Peggy Oglivie (3)

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CHAPTER XVIII.

A BAD LOOK-OUT.


MRS. GRANT had been, as it were, cheated out of the opportunity of lecturing Peggy by the absence of the latter, and the cause of the absence had greatly aggravated her offence.  Her meeting with "the boys" at Burnside was set down to design by the worthy matron, and in her heart she suspected her sons of complicity in the plot.  Anything like the wilful blindness of the doctor she had never seen, and she could not account for it.  At the merest hint on the subject he had shown an amount of irritation quite unusual in him, and also a determination to have no more of it.

    "You will do them a great injury if you allow them to see that you suspect them in that way," said he.  "There's nothing taints the mind like an unjust suspicion.  It's rank moral poison."

    It was rather hard on Mrs. Grant that her motherly anxiety, as she considered it, which had been extended even to Peggy, should be stigmatized as moral poison.  The expression was new and irritating, and she felt very inch injured, consequently, by it.

    "If that girl," she thought, "is to become the source of such folly and injustice, the less I see of her the better."

    The more Mrs. Grant thought over the matter, the more satisfied she was that it would be well to put a stop to the intimacy.  So the invitations for Saturday afternoons were not renewed, and the Sunday following the minister's wife contented herself with a hurried bow to Peggy as she hastened out of the rain which opportunely covered her retreat.

    The weather and the course of events were about to second Mrs. Grant's resolution, and to screen the estrangement from observation.  Every one was occupied with the serious aspect of things.  Down upon the grain, not yet fully ripe, came—not a storm of big blustering drops with sunshine at the heart of them, but, day after day, a chill, continuous rain.

    Peggy stood within the doorway, and looked out wistfully into the rainy wood, and there came up a moan from it that made her shiver.  Tammas sat in the chimney-corner groaning with rheumatism, and lamenting over the solitary field of oats which was to have furnished the household bread, and which, if this went on, would be "clean spoilt."

    "Ay, it's a bad look-out," murmured Jean, from the other corner, knitting furiously; "we've had nothing like this sin' the dear years."

    And Peggy, who had heard Jean's stories over and over again, stole away and left the old couple to their colloquies, to sit silent by the hour beside her silent grandfather.

    The "dear years," as the opening years of the century were called, formed an era which was frequently dated from in the district.

    "I mind," Jean went on, "the first year o' the century there was reapin' in the snow, and the stuff was only fit for the beasts.  Before the next year's spring the four-pound loaf was half-a-croon, and the meal just five times what it is this day."

    "There was na enough o't at ony price," echoed her companion.  "What fechts there used to be in the meal market for what there was! the men fechting their way to the stands wi' the meal pock (bag) on their shouthers, and women, that had nae men to fend for them, wringin' their hands on the ootside o' the mob."

    "If it had na been for auld Haldane and his print-work, mony's the ane here about wad ha' deed wi' hunger."

    "I mind when he was but a pack-merchant," murmured Tammas, "trampin' the country wi' bits o' ribbons and laces and such-like, and gatherin' the yarn to get it spun for the auld wives, and the lasses makin' up their providin'."

    "Mony are the ups and the doons o' life," moralized Jean.  "He's a rich man the day; and here's Delaube has na a penny."

    "I hear Haldane's sair failed noo," said Tammas.

    "It behooves him to be," replied Jean; "he's aulder than either you or me.  That nephew o' his 'ill come into the works.  I warrant he's richt like him," she added.

    "An' he was the han'somest man in these pairts, exceptin' Delaube himsel'," the old man went on.  "The last time I saw them close to each ither was on the oot- skirts o' ane o' the meal mobs.  I was carryin' Delaube's luggage up frae the shore, and we were turnin' back for the mob, but stood still awhile to look on, and there was Haldane lookin' on too.  The crowd was awful—tearin' and trampin' like deevils; and a white-faced bit thing, wi' a widow's mutch (cap) on her head, flung herself in among them, and was doon among their feet in a minute.  Haldane, he after her, and catches her up, like a kitten, round the middle, sets her up on the pavement, and takes her meal-pock oot o' her hands.  He had a fecht to get to the stand, though he was bigger than the biggest there; and his black coat—he was wearin' his blacks by that time—was as white's a miller's; but they made way for him as he cam' back wi' the widow's meal.  My master would hae shaken hands wi' him, but he turned on his heel, and ye wad hae thought sparks flew oot o' his een."

    "Delaube had mair sins than his ain laid to his charge," said Jean, "and a' because he would stick to that wild, wicked Sir Alexander.  It's changed days since then," she went on, after a pause.  "It mattered little at Delaube what the price o' meal was, with a fu' girnel (meal chest or barrel) and a fn' purse; but now there's neither meal nor siller."

    "Will Delaube," asked the old man, who always called his master by this name, "no be able to raise siller yet?"

    "It's lang since I saw the sight o' siller in his hands, poor man!" sighed the faithful servant.

    Here Tammas was heard by his spouse to mutter something of wages due.

    Jean took up the word wages, and began her parable by saying, in tones of indignation, "Wages, indeed!  Them that gies ye your meat, my man, dinna hauld your wages frae ye."  And she proceeded to point out that everything was left in their hands, and that it was, entirely owing to his (Thomas's) bad management that there was not enough and to spare.

    Tammas, upon this, held his peace.  He knew that hard work was not in his line.  He had often been reproached by his wife, and with undeniable justice, with eating the bread of idleness at their master's table; and he knew he was not good for much now.  His wife had all along supplemented his short-comings, and must do so to the end.  Poor old man! he did his best now, at any rate.

    "Is the corn clean spoilt?" was her next question.

    "No so sair spoilt but that a good wind and a week or twa's sun would save enough for us to live on."

    "But, if there's no enough to sell, how am I to hold the house in everything?" she asked, impatiently.

    "There's the wood," grumbled the old man.

    "It maun come to that, I suppose, if the worst comes to the worst," she answered.  "But the auld trees on the hill are no sound enough for timmer; and if they were thinned, I've seen a storm that would sweep Delaube as bare as the back o' my hand.  I would ill like to see the wood cut down mysel', but it would gang between that lassie and her wits, I think."

    No wind came to raise the badly "laid" corn.  There were days when the sunshine returned and the rain ceased, and the heavy ears tried to lift up their heads and shake off the wet in the rising breeze, but the brightness never lasted long enough.  Down came the rain again, lashing the streaming fields, and beating down the corn more fiercely and persistently than ever.

    At kirk and market there was gathering gloom.  In the kirk prayers were "put up for propitious weather," and during the prayers the wild rains, dashing on roof and windows, would drown the voice of the minister, as if in mockery.

    Peggy went little abroad in these days.  Something of the heaviness of the season had fallen on her heart.  She felt keenly Mrs. Grant's coldness and estrangement, and longed to clear it away.  She longed to go and sit at that rigid, but yet righteous, woman's feet and tell her all her story.  Her story!  Sometimes she could hardly realize that it was hers.  Not having the remotest suspicion of the true state of Mrs. Grant's mind in relation to her, she somehow connected that lady's conduct with Captain Oglivie.  It was of him she longed to speak.  But hers was one of those natures on which want of sympathy acts like want of sunlight on some sensitive flowers. In the dark, or the half-light of a dreary day, the flowers keep their portals shut.  You may tear the delicate blossom open and destroy it, but you cannot by any means in your power make it expand and show its innermost heart, as it does at a touch of the genial light it was made to love.

    So, instead of opening her heart to Mrs. Grant, Peggy shrank more and more into herself, and pondered on those past days, and felt her spirit grow dark, and chill, and sad.  Questioning inevitably arose in her mind, at first touching only herself.  Had she been right in yielding those frequent meetings?  Had she not been hasty in accepting and returning the love of a stranger, though that stranger was a kinsman?  Had she been deceiving herself?  The thought crimsoned face and neck, as she bent over her work, with a secret shame.  She was ashamed even of the thought; but it would return again and again, and with greater strength and clearness.  That parting scene in the pine wood—so solemn, so sacred.  Those words, which to her were binding vows—were they other to him?  How the scene seemed to change under the doubt—its sweet and holy light turn to ghastliness.

    But what had happened to make this change?  Nothing.  He had not promised to write, and she could not write to him.  But, if he loved her, would he be content with silence?  Had she not been content for a little time?  But she was content no longer.  It would be the same with him.  She had only to wait, and then she would beg him to write to her grandfather, and all doubt would be at an end.

    But the days and the doubt grew darker than never.


 
CHAPTER XIX.

DOWN IN THE VILLAGE.


STRANGER in the streets of Strathie was always an object of curiosity and interest, the advents of such being, like those of angels, few and far between.  When one appeared at the entrance of the street, it seemed suddenly to be known from end to end, and there was a pushing aside of muslin curtains, and a peeping and peering through the leaves of dusty geraniums, whose faces all turned one way, along the whole length of its line.  The guidwives, who had already got rid of pressing domestic matters, and snodded (tidied) themselves up for the day, would be standing on the vantage ground of their doorsteps, and looking both before and after the passage of the visitor with unabashed curiosity.

    The little river-side cluster of cottages led to nothing and nowhere.  It did not share in the traffic which the print-work had brought to its near neighbour of Burnside, which skirted the high road to Bleaktown.

    There arose, therefore, a great commotion in the little out-of-the-way place when, early in the autumn morning, there entered the street a string of straggling, footsore, haggard men and women, with children of all ages dragged at their mothers' skirts, or bound by the plaids on their fathers' backs.  The children left their porridge unsupped and ran out into the road, the wives followed to the doors, albeit in their morning costume, and even the men who were at home at that hour lumbered up behind.  In a very little time the whole village had turned out of doors sans cérémonie, to gaze on the strangers.

    There were men, mostly with longish, thin hair and deep-set, blue eyes, and sharp, hatchet faces, gaunt and lean, and with beards of a week's growth.  There were women, whose beauty had been marred or utterly ruined by privation, exposure, or toil, and yet whom none of these things had coarsened or brutalized, as they coarsen and brutalize the people of other than Celtic race.  Hardly able to drag one foot after the other, the miserable drooping figures yet retained something of grace, the worn and tanned features something of comparative refinement and fire.  The band were of all ages.  One withered crone, awful with "eld," was led by a girl whose wild hair, like that of the men, fine and thin, hung round a face of utterly ravishing sweetness.

    The people of Strathie were not long at a loss to account for the advent of the strangers.  There had been an eviction from the lands of some great noble—up in the wilds of Sutherland, perhaps—and these were a remnant of the scattered people.

    They sympathised strongly, these good folks of Strathie, with the evicted.  Attachment to their native soil and to each other was the cause of their distress, for the great noble would gladly have shipped them off to foreign lands, where plenty was awaiting them.  But the villagers were not political economists—in those days political economists were not so common—and so they absurdly held that there were better things than even plenty of porridge, though that was an excellent thing in its way.

    The strangers had come down the country by a crossroad, and having tramped along the same since that day's dawn, hungry and thirsty and tired, they had turned into the fields above the village, to eat what they might find; and reach the margin of the stream for water to drink and a bank to rest upon.  Some were making a meal of green corn and raw turnips as they entered the village, and did not seek to hide their depredations, but sat down on the road-side, in front of the cottages, to finish their unwholesome repast.

    Such was the scene which presented itself to Peggy Oglivie as she entered the village on the morning in question.  As she went along, doles of oaten bread and drinks of milk were being distributed by the kindly cottagers, and the services of an interpreter had already been secured in the person of an old Highland woman, who was already hearing and explaining their sufferings to an excited little crowd.

    Peggy stopped just opposite to where this little crowd was gathering, in the centre of the village, at the grocer's shop, which was her present destination.  Then, her mission fulfilled, she turned and sped up the village, intending to send Jane with help and comfort to her wretched countryfolk.

    Taking a short cut over the fields to the north side of the hill, where the ascent was steepest but speediest, she reached the wood just as the rain began to descend.  As she entered, the sound of a child crying reached her ears.  She stood still and listened, and there mingled with it the moan of some one in pain.

    She had not far to look.  Almost close to her, under a tree, sat a woman, evidently one of the party whom she had left in the village, with a miserable infant in her lap, while another child of two or three years old crouched crying by her side.  A raw turnip, partly peeled, lay near.  It had evidently proved too distasteful to the nursing mother, and too hard for the little child.  Peggy understood it all in a moment, and, stopping to enact a little pantomime of speedy return, darted off up the hill.  When she entered the kitchen there was no one there, so what she did was to seize upon the inevitable basket of cakes.  Then, hastening to the milk-house, she filled a pitcher with the morning's milk, already creaming over, and, without waiting to see any one, hurried down again,

    Short as her absence had been, others were there before her.  There stood round the woman, who had fainted when Peggy left her, her husband, with Mr. Haldane, and an old man from "the works," who had accompanied the latter.  The husband had gone off in search of help for his wife, and having found Mr. Haldane on his way to Strathie, had dragged him to the spot where he had left her in extremity, dying for want of food, as the old Highlander explained to his master.  But more pressing than the words of appeal through an interpreter, was the passion of entreaty in the poor man's haggard face.  Now he was kneeling down by his wife, uttering lamentations and extravagant endearments, while the tears ran down his grizzly cheeks.  She was coming to herself, it seemed, as Peggy came up to them, for she had opened her eyes on her husband's face.

    "That's right," said David Haldane, taking the pitcher from Peggy's hands, with no more recognition than if he had just parted from her, or himself sent her on her errand.  The children were crying, but he held it first to the blue, trembling lips of the mother.  She tasted, but could not drink.

    "What is to be done?" said Mr. Haldane.  "I fear there is something more the matter than even hunger.  She must be got under shelter at once, for the rain will soon be through the roof here," and he looked up at the thick pine-boughs, already fringed with drops.

    "There's an empty biggin' (small building) not far from here, said Peggy.  "Let me go and find Tammas: he keeps his tools and seeds there," she explained.

    "I shall have worn you out before half the work is done," he replied, "if you run up and down that steep brae much oftener.  Could we not take her there at once, and then I could leave her and send the doctor—that is, if you are willing to take so much responsibility, Miss Oglivie," he added, as if for the first time conscious of her individuality.

    "I will take it," said Peggy, quickly.

    Then Mr. Haldane, with her husband's help, proceeded to raise the woman from the ground, and to wrap her in Peggy's plaid.  She could not stand, much less walk.

    So they twisted the ends of the long plaid round their necks, and, having set her in the midst of it, lifted her up between them and bore her gently on.  Peggy went before with the baby, and the husband followed after with the second child, now quite pacified, in his arms.

    By the time Mr. Haldane struck into the road again the people were once more on the move.  They had not exhausted the possibilities of Strathie, as Miss Luckie predicted, but the superior advantages of Burnside had been rapidly circulated among them, and thither they were on their way.  There they would probably insist on settling down in a body, and in that case what was to be done?  This was the problem which Mr. Haldane was called in to solve.  There was no such thing as a workhouse in Burnside, or in any of the neighbouring parishes, where they might be received for a time; and, for the purpose of forcible ejectment, there was no power whatever at the command of the inhabitants of that or the neighbouring villages.  The only representative of law in the place was a superannuated sheriff's officer and part of a perambulating policeman.

    David Haldane was prepared for the difficulty of dealing with a set of people, stiff-necked and rebellious by nature, and made more obstinate and unreasonable by their sufferings.  Happily, he was just the sort of man to whom they were inclined to yield.  He had upon him, in feature and in person, the stamp of a leader and commander of the people.  His look of authority had in it nothing of the irritating element of self-will, sure to provoke the opposition it is bent on putting down.

    "The first thing is to get them under cover," he said to Collin, "or we shall have the whole batch of them laid up.  Let them follow us up to the works, and we'll get them into the new shed, and see what can be done with them."

    Collin gave the word, and then went on with his master, the whole tribe, to the number of forty at least, following behind.


 
CHAPTER XX.

DEATH IN THE BIGGIN'.


DAVID HALDANE had not forgotten to send the doctor to the poor woman: it was not his habit to forget; but the doctor had forgotten to come.  It was the morning of the next day before he visited the hovel, and Peggy Oglivie was there before him.

    But the Highlandman had come up to the house in the morning, looking more worn and haggard than before, to tell his benefactress that even on the comfortable bed provided for her, his poor wife had not slept, but had tossed, moaning and in pain, while he had vainly tried to hush the wailing of the infant.  He had carried away his own and the child's breakfast, and having despatched hers, Peggy had hastened after him with a jug full of warm tea for his wife.

    When the doctor entered, the man was sitting with the infant on his knee, and Peggy was kneeling beside the woman, coaxing her to drink a little from the cup which she was holding to her lips.  The woman swallowed a few mouthfuls, and then fell back upon her pillow of straw, and Peggy rose to meet the man of medicine.

    She explained to him, at secondhand, what the poor creature had suffered throughout the night—the pains in the head and back, and burning thirst, which her husband had detailed to Jean.  The doctor stooped to examine her, and, as he rose from the brief examination, pronounced the one word—"Fever!"

"Typhus," added he, as if in answer to a question he had put to himself.  Then glancing at Peggy, whom he knew by sight—"No place for you, Miss Oglivie," he said; fever highly infectious.  Woman will probably die."

    Luckily, the poor people did not understand a word of this speech.

    "Shall you see Mr. Haldane to-day?" inquired Peggy.  She had already more faith in him than in a host of doctors.

    "Yes," he answered, abruptly.  "Shall be down his way; had better see him, and tell him to send up some of her clan to nurse her.  Better leave them now."

    And with this the doctor, whose seeming carelessness shocked his listener, hurried away, full of real anxiety both for patient and nurse.  His horse was tied to a tree at the foot of the hill, and he mounted and rode straight to the print-work.  He found that David Haldane had been at work betimes among his people.  Half of the immigrants had been sent off on the previous afternoon in one of the great covered carts belonging to the works, much comforted by his assurance, that there was nothing to hinder them from seeing their friends again.  The remainder had been accommodated for a night in the shed, with beds of clean straw and packing.  This morning they had been sumptuously breakfasted on porridge and buttermilk, and the manager had already chosen a site for their cottages, and looked out material wherewith to build them—viz., turf, wood, and stones from an old dyke.  With such help as they could get among the other workers, the men were to build themselves sheltering roofs, under the superintendence of David Haldane.

    David Haldane had to go about his ordinary business that morning, but Miss Oglivie, and the danger to which she was exposed, was seldom out of his mind.  As soon, therefore, as he could get away he mounted his horse and rode over to Delaube.

    He had never been there before, but was prepared to find the place something of a wilderness.  He entered at the front entrance, but no one met or greeted him.  The neighing of his horse at the gate, to which he had fastened him, made him aware of the exceeding stillness.  He crossed the hall and entered a room.  It was the ordinary sitting-room of Peggy and her grandfather; but no one was there.  There was every sign of habitation, but no inhabitant.  And there came upon David Haldane, for the first time in his life, that sense of dreaminess and enchantment which was so large an element in the life of Peggy Oglivie.

    Seeing no one, he went round to the back of the house and stood in the kitchen doorway.  An old man sat and smoked by a smouldering fire, and looked up as his figure darkened the doorway.

    "Can I see Miss Oglivie?" said David Haldane, frankly.

    "Ou, aye!  Come in an' wait a wee.  Mr. Oglivie has na been able to get up the day.  He's very queer.  But she'll be doon or lang.  The wife's oot, or she would fess her till ye.  Come awa' ben."

    With that the old man rose and hobbled through the house, dragging the visitor through the central sanctities of kitchen and pantry, back into the parlour, into which he had already peeped.

    "I am glad you have come," Peggy said, simply, as she entered the room; "and I hope I have not kept you waiting.  I fear the poor woman is very ill," she added, gravely.

    Her whole tone was grave to sadness, and the embarrassment which was rising in the young man's manner at her entrance, disappeared at once.

    "I have seen the doctor," he said, "and he tells me there is danger; and I came here to warn you not to expose yourself to it."

    "I am not at all afraid," she answered, quietly.  "Besides, the harm, if any, is done already; and I have been asking grandpapa if I may have the little one up here for a few days, till her mother is better.  Jean will help to nurse the poor mother.  She is with her at present, and I promised to relieve her."

    "Then, if you will show me the way, I will go with you," he said.  "I do not believe much in infection myself, especially if one is quite without fear, and in perfect health.  I know the way round," he added; "but perhaps we had better go the way you went and came so quickly yesterday."

    "It is very steep."

    He smiled.  "I think I can keep my feet."  She took a little scarf of black silk and put it over her head, pinning it under her chin.  "I am quite ready," she said.  He bowed, and she went on before him.  Round the house and to the foot of the garden he followed her, and into the little zigzag path among the trees where she looked back to see that he was coming.

    At the bottom of the path they came upon the biggin' where Peggy entered, while her companion found himself obliged to stand at the door, as the space within was already more crowded than was convenient.  The woman lay still in her corner, where Jean had managed to put up a sort of screen.  The latter was engaged in trying to feed the infant, and addressing remonstrances in Gaelic to the poor man, who was seated on the little table, rocking himself to and fro with a moaning sort of murmur.

    "Has the doctor sent up the woman's medicine Haldane, from the doorway.

    "That he has," said Jean.  "She's quieter since she had it; but this bairn's very ill indeed; it's been out o' ae fit intil anither the whole morning."

    With that Jean looked down into her lap, where the child lay tucked into her apron.  "Good preserve's, it's deid!" she exclaimed; and throwing her apron hurriedly over the face of the infant, she came out into the door from which Mr. Haldane stepped back, and then into the open air, followed by Peggy.

    Here Jean again uncovered the little face, upon which the unmistakable seal was already set.  "I maun tell the father," said Jean, "and he's sure to raise a terrible wulla wae (wail).

    "Bring him out here," said David Haldane.  "Stay; I will," he added; and going into the hut, he laid his hand kindly on the man's shoulder, and signified his wish that he should come outside.

    True enough, as soon as Jean, in a few words of his native tongue, informed him that the babe was dead, he lifted up his voice and wept.

    "He had better not tell her what has happened till she misses the child," said David Haldane; "and I suppose we had better go."

    "Ay; ye can do little good here," replied the old woman, unceremoniously; "nor you either," she said, turning to Peggy, who stood pale and sorrowful a little aside, having looked in the face of death for the first time.

    At length the patients were pronounced out of danger, and began to gain strength.  The new cottages down in the village were built and tenanted, and a huge, great fire was kept up in one that still remained empty, in order that it might be dry enough for entry.  The pair were about to be removed from the biggin', and with them all further pretexts for David Haldane's visits to Delaube.

    It was to announce that everything was ready for that removal that he rode over, for the last time, so he bethought himself.  As on the occasion of his first visit, he had to find his way in, and, somehow, his step was not so bold.  It might be fear of intruding on the invalid that made him turn aside without entering the room, and go round to inquire of Jean.  But when he looked in at the open door, instead of Jean, there was Peggy standing with her back to him in the act of tossing a cake, to take off the loose mead before carrying it to the girdle; and opposite to her, set up on the dresser to be out of harm's way, the other little child, stretching out her hands for the portion which had been too hot for her, and which Peggy had set up to cool.

    The child had seen him enter, and desisted from her importunity to stare at him, and Peggy, following the movement, turned on him almost at the same moment.  She smiled a welcome.  "I cannot shake hands with you," she said. "You see how busy we are."

    David looked at the sweet face flushed with the warm work, and thought he would like to try another form of salutation; but he only blushed—a very unusual thing with him—and went over to the child and kissed it instead.  Then he began to tell her about the removal, and she went on with her baking, while he leant on the dresser with one arm round the child.  He had often seen the operation before, but it had never occurred to him to think it graceful.  Rough red arms and hands plunging among moistened meal, though scrupulously clean, were not very pretty; but every movement of those slender arms and rosy palms seemed grace itself.  Cake after cake she turned out, rounding each on the board with a rapid movement of the hands clasped one above the other, till the circle seemed as perfect as if made by a pair of compasses.  He watched how dexterously she tossed of the thin, brittle round, and cut it into quarters, and conveyed it unbroken to the girdle, and was sorry when it came to an end, and she looked up with a tired flush and a little sigh of weariness.

    David Haldane was not slow to notice these.

    "You are tired," he said.  "Why do you do this?  I suppose it is hard work for one who is not accustomed to it."

    "I do it because I must, just now," she answered; "Jean is laid up to-day.  Poor Jean! she is getting old and frail.  All my life she has been working for me, and now it is my turn to work for her.  But I really like work," she added.

    After a little pause, he said, "I do not think you have ever been over the works.  Would you like to see them some day?"

    "Very much," she answered, "I have often heard Jean speak of them, and how pretty it was to see the rows of girls sitting at the long tables painting the webs of cambric with camel's-hair brushes."

    "That must have been before my time even.  All the processes have changed since then.  I fear you will be disappointed if you expect to find anything pretty nowadays; but you will come and see?"

    She promised; and soon after he took his leave and rode back to Burnside in a very different mood from that in which he had ridden from it.  The very horse beneath him seemed to have felt a lighter weight, for he swept on as if, for the first time in his life, he was riding for pleasure, and not for business.

    There are times when marked events take place in our lives, and change their aspect suddenly and sharply.  At other times, we are busy with something which seems quite outside of them, and go gliding on, till at length we look up and become aware that we have drifted into a new position, that nothing about us is the same as it was, that nothing for us will ever be precisely the same again.

    The latter experience had come to Peggy Oglivie.  She had glided down the stream in childish playfulness.  She had lapsed in girlish fancy into a beautiful dreamland; and when, with a sudden shock, she was brought up on the shore of reality, all that had made up her past was receding out of view.  She was no longer the child of that agèd household, but its mistress, to whom it must look for help and guidance.  Her youth had lasted but a single summer, and, because of the links that were missing between the generations, the cares of later life fell on her heavily, as they fall on all who stand in such a lot.


 
CHAPTER XXI.

YOUNG HALDANE AND AULD HALDANE.


"GRASS winna grow at his heels," was a frequent saying among the workpeople, concerning their young master—"Young David," as he was more familiarly and affectionately termed by the old folks, who had known him as a lad about the works.

    The saying might have been applied on the present occasion, by way of metaphor, to the mental process by which he was arriving at certain conclusions.  In the course of his ride home, he had settled, as far as he was concerned, the whole course and object of his future life.  He gave no time for the growth of those after-thoughts which hinder most people, and lead them to turn aside in the midst of their slowly forming purposes.  He was one of the few who know their own minds.  He knew that he had seen the one woman whom he could love, and whose love he would care to win; but knowing this, and resolved to win her, if possible, he could possess his mind in patience.  The resolute are seldom rash.

    If Miss Oglivie had been rich, the heiress of all the lands of Oglivie, he would have resolved to win her all the same.  It was not that he thought highly of himself;
he never thought of estimating himself at all.  By simple force of manhood, he felt that he had a right {o win this woman, or any other woman on whom he had set his heart.  If she chanced to be set upon a height above him, he must reach the height, that was all; he would not drag her down from wealth and ease, though for himself he valued these so lightly.  He would win them, and lay them at her feet.  Nevertheless, he was glad that the woman of his choice should know the meaning of poverty and toil.  It was all the more joy to win for her what be considered her rightful heritage; and then there would be no portion of his life to which she must needs be a stranger, as he feared there might be, such as there often is in the lives of men who have struggled up, and find no sympathy with their early trials in the hearts of those who are nearest and dearest to them in their later days.

    David Haldane the younger had known poverty and dependence himself.  He was but the grand-nephew of the old man, who had been separated from his relations during all the earlier portion of his successful career.  His father had been carried off by the press-gang, and had died at sea while he was a mere infant, and the widow, with her little son and agèd mother to support, had been fain to throw herself on the mercy of her husband's uncle.  Old David Haldane had allowed his nephew's widow and child but a small stipend.  He had no idea of removing them out of the condition in which he found them.  Still, but for him, the little household would have starved in the years of famine; and they had plenty in a humble way.  Then he took the boy into his service and "had an eye upon him," as he said; and at length he took the mother to keep house for him, which she did till she died.

    Under his mother's care, David had received the excellent groundwork of education provided for children of Scotland at the parish school, and as he developed at the works a genius both for mechanics and chemistry, his uncle had sent him into Bleaktown to attend the classes for mathematics and natural philosophy.

    According to his own ideas, the old man had not been niggardly towards his relations.  He had not used his wealth to raise them into a higher station than that of honest working people.  He had not done this for himself. He lived as plainly and dressed as plainly, now that he was a large capitalist, the owner of extensive works, the master of some hundreds of workpeople, as ever he did when he carried all his worldly goods on his own square shoulders.  Of all his wealth he consumed but a worker's share, sufficient for health and comfort, and no more.  In the way in which his fortune had been made he spent it—namely, in extending "the works."  The works were to him wife and children, and end and aim—at least, so it appeared to the outward observer.  On himself he might grudge to spend; on the works, never.  The newest and most expensive improvements in machinery and plant were at once procured.  What the works returned to him he returned to them again, and the returns were not single fold.  He had not worked to live: he had lived to work, and seemed to hold his work higher and dearer than life.

    Under these circumstances, it had come to pass that, at the age of twenty-eight, David Haldane the younger was not in possession of an independent income.  Holding in all respects the place of a son towards his grand-uncle, like him, he belonged to "the works;" and hitherto he had not felt it irksome, that his best energies should be so devoted.  Strange as it may seem, he had never before had a longing to lead a life of his own—at least, not since the schoolboy days, when he had longed for peril and adventure, and had thought of running away to sea.  He had inherited his grand-uncle's passion for work, as he had inherited the features of his face.

    For the first time in his life a vision of home and wife, of life and a place in the generations, rose before young David Haldane; and he felt the desire for independence.  Not that he was in reality a dependant.  There was strong and delicate independence in the very fact of his serving his relative as he did, for a mere nominal salary, in the very prime of his strength and usefulness, yielding his whole energy and power to the insatiable works.  Had not the old man supported his mother, and her mother, and himself too? and had he not a right to this return?  At the same time, the young man knew his own pecuniary value, and that he had long since repaid all the money expenditure which his uncle's kindness had involved.  As for the kindness itself, that could only be paid in kind.  Now that the time had come when he thought it right to claim an independence, as far as money was concerned, for the sake of his future life, he was still as ready as ever to devote to the service of his uncle much that money might not purchase.  That very day he resolved to place himself on this new footing, by asking from his uncle a regular salary as manager, and the power of investing his future savings in the works.

    In the chill autumn evening "old David Haldane" sat by a fire, in the well-worn, dingy parlour of the printwork house.  Before him stood his tumbler, and the "ship's biscuit," on which he nightly exercised his still splendid teeth; and opposite sat young David, with his resolution on hand, but not knowing very well how to frame it—not to his uncle's taste, but to suit his own notions of delicacy in the matter.

    They were very like each other, these two men—like enough to be taken for father and son.  The old man had the advantage, in point of massiveness and strength; the young man was evidently of finer and more sensitive temperament, and might prove less robust in the stress of life, though capable of higher things.

    After a silence of some duration, no unusual thing in these evening tête-à-têtes, the young man spoke.  "I think you have been satisfied with my management of late," he fixing his eyes on the old man's face, who was gazing into the fire with an expression which to his companion revealed neither his mind nor his mood.  The old man looked up sharply.  "I don't think I ever found much fault, David, my man," he said; "but things are lookin' very well at present.  What were ye goin' to say?" he went on, speaking with a broad country accent.  He was too shrewd not to know that he had only had the preface as yet.

    "Well, the truth is, I have something to say," replied the young man, dashing right into the heart of the difficult subject.  "The works can well afford to pay a manager, and if I manage well, I want to have the pay—that's about it.  I don't forget what I owe you on my mother's account and my own," he added, seeing a some-what hard smile on his uncle's face; "but that is not a debt which can be paid with money.  I want to make my own life.  Give me whatever is fair to live upon."

    "And what might you consider fair?" broke in the old man, looking keenly at his grand-nephew.

    "What you would have to give any other man in my place," was the prompt and straightforward reply.

    "Then you don't mean to live here any longer?" said the old man, interrogatively.

    "I hadn't thought of that: of course, you must make a deduction for my expenses here."

    "What's the odds, man?" said old David: "it'll a' be yours when I'm gone."  It was the first time he had ever made the least allusion to the disposal of his property.

    "But I don't want you gone, and I do want the money—what money I can make—that is, I may want it."  He hesitated a little, and then added, abruptly, "I may marry."

    "Better leave that alone," said the old man.  "But who may the lass be that's taken your fancy?—nobody hereabout, I reckon.  He had jumped to the conclusion that his nephew's heart had been ensnared by some beauty of Bleaktown—the daughter, doubtless, of one of the manufacturers whom he went there to meet on business.  He seemed to expect an answer to his question.

    "I'll tell you that when I get her," laughed the young man.

    "Settle first about the lass, and I'll settle about the siller," rejoined old Haldane, warily.  He acknowledged the fairness of his nephew's request, but he was fond of power, and could not bring himself to accede to it at once.

    But the young man shook his head.  "No, no, uncle," he replied, "I must be sure of what I have to offer.  But I don't want you to settle it to-night.  Think it over, and let me know your mind some day soon.  I'm off to my den now, to finish an experiment I'm trying with the new blue."  And David Haldane the younger rose, and taking a key from the nail on which it hung by the fireplace, nodded in a friendly and yet half-restrained manner to the elder David, and left the room.

    They were both men of strong will, these Haldanes, and a collision between them would be difficult to adjust—nay, if it came to that, would most likely be found incapable of any adjustment whatever, save that of each going his own way in opposite directions.  The elder man had perhaps the stronger will of the two—that is, the least likely to be moved by reason, the least liable to influence.  He would have his own way at any cost, even at the cost of his own comfort and peace, even at the cost, when it went beyond a certain point, of grievous wrong: for a strong will is not in itself a noble quality, as many seem to think; it is as often, indeed, a source of weakness as of strength.

    Left alone in the dingy parlour, old Haldane put out the candles, and sat looking into the fire.  His thoughts had been turned out of their ordinary channel, and, from speculations on his nephew's future, they reverted to his own past.  There was a time when he had not worked only for work's sake, when a vision of home, and wife, and little ones had kept him warm on many a wintry tramp.  There was a time when, as he neared the end of every succeeding round, the vision became warmer, and closer, and brighter as he rested in the little farmhouse, with a fuller purse and a lighter heart, under the same roof with his promised wife, and the day drew near when he was to give up his wandering life, and settle down with her as a respectable shopkeeper.  The old man's brow darkened, and his eyes flashed fiercely in the firelight, as memory retraced, in characters far more vivid than any in which succeeding events appeared, the vanishing of that vision.

    He had left Bleaktown with a heavy pack on his shoulders, but a light heart in his breast, on his last round of travel, when, a few miles beyond the town, he had encountered the two Oglivies, riding with a noisy band of boon companions.  In a frolic they had stopped him—they knew him well—and insisted on buying his whole stock, pack and all.  After some debate with himself, as to whether he should go on to the little farmhouse, a few miles farther in the direction which the riders had taken, he turned and hastened back to town.

    In the pack which he had just parted with there was a pretty silken kerchief, intended for his sweetheart, which he had taken out and reserved at the sale.  This act of reservation had been noticed by Gilbert Oglivie, who insisted on examining the article, and declared that he wanted it for a sweetheart of his own.  After some parley, he had parted with it, and the first thing he did on his return to town was to go and buy, another exactly similar.  Some other arrangements made concerning his future business, he had taken the road again, and hastened to the home of his betrothed.  He entered the house, and there, in the clean kitchen, in her afternoon dress, was his Jeanie sitting down to her wheel with the kerchief he had just parted with, and the neighbour of which he carried in his pocket, folded modestly over her bosom.  Her mother sat knitting in her accustomed seat; but David Haldane's whole world had changed.  He sat glaring at the token of treachery on his sweetheart's neck, for he did not doubt that it was the gift of gay Gilbert Oglivie.

    "Has ony ill come ower ye, David?" the mother had asked, in alarm, and he had made no answer, but had risen and beckoned the girl to follow him.  Bright, saucy, buxom Jean followed him into the little garden, with temper already roused by her lover's looks—for what could there be to look black about when she was by?—and he had sternly demanded how she came by the kerchief.  But Joan indignantly refused to satisfy him.

    He had left her standing there in pride and anger, and gone into the house, and made the same demand upon the mother, and the old woman had answered, simply—"She got it frae yoursel'."  Then David Haldane had left the house never to return.  And there and then had ended the one love of his life.

    "I vowed to be upsides with him," muttered the old man, looking into the fire which threw a lurid gleam over his face.  "I swore David Haldane would be laird o' the lands o' Oglivie, and there's a David Haldane that will!  But for him! I would like to turn him oot alive!  It's little triumph to triumph ower the dead, and we're near of an age, we're near of an age!


 
CHAPTER XXII.

BREAKING UP.


ON that same evening, Peggy and her grandfather sat together by the firelight.  The old man was as in his wonted attitude, slightly bending in his chair towards the pleasant glow.  Peggy sat on a low stool on the opposite side of the hearth, her chin resting on her hand.  She was as wearied out, and feeling the kind of sadness that comes with bodily weariness, she was glad of the healing, restful darkness, and had not lit the candles, but had suffered it to gather round them in the silence.

    "Where's Jean?" said the old man, suddenly.

    Peggy had waited upon him all day, and he had not noticed the old woman's absence until now.

    "She's not very well to-day, grandfather", said Peggy; "but she thinks she'll be better to-morrow.  If she's no better, may I send for the doctor?"

    "She may do about that as she likes, as about everything else," he answered, in a tone of unusual energy, which startled Peggy.

    "Do you want anything? shall I bring the lights?" she asked.

    "No, no," he answered; "there's light enough to light me on the road I'm going."

    His sunken eyes flashed in the firelight under his shaggy brows, and Peggy fancied that his face had a strangely livid look.  She came and sat down by his knees on the hearth, and clasped them as she used to do when a child.

    "Are you ill, grandfather?" she asked.

    "Breaking up," he answered, quickly, and more gently "fast breaking up."

    "What can I do?" she said, clinging to him with a subdued sob.

    "Nothing, little one," he answered.  "What can you do, when the tide is coming up, to keep it from covering the sunken wreck?  I feel the waves about my feet."

    Sitting at his feet, she trembled, as her cheek touched the chill hand.  With all her warm young life she clung to him.

    "Let me send for the doctor," she pleaded.

    "I might have done better to send for him long ago," he answered, with a faint flash of grim humour. "I might not have burdened the world so long.  There's one thing you must promise me, little one," he added: "Whatever you do about this wretched hulk of a body, don't bring any one here to doctor my soul; let me go my way without a stranger standing by my bed, speaking sacred words into senseless ears."

    He alluded to the universal custom of having the minister at every deathbed.  She was silent, and he repeated, "You will mind that, little one—no minister."

    "Grandfather," she said, lifting her face from his knees, "let me be your minister—any one can be a minister.  Let me read to you."

    "Do," he answered, dreamily.

    "I can see by this light," she said, rising.

    She brought a book, her New Testament, stirred the fire, and sat down again at his feet, but seemed at a loss what to read.  But be helped her in this.

    "There is one chapter I remember better than any" he sad.  "If was my mother's favourite chapter, and I learnt it, verse by verse, at her knee.  Read that, little one."

    He named the parable of the prodigal son, and Peggy found the chapter, and read without interruption to the end.

    When it was finished, there was an interval of silence, which was broken, at length, by a sigh from the old man, so heavy as to be almost a groan.  Then he murmured, "Ah! but he was young—the prodigal was not an old man, little one.  If a man feeds long enough with the swine, he becomes as one of them; he has neither the will nor the power to arise."

    "But if he had the power given to him, his being old would make no difference.  Do you think it could to God, grandfather?"

    "You are nearer him than I am, little one.  It is not so many years yet since you came from him, and I have wandered long and far."

    "But you are drawing nearer him again," she answered, "and so we are both alike, perhaps."

    Another pause, and again the old man broke the silence.

    "I feel more myself to-night," he said, "than I have done for years.  If there was only time, I would settle some things to-night."

    "There will be time to-morrow," Peggy answered.  And there is a great deal I want to tell you, grandfather," she said, her thoughts suddenly reverting to Captain Oglivie.

    "Yes, yes, to-morrow," he repeated; "there will be time to-morrow."

    He seemed afraid of breaking the spell of peace which seemed to have fallen on his spirit.

    "Everything seems different to-night.  For years and years I have borne in sullen silence.  I thought it brave little one, when smitten of God and afflicted, to bear it thus, as I thought it brave to blaspheme.  A coward's trick, I called it, to cry to God in time of trouble, when I had never called on him before; and to-night it seems such mad, rebellious folly.  It is all so different if God is indeed a Father."

    The last words were spoken as if to himself, and again there fell a stillness on the room.  There is other joy on earth than that of youthful pleasure, or of satisfied affection—joy akin to that which there may be among the angels of God; and some such joy visited and strengthened the inmates of that silent chamber, as the moments glided past.

    It was time to part for the night.  Poor Tammas came at the accustomed hour, and with many a suppressed groan wheeled his master off to bed.  Then Peggy went down into the kitchen and prepared a dish of gruel, which she carried into the little room beyond in which Jean and Tammas slept, and administered to the faithful old servant who lay there, suffering still more from the impatience with which she endured her ailment, than from the ailment itself.  The truth was, both she and her young mistress had frightened themselves into the belief that the feverish cold which had attacked her was the dreaded fever through which she had nursed the Highland woman and her husband.

    Soon all the house was silent, and Peggy sat dreaming in the firelight, till her little world was a paradise of forgiveness, and hope, and love; then, somehow, the waking dream, in which Captain Oglivie was standing behind her grandfather's chair, and wheeling him about in a garden flushed with roses, while she walked by his side, melted away into unremembered visions.  She had fallen asleep.

    It was quite dark when she awoke, feeling very stiff and cold.  She rose to steal to her room in the dark; for the fire had gone out, and it was no easy matter to procure a light in those days.  As she passed her grandfather's room with noiseless steps, she heard, or thought she heard, a groan.  She stood still and listened, and the sound was repeated.  Then she gently opened the door.  He was breathing strangely, and yet not as if asleep.  She spoke to him, but there was no answer; and, her heart palpitating with sudden fear, she descended quickly to the kitchen to procure a light.

    Tammas and Jean were asleep in the little room beyond, and she was unwilling to disturb them.  The kitchen fire, carefully covered up so as to keep alive throughout the night, speedily gave her the light she sought.  But soft as her movements had been, they had roused the pair of sleepers, and, stimulated by a whisper from his wife; Tammas called out, "Who's there?" in a tone of valorous defiance.

    Peggy went to their half-open door and answered, softly, "It's only me.  I've not been in bed yet, and I think there's something the matter with grandfather."

    At these words, Jean seemed to fling off the illness of the day before, and, wrapped in her plaid, she was soon standing beside Peggy at her master's bed.

    As for him, he seemed to sleep a strange, uneasy sleep, in which he laboured for breath.  It was in vain that they tried to rouse him out of it.  Then mistress and servant looked into each other's face, and each read the confirmation of the fear that this was no sleep, but the dark passage into that slumber from which there is no waking.

    Jean wrung her hands in mute despair, and sat down on the foot of her master's bed, evidently to await the end.  Not so her young mistress.  "Stay here," she whispered, "and I will go for the doctor,"

    "At this time o' nicht, and pitch dark," murmured the old woman.  "Na, na, Tammas 'ill gang, bad as he is at the gait."

    "I'll go in half the time," said Peggy, in a low, firm voice; and with a lingering look at the insensible form on the bed, knowing that even the remnant of life with which it stirred might be gone before her return, she hastened from the room.

    She found poor Tammas reduced, between pain and fear, to something like total imbecility, crouching over the kitchen fire, which he had stirred into a blaze.  But he got the lantern and lighted it for her, and, wrapped in her cloak and hood, she stepped out with it into the darkness.

    How very dark it was! a darkness that might be felt.  Her lantern just served to show her the path.  It glanced on the bole of a tree, now and then, as she took her way through the wood; but beyond rose walls of darkness on either hand, and a canopy of darkness stretched above her head.  The night was moonless, starless, windless.  Worse than the lack of light, Peggy felt the dead calm—the utter breathlessness.  It was like the cessation of universal life.  She reached the foot of the hill, where there was a little thicket of hazel and brier.  Something patted her on the cheek; it was a light branch which she had brushed against.  A spray of bramble caught her.  It felt like the clasp of invisible arms stretched out to detain her.  It needed a high heart to stand still and disengage herself from the clasp.  But she passed on swiftly, over the fields and through the sleeping village, till she came to the doctor's house.  It was all dark too.

    Peggy had knocked rather timidly, and had not succeeded in rousing the servant, but had only roused the more lightly-sleeping master, who, after a short interval threw open his bedroom bedroom window and thrust out his head arrayed in his nightcap, only it was too dark to see it.  In answer to his question, she speedily satisfied him as to the urgency of her mission.

    At length the little doctor came down, having packed himself into his clothes, but having forgotten to remove the nightcap, which nodded approvingly at Peggy.

    "And you came here all alone in the dark," he said, in astonishment, as he gave her admittance.  Then, with sundry ejaculations, he thrust her and her lantern into his study, and hastened to rouse his domestic helps.

    It seemed a long time to Peggy before the doctor's gig was ready; but at last he came and led her out and placed her in it, and taking, from various shelves in the study, some things that might, he said, be useful, placed himself by her side and drove away in the darkness in the direction of Delaube.


 
CHAPTER XXIII.

MARKED FOR THE AXE.


DAYS passed over Delaube before the shadow of death was lifted from the house; but at length a respite came.  Whether by the prompt use of remedies, or by the power of nature, Gilbert Oglivie came back to conscious life.  Though never again to rise from the bed on which he lay, he might still, possibly, have years before him, the doctor said, and on that possibility his grandchild set about ordering the affairs of the little household.

    In the dim dawn of consciousness, it was that tender face of hers that hovered over him, and carried a soothing influence even into his dreams.  When he came out of the shadow, she was by his side; when he looked at her with eyes of recognition, and murmured, "Is that you, little one?" it hardly needed her exclamation of gladness to assure him that one, at least, welcomed him back to life.

    "Oh, I am so glad!" she had cried; and, after a pause, he answered, in a broken whisper, "I did not think to live to make any one glad that I should still live on little one."

    From that day, Gilbert Oglivie was changed.  He had never been impatient with Peggy, who was now his nurse and constant companion; but all impatience, all moroseness and gloom, seemed gone from him.  He had grown gentle and easily guided as a little child.

    Meantime, Jean crept about the house in a feeble and dejected way as unlike her former self as possible.  She was one of those people who can bear any amount of bodily burdens, but who sink under responsibilities of a more serious kind.  Poor old Tammas had become utterly unfit for outdoor work; the oats had perished—were rotting on the field; winter was close at hand; and, unless immediate steps were taken to procure a fresh supply, both food and fire would fail them.  This was a rather dismal prospect in a house which might be snowed up for six weeks at a time.

    One day Peggy wanted something for her grandfather which Jean's limited larder could not supply, and when the anxious nurse ventured to suggest that it might be procured in the village, "Where's the siller to come frae?" burst from the old woman's lips, with a sob of grief and impatience; and sitting down on a chair, she threw her apron over her head, and, for the first time in Peggy's experience, began to cry.

    "You're ill and tired, Jean," said her young mistress, laying a caressing hand on the old woman's shoulder, on which she uncovered her face, and saying, testily, "I'm no ill, and I'm no tired," proceeded to lay bare the utter poverty to which they were reduced—the starvation which stared them in the face.

    "Has grandfather no money at all, Jean?"

    "It's a' done long syne," was the answer.  "He told me himsel', the last time I spoke to him about something that was wanted. I thought o' speakin' to him again "out sellin' some o' the wood: he did that when Mr. Louis was here.  The belt at the foot of the hill was cut doon then; but I was feared to speak to him for puttin' him in a passion, and then this illness came on, and—"

    "I'm not afraid to speak to him, Jean," interrupt Peggy; she might have added, no one need fear him now.  "I'll ask him at once what we had better do."

    The result of this little scene was, that Peggy was empowered to sell as much of the wood as was needful.  It had not disturbed her grandfather to be told of the necessity, as she had told him, with her small hand resting in his, and her fearless smile of trust and confidence shining on him.  They were not far apart, these two, now.  The human relation was being merged in a divine relation in which the elder was as the younger.

    Peggy lost no time in going down into the village, and taking her way to the shop of Mr. John Frazer, wheelwright and carpenter.  A gig stood at the door of the shop, and within stood the wright himself, up to the knees in shavings, talking to a tall old gentleman, who appeared to be waiting while one of the men examined the wheels of the vehicle, with which something had gone amiss.

    Seeing that there was a pause made for her, Peggy stated her business in the simplest way; and the wright, with a great deal of deliberation, informed her that he was not in immediate want of the timber, but he would like to have a look at it, nevertheless.  If it served his purpose, he might possibly buy it, and find a use for it some time or other.  She replied that he might come and look at it at once—the sooner the better, as it was to be sold without delay: and on this he promised to come that very afternoon, if she liked.

    The man was a keen buyer, and he smelt a bargain, which was sufficient to tempt him if he had needed the article less than he did.  She accepted the promise with thanks, and took her departure.

    The wright saw his visitor very politely to the shop door, watched her a little way up the street, and then turning to the gentleman, who had witnessed the interview, said, "That's Miss Oglivie o' Delaube; ye'll maybe no' ken her, for she's lived like a hermit up on the hill there a' her life.  They maun be ill off, I fear!" he added, "or they would na cut doon the wud."

    If the wright had been observing his companion instead of his visitor, he would have noticed a variety of strange expressions passing over his handsome, but usually quite unreadable, face.  He had fixed his eyes with the keenest scrutiny on Peggy, as soon as she named the wood of Delaube, and his feelings had varied from vindictiveness to exultation; the latter was uppermost while he listened to the last words.  He could have laughed aloud.  He was exulting over the man who had wronged him.  He had triumphed at last.

    But his face wore its usual mask of strong determination, as he said, in reply, "I'll buy the wood, John—as much of it as they like to sell."

    "You're very kind, Mr. Haldane," said the wright, rather irrelevantly, it might seem, but wishing to make his listener believe that he thought it was out of compassion he was about to make the purchase.

    "It's out o' no kindness," replied Mr. Haldane, roughly; "I want it, man."

    It was very easy to see that he meant what he said.  John Frazer saw the bargain slipping through his fingers; but Haldane was his oldest and best customer, and not to be gainsaid, so, with the best, possible grace, he acquiesced in the proposal that he should go over that afternoon and make a valuation of the wood to be sold, to be purchased by that gentleman.

    "Make it as fair as if you were the seller and me the buyer, John," said Mr. Haldane; and it was clear he was in earnest in that too.

    "Weel, weel," answered Mr. John Frazer, "there's naebody to look after things but that bit lassie, only it's no every ane that would deal sae kindly by her."

    John's little bit of flattery had not the usual effect of relaxing the somewhat stern features of his customer.  In truth, it had irritated him almost beyond control, and he took his leave in a not over-genial manner.  David Haldane did not find his triumph wholly pleasant to him—it would have been the worse for him if he could.  He knew quite well that this unrelenting hate was a black spot on his soul, and the only good about it was, that he did not attempt to whitewash it.  He knew it to be a black spot, and when Mr. Keith would have had him become an elder of the kirk, the man of blameless life and high integrity, with an eye to that black spot, had answered, resolutely, "No."

    David Haldane the younger was at a loss to understand the restlessness which had seized his uncle on that particular afternoon.  The former sat working at his desk, the latter had taken to pacing up and down the counting room, with his hands behind his back.  At length the old gentleman fairly startled his nephew, causing a long column of figures, just at the summit, to topple over in his brain by halting abruptly before his desk and saying, suddenly, "Would £300 a year satisfy you?"

    "For the present perfectly," replied the young man, quickly recovering from the irritation and confusion of the overthrow, and much astonished at the inopportune time which his uncle had chosen for his announcement.

    "I mean to add a house to live in," continued that personage, "if it's all right about the leddy."  The younger David smiled, thanked him, and turned to his books again.

    Having paced up and down a little longer, the old man came to a halt again, as abruptly as before, and asked his nephew a question more startling still.  "What would you think of Delaube for a place to live at? you know the house—an easy ride from here," he said.

    Had he guessed anything?  It was not much, his nephew knew, that could be hidden from those keen old eyes.  But the young man replied, after the most approved manner of his country, by asking another question.  "What in the world has put Delaube in your head?"

    "It'll soon be in the market, or I'm mista'en," answered his uncle, and went on to say that he was there and then waiting for John Frazer in order to accompany him thither, and make a valuation of the wood for sale.

    Young David's heart beat with great strokes against his side.  On the impulse of the moment he was about to offer to go with his uncle, but just then one of the men came in to say that John Frazer was waiting outside.  With a nod to his nephew, the old man hastened away, leaving the former evidently infected with his restless mood.

    When Mr. Haldane and John Frazer reached Delaube, they stopped at the foot of the hill, and the latter alone went up to the house, from which he speedily issued again, accompanied by Peggy.  They prepared at once for the work before them, Mr. Haldane taking out his notebook, and the wright furnishing himself with a pot of paint and a brush, which he had brought with him in the gig.  And first they took a walk round the hill to get a general view of the wood.  Mr. Haldane was very silent, but he could not help saying a few words to the fair girl who led them through it, and pointed out so patiently the finest trees she knew; he could not help looking at her, and seeing that she looked sad as well as patient.  And the sadness gave her face—which seemed made for smiles instead of tears—an appealing expression, which melted the man's frozen manner into something very like kindliness; and to kindliness from any living creature, Peggy responded like a flower to sunshine.

    The last place she led them to was her favourite spot, her wood-chapel, and they had no sooner entered the grove than Mr. Haldane said, "We had better begin here.  These are well-grown trees, are they not?"

    His companion assented.  Peggy stood beside them, white and trembling.

    "What do you say, Miss Oglivie?" the wright asked, appealing to her, "May we begin here?"

    "If it is all the same," she said, "I—I wish you would leave these."

    It was not the "woodman, spare that tree" sort of sentiment that prompted the eager words.  It seemed to her that the place resolved her painful doubts.  She could not bear the thought that it should be swept away.  It stood there as a witness for her.  It would be easier to believe in faithlessness if it suffered change.

    Mr. Haldane was about to insist that these were the very trees he wanted, but, looking sharply at Peggy, met the appealing look, and desisted.

    "It is quite the same where we begin," he said; and they went farther round the hill.

    At length, tree after tree appeared marked for the axe with a ring of white paint round the bole; and Mr. Haldane, who had kept summing up aloud the value of the wood, stopped at the sum, which Peggy had named as the extent of the sale.  It was only twenty hounds; but wood was cheap in that part of the country, and a goodly number of tall firs had been doomed for this.  The purchaser was ready to take more, and Peggy gladly arranged to let him know when any further sale was decided on.  He was also ready to hand over the purchase-money on the spot but he wanted a formal receipt, and, not wishing to trouble her grandfather more than could be helped, she asked him to be kind enough to send it ready for signature.  This he promised to do, insisting, at the same time, on her receiving the money.

    "I'm going down to the works now, and will send it at once."

    "You are Mr. Haldane!" said Peggy, with an incomprehensible smile, and holding out her hand to say good bye.


 
CHAPTER XXIV.

AN UNEXPECTED VISITOR.


WITHIN four narrow, bare, and, it must be confessed, very dirty walls, the manager of the print-works pursued his experiments in colour.  It was generally in the mornings and evenings that he occupied himself in this way, often working both early and late, while the day was consumed in general superintendence.

    On the evening of the day on which his uncle had made him the offer of an income, handsome enough in those days and in that part of the country, he had retired to this inelegant, and not inodorous, sanctum.  But the young manager was not as usual busy with his bottles and his powders.  He was sitting idly swinging in his chair, earnestly contemplating a fierce little fire that burnt on the hearth at his feet.  He wore a look of intense and pleasant occupation nevertheless.  It was with substances more ethereal than pigments, however, that he was engaged.  He was mixing the ideal colours of his future life, and the predominant one at present appeared to be couleur de rose.  He might seem to be looking straight at a dirty bit of plaster, but between him and it there was a world of beauty and of love, and in its charmed centre the face which alone could radiate for him the sunshine of life.

    The manager had had a very late night, but it had been necessary for him to get to work again early on the succeeding morning.  He had been at it for several hours indeed, when he was called out of his sanctum to see after something in another part of the works.  As it was only across the court, however, he left the key in his private door, which was never left unlocked save when he was either within or near at hand.

    He had only been gone a few minutes when he returned, and there, like a realization of his dreams of the night before, seated in the single chair of his inhospitable den was Peggy Oglivie.  She had asked for Mr. Haldane, and the porter had concluded that it must he the younger she wanted, and, finding the key in the door, had ushered her into the sanctum, and hastened in search of him.  She was looking round on the shelf of huge volumes lettered "patterns," and at the assortment of bottles of all sizes, and shapes, and colours which stood about, when he entered.

    She rose as he did so, and he met her grave, sweet smile with a rather embarrassed air.  It is always trying to meet our dreams in the morning light.  Moreover, David Haldane was but a man, and he remembered that he had on a very shabby old coat, and could not help seeing that his hands were not over-clean.  He looked, it must be owned, rather awkward and constrained as he held out the dirtiest of the hands to show that it was not fit to be taken.

    Her smile in return was quite reassuring, though it might not have been so to a vainer man.  She was not likely to notice either his coat or his hands.  But her frank eyes looked at himself in an altogether unembarrassed, and therefore unembarrassing, way, as she said, "Good morning," and added, "I have been wondering what you have got in these strange bottles."

    "I hope you have resisted any curiosity as to their contents," he replied, recovering himself completely; "there is enough in them to poison half Bleaktown.  It is here that I experiment on colours and washes," he explained.

    Before he could say anything further, she had taken a folded paper from a little black silk bag which she carried in her hand, and now presented it to him.  He unfolded it mechanically.

    "This is for my uncle, not for me," he said, seeing a receipt, written out in his uncle's half-text hand, signed by Gilbert Oglivie.

    "A lad brought it last night, and was to wait for the signature," she answered; "but my grandfather was asleep, and I could not awake him, so I brought it here myself.  I should like very much to see the works," she added.

    Nothing loath, and telling her that he must lock up that Bluebeard's closet of his, he led her out and shut the door, and taking the key in his hand, proceeded to guide her through the rambling buildings.  He took her first through the lower floors, where streams of water were running and pouring in all directions, with men and boys paddling about in them, some with bare feet, and some with clattering wooden shoes, while they transferred long webs of wet stuff from one huge vat to another.  Now and then he stopped to explain something, as she stepped daintily over the wet floors; but she only shook her head at him till they were out in the court again.

    "It's so confusing," she said, when they were clear of the swishing and splashing, "Is it always like that in there?"

    He did not know the drift of her question, and laughed as he answered, "Yes, except that it's sometimes worse."

    He had led her through the drying-rooms, where she felt suffocated with the furnace-heat, and then through the printing-rooms, where she could not hear her own voice for the deafening clatter of the blocks, and as yet he knew nothing of the impression it was making on her.  He only knew that he was unspeakably happy in having her near him.

    Passing through the counting-room and wareroom they came to a light, airy apartment, whose windows, commanded a view of the river, the meadow and the woods beyond.  The workers here were few, and the place free of all noise and confusion.  It was here that the artistic element of the work was elaborated.  At one end of the room a few men were engaged in drawing, or rather copying patterns, while the rest were carving out the wooden blocks used in printing.

    "I am obliged to go to Glasgow or Manchester, and sometimes even to Paris, for designs," he said, as they looked over a book together; "and these we must adapt to the taste of our customers.  I might have done something in this department myself," he added, "for I am fond of designing; but there is so much to see after that I have no time."

    "You will think me very vain, but I am sure I could improve on this," she said, pointing to one of the designs.

    "It is not so easy as it seems," he answered, "to produce something new without being strange, and simple without being tiresome.  Look at the hideous things which novelty alone produces, and the stupidity which is the result of want of invention;" and he put before her some dress patterns.  One resembled nothing so much as a brown crab sprawling over a white ground, and another was an ugly miniature of a cabbage-rose, leafless and stalkless.

    "I am quite sure I could draw prettier patterns than these," she repeated.

    "You would make plenty, of money if you could," he replied.

    "Will you let me try?" she asked, eagerly.

    "Certainly, and be very glad if you can succeed," he answered.

    She was evidently quite in earnest, and was soon engaged in a practical study of the best style then in vogue.

    The teacher was now as eager as the scholar, for a few strokes of her pencil convinced him of her taste and skill; and it had at length dawned upon him—slow to perceive a personal advantage even in his love—that a new and pleasant path of communication had been opened up between him and the almost inaccessible maiden whom it had been his fate to love.

    As they descended the stair—for Peggy speedily remembered that nothing ought to detain her longer from her post at home—they encountered old Mr. Haldane.  He was coming out of the door which led from the house into that part of the works; and when his nephew told him that Miss Oglivie had come to deliver the receipt in person, seeing that the visit was to him, he stepped back with his natural courtesy, and ushered her into the room he had left.  She sat down for a moment in the chair he proffered, till he had examined the paper; then she rose and pleaded the illness of her grandfather as an excuse for hurrying away, offering him on his own hearth her gentle thanks, and her friendly little hand, till he fairly forgot that she was an Oglivie of the Oglivies—forgot, as he looked after her crossing to the gate with his nephew, who had waited to conduct her, and thought what a handsome pair they made, she with her girlish grace and unmistakable ladyhood, and he with his manly vigour and beauty.  Then he remembered, and turned from the window with something that sounded like a curse.  "I would see him in his grave first!  I would sink all I have laboured for at the bottom of the sea!" he muttered, as if in answer to the possibility that entered his mind at that moment.  But he put it aside the next, little dreaming that on that possibility his nephew had already staked the happiness of his life, and was ready to lose in pursuit of it anything else fortune or his uncle had to offer.



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