Family Fortunes (I)

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FAMILY FORTUNES.

――――♦――――

I.

A Servant Woman.


IT was the sunset hour of a wild, windy autumn day.  The city smoke rose up glorified by the golden light in the west behind it, which slept along the green hills by the river side, and faded into a soft grayness upon the eastern sea, only here and there still lingering with a touch of brightness on tall foundry chimney or flag-decked mast.  When one looked down from the glow of the sky, the quaint old streets seemed bathed in cool violet shadows, which brought out strongly whatever was picturesque and suggestive in gable and tower, and such were not wanting in any of the older parts of that city by the sea, whether in the tall dark byways that clustered together behind the harbour, or in the long highway that skirted the wild beach and had an historic and scholastic reputation of its own.

    In the eastern quarter of the town an elderly woman stood watching at the door of a long, low-roofed cottage, which, with its quaint leafy garden, made such a sudden and pretty home-picture among the surrounding dreary walls of factory and foundry, that it won the notice and approving word of nearly every passer-by.  Clearly she was but a servant in that household, and a servant of the old-world type which disdains any disguise of service.  There was no compromise in her short, dark woollen skirt, the gray shawl neatly pinned across her breast, or the snowy cap of thick white muslin.  But the fact was, these were no badges of servitude in the eyes of Barbara Craig.  Her mother and her grandmother had worn the like, and probably had she been a prosperous married woman, instead of an elderly spinster earning her own daily bread, she would have done the same.

    Barbara Craig was one of that species of women which we are always inclined to fear will die out of the world.  They are generally spoken of as "old-fashioned folk," but we suspect that in reality they were never much in the fashion.  Barby was the daughter of a family which for generations had scraped a hard living from a few sterile fields near the source of the Dee.  Character and wisdom had grown there better than crops and fortune.  In her youth, Barby had done the roughest work on her father's croft, faring and toiling as hardly as any of the tramps whom her people were sometimes fain to hire for "a day's darg."  Yet Barby's inner life had been lived in a world as high and pure as any possible to the highest lady in the land—a world whose atmosphere was made of the devotion of David's Psalms, the heroism of the "Scots Worthies," and the romance of antique ballads.  She was not ignorant of the evil around her,—of the coarse frivolity and base sin of feeing-market and bothy; but from her youth up, Barby Craig had been clothed in that armour of light which keeps evil things away by revealing their true nature and tendency.

    Without calculation, one might almost say without reflection, she had given up her youth and early womanhood for others.  Her father's death had left her the sole prop of the old home.  Before that time, one brother, bright and strong, had been laid in his grave among the graves of his forbears, in the ancient burial-place surrounding the ruined chapel.  Her only sister was married and widowed, and lived with her boy in a poverty-stricken northern town, having, as Barby put it, "to fight sair for her ain hand."

    There was nobody to stand beside Barby, as she toiled on, pouring out her strength and skill to keep the old roof over the heads of her agèd mother, and her remaining brother, a cripple.  Barby knew that the battle she was fighting with life was a losing one.  She was but holding out the siege till relief came, and she knew the only reliever would be death.  Her one prayer was that the little garrison might keep together at its stand against ruin and exile till she alone remained to confront defeat.  Even that prayer was not fully granted.  The sick brother died before the day of utter failure, but the old mother lived to know that the ruinous steading and sterile acres, to which she clung with the passionate love of a Highland woman, were to pass into other hands.

    "Whiles I think it killed her," Barby would say in after years.  "Weel, we must a' dee o' something.  An' she'd wearied sair to gang to my father for mony a lang day, though she'd aye seemed to be turned back wi' her clinging to the place he'd worked and warstled for.  I mind her last words: 'Oor lass has done mair than maist folk's lads.'  'Oh think o' ither things, mither,' said I; 'dinna think o' me.'  'I'm just lovin' ye, bairn,' she said.  'God kens I canna do better than that.'  An' sae she deed; and I aiblins thocht I'd dee too, for it seemed no possible to live in any ither place.  But we dinna ken what's possible till we ha' to do it; and when oor hame is a' in heaven, onywhere under the blue lift seems hamely, and ane honest wark is as gude as anither to wile awa' the biding time."

    And so, when her mother died, Barbara Craig, at forty years of age, without a pound in her purse, and with a very meagre store of clothing in her "kist," hired herself as servant to the Farquhar family.

    They had rented a farm near Barby's paternal croft, and when her master, Mr. James Farquhar, had been "the lad Jamie," he and Barby had attended the parish school together.  She had gone with bare head and foot, while he had been comfortably clad; and she had been called off to "the herdin'" when he passed on to the town grammar school.  But she had been the sharper scholar of the two; and James Farquhar had remembered that on the day when the gaunt, strong-faced woman stood before him and professed her willingness to wash and scrub and cook for a servant's simple wage.

    Since the time when James Farquhar had left the old farm for the city grammar school, he had never returned except for fleeting visits.  His home had been in the town.  There he had married.  There he had buried his young wife, under the old steeple, which, in the heart of the city, guarded the city dead.  It was for the keeping of his widowed home that Barby was hired.  But it was to do servant's work at servant's wage and fare.  James Farquhar knew his old neighbour well enough to realize that he had secured a leal heart and busy hands.  But he presently found he had gained something not in the bond, and not to be bought with any price,—a sterling and wise friend and adviser for himself, and a tender and patient guardian for his motherless children.

    Mr. Farquhar's official duties lay about the harbour and the docks, and his snug little house hard by seemed a palace to Barby, accustomed all her life to uneven earth floors and reeking peat fires.  The simple kitchen held comforts and conveniences far beyond those of the "ben end" of her dear old home.  It is hard to believe how heavily the china closet and the linen press and the "polished furniture" lay on Barby's mind during the first days of her new responsibilities, and how anxiously she inquired of Mr. Farquhar whether he thought she was "doing justice" to his possessions.  His assurances of satisfaction were not reassuring to Barby, but threw her back upon still severer self-criticism, since, in her opinion, "men folk would aye say things would do, and would do, till they fall to bits, and then it comes out they'd thought they should last for ever."

    Mr. Farquhar soon found that he could give undistracted attention to his office work, assured that the reins of household discipline were in hands which would not unwisely relax.  Barby stretched herself beyond the scant borders of her own experience for the benefit of "the bairns."  She watched the ways and apparel of the "minister's dochters," that she might have a fitting standard for the manners and appearance of her "wee Miss Margery;" and she had a wonderfully true instinct to discriminate between the essential and the accidental—that fine line which divides noble following of example from servile imitation.  She kept "the lads" up to diligence in studies whose very names she did not understand; and they had a standing joke—how far it was exaggeration it was hard to say—that one fine holiday morning she had exhorted them to "take their wee bit hammers and gang to the bonnie rocks o' Muchalls and chop awa' at their logic."

    And when the young people had wanted books, or extra classes or materials, they always found an aid and an abetter in Barby, the woman who had never been able to buy ten books for herself in her whole life.  Mr. Farquhar sometimes demurred a little over such things.  His income was not large, and he had the future to remember, and knew, perhaps better than Barby, that hankering after the appliances of knowledge is not necessarily zeal for knowledge itself.  But Barby generally won the day.

    "It's a gude way o' wastrie," she would plead, "even if there be a bit wastrie.  There maun be aff-fain's frae ilka table; better that dogs get them than that they go to the midden.  And folks canna put money safer than into theirselves.  If that bank break, its customer breaks wi' it.  Your head and your hands are the last things ye can lose in this losing warld.  There was a wife ance that went hungry to bed to save her supper for her breakfast, and she was deid before morning."

    But of late there had been many consultations in the Farquhar family, for a crisis in its history had come, as it always comes to households when the young people are fast growing up.  Margery Farquhar was now twenty.  The youngest boy was sixteen, and ought to be leaving school; and his brother Robert had already served two years in a chemist's shop, as an employment useful and profitable in itself, and also leading up to and practically testing his fitness for the great ambition of his boyhood, the medical profession.  Mr. Farquhar's modest income had sufficed for the family hitherto.  The question was, could it in any way be made to suffice for three or four years longer, with such extra charges as college fees and expenses laid upon it in lieu of the less costly "schooling"?  Mr. Farquhar's small savings were not very well invested.  He had a slight interest in the old family farm, which his brother, the present tenant, was willing to pay off; and he owned two or three old cottages, which needed such constant repair that no landlord but a mason was likely to make much profit by them.  Mr. Farquhar thought himself rather fortunate when, on inquiry and investigation, he found that these dubious pieces of property would bring him in five hundred pounds.

    He talked the matter over with his children, and he talked it over also with Barby.  She was but his maidservant, and during the consultation she was busy, with turned-up sleeves, washing the parlour ornaments in a bowl of steaming water.  Barby was never reluctant to have her "say" on money matters.  She had had costly experiences on that line.  "I ken whaur siller is best saved," she would say, "by glowerin' for years at the hole whaur ours rin awa'.  Neist to him that wins, him that loses is aye the wisest."

    "The money would carry on the boys, doling it out for their expenses, till they were able to do something for themselves," mused Mr. Farquhar.  "But then it would be gone, and what share would remain for poor Margery?  True, she may marry.  I should think Margery is sure to marry.  She is good and she is bonnie.  I would not die easy if I was called before Margery gets married."

    Barby gave a sniff.  "Ye think unco weel o' the warld, sir," she said, "gin ye think it's the gude lasses it rins after; and unco ill o' the warld, gin ye think it's such a dreidfu' place for an auld maid to bide in!"—

    "I hope I could always trust the boys to look after Margery in any case," observed the father.

    "Ay; but perhaps Miss Margery'd rather need no luikin' after," retorted Barby.  "Perhaps she'd rather ha' something o' her ain to gie than be aye tak—taking.  Dinna mak' the lads like the ruck o' men.  They tak' a woman's ain, and gie it her back for pity's sake."

    "Whatever I have, I should like each to share and share," said Mr. Farquhar; "and yet one third of five hundred pounds would not be much good to anybody.  What I should like to manage is, that the boys should get so much good out of the money while we are all together, that they would feel it quite fair to leave the capital to Margery when the parting day comes, as it comes to all.  But I do not see how this can be managed."

    "Wadna it be weel to buy your ain hoose, sir?" suggested Barby.  "That wad be aye under your ain e'e; and if ever a pinched year come, it's far easier to pu' thro' on a place o' your ain, whaur ye can mak' a shift, and no be ca'ed on to paint or plaster just at the wrang time.  Ye could aye let, gin ye were forced to move; and if ye had a wheen spare siller whiles, ye micht build a bit hoosie on the far end o' the back garden, and tak' a tenant wi'out bein' ony the waur yoursel'."

    "That is not a bad idea," mused Mr. Farquhar.  "The saving of the rent would about pay the extra outgoings of Rab's college; and I'll be working, and maybe saving a little, for years to come.  And Laurie's turn would follow after Rab's.  And there'd be a home for Margery to keep up for her brothers to come to; and whatever she did for herself, she'd have a safe shelter behind her."

    "Ay," said Barby, with something like a suppressed sigh "it's owre muckle the way o' the warld to gar a woman do a' or naething.  It's seldom she gets a fair start like the loons.  If a lass doesna choose to be a gentle beggar, she has to be a giant Goliath o' sense an' courage.  And that isn't in a' o' us, no more than in a' the men!"

    "But should I do well to buy this house?" reflected Mr. Farquhar.  "I like it for old association's sake, and it is very comfortable within.  But its situation is out of the way, and its approaches are very humble and rather dingy.  Shouldn't I do better to get a neat little villa in the west end?"

    "Na," said Barby with emphasis.  "D'ye want to buy a housefu' o' new plenishing?  It's ill pulling doun nests; the wind and weather do that sune enough.  Auld freends dinna ken the road to a new hoose.  Dinna open the door to Change till it's chappin'.  It's better to wish yoursel' awa' whiles than aye to wish yoursel' back again.  I'm no sayin' ye live cheaper here than ye could in a braw place.  Folks can live cheap whaur they like; but it's easier liking it in some places than in ithers.  There's no sae mony frippery shops this gait, nor frippery wearers either, for the distraction of Miss Margery.  An' the lads pairt frae their class freends wi'out haein' to pass a' the baited traps whaur the ithers turn in and waste their siller and theirselves.  Tak' this hoose, if ye can get it, Mr. Farquhar.  An' as Mr. Fraser is laying land to land amang those new fashionable terraces, aiblins he'll no mak' muckle ploy about selling it to you."

    And it came to pass that, after due consideration, Mr. Farquhar found every reason for following Barbara Craig's advice.  She was looking out for him, now, this autumn evening, to return from Deeside after completing his sales there, and probably also after completing his purchase in Mr. Fraser's office, where the legal documents were lying waiting to be exchanged for the cash.  Robert Farquhar was away at his work in the chemist's shop; and Margery and Laurie had gone out to take tea with some friends.  In her innermost heart, Barby had felt this as a want of respect for the greatness of the occasion.  To the young people these money matters meant only "business;" to poor Barby's hard experiences they were fraught with all the significance and solemnity of life.  The spirit of her own fruitless struggles stirred within her this afternoon, and she felt possessed by a restless anxiety which drove her out of her kitchen and her accustomed methodical ways.  It was not like Barby Craig to stand watching at a door, and when at last her master appeared in sight, she drew back abashed.

    "Well, Barby," he said cheerily, "for once it has been easier to get money than to pay it away.  For I got in all my cash on Deeside this morning; and when I came back to Mr. Fraser's office just now, he had gone away, and the place was all locked up.  There it is," he went on, laying a roll of notes on the parlour table.  "They look very like Margery's old curl-papers, don't they?"

    Barbara stood and gazed.  She had never seen such a large sum of money in her life before, and it awed her, not with a miser's greed, but with a patient woman's thought of all the pain and struggle, the very life and death, which might be involved in its loss and gain.  There had been a time when one of those hundred pound notes might have been her earthly redemption from toil and loneliness.  They were nothing to her now—no more than to an angel from heaven.  They could do nothing for her.  But she gazed at them wistfully, as the glorified spirit of one who had died of thirst might gaze at a crystal stream.

    "Well," said Mr. Farquhar, dropping back in his old dropping easy-chair, "it's a great thing to feel that the Lord has blessed one and prospered one's ways, and given one to see of the works of one's hands."

    "Ay, sae it is, sir," answered Barby, rallying.  "If so as ye'd be able to say as weel that the Lord had blessed ye though he had crossed ye in each o' your paths, and hadna left ye ane bawbee o' a' your sair earnin's.   He's ta'en the ane way wi' the ane o' us, and the tither wi' the tane; but I'll no believe He hasna blessed us baith alike, and I'll no give in that He cares mair for you than for me, nor for me than for you!"

    "Whisht, Barby," said her master.  "You must not take me up so ill.  You needn't judge that I was thanking the Lord for His goodness in the spirit of the self-satisfied Pharisee."

    "I'm no takin' you up ill, if you're thankin' the Lord for His goodness," returned Barby, with a strong emphasis on the last word.  "But if you're thankin' Him for the five hundred pounds ye're makin' sae muckle aboot, ye micht as weel thank Him that ye had nae pair relations to wear it oot on.  Only that praise micht nae sound sae seemly."

    "It tak's a' sort o' climates to mak' up a warld," Barby went on presently, as if she desired to apologize for the warmth with which she had justified the ways of Providence with herself—"It tak's a' sort o' climates to mak' up a warld, and what will not grow in ane will grow in t'ither; and there's the blessèd sea between to let them pass to and fro.  It's weel for you to ha' been able to save your bit siller; and it's been weel for me to hae an auld mither and a lame brither to hand me back frae savin' mine.  An' sae ye've got wage to gie me, and I'm at your service.  An' that's the way God's warld fa's in, and rubs along and manages itsel' a deal better than if you got a committee to organize it, as one is always reading in the papers."

    "Barby, Barby," said her master, "I believe you'd have been a great woman if you'd got an education."

    Barby gave an ominous grunt.  "Na," she said; "I'd best bide as I am.  A bit rock wi' the bonnie heather on it catches the eye whiles; but ye'd best leave it as 'tis, for ye'd never mak' a corn-field or a flower-garden of it."

    "But there are some people who are like neither bonnie heather nor corn nor flower," said Mr. Farquhar musingly.  "That scapegrace Willie Fraser is back in Scotland again; for I saw him hanging about outside his father's locked door, like the prodigal son, only this father's door was locked.  It was a sad sight.  It must be a perpetual thorn in the midst of Mr. Fraser's own great success.  And yet one's heart softened to the lad."

    "Ay, because ye dinna love him," cried Barby.  "There's an awfu' wrath in downright love.  God himsel' doesna save folk in their sins, but frae their sins.  There's a time for doors to stand open, an' there's a time for doors to be steekit.  It's the only way to gar some folk ken that they're ootside.  If the prodigal son had come home once or twice, an' worn oot the brave clothes an' ate the fatted calf, an' gone back to the swine, maybe when at last he cam' home to stay, his father wicht have let him work amang the hired servants, an' ta'en no notice o' him whiles, an' garred him fear that he'd worn out his love as well as his dainties.  Love's a kittle thing, an' it's aboon a'."

    "Ay, Barby, so it is.  And there's truth in many of your words," said the, kind-hearted man.  "But when I saw the poor lad, I could not help thinking of the days hen he used to come playing about among the shipping, and asking what is this and what is that; and I could not keep from putting my hand on his shoulder, and saying a neighbourly word to him.  That could do no harm."

    "Ay, nor no gude either, it's likely," retorted Barby, "except maybe to yoursel'.  But one canna tell."


 
II.

In the Dead of Nighty.


IT is almost useless to say that next morning Barby was the earliest astir.  She was always so.  Rab Farquhar used to say she was "the first idea of an alarm."  The man who invented that must have lived in the house with exactly such a woman, and so recognized what a blessing a mechanical substitute would be for those poor mortals who could not secure a living original.  It was great fun to Rab to watch Barby "setting herself," as he called it, on those occasions when an early train was to be caught.  "Half-past five have ye got to be off, sir?" she would say; "then I'll waken at half-past three."  And she had never failed.  Poor Barby!  There was no mystery about it.  What we are apt to regard as the "involuntary" workings of our organisms are very apt, in time, to follow the workings of our wills; and after years of devotion to duty, our very muscles and nerves grow dutiful, too, in their humble way, and loyally follow the immortal soul in service to the eternal God.

    On this particular morning there was no especial reason for rising early.  But somehow this was a kind of gala-day in Barby's mind.  By the time the family sat down to dinner, their house—the dear little home—be their very own.  It must, therefore, be looking its best, as a bride should on her wedding-day.  It should be swept down from top to bottom before the ordinary working-hours should have passed, and the first dinner to be enjoyed in that sense of proud proprietorship should be eaten off the best service,—that service which was only used on New Year's day, having belonged to Mr. Farquhar's grandmother, and being, according to family tradition, of the same pattern as a service which Mr. Wedgwood had presented to Queen Charlotte.  A few of the plates might be a little cracked or discoloured, but it remained the best service, years only adding to its honour, as years always should.  Barby knew all about it.  In happy days gone by, she, a little bare-legged girl, had stood in watchful wonder while her present master's mother, old "Mistress Farquhar," had washed these same plates and dishes with her own hands for the New Year's feast, throwing out, the while, many a notable observation upon the carelessness and thoughtlessness of serving-maids, which Barby had remembered as beacons warning from rocks to be avoided.  Yes, the best service should certainly come out this day, and none should suspect its appearance till they should see it on the table.

    "Ay, it's odd," she said to herself, "the brittle crocks still to the fore, and the auld leddy awa'.  Frae some things ane reads i' the papers, ane wad think that God A'mighty's best wark was the easiest thing broken ava'.  But those that set up for kenning a' things dinna ken e'en their ain foolerie," said Barby, quite innocent that a wise Greek had remarked the same thing nearly two thousand years before.  "But there must have been some noise in this hoose the nicht," she went on, with a ready return from philosophy to practical life.  "For I dreamt.  An' I never dream unless there's a noise, save whiles o' my faither an' mither, an' what gars me tak' that dream I've never found oot.  When I dream I aye find something stirred—maybe a broom fallen, or the cupboard opened by the cat.  Ye'd get rid o' mony ghaists if ye kept your e'e on the cat an' the rottans i' the wa'.  I think it's been the cat this time, for it was a queer dream I had,—a bit beastie creeping through the hoose.  I'd know the creatur' gin I saw it; but I dinna ken what it was ava'—a frightened, savage, starved-like creatur', like Master Laurie says the tigers grow after they've eaten men an' lost a' relish for wholesome food.  Eh me! but I dinna wonner that the Master taught in parables, for His Father did it afore Him, in the making o' the wide warld."

    But Barby found her kitchen just as she had left it,—the brooms upright, the doors closed, not even a stocking fallen from the "clothes horse" thriftily extended upon the hearth at night to absorb the last warmth of the dying fire.  "Some o' them upstairs maun ha' moved," she said, and then dismissed the trifling matter from her mind.

    "Weel," she went on, as she passed up into the little hall—"weel, gin the lads' faither is buying himsel' a hoose, they needna bring in a' the soil o' the shire besides.  Ane wad think it maun ha' been an awfu' trouble to find a' that mud i' the clean streets in the bonnie weather it was yestreen.  Wae's me!"—and Barby stood still, with a low bitter cry—"the muddy feet won in by the back door; and there's been somebody into this hoose sin' the heavy downpour there was at midnight!  The siller! the siller!  Whaur did the maister put it?"

    Robbery was not very vigilantly guarded against in that town.  It might have its own types of roguery, but there was little or none of that professional vice against which society must arm itself to the teeth, so that everybody who indulges himself with a silver spoon must invest in an iron railing to protect it.  People bolted and barred their front doors rather for a decent appearance of doing their duty to their property than from any sense of actual necessity.  Back walls and back doors and side windows were left unguarded enough.

    A moment's reflection revealed to Barby the way by which the intruder had come.

    At the back of the hall, and opening into it by a door which was never secured, was a small out-building with a stone floor.  In summer it was used for such purposes as storing meat or keeping vegetables.  In winter the washing was hung there, when open air exposure would mean rather more dampness than drying.  It had a window and a door opening upon the low-walled back-green, which is such a feature in modest Scotch dwellings.  This door was generally on the latch through the day, but Barby always bolted it before she went to bed.  And being a woman more careful than many of her fellow-citizens, she also hasped the window.  It had often struck her that by the careful removing of a pane of glass the hasp could be unfastened and the whole house opened to an invader.  But then invasion had seemed so unlikely.  Theoretically, Barby had a very bad opinion of the city as compared with the country; but, as a matter of fact, she was always astonished when she found that one could not do as one did on Dee-side—leave one's door open, or, at most, secrete the key in some nook well known to any neighbour who might happen "to want something."

    A hasty glance around convinced her she was right.  There lay the glass and the wrenched hasp.  And there across the stone floor stretched the trail of wet mud,—here a clot and there a streak, but not one defined foot mark.  The nearest approach to that was the outline of a boot toe pointing towards the window.  Whoever had entered had retreated by the same way that he came.

    "Wae's me!" said Barby, "I should have thocht to ask the maister whaur he meant to put the siller.  Gin he left it i' the desk in the parlour, it's sma' use blaming him.  If a woman doesna think, a man canna.  Eh, but I'm feared it's a sad waukening he'll hae this morn."

    The good woman's heart sank to hear the cheerful tone of her master's answer to her heavy knock upon his chamber door; though it rose again when, to her eager question, "Mister Farquhar, Mister Farquhar, whaur did ye put your siller?" he promptly replied,

    "In the drawer of the black press."

    Now the black press was a very ancient article of furniture which stood in a small closet opening only from the master's own bed-chamber.  Its roomy shelves were stocked with the family archives and relics.  There, folded away, was the bridal dress of the dead wife; there the little packet of her love-letters.  Here stood a black-letter Bible, and there a bundle of soft old muslins and laces, which Barby and Margery would now and then reverently turn over, sometimes taking out a trifle, but generally folding all away again.  There was but one drawer among the shelves, and there Mr. Farquhar kept his wife's rings and watch (to which Margery had not yet been promoted), his birth and marriage certificates, and his own will.  "The siller" had been deemed worthy of a temporary lodgment in this sacred receptacle.

    "It's weel ye did that, Mister Farquhar," said Barby, immensely relieved, "for there's been a thief or waur in the hoose to-night.  There's a window broken, and a hasp aff, and footmarks all owre the place.  My heart was i' my mou' wi' thocht o' the siller."

    Barby heard that Mr. Farquhar needed no more rousing.  There was a leap, a sound of scuffling on of wraps, then a drawer opened sharply, and there was a whole minute's silence.

    "The siller's away," said what seemed like a strange voice.  And Barby rushed in and saw her master in his dressing-gown, with the drawer in his hands, pulled completely from its shelf.

    "The siller's awa'!" repeated the staid, strong man, in the accent and voice of the boy whom Barby remembered.  Once, when he had chanced to relieve the herd-boy, during their school days, she had heard him cry, in sore bewilderment and defeat, "The kye's awa'! the kye's awa'!"  She had joined then in driving back the kye."  Now she said, in the same spirit,—

    "Weel, ye've still got them for whom ye wanted the siller.  And it may not be far to find.  Noo, ye may hae some gude o' your police rates.  And if naebody else kens the thief, God does; an' if naebody else finds him, He wull.  But you've got to luik, ony gait."

    This may not sound like sympathy.  But it was what was needed, and that is sympathy.  The stunned head needs vinegar, and not sugar.  James Farquhar was himself again.

    Then followed two or three hours of confusion and amazement and running about.  The police came up from their office, and the neighbours came in from the houses around, and the stereotyped questions and innuendoes were whispered about.

    "It couldn't be done by anybody in the house, d'ye think, Mr. Farquhar?  There's more burglaries from inside than from outside, ye ken."

    "It's a strange thing for a sober man to sleep sae heavy as no to hear whan his ain room door opens."

    "There's mony ane drinks that doesna get drunk."

    "Was it only yersel' an' the woman Craig who saw the notes when you came home?"

    "Ye'll have given receipts for these moneys, of course?"

    To all of which inquiries and suggestions there were —as there well might be—straightforward answers.  Barby ruthlessly despatched the two Farquhar lads, the one to his shop and the other to his school.  She had to summon her master's authority to back her.

    "Is the warld to come to an end because a blackguard has broken into the hoose?" she asked.  "There'd be no comfort in wark ava' if it wasna the ane thing that maun gae on, come what may.  Ye canna help the police, Master Robert.  Ye canna rin wi' the hounds, lad; and if ye interfere at a', ye're like to be the red herrin' trailed across their scent—as I've seen done in my day.  An' it's no man's wark to stand here a' day showin' a wheen dubs o' mud to a' comers.  An auld wife like me can do that weel eno'.  An' as for you, Master Laurie, the mair ye've lost your gear, the mair need to stick to your learnin'."

    "They're weel awa'," she said, as at last they both hurriedly obeyed their father's imperative command to depart.  "Master Rab was burnin' to knock somebody down, and Master Laurie was shrinkin' into himsel' like a wounded bird into its nest.  An' nae wonder!  It was on my tongue's end twenty times to up and tell them that I wasna sure but it was muckle waur to walk into a man's character the back way than into his hoose by the back window, and it might be ill tellin' but those who'd do the ane might ha' done the ither.  I did answer ane fule according to his folly.  It was that fawnin' Wylie, the grocer, who has been sae weel aff ever sin' he was bankrupt.  'Did onybody but you and the master see the notes, Mrs. Craig?' says he, and I could see in his e'e he meant, Had we seen them oorsel's at a'?  'Na, Mr. Wylie,' says I, 'we didna ca' in the neebours; for there's some folks who pass for honest wha might ha' been tempted for sic a sum as that, an' I should na mind tellin' themselves sae, mysel', Mr. Wylie,' says I.  And that settled him.  Eh, but sin stirs up sin!  To think o' the mony unneighbourly thoughts and mean words that have followed that creatur' through the window to rob and defile this house."

    The house was quiet again by this time.  Mr. Farquhar had followed his sons out.  Nobody remained at home but Barby and Margery.  The poor girl followed the faithful woman about; for the whole house felt haunted by an evil presence, and she could not bear to let Barby out of sight.  They were in the kitchen now, where Barby had retired to put away the festal dinner service which she had got out, in the joy of her heart, that morning.

    Margery sat down on the broad edge of the old-fashioned kitchen fender, and watched Barby dusting and stacking away the plates and dishes.  She could do nothing herself, and the elder woman's industry seemed to reproach her.

    "How can you trouble yourself about that china, Barby?" she said, almost fretfully.  "I wonder you can remember such things to-day."

    "The mair one's lost, the mair need to tak' care o' what's left," said Barby.  "But young things aye think the first thunderstorm is the end o' the warld.  The Book doesna say we're to let crosses knock us down; it bids us tak' 'em up, an' carry 'em."

    "Ah, Barby, Barby," wailed the girl, "perhaps you scarcely think how different this may make all our lives.  I don't think I ever thought what money means before."

    "Na, Miss Margery," said Barby quietly, "that's true.  But there's some who have learned what it means, no by losing, but by never ha'ing."

    "Rab will not be able to go to college now, I suppose," sighed his sister.

    "Rab maun gae to college," said Barby, in her earnestness forgetful of the formal titles with which she always scrupulously prefaced her "bairns"' names.  "Gin the twa ends will na meet easy, pull the harder.  Your father expected to save thirty pounds a year in his rent, and to hae a hoose to leave some o' you.  Now ye've got to save thirty pounds a year some ither gait, and to get a hoose for yersel's.  That's no sic hard lines, noo.  But gin ye dinna do it at ance life'll rin doon like the leg o' a stockin' when ye've dropped a stitch.  It'll soon be beyont ye."

    "I'm sure I will do anything I can," said Margery, lifting up her clear gray eyes.  "Only I don't see—"

    "The wull's the thing," interrupted Barby sententiously.  "But then there's wull in words, and wull in deeds.  There need be little change noo, if ye pleased so; only there's such a thing as haein' a better breakfast by putting your supper on the table.  But when you were a wee lassie, Miss Margery, you aye saved your sweeties till ye'd done your bread.  You an' Master Rab aye did so.  Master Laurie, puir lammie, had such a sma' appetite, he couldna tak' baith aften, and he whiles left his bread."

    "It would be grand if we could still manage to get Rab to college!" said Margery.  "I don't think father would mind losing the money so much then.  O Barby, how old and ill he looked before he went out!"

    "Weel," said Barby, coming round to the front of the kitchen table and standing between it and the fire, and speaking slowly and softly, like one who wishes the hearer to receive an idea slowly and to pause before replying to it, "if the master could be anywise agreeable to it—and I dinna think he'd be the ane to mak' a splore—then I ken a way ye could mak' up the thirty pounds a year."

    "O Barby!" said Margery, eagerly.

    "Ay," returned the old servant.  "Could the master and a' of you mak' up your minds to let the parlour and the spare bedroom?  Ance ye got a guid tenant, that wad bring in nae less rent, maybe mair."

    Margery sat gazing into the fire.  She did not meet Barby's eyes watching her.  Her lip trembled a little.

    "It would be awkward to have no spare room," she said constrainedly.

    "Ye'd find room for ony visitor ye loved and really wanted, Miss Margery," returned the old woman.  "The sma'est hoose is big eno' for love."

    "Mrs. Walker would not come any more then!" said Margery.

    Barby's heart lightened, for though the girl's eyes were still fixed on the fire, the trembling of her lip nearly changed into a smile.  Mrs. Walker was no favourite, being a miserly, grumbling old country lady, who thought that city friends had nothing to do but to harbour her, when she wanted to tell them what an intolerable place a city was, and how she wondered anybody could live in such a place except for a few days.

    "That will no brak oor hearts," said Barby; "and an hottle bill will no brak her bank."

    "Aunt Mary could always sleep with me," observed the girl.  That was her father's only sister.

    "O' course she wad," said Barby; "that wad save ye rinnin' in an' oot o' each ither's rooms, as ye aye did, catching your deiths o' cauld."

    "But oh, Barby," the girl went on, gazing more intently than ever into the red heart of the fire, while something which was not its glow mounted to her soft young cheeks,—"Barby, if we should do this, should not we—should not we—lose caste?"

    "Caste, Miss Margery!" cried Barby,—"caste!  Did my ears hear richt? for I ken what the word means frae the missionar' buiks.  An' is it a sensible thing, or a seemly thing, for a Christian lassie to be pickin' up the words the vera heathen are lettin' drop?  What 'caste' did Jesus Christ belang to?  And did He 'lose caste,' as ye ca' it, whan He died on the cross?"

    "Oh but, Barby, Barby," pleaded Margery, "one cannot only look at things so always.  One may for a minute or two—for an hour or two perhaps; but day after day, and year after year, it feels different!"

    "Ay, it do," said Barby.  "It had need so, for it's that teaches us the differ' atween heaven and hell.  Heaven is just feeling aye like we do whiles, noo, and acting up to it wi'out ony backsliding."

    "And the parlour is mamma's own pretty room," cried Margery, "all standing just as she left it!"

    She lo'ed you a' better than her braws," said Barby quietly.  "Wad ye turn your mither's memory into a mummy, and waste a room to keep it in?  That's no God's way, Miss Margery."

    But their further conversation was interrupted by Mr. Farquhar's knock.  They both ran to the door in a half hopeless hope that he might have good tidings.  But no; he had only been to Mr. Fraser's to tell him that for the present, at least, he could not complete the purchase of the house.  And then, with a masculine and fatherly yearning to break the gloom for these hours for the bright young eyes which had looked on so little trouble yet, he went on chatting to Margery, telling her how Mr. Fraser had said she must soon come up to Mannohill House and spend a day with his daughter, and enjoy some of his beautiful grapes.  But when at last Margery went upstairs for some trifling errand, he had something in reserve for Barby, who was hastening to spread the tea-table.

    "Willie Fraser is gone off again."

    Barby saw that her master had some hidden thought in his mind, as he looked significantly at her and uttered this piece of news.

    "The place is little the waur," said Barby.

    "Barby," Mr. Farquhar went on in a lower tone, "God forgive me if I am suspecting an innocent man, but Willie Fraser was the only one in this city who knew I had that money with me."

    "Hoo did he ken it?" asked Barby.

    "I told him myself," said Mr. Farquhar.

    "Trust a man to do a fule thing," observed the plainspoken Barby.  "But hoo i' the name o' wonner cam' ye to do that?  It's no manners for a fu' purse to shake itsel' at a toom pouch."

    "I never can think of Willie Fraser as poor," said Mr. Farquhar rather testily.  "He's always the only son of Fraser of the Foundries and of Mannohill with me.  Well, I said two or three kind words to him—never mind what they were.  And he looked downright kind for a minute—just the face he used to have when he was a lad.  But then he gave a sudden laugh and a scoff, and said he, 'Mr. Farquhar, are you thinking that perhaps some day you'll be paying rent to me, that you can afford to say a pleasant thing to such a ne'er-do-well as I am?'  And then I couldn't help saying, 'I'm hoping to pay rent to no man, Willie; for I've just been selling all my little places up Dee-side, and my business with your father this afternoon was to pay over the money for his house that I live in.'  And I'm sure I did not do it out of pride, but because I was sorry he tried to harden his heart by making believe I was speaking out of self-interest.  And now one of the workmen told me he had seen him go off to London by the early train this morning—off like a cadger with no luggage at all, not even a little bag, as far as he could see.  What do you think of it, Barby?"

    "It luiks black," she said; "but so does everything i' the dark."

    "Don't tell the boys or Margery," Mr. Farquhar instructed eagerly.  "They could not suspect; they would feel sure, and begin grudging and hating."


 
III.

Mannohill.


OF course, the police did not hastily drop their "inquiries."  But when those inquiries lead to nothing in the course of a few days, it is safest to reckon that they will not lead to anything at all.  They had no clue to start with.  All they could do was to hunt up the few notoriously doubtful characters in the town, investigate their proceedings for the last few days, and "keep an eye on them" for a while.  Nothing resulted.  As for Mr. Farquhar's suspicions of William Fraser, he kept them to himself and Barby.  He had no real grounds for them.  The young man had come and gone as suddenly and surreptitiously at other times.  His mere knowledge of the money being in the house would never have made Mr. Farquhar suspect him, but for the circumstances of his reckless character and impecunious position; and Mr. Farquhar shrank from making these accidents an excuse for an investigation, which, whether the young man was guilty or not, must come to his father's ears, and reveal to him to what depths people could imagine his prodigal had descended.  Barby and her master had some discussions over the matter.

    "I'd be for going to his father mysel', and telling him the whole story, gin I was you," she said.  "Maybe, I'd state a case, like as Nathan did to David.  Aiblins it wad be a blow.  But gie me a blow i' the face rather than a stab i' the back—oor twa hands face forward to fecht for oorsel's, gin we know wha we're fightin' with, and what we're fightin' for."

    "But I'm not giving a stab in the back, Barby," said her master.  "I shall never speak about this to anybody but you.  I shall simply wait and see what time brings."

    Barby shook her head.  "King Solomon kenned what he was saying," she said, "when he gied us a hint that secrets are no kept just by no speaking aboot them.  What's i' the heart will oot, gude or bad.  When anes been eatin' onions, he doesna need to tell us sae."

    "But what is it likely his father could say to prove either Willie's guilt or innocence?" asked Mr. Farquhar.

    "That's no oor business," returned Barby.  "Ye dinna ken but he might say, Mr. Fraser, I ca'ed Willie to me that night, and gied him siller to go owre the sea and try his fortune ance mair.'"

    "In that case, he'd never forgive my suspicion," said Mr. Farquhar.

    "Maybe no, and maybe yes," answered Barby; "it wadna be as if he'd heard o' ye talkin' it owre wi' itherfolk, or pryin' aboot himsel' to see if you could pick up anything, or bringing it up, maybe, some day when Master Willie has taken the gude turn and settled doon like an honest man.  It micht come some hard on him, I doot; but whan decent folk shut oot their ain, they dinna adverteeze them as angels.  Ye canna think Mr. Fraser turned against his son for naught."

    "Then why should I burden him with any more trouble about his son?" asked Mr. Farquhar.  "He has resigned a father's pride and pleasure; why should I force on him a father's pain and care?"

    "There's something in that," said Barby.  "But a father's a father still—at least a gude father is; and Mr. Fraser is a decent man, though a wee taken up wi' his ain consequence, puir body,—an' a man's likely to be that if his children are no fain to uphaud him.  An' folk like aye to hae the skelpin' o' their ain bairns, be it to see they hae no owre muckle or muckle eno'."

    "How should I like anybody to come to me with such a suggestion about Rab or Laurie?" asked Mr. Farquhar.

    "Hoo should ye like onybody to hae sic a thought aboot Mr. Rab or Master Laurie?" asked Darby.

    But though Barby thus had the last word on the matter, Mr. Farquhar did not accept her advice, but took his own way.  Only from that day he never alluded to the subject to her, and Barby herself relegated it to that silent limbo into which she thrust all such confidences.

    And so the nine days' wonder of the burglary at the Farquhars' house ended, and the weeks passed on, and the little world around rolled forward as it always does, never mind whose fortune is lost, or whose heart is broken.

    If Barby's advice concerning Mr. Farquhar's suspicion was disregarded, her suggestion about letting the best parlour and the spare bedroom met with more favour.  Margery's countenance fell whenever the matter was mentioned, and at first it always made her silent and inclined to retire from the scene of discussion.  But gradually she began to enter into the subject, and to give out her own notions as to how such a thing could be done, and what arrangements must be made in preparation for a new inmate.  To the boys it was simply a splendid idea—the house would be but the more lively!  Their father cordially sympathized in their approbation of the scheme, though he could not join them when they declared that now everything was all right again, and that, while it was no use crying over spilt milk, here was no spilt milk to cry over.  He knew better.  What would there be for Margery in the years to come?  What would become of them all if his life or health failed before the boys were fairly started?  He had had so little to lose, and yet he felt bitterly that it had been just enough to make all the difference between penury, struggling over the brink of destitution, and wholesome economy, treading narrow paths towards the broad meadows of prosperity.  He began to feel old in those days.  He drew himself up consciously as he went to and from his office.  A man on whose daily health depends the daily bread of his family must not begin to stoop.  His work seemed heavier than before.  He experienced that curious weariness which is of the spirit and not of the body, and an accidental shabbiness of coat or shininess of hat worried the man who once would not have heeded such things.

    Barby said nothing.  There was nothing to say.  But she watchfully availed herself of any little household nicety which involved no cost.  The little pieces of family silver were brighter than ever.  The china and glass were varied as far as the modest resources of the china closet would allow, and everything cracked or torn was carefully put out of sight before "the master" came home.

    The winter session at the college was close at hand, and on the same day that Rab went up for his matriculation examination the advertisement of the lodgings at his father's house appeared in the local newspaper.  Perhaps, had the business been Barby's, she would have withheld the lad from his professional studies until she had secured the lodger who was to eke out their expenses.  Yet such a course might have been rather prudent than wise; but the hard lessons of Barby's life had instilled into her that tenacious holding of the bird in the hand rather than pursuing the two in the bush which the poor learn only by experience, but which is generally an instinct with incipient millionaires.  Barby rightly recognized this hopelessness of hers as a weakness to be endured in silence, not a virtue to be urged upon others.

    "I'll no be like the fox who'd lost his ain tail, and tried to set a fashion so," mused Barby.  "If I'd broken a tooth owre a nut, I'd no pu' out my neebor's teeth; better tell them a' teeth arena made for cracking nuts.  It's a true word, 'Nothing venture, nothing ha';' only I've had to learn it back'ards—Nothing ha', nothing venture.  It's no as if the maister wad rin into debt if nae lodger cam'.  For that matter, he needna pay my wages for a year or twa.  I could trust him, or the lads after him.  An' since I've been in his service, I've gotten claithes enough to last me a wee whilie."

    "You've never paid your visit to Mannohill yet, Margery," said Mr. Farquhar suddenly at the breakfast table.  Laurie had just pointed out to him the first advertisement of their rooms, and this was how he broke the silence with which he read it.

    "No," Margery answered.  She had been to school with Sarah Fraser, though Sarah was her senior by several years, and had been one of the "big girls" while Margery was still a "tiny."  The two had always been friendly.  They had never become friends.  Occasional visits had always passed between the little house and the big one, and these visits were ever going to be more frequent and longer; but they never became so.

    "Then why not?" said her father, rather testily.  "You have a standing invitation; and I should think you two girls, each alone in her own house, might be very glad to pass a little time in each other's society."

    "I will go this afternoon," said Margery meekly.  "I know it is a long time since I have been to Mannohill; but Sarah has never been here since."

    "And is that the way you mean to stand on ceremony with an old acquaintance?" asked her father.  "Is that what young ladies learn at their schools now-a-days?"

    Margery wondered.  Her father had never before interfered with her visiting.  The truth was, the poor man had begun to think that it would be well to become as intimate as possible with a few wealthy and influential people while yet his family could meet them on something like social equality.  His death, or any other fresh and sudden disaster, might end that possibility any day.  For himself, most of his acquaintances hitherto had been among people to whom his friendliness was somewhat of an advantage; for he had been an unworldly man in the even tenor of his life between "riches and poverty," which both alike, though in such different ways, teach hard truths of society and the world.  Now he asked himself, "Why should not one have some friends whose friendship might be an advantage to oneself?"  The idea revolted him, and so he put it differently to his own Mind: "Why should not one be friendly wherever one could?"—a fair enough question, which it vexed him that he could not keep sufficiently apart from sundry haunting reflections; such as that rich people would never let their own personal friends drop into utter destitution—would never permit a nice little girl like his Margery, if left an orphan, to pine in utter neglect, or perhaps even to be driven into coarsest drudgery—would surely be willing to give a hand to the struggles of such lads as Rab and Laurie.  When rich people were always so nobly eager to rush forward with largess for every charitable scheme, however remote, complicated, or incomprehensible, then surely how ready and how happy they would be to extend, not alms, but simply the warm grasp of their upholding, to those whom they knew and respected and loved!  Poor Mr. Farquhar! if the wolf he saw prowling at his door should ever spring upon him, he would soon learn differently.  From time immemorial, the poor man at the gate, whether independent Mordecai or uncomplaining Lazarus, has been no source of delight to the rich man in the mansion.  If the poor man is to gain anything, he must first get away from the gate, and hide himself and his unbending back and his ugly sores.  Barby had a saying which might have helped her master at this juncture, had he remembered it.  It was—"Borrow your neist neebor's blanket, and dinna wait for the laird's gift."

    It jarred him, too, to think of cultivating the friendship of some of the Frasers, while he secretly laid his loss at the door of another.  But then he argued with himself, that if through his suspicion he acted differently from what he otherwise would have done, then he was allowing that suspicion to take an undue hold on his mind.  No, no; let Margery go.

    And Margery went, true to her promise.  She would not have gone of her own free will; but she did not understand her own feelings, as youth never does.  And youth longs for change and pleasure and excitement, and has to seek them vainly in certain directions many times before it is quite sure they are not to be found there.

    It was a glorious afternoon.  The bracing tonic of winter was already in the air, and old people might be beginning to shiver at thought of the bitter chill they did not yet feel.  But a girl like Margery only felt the blood fly swifter through her young veins, and her cheeks but glowed the more freshly, when at open corners the wild wind hastily kissed her before she could avert her face.  Margery was a true daughter of the north, and answered to its voices.  On those bleak moors she felt as if she could have wrestled with giants and conquered them.  As she went along, she laughed aloud to remember her silly prejudice about the lodgings; and then, in the exhilaration of the bright sky and the wide, empty landscape, her walking pace quickened to a run, and she broke into one of the queer little songs which reveal a heart happy, it knows not why.  And in that true light of nature and natural joyousness, all loss and trouble and toil looked only like the rough material for noble lives.

    Mannohill stood about three miles from the last straggling street at the northern end of the town.  It was not far from the sea, little more than a quarter of a mile back from the long yellow shore, with whose fine sand the boisterous wind would powder the coarse and scanty grass which tufted the barren acres behind it.  There was no house between Mannohill and the sea; and it stood high, and looked down on the red roofs of the tiny farms which nestled among the low hills to its right and to its left.  Scarcely a chimney of the house could be seen from any point of view.  It was approached by a long, narrow avenue, cut through a thick wood of larch and pine.  The wind might roar and romp outside, but it could only enter there like a schoolboy on his good behaviour.  This same wood closed around and behind the house, which stood in a semicircular clearing at its very heart.

    It was a tall building—tall at least in a country where most of the houses consisted only of two low stories—and of considerable antiquity, as was in part attested by the thick growth of its ivy in a climate where everything grows but slowly.  Better witness was borne by the huge beams visible in its kitchen roof, and by the rude massiveness and strength of all its domestic appointments.  But these, of course, were not patent to a casual eye.  Probably all its casements had once been narrow and deep, like those which remained still in its higher divisions.  But at either side its portal, broad bay windows had been thrown out, commanding the smooth lawn with its bright flower-beds, the avenue, and the woodland depths.

    On this autumn day the scene was probably at its extreme of stately sombreness.  Winter, with a frosty sun resplendent on icy ground and snowy bough, would make it a fairyland.  Summer, with its soft lights and shades, its scents and songs, its horizon of blue sea dotted with white-winged boats, would make it a paradise.  Not that it lacked colour even now.  The sea might lie gray and misty, losing itself in a gray and misty sky, but the country around was broken up into patches of more varied hue than in earlier seasons.  The wood, though distinctively of pine, did not lack many of those trees whose leaves flush or whiten at the approach of death; and still nearer to the house, gorgeous autumn flowers bedecked the borders.  But all the brightest hues of autumn are those of decay, and carry their own associations with them, be they those of loss and warning to the short-sighted earthly glance, or of solemn hope and trust to those who have lifted up their eyes to the everlasting hills, where the endings of earth are the beginnings of heaven.

    Margery was ushered into the drawing-room.  Miss Sarah was at home.  A bright fire was burning, reflecting itself in the long mirrors and polished furniture.  Yet the room felt oddly cold.  The fire had not warmed it, because there was nobody there to enjoy the warmth.  Not a displaced book nor a scrap of work gave token of human presence.  Altogether the room was a little dreary in its grandeur.  The few pictures—very few—were all of that class which are described in catalogues as "important works of art."  There were no simple etchings or slight sketches, suggestive of those private values conferred by personal taste or love.  The only volumes on the table were costly illustrated editions too heavy to lift.  The ornaments, too, were all ponderous and costly—of the kind which one buys with intent and deliberation at some outfitting crisis of one's history.  There was not a whim or an impulse among them.

    Sarah Fraser did not keep Margery long in waiting.  Certainly, she had not delayed to put any of those finishing touches to her appearance which untidy ladies sometimes require when suddenly called to a visitor.  This was not that such were unneeded, except, perhaps, in Sarah's own opinion.  She might hold herself superior to appearances.

    "And so this is you, Margery," she said, as she came in; "and as bright and blooming as ever.  And I have been fancying you grown quite pale and thin, broken-hearted by your loss.  And so all my sympathies have been wasted!"

    Margery felt the room bigger and colder than ever.  Sarah took a seat close beside her, and Margery instantly felt lonely.  Miss Fraser was a large woman, though not particularly tall; and she gave one the idea of being too much for her clothes, since there was more than one button either amissing or unfastened.  Her silk dress, though tumbled and dusty, was fashionably made, and of a richness of texture rather unnecessary to propriety in one who was fond of including herself among "we girls," and of dwelling on all the disabilities and helplessness of her youth.  About her shoulders she wore a coarse knitted shawl, not particularly fresh, and her really pretty hair was looped up loosely round a comb stuck in awry.

    "You have caught me in undress," she said; I am always so busy, Margery; I am doing something from morning till night.  To-day I have tidied my wardrobe, and arranged the music-stand, and looked after the poultry, and made up the table-flowers, and had a drive.  Does that not sound a morning's work?  You have no idea how much there is to do about a great house like this.  Your dear little miniature home is so easily kept nice; it is no wonder you can come out so trim and bright.  I should think you will not mind having to take a lodger.  It will give you a little more to occupy yourself with.  We saw the advertisement in the paper.  Papa said it showed what sensible people you were."

    What had she thought and—said?  And one doesn't like to be openly praised for common sense.  It is too like being complimented on not being deformed.  And did not Margery's "morning's work" include dusting and rubbing and cooking, while Barby scrubbed and washed?  Were not she and that faithful old servant the two women in a household of three men, with everything upon their hands, except the absolute tailors' everything work, and with stringent necessity for getting full worth out of every penny and full wear out of every garment.  Margery suddenly felt over-driven and imbittered.  Life was hard.  Necessity was cruel.  The earth beneath her was iron; the heaven over her was brass.  Did she notice that she only felt thus now, sitting idly beside this idle woman in her sumptuous chamber?  She never felt so at home, in the bare kitchen, with the company of busy Barby.

    "How beautiful those flowers are!" said poor Margery, letting her eyes, suddenly grown so hot and aching, rest on a china basket filled with chrysanthemums.

    "Do you care for them?  They are only some of our common garden ones.  I did not think you cared for flowers.  I have never noticed any at your place," observed Miss Fraser.

    She might have noticed what there was to notice,—the few straggling, hardy things which would grow in a stony town-garden.  Should Margery let her think she did not love flowers? or should she remind her that even love sometimes has to go lacking?  Margery held her peace.  Either speech was too much for the proud, throbbing young heart.

    "And how are the boys?" asked Sarah.  Margery always shrank from speaking much of her brothers at Mannohill; to praise them, or to display her love for them, seemed to her like throwing stones at the missing son of the house, whose absence always haunted the girl during her visits, as an unhappy ghostly presence might be supposed to do.  She had known and liked William Fraser.  She knew he was counted a scapegrace now, one who would be nobody's welcome guest, nobody's esteemed friend.  She knew that he would not "settle," that he wandered hither and thither, and had strange ways, and mixed with strange people; but she was too young and innocent to realize that darker threads must always mingle with these before the full pattern of reprobate is developed.  And so she thought of him with the simple charity of gentle innocence, always so much wiser than the crude judgments of half knowledge.  Suppose it had been Laurie or Rab?  Thus she thought of William Fraser as she answered his sister concerning them.

    "They are both quite well.  Rab has gone up for his matriculation examination to-day."

    "And is he likely to pass?  How it will worry your father if he does not," said Miss Fraser.

    "I think Rab is quite sure to pass," observed Margery.

    "Don't you think it is almost a pity he should have gone in for a profession?" asked the lady of the house.  "The professions are overcrowded.  Money and influence are both needed to make way in them now-a-days."

    "And yet the greatest men are generally those who have had neither," said Margery, a little roused.

    "Ah, the greatest men, perhaps,—genius, you know, does anything.  But mere mediocrity?  Well, poor Rab! he may be a genius too.  Who knows?  But College life is so full of temptations and dangers;" and here she sighed sentimentally, and gazed into space.  "And more money is made outside professions than within them; and so I think that people whose position doesn't demand that they should enter professional life would do well to think of other things."

    "I think people should try to be what they are best fitted for," said Margery.

    "Ah, that is ideal," returned Sarah Fraser; "and this world is real, my dear.  And a great many of us are really fit for nothing.  I wonder what I am fit for?  It is a great blessing to be well provided for, so that one isn't forced to think about it.  And yet there are advantages in being like you, Margery dear.  One's heart is freer.  If any well-doing young man loved you, now, he could ask for you at once; your family, of course, would only feel what a blessing it was to gain a strong hand to fight and work for you.  But with me it is not so.  There is one—I think you have seen him—such a mind, Margery!  But he has no fortune; he will have to begin life quite humbly.  Papa would not think him worthy of me; he would esteem his offer an impertinence."

    "Is it Hamish MacPhaden?" asked Margery quite timidly.  Love was to her a sacred thing.  She had never fancied herself loving or beloved, and her sympathy was neither cynical nor feigned.

    "Yes; it is Hamish MacPhaden," answered Miss Fraser, taking Margery's hand, and looking into her frank eyes with a gaze intended to convey the intensity of hidden feeling.

    "But are you quite sure?" faltered Margery; "perhaps Mr. Fraser only thought you ought to wait a little while.  Hamish is quite young.  You may put too much stress on something your father said."

    "My dear," said Miss Fraser, rising and folding her woollen shawl about her,—"my dear, do you imagine he has said anything?  Do you imagine Hamish has dared to speak?  He would never dream of such presumption.  He knows his fate too well."

    In that curious mental background which we all keep, one of Barby's homely proverbs would rise to Margery's memory, "Better a finger off than aye wagging."  But she said, with simple sincerity, "I can't help thinking it is a pity not to try."

    "Ah, you can't be expected to understand," sighed Sarah.  "But how could the only daughter of William Fraser of Mannohill marry on two hundred a year?  And yet, oh, I can imagine no higher bliss than fighting your way up by your loved one's side, sparing, caring, conquering at last.  It is the true poetry of life.  You may not feel this as I do.  It is not everybody who inclines to the poetic side of things.  I am not sure that it is for one's happiness to do so;" and Sarah Fraser sighed.

    "And must you be going now?" she said, when, after a little more talk, Margery rose to depart.  "Ah yes.  I should have remembered that it is a long journey, and that you have to make it on foot before dark.  What a wonderful walker you are!  If I performed such a pedestrian feat as you have done to-day, I should make it a red-letter festival, and date from it.  It is a good thing to be so strong.  But when one has a carriage it does not matter much.  I might have driven you part of the way home, but it is too late to order the carriage now.  Will you do a little commission for me in the town?—Oh, but I'm afraid it will take you further out of your way, for it is at the west end."  Margery assured her it should be done either that evening or next morning; and after a few protestations she accepted the promise.  "Well, then, it is to leave this list at my mercer's.  I daresay you don't know the shop, but you'll see the number.  I suppose you deal at some of the good old shops in the old-fashioned quarter; excellent value is to be got there when style and fashion need not be considered.  Of course, I can never shop east of Market Street.  Well, good-bye, dear; come again soon.  Don't wait till I come to you.  I seldom need to be in your district; and it must do you good to come up here.  I might have gathered you some flowers, if I'd thought of it in time.  Good-bye."

    The sunshine had left the sky, and the sunshine had left Margery's heart.  "Sarah Fraser is a vulgar woman," she said to herself.  But the power to recognize this did not involve power to neutralize her influence.  We may say, "This is a foggy night;" but that does not save us from taking bronchitis.

    The homeward journey felt a toil.  "Let me in," she said, as Barby appeared at the door.  "I'm worn out, and I'm naughty, and all the world seems upside down."

    "The world's where it always was," said Barby.  "It is only you who are standing on your head."


 
IV.

Mr. Demetrius Turner.


"WEEL, Miss Margery," said Barby, "I had some news for you last night that I would not tell you when I saw you were a bit put oot, and strokit the wrang way.  It's ill trying fresh food when ye've a bad taste i' your mouth; and the gudeness o' tidings is aye half i' the ear that hears them.  I've had somebody looking after the rooms."

    "Oh, who were they? and what did they say?" asked Margery eagerly.  Since she had buried her first prejudice against room-letting at all, she had begun to build castles in the air upon it.  The highly-strung, imaginative girl was often a little lonely in her home with her busy father, her heedless brothers, and blunt, practical Barby.  Her life-longing had been for the sister she could never have; and since she had entertained the thought of new inmates, she had indulged in dreams of possible women, perhaps young and well-educated, who might be seeking a city-home to shelter them while they either taught or studied.  She had even another vision,—that of some student, a toiling lonely genius, to whom she and Barby might minister, and in whose history, after he had become a great man and a world benefactor, they might receive a humble place; such as, in the lives of the famous, she had often seen assigned to lowly women who had tended their lamp of life before it kindled to its perfect brightness.  That and no more was poor Margery's vision.  She was a pure, fresh-hearted girl, to whom every man was not a possible lover, and she had the womanly yearning for self-devotion instead of the coarse and vulgar craving for conquest.  And so she asked eagerly, "Who were they?"

    Barby answered with deliberation, smoothing out some clothes she was preparing for the "mangle,"—"There was but ane, and he's an auld bachelor gentleman, wi' plenty o' money o' his ain, and na freends.  Sae he said himsel'.  And that looks as if he wasna just unco easy to get on wi', someways.  He tell't me o' his habits: his eating' and drinkin' are simple eno', and he has na visitors ava', an' wants a quiet hoose, and little mair.  He said na a word against the rent I asked; an' he's coming again the day wi' his mind made up."

    Margery's heart felt chilled.  The old bachelor's precision seemed to draw the line between landlord and tenant so hard and firm.  The pretty parlour and the best bedroom would be virtually lost to them all.  There would be none of that interchange of visits, that sense of a common household, which she felt sure would have been soon established between herself and student girls or young teachers.

    "Perhaps he is one of the strange old gentlemen I have heard about," said she, "who go looking over lodgings when they want none for themselves."

    "Na," said Barby; "for he left me his address, so that if I got another offer for the rooms before he came back, he might get the first refusal.  An' he'll come back."

    "Of course, unless we think he will suit us, we needn't take him," observed Margery.

    "Na, na," said Barby.  "But it's no aye the worst fish that bites first."

    "When we have got one offer so quickly, we are sure to get more," Margery went on; "so we can surely wait and choose the most eligible."

    "I ken what you mean, though I dinna ken the soond of that last gran' word," said Barby.  "On ay—just so! but the first hour o' the market is aye the briskest."

    "Or the last, Barby," said Margery.

    "Ay, that's true too; there's a many will come to buy when you'll sooner sell for naething than break your arm wi' carrying hame your stock," rejoined Barby composedly.

    "You have made up your mind he's to come," said Margery, with a little bitterness.

    "Hoots! why should I do that?" retorted Barby.  "It's your father that'll tak' his rent, an' I that will do his work, and maybe thole his temper."

    "Did he like the rooms?" asked Margery.  She felt her own unfairness, and was the more inclined to propitiate because Barby did not seem offended.

    "Ay, he liked them fine," said Barby.  "Real gude auld furniture, he said, nane o' your new-fangled gimcracks, that turn over if ye look at them.  But he said, if he tak's the place a' the china maun be cleared oot; he canna put up wi'—noo, what was the dispareeging name he ca'ed it?—brick on the bracket!"

    "Bric-a-brac, I suppose he said," said Margery, who could not help laughing at Barby's version, though the colour flushed into her clear skin and the tears started to her eyes.  "What can be done with it?  And it has always stood there since mamma arranged it just as it is!  And it is so hard to have strangers coming in and saying 'must' this and 'must' that about one's own old home."

    "My dear missy," said Barby, who was more than ever punctilious in her titles since her master's losses—"my dear missy, there's ane way, and but ane, to keep ither folks 'musts' frame hurting us, and that's to say bigger 'musts' to oor ainsel's.  The auld gentleman couldna say the china must be moved till you and the master and the rest have said the rooms must be let, and that's just because Master Rab must not lose his college education.  The queen on her throne has her own 'musts' and 'mustn'ts;' and sae does ilka bodie, save, maybe, those who hear at the end that they must gang to the poor's-house or mount the gallows."

    Barby had spoken with emphasis.  She went on in a lighter tone, "An' I wasna sorry to hear he didna want the china.  If ye have it into the dining-room, it'll seem as if ye had gotten the twa rooms in ane.  There's some auld shelves i' the attic that a clever lassie like you can soon rig out wi' bits of cloth and fringe, and mak' a real gran' affair, like that oor auld laird's lady used to hae in her ain chamber.  I'd tak' the auld gentleman's hint, Miss Margery, whether he comes or not, and clear awa', and no gie anther lodger the chance o' the china.  Sic things are no considered i' the rent; and gin ye tried ye couldna let the best pairt o' them—the thocht o' your mither and o' her foremithers."

    "That's a new word, Barby," said Margery, with restored spirits.  "We always say forefathers, and explain that the greater includes the less.  Are you going in for woman's rights and feminine equality?"

    "I dinna fash my heid," answered Barby.  "Equal is that equal does; and gin there were five foolish virgins i' the Scripture, maist o' the sons i' the parables were naething to boast on."

    "And would you like a vote, Barby?" asked Margery, who, with the mercurialness of youth, now felt quite sportive, and as ready to pursue any fun as is a kitten to run after a rolling ball.

    "Ay," said the imperturbable Barby, "gin there was a man worth voting for.  But while we're havering, the dust is lying on the rooms, and the beds arena made.  Twa have aye sae muckle clash wi' their tongues that they ne'er do twice the work of ane; " and Margery felt herself dismissed from the kitchen.

    She went straight to the best parlour.  As she looked at its pretty decorations, she certainly felt a sharp pang to think of removing arrangements made by the dead young mother she could not remember.  But uplifted by the bracing atmosphere which always surrounded Barby, the girl felt that, after all, love lives in the region of character and aspiration rather than of relics and remembrance.  The angels' resurrection greeting, "Why seek ye the living among the dead?  He is not here, but is risen," sounded in her heart with a sweet human distinctness.  Through the realities of life we hear the voice of revelation, no longer as of one "crying in the wilderness," but responsive to the call of our own needs.

    She resolved to clear the room at once.  If the old gentleman came back, he should have no further chance of cavilling at the pretty toys.  It was not a very long task.  Then she went into the dining-room and planned where the shelves should hang, and conjured up such a pleasant picture of the improvement which would be wrought in the room, that she threw her whole heart into the change, and ran upstairs to rummage the stores of the lumber-room, fired with enthusiasm for her humble art decorations.  Barby had infused a high sense of duty and a pleasant thought into the change.  It is what so many forget to do.  And yet who seals a curse and a worm in a foundation?—wise custom has declared that to be fit place for gold and good words.

    She was down on her knees comparing the values and beauties of some strips of old scarlet cloth, which had probably been saved for a rag-rug, and some pieces of dark blue serge, when she heard the door-bell ring.  She sprang out upon the staircase; for looking over the balustrade of the landing, she could see whoever entered the front door, and yet remain herself unseen.  Barby came leisurely from the kitchen, tying on a clean holland apron, which she always kept at hand in case of early callers; for Barby was wont to say "that if the hoose was to be clean the servant maun be dirty, whiles."

    "Ha! you see I've come back.  I wonder if you expected me, now!" said a high-pitched, peculiar, but not disagreeable voice, as a little man with flaxen hair, and a round, florid, flabby face, stepped into the passage in a jaunty, jerky fashion.  He wore a very high, narrow hat, and a coat of very thick cloth, made somewhat in the style of a boy's cut-away jacket.  He also wore yellow gloves, and carried an umbrella done up in a shiny case; and he suggested the idea that he had looked so and dressed so when he first left school, and had grown old without any other change.  There was something of boyish malice, too, in the way in which he repeated, "I wonder, now, if you expected me back again!"

    "Yes, sir," said Barby.  "I didna' think ye'd have told me ye aye used Cayenne pepper instead of common pepper, unless you expected I should get the filling of your cruet-stand."

    "Ha! ha! you noticed that?"  The little man stood still in the hall, laid down his hat, put his umbrella across it, and his gloves, elaborately smoothed out, beside it.  "There!" he said; "folks say that people who live alone grow slovenly and piggish.  They needn't unless they choose.  You won't find me so.  I'm very particular.  It is because I'm so very particular that I live alone.  If you don't expect to find me very particular, and to treat me as very particular, don't take me at all.  Think it over; say your mind."

    "Sir," said Barby, "those who are particular in doing their work like to work for particular people."

    "Ha! ha! well said.  And this is the parlour again!  Ha! all the tomfoolery gone!  Good!  And now, tell me, what's the family here?"

    "The maister, two sons, one daughter, and mysel'," answered Barby, with brevity to match his own.

    "Phew! two women!—one to make work, and t'other to do it!—one too many."

    "It was the young mistress who cleared away the china," was Barby's only protest against this misogynist.

    "And she seems to clear away herself too, for this is my second call, and I haven't seen her," said the queer old gentleman.  "Good! good!  And the two sons—what and where are they?"

    "Master Laurence is still at the schule," said Barby, "and Mister Rab is just up to the college."

    "Divinity, law, or medicine?" pursued the ruthless inquirer.

    "He'll be a doctor gin he passes," said the cautious Barby.

    "Good!—best profession; sets fools out of the way sooner than they'd go of their own accord."

    "But it helps ither fools into the world, too," Barby ventured.

    "Good!" said the little man, turning about and facing Barby.  "Make no further remark, please.  I want to have a good impression of you, and no woman can keep on talking sense."

    "We canna find those that care to keep on hearing it, sir," said Barby.

    "Good! good! good!" cried the little man.  I'll take the rooms.  Tell me where I can find your master, and I'll go to his office and speak with him at once.  My name is Mr. Demetrius Turner.  I know you'll wonder how I got it, so I'll save your time and trouble.  Look up Acts nineteen and twenty-four.  My father was a silversmith.  No mystery about it.  Never give me letters addressed 'Demetrius Turner, Esq.'  Burn them.  They can't be written by anybody who knows me.  I'm plain Mister.  I'd rather be Master.  They should have kept the 'Master' for old bachelors when they kept the 'Miss' for old maids."

    "Ay," said Barby; "only ye won't mind burnin' your ain letters yersel', will you?  I'll light the fire for ye, gin it's the hottest day o' July, sir."

    "Good! good!  I mean what I say, and you won't say what you don't mean.  Good!"

    And as soon as, with an infinitesimal pencil, he had written clown Mr. Farquhar's office address in a miniature note-book, the odd little man bustled away, and the half-bewildered Margery ventured downstairs.

    "What a character he is!" she, cried.

    "No a bad character," said Barby.  "It's aften gude stuff that this warld twists into queer shapes."

    "I heard what he said about me," remarked Margery, tossing her head.

    "Weel, an' I've heard yersel' say hard eno' things aboot ither lasses; an' of course he thinks ye're like the rest—whether ye are or no," added Barby, slyly.



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