A, B, and X.
MARGERY had been
so pained by Sarah's visit that she would rather not have mentioned
anything which had passed during their interview; but she felt
obliged to deliver William Fraser's message to her father, and she
could not understand the strange perturbation it seemed to excite.
Her father made no remark, but he got up and paced the room, as was
his habit when roused and annoyed.
Barby was the last person to whom Mr. Farquhar would have
wished to speak on the subject to which neither he nor she had ever
alluded again. But then she was the only one who knew the
facts which had aroused his suspicion, and he certainly was not
going to tell the story to anybody else. So at his next
opportunity of seeing Barby alone, he repeated what Margery had told
him, but without any comment. He simply wanted her to hear the
last word on a subject which had been discussed between them; and
though he did not say so, he could not help feeling that this last
word favoured his own view of the matter.
"Weel, sir," said Barby, "it's gude to hear no ill news o' an
"Even if he sends us good tidings at our own expense,"
retorted her master, a little bitterly.
Barby shook her head. "What we dinna ken we shouldna
speak," she said. "It's ill letting a ferret into a hen-house,
or a dark thought into a character."
"Mr. William Fraser had no particular character to boast of,"
returned Mr. Farquhar, hardly.
"Weel," said Barby, "if he took your money,—I dinna think it,—and
if, after sae doing, he sends you a kind and ceevil message, then
that's the beginning o' remorse, an' remorse is to gudeness as the
first diggin' i' the dirty mools is to the biggin' o' a hoose."
"You seem harsher to my suspicions than to the possible fact
they are grounded on," remarked Mr. Farquhar.
"God forgie me if I'm harsh ava', sir," said Barby, with
simple solemnity. "But your thochts I ken, because ye tell me
o' them; an' William Fraser's guilt I dinna ken. If ye could
make your thochts deeds to fin' oot the sin, I wadna haud ye back,
sir. A ferret 's gude for catching rats and saving corn, but
it's an ill brute in a hoose whaur there's no use for it."
Now, though Mr. Farquhar was a truly good man, and would have
been quite ready to acknowledge that, in spite of his loss, he had
much to be thankful for, yet he allowed that loss to do him a very
real injury; for instead of bearing in mind that God blesses divers
lives in divers ways, he persisted in thinking of himself as a
failed and defeated man, and conscious of his own industry and in
integrity, began to mistrust the existance of similar qualities in
those who seemed to him to be flourishing and successful. In
many individual instances he might be right, but these did not make
such a perverse habit of thought any the less crooked or
unwholesome. And Barby's keen eyes could easily see the
weakest part of this armour of self-consolation.
"Wae's me!" she would say to herself, "the master didna lose
his bit money oot o' ony virtue o' his ain. If he had waked a
wee quicker when the thief won to his room he wad ha' saved it.
Aiblins," she added, with her dry drollery, "he thinks gin he'd had
onything lyin' heavy on his conscience he wad ha' been a lichter
Margery did not find it so difficult to discharge her mind of
the gall with which it had been suffused by hearing something
concerning her friend Jessie from other lips than Jessie's own.
The impressions made on young minds may be sharp, but their
elasticity soon effaces them. The wounds of the young may
bleed more than those of the old, but they heal sooner. With
them, too, every fresh sensation, be it sweet or bitter, has the
charm of novelty. In the crisis of suffering, they suffer
without dread of the deadly convalescence which is to follow.
With the old, the joys and sorrows of a lifetime thrill at every
touch or prick. Every tear which falls from agèd eyes has a
separate history—the fresh item of pain is little save as an
addition to the sum total. But the old man who has learned the
meaning of life can endure like the patient of a wise physician,
while the youth too often suffers as ill as a wild bird caught in a
Margery soon found excuses—nay, even good sound reasons—for
Jessie Macqueen's silence on the subject of William Fraser.
There was no desire to deceive, or she would not so frankly have
exposed that letter on Christmas night. Perhaps there was
nothing to tell. When Margery reconsidered Sarah's
information, she found it contained no details. It might be
that a timid and suspicious worldliness had magnified friendliness
into a love-affair; and if any idea of this had reached Jessie,
Margery's own womanhood taught her that diffidence might then easily
take the place which frankness should occupy. Or perhaps there
had once seemed love, or its possibility, and it might have
vanished—vanished like the promise of those blossoms which the
breeze of the calmest spring sweeps from many an orchard bough.
And yet it might have left a kindliness behind—a kindliness, warm
with that strange touch of personal interest we feel even in a ship
we might have sailed in, or a house which we once intended to
inhabit; yet not a kindliness one was likely to speak much about,
Margery thought. She herself was a heart-whole girl, and the
atmosphere in which she had lived had been pure from those
flirtations and intrigues which are to young romance what city smoke
is to roses; therefore she had that wisdom which is higher than
knowledge in such matters.
And once she had lulled the pain of withheld confidence, the
bare thought of love in another filled her with tender reverence.
She did not wonder now at the subtle difference she had often
noticed between Jessie and herself. And if this love were an
unhappy love, or a dead love, it merited only a softer touch.
If she had known more of the world, she might have had reason
to know that much that may have been called love demands nothing but
burial out of sight—decent burial, if possible, speedy and effectual
burial anyhow. An angel can fill the empty place of a dead
lover; but a dead love is only carrion, spreading disease and death
till it is resolutely put away, to dissolve back into the elements
of common charity and toleration.
But the little woman found herself caught in a case of
conscience. Even though her friend had chosen to conceal
something from her, ought she to conceal her own knowledge thereof
now she had innocently acquired it? Was speech or silence the
honourable course? She was quite resolved that she would not
mention Sarah's visit as a sort of feeler, and then say no more if
Jessie did not respond. Either she would keep entire silence,
or at once tell all; but which was it to be? It is not easy to
debate these questions with oneself, for when the arguments seem to
lean to either side we suspect them to be the arguments of our own
inclinations. But whose opinion could Margery ask? and how
could she seek it, since, while she doubted whether she should
reveal Jessie's secret to Jessie herself, she felt quite sure she
should guard it from everybody else?
"Barby," she said suddenly, one afternoon as she lingered in
the kitchen, half reluctant to leave the great baskets of fruit for
preserving, which before her new duties began it had been always her
business to prepare—"Barby, I want to state a case to you."
"Hech, sirs!" cried Barby, "and what's that? and what do you
mean to do?"
"It's only a question," said Margery; "and I mean letters of
the alphabet to stand for people's names. Remember that,
Barby. Now suppose A and B were friends."
"It's like the wee bit riddle sort o' lessons the big boys
used to get in our schule," was Barby's comment aside; "and they
sometimes warked 'em oot wi' rounds and squares, that were ne'er
straight, but ye had to tak' it for granted they were."
"That's algebra or Euclid," said Margery. "This is real
life. Suppose A and B are friends; and then there is X."
"Ay, there always was X. I remember that noo," observed
Barby. "Dearie, hoo things come back! I mind I thought
it was weel to fin' some use for a useless letter!"
"Never mind algebra," persisted Margery. "Try to keep
in mind what I'm saying, there's a dear Barby. X knows B, and
knows something about A."
"I guess he does—and haply says more than he keens," said
Barby; "that is, if it's no to A's credit. There's little
tale-bearing i' the richt side. Maybe that's why folks praise
"Never mind whether it's to A's credit or not," answered
Margery. "A has never mentioned it to B, but B hears it from
X. Now, my question is, ought B to tell A that he has heard
"Weel," reflected Barby, "I think I wad ha' telt X that I was
going aff to A to tell what I'd heard, an' wha said it—that is, gin
it was worth twa thoughts ava'."
"But oh, Barby!" cried Margery, "do you mean to say that you
would repeat to any one you loved the horrid way that people
"Whisht, missy," said Barby. "Gin I told X what I was
going to do, he might hae pulled in his crooked horns. I ha'
kenned a lee that was too shamefu' to be whispered i' the ear, whilk
turned into a simple fac' that might ha' been shouted i' the market
cross, just by offering to tak' the whisperer an' his whisper to get
fu' information at the fountain-head. That saved a' trouble.
The innocent were ne'er fashed at a', an' the backbiter kenned folk
kenned him for what he was."
"That might have been the best plan," mused Margery.
"But it's hard to have to hit the best plan quite suddenly, without
any preparation, when one's rather put out, too!"
"Yet it's what maun be aye," returned Barby. "It's an
ill market the day after the fair."
"Then, suppose B had lost that opportunity," said Margery.
"What should be done next?"
Barby looked up significantly at her young lady, and said,
"Gin B is vera fond o' A, let her tell the fac's she has heard
wi'out the hard words some folk think the best stuff for keepin'
truth in. For gin there's muckle luve atween them, B will no
be able to keep the thought oot o' her mind, an' ane doesna ken what
ugly shadow it may cast i' A. An' noo, to be frank an' fair wi'
ye, Miss Margery, an' no to mak' believe I dinna ken what I do ken,
I'll tell you that you're B, and Miss Macqueen's A, and Miss Fraser,
pair body, is X."
"How could you guess?" said Margery, flushing hotly.
"Ane kens things," replied Barby, oracularly. "I ken na
mair than I say, only I thocht there was a wee change in your voice
when ye spoke to Miss Jessie the last time she was here. An'
gin ye think it's sae wonnerful that I saw through your A, B, and X,
I suppose in auld times I'd ha' been brunt for a witch at the town
cross, like my great, great grandmother was—an' prood I've aye been
of it, for it showed there was sense in the family!"
Margery made up her mind to take Barby's advice, and a
favourable opportunity was not long in presenting, itself.
Some repairs going forward in the bookseller's shop caused it to be
closed earlier than usual, and Jessie consequently went round to the
Farquhars' house, to suggest that here was a chance, for making a
walking excursion, which they had often planned but had never
carried out for lack of time.
Margery had had a hard day of successful work, and therefore
was in the right mood for what Barby called "a ploy." Laurie
had set his heart on some boating; he could hire by the old bridge
that had given its name to so much song and story. He would
walk with the girls so far, and then leave them to pursue the rest
of their journey alone.
For a long while they kept the road along which Margery had
walked to Mannohill—a bare, bald road, enlivened by few houses and
few trees; a road whereon exaggerating people said one was blown to
pieces in winter, and burned to ashes in summer. And yet even
the baldest portion of the way was not without redeeming points; for
to the right lay the sea, now populous with fishing-boats, and to
the left straggled the picturesque line of the Old Town, with its
piled up, red-tiled roofs, its noble tower, and its twin spires.
The two girls lingered on the new bridge, where they parted
from Laurie, and watched him go along the gorse-clad bank towards
the old cottage by the ancient bridge, where he would get his boat.
Looking up the river, their eyes rested on richly-wooded banks,
quaint cottages, and a little factory whose lot had fallen in
pleasant places. Looking in the other direction, there was the
river-mouth, the wide sands, and the waste of waters translucent in
the pure evening light. You might have made a thousand
metaphors out of those two views, linked as they seemed by the new
bridge like contrasted pictures in a common frame. Perhaps
Jessie made a metaphor for herself, for, as they turned to resume
their walk, she sighed.
A little above the bridge they diverged from the road by
which Margery had journeyed to Mannohill, and struck off to the
right, across the links. Whirls of sea-sand lay among the
sparse grass, left there by the storms and winds of winter; but even
these had not been able to utterly repress some hardy wild flowers,
stray tufts of clover, buttercups and daisies, and a species of tiny
pansy. The two girls filled their hands as they went along,
but Margery warned against too much delay. She knew the way
they had to traverse, and the time it must take them.
"Keep me up to the mark, then, please," said Jessie; "for as
I have never been here before, I know nothing about it."
"I have walked here often from home," observed Margery; "and
once or twice, long ago, from Mannohill." She spoke
heedlessly, but the moment the word was out, she felt that now was
her chance, and without one glance at her companion, she went on
bravely. "You must have heard me speak of Sarah Fraser,
surely. The last time I saw her she spoke of you."
"She does not know me," said Jessie very quickly.
"She knows about you. At any rate, she told me
something more than I knew myself."
There was a few moments' silence. They were now toiling
up the hill whose summit was their goal. Jessie's face was
turned to the wild, bleak moors, which stretch towards the north,
and over which the golden daylight was already fading into gray.
"I think you must know what it was, Jessie," said Margery
gently. "I did not like to know it without your knowing I
knew, or I would not mention it. Don't say a word about it if
you would rather not."
"I will tell you what there is to tell," said Jessie,
suddenly turning to her friend, with a glow on her face which might
be partly cast by the sunset clouds. "I have loved—I do love
William Fraser; that is all."
"And he loves you?" returned Margery eagerly, her true
woman's heart ringing responsive to the brave, womanly confession,
so different from the ordinary female simper concerning love
received rather than bestowed.
"I think so—now," sighed Jessie, almost inaudibly, for tears
were coming very fast.
"Now! you know he did—always," cried Margery, warmly, and
Jessie shook her head faintly. "He thought he did," she
said. "I know he thought he did. But if he had, he would
have kept right on. Love does not drag us down, Margery."
"It was not love, it was the crossing of love did that,"
pleaded romantic Margery. "You see I know all about it."
"True love cannot be crossed," said Jessie again; "for it has
the cross in itself. True love is simply entering into another
nature, and living a double life."
And Margery was silent. She who knew Jessie's own
dutiful perseverance in well-doing, could not fail to see that one
who had been once drawn to her, and yet had swerved into evil, had
never really entered into oneness of spirit. He had but
lingered in the beauty of her nature, and then relapsed into the
wildness of his own, as a heathen might pause before the sweet
simplicity of Christian worship, and then return to his own darker
"But William is living a noble, self-denying life now,"
observed Jessie. Her own words pained her. For the
gentle girl had a proud heart within her, and did not like to seem
to praise those she loved for being only what they should be.
"And doing well, I understand?" said Margery.
"And doing well," Jessie assented. "He has persevered
in right ways for nearly two years."
"He will never leave off now," hopeful Margery assured her.
"He will never leave off always beginning again to do well, I
do fully believe," said Jessie; "and that is as far as most of us
can get in the struggle with whatever sin besets us. Yes,
little Margery, the bitterness is all quite over now."
"And he will come back some day and carry you off?" observed
Margery, with a sudden vision of herself walking that same road
alone, and remembering to-night.
Jessie shook her head. "That I cannot say," she answered. "We are
not engaged, Margery. We were so once, but there is no promise
between us now."
"He will come back all the same," persisted Margery; "and you know
he will, or how can you say that the bitterness has quite passed
They were at the top of the hill, standing on the broken threshold
of the little hut which the whim of some neighbouring laird had
built there, but which lay ruined and doorless now. And Jessie
turned and looked at Margery, and Margery felt like one who, at some
innocent pastime, has disturbed another at his prayers; for the joy
and peace which had settled on her friend's brow were not the joy
and peace of narrow mortal happiness, the sunlight of summer
gardens, the rest of quiet hearths,—rather they were like the light
and the silence on mountain-peaks. And Margery thought of the
heavenly joy over the repenting sinner, and for the first time in
her young life realized something of that sacred self-devotion which
raises the human to communion with the divine, and annihilates time
and space and pain by its own long-suffering and patience. Margery
never forgot that revelation. She had caught a glimpse of the
heart's Holiest of Holies; and all the bustle of ordinary household
life, all the paraphernalia of ordinary courtship and marriage,
could never again make her forget that it was there,—the height to
which love can rise, and must rise, to be worthy of its name.
"And you have not seen William for nearly two years?" she asked,
linking her arm through Jessie's.
"I saw him the evening before he went away," Jessie answered.
"Then that was a memorable night for both of us for that was the
night of the robbery at our house, of which you have heard so much,"
said Margery, quite innocently.
"Yes, so it was," answered Jessie. "I remember hearing it spoken
about in the shop next day; but I did not know you then, and I was
so wrung and stunned that I did not notice anything much."
"Oh! how could you bear his going away?" whispered Margery, who
always cried herself blind when Rab talked of taking a year's voyage
between his studies and his commencement of practice.
Jessie said nothing. Nobody but herself and William would ever know
the history of that last evening. There are good deeds that such
women do which they hide as others hide their sins.
Even on that warm, still night the air was cool on that sea-side
hill, and the wind breathed gentle sighs through the dismantled
building. Margery shivered, and said it was time to think of
returning. They would not go home by the same way. From the back of
the hill they could pass through a farm-steading and gain the
high-road, which, lonely enough, would be less lonesome than the
wild sandy links. They would pass the gate of Mannohill, but Jessie
did not heed that. She scarcely thought of her lover as a son of
that house. She had known him only as one by himself; and whatever
his other faults had been, he had striven to screen her from the
knowledge of the scorn and contumely with which his family regarded
her. They did not know her; and if it was impossible for her not to
have learned something of their dislike, she readily forgave it for
William's sake, even as she forgave those mistakes and wrong-doings
of his which she felt were enough to justify any mistrust of the
fitness and wisdom of his prepossession and choice.
The gates of Mannohill stood wide open, and a servant woman was
standing in the middle of the roadway holding her hand to her head
to secure her fluttering cap in the suddenly freshening breeze. She
looked hard at the two girls as they passed, but did not tender any
of the simple greetings common to strangers passing on that solitary
They did not meet anybody else for a long way, though they
occasionally heard a sound of voices shouting and answering each
other among the uneven ground between them and the sea. Margery
suggested these might come from mischievous farm lads intent on
setting fire to the gorse, and they quickened their pace lest they
might encounter some of the rioters; but just as they drew quite
near the town, and were emboldened by the lights of the little inn
near the bridge, two decent-looking labouring-men came pelting
across field and over a dike, shouting,—
"Leddies! leddies! whilk way are ye come? An' ha' ye happened to see
a young leddy wi' a hood onywheres?"
"We have come straight down this road for a long distance," answered
Jessie in her ringing voice, "and we have seen no such person."
One of the men gave a low whistle, and seemed too absorbed in his
own plans to remember civility; but the other touched his hat, and
begged pardon if he had frightened them; and the girls passed on,
leaving them in consultation with each other.
"A glorious walk!" Margery reported to Barby as she let them in and
ushered them to the snugly-spread supper-table, to whose innocent
dishes Laurie, safely returned from his boating, was already doing
justice. "A perfect evening!" she repeated.
"In an imperfect world," said Mr. Farquhar, half-sadly,
In the Quarry.
NEXT morning as
the local daily papers were opened, all the breakfast parties in the
town were startled and shocked to read the announcements in the one
print of "The mysterious and shocking death of the daughter of one
of our leading citizens," and in the less sensational journal,
"Fatal accident to Miss Fraser of Mannohill."
The story was told briefly enough, and the group in the Farquhars'
parlour stood petrified while Rab read it aloud. "The young lady had
been missed from the public rooms of Mannohill early in the evening,
but had been believed to be in her own chamber, until the housemaid
going her evening rounds found that room was empty. An alarm was
instantly raised. The house and grounds were searched, and men were
sent out to scour the surrounding country, though from all the
lady's walking gear being found intact in her wardrobe it was
believed she must be in the precincts of Mannohill, since she never
went beyond them in her garden-hood. The moon being at her full, the
search had been carried on through the night, and about midnight
they found, not her, but her body, lying at the bottom of an old
long-forsaken quarry, about three-quarters of a mile from her home.
She had evidently been dead some time, for the body was stiff; and
death had been instantaneous, for the neck was broken. As the
searchers approached the quarry from the other side they had not
destroyed her track, and they could trace it on the soft sandy soil
to the gorse-clad lip of the little quarry, over which she seemed to
have walked straight to her doom, for the bush was trampled down and
torn, probably by her grasp when she felt herself falling."
A great awe fell on poor Margery. Death is such a
stranger to the young. They have not grown familiar with his
sharp breakings off, his terrible, unconscious "last times."
They have not grown accustomed to the tragic truth that every hour
of joy is somewhere an hour of mortal anguish, and that the horrors
and agonies which they know to be always abroad in the world, are
not more horrible because they happen to enter their own circle and
startle their own hearts.
It almost seemed to Margery as if her innocent happiness of
the evening before had been a wrong and a cruelty to her old
acquaintance, lying in the clutch of sudden doom, almost within
hearing, as she and Jessie had gone laughing and talking down the
road. She had felt, too, as if she could never again go to
visit Sarah—she had even said so to herself; and yet how glad she
was now that long enough time had not elapsed for Sarah to notice
that default. Still, of course, Margery knew that what Sarah
had seemed to her, that she remained in her memory. She had
not thought Sarah just or lovable or trustworthy, and Margery was
not one of those whose judgments are transformed by mere death;
only, where yesterday she might have uttered those judgments, to-day
she would be silent, or if there were need for speech, the very same
words would be spoken differently, in sorrow and not in anger.
Perhaps it always should have been so, pondered penitent Margery.
"Weel, weel," mused Barby to herself, "I'll be thinkin' soon
that I'm mair like my foremither the witch than is quite canny; for
I saw a queer change on poor Miss Sarah the vera last time she was
here, and Miss Margery can bear me oot that I said sae, and am not
ane o' those wha tells their dreams when they come true, and their
prophecies after they are brought to pass. I've aye thocht
that the seers were just folk wi' sharper eyes than mast, and haein'
nae buiks to read but their fellow-creatures' looks, got sae keen
that they could see the blight afore it got to the ootside o' the
leaf, an' ken i' the face that disease was grippin' at the heart.
But I did see a fell change in Miss Sarah; and yet I dinna ken hoo
there can be ony nateral sign o' the oncome o' deith gin it's by
accident. I dinna like it o' mysel'."
The evidence adduced at the inquest was meagre enough.
Mr. Fraser deposed that his daughter had been somewhat ailing for
some time, but not in a way to have given him real anxiety. He
had not asked for her immediately on his return home the evening
before, because, when he dined in town—as he had done that day—she
usually dined early alone, and on these occasions she was generally
in her own room resting when he returned. She had been in her
usual spirits. He knew of nothing whatever to annoy or
The medical men simply showed that death was due to the
breaking of the neck.
The parlour-maid had last seen her young lady at lunch.
She looked as usual, but complained of being very weary. This
explained their want of anxiety when they believed her to be
remaining longer than usual in her own room. In Miss Fraser's
chamber she had found a lace ruff and ribbons laid out in readiness
to be put on in the evening. The young lady was not in the
habit of taking rambles, and certainly never went outside the
garden-gates except in proper walking-dress. She did not know
if she was short-sighted. She thought her rather
absent-minded. She was a total abstainer. No wine or
spirits were allowed in the house of Mannohill at least not with the
master's knowledge. She and the housemaid both joined the
men-servants in their search, the cook remaining indoors because she
was so put about that she went through the house by herself,
actually rummaging cupboards and presses as if she thought her young
lady could be hidden in a drawer,
What could the verdict be save that of "Death by accident"?
There was nothing mysterious about it; for what but a morbid mind
could make any mystery of so simple a deviation from accustomed ways
as a languid girl's being lured by the warm beautiful evening to
wander out on a lonely moor without the conventional hat and jacket?
All the rest was plain: the dreamy strolling, perhaps in the pain of
nervous headache,—the blinding light of the setting sun bewildering
her eyes as she walked towards the fatal quarry,—the one false step,
and the sure swift end. So that verdict was returned, with an
expression of the warmest sympathy with the bereaved father.
But there are some facts which do not come out in evidence.
The medical man thought within himself that Miss Fraser was no total
abstainer; he was sure she had been drinking wine, though he had had
no reason to imagine that it might have been more than the solitary
glass at dinner which he allowed to himself and all his patients.
And two of the working-men, who had been made free of the Mannohill
premises during the dreadful hours of search, nudged each other as
the parlour-maid gave her evidence, and one whispered that—
"It was weel the lassie qualified the Mannohill abstinence wi'
the clause about the master's knowledge, for I saw the cook pour twa
bottles o' port doon the wash-house sink, and she lit the boiler
fire wi' rags afterwards to mask the scent."
It is odd how perversely human nature will speak when it
should be silent, and be silent when it should speak. This man
was a decent fellow, who did not himself "hold wi' ony sic
on-goings." But he was making love to the cook's cousin, and,
though the two women were not on friendly terms, they had the same
name, and disgrace falling on the one seemed to come too near the
other for her lover to provoke it.
As for Margery, she learned only what the newspaper told her,
but in the light of poor Sarah's last confidences she could not but
suspect the melancholy truth underlying the bald facts of the story.
And it is a strange experience when first one knows something which
eludes a ceremonious tribunal, and possesses a fact which gives
another light to a formal and final judgment. There comes a
great shaking of faith in accepted things,—a strong temptation to
try to find possible new points whence to survey even historical
characters and incidents.
Of course Jessie Mcqueen was the sympathizing sharer of her
horror and her pain. And poor Jessie on her part had received
a special shock. For by the morning post, after that long
sea-side walk, she had received a letter from William Fraser,
claiming renewal of the betrothal promise which she had insisted
should be held-in abeyance, and entreating her to join her brother
and sister in Canada as soon as possible, with a view to speedily
becoming his wife. "It is but a wooden shanty to which I can
take you," he wrote, "but a few years of industry will make it and
the wide acres on which it stands our very own,—earned every inch by
the labours of our two heads and two pair of hands. I know you
don't want luxury, much as I should like to give it to you; but I
can give you what I know you do want—honour, independence, and the
sight of the poor scapegrace, who so miraculously won your love,
working like an honest man, redeeming the wilderness, and, at any
rate, not spoiling the face of the earth."
Jessie had gone out to her daily post with her eyes dancing
and her heart leaping as they had not danced and leaped for years.
And no sooner had she got there than she received the blow of the
Of course she wrote at once to William. What his father
would do she could not guess and did not allow herself to ponder.
She knew certainly that the father and son had resumed some
intercourse since the beginning of this year; but she knew also that
their letters had not been frequent, nor on Mr. Fraser's side
cordial, and that her own name had been scrupulously kept out of
them on either side.
Her own course was clear. She would give notice to her
employers in time to leave them at the November term, and then she
would start on her long journey as soon after the New Year as she
could complete her preparations.
Margery was taken into her confidence, and so was Barby.
The young girl's fancy was a little jarred by the juxtaposition in
which the sister's death and the brother's marriage were unavoidably
presented, separated though they would really be by the lapse of at
least several months.
Not so the older woman, who had looked at death in the face
of her own dearest. "Life mauna stand still for it," she said;
"it will na bide on life: the twa hae just a race for 't. Ye
needna think it means forgetting, Miss Margery. There's nae
remembrance sae waefu' as what's in your heart when ye hae the auld
smile i' your face. Marryin' is no bride-cake and junketing,
though you might think so to hear some people talk, but it's loving
and helping each other; and those are lessons ye canna learn the
length and the depth o' wi'out a grave."
Margery was a little surprised at the attitude Barby assumed
with regard to Jessie and her engagement. She had expected to
hear a vigorous protest against "worthless men thinking to whistle a
woman aff the auld tree the vera first morning they got up early,"
phrases which over and over again she had heard Barby apply to
similar cases in the abstract. But now Barby said little, and
what she did say, though solemn enough, was tender, and her manner
to Jessie herself grew touchingly reverent. Perhaps this may
have been with some such feeling as doubtless often prompted a
Hebrew maiden to give a sweeter herbage and a kinder caress to the
white lamb destined for sacrifice.
"What ithers feel it's God's will they should do, let the
rest help them to do," was one of Barby's rules of conduct; and
another was, "Ilka ane kens the want o' his own heirt; and gin a
lark pines for fresh air and puir fare, why should we shut him in a
cage wi' sugar and canary-seed?" Nobody ever knew what,
Barby's heart had wanted in its day. Nobody ever knew whether
others had hindered her from doing what seemed to her to be God's
will, or whether she had never been able to feel that God's will led
her in the path where she would go, and so had refrained from
walking in it. Margery and Laurie had often wondered how,
when, and with whom Barby had fallen in love; for of course she had
done so. And they could not be wrong. But Barby never
told, and, frankly as she liked to talk over "auld times," her
communications never revealed one figure prominently in the light of
her history, or suspiciously in its shadows.
But if Barby gave no words for the slight grudge which
Margery felt against William Fraser for his undeserved good fortune,
her father quite unexpectedly gave far more than she wanted.
Jessie had grown wonderfully into his favour. She reminded him
of a child of his own, a girl a year older than Margery, who had
died in her cradle. He liked to see her sitting in the seat he
fancied his other daughter might have occupied, and he could enjoy
her brightness and vivacity without feeling that burden of parental
responsibility which occasionally weighed him down when his thoughts
dwelt on his own children. And now he recoiled from her
marriage with a bitterness which frightened Margery almost as much
as it astonished her.
"It's a terrible comfort when one thanks God that a young
thing one likes is not one's own," he said. "It is well for
William Fraser that I have no right to interfere with his marriage,
but I would sooner see you, Margery, in your grave than married to
such as he is. And because Jessie is poor, is there nobody
akin to her to make as much difficulty over her marrying this
worthless ne'er-do-well—I'll say nothing harder—as there was to
object to his marrying her because he was rich?"
"He isn't rich now, father," pleaded Margery gently; "and he
has been doing well for a long time, and Jessie says that William
always speaks so kindly of you, and considers himself deeply in your
Her father did not answer for a moment, and there was
something in his silence which made her look up from her work.
His face was dark and agitated. If he had not caught her eye,
she thought he was going to say something; as it was, he suppressed
"Why the best women will marry the worst men," he began
presently, "is and always has been a mystery to me and all observant
"Na, na, sir," said Barby, who was passing to and fro and
heard this speech, "dinna speak sae hard o' yersel'; the dear
mistress canna contradick you oot o' her grave."
"And here comes Jessie herself at this very moment," cried
Margery, looking from the window.
"Take her up into your own room, then," said her father
hastily; "I cannot see her. Never let me hear any more about
this wedding, and keep Jessie out of my way as much as possible."
Margery obeyed, almost trembling. But Jessie had not
come to make a visit. She came to ask Margery to bear her
company to Mannohill. She had had a hasty letter from Mr.
Fraser, imploring her to go and see him there. He had sent his
carriage for her. It was waiting at the corner, and they would
be driven back again in it. There was no time for any delay.
Margery was almost afraid to ask her father's permission, but it was
promptly though irritably given.
"Yes, yes," he said to Barby, as he saw the vehicle drive
away. "Everybody's affairs but mine will come right.
That ne'er-do-well has righted himself with my money; and he will
marry the woman he has set his heart on, and his father will take
them back into favour, and leave them his scores of thousands.
All very fine and happy, doubtless; but it's very hard that all my
poor little savings should be swamped into this new version of the
story of the prodigal son."
"Whisht, sir, whisht," said Barby; "seeing hoo your bairns
are turning oot, I dinna ken that ye need think they are sae muckle
waur aff for the loss."
"That doesn't make the fact more or less just," said Mr.
Farquhar, fiercely. "And as for the children, thank God they
are doings well. But it seems to be in spite of my loss, and
not by reason of my help; and that's bitter, Barby—that's bitter."
"Oh yes, sir," said Barby; "maybe ye wad ha' liked to feel
they were a' sae beholden to you, that when ye lay on your dying bed
ye didna ken waur they'd gang the day after your funeral.
There's a many kinds o' pride, and maybe that's one. Is this
your thankfulness, sir, for Miss Margery bein' put in the way o'
making her fortune? An' for Mr. Rab, got on sae quickly that
he stan's a gude chance o' bein' made house-surgeon next year?
An' for Mr. Laurie, just got the big bursary that'll cover a' his
college expenses? D'ye thank the Lord for a' that, sir, and
then put in a wee grumble at the end about your bittie o' siller?"
"But it's hard, hard, Barby, for one's own life and one's own
self to be made of no account," said the poor gentleman, with a
"Say it's hard to be made ken that, sir," answered
Barby with emphasis; "for it's what we all are."
And then she went back to her kitchen. She felt a great
deal of sympathy with her master—that strong, true sympathy which
gives what is needed rather than what is wanted; and Mr. Farquhar
knew well enough that her heart was with him, though on her own part
she mused, "I wonner he stands my sharp tongue, for he kens what I
say, an' he doesna ken what I'd do. An' I ha' to speak sharp
whiles to keep me frae sidin' wi' him, an' then wha's there wad
speak plain truth to us baith? Na, na, the cruet-stand is as
much wanted as the sugar-basin, and say what you will, it's pepper
an' salt an' vinegar that keeps things from going bad. And
there you are, Barby, lass, justifying the ways that come unco easy
to you, an' findin' a use for yoursel' i' the warld, alang wi' the
wild beasts that destroy waur vermin."
Margery did not return home till quite late. Jessie had
had a long interview with her future father-in-law, but Margery knew
little except that Mr. Fraser was going to write to his son to come
home and be married in his native city. He intended to ask no
more; he did not wish to recall him permanently to the scene of old
temptations and former bitterness.
But Margery could gather that the harsh old man's heart had
been softened by his daughter's death. He spoke of papers of
hers which he had found, leading him to think that she too had had
some romance dutifully suppressed, even from his suspicions.
(Little could he dream that latterly she had quite cast off all
these youthful dreams as unworthy weaknesses!) He was inclined
to blame himself that her life had not been made as happy as it
might have been—this, indeed, was true enough—and that some of this
might be somehow his fault, which also was probably very true.
And from the terrible "too late" of her sudden ending, he turned
back piteously to those who remained, and was fain to think that he
might not have been so absolutely in the right as he had deemed
Margery wished that her father would be interested and
sympathetic. But she had no fault to find with her brothers on
How One Borrowed, and how Another Invested.
letter!" said Margery next morning, turning over the budget which
the postman had left. For Margery was very curious of letters
now, having some "business" ones all to herself, and a share and
interest in many of those which came to Mr. Demetrius. "An
Australian letter for my father! From whom can that come?
He has no letters from Australia. We have no kinsfolk there—at
least, none who ever write to us;" for, like most Scotch folk, the
Farquhars had some errant relatives whose present address might be
on the Equator or the North Pole.
Margery put the letter on her father's plate, beside his cup
and saucer, as if it was some very dainty morsel; and she wondered
how he could take it up and look at it so leisurely, and then put it
down, and wipe his glasses, and put them on, before he opened it.
Elderly people seem to youth so oddly mistrustful; they would not
even rush to respond if they were advertised for, to hear of
something to their advantage;" but this is an incredulity taught by
many experiences of the ruses of impecunious third cousins, and by a
general impression somehow left by life that whatever loses itself
has seldom increased in value when it desires to find you.
Does anybody know what it is to have a long-accustomed fear
and anxiety sharply and suddenly ended? Those who do, know
that joy can give a blow as bluntly as grief. One can be
smothered by roses as by mire. People can die of delight as
some die of sorrow; and as time goes on, we most of us get a certain
preparedness for pain and composure in meeting it. There is
really more pleasure than pain in existence, but that generally
reaches us in safe daily dilutions, and shocks of joy do not come
often enough for us to grow used to them.
"Thank God!" cried Mr. Farquhar, dropping the letter on the
table, and letting his hand fall heavily upon it,—"thank God! it is
all come right at last. I wish I'd borne it better."
His two sons and his daughter all cried out, "What was it?"
and instead of directly answering them, he stretched his hands
towards them, and said,—
"I'm not to fall a burden on you in my old age after all,
boys; and I'm not to leave you nothing but the memory of a worn-out
old man, Margery. It's come back."
"I do wish you wouldn't say such things, father," said Rab
quite testily. "And what is come back?"
"The lost five hundred pounds," answered Mr. Farquhar.
"Are you quite sure?" asked cautious Rab. "Where is it
now? Where has it been?"
"I have scarcely noticed," confessed Mr. Farquhar, growing
cooler and a little confused at the thought of his own excitement.
Take the letter, and read it aloud carefully."
It was not very long. It was dated simply from
"Australia," and was written in a characterless, lithographer's
hand, and ran as follow:—
the time you receive this, the sum which you lost two years ago will
be lying to your account at your banker's." (Mr. Farquhar had
clearly comprehended nothing beyond this.) "It is paid through
a firm of lawyers here, who do not know the name of their client in
this matter. You will not find exactly the sum you lost, as I
have had the loan of that for two years without your consent.
I have added to it £100, which I trust you will not consider
insufficient interest for that time. For further explanation,
let it suffice to say that I, a poor, struggling, hopeless man, who
had never had a fair chance in life, felt a sudden temptation when I
saw you, affluent and prosperous, in possession of a sum of money
which you did not need at the time, and which would be certain
worldly salvation to me. Believe me, I never meant to do more
than borrow it. I shall not tell you how I knew of your having
this money, or how I managed to obtain possession of it. You
may have seen me casually, you may have heard my name, but we have
never exchanged a single word. As soon as I could, without
exciting suspicion—what would be called a guilty conscience made me
very cautious—I left your city and came here. I have engaged
in speculative business, and have prospered rarely. I return
you your own with usury. Allow me to hear of its safe receipt
through an advertisement in the Melbourne Argus."
"Now, if that man had been caught in the act, the world would
have judged him a mere commonplace felon," cried Laurie.
"And is he very much better than one?" asked blunt Rab—"a
cold-blooded scoundrel! I don't see one touch of real
compunction in the whole epistle. He tries to justify himself
in his very act of robbery. 'I never meant to do more than
borrow it,'" Rab reiterated ironically. "What would have
become of his loan had not his speculative business prospered
As soon as she fairly understood the good news, Margery ran
down to the kitchen and told Barby, and then, to own the whole
truth, she peeped into the parlour and told Mr. Demetrius, and all
the three came crowding back to the breakfast-table together.
"Ay," said Barby; "and gin I were you, Mr. Farquhar, I'd gang
awa' to the bank as soon as it's opened and make' sure the siller's
there. If the man should make a loss i' his rare prospering,
he might borrow it again!"
"And now I suppose you'll get rid of me," said Mr. Demetrius,
with comical fierceness. "It's a good wind that blows nobody
ill. Well I always felt it was all too nice to last. I
said to myself last Christmas day, 'Demetrius, make the most of it;
you'll have your mutton-chop and your mince-pie all to yourself
again next year. You won't choose to go without your
drawing-room any more, of course. When shall I go?'"
Margery looked at her father with eager eyes.
"Never, Mr. Demetrius—if you wait till we ask you to go,"
returned Mr. Farquhar, with the warmth of joy and gratitude and a
little secret penitence in his voice.
"But your second sitting-room!" persisted Mr. Demetrius,
unwilling to be reassured while there remained cogent reasons
against his stay, which might rise and assert themselves more
powerfully when the first glow of feeling had passed away.
"Weel," said Barby, with that prompt practicality which
always makes the desirable the possible, "gin this hoose is the
master's own, anther parlour could be built i' the wee back green,
and a bit spare bedroom aboon it, and bonnie views there'd be frae
the windows. I've often thought on it."
"And will you leave off your work, Miss Margery?" said Mr.
Demetrius, turning upon her so sharply that she started, but had
presence of mind enough to answer mischievously,—
"Why don't you ask Rab if he is going to drop his medical
studies, sir, and Laurie, whether he means to give up his bursary?"
"O well, well, well," said Mr. Demetrius, rather taken aback;
while Mr. Farquhar came to the rescue, and soothed Margery's filial
pain for ever by remarking that it would be better worth while now
for him to leave the house to Margery; and Barby rejoined that it
was best "to leave gear to those who had won some for themsels', for
they kenned hoo to manage it."
After Barby's cynical hint concerning the money in the bank,
Mr. Farquhar did not feel quite at ease till he went and ascertained
that it was really there. He was far too good a man not to
feel, in his thankfulness, a special thanksgiving that the son of
his old neighbour and landlord, the future husband of his daughter's
friend, was guiltless of this wrong. The real excuses which he
had had for the suspicion seemed withered to nothing now, and he
hated himself for having harboured the idea. Above all, he
regretted the harsh languages he had used concerning William Fraser
only the night before when speaking to Margery. He must set
that right with her now, and he could not really do so without
telling her the whole of his fears; for he could not leave her to
fancy that his judgments had grown less harsh only because his
circumstances were grown easier. But he did not heed the
self-humiliation; he did not feel it to be such, but rather
self-restoration. It was only like displaying a swept and
sunshiny room which had been last seen dusty and dingy.
"Margery, my child," he said, as he came in and stood beside
her as she sat alone bending over her work—that work which was
already so dear to her that she had sought refuge in it from her
joy, as she would, doubtless, often do from sorrow in long years to
come,—"Margery, my child, you must forget how I spoke to you
yesterday concerning William Fraser."
"Why? Has anything happened, papa?" Margery asked
quickly, so excited by recent events that a special "happening" for
every new hour did not seem unnatural to her.
"Nothing has happened, Margery," said her father; the facts
remain as they were—that William Fraser has been a misguided young
man who has now seen the error of his ways, and has met a better
fate than he deserved; not being singular among us in that respect
at least," he added bravely. "But I spoke as I did because I
suspected him of worse things than mistakes and recklessness.
Margery, I had allowed myself to think that he was the robber of our
"O father!" cried Margery, aghast.
"I had some plausible grounds for the suspicion," said Mr.
Farquhar. "He knew I had the money in the house, and he left
this town hurriedly at dawn next day, and from that time I heard he
was doing well abroad. Of course, I see how wrong I was now,
and you will notice how misleading circumstantial evidence may be."
"Dear me, how sorry I am I did not tell you more that I
knew!" said Margery. "But I felt as if Jessie had told me some
things in half confidence;—you know, father, one doesn't tell
everything that one isn't warned to keep secret. And then,
too, I saw that speaking about William at all vexed you somehow—or I
could have told you that when he left here he had but twenty-five
pounds with him, and that though we have heard of his doing well and
getting on, it is only quite as a working-man. He got the
government grant of a few acres for himself, and he works for richer
farmers, as an agricultural labourer. I don't suppose he
possesses a hundred pounds of his own money yet."
"And what did you mean when you said that Jessie reports that
he always writes as feeling deeply indebted to me?" asked Mr.
Farquhar. "You can understand now how I interpreted that."
Margery stood bewildered for a moment, and then laughed out.
"Why, I thought you'd remember all about that?" she said.
"Don't you recollect speaking to him when you saw him outside his
father's office that evening before the robbery? People had
left off speaking to William Fraser at that time. They mostly
made believe they did not see him or did not know him. And so
your speaking to him, father, and what you said, seemed to make him
feel he could yet recover himself, and made him long to try to begin
well once more. He went and told poor Jessie all about it that
very evening, though he had not seen her for some time before; and
they decided together that he had better go quite away as quickly as
possible. And so he started off at once."
That was all Margery knew, and it was quite enough for all
purposes. No human being but Jessie Macqueen and William
Fraser himself knew all the secrets of that memorable evening.
Nobody was likely to realize that the rich man's disinherited son
had been absolutely a penniless outcast, sunk to that deepest depth
when daily bread must be, not earned, but won in meanest ways,
He had often hung about town before, and aimlessly vanished, and as
aimlessly come back again. But at that time, when the swine's
food turned very bitter in the poor prodigal's mouth, it seemed out
of his power to get away—away—away—among the fresh scenes and
associations which are so favourable to a new departure in life; for
a penitent heart does not necessarily become heroic. William
Fraser went to Jessie Macqueen that evening to ask her to record for
him his vow that, God helping him, he would live an honest,
industrious life henceforward, though it might be but as a porter at
the market, or tramping the country as a tinker, till men should
once more respect and trust him. And he meant it. But
through what an ordeal would his new resolution have been called to
pass, had not a woman's love saved him from it? Jessie had
gone straight to her little desk and taken from it that twenty-five
pounds of which Margery had spoken. It was more than half of
the savings of five years of patient industry, more than half her
all; but she had bidden him take it for God's sake, and for her
sake, and for the sake of the dead mother whom he could scarcely
remember, and go away where strangers' eyes would look at him
without doubt or scorn.
"I cannot take your money," he had said.
"You are not taking it from me now," she had answered, with
the strong light of love and anguish burning in her face. "You
are only keeping it for me; you will not take it from me till you go
wrong again! William, William, let me do this for God's sake.
I ought to be ready to do as much for any living soul. Let me
do it, when for once I love enough to want to do it!"
That had for ever saved him from himself. He could not
"take her money from her." The thought of that debt kept him
steady at his dull, hard labour,—the thought of that love gave him
new thoughts of God. For God was Jessie's God, and it was
following in the steps of Jesus and breathing in His Spirit which
had made her what she was. The knowledge of the faith silently
reposed in him,—the sacrifice secretly made for him,—re-created his
life. Out of a world of vain shadows, dominated by an
incomprehensible Judge, his spirit was born again into the safe
home, where an unseen Father's heart is made manifest in a visible
Brother's suffering love.
There are such ventures sent out on the sea of life.
Few but God know of their tearful launch, even when they return as
Jessie's did in joy and gladness. And yet it suffices that if
they are wrecked, God knows that too.
A great deal more heroism goes to the uplifting of the world
than some folks dream of. We praise what we hear about, for
the sake of what we shall never hear or tell. We may make no
secret of our subscriptions; we may be a little vain of our
philanthropies; but if there is something in our lives which we did
with our right hand while we hid our left from its knowledge,
something which we should blush to own before those friends who
believe in our shrewdness and worldly wisdom, that is probably the
very one of our deeds which the angels have recorded, and which,
when we have left all our earthly investments behind, will endow us
with a share in the everlasting habitations.
Mr. Farquhar would have been, had he heard in the autumn that at New
Year there would be a wedding in his house, and the bride would be
Jessie Macqueen and the bridegroom William Fraser!
And yet so it came to pass. Jessie made Margery's home
hers during the last weeks of her maidenhood, and William Fraser was
glad to receive his life's best blessing from the kind neighbourly
hand which first had been reached out to him in his degradation.
Also, the marriage being celebrated in the Farquhar's house,
spared the necessity of any festal arrangements in the gloomy
mansion of Mannohill. The habits of a lifetime are not changed
in a moment, and, after the first softening had passed away, old Mr.
Fraser, though remaining conciliated, was not inclined to be genial.
He raised Jessie to a height of favour from which he still excluded
his son. Certainly he received William to his house, and gave
a dinner party to some of his old neighbours, at which he made a
point of treating his son with the utmost punctilio. And he
announced his determination to be present at the wedding ceremony.
And perhaps he was both just and wise to go no further —to make no
mention of his future plans, and to leave William's present life to
go on under its own severe and stringent conditions, only softening
these a little to Jessie—and through her of course to his son—by
endowing her with such a modest marriage portion as she might have
received from her own schoolmaster-father had he lived and
prospered, instead of dying, as he had done, young and needy.
There was little enough of what Barby disparagingly called
"bride-cake and junketting" about that marriage day. And yet
it was a pretty wedding. Mr. Demetrius's parlour was made
bright with flowers, even at that wintry season; and though, except
Mr. Fraser and the minister and the young couple themselves, there
was nobody present but the Farquhar household, yet the little group
contained within itself the elements of reverence, and loveliness,
Barby, of course, was in the parlour when the two young lives
were bound in one, and Margery noticed that all that day she called
Jessie "the dear lamb." Barby was rustling awfully in a black
silk dress, the gift of Mr. Fraser.
"It's dreidfu' to be carryin' as muckle as a term's wage on
ane's back," she said submissively, "an' the auld Adam o' me
canna help wishin' that some I keened when I was a lassie could see
the thickness an' the quality o't! Weel, weel, a's vanity; but
this will last my time, I reckon, an' it'll do for occasions o' life
or o' deith, wi' a red ribbon or a bit crape."
They were all seated in the dining-room, partaking of what
would be probably the last meal they would enjoy together in this
world, when the afternoon post came in. It brought a newspaper
sent from the Melbourne Argos office, forwarded to prove the
insertion of the receipt advertisement Mr. Farquhar had sent to that
journal. Rab opened the packet and read the announcement,
which was simple enough:—
"Mr. Farquhar, of ――, Scotland, has received the £600
forwarded to the Shire Bank."
But another advertisement printed below this caught Rab's
eye, and he went on reading aloud, regardless of Barby's "Whisht!
that will keep":―
"Don't think ye've undone your sin by paying back the
money. It's no your credit, whoever ye are, that you didn't
ruin an honest man's house. You're beholden to each one that
rose up and did his own part, or you might have had the blude o' a
broken heart an' of spoiled lives to carry to your grave. You
put black, bitter feelings into crude kindly folk. I doubt you
are no better now than you were before, for you've been a thief, and
you're no honest till you ca' your deeds by their richt names.
Own to God the sin you did commit, and thank Him for saving you from
waur than you reckoned on. For an evil tree cannot bring forth
gude fruit, and, gin a sin doesna turn a curse to a' whom it
touches, it's because it's turned aside by something not o' itsel',
but o' the grace an' gift o' God. I'm sorry for you an' your
money-making, puir creatur'."
"Now, I'm quite sure that's your doing, Barby," said Rab.
"What made you go and send that long paragraph without saying a word
"Because I thought ane soul is worth as much as anither,"
returned Barby dryly, though her face was a little flushed, "an' a
puir word spoken straight into a man's sel' may be worth mair than a
gran' sermon shot up i' the air, like."
"Well," said Mr. Fraser, in his curt, decided way,—for
business was his highest element, and the more earnest he was the
more business-like he became,—"well, we are not drinking toasts, but
even as a few minutes ago we pressed our good wishes on these two
young people, so I think we may join in another wish—that no further
mishap, but rather all increase and blessing, may rest on the little
fortune so strangely restored to its rightful owner."
"And how can the fortune say 'Thank you'?" cried Rab.
"Let Barby speak for it," said his father with grave
gentleness; "for I begin to think that while we had her we never
lost the family fortune."
Close the doors upon them sitting there, glad thoughts in
every heart, the old folks content and satisfied, the prayers of
love fulfilled, the sweet hopes of youth a-blooming,—usefulness,
honour, possibly fame, attendant on each young life.
Never mind that some dark days must come in time, that new
difficulties must arise. We gather those flowers which have
expanded their beauty, and we leave the buds, knowing that they too,
through storm and sunshine, will ripen into perfect blossom.
WHAT life and
what household does not know long sweeps of days and weeks and
months, which are not much remembered because they were so quietly
content and happy? Such times are like tracts of rich flat
country, through which we pass with little notice beyond a general
consciousness of verdure and brightness, of a smooth path under foot
and a wide sky-view over head.
Such a time had come to the Farquhar family. It was not
only that their tiny patrimony was restored,—that family fortune
which, small as it was, yet amply sufficed to keep the daily
struggle of life from too close relation with daily needs.
That was much; and it was more than it might have been, through the
brightening influence it had on Mr. Farquhar himself. It
changed his views of society and of politics; it changed even his
choice of chapters and psalms for family worship. His children
were only thankful and relieved, but he himself was humbled.
He realized that Barby's warning had not been unneeded. He had
not blessed and trusted God in the day of emptiness, and that gave
one penitential prayer to this day of thanksgiving.
But this prosperous time was more than this: it gave leisure
and opportunity for them all to see what they had done and come
through, and what mischances might easily have befallen them.
"We turned a sharp corner," said practical Rab; "but we might
have had an awful spill. You don't know how I used to feel,
Laurie, in those first few days when I thought I'd have to give up
my profession. It would have been dreadfully easy to think
nothing could matter much, and then drift to the bad. Of
course one ought not to feel so,—there's no excuse for it; but it's
a blessing when one gets a help to be good."
"And everything happened so curiously," said Margery.
"It was such a series of little things which brought matters round
to be endurable and go on evenly. And it always seems to me as
if, had any link in the chain been dropped, all might have been
spoiled; and some looked such little links at the time, that it did
not seem to matter whether they were taken up or not."
"Of little things who little makes,
For lesser things he trouble takes,"
carolled Laurie, quoting from a German poet.
"But Barby was a brick!" pursued Rab. "Not five women
out of a hundred could have been what she was. Why, at first,
when everything seemed upset, the mere sight of her was enough to
"I felt that too," said Margery; "but then, of course, I had
the many wise words she said to me. I did not expect you would
have noticed it so much."
"Oh! it does not matter much what people say," returned Rab;
"it is what they are that tells—and what they do, perhaps."
"Yes," assented Laurie; "only any action may stand alone, and
what people are is the sum total of the actions of their whole
"One felt that nothing mattered to Barby," continued Rab.
"One might take all her savings out of the bank, and she would not
be poorer; one might give her a million, and she would not be
richer. One felt she could go to the very workhouse with a
good grace, and make it the right thing to do. She's a
terrible fine woman is Barby," he concluded, playfully using a local
using colloquialism, which in this case was not without its fitness.
And during this period, more than ever, the young folks tried
to coax Barby into bringing her work into the parlour instead of the
"Now I know you are going to preach us a sermon," Rab would
say, "so sit down and make yourself comfortable. It is not
becoming for a mentor to stand, hand upon door, to edify his
"I dinna ken wha your mentor is," Barby would say; adding
dryly, "but do your professors sit wi' their feet on squabs while
they're dinging their science into ye? Does the minister,
honest man! sit at his ease during service time? Wae's me if
my tongue's rinnin' on owre fast, for I was going to say the blessèd
angels the Bible tells us o' were aye just standin' up, ready to
start again on their Master's business,—an' I'm aff this minute to
But those happy years were not without their landmarks.
There was the beautiful time when all the young people went to
London for their first visit to that mighty magic maze of
magnificence, mystery, and misery. They were invited to make a
visit in the home of that English student, Theodore Bulkeley, who,
after his introduction to the Farquhars' home on that memorable
Christmas day, had returned again and again to share its sociality
and partake of its hospitality. It was their first real
"outing" into the great world of strange places and strange faces.
They had stayed in Edinburgh once in a kinsman's house; they had
repeatedly strayed into all sorts of out-of-the-way nooks far and
near on Dee-side, but made home-like by familiar presences and
names. Everybody felt that this was something quite different.
Why, instead of the half-grown-from frocks and coats which had been
packed up to wear out on Cousin David's farm near the Falls of
Corriemulzie, or in Aunt Mary's schoolhouse on Spey-side, everything
now must be new and fresh and perfect. It was Mr. Farquhar,
the anxious father, and Barby, the severely thrifty, who were the
first to insist on this. The young folks had not much thought
for themselves amid their eager delight at the marvels and novelties
before them. Only Margery felt something very like conviction
of sin when she bought two new dresses, a jacket, three pair of
gloves, and a hat, all at once. Some of the most honest and
simple-minded among us find it hard to fully realize that there is
not something wrong in any entirely new experience, especially if it
be a pleasant one.
Perhaps nobody in the house but Barby quite understood what
this going away really meant. Barby was a woman of few tears
now-a-days, but some hot drops fell now and then as she sat in her
clean kitchen "re-footing" the stockings for the three pair of dear
feet that would soon be trudging, as Barby chose to put it, "up to
the top o' the Monument, an' down to the bottom o' the Thames
"A'body kens what's coming," she said, "when the young birds
begin takin' wee trips frae the auld nest. They come back—oh
yes! Noah's doo came back ance an' again, but she left her
heirt outside; and whiles she went awa' again—and stayed. An'
he'd ha' been a puir fule gin he'd tried to keep her. An' sae
wad ye be, Barby woman. But dinna steek your tears; it's owre
gude o' the A'mighty to tak' care that some showers shall fa' in
ilka season o' life, or we should be dried-up, parched auld folk."
Was it some secret sense of greater changes prefigured by
this one which, after all the noisy joy of preparation, at the very
last, touched the three young people with a silent regretfulness
which had in it some shade of compunction.
"I almost wish we were not going, after all,—or I wish we
were all going together. There will be no such sunsets as this
in London," sighed Margery, standing at the west window.
"Does that speech mean that you are sorry to leave something
for our enjoyment while you are away?" said Mr. Demetrius, who
"Oh no!" cried Margery, passionately; "only I know how I
shall long for that sunset before I see it again."
"Take care you find the same sunset here when you do come
back," said Mr. Demetrius, mysteriously; but one could not tell
whether or not Margery heard him, for she had made up her mind not
to begin to cry, and was quite absorbed in bringing her eyes to the
But the visit proved pleasanter even than all anticipations.
And the home-coming was without a single cloud; and after they had
run through the house, with those well-known exclamations of "How
strange it seemed to see the unchanged old place!" and "How nice!"
and "How the beauty of going away lay in the coming back!" they
unfolded their budget of news.
That which we expect always comes at last in unexpected
quarters. Margery had fallen in love with nobody, and nobody
had fallen in love with her. Rab had come back with a fixed
antipathy to London—to all big cities—to any city bigger than his
own gray, prim Alma Mater. It was Laurie—Laurie to whom the
visit seemed least likely to be significant—for whom it had borne
"Eh! what's come owre ye? Are ye bewitched, laddie?"
was Barby's ejaculation; for the boy was a man, with the light of
definite purpose and ambition in his eyes, in place of the glancing
gleams of fancy.
He was bewitched—bewitched by that mighty syren,
London, who has lured so many to her heartless embrace. To
imaginative minds there is always a fascination about the unknown.
Who does not feel that a city wherein one sleeps for the first time
is different from all the other cities one knows? Do you hear
voices in the little court behind your inn?—there is a tragedy going
on there. Is there a light high up in the house
opposite?—there a genius is wasting himself with his midnight oil.
You start when a carillon peals from a neighbouring steeple: it does
not tell you it is eight o'clock, and time to shut up shop,—it is
the voice of the city rising in melody to God. The people
going to and fro are not common people: they are saints and martyrs,
--they have histories. And who can say that the fresh eye does
not see the truth—that inner fact which, like the secrets revealed
by the microscope, may not be exposed to the accidents of common
light and life?
And when this bewitchment is first felt in one of the great
capitals of the world, it is apt to overmaster a whole life.
For these great cities will always hold some nooks unexplored, some
secrets unfathomed; undressed tragedies will always keep rising to
the surface of their life-stream, with significant hints of those
which remain submerged. It takes a wide and long experience of
humanity to realize that all the elements of destiny, all the raw
material of agony and humour, can lurk in the quiet lives of a
hundred people in a village among the hills. The young will be
always fascinated by the mysterious and unwieldy. The child
gazes longer at a picture of the pyramids than at the outline of a
Laurie had done less "sight-seeing" in London than either of
the others. He had escaped from the loquacious and zealous
escort of Theodore Bulkeley, and had gone for quiet strolls with
Theodore's aunt, or with old Mr. Bulkeley. Miss Millicent
Bulkeley was something of an antiquarian, and knew the houses in
which poets had died and the churchyards in which they were buried.
She knew, too, the scenes which modern novelists had chosen for
their books; and though she did not take much interest in these,
being of a practical turn of mind, and thinking that was "only
fancy," yet she indicated them to Laurie for his own discovery and
exploration. Then he went with Mr. Bulkeley to the law courts,
and saw the wonderful, hopeful, ruined clients, the needy men with
vague claims to millions,—the men whom somebody had wronged in early
life, and had wronged themselves ever since by never forgetting it.
He went, too, to some of the police courts, and gazed with pitiful,
generous awe at the terrible forms and faces there creeping up to
testify, in the face of the sun, to the Inferno which a luxurious
civilization keeps beneath its banqueting-halls.
And then, perhaps more than all, he had gone
wandering—wandering by himself. He had peeped into scores of
city churches, where the pale light came ruddy through gorgeous
windows, and tinged the richly-carved pews, the soft cushions, and
grand prayer-books which the dead had left behind and the living
would use no more. He had found out ancient almshouses, up
blind courts, where the old people peeped out to see who this could
be, who was neither rector, warden, nor gossip, and felt uneasy in
their minds for days afterwards, and asked each other astonishing
questions about charity commissioners and the like. He had
gone down to Ratcliffe Highway, and stood trembling amid the awful
welcome which the greatest maritime nation in the world permits for
her home-coming sons and her stranger sailor-guests. He had
found out the old arch beneath which the Knights of St. John had
ridden in from the crusades. He looked down "the dark arches,"
that mysterious subterranean region by the river side which more
recent improvements have swept away, but which remained then, a
haunt of secret crime and houseless misery, and served to give the
shiver of realism to many an appalling legend whispered o' nights
round blazing fires in snug households hard by. He stood on
Bridge of Sighs. Its woeful heroine passed him at
every turn, even sadder in her laughter, her paint, and her finery
than she could be as the poet saw her, "rashly importunate, gone to
her death." And he saw the little boys—some of them with such
sweet, high-bred faces!—who before the school-board days used to
haunt Charing Cross, startling passengers by turning somersaults in
their rags, and walking beside 'bus horses on their hands, with bare
feet high in the air. Where were their mothers? Who were
their fathers? Which of them was destined to do well for
himself and for the world, and which to mount the gallows? Ah!
and Laurie saw Newgate, and stood by the dark Debtor's Door, and
thought of the long procession, some so innocent, some so guilty,
some repenting, some defiant, who had there looked their last on the
summer sky, and heard the clock of St. Sepulchre's strike their hour
of death just as it struck noon while he lingered there.
And this was not morbid. For it was not the crime, the
sin, or the suffering which attracted guileless Laurie, but sympathy
with a struggling humanity, and much such a sympathy as angels feel,
too; for Laurie could not understand the fascination of temptations
of the baser sort, and looked on their victims with the pity we feel
for those who succumb to the inroads of loathsome disease.
Why was it that London suddenly seemed to be Laurie
Farquhar's home, and the pleasant city by the northern sea only the
place where he had stayed till he had found the other? Who can
fathom these mysterious attractions? Have not men been
strangely drawn towards unknown places, which they have discovered
to be the scene of their birth, or the dwelling of their life's
love? And we shall each die somewhere. Where? In
some quiet churchyard there is a corner waiting for our dust.
It may be under the shadow of some familiar tower, or it may be some
spot we have passed only once, or not at all yet. Have we ever
seen it in some forgotten dream?
But if London had made a captive of Laurie, he had taken two
London hearts by storm. Old, quiet, subdued hearts they were,
into which he stole like the shadow of the departed. Theodore
Bulkeley had had a brother a year younger than himself, whose birth
had cost their mother her life, and who had, therefore, been loved
both by their father and aunt with that intense affection which is
generally rooted in anguish. The boy had grown up bright,
impulsive, and enthusiastic, and had died—died on the threshold of
manhood—died at the very age Laurie was when he came as a guest to
the Bulkeleys' house. The father had never been the same man
since. His wife's death had nearly broken his heart nineteen
years before; and though he took this second grief quietly and
undemonstratively, as they do who are experienced in pain, yet it
came to a nature worn by long endurance, and the remnant of his
energies and hopefulness failed before it, as the dry leaves fall in
the lightest breeze that follows a long drought. He went about
his professional duties with no heart in them, but as if it were
easier merely to keep in the old groove than even to fall out of it.
He loved Theodore, and was proud of him and interested in his
progress; but Theodore had his own face, and the bluff hearty
manners and robust constitution of his own youth, while the dead lad
had been the mother's child, and had been admitted to that share of
the father's heart which the wife's death had left empty.
Aunt Millicent Bulkeley, too, had bitterly grieved over the
loss of her nephew, though she did so in her own peculiar fashion,
and that was one widely different from her brother's patient
pursuance of duties which from being a pleasure had gradually
changed into a burden. The servants felt the weight of Miss
Millicent's sorrow. Woe be to the maid who left a speck of
dust on plate or piano! The china cabinets were all turned out
and thoroughly cleaned every week, all the linen drawers were
re-assorted, and new pillow-cases were made up with frills.
"It do be the way that some works off their feelings," philosophized
the cook, exhorting the house and parlour maids to patience under
the trial which did not greatly affect herself.
But on the first night of the young people's arrival from
Scotland, as soon as Mr. Bulkeley and his sister were left together,
the old gentleman said, "Millicent, that younger lad has a look of
Aunt Millicent knew who was meant.
"Yes," she answered. But she did not add what she
thought—namely, that leaves may resemble each thought—namely either
in nature or in condition: two leaves may be both ivy leaves, or the
one may be oak and the other elm, only both alike dying leaves.
"There's nothing lovelier than the autumn death-flush," pondered
Aunt Millicent; "but it's no use setting your heart on that sort of
beauty unless you want it broken," and then straightway set her own
heart on Laurie, and forgot all the cold wisdom of that first
And so it came to pass that while Laurie's heart was yearning
towards London, a place was preparing for him there. Theodore
maintained a living link between the two households, and knew all
the needs, and plans, and yearnings of both. And thus Laurie's
life, whose indeterminateness had sometimes worried his father,
found form. For a bookish future he had always destined
himself. Not that he had, or fancied he had, literary genius.
He was one of those who can only stand in the author's relation to
human life, as he may be said to stand in the artist's towards
nature who loves a sweet landscape and appreciates a noble picture,
but cannot draw a single line himself. He had gone on to the
formal higher education, assured that it would be of use to him
somehow, and he had worked in it harder, because lovingly and
reverently, than many another student to whom knowledge was nothing
more than the mill wherewith to grind grist. He would be
a school-master—a tutor. He would not love teaching probably,
but be would love his pupils, and somehow in that he would manage to
find those soft soul-embraces without which such as he cannot live.
And it ended in a resolution to become a lawyer! You
who have drawn your ideas of the profession from the conventional
picture of a skin-flint man, with a thick bill of costs in which the
unhappy client is charged for an "opinion" accidentally given in
conversation at his own table, need not scoff too hastily. It
was not thus that the functions of the office were presented to
Old Mr. Bulkeley had told him strange histories of old cases,
and showed him how human souls, with all their passions and agonies,
their loves and losses, were beating as warmly behind the dry
technicalities of Chancery cases as are human hearts within the bony
skeleton of the human frame. He had showed him the lawyer, not
merely as the searcher among the fossils of the past, but as the
architect of the justice of the future, the builder of freedom
broadening "from precedent to precedent," the watchful rejecter of
the flawed or ill-hewn thing which might mar the symmetry of the
fabric. Mr. Bulkeley was not a distinguished public man, nor
had he a very large or lucrative connection; but he had done good
work in his day. Laurie's ambition was stimulated to hear of
wrongs righted here and frauds exposed there; but perhaps Laurie's
imagination was keener than his ambition, and it was strangely
stirred by stories wherein a wise and prudent word—the counsels of
equity and moderation—had saved lives and fortunes from ruin, and
had spared the innocent from scandal, without letting the guilty
escape from judgment.
And so it was finally arranged that as soon as Laurie had
obtained the degree which would entitle him to the shortest possible
period of legal apprenticeship, he was to go to London to enter Mr.
Bulkeley's office, and live in Mr. Bulkeley's house.
"The lad can sleep in his bedroom," said the old lawyer to
his sister, as they planned out the whole matter long beforehand.
"Yes, certainly," said Miss Millicent. "I'm inclined to
think we should always put a stranger into the place of anybody who
leaves us to go among the angels. It seems the more to bind us
And so Barby had been right after all, and the beginning of
the end had lain in that first family flight from the old home.
Only it happened after nature's quieter and sunnier methods—her
plantings of seeds, not her volcanic rendings of rocks.
Truly enough the Farquhar household never settled down again;
it had got into the current of life, and that must flow.
Before he passed his last professional examination, Rab took a
season as surgeon on a whaler. It gave him experience, and the
quiet, fresh life—such a blessèd change from dissecting-room and
hospital-ward was, under these circumstances, not only costless but
remunerative. Barby and Margery got ready his outfit, talking
rather volubly, not of the parting and the dangers, but of the
beauty of icebergs and the marvels of the aurora borealis.
And if Margery had grown womanly in her work and in her
independence, a new touch of womanliness came on her now. Just
a slight refining of the outline of brow and cheek, just a gentler
fall in her voice. The lot of her sex was on her—that lot of
patient loving and longing, which none need fear that woman will
ever lose in the stress of any new duties or the freedom of any new
rights. A woman will always remain a woman whether her womanly
yearnings be turned in upon herself, to flood and waste her whole
nature, or whether they be set free to fertilize the world around
And yet women are often the last to recognize this, and there
were friends and acquaintances who thought, and even said, that
Margery must suffer less than they themselves did when their
brothers went away, because she was so "self-contained," and had "so
many resources of her own," and such "a thoroughly independent
life." As if capacity for pain does not grow with all
development of nature, or as if the heart loses its activity when
the head and hand gain theirs! Let such carry their theory to
its logical conclusion, and assert that they, in their turn, cannot
love so well or suffer so keenly as the indolent, imprisoned
houris of Turkish harems.
But there were days and even weeks in that time when Margery
did not touch her drawings or her blocks, but went back to her
darnings and dustings as if she had never done anything else.
And when she went to her work again, Mr. Demetrius looked at her
production again, something like silent respect, for he did not
utter his usual word of praise. And the next drawing of hers
which appeared in a certain monthly magazine was alluded to by more
than one review.