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Title: Highland Mary - The Romance of a Poet
Author: Legge, Clayton Mackenzie
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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HIGHLAND MARY



[Illustration: “Highland Mary.”]



                                HIGHLAND
                                  MARY

                          The Romance of a Poet

                                    A
                                  NOVEL

                                   By
                         CLAYTON MACKENZIE LEGGE

                             Illustrated by
                           WILLIAM KIRKPATRICK

                             [Illustration]

                                  1906
                       C. M. CLARK PUBLISHING CO.
                                 BOSTON

                            Copyright, 1906.
                     THE C. M. CLARK PUBLISHING CO.,
                              Boston, Mass.

                               Entered at
                        Stationer’s Hall, London.

                         Dramatic and all other
                            RIGHTS RESERVED.



    TO

    THE REV. DR. DONALD SAGE MACKAY, D.D.,

    _Pastor of the Collegiate Church_,

    NEW YORK CITY.

    I RESPECTFULLY DEDICATE THIS BOOK



FOREWORD


With apologies to Dame History for having taken liberties with some of
her famous characters, I would ask the Reader to remember that this story
is fiction and not history.

I have made use of some of the most romantic episodes in the life of
Robert Burns, such as his courtship of Mary Campbell and his love affair
with Jean Armour, “the Belle of Mauchline,” and many of the historical
references and details are authentic.

But my chief purpose in using these incidents was to make “Highland Mary”
as picturesque, lovable and interesting a character in Fiction as she has
always been in the History of Scotland.

                                                 CLAYTON MACKENZIE LEGGE.



HIGHLAND MARY



CHAPTER I


In the “but” or living-room (as it was termed in Scotland) of a little
whitewashed thatched cottage near Auld Ayr in the land of the Doon, sat a
quiet, sedate trio of persons consisting of two men and a woman. She who
sat at the wheel busily engaged in spinning was the mistress of the cot,
a matronly, middle-aged woman in peasant’s cap and ’kerchief.

The other two occupants of the room for years had been inseparable
companions and cronies, and when not at the village inn could be found
sitting by the fireside of one of their neighbors, smoking their pipes
in blissful laziness. And all Ayrshire tolerated and even welcomed Tam
O’Shanter and his cronie, “Souter Johnny.”

Tam was an Ayrshire farmer, considered fairly well-to-do in the
neighborhood, while Souter (shoemaker) Johnny was the village cobbler,
who seldom, if ever, worked at his trade nowadays. All the afternoon
had they sat by the open fireplace, with its roomy, projecting chimney,
watching the peat burn, seldom speaking, smoking their old smelly pipes,
and sighing contentedly as the warmth penetrated their old bones.

Mrs. Burns glanced at her uninvited guests occasionally with no approving
eye. If they must inflict their presence on her, why couldn’t they talk,
say something, tell her some of the news, the gossip of the village? she
thought angrily; their everlasting silence had grown very monotonous to
the good dame. She wished they would go. It was nearing supper time, and
Gilbert would soon be in from the field, and she knew that he did not
approve of the two old cronies hanging around monopolizing the fireplace
to the exclusion of everyone else, and she did not want any hard words
between them and Gilbert. Suddenly with a final whirl she fastened the
end of the yarn she was spinning, and getting up from her seat set the
wheel back against the whitewashed wall.

Then going to the old deal dresser, she took from one of the drawers a
white cloth and spread it smoothly over the table, then from the rack,
which hung above it, she took the old blue dishes and quickly set the
table for their evening meal. At these preparations for supper the
old cronies looked eagerly expectant, for none knew better than they
the excellence of the Widow Burns’ cooking, and a look of pleasant
anticipation stole over their sober faces as they perceived the platter
of scones on the table ready to be placed on the hot slab of stone in the
fireplace.

Knocking the ashes from his pipe, Tam rose unsteadily to his feet, and
standing with his back to the fire, he admiringly watched the widow as
she bustled to and fro from table to dresser. “Ah, Mistress Burns, ye’re
a fine housekeeper,” he remarked admiringly. “An’ ye’re a fine cook.”

Mrs. Burns turned on him sharply. “So is your guidwife,” she said
shortly, glancing out through the low, deep, square window to where her
second son could be seen crossing the field to the house. She hoped he
would take the hint and go.

“Aye, Mistress, I ken ye’re recht,” replied Tam, meekly, with a dismal
sigh. “But it’s a sorry bet o’ supper I’ll be gang hame to this night,
an’ ye ken it’s a long journey, too, Mistress Burns,” he insinuated slyly.

“Sure it’s a lang, weary journey, Tam,” said Souter Johnny,
commiseratingly. “But think o’ the warm welcome ye’ll be haein’ when ye
meet your guidwife at the door,” and a malicious twinkle gleamed in his
kindly but keen old eyes.

“How is your guidwife, Tam O’Shanter?” inquired Mistress Burns, as she
placed some scones on the hot hearthstone to bake.

“She’s a maist unco woman, Mistress,” replied Tam sorrowfully. “There’s
no livin’ wi’ her o’ late. She’s no a help or comfort to a mon at a’!”
he whined. Here Tam got a delicious whiff of the baking scones, and his
mouth as well as his eyes watered as he continued pathetically, “If
she could only cook like ye, Mistress. Oh, ’twas a sorry day for Tam
O’Shanter when he took such a scoldin’ beldame for wife,” and Tam sat
down, the picture of abject distress.

Souter regarded his cronie with a grim smile. He had no pity for Tam, nor
for any man, in fact, who would not or could not rule his own household.
(Souter, by the by, had remained a bachelor.) However, he did his best to
console Tam whenever his marital troubles were discussed.

“Never mind, Tam,” he said sympathetically, helping himself to a scone
while Mistress Burns’ back was turned. “Ye ken where ye can find all the
comfort and consolation ye can hold, if ye hae the tippence.”

Tam wiped away a tear (tears came easily to the old tyke in his constant
state of semi-intoxication) and gave a deep, prolonged sigh. “Aye,
Souter, an’ I feel mair at home in the Inn than I do with my guidwife,”
he answered mournfully. “I dinna mind telling ye, she’s driven me to the
Deil himsel’, by her daur looks an’ ways. The only friend I hae left is
Old John Barleycorn,” and he wailed in maudlin despair.

“He’s your best enemy, ye mean,” retorted Souter dryly, relighting his
pipe, after having demolished, with evident relish, the last of his
stolen scone.

“Waesucks, mon,” he continued, assuming the tone of Dominie Daddy Auld,
who had tried in vain to convert the two old sinners, much to their
amusement and inward elation. “Your guidwife told ye weel. Ye’re a
skellum, Tam, a blethering, blustering, drunken blellum,” and the old
rogue looked slyly at Mistress Burns to note the effect of his harangue.

“Aye, ye’re right, Souter Johnny,” said the good dame, nodding approval
to him, and going up to Tam, who was still sitting groaning by the
fireside, she shook him vigorously by the shoulder. “Stop your groaning
and grunting, ye old tyke, and listen to me,” she said sharply. “Take
your friend’s advice and gi’ old John Barleycorn a wide berth.” Here her
voice dropped to a whisper, “or some day ye’ll be catched wi’ warlocks in
the mire, Tam O’Shanter.” He stopped his noise and straightened up in his
chair.

“Aye, and ghosties and witches will come yelpin’ after ye as ye pass
the auld haunted kirk at Alloway,” added Souter sepulchrally, leaning
over Tam with fixed eyes and hand outstretched, clutching spasmodically
at imaginary objects floating before Tam’s suspicious, angry eyes. Tam,
however, was not to be so easily frightened, and brushing Souter aside,
he jumped to his feet. “Souter Johnny, dinna ye preach to me, mon,” he
roared menacingly. “Ye hae no reght. Let Daddy Auld do that! I dinna fear
the witches or ghosties, not I.” He staggered to the window and pointed
to an old white horse standing meekly by the roadside.

“Do ye see any auld faithful Maggie standin’ out there?” he cried
triumphantly. Not waiting for their answer, he continued proudly,
“Nae witches can catch Tam O’Shanter when he’s astride his auld mare’s
back, whether he is drunk or sober,” and he glared defiantly at his
listeners. At that moment the door from the “ben” opened, and Gilbert
Burns entered the room. An angry frown wrinkled his forehead as his gaze
fell upon the two old cronies. A hard worker himself, he could not abide
laziness or shiftlessness in another. He strode swiftly up to Tam, who
had suddenly lost his defiant attitude, but before he could speak the
bitter, impatient words which rushed to his lips, his mother, knowing his
uncertain temper, shook her head at him remonstratingly. “Ah, lad, I’m
fair ye hae come in to rest a while, an’ to hae a bit o’ supper,” she
hurriedly said. “Set ye doon. I hae some scones for ye, an’ Mollie has
some rabbit stew. Noo gie me your bonnet and coat, laddie,” and taking
them from him she hung them on the peg behind the door, while Gilbert
with a look of disgust at the two old cronies sat down and proceeded to
butter his scones in moody silence. Tam and Souter, however, did not
appear in any wise abashed, and perceiving they were not to be invited to
eat with Gilbert, they resumed their seats each side of the fireplace and
heaved a disconsolate sigh.

Mrs. Burns, who had left the room for a moment, now entered bearing a
large bowl of the steaming stew, which she set before her son, while
directly after her appeared old Mollie Dunn, the half-witted household
drudge. The time was when Mollie had been the swiftest mail carrier
between Dumfries and Mauchline, but she was now content to have a home
with the Burns family, where, if the twinges of rheumatism assailed her,
she could rest her bones until relief came. She now stood, a pleased grin
on her ugly face, watching Gilbert as he helped himself to a generous
portion of the stew which she had proudly prepared for the evening meal.

“Molly,” said her mistress sharply, “dinna ye stand there idle; fetch me
some hot water frae the pot.”

Molly got a pan from the rack and hurried to the fireplace, where Tam was
relighting his pipe with a blazing ember, for the dozenth time. Molly had
no love for Tam, and finding him in her way, she calmly gave a quick pull
to his plaidie, and Tam, who was in a crouching position, fell backward,
sprawling on the hearth in a decidedly undignified attitude. With the
roar of a wounded lion, he scrambled to his feet, with the assistance
of Souter, and shaking his fist at the laughing Molly, he sputtered
indignantly, “Is the Deil himsel’ in ye, Molly Dunn? Ye’re an impudent
hussy, that’s what ye are.” Molly glared at him defiantly for a moment,
then calmly proceeded to fill her pan with hot water, while the old man,
bursting with indignation, staggered over to the dresser where Mistress
Burns was brewing some tea.

“Mistress Burns,” he remonstrated almost tearfully, “ye should teach
your servants better manners. Molly Dunn is a——” but he never finished
his sentence, for Molly, hurrying back with the hot water, ran into him
and, whether by design or accident it was never known, spilled the hot
contents of the pan over Tam’s shins, whereupon he gave what resembled
a burlesque imitation of a Highland fling to the accompaniment of roars
of pain and anger from himself and guffaws of laughter from Souter and
Molly. Even Mrs. Burns and Gilbert could not resist a smile at the antics
of the old tyke.

“Toots, mon,” said Molly, not at all abashed at the mischief she had
done, “ye’re no hurt; ye’ll get mair than that at hame, I’m tellin’ ye,”
and she nodded her head sagely.

“Molly, hold your tongue,” said Mistress Burns reprovingly, then she
turned to Tam. “I hope ye’re nae burnt bad.” But Tam was very angry, and
turning to Souter he cried wrathfully, “I’m gang hame, Souter Johnny.
I’ll no stay here to be insulted; I’m gang hame.” And he started for the
door.

“Dinna mind Molly; she’s daft like,” replied Souter in a soothing voice.
“Come and sit doon,” and he tried to pull him toward the fireplace, but
Tam was not to be pacified. His dignity had been outraged.

“Nay, nay, Souter, I thank ye!” he said firmly. “An’ ye, too, Mistress
Burns, for your kind invitation to stay langer,” she looked at him
quickly, then gave a little sniff, “but I ken when I’m insulted,” and
disengaging himself from Souter’s restraining hand, he started for the
door once more.

“An’ where will ye be gang at this hour, Tam?” insinuated Souter slyly.
“Ye ken your guidwife’s temper.”

“I’m gang over to the Inn,” replied Tam defiantly, with his hand on the
open door. “Will ye gang alang wi’ me, Souter? A wee droppie will cheer
us both,” he continued persuasively.

Souter looked anxiously at Gilbert’s stern, frowning face, then back to
Tam. “I’d like to amazin’ weel, Tam,” he replied in a plaintive tone,
“but ye see——”

“Johnny has promised me he’ll keep sober till plantin’ is over,”
interrupted Gilbert firmly; “after that he can do as he likes.”

“Ye should both be ashamed o’ yoursel’s drinkin’ that vile whisky,” said
Mrs. Burns angrily, and she clacked her lips in disgust. “It is your
worst enemy, I’m tellin’ ye.”

“Ye mind, Mistress Burns,” replied Souter, winking his left eye at Tam,
“ye mind the Scriptures say, ‘Love your enemies.’ Weel, we’re just tryin’
to obey the Scriptures, eh, Tam?”

“Aye, Souter,” answered Tam with drunken gravity, “I always obey the
Scriptures.”

“Here, mon, drink a cup of tea before ye gang awa’,” said Mrs. Burns, and
she took him a brimming cup of the delicious beverage, thinking it might
assuage his thirst for something stronger. Tam majestically waved it away.

“Nay, I thank ye, Mistress Burns, I’ll no’ deprive ye of it,” he answered
with extreme condescension. “Tea doesno’ agree with Tam O’Shanter.” He
pushed open the door. “I’m off to the Inn, where the _tea_ is more to my
likin’. Guid-day to ye all,” and, slamming the door behind him, he called
Maggie to his side, and jumping astride her old back galloped speedily
toward the village Inn. The last heard of him that day was his voice
lustily singing “The Campbells Are Coming.”

After he left the room Mistress Burns handed Souter the cup of tea
she had poured for Tam, and soon the silence was unbroken save by an
occasional sigh from the old tyke as he sipped his tea.

Presently Gilbert set down his empty cup, rose and donned his coat. “Here
we are drinking tea, afternoon tea, as if we were of the quality,” he
observed sarcastically, “instead of being out in the fields plowing the
soil; there’s much to be done ere sundown.”

“Weel, this suits me fine,” murmured Souter contentedly, draining his
cup. “I ken I was born to be one o’ the quality; work doesno’ agree wi’
me, o’er weel,” and he snuggled closer in his chair.

“Ye’re very much like my fine brother Robert in that respect,” answered
Gilbert bitterly, his face growing stern and cold. “But we want no
laggards here on Mossgiel. Farmers must work, an’ work hard, if they
would live.” He walked to the window and looked out over the untilled
ground with hard, angry eyes, and his heart filled with bitterness as
he thought of his elder brother. It had always fallen to him to finish
the many tasks his dreaming, thoughtless, erratic brother had left
unfinished, while the latter sought some sequestered spot where, with
pencil and paper in hand, he would idle away his time writing verses. And
for a year now Robert had been in Irvine, no doubt enjoying himself to
the full, while he, Gilbert, toiled and slaved at home to keep the poor
shelter over his dear ones. It was neither right nor just, he thought,
with an aching heart.

“Ye ken, Gilbert,” said Souter Johnny, breaking in on his reverie,
“Robert wasna’ born to be a farmer. He always cared more, even when a wee
laddie, for writin’ poetry and dreamin’ o’ the lasses than toilin’ in the
fields, more’s the pity.”

Mrs. Burns turned on him quickly. “Souter Johnny, dinna ye dare say a
word against Robert,” she flashed indignantly. “He could turn the best
furrough o’ any lad in these parts, ye ken that weel,” and Souter was
completely annihilated by the angry flash that gleamed in the mother’s
eye, and it was a very humble Souter that hesitatingly held out his cup
to her, hoping to change the subject. “Hae ye a wee droppie mair tea
there, Mistress Burns?” he meekly asked.

Mrs. Burns was not to be mollified, however. “Aye, but not for ye, ye
skellum,” she answered shortly, taking the cup from him and putting it in
the dishpan.

“Come along, Souter,” said Gilbert, going to the door. “We hae much to do
ere sundown and hae idled too long, noo. Come.”

“Ye’re workin’ me too hard, Gilbert,” groaned Souter despairingly. “My
back is nigh broken; bide a wee, mon!”

A sharp whistle from without checked Gilbert as he was about to reply.
“The Posty has stopped at the gate,” exclaimed Mistress Burns excitedly,
rushing to the window in time to see old Molly receive a letter from that
worthy, and then come running back to the house. Hurrying to the door,
she snatched it from the old servant’s hands and eagerly held it to the
light. Molly peered anxiously over her shoulder.

“It’s frae Robbie,” she exclaimed delightedly. “Keep quiet, noo, till I
read it to the end.” As she finished, the tears of gladness rolled down
her smooth cheek. “Oh, Gilbert,” she said, a little catch in her voice,
“Robert is comin’ back to us. He’ll be here this day. Read it, lad, read
for yoursel’.” He took the letter and walked to the fireplace. After a
slight pause he read it. As she watched him she noticed with sudden
apprehension the look of anger that darkened his face. She had forgotten
the misunderstanding which had existed between the brothers since their
coming to Mossgiel to live, and suddenly her heart misgave her.

“Gilbert lad,” she hesitatingly said as he finished the letter, “dinna
say aught to Robert when he comes hame about his rhyming, will ye,
laddie?” She paused and looked anxiously into his sullen face. “He canna
bear to be discouraged, ye ken,” and she took the letter from him and
put it in her bosom. Gilbert remained silent and moody, a heavy frown
wrinkling his brow.

“Perhaps all thoughts of poesy has left him since he has been among
strangers,” continued the mother thoughtfully. “Ye ken he has been doin’
right weel in Irvine; and it’s only because the flax dresser’s shop has
burned to the ground, and he canna work any more, that he decides to come
hame to help us noo. Ye ken that, Gilbert.” She laid her hand in tender
pleading on his sunburnt arm.

“He always shirked his work before,” replied Gilbert bitterly, “and nae
doot he will again. But he maun work, an’ work hard, if he wants to stay
at Mossgiel. Nae more lyin’ around, scribblin’ on every piece of paper he
finds, a lot of nonsense, which willna’ put food in his mouth, nor clothe
his back.” Mrs. Burns sighed deeply and sank into the low stool beside
her spinning wheel, he hands folded for once idly in her lap, and gave
herself up to her disquieting thoughts.

“Ye can talk all ye like,” exclaimed Souter, who was ever ready with his
advice, “but Robert is too smart a lad to stay here for lang. He was
never cut out for a farmer nae mair was I.”

“A farmer,” repeated Mrs. Burns, with a mirthless little laugh. “An’ what
is there in a farmer’s life to pay for all the hardships he endures?”
she asked bitterly. “The constant grindin’ an’ endless toil crushes all
the life out o’ one in the struggle for existence. Remember your father,
Gilbert,” and her voice broke at the flood of bitter recollection which
crowded her thoughts.

“I have na forgotten him, mither,” replied Gilbert quietly. “Nor am I
likely to, for my ain lot in life is nae better.” And pulling his cap
down over his eyes, he went back to the window and gazed moodily out
over the bare, rocky, profitless farm which must be made to yield them
a living. There was silence for a time, broken only by the regular
monotonous ticking of the old clock. After a time Mrs. Burns quietly left
the room.

“Oh, laddie,” whispered Souter as the door closed behind her, coming up
beside Gilbert, “did ye hear the news that Tam O’Shanter brought frae
Mauchline?”

“Do you mean about Robert an’ some lassie there?” inquired Gilbert
indifferently, after a brief pause.

“Aye!” returned Souter impressively, “but she’s nae common lass, Gilbert.
She’s Squire Armour’s daughter Jean, called the Belle of Mauchline.”

“I ken it’s no serious,” replied Gilbert sarcastically, “for ye ken
Robert’s heart is like a tinder box, that flares up at the first whisper
of passion,” and he turned away from the window and started for the door.

“I canna’ understand,” reflected Souter, “how the lad could forget his
sweetheart, Highland Mary, long enough to take up wi any ither lassie.
They were mighty fond o’ each ither before he went awa’ a year ago. I can
swear to that,” and he smiled reminiscently.

A look of despair swept over Gilbert’s face at the idle words of the
garrulous old man. He leaned heavily against the door, for there was a
dull, aching pain at his heart of which he was physically conscious.
For a few moments he stood there with white drawn face, trying hard
to realize the bitter truth, that at last the day had come, as he had
feared it must come, when he must step aside for the prodigal brother
who would now claim his sweetheart. And she would go to him so gladly,
he knew, without a single thought of his loneliness or his sorrow. But
she was not to blame. It was only right that she should now be with her
sweetheart, that he must say farewell to those blissful walks along
the banks of the Doon which for almost a year he had enjoyed with Mary
by his side. His stern, tense lips relaxed, and a faint smile softened
his rugged features. How happy he had been in his fool’s paradise. But
he loved her so dearly that he had been content just to be with her,
to listen to the sweetness of her voice as she prattled innocently and
lovingly of her absent sweetheart. A snore from Souter, who had fallen
asleep in his chair, roused him from the fond reverie into which he had
fallen, and brought him back to earth with a start. With a bitter smile
he told himself he had no right to complain. If he had allowed himself to
fall in love with his brother’s betrothed, he alone was to blame, and he
must suffer the consequence. Suddenly a wild thought entered his brain.
Suppose—and his heart almost stopped beating at the thought—suppose
Robert had grown to love someone else, while away, even better than he
did Mary? He had heard rumors of Robert’s many amourous escapades in
Mauchline; then perhaps Mary would again turn to him for comfort. His
eyes shone with renewed hope and his heart was several degrees lighter as
he left the house. Going to the high knoll back of the cottage, he gazed
eagerly, longingly, across the moor to where, in the hazy distance, the
lofty turrets of Castle Montgomery, the home of the winsome dairymaid,
Mary Campbell, reared their heads toward the blue heavens.



CHAPTER II

    Ye banks and braes and streams around
    The Castle of Montgomery,
    Green be your woods and fair your flowers,
    Your waters never drumlie,
    There summer first unfolds her robes,
    And there the langest tarry,
    For there I took the last farewell
    O’ my sweet Highland Mary.


At the foot of the hill on which stood Castle Montgomery flowed the River
Doon, winding and twisting itself through richly wooded scenery on its
way to Ayr Bay. On the hillside of the stream stood the old stone dairy,
covered with ivy and shaded by overhanging willows. Within its cool,
shady walls the merry lassies sang at their duties, with hearts as light
and carefree as the birds that flew about the open door. Their duties
over for the day, they had returned to their quarters in the long, low
wing of the castle, and silence reigned supreme over the place, save for
the trickling of the Doon splashing over the stones as it wended its
tuneful way to join the waters of the Ayr.

Suddenly the silence was broken; borne on the evening breeze came the
sound of a sweet, high voice singing:

    “Oh where and oh where is my Highland laddie gone,”

sang the sweet singer, plaintively from the hilltop. Nearer and nearer
it approached as the owner followed the winding path down to the river’s
bank. Suddenly the drooping willows were parted, and there looked out the
fairest face surely that mortal eyes had ever seen.

About sixteen years of age, with ringlets of flaxen hair flowing
unconfined to her waist, laughing blue eyes, bewitchingly overarched by
dark eyebrows, a rosebud mouth, now parted in song, between two rounded
dimpled cheeks, such was the bonnie face of Mary Campbell, known to all
around as “Highland Mary.” Removing her plaidie, which hung gracefully
from one shoulder, she spread it on the mossy bank, and, casting herself
down full length upon it, her head pillowed in her hand, she finished
her song, lazily, dreamily, letting it die out, slowly, softly floating
into nothingness. Then for a moment she gave herself up to the mere joy
of living, watching the leaves as they fell noiselessly into the stream
and were carried away, away until they were lost to vision. Gradually her
thoughts became more centered. That particular spot was full of sweet
memories to her. It was here, she mused dreamily, that she and Robert had
parted a year ago. It was here on the banks of the Doon they so often had
met and courted and loved, and here it was they had stood hand in hand
and plighted their troth, while the murmuring stream seemed to whisper
softly, “For eternity, for all eternity.” And here in this sequestered
spot, on that second Sunday of May, they had spent the day in taking a
last farewell. Would she ever forget it? Oh, the pain of that parting!
Her eyes filled with tears at the recollection of her past misery. But
she brushed them quickly away with a corner of her scarf. He had promised
to send for her when he was getting along well, and she had been waiting
day after day for that summons, full of faith in his word. For had he not
said as he pressed her to his heart:

    “I hae sworn by the heavens to my Mary,
    I hae sworn by the heavens to be true.
    And so may the heavens forget me,
    When I forget my vow.”

A whole year had passed. She had saved all her little earnings, and now
her box was nearly filled with the linen which she had spun and woven
with her own fair hands, for she did not mean to come dowerless to her
husband. In a few months, so he had written in his last letter, he would
send for her to come to him, and they would start for the new country,
America, where gold could be picked up in the streets (so she had heard
it said). They could not help but prosper, and so the child mused on
happily. The sudden blast of a horn interrupted her sweet day dreams,
and, hastily jumping to her feet, with a little ejaculation of dismay
she tossed her plaidie over her back, and, filling her pail from the
brook, swung it lightly to her strong young shoulder.

    “An’ it’s o’ in my heart, I wish him safe at home,”

she trilled longingly, as she retraced her steps up the winding path,
over the hill, and back to the kitchen, where, after giving the pail into
the hand of Bess, the good-natured cook, she leaned against the lintel
of the door, her hands shading her wistful eyes, and gazed long and
earnestly off to where the sun was sinking behind the horizon in far-off
Irvine. So wrapped was she in her thoughts she failed to hear the whistle
of Rory Cam, the Posty, and the bustle and confusion which his coming had
created within the kitchen. The sharp little shrieks and ejaculations of
surprise and delight, however, caused her to turn her head inquiringly.
Looking through the open door, she saw Bess in the center of a gaping
crowd of servants, reading a letter, the contents of which had evoked
the delight of her listeners. “An’ he’ll be here this day,” cried Bess
loudly, folding her letter. “Where’s Mary Campbell?” she demanded,
looking around the room.

“Here I am, Bess,” said Mary, standing shyly at the door.

“Hae ye heard the news, then, lassie?” asked Bess, grinning broadly.

“Nay; what news?” inquired Mary, wondering why they all looked at her so
knowingly.

“I’ve just had word frae my sister in Irvine, an’ she said——” Here Bess
paused impressively. “She said that Rob Burns was burnt out o’ his place,
an’ that he would be comin’ hame to-day.” Bess, who had good-naturedly
wished to surprise Mary, was quite startled to see her turn as white as
a lily and stagger back against the door with a little gasp of startled
surprise.

“Are ye sure, Bess?” she faltered, her voice shaking with eagerness.

“It’s true as Gospel, lassie; I’ll read ye the letter,” and Bess started
to take it out, but with a cry of joy Mary rushed through the door like a
startled fawn, and before the astonished maids could catch their breath
she had lightly vaulted over the hedge and was flying down the hill and
over the moor toward Mossgiel farm with the speed of a swallow, her
golden hair floating behind her like a cloud of glorious sunshine. On,
on she sped, swift as the wind, and soon Mossgiel loomed up in the near
distance. Not stopping for breath, she soon reached the door, and without
pausing to knock burst into the room.

Mrs. Burns had put the house in order and, with a clean ’kerchief and cap
on, sat patiently at her wheel, waiting for Robert to come home, while
Souter quietly sat in the corner winding a ball of yarn from the skein
which hung over the back of the chair, and looking decidedly sheepish.
When Mary burst in the door so unceremoniously they both jumped
expectantly to their feet, thinking surely it was Robert.

“Why, Mary lass, is it ye?” said Mrs. Burns in surprise. “Whatever brings
ye over the day? not but we are glad to have ye,” she added hospitably.

“Where is he, Mistress Burns, where’s Robbie?” she panted excitedly, her
heart in her voice.

“He isna’ here yet, lassie,” replied Mrs. Burns, with a sigh. “But sit ye
doon. Take off your plaidie and wait for him. There’s a girlie,” and she
pushed the unresisting girl into a chair.

“Ye’re sure he isna’ here, Mistress Burns?” asked Mary wistfully, looking
around the room with eager, searching eyes.

“Aye, lassie,” she replied, smiling; “if he were he wouldna’ be hidin’
from ye, dearie, and after a year of absence, too. But I ken he will
be here soon noo.” And she went to the window and looked anxiously out
across the moor.

“It seems so lang since he left Mossgiel, doesna’ it, Mistress Burns?”
said Mary with a deep sigh of disappointment.

“An’ weel ye might say that,” replied Mrs. Burns. “For who doesna’ miss
my laddie,” and she tossed her head proudly. “There isna’ another like
Robbie in all Ayrshire. A bright, honest, upright, pure-minded lad, whom
any mither might be proud of. I hope he’ll return to us the same laddie
he was when he went awa’.” The anxious look returned to her comely face.

An odd little smile appeared about the corners of Souter’s mouth as he
resumed his work.

“Weel, noo, Mistress Burns,” he asked dryly, “do ye expect a healthy lad
to be out in this sinful world an’ not learn a few things he didna ken
before? ’Tis only human nature,” continued the old rogue, “an’ ye can
learn a deal in a year, mind that, an’ that reminds me o’ a good joke.
Sandy MacPherson——”

“Souter Johnny, ye keep your stories to yoursel’,” interrupted Mrs. Burns
with a frown. Souter’s stories were not always discreet.

“Irvine and Mauchline are very gay towns,” continued Souter
reminiscently. “They say some of the prettiest gurls of Scotlan’ live
there, an’ I hear they all love Robbie Burns, too,” he added slyly,
looking at Mary out of the corner of his eye.

“They couldna help it,” replied Mary sweetly.

“An’ ye’re nae jealous, Mary?” he inquired in a surprised tone, turning
to look into the flushed, shy face beside him.

“Jealous of Robert?” echoed Mary, opening her innocent eyes to their
widest. “Nay! for I ken he loves me better than any other lassie in the
world.” And she added naïvely, “He has told me so ofttimes.”

“Ye needna fear, Mary,” replied Mrs. Burns, resuming her place at the
wheel. “I’ll hae no ither lass but ye for my daughter, depend on’t.”

“Thank ye, Mistress Burns,” said Mary brightly. “I ken I’m only a simple
country lass, but I mean to learn all I can, so that when he becomes a
great man he’ll no be ashamed of me, for I ken he will be great some
day,” she continued, her eyes flashing, the color coming and going in
her cheek as she predicted the future of the lad she loved. “He’s a born
poet, Mistress Burns, and some day ye’ll be proud of your lad, for genius
such as Rabbie’s canna always be hid.” Mrs. Burns gazed at the young girl
in wonder.

“Oh, if someone would only encourage him,” continued Mary earnestly, “for
I’m fair sure his heart is set on rhyming.”

“I ne’er heard of a body ever makin’ money writin’ verses,” interposed
Souter, rubbing his chin reflectively with the ball of soft yarn.

“Ah, me,” sighed Mrs. Burns, her hands idle for a moment, “I fear the
lad does but waste his time in such scribbling. Who is to hear it? Only
his friends, who are partial to him, of course, but who, alas, are as
puir as we are, and canna assist him in bringin’ them before the public.
The fire burns out for lack of fuel,” she continued slowly, watching the
flickering sparks die one by one in the fireplace. “So will his love
of writin’ when he sees how hopeless it all is.” She paused and sighed
deeply. “He maun do mair than write verses to keep a wife and family
from want,” she continued earnestly, and she looked sadly at Mary’s
downcast face. “And, Mary, ye too will hae to work, harder than ye hae
ever known, even as I have; so hard, dearie, that the heart grows sick
and weary and faint in the struggle to keep the walf awa’.”

“I am no afraid of hard work,” answered Mary bravely, swallowing the
sympathetic tears which rose to her eyes. “If poverty is to be his
portion I shall na shrink from sharin’ it wi’ him,” and her eyes shone
with love and devotion.

Mrs. Burns rose and put her arms lovingly about her. “God bless ye,
dearie,” she said softly, smoothing the tangled curls away from the broad
low brow with tender, caressing fingers.

“Listen!” cried Mary, as the wail of the bagpipes was heard in the
distance. “’Tis old blind Donald,” and running to the window she threw
back the sash with a cry of delight. “Oh, how I love the music of the
pipes!” she murmured passionately, and her sweet voice vibrated with
feeling, for she thought of her home so far away in the Highlands and the
dear ones she had not seen for so long.

“Isna he the merry one this day,” chuckled Souter, keeping time with his
feet and hands, not heeding the yarn, which had slipped from the chair,
and which was fast becoming entangled about his feet.

“It’s fair inspirin’!” cried Mary, clapping her hands ecstatically.
“Doesna it take ye back to the Highlands, Souter?” she asked happily.

“Aye, lassie,” replied Souter. “But it’s there among the hills and glens
that the music of the pipes is most entrancin’,” he added loyally, for
he was a true Highlander. The strains of the “Cock of the North” grew
louder and louder as old Donald drew near the farm, and Mary, who could
no longer restrain her joyous impulse, with a little excited laugh, her
face flushing rosily, ran to the center of the room, where, one hand on
her hip, her head tossed back, she began to dance. Her motion was harmony
itself as she gracefully swayed to and fro, darting here and there like
some elfin sprite, her bare feet twinkling like will-o’-the-wisps, so
quickly did they dart in and out from beneath her short plaid skirt. With
words of praise they both encouraged her to do her best.

Louder and louder the old piper blew, quicker and quicker the feet of the
dancer sped, till, with a gasp of exhaustion, Mary sank panting into the
big armchair, feeling very warm and very tired, but very happy.

“Ye dance bonnie, dearie, bonnie,” exclaimed Mrs. Burns delightedly,
pouring her a cup of tea, which Mary drank gratefully.

“Oh, dearie me,” Mary said apologetically, putting down her empty cup,
“whatever came o’er me? I’m a gaucie wild thing this day, for true, but
I canna held dancin’ when I hear the pipes,” and she smiled bashfully
into the kind face bent over her.

“Music affects me likewise,” replied Souter, trying to untangle the yarn
from around his feet, but only succeeding in making a bad matter worse.
“Music always goes to my feet like whusky, only whusky touches me here
first,” and he tapped his head humorously with his forefinger.

“Souter Johnny, ye skellum!” cried Mrs. Burns, noticing for the first
time the mischief he had wrought. “Ye’re not worth your salt, ye
ne’er-do-weel. Ye’ve spoiled my yarn,” and she glared at the crestfallen
Souter with fire in her usually calm eye.

“It was an accident, Mistress Burns,” stammered Souter, awkwardly
shifting his weight from one foot to the other in his efforts to free
himself from the persistent embrace of the clinging yarn.

With no gentle hand Mrs. Burns shoved him into a chair and proceeded to
extricate his feet from the tangled web which held him prisoner. Soon she
freed the offending members and rose to her feet. “Noo gang awa’,” she
sputtered. “Ye’ve vexed me sair. Gang out and help Gilbert. I canna bide
ye round.” Souter took his Tam O’Shanter, which hung over the fireplace,
and ambled to the door.

“Very weel,” he said meekly, “I’ll go. Souter Johnny can take a hint
as weel as the next mon,” and he closed the door gently behind him and
slowly wended his way across the field to where Gilbert was sitting,
dreamily looking across the moor.



CHAPTER III


“Why doesna he come, Mistress Burns?” said Mary pathetically. They had
come down to the field where Gilbert was now at work the better to watch
for their loved one’s approach. “Twilight is comin’ on an’ ’tis a lang
walk to Castle Montgomery at night. I canna wait much langer noo.”

“Never ye mind, lassie; ye shall stay the night with me,” replied Mrs.
Burns soothingly, “if Robert doesna come.”

“I’ll take ye back, Mary,” said Gilbert eagerly, going up to her. Perhaps
Robert was not coming after all, he thought with wildly beating heart.

“Thank ye, Gilbert, but I’ll wait a wee bit longer,” answered Mary
hopefully; “perhaps he’ll be here soon,” and she dejectedly dug her bare
toes into the damp earth.

“Well, lassie, I canna waste any mair time,” said Mrs. Burns
energetically. “Ye can stay here with Gilbert, while I return to my
spinning. Come, Souter, there’s some firewood to be split,” and she
quickly walked to the house, followed more slowly by the reluctant Souter.

Gilbert, with his soul in his eyes, feasted on the pathetic loveliness
of the sweet face beside him, gazing wistfully toward Mauchline, and his
aching heart yearned to clasp her to his breast, to tell her of his
love, to plead for her pity, her love, herself, for he felt he would
rather die than give her up to another. He drew closer to her.

“What is the matter, Gilbert?” asked Mary anxiously, noting his pale
face. “Are ye in pain?”

“Aye, Mary, in pain,” he answered passionately. “Such pain I’ll hope
ye’ll never know.” He bowed his head.

“I’m so sorry, lad,” she replied innocently. “I wish I could help ye,”
and she looked compassionately at the suffering man.

He raised his head suddenly and looked into her eyes.

“Are ye goin’ to marry Robert this summer, when he returns?” he asked
abruptly, his voice husky with emotion.

“Aye, if he wishes it,” answered Mary simply, wondering why he looked so
strangely white.

“He has been gone a year, ye ken,” continued Gilbert hoarsely. “Suppose
he has changed and no langer loves ye?” She looked at him with big,
frightened eyes. She had never thought of that possibility before. What
if he did no longer love her? she thought fearfully. She looked about her
helplessly. She felt bewildered, dazed; slowly she sank down on the rocky
earth, her trembling limbs refusing to support her. Her fair head drooped
pathetically, like a lily bent and bruised by the storm.

“If Robert doesna want me any more,” she murmured after a pause, a
pathetic little catch in her voice, “if he loves someone else better than
he does his Highland Mary, then I—I——”

“Ye’ll soon forget him, Mary,” interrupted Gilbert eagerly, his heart
throbbing with hope. She raised her eyes from which all the light had
flown and looked at him sadly, reproachfully.

“Nay, lad, I wouldna care to live any longer,” she said quietly.
“My heart would just break,” and she smiled a pitiful little smile
which smote him like a knife thrust. He caught her two hands in his
passionately and pressed them to his heart with a cry of pain.

“Dinna mind what I said, lass,” he cried, conscience stricken; “dinna
look like that. I dinna mean to grieve ye, Mary, I love ye too well.”
And almost before he realized it he had recklessly, passionately,
incoherently told her of his love for her, his jealousy of his brother,
his grief and pain at losing her. Mary gazed at him in wonder, scarcely
understanding his wild words, his excited manner.

“I’m fair pleased that ye love me, Gilbert,” she answered him in her
innocence. “Ye ken I love ye too, for ye’ve been so kind and good
to me ever since Robert has been awa’,” and she pressed his hand
affectionately. With a groan of despair he released her and turned away
without another word. Suddenly she understood, and a great wave of
sympathy welled up in her heart. “Oh, Gilbert,” she cried sorrowfully,
a world of compassion in her voice. “I understand ye noo, laddie, an’
I’m so sorry, so sorry.” He bit his lips till the blood came. Finally he
spoke in a tone of quiet bitterness.

“I’ve been living in a fool’s paradise this past year,” he said, “but
’tis all ended noo. Why, ever since he went awa’ I have wished, hoped,
and even prayed that Rob would never return to Mossgiel, that ye might
forget him and his accursed poetry, and in time would become my wife.” He
threw out his hands with a despairing gesture as he finished.

“Oh, Gilbert,” she faltered, with tears in her eyes, “I never dreamed ye
thought of me in that way. Had I only known, I——” she broke off abruptly
and looked away toward the cottage.

“Ye see what a villain I have been,” he continued with a bitter smile.
“But ye have nothin’ to blame yoursel’ for, Mary. I had no right to think
of ye ither than as Robert’s betrothed wife.”

“I’m so sorry, lad,” repeated Mary compassionately. Then her downcast
face brightened. “Let us both forget what has passed this day, and be the
same good friends as ever, wi’na we, Gilbert?” And she held out her hand
to him with her old winning smile.

“God bless ye, lassie,” he replied brokenly. Quietly they stood there for
a few minutes, then with a sudden start they realized that deep twilight
had fallen upon them. Silently, stealthily it had descended, like a
quickly drawn curtain. Slowly they wended their way back to the cottage.
When they reached the door Mary suddenly turned and peered into the
deepening twilight.

“Listen!” she said breathlessly. “Dinna ye hear a voice, Gilbert?” He
listened for a minute. Faintly there came on the still air the distant
murmur of many voices.

“’Tis only the lads on their way to the village,” he replied quietly.
With a little shiver, Mary drew her plaidie closely about her, for the
air had grown cool.

“I think I’ll hae to be goin’ noo,” she said dejectedly. “He willna be
here this night.”

“Very well,” answered Gilbert. “I’ll saddle the mare and take ye back.
Bide here a wee,” and he left her. She could hardly restrain the
disappointed tears, which rose to her eyes.

Why didn’t Robert come? What could keep him so late? She so longed to see
her laddie once more. She idly wondered why the lads, whose voices she
now heard quite plainly, were coming toward Mossgiel. There was no inn
hereabouts. By the light of the rising moon she saw them on the moor,
ever drawing nearer and nearer, but they had no interest for her. Nothing
interested her now. She leaned back against the wall of the cottage and
patiently awaited Gilbert’s return.

“He’s comin’! he’s comin’!” suddenly exclaimed the voice of Mrs. Burns
from within the cottage. “My lad is comin’! Out of my way, ye skellum!”
and out she ran, her face aglow with love and excitement, followed by
Souter, who was shouting gleefully, “He’s comin’! he’s comin’! Robbie’s
comin’!” and off he sped in her footsteps, to meet the returned wanderer.

“It’s Robbie! it’s Robbie!” cried Mary joyously, her nerves a-quiver,
as she heard the vociferous outburst of welcome from the lads, who were
bringing him in triumph to his very door.

“Welcome hame, laddie!” shouted the crowd, as they came across the field,
singing, laughing and joking like schoolboys on a frolic.

“Oh, I canna’, I darena’ meet him before them a’,” she exclaimed aloud,
blushing rosily, frightened at the thought of meeting him before the
good-natured country folk.

She would wait till they all went away, and, turning, she ran into the
house like a timid child. Quickly she hid behind the old fireplace,
listening shyly, as she heard them approach the open door.

“Thank ye, lads, for your kind welcome,” said Robert as he reached the
threshold, one arm around his mother. “I didna’ ken I had left so many
friends in Mossgiel,” and he looked around gratefully at the rugged faces
that were grinning broadly into his.

“Come doon to the Inn and hae a wee nippie for auld lang syne,” sang out
Sandy MacPherson, with an inviting wave of the hand.

“Nay, an’ he’ll not gang a step, Sandy MacPherson,” cried Mrs. Burns
indignantly, clinging closely to her son.

“Nay, I thank ye, Sandy,” laughingly replied Robert. “Ye must excuse me
to-night. I’ll see ye all later, and we’ll have a lang chat o’er auld
times.”

“Come awa’ noo, Robert,” said Mrs. Burns lovingly, “an’ I’ll get ye a
bite and a sup,” and she drew him into the house.

“Good-night, lads; I’ll see ye to-morrow,” he called back to them
cheerily.

“Good-night,” they answered in a chorus, and with “three cheers for
Robbie Burns” that made the welkin ring, they departed into the night,
merrily singing “Should auld acquaintance be forgot?” a song Robert
himself had written before leaving Mossgiel.



CHAPTER IV


“Ah, Souter Johnny, how are ye, mon?” cried Robert heartily, as his eyes
rested on the beaming face of the old man. “Faith, an’ I thought I’d find
ye here as of old. ’Tis almost a fixture ye are.”

“Ah, weel,” replied Souter nonchalantly, as he shook Robert’s
outstretched hand, “ye ken the Scripture says, ‘an’ the poor ye have
always wi’ ye.’” Robert laughed merrily at the old man’s sally.

“Thank goodness, they’ve gone at last,” said Mrs. Burns with a sigh
of relief, as she entered the room. “Why, laddie, ye had half the
ne’er-do-weels of Mossgiel a-following ye. They are only a lot of leeches
and idle brawlers, that’s a’,” and her dark eyes flashed her disapproval.

“I’m sure they have kind hearts, mither, for a’ that,” replied Robert
reproachfully.

“Ye’re so popular wi’ them a’, Robbie,” cried Souter proudly.

“Aye, when he has a shillin’ to spend on them,” added Mrs. Burns dryly.
“But sit doon, laddie; ye maun be tired wi’ your lang walk,” and she
gently pushed him into a chair beside the table.

“I am a wee bittie tired,” sighed Robert gratefully as he leaned back in
the chair.

“I’ll soon hae something to eat before ye,” replied his mother briskly.

“I’m nae hungry, mother,” answered Robert. “Indeed, I couldna’ eat a
thing,” he remonstrated as she piled the food before him.

“’Tis in love ye are,” insinuated Souter with a knowing look. “I ken the
symptoms weel; ye canna’ eat.”

“Ye’re wrong there,” replied Robert with a bright smile. “Love but
increases my appetite.”

“Aye, for love,” added Souter _sotto voce_.

“Ah, mother dear, how guid it seems to be at hame again, under the old
familiar roof-tree,” said Robert a little later, as he leaned back
contentedly in his chair and gazed about the room with eager, alert
glances. As he sits there with his arms folded let us take a look at
our hero. Of more than medium height, his form suggested agility as
well as strength. His high forehead, shaded with black curling hair
tied at the neck, indicated extensive capacity. His eyes were large,
dark, and full of fire and intelligence. His face was well formed and
uncommonly interesting and expressive, although at the first glance his
features had a certain air of coarseness, mingled with an expression of
calm thoughtfulness, approaching melancholy. He was dressed carelessly
in a blue homespun long coat, belted at the waist, over a buff-colored
vest; short blue pantaloons, tucked into long gray home-knit stockings,
which came up above his knee, and broad low brogans, made by Souter’s
hands. He wore a handsome plaid of small white and black checks over one
shoulder, the ends being brought together under the opposite arm and tied
loosely behind.

“’Tis a fine hame-comin’ ye’ve had, laddie,” cried old Souter proudly.
“Faith, it’s just like they give the heir of grand estates. We should hae
had a big bonfire burnin’ outside our—ahem—palace gates,” and he waved
his hand grandiloquently.

“Dinna’ ye make fun of our poor clay biggin’, Souter Johnny,” cried Mrs.
Burns rebukingly. “Be it ever so poor, ’tis our hame.”

“Aye, ’tis our hame, mother,” repeated Robert lovingly. “An’ e’en tho’
I have been roaming in other parts, still this humble cottage is the
dearest spot on earth to me. I love it all, every stick and stone, each
blade of grass, every familiar object that greeted my eager gaze as I
crossed the moor to this haven of rest, my hame. And my love for it this
moment is the strongest feeling within me.”

His roving eyes tenderly sought out one by one the familiar bits of
furniture around the room, and lingered for a moment lovingly on the
old fireplace. It was there he had first seen Mary Campbell. She had
come to the cottage on an errand, and as she stood leaning against the
mantel, the sunlight gleaming through the window upon her golden hair,
he had entered the room. It was plainly love at first sight, and so he
had told her that same day, as he walked back to Castle Montgomery with
the winsome dairymaid. The course of their love had flowed smoothly and
uneventfully; he loved her with all the depth of his passionate emotional
nature, and yet his love was more spiritual than physical. She was an
endless source of inspiration, as many a little song and ode which had
appeared in the Tarbolton weekly from time to time could testify. How
long the year had been away from her, he mused dreamily. To-morrow,
bright and early, he would hurry over to Castle Montgomery and surprise
her at her duties.

[Illustration: “Gazed straight into the startled eyes of Robert.”]

Mary, from her hiding place, had watched all that happened since Robert
had come into the room. She had not expected to remain so long hidden,
she thought wistfully. She had hoped that Mrs. Burns would miss her, and
that she, or Robert, or someone would look for her, but they had not
even thought of her, and her lips trembled piteously at their neglect.
And so she had stayed on, peeping out at them, whenever their backs were
turned, feeling very lonely, and very miserable, in spite of the pride
that thrilled her, as she watched her lover sitting there so handsome
in the full strength of his young manhood. Perhaps they didn’t want her
here to-night. Perhaps it was true, as Gilbert said, “that Robert didn’t
love her any more.” The tears could no longer be restrained. If she
could only slip out unobserved she would go home. She wasn’t afraid,
she thought miserably. She wondered what they were doing now, they were
so quiet? Peering shyly around the mantel, she gazed straight into the
startled eyes of Robert, who with a surprised ejaculation started back in
amazement.

“Why, Mary Campbell!” cried his mother remorsefully, as she caught sight
of Mary’s face, “I declare I clear forgot ye, lass.” With a glad cry
Robert sprang toward her and grasped her two hands in his own, his eyes
shining with love and happiness.

“Mary, lass, were ye hidin’ awa’ from me?” he asked in tender reproach.
She dropped her head bashfully without a word. “’Tis o’er sweet in ye,
dear, to come over to welcome me hame,” he continued radiantly. “Come
an’ let me look at ye,” and he drew her gently to where the candle light
could fall on her shy, flushed face. “Oh, ’tis bonnie ye’re looking,
lassie,” he cried proudly. He raised her drooping head, so that his
hungry eyes could feast on her beauty. She stood speechless, like a
frightened child, not daring to raise her eyes to his. “Haven’t ye a word
of welcome for me, sweetheart?” he whispered tenderly, drawing her to him
caressingly.

“I’m—I’m very glad to hae ye back again,” she faltered softly, her sweet
voice scarcely audible.

“Go an’ kiss him, Mary; dinna’ mind us,” cried Souter impatiently. “I can
see ye’re both asking for it wi’ your eyes,” he insinuated. And he drew
near them expectantly.

“Hauld your whist, ye old tyke,” flashed Mrs. Burns indignantly. “Robbie
Burns doesna’ need ye to tell him how to act wi’ the lassies.”

“I’ll not dispute ye there,” replied Souter dryly, winking his eye at
Robert knowingly.

Robert laughed merrily as he answered, “Ye ken we’re both o’er bashful
before ye a’.”

“Ah, ye’re a fine pair of lovers, ye are,” retorted Souter disgustedly,
turning away.

“So the neighbors say, Souter,” responded Robert gayly, giving Mary a
loving little squeeze.

And surely there never was a handsomer couple, thought Mistress Burns
proudly, as they stood there together. One so dark, so big and strong,
the other so fair, so fragile and winsome. And so thought Gilbert Burns
jealously, as he came quietly into the room. Robert went to him quickly,
a smile lighting up his dark face, his hand outstretched in greeting.

“I’m o’er glad to see ye again, Gilbert,” he cried impulsively, shaking
his brother’s limp hand.

“So ye’ve come back again,” said Gilbert, coldly.

“Aye, like a bad penny,” laughingly responded Robert. “Noo that I am
burned out of my situation, I’ve come hame to help ye in the labors of
the farm,” and he pressed his brother’s hand warmly.

“I fear your thoughts willna’ lang be on farming,” observed Gilbert
sarcastically, going to the fireplace and deliberately turning his back
to Robert.

“I’ll struggle hard to keep them there, brother,” replied Robert simply.
His brother’s coldness had chilled his extraordinarily sensitive nature.
He walked slowly back to his seat.

“I ken ye’d rather be writin’ love verses than farmin’, eh, Robert?”
chimed in Souter thoughtlessly.

“’Tis only a waste of time writin’ poetry, my lad,” sighed Mrs. Burns,
shaking her head disapprovingly.

“I canna’ help writin’, mother,” answered the lad firmly, a trifle
defiantly. “For the love of poesy was born in me, and that love was
fostered at your ain knee ever since my childhood days.”

She sighed regretfully. “I didna’ ken what seed I was sowing then,
laddie,” she answered thoughtfully.

“Dinna’ be discouraged,” cried Mary eagerly, going to him. “I’ve faith in
ye, laddie, and in your poetry, too.” She put her hand on his shoulder
lovingly, as he sat beside the table, looking gloomy and dejected. “Some
day,” she continued, a thrill of pride in her voice, “ye’ll wake to
find your name on everybody’s lips. You’ll be rich and famous, mayhap.
Who kens, ye may even become the Bard o’ Scotland,” she concluded in an
awestruck tone.

“Nay, Mary, I do not hope for that,” replied Robert, his dark
countenance relaxing into a smile of tenderness at her wild prophecy,
although in his own heart he felt conscious of superior talents.

“Waesucks,” chuckled Souter reminiscently. “Do you mind, Robbie, how,
a year ago, ye riled up the community, an’ the kirk especially, over
your verses called ‘Holy Willie’s Prayer’? Aye, lad, it was an able
keen satire, and auld Squire Armour recognized the truth of it, for he
threatened to hae ye arrested for blaspheming the kirk and the auld licht
religion. He’ll ne’er forgive ye for that,” and he shook his head with
conviction.

“He’s an auld Calvinistic hypocrite,” replied Robert carelessly, “and he
deserved to be satirized alang wi’ the rest of the Elders. Let us hope
the verses may do them and the kirk some good. They are sadly in need of
reform.” Then with a gay laugh he told them a funny anecdote concerning
one of the Elders, and for over an hour they listened to the rich tones
of his voice as he entertained them with jest and song and story,
passing quickly from one to the other, as the various emotions succeeded
each other in his mind, assuming with equal ease the expression of the
broadest mirth, the deepest melancholy or the most sublime emotion. They
sat around him spellbound. Never had they seen him in such a changeable
mood as to-night.

“And noo, laddie, tell us about your life in Irvine and Mauchline,” said
Mrs. Burns.

Robert had finished his last story, and sat in meditative silence,
watching the smoldering peat in the fireplace.

He hesitated for a moment. “There is little to tell, mother,” he
answered, not looking up, “and that little is na worth tellin’.”

“I ken ye’ve come back no richer in pocket than when ye left,” remarked
Gilbert questioningly. As his brother made no answer, he continued with
sarcastic irony, “But perhaps there wasna’ enough work for ye there.” He
watched his brother’s face narrowly.

“There was work enough for a’,” replied Robert in a low tone, an
agony of remorse in his voice. “An’ I tried to fulfill faithfully the
uncongenial tasks set before me, but I would sink into dreams, forgetting
my surroundings, my duties, and would set me doon to put on paper the
thoughts and fancies which came rushing through my brain, raging like
so many devils, till they found vent in rhyme; then the conning o’er
my verses like a spell soothed all into quiet again.” A far away rapt
expression came over his countenance as he finished, and his dark
glowing eyes gazed dreamily into space, as if communing with the Muses.
Mrs. Burns and Mary both watched him with moist, adoring eyes, hardly
breathing lest they should disturb his reverie. Gilbert stirred in his
chair restlessly.

“Ye will never prosper unless ye give up this day dreaming,” he
exclaimed impatiently, rising from his chair and pacing the floor.

Robert looked up, the fire fading from his eyes, his face growing dark
and forbidding. “I ken that weel, Gilbert,” he answered bitterly. “An’ I
despair of ever makin’ anything of mysel’ in this world, not e’en a poor
farmer. I am not formed for the bustle of the busy nor the flutter of the
gay. I’m but an idle rhymster, a ne’er-do-weel.” He walked quickly to the
window and stood dejectedly looking out into the night.

“Nay, ye’re a genius, lad,” declared old Souter emphatically, patting
him affectionately on the shoulder. “I havena’ watched your erratic ways
for nothin’, an’ I say ye’re a genius. It’s a sad thing to be a genius,
Robert, an’ I sympathize wi’ ye,” and the old hypocrite shook his head
dolefully as he took his seat at the fireplace.

“I’m a failure, I ken that weel. I’m a failure,” muttered Robert
despairingly, his heart heavy and sad.

“Nay, laddie, ye mustna’ talk like that,’tis not right,” cried Mary,
bravely keeping back the sympathetic tears from her eyes and forcing
a little smile to her lips. “Ye are only twenty-five,” she continued
earnestly. “An’ all your life is stretchin’ out before ye. Why, ye mustna
ever think o’ failure. Ye must think only of bright, happy things, and
ye’ll see how everythin’ will come out all right. Noo mind that. So
cheer thee, laddie, or ye’ll make us all sad on this your hame-comin’.
Come, noo, look pleasant,” and she gave his arm a loving little shake.
As his stern face melted into a sad smile, she laughed happily. “That’s
right, laddie.” With a little encouraging nod she left him, and running
to Mrs. Burns, she gave her a hug and a kiss, until the old lady’s grim
features relaxed. Then like a bird she flitted to the other side of the
room.

“Souter Johnny,” she saucily cried, “how dare ye look so mournful like.
Hae ye a fit o’ the gloom, man?”

“Not a bit o’ it,” retorted Souter energetically, jumping lightly to his
feet. “Will I stand on my head for ye, Mary, eh?”

Mary laughed merrily as Mrs. Burns replied in scathing tones, “Your
brains are in your boots, noo, Souter Johnny.”

“Weel, wherever they are,” responded Souter with a quizzical smile, “they
dinna’ trouble me o’er much. Weel, I think I’ll be turnin’ in noo,” he
continued, stretching himself lazily. “Good-night to ye all,” and taking
a candle from the dresser, he slowly left the room.

“Come, lads,’tis bedtime,” admonished Mrs. Burns, glancing at the old
high clock that stood in the corner. “Mary, ye shall sleep with me, and,
Robert, ye know where to find your bed. It hasna’ been slept in since ye
left. Dinna’ forget your candle, Gilbert,” she called out as he started
for the door. He silently took it from her hand. “Dinna’ forget your
promise,” she whispered anxiously to him as he left the room in gloomy
silence.

The look on his face frightened her. There was bitterness and despair
in the quick glance he gave the happy lovers, who were standing in the
shadow of the deep window. “The lad looked fair heart-broken,” she mused
sorrowfully. For a moment she looked after him, a puzzled frown on her
brow. Then suddenly the truth dawned on her. How blind she had been, why
hadn’t she thought of that before? The lad was in love. In love with
Mary Campbell, that was the cause of his bitterness toward his brother.
“Both in love with the same lass,” she murmured apprehensively, and
visions of petty meannesses, bitter discords, between the two brothers,
jealous quarrels, resulting in bloody strife, perhaps; and she shuddered
at the mental picture her uneasy mind had conjured up. The sooner Robert
and Mary were married the sooner peace would be restored, she thought
resolutely. They could start out for themselves, go to Auld Ayr or to
Dumfries. They couldn’t be much worse off there than here. And determined
to set her mind easy before she retired, she walked briskly toward the
couple, who now sat hand in hand, oblivious to earthly surroundings,
the soft moonlight streaming full upon their happy upturned faces. She
watched them a moment in silence, loath to break in upon their sweet
communion. Presently she spoke.

“Robert,” she called softly, “ye’d better gang to your bed noo, lad.”

With a start he came back to earth, and jumping up boyishly, replied with
a happy laugh, “I forgot, mother, that I was keeping ye and Mary from
your rest.” He glanced toward the recessed bed in the wall where his
mother was wont to sleep. “Good-night, mither, good-night, Mary,” he said
lovingly. Then taking his candle, he started for the door, but turned as
his mother called his name and looked at her questioningly.

“Laddie, dinna’ think I’m meddling in your affairs,” she said
hesitatingly, “but I’m fair curious to know when ye an’ Mary will be wed.”

Robert looked inquiringly at Mary, who blushed and dropped her head.
“Before harvest begins, mither,” he answered hopefully, “if Mary will be
ready and willing. Will that suit ye, lassie?” And he looked tenderly at
the drooping head, covered with its wealth of soft, glittering curls.

“I hae all my linen spun and woven,” she faltered, after a nervous
silence, not daring to look at him. “Ye ken the lassies often came a
rockin’ and so helped me get it done.” She raised her head and looked in
his glowing face. “’Tis a very small dowry I’ll be bringin’ ye, laddie,”
she added in pathetic earnestness.

He gave a little contented laugh. “Ye’re bringin’ me yoursel’, dearie,”
he murmured tenderly. “What mair could any lad want. I ken I do not
deserve such a bonnie sweet sonsie lassie for my wife.” He looked away
thoughtfully for a moment. Then he continued with glowing eyes, “But
ye mind the verse o’ the song I gave ye before I went awa’?” he said
lovingly, taking her hand in his. His voice trembled with feeling as he
fervently recited the lines:

    “We have plighted our troth, my Mary,
    In mutual affection to join,
    And cursed be the cause that shall part us,
    The hour and moment o’ time.”

She smiled confidingly up into his radiant face, then laid her
little head against his breast like a tired child. “Always remember,
sweetheart,” he continued softly, as if in answer to that look, “that
Robbie Burns’ love for his Highland Mary will remain forever the
tenderest, truest passion of his unworthy life.”



CHAPTER V


Life at Mossgiel passed uneventfully and monotonously. Robert had settled
down with every appearance of contentment to the homely duties of the
farmer, and Gilbert could find no fault with the amount of labor done.
Morning till night he plowed and harrowed the rocky soil, without a word
of complaint, although the work was very hard and laborious. Planting had
now begun and his tasks were materially lightened. He had ample leisure
to indulge in his favorite pastime; and that he failed to take advantage
of his opportunities for rhyming was a mystery to Gilbert, and a source
of endless regret to Mary. But his mother could tell of the many nights
she had seen the candle light gleaming far into the night; and her heart
was sore troubled when in the morning she would see the evidence of his
midnight toil, scraps of closely written paper scattered in wild disorder
over his small table, but she held her peace. The lad loved to do it, she
mused tenderly, and so long as he was not shirking his work, why disturb
his tranquillity?

A few weeks after the return of our hero Mary and Mrs. Burns were seated
in the living-room, Mrs. Burns as usual busy at her wheel, while Mary
sat sewing at the window, where she could look out across the fields
and see her sweetheart, who, with a white sheet containing his seed
corn slung across his shoulder, was scattering the grain in the earth.
She sang dreamily as she sewed, her sweet face beaming with love and
happiness. No presentiment warned her of the approaching tragedy that was
soon to cast its blighting shadow over that happy household—a tragedy
that was inevitable. The guilty one had sown to the flesh, he must reap
corruption. The seed had been sown carelessly, recklessly, and now the
harvest time had come, and such a harvest! The pity of it was that the
grim reaper must with his devouring sickle ruthlessly cut down such a
tender, sweet, and innocent flower as she who sat there so happy and so
blissfully unconscious of her impending doom.

Suddenly, with an exclamation of astonishment, she jumped excitedly to
her feet. “Mistress Burns,” she cried breathlessly, “here are grand
lookin’ strangers comin’ up the path. City folk, too, I ken. Look.”

Hastily the good dame ran to the window. “Sure as death, Mary; they’re
comin’ here,” she cried in amazement. “Oh, lack a day, an’ I’m na dressed
to receive the gentry.” A look of comical dismay clouded her anxious
face as she hurriedly adjusted her cap and smoothed out her apron. “Is
my cap on straight, Mary?” she nervously inquired. Mary nodded her head
reassuringly. “Oh, dear, whatever can they want?” Steps sounded without.
“Ye open the door, Mary,” she whispered sibilantly as the peremptory
knock sounded loudly through the room. Timidly Mary approached the door.
“Hist, wait,” called Mrs. Burns in sudden alarm. “My ’kerchief isna’
pinned.” Hastily she pinned the loose end in place, then folding her
hands, she said firmly, “Noo let them enter.” Mary slowly opened the
door, which, swinging inward, concealed her from the three strangers, who
entered with ill-concealed impatience on the part of the two ladies who
were being laughingly chided by their handsome escort. With a wondering
look of admiration at the richly dressed visitors, Mary quietly stole out
and softly shut the door behind her.

With a murmur of disgust the younger of the two ladies, who was about
nineteen, walked to the fireplace, and raising her quilted blue
petticoat, which showed beneath the pale pink overdress with its Watteau
plait, she daintily held her foot to the blaze. A disfiguring frown
marred the dark beauty of her face as her bold black eyes gazed about her
impatiently.

“It’s a monstrous shame,” she flashed angrily, “to have an accident
happen within a few miles of home. Will it delay us long, think you?” she
inquired anxiously, addressing her companion.

“It depends on the skill of the driver to repair the injury,” replied
the other lady indifferently. She appeared the elder of the two by some
few years, and was evidently a lady of rank and fashion. She looked
distinctly regal and commanding in her large Gainsborough hat tilted on
one side of her elaborately dressed court wig. A look of amused curiosity
came over her patrician face as she calmly surveyed the interior of the
cottage. She inclined her head graciously to Mrs. Burns, who with a deep
courtesy stood waiting their pleasure.

“We have just met with an accident, guidwife,” laughingly said the
gentleman, who stood in the doorway brushing the dust from his long
black cloak. He was a scholarly looking man of middle age, dressed in
the height of taste and fashion. “While crossing the old bridge yonder,”
he continued, smiling courteously at Mrs. Burns, “our coach had the
misfortune to cast a wheel, spilling us all willy-nilly, on the ground,
and we must crave your hospitality, guidwife.”

“Ye are a’ welcome,” quickly answered Mrs. Burns with another courtesy.
“Sit doon, please,” and she placed a chair for the lady, who languidly
seated herself thereon with a low murmur of thanks.

“Allow me to introduce myself,” continued the gentleman, coming into the
room, his cloak over his arm. “I am Lord Glencairn of Edinburgh. This is
Lady Glencairn, and yonder lady is Mistress Jean Armour of Mauchline.”

The young lady in question, who was still standing by the fireplace,
flashed him a look of decided annoyance. She seemed greatly perturbed at
the enforced delay of the journey. She started violently as she heard
Mrs. Burns say, “And I am Mrs. Burns, your lordship.” Then she hurried to
the old lady’s side, a startled look in her flashing eyes.

“Mistress Burns of Mossgiel Farm?” she inquired in a trembling voice.

“Yes, my lady,” replied Mrs. Burns. The young lady’s face went white as
she walked nervously back to the fireplace.

“My dear Jean, whatever is the matter?” asked Lady Glencairn lazily, as
she noticed Jean’s perturbation. “Is there anything in the name of Burns
to frighten you?”

“No, your ladyship,” replied Jean falteringly, turning her face away
so that her large Gainsborough hat completely shielded her quivering
features. “I—I am still a trifle nervous from the upset, that is all.”
She seemed strangely agitated.

“Was it not unlucky?” replied Lady Glencairn in her rich vibrating
contralto. “’Twill be a most wearisome wait, I fear, but we simply must
endure it with the best possible grace,” and she unfastened her long
cloak of black velvet and threw it off her shoulders, revealing her
matchless form in its tightly fitting gown of amber satin, with all its
alluring lines and sinuous curves, to the utmost advantage.

“It willna’ be long noo, your ladyship,” replied Mrs. Burns, smiling
complacently. She had quietly left the room while the two were talking,
and seeing Souter hovering anxiously around, trying to summon up courage
to enter, she had commanded him to go to the fields and tell the lads of
the accident, which he had reluctantly done.

“My lads will soon fix it for ye,” she continued proudly. “Robert is a
very handy lad, ye ken. He is my eldest son, who has just returned from
Mauchline,” she explained loquaciously in answer to Lord Glencairn’s
questioning look.

Jean nervously clutched at the neck of her gown, her face alternately
flushing and paling. “Your son is here now?” she asked eagerly, turning
to Mrs. Burns.

“Aye, he’s out yonder in the fields,” she answered simply.

“Oh, then you know the young man?” interrogated Lady Glencairn, glancing
sharply at Jean.

“Yes, I know him,” she answered with averted gaze. “We met occasionally
in Mauchline at dancing school, where we fell acquainted.”

Lady Glencairn looked at her with half-closed eyes for a moment, then she
smilingly said, “And I’ll wager your love for coquetting prompted you to
make a conquest of the innocent rustic, eh, Jean?”

Jean tossed her head angrily and walked to the window.

“Lady Glencairn, you are pleased to jest,” she retorted haughtily.

“There, there, Jean, you’re over prudish. I vow ’twould be no crime,”
her ladyship calmly returned. “I’ll wager this young farmer was a gay
Lothario while in Mauchline,” she continued mockingly.

“Oh, no, your ladyship,” interrupted Mrs. Burns simply. “He was a flax
dresser.”

“Truly a more respectable occupation, madame,” gravely responded Lord
Glencairn with a suspicious twinkle in his eye.

“Thank ye, my lord,” answered Mrs. Burns with a deep courtesy. “My lad is
a good lad, if I do say so, and he has returned to us as pure minded as
when he went awa’ a year ago.”

Lady Glencairn raised her delicately arched eyebrows in amused surprise.
Turning to Jean, she murmured drily, “And away from home a year, too! He
must be a model of virtue, truly.”

Jean gazed at her with startled eyes. “Can she suspect aught?” she asked
herself fearfully.

“Could I be getting ye a cup of milk?” asked Mrs. Burns hospitably. “’Tis
a’ I have to offer, but ’tis cool and refreshing.”

“Fresh milk,” repeated Lady Glencairn, rising with delight. “I vow it
would be most welcome, guidwife.”

“Indeed it would,” responded her husband. And Mrs. Burns with a gratified
smile hurried from the room.

“My dear, don’t look so tragic,” drawled Lady Glencairn carelessly, as
she noticed Jean’s pale face and frightened eyes. “We’ll soon be in
Mauchline. Although why you are in such a monstrous hurry to reach that
lonesome village after your delightful sojourn in the capital, is more
than I can conjecture,” and her keen eyes noted with wonder the flush
mount quickly to the girl’s cheek.

“It is two months since I left my home, your ladyship,” faltered Jean
hesitatingly. “It’s only natural I should be anxious to see my dear
parents again.” She dropped her eyes quickly before her ladyship’s
penetrating gaze.

“Dear parents, indeed,” sniffed Lady Glencairn to herself suspiciously as
she followed their hostess to the door of the “ben.”

With a nervous little laugh Jean rose quickly from her chair by the
window and walked toward the door through which they had entered. “The
accident has quite upset me, Lady Glencairn,” she said constrainedly.
“Would you mind if I stroll about the fields until my nerves are
settled?” she asked with a forced laugh.

“No, child, go by all means,” replied her ladyship indolently. “The air
will do you good, no doubt.”

“I warn you not to wander too far from the house,” interposed Lord
Glencairn with a kindly smile. “We will not be detained much longer.”
With a smile of thanks she hastily left the room just as Mrs. Burns
entered from the “ben” bearing a large blue pitcher filled with foaming
milk, which she placed on the table before her smiling visitors.

Jean breathed a sigh of relief as she closed the door behind her. She
felt in another moment she would have screamed aloud in her nervousness.
That fate should have brought her to the very home of the man she had
thought still in Mauchline, and to see whom she had hurriedly left
Edinburgh, filled her with wonder and dread. “I must see him before we
leave,” she said nervously, clasping and unclasping her hands. But where
should she find him? She walked quickly down the path and gazed across
the fields, where in the distance she could see several men at work,
repairing the disabled coach. Anxiously she strained her eyes to see if
the one she sought was among them, but he was not there. Quickly she
retraced her steps. “I must find him. I must speak with him this day,”
she said determinedly. As she neared the cottage she turned aside and
walked toward the high stone fence which enclosed the house and yard.
Swiftly mounting the old stile, she looked about her. Suddenly she gave
a sharp little exclamation, and her heart bounded violently, for there
before her, coming across the field, was the man she sought, his hands
clasped behind him, his head bent low in the deepest meditation. With a
sigh of relief she sank down on the step and calmly awaited his approach.



CHAPTER VI


Robert flung the last of his seed corn into the earth with a sigh of
thankfulness, for though he gave the powers of his body to the labors
of the farm, he refused to bestow on them his thoughts or his cares. He
longed to seek the quiet of his attic room, for his soul was bursting
with song and his nervous fingers fairly itched to grasp his pencil and
catch and hold forever the pearls dropped from the lap of the Goddess
Muse into his worshipful soul, ere they faded and dissolved into
lusterless fragments. Mechanically he turned his footsteps toward the
cottage, plunged in deep reverie. As he walked slowly along his mind
suddenly reverted to the year he had spent in Mauchline. It had been his
first taste of town life. Blessed with a strong appetite for sociability,
although constitutionally melancholy, and a hair-brained imagination, he
had become an immediate favorite and welcome guest wherever he visited.
_Vive l’amour_ and _vive la bagatelle_ had soon become his sole principle
of action. His heart, which was completely tinder, was eternally lighted
up by some goddess or other, and it was not long before he regarded
illicit love with levity, which two months previously he had thought of
with horror. Poesy was still a darling walk for his mind, but it was
only indulged in according to the humor of the hour. Having no aim in
life he had been easily led from the paths of virtue into many forms of
dissipation, which, when indulged in, afterwards plunged him into the
deepest melancholy. A few months after his advent into the village he
had met Jean Armour, the daughter of a master builder. She was one of
the belles of Mauchline, a wild, willful, imprudent lass, whose sensual
charms soon ensnared the susceptible heart of the unsophisticated farmer
lad. The fatal defect of his character was the comparative weakness of
his volition, and his passions, once lighted up, soon carried him down
the stream of error and swept him over the precipice he saw directly in
his course.

Such being their temperaments, it was not to be wondered at when their
procedure soon became decidedly irregular, their intimacy becoming the
common talk and gossip of Mauchline.

A few months before Robert returned to Mossgiel farm Jean had received
an invitation from her god-parents, Lord and Lady Glencairn, to visit
Edinburgh, which she had accepted with eagerness, for she was becoming
tired of her latest conquest and longed for the gay life of the capital.

Robert saw her leave Mauchline with no pangs of regret at her inconstancy
and caprice. He was in a state of profound melancholy at the time, the
thoughts of how he had fallen from the paths of truth and virtue, the
thoughts of the pure love of his sweetheart at home, filling his heart
with grief and remorse. He was thinking of all this as he approached the
stile. How wretchedly weak and sinful he had been to forget his sworn
vows to Mary, he thought remorsefully. “May no harping voice from that
past ever come to disturb her peace of mind,” he prayed fervently.

Jean watched him, drawing ever nearer, with eyes filled with sudden shame
and dread at what she had to tell him. Why had her brief infatuation for
the poverty-stricken farmer led her into such depths of imprudence and
recklessness? she thought angrily. As he reached the bottom of the stile
she softly spoke his name, and noted with chagrin his startled look of
surprise and annoyance as he raised his eyes to hers.

“Jean Armour?” he cried in amazement.

“Aren’t you glad to see me?” she asked coquettishly, his presence
exercising its old fascination for her.

“What has brought ye to Mossgiel?” he asked abruptly, ignoring her
outstretched hand.

“An accident,” she replied flippantly. “I was on my way home and would
have been there ere this had it not been for a fortunate mishap.”

“Fortunate mishap?” he repeated questioningly.

“Yes,” she retorted amiably, “otherwise I should have missed seeing you,”
and she smiled down into his pale startled face.

“I dinna understand why ye left Edinburgh,” he began, when she
interrupted him.

“Because I thought you were still in Mauchline,” she explained quickly.
He look at her questioningly. “I left Edinburgh for the sole purpose of
seeing you, Robert,” she announced quietly, making room for him to sit
beside her, but he did not accept the invitation.

“Well, noo, that was very kind of ye, Jean,” he replied a little
uneasily. “But I’m not so conceited as to believe that. I ken the charms
o’ Edinburgh town, with its handsome officers, soon made ye forget the
quiet country village, and a’ your old flames, including your bashful
humble servant,” and he made her a mocking bow.

His tone of satirical raillery made her wince. “Forget?” she cried
passionately, jumping to her feet. “I wish to heaven I might forget
everything, but I cannot—I cannot.” The sudden thought of her predicament
caused her haughty, rebellious spirit to quail, and covering her face
with her hands, she burst into a paroxysm of tears and sank heavily down
upon the step.

He regarded the weeping woman silently. Was her attachment for him
stronger than he had believed? Could it be possible she still entertained
a passion for him? he asked himself anxiously. But no, that couldn’t
be; she had left him two months ago with a careless word of farewell on
her laughing lips. Yet why these tears, these wild words she had just
uttered? A wave of pity for her swept over him as he realized, if such
were the case, that he must repulse her advances gently but none the less
firmly. He had done with her forever when he said his last farewell.
There could be no raking over of the dead ashes.

Jean angrily wiped away her tears. She must not give way to such
weakness. She had an errand to perform which would need all her courage.
He was evidently waiting for some explanation of her strange behavior,
she told herself with a vain effort to steel her heart. Now was the time
to tell him all, she thought fearfully, peeking out from behind her
small linen ’kerchief, with which she was dabbing her eyes, at his cold,
wondering face. The sooner it was done the sooner she would know what to
expect at his hands. How should she begin? After a long, nervous pause
she faltered out, “Have you forgotten the past, Robert, and all that we
were to each other?”

“Nay, Jean, I remember everything,” he answered remorsefully. “But let
us not speak of that noo, please. Ye ken that is all ended between us
forever.” He turned away pale and trembling, for her presence, her looks
and words recalled many things he wanted to forget, that shamed him to
remember.

“Ended?” she repeated, an angry flush rising to the roots of her black
hair. She looked at him in amazement. He, the poverty-stricken farmer,
had repulsed her, the belle of Mauchline? Could she have heard aright?
He who had always been at her beck and call, two months ago her willing
slave, could it be that he was over his infatuation for her? She had
not thought of that possibility. She had expected him to be humble,
gratefully flattered by her condescension in seeking him out. If he
should refuse the proposal she had come so far to make! she thought in
trepidation. “He must not refuse, he shall not refuse,” and her face
grew hard and set. But perhaps he was piqued because she had left him
so unceremoniously two months ago, because she had not written him. Her
tense lips relaxed into a smile. Oh, well, she would be nice to him
now; she would make him think she was breaking her heart for him, work
on his sympathy, then perhaps it would not be necessary to confess her
humiliating plight. No farmer doomed to lifelong poverty would be averse
to winning the hand of the daughter of the rich Squire Armour. These
thoughts, running through her mind, decided her next move, and with
a fluttering sigh she rose from her seat and descended the step. She
drew close to him and looking languishingly up into his face, murmured,
“Why should it be ended, Robert? I love you just the same as I did
in the past,” and she threw her arms about his neck, clinging to him
passionately. “You do love me a little, tell me you do.”

“Jean, ye must be daft,” he panted, vainly trying to disengage himself
from her embrace.

But she continued softly, alluringly, “Think of the old days, when I
lay in your arms like this, Robbie. Think of those happy hours we spent
together on the banks of the Doon. You were not cold to me then. Oh, let
us live them all over again. How happy we will be. Kiss me, Rob,” and she
lifted her flushed, piquant face, her crimson lips pursed temptingly,
close to his. The warmth of her seductive body, the white bare arms in
their short sleeves, which embraced his neck, the half-closed passionate
eyes gazing invitingly, languorously into his own, fired his naturally
ardent blood, making his senses to reel from the contact. Slowly his
arms, which had been restraining her amorous embrace, tightened their
hold on her, drawing her closer and closer, while the drops of sweat
poured down his white, yielding face, as with wild bloodshot eyes he
battled with the temptations which beset him so wantonly, so dangerously.
With a thrill of elation not unmixed with desire she felt him yielding
to her embrace, and knew that she had won him again. With a cooing cry
of delight she was about to press her warm lips to his, when suddenly a
bird-like voice singing in the distance arrested her impulse.

    “Oh where and oh where is my Highland laddie gone?”

rang out the voice of the singer plaintively. With a cry of brief and
horror Robert tore the clinging arms from about his neck and threw her
madly from him. “What is the matter, Robert?” she cried fearfully,
looking at him in amazement.

“I think ye had better go noo, Jean,” he answered harshly, not looking at
her. “’Twill be best for us both. Oh, how I despise my weakness, I had no
right, no right noo.” And there was an agony of shame and remorse in his
voice.

“Do you mean,” she asked white with rage. “That you are not free to do as
you like?” He remained silent a moment.

Then his face grew calm and peaceful. “The lass whom ye hear singing is
Mary Campbell, my betrothed wife,” he answered simply. “We are to be
married when the plantin’ is done. We have been sweethearts for years,
and if I have in my weakness forgotten my sworn vows to her, by God’s
help I’ll strive to be more faithful in the future.” His voice vibrated
with intense feeling as he made the resolution. Then he continued softly
and tenderly, “And the love I bear my faithful Mary will never cease as
long as this crimson current flows within me.” A mocking laugh greeted
his words as he finished.

“I tell you, Robert Burns,” cried Jean threateningly, “she shall never be
your wife, for I will——” But the angry words died suddenly on her lips at
an unlooked-for interruption.

“Jean, Jean,” called a lazy voice. Turning quickly she saw with
apprehension Lady Glencairn standing in the open doorway of the cottage,
beckoning leisurely to her. Had she heard her imprudent words? she asked
herself in terror. But no, that were not possible. She had not raised her
voice. For a moment she hesitated, not knowing what to do. Should she
tell him the truth now? It would only mean a hurriedly whispered word or
two, but as she looked at him standing there so proudly erect, the angry,
puzzled flush which her last hasty words had occasioned still mantling
his swarthy face, she felt her courage slipping away from her. Why not
wait and write him? she temporized; that would be much better than
creating a scene now, with the sharp eye of Lady Glencairn fastened upon
them. Yes, she would do that, she decided hastily. She turned calmly and
mounted the stile and without one backward glance descended to the other
side. “Are you coming?” she asked indifferently over her shoulder, and
without waiting for his answer walked quickly toward the house. Robert
after a moment’s indecision gravely followed her, the look of puzzled
concern still wrinkling his forehead.

“Oh, I beg your pardon; I didn’t know you were indulging in a
tête-à-tête,” said Lady Glencairn frigidly as they reached the door.

“Lady Glencairn, this is Mr. Robert Burns,” stammered Jean nervously,
with a flush of embarrassment at her ladyship’s sarcastic smile.

“Oh, indeed, delighted I’m sure,” said her ladyship, with a careless nod,
which changed to surprised interest as Robert with simple, manly dignity
removed his Tam O’Shanter and bowed low before the haughty beauty. “What
an air for a peasant,” she mused. “What dignity,” and she surveyed him
critically from the top of his head, with its black clustering locks
which gleamed purple in the sunshine, to the tip of his rough leather
brogans; noting with admiration his stalwart frame, the well-shaped head
and massive neck, the strength suggested in the broad shoulders, the
deep chest, the herculean limbs with the swelling muscles displayed to
such advantage within the tightly fitting breeches of doe skin. “What a
handsome creature,” she thought with a thrill of admiration, as she took
the mental inventory of his good points. “And decidedly interesting,
I’ll wager, if not dangerous,” she added, smiling contemplatively as she
caught the look of respectful admiration which gleamed in his wonderfully
magnetic eyes.

“Oh, James,” she called languidly reëntering the room, “here is the young
man who has so kindly assisted in repairing the coach—the young man who
has just returned from Mauchline,” she added significantly.

“Nay, your ladyship, ’tis my brother Gilbert you must thank for his
assistance, not me,” replied Robert, flushing. As the deep tones of his
sonorous voice fell on her ear she felt an indefinable thrill of emotion
steal over her that startled her. She looked at him wonderingly. What
peculiar magnetism was there in this farmer’s voice that could so easily
move her, who had always prided herself on her coldness, her indifference
to all men, including her husband, who was blissfully unconscious of his
beautiful wife’s sentiments regarding him?

“Your brother had no easy task, I fear, Mr. Burns,” remarked Lord
Glencairn genially. Then he turned smilingly to Jean, who was standing
impatiently in the doorway. “What have you been doing all this time, my
dear Jean?” he asked lightly.

“Ask Mr. Burns,” insinuated Lady Glencairn with an odd little smile at
Jean’s embarrassed countenance. He looked inquiringly at the surprised
face of the young farmer.

“Miss Armour has done me the honor of listening to some of my rhyming,”
quietly replied Robert with a quick glance at Jean, his ready wit coming
to her rescue.

“So then you are a poet,” murmured Lady Glencairn, with a smile. “Do you
write love sonnets to your sweethearts, or does the muse incline at this
season to songs of springtime?”

“Aye, my lady, he has the gift indeed,” spoke up Mrs. Burns
deprecatingly. “But I dinna’ ken if it amounts to aught.”

“My mother doesna’ care for my poetry,” said Robert simply, turning to
her ladyship.

“Dinna’ say that, laddie,” replied his mother earnestly. “Ye ken I’m
o’er fond of those verses to Highland Mary, but——”

“‘Highland Mary’? what a dear name,” interrupted Lady Glencairn sweetly,
smiling at Robert. “Who is she, may I ask?” and she leaned forward
questioningly in her chair.

“She is a—a friend,” he replied, flushing to the roots of his hair. Then
he continued, softly, his eyes lighting up with love and devotion, “An’
she is as sweet and fragrant as a sprig of pure white heather plucked
from her native Highlands.”

“Aye, and she’ll make a fine wife for Robert,” added Mrs. Burns
complacently.

“Aye, finer than I deserve, mither,” he replied, looking uneasily at
Jean, who had started violently, then quickly leaned back against the
door post, pale and trembling.

“Marry her? Never! He cannot, he must not,” she muttered to herself,
frantically.

“Why, Jean!” cried Lady Glencairn, going to her in sudden alarm. “What
ails you, why do you look so wild?”

“I—I’m—a pain gripped my heart most suddenly,” she faltered. “I find it
over warm here,” she gasped. “I’ll await you without,” and she left the
room, a strange, frightened look on her pale face.

With a puzzled frown Lady Glencairn turned and sank thoughtfully into a
chair. Looking up suddenly, she caught Robert’s eye fastened upon her
face in eager scrutiny. “Let me see, what were we speaking about?” she
inquired indifferently.

“Ye were kind enough to ask me about my poetry,” answered Rob quietly.
Jean’s queer behavior troubled him. What did it all mean? He feared she
had aroused suspicion in her ladyship’s mind.

“Oh, to be sure, and I vow I’m curious,” she replied brightly. “I should
like to read one of your poems, Mr. Burns, if you have one at hand.”

“He has bushels of them in the attic, your ladyship,” eagerly spoke Mrs.
Burns.

“Aye, mother,” laughed Robert, “all waiting for the publisher. Here is
one I but this day scribbled off, if—if ye really care to read it,” he
added bashfully, taking a scrap of paper from the pocket of his loose
shirt and handing it to Lady Glencairn.

She took it with a smile of amused indifference. A farmer and a poet!
the idea was absurd. With an almost imperceptibly sarcastic lifting of
her delicate eyebrows she read the title, “‘Flow gently, sweet Afton,
among thy green braes.’” Then she read the verse in growing wonder and
astonishment. She had thought to please him with a word of praise,
even if they were laughably commonplace and prosaic; but it was with
genuine enthusiasm that she heartily cried, “Really, ’tis a gem, Mr.
Burns, so charming withal, such beautiful sentiment, and writ in most
excellent style. Read it, James,” and she handed it to Lord Glencairn,
who carefully perused it with apparent delight in its rhythmic beauty of
composition.

“Thank ye, my lady,” replied Robert, flushing. “Your praise is o’er sweet
to my hungry ear.” She gazed at him in open admiration.

“Here, Robert, are some more,” cried Mrs. Burns, entering the room with a
box, which she placed before her son. “Show his lordship these, laddie,”
and she hovered nervously around, her face flushed with excitement,
watching anxiously every look and expression that passed over the faces
of their guests.

Robert opened the box and selected a few of the poems at random, which he
handed to Lord Glencairn without a word.

“‘A man’s a man for a’ that,’ ‘Willie brewed a peck of malt,’ ‘Holy
Willie’s Prayer,’ ‘The Lass of Balbehmyle,’” read Lord Glencairn slowly,
glancing over their titles. Then he read them through earnestly, his
noble face expressing the interest he felt; then with a sigh of pleasure
he passed them to Lady Glencairn, who devoured the written pages eagerly,
her face flushed and radiant. When she had finished, she leaned back in
her chair and fixed her luminous eyes upon her husband’s beaming face.

“James,” said she decidedly, “you will please me well if you will
influence some publisher to accept this young man’s poems and place them
before the public. I’m sure he is most deserving, and—he interests me
greatly.” There was a peculiar glitter in her half-closed eyes as she
gazed intently at Robert with an enigmatic smile parting her red lips.
The gracious lady with her high-bred air, her alluring smile, her extreme
condescension, was a revelation to the country-bred lad, who was brought
in close contact for the first time with one so far above his station in
life. He felt his awkwardness more than he had ever thought possible as
he felt her critical eyes fastened upon him and heard her honeyed words
of praise and encouragement.

“Mr. Burns,” said his lordship earnestly, “your poems interest me
greatly, and I declare such genius as you display should be given an
opportunity to develop. It will afford me much pleasure to take these
verses, with your permission, back with me to Edinburgh and submit them
to Sir William Creech, who is the largest publisher there, and a personal
friend of mine, and if he accepts these poems as a criterion of your
artistic ability, without the least doubt your success will be at once
assured.” He put them carefully in the large wallet he had taken from an
inside pocket while he was talking, and replaced it within his coat.

Robert looked at him, hardly daring to believe his ears. “I—I canna find
words to express my unbounded gratitude to you, my lord,” he faltered,
his voice low and shaking.

“I’d advise you to make a collection of your poems, my lad,” continued
Lord Glencairn quietly, touched by the sight of Robert’s expressive
features, which he was vainly trying to control. “Chiefly those in the
Scottish dialect; they are new and will create a sensation. Have them
ready to forward to town when sent for.” There was a tense silence for a
moment when he had finished.

Robert dared not trust his voice to speak, to utter his thanks. Finally
he burst out. “My lord, how can I ever thank ye for this unlooked-for
generosity to an absolute stranger!” he cried brokenly. “For years
I have been praying for a publisher to edit my songs, but I could
see no silver lining to the dark clouds of obscurity hanging over my
unhappy, friendless head, clouds which threatened to engulf me in
their maddening embrace. But now,” he continued eloquently, his voice
ringing with gladness, “the bright sunlight is peeping around the fast
disappearing cloud, warming my very soul with its joyous rays. Oh, my
lord, if ever the name of Robert Burns should e’en become familiar to his
countrymen,’twill be through your graciousness, your benevolence, to a
poor unknown, humble plowman,” and his eyes filled with tears of love and
gratitude for his noble benefactor.

Lord Glencairn took a pinch of snuff from the small oblong box he held in
his hand, and used his handkerchief vigorously to conceal the tears of
sympathy which had welled up in his eyes as he listened to the recital
of Robert’s ambitions, his hopes and fears.

“My dear lad,” he said, trying to speak lightly, “I have done nothing as
yet to deserve such fulsome words of thanks. ’Tis but a trifling thing I
propose doing, and it pleases me, else perhaps I might not trouble myself
to speak in your behalf.”

“Ah, noo, sir,” cried Mrs. Burns, wiping away the tears of joy, “’tis
your big, noble heart which prompts ye to assist a struggling genius to
something better, higher, and nobler in this life. God bless ye for it.”

The door opened, and Gilbert Burns quietly entered the room. Removing his
Tam O’Shanter, he bowed respectfully to Lord Glencairn and said briefly,
“Your Lordship’s coach is repaired.”

With a word of thanks Lord Glencairn rose and assisted his wife into her
cloak.

“Thank goodness we can proceed on our journey while it is yet light,” she
said animatedly, going to the door.

“I assure you, Mistress Burns, we have enjoyed your hospitality amazing
well,” said Lord Glencairn, turning to their hostess. “Believe me, we’ll
not forget it.”

They left the house, followed by their admiring hosts. Suddenly Lady
Glencairn gave a little cry of delighted surprise as her eyes rested on
the drooping figure of Highland Mary, sitting disconsolately on a large
rock beside the old well. “What a sweet, pretty flower of a lass!” she
cried enthusiastically. “Come here, child,” she called aloud. Mary looked
up quickly with a little gasp of surprise, for she had not noticed them
come out. She rose bashfully to her feet and stood hesitating, her eyes
timidly fixed on a piece of heather she was holding in her hand.

Lady Glencairn laughed amusedly. “I vow ’tis an uncommon modest shy
wildflower truly,” she said to her husband. “Come here, child, I’ll not
bite you,” and she held out her hands toward the wondering girl.

With a little silvery, timid laugh Mary walked quickly toward her. “I’m
no afraid, my lady,” she replied quietly, but her heart was beating very
fast, nevertheless, as she stood before the great lady, who was watching
the flower-like face, with the delicate pink color coming and going, with
such apparent admiration.

“That’s our Highland Mary,” triumphantly cried Souter, who had just come
upon the scene.

“Oh, indeed,” replied her ladyship brightly. “So you are Highland Mary.”

“Yes, my lady,” answered Mary with a quaint little courtesy.

“Isn’t she a dear,” said Lady Glencairn aloud to her husband.

She turned to Robert, who was proudly watching Mary, with eyes aglow
with love and happiness. “No wonder, Mr. Burns,” she said, a sigh
involuntarily escaping her as she noted his rapt gaze, “that you have
sought to portray in song and verse the sweet loveliness of this fair
maiden.” Then she turned suddenly to Mary.

“You’re a very pretty child,” she said carelessly. “But I suppose you
know that well ere this.” She laughed cynically and turned away.

“She isna used to such compliments, your ladyship,” said Robert, noticing
the embarrassed blush that mounted to Mary’s cheek. “She’s o’er shy, ye
ken.”

“That’s the kind we raise in the Highlands,” declared Souter with a
satisfied air.

“Come, James, it grows late,” wearily said Lady Glencairn, taking her
husband’s arm. “And here is the coach.” As the vehicle with its prancing
black horses champing restlessly at their bits drew up to the gate, she
turned to Mary and said condescendingly, “Good-by, child; I suppose some
day, when Mr. Burns is the Bard of Scotland, we’ll see you in town with
him. Be sure to come and see me at Glencairn Hall.”

“Thank ye, my lady,” replied Mary, courtesying deeply, fortunately not
discerning the sarcasm in the tired tones of the great lady’s voice.

Lord Glencairn helped her into the coach, and then turned to Robert with
outstretched hand. “My lad,” he said cordially, “you may expect to hear
from me or Sir William Creech very shortly. Good-by.”

“Good-by, sir,” replied Robert, “and may Heaven bless you.”

“Oh, Lud,” cried Lady Glencairn as they were about to start, “we’re
forgetting Jean.”

“The young lady strolled alang,” answered Gilbert quietly. “She said you
would overtake her on the road.”

Lady Glencairn thanked him with a careless nod, and then leaned far out
of the door to Robert. “Remember, Mr. Burns,” she said softly, pressing
his hand, “I expect to see you in Edinburgh very soon, don’t forget,”
and with another lingering look, full of meaning, she withdrew into the
coach, and soon they were gone in a cloud of dust, while he stood there
gazing after them like one in a dream with the last rays of the setting
sun lighting up his dark, passionate face.

“Hurra! ’tis luck ye’re in, laddie,” shouted Souter in his ear. “The
gentry have noticed ye. Ye should be dancing for joy, mon. I’m off to
tell the lads of your good fortune,” and away he sped to the village,
eager as any old gossip to spread the glorious news.

“Isna it all like a dream, Mary?” sighed Mrs. Burns rapturously, leading
the way into the house, followed by the two lovers, who entered hand
in hand and seated themselves in blissful silence on the high-backed
settle under the window, their favorite seat. For a few moments they sat
motionless, regarding each other with moist eyes. It almost seemed too
good to be true. In a few weeks perhaps Robert would be a great man,
thought Mary proudly. “Weel, I always did have faith in Robert’s poetry,”
suddenly declared Mrs. Burns with conviction.

Robert smiled at his mother’s words. “They would all say that now,” he
thought, but without bitterness, for it was only the way of the world
after all.

“Ye’ll soon hae riches noo,” said Mary happily.

“Aye, then ye shall hae a fine new gown, and—and we will be married noo,
instead of waiting,” answered Robert, taking her tenderly in his arms.

“’Tis a bonnie, bonnie pair ye make,” said Mrs. Burns lovingly. “May God
bless ye,” and she softly stole away, leaving them to their feast of
love.

[Illustration: “Slipped quickly behind an old beech tree.”]



CHAPTER VII


Jean left the house filled with terrified dismay. Robert going to
marry another? then what would become of her? She would be disgraced
and ruined. The thought drove her frantic. “He shall not marry her; he
shall give me the protection of his name, for the time being at least,”
she said to herself angrily. Afterward, the marriage could be easily
annulled; she did not want him. She did not want to be tied for life to
any farmer, not she. She would then return to Edinburgh. But suppose he
would not consent to such an arrangement? Well she would scare him into
it. He was as much to blame as she was anyway. She would not wait to
write him after all; she would tell him now. There was nothing to fear.
She would wait until the others had started, then come back and force her
claim. If they went on without her, it did not matter much; it was not
far to the Inn, she mused determinedly. She stopped in her rapid walk and
retraced her steps. As she neared the cottage the door opened and her
god-parents came out, and with them were Robert and the others. Before
they could perceive her, however, she slipped quickly behind an old beech
tree back of the well and nearest the house. Breathlessly, impatiently,
she waited while they talked, and talked, till she thought they would
never go. Then when the coach came and the attendant excitement of its
departure, like a guilty creature she stole noiselessly across the
intervening space to the cottage, slipped through the open door, and hid
herself behind the fireplace, where Mary had concealed herself some weeks
before.

After Mrs. Burns left the room Jean came boldly out from her hiding place
and stood before the startled couple, who gazed at her in amazement. She
looked at them insolently, a sneer on her full lips.

“Sorry to disturb you, Mr. Burns,” she interrupted sarcastically. The
color slowly faded from his ruddy face. Was she going to expose that
shameful page in his past history to this innocent child? Would she dare,
could she be so reckless, so shameless? he asked himself fearfully.

“I thought ye had gone,” he said, dangerously calm, stepping up to her.

“I could not go till I had delivered a message,” she explained, dropping
her eyes before the determined light in his.

“What is it?” he asked, puzzled by her tone and manner.

“It is of great importance and for your ears alone,” she replied glibly.
“I’m sure this lady—Miss Campbell, is it not?—will not mind leaving us
for a moment,” and she smiled amiably into Mary’s innocent inquiring
face.

He led Mary gently to the door. “It’ll be only for a moment, Mary,” he
said quietly.

“I dinna’ mind,” she answered brightly. “’Tis near time for me to be
going hame, ye ken,” and with a smile she left them together.

“Noo, then, what is your message?” he said with calm abruptness, as the
door closed.

“This!” and she threw back her head defiantly. “You must give up this
Mary Campbell.”

He looked at her in amazement. “What do ye mean?” he gasped, opening his
eyes in bewilderment.

“I mean you must make me your wife.” Her pale and agitated face made him
wonder if she had gone quite daft. Before he could answer she continued
stridently, “You must marry me now, before it is too late, too late to
save my name from dishonor and disgrace. Now do you understand?”

A look of incredulous horror slowly blanched his face to ashy whiteness.
Had he heard aright? Surely she was jesting; it could not be possible—and
yet, why not? His haggard eyes searched her colorless face as though he
would read her very soul. Calmly she bore the scrutiny and then, with a
groan of anguish, he sank into a chair, weak and trembling. “I canna, I
willna, believe,” he muttered hoarsely. “It’s a lie, it’s a lie, Jean
Armour!”

“It’s the truth, I tell you,” she cried passionately, wringing her hands.
“What else think you would force me, the rich Belle of Mauchline, to
humble my pride and stoop to plead to a poverty-stricken farmer to wed
me?” She laughed wildly.

“Can it be true, can it be true?” he whispered to himself dully. He felt
dazed by the suddenness, the total unexpectedness, of the blow. He closed
his eyes wearily. What was it she wanted him to do, he could not think.
He sat dumbly waiting for her to speak again.

“You must write out an acknowledgment and sign your name to it,” she
continued, her voice low and insistent. “It is an irregular marriage I
know, but it will save me from my father’s wrath, when I can keep my
plight from him no longer.” He still remained silent, his face hidden
in his hands. “Will you do this?” she demanded anxiously, “or,” and
her voice grew hard and threatening, “or shall I appeal to the Parish
officers to help me save my good name from disgrace?” Quickly he raised
his head. At his look of indignant scorn she winced and turned away,
flushing angrily.

With a mirthless little laugh he retorted with bitter emphasis, “Your
good name, indeed!”

She turned on him defiantly. “I was no worse than other girls,” she
flippantly retorted. “Only more unfortunate. Will you do what I ask?
Quick, tell me, someone is coming!” She nervously caught his hand. He did
not speak. His face grew haggard and old-looking as he stood motionless,
forming his resolution. It seemed to her an eternity before he answered
her.

“So be it,” he answered hoarsely, drawing his hand away from hers
and moving slowly to the door. “I’ll send ye the lines by the posty
to-morrow.”

With a cry of delight she gratefully held out her hand to him. But he
quietly opened the door, and, without a word or look at her, stood
silently holding it back, his head bowed low on his bosom, his face
cold and repellent. Slowly Jean walked past him out into the deepening
twilight. She felt a dawning pity in her heart for the wretched lad. She
could not quite forget those old, happy days, those stolen walks and
trysts along the banks of the Ayr. No one could make love so ardently as
he, she thought with a sigh. Of all her lovers he had been the favorite,
he was so ingenuous, so trustful and confiding, and yet so reckless, so
imprudent and weak. She knew well he had never really loved her, and the
thought had made her strive all the harder to win him. He was flattered
by her open preference for him, and soon became an easy victim, a slave,
to her seductive charms and sophisticated fascinations, for he was only
human. And now the heart of that little dairymaid would be broken. A
quick pang of shame and regret stole over her, but she instantly stifled
it. She must think of self first, she told herself uneasily. Anyway she
only wanted the marriage lines in case people should point an accusing
finger at her. Later—well, the marriage could be annulled privately, and
no one be the wiser, for marriages were easily annulled in Scotland. She
walked briskly to where the coach was standing, for they were waiting for
her, determined to cast all gloomy, depressing thoughts from her for the
time at least.

Robert mechanically closed the door behind her and walked slowly to the
dresser. Taking from it a bottle of ink and a quill, he carried them to
the table, and placing them upon it, sank heavily in a chair. Long he sat
there, pen in hand, the victim of the profoundest melancholy, the deepest
despair. The thought that it was his own fault, his indifference to
consequences, his recklessness, his weak, sinful folly, that had plunged
himself and others into the awful abyss of grief and sorrow, was like the
bitterness of death to him. As he sat there with drawn and haggard face,
while bitter regret gnawed deeply at his conscience, the plaintive tones
of Mary’s voice came through the window, singing softly:

    “Ye banks and braes of bonnie Doon,
    How can ye bloom sae fresh and fair?”

A groan of agony escaped the grief-stricken man at the sound of the
voice, which was sweeter than all else in the world to him.

“Mary, my lost Highland Mary!” he cried aloud, “how can I give ye up
forever?” and throwing himself across the table he wept bitter tears of
anguish and remorse.

    “How can ye chant, ye little birds,
    An’ I sae weary, fu’ o’ care?”

continued the sweet voice in mournful cadence. Softly the words floated
to the ears of the sorrowing man, like the echo of his own harrowing
thoughts.

As Mary reached the open window she paused and gazed into the room
eagerly. As she sees her lover sitting there so silent and alone, her
smile is very sweet and tender.

“Dear laddie; asleep,” she whispers softly. “He must be o’er tired after
his hard day’s work. God bless my laddie,” and with a smile of ineffable
sweetness, she wafted a kiss to the bowed head and quickly passed on,
wending her lonely way back to Castle Montgomery, while the man sitting
there in agonized silence, with clenched teeth and tense muscles, slowly
raised his head to listen, in heart-broken silence, to her sweet voice
floating back to him in silvery melody, as she took up the broken thread
of her song:

    “Thou’lt break my heart, thou warbling bird,
    That wantons thro’ the flow’ring thorn.
    Thou minds me o’ departed joys,
    Departed, never to return.”

The song died away in the distance.

“God pity her, God pity me,” he murmured brokenly.



CHAPTER VIII


From the huge, low ceilinged kitchen of Castle Montgomery, which was
ablaze with light, came the gladsome sound of mirth and revelry, for

    “Some merry countre folks togither did convene,
    To burn their nits and pou’ their stocks, and hold their hallowe’en,
    For blythe that night.”

For miles around the annual invitations had been sent broadcast, and
to-night the capacious kitchen was taxed to its utmost. It was, however,
a singularly good-natured, if over-hilarious, gathering that had
assembled to do justice to old Bess’s cooking, and to test their fate
through the medium of the many charms so well known to all the peasantry.

There was Poosie Nancy in her stiffly-starched frilled cap and her new
kirtle, complacently nodding here and there to all of her acquaintances
as they flocked about her. Poosie Nancy was a merry old soul. For years
she had been the mistress of the Arms Inn, the public house on the high
road, where Souter and Tam O’Shanter were wont to idle away their time
and, incidentally, their “siller.” Standing on one foot behind her was
Molly Dunn. Molly was consciously resplendent in a new plaid frock, made
by her own unskilled hands, and while it was certainly not a thing of
beauty, it surely was a joy forever, to the lassies, who laughingly
twitted her about her handiwork. But she heeded not their good-natured
jibes. She was admiringly watching Daddy Auld, the little old minister,
who sat in the midst of an admiring group of his parishioners at the
other side of the room, who evidently stood in no awe of him, judging
from the bursts of laughter which greeted his frequent attempts at
jocularity.

“Where is Tam O’Shanter, Souter Johnny?” suddenly asked old Bess, who
was proudly doing the honors as mistress of ceremonies. Souter was
assiduously paying court to the comely Poosie Nancy in the opposite
corner with an eye to future possibilities.

“He willna be here till late,” he replied impatiently, addressing the
crowd. “I left him at the Arms Inn, an’ if he drinks much mair whisky,
he will na’ be here at all, I’m thinkin’,” and he turned eagerly to his
inamorata, who was fanning herself indifferently with a plantain leaf.

“He’ll fall into the Doon some night an’ be drowned, sure as fate,” said
she, carelessly dismissing the subject.

“Take your partners for the reel!” shouted big Malcolm Macræ
stentoriously, at this juncture. Old Donald tuned up his fiddle with
gleeful alacrity.

Souter ceremoniously offered Poosie his arm, which she condescendingly
accepted, and majestically they walked to the middle of the floor. With
much laughing and joking and good-natured rivalry, they were all quickly
paired off, and soon the rafters rang with the happy voices of the
hilarious dancers as they merrily sang to the tune that blind Donald was
scratching out on his old and faithful, though unmelodious, fiddle.

Mary had taken no part in the merrymaking, for she felt heavy and sad
at heart. From her seat in the corner, where the light was the dimmest,
she had watched the door with patient anxiety, hoping against hope that
Robert would come, but she had waited in vain, and now the evening was
nearly spent and soon they would be going home, happy and tired after
their sport and entertainment, while she would steal away to her quarters
over the kitchen and cry herself to sleep, as she had done for many
nights past. Souter Johnny, who was in his element and the merriest of
them all, had tried vainly to induce her to join the revelers in their
sport, and many an honest laddie had sought her hand in the dance,
only to be shyly refused. So gradually she was left in peace, and soon
forgotten amid the excitement of their diversions. They had tried some of
the famous charms, which decided the destinies of many of the lads and
lassies that night, and now old Bess brought forth her long-hoarded bag
of nuts, which she divided among them. Amid shouts of mirth and laughter,
they proceeded to test the most famous of all the charms. As they rushed
pell-mell to the fireplace and laid each particular nut in the fire,
for which they had named the lad or lassie of their choice, and stood
there eagerly watching, open-mouthed, to see how they would burn, Mary,
with a quickly beating heart, stole unperceived close to the front row of
watchers, and with a little prayer, quietly threw her pair into the fire.
For a moment they burned slowly side by side, then with a hop and a jump
they popped madly about, and finally at opposite sides of the fireplace
they glowed redly for a time, then expired altogether. With a little,
suppressed sob, unheeded in the general excitement, she hurried back to
her seat, pale and trembling. It was as she had feared: the course of
their love was never again to run smoothly, the charm had spoken. It
had never been known to predict wrongly. Why had she sought to find out
her fate? she asked herself pathetically. Unheeding the merry songs and
dances going on around her, of which they never seemed to weary, and
the unco tales and funny jokes, she sat there thinking her sweet, sad
thoughts, and patiently waiting till they should depart for their homes,
that she might seek the quiet of her bed, where her aching heart might
find relief in the tears which nowadays were so hard to control. Suddenly
the laughter subsided, and Mary with a start raised her head to see all
eyes turned on her.

“Mary, come here, lass,” called Souter Johnny, who was fanning himself
vigorously.

“It’s your turn noo, Mary,” they cried boisterously. “So gie us a dance
or a song,” and they all pressed around her with good-natured suggestions.

Old Bess took the shrinking girl by the hand, and leading her forward,
with a deep courtesy announced, “Hieland Mary will favor us wi’ a song,”
then she left Mary standing in the center of the room suffering agonies
of dread as she raised her frightened eyes to the group of laughing,
good-natured, gaping faces about her.

“I canna’ sing, I canna’ sing, Souter,” she faltered, turning to him
beseechingly.

“Yes, ye can, dearie, just a—a verse, there’s a girlie,” he answered
encouragingly. “Come and stand beside me, if that’s any inspiration to
ye,” he added, smiling good-humoredly.

She ran to his side, and clutching him by the arm, tried to muster up her
courage, for the good-natured audience were clamorously demanding a song.
With a frightened little gasp she began to sing the first thing that came
to her mind. “Oh, where, and oh, where is my Highland laddie gone?” she
faltered out. A little titter passed through the crowd, for they knew
that “Rab Burns was nae longer sweet on Mary Campbell,” as they told each
other in loud whispers. At the cruel sound Mary, whose lips had trembled
ominously as she thought of her recreant lover, with an indignant look
at the thoughtless ones, burst into a flood of tears. Quickly Souter
led her sobbing to a seat, while the others anxiously crowded round,
conscience-stricken at their thoughtless levity.

“What’s happent? what’s happent? Has she fainted?” they asked in helpless
confusion, gazing from one to the other.

“She’s only a wee bittie tired,” answered old Souter, tenderly smoothing
the hair of the sorrowing lass. “Let her alone an’ she’ll be all right.
Donald,” he called, “start your fiddle; we’re gang to hae anither dance.”

The blind old patriarch smiled serenely, and raising his fiddle to his
chin began to play, and soon the mirth and fun grew fast and furious as
the dancers reeled and set, and crosst and cleekit.

While old Donald was playing, and the dance was well started, Souter
quietly led Mary out in the open air, and sitting down on the doorstep,
he drew her gently beside him. “Noo, Mary, what is the matter?” he
inquired kindly. “Winna ye tell old Souter Johnny your trouble?”

“Ye ken why I am unhappy, Souter Johnny,” answered Mary apathetically. He
sighed and remained silent.

“Have ye an’ Robert quarreled?” he asked presently.

“No,” she answered sadly.

“Weel, come tell old Souter; it may ease your mind, lassie,” and he drew
her plaid about her shoulders, for the night air was keen.

“Well, ye ken, Souter,” she faltered, a pitiful little break in her
voice, “Robbie an’ I were to be married after the plantin’ was o’er, and
’tis noo harvest time, but ne’er a word has he spoke of our marriage
since that day. He is so changed, Souter, I—I canna understand him at
all,” and she leaned wearily against his shoulder like a tired child.

“That Armour lass is at the bottom of it all, I ken,” thought Souter
angrily, drawing her close to him.

“Perhaps,” continued Mary sadly, “perhaps he has grown tired of his
Highland Mary.” She plucked idly at the fringe of her plaid, a look of
resignation on her sweet face.

“Tired o’ ye?” repeated Souter incredulously. “A man would be a most
fearful fool to gie up such a bonnie, sweet lassie as ye are. Noo, if I
were only younger, Robbie Burns wouldna hae things all his own way, I
tell ye,” and he nodded his head vigorously.

“I ken he has some trouble,” said Mary, not heeding his jocular efforts
to cheer her, “that makes him so unhappy like; if he would only let me
share that trouble wi’ him, whate’er it is, how gladly I would do it.”

Souter rubbed his bearded chin reflectively.

“Weel, Mary, ye ken Robert’s a genius,” he answered soberly. “An’ ye
can ne’er tell how a genius is gang to act, therefore ye must ne’er be
surprised, Mary, at whate’er he does, for genius is but anither name for
eccentricity an’—an’ perverseness,” and he sighed deeply, his kind old
face wrinkled with perplexity.

“I feel, Souter,” she continued, pathetically calm, “that I am slowly,
but surely, drifting out o’ his life forever.” She gazed suddenly into
the face bending over her solicitously.

“Dinna ye know the cause, Souter?” she asked beseechingly.

He brushed his hand across his eyes and slowly shook his head. She sighed
patiently and turned away her head and gazed listlessly into space. For a
few moments there was deep silence, broken only by the bursts of laughter
which came to them at intervals from within.

“Lassie, listen to me,” finally said the old man, his voice cheery and
hopeful once more. “Ye mustna be so down-hearted; there is a cause
for everything in this world, an’ I ken Robert loves ye wi’ all his
heart, just the same as ever. Why, ye can see the glimmer o’ love in
his e’e whene’er he looks at ye.” He smiled approvingly as Mary’s face
brightened, then continued decidedly, “Robert is well-nigh daft that he
hasna heard frae Lord Glencairn all this time; that is why he is sae
worrid an’ nervous, sae moody an’ neglectful; noo cheer thee, lassie,
it’ll all come right in time,” and he patted her shoulder lovingly.

“Oh, I feel sae much better, Souter,” she murmured, pressing his hand
gratefully. “An’ noo I’ll na borrow trouble any mair, thinkin’ Robert
doesna’ love me.” She smiled happily and jumped lightly to her feet.

“Whist, Mary, why dinna ye make sure o’ that?” whispered Souter, looking
around him mysteriously. She looked at him wonderingly. “’Tis Hallowe’en,
ye ken, an’ a’ the witches an’ fairies are about this night an’ will
grant any wish made. Try a charm, lassie.”

“I did try one,” replied Mary with a sigh. “I burned the nuts, but it
didna’ come out right; that’s what made me sad.”

“Ah, weel, try anither; go pull a stock.”

“Oh, nay, I’m afraid to go out in the field at night,” she replied
timidly, drawing back. “But I’ll go if ye’ll come wi’ me.” She held out
her hand to him.

“Nay, thank ye, Mary,” he said grimly. “I dinna’ care to see the face o’
my future wife just yet; I fear I couldna’ stand the shock.”

“Well, I darena’ go alone,” answered Mary decidedly, her hand on the
latch. “Think of anither charm, one I can do indoors.”

“An’ do ye think the fairies will come around where ’tis light?” he cried
in amazement. “Och, no, ye must go to the darkest place ye can find.”
His little round eyes gazed into hers with solemn earnestness.

Mary shivered with apprehension and peered into the darkness. “Oh,
Souter, think o’ the witches,” she said nervously.

“They willna’ hurt ye,” he answered a little impatiently. “Ye maun sow a
handful of hempseed an’ harrow it o’er wi’ anything ye can draw after ye,
an’ repeat o’er and o’er,” assuming a guttural monotone:

    “Hempseed, I sow thee; hempseed, I sow thee,
    And him that is to be my true love,
    Come after me and draw thee.”

“And will I see him then?” whispered Mary eagerly, drawing near to him.

“Aye,” returned Souter hoarsely. “Look over your left shoulder an’
ye’ll see your future husband pullin’ hemp. Noo, off wi’ ye; ye’ll
find some seed in the barn.” Mary tried to summon up her courage, for
she was highly superstitious, like all the peasantry, and was anxious
to test the potency of the charm, and finally succeeded in taking a
few faltering footsteps in the direction of the barn, when suddenly
the door behind them opened, and Molly Dunn appeared in the doorway.
She held in one hand a lighted candle, while in the other she carried
a broken piece of looking-glass, into which she was gazing intently,
her eyes fixed and staring. Behind her, crowding through the doorway,
followed the now noiseless revelers, who were stifling their laughter to
breathlessly watch the outcome of the well-known charm, whose power Molly
had decided to put to a test, though believing staunchly in its potency.
Molly majestically walked down the steps and across to the well, where,
depositing her mirror on the curbing, she took from the pocket of her
skirt a round, red apple, from which she bit a goodly piece and began
vigorously to chew upon it, the while holding her candle above her head
and anxiously watching her reflection in the mirror.

“Molly’s eatin’ the apple at the glass,” chuckled Souter to Mary softly.
“She’s lookin’ for the face o’ her future husband. Let’s hae some fun wi’
her.” He motioned to them all to keep silent, and stealing softly over to
the unconscious Molly, intoned in a deep sepulchral voice, “Molly Dunn,
if ye would see your future husband, dinna’ ye dare turn your head this
way.”

Molly gave a shriek of terror, thereby choking herself with the piece of
apple she was industriously eating, and falling on her knees, her teeth
chattering in fear, she cried frantically, “The witches! the witches!”

“Nay, I’m the Deil himsel’,” answered Souter in awe-inspiring accents.
Molly groaned aloud, in mortal terror, not daring to turn around. “An’
I’ve come for ye, Molly Dunn,” slowly continued her tormentor.

“Nay, nay!” cried Molly, her eyes staring wildly in front of her. “I want
naught to do wi’ ye; gang awa’, gang awa’!” and she wildly waved her
hands behind her.

“Not till ye’ve seen the face o’ the man ye’ll wed,” replied the voice.
“Beauteous fairy of Hallowe’en, come forth,” he commanded majestically,
beckoning to Mary to come nearer. She did so. “Speak, kind fairy.” He
whispered to her what to say to the awestruck Molly.

Thus admonished, Mary, who was once more her old light-hearted winsome
self, raised her sweet voice and spoke in a high falsetto, “Gaze in the
looking-glass, Molly Dunn; eat o’ the apple, think o’ the one ye desire
to see, an’ his face will appear beside yours.”

“Behold, I pass the magic wand o’er your head, ye faithless woman,” added
Souter threateningly.

Hurriedly Molly complied with the injunctions, and patiently she knelt
there, apple in hand, the candle light glaring full on her eager, ugly
face, and the wisp of faded hair tied tightly on top of her head, which
was waving wildly about, while she waited for the face to appear beside
her own reflection in the glass.

“Do ye see him yet?” asked Mary eagerly, forgetting her rôle of “The
Fairy of Hallowe’en,” and speaking in her natural tone, while the
group at the doorway drew closer to the kneeling woman in their excited
curiosity.

“Nay, not yet,” replied Molly in an awestruck whisper.

“Hold the candle higher,” admonished Souter, “an’ eat quicker.” Molly
did so. “Noo do you see your handsome lover?” He crept up slyly behind
Molly, and bending over her shoulder, peered into the glass, where he
beheld the shadowy reflection of his own face looming up beside that of
the wondering Molly. With a gasp of pleasure not unmixed with fear, she
dropped the glass, and turning quickly grabbed the surprised Souter and
held him close. As she raised her candle to see whom the fairies had
sent to her, she recognized her tormentor, and with a shriek of rage,
she clouted the laughing Souter over the head with her candlestick, amid
peals of laughter from the delighted spectators, until he called for
mercy.

“Dinna I suit ye, Molly?” he asked in an injured tone, nursing his sorely
punished head.

“Ye skelpie limmer’s face, ye, how dare ye try sich sportin’ wi’ me?” she
cried angrily.

“The glass canna’ lie,” called out old Bess with a shake of her frilled
cap.

“An’ ye seen Souter’s face there, Molly,” laughed Poosie Nancy loudly.
“There’s no gainsaying that.”

“I want a braw mon, a handsome mon,” whimpered Molly. “Ye’re no a mon at
all, ye wee skelpie limmer.” The burst of laughter which greeted this
sally was very disconcerting to Souter, whose height, five feet two
inches, was distinctly a sore subject.

“Try anither charm, Molly,” said Mary, feeling sorry for the poor
innocent.

“Aye, I will,” replied Molly eagerly, drying her tears with the back of
her hand.

“Then come alang,” said Souter, ready to make amends. “Come an’ pull a
stock. Gie me your hand.” She did so eagerly. “Noo shut your eyes tight;
that’s it; come along noo.” But Molly braced herself and refused to move.

“I’m afeered o’ the dark an’ the witches,” she faltered, her teeth
chattering, her eyes so tightly closed that her face was drawn into a
mass of deep wrinkles.

They all crowded round the couple with words of praise and encouragement,
and presently Molly was persuaded to take a step forward and then
another, and finally the two moved slowly away and were swallowed up in
the darkness.

Meanwhile the rest of the revelers, after a whispered consultation,
hurried to the outhouse, amid smothered shrieks of laughter.

Molly and Souter walked slowly and timidly toward the field of corn,
which looked unreal and shadowy in the pale moonlight. Molly’s few
remaining teeth were now chattering so loudly that Souter began to grow
nervous. He jerked her arm impatiently.

“Be a mon, Molly,” he hoarsely whispered, his voice a little shaky.

“I’m afeered to,” she answered, opening her eyes and looking fearfully
around. They took a few more stumbling step, then stopped.

“Och, get off my foot, ye towsie tyke!” cried Souter. Molly hastily
removed the offending member and on they went again. Suddenly they
stopped, rooted to the spot in terror. A low, blood-curdling moan had
rent the stillness. Again it came, chilling the very blood in their veins
by its awful weirdness.

“The witches! the witches!” gasped Molly in abject fear.

Turning, they beheld a sight that caused their hair to stand on end,
“the marrow to congeal in their bones,” as Souter afterward explained
the sensation which came over him. Coming toward them was a score or
more of hideous apparitions with fire blazing from their eyes and their
horribly grinning mouths, and groaning and moaning like lost souls. With
a mortal cry of terror, the frightened couple sped on wings of fear back
to the friendly light of the kitchen, the ghostly figures darting after
them with diabolical bursts of laughter. As they slammed the door of
the house behind them their pursuers stopped and quickly blew out their
Jack-o’-Lanterns and then threw them to one side.

“I didna ken mortal mon could e’er run so fast,” snickered Poosie Nancy
to the others as they noiselessly entered the kitchen in time to hear the
wonderful tale of Souter’s hairbreadth escape from the witches.

Another hour of mirth and jollity, of dance and song soon sped around.
Souter and Molly were still the center of an admiring group, for they had
seen the witches with their own eyes, and that distinction was theirs
alone that night. Suddenly the old clock struck twelve, then began a
merry scrambling for bonnets and plaids. Having donned them, they noisily
crowded around their hostesses, who were lined up against the wall,
waiting ceremoniously to be thanked for their hospitality and to bid
their parting guests godspeed. As the darts of homely wit and repartee
flew back and forth among them, causing the lads to burst into uproarious
laughter or to grin in awkward bashfulness, and the lassies to turn their
heads away blushingly or to toss their curls coquettishly, the door burst
in suddenly, and Tam O’Shanter staggered to the center of the floor,
pale, wild-eyed, and disheveled.

“Tam O’Shanter!” they cried, gazing at him in startled amazement. Souter
quickly reached his old cronie’s side.

“What’s the matter, mon? hae ye seen a ghost?” he asked concernedly.

“Aye, worse than that, much worse,” hoarsely replied Tam, wiping the
sweat from off his forehead with a trembling hand.

“What’s happened?” cried old Bess fearfully.

“Calm yoursel’ an’ tell us, Tam,” said Souter soothingly. They brought
him a chair, for he trembled like an aspen leaf. Throwing himself into
it, he gazed about him fearfully, the while struggling to regain his
breath.

“Well,’tis this way, Souter,” he began presently in a husky whisper. “I
left the Arms Inn about an hour ago or thereabouts an’ started for hame,
for ’tis a long ride to Carrick, ye ken, an’ a most uncanny ride e’en in
the daylight.”

“That’s true,” affirmed Poosie Nancy with a nod of conviction to the
others.

“Weel,” continued Tam impressively, “a few miles beyond the Maypole
road ye have to pass a dark, uncanny spot, the cairn where the hunters
found the murdered bairn. Ye ken the spot, Souter?” turning to him for
confirmation.

Souter nodded his head quickly. “Aye, Tam, I ken it weel, for ’twas
near there old Mingo’s mother hanged hersel’.” Old Bess looked over her
shoulder nervously.

“Aye,” eagerly assented Tam, then he continued, “Weel, a weird sight
awaited me there; my blood runs cold noo. Suddenly I heard a sound o’
music and revelry, and Maggie stopped still, frightened stiff. I looked
up, and glimmering thro’ the trees was auld Kirk Alloway all a blaze o’
light.” He paused to note the effect of his astounding statement.

They looked at each other disbelievingly. Some turned angrily away,
muttering to themselves. Was old Tam making sport of them?

“Go alang, mon,” cried Poosie Nancy with an incredulous sniff of her pug
nose. “’Tis naught but an old tumbled down ruin.”

“I’m telling ye gospel truth,” replied Tam earnestly. They crowded around
again, ready to be convinced, though still eying him distrustfully.

“Well, I was nae afraid,” continued Tam bashfully, “for I was inspired
by bold John Barleycorn, so I rode Maggie close to the wall an’ there
thro’ the openin’, I saw inside, and wow! I saw an unco sight!” Tam was
becoming warmed up with his recital. The eager, excited faces crowding
around him had restored his courage and flattered his vanity. He paused
impressively, his eyes fixed and staring, gazing straight past the faces
of his listeners as though he saw the unco sight again. He noted with
pleasure the frightened glances they gave over their shoulders. Then he
proceeded slowly in a sibilant whisper, “There were warlocks and witches
dancin’ hornpipes and jigs around the Kirk, dressed only in their sarks.
There were open coffins standin’ around like clothespresses, an’ in each
coffin stood a corpse holdin’ in its cauld hand a burnin’ light. An’ by
that light I saw two span-lang wee unchristened bairns, white and cold
upon the holy table.” Tam wiped the sweat off his brow and moistened his
dry lips; then he proceeded with his harrowing tale. “Beside the bairns
lay a bloody knife wi’ gray hairs still sticking to the heft an’——”

But with a shudder of fear, their faces blanched and drawn, they
exclaimed in doubting horror, “Nay!” “Stop!” “Out on ye, mon!” “It’s
nae true!” etc. Tam was not to be cut off in the midst of his tale so
unceremoniously.

He rose excitedly from his seat and continued rapidly. “The dancers were
twisting and turning like snakes, and there in a winnock-bunker sat Auld
Nick himsel’, in the shape of a beast, playing the pipes. Och, friends,
it was an inspirin’ sight, and in my excitement I yelled out——”

“What?” cried the lads in unison.

“‘Well done, Cutty Sark!’” shouted Tam, proudly, well pleased at his own
temerity.

They boisterously applauded him for his courage, but the lassies still
clung to each other nervously.

“Then what happened, Tam?” asked Souter quizzingly. He could not quite
bring himself to believe Tam’s improbable tale, he knew the old sinner so
well.

“Weel, the lights went out in an instant,” continued Tam dramatically.
“I had no sooner turned Maggie’s head than out poured those unco witches
like bees buzzin’ in anger. I didna’ stop to meet them, for Maggie,
knowing her danger, bounded off like a terrified deer and plunged off
desperately through the trees toward the brig with all these witches
followin’ wi’ eldritch screeches, close to her heels till I could feel
their breath on my clammy neck. Oh, what an awful moment for me! but I
knew if I could but reach the keystone of the auld brig I would be safe,
for witches darena cross a running stream, ye ken. Mag did her speedy
utmost, but old Nannie pursued close behind and flew at me with tooth and
nail, but she didna’ know my Maggie’s mettle,” Tam laughed gleefully,
“for with one grand leap she reached the brig and saved her master’s
life, just as that Carline Nannie caught her by the rump, an’ my poor
Maggie left behind her old gray tail.”

As he finished his recital he gazed around him triumphantly. There was an
audible sigh of relief from all.

“That’s a burning shame,” said old Bess sympathetically, alluding to the
loss of Maggie’s tail.

“What a wonderful experience ye had, Tam,” cried Poosie Nancy admiringly.
They all congratulated him on his narrow escape and pressed food and
drink on him, showered him with words of praise, and in short made him
out a daring hero, much to Souter’s disgust. He sat apart from the rest
in dignified silence, his heart wounded and sore, for was not his late
ghostly exploit completely ignored and forgotten? “Le Roi est mort, vive
le Roi,” he might have said to himself.

“Listen,” cried Tam, jumping to his feet, his face tense with eagerness.
Faintly the patter, patter of a horse’s hoofs was heard drawing nearer
and nearer.

“’Tis only someone comin’ alang the highway,” said Souter carelessly.

“’Tis my Maggie,” cried Tam almost tearfully. “She’s comin’ back for
her master,” and with a bound he reached the open doorway. A few steps
took him to the stone wall along the other side of which ran the King’s
Highway. “She’s comin’, she’s comin’, my faithful Maggie is comin’,” he
cried joyfully.

“She must be an unco sight wi’out a tail, Tam,” sneered Souter. A roar of
laughter greeted this sarcastic retort.

“Dinna’ ye dare laugh,” cried Tam, turning on them furiously. The
hoofbeats stopped suddenly. In the misty moonlight they caught a
glimpse of a huge white creature, looking very spectral and ghost-like,
impatiently tossing its head from side to side as if in search of
something or someone. With a glad cry Tam vaulted the fence, old as he
was, and dashed down the road, calling lovingly, “I’m comin’, Maggie, I’m
comin’ to ye.” A whinny of delight, a snort of pleasure, greeted him as
he reached his old mare’s side. Then like a phantom, the old gray mare
and her rider sped swiftly past them on into the night and away toward
Carrick.

Silently they watched them, while the hoofbeats grew fainter and fainter
and then were lost to sound. Such was Tam O’Shanter’s tale, the fame of
which soon spread throughout all Ayrshire.



CHAPTER IX


In a sequestered spot beside the brook which runs through the lower end
of the big field at Mossgiel farm, Robert sat dreamily watching the
shallow brook at his feet slowly trickle along over the stones. He had
left the field, his heart filled with anger against his brother, who had
been reproving him for his thoughtlessness, his absent-mindedness; but
gradually his temper had melted, and removing his bonnet from his fevered
brow, he had given himself up to his reveries. A little later Gilbert
found him there, his loose unbleached linen shirt open at the neck,
eagerly writing on a scrap of paper he held in his hand.

The last few weeks Gilbert had thrown off his cloak of habitual reserve,
and had treated his brother with less harshness, less severity. He had
watched the slowly drifting apart of the lovers with wonder and delight.
Could it be that they were tiring of each other? he asked himself over
and over again. If that were so then perhaps some day—but he would not
permit himself to think of the future. He would be happy in the present.
For he was comparatively happy now, happier than he had ever expected to
be. Since Robert’s avoidance of her, Mary had again turned to him for
sympathy, and once more they were on their old friendly footing. True she
was a sad, despondent companion, but he was blissfully happy just to walk
beside her from kirk, to listen to the sound of her sweet voice, even
though his brother was the only topic of conversation, to feel the touch
of her little hand as he helped her over the stile. He thought of all
this now as he regarded his brother in thoughtful silence. Presently he
called his name. Receiving no answer, he strode through the overhanging
willows and touched him quietly on the shoulder.

With a start Robert looked up into his brother’s face, then he turned
slowly away. “What is wrong noo, Gilbert?” he asked bitterly. “It seems I
will be doing nothing right o’ late.”

“Nothin’ is wrong, lad,” replied Gilbert, his face reddening. “I—I only
came to tell ye I am sorry I spoke sae harshly to ye just noo.”

“Say no more, brother,” replied Robert quickly, rising with outstretched
hand, his face bright and smiling. So ready was he to forgive any
unkindness when his pardon was sought. “’Tis all forgot. I ken I do try
your patience sore wi’ my forgetfulness and carelessness, but I couldna’
help it. The voice of the Goddess Muse, whom I adore, suddenly whispered
in my ear and I forgot my work, my surroundings, and stood enraptured,
entranced behind my patient steed, catchin’ the thoughts and fancies that
were tumblin’, burstin’ from my brain, eager to be let loose, and this
is the fruit o’ my inspiration almost perfected.” He handed his brother
the paper on which he had been writing.

“Is it a song of harvesting?” asked Gilbert sarcastically without
glancing at it.

“Nay,” replied Robert softly. “’Tis called the ‘Cotter’s Saturday Night,’
an’ ye will recognize, no doubt, the character and the theme, for ’tis
partly of our own and of our father’s life I have written. ’Tis my best
work, Gilbert, I ken truly.” He eagerly watched his brother’s face as he
slowly read the verses through.

“May the light of success shine on it,” he said kindly, when he had
finished. “But it seems o’er doubtful noo that the world will e’er see
this, or any of your verses, for not a word hae ye heard from Edinburgh
since ye sent Sir William Creech your collection of poems.”

Robert raised his head and regarded his brother in despairing
hopelessness. “I ken it weel, brother,” he replied. “And my heart grows
sick and weary, waitin’, waitin’, for tidings, be they good or bad. Two
lang months have passed since I sent him my collection, an’ still not a
word, not a sign. Nae doubt they were thrown in a corner, overlooked an’
neglected.” For a moment he stood there gazing across the fields, his
vision blurred by the tears of disappointment which filled his eyes. “Oh,
why did Lord Glencairn raise my hopes so high?” he cried passionately,
“only to have them dashed to the ground again.” Gilbert remained silent,
his eyes cast down. The sight of his brother’s misery touched him keenly.
But there was nothing he could say. “I believed him and trusted to his
honor, his promise,” continued Robert dejectedly, “an’ for what?” He put
on his bonnet and clasping his hands behind him in his characteristic
attitude, slowly walked toward the cottage, a prey to his gloomy thoughts.

“Be patient, Rob, yet a while,” said Gilbert encouragingly, as he walked
along beside him. “Who kens what the morrow will bring forth?”

“The morrow?” repeated Robert grimly. “Methinks I’ll ne’er know peace an’
tranquillity again on this earth.”

They strode on in silence. As they neared the cottage Gilbert laid his
hand on his brother’s shoulder, bringing him to a standstill. “Robert,”
he said quietly and firmly, “I want to speak to ye about Mary.”

Robert turned his head away abruptly. “What of her?” he asked in a low
voice.

“What are your intentions toward her?” demanded Gilbert earnestly. “Do ye
intend to marry her, or are ye but triflin’ idly wi’ her affections?”

Robert turned on him quickly. “Triflin’?” he repeated indignantly. “Nay,
Gilbert, ye wrong me deeply.”

“Forgive me, but ye ken Mary is not like other lassies to think lightly
o’,” said Gilbert, his eye searching his brother’s face keenly.

“Heaven forbid,” ejaculated Robert in a low, tense voice.

“I canna’ understand your conduct o’ late,” continued Gilbert earnestly.
“I fear your stay in Mauchline is responsible for the great change in ye,
for ye are not the same lad ye were when ye left hame. I fear ye have
sadly departed from those strict rules of virtue and moderation ye were
taught by your parents, Robert.”

“What mean ye, Gilbert?” inquired Robert, startled.

“Ah, Rob,” responded Gilbert, shaking his head sadly, “I ken mair than ye
think; reports travel e’en in the country.”

The thought that his wild escapades were known to his narrow-minded
though upright brother, and perhaps to others, filled Robert with sudden
shame. “Weel, Gilbert,” he replied, trying to speak lightly, “Ye ken that
I have been fallin’ in love and out again wi’ a’ the lassies ever since
I was fifteen, but nae thought of evil ever entered my mind, ye ken that
weel.”

“Aye, I ken that,” answered Gilbert quickly, “until ye went to Mauchline.
And noo ye have come back a changed lad, your vows to Mary forgotten. If
I thought ye would try to wrong her——” he stopped abruptly, for Robert
had faced him, white and trembling, his eyes flashing indignantly.

“Stop, Gilbert!” he commanded, intensely calm. “Mary Campbell’s purity is
as sacred to me as an angel’s in heaven. I would sooner cut my tongue out
by the roots than to willingly say aught to cause her a moment’s misery
or sorrow. Ye cruelly misjudge me, Gilbert.” He turned away, feeling hurt
and angry that he should be so misunderstood by his brother, and yet was
he misjudging him, was he not indeed causing her much sorrow? he asked
himself bitterly.

Soon the whole guilty truth must be disclosed, his faithlessness, his
unworthiness. If she suffered now, what would be her misery when she
learned that an insurmountable barrier had arisen between them, cruelly
separating them forever. The thought filled him with unspeakable anguish.

“Forgive me, Rob, for my hasty words,” said Gilbert remorsefully. “But ye
ken Mary is very dear to—to us all; that is why I spoke so plainly.”

At that moment the door of the cottage opened and the object of their
discussion stepped into view. The poor little moth could not help
fluttering around the candle, and so she was to be found at Mossgiel
whenever her duties would permit her to steal away.

“Oh, here ye are, lads,” she called out to them, her face brightening.
“Will ye be comin’ in to tea noo?” They did not answer. “My, what long
faces ye both have,” she continued, smiling. “This isna’ the Sabbath Day,
so there’s no need of such sorrowful faces.”

“I didna’ ken ye were here,” answered Gilbert, going toward her.

Robert sat down by the well, the look of pain on his melancholy face
deepening as he listened to her gentle voice. He closed his eyes wearily
and leaned back against the curbing, the paper held loosely in his hand.
It was so hard to realize that never again would he press that form to
his aching heart, that he must renounce her utterly. Oh, if he could only
die now, how much better it would be for them all, he weakly told himself.

“I’m going to stay here to tea wi’ ye this night,” said Mary wistfully.
Why didn’t Robert speak to her just one word of greeting? she thought
sadly. “Your mother bade me tell ye supper is waiting whenever ye are
ready.” She took a few halting steps toward the well. “Are ye comin’ in,
Robert?” she inquired timidly.

“In a wee,” he answered quietly, without looking at her. “After I have
finished my poem.” Mary turned back, crushed to the heart by his apparent
coldness.

“Weel, lads,” cried Mrs. Burns brightly, stepping out on the low, broad
stoop followed by Souter, who held a cup of steaming tea in one hand and
some oatcakes in the other, on which he nibbled with evident relish.
“I heard your voices and couldna’ stay within,” and she beamed on them
lovingly.

“Ye’re at it again, I see, Robert,” observed Souter tactlessly. Robert
flushed angrily. He was easily irritated in his present state of mind.
“Ye’ll write yoursel’ into the grave, mon; ye’re not lookin’ very peart
the noo.”

Mrs. Burns regarded her eldest son with anxious eyes. “Aye, I fear,
laddie, ye are too intent on your rhymin’,” she said solicitously.
His abstracted moods, his melancholy moroseness had filled her loving
heart with gloomy forebodings. “Sae much livin’ in the clouds, my son,
is unhealthful, an’ does but make ye moody an’ uncertain in temper. Is
it worth while to wreck body, mind an’ soul to gain a little fame an’
fortune, which, alas, seem so very far off?” she asked, putting her hand
lovingly on his bowed head.

“Ye dinna’ understand, mither,” he replied sadly. “I love to write. ’Tis
my very life; thought flows unbidden from my brain.” He rose to his feet
and pointing to the stream, which could be faintly seen at the foot of
the hill, continued with mournful finality, “Why, mother, I might as well
try to stop the waters of yonder rushin’ brook as to attempt to smother
the poetic fancies that cry for utterance. Nay, ’tis too late noo to
dissuade me from my purpose,” and he turned and watched the setting sun
slowly sink behind the distant hills in a flood of golden splendor.

Souter noticed with uneasiness the gloom which had settled upon them all
as the result of his careless words. Why was he such a thoughtless fool?
Ah, well, he would make them forget their troubles.

“Och, Mistress Burns,” he cried, smacking his lips with apparent relish,
“’tis a mighty fine cup of tea, a perfectly grand cup. It fair cheers the
heart of mon,” and he drained it to the bottom.

“An’ where do ye think the oatcakes were made, Souter?” asked Mary
brightly.

“Weel, I’m no’ a good hand at guessin’,” he answered, thoughtfully
scratching his head; “but by their taste an’ sweetness, I should say that
Mistress Burns made them hersel’.”

The good dame regarded him witheringly. “I didna’ ken that oatcakes were
sweet, Souter,” she retorted.

Mary laughed softly at his discomfiture. “Weel, they come frae my sister
in Applecross.”

“Applecross!” he repeated, his face lighting up with pleasure. “Noo I
mind they did have the Highland flavor, for true.”

“Aye, an’ ye finished the last one for that reason, no doubt,” replied
Mrs. Burns wrathfully. “Ye’re a pig, mon. Come awa’, lads, your supper
will be gettin’ cold,” and she led the way inside, followed meekly by
Souter. Gilbert waited for Mary to enter, but she stood wistfully gazing
at Robert. With a sigh he left them together, and Robert entered the
cottage.

Mary slowly approached Robert as he stood looking across to the distant
hills, and patiently waited for him to speak to her, but he stood there
in tense silence, not daring to trust himself to even look at the pure
flower-like face held up to his so pleadingly.

“Robbie,” she said timidly after a pause, which seemed interminable to
them both, “willna’ ye let the sunlight enter your heart an’ be your old
bonnie sel’ once mair? It will make us all sae happy.” She put her hand
on his arm lovingly. “Why are ye sae changed, laddie? Dinna’ ye want me
to love ye any mair?”

At the gentle touch of her fingers an uncontrollable wave of passionate
love and longing came over him, sweeping away all resolutions
resistlessly. “Oh, my Mary, my Mary,” he cried hoarsely. “I do want your
love, I do want it noo an’ forever,” and he clasped her lovingly to his
aching heart. Blissfully she lay in his strong arms while he showered
her flushed and happy face with the hungry, fervent, loving kisses which
he had denied himself so long, and murmured little caressing words of
endearment which filled her soul with rapture and happiness. “How I love
ye, Mary,” he breathed in her ear again and again as he held her close.

“An’ how happy ye make me once mair, laddie,” she answered, nestling
against him lovingly.

“An’ how happy we will——,” he began, then stopped pale and trembling, for
grim recollection had suddenly loomed up before him with all its train
of bitter, ugly facts; and conscience began to drum insistently into his
dulled ear. “Tell her the truth now, the whole truth,” it said. But the
voice of the tempter whispered persuasively, saying, “Why tell her now?
wait, let her be happy while she may, put it off as long as possible.”

“What is it, Robbie?” cried Mary fearfully. “Tell me what is troublin’
ye; dinna’ be afraid.” His bowed head bent lower and lower.

“Oh, Mary, I’m sae unworthy, sae unworthy of all your pure thoughts, your
tender love,” he faltered despairingly, resolved to tell her all. “Ye
dinna’ ken all my weakness, my deception, and into what depths of sin I
have fallen.” She sought to interrupt him, but he continued rapidly, his
voice harsh with the nervous tension, his face pallid from the stress of
his emotions. “I have a confession to make ye——”

“Nay, nay, laddie,” cried Mary, putting her hand over his trembling
lips. “Dinna’ tell me anything. I want nae confession from ye, except
that o’ your love,” and she smoothed his cheek tenderly. “Ye ken that is
music to my ears at all times, but if ye are deceivin’ me, if ye have na
always been true to me, an’ your vows, why, laddie, keep the knowledge
to yourself’. I am content noo, and ye ken happiness is such a fleetin’
thing that I mean to cling to it as long as I can.” She took his hands
in both her own and held them close to her heart. “Ye ken, Robbie, ill
news travels apace and ’twill reach my ears soon enough,” she continued
with a mournful little quaver in her voice. “But no matter what comes,
what ye may do, my love for ye will overlook it all; I will see only your
virtues, my love, not your vices.”

Robert bowed his head in heart-broken silence. Grief, shame, and remorse
like tongues of fiery flames were scorching and burning into his very
soul. Quietly they sat there engrossed in their thoughts, till the voice
of Mrs. Burns calling to them from the cottage to come to supper roused
them from their lethargy.

“We’re comin’ right awa’,” answered Mary brightly. “Come, laddie, we
mustna’ keep the folks waitin’.”

She took his listless hand and drew him gently to the door and into the
cottage.

Silently they took their places at the table, around which the others
were already seated.

“By the way,” said old blind Donald, the fiddler, who had dropped in on
his way to Mauchline for a bite and a cup, “Poosie Nancy told me to tell
ye, Mistress Burns, that she wa drop in to see ye this night.”

“We’ll be glad to see her,” replied Mrs. Burns hospitably.

“And Daddy Auld says he’ll be along, too,” continued Donald, grinning
broadly. “That is, if he isna’ too busy convertin’ souls.”

“Convertin’ souls,” sneered Souter incredulously.

“Aye, ye should see the Jolly Beggars he was haranguin’. They were
jumpin’, an’ rantin’, an’ singin’ like daft Methodists.”

“The auld hypocrites!” cried Mrs. Burns, buttering a scone which she
placed in the old man’s tremulous hand. “They didna’ go to the manse for
conversion; ’tis a square meal they are after. They ken the kind old
heart o’ Daddy Auld.”

Souter leaned back in his chair and smiled reminiscently. “That reminds
me o’ a guid story,” he began, chuckling.

“Never mind that story noo,” remonstrated Mrs. Burns, who was in constant
dread of Souter’s risque stories. “That’ll keep.”

“I never _can_ tell that damn story,” ejaculated Souter wrathfully.



CHAPTER X


They had finished their meager supper, and now sat comfortably around the
fire, Mrs. Burns and Mary busy with their knitting, the men contentedly
smoking, while old Donald discordantly tuned up his fiddle.

“Noo, Donald,” said Souter briskly, “play us something lively.”

“Aye, I’ll play ye the Highland Fling, Souter Johnny, an’ ye can dance.
Come alang noo,” and he started to play vigorously, keeping time with his
foot.

“Aye, get out on the floor, Souter,” said Gilbert, pulling him out of his
chair.

“Nay, nay, lad,” expostulated Souter fretfully, “I be too old to fling
the toe noo.”

“Go alang wi’ ye, mon,” retorted Mrs. Burns encouragingly; “a Scotsman,
and a Highlander besides, is ne’er too old to——”

“To learn,” interrupted Gilbert brightly, swinging the old man to the
middle of the floor. “Let her go.”

“I havena danced for years,” said Souter apologetically. Carefully
knocking the ashes out of his pipe he deposited it in the pocket of his
capacious waistcoat and proceeded to divest himself of his coat. “Ye ken
I was the champion dancer of my clan, Clan McDougal, when I was a young
lad,” he announced boastingly. “An’ mony a time I have cheered an’ amused
the lads, while tentin’ on the fields of Culloden, before the big battle.
An’ that reminds me o’ a guid——”

“Never mind the story,” said Gilbert impatiently. “Gie us a dance.”

After a few preliminary movements Souter caught the swinging measure of
the dance, and once started he limbered up surprisingly. On he danced
nimbly, and untiringly, soon ably proving to his delighted audience
that he had not forgotten his old-time accomplishment. “I’ll show these
Lowlanders what a Highlander can do,” thought the old man proudly.
Panting with excitement and eagerness he failed to hear the metallic
patter of horses’ hoofs drawing near the cottage. Nearer and nearer they
came unheeded by all save one.

From his seat by the fireplace, where he sat in melancholy silence,
Robert heard the sound, but gave it no heed. Suddenly it ceased. He
raised his head to listen. Someone had surely stopped at the gate, he
thought, straining his ears eagerly, but the noise of the fiddle and the
dancing drowned all sound from without. He glanced quickly at the smiling
faces of the others as they good-naturally watched the dancer. “I must
hae been mistaken,” he muttered uneasily. Suddenly he leaned forward,
grasping his chair hard; surely he had heard his name faintly called.
He listened intently. Yes, there it was again; this time the voice was
nearer. A woman’s voice, too. What could it mean? He rose to his feet,
his heart thumping fiercely, his muscles alert and tense, his eyes fixed
on the door, his mind filled with gloomy presentiment.

At that moment an imperative knock sounded loudly through the room, and
almost at the same time the door flew open violently, and Jean Armour
impetuously dashed in. Closing the door quickly behind her she leaned
back against it, pale and exhausted. Her riding habit of green and gold
was splashed and discolored with mud. The large hat with its gleaming
white plume hung limply over her shoulder, while her black disheveled
hair streamed over her face and down her back in bewildering confusion.
She had evidently ridden fast and furious, for she stood there with her
eyes closed, her hand on her heart, gasping for breath.

Quickly Mrs. Burns led the exhausted girl to a seat. In a few moments
she raised her drooping head and with wild frightened eyes searched the
room till her gaze fell on Robert, who was leaning white and speechless
against the fireplace, a great fear in his heart.

She rose quickly and going to him said in a tense, rapid whisper,
“Robert, my father knows all, but through no fault of mine. Some idle
gossip reached his ear to-day, and when he returned home and learned my
condition his rage was terrible. He cursed you like a madman, and would
have done me bodily harm had I remained within sight. But I feared for my
life, and fled before I had explained the truth to him. I have come to
you to protect me.”

He listened to her in stony silence. The blow had fallen so suddenly, so
unexpectedly, it found him totally unprepared to ward off its paralyzing
effects. He tried to speak, but the words refused to leave his parched
tongue. He felt benumbed and cold, all the blood in his body seeming to
have suddenly congealed. As he stood there with the eyes of all riveted
upon him he felt like the veriest criminal that walked the earth.

For a moment there was a tense silence. Jean stood there anxiously gazing
into Robert’s stricken face, as he vainly strove to utter a sound. Mary
had watched the little scene before her in growing wonder and alarm and
now leaned back against the wall, her heart beating with some unknown,
nameless fear. What did this highborn lady want with her laddie? she
asked herself jealously.

[Illustration: “‘She is my wife, mither.’”]

Mrs. Burns stood grimly waiting for some explanation of the scene she
had just witnessed, but had not heard nor understood. “Robert, my son,”
she said finally, her voice cold and firm, “what does Squire Armour’s
daughter want of ye?” There was no answer. “What is she to ye, Robert?”
she sternly insisted. Slowly he raised his head. As she saw his wild and
haggard face, from which all the life and youth had fled, she started
back in horror, a startled exclamation on her lips.

With a despairing, heart-broken look at Mary’s wondering face, he bowed
his head and falteringly uttered the fatal words, “She is my wife,
mither.”

Had a thunderbolt from a clear sky unroofed the humble cot, it would not
have created the consternation, the terror which those few words struck
to those loving hearts.

Mrs. Burns was the first to rally from the shock. “Your wife?” she
repeated incredulously, looking from one to the other.

With a cry of grief and pain Mary sank weak and trembling into a chair,
like a deer wounded unto death. She gazed at them heart-brokenly, while
her little hands nervously fluttered about her face. No, no, he could not
mean it. They were only joking, surely. “Not that, Robbie, ye dinna mean
that, dearie?” she gasped piteously, holding out a beseeching hand to
him. His bowed head bent lower.

“Do ye mean ye have legally married this lass?” asked Gilbert eagerly.
Mary would be free then, he thought wildly. Free to be wooed and won.

“We were married a few weeks ago,” answered Robert dully. “I had not the
courage to tell ye before.”

“Besides,” interposed Jean, arranging her disordered toilet, “I wished to
keep the marriage from my father for a—a time.” She blushed crimson.

“I willna believe my son ever married ye of his own free will,” cried
Mrs. Burns bitterly, “fine rich lady that ye are. He loves only that
sweet lass, Mary Campbell.” Quickly she reached Mary’s side, and, raising
the stricken child in her motherly arms, she kissed her tenderly and
pressed the golden head gently against her loving heart.

Jean looked at them, a look of resentment in her flashing eyes. “I know
that full well,” she answered sullenly. “I know Robert hasn’t married
me because he wanted to, but because——” she looked down shame-faced.
“Because there was no alternative. Now you know the truth,” she concluded
bitterly.

“Ye shameless creature!” cried Mrs. Burns, her eyes blazing with
indignation. “Ye have trapped him into this marriage, but ye shall na
stay beneath this roof, ye limmer,” and she glared at the flushed defiant
girl in righteous anger.

“Mither, mither!” cried Robert distractedly, “dinna, for God’s sake; she
is my wife in truth, an’ she must stay wi’ me noo till I can prepare
anither hame for her. Dinna make it harder for me.” He gazed pleadingly
in his mother’s stern and angry face.

Mary pressed her lips to the quivering cheek. “Mistress Burns,” she said
softly, “what is to be, will be. I forgive them both wi’ all my heart.”
She paused and sighed with gentle resignation. Then she continued,
“An’—an’ I hope they will both find peace in their new life.” She turned
quietly to Jean, who was nervously tapping her whip against her skirt.
“I ken ye’ll make Robert a good wife,” she said earnestly. “So dinna let
any thought o’ me sadden your heart, or—or yours, Robert.” She turned and
looked at him tenderly. “I—I forgive ye,” she whispered. Turning to Mrs.
Burns again, she continued pleadingly, “Ye must welcome Robert’s wife to
her new hame, Mistress Burns. We all maun make this a merry hame-comin’
for—the—bride.” Her plaintive voice broke abruptly, and the burning tears
welled up to her eyes, but she dashed them quickly away and continued
bravely, a pathetic little smile hovering about her trembling lips, “I’ll
go out noo an’ make some fresh tea for ye, and ye’ll all stay right here,
till I come back, an’ Donald shall play for ye again—an’ we’ll—all—be—sae
merry—won’t w-we? I’ll bring it w-when—it’s quite—ready.” She smiled at
them through her tears. Then she took the teapot from the dresser and
softly left the room.

“God bless her brave and noble heart,” breathed Robert brokenly.

As she left the room Mrs. Burns drew herself sternly erect, and after a
moment’s hesitation turned slowly to Jean. “I bid ye welcome to Mossgiel
Farm,” she said coldly. “I am sorry I spoke so bitterly to ye just noo.
I—I will try to love ye as Robert’s wife, but noo I—I can only think o’
Mary an’ her sorrow. I’ll leave ye for a bit; Mary may need me.” Her
voice faltered and broke, and with a sob of grief she hurriedly left the
room.



CHAPTER XI


Ever since the morning she had received her marriage lines Jean had been
trying to summon up sufficient courage to tell her father the whole truth
about her secret marriage to Robert, to throw herself upon his mercy,
but each time when she had approached him in fear and trembling, her
courage had ignominiously failed her. She knew only too well her father’s
irascible temper and uncertain moods. And so days passed into weeks and
still she procrastinated, but she knew she could not conceal from his
observing eyes her condition much longer. But whether to confess all and
run the risk of being thrown from her father’s door like some abandoned
outcast, or to contrive some excuse to leave home to pay a visit to
some friend, and then, when it was all over, to return, that was the
question which disturbed her waking thoughts. If she did the latter, she
thought, she could easily have her marriage annulled and no one would be
the wiser. But did she really want to have her marriage annulled? she
asked herself thoughtfully. She didn’t understand herself at all these
days. He had strangely stirred her heart at their last meeting, to its
very depths. She knew he did not love her, that he loved the little
dairymaid, but almost imperceptibly a great change was taking place in
her feelings toward him. At times a great longing came over her to go
to him, throw herself at his feet and beg to share his hardships, his
poverty, with him. But she had not the courage, and so she battled with
the conflicting emotions that constantly beset her day and night. Her
temper soon became moody and uncertain, she was in constant fear of her
mother’s anxious, watchful eyes, and yet she felt she would go daft if
she remained alone in her chamber with her disturbing thoughts. So day
after day she could be found in her saddle madly galloping over the
country, trying to get away, far away, from her trouble. But all in vain;
it was always before her; there was no escaping it. But at last the day
came when she knew she must make her decision, and almost in desperation
she decided on her course of procedure. Hastily galloping home, she left
her horse at the door, and going to her room, scribbled a short note to
her father and left it on the table in his study. Then she had slipped
guiltily past the room where her mother sat peacefully sewing, and sped
swiftly along the hall to the door. As she reached it, it burst inward
and she staggered back half fainting, for there on the threshold stood
her father, his face white with rage, his jaw set and determined. He
seized her roughly by the arm, and thrusting her back into the house,
had taken one understanding look at her figure in its tight-fitting
habit, then with an outburst of bitter anger and shame he cursed her
and the author of her disgrace, cursed her like a madman, cursed her
till he was spent with the force of his passion. She tried to explain,
to tell him the truth, that she was a wife, but the words froze on her
lips. His words and manner struck terror to her very soul; she feared
for her very life’s safety. With all her despairing strength she freed
herself from his clutch and stood cowering, panting, her hands raised to
shield herself from the blow she expected every moment to fall on her
defenseless body from the insane man. As he approached her with hand
upraised, she gave one quick shriek, one wild look around and darting
under his arm reached the door. Quickly she opened it and sped like a
swallow to the side of her waiting horse. With one bound she was on his
back, and away she galloped like the wind, leaving her astonished father
standing in the doorway shaking his fist after her in impotent anger.

She had given rein to her horse, not heeding or caring where he took her.
Her one and only thought was to get away, far away; so she rode on and
on, over brook and brush, through bog and mire till gradually her fear
had subsided, and, reining in her horse, she looked around, and with a
thrill of joy and wonder she saw Mossgiel Farm in the distance. Surely
fate had guided her horse’s footsteps in this direction, she thought
eagerly. Her course was clear now, she would go to him, to her husband,
he would protect her. So she had continued her journey to the cottage,
where she brought naught but misery and sorrow to its inmates.

As Mrs. Burns left the room Jean gazed after her in bitter silence. She
wished she had not come. She knew she was not welcome. Far better to have
faced her father’s anger. “But the die is cast. I have made my bed,”
she told herself wearily. She realized how futile it was to repine over
the past, and she felt too exhausted, too miserably unhappy to think of
the future. She would stay here perhaps a night, then she didn’t know,
couldn’t think what would happen. At all events she could never return
to her father’s home now. He had spurned her from him, and she was not
wanted here. Nobody wanted her now. Her lips quivered convulsively and
big tears of self-pity rolled quietly down her pale cheeks.

Gilbert looked uneasily from his brother’s grief-stricken face to the
weary, wan face of the bride. How long were they going to sit there
side by side without a word to each other? he thought uneasily. He felt
a great wave of pity well up in his heart for the unwelcome, unloved
addition to their family. True she was mostly to blame for her present
misfortune. Her imprudence, her misconduct had been well known to many,
before his brother had gone to Mauchline to live. He felt sorry for
Robert, too, even while he bitterly reproached him for being the author
of Mary’s unhappiness. They must make the best of things now, he thought
philosophically. “Ye had better take off your bonnet, lassie,” he said
kindly, breaking the oppressive silence. “Ye’ll be staying here the
night.” She raised her head and looked at him with flashing eyes.

“Full well I know that all here hate and despise me,” she burst forth
bitterly, not heeding his request.

Robert slowly raised his head and looked at her. There was sorrow and
compassion in his dark melancholy eyes. “Jean,” he said quietly, “our
lives have been linked togither by a stern, inexorable fate. We have both
been guilty of a grievous sin, and noo we must face the results bravely.”
He rose and walked to her and stood humbly by her side. “I hope ye’ll
forgive me, Jean, for wreckin’ your life and plungin’ ye into sae much
misery.”

Slowly Jean bowed her head, her face flushing guiltily. Surely she had
the more need to ask his forgiveness. She had not expected to find such
nobility of character, and it moved her deeply.

“There is naught to forgive,” she cried in a low stifled voice. “I alone
am to blame. I am unfit, unworthy to be your wife. Oh, I’m so miserable,
so unhappy,” and she burst into tears.

Souter led old Donald silently out of the room. There was nothing either
one could say to the wretched couple, so they sat outside and talked
it all over in the way old men have. They had not been seated long,
however, when they espied coming toward them, at a furious gallop,
a horse and rider. As they drew near Souter perceived with sudden
apprehension that it was none other than Squire Armour. He rose anxiously
to his feet.

“Do ye ken wha’ it is, Souter?” inquired Donald in a quavering voice.

“It’s Squire Armour himsel’,” whispered Souter cautiously.

“Ma certie!” ejaculated Donald, shaking his white locks in mild alarm.

“I’d better warn the lass,” said Souter hastily, as the Squire drew up to
the gate. Going to the door he quickly told them of the newcomer, then
turned to intercept the irate visitor, who was coming swiftly up the walk.

“Heavens, my father here!” cried Jean in a frightened whisper. “Oh,
I dare not face his wrath. Protect me, Robert,” and she clung to him
fearfully.

“Out o’ my way, mon!” they heard the harsh voice of Squire Armour
shouting. “Out o’ my way,” and pushing aside the courageous little man he
strode wrathfully into the room.

“Weel, I’ll stay and see the fun through,” said Souter to himself grimly.

“So, my lass,” cried the old Squire triumphantly, “I’ve found ye just
where I expected ye’d be, in the arms o’ your dissolute lover. Come awa’,
ye shameless bairn.”

He started toward her, but Robert passed her quickly behind him.

“Keep back, Squire Armour,” he said firmly. “I’m nae a mild-mannered man,
an’ ye may learn it to your cost.”

Squire Armour glanced at him savagely. “Dinna ye dare talk to me, ye
libertine, ye blasphemous rhymster. Ye dare to stand there wi’ my
daughter, proclaiming her dishonor to my very eyes?”

“There is no dishonor, Squire Armour,” replied Robert calmly, “for your
daughter is—my wife.”

“Your wife!” echoed the old man, staggering back in amazement. “I’ll nae
believe it. It’s a lie. I’d rather see my daughter disgraced forever than
be your wife.”

“Father, are you mad?” gasped Jean in horrified accents.

“An’ ye an Elder in the Kirk, a so-called ‘God-fearin’ man’!” cried
Robert scathingly, his eyes blazing with scorn. “I tell ye, Squire
Armour, she is my wife, an’ all your bitter, unreasoning hatred o’ me
canna’ alter that unhappy fact.”

For a moment the old man stood gazing at them in helpless rage. Then he
turned to Jean, his voice trembling with suppressed emotion. “What proofs
have ye?” he asked hoarsely.

“I have my marriage lines, father,” she answered quickly.

“Where were ye married?”

“Why, father, we——” began Jean hesitatingly.

“Was it in the Kirk?” he interrupted sternly.

“No,” she faltered. “It was——”

“Not in the Kirk?” he cried, his voice rising menacingly. “Who was the
minister? Who married ye?”

“There was no minister, father.”

“Nae minister!” he exclaimed in horror.

“Wait, father, you don’t understand,” cried Jean quickly; “’twas a Scotch
marriage; ye ken what that is—and,” she bowed her head guiltily, “why it
is. And here are my lines signed by Robert acknowledging me as his wife.”
She took from the bosom of her gown a folded paper which she handed to
her father.

He read it through carefully. “This is na legal or binding,” he exclaimed
angrily.

“’Tis perfectly legal, Squire Armour,” replied Robert calmly, “even if it
is irregular, and is as binding as though we were married in Kirk.”

“It shall be set aside,” fumed the old man. “I will not have it so. Ye
shall both renounce it, I tell ye.”

“Oh, father,” cried Jean tearfully, going to his side. “’Tis too late
now; would you shame me in the eyes of the world?”

“Do these few written lines make your shame any the less?” he shouted
wrathfully. “Will not all the neighbors know why he had to give them to
ye? Ye would throw awa’ your life on this poverty-stricken, shiftless
rhymster, but ye shall not do it; ye must give him up, do ye hear?” and
he raised his arm menacingly.

“No, no, no, father,” she exclaimed frantically, falling on her knees
beside him; “I cannot give him up now, I cannot.” After all the weary
weeks of anxious fears and doubts she knew at last that she had found
her heart, and now asked no greater happiness than to be allowed to
remain with her husband to share his humble life, to be the mother of his
family. All the old ambitious thoughts were gone forever. She wondered
that they ever existed.

“Ye shameless bairn, ye must an’ shall!” he replied fiercely. “This is
the end o’ it all,” and he vindictively tore into little bits the paper
Jean had given into his hands. “We’ll hear nae mair of that, my lass, an’
I swear ye shall never see Robert Burns again, make up your mind to that.”

With a cry of despair Jean sank half fainting into a chair.

As he witnessed Squire Armour’s fiendish act Robert’s heart gave a great
bound that sent the blood coursing madly through his veins. The marriage
lines were destroyed; then he was free, free! Oh, the music in that word!
Free to do as he wished. A sob of anguish caused him to look around at
the kneeling figure of the unfortunate girl. Quickly the eager light died
out of his face as he noted her suffering. Going to the kneeling girl
he raised her gently to her feet, and holding her by the hand faced the
inhuman father. “Squire Armour, ye would condemn your ain flesh an’ blood
to shame an’ disgrace because o’ your hatred for me,” he said quietly,
“but it shall not be. I defy ye. Come, Jean, we will go to the Kirk at
once and Daddy Auld will marry us.” They turned to go, but the old man
stepped between them and the door, his arms upraised, his eyes wild and
glaring.

“I’d sooner see her in her grave than bear the accursed name of Robert
Burns,” he cried with solemn intensity. “Great though her imprudence
has been, she can still look to a higher, an’ better connection than a
marriage with ye.” Turning to Jean he continued sternly, “Speak, lass,
say that ye’ll obey me, or the bitter curse o’ your parents will haunt
an’ follow ye all the rest o’ your days.”

“Think of the disgrace, father,” wailed the unhappy girl, clinging to his
arm beseechingly.

“We’ll forget and forgive it all if ye’ll come back,” he replied, the
great love for his child revealing itself in his eager tones. “Ye’re nae
longer that man’s wife. Come an’ none will ever know o’ your dishonor.”

“My God, mon!” exclaimed Robert in horrified accents, “where is your
father’s pride, your ain honor, your manhood!”

But Squire Armour heeded him not. “Come, my daughter, come,” he said
tenderly, leading the weak, wavering girl to the door.

“Ye canna expect to keep this a secret from the world, Squire Armour,”
cried Robert indignantly. “Matters have gone too far for that; soon your
daughter’s name will be blasted irretrievably, while mine will be coupled
with that of blackguard. It must not be. Ye must let Jean go to the Kirk
wi’ me this very night or I shall inform the Elders in the Kirk.”

“Ye’ll have no time to turn informer, my laddie,” snarled Squire Armour,
turning on him fiercely; “for I mean to have ye brought before the
Kirk sessions, an’ ye’ll be punished as ye deserve for the sin ye have
committed, an’ ye shall sit on the cutty stool, where all your friends
an’ neighbors can jeer an’ scoff at ye. This very night will I send the
parish officers after ye, Robert Burns. Ye can take this warning or no,
just as ye please, but I hope they find ye here. Come, lass, we’ll go
hame to your mither, noo.” He drew the terrified, half-fainting girl
firmly through the door and down the path to the road.

“Ye’re an old hypocrite!” hooted Souter, following them to the gate,
where he stood shaking his fist angrily after the departing visitors, and
shouting his frank opinion of the Squire in no mild or flattering terms.

“I alone am to blame,” cried Robert despairingly, as he watched them
gallop madly away into the threatening night. “An’ only the bitterest
sorrow, the most poignant grief will I know until that wrong is righted.”

“What will ye do noo, lad?” asked Mrs. Burns, breaking in upon the
melancholy sadness which enveloped him like a pall. (She had entered the
room in time to hear Squire Armour’s parting injunction.) “Ye heard what
the Squire threatened. Oh, dinna disdain the littleness of prudence, my
son.”

“I willna, mother,” replied Robert dully, after a pause. “I have decided
to go awa’ from Mossgiel.”

“Go awa’?” she repeated fearfully. “Nay, nay, laddie, ye mustna! I fear
for ye in your present state o’ mind.”

“I must, mother,” he answered wildly. “I willna sit on the cutty stool
to be made the laughing stock o’ the whole neighborhood, to bring shame
on ye all.” He walked restlessly up and down the room as he continued
feverishly, “I willna stay here to skulk from covert to covert under all
the terrors of a jail, for I ken that in a little while the merciless
pack of the law will be baying at my heels like bloodhounds.” He turned
to her suddenly, “Mother, I mean to leave Scotland, perhaps forever.”

“Oh, nay, nay, my bairn; I canna, I willna, let ye go,” answered his
mother, clinging to him passionately.

“There, there, mither, dinna make it harder for me.” He put his arm
around her tenderly and pressed her to him for a moment. “Noo, mother,”
he said quietly, “will ye pack my chest? I have nae time to spare,” and
he led her gently to the door.

“Where will ye be goin’?” inquired Gilbert.

“To the Indies, to Jamaica,” replied Robert quickly. “Ye ken Dr. Douglas
has a place for me there as overseer of his plantation. He has offered it
to me mony times.” He turned in nervous haste to his mother, who stood
in the doorway anxiously watching him. “Hurry, mither, please, I am in
torture o’ mind.”

“Very well, laddie,” she answered sorrowfully. “God will direct your
footsteps aright,” and she closed the door behind her and quickly made
her way to his chamber.

“Will ye see Mary before ye go, Robert?” asked Gilbert.

He felt an infinite pity for his brother, who was leaving behind him
everything he held dear.

“If she will come to me,” faltered Robert. “Tell her I’m goin’ an’ that
I will go wi’ a lighter heart if she bids me godspeed. Watch o’er an’
protect her, Gilbert,” he continued, placing his hand on his brother’s
shoulder. “An’ I hope one day she may forget faithless Robert Burns,
an’—an’ ye, Gilbert, will be made happy.” He turned away as he finished,
grief gnawing at his heart.

An eager light flashed in Gilbert’s eyes as he answered fervently, “I
would lay doon my life to serve her,” and with a quick look into the
averted face he quietly left the room.

Mechanically Rob took his bonnet from the peg and throwing his long plaid
around him went out into the air, and silently, sorrowfully he stood
there watching the gloomy clouds that hung low in the heavens through
eyes misty with tears. His soul was filled with unutterable sorrow at
the coming parting, with dread of the unknown future to be passed alone
in a strange, inhospitable foreign land. Oh, the agony of that thought,
alone! Suddenly there came floating softly, peacefully, borne on the
back of the south wind, which was blowing gently against his face, the
alluring, seductive voice of the Goddess Muse. Insistently she urged her
way into the dulled and listless ear of the grief-stricken man. Not for
long was she denied admission, however. With a cry of joy, that even in
that dreaded hour of parting his Goddess had not deserted him, he eagerly
opened the book he held in his hand, his favorite book, “Tristam Shandy”
by Sterne, and wrote quickly, lovingly on the flyleaf the impassioned
words which were being whispered in his ear. Hungrily the pencil sped
over the paper, till, with a sigh of regret, he dropped his hand, the
voice was hushed, the message was finished. As he stood there eagerly
reading his verses by the light which streamed through the window, the
door softly opened and Mary came swiftly to his side, her pure face
pitiful in its childlike sorrow.

“Is it true ye are gang awa’ frae Scotland, Robbie?” she asked
breathlessly. He bowed his head. “Oh, my heart beats heavy for ye,
laddie.” There was infinite compassion in her voice. “But ye maun be
brave noo if ever ye were.” She nestled her little hand in his. He
clasped it fervently.

“O, Mary, my Highland lassie!” he cried passionately, “I want to hear ye
say before I go that ye forgive me for the sorrow I have brought into
your pure young life.”

“Hush, laddie,” she answered softly, “there is naught to forgive; ye had
to do your duty like an honorable mon. I hae been very happy wi’ ye,
laddie, an’ the memory o’ that happiness will be wi’ me always.” She
leaned against him for a brief moment, then slowly drew herself away
and looked tenderly up into his face. “In this sad parting hour,” she
faltered, “I can tell ye without shame that I love ye wi’ a’ my being,
an’ will until I dee.”

“Heaven bless ye, Mary,” he whispered brokenly. “The thought of your love
will gie me courage to bear my exile bravely.”

“Exile!” she repeated shuddering. “Oh, what a drear word, to think ye
must be exiled in your noble youth, that ye maun leave your hame, your
country, to live alone in some foreign clime.” The tears streamed down
her pallid cheeks. “We will a’ miss ye sair, lad,” she continued bravely,
“and we will pray for ye, an’—an’—oh, ’twill be sae hard to say good-by,
perhaps forever.” She threw her arms about his neck and clung to him
passionately.

He held the weeping child in his strong, loving embrace, his face close
to hers. “Oh, why was I born, only to bring sorrow, pain an’ disgrace to
those I hold dear?” he cried in an agony of grief and remorse. “Bitterly
am I atonin’ for my act o’ imprudence; an exile, a failure,” he gave a
mirthless little laugh; “aye, a failure, for e’en the hopes of success
held out to me have a’ vanished in disappointment. Oblivion has enveloped
me in its darkening pall, for whichever way I turn naught but darkest
gloom, with not e’en a ray of light, meets my wretched gaze.” A flash of
lightning pierced the darkness, followed shortly by a heavy, prolonged
roll of thunder. She nestled closer to his side.

“Be not discouraged, laddie,” she said; “’tis always darkest before dawn,
an’ who kens what may yet happen?”

“Ah, nae, nae,” he interrupted with a despairing shake of his head, “e’en
the elements conspire against me, for I maun face this coming storm on
foot to reach Greenock. ’Tis all a part of my just punishment.” The wind
had risen and with it a driving mist which soon enveloped them in its
damp embrace. But they heeded it not.

“Bide a wee, dinna go to-night,” she pleaded, while the wind tossed her
tangled curls seductively around his neck and in his sorrowing face.
“Listen to the wind. Oh,’tis a bad night to start on a journey,” and she
clung to him tighter, her skirts flapping about his limbs like some live
thing, thrilling him by their touch.

“Before ye came out, lassie,” he replied quietly, stilling the tumult
in his heart, “I wrote some verses in this book as a parting song; how
appropriate they are for this occasion ye will see. Listen,” and holding
the book up to the light he began to read:

    “The gloomy night is gathering fast,
    Loud roars the wild inconstant blast;
    Yon murky cloud is foul with rain,
    I see it driving o’er the plain;
    Chill runs my blood to hear it rave,
    I think upon the stormy wave,
    Where many a danger I must dare,
    Far from the bonnie banks of Ayr;
    ’Tis not the surging billows’ roar,
    ’Tis not that fatal deadly shore,
    Tho’ death in every shape appear,
    The wretched have no more to fear;
    But round my heart the ties are bound,
    That heart transpierced with many a wound;
    These bleed afresh, these ties I tear,
    To leave the bonnie banks of Ayr.”

The wind had risen rapidly and the old beech tree was shrieking and
groaning overhead as its branches strove like maniac arms with the
tempest. The Ayr could be plainly heard roaring its diapason on its rocky
banks in the darkness below, while the thunder crashed overhead and the
lurid glare of lightning ever and again lit up the yard.

Unheeding its warning he continued, his melancholy sonorous voice, with
its mournful cadences, floating out with passionate longing, filling his
listener with unutterable sadness:

    “Farewell, old Coila’s hills and dales,
    Her heathy moors and winding vales;
    The scenes where wretched fancy roves,
    Pursuing past unhappy loves.
    Farewell my friends, farewell my foes,
    My peace with thee, my love with those;
    The bursting tears my heart declare,
    Farewell the bonnie banks of Ayr.”

As his voice died away he heard the sound of sobbing, and looked up, to
see his mother standing in the doorway.

“Come awa’, lad, come in out of the night air!” she called tenderly,
controlling her sobs.

Silently they entered the cottage. Robert crossed the room to his
brother’s side.

“Gilbert,” he said quietly, “ye take the songs an’ verses ye will find
on my table an’ send them to Mr. Aiken. Mayhap they will bring you in a
bit o’ money to help ye in your struggle wi’ poverty, an’ forgive me
that I maun leave ye to battle wi’ misfortune alone.” Turning to Mary he
continued, lovingly, “Mary, lass, will ye accept my Bible as a parting
gift?” She looked at him with shining eyes. “Ye’ll find it in the oak box
with the glass lid in the attic.”

“I’ll prize it for aye, Robert,” she sobbed gratefully, pressing his
hand, “an’ our prayers will follow ye to that far distant land, where I
hope success awaits ye.”

He drew her to him gently and pressed a kiss on her pure brow. “Farewell,
lassie, may ye be happy,” he breathed fervently. Turning again to Gilbert
he spoke rapidly, “Farewell, brother, give my love to the dear brothers
an’ sisters when they come hame.” He shook his hand warmly.

“God keep ye, Robert,” answered Gilbert quietly.

Gently Robert drew his weeping mother into his arms. Tenderly he pulled
down the apron which she had flung over her head to hide her sorrow, and
wiped away her tears. “Noo, mother,” he whispered brokenly, “I—I maun say
good-by; the day has drawn to its close an’ I maun start on my journey to
Greenock. Dinna greet, dear mither.” He let her weep on unconstrainedly a
few moments.

Finally her bitter sobbing ceased and looking up into his face she cried
passionately, “I canna give ye up, my son, never to see ye again.” She
took his cheeks lovingly between her hands.

“Ye’re making it hard for me to go, mither,” he cried, utterly
distracted. “But the die is cast, my hands are on the plow, an’ I canna
turn back noo. Ye ken there is naught but disappointment an’ disgrace
to look forward to here, an’——” Suddenly a loud cheer from outside the
cottage interrupted him. They listened in silent wonder. Above the noise
of the wind, which had risen to a gale, and the swish of the rain, which
now beat in swirling gusts about the cottage, came the voices of Souter
and Donald shouting and cheering like boys on a frolic. Quickly they
opened the door. A gust of wind dashed the rain fiercely in their faces.
Through the mist and gloom they could vaguely make out the outlines of a
coach standing at the gate, which had approached unheard in the storm.

“Robert, Robert!” cried Souter, looming up out of the darkness and
looking decidedly weatherbeaten. “’Tis news I have, great and glorious
news.”

“News?” they all repeated in wonder.

“What is it, mon?” asked Rob, trembling with excitement.

“It can speak for itsel’,” replied Souter gleefully, “for here it is.” He
pointed behind him. They looked down the path and saw rapidly approaching
the door a tall man, enveloped in a long cloak, escorted by a servant in
livery. At that moment the light fell on his wet face and they started
forward in amazement.

“Lord Glencairn?” cried Robert incredulously, his heart throbbing with a
strange new-born hope.

“Aye, my lad, and near drowned,” laughed the visitor genially. Robert
grasped his outstretched hand and drew him to the door.

With words of welcome and delight they made room for him to enter.
Quickly he removed his wet cloak from his shoulders and threw it to his
servant, who hung it beside the fire, while descanting on the inclemency
of the weather. Nervously and anxiously they waited for the great man to
speak his errand.

Presently he turned from the fireplace, and, addressing Robert, he said
brightly, “Well, Mr. Burns, you see I have not forgotten you.”

“Oh, my lord,” faltered Robert, his face white with suppressed feeling,
“I—I had despaired of seein’ you mair; do ye—bring me—hope? Is it—am
I——” his faltering voice stopped abruptly, but his eager eyes continued
to search the noble face which was looking so kindly into his, as if he
would draw the news from him.

“It is good news,” answered Lord Glencairn, smiling brightly, “and you
are famous; yes, my lad, your poems are at last published and already
have become the rage in Edinburgh; the name of Robert Burns is on the
tongue of all, high and low, prince and peasant.”

“Thank God,” cried Mary softly, a look of rapture on her face.

Mrs. Burns turned excitedly to her son, her hands clasped nervously. “Oh,
laddie, laddie, ye’re a great mon, noo!” she exclaimed proudly.

For a moment Robert stood there speechless, a look of incredulous wonder
on his face. “My lord,” he faltered at last, “can it be true, what you’re
telling me, that my songs are—accepted, read an’—praised in Edinburgh?”
Lord Glencairn bowed. “Oh, sir,” he continued, with a nervous catch in
his voice, “it seems too good to be true, too good.”

Gradually the warm color came back to the pale face, the hurried
breathing, which seemed almost to smother him, became calmer, the
nervous, excited tension relaxed, and, with a smile of rapture and
content on his upturned face, he exclaimed fervently, “At last my hopes
and ambitions are realized, the bright sunlight of success has crowned my
efforts; my verses are known an’ loved in Edinburgh! Oh, do ye hear that,
my loved ones?” He stretched out his arms lovingly to them. “Nae mair
poverty for us noo, mither, nae—nor disappointments.” He turned to Lord
Glencairn, who was being assisted into his cloak. “Oh, sir, I canna tell
ye what is in my heart,” he continued earnestly, “but ’tis overflowing
wi’ love an’ gratitude to ye.”

“There, there, my lad, time is precious,” replied Lord Glencairn kindly,
buttoning up his cloak. “’Tis late and we have far to go and the
postchaise is awaiting us. I came here not only to bring you news, Mr.
Burns, but to take you back with me to Edinburgh.” He laughed heartily at
the look of startled amazement that appeared on the faces before him.

“To Edinburgh!” gasped Robert unbelievingly.

“Aye, lad,” replied his lordship earnestly, his eyes flashing with
admiration for the modest young genius. “To Edinburgh, where fame and
fortune await you, where society stands with outstretched arms to receive
you as a conquering hero come to claim his own. To the capital city,
where all unite in paying homage to the wonderful genius of Robert Burns,
our Scottish Bard. Will you come?” and he held out his hand invitingly to
the wondering lad, who was gazing at him, his soul in his eyes.

“Am I dreaming?” he cried slowly, looking about him for some confirmation
of his fears. “Go to Edinburgh wi’ ye, sir, as the Bard of Scotland? O
God, can this be true? My wildest hopes ne’er held out such dreams o’
greatness, such happiness.” His voice vibrated with feeling. He paused
and took a deep breath, then he continued joyfully, all the sorrows of
the past forgotten in his excitement, “A few moments ago, my lord, I
was bidding farewell to these, my loved ones, forever. I was about to
start for the Indies, a wretched exile, a disappointed failure, and noo
fate once mair alters my destiny.” With a glad laugh he seized Lord
Glencairn’s outstretched hand, and, turning to his loved ones, he cried,
his voice ringing out clear and strong, a conscious thrill of pride
running through it, “Nae more tears, mither, except those of happiness,
nae more sorrow or care, for I can leave ye all wi’ a light heart noo,
wi’ joy instead o’ sadness. ’Tis true I go from here an outcast, but I’ll
return to ye a hero.”



BOOK II



CHAPTER XII


The scene that opened on our hero in Edinburgh was altogether new, and in
a variety of other respects highly interesting, especially to one of his
disposition of mind. To use an expression of his own, he “found himself
suddenly translated from the veriest shades of life,” into the presence,
and indeed into the society, of a number of persons previously known to
him by report as of the highest distinction in his country. From those
men of letters in general his reception was particularly flattering.
And they interested themselves collectively and individually in the
cultivation of his genius.

In Edinburgh literature and fashionable society are a good deal mixed.
Our Bard was an acceptable guest in the gayest and most elevated circles,
and received from female beauty and elegance those flattering attentions
above all others most grateful to him. A taste for letters is not always
conjoined with habits of temperance and regularity, and Edinburgh at this
period contained perhaps an uncommon proportion of men of considerable
talents, devoted to social excesses, in which their talents were wasted
and debased.

Robert entered into several parties of this description with his usual
vehemence. His generous affections, his ardent eloquence, his brilliant
and daring imagination fitted him to be the idol of such associations.
The sudden alteration of his habits of life operated on him physically as
well as morally. The humble fare of the Ayrshire peasant he had exchanged
for the luxuries of the Scottish metropolis, and naturally the effect of
this change could not be inconsiderable. He saw the danger, and at times
formed resolutions to guard against it, but he had embarked on the tide
of dissipation and was borne along its stream. Some six months after
his triumphant entrance into the city he had returned to Mossgiel for a
fleeting visit to his home, and to assist his brother, who had taken upon
himself the entire support of their aged mother, and who was struggling
with many difficulties on the farm of Mossgiel. It will easily be
conceived with what pleasure and pride he was received by his mother, his
sisters, and brothers. He had left them poor and friendless; he returned
to them high in public estimation and easy circumstances. He returned to
them unchanged in his ardent affections, and ready to share with them
to the uttermost farthing the pittance that fortune had bestowed. He
had been keenly disappointed not to find Mary there. He learned, to his
sorrow, that she had gone back to the Highlands shortly after he left
for Edinburgh. He felt that she was lost to him now forever, for, while
his heart prompted him to hurry to her side, reason told him that the
visit would but fill her cup of sorrow to the brim. For, believing as he
did, that he was still bound to Jean in spite of the destruction of her
marriage lines, he knew he would only have to part from her again, to
leave her there with her sad thoughts, her loneliness, while he returned
to the gay life, where it was so easy to forget or at least to still the
voice of sorrow. Having remained with them a few days he proceeded again
to Edinburgh, first stopping off at Mauchline to call at the home of
Squire Armour, only to be met with curses and to be driven from the door
by the stern, unyielding man.

Robert returned to Edinburgh, his heart filled with bitterness and
sorrow. For a while he brooded over his troubles, which threatened to
plunge him into a state of extreme melancholy. But at last resentment
and anger crowded out all other thoughts, and it was not long before
he succeeded in drowning recollection in the midst of the society and
dissipation of the metropolis.

A year passed by, during which time he had vainly tried to get word to
Jean Armour. He had heard that she had given birth to twins, and the
thought that they were without the protection of a father’s name filled
him with grief and remorse. Time and again he had written her, only to
have his letters returned unopened. Finally he had received a letter
from her father, stating that “the children were dead and that Jean
had quite forgotten him, and was about to be joined in wedlock with a
neighboring rich farmer; that now he hoped Robert would leave him and his
daughter in peace,” etc., etc. He laid down the letter with a thrill of
joy stirring his blood. Free at last! He had done his duty as a man of
honor, and now, after all the bitter heartache and the long separation,
he was free to marry his little sweetheart. “Oh, thank God!” he cried
aloud, in an ecstasy of joy. “Thank God, the miserable tangle in our
lives will soon be straightened.” He had long entertained a desire to
visit those parts of his native country which were so celebrated in the
rural songs of Scotland, and he would now gratify that desire with Mary’s
home as the objective point. As soon as arrangements could be made he
started for the Highlands on horseback, accompanied by a friend, one Will
Nichol, and, his fame having preceded him, they were royally entertained
on their journey through the country. Finally they arrived in Dornoch,
where Mary was living quietly with her sister, and soon the long parted
lovers were clasped in each other’s arms. Later that day he told her the
glorious news of his release, his freedom from all ties, told her of
his undying love, and swore that never again should they be parted in
this life. And Mary with a prayer of thankfulness in her faithful heart,
blushingly gave her willing consent to a speedy marriage. The next day
they all returned by easy stages to Edinburgh. Mrs. Dunlop, an old friend
of Robert’s, took the country maiden under her protecting wing and gave
her a home until the marriage could be solemnized, the date having been
set one month from the time of their arrival.



CHAPTER XIII


John Anderson, the proprietor of the “Bull’s Head,” stood gazing
wrathfully upon the scene of disorder which met his eyes as he opened
the door of the sitting-room of his distinguished lodger’s apartments.
It was early evening, and still that lodger remained in bed, although he
had been called at different intervals throughout the day by the irate,
though kind-hearted, landlord himself. “Dear—dear—dear,” he muttered to
himself, as he arranged the furniture, “I’ll just give Robbie a bit o’
my mind.” He went to the door of the sleeping apartment and looked in.
“Sleepin’ like a bairn,” he said softly, “an’—an’ wi’ his boots on. Ma
certie!” He raised his hands in horror. “Weel, I’m glad ye’re nae under
the bed. Ah, weel, young blood must hae its course. I mind I was young
mysel’, an’ if I do say it I could drink mair whusky than any mon in the
toon. Oh, those were happy days,” and he sang softly to himself, as he
continued his work about the room:

    “We are na fou’
    We’re nat that fou’,
    But just a droppie in our ee.
    The cock may craw,
    The day may daw’,
    An’ ay we’ll taste the barley bree.”

A knock on the door interrupted his song.

“Weel, who is it?” he called impatiently.

“Open the door,” replied a female voice eagerly.

“A lassie,” exclaimed John in amazement. “Oh, Robbie, ye devil.” He
swung open the door and stood back to allow the gorgeously dressed lady
to enter the room. Her dress of rich purple brocaded silk, cut in the
extreme of fashion, rustled stiffly over the polished floor. Her head
with its powdered wig was held haughtily erect as she surveyed the room
with sparkling black eyes that nervously took in her surroundings,
through the tiny holes in the black mask which concealed her face.

“I—I thought—isn’t Mr. Burns at home?” she stammered uneasily.

“Weel, what may ye be wantin’ wi’ Mr. Burns?” asked John cautiously. He
had been bothered to death with answering the questions of the silly
women who flocked to the parlors of the inn in hopes of seeing their idol.

The lady turned on him sharply. “None of your business, my good man,” she
retorted haughtily. “How dare you question me, sirrah?”

John was quite taken aback by the imperious tones, but he still had his
suspicions. “Weel, I thought perhaps ye were one o’ the artless bonnie
wenches who were here last night wi’ the lads makin’ merry till the wee
sma’ hours. If ye are——” he paused significantly.

She flashed him an angry look. “Make your mind easy on that score, my
good fellow,” she retorted icily. “I have called to interview Mr. Burns
on an important matter. Is he at home?”

“Aye; he is in there asleep,” replied John, pointing to a door beside the
large book cabinet, which nearly occupied one side of the room.

“Asleep!” she repeated incredulously. “Lud, he retires uncommon early for
a gallant,” and there was a note of disappointment in her deep contralto
voice.

“Early is it?” said John, with a knowing smile. “Faith, he hasna been up
this day.”

“What?” she ejaculated in horror. “Not all day? Then you must awaken him
immediately. I must have speech with him at once,” and she spread her
voluminous draperies over the wide lounge and calmly seated herself. “Do
you hear?” she cried impatiently, as John made no move.

“I hae excellent hearin’, mum,” replied John carelessly, “but I ken when
I’m well off, an’ I hae nae desire to feel the toe o’ Robert’s boot.”

“A pest on your stubbornness, fool,” she cried angrily, springing to her
feet.

“An’ I hae my doubts o’ a lass who comes to a mon’s lodgings at night,”
continued John, resenting her impatience. “It’s na respectable.”

She looked him over insolently, then shrugged her shoulders. “I protest,
landlord,” she replied, in a mocking tone, “I am quite respectable, even
if I am here unchaperoned. But, Lud, I like not conventionalities, and
this adventure suits my madcap spirit well.” She walked to the door of
the sleeping chamber and was about to open it, when his voice arrested
her.

“I ken it all the time,” he cried indignantly. “Ye’re a brazen hussy.”

“Landlord!” she gasped in astonishment.

“An’ ye can leave my inn,” continued John, now thoroughly aroused. “We
are respectable, if ye are na.”

“Peace, fool!” she exclaimed furiously. “I am Lady Glen——” she stopped
and bit her lips angrily at the indiscreet slip of her tongue. Suddenly
a daring thought entered her mind. One glance at his face told her that
he had not caught the name. To think was to act with my lady. Then she
continued glibly, “I am Lady Nancy Gordon, daughter of the Duke of
Gordon, of Gordon Castle. It will be all over town in a day,” she thought
with malicious satisfaction.

John staggered back as though he had been shot. “Ye Lady Nancy?” he
gasped in amazement. “Oh, my lady, I ask your pardon.”

“’Tis not easily granted, numskull,” replied the imperious beauty, her
black eyes flashing dangerously. The sound of a carriage rolling over the
cobble stones suddenly arrested her attention. For a moment she listened
intently, then, with a startled exclamation, she turned to John and said
in a frightened whisper, “’Fore heaven! if it should be my husband—my
father, I mean, in pursuit of me.” She ran hastily to the window from
where a view of the street could be obtained and threw open the casement.

“It would serve ye right, my lady,” said John to himself.

“Great heavens! ’tis my uncle, Sir William Creech!” she gasped. Then she
said aloud, “Landlord, ’tis my father, as I feared! Oons! what a scrape
I’m in.” She closed the shutter hastily.

“’Twill ruin your reputation to be found here at night, my lady,” cried
John concernedly, trotting nervously to the window.

“O Lud,” she replied airily, “I’m not concerned over my reputation, ’tis
already torn to ribbons by my dear friends. ’Tis my—my father’s wrath I
fear. He is like to do some mischief.” An imperious knocking sounded on
the door below.

“He has found ye, lassie,” cried old John excitedly. “Go down to him;
dinna let him find ye here in Robbie’s chamber. Ye ken the blame will all
fall on the lad,” and he sought to escort her to the door, but she evaded
his outstretched hand with laughing unconcern.

“Nay, nay, my good fellow. I protest, I will not see him,” she exclaimed,
with reckless abandon. She would keep up the impersonation till the end.
Another such chance to blast her enemy’s reputation would not come to her
in a lifetime, she thought wickedly. “Listen,” she cried impetuously. “My
father, the Duke of Gordon, while he admires the poetry of Mr. Burns,
does not admire the man himself, consequently he did not send him an
invitation to attend the masked ball which is given at Gordon Castle
to-night,” she explained glibly. “’Twas a monstrous insult to the Bard
of Scotland, and I told my father so, and that I would not countenance
it. Then I stole away, as I thought, unobserved, and came here to induce
Mr. Burns to return with me. Once inside the castle my father will be
forced to receive him graciously. Now, hurry, landlord, tell him to dress
and we’ll slip out quietly, and, with your connivance, elude my—father’s
vigilance.” She watched him narrowly to note the effect of her story.

“My lady,” replied John proudly, “the lad goes to Athol Castle to-night,
so ye had better gang hame wi’ your father.” She gave a quick start
of delighted satisfaction. So he was going after all. If she had only
known that and felt sure of it, she might have spared herself this
nerve-racking experiment, she thought impatiently.

The pounding had kept up incessantly, and now a stern, commanding voice
called out for the landlord.

“He’s calling me,” said John nervously; “ye’d better go doon an’ explain
a’ to him,” he told her pleadingly.

“Landlord, where the devil are you?” They could hear the heavy tread of
feet walking about the rooms below.

“He’s inside the house,” whispered John, wringing his hands.

“O Lud, he seems most angry, doesn’t he?” she said in a subdued voice.
She had suddenly grown tired of the deception, and was eager now to get
away. “I—I think perhaps ’twould be best if he—er—my father didn’t find
me here after all,” she admitted. “I—I really dare not face his anger.”
She jumped up quickly, all her bravado vanished. “Get me out of this
place, landlord, quick, quick!” she gasped, clinging to him. Oh, why had
she come? Sir William would make such a disagreeable scene if he found
her here.

“Into that room wi’ ye!” cried John quickly, pointing to a small door
in the opposite side of the room; “an’ I’ll get your father out o’ the
house.”

“Why couldn’t the old fossil have stayed at home?” she said to herself
angrily. “This promised to be such a romantic adventure, landlord,” she
said aloud, poutingly. “And now ’tis all spoiled. Plague take it. Hurry,
landlord, and get my—father away, for I must return to the ball before
my absence is noticed.” She went into the room, her heart filled with
apprehension, and closed the door, which John promptly locked.

“Thank the Lord,” he muttered with a sigh of relief. “I breathe easier.”
Going to the door leading to the hall, he listened for a moment. From
below came the sound of clinking glasses. He closed the door quickly. The
coast was clear now. His guidwife was waiting on the customer. He hurried
across the room and was about to release his prisoner, when he heard the
door of Robert’s chamber open. He turned quickly and found his lodger
yawning in the doorway.

“Well, John Anderson, my Jo John,” said he lazily, “what’s all the row
here, eh?”

John looked up guiltily. “Are ye up, laddie?” he stammered.

“Nay, John, I’m walkin’ round in my bed,” retorted Robert dryly. “Dinna
ye think it’s time for me to be up?” he asked. “What’s the matter, mon?
stand still, ye make me dizzy.”

John was uneasily walking up and down, casting surreptitious glances at
the door of the room which held the fair captive. “Oh, Johnny, my Jo
John,” laughed Robert as he caught sight of the old man’s lugubrious
countenance, “ye’ve been drinkin’ too much Usqubaugh.”

“Too much what, Robbie?” he asked nervously.

“Usqubaugh. Dinna ken what that is? It’s whisky, whisky, whisky.”

“Oh, I ken, laddie,” replied John, smiling grimly. “Ye needna’ repeat it;
one whisky is enough.”

“Not for me,” laughed Robert, slapping him on the shoulder. “Ye dinna ken
my capacity.” The noise of a chair overturning in the next room arrested
his attention.

“What’s that?” he asked quickly.

“It’s n—nothing,” stammered John.

“There’s somebody in that room,” exclaimed Rob, putting his ear to the
crack in the door. “I hear her walking around.”

“Nay, nay, Rob, it’s nobody,” protested John, pushing him away.

“Oh, oh, John Anderson, my Jo John!” cried Rob, pointing an accusing
finger at the flushed, embarrassed face of the old man, “I’m on to ye.”

“For shame, Robbie, an’ me wi’ an old wife below stairs,” he answered
indignantly.

“Faith, I’ll just find out who it is,” chuckled Rob, going toward the
door.

“Nay, nay, lad!” remonstrated John, holding him back. “Wait, I’ll tell ye
who it is.”

“Ah, I knew it,” ejaculated Rob triumphantly. “Who is it?”

“It’s—it’s the Bailie,” faltered John.

“The Bailie? what’s he doing in there?”

“Weel, he—he came to arrest ye for debt,” glibly lied the old man. “So I
told him to wait in there till ye came hame, an’ noo he’s my prisoner;
that’s a’, Robbie.”

Rob grasped his hand gratefully. “Ye’re a true friend, John Anderson. Let
me see, how much do I owe him?”

John backed quickly away from him. “Nay, nay, laddie!” he said decidedly.
“I havena anither penny.”

“Neither have I,” laughed Rob ruefully. “So I’ll leave ye to get him out
the best way ye can; he’s your prisoner, not mine. I’d like to pitch
him down stairs. Come on, John, between us we ought to manage the old
Shylock.”

“Nay, nay, Robbie,” he retorted dryly. “Take my word for it, we’d hae our
hands full.”

“Weel, I’ll get into the rest of my clothes, for I’m due in society,”
yawned Rob, going to his room. “Get rid of him, John; do what ye like
with him; he’s no friend of mine,” and he went in and closed the door
behind him.

John softly followed him to the door and turned the key in the lock.
“I’ll take nae chances,” he said grimly.

“Good-evening,” said a sweet voice timidly. He turned around and with
a gasp of astonishment beheld a young girl standing in the doorway.
Suddenly he gave a great start. Could his eyes deceive him? Was that
beautiful creature in the long white opera cloak, her golden locks piled
in a gorgeous mass high upon her little head, really the barefooted lass
he had seen only a few days ago, in her short skirt of plaid?

“Mary Campbell, is it yoursel’, lass?” he finally gasped.

“Aye, ’tis really me,” laughed Mary happily. “I’m goin’ to the ball at
Athol Castle with Mrs. Dunlop. I wanted Robbie to see me in my gown
before I went, so Mrs. Dunlop left me here, while she drove over to pick
up Mrs. McLehose; then she’ll return for me. Where is Robbie, John?”

“He’s in there dressing, Mary, but whist, I’ve something to tell ye
first.”

“About Robbie?” she asked anxiously.

“Aye, there’s the devil to pay here, Mary.” The old man’s face looked
gloomy and perturbed. “There’s a—a lady in that room.”

“A—a lady!” gasped Mary in amazement, looking at the door of Robbie’s
chamber.

“Aye, Lady Nancy Gordon hersel’.”

“Then it’s true,” cried Mary, sinking into a chair, a great fear tugging
at her heart. “It’s true, then, all the stories I hear, that Robert is
be—bewitched wi’ her. I wouldna’ believe it before. Mrs. Dunlop says it
isna’ true, that Robbie hasna’ changed, but noo what can I think? Oh,
laddie, oh, laddie!” and she sank back pale and trembling.

“There, lassie, Robert doesna’ care a penny for that lass,” he said
tenderly. “She is only a heartless coquette, o’er fond of adventure,”
and he laid his wrinkled hand caressingly on the golden head. “Noo look
here, Mary, ye mustna’ expect Robert to be an angel all the time. He
thinks only of ye, and he loves ye just as fondly, e’en if he does smile
and make love to the ladies who throw themsel’s at his feet. He would
lose his popularity, ye ken. ’Tis only an amusin’ pastime, lassie, an’
but gives him inspiration for his poetry, so dinna’ take it to heart.
Ye ken Rob is highly sensitive, a most temperamental lad, who is very
susceptible to the charms of the fair sex, but whist, Mary, he isn’t
marrying any of them. There is only one lassie who will be his wife noo,
and she’s nae far away from me this moment.” And he nodded his head
sagely.

“Why dinna’ they leave him alone?” sighed Mary disconsolately. “’Tis very
unmaidenly in them to seek for his favor so openly.”

“Noo, lassie,” said John seriously, “we maun get Lady Nancy out o’ this
scrape, for the house is watched noo by her father, who suspects her
presence here.”

He walked up and down the room for a few moments plunged in deep thought.
All at once his face brightened.

“I have thought o’ a scheme, lassie,” he said suddenly. “Let Lady Nancy
take this long cloak of yours; ’twill cover her o’er entirely; then she
can walk boldly out past her father; he will think ’tis ye, Mary, and
will na’ stop her. Ye’re both of a height,” and he regarded her with
anxious eyes.

“Why should I help her?” said Mary, her heart still heavy and sore.

“For Robbie’s sake,” pleaded John. “Her father will blame the lad for it
all; perhaps he will shoot him, and he an innocent man. Why, lassie, he
doesna’ even ken the lass is in the house.”

“Doesna’ ken it?” repeated Mary, smiling incredulously. “Why, John,
Robert isna’ blind. If she is in his room——”

“But she isna’ in his room, Mary,” interrupted John. “She’s in there,
scared to death,” and he pointed to the door opposite.

“Oh!” comprehended Mary with a sigh of relief. “That’s different. I’ll
help her noo, John,” and she jumped eagerly to her feet, her face flushed
and earnest.

“That’s the girlie,” replied John heartily. Going to the door, he opened
it and whispered to Lady Nancy to come out.

“Lud, I thought you were never coming,” she flashed as she hastily
entered the room. She stopped short upon seeing Mary.

“This lady will help ye get away,” said John, looking angrily at the
bogus Lady Nancy.

[Illustration: “Mary quickly divested herself of her mantle and threw it
about the bare shoulders of the disdainful lady.”]

“Where have I seen that face before?” Lady Glencairn asked herself
nervously, looking closely into Mary’s flushed, innocent face, that
reminded her so guiltily of Lady Nancy Gordon herself.

Mary quickly divested herself of her mantle and threw it about the bare
shoulders of the disdainful lady, who hastily drew the large hood over
her elaborate court wig, entirely concealing it within its voluminous
folds.

With a quick careless word of thanks to Mary, she walked to the door, and
calling to John, who was quietly turning the key in Robert’s door, to
show her the way out, she swiftly left the room, and with wildly beating
heart, passed her uncle at the outer door, and mingled her presence with
the stream of gallant courtiers and laughing, gayly-dressed ladies that
wended its boisterous way along the crowded thoroughfare.



CHAPTER XIV


When Mary found herself alone she sat down pensively in the big leather
chair, feeling very sad and thoughtful. Of course she trusted Robert
absolutely, but how could he really love such an ignorant little country
girl like herself, when there were so many grand, rich, beautiful ladies
surrounding him all the time and suing for his favors, even seeking him
out in his own rooms? But her face brightened as she thought of what
John had told her. “It isna’ his fault if the women lose their hearts
over him,” he had said, and in her heart she felt she could not blame
anyone for loving Robbie. She rose and softly approached his door. Then
she paused. No, she would wait till he came and found her himself. But
she did wish he would hurry and finish dressing before Mrs. Dunlop came
back. She strolled aimlessly about the room looking with listless eyes
at the collections of souvenirs and bric-a-brac which filled the mantels
and covered the tables. She noted with wonder the profusion of ladies’
gloves, ’kerchief, scarfs, a slipper or two and a motley collection of
other articles littering the table. She picked up a beautiful pink mask
and idly turned it over; on the back she read, “Dropped by Lady Nancy at
the Charity Ball given in honor of the Prince of Wales.” She put it down,
her lips trembling. He must prize it very highly, she thought with a
pang of jealousy; but as she read the various inscriptions on the back
of a number of the others, she smiled and told herself what a silly she
was. Of course he couldn’t be in love with all the owners of those many
favors. She picked up the mask again and held it before her eyes. How
funny to cover one’s face in such a manner, she thought. She fastened the
elastic behind her ear, and with a woman’s curiosity wondered how she
looked in it. She quickly spied the large cheval mirror in the cabinet.
“How funny I do look,” she said to herself with a little amused laugh,
as she caught sight of her reflection. “Nobody would ever know me.” As
she drew closer to the mirror in pleased wonder her dancing eyes slowly
wandered from the top of the glittering coil of her golden hair, dwelt
for an instant in blushing modesty on the gleaming, bare shoulders,
and rested in loving, blissful content on her simple trailing robe of
ivory-tinted embroidered silk. She looked angelically lovely as she stood
there innocently admiring her winsome reflection.

“Is that really the Highland Mary who used to wander barefooted through
the glens and vales, the simple dairymaid who made butter for Colonel
Montgomery?” she asked herself dreamily. “Am I awake, I wonder? How
Souter Johnny would open his eyes if he could only see me noo in this
beautiful gown, carrying a fan an’ wi’ my hair done up high.” She laughed
gleefully but softly at the thought. “Wouldna’ they be proud to see me
such a grand lady.” She walked stiffly across the room with all the
dignity she could command, her chin held high and taking quick little
pleased glances over her shoulder at her reflection. It was Mary’s
first long gown, and it was not to be wondered at, when in turning
quickly around a chair she easily became entangled in her train, and
with a little frightened gasp she suddenly found herself on her knees
endeavoring to extricate her feet from the clinging mass of silk and
linen in which they were enmeshed. Finally she succeeded in regaining
her feet, but not until she had with extreme care seated herself did she
breathe a sigh of relief. She eyed her train ruefully. “If I should fall
doon before all the great people at the ball, I should be so ashamed,”
she said, sighing dismally. “They would all laugh at me. But Robert says
I am nicer than anyone in all the world.” She reveled in that thought an
instant, then her face lengthened. “But I ken there is a difference, a
great difference; I am only a simple country lass without any learnin’
whatever, while Lady Nancy is——” she rose suddenly as a thought occurred
to her, her hands clasped tightly together. “Suppose he should grow
ashamed of his ignorant little country wife,” she whispered with
trembling lips; “it would break my heart in twain.”

She held out her hands passionately toward her unseen lover. “Ye
willna’ ever regret makin’ me your wife, will ye dear?” she whispered
imploringly. “Ye willna’ be sorry in years to come.” Quickly her loving,
trustful faith reasserted itself. “Nay, nay, my heart tells me ye
willna’, so I’ll be foolish nae more. I’ll tell him what a silly lass
I’ve been an’ how he’ll laugh at my doubting fears.” She took a step
toward his door, when it opened and Robert came quickly into the room,
dressed for the ball, looking very handsome in his plain and unpretending
dress of blue homespun, for he still retained the same simplicity of
manner and appearance that he brought with him from the country. He
stopped in amazement as he came face to face with his unexpected visitor.

Mary with a thrill of joy at the sight of her lover waited eagerly for
the words of praise which she knew her appearance would elicit, and for
which she hungered, but as he stood looking at her so calmly, so coldly,
her joy turned to wonder and fear. What was the matter? Didn’t she please
him? With a little gasp she put her hand nervously to her face. As it
came in contact with the mask, which she had forgotten to remove, her
heart gave a quick bound of relief. Of course! He didn’t know her. “He
doesna’ ken who I am at all,” she thought gleefully.

As his eyes rested upon the pink mask, Robert gave a sudden start, then
glanced quickly at the table. No, it wasn’t there. So then this was Lady
Nancy herself. He recognized her hair, her figure, and above all the
mask. “So my haughty lady thinks it safer to play wi’ fire incognito,
eh?” he thought grimly. “Weel, I’ll teach ye a lesson, my fine lady; ye
need one badly.” Then aloud, “I’m indeed honored, madam, by your presence
here to-night,” he said, bowing low before her.

Mary courtesied deeply. Oh, it was so exciting to be talking with her
Robbie, and how surprised he would be when she unmasked.

“Haven’t ye a word to say to me, fair lady?” continued Robert softly, as
she stood silently before him.

“He’ll sure ken my voice,” she thought in trepidation; “if I could only
talk like a lady.” She wondered if she could imitate the haughty tones of
Lady Nancy Gordon herself. She’d try. She seated herself languidly. “Then
you don’t recognize me?” she asked, disguising her lyric voice, as near
as possible, in the lazy drawl of Lady Glencairn’s voice.

He started and looked at her intently. It didn’t sound like Lady Nancy at
all, but who else could she be? he thought blankly. “Your voice sounds
like—but nae, I maun be mistaken,” he said doubtfully. “Nay, madam, I do
not recognize you. Will you not remove——”

“What, my face?” laughed Mary. She had marvelously lost all trace of her
country intonation. “Oh, nay, sir! I’m too much attached to it.”

“Well ye might be, fair lady!” replied Robert, “but why do ye hide your
beauty so jealously?” He reached out his hand to lift the mask from her
face, but, with a rippling laugh, she eluded him, and from behind the
high-backed settle made reply.

“Be not impatient, Mr. Burns,” she said saucily; “you shall see my face
in good time, I warrant ye!” It must be Lady Nancy after all, he told
himself.

“’Tis a promise of paradise, madam!” he cried fervently, entering into
the spirit of adventure.

Mary looked at him reproachfully. Did he think she was really Lady
Gordon? she wondered. The thought gave her pause. Well, she would find
out how much he really cared for her, how much truth there was in the
gossip she had heard. “Rumor sayeth, Mr. Burns, that ye are in love with
the beautiful Lady Nancy Gordon; is that so?” she asked, fanning herself
languorously.

He smiled quizzically into her face. “Rumor hath many tongues, fair lady,
and most of them lying ones. The lady doesna’ suit my taste; even her
money couldna’ tempt me, an’ I need the money badly. That will take her
conceit down a peg I’ll warrant,” he thought grimly.

“But she is very beautiful, I hear,” said Mary, filled with delight at
his answer.

“That I grant ye. Mistress Nancy is most adept in the use of the
hare’s foot an’ of the paint box. I’ll wager she can teach even our
incomparable actress, Mrs. Siddons, a few tricks in the art of makeup.
Oh, but ye should see the lady in the early morning. ’Fore heaven, she
resembles damaged goods!” Now would come the explosion of wounded pride
and outraged dignity, he thought calmly, but his amazement was unbounded
when the seeming Lady Nancy jumped up and down, ecstatically clapping her
hands in a very undignified manner. “Ye seem o’er pleased at my remark,”
he exclaimed with a puzzled frown.

“I am, I am pleased!” she cried joyfully.

“What?” he stammered taken aback—“why, I—I thought ye were——” He stopped,
flushed and embarrassed.

“Were Lady Nancy Gordon!” she finished. “O Lud, if I were, I wouldn’t
feel complimented at all the flattering things I’ve heard!” and she went
off in a peal of merry laughter.

“Who are ye then, who comes to my chamber at night?” he asked curtly,
chagrined at his mistake. She shook her head and laughed softly.

“Ye shall know in good time,” she replied coquettishly. “I—I must make
certain that ye dinna’ love—me.” She smiled, but her heart was beating
wildly.

“I love only one maiden, an’ I make her my wife within a week,” he
answered with dignity.

“An’ ye’ve no regrets for Lady Nancy, nor for Mrs. McLehose, nor—nor
any o’ the grand ladies ye’ll be givin’ up to marry the little country
maiden?” she asked softly, forgetting in her eagerness her lapse into her
natural speech.

“None, my lady,” he replied firmly. “Noo, lets call a truce to this
masquerade! I am at a loss to understand your errand here to-night,
but do not press ye for an explanation, and as I am due at the Duke of
Athol’s, I must bid ye good-night.” He bowed coldly, and started to leave
her.

But with a cry of joy, which thrilled him to the heart, she drew near to
him with outstretched arms. “Robbie, lad, canna’ ye guess who I am?” she
cried. “I’m nae a grand lady at all, I’m only your Highland Mary.” With a
quick movement, she tore off the mask from her flushed and radiant face
and threw it far from her.

“Mary, is it ye?” he gasped, almost speechless with surprise. He could
scarcely believe his senses. This radiantly beautiful lady his Highland
Mary? was such a metamorphosis possible?

She made him a little courtesy. “Aye, ’tis Mary!” she answered, her heart
beating fast with pleasure. Quickly she told him how she had come, why
she had come, and how long she had waited, just to hear his words of
approval. “Do I please ye, laddie?” she asked shyly.

For a moment he could not speak. Her wonderful perfection of beauty
startled him. He drew her closely into his arms, kissing her with almost
pathetic tenderness. “Mary, my love, my sweet lass!” and his voice
trembled. “Pleased! Good Heavens, what little words those are to express
my feelings. I can tell ye how you look, for nothing can ever make ye
vain! Ye’re the most beautiful lassie I’ve ever seen! Ah, but I’m proud
of ye this night. Ye’re fit to wear a coronet, Mary lass! I ken there
will not be a grand lady at the ball to-night who will look half sae
bonnie, nor hae such sweet, dainty manners, as my country sweetheart.”
He held her off at arm’s length and glanced with affectionate adoration,
from the fair, golden-crowned head down to the point of the small
pearl-embroidered slipper that peeped beneath the edge of the rich,
sheeny white robe.

“It seems so strange to be here in Edinburgh, decked out in all this
finery,” she murmured dreamily, “and on my way to a real ball. Is it
really me?”

“Aye, ’tis ye, Mary, I’ll swear to that!” he cried heartily, kissing
the sweet, ingenuous face raised to his so wistfully. She blushed with
pleasure, and bashfully turned her head away. “Ye dinna’ think I look
awkward, do ye laddie?” she inquired in a low, timid voice.

“Nay, ye’re grace itself, sweetheart!” he replied reassuringly, raising
her chin till her drooping eyes met his.

“An’ ye wouldna ken I was only a dairymaid if it werena for my speech,
would ye?” she interrogated, with pathetic hopefulness. Her concerned,
anxious little face and wistful manner touched him deeply.

“I wouldna have ye changed for all the world, Mary!” he told her
tenderly, pressing his lips to the one little curl which hung unconfined
over her snowy shoulder. “Be your own pure, sweet self always, for ye’re
the fairest of all God’s creatures to me noo.”

She gave a deep sigh of absolute content, and leaned against him silently
for a moment. Then she looked up at him brightly. “This fine dress makes
me quite a grand lady, doesna’ it?” she prattled innocently.

“Aye! every inch a queen!” and he made her a deep bow.

“But it isna mine, Robbie,” she whispered confidentially. “I borrowed it
for the night only, like Cinderella in the fairy book, to make my début
into fashionable society,” and she laughed gleefully, like a little child
telling a wonderful secret. “It’s Mrs. Dunlop’s wedding gown, Robbie;
isna it just sweet?” She passed her hand gently over the folds of the
silk and there was awe and reverence in the touch. “Oh, how I love to
smooth it, ’tis so soft an’ rich an’ glossy; it isna’ wrong to love the
beautiful things, is it, laddie?” she asked earnestly.

“Nay,” replied Robert, smiling tenderly at her naïveté. “Love the pretty
things all ye like, dearie, for hereafter ye shall have the finest gowns
in town. Ye shall select whatsoever your fancy pleases—dresses, bonnets,
mits, boots,” and he enumerated on his fingers all the articles he could
remember so dear to a woman’s heart.

“Shall I really, really?” she gasped as he finished, looking at him with
wondering eyes. “I hae never bought a pretty thing in a’ my life, ye ken,
an’ oh, won’t it be just sweet? We’ll go to the shops to-morrow, an’ Mrs.
Dunlop will help me select my—my wedding gown.” She held her head away
bashfully, blushing pink before the sudden fire that gleamed in the dark
eyes bent on her so devotedly.

“Your wedding gown?” he repeated, with dreamy softness. “Let it be silk,
Mary, white, soft and shimmering, to float around ye like a cloud of
sunshine. An’ ye must have a bridal veil too, lassie, one sae fine an’
transparent that it will cover ye o’er like the morning mist.”

“I would be afraid to buy so much,” she replied gravely. “’Twould be too
costly, an’ ye canna’ afford to waste sae much money to deck me out like
a lady,” and she shook her head in firm disapproval.

He laughed heartily at her sober face and air of housewifely prudence.
“My dear,” he whimsically told her, “dinna’ ye mind the cost. A weddin’
doesna’ often happen in one’s lifetime, sae we’ll make it a grand one
this time.”

“Ye’ll spoil me, Robbie,” she answered, smiling happily.

“Nay, ye’re too sweet and lovely to be spoiled.”

“Well, ye ken,” she replied demurely, “sweet things spoil the quickest.”

Before he could reply, the rattle of a carriage over the pavement sounded
loudly through the room. As it stopped at the door, Mary gave a little
sigh of regret. “It’s Mrs. Dunlop, returning for me at last,” she said.
She secretly hoped the sharp old eyes would not miss the cloak.

“Aye, like the good fairy godmother,” smiled Robert, as he led her out of
the room and down the stairs.

“I feel as if I were in a dream,” she murmured softly, picking up her
train, and lovingly holding it over her arm, as she walked daintily
across the sidewalk to the waiting carriage. “If I am, laddie,” she
continued earnestly, “I hope I may never awake from it; I want to dream
on forever.”



CHAPTER XV


When Lady Glencairn, after her arrival at the Duke of Athol’s, found that
Robert had not come—indeed she and Lord Glencairn and Sir William Creech,
her uncle, had been the first to arrive—she decided recklessly to visit
him at his chambers, so she had easily stolen away unnoticed by all save
one, on her indiscreet journey. Sir William had seen her as she slipped
guiltily out through the conservatory window and had followed her with
growing suspicions to the door of Robert’s chamber, where he waited in
impotent wrath for her to reappear, after having questioned the guidwife
within the inn. And he was not deceived when she came out, wrapped in
the disguising cloak and mask. He followed her like a grim servitor till
she reached the castle, and as she was noiselessly reëntering by the
conservatory window, he called to her to wait. With a startled gasp she
turned, and as her eyes rested on her uncle’s accusing face, she gave a
little laugh, half scornful, half defiant, and leisurely throwing off her
cloak and mask, stood waiting for him to speak.

“Ye foolish woman!” he told her angrily. “How could ye be so imprudent,
reckless mad, as to visit a man’s chamber at night?”

“Don’t preach to me, uncle,” she answered sullenly. “No one knows of my
being there, not even Mr. Burns himself.”

“But what were ye thinkin’ of to do such a reprehensible act?” he
demanded sternly. She turned on him suddenly.

“Because I love him!” she exclaimed passionately, casting prudence to the
winds. “I went there to tell him of my love, to give myself to him, to
beg him to take me away from here, to take me anywhere, only to let me be
near him, to stay with him. But I was forced to come away without seeing
him, thanks to you.”

For a moment he regarded the reckless woman in silence, amazement, shame,
and anger struggling for the mastery.

“Alice, of what are you thinking?” he ejaculated finally, catching
her roughly by the arm. “You must control yourself. I speak for your
own good. Think no more of this idle poet, for only shame, ruin and
unhappiness can come to ye and your husband, unless ye give up this
unholy passion.”

She laughed scornfully. “My husband!” she cried bitterly. “Don’t remind
me of that fossil! You, and the rest of my family, are to blame for my
being fettered, tied to a man I do not love. If it were not for that, I
could find the happiness I crave.”

“Sh! be calm!” he continued, looking anxiously around. “You may be
overheard. Foolish woman! do you forget that Robert Burns, as well as
yourself, is married.”

“He is not!” she flashed impetuously. “That was no legal tie. Some
foolish chit of a country lass flung herself at him, with the usual
result. Any man would have done as he did, but unlike most men, he,
out of pity and from a high sense of honor, married her; but it was an
irregular marriage, which was speedily annulled by the girl’s father. He
is free now, free as ever he was. The girl has given him up, poor fool. I
only am the shackled one, a prisoner for life, unless——” An eager light
flashed in her deepened eyes.

“Unless Robert Burns elopes with ye!” he finished sarcastically. “I
warn ye, Alice, not to play with edged tools;’tis o’er dangerous. Be
more careful or others will suspect what I already know.” She smiled
disdainfully and shrugged her shapely shoulders.

“Do not force me to open your husband’s eyes!” he retorted, angered by
her irritating indifference. She looked at him, her heart filled with
sudden fury. How she would like to hit him in the face with her fan, how
she hated him and his interference, his unwelcome advice. “Already,” he
continued irritably, “you have given that scandalmonger, Eppy McKay,
cause to suspect your too warm and ardent affection for Mr. Burns, by
openly showing jealousy of Lady Nancy Gordon.”

“I jealous of Nancy Gordon?” she repeated, with airy scorn, walking
toward the door of the conservatory. “Huh, not I, uncle; I am not so
unconscious of my own charms,” and she drew her magnificent figure
up to its full height, then smiled insolently into his perturbed and
nervous face. “I thank you for all your advice,” she murmured sweetly as
they traversed the long hall, “but remember, hereafter, that I mean to
steer my own canoe, whether it leads me into safe waters or through the
rapids.” And with a radiant smile upon her sensuous lips she entered the
drawing-room, leaning affectionately upon the arm of her outraged but
speechless relative. Quietly she took her place by her waiting husband’s
side, her dark eyes full of a bewitching and dangerous softness, for her
thoughts were on the one guest whose very name had the power to move her
so completely.

Never had she appeared so dazzlingly beautiful, as she stood there
meeting her friends and acquaintances with a deep ceremonious courtesy
for the distinguished ones, a smile and a nod for her intimates, and an
air of high-bred insolence and extreme self-satisfaction pervading her
whole appearance.

No one was ever bored at the Duchess of Athol’s brilliant “at homes.”
One always felt sure of meeting at least three or four justly celebrated
personages under her hospitable roof. And to-night society was a-gog,
for it was to welcome the farmer-poet, Robert Burns, who had returned
from his triumphant tour through the Highlands. Soon the capacious
drawing-rooms were crowded. There was the rustle of silk and satin, rare
and delicate perfumes shaken out of lace kerchiefs, while the heavy scent
of the many bouquets oppressed the warm air to the point of suffocation.
There was an interminably monotonous murmur of voices, only broken at
rare intervals by a ripple of mild laughter. Over by the large windows
that overlooked the terrace stood a group of people gazing earnestly out
beyond the gardens at some object, which had arrested their attention,
with various degrees of interest.

“Whatever is happening below on Princes Street?” suddenly inquired one
of the ladies, nervously clutching the arm of the man nearest her. Eppy
McKay was an eccentric maiden lady of questionable age and taste. Of more
than ordinary height naturally, she looked a giantess in her powdered
wig, which towered fully a foot in the air, and which was decorated
profusely with waving plumes, rosettes and jewels. Her lowcut gown of
crimson satin, over a petticoat of quilted green silk, was cut extremely
low, revealing a vision of skin and bones, powdered to a ghastly
whiteness. Her affectations, her simperings, and her poses accorded
society much amusement, of which fact she was blissfully unconscious.

“There is a crowd gathered around a carriage, but farther than that I
cannot make out,” replied Mr. Mackenzie, the famous author and publisher.

A prolonged shout from below increased the restlessness of the timid
Eppy. “Oh, dear!” she gasped. “If it should be an uprising of the
Jacobites,” and she looked fearfully into the amused faces of her
companions.

With a disgusted grunt, Sir William Creech shook his arm free from her
clawlike clutch. “Nonsense, woman, ye’re daft!” he answered impatiently.

“Well, upon my word!” she murmured in injured surprise.

“The mob is increasing—’tis coming nearer!” exclaimed Mr. Mackenzie,
stepping out upon the wide balcony.

“So it is,” affirmed Eppy, retreating behind the heavy curtains. “Lady
Glencairn!” she called as her ladyship approached the window. “Listen to
those murmurs! Oh, dear! it makes me so nervous.”

Lady Glencairn stepped out upon the balcony, followed by the timid Eppy,
and stood contemplating the scene in the brightly lighted street below
them.

“It sounds not ominous,” she said quietly, after a moment. “Lud, what
a throng! They have unhitched the horses from a carriage, and are
themselves drawing it hither.”

“Who is in the carriage, can you see?” eagerly asked Eppy, straining her
eyes.

“A gentleman, who is evidently addressing the people,” answered Lady
Glencairn slowly. She gazed intently at the figure silhouetted against
the light of the street lamps. Surely she knew that form. At that moment
he turned, and with a flush of surprise, a thrill of joy, she suddenly
recognized him.

“Upon my life,’tis Robert, Robert Burns!” she cried excitedly.

“Aye, I recognize him now,” said Mr. Mackenzie.

“And you say they are drawing him hither?” inquired Sir William
incredulously, turning to his niece.

“Aye, and why not?” she replied brightly, turning to the others. “They
should carry him on their shoulders, for he deserves all homage.”

“And ’tis said the Scots are not demonstrative,” ejaculated Mr.
Mackenzie, as another burst of applause and cheers, followed by laughter,
reached their ears.

“You hear how demonstrative they can be when occasion demands
enthusiasm,” replied Lady Glencairn stanchly, “when genius knocks at the
door of their hearts. See how Edinburgh has utterly lost control of its
conservative old self, and all over the poetic genius of Robert Burns.”

“True, he has indeed stirred the hardest-hearted Scot by his fascinating
poetry,” mused Mr. Mackenzie admiringly.

“How I shall love him,” sighed Eppy dreamily. “In sooth I do now,” and
she simpered and dropped her eyes like a love-sick school girl.

“And she has never met the man yet!” cried Sir William in amazement. “The
woman’s daft,” he muttered, turning away.

“I do wish he would come,” sighed Eppy. “I want to tell him how much I
admire him and his poetry. Oh, I have the dearest little speech, that
Sibella, my sister, composed, all prepared to say when I am presented to
him.” She rolled her eyes up ecstatically.

“I shall also recite one of his odes to him,” she continued, in the tone
of one who is about to confer a great favor. “I know ’twill please him
greatly,” and she fanned herself languidly.

“What have you selected?” inquired Lady Glencairn, laughing openly. The
woman’s vanity amused her.

“Such a sweet conceit,” simpered Eppy.

“Is it ‘Tam O’Shanter’s Tale’?” inquired Mr. Mackenzie, interestedly.

“No, oh, no!” she replied, shaking her head. “’Tis monstrous long to
recite.”

“An ode to a calf,” said Sir William grimly, “would be more appropriate.”

“Perhaps ’tis the tale of ‘The Twa Dogs,’” hazarded Lady Glencairn. Eppy
laughed gleefully and shook her head.

“Tell us the name, madam; we’re no children!” roared Sir William, glaring
at her like an angry bull.

“You’re so gruff,” pouted Eppy reproachfully. “Do you all give it up?”
They nodded. “Well, then, don’t be shocked,” and she shook her finger
at them coquettishly; then leaning forward she whispered loudly, “’Tis
entitled ‘To a Louse.’”

“Heaven, preserve us!” ejaculated Mr. Mackenzie, laughing heartily.

“She’s touched here!” cried Sir William commiseratingly, putting his
finger to his head.

“Why did you choose that?” gasped Lady Glencairn, in amazement.

“Because ’tis a beautiful conceit,” answered Eppy soulfully. “I protest,
I mean to recite it.”

“I vow ’tis a most singular selection.”

“I don’t see why,” snapped Eppy spitefully. “’Twas written round a fact.”

“Really, I hadn’t heard of that,” answered her ladyship, coolly turning
away.

“I wonder at that,” cooed Eppy innocently, although a little malicious
twinkle appeared in her eyes. “You of all people should know everything
pertaining to Mr. Burns and his verses.” Lady Glencairn stiffened
suddenly, and cast a quick look at the stern face of her uncle.

“What do you mean by that?” inquired Sir William aggressively, turning to
Eppy.

“Oh, nothing, nothing!” she hastily replied, frightened by what she had
said.

“Everything concerning Mr. Burns, my husband’s protégé, and my friend,
my dear friend, I may call him, does interest me mightily, Miss McKay.
Pray tell me the story connected with the poem, if you care to!” and Lady
Glencairn turned her glittering eyes, which were narrowed dangerously,
upon the face of the crestfallen Eppy.

Sir William gave a snort of anger. “Ye couldn’t stop her; she is dying to
tell all she knows!” he said crustily.

Eppy cleared her throat vigorously. “Well, it was this way,” she began
confidentially. “Mr. Burns was sitting behind a lady in Kirk, one
Sabbath, who had on a new bonnet, of which she seemed most proud. As he
was admiring its beauty, his keen eyes detected this horrid little animal
crawling over the gauze and lace.”

“How fascinating,” murmured Mr. Mackenzie in mocking rapture.

“And it immediately inspired his pen to write the verses which have
made such a sensation in town,” concluded Eppy, looking eagerly at her
listeners for some look or word of approval.

“What a—a creepy story,” said Lady Glencairn, with a little shiver of
repulsion.

She turned to her quickly. “’Tis said, my dear, and I ask you not to
repeat it, for I promised not to tell, that the lady in question was
Agnes McLehose, the beautiful grass widow, who is such an ardent admirer
of Mr. Burns, you know.”

“Really!” murmured Lady Glencairn coldly.

“And the airs she put on!” cried Eppy, with lofty indignation. “Why, do
you know——”

But Lady Glencairn interrupted her sharply. “I do not care to speak of
Agnes McLehose,” she retorted frigidly, “and I never indulge in scandal,
especially before my friends, so let us not disgust them with any woman’s
gossip.”

“You are quite right,” affirmed Eppy affably. “I do not believe in it
myself; it always comes back to one.”

“Who can understand a woman?” grunted Sir William aloud.

“Well, it’s most easy to understand men,” retorted Eppy quickly.

With a sigh of impatience, Lady Glencairn took Mr. Mackenzie’s arm and
silently they reëntered the drawing-room. They wended their way through
the groups of people standing about, for the largest and most brilliant
portion of the assemblage were standing, the sofas, ottomans, and chairs
being occupied by the puffy old dowagers, who were entertaining each
other with choice bits of scandal; and, finally, came to a standstill
beside the grand piano. For a moment they remained quiet, listening to
the glorious voice of Madame Urbani, who from the great drawing-room
above was trilling forth an aria from grand opera. From her position
Lady Glencairn commanded a good view of the large arch through which the
guests entered the drawing-rooms. Anxiously she watched for the handsome
face and curly black hair of the poet above the crowd that surrounded
her. “Why does he not come? what can be detaining him?” she asked herself
for the hundredth time. Perhaps he was with Lady Nancy Gordon, she
thought jealously, looking about the vast room. She was sure she had
not yet been announced. It looked very suspicious that neither she, nor
Robert, had arrived. And her heart was consumed with bitter jealousy,
although her smiling face bore no traces of the raging fire within. How
she hated that doll-faced beauty for being single and free! How she would
delight in trampling her in the dust, she thought cruelly. Nearly a month
had elapsed since Robert left Edinburgh, since she had seen him. A month
filled with vain longing and unrest. And since his return, she could
scarcely restrain her intense longing to see him. Day after day she would
drive slowly past his lodgings, hoping to catch a glimpse of his glowing,
dark face, which had such power to thrill her to the very depths of her
intense and passionate nature. That longing had taken possession of her
to-night, when she had slipped out and stolen away to his rooms, and she
would have willingly given her body and soul to him, for the asking; but
her good angel had protected her from her own indiscretion, and saved
her unsuspecting victim from a great remorse. The gurgling voice of Eppy
McKay broke in abruptly on her disturbing revery.

“Oh, dear, I wish Mr. Burns would come,” she said plaintively.

“He is usually very punctual,” answered Lady Glencairn, opening her large
fan of ostrich plumes and fanning herself indolently.

“Genius is never governed by any rules of punctuality or propriety,”
observed Mr. Mackenzie.

“Then he is exempt,” replied her ladyship, smiling brightly. “Ah! you
truant. Where have you been?” she demanded of her husband, who joined
them at that moment.

“Incidentally getting a breath of fresh air, my dear,” replied Lord
Glencairn, smiling lovingly into his wife’s face. “But in reality, I was
listening to the ovation which Robert was receiving as he drove through
Princes Street.” Her eyes suddenly brightened.

“How I wish I could have heard his speech to the masses,” she cried
enthusiastically. “For I must confess, James, that no man’s conversation
ever carried me off my feet so completely as that of Robert Burns.”

“Indeed, my lady!” he retorted in mock alarm. “Then it behooves me to
keep my eye on you hereafter.”

She joined in the laugh that followed, then remarked audaciously, “But, I
vow, a little flirtation is really most exhilarating now and then.” She
flashed her brilliant eyes mockingly upon the horror-struck countenance
of Eppy McKay.

“How indiscreet!” exclaimed Eppy in amazement, “and you are a married
woman, too.”

“’Tis perfectly shocking, isn’t it?” mimicked her ladyship insolently.

Eppy pursed her thin lips, while a little spot of color dyed her
parchment-like cheeks. “Well, I do not approve of married women
flirting,” she replied primly, and as she caught the look of amusement
which passed between her ladyship and Mr. Mackenzie, she added sourly,
“Especially in public.”

“Oh! Then you do approve of it in private,” replied her ladyship sweetly,
innocently opening her eyes to their widest.

Eppy gave a gasp of horror. “Mercy, no!” she cried indignantly, “I should
say not.” And she tossed her head in virtuous anger.

“Robert Burns!” announced the footman at this juncture.

There was a sudden hush, a movement of excitement, and the group around
the door fell back, and everybody made way for the most important guest
of the evening, who for the last hour had been the all-absorbing topic
of conversation. Lady Glencairn started violently, as she heard the name
announced. For a brief instant she closed her eyes, feeling faint, and
trembling in an ecstasy of joy. He was here at last! Her heart throbbed
so violently it stifled her.

“How noble he looks!” exclaimed Eppy in an awestruck tone, as she watched
the tall figure in a polite but determined manner coolly elbowing a
passage among the heaving bare shoulders, fat arms, the long trains, and
bulging bustles and paniers that seriously obstructed his way. “And to
think that man is but a lowly-bred peasant,” observed Mr. Mackenzie, as
he watched him bending low over the hand of their hostess.

“A man’s a man, for all that!” murmured her ladyship, worshipful pride
in her voice and in her dazzling eyes, as she watched him approach,
bowing right and left. She drew herself up with the conscious air of a
beauty who knows she is nearly perfect, and with a smile she extended her
jeweled hand. “I’m so glad to see you here to-night,” she says sweetly,
although a glance like fire seen through smoke leaps from beneath her
silky eyelashes, but Robert saw it not; he was bending low over her fair
hand. “Welcome back to Edinburgh!” she continued, pressing his hand
warmly.

A bright smile lighted up his dark visage. “Thank ye,” he returned
simply. Then he turned to Lord Glencairn with outstretched hand. “My
lord!” he said warmly, “how glad, how delighted, I am to again press the
hand of my patron, my friend.”

“The pleasure is mutual, my lad!” he replied. A kindly smile lighted up
his noble face, as he perceived the ruddy glow of health in the full
cheeks, the flashing eyes of the young poet. “Ah, you return to us
looking bonnier than ever,” he continued. “Your triumphant tour through
the north with its Highland chieftains and lords at your feet, has not
turned your head after all.”

Robert laughed good-naturedly. “Not a bit of it,” he replied frankly.

“Let me present Mr. Henry Mackenzie,” introduced Lady Glencairn at this
juncture.

Robert advanced eagerly to meet him, his hand extended, his eyes flashing
with delight. “The author of the ‘Man of Feeling,’ the first book I loved
and admired years ago!” he exclaimed in direct frankness. “It is an
unexpected pleasure, sir.”

“The pleasure is mutual,” replied Mr. Mackenzie, flushing at the
compliment. “We witnessed your triumphant progress up Princes Street, and
were delighted at the ovation you received.”

Robert laughed happily. “Was it not wonderful?” he answered in his
sonorous voice, which had such a thrilling richness in it. “I could
scarcely realize it was the once poor, humble Robbie Burns they were
cheering. I am indeed happy; my popularity has not begun to wane yet.” He
regarded the great publisher with kindling eyes. “That I am so favorably
known, is due to your kindly articles in your inestimable paper, _The
Lounger_, and your unbiased criticism of my poems, which brought me
before the public, and I thank you most heartily for that generous
criticism which was so judicious withal.” A little murmur of approval
from his listeners greeted his last words.

“’Twas a pleasure, believe me, Mr. Burns,” he answered quietly, “to lend
a helping hand to assist a struggling genius.”

“Thank ye,” said Robert, simply.

“I believe you have never met our esteemed contemporary, Mr. Sterne,
author of ‘Tristam Shandy,’” observed Mr. Mackenzie, and he quickly made
the introduction.

Robert turned quickly to the grave and dignified scholar. “Little did I
ever dream,” he said fervently, “that I would one day meet and converse
with my two favorite authors.”

A smile of gratified vanity overspread the rugged features of the
scholar. “I am proud indeed,” he observed pompously, “if my book has
found favor in your eyes, Mr. Burns.” And soon they had become engaged
in an animated conversation, much to the chagrin of one of his admirers,
who had been waiting patiently to be introduced. She had been mentally
rehearsing her little speech for some time, and was now waiting for the
opportunity to deliver it.

“No one would ever take him for a farmer,” she thought in open-mouthed,
worshipful adoration.

“He looks quite like a gentleman,” said a haughty voice near her, in a
tone of great surprise.

“Huh! he makes love to every woman he meets!” replied Sir William
spitefully.

With a thrill of rapture at the thought, Eppy attracted the attention of
Lady Glencairn, and whispered in that lady’s impatient ear, “Introduce
me, please; I see Mr. Burns is regarding me very closely.”

Presently a lull occurred in the discussion, and Lady Glencairn smilingly
introduced the garrulous old lady to the poet, as a “warm admirer of his
poems.” “And of you, too,” eagerly interrupted Eppy, clasping his hand in
both of her own. “Oh! I have longed for this moment, that I might clasp
the hand of Scotia’s Bard, and tell him how I love him,”—she broke off
with a smothered giggle. “I mean his poems; oh, they are too heavenly
for utterance,” and she rolled her little gray eyes till only the whites
showed. “Sibella—she’s my sister, and a dear creature if I do say so—and
I have had many a lovely cry over them,” she rattled on hardly pausing
for breath. “Ah, they have made us so happy. You must come and see her,
won’t you, she’s a writer also, and you can have a sweet talk over your
art. We belong to a literary family, you know. Rob Don, the Gaelic poet,
belonged to our clan. We take after him.” She smiled affectedly and
batted her little eyes in what she fondly believed a very fetching manner.

Robert had vainly tried to edge in a word, and now stood listening to the
silly prattle, a smile of amusement playing round his mobile mouth.

“A long way after,” observed Sir William dryly. Then he threw up his
hands in dismay, for Eppy had started off again.

“Here I am rattling off a lot of nonsense,” she gurgled, “but I do enjoy
your talking so much, Mr. Burns. I vow I could listen to it all day. I
shall always remember this happy occasion of our meeting.” She stopped,
out of breath, panting but happy.

Robert regarded her quizzically for a moment while an audible titter was
heard throughout the rooms. “You quite overwhelm me, Miss McKay,” he
drawled at last. “But I have nevertheless enjoyed conversing with you.
Really, madam, I felt quite eloquent and did myself full justice,” and he
bowed gravely.

“Oh, you flatterer!” tittered Eppy, slapping his arm coquettishly with
her fan. “But I am not madam yet.” She ventured a quick look at Sir
William.

“Robert, I have been requested to ask you to recite one of your favorite
poems; will you honor us?” asked Lord Glencairn, coming forward.

At once there was a chorus of inanely polite voices. “Oh, do recite, Mr.
Burns!” “Please give us ‘Tam O’Shanter’s Ride,’” etc., etc.

Robert slowly looked around him at the sea of faces, and suddenly a
feeling of resentment filled his heart. Must he parade himself before
these empty-headed noodles, who regarded him in the light of a curiosity,
a plaything, to amuse them by his antics? Why didn’t they ask Mr.
Mackenzie or Mr. Sterne or Dr. Blacklock, Mr. Ramsay, or any one of the
others to read from their books?

“I must ask ye to excuse me to-night,” he replied coldly. “I have been
speaking in the open air and my voice is tired.”

“Then I will recite in your stead,” cried Eppy, determined to make an
impression on the romantic young farmer.

They crowded around her, laughing and joking, for poor Eppy was the
innocent, unsuspecting butt of society.

“What is your selection?” someone asked seriously.

“’Tis about the cunning little animal Mr. Burns saw on the lady’s
bonnet,” replied Eppy. “The lady’s name was—er——” She paused and looked
inquiringly into Robert’s grimly amused face.

“Ye would be very much surprised, perhaps shocked and grieved, Miss
McKay,” he answered, “were I to mention the lady’s name here, so I’ll
spare your feelings. Please recite the poem.” Eppy made a deep courtesy,
blissfully unconscious that the lady in question was none else than
herself. And after arranging her dress to her satisfaction, cleared her
throat affectedly and made several ineffectual attempts to begin the
recitation. Gradually a look of comical despair puckered up her face, and
turning to Robert with an embarrassed giggle, she exclaimed poutingly, “I
cannot recall a single line. How provoking, and I protest. I knew every
line by rote this morning. Please start me on the first verse, Mr. Burns.”

The spectacle of this silly old woman making a fool of herself before
that heartless crowd both annoyed and embarrassed Robert. “The last verse
is my favorite,” he replied, frowning angrily at the amused titters which
reached his ears from all sides, and quickly he read the verse through:

    “Oh wad some power the giftie gie us
    To see ourselves as others see us.
    It wad fra many a blunder free us, and foolish notion
    What airs in dress and gait wad leave us, and e’en devotion.”

And none knew whether the shaft was pointed at them or at the object of
their mirth, who stood before him with clasped hands and a smile meant to
be winning on her weak face, listening with all her senses.

“How true that is,” murmured Lady Glencairn.

“Yes, indeed,” sighed Eppy soulfully. “What fools some people make of
themselves, and they never know it, which is the funny part of it.” She
darted a quick glance at Lady Glencairn, who returned the look calmly and
evenly, although she was saying to herself, “Is she the fool she appears,
or is she giving me a dig, I wonder?”

She turned to Robert. “Mr. Burns, will you find me a chair, please; I am
rather fatigued, standing so long.”

He offered her his arm. “It will be rather a difficult matter,” he
observed, looking about him vainly. “Still, I can try.” And he moved
through the swaying crowd and out upon the balcony, with her little
gloved hand resting lightly on his coat sleeve.

“I saw you this morning, Mr. Burns, on Calton Hill,” she observed
lightly, “but at a distance. Upon driving nearer I lost sight of you; you
must have vanished into the air.”

“Not at all,” replied Robert, sitting beside her on the low balustrade.
“I found a beautiful solitude amongst a luxuriant growth of willows,
which no doubt you overlooked.”

“To be sure,” she returned. “Now I remember. A sad scene occurred there a
few years ago; a lady from Loch Carron drowned herself in the little pond
they hang over, because the man she loved despised her.” Her voice was
soft and low. She drooped her eyes and sighed.

“Poor unhappy woman,” sighed Robert sympathetically.

She looked at him quickly, her face flushing, her eyes earnestly
searching his face. “Then you would have pitied her?” she asked almost
breathlessly.

“He cannot be a man who would not pity a woman under such circumstances,”
he replied simply and thoughtfully.

“She loved him devotedly, recklessly,” she continued, her voice trembling
with suppressed emotion; “but she had no moral right to do so,” she
continued. “She was a wife, a miserable, unhappy wife; she deserved much
pity, but he was pitiless and uncharitable. He despised her weakness,
and so—she drowned herself.” Her voice sank into a strained, unnatural
whisper.

“Poor unhappy woman!” he repeated compassionately. “She was over-hasty, I
fear.”

“You would not have consigned her to such a fate, would you?” she
faltered, laying her soft feverish hand on his.

He started violently and was silent for a time. Then, slowly, sorrowfully
he turned and looked into her tell-tale face; for a moment she gazed
at him, her eyes glittering with an unholy light, her bosom heaving
tumultuously. Then she slowly drooped her head.

“’Twould be a heavy load to have on one’s conscience,” he replied
constrainedly.

He rose from his seat and stood looking thoughtfully across to where
Edinburgh castle loomed up on the hill, so cold and gloomy, outlined
against the blue sky.

She glided swiftly to his side. “Robert, let me——” she began
passionately, when the cold voice of Sir William Creech rooted her to
the spot in terror. Out of the shadow walked her uncle, and ignoring her
presence he addressed himself to Robert.

“Well, Mr. Burns!” he said angrily, “perhaps ye’ll condescend to notice
me now, your publisher, Sir William Creech.”

“I hope ye’re well,” returned Robert indifferently.

Sir William quivered with rage. “Ye’ve been in town a week, and yet ye
have not called to notify me of your arrival,” he sputtered.

“I quite forgot, Sir William,” answered Rob repentently; “you see I’m not
a good business man. However, to-morrow I will call and we will arrange
our much neglected business matters.”

“And there is much to arrange. Why did ye refuse to write for my weekly?
I offered to pay ye well for it,” he snarled.

“Pay!” flashed Rob indignantly. “Do you think to buy the fruit of my
brain like so much merchandise, at so much a line for a penny newspaper?
I am not a penny journalist, I am a poet. Whenever I embark on any
undertaking it is with honest enthusiasm, and to talk of money, wage, or
fee would be a downright prostitution of the soul,” and his eyes flashed
dangerously.

“You do not despise money, Robert Burns?” retorted Sir William
sarcastically.

“Most certainly not!” replied Robert quickly. “’Tis a most necessary
commodity, but extremely elusive, and to show you that money has no
terrors for me, I shall expect a settlement to-morrow in full. Some £300
are due me from the sale of the last edition of my songs.” He returned
Sir William’s wrathful gaze, his eyes full of righteous anger and strong
determination.

“Just one word more, Mr. Burns!” he began belligerently, but Robert
raised his hand with a stately gesture.

“I’m in a sorry mood for business, Sir William Creech,” he warned him, a
steely glitter in his eye.

“Well, ye will hear what I’ve to say,” insisted Sir William doggedly. “Ye
are under contract to me, sir; but instead of living up to the terms of
that agreement, ye are scattering broadcast to every person that pleases
your fancy, a song or an ode or a poem, which diminishes the worth and
consequent sale of your collection.”

“Lud, uncle,” interposed Lady Glencairn quickly, “I’ll warrant it makes
not the slightest difference.”

“’Tis not fair to me,” sputtered Sir William, “and I warn ye, Mr. Burns,
ye must not do it again. I strictly forbid it.”

“Uncle!” gasped Lady Glencairn in amazement.

“Ye forbid?” repeated Robert in immeasurable scorn. “Ye nor any man
living can dictate to Robert Burns. I shall write when an’ for whom I
please. I will not barter an’ sell my soul like so much merchandise.
You published my collection of songs an’ have made money out o’ the
transaction, which is mair than I have done. I am sick of it all; I am
done with your roguery, your deceit, now an’ forever.” And he waved his
hand in angry dismissal.

“But our contract,” gasped Sir William, taken aback.

“’Tis ended now, canceled by your ain insult, an’ I shall take means to
collect my just dues.”

“Are you not hasty?” asked Lady Glencairn concernedly.

“I told ye to call to-morrow,” snarled Sir William, “and I’ll pay ye,
then ye can gang your own gait. I have sought to give you advice, but ye
were too haughty and independent, and ye wouldn’t listen, but ye will yet
see and realize the bitter truth of my words, so go on in your career
of folly and its inevitable ruin, for ye’ll soon be at the end of your
tether, and may the devil claim ye for his own.” He stalked angrily away,
muttering to himself, “Ye upstart, ye low-born peasant, I’ll humble ye
yet!”

Robert turned to Lady Glencairn with a smile of apology on his lips. “I
ask your pardon, Lady Glencairn,” he said humbly, “for being the cause
of this unseemly scene in your presence, but my anger was aroused, an’
I simply couldna’ help speaking my thoughts—I am always doing the wrong
thing.”

“Oh, nonsense!” she responded laughingly. “Let us forget it and join the
others.” She took his arm and they slowly entered the ballroom, where
they were speedily joined by Lord Glencairn and a party of friends, who
immediately surrounded them.

“My dear,” said Lord Glencairn, “do you know that you have left us an
unconscionable time? Is there some witchery about yon balcony that I know
not of?” and he smiled affectionately upon his wife, whose eyes were
shining with happiness.

“Your pardon, James, but I’m sure our absence was not noted in such a
distinguished assemblage.” She glanced carelessly about the room at the
groups of sedate-looking people gravely conversing with each other while
they strolled slowly, aimlessly about with much dignity and ceremony,
and an almost imperceptible sneer curled her full lips. “Oh, the stiff
formality of some of these Calvinistic old fossils!” she remarked
contemptuously to Robert.

“From all such people, good Lord deliver us,” he replied in a low chant.

“Amen!” cried Eppy, looking archly at Sir William. “Give me youth and
gayety always.” Sir William looked his unspoken scorn.

“You and I may well sigh for youth, Miss McKay,” quavered the venerable
Dr. Blacklock. “Many moons have passed since he eluded our clutch and
fled, never to return,” and he sighed dismally.

“Speak for yourself, Doctor,” bridled Eppy. “I shall never let go my hold
on youth,” and she tossed her head indignantly.

“Speaking of fossils,” said Lady Glencairn pointedly, turning to Eppy, “I
wonder what can have happened to Mrs. Dunlop?”

“Oh, she is always late for effect,” she replied spitefully.

“Mrs. Dunlop is a very dear friend of mine,” observed Robert quietly, but
his eyes flashed with indignation.

“I beg your pardon for my rudeness,” murmured Lady Glencairn sweetly.

“I understand Mrs. Dunlop is chaperoning a new beauty,” said Lord
Glencairn inquiringly to his wife.

She gave him a side glance that was far from pleasant. New beauty,
indeed! There was only one recognized beauty in Edinburgh and she would
not yield the palm to anyone. “I really do not know to whom you allude,
James,” she said coldly.

The Duchess of Athol, who was standing near, smiled significantly. “Mrs.
Dunlop asked permission to bring a young friend, who was visiting her
from the Highlands,” she remarked pleasantly. “I do not know her in the
least, and they may not come at all.”

“Mrs. Dunlop and Miss Campbell!” announced the footman loudly. With a
smile on his handsome face and a hurried word of apology, Robert rapidly
walked to meet the approaching couple, who were the cynosure of all
eyes. Mrs. Dunlop was recognized by all as a woman of much importance in
Edinburgh society. She knew everybody and everybody knew her, for she was
the lineal descendant of the immortal Wallace, a fact of which she was
justly proud. She was a motherly looking woman, with a charming smile and
a pleasant, taking manner.

But the murmur of admiration throughout the room was not for her; it was
for the slim little girl in white with the blue eyes and fair hair, which
glittered like gold beneath the brilliant light of the chandeliers. “Who
can she be?” they whispered to each other in wonder. “Evidently not a
person of importance, else she would be dressed in the fashion of the day
and have her hair powdered.”

“At last, Mary, ye’re here!” cried Robert delightedly, placing her hand
within his arm. She clung to it with a nervous clutch.

“The child is frightened to death,” whispered Mrs. Dunlop, smiling
indulgently.

[Illustration: “‘Mrs. Dunlop and Miss Campbell,’ announced the footman
loudly.”]

Lady Glencairn turned very pale, as she recognized the girl she had
met in Robert’s room. She trembled and could scarcely regain her usual
composure as Robert with a proud tenderness lighting up the depths of
his black eyes, led the vision of youth and perfect beauty up to the
hostess, to whom he introduced Mary. Then he turned to Lady Glencairn.
“Lady Glencairn, allow me to introduce to you Miss Campbell. You remember
Highland Mary, do you not?”

She gave a slight start and her muscles tightened. The dairymaid
sweetheart here in Edinburgh? she thought in amazement. What could it
mean?

“Quite well,” she answered, extending her cold jeweled hand. “I little
dreamed I should ever meet you here like this, but the unexpected always
happens.”

“Dinna’ ye mind, my lady,” replied Mary simply, “ye said ye would be glad
to see me whenever I came to town.” She raised those marvelous, innocent
eyes of hers and smiled. Why did Lady Glencairn shrink from that frank
and childlike openness of regard? Why did she for one brief moment feel
herself to be vile and beneath contempt? She turned to where Mrs. Dunlop
was conversing animatedly with their hostess, a flush akin to shame
mantling her haughty face.

“My dear Duchess,” she was saying apologetically, “pray pardon our late
arrival, but I assure you ’tis not made for effect; our carriage broke
down on the way.”

Eppy started in amazement; had she overheard her spiteful remark?

The Duchess graciously inclined her stately head. “So glad you got here
at all, Mrs. Dunlop,” she said.

Robert turned laughingly to the group of eager people importuning him for
an introduction to the beautiful débutante. “Time forbids my introducing
ye individually to Miss Campbell,” he said good-naturedly, “therefore
let me present ye collectively to Highland Mary, my future wife, whom ye
have all read of an’ loved in my poems.” A ripple of applause greeted the
news, and congratulations poured in upon them, both hearty and sincere.

Lady Glencairn staggered slightly, her face paling, but she quickly
recovered and stood haughtily erect, fanning herself a little more
rapidly, her full red lips tightened to a thin malicious line.

Eppy rushed up to Mary effusively. “May I kiss you, dear?” she asked
gushingly, “you are so sweet and pretty, just like I was a few years
ago,” and she kissed the blushing girl with a resounding smack. “You’ll
be married in Edinburgh, I presume?” she continued volubly. “I must
attend the wedding.”

“The marriage will be most private, madam,” observed Robert coldly.

“Do you stay long in Edinburgh, Miss Campbell?” asked Lady Glencairn
abruptly, forcing a smile to her lips.

“No, not long, your ladyship,” replied Mary timidly. The cold metallic
tones of the haughty lady frightened her strangely. “I—I ne’er thought
I’d e’er come to Edinburgh,” she said, “but——” She hesitated and looked
shyly at Robert, and then looked modestly down at the bit of cobweb lace
which she held in her hand and which did duty as a ’kerchief.

“But I found the barrier between us was down, that I was free as ever to
wed the sweetheart of my boyhood days,” he explained with simple dignity.

“Aye, but you make a bonnie couple,” exclaimed Mrs. Dunlop admiringly.
“Well, I don’t blame anyone for falling in love with you, Robert,”
she declared frankly. “You’re a great man,” and she nodded her head
vigorously. “And a handsome one, too.”

Robert blushed and shook his finger in warning at his old friend,
although a tender smile played around his eyes and mouth. “Mrs. Dunlop,
men are said to flatter women because they are weak,” he said, “but if
it is so, poets must be weaker still, for the artful compliments I have
received from your sex have absolutely turned my head, an’ really I begin
to look on myself as a person of no small importance,” and he roguishly
winked his eye at his old friend.

“I never knew a man yet who was averse to flattery,” retorted the old
lady good-naturedly.

In the brief lull that followed the general laugh, the voice of Lord
Glencairn could be heard in conversation with Mary, who was earnestly
gazing up into his face, all traces of timidity gone, for she felt
singularly at her ease in the presence of the kindly old nobleman. “And
so you mean to take Robert away from us for good, eh?” he was saying in
his earnest, serious manner.

“Ye ken he is fair anxious to get back to Mossgiel now,” replied Mary,
blushing deeply.

Lady Glencairn snapped her fan together convulsively. “You mean to leave
Edinburgh for good?” she asked in faint, incredulous accents, turning to
Robert.

The people crowded around and a storm of protest arose. “What madness!”
“Leave Edinburgh for the country!” “They couldn’t hear of such a thing.”
“He owed a duty to them as Scotland’s Bard!” etc., etc.

Robert turned to them and spoke lightly, although with an undercurrent
of seriousness. “I ken I am but wasting my time, my energies, my talents
here, amid the sensual delight which your city affords,” he said. “I am
not formed for it. I am but a rustic at heart and in manners, and the
country is my only vantageground.”

Mary stole softly to his side and snuggled her hand in his. “Isn’t it
sweet to be in love?” cried Eppy cooingly, to Sir William, in a sibilant
aside. “Think what we are missing.”

“We’re too old for such nonsense,” replied Sir William gruffly.

“Oh, indeed!” flashed Eppy. “Huh, a woman’s never too old to love,” with
an indignant toss of her head.

“No, nor to make a fool of herself,” retorted Sir William, smiling grimly.

“But we cannot give you up just yet,” declared Lord Glencairn
emphatically, placing his hand affectionately on Robert’s shoulder.

“I am sure, Mr. Burns,” said Mr. Mackenzie gravely, “that your friends
and admirers would not advise such a move for you, especially as you are
now riding high on the top wave of success.”

“I have nothing to gain by staying here, Mr. Mackenzie,” replied
Robert, turning to him and speaking slowly and thoughtfully, “for, as
you observe, I am now firmly established as a poet. I fear I am not
proof against the subtle temptations which constantly beset my path and
which push aside all thoughts of poesy; so as discretion is the better
part of valor,” he continued, looking lovingly at the girl clinging so
confidingly to his arm, “I shall flee from it all to my farm, my plow,
and there amid those innocent, wholesome surroundings pass my remaining
days in peace wi’ my wife by my side.”

Mrs. Dunlop sighed dismally and shook her white curls in decided
disapproval. “Laddie, you will be taking a false step,” she declared
emphatically; “your place is here before the public.”

“Indeed it is!” gurgled Eppy soulfully. “I protest Edinburgh cannot
spare its poet yet. Your old farm can wait for you yet a while.”

Mary looked at his thoughtful face with anxious eyes. She prayed
fervently that nothing would dissuade him from his purpose. For it had
been at her earnest solicitation that he finally decided to give up the
enervating pleasures of the Capital, and to retire to the country where
he would be free from the contaminating influences which now surrounded
him.

He smiled reassuringly into her perturbed little face. No power on earth
could tempt him to break the promise he had so willingly made her on that
first day of her arrival in the gay metropolis, he thought fondly. He
turned to his questioners, who were eagerly awaiting his answer, his face
shining with fixed determination.

“My friends,” he said quietly, “I am only a farmer born, a son of the
soil. My one ambition now is to have my own roof-tree near the Doon,
where amidst the beauties of harmonious nature the Goddess Muse will
commune with me as of old, for ’twas there the greatest inspiration
of my soul came to me, and I know if all else fails me an independent
livelihood awaits me at the plowtail.”

“Tut, tut, the plowtail, indeed!” sniffed Mrs. Dunlop indignantly.

Lady Glencairn, who had been feverishly toying with her fan, turned
suddenly to Mary, a sneering smile on her crimson lips, “And have you no
higher ambition for your future husband, Miss Campbell?” she demanded,
her voice strangely harsh and metallic. “Are you content to have him bury
his talents in the country?”

“Yes! Oh, yes!” answered Mary shyly, a happy smile dimpling her sweet
face. Then she added naïvely, “Ye ken, I’ll hae him all to myself then.”
Robert laughed merrily at this naïve confession.

“Young man,” observed Mr. Sterne pompously, “take my word for it, you’ll
repent it if you leave Edinburgh now.”

“Robbie, what will everybody think?” cried Mrs. Dunlop tearfully. “You
are daft to run away while the world is literally at your feet.”

“For how long?” he asked laconically.

“Until you tire of its homage, my lad,” replied Lord Glencairn stanchly.

Robert shook his head with a doubting smile. “’Twill not be I who will
tire first, my lord,” he returned quietly. “I know myself and the world
so well. You see the novelty of a poet in my obscure situation, my
imperfection of awkward rusticity has raised a partial tide of public
notice which has borne me to a height where I am absolutely certain
my abilities are inadequate to support me.” He looked around a trifle
defiantly at the rows of serious faces, a little feeling of resentment
welling up in his heart.

“You are over-modest, my dear Burns,” observed Mr. Mackenzie with
kindling eye.

Robert shook his head with somber dignity. “Too surely do I see the time
when the same tide will leave me and recede as far below the mark of
truth.” He turned and faced the people suddenly, his hands outstretched,
his eyes filled with melancholy enthusiasm. Raising his voice he
proceeded prophetically, “My friends, you will all bear me witness, that
when the bubble of fame was at its height I stood unintoxicated, with the
inebriating cup in my hand, looking forward to the hastening time when
the blow of calumny should dash it to the ground with all the eagerness
of revengeful triumph.”

“That time will never come, Robert,” cried Mary softly, “for we will
leave this life behind us in a very short while noo.”

Lord Glencairn slapped him on the back with playful earnestness. “Come,
come, my lad!” he cried gayly, “this will never do; you are in the dumps;
throw it off, lad, and be merry. Do not heed the idle gossip of your
unsuccessful rivals and the scandal mongers. Rest assured your popularity
and fame will never die whether you remain here or retire to the country.”

“Would I could think so,” sighed Robert gloomily.

Eppy suddenly gave a nervous little giggle. “I vow I feel like crying,”
she observed hysterically, “I wish everybody wouldn’t look so mournful.”

Mr. Mackenzie turned quickly to his hostess. “My dear Duchess,” he said
courteously, “you were going to show us your new painting in which Mr.
Burns is the central figure of the group.”

At once the silent group became animated. “Oh, yes, do!” cried Eppy, with
a yearning look at Robert. “I wonder if I could pick you from among the
others?” she coyly observed.

“I trust, madam, that my phiz will be recognizable,” he replied dryly.

The Duchess turned to her husband. “Take Miss Campbell and lead the way
to the gallery,” she said quickly.

“Is Mr. Burns to take me?” inquired Eppy of her hostess, but she had
followed her husband, leaning on the arm of Mr. Mackenzie.

Lady Glencairn smiled sweetly, “So sorry, Miss McKay, but Sir William has
asked for that pleasure.”

“I?” gasped Sir William, with a comical look of dismay.

She looked at him maliciously. “Yes, did you not?” she raised her
eyebrows inquiringly, an innocent smile hovering about her mouth.

For a moment he sputtered, then with a grim smile he snarled
sarcastically, “’Twill afford me great pleasure.”

With a wildly beating heart Lady Glencairn took Robert’s arm and started
for the stairs, followed by the others.

Eppy sniffed suspiciously. “Oh, I understand now,” she observed
spitefully with a meaning smile.

“I thought you would, dear,” flashed her ladyship mockingly, over her
shoulder.

“Are you coming, madam?” demanded Sir William testily, offering his arm.

With an indignant clack of her tongue, Eppy haughtily brushed past him
and swiftly mounted the stairs, leaving the disgruntled Sir William to
follow at his leisure.



CHAPTER XVI


Among those that crowded around the carriage of Robert Burns earlier in
the evening, listening to his inspiring oration, stood a girl of twenty
or thereabouts, whose pale, haggard face and tearful eyes attracted
some passing attention from those near her. She was dressed in an ankle
length skirt of gray, over which a red shawl had been tastefully draped.
A black velvet bodice confined the loose white gimpe at the waist, while
from her left shoulder a brilliant plaid hung gracefully to the bottom
of her dress. Around her neck row upon row of different colored beads
hung loosely to her waist. Upon the blue-black hair which fell around
her face in waving masses, a wreath of white and pink heather was twined
becomingly. Her unusual attire attracted much attention.

“She must be a gypsy,” they told each other wonderingly. Finally, after
many conjectures, someone in the crowd volunteered the information that
she was a street singer who had been seen singing through the streets
of the town for a day or so. Their curiosity appeased, they turned to
their idol once more. Every now and then a convulsive sob shook the young
girl’s slender, graceful figure. Like one who hungered for food and
drink she watched the speaker, her heart in her eyes, her hands clasped
tightly upon her breast. When the eager throng unhitched the horses from
the open carriage she had breathlessly watched every movement, and when
they, with wild bursts of applause and good-natured laughter, sped away
up Princes Street, pulling the carriage behind them, she had swiftly
followed, the center of a noisy gang of street urchins and idle brawlers.

With a mighty cheer, which brought the watchmen running to the spot
pell-mell, they finally stopped at Athol Castle and quickly lined
themselves on each side of the striped awning avenue, from the curbing to
the door, to watch the great man pass within.

The gypsy frantically elbowed her way through the pompous coachmen and
good-natured cabbies who had pressed forward to witness the new arrival,
and reached the inner edge of the crowd. At that moment Robert stepped
from his carriage and walked quickly up the avenue. With a little cry of
joy she stretched out her hands to arrest his attention, but he passed
inside without having once caught a glimpse of this strange follower.

A derisive laugh went up from those who had curiously watched the
peculiar actions of the gypsy. At the sound she dropped her arms
hurriedly, the blood rushing to her pale cheeks. With one quick, startled
glance at the mocking faces beside her, she turned quickly and threaded
her way through the line of splendid equipages, with their prancing
horses, till she reached a secluded part of the street, where she stopped
and looked back at the brilliantly lighted castle, tears of bitter
disappointment and despair slowly trickling down her wan cheeks. As she
stood there in the bright moonlight, a prey to her bitter thoughts, a
handsome equipage, drawn by a prancing pair of steeds, attracted her
listless attention. As it slowly drove past the wretched girl a sweet
young face crowned with golden hair appeared in the open window, followed
by a white arm. Her little hand was noticeably bare of jewels. With a
sweet word of pity the girl tossed a silver piece at the feet of her
unfortunate sister. The gypsy indifferently watched the carriage out of
sight. Then, after a moment’s hesitation, she stooped and picked up the
coin, and without looking at it put it carelessly in her pocket, a flush
of shame and mortification mantling her dark cheek. For a while she stood
in moody silence, listening to the strains of music which came faintly
to her from the castle. Suddenly she lifted her face to the heavens,
her arms upraised, her lips moving in some prayer or incantation. For a
moment she stood thus, then slowly her arms dropped to her side. There
was a new calm look of determination in her face as she quickly traced
her steps back to where the crowds still lingered about the closed doors
of Athol Castle. She stood on the outskirts of the crowd unseen in the
shadow, her restless eyes searching here and there, peering into the
open windows, up and down the high stone wall which bordered the huge
garden, then back again, finally resting upon the closed portals with
a look of keen disappointment shining in their depths. What she sought
was evidently not there. She stamped her foot in impotent despair, a
muttered imprecation on her lips; she would search again. Gradually she
made her way back unnoticed by the crowd, who were intent on listening
to the music which floated out bewitchingly on the still air, till she
reached the wall where it joined the corner of the castle. Motionless she
stood under its shadow, her heart beating loudly as some idler drew near
her place of concealment. Suddenly a form loomed up before her. With a
startled cry she pressed close against the ivied wall in sudden terror.

“She come this way,” a voice cried eagerly.

“Aye, Sandy, she’s hidin’ among the ivy,” said another.

She heard them beating noisily about the thick vines which hung in
wild profusion over the walls, her heart in her mouth. Frantically
she tore the vines apart until she reached the bare wall behind. Then
with breathless eagerness she pulled them together again, effectually
concealing her presence from her pursuers. She pressed closer and closer
against the cold stones, shivering apprehensively as they approached
her hiding place. Suddenly she felt her support give way with a dull,
creaking noise, and before she could recover her equilibrium, she found
herself in a heap on the ground. She looked up in time to see the door
through which she had fallen swing quickly into place and realized that
unwittingly she had found an old and evidently unused entrance through
the wall. Quickly rising to her feet she looked about her, then she gave
a little cry of joy as she caught sight of the splashing fountains in
the moonlight, for she knew she was inside the gardens belonging to the
Duke of Athol. Eagerly she gazed about her at the leafy shrubberies, the
massive oaks and beeches, the rose garden with its wealth of scented
flowers. And for a brief moment she gave herself up to the painful
reveries the familiar sights recalled to memory, while the tears of
self-pity and heart-longing welled up in her gloomy eyes and flowed
unrestrainedly down her cheeks. Presently, with a mirthless laugh of
impatience, she dashed the tears angrily away and walked quickly up the
grassy terrace toward the brilliantly lighted castle. Through the large
window which looked over the low balcony she watched the incessant stream
of people coming and going, while others walked aimlessly about the
rooms or chatted in groups. For some time she crouched beside the low
silver spruce, her eyes fixed upon the moving scenes within. Then with a
start she recognized the golden-haired young lady who had given her the
silver piece, surrounded by a group of cavaliers. She saw, too, with a
pang of jealousy, the tenderness with which the poet greeted her and led
her up to the haughty lady in purple. For some time she watched them in
melancholy silence, a prey to conflicting emotions. By and by a group of
ladies drifted out on the balcony. They were discussing the golden-haired
girl, who had been introduced into their midst that evening, and the
announcement of her marriage to the poet, Robert Burns. The gypsy, as
she heard those words, uttered a smothered cry of amazement and horror,
then sank half fainting on the grassy lawn, moaning like one stricken
unto death. How long she lay there with senses dulled by pain she never
knew. Presently, bitter recollection returned and with it an agony of
fear that blanched her lips and made her limbs to quake, while grief and
despair, like two grim sentinels, stood eager watch beside her. Slowly
she staggered to her feet and turned her weary eyes once more upon the
balcony. There was no one there. Listlessly she watched the gay figures
darting past the windows. Suddenly her muscles tightened like a hound’s
on the scent. The golden-haired girl suddenly glided out on the balcony,
a glorious vision of loveliness. Pensively she leaned over the railing
watching the swans, which looked ghostly in the moonlight, swimming
majestically round and round the small pond of water into which the
spraying fountain was playing.



CHAPTER XVII


Mary soon grew weary of looking at the many paintings which lined the
walls of the galleries; she wished they would go back to the pretty rooms
downstairs, where the music was playing and the young folks were dancing.
She had enjoyed that. She tried to force a smile of interest to her lips
as the old Duke described the subjects on the canvases before them.
He soon perceived her weariness, however, and calling to Mrs. Dunlop,
who was being bored beyond measure, as she told her friends wearily,
he requested her to show Miss Campbell the gardens by moonlight, to
which she gladly assented. Quickly they descended the broad staircase,
and slowly wended their way across the large drawing-room. Mrs. Dunlop
took her young charge to the large window and waved her fat hand toward
the magnificent view which lay stretched before them. “Isn’t it grand,
Mary?” she observed lightly. It was an old story to her. Spying an old
friend across the room, she excused herself to Mary and told her to enjoy
herself, then smilingly left her to her own devices. After admiring the
somber beauty of Edinburgh Castle, Mary perceived the flowing fountain
which splashed tunefully below her in the garden. She stepped out on the
balcony, a smile of pleasure lighting up her sweet face. For a while she
stood listening to the rhythmic fall of the water, blissfully unconscious
of the presence of the unseen watcher. Suddenly before her startled
vision there sprang the form of the gypsy. With a cry of alarm Mary
stepped back and was about to enter the room, when a voice calling her by
name arrested her wondering attention.

“Wait, Mary Campbell!” hissed the voice of the gypsy.

Mary turned and looked into the white face gazing up at her so
defiantly, and she recognized the girl to whom she had tossed the money.
Suddenly she gave a gasp of astonishment. “Jean Armour!” she exclaimed
incredulously.

“Aye, Jean Armour,” repeated the gypsy. “Come down to me; I must have a
word with you alone,” she whispered sibilantly.

Mary gave a quick look around. Mrs. Dunlop was still deep in her gossip,
and Robert was nowhere to be seen. She walked to the end of the balcony
and found the steps. Quickly she reached the bottom, and going to Jean
took her two hands in hers and shook them warmly. She was so glad to see
anyone from Mossgiel, friend or foe.

Jean regarded her advance with sullen suspicion. “Two years ago I was an
invited guest here at Athol Castle,” she sneered bitterly, “while you
were a barefooted dairymaid in Mossgiel. Now look at us. You are the
lady and I am an outcast, singing on the streets for my daily bread.”

Mary looked at her in amazement. “But what has happened?” she asked
wonderingly.

“My father has turned me into the street,” answered Jean dully.

“Had ye done wrong?” inquired Mary timidly.

Jean laughed mirthlessly. “Wrong?” she repeated, “aye, if refusing to
marry an old man I detested be wrong.”

“An’ your father turned ye out for that?”

“For that,” she replied stonily, “and because I refused to give up Robert
Burns.”

“But—but ye gave him up long ago, Jean, of your own free will,” faltered
Mary, an awful fear clutching at her heart. “An’ your father wrote
Robert,” she continued breathlessly, “that ye willingly, gladly renounced
all claims on him, that ye even hated his name, an’ that ye hoped never
to see or hear o’ him again.”

A look of hatred spread over the face of the other. “My father lied
when he wrote that,” she cried with bitter intensity, “for I told him
I would never renounce my marriage to Robert, irregular though it was,
and I never will. He is my husband,” and she glared defiantly at the
shrinking girl, who was looking at her with searching, frightened eyes.
For a moment the poor child stood there like a lifeless figure as the
words stamped themselves one by one on her bewildered brain and sent it
reeling into darkness and vacancy. She felt sick and dizzy. There was
a rushing sound in her ears, the garden swung round dizzily before her
eyes, yet she stood still, speaking no word, although a quiver of agony
passed over her pallid face.

“Oh, Robert, my love, have I lost ye again?” she thought dully. “I knew
it was only a dream, too sweet to last.” There was a choking sensation
in her throat, but she did not weep. As in a horrid dream she heard
the sharp metallic voice hissing in her ear, “He is my husband, Mary
Campbell. You must give him up to me.” She roused herself out of the
lethargy into which she had fallen, and unclasping her hands, she wearily
pushed back her curls from her brow and fixed her large pathetic eyes on
Jean, who instinctively shrank back before the speechless despair of that
helpless gaze. “But ye have no claim on Robbie noo, Jean,” she faltered
slowly, “since your irregular marriage was publicly dissolved.” She
paused and her pale lips quivered. “Why have ye come here noo to disturb
him?” she asked with infinite pathos. “He is happy, so happy noo. Dinna
destroy that happiness; go awa’; leave him to me. Ye took him from me
once; dinna separate us again.” Her voice broke and a hard sob choked
her utterance. A great pity welled up in Jean’s heart for the stricken
child, but she steeled herself against it and remained sullenly quiet.
Presently Mary spoke again. “I hae nothing in this world, Jean, and I
love him so,” she said with dreamy wistfulness, “better than life itsel’.
We have loved each ither for years, an’ that love has grown stronger an’
stronger as each year passed by, till noo it’s part o’ my very being.”
Her voice rose to passionate pleading. “Oh, what is your weak fancy
compared to such a love, Jean Armour?” she asked piteously. “Oh, I tell
you I canna give him up to you again.” She sank down convulsively on
the high-backed bench under the balcony, her form quivering with low
heart-breaking sobs. Tears of sympathy slowly filled Jean’s eyes as she
watched the grief-stricken girl before her, but with an angry frown she
hardened her heart and forced herself to think of her own wrongs and
pitiable condition.

“You must give him up!” she answered harshly, “and to-night.” She paused
a moment to watch the brilliant crowd within the drawing-room, passing
and repassing each other with slow, stately bearing as they walked with
ease and grace through the dignified measures of the minuet. By and by
she turned to the drooping form and spoke again. “My God, girl, don’t you
suppose I too love him!” she exclaimed passionately. “Why have I tramped
mile after mile, half starving, subjected to all kinds of insults,
struggling to reach here to see him, if it were not for that love?”

Mary slowly raised her head and looked at her in reproachful sadness.
“Your love has only brought him, an’ all of us, sorrow and disgrace,” she
said with pathetic simplicity. “He never loved ye, Jean Armour, ye ken
that weel.”

Jean winced at the blunt truth, and a quiver of anger passed over her
defiant face. “I know that only too well,” she replied bitterly. Then
she gave a little mocking laugh, which nevertheless held a suggestion of
tears. “You may have his heart, Mary Campbell,” she continued, “but I am
what you can never be, his wife and the mother of his bairns.”

“The bairns,” repeated Mary blankly, “are they alive, Jean?”

“Yes, they are alive, thank God!” murmured Jean softly, “that is why I am
here, Mary, that is why I must demand my rights, for my bairns’ sake.”
Then she continued quickly, feverishly, “Had it not been for them I would
have done my father’s bidding, would have forgotten Robert, renounced him
utterly, and married the man my father had chosen for me, but I wanted my
little ones to have the protection of a father’s name, so I stubbornly
refused his commands. After my father had driven me from his door with
curses on his lips, I discovered too late that Robert had tried again
and again to see me, had even begged my father to allow him to legalize
our marriage, and that his overtures were met with scorn and abuse. Then
I decided to come to Edinburgh myself to tell Robert the truth and to
claim my rights.” She paused defiantly.

Lady Glencairn upon her return to the drawing-room had missed Mary,
and upon learning from Mrs. Dunlop that she was upon the balcony, she
sauntered slowly in that direction. As she stepped through the window she
heard the low murmur of voices, and looking down perceived with amazement
the young girl seated below her in company with a fantastically-dressed
gypsy. Suddenly, with a start, she recognized the voice of Jean Armour.
Hastily concealing herself behind a large marble pillar she listened in
growing wonder, her face becoming hard and repellent, to the direful
confession of her god-daughter.

“I arrived in Edinburgh after a month of hardships,” continued Jean with
suppressed excitement, “and to-night I saw him in all his prosperity
entering the castle like a king, looking so handsome, so contented, and
so very happy.”

“Yes, he is happy noo,” replied Mary softly. “Happier than he’ll e’er be
on earth again, perhaps,” and she closed her eyes wearily.

For a moment there was silence, broken only by the monotonous hum of
voices and the faint twanging of the harp from within the drawing-room.
Presently Mary opened her eyes and spoke again.

“Ye maunna blame Robert for anything at a’, Jean,” she said loyally. “He
thought the bairns were dead, an’ he believed your father’s words, but
noo, when he kens a’, he will do his duty nobly for his bairns’ sake.”
She smiled bravely into the eager face of the other. “Ye have the right
to him, Jean, I see that noo,” she continued sadly, “an’—an’ forgive my
rude and unkind words to ye just noo,” and gently she held out her little
hand.

Jean took it tenderly in her own. “What will you do now, where will you
go?” she asked with a feeling of remorse.

“I shall go back to Colonel Montgomery’s,” replied Mary, in a sad,
spiritless voice, from which all the life seemed to have fled, “where I
can see my friends sometimes. Mistress Burns loves me, an’ I—I may see
Robbie, if only from the window as he passes. It willna harm anyone.”
She looked at Jean in a pleading, timid manner, while her mouth quivered
pathetically, but she forced a wan smile to her pale lips and then slowly
turned and walked toward the stairway. As she mounted the bottom step
Jean ran quickly to her side and clasped her hand impulsively.

“Mary, I’m so sorry for you,” she said pityingly, “but I’m doing it for
my bairns’ sake, ye ken that.”

“I understand, Jean,” answered Mary simply, “I dinna blame ye.” She
leaned back against the marble balustrade. “But, oh, it’s hard, bitter
hard,” she murmured brokenly; “if I could only die here and noo.” She
stretched out her hands with a sort of wild appeal. “Oh, Robbie, my
darlin’,” she exclaimed in a sobbing whisper, “how can I tell ye, how can
I break your heart? I thought ye had drunk your cup o’ misery empty, but
the dregs are yet to be drained.”

The sympathetic tears rolled down Jean’s face. “Will you tell him I’m
here, Mary, and that I must see him at once?” she asked pleadingly. Mary
slowly bowed her head in assent. “Oh, how I dread to meet him,” continued
Jean in a frightened whisper, “to have him look at me with stern and
angry eyes; to know that he longs to be free, and that he wishes me dead,
perhaps.” She covered her face with her hands and shivered apprehensively.

“Ye needna fear, Jean,” replied Mary, with reproachful pride. “Robert
Burns is a mon of honor; ye should know that weel. I’ll go noo an’ tell
him ye are here.” For a moment she swayed as if about to fall, but she
recovered herself in an instant and slowly mounted the few remaining
steps to the balcony. As she reached the top she pressed her hand against
her heart as if that action would still its rapid beating. “Heaven give
me the strength to tell him,” she breathed, and, with a little prayer
on her lips, she slowly entered the drawing-room, where she found Mrs.
Dunlop anxiously looking for her.

Jean watched her for a few moments, then, with a sigh of nervous dread,
she turned and paced restlessly up and down within the deep shadows
beneath the overhanging trees. She had only taken one turn when she felt
herself seized by the arm and drawn into the bright moonlight. Smothering
the startled cry of alarm which rose to her lips she turned and faced her
assailant. “Lady Glencairn!” she gasped, starting back in astonishment.

“So, Jean Armour,” hissed her ladyship, “’tis you whose name has been
coupled so disgracefully with that of Robert Burns.”

Jean dropped her head quickly, flushing crimson before the scornful light
in the other’s eyes, which flashed like stars in the pale moonlight that
came streaming down upon them. “Then you have heard?” she faltered, after
a little frightened pause.

“Yes, I have heard everything,” her ladyship returned witheringly, “and
my suspicions of you of two years ago have turned out to be right.”

“Please say no more now, Lady Glencairn,” retorted Jean sullenly. “Let
me go.” She tried to pass, but Lady Glencairn put a restraining hand
upon her shoulder. “I will say no more, you foolish girl,” she replied
angrily. “Why do you insist upon thrusting yourself upon Robert Burns,
to-night? He utterly detests your memory. He has done with you forever.”

Jean looked at her defiantly. “I am his wife. He must acknowledge me,”
she declared firmly.

Lady Glencairn laughed scornfully. “You foolish child, do you think
he will ever forgive you for stepping in between him and Mary Campbell
again?” she asked with studied indifference. “No, he would hate you; you
know his erratic temper, my dear Jean; you would but ruin your chance for
a reconciliation forever, if he sees you now, when his heart is torn by
grief and sorrow at losing for the second time the one lass who is all
the world to him.” She paused and watched narrowly the look of dread and
doubt creep slowly over the downcast face before her.

By and by Jean looked up, her eyes burning with unshed tears and shining
feverishly. “What shall I do then, Lady Glencairn?” she asked helplessly,
“where shall I go?”

Lady Glencairn did not answer for a few moments. She was thinking with a
thrill of joy that Jean’s coming would separate the two lovers forever.
“More than likely Robert would now remain in Edinburgh,” she mused with
wildly beating heart. “But, on the other hand, if he stayed he would
quixotically marry Jean Armour, and publicly right her in the eyes of the
world,” she thought jealously, “and then——” She broke off and stared at
the girl intently. “If she were out of the way,” she thought maliciously,
“might not his fickle fancy be caught in the rebound?” These thoughts
flowed quickly through her brain, and her eyes half shut wickedly, her
gleaming white bosom heaving from her hurried breathing, as she decided
on her course. “You must leave here at once,” she said softly, taking
Jean’s hand with an affectation of tenderness.

“I cannot return to my father,” she replied dully. “I have nowhere to go
now.”

“Go to an inn for to-night,” said her ladyship hurriedly, “and I’ll come
to you in the morning and advise you as to your future movements, and
help you.”

“But I must see Robert first.”

Lady Glencairn frowned impatiently. “Foolish girl, take my advice and
wait until to-morrow. You will lose nothing by it, for I will myself
plead with Robert in your behalf.”

Jean did not answer. She stood mute and undecided.

“Surely, my dear Jean,” continued Lady Glencairn mockingly, “you don’t
expect him to proclaim you as his dearly beloved wife before them all, do
you?” She waved her hand carelessly toward the drawing-room.

Jean flushed and looked away. “No, I didn’t come for that,” she muttered
slowly.

“Then why not do as I advise? I know that when the keen edge of his grief
has worn off he will willingly take you to his heart and by a church
marriage make you his lawful wife,” and she threw her warm arm over the
shoulders of the yielding girl.

Jean gave a nervous little laugh. “I vow, Lady Glencairn, I have not
the courage to meet him now,” she said. “I—I thank you gratefully for
your kindness. I—I know ’tis better to wait——” She paused and sighed
dejectedly. “You’ll find me at the Star and Garter Inn in King’s Court,”
she said quickly after a moment’s indecision. Then she drew her scarf
hurriedly about her shoulders as if anxious to get away.

At that instant a laughing group of people came out on the balcony. Lady
Glencairn hastily drew her back in the shadows. “Go, go quickly!” she
whispered, “before you are seen.” With a panting word of thanks Jean
glided through the bushes, and, skirting the patches of light, she soon
reached the secret door through which she had so unceremoniously entered
and passed out to the street now deserted, save for the motionless
coachmen asleep on their boxes. Lady Glencairn breathed a sigh of relief
as she watched Jean fade out of sight, swallowed up in the darkness.
“Both out of the way now,” she murmured, a triumphant smile on her full
crimson lips. She walked quickly toward the balcony. “What a contemptible
creature I have become,” she thought with careless unconcern. “And all
for love of a low-born peasant,” and she laughed derisively, as she
mounted the steps. She slowly entered the drawing-room, feeling strangely
nervous and guilty, to find a great many people going to supper. Robert
had grown tired of the heat and glare and noise, and seeing Mary sitting
so weary and wan looking, surrounded by a crowd of admirers who worshiped
at the shrine of youth and beauty, he crossed quickly and whispered his
wishes to her. She rose gladly and both advanced to bid their hostess
farewell.

“Sorry you cannot remain longer,” said the Duchess with genuine
cordiality. “You must bring Miss Campbell some afternoon to see me, Mr.
Burns, when I am not receiving the public,” and with a pleasant smile she
bade them good-night. Slowly they made their way through the crowd and
met Lady Glencairn coming swiftly toward them.

As her eyes rested upon his happy countenance she knew that he was
still in ignorance of Jean’s arrival in Edinburgh. “Won’t you have some
supper?” she inquired brightly. “Don’t go yet.”

But Robert quietly insisted, as he perceived Mary’s increasing languor
and pallor. So Lady Glencairn, with anger and disappointment gnawing at
her heart, for she had hoped to show him the beauties of the garden by
moonlight before he went, seeing that remonstrances were of no avail,
bade them both an effusive good-night. “Don’t forget my garden party
to-morrow,” she said with a patronizing smile, touching Mary’s cold hand
lightly. “I shall expect you,” and she turned to greet her husband, who
was approaching with Mr. Mackenzie.

“Thank ye, your ladyship,” answered Mary simply, making a little
courtesy.

“Let me escort you to the carriage, Miss Campbell,” said Lord Glencairn,
at once offering her his arm.

“And allow me to follow,” added Mr. Mackenzie, slipping his arm through
Robert’s, to whom he whispered, “How dare you, sir, how dare you be such
a provokingly happy man in this miserable old world?” Robert laughed, and
they all walked slowly down to the carriage, conversing gayly on their
way.

Suddenly Mary stopped with a little exclamation of dismay. “We’ve
forgotten Mrs. Dunlop,” she said contritely.

With a laugh Lord Glencairn dispatched a footman to find her, and the
good lady soon appeared, flushed and panting from her hurried departure.
With a last handshake all around Robert sprang in beside them and within
a couple of minutes the carriage was out of sight.

“Ye were the queen of the evening, Mary, just as I told ye ye’d be,” said
Robert triumphantly. “Have ye enjoyed yoursel’?”

“Ay, for a whiley,” answered Mary listlessly, leaning back against the
heavy padding of the seat, with eyes heavy and sad. She had had no
opportunity as yet to tell Robert the dread news, and her heart was
filled with misgivings as she thought of Jean waiting patiently in the
garden for him to come to her. She started up suddenly, resolved to tell
him, but the sight of his happy face, and the presence of Mrs. Dunlop,
cooled her courage, and she leaned back again silent and miserable.
If she didn’t tell him to-night what would Jean do? With her usual
unselfishness she gave no thought to self. She was miserably unhappy, but
she would not allow herself to think of her own sufferings. Her whole
thought was of him and the darkness into which he would soon be plunged,
and of Jean and her bairns, Robert’s bairns. She sighed quiveringly, and
a little pang of jealousy shot through her heart like a breath of fire,
but it soon passed away and left only a dull ache that would always be
there now, she thought wearily, as they rolled along toward home. She
clasped her hands together feverishly. “Should she whisper to him now,
tell him all and bid him drive back to Jean?” she asked herself in an
agony of indecision. At that moment the carriage stopped at the door
of Mrs. Dunlop’s mansion. It was too late now. She gave a little sigh
of relief, though her heart was filled with grief and anxiety. Robert
escorted her to the door, with loving pride in her daintiness, in her
sweet air of refinement. She looked very frail and spirituelle, as she
turned to him quietly and bade him good-night.

“Has something gone wrong, Mary?” he inquired solicitously, noticing with
alarm her wan face, her languid air of weariness.

She shook her head slowly, not daring to trust her voice. Mrs. Dunlop
put her arm about her fondly.

“The lassie is tired, Robert,” she said in her motherly way, “and no
wonder. She’ll be as bright as a lark in the morning.” Bidding them both
a tender good-night, he turned and ran down the steps, jumped into the
carriage, and drove off toward his chambers, whistling softly to himself
the tune of “Mary of Argyle.”



CHAPTER XVIII


The next day a grand garden party was given at Glencairn Hall. All
Edinburgh was invited, and they came eagerly to see the great poet, who
was on the eve of leaving the social world to retire to his farm in
Ayrshire, and to see Highland Mary, the dainty, flower-like sweetheart of
their idol. The grounds looked very bright and gay. Refreshment booths
of red and white canvas were dotted here and there on the smooth velvet
lawns. Bright flags of all nations waved from different parts of the
gardens—signals of putting, archery, and dancing—and the seductive music
of the Queen’s theater orchestra rose up and joined the songs of birds
and the tinkle of the fountains in full play. Girls in light summer
costumes were grouped picturesquely beneath the stately oaks and beeches.
Gay laughter echoed from the leafy shrubberies, and stray couples were
seen sauntering carelessly through the rose gardens, too much absorbed in
each other to notice what was going on around them.

Presently out of the same rose garden a man walked hurriedly, followed
by a woman, who quickly overtook him, to his perceptible annoyance. They
were Sir William Creech and Eppy McKay. Eppy looked exceedingly ugly in
the full glare of the bright sun. She was dressed in a brilliant plaid
gown, the style of which seemed to accentuate her angularity; and a huge
Gainsborough hat was perched jauntily upon her towering court wig. Her
small green eyes looked coquettishly at her irate companion. He stopped
and glared at her fiercely.

“But I desire to take a smoke,” he said wrathfully.

“I don’t object to smoke, Sir William,” she tittered coyly.

He looked about him wildly as if seeking some means of escape from his
admirer. “But I wish to be alone,” he cried almost pleadingly.

She opened her eyes and regarded him reproachfully. “Oh, you are joking,
Sir William, but you cannot scare me away.”

With a groan of despair he continued his walk, hoping to escape from his
persistent admirer. “Great heavens! I’ll go daft yet,” he muttered as he
perceived her close at his elbow. For a few minutes he puffed furiously
at his pipe, casting angry glances from time to time at his unwelcome
companion, who trotted along so contentedly at his side. Finally Sir
William concluded that he could not elude her attentions for the time
being, so decided to make the best of the infliction. “Do I go too fast
for you?” he asked maliciously, as he heard her puffing away vigorously
beside him.

“No, indeed,” she replied with a little breathless giggle. “You couldn’t
go too fast for me, for I am as light and quick on my feet as ever I was.
In faith, why shouldn’t I be?” she continued gayly. “I am only 32. You
see I am so much younger than you.”

He snorted angrily. “Well, you don’t look it,” he retorted. She stopped
short and looked at him in amazed indignation.

“What?” she quavered, a little out of breath, “I don’t look younger than
you?”

At the sign of approaching tears, Sir William frowned impatiently. “I
mean you don’t look—32,” he said diplomatically.

She simpered and thanked him for the compliment.

He smiled grimly as he said to himself, “She’s over 60 if she’s a day.”

“They all tell me I don’t look my age,” she said gushingly. “It’s my
artistic soul that keeps me so young and fresh-looking.” They sat down
on a bench, glad of the opportunity to cool themselves after their
strenuous walk. “Do you know,” she said dreamily, fanning herself, “I am
very different from most artistic people.” He looked at her. “Oh my, yes,
indeed!” she affirmed convincingly. “I don’t live in the clouds, I am of
the earth earthy,” and she gave him another languishing look.

“Ye don’t tell me,” he retorted mockingly.

“But I love art,” sighed Eppy ecstatically. “When I was young,” she went
on reminiscently, “I mean when I was younger,” she corrected herself with
a startled look at her silent companion, “I came near having a painting
from my own hand hung in the National Gallery.”

“You are a clever woman,” he remarked sarcastically.

“It was this way,” she explained volubly. “I had painted a lovely marine.
I do marines much better than anything else,” with a self-conscious
smirk, “and upon showing it to Mr. William Nichol, a dear man, but one
who drinks to excess, he promised to mention it to the Lord Mayor. Well,
it made me exceedingly nervous, I vow. However, I bought a most lovely
frame for it, Nile green in color, with sweet red plush ends.” She
cleared her throat affectedly and continued with evident delight. “I do
like things to match,” she explained, “and the green was the exact shade
of the water. It was simply exquisite.” She clasped her hands together
and rolled her eyes heavenward. “And the red ends exactly matched the
cow, which was a lovely shade of——”

“Cow?” echoed Sir William in amazement. “Did I hear you say cow?”

Eppy looked at him pettishly. She didn’t like to be so violently
interrupted. “Certainly a cow,” she returned frigidly. “Is there anything
strange in a cow?” and she drew herself up with an injured air.

“No, there’s nothing strange in a cow when it is by itself,” replied Sir
William dryly, “but in a marine, well, it is a little hard on the cow.”

“You don’t know what you are saying, Sir William,” flashed Eppy
indignantly. “Please don’t interrupt me again. The cow I have reference
to was in one corner drinking. I heard Lady Nancy Gordon telling Mrs.
McLehose that the cow looked as if it were trying to drink the ocean dry;
the idea!” and she clucked her tongue against her teeth in contemptuous
scorn. “She’s a cat,” she continued spitefully; “I never could bear her.
She was uncommon jealous of me, yes, indeed, but that’s another matter.”

Sir William turned crimson, and seemed about to choke, as he tried to
smother his laughter. “You were telling me about your marine,” he finally
stuttered.

“Don’t hurry me, Sir William,” said Eppy coquettishly. “Well, I took it
to Lord Mundobbo. You know whom I mean; at that time he had something to
do with the National Gallery; Mr. Nichol didn’t inform me as to his exact
connection with it.” She paused and gazed soulfully into space. “Shall
I ever forget the day? The sun was high in the heavens—but there,” she
broke off with a deprecating smile. “I really must restrain my poetic
impulse. But as I was saying,” she rambled on quickly, “the sky was
overcast and threatening snow——”

“I thought the sun was shining, Miss McKay,” interrupted Sir William
gruffly.

She was beginning to get on his nerves again. “I am a little mixed in
my metaphors,” apologized Eppy condescendingly, “but you flustrate me
so, Sir William,” and she tapped him playfully with her fan. “Well, I
felt that victory was mine. I took off the paper—it was pink, tied with
a yellow string—and laid it before him.” She paused impressively, then
she continued in an elocutionary tone of voice. “He gazed at it long and
silently. He was simply speechless. I knew he’d be. I said to him, ‘Lord
Mundobbo, as much as it grieves me to part with my—ahem—masterpiece,
for the sake of art I will permit you to add it to the collection
of paintings in the National Gallery.’ Said he, ‘Miss McKay, really
I appreciate this honor you do me and the National Gallery. It is a
masterpiece of its kind, but I cannot accept it.’”

“The brute!” exclaimed Sir William in mock anger. “Why not?”

“He said if I would change the ocean into a fresh water pond and give the
cow a chance, he might consider it,” and Eppy tearfully regarded her now
laughing companion with an aggrieved air.

“Did ye do it?” inquired Sir William, rising to his feet.

“Did I do it!” repeated Eppy with horror expressed in every tone of
her voice, every feature of her pointed face. “No, sir,” she replied
emphatically. “Never would I willingly spoil a work of art. That was
my first and only. I couldn’t improve on it. But my artistic soul was
smothered, and now another, a poetic spirit has taken its place.” She
smiled dreamily, a sigh of content escaping her parted lips.

“A case of the survival of the fittest, eh?” he retorted brusquely.

For a moment they walked on in silence, Sir William wondering how to
get rid of the incubus, and Eppy happy over the impression she fondly
imagined she had made upon Sir William. Just then a bend in the avenue
brought them in full view of the broad terrace in front of the hall,
where Robert’s handsome figure was outlined clearly against the dazzling
blue of the sky. Several people were grouped near him. He seemed to be
in animated conversation with some of them, and his face was radiant
with smiles. With a cry of delight, Eppy hurried forward to greet him,
forgetting Sir William utterly, much to his amazement. That she, or
anyone, would dare leave him so unceremoniously to join Robert Burns
angered him beyond measure. He followed her slowly at some little
distance, with no very pleasant expression on his stern features.

Later in the afternoon when it was close to sunset, and all other
amusements had given way to the delight of dancing Sir Roger de Coverly
on the springy green turf to the silvery music of the orchestra, Mary
and Mrs. Dunlop put in their appearance. Mary was looking very beautiful
in a clinging, old-fashioned white crepe de chene, another old relic of
Mrs. Dunlop’s dead and gone slim youth. While they danced, she reclined
languidly in a low chair, her sad eyes fixed mournfully upon Robert’s
glowing face as he lay stretched in lazy length at her feet. The day had
passed and still she had had no opportunity to tell him the dire news,
for she had not seen him since the night before.

While the dancing was in progress a liveried page walked noiselessly over
the turf and stopping beside the recumbent figure of the poet, quietly
handed him a note. He leisurely opened it and read it at a glance. “Say
I’ll be right there,” he said to the waiting page after a moment’s
meditation. He excused himself to Mary and the others and followed the
man indoors, with a frown of impatient wonder clouding his brow.

Under the shadow of a noble maple, Lady Glencairn was seated in earnest
conversation with her uncle. Her ladyship was looking exceedingly
beautiful in a pink-flowered summer silk, which puffed and billowed
around her, with a bunch of white heather at her breast and a wreath
of the same dainty flowers in her picturesque Leghorn hat. She held a
pink-lined parasol over her head, and from under the protecting shadow
her dark lustrous eyes flashed disdainfully as she regarded her scolding
companion. Suddenly she gave a start and leaned forward to watch the
group opposite. She had noticed the quiet entrance of the servant and
the immediate departure of the poet, and idly wondered who it was that
desired to see Robert on such urgent business that they must needs
follow him here. The minutes passed and still he did not return. She
was growing anxious. “Suppose”—and she started violently at the sudden
thought—“suppose it was by some unfortunate chance Jean Armour herself?”
She rose quickly to her feet, with a word of apology and after a quick
look around, in which she noticed Mary’s pale face and restless manner,
she walked leisurely toward the house. Once inside she rang for the page
and upon questioning him learned that the young woman who had insisted
on seeing Mr. Burns, and who was none other than Jean Armour, as she
concluded from the man’s description, had just gone, and that Mr. Burns
was now seated in the drawing-room alone. Hastily dismissing him, she
stole softly into the parlors, and there beside the table, his face in
his hands, sat Robert, his shoulders heaving convulsively. She looked
at him a moment and the tears of pity came into her luminous eyes. Then
softly she walked to his side and laid her cool hand upon his feverish
head. “Robert, I am so sorry for you,” she said gently.

He lifted his head with a start and rose quickly to his feet. It didn’t
occur to him to ask what she meant or to inquire how she knew what had
happened in that room, and she was secretly glad that he demanded no
explanation. “Where is she?” he asked dully.

“She has gone,” she answered quickly. “I—I met her at the door and
offered to assist her, gave her money and advised her not to make any
unnecessary scandal in town, but to return to her home at once. You know
she is my godchild. So she promised to go, and I presume she is now on
her way.” She looked him straight in the eyes as she glibly told this
falsehood. She didn’t know what arrangements he had made with Jean, but
she daringly made the lying explanation, confident that he would believe
it, for he could have no possible reason for suspecting her motives, or
any means of finding out at present that she had not indeed met Jean, who
might have altered her plans at the last moment.

A look of anger came over his face for a moment, then as quickly died
away, and his eyes filled with a hopeless, despairing look. He walked
slowly to the window, his hands clenched together behind him, and stood
there, pale and miserable and wretched, gazing out upon the scene of
happiness he had just left.

Lady Glencairn watched him with eyes filled with passion, and her heart
beat with painful thuds as she fought against the desperate longing
to throw herself into his arms and comfort him. She glided quickly
to his side and put her hand gently within his arm and stood there
in sympathetic silence although she was consumed with jealousy as
she watched his melancholy eyes riveted on the fair face of his lost
sweetheart. For a while they stood there in gloomy quiet. Presently a
deep, heartrending sigh, which was almost a sob, escaped his trembling
lips.

“An’ we were so happy a few minutes ago,” he murmured brokenly. “An’
noo ’tis all over.” He paused and bit his lips convulsively. Presently
he went on in a dull, low tone as if speaking to himself, “How true it
is, there’s many a slip ’twixt cup and lip.” Lady Glencairn pressed his
arm tenderly, but remained silent. “What have I to live for noo?” he
continued with despairing mournfulness.

“Everything, Robert,” murmured her ladyship tenderly, gazing up into his
face with glittering eyes.

He turned and looked at her in wonder. As he saw the feverish flush on
her face, felt her hot breath on his cheek, he remembered with a start
her peculiar words and meaning looks at Athol Castle the night before.
Lady Glencairn noted with apprehension the look of stern coldness spread
quickly over his face, and the nervous tears of disappointment and
passionate longing welled up in her eyes. Then with reckless abandon
she dropped her head against his shoulder and let the tears flow
unrestrainedly. For a moment Robert stood there speechless with surprise
and horror, for he knew at last that what he had vaguely feared was an
indisputable fact; knew that his hostess, the wife of his dearest friend
and counsellor, entertained a guilty passion for him. It filled him with
righteous anger that she would willingly betray the love and confidence
of the noblest gentleman in the kingdom. He placed the weeping woman in a
chair and stood looking down upon her with a frown of displeasure. “Lady
Glencairn,” he said coldly, “if these tears are for my unhappy fate, I
thank ye for your sympathy.”

She caught his hand and held it tightly within her arm. “Oh, no, no,
Robert, ’tis not that,” she whispered passionately. “Do you not remember
the Lady of the Lake I told you of last evening?” He made no reply. Then
she continued slowly, her voice low and shaking, “Read my fate in that of
hers.”

Still he would not understand her. “I fear I do not understand your
meaning, my lady,” he replied, trying to withdraw his hand from her
grasp, but she held it firmly.

“Cannot your heart understand mine?” she cried recklessly. “Does it not
pity my wretchedness?”

He was silent for a moment. He knew he could no longer parry with
her, for her words and meaning were too plain to admit of any
misunderstanding. He turned to her, his face set and firm. “Lady
Glencairn,” he said sternly, “you dishonor yourself by such madness,
and all for naught. My heart is noo numb with sorrow, it could feel no
throb of yours, even were I vile enough to see no evil in usurping your
husband’s rights.”

“Do not remind me of my unhappiness!” she exclaimed impatiently. “I
married him when I was a girl, before I knew what love was. Then you came
into my life, and I knew that the fire of love was not dead within me.”
Her rich seductive voice trembled with passion.

“I pray you cease!” he entreated her, but she went on rapidly.

“Let me speak, Robert!” she cried, clinging to him frantically. “I can no
longer contain myself, for I love you better than my life, better than my
honor, my good name; I care not for them now. Oh, pity me, pity me!” and
she flung herself down on her knees before him and burst into a storm of
irrepressible weeping.

Robert looked around apprehensively. The thought that someone might
suddenly enter the room filled him with alarmed dismay. With a quick
movement he raised her to her feet, and his voice trembled with deep
feeling when he next spoke. “I do pity you,” he said sorrowfully, “but
I pity your husband more, when he learns of your faithlessness.” He
paused and regarded her with reproachful sadness. “Oh, why have you
severed forever the threads of our friendship by such imprudence, such
rashness?” As he finished he bowed his head and walked slowly toward the
door.

“Do not leave me like this!” she panted desperately. “Can’t you see
you are killing me by your coldness.” She held out her arms in piteous
entreaty as she continued tenderly, “Tell me you didn’t mean it, Robert.
Say you are but testing my love for you.”

He turned on her quickly and at his look of contemptuous scorn she
drooped her head and the hot blood rushed to her face. “Are you lost to
all sense of prudence, honor and decency?” he cried in scathing accents.
“Heaven knows I’m no moralist, no saint,” and he gave a mirthless little
laugh as he thought of the opinion Edinburgh had formed concerning his
morality—then he went on firmly, solemnly, “But I would sooner cut this
erring heart of mine out of this body than fall so low as to betray the
honor of my friend who trusts me.” She started to speak again, but he
raised his hand quickly. “Say no more, Lady Glencairn,” he said with calm
dignity, “an’ I’ll forget this distressing conversation, and continue
thro’ life to respect equally with himself, the wife of my friend.”

Slowly the warm color faded from her cheeks, leaving her ashy pale,
while through her suddenly narrowed eyelids a vindictive light gleamed
tigerishly.

“You’ve said enough!” she hissed through her clenched teeth. “I have
lowered myself to you as I would to no other man living, only to be
scorned and humiliated. God!” she laughed wildly, hysterically, and threw
herself face downward upon the ottoman. “Fool, fool!” she cried with
bitter self-abasement. “How I hate and despise myself for what I have
done; would I had died before I had uttered such damning words,” and she
beat her jeweled hands frantically against the cushions.

“I beseech you to be careful, Lady Glencairn,” cried Robert in amazed
alarm, going to her.

She turned on him fiercely. “You, of all men, posing as a model of virtue
and goodness, prating of husband’s honor, wife’s duty.” She measured
him with a scornful, sneering glance of fury. “You, who have the name
of making love to every female in petticoats who crosses your path, you
hypocrite!”

Robert fixed his eyes upon her in silence and the utter scorn of the
look stung her heart to its center. Presently he controlled his anger
sufficiently to be able to speak, and still eying her with that straight,
keen look of immeasurable disdain, he said in cold, deliberate accents,
“Your ladyship has been misinformed as to my past conduct. I do not claim
to be more than human, but I know my name is as yet clear from the taint
of dishonor.”

“You poor fool, you country yokel!” she stormed furiously, walking up and
down between him and the door like a caged lioness. “Did you think you
could scorn such a woman as I with impunity? Do you think I will stand
the humiliation of being repulsed, despised, shamed? I tell you no, no,
never; ’tis but a step from love to hate, you should know that.” She
paused in her nervous walking and stood facing him, her eyes ablaze with
the uttermost anger, her beautiful figure drawn rigidly erect. “You shall
be made to feel the depth of my hatred before long, Robert Burns,” she
threatened, and there came a dangerous gleam in the flashing, dark eyes.

“I shall leave Edinburgh within the hour,” replied Robert quietly. Was
there ever such another unfortunate being as himself? he thought grimly,
and a wave of unutterable sadness rushed over him.

“Aye, that you will,” retorted her ladyship with a sneering, bitter
laugh. “But not as you anticipate, with the plaudits of the world ringing
in your ears. Instead of that, only contemptuous silence will greet your
departure as you leave here in shame and disgrace, and when you have
sunk once more into poverty and oblivion, you will repent bitterly ever
having made an enemy of Alice Glencairn.” As these words left her lips,
she swept haughtily past him like an outraged queen and left the room,
leaving him standing there like one in a trance.

He brushed his hands across his eyes as if to assure himself that he
was awake, that he wasn’t the subject of some hideous hallucination,
but no, he was painfully conscious of the reality of it all. He heaved
a deep sigh and sank wearily into a chair, his eyes riveted upon the
floor in melancholy meditation. A little cry aroused him from the
profound gloom into which his thoughts were plunged and looking fearfully
up, dreading lest her ladyship had returned, his eyes rested upon the
white, startled face of Highland Mary. She had watched him leave the
grounds with listless curiosity, which changed to wonder and dismay when
Lady Glencairn rose from her seat and sauntered toward the hall. For
some minutes she nervously sat there wondering vaguely why he stayed
so long and why her ladyship had followed him. Presently she rose and
mechanically made her way over the springy sward toward the house. She
couldn’t have told why she went or what she intended to do. She wondered
in a vague way if Robert’s message could in any way concern Jean, but her
thoughts dwelt longer upon the suspicions that had been raised in her
innocent heart against her beautiful hostess, for she had recognized her
as the bogus Lady Nancy in spite of the disguising mask, suspicions that
filled her with uneasiness and alarm; and yet why should she be jealous?
She told herself sadly she had renounced him forever, given him back to
Jean, and in a few days she would pass out of his life forever. Oh, the
agony that pierced her heart at the recollection of her past happiness!
How fleeting it had been—scarcely a week. She had drawn near the window
by this time quite unconsciously. Suddenly the sound of voices within the
room made her pause. She had not thought to listen nor meant to, but when
she heard the passionate pleading voice of her ladyship and the stern
replies from Robert, a feeling of fascinated horror took possession of
her, rooting her to the spot. Motionless she stood there and heard all
that passed within the room. And when the voices stopped and all was
deathly still, she peered through the window. At the sight of her dear
one sitting there all alone, with that look of intense suffering on his
face, her heart cried out to him in sympathy. Quickly she opened the high
French window and noiselessly stepped into the room. For a moment she
stood watching him, her eyes filled with patient sorrow, infinite pity,
and a world of loving compassion. Involuntarily a deep sigh escaped her.
As he raised his head she went quietly up to him and placed a tender hand
upon his arm. After one quick, heart-broken look at her he buried his
face in his hands again.

“Dinna distress yoursel’, laddie; I have known since last night at Athol
Castle that our happy dream was ended.” She felt him stiffen beneath
her touch. “Jean came to me in the gardens,” she explained with patient
resignation. “I should have told ye last night, for she was waiting for
ye to come to her, but I—I hadna’ the courage.” There was silence for a
moment, then he spoke in a low, spiritless tone.

“Jean said that ye knew all,” he said without looking up. They remained
quiet after that, plunged in bitter thought. There was nothing they could
say to comfort each other, the wound was bleeding too freely as yet.
Presently Robert raised his head, and with a despairing gesture pushed
the heavy curls back from his fevered brow and rose unsteadily to his
feet. They must get away at once, he thought feverishly. He took Mary by
the hand and started for the door, when from the open window he heard
his name called. Turning apprehensively he beheld Sir William Creech
entering, followed by Lord Glencairn and several of his guests. In his
hand Sir William held a newspaper, while a hard smile of triumph wrinkled
his stem face.

“I told ye, Robert Burns, ye would overreach yourself,” he cried
jubilantly, shaking the newspaper at him.

Robert looked at him apathetically. “Ye were ever a bird of ill omen,” he
said quietly. “What have I done noo?”

“You have seen fit to sign your name to an article in this paper, which
has aroused the indignation of all Edinburgh,” replied Sir William
without any preamble. “’Tis a most seditious article and shows that ye
have embraced the doctrines of the French Revolution.”

“A man has a perfect right to his opinion,” said Mrs. Dunlop decidedly,
giving Sir William a scornful look.

“Indeed he has,” echoed Eppy, nodding her head briskly. “I mean to stick
to mine.”

Lord Glencairn turned and looked searchingly at Robert’s pale, gloomy
face. “Is that true, Robert?” he asked gently.

Robert did not reply. He seemed not to hear, in fact.

“’Tis a most serious charge, Mr. Burns,” remarked Mr. Sterne gravely.

“If it be true,” retorted Mr. Mackenzie loyally.

“Which is not at all likely,” flashed Eppy indignantly.

She would believe nothing wrong of her hero, even if it were proven in
black and white.

“But listen!” continued Sir William eagerly. He scanned the article
through quickly until he found what he sought. “Ah, here it is. It is
stated here that Mr. Burns refused to stand up in the theater recently
when ‘God save the King’ was being played,” and he glared about him
indignantly.

A quiet sneer curled Robert’s lips. “Anything else?” he asked
sarcastically. “Out wi’ it or the venom of your spleen will poison ye,”
and he fixed his eyes upon Sir William with disdainful indifference.

“And there is more,” snarled Sir William. “’Tis known that ye have
sent two cannon to the French Directorate with a complimentary letter,
offering further assistance.”

“Oh, no, no, impossible.” cried Lord Glencairn incredulously.

“And,” continued Sir William vindictively, “there’s also a full account
here which explains much of Mr. Burns’ reprehensible conduct here in
town, as well as in Ayrshire, where it seems his amours were as numerous
and questionable as they are at the present time.”

“For shame, Creech!” cried Lord Glencairn with indignation.

“How fascinating he must have been even when a farmer,” giggled Eppy
aside to Mrs. Dunlop, who was casting indignant glances at Sir William.

“’Tis a libelous article,” she flashed angrily, “and I for one do not
believe a word of it. Robert,” she said, turning to the silent figure
standing so pale and calm before his inquisitors, “deny this absurd
charge before it is given further credence!”

“He cannot deny it,” said Sir William. “His name is at the bottom of it,”
and he held it up to their view.

“And I’ll attempt no denial,” replied Robert in a full ringing voice,
“for I know it would be useless. Know, then, that I do sympathize with
the French people in their struggle for freedom, and I did help them all
that lay in my power. I hope that France may gain the prize for which
she is fighting, a free and independent republic, and that she may set
up her standard of liberty and independence as did the United States of
America, when they were delivered from the toils of the British.”

There was an uncomfortable silence when he had finished his declaration.
His amazed and incredulous listeners could hardly believe they had heard
him aright. They looked aghast at each other, not knowing just how to
take it. Their embarrassed silence was soon broken, however.

“Ye hear those seditious sentiments,” cried Sir William in an
I-told-you-so tone of voice.

Lord Glencairn shook his head gravely. “’Tis dangerous to speak thus,
Robert,” he said with solemn earnestness. “You should be careful——”

“Careful of what?” interrupted Robert with impatient scorn. “Lest I
offend people with my plain speaking of the truth?” He paused and looked
around him with flashing eyes and dilated nostrils. “Who is careful of
my feelings?” he demanded. “Not those who think themselves my superiors
by accident of birth.” He turned to Sir William Creech and continued
quickly, his voice vibrating with suppressed indignation. “I’ve never
wronged ye, Sir William Creech, yet ye are miscreant enough to seek my
ruin, for I’m fair sure ’twas ye yourself who inserted that scurrilous
article in that paper ye hold in your hand, in which my faults, my past
errors and follies are now being aired.”

Sir William turned a sickly color. “Think what you like,” he muttered
savagely. “’Tis time the people of Edinburgh knew the character of the
man they are honoring.”

“Sir William Creech, you are an old brute!” cried Eppy, her little gray
eyes flashing fire, and going up to him she continued in haughty disdain,
“Remember, sir, I will have naught to do with you in the future; I turn
my back on you,” and she suited the action to the word.

Meanwhile, Robert had spoken in an undertone to Mrs. Dunlop, and that
good soul, putting an arm around Mary, who stood white and trembling
like a frightened child, walked to the door, and Robert, after a formal
inclination of his head, started quietly but proudly after them. They
had reached the door, when it suddenly opened and Lady Glencairn stood
upon the threshold, her head held haughtily erect, her lips curled in a
disdainful sneer. She entered the room and closed the door behind her,
then turned and faced the wondering group which was being augmented
by the entrance, through the window, of a number of the guests whose
curiosity had been aroused by the unusual scene to which they had been
listening in speechless amazement.

“Alice, what has happened?” cried Lord Glencairn in an alarmed voice.
Her ladyship’s white, nervous face, the peculiar glitter in her eyes,
startled him out of his usual calmness.

“James, I am deeply sorry to wound you,” she began nervously, “but it’s
best that you should know how grievously you have been betrayed by one
of your honored guests here to-day,” and she fixed her narrowed eyes upon
the startled face of Robert Burns.

A great fear of impending danger came over him as he saw the revengeful
look which she flashed at him, and he involuntarily straightened himself
as if to receive a shock. There was a surprised movement among the crowd,
and a low murmur of many voices broke the tense stillness which followed
her accusation.

“I—betrayed?” repeated Lord Glencairn, in astonishment. “What mean you,
my dear?”

“I mean,” she answered, and the lie rolled glibly off her crimson lips,
“that your distinguished guest, Robert Burns, has to-day wantonly and
without provocation grossly insulted the wife of his friend and host.”
As the ignoble lie left her lips, there was an audible indrawn breath of
startled surprise from the amazed listeners. Then they turned and fixed
their wondering gaze upon the accused man, who, after an inarticulate
exclamation of horror, stood as though carved out of stone.

“I for one do not believe it,” cried Mrs. Dunlop indignantly, and she
returned Lady Glencairn’s look of haughty displeasure with a withering
glance of scornful disbelief.

“Nor I,” echoed Eppy, with a youthful toss of her head.

“What was the nature of the insult, Alice?” asked Lord Glencairn
gravely. No doubt she had taken offense where no offense was intended, he
thought indulgently.

Before she could answer, Robert stepped quickly up to her with flashing
eyes and lips trembling with anger. “Madam, that I have had the
misfortune to offend ye, I am sorrowfully aware,” he said with bitter
sarcasm, “but that I have been guilty of offering ye an insult, none
knows better than yourself how little cause ye have to accuse me of
such monstrous ingratitude, such a contemptible betrayal of the laws of
hospitality. I am quite willing that you should repeat every word of the
conversation that passed between us in the room a few minutes since, and
if aught that I have said can be construed as an insult to your ladyship,
then do I stand ready and whiling to abide by the consequence of such an
indiscretion.” He looked her straight in the eyes, and with folded arms
calmly waited for her to speak.

Not long did she return the look, however, for the utter scorn of it
stung her guilty heart to its core. Not that she felt any compunction
for what she was doing—her whole soul was up in arms against him, and
she would not stop until she had meted out her spiteful revenge upon him
to the fullest extent. His evident contemptuous defiance irritated her
beyond measure—she was angrier with him than ever—already she had a sort
of strange feeling of triumph at the vengeance she had designed, for she
knew that her word would be believed against his; even now she could read
suspicion and conviction in many of the serious faces that surrounded
her, much to her satisfaction. He had thrown down the challenge, had he?
Well, she would take it up. No one knew what had passed between them save
themselves, and no one would ever know the truth, and the truth would now
be a very small factor in working out her present scheme of vengeance.
All these thoughts flashed quickly through her mind, and her answer
was ready on her lips almost soon as he had finished speaking. With
well-simulated indignation she drew herself haughtily away from him, with
a gesture of repulsion. “Dare you deny your protestations of love and
devotion?” she replied. “Why, my lord,” she continued scornfully, turning
to her husband, who was now regarding Robert with serious, thoughtful
eyes, a look of wounded pride and deepening sorrow gradually shadowing
his noble countenance, “before I could stop him he had fallen upon his
knees and begged me to be false to you, and to give him my love, my
favors.”

“Great God!” cried Robert, staggering back, white and speechless, while
a wave of the blackest despair engulfed him completely, for he knew that
the outrageous lie had sealed his doom as utterly as though it had been
the truth; knew that all denials from him would be useless in the face of
that accusation. He sank back into a chair in helpless resignation, his
independent spirit, his haughty pride wounded almost unto death.

When Mary heard the lying accusation she started forward with a little
cry on her lips. Freeing herself from Mrs. Dunlop’s restraining hand, she
took a few steps toward Lord Glencairn, her face aglow with indignation,
her timidity, her fear of the great ones surrounding her, forgotten for
the moment, as she sought to defend the man she loved.

“My lord!” she cried thrillingly, “’tis not true; Robbie did not insult
her ladyship, for I——”

But, with an angry flush, Lady Glencairn interrupted her. “I say he did,”
she retorted harshly. Then, as Mrs. Dunlop drew the frightened girl away,
she continued with insulting emphasis, “James, bid this man and his
virtuous Highland Mary begone at once! Their presence here is an insult
to respectable people,” and she flashed them a malicious look.

“Alice, Alice!” exclaimed Lord Glencairn, in accents of deep reproach,
“that is unworthy of you.”

Robert felt as though he must choke with fury. He forgot the presence of
Lord Glencairn. He forgot everything but his just indignation. “My God!”
he cried passionately, striding up to the sneering woman, “you dare to
speak so—you!”

“Yes, I!” she returned coolly, eying him disdainfully up and down. “What
have you to say against me?” She drew herself up imperiously.

“Only this,” replied Robert in a low, tense voice, “ye may say what you
will of me, but as ye value your happiness, do not breathe aught against
the fair name of Mary Campbell.”

She uttered an angry exclamation, but remained speechless and so pale
that her lips were devoid of color. If he were dishonorable enough to
tell everything, she thought, with a thrill of fear, it would make
things decidedly embarrassing and humiliating for her, besides giving
her enemies a choice bit of scandal, which they would use to excellent
advantage.

At this point a few of the guests, feeling decidedly uncomfortable and
very much _de trop_, quietly left the room, but the others, and the room
was filled, held their ground, shamelessly reveling in the extraordinary
scene, the like of which had never before been seen in an Edinburgh
drawing-room, which was being enacted before them.

“Robert, lad,” whispered Mrs. Dunlop, in a loud aside, “ye must say
something. Deny this charge. I know you are innocent of any wrong doing.
Speak, tell his lordship so!” and she pointed to where he stood crushed
and silent, in speechless sorrow.

“What can I say, Mrs. Dunlop?” replied Robert, in an agony of indecision.
“Would ye have me flatly contradict her ladyship and accuse her of
lying?” He paused a moment with patient sadness. “Nay, nay, friend, there
is nothing I can say noo that will smooth matters or clear me in the eyes
of the world.”

“But you must tell them the truth,” insisted Mary. “Dinna’ let them
believe this monstrous thing of you.” She looked indignantly at the cold
repellent face of her ladyship, and continued fearlessly, “She’s a bold,
wicked woman, and she seeks your ruin!”

“How dare you, you insolent creature!” hissed her ladyship furiously,
while the amazed guests looked in open-mouthed amazement at the demure
little dairymaid so suddenly transformed, standing with head thrown back
and eyes flashing accusingly.

But Robert remained rigidly silent. He would not be so base, so
ungrateful as to shatter his benefactor’s belief in his wife’s honor, her
veracity, he told himself in a spirit of self-sacrifice. He owed all he
had in the world to him, and he would remain silent for his sake, and he
kept his eyes fixed unresponsively on the rug at his feet, but the little
drops of perspiration stood out on his brow, as he fought against the
temptation to clear his good name from ignominy.

Throwing open the door Lady Glencairn pointed to it dramatically,
“There’s the door, Mr. Burns,” she said insolently; “do not compel me to
call my servants.”

“Jezebel!” muttered Mr. Mackenzie through his clenched teeth.

“If he goes I go too,” flashed Mrs. Dunlop, casting an indignant look at
her hostess.

“So will I,” echoed Eppy.

“Wait!” cried Mary vibrantly. Her silvery voice rang out above the
confusion, as the guests moved about among themselves asking all sorts
of inane questions, exploiting their views upon the subject—some loudly
extolling Lady Glencairn’s attitude in the matter and others as stoutly
defending the bard. Instantly there was an astonished hush.

“My lords and ladies,” continued Mary thrillingly, “listen to me! I tell
ye that Robert Burns is innocent o’ this contemptible charge laid against
him. I know it, for I was outside the window yonder an’ heard all that
passed between him and her ladyship.”

“Spy!” hissed Lady Glencairn between her teeth, unheard in the hubbub of
voices which had commenced again with Mary’s statement as the subject of
comment, then she laughed mockingly. “How absurd,” she cried to those
about her. “My dear James, let us end this scene. I will not stay here to
be insulted. Come, my friends, let us retire,” and she took her husband’s
arm.

“Ye shall listen to the truth, all of ye!” cried Mary resolutely.
Clasping and unclasping her little hands with nervous intensity, her
eyes filled with determined purpose, she faced the fickle crowd that was
regarding her with such open admiration for her stanchness, her bravery.
“I heard her ladyship swear to ruin Robert because he spurned her
unwomanly offers of love,” she declared, with convincing earnestness.

A guilty flush reddened the creamy pallor of her ladyship’s face. “Oh,
the shame of it, my lord, to be thus humiliated before my guests!” she
cried, bursting into nervous tears. “Surely, my lord, you would not
listen to such monstrous tales,” she pleaded.

“Oh, believe me, I speak the truth,” exclaimed Mary, a great fear in her
heart as she saw the tender look Lord Glencairn bestowed upon his weeping
wife.

He was torn and spent by conflicting emotions. He did not doubt his wife,
yet the words of the young girl rang true, and there was only truth
and nobility stamped upon the gloomy face of the poet. What was he to
believe? How could he decide? His confidence in his wife had never yet
been shaken—yet, stay—there was once when—but he would not think of that
time, it was so long ago, yet think of it he did with uneasy misgivings.
If she had deceived him once, might she not again? he asked himself
fearfully.

“Mr. Burns, will you assure me on your word of honor as a man that you
are entirely innocent of any intentional insult to Lady Glencairn?” asked
Mr. Mackenzie bluntly. He had taken his place beside Robert, along with
Mrs. Dunlop and Mary and Eppy McKay, together with a few more of Robert’s
sympathizers and stanch believers in his innocence. And now he asked the
question in hope of eliciting some explanation, some excuse, anything,
from the silent man.

Robert raised his head and without looking at any one particular person,
answered simply, indifferently, as many thought.

“I have always held Lady Glencairn in the highest respect and
admiration,” he said quietly. “She alone knows what is the end she aims
at, by attributing feelings to me with regard to her which I have never
conceived, and words which I have never uttered.” And he sank once more
into his listless attitude.

Lord Glencairn passed his hand over his brow in a bewildered manner. “You
were ever truthful, Robert,” he muttered so low that none but his wife
heard his implied doubt of her.

She turned on him witheringly. “My lord, you insult me by lending an
ear to aught he or his witness can say in his behalf,” she exclaimed
frigidly. Then, turning to the onlookers, she continued with insolent
innuendo in words and manner, “You all know the infatuated attachment of
this maid for Mr. Burns, who has bewitched her until she is ready to
sacrifice every consideration of truth, reason, or duty to shield her
guilty lover.”

“What a scandal this will cause throughout Edinburgh,” whispered Eppy to
Mrs. Dunlop, who was almost beside herself with speechless indignation by
this time. She had been listening with growing anger to Lady Glencairn’s
insolent falsehoods, for she knew they were falsehoods, and she would
never believe that Robbie would belittle himself by lying, for he was
too brutally frank and truthful at times to be thoroughly an agreeable
companion.

Eppy’s inopportune remark was the straw that broke the camel’s back,
and she turned on her hotly. “Hold your tongue, ye old busy body!” she
exploded violently, nearly knocking the astonished Eppy down by the
suddenness, the unexpectedness, of the retort.

“I was never so insulted in my life,” Eppy gasped tearfully, making
little dabs at her eyes with a dainty ’kerchief, and casting hurt,
reproachful glances at the blunt old lady, who, after delivering her
shaft at the unoffending Eppy, turned to Lord Glencairn, the fire still
flashing in her determined eyes.

“Lord Glencairn,” she said, with a touch of defiance, “you may forbid me
your house hereafter, and indeed I hardly believe I will be welcome,”
with a look at the scornful face of her hostess; “but I care not; I
believe in Robert’s innocence, and that Mary Campbell has only spoken
the truth.” A few nodded their heads to each other in approval. Lord
Glencairn stood mute, a prey to the doubting fear which gripped his heart.

Her ladyship, with one quick look around at the wavering faces of her
friends, knew that she was losing ground, and the color faded from her
cheeks. A look of nervous fear came into her steely eyes. She must
restore their shaking confidence in her—but how? It gave her a strange
feeling of satisfaction to know that whatever the outcome, she had ruined
his popularity for the present, but she wanted to ruin him utterly—to
turn every door in Edinburgh against him. If she could only get someone
to speak in her behalf, she thought prayerfully, as she looked about her.
Suddenly her eyes rested on the saturnine features of her uncle, who was
regarding her with a malicious smile of triumph. An eager light came into
her hard eyes. He hated Robert Burns; he would help her out if anyone
would; she would risk it. His word coupled with hers would instantly turn
the tide in her favor. And risking all upon the throw, she called out
loud enough to be heard above the murmur of voices, “Uncle, it seems my
word is not fully believed,” she said, with a little pitying, disdainful
smile, which brought the flush of embarrassment to the cheeks of several,
who happened to catch her eye; “so if you will oblige me by relating
what you know of the unpleasant circumstances, perhaps your word will
be accepted by our doubting friends.” Her lazy voice was replete with
insulting sarcasm.

All eyes turned to look at Sir William, who, after one quick, angry
glance at the cool, smiling face of his strategic niece, cleared his
throat with irritating precision, and, without glancing at the startled
face of his victim, who had started to his feet upon hearing the amazing
request of her ladyship, spoke quickly and harshly, a faint tinge of
color dying his yellow skin as the dastardly lie left his lips.

“I overheard Mr. Burns’ insults to my niece,” he said firmly. “I was
standing behind the curtain there,” pointing to a large window, “where I
had gone only a moment before Lady Glencairn entered the room, to glance
out of the window, having heard a noise without, and before I could make
my presence known, Mr. Burns had thrown himself upon his knees, and—and I
did not disturb them,” he concluded lamely.

“Ye perjurer!” cried Robert furiously. “By heaven, I could choke ye with
your own lie!” and he turned white with passion. Sir William cowered
back, a look of fear in his shifty eyes.

“Oh, Robbie, take me hame, take me hame,” gasped Mary, with
heart-breaking pathos, and she sank half fainting in the chair Robert had
vacated.

“Come, James, let us retire,” said Lady Glencairn sweetly, casting
a look of grateful triumph at her uncle. “I am sorry you have lost
a friend, but I could not shield him,” and she pressed his arm with
affected tenderness. Slowly, sorrowfully he allowed himself to be drawn
to the door.

“My lord!” cried Robert hoarsely, “have ye no word to say to me? Ye have
heard the proofs of my innocence; will ye not believe them?” and his
whole soul was in his eyes as he eagerly searched the downcast face of
his old benefactor.

Lord Glencairn gave him one sad, reproachful look. “Oh, Robert,” he said
brokenly, “and I trusted you so.”

Robert dropped his hand, which he had extended pleadingly, and a flush
mounted to the roots of his hair, which quickly faded, leaving him paler
than before, while a look of wounded pride and unutterable bitterness
flashed into his stern face.

“I will attempt no further denial, my lord,” he said slowly, with quiet
dignity. “Calumny has at last reared its vicious head to strike like some
venomous serpent, seeking to crush me in its enveloping folds. The genius
of the Bard is ignored, forgotten—only my obscure birth, my sins, my
indiscretions, my faults are remembered now,” and he smiled with mournful
bitterness.

“Ye have been too puffed up with pride and vanity,” cried Sir William
brutally. “Edinburgh has tired of you.”

Robert gave a scornful little laugh. “Why,” he asked, looking around at
those who had been only too glad to fawn upon him a few moments before,
“because I am no longer a curiosity for the vulgar to gaze at?” He spoke
with biting sarcasm. He paused a minute, then continued bitterly. “Oh,
fool that I have been! At last my eyes are opened to my true position
in your world of society. How I hate and despise the hypocrisy of you
so-called some-bodies! How you fawn and smirk and bow down to wealth
and position, while the man of genius, of avowed worth is disbelieved,
dishonored, and insulted! God, the humiliation of it all!” His eyes
flashed with righteous anger and the indignant scorn in his voice cut
deeply through the thin skin of more than one of his listeners. “I have
endured the insults heaped upon my head to-day in bitterness of spirit
and in silent scorn,” he continued stormily, “but noo my outraged manhood
at last rebels, and I throw down my gage of contemptuous defiance.”

“Robert, calm yourself, laddie!” whispered Mrs. Dunlop apprehensively,
laying a restraining hand upon his arm, which trembled with excitement.

“Your friends will never believe aught against you, Mr. Burns,” exclaimed
Mr. Mackenzie, with deep feeling in his voice.

“My friends!” repeated Robert wildly. “I have none, I want none in this
purse proud city. No longer will I submit to insulting condescension. No
longer will I skulk into a corner of the street like the veriest nobody
on earth, lest the rattling equipage of some gossiping titled blockhead
mangle me in the mire.”

“Robert, I have always loved you,” exclaimed Lord Glencairn, with
rebuking reproachfulness.

“But ye believe the worst of me noo,” replied Robert passionately. “It
only needed this scene of scandal to show my friends in their true
colors.”

“Then go back to your low-born friends where ye belong,” snarled Sir
William vindictively.

“I mean to go back,” retorted Robert, his face flushing crimson, “and
with gladness will I shake the dust of this unjust city off my feet.”
A softer look came over his haggard face and his eyes filled with a
yearning look of utter heart-weariness, a sudden longing for the blissful
quiet of his country home. A tender sweetness came into his voice as he
continued softly, “I will return from whence I came, to the plowtail,
where the poetic genius of my country found me and threw her inspiring
mantle over me.”

Mary took his hand in hers, and with infinite tenderness murmured fondly,
“An’ ye’ll find the banks an’ braes of bonnie Doon holding out their arms
to welcome ye back to your native heath once more, laddie.”

“Let us hope he’ll shine to better advantage there,” sneered Sir
William. A nervous little titter broke the tense silence.

Robert turned on him, goaded to sudden fury. “Ye bird o’ ill omen!” he
panted hoarsely, “I have never injured ye; I have brought money into
your empty pockets. But ye will repent bitterly for swearing away my
life as ye have this day, for e’en though I leave Edinburgh in shame and
disgrace, ’tis not for ay. Nay! I thank God my works will live after me,
that my name will yet become immortal.” His words rang out wildly and
with impassioned intensity.

Lady Glencairn laughed mockingly, and, turning to some of her friends
standing near, she made some low-toned remark, evidently a sarcastic
witticism at the expense of the speaker, which elicited a burst of hollow
laughter from her listeners, who, while they wished to remain in the
favor of the leader of Edinburgh society, stood in wholesome awe of the
blunt speech, the scornful wit of the brilliant poet on trial before them.

“Ye vain boaster!” scoffed Sir William loudly, “you’ll be forgot within a
week,” and he laughed derisively.

“Ye may scoff, ye may laugh,” retorted Robert hotly. “Ye may call me
egoist if ye like, but I know what I have done for my country—I have
attuned my wild artless notes to sing her praises, joys, and sorrows,
and I know those songs will live forever in the heart of every true
Scotsman.” Suddenly, like a ray of sunshine which dispels the morning
mist, his dark haughty face took upon itself a noble, thoughtful, rapt
expression—his wildly flashing eyes softened—his furrowed brow smoothed,
and, fixing his luminous eyes upon the disdainful face of his hostess, he
continued with melancholy pathos and prophetic solemnity, “Ah, my lady,
ye have trampled my good name low in the dust to-day, but my prophetic
spirit tells me the day is coming, even though ye an’ all my traducers
here be dead, rotted and forgot, when one name will be remembered,
cherished and proclaimed above all others of Scotland, aye, the world,
and that name, my lords and ladies, will not be of any rich titled
somebody! Nay, ’twill be that of the plowman-poet of Ayrshire, Robert
Burns.”



CHAPTER XIX


The situation in which Robert now found himself was calculated to awaken
reflection. The time had come, so he gloomily told his friend, Will
Nichol, the morning after the garden party at Lord Glencairn’s, for him
to abandon the gayety and dissipation of which he had been too much
enamored; and all that day he pondered seriously, if gloomily, on the
past, and formed virtuous resolutions respecting the future. He had weeks
ago made up his mind to settle himself for life in the occupation of
agriculture, and now that Edinburgh had tired of his peculiarities, and
the novelty of his appearance had become an old story for them, there
was nothing left for him to do but to start in on his new life as soon
as possible. To further that end he called upon Sir William that day and
demanded a settlement. When he left the office he found himself master
of nearly £500. With the money in his pocket he again called on Will
Nichols and requested him to assist him in the selection of a farm. With
his advice and assistance he soon decided to lease the farm of Ellisland,
on the banks of the River Nith, just above Dumfries. When he had in this
manner arranged his plans for the future his generous heart, which
was sore and bleeding from the many wounds it had recently received,
wounds which seemed to the suffering man that would never heal in this
life, turned in pity and remorse to the mother of his child—a thrill of
yearning stirred him strangely as he thought of the little one—his son—a
warm feeling of love welled up in his heart as he softly repeated the
words; and listening to no consideration but those of honor and duty, and
a strange feeling of growing affection, which made him pause in wonder,
he sought out Jean at the Inn, having learned that she was still in
town, contrary to Lady Glencairn’s assertion, which he had believed; and
there, with his friends surrounding them, they were joined in a public
declaration of marriage, thus legalizing their union and rendering it
permanent for life.

Mrs. Dunlop and Mary had not been present at the ceremony. Mary was
confined to her bed in a state of nervous collapse, and Mrs. Dunlop, much
as she loved Robert, and honored him for the noble step he was taking,
could not leave the stricken girl. It was her wish and determination to
keep Mary with her as long as she could content herself there. Her kind,
motherly heart ached in silent sympathy for the child who had received
such a bitter disappointment, and who was bearing her sorrows with such
patient fortitude. Before Robert left the city she wrote for him to come
and see her, assuring him of her continued friendship, etc., etc. That
evening found him seated beside his stanch friend in whom he confided
his hopes and his fears for the future, and soon he had poured out
the bitterness of his heart, the yearnings of his soul, all the cruel
disappointments of his tempestuous life. She listened in sympathetic
silence, a smile of encouragement, every now and then, lighting up her
face. When he had finished, she told him how proud she was of him,
how she gloried in his strength of purpose, his new-made resolutions,
cautioned him not to forget the new vows he had so lately formed, warned
him of the many vices, the back-sliding state into which one of his
temperament was so apt to fall. Then with infinite tenderness she told
him of the courage of the sweet maiden who now lay upon her bed of sorrow
in the upper room, told him of her loyalty, her pride in his greatness,
in his nobility, while he listened with the burning tears streaming
unchecked down his quivering cheeks. After a pause she took him by the
hand and led him softly to the door of Mary’s chamber. “For the last
farewell,” she whispered sadly. Then she left him standing before the
door, gazing at it as though it were the gates of Heaven which were about
to open for him at his bidding. A sweet voice bade him enter, in answer
to his timid knock, and softly opening the door, he stepped into the room.

Mary opened her beautiful, tired blue eyes, thinking it was her dear
benefactress, and then what a divine rapture—what a dazzling wonder and
joy flashed into them, giving them back their old luster of sunlight
sparkling on an azure sea. She sprang up in her bed and stretched out her
arms.

“Robert!” she cried sobbingly. “Oh, Robbie, my darling.”

Mrs. Dunlop came back and softly closed the door on the sacred stillness
that followed. Then she slowly wended her way down to her sitting-room
and sat down with a deep sigh. “What a sad old world this is,” she
thought. The time dragged along very slowly as she patiently waited for
Robert to come down. Presently she heard the door above close ever so
gently, and then his low footfall down the thick stair carpet. She rose
and met him in the reception hall. He stood on the lowest step, his hand
on the balustrade, his breast heaving with the strain of his emotions.
Mrs. Dunlop took his hand tenderly and pressed it in loving sympathy.

By and by he spoke, and the intense suffering in his voice touched her
keenly. “As ye sow, so shall ye reap,” he muttered brokenly. She could
only press his hand in silent sympathy. Gradually his grief became quiet
and a look of melancholy resignation came over his expressive face.

“When will you leave the city?” she asked quietly.

He thought a moment. “My affairs will be settled by the week’s end,”
he replied, “then I shall go straight to Ellisland. I——” He paused a
moment, then straightened himself, and continued in a firm voice, “Jean
has gone to Mauchline. She will remain there until the house at Ellisland
is in condition to receive her.” He held out his hand. “And now, dear,
good friend, good-by.”

“No, not good-by, laddie,” she answered tearfully. “Just _au revoir_, for
I mean to visit you some day,” and she smiled through her tears.

With a last shake of the hand, he left her, while above stairs a sweet,
wan, tear-stained face, pressed close against the pane, watched his bowed
figure striding moodily toward his lodging, watched it as it faded,
growing dimmer and dimmer, till it was lost to sight.

[Illustration: Robert Burns]



BOOK III



CHAPTER XX

    Now spells of mightier power prepare,
    Bid brighter phantoms round him dance;
    Let flattery spread her viewless snare,
    And fame attract his vagrant glance;
    Let sprightly pleasure too advance,
    Unveiled her eyes, unclasped her zone;
    Till last in love’s delicious trance
    He scorns the joys his youth has known.


When Robert reached Ellisland the evening sun was flaming over the
distant western hills. Not a breath stirred the crimson opening blossom,
or the verdant spreading leaf. It was a golden moment for a poet’s heart.
He stopped his horse by the door of the cottage and stood silently
regarding his future home. He had secured from Mr. Miller in Dumfries,
the owner of the farm, the keys, and declining the company of several,
who offered to show him the way to his new possession, he set out on his
journey in gloomy solitude. For a few moments he listened to the birds
pouring their harmony on every hand, as if to welcome the wanderer, then
with a sigh he unlocked the door and went within. A few weeks passed
uneventfully. Upon his arrival he had immediately begun to rebuild
the dwelling house, which was inadequate to accommodate his family. It
afforded his jaded senses much pleasure to survey the grounds he was
about to cultivate, and in rearing a building that should give shelter
to his wife and children (who were with Squire Armour in Mauchline, the
stern old man having relented upon a bed of sickness), and, as he fondly
hoped, to his own gray hairs; sentiments of independence buoyed up his
mind; pictures of domestic content and peace rose in his imagination; and
a few weeks passed away, the most tranquil, if not the happiest, which
he had experienced for some time. His fame naturally drew upon him the
attention of his neighbors in the district in which he lived, and he was
received at the table of the gentlemen of Nithdale with welcome, with
kindness and respect. It is to be lamented that at this critical period
of his life he was without the restraining influences of the society of
his wife, for a great change had taken place in his situation; his old
habits were broken, and he brooded in melancholy abstraction upon his
past glories in Edinburgh and his wrongs, while thoughts of Highland
Mary constantly filled his waking hours, and caused him to forget the
good resolutions he had formed, in his desire to drown recollections.
The social parties to which he was invited too often seduced him
from his rustic labor and his plain rustic food, and overthrew the
unsteady fabric of his resolutions, inflaming those propensities which
temperance might have weakened, and prudence finally suppressed. It was
not long, therefore, before Robert began to view his farm with dislike
and despondence, if not with disgust. Before his advent into Edinburgh
society, and during his sojourn there, he had refrained from the habitual
use of strong liquors. But in Dumfries the sins that so easily beset
him continually presented themselves, and though he clearly foresaw the
consequences of yielding to them, his appetite and sensations, which
could not prevent the dictates of his judgment, finally triumphed over
the power of his will.

His great celebrity made him an object of interest and curiosity to
strangers, and few persons of cultivated minds passed through Dumfries
without attempting to see the poet, and to enjoy the pleasure of his
conversation. As he could not receive them under his own humble roof
these interviews passed at the inns of the towns, and often terminated
in excesses, which Robert was seldom able to resist. Indeed, there were
never wanting persons to share his social pleasures, to lead or accompany
him to the tavern, to partake in the wildest sallies of his wit, or to
witness the strength and degradation of his genius.

Unfortunately he had for several years looked to an office in the excise
as a certain means of livelihood, should his other expectations fail. He
had been recommended to the Board of Excise before leaving Mossgiel,
and had received the instructions necessary for such a situation. He
now applied to be employed regularly, and was immediately appointed
exciseman, or gauger, as it is vulgarly called, of the district in which
he lived. His farm was after this, in a great measure, abandoned to
servants, while he betook himself to the duties of his new appointment.
To be sure he could still be seen at intervals directing his plow, a
labor in which he excelled, but it was not at Ellisland that he was now
in general to be found. Mounted on horseback, our hero was pursuing the
defaulters of the revenue among the hills and vales of Nithdale, his
roving eye wandering over the charms of nature, and muttering his wayward
fancies as he moved along. Though by nature of an athletic form, Robert
had in his constitution the peculiarities and delicacies that belong to
the temperament of genius. Endowed by nature with great sensibility of
nerves, he was in his corporeal, as well as in his mental system, liable
to inordinate impressions, to fever of the body, as well as of mind.
This predisposition to disease, which strict temperance in diet, regular
exercise, and sound sleep might have subdued, habits of a very different
nature, strengthened and inflamed.

The following year Jean and her bairns came to live at Ellisland. He
received them with quiet affection, and Jean, who had grown strangely
humbled and passive, did her utmost to please him at all times, never
referring to the past, and tactfully avoiding all irritating subjects,
and by her soothing presence, her loving words of comfort and sympathy,
soon made her presence indispensable to her moody husband. Another year
passed by, a year of anxiety for Jean, who was compelled to witness her
husband’s lapses from sobriety, which now came so often, and to watch his
health decline slowly, but surely, in consequence. In the midst of all
his wanderings Robert met nothing in his domestic circle but gentleness
and forgiveness, except the gnawings of his own remorse. He acknowledged
his transgressions to his patient wife, promised amendment, and again
received pardon for his offenses. But as the strength of his body
decayed, his resolution became feebler, and habit acquired predominating
strength.

All this time Robert had entertained hopes of promotion in the exercise,
but circumstances occurred which retarded their fulfillment, and which in
his own mind destroyed all expectation of their ever being fulfilled. His
steady friend, Mr. Mackenzie, interposed his good offices in his behalf,
however, and he was suffered to retain his situation, but given to
understand that his promotion was deferred, and must depend on his future
behavior. This circumstance made a deep impression on Robert. He fancied
that everyone held him in contemptuous pity, as a man of some genius who
had dwindled into a paltry exciseman, and who was slinking out the rest
of his insignificant existence in the meanest of pursuits, and among the
lowest of mankind; and for days he would sit quietly on the banks of the
river plunged in the gloomiest meditation.

About this time he received word of Lord Glencairn’s death. The news
plunged him into another fit of melancholy gloom, lessened somewhat,
however, by the assurance that his noble benefactor had died knowing the
truth, believing in Robert’s innocence, and asking his forgiveness.

As his health declined his thoughts became more and more fixed upon Mary,
who was once more in Mossgiel at Colonel Montgomery’s. He yearned with
bitter longing to gaze upon her sweet face again, to hear her dear voice
speak his name. These thoughts he strove vainly to conquer, to banish
from his mind, for Jean’s patience and goodness, her loving forbearance,
filled him with shame at his own unworthiness. But she gave no sign
of the bitter heartache she endured. She accepted it all in patient
resignation, striving by uniform prudence and good management to relieve
his distress of mind regarding the material welfare of his little flock.

Toward the end of spring he contracted a severe cold while in reckless
pursuit of an offender, in a driving rain storm, and, having caught the
guilty one, he celebrated the event at the inn, in company with some
congenial spirits, seated in his wet clothes, the result being an attack
of rheumatism, which laid him upon a bed of sickness for some weeks. His
salary was but a small one, hardly sufficient to keep his family from
want, and though hitherto his farm had yielded him a comfortable living,
for some months it had been left to run itself, with the inevitable
results. Planting time had come and gone, and still his ground lay all
untouched. His laborers had refused to work for him longer without pay,
and Souter Johnny, who was now making his home at Ellisland, could only
attend to the lighter chores about the farm. And now things began to
take a serious outlook for our hero and his family. Though sick and
discouraged, with want staring him in the face, he still sent glowing
reports of his continued prosperity to his loved ones in Mossgiel,
reports that filled their anxious hearts with false hopes and prayerful
thankfulness.



CHAPTER XXI


One day during Robert’s early convalescence, Souter, after having
finished his chores, sauntered leisurely through the vegetable garden.
It was a peaceful nook, and there were household odors of mint, and
thyme, and boy’s love, which were pleasant to the soul of Souter Johnny,
and reminded him of stewed rabbit, which he dearly loved, with all its
attendant delicacies. He paced the path slowly, the light of the sinking
sun blazing gloriously upon the brilliant gown of his companion, who was
simpering along beside him, her little gray eyes looking down on him with
flattering interest as she listened with apparent delight to his tales
of daring adventure. Finally their conversation drifted to the sick man
within.

“Poor bonnie laddie,” sighed Eppy dolefully. “To think of him being so
ill. We all loved him dearly in Edinburgh.”

“He hasna’ been the same lad since he returned from there,” replied
Souter. “He had many great disappointments in his young life, I tell
ye,” and he shook his head dismally. “An’ noo everything has gone to the
dogs wi’ him, ever since he has been in Ellisland. ’Twas a sorry day
when he became an exciseman, say I.” He paused a moment reflectively,
then continued earnestly, “But no matter what anybody says different, he
has always done his duty faithfully, always on the tramp in all kinds
of weather, till at last his robust constitution has given out, an’ he
bowled over, so to speak.” He loyally refrained from mentioning that
Robert’s illness was partly due to his imprudent way of living.

Eppy sighed again. “And he the Bard of Scotland,” she returned
commiseratingly. “How I pity him. Isn’t it sad Mr. MacDougall?”

“Aye,” replied Souter, with a quick look from under his shaggy eyebrows.
“Ye hae a kind heart in ye, Miss McKay,” he observed after a pause.

“Do you really think so?” she simpered. “I fear you are a base flatterer,
Mr. MacDougall. In Edinburgh there were so many who flattered me, who
sought for my favors, that I became wearied of it all, and longed for
a change. That is why I came here to Ayrshire and purchased the farm
adjoining, that I might rest during the summer.”

“And then ye’ll be leaving us?” asked Souter with a deep sigh.

“Perhaps not,” and she looked at him coquettishly. “Would anyone care if
I did return to town?” she insinuated slyly.

“’Tis a wonder that such a bonnie lassie as ye should still be a maiden,”
he observed abruptly with a sly look out of the corner of his eye.

“Oh, I have had many offers,” she answered airily, though her heart
fluttered with a newly-born hope.

“Do ye ne’er get lonely, Miss McKay?”

She sighed and cast down her eyes. “Yes, I do,” she declared plaintively,
“and I’m lonely now in that great big house with only a servant for
company.”

“Souter Johnny,” said Souter to himself, “this is the chance of your
lifetime; go in and win a home.” Having arrived at this resolution, he
cleared his throat and pausing in his walk, faced the simpering old lady.
“Mum, ye see before ye,” he remarked, not without some nervousness, “a
single man, like yoursel’. Not from necessity, och nae; Souter Johnny,
before he lost his handsome looks, could hae had his pick o’ any o’ the
lassies, but I hae waited till noo——” he paused impressively.

“Till now, Mr. MacDougall?” she repeated breathlessly, eager to have him
continue.

“Weel, noo I hae found her,” he answered, “an’ she’s what I hae been
lookin’ for a’ my life.”

“How romantic you are,” she cried soulfully, with an admiring look.

“Aye, that I am, ’tis born in me,” he responded. “Do ye mind if I smoke,
mum?” he asked carelessly. He took out of his waistcoat pocket his old
black pipe and held it in his hand.

“Oh, no,” she gushed. “I love to see you smoke, ’tis so manly.”

Having lighted his pipe and got it drawing to his satisfaction, he turned
to her once more, and remarked casually, “Would ye call me too old to get
married? I’m askin’ your advice noo.” He looked at her quizzically.

She shook her head vigorously in the negative. “Age does not matter at
all,” she observed sagely. “The question is do you feel peart?” and she
regarded him with anxious eyes.

A grim smile played around Souter’s lips. Removing his pipe, he replied
with convincing firmness, “Never was sick in my life, strong and healthy.
Feel my muscle!” and he held out his doubled arm to the timid Eppy,
who shrank away bashfully. “It willna’ hurt ye,” he declared. Thus
encouraged, she gingerly touched it with one finger. “Fine, isn’t it?”
he asked proudly. Before she could answer he continued, “I have a fine
appetite, mum, an’ I dinna’ feel my age. Noo I ask ye, am I too ugly to
be looked at, mum? Dinna’ be afraid to tell me the truth.” He held up his
head, straightened his bent shoulders and stood awaiting her reply.

She eyed him a moment in silence. “Well, Mr. MacDougall,” she said
doubtfully, after a pause, “I must confess you’re no beauty.” A look
of disappointment came over Souter’s face, seeing which she hastened
to reassure him. “But I care not for looks, Mr. MacDougall,” she cried
earnestly. “One could get used to you. I’ve heard it said that one can
get used to anything in time,” and she smiled sweetly into his downcast
face.

He gave her a quick look.

“Is it as bad as that?” he returned reflectively. “Weel, looks is all a
matter of taste. And noo let’s get down to business.” Eppy gave a start
and her hands fluttered about nervously, as she waited for his next
words. “Do ye think, mum, this sweet, lovely lassie I hae in my mind
would hae me for a husband?” he insinuated softly.

She gave a little gasp. “This is so sudden,” she simpered, then broke off
abruptly—he hadn’t asked her yet. “Er—why don’t you ask the beautiful
lassie. She might think of it.” She coyly looked down upon him from under
her big bonnet.

Souter threw down his pipe in his earnestness. “I will,” he ejaculated
quickly, his eyes sparkling with triumph. “’Tis your ain bright sel’ for
whom my heart is yearnin’. Will ye hae me, Eppy?”

Eppy closed her eyes in blissful content. “My first proposal,” she
thought joyfully. Opening her eyes, she gazed at him fondly. “Oh, I don’t
want to make a mistake now,” she cried, half frightened, but she had no
intention of refusing him, however.

“Dinna’ fear,” replied Souter eagerly. “I’ll attend to that; there’ll be
no mistake made, I’ll warrant ye.”

“You’re such a masterful man,” she exclaimed, with an admiring look,
“and—well, there’s no gainsaying you. I must confess a real live man
about the house would be most comforting—to my sister, Sibella—and—and
me, so I—I’ll have you, Souter,” and she threw herself into his arms with
a cry of joy and thankfulness.

“Thank ye, thank ye, mum,” said Souter gratefully. “I feel as if I had
won the prize ticket in a grand lottery.” He heaved a great sigh of
blissful content as he thought of the big house across the way. “There
noo, my pipe is out again,” he observed, after a little pause, and
he calmly turned his back and proceeded to relight it, leaving Eppy
regarding him with reproachful eyes and pouting lips.

“Souter,” she finally faltered, “I—I thought you were more romantic. We
haven’t sealed our engagement by a—a——”

“A—what?” asked Souter concernedly. “Is there something mair to do?”

She sidled up to him, giggling bashfully, and after turning to see if
they were observed, she put her arm around his neck and said pensively:

    “Gin a body meet a body comin’ thro’ the rye,
    Gin a body kiss a body, need a body cry.”

A comical look of comprehension dawned on Souter’s face. “O—oh! I see,
’tis a kiss ye mean,” he answered lightly. “Weel, noo, I’ll na’ stop
ye if ye want to kiss me. If you can stand it, I can,” and he held his
face up to hers, for she towered a foot above him. With a sudden dart, a
downward sweep of her head, she glued her lips to the little man’s, then
with a resounding smack she released him, with a sigh of absolute content
upon her homely face. “Weel, noo, that’s not half bad,” observed Souter,
smacking his lips reflectively.

“Now, Souter,” declared Eppy decidedly, after they had walked a few paces
in quiet, “since you are a Highlander, you must wear the kilt, to please
me; and it must be the tartan of our clan.”

Souter threw up his hands in amazed horror. “Oh, dearie, dinna’ ask me to
do that; I canna’ wear the kilt; I am na’ built that way,” and he looked
down at his legs with whimsical seriousness.

“Then I’ll not marry you,” she declared with apparent firmness.

Souter hurriedly explained in trembling fear. “I’ll tell ye the truth,
dearie: when I last wore the kilt the laddies laughed at my crooked legs
an’ called me a scarecrow, an’ I swore then I’d ne’er show my bare legs
to mortal man again. Would ye hae me expose my miserable defects, womman?”

She stood off and let her eyes rove slowly down his nether extremities
with the air of a connoisseur. “I protest they do not look so badly,” she
observed encouragingly.

[Illustration: “‘Keep on turning,’ she commanded.”]

“Looks are deceivin’, lassie,” quickly replied Souter, who objected
seriously to kilts. “My legs are na’ my beauty point, for a’ that; they
are just twa wee bones, I tell ye, so be prepared for the worst,” and he
shook his head dolefully.

“Oh, well, as Mr. Burns says, ‘A man’s a man, for a’ that!’” she replied
sweetly. Then after a moment’s reflection, she asked with tender
solicitude, “Are they so very wee, Souter?”

“Aye, ye should see them,” he replied eagerly, hoping to convince her as
to his unfitness to wear the dress.

Eppy held up her hands before her face in horror. “Whatever are you
saying, Souter?”

“Weel, my legs are a maist sensitive subject wi’ me, my dear,” he
returned apologetically.

“Turn around,” she commanded. He did so in wonder. “Keep on turning,”
she commanded. “I think, mayhap, they’re not so bad,” she observed after
a critical inspection. “However, after we are wed I can decide better
whether ye can wear the kilt or not.”

Souter regarded her in meek astonishment, then he humbly rejoined, “Weel,
if ye can stand their looks, I’ll na’ complain, but it’s o’er chilly at
times,” and he shivered apprehensively.

She laughed gayly. “Now, Souter, I must go home. Come over soon, you
masterful man!”

“Aye, the first thing in the morning,” retorted Souter calmly, “an’ I’ll
bring the minister wi’ me.”

“The minister! Why bring him?” asked Eppy in amazement.

“To marry us, my dear,” replied Souter quietly.

“You must be daft man!” she cried in sudden alarm.

Souter shook his head. “Ye’d better take no chances,” he retorted calmly.
“I may change my mind,” and he carefully knocked the ashes out of his
pipe and put it in his pocket.

“You impatient man!” fluttered Eppy. “I—I—come over and we’ll talk about
it. Good-by, laddie,” and she tripped daintily off down the path toward
the gate.

Then Souter sat down on the seat under the big tree beside the house.
“Souter Johnny,” he said to himself, “ye’re a devil with the wimmen,
mon,” and a smile of self-satisfaction stole over his wrinkled face.

“Souter Johnny!” panted Eppy, running back to him breathlessly, “I’ve
changed my mind.”

Souter jumped to his feet in sudden terror. Had he lost her after all, or
rather, had he lost the home across the way? “W—what, do you mean?” he
stammered.

“I mean—you—you—may bring the minister,” she gasped, and away she
fluttered down the walk before he could recover from his astonishment.

“Hurrah! your fortune is made, Souter Johnny!” he cried aloud, when the
meaning of her words had dawned upon him, and he threw his bonnet high
in the air. “Ye’ll nae hae to cobble shoes any mair, noo, for ye’ll be
lord of the manor house, wi’ servants to wait on ye. Oh, the power of
money! ye’ll ride out in your fine carriage, Souter, and as ye drive by,
all the neighbors will be bowing and scraping to ye. I can see them noo.
’Twill be ‘Mr. MacDougall, will ye do us the honor to call at the castle;
her ladyship would be pleased to see you.’ Then I’ll say to them that
snubbed me when I was poor, ‘Weel, noo, ’tis very busy I am, attending
to my estates and other social duties. Tell her grace that Mr. and Mrs.
MacDougall will be pleased to have her visit us at MacDougall House, if
she cares to meet us.’” And he stalked along majestically to the house
with his head held proudly erect. “Noo, I’ll find the minister and make
sure of my bird.” Arriving at the door of the cottage, he stopped, and
addressing an imaginary butler, said pompously, “James, open the door,
your master wishes to enter! Thank ye! Noo take my hat! Noo ye may go!”
With a chuckle of delight he quietly opened the door and composing his
features into their natural expression, entered the cottage and made his
way to the kitchen, where he found a bowl of porridge awaiting him, which
he hungrily devoured.

Meanwhile in the other room Robert lay tossing feverishly upon his bed.
Jean sat beside him smoothing his pillow from time to time, and soothing
his anguished mind with words of love and encouragement.

“Blessings on your faithful head, Jean,” he murmured gratefully. “You’re
the best, truest wife that erring mortal man ever had.” She flushed with
pleasure at his words of praise. “Oh, this accursed rheumatism,” he
groaned. “How it shackles one, making one as much a prisoner as though a
ball and chain were attached to his ankle.”

“But you are much better to-day,” said Jean brightly.

“For a while only. I fear me this is my fatal illness,” he replied
despondently.

“Don’t say that, Robert; you’ll be on your feet in a few days now,” and
she looked hopefully into his worn and haggard face.

He pressed her hand gently. “I haven’t been the best of husbands, lass,”
he said after a pause. “I have sore tried your patience and your love
ofttimes, by my unfaithfulness, my unworthiness.”

“I do not complain, Robert,” she answered quietly.

“No, ye have never done that,” he said with a tender smile, “frequent
though my lapses in sobriety and propriety have been.” He paused
thoughtfully; presently he continued in mournful reflection, “But I was
punished for those sins afterward, for then came remorse, shame, regret,
the three hell hounds that ever dog my steps and bay at my heels.”

“If it is God’s will——” began Jean, but he interrupted her.

“Ah, no, Jean,” he replied bitterly. “’Tis not God’s will that I should
be here, racked with pain and tortured by the sins that come staring me
in the face, each one telling a more bitter tale than his fellow. ’Tis
only the result of my own headstrong folly.” She wiped away the drops of
perspiration from his brow with tender fingers, while he lay panting from
the excitement that the recital of his sorrows had occasioned.

“There, do not distress yourself with such bitter thoughts,” she told him
gently. “What is done, is done, and all our sins will be blotted out in
that other life.”

“That other life,” he repeated dreamily. “Can it be possible that when I
resign this feverish being I shall find myself in conscious existence,
enjoying and enjoyed? Would to God I as firmly believed it as I ardently
wish it. If there is another life,” he continued with a flash of his
old whimsical brightness, “it must be for the just, the benevolent, the
amiable only, and the good. I’m sore afraid Rob Burns will na’ be able to
get even a peep through the Pearly Gates.”

“Hush, dear,” replied Jean with tender reproach. “’Twill be open to all.
‘Let whosoever will, come and have eternal life,’ the Master said.”

He mused a while on that sweet thought. “Ah, weel, just noo,” he returned
with a sigh, “this life is what we must face, and which I must cling to
as long as I can for the sake of my little flock. Poverty and misfortune
must be overcome, and at once. Our salvation now lies in my getting the
supervisorship and increased salary; then we need have no fear of the
future; we can laugh at fate.”

“You sent your last poem, ‘Prettiest maid on Devon’s bank,’ to Mr.
Thompson, didn’t ye, laddie?” asked Jean anxiously.

“Aye,” he replied, closing his eyes wearily. “And I implored him for
God’s sake to send me a few pounds to tide me over the present, till I
got my promotion. I am not asking a loan, ’tis a business transaction,”
he continued proudly, “and I ken he will send whatever he is able to
spare. He is a good friend, and it grieves me bitterly to be obliged
to ask help of him to keep us from starving. But,” and a note of
independence crept into his voice, “my song is worth whatever he sends.”

“Hunger and want can humble the most independent spirit,” returned Jean
sadly. She rose and walked to the window and looked out into the twilight
with searching, anxious eyes. “Posty should bring us an answer to-night,”
she murmured.

“An’ he will,” cried Robert hopefully, “for Thompson willna’ disappoint
me, for he kens I am in sore straits.”

“Heaven bless him!” cried Jean fervently.



CHAPTER XXII


The next day our hero was in better health and spirits, and insisted upon
being up and dressed. Jean, not without secret misgivings, got him into
his clothes and helped him to the rocking-chair, which she had drawn up
to the open window. For a while he sat there in silent content, bathed
in the warm, golden light of the morning sun, whose genial beams seemed
to infuse new vigor into his languid frame, while the gentle summer wind
blew upon him with its exhilarating, refreshing warmth. After Jean had
performed her household duties she returned to find him playing happily
with their two boys, telling them tale after tale, while they sat perched
on either arm of the big rocker, their eyes popping out of their round,
healthy faces with excited interest. He looked up as she entered and
smiled into her anxious face.

“Do not tire yourself, Robert,” she cautioned him gently. “Come, lads,
run out doors and play a wee, your father is tired.” But they clung to
him affectionately.

“One mair story,” they pleaded.

“Tell us aboot Tam O’Shanter’s ride!” commanded Robert, Jr., gravely.
Jean sat down while he recited the stirring tale, and watched her
husband with eyes aglow with love and pity. How changed he was, she
thought with a sigh. What havoc had been wrought in that sturdy frame,
that fine constitution, in the once ringing tones of his musical voice.
Alas, all had flown, but with God’s help she would win him back to health
and strength once more, she told herself with resolute determination.
As he finished he kissed the earnest faces held up to his with such
worshipful affection, and with a serious “Thank ye, father,” they turned
and marched quietly out of the room and into the open air, and soon their
childish treble floated in through the open window, bringing a smile of
amused affection to the faces of their parents.

“Now, Robert, ye must be tired out,” remarked Jean presently. “Will ye
not try and get a nappie?”

“In a wee, Jean,” he answered, looking out of the window thoughtfully.

“Then you must have a bittie of gruel now,” she said, rising and going
toward the door.

“Nay, nay, Jean, I thank ye, but I canna’ eat nor drink nor sleep just at
present.”

“Then try and take a nappie,” she insisted, smoothing the pillows and
sheets in anxious preparation.

“A little later, Jean,” he replied a trifle impatiently.

She sighed patiently. “Then I’ll leave ye for a while,” and she walked
toward the door. “Ye’re quite comfortable?” she asked. He nodded. Slowly
she closed the door upon him and applied herself to the task of getting
the midday meal.

Presently, a knock on the door startled her, interrupting her meager
preparations. Hastily wiping her hands on her apron, she opened it, and
there on the threshold stood two richly dressed strangers. “From the
city,” she mentally said, noticing the elegance of their attire.

Courteously raising his high conical blue silk hat, the younger man
addressed her. “Is not this Mistress Burns, whom I have the honor to
address?” he asked.

“I am Mistress Burns,” replied Jean with dignity.

“We have come to see your husband. Will you inform him, my dear madam,
that his friend Henry Mackenzie would be pleased to converse with him.”

Jean opened wide the door, a look of pleasure on her face. “Please
to enter,” she said quietly. They did so. She showed them into the
living-room and bade them be seated. “Robert will be out directly,” she
said, and hastily went to tell Robert of their arrival.

“So this is where Scotland’s Bard lives,” remarked Mr. Mackenzie, looking
about the room critically. “This cheerless hut, which bespeaks naught but
poverty. Poor Burns, I pity him.”

“’Tis all his own fault,” testily replied his companion.

“I am not so sure of that, Sir William,” said Mr. Mackenzie with a swift
look at him. “I have always believed and maintained that Burns was
innocent of that monstrous charge my Lady Glencairn brought against him,
even though you did confess to being an eye witness of the occurrence.
However, she has received her just deserts. She is at last totally
ostracized.”

“Do ye mean to say——” sputtered Sir William.

Mr. Mackenzie raised his hand in a stately gesture. “I really do not care
to discuss it, Sir William. But at last Edinburgh is beginning to realize
how cruelly they have misjudged him, and they would welcome him back
again, but I fear his pride and independence will prevent his accepting
any assistance whatever.”

Sir William gave a snort of impatience. “I cannot waste my sympathy on
him,” he said angrily. “I am dispatched here to do my duty, and I must do
it,” and his mouth set in a straight, determined line.

“’Tis a duty that for once is uncommon pleasant to you,” replied
Mackenzie sarcastically. There was silence for a moment, then he
continued, “I take it, the decision of the Board is final?” he asked.

“Aye, ’tis irrevocable, sir,” replied Sir William gruffly.

“And he must live on here as a poor exciseman,” murmured Mackenzie half
to himself. “Live! In sooth ’tis but an existence,” and he strode to
the window in sudden perturbation and gazed thoughtfully out upon the
untilled land.

The door of the chamber opened and Robert entered the room, a smile of
pleasure lighting up his face. Mr. Mackenzie stepped eagerly forward and
clasped his hand and shook it warmly.

“I am uncommon glad to see ye beneath my humble roof,” said Rob
earnestly, “and that ye havena’ forgotten poor, hopeless Robert Burns.”

Mackenzie led him to a chair. “Indeed, I have not,” he replied brightly.
“Believe me, Mr. Burns, when I say that I prize your friendship above
that of all men I know.”

Robert was about to reply, when he caught sight of Sir William Creech
watching them impatiently. He gave a great start and rose to his feet.

“Sir William Creech!” he said slowly and bitterly. “To what do I owe this
visit?”

“I come on a matter of business,” replied Sir William, a flush rising to
his cheek.

“What business can ye have with me noo?” asked Robert with rising anger.
“Perjurer, have ye come to gloat over the man ye helped ruin by your
iniquitous falsehood? It isna’ good news ye bring, I warrant ye, else ye
would not be the bearer of it.” And he gave a scornful little laugh.

“Insulting as ever, Robert Burns,” snarled Sir William, a red spot of
anger on each cheek, his eyes flashing wickedly. “Well, I’ll state my
business briefly. Ye wrote to the Board of Commissioners for the position
of supervisor in the excise. Your request has been voted on and was
refused.” He spat the words out with vindictive satisfaction.

“Refused!” gasped Rob incredulously. He had felt so confident that the
position would be given him. He sat down weakly in his chair, dazed for
a moment. “But my name has been on the list of promotion for months,” he
told them dully.

“’Twas scratched off some weeks ago.”

“Scratched off? and why?”

“Because of your Jacobite tendencies,” replied Sir William coldly.
“Many reports concerning your disloyal sentiments to your country have
reached the Board, which utterly ruined any chance ye might have had of
promotion.”

Robert sat with bowed head, crushed by his disappointment. “Again must
I drink deeply of the cup of humiliation and disappointment!” he cried
bitterly. Presently he looked up at Mr. Mackenzie with a grim smile on
his trembling face. “I am at last persuaded, Mr. Mackenzie, that it
was of me the Hebrew sage prophesied when he foretold, ‘and behold, on
whatsoever this man doth set his heart, it shall not prosper.’” His head
dropped on his chest—his hands clenched the sides of the chair with
despairing intensity. Suddenly he jumped to his feet, his face set and
drawn, his eyes wild and flashing with bitter anger. “My curse on those
damned informers, who have blasted my hopes,” he exclaimed hoarsely. “May
the devil be let loose to torture them to madness.” Then he sank down in
his chair exhausted by his passion, his face pale and quivering.

Mr. Mackenzie hastened to his side, fearful of the consequences of the
excitement on his frail constitution. Presently Robert spoke again, but
in a weak, broken voice.

“My last hope is torn from me,” he said despairingly. “What shall I do
now? Ah, Mr. Mackenzie, I have felt all the sweetness of applause in my
short life, but I am now experiencing the bitterness of the after-taste.”
And the pitiful little smile, the pathetic catch in his voice, strangely
moved the heart of his listener.

“Pardon my question, Mr. Burns,” said he, “but surely the excise allows
you a salary?”

Rob laughed mirthlessly. “Aye,” he replied, “the munificent sum of thirty
pounds a year.”

“Thirty pounds a year!” repeated Mackenzie incredulously.

“Aye, only half of which I am getting now,” explained Robert bitterly.
“Ye see I am ill and off duty.”

“And are there no royalties on your songs or published collection coming
to you?”

“Ask Sir William,” retorted Robert bitterly.

“There is no demand for your poems since you left Edinburgh,” replied Sir
William crustily. “The youth Walter Scott has taken your place in their
regard. He shows a remarkable talent for rhyming.” And a malicious smile
appeared on his crafty face as he noted the quick flush appear on the
expressive countenance of the sick man.

His quivering features betrayed how deeply the barbed dart had entered
his heart. He turned to Mr. Mackenzie with a resigned little gesture. “Ye
see, sir,” he faltered with a pathetic smile, “how soon I am forgot.” He
paused, and the weak tears of sickness welled up into his eyes; then he
resumed with a shade of bitterness, “Scott is sure to succeed, for he is
of noble birth. He’ll not be patronized, at least.”

Mr. Mackenzie had been thinking deeply, and now he turned to Robert with
a resolute air. “Mr. Burns,” he said earnestly, “with your consent, I
will go to the Board of Commissioners of Excise, of which the Duke of
Gordon is the chairman, and move them to grant you full salary. They are
well known to me and I am sure will not refuse my request.”

A glad smile broke up Robert’s gloomy features. “Ye are a friend,
indeed!” he cried fervently. “God grant they do not refuse you, for if
they do, I must lay my account with an exit truly _en poète_, for if I
die not with disease, I must perish with hunger.”

“Your interference will do no good here, Mr. Mackenzie,” hotly declared
Sir William, glaring at Robert hatefully.

“I think it will,” returned Mr. Mackenzie coolly. “’Twould be Lord
Glencairn’s wishes were he alive, and his wishes will be respected by
the Board, mark well what I tell you,” and he flashed him a significant
look of defiance. Then turning to Robert, he shook him by the hand and
bade him adieu, saying that he must return at once to Edinburgh. “And
rest assured,” he concluded, “I will inform you at once of the decision
of the Board, which without doubt will be favorable. Cheer up, my man,
Scotland will not allow her ablest son to die of want and neglect, if
Henry Mackenzie can prevent it.”

“Heaven bless ye!” responded Robert gratefully.

“Mr. Burns, if you——” began Mr. Mackenzie, then he hesitated a moment,
but finally after a moment’s thought continued his sentence—“if you will
but accept a loan,” and his hand sought his pocket, but Robert shook his
head decidedly.

“No, no, Mr. Mackenzie,” he said proudly; “I canna’ accept it, thank ye.”

Mackenzie sighed. “Oh, you sensitive people,” he remarked, “pride and
poverty.”

“Ye see,” explained Robert gratefully, “I expect a few pounds from the
sale of a poem, which will relieve my temporary embarrassment, and if
the commissioners grant me full salary, I can start for the seaside,
where I may regain my lost health.” He passed his hand wearily over his
brow, which began to pain him, for the excitement had worn him out. “But
I fear that has flown from me forever, that the voice of the Bard will
soon be heard among ye no mair.”

“Nonsense!” replied Mackenzie brightly, putting his hand affectionately
on Robert’s shoulder. “You will live for years yet, but you must take
better care of this life which is so valuable to your family, to your
friends and to the world.” There was deep concern in his pleasant voice
and in his earnest eyes.

At that moment the street door opened and Eppy appeared dressed
youthfully in white, leading by the hand none other than Souter Johnny,
who was looking decidedly crestfallen and sheepish, as he vainly tried
to pull down his little short kilt over his thin, bony legs, for Souter
was at last arrayed in full kilts, much to his evident sorrow. He looked
exceedingly grotesque, squeezed into the suit, which was too small even
for his undersized frame.

“In the name of!—Souter Johnny, what means this?” gasped Robert in
amazement.

“Canna’ a man wear the kilts without being laughed at?” answered Souter
ruefully, resenting the amused look on their faces.

“Well, I must say ye look better in breeches,” observed Rob with a
quizzical glance at Souter’s grotesquely thin crooked legs.

“He wears them for my sake,” explained Eppy with a soulful look at the
uncomfortable Souter; then she spied the visitors. “Why, Mr. Mackenzie,
it is good to see you here!” she exclaimed effusively, and she made him a
deep courtesy, purposely ignoring Sir William.

“Daft as ever,” grunted Sir William audibly.

She regarded him with a haughty look of disdain. “Daft!” she repeated.
“Huh! you cannot insult me now with impunity!” she exclaimed in triumph.
Turning to Souter, she called him to her side with a commanding gesture.

“Noo, ye see, Robert, what has become of my breeches,” whispered Souter
in Robert’s ear as he passed him. “She is wearing them,” and he winked
his eye significantly.

As he approached her, she reached out a long arm and drew him to her so
suddenly that it took him off his feet. Finally he righted himself and
stood close beside her, his little gray head, with the bonnet perched
saucily on one side of it, scarcely reaching to her shoulder.

“Friends,” she announced proudly, “this gentleman is my—my husband,” and
she noticed with pleasure the look of consternation which appeared on all
their faces.

“What!” cried Robert aghast.

“You’re married!” ejaculated Mr. Mackenzie incredulously.

“Poor man,” sneered Sir William mockingly.

Eppy tittered gleefully. “Yes, I was married to-day, and ’tis heavenly,”
and she rolled her eyes in an ecstasy of joy.

“Well, ’twas the best you could do, I suppose,” observed Sir William
maliciously.

“I wouldn’t take you as a gift,” she flashed. “And you tried hard enough
to win me, dear knows,” she went on with total disregard for the truth.
“He was forever running after me,” she explained deprecatingly to Souter.

“You—you—you are not speaking the truth,” sputtered Sir William
furiously. “If I was running it was to get away from you.”

“Oh, of course you won’t admit it now,” she observed calmly. “But I am
rejoicing that I didn’t marry you.” She looked Souter over critically.
“Well, Souter may not be very handsome,” she remarked thoughtfully after
a pause, “but he is a perfect picture in kilts,” and she gave a sigh of
absolute content.

“Women are queer creatures,” whispered Souter to Robert deprecatingly,
“and my—my wife, ahem! weel, she’s the queerest of them a’.”

“Well, my friends,” laughed Mr. Mackenzie, “I protest this time I must be
off. Good-by, lad.”

“May blessings attend your steps and affliction know ye not,” answered
Robert fervently. “Ye might take Sir William along, for he looks maist
uncomfortable amongst honest people!” he added dryly.

Mackenzie laughed grimly and passed out, leaving Sir William to follow.

“Ye insulting pauper!” fumed Sir William, starting angrily for the door.

“Ye can go back to your Edinburgh friends,” cried Robert with flashing
eyes, “an’ tell them that e’en though ye found me almost on the verge of
despair, with oblivion hovering dark over my still independent head, that
I yet live in the hope of seeing the prophecy I made to them all that
night fulfilled, and that Sir William Creech, my worst traducer, will be
the first one to again court my favor.”

“I’ll hear no more such insulting language!” roared Sir William
threateningly.

“Ye’ll not hear it t’other side of the door,” replied Robert quietly.

“Aye, but ye’ll get your fairin’ one of these days,” exclaimed Souter
belligerently. “An’ ’twill be in hell, where they’ll roast ye like a
herrin’,” he added grimly, much to Eppy’s horror.

“Open the door for me, fellow!” shouted Sir William wrathfully.

“Open it yoursel’,” replied Souter, “an’ I promise ye I’ll shut it behind
your coattails mighty quick.”

“Out of my way, idiot,” and with a shove he brushed the little man aside
and swiftly joined his waiting companion outside the gate.

“Did ye see that?” gasped Souter, his eyes flashing fire. “Did ye see
that? Let me get after him,” and he started for the door, with blood
in his eyes, but Eppy with a little shriek of alarm grabbed him by the
plaidie and held on to him with all her strength, which was not slight.

“Don’t, dearie, don’t, you might get hurt!” she cried tearfully.

“Weel, if ye say not, why I’ll let him gae,” returned Souter submissively.

“Come, Robert,” said Jean gently, “you must lie down for a wee bit now.”

“By the way, Rob,” laughed Souter reminiscently, “do ye mind the day——”
He stopped short as Jean shook her head disapprovingly.

“He’s had a most exciting morning,” she exclaimed gently, “and needs rest
now. He’ll be feeling more peart to-morrow,” and she held out her hand in
dismissal.

“Ye mean get out, eh, Mistress?” said Souter good-naturedly. “Weel, weel,
Souter Johnny can take a hint.”

“Come, Souter,” called Eppy from the open doorway, where she had been
impatiently waiting for her bridegroom, “come with me to your—your new
home,” and she bashfully held her fan over her face with a nervous little
giggle.

“Aye, that I will,” replied Souter, with alacrity. He turned to Robert
with a new air of dignity which set comically upon his little figure.
“If we can do anything for ye, Robert, dinna’ forget to send over to
MacDougall House. Dinna’ forget my address. Mrs. MacDougall, my arm.” She
grabbed it quickly and they walked to the door. “God-day all,” he called
over his shoulder, and with a feeling of great contentment, that at last
his troubles were over, and that he was entering upon a new life of ease
and plenty, he closed the door behind them, and trotted along beside his
wife, grinning like a schoolboy, across the fields to their new home.

“Has the Posty come yet?” inquired Robert, after they had gone.

“Yes, but he brought no letter for ye,” answered Jean sadly.

The words of one of the verses of his “Ode to a Mouse,” came to him with
gloomy presentiment.

    “But, mousie, thou art no thy lane,
    In proving foresight may be vain;
    The best-laid schemes o’ mice and men
        Gang aft agley;
    An’ lea’e us naught but grief an’ pain
        For promised joy;
    Still thou are blest compared wi’ me!
    The present only touchest thee;
    But och! I backward cast my e’e,
        On prospects drear’;
    An forward, tho’ I canna’ see,
        I guess and fear.”



CHAPTER XXIII


Later that day two men might have been seen galloping their horses at
full speed toward the little house on the hillside. They were determined,
resolute looking men, evidently bent on serious purpose. Finally they
reached the gate, and dismounting made their way to the door, the elder
man insisting loudly upon accompanying the other, much to his visible
annoyance.

“There is no need for secrecy, Gilbert Burns,” said he grimly, and
he followed him into the house and to the room where Robert sat with
pencil in hand vainly courting his Muse. Jean, who was busily engaged in
sewing, jumped to her feet with a little cry of amazement upon seeing her
father before her. Robert held out his hand to his brother in delighted
surprise, mixed with anxiety.

“Brother!” he cried, “what brings ye to Ellisland in such haste? Is it
bad news? Mother, our sisters, are they ill?”

“Nay,” replied Gilbert constrainedly. “They are all well, Rob, and have
sent their love to yourself and family.”

“Thank God for that,” responded Robert thankfully. There was a little
embarrassed silence, then Gilbert spoke again.

“Robert, we—we are in sore trouble,” he confessed, his face anxious and
troubled.

“Trouble!” echoed Rob blankly. “What is wrong, brother?”

“I cannot hold Mossgiel any longer,” he replied, dejectedly. “The farm is
but a wretched lease, as ye know, an’ I canna’ weather out the remaining
year. Without assistance, Robert, I canna’ hope to hold our little family
together any longer.”

Robert’s heart sank within him as he heard the direful news. He glanced
at Squire Armour apprehensively. “And Squire Armour?” he interrogated
with an angry glance at that gentleman, who stood with a sneering smile
on his harsh face, taking in the evidences of poverty that surrounded
them. And with never a word of love or pity, nor of greeting to his
daughter who sat there with white face and longing eyes, waiting to hear
some news from her stern, implacable father, of her loving mother at home.

“I have bought the lease of Mossgiel,” he growled, “an’ if your brother
canna’ pay up the back rent, which is long past due, I shall seize
everything and turn the whole lot of them out, every one.”

Robert looked at him a moment in scornful silence. Presently he spoke,
and the cutting sarcasm of his voice caused the old Squire to wince and
drop his eyes.

“Ye are a most just, square, God-fearin’ man, Squire Armour,” he said.
“The Kirk should be proud of ye.” Turning to Gilbert, he asked him the
amount of his debt.

“Only a matter of £4, brother,” he replied, “but ’tis a fortune to me at
present.”

“An’ I must have the money to-day or the farm, I care not which.”

“Oh, father!” cried Jean, going to him, “do not be hard on him; he will
pay you; only give him time.”

“Jean!” flashed Robert angrily, “dinna’ stoop to ask mercy of that mon,
even though he be your own father.” Jean turned away with a sigh.

Squire Armour laughed derisively. “Ye’ll both be on your knees before
long, I’ll warrant,” he cried harshly, “asking favors of me, especially
when ye have naught to feed a starving family. Ye have made yoursel’ a
fine, comfortable bed, my lassie, havena’ ye?” He sneered sarcastically,
turning to his shrinking daughter. “But ’tis made, and ye can lie on it,
ye ungrateful minx.”

Robert rose quickly to his feet, his eyes flashing dangerously.

“Stop! Squire Armour!” he commanded. “Dinna’ dare to use such language
to my wife in my own house, or weak, sick, and crippled as I am, I will
throw ye into the road like the cur that ye are.” He stopped, breathless
with indignation. Presently he resumed with immeasurable scorn in his
vibrating voice, “An’ they call such men as ye Christians! A sneaking,
crawling, psalm-singing, canting hypocrite! Faugh! Were I the Lord, I
would sicken at sight of ye.” He turned away and sat down beside his now
weeping wife, and there was pity and compassion in the look he bestowed
upon her.

“I’ve had enough of your blasphemy, Robert Burns. If ye canna’ pay the
rent for your brother, my business is elsewhere.”

“I had no one else to turn to in this, my hour of trouble,” murmured
Gilbert brokenly. “If ye can help me without impoverishing yoursel’, for
God’s sake do it, or I shudder to think what will become of the dear ones
at home.”

Robert was silent. He thought with anxious loving concern of his own
little flock, of the slender resources at his command, of the gravity of
his own situation, sick as he was and with such gloomy prospects staring
him in the face—and yet was he not better off after all than they at
Mossgiel? Had he not his salary, small as it was, and the promise of the
supervisorship, besides the money that Thompson would pay him for his
poem? He had much to thank God for, he thought gratefully.

“I see ’tis no use delaying longer,” said Armour, looking at the serious,
downcast faces before him. “I have given ye fair warning, Gilbert Burns,
an’ noo I’ll go.”

He had reached the door, when Robert spoke quietly but firmly. “Wait!” he
called. “Ye shall have the money, ye Shylock.”

“Thank God!” cried Gilbert with a loving glance at his brother’s calm
face.

Jean looked at him in speechless amazement. What did he mean? How could
he help others when they were in such dire need themselves? she asked
herself apprehensively.

“Robert,” she whispered anxiously, “ye dinna’ ken what ye say.”

“My brother will meet ye at sundown, at the Inn,” continued Robert
without heeding her warning, although his face took on a whiter hue. “He
will bring ye every farthing of what is due ye. Noo go; there is the
door; your business here is ended. Ye have brought naught but misery and
trouble into my life by your unreasonable hatred o’ me, but the time
will come, Squire Armour, when all the unhappiness and suffering ye have
caused me and mine will rise up before ye like a hideous phantom, robbin’
ye of all peace o’ mind on earth, and your hopes of salvation hereafter.”
He drew nearer the gaping man, who was regarding him with angry, sullen
eyes, and continued with a bitter, unforgiving intensity that filled his
listeners with awe and horror, “An’ when ye feel the chill icy hand of
grim death clutching at your heart, ye’ll cry out for the sympathy and
love of those whom ye cast out of your life, but ye’ll cry in vain, an’
ye’ll die as ye have lived, a miserable wretched ending to a miserable
selfish life.”

As he finished his grim prophecy, Squire Armour gave a cry of nervous
fear, and with blanched face and wild eyes he strove to speak, but the
words would not pass his white, trembling lips. Finally he gasped in a
frightened whisper which gradually rose to angry defiance:

“How dare ye! How dare ye say such things to me, Robert Burns? I willna’
die like that and ye canna’ frighten me with your grim forebodings.” He
paused and glanced at them all in turn, then hastily opened the door.
Just as he was stepping out, he turned slowly and looked at the white,
patient face of his daughter. For a moment he regarded her in silence,
then with a visible effort he addressed her.

“Jean,” he said, and his voice was noticeably softer, “ye are welcome to
come back to your home.” He cast a quick look at the lowering face of his
son-in-law and added vindictively—“alone.”

“Nay, never alone, father,” replied Jean sadly, looking at her husband’s
frowning face.

The old man turned with sudden fury upon them. “I’ll wait till sundown
for my money,” he shouted, “but not a minute longer!” and he closed the
door behind him with a vicious slam.

Gilbert was first to break the depressing silence that ensued. He felt
vaguely that all was not so well with his brother as he had been led to
believe.

“Forgive me, brother,” he murmured contritely, “for bringing this trouble
on ye.”

“Never mind, Gilbert; it was to be, I ken,” answered Rob absently.

Gilbert was silent a moment. “But the money, Robert, is it—are ye——” he
stammered, then stopped in embarrassed confusion.

“’Tis the sum I expect from the sale of a poem. Jean, see if there is
aught of the Posty.” She rose and went to the window and peered anxiously
down the dusty road.

“I didna’ have the ready money with me,” went on Robert lightly, as if it
were a matter of small importance, “or I would have fixed it up at once.
But ye shall hae the money, laddie, when my letter comes,” and he smiled
reassuringly into Gilbert’s anxious face.

“God bless ye, Robert; ye have taken a great load off my heart.”

Jean returned to her seat by the hearth, and listlessly took up her
needlework. “I fear Posty has forgotten us to-day,” she said in answer to
Robert’s questioning look.

[Illustration: “‘I’ll wait till sundown for my money,’ he shouted.”]

A great fear seized his heart. For nearly a week he had hopefully awaited
some word from Thompson. What could be the matter? “O God!” he prayed
silently, “let him not fail me noo.” With a bright smile that sadly
belied his anxious heart, he rose and, taking Gilbert’s arm, said gayly,
“Come, brother, and see the new bairn that has been added to the flock
this last year.”

As they left the room Jean dropped her work in her lap and gazed after
them with eyes filled with helpless tears of anxiety, at the thought of
the hardships and suffering that lay in wait for them all.

After admiring the baby in the trundle bed the two brothers talked of
the dear ones in Mossgiel, and the many changes time had wrought in the
lives of them all; spoke with tenderness of the sister who had recently
been married—and dwelt with anxious concern on the struggles of their
younger brother, who had left home to branch out for himself. For a time
they forgot their own troubles, and Robert plied his brother with many
questions concerning the welfare of all his old friends and neighbors,
while Gilbert told him all the gossip of the village, of the prosperity
of some of the lads, and the unfortunate situations of many of the
others, thus leading up to the recital of their own troubles since Robert
had left his home. He listened sorrowfully to the tale of hardship and
unceasing toil which brought such little recompense, but not by word
or look did he betray his own blighted hopes and gloomy prospects.
Finally they had exhausted every subject save one, and that one had been
uppermost in the minds of both, but each had avoided the subject with a
shrinking dread.

No news of the little dairymaid had come to Robert for almost a year,
and the thought that possibly she was ill or dead—or—and a hundred
conjectures racked his brain and froze the eager questions that trembled
on his lips. Gilbert must have read the longing in his brother’s heart,
for, after a troubled glance at the dark yearning face gazing at him so
beseechingly, he looked down at his toil-worn hands and awkwardly shifted
one knee over the other. Presently he spoke.

“Mary is still at Colonel Montgomery’s,” he observed, making an effort to
speak lightly.

“I heard she had left Mrs. Dunlop’s,” replied Robert feverishly,
moistening his lips with the tip of his tongue.

“Aye,” sighed Gilbert. “She grew tired o’ the city and longed for the
stillness, the restfulness of country life once more, so she came back
to us and took her old place in the dairy. Poor lass,” and he looked
thoughtfully out of the window and sadly watched the glorious sunset
tinting the distant hills in a blaze of golden light.

“An’—an’ is she well—is she happy?” murmured Robert in a soft, hushed
voice. Gilbert did not answer for a moment. Presently he roused himself
and slowly let his gaze wander back till it rested on his brother’s
wistful face.

“Can ye bear a shock, brother?” he asked quietly.

Robert suddenly stiffened and his eyes grew wide and staring. He
gripped the sides of the chair as a wave of sudden dizziness dulled his
understanding. Presently it passed away, and like one in a dream he
whispered hoarsely, “Tell me the worst, Gilbert; is—is she dead?”

He closed his eyes and waited with breathless stillness for the answer.

“Thank God, not that!” replied Gilbert feelingly. Robert breathed a sigh
of relief. “But she is very ill, an’ I ken she hasna’ long on earth noo.
The doctors say there is no hope for her,” and he bit his lips to keep
back the rising tears.

Slowly, sorrowfully, Robert’s head drooped till it rested on his bosom.
For a moment he sat like one on the verge of dissolution.

“Oh, God!” he moaned bitterly, “that sweet young life crushed out in
all its innocent purity, like a delicate flower, and through my sin, my
reckless folly. Oh, how can I live and bear my punishment!” A convulsive
sob racked his weakened frame. Gilbert bent over him with tears in his
eyes, forgetting his own crushing sorrow in witnessing that of his
brother.

“Dinna’ greet so, Robert,” he cried. “’Twas not your fault, ye ken. It
was to be.” His philosophical belief in fate helped him over many a hard
and stony path, and enabled him to meet with calmness and fortitude the
many heartaches and disappointments which befell him.

Soon the convulsive shudders ceased, and leaning wearily back in his
chair, Robert fixed his great mournful eyes upon his brother in sorrowful
resignation.

“How did she look when ye last saw her, Gilbert?” he asked faintly,
pressing his hand tightly to his heart, for the old pain had come back
with exhausting results.

“Like an angel, lad,” replied Gilbert tenderly. “So sweet and pure, so
patient and forgiving.”

“Does she suffer much?”

“Nay,” he answered reassuringly. Then he continued, his voice soft and
low, his strong features quivering from the restraint he put upon his
feelings, “Her life is just slowly slipping away from her; day by day
she grows weaker and weaker, but ne’er a complaint is on her lips. She
is always so cheerful an’ smilin’ that it fair makes ye weep to see her
fadin’ awa’ so fast,” and his voice broke into a hard sob.

“Oh, Mary, my Highland Mary!” murmured Robert brokenly.

“Her last wish is to see the Highlands, to—to die there,” continued
Gilbert, his lips contracting with a sudden, sharp pain at the thought.
“So before she grows any weaker, Mrs. Dunlop, who has come from town to
see her, and who is wi’ her noo, is goin’ to take her back to her old
home in Argyleshire.”

“Going home to die!” repeated Robert dreamily. “Oh, if I might be taken
awa’ too, if my end would only hasten,” he muttered despairingly, with
the weak selfishness of the sick and sorrowing. “Then might our departing
souls be united as one, to be together for all eternity.”

“Hush, Robert!” cautioned Gilbert, looking fearfully at the closed door.
“Remember Jean and the bairns.”

“Gilbert, I must see her before she goes!” he cried utterly distracted.
“’Tis for the last time on earth, ye ken, lad,” and he jumped up,
trembling with eager excitement.

“Brother, would ye kill yoursel’?” cried Gilbert, seeking to restrain
him. “’Tis madness for ye to go out in your weak condition.”

“Dinna’ stop me, Gilbert!” he panted, and he flung open the door and
rushed excitedly into the room where Jean sat in patient meditation.
“Jean, get my bonnet and coat, quick, quick!” he commanded with his
old-time vehemence. She jumped up pale and frightened and looked
questioningly at Gilbert. Quickly he told her of Mary’s illness and
Robert’s determination to go to her at once. When he had finished she
went to her husband, the tears of ready sympathy in her eyes, for she was
not jealous of his love for Mary. She had gotten over that long ago, and
laying her hand gently on his arm, she tried to coax him to sit down and
listen to them.

“They’ll have to pass by here on their way to Greenock,” she told him
tenderly. “And ye may be sure, Robert, that Mary will not leave Ayrshire
without saying good-by to you.” And so she reasoned with him, while
Gilbert joined her in assurances of Mrs. Dunlop’s intention of stopping
to see him as she passed the farm. Gradually the wild light in his eyes
died down, the tense figure relaxed, and with a sigh of exhaustion he
allowed himself to be taken back to his room.

“Ye’re sure she’ll not forget to stop here?” he asked with pathetic
eagerness. Then he continued with wistful retrospection, “Two years have
come and gone and not a word have we spoken to each other since that day
we parted in Edinburgh! Oh, cruel, cruel fate!” He spoke so low that none
heard him.

“Noo, Robert,” said Jean brightly, “you must take your gruel, ’twill give
ye strength.” But he made a gesture of repulsion.

“Nay, Jean, I canna’ eat noo; ’twould choke me. I think I’ll lay me down
to rest.” They soon prepared him for bed. Without a word, he turned his
face to the wall and for the rest of the night he lay there with wide,
staring, sleepless eyes, thinking, thinking, thinking.



CHAPTER XXIV


News of Robert’s illness soon reached Edinburgh, along with reports of
his misconduct, profligacy, and intemperance, reports which were grossly
exaggerated, together with many other slanderous falsehoods.

And rumors of his poverty and the destitute condition of his family
brought sorrow and anxiety to the hearts of many of his loyal friends,
who were only too ready and willing to offer him all the help and
assistance that would be needed, but they knew, too, his inflexible
pride and independence, and realized how futile would be their offers of
friendly assistance.

For some days Lady Nancy Gordon had been anxiously puzzling her brain
for some thought or scheme whereby she could help the unfortunate Bard
who was plunged in such depths of poverty and misfortune. She was
thinking of him now as she sat at the harpsichord, her fingers wandering
idly over the keyboard in a running accompaniment to her thoughts. Her
father softly entered the room at this juncture, but she did not turn
her head nor intimate that she was aware of his presence. Presently
her touch grew more and more tender. Anon she glided into one of those
dreamily joyous, yet sorrowful, mazurkas, that remind one of gay wild
flowers growing in rich profusion over silent and forgotten graves. Lady
Nancy had reason to boast of herself, for she was a perfect mistress
of the instrument—and as her fingers closed on the final chord, she
wheeled round abruptly on the chair, and rising to her feet greeted her
father with a tender smile. For a moment she regarded him in thoughtful
silence, then as he laid down his paper, she walked up to him, a frown of
displeasure wrinkling her smooth, white forehead.

“I think, father,” she said deliberately, with a haughty uptilt of her
pretty nose, “I think it is perfectly disgraceful the way that hackney
scribbler who writes for yon journal,” indicating the paper on the table,
“either through malice or ignorance affixes such degrading epithets to
the name of the Bard of Scotland, for by no other name will I ever speak
of Robert Burns,” and she flashed an angry glance at the offending paper.

“Poor obstinate lad,” sighed the Duke thoughtfully. His mind went back
to the day after the garden party at Glencairn Hall, when he had sent
for Robert to honor them with his presence at Gordon House, and how the
poet had taken offense at some thoughtless remark of his, given in kindly
spirit; how with haughty pride, and wounded dignity, he had gotten up
from the table and after thanking them for their hospitality, declared
he had not come to be insultingly patronized and pitied, and refusing to
listen to reason, or explanation, he had left in bitter resentment and
blind misunderstanding. Lady Nancy too was thinking the same thoughts,
and after a moment’s meditation she looked into her father’s kindly face
and remarked earnestly:

“Father, something must be done for him and his family at once.”

“But, my dear,” he meekly replied, “our hands are tied by his own
obstinacy.”

“Can we not get up a subscription for him?” she asked. He shook his head
slowly.

“’Twould be to no purpose, Nancy,” he returned thoughtfully. “He
would refuse all offers of pecuniary aid. I know well his independent
principles, and so do you.”

They talked over many plans and projects, but none seemed feasible,
and they were about to give up in despair, when Henry Mackenzie was
announced. He had just arrived from Ellisland, and immediately spoke of
his visit to the poet, and under what painful conditions he had found
him—told them of his promise to Burns to secure the office of supervisor
for him, and had called to consult with his lordship concerning its
bestowal.

Nancy listened with bated breath and tear-dimmed eyes as he spoke of the
change in Robert, his poverty, his indomitable courage and independence,
in spite of the ravages of disease and the black, gloomy outlook for
future prosperity.

“Nancy and I were just discussing some means of alleviating his distress
as you entered,” said the Duke as Mr. Mackenzie finished his recital.
“And it affords me much gratification to be able to assist him to the
office of supervisor of the excise and its attendant increase of salary.”

“’Twill be a God-send to him, believe me, my lord,” returned Mr.
Mackenzie feelingly.

“The news will be dispatched to him at once!” cried Nancy with sparkling
eyes. “’Twill relieve his present distress of mind.”

With that assurance, Mr. Mackenzie rose, and thanking them for their
kindness in behalf of the indigent poet, took his leave.

Having finished luncheon, the old Duke excused himself, and going to his
study, he made out the necessary papers of promotion for the struggling
exciseman, with many a shake of his head and pitying sigh for the young
genius who was reduced to such straits—driven to such a commonplace
calling, through his headstrong recklessness, his foolish ideas of
independence. Having signed them he sat back in thoughtful meditation.
Suddenly the door opened, and his daughter asked permission to enter.
Having gained it, she crossed to her father, and sinking down beside him,
in an eager, impetuous manner quickly laid before him a project which
had been formulating in her active brain while he was busy writing out
the papers.

He started back in amazement. “What!” he cried. “Are you out of your
senses, Nancy?”

“Now, papa, listen!” she exclaimed earnestly. “’Twill take but a day’s
ride to reach Dumfries, and think how delighted he will be to receive the
promotion from your hands,” and she slyly noted the effect of the bit of
delicate flattery.

He frowned and pursed his lips for a moment, and idly tapped the folded
papers against his knee in thought. These signs boded success, as Nancy
well knew, and springing to her feet she gave him a big hug that set him
gasping.

“Look here, Mistress Nancy!” he exclaimed as soon as he recovered his
breath, “why do you want to take this wearisome journey at this season
of the year, just to visit the home of this poor exciseman?” and he
wonderingly regarded the face that had suddenly grown flushed and
pensive, as she looked with worshipful eyes at the large engraving over
the fireplace, which contained the figure of Burns in a characteristic
attitude, reading one of his poems to the group of people that surrounded
him.

“I want to see him once more before the fire of his genius grows cold,”
she answered dreamily. “I want to see him in his home with his—his
wife and children around him.” She might have told him that she was
heart-hungry for a sight of that dark, glowing face, the flashing black
eyes that had thrilled her with such blissful pain, for the sound of
that rich, majestic voice, that had so often stirred the uttermost
depths of her heart. She felt that the yearning of her soul would not be
satisfied till she had seen him again, spoken with him. She hoped, yet
dreaded, that the sight of his changed face, his miserable surroundings,
the commonplaceness of it all, of meeting the exciseman with his wife
and children around him, rather than the idealized poet, would silence
forever the strange unrest of her soul, banish all thoughts of sentiment
from her mind, and destroy the spell of glamour which he had all
unconsciously thrown about her. These thoughts flew through her mind
with lightning speed while her father was making up his mind how best to
dissuade her from her purpose.

“I fear me, Nancy, ’twill give us both more pain than pleasure,” he said
finally. “We may even lose our respect for him.”

“Don’t say that, father!” she cried reproachfully. “No matter how low he
may have fallen, and I protest that fame has exaggerated his misconduct
woefully, we people of Scotland cannot forget nor overlook the priceless
treasure he has put into our thankless hands, a treasure that will be
handed down to posterity with ever increasing regard, admiration and
love for its author,” and her flashing blue eyes, that had so often
reminded Robert of Mary Campbell, and which had formed a closer tie of
comradeship between them, again sought and lingered upon the engraved
likeness of her hero. The singular beauty of Lady Nancy Gordon was
illumined by that happy expression of countenance which results from the
union of cultivated tastes and superior understanding with the finest
affections of mind, and the influence of such attractions had been keenly
felt by the ardent poet, who was not altogether unaware of the impression
he had made upon her heart, which was as susceptible to the charms of
wit and intellect as was his own. As she stood gazing up at the picture,
she thought with an odd little smile how she had openly sought for his
favors, delighted in his apparent preference for her society even while
she told herself she knew he was only attracted by her brilliancy—that
she appealed to his intellect—charmed him by her wit, her cleverness. No,
she had never touched his heart, she thought with a sigh, and a look of
sadness came into her thoughtful eyes.

“I fear, Nancy, that Robert still harbors feelings of resentment against
us,” protested the Duke after a pause. “I know he would rather not see
us.”

But Lady Nancy overruled his objection. “Then all the more reason for
our assuring him of our friendship and asking his forgiveness for any
offense we have unintentionally offered him.”

Seeing all arguments were useless, the old Duke finally consented, and
with a hug and a kiss, Nancy left him and proceeded to make arrangements
for their speedy departure for Ayrshire.



CHAPTER XXV


The next morning dawned bleak and dismal. A damp, penetrating mist hung
over the farm like a pall, and the chill of the rain-laden air penetrated
into the rooms and made itself felt even by the side of the brightest
fires. It affected the inmates of Ellisland farm to an alarming extent.
They sat gloomily around the hearth idly watching the smoldering peat
fire, which failed to send out much warmth—as if it, too, felt the
depressing influences which surrounded the little household and which had
plunged them all into such a slough of despond.

Robert had partaken of his bowl of porridge and now lay upon his bed,
grateful for the added warmth of the woolen blankets which Jean had
thrown over him with thoughtful solicitude. He appeared to the anxious
watchers to be more like himself than he had been for some days, in spite
of his restless, sleepless nights, as he lay there peacefully enjoying
the antics of the children who were playing gleefully but quietly around
the room their favorite game of “Blind man’s holiday.”

At sundown the night before Gilbert had hastened to the Inn to meet
Squire Armour and to plead for another day’s grace, but the implacable
old man refused to listen to him when he found he had failed to bring
the money, and stormily took his departure with threats of instant
eviction, leaving Gilbert in a state of utter distraction. He watched the
Squire ride furiously away in the direction of Mossgiel with a heavy,
sinking fear at his heart, then slowly made his way, with pale face and
clenched hands, back to his brother’s cottage, where he wrestled with the
fears that assailed him in despairing silence. Several times during the
night he was on the verge of saddling his horse and dashing home, but
the hope that the morning would bring the long-expected letter to Robert
checked the impulse, and so he sat the long night through anxiously
waiting for the dawn, praying fervently that he might not be too late to
save his dear ones from the vindictive anger, the unyielding resolution
of their irate landlord.

And now morning was here at last. Robert had fallen into a profound
slumber of nervous exhaustion. Jean tucked him in carefully with the warm
blankets, and taking the children with her, quietly closed the door upon
the sleeping man with a prayer of thankfulness for his temporary respite
from the troubles that surged about his head.

When her duties were over and the children playing on the green, Jean
took her sewing and joined Gilbert in the living room. He was walking
restlessly up and down, with nervous, flashing eyes that eagerly
searched the road, as he passed and repassed the small window. His
restless pacing, his look of hopeful anxiety smote Jean to the heart,
for she had been bitterly resentful, and was still in a measure, against
Gilbert’s selfishness in thinking only of his own extremity. It didn’t
seem right or just that he should be here with outstretched hands,
waiting to take the money that meant so much to their own struggling
family at the present time, and without which she could only foresee grim
want staring them all in the face—and she had to struggle with the desire
that rushed over her to rise up and tell him of their bitter plight, to
bid him go elsewhere for assistance; but the fear of Robert’s anger kept
her silent. Then, too, she suddenly remembered that they had both kept
their poverty and Robert’s continued ill luck and failures from the home
folk, and it was only to be expected that Gilbert would naturally turn
to his prosperous brother for assistance. “Prosperous, indeed! If he but
knew,” and she sighed deeply, for her mother’s heart felt sore depressed
as she thought of her own loved ones. They did not talk much. Each was
too busy with his own gloomy thoughts.

In fancy, Gilbert could see Squire Armour at Mossgiel Farm, ordering
out his mother and sister, watching them with sinister eyes as they got
together their meager belongings, and then when they, with streaming
eyes, had carried out the last piece of furniture and stood gazing at
the home that was no longer theirs, the cruel landlord had heartlessly
laughed at their sorrow and, locking the door, had ridden away with the
keys in his pocket, leaving them standing there not knowing whither to go
nor where to find food or shelter.

“O God! Not that! Not that!” he cried aloud, pausing in his walk with
clenched hands, pale and wild-eyed.

Jean looked up from her work in startled alarm. “Gilbert!” she cried.
“What is it?”

With a little mirthless laugh, he told her of the vision he had had, told
of his fears for the safety of his home and the welfare of his loved ones.

She listened with a feeling of shame at her heart and a flush of angry
humiliation mantling her pale cheek.

“’Fore Heaven, it makes me feel like cursing even the memory of
my father,” she exclaimed bitterly with a flash of her old-time
imperiousness. “But be not alarmed, Gilbert,” she continued with an
encouraging smile. “Your mother is a match even for my father, and I’ll
warrant she’ll not let him set his foot inside the threshold till you
return.” His face brightened.

“I had indeed forgot my mother’s independent, courageous spirit,” he
replied with a sigh of relief and hopefulness.

The depressing gloom thus lifted, they soon drifted into a friendly,
earnest conversation, and the minutes sped by without, however, the
looked-for interruption of the overdue postman.

Outside, the mist had long since been dispersed by the warm rays of the
noonday sun, which was now shining brilliantly. A soft moisture glittered
on every tiny leaf of the wild rose bushes which clustered beneath the
window of the little cot, and on every blade of grass. The penetrating
and delicious odor of sweet violets and blue-bells scented each puff of
wind, and now and then the call of the meadow lark pierced the air with a
subdued far-off shrillness. Suddenly the peaceful stillness was broken in
upon by the sound of footsteps crunching slowly along the garden path on
their way to the door of the cottage.

The Duke of Gordon and his daughter had arrived in Dumfries the night
before, and, after a night’s rest, they took the coach to Ellisland
and put up at the little old Inn. There they made inquiries for the
whereabouts of the home of the poet of the little old man who was
boastfully describing the splendors of MacDougall House, none other than
our old friend Souter, once more in his breeches, having asserted his
authority, much to his wife’s secret satisfaction, for “she did so love a
masterful man.” Whereupon Souter condescendingly offered to conduct them
to the place they sought. And now, as they looked at the poor clay biggin
and the evidences of poverty and neglect which surrounded them on all
sides, their hearts sank within them.

“I suppose we will find Mr. Burns greatly changed?” said Nancy
interrogatively with a little shudder of dread.

“Weel, mum,” replied Souter reflectively, “we all change in time, ye ken.
Some for worse, like mysel’, and some for the better, like yoursel’,
askin’ your pardon for my boldness. And ye ken Robbie’s life has been
very hard these past few years.” He sighed and shook his head dolefully.
“But I want to say right here,” and his heavy eyebrows drew together in
a black scowl, “Robbie Burns’ sickness is na’ due to his drinkin’, as ye
people of Edinburgh believe, and put in yer penny papers. Robbie is na
drunkard. I hae known him from infancy, and I affirm that he has never
been guilty of the gross enormities he has been charged with. He could
always attend to his duties,” and he looked with aggressive suspicion
into the downcast faces of his listeners for some sign of doubt of his
assertion, which, though stanchly loyal, was not altogether true, as he
knew only too well. “But there is nae use telling all ye know,” he told
himself philosophically. “And what people don’t know about the food they
eat, will no hurt their appetites.”

“I am very glad to hear that,” ejaculated the Duke warmly.

“An’ he is a fond father an’ a maist affectionate husband,” continued
Souter stoutly. “I’ll go in noo and tell him ye’re here,” and he strode
into the house, leaving the couple standing in the path much to their
astonishment.

“It doesn’t seem right, father,” said Lady Nancy sadly, “for such genius
to dwell in that little hut, amid such surroundings. How I pity him.”

There was a suggestion of tears in the sweet voice which her fond father
noticed with sudden apprehension. He looked at her closely.

“Who is to blame for his being here?” he retorted firmly. She remained
discreetly silent. Then he continued in a softer voice, “But I mustn’t
blame nor censure him, now that he is sick, and down at the bottom
again. It is, indeed, a lasting pity that such genius should be allowed
to smother here in poverty and among questionable companions, who, ’tis
said, seek only to bring him to their level, and who, alas! are but
too surely dragging him there, I fear, a weak, unresisting, but also a
remorseful, repentant victim.”

“And must he stay on here, father, to die a poor exciseman?” asked
Nancy with a strangely beating heart. “Even the added salary of the
Supervisorship cannot be sufficient to keep such a family.” At that
moment Souter opened the door. They turned to him quietly.

“Well, what says Mr. Burns?” asked the Duke impatiently.

A little smile of amusement appeared on Souter’s face. “Mr. Burns begs
you to enter and to be seated,” he replied.

They complied with the injunction and were shown into the living-room,
where they seated themselves.

“I was also to tell ye,” continued Souter dryly, “that he will be with ye
as soon as he can get into his damned rags.”

“What!” exclaimed the Duke laughingly.

“Excuse me, your ladyship,” answered Souter with a little nod to Lady
Nancy, “but them’s his own words and I’m no the one to change the
language o’ a Scottish poet.”

“Has he only rags to wear?” asked Lady Nancy pitifully.

“Hush!” cautioned her father, “he is here.”

The door opened and Robert slowly entered the room. He had thrown his
wide plaid around his shoulders, over his loose white shirt, and held
it together with one hand that gleamed very white and thin against the
bright colors. His black hair, now faintly streaked with gray and which
had thinned considerably above his forehead, hung loosely about his neck,
framing his gaunt face, and accentuating his pallor.

For a moment they gazed upon the wreck of the once stalwart and ruggedly
healthy youth, too shocked to utter a word. Robert was the first to break
the silence.

“My lord,” he exclaimed with something of his old brightness, “I am
rejoiced, indeed, to see you at Ellisland. ’Tis a great surprise, but
none the less a welcome one.” He shook the Duke’s outstretched hand with
fervor.

“The pleasure is mutual, my lad,” responded the Duke warmly. “’Tis a few
years now since we parted, and in anger, too.”

“I was in the wrong that night,” broke in Robert penitently, with a
rueful shake of the head. “I sadly misjudged ye there, as I learned
afterward, but my stubborn pride refused to accept the olive branch ye
held out to me. Ye see,” he explained frankly, “’twas my unreasoning
wounded pride and anger, and my disappointment which blinded me to all
sense of right and justice. I realized after that ye were my friends and
that ye resented the damning insult put upon me at Glencairn Hall.” He
paused a moment, a frown of bitterness wrinkling his brow. Presently he
looked up and holding out his hand again with one of the old magnetic
smiles, said, “An’ ye have forgiven my ingratitude, an’ are come noo to
see me! I thank ye.”

“’Tis all forgot. I forgave you at the time,” responded the Duke
cordially. “I could not hold resentment against you.” He turned to his
daughter, who was partly concealed in the embrasure of the deep window.

“Nancy, child, speak to Robert.” She came slowly forward with hand
outstretched, a faint flush dyeing her creamy skin, or perhaps it was the
reflection of the pink satin gown she was wearing beneath the long velvet
cloak, which, becoming unhooked, had slipped down off her shoulders.

Robert rose to his feet, and his black, gloomy eyes lighted up with
pleasure as they rested upon the dainty vision of loveliness before him.
Lady Nancy had always reminded him of Mary Campbell, and to-day the
resemblance was more striking than ever. For beneath the large leghorn
with its waving, black plumes, her golden hair so like Mary’s, for the
once unpowdered, glittered in all its beauty. Perhaps my Lady Nancy had
remembered the likeness and had purposely heightened it by forgetting to
use the powder which had hitherto covered the golden curls at all times.
As she stood there with a wistful look upon her face, it was easy to
perceive the resemblance to the timid dairymaid who, in borrowed finery,
had created such a sensation at the Duchess of Athol’s “at home” three
years before.

“Lady Nancy, forgive my rudeness in not greeting you sooner,” he
exclaimed fervently.

“I am so glad we are reconciled, friends, once more,” she exclaimed
impulsively. “It did seem as if you would never relent, you stubborn
man,” and she smiled archly into his embarrassed face.

“You find me greatly changed, of course,” he remarked after they had
discoursed a while upon their journey. She remained silent, but he read
the sympathy shining in her blue eyes.

“We read of your illness in town,” explained the Duke, “and believe me,
Robert, we are deeply sorry for your affliction. But I trust the vigor of
your constitution will soon set you on your feet again,” and he gave him
a cheery smile of encouragement.

Robert shook his head gloomily. “My health is, I think, flown from me
forever,” he replied sadly, “altho’ I am beginning to crawl about the
house, and once, indeed, have I been seen outside my cottage door.”

“Why didn’t you let us know of your illness before?” exclaimed Lady Nancy
reproachfully. “We are your friends.”

Robert flushed painfully. “My miserable health was brought on and
aggravated solely by my headstrong, thoughtless carelessness, and I felt
so heartily ashamed of myself that I sought to conceal from all friends
my real condition, but ’tis out at last. How long I will be confined to
the house, God alone knows,” and he sighed deeply.

“Do not give yourself up to despondency, my lad,” encouraged the Duke
brightly, “nor speak the language of despair. You must get well.”

“Indeed I must!” returned Robert grimly, “for I have three strong,
healthy boys and if I am nipt off at the command of fate—gracious God!
what would become of my little flock?” and a look of distraction swept
over his face at the thought.

“Don’t distress yourself needlessly, Robert!” exclaimed the Duke kindly.
Then he continued earnestly, “If anything should happen to you, if you
should be taken off before I am called, I promise that the children of
Robert Burns shall never come to want.”

“’Twould be a lasting disgrace to Scotland,” flashed Lady Nancy with
kindling eyes.

Robert grasped the Duke’s hand impulsively. “God bless ye for your noble
assurance!” he cried. “Ye have lifted a heavy weight of care and anxiety
off my mind.”

“Why, father!” suddenly exclaimed Lady Nancy, “I vow if you are not
forgetting your principal errand here.” He looked at her with a puzzled
frown. “Mr. Burns’ promotion,” she reminded him laughingly.

“Gad zooks!” he exclaimed in amazement, jumping to his feet. “What an
old dolt I am, to be sure.” Hastily diving his hand in the inside pocket
of his elaborate, black-flowered satin square-cut, he pulled out a long
paper with a red seal attached and handed it to the now bewildered
Robert, who, after a quick glance at their smiling faces, opened the
paper and quickly read its contents. Then he gave a gasp, followed by an
ejaculation of delighted surprise and gratification.

“My lord,” he exclaimed, “this is indeed a gift to bring gladness to
a man’s heart. I thank ye most gratefully for my promotion, and will
endeavor to perform my duties to the best of my poor abilities as soon
as my strength returns.” And the look of anxiety gave way to one of
comparative contentment.

“And your immediate recovery is of the first importance,” returned the
Duke brightly. “You need a change.”

“Why not come to town, where you can have the best of medical
attendance?” asked Lady Nancy quietly, though her heart beat furiously as
she offered the suggestion.

“That is impossible,” replied Robert. “The medical folk tell me that my
last and only chance is bathing and sea air and riding. With my promotion
and the increase of salary it brings, I can now obey their mandates,” and
he held the paper to his breast with a sigh of relief.

“Then the sooner you start, the better,” remarked the Duke kindly.

Lady Nancy rose to her feet with a wan smile on her lips. “And the sooner
we start for Dumfries, father, the better,” she returned.

“You’re right, child, we must hasten,” and he hastily arose and got his
hat and cane together, then he turned once more to Robert. “Mr. Burns,
pardon the suggestion, but is it not time to get out another volume of
your poems?” he asked kindly.

“I have not in my present state of mind much appetite for exertion in
writing,” answered Robert slowly.

“But they could be arranged for you by some literary friend,” quickly
returned the Duke, “and advertised to be published by subscription.”

Robert raised his head proudly. “Subscription!” he repeated. “No, no,
that savors too much of charity,” and a look of obstinacy came into his
darkened eyes.

“Remember,” said Lady Nancy gently, “that Pope published his Iliad by
subscription, Mr. Burns.”

He remained silent a moment, then after a little struggle with his
obstinate pride, he answered with a touch of bitterness in his voice, “I
realize that I am in no position to despise any means to add to my income
or to leave my family better provided for after I am gone. I will take
your advice and will at once speak to my dear friend Aiken about it. He
will aid me.”

The door opened and Jean entered the room. She had heard all the good
news, and having met both the Duke and Lady Nancy while sojourning at
Glencairn Castle a few years before, she felt she ought to thank them for
their good offices in Robert’s behalf.

Lady Nancy and the Duke greeted her warmly, asked after the health of
the children, expressed pleasure in seeing her again, and soon put her
at her ease, for the sudden thought of her hasty marriage to Robert
and the attendant slanderous gossip at first made her feel and appear
self-conscious and restrained.

“I was just telling Robert,” said the old Duke, “that he must go at once
to the seashore.” She looked at her husband, and her wistful expression
did not escape the keen eyes of Lady Nancy.

“If he only could go at once,” faltered Jean, “I am sure the water would
effect a cure, but——”

Nancy gave her father a significant look, which clearly said, “They have
no money, father.” At least, so he interpreted it, aided by his own
shrewd guess at the state of affairs.

“By the way, Robert,” he said jocularly, “can you swallow your pride
sufficiently to accept a month’s salary in advance?” He pulled out a
large, well-filled wallet and opened it.

“We do not need it, my lord,” answered Robert firmly and a trifle coldly.
“I am expecting——” Here Jean hurriedly interrupted him, knowing what he
was about to say.

“Oh, Robert!” she cried contritely, “I forget to tell you that the Posty
left no letter.”

“No letter!” he repeated dully, looking at her with wide-open, searching
eyes. She sadly shook her head.

“Here are £5, lad. Take the note and to-morrow set out for Brow,” and the
Duke held out the note for his acceptance, but he sat with averted gaze
in the proud silence of keen disappointment.

“Do not refuse, Robert,” pleaded Jean softly. “’Tis only a loan.”

Slowly he took the money and folded it between his fingers. “Thank ye, my
lord,” he said quietly. “I will accept it, for I am in sore need of it at
this moment.”

“That’s right, my lad,” he said heartily. “What is a friend for if he
cannot extend or receive a favor?” and he turned to help his daughter
into her cloak.

Quickly Robert pressed the money into Jean’s hand and whispered to her,
“Take it at once to Gilbert and bid him hasten to Mossgiel before it is
too late to save the roof over mother’s head.”

“But, Robert——” she protested, but he would not listen to her.

“Do ye not see ’tis near sundown of the second day?” he told her
impatiently, “and Gilbert will have to ride fast if he would get to
Mossgiel before night overtakes him; noo hasten, Jean.” Still she
lingered, reluctant to go.

“Oh, lad, this money is for you; it means your health, our happiness. It
isn’t right to——”

“We have got a roof over our head, Jean,” he interrupted sternly. “We
maist keep one over my mother and sister as weel. We will nae starve.
There are only £4 due your father. Keep out one for our present needs.
Noo go, lass, go.”

Thus commanded, she hurried to the chamber where Gilbert sat in
despairing solitude, his head held wearily between his hands, and
conveyed to him the glad intelligence. And soon he was speeding furiously
over the dusty road toward home, his face aglow with joy and eagerness.

When Jean returned to the room she found Souter and Eppy there gayly
chatting with the Duke and Lady Nancy, who were evidently much surprised
to find their old friend Eppy at last married.

“I am so glad to see you here, Lady Nancy,” gushed Eppy effusively.
“You must come and see us before you return to Edinburgh. I live on the
estate adjoining this farm.” He drew the smiling girl to the window
and pointed out the beauties of MacDougall House. “He is poor,” she
whispered, “but he is of noble birth, a MacDougall of Lorne. Souter!” she
called aloud to her husband, who was looking exceedingly important as he
stood balancing himself on his toes, his hands behind his back, a look
of supreme self-satisfaction on his face, and listening, with an air of
blasé indifference, to the conversation between the old Duke and Robert.
As he heard his name called he leisurely turned his head in his wife’s
direction.

“Souter,” she continued in a tone meant to be careless, but which
expressed plainly her feeling of pride, “isn’t it the Marquis of Lorne
who is your first cousin?”

“What’s that, Souter?” asked Robert incredulously.

Souter looked around him with a sickly smile. He had not thought to be
cornered in this manner, when he had filled his wife’s mind with stories
of past grandeur and noble connections, and it made him feel decidedly
uncomfortable and embarrassed.

“Er—didna’ ye ken that, Robbie?” he exclaimed with a look of feigned
surprise on his reddened face. “Och, yes! By the by, Robbie,” he
continued quickly, anxious to change the subject, “we came o’er to tell
ye that we are gang to Brow on our honeymoon.” Here Eppy giggled and
looked bashfully out of the window. “An’ my wife, Mrs. MacDougall,” with
a flourish of the hand in her direction, which elicited another giggle
from the lady in question, “has decided that we want ye to gang alang wi’
us.”

Robert looked at him, then at Eppy in speechless surprise. Jean gave a
little gasp, and her hand sought her husband’s arm and pressed it with
delight.

“Souter,” faltered Robert, “ye’re both doing this out of the kindness of
your hearts, but I canna——”

“We’ll na take no for an answer. Ye may be stubborn wi’ your lofty
independence, your pride, but I can be just as stubborn as ye, Rab Burns,
and I say it is settled,” said Souter.

“’Tis the hand of God,” whispered Jean softly.

“God bless ye both,” faltered Robert, grasping Souter’s hand
affectionately.

“Come, father,” said Lady Nancy, who had witnessed this little scene with
moist eyes, “I protest we must start on our journey.”

“But first we must have a toast,” said Robert brightly. “’Tis most
fitting. Jean, bring the punch bowl.” Quickly she brought from the closet
the bowl of Inverary marble and placed it on the table, and into it she
poured some hot water and sugar. “We have no wine to offer,” continued
Robert, “nothing better than Highland whisky, but ye needna’ be afraid of
becoming intoxicated, my lord,” and he smiled ruefully, “for I ken ’twill
hardly be tolerable to your educated taste.” Jean had mixed the punch and
now passed it around among the guests. “For auld lang syne!” cried Robert
feelingly. “Is not that phrase most expressive? My lord, a toast,” and
he raised his glass to the old Duke, who, after a moment’s hesitation,
proposed “the health of Robert Burns, Scotland’s greatest Bard.”

“We drink to that with pleasure,” exclaimed Lady Nancy.

“Aye, that we do,” echoed Souter heartily. And while the toast was
being drunk he slyly whispered, “Rob, dinna’ say aught to my wife
about—er—the old Marquis, my—ahem—cousin. Ye understand,” and he nudged
him significantly.

Robert smiled and assured him of his secrecy.

“And noo,” said Souter proudly, looking at Eppy’s simpering face,
“here’s to the bride.” She made a deep courtesy and quaffed her glass
with conscious dignity at her sudden importance. “May she always believe
in her husband,” he added in an aside to Robert, much to the latter’s
amusement.

“Mrs. MacDougall, here’s to your enemies, your foes,” proposed Robert.

“What?” she cried, opening her eyes in amazement.

“May they have short shoes an’ corny toes,” he added with a merry twinkle
in his eyes.

“Duke, a toast!” said Souter importantly.

The Duke thought a moment. “Well, I drink to Mrs. MacDougall. May she
soon have a house full of bairns,” he thoughtlessly proposed.

Eppy gasped and turned crimson, and Lady Nancy bit her lips to keep back
the smile her father’s well-meant but tactless speech occasioned.

“Do you mean to insult me, my lord?” flashed Eppy indignantly.

“Bless my soul, no,” returned the Duke in astonishment, who could see no
reason for offense in his kindly-meant remark.

“The Duke meant well,” said Souter pacifically to his wife, whose eyes
were flashing angrily. “An’—an’—stranger things might happen, ye ken,”
and he rubbed his chin reflectively with a sly look out of the corner of
his roguish eye at Robert. She tossed her head haughtily.

“’Twould not be so monstrous strange, Mr. MacDougall, as you seem to
think,” she retorted frigidly. Souter opened his eyes in speechless
surprise. He was about to speak, but after one bewildered glance at the
disdainful face of his bride, concluded that discretion was the better
part of valor, and for the rest of that day he remained in thoughtful
silence reflecting on the inconsistencies of woman kind in particular,
and speculating upon the strange and mysterious workings of human nature
in general.

The Duke bade them all adieu and passed out into the garden, where its
wild beauties attracted his eye. He wandered about, forgetting, in his
admiration for the flowers, his daughter, who had lingered behind for one
last farewell word—alone.

“And so, Mr. Burns,” she said thoughtfully, looking after Jean’s
retreating figure, “you have never regretted taking the step that bound
your life to that of Jean Armour’s? Regretted doing your duty?” There was
a note of regret in the vibrating voice.

“Never, my lady,” he replied firmly. “It was the only really good thing
I have ever done in my wretched life.”

She looked at him a moment with hungry eyes. “Do you never think of the
old days in town?” she asked suddenly, and she was greatly surprised to
see his face turn pale, his eyes flash and deepen.

“For God’s sake, madam, do not mention the past!” he said, turning away.
“All that has passed out of my life forever,” he murmured after a pause,
“never to return.”

“And you wish it so?” she asked faintly. He bowed his head slowly. She
moistened her lips feverishly and drew near to him, her eyes filled
with a light that would have startled him had he seen it. “Say not so!
Must I give up the friendship of the only man I esteem and hold dear?”
she panted breathlessly. “Oh, will you not renew the broken thread of
our correspondence [he had written her several times since coming to
Ellisland, but before Jean’s advent] and enjoy the sweet intercourse
of thought, which will bring such gladness into my own life, and will
brighten the gloom of your own, and will take naught from your wife’s
peace of mind?”

He raised his head and regarded her thoughtfully. “How can ye ask me
that, my lady,” he answered, “when ye declared to me in your last letter
that you meant to preserve my epistles with a view, sooner or later, to
expose them to the pillory of derision and the rocks of criticism?” And
a look of resentment gleamed in his eyes.

“I protest, Mr. Burns,” she cried reproachfully. “I have, indeed,
preserved your letters, but they will never leave my possession; they are
cherished as the dearest treasures of my life.”

He sighed and remained silent for a space. From the kitchen came the
sound of children’s voices. He listened to it a moment, then turned to
Lady Nancy, a look of resolution in his face.

“Lady Nancy,” he said firmly, “I canna’ write to ye in sincerity. I have
a wife and family, an’ I have given my word to Jean, and while I dare to
sin, I dare not to lie, else madam I could perhaps too truly join grief
with grief, and echo sighs to thine. But with one foot in the grave, I
have no desire to stir up the old ashes of—friendship to find a living
ember. ’Twould be but a weak, fitful burning at best. Nay, ’tis too late
noo. Believe me, ’tis best, dear lady.” He rose to his feet and held out
his hand again. “An’ noo farewell, Lady Nancy, farewell.”

She took his hand and looked into his set, unmoved face, and a sigh of
utter disappointment, of patient longing, involuntarily escaped her
trembling lips. “If it must be, then farewell,” she answered slowly, a
slight tremor in her soft voice. She walked to the door, then turned and
fixing her eyes on him, she continued mournfully, “Do not quite forget
me, will you, Robert? Let the scenes of nature remind you of Nancy. In
winter remember the dark shades of her life, for there are plenty; in
summer, the warmth of her friendship; in autumn, her glowing wishes to
bestow plenty on all, and let spring animate you with hopes that your
absent friend may yet surmount the wintry blasts of life, and revive to
taste a springtime of happiness.”

He bowed his head gravely. “I shall remember ye, Lady Nancy—friend,” he
returned feelingly.

She gave him one long, lingering look. “Farewell, farewell!” she gasped,
and when he raised his head she was gone.

He sighed and walked thoughtfully to the window. “The past and all its
pleasures will soon be but a dim memory,” he muttered grimly, “as one
by one the connecting links which bound me to it are severed forever.”
He paused and watched her as she joined her father in the garden, and
a quizzical look flashed across his face. “Faith!” he muttered with a
little smile, “who would believe the time would come when lovely women
would plead in vain for the favors o’ Rob Burns. Och! Robbie, ye are
indeed fit only for the grave,” and he turned away from the window in
earthly meditation.



CHAPTER XXVI


The next few days Jean was very busy with her preparations for their
sojourn at the seaside. The date of their departure was already fixed and
it now lacked but a few days before they would bid farewell to Ellisland
forever, for Robert had decided to take up his residence in Dumfries when
his visit was ended, for the duties of his new office would necessitate
his being there the quarter part of his time.

As the day of their departure drew near, Robert grew more and more
depressed, and day by day he sat in melancholy silence beside the window
gazing with unseeing eyes upon the tangled yet graceful wilderness of
flowers. Jean watched him in growing fear and anxiety as he sank deeper
and deeper into those protracted fits of gloom and depression, and
vainly sought to find some reason for the sudden change. He had been so
elated at getting his promotion and at the many advantageous changes
it would make in their condition—had dwelt with affectionate wonder on
Eppy’s kindness in extending to them the invitation to accompany them to
Brow, and had seemed to greatly improve in health and spirits for a few
days. Then came Gilbert’s letter stating that he had arrived in time to
prevent the eviction of the dear ones at home. The letter had plunged him
into a state of feverish excitement and restless anxiety, and all day he
would sit at the open window, watching with burning eyes the long narrow
road that twisted and turned on its way to Mossgiel, straining his eyes
eagerly at the approach of any casual traveler who might be passing,
then with a look of patient despair, sink back in his chair, pale and
listless, his unfocused eyes again gazing into space. One night after he
had left his chair and had retired to his bed for the night, looking more
haggard than usual, Jean spied on the floor a crumpled paper which had
evidently dropped from his nerveless hand. Picking it up, she smoothed
it out and found it to be Gilbert’s letter, which she had not seen, as
Robert had read it to her and then put it carefully aside. Slowly her
gaze wandered over it. Suddenly she gave a great start, for at the bottom
of the page this sentence caught her eye: “Mary leaves to-morrow for the
Highlands and will pass through Ellisland.” Thoughtfully she put the
letter on the chair where he could find it in the morning, and sat down
by the cradle of the bairn and gently rocked him till his fretful crying
ceased; then she gave herself up to the heart-burning thoughts that
filled her mind. She had tried so hard to be patient all these years, she
had struggled and struggled to do her duty without a word of complaint,
she thought, while bitter tears of patient grief and secret yearning
for the love that she knew belonged to another rolled down her sorrowing
cheek. She had no word of complaint to make against Robert though, for
he had never sought to deceive her once, and there was no feeling of
resentment in her heart against the little dairymaid. It was not the
child’s fault. It was not the fault of either that they still loved each
other. Only Robert might have shown her the letter, she thought with
quivering lips; there was no need to keep it from her. She would know it
when Mary came to the house, anyway. She might have guessed the reason
for his sudden change, she thought, wiping away her tears, only her mind
had been so filled with the household preparations for moving that Mary
had been quite forgotten. For a while she gently rocked the sleeping
child, watching its sweet, flushed face, listening to its soft breathing,
and soon all disturbing thoughts slipped away from her troubled mind,
and a peaceful, holy calm entered her patient heart and shone through
her love-lit eyes. Covering its little form carefully, she carried the
cradle into her chamber and placed it within reach of her bed. Then as
she disrobed for the night in dreary silence, her eyes fixed on the pale
face of her husband, who was tossing and muttering in his sleep, a tender
wave of pity swept over her at the thought of the sweet lass who would
shortly pass out of their lives forever, leaving only a sweet, haunting
memory behind to remind them of her pathetic young life. Quickly she
slipped into bed beside her restless husband, upon whose feverish cheek
she pressed a tender kiss, and closing her tired eyes, fancied she
slept, though her sleep was but a waking dream of love for her husband
and children, in which all bright hopes and vague longings reached their
utmost fulfillment, and yet were in some strange way crossed with shadows
of sorrow and grief, which she had no power to disperse.

On the following morning the heat was intense. No breath of air stirred
a ripple on the sluggishly-flowing Nith, and there was a heaviness in
the atmosphere which made the very brightness of the sky oppressive.
Such hot weather was unusual for that part of Scotland, and, according
to Souter Johnny, betokened some change. The sun was dazzling, yet there
was a mist in the air as though the heavens were full of unshed tears.
A bank of nearly motionless clouds hung behind the dark, sharp peaks of
the distant mountains which lay beyond Mossgiel, for there was no wind
stirring, and Robert, seated in his chair by the window, found himself
too warm with his thick plaid wrapped closely around him, and throwing
it back he let the sunshine bathe him in its golden glow and play on the
uncovered ebony of his hair. He no longer watched the road with such
eager intensity. Rarely this morning had his gaze wandered beyond the
bush beneath the window, with its one snowy-white rose, the last rose
of summer, nestling among the faded, worm-eaten leaves, looking so
pure, so fragrant, so delicately white against the background of rusty,
dead-looking foliage. It had blossomed in the night, and in the morning
when he had approached the lattice from force of habit, although he had
given up all hope of seeing Mary before she left Ayrshire, he had spied
it in all its delicate beauty. Each morning for six days now he had gone
to that window, expecting before the day drew to its close to see the
beloved form of his Mary approach, only to go to his bed at night in
bitter disappointment. Gilbert’s letter stated she would start that day,
and now the sixth day had come and yet there was no sign of her. He had
told himself he would not watch the road this morning; there was no use,
she had gone; she had not wanted to see him; she felt too bitter against
him—it was only natural she should. These bitter thoughts had filled
his mind with misery and wretchedness as he drew near the open window.
Suddenly his eyes had rested on the spot of white nestling on the top of
the bush. With a strange thrill at his heart, he had knelt down beside
the latticed window, and folding his arms on the sill, gazed at the
message from heaven, sent to bring peace and hope to his aching heart, so
he fondly believed, while bright tears filled his eyes and brimmed over,
falling warmly on his folded hands.

“Oh, Mary, my love, my love!” he whispered brokenly. “Come to me before
ye die.” And all that morning he had watched it expand and stretch
out its petals to its utmost, wafting its perfume up into his grateful
nostrils, till a peace such as had not visited his heart for many years,
smoothed out the lines of suffering from his brow and softened the hard
light in his deepened eyes. A verse of a poem he had written a few years
before flashed across his memory:

    “Oft hae I roved by bonnie Doon,
    To see the rose and woodbine twine;
    And like a bird sang o’ its luve,
    And fondly sae did I o’ mine;
    Wi’ lightsome heart I pu’d a rose,
    Fu’ sweet upon its thorny tree;
    But my fausse luver stole my rose,
    But ah! he left the thorn wi’ me.”

Jean, coming into the room a little later, found him there, his head
resting on his hands, a smile of contented calm upon his face, which
now seemed like the face of the youth she had known in Mauchline, and
the sight thrilled her strangely and brought a spasm of pain to her
overcharged heart.



CHAPTER XXVII


That morning, when Robert first caught sight of the rose, he had
experienced a sort of mental obsession in which his brain was mastered
by the thought—an absurd idea perhaps, and one which his reason and his
will both might easily have repelled, only he clung fondly to the belief,
letting it fasten itself upon his mind and grow and grow—that Mary had
passed away in the night, and that her spirit had found a temporary
resting place in the heart of the white rose that had blossomed forth
so unexpectedly, so unseasonably. He had watched the nodding flower on
its long, slender stem of green, waving gracefully in the light breeze
that had sprung up, and in his state of dreaming consciousness fancied
he could see the wistful face of Highland Mary peeping out from among
the snowy petals. As the feeling grew upon him that she had come to
him in spirit, a great content settled down and around him, a mighty
calm that seemed to still the troubled waters of his soul, and all the
bitter discontent, the yearnings of his heart, the cravings, the unrest,
faded away like a mist dissolved by the warm splendor of the sun. For a
while he had sat there in blissful peace, a smile of ineffable rapture
on his face, gazing with rapt adoring eyes at the dancing rose, which
seductively blew nearer and nearer to him with each gust of the swiftly
rising wind, then as he would lovingly stretch out his hand to touch
it, to caress it, away it would go, eluding him like a dancing sunbeam,
to the farthest side of the bush, bending its saucy head lower and
lower till it was lost to sight for an instant, then up it would bound,
gayly nodding, and then for a moment would pause in its restless elfin
dance, quivering on its stem as though tired with its sportive play, its
coquetry. The sky had grown gradually darker, and little waves disturbed
the smooth surface of the greenish gray grass that swayed and undulated
in running billows, as the wind rose. But the kneeling man was all
unconscious of the gloom that had settled over the landscape, shutting
out the glorious sunshine, stilling the song of the birds, and bringing
in its train a damp chill that presaged a storm. The wind tossed the
curls madly about the face of the poet, but still he did not move; only
as the chill air struck through his thin shirt, he mechanically pulled
his plaid about his shoulders, and dreamed on happily, of the old days,
when the heart was young, before sorrow had embittered his life, dreamed
of a life of love with Mary by his side, dreamed and dreamed far into
the morning, and so Jean had found him and left him to his slumbers.
Suddenly his eyes opened, but he did not move. He sat there feeling a
little cramped and stiff, until hazy recollections dawned slowly upon his
mind, then he raised himself from his crouching position, and leaning
out of the window gazed with eyes that were wonderfully luminous at the
blossom which was just beyond his eager reach. He inhaled deep breaths
of its fragrant perfume, a smile of loving tenderness on his lips. All
at once a feeling of sudden depression tightened around his heart as he
noticed for the first time the deepening gloom without, felt the lowering
temperature of the atmosphere, which chilled and depressed him so
strangely. He looked again at the swiftly dancing flower, and his heart
stopped beating for an instant, while a look of pain, of heart-breaking
sorrow, darkened his face—the white petals were dropping one by one, and
were being whirled and tossed madly through the air like flakes of snow.
He watched in silence, as the wind, with reckless abandon, tore them out
and scattered them here and there, some sailing merrily out of sight—one
dashing through the open window and against the white, agonized face of
the suffering man, clinging to it for a moment, in a sweet caress, a last
embrace, then slipping down—down, till it found rest on the floor, where
soon it was dead and forgotten. As the last snowy petal left its stem,
leaving it looking so bare and pitiful nestling in among the leaves as
though ashamed of its nakedness, a hard sob of anguish escaped his lips,
for it seemed as if each petal contained a part of the soul of his loved
one, and leaning his face against the sash, he gave himself up to the
crushing sorrow that submerged his soul and plunged him once more into
black despair. It seemed as if the last link that had bound her to earth,
and to him, was at last broken and she had passed on out of his life
forever; not even the rose was left to preserve as a sacred memory to
look at occasionally, to bring her presence nearer. And now no more such
roses would bloom for him, not in this life anyway, and so he drearily
mused in hopeless sorrow.

All at once a vague feeling of uneasiness stole over him, a curious
feeling that he was not alone; and yet he did not look around, for
somehow it seemed that it was the spirit of his Mary still hovering in
the air, seeking to comfort his grieving heart; and yet the strange
feeling of her nearness was different from that emotion he had
experienced when he in fancy had looked at her wistful face in the heart
of the nodding rose. And suddenly he held his breath as the consciousness
of her physical presence grew stronger and stronger upon him; his
startled eyes fixed themselves upon the naked stem, swaying gently on the
bush—he strained his ears to hear—he knew not what—he could not tell—a
trembling seized his limbs—and when he heard a sweet, low voice call
“Robert,” not from the slender stalk, but somewhere behind him, he gave
no start of surprise. He told himself it—it—was only imagination—the
great longing within him had—but there it was again—it could not be
fancy—it—it must be—he turned slowly in the direction of the voice as if
afraid to find naught but the empty room to mock him, for he had heard no
sound to indicate a presence within the room. As his eyes grew accustomed
to the gloom and his dulled vision cleared, he saw just inside the door,
standing with hands outstretched to him—a flesh and blood reality, but
oh! so pitifully changed. He gave a gasping cry and sprang to clasp the
swaying form close to his throbbing breast.

Ah! the rapture of that meeting, the blissful joy which filled his aching
heart and crowded out stern recollections from his memory, while all
thoughts of the grim present, its bitter facts which faced him, the vain
regrets, all—all were now forgotten. The lines of pain in his haggard
face were smoothed out gently and deep peace settled upon their troubled
souls.

“Ah, Mary!” he breathed softly, breaking the sacred stillness. “Ye have
come at last. Oh, it has been so long, dearie, so long, and I have
wanted ye so much,” and he held her to his heart in a strong, jealous,
passionate embrace, as if he could never part with her again on earth,
but would shield her from even the shadow of death, that he saw stamped
on her pale, pinched features, and which glowed in the haunting depths of
her tired blue eyes. A smile of sadness passed quickly over her face like
the sun that peeps through the sudden rift of a cloud.

“Ye knew, laddie, I couldna’ go awa’ without seeing ye just once mair,”
she whispered tenderly. A fit of coughing suddenly racked her slender
frame. He led her weak and trembling to a chair and gently wiped away the
beads of perspiration from her forehead, and for a moment she leaned up
against him in utter exhaustion. Presently she smiled up in his anxious
face and faintly thanked him. “Dinna’ be alarmed, dearie,” she faltered.
“I’m aright noo,” and she bravely straightened up in her seat, but he
would not release her altogether.

And so they sat, sad and silent, knowing the parting, the sad, final
parting would come in a few quickly-fleeing moments.

Outside the clouds had been gathering thickly over the sky, and now and
then a few shafts of sunlight still forced a passage through them with
steady persistency, although storm hovered over all, waiting the signal
to burst forth. Suddenly a silver glare of lightning sprang out from
beneath the black-winged cloud hanging low in the horizon, and a few
large drops of rain began to fall. Mary nestled closer to him as she saw
the brilliant flash, and shivered apprehensively. They both were thinking
of that other storm, when he had bidden farewell to Ayrshire in poverty
and despair, to take his place in Edinburgh among the high and mighty,
to claim the reward of genius—honor, fame and renown. And now the time
had come for her to say farewell, only there was a difference, and such
a difference! She was bidding good-by to life, to love, to everything. A
happy smile broke over her wistful face as she thought of her reward; it
would not be such a fleeting thing as riches, honor and fame. Thank God,
it was more than those; it was an eternity of happiness. No more sorrow,
no more suffering, only peace, divine peace, such as the world knoweth
not, such as she had never known in her short, eventful life.

“And so, Mary,” murmured Robert brokenly, “the end of our life’s romance
has come at last.”

She put her little hand in his and pressed it warmly.

“Yes, ’tis the end, Robin Adair. The end of all, but it had to come some
time; we were but wearing our hearts out in vain longings, in bitter
regrets, ye ken that, dear.” She paused and idly watched the rain, which
was now coming down fiercely. “It will be better for—for us—all when I am
gone,” she murmured presently, with a far-away look in her eyes.

A sob of anguish caused her to turn quickly to the sorrowing man by
her side. Putting her hand on his head, she continued in pathetic
resignation, “I will be spared much pain and sorrow, ye ken, so dinna
greet for me, laddie. I—I am content, nay glad to go, for I—I am so
tired—so very tired of this—long, unhappy struggle.” Her voice trembled
and the tears rolled slowly down her sad cheeks.

“If I, too, could only end it all,” he moaned.

“Sh! laddie!” she answered in gentle reproach. “Ye mustna’ wish for
death; ye have those dependent on ye, whom ye maun think of noo, Jean and
the bairns.” Her voice grew very sweet and caressing. “I saw them as I
came in. Oh, they are such bonnie little lads, dearie. So like ye, too.
Gilbert is o’er fond of them; he is playing wi’ them noo.”

Mrs. Dunlop had been taken ill at the last moment and had commissioned
Gilbert to take her place. She had supplied him plentifully with money
for the journey and had then sorrowfully taken her departure for
Edinburgh, her kind old heart sad and heavy.

“Robbie lad,” continued Mary earnestly, “ye—ye maun take Jean close to
your heart. Ye maun love her fondly for the bairns’ sake and—for her own,
too, for she is a good, kind wife to ye, and ye’ll all—be very happy yet,
I ken weel.”

He slipped down from his chair to his knees and buried his tear-stained
face in her lap. “When ye go, Mary,” he murmured brokenly, “I’ll never
know peace and happiness again.” She let him weep on in silence.
Presently he raised his head and looked at her. “Ye dinna’ ken, lassie,
how I have hungered for a sight of your dear face—a word from your sweet
lips, this last year.” He clung to her passionately. “An’ noo in a few
minutes,” he continued in anguish, “ye will pass out o’ my life forever
and I maun live on here—desolate—and heart-broken.”

“Nay, nay!” she cried reproachfully. “Dinna’ say that, laddie, not alone,
not alone,” and she looked compassionately at the door of the kitchen
where Jean sat in patient misery holding her bairn to her aching heart.
At that moment Gilbert softly opened the door and told them that they
would have to start at once, that the storm would not let up and that
they must catch the boat at Greenock that night.

“Ye had better say good-by, noo,” and he closed the door quietly behind
him.

They looked at each other, too dazed for words. Then she started to rise
to her feet, but he clasped her hands tightly, though she did not feel
the pain, and pressed her into the seat again.

“Not yet, not yet, Mary!” he gasped. “I canna’ let ye go just yet. ’Tis
like tearing my heart out by its roots.”

“Ye mustna’ greet so, laddie,” said Mary, frightened by the vehemence of
his sorrow.

“’Tis all my fault,” he moaned, “all thro’ my sinful weakness that ye are
made to suffer noo, all my fault.”

She put her fingers on his lips. “Sh! dearie!” she remonstrated softly.
“Dinna’ blame yoursel’. If we suffer noo, we must na’ forget how happy
we have been, and we were happy, weren’t we, laddie?” and she smiled
in fond reminiscence, then continued a trifle unsteadily, “An—an hour’s
happiness is worth a year of pain, for when we get sad an’ lonely, we can
live it all over again, canna’ we?” She paused and sighed pathetically.
“Only it—it isna’ real, is it, laddie?” A sudden break in her voice
caused her to put her hand to her throat and look away with quivering
lips. Then she went on in plaintive, pleading gentleness, “Ye will
sometimes think of me—way up—in the Highlands, won’t ye, dearie? It
willna’ wrong—Jean, for—soon your Mary will be—in Heaven, in her castle
grand.”

The thunder rolled along the sky in angry reverberating echoes, stilling
the low voice, while frequent flashes of lightning leaped out like knives
suddenly drawn from dark sheaths—yet toward the north over Greenock the
sky was clearing, and streaks and beams of gold fell from the hidden
sun, with a soothing promise of a clear and radiant sunset. Mary’s face
brightened as she watched the sunbeams struggling through the lightened
clouds, and she went on dreamily, in the prolonged lull of the storm:

“My home there will be so fine, much finer than the castle in Edinburgh.”
She smiled tenderly and let her hand slip down from his head to his
heaving shoulder, where it rested in loving quiet. “How happy I was that
night,” she mused; “an’ the sweet gown was so pretty I—hated to take it
off, but it wasna’ mine.” She paused with quivering lips. “But—but—I
was going to buy one the next day for my own, wasna’ I? A white one—all
smooth and soft and shiny—for—for my wedding gown.” Her voice died away
in a hushed, mournful quaver.

“Don’t, don’t, Mary!” sobbed Robert unrestrainedly. “I canna’ bear to
think of that noo, noo when I maun give ye up forever.” He stroked her
face and covered her pale, thin, toil-worn hands with heart-breaking
kisses. Presently he grew calmer. “I shall never forget that night, Mary,
that night with its pleasures and pain,” he went on with dreamy pathos.
“It is ever in my thoughts; e’en in my dreams your dear bonnie face
haunts me with its sweet, pathetic smile, and your tender lips seem to
say, ‘laddie, ye were not true to your vows, ye have broken my heart.’”
She gave a little cry of pain.

“No, no, laddie, I never thought that,” she cried, and she looked at him
with gentle, pitying eyes.

“I wad try to speak, to implore your forgiveness for the misery I had
caused ye,” continued Robert, his husky voice heard faintly above the
wail of the wind, which shook the lattice with a sort of stealthy
clatter, like a midnight prowler striving to creep in to steal and
plunder. “And in my dumb despair and anguish I would clutch at your
floating garments only to have them vanish into air, and I would awake to
find myself—alone—with my bitter remorse and sorrow.” A low, choked sob
broke from his hollow breast—he covered his face with his hands. “Can ye
ever forgive me?” he murmured.

Mary regarded him with infinite compassion, a heroic smile on her tired,
quivering lips. “Freely do I forgive everything, laddie,” she replied,
“an’ when I am gone I want ye to remember always that Mary Campbell had
only love, pity and forgiveness in her heart for ye.” She raised her
trembling hands solemnly. “May God bring peace to your troubled heart,
laddie, and may your future dreams be filled with joy and happiness, of
love and prosperity.”

[Illustration: “The door opened and Jean quietly entered the room.”]

The door opened and Jean quietly entered the room, her tense, white face
full of patient sorrow. She had sat in the kitchen for an eternity it
seemed to the waiting woman, while Mary was taking her farewell of her
husband. She had tried to talk to Gilbert, to interest herself in the
news of home, but the words simply refused to leave her lips, and so she
had sat there, listlessly watching the children playing around their
uncle’s knee, her ears straining to hear some sound from the other room.
No one knew how she suffered, to step aside, to welcome to her home his
former sweetheart, to know they were there clasped in each other’s arms;
and yet she did not feel bitter toward Mary somehow, strange as it might
seem. She pitied her, she pitied them both, and it filled her with a
strange feeling of surprise that she could feel so. Still loving Robert
as fondly as she did, she could not help the feeling of despair which
crept over her at times, to know, to fully realize, that she held only a
secondary place in his affections, to hear him calling for another, for
Mary. Sometimes in thought she caught herself bitterly arraigning him for
his thoughtlessness, his apparent heartlessness; then the thought of his
weak condition, his ill health, his distracted state of mind, these past
months, tempered her judgment. He was hardly responsible for his actions,
and if he were conscious of his own selfishness he had lost the power,
the strength of will, to restrain his feverish impulses. She wondered
vaguely if it would be different when—when she had passed away forever—if
her memory would still come between them. She hoped not—she prayed that
it might not be so.

Gilbert had left her to her silent musings, and had gone out to harness
the horses. Returning, he told her that they must start at once, so she
had opened the door to tell them, and as her eyes took in the misery
which was reflected in their white, drawn faces she was moved to intense
pity, and the tears rained slowly down her cheeks.

“Come, Mary, Gilbert says ’tis time to start,” she faltered. They both
looked up slowly at the sound of her voice, then gazed dully into each
other’s eyes. Presently Mary rose from her chair and stood up unsteadily,
stretching out her little, cold, white hands to Robert, who clutched
them in his own feverish palms as a drowning man clutches a straw.

“The time has come to part, laddie,” she said bravely, a wan little smile
on her bluish lips.

A violent shuddering seized him, he did not move for a moment. Finally
he staggered to his feet, and a quiver of agony passed over his face. He
looked at her with dulled, glazed eyes and his face assumed a ghastly hue.

“’Tis so hard, so cruel, to say good-by forever,” he breathed huskily,
for his throat was dry and parched. His swaying figure tottered a moment,
then he drew her slowly into his arms and pressed his lips to her
forehead. “’Tis the last time on earth, Mary,” he whispered brokenly. Her
lips trembled, but she would not give way to the feeling of dizziness
that threatened to rob her of her consciousness. She must leave him with
a smile, she told herself; she must not make it harder for him. “Yes, for
the last time, Robert,” she repeated slowly. “May God bless and watch
over ye, Robin Adair—till—we—meet in Heaven. Good-by.” Her voice died
away inarticulately, and she sank forward into his arms, where she lay
motionless with closed eyes, utterly spent in body and spirit, and save
for a shivering sob that now and then escaped her, she seemed almost
insensible. Jean rushed quickly forward and drew her into a chair, while
Gilbert fetched a glass of water, which he held to her white lips.

The wind shook the doors and whistled shrilly through the crevices, then
as though tired of its own wrath, surged away in hoarse murmurs, through
the branches of the creaking old beech, toward the Loch, and there was a
short, tense silence while they waited to see signs of life appear in the
face of the stricken girl. Presently she opened those azure blue eyes and
smiled up in their anxious faces; then she struggled to her feet, but she
put her hand quickly to her heart and tottered.

“Oh, my—poor—weak heart,” she gasped faintly. Jean caught her quickly
in her strong arms and stroked her soft cheek with a curious yearning
sensation of love tugging at her heartstrings.

“Poor dear,” she said compassionately, “you’re too weak to stand so much
excitement,” and she put her back firmly in the chair. Mary attempted to
rise again, but Jean would not permit her. “Gilbert shall carry you to
the carriage,” she told her. Gilbert stepped to her side.

“I will be a light burden noo, Gilbert,” she faltered, smiling
pathetically into his strong, rugged face, which bore traces of his deep,
bitter grief. Jean gently put her arms about her and in silence implanted
a kiss on her pure, sweet face; then she turned away and covered her face
with her hands. Gilbert bent over and picked up the frail body, and in
spite of his efforts to restrain his emotion, a sigh that was almost a
groan escaped him, for she was no heavier than a child of a few summers.
He carried her past his brother, who was sitting with head bowed upon his
breast in an attitude of absolute despair.

“Greet not for me, dearie,” whispered Mary faintly, stretching out her
hand and letting it rest tenderly on his head. “God’s—will—be—done,” and
her dry, burning eyes took their last look, and said their last farewell
as Gilbert slowly carried her from the room and closed the door, shutting
Robert out from her lingering gaze.



CHAPTER XXVIII

    Then whilst his throbbing veins beat high
      With every impulse of delight,
    Dash from his lips the cup of joy,
      And shroud the scene in shades of night;
    And let despair, with wizard light,
      Disclose the yawning gulf below,
    And pour incessant on his sight,
      Her spectred ills and shapes of woe.


For some moments Robert sat there, apparently dead to his surroundings.
He had not looked up or moved as the door closed upon the retreating
figures. He seemed to be in a state of complete exhaustion of mind and
body. Presently the sound of the carriage rolling over the swishing,
muddy driveway roused him from his lethargy. Raising his head he looked
wildly around the room—then paused and listened—he was as one in a dream,
realizing nothing plainly. He could hardly remember what had taken place
during the past few minutes; he could grasp nothing tangible in thought
or memory, till with a wild start he seemed to awake, as the rattle of
the passing wheels brought back recollection. He staggered to the window
and, throwing back the lattice, gazed out at the rapidly retreating
blur of moving wheels and horses and shapeless figures, and watched it
till it was lost to sight. As he stood there a soft change, a delicate
transparency, swept over the dark bosom of the sky. Pale pink streaks
glittered on the dusky horizon—darts of light began to climb upward into
the clouds, and to plunge downward upon the waving field of hay; the
radiance spread swiftly, till suddenly the whole heavens were bathed in
the glorious light, and the last cloud, fading into nothingness, revealed
the sun in all its matchless glory, hanging low in the sky just above
the hills, behind which it would soon drop in stately splendor. Slowly
the watcher sank down to his knees and leaned his tired head against the
sash, his eyes closed and sunken.

“She is gone, gone,” he murmured brokenly, “an’ I am left all alone noo,
all alone.” Jean bent over him with pathetic tenderness, and taking his
limp hand in her own warm palm, she said with timid reproach:

“Not alone, Robert, while you have your—bairns—and me.” She feared to
call his attention to herself in the midst of his grief, lest he might
revile her for standing between him and happiness; but he did not hear.

“Oh, Jean, how can I take up the burden of life again?” he cried
weakly, clinging to her hand with despairing strength. It thrilled her
strangely to feel the grasp of his hand, to feel his weakness, his sudden
dependence, the appeal in his dark, mournful eyes raised to hers so
pitifully; she knelt beside him and drew his head down on her heaving
bosom.

“Ye must be brave,” she told him, her voice trembling with a new-found
happiness, a sudden joy. He needed her now, needed her love and care more
than ever. Then she continued softly, her voice vibrating with thrilling
intensity, “Ye have much to live for yet, lad. Ye must be strong, ye must
be brave. Pluck up your courage! I’ll help ye.”

He looked at her wonderingly, then he slowly bowed his head. “Yes, Jean,”
he said humbly, “I will be strong; I’ll try to be brave.”

She helped him to his chamber, and placed him beside the window, where he
could no longer watch the road, and left him. For a while he gazed out
over the fields in apathetic calm, his mind a blank. Across the field he
could see Souter Johnny at work in his garden. Suddenly he straightened
up and listened. Souter was singing.

    “O where, an’ O where is my Highland laddie gone?”

came the old cracked voice. He closed his eyes wearily, but he could not
shut out the sound.

“Oh, Mary, my lost Highland Mary,” he whispered under his breath.


THE END

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