Peggy Oglivie (4)

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CHAPTER XXV.

BOUND.


"YOU are working too hard.  You are looking pale.  Come out into the wood a little way with me."

    It was David Haldane who spoke, and, as he spoke, he looked tenderly at the fair face of Miss Oglivie, just then bent over a heap of drawings.  His look had in it that intensity which always carries with it a touch of pain.  But she did not see the look.  She would have met many such if she had been in the habit of watching his face, as women watch the faces of those they love.  But she heard and heeded the words, with their tone of half entreaty, half command.  He had earned the right to assume such a tone—the right of a friend whom she had learned to trust and rely on with implicit confidence.  So she looked up as he left off, and said, with a little sigh—

    "Well, I will finish these beside grandfather this afternoon.  I have done a good deal, with your help, this morning."

    He had managed to give her a great deal of help during the past months—a little more, perhaps, than was absolutely necessary, in order to turn her exquisite natural taste into the tamer channel of designing.

    She rose and put away the heap of drawings before her, and went to get bonnet and plaid and go out into the sunshine.

    "I am losing all my healthy outdoor habits," she said, as she came back equipped for a walk; "but I sometimes get so restless with sitting still, especially when I am just finishing something which I want particularly to finish, that I run out into the garden, let the snow be ever so deep.  Jean is more than ever convinced that I have 'a bee in my bonnet;' though, ever since you sent me that first five pounds, she has been much more tolerant towards my eccentricities."

    It should have been spring, but it was winter still.  The March winds, instead of breathing over violets, blew on drifts of feathery snow.  But now, for the first time, the sun shone out with something more than a mere wintry gleam, and promised soon to efface that fairy world—so lovely, and white, and cold—and replace the honest brown earth with its sprinkling of spring flowers.  Everything was flowered now with the beautiful snow-blooms.  They had fallen freshly in the night.  The snow was not deep, as it had been in the early part of the season, but it lay all about Delaube quite trackless and untrodden.  The wind had been blowing in the direction taken by Peggy and her companion, so that each tree fronting them was sheeted in white from head to foot, while on the other side the dark trunk was left bare.  The high light and the deep shadow threw the whole picture into exquisite relief.

    "I am glad you brought me out before all this melted away," said Peggy, the colour rising in her cheeks, and the weight lifting from her spirits, as they moved on through the fairy scene.  "What is it like?" she went on.  "I am seeing a hundred resemblances in the fantastic shapes of the bushes and trees.  This—(pointing to an old thorn, which in summer was nearly as thickly clad with blossom)—is like an immense piece of coral."

    "It is like a huge bride's cake," her companion answered, with a smile for his own more homely illustration.  "I mean the hill; look at that coating of white over the brown bank, crowned with its white trees for ornaments."

    She laughed, and they went on, chatting almost gaily as they went.  There is something to the healthy and hardy very exhilarating in being out in the snow.  The dazzling purity of everything, the fresh, cold, sparkling quality of the air, from which every particle of earthy matter has been swept, refresh the spirit as well as the body, and give it power to cast off enervating influence.  As they walked on, Peggy began to glow with pleasure.  For the first time these many months, she felt a return of the old joyousness which had made her feet trip so lightly and her voice ring so blithely through the woods as she roamed with her boy companions.  It was the triumph of youth and health over every heart-sickening, depressing influence.  Quite unconsciously she had shut back the tide of thought and feeling that rose within, and opened her heart to the happy influx of natural beauty and delight, those great healers of the spirit.

    In this mood she failed to perceive the silence which had fallen upon her companion.  They were quite old friends now, with no need to make talk, and David Haldane had never assumed the character of lover.  Instinctively he had felt that any nearer approach to her would but frighten her away.  At first he had said to himself, in the words of the gallant, proud old ditty—


"He either fears his fate too much,
     Or his desert is small,
 Who will not put it to the touch,
     To win or lose it all."


But he had already won what was far too sweet to risk the loss of carelessly—her confiding, child-like trust.  He must risk this gentle friendship, this pure, womanly regard, the first influence of the kind that had sweetened his life, in order to win her love.  And he felt that he might easily lose it all by putting it to the test; and he did fear his fate.  In the grave trouble and anxiety of these months he could not have tried to win her heart, and in contact with her sweet, unselfish nature his own love had gained unselfishness—a rarer quality in love than at first sight may appear.  The desire to win was overruled by the desire to bless and benefit the beloved object.

    And it was this feeling that now urged David Haldene forward to meet his fate.  He knew, although as yet she did not, that Gilbert Oglivie was slowly but surely sinking into the grave.  The friendly doctor had told him this, with sundry lamentations as to the desolate condition of Oglivie's granddaughter, and marvellings as to what was to become of her when he died.  David Haldane knew very well what would have become of her, if the ordering of her fate had been in his hands.  She would have stayed just where she was, in the dear old house on the hill, where a new day of gladness should have dawned for her in the sunshine of his protecting love.  She never seemed to think of the future that awaited her; but he knew it was a cheerless, friendless one, which he had faith enough to feel that he might brighten.  If a brighter had offered to her willing acceptance, it had come to this with him—his love had so purified itself from selfishness, he would have stood aside and prayed that her gain might be as great as his loss would be.

    She had not noticed his silence; but he was not slow to notice hers.  They had entered a part of the little wood which had been sheltered from the wind, and where the snow had fallen without drifting.  Straight from the smooth, white floor rose the dark columns of the fir-trees in the form of an aisle, closed towards the West by a grand pointed arch, framing the pale blue sky in what now looked like fretted marble—the boughs of the snow-laden trees.  Her silence was so sudden that her companion looked down at her in something like alarm, and asked if she felt ill, which, indeed, she looked, for the glow had faded from her face, and in its paleness her eyes looked almost sunken.  The confinement was telling upon her, he thought.

    "No, I am not ill," she answered, absently, and with a strong shiver; "but I will go home now.  It is so cold, so deathlike here!  Look at that mound under the tree; it is like a coffin under a white pall.  It used to be my favourite seat."

    "You are indeed ill," he said, anxiously.  "Your life is too heavy, too sad for you."

    "It is sadder than you think," she answered.

    He offered her his arm, and she took it gladly, for her limbs were trembling.  She felt his arm tremble too.  But a great desire had come upon her to tell him all her sadness, and she looked up into the face which was bent above her.  Then she encountered that look which there was no mistaking.  There was no manner of use in gentle approaches now.  He saw that she had read his face.  She was conscious of his knowledge that she had done so.  It was time for him to speak.  They stood still, and he spoke out hurriedly.

    "I would give my life to make you happy; is it possible for us to be more than friends?"

    She would fain have stopped the utterance; as it was, she could only murmur, "Oh, Mr. Haldane!  I am so sorry!  It cannot be."

    She had quitted his arm, and he turned away his face to hide the pain that was contracting it; but, as he stood there, quite motionless, she laid her hand upon his sleeve with a look that was half-pitying, half-beseeching.

    "Forgive me if I have been in any way to blame for this,"

    "You to blame!" he exclaimed, turning quickly.  "No; it is no fault of yours.  I have startled you by my suddenness; but why cannot it be?  I will wait; I will work; only I will never change.  As I want you now, I shall want you always.  Say only that it is possible.  You are free?"

    "No, I am not free; I am bound—bound utterly!" and her voice had so sorrowful a sound in it, that he almost forgot his own pain in wondering pity for hers.

    "To whom had she given her love? and who had dared to make it a sorrow to her?" he thought, almost fiercely.  She had covered her face with her hands, and it was all that he could do to restrain himself from clasping her to his heart; but he forced himself to be calm, and to say, calmly, "Let us still be friends."

    It is not often that a man seeks for friendship where love has been denied; but in most cases the woman is ready to grant it; and the pure-hearted girl to whom David Haldane had offered his love was grateful for his friendship.  So he took her passive little hand, and rested it once more on his arm, and led her home almost without a word.

    David Haldane was honest with himself, and he knew that he had not quite given up hope—knew that he would "wait and see;" and if hope had to be given up, there was work, he told himself grimly, work enough to keep a man from—despair.  "One of these boys," he thought, bitterly, "who might have had their choice any time these next ten years, has gained the one prize I coveted;" and he regarded the Grants at that moment with a mixture of feelings in which there was not much of charity.  But why was she so sad—so almost hopeless?  Was there hope for him in this?  There was something he could not explain, turning over in his mind the possibilities of the case; he only knew that in all of them there was torture for him—the torture of doubt and of suspense.  "She will sacrifice herself in some way or other, if she has the opportunity," was the only conclusion he arrived at; and it was a perfectly correct one, as regarded Peggy Oglivie.

    As for her, she did not love David Haldane; but she thought of him higher things than she had been able to think of Captain Oglivie.  No obstacle would have prevented him (David Haldane) from loving her openly and claiming her fearlessly.  No penalty that could have fallen upon him would have caused him to give her a moment's needless pain.  Yet it might not be "needless."  It might be for both their sakes that she suffered from what seemed very like desertion on Captain Oglivie's part, she argued; for she was a little sophist, and could always find more reasons for everything than could anybody else.  One thing had happened to her; she had become more fully alive to the nature of the promise she had made, and to all that it involved.  In the light of David Haldane's love, she felt that it had been too lightly made; she felt that she had parted with a precious thing without knowing its true value; but she had no thought of blame for him who had taken it at less than its price.  "No one ever loved me before," she said to herself, and her sweet loving-kindness, for it was nothing more, went out to her kinsman more strongly than before.


 
CHAPTER XXVI.

THE INHERITANCE.


THE Forest House was far less dismal than in summer.  When the leaves had fallen the sunshine came streaming in.  Through the lovely tracery of forest boughs, the late sun-rise and the early sunset shone and glowed, and were reflected from the windows and the walls.  There was light in the cheerless rooms in those brief wintry days, which was shut out when summer was in a blaze above the woods.

    There was light in the house, for the bare boughs were laden with snow, which had fallen lightly and softly in the night.  An utter stillness reigned all round it; not a print was on the white walks, except that left by the little brown birds who pecked about the windows where they had been wont to find crumbs scattered day by day, by one who loved them and every living thing.  There was something very deathlike in the silence and the whiteness, and in the breathless stillness of the skeleton trees.

    And within there was whiteness and stillness too.  In that room into which the morning sun was entering, through the close-drawn blinds, Janet Oglivie lay dead.  She had died as she had lived, very gently.  The doctor was astonished at her death.  It had seemed to him that the disease was hardly active enough to kill.  It did not occur to him to think that many would die of less than it sometimes takes to kill them, if they came to care as little about living as she did.  People hold on to life by love, and hope, and joy, many and many a time when doctors have given them over in despair.  And when she drew near the end, the timidity that had overwhelmed her, hiding all that was individual in her, passed away, and she began to speak what was in her mind to Margery, in a way she had never done before.  She who had always been led and guided into all her habits and opinions, seemed now to take the lead.  Was she not about to take the lead in the greatest and most solemn step of life—that of leaving it?  She often said strange things to her sister then.  Strange things to say, Margery thought them, and stranger still that she should say them.  One day she said, "I think we might have been happier, Margery, if we had tried; and I think we ought to have tried."

    Margery only shook her head.

    "We had no right to shut ourselves up with our grief.  If we had not done that, happiness might have come to us.  We shut it out."

    "But happiness is not a thing for sinful creatures to seek after," said her sister, in perfect faith, and yet with a sickening heart—a feeling that it might be so, and that life might have been a better and brighter thing for her too.

    "I don't mean," said the dying woman, staggered in her assertion, not in her truth, "that we should seek for happiness, but we ought not to refuse it.  We should be ready to take all of it God puts within our reach; instead of shutting out the sunshine"—it was streaming in upon them—"we should let in all we can.  It's God's sunshine, and there's plenty of God's happiness in the world to warm and light us, even when our hearts are heavy with the sorrows he has sent us.  We might even go a bit out o' our way to catch some o't," she added, with a smile, "as I've gone round by the village to see the bairnies play.  No out o' the way o' duty.  I dinna mean that, Margery: you know I dinna mean that; but it may be in the way o' more."

    She said many things in the same strain, for her loving nature was asserting itself in a deeper faith in the love of God.  And this deeper experience was leading her to expect tenderer treatment from him than she had been allowed to hope for, tenderer treatment for herself and for all.  And when she felt that the expectation purified more than all the fears of torment, and made earthly things heavenly and human things divine, she could not and would not let it go.  And so love made her bold.

    "Margery," she said, when it was very near the end, "I would like to shake hands with Gilbert Oglivie; but he's on his deathbed, and I'm on mine.  Will you go and see him, and tell him my wish?  And there's that bit lassie o' Louis's—she'll be sore forsaken when Gilbert's gone.  I wish you would look after her."

    And now that she—Janet Oglivie herself—was gone, and missed out of that mournful house, as few of the brightest and the best are missed, her words had a weight they had never had in her lifetime, and her sister set about fulfilling them to the letter.

    In the course of carrying out her purpose, she made inquiry of the doctor as to the condition of her kinsman.  It surprised him not a little, for the utter estrangement of the families was a thing of such long standing that it had almost ceased from memory.  But it proved an inlet through which he poured the praises of Gilbert Oglivie's grandchild; and he was not checked in his enthusiasm when he told the story of her devotion.

    "She saved his life, and nothing less, that night" he said, winding up.  "A man might be content to be he who has a nurse like her!—a treasure, I assure you—a perfect treasure!"

    Not only had the doctor received no check, but his story had been listened to with greedy ears.  Margery Oglivie was coveting the treasure with all her heart.  But it was not for herself that she did so, though she confessed that she was sorely shaken by her sister's death.

    Shaken indeed she was, both in mind and body.  She and her sister had been so closely united, that the severance seemed to cost Margery half of her life.  The roots of their lives were so entwined, that when the one fell the other seemed to totter.  Margery began to feel that she too might die; and then what was to become of him, whom they had hitherto sheltered from every ill that could reach his blighted existence?  The contingency was one which had never presented itself to her mind—which could hardly have presented itself to any one's.  Year by year, from his infancy upwards, it had been expected that Alexander Oglivie would die.  It had been considered impossible that he should live.  The sisters had even spoken of, and laid plans for, the time when their sad task should have ended, while they husbanded every spark of the vital flame that flickered so feebly in the poor child's breast.  As he grew towards manhood he had gained in strength; but his hold on life had never been such as to make it in the least likely that he would survive the two vigorous women who nursed and tended him.

    But now it seemed otherwise to the survivor of the two.  He might outlive them both—the idiot heir; and the inheritance, which passed to the sisters on his death, to be disposed of at their will and pleasure, must go to the nearest kin.  For so long as he lived it was his, and no one could dispose of it for him, and his great calamity had rendered him unable to dispose of it for himself.

    In the case of his surviving his sisters, he being incompetent to will it otherwise, all that he possessed—and be had been rapidly enriching during his long minority—would pass to Gilbert Oglivie.

    Louis Oglivie was believed to be dead, because years had elapsed since any one had heard of him; and he had been in the habit of allowing himself to be heard of, from time to time, when he was in straits for money.  Unknown to his father, he had even appealed to the generosity of the sisters, and had not appealed in vain.

    Failing her father, the inheritance would descend to Peggy Oglivie, provided that she could prove herself Louis Oglivie's daughter, of which Margery had had her doubts.

    The sisters had agreed together as to the disposal of the property when it came into their hands, as they had every reason to think it would come.  They had agreed that it should go to the only other Oglivie extant; as far as they knew—to him who would bear the tale in the event of the extinction of Gilbert's line.  Therefore they had been glad to welcome Captain Oglivie, and to find him such as he was.  Margery had her doubts as to the qualities of the young man's heart; but then, she might be mistaken.  Desertion, profligacy, cruelty, ran in the Oglivie blood.  She forgot she was an Oglivie herself; but he might be an exception to the rule.  This disposal was rendered null and void if, as Margery now feared, the property never came to her at all.

    So much thought she gave to Alexander Oglivie's inheritance; but it was far more of himself she pondered, as the possibility of his surviving came home to her.  Who would befriend the helpless idiot when she was gone?  All his riches would not avail to purchase for him more than the cold services of careless strangers.  They to whom his accumulated wealth would go could hardly be expected to care for him, for they were strangers too.  And by whose will had they been estranged?  As she thought of this she felt humbled.  She felt ready to go to Gilbert Oglivie and entreat his favour, ready to propitiate this girl, who was said to be so gentle and so good—who might be the heiress after all, and who might befriend her helpless kinsman, and keep back the curse from following the inheritance.


 
CHAPTER XXVII.

THE EAST WIND.


THEY'RE moving off at last, mother!" said Captain Oglivie, from his sofa, looking up from the letter he had been reading.

    "Who are moving off?" said the lady addressed, in a rather querulous tone.

    "These old Oglivies," her son replied, tossing the letter into her lap.  And silence followed while she read.

    Captain Oglivie's regiment was quartered in Edinburgh Castle; and Captain Oglivie had apartments there, apartments which were dull enough, notwithstanding that the Castle commands one of the finest views in the kingdom.  They simply looked upon a paved courtyard, in which the only movement that was ever to be seen was a company at drill, or a parcel of staring strangers making a pilgrimage to the rooms which Mary Queen of Scots had graced with her presence.

    The captain might walk on the batteries, however, and they might well have atoned to him for the dull outlook of his chambers.  There was the deep green valley at his feet; and beyond that, the fair and regular streets of the New Town, sloping to the green fields beyond; these in their turn running down to the silver Firth, with its islands and its sails; and beyond the Firth if the mists were propitious, there were picturesque shores; and still further to the north and west, hints of cloud-capped mountains.  To the east, among the hills that stand round about the city, there was the bold crest of the Salisbury Craggs, and the rugged head and smooth green flanks of the lion couchant of Arthur's Seat.

    But of these, and of all the other "beauties of Edinburgh," Captain Oglivie got tired before he had been many months in the place: as also of the beauties of another sort whom he met at the endless evening parties which he, as part of his duty, was expected to attend; as also of promenading up and down Prince's Street the fashionable afternoon's lounge, and bowing perpetually to the hundred and one acquaintances who already claimed that honour in the head-quarters of Scottish hospitality.  His mother was with him in the town, and he was tired of her too.  Not that he was a particularly undutiful son.  He was fond of his mother, with the fondness people have for those who devote themselves exclusively to their (the said people's) interests.  But she bored him nevertheless, insisting on accompanying him always and everywhere.  She contrived to get herself asked out with her son continually, and Captain Oglivie knew that she was always on the look-out for a suitable wife for him, and he lived in dread of her finding one.

    His mother's taste and his own did not exactly correspond in that particular.  The captain was fastidious in his taste.  He could not make himself agreeable to a plain woman, and he could not tolerate a stupid one, and he scarcely dared so much as to look at or speak to a poor one, let her be ever so pretty or ever so witty, or even both at once.  He was reduced to living on his pay, and a wife could not be maintained on expectations which had failed adequately to support himself.  Besides, he did not want to get married.  He did not think marriage, on the best of terms, compatible with making the most of himself.

    Poor, with a taste for riches, idle, and yet having in him both the will and the power to exert himself with energy, given something which he considered worth the working for, Captain Oglivie was not a happy man.  Moreover, he was a man deteriorating—a process which, happily, cannot go on without creating some discomfort.  What was good in him was being overgrown by what was bad—by rank selfishness and self-indulgence.

    His mother's apartments were in Prince's Street; he could see the windows from the ramparts above, and he lounged into them every day for luncheon.  She was by no means luxuriously lodged—for the houses are comparatively mean—in "the finest street in Europe;" neither was she a luxurious liver.  In truth, she had barely enough to live upon.

    She was sitting bolt upright in her chair (the backs of the last generation must have been stronger than those of the present), after a frugal meal, at which she drank water, while her son drank wine.  He lay stretched at full length on the sofa, when the servant entered with a letter brought by the midday post.  It was for him, and, with his mother's eyes upon him, he took it lazily, and proceeded to break the seal.  First, however, he looked at the post-mark, having noted the mourning edge, and when he had read it, he manifested a little more interest, by bringing his feet to the floor.

    "What is it?" asked his mother, eagerly.

    But he took his time to answer, and then he vouchsafed the exclamation and explanation recorded above.

    And there was silence in the room until she had read the letter, in which Margery Oglivie announced her sister's death.  She had not written immediately—that is, not till after the funeral, as she did not expect Captain Oglivie to come so far to attend it, at such a season.

    "What a mercy!" exclaimed his mother, when she had finished her perusal.

    "Well, I can't say I see any particular good in it," rejoined the son.  "There's the other old lady, a great deal tougher than the one that's gone; but, for all that, the present Sir Alexander may live longest."

    "I did not mean that the death was a mercy, Horace," said his mother, reproachfully; "but it is a mercy for a man who has suffered so long as Gilbert Oglivie to be taken away."

    "He's not dead!"

    "No; but don't you see what she says at the end of her letter? he's not expected to last much longer."

    "I didn't notice that," said Captain Oglivie, taking back the letter out of his mother's hands.  "It is strange that she should mention him," he muttered, as he re- perused the concluding portion, which, to say truth, he had skipped, as containing only "suitable reflections."  "I shouldn't wonder if they trumped up a reconciliation at the last.  It would be all up with me in that case."

    "How?" said his mother, sharply.

    "I don't think Mistress Margery is specially fond of me, that's all.  But I don't see that it matters much: she is like enough to see me out.  As for Gilbert Oglivie, it seems to me, since he has lived so long, there's nothing to hinder him from living for ever.  I wish," he added, bitterly—"I wish I had learned to work like a man, instead of hanging on, waiting for others to die.  But there isn't a chance in this wretched profession!"

    "You're going to the ball to-night?" said his Mother.

    "I suppose I must," he answered, sulkily; "are you?"

    It was rather an abrupt turn which the old lady had given to the conversation; but it followed quite naturally the association of ideas in her mind, the connecting link being the future fortune of her son.  She replied in the affirmative.  "Do you think you could settle it to-night?" she went on, after a pause.

    "Oh, bother!"

    The settlement thus politely shelved was that of no less important a matter than the securing of the hand of a very plain young lady, who had been recently left an orphan, and was entirely her own mistress, to whom, in a fit of desperation, the captain had contemplated sacrificing himself.

    "Well, there's Miss Jessie Barclay," persisted his mother; "she's pretty enough, and I'm sure she's only waiting to be asked."

    "Stupid as an owl!" he answered.  "I took her down to supper the other night, but I could get nothing out of her but 'yes' or 'no.'  She could not take up the simplest subject—dropped them all—till I could think of nothing more to say.  I could only feed her, and it wasn't an easy task, mother, I assure you: trifle, and tartlets, and creams, disappeared like magic.  She would eat up her fortune in the course of a year, I'm certain."

    "How very ill-natured you are, Horace!" cried his mother.  "She's a sweet young lady."

    "Very," he answered, wickedly; and added, "my dear mamma, your society is infinitely preferable to hers;" a statement which restored the old lady to good-humour and pertinacity at once.

    "Then there's the father, you know," he replied, after listening to a statement of the advantages of marriage in general, and of this marriage in particular; "he is sure to insist on settlements.  I don't want to be thrown over again, as I was by that old soap-boiler only three months ago.  It's most likely this Mr. Barclay would be just the same—ask me how I meant to provide for my wife, and tell me to table an equal sum in case of my death.  It's always the way with these traders; they must make a bargain about everything; and they never think of dying.  There! I hate the whole thing," he exclaimed, his pale face flushing with anger, mostly at circumstances, but partly also at himself for being the slave of these, and he flung himself back on the sofa in no very amiable frame of mind.

    Being in an uncomfortable mood, his thoughts reverted to Peggy Oglivie.  His thoughts did not turn to her very often, indeed, only when he could not help himself.  He was vexed with himself about her, and that did not make the thought of her particularly pleasant to him.  He wished that he had denied himself the gratification of making love to her, and of finding out if she would return it.  But he was not in the habit of denying himself any gratification.  "She was both pretty and clever," he thought; "no, not clever: she might be quite dull at an evening party perhaps; but refreshing, somehow."  He had not felt so like himself—his best self—with any woman since.  "Poor little thing!  I hope she has forgotten all about me by this time," was his reflection with regard to her.  Then he said, aloud, "I wish Miss Margery had asked me to go down, I think I should have gone; indeed, I shouldn't much mind going yet."

    "The wind is in the east, my dear Horace," said his mother; "and you know you cannot hear the east wind."


 
CHAPTER XXVIII.

DEATH AND CHANGE.


DURING the winter, Delaube had not been left so entirely to itself as formerly.  Peggy's name and fame were being spread abroad by her friend the doctor, and one or two ladies of the neighbourhood had ventured to call upon her, half in kindness, half in curiosity.  Their verdict was strictly favourable, for they had found her "nothing particular,"—who ever does find anybody anything in particular in the course of a morning call?  And so their kindness had increased as their curiosity diminished.  Doctor and Mrs. Grant had come whenever open weather permitted them, bringing news of Archie and Sandie at their studies.  And Mr. Keith had also come, accompanied by his wife, a quick-eyed, merry little woman, who could almost have persuaded any one that there was no such thing as care and sorrow in the world.

    It was not, therefore, an unprecedented occurrence that of Peggy being summoned from her grandfather's side to receive a visitor.  But she left him, and went into the long-disused drawing-room, which Jean had lately insisted on furbishing up, expecting to see one or other of the above-mentioned ladies.  It appeared to be a stranger, however, who stood with her back towards the door, looking out of the window.  She faced suddenly round as Peggy entered, saying, abruptly, "You won't know me, I dare say."

    "Now I know you," answered Peggy, at once recognizing the voice, though she had failed to recognize the face—which was in shadow—or the figure, draped in deep mourning.

    The sensitive blood was rising in Peggy's cheeks.  She was at a loss how to receive her, visitor, who still remained standing, and whose embarrassment was so visibly painful.  To put an end to it was her immediate impulse.  She therefore drew near and offered her hand, and Margery Oglivie found herself seated, and speaking as freely as it was her nature to speak, before she knew how it had come about.  After the exchange of a few sentences, "How is he?" she jerked out, uneasily.

    "My grandfather is rather better to-day," Peggy answered.

    "I have come to see him," said Margery, in the same uneasy tone.

    "I must ask him whether he is able first.  It might agitate him to see you without warning.  Shall I go to him now and tell him you are here?"

    Margery assented, and Peggy, more than half-afraid of the consequences, went to prepare her grandfather for the visit.

    It was certainly a great change that had come upon Gilbert Oglivie.  He no longer desired to hide himself, like a wounded beast, from the sight of his kind, and though he trembled visibly at Peggy's communication, he only said, "I am glad she has come; tell her I am glad she has come.  I had thoughts of sending for her, for your sake, little one."

    "For my sake, grandfather!" but the questioning "why," was interrupted by the eagerness with which the dying man repeated, "Send her to me as quickly as you can, child."

    Peggy returned with her message, and speedily ushered Margery Oglivie into her grandfather's presence.  She seemed to divine that the two should be left alone, for she prepared to leave the room at once, saying, "I will come to you when you ring for me, grandfather."

    "Ay, that will be the best," he answered; and as she left the room she saw a thin hand held out to Margery Oglivie from the bed.

    A long time elapsed, so long a time that Peggy became quite uneasy, and still the interview had not come to a close.  More than once she thought of interrupting it, lest it should prove hurtful to her patient.  But at length the visitor came out, looking not paler—she could not well look paler than she was—but, more gentle and subdued, with that abstracted, concentrated look which long-continued or strong emotion gives.

    "He does not want you just yet," she said, softening her harsh tones till her voice sounded strangely humble.  "I have given him some wine.  He will ring for you in a little;" and with a promise to come again, she took her leave.

    An hour after Peggy went into her grandfather's room, and found him asleep, and came away again softly.

    And again she sat patiently waiting, and working also, till the light waxed dimmer and dimmer, and she could no longer see to draw the delicate pattern she was elaborating.  The day was closing, and Jean came in to say it was time for tea.

    Then she thought it would be best to waken the sleeper, and she went in to him once more.  She called to him softly, but he did not stir.  Then she went and drew aside the heavy curtain, and let in the last light of day; and, looking in his face, saw he was dead.  And a great cry rang through the quiet house.

    Gilbert Oglivie lay dead at last; and, instead of looking like a man who has suffered sore defeat, he looked like a king reposing in his triumph.  And he had triumphed.  On the battle-ground of his soul he had routed and put to flight the demons of wrath and pride, and won the sum of all victory—peace.



    It was after the funeral, and Peggy was left alone with Margery Oglivie.

    "What will you do now?" said the latter, in her sudden way.

    "I will stay here," was the answer, very gently spoken.

    "You will come home with me," was the somewhat peremptory rejoinder.

    "I cannot."

    "But it is not fit that one so young as you should live alone," said the older woman.

    "I am not afraid of being alone."

    "You will be the wonder of the whole country-side," said Margery.

    Peggy, in her sorrow, felt utterly indifferent to their wonder.  The argument did not move her.  She only repeated, "I cannot come."

    "Think better of it," said the harsh-seeming woman, with tears in her eyes.  "I'm a poor lonely creature, and I would do what I could to make you happy.  If you knew what it was to wish you had been kinder, when those you might have been kind to will never need it more, you would come.  My life has been very hard.  It's harder now than I'm able to bear almost," and she fairly gave way, and wept.

    She had fallen upon the right sort of argument at last, for Peggy softened at once at the sight of her suffering, and hastened to offer, as a sort of compromise, to go and stay with her for a time at least.

    And thus it was settled.  It was the first spring morning of the year, counting, not by the calendar, but by the bursting of buds, the singing of birds, and the warmth of sunshine, when Peggy set out on her visit.

    She was conscious of a chill falling upon body and spirit as she was driven into the neglected domain of the Forest House, through the open gateway of the principal entrance.  The last year's leaves muffled the sound of the wheels, so thickly were they strewn upon the drive.  The sunshine seemed to be less warm within the enclosure: the very birds seemed to sing less gaily.  She was glad that the gate stood open behind her; it seemed like a way of escape.  Had it closed, she would have felt as if a prison had received and shut her in.

    There was a chill also in the welcome which was awarded to her, not on the threshold, but within the room which she remembered so well.  Margery Oglivie had relapsed into her customary rigidity, and stood, as stiffly as one of her high-backed, uncomfortable chairs, holding out her hand with scanty greeting.

    Peggy forgot, or rather she did not know, how impossible it is to throw off the habit of a lifetime.  And to her, to whom expression was so easy and so natural, who could not help expressing herself as it were, the constraint of one in whom the power was wanting was difficult to understand.  Margery Oglivie seemed cold and constrained, while in reality she was suffering from excess of emotion.

    They spent a painful morning, these two women, with nothing in common but subjects that it was better to avoid, or at least that they thought had better be avoided.  They went over the house, in which there was nothing to see, and they went over the grounds, from which there was nothing to be seen, the place being built almost in a hollow.  They were returning to the house, when, at the end of the walk along which they were advancing, they saw two men coming towards them.  One was the old gardener, and the other was poor witless Alexander Oglivie.

    "You won't be frightened at my brother," said Margery, with an appealing look which softened her rigid features.  "I wished him to keep out of the way for a day or two, but he is not always easy to manage.  He may cry out till he gets accustomed to you."

    With a conscious shrinking Peggy replied that it was better to let him get accustomed to her at once; and so she advanced up the walk, feeling that she would gladly have taken hold of her companion's arm, but fearing that such a sign of timidity would give her pain.

    But, instead of behaving wildly, as he sometimes would, Alexander Oglivie greeted Peggy with a reassuring smile.  It was really only when he was frightened that he cried out, or when any one exhibited signs of fear, and she had put forth all her energies to repress any such signs.  She had even ventured on giving him her hand, and he smoothed it between his own long, thin fingers, as one smooths the coat of a pet animal.  They were to be friends, it was evident, for Peggy's fear had given place to pity, and he seemed to accept her presence with signs that betokened pleasure.  And they were friends from that hour.

    After a day or two he began to seek her, and to follow her about, and to exhibit for her a kind of dumb animal affection, which was very touching.  Margery saw it, and was glad, and yet there mingled with her gladness a feeling that was very like jealousy.  He had been worse to manage since Janet's death: perhaps it was that there had been two to bear the burden while she lived; but Margery, with all her devotion, had never been able to exert over him the soothing influence which her sister had exercised; and here was a stranger who already had more of that influence than she.

    Peggy had taken out her drawing one afternoon, when the poor fellow came to the window, and demanded admittance in a noisy fashion.  Under the impression that he might disturb her at her task, Margery had risen, and was endeavouring by signs to send him away.  But he would not be sent.

    "Please don't," said Peggy, divining the motive; "let him come and sit beside me: he will not disturb me in the least."

    "He will be certain to disturb you," replied his sister.  "He will take away some of your papers.  We cannot keep a bit of written paper for him."

    "Oh, never mind," Peggy answered; "let him come."

    And he came, and manifested an immediate desire to take possession of her whole stock.  But she restrained him.  She always spoke to him as if he could hear and understand.  And while he watched her movements, he did somehow seem to understand.  Then she took her pencil, and made a rapid sketch for him, a rude representation of a tree and a cow.  After that he was content to sit beside her while she drew, till it became quite an occupation for her to amuse him in this way.

    The painfulness and restraint were wearing off between Margery and her guest, greatly helped by the good understanding established between the latter and poor Sir Alexander; but the awful monotony began to make itself felt; Margery felt it for another, though she had never felt it for herself, and strove in some measure to break it up.  She went beyond the grounds in her daily walk; she got the chaise and drove to Delaube, that Peggy might see how Jean got on in her absence.  Still, she was conscious how very dull the life must be to a mere girl, and she could think of nothing to enliven it.  When they sat together, there were great blanks in their talk, "like the spaces between these awful chairs," Peggy thought.  And then the prison-feeling would come over her, and she would look sad, and pale, till the rigid woman who sat opposite regarded her with keen, cold eyes, that ought to have been soft with pity if they had only been lighted from within.

    At last she had thought of something.  Sitting together one evening, she said, suddenly, "I have written to Captain Oglivie, a relation of ours, asking him to come and stay for a week or two while you are here!"


 
CHAPTER XXIX.

CAPTAIN OGLIVIE IS GENEROUS.


ON hearing the sentence recorded in the last chapter, Miss Oglivie's first impulse had been to fly.  She would not meet Horace Oglivie thus.  If he had a mind to forsake her, she would not have him recalled to her side by a favouring circumstance.  She would go home to her own place, and await there till he sought her.  She would have gone further away, if possible.  She longed to put difficulties between herself and him—to set herself out of reach, as it were.  But when, at length, she ventured to propose her plan, it was at once overruled.  Margery Oglivie's will was the stronger of the two, and she received the proposal as one altogether out of the question.  She made it appear to her a positive duty to remain—a positive unkindness to go away.  Therefore Peggy had to make up her mind to stay.

    Then it occurred to her how awkward their meeting must be.  To meet as strangers would be to practise a deceit—to act a lie; to meet as friends would be to reveal to Margery what had hitherto been concealed from her—their knowledge of each other.  Not that she had any right to know their hearts, but their meeting involved a matter of fact which ought not to be misrepresented.   She was very glad, therefore, when Margery proposed to drive over and meet Horace Oglivie herself.  The coach would set him down, very unceremoniously, bag and baggage, in the middle of the road, where a byway branched off to the house, and leave him there.  The point where he was to be picked up was not more than a couple of miles distant, but it would leave him time to make any communication he liked to make.  But, further and better, Margery fixed the day of his arrival for Peggy to visit Delaube.  The elder woman treated the younger very much as she would have treated a child, in making arrangements for her; and she was to be sent for early in the evening, like a child who has been allowed to spend the day abroad.

    Margery Oglivie had her own reasons for sending Peggy out of the way, and arranging for her on this occasion.  She was anxious to have a word or two with the captain herself, in order to remove from his mind a certain misapprehension with regard to Peggy, which she desired above all things to clear away before they should meet, as she thought, for the first time.

    At length the day arrived, and everything took effect as arranged.  The coach was punctual, the captain was duly deposited, Margery was waiting to pick him up, and they were soon driving back to the Forest House together.  Horace Oglivie was aware that, with regard to Peggy, he was on delicate ground, and required to move with caution; yet he wanted to make the most of the short time at his disposal to learn all that he could concerning her in her new position.  During the drive, however, he learnt nothing more than he already knew—namely, that her grandfather was dead, and that she was staying at the Forest House for the present.  Yes, there was one little circumstance which he learnt, just as they were alighting—a circumstance which had greatly relieved his mind—and that was that he should not be compelled to meet Peggy as a stranger in the presence of Margery Oglivie.  That lady had detailed her little arrangement, and on it the quick-witted Horace had founded another of his own—viz., that when the time arrived, he would volunteer for the service of bringing Miss Oglivie back, and thus secure an opportunity of seeing her alone.

    Margery had wound up by saying, just as they entered the house, "When you have had your dinner, I have something to say to you."

    She had spoken in her usual measured manner, and not in harsher tones than usual; but, as he took his way to his room, he wondered what it was she had to say to him, and whether it was possible that Peggy had told, after all.

    And at last the dinner was over, and he ventured to remind her that she had the something to say.

    She began at once.  "You know," she said, "that Gilbert Oglivie and I haven't been on speaking terms for many years—for half a lifetime nearly."  He bowed assent, and she proceeded: "You will understand, by what has happened, that I saw him before he died.  What took place between us concerns nobody but ourselves, except that he begged me to take care of this girl—of Louis Oglivie's daughter and heiress."  She laid an emphasis on the last word, and added, "Her mother's marriage-lines and her father's letters to his wife are now in my hands."

    "What has become of her father?" said Captain Oglivie, not knowing very well what to say, but thinking how very much Peggy's position and prospects would be changed.

    "Dead!" was the stern answer.  "It's more than a dozen years since he was heard of.  Louis Oglivie is dead."

    "So much the better," thought the captain.  "It is just as well, perhaps, for the girl," he said.

    "Yes," she answered.  "If I die before Alexander, everything will be hers.  And if he dies first, I mean to make it hers, if she will now promise that in any case she will never leave him to strangers.  I cannot make it conditional, you see.  I shall have only her word and promise.  But she has taken to Alexander, and he has taken to her.  If she will stay with me, I can make her secure both ways.  Do you understand?"

    "Yes, I understand, perfectly; but I cannot see why I am called upon to do so," said the captain, who was thinking it was rather hard to be brought so far to hear only this.

    "You have a right to know," she answered.  "You may have had expectations; it was quite natural you should.  Under other circumstances it would have been yours.  My sister and I had settled it.  But we have saved out of Alexander's allowance; and if you will let me, I can buy advancement for you.  It is all I have really in my power," she added, "for I believe Alexander will outlive me.  And now I have said all I had to say."

    The conversation terminated as abruptly as it had begun.  Horace Oglivie subdued his conflicting emotions, and politely took to the topics of the day.  At last the sound of wheels was heard on the gravel.  It was the chaise coming round before setting out to fetch Peggy back.  Captain Oglivie was on his feet in a moment, offering to go and bring her safely home; and after some objection from his hostess, on the score of his recent travel, easily overruled, seeing that he had reposed no further off than Bleaktown on the previous evening, he was allowed to depart.

    "He can introduce himself," she thought; and she smiled grimly as she saw him set out.  He was very cool about it.  "Perhaps he is only tired of my company," she said to herself.

    It was rapidly getting dark as he drove along, and by the time he reached Delaube it was dark altogether. The front gate was closed, and could not be opened from without, though it did not seem to be locked.  The truth was that a great stone was nightly rolled up against it.  But Captain Oglivie remembered the little garden gate, and groped his way to it with slight effort.  The same difficulty might have greeted him there, but that egress was still needed.  As it was, he entered, and went straight on to the kitchen entrance, to which the path led.  All was dark save one long, low window, through which he could not choose but see.  An old man was smoking by the fire.  An old woman sat at the wooden table, doing something which caused her head to nod in a measured fashion; and opposite, with the light shining full on her face, sat she whom he had come to seek, evidently quite at home with her surroundings, and holding something apart with her hands.  It was a hank of blue worsted she was holding, while Jean wound it, when Captain Oglivie knocked at the door.

    "That's for me," she said, crossing to open it herself, and expecting Margery Oglivie's ancient man-of-all-work, a relic of the past, like Tammas.

    She was rendered dumb with amazement when she saw who it was, and her heart began to beat fast and her limbs to tremble.  But to an observer she only seemed very quiet and pale.  As for him, he was perfectly cool and collected, meeting her neither warmly nor coldly, and stating his mission simply and with all the grace in the world.  As she went to get ready, Peggy recovered sufficiently to say, "Jean, this is Captain Oglivie;" and when she came back Jean herself lighted them down the garden path, having in the meantime fallen a victim to the captain's blandishments.

    They were soon rattling along in the darkness, and as yet they had hardly spoken, only a hand had clasped hers firmly and fondly.  But, instead of meeting the clasp, he was shrinking from it.  He was treating her as if he had parted with her yesterday, instead of well-nigh a year ago.

    "You are not angry with me?" he whispered, reproachfully, as she attempted gently to withdraw her hand.  "I have managed so well she will never know that we I have met before."

    "Then we must be as if we had never met," she answered—"as if there was nothing between us."

    "That cannot be," he hastened to murmur in reply; "that cannot be, if we love each other still.  It cannot be with me, at least."

    And at that moment Captain Oglivie persuaded himself that he really had been true at heart, and that only adverse circumstances were to blame for his inconstancy.  He persuaded himself at that moment that he loved the shrinking girl beside him as he never had loved any other; and perhaps he did.

    Then he set himself to explain, very delicately, how impossible it was for him to involve her in a clandestine correspondence, and how wretchedly circumstanced they both had been.

    She was sitting with her hands clasped before her, looking out into the darkness, through which they were swiftly passing.

    "Now it is all different," he said; and in saying it he drew yet closer to her.

    She felt his breath warm upon her cheek, and raised her hands to her face.

    Then he threw his arm round her, and whispered her name; and for answer came almost a wail of entreaty:

    "Oh!  Horace, be generous, and set me free!"

    He was here by her side, loving, and she did not love him: the same, and she was changed.  Thus she reproached herself.

    And he, suffering some slight pain beyond that of wounded self-love, withdrew the caressing arm, and, after a little, replied, "You are free; only let me be free also to win back the love I have lost."  He never for a moment doubted his ability to do so.


 
CHAPTER XXX.

THE LETTER IS LOST.


AS in the old childish days, when she wanted everything in heaven and earth explained to her, Peggy Oglivie now sought an explanation of herself.  But she found it as difficult to obtain as it used to be to get at the meaning of the riddles which her oracle, Jean, had been wont to propound in order to be rid of her importunity.  In vain she sat thinking, till her cheeks burned and her brow throbbed, asking herself, over and over again, how it had come to pass that her love for Horace Oglivie had, as it were, shrivelled at a touch.  In vain she flung herself on her knees, and tried to read her heart, as it lay open to the Searcher of hearts.  No true interpretation came.  She had proved herself fickle and inconstant, for under no circumstances, she felt, ought love to change.  The very idea that it could, was terrible—was deadly, and seemed to strike at the root of all faith, human and divine.

    There are men, as well as women, of the feline order, and perhaps Captain Oglivie was one of these.  He was, undoubtedly, very graceful and very agile, both in body and mind; but it might be possible for him to be very cruel.  He was letting Miss Oglivie alone, but he was watching her every movement with the conviction that she was completely in his power; that she could no more resist him, or escape from him, than a mouse could from a cat.  And the more he watched her, the more he liked her—loved her, in his passionless way.  He liked the lovely face and the slight, perfect figure—light as a young birch tree, and the quaint, tender expression of smile, and voice, and speech.  He could marry this girl, and if he did, and she was devoted to him, he would, in all likelihood, go on loving her to the end of the chapter.  But he was capable of marrying her whether she liked him or no; and in the latter case he might, nay, certainly would, cease to care for her.  He could torture the heart that was not his own, and which he yet had power to torture.

    It was Captain Oglivie's opinion, and one which he had not unsuccessfully put to the test, that he could conciliate whom he chose to conciliate, and win whom he chose to win.  But there was one whom he could not conciliate in Margery Oglivie's house: poor witless Sir Alexander was proof against his blandishments.  For one thing he deprived the poor fellow, to a great extent, of his new companion.  He had been suffered to sit beside Peggy, and watch her drawing, till the faculty of imitation had prompted him to seize a pencil, and try to follow the lines of the rude sketches which she made to please him.  Then he would point to familiar objects, and show that he knew that the drawings represented them.  Latterly he had succeeded, with the help of his teacher, in copying some of the simplest forms.  Without knowing it, she was developing what little of mental power he possessed.

    One morning, when Peggy was engaged in teaching him, Captain Oglivie came into the room where they sat together; it was a large, bare room, like a nursery, clean and uncarpeted.

    "It is perfectly marvellous how you can take such pains with that idiot," he said, in a slightly impatient tone.

    "Oh, Horace, see how well he is getting on.  It is quite worth the pains I take."

    "I don't see that it matters in the least."

    "It makes him happier, I am sure," she answered; "and do you know I think it is making him wiser, I believe he feels more and knows more than we think.  What if it should all belong to the body, this idiocy, and be a mere distortion of the power of expression, and the soul should be lying within, suffering a terrible imprisonment?"

    The captain laughed.  It was a pleasant enough laugh, with a slight ring of mockery, not for the thought, but for its truth; but Sir Alexander gave a low growl, like an angry dog.

    "Just look at the creature," said the captain.

    Peggy did look, and was startled by the expression of hate and malice in his face.  "One would think he understood every word," she said.  "You see he is capable of love and hate," she added; "he knows by some instinct that you do not love him."

    Sir Alexander bent muttering over the paper.

    "Do you believe in such instincts?" asked the captain.

    "I'm not sure that I don't," she answered.

    "It's all capable of explanation," he rejoined: "everything is."

    "Well, I suppose it is," she replied, thoughtfully, almost thinking aloud.  "Perhaps there are such delicate indications of character in every look and word and act that they escape the conscious mind and yet impress the spirit."

    At that moment Sir Alexander had looked up again, and met the eyes of Captain Oglivie.  Neither maintained the gaze but for a moment, but in that moment their companion had glanced from the one to the other—from the man with the deformed body and the darkened mind, to the other with his graceful bearing and intellectual face, and there flashed upon her a likeness of expression which made her chill with horror.

    "Come away," cried the captain, "and blow these Scotch metaphysics out of your little brain.  I never saw you look so pale and ill."

    That afternoon Horace Oglivie sat down to write to his mother.  He had been more than a week in that bleak northern region, and his first care was to assure her of his bodily well-being.  There was nothing to hinder him from surviving a winter in the trenches, and yet he could not bear to wet his feet.  Then he went on to tell her the position in which he found affairs.  He gave her an account of his conversation with Margery, and took the liberty of execrating that lady pretty freely.  He paused before he mentioned Peggy.  Any great frankness on that score might bring his mother down upon him in bodily presence.  So all that he said was, "The heiress is rather nice.  I wouldn't mind going in for her and her inheritance at once.  She wouldn't be at all a heavy encumbrance, though I certainly prefer an unencumbered estate.  I almost hope she may inherit direct, and cut out Miss Margery.  As for that hideous creature, Sir Alexander, I dislike him worse than ever—dislike is not the word, I positively hate the sight of him.  I could almost have put an end to him with my own hands this morning."

    It was a hateful, heartless letter enough, though neither he who wrote it nor she who was to receive it would see how heartless and how hateful it was.  The receiver would remain thoroughly well satisfied with the sender, and the sender was thoroughly well satisfied with himself.

    But it was fated never to be sent.  While he was writing there looked in upon him that white face of Sir Alexander's, and on it, deepening as he lingered, the scowl of malice—surely an aimless malice—at which the writer there could afford to laugh.  He sat with his profile to the window, which was slightly in the rear of the table at which he wrote, so that he could look up without seeing the face, grotesque in its maliciousness, that was peering upon him.

    At length the letter was finished, folded, and sealed.  The captain had been warned not to leave letters about, but he intended to walk out and post this one himself; he also intended to have a companion in his walk to the village; therefore he put the letter behind the tomb-like structure on the mantelpiece, and went out of the room in search of Peggy.

    No sooner had he done so than the window was lifted from the outside, and Sir Alexander crept in, went swiftly to the fireplace, and, with a look of concentrated cunning, took possession of the letter.  Giving vent to a gurgle of satisfaction, he thrust it into his breast, and swiftly made his escape as he had entered, not having wit enough to close the window behind him.  A minute or two later, Miss Margery herself came in, and shut it down unsuspiciously.  So, when the captain entered with Peggy, no letter was to be found.  There was, of course, but one conclusion as to who had taken it; but when, and how, was the question.  The captain had met Miss Margery on her way to the room, and had detained her a minute or two, but she had been there ever since.  It was well that she did not see the quick look of suspicion which he darted at her.

    "Did you leave the window open?" she asked at length, when the bewilderment had reached its height.

    "No."

    "Then I know how it has gone," she said.  "I have just shut it.  He has come in and taken it, and gone out again by the window."

    Horace Oglivie did not wait for more.  In a moment he had opened the casement and flung himself out.

    "If he finds him he will hurt him," cried Margery almost wildly.

    "He will never be so base as well as cruel," said Peggy, soothingly; "but I will go after him, and, perhaps, if we find him, he will give it up more readily to me; " and, without further parley, she set off in pursuit.


 
CHAPTER XXXI.

GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY?


WHEN Captain Oglivie got clear of the house, he looked round in every direction to see if he could catch a glimpse of the fugitive.  But though the leafage was yet but a cloud of tender green on each individual tree, he could see but a little way down the tortuous walks, for the closeness of the stems and the luxuriant growth of evergreens which rose every here and there to intercept the view.  He took, however, the narrowest and most tortuous path, as the one most likely to conceal the thief of the letter, and was soon himself concealed among its towering shrubs.  There he stood still for a little and listened; but he could hear nothing for the singing of the birds, whose gleeful little throats he would have stopped on the instant; and could Peggy have seen his face just then, with its expression of murderous rage towards these harmless creatures, because they seemed to conspire to baffle his pursuit, her heart would have known no relenting towards him for evermore.  It was no use standing still to listen, so he soon went on again at a swinging pace.

    "By this time he has either destroyed or secreted it," he said to himself.  "If the former, it does not so much matter, and if the latter, it must be somewhere out of doors here, or about his person.  Out of doors I dare say it would be safe enough; I can keep watch on him for a day or two, and perhaps discover it, and, if he has it, I'll make him give it up; " and he set his teeth as he strode along.

    At length he caught a glimpse of the object of his search emerging from among the trees, and, with stealthy aspect, taking a nearly parallel path towards the house.

    It was easy work to cut off his retreat by crossing the ground, and this was what Captain Oglivie did, for the poor fellow was stealing along, in his shambling way, even more slowly than usual.  But as soon as he saw his enemy, and the expression of the captain's face was not disguised for his benefit, he turned and fled.  He was in the path that led to the gate, and he made directly for it, and into the unknown country beyond.  There was the gleam of the river, and with the captain following behind, he made straight towards it.  But, with his shambling gait, and limbs unaccustomed to the exercise, he could not escape.  His pursuer made up to him, caught him, and detained him with no gentle grasp.

    There was a short but desperate struggle, and the weakling had the best of it.  For one thing, his hideous outcries unnerved Horace Oglivie, who was endeavouring to find his letter by tearing open with one hand the poor creature's vest, within which he was in the habit of concealing his treasures, while he held him with the other.

    Then Sir Alexander, as might have been expected, was not scrupulous, and began to use those natural weapons, his teeth, and his antagonist quitted his hold in horror, when he felt that they were about to close upon his hand.

    Miss Oglivie, who had followed a wrong path at first, had, guided by the cries, come up in time to see the last of the painful scene.

    Sir Alexander had set off again in the direction of the river, and Captain Oglivie was standing still.  The river was full to the brim, for the sun had not yet drunk of it, and the snows had newly melted on the hills.

    "He will fall in!" were the first words Peggy spoke as she came up, to the captain. "Oh, Horace!  Save him!

    "I could not hold him," he answered, hoarsely; and the thought flashed through his mind that it would not be his fault if he fell into the river and was drowned.  "You saw that I could not hold him."  At the same time he started off again.

    As he did so, the hapless Sir Alexander turned and saw his pursuer, and faster than before hastened on to destruction.

    "I am driving him to it! " thought Horace Oglivie, but still he went on, not any longer in wrath or passion, but driven himself, as it were, to be the instrument of death to him towards whom he had, but a moment before, felt the murderous intent.  His heart seemed to stand still as he was borne along—to stand still at the bar of conscience, listening to the strange "guilty or not guilty?"  The one emotion which he felt was suspense.  But it was with a look of genuine horror that he stood on the river-bank, and saw the turbid water broken by the leap of his wretched relative, and the rapid current bearing him hopelessly out of reach.  He looked the picture of despair.  Peggy had never seen such a look on human face before, and her heart went out to him who could suffer thus.  For there was no need to act.  The catastrophe had had another witness, who was already acting, and to better purpose than was possible to either of them.

    David Haldane was already in the middle of the stream.  He had made a leap lower down almost as soon as Sir Alexander fell, for he had seen his wild intent, and was prepared for its consequences, though he had been too far off to prevent it.  He had sprung upon one of the huge stones that strewed the stream, sometimes loose, sometimes shelving out from the bank.  It was covered now; the amber water, coloured with the peat-mosses of the mountains from whence it came, was rushing over it more than a foot high; while on the further side a strong current of drowning depth, was running doubly fast.  It was into this depth that the stream was bearing the drowning man.  Even over the great stone on which David Haldane knelt, the water, shallow as it was, was careering with a force which it took all his strength to resist.  He had just time to secure his position there, and stretch out his arm, when the body, covered, but not sunk, was whirled past.  He stretched out his arm and caught it—a few inches farther out, and it would have been beyond his reach.  As it was, he had a terrible struggle to stand his ground, and raise it sufficiently.  Then Captain Oglivie, obeying his order, came to his assistance, and together they dragged it up the shelving rock, and through the shallow, and laid it on the bank.

    It appeared that nothing worse than a wetting had happened to Sir Alexander.  It had all been done so rapidly, that he was sitting up and beginning to stare about him by the time Miss Oglivie reached the group.  Captain Oglivie had left her side when Haldane shouted to him for help, and she had stood with clasped hands and bated breath watching the rescue.  Now she knelt down beside the poor creature, who began to tremble and to cry like a child.  The two men stood over him ready to help, while Peggy tried to soothe him by holding his cold wet hands in hers.

    But first she had thanked his deliverer.  It was but by a look, but a look eloquent with grateful praise.  She had recognized him at once: she could not fail to do so, for his brown locks were bare, their wonted covering, a Highland bonnet, like a miniature canoe, was dancing down to the sea, the sport of the brimming Strathie.  But he had not recognized her till she came near, so intent had been his occupation with the object before him, and his recognition was eager and demonstrative.  He named her, and held out, not one hand, but both.  It was not that he meant her to take them, for the next moment he was thrusting them awkwardly through his hair, but the gesture was full of meaning: it spoke the man's whole heart going forth towards the supreme object of its desire.

    He had been taken off his guard; and no wonder that it was so, for it was of her he had been thinking as he came up the bank of the river—of her who was further removed from him than ever—almost hopelessly beyond his reach, indeed.  Then his head was swimming with intensity of effort, and the rush of the water was in his ears, as if he had still been looking down into its depths, to snatch from it its prey—the life of a fellow-creature.  He was thoroughly off his guard, and what had become the ruling passion of his life was visible for a moment in look and act.

    In kneeling down by Sir Alexander Peggy had not noticed either look or gesture; but Captain Oglivie had noticed both, and a pang of jealousy was added to the other sensations which he was that day doomed to feel.  He looked from one to the other, and thought as he looked, "These two understand each other."

    They did not understand each other according to his meaning; but the great charm which each might have found in the other—which David Haldane had found in Peggy Oglivie—was the possibility of understanding and of being understood.  And it was to David Haldane that Peggy turned for help as she said, "Let us try and get him to go home, and it may do him no harm."  Then she added, "It is no use thanking you, Mr. Haldane; you seem to be the good genius of the place: you are always at hand to help."

    The words were gall and wormwood to her other listener; and just then Sir Alexander, looking round, caught sight of him, and gave utterance to one of his cries of alarm and rage.  He suffered David Haldane, however, to assist him to his feet, and Peggy took hold of his hand to lead him away.

    David was now on his guard again, and he said quietly, "Are you sure it is quite safe?"

    "Quite safe for me," she answered; "but he may try to escape.  You had better follow me with Captain Oglivie.

    A slight introduction, to which each responded rather stiffly, and the two men were following Peggy and her dripping companion towards the gate, both of them well drenched, and David Haldane hatless.

    Once within the gate, Sir Alexander did make his escape, but to the relief of the whole party he made his way directly to the house, and following him quickly, but still at a distance, they saw him enter.  Then David Haldane halted and announced his intention of turning back.

    "But you are thoroughly wet," said Peggy.  "Come up to the house and get dried."

    He smiled.  She was thoroughly ignoring the necessities of the case.

    "Perhaps I can assist you," said the captain.  "I can lend you a hat, at least."

    "I have been in a worse plight than this," he said, carelessly.  "I will turn back."

    Peggy would have pleaded—had raised her eyes to his for the purpose—but he had become suddenly constrained and cold.  He had been thrown off his guard, and now he was holding to it firmly, and looking thus in consequence.  "Ah," she thought, "he will not come—he will not, willingly, come near me any more," and she held out her hand to him wistfully.

    "Good-bye;" was all he said, and with a second and still stiffer bow to the captain, he turned back to the gate.

    "Boorish," muttered Horace Oglivie: but his companion neither heard nor heeded.  She was walking on beside him, with trembling steps, and a sad, white face: and he, too, said nothing further, but marched up to the house in silence.  It was no wonder he was silent, for his mind was occupied with two distinct trains of thought, or rather two distinct thoughts lying one over the other.  That he was an injured individual was the uppermost—that he had been saved from a lifelong haunting horror, was the one he tried to keep under.  And it was the former that rose to his lips, as they were about to enter the house.

    "So you have thrown me over for that man," he said.

    "Horace!"

    He repeated the words that had stung her.

    "It is all the other way;" she answered, in a low, passionate tone.

    "And you repent it?"

    "It is possible that I may," she answered, deliberately lifting her eyes to his face.


 
CHAPTER XXXII.

GRATITUDE.


THE elder Haldane was evidently in a genial mood.  When he was in a genial mood he was not above a little mild jocoseness with the people about him; and in this humour he had gone about the place all day.  He had ignored signs of remissness here and there, made light of difficulties, and praised praise worthy efforts, in a way that spread good humour over the whole establishment: for of late the old man had been gloomy, and irritable—more gloomy and irritable than his nephew had ever known him to be.

    The death of his old enemy had strangely affected him.  He could never triumph over this man now.  He could never stand face to face with him again, and tell him, "Long ago—perhaps so long ago that you have forgotten all about it—you took advantage of your position to injure me; now our positions are reversed."  This was what he had longed all his life to do—this had become a purpose tenaciously and secretly held: and now it could never be accomplished.  But still he had desired to stand face to face with Gilbert Oglivie again, and that he had resolved to do.

    It had been easy to accomplish his wish without observation.  In that part of the country it is held almost an obligation of friendship to look upon the face of the dead and up to the day of the funeral it is expected that all who have known the deceased will pay this mark of respect to the remains.  There had been few to pay the tribute to Gilbert Oglivie, but among them, though not of them, was old Haldane.  On the morning of the funeral he had carried out his intention.  He knew that the women of the family would be in strict seclusion, according to Scotch custom, and, as it happened, no one had seen him but a hired mourner, who had admitted him to the house, and ushered him into the sacred presence.  He was not a man who analysed his motives, but he repented him of the act as soon as it was done.  The pure, passionless repose of the dead rebuked his enmity.  He was forced, in spite of himself, to bow to the majesty before him, and to go forth from its presence feeling his own littleness.  Not a pleasant sensation to a man who had been all his life feeling his own greatness, and the man who rises step by step, as old Haldane had risen, is ever feeling his relative greatness—his power to fill a higher position.  It is the ensnaring temptation of such men to keep growing in their own esteem.  So he had been very gloomy and morose for some time, and the black spot had burned at his heart.  It was because of what was good in him that he felt it as a sore.  A man devoid of generous feeling would have gone on hating, without so much as knowing that he did so.  But this man was by no means devoid of generous feeling; therefore, his mood had been bitter to himself and others.

    But just because his mood had brightened, his nephew held aloof from him that day, being himself, just then, rather averse to outward brightness.  It was evening before they met—night, indeed, considering the early hours the house usually kept—and the old man had had his tumbler, rendering him more jocose than ever.  He began at once to rally his nephew, and, as is usually the case, he chose the most aggravating subject that there was to choose between them.

    "Well, David, what are ye thinkin' aboot—bringin' hame a young mistress?"

    "Time enough," answered his nephew, smiling, and trying hard not to be annoyed.  "Marry in haste and repent at leisure, you know."

    "Ay, ay, that's well enough in a sense; but somebody may step in before ye.  If ye've chosen a lass to ye're liking, be quick aboot it, man."

    "You seem to have made up your mind that I must marry," said the young man; "it is by no means certain that I shall."

    "The house will be ready," said his uncle, "I've bought it."

    "What house?"

    "I've bought Delaube," was the answer.

    "Has Miss Oglivie sold it?"

    "You mean the grandchild: it was never hers to sell."

    "Whose was it, then?" said the young man, eagerly.

    "Her father's, and he parted with his interest in it long ago."

    "But her father is supposed to be dead."

    "Dead or no dead, it's mine," said old David, in a tone of exultation.  "Gilbert Oglivie had signed the papers too, and on his death the property fell into the hands of the man who lent the money to his son.  It's mine now, and I mean to live there.  It's an easy ride to the works, and I would like a little grandeur in my old days."

    His nephew regarded him with astonishment.

    "I mean to set up a carriage.  Why shouldn't I?" he said, seeing the look of astonishment growing at every word.  "I'm rich enough for that now."  He had risen in his energy, and was walking up and down the room, "You could easily ride over here every morning."

    "What! leave the works altogether?" said the nephew.

    "Yes, you don't think I'm going to live up there all by myself," said the uncle.

    "I would greatly prefer remaining where I am," said the former, rather ungratefully.  "You know I could look after things better on the spot," he added, unwilling to appear ungracious to the old man; "but for you, I think, sir, you have earned more of ease and comfort than you can find here."

    "Things will go on here well enough without you," replied the old man, a little discontentedly.  "I don't mean that there isn't plenty to do, but the main thing has been done for you, David; and," he added, coming up, and laying his hand kindly on the young man's shoulder, "I would just like to see ye marry, lad.  I dinna want ye to lead the mill-horse life I've led.  I would like to see your bairns afore I dee yet."

    The young man was profoundly touched.  "Don't say any more about it, uncle," he said.  "I'm not given to love-making, and my first trial has not been successful.  It will most likely be my last."

    His uncle walked up and down a little longer, regarding him with a queer expression.  "I know who it is that has jilted you."

    "Nobody has jilted me."

    "I know who it is," he repeated, regardless of the interruption, "it's that girl o' Oglivie's.  Her friends ha'e ta'en her in at last, and she thinks she'll be a great heiress; but she's mista'en there: she'll never ha'e a penny!"

    "Stop, uncle! " cried the young man, rising; "I will not hear another word.  You know nothing whatever about it !"

    Peversely enough, old David Haldane, who was ready to vow that he would rather have seen his nephew marry a beggar from the streets than a daughter of the Oglivies, was very wroth at Peggy for jilting him, as he persisted in calling it.

    "I'll say no more about it, David, my man," he said, overlooking the outburst of temper on his nephew's side; "after this night I'll say no more about it.  Something o' the same happened to me in my young days, and a' through Gilbert Oglivie.  It made me what I am.  I never could look at anither, and I never could look at her again.  But you'll be twice the man I am, lad, and I advise you to look out for a wife.  Anybody will be welcome to me, except an Oglivie.  I couldn't stomach that.  I would rather leave my money to found a charity than that it should go to ony wi' that bad blood in their veins.  I'm glad ye've gi'en up the idea o' her, at any rate."

    "But I haven't given up the idea," said his nephew, who had allowed him to go on uninterrupted, for one reason, that the old man had never before alluded to his own misfortune, and his listener's sympathy and interest were roused.

    "Not given up the idea! surely you would never ask a woman twice," said his uncle, sharply.  Instead of an answer, his nephew put a question, but he put it gently.

    "Uncle, in the matter of which you spoke, would you have allowed any one to interfere with you?"

    "Certainly not," was the prompt reply.

    "Then can't you see that it is not likely that I will let anybody interfere with me?  I will never give up the idea as long as I can honestly keep it, any more than you would have done in my place, and though it seems a long way out of my reach at present."

    "There'll be as good as her within your reach.  I tell you, David, you may marry the proudest lady in the land some day; and she has a good chance of being a beggar," said the old man, with the persistence of age.

    "You seem to know more about her than I do."

    "I ken more than most," was the answer; "but we'll say no more about that."

    "Only remember, uncle," said the Younger David motioning to retire, "that I will act in this, as I believe you yourself would have acted, uninfluenced by anything you have said to-night."

    "You mean you would break with me for the sake of this girl?" said the old man, fiercely—he was not of the whining order.

    "No, I should leave that to you," answered his nephew, holding out his hand.  "Good night."

    "Good night."

    "If he had only been my son, I might have forced him to obey me," thought the imperious fortune-maker; "as it is, he may go and leave me at the last, after all I have done for him; " and the old man's heart grew bitterer than ever, and he said to himself, "There is no such thing as gratitude on earth."

    It was through the hands of his agent in Bleaktown that David Haldane had transacted the business of purchasing Delaube, and the said agent had long been watching for it, or any of the adjoining land, to come into the market, with instructions from his client to buy it up at any price.  He had bought it, however, for no very extravagant sum, and his client was highly satisfied.  It only remained to put him in possession, and the agent had had his instructions to warn out the present occupiers.  He now had further instructions that it was to be done as quietly as possible, and without, for the present, allowing his client's name to appear.

    The agent, accordingly, sent down a trustworthy individual, instructed to deal with the parties concerned about the effects of Gilbert Oglivie, to look after the transfer of the estate and the removal of the personal property; all of which he would have accomplished very quietly indeed, but that the guardian of the domain, who held the front entrance permanently barricaded in the absence of her young mistress, on learning the object of his mission, absolutely refused admittance.



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