The passer-by, plodding along with head down and nose half sheltered
from the cutting wind, took that member half out of the folds of his
plaid to see what it was that was so bye-ordinary in the man he met. He
did not sound like a common man going into the town on common business,
nor look like it when the spectator turned to breathe the softer way of
the wind for a moment and look after the stranger. Neither did Ronald
feel like any one else on that wintry afternoon. He was a bridegroom,
and the thrill of it was in all his veins.

It was nearly dark when he came in sight of the lights, chiefly
twinkling lights in windows, for there was no gas as yet to illuminate
every little place as we have it now. In the Manse, with its larger
windows, it was still light enough, and the soft yellow and pink of the
frosty evening sky lent color, as well as light, to the calm of the
parlor, facing toward the west, where Mr. Blythe sat alone. It was the
minister’s musing time. Sometimes he had a doze; sometimes he sat by
the fire, but with his chair turned to the sunset, and indulged in his
own thoughts. These were confessedly, in many cases, his old stories,
over which he would go from time to time, with a choke of a laugh in the
stillness over this and that: perhaps there were moments in which his
musings were more solemn, but of these history bears no record. The
Manse parlor had no feature of beauty. It was a very humdrum room; but
to the minister it was the abode of comfort and peace. He wanted nothing
more than was to be found within its four walls; life was quite bounded
to him by these walls, and I think he had no wish for any future that
went beyond them: his _Scotsman_, which lasted him from one day to
another, till the next (bi-weekly) number came in; his books, chiefly
volumes of old history or Reminiscences, sometimes a Scots (occasionally
printed Scott’s) novel--but that was a rare treat, and not to be
calculated upon; a bout of story-telling now and then with another
clerical brother or old elder whose memory stretched back to those
cheerful, jovial, legendary days, where all the stories come from: these
filled up existence happily enough for the old minister. His work was
over, and I fear that perhaps he had never put very much of his heart
into that, and he had his daughter to serve him “hand and foot,” as the
maids said. He did not need even to take the trouble of finding his
spectacles (which, like most other people, he was always losing) for
himself. “Eelen, where’s my specs?” he said, without moving. Such was
this old Scotch presbyter and sybarite, and though a paradise of black
hair-cloth and mahogany does not much commend itself to us nowadays, I
think Mr. Blythe would gladly have compounded for the deprivation of
pearly gates and golden streets could he have secured the permanence of
this.

He was very glad to see Ronald, notwithstanding that he had become very
anxious to get rid of him during his stay at the Manse. A visitor of any
kind was a godsend in the middle of winter, and at this time of the
year, and especially a visitor from Edinburgh, with news to tell, and
perhaps a fresh story or two of the humors of the courts and the jokes
of the judges, things that did not get in even to _The Scotsman_. “And
what’s a’ your news, Mr. Lumsden?” he said eagerly. Ronald, who had had
many opportunities of understanding the old minister, had come provided
with a scrap or two piquant enough to please him, and what with the
jokes, and what with the politics, made a very good impression in the
first half-hour of his visit. Then came the turn of more personal
things.

“Yon was a fine glass of wine, Mr. Lumsden,” said the minister, with a
slight smack of his lips.

“I am very glad you liked it, sir; it was chosen by one of my friends
who is learned in such matters. I would not trust it to a poor judge
like myself.”

“Better for you, Mr. Lumsden, better for you at your age not to be too
good a judge. Look not upon the wine when it is red, says the prophet,
which is just when it’s best, many persons think. I am strongly of his
opinion when your blood’s hot in your veins, like the most of you young
lads; but when a man begins to go down the hill, and when he’s well
exercised in moderation, and to use without abusing, then a grand jorum
of wine like yon makes glad the heart, as is to be found in one rather
mysterious scripture, of God and man.”

“I hoped it would give you a charitable thought of one that was rather a
_sorner_, as I remember you said, upon your hospitality.”

“That was never meant, that was never meant,” said the minister, waving
his large flabby hands. Ronald had risen from his seat and was now
standing by the fire, leaning his arm on the mantel-piece. The slow
twilight was waning, and though the daffodil sky still shone in the
window, the fire had begun to tell, especially in the shadow of the
half-lit room.

“You see, sir,” said Ronald, with a leap of his heart into his throat,
and of the voice which accompanied it, coming forth with sudden energy,
“there was more in that than met the eye.”

“Ay, do ye say so?” said Mr. Blythe, also with a quickened throb of
curiosity in his voice.

“Miss Ramsay and I--had met in Edinburgh,” said Ronald, clearing his
throat, “we had seen--a great deal of each other. We had, in short----”

“I always said it, I always said it!” said the minister. “I told Eelen
the very first night. I’ve seen much in my day. ‘These two are
troth-plighted,’ I said to my daughter, before ye had been in my house a
single night.”

“I thought it was vain to attempt deceiving your clever eyes,” said
Ronald; “I told Lily so; but ladies, you know, are never so sure--they
think they can conceal things.”

“Thrust their heads into the sand like the ostriches, silly things, and
think nobody can see them!” said the minister. “I know them well; that’s
just what they all do.”

“Well, so it was, at least,” said Ronald. “You will not, perhaps, wonder
now that I stayed as long as I could, outstaying my welcome, I fear, and
wearing out even your hospitality; but it was a question of seeing Lily,
without exciting any suspicion, in a natural, easy way.”

“I will not say much about that last, for it was more than suspicion on
my part.”

“Ah, but every-body is not like you; neither your experience nor your
powers of observation are common,” said Ronald. He paused a moment, to
let this compliment sink in, and then resumed. “Mr. Blythe, I will admit
to you that Sir Robert is not content, and that, in short, Lily was
banished here to take her away from me.”

“I cannot think it a great banishment to be sent to Dalrugas, which is a
fine house in its way, though maybe old-fashioned, and servants to be at
her call night and day,” said the minister, “but you may easily see it
from another point of view. Proceed, proceed,” he added, with another
wave of his hand.

“Well, sir, I can but repeat: Sir Robert does not think me rich enough
for his niece. She is his only kin; he would like her to marry a rich
man; he would sacrifice her, my bonnie Lily, to an old man with a
yellow face and bags of money.”

“Well, well, that’s no so unnatural as you think. I would like my Eelen
to have a warm down-sitting if I could help her to it, to go no further
than myself.”

“I understand that, sir; my Lily is worthy of a prince, if there could
be a prince that loved her as well as I do. But it is me she has chosen
and nobody else, and she is not one to change if she were shut up in
Dalrugas Tower all her life.”

“Eh, I would not lippen to that,” said the minister; “she is but a young
thing. Keep you out of the gate, and let her neither hear from you or
see you, and her bit heart, at that age, will come round.”

“Thank you for the warning, sir,” said Ronald, with a laugh that was
forced and uncomfortable; “that’s what Sir Robert thought, I suppose.
But you may believe there is no pleasure to me in thinking so. And
besides, it would never happen with Lily, for Lily is true as steel.” He
paused for a moment, with a little access of feeling. It remained to be
seen whether he was true as steel himself, and perhaps he was not quite
assured on that point; yet he was capable, so far, of understanding the
matter that he was sure of it in Lily, and the conviction expanded his
breast with pride and pleasure. He paused with natural sentiment, and
partly with the quickening of his breath, to take the full good of that
sensation; and then he resumed:

“I am not rich, you will easily understand; we are a lot of sons at
home, and my share will not be great. But I have a good profession, and
in a few years, so far as I can see, I may be doing with the best. As
far as family is concerned, there can be no question between any Ramsay
and my name.”

The minister waved his hand soothingly over this contention. It was not
to be gainsaid, nor was any comparison of races to be attempted. He
said: “In that case, my young friend, if it’s but a few years to wait
and you will be doing so well, and both young, with plenty of time
before ye, so far as I can see ye can well afford to wait.”

“I might afford to wait, that am kept to my work, and little enough time
to think, but Lily, Mr. Blythe. Here is Lily alone in the wilderness, as
she says. I’m forbidden to see her, forbidden to write to her.”

“Restrictions which ye have broken in both cases.”

“Yes,” cried Ronald. “How could we let ourselves be separated, how could
I leave her to languish alone? I tried as long as I could. I did not
write to her. I did not come near her, but flesh and blood could not
bear it. And then when I saw how glad she was to see me, and how her
bonnie countenance changed----” Here he nearly broke down, his voice
trembled, so genuine and true was his feeling. “We cannot do it,” he
said faintly, “and that’s all that’s to be said. Mr. Blythe, you are the
minister, you have the power in your hands----”

“Eh, man! but I’m only the auld minister nowadays,” cried the old
gentleman, with a sudden outburst of natural bitterness to which he very
seldom gave vent. He was delighted to have nothing to do, but did not
love his supplanter any more on that account. “Ye must ask nothing from
me; go your ways to my assistant and successor--he is your man.”

“I will go to nobody but you!” cried Ronald, with all the fervor of a
temptation resisted. “Mr. Blythe, will you marry Lily to me?”

Mr. Blythe made a long pause. “If ye are rightly cried in the kirk, I
have no choice but to marry ye,” he said.

“But I want it done at once, and very private, without any crying in the
kirk.”

“That would be very irregular, Mr. Lumsden.”

“I know it would, but not so irregular as calling up Beenie and Dougal
and Katrin, and saying before them: ‘This is my wife.’”

“No,” said the minister, “not just so bad as that, but very irregular.
Do ye know, young man, I would be subject to censure by the Presbytery,
and I canna tell what pains and penalties? And why should I do such a
thing, to save you a month or two, or a year or two’s waiting, that is
nothing, nothing at your age?”

“It is a great deal when people are in our circumstances,” cried Ronald.
“Lily so lonely, not a creature near her, no pleasure in her life, no
certainty about any thing: for Sir Robert might hear I had been seen
about, and might just sweep her away, abroad, to the ends of the earth.
You say she would forget, but she does not want to forget, nor do I, you
may be sure, whereas, if you will just do this for us, you will make us
both sure of each other forever, and I can never be taken from her, nor
she from me.”

“Young man,” said the minister impressively, “I got my kirk from the
Ramsays; they’re patrons o’ this parish, and I was a young man with
little influence. I was tutor to Mr. James, but I had little chance of
any thing grander than a parish school, where I might have just
flourished as a stickit minister all my days, and it was the Ramsays
that made me a placed minister, and set me above them a’: that was the
old laird before Sir Robert’s days. But Sir Robert has been very ceevil
the times he has been here. He has asked me whiles to my dinner, and
other whiles he has sent me just as many grouse and paitricks as I could
set my face to. Would it be a just return, think ye, to marry away his
bonnie niece to a landless lad as ye confess ye are, with nothing but
fees at the best, and not too many of them coming in?”

“Mr. Blythe,” cried Ronald, “if it was Mr. James you were tutor to, it
is to Mr. James you owe all this, and Mr. James, had he been living,
would never have gone against the happiness of his only child!”

“Eh! but who can tell that?” cried the minister. “Little was he thinking
of that or of any kind of child. He was a young fellow, maybe as
heedless, maybe more than ye are yourself. Na, there was no thought
neither of wife nor bairn in his head.”

“But,” cried Ronald, “you must feel you have a double duty to one that
is his child, and his only one, little as he knew of it at the time.”

“A double duty: and what is that?” said the minister, shaking his head.
“The duty to keep her from any rash step, puir young unfriended thing,
or to let her work out her silly will, which, maybe, in a year’s time
she would rather have put her hand in the fire than have done?”

“You give a bonnie character of me,” Ronald said, with a harsh laugh.

“I am giving no character of you. I am thinking nothing of you. I am
thinking of the bit lassie. It is her I am bound to protect, both for
her father’s sake and her own. Most marriages that are made in haste
are, as the proverb says, repented of at leisure. She might be
heart-grieved at me that helped her to her will to-day when she knows
more of life and what it means. Na, na, my young friend, take you your
time and wait. Waiting is aye a salutary process. It brings out many a
hidden virtue, it consolidates the character, and if you are diligent in
your business it brings ye your reward, which ye enjoy more than if you
had snatched it before your time.”

“I tell you, minister,” cried Ronald, “that we cannot wait, that it’s a
matter of life and death to us, both to Lily and me!”

“What is that you are saying? I am hoping there is no meaning in it, but
only words,” the old man said sharply in an altered tone.

The room had grown almost quite dark, the daffodil color had all faded
away, and the heavy curtain of the coming snow was stretching over the
last faint streak of light. The fire was smouldering and added little to
the room, which lay in a ruddy dark, warmed rather than lighted up.
Ronald stood with his elbow on the mantel-piece close to the old
minister, whose face had been suddenly raised toward him with an
expression of keen command and alarm. And who can tell what devil had
stolen in with the dark to put words of shame into the mouth of the
young man who had come down the frosty moorland road like a song of joy
and youth? It was rapid as a dart. He stooped down and said something in
the old minister’s ear.

The shameful lie! the shameful, shameful lie! The temptation, the fall,
was so instantaneous that Ronald himself was scarcely conscious of it,
or of what he had done in his haste. The old gentleman uttered into the
darkness a sort of moan. And then he spoke briefly and sharply, with a
keen tone of scorn in his words which stung his companion even through
the confusion of the time.

“If that’s so, ye’re a disgraceful blackguard! but it’s not my part to
speak. Be here at this house the morn, with her and your witnesses; I
insist upon the witnesses, two of them, to sign the lines. I will send
Eelen out of the way. Come before it’s dark, as ye came to-day; I am
always alone at this hour. That’s enough, man, I hope. What are you
wanting more?”

“I want only to say that you judge me very hastily, Mr. Blythe.”

“It’s a case in which least said is soonest mended,” said the minister.
“To-morrow, just before the darkening, and, thank the Lord, there need
not be another word said between you and me!”



CHAPTER XIX


Ronald started back on his way to Dalrugas in the beginning of the
wintry night in a condition very different from that in which he came.
His head was dazed and swimming; something had happened to him; he had
taken a step such as he had never contemplated taking, a step which, did
Lily ever know or suspect it, would, he knew, open such a gulf between
them as nothing could ever bridge over. He was in a hundred minds to
turn back, to confess his sin before he had passed the last house in
the village. We do not call that a temptation when we are impelled to
do right, but it is the same thing, only the temptations to do right are
somehow less potent than those to do wrong. He was torn by a strong
impulse to go back and remedy what he had done: the temptation to commit
that fault had been momentary, but overwhelming; the temptation to go
back and confess was continuous, but evidently feeble, for he went
straight on through all its tuggings, and did not walk more slowly. But
yet it would have done him much good and probably no harm had he done
so: the minister would have forgiven a fault so soon repented of; he
would probably, in the natural feeling toward a penitent sinner, have
acceded to his wishes all the same. These thoughts went through Ronald’s
head without ever stopping his steady and quick walk into the dark. He
repented, if that had been enough, in sackcloth and ashes; he was so
deeply ashamed of what he had done that he felt his countenance flame in
the darkness where nobody could by any possibility see. But he did not
turn back. And presently by repetition the impulse weakened a little,
his brain cleared, and the world became steady once again. The thing was
done; it could not be undone. There was no possibility that Lily should
ever hear of it; nobody would ever know of it but old Blythe and
himself, and old Blythe would die. It would be a recollection which, in
the depth of the night, in moments of solitude, or when awakened by a
sudden touch of the past, would go on stinging him like a serpent all
the days of his life, but it would be otherwise innocuous. Lily would
never hear of it, that was the great thing; there was no chance that she
could ever hear. The old minister’s lips were sealed. It would be
contrary to every rule of honor if he were to betray what had been said
to him. Ronald said to himself that he must accept the stinging of that
recollection, which he would never get rid of all his life, as his
punishment; but no one else would suffer, Lily least of all.

These feelings were hot and strong in his mind as he set out; but a walk
of four miles against a cold wind, and with the snow threatening to
come down every moment, is a very good thing for dispersing troublous
thoughts: they gradually blew away as he went on, and the bridegroom’s
state of triumph and rapture came back, dimly at first, and as if he
dared not indulge it, but gaining strength every moment, until, before
he reached Dalrugas, from the first moment when he saw his love’s light
in her window shining far over the moor, it came back in full force,
driving every thing else away. He saw, first, the little star of light
hanging midway between earth and sky, and then the shape of the window,
and then Lily’s figure or shadow coming from time to time to look out;
and no lover’s heart could have risen higher or beat more warmly. He
entirely forgot how he had wronged her in the glory of having her, of
knowing her to be there waiting for him, and that she would be his wife
to-morrow. She came to the top of the stairs to meet him, while he
rushed up three steps at a time, rubbing against the narrow spiral of
the stair with such passion and force of feeling as the best man in the
world could not have surpassed. One does not require, it is evident, to
be the best man in the world, or even a true man at all, to love truly
and fervently, and with all the force of one’s being. One might say that
it was selfishness on Ronald’s part to appropriate at any cost the girl
he loved; but the fact remained, a fact far deeper than any explanation,
that he did love her as deeply, as warmly, as sincerely as any man
could. Their meeting was a moment of joy to both, like a poem, like a
song; their hearts beat as high as if it had been a first meeting after
years of absence, and yet it would have been less complete had they been
parted for more than the two or three hours which was its real period. I
need not go any further into this record. It did not matter what they
said; words are of little account at such moments. It is only to note
that a man who had just told a disgraceful lie, and put upon his bride a
stigma of the most false and cruel kind, and whose mind was already
shaping thoughts which were destined to work her woe, was at the moment
when he met her with the news that their marriage was to take place
next day as much, as tenderly in love with her as heart could desire.
The problem is one which I have no power to explain.

Next day being still one of the daft days, bright with the reflection of
the New Year, and the day of the weekly market in Kinloch-Rugas, Katrin
announced early her intention of going in to the toun in the course of
the day, an expedition which Beenie, with much modesty and reference to
Miss Lily, proposed to share. “I havena been in the toun, no to say in
the toun, ither than at the kirk, which is a different thing, since I
came to Dalrugas. I’ll maybe get ye a fairing, laddie, for the sake of
the New Year----”

“If he gangs very canny with the powny, and tak’s care of a’ our
bundles,” Katrin said.

“And me, I’m to be left my lane, to keep the hoose,” said Dougal, “like
Joan Tamson’s man.”

“Weel,” said Katrin, “ye’re in there mony a day and me at hame; it would
be a funny thing if I couldna gang to the market once at the New Year.”

“I’m saying nothing against you and your market. And here’s Miss Lily
away to her tea at the Manse, and maun have Rory no less to drive her in
the geeg with that lad from Edinburgh. I wish there was less of that lad
from Edinburgh; he’s nae ways agreeable to me.”

“Losh, man! it’s no you he’s running after,” cried Katrin, “nor me
neither. But he’s a fine lad for all that.”

“Fine or foul, I would like to see the back of him,” said Dougal; and
the women in their guilty consciences trembled. They had both been
brought to Ronald’s side. Both of them had a soft heart for true love,
and the fact of stealing a march upon Sir Robert was as pleasant to
Katrin as if she had been ten times his housekeeper. The house was full
of subdued excitement, hidden words exchanged between the women on the
stairs and in dark corners, as if they were conspirators or lovers. “Has
he any suspicion, do ye think?” Beenie whispered in Katrin’s ear.
“Him!” cried Katrin. “If it was put under his nose in black and white,
he would bring it to me to spell it out till him.” “Eh, but sometimes
these simple folks discern a thing when others that are wiser see
nothing.” “Wha said my man was simple? There’s no a simple bit about
him; but he knows I’m a woman to be trusted, and he’ll no gang a step
without Katrin!” It was not, perhaps, a moment when an anxious enquirer
could feel this trust justified. “Eh, Katrin,” cried Robina, “tell me
just what’s the worst that could happen to them if it was found out.”
“The worst is just that he would have to take his bride away, Beenie.”
“Eh! she would no be minding! That’s just what she wants most.” “And
lose her uncle’s siller,” Katrin added, with a deeper gravity of tone.
“That wouldna trouble her either,” said Beenie, shaking her head as over
a weakness of her mistress which she could not deny. “But I am feared,
feared,” said Katrin solemnly, with that repetition which makes an
utterance emphatic, “that it would be a sore trouble to him.” “Anyway,
it’s a’ settled now, and we’ll have to stick to them,” said Beenie
doubtfully. “Oh, I’ll stick to them as long as I can stand,” Katrin said
with vigor; and this was the last word.

It was clear enough that something was going to take place at the tower
of Dalrugas on that Thursday; but this was sufficiently accounted for by
the fact that Katrin was going to the market, a thing that did not
happen above twice or thrice a year. There were a great many
arrangements to make, and the black powny had begun his toilet, and the
little cart had been scrubbed and brushed before the sun was well up in
the sky to receive the two substantial forms, which, on their side, were
arrayed in their best gowns before the early dinner to which they sat
down, each with her heart in her mouth in all the excitement of the ripe
conspiracy. Only an hour or two now, and the signal would be given, the
cord would be pulled, and the great scene would open upon them. “Will
you and me ever forget this day, Katrin?” Beenie gasped, unable to
control herself. Katrin gave her a push with her shoulder, and took her
own place soberly at the board to dispense the dinner as usual. “There’s
an awfu’ fine piece of beef in the pot,” she said, “ower good for the
like of us; but it’ll mind ye, Dougal, of the day ye keepit the house,
and I gaed to the toun.”

“It’s no the first day I’ve keepit the house, and you been the one to
gang to the toun.”

“No, maybe, ye’ve done it four times since you and me were marriet. If
ye ever got better broth than thae broth, it’s no me that made them.
They’re that well boiled they just melt in your mouth with goodness,
with a piece of meat in them fit for the laird’s table. Have ye taken up
some of my broth, Beenie, to the young lady and her friend up the
stair?”

“You’re no taking much of them yourself,” said Dougal, “nor Beenie
either. Bless the women, your heads are just turned with the grand ploy
o’ going to the market. Me, I gang to the market and say naething about
it, nor ever lose a bite of a bannock on that account. But you’re queer
creatures, no to be faddomed by man. Are ye going to spend a lot o’
siller that ye’re in siccan a state? Beenie, now, she’ll be wanting a
new gown.”

“If ye think that I, that am used to a’ the grand shops in Edinburgh,
would buy a gown at Kinloch-Rugas----”

“Oh, when ye can get nae better, it’s aye grand to tak’ what ye can
get,” said Dougal. “As for Katrin, I canna tell what’s come over her.
Her hand’s shaking----”

“My hand’s no shakin’!” cried Katrin vehemently. “I’m just as steady as
any person. But I’ve been awfu’ busy this mornin’ putting every thing in
order, and I’ve very little appetite. I’m no a great eater at any time.”

“Nor me,” said Beenie, “and I’m tired too. I’ve just been turning over
and over Miss Lily’s things.”

“Ye had very little to do,” said Katrin, resenting the adoption of her
own argument. “Miss Lily’s things could easy wait. Sup up your broth,
and dinna keep us all waiting. Sandy, here’s a grand slice for you. It’s
seldom you’ve tasted the like of that. And as soon as you’re done,
laddie, hurry and put in the pony, for we must have a good sight o’ the
market, Beenie and me, before it gets dark.”

Dougal came out to the door to see them off, with his bonnet hanging
upon the side of his head by a hair. He felt the presence of something
in the atmosphere for which he could not account. What was it? It was
some “ploy” among the women, probably not worth a man’s trouble to
enquire into. And, as soon as they were off, he had Rory to put in, and
await the pleasure of “thae twa” upstairs. He could not refuse Lily any
thing, nor, indeed, had he any right to refuse to Sir Robert’s niece the
use of Rory, on whom she had already ridden about so often. But the lad
from Edinburgh was a trial to Dougal. He had an uneasy feeling that it
would not please his master to hear of this visitor, and that a strange
man about the house was not to be desired. “If it had but been a
lassie,” he said, in that case he would have been glad that Miss Lily
had some company to amuse her; but a gentleman, and a gentleman too that
was a stranger, not even of the same county--a lawyer lad from the
Parliament House. He did not willingly trust a long-leggit loon like
that to drive Rory. He was mair fit to carry Rory than Rory to carry
him. So that Dougal’s countenance was entirely overcast.

There had been some snow in the morning, a sprinkling just enough to
cover the ground more softly and deeply than the hoar frost, but that
was but preliminary--there was a great deal more to come. Dougal stood
when the pony was ready, pushing his cap from side to side and staring
at the sky. “Ye’ll do weel to bide but very short time, Miss Lily,” he
said; “the tea at the Manse is, maybe, very good, but the snow will be
coming down in handfu’s before you get hame.”

“We shall not stay long, Dougal, I promise you,” Lily said. There was a
tremble in her voice as there had been in Katrin’s and in Robina’s. “The
women are all clean gyte!” Dougal said to himself. He watched them go
away, criticising bitterly the pose of Ronald as he drove. “A man with
thae long legs has no mortal need for a pony,” he said; “they’re just a
yard longer than they ought to be. I’m about the figure of a man, or
just a thought too tall, for driving a sensitive beast like our Rory.
Puir beast, but he has come to base uses,” said Dougal. I don’t know
where he had picked up this phrase, but he was pleased with it, and
repeated it, chuckling to himself.

That evening, just before the darkening, when once more the sunset sky
was flushed with all kinds of color, and shone in graduated tints of
rose pink darkening to crimson, and blue melting into green, through the
Manse window, one homely figure after another stole into the Manse
parlor. Katrin had brought the minister a dozen of her own fresh eggs,
and what could he do less than call her in and say, “How is a’ with ye?”
at New Year’s time, when everybody had a word of good wishes to say?
“And this is Robina,” he added, with a touch of reserve and severity in
his tone. Beenie could not understand how to her, always so regular at
the kirk and known for a weel-living woman, the minister should be
severe; but it was easy to understand that on such an occasion he had a
great deal on his mind. There was a chair at either end of the great
sofa that stood against the wall; for in these days furniture was
arranged symmetrically, and it was not permitted that any thing should
be without its proper balance. The two women placed themselves there
modestly one at each end; the great arms of the sofa half hid them in
the slowly growing twilight. Katrin, who was nearest the door, was
blotted out altogether. Beenie, who was at the end nearest the window,
showed like a shadow against the light.

And then there was a pause; it was a very solemn pause indeed, like the
silence in church. The minister sat in his big chair in the darkest part
of the room, with the red glow of a low fire just marking that there was
something there, but not a word, not a movement, disturbing the dark.
The room after a while seemed to turn round to the two watchers, it was
so motionless. When Mr. Blythe drew a long breath, a sort of suppressed
scream came from both of them. Was it rather a death than a marriage
they had come to witness? They had never seen any living thing so still,
and the awe of the old man’s presence was overwhelming enough in itself.

“What’s the matter with you,” he said almost roughly. “Can I not draw my
breath in my own house?”

“Oh, sir, I beg your pardon,” cried Katrin, thankful to recover her
voice. “It was just so awfu’ quiet, and we’re no used to that. In our
bit houses there’s nobody but says whatever comes into his head, and
we’re awfu’ steering folk up at Dalrugas Tower.”

“Just in the way o’ kindness, and giving back an answer when you’re
spoken to,” said Beenie deferentially, in her soft, half-apologetic
voice. It was a great comfort to them in the circumstance, which was
very unusual and full of responsibility, to hear themselves speak.

“Ye must just try and possess your souls in patience till ye get back
again,” the minister said out of his dark corner. It was just a grand
lesson, both thought, and the kind of thing that the minister ought to
say. And the silence fell again with a slow diminution of the light, and
gradual fading of the yellow sky. To sit there without moving, without
breathing, with always the consciousness of the minister unseen, fixing
a penetrating look upon them, which probably showed him, so clever a
man, the very recesses of their hearts, became moment by moment more
than Katrin or Robina could bear.

“The young fools; I’ll throw it all up if they dinna put in an
appearance before that clock strikes!” cried Mr. Blythe at last. “Look
out of the window, one of you women, and see if ye can see them.”

“There’s nothing, minister, nothing, but a wheen country carts going
from the market,” said Beenie in the rôle of Sister Anne.

“The idiots!” said Mr. Blythe again with that force of language peculiar
to his country. “Not for their ain purposes, and them all but unlawful,
can they keep their time.”

“Oh, sir, ye mustna be hard upon them at siccan a moment!” cried Katrin,
rocking herself to and fro in anxiety.

“Eh, but I see the powny!” cried Beenie from the window; “there’s a wee
laddie holding Rory. And will I run and open the door no to disturb
Marget in the kitchen?” she said, not waiting for an answer. The spell
of the quiet had so gained upon Robina, and the still rising tide of
excitement, that she swept almost noiselessly into the narrow hall, and
opened the door mysteriously to the two other shadows who stole in, as
it seemed, out of the yellow light that filled up the doorway behind
into a darkness which, turning from that wistful illumination, seemed
complete.



CHAPTER XX


It was all like a dream, a scene without light or sound, shadows moving
in the faint twilight, at first not a word said. Beenie remained at the
door, holding the handle to guard the entrance. Katrin had risen up too,
and stood against the wall, trembling very much, but not betraying it in
this faint light. These two were in the light side of the room, the half
made visible by the window with its fading sunset glimmer. The other two
passed into the darker side and were all but lost to sight. A sudden
flicker of the fire caught the color of Lily’s dress and revealed her
outline for the moment. She had taken off her hat, not knowing why, and
the soft beaver with its feather was hanging down by her side in her
hand. Katrin made a step forward and relieved her of it, trembling lest
some dreadful voice should come to her ears out of the darkness, though
not seeing the minister’s eyes, which shot upon her a fiery glance. Then
he broke that strange haunted silence, in which so many thoughts and
passions were hidden, by his voice suddenly rising harsh, sounding as if
it were loud: it was not at all loud, it was, indeed, a soft voice on
ordinary occasions, only in the circumstances and in the intense quiet
it had a strange tone. To Ronald it sounded menacing, to Lily only half
alarming, as she knew no reason why it should be less kind than usual;
the women were so awe-stricken already that to them it was as the voice
of fate. The brief little ceremony was as simple as could be conceived.
The troth was not given, as in other rites, by the individuals
themselves, but simply said by the old minister’s deepening voice, which
he was at pains to subdue after the shock of the first words, and
assented to by the bride and bridegroom, Lily, to the half horror of the
two women, who gripped each other wildly in their excitement at the
sound, giving an audible murmur of assent, while Ronald bowed, which was
the usual form. “Yon’ll be the English way,” Katrin whispered to Beenie.
“Oh, whisht, whisht!” said the other. And then in the darkness there
ensued a few rolling words of prayer, the long vowels solemnly drawn
out, the long words following each other slowly and with a certain
grandeur of diction in their absolute simplicity, and the formula common
to all: “Whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder.” And then
there was a little stir in the darkness and all was over.

“But there’s just this to say to you, young man,” came out of the gloom
from the old voice, quavering a little with feeling or fatigue:
“Forasmuch as ye have been wanting before, so much the more are ye
pledged now to be all a man ought to be to this young creature that has
trusted herself to you. If ever I hear an ill word of your conduct or
your care, and me living, you will have one to answer to that will have
it in his power to do you an ill turn, and will not refrain. Mind you
this: if I am in the land of the living, and know of any hairm to this
poor lassie, _I will not refrain_; and ye know what I mean, and that I
am one that will do what I say.”

“If you think I require to be frightened into loving and cherishing my
bonnie wife----” said Ronald, confused and alarmed, but attempting to
take a high tone.

“Oh, Mr. Blythe!” cried Lily, “how little you know!” She could speak in
the dark, where no one could see, though the light would have reduced
her to silence and blushes. She put her hand with a pretty gesture
within Ronald’s arm.

“I, maybe, know more than I’m thought to do,” he said gruffly; “light
that candle that you’ll find on the mantel-piece, and let us get our
work done.” The candle brought suddenly to light the confused scene, all
the party standing except the figure of the minister, large and
shapeless in his big chair. And there was a moment of commotion, while
one by one they signed the necessary papers, the young pair quickly, the
women with a grotesqueness of awe and difficulty which might have
transferred the whole scene at once to the regions of the burlesque.
Both to Katrin and Robina it was a very solemn business, slowly
accomplished with much contortion both of countenance and figure.
“Women, can ye not despatch?” Mr. Blythe said sternly. “My daughter may
be here any minute, the time of my supposed rest is over, and this
sederunt should be over too. Marget will be in from the kitchen with the
lamp.”

“Oh, Beenie, be quick, quick!” murmured Lily. She had feared to be
entreated with the constant hospitality of the Manse to wait until Helen
came, and to take tea. It gave her a curious wound to feel that this was
not likely to be the case, even though she was most anxious to escape.
She was indeed a little frightened for Marget and the lamp, and for
Helen and the tea; but it hurt her that the minister who had just made
her Ronald’s wife should have any hesitation. Feelings are not generally
so fine in rural places. A bride is one to be eagerly embraced, not kept
out of sight. Though, indeed, she did not want to see Helen or any one,
she said almost indignantly to herself.

“And now there are your lines, Mistress Lumsden,” the minister said.
“Keep them safe and never let them out of your own hands, and I wish ye
all that is good. If it’s been a hasty step or an unconsidered, it’s you
that will probably have to bear the wyte of it. I will not deceive you
with smooth things; but if there has been error at the beginning----”

“Excuse me,” said Ronald in a low fierce voice, “but there is snow in
the sky, and it’s already dark, and I must take my wife away.”

“Don’t you interrupt me,” said the old minister, “or I will, maybe, say
more than I meant to say. If there’s been error at the beginning, my
poor lassie, take you care to be all the more heedful in time to come.
Do nothing ye cannot acknowledge in the face of day. And God bless you
and keep you and lift up the light of his countenance upon you,” he
said, lifting up his arms. The familiar action, the familiar words,
subdued all the group in a moment. He had not meant with these words to
bless the bride that had been brought before him as poor Lily had been,
but it had been drawn from him phrase by phrase.

And then the door opened, and Lily found herself once more outside in
the keen air touched with the foretaste of snow which is so distinct in
the North. The sky was heavy with it for half the circle from north to
south, but in the west was something of that golden radiance still, and
a clear blueness above, and one or two stars sparkling through the
frost. She lifted her eyes to these with relief, with a feeling of
consolation. Was that the light of His countenance that was to shine
upon her? But below all things were dark and dreary. To the hurry of
excitement which had possessed her before something vexing, troublous,
had come in. She had wished, and was eager to hurry away, to escape
Helen, but why had she been hurried away, made to perceive that she was
not intended to see Helen? It was more fantastic than could be put into
words. And Ronald too was in so great a hurry, eager to get her beyond
the observation of the people coming from the market, almost to hide
her in a sheltered corner, while he himself went to get the pony.
“Nobody will see you here,” he said. She wished that nobody should see
her, but yet an uncalled-for tear came to Lily’s eyes as she stood and
waited. It looked almost as if it was a path into heaven, the narrow way
which was spoken of in the Bible, that strip of golden light with the
stars shining above. But it was not to heaven she wanted to go in the
joy of her espousals, on her wedding day. She wanted the life that was
before her--the human, the natural, the life that other women had; to be
taken to the home her husband had made for her, to be free of the bonds
of her girlhood and the loneliness of her previous days. But Lily did
not know, not even a step of the path before her. It rushed upon her now
that he had never said a word, never one definite word. She did not know
what was going to happen to-morrow. To-night it was too late, certainly
too late, to go further than Dalrugas, but to-morrow! She remembered now
suddenly, clearly, that to all her questions and imaginings what they
were to do he had never made one distinct reply. He had allowed her to
talk and to imagine what was going to be, but he had said not a word.
There seemed nothing, nothing clear in all the world but that one golden
path leading up into the sky. “Lift up the light of His countenance upon
you.” That did not mean, Lily thought, half pagan as the youthful
thinker so often is, the blessing that is life and joy, but rather that
which is consolation and calm. And it was not consolation or calm she
wanted, but happiness and delight. She wanted to be able to go out upon
the world with her arm in her husband’s and her head high, and to shape
her new life as other young women did--a separate thing, a new thing,
individual to themselves, not any repetition or going back. Standing
there in the dark corner, hidden till he could find the pony and take
her up secretly out of sight, hurrying away not to be seen by any
one--Lily’s heart revolted at these precautions, even though it had been
to a certain extent her own desire they should be taken. But, oh! it
was so different, her own desire! that was only the bridal instinct to
hide its shy happiness, its tremor of novelty and wonder. It was not
concealment she had wanted, but withdrawal from the gaze of the crowd;
but it was concealment that was in Ronald’s thought, a thing always
shameful, not modest, not maidenly, but an expedient of guilt.

Perhaps Ronald was just a little too long getting the pony; but he was
not very long. He had her safely in the little geeg, with all her wraps
carefully round her, before fifteen minutes had passed; but fifteen
minutes in some circumstances are more than as many hours in others.
Lily was very silent at first, and he had hard ado to rouse her from the
reflections that had seized upon her. “What are we going to do?” she
said out of the heaviness of these reflections, when all that found its
way to his lips was the babble of love at its climax. Was it that she
loved him less than he loved her? He whispered this in her ear, with one
arm holding her close, while Rory made his way vigorously along the
road, scenting his stable, and also the snow that was coming. Lily made
no answer to the suggestion. Certainly that murmur of love did not seem
to satisfy her. She was overcome by it now and then, and sat silent,
feeling the pressure of his arm, and the consciousness that there was
nobody but him and herself in the world, with the seductive bewilderment
of emotion shared and intensified, yet from time to time awoke sharply
to feel the force over again of that question: “What are we going to
do?” Oh, why had she not insisted on an answer to it before? The night
grew darker, the snow began to fall in large flakes. They were more and
more isolated from the world which was invisible round them, nothing but
Rory tossing his shaggy ears and snorting at the snow that melted into
his nostrils. By the time they reached the Tower, discovering vaguely,
all at once, the glimmer of the lights and the voice of Dougal calling
to the pony to moderate the impatience of his delight at sight of his
own stable, they were so covered with snow that it was difficult for
Lily to shake herself clear of it as she stumbled down at the great
door. “Bide a moment, bide a moment; just take the plaid off her bodily.
It’s mair snaw than plaiden!” cried Dougal. “Ye little deevil, stand
still, will ye? Ye’ll get neither bite nor sup till your time comes.
Have ye no seen the ithers on the road? Silly taupies to bide so long,
and maybe be stormsted in the end!”

“They’re on the road, Dougal,” cried Lily, with humility, remembering
that she had never once thought of Katrin and Beenie. “I am sure they’re
on the road.”

“They had better be that,” he said angrily. “What keepit them, I’m
asking? Sir, if ye’ll be advised by me, ye’ll just bid good-by to the
young leddy and make your way to Tam’s as fast as ye can, for every
half-hour will make it waur. It’s on for a night and a day, or I have
nae knowledge of the weather.”

“Half-an-hour can’t make much difference, Dougal,” said Ronald, with a
laugh.

“Oh, can it no? It’s easy to see ye ken little of our moor. And the e’en
will be as black as midnicht, and the snaw bewildering, so that ye’ll
just turn round and round about, and likely lie down in a whin bush, and
never wake more.”

A half shriek came from Lily in the doorway, while Ronald’s laugh rang
out into the night. “It will be no worse in half-an-hour,” he said.

“Ay, will it! There’s a wee bit light in the west the noo, but there
will be nane then. Heigh! is’t you? Weel, that’s aye something,” Dougal
said, as the other little vehicle, with its weight of snow-covered
figures, came suddenly into the light; and in the bustle of the second
arrival, which was much more complicated than the first, nothing more
was said. Katrin and Beenie had shaken off the awe of their conspiracy.
They were full of spirits and laughter, and their little cart crowded
with parcels of every kind. They had found time to buy half the market,
as Dougal said, and they occupied him so completely with their talk,
and the bustle of getting them and their cargo safely deposited indoors,
that the young couple stole upstairs unnoticed. “Tam may whistle for me
to-night,” Ronald said, “and Dougal growl till he’s tired, and the snow
fall as much as it pleases. I’m safe of my shelter, Lily. A friend in
court is worth many a year’s fee.”

“Who is your friend in court?” she said, shivering a little. The cold
and the agitation had been a little too much for Lily. Her teeth
chattered, the light swam in her eyes.

It was Katrin who was the Providence of the young people. She it was who
ordained peremptorily, not letting Dougal say a word, that to send Mr.
Lumsden off to Tam’s cottage on such a night was such a thing as had
never been heard of.

“I wouldna turn out a dog,” she cried, “to find its way, poor beast,
across the moor.”

“I warned the lad,” said Dougal; “I tell’d him every half-hour would
make it waur. It is his ain fault if he is late. What have you and me to
do harboring a’ the young callants in the country, or out of it, that
may come here after Miss Lily? You’ve just got some nonsense about true
love in your head.”

“Am I the person,” said Katrin, “to have true love cast in my face, me
that have been married upon you, Dougal, these thirty year? Na, na! I’m
no that kind of woman; but I have peety in my heart, and there’s a dozen
empty rooms in this house. I think it’s just a shame when I think of the
poor bodies that are about, maybe sleepin’ out on the cauld moor. I’ll
not take the life of this young lad, turning him away, and neither shall
you, my man, if you want to have any comfort in your ain life.”

“I warned him,” said Dougal; “if he didna take my warning, it’s his ain
wyte.”

“It shanna be mine nor yours either,” said Katrin, and, indeed, even
Dougal, when he looked out, perceived that there was nothing to be said.
The snow had fallen so continuously since their arrival that already
every trace, either of wheels or hoofs, was filled up. The whiteness lay
unbroken in the court-yard and up to the very door, as if no one had
come near the house for days. Sandy was in the stable with his lantern,
hissing over the little black pony as he rubbed him down; but even
Sandy’s steps to the stable were wiped out by the snow-storm. It covered
every thing, fair things and foul, and, above all, every trace of a path
or road.

“I’m no easy in my mind about what Sir Robert would say,” he muttered,
pushing his cap to his other ear.

“And what would Sir Robert say? If it had been a lad on the tramp, a
gangrel person or selling prins about the road, he would never have
grudged him a bed, or at the worst a pickle straw in the stable, on such
a night. And this is a young gentleman of the family of the Lumsdens of
Pontalloch, kent folk, and as much thought of as any person. Is’t a
pickle straw the laird would have offered to a gentleman’s son like
that? He’s just biding here till the storm’s over, if it was a week or a
fortnicht, and I’ll answer for it to the laird!” Katrin cried.

Dougal looked at her in consternation. “A week or a fortnight! It’s no
decent for the young leddy,” he said.

“It’s just a grand chance for the young lady--company to pass the time
till her, and her all her lane. If he will bide--but maybe he will not
bide,” said Katrin, with a sigh. Katrin, too, was a little anxious, as
Lily was, for what to-morrow would bring forth. She had but taken the
bull by the horns, in Dougal’s person, saying the worst that could be
said. “But it’s my hope, Beenie,” she said afterward, with an anxious
countenance, “that he’ll just take his bonnie wife away to his ain house
as soon as the snaw’s awa’.”

“Oh, ay! ye needna have any doubt of that,” said Beenie, with a broad
smile of content.

“Then you’ll just take off your grand gown and serve them with their
dinner. I have naething but the birds to put to the fire, and that will
take little time; and if they never had a good dinner before nor after,
they shall have one that any prince might eat, between you and me,
Robina, poor things, on their wedding night.”



CHAPTER XXI


The snow-storm lasted for about a week, day after day, with an
occasional interval, with winds that drifted it, and dreadful nights of
frost that made it shrink, but covered it over with sparkling crystals,
and with occasional movements of a more genial temperature, that touched
the surface only to make it freeze again more fiercely when that
relenting was over. The whole landscape was turned to whiteness, and the
moor, with all its irregular lines, rounded as if a heavy white blanket
had been laid over the hummocks of the ling and the hollows and deep
cuttings. The hills were white, too, but showing great seams and
crevasses of darkness, from which all the magical color had been taken
by the absence of light. Black and white was what every thing was
reduced to, like the winter Alps, with a gray sky overhead still heavy
with inexhaustible snow. This snow-storm was “a special providence” to
the inhabitants of Dalrugas--at least to most of them. Dougal grumbled,
and suggested various ways in which it might be possible for the lad
from Edinburgh to get away. He might walk two miles north, to a village
on the main road, where the coach was bound to pass every lawful day,
whether it snowed or whether it blew; or he might get the geeg from the
inn at Kinloch-Rugas to carry him south, and strike the route of another
coach also bound to travel on every lawful day. But Dougal talked to the
air, and nobody gave him heed: not to say that the gentleman from
Edinburgh found means to conciliate him by degrees, and that, at last, a
crack with Mr. Lumsden became a great relief to Dougal from the
unmitigated chatter of the womankind by which he was surrounded night
and day.

This week of snow flew as if on wings. They were shut off from all
intrusion, and even from every invading question, by the impossibility
of overstepping that barrier which nature had placed around them; they
lived as in a dream, which circumstances had thus made possible without
any strain of nature. Nobody could turn a stranger out into the snow,
not Sir Robert himself. Had he been there, however little he liked his
visitor, he would have been compelled to keep him in his house, and
treat him like a favored guest. Not even an enemy’s dog could have been
turned out into the snow. It made every thing legitimate, every thing
simple and natural. I don’t know that Lily required this thought to
support her, for, indeed, she was not at that time aware that any secret
was made of the marriage, that it was concealed from any one in the
house, even Dougal, or that Helen Blythe at the Manse, for instance, had
not been made aware of it by that time. She had never clearly entered
into the question why Helen Blythe had not been present, why the
ceremony had been performed in the darkening, and so much mystery had
surrounded it, except by the natural reason that no observation which
could be avoided should be drawn upon the bride, and that, indeed, all
possibility of vulgar remark should be guarded against. The question,
what was to be done next? had filled Lily’s mind on that day; but the
snow had silenced it and covered it over like the ling bushes and the
burn, which no longer made its usual trill of running remark, but was
also hushed and bound by the new conditions which modified all the life
of this portion of the earth. The moor and all its surroundings hung
between heaven and earth in a great silence during this period. The gray
sky hung low, so that it seemed as if an unwary wayfarer, if he went far
enough against that heavy horizon, might strike against it, blinded as
he must have been by the whirling flakes that danced and fluttered down,
sometimes quickening in pace like the variations of a swift strathspey,
sometimes falling large and deliberate like those dilated flakes of fire
that fell on the burning sands in the Inferno. There were no images,
however different in sentiment, that might not have been applied to that
constant falling. It was snow, always snow, and yet there was in it all
the variety of poetry when you looked at it, so to speak, from within,
looking through it upon an empty world in which no other life or variety
seemed to be left.

Sometimes, however, the pair sallied forth, notwithstanding the snow, to
breathe the crisp and frosty air, and to feel with delight the great
atmosphere and outdoor world around them instead of four walls. Lily
wore a great camlet cloak, rough, but a protection against both wet and
chill, with a large silver clasp under her chin, and her head and
shoulders warmly hooded and wrapped in her plaid of the Ramsay color,
which she wore as fair Ramsays did in Allan Ramsay’s verse. Lily’s eyes
sparkled under the tartan screen, and not to risk the chilling of a hand
which it would have been necessary to put forth to clasp his arm, Ronald
in his big coat walked with his arm round her, to steady her on the
snow; for every path was obliterated, and they never knew when they
might not stumble over a stifled burn or among the heathery hillocks of
the moor. These walks were not long, but they were delightful in the
stillness and loneliness, the white flakes clothing them all over in
another coat, lighting upon Lily’s hair and Ronald’s beard, getting into
their eyes, half blinding them with the sudden moisture, and the
laughter that followed. I will not attempt to give any account of the
talk with which they beguiled both these devious rambles and the long
companionship indoors in the warm room from which they looked out with
so much comfort on the white and solitary world. It harmonized and made
every thing legitimate, that lucky snow. One could not ask: “What shall
we do to-morrow?” in the sight of the absolute impossibility of doing
any thing. It was not the bridegroom but Nature herself who had arranged
this honeymoon. If it would but last! But then it was in the nature of
things that it could not last.

The frost began to break up a little on the eighth day, or rather it was
not the frost that broke up, but the sky that cleared. In the evening
instead of the heavy gray there came a break which the sky looked
through, and in it a star or two, which somehow changed altogether the
aspect of affairs. That evening, as she stood looking out at the break
so welcome to every-body, but which she was not so sure of welcoming as
other people were, Lily felt the question again stir, like a bird in its
nest, in the hushed happiness of her heart. In the morning, when she
looked out upon a world that had again become light, with blue overhead,
and a faint promise of sun, and no snow falling, it came back more
strongly, this time like a secret ache. The women and Dougal and Sandy
and even the ponies were full of delight in the end of the storm. “What
a bonnie morning!” they shouted to each other, waking Lily from her
sleep. A bonnie morning! There was color again on the hills and color in
the sky. The distance was no longer shut out, as by a door, by the heavy
firmament: it was remote, it was full of air, it led away into the
world, into worlds unseen. As Lily gazed a golden ray came out of it and
struck along the snow in a fine line. Oh, it was bonnie! as they called
to each other in the yard, as Rory snorted in his stable, and all the
chickens cackled, gathering about Katrin’s feet. The snow was over! The
storm was over! In a little while the whiteness would disappear and the
moor would be green again. “What are we going to do?” All nature seemed
to ask the question.

“I wish,” said Ronald, “those fowls would cease their rejoicings about
the end of the snow. I wish the snow could have lasted another
fortnight, Lily; though perhaps I should not say that, for I could not
have taken advantage of it. I should need to have invented some means of
getting away.”

“Because you were tired of it, Ronald?” she said, with a smile; but the
smile was not so bright as it had been. It was not Lily’s snow-smile,
all light and radiance; it was one into which the question had come, a
little wistful, a little anxious. Ronald saw, and his heart grieved at
the change.

“That’s the likely reason!” he said, with a laugh; “but, oh, Lily, my
bonnie love, here is the Parliament House all astir again, the judges
sitting, and all the work begun.”

“Well,” she said, that smile of hers shooting out a pure beam of fire
upon him, “I am ready, Ronald, I am ready, too.”

“Ready to speed the parting husband, and to wish me good luck?” he said
with a faint quiver in his voice. He was not a coward by nature, but
Ronald this time was afraid. He had not forgotten the question: “What
are we going to do?” which had been expressed in every line of Lily’s
face, in every tone of her voice, before the evening of the marriage. He
knew it had come again, but he did not know how he was to meet it. He
plunged into the inevitable conflict with his heart in his mouth.

“To speed the parting---- Are you going, Ronald, are you thinking of
going, without me?”

“My dearest,” he said, spreading out his hands in deprecation, “it’s
like rending me asunder; it is like tearing my heart out of my bosom.”

“I am not asking you what it is like!” cried Lily. “What I am asking is
your meaning. Were you thinking of going without me?”

“Lily, Lily!” he said, “don’t be so dreadfully hard upon me! What am I
to do? I know nothing else that I can do.”

“Oh, if it’s only that,” she said, “I can tell you, and very easy, what
to do. You will just take me down to Kinloch-Rugas, or to that other
place where the coach stops, and wrap me well in my camlet cloak and in
my tartan plaid, and I’ll not feel the cold, not so much as you will,
for women’s blood is warm, and when we get to Edinburgh we will take
the topmost story of a house, and make it as warm as a nest, and get the
first sunshine and the bonnie view away to Fife and the north. And
Beenie will follow us with my things and her own; but we’ll just be all
alone for the first day or two, and I will make you your dinner with my
own hands,” said Lily, holding up those useful implements with a look of
triumph, which was, alas! too bright, which was like the sun when a
storm is coming: brilliant with alarm and a sense of something very
different to come.

“They don’t look very fit for it, those bits of white hands,” he said,
eager, if possible, by any means to divert her from the more important
question, and he took her hands in his and kissed them; but Lily was not
to be diverted in this way.

“You may think what you like of how they look, but they are just a very
useful pair of hands, and can cook you a Scots collop or a chicken or
fish in sauce as well as any person. I know what I have undertaken, and
if you think I will break down, you are mistaken, Ronald Lumsden, in
me.”

“I am not mistaken in you, Lily. I know there is nothing you could not
do if you were to try; but am I to be the one to make a drudge of my
Lily--I that would like her to eat of the fat and drink of the sweet, as
the ministers say, and have no trouble all her days?”

“It depends upon what you call trouble,” said Lily, still holding up her
flag. “Trouble I suppose we shall have, sooner or later, or we’ll be
more than mortal; but to serve you your dinner is what I would like to
do. You’ll go out to the Parliament House and work to get the siller,
for it must be allowed that between us we have not much of the siller,
and you cannot buy either collops or chuckies without it, nor scarcely
even a haddie or a herring out of the sea. But that’s the man’s share.
And then I will buy it and clean it, and put it on in the pot, and you
will eat of your wife’s cooking and your heart will be glad. Do you
think I want to go back to George Square, or a fine house in one of the
new Crescents, and sit with my hands before me? Not me, not me!”

“My bonnie Lily,” he cried, “it’s a bonnie dream, and like yourself, and
if you only cooked a crust, it would be better than all the grand French
kickshaws in the world or the English puddings to me.”

“You need not be so humble, sir,” said Lily; “I will cook no crust. It
will be savory meat, such as thy soul loveth; though I’ll not cheat you
as that designing woman Rebekah did.”

“My bonnie Lily, you’ll always do more for me, and better for me, than I
deserve,” he cried. “Is that the postman for the first time coming up
the road from the town?”

They went to the window to look out at this remarkable phenomenon, and
there he kept her, pointing out already the break of the snow upon the
side of the moor, revealing the little current of the burn, and
something of the edge of the road, along which, wonderful sight! that
solitary figure was making its way. “But it will not be passable, I
think, till to-morrow for any wheeled thing, so we will make ourselves
happy for another day,” Ronald said; and this was all the answer he gave
her. He was very full of caresses, of fond speeches, and lover’s talk
all day. He scarcely left an opening for any thing more serious. If Lily
began again with her question, he always found some way of stopping her
mouth. Perhaps she was not unwilling, in a natural shrinking from
conflict, to have her mouth stopped. But there rose between them an
uneasy sense of something to be explained, something to be unravelled, a
desire on one side which was to encounter on the other resistance not to
be overcome.

Ronald went out to Dougal after dinner and stood by him while he
suppered the pony. “I think the roads will be clear to-morrow, Dougal,”
he said.

“I wouldna wonder,” said Dougal. His opinion was that the lad from
Edinburgh would just sorn on there forever eating Sir Robert’s good meat
and would never more go away.

“Which do you think would be best? to lend me Rory and the little cart
to take me in to Kinloch-Rugas, or to send for the geeg from the inn to
catch the coach on the South Road at Inverlochers?”

“I could scarcely gie an opinion,” said Dougal. “A stoot gentleman o’
your age might maybe just as easy walk.”

When Dougal said “a stoot gentleman” he did not mean to imply that
Ronald was corpulent, but that he was a strong fellow and wanted no pony
to take him four miles.

“That’s true enough,” said Ronald; “but there’s my portmanteau, which is
rather heavy to carry.”

“As grand as you----” Dougal began, but then he stopped and reflected
that he was, so to speak, on his own doorstep (in the absence of Sir
Robert), and that it was a betrayal of all the traditions of hospitality
to be rude to a guest, especially to one who was about to take himself
away. “Weel,” he added quickly, with a push to his bonnet, “I canna
spare you Rory--the young leddy might be wanting a ride; but Sandy and
the black powny will take in the bit box if ye’re sure that you’ve made
up your mind--at last.”

“I dare say you thought I was never going to do that,” Ronald said, with
a laugh.

And then Dougal melted too. “Oh,” he said, “I just thought you knew when
you were in good quarters,” in a more friendly voice.

“And did not you think I was a sensible fellow,” said the amiable guest,
“to lie warm and feed well instead of fighting two or three days, or
maybe more, through the snow? But now the courts are opened, and the
judges sitting, and every-body waiting for me. I would much rather bide
where I am, but I must go.”

“If it’s for your ain interest,” said Dougal; “and I wudna wonder but
ye’re a wee tired of seeing naebody and doing naething, no even a gun on
your shoulder. I’ll bid the laddie be ready, I’ll say, at sax of the
clock.”

“Six o’clock!” said Ronald in dismay; “the coach does not leave till
ten.”

“Weel, I’ll say aicht if you like. You should be down in good time.
Whiles there are a heap of passengers, and mair especial after a storm
like this, that has shut up a’ the roads.”

“I shall be very much obliged to you, Dougal. I have been obliged to you
all the time. I will explain the circumstances to Sir Robert if he is in
Edinburgh in the spring, and I will tell him that Katrin and you have
been more than kind.”

“’Deed, and if I were you,” said Dougal, “I would just keep a calm sough
and say naething to Sir Robert. He might wonder how ye got here; he
would maybe no think that our young leddy---- I’m wanting no certificate
frae any strange gentleman,” said Dougal, “and least said is soonest
mended. There are folk that canna bide to hear their ain house spoke of
by a stranger, nor friends collecting about it that might maybe no just
be approved. No, no, haud you your tongue and keep your ain counsel; and
so far as things have gaen, you’ll hear nae more about it frae Katrin or
me.”

Ronald was confounded by this speech. “So far as things have gaen.” Had
this rough fellow any idea how far they had gone? Had his wife told him
what happened in the Manse parlor? Had his suspicions penetrated the
whole story? But Dougal turned back to the pony with a preference so
unaffected, and whistled “Charlie is my darling” with so distinct an
intention of dismissing his interlocutor, that Ronald could not imagine
him to see in the least into the millstone of this involved affair.
Dougal was much more occupied with his own affairs than either those of
Lily or those so very little known to him of the strange gentleman who
had kept Lily company during the daft days, the saturnalia of the year.
He proceeded with his work, pausing sometimes to swing his arms and
smite his breast for cold, clanking out and in through the warm
atmosphere of the stable to the wildly cold and sharp air outside,
absorbed more than was at all necessary in the meal and the toilet of
Rory, and taking no further heed of the guest.



CHAPTER XXII


“At last,” said Ronald, coming upstairs with his light-springing foot
three steps at a time, “at last, Lily, I have settled with Dougal, and I
am starting to-morrow morning: at eight, he says, but nine will do. And
this for a little while, my darling, will be my last night in the nest.”

The room had undergone a wonderful change since it had first been Lily’s
bower. It had changed much while she was there alone, but the change was
much greater within the last week than all that had happened before. It
had become a home: there were two chairs by the fire, there was an
indefinable consciousness in every thing of two minds, two people, the
union and conjunction which make society. It was all warm, social,
breathing of life, no suggestion in it of loneliness or longing, or
unsatisfied thought, or the solitude which breathes a chill through
every comfort. Lily, sitting alone, had been, it was very clear, left
but for a moment. This sentiment cannot, indeed, expand stone walls, yet
the once dull and chilly drawing-room, with its deep small windows,
seemed to possess a widened circle, a fuller atmosphere. Into this
already had there pushed a care or two, the reflection of the
diversities of two minds as well as their union? If so, it only helped
to widen the sphere still further, to make it more representative of the
world. Lily looked up from the book she had taken up in her husband’s
absence with a change of countenance and sudden exclamation.

“_You_ are going to-morrow? Not _we_?” she cried.

“My bonnie Lily, you were always reasonable--how could it be _we_? I’m
thankful, though, that you meant it to be we, for it was not a happy
thought that my own lassie, my wife of a week old, was pushing me away,
back with the first loosening of the frosts, into the world.”

“You never thought that, you never could have thought that!” cried Lily,
divided between indignation and a tumult of new feeling that rose in
her. And then she covered her face with her hands. “Are you going to
leave me here, Ronald, my lane, my lane?” she cried, with a tone of
anguish in her voice.

He was behind her, drawing her head upon his shoulder, soothing her in
every way he knew. “Oh, Lily, my darling, don’t say I have beguiled you!
What could it be else, what could it be? I might have held out by myself
and kept away. I might have sworn I would never go near you, for your
sweet sake. Would you rather I had done that, Lily? Is it not better to
belong to each other, my darling, at any cost, so as to be ready in a
moment to take advantage of a bright day when it comes?”

“Of a bright day when it comes?” she said, suddenly taking her hands
from her face. A chill as if of the ice outside came upon Lily. She was
as white as the snow, and cold, and trembled. “Is that all--is that all
that is between you and me, Ronald?” she cried.

“Now, Lily, my dearest, how can you ask such a question? Is that all?
Nothing is all! There are no bounds to what is between you and me; but
because we have to be parted for a time that was not a reason for always
keeping apart, was it, Lily? I thought, my darling, you agreed with me
there. We have had a happy honeymoon as ever any pair had, happier, I
think, than ever any blessed man but me. And now I must go out to the
bleak world to work for my bonnie wife. Oh, it will be a bleak world no
longer; it will all be bright with the thought that it is for my bonnie
Lily. And you will just wait and keep your heart in a kist of gold, and
lock it with a silver key.”

“Ah, that was what she says she should have done before----” cried Lily
with a sharp ring of pain in her voice. Then she subdued herself and
looked up into his face. “I am ready to share whatever you have,
Ronald. I want no luxuries, no grand house. I want no time to get ready.
I’ll be up before you to-morrow and my little things in a bundle and
ready to follow you, if it was in a baggage-wagon or at the plough’s
tail!”

“I almost wish it was that,” he said, eager for any diversion. “If I had
been a ploughman lad, coming over the hills to Nannie O; with a little
cot to take her to as soon as she could be my own!” These were echoes of
the songs Lily had sung to him, and he to her, in their hermitage when
shut in by the snow.

“But just up under the roof in a high house in the old town, or one of
the new ones out to the west of Princes Street--that new row, with a
nice clean stair and a door to it to shut it in: to me that would be as
good as any little cot upon the ploughed fields.” Lily spoke eagerly,
turning round to him with hands involuntarily clasped.

“A strange place,” he said, “for Sir Robert Ramsay’s heir.”

“Oh, what am I caring for Sir Robert Ramsay! If he was ill and wanted
me, I would be at his call night and day--he is my uncle, whatever
happens; but because he is rich and can leave me a fortune! that is
nothing, Ronald, to you and me.”

He made no immediate reply, but smoothed the little curls of her hair
upon her forehead, which was at once an easier and a much more pleasant
thing to do.

“Besides,” she said, “I have known plenty of kent folk, as good as you
or me, who lived, and just liked it very well, up a common stair.”

“I would not like my Lily, coming out of George Square, to set up in
life like that.”

“Would you like your Lily,” she cried again, turning upon him with
glowing cheeks, “to sit alone and pingle at her seam and eat her heart
away, even at George Square, where she might see you whiles, or, worse
still, here at Dalrugas,” she said, springing from her seat with energy,
“to be smoored in the snow?”

He followed her round to the window, and stood holding her in his arm
and looking at her admiringly. “You will never be smoored in the snow,
my Lily! The fire in you is enough to melt it into rivers all about.”

“Rivers that will carry me--where?” she cried in a tone half of
laughter, half of despair.

“Listen to me, my darling,” he said. “We will be practical: there is
always the poetry to fall back upon. For one thing, I’ve no house, even
if it were up a common stair or in the highest house of the old town, to
take you to. Houses, as you know as well as me, can only be got at the
term. There is no chance now till Whit-Sunday of finding one. We must
just be patient, Lily; we can do no more. It is not you, my darling,
that will suffer the most. Think of me in all the old places that will
mind me of you at every moment, and seeing all the folk that know you,
and even hearing your name----”

“Oh,” cried Lily, and then suddenly she fell a-crying, leaning on her
husband, “I would like to hear your name now and then just to give me
heart, and to see the folk that know you, and the old places----”

“My bonnie Lily!” he cried.

Perhaps this outburst did her good. She cried for a long time, and all
the evening an occasional sob interrupted her voice, like the lingering
passion of a child. But Lily, like a child, had to yield to that voice
of the practical, the voice of reason. She said no more at least, but
sadly assisted at the packing of the portmanteau, which had been brought
across the snow somehow from the cottage in which Ronald had found
refuge before the storm and all its privileges began.

“I am not going with him,” she said to Robina, when these doleful
preparations were over. “You see, there are no preparations made, and
you cannot get a house between the terms. You might have minded me of
that, Beenie. What is the use of being a person of experience if you
cannot tell folk that are apt to forget?”

“I ought to have minded, my bonnie dear,” said Beenie with penitence.

“And it’s a long time till Whit-Sunday; but we’ll need to have
patience,” Lily said.

“So we will, my darling bairn,” Beenie replied.

“You say that very cut and dry. You are not surprised; you look as if
you had known it all the time.”

“Eh, Miss Lily, my dear, how could I help but ken? Here’s a young
gentleman that has little siller, and no the mate that Sir Robert would
choose.”

“I wish,” cried Lily, “that Sir Robert was at the bottom of the sea! No,
no, I’m wishing him no harm, but, oh, if he only had nothing to do with
me!”

“The only thing ye canna do in this world is to change your blood and
kin,” said Beenie; “but, oh, Miss Lily, ye must just be real reasonable
and think. If he were to take you away, it would spoil a’. He has gotten
you for his ain, and you have gotten him for your ain, and nothing can
come between you two. But he hasna the siller to give ye such a
down-sitting as you should have, and nae house at all possible at this
time of the year. No, I’m no way surprised. I just knew that was how it
had to be, and Katrin too. It would be just flyin’ in the face of
Providence, she says, to take ye away off to Edinburgh, without a place
for the sole of your foot, when ye have a’ your uncle’s good house at
your disposition, and good living and folk about you that tak’ a great
interest in you. Katrin herself she canna bide the thought of losing her
bonnie leddy. ‘If Miss Lily goes, I’ll just take my fit in my hand and
go away after her,’ she says. But what for should ye go? It will be far
more comfortable here.”

“Comfortable!” said Lily in high disdain, “and parted from my husband!”
The word was not familiar to her lips, and it brought a flush of color
over her face.

“Oh, whisht, my bonnie leddy,” Beenie cried.

“Why should I whisht? for it is true. I might not have said it before,
but I will say it now, for where he is I ought to be, and whatever he
has I ought to share, and what do I care for Dougal’s birds and
Katrin’s fine cooking when my Ronald (that has aye a fine appetite for
his dinner,” cried Lily in a parenthesis, with a flash of her girlish
humor) “is away?” The last words were said in a drooping tone. Her mood
changed like the changing skies. Even now she had irruptions of laughter
into the midst of her trouble, which was not yet trouble, indeed, so
long as he was still not absolutely gone; and who could tell what might
happen before morning, the chill morning of the parting day?

Lily was up and astir early on that terrible morning. There had been a
hope in her mind that Providence would re-tighten the bonds of the frost
and bring the snow blinding and suffocating to stop all possibility of
travel; but, alas! that was not the case: bands of faint blue
diversified the yellow grayness of the clouds, and the early sun gave a
bewildering glint over the moor, making the snow garment shrink a little
more and show its rents and crevasses. Every thing was cheerfully astir
in the yard, the black pony rearing as Sandy backed him into the shafts
of the cart, snorting and shaking his head for joy at thought of the
outing, and the sniff of the fresh, exhilarating air into which, as yet,
there had come little of the limpness of the thaw. There was an air out
of doors partly of pleasure in the excitement of the departure, or at
least in the little commotion about something which is an agreeable
break in the monotony of all rural solitudes. Dougal looked on and
criticised with his hands in his pockets and gave Sandy directions as if
this were the first time the boy had ever touched the pony which had
been his charge for more than a year; and Katrin, too, stood at the door
watching all these preparations, though the air was cold as January air
could be. Upstairs there was a very different scene. Lily had tried to
insist upon driving to the town to see her husband off, a proposal which
was crushed by both Ronald and Robina with horror. “Expose yoursel’ to
the whole countryside!” Beenie cried.

“Expose myself! and me his wife! Who should see him off if not his
wife?” said Lily. And then Ronald came behind her and drew her against
his breast once more.

“My bonnie Lily! We need not yet flourish that before the world. You are
as safe here as a bird in its nest. Why should we set everybody talking
about you and me? Sir Robert will hear soon enough and there is no need
to send him word. There’s nobody to penetrate our secret and publish it
if you will be patient a little till better things can be.”

“Our secret!” said Lily, springing from his hold with a great cry.

“A secret that is well shared by those that care for my Lily; but we
need not flourish it before the world.” Lily’s color rose from pale to
red, then faded. She stood apart from him, her countenance changing; her
pride was deeply wounded that she should be supposed to be desirous of
flourishing any thing before the world. It was an injury to her and a
scorn, though this was no moment to resent it, and the sharp impression
only mingled with the anguish of parting a sense of being wronged and
misjudged, which was very hard to bear. “I may come down to the door, I
suppose,” she said, in a voice from which she tried to banish every tone
of offence.

“No, my darling,” he said, “not even to the door. I could not say
farewell to my Lily with strangers looking on. I will like to think when
I am gone of every thing round you here, all the old chairs and tables
even, where my Lily and I have had our honeymoon.” Oh, there was nothing
to complain of in the warmth of his farewell. No man could have loved
his young wife better, or have held her close to him with deeper
feeling. “I will soon be back, I will soon be back!” he cried. His eyes
were wet like hers. It was as great a thing for him to tear himself away
as it was for her to remain behind and see him go. But then Lily could
only stand trembling and weeping at the head of the stairs, that nobody
might see, and catch a distorted glimpse through the window over the
door of the cart, into which he got with Sandy, while Dougal still
murmured that “a stoot gentleman would have done better to walk,” and to
see him hold out his hand to sulky Dougal, and to Katrin, who had her
apron at her eyes, and Beenie, who was sobbing freely! They could stand
there and cry, but she might not go down stairs lest she should flourish
her story before the world. And why should she not, after all, flourish
it before the world? Is a marriage a thing to be hid? When the little
cart drove away, the pony, very fresh after his long confinement,
executing many gambols, Lily went back to her window, from which she
could see them disappear under the high bank, coming out again lower
down. The deep road was so filled up with snow that the moment of
disappearance was a very short one, and then she could trace for a long
time along the road the little dark object growing less and less, till
it disappeared altogether. The pony’s gambols, which, though he was too
far off to be distinctly visible, still showed in the meandering of his
progress and sudden changes of pace, the head of one figure showing over
the other, the gradual obliteration in the gray of distance, kept all
her faculties occupied. It seemed hours, though it was but a very little
time, when Lily let her head droop on the arm of the old-fashioned sofa
and abandoned herself to the long-gathering, long-restrained torrent and
passion of tears.

It was a heavy, dreary day. When you begin life very early in the
morning, it ought to be for something good, for some natural festivity
or holiday, in the light of which the morning goes brightening on to
some climax, be it a happy arrival for which the moments are counted or
a birthday party. But to begin with a parting and live the livelong day
after it, every hour more mournful and more weary, is a melancholy
thing. This used to be very common in the old days, when travelling was
slower, and night trains not invented, and night coaches not much
thought of. It added a great deal to the miseries of a farewell: in the
evening there is but little time before the people who are left behind;
they have an excuse for shutting themselves up, going to bed, most
likely, if they are young, sleeping before they know, with to-morrow
always a new day before them. But Lily had to live it all out, not
excused by Beenie or her other faithful retainers a single hour or a
single meal. They brought her her dinner just as though he had not
shared it with her yesterday, and pressed her to eat, and made a
grievance of the small amount she swallowed. “What is the use,” Katrin
said majestically, “of taking all this trouble when Miss Lily turns her
back upon it and will not eat a morsel?” “Oh, try a wee bit, Miss Lily,”
Beenie cried, adding in her ear, with a coaxing kindness that was
insupportable: “Do you think he would relish the cauld snack he’ll be
getting on the road if he thought his bonnie leddy was not touching bite
or sup?”

“Go away, or you will drive me daft!” said Lily. “He will just clear the
board of every thing that’s on it and never think of me. Why should he,
with such a fine appetite as he has? Do I want him to starve for me?”
she cried, with a laugh. But the result was another fit of tears. In
short, Lily was as silly as any girl could be on the day her lover left
her. She was not even as she had been for a moment, and was bound to be
again, a young wife astonished and disappointed at being left behind,
not knowing how to account for this strange, new authority over her
which had it in its power to change the whole current of her life. She
had never looked at Ronald in that light or thought of him as a power
over her, a judge, a law-giver, whose decisions were to be supreme. She
was astonished to find herself subdued before him now, her own
convictions put aside; but this was not the channel in which for the
moment her thoughts were running. She was weeping for her lover, for the
happiness that was over, for him who was away, and dreaming dreams to
herself of how the coach might be stopped by the snow, or some accident
happen that would still bring him back. She imagined to herself his step
on the stair and the shriek of joy with which she would rush to welcome
him. This was the subject of her thoughts, broken into occasionally by
divergences to other points, by outbursts of astonishment, of
disappointment, almost of resentment, but always returning as to the
background and foundation of every thing. The other thoughts lay in
waiting for her, biding their time. It was the dreadful loss, the blank,
the void, the silence, that afflicted her now. Ronald gone, who for this
week, which had been as years, as a whole life, her life, the real and
true one, to which all the rest was only a preface and preliminary, had
been her companion, almost herself! It was of this that her heart was
full. Without him, what was Lily now? She had been often a weary, angry,
dull, disappointed little girl before, but there were always breaks in
which she felt herself, as she said, her own woman and was herself all
the Lily there was. But now she had merged into another being; she was
Lily no longer, but only a broken-off half of something different,
something more important, all throbbing with enlarged and bigger life.
This consciousness was enough for the girl to master during that
endless, dreary, monotonous day.



CHAPTER XXIII


The next day after any thing, whether happiness or disaster, is
different from the day on which the event took place. The secondary
comes in to complicate and confuse the original question more or less,
and the abstract ends under that compulsion. Nothing is exactly as it
seems, nor, indeed, as it is; it takes a color from the next morning,
however opaque that morning may be. This was especially the case with
Lily, whom so many of these secondary thoughts had already visited, and
who had now to go back from the dream of that eight days in which every
thing had been put to flight by that extraordinary invasion of the new
and unrealized which comes to every girl with her marriage, and amid
which it is so difficult to keep the footing of ordinary life. She was
that morning, however, not any longer the parted lover, the mourning
bride, but again, more or less, “her own woman,” the creature, full of
energy and life, and thoughts and purposes of her own, who had not
blindly loved or worshipped, but to whom, at all times, it had been
apparent that Ronald’s way of loving, though it was to her the only way,
was not the way she would have chosen or which she would have adopted
herself had she been the man. A very different man Lily would have made,
much less prudent, no doubt, but how decisive in the beginning of that
youthful career! how determined to have no secrets, but every thing as
open as the day! to involve the woman beloved in no devious paths, but
to preserve her name and her honor above all dictates of worldly wisdom!
Lily would have had her lover vindicate her at once from her uncle’s
tyranny. She would have had him provide the humble home for which she
longed, without even suffering his lady to bear the ignominy of that
banishment to the moor. And now! with what a flame of youthful love and
hope Lily would have had him carry off his bride, snapping his fingers
with a Highland shout at all the powers of evil, who would have had no
chance to touch them in their honest love and honorable union. Oh, if
she had been the man! Oh, if she could have showed him what to do!

And all these thoughts, intensified and increased, came back to Lily the
day after her husband left her. She was not drooping and longing now for
her departed lover. Her energies, her clear sense of what should have
been, her objection to all that was, came back upon her like a flood.
She sat no longer at the window gazing out upon the expanse of snow,
which shrank more and more, and showed greater and blacker crevasses in
its wide expanse every hour, but walked up and down the room, pausing
now and then to poke the fire with energy, though the glowing peats were
not adapted to that treatment, and flew in tiny morsels about, requiring
Beenie’s swift and careful ministrations. Lily felt, however, for one
thing, that her position was far better now for expounding her views
than it had ever been. A girl cannot press upon her lover the necessity
of action. She has to wait for him to take the first step, to urge it
upon her, however strongly she may feel the pressure of circumstances,
the inexpediency of delay. But now she could plead her own cause, she
could make her own claim of right, her statement of what she thought
best. She said to herself that she had never yet tried this way. She had
been compelled to wait for him to do it, but perhaps it was no wrong
thing in him, perhaps it was only exaggerated tenderness for her, desire
to save her from privations, or what he thought privations, that had
prevented any bolder action, and made him think first of all of saving
her from any discomfort. It was possible to think that, and it was very
possible to show him now that she cared for no discomfort, that her only
desire was to be with him, that it was far, far better for Lily to meet
the gaze of the world in her own little house, however small it might
be, than hide in the solitude as if there was something about her that
should be concealed. This thought made Lily’s countenance blaze like the
glowing peat. Something about her that should be concealed! a secret
hidden away in the heart of the moor, in the midst of the snow, which
he, going away from her, would keep silent about, silent as if it were a
shame! Lily threw herself into the chair beside her writing-table with
impetuosity, feeling that not a moment should be lost in putting this
impossible case before him and making her claims. She was no fair
Rosamond, but his wife. A thing to be concealed? Oh, no, no! She would
rather die.

In any case she would have written him a long letter, seizing the first
possible moment of communicating with him, carrying out the first
instinct of her heart to continue the long love-interview which had made
this week the centre of all her days. But Lily threw even more than this
into her letter. She said more, naturally, than she intended to say, and
brought forth a hundred arguments, each more eloquent, more urgent than
the other, to show cause why she should join him immediately, why she
should not be left, nobody knowing any thing about her, in this Highland
hermitage. The lines poured from her pen; she was herself so moved by
her own pleas that she got up once or twice and walked about to
dissipate the impulse which she had to set out at once, to walk if it
were needful to Edinburgh, to claim her proper place. And it was not
till the long, glowing, fervent letter was written that she paused a
little and asked herself if Ronald had really only left her behind
because it was impossible to get a house between the terms, if his first
business was to look out for a house, so as to have it ready for her by
the next term, by Whit-Sunday, was it right to argue with him and
upbraid him as if he intended the separation to go on forever? Lily
threw down her pen which she had dipped in fire--not the fire of anger,
but of love just sharpened and pointed with a little indignation--and
her countenance fell. No, if that were so, she must not address him in
this heroic way. After all it was quite reasonable what he had said: it
was extremely difficult to get a house between the terms. And perhaps he
would not have been justified in engaging one at Michaelmas, before any
thing was decided what to do. He could not have done that; and what,
then, could he do but wait till Whit-Sunday? and, for a man like him,
with his own ways of action, not, unfortunately, though she loved him,
like Lily’s, it was perhaps natural that there should be no premature
disclosure, that as they were parted by circumstances it should remain
so, without taking the world into their confidence, or summoning Sir
Robert to cast his niece who had deceived him out of the shelter which
her husband did not think unbecoming for her now. Lily threw down her
pen, making a splash of ink upon the table--not a large one, to spoil
it, but a mark, which would always remind her of what she had done or
had been about to do.

And then there fell a pause upon her spirit, and tears were the only
relief for her. To take the heroic way, to walk to Edinburgh through the
snow, or even to think of doing so, to pour forth an eloquent appeal
against the cruel fate of her isolation and concealment as if it were to
last forever, was an easier method than to wait patiently until
Whit-Sunday and make the best of every thing, which would really be the
wise thing; for what could Ronald do more than that which he could of
course begin to do as soon as he arrived, to look for a house? And how
could it have been expected of him when every thing was so vague, and he
did not know what might happen, to have provided one, months in advance,
on the mere chance that he could persuade her into that strange
marriage, and the minister into doing it? It would be strange and
embarrassing after that scene to see the minister again, and Lily fell
a-wondering how Ronald had persuaded him, what he had said. Mr. Blythe
was not a very amiable man, ready to do what was asked of him. He made
objections about most things and hated trouble. But Ronald could
persuade any body; he could wile a bird from the tree. And what a grand
quality that was for an advocate! and how proud she would be hereafter
to go to the court and hear him make his grand speeches. Perhaps now he
would talk over some man that wanted to get rid of his house, and make
him see that it would be better to do it now than to wait for the term.
There was, indeed, nothing that Ronald could not persuade a man into if
he tried. Lily felt that her own periods were more fiery, those eloquent
sentences which her good sense had already condemned, but Ronald’s
arguments were beyond reply, there was no getting the better of them.
You might not be sure that they were always sound, you might feel that
there was a flaw somewhere; but to find out what it was, or to get your
answer properly formed, or to convict him of error was more than any
one, certainly more than Lily, could do.

She had risen up, and was stretching her arms above her head in that
natural protest against the languor and solitude which take the form of
weariness, when she saw a dark speck approaching on the road, and
rushed to the window with the wild hope, which she knew was quite vain,
that it might by some possibility be Ronald coming back. But it was only
a rural geeg from Kinloch-Rugas or some other hamlet, or one of the
farms in the neighborhood, creeping up the road against the wind and the
slippery, thawing snow, with a woman in it beside the driver
undistinguishable in her wraps. While Lily looked out and wondered if by
any chance it might be a visitor, Beenie came in with a look of
importance. “Eh, Miss Lily, do you see who that is?” Robina said.

“It is a woman, that is all I know, and keen upon her business to come
out on such a day.”

“Her business?” said Robina. “It’s the Manse geeg, and it’s Miss Eelen
in it, and as far as I can tell she has nae business, but just to spy
out, if she can, the nakedness of the land.”

“There is no nakedness in the land, and nothing to spy out!” cried Lily,
with a flush. “Have we done any thing to be ashamed of that we should be
feared of a neighbor’s eye?”

“Bless me, no, Miss Lily!” cried Robina; but she added: “Eh, my bonnie
bairn, there’s many a thing that’s no expedient, though it’s no wrong. I
wouldna just say any thing to Miss Eelen if I was you. She’s maybe no to
be trusted with a story. The minister had sent her out o’ the road yon
evening in the Manse. Baith me and Katrin remarked it, for she’s his
right hand and he can do nothing without her in a common way, but yon
time she just didna appear.”

“Did he think I was not good enough----” Lily began in a flutter, but
stopped immediately. “What a silly creature I am! as if there could be
any thing in that. Do you think I have such a long tongue that I want to
go and publish to every-body every thing that happens?”

“Oh, Miss Lily, no me! never such a thought was in my head; but it would
be real natural, and you no a person to speak to except Katrin and me,
that are servants baith, though we would go through fire and water for
you. But you see she wasna there, and if I were you, Miss Lily----”

“You happen not to be me,” cried Lily, with eyes blazing, glad of an
opportunity to shed upon Beenie something of the vague irritation in her
heart, “and since we are speaking of that, what do you mean, both Katrin
and you, that were both present, in calling me Miss Lily, Miss Lily, as
if I were a small thing in the nursery, when you know I am a married
woman?” Lily cried, throwing back her head.

“Oh, Miss Lily!” cried Robina, with a suppressed shriek, running to the
door. She looked out with a little alarm, and then came back
apologetically. “You never ken who may be about. That Dougal man might
have been passing, though he has nothing ado up the stair.”

“And what if he had been passing?” Lily said in high disdain.

“Oh, Miss Lily!” cried Robina, again giving the girl a troubled look.

“Do you mean to say that Dougal does not know? Do you mean he
thinks--that man that is my servant, that lives in the house---- Oh,
what can he think?” cried Lily, clasping her hands together in the
vehemence of her horror and shame.

“He just thinks nothing at a’. He’s no a man to trouble any body with
what he thinks. He’s keepit very weel in order, and if he daured to fash
his head with what he has nae business with! He just guesses you twa are
troth-plighted lovers, Miss Lily, and glad he was to get our young
maister away.”

Lily covered her face with her hands. “Am I a secret, then, a secret!”
she cried. “Something that’s hidden, just a lie, no true woman! How
dared you let me do it, then--you that have been with me all my days?
Why did ye not step in and say: ‘Lily, Lily, it’s all deceiving. It’s a
secret, something to be hidden!’ Would I ever have bound myself to a
secret, to be a man’s wife and never to say it? Oh, Beenie, I thought
you cared, that you were fond of me, and me not a creature to tell me
what I was doing! No mother, no friend, nobody but you.”

“Miss Lily, Miss Lily, we thought it was for the best. Oh, we thought it
was for the best, both Katrin and me! For God’s sake dinna make an
exhibition before Miss Eelen! Here she is, coming up the stair. For
peety’s sake, Miss Lily, for a’ body’s sake, if ye have ainy
consideration----”

“Go away from me, you ill woman!” cried Lily, stamping her foot on the
ground. She stood in the middle of the room, wild and flushed and
indignant, while Beenie disappeared into the bedchamber within. Helen
Blythe, coming up a little breathless from the spiral staircase, paused
with astonishment to see her friend’s excited aspect, and the sounds of
tempest in the air.

“Dear me! have I come in at a wrong time?” Helen said.

“Oh, no,” cried Lily, with a laugh of fierce emotion, “at the very best
time, just to bring me back to myself. I’ve been having a quarrel with
Beenie just for a little diversion. We’ve been at it hammer and tongs,
calling each other all the bonnie names--or perhaps it was me that
called her all the names. How do you think we could live out here in the
quiet and the snow if we did not have a quarrel sometimes to keep up our
hearts?”

“Lily, you are a strange lassie,” said Helen, sitting down by the fire
and loosening her cloak. “You just say whatever comes into your head.
Poor Beenie! how could you have the heart to call her names? She is just
given up to ye, my dear, body and soul.”

“She is no better than a cheat and a deceiver!” cried Lily. “She makes
folk believe that she does what I tell her, and never opposes me, when
she just sets herself against her mistress to do every thing I hate and
nothing I like, as if she were a black enemy and ill-wisher instead of a
friend!”

This speech was delivered with great fervor, and emphasized by the sound
of a sob from the inner room.

“Poor Beenie!” cried Helen with mingled amusement and concern, “how is
she to take all that from you, Lily? But you do not mean it in your
heart?”

“No, I don’t mean a word of it,” cried Lily, “and it’s just an old goose
she is if she thinks I do! But for all that she is the most exasperating
woman! I never saw any body like her to be faithful as all the twelve
apostles, and yet make you dance for rage half the time.”

A faint “Oh, Miss Lily!” was heard from the inner room, and then a door
was softly opened and shut, and it was evident that Beenie had slipped
away.

“I heard ye were down at the Manse one day that I was away. It’s seldom,
seldom I am from home, and at that hour above all. But I had to see some
new folk at the Mill, and it was a good thing I went, for there has not
been an open day since then. And I heard ye had a visitor with you,
Lily.”

Lily’s heart seemed to stand still, but she made a great effort and
mastered herself. “Yes,” she said, “it was Mr. Lumsden [many married
persons call their husbands Mr. So-and-So] that had come in quite
suddenly with the guisards on the last night of the year.”

“I understand,” said Helen, with a smile; “he wanted--and I cannot blame
him--to be your first foot.”

The first person who comes into a house in the New Year is called the
first foot in Scotland, and there are rules of good luck and bad
dependent upon who that is.

“It might be so,” said Lily dreamily, “and I think he was, if that was
what he wanted; but the kitchen was full of dancing and singing, the
guisards making a great noise, as it was Hogmanay night.”

“That was to be expected,” said Helen, “and I am glad you had a man, and
a young man, and a weel-wisher, or I am sore mistaken, for your first
foot. It brings luck to the New Year.”

A “weel-wisher” means a lover in Scotland, just as in Italy a girl will
say, _Mi vuol bene_, when she means to say that some one loves her.

“He was here after, twice or thrice, and he wanted to thank the minister
for all his kindness, and as I was at the market with Beenie and Katrin,
and he had offered to drive the pony, I went too. I thought I would have
seen you, but you were not there.”

“Oh, how sorry I was, Lily! but a sight of the market would aye be
something. It’s not like your grand ploys in Edinburgh, but it’s
diverting too.”

“Oh, yes,” said Lily, with great gravity, “it is diverting too.”

“And you had need of something to divert you. What have you been doing,
my bonnie wee lady, all this dreadful storm? I hope at least they have
kept you warm. It is a dreadful thing a winter in the country when you
are not used to it. But now the snow is over and the roads open: you and
me must take a little comfort in each other, Lily. I’m too old for you,
and not so cheery as I might be.”

Lily, suddenly looking at her visitor, saw that Helen’s mild eyes were
full of tears, and with one of her sudden impulsive movements, flung
herself down on her knees at her friend’s feet. “Oh, why are you not
cheery, Helen? you that do every thing you should do, and are so good.”

“Oh, I’m far, far from good! It’s little you know!” said Helen. “My
heart just turns from all the good folk, whiles out of a yearning I take
for those that are the other way.”

“You have some trouble, Helen, some real trouble!” cried Lily with a
tone of compassion. “Will you tell me what it is?”

“Maybe another time, maybe another time,” said Helen, “for my heart’s
too full to-day, and I can hear your poor Robina, that you have been so
cruel to, coming up the stair, the kind creature, with a cup of tea.”



CHAPTER XXIV


Helen stayed till the first shade of the darkening stole over the moor,
and till the minister’s man had told all the “clash” of the countryside
to Katrin and Dougal, and received but a very limited stock of
information in return. There was, indeed, much more danger to the secret
which now dominated and filled the house of Dalrugas like an actual
personage from that chatter in the kitchen than from any thing that
could have taken place upstairs. For the minister’s man was dimly aware
that the young lady from Dalrugas had been in the village on that day
when something mysterious was believed to have taken place in the Manse
parlor; that she had been seen with a gentleman, and that Katrin and
Robina had also been visible at the Manse. “Ay, was I,” said Katrin; “I
just took the minister a dizzen of my eggs. In this awfu’ weather nobody
has an egg but me. I just warm them up and pepper them up till they’ve
nae idea whether it’s summer or winter, and we lay regular a’ the year
round. I never grudge twa-three new-laid eggs to a delicate person, and
the minister, poor gentleman, is no that strong, I’m feared.”

“He’s just as strong as a horse,” said the minister’s man, “and takes
his dinner as if he followed the ploo, but new-laid eggs are nae doubt
aye acceptable. The gentleman was from here that was paying him yon
veesit twa days after the New Year?”

“We have nae gentleman here,” said Katrin, stolid as her own cleanly
scrubbed table, on which she rested her hand. Dougal cocked his bonnet
over his right ear, but gave no further sign. “There’s been a gentleman,
a friend of Sir Robert’s, at Tam Robison’s and we had to give him a bed
a nicht or twa on account of the snaw. Now I think o’t, he was a friend
o’ the minister’s too. It’s maybe him you’re meaning? but he’s back in
Edinburgh as far as I ken, these twa-three----”

“Weel, it would be him, or some other person,” said the minister’s man
with an affectation of indifference; but he returned to the subject
again and again, endeavoring, if he had been strong enough for the rôle,
or if he had been confronted by a weak enough adversary, to surprise her
into some avowal; but Katrin was too strong for him. It was with
difficulty she could be got to understand what he meant. “Oh, it’s aye
yon same gentleman you’re havering about! Eh, what would I ken about a
strange gentleman? The minister is no my maister nor yet Dougal’s. He
might get a visit from Auld Nick himself and it would be naething to him
or me.”

“It might be much to me,” said the minister’s man, who was known for a
“bletherin’ idiot” all over the parish. “It’s just a secret, and a
secret is aye worth siller.”

“Well, I wish ye may get it,” Katrin said. During this time she was, to
tell the truth, more or less anxious about the demeanor of her husband.
It was true that Dougal knew nothing unless what he might have found out
for himself, putting two and two together. Katrin had great confidence
in the slowness of his intellect and his incapacity to put together two
and two. Perhaps her trust was too great in this incapacity, and too
little in the dogged loyalty with which Dougal respected his own
roof-tree and all that sheltered under it. At least the fact is certain
that the authorized gossip of the parish carried very little with him to
compensate him for the cold drive and all the miseries of the way.

Lily took out her letter and went over it again when Helen had gone. She
found it far too eloquent, too argumentative, too full of a foregone
conclusion. Why should she assume that Ronald did not mean to provide a
home for her, that there was any reason to believe in an intention on
his part of keeping their marriage a secret and their lives apart? All
his behavior during the past week had been against this. How could there
have been a more devoted lover, a husband more adoring? She asked
herself what there was in him to justify such fears, and answered
herself: Nothing, nothing! not a shadow upon his love or delight in her
presence, the happiness of being with her, for which he had sacrificed
every thing else. He might have spent that New Year amid all the mirth
and holiday of his kind: in the merry crowd at home, or in Edinburgh,
where he need never have spent an hour alone; and he had preferred to be
shut up all alone with her on the edge of a snowy wintry moor. Did that
look as if he loved her little, as if he made small account of her
happiness? Oh, no, no! It was she who was so full of doubts and fears,
who had so little trust, who must surely love him less than he loved
her, or such suggestions would never have found a place in her heart. If
she already felt this in the evening, how much more did she feel it next
morning, when the post brought her a little note all full of love, and
the sweet sorrow of farewell, which Ronald had slipped into the post in
the first halting-place beyond Dalrugas?

It was written in pencil, it was but three lines, but after she received
it Lily indignantly snatched her letter from the blotting-book and flung
it into the fire, which was too good an end for such a cruel production.
Was it possible that she had questioned the love of him who wrote to her
like _that_? Was it possible that she, so adored, so longed for, should
doubt in her heart whether he did not mean to conceal her like a guilty
thing? Far from her be such unkind, disloyal thoughts. Ronald had gone
off into the world, as it is the man’s right and privilege and his duty
to do, to provide a nest for his mate. If she were left solitary for a
moment, that was inevitable: it was but the natural pause till he should
have prepared for her, as every husband did. Instead of the indignation,
the resentment, the bitter doubt she had felt, nothing but compunction
was now in Lily’s mind. It was not he but she who was to blame. She was
the unfaithful one, the weak and wavering soul who could never hold
steadily to her faith, but doubted the absent as soon as his back was
turned, and was worthy of nothing except to undergo the fate which her
feeble affection feared. She was, perhaps, a little high-flown in the
revulsion of her feelings, as in the fervor of these feelings
themselves. A little less might have been expected from Ronald, a little
charity extended to him in his short-coming; and certainly the vehemence
and enthusiasm of her faith in him now was a little excessive. “Yes, it
is better you should call me Miss Lily,” she said to Robina; “it is best
just to keep it to ourselves for a while. Mr. Lumsden thought of all
that, though he left it entirely to me, without a word said. There would
be so many questions asked, even Dougal and Helen Blythe. I would have
had to summer and winter it, and her not very quick at the uptake. It is
a long time till Whit-Sunday,” said Lily, with a little quiver of her
lip. “I will just be Miss Ramsay till then.”

“Eh, you will aye be Miss Lily to me, whatever!” Beenie cried.

“And I am just Miss Lily,” said her mistress, with a little air of
dignity which was new to the girl. It was as if a princess had consented
to that humiliation, sweetly, with a grace of self-abnegation which made
it an honor the more.

It cannot be denied, however, that it was difficult, after all the
agitations that had passed, after the supreme excitement of the New
Year, and the short, yet wonderful, union of their life together, to
fall back upon that solitude, and endeavor, once more, to “take an
interest” in the chickens and the ponies, and the humors of Sandy and
Dougal, which Lily, in the beginning, had succeeded in occupying herself
with to some extent. She did what she could now to rouse her own
faculties, to fill her mind with harmless details of the practical life.
How comforting it would have been had she but been compelled to plan and
contrive like Katrin for all those practical necessities--how to feed
her family, how to make the most of her provisions, how to diet her
cows and her hens; or like Dougal to care for the comfort of the beasts,
and amuse himself with Rory’s temper, and the remarks that little
snorting critic made upon things in general; or even to look over the
“napery” and see if it wanted any fine darning, as Beenie did, and to
regulate the buttons and strings of the garments and darning of the
stockings. Then Lily might have done something, trying hard to make
volunteer work into duty, and consequently into occupation and pleasure.
But, Beenie being there, she had no need to do what would have simply
thrown Beenie, instead of herself, out of work; and this was still more
completely the case with Katrin, who, gladly as she would have
contributed to the amusement in any way of her little mistress, would
have resented, as well as been much astonished by, any interference with
her own occupations. Lily could not do much more than pretend to be
busy, whatever she did. She knitted socks for Ronald; beguiled by
Beenie, she began with a little enthusiasm the manufacture into
household necessaries of a bale of linen found by Katrin among the
stores of the establishment, but stopped soon with shame, asking herself
what right she had to take Sir Robert’s goods for that “plenishing” of
abundant linen which is dear to every Scotch housewife’s heart. This was
a scruple which the women could not share. “Wha should have it if no
you?” cried Katrin. “Sir Robert he has just presses overflowing with as
nice napery as you would wish to see. There is plenty to set up a hoose
already, besides what’s wanted, and never be missed, let alone that
except yourself, my bonnie Miss Lily, there is nae person to use thae
fine sheets. But the auld leddy’s web that she had woven at the weaver’s
and never lived to make it up--wha should have it, I should like to
know, but you?”

“Not while my uncle is the master, Katrin.”

“I’ve nothing to say against Sir Robert,” cried Katrin--“he’s our
maister, it’s true, and no an ill maister, just gude enough as maisters
go--but the auld leddy was just your ain grandmother, Miss Lily, and
your plenishing would come out of her hands in the course of nature, and
for wha but you would she have given all that yarn (that she span
herself, most likely) to be made into a bonnie web o’ linen? There is
not a word to be said, as Robina will tell ye as weel as me. It’s just a
law afore a’ the laws that a woman has her daughter’s plenishing to look
to as soon as the bairn is born, and her bairn’s bairn with a’ the
stronger reason, the only one that is left in the auld house.”

“Eh, Miss Lily, that’s just as sure as death,” Beenie said.

But Lily was not to be convinced. She flung the great web of linen, in
its glossy and slippery whiteness, at the two anxious figures standing
by her, involving them both in its folds. “Take it yourselves, then,”
she said, with a laugh. “I am an honest lass in one way, if not in
another. I will have none of grandmamma’s linen that belongs to Sir
Robert and not to me.”

And then Lily snatched her plaid from the wardrobe and wrapped it round
her, and ran out from all their exclamations and struggles for a ramble
on the moor. Oh, the moor was cold these February days, the frost was
gone and every thing was running wet with moisture, the turf between the
ling bushes yielding like bog beneath the foot, the long, withered
stalks of the heather flinging off showers of water at every touch, the
black cuttings gleaming, the burn running fast and full. Lily began a
devious course between the hummocks, leaping from one spot to another,
as she had done with Ronald, saturating herself with the chilly
freshness, as well as with the actual moisture, of the moor; but this
was an amusement which soon palled upon the girl alone. She felt the
exercise fatigue her. And the contrast between her solitude and the hand
so ready and so eager to help her was more than she could bear. It was
because they had to cling to each other so, because the mutual help was
so sweet, that they had loved it. Lily was reluctantly obliged to
confess that it was no fun alone, and though it was a relief to walk
even a little on the road, that was but a faint alleviation of the
monotony of life. Sometimes the aspect of the mountains stole her from
herself, or a sudden pageant of sunset, or something of a darker drama
going on, if she had but any interpretation of it, among those hills.
Any thing going on, if it were but the gathering of the mist and the
scent of the coming storm, was a relief to Lily. It was the long blank,
not a passenger on the road, not an event in the day, which she could
not bear.

And then even if the walk, by dint of a sunset or some other occurrence,
had been enlivening, there was always the shock of coming back, the
shutting of her door against every invasion of life, the quiet that
might have been comfort to her old grandmother, the old leddy who had
spun the yarn for that web of linen, and received it home with
triumph--was it for the plenishing of Lily unborn? Lily came to have a
little horror of that old leddy. She figured her to herself spinning,
spinning, the little whirr of the wheel in its monotony going on for day
after day. Lily did not think of the sons away in the world--Robert
wherever there was fighting; her own father always in trouble--that
filled the old leddy’s thoughts, which were spun into that yarn, and
might have made many a pattern of mystic meaning in the cold snowy linen
which looked so meaningless. She used to sit in the silent room, feeling
that from some corner the old leddy’s eye was fixed upon her over the
whirring wheel, till she could bear it no more.

She went down to Kinloch-Rugas to return Helen’s visit, but that was not
a happy experience. The old minister, half seen in the gloaming, seated
like a large shadow by the fire, gave her always a thrill of alarm. She
had hoped that he would not have treated her as a secret, that he would
have addressed her by her new name, and set her at once in a true
position. But he did not do this. He looked at her not unkindly, and
spoke to her with a compassionate tone in his voice. But he too seemed
to accept the necessity which had been forced on her by a kind of
unspoken command, a dilemma from which she could not escape. In that
case the consciousness of being in the presence of a man who knew all,
but made no sign, sitting there by the side of innocent Helen, who knew
nothing, and who treated herself in all simplicity as the girl-Lily, the
same as she had known before, was intolerable; and Lily did not go back
again, much as the refuge of some other house to go to was wanted in her
desolate state. “You’ll come and see me, Helen?” “That will I, my dear.
You must not mind my father. He is kind, kind in his heart, and always a
soft place for you.” “I am not thinking that he is unkind,” said Lily.
Ah, no, the minister was not unkind! He was sorry for the young
abandoned wife; for, as he thought, the young betrayed woman; and Lily,
though she was not aware of this last aggravation, yet resented it,
feeling the pity in his tone. And why should any one pity her, or
venture to be sorry for her, and she, with no secret in her own honest
intention, Ronald Lumsden’s lawful wife?

As the days lengthened it was possible to be out of doors more, and Lily
began to scour the country upon Rory, and to see, though in the doubly
cold aspect of this formidable northern spring, many places about in
which, in more genial weather, when “the families” were at home, there
might be friends to be made. She had come home tired from one of these
rides, and the day having been dry, had ventured a little on the moor,
holding up her riding-skirt, and looking toward the western hills, where
a great sunset was about to be accomplished and all the unseen
spectators were hastily putting on garments of gold and rose-color and
robes of purple for the ceremony. It was not like a mere bit of limited
sky, but a world of color, one hue of glory surging up after another as
from some great treasury in the depths below, changing, combining,
deepening, melting away in every kind of magical circle. Lily’s heart
was not very light, but it rose instinctively to that wonderful display
of nature. Oh, how beautiful it was! Oh, if there had only been some
one to whom to say that it was beautiful! Whether it was the glorious
color half blinding her with excessive radiance, or the thought of the
unshared spectacle, Lily’s eyes filled full of tears. Either cause was
enough. At Lily’s age, and in such circumstances as hers, the tears are
not slow to come.

And then in a moment she felt a touch upon her waist and a voice in her
ear. “Was it ever like this before, my Lily, my Lily? or has it all
lighted up for you and me, and because I am back again?”

There is one compensation for those who suffer from great anxiety, from
the misery of separation, from longing after things that seem
unattainable. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, a flood of
blessedness comes over them in the momentary attainment, the momentary
meeting, the instantaneous relief. It was like a warm tide that flooded
the heart of Lily, sweeping every fancy and every doubt away. She leaned
her head upon his shoulder, and murmured in her rapture: “Oh, Ronald,
you’ve come back!”

“Did you think I could keep away from you?” he said. No, no; how could
he have kept away from her? He had come to claim her, as he had always
intended to claim her, now, this moment, before the world.



CHAPTER XXV


He had come back; he had come--could there be any doubt on that
point?--to take his wife away, to take her home.

Lily, at least in her own mind, would admit of no doubt. She was
transported in a moment from the depths to the heights. So much the more
as it had been impossible yesterday to see any light, there was now such
a flushing of the whole horizon that doubt was out of the question. She
came toward the house with him with his arm around her, thinking of no
precautions. Why should they conceal any thing, this young pair? The
man had come to take his wife away. When he withdrew his arm from her
waist and drew her hand through it, it did not, however, strike her that
there was any thing in that. It was more decorous, like old married
people, no longer mere lad and lass. She walked proudly by his side,
leaning on his arm. Who cared if Sir Robert himself were there to see?
Lily had never cared much for Sir Robert, had always been ready to defy
him and vindicate her rights over her own life. As it happened there was
nobody but Katrin standing at the door, looking out with her hand over
her eyes. Katrin was very quick to make believe that she was dazzled by
any little bit of light.

And the lonely moor lighted up and became as paradise to Lily. He
brought her all kinds of news, besides the best news of all, which was
to see him there. He brought back her old world to her--the world where
she had been so happy and so full of friends; her new world, where so
soon, in a day or two, she was to find her young companions again, and
resume the former life more cordial, more kind, more full of friendship
and every gentle affection than ever.

While he sat there thawing, expanding, shaking the cold from him, Lily,
who a little while ago had been the fastidious little maiden, courted
and served, began to move about the room serving him, eager to get every
thing for him he wanted, to undo his muffler, to bring him his slippers.
Yes, she would have liked to bring him his slippers as she brought him,
like a house-maid, on a little silver salver, not a cup of tea, which
probably Ronald would not have appreciated, but something stronger, “to
keep out the cauld,” which Katrin recommended and brought upstairs with
her own hands to the drawing-room door. “You are not going to serve me,
my Lily?” Ronald said. “But I am just going to serve you,” she cried,
with a little stamp of her foot, “and who has a better right? and who
should wait on my man but me that am bound to take care of him? and him
come to take me away.”

Was she afraid to say these words out loud lest they should break the
spell? or was he afraid that she might say them and he not be able to
ignore them? But between them something was thrown down, a noise was
made in which they were inaudible. I do not know if Lily had any little
tremor that made her avoid explanation that evening; at all events she
had a sort of hunger to be happy, to enjoy it to the utmost. She laid
the table with her own hands, shutting the door in the face of the
astonished Robina, who hurried up as soon as she came in to have her
share. “I can do without you for all so grand as you think yourself,”
Lily cried; “I am just going to wait upon my own man!”

“Oh, Miss Lily!” cried Beenie, terrified; but she added to herself:
“What a good thing there’s naebody in the house! Dougal will not be in
till it’s late, and most likely he’ll be fou when he comes--and be nane
the wiser. And naething will need to be said.” I cannot tell whether
Katrin made quite the same explanation to herself; but she had taken her
precautions in case that should happen to Dougal which happened in these
days to many honest men on a market night without much infringement of
their character for sobriety. It would make the explanation much simpler
about the gentleman upstairs. In short, it would not be necessary to
make any explanation at all.

“Get out the boxes, Beenie,” said Lily, at a later hour. “Do not make
any fuss or have things lying about, for gentlemen, you know, cannot
endure that; but just prepare quietly, without any fuss.”

“Oh, Miss Lily! do you think it has come to that?” Beenie cried,
clasping her hands with a start of joyful surprise, but with a
countenance full of doubt.

“And what else should it come to?” cried Lily, radiant. “Is this what
folk are married for, to live one in Edinburgh and one up far in the
Hielands? And what should my man come for but to take me home?”

She must have believed it or she would not have said it with such
boldness. She gave Beenie a shake and then a kiss, but cried: “Don’t
make a confusion, don’t leave the things lying about, for that is what
gentlemen cannot endure,” as she ran away to rejoin her husband. Robina
stood immovable, looking after her. “Who has learnt her that?” she said
to herself; and then she began to shake her head. “They soon, soon learn
what a gentleman canna bide; and set him up! that he should not bide any
thing coming from her!” But Beenie did not bring out any boxes. She
concluded that at all events it would be time enough for that to-morrow.

Ronald remained for three or four days, during which time Dougal, who
had carried out the judicious previsions of the women, and had required
no explanations of any kind on the market night, maintained a very
sullen countenance and did not welcome the visitor, of whom he was
suspicious without well knowing why. During this time there was scarcely
any pretence kept up of sending Ronald off to the cottage of Tam Robison
or in any way making a stranger of him. He was “the young leddy’s
freend.” “Young leddies had nae sic freends in my time,” said Dougal.
“They have aye had them in my time,” said Katrin, “and that cannot be
far different.” He did not know what to say; but he was very glum, and
open to no blandishments on the part of the stranger. And those were
days of anxious happiness for Lily. Ronald said nothing upon that one
sole subject which she longed to know of. He sounded no note of freedom
amid all the litanies he sang to her about her own sweetness, her
beauty, her kindness. Lily grew sick of hearing her own praises. “Oh, if
he would but say I was an ugly, troublesome thing! and then say: ‘You
must be ready, Lily, for we’re going home to-morrow!’” But Lily was very
sweet to her husband; this short visit was full of delight to him; he
loved to look at her, to take her in his arms, to know she was his.
Going away from her was hard to bear. He would have bemoaned his very
hard case if he had not feared that she would beseech him to put an end
to it, to take her away with him, and that it need be hard no longer.
That was not what he wanted. He preferred the moments of rapture and
the separations between. At least he preferred them to the loss of many
other things which would be otherwise involved.

One day they went down to the Manse, Lily riding upon Rory, and her
husband walking by her side. “You can say I have just come over for the
day,” he said. “The minister of course knows very well, but your friend
Miss Helen----”

“Why should we tell lies about it, Ronald? Isn’t it very easy, very easy
to understand?”

“Oh, yes,” he said, “in any case it’s easy to understand; but we might
as well avoid gossip if we could.”

“There would be no gossip,” cried Lily, “about a man coming to see his
wife! The only thing would be that folk would wonder why he did not take
her home.”

“Folk would wonder about something, you may be sure; but I’ve noticed
that ladies think less of that than men. You think it is natural that
people’s minds should be occupied with you, my bonnie Lily. And so it
is; but not with a common man. Maybe it is the jealousy that’s in human
nature. I hate the chance of it, you see!”

He spoke with a little vehemence, and Lily’s eyes filled with tears. It
was almost approaching the border of a first quarrel. “You and me,” she
said plaintively, “though I would not have believed it, Ronald, do not
always think the same.”

“Did we ever think the same? No, Lily. But so long as we feel the
same--and it’s best to be on the safe side. I’ll say I have come over
for the day from--what do you call that place?--Ardenlennie, on the
other side, where I had to see Sir John’s man of business--which is
true. And I found you coming out to pay your visit and came with you.
Will that do?”

“Oh, it will do as well as any other--false story,” said Lily, “if we
are to go on telling lies all our days!”

“Not all our days, I hope,” he said gently. He was very good to her. No
lover could have been more devoted to her service, with no eyes or ears
but for her. That ride, though Lily was not happy in the depths of her
heart, though she was fretted almost beyond endurance, was yet sweet to
her in spite of herself. “Do you mind how we careered along that other
day, me riding, you running,” he said, “pushing at Rory behind, and
pulling him before, and the poor little beast astonished with the weight
on him of a long-legged chield instead of a bonnie lady? My Lily, what
you did for me that day! What should I have done without you--at that or
any other time?”

“You have to do without me--not that I think I am much good--when you go
away.”

“Come,” he said, “you must not harp forever on this going away. Holloa!”
he added immediately, retiring from her side with a sudden impulse as if
some hand had pushed him away, “there is a man I know.”

“A man you know!” she cried, startled, not so much by this intimation as
by the start it produced in him.

“Not a very creditable acquaintance,” he went on, with a short laugh,
dropping Rory’s bridle and keeping, as Lily remarked with a pang, quite
apart from her. “I thought he had been at the other end of the world. He
is Alick Duff, one of the Duffs of Blackscaur. They were once the great
people up here; but the present laird, I believe, is never at home. You
might ride on while I say a word to him. He’s not an acquaintance for
you.”

Rory, however, at this moment did not show any inclination to quicken
his pace, and Lily heard the greeting between the two men. “Holloa,
Lumsden, is that you?” and “Duff! I thought you were at the other end of
the world!”

“Well, no, here I am--no in such clover as you,” said the new-comer,
with a rough laugh. “Present me to the lady, Ronnie--Miss Ramsay, I’m
sure.”

“This is Mr. Alick Duff--Miss Ramsay,” Lumsden said with a dark color on
his face. “We are going the same way.”

“And I’m going the contrary road--I’m sorry,” said the stranger, who
was a heavy man, older and far less well looking than Ronald. “I’m going
to have a look at the old place and see if they’ll have any thing to say
to me there. Then I’m off again to the ends of the world, as you say;
and the further the better,” he added, again with a harsh laugh. Rory by
this time had moved on, and Lily, though she heard the men’s voices
almost loud on the still air, did not make out what they said. In a few
moments Ronald rejoined her almost out of breath.

“That’s the black sheep of the family,” he said; “not likely he’ll get
much of a reception at home, even if there’s any body there. The only
thing that could be wished, for all belonging to him, is that he should
never be heard of more.”

“He is a dreadful-looking man,” said Lily, with a shudder, “and seems to
laugh at every thing, and looks as if he might do any terrible thing.”

“You should ask Helen Blythe about that,” Ronald said. He was still
keeping at a certain distance, the other wayfarer being still in sight.
Ronald did not know that, when at the sudden turn of the next corner he
resumed his place at Rory’s bridle, it was almost in the heart of his
wife to have pushed him back with her hands. This incident stopped the
question about Helen Blythe which was trembling on Lily’s lips. What
could he know about Helen Blythe, and what could she have to do with
this dreadful man?

The minister sat in his big chair as usual, immovable, by the fire, with
a keen glance at Ronald and another at Lily as they came in. Lily was a
little flushed with the fresh air and exercise, and with the
associations of the place, and the sense that to one person here at
least her secret was known. She would not take upon herself a syllable
of the explanation which Ronald hastened to give fluently over her
shoulder. “I am up at Ardenlennie, on business with Sir John’s factor,”
he said, “and I was so fortunate as to find Miss Ramsay just setting out
on a visit to you, so I thought I might come too.”

“You’re welcome,” said the minister curtly. “Come in to the fire, my
dear young lady, and take a seat here.”

“Eh, Lily, my dear,” cried Helen, “I am feared you are not well, for
you’ve turned white in a moment after that bonnie color you had!” Helen
herself was not looking well. There was a little redness in her eyes, as
if she had been crying, and her cheeks were still paler than Lily’s. She
was interrupted by her father’s peremptory voice:

“If you would but let your friends be! Sit down here and rest. No doubt
ye’re both tired and cold. And, Eelen, if you had any sense, you would
get the tea.”

“That’s one word for you, Lily, and two for himself,” said Helen, with a
smile. “He’s as fond of his tea as if he were an old woman. I will just
tell Marget and come back in a moment.” Perhaps she was glad to be out
of sight, even for that moment; but poor Lily, wholly occupied with her
own concerns, and wondering whether Helen knew any thing, or how much
she knew, or what she would think of this dreadful deception, had no
leisure in her mind to think of any possible troubles of Helen’s own.

“Did you meet any--waif characters on the road?” the minister said, with
a bitter pause before the last words to give emphasis. It was said loud
enough for Helen to hear.

“We met--Alick Duff; I thought he was in Australia or America. He is not
precisely what one would call a--fine character,” Lumsden said.

“There are not very many of them about,” said the old man; “some take
one turn and some another; but them that stick to the straight road are
few, as was said on a--more important occasion. And how will you be
liking your stay in Dalrugas, Miss Lily, after all the daffing of the
New Year is over? A visitor for a day or so maybe makes it bearable; but
it’s lonely for the like of you.”

“Oh,” cried Lily, involuntarily putting her hands together, “I get very
tired of it! But I think,” she added, with a confidence she was far from
feeling, “that I shall not be very long there now.”

“Oh! ye think ye will not be very long there?” he repeated after her.
There was not very great assurance or encouragement in his voice.

“Well,” said Helen, who had come back, “I understand it’s dull for you;
but here is one person that will be very sorry, Lily. It will, maybe, be
better for you, but the whole countryside will miss you; for many a one
takes pleasure to see you pass--you and the powny--that never has said a
word to you. She is just a public benefit,” said the minister’s
daughter, “with her bonnie face.”

A silence ensued, nobody said a word, and it became visible that Helen’s
cheeks were a little glazed, as if by sudden application of cold water
to wash away certain stains from her eyes. She had seated herself for a
moment where all the light from the window fell on her, but restlessly
jumped up again and began to remove her work and some books from the
table in preparation for tea. “And when are you leaving this
neighborhood, Mr. Lumsden? I hope you have some time to stay.”

“Alas! I am going to-morrow. A man who has his work to do has little
leisure,” said Ronald. “We must keep our noses to the grindstone
whatever happens. Ladies are better off.”

“Do you think we are better off,” said Helen, with a sigh, “to bide at
home whatever happens, and wait for news that maybe never comes? to see
the others go away, and never be able to follow them, except with the
longings of our hearts? I have had two brothers----” she said, with a
sudden little catch in her throat.

“Eelen,” said the minister, “I never knew you for a hypocrite, whatever
you were. It is none of your brothers----”

“Oh, father, how can you ken? Do I wear my heart on my sleeve that you
can tell what’s in it? You never thought much about them yourself, and
how could you know what was in another’s heart? But it’s not for me to
speak. I have aye my duty. It’s just Mr. Lumsden’s notion that it’s a
fine thing for us to sit quiet at home and endure all things and never
hear.”

“Well, here is your tea at all events,” said Mr. Blythe, “and I see
James Douglas passing the window to get a cup. When there’s nothing to
do in an afternoon and every thing low, as it is at that period in the
day, there is a great diversion in tea. In fact,” he added, “the best of
meals is just the diversion they make. You are shaken out of yourself.
Ye say your grace and ye carve your chuckie, or even a sheep’s head on
occasion, and your thoughts are taken clean away from the channel, maybe
a troublesome one, that they are in. Still better is a cup of tea. Come
ben, come ben, Mr. Douglas; there’s plenty of room for you. We were just
thinking, Eelen and me, that it is a long time since you have been
here.”

A pleasant light shone in the young minister’s face. “If I thought I
could make myself missed, I would have the heart to stay away longer
still,” he said, “but then I think that out of sight is often out of
mind.”

It was pathetic to observe how he sought the eyes of Helen, and how he
contrived to put his chair next hers at the table, round which they all
sat. Helen took but little notice of the gentle young man; she set down
his cup before him with a precipitation that was almost rude, and turned
away to Lily, with whom she talked in an undertone. What about? Neither
one nor the other knew. Yet neither one nor the other had any perception
of what was in her neighbor’s bosom. Helen’s trouble to her filled all
the world. It was greater than anything else she knew; the air tingled
with it; the very horizon could scarcely contain it. Lily, a child, with
all the world smiling upon her!--what could there be in her lot to
approach the greatness of the pain which Helen had to bear? She was half
angry with the girl for making a fuss about being dull, as if that
mattered; or seeing her sweetheart only by intervals, which was all, she
thought, that Lily had to complain of. The little spoiled child! but
what a real heartbreak was, Helen knew.



CHAPTER XXVI


“Did you mean that, Ronald--that you are really going away to-morrow?”

“Indeed and alas, I meant it, Lily. It is the middle of the session. How
could I stay longer? It was, as I said to the minister--though you never
more than half believe what I say--a real piece of business with Sir
John’s factor at Ardenlennie that gave me the occasion of spending a few
days with my Lily, which I seized upon without giving you any warning,
as you know.”

“And me that thought you could not do without me one day longer, and
were coming hurrying to bring your wife home!”

“My darling!” said Ronald, with no lack of ardor on his part. “But then
my bonnie Lily has always sense to know that the longing of the heart
changes nothing, and that it is no more the term in March than it is in
January. Where could I find a place to put you now, or till Whit-Sunday
comes?”

Was it true? Oh, yes; it was true. In Scotland you do not find an empty
house and go into it whenever you want to--especially not in the
Scotland of those days. You have to wait for the term, which is the
legitimate time. Nevertheless Lily was very sure that, if she were now
in Edinburgh looking for a place to establish her nest in, she would
find it; but perhaps a man has not the time, perhaps he cannot take the
trouble, going upstairs and down stairs looking at all kinds of unlikely
places. This, Lily felt sure, was another of the things that gentlemen
could not abide.

“We must make the best of you, then, while we have you,” she said,
drawing her chair to the side of the fire after their dinner together.
It was cold at night, though the hardy folk of the North were content to
believe that spring was coming, and that there was a different “feel” in
the air. The wind was sweeping over the moor as keen as a knife, bending
the gray bushes of the ling and spare rowan-trees that cowered before it
like human travellers caught in the cutting breeze. There was a cold
moon shining fitfully, with frightened, swift-flying glimpses from among
the clouds which flew over her face. Colder than the depth of winter
outside, but within, with the firelight and lamplight, and Lily making
the best of her husband’s flying visit, very bright and very warm.

“I will just look for the next term, Ronald, and pack up all my things
and be ready, so that if you came suddenly, as you did the other
day----”

“Do you bid me, then,” he said, “not to come till Whit-Sunday? which is
a long time to be without a sight of my Lily. If I should have another
chance like this of getting a day or two--which is better than
nothing----”

“Oh, no, do not miss the day or two,” cried Lily; “how could you think I
meant that? But I’ll look for the term-time, like the maids when they’re
changing their places. It’s more than that to me, for it will be the
first home I have ever had. Uncle Robert’s house was never a home--there
was no woman in it.”

“Nor will there be any woman, Lily----”

“I will be the woman,” she cried, with a playful blow on his shoulder;
“it is me that will make it home. And you will be the man. And if any
stranger comes into it--not to say a poor, motherless bairn like what I
was--their hearts will sing for pleasure; for there will be one for
kindness and warmness, and one for protecting and caring, and that will
make it home. Uncle Robert was but one, and not one that was caring. If
you were there, he just let you be. ‘Oh,’ he would say, ‘you are here!’
as if it was a surprise. Do you wonder that I hunger and thirst for my
own home, Ronald, when I never had in my life any thing but that?”

“It will come in its time, my Lily,” he said, holding her close to him,
with her hands in his.

“Ay, but you mind what Shakespeare says: ‘While the grass grows----’”

“If the proverb was musty then,” said Ronald, with a laugh, “it’s
mustier now.”

“So it is; but as true as ever. And I weary for it, I weary for it!”
cried the girl. “However, sit you there, and me here; and we’ll think it
is our own house--that you will have come in, and you will have had your
dinner, and you will be telling me every thing that has passed in the
day.”

“What, all the pleas before the Fifteen, and old Watty’s speeches, and
the jokes of Johnny Law, and the wiles of----”

“Every one of them! When you are in a profession, you should know every
thing about it. If you were a--tailor, say, who would make your fine
buttonholes, and the braiding of the grand waistcoats, but your wife? Or
a--school-master it would be me to look after the exercises; and
wherefore not an advocate’s wife to know all about the Parliament House,
and how to conduct a case if there should be occasion?”

“So that you might go down to the court instead of me, and plead for me
if I had a headache,” said Ronald, laughing. “It would be grand for my
clients, Lily, for I’ll answer for it, with Symington on the bench, and
Hoodiecraw and the two Elders, you would gain every plea.”

“That’s while I am young and----” said Lily, with a little toss of her
head. She was saucy and gay and full of malice, as he had never seen
her, for this was not much Lily’s way. “I did not say I would plead; but
I would have to know. Every thing you would have to tell me, as well as
the jokes of the old lords.”

“Well,” said Ronald, “I might do that, and you would take no harm, for
you would not understand them, my Lily. But they all like a bonnie lass,
and you would win every plea. I’ll tell you all the stories, Lily, and
there are plenty of them. The plainstanes of the Parliament House know
more human trouble and vice than any other place in Edinburgh. I’ll tell
you----”

“Oh, not the wicked things!” cried Lily, clasping her hands, “for how
could we help those that suffer by them? or what could that have to do
with you and me?”

“If you leave out the wicked things, there would be little to do,” said
Ronald, “for the courts of law.”

“But we will leave them out!” cried Lily. “All our cases shall be about
mistakes, or something that comes from not understanding; so that as
soon as you put it to them very clear they will see the right and own it
and go back to the just way. For there is nobody that would not rather
be in the right than in the wrong if they knew, and that is my
principle; things are so twisted in and out it’s hard to understand; and
bad advice and thinking too much of himself make a man do a sudden thing
without thinking, till he finds that it is wrong. And then when he sees,
he is sorry and puts it back.”

“If it were so easy as all that, Lily, it would be new heavens and a new
earth.”

“Well, we’ll try,” said Lily gayly. She was so gay, she was so full of
quips and cranks, so ready with amusing turns of speech and audacious
propositions, that Ronald found her a new Lily, full of brightness and
fun and novel, ridiculous suggestions and high-flown notions, which she
was ready herself to laugh at as high-flown, yet taking his sober
thoughts to pieces and turning them upside down. What would it be,
indeed, to carry her away with him, to have her always there, turning
every little misfortune into fun and laughter, making every misadventure
a source of amusement instead of trouble! A gleam of light rose in his
eyes, and then he shook his head slightly to himself and sighed. The
shake of the head and the sigh were when Lily’s back was turned. He
dared not let her see them, divine them, answer them with a hundred
quick-flashing arguments. She had an answer for every thing, he knew.
She cared nothing for the things that were, after all, the chief things
to care for--money, progress in the world, that sound foundation in life
without which no man could make sure of rising to the head of his
profession. Some did it without doubt. There was Lord Pleasaunce, that
had fought his way to the bench, marrying a wife and beginning in a
garret, as Lily wished; now he thought of it, she was something like
Lily, the judge’s wife, though fat now and roundabout. They had even
been Lord Advocate in their time, and gone to London (with such a
couple, even Ronald felt instinctively, you don’t say he, but they) and
struggled through somehow; but always poor, always poor! They did not
seem to mind; but then Ronald knew that he would always mind. They had
no fortunes for their daughters nor to put out their sons well in the
world. He shook his head again as he rejected once more that possibility
which for a moment, only for a moment, had caught and almost beguiled
him. Lily had gone out of the room, but, coming back, caught that last
shake of his head.

“And what is that for?” she said. “You will have been thinking that Lily
is good for very little, that she could not keep the house and make the
meat as she thinks, but would look to be served herself, hand and foot,
as she is here.”

“Not that--but still my Lily has always been served hand and foot. There
is Beenie, without whom we cannot budge a step----”

“No,” said Lily gravely, “without Beenie I could not budge a step--not
because Beenie is my maid, and I need her to serve me, but because it
would break her heart.”

“My love, poor folk as we shall be cannot afford to think of breaking
hearts.”

“I will break yours rather!” cried Lily, with a little stamp of her
foot. “I will give ye ill dinners and a house that is never redd up, and
keep Beenie like a lady in the best room and give her all the good
things.”

“That is just what I say,” said Ronald; “we will have a train--all the
old servants that cannot endure their lives without Miss Lily, perhaps
Katrin and Dougal, too.”

Lily stood looking at him for a moment, with her eyes enlarged and her
face pale. “Is it in fun, or in earnest?” she said, with a little gasp.

“Oh, in fun, in fun,” he said hastily, “though considering how they have
fulfilled their duty to Sir Robert, it would not be strange if he turned
them out of his doors--and whom, then, could they turn to but you and
me?”

“It is not for you and me to blame them,” said Lily, still under the
impression of what he had said, “and this is not the kind of fun that is
good fun. But it is true, after all, though I never thought of that
before. Katrin is kind, but she has, perhaps, not been quite as true to
Uncle Robert as to me; but Dougal, he knows nothing. Dougal has never
known any thing; he has never meant to desert Uncle Robert. Ronald,”
cried Lily, with sudden affright, “we have all been cheating Uncle
Robert! This is what we have done, and nothing else, since you first
came here.”

“I am well aware of it, Lily,” said Ronald, with a laugh, “and for my
part I am quite agreed to go on cheating Uncle Robert for as long as you
please.”

“It does not please me!” she said; “I would like to cheat nobody. It is
a new thing to me--I did not think of that. Oh, Ronald, take me away! I
laugh and I chatter, but my heart’s breaking. We are cheating every
body--not Uncle Robert only, but Helen Blythe and every creature that
knows me. What do I care how poor we are, or if I have to work for my
living? I will work, oh, with a good heart! but take me away, take me
away!”

Ronald held her hands in his and steadied her against her will. He had
foreseen such an outburst, as well as the other manifestations of her
agitated and disturbed life. He was ready to allow even that it was no
wonder she became excited by times, that she had been more patient than
he could have hoped. He was himself very cool, and could afford to be
moderate and humor her. He held her hands in his, and restrained the
violence of her feelings by that steady clasp. “My Lily, my Lily!” he
said. The girl yielded to that restraining influence in spite of
herself. She could almost have struck him in the vehemence of her
passion and in the intolerable sensation of this sharp light upon the
situation altogether; but the cool touch of his hands, his firm hold,
his soothing voice, subdued her. The question between two people at such
a crisis is almost entirely the question which is stronger, and on this
occasion Ronald was certainly the stronger. When Lily’s passion ended in
the natural flood of tears, she shed them on his shoulder, encircled by
his arm, all her resistance quenched. And he was very kind to her; no
one could have consoled her more lovingly, or more tenderly soothed the
nervous and excited feelings which had got beyond her control. He was
master of the situation, and felt it, but used his power in the most
gentle way. And Lily said not a word more--what was there to be said?
She had put herself in the wrong by her passion and by her tears. This
was not the calm reason with which a woman ought to discuss the
beginning of her life--with which, she said to herself, a man expected
his wife to consider and discuss these affairs. She had neither been
calm nor reasonable. She had been passionate, excited, perhaps
hysterical. Lily was deeply ashamed of herself. She was humble toward
him who must, she thought, be disappointed in her, and find her like the
women in books, all folly and excitement, instead of a creature able to
take all the circumstances into consideration. Nothing could have
subdued her spirits like that sense of being in the wrong.

Later in the evening she endeavored to make up for her foolishness by
returning to the mood of gayety with which she began the evening. She
gave Ronald a little sketch of the humors of Rory, and the respect in
which Dougal held that small and fiery personage. She told him about
Katrin’s cows and her chickens, and the amusement which these living
creatures had given during the long winter days to the little family at
Dalrugas.

“But spring is coming,” he said.

“Oh, yes; spring is coming; the moor will soon be dry enough for
walking, and many a ramble I will have. I am beginning,” said Lily, “to
grow very fond of the moor. You see, it is all we have. It’s cross and
market and college and court and all together to me. In the morning the
bees will be busy among the whins--there is always a bud somewhere on a
whin bush--and full of honey as they can hold; and then in the evening
there is the sunset, and the hills all standing out against the west,
with their old purple cloaks around them. What with the barnyard and
what with the moor, there’s no want of diversion here.”

“My bonnie Lily,” he cried in sudden compunction, “not much diversion
for the like of you!”

“What do you call the like of me? I am very well off. I have neighbors
and all. There is Helen Blythe, poor thing, she is not so well off. The
minister is a handful; he holds her night and day. And who was yon glum
man, Ronald, and what had he to do with her? Her eyes were red, and she
had been crying; and I am sure it was something about that man.”

“Alick Duff? Nonsense, Lily! He is a black sheep, if ever there was one.
That was all a foolish story, we’ll suppose. A good little thing like
the minister’s daughter should never be thrown away on him.”

“Perhaps she is a good little thing. We are all good little things till
we show ourselves different. But her eyes were red and her cheeks were
pale. I must see if I can comfort her,” said Lily half to herself. “And
now, sir, if you are going away to-morrow, you should go to your bed,
for you’ll have a weary day.”

“Yes, I shall have a weary day; but I could bear that and more to see my
Lily,” Ronald said.

“Well, if you care for her at all, you would need to do that, for she
must either be there or here,” Lily said. “It’s a pity I’m solid, that I
cannot fly away like the birds, and tap at your window as the lady does
in the ballad. What ballad? I don’t remember. Perhaps it was after she
was dead. And does Mrs. Buchanan always make you comfortable and cook as
well as Katrin? Oh, Katrin is very good for some things, though you
think her an ill housekeeper for Uncle Robert. But never mind that. Tell
me about Luckie Buchanan. I will wager you a silver bawbee, as Beenie
says, that she does not send you up your bird as good as we do here.”

“Nothing is so good as it is here. You take me up too quick, Lily.”

“Me take you up quick? I do nothing but try to please you. But I know
how it is, Ronald. You think shame of Luckie Buchanan. She burns your
bird, and she does your chop in the frying-pan, and her kettle is not
half boiled. Young men are very badly treated in their lodgings. I know
very well. Uncle Robert’s men that came to see him were always
complaining, and they were old men that could make their curries
themselves and drive womenfolk desperate, whereas you’re only young and
would think shame to look as if you cared. I wonder if she brushes your
clothes right, and gives you nice burnished boots, as you like them to
be,” said Lily, with a critical look at the sleeve of his coat, which
she was smoothing down with her hand.

“You will make me think myself a terrible being, taken up with my own
wants,” he said in a vexed tone.

“It is me that am taken up with your wants,” she said, “and what more
right than that--a man’s wife! What is the good of her but to look after
her man! And when I cannot do it for failure of circumstances, not good
will, then I must just ask and plague you till you tell me there’s
nothing more for me to do--till the term comes, and I go home to my
place,” cried Lily, with a laugh, but with two tears, which she turned
away her head that he might not see. “It’s my first place!” she cried.
“You cannot wonder I am excited about it, Ronald; and I hope I will give
you satisfaction--Beenie and me!”

Next morning Lily got up without, as appeared, any cloud on her face,
and gave him his breakfast, and saw to the packing of his bag, and that
his big coat was well strapped on to Sandy’s shoulders, who was to walk
into the town with him and carry his small belongings. “You will not
want it walking, but you will want it in the coach,” she said, “and be
sure you keep yourself warm, for, though it’s March, the wind is
terrible cold over the moor; and here is a scarf to put round your neck
for the night journey. It will keep you warm, and it will mind you of
me.”

“Do I want that to mind me of my Lily?” he said reproachfully.

“No, after I have been giving you such a taste of my humors, and you
know I am not just the good thing you thought. But you might be more
grateful for my bonnie scarf that I took out of the lavender to give you
to wrap round your throat at night! And it is a very bonnie scarf,” said
Lily; “look at the flowers worked upon it, the same on both sides, and
as soft as a dove’s feathers that are of silver. You will put it round
your neck and say Lily gave me this; and then at Whit-Sunday, when I
take up my place, I will find it again, laid away in some drawer, and I
will take it back, and it will belong then both to you and me.”

“That is a bargain,” he said, more moved by the parting than he had ever
been; but Lily went with him to the head of the stairs, and there stood
looking after him from the staircase window, to keep up some sort of
transparent fiction for Dougal’s sake, with her eyes shining and a smile
upon her mouth. She was resolved that this was how he should see her
when he went away. There should be no more breakings down. She would
importune him no more. She would not shed a tear. When he turned round
to wave his hand before he disappeared under the bank, she was still
smiling and calm. It was, perhaps, a little startling to Ronald, who had
never seen her so reasonable before--and reasonableness, though so
desirable, is sometimes a little alarming too.



CHAPTER XXVII


When she was sure that the travellers were out of sight, Lily flew down
the spiral stairs, snatched her plaid from where it hung as she passed,
and rushed out to the only shelter and refuge she had--the loneliness
and silence of the moor. She had to push through between the two women,
who would so fain have stopped her to administer their consolation and
caresses, but whom, in her impatience, she could not tolerate, shaking
her head as they called after her to put on her plaid and that she would
get her death of cold. It was March and a beautiful morning, the air
almost soft in the broad beaming of the sun, and the moisture, which lay
heavy on the moss-green turf and ran and sparkled in little pools and
currents everywhere; but the breeze was keen and cold, and blew upon her
with a sharp and salutary chill, cooling her heated cheeks. Lily sprang
over the great bushes of the ling, which, bowed for a moment by her
passage, flung back upon her a shower of dew-drops as they recovered
their straightness, and the whins caught at the plaid on her arm as she
brushed past; but she took no notice of these impediments, nor of the
wetness under her feet, nor the chill of the air upon her uncovered
head, and shoulders clothed only in her indoor dress. She paused upon a
little green hillock slightly rising over the long level, which was a
favorite point of vision, and from which, as she had often found, the
furthest view was possible of any thing within the horizon of this
little world. But it was not to see that little speck on the road, which
was Ronald, that Lily had made this rush into the heart of the moor. It
was for the utter solitude, the silence which enclosed and surrounded
her, the separation from every thing that could intrude upon that little
speck of herself, so insignificant in the great fresh shining world,
yet so much more living in her trouble than all the mountains and the
moors. Lily sank down on the mossy green and covered her face with her
hands. She had shed passionate tears on her husband’s shoulder last
night, but these were different which forced their way now without any
thing to restrain them. They were not mere tears of a parting, which,
after all, was no wonderful thing. He would come again. Lily had no fear
that he would come again. She had no doubt of his love, no thought that
he might grow cold to her. Of the two it was Ronald who was the warmer
lover, holding her in perfect admiration as well as in all the fondness
of a young husband, which was not exactly what could be said on her
side. But his love was of a different kind, as perhaps a man’s always
is. He did not want all that she did in their marriage. A little house
of their own, wherever it was--a home, a known and certain place: was it
the woman who thought of this rather than the man? It gave her a pang
even to think that it might perhaps be so, or at least that Ronald did
not care for what she might suffer in this respect. He might be content
with casual visits, but what she wanted was her garret, her honest name,
and honor and truth.

And then Whit-Sunday, Whit-Sunday, the term when people did their
flitting, and the maids went to their new places! Oh, happy, honest
prose that had nothing to do, Lily thought, with romance or poetry.
Would it come--in two months, not much more--and make an end of all
this? or would it never come? Poor Lily’s heart was so wrung out of its
right place that she lost her confidence even in the term; she could
scarcely think of any thing in earth or heaven, she who had once been so
confident, of which she could now think that there was no fear.

By this time the cold had begun to creep to Lily’s heart, her fever of
excitement having found vent, and she was glad to wrap herself closely
in her plaid, putting it over her head and gathering the soft folds
round her throat. She put back the hair which the cold breeze and the
disorder of her weeping had brought about her face, smoothing it back
under the tartan screen, the soft warm folds that gave a little color to
her pale face. Oh, if she could have had a plaid, but that of Ronald’s
tartan, to wrap about her heart, the chilled spirit and soul that had no
warmth of covering! But that must not be thought of now, when Lily’s
business was to go back to her dreary home, to meet the eyes that would
be fixed upon her, to bear her burden worthily, and to betray to no one,
even her most confidential companion, the doubts and terrors that were
in her own heart.

As she came out upon the road, having made a long round of the moor to
give herself more time, Lily perceived two figures in front of her, whom
she did not at once recognize; but after a moment or two her attention
was attracted by the voice of the man, who spoke loudly, and by
something in the attitude of the little figure walking by his side, and
replying sometimes in an inaudible monosyllable, sometimes by a
deprecating gesture only, to his vehement words. Was it Helen Blythe who
was here so far from home by the side of a man who spoke to her almost
roughly, certainly not as so gentle a creature ought ever to have been
spoken to? It was some time before Lily’s faculties were sufficiently
roused to hear what he was saying, or at least to discover that she
could hear if she gave her attention; when, however, a sudden “If you
had ever loved me, Helen!” caught her ear, Lily cried out in alarm: “Oh,
whisht, whisht! Whoever you are, I am coming behind you and I can hear
what you say.”

The man turned round almost with rage, showing her the dark and clouded
face of the stranger whom she had met the day before with Ronald, and
who was the cause, as she had divined, of Helen’s sad eyes. “Confound
you!” he cried in his passion, “can ye not pass on, and leave the road
free to folk going about their own business?” These words came out with
a rush, and then he paused and reddened, and took off his hat. “Miss
Ramsay!” he said, “I beg your pardon,” placing himself hastily between
her and his companion.

“I neither want to see nor hear,” cried Lily. “Let me pass; you need
have no fear of me.”

At the voice Helen came quietly out of his shadow. “You need not hide me
from Lily,” she said, “for Lily is my dear friend. I’ve walked far, far
from home, Lily, with one that--one that--I may never see again,” she
said, turning a pathetic look upon the man by her side. “He blames me
now, and perhaps I am to be blamed. But to think it is, maybe, the last
time, as he is telling me, breaks my heart. Lily, will you take us in,
if it was only for half-an-hour? I feel as if I could not go on another
step, for my heart fails me as well as my feet.”

“You never told me you were wearied, Helen!” he cried in a tone of
fierce penitence. “How was I to know? I could have carried you like a
feather.”

She shook her head. “You could carry more weight than me, Alick, but as
soon Schiehallion as me. And I was not wearied till I saw rest at hand.”

“Miss Ramsay,” he said, “you know what she and I are to each other.”

“I know nothing,” cried Lily, “and you need not tell me, for what Helen
does is always right; but come in and welcome, and have your talk out in
peace. Never mind to explain to me--I scarcely know your name.”

“It is, alas, no credit, or rather I am no credit to a good name that
has been well kept on this countryside; but we are old, old friends,
Helen Blythe and me. She should have been my wife, Miss Ramsay, though
you might not think it, nearly ten long years ago. If she had kept her
promise, they would never have called me wild Alick Duff, and the black
sheep of the family, as they do now. This is the third time I’ve come
back to bid her keep her word; for I have her word, rough and careless
as you may think me. Each time I’m less worth taking than I was the time
before, and I’m not going to risk it any more. When she drops me this
time, I will just go to the devil, which is the easiest way, and
trouble nobody more about me.”

“And why should you go to the devil?” said Lily, “for that is what
nobody except your own self can make you do.”

“Oh, do not hearken to him, Lily; let us come in for half-an-hour, for
neither will my feet carry me nor will my heart hold me up if there is
more.”

Lily made her guests enter before her when they reached the door of
Dalrugas; but lingering behind as Helen made her way slowly with her
tired steps up the spiral stairs, caught Duff by the sleeve and spoke in
his ear: “Do you not think shame of yourself to break her heart, a
little thing like that, with putting the weight of your ill deeds upon
her, and you a big strong man?”

“Me--think shame!” he said, with a low laugh.

“_I_ would think shame,” cried Lily vehemently, all her hot blood
surging up in her veins, “to lay the burden of a finger’s weight upon
her, and her not a half or a quarter so big as me!”

This sharp, indignant whisper Helen heard as a murmur behind her while
she went up the stairs. She turned round when she reached the
drawing-room, meeting the others as they appeared after her. “And what
were you two saying to each other?” she asked, with a tremulous smile.

“I am going,” said Lily, “to leave you to yourselves; and when you have
had your talk out, you will come down to me to have something to eat;
and then we will think, Helen, how we are to get you home.”

“You are coming in here, Lily. Him and me we have said all there is to
be said. And he has told you what there is between us, as perhaps I
would never have had the courage to do. Come and tell him over again,
Lily, you that are a young lass and have known no trouble--tell him what
a woman can do and cannot do, for he will not believe me.”

“How can I tell? that have known no trouble, as you say,” cried Lily.
But Helen knew nothing to explain the keen tone of irony that was in the
words, and looked at the girl with an appeal in her patient eyes, too
full of her own sorrow to remember that, perhaps, this younger creature
might have sorrows too. “How should I know,” said Lily, “what a woman
cannot do? If it is to keep a man from wrong-doing, is that a woman’s
business, Helen? How do I know? They say in books that it’s the women
that drive them to it. Are you to take him on your shoulders and carry
him away from the gates of ---- Or what are you expected to do?”

“If she had married me when I asked her,” cried Duff, “she would have
done that. Ay, that she would! From the gates of hell, that a little
thing like you daren’t name. I would never have known the way they lay
if she had put her hand in mine and come with me. And that I have told
you, Helen, a hundred times, and a hundred more.”

“Oh, Alick, Alick!” was all that Helen said.

“And you never would have thought shame,” cried Lily, “to ride by on her
shoulders, instead of walking on your own feet? I would have set my face
like a flint and passed them by, and scorned them that wiled me there! I
would have laid it upon nobody but myself if I had not heart enough to
save my own head!”

“Oh, Lily, Lily!” cried Helen, turning upon her champion, “my bonnie
dear! it’s you that are too young to understand. Maybe he’s wrong, but
he’s a kind of right, too. I am not blaming him for that. Many a woman
keeps a man on the straight road almost without knowing, and him no
worse of it nor her either. I could tell you things! And, Alick, I will
not deceive you; if I had not been so young that time--if I had only had
the courage--for there was no reason then, but just that I was a young
lass, and frightened, and did not know---- There was no
reason--then----”

“Except that I was wild Alick Duff, that they said would settle to
nothing, and not a man that would ever make salt to his kale.”

Helen made no answer, but shook her head with a sigh.

“How can I stand between you and him?” said Lily. “You take away my
breath. I cannot understand the tongue you are speaking. It’s not good
English nor Scots either, but another language. Are we angels, to make
men good? and is it no matter what evil thing a woman takes into her
heart if she can but make her man look like a whited sepulchre, and keep
him, as you say, on the straight road? Is that what we were made for?”
she cried in all the indignation of her youth.

Duff, a little surprised, a little confused by this unexpected
controversy, too much occupied with his own purpose not to be impatient
with any digression, yet uncertain whether this strange digression might
not serve his cause in the end, made answer, first fixing his eyes upon
Lily, the little girl who knew no trouble: “I’m thinking that was a good
part of it,” he said. “You had the most to do with bringing ill into the
world; you should have the most to do with driving it out. But what do I
care about women?” he cried. “It’s Helen I’m thinking of. There might
never be such another, but there she is that could have done it, and
would not lift her little finger. And now she will smile and send me
away.”

“He speaks,” cried Lily, “as if it were your responsibility and not
his--as if you would be answerable!”

“Oh,” said Helen in a hurried undertone, “and that is what I lie and
think upon in the watches of the night. Will the Lord demand an account
at my hands? Will he say: ‘Helen, where is thy brother?’ I that was
maybe appointed for him to be his keeper, to take care of him, with all
his hot blood and all his fancies that nobody understood but me!”

Duff was walking impatiently about the room, not listening to what the
two women spoke between themselves, and Lily was too much bewildered by
this new view to make any answer, except by a brief exclamation: “It is
like a coward to put the blame upon you!”

“I would not shrink from it if I might bear it,” said Helen. “It’s not
that. But to think it might be a man’s ruin that a poor frightened
creature of a woman--no, a lassie, twenty years old, no more--could not
see her duty. For there was no reason then. My mother was living, my
father was a strong man. The boys had been unlucky, but me, I was free.
And I let him go away. Oh, lay the wyte on me!” she said, clasping her
hands. “Oh, lay the wyte on me!”

Duff came suddenly to a stand-still before her, catching up something of
what she said. “I’ll forgive you all that’s come and gone, and all that
might have been, and the vows I’ve broken, and the little good I’ve ever
done”--a tender light came over his dark face--“Helen, I’ll forgive you
all my ruin, and we’ll gather up the fragments that are left, if you
will but come with me now.”

“Forgive her!” cried Lily, indignant.

“Ah, forgive her! you that know nothing of the heart of man. Can she
ever give it back? She says herself the Lord will seek my blood at her
hands: how much more me, that knows what might have been and never has
been because she was not there? But, Helen, let it be now! It may be but
the hinder end of life that’s left, but better that than nothing at all.
We are not so old yet, neither you nor me. And there’s the fragments
that remain--the fragments that remain.” He held out his hands toward
her, the face that Lily had thought so dark and forbidding melting in
every line, the lowering brows lifted, the fierce eyes softened with
moisture. And Helen looked up at him with her own overflowing, and a
light as of martyrdom on her face.

“Oh, Alick, my father, my father! I cannot leave my father now.”

He kicked away a footstool on the carpet with a sudden movement which,
to Lily, at first appeared as if he were offering violence to Helen
herself. “Your father!” he cried, “the minister that will have no broken
man for his daughter nor ill name for his house, that wants the siller
of them that come to woo, that would sell you away to that white-faced
lad because he has something to the fore and a respectable name! Oh,
don’t speak to me of your father, Helen Blythe, him that should be all
spirit and that’s all flesh! Confound him and you and all your sleekit
ways! In what way is he better than me?”

“Man! you will kill her!” cried Lily, springing forward and putting
herself between them. “How dare you swear at her, that is far, far too
good for you!”

But Helen was not horrified, like Lily. She looked at him still, bending
her head to the other side. “My father,” she said, “has his faults, like
us all. He is a mixture, as you are yourself. I am not angry at what you
say. He likes his pleasure as you do, Alick. He is more moderate: he is
a minister. He has not, maybe, been tempted like you, but I allow that
it is not far different. Perhaps in the sight of God----” But here her
voice failed her, suddenly interrupted by something deeper than tears.

“He likes his pleasure,” said Duff, with a short laugh; “he likes a good
glass of wine, not to say whiskey, and a good dinner, and tells his
stories, and is no more particular when he’s with his cronies than me.
Only I’ll tell you what he does, Helen, that me I cannot do. Would he
have had it in him if he had not been a minister, nor had a wife, nor
been kept from temptation? That is what none of us can tell. He knows
when to stop; he likes himself better than his pleasures. He keeps the
string about his neck and stops himself when he’s gone far enough. I do
not esteem that quality,” cried the big man, striding about the room,
making the boards groan and creak. “I am not fond of calculation. Alick
Duff has cost me many a sore head and many a sore heart. I scorn him,”
he cried, with a strong churning out of the fierce letters that make up
that word, “both for what he’s done and what he hasn’t done. But it’s no
for him I would draw bridle if I were away in full career. But I would
for you!” he said, suddenly sinking his voice, and throwing himself in a
chair that swung and rocked under him by Helen’s side. “Helen, I would
for you!”



CHAPTER XXVIII


Lily had an agitating and troubled day between this strange pair, which
had the good effect upon her, however, of turning her thoughts entirely
away from her own affairs, the struggle and trouble of which seemed of
so little importance beside this conflict which had the air of being for
life or death. She did not understand either of the combatants: the man
who so fearlessly owned his weaknesses, and put the weight of his soul
upon the woman who ought to have saved him; or the woman who did not
deny that responsibility, nor claim independence or a right irrespective
of him to follow her own way. Helen Blythe had ideas of life, it was
evident, very different from those that had ever come into Lily’s mind.
In those days there were no discussions of women’s rights; but in those
days, alas! as in all other periods, the heart of a high-spirited young
woman here and there swelled high with imagination, wrath, and
indignation at the thought of those indignities which all women had to
suffer. That it should be taken as a simple thing that any man, after he
had gone through all the soils and degradations of a reckless life,
should have a spotless girl given to him to make him a new existence,
was one of those bitter thoughts that rankled in the minds of many
women, though nothing was said on the subject in public, and very little
even among themselves. For those were subjects which girls shrank from
and blushed to hear of. The knowledge was horrible, and made them feel,
when any chance fact came their way, as if their very souls were soiled
by the hearing. Not that the elder women, especially those inconceivably
experienced and impartial old ladies of society, who see every thing
with the sharpest eyesight, and discuss every thing with words that cut
and glance like steel, and who have surmounted all that belongs to sex,
except a keen dramatic interest in its problems, did not talk of these
matters after their kind, as in all the ages. But the girls were not
told, they did not know, they shrank from information which they would
not have understood had it been conveyed to them, except, indeed, a few
principles that were broad and general: that to marry a girl to an old
man or a wicked man was a hideous thing, and that the old doctrine of a
reformed rake, which had been preached to their mothers, was a scorn to
womankind, and no longer to be suggested to them. For the magic of the
Pamelas was over, and Sir Walter had arisen in the sky, which cleared
before him, all noisome things flying where he made his honest, noble
way. Not much these heroes of his, people say, not worth a Tom Jones
with his stress and storm of life; but bringing in a new era, the young
and pure with the young and true, and not a whitewashed Lovelace in the
whole collection. Lily was of Scott’s age; and when she saw this wolf
approaching the lamb, or rather this black sheep, as every-body called
him, demanding a maiden sacrifice to clean him from his guilt, her heart
burned with indignation and the rage of innocence. She could not
understand Helen’s strange acquiescence, nor her sense of possible guilt
in not having accepted that part which was offered to her. The very
atmosphere which surrounded Duff was obnoxious to Lily: the roughness of
his tones and his clothes, his large, noisy movements and vehemence and
gestures. He had lost, she thought, that air of a gentleman which is the
last thing a man loses who is born to it, and never, as she believed,
loses innocently.

She was glad beyond description when, after much more conversation, and
a meal to which his excitement and passion did not prevent him from
doing a certain justice, Duff was got out of the house, leaving Helen
behind, for whom the cart with the black pony had to be brought out once
more. Helen was greatly exhausted by all the agitations of the day. He
had left her without bringing her to any change of mind, yet vowing he
would see her once again and make her come with him still, that he would
not yet abandon all hope, while she sat tired out, shaking her head
softly, with a melancholy smile on her face--a smile more pitiful than
many complaints. She did not rise from her chair to see him go away, but
followed him with wistful eyes to the door--eyes that were full of a dew
of pain that flooded them, but did not fall. She did not say any thing
for a long time after he had gone. Was she listening to his steps as he
went away, leaving on the air a lingering sound, measured and heavy?
Helen had thought that footstep like music. She had watched for it many
a day, and heard it, as she thought, miles off, in the stillness of the
long country roads, and again, in imagination, many and many a day when
he was far out of hearing. She heard it now, long after it had been lost
by every ear but her own. Her face had a strained look, as if that sound
drew her after him, yet stronger resolution kept her behind.

“You did not mean that, Helen--oh, not that!” Lily said, encircling her
friend with her arm.

“My bonnie Lily! but that I did, with all my heart!”

“That you, a good woman, would go away out into the world with an ill
man, knowing he was an ill man, and thinking that you could turn him and
mend him! Oh, Helen, Helen! take him to your heart, that is pure as
snow, knowing he was an ill man?”

“Lily, you are very young--you are little more than a bairn. What are
our small degrees of good and ill--or rather of ill and worse--before
our Maker? Do you think he judges as we judge? They say my poor Alick is
wild, and well I wot he is wild, and has taken many, many a wrong step
on the road. Oh, if you think it presumptuous of me to believe I could
have held him fast so that he should not fall, that would be more true!
But, Lily, if ye were long in this countryside, you would see it with
your own e’en. The women long ago were not so feared as we were. They
just married the lad they liked, and if he were wild, forgave him; and
I’ve known goodwives that have just pushed them through--oh, just pushed
them through!--till they came to old age with honor on their heads and a
fine family about them, that would have sunk into the miry pit and the
horrible clay if the woman had not had the heart to do it. I am not
saying I had not the heart,” said Helen, with a melancholy shake of her
head, “but I was young and knew nothing, and the moment passed away.”

“It can never be right,” cried Lily, “to run such a dreadful risk! Oh,
if they cannot guide themselves, who are we that we should guide them? I
am not like you, Helen. I know for myself I could guide no man.”

No! well she knew that! Not so much as for the taking of a little
house--not so much as the simplest duty as ever lay in a man’s road.
Helen was not so clever as Lily, she had no such pretensions in any way;
every thing--blood and breeding, and the habit of carrying out her own
projects and holding her head high--was in the favor of the younger. But
Lily had no such confidence as Helen. She did not believe in any
influence she could exert. Her opinion, her entreaties, were of no use.
They did not move Ronald. He dismissed them with a kiss and a smile. “I
could guide no man,” she repeated with a bitter conviction in her heart.

“It would, maybe, not be a perfect life,” said Helen; “far from that;
there would be many an ill moment. The goodwife has her cross to carry,
and it’s not light; but, oh, Lily, better that than ruin to the man, and
a lonely life, with little use in it, to _her_; and there is aye the
hope of the bairns that will do better another day.”

“The bairns,” said Lily, “that would be the worst of all. An ill man’s
bairns--to carry on the poison in the blood.”

“You are a hard judge,” said Helen, pausing to look at her, “for one so
young; but it’s because you are so young, my bonnie dear. We are all ill
men and women, too. There’s a line of poetry that comes into my head,
though it’s a light thing for such a heavy subject, and I cannot mind
it exact to a word. It says we were all forfeit once, but he that might
have best took the advantage found out the remedy. It is bonnier than
that, and it is just the truth. The Lord said: ‘Neither do I condemn
thee.’ Ye will mind that at least, Lily.”

“I mind them both,” cried Lily, piqued to have her knowledge doubted,
“but yet----”

“And you must not speak of my poor Alick as an ill man. Oh, if I could
but let you see how little he is an ill man! His heart is just as
innocent as a bairn’s in some things, I’m not saying in all things. He
is wild, poor lad, the Lord forgive him! He does a foolish thing, and
then he thinks after that he shouldn’t have done it. If I were there, I
would make him think first, I would think for him; and then, if the
thing was done, there would be me to try to mend it and him, too. But
why should I speak as if that was in my power?” cried Helen, with a
sudden soft momentary rush of tears, “for I cannot, I cannot, go with
Alick and leave my father! I will have to stand by and see my poor lad
go out again without a friend by his side into the terrible, terrible
world.”

Lily put her arm round her friend, kneeling beside her, giving a warm
clasp of sympathy if nothing more. Helen’s heart was beating sadly, with
a suppressed passion, but Lily felt as if her slim young frame was all
one desperate pulse, clanging in her ears and tingling to her fingers’
ends. Was it her fault that in all her veins there burned this sense of
impotence, this dreadful miserable consciousness that she could do
nothing, move no one, and was powerless to shape her own fate? Helen was
powerless too, but in how different a way! sure that she would have been
able to fulfil that highest purpose if only her steps had been free,
whereas Lily was humiliated by the certainty that there was no power at
all in her, that to everybody with whom she was connected she was a
creature without individual potency, whose fate was to be decided for
her by the will of others. The contrast of Helen’s feeling, which was so
different, gave a bitterness to her pain.

“It was all very simple,” said Helen. “My father--you have never seen
him at his best, Lily; there is not a cleverer man, nor a better
learned, in all this countryside--was tutor to Mr. Duff when they were
both young, and the boys, as they grew up, used to come to him for
lessons. Alick was the youngest, just two years older than me, that am
the last of all. They were great friends with our own boys, who are both
out in the world, and, oh, alack! not doing so very well that we should
cast a stone at other folk. Eh but he was a bonnie boy! dark, always
dark, like his mother, but the flower of the flock, and courted and
petted wherever he went. He was a wild boy, and wild he was, I will not
deny it, in his youth, and began by giving me a very sore heart; for,
from the first that I can mind of, I have never thought of any man but
him. And then he was sent away abroad--oh, not for punishment--to do
better and make up the lost way. He came to my father and he said: ‘Let
Helen go with me and I’ll do well.’ I was but nineteen, Lily, and him
twenty-one. They just laughed him to scorn. ‘It would be the Babes in
the Wood over again,’ they said, and what was I, a little lass at home,
that I could be of any help to a man? Lily!” cried Helen, her mild eyes
shining, her cheeks aglow, “I knew better myself, though I dared not say
it, and he, poor laddie, he knew best of all. I should have gone with
him then! that very moment! if I had but seen it; and, oh, I did see,
but I was so young, and no boldness in my heart. My father said: ‘Work
you your best for five years and wipe out all the old scores, and come
back and ye shall have her, whether it pleases your father or no.’ For
the family would not have it. I was not good enough for them. But little
was my father minding for that. He never thought upon the old laird but
as a boy he had given palmies to, and kept in for not knowing his
lessons. He did not care a snap of his fingers for the old laird.”

“At nineteen, and him twenty-one!” Lily said.

“Oh, yes--they all said it was folly, and maybe I would say so, too, if
I saw another pair. But for all that it was not folly, Lily. He wanted
me to run away with him and say no word. And, oh, but I was in a
terrible swither what to do. It’s peetiful to be so young: you have no
experience; you cannot answer a word when they preach you down with
their old saws. I thought upon my mother that was weakly, and Tom and
Jamie giving a good deal of trouble. And at the last I would not. It was
my moment,” she said softly, with a sigh, “and I had a perception of it;
but I was frightened, Lily, and, oh, so silly and young!”

“Helen, you could not, you should not, have done it. It would have been
impossible! It would have been wrong!”

Helen only shook her head with a melancholy smile. “And then he came
back,” she said, “at the end of the five years. Never, never, Lily, may
you have the feeling I had when I saw Alick Duff again. Something said
in me: ‘Eelen, Eelen, that is your work!’ The light had gone from his
eyes, and the open look; his bonnie brow was all lined. He had grown to
be the man you saw to-day. But what would that have mattered to me? He
had but the more need of me. Alas, alas! my mother was dead, the boys
all adrift, and my father taken with his illness, and what could I do
then? He pleaded sore and my heart went with him. Oh, I fear he had been
wild, wild! He came back without a shilling in his pocket or a prospect
before him. The old laird was still living and went about with a brow
like thunder. He looked as if he hated every man that named Alick’s
name; but them that knew best said he was the favorite still of all the
sons. And Mrs. Duff, that had been so proud, that would not have the
minister’s daughter for her bonnie boy, she came to me herself, Lily.
You see, it was not me only that thought it. She said: ‘Eelen, if you
will marry him, you will save my bonnie lad yet.’ But I could not, I
could not, Lily. How could I leave my own house, that had trouble in it,
and nobody to make a stand but me?”

“They were selfish and cruel!” cried Lily; “they would have sacrificed
you for the hope of saving an ill man!”

“Oh, whisht, whisht,” cried Helen again. “And now he has come back. And
every thing is changed. The old laird is dead and gone, and John Duff,
that was never very kind, is laird in his stead, and there’s no home for
him there in his father’s house. And he’s a far older man--eight years
it was this time that he was away. And you will wonder to hear me say a
bonnie lad when you look at that black-browed man. But I see my bonnie
lad in him still, Lily; he is aye the same to me. And, oh, if you knew
how it drags my heart out of my bosom when he bids me come with him and
I cannot! He says we might save the fragments that remain--but there’s
more than that, more than that! He has wasted his youth, but he has not
yet lived half his life. And there’s that to save, Lily; and him and me
together we could stand. Oh, Lily, there’s neither man nor devil that I
would fear for Alick’s sake, and at Alick’s side, to save him--before it
is too late!”

“Helen,” cried Lily, “what do I know? I dare not speak; but what if
after all you could not save him? If he cannot stand by himself, how
could you make him? You are but a little delicate woman; you are not fit
to fight. Oh, Helen, Helen, what if you could not save him when all is
done!”

“I am not feared,” Helen said with a serene countenance. And then there
suddenly came a cloud over her, and tears came to her eyes. “What is the
use of speaking,” she said, throwing up her hands with an impatience
unlike her usual calm, “when I can do nothing? when he must just go away
again without hope, my poor Alick! and come back no more? And that will
be the end both of him and me,” she went on, “two folk that might have
made a home, and served God in our generation, and brought up children
and received strangers and held our warm place in the cold world. One of
us will perish away yonder, among wild beasts and ill men, and one of us
will just fade away on the roadside like a flower thrown away when its
sweetness is gone--and it will be no better for any mortal, but maybe
worse, that Alick Duff and Helen Blythe were born into this weary
world.”

“Oh, Helen, Helen!” cried Lily, “I think Alick Duff must have been the
cloud that has come over your life and turned its brightness to dark. If
you had not always been thinking of him, you would have had another home
and a brighter life. And even now--can I not see myself?--don’t you know
very well there is a good man----”

“Oh,” cried Helen, rising up with sudden animation, almost pushing
Lily’s kneeling figure from her, “go away from me with your good man! It
is enough to make a person unjust, to make ye hate the name of good! How
do you know whether they are good or no, one of them? Were they ever
tempted like him? Had they ever the fire of hot thoughts in their head,
or the struggle in their hearts? Was nature ever in them running free
and wild like a great river, carrying the brigs and the dams away? or
just a drumlie quiet stream, aye content in its banks, and asking no
more? Oh, dinna speak to me of your good man! It’s blasphemy, it’s
sacrilege, it’s the sin that will never be pardoned! There is but one
man, be he good or bad, and one woman that is bound to do her best for
him; and ill be her lot if she fails to do it, for it is not herself she
will ruin,--that would matter little--the feckless creature, no worth
her salt,--but him, too, but him, too!”

She sat down again after this little outburst and dried her eyes. Lily,
who had risen hurriedly to her feet, too, startled and almost angry,
stood irresolute, not knowing how to reply, when Helen put out to her a
trembling hand. “You are not to be troubled about me,” she said; “you
are not to be angry at what I say. It is a comfort to speak out my mind.
Who can I speak to, Lily? Not to my father, who stands between me and my
life; not to _him_, that rages at me as you have heard because I cannot
arise and follow him, as I would do if I could, to the end of the world.
Oh, Lily, it is good for the heart, when it is full like mine, to
speak. It takes away a little of the burden. ‘I leant my back until an
aik’--do you mind the old song? You are not an oak, you’re only a
lily-plant, but, oh! the comfort to lean on you, Lily, just for a
moment, just till I get my breath.”

“Say to me whatever you like, Helen; say any thing. I may not agree----”

“I am not asking you to agree--how should you agree, you that know
nothing? Oh, Lily, my bonnie Lily,” cried Helen, suddenly looking in her
face, “am I speaking blasphemy, too? You may know more than I think;
there is that in your face that was not there six months ago.”

The color changed in Lily’s cheek, but she did not flinch. “If I know
any thing,” she said, “it is not in your way, Helen. I am not the kind
of woman that can change a man’s thoughts or his life. I am one that has
no power. If I tried your way, I would fail. No one has changed a
thought or a purpose in all my life for me. I am useless, useless. I
have to do what other folk tell me, and wait other folk’s pleasure, and
blow here and blow there like a straw in the wind. And I love it not, I
love it not!” she cried. “It is as bad for me as for you.”

Helen thought she knew what the girl meant. She was here in durance,
bound by her uncle’s hard will; prevented, too, from carrying out the
choice of her heart. It had not yet dawned upon the elder woman that
Lily’s experience had gone further than this. And it is possible that
the gentle Helen, used all her life to an influence over others far
stronger than seemed natural to her character, and believing fully and
strongly in that power, could not have understood the higher trial of
the far more vivacious and vigorous nature beside her, which flung
itself in vain against the rock of another mind inaccessible to any
power it possessed, and, clear-sighted and strong-willed, had yet to
submit and do nothing but submit.



CHAPTER XXIX


Alick Duff went away from the valley of the Rugas, calling on heaven and
earth to witness that he would never be seen there more, and that from
henceforward he was to be considered as an altogether shipwrecked and
ruined man. “There is nobody that will contradict you there,” the
minister said sternly, “and nothing but the grace of God, my man, for
all you threep and swear to make my poor Eelen meeserable, that would
ever have made any difference.” “And who will say,” cried Duff, “that it
was not just _her_ that would have been the grace o’ God?” The minister
shook his head, yet was a little startled by the argument. As for Helen,
she said little more to her strange lover. “It is no use speaking now.
There is nothing more to say. I cannot leave my father.” Lily, to whom
this story had come like a revelation in the midst of the quiet country
life which seems, especially in Scotland, never to be ruffled by
emotion, much less passion, and on whom it acted powerfully, restoring
her mental balance and withdrawing at least a portion of her thoughts
from herself, was a great deal at the Manse during this agitating
period, which was all the more curious that nothing was ever said about
it on the surface of the life which flowed on in an absolutely unbroken
routine, as if there was no impassioned despairing man outside in the
darkness waiting the moment to fling himself and his terrible needs and
wishes at Helen’s feet, and no terrible question tearing her heart
asunder. That it was there underneath all the time was plain enough to
those who were in the secret. The minister had an anxious look, even
when he laughed and told his stories; and Helen, though her serenity was
extraordinary, grew pale and red with an unconscious listening for every
sound which Lily divined. He might burst in at any moment and make a
scene in the quiet Manse parlor, destroying all the pretence of
composure with which they had covered their life, or, worse still, he
might do something desperate--he might disappear in the river or end his
existence with a shot, leaving an indelible shame on his memory, and
upon those who belonged to him, and upon her who, as the country folk
would say, “had driven him to it.” If she had married Alick Duff and
gone away with him, there would have been an unanimous cry over her
folly; but if in his despair he had cut the thread in any such
conclusive way, Helen never would have been mentioned afterward but as
the woman who drove poor Alick Duff to his death. There was a thrill of
this possibility even in the air of the little town, where he was seen
from time to time wandering about the precincts of the Manse, and where
every-body knew him and his story. But the most exciting thing of all to
Lily was to see the face and watch the ways of the excellent young
minister, Mr. Blythe’s assistant and successor, who went and came
through these troubled days, talking of the affairs of the parish,
sedulously restraining himself that he might not appear to think of, or
be conscious of, any thing else, but with a countenance which reflected
Helen’s, which followed every change of hers, yet when her attention was
attracted toward him, closed up in a moment, with the most extraordinary
effort dismissing all meaning from his countenance. Lily became
fascinated by Mr. Douglas, through whom she could read, as in a mirror,
every thing that was happening. He said not a word on this subject,
which, indeed, nobody spoke of, nor did he betray any consciousness of
the other man’s presence, about which even the maid in the kitchen and
the minister’s man, who never had been so assiduous in the discharge of
his duties as now, were so perfectly informed; but yet she felt sure
that something in him tingled to the neighborhood of his rival like an
elastic chord. He would come in sometimes pale, with a stern look in his
closely drawn mouth, and then Lily would feel sure that he had seen
Alick Duff in the way, waiting till Helen should appear. And sometimes
the lines of his countenance would relax, so that she felt sure he had
heard good news and believed that haunting figure to have gone away; and
then at a sound which was no sound outside, at the most trifling change
in Helen’s face, the veil, the cloud, would shut again over his face.

The manner in which Lily attained the possibility of making these
studies was that by the minister’s invitation, seconded, but not with
very much warmth, by Helen, she had come to the Manse on a visit of a
few days. Whatever prejudice Mr. Blythe had against her--and she was
sure he had a prejudice, though she could not imagine any cause for
it--had disappeared under the pressure of his own sore need. He himself
was helpless either to watch over or to protect his daughter, and in
despair he had thought of the other girl, herself caught in a tangle of
the bitter web of life, and full of secret knowledge of its
difficulties, who, though she was so much younger, had learned to some
degree the lesson which Helen was so slow to learn. “She’s but a girl,
but I’ll warrant she could give Eelen a fine lesson what it is to lippen
to a man,” the minister said to himself. He had no high view of human
nature, for his part. To lippen to a man seemed to him, though he had
been in that respect severely virtuous himself, the last thing that a
woman should do. For his own part he lippened to, that is, trusted,
nobody very much, and thought he was wise in so doing. To have Lily
there, seeing every thing with those young eyes, no doubt throwing her
weight on the other side, allowing it at least to be seen that a man was
not so easily turned round a woman’s little finger as poor Helen
thought, would be something gained in the absence of all other help. Mr.
Blythe had a tacit conviction that Lily’s influence would be on the
opposite side, though his chief reason for thinking so was one that was
fictitious.

This was how Lily came to be acquainted with all that was going on. They
all appealed to her behind backs, each hoping he or she was alone in
calling for her sympathy. “You will tell her better than I can; they
all distrust an old man. They think the blood’s dry in his veins and he
has forgotten he was once like the rest. And she will listen to him at
the last. The thought that he’s going away, to fall deeper and deeper,
and that strong delusion she has got that she can save him, will
overcome her, and I’ll be left in the corner of the auld Manse sitting
alone.”

“Oh, no, Mr. Blythe, never think that; Helen will not leave you.”

“I would not trust her, nor one of them,” he cried, and there in the
dark, sitting almost unseen beside the fire, his voice came forth
toneless, like that of a dead man. “I have never been thought to make
much work about my bairns: one has gone and another has gone, and it has
been said that the minister never minded. But there was once an auld man
that said: ‘When I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.’”

Lily put her hand upon the large, soft, limp hand of the old minister in
quick sympathy. “She will never leave you,” she repeated: “you need fear
nothing for that--she will never go away.”

He shook his head and put his other hand for a moment over hers. “You
may have been led astray,” he said, “poor little thing! but your heart
is in the right place.”

Lily did not think or ask herself what he meant about being led astray.
She was too much occupied with Helen, who came in at the moment with the
thrill and quiver in her which was the sign that she had seen her lover.
The waning sunset light from the window which had seen so many strange
sights indicated this movement too, the tremor that affected her head
and slight shoulders like a chill of colder air from without. She said
softly as she passed Lily: “There is one at the door would fain speak a
word to you.” It was not a call which Lily was very ready to obey. She
had kept as far as possible out of the reach of Duff, and she had not
the same sympathy for him as for the others involved; indeed, it must be
allowed that, notwithstanding the charm of the romance, Lily’s feelings
were far more strongly enlisted on the side of the gentle and patient
young minister than on any other. She lingered, putting away some scraps
of work which had been on the table, until she could no longer resist
Helen’s piteous looks. “Oh, go, go!” she whispered close to Lily’s ear.
It was a blustering March night, the wind and the dust blowing in along
the passage when the Manse door was opened, and Lily obeyed, very
reluctantly, the gesture of the dark figure outside, which moved before
her to a corner sheltered by the lilac bushes, which evidently was a
spot very familiar. She felt that she could almost trace the steps of
Helen on the faint line which was not distinct enough to be a path, and
that opening among the branches--was it not the spot where she had
leaned for support through many a trying interview? Duff tacitly ceded
that place to Lily, and then turned upon her with his eyes blazing
through the faint twilight. “You are with them all day, you hear all
they’re saying. They’re all in a conspiracy to keep me hanging on, and
no satisfaction. Tell me: am I to be cast off again like an old clout,
or is there any hope that she’ll come at the last?”

“There is no hope that she’ll come; how could she?” cried Lily. “Her
father is old and infirm, Mr. Duff, she has told you. It is cruel to
keep her like this, always in agitation. She cannot; how could she? Her
father----”

“Confound her father!” he cried, swinging his fist through the air.
“What’s her father to her own life and mine? You think one person should
swamp themselves for another, Lily Ramsay. You’ve not been so happy in
doing that yourself, if all tales be true.”

“What tales?” cried Lily, breathless with sudden excitement; and then
she paused and said proudly: “Take notice, Mr. Duff, that I am not Lily
Ramsay to you!”

“What are you, then?” he cried, with a laugh of scorn. “If you’ve kept
your father’s name, you are just Lily Ramsay to Alick Duff, and nothing
else. Our forefathers have known each other for hundreds of years. There
was even a kind of a cousinship, a grandmother of mine that was a
Ramsay, or yours that was a Duff, I cannot remember; but if you expect
me, that knew you before you were born, to stand on ceremony--and
Lumsden too,” he added, in a lower tone, “whatever you may be to him.”

“If it was my concerns you asked me out here to discuss, I think I will
go in,” said Lily, “for it is cold out of doors, and I have nothing to
say to you.”

“You know well whose concerns it was. Is she coming? Does she understand
that it’s for the last time? I know what she thinks. I’ve been such a
fool hitherto she thinks I will be as great a fool as ever, and come
hankering after her to the stroke of doom. If she thinks that, let her
think it no more. This time I will never come back. I will just let
myself go. Oh, it’s easier, far easier, than to hold yourself in, even a
little bit, as I’ve done. I’ve always had the fear of her before my
eyes. I’ve always said to myself: ‘Not that! not that! or she will never
speak to me again;’ but now----” He swung his fist once more with a
menacing gesture through the dim air. It seemed to Lily as if he were
shaking it in the face of Heaven.

“And you don’t think shame to say so!” cried Lily, tremulous with cold
and agitation, and finding no argument but this, which she had used
before.

“Why should I think shame? There are things a woman like Eelen Blythe
can look over, but there are some you would not let her hear of, not to
save your soul. It’s a matter of saving a man’s soul, Lily Ramsay,
whatever ye may think. The worst is she knows every word I have to say:
there’s nothing new to tell her--except just this,” he said with
vehement emphasis: “that this time I will never come back!”

“And that is not new either. I have heard you tell her so fifty times.
Oh, man,” cried Lily, “cannot you go and leave her at peace? She will
never forget you, but she will accept what cannot be helped. Me, I fight
against it, but I have to submit too. And Helen will not fight. She will
just live quiet and say her prayers for you night and day.”

“Her prayers! I want herself to stand by my side and keep my heart.”

“You would be better with her prayers than with many a woman’s company.
Your heart! Can you not pluck up a spirit and stand for God and what is
right without Helen? How will you do it with her, then? You would mind
her at first--oh, I do not doubt every word she said--but then you would
get impatient, and cry: ‘Hold your tongue, woman!’”

“Is that,” he cried quickly, “what he says to you? He is just a sneaking
coward, and that I would tell him to his face!”

“You are a coward to call any man so that is not here to defend
himself!” cried Lily, wild with rage and pain, “though who you mean I
know not, and what you mean I care not. Never man spoke such words to
me, but you would do it, you are of the kind to do it. You have thought
and thought that she could save you, and then when you found it was not
so, you would be fiercer at her and bitterer at her than you have been
at your own self. Oh, let Helen be! She will never forget you, but she
will never go with you so long as her old father sits there and cannot
move in his big chair.”

“If I thought that----” he said, then paused. “If that’s what’s to come
of it all after more than a dozen years! Would I have been a vagabond on
the face of the earth if she had taken me then? I trow no. You will
think I am not the kind good men are made of? Maybe no; but there’s more
kinds than one, even of decent men. I would not drag what was her name
in the dust.”

“You think not,” said Lily, “but if you have dragged your father’s----”

“You little devil,” he cried, “to mind me of that!” and then he took off
his hat stiffly, and with ceremony, and said: “I beg your pardon, Miss
Ramsay, or whatever your name may be.”

“You are very insulting to me!” said Lily. “Why should I stand out here
and let you abuse me? What are you to me that I should bear it?” But
presently she added, softening: “I’m very sorry for you, all the same.”

She was hurrying away when he seized her by the arm and held her back.
“Do you see that? Am I to stand still and see that, and hold my peace
forever?”

The corner among the lilacs had this advantage, carefully calculated,
who could doubt, years ago? that those who stood there, though unseen
themselves, could see any one who approached the door of the Manse. The
young minister, Mr. Douglas, had come quietly in while they were
speaking: his footstep was not one that made the gravel fly. He stood,
an image of quietness and good order, on the step, awaiting admittance.
Scotch ministers of that date were not always so careful in their dress,
so regardful of their appearance, as this young Levite. He had his coat
buttoned, his umbrella neatly folded. He was not impatient, as Duff
would have been in his place, but stood immovable, waiting till Marget
in the kitchen had snatched her clean apron from where it lay, and tied
it on to make herself look respectable before she answered the bell.
Duff gripped Lily’s arm, not letting her go, and shaking with fierce
internal laughter, which burst forth in an angry shout when the door was
closed again and the assistant and successor admitted. “Call that a
man!” he said, “with milk in his veins for blood; and you’re all in a
plot to take her from me, and give her to cauld parritch like that!”

“He would keep her like the apple of his eye. There would no wind blow
rough upon her if he could help it!” cried Lily, shaking herself free.

“And you think that a grand thing for a woman?” he cried scornfully,
“like a petted bairn, instead of the guardian of a man’s life.”

“Oh, Alick Duff!” cried Lily, half exasperated, half overcome, “come
back, come back an honest man, for her father will not live forever.”

“What would I want with her then if I was all I wanted without her?” he
said, with another harsh laugh, and then turned on his heel, grinding
the gravel under his foot, and without another word stalked away.

How strange it was to go in with fiery words ringing in her ears and the
excitement of such a meeting in her veins, and find these people
apparently so calm, sitting in the little dimly lighted parlor, where
two candles on the table and a small lamp by Mr. Blythe’s head on the
mantel-piece were all that was thought necessary! Lily was too much
moved herself to remark how they all looked up at her with a certain
expectation: Helen wistful and anxious, the old minister closing his
open book over his hand, the young one rising to greet her, with almost
an appealing glance. They seemed all, to Lily’s eyes, so harmonious, the
same caste, the same character, fated to spend their lives side by side.
And what had that violent spirit, that uncontrollable and impassioned
man, with his futile ideal, to do in such a place? Mr. Douglas belonged
to it and fell into all its traditions, but the other could never have
had any fit place within the little circle of those two candles on the
table. When the pause caused by her entrance--a pause of marked
expectation, though none of the party anticipated that she would say a
word--was over, the usual talk was resumed, the conversation about the
parish folk who were ill, and those who were in trouble, and those to
whom any special event had happened. John Logan and the death of his
cows, poor things, who were the sustenance of the bairns; and the
reluctance of poor Widow Blair to part with her son, who was a
“natural,” and had just an extraordinary chance of being received into
one of those new institutions where they are said to do such wonderful
things for that kind of poor imbecile creature: this was what Helen and
her friend were talking of. The minister himself had a more mundane
mind. He held his _Scotsman_ fiercely, and read now and then out loud a
little paragraph; and then he looked fixedly at Lily behind the cover of
the newspaper, till his steady gaze drew her eyes to him. Then he put a
question to her with his lips and eyes, without uttering any sound, and
finding that unsuccessful, called her to him. “See you here, Miss Lily:
there’s something here in very small print ye must read to me with your
young eyes.”

“Can I do it, father?” said Helen.

“Just let me and Miss Lily be. She will do it fine, and not grudge the
trouble. Is that man hovering about this house? Is he always there? I
will have to send for the constable if he will not go away.”

“I hope he is gone for to-night, Mr. Blythe.”

“For to-night--to be back to-morrow like a shadow hanging round the
place. You’re a young woman and a bonnie one, and that carries every
thing with a man like him. Get him away! I cannot endure it longer. Get
him away!”

“Mr. Blythe----”

“I am saying to you get him away!” said the minister in incisive, sharp
notes. And then he added: “After all, the old eyes are not so much worse
than the young ones. Many thanks to you all the same.”



CHAPTER XXX


This agitating episode in Lily’s life was a relief to her from her own
prevailing troubles. They all apologized to her for bringing her into
the midst of their annoyances, but it was, in fact, nothing but an
advantage. To contrast what she had herself to bear with the lot of
Helen even was good for Lily. If she had but known a little sooner how
long and sweetly that patient creature had waited, how many years had
passed over her head, while she did her duty quietly, and neither
upbraided God nor man, Lily thought it would have shamed herself into
quiet, too, and prevented, perhaps, that crowning outcome of impatience
which had taken place in the Manse parlor on that January night. Did she
regret that January night with all its mystery, its hurry, and tumult of
feeling? Oh, no! she said to herself, it would be false to Ronald to
entertain such a thought; but yet how could she help feeling with a sort
of yearning the comparative freedom of her position then, the absence of
all complication? Lily had believed, as Ronald told her, that all
complications would be swept away by this step. She would be freed, she
thought, at once from her uncle’s sway, and ready to follow her husband
wherever their lot might lie. Every thing would be clear before her when
she was Ronald’s wife. She had thought so with certain and unfeigned
faith. She might perhaps have been in that condition still, always
believing, feeling that nothing was wanted but the bond that made them
one, if that bond had not been woven yet. Poor Lily! She would not
permit herself to say that she regretted it. Oh, no! how could she
regret it? Every thing was against them for the moment, but yet she was
Ronald’s, and Ronald hers, forever and ever. No man could put them
asunder. At any time, in any circumstances, if the yoke became too hard
for her to bear, she could go unabashed to her husband for succor. How,
then, could she regret it? But Helen had waited through years and years,
while Lily had grown impatient before the end of one; or perhaps it was
not Lily, but Ronald, that had grown impatient. No, she could not
shelter herself with that. Lily had been as little able to brave the
solitude, the separation, the banishment, as he. And here stood Helen,
patient, not saying a word, always bearing a brave face to the world,
enduring separation, with a hundred pangs added to it, terrors for the
man she loved, self-reproach, and all the exactions of life beside,
which she had to meet with a cheerful countenance. How much better was
this quiet, gentle woman, pretending to nothing, than Lily, who beat her
wings against the cage, and would not be satisfied? Even now what would
not Helen give if she could see her lover from time to time as Lily saw
her husband, if she knew that he was satisfied, and, greatest of all,
that he was unimpeachable, above all reproach? For that certainty Helen
would be content to die, or to live alone forever, or to endure any
thing that could be given her to bear. And Lily was not content, oh! not
at all content! Her heart was torn by a sense of wrong that was not in
Helen’s mind. Was it that she was the most selfish, the most exacting,
the least generous of all? Even Ronald was happy--a man, who always
wanted more than a woman--in having Lily, in the fact that she belonged
to him; while she wanted a great deal more than that--so much more that
there was really no safe ground between them, but as much disagreement
as if they were a disunited couple, who quarrelled and made scenes
between themselves, which was a suggestion at which Lily half laughed,
half shuddered. If it went on long like this, they might turn to be--who
could tell?--a couple who quarrelled, between whom there was more
opposition and anger than love. Lily laughed at the thought, which was
ridiculous; but there was certainly a shiver in it, too.

Duff had gone away before her short visit to the Manse came to an end.
He disappeared after a last long interview with Helen under the bare
lilac bushes, of which the little party in the parlor was very well
aware, though no one said a word. The minister shifted uneasily on his
chair, and held his paper with much fierce rustling up in his hands
toward the lamp, as if it had been light he wanted. But what he wanted
was to shield himself from the observation of the others, who sat
breathless, exchanging, at long intervals, a troubled syllable or two.
Mr. Douglas had, perhaps, strictly speaking, no right to be there,
spying, as the old minister thought, upon the troubles of the family,
and, as he himself was painfully conscious, intrusively present in the
midst of an episode with which he had nothing to do. But he could not go
away, which would make every thing worse, for he would then probably
find himself in face of Helen tremblingly coming back, or of the
desperate lover going away. A consciousness that it was the last was in
all their minds, though nobody could have told why. Lily sat trembling,
with her head down over her work, sometimes saying a little prayer for
Helen, broken off in the middle by some keen edge of an intrusive
thought, sometimes listening breathless for the sound of her step or
voice. At last, to the instant consciousness of all, which made the
faintest sound audible, the Manse door was opened and closed so
cautiously that nothing but the ghost of a movement could be divined in
the quiet. No one of the three changed a hair-breadth in position, and
yet the sensation in the room was as if every one had turned to the
door. Was she coming in here fresh from that farewell? Would she stand
at the door, and look at them all, and say: “I can resist no longer. I
am going with him.” This was what the old minister, with a deep distrust
in human nature, which did not except Helen, feared and would always
fear. Or would she come as if nothing had happened, with the dew of the
night on her hair, and Alick Duff’s desperate words in her ears, and sit
down and take up her seam, which Lily, feeling that in such a case the
stress of emotion would be more than she could bear, almost expected?
Helen did none of these things. She was heard, or rather felt, to go
upstairs, and then there was an interval of utter silence, which only
the rustling of the minister’s paper, and a subdued sob, which she could
not disguise altogether, from Lily, broke. And presently Helen came into
the room, paler than her wont, but otherwise unchanged. “It is nine
o’clock, father,” she said; “I will put out the Books.” The “Books”
meant, and still mean, in many an old-fashioned Scotch house, the family
worship, which is the concluding event of the day. She laid the large
old family Bible on the little table by his side, and took from him the
newspaper, which he handed to her without saying a word. And Marget came
in from the kitchen, and took her place near the door.

Thus Helen’s tragedy worked itself out. There is always, or so most
people find when their souls are troubled, something in the lesson for
the day, or in “the chapter,” as we say in Scotland, when it comes to be
read in its natural course, which goes direct to the heart. Very, very
seldom, indeed, are the instances in which this curious unintentional
_sortes_ fails. As it happened, that evening the chapter which Mr.
Blythe read in his big and sometimes gruff voice was that which
contained the parable of the prodigal son. He began the story, as we so
often do, with the indifferent tones of custom, reverential as his
profession and the fashion of his day exacted, but not otherwise moved.
But perhaps some glance at his daughter’s head, bent over the Bible, in
which she devoutly followed, after the prevailing Scotch fashion, the
words that were read, perhaps the wonderful narrative itself, touched
even the old minister’s heavy spirit. His voice took a different tone.
It softened, it swelled, it rose and fell, as does that most potent of
all instruments when it is tuned by the influence of profound human
feeling. The man was a man of coarse fibre, not capable of the finer
touches of emotion; but he had sons of his own out in the darkness of
the world, and the very fear of losing the last comfort of his heart
made him more susceptible to the passion of parental anguish, loss, and
love. Lower and lower bowed Helen’s head as her father read; all the
little involuntary sounds of humanity, stirrings and breathings, which
occur when two or three are gathered together, were hushed; even Marget
sat against the wall motionless; and when finally, like the very climax
of the silence, another faint, uncontrollable sob came from Lily, the
sensation in the room was as of something almost too much for flesh and
blood. Mr. Blythe shut the book with a sound in his throat almost like a
sob. He waved his hand toward the younger man at the table. “You will
give the prayer,” he said in what sounded a peremptory tone, and leaned
back in the chair, from which he was incapable of moving, covering his
face with his hands.

It was hard upon the poor, young, inexperienced assistant and successor
to be called upon to “give” that prayer. It was not that he was
untouched by the general emotion, but to ask him to follow the departure
of that prodigal whose feet they had all heard grind the gravel, the
garden gate swinging behind the vehemence of his going--the prodigal who
yet had been all but pointed out as the object of the father’s special
love, and for whom Helen Blythe’s life had been, and would yet be, one
long embodied prayer--was almost more than Helen Blythe’s lover,
waiting, if perhaps the absence of the other might turn her heart to
him, could endure. None of them, fortunately, was calm enough to be
conscious how he acquitted himself of this duty, except, perhaps, Mr.
Blythe himself, who was not disinclined to contemplate the son-in-law
whom he would have preferred as “cauld parritch,” Duff’s contemptuous
description of him. “No heart in that,” the old minister said to himself
as he uncovered his face and the others rose from their knees. The
mediocrity of the prayer, with its tremulous petitions, to which the
speaker’s perplexed and troubled soul gave little fervor, restored Mr.
Blythe to the composure of ordinary life.

Helen said little on that occasion or any other. “He will be far away
before the end of the week,” she said next morning. “It’s best so, Lily.
Why should he bide here, tearing the heart out of my breast, and his
own, too? if it was not for that wonderful Scripture last night! He’s
away, and I’m content. And all the rest is just in the Lord’s hands.”
The minister, too, had his own comment to make. “She’ll be building a
great deal on that chapter,” he said to Lily, “as if there was some kind
of a spell in it. Do not you encourage her in that. It was a strange
coincidence, I am not denying it; but it’s just the kind of thing that
happens when the spirits are high strung. I was not unmoved myself. But
that lad’s milk and water,” he added, with a gruff laugh, “he let us
easy down.” The poor “lad,” time-honored description of a not fully
fledged minister, whose prayer was milk and water, and his person “cauld
parritch” to the two rougher and stronger men, accompanied Lily part of
the way on foot as she rode home, Rory having come to fetch her, while
the black powny carried her baggage. He was very desirous to unbosom his
soul to Lily, too.

“Miss Ramsay, do you think she will waste all her heart and her life
upon that vagabond?” he said. “It’s just an infatuation, and her friends
should speak more strongly than they do. Do you know what he is? Just
one of those wild gamblers, miners, drinkers--it may be worse for any
thing I know, but my wish is not to say a word too much--that we hear of
in America, and such places, in the backwoods, as they call it--men
without a spark of principle, without house or home. I believe that’s
what this man Duff has come to be. I wish him no harm, but to think of
such a woman as Helen Blythe descending into that wretchedness! It
should not be suffered, it should not be suffered! taking nobody else
into consideration at all, but just her own self alone.”

“I think so, too, Mr. Douglas,” said Lily, restraining the paces of
Rory, “but then what can any one say if Helen herself----”

“Helen herself!” he said almost passionately; “what does she know? She
is young; she is without experience. She is very young,” he added, with
a flush that made it apparent for the first time to Lily that he was
younger than Helen, “because she is so inexperienced. She has never been
out of this village. Men, however little they may have seen of
themselves, get to know things; but a woman, a young lady--how can she
understand? Oh, you should tell her, her friends should tell her!” he
cried with vehemence. “It is a wicked thing to let a creature like that
go so far astray.”

“I agree with you, Mr. Douglas,” said Lily again, “but if Helen in her
own heart says ‘Yes,’ where is there a friend of hers that durst say
‘No’? Her father: that is true. But he will never be asked to give his
consent, for while he lives she will never leave him.”

“You are sure of that?” the young minister asked.

“If it had not been so, would she have let him go now? She will never
leave her father, but beyond that I don’t think Helen will ever change,
Mr. Douglas. If he never comes back again, she will just sit and wait
for him till she dies.”

“Miss Ramsay, I have no right to trouble you. What foolish things I may
have cherished in my mind it is not worth the while to say. I thought,
when the old man is away, what need to leave the house she was fond of,
the house where she was born, when there was me ready to step in and
give her the full right. It’s been in my thoughts ever since I was named
to the parish after him. It’s nothing very grand, but it’s a decent
down-sitting, what her mother had before her, and no need for any
disagreeable change, or questions about repairs, or any unpleasant
thing. Just her and me, instead of her and him. I would not shorten his
days, not by an hour--the Lord forbid! but just I would be always ready
at her hand.”

“Oh, Mr. Douglas,” cried Lily, “her father would like it--and me, I
would like it.”

“Would you do that?” cried the young minister, laying his hand for a
moment on Lily’s arm. The water stood in his eyes, his face was full of
tender gratitude and hope. But either the young man had pulled Rory’s
bridle unawares, or Rory thought he had done so, or resented the too
close approach. He tossed his shaggy head and swerved from the side of
the path to the middle of the road, when, after an ineffectual effort to
free himself of Lily, he bolted with her, rattling his little hoofs with
triumph against the frosty way. It was perhaps as well that the
interview should terminate thus. It gave a little turn to Lily’s
thoughts, which had been very serious. And Rory flew along till he had
reached that spot full of associations to Lily, where the broken brig
and the Fairy Glen reminded her of her own little romance that was over.
Over! Oh, no, that was far from over; that had but begun that wonderful
day when Ronald and she picnicked by the little stream and the accident
happened, without which, perhaps, her own story would have gone no
further, and Helen’s would never have been known to her. Rory stopped
there, and helped himself to a mouthful or two of fresh grass, as if to
call her attention pointedly to the spot, and then proceeded on his way
leisurely, having given her the opportunity of picking up those
recollections which, though so little distant, were already far off in
the hurry of events which had taken place since then. Had it been
possible to go back to that day, had there been no ascent of that
treacherous ruin, no accident, none of all the chains of events that had
brought them so much closer to each other and wound them in one web of
fate, if every thing had remained as it was before the fated New Year,
would Lily have been glad? That the thought should have gained entrance
into her mind at all gave a heavy aspect to the scene and threw a cloud
over every thing. She did not regret it: oh, no, no! how could she
regret that which was her life? But something intolerable seemed to have
come into the atmosphere, something stifling, as if she could not
breathe. She forced the pony on, using her little switch in a manner
with which Rory was quite unacquainted. Let it not be thought of, let it
not be dwelt upon, above all, let it not be questioned, the certainty of
all that had happened, the inevitableness of the past!



CHAPTER XXXI


The spring advanced with many a break and interval of evil weather. The
east winds blew fiercely over the moor, and the sudden showers of April
added again a little to the deceitful green that covered bits of the
bog. But May was sweet that year; in these high-lying regions the whins,
which never give up altogether, lighted a blaze of color here and there
among the green knowes and hollows where there was solid
standing-ground, and where one who did not mind an occasional dash from
the long heads of the ling which began to thrill with sap, or an
occasional sinking of a foot on a watery edge, might now venture again
to trace the devious way upon the most delicious turf in the world here
and there across the moor. The advancing season brought many a thrill of
rising life to Lily. It seemed impossible to dwell upon the darker side
of any prospect while the sunshine so lavished itself upon the gold of
the whins and the green of the turf, and visibly moved the heather and
the rowan-trees to all the effort and the joyous strain of life. I do
not pretend that the sun always shone, for the history of the north of
Scotland would, I fear, contradict that; but the number of heavenly
mornings there were--mornings which lighted a spark in every glistening
mountain burn and wet flashing rock over which it poured, and opened up
innumerable novelties of height and hollow, projecting points and deep
withdrawing valleys, in a hillside which seemed nothing but a lump of
rock and moss on duller occasions--were beyond what any one would
believe. They are soon over: the glory of the day is often eclipsed by
noon; but Lily, whose heart, being restless, woke her early, had the
advantage of them all. And many a tiny flower began to peep by the edges
of the moor--little red pimpernels, little yellow celandines, smaller
things still that have no names. And the hills stood round serenely
waiting for summer, as with a smile to each other under the hoods which
so often came down upon their brows even while the sun was shining. What
did it matter, a storm or two, the wholesome course of nature? Summer
was coming with robes of purple to clothe them, and revelations of a
thousand mysteries in the hearts of the silent hills.

Amid such auguries and meditative expectations it was not possible that
Lily could remain unmoved. And thus her expectation, if not so sublime
as that of nature, was at least as exact and as well defined. Alas, the
difference was that nature was quite sure of her facts, while an
unfortunate human creature never is so. The course of the sun does not
fail, however he may delay that coming forth from his chamber, like a
bridegroom, which is the law of the universe. But for the heart of man
no one can answer. It was such a little thing to do, such an easy
thing--no trouble, no trouble! Lily said to herself. To find the little
house they wanted, oh, how easily she could do it if she could but go
and see herself to this, which was really a woman’s part of the
business. Lily imagined herself again and again engaged in that
delightful quest. She saw herself running lightly up and down the long
stairs. Why take Ronald from his work when she could do it so easily, so
gladly, so pleasantly, with so much enjoyment to herself? And though she
had been banished for so long, there was still many a house in Edinburgh
which would take her in with kindly welcome, and rejoice over her
marriage, and help and applaud the young couple in their start. Oh, how
easy it all was were but the first step sure. She had thought, in her
childishness, that the mere fact of marriage would be enough; that it
would bring all freedom, all independence, with it; that the moment she
stood by Ronald’s side as his wife the path of their life lay full in
the sunshine and light of perfect day. Alas, that had not proved so!

He came again another time between March and May. It was wonderful the
journeys he took, thinking nothing of a long night in the coach coming
and going, to see his love, for the sake of only a couple of days in her
society. The women at Dalrugas were very much impressed, too, by the
money it must cost him to make these frequent visits. “Bless me,” Katrin
said, “he is just throwing away his siller with baith hands; and what
are they to do for their furnishing and to set up their house? I am not
wanting you to go, Beenie--far, far from that. It will be like the sun
gone out of the sky when we’re left to oursel’s in the house, nothing
but Dougal and me. But, oh! only to think of the siller that lad is
wastin’ with a’ his life before him. They would live more thrifty in
their own house than him there and her here, and thae constant traiks
from one place to another, even though her and you at present cost him
naething--but what, after a’, is a woman’s meat?”

“I wot weel it would be more thrift, and less expense, not to say
better in every way; but if the man does not see it, Katrin, what can
the wife do?”

“I ken very weel what I would do,” said Katrin, with a toss of her head.
These were the comments below stairs. But when May came and went, and it
was not till early June that Lily received her husband, the fever of
expectation and anxiety which consumed her was beyond expression. She
met him at the head of the spiral stair as usual, but speechless,
without a word to say to him. Her cheeks flamed with the heat of her
hopes, her terrors, her wild uncertainty. She held out her hands in
welcome with something interrogative, enquiring, in them. She did not
wish to be taken to his heart, to be kept by any caress from seeing his
face and reading what was in it. Was it possible that it was not Ronald
at all she was thinking of, but something else--not her husband’s visit,
his presence, his love, and the delight of seeing him? And how common,
how trivial, how paltry a thing it was which Lily was thinking of first,
before even Ronald! Had he found the little house? Had he got it, that
hope of her life? was it some business connected with that that had
detained him? Had he got the key of it, something resembling the key of
it, to lay at her feet, to place in her hand, the charter of her rights
and her freedom? But he did not say a word. Was it natural he should
when he had just arrived, barely arrived, and was thinking of nothing
but his Lily? It was his love that was in his mind, not any secondary
thing such as filled hers. He led her in, with his arms around her and
joy on his lips. His bonnie Lily! if she but knew how he had been
longing for a sight of her, how he had been stopped when he was on the
road, how every exasperating thing had happened to hold him back! Ah,
she said to herself, it would be the landlord worrying for more money,
or some other wicked thing. “But now,” cried Ronald, “the first look of
my Lily pays for all!” That was how it was natural he should speak. She
supported it all, though her bosom was like to burst. She would not
forestall him in his story of how he had secured it, nor yet chill him
by showing him that while the first thought in his mind was love, the
first in hers was the little house. Oh, no, she would respond, as,
indeed, her heart did; but she was choked in her utterance, and could
speak few words. If he would only say a word of that, only once: “I have
got it, I have got it!” then the floodgates would have been opened, and
Lily’s soul would have been free.

Ronald spoke no such word; he said nothing, nothing at all upon that
subject, or any thing that could lead to it. He was delighted to see her
again, to hold her in his arms. Half the evening, until Beenie brought
the dinner, he was occupied in telling her that every time he saw her
she was more beautiful, more delightful, in his eyes. And Lily gasped,
but made no sign. She would wait, she would wait! She would not be
impatient; after all, that was just business, and this was love. She
would have liked the business best, but perhaps that was because she was
common, just common, not great in mind and heart like--other folk, a
kind of a housewife, a poor creature thinking first of the poorest
elements. He should follow his own way, he that was a better lover, a
finer being, than she; and in his own time he would tell her--what,
after all, was no fundamental thing, only a detail.

The dinner passed, the evening passed, and Ronald said not a word, nor
Lily either. She had begun to get bewildered in her mind. Whit-Sunday!
Whit-Sunday! Was it not Whit-Sunday that was the term, when houses were
to be hired in Edinburgh, and the maids went to their new places? And it
was now past, and had nothing been done for her? Was nothing going to be
done? Lily began to be afraid now that he would speak; that he would say
some word that would take away all hope from her heart. Rather that he
should be silent than that! There was a momentary flagging in the
conversation when the dinner was ended, and in the new horror that had
taken possession of her soul Lily, to prevent this, rushed into a new
subject. She told Ronald about Alick Duff and Helen Blythe, and how she
had received them at Dalrugas, and had passed some days at the Manse
seeing the end of it. Ronald, with the air of a benevolent lord and
master, shook his head at the first, but sanctioned the latter
proceeding with a nod of his head. “Keep always friends with the Manse
people,” he said; “they are a tower of strength whatever happens; but I
would not have liked to see my Lily receiving a black sheep like Alick
Duff here.”

What had he to do with the house of Dalrugas, or those who were received
there? What right had he to be here himself that he should give an
authoritative opinion? Oh, do not believe that Lily thought this, but it
flashed through her mind in spite of herself, as ill thoughts will do.
She said quickly: “And the worst is I took his part. I would have taken
his part with all my heart and soul.”

Ronald did nothing but laugh at this protestation. And he laughed
contemptuously at the thought that Helen could have saved the man who
loved her. “That’s how he thinks to come over the women. He would not
dare say that to a man,” he cried. “Helen Blythe, poor little thing!” He
laughed again, and Lily felt that she could have struck him in the
sudden blaze out of exasperation which somewhat relieved her troubled
mind.

“When you laugh like that, I think I could kill you, Ronald!”

“Lily!” he cried, sitting up in his chair with an astonished face, “why,
what is the matter with you, my darling?”

“Nothing is the matter with me! except to hear you laugh at what was
sorrow and pain to them, and deadly earnest, as any person might see.”

“Havers!” cried Ronald; “he had his tongue in his cheek all the time,
yon fellow. He thought, no doubt, her father must have money, and it
would be worth his while----”

“If you believe that every-body thinks first of money----” Lily said,
her hand, which was on the table, quivering to every finger’s end.

“Most of us do,” he said quietly; “but what does it mean that my Lily
should be so disturbed about Alick Duff, the ne’er-do-well, and Helen
Blythe?”

“I can’t tell you,” cried Lily, struggling with that dreadful,
inevitable inclination to tears which is so hard upon women. “I am--much
alone in this place,” she said, with a quiver of her mouth, “and you
away.”

“My bonnie Lily!” he cried once more, hastening to her, soothing her in
his arms, as he had done so often before. That was all, that was all he
could say or do to comfort her; and that does not always answer--not, at
least, as it did the first or even the second or third time. To call her
“My bonnie Lily!” to lean her head upon his breast that she might cry it
all out there and be comforted, was no reply to the demand in her heart.
And the hysteria passion did not come to tears in this case. She choked
them down by a violent effort. She subdued herself, and withdrew from
his supporting arm, not angrily, but with something new in her
seriousness which startled Ronald, he could not tell why. “We will go
upstairs,” she said, “or, if you would like it, out on the moor. It is
bonnie on the moor these long, long days, when it is night, and the day
never ends. And then you can tell me the rest of your Edinburgh news,”
she said, suddenly looking into his face.

Oh, he understood her now! His face was not delicate like Lily’s to show
every tinge of changing color, but it reddened through the red and the
brown with a color that showed more darkly and quite as plainly as the
blush on any girl’s face. He understood what was the Edinburgh news she
wanted. Was it that he had none to give?

“Let us go out on the moor,” he said. “Where is your plaid to wrap you
round? It may be as beautiful as you like, but it’s always cold on a
north country moor.”

“Not in June,” she cried, throwing the plaid upon his shoulder. It was
nine o’clock of the long evening, but as light still as day, a day
perfected, but subdued, without sun, without shadow, like, if any thing
human can be like, the country where there is neither sun nor moon, but
the Lamb is the light thereof. The moor lay under the soft radiance in a
perfect repose, no corner in it that was not visible, yet all mystery,
spellbound in that light that never was on sea or shore. At noon, with
all the human accidents of sun and shade, they could scarcely have seen
their own faces, or the long distance of the broken land stretched out
beyond, or the hills dreaming around in a subdued companionship, as
clearly as now, yet all in a magical strangeness that overawed and
hushed the heart. Even Lily’s cares--that one care, rather, which was so
little, yet so great, almost vulgar to speak of, yet meaning to her
every thing that was best on earth--were hushed. The stillness of the
shining night, which was day; the silence of the great moor, with all
its wild fresh scents and murmurs of sound subdued; the vast round of
cloudless sky, still with traces on it of the sunset, but even those
forming but an undertone to the prevailing softness of the blue--were
beyond all reach of human frettings and struggles. They were on the eve
of discovering that the earth had been rent between them, closely though
they stood together, but in a moment the edges of the chasm had
disappeared, the green turf and the heather, with its buds forming on
every bush, spread over every horrible division. Lily put her arm within
her husband’s with a long, tremulous sigh. What did any uneasy wish
matter, any desire even if desperate, compared with this peace of God
that was upon the hills and the moor and the sky?

I doubt, however, whether all of this made it easier for Ronald to clear
himself at last of the burden of the unfulfilled trust. When she said
next morning, with a catch in her breath, but as perfect an aspect of
calm as she could put on: “You have told me nothing about our house,”
his color and his breath also owned for a moment an embarrassment which
it was difficult to face. She had said it while he stood at the window
looking out, with his back toward her. She had not wished to confront
him, to fix him with her eyes, to have the air of bringing him to an
account.

Ronald turned round from the window after a momentary pause. He came up
to her and took both her hands in his. “My bonnie Lily!” he said.

“Oh,” she cried with sudden impatience, drawing her hands from him,
“call me by my simple name! I am your wife; I am not your sweetheart. Do
I want to be always petted like a bairn?”

“Lily!” he said, startled, and a little disapproving, “there is
something wrong with you. I never thought you were one to be affected
with nerves and such things.”

“Did you ever think I was one to live all alone upon the moor? to belong
to nobody, to see nobody, to be married in a secret, and get a visit
from my man now and then in a secret, too? and none to acknowledge or
stand by me in the whole world?”

“Lily! Lily!” he cried, “how far is that from the fact? Am I not here
whenever I can find a moment to spare, and ready to come at any time for
any need if you but hold up your little finger? Why is it you are not
acknowledged and set by my side as I would be proud to do? Can you ever
doubt I would be proud to do it? But many a couple have kept their
marriage quiet till circumstances were better. You and I are not the
first--I could tell you of a score--that would not keep apart half their
days and lose the good of their life, but just kept the fact to
themselves till better times should come.”

“You said nothing to me about better times coming,” said Lily; “you
spoke of the term, and that you could not get a house to live in till
the term.”

“And I said quite true,” said Ronald. As soon as he got her to discuss
the matter he felt sure of his own triumph. “You knew that as well as I
did. And now here is just the truth, Lily: I am not very well off, and
it does not mend my practice that I’ve been so often here in the North.
Don’t tell me I need not come unless I like; that’s a silly woman’s
saying, it is not like my Lily. I am not very well off, and you have
nothing if there is a public breach with Sir Robert. And for a little
while I have been beginning to think----”

He paused, hoping she would say something, but Lily said nothing. She
had covered her face with her hands.

“I have been beginning to think,” he continued slowly, “that this is a
bad time for beginning life in Edinburgh. You are not ignorant of
Edinburgh life, Lily; you know that in the vacations, when the courts
are up, nobody is there. If we had twenty houses, we could not stay in
them in August and September, when every-body is away. As this is a bad
time for beginning in Edinburgh, I was thinking that to take the expense
of a house upon me now would be a foolish thing. Think of a garret in
the old town from this to autumn, with all the smoke and the bad air
instead of the bonnie moor! And in six weeks or a little more, Lily, I
would be able to get some shooting hereabouts, which will be a grand
excuse, and we could be together without a word said, with nobody to
make any criticisms.”

She cried out, stamping her foot: “Will you never understand? It is the
grand excuse and the nobody to criticise that is insufferable to me. Why
should there be any excuse? Why should there be a word said? I am your
wife, Ronald Lumsden!”

“My dear, you are ill to please,” he said. “But nobody can see reason
better than you if you will but open your eyes to it. See here, Lily:
two months and more are coming when our house, if we had it, would be
useless to us, and in the meantime you are very well off here.”

She gave him a sudden glance, and would have said something, but
arrested herself in time.

“You are very well here,” he repeated, “far better than even going upon
visits, or at some other little country place, where we might take
lodgings, and be very uncomfortable. Your moor is a little estate to
you, Lily; it’s company and every thing. And if I had a little shooting
which I could manage--a man with a gun is not hard to place in Scotland,
and up in the north country there is many an opportunity; and there is
always Tom Robison’s cottage to fall back on, where you are very well
off as long as you neither need to eat there nor to sleep there. Your
servants here are used to me. Whatever explanations Dougal has made to
himself, he has made them long ago. I have no fears for him. Where would
you be so well, my Lily, as in your home?”

“And where would you be so ill, Ronald,” she cried, “as in--as in----”
But Lily could not finish the sentence. How could it be that he did not
say that to himself, that he left it to her to say--to her, who was
incapable, after all, of saying to the man she loved such hard words?
Her own home, her uncle’s house, who had sent her here to separate her
once for all from Ronald Lumsden, while Ronald arranged so easily to
establish himself under his enemy’s roof.

“Where would I be so ill as in Sir Robert’s house?” he said, with a
laugh. “On the contrary, Lily, I am very happy here. I have been happier
here than in any other house in the world, and why should I set up
scruples, my dear, when I have none? If Sir Robert had been a wise man
he never would have tried to separate you and me; and now that we have
turned his evil to good, and made his prison a palace, why should we
banish ourselves when all is done to do him a very doubtful pleasure? He
will never hear a word of it in my belief, and if he does, he will hear
far more than that I have come to share your castle for another
vacation. It was the first step that was the worst: yon snow-storm,
perhaps, at the New Year; but that was the power of circumstances, and
no Scots householder would ever have turned a man out into the snow.
When we did that, we did the worst. A few weeks, more or less, after
that--what can it matter? And, short time or long time, it is my belief,
Lily, that he will never be a pin the wiser. Then why should we trouble
ourselves?” Ronald said.

As for Lily, this time she answered not a word.



CHAPTER XXXII


It may be imagined that after this there was very little said of the
house in Edinburgh, which now, indeed, it was impossible to do any thing
about till the term at Martinmas. But Lily, I think, never alluded to
the Martinmas term. Her heart sank so that it recovered itself again
with great difficulty, and the very suggestion of the thing she had so
longed for, and fixed all her wishes upon, now brought over her a
sickness and faintness both of body and soul. When some one talked by
chance of the maids going to their new places at the term, the color
forsook her face, and Helen Blythe was much alarmed on one such
occasion, believing her friend was going to faint. Lily did not faint.
What good would that do? she said to herself with a sort of cynicism
which began to appear in her. She dug metaphorically her heels into the
soil, and stood fast, resisting all such sudden weaknesses. Perhaps
Ronald was surprised, perhaps he was not quite so glad as he expected to
be, when she ceased speaking on that subject; but, on the whole, he
concluded that it was something gained. If he could but get her to take
things quietly, to wait until he was quite ready to set up such an
establishment as he thought suitable, or, better still, till Sir Robert
died and rewarded her supposed obedience by leaving her his fortune,
which was her right, how fortunate that would be! But Lily was taking
things too quietly, he thought, with a little tremor. It was not natural
for her to give in so completely. He watched her with a little alarm
during that short stay of his. Not a word of the cherished object which
had always been coming up in their talk came from Lily’s lips again.
She made no further allusion to their possible home or life together;
her jests about cooking his dinner for him, about the Scotch collops and
the howtowdie, were over. Indeed, for that time all her jests were over;
she was serious as the gravest woman, no longer his laughing girl,
running over with high spirits and nonsense. This change made Ronald
very uncomfortable, but he consoled himself with thinking that in a
light heart like Lily’s no such thing could last, and that she would
soon recover her better mood again.

He did not know, indeed, nor could it have entered into his heart to
conceive--for even a clever man, as Ronald was, cannot follow further
than it is in himself to understand the movements of another mind--the
effect that all this had produced upon Lily, the sudden horrible pulling
up in the progress of her thoughts, the shutting down as of a black wall
before her, the throwing back of herself upon herself. These words could
not have had any meaning to Ronald. Why a blank wall? Why a dead stop?
He had said nothing that was not profoundly reasonable. All that about
the vacation was quite true. Edinburgh is empty as a desert when the
courts are up and the schools closed. The emptiness of London after the
season, which is such perfect fiction and such absolute truth, is
nothing to the desolation of Edinburgh in the time of its holiday. To
live, as he said, in a garret in the old town, or even in the top story
of one of the newer, more convenient houses in the modern quarter, while
every-body was away, instead of here on the edge of the glorious
heather, among the summer delights of the moor, was folly itself to
think of. It was impossible but that Lily must perceive that, the moment
she permitted herself to think. Dalrugas might be dreary for the winter,
especially in the circumstances of their separation, he was ready to
allow; but in August, with the birds strong on the wing, and the heather
rustling under your stride, and no separation at all but the punctual
return of the husband to dinner and the evening fire--what was there,
what could there be, to complain of? Sir Robert’s house an ill place
for him! he said to himself, with a laugh. Luckily he was not so
squeamish. Such delicate troubles did not affect his mind. He could see
what she meant, of course, and he was not very sure that he liked Lily
to remind him of it; but he was of a robust constitution. He was not
likely to be overwhelmed by a fantastic idea like that.

And the autumnal holiday was, as he anticipated, actually a happy moment
in their lives. Before it came Lily had time to go through many fits of
despair, and many storms of impatience and indignation. To have one
great struggle in life and then to be forever done, and fall into a
steady unhappiness in one portion of existence as you have been
persistently happy in another, is a thing which seems natural enough
when the first break comes in one’s career. But Lily soon learned the
great difference here between imagination and reality. There was not a
day in which she did not go through that struggle again, and sank into
despair and flamed with anger, and then felt herself quieted into the
moderation of exhaustion, and then beguiled again by springing hopes and
insinuating visions of happiness. Thus notwithstanding all the
bitterness of Lily’s feelings on various points, or rather, perhaps, in
consequence of the evident certainty that nothing would make Ronald see
as she did, or even perceive what it was that she wanted and did not
want--the eagerness of her passion for the house, which meant honor and
truth to her, but to him only a rash risking of their chances, and
foolish impatience on her part to have her way, as is the worst of
women--and her bitter sense of the impossibility of his calm
establishment here in her uncle’s house, a thing which he regarded as
the simplest matter in the world, with a chuckle over the discomfiture
of the old uncle--all these things, by dint of being too much to grapple
with, fell from despair into the ordinary of life. And Lily agreed with
herself to push them away, not to think when she could help it, to
accept what she could--the modified happiness, the love and sweetness
which are, alas! of themselves not enough to nourish a wholesome
existence. She was happy, more or less, when he came in with his gun
over his shoulder, and a bag at which Dougal looked with critical but
unapproving eyes. Dougal himself took, or had permission, to shoot over
Sir Robert’s estate, which was not of great extent. These were not yet
the days when even a little bit of Highland shooting is worth a better
rent than a farm, and the birds had grown wild about Dalrugas with only
Dougal’s efforts at “keeping them down.” What the country thought of
Ronald’s position it would be hard to say. He gave himself out as living
at Tam Robison’s, the shepherd’s, and being favored by Sir Robert
Ramsay’s grieve in the matter of the shooting, which there was nobody to
enjoy. No doubt it was well enough known that he was constantly at
Dalrugas, but a country neighborhood is sometimes as opaque to perceive
any thing doubtful as it is lynx-eyed in other cases. And as few people
visited at Dalrugas, there was no scandal so far as any one knew.

And with the winter there came something else to occupy Lily’s thoughts
and comfort her heart. It made her position ten times more difficult had
she thought of that, but it requires something very terrible indeed to
take away from a young wife that great secret joy and preoccupation
which arise with the first expectation of motherhood. Besides, it must
be remembered that there was in Lily’s mind no terror of discovery.
Perhaps it was this fact which kept her story from awakening the
suspicious and the scandal mongers of the neighborhood. There was no
moment at which she would not have been profoundly relieved and happy to
be found out. She desired nothing so much as that her secret should be
betrayed. This changes very much the position of those who have
unhappily something to conceal, or rather who are forced to conceal
something. If you fear discovery, it dodges you at every step, it is
always in your way. But if you desire it, by natural perversity the
danger is lessened, and nobody suspects what you would wish found out.
So that even this element added something to Lily’s happiness in her new
prospects. That hope in the mind of most women needs nothing to enhance
it; the great mystery, the silent joy of anticipation, the overwhelming
thought of what is, by ways unknown, by long patience, by suffering, by
rapture, about to be, fills every faculty of being. I am told that these
sentiments are old-fashioned, and that it is not so that the young women
of this concluding century regard these matters. I do not believe it:
nature is stronger than fashion, though fashion is strong, and can
momentarily affect the very springs of life. But when it did come into
Lily’s mind as she sat in a silent absorption of happiness, not thinking
much, working at her “seam,” which had come to be the most delightful
thing in heaven or earth, that the new event that was coming would
demand new provisions and create new necessities which it seemed
impossible could be provided for at Dalrugas, the thought gave an
additional impetus to the secret joy that was in her. Such things, she
said to herself, could not be hid. It would be impossible to continue
the life of secrecy in which she had been kept against her will so long.
Whatever happened, this must lead to a disclosure, to a home of her own
where in all honor her child should see the light of day.

For a long time Lily had no doubt on this point. She began to speak
again about the term and the upper story in the old town. “But I would
like the other better now,” she said; “it would be better air for----,
and more easy to get out to country walks and all that is needed for
health and thriving.” It had been an uncomfortable sensation to Ronald
when she had renounced all the talk and anticipation of the house to be
taken at the term. But now that he was accustomed to exemption from
troublesome enquiries on that point he felt angry to have it taken up
again. He was disposed to think that she did it only to annoy him, at a
time, too, when he was setting his brain to work to think and to plan
how the difficulties could be got over, and how in the most satisfactory
way, and with the least trouble to her, every thing could be arranged
for Lily’s comfort. But he did not betray himself; he took great pains
even to calm all inquietudes, and not to irritate her or excite her
nerves (as he said) by opposition. He tried, indeed, to represent mildly
that of all country walks and good air nothing could be so good as the
breeze over the moors and the quiet ways about, where every thing
delicate and feeble must drink in life. But Lily had confronted him with
a blaze in her eyes, declaring that such a thing was not possible, not
possible! in a tone which she had never taken before. He said nothing
more at that time. He made believe even, when Whit-Sunday returned, that
he had seen a house, which he described in detail, but did not commit
himself to say he had secured it. Into this trap Lily fell very easily.
She had all the rooms, the views from the windows, the arrangement of
the apartment described to her over and over again, and for the great
part of that second summer of her married life there was no drawback to
the blessedness of her life. She spent it in a delightful dream, taking
her little sober walks like a woman of advanced experience, no longer
springing from hummock to hummock like a silly girl about the moor,
taking in, in exquisite calm, all its sounds and scents and pictures to
her very heart. In the height of the summer days, when the air was full
of the hum of the bees, Lily would sit under the thin shade of a
rowan-tree, thinking about nothing, the air and the murmur which was one
with the air filling her every consciousness. Why should she have sought
a deeper shadow. She wanted no shadow, but basked in the warm shining of
the sun, and breathed that dreamy hum of life, and watched, without
knowing it, the drama among the clouds, shadows flitting like breath as
swift and sudden, coming and going upon the hills. All was life all
through, constant movement, constant sound, alternation and change, no
need of thinking, foreseeing, fore-arranging, but the great universe
swaying softly in the infinite realm of space, and God holding all--the
bees, the flickering rowan-leaves, the shadows and the mountains and
Lily brooding over her secret--in the hollow of his hand.

As the summer advanced, however, troubles began to steal in. She was
anxious, very anxious, to be taken to the house, which he allowed her to
believe was ready for her. It must be said that Ronald was very
assiduous in his visits, very anxious to please her in every way, full
of tenderness and care, though always avoiding or evading the direct
question. It went to his heart to disappoint her, as he had to do again
and again. The house was not ready; there were things to be done which
had been begun, which could not be interrupted without leaving it worse
than at first. And then was it not of the greatest importance for her
own health that she should remain as long as possible in the delicious
air of the North--the air which was, if not her own native air, at least
that of her family? Lily had been deeply disappointed, disturbed in her
beautiful calm, and a little excited, perhaps, in the nerves, which she
had never been conscious of before, but which Ronald assured her now
made her “ill to please”--by his unreasonable resistance to her desire
to take refuge in the house which she believed to be awaiting her--when
a curious incident occurred. Beenie appeared one morning with a very
confused countenance to ask whether her mistress would permit her to
receive the visit of a cousin of hers, “a real knowledgable woman,” who
was out of a place and in want of a shelter. “You had better ask Katrin
than me, Beenie,” cried Lily; “I’ve filled the house too much and too
long already. It is not for me to take in strangers.” “Eh, mem,” cried
Katrin, her head appearing behind that of Beenie in the doorway, “it
will be naething but a pleasure to me to have her.” Katrin’s countenance
was anxious, but Beenie’s was confused. She could not look her mistress
in the face, but stood before her in miserable embarrassment, laying
hems upon her apron. “Speak up, woman, canna ye?” cried Katrin, “for
your ain relation. Mem [Katrin never said Miss Lily now], I ken her as
weel as Beenie does. She’s a decent woman and no one that meddles nor
gies her opinion. I’ll be real glad to have her if you’ll give your
consent.” “Oh, I give my consent,” Lily cried lightly. And in this easy
way was introduced into Dalrugas a very serious, middle-aged woman, not
in the least like Beenie, of superior education, it appeared, and a
quietly authoritative manner, whose appearance impressed the whole
household with a certain awe. It was a few days after the termination of
one of Ronald’s visits that this incident occurred, and Lily could not
resist a certain instinctive alarm at the appearance of this new figure
in the little circle round her. “You are sure she is your cousin,
Beenie? She is not like you at all.” “And you’re no like Sir Robert,
Miss Lily, that is nearer to ye than a cousin,” said Beenie promptly.
She added hurriedly: “It’s her father’s side she takes after, and she’s
had a grand education. I’ve heard say that she kent as much as the
doctors themselves. Education makes an awfu’ difference,” said Beenie
with humility. I am not sure that Lily was more attached to this new
inmate on account of her grand education. But that was, after all, a
matter of very secondary importance; and so the days and the weeks went
on.

There occurred at this time an interval longer than usual between
Ronald’s visits, and Lily lost all her happy tranquillity. She became
restless, unhappy, full of trouble. “What is to become of me, what is to
become of me?” she would cry, wringing her hands. Was she to be left
here at the crisis of her fate in a solitude where there was no help, no
one to stand by her? She felt in herself a reflection, too, of the
visible anxiety of the two women, Beenie and Katrin, who never would let
her out of their sight, who seemed to tremble for her night and day. The
sight of their anxious faces angered her, and roused her occasionally to
send them off with a sharp word, half jest, half wrath. But when she was
freed from these tender yet exasperating watchers, Lily would cover her
face with her hands and cry bitterly, with a helplessness that was more
terrible than any other pain. For what could she do? She could not set
out, inexperienced, alone, without money, without knowing where to go.
She had, indeed, Ronald’s address; but had he not changed into the new
house, if new house there was? Lily began to doubt every thing in this
dreadful crisis of her affairs. She had no money, and to travel cheaply
in these days was impossible. And how could she get even to
Kinloch-Rugas, she who had avoided being seen even by Helen Blythe? She
wept like a child in the helplessness of her distress. She did not hear
any knock at the door or permission asked to come in, but started to
find some one bending over her, and to see that it was the strange woman
Marg’ret, Beenie’s supposed cousin. Lily made this discovery with
resentment, and bid her hastily go away.

“Mem, Mrs. Lumsden,” Marg’ret said.

Lily quickly uncovered her face. “You know!” she cried with a mixture,
which she could not explain to herself, of increased suspicion, yet
almost pleasure; for nobody had as called yet her by that name.

“I would be a stupid person indeed if I didna know. Oh, madam, I’ve made
bold to come in, for I know more things than that. Beenie would tell you
I’ve had an education. I’ve come to beg you, on my bended knees, to give
up all thoughts of moving--it’s too late, my dear young leddy--and just
make yourself as content as you can here.”

“Here!” cried Lily, with a scream of distress. “No, no, no, I must be in
my own house. Woman, whoever you are, do you know I’m Miss Ramsay here?
It’s not known who I am, and what will they think if any thing--any
thing--should happen?”

“Are you wanting to conceal it, Mrs. Lumsden?”

“No, no, no! Any thing but that! If you will go to the cross of
Kinloch-Rugas and say Lily Ramsay has been Ronald Lumsden’s wife for
more than a year, I will--I will kiss you,” cried Lily, as if that was
the greatest sacrifice she could make.

“Then why should you not bide still? If it’s found out, it’s found out,
and you’re pleased. And if it’s not found out, maybe the gentleman’s
pleased. Mrs. Lumsden, I’m a real, well-qualified nurse. I will tell you
the truth: they were frightened, thae women. I said, when Beenie told
me, I would come and just be here if there was any occasion. Mistress
Lumsden, I will show you my certificates. I am just all I say, and maybe
a little more. Will you trust yourself to me?”

And what could Lily do? She was in no condition to enquire into it, to
satisfy herself if it was a plot of Ronald’s making, or only, as this
woman said, a scheme of the women. To think over such subjects was no
exercise for her at that moment. She yielded, for she could do nothing
else. And a very short time after there was an agitated night in the old
tower. It was the night of the market, and Dougal had come in, in the
muzzy condition which was usual to him on such occasions, and
consequently slept like a log and was conscious of nothing that was
going on. Ronald had arrived the day before. And when the morning came,
there was another little new creature added to the population of the
world.

It was more like a dream than ever to Lily--a dream of rapture and
completion, of every trouble calmed, and every pang over, and every
promise fulfilled. She was surrounded by love and the most sedulous
watching. She seemed to have no longer any wishes, only thanks in her
heart. She even saw her husband go away without trouble. “Come back soon
and fetch us. Come back and fetch us,” she said, smiling at him through
half-closed eyes.

It was not, however, much more than a week after when Ronald, without
warning or announcement, rushed into her room, pale with fatigue, and
dusty from his journey. “I have come here post-haste!” he cried. “Lily,
your Uncle Robert is in Edinburgh. He is coming on here for the
shooting, and other men with him. If I’m a day in advance, that is all.
I have thought of the only thing that is to be done if you will but
consent.”

“The only thing to be done,” said Lily, raising herself in her bed,
with sparkling eyes, “is what I have always wished: to tell him all
that’s happened, and, oh! what a light conscience I will have, and what
a happy heart!”

“He would turn you out of his doors!” cried Ronald in dismay.

“Well!” cried Lily, who felt capable of every thing, “I may not be a
great walker yet, but I’ll hirple on till a cart passes or something,
and they’ll take me in at the Manse.”

“Oh, my darling, don’t think of such a risk!” he cried. “For God’s sake,
keep quiet! Say nothing and do nothing till you hear from me again. I
have thought of a plan. Will you promise to do nothing, to make no
confession, till I’m at your side, or till you hear from me?”

“Are you not going to stay with me, to meet him?”

“I cannot, I cannot! I’ve come now at the greatest risk. Lily, you will
promise?”

“I am going to dress the baby for the night,” said the nurse,
interposing. “Will ye give him a kiss, mem, before I take him away?”

Lily’s lips settled softly on the infant’s cheeks like a bee on a
flower. “He’s sweeter and sweeter every day. Ronald, you must not ask me
too much. But I will try, so long as all is well and safe with him.”

“I will see that all is safe with him,” Ronald cried. He lingered a
little with the young mother, half jealous of the looks she cast at the
door for the return of the child in Margaret’s arms.

“You have told her not to bring him back,” she said with smiling
reproach, “but I’ll have him all to myself after.” She was not afraid of
his news, she was not shaken by his excitement. The approach of this
tremendous crisis seemed only to exhilarate Lily. She was so glad, so
glad, to be found out. It was the only thing that was wanting to her
perfect happiness.

Ronald’s gig had been waiting all the time while he lingered. He had to
rush away at last in order to catch the night coach from Kinloch-Rugas,
he said; and Lily waited, with smiles shining through the tears in her
eyes, to hear the sound of the wheels carrying him away. And then she
cried impatiently: “Marg’ret, Marg’ret, bring me my baby!”

But Marg’ret, it seemed, did not hear.



CHAPTER XXXIII


Sir Robert arrived, as they had been warned, next day. An express came
in the morning, preceding him, to order rooms to be prepared for three
guests--to the great indignation of Katrin, who demanded where she was
expected to get provender for four men, and maybe men-servants into the
bargain, that were worse than their masters, at a moment’s notice. “As
if there was naething to do but put linen on the beds,” she cried. “The
auld man must have gaun gyte. Ye canna make a dinner for Sir Robert and
his gentlemen out of a chuckie and a brace o’ birds frae the moor. If I
had but a hare to make soup o’, or a wheen trout, or a single blessed
thing. You’ll just put the black powny in the cart, Dougal, and ye’ll
gang down yoursel’ to the toun. Sandy! What does Sandy ken? How could I
trust that callant to look after Sir Robert’s denner? You’re nane so
clever yoursel’--but it’s you that shall go, and no another. Man, have
ye no thought of your auld maister and his first dinner when the auld
man comes home?”

“I think of him maybe mair than some folk that have keepit grand goings
on in his auld hoose.”

“_What_ were ye saying?” cried Katrin, fixing him with a commanding eye.
She pronounced this, as I have gently insinuated before, “F’what,” which
gave great force to the sound. “I might have kent,” she cried, with a
toss of her head, “there wasna a man breathing that could hold his
tongue when he thought he had a story to tell!”

“Me--tell a story!” said Dougal in instinctive self-defence. Then he
added: “It a’ depends--on what a man has to tell.”

“Ye’re born traitors, a’ the race o’ ye, from Adam doun!” cried Katrin
in her wrath, “and aye the women to bear the wyte, accordin’ to you.
Tell till ye burst!” she exclaimed with concentrated fury, “and it’s no
me ’ll say a word; but put the powny in the cart and gang doun to the
town, and try what ye can get for my denner. I’ll no have the auld man
starved, no, nor yet shamed afore his freends, nor served with an ill
denner the first night--him that hasna been in his ain auld hoose for
years.”

“Ye’re awfu’ particular about his denner, considering every thing that’s
come and gone, and the care you’ve ta’en of him and his.”

“Yes!” cried Katrin, “I’m awfu’ particular about his denner. Are you
going? or will I have to leave the rooms to settle themselves and go
mysel’?”

Dougal at last obeyed this strong impulsion; but the black powny and the
cart were not for so important a person as Sir Robert’s factotum the day
his master came home. He put Rory into the geeg, and drove down in such
state as was procured by these means, with his countenance full of
unutterable things. He was, indeed, when the little quarrel with Katrin
was over, a man laden with much thought. Dougal had observed not very
clearly, but yet more than he was believed to have observed. His stolid
understanding had been played upon unmercifully by the women, and he had
been taken in many times in respect to Ronald’s presence or absence in
the house. Often it had occurred that he “could have sworn” the visitor
was there when he was not there, and still oftener he could have sworn
the reverse; but at the end of all the tricks and deceptions he was
tolerably clear as to the position of affairs, if he had possessed the
faculty of speech, and sufficient indifference to other motives to have
used it. But Dougal, who was a very simple soul, was held in the grasp
of as great a complication of influences as if he had been the most
subtle and the most self-analyzing. Should he tell Sir Robert what he
had seen and guessed? Sir Robert was his master, and it was Dougal’s
duty, as guardian of the house, to report what had occurred in it. Ay!
but would he shame the house by raising a story that maybe never would
be got at by the right end? For what could he say? That a gentleman from
Edinburgh had been about the place, coming and going by night and by
day; that a person could never tell when he was there and when he wasna
there; and, finally, that it was clear as daylight him and Miss Lily
were “great freends.” Ah, Miss Lily! That brought up again another
series of motives. She was his, Dougal’s, young leddy, by every lawful
tie, the only bairn of the house, the real heir. If Sir Robert, as he
was perfectly capable, were to leave Dalrugas away from her the morn,
she would not a whit the less be the only Ramsay left of the old family,
Mr. James’s daughter, who had been Dougal’s adoration in his youth. Was
he to raise a scandal on Miss Lily--he, her own father’s man? Dougal’s
heart revolted at the thought. And Katrin, that spoiled the lassie, that
could see nothing that was not perfect in her--Katrin would never have a
good word for her man again. She would call him a traitor--that word
that burns and never ceases to wound--like black Monteith that betrayed
the Wallace wight, like---- But Dougal’s courage was not equal to that
anticipation; rather any thing than that, rather flee the country than
that--to betray a bit creature that trusted him, Mr. James’s daughter,
the last Ramsay, a little lass that could not fight for herself. “No
me!” cried Dougal to all the winds that blew. “No me!” he said,
confronting old Schiehallion, as if that tranquil mountain had tempted
him. He shook his fist at the hills and at the world. “No me, no me!” he
said.

I do not believe that Katrin ever was in the least afraid in respect to
Dougal, but a very troubled woman was Katrin that day. She had been in
Ronald Lumsden’s confidence all along, more than his wife knew, and in
her way had abetted him and helped him, though often against her
conscience. Beenie had done the same, but she had not Katrin’s head,
and meekly followed where the other led. They had both been partially
guilty in respect to Marg’ret, a woman introduced into the house by the
clumsiest means, which Lily could have seen through in a moment had she
tried, but whose presence was so great a comfort and relief to the other
two that their eagerness to accede to the artifice by which she was
brought as a guest to Dalrugas was very excusable. “What would you and
me do, Beenie?” Katrin had said, for once acknowledging a situation with
which she was not able to cope. They had been able “to sleep at night,”
as they both said, since _that_ woman was there, and there was nothing
to be said against the woman. She was not troublesome, she was kind, she
knew what she was about. That she was Ronald’s emissary was nothing
against her. She was, on the contrary, an evidence of the husband’s
tender care for his wife; his anxiety that she should have the best and
most costly attention. “And a bonnie penny she will cost him,” the two
women said to themselves. But the events of the last twenty-four hours
had altogether overwhelmed Katrin, and she had not the comfort even of
speaking to any one on the subject, of expressing her horror, her
amazement and dismay, for Beenie was shut up with Lily, whose state was
such that she could not be left alone for a moment. It was well for the
housekeeper that her head was filled with Sir Robert’s dinner and the
airing of the mattresses. It gave her a relief from her heavy thoughts
to drag down the feather beds and turn them over and over before a
blazing fire, though it was August, and the sun blazing hot out of
doors. She worked--as a Highland housekeeper works the day the gentlemen
are to arrive--for the credit of the house and her own. “Would I let
strangers find a word to say, or a thing forgotten, and me the woman in
charge of Dalrugas this mony and mony a year?” she said to herself. And
it did Katrin a great deal of good, as she did not hesitate to
acknowledge. It took off her thoughts.

Sir Robert arrived in the evening with two elderly friends and one
young one, with all their guns and paraphernalia, Sir Robert’s own man
directing every thing, and at least one other man-servant, bringing
dismay to Katrin’s heart. “You will not have more than two or three good
days on my little bit of moor,” the old gentleman had said with proud
humility, “but the neighbors are very friendly, and no doubt my niece
has got a lot of cheerful Highland lassies about her that will enliven
the time for you, my young friend.” The friends, young and old, had
protested their perfect prospective satisfaction with the entertainment
Sir Robert had to offer, none of them believing, as, indeed, he did not
believe himself, his own disparaging account of the moor. They arrived
very dusty in their post-chaise, but in high spirits, the old gentleman
with an excited pleasure in returning to the old house of his fathers,
which he had not seen for years. Perhaps it looked to him small and gray
and chill, as is the wont of old paternal houses when a long-absent
master comes back. He called out almost as soon as he came in sight of
the door, where Dougal was waiting with his bonnet poised on the extreme
edge of his head, on one hair, and Sandy behind him, ready with awe to
follow the directions of the gentlemen’s gentlemen, and carry the
luggage upstairs. “Where is Miss Lily? Where is my niece?” Sir Robert
cried. “Does she not think it worth her trouble to come and meet her old
uncle at the door?”

Katrin came forward from the threshold, within which she had been
lurking, and courtesied to the best of her ability. “You’re welcome, Sir
Robert; you’re awfu’ welcome,” she said; “but Miss Lily, I’m sorry to
say, is just very ill in her bed.”

“Ill in her bed!” cried Sir Robert. “Nonsense! Nonsense! I know that
kind of illness. She is vexed at me for sending her here, and she’s made
up her mind to sulk a little that I may flatter her and plead with her.
You may tell her it won’t do. I’m not that kind of man. I’ll pardon,
maybe, a bonnie lass in all her braws and showing her pleasure in them,
but a sulky, sour young woman---- Eh, Evandale, what were you saying--an
old house? It’s old enough if ye think that to its credit, and bare
enough. Katrin, I hope you’ll be able to make these gentlemen
comfortable in the old barrack, such as it is.”

“I hope so, Sir Robert,” said Katrin. She was relieved that his
animadversions on Lily should be cut short.

And then they mounted the spiral staircase with the worn steps, which in
one or two places were almost dangerous, and which the elder men mounted
very cautiously, one after the other, the loud footsteps of the men
echoing through the place, their deeper voices filling the air.

“Lord bless us all!” Katrin cried within herself, “if they had arrived
ten days ago!” It was a comfort, in the midst of all the trouble, that
Lily was safe in her bed, and, whatever happened, could not be
disturbed.

Sir Robert’s enquiries again next morning after his niece were made late
and after long delay. It was the 12th of August, and unnecessary to say
that Dalrugas was full of sound and hurry from an early hour; the
manufacture and consumption of an enormous breakfast, and the
preparations for the first great day with the grouse, occupying
every-body, so that Katrin herself, though very anxious, had not found a
moment to visit Lily’s room, or even to snatch a moment’s talk with
Beenie over her mistress’s state. “Just the same, and that’s very bad,”
Beenie said, through the half-open door, “and just half out of her wits
with the noise, and no able to understand what it means.” “Oh, it’s a’
thae men!” cried Katrin. “The gentlemen and their grouse, and the others
with the guns and the douges and a’ the rest o’t. Pity me that have not
a moment, that must gang and toil for them and their breakfasts!” When
every thing was ready at last, and the party set out, Sir Robert, whose
shooting days were over, accompanied them to a certain favorite corner
upon Rory, who, though the old gentleman was not a heavy weight,
objected to the unusual length of his limbs and decision of his
proceedings; but he returned to the house shortly after, musing, with a
sigh or two. Perhaps it was a rash experiment to come back after so
many years; his doctor had advised it strongly, giving him much hope
from his native air, the air of the moors and hills, and from the quiet
and regular hours and rule of measured living which he would have no
temptation to transgress. “We must remember we are not so young as we
once were--any of us,” the physician had said, notwithstanding that he
himself was but forty. When a man is old and ailing, and lives too
perilously well, and sees and does too much in the gayer regions of the
land, and is known at the same time to have a castle in the North, an
old patrimony in the Highlands, delightful in August at least, and
probably the best place in the world for him at all times of the year,
such a prescription is easy. “Your native air, Sir Robert, and a quiet
country life.” The 12th of August, a fine day, and already the sharp,
clear report of the guns in the brilliant air, and a sense of company
and enjoyment about, and the moor a great magnificent garden, purple
with heather, is about as cheerful a moment as could be chosen to make a
beginning of such a life. But old Sir Robert, returning from the
beginning of the sport which he was not able to share to his old house,
his Highland castle, which, as he turned toward it in the glorious
sunshine of the morning, looked so gray and pinched and penurious, with
the tower, that was only a high outstanding gable, and the farm
buildings, which had for so long a time been the chief and most
important points of the cluster of buildings to its humble occupants,
had little to make him cheerful. A sharp sensation almost of shame stung
the old man as he realized what his friends must have thought of his
Highland castle. Taymouth and Inverary are castles, and so are the
brand-new houses down the Clyde in which the Glasgow merchants establish
themselves with all the luxuries which money can buy. But where did old
Dalrugas come in, so spare and poor, rising straight out of the moor
without garden or plaisance, not to speak of parks or woods? He smiled
to himself a little sadly at the misnomer. He was wounded in the pride
with which he had regarded that shrunken, impoverished little place--a
pride which he felt now was half ludicrous and yet half pathetic. How
was it that he had not thought so when last he was here, then a mature
man and having passed all the glamour of youth? He shook his head at the
pinched, tall gable, the corbie steps cut so clearly against the blue
sky, the gray line of the bare, blank wall. After all, it was but a poor
house for a family with such pretensions as the Ramsays of Dalrugas--a
poor thing to brag to his Southern friends about. And it was not very
gay. He, who had been a man who loved to enjoy himself, and who had done
so wherever he had been, to come back here in the end of his days to
settle down to the dreariness of the solitary moor and the silence of a
country life--was it not a discipline more than he could bear that
“those doctors” had put him under? Was a year or two more of vegetation
here worth the giving up of all his old gratifications and amusements?
It is hard even upon a man who knows he is old, but does not care to
acknowledge it, to accompany on a pony for a little way his friends, who
are keen for their sport, to set them off on the 12th without being able
to go a step or fire a shot with them. Those doctors--what did they
know? They had probably sent him off, not knowing what more to do for
him, that they might not be troubled with the sight of him dying before
their eyes.

Then, however, there came before Sir Robert, by some more kindly touch
of memory, certain scenes from the old life, when Dalrugas was the
warmest and happiest home in the world, always overflowing with kindly
neighbors and friends of youth. Their names came back to him one by
one--Duffs, Gordons, Sinclairs. Where were they all now? There would be
at least their representatives in all the old places--sons, nay, perhaps
grandsons, of his contemporaries, young asses that would turn up their
noses at a _vieille moustache_; yet perhaps some of the old folk too.
Lily would know; no doubt but Lily would know every one of them. She
would have her partners among the boys and her cronies among the girls.
He felt glad that Lily was here to renew the alliances of the old
place. What had he sent her here for, by-the-bye? Something about a
silly sweetheart that she would not give up, the silly thing. Probably
she would have forgotten his very name by this time, as Sir Robert did;
and there would be another now waiting his sanction. Well, no harm if it
was a fit match for the last Ramsay. He would insist upon that. Somebody
that had gear enough, and good blood, and a proper place in the world.
No other should poor James’s daughter marry; that was one thing sure.

And then he began to think what had become of Lily that she had neither
come to meet him last night nor appeared this morning. Was she bearing
malice? or sulking at her old uncle? He would soon see there was an end
to that. If she was ill, she must have the doctor. If it was but some
silly cold or other, or the headache that a woman sets up at a moment’s
notice, she must get up out of her bed, she must come down stairs.
Self-indulgence was good for nobody, especially at Lily’s age. He would
see her woman, Beenie, who was her shadow, and whom Sir Robert began to
recollect he had not seen any more than Lily herself. And then the
alternative should be given her--the doctor, who would stand no
nonsense, or to get up and put a shawl about her, and nurse her cold by
the fireside, where she could talk to him, and be much better than if
she were in bed. Sir Robert quickened Rory’s paces, and, indeed, as the
pony was nothing loath to reach his stable, appeared at the house with
almost undignified haste to put in immediate operation this plan.



CHAPTER XXXIV


“No better this morning! What is the matter with her? I never heard Lily
was unhealthy or delicate!”

“She is neither the one nor the other,” said Katrin, indignant, “but
she’s not well to-day. The best of us, Sir Robert, we’re subjeck to
that.”

“Ye think so!” he said rather fiercely, as if it were a dogma to
question. And then he added: “There’s that big Beenie creature, that is,
I suppose, as much with her as ever--send her to me.”

“Eh, Sir Robert, how is she to leave Miss Lily, that is just not well at
all this morning?”

“Send her to me at once!” the old gentleman said imperatively. He went
into the dining-room, which was on the lower floor and the room he liked
best, the most comfortable in the house. There were no signs of a
woman’s presence in that room. A vague wonder crossed his mind if, after
all, Lily had been here at all. He forgot that he had been much
incommoded the evening before by the books and the work-baskets, the
cushions and the footstools, which had demonstrated the some time
presence of a woman upstairs. He kept walking up and down the room
stiffly, feeling his foot a little, as he owned to himself. Sir Robert
truly felt that he would not be sorry if the prescription of his native
air failed manifestly at once.

“Well,” he said, turning round hastily at a timid opening of the door.
“How’s your mistress--how’s my niece? What does she mean by taking
shelter in her bed, and never appearing to bid me welcome?”

“Oh, Sir Robert, Miss Lily----” said Beenie. She held the door open and
stood leaning against the edge, as if ready to fly at a call from
without or a thrust from within. Beenie’s hair, which it was difficult
to keep tidy at the best of times, hung over her pale countenance like a
cloud, a short lock standing out from her forehead. We are accustomed
now to every vagary of which hair is capable, and are not disturbed by
loose locks; but in those days strict tidiness was the rule; and Beenie,
very white as to her cheeks and red round the eyes, partly with tears,
partly with watching, was, to Sir Robert, a being unworthy of any
confidence.

“Woman!” he cried, “you look as if you had been up all night--and not a
fit person to be a lady’s body-servant, and with her night and day!”

“Fit or no,” said Beenie, with a sob, “I’m the one Miss Lily’s aye had,
and her and me will never be parted either with her will or mine.”

“We’ll see about that,” said Sir Robert. But he was wise man enough to
know that a favorite servant was a difficult thing to attack. He asked
peremptorily: “What is the matter with her?” placing himself, like a
judge, in the great chair.

“Eh, Sir Robert, if Marg’ret, my cousin, had been here, that is half a
doctor herself! but me I know nothing,” cried Beenie, wringing her
hands.

“Is it a cold?”

“It was, maybe, a cold to begin with,” said Beenie cautiously, but then
she melted into tears and cried: “She’s awfu’ fevered, she’s the color
o’ fire, and kens nothing,” in a lamentable voice.

“Bless me,” cried Sir Robert, “is there any fever about?”

“There’s nae fever about that I ken of--there’s nae folk hereby to get a
fever,” Beenie said.

“Then I’ll go and see her myself!” cried Sir Robert, rising from his
chair.

“Eh, Sir Robert!” cried Katrin, from behind the door, “you a gentleman
that could do the puir thing no good! It’s better to leave her to us
women folk.”

“There is truth in that, too,” Sir Robert said. He took a turn about the
room and then sat down again in his chair, his forehead contracted with
a line of annoyance and perplexity which might have been called anxiety
by a charitable onlooker. Beenie had seized the opportunity of Katrin’s
appearance to hurry away, and he found himself face to face with his
housekeeper. He gave a long breath of relief. “It’s you, Katrin,” he
said; “you’re a sensible person according to your lights. There’s fever
with all things--a wound (but that’s of course impossible for her), or a
cold, or any accident. What’s your opinion? Is it a thing that will pass
away?”

“Leave her with Beenie and me for another day, Sir Robert, and the
morn, if she’s no better, I’ll be the first to ask for a doctor; and eh,
I hope it’s safe no to have him the day.” The latter part of this speech
Katrin said to herself under cover of the door.

“She’ll have got cold coming home late from one of her parties,” said
the old gentleman, regaining his composure.

“Her pairties, Sir Robert!” said Katrin, almost with a shriek. “And
where, poor thing, would she get pairties here?”

“She has friends, I suppose?” he said with a little impatience,
“companions of her own age. Where will young creatures like that not
find parties? is what I would ask.”

“Eh, Sir Robert! but I’m doubting you’ve forgotten our countryside.
There’s Miss Eelen at the Manse that is her one great friend; and John
Jameson’s lass at the muckle farm, that has been at the school in
Edinburgh, and would fain, fain think herself a lady, poor bit thing,
would have given her little finger to be friends with Miss Lily. But you
would not have had her go to pairties in the farmhouse; and at the Manse
they give nane, the minister being such a lameter. Pairties! the Lord
bless us! Wha would ask her to pairties on this side of the moor?”

“There are plenty of people,” said Sir Robert almost indignantly, “that
should have shown attention to my brother James’s daughter, both for my
sake and his. What do you call the Duffs, woman? and the Gordons of the
Muckle moor, and Sir John Sinclair’s family at the Lews? Many a merry
night have we passed among us when we were all young. The Duffs’ is not
more than a walk, even if Lily were setting up for a fine lady, which,
to do her justice, was not her way.”

“Eh, hear till him!” breathed Katrin under her breath. She said aloud:
“Times are awfu’ changed, Sir Robert, since your days. The present Mr.
Duff he’s married on an English lady, and they say she cannot bide the
air of the Highlands, though it is well kent for the finest air in a’
the world. He comes here whiles with a wheen gentlemen for the first of
the shooting--but her never, and there’s little to be said for a house
when the mistress is never in it. Of the Gordons there’s nane left but
one auld leddy, the last of them, I hear, except distant connections.
And as for Sir John at the Lews, poor man, poor man, he just died
broken-hearted, one of his bonnie boys going to destruction after the
other. They say the things are to be roupit and the auld mansion-house
to be left desolate, for of the twa that remain the one’s a
ne’er-do-well and the other a puir avaricious creature, feared to spend
a shilling, and I canna tell which is the worst.”

“Bless me, bless me!” Sir Robert had gone on saying, shaking his head.
He was receiving a rude awakening. He saw in his mind’s eye the old
house running over with lively figures, with fun and laughter--and now
desolate. It gave him a great shock, partly from the simple fact, which
by itself was overwhelming, partly because of a sudden pity which sprang
up in his mind for Lily, and, most of all, for himself. What, nobody to
come and see him, to tell the news and hear what was in the London
papers; no cheerful house to form an object for his walk, no men to talk
to, no ladies to whom to pay his old-fashioned compliments! This
discovery went very much to his heart. After a long time he said: “It
would be better to let the houses than to leave them to go to rack and
ruin, or shut up, as you say--the best houses in the countryside.”

“Let them!” cried Katrin. “Gentlemen’s ain houses! We’re maybe fallen
low, Sir Robert, but we’re no just fallen to that.”

“You silly woman! the grandest folk do it,” cried Sir Robert. Then he
added in a lower tone: “Lily, I am afraid, may not have had a very
lively life.”

“You may well say that!” cried Katrin. “Poor bonnie lassie, if she had
bidden ony gangrel body on the road, or any person travelling that
passed this way, to come in and bear her company, I would not have been
surprised for my part.”

Katrin spoke very deliberately, _avec intention_. It seemed well to
prepare an argument, in case it might be used with effect another time.
And Sir Robert was much subdued. He had not meant to inflict such a
punishment upon his niece. He had believed, indeed, that her life at
Dalrugas would be even more gay than her life in Edinburgh. There the
parties might occasionally be formal, or the _convives_ bores, according
to his own experience at least; but here there was nothing but the good,
warm, simple intimacy of the country, the life almost in common, the
hospitable doors always open. If a compunctious recollection of Lily
ever crossed his mind in the midst of his own elderly amusements, this
was what he had been in the habit of saying to himself: “There will be
lads enough to make a little queen of her, and lasses enough to keep her
company, for she’s a bonnie bit thing when all is said.” He had always
been a little proud of her, though she had been a great trouble to him;
and he thought he knew that in his old home Lily would be fully
appreciated. That he had sent her out into the wilderness had never
entered his thoughts. He dismissed Katrin with an uneasy mind, imploring
her, almost with humility, to do every thing she could think of for his
poor Lily, and if she was not better in the morning, to send at once for
the best doctor in the neighborhood. Who was the best doctor in the
neighborhood? Indeed, there was but little choice--the doctor at
Kinloch-Rugas, who was not so young as he once was, and had, alas, a
sore weakness for his glass, and the one at Ardenlennie on the other
side, who was well spoken of. “Let it be the one at Ardenlennie,” Sir
Robert said. He spent rather a wretched day afterward, taking two or
three short constitutionals, up and down the high-road, three-quarters
of an hour at a time, to while away the lonely day until his friends
returned from the moor. It was far too painful an ordeal, to spend the
12th of August alone in this place where, in his recollection, the 12th
of August had always been ecstasy. He should have chosen another moment.
He had not imagined that he would have felt so much his own
disabilities of old age. He had been wont to boast that he did not feel
them at all, one kind of enjoyment having been replaced by another, and
his desire for athletic pleasures having died a natural death in the
perfection of his matured spirit and changed tastes, which were equal to
better things. But he had certainly subjected himself to too great a
trial now. That the 12th should be his first day at home, and that all
his sport should consist of a convoy given to the sportsmen on the back
of Rory, but not a gun for his own shoulder, not a step on the heather
for his foot! It was too much. He had been a fool. And then this silly
misadventure of Lily and her illness to make every thing worse.

A moment of comparative comfort occurred in the middle of the day when
he had his luncheon. “Really that woman’s not bad as a cook,” he said to
himself. She was but a woman, and a Scotch, uncultivated creature, but
she had her qualities--and there was taste in what she sent him, that
priceless gift, especially for an old man. He took a little nap after
his luncheon, and then he took another walk, and so got through the day
till the sportsmen came back. They came in noisy and triumphant, with
their bags, and their stories of what happened at this and that corner,
of the cheepers that had been missed and the old birds that were full of
guile. Had they been Sir Robert’s sons it is possible that he might have
listened benignly, and felt more or less the pleasure by proxy which
some gentle spirits taste. But they were strangers, mere “friends” in
the jargon of the world, meaning acquaintances more or less intimate. Of
the three he bore best the laughter and delight and brags and eagerness
to show his own prowess of the young man. The others awakened a sharper
pang of contrast. “Almost my own age!” Alas! the difference between
fifty and seventy is the unkindest of comparisons. They were not even
good companions for him in the evening. When they had talked over every
step of their progress, and every bird that had fallen before them, and
eaten of Katrin’s good dishes an enormous dinner, the strong air of the
moor, and the hot fire of the peats, and the fatigue of the first day’s
exercise and excitement, overpowered them one after another with sleep.
This would not have been the case had Lily been afoot to sing a song or
two and keep them to their manners. Sir Robert was driven to the
expedient of sending for Dougal when they had all, with many excuses,
gone to bed. Dougal was sleepy, too, and tired, though not so much so as
“the gentlemen,” to whom the grouse and the moor were, more or less,
novelties. He gave his wife a curious look when Sir Robert’s man called
him to his master, and Katrin responded with one that partly entreated
and partly threatened. She said: “You can tell him Miss Lily is very
bad, and I’ll get the doctor the first thing the morn.”

Dougal uttered no word. He could not wear his bonnet when he went up to
see the laird, but he took it in his hands, which was some small
consolation. He was in a dreadful confusion of mind, not knowing what
was to be said to him, what was to be demanded of him. He might be about
to be put through his “questions,” and want all his strength to defend
himself; or it might be nothing at all--some nonsense about the guns or
the birds. His heavy shock of hair stood up from his forehead, giving
something of an ox-like breadth and heaviness of brow. He held his head
somewhat down, with a trace of defiance. Katrin might gloom; it was
little he cared for Katrin when his blood was up; but there was not a
bit of the traitor in Dougal. No blood of a black Monteith in him, if
they were to put the thumbscrews on him or matches atween his fingers.
That poor bonnie creature, whatever was her wyte--they should get
nothing to trouble her out of him.

“Well, Dougal,” said Sir Robert, dangerously genial, “you see I’m left
all alone. My friends they have gone to their beds, as if they were
callants home from the school.”

“The gentlemen would be geyan tired,” said Dougal; “they’re English, and
no accustomed to our moors, and some of them no so young either. You
never kent that, Sir Robert, you that were to the manner born.”

“But too auld for that sort of thing, Dougal, now.”

“Maybe, and maybe not,” said Dougal. “There’s naething like the auld
blood and the habit o’t. I’d sooner see you cock a rifle, Sir Robert,
though I say it as shouldna, than the whole three of them.”

“No, no, Dougal,” said Sir Robert, “that’s flattery. They’re not very
good shots, then,” he said, with a smile. He was not indisposed to hear
this of them, though they were his friends.

“Well, Sir Robert, I wouldna say, on their ain kind o’ ground, among the
stubble and that kind o’ low-country shooting, which, I’m tauld, is the
common thing _there_; but no on our moors. When you’re used to the
heather, it’s a different thing.”

“No doubt there is something in that,” Sir Robert allowed with discreet
satisfaction. And then he added: “What’s this I hear from your wife
about all the old neighbors, and that there’s scarcely a house open I
knew in my young days?”

“What is that, Sir Robert?” said Dougal cautiously.

“The neighbors, ye dunce, my old friends that were all about the
countryside when I was young, and that I thought would be friends for my
poor little Lily when she came here. I’m told there’s not one of them
left.”

Dougal did not readily take up what was meant, but he held his own
firmly. “There’s been nae gentleman’s house,” he said, “what you would
call open and receiving visitors round about Dalrugas as long as I
mind--no more than Dalrugas itsel’.”

“Ah, Dalrugas itself,” said Sir Robert, a little abashed. It was
true--if the others had closed their doors, so had Dalrugas; if they
were left to silence and decay, so had his own house been. Other reasons
had operated in his case, but the result was the same. “I’m afraid,
Dougal,” he said, “that my poor little Lily has had an ill time of it,
which I never intended. Give me your opinion on the subject. Your
wife’s a very decent woman--and an excellent cook, I will say that for
her--but she’s like them all, she stands up for her own side. She would
have me think that my niece has been very solitary among the moors. Now
that was never what I intended. Tell me true: has Miss Lily been a kind
of prisoner, and seen nobody, as Katrin says?”

Dougal pushed his mass of hair to one side as if it had been a wig. “The
young leddy,” he said, “had none o’ the looks of a prisoner, Sir Robert.
I’ve seen her when you would have thought it was the very sun itsel’
shining on the moor.”

“You’re very poetical, Dougal,” said Sir Robert, with a laugh.

“And she would whiles sing as canty as the birds, and off upon Rory as
light as a feather down to the market to see all the ferlies o’ the
toun, and into the Manse for her tea.”

“That sounds cheerful enough,” said the old gentleman, “though the
ferlies of the town were not very exciting, I suppose. And old Blythe’s
still at the Manse? He’s one of the old set left at least.”

“He’s an altered man noo, Sir Robert; never a step can he make out o’
his muckle chair; they say he’s put into his bed at nicht, but it’s a
mystery to me and many more how it’s done, for he’s a muckle heavy man.
But year’s end to year’s end he’s just living on in his muckle chair.”

“Lord bless us!” Sir Robert said. He looked down on his own still
shapely and not inactive limbs with an involuntary shiver of comparison,
and then he added, with a half laugh: “A man that liked his good dinner,
and a good bottle of wine, and a good crack, with any of us.”

“That did he, Sir Robert!” Dougal said.

“Poor old Blythe! I must go and see him,” said the happier veteran, with
an unconscious stretch of his capable legs, and throwing out of his
chest. It was not any pleasure in the misfortune of his neighbor which
gave him this glow of almost satisfaction. It was the sense of his own
superiority in well-being, the comparison which was so much in his own
favor. The comparison this morning had not been in his own favor and he
had not liked it. He felt now, let us hope with a sensation of
thankfulness, how much better off he was than Mr. Blythe.

“Well, well, the Manse was always something, Dougal,” he said. “Manses
are cheerful places; there’s always a great coming and going. I hope
there was nobody much out of her own sphere that Miss Lily met there--no
young ministers coming up here after her, eh? They have a terrible flair
for lasses with tochers, these young ministers, Dougal?”

“Ay, Sir Robert, that have they,” said Dougal, “but I’ve seen no
minister here.”

“That was good luck for Lily--or we that are responsible for her,” said
the old gentleman. “Well, Dougal, my man, you’ll be tired yourself and
ready for your bed, and to make an early start to-morrow with the
gentlemen.”

“Ay, Sir Robert,” said Dougal. He was very glad to accept his dismissal,
and to feel that without so much as a fib he had kept his own counsel
and betrayed nothing. But when he had reached the door, he turned round
again, crushing his bonnet in his hands. “I was to tell you Miss Lily
was no better, poor thing, and that the women thought the doctor would
have to be sent for the morn.”

Sir Robert’s countenance clouded over. “Tchick, tchick!” he said, with
an air of perplexity. “You’ll see that the best man in the neighborhood
is the one that’s sent for,” he cried.



CHAPTER XXXV


There had been a pause after Lily called to Marg’ret to bring the baby
on the night when Ronald left her. Marg’ret, though very kind, was a
person who liked her own way. If the child’s toilet was not complete,
according to her own elaborate rule, she did not obey in a moment even
the eager call of the young mother. There were allowances made for her,
as there always are for those who insist upon having their own way.

Accordingly there was a pause. Lily lay and listened to the wheels of
the geeg which carried Ronald away. They did not bring the same chill to
her heart as usual, and yet a chill began to steal into the room. The
night was warm and soft--the early August, which in the North is the
height of summer--and there was no chill at all in the atmosphere. It
seemed to Lily’s keen ears as she lay listening that the geeg paused as
if something had been forgotten, but then went on at double speed,
galloping up the brae, till the sound of the wheels was extinguished in
the night and distance. Then she called again sharply: “Marg’ret,
Marg’ret! bring in my baby!” But still there was no reply.

“She’s just a most fastidious woman, with all her dressings and her
undressings. She’ll no have finished him just to the last string tying,”
said Robina.

“Bid her come at once, at once!” cried Lily. “I want my little man.”

And Beenie dived into the next room, which was muffled in curtains,
great precautions having been taken lest the cry of the child should be
heard down stairs. There was another room still within that, into which
the nurse occasionally retired; but there was no one in either place,
nor were there any traces of the little garments lying about which
betray a baby’s presence--every thing appeared to have been swept away.
Beenie, who had come for the child with her rosy countenance beaming,
stood still in consternation, her mouth open, her terrified eyes taking
in every thing with speechless dismay; for Marg’ret had never ventured
down stairs as yet, nor had, they flattered themselves, a sound of the
infant been heard, to awaken any question there. Beenie stood silent and
terrified for a moment, and then, instead of returning to her mistress,
she flew down stairs. Katrin was alone, doing some of her delicate
cooking carefully over the fire; all was still, as if nothing but the
most commonplace and tranquil events had ever happened there. Beenie,
who had burst into the place like a whirlwind, again paused, confounded
by this every-day tranquillity. “Katrin, Katrin, where is Marg’ret?” she
cried, adding in a lower tone, “and the bairn?”

“What a question to ask me!” said Katrin. “She’s with your mistress
without a doubt. Have you ta’en leave of your senses,” she murmured in a
hurried undertone, “to roar out like that about a bairn? What bairn?”

Here Beenie found herself at the end of all her resources. She burst out
into loud weeping. “She’s no up the stair and she’s no down the stair,”
cried Beenie, “and my bonnie leddy is crying out for her, and will not
be satisfied! And she’s no place that I can find her--neither her nor
yet the bairn.”

Katrin thrust her saucepan from her as if it had been the offending
thing; she wiped her hands with her apron. She looked at Beenie, both of
them pale with horror. “Oh, the ill man!” she cried. “Oh, the monster!
Oh, sic a man for our bonnie dear! I have been misdoubting about the
bairn--but wha could have expectit that a young man no hardened in
iniquity would have thought of a contrivance like that?”

Beenie had no thought or time to spare even on such an enormity. “How am
I to face her--and tell her?” she said.

And at this moment they heard Lily’s voice calling from above, at first
softly, then shouting, screaming all their names. “Marg’ret! Beenie!
Katrin! Marg’ret! Marg’ret! Beenie! Katrin! Where is my bairn? where is
my bairn?”

The two women flew up the stairs, at the head of which they found Lily
in her white night-dress, with her feet bare, her hair waving wildly
about her head, her face convulsed and drawn. “My bairn!” she cried, “my
bairn! my little bairn! Where is Marg’ret? Where is my baby? Marg’ret!
Marg’ret! Beenie! Katrin! bring me my baby--my baby!” She seized Beenie
wildly with her trembling hands.

“Oh, my daurlin’!” Beenie cried. “Oh, my bairn--oh, my bonnie Miss
Lily!”

Lily flung the large weeping woman from her with a passion of
impatience. “Katrin!” she said breathlessly, “you have sense; where is
my baby? bring me my baby! My little bairn! Did ye ever hear that an
infant like that should be kept from his mother? Marg’ret! Marg’ret!
Where has she taken my baby--my baby--my----”

Lily’s voice rose to a kind of scream. She ceased to have command of her
words, and went on calling, calling, for Marg’ret and for her child in
an endless cry, not knowing what she said.

“You will come back to your bed first and then I will tell you,” said
Katrin. There was no one in the house but themselves, and they were
isolated in this sudden tragedy from all the world by the distance and
the silence of night and the moor. The door stood open at the foot of
the stairs, and a cold air blew up through the long, many-cornered
passage, chill and searching notwithstanding the warmth of the night.
Lily was glad to lean shivering upon the warm support of the kind woman
who encircled her with her arm. “You will tell me--you will tell me,”
she murmured, permitting herself to be drawn back to her room. The blind
had been raised from one of the windows, and the moonlight streamed in,
crossing the dimly lighted chamber with one white line of light. The
bed, with the little table by it, and the candle burning calmly, seemed
too peaceful for Lily’s mood of suspense and alarm. She stood still in
the moonlight, which seemed to make her figure luminous with her white
bare feet and pale face. “Tell me!” she cried, “tell me! Marg’ret!
Marg’ret! Where has she taken my baby? I want my baby--nothing
more--nothing more.”

“For the Lord’s sake, mem!” said Katrin, “ye are shivering and
trembling. Go back to your bed.”

“Oh, my daurlin’!” cried the weeping Beenie. “Oh, my bonnie lamb, he’s
just away with his father in the geeg. Ye needna cry upon Marg’ret;
she’ll no hear you, for it’s just her that’s taken him away!”

“Oh, you born fool!” Katrin cried, supporting her young mistress with
her arm.

But Lily twisted out of her hold. She turned upon Beenie, bringing her
hands together wildly with a loud clap that startled all the silences
about like the sudden report of a pistol, and then fell suddenly with a
cry at their feet.

Since that moment she had not recovered consciousness. Both of them knew
by the force of experience how dangerous a symptom in Lily’s condition
is the strong convulsive shivering which had seized her, and for the
greater part of that dreadful night before Sir Robert’s arrival they
were both by her bedside striving with every kind of hot application to
restore a natural temperature. But when they had partially succeeded in
this, she still lay unconscious, sometimes agitated and disturbed,
flinging herself about with her arms over her head, and once or twice
repeating, what filled them with horror, the extraordinary clap together
of her hands--sometimes quite still, and murmuring under her breath a
continuous flow of inarticulate words, but never conscious of them or
their ministrations, saying no word that had meaning in it. Sir Robert’s
arrival made a certain change, and left the weight of the nursing upon
Beenie, Katrin, with her many additional labors, being unable to bear
her share. They had already, however, had time for several consultations
on the subject, which Sir Robert naturally disposed of with so much
ease, but which to the two women was a much more serious matter--a
doctor. Would not a doctor divine at once with his keen, educated eyes
what had happened so recently? Would not he read as clearly as in a book
what had been the beginning of Lily’s illness? She lay helpless now,
able to give them no assistance in disposing of her--she, so wilful by
nature, who had always got her own way, so far, at least, as they were
concerned. It filled them with awe to look at her lying unconscious,
and to feel that her fate was in their hands. What were they to do? They
were responsible for her life or death.

The doctor, when he came, listened with very small attention to Beenie’s
long and confused story, chiefly made up from things she had read and
heard of the causes of Lily’s illness. Whatever the causes were, the
result was clear enough. She was in a high fever, her faculties all lost
in that confusion of violent illness which takes away at once all
consciousness of the present and all personal control. “Fever” was an
impressive word in those days, more alarming in some senses, less so in
others, than now. It was not mapped out and distinct, with its charts
and its well-known rules. There was not, so far as I am aware, such a
thing as a clinical thermometer known, at least not in ordinary
practice; and the word “fever” meant something dangerously “catching,”
something before which nurses fled and friends retired in dismay--which
is not to say that those who suffered from it were less sedulously
guarded and taken care of by their own people then than now. The first
idea of both Beenie and Katrin, however, was that it must be “catching,”
being fever, and Sir Robert, when he was informed, was not much wiser.
“Fever--where could she have got it?” he said with a sudden imagination
of some wretched beggar-woman with a sick child who might have given it
to the young lady. “It is not a thing of that kind. You are thinking of
scarlatina or maybe typhus. Nothing of that sort. It does not spring
from infection. It is brain-fever,” the medical man said. “Brain-fever!”
said Sir Robert, indignant. “There was never any thing of that kind in
my family.” He took it as a reproach, as if the Ramsays had ever been a
race subject to disturbance in the brain!

But whatever they said, it mattered little to Lily. She lay on her bed
for hours together moving her restless head to and fro, muttering
inarticulate words, then pouring forth a stream of vague discourse,
through which there gleamed occasionally a ray of meaning, a wild
sudden demand, a flash of protest and expostulation. “Not that! not
him!” she would sometimes say, “any thing but him!” and the doctor,
making out as much as that one day, believed that the poor girl had been
refused her lover, and that it was the sudden arrival of the uncle, who
was hostile to them, which had brought on or precipitated the trouble in
her brain. Sometimes she would call for “Marg’ret, Marg’ret, Marg’ret!”
in accents now of impatience, now of despair. And then he asked who
Marg’ret was and why she did not come, or rather: “Which of you is
Marg’ret?” to the confusion of the two women. “Oh, sir, neither her nor
me,” cried Beenie, “neither her nor me! but a woman that had something
to do with her--in an ill moment.” “Let her be sent for, then,” he said
peremptorily. Beenie and Katrin had a great deal to bear. Knowing every
thing, they had to pretend they knew nothing, to shake their heads and
wonder why the patient should utter words which were heartrending to
them as betraying the dreadful persistence of that impression of misery
in her mind which they knew so well. They gave themselves the comfort of
exchanging a glance now and then, which was almost all the mutual
consolation they had. For Katrin was very much occupied with the
housekeeping and her work, and the necessity for satisfying her master
and his guests, who, knowing nothing of Sir Robert’s family, and never
having seen his niece, did not propose to go away, as guests in other
circumstances would have done. And Sir Robert was very far from desiring
that they should go away. He was terrified to find himself here alone,
without even Lily’s company, and therefore said very little of her
illness. What difference could it make to her, if she never saw them or
heard of them, whether Sir Robert had company or not? So Katrin labored
morning and night to feed with her best the party in the dining-room,
and with very imperfect help at first to look after all the wants of the
gentlemen, while Beenie, isolated in her mistress’s room, nursed night
and day the helpless, unconscious creature who required so little, yet
needed so much care. Those were not the days of carefully regulated
nursing, in which the most important matter of all is the preservation
of the nurse’s health and her meals and hours of taking exercise. It was
an age when the household was sufficient for itself, and the domestic
nurse devoted herself night and day to her charge, accepting all the
risks and fatigue as a matter of course. Beenie had no help and wanted
none. Sometimes for a moment’s refreshment she would go down to the
door, and breathe in a long draught of the fresh morning air, while
Katrin stood by Lily’s bed trying to elicit from her a look or sign of
intelligence. But Beenie could not have remained absent from her young
mistress had the wisest of nurses been there to take her place. “Na, na;
I’ve ta’en care of her a’ her days, and I’ll take care of her till the
end,” Beenie said, when Katrin exhorted her to take a few minutes more
of the outdoor freshness. “Hold your tongue, woman, with your ends!”
cried Katrin--“a young thing like that with a’ her life in her! She will
see us baith out.” “Oh, the Lord grant it!” cried Beenie, shaking her
large head. “But how is she to live and face the truth and ken all
that’s happened if ever she comes to herself? She will just sit up in
her bed, and clap her two hands together as she did yon dreadful
night--and give up the ghost.”

“God forgive him--for I canna!” said Katrin, with a deep-drawn breath.

“And Marg’ret! What do ye say to her, the deep designing woman, that had
been planning it, nae doubt, all the time?”

“Marg’ret!” cried Katrin with disdain, with the gesture of throwing
something too contemptible for consideration from her. But she added:
“There is just this to be said: We could not have keepit the bairn. No
possible, her so ill, and the doctor about the house, and a wee thing
that bid to have had the air and could not be keepit silent, nor yet
hid. Oh, mony’s the thought I’ve had on that awful subject. It was the
deed of a villain, Beenie! Maybe God will forgive him, but never me.
And yet, being done, it’s weel that it was done.”

“Katrin!” cried Beenie in dismay.

But something, perhaps, in their low-toned but vehement conversation had
caught some wandering and confused faculty not entirely overwhelmed in
Lily’s bosom. She began to call out their names again with a wild
appeal, “Marg’ret, Marg’ret!” above all the others, flinging out her
arms and rising up in her bed, as Beenie had described in her gloomy
anticipations, as if to give up the ghost.

And in this way days and weeks passed away. Lily’s fever seemed to have
become a natural part of the life of the house. Robina seemed to herself
unable to remember the time when she went to bed at night and got up
again in the morning like other people, and had ordinary meals and went
and came about the house. And all the incidents that had gone before
became dim. If an answer had been demanded of her hurriedly, she could
scarcely have ventured to affirm that any one was true: the marriage
ceremony in the Manse parlor, the meetings of the young husband and
wife, and above all the last tremendous event, which had seemed in its
turn to be of more importance than any thing else that ever occurred.
They had all faded away into the background, while Lily, sometimes pale
as a ghost, sometimes flushed with the agitation of fever, lay
struggling between life and death. The doctor, an ordinary village
doctor, knew little of such maladies. He was reduced by his practical
ignorance to the passive position which is now so often adopted by the
highest knowledge. He watched the patient with anxious and sympathetic
eyes, naturally sorry for a creature so young, with her girlish beauty
fading like a flower. He did not know what to do, and he wisely did
nothing. He had made, as was natural, many attempts to find out how an
attack so serious had been brought on. Had she received any great shock?
Katrin and Beenie, looking at each other, had answered cautiously that
maybe it might be so, but they could not tell. Had she suddenly heard
any bad news? Oh, yes, poor thing, she had done that! very bad news
that had just gone straight to her heart like the shot of a gun. “But,
doctor, you’ll say nothing to Sir Robert of that.” The doctor drew his
own conclusions and satisfied himself. No doubt the shock was the
arrival of the old uncle. He had heard something of the young gentleman
who was always coming and going, and that the two would make a bonnie
couple if every thing went right, though this good-natured speech was
accompanied by shakings of the head and prognostications of dreadful
things that might happen if every thing went wrong. The doctor nodded
his head and made up his mind that he had penetrated the affair. It
would not even have shocked him to hear that it had gone the length of a
secret marriage. Private marriages acknowledged late were not looked
upon in Scotland with very severe eyes. Both law and custom excused
them, though in such a case as Lily’s it was strange that any thing of
the kind should occur.

But it becomes of very little importance, when such a malady has dragged
along its weary course for weeks, to know what was the cause of it. The
rapid cures which a promise of happiness works, in fiction at least,
very seldom occur in life, and when the spiritual part of the patient
becomes lost, as it were, in the hot running current of fevered blood,
and the predominance of the agitated body is complete over all the
commotions of the mind, it is vain to think of proposing remedies for
the original wrong, even if that were possible. Sir Robert now and then
paid a visit to his niece’s room, short and unwilling, dictated solely
by a sense of duty. He stood near the door and looked at her, tossing on
her pillows, or lying as if dead in the apathy of exhaustion, with an
uneasy sense, partly that he was himself badly used by Providence,
partly that he might, perhaps, be partially himself to blame. He had
left her here very lonely. Perhaps it was a mistake in judgment; but
then he had been entirely ignorant of the circumstances, and how could
it be said to be his fault? When she began to talk, he could not
understand what she said--nor, indeed, could any one in the quickened
and hurrying incoherence of the utterance--except the cry of Marg’ret,
Marg’ret, Marg’ret! which still sometimes came with a passion that made
it intelligible from her lips. “Who is Marg’ret?” he asked angrily. “I
remember no person of that name.” “Marg’ret! Marg’ret! Marg’ret!” cried
Lily again, her confused mind caught by his repetition of the name. She
flung herself toward the side of the bed which was nearest the door,
opening her eyes wide, as if to see better, and adding, with a cry of
ecstasy: “She has brought him back--she has brought him back!” Sir
Robert hurried away with a thrill of alarm. Who was it that was to be
brought back? Who was the Marg’ret for whom she cried night and day? Was
it the mere delirium of her fever, or was something else--something real
and unknown--hidden below?



CHAPTER XXXVI


Sir Robert had not at this time a happy life. His friends went away at
last, having exhausted the little shootings of Dalrugas and finding that
social amusement of any kind was not to be found there, besides the
ever-present reason of “illness in the house” why they should not
outstay the limits of their invitation. And no one else came. Why should
they, considering how very little inducement he had to offer? This of
itself was a hard confession for the proud old man to make, who,
perhaps, had been tempted now and then to enhance at his club, or in his
favorite society, those attractions of his little patrimony, which were
so very different, as he remembered them, from what they were now. John
Duff of Blackscaur made a call to say chiefly how sorry he was that he
could show no civilities to his neighbor, having only come to a
dismantled house for a few weeks’ shooting, his wife being abroad. “I
was glad to give a little sport to one of the young Lumsdens last year,”
he said. “I heard he was a friend of yours.” “No friend of mine!” cried
Sir Robert, suddenly recalled by the name to the original cause, which
he had more than half forgotten, of Lily’s banishment. “Ah!” cried John
Duff indifferently, “it was a mistake, then. Of course I knew his
father.” This was the only social overture made to Sir Robert Ramsay,
and it carried with it a sting, which gave him considerable uneasiness.
“Would the fellow have the audacity to come after her here?” he asked
himself. And he made up his mind wrathfully, when Lily was better, to
enquire into this allusion. When Lily was better! But he was still more
angry when any doubt was expressed on that subject. Katrin’s tearful
looks once or twice when the patient was worse he took as a personal
affront. He would not believe that Providence, however hostile, could
treat him so badly as that.

When he was in this lonely and unsatisfied state of mind, a letter came
for him one day from the Manse, begging him in his charity to go and see
the minister, who was unable to come to him. “Ah! old Blythe,” Sir
Robert said. He would not have thought very much of old Blythe in other
days, but now he remembered, not without pleasure, the good stories the
minister told, and the good company he was. “Will Rory last with me as
far as the Manse?” he said to Dougal. “Rory, Sir Robert, he’ll just last
till the Day o’ Judgment,” said Dougal. “I have no occasion for him so
far as that!” Sir Robert replied sharply; and he felt that it was not
quite becoming his dignity to ride into Kinloch-Rugas mounted upon a
Highland pony; but what can one do when there is no other way? The
minister sat as usual in his great chair by the fire, which burned dully
still, though the day was August. He said: “Come in, Sir Robert, come
ben! I’m very glad to see you, though it is a long time since we met.
You will, maybe, find the fire too much at this time of the year, but,
you see, I’m a lameter that cannot move out of my chair, and I never
find it warm enough for me.”

“You should have a chair that you could move about and get into the sun
now and then; that’s the only thing that warms the blood--at our age.”

“I am years older than you. I consider you a fine trim and trig elderly
young man.”

The minister laughed more cordially at this jest than Sir Robert did. He
did not like the faintest suggestion of ridicule. It is true that he was
trim and well dressed, an example of careful toilet and appearance
beside the careless old heavy form in the easy chair. Mr. Blythe had
long since ceased to care what his appearance was. Sir Robert was “very
particular” and careful of every detail.

“And how are you liking your home-coming?” Mr. Blythe said. “It’s a
trial and a risk when you have been away all the best of your life. I’m
doubting the auld tower looks but small to your eyes by what it did in
the old days.”

“Things are changed certainly,” said Sir Robert a little stiffly,
“especially among the old neighbors. There used to be plenty of society;
now there seems none, or next to none.”

“And that is true. The old folk are dead and gone; the young generation
is changed: the lads go away and never come back, the lasses marry into
strange houses. It’s very true; but you are just very fortunate. Like
me, you have a child to your old age; though you did not, like me, Sir
Robert, take the trouble to provide her for yourself.”

Sir Robert stared a little at this speech, and then said: “If you mean
my niece Lily, Blythe, you probably know that she’s very ill in bed, and
a cause of great anxiety, not of comfort, to me.”

“Ay, ay,” said the minister, “we had heard something, but did not know
it was so bad as that. But it will be a thing that will pass by; just
some chill she has got out on the moor, or some other bit small matter.
She has been very well and blooming, a fine young creature all the time
we have had her here.”

“I am by no means sure,” said Sir Robert, with a cloud on his brow,
“that I did not make a mistake in sending her here. I had no intention
to send her into a desert. My mind was full of the old times, when we
were cheerful enough, as you will remember, Blythe, whatever else we
might be. There was not much money going--nor perhaps luxury--but there
was plenty of company. However, I’m glad you have so good a report to
give of her. She’s neither well nor blooming, poor lassie, now.”

The minister cleared his throat two or three times, as if he found it
difficult to resume. “Sir Robert,” he said, and then made a pause, “I am
not a man that likes to interfere. I have as little liking for that part
as you or any man could have--to be meddled with in what you will think
your own affairs.”

Sir Robert stiffened visibly, uplifting his throat in the stiff stock,
which, in his easiest moment, seemed to hold him within risk of
strangulation. “I fail to see,” he said, “what there is in my affairs
that would warrant interference from you or any man; but if you’ve got
any thing to say, say it out.”

“I meddle with nobody,” said the minister as proudly, “unless it is for
the young of the flock. I can scarcely call you one of my flock, Sir
Robert.”

“A grewsome auld tup at the best, you’ll be thinking,” said Sir Robert,
with a harsh laugh.

“Man!” said the minister, “at the least of it we are old friends. We
know each other’s mettle; if we quarrel, it’ll do little good or harm to
any body. And if you like to fling off in a fit, you must just do it.
What I’ve got to say is just this: Women folk are hard to manage for
them that are not used to them. I’ve not just come as well out of it as
I would have liked myself; and that little thing up at Dalrugas is a
tender bit creature. She has blossomed like the flowers when she has
been let alone, and never lost heart, though she has had many a dull
day. Do not cross the lassie above what she is able to bear. If you’re
still against the man she likes herself, for the love of God, Robert
Ramsay, force no other upon her, as you hope to be saved!”

The old minister was considerably moved, but this did not perhaps
express itself in the most dignified way. What with the fervor of his
mind, and the heat of the fire, and the little unusual exertion, the
perspiration stood in great drops on his brow.

“This is a very remarkable appeal, Blythe,” said Sir Robert. “_I_ force
another man upon her! Granted there is one she likes herself, as you
seem so sure--though I admit nothing of my own knowledge--am I a man to
force a husband down any woman’s throat?”

“I will beg your pardon humbly if I’m wrong,” said Mr. Blythe, subdued,
wiping the moisture from his face, “but if you think a moment, you will
see that appearances are against you. We heard of your arriving in a
hurry with a young gentleman in your train; and then there came the news
Miss Lily was ill--she that had stood out summer and winter against that
solitude and never uttered a word--that she should just droop the moment
that it might have been thought better things were coming, and company
and solace--Sir Robert, I ask you----”

“To believe that it was all out of terror of me!” cried Sir Robert, who
had risen up and was pacing angrily about the room. “Upon my word,
Blythe, you reckon on an old soldier’s self-command above what is
warranted! Me, her nearest relation, that have sheltered and protected
her all her life--do you mean to insinuate that Lily is ill and has a
brain-fever out of dread of me?”

“If you brought another man to her, knowing her wishes were a different
way, and bid her take him or be turned out of your doors!”

Sir Robert was not a man who feared any thing. He stood before the
minister’s very face, and swore an oath that would have blown the very
roof off the house had Mr. Douglas, the assistant and successor, sat in
that chair. Mr. Blythe was a man of robust nerves, yet it impressed
even him. “_I_ force a young man down a lassie’s throat!” cried Sir
Robert in great wrath, indignation, and furious derision. “Me make
matches or mar them! Is’t the decay of your faculties, Blythe, your old
age, though you’re not much older than I am, or what is it that makes
you launch such an accusation at me?”

“There’s nothing decayed about me but my legs,” said the old minister
with half a jest. “I’ll beg your pardon heartily, Sir Robert, if it’s
not true.”

“You deserve no explanations at my hands,” said the other, “but I’ll
give them for the sake of old times. The young man was a chance
acquaintance for a week’s shooting. I’ll perhaps never see him again,
nor did he ever set eyes on Lily. And I have not exchanged a word with
her since I came back. She knows me not--from you, or from Adam. Blythe,
she is very ill, the poor lassie. She knows neither night nor day.”

“Lord bless us!” said the minister, and then he put forth his large soft
hand. “I beg your pardon,” he said. “See how little a thing makes a big
lie and slander when it’s taken the wrong color. I was deceived, but I
hope you’ll forgive. In whose hands is she? what doctor? There’s no
great choice here.”

“A man from the other side of the water,” said Sir Robert in the old
phraseology of the countryside. “Macalister, I think.”

“Well, it’s the best you can do here. Our man’s a cleverer man, if you
could ever be sure of finding him with his head clear. But Macalister is
an honest fellow. I would not say but I would have a man from Edinburgh
if it was me.”

“Do you think so?” said Sir Robert.

“If it was my Eelen--Lord, it’s no one, but half-a-dozen men I’d have
from Edinburgh before I’d see her slip through my fingers. But there’s
nothing like your own very flesh and blood.”

“I will write at once!” cried Sir Robert.

“I would send a man--the post’s slow. I would send a man by the coach
that leaves to-night; for an hour lost you might repent all the days of
your life, Robert Ramsay,” said the minister, once more grasping and
holding fast in his large, limp, but not unvigorous hand the other old
gentleman’s firm and hard one. “Just bear with me for another word. If
she’s hanging between life and death--and you know not what may
happen--and if there is a man in Edinburgh she would rather see than any
doctor, for the love of God, man, don’t do things by halves, but send
for him, too.”

“What the deevil do you mean with your ‘man in Edinburgh’?” Sir Robert
said, with a shout, drawing his hand forcibly away.

He rode home upon Rory, much discomfited and disturbed. It is scarcely
too much to say that he had forgotten much, or almost all, about Ronald
Lumsden in the long interval that had occurred, during which he was
fully occupied with his own life, and indifferent to what took place
elsewhere. He had sent Lily off to Dalrugas to free her from the
assiduities of a young fellow who was not a proper match for her. That
is how Sir Robert would have explained it; and he had never entertained
a doubt that, what with the fickleness of youth and the cheerful company
about, Lily had forgotten her unsuitable suitor long ago. But to have it
even imagined, by the greatest old fool that ever was, that Lily’s
terror of being obliged by her uncle to accept another man had upset her
very brain and brought on a deadly fever was too much for any man to
bear. And old Blythe was not an old fool, though he had behaved like
one. If he thought so, other people would think so, and he--Robert
Ramsay, General, K. C. B., a man almost as well known as the Prince of
Wales himself, a member of the best clubs, an authority on every social
usage--he, the venerated of Edinburgh, the familiar of London--he would
be branded, in a miserable hole in the country, with the character of a
domestic tyrant, with the still more contemptible character of a
match-maker, like any old woman! Sir Robert’s rage and annoyance were
increased by the consciousness that he was not himself cutting at all a
dignified figure on the country road mounted upon Rory, for whom his
legs were too long (though he was not a tall man) and his temper too
short. Rory tossed his shaggy head to the winds, and did battle with his
master, when the pace did not please him. He all but threw the old
gentleman, who was famed for his horsemanship. And it was in the last
phase of exasperation, having dismounted, and, with a blow of his light
switch, sent Rory careering home to his stable riderless, that Sir
Robert encountered the doctor returning from his morning’s visit. Mr.
Macalister’s face was grave. He turned back at once, and eagerly,
desiring, he said, a few minutes’ conversation. “I cannot well speak to
you with your people and those women always about.”

“I am afraid, then,” said Sir Robert, “you have something very serious
to say.”

“Maybe--and maybe not. In the first place there are indications this
morning of a change--we will hope for the better. The pulse has fallen.
There’s been a little natural sleep. I would say in an ordinary subject,
and with no complications, that perhaps, though we must not just speak
so confidently at the first moment, the turn had taken place.”

“I’m delighted to hear it!” cried Sir Robert. It was really so great a
relief to him that he put out his hand in sudden cordiality. “I will
never forget my obligations to you, Macalister. You have given me the
greatest relief. When the turn has really come, there is nothing, I’ve
always heard, but great care wanted--care and good food and good air.”

“That was just what I wanted to speak to you about, Sir Robert,” said
the doctor, with one of those little unnecessary coughs that mean
mischief. “Good air there is--she could not have better; and good food,
for I’ve always heard your housekeeper is great on that; and good
nursing--well, yon woman, that is, your niece’s maid, Bauby or Beenie,
or whatever they call her, is little more than a fool, but she’s a
good-hearted idiot, and sticks to what she’s told--when there’s nobody
to tell her different. So we may say there’s good care. But when that’s
said, though it’s a great deal, every thing is not said.”

“Ay,” said Sir Robert, “and what may there be beyond that?” He had
become suspicious after his experiences, though it did not seem possible
that from such a quarter there should come any second attack.

“I’m very diffident,” said the doctor in his strong Northern accent,
with his ruddy, weather-beaten countenance cast down in his
embarrassment, “of mentioning any thing that’s not what ye might call
strictly professional, or taking advantage of a medical man’s poseetion.
But when a man has a bit tender creature to deal with, like a flower,
and that has just come through a terrible illness, the grand thing to
ask will be, Sir Robert, not if she has good food and good nursing,
which is what is wanted in most cases, but just something far more hard
to come by--if she’s wanting to live----”

“Wanting to live!” cried Sir Robert. “What nonsense are you speaking? A
girl of that age!”

“It’s just precisely that age that fashes me. Older folk have got more
used to it: living’s a habit with the like of us. We just find we must
go on, whatever happens; but a young lass is made up of fancies and
veesions. She says to herself: ‘I would like better a bonnie green turf
in the kirkyard than all this fighting and striving,’ and just fades
away because she has no will to take things up again. I’ve seen cases
like that before now.”

“And what’s my part in all this?” cried Sir Robert. “You come to me with
your serious face, as if I had some hand in it. What can I do?”

“Well, Sir Robert,” said the doctor, “that is what I cannot tell. I’m
not instructed in your affairs--nor do I wish to be; but if there is any
thing in this young lady’s road that crosses her sorely--the state of
the brain that made this attack so dangerous evidently came from some
mental shock--if it’s within the bounds of possibility that you can give
in to her, do so, Sir Robert. I am giving you a doctor’s advice--not a
private man’s that has nothing ado with it. If you can give her her own
way, which is dear to us all, and more especially to women folk, give it
to her, Sir Robert! It will be her best medicine. Or if you cannot do
that, let her think you will do it--let her think you will do it! It’s
lawful to deceive even in a case like this--to save her life.”

“You are trying to make me think, doctor, that my niece has been
pretending to be ill all this time in order to get her own way.”

“You may think that if you like, Sir Robert. It’s a pretending that has
nearly cost you a funeral, and I will not say may not do so yet--but me,
out of my own line, my knowledge is very imperfect. You know your own
affairs best. But you cannot say I have not warned you of the
consequences,” Dr. Macalister said.

All the world seemed in a conspiracy against Sir Robert. He took off his
hat formally to the doctor, who responded, somewhat overawed by such a
solemn civility. What was it that this man, a stranger, supposed him to
be doing to Lily? It was ridiculous, it was absurd! first old Blythe,
and then the doctor. He had never done any harm to Lily; he had stopped
a ridiculous love affair, a boy and girl business, with a young fellow
who had not a penny. He did not mean his money to go to fit out another
lot of long-legged Lumsdens, a name he could not bear. No, he had done
no more than was his right, which he would do again to-morrow if
necessary. But then in the meantime here was another question. Her life,
a lassie’s life! Nothing was ever more ridiculous: her life depending on
what lad she married, a red-headed one, or a black-headed one, the silly
thing! But nevertheless it seemed it was true. Here was the doctor, a
serious man, and old Blythe, both in a story. Well, if she were dying
for her lad, the foolish tawpy, he would have to see what could be done.
To think of a Ramsay, the last of his race, following her passions like
that! But it would be some influence from the other side, from the
mother, James’s wife, who, he had always heard, was not over-wise.

He was turning over these thoughts in his mind as he approached close to
the house, when he was suddenly aware of some one flying out toward him
with arms extended and a lock or two of red hair dropped out of all
restraint and streaming in the wind. Beenie had waited and watched and
lived half in a dream, never sleeping, scarcely eating, absorbed in that
devotion which has no bounds, for the last six weeks. Her trim aspect,
her careful neatness, her fresh and cheerful air, had faded in the air
of the sick room. Combs do not hold nor pins attach after such a long
vigil. She flew out, running wildly toward him with arms extended and
hair streaming until, unable to stop herself, she fairly ran into the
old gentleman’s arms.

“Oh, Sir Robert,” cried Beenie, gasping and trying to recover her
breath, but too far gone for any apology, “she’s come to herself! She’s
as weak as water, and white as death. But she’s come to herself and
she’s askin’ for you. She’s crying upon you and no to be silenced. ‘I
am wanting Uncle Robert, I am wanting Uncle Robert!’ No breath to speak,
and no strength to utter a voice, but come to hersel’, come to hersel’!
And, oh! the Lord knows if it’s for death or life, for none of us can
tell!”



CHAPTER XXXVII


When Sir Robert went in somewhat reluctantly to Lily’s room--for he was
not accustomed to illness, and did not know what to do or say, or even
how to look, in a sick room--he found her fully conscious, very white,
very worn, her eyes looking twice their usual size and full of that
wonderful translucent clearness which exhaustion gives. Her face, he did
not know why, disposed the old gentleman to shed tears, though he was
very far indeed from having any inclination that way in general. There
was a smile upon it, a smile of wistful appeal to him, such a claim upon
his sympathy and help as perhaps no other human creature had ever made
before.

“Uncle!” she cried, holding out two thin hands which seemed whiter than
the mass of white linen about her. “Uncle Robert! oh! are you there? I
have been an ill bairn to you, Uncle Robert. I have not been faithful
nor true. You sent me here for my good, and I’ve turned it to harm. But
you’re my only kin and my only friend, and all that I have in the
world.”

“Lily, my dear, compose yourself, my poor lassie. I am not blaming you:
why should I blame you? When you were ill, what could you do but lie in
your bed and be taken care of? Woman, have ye no sense? She is not fit
yet to be troubled with visits; you might have seen that!”

“Oh, Sir Robert, and so I did! But how could I cross her when she just
said without ceasing: ‘I want my uncle. I want to see my uncle!’ She was
not to be crossed, the doctor said.”

“It was not Beenie’s fault.” Lily stretched out her hands till they
reached her uncle’s, who stood by her bedside, yet as far off as he
could, not to appear unkind. He was a little horrified by the touch of
those hot hands. She threw herself half out of the bed to reach him, and
caught his hard and bony old hand, so firm still and strong, between
those white quivering fingers, almost fluid in their softness, which
enveloped his with a sudden heat and atmosphere, so strange and unusual
that he retreated still a step, though he could not withdraw his hand.

“Uncle Robert, you will not forsake me!” Lily cried. “I have only you
now, I have only you. I have been ill to you, but, oh, be good to me! I
am a very lonely woman. I have nobody. I have put my trust in--other
things, and they have all failed me! I’ve had a long dream and now I’ve
awakened. Uncle Robert, I have nobody but you in all the world!”

“Now, Lily, you must just compose yourself, my dear. Who thought of
forsaking you? It is certain that you are my only near relation. Your
father was my only brother. What would ail me at you? My poor lassie,
just let yourself be covered up, and put your arms under the clothes and
try if you cannot sleep a little. A good sleep would be the best thing
for her, Robina, wouldn’t you say? Compose yourself, compose yourself,
my dear.”

Lily still clung to his hand, though he tried so hard to withdraw it
from her hold. “And I will be different,” she said. “You will never need
to complain of me more. My visions and my dreams they are all melted
away, like the snow yon winter-time, when my head was just carried and I
did not know what I was doing. Oh, I have been ill to you, ill to you!
Eaten your bread and dwelt in your house and been a traitor to you. If
they tell you, oh, Uncle Robert, do not believe I was so bad as that. I
never meant it, I never intended---- It was a great delusion, and it is
me that has the worst to bear.”

“Robina!” cried Sir Robert, “this will never do. What disjointed
nonsense has the poor thing got into her head? She will be as bad as
ever if you do not take care. No more of it, no more of it, Lily. You’ve
been very ill; you must be quiet, and don’t trouble your head about any
thing. As for your old uncle, he will stand by you, my poor lassie,
whatever you may have done--not that I believe for a moment you have
done any thing.” He was greatly relieved to get his hand free. He went
so far as to cover her shoulders with the bedclothes, and to give a
little pat upon the white counterpane. Poor little thing! Her head was
not right yet. Great care must be taken of the poor lassie. He had heard
they were fond of accusing themselves of all kinds of crimes after an
attack of this sort.

“I suppose the doctor will be coming to-day?” he said to Beenie as he
hastily withdrew toward the door.

“It’s very near his hour, Sir Robert.”

“That’s well, that’s very well! Keep her as quiet as you can, that’s the
great thing, and tell her from me that she is not to trouble her head
about any thing--about any thing, mind,” said Sir Robert with an
emphasis which had no real meaning, though it awakened a hundred alarms
in Beenie’s mind. She thought he must have been told, he must have found
out something of the history of these past months. But, indeed, the old
gentleman knew nothing at all, and meant nothing but to express, more or
less in the superlative, his conviction that poor Lily was still under
the dominion of her delusions, and that it was her fever, not herself,
which brought from her lips these incomprehensible confessions. He
understood that it was often so in these cases; probably, if he had let
her go on, she would have confessed to him that she had tried to
murder--Dougal, say, or somebody else equally likely. The only thing was
to keep her quiet, to impress upon her that she was not to trouble her
head about any thing, not about any thing, in the strongest way in which
that assurance could be put.

Lily lay quite still for a long time after Sir Robert had escaped from
the room. She was very weak and easily exhausted, but happily the
weakness of both body and brain dulled, except at intervals, the active
sense of misery, and even the memory of those events which had ravaged
her life. She was still quite quiet when the doctor came, and smiled at
him with the faint smile of recovered consciousness and intelligence,
though with scarcely a movement as she lay on her pillows, recovered,
yet so prostrated in strength that she lay like one cast up by the
waves, half dead, unable to struggle or even to lift a finger for her
own help. A much puzzled man was the doctor, who had brought her
successfully through this long and dreadful illness, but whose mind had
been sorely exercised to account for many things which connected this
malady with what had gone before. That he divined a great deal of what
had gone before there was little doubt; but he had no light upon Lily’s
real position, and his heart was sore for a young creature, a lady, in
such sore straits, and with probably a cloud hanging over her which
would spoil her entire life. And he was a prudent man, and asked no
questions which he was not compelled to ask. Had it been a village girl
he would have formed his conclusions with less hesitation, and felt less
deeply; but it was a very different matter with Sir Robert Ramsay’s
niece, who would be judged far more severely and lose much more than any
village maiden was likely to do. Poor girl! he tried as best he could,
like a good man as he was, to save her as much as possible even from the
suggestion of any suspicion. “What has she been doing? You have allowed
her to do too much,” he said.

“She would see her uncle, doctor; she just insisted that she would see
Sir Robert. If I had crossed her in that, would it no have been just as
bad?”

The white face on the pillow smiled faintly and breathed, rather than
said: “It was my fault.”

“And he said she was not to trouble her head about ainy thing, not about
_ainy thing_, doctor, and that was a comfort to her--she was so vexed,
him coming for the first time to his ain house, and her no able to
welcome him, nor do any thing for him.”

“That’s a very small matter; she must think of that no more. What you
have to do now, Miss Ramsay, is just to think of nothing, to trouble
your head about nothing, as Sir Robert judiciously says; to take what
you can in the way of nourishment, and to sleep as much as you can, and
to think about nothing. I absolutely proheebit thinking,” he said,
bending over her with a smile. She was so touching a sight in her great
weakness, and with even his uncertain perception of what was behind and
before her, that the moisture came into the honest doctor’s eyes.

Lily gave him another faint smile, and shook her head, if that little
movement on the pillow could be called shaking her head, and then he
gave Beenie her instructions, and with a perplexed mind proceeded to the
interview with Sir Robert to which he had been summoned. He did not know
what he would say to Sir Robert if his questions were of a penetrating
kind. But Sir Robert’s questions were not penetrating at all.

“She has been havering to me, poor lassie,” said the old gentleman,
“about being alone in the world and with nobody but me to look after
her. It is true enough. We have no relations, either her or me, being
the last of the family. But why should she think I would forsake her?
And she says she has been an ill bairn to me, and other things that have
just no sense in them. But that’s a common thing, doctor? Is it not
quite a common thing that people coming out of such an illness take
fancies that they have done all sorts of harm?”

“The commonest thing in the world,” said the doctor cheerfully. “Did she
say she had stolen your gear, or broken into your strong-box?”

“There is no saying what she would have said if I had let her go on,”
said Sir Robert, with a laugh, “though, indeed, I was nearer crying than
laughing to see her so reduced. But all that will come right in time?”

“It will all come right in time. She’s weaker than I like to see, and
you must send for me night or day, at any moment, if there is any
increase of weakness. But I hope better things. Leave her to the women:
they’re very kind, and not so silly as might reasonably be expected.
Don’t go near her, if I might advise you, Sir Robert.”

“Indeed, I will obey you there,” said the old gentleman; “no fear of
that. I can do her no good, poor thing, and why should I trouble both
her and myself with useless visits? No, no, I will take care of that.”

And the doctor went away anxious, but satisfied. If there was a story to
tell, it was better that the poor girl should tell it at least when she
was full mistress of herself--not now, betrayed by her weakness, when
she might say what she would regret another time.

But Lily asked no more for Sir Robert. It was but the first impulse of
her suddenly awakened mind. She relapsed into the weakness which was all
the greater for that brief outburst, and lay for days conscious, and so
far calm that she had no strength for agitation, often sleeping, seldom
thinking, wrapped by nature in a dream of exhaustion, through which mere
emotion could not pierce. And thus youth and the devoted attendance of
her nurses brought her through at last. It was October when she first
rose from her bed, an advance in recovery which the women were anxious
to keep back as long as possible, while the doctor on the other hand
pressed it anxiously. “She will lose all heart if she is kept like this,
with no real sign of improvement,” he said. “Get her up; if it’s only
for an hour, it will do her good.”

“It will bring it all back,” said Beenie in despair. She stopped herself
next moment with a terrified glance at him; but he knew how to keep his
own counsel. And he gave no further orders on this subject. Lily,
however, was not to be restrained. When she was first led into the
drawing-room, she went to the window and looked out long and with a
steadfast look upon the moor. It had faded out of the glory of heather
which had covered it everywhere when she last looked upon that scene.
Nearly two months were over since that day, that wonderful day of fate.
Lily looked out upon the brown heather, still with here and there a
belated touch of color upon the end of the long stalks rustling with the
brown husks of the withered bells. The rowan-trees gave here and there a
gleam of scarlet or a touch of bright yellow in the scanty leaves,
ragged with the wind, which were almost as bright as the berries. The
intervals of turf were emerald green, beginning to shine with the damp
of coming winter. The hills rose blue in the noonday warmth with that
bloom upon them, like a breaking forth of some efflorescence responsive
to the light, which comes in the still sunshine, disturbed by no flying
breezes. Lily looked long upon the well-known landscape which she knew
by heart in every variation, resisting with great resolution the
endeavors of Beenie to draw her back from that perilous outlook.

“Oh, look nae mair, my bonnie leddy!” Beenie said. “You’ve seen it mair
than enough, that awfu’ moor!”

“What ails you at the moor, Robina?” Sir Robert said, coming briskly in.
“You are welcome back, my dear; you are welcome back to common life.
Don’t stand and weary yourself; I will bring you a chair to the window.
I’m glad, Lily, that you’re fond of the moor.”

Lily turned to him with the same overwhelming smile which had nearly
made an end of Sir Robert before, which shone from her pale face and
from her wide, lucid, liquid eyes, still so large and bright with
weakness; but she did not wait for him to bring her a chair to the
window. She tottered to one that had been placed for her near the fire,
which, however bright the day, was always necessary at Dalrugas. “I am
better here,” she said. She looked so fragile seated there opposite to
him that the old gentleman’s heart was moved.

“My poor lassie! I would give something to see you as bright-faced and
as light-footed as when you came here.”

“Ah, that’s so long ago,” she said. “I was light-hearted, too, and
perhaps light-headed then. I am not light in any way now, except,
perhaps, in weight. It makes you very serious to live night and day and
never change upon the moor.”

“Do you think so, Lily? I’m sorry for that. I thought you were so fond
of the moor. They told me you were out upon it when you were well,
rambling and taking your pleasure all the day.”

“Yes,” she said, “it’s always bonnie. The heather is grand in its time,
and it’s fine, too, in the gray days, when the hills are all wrapped in
their gray plaids, and a kind of veil upon the moor. But it cannot
answer, Uncle Robert, when you speak, or give you back a look or say a
word.”

“That’s true, that’s true, Lily. I was thinking only that it’s a
peaceful place, and quiet, where an old man like me can get his sleep in
peace; though there’s that Dougal creature with his pails and pony that
is aye stirring by the skreigh of day.”

“The pony was a great diversion,” said Lily, “and Dougal, too, who was
always very kind to me.”

“Kind! It was his bounden duty, the least he could do. I would like to
know how he would have stood before me if he had not been kind, and far
more, to the only child of the old house!”

“Thank you, Uncle Robert,” said Lily, “for saying so. They were all
kind, and far more than kind. They have just been devoted to me, and
thought of nothing but to make me happy. You will think of that--in case
that any thing should happen.”

“Lily!” said Sir Robert with an angry tone, “I’m thinking you’re both
ungrateful and unkind yourself. God has spared you and brought you back
out of a dreadful illness, and these two women have nursed you night and
day, and though I could do little for you, having no experience that
way, yet perhaps I’ve felt all the more. And here are you speaking of
‘any thing that might happen,’ as if you had not just been delivered out
of the jaws of death.”

“Yes, I am very grateful,” said Lily, holding out her thin hand, “to
both them and you, Uncle Robert, and most of all to you, for it was out
of your way indeed; but as for God, I am not sure that I am grateful to
him, for he might have taken me out of all the trouble while he was at
it, and that would have been the best for us all. But,” she added,
looking up suddenly with one of her old quick changes of feeling and
countenance, “how should you think I meant dying? There are many, many
things that might happen besides that. I might go away, or you might
send me away.”

“I’ll not do that, Lily.”

“How do you know, Uncle Robert? You sent me away once before when you
sent me here. You might do it again--or, what is more, I might ask
you---- Oh, Uncle Robert, let me go away a little, let me leave the
sight of it, and the loneliness that has broken my heart!” Lily put her
transparent hands together and looked at him with a pathetic entreaty in
her face.

“Go away!” he said, startled, “as soon as I come here--the first time
you come into the drawing-room to ask that!”

“It is true,” said Lily, “it’s ungrateful, oh, it’s without heart, it’s
unkind, Uncle Robert, as you say; but only for a little while, till I
get a little better. I will never get better here.”

“This is a great disappointment to me,” he said. “I thought I would have
you, Lily, to keep me company. I thought you would be my companion and
take care of me for a year or two. I am not likely at my age to trouble
any body for very long,” he added with a half-conscious appeal for
sympathy.

“And so I will,” said Lily; “I will be your companion. I will be at your
side to do whatever you please--to read or to write, to walk or to talk.
I will look for nothing else in this world, and I will never leave you,
Uncle Robert, and there is my hand upon that. But I must be well first,”
she added rapidly. “And I will never get well here. Oh, let me go! If it
was but for a week, for a fortnight, for two or three days. Is it not
always said of ill folk that when they get better they must have a
change? Let me have a change, Uncle Robert! I want to look out at
something that is not the moor. Oh, how long, how long, if you will only
think of it, I have been looking at nothing but the moor! I am tired,
tired of the moor! Oh, I am wearied of it! I have liked it well, and I
will come back and like it again. But for a little while, uncle, only
for a little while, let me go away from the moor.”

“Is it so long a time?” he said. “I was not aware you had been here so
long a time. Why, it is not two years! If you think two years is a long
time, Lily, wait till you know what life is, and that a year’s but a
moment when you look back upon it.”

“It looks like a hundred years to me,” she said, “and before I can look
back as you do it will be a hundred years more. And how am I to bear
them all without a break or a rest? If I were even like you, a soldier
marching here and there, with your colors flying and your drums
beating! but what has a woman to do but to sit and think and count the
days? Uncle Robert,” she said, putting her hand on his arm as he stood
near her, with his back to the fire, “I’m not unwilling at all to die. I
would never have minded if it had been so. I would have asked for
nothing but a warm green turf from the moor, and maybe a bush of heather
at my feet. But it has not ended like that, which would have been God’s
doing--only I will never get well unless I get away, unless I breathe
other air; and if you refuse me, that will be your doing!” she cried
with something of her old petulance and fire.

“Did the doctor say any thing about this change?” Sir Robert asked
Beenie, with a cloud upon his face.

“He said she was to be crossed in naething,” Beenie replied.



CHAPTER XXXVIII


When it was settled that Lily was to have the change upon which she
insisted, her health improved day by day, and with the increase of her
strength, or perhaps as the real fountain-head and cause of her
increased strength, her elasticity of spirit returned to her. By one of
those strange gifts of temperament which triumph over every thing that
humanity can encounter, this young creature, overwhelmed by so many
griefs--a deserted wife, a mother whose child had been torn from her,
her secret life so full of incidents and emotion ending all at once in a
blank--became in the added grace of her weakness and of the spirit and
courage which overcame it as sweet a companion to her old uncle, as full
of variety and freshness, as the heart could desire. He, indeed, had
never known such company before. She had been younger by an age when she
left him in Edinburgh, less developed, half a child, at least in his
eyes, and he had been surrounded by company and cronies of his own of a
very different character. But now, in this lonely spot where there was
nobody, Lily, rising from her sick-bed, with her eyes still large in
their white sockets, her hands still transparent, her touch and her step
still tremulous with weakness, became his diversion, his delight, making
the long lonely days short, and even the rain supportable when it swept
against the narrow windows, and intensified the brightness of the
fireside and the pleasant talk, or even, when there was no talk, the
sense of companionship within. Sometimes Lily would fall asleep in the
afternoon or at the falling of the day, unawares, in the feebleness of
her convalescence, and perhaps these were the moments in which most of
all the old man of the world felt completely what this companionship
was. He would lay down his paper or his book and look at her--the light
of the fire playing on her face, giving it a faint touch of rose, and
dissimulating the deep shadows under the eyes--feeling to his heart that
most intimate confidence and trust in him, the reliance, almost
unconscious, of a child, the utter dependence and weakness which could
put up no barriers of the conventional, nor stop to think what would be
agreeable: these things found out secret crevices in Sir Robert’s armor
of which neither he nor any one else had dreamed. The water stood in his
eyes as he looked at her, saying “Poor lassie, poor little lassie!”
secretly in his heart. She was as good company then, though she did not
know it, as when she started from her brief sleep and exerted herself to
make him talk, to make him laugh, to feel himself the most interesting
of _raconteurs_ and delightful of companions. Many people had flattered
Sir Robert in his day--he had been important enough in much of his life
for that--but he had never found flattery so sweet as Lily’s demands
upon the stores of his long experience, her questions upon his history,
her interest in what he told her. It was not only that she was herself
such a companion as he had not dreamed of, but that he never had been
aware before what excellent company he was himself. He almost grudged to
see her growing stronger, though he rejoiced in it from the bottom of
his old world-worn heart.

“And so you are going to leave me, Lily--you’ve settled, that Robina
woman and you--and you’re off in two days seeking adventures?”

“Yes, uncle--in two days; but only for a little while.”

“Without a thought of an old man left desolate--upon the edge of the
moor.”

“Yes, with a thought that is very pleasant--that there’s somebody there
wanting me back”--she paused a moment with a faint sigh and added: “and
that I am coming back to in a little while. And then, as for the moor,
it is full of diversion. You’re never lonely watching the clouds and the
shadows and all the changes: I have had much experience of it, Uncle
Robert--two years, that were sometimes long, long.”

“I never knew,” said Sir Robert, a little abashed, “how lonely it was,
Lily, and that all the old neighbors were gone. I pictured you
surrounded with young folk, and as merry as the day was long.”

“It was not exactly that,” she said, with a smile; and then her face
changed, as it did from moment to moment, like the moor which she loved,
yet hated--shadows flying over it as swift, as sudden, and as deep. “But
it’s all past, and why should we think more of it? When I come back,
Uncle Robert, we’ll be cheery, you and me together by the fireside all
the winter through, and never ask whether there are neighbors or not--or
other folk in the world.”

“I would not go so far as that,” said the old gentleman. “We’ll get the
world to come to us, Lily, a small bit at a time. But you have never
told me where you are going when you leave me here.”

“To Edinburgh,” she said.

“To Edinburgh! I thought you had consulted with the doctor, and were
going to the seaside, or to the Bridge of Allan, or some of the places
where invalids go.”

“Uncle,” said Lily, “I have been two years upon the moor, and in all
that time I have not got a new gown, nor a bonnet, nor any thing
whatsoever. Oh, yes, we will go to the sea, or the Bridge of Allan, or
to some place. But we are not fit to be seen, neither Beenie nor me.
You do not take these things into consideration. You think, when I speak
to you like a rational creature, that I am above the wants of my kind;
but rational or not, a woman must always have some clothes to wear!”

Sir Robert laughed and clapped his hands. “Bravo, Lily!” he cried. “You
cannot do better, my dear, than own you’re just a woman and are as fond
of your finery as the rest. By all means, then, go to Edinburgh and fit
yourself out; but do not stay there, go out to Portobello, if you do not
care to go farther, or a little more to the West, where it’s milder, and
you will get a warm blink before the winter weather sets in. And that
reminds me that you will want money, Lily.”

“A good deal of money, Uncle Robert,” she said, with a smile. “You know
I have had none for two years.”

It was with a sensation of shame that he heard her allusions to those
two years, and perhaps Lily was aware of it. She wanted money, she
wanted freedom, and that her steps should not be watched nor her
movements constrained. And the old gentleman was startled and humiliated
when he realized that his heiress, his only relation, his brother’s
child, had been banished to this wilderness without a shilling in her
pocket or a friend to help her. He could not imagine how he could have
forgotten so completely her existence or her claims upon him and right
to his support. He was glad to wipe that recollection from his own mind
as well as hers by his liberality now. And Lily received from him an
order upon his “man of business” in Edinburgh for an amount which seemed
to her almost fabulous--for she knew nothing of money, had never had
any, nor required it, although when she retired to her room with that
piece of paper in her hand which meant so much, the reflection of what
might have happened and what she could have done had she only at any
time during these two years possessed as much, or half as much, came
upon her with almost a convulsive sense of opportunities lost. She flung
herself upon Beenie’s shoulder when she reached the safe shelter of her
room, where it was no longer necessary to keep herself up and make a
smile for her uncle. “Oh, Beenie!” she cried, “if he had given me the
half of that before, or the quarter! how every thing might have been
changed.”

“Oh, mem, my bonnie leddy,” cried Beenie, who never now addressed her
mistress as Miss Lily, “it’s little, little that siller can do!”

Anger flashed in Lily’s eyes. “It could just have done every thing!” she
said. “Do you think I would have been put off and off if I could have
put my hand in my pocket and taken the coach and gone, you and me, to
see to every thing ourselves? Oh! many a time I have wished for it, and
longed for it--but what could we do, you and me, and nothing, nothing to
take us there? Oh, never say siller can do little! It might have spared
us all that’s happened--think! all that’s happened! I might be thinking
now as I thought yon New Year’s time in the snow. I might be as sure and
as full of trust. I might never have learned what it was to deceive and
to be deceived. I might never have been a desolate woman without man or
bairn--without my little bairn, my little baby!”

“Oh, my darlin’ leddy! but you’ll get him again, you’ll get him again!”
cried Beenie, with streaming eyes.

“I hope in God I shall,” said Lily, tearless, lifting her eyes and
clasping her hands. “I hope in God I shall, or else that he’ll let me
just lay down my head and die!”

“He has raised you up from the very grave,” said Beenie. “We had nae
hope, Katrin and me; we had nae hope at all. Here she is hersel’ that
will tell you. There was ae night--oh, come Katrin, come and bear me
out--when you and me just stood over her, and kissed the bonnie white
face on the white pillow, and wrung each other’s hands, and said: ‘If
the baby’s lost and her reason gane, God bless her, she’ll be better
away.’”

“Whisht with your nonsense,” said Katrin; “that’s a’ past, and now we
have nae such thoughts in our heads. But what will you do, my dear
leddy, my bonnie leddy? Will ye bring him back here? A fine thriving
bairn like yon you canna hide him. The first day, the first night, and
the secret would be parish news. I was frichtened out of my wits the
first days for Dougal, who is not a pushing man, to do him justice, or
one that asks questions; but with Sir Robert in the house, oh, mem, my
bonnie dear, what will ye do?”

“I have never wanted to make any secret, Katrin,” Lily said.

“I ken that; but there will be an awfu’ deal to tell when once you
begin. And the bairn he is an awfu’ startling thing to begin with. Do ye
no think an auld gentleman like Sir Robert had better be prepared for
it? It would give him a shock. It might even hairm him in his health. I
would take counsel about it. Oh, I would take counsel! Do naething in a
hurry, not to scandalize the country, nor to give our auld maister a
fright that might do him harm.”

“To scandalize the country!” said Lily, pale with anger. “Oh! to think
it’s me, me that she says that to! Do you think it is better to deceive
every-body and be always a lie whatever way you turn?”

“Mem,” said Katrin, “my dear, you’ll excuse me; I must just say the
truth. It’s an awfu’ thing to deceive, as you say, and well I ken it was
never your wyte. But the worst of it is that when you begin you cannot
end. You just have to go on. I’m no saying one thing or another. It’s no
my business, if it wasna that I just think more of you than one mortal
creature should think of another. Oh! just take thought and take
counsel! The maister is an old man. You’ve beguiled him with your
winsome ways just as you’ve beguiled us a’. Can I see a thing wrong you
do, whatever it is? And yet I have a glimmerin’ o’ sense between whiles.
If he’s looking for you back to be his bonnie Lily and his companion,
and syne sees you come in with a bairn in your arms and another man’s
name, what will the auld man do? Oh, mem, the dear bairn, God bless him,
and grant that you may soon have him in your airms! But if you hold by
the auld gentleman and his life and comfort, for God’s sake take
thought! for that is in it, too.”

“There is nothing, nothing,” cried Lily, “that should keep a mother from
her bairn! You are a kind woman, Katrin, but you’ve never had a bairn.
When once I get him here, how can I ever give him up again?” she said,
straining her arms to her breast as if the child was within them. Beenie
wept behind her mistress’s shoulder, overwhelmed with sympathy, but
Katrin shook her head.

“When you see Mr. Lumsden there, and go over it all----”

Lily’s face became instantly as if the windows of her mind had been
closed up. Her lips straightened, her eyes became blank. She said
nothing, but turned away, not looking at either of them nor saying a
word. “And it was no me breathed his name or as much as thought upon
him,” Beenie said a little later in an aggrieved tone, when she had
rejoined Katrin down stairs.

“It was me that breathed his name, and I’ll do it again till some heed
is paid to what I say. We should maybe have refused yon day to be his
witnesses. But being sae, Beenie, the burden is on you and me as well as
on him. They should have owned each other and spoke the truth from that
day. But now that it has all gone so far and no a whisper risen, and the
countryside just as innocent as if they were two bairns playing, oh, I
wouldna now just burst it all upon the auld man’s head! He’s no an ill
auld man. He’s provided for her all her life; he is very muckle taken up
with her now, maybe in a selfish way, for he’s feeling his age and his
mainy infirmities, and he’s wanting a companion. But, oh! I would not
burst it on him now! He could never abide her man, and, to tell the
truth, Beenie, I’m not that fond of him mysel’, and she, poor thing, has
had a fearfu’ opening to her eyes. How could ye have the bairn here and
no the father? Could she say to her uncle: ‘I was very silly about him
once and married him, and now I canna abide him’? Oh, no! that is what
she will never say.”

“And I hope she’ll never think it either,” Beenie said.

“Beenie,” said the other solemnly, “you are a real innocent if such a
thing ever was.”

“No more than yoursel’,” said Beenie, indignant; but she had to return
to her mistress, and further discussion could not be held on this
question.

They went away on the second morning, which was a little frosty, though
bright. The establishment had widened out by this time. Sir Robert was
not a man to be driven to kirk or market in the little geeg, drawn at
his wilful pleasure by Rory, which had answered all Lily’s purposes.
There was now a phaeton and a brougham, and three or four horses
accommodated _tant bien que mal_ in the old stables, which had to be
cleared of much rubbish and Dougal’s accumulations of years before they
were in a state to receive their costly inmates. It was in the brougham
that Lily, wrapped up in every kind of shawl and comforter, drove with
her maid to Kinloch-Rugas to take the coach, where the best places had
been reserved for them. Beenie’s pride in this journey exceeded the
anxiety with which her mind was full, in respect to her mistress’s
health in the first place, and the many issues of their journey. But it
was not a “pride” which met with much sympathy from her dear friends and
fellow-servants. Dougal for his part stood out in the stable-yard
carefully isolated from all possible connection with the new grooms and
the new horses, though neither was he without a thrill of pride in the
distinction of a kind of part-proprietorship with Sir Robert in these
dazzling articles. He kept apart, however, with an air of conscious
superiority to such innovations. “I wish ye a good journey,” he said;
“maybe it’ll be warmer this fine morning in a shut-up carriage, but,
Lord! I would rather have Rory and the little geeg than all the coaches
in England!”

Lily was thrilling with nervous excitement, scarcely able to contain
herself, but she made an effort to give a word and a smile to the
whilom arbiter of all the movements of Dalrugas. “I would rather have
you and Rory in the summer weather,” she said. “If it is a warm day when
I come back, you will come for me, Dougal.”

“Na, mem, no me; we’re no grand enough now to carry leddies: which I
wouldna care much for, for leddies, as ye ken, are whiles fantastic and
put awfu’ burdens on a beast--but just because his spirit is broken with
trailing peats from the hill, and visitors’ boxes from the toun. They’re
sensitive creatures, pownies. I just begin to appreciate the black
powny’s feelings now I see the effect upon my ain.”

“He shall drive me when I come back,” said Lily, waving her hand as the
brougham flashed away, the coats of the horses shining in the frosty
sunshine, and the carriage panels sending back reflections. It was
certainly more comfortable than the geeg. But the light went out of
Lily’s face as they left Dalrugas behind. The little color in her cheeks
disappeared. She leaned back in her corner and once more pressed her
arms against her breast. “Oh, shall I find him? shall I find him?” she
cried.

“You’ll do that--wherefore should you no do that?” said Beenie
encouragingly.

“He’ll be grown so big we will not know him, Beenie, and he will not
know his mother; that woman Margaret that took him away will have all
his smiles--she will be the first face that he sees, now that he’s old
enough to notice. Oh, my little bairn! my little bairn!”

“A bairn that is two months auld takes but little notice, mem,” said
Beenie, strong in her practical knowledge. “You need not fash your head
about that. They may smile, but if ye were to ask me the very truth, I
wouldna hide from you that what they ca’ smiling is just in my opinion
the----”

“If you say that word, I will kill you!” cried Lily. She laughed and
then she cried in her excitement. “How will I contain myself? how will I
keep quiet and face the world, and the folk in the world, and every-body
about, till the moment comes--oh, the moment, Beenie!--when I will get
my baby into my arms?”

“Eh, mem! but you must not make yoursel’ sae awfu’ sure about that,”
said Beenie. “We might not find them just at first--or he might have a
little touch of the cauld, or maybe the thrush in his wee mouth, or
measles, or something. You must not make yourself so awfu’ sure.”

“He is ill!” cried Lily, seizing her in a fierce grip. “He is ill, oh,
you false, false woman, and you have never said a word to me!”

“There is naething ill about him; he is just thriving like the flowers.
But I canna bide when folk are so terrible sure. It seems as if you were
tempting God.”

“It’s you that are tempting me--to believe in nothing, neither Him nor
women’s word. But what would make a woman deceive a baby’s mother about
her own child? A man might do it, that knows nothing about what that
means; but a woman never would do it, Beenie--a woman that has been
about little babies and their mothers all her days?”

“No, mem, I never thought it,” said Beenie in dutiful response.

At the coach, where they were received with all the greater honor on
account of Sir Robert’s brougham, and the beautiful prancing horses,
Helen Blythe met them. “They would not let me come to see you,” she
said. “It’s long, long, since I’ve seen you, Lily, and worn and white
you’ve grown--but just as bonnie as ever: there comes up the color just
as it used to do--but you must look stronger when you come back.”

“I am going away for that,” Lily said.

“And it is just the wisest thing she could do,” said the doctor, who had
come also to see her off. “And stay away as long as you can, Miss
Ramsay, and just divert yourself a little. You have great need of
diversion after that long time at the old Tower.”

“She is not one that is much heeding diversion,” said Helen, looking at
her affectionately.

“We’re all needing it whether we’re heeding it or no,” said the doctor.
“And if you will take my advice, you will just take a little pleasure to
yourself, as you would take physic if I ordered it. Good-by, Miss
Ramsay, and mind what I say.”

“He’s maybe right,” said Helen; “they say he’s a clever man. I know
little about diversion. But, oh! I would like to see you happy,
Lily--that would be better than all the physic in the world.”

“Perhaps I will bring it back with me,” said Lily, with a smile.



CHAPTER XXXIX


It was not with a very easy mind that Ronald Lumsden had executed the
great _coup_ which had, so far as Lily was concerned, such disastrous
consequences. He had been deeply perplexed from the moment of the baby’s
birth, nay, before that, as to what his future action was to be. It had
been apparent to him from the first that the child could not remain at
Dalrugas. Much had been ventured, much had been done, to all appearance
successfully enough. No scandal had been raised in the countryside by
his own frequent visits. What might be whispered in the cottages no one
knew; but, apart from such a possibility, nothing that could be called
public, no rumor of the least importance, had arisen. Every thing was
safe up to that point. And he was not much concerned even had there been
any subdued scandal floating about. At any moment, should any crisis
arise, Lily could be justified and set right. What could it matter,
indeed, if any trouble of a moment should arise? He was not indifferent
to his wife’s good name. He considered himself as the best guardian of
that, the best judge as to how and when it should be defended. He had
(he thought) the reins in his hands, the command of all the
circumstances. If he should ever see the moment come when the credit of
his future family should be seriously threatened, and the position of
Lily become an affair of vital importance, he was prepared to make any
sacrifice. The moment it became serious enough for that he was ready to
act; but in the meantime it was his to fight the battle out to the last
step, and to defend her rights as her uncle’s heir, and to secure the
fortune for her behalf and his own. He regarded the situation largely as
from the point of view of a governor and supreme authority. As long as
the circumstances could be managed, the world’s opinion suppressed or
kept in abeyance, and the one substantial and important object kept
safe, what did a little imaginary annoyance matter, or Lily’s fantastic
girlish notions about a house of her own, and a public appearance on her
husband’s arm, wearing her wedding ring and calling herself Mrs.
Lumsden? He liked her the better for desiring all that, so far as it
meant a desire to be always with him; otherwise the mere promotion of
being known as a married lady was silly and a piece of vanity, which did
not merit a thought on the part of the arbiter of her affairs. All the
little by-play about the house which could not be got till the term,
etc., had been a jest to him, though it had been so serious to Lily. He
had never for a moment intended that she should have that house. To keep
her quiet, to keep her contented, Ronald did not stint at such a small
matter as a lie. Between lovers, between married people, there must be
such things. If a man intends to keep at the head of affairs, and yet to
keep the woman, who has no experience and knows nothing of the world,
satisfied and happy, of course there must be little fictions made up and
fables told. Lily would be the first to justify them when the necessity
was over, when the money was secured and their final state arrived at--a
dignified life together, with every thing handsome about them. He had no
compunctions, therefore, about the original steps. It might have been
more prudent, perhaps, if they had not married at all, if they had
waited till Sir Robert died and Lily was free, in the course of nature,
to give her hand and her fortune where she pleased. That, no doubt, was
a rash thing to do, but the wisest of men commit such imprudences. And,
with the exception of that, Ronald approved generally of his own
behavior. He did not find any thing to object to in his conduct of the
matter altogether.

But the baby put every thing out. The prospect, indeed, occupied Lily
and kept her quiet and reasonable for a long time, but the moment he
knew what was coming a new care came into Lumsden’s mind. A baby is not
a thing to be hid. It was certain that nothing would induce Lily to part
with it, or to be reasonable any longer. She would throw away the result
of all his precautions, of all his careful arrangements, of his
self-denial and thought, in a moment, for the sake of this little thing,
which could neither repay her nor know what she was doing for it. Many
an hour’s reflection, night and day, had he given to this subject
without seeing any way out of it. With all his powers and gifts of
persuasion he had not ventured even to hint to Lily the idea of sending
away the child. Courage is a great thing, but sometimes it is not enough
to face a situation of the simplest character. He could not do it. After
the child arrived, when the inconveniences of keeping it there became
apparent, he had thought it might perhaps be easier; and many times he
had attempted to arrange how this could be done, but never had succeeded
in putting it into words. To do him justice, it was he who had sought
out and chosen with the utmost care the nurse Marg’ret, in whose hands
both mother and child would be safe, and he looked forward with that
vague and foolish hope in some indefinite help to come which the wisest
of men, when their combinations fail, still believe in, like the most
foolish; perhaps some suggestion might come from herself, who could
tell? some sense of the trouble and inconvenience arising in Lily’s own
mind might assist him in disposing of the little intruder. Why do babies
thrust themselves into the world so determinedly where they are not
wanted? Why resist the most eager calls and welcomes where they are?
This confusing question was no joke to Ronald. It made him hate this
meddling baby, though he was not without a young father’s sense of pride
and satisfaction, too.

He had instructed Marg’ret fully beforehand in the part she might be
called upon to play, though he could not tell her either how or when he
would accomplish the purpose which had gradually grown upon him as a
necessity. In these circumstances, while he yet pondered and turned
every thing over in his mind, failing as yet to perceive any way in
which it could be accomplished, the suddenness of Sir Robert’s coming,
which he learned by accident, was like sudden light in the most profound
darkness. Here was the necessity made ready to his hands. Lily could not
doubt, could not waver; whatever might happen afterward, it was quite
clear Sir Robert could not be greeted on his first arrival by the voice
of an infant--an infant which had no business to be there, and whose
presence would have to be accounted for on the very threshold, without
any preliminary explanation--in the face, too, of his friends whom he
brought with him, revealing all the secrets of his house. This was a
chance which made Ronald himself, with all his coolness, shiver. And
Lily, still in her weakness, not half recovered--what might the effect
be upon her? It might kill her, he decided; for her own sake, in her own
defence, not a moment was to be lost. The reader knows how he flashed
into his wife’s room in haste, but not able even then, in face of Lily’s
perfect calm, and utter inability to conceive the real difficulty of the
situation, to suggest it to her, accomplished his design, secretly
leaving her--not even then with any unkind intention, very sorry for
her, but not seeing any other way in which it was to be done--to
discover her loss and bear it as she might. He was any thing but happy
as he drove away with the traitor woman by his side and the baby hidden
in its voluminous wrappings. Marg’ret was not such a traitor either as
she seemed. She had been made to believe that, though no parting was to
be permitted to agitate the young mother, Lily, too, was aware, and had
consented to this proceeding. “The poor little lassie, the poor wee
thing!” Marg’ret had said, even while wrapping up the baby for its
journey; and she had slipped out into the darkness and waited at the
corner for the geeg with a heavy heart.

It startled Lumsden very much that no wail of distress, no indignant
outcry, came from Lily on discovering her loss. These were not the days
of frequent communications. People had not yet acquired the habit of
constant correspondence. They were accustomed to wait for news, with no
swift possibility of a telegram or even a penny post to make them
impatient; not, perhaps, that they would have grudged--certainly not
that Ronald would have grudged--the eightpence which was then, I think,
the price of the conveyance of a letter from one end of Scotland to the
other, but that they had not acquired the custom of frequent writing.
When no protest, no remonstrance, no passionate outcry, reached him for
a week or two after the event, Lumsden became exceedingly alarmed. He
said to himself at first that it was a relief, that Lily herself
recognized the necessity and had yielded to it; but he did not really
believe this, and as the days went on, genuine anxiety and terror were
in his mind. Had it killed her? Had his Lily, in her weakness, bowed her
head and died of this outrage? the worst, he now felt in every fibre of
his being, to which a woman could be subjected. He wrote, enclosing his
letter to Beenie; then he wrote to Beenie herself, entreating her to
send him a line, a word. But Lily was unconscious of every thing, and
Beenie of all that did not concern her mistress, when these letters
arrived. They were not even opened until Lily was convalescent, and then
Beenie by her mistress’s orders, in her large sprawling handwriting, and
with many tears, replied briefly to the three or four anxious demands
for news which had arrived one after the other. Beenie wrote:

     “SIR: My mistress has been at the point of death with what they
     call a brain-fever. It has lasted the longest and been the
     fiercest that ever the doctor saw. She is coming round now--the
     Lord be praised--but very slow. She has but one thought--you will
     know well what that is--and will never rest till she has got
     satisfaction, night or day.

“I am, sir,

“Your obedient servant,

“ROBINA RUTHERFORD.

     “P. S.--I was to tell you the last part, for it is not from me.”

There was not much satisfaction to be got from this letter, and, indeed,
his mind got little relief from any thing, and the time of Lily’s
illness was a time of mental trouble for the husband, which was not,
perhaps, more easy to bear. Had he lost her altogether? It seemed like
that, though he could not think it possible that the child at least
should be allowed to drop, or that the fever could have made her forget,
which it was evident she had not done in his own case. The courts had
begun again, and Lumsden was more occupied than he had ever been in his
life. He made one furtive visit to Kinloch-Rugas, where he heard
something of Lily’s state, and engaged Helen Blythe to communicate with
him any thing that reached her ears. But no one was allowed to see her
in her illness, and this gave him small satisfaction. He did not dare to
go near the house, which Sir Robert guarded more effectually than a
squadron of soldiers. There was nothing for him to do but to wait. The
unusual rush of occupation which came upon him with the beginning of the
session had a certain irony in it, that irony which is so often apparent
in life. Was he about to become a successful man now that the chief
thing which made life valuable was slipping out of his grasp? He went
about his business briskly, and rose to the claims of his business and
profession, so that he began to be mentioned in the Parliament House and
among his contemporaries, and even by elder men of still more
importance, who said of him that young Lumsden, old Pontalloch’s son,
though he had hung fire at first, was now beginning at last to come to
the front. Was it possible that this was coming to him, this
exhilarating tide of success, just at the moment when Lily, who would
have stood by him in evil fortune and never failed him, had dropped away
from his side? To do him justice, he had never thought of success, of
wealth, of prosperity, without her to share it. And he did not
understand it now. He could not understand how even a woman, however
ignorant or unreasonable by nature, could be so narrow as not to see
that all he had done had been for the best. The last step, no doubt,
might be allowed to be hard upon her, but what else was possible? Could
she for a moment have entertained the idea of keeping the child--a baby
that cried and made a noise, and could not be hid--at Dalrugas? Even if
there had been no word of Sir Robert, it still would have been
impossible; and he had done no more than he had a right to do. He had
considered, and considered most carefully--he did himself but justice in
this--what as her head and guardian it was best for him to do. It was
his duty as well as his right; and the responsibility being upon him as
the husband, and not upon her as the wife, he had done it. Was it
possible that Lily--a creature full of intelligence on other matters,
who even now and then picked up a thing quicker than he did
himself--should not have sense enough and judgment enough to see this?
But these thoughts, though they mingled with all he did, and accompanied
him night and day, did not make things any better. The fact that she had
taken no notice of him all this time, that she had not written to him
even to upbraid him, that she had not even asked him for news of the
child, was very heavy on Lumsden’s mind--almost, I had said, upon his
heart, for he still had a heart, notwithstanding all that had come and
gone. Perhaps it might have relieved him a little had he known that news
had been obtained of the child, though not through him. Marg’ret--who,
though she had been unfaithful to the young mother, to whom at the same
time she had been so kind, certainly had a heart, which smote her much
as being a party to a proceeding which became more and more doubtful the
more she thought of it--had written twice to Beenie, altogether superior
to the question of the eightpence to pay, to assure her of the baby’s
health. He was well, he was thriving, his mother would not know him he
had grown so big and strong, and Marg’ret hoped that ere long she would
put him, just a perfect beauty, into his mother’s arms. These queer
missives, sealed with a wafer and a thimble, had been better than all
the eloquent letters in the world to Lily. When those from Ronald, full
of excellent reason and all the philosophy that could be brought to bear
on the circumstances, were given to her on her recovery, they had but
made her wound more bitter and her resentment more warm; but the nurse’s
letters had given her strength. They had made her able to charm and
please her uncle; they had enabled her to face life again and fight her
way back to a certain degree of health; they had sustained her in her
journey, and this first set out upon the world to manage her own
affairs, which was as novel to her as if she had been fifteen, instead
of twenty-five. They wanted only one thing--they had no address. The
postmark was Edinburgh, but Edinburgh was (to these inexperienced women)
a very wide word.

What Lily had intended to do when she had found out Marg’ret and
recovered her child--as she was so confident of doing--I cannot tell.
She did not herself know. This was the first step to be taken: every
thing else came a world behind. Whether she was to carry the baby
back in her arms, to beard Sir Robert with it and make her
explanation--though with the conviction that she would then be turned
from the door of her only home forever--or whether she intended, having
escaped, to do what always seems so easy and natural to a girl’s
imagination: to fly away somewhere and hide herself with her child, and
be fed by the ravens, like the prophet--she herself did not know and I
cannot tell. The only thing certain was that she thought of the little
house among the Edinburgh roofs--that house which could only be got at
the term, and which it now made her heart sick to think of--no more. Had
she found the door open for her and every thing ready Lily would have
turned her back on that open door. She could not endure the thought of
it; she could not even think of the time when it would have been
paradise to her, the realization of her dearest hopes. In the depths of
her injured soul she would have desired to find her child without even
making her presence known to her husband. She had no desire even to see
him again--he seemed to have alienated her too completely for any
repentance. And up to this moment, her mind being altogether occupied by
her child, none of those relentings toward those whom we have loved and
who have wronged us, which make the heart bleed, had come upon Lily. She
thought of nothing but her child, her child! to have him again in her
arms, to possess him again, the one thing in the world that was entirely
her own, altogether her own. The fact that this was not so, that the
child was not and never could be entirely her own, did not disturb
Lily’s mind. Had she been reminded of it she would not have believed.
She thought, as every young mother thinks in the wonderful closeness of
that new relation and the sense of all it has cost her, that to this at
least there could be no contradiction and no doubt--that her baby was
hers, hers! and that no one in the world had the right to him that she
had. It was for him that she hurried, as much as any one could hurry in
these days, to Edinburgh, grudging every moment of delay--the time of
changing the horses, which she felt inclined to get out and do herself,
so slow, so slow was every-body concerned; the time for refreshments, as
if one wanted to eat and drink when one was hastening to recover one’s
child. But however slow a journey is the end of it comes at last. It was
a comfort to Lily that she knew where to go to--to the house of a very
decent woman, known to Beenie, who kept lodgings, and where she could be
quite quiet, out of the way of her former friends. But they arrived
only in the evening, and there was another long night to be gone through
before any thing could be done.



CHAPTER XL


Robina had become more and more anxious and uneasy as they approached
Edinburgh. She did not seem to share the anxious elation with which her
mistress hailed the well-known features of the country, and recognized
the Castle on its rock, and the high line of houses against the sky.
Lily was in a state of feverish excitement, but it was mingled with so
many hopes and anticipations that even her anxiety was a kind of
happiness. “To-morrow! to-morrow!” she said to herself. Beenie listened
with much solemnity to this happy tone of certainty. She would have
liked to moralize, and bid her mistress modify her too great confidence.
As the moment approached when it should be justified Beenie’s mind
became more and more perturbed. It was she who had been instrumental in
bringing Marg’ret from Edinburgh, pretending, indeed, that the woman was
her cousin, and she had till now taken it for granted, as Lily had done,
without any doubt in her mind, that where Marg’ret had been found once
she would be found again. But as the hour came nearer Beenie’s
confidence in this became much shaken. If _he_ wanted to hide the child
from his mother--a course which Beenie acknowledged to herself would be
the wisest one, for how could the baby and Sir Robert ever live under
the same roof?--would he have allowed the nurse to settle there, where
her address was known and she could be found in a moment? Beenie’s
intellect was not quick, but she did not think this was probable. She
was not accustomed to secrecy or to the tricks of concealment: they had
not even occurred to her till now; but when she realized that she was to
be her mistress’s guide on the next morning to the house where Lily had
persuaded herself she was certain to find her child, her heart sank to
her boots, and there was no more strength left in her. “And what if we
dinna find her there? and wherefore should we find her there?” Beenie
asked herself. It stood to reason, as she saw now, that Lumsden would
never have permitted her to remain. Why had she not thought of it
before? Why had she come on such a fool’s errand, to plunge her mistress
only into deeper and deeper disappointment? Beenie did not sleep all
night, though Lily slept, in her great fatigue, like a child. Beenie was
terrified of the morning, and of the visit which she now felt sure would
be in vain. Oh, why had she not seen it before? He must have known that
the mother would not give up her child without an attempt to recover him
(“Though what we are to do with him, poor wee man, when we get him!”
Beenie said to herself), and he would never have left the baby where it
could be found at once, and all his precautions made an end of. Beenie
saw now, enlightened by terror, that this plan must have been in
Lumsden’s head all the time, though Sir Robert’s sudden arrival gave the
opportunity for carrying it out. She saw now that after all that had
been done to keep the secret he was not likely to allow it to be thrown
to the winds by the presence of the child at Dalrugas if he could help
it. She divined this under the influence of her own alarm and anxiety.
And would he let the woman bide there in a kent place where Lily could
lay her hands upon the child whenever she pleased, night or day? Oh, no,
no, no! he would never do that, was the refrain that ran through
Beenie’s mind all the night. She had thought how delightful it would be
to hear the clocks striking and the bells ringing after the deep, deep
silence of the moor. But this satisfaction was denied her, for all the
bells and the clocks seemed to upbraid her for her foolishness. “Sae
likely! Sae likely!” one of them seemed to say in every chime. “Cheating
himself! Cheating himself!” said another. And was there not yet one,
heavier than the rest--St. Giles himself for any thing she could
tell--which seemed to echo out: “You fool, Beenie! You fool, Beenie!”
over all the listening town?

“Oh, my bonnie leddy!” said Beenie, when Lily, all flushed and eager
with anticipation, took her place in the old-fashioned hackney coach
that was to take them to Marg’ret’s abode. This was in a narrow street,
or rather close, leading off the Canongate--one of those places hidden
behind the great houses which lead to tranquil little spots of
retirement, and openings into the fresh air and green braes, which no
stranger could believe possible. “Oh, my bonnie leddy, dinna, dinna be
so terrible sure! I’ve been thinking a’ the way--what if she should have
flitted? There was nae address to her letter. She may have flitted to
another house. She may be away at other work.”

“What! and leave my baby!” cried Lily, “when she said in her letter he
was all her occupation, as well as all her pleasure! I almost forgave
her what she’s done to me for saying that.”

“And so she did,” said Beenie doubtfully. “Oh, I’m no saying a word
against Marg’ret--she would be faithfu’ to her trust. But she might flit
to another house for a’ that. In Edinburgh the folk are aye flittin’. I
canna tell what possesses them. Me--I would bide where I was well off; I
would never think of making a change just for change’s sake. But that is
what they’re aye doing here.”

“Have you heard any thing, Beenie?” cried Lily, turning pale. She had
been so sure that the cup of joy was within reach, that the thirsting of
her heart would be at once satisfied, that she felt as if a
disappointment would be more than she could bear.

“Oh, mem,” cried Beenie, producing a bottle of salts from her capacious
pocket, “dinna let down your heart! I have heard naething. I was just
speaking of a common fact that every-body kens. And if she had flitted,
they would maybe ken where she had gone. Oh, ay, they would certainly
ken where she has gone--a woman and a bairn canna disappear leaving no
sign. It’s not like a single person, that might just be off and away,
and nobody the wiser, mem! I am maybe just speaking nonsense, and we’ll
see her at her door in a moment, with our bonnie boy in her airms.”

Beenie, however, had succeeded better than she had hoped. She had
conveyed to her mistress that sickening of the heart which, from the
most ancient days of humanity, has been the consequence of hope
deferred. The light went out of Lily’s eyes. She leaned back in her
corner, closing them upon a world which had suddenly grown black and
void. She did not lose consciousness, being far too strongly bound to
life by hope and despair and pain to let the thread drop even for a
moment; but Beenie thought she had fainted, and, heartstruck with what
seemed to her her own work, produced out of the reticule she carried a
whole magazine of remedies--precious eau-de-Cologne, which was no common
thing in those days, and vinegar with a sharp, aromatic scent, more used
then than now, and even as the last resort a small bottle of whiskey,
which she tried hard, though with a hand that trembled, to administer in
a teaspoon. Lily had strength enough to push her away, and, in
self-defence, opened her eyes again, seeing grayly once more the
firmament, and the high houses on either side, and the dull day from
which all light seemed to have gone. It was she, however, who sprang out
of the coach when it stopped at the entrance to the close. Every-body
knows what the Canongate of Edinburgh is--one of the most noble streets,
yet without question the most squalid and spoiled of any street in
Europe, with beautiful stately old houses standing sadly among the
hideous growths of yesterday, and evil smells and evil noises enough to
sicken every visitor and to shame every man who has any thing to do with
such a careless and wicked sacrifice of the city’s pride and
ornament.[A] But even in the midst of this disgraceful debasement there
remain beyond the screen of the great old houses glimpses of the outlets
which the old citizens provided for themselves--old court-yards, even
old gardens, old houses secure within their little enclosures where the
air is still pure and the sky is still visible. Lily’s heart rose a
little as she came out of the narrow entrance of the close into one of
these unexpected openings. If he were here, he would be well. She could
see the green beyond and the high slopes of Salisbury Crags. There was
something in the vision of greenness, in the noble heights flung up
against the sky, which restored her confidence.

But it was perhaps well that Beenie had spoken even so little adroitly
on the way, for, indeed, Marg’ret was not found at her old address. She
had never gone back there, they were told, since the time when she was
called away in the summer to attend a lady in the North. She had not,
indeed, been expected back. She had given up her rooms on going away,
and removed her little furniture, and the rooms had been relet at once
to a member of the same profession, who hoped to be sometimes mistaken
for Marg’ret, a person of high reputation in her own line. The landlady
knew nothing of the baby she had now to take care of nor where she was.
The furniture? Oh, yes, she could find out where the furniture had been
taken, but Marg’ret herself, she felt sure, had never come back. She was
maybe with the lady still--the lady in the North. She was so much
thought upon that whiles they would keep her, if the baby were delicate,
for months and months. She had a wonderful way with babies, the woman
said. (At this Lily, who had been leaning heavily on her attendant’s
arm, with her pale face hidden under her veil, and all her courage gone,
began to gather a little spirit and looked up again.) Oh, just a
wonderful way! They just throve wi’ her like flowers in May. What she
did different from ither folk there was not one could tell: if it was
the way she handled them, or the way she fed them, or the pittin’ on o’
their claithes, with fykes and fancies that a puir buddy with the man’s
meat to get and the house to keep clean had no time for. But the fack
was just this, that there was nobody like Marg’ret Bland for little
bairns. They were just a different thing a’thegither when they were in
her hands.

As this little harangue went on Lily’s feeble figure hanging on Beenie’s
arm straightened itself by degrees. She put up her veil and beamed upon
the homely woman, who showed evident signs that she had little time, as
she said, to keep herself tidy for one thing. Lily was not discouraged
by so small a matter. She said, holding out her hand: “Then you would
leave a baby in her hands and have no fear?”

“Eh, my bonnie leddy,” cried the woman, with a half shriek, wiping her
hands upon her apron before she ventured to touch the lady’s glove, “I
would trust Marg’ret Bland maist to bring them back from the deid.”

“We must find her, that is all,” said Lily, as they turned away, Beenie
trembling and miserable, with subdued sniffs coming from under her deep
bonnet. Her mistress, in the petulance which neither anxiety nor trouble
could quench, gave her “a shake” with her arm, which still leaned upon
hers, though Lily for the moment was the more vigorous of the two. “We
must find her, that is all! She must be clever indeed if she can hide
herself in Edinburgh and you and me not find her, Beenie! We must search
every street till we find her!” Lily cried. The color had come back to
her cheeks and the light to her eyes. That blessed assurance that,
wherever Marg’ret might be, the baby was safe, doubly safe in her
skilled and experienced hands, was to the young mother like wine. The
horror of the disappointment seemed to be disguised, almost to pass
away, in that unpremeditated testimony. If it was for to-morrow rather
than for to-day so long as he was so safe, so well, so assured against
all harm, as that! “We have only to find her,” Lily said, dragging
Beenie back to the hackney coach, in which they immediately drove to the
place where Marg’ret, now to be spoken of as Mistress Bland, had been
supposed to place her furniture. But this was no more than a warehouse,
where the person in charge allowed disdainfully that twa-three auld
sticks o’ furniture in that name were in his charge, but knew nothing
more of the wumman than just that they were hers, and that that was her
name. Lily, however, was not discouraged. She drove about all day in her
hackney coach, catching at every clue. She went to the hospitals, where
Mrs. Bland was known but supposed to be still with the lady in the North
who had secured her services in the summer.

“If you know where she’s to be heard of,” one of the matrons said, “I
will be too thankful, for there is another place waiting for her or
somebody like her.”

“And is she such a good nurse as that?” cried Lily, glowing with
eagerness all in a moment, though her face had relapsed into pallor and
anxiety.

“She is one of the best nurses we have; and especially happy with
delicate children,” the matron answered with some astonishment. And she
tapped Beenie on the shoulder and said an indignant word in her ear.
“Woman!” she said, “are you mad to let your mistress wander about like
this, when it’s well to be seen she’s just out of her bed, and in my
opinion not long past her time?”

“My mistress,” said Beenie, with a gasp, “is just a young lady--in from
the country.”

“Just you get her back as fast as you can,” said the experienced woman,
“or you’ll have her worse than ever on your hands again.”

But this was what Beenie could not do. She had to follow Lily’s
impetuous lead on many a wild-goose-chase and hopeless expedition here
and there from one place to another during the rest of the day; and when
they returned to their lodgings, worn out and cast down, in the evening,
it was still the mistress who had the most strength and spirit left.
“There is only one thing to do now,” she said, while Beenie placed her
on the hard sofa beside the fire, and endeavored to induce her to rest.
Her face was very pale and her eyes very bright, with a faint redness
round the eyelids accentuating the absence of color. “There is one thing
to do. Mr. Lumsden”--she paused a little after the name, as if it made
her other words more difficult or exhausted her breath--“will have come
back now to his lodging. You know where that is as well as I do. You
will go and tell him that he is to come to me here.”

“Mem!” cried Beenie in great perturbation.

“Did you think,” said Lily, very clear, in a high, scornful tone, “that
I would come to Edinburgh and not see my husband? Is it not my duty to
see my husband? You will go to him at once!”

“It is no that,” cried Beenie; “I thought you would see him first of
all. He’s your man, oh! my dear, dear lassie--you’re married upon him
never to be parted till death comes atween you. I would have had you see
him first of a’, and weel ye ken that; but now when you’re wearied out
body and mind, and nae satisfaction in your heart, and every thing that
is atween ye worse and worse by reason of muckle pondering and dwelling
on it--oh, mem, my dear, no to-night, no to-night! You have a sharp
tongue, though you never mean it, and he is a gentleman that is not used
to be crossed and has aye had his ain way. Oh, mem, he’s a masterful
man, though he’s never been but sweet as sugar to you. Try to take a
sleep and rest, and wait for the morn. The morn is aye a new day.”

“I am glad,” said Lily, with shining eyes, “that you think I have a
sharp tongue, Beenie; and you may be sure, if ever I meant it in my
life, I will mean it now. But I will not discuss Mr. Lumsden with you or
any one. You will just go to him----”

“Mem, let me speak once, if I’m never to say a word again!” cried
Beenie. “That your heart should be sore to see the dear bairn, to take
him back into your airms, oh, that I can weel understand. So is mine,
though I’m far, far from being what you are to him, and no to be named
in the same breath. But, mem, oh, my dear leddy, my bonnie Miss Lily!
if I may just say that once again, what will ye do with him when you
have him? Oh, let me speak--just this once. You canna, canna take him to
that auld gentleman at hame; you canna do it. He has maybe not been much
to you in the years that are past, but he’s awfu’ fond of you now. He
looks to you to make him a home, to be the comfort of his old age. Oh!
I’m no saying he deserves it at your hands. But what do the best of us
deserve? We just get what we dinna deserve from God the first, and
sometimes from a tender he’rt here below. And he is an auld man and
frail; he has maybe no long to live. Will you tell him a’ that long
story, how we’ve deceived him and the whole world, and about your
marriage, and about the birth, and a’ in his house, that he meant for
such different things?”

“Beenie,” said Lily, “stop, or you will kill me. If I have deceived him
so long, it was with no will of mine. Oh, God knows, if none of you
know, with no will of mine, nor yet intention! Is that not the more
reason that I should deceive him no longer? He may turn me away. What
will that matter? We will be poor creatures the two of us, you and me,
if we cannot help ourselves and the darling bairn.”

“But it will maitter to him,” said Beenie steadily, “the poor auld
gentleman in that lonely house. He’s been a kind of a father to you, if
no so tender a father as might have been. I’m no saying you should have
deceived him, but that’s done, and it canna be undone. If you tell him
now, it will maybe kill him at the hinder end, and whether that will be
better you must just think for yoursel’, for I have said all that I’m
caring to say.”

Lily had covered her face with her hands, and there was a moment of
silence, unbroken save by a sob from Beenie, who naturally, having
spoken forth her soul, was now crying as if her heart would break.

“Beenie,” said Lily, all at once looking up, “you will go to Mr.
Lumsden, who will be now at his lodgings dressing, I would not wonder,
to go out to dinner--that is what is most likely--and tell him I am
here. I would not wish to make him lose his engagement if he has one;
you can say that.”

“Oh, mem!” murmured Beenie under her breath.

“But when it suits with his convenience, I would like to see him, to ask
him a question or two. Go now, go,” she said impatiently, “or you will
be too late.”

Weeping, Beenie went forth to do her mistress’s behest. Weeping, she put
on her big bonnet, with a veil over it, of a kind of Spanish lace with
huge flowers, which was the fashion of the day, and which allowed here
and there a patch of her tearful countenance to appear, blocking out the
rest. She found some difficulty in gaining admittance to Ronald, who
was, his landlady informed her, “dressing to go out to his dinner,” as
Lily had foretold, and it was in the full glory of evening dress that he
came forth upon her after she had fought her way to his sitting-room,
and had waited some time for his appearance. He was very much startled
by the sight of her, and came up taking her hand, demanding: “Lily--how
is my Lily?” with an energy and anxiety which partly quenched Beenie’s
unreasonable exasperation at the sight of his dress.

“She is here, sir, and wishful to see you,” said Beenie, “when it’s
convenient to you.”

“Lily here--where? What do you mean? Convenient! Do you mean she is at
the door?”

“It is not likely, sir,” cried Beenie with indignant disgust.

“What do you mean, woman? Lily who, you wrote to me, was just recovered
from a nearly fatal illness!”

“And that’s true. Her blood would have been on the head of them that
brought it on her if it had not been for the mercy of God.”

“Where is she?” cried Lumsden, seizing his hat.

“She said,” said Beenie with much intensity: “‘He will most likely be
going out to his dinner. I will not have him break his engagement for
me!’”

“I think,” he cried, “that you mean to drive me mad! Where is she? Does
any one know she is here?”

“It is known she is here,” said Beenie sententiously, “to get change of
air, as is thought, after her long, long illness; but, in fack, to look
for her dear little bairn, which is the object in her ain mind, my poor
bonnie leddy. And, oh, sir! if ye ken where the baby is, as ye must ken,
having taken the responsibility upon your hands, for we canna find him,
we canna find him! and it will just break her heart and she will die!”

“Here--and looking for the child without consulting me!” he said, with
an exclamation of anger and astonishment. He flung on a coat rapidly,
and, almost thrusting Beenie out of the room before him, hurried her
away. A few more questions put to her as they hastened along the streets
showed him exactly the state of the case. It was no running away. Lily
had not come to him to throw herself upon his mercy, to be owned and
established and have her child restored to her in the legitimate way.
Had it been so it would have been very difficult to reject her, to
silence her prayer and send her back, without losing hold upon her
altogether. Had he lost hold upon her altogether without that? He was
very much alarmed, but yet he felt that the situation was less
impossible than if she had come to demand her place at his side and
public acknowledgment. She did not want him--she wanted her baby; and
what without him could she do with her baby? how produce it, how account
for it? Ronald began to feel more at his ease, to feel himself again
master of the situation as he hurried Beenie, who was very tired and
wretched, and scarcely able to keep up with him, to Lily’s refuge. Let
no one suppose for a moment that he meant to disown her, that any
dishonor was in his thoughts. In the last resort, if nothing else was to
be done, Ronald had no intention but to stand faithfully by his wife. He
had not, indeed, any power of doing otherwise; for were there not Mr.
Blythe and the two witnesses and the marriage lines against him? But, as
a matter of fact, he never thought of that, although he breathed more
freely when he knew no such claim was intended, and felt once again that
the helm was in his own hands.

But in the meantime how to meet Lily was occupation enough for his
thoughts. He walked along the darkling streets, with the wind in his
face and a whirlwind of thought in his mind. How was he to meet
her--what was he to say to her? It was an interview on which might
depend the whole after-course of his life.



CHAPTER XLI


It was a very little, homely lodging in which Lily was, the little
parlor of an old-fashioned poor little house, intended at its best to
receive an Edinburgh lawyer’s clerk, or perhaps a poor minister or
teacher, on his promotion. Ronald had never seen his wife in such
surroundings. He gave a cry of surprise and dismay as he pushed open the
door. How often had she said that she would share any poverty with him,
and yet it hurt him to see her here, out of her natural sphere, like a
princess banished into a sordid world of privation and ugliness. At the
sound of his voice Lily sprang up from the slippery black hair-cloth
sofa on which she had been reposing. He thought at first it was to meet
him as of old with open arms and heart to heart, but of this she showed
no sign, nor even when he rushed forward to take her into his arms did
she make any movement. She had seated herself on the sofa again, drawing
back in an attitude of repulsion which could not be mistaken. “Lily!” he
cried, “Lily! Is this the way you receive me? Have you nothing to say to
me?”

“Oh, yes, I have a great deal to say to you. Give Mr. Lumsden a chair,
Beenie. It is as I thought; you were going out to dinner,” said Lily,
with a gleam of exasperation at the sight of his evening dress, which
was of course wholly unreasonable. “Why should you have broken your
engagement for me?”

“You know well I would break any engagement for you,” he said. “You must
know all that I have suffered during the past two months, unable to see
you, even to hear of you, and not a word, not a word from yourself all
that time.”

“What hindered you coming to see me?” she asked. “What prevented you? If
I had died, as seemed likely, it could have done you no harm in the
world, for with me every hope of Uncle Robert’s money, which is what has
been my destruction, would have fallen to the ground.”

“Lily, you never will understand! I did go to Kinloch-Rugas. I was once
under your windows, but got no satisfaction. A man has to be silent and
endure where a woman cries out. I did what I could to----”

“That is enough,” said Lily, waving her hand. “Between you and me there
need be no more talking. I sent for you for one thing, to ask you one
question--where is my baby? You took him out of my arms; bring him back
again to me, and then there may be ground to speak.”

“He is my baby as well as yours, Lily. I have the responsibility of the
family. I did what I felt to be best both for him and you.”

“What was best?” she cried. “Are you a god to judge what is best? But I
will not argue with you. Give me my baby back! His mother’s arms--that
is his natural place! Give me back my child, and then, perhaps, I may
hear you speak.”

He had thought this matter over as he came along with the rapidity of
highly stimulated thought, and a sudden great necessity for decision; he
had thought of it often before, looking at the subject from every point
of view. To give her back the baby was to ruin every thing for which he
had fought. He had not deprived himself of the company of a wife he
loved, he said to himself, for a small motive; not for nothing had he
encountered all the difficulties of the position in the past, and all
her reproaches, tacit and expressed. Her very look at him had often
been very hard to bear, and yet he paused now before making his last
stroke. Once more, like lightning, the question passed through his mind,
what other way was there? Was there any other way in which her mind
could be satisfied and her foolish search made an end of? Could he in
any other way secure her return to her home, and the carrying out to the
end of his scheme? But on the other hand would she ever forgive him for
what he must now do? He had not more than a moment to carry on that
controversy, to make his final decision. And she was looking at him all
the time: Lily’s eyes, which so often had smiled upon him, so often
followed him with tenderness and met him with the sudden flash of love
and delight, were fixed upon him steadily now, shaded by curved brows,
regarding him sternly without indulgence, without wavering or softening.
He was no longer to Lily covered with the glamour of love. She saw him
as he was, nay, worse than he was, with a look that took no account of
his real feeling toward herself, or of what was in fact a perverted
desire to do the best, as he saw it, for her as well as for himself.
Would these eyes ever soften, whatever he might do or say? Would she
ever forgive him even now?

“Lily,” he said with an effort, overcoming the dryness of his throat,
trying still to gain a little time. “I am your husband, I am your
natural head and guide; it is my part to judge what is wisest, what is
the best thing for you. I am older than you, I am more experienced in
the world. I know what can be done, and what cannot be done. Whatever
you may wish and whatever you may say, it is for me to judge what is the
best.”

It is not often that a woman hears an uncompromising statement of this
kind with patience, and Lily was little likely to have done so in her
natural condition of mind, but at present she had no thought but one. “I
have told you,” she cried, “that you can speak after, and that I will
hear. But in the meantime bring me back my little baby. I ask nothing
but that, I’ve no mind for reasoning now. Give me back my baby, my
little bairn; that’s all I am asking. My baby, my baby! Ronald, if ever
in your life you had a kind thought of me, a thought that was not all
interest and money, and for the love of God, if ever you knew that, give
me back my baby! and then,” she cried with a gasp--“then we can talk!”

His mind was made up now; there was nothing else for it. His face
assumed an air of the deepest gravity; that was not difficult, for,
indeed, his situation was grave enough. He put out his hand and laid it
upon hers for a moment. “Lily,” he said, “I’ve been endeavoring to put
off this blow. It was perhaps foolish, but I thought you would feel it
less were you kept in ignorance than if all your hopes were cut off.
Fain, fain would I bring back your baby and lay him in your arms again!
You think I am a harsh man with no softness for a mother and a child,
but you are mistaken, Lily. All that I am worth in this world I would
give to bring him back. But there is but one hand that could do that.”

She raised herself up with a start, flinging off his hand, which again
had touched hers. “What do you mean? What do you mean?” she cried, with
wild staring eyes, eyes that seemed to be bursting from her head. She
had been leaning back on the hard sofa in her weakness. Now she sat
upright, her hands raised before her as if to push off some dreadful
fate.

“You know what I mean, Lily,” he said, looking at her with a determined
steadiness of gaze. “What is the life of an infant like that? It is like
a new-lighted candle that every breath can blow out. Oh! blame me, blame
me; I will not say a word. Tell me it was the night journey, the plunge
into the cold, after the warm bosom of his mother. I thought it was the
only thing I could do, but I will not say a word if you tell me I was to
blame. Anyhow, whosever blame it was, the baby, poor little thing----”

“You mean he is dead!” said Lily, with a great cry.

He thought she had fainted: they all were in the way of thinking she
had fainted when all her life went from her, except pain, which is the
strongest life of all. Every thing was black before Lily’s eyes; her
heart leaped with a wild movement and then seemed to die and become
still in her breast; her lips dropped apart, as if the last breath had
passed there with that cry. Ronald thought she had fainted for the first
moment, and then he thought she had died. He sprang up with anguish in
his heart; he had done it, braving all the risks, knowing her weakness,
yet Beenie, rushing in at the sound of Lily’s cry, with all her battery
of remedies, forgave him whatever he might have done at the sight of his
face. “I have killed her! I have killed her!” he cried; “it is my
fault!”

“Oh, sir, you should mind how weak she is!” cried Beenie, bringing forth
her essences, her salts, her aromatic vinegar. Their words came faintly
to Lily’s brain. She struggled up again from the sofa, on which she had
fallen back, beating the air with her hands, as if to find and clutch at
something that would give her strength. “My baby is dead!” she cried,
stumbling over the words. “My baby, my baby is dead, my baby is dead!”
It seemed as if the wail had become mechanical in the completeness of
her downfall and misery, body and soul.

“Oh, sir!” cried Beenie again. She looked at him once more with another
light in her eyes. She was but a simple woman, but to such there comes
at times a kind of divination. But Ronald’s look was fixed upon Lily,
his eyes were touched with moisture, the deepest pain was in his face.
Could it be that a man could look like that and yet lie?

“Say nothing to her!” she cried almost with authority; “let her get her
breath. But tell you me, sir, when was it that this came about? I heard
you tell her to blame you if she pleased. What for were you to blame?
Tell me that I may explain after. Mr. Lumsden, she has a right to ken.
When did it happen and what was the cause? For all so little as a bairn
is, it’s no without a cause when the darlings die.”

“You take too much upon you, Beenie,” he said. “You have no right to
demand explanations. And yet, why should not I give them?” he said, with
a tone of resignation. “I fear the poor little thing never got the
better of that night journey. What could I do? I could not stay there to
face Sir Robert on his first arrival. I could not leave Lily to bear the
brunt. I had but little time to think, but what was there else to do? I
felt even that to snatch him away at a stroke would be better for her
than a lingering parting with him, and the anticipation of it. There was
every cause. Beenie, you’re a reasonable woman.”

“I will not say, sir,” said Beenie, “that it was without reason; me and
Katrin have said as much as that between ourselves, seeing a’ that had
gone before.”

“Seeing all that had gone before,” Ronald repeated with readiness. “But
Providence,” he added, “turns all our wisest plans sometimes to nought.
I know nothing about children----”

“But Marg’ret kent weel about children!”

“Yes, she was perhaps the more to blame, if any one is to blame. Anyhow,
the poor little thing--I can’t explain it, you should see her, she would
tell you--caught cold or something. How could I send you word when _she_
was so ill? I would have kept it from her now, at least till she was
stronger and better able to bear it.”

“It would, maybe, have been better,” Beenie said, with a brevity that
surprised Ronald and made him slightly uneasy. The woman did not break
forth into lamentations, as he had expected, but that might be for
Lily’s sake, who, lying back again upon the white pillow which Beenie
had placed behind her head, with the effect of making her almost
transparent countenance, with its faint but deepened lines, look more
fragile than ever, was coming gradually to herself. Tears were slowly
welling forth under her closed eyelids, but she was very still. Whether
she was listening, or whether she was absorbed in her own sorrow and
careless of what was going on, he could not tell. Anyhow, it was a
relief to him that she was silent, and that the woman who was her
closest attendant and confidant was so easily satisfied. He began to
question her anxiously as to where Lily should go for her convalescence
now that her object in coming there was so sadly ended. Portobello,
Bridge of Allan, wherever it was, he would go at once and look for
rooms. He would come when she was settled and spend as much time as
possible with her. He took the whole matter at once into his own hands.
And it was with a sensation of relief that he concluded after all this
was said that he could now go away. “You will do well to get her to bed
and give her a sleeping-draught if you have one,” he said, bending over
Lily with a most anxious and tender countenance as she lay, still with
her eyes closed, against the pillow. It was not how he had expected her
to take this dreadful news which he had brought: he had expected a
passion of grief, almost raving; he had expected violent weeping, a
storm of lamentation. He had, on the contrary, got through very easily;
the tears even had ceased to hang upon Lily’s closed eyelids. He bent
down over her and kissed her tenderly on the forehead. She shrank from
the touch, indeed, but yet he felt that he must expect so much as that.

“There is but one thing, sir,” said Beenie: “the woman Marg’ret, that
does not seem to me to be such a grand nurse as we heard she was--you
say we should see her and she would tell us a’. And that is just what
I’m wanting, to see her, if you could tell me where to find her.”

“I tell you! How should I know?” he said. “She will be in the same place
where we found her before, I suppose.”

“No, sir, she is not there.”

“Then she will have gone off to nurse somebody else. That’s her way of
living, isn’t it? No, I can tell you nothing about her. You may suppose
the sight of her was not very pleasant to me after---- But she is a
well-known person. You will find no difficulty in finding her out.”

“If that’s your real opinion, Mr. Lumsden----”

“Of course it is my opinion. I will take a run to the Bridge of Allan
to-morrow, and in the evening I will bring you word.”

With this, and with careful steps, not to disturb Lily, but yet with an
uneasy soul and no certainty that he had succeeded in his bold stroke,
Lumsden went away, Beenie respectfully accompanying him to the door. But
when it was closed upon him, Beenie, though no light-footed girl, flew
up the stairs, and rushing into the room with her hands outstretched,
was met by Lily, who fell upon her maid’s shoulder, both of them saying
together: “It is not true! it’s no true!”

“The Lord forgive him!” said Beenie. “And, oh, I hope you’ll be able to
do it, but no me! I’m not a good woman, I’m just a wild Highlander, and
I could have put a pistol to his head as he stood there!”

“I can forgive him easier,” said Lily, with the tears now coming freely,
“than if it had been true. Oh, Beenie! if it had been true!”

“Whisht, whisht, my darling leddy! but no, my dear, just greet your
fill. Eh, mem, how little a man kens! They’re so grand with their
wisdom, and never to think that a woman would send a scart of a pen
whatever to let us ken the dear lamb was well. I’ve often heard the
ministers say that the deevil’s no half as clever as he seems, and now I
believe it this day. But you’ll just go to your bed and I’ll give you
the draught, as he said, for this has been an awfu’ day.”

“Yes, I’ll go, to be strong for to-morrow,” said Lily, and then she
turned back and caught Beenie again, throwing her arms round her. “But
first,” she cried, “we’ll give God thanks on our bended knees that my
baby is safe. Oh, if it had been true!”

They both felt the baby’s life to be more certain and more assured
because his father had sworn he was dead, and they knew that was not
true.

Next morning they were both up betimes and had changed their lodging
early, going not to Portobello nor to the Bridge of Allan, but to a
village on the seaside, very obscure and little thought of, where, late
as the season was, they could still spend a week or two without being
remarked; and when she had settled her mistress there, Beenie went back
to Edinburgh to search again and again through every corner that could
be thought of, where Marg’ret might be heard of, but in vain.

They went again next day, and every day, together, and I think traversed
Edinburgh almost street by street on a quest so hopeless that both had
given it up in their heart before either breathed a word of her despair.
Then they did what seemed even to Lily (and still more to Beenie) a most
terrible and unparalleled thing to do, and to which she had great
difficulty in bringing her mind. This was to apply to the police on the
subject, what we should call putting it into the hands of the
detectives. Perhaps even now there are innocent persons to whom the idea
of “sending the police after” an innocent wanderer still seems a
dreadful thing to do. And these were days in which the idea of the
detective was little developed and still less understood. They are not
always still the most successful of functionaries, but they have at
least become heroes of the popular imagination, and a certain class of
fiction is full of the wonderful deeds they have succeeded in doing,
when all things were arranged to their hand. I do not know that there
was a single individual of the order at that time in Edinburgh under the
present title and conditions, but the thing must have existed more or
less always; and when, with many hesitations and much trouble of mind,
Lily made her appeal to the ingenuity of the police service to find the
missing woman, it was with a little flutter of hope that she saw
Margaret Bland’s name and description taken down. Beenie would not even
be present when this was done. She lifted up her testimony, declaring
that nothing would induce her to send the police after a decent honest
woman that had never done any body any harm. “Oh, mem, you may say what
you like,” Beenie cried. “She has had no ill intention. Send the
pollisman after Anither if you will. It wasna her contrivancy, it wasna
her contrivancy! I would sooner die myself than harry a woman to her
ruin and take away her good name!” This had been the peroration with
which Beenie had broken away, slamming the door in the face of the
official who came to take Miss Ramsay’s orders. Lily was very unhappy
and deeply depressed. She had no one to stand by her. “It is for no
harm. You will understand she is to come to no harm. Her address
only--that is all I want,” she cried. “We’ll put it,” said the man,
writing down his notes in his little book, “that it will be something to
her advantage. That or a creeminal chairge is the only way of dealing
with yon kind of folk.”

“Yes, yes--let it be something to her advantage,” Lily cried. “And it
will,” she said, “it will! it will be more to her advantage than any
thing she has ever known. You will take care that she is not frightened,
not harmed in any way, not in any way!”

“How should it harm an innocent person, if this person is an innocent
person?” the functionary said, and left Lily trembling for what she had
done, and unable to bear the eye of Beenie, who would scarcely for a
whole day after forgive her mistress. They themselves lived in terror of
being found, perhaps, in their turn, hunted down by the pollis, Beenie
cried--“for if you can do it for her, mem, what for no him that has nae
scruples for you?” Lily in her heart trembled too at this thought. It
seemed to her that if such means were set in action against herself she
would die of misery and shame.

Ten days later she returned to Dalrugas, a little stronger, for her
youth and vigor, and the distraction of her thoughts, even though so
painfully, from all preoccupation with herself, had given her elastic
vitality its chance of recovery: but a changed and saddened woman, never
again to be the Lily of the past. Her husband had not sought her, at
least had not found her, nor had she wished him to do so; but yet that
he should not have penetrated so very easy a mystery seemed to prove to
her that he had not wished to do so, and, despite of all that had come
and gone, that was a very different matter. Lily’s heart was as heavy as
a woman’s heart could be as she went home. The whole secret of her
existence, the mystery in which she had been wrapped, which she had felt
to be so guilty a secret, and a mystery so oppressive, seemed now to be
about to melt away, leaving her for her life long a false and empty husk
of being, an appearance and no reality. All this tremendous wave of
existence seemed to have passed over her head and to be gone, leaving
her, as she was, Lily Ramsay, her uncle’s companion, the daughter of the
desolate house, and no more, neither wife nor mother, nothing but a
false pretence, a pitiful ghost, the fictitious image of something that
she was not, and never again could be.



CHAPTER XLII


It was not without much thought that Lumsden decided to leave his wife
unmolested when she fled from him. It did not cost him much trouble to
discover where she had gone, and he watched her proceedings and those of
Beenie carefully, and had little difficulty in discovering what their
object was. But he had foreseen all that and taken his precautions, and
he had no doubt as to the result. With Lily’s absolute inexperience, and
the few facilities which existed at that period, a very simple amount of
care would have been enough to baffle her. But he had taken a great deal
of care. Margaret Bland and her charge were out of the reach of any
researches made in Scotland, and his mind was quite easy as to the
chances of further investigation, for Scotland was very much more
separated from the rest of the world in those days than it is now. I do
not say that it did not cost him a pang to know that Lily herself was
within reach and to refrain from seeing her, from saying a word further
to excuse or explain, and from making at least an endeavor to recover
her confidence. But he had gone too far now for excuses and expedients,
and he felt that it was wiser to refrain from every thing of the kind
until the moment came when, in the course of nature, he would be
liberated from all restrictions and be able to go to her and claim her
freely, without fear of interference. If he could do so, bringing a
great joy and surprise in his hand, he felt that he was more likely to
be received and forgiven than if he were able only to establish a
reconciliation upon the old basis of concealment and clandestine
meetings, which now, indeed, would be impossible. He thought that
absence would draw her heart toward him, and that in the silence she
would make his excuses to herself better than he could do; and what
would not a man merit who would bring back to a mother, who had mourned
for him as dead, her living child? He said over to himself, being a man
of literary taste, some verses of Southey’s, who was more thought of
then as a poet than now:

    “When the fond mother meets on high
     The babe she lost in infancy.”

Would not all be forgiven for the sake of that? But then came in the
question, had they believed him? Had they not believed him? Had there
been some channel of which he knew nothing by which they had procured
information in respect to the child? This was the one doubtful matter
which would be enough to crush all his most careful schemes. But he
could not see how it was possible they could have obtained any
information. That Margaret Bland should have written did not occur to
him. Persons of her class did not write letters daily then as they do
now; and he thought he had secured her devotion wholly to himself, and
made it quite clear to her that for his wife’s sake this was the only
thing that could be done. Margaret had understood him completely. She
was a person of superior intelligence. She was an admirable nurse and
devoted to the baby. But she was quite unaware at first that the
arrangement made with her was unknown to Lily, nor had she known that in
writing to Robina she had transgressed her contract with the child’s
father. It was her duty to be silent now, she was informed, in order to
avoid all danger of a correspondence that might be discovered; but
nothing even now had been said to Margaret which could have made her
feel herself in the wrong, or led her to confess what she had done. Thus
the one thing which would have made him see how fatally he had risked
all his possibilities was concealed from Lumsden. He could still
honestly, or almost honestly, persuade himself that, though what he had
done might be cruel for the moment, it was, in reality, the best thing
for Lily. Nothing else would have satisfied her, nothing less. She would
never have had a moment’s peace had she understood that her child might
be found. She would have thought nothing of any sacrifice involved. Her
inheritance would have been of no value to her in comparison with the
possession of her baby. She was capable of making every thing known to
her uncle at any moment if by this means she could have secured the
child. He had not ceased to love her, nor to entertain for her the
admiration, mingled with indulgence, which makes a young woman’s faults
almost more attractive than her virtues to her lover. It would be like
Lily to do all that; it was like Lily to give him all that trouble about
the house which he never intended to get for her, but which it cost him
so many fictions, so much exercise of ingenuity, to satisfy her about.
There were very pardonable points in that foolishness. The desire to be
with him, to identify her life altogether with his, was sweet: he loved
her the better for it, though, as the wiser of the two, he knew that it
was impracticable, and that it must be firmly, but gently, denied to
her. And to desire to have her baby was very natural and very sweet,
too. What prettier thing could there be than a young mother with her
child? But there were more serious things in the world than those
indulgences of natural affection, which are in themselves so blameless
and so sweet, and this, in her own best interests, he, her husband, her
natural head and guide, was forced to deny her, too.

I do not think that Lily was aware of the tenor of these reasonings. She
made very little allowance for her husband; at no time had she been
disposed to allow that in these matters, which were of such great
importance in her life, he knew best. He had deceived her first of all,
and then he had made her a reluctant accomplice in deceiving others.
Nature, truth, honor, honesty, had all been from the beginning on her
side, and she had thought Ronald as little wise as he was right in
setting them all at defiance for the preservation of a secret which
ought never to have been made a secret at all. She had endured it all
when there was only herself in question, but from the moment in which
there was hope of the baby Lily had felt with a leap of the heart that
here was the solution of the problem, and that every thing must now be
made open to the light of day. It may be supposed that when, after all
this dreadful episode, she returned alone, like, yet so unlike, the Lily
Ramsay who was sent to Dalrugas two years before into banishment with
Robina, her maid, the whole matter was turned over and over in her mind
with all those dreadful visions of past chances, steps which, if taken,
might have changed every thing, which are the stings of such a review.
To Lily, as she pondered, there seemed so many things she might have
done. She might have resisted the marriage first of all. She might have
refused to be married in secrecy, in a corner--the very minister, she
had always felt sure, though he had been kind, disapproving of her all
the time; but then (she excused herself) she had not foreseen that the
marriage was to be kept a secret: it was only, she had understood, an
expedient to secure quietness and speed without preliminaries that would
have called the attention of the whole parish. And then, when she
followed her own story to that time after Whit-Sunday, when she had
expected her husband to secure the house, which could not, he swore, be
obtained till the term, Lily now saw that she should have taken the
matter into her own hand, that she should have permitted no more playing
with the question, that, whether he liked it or not, she should have
insisted on having some home and shelter of her own. Especially before
the birth of her baby should she have insisted upon this. She clasped
her hands with impatience and a sense of bitter failure as she thought
it all over. She ought not to have allowed herself to be silenced or
hindered. Her child should have been born in her own house, where he
could have been welcomed and rejoiced over, not hidden away. She cried
out in her solitude, with that clasp of her hands, that it was all her
fault, her own fault, that she was responsible for the child above all,
and that it was she who should have done this had not only her husband,
but all the powers of the earth gone against it. Then Lily reflected,
with the impulse of self-defence, that she had no money, and did not
know how to get any, and that it would have been hard, very hard for
her, without her present enlightenment, to have gone against Ronald, to
have flown in his face and thwarted him so completely in a matter upon
which he had so firmly made up his mind. Oh, what a difference there was
between the Lily of that time--hesitating, miserable to yield and yet
unable to resist, not knowing how to take a great step on her own
authority, to oppose her husband and all the lesser chain of
circumstances, the unconscious influence even of the women who held her
with a softer bond of watchfulness and affection--and this Lily now,
braced to any effort, having withdrawn and separated herself from him
and from every other restraint of influence, as she thought, standing
alone against all the world, deeply disenchanted, and considering every
pretence of love and happiness as false and deceitful. Had it been now
how little would she have hesitated! But was not this the bitterness of
life: that it was then only she could have acted effectually, and not
now?

She settled down to the winter at Dalrugas with these thoughts. She was
Miss Ramsay, the daughter and the mistress of the house. She did not
know and did not care what was thought of her in the countryside. If
stories were told of the gentleman who had come so often from Edinburgh,
but now came no longer, Lily heard none of them. Some faltering
questions from Helen Blythe, who, instinctively, though she did not know
why, never referred to Ronald in presence of Sir Robert, were all the
indications she ever had that his disappearance was commented on, and
Lily did not care who spoke of Ronald, or how or where their secret
might be betrayed; and this indifference delivered her from many doubts
and questionings. She had no objection that any body should tell in
detail the whole thing to Sir Robert. She held her head very proudly
above all terrors of being found out. She was afraid of nothing now.
Every thing, she thought, had happened that could happen. She was
separated from her husband, not by any formality, not by any such motive
as had kept the secret hitherto, but by a great gulf fixed, which Lily
felt it was impossible should ever be bridged over. He had wronged her
as surely never woman had been wronged before, lied to her, made her
herself a lie, deprived her--last and greatest wrong of all--of her
child. Oh, how much time, leisure, quiet, she had to think over and over
all these thoughts, to persuade herself that happiness and truth were
mere words, and that nothing but falsehood flourished in this world!
Gradually she sank into silence on the subject even to Beenie. Her
life-history, over, as it seemed, at twenty-five, dropped out of
knowledge as if it had never been. She received no letters. Ronald,
indeed, continued to write at intervals for some time, addressing his
letters boldly to Miss Ramsay, but she never replied to them, and by
degrees they ceased. She heard nothing at all from the outside world.
She heard nothing of her child. They had concluded between them, Robina
and she, that if “any thing happened” to the child, Margaret would be
restrained by no man, but would let his mother know in any case. This
was all the sustenance upon which Lily lived. Her enquiries far and
near had come to nothing. The harmless detectives of the old-fashioned
Edinburgh police had not succeeded in tracking the fugitive. They had no
news of Margaret to send. They had never found out any thing about her,
except what all the world knew. By one thread, and one only, Lily clung
to life, and that was her vague faith in Margaret, notwithstanding all
things, that the child’s life was safe as long as she made no sign.

Sir Robert found himself very comfortable in Dalrugas during that
winter. He had no idea he could have been so comfortable in the old
lonely place on the edge of the moor. It was wonderful how possible it
was to live without amusement--nay, to feel thankful that he was no
longer burdened with amusement and with the thought of what he was to do
with himself and how he was to find a little distraction season after
season. When a man is over seventy, the care of these things is perhaps
more trouble than the advantage is worth when secured; but so long as he
is in the old habitual round it is difficult to learn this. He had
thought that he detested monotony, but now it appeared that he rather
liked monotony--the comfort of getting up with the certainty that he had
no trouble before him, no change to think of, no decision to make--to
read his newspaper, to read his book, to take his walk or his drive. Sir
Robert’s horses and carriages very much enlarged his sphere and modified
its loneliness. A longish drive now brought him to a neighbor’s house,
and introduced Lily to the ladies of the county, who made explanations
to her and regrets not to have made her acquaintance before. And callers
became, if not numerous, yet occasional, thus adding something to the
little round of Sir Robert’s distractions. An old gentleman or two in
the distant neighborhood who had known him as a boy would come
occasionally with the ladies, or a younger one, whose father had known
him. And there were occasional dinner-parties, though these occurred but
seldom. Sir Robert liked them all, but at bottom was more than contented
when the clouds hung low and the rain or snow fell and put it out of
the question that he should be disturbed at all. He liked Lily’s talk
best of all, or her silence, when they sat together by the fireside,
where comfort and quiet reigned. He had not been such a good man in his
life that he deserved any such halcyon time at its end, or to feel so
virtuous, so satisfied, so peaceful as he did. But the sun shines and
the rain falls alike on the just and the unjust, and he had, by good
fortune, the art to take advantage of the good things which Providence
sent him. Lily played a game of piquette with him, “not so very badly,”
he said with happy condescension, and was in time advanced to chess; but
there showed signs of beating her instructor, which made Sir Robert
think chess was a little too much for his head. In moments of weakness
they even came down to simple draughts, and thus got through the long
evenings which the old gentleman had so much feared, but which now were
the happiest part of the day.

“I am told you have been here for a long time, Miss Ramsay,” Lady
Dalzell said, who was the great lady of the neighborhood: “how was it we
never knew? We are here, of course, only for a short time in the year,
but long enough to have driven over to Dalrugas had we known.”

“I have been here,” said Lily, “for two years--but how it is my
neighbors have not known I cannot tell. I could scarcely send round a
fiery cross to say that a small person of no great account had arrived
at her uncle’s house.”

“I should have thought Sir Robert would have written or made some
provision. Do you really mean that you have been without a chaperon,
without protection?”

“Even as you see me,” said Lily, with a laugh.

“And nothing ever happened,” said the great lady, “to make you feel
uncomfortable?”

Did she look at Lily with some meaning in her eyes? Did she mean
nothing? Who could tell? There might have been a whole world of
_sous-entendus_ in what Lady Dalzell said, or there might be nothing at
all. Lily met her gaze with perhaps a little more directness than was
necessary, but she did not change color.

“There was no raid made upon the house,” said Lily. “I never was in any
danger that I know of. There was Dougal, who would have fought for me to
the death--perhaps, or, at all events, till some one came to help him.
And I had two women who took only too much care of me.”

“Ah, it was not perils of that kind I was thinking of,” said Lady
Dalzell, shaking her head.

“I am sorry,” said Lily--“or perhaps I should rather be glad--that I
don’t know what perils your ladyship was thinking of.”

Then the young lady of the party, Lady Dalzell’s daughter, interposed,
and began to talk of the approaching Christmas and the entertainments to
be given in the neighborhood. “If we had only known, we should have had
you to the ball,” she said. “We had not one last New Year, but the year
before, and you were here then.”

“Yes, I was here then.”

“It was the year of that dreadful snow-storm. How lonely it must have
been for you, shut up for that long fortnight. Mamma, imagine! Miss
Ramsay was here all alone the year of the snow-storm, shut up in
Dalrugas--and we had our ball and all sorts of things.”

“I hope Miss Ramsay had some friends or something to amuse her,” said
Lady Dalzell.

“I had Helen Blythe from the Manse up to tea,” cried Lily, with a little
burst of laughter, which did not seem out of place in the violent
contrast which was thus implied, though she felt it herself almost like
a confession. The two ladies looked at her strangely, she thought, and
hastened to change the subject. Did they look at her strangely? Did they
think of her at all? Or was it the thought of their own shortcomings in
respect to this lonely girl, who was Sir Robert’s niece and heiress,
which made a shade upon their brows? They invited her to the ball,
which was to happen this year, with much demonstration of friendliness.
Not to tire Sir Robert, she and her uncle were asked to go a day or two
before this important festivity and join the home party, and Miss
Dalzell conveyed to Miss Ramsay the delightful intelligence that there
would be “plenty of partners”--all the county, and the officers from
Perth, and a large party from Edinburgh. The girl spoke of all these
preparations with sparkling eyes.

“Well, Lily,” said Sir Robert, when the visitors were gone, “this will
be something for you: you will have one ball at least.” He did not much
relish the prospect for himself, but he was grateful, and felt that he
must face it for her.

“I don’t feel so much enchanted as I ought,” said Lily. “Would it
disappoint you much, uncle, if I wrote to say we could not go?”

“Disappoint _me_, my dear! But you must go, for you would like it, Lily.
Every girl of your age likes a ball.”

“My age, Uncle Robert! Do you know I am five-and-twenty? I would rather
sit alone all night and sew, though I am not very fond of sewing. Unless
you want to dance and flirt and behave yourself as gentlemen of your age
ought not to do, I think we’ll stay at home and play piquette. I am
going to no ball,” cried Lily, her patience breaking down for the
moment, “not now, nor ever. I--to a ball! after all these years!”

“Lily,” said Sir Robert, with a disturbed look, “I have expressed my
regret that you should have had such a lonely life, but it hurts me, my
dear, to hear you express yourself with such bitterness about those
years; there were but two of them, after all.”

“That is true,” she said, recovering herself quickly, “but when one has
a great deal of time to think, one changes one’s mind about a great many
things, especially balls.”

“That is true, too,” he said, “so long as you are not bitter about it,
as I sometimes fear you are inclined to be, my dear.”

“Not bitter at all,” she cried, with a smile that quivered a little on
her lip. She got up and stood at the window, with her back to him,
looking out upon the moor. The clouds were hanging low, almost touching
the hills, the sky so heavy that it seemed to be closing down, in one
deep tone of gray, upon the dumb, unresisting earth. “I hope,” said
Lily, “that they will get home before the snow comes down.” She stood
there for some time looking out upon that scene, which had seen so much.
“It was the year of that dreadful snow-storm,” the girl had said. And
the ball to which they had asked her was on the anniversary of her
wedding day.



CHAPTER XLIII


It did not snow that year: the weather was mild and wet. There was not
the exhilaration, the mystery, the clear-breathing chill, of the snow,
the great gorgeous sunsets over the purple hills. But the little world
was closed in with opaque walls of cloud; the sky low, as if you could
almost touch it; the hills absent from the landscape, replaced by banks
of watery mist, indefinite, meaning nothing; and all life shut up within
the enclosure, where there was shelter to be had, and warmth, if nothing
else. It was thus that the anniversary of Lily’s honeymoon passed by.
Her mind was like the sky, covered by heavy mists, falling low, as if
there were no longer earth and heaven, but only a land of darkness and
of despair between. Behind these mists all her existence had
disappeared. Her child, perhaps, was there, her husband was there, the
woman she might have been was there, so was the old Lily, the girl full
of laughter and flying thoughts, full of quick resolutions and plans and
infinite hope. The woman who stood by the window was a woman whom Lily
scarcely knew, who did what she had to do mechanically, whether it was
ordering Sir Robert’s dinner, or playing piquette with him, or gazing,
gazing out of that window before he came down stairs. She gazed, but she
looked for no one upon the distant road; her gaze meant nothing, any
more than her life did. She had no hope of any thing, scarcely, she
thought to herself, any desire left. A ball! to go to a ball! which her
uncle thought every one of her age must wish to do. _He_ had been going
out to dinner _that_ night; most likely he was going to balls also,
about the New Year time, when there were so many in Edinburgh. He could
not well get out of it, he would probably say to himself. At the New
Year time! the New Year!

That season passed over, and so did many more. Miss Ramsay of Dalrugas
became almost well known in the county. She went nowhere, being very
much devoted, every-body said, to her old uncle, and perhaps a little
bitter at being tied to him, never able to do any thing to please
herself; for it was only natural to suppose it would please her better
to see her friends, to see the world, to have her share of the
amusements that were going, than to sit over the fire with that old man.
“I must say that she is goodness itself to him,” Lady Dalzell said; “now
at least, whatever she may have been.” These words fired the imagination
of her company, who were eager to know what Miss Ramsay might have been
in the past, but Lady Dalzell was very discreet, all the more that she
knew nothing and was unprovided with any story to tell. “Whatever she
may have done, she is not the least what she used to be when she was a
girl in Edinburgh,” she said. And every-body was disposed to believe
that Lady Dalzell referred to the recollections of her own youth, when
she was herself a girl in Edinburgh, and Miss Ramsay of Dalrugas perhaps
a little younger and something of a contemporary. There was nobody who
did not add on ten years at least to Lily’s age.

The little population at Dalrugas itself almost felt the same. To them,
too, it seemed that ten years and more had suddenly been added to their
young mistress’s age. They themselves had departed to an incredible
distance from her or she from them. To think how they had surrounded her
with their almost protecting and familiar love so short a time before,
watching every movement, feeling every variation of feeling in her,
knowing all her secrets, giving her their most zealous guardianship, and
that now they should be pushed so far away--the servants of the house,
to receive their orders, but all silence between them, every thing that
had been ignored, not a word said. It was Katrin who felt it most,
having been aware all the time that she herself had much more to do in
the matter, and was a more responsible person, than Beenie, who often
would have been very little fitted to meet any such emergencies as had
occurred, but who was now the best off, receiving from time to time a
scrap of confidence, perhaps, at least the chance of close attendance,
while Katrin had to be thinking of her dinner, and of all that was
wanted in the enlarged and much more troublesome household. Lily never
looked at Katrin, even, as if there had been any thing more intimate
between them than the ordinary relations of mistress and servant. Had
she forgotten how Katrin had stood by her, all she had seen, all she had
known? Sometimes Katrin asked herself, with indignation and a sense of
injured affection, what Lily, with more reason, asked herself, too: had
these scenes ever existed but in imagination? had it been all a dream?
Sometimes as she came down stairs with her orders for the day, and with
a full heart, swelling with disappointment after some little implied
appeal to the past, of which Lily had taken no notice, Katrin had hard
work to keep from crying, which would, she felt, be an eternal disgrace
to her “afore thae strange women”--the maids, who now took the work of
the house from her shoulders, and enforced the bondage of the
conventional upon her life. Katrin felt this as deeply as if she had
been the most high-minded of visionaries. Nowadays she had always to
“behave herself,” always to be upon her _p’s_ and _q’s_. She could not
even fly out upon Dougal, which sometimes might have been a
consolation, lest these strange women should exchange looks, and say to
each other how little dignified for Sir Robert’s housekeeper this person
was. Dougal, indeed, in the emergency, was the only one who gave her a
rough support. He would say, with a jerk of his thumb over his shoulder
in the direction of the stairs: “She’s no just hersel’ the noo. Ye
should ken that better than me; but ye make nae allowance. I would like
to get her out some day for a ride upon the powny, and maybe she would
open her heart.”

“To you!” Katrin said, with a sort of shriek, pushing him from her, the
strange women for once being out of the way.

“She might do waur,” said Dougal, pushing his bonnet to his other ear.
“But, my faith! if I ever lay my hand on that birky frae Edinburgh, him
or me shall ken the reason!” he cried, bending his shaggy brows, and
swinging his clenched fist through the air.

“You’re a bonnie person to interfere in my mistress’s affairs,” Katrin
cried, “your pownies and you! If she’s mair distant and mair grand, it’s
just what’s becoming, and the house full of gentlemen and ladies, no to
speak o’ thae strange women, that are at a person’s tails, spying every
movement, day and night. For gudeness’ sake, gang away and let me be
quit of ye, man! If you come in on the top o’ a’ to take up ony moment’s
peace I have, I will just gang clean out of the sma’ sense that’s left
me, and pison ye all in your broth!” cried Katrin, with flashing eyes.

Dougal withdrew to the place in which he was most at home in the altered
house, Rory’s stable, where he and his favorite rubbed their shaggy
heads together in mutual consolation. Rory, too, had fallen from his
high estate. Never now did he carry the young lady of the house (which,
truth to tell, was not an honor he had ever appreciated much), never
convey a guest to the coach or the market. Rory went to the hill for
peat; he was ridden into the town, helter-skelter, by a reckless young
groom, for the letters; instead of the gentleman of the stable, with
the black pony under him to do all the rough work, it was he who had
become, as it were, the black pony, the pony-of-all-work of the
establishment. Yet what things he had known! What scenes he had seen!
There was a consciousness of it all, and a choking, no doubt, of honest
merit undervalued in his throat, too, as he rubbed his nose against
Dougal’s shoulder. He had been even “further ben” than Dougal in the
secrets of the life that was past.

And Lily did not console Katrin, said nothing to Robina, did not even
attempt to save the pony from his hard fate. She was as hard as Fate
herself, wrapped up as in robes of ice or stone, smiling as if from a
pinnacle of chill unconsciousness upon all those spectators of her past
existence, the conspirators who had helped out every contrivance, the
accomplices. And yet it was not the rage which sometimes silently
devoured her which separated her from her humble friends. She was angry
with them, as with all the world, and herself most of all. But sometimes
her heart yearned, too, for a kind word, for a look from eyes which knew
all that had been and was no more. But I think she dared not let it be
seen, lest the flood-doors, once opened, should give forth the whole
tide and could never close again.

When all this came to an end, I do not think Lily was aware how long it
had been: if it had been two years or three years, I believe she never
quite knew; the dates, indeed, established the course of time, but when
did she think of dates, as the monotonous seasons followed each other,
day by night, and summer by winter, and meal by meal? Routine was very
strong in Sir Robert’s house, where every hour was measured, and every
repast as punctual as clockwork, and there was nothing which happened
to-day which did not happen to-morrow, and would so continue,
unwavering, unending, till time was over. Such a routine makes one
forget that time will ever be over: it looks as if it might go on
forever, as if no breach were possible, still less any conclusion; and
yet, in the course of time, the conclusion must always come at last.

One of these winters was a bad one for the old folk; something ungenial
was in the air. It was not actually that the temperature was much lower
than usual, but the cold lasted long, without breaks or any intervals of
rest: always cold, always gray, with no gleams in the sky. The babies
felt it first, and then the old people; every-body had bronchitis, for
influenza was not in those days. There was coughing in every cottage,
and by degrees the old fathers and mothers began to disappear. There
were not enough of them to startle people in the newspapers as with any
record of an epidemic, but only the old people who were ripe for
falling, and wanted only a puff of wind to blow them away like the last
leaves on a tree, felt that puff, and dropped noiselessly, their time
being come. It began to appear of more decided importance when Mr.
Blythe was known to be very ill, not in his usual quiet chronic manner,
but with bronchitis, too, like all the rest. There had not been very
much intercourse between Dalrugas and the Manse since Sir Robert’s
arrival. He had been eager to see the old minister, who was almost the
only relic of the friends of his youth, and they had found a great deal
to say to each other on the first and even on the second visit. But Sir
Robert liked his visitors to come to him, and Mr. Blythe was incapable
of moving from his chair, so that their intercourse gradually lessened
even in the first year, and in the second came almost to nothing at all.
There was an embarrassment, too, between the two old gentlemen. Mr.
Blythe felt it, and would stop short even in the midst of one of his
best stories, struck by some sudden suggestion, and grow portentously
grave, just where the laugh came in. Sometimes he would look round at
Lily, half angry, half enquiring. He could not be at ease with his old
friend when so great a secret lay between them, and though Sir Robert
knew nothing about any secret, nor even suspected the existence of such
a thing, he yet felt also that there was something on Blythe’s mind.
“What is it he wants to speak to me about?” he would say to Lily. “I am
certain there is something. Is it about his girl? He should be able to
leave his girl pretty well off, or at least to provide for her according
to her station. Does he want me to take the charge of his girl?” “Helen
will want nobody to take care of her,” said Lily. “Then what is it he
has on his mind?” Sir Robert asked, but got no reply. Thus it was that
their intercourse had been checked. And there was a cloud between Lily
and Helen, who was deeply troubled in her mind by the complete
disappearance of Lumsden from the scene. There were many things about
him, and her friend’s connection with him, that had disturbed Helen in
the past. She had not known how to account for many circumstances in the
story: his constant reappearance, the mystery of an intercourse which
never came to any thing further, yet never slackened, had troubled her
sorely. She had not asked, nor wished to hear, any explanation which
might be, in however small a degree, derogatory to Lily. She would
rather bear the pain of doubt than the worse pain of knowing that her
doubts were justified. And there were a host of minor circumstances
which had added to her confusion and trouble just before Sir Robert’s
arrival, when Lily had, as she thought, withdrawn from her society, and
even made pretexts not to see her, to Helen’s astonishment and dismay.
And then there came Lily’s illness, and Ronald’s anxious visit, and
then--nothing more: a curtain falling, as it were, on the whole confused
drama; an end, which was no end. Ronald’s name had never been mentioned
since; he had never been seen in the country; he had gone out of Lily’s
life, so far as appeared, totally without reason given or word said. And
Helen had not continued to question Lily, whom she, like every-body
else, found to be so much changed by her illness. There was something in
the face which had been so sweet and almost child-like a little time
before which now stopped expansion. Helen looked into it wistfully, and
was silent. And thus the veil which had fallen between the two old men
came down still more darkly between the other two, and the intercourse
had grown less and less, until, in the cold wintry weather of this
miserable season, it had almost died away.

But it was a great shock to hear, one gray, dull morning when every
thing seemed more miserable than ever, the sky more heavy, the frost
more bitter, that the minister had died in the night. This news came to
them with the letters and the early rolls, for which every morning now a
groom rode into Kinloch-Rugas upon the humiliated Rory. The minister
dead! Sir Robert was more impressed by it than could have been imagined
possible. “Old Blythe!” he said to himself, with a shock which paled his
own ruddy countenance. Why should he have died? The routine of his life
was as fixed and certain as that of Sir Robert himself. There seemed no
necessity that it should ever be broken. He was part of the landscape,
like one of the hills, like the gray steeple of his church, a landmark,
a thing not to be removed. Yet he was removed, and Mr. Douglas, the
assistant and successor, was now minister of Kinloch-Rugas. In a little
while the place which had known him so long would know him no more. Sir
Robert ate very little breakfast that morning; he had himself a bad cold
which he could not shake off; he got up and walked about the room,
almost with excitement. “Old Blythe!” he repeated, and began to recall
audibly to himself, or at least only half to Lily, the time when old
Blythe was young, as young as other folk, and a very cheery fellow and a
good companion and no nonsense about him. And now he was dead! It was
probably the fault of that dashed drunken doctor, who fortunately was
not Sir Robert’s doctor, who had let him die. Lily on her part was
scarcely less moved. Dead! The man who had held so prominent a place in
that dream, who had never forgotten it, in whose eyes she had read her
own history, at least so far as he knew it, the last time she met his
look, with so living a question in them, too, almost demanding, was that
secret never to be told? ready to insist, to say: “Then I must tell it
if you will not!” She had read all that in his look the last time she
had seen him, and in her soul had trembled. And now he was dead and
could never say a word. She had a vague sense, too, that she had one
less now among the few people who would stand by her. But she wanted no
one to stand by her, she was in no trouble. The mystery of her existence
would never now be revealed.

“I think I ought to go and see Helen, uncle,” she said.

“Certainly, certainly!” he cried, more eager than she was. “Order the
brougham at once, and be sure you take plenty of wraps. Is there any
thing we could send? Think, my dear: is there any thing I could do? I
would like--to show every respect.”

He made a movement as if he would go to the _escritoire_ in which he
kept his money; for checks were not, or at least were not for individual
purposes, in those days.

“Uncle,” she said, “they are not poor people; you cannot send
money--they are like ourselves.”

“Let me tell you,” he said, with a little irritation, “that there are
many families even like ourselves, as you say, which the Blythes are
not, who would be very thankful for a timely present at such a moment.
But, however---- Is there nothing you can take--no cordial, or a little
of the port, or--or any thing?”

“Helen wants nothing, uncle--but perhaps a kind word.”

“Helen! Ah, that’s true: the auld man’s gone that would have known the
good of it. Well, tell her at least that if I can be of any use to
her---- I always thought,” he cried, with a little evident but quickly
suppressed emotion, “that he had something he wanted to say to me,
something that was on his mind.”

How little he thought what it was that the old minister had on his mind!
and how well Lily knew!

Helen was very calm, almost calmer than Lily was, when they met in the
old parlor where the great chair was already set against the wall. “You
are not to cry, Lily. He was very clear in his mind, though sore wearied
in his body. He was glad at the last to get away. He said: ‘I’ve had my
time here, and no a bad time either, the Lord be praised for all his
mercies, and I’ll maybe find a wee place to creep into that She will
have keepit for me: not a minister,’ he said, oh, Lily! ‘but maybe a
doorkeeper in the house of the Lord.’ Is that not all we could wish for,
that his mind should have been like that?” said Helen, with eyes too
clear for tears. She was arranging every thing in her quiet way,
requiring no help, quite worn out with watching, but incapable of rest
until all that was needful had been done. The darkened room where so
much had happened, isolated now from the common day by the shutting out
of the light, seemed like a sort of funereal, monumental chamber in all
its homely shabbiness, a gray and colorless vault, not for him who had
gone out of it, but for the ghosts and phantoms of all that had taken
place there. Lily’s heart was more oppressed by the gray detachment of
that room, in which her own life had been decided, than either by the
serene death above or the serene sorrow by her side.

When she got back, Sir Robert, very fretful, was sitting over the fire.
He was hoarse and coughing, and more impatient than she had seen him.
“If it goes on like this, I’ll not stay here,” he said, “not another
week, let them say what they like! Four weeks of frost, a measured
month, and as much more in that bitter sky. No. I will not stay; and,
however attached you are to the place, you’ll come with me, Lily. Yes,
you’ll come with me! We’ll take up my old travelling carriage and we’ll
get away to the South, if I were but free of this confounded cold!”

“We must take care of you, uncle. You must let us take care of you, and
your cold will soon go.”

“You think so?” he said eagerly. “I thought you would think so. I never
was a man for catching cold. I never had a bronchitis in my life; that’s
not my danger. If that doctor man would but come, for I thought it as
well to send for him?”

He looked up at her with an enquiring look. He was anxious to be
approved in what he had done. “It was the only thing to do,” she said,
and he was as glad she thought so as if she had been the mistress of his
actions.

But by the evening Sir Robert was very ill. He fought very hard for his
life. He was several years over seventy, and there did not seem much in
life to retain him. But nevertheless he fought hard for it, and was very
unwilling to let it go. He made several rallies from sheer strength of
will, it appeared. But in the end the old soldier had to yield, as we
must all do. The long frost lasted, the bitter winds blew, no softening
came to the weather or to Fate. Sir Robert died not long after the old
minister had been laid in the grave. It was a dreadful year for the old
folk, every-body said; they fell like the leaves in October before every
wind.



CHAPTER XLIV


I do not think that Lily in the least realized what had happened to her
when her uncle died. She grieved for him with a very natural, not
excessive, sorrow, as a daughter grieves for an old father whose life
she is aware cannot be long prolonged. He was more to her than it was to
be expected he could have been. These two years of constant intercourse,
and a good deal of kindness, which could scarcely be called unselfish,
yet was more genuine on that very account, had brought them into real
relationship with each other; and Lily, who never had known what family
ties were, had come to regard the careless Uncle Robert of her youth, to
whom she had been a troublesome appendage, as he was to her the
representative of a quite unaffectionate authority, as a father, who,
indeed, made many demands, but made them with a confidence and trust in
her good feeling which were quite natural and quite irresistible,
calling forth in her the qualities to which that appeal was made. Sir
Robert had all unawares served Lily, though it was his coming which was
the cause of the great catastrophe in her life. She did not blame him
for that--it was inevitable; in one way or other it must have come--but
she was grateful to him for having laid hands upon her, so to speak, in
the failure of all things, and given her duties and a necessity for
living. And now she was sorry for him, as a daughter for a father, let
us say a married daughter, with interests of her own, for a father who
had been all that was natural to her, but no more.

She was a little dazed and confused, however, with the rapidity of the
catastrophe, the week’s close nursing, the fatigue, the profound feeling
which death, especially with those to whom his presence is new,
inevitably calls forth; and very much subdued and sorrowful in her mind,
feeling the vacancy, the silence, the departure of the well-known
figure, which had given a second fictitious life to this now doubly
deserted place. And it did not occur to Lily to think how her own
position was affected, or what change had taken place in her life. She
was not an incapable woman, whom the management of her own affairs would
have frightened or over-burdened, but she never had possessed any
affairs, never had the command of any money, never arranged, except as
she was told, where or how she had to live. Until her uncle had given
her, when she went to Edinburgh, the sum which to her inexperience was
fabulous, and which she had spent chiefly in her vain search after her
child, she had never had any money at all. She did not even think of it
in this new change of affairs, nor of what her future fate in that
respect was to be.

This indifference was not shared by the household, or at least by those
two important members of it Katrin and Robina, who had been most
attentive and careful of Sir Robert in his illness, but who, after he
was dead, having little tie of any kind to the old gentleman, who had
been a good enough master and no more, dropped him as much as it was
possible to drop the idea of one who lay solemnly dead in the house, the
centre of all its occupations still, though he could influence them no
more. “What will happen now?” they said to each other, putting their
heads together, when the “strange women,” subdued by “a death in the
house,” were occupied with their special businesses, and Sir Robert’s
man, his occupation gone, had retired to his chamber, feeling himself in
want of rest and refreshment after the labors of nursing, which he had
not undergone. “What will happen noo?” said Katrin. “And what will we do
with her?” Beenie said, shaking her large head. “I’ll tell you,” said
Katrin, “the first thing that will happen: Before we ken where we are
we’ll hae _him_ here!”

“No, no,” said Beenie; “no, no! I am not expecting that.”

“You may expect what ye like, but that is what will happen. He will come
in just as he used to do, with a fib about the cauld of the Hielands,
and a word about the steps that are so worn and no safe. Woman, he has
the ball at his fit now. Do you no ken when a man’s wife comes into her
siller it’s to him it goes? She will have every thing, and well he kens
that, and it’s just the reason of all that has come and gone.”

“He’ll never daur,” said Beenie, “after leaving her so long to herself,
and after a’ that’s come and gone, as you say.”

“It’s none of his fault leaving her to hersel’. He has written to her
and written to her, for I’ve seen the letters mysel’; and if she has
taken no notice, it is her wyte, and not his. She will have a grand
fortune, a’ auld Sir Robert’s money, and this place, that is the home o’
them all.”

“I never thought so much of this place. She’ll not bide here. Her and me
will be away as soon as ever it’s decent, I will assure you o’ that, to
seek the bairn over a’ the world.”

“You’ll never find him,” said Katrin.

“Ay, will we! Naebody to say her nay, and siller in her pouch, and the
world before her. We’ll find him if he were at its other end!”

“Ye’ll never find him without the father of him!” cried Katrin, becoming
excited in her opposition.

“That swore he was dead!” cried Beenie, flushing, too, with fight and
indignation, “that stood up to my face, me that kent better, and
threepit that the bairn was dead! And her that was his mother sitting
by, her bonnie face covered in her hands!”

“Woman!” cried Katrin, “would you keep up dispeace in a house for any
thing a man may have said or threepit? I’m for peace, whatever it costs.
What is a house that’s divided against itsel’? Scripture will tell ye
that. Even if a man is an ill man, if he belongs to ye, it’s better to
have him than to want him. It’s mair decent. Once you’ve plighted him
your word, ye must just pit up with him for good report or evil report.
If the father’s in one place and the mother’s in another, how are ye to
bring up a bairn? And a’ just for a lie the man has told when he was in
desperation, and for taking away the bairn when we couldna have keepit
him, when it was as clear as daylight something had to be done. Losh!
Dougal might tear the hair out o’ my head, or the claes frae my back, he
would be my man still.”

“Seeing he is little like to do either the one thing or the other, it’s
easy speaking,” Beenie said.

Lily did not come so far as this in her thoughts till a day or two had
passed, and then there came upon her, as Beenie had divined, the sudden
impulse, which nevertheless had been lying dormant in her mind all this
time, to get up and go at once in pursuit of her baby. All the people
she had employed, all the schemes she had tried, had come to nothing. At
first her ignorant efforts had been balked by that very ignorance
itself, by not knowing what to do or whom to trust, and then by distance
and time and agents who were not very much in earnest. To look for a
great criminal--that was a thing which might waken all the natural
detective qualities even before detectives were. But to look for a baby,
with no glory, no notoriety, whatever might be one’s success! Lily saw
all this now with the wisdom that even a very little practical
experience gives. But his mother--that would be a very different matter.
His mother would find him wheresoever he was hidden. And after the first
day of consternation, of confusion and fatigue, this resolution flashed
upon her, as it had done at times through all the miserable months that
were past. She had been obliged to crush it then, but now there was no
occasion to crush it any longer. She was free; no one had any right to
stop her; she was necessary to nobody, bound to nobody. So she thought,
rejecting vehemently in her mind the idea of her husband, who had robbed
her, who had lied to her, but who should not restrain her now, let the
law say what it would. Lily did not even know how much the property of
her husband she was. Even in the old bad times it was only when evil
days came that the women learned this. The majority of them, let us
hope, went to their graves without ever knowing it, except in a jibe,
which was to the address of all women. She did not think of it. Ronald
had robbed her, had lied to her, and was separated from her forever; but
that he would even now attempt to control her did not enter into Lily’s
mind. He was a gentleman, though these were not the acts of a gentleman.
She did not fear him nor suspect him of any common offence against her.
He had been guilty of these crimes--that was the only word to use for
them--but to herself, Lily, he could do nothing. She had so much
confidence in him still. Nor, indeed (she thought at first), would he
have any thing to do with it. He would know nothing; she would go after
her child at once, as was natural, his mother’s right. And he surely
would not be the man to interfere.

Then as she began to wait, to feel herself waiting, every nerve tingling
and excitement rising in her veins every hour, in the enforced silence
of the shadowed house, until the funeral should set her free, Lily came
to life altogether, she could not tell how, in a moment, waking as if
from the past, the ice, the paralysis that had bound her. She had lived
with her uncle these two years, and she had not lived at all. She had
not known even what was the passage of time. Her existence had been
mechanical, and all her days alike, the winter in one fashion, the
summer in another. The child, the thought of the child, had been a
thread which kept her to life; otherwise there had been nothing. But
now, when that thought of the child became active and an inspiration,
her whole soul suddenly came to life again. It was as when the world has
been hid by the darkness of night, and we seem to stand detached, the
only point of consciousness with nothing round us, till between two
openings of the eyelids there comes into being again a universe that had
been hidden, the sky, the soil, the household walls, all in a moment
visible in that dawn which is scarcely light, which is vision, which
recreates and restores all that we knew of. To Lily there came a change
like that. She closed her eyes in the wintry blackness of the night, and
when she opened them, every thing had come back to her. It was not that
she had forgotten: it was all there all the time; but her heart had been
benumbed, and darkness had covered the face of the earth. It was not the
light or warmth of the sunrise that came upon her; it was that
revelation of the earliest dawn that makes the hidden things visible,
and fills in once more the mountains and the moors, the earth and the
sky.

It was with a shock that she saw it all again. She had been wrapped in a
false show, every thing vanity and delusion about her--Miss Ramsay, a
name that was hers no longer; but in reality she was Ronald Lumsden’s
wife, the mother of a child, a woman with other duties, other rights.
And he was there, facing her, filling up the world. In her benumbed
state he had been almost invisible; so much of life as she had clung to
the idea of the baby. When he appeared to her, it was as a ghost from
which she shrank, from which every instinct turned her away. But now he
stood there, as he had stood all the time, looking her in the face. Had
he been doing so all these years? or had she been invisible to him as he
to her? She was seized with a great trembling as she asked herself that
question. Had he been watching her through the dark as through the
light, keeping his eye upon her, waiting? She shuddered, but all her
faculties became vivid, living, at this touch. And then there were other
questions to ask: What would he do? Failing that, more intimate still,
what would she do, Lily, herself? What, now that she was free, alone,
with no bond upon her, what should she do? This question shook her very
being. She could go on no longer with her life of lies: what should she
do?

Sir Robert’s man of business came from Edinburgh as soon as the news
reached him. He told her that she was, as she had a right to be, her
uncle’s sole heir, there being no other relation near enough to be taken
into consideration at all. Should she tell him at once what her real
position was? It was a painful thing for Lily to do, and until she was
able to set out upon that search for her child, which was still her
first object, she had a superstitious feeling that something might
happen, something that would detain or delay her, if she told her secret
at once. She had arranged to go away on the morning after the funeral.
That day, before Mr. Wallace left Dalrugas, she resolved that she would
tell him, and, through him, all who were there. Her heart beat very loud
at the thought. To keep it so long, and then in a moment give it up to
the discussion of all the world! To reveal--was it her shame? Oh, shame,
indeed, to have deceived every one, her uncle, every creature who knew
her. But yet not shame, not shame, in any other way. Much surprised was
Mr. John Wallace, W. S., Sir Robert’s man of business, to find how
indifferent Miss Ramsay was as to the value and extent of the property
her uncle had left her. She said “Yes,” to all his statements, sometimes
interrogatively, sometimes in simple assent; but he saw that she did
not take them in, that the figures had no meaning for her. Her mind was
otherwise absorbed. She was thinking of something. When he asked her,
not without a recollection of things he had heard, as he said to
himself, “long ago,” when Sir Robert’s niece had been sent off to the
wilds out of some young birky’s way, whether there was any one whom she
would like specially summoned for the funeral, Lily looked up at him
with a quick, almost terrified glance, and said: “No, no!” She had, he
felt, certainly something on her mind. I don’t know whether, in those
days, the existence of a private and hidden story was more common than
now: there were always facilities for such things in Scotland in the
nature of the marriage laws, and many anxious incidents happened in
families. A man acknowledging a secret wife, of whose existence nobody
had known, was common enough. But a young lady was different. At all
events there could be no doubt that this young lady had something on her
mind.

The arrangements were all made in a style befitting Sir Robert’s
dignity. The persons employed came from Edinburgh with a solemn hearse
and black horses, and all the gloomiest paraphernalia of death. A great
company gathered from the country all about. They had begun to arrive,
and a number of carriages were already waiting round to show the respect
of his neighbors for the old gentleman, of whom they had actually known
so little. The few farmers who were his tenants on the estate, which
included so little land of a profitable kind among the moors (not yet
profitable) and the mountains, waited outside in their rough gigs, but
several of the gentlemen had gathered in the drawing-room, where cake
and wine were laid out upon a table, and Mr. Douglas, now the minister
of Kinloch-Rugas, stood separate, a little from the rest, prepared to
“give the prayer.” The Church of Scotland knew no burial service in
those days other than the prayer which preceded the carrying forth of
the coffin. Two ladies had driven over, with their husbands, to stay
with Lily when the procession left the house. They did not know very
much of her, but they were sorry for her in her loneliness. The
appearance of a woman at a funeral was an unknown thing in those days in
Scotland, and never thought of. This little cluster of black dresses was
in a corner of the room, in the faint light of the shadowed windows,
Lily’s pale face, tremulous with an agitation which was not grief,
forming the point of highest light in the sombre room, among the
high-colored rural countenances. She meant to tell them on their return.

It was at this moment, in the preliminary pause, when Mr. Douglas,
standing out in the centre of the room, was about to lift his hand as
the signal for the prayer--about to begin--that a rapid step became
audible, coming up the stairs, stumbling a little on the uppermost steps
as most people did. It was nothing wonderful that some one should be a
little late, yet there was something in the step which made even the
most careless member of the company look round. Lily, absorbed in her
thoughts, was startled by the sound, she could not tell why. She moved
her head a little, and it so happened that the gentlemen standing about
by an instinctive movement stepped aside from between her and the door,
so as to leave room for the entrance of the new-comer. He was heard to
quicken his pace, as if fearing to be too late, and the minister stood
with his hand raised, waiting till the interruption should be over and
the tardy guest had appeared.

Then the door opened quickly, and Ronald Lumsden came in. He was in full
panoply of mourning, according to the Scotch habit, his hat, which was
in his hand, covered with crape, his sleeves with white “weepers,” his
appearance that of chief mourner. “I am not too late?” he said, as he
came in. Who was he? Some of those present did not know. Was he some
unacknowledged son, turning up at the last moment to turn away the
inheritance? Mr. Wallace stepped out a little to meet him, in
consternation. Suddenly it flashed through his memory that this was the
young fellow out of whose way Lily Ramsay had been sent by her uncle.
He knew Lumsden well enough. He made a sign to him to be silent,
pointing to the minister, who stood interrupted, ready to begin.

“I see,” said Ronald in the proper whisper, with a nod of his head; and
then he stepped straight up, through the little lane made for him, to
where Lily sat, like an image of stone, her lips parted with a quick,
fluttering breath. He took her hand and held it in his, standing by her
side. “Pardon me that I come so late,” he said, “I was out of town; but
I am still in time. Mr. Wallace, I will take my place after the coffin
as the representative of my wife.” This was said rapidly, but calmly, in
the complete self-possession of a man who knows he is master of the
situation. There was scarcely a pause, the astonished company had
scarcely time to look into each other’s face, when the proceedings went
on. The minister’s voice arose, with that peculiar cadence which is in
the sound of prayer. The men stood still, arrested in their excitement,
shuffling with their feet, covering their faces with one hand so long as
they could keep up that difficult position. But this was all unlike a
funeral prayer. The atmosphere had suddenly become full of excitement,
the pulsations quickened in every wrist.

Lily remained in her chair; she did not rise. It was one of the points
of decorum that a woman should not be able to stand on such an occasion.
The two ladies, all one quiver of curiosity, stood behind her, and
Ronald by her side, holding her hand. He did not give it up, though she
had tried to withdraw it, but stood close by her, holding his hat, with
its long streamers of crape, in his other hand, his head drooped a
little, and his eyes cast down in reverential sympathy. To describe what
was in her mind would be impossible. Her heart had given one wild leap,
as if it would have choked her, and then a sort of calm of death had
succeeded. He held her hand, pressing it softly from time to time. He
gave no sign but this of any other feeling but the proper respectful
attention, while she sat paralyzed. And then came the stir--the
movement. He let her hand drop, and, bending over her, touched her
forehead with his lips; and then he made a sign to the astonished men
about, even to Mr. Wallace, who had been, up to this moment, the chief
authority, to precede him. There was a sort of a gasp in the astonished
assembly, but every one obeyed Ronald’s courteous gesture. There was
nothing presumptuous, nothing of the upstart, in it: it was the calm and
dignified confidence of the master of the house. He was the last to
leave the room, which he did with another pressure of Lily’s hand, and a
glance to the ladies behind, which said as distinctly as words: “Take
care of my wife.” And he was the first in the procession, placing
himself at once behind the coffin. The burying-ground was not far away;
it was one of those lonely places among the hills, with a little chapel
in ruins, a relic of an older form of faith, within its gray walls,
which are so pathetic and so solemn. The long line of men walking two
and two made a great show in their black procession, their feet ringing
upon the hard frost-bound road. But Ronald walked alone, in front, as if
he had been Sir Robert’s son. And his heart was full of a steady and
sober elation. It had been a hard fight, but he had conquered. Though he
was not a son, but an enemy, he was, as he had always intended, Sir
Robert’s heir.



CHAPTER XLV


“But this is all very strange and requires explanation. I do not doubt
in the least what you say, but it requires explanation,” Mr. Wallace
said.

Only a few of the gentlemen returned with him to the house. Two of them
were the husbands of the two ladies who had been with Lily, and who now,
with each a volume in her face, joined the surprised and curious men.
Lily, too, had come back to the room. It was now that she had intended
to make her statement, and it had become unnecessary. She was saved
something, and yet there was worse before her than if this had not been
saved.

“There is no explanation we are not ready to give,” said Ronald calmly.
“We were married four years ago, in the Manse of Kinloch-Rugas, by Mr.
Douglas’s predecessor, dead, I am sorry to hear, the other day. My wife
has the lines, which she will give you. Two witnesses of the marriage
are in the house. Every thing is in perfect order and ready for any
examination. The reason of the secrecy we were obliged to keep up was
the objection of Sir Robert, whom we have just laid with every respect
in his grave.”

“With every respect!” Mr. Wallace said with emphasis, and there was a
murmur of agreement from the company round.

“These are my words--with every respect. One may respect a man and yet
fail to sacrifice one’s own happiness entirely to him. My wife and I
were in accord as to saving Sir Robert any thing that might vex him in
his old age.”

Here Lily raised her head as if about to speak, but said nothing by a
second thought, or perhaps by inability to utter any thing in the midst
of the flow of his address.

“It is unnecessary to say what it has cost us to keep up this, but we
have done it at every risk. Our duty now is changed, and it is as
necessary to make our position clearly understood as it was before to
keep it private to ourselves. I would not allow Mrs. Lumsden to take
this avowal upon herself, as I am sure she would have done had I not
been here, or to encounter the fatigue of the day alone. I have
preferred to look like an intruder, as I fear some of the gentlemen here
must have thought me.”

“No intruder,” said one. “No, no, to be sure, no intruder,” said
another. “Not,” said a third, “if this extraordinary story is true.”

“That’s the whole question,” said Mr. Wallace. “My client knew nothing
of it. He left his money to his niece as to a single woman. The lady
has always been known as Miss Ramsay. How are we to know it is true?”

“You know me, however,” said Ronald, with a smile: “Ronald Lumsden,
advocate, son of John, of that name, of Pontalloch. I think I have taken
fees from you before now, Mr. Wallace. It is not very likely I should
tell you such a lie as that in the lady’s face.”

“Miss Ramsay,” said Mr. Wallace--“Lord! if I knew what to call the
lady!--madam, is this true?”

“It is true that I have deceived my uncle and every one who knew me. It
has been heavy, heavy on my conscience, and a shame in my heart. I can
look no one in the face!” cried Lily. “I meant to confess it to you
to-day, as he says. Yes, it is true!”

Though the house was still the house of death, according to all
etiquette, and the blinds not yet drawn up from the windows, Mr.
Wallace, W. S., uttered, in spite of himself, a low whistle of
astonishment. And then he coughed, and drew himself up that nobody
should suspect him of such an impropriety. “This is a strange case, a
very strange case! These gentlemen must understand that I had no inkling
of it when I invited them here to-day.”

“What would it have mattered what inkling you had, Wallace?” said one of
the most important of the strangers. “We cannot change what is done.
Perhaps, indeed, there’s no occasion. It is a dreary moment for
congratulations, Mrs.--Mrs. Lumsden, or I would wish you joy with a good
heart.”

“You will let me thank you on my wife’s account,” said Ronald. “As you
say, it’s a dreary moment--and we have had a dreary time of it; but that
I hope is all over now.”

“Over by the death of the poor gentleman that suspected nothing; that
has treated his niece like his own child,” said Mr. Wallace. “It is not
a pretty thing, nor is it a pleasant consideration. I hope you will not
think I am meaning any thing unkind to you, Miss Lily--I beg your
pardon, the other name sticks in my throat. It was not with any thought
of this that my old friend left all his money to his niece; and we are
met here to mourn his death, not to give thanks with these young people
that it’s over. He was a good friend to me, gentlemen. You’ll excuse me;
it sticks in my throat--it sticks in my throat!”

“The feeling is very natural, and I’m sure we’re all with you, Wallace;
but, as I was saying, what’s done cannot be undone,” said the first
gentleman again.

“And no doubt it is a painful thing for the young people,” said another
charitably, “to have to tell it at this moment, and to have it received
in such a spirit. No doubt they would rather have put it off to another
season. It’s honest of them, I will say for one, not to put it off.”

“And there’s the will, I suppose, to read,” said another, “and the days
are short. My presence is certainly not indispensable, and I think I
must be getting home.”

“You will not take it unkind, Mrs. Lumsden, if we all say the same. It’s
enough to give the horses their deaths, standing about in the cold.”

“There’s no difficulty about the will,” said Mr. Wallace. “It is just
leaving all to her, and no question about it. Scarcely any thing more
but a legacy or two to the servants. He was a thoughtful man for all
that were kind to him. You can see the will when you please at my
office, and the business can be put into your hands, Lumsden, when you
please. I suppose you’re not intending to remain here?”

“That is as my wife pleases,” said Ronald. “In that respect I can have
no will but hers.”

And then they all stood for a moment, in the natural awkwardness of such
a breaking up. No will read; nothing to make a natural point of
conclusion. The ladies came to the rescue, as was their part. One of
them, touched by pity, took Lily into her arms, and spoke tenderly in
her ear.

“My dear, you must not blame yourself beyond measure,” she said. “You
were very good to the old man. I have thought for a long time you had
something on your mind. But if you had been his daughter ten times
over, and had a conscience void of offence, you could not have been a
better bairn to the old man.”

“Thank you for saying so,” said Lily. “I will remember you said it as
long as I live.”

“Hoot!” said the kind woman, “you will soon be thinking of other things.
I will come back soon to see you, and you must just try to forgive
yourself, my dear.” She paused a moment, and Lily divined that she would
have said, “and _him_,” but these words did not come.

“We will all come back--and bring our good wishes--another day,” said
this lady’s husband, and then they all shook hands with her, with at
least a show of cordiality, the half-dozen men feeling to Lily like a
crowd, the other lady saying nothing to her but a half-whispered
good-by. Ronald elaborately shook hands with them all, with a little
demonstration again as of the master of the house. He went to the door
with them, seeing them off, enquiring about their carriages. He was
perfectly good-mannered, courteous, friendly, but showing a familiarity
with the place, warning the strangers of the dark corners, and
especially of that worn step at the top of the stairs, which was
positively dangerous, Ronald said, and must be seen to at once, and with
an assumption of the position of the man of the house which did not
please the country neighbors. He was too well acquainted with every
thing, too pat with all their names, overdoing his part.

“Oh, Miss Lily, Miss Lily,” cried old Wallace, who had not called her by
that name since she was a child, “how could you deceive him? a man that
trusted in you with all his heart!”

“Nobody can blame me,” said Lily drearily, “as I blame myself.”

“You would never have had his money had he known. The will’s all right,
and nobody can contest it, but that siller would burn my fingers if it
were me. I would have no enjoyment in it. I would think it a fortune
dearly bought.”

“The money--was I thinking about the money?” Lily cried, with a touch of
scorn which brought back its natural tone to her voice.

“No, I dare swear you were not,” said the old gentleman; “but if not
you, there were others. It’s never a good thing to play with money:
either it sticks to your fingers and defiles you, or it’s like a canker
on your good name. He’s away to his account, that maybe had something to
answer for. He should have given you your choice--your lad or my siller.
He should have put it into words. He should have given you your choice.”

“He did,” said Lily, almost under her breath.

“He did! I’m glad to hear it--it was honest of him--and you--thought it
better to have them both. I understand now. It was maybe wise, but not
what I would have expected of you.”

Lily had not a word to say; she had hidden her face in her hands.

“Mr. Wallace,” said Ronald, coming back, “I cannot have my wife
questioned in my absence about things for which, at the utmost, she is
only partially to blame. I am here to answer for her, and myself, too.”

“You will have enough to do with yourself. Did you think, sir, you were
to come and let off a surprise on us all, and claim Sir Robert’s money,
and receive his inheritance, and never a word said?”

“If it eases your mind, say as many words as you like!” cried Ronald
cheerfully; “they will not hurt either Lily or me--precious balms that
do not break the head!”

“I would just like, my young sir, to punish ye well for your mockery of
the Holy Scriptures, if not of me!”

“The punishment is not in your hand,” said Lily, uncovering her pale
face. “We are not clear of it, nor ever will be; it will last as long as
our lives.”

“I can well believe that,” said old Wallace. He put up the papers with
which the table was strewn into his bag. “You can come to me in my
office when you like, Mr. Lumsden, and I will show you every thing. It’s
unnecessary that you and me should go over it here,” he said, snapping
the bag upon them, almost with vehemence. “She’s badly hurt enough;
there is no occasion for turning the knife in the wound. I will leave
you to make it up within yourselves,” he said.

Once more Ronald accompanied the departing guest down stairs. He called
Mr. Wallace’s clerk; he helped Mr. Wallace to mount into the geeg which
awaited him. No master of a house could have been more attentive, more
careful of his guest. He wrought the old gentleman up to such a pitch of
exasperation that he almost swore--a thing which occurred to him only in
the greatest emergencies; and that it was all he could do to prevent
himself from using his whip upon the broad shoulders of the interloper
who was thus speeding the parting guests. But the exigencies of the
coach, which he had to get at Kinloch-Rugas at a certain hour, prevented
much further delay. And Ronald stood and watched the departure of the
angry man of business in the Kinloch-Rugas geeg with a sensation of
relief. Was it relief? He was glad to get rid of him, no doubt, and of
all the consternation and disapproval with which his appearance had been
greeted. No one now had any right to say a word--the first and greatest
ordeal was over. But yet there remained something behind which made
Ronald’s nerves tingle; all that was outside had passed away. He had now
to confront alone an antagonist still more alarming: his Lily, whom he
loved in spite of every thing, whose image had filled this gray old
place with sweetness, who had always, up to their last meeting, been
sweet to him, sweeter than words could say--his first and only
sweetheart, his love, his wife. Now all the strangers were gone the
matter was between him and her alone. And Ronald, though he was so
sensible and so strong, was, for the first time, afraid.

He came upstairs slowly, collecting himself for what was before him; not
without a pause at the top to examine again that defective step, which
he had so often remarked upon, which now must be seen to at once. He had
accomplished all he had hoped. Sir Robert had not even kept him long
waiting. Two years was not a very long time to wait; two years in
comparison with the lifetime that lay before Lily and himself was
nothing. They were young, and with this foundation of Sir Robert’s
fortune every thing was at their feet: all that his profession could
give, all its prizes and honors, all that was best in life--the ease of
never having to think or scheme about money, the unspeakable freedom and
exemption from petty cares which that insures. To do him justice, he did
not think of the money itself. He thought that now, whether he was
successful or unsuccessful, Lily was safe--that she would have no
struggle to undergo, no discomfort--while, at the same time, he was very
sure now that he would be successful, that every thing was possible to
him. A modest fortune to begin with, enough to keep the wife and family
comfortable, whatever happens, and to free him from every thought but
how to make the best of himself and his powers--was not that the utmost
that a man could desire, the best foundation? He went back to his Lily,
saying all this to himself, but he could not get his heart up to the
height of that elation which had possessed him when he had put on his
weepers and his crape for Sir Robert. He had not quite recognized the
drawbacks then. Half of them--oh, more than half of them--had been got
over. There only remained Lily: Lily, his wife, who loved him, for whom
he had in store the most delightful of surprises, to whom he could show
now, fully and freely, without fear of any man, how much he loved her,
whose future life he should care for in every detail, letting her feel
the want of nothing; oh, far better than that--the possession of every
thing that heart of woman could desire.

She was sitting as he had left her, in a large chair drawn out almost
into the centre of the room--a sort of chair of state, where she, as the
object of all sympathy, had been surrounded by her compassionate
friends. It chilled him a little to see her there. She wanted that
encirclement the ladies behind her, supporting her, the surrounding of
sympathetic faces. Now that position meant only isolation, separation;
it gave the aspect of one alone in the world. He went up to her, making
a little use of this as a man skilled in taking advantage of every
incident, and took her hand. “Lily, my darling, let me put you in
another place. Here is the chair you used to sit in. Come, it will be
more like yourself.”

“I am very well where I am,” she said.

There was the chair beside the fire where she had once been used to sit.
How suggestive these dumb things, these mere articles of furniture, are
when they have once taken the impress of our mortal moods and ways! It
had been pushed by chance, by the movement of many people in the room,
into the very position which Lily had occupied so often, with her lover,
her husband, hanging over her or close beside her, in all the closeness
of their first union, when the snow had built its dazzling drifts on
every road, and shut them out from all the world. To both their minds
there came for a moment the thought of that, the sensation of the chill
fresh air, the white silence, the brilliance of the sun upon the
sparkling crystals. But it was a hard and bitter frost that enveloped
them now--black skies and earth alike, every sound ringing harshly
through. Lily sat unmoving. She looked at him with what seemed a stern
calm. She seemed to herself to have suffered all that could be suffered
in so short a space of time, the shame of her story all laid bare--her
story, which had so different an aspect now, no longer the story of a
true, if foolish and imprudent, love, but of calculation, of fraud, of a
long, bold, ably planned deception for the sake of money. Her neighbors
did not, indeed, think so of her, or speak so of her, as they jogged
along the frost-bound roads, talking of nothing but this strange
incident; but she thought they were doing so, and her heart was seared
and burned up with shame.

He drew a chair near to her and laid his hand upon hers. “Lily!” he
said.

She did not move; the touch of his hand made her start, but did not
affect her otherwise. “There is no need for that,” she said, somehow
with an air as if she scorned even to withdraw her hand, which was so
cold and irresponsive. She added with a long-drawn breath: “You can tell
me what you want--now that you have got what you want. It is all that
need be said between you and me.”

“Lily,” he said, lifting her hand, which was like a piece of ice, and
holding it between his, “what I want is you. What is any thing I can get
or wish for without you?”

She withdrew her hand with a little force. “All that,” she said, “is
over and past. Why should so sensible a man as you are try to keep up
what is ended, or to go on speaking a language which is--which has lost
its meaning? You and I are not what we were; I at least am not what I
was.”

“You are my wife, Lily.”

“Yes, the more’s the pity--the more’s the pity!” she cried.

“That’s not what I should ever have expected from you. You are angry,
Lily, and I confess there are things which I have done--in haste, or on
the spur of the moment, or considering our joint interests perhaps more,
my dear, than your feelings----”

“It would be well,” cried Lily with some of her old animation, “to
decide which it was--a hasty impulse, as you say, on the spur of the
moment, or our joint interests, which I deny for one! I never for a day
was for any thing but honesty and openness, and no interest of mine was
in it. But at least make up your mind. It was either in your haste or it
was your calculation--it could not be both.”

“I did not think you would ever bring logic against me,” he said.

“Because I was an ignorant girl--and so I was, believing every thing you
said, so many things that turned out one after another to be untrue:
that you were to take me home at once as soon as the snow was over; that
you were to get a house at Whit-Sunday, at Martinmas, and then at
another Whit-Sunday, and then----” Lily had allowed herself to run on,
having once begun to speak, as women are apt to do. She stopped herself
now with an effort. “Of these things words can be said, but of what
remains there are no words to speak. I will not try! I will not try! You
have trampled on my heart and my soul and my life to your own end--my
uncle’s money, my poor uncle that believed me, every word I said! And
now I ask, what do you want more? Let me know it, and if I can, I will
do it.”

“Do you know,” he cried, suddenly grasping her hand again with an almost
fierce clutch, “that you can do nothing but what I permit? You are my
wife, you have nothing, your uncle’s money or any other, but what I give
you. You’re not your own to do what you like with yourself, as you seem
to think, but mine to do what I like, and nothing else. If we’re to play
at that, Lily, you must know that the strong hand is with me!”

“So it appears,” she said, with a fierce smile, looking at her fingers,
crushed together, with the blood all pressed out of them, as he dropped
her hand. His threat, his defiance, did not enter into her mind in all
its force. Even in those days such a bondage of one reasonable creature
to another was at first impossible to conceive. And Ronald was quick to
change his tone. Of all things in the world the last he wanted was to
enter into the enjoyment of Sir Robert’s fortune without his wife.

“Lily,” he said, “Heaven knows it is far from my wish to be tyrannical
to you. There is no happiness for me in this world without you. If you
can do without me, I cannot do without you. Am I saying I am without
fault? No, no! I’ve done wrong, I’ve done many things wrong. But not
beyond forgiveness, Lily--surely not that? What I did I thought was for
the best. If I had thought you would not understand me, would not make
allowance for me--but I believed you would trust me as I trusted you.
Anyway, Lily, forgive me. We’re bound till death us part. Forgive me; a
man can say no more than that.”

He was sincere enough at least now. And Lily’s heart was torn with that
mingling of attraction and strong repulsion which is the worst of all
such unnatural separations. She said at last: “I am going away
to-morrow, Beenie and me. I had it settled before. You will not stop
that. If you will give your help, I will be thankful. Nothing in this
world, you or any other, can come between me and _that_! If it is a
living bairn, or if it is a green grave----” Lily stopped, her voice
choked, unable to say a word more.



CHAPTER XLVI


Lily was no more visible that day. She retired to her room, having,
indeed, much need of repose, and to be alone and think over all that had
passed. He said a great deal more to her than is here recorded; but
Lily’s powers of comprehension were exhausted, or she did not listen, or
her mind was so much absorbed in her own projects that she was not aware
what he said. His presence produced an agitation in her mind which was
indescribable. At first the sense that he was there, the mere sight of
him, after all that had come and gone, was intolerable to her. But after
a while this changed; his voice became again familiar to her ears, his
presence recalled a hundred and a hundred recollections. This was the
man whom she had chosen from all the world, whose coming had made this
lonely house bright, who had changed her lonely life and every thing in
it, who was hers, her love, her husband, the one man in the world to
Lily. There was no such man living, she said to herself sternly, as the
Ronald of her dreams; but yet this was the being who bore his name, who
bore his semblance, who spoke to her in a voice which had tones such as
no other voice had, and made her heart beat in spite of herself. This
was Ronald--not her Ronald, but Ronald himself--the man who had deceived
her and made her a deceiver, who had robbed her of her child in her
weakness, when she could not go after him, and swore to her a lie that
the child was dead. All that was true; but it is not much of a love
which dies with the discovery that the object of it is unworthy. She had
thought it had done so; all things had seemed easy to her so far as he
was concerned. But now Lily discovered that life was not so easy as
that. The sound of his voice, that so familiar voice which had said so
much to her, had gone through all these delusions like a knife. Was he
to blame that she had made a hero of him, that she had endowed him with
qualities he did not possess? This was Ronald, the real man, and there
was between him and her the bond of all bonds, that which can never be
broken. And she saw confusedly that there had been no false pretences on
his part, that he had been the same throughout, if it had not been that
her eyes were blinded and she saw her own imagination only. The same
man; she did not do him the injustice to think that he had been a cheat
throughout, that he had not loved her. It was not so simple as that
either; but he had determined with that force which some men have that
she should not lose her fortune. Already her heart, excusing him, put it
that way; and he had, through all obstacles, carried out this
determination. Was it her part to blame him? and even if that were her
part, was it the part of a woman never to forgive?

I do not say that these were voluntarily Lily’s thoughts; but she had
become, as she had never been before, the field of battle where a combat
raged in which she herself seemed to have comparatively little part.
When the one side had made its fiery assault, then the other came in.
There rose up in her with all these meltings and softenings a revulsion
of her whole being against Ronald, the man who had made her lie. Into
what strange thing had he turned her life for all these years? A false
thing, full of concealments, secrets, terrors of discovery. He had led
her on from lie to lie, and then when the climax of all came, there had
been no mercy, no relenting, no remorse in his breast. He had torn her
child from her without care for him or for her, risking the lives of
both, and leaving in the bosom of the outraged mother a wound which
could never be healed. She felt it now as fresh as when she awakened
from her illness and came to life again by means of the pain--even now,
when perhaps, perhaps that wrong was to be put right and her child given
back to her. If he were in her arms now, it would still be there. Such a
blow as that was never to be got over; and it had been inflicted for
what? For no high motive of martyrdom--for the money, the horrible
money, which now, at the cost of so many lies and outrages of nature,
had fallen into his hands.

Oh, no, no! things are not so easy in this world between human creatures
made of such strange elements as those of which it has pleased the
Master of all things to compound us. It is not all straightforward:
love--or else not love, perhaps hate. Love was on every side, the heart
crying out toward another that was its mate, and at the same time an
insupportable repugnance, revulsion, turning away. He was all that she
had in the world; all protection, companionship, support, that was
possible to her was in him; and yet her heart sickened at him, turning
away, feeling the great gulf fixed which was between them. This great
conflict within deadened Lily to all that was going on outside. She was
too much occupied with the struggle even to see, much less feel, the
state of affairs round her. What she did herself she did mechanically,
carrying on what she had intended beforehand, with the waning strength
of that impulse which had originated in her before this battle began.
She remembered still what she had resolved to do then, and did it dully,
without much consciousness. She had made up her mind to go off at once
upon her search. Had any thing occurred to prevent her doing this? She
could not tell, but she went on in so different a way, carrying out her
resolution. She counted her money, which was all hers now, about which
she could have no scruples. There was some of the housekeeping money,
which still she herself felt was her uncle’s, intrusted to her, but
which certainly, when she came to think of it, was her own now, and some
which Sir Robert had given her, about which there could be no question.
It seemed a large sum of money to her inexperience--if only she knew
where to go, and what to do!

Robina was packing, or appearing to pack--a piece of work which ought to
have been done before now. Lily reproved her for being so late, but not
with any energy. The things outside of her were but half realized, she
was so busy within. Beenie was in a curious state, not good for much.
She wept into the box over which she stooped, dropping tears on her
mistress’s linen when she did not succeed in intercepting them with her
apron. But though she wept all the time, she sometimes broke into a
laugh under her breath, and then sobbed. It was evident that she had no
heart for her packing. She put in the most incongruous things and then
took them out again, and would rise up stealthily from her knees when
Lily’s back was turned, and run to the window, coming back again with a
hasty “Naething, naething, mem!” when her mistress remarked this, and
asked what she wanted. Down stairs--but Lily did not see it, nor would
have remarked it had she seen--Katrin stood at the open door. She had
her hand curved over her eyes, though there was no sunshine to prevent
her from seeing clearly any thing that might appear on the long, dark,
frost-bound road. Half the morning, to the neglect of every thing
within, Katrin stood looking out. It was a curious thing for the
responsible housekeeper of the house--the cook, with her lunch and her
dinner on her mind--to do; and so the other servants said to themselves,
watching her with great curiosity. Were there any more “ferlies” coming,
or what was it that Katrin was expecting from the town?

Of these things Lily took no notice. She went into the drawing-room
ready for her journey, conscious that she must see her husband before
she left the house, but with a great failing of heart and strength,
wishing only to get away, to be alone, to go on with the terrible
struggle in her thoughts. There was no one there when she went in, and
it was a relief to her. She sat down to recover her strength, to
recover her breath. She had told him that she was going, and so far as
she could remember he had made no opposition. She had appealed to him to
help her, but so far as she knew he had not attempted to do so. It was
not yet quite time to go, and Beenie was behindhand, as she always was.
Lily was glad, if the word could be used at all in respect to her
feelings at this moment, of the little quiet, the time to breathe.

There was, however, some strange commotion going on in the house--a
sound outside of cries and laughter, a loud note of Beenie’s voice in
the adjacent room, and then the rush of her heavy footsteps downstairs.
There arose in Lily’s mind a vague wonder at the evanescence of all
impressions in the women’s minds. They had all wept plentifully the day
before at the funeral, and spoken with sickly stifled voices, as if they
had been not only sorrowful, but bowed down with trouble. And now there
was Beenie, loud with a shriek of what sounded like joy, and Katrin’s
voice rising over a little babel of confused sound, in exclamations and
outcries of delight. What could have changed their tone so suddenly? But
Lily asked herself the question very vaguely, having no attention to
give to them. The only external thing that could have thoroughly roused
her would have been her husband’s step, and the thrill of being face to
face with him again.

It was not long before the sound of approaching footsteps made her heart
leap into the wildest agitation again. The noise had gone on down
stairs, the cries of delight, the sound of sobbing, and for one moment
something--a small brief note which made Lily start even in her
self-absorption. But she had not heeded more than that one quick
heart-beat of surprise. Was that at last Ronald’s step coming quickly up
the winding stair? She clasped her hands firmly together, and wound
herself up as best she could for this meeting, the interview which would
perhaps be their last. Her eyes were fixed upon the door. She was
conscious of sitting there rigidly, like a figure of stone, though her
being was full of every kind of agitation. And then there was a pause.
He had not come in. Why did he not come in?

Finally the door was slowly opened, but at first no one appeared. Then
there was a whisper and another sound--a sound that went through and
through the listening, waiting, agitated woman, who seemed to have no
power to move, and then----

There came in something white into the room, a little speck upon the
darkness of the walls and carpet--low down, white, with something like a
rose above the whiteness. This was what Lily saw: her eyes were dim and
every thing was confused about her. Then the speck moved forward slowly
with tottering, uncertain movements, the whiteness and the rose
wavering. There came a great cry in Lily’s heart, but she uttered not a
word; a terror, lest any movement of hers should dispel the vision, took
possession of her. She rose up noiselessly, and then, not knowing what
she did, dropped upon her knees. The little creature paused, and Lily,
in her semi-conscious state, became aware of the blackness of her own
figure in her mourning, and the great bonnet and veil that covered her
head. Noiselessly she undid the strings and threw them behind her,
scarcely breathing in her suspense. The child moved again toward her,
relieved, too, by the removal of that blackness, and Lily put out her
arms. How can I tell what followed? She could not, nor ever knew. The
child did not shriek or cry, as by all rules he should have done. He
rolled and wavered, the rose growing distinct into a little face, with a
final rush into his mother’s arms. And for a moment, an hour--how long
was it?--Lily felt and knew nothing but that again she had her baby in
her arms--her baby, that had been snatched from her unconscious, that
came back to her with infantile perceptions, smiles, love in its face!
She had her baby in her arms, not shrinking from her, as she had figured
him to herself a hundred times, but putting up his little hands to her
face, pleased with her, not discomposed with her kisses, putting his
soft cheek against hers; the one was as soft as the other, and as the
warm blood rose in Lily’s veins and the light came to her eyes and the
joy to her heart, as softly, warmly tinted, too, one rose against
another. She forgot herself and all about her--time and space, and all
her resolutions and her struggle and strain with herself, and her
mourning and her wrongs. Other people came into the room and stood
round, women crying, laughing, unable to do any thing but exclaim and
sob in their delight. But Lily took no notice. She had her child against
her heart, and her heart was healed. She could not think where all the
pain had gone. Her breath came free and soft, her life sat lightly on
her, her cares were over. She wanted to know nothing, see nothing, hear
nothing more.

But this could not be. In another minute Ronald came into the room
quickly, no doubt full of anxiety, but full also of the energy of a man
who has the command of the situation and means to settle it in every
way, not unkindly, but yet authoritatively. With a word he dispersed the
women, stopping their outcries, which had been a sort of accompaniment
to the song of content that was in Lily’s heart, and then he came
quickly forward and put his arm round the group of the mother and child.
He pressed them to him and kissed them, first his wife and then the
baby, who sat on her knee. “Now all is well,” he said; “my Lily, all is
well! Every thing is forgiven and forgotten, and you and me are to begin
again!”

Then Lily came suddenly back out of her rapture. She came back to the
life to which he called her, in which he had played so strange a part.
How her heart had melted toward him when he was not there! To be Ronald
had seemed to her by moments to be every thing. But now that he was
here, kneeling before her, his child on her knee, his arms around her,
his kiss on her cheek, there rose up between them a wall as of iron,
something which it seemed impossible should ever give way, a repulsion
stronger than her own will, stronger than herself. She made an
involuntary movement to free herself. And her face changed, the
rose-hues went out of it, the light from her eyes. All well! How could
all be well? Two years, during which this child had been growing into
consciousness in another house, with other care, with neither father nor
mother; and she left widowed and bereft, to play a lying part and be
another creature--not what she was! And all for money, money--nothing
better! And now the money was won by all those lies and deceptions, now
all was to be well?

“Let me be,” she said hoarsely, “let me be! A little rest, I want a
rest. I am not equal to any more.”

He got up to his feet, repulsed and angry. “You do not think what I am
equal to,” he said, “or hesitate to inflict on me what punishment, what
cruelty, you please! And yet every thing that has been done was done in
your own interests, and who but you will get the good of it all?”

“My interests?” Lily cried.

And then there came an unexpected interruption. The baby, for all so
young as he was, became aware of the change of aspect of things around
him. His little roselip began to quiver, and then he set up a lamentable
cry which, to the inexperienced heart of Lily, was far more dreadful
than ever was the cry of a child. As she tried to soothe him there
appeared in the doorway Margaret Bland, the woman who had taken him
away. And Lily gave a cry like that of her child, and clung to the baby,
who, for his small part, struggled to get to his nurse, the only
familiar figure to him in all this strange place. “Not you,” cried Lily,
“not that woman who stole him from me! Beenie! not you, not you!”

“And yet, mem,” said Margaret, “it is me that has been father and mother
and all to him when none of you came near. And the darling is fond o’ me
and me of him like my own flesh and blood.”

“Beenie, Beenie!” cried Lily, wild with terror, as the child slid and
struggled out of her arms. “Katrin, Katrin! oh, don’t leave her, not for
a moment--don’t let her take him away!”

Once more the cloud of women appeared at the door, all the maids of the
house delighted over the child, and Beenie in the front, seizing
Margaret by the skirts as she gathered up the child in her arms. “Na,
na, she’ll no take him an inch out o’ my sight!” Beenie cried.

Lily stood up trembling, breathless, confronting her husband as this
little tumult swept away. A passion of terror had succeeded her rapture
of love and content; and yet there was a compunction in it and almost a
touch of shame. That chorus of excited women did not add to the dignity
of her position. He had not said any thing, but was walking up and down
the room in impatience and annoyance. “Who do you think would take him
from you _now_?” he cried in his exasperation, adding fuel to the fire.

Oh, not now! There were no interests to be involved now; the money was
safe, for which all these hideous plans had been laid. If this was meant
to soothe, it was an ill-chosen word. And for a moment these two people
stood on the edge of one of those angry recriminations which aggravate
every quarrel and take all dignity and all reason from the breach.
Ronald perceived his mistake even before Lily could take any advantage
of it, had she been disposed so to do.

“Lily,” he said, “your life and mine have to be decided now. There is
neither credit nor comfort in the position of deadly opposition which
you have taken up. I may have sinned against you. I told you what was
not true about the child, I acknowledge that. I should not have
pretended he was dead. I saw my mistake as soon as I had committed it,
but it was as ineffectual as it was wrong. You did not believe me for a
minute, therefore I did no harm. The rest was all inevitable; it could
not be helped. Enough has been said on that subject. But all necessity
for these expedients is over now. Every thing is plain sailing before
us; we have the best prospects for our life. I can promise that no woman
will have a better husband than you will find me. You have a beautiful
healthy child who takes to you as if you had never been parted from him
for a day. We have a good house to step into----”

“What house?” she cried, surprised.

“Oh, not the garret you were so keen about,” he answered, a smile
creeping about the corners of his mouth, “a house worthy of you, fit for
you--the house in George Square!”

“Uncle Robert’s house!” she cried, almost with a shriek.

“Yes,” he said, “to which you are the rightful heir, as you are to his
money. They are both very safe, I assure you, in _my_ hands.”

“You are,” she said breathlessly, “the proprietor--now?”

“Through you, my bonnie Lily; but there is no mistake or deception about
that,” he said, with a short laugh; “they are very safe in my hands.”

No man could be less conscious than Ronald, though he was a man full of
ability and understanding, of the effect of these words of his triumph
upon his wife’s mind. He thought he was setting before her in the
strongest way the advantages there were for her, and both, in agreement
and peaceful accord, and how prejudicial to her own position and comfort
any thing else would be. He was perhaps a little carried away by his
success. Even the experiment of this morning--how thoroughly successful
it had been! The child might have been frightened and turned away from
the unknown mother: instead of this, by a providential dispensation, he
had gone to her without hesitation and behaved himself angelically. How
any woman in her senses could resist all the inducements that lay before
her, all the excellent reasons there were to accept the present and
ignore the past--in which nothing had been done that was not for her
interest--he could not tell. He began to be impatient with such folly,
and to think it might be well to let her have a glimpse of what, if she
rejected this better part, lay on the other side.

Lily had seated herself once more in her chair; it was the great chair
she had occupied when the funeral party assembled, and gave her
something of the aspect of a judge. She had lost altogether the color
and brightness that had come into her face. She was very pale, and the
blackness of her mourning made this more visible. And, she sat silent,
oh, not convinced, as he hoped--far from that--but struck dumb, not
knowing what to say.

At this moment, however, there was another interruption, and the little
figure of Helen Blythe, covered, too, with crape and mourning, but with
a natural glow and subdued brightness as always upon her morning face,
appeared at the door.



CHAPTER XLVII


Helen was in all her crape, and yet her upper garment was not “deep,”
like that of a woman in her first woe. It was a cloak which suggested
travelling rather than any formality. And it appeared that the bright
countenance with which she came in was one of sympathy for Lily, rather
than of any cheerfulness of her own. She came forward holding out both
her hands, having first deposited her umbrella against the wall. “I am
glad, glad,” she said, “of all this that I hear of you, Lily: that you
have got your husband to take care of you, and, it appears, a delightful
bairn. I knew there was something more than ordinary between you two,”
she said, stopping to shake hands with Ronald in his turn. “And vexed,
vexed was I to see that Mr. Lumsden disappeared when old Sir Robert
came. It must have been a dreadful trial to you, my poor Lily. But I
never knew it had gone so far. Married in my own parlor, by my dear
father, and not a word to me--Lily, it was not kind!”

Lily had no reply to make to this. It carried her away into a region so
far distant, so dim, like a fairy-tale.

“But my dear father,” said Helen, “had little confidence in my
discretion, and he might think it better I should know nothing, in case
I should betray myself--and you. Oh, how hard it must have been many a
time to keep your secret; and when your child came, poor Lily, poor
Lily! But I do not yet understand about the bonnie bairn. They tell me
he is a darlin’. But did he come to you in a present, as we used to
think the babies did when we were children, or by what witchcraft did
you manage all that, Lily, my dear?”

“And where did you hear this story that you have on your fingers’ ends?”
said Ronald, interrupting these troublesome questions.

“Well,” said Helen, half offended, “if I have it on my fingers’ ends, it
is that I take so much interest in Lily and all that concerns her--and
you, too,” she added, fearing that what she had said might sound severe.
“You forget that there were two years when we saw you often, and then
two years that we saw you not at all; and often and often my father
would ask about you. ‘Where is that young Mr. Lumsden?’ ‘Have you no
word of that young Mr. Lumsden?’ He was very much taken up about you,
and why you did not come back, nor any word of you. To be sure, he had
his reasons for that, knowing more than the like of me.”

“Those very reasons should have shown him how I could not come back!”
said Ronald sharply. “But you have not told me where it was you got this
story, which few know.”

“Well--not to do her any harm if you think she should have been more
discreet--it was Katrin that told me. She is a kind, good, honest woman.
She was just out of herself with joy at the coming of the dear bairn.
You will let me see him, Lily?”

“You look as if you were going on a journey. Oh, Helen, where are you
going?” cried Lily, glad to interrupt the questions, and to give herself
also a moment’s time to breathe.

“Yes, I am going on a journey,” Helen said, steadfastly looking her
friend in the face. Her eyes were clear; her color, as usual, softly
bright, not paled by the crape, or by her genuine, but not excessive,
grief. She had mourned for her father as truly as she had nursed him,
but not without an acknowledgment that he had lived out his life and
departed in the course of nature. By this time, though but ten days of
common life had succeeded the excitement and commotion of Mr. Blythe’s
funeral, at which the whole countryside had attended, Helen had returned
to the ordinary of existence, and to the necessity of arranging her own
life, upon which there was now no bond. The plea of the assistant and
successor (now minister) of Kinloch-Rugas that there should be no breach
in it at all, that she should accept his love and remain in the house
where she was born as his wife, had not moved her mind for a moment. She
had shaken her head quietly, but very decisively, sorry to hurt him or
any creature, yet fully knowing her own mind; and, in so far as she
could do so in the village, Helen had made her preparations. She had a
little land and a little money, the one in the hands of a trustworthy
tenant, the other very carefully, very safely, invested by her father
with the infinite precautions of a man to whom his little fortune was a
very great matter, affecting the very course of the spheres. Helen had
boldly, with indeed an unspeakable hardihood, notwithstanding the horror
and remonstrances of the man of business, taken immediate steps to
withdraw her money and get it into her possession. All this was done
very quietly, very quickly, and, by good luck, favorably enough. And
then she made arrangements for her venture, the great voyage into the
unknown.

“Yes,” she said, “I am going on a journey. You will perhaps guess
where--or if not where, for I am not just clear on that point myself,
you will at least know with what end. I have nothing to keep me back
now”--a little moisture came into Helen’s eyes, but that did not affect
her steady, small voice--“and only him in the world that needs me. I am
going to Alick, Lily. You will tell me it’s rash, as every-body does,
and maybe it is rash. If he has wearied at the last and given up all
thoughts of me, I will never blame him; but that I cannot think, and it
is borne in on my mind that he has more need of me than ever. So I am
just taking my foot in my hand and going to him,” she said, looking at
Lily, with a smile.

“Helen! oh, you will not do that! Go to him, to you know not where, to
circumstances you are quite, quite ignorant of? Oh, Helen, you will not
do that!”

“Indeed, and that will I,” said Helen, with the same calm and steady
smile. “I am feared for nothing, but maybe that he might hear the news
and start to come to me before I could get to him.”

“That is enough!” cried Lily. “Oh, wait till he comes; send for him!
Rather any thing than go all that weary way across the sea alone.”

“I am feared for nothing,” Helen said, still smiling, “and who would
meddle with me? I am not so very bonnie, and I am not so very young. I
am just as safe, or safer, than half the women in the world that have to
do things the other half do not understand.”

“Like myself, you think,” Lily said; and it was on her lips to add: “If
you succeed no better than me!” But the bondage of life was upon her,
and of the pride and the decorum of life. Ronald had taken no part in
this conversation, but he was there all the time, standing against the
window, looking out. He was very impatient that his conversation with
his wife, so important in every way, should be interrupted. His own
affairs were so full in his mind, as was natural, that any enforced
pause in the discussion of them appeared to him as if the course of the
world had been stopped. And this country girl’s insignificant little
story, perfectly wild and foolish as it was, that it should take
precedence of his own at so great a crisis! He turned round at last and
said in a voice thrilling with impatience: “I hope, as Lily does, that
you will do nothing rash, Miss Blythe. We have a great deal to do
ourselves with our own arrangements.”

“And I am keeping Lily from you? You will excuse me,” cried Helen,
wounded, “but I am going to do something very rash, as you say, and I
may never come back; and I cannot leave a friend like Lily, and one my
father was proud of, and thought upon on his death-bed, and one that
knows where I am going and why, without a word. There is perhaps nobody
but Lily in the world that knows what I mean, and what I am doing, and
my reasons for it,” Helen said. She took her friend’s hands once more
into her own. “But I will not keep you from him, Lily, when no doubt you
have so much to say.”

“You shall not go,” said Lily, with something of her old petulance,
“till you have seen what I have to show you, and till you have told me
every thing there is to tell. Oil, my baby, my little bairn, my little
flower! I could be angry that you have put him out of my head for a
moment. Come, come, and see him now.”

Ronald paced up and down the room when he was left alone; his impatience
was not, perhaps, without some excuse. He was very anxious to come to
some ground of agreement with Lily, some basis upon which their life
could be built. He had hoped much from the great _coup_ of the morning,
from the bringing back of the child, which he had intended to do
himself, taking advantage of the first thrill of emotion, and
identifying himself, its father, with the infant restored to her arms;
but the women, with their folly, had spoiled that moment for him, and
lost him the best of the opportunity, and now there was another woman
thrusting her foolish story into the midst of that crisis in his life.
Ronald was out of heart and out of temper. He began to see, as he had
never done before, the difficulties that seemed to close up his path. He
had feared, and yet not feared, the tempest of reproaches which no doubt
Lily would pour upon him. He did not know her any better than this, but
expected what the conventional woman would do in a book, or a malicious
story, from his wife; and he had expected that there would be a great
quarrel, a heaping up of every grievance, and then tears, and then
reconciliation, as in every story of the kind that had ever been told.
But even if she could resist the sight of him and of his pleading,
Ronald felt a certainty that Lily could not resist the return of her
child; for this she would forgive every thing. This link that held them
together was one that never could be broken. He had calculated every
thing with the greatest care, but he had not thought it necessary to go
beyond that. When she had her child in her arms, Lily, he felt sure,
would return to his, and no cloud should ever come between them more.

But now this delusion was over. She had not showered reproaches upon
him. She had not done any thing he expected her to do. The dreadful, the
astounding revelation that had been made to him was that this was not
Lily any longer. It was another woman, older, graver, shaped by life and
experience, without faith, with a mind too clear, with eyes too
penetrating. Would she ever turn to him otherwise than with that look,
which seemed to espy a new pretence, a new deception, in every thing he
said? Ronald still loved his wife; he would have given a great deal,
almost, perhaps, the half of Sir Robert’s fortune, to have his Lily back
again as she had been; but he began now for the first time to feel that
it would be necessary to give up that vision, to arrange his life on
another footing. If she would but consent at least to fulfil the
decorums of life, to remain under his roof, to be the mistress of his
house, not to flaunt in the face of the world the division between these
two who had made a love-marriage, who had not been able to keep apart
when every thing was against their union, and now were rent asunder when
every thing was in its favor! What ridicule would be poured upon him!
What talk and discussion there would be! His mind flashed forward to a
vision of himself alone in Sir Robert’s great house in George Square,
and Lily probably here at Dalrugas with her child. Sir Robert’s house
was his, and Sir Robert’s fortune was his. Except what he chose to give
her, out of this much desired fortune--for which, indeed, it was he who
had planned and suffered, not she--she had no right to any thing. There
was so much natural justice in Ronald Lumsden’s mind that he did not
like this, though, as it was the law, and he a lawyer, it cost him less
than it might have done another man; but he meant to make the strongest
and most effective use of it all the same. He meant to show her that she
was entirely dependent upon him--she and her child; that she had nothing
and no rights except what he chose to allow her: and that it was her
interest and that of her child (whom, besides, he could take from her
were he so minded) to keep on affectionate terms with him.

This, though it gave him a certain angry satisfaction, was a very
different thing, it must be allowed, from what he had dreamed. He had
thought of recovering Lily as she was in the freshness of her love and
faith before even the first stroke of that disappointment about the
house, the garret in Edinburgh, upon which her hopes had been fixed:
full of brightness and variety, a companion of whom one never would or
could tire, whose faith in him would make up for any failure of
appreciation on the part of the rest of the world, nay, make an end of
that--for would not such a faith have inspired him to believe in
himself, to be all she believed him to be? Did he live a hundred years,
and she by his side, Ronald now knew that he would never have that faith
again. And the absence of it would be more than a mere negative: it
would inspire him the wrong way, and make him in himself less and less
worthy--a man of calculations and schemes--all that she most objected
to, but of which he felt the principle in himself. It is not to be
supposed that he himself called, or permitted himself to imagine, these
calculations base. He thought them reasonable, sagacious, wise, the only
way of getting on in the world. They had succeeded perfectly in the
present instance. He was conscious, with a sort of pride, that he had
thus fairly gained Sir Robert’s fortune, which he had set before him as
an object so long ago. He had won it, as it were, with his bow and his
spear, and it was such a gain to a young man as was unspeakable,
helping him in every way, not only in present comfort, but in
importance, in his profession, in the opinion of the solicitors, who had
always more confidence in a man who had money of his own. Ah, yes, he
had won in this struggle--but then something cold clutched at his heart.
He was a young man still, and he loved his wife--he wanted her and
happiness along with all those other possessions; but when he won Sir
Robert’s money, he had lost Lily. Was this so? Must he consent that this
should be so? Were they separated forever by the thing that ought to
unite them? He said to himself: “No, no!” but in his heart he felt that
cold shadow closing over him. They might be together as of old--more
than of old--each other’s constant companions. But Lily would never be
to him what she had been; they would be two, living side by side,
unconsciously or consciously criticising each other, spying upon each
other. They would no more be one!

To meet this, when one had expected the flush and assurance of success,
has of all things in the world the most embittering and exasperating
effect upon the mind. Ronald had looked for trouble with Lily--the
ordinary kind of trouble, a quarrel, perhaps _à outrance_, involving
many painful scenes--but he had never thought of the real effect of his
conduct upon her mind, the tremendous revulsion of her feelings, the
complete change of his aspect in her eyes, and of that which she
presented to him. A moment of disgust with every thing--with himself,
with her, with his success and all that it could produce--succeeded the
other changes of feeling. It is not unnatural at such a moment to wish
to do harm to somebody, to throw off something of that sense of the
intolerable that is in one’s own mind upon another. And Ronald bethought
himself of what Helen Blythe had said, her complete acquaintance with
the story which had been so carefully concealed from her, and her
confession that she had it from Katrin. A wave of wrath went over him.
Katrin had been in the secret from the beginning, not by any desire of
his, but because the circumstances rendered it inevitable that she
should be so, and nothing could be done without her complicity. He said
to himself that he had never liked her, nor her surly brute of a
husband, who had looked at him with so much suspicion on many of his
visits here. They thought themselves privileged persons, no doubt;
faithful servants, who had been of use, to whom on that account every
thing was to be forgiven; who would be in his own absence, as they had
been in Sir Robert’s, a sort of master and mistress to Dalrugas,
recounting to every-body, and to the child when he grew up, the history
of his parents’ marriage, entertaining all the country neighbors with
it--an intolerable suggestion. With them at least short work could be
made. He rang the bell hastily and desired that Katrin should be sent to
him at once, she and her husband, and awaited their appearance
impatiently, forming sharp phrases in his mind to say to them, with the
full purpose of pouring on their heads the full volume of his wrath.

Katrin received that summons without surprise. She had thought it likely
that something would be said to her of gratitude for her faithful
service, and for her care of Lily; perhaps a little present given, which
Katrin did not want, but yet would have prized and guarded among her
chief treasures. She called in Dougal from the stable, and hastily
brushed the straws and dust from his rough coat. “But they ken you’re
aye among the beasts!” she said. She herself put on a spotless white
apron, and tied the strings of her cap, which in the heat of the kitchen
were often flying loose. Dougal followed her, with no such look of
pleasure on his face. To him Ronald was still “that birky from
Edinburgh,” whose visits and absences, and all the mystery of his
appearance and disappearance, had so often upset the house and wrought
Miss Lily woe. The wish that he could just have got his two hands on him
had not died out of his mind, and it was bitter to Dougal to feel that
this man was to be henceforth his master, even though he believed he was
about to receive nothing but compliments and gratification from his
hand. Ronald was still walking up and down the room when the
pair--Katrin with her most smiling and genial looks--appeared at the
door.

“Oh, you are there!” he said hastily with a tone of careless disdain. “I
wished to speak to you at once to let you know what I have settled, that
you may have time to make your own arrangements. There are likely to be
many changes in the house--and the way of living altered altogether. I
think it best to tell you that, after Whit-Sunday, Mrs. Lumsden will
have no further occasion for your services.”

He had not found it so easy as he thought, in face of Katrin’s changing
face, which clouded a little with surprise and disappointment at his
first words, then rose into flushed amazement, and then to
consternation. “Sir!” she cried, when he paused, aghast, and without
another word to say.

“I kent it would be that way,” Dougal muttered, behind her, in the
opening of the door.

“Well!” said Ronald sharply, “have you any thing to say against it? I am
aware you have for a long time considered this house your own, but that
was simply because of the negligence of the master. That time is over,
and it is in new hands. You will understand, though it is not the usual
time for speaking, that I give you lawful notice to leave before the
Whit-Sunday term in this current year.”

“Sir,” said Katrin again, “I’m thinking I canna rightly trust to my
ears. Are you meaning to send me--me and Dougal, Sir Robert’s auld
servants, and Miss Lily’s faithful servants--away? and take our places
from us that we’ve held this twenty year? I think I maun be bewitched,
for I canna believe my ears!”

“Let us have no more words on the subject,” said Ronald; “arguing will
make it no better. You are Sir Robert’s old servants, no doubt, but Sir
Robert is dead and buried; and how far you were faithful servants to
him--after all that I know of my own experience--the less said of that
the better, it seems to me.”

“Dougal,” said Katrin, with a gasp, “haud me, that I dinna burst! He is
meaning the way we’ve behaved to him!”

“And he has good reason!” said Dougal, his shaggy brows meeting each
other over two fiery sparks of red eyes. “’Od, if I had had my will,
many’s the time, I would have kickit him out o’ the house!”

Dougal’s words were but as a muttering--the growl of a tempest--but the
two people blocking the door, meeting him with sudden astonishment and a
quick-rising fury of indignation which matched his own, wrought Ronald’s
passion to a climax; he seized up his hat, which was on the table, and
pushed past them, sending the solid figures to right and left. “That’s
enough. I have nothing more to say to you!” he said.

It was Katrin that caught him by the arm. “Maister Lumsden,” she said,
“ye’ll just satisfy me first! Is it because of what we did for
you--takin’ ye in, makin’ ye maister and mair, keepin’ your secret,
helpin’ a’ your plans--that you’re now turnin’ us out of our daily
bread, out o’ our hame, out o’ your doors?”

“Cheating your master in every particular,” said Ronald, “as you will
me, no doubt, whenever you have a chance. Yes; that is one of my
reasons. What did you say?”

He raised the cane in his hand. The movement was involuntary, as if to
strike at the excited and threatening countenance of Dougal behind. They
were huddled in a little crowd on the top of the winding stair. Ronald
had turned round, on his way out, at Katrin’s appeal, and stood with his
back to the stair, close upon the upper step. “What did you say?” he
cried again sharply. Dougal’s utterances were never clear. He said
something again, in which “Go-d!” was the only articulate word, and made
a large step forward, thrusting his wife violently out of the way.

It all happened in a moment, before they could draw breath. Roland, it
is to be supposed, made a hasty, involuntary step backward before this
threatening, furious figure, with his arm still lifted, and the cane in
it ready to strike, but lost his footing, and thus plunged headforemost
down the deep well of the spiral stair.



CHAPTER XLVIII


Lily was very reluctant to let Helen go. She kept her on pretence of the
child, who had to be exhibited and adored. A great event annihilates
time. It seemed already to Lily that the infant had never been out of
her arms, that he had always found his natural refuge pressed close to
her, with his little head against her breast. She had at first, with
natural but unreasonable feeling, ordered Margaret out of her sight, she
who had been the instrument of so much suffering to her; but the woman
had defended herself with justice. “It is me that have done every thing
for him all this time,” she said. “It is me that have trained him up to
look for his mammaw. Eh, it would have been easy to train the darlin’ to
look to nobody but me in the world; but I have just made it his daily
thought that he was to come to his mammaw, and summer and winter and
night and day I have thought of nothing but that bairn.” Lily had
yielded to that appeal, and Beenie had already made Margaret welcome.
They sat in the little outer room, already established in all the old
habits of their life, sitting opposite to each other, with their
needle-work, and all its little paraphernalia of workboxes and reels of
thread, brought out as if there had never been any interruption of their
life, and the faint, half-whispered sound of their conversation making a
subdued accompaniment; while Lily, with her child on her knee, pausing
every moment to talk to him, to admire him, to respond to the countless
little baby appeals to her attention, appeared to Helen an image of that
perfect happiness which is more completely associated to women with the
possession of a child than with any other circumstance in the world.
Helen did not know, except in the vaguest manner, of any thing that lay
below. She divined that there might be grievances between the two who
had been so long parted. But Helen herself would have forgiven Ronald on
the first demand. His sins would have been to her simply sins, to be
forgiven, not a character with which her own was in the most painful
opposition. She would have entered into no such question. Lily detained
her as long as possible, enquiring into all her purposes, which it was
far too late to attempt to shake. Helen, in her rustic simplicity and
complete ignorance of the world, was going to America, to its most
distant and rudest part, the unsettled and dubious regions of the West,
the backwoods, as they were then called, which might have been in
another planet for any thing this innocent Pilgrim knew of them, and,
indeed, at that time, unless to those who had made it a special study,
those outskirts of civilization were known scarcely to any. “There will
aye be conveyances of some kind. I can ride upon a horse if it comes to
that,” Helen said, with her tranquil smile. “And no doubt he will come
to meet me, which will make it all easy.”

“And that is the whole of your confidence!” cried Lily.

“No, no! my confidence is in God, that knows every thing; and, Lily, you
should bless his name that has brought you out of all your trouble, and
given you that darlin’, God bless him, and a good man to stand by you,
and your settled home. Oh, if I can but get Alick to come back, to
settle, to work my bittie of land, and live an honest, quiet life like
our forbears”--the tears stood for a moment in Helen’s eyes--“but I will
think of you, a happy woman, my bonnie Lily, and it will keep my heart.”

What a strangely different apprehension of her own position was in
Lily’s heart as she sat alone when Helen had gone. The baby had gone to
sleep and had been laid on the bed, and she began to pace slowly about
in her room, as Ronald was doing so near to her, with a heavy heart,
notwithstanding her joy, wondering and questioning with herself what the
life was to be that lay before her. A settled home, a good man to stand
by her, a lovely child. What more could woman want in this world? The
crisis could not continue as it was now; some ground of possibility must
be come to, some foundation on which to build their future life. To
think of accompanying her husband to Edinburgh, taking possession of her
uncle’s house, establishing herself in it, he the master of every thing,
made her heart sick. If they had stolen his money from old Sir Robert,
it would have been less dreadful than thus to take every thing from him,
in defiance of all his wishes, as soon as he was dead, when he could
assert his own will no more. If she could remain where she was, Lily
felt that she could bear it better. But this was only one part of the
question before her which had to be settled. She--who had become
Ronald’s wife in the fervor and enthusiasm of a foolish young love, who
had lived on his coming, on the hope of his return, on the dream of that
complete and perfect union before God and man in which nobody could
shame them or throw a shadow on their honor--to find herself now, after
being betrayed and deceived and outraged, her heart torn out of her
breast, her child out of her arms, the truth out of her life, in the
position of the happy woman, her home assured, her husband by her side,
her child in her arms--to be called upon to thank God for it, to take up
her existence as if no cloud had covered it, and face the world with a
smiling face, forgetting all that interval of misery and deprivation and
falsehood! Her steps became quicker and quicker as the tide of her
thoughts rose. Amid all the surroundings, which were those of perfect
peace--the child asleep in its cradle, the soft undertones of the
attendant women--yet all that passion and agony within!

But Lily knew this could not be. Dreadful reason and necessity faced her
like two dumb images of fate. Some way of living had to be found, some
foundation on which to build the new, changed, disenchanted life. She
had no desire to shame Ronald in the sight of his friends, to make her
indignation, her disappointment, the property of the world. There would
be critics enough to judge him and his schemes to secure Sir Robert’s
money. It was hers, in the loyalty of a wife, to take her share of the
burden, to let it be believed, at least, that all had been done with her
consent; and obnoxious as this was to Lily, she forced her mind to it as
a thing that had to be. That was, however, an outside matter; the worst
of the question was within: how were they to live together side by side,
to share all the trivialities of life, to watch over together the growth
of their child, to decide together all the questions of existence, like
two who were one, who were all in all to each other--these two who were
so far and so fatally apart? But Lily did not disguise from herself that
this must be done. She calmed herself down with a strong exertion of her
will, and prepared herself to meet her husband, to discuss with him, as
far as was possible, the future conditions of their life.

She had turned to leave her room in order to join Ronald and proceed to
this discussion when the silence of the house was suddenly disturbed by
a shriek of horror and dismay: no little cry, but one that pierced the
silence like a knife, sharp, sudden, terrible, followed by a voice, in
disjointed sentences, declaiming, praying, crying out like a prophet or
a madman. The two women came rushing to Lily from the outer room, struck
with terror. What was it? Who was it that was speaking? The voice was
not known to any of them; the sound of the broken words, loud, as if
close to their ears, gradually becoming intelligible, yet without any
meaning they could understand, drove them wild with terror. “What is
it?” they all cried. Was it some madman who had broken into the house?
Lily cast a glance--the mother’s first idea--to see that all was safe
with the child, and then hastened through the empty drawing-room, where
she expected to find Ronald. The door was open, and through the doorway
there appeared a tragic, awful figure, a woman with her hands sometimes
lifted to her head, sometimes wildly flung into the air, her voice
growing hoarser, giving forth in terrible succession those broken
sentences, in wild prayer, exhortation, invective, it was impossible to
say which. Some locks of her hair, disturbed by the motion of her hands,
hung loose on her forehead, her eyes were wildly enlarged and staring,
her lips loose and swollen with the torrent of passionate sound. For a
moment Lily stood fixed, terrified, thinking it a stranger, some one she
had never seen before, and the first words were like those of a prayer.

“Lord hae mercy! Lord hae mercy! Swear ye didna lay a finger on him, no
a finger! Swear ye didna touch him, man! Oh, the bonnie lad! oh, the
bonnie lad!” Then a shriek again, as from something she saw. “Tak’ him
up gently, tak’ him softly! his head, his head! tak’ care of his head!
Oh, the bonnie lad, the bonnie lad! Lord hae mercy, mercy! Say ye didna
lay a finger on him! Swear ye didna touch him! Oh, his head, his head,
it’s his head! Oh, men, lift him like a bairn! Lord hae mercy, hae
mercy! Say ye didna lay a finger on him! Oh, the bonnie lad, the bonnie
lad!” The wild figure clasped its hands, watching intently something
going on below, which now became audible to the terrified watchers
also--sounds of men’s footsteps, of hurried shuffling and struggling,
audible through the broken shrieks and outcries of the woman at the top
of the stairs.

“Who is it?” cried Lily, breathless with terror, falling back upon her
attendants behind her.

“Katrin, Katrin, Katrin!” cried Beenie, carried away by the wild
contagion of the moment; “she’s gone mad, she’s gone out of her senses!
Mem, come back to your ain room; come back, this is nae place for you!”

Katrin! was it Katrin, this wild figure? Lily darted out and caught her
by the arm.

“Katrin! what has happened? Is it you that have been crying so? Katrin,
whatever it is, compose yourself. Come and tell me what has happened!
Is it Dougal? What is it? We will do every thing, every thing that is
possible.”

Katrin turned her changed countenance upon her mistress; her swollen
lips hanging apart ceased their utterance with a gasp. She looked wildly
down the stairs, then, putting her hands upon Lily’s shoulders, pushed
her back into the room, signing to Robina behind. “Keep her away, keep
her----” she seemed to them to say, making wild motions with her hands
to the rooms beyond. Her words were too indistinct to be understood, but
her gestures were clear enough.

“Oh, mem,” cried Beenie, “it will be something that’s no for your eyes!
For mercy’s sake, bide here and let me gang and see!”

“Whatever has happened, it is for me to see to it,” said Lily. And then,
disengaging herself from them, she said, for the first time very gravely
and calmly: “My husband must have gone out. Go and look for him.
Whatever has happened, it is he who ought to be here.”

She got down stairs in time to see the stumbling, staggering figures of
the men carrying him into the library. But it was not till some time
afterward that Lily had any suspicion what it was. She thought it was
Dougal, who had met with some dreadful accident. She had the calmness in
this belief to send off at once for a doctor in two different
directions; and, having been begged by her uncle’s valet not to go into
the room till the doctor came, obeyed him without alarm, and went out to
the door to look for Ronald. It was strange he should have gone out at
this moment, but how could he know that any thing would be wanted to
make his presence indispensable? Most likely he was angry with her for
keeping him waiting, for talking to Helen Blythe when there were things
so much more important in hand. She went out to the door to look for
him, not without a sense that to have him to refer to in such an
emergency was something good, nor without the thought that it would
please him to see her looking out for him over the moor.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ronald never spoke again. If his death was not instantaneous in point of
fact, it was so virtually, for he never recovered consciousness. He had
fallen with great force down the stairs from the worn upper step, which
had failed his foot as he made that recoil backward from Dougal’s
threatening advance--the step of which he had so often spoken in half
derision, half seriousness, as a danger for any old man. Neither he nor
any one else could have supposed it was a danger for Ronald, so young,
so full of energy and strength. And many were the reflections, it need
not be said, upon the vicissitudes of life and the fate of the young
man, just after long waiting come into possession of all that was best
in life--fortune and happiness, and all the rest. The story was told all
over the country, from one house to another, and in Edinburgh, where he
was so well known. To have waited so long for the happiness of his life
and then not to enjoy it for a week, to be seized by those grim fangs of
fate in the moment of his victory, in the first hour of his joy! The
papers were not as bold in those days as now. The fashion of
personalities had not come in unless when something very scandalous,
concealed under initials, was to be had. But there was nothing
scandalous in Ronald Lumsden’s story.

In the enquiry that followed there was at first an attempt to suggest
that Dougal, who was shown to have been always in opposition to him, and
sometimes to have uttered half threats of what he would do if he could
get his hands on that birky from Edinburgh, was instrumental in causing
his death. And poor Katrin, changed into an old woman, with gray hair
that would not be kept in order under her white cap, and lips that hung
apart and could scarcely utter a word clearly, was examined before the
procurator, especially as to what she meant by the words which she had
been heard by all in the house to repeat as she stood screaming at the
head of the stairs: “Swear you never lifted a finger upon him!” Were
these directions she was giving to her husband in case of any future
investigation? or was she adjuring him to satisfy her, to let her know
the truth? But Katrin was in no condition to explain to any one, much
less to the procurator in his court, what she had meant. But there was
no proof against Dougal, and every evidence of truth in his story; and
any doubt that might subsist in the minds of persons apt to doubt every
thing, and to believe the worst in every case, died away into silence
after a while. It is possible that the possibility harmed him, though,
as he retained his place and trust in Dalrugas, even that was of no
great consequence; but Katrin never was, as the country folk said, “her
own woman” again. She never could get out of her eyes the horror of that
sudden fall backward, the sound against the stone wall, on the stone
steps. In the middle of the night, years after, she would wake the
house, calling upon her husband, with pathetic cries, to swear he never
laid a finger on him. This made their lives miserable, though they did
not deserve it; for Katrin knew at the bottom of her heart, as Dougal
knew--but having said it once, would not repeat--that he laid no finger
on Ronald, nor ever, save in the emptiest of words, meant him any harm.

Lily was lost for a time in a horror and grief of which compunction was
the sharpest part. Her heart-recoil from her husband, her sense of the
impossibility of life by his side, her revulsion against him,
overwhelmed her now more bitterly, more terribly, than the poignant
recollections of happiness past which overwhelm many mourners. The only
thing that gave her a little comfort in those heavy depths was the
remembrance of the moment when, all unknowing that he could never again
come to her, she had gone out to look for Ronald over the moor. There
might have been comfort to her after a while in that moor, which had
been the confidant of so many of her thoughts of him; but to go up and
down, in all the common uses of life, the stairs upon which he died was
impossible. She felt a compunction the more to leave the scene of all
the happier days, the broken life which yet was often so sweet, which
had been the beginning of all. It seemed almost an offence against him
to leave a place so connected with his image, but still it was
impossible to remain. There was a little mark upon the wall which made
them all shudder. And Lily was terrified when her baby was carried up or
down those stairs: the surest foot might stumble where he had stumbled,
and it is not true that the catastrophes of life do not repeat
themselves. Life is all a series of repetitions; and why not that as
well as a more common thing?

It was this above all things else that made her leave the house of her
fathers, the place where her tragedy had been played out, from its
heedless beginning to its dreadful, unthought-of end. It was not so
common then as now for the wrecked persons of existence to betake
themselves over the world to the places where the sun shines brightest
and the skies are most blue; but still, when the wars were all well
over, it was done by many, and the young widow, with her beautiful
child, and her two women attendants, was met with by many people who
knew, or were told by those who knew, her strange story and pitied her
with all their hearts. They pitied her for other sufferings than those
which were really hers. Those that were attributed to her were common
enough and belong to the course of nature; the others were different,
but perhaps not less true. But it cannot be denied either that as there
was a certain relief even in the first shock of Lily’s grief, a sense of
deliverance from difficulties beyond her power to solve, so there was a
rising of her heart from its oppression, a rebound of nature and life
not too long delayed. Her child made every thing easy to her, and made,
all the more for coming back to her so suddenly, a new beginning of
life. And that life was not unhappy, and had many interests in it
notwithstanding the fiery ordeal with which it began.

Helen Blythe came back to Kinloch-Rugas within the year, bringing her
husband with her. He was not, perhaps, reformed and made a new man of,
as he vowed he would be in her hands. Perhaps, except in moments of
exaltation, she had not expected that. But she did what she had soberly
declared to be the mission of many women--she “pulled him through.” They
settled upon her little property and farmed it more or less well, more
or less ill, according as Alick could be kept “steady,” and Helen’s
patience. Two children came, both more or less pathetically careful,
from their birth, of their father; and the household, though it bore a
checkered existence, was happy on the whole. When Helen saw the Manse
under the chill celibate rule of the new minister, she was very sorry
for him, but entertained no regrets; and when, later in life, he
married, the preciseness of the new establishment moved her to many a
quiet laugh, and the private conviction, never broken, that, in her own
troubled existence, always at full strain, with her “wild” Alick but
partially reformed, and the many roughnesses of the farmer’s life, her
ambitions for her boy, and her comfort in her girl, she was better off
than in her old sphere. She did not make her husband perfect, but she
“pulled him through.” Perhaps, had she taken the reins of that wild
spirit into her hands at first, she might have made him all that could
have been wished; but as it was she gave him a possible life, a
standing-ground when he had been sinking in the waves, a habitation and
a name.

Lily came back to the North to establish herself in a house more modern
and comfortable, and less heavy with associations, than Dalrugas, some
years after these events, and there was much friendship between her and
the old minister’s daughter, who had been so closely woven with the most
critical moments of her life. They were different in every possible
respect, but above all in their view of existence. Helen had her serene
faith in her own influence and power to shape the other lives which she
felt to be in her charge, to support her always. But to Lily there
seemed no power in herself to affect others at all. She, so much more
vivacious, stronger, to all appearance of higher intelligence, had been
helpless in her own existence, able for no potent action, swept by the
movements of others into one fated path, loved, yet incapable of
influencing any who loved her. She was now a great deal better off, her
life a great deal brighter, with all manner of good things within her
reach, than Helen, on her little bit of land, pushing her rough husband,
with as few detours as possible, along the path of life, and smiling
over her hard task. Lily was a wealthy woman, with a delightful boy, and
all those openings of new hope and interest before her in him which give
a woman perhaps a more vivid happiness than any thing strictly her own.
But the one mother trembled a little, while the other looked forward
serenely to an unbroken tranquil course of college prizes and bursaries,
and at the end a good manse, and perhaps a popular position for her son.
What should Lily have for hers? She had much greater things to hope for.
Would it be hers to stand vaguely in the way of Fate, to put out
ineffectual hands, to feel the other currents of life as before sweep
her away? Or could she ever stand smiling, like simple Helen, holding
the helm, directing the course, conscious of power to defeat all harm
and guide toward all good? But that only the course of the years could
show.


THE END

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FOOTNOTES:

 [A] There is a scheme in consideration now, I believe, to restore that
 noble street out of its degradation to something like the stateliness
 of old, through the patriotic exertions of Professor Geddes.





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About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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