Family Fortunes (IV)

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II.

Rab's Choice.


RAB came back safely from his whaling expedition; came back loaded with moccasins, quaintly-carved pipes, and coarse skins from the rough seals of the North Seas.  He had a model-ship too, made by his ship's cook; and that was straightway put in a case and fixed up in the hall, with a curious sense of pride and elation which belonged less to itself than to the gratified ambitions of those childish days when the little Farquhars had seen and coveted such treasures in the houses of neighbourly master-mariners.  More than all, Rab brought back an air of quiet power, "the certain step of man," which, after all, nothing can give except some sort of real contact with the actual world.

    He had made friends, too.  Margery and her father went down to the docks, and walked the decks their dear boy had so often tramped in weary home-sickness, and there they conversed with the companions of his solitude.  They were rude and simple men, full of rude and simple praises of Rab, emphasized by grave shakings and noddings of head intended to supply all deficiencies in their powers of expression.  Mr. Farquhar and Margery returned home, thankful and proud, but a little astonished.  They loved and valued Rab, of course, because they knew him so well; but they wondered that strangers should so quickly learn to love and value him.  He did not let himself out very easily.  When he had to say a harsh thing, he was apt to say twice as much as he intended.  When he wanted to speak kindly, he was apt to say half what he meant, through honest but perhaps morbid dread lest his words should outrun his deeds.  They were delighted at his popularity; only it somewhat upset their theories that you had to know him and his ways thoroughly before you could appreciate him.

    The old ship's carpenter, whom Rab asked up to sup with Barby, because they were both "characters," could have explained it.

    "There be times, marm," said he, "when shams warn't go down at all, nohow.  And those be most times on the North Seas.  Why, it's so with the werry buttons!  Me an' one o' my mates, a young chap, was walking down your big street the other day, an' we saw a gal all over buttons.  She had 'em here, an' she had 'em there, an' two rows down her back.  'Now,' says I, 'Jim, how long do it take that gal to get into her clothes, an' how do she reach them buttons behind her?'  He laughed at me.  'Bless you,' he says, 'them buttons don't fasten; they're put on to make a show like.'  Now, nobody'd put on buttons to make a show on the North Seas; it takes you all your time to keep fast those you want.  An' it's so with oneself.  Ye don't profess to be what you ain't when there's nothing to be gained by it.  A man don't make believe to love you, if he doesn't, when love means sharing lime juice and flannels that ain't too much for himself.  The last doctor we had afore Mr. Robert Farquhar, he died, he did, poor fellow; and the best I could say for him while I was sewing him up in the sail was just that he'd done well for his folk at the last, by making a decent end out of sight."

    Then in due time came the proud and happy day when Rab took his degree, and was to come forth fully equipped and licensed for the war with sickness and suffering.  Mr. Farquhar, and Margery, and Laurie, and Mr. Demetrius were all there, seated in the second-row seats, with quite self-conscious modesty feeling themselves so important that they remembered to try not to appear so!  It was a delicious spring day, and the stately old college-room was flooded with sunshine, twinkling through the bits of stained glass in the tall windows, and brightening even the ancient portraits, whose complexions time had reduced to a biliousness in harmony with the severity of their features; for they seemed all a-frown, either at the shameless pagan goddesses who had here and there strayed in among themselves, or at the naughty students below ranged against the wall, primed alike for favourable comment on the lady visitors or heartless criticism of those just risen from their own ranks, and awkwardly taking their places on the seat of honour.

    "Capping-day" was an annual opportunity for a morning's pleasant idling with many of the townsfolk.  Margery knew that nothing but her own excitement could make her feel as if their presence was a sort of personal or rather family compliment.  But the feeling was justified in one or two cases.  Mr. Fraser came, gravely remarking that he had not seen the ceremony for twenty-five years.  And the whaling skipper's "good lady" came, with a very full white frill filling up the big black satin bonnet front round her weather-beaten bronzed face, which looked as if all the winds and storms which her husband had fronted had somehow reached her seated beside her hearth.  The students gave her a cheer when she came in, a compliment she did not seem to notice; but she carried with her a grand umbrella, with a handle of carved Indian ivory, and afterwards, whenever they "ruffed," she rapped.  The sight of her honest, hardworking face renewed poor Margery's reproachful reflections on Barby's absence.  For Barby would not come, though each separately and all collectively had tried to persuade her.  "There was the house to set in order," she had said.  "That could be done beforehand," Margery had pleaded.  "There was the dinner to be prepared.  Were not one or two gentlemen coming to join it?  An' it was no like ony day's dinner; they'd mind it to the end o' their lives."  "They would sooner go without dinner altogether than let it make a prisoner of Barby," Laurie had said.  Rab had suggested "a cold collation;" and Margery, that an extra woman could be hired for the occasion.  Barby had retorted, "that lads never knew how to hide their sense mair than when they put it into hoosehold matters; an' that, as for an extry woman, she'd gie her her wages twice owre, no to come, but to keep awa'."

    Margery had yielded very reluctantly, with a consciousness that Barby's real reasons were not assigned, nay, with a defined belief that the good woman had felt that her homely fashions and humble station might be resented in those college halls, and haply earn a sneer for those she loved and honoured.  This was not like Barby, and Margery felt disappointed.  Was there to be no triumph without this dreary cutting off behind?  Could not Barby have trusted herself and them?  And yet Barby was so always right that it was hard to think her wrong.  Margery had lived to see how right Barby had been in her flat denial and ridicule of her own and Laurie's young enthusiastic dreams of such "equality" as should give Barby a seat in the parlour, even when there were visitors.  Margery was humble enough to feel that where she had so often been wrong she was very likely to be wrong again, only she could not yet feel so.  And what was her intense delight, when, just before the door was closed and the important ceremony about to commence, Barby herself actually slipped in, with a look of mingled hurry and shamefacedness, and thankfully accepted a seat in a corner.

    It did not seem much of a solemnity after all.  Ceremonies seldom seem so to those who are in them.  For them the real solemnity precedes the form, and winds them up to a height from which its set and unyielding ritual only lets them gently down.

    It was pleasant to see and hear that Rab was popular with his fellow-students—pleasant to mark that more than one professor added a word or two to his formal greeting to the new graduate.

    Margery almost wished that Rab's future wife (whoever she was to be) could have been present to be proud of him.  It seemed almost unfair to that unknown woman that so much that was eventful in Rab's life was to pass without her.  Of course Rab would marry.  Say what one may against mothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, there are few who would contemplate with selfish delight the prospective bachelorhood of son or brother.  Yet Margery was human, and was thankful that the unknown future was not this Miss Scott or that Miss Gray, who were both present, and whom Margery knew too well to like, and who had certainly set their hats at Rab in their day, not as an individual— Margery would have loved them for that!—but merely as one in a stream which, though M.B.'s may go and undergraduates come, still flows on for ever.

    There was one face in that room which fascinated and riveted Margery.  She even caught herself watching it while her brother was taking the oath of his profession.  Its very unfamiliarity might make part of the charm, in a city where most of the faces one saw, named or nameless to the ear, were at least familiar to the eye.  But this face would have been striking anywhere, and, as it seemed to Margery, would weary or sate one as little as an antique cast or a stately lily.

    The face belonged to a lady.  She could not have been older than twenty-four, but she was one of those whom you would not describe as a young lady, because that phrase suggests something so remote from all she was.  It was very pale, but with the clear dark paleness of perfect health.  The features, without being large, were grandly cut, and had none of those "finikin" touches which generally mar those faces which we moderns fondly call "classic."  The woman might be an Antigone, or she might have it in her to be a Medea; but one could not fancy those well-opened, onlooking eyes leering for admiration, or that grave mouth uttering insincere compliments.

    But the face had a stronger charm than even this beautiful dignity.  It had a secret.  It had suffering in it; but so have many faces, and there is a freemasonry among eyes which have wept.  Hers had not learned that secret.  Pain, which drives most souls together, had driven hers apart.  Not that she appeared or affected to be self-absorbed.  She manifested a keen and watchful interest in her surroundings, heeded her companions' hints to look here and there, and in her turn directed their notice.  Probably, they never dreamed she was unhappy.  Possibly, she herself was so accustomed to it that for the time she forgot it.

    She was not in mourning: her dress was set off with rich satin and beautiful lace; but from head to foot there was not one dash of colour about her.  All was black or white.  It seemed singular that in so young and beautiful a woman there should be no self-decorative instinct to prompt the binding of a scarlet ribbon or the fixing of a crimson flower.

    It is strange how, from the crowds of humanity, one face will seize our fancy and fasten itself in our memory.  For weeks afterwards Margery often recalled that face, though all her questions addressed to both her brothers failed to elicit any information as to the name and personality of the beautiful lady, who had struck Laurie's keen eye as she had struck Margery's, but whom Rab in the excitement of the hour had failed to notice.

    "Why, Barby, what a shame it was of you to worry me by making me think you would not come," was Margery's gentle greeting as she entered the kitchen, to which Barby, after the end of the ceremony, had hurried back with such haste that Margery found her as deep in her work as if she had never left it.

    Barby looked up with a grim smile.  "It was a bit o' the auld Adam," she said; "he's hard to ding oot.  It was just real spite an' pride; an' I will na say it's a' gane yet, but I ken it's bound to go.  And then I minded Master Rab's capping couldna come owre again, when I was in a gude spirit, an' all eternity wadna gie me back what I flung awa' i' my tiffs.  Sae I up an' went.  It's an ill thing is a thrown temper, but haudin' it in is fine exercise."

    Margery put her two little hands on the old woman's bony shoulders and gave her a loving little shake.  And did she mistrust Barby any the more because for once she was in the right and Barby in the wrong?  Nay, she felt that the frank acknowledgment of weakness was the best sign of strength,—that whoever owns himself in the wrong, at once puts himself in the right.

    Then came the questions and plans and decisions as to Rab's start in life.  Of course, he had many "chances" which came to nothing—"openings" whose working required a capital on which he could have lived almost for the remainder of his life.  One does not get a very inspiriting view of the world at these times.  There is a haunting sense of respectable sharpers about, watching for inexperience with anything to lose, which is apt to develop into an indolent consciousness that it may be as well to remain idle and needy, and so 'scape robbers, as to be diligent and frugal in gathering for others to grasp.

    "I may say that I have saved two or three thousand pounds while I have been looking for a working post," said Rab archly; "for I'm sure I should have lost them if I'd had them."

    Perhaps more demoralizing still is the revelation of character and life which one gains in advice bestowed on one by those whom one has been accustomed to regard as honourable and upright.  One finds some who think the grand object of life is to get a good income anyhow; others, to get the maximum of money for the minimum of work.  Then there is one who tells you you must make a show, you must have this or that, and if you cannot pay for them, you must get them on credit.  Then there are others who urge on you the necessity of doing what other people do, and the folly of thinking anything wrong which the world thinks right.

    "Get into a good groove, and all is easy," say such snug counsellors; whereon young rebels like Rab Farquhar retort, sometimes audibly, sometimes inwardly, "that grooves are apt to get choked up with dirt."

    But two openings, both, at least in their own way, honest and genuine, came at last, and came in almost together.

    One was held out by a client of Mr. Bulkeley's, and the negotiation was carried on at first through that discreet lawyer.  The client was an elderly medical man, who had long practised in a fashionable English watering-place.  He was wealthy, was growing old, and was less anxious to make money by a partner than to take one who would act under his instructions, and allow him to retain sole charge of such patients as he chose.  He would ask no cash from Rab, whom Mr. Bulkeley enthusiastically recommended, but would expect the young man to be satisfied with such moderate arrangements for the present as would be amply compensated for by the advantageous introduction and the moral certainty of succession.

    The other possible appointment was a parish post in a little Highland town on the lonely shore of the Dornoch Firth, and away from any railway, great castle, or popular hunting-ground.  The emoluments of the office would secure a very simple livelihood; for all beyond that, Rab would have to look for practice among a needy and hardy set of people, little likely to nurse imaginary maladies or to call for any help but Nature's, save in some great stress of life or death.

    In Rab's outer circles there was no doubt as to which chance should be taken.  In fact, one or two of his late fellow-students had already for themselves rejected that Highland town and all belonging to it.  It had no society, no distractions, no luxuries—nothing but pure air, plain food, and genuine work.  The English watering-place offered exactly such a paradise as most of them were vainly hankering after.  Some of them grew very polite to Rab at that time, and he was astonished to find what an especial friend of his each had always held himself, and how many good reasons there were that he, and no other, should be remembered by Rab for "any little titbit" he could not take up himself.

    At home the expression of opinion was more guarded.  The feeling was that nothing should be accepted or rejected without a full knowledge of its merits, and that any influence towards either should be withheld till these were ascertained.  Perhaps Mr. Demetrius said more than anybody else, and the sum of what he said was this:—

    That at the English watering-place there would not be much danger of Rab's being killed by over-work or dying off in an epidemic.  That a great many old ladies made their wills at such places, and very kindly remembered those whom they had not known long enough to weary of.  That many elderly young ladies of independent fortune frequented these resorts.  That Rab had better read up medical opinions on diet and exercise.  That he should take every opportunity of studying hysteria.  That he would have to invest in a gold eyeglass.  That he would also have to decide between two mannerisms,—the sweetly sympathetic, and the bluntly original and rude, and that probably the latter paid best in the long-run.

    Rab had, of course, heard all these facts duly represented to him by his compeers, but in very different guise.  They had said he would have no setting of broken limbs or bandaging of broken heads.  That he would have grateful and appreciative patients.  That if a doctor was a gentleman, and made himself popular in a place where one came across the best society, nobody knew what might happen.  Had not Dr. Mele, of the Sutor Wells, married an earl's daughter?  That Rab would have opportunities of spreading sound hygienic instruction among those who would have it in their power to obey his hints, instead of breaking his heart by recommending nourishment and change of air to starving seamstresses.  That it would be such a consolation to feel that not extravagance but the absolute exigencies of his position compelled him to surround himself with the amenities of existence.  That he would not need to be truckling or insincere (they clapped him on the back, and said what an honest fellow he was to think of that!), since one could make oneself quite a fashion by speaking the truth in a certain way,—that many invalids ran after sharp words even more than after bread pills and coloured water.

    Rab put the two statements together in his own mind and said little.  But he wrote to the authorities in the Highland town, asking a few days' grace for consideration, as he had another offer pending.  "Sly dog!" commented a brother graduate.  "I'll engage he says the same to his friend at the watering-place, and doesn't say what an offer the other is, and his value is rising according."  And Rab looked up with one long keen glance from beneath his thick shaggy eyebrows, and took another sheet of paper and re-wrote his letter to the Highland town-clerk, saying this time only that a private matter prevented him from hastily closing with an offer that would be otherwise only too acceptable, and which he yet hoped to accept.  And the other graduate whistled and wagged his head, and went out all over the town, whispering the story and provoking sundry suspicions that either Rab was "the deepest of the deep," or that the Farquhars must have plenty of private means or influence, let them make believe otherwise as they might.

    It was, perhaps, highly characteristic of Rab that, before taking any definite step, he resolved to spy out the advantages of the watering-place, and to leave the disadvantages of the Highland town to take care of themselves.

    Yet it was a long and expensive journey, though Rab did it in a third-class railway carriage and provided himself with sandwiches.

    Certainly Clewermouth and all the country round it had charms.  Rab's eyes, accustomed to the sterile fields and few stunted trees of his own northern region, positively feasted on the wooded valleys and shady winding roads through which the end of his journey passed.  And Clewermouth itself, with its rich gardens, its varied architecture, and its ample suburbs, was in beautiful contrast with the little, prim, monotonous, well-defined towns he knew so well on his north-east coast.

    The old doctor had invited the young stranger to be his guest, and Rab found himself surrounded by a quite new atmosphere of softness and luxury and leisure.  There was a grown-up family, including two or three unmarried daughters.  The house was artistic as well as luxurious, and in the evening there was music of the highest class in the drawing-room.  Every domestic appointment was dainty and elaborate.  There were greenhouses and hothouses, painting-rooms and laboratories.  Rab felt almost a twinge of envy: beside all this, the dear old home aspirations seemed such a weary making of bricks without straw!  But if he was specially fascinated by anything it was by the tone of the conversation—it was so subtle, so appreciative, it took so much for granted, it flowed on like an implied compliment.

    He heard of the work which lay before him.  And in the streets and at the delightful evenings "at home" he saw some of his future patients—pursy dowagers, pale, discontented spinsters, gouty diners-out, nervously-exhausted makers of millions, and a few sweet fading faces, like flowers gathered from the fresh spring breezes to wither under a glass case.

    He heard of the resident wealthy population, people who had made money at home or abroad, and now, finding nothing else to do, amused themselves with fancying they were ill, or got bored into really being so, and spent the fortunes painfully made for them by Indian coolies or Irish navvies, in fancy-rented villas building whose bad and hasty building had demoralized the working people of Clewermouth, on insolent and undisciplined servants who had no wholesome dread of dismissal in a town where new-comers came every month, ready to offer higher wages for less work, and on all sorts of unwholesome dainties and ugly ornaments sold to them at enormous prices by a race of shopkeepers who failed every five years, because they set their expenditure by the profits of "the season," and made no provision against the slackness of "the dull time."

    He heard, too, of the still wealthier floating population, who in some of the great cities spent half the year in eating too much, drinking too much, dancing too much, coveting too much, and sinning too much, and then came down to Clewermouth to get advice and take the waters and rest, till they could go back to their eating and drinking, their dancing their coveting, and their sinning with renewed enjoyment, leaving behind them a horrible fungus-growth of unhomely boarding-houses, permanently haunted by ruined gentlemen and spectral women who never spoke of the past.

    He went to the churches, too, and heard a strange gospel, which seemed specially prepared for the rich and sickly,—a gospel which had nothing in it of the wholesome severity and divine energizing of Him who had power to say either "Thy sins be forgiven," or, "Rise, take up thy bed and walk."  This was a gospel whose chief active virtue seemed to be almsgiving—urged always, without any warning that no God's blessing but the very devil's curse rests on ill-got money ill bestowed, in sheer spiritual selfishness.  And the chief passive virtue of this religion was resignation, without any question whether our woes were of our own procuring, and might not even yet be within our powers of cure.

    And somehow, after Rab had seen and heard these things, he found the beauty gone from the beautiful home where he was living.  At best it now seemed like Boccacio's selfish refuge from the plague-stricken city; at worst, like the "Palace of Art" in that poem which, when Laurie had read it, had mystified Rab and meant nothing, but which, when now be read it again from a book on his toilet shelf, burned with significance.  And then it struck him that, after all, there was very little done among all those perfect appliances—that the daughter's art and the son's science and the mother's philanthropy ended in nothing but a consciousness of their own superiority and a sense of critical equality with workers whom they should have been content to reverence.  Even that fascinating conversation had a curious capacity for eluding one's grasp; it flowed on and on, like a running stream on a smooth slope, swift and clear and musical, but too shallow to float a boat, too feeble to turn a wheel, and, it might be, too bitter for refreshment.

    "I don't say that what is bad for me must be bad for everybody," said Rab to himself.  "Some people can breathe well in mines, yet I do think it is generally understood that mountain-tops are healthier.  But, anyhow, I'm smothered here.  I can't stand it.  It seems to me like the life of Sisyphus, and Tantalus, and that man with the donkey and the wisp, all rolled into one.  If one could stay and contend with it, of course that would be very fine.  Yet there are some things for which a wholesome neglect—a leaving to Nature's methods—is the best cure.  At any rate, a raw recruit has no right to choose the hardest place, especially when it looks like the easiest and best paid."

    He wrote to the Highland town and accepted the appointment there, and simultaneously wrote home and told what he had done; and he did both before he announced his decision to his host at Clewermouth.

    At his pressing invitation, Rab lingered there two days longer, and all the family were very kind to him, with just that dash of pitifulness in their kindness which people generally show towards those whose folly they lament, but cannot hinder.

    "Yes," said the old doctor, as from his dining-room window he watched Rab's cab drive off to the station, "there goes a fine young fellow, a very fine young fellow, who for some reasons best known to himself has thrown behind him such a chance of reputation and fortune as I flatter myself few can get.  He is one of those strange people who would be so utterly trustworthy, if they were not a little wrong-headed."

    The doctor's daughter sighed.


 
III.

The Curse of the Carrich.


IT was early autumn when Rab fairly left home to enter on the duties of his future life.

    The real solemnity of such such starting-points in our history are mercifully veiled for us by a multitude of matters and feelings which crowd round it and hide it, as the rank weeds of a wild moor may hide its curious relic of a runic cross.  Bewildering wonderments as to the petty details of his future housekeeping, and vague conjectures as to the characters of his future neighbours, would rise in poor Rab's mind during his journey, quite out of proportion to his realization of the fact that now home was no longer home, feign what he might, and that he had fairly taken his stand in the foremost rank of life, and had no visible authority to answer to between himself and God.

    He reached his destination in the evening.  Surely if there was any place in Great Britain unlike Clewermouth, it was this.  If he ever learned to love Carrich it must be for something other than seductive graces.

    And yet there was something about the grim little town which the beautiful, bountiful city of pleasure had lacked—had either lost, or had never possessed.  Matter-of-fact Rab did not define the spell; he only felt it.  Carrich was a place where generations had lived and loved and died.  Carrich was embalmed in many a memory.  Many a hardy son in far foreign lands, who would return to her no more, saw, in waking and in sleeping dreams, her rugged tower, her bare market-place, and her treeless streets, guarded by her range of bleak, frowning hills.  Carrich had a ballad or two of her very own;—and who would write a ballad about Clewermouth?  There was all the difference between the two that there is between a trusty, crusty, motherly old nurse, with her home-thrust proverbs and rhymes, and the smart young female of the modern refreshment bar, with her one or two garish sentiments to suit all comers.  Something of this resemblance struck even Rab's simple, unmetaphorical mind as he stood on the roadside where the coach put him down and thought that this, as a place, was a parallel with Barby as a woman.

    Did that seem a compliment or an insult?  Like all these northern towns, Carrich was built wholly of stone, but owing to the nature of the quarries in the neighbourhood, it was not so colourless as some, and in no light could it ever wear the weird, transparent ghastliness which gray granite so readily assumes.  Here there were faint flushes of red, and deeper shades of brown and dun.  The town was overlooked by a heavy square tower, which rose high above every other building, and being, as Rab's question elicited, still used as the jail, added the sentiment to the semblance of severity, and made one conjure up visions of wild marauding chieftains or ghastly hill-side murderers, whom perhaps it once had darkly welcomed, rather than of the well-known town's drunkard or stubborn poacher who was its worst guest now-a-days.

    A few houses of the better sort stood back from the market-place, across which Rab's guide conducted him.  The better the house the older, seemed the rule in Carrich; for in days gone by the place had had an importance and a glory which had departed from it, and anything modern about it seemed always to be pinched and poor.  The old builders had had an eye for the picturesque rather than any idea of the wholesome.  The ancient houses were scant of window and low in roof, and had been built with no heed for the scant sunshine of the region, albeit with some precaution against its fierce and searching winds.

    Rab talked to his porter as they went along, and even those few careless questions and replies served to convince him how rapidly the tide of social life and a higher prosperity was receding from the little place.  One after another of the better houses he found to be in the lingering possession of agèd widowed ladies, whose sons had evidently not thought it worth while to pursue the callings of their respective fathers in their native place.  Others were lying absolutely empty.  Rab noticed a very flourishing cobweb stretched across the door of the assembly rooms.  And yet the town was not so very far from the railway, and, indeed, if it had contained any enterprise or energy, it might surely have been easy to connect it therewith by a branch line.

    "The place is going down, sir," said the porter, a handsome Highlander, speaking with the good accent and grammar of a formally acquired tongue.  "It need not have done so, we think.  Douloch is prospering; Carrich people go there.  There is no trade here, no manufactory; and the farmers can scarcely pay their way.  There's nothing for the poor folk to do, and they are sore tempted to poaching and such like; and those are bad ways, which mean worse than themselves whenever they begin."

    "How do you account for it?" asked Rab.

    He shook his head.  "There's no accounting for it," he answered.  "Names are mentioned sometimes, and blamed.  I don't mention them in that light.  When a man lets a place go down, perhaps God has first let him go down.  The men of Carrich always followed Carrichmore; and now, if they don't want to go down hill with him, they must go fro Carrich."

    Rab stole a glance at the calm face of this lowly man, whose words and thoughts were full of the stubborn loyalty and terrible fatalism which, under the spell of a name, had in years gone by decimated the Highland districts for the sake of a prince they had never seen and a cause they scarcely understood.

    "You won't have quite plain climbing yourself, sir," continued this son of the hills; "the town could not put up with its last doctor any longer, but he bides here still; he is a favourite with Carrichmore."

    "I suppose there are one or two lawyers in Carrich," said Rab, the question occurring to him as they passed the grim portal of the portentous jail.

    "Yes, sir, two; one is Carrichmore's own agent, and the other's a great friend.  You can't expect a man to go against his friend, sir.  But he's honest enough; he tells us how to give Carrichmore his will in the way easiest to ourselves."

    Who or what was this Carrich?  Rab could have gathered from what he heard now, even apart from previous knowledge, that he was the nearest and most considerable land-owner in the neighbourhood.  But Rab's idea of him was fast escaping from any such narrow statistical description, and he was assuming mysterious and horrible proportions, in the style of the Theban sphinx or St. George's dragon.  Rab thought of both these stories now, though he had been apt to tease poor Laurie's admiration of such legends on the score of their unnaturalness and total incredibility.  Was it possible that some constantly recurring fact of human experience lay beneath them?  A new place and fresh people, it may be perceived, were not without influence even on matter-of-fact Rab.  If they did not bestow on him the poet's eye, at least they opened his to see what the poet was aiming after in his delineations of what he perceived himself.

    He was not long in reaching his destination.  It was a long, low house, built of brown stone of various shades, which suggested that the building had been added to at sundry times.  At each side of the door stood two well-grown dark evergreens, reminding Rab of the "mutes" whom he had seen once or twice awaiting London funerals.  Nor was the ghastly illusion destroyed by the appearance and expression of the maid who opened the door.  She was young and ruddy, but unutterably solemn.  One would have thought that a girl accustomed to serve a severe old lady would have greeted the advent of youth and new life with expectant pleasure.  But she was a Highlander, and had thrown her life into her mistress's life; and this letting of part of the house to "the strange doctor," though it might arrest its sinking fortunes, was regarded by that mistress rather as the stern mark of how far they had sunk.  For weeks past the girl had heard nothing but reflections on the uncertainty of human hopes and the certainty of human misery.  The old lady had persistently drained the dregs of what she chose to consider her humiliation.  She had prayed that her mind might be brought to the low level of her lot, and had thought her prayer was answered when she prefaced her new domestic instructions with such remarks as, "It is the duty of lodging-house keepers," or, "I have no longer only my own taste to consult."

    She stood at the door of the dining-room to receive Rab.  She had prepared a meal for him with that homely carefulness which eludes the "perfect service" of the best hotels; his chamber lacked no touch that skill and motherly thoughtfulness could give.  Yet she made Rab uncomfortable at once by ignoring his outstretched hand, and saying grimly,—

    "I am Mrs. MacAlister, your landlady."

    She was a small, straight woman, with long, strongly-marked features framed in an old-fashioned widow's cap.

    "I fear you'll find Carrich dull, sir," she said formally, following him into the dining-room.

    "Then I shall have to make it lively," rejoined Rab, with a laugh which to his own ears sounded very forced and timid, and to hers excessively free and easy.  In her heart she hoped he would find it dull and would go away, and that the next doctor would be a married man who would take a house of his own.  Yet she had received this lodger of her own free will.  Scarcely; for she was in reality one of those fatalists who are far more common than we imagine.  When Rab's advertisement for apartments in Carrich had remained unanswered for more than a week, she had answered it, feeling that his coming to her was one of those things "that was to be."  She knew she was eking out her living by encroaching on her scanty principal, to the perpetual decrease of her minute revenue, and that such a course could have but one end.  But for years her whole nature had been nourished only by pain, and she had grown ravenous of her bitter food.  Human nature has queer corners, and ambition does not grow less for being strangely crooked.  We know that she who strives to take from the sum of her years when she is in the thirties, will try to add to them when she is past fourscore.  Mrs. MacAlister had seen the day when she had been the beauty of Carrich, the wife of its popular and rising townsman, the mother of its brightest and bonniest bairns.  She had learned to be satisfied with nothing but superlatives; and now that the superlatives of bliss and fortune were irretrievably gone, she resented anything which interfered between her and the superlatives of woe and loss.  Still to these she could never attain, if she did not put out her hand to grasp whatever might arrest her fall.  Only she wished that her hand might be dashed away.  If Rab settled down in Carrich, and chanced to remain a bachelor, he might stay in her rooms, and she might be doomed to die a mere commonplace old widow lady, leaving a little money behind her!  Her secret ambition was the poorhouse, and the thrill of discomfort that Carrich people would feel to know she was there!  She wanted the moral of her life to be pointed, and its tale adorned.  If virtue was not to have a triumph, why should she be refused a martyrdom?  Poor Mrs. MacAlister!  She would have denied all this of herself; but it was true nevertheless.

    While Rab partook of the dainties set down before him, on the slimmest of white porcelain with the thinnest of worn silver spoons, he had leisure to look about him.  Nowhere out of Scotland could he have found such an apartment—everything was so good and so gloomy.  No camping workman had made that solemn mahogany sofa and those severe mahogany chairs, and no perishable cretonne was needed to screen their black haircloth cushions, which to an Episcopalian mind would have suggested a perpetual Lent.  The carpet was of dull red and dark yellow—dyes which do not impoverish the wool, and are serviceable, besides, in suffering little from sun or dust.  The wall paper bore the same enlivening hues, disposed in geometrical figures, liable to rude invasion from the black frames of a few prints of the Wigtown Martyrs, the Shepherd's Chief Mourner, the Otter Hunt, and John Knox Preaching before Queen Mary.  Over the mantel-piece hung a small ancient looking-glass, which slightly elongated whatever it reflected, and was set off on either side by gray vases filled with drab grass.  Some evergreens stood in the windows.  Mrs. MacAlister had chosen them, like everything else about her, for their wearing powers.  She always said that spring and autumn did not suit her.  She liked settled weather, whatever it might be.

    Some people would have thought this a depressing chamber, but it did not strike Rab so.  He was young, and very happy and full of life.  Besides, the law of associations holds good in almost everything, and Rab had passed many a merry and even roistering holiday in such rooms.  It was not unlike the "best parlour" in his uncle's farmhouse near Corriemulzie.  His own home was different, despite its ascetic simplicity.  His mother had had a pretty taste, and all her life his sister Margery had had that positive craving for the bright and harmonious which knows how to make the most of turkey red cotton and quaint ginger-jars.  Rab had no experience to tell him that such rooms as this have really a lowering influence on wet days, when one is tired and depressed and has no sunlight in oneself to gild all around one.

    But there was one picture which arrested Rab's attention, passing lightly over the other well-known prints.  This was a small engraving, itself brown with age, while its frame was comparatively new, certainly much fresher than those of the other pictures.  It was not quite easy to make out its subject.  It had a background of pointed roofs, and a square tower which Rab, glancing from his window, recognized as that of Carrich jail.  The figures in the foreground were crowded and small.  There was a sedan-chair and a lady in it; there was a gentleman mounted on a black horse; and there was a crowd of other folk standing about in leisurely, indifferent attitudes, which made it hard for Rab to believe that certain wriggled lines rising from the centre of the crowd really represented flames, and that the whole purported to be, as the letterpress beneath set forth,—

    "Ye burning of ye witches Elspat Gruar and Janet M'Phey, in ye market-place of Carrich, in ye year of our Lord 1652."

    Below, within quotation marks and in smaller type, were added certain grim particulars of the horrible scene:—


    "When they were drawn to the fire, ye elder woman, who was ane pair sillie cripple, rabbit her hands and spake, saying, 'Hech, sirs, isna it a goodly sight to see sic a bonnie fire and so muckle guide company!'  But ye younger woman held her peace till the flames touched her; and then, turning herself about (as well as she could for the chain that bound her), she looked upon ye Laird of Carrich and his ladye (who had been her accuser), and did solemnly utter these words in the hearing of all there, amazed and curious,—


'Hapless house of Carrichmore,
 Never shalt thou steek thy door
 On the wolves of sin and woe,
 Till thy last from thee shall go.'


And it was remarked by all there that ye ladye of Carrich did die, before the month was out, in ane strong frenzy, which so wrought on ye laird that he did put an end to his ain life, leaving his estate and children to tutors, to their sore waste and misguidement.  And ye curse has passed not from ye minds of men."


And in minute manuscript were added the words, "And is not likely to pass."


    Rab drew back.  This, then, was the monster in whose clutches "bonnie Carrich town," as the old ballad had it, was wasting away.  It was not an individual; it was a race.  Rab's modern medical eye could look beneath the old curse and see that which raised the grim, half-superstitious story into simple history.  He could see the facts of tainted blood and bewildered brain descending to children who, thus already handicapped in the race of life, were yet further let and hindered by being surrounded with those who regarded their evils as an irrevocable divine judgment, which it might be in some way impious even to strive to mitigate or avert.  It was not hard to imagine the rest.  It would not be from families soundest in brain and health and morale that this hapless line would win wives, but rather from those whom dissipation had already deteriorated, and who would not ask too many questions where a favourable match was concerned.  And so each generation would contribute its item to the ever-swelling tale of sin and woe."

    But Rab wanted more facts.  While he had sat at his college lectures,—an ever attentive and thoughtful student, who always came up to the mark at his examinations,—but was never especially brilliant, he had had thoughts of his own.  And one had ever been that the new sciences he learned merely explained and emphasized the old statements of ancient and inspired wisdom, the breadth of whose generalizations only served to cover all the way by which men march from ignorance to knowledge.  And another was, that while the doctor may cure disease, tinkering away at the cracked and broken vessels of humanity, health can only be won, kept, and transmitted—the heritage best worth having—by pure living and wholesome thinking.  That the world was far enough from these to give plenty of scope for his own profession, his hospital and dispensary practice sufficed to convince him.  But they convinced him too that it could be the highest use of no man's skill and knowledge to strive to make disease bearable under conditions that ought to be unbearable, whether those conditions were the dirt, starvation, and foul air he had often encountered in the slums of his own city, or the effete luxury, idleness, and selfishness which had disgusted him with Clewermouth.

    Now Rab had not come to Carrich thinking to avoid a wrestle with the evil that is in the world.  He had chosen such a place because he thought that here these evils might be wrestled with and thrown, before they absolutely joined the great army of Antichrist.  He who breaks up an enemy's recruiting party does better than he who slays his man on the battle-field.  He had an idea that much of the reclaiming work which is done so cumbrously, expensively, and painfully in great cities, might be better achieved in more simple and natural ways if commenced before "complications" had set in in their subject.  He had heard learnèd professors talk of "beautiful specimens of disease;" and somehow he fancied he had heard a somewhat parallel thought in the more guarded utterances of certain philanthropists.  But he never lost sight of one lesson of his student days.  A great surgeon stood before his class to perform a certain operation which the elaborate mechanisms and minute knowledge of modern science had only recently made possible.  With strong and gentle hand he did his work successfully, so far as his part of the terrible business went; and then he turned to some of his favourite pupils and said: "Two years ago, a safe and simple operation might have cured this disease.  Six years ago, a wise way of life might have prevented it.  We have done our best as the case now stands; but Nature will have her word to say.  She does not always consent to the repeal of her capital sentences."  Next day Rab had learned that the patient was dead.

    Rab had an idea that if each knew and loved his work, the minister and the doctor ought to be the best of friends, working together for the establishment of the kingdom of God on earth; the one showing the people what they should be, and the other telling them what they should do, to aid them in fulfilling the ideal.

    He wondered what the minister of Carrich was like.  But Rab, young and inexperienced as he was, was wise enough to know that one will never get one's own duty done unless one is quite prepared to do it alone—that Providence seldom gives us the best appliances till our skill is tested, even as children are left to draw on slates till their teachers can trust they will not waste paper.

    But Rab wanted facts, and who he thought so likely to supply them as Mrs. MacAlister, who, while her maid removed Rab's plates and dishes, came slowly in to inquire, with dignified resignation to her humiliating duties, whether he had been served according to his wishes, and whether he had any orders to-issue for the morrow.

    Rab sprang up and expressed himself highly delighted with everything and quite ready to put himself into Mrs. MacAlister's hands.  She thanked him coldly, thinking the while that probably he quite expected to be cheated by his landlady, and gave himself up to his fate with a good grace.  "He will find the difference, though," she thought, with a grim satisfaction at disappointing him and setting at naught his worldly wisdom.

    "This is a very nice, airy room," he went on, sociably.  The market-place gives it a wide sky view.  I'm always glad not to live in a street.  Our house at home stands far back from the road, behind a long narrow garden."

    "I'm glad you like this—sir," said Mrs. MacAlister dryly, with a slight pause before she bestowed the title of honour on the man young enough to be her son.  She had been training herself not to forget that formality.  "I will not ignore to what I have fallen," was her inflexible decision.  "I will remember that I have no longer any right to sit down on the chairs in my own best parlour."

    "And the tower breaks up the monotony of the mere ,houses," pursued Rab.  "One must try to forget it's the jail, and to fancy it a church or a castle."

    "It was the castle once—sir," answered Mrs. MacAlister; "but it was none the less the jail then.  And a jail is wanted as much as a church or a castle—sir," she added severely.

    "Yes; more's the pity," returned Rab.  "I see they have got the old square tower into this curious picture here," and he pointed to the engraving of "Ye Burning of ye Witches."  "Was it the prison only in those days, or was it then the castle also?"

    "The castle, sir," replied Mrs. MacAlister briefly.

    "And did it belong to the Carrich family?" Rab inquired.

    "Yes, sir," said the widow, with a perceptible stir of her grim rigidity.  "They did not leave it for fifty years afterwards, when the Red Laird and his brother, yonder Lady Carrich's grandsons, thought to turn away the curse by shutting up the old place, and building themselves a new house out by the Langstane Cross; but they soon found that it was the family and not the walls that was 'the hapless house of Carrichmore,'—as of course everybody but themselves, blinded by their own wickedness, knew well enough," she added, with an air of reserved triumph.

    "And do the present members of the family still justify this terrible tradition?" asked Rab.

    Mrs. MacAlister bit her lip.  "You have a right to ask what you please, sir," she said; "I know that perfectly.  I don't expect you to enter into my feelings.  But it takes one a little while to realize all the ins and outs of such a change as mine, sir.  One cannot foresee and prepare for everything.  I have done my best, sir.  If I had been brought up for the lodging-house keeper I have become, I don't think I could have done better.  But I can't bring myself easily to talk over the Carrichs.  For fifteen years, sir, that name has never been uttered within this house.  Of course, I know this can go on no longer, sir.  It must be as you will."

    "I am so sorry if I have in any way hurt your feelings, madam," said Rab with simple politeness, but marvelling within himself—"Why, then, does she keep that picture on her wall?  And I'm quite certain its frame is not fifteen years old, so that it has not been left merely as an old fixture."

    "I know how to endure my feelings, sir," she said, in chilly acceptance of his apology.  "Would you like to join us at family worship, sir?  Do exactly as you please.  It does not signify to me either way, sir; and I should not like you to think I was taking a liberty.  I know you are not here as my guest, and I have not to extend my hospitalities to you, so much as to receive your orders."

    "I shall be happy to join you, ma'am," said Rab, feeling a little pathetic to remember the family circle at home, and how the psalm there would miss his vigorous bass.

    She led the way into another parlour, much the same as his own, except that it bore more visible marks of time and use, and was wholly unadorned by picture or vase.  The little servant was already there, and had set the open Bible before her mistress's chair.

    "We read our psalms, Dr. Farquhar," said the widow.  (She was on her own ground now, and secretly hoped he marked the distinction in her manner and phrase.)  "We read our psalms.  We formed the habit when there was no heart in the house for singing; and even if it had returned, which it has not, the voices have grown too few.  And we read straight through the Holy Book.  I never believed in picking and choosing."

    After this announcement, Rab almost started when the cold clear voice gave out the beautiful eighteenth chapter of Ezekiel.  It seemed like one of those mysterious oracles with which nature and circumstance always respond to any yearning or aspiration of our hearts.  Did Mrs. MacAlister remember her cruel creed of the unyielding curse while she read, in her chill monotone: "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge.  As I live, saith the Lord God, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel.  Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die . . . If he beget a son, that seeth all his father's sins which he hath done, and considereth, and doeth not such like ... he shall not die for the iniquity of his father, he shall surely live... Yet say ye, Why? doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father?  When the son hath done that which is lawful and right, and hath kept all my statutes, and hath done them, he shall surely live... Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel?


 
IV.

A New Foot in the House.


RAB was not slow in becoming acquainted with all his new surroundings.  Before the week was out, he was on speaking terms with all the chief townsfolk; had walked out to the Langstane Cross; had heard many stories from people more communicative though scarcely less bitter than Mrs. MacAlister; and, above all, had seen Carrichmore himself and his youngest son, the only one now who would ever again ride at his father's side, and now share in his carouses, and now taste his reckless and unreasoning wrath.

    Truly, it was a story of generations of accumulating "sin and woe" which Rab heard.  He could trace the descent of fierce passions, unpurified by any fresh influence, unsupplanted by any new impulse.  The Carrichs had been the torturers of Covenanters, the accusers and burners of witches, the bloody and relentless breeders and upholders of clan feuds, in those dark days when such wild energies seemed half virtues, and existed at least along with the real virtues of loyalty, truth, and courage.  Even in the guide-books of the neighbourhood, the scarred fragments of their fastnesses on the hills were alluded to as "relics of the wild and cruel race of Carrich."  They had stood stubbornly by their old manners and customs when better lights began to prevail.  They had been the last of the witch-burners on that countryside, and had stuck to all their old vices when a changing public opinion began to recognize them as crimes, and to surround them with open odium and contempt in place of more or less candid approval.  There was a savage streak in these Carrichs and they loved best to sin, not like most in weak conformity with the world, but rather in a sullen nonconformity.

    But they were a terrible fact in Carrich.  There was scarcely an old family in the district which had not, at some date, suffered somewhat at their hands.  There were stories of reckless despotism in matters of landlord and tenant; there were darker stories still, ending not in broken fortunes and deserted homesteads, but in broken hearts and graves.  Among the Carrich "puir folk," there were dark, handsome, scowling faces, which claimed no clan-kindred with Carrichmore, but might have claimed a nearer one.  And among the people of the better class there was many a son who came home no more, and many a daughter who was never named, who had found that a dark downward path led from the great house by the Langstane Cross.

    Talkative neighbours told Rab the secret of Mrs. MacAlister's unrelenting hatred.  She had once had two daughters, and now one lay in a nameless and shameful grave in a great southern city, and the other hid her shamed and broken heart under the gowans by Carrich kirk.  He who had seduced the one and wounded the other to her death, the eldest son of the still reigning Carrichmore, had also gone to his account now.  There was a dreadful whisper in Carrich that when he lay on his deathbed, in the prime of manhood, Mrs. MacAlister had managed to send him a message, bidding him tell her daughter, when he met her in the judgment, "that her mother would bide as long on as she might, and see as much of the curse as she could."  The weird idea made Rab's blood run cold; but he felt that his landlady's stern, relentless temper, raised to white heat by the cruellest wrong a mother could receive, might have been equal to do this thing, and even to believe that it was not unpleasing in the sight of God.

    Carrichmore had still remaining two sons and one daughter.  She was scarcely ever seen at Carrich.  His wife had died while her children were very small, and the girl had been brought up among her mother's people, and had spent her later youth in aristocratic boarding-schools.  Her maternal relatives had withheld her as long as they could from the orgies of her father's halls.  She was too old now for any further restraint, and she had come home once and again; but Rab easily learned that there were cogent reasons against her remaining long in that polluted house.

    Scarcely any of the townspeople had spoken with her.  They had seen her riding out with her youngest brother; and they spoke of her as possessing the peculiar and striking beauty which reappeared again and again in her doomed race.  They spoke of her with singular respect.  Her purse had been always readily opened in aid of any spasmodic attempt at well-doing which had been started in Carrich.  There were rumours, vague and varying, that she had even striven, by word and deed, to heal some of the deadlier wounds her two elder brothers had inflicted, and it was well known that she wrote constantly—faithful, bulky letters--to the younger lad.  And it was from the postmark of these alone that Carrich now inferred that its laird's daughter was at present resident in the town whence Rab came, and the young doctor was eagerly assailed by inquiries whether, when there, he had ever met, seen, or heard about Miss Morag Carrich, to all which questions he could truthfully give a complete negative.

    A bit of the long family tragedy was actually going forward now in the house by the Langstane Cross.  The second son, Hamish, lay there dying in those days when Rab settled in Carrich.  He was little more than a lad still; and it was pitiful to hear the neighbours say that it seemed only the other day that he rode in and out among them, as did the boy Kenneth to-day, and had had as bright and good a face, and that what he was now Kenneth was sure to become in his turn.

    For Hamish Carrich was not dying till he had drained the bitter dregs of every cup of poisonous pleasure.  Terrible stories about that scene of hopeless suffering circulated in the town.  Belated travellers on Langstane Moor had seen sights and heard sounds which had made their blood run coldly in their veins.  But even hell made manifest in the flesh had no restraining terrors on the dwellers there; and the old laird lived as sensually and rode out as proudly as ever, and the secrets of the torture chamber made no visible impression anywhere, save, perhaps, in an occasional wanness on Kenneth's cheek and a weariness in his young blue eyes.

    "Hamish looked just so, before he took to drinking and bad ways himself," said the townsfolk.  "That was when Carrichmore and his eldest son Hector, who's dead and gone now, were carrying on together at a fearful rate.  They quarrelled like fiends.  We used to think there would be murder; and so there might have been, only death came first."

    Rab's heart ached for Kenneth Carrich.  Were they all to stand aside and watch him go down to his doom, marking where his pace paused and where it was accelerated, but never holding out a hand to restrain?

    And yet, was it anybody's business more than his own?  But what could he do?  The Carrichs had never even recognized his existence, though the father had given him a stony stare and the son an interested glance when they had ridden past him on horseback in the market-place.

    What counsels were those which Barby used to give when they wanted to do or win something beyond their present reach?  Said she once,—


"If you'd ha' muckle gear, begin
 Wi' pickin' up the nearest pin;"


and again, "If you want the moon to hear what you say, begin by whispering to your nearest neighbours;" and yet again, "Knit your stockings, the grass will grow without watching."  Rab had been born and bred in an atmosphere guiltless of idle reverie.  He had been taught to shun those sweet delusions which make good deeds dreamed of take the place of good deeds done.

    He roused himself to realize that he had been allowing life to slip past him since he came to Carrich.  What mattered it that the time was as yet only a few weeks?

    The place had its little feeble efforts at well-doing, which he had heard of and approved, with a secret sense of their futility under the existing social circumstances of the place.  What was the use of cricket clubs and reading societies?—they but discovered the most athletic frames or brilliant minds to the watchful eyes of the old laird, ever ready to tender his wine-cup to fresh lips, and divert his fevered thoughts with new witticisms and songs.  What was the use of the little evening school and Sunday class which one good old lady had instituted for the working-lads of the place, when there was no honest work for their working-hours, and they must needs go from study of the Book of Proverbs or of English history to nocturnal sheep-stealing or rabbit-snaring?  What was the good of it all?  No good certainly, if these seeds were never to come to fruition.  But suppose one would not sow in spring-time because one had no faith in autumn?

    And there certainly was no good in doing nothing—in dryly prescribing drugs and diet for a circle of patients, never knowing what made their faces so dark and their homes so dreary; and then going back to sit in Mrs. MacAlister's parlour to read and yawn to oneself.  Rab had been used to real life; and he could not endure the stagnation of this: the prisoner who has been free of moor and mountain will not sit still in his cell if he can only walk to and fro on a rampart.

    He resolved to throw his energies into the boys' class.  He had reasons for this decision.  First, its members were drawn from the class among whom lay the work of the professional appointment he held.  Secondly, he was sure of his ground there: he said to himself that he had no very clear ideas about art or literature; only he knew enough to detest the "Shakespeare and musical-glasses" style of amateur pottering therein, and not enough to raise it to anything better.  But on questions of practical life, he had at least thought honestly and observed closely; and it is these questions of practical life which rise clearly to the top in intercourse with young people, who will trust their souls with us as innocently and confidently as in childhood they trusted their bodies.  Thirdly, it was unmistakably a good work: every hour it redeemed from idleness and profligacy was so much ground gained for God.  And it had never been effectually grasped by the kindly but feeble hands which had taken it up, and which were now always ready to let it drop, half through their own weakness, half in despair of it.  Miss Sinclair shed tears of joy when Rab offered her his co-operation.

    She had soon become his most intimate friend in Carrich.  She was a sweet old lady, who offended many good people by believing too well of the bad ones.  To own the truth, Rab sympathized a little with those good people.  After he had spent a morning among the wretched huts of the workless peasantry, hopelessly tinkering at sufferings bred of sin and misery,—in one house tending the confinement of a woman whose husband, an agricultural labourer, had lost his work through Carrichmore taking his master's farm to enlarge his deer-forest, and who was now in jail for poaching; and in another, quieting the delirium-tremens of a young man, whose weeping mother declared he had been a sober lad till he took service in Carrichmore's stables,—it did jar him to hear old Miss Sinclair, presiding at her little tea-table, speaking of "poor Carrichmore," with much such loving pity as a mother might speak of a truant schoolboy.  But after Rab had turned the matter over in his mind, he came to the conclusion that she was right where she seemed wrong, and wrong only because was not right enough.  The feeling of motherly, loving pity was right; only it did not manifest itself as real motherly love does, in unflinching discipline and severity towards that which, unchecked, must prevent the child from fulfilling proud motherly hopes.  It was right of Miss Sinclair to wish well to Carrichmore,—if she was prepared to do anything to make those wishes come true.

    Yet it can be readily understood that a woman of this soft, plastic temper was not the one best fitted to win the sympathy and command the respect of rough lads coming from coarse homes and hard, cruel lives.  They laughed at her covertly,—sometimes scarcely covertly,—and rigorously measured out how little deference and attention they must yield to her to preserve any claim on her good offices and gifts when required.  And it was a measure which they found might grow less, month by month and year by year.

    And Rab, while he felt hurt at the contumely with which the old lady's efforts were received, could not altogether wonder at it.  Her soups and her flannels, her jellies and her joints, were things unmistakably good and welcome to the sick and starved, who were hungering for them.  But the boys' minds and hearts were not hungering for the cites she offered them; nay, most of them had no sort of hunger that reminded them they had hearts or minds at all.  It was not likely they would care for her mystical hymns, her out-of-date commentaries, and the monotonous, introspective religious biographies in which she delighted.  She had bemoaned all this to the parish minister, but he had only helplessly joined in her lamentations.  He was a middle-aged man, who had come to Carrich, twenty years before, fired with enthusiasm and prepared to convert the laird; but Carrichmore now was wont to say, in his wicked scoffing, that "the laird had converted the minister."  That is to say, Carrichmore had persevered in his own mischievous devices, fencing himself in a nominal respect for the kirk and a social civility for its minister, which had ended in the poor man's only son joining in the rioting and debauchery of the sons of Carrich House (more especially of the poor reprobate who now lay there on his death-bed); while the minister wearily went through his round of duties almost like a deaf man reading to the deaf, and then shut himself up in his study, and seemed to many of his parishioners sunk in sluggish selfishness.

    Rab did not join in good Miss Sinclair's lamentations.  He candidly told her that he should not himself appreciate such reading and such classes as she offered her boys.  The old lady lifted up her hands in astonishment, and then was straightway comforted.  She was quite sure of Rab's goodness,—so if he did not care for what her poor pupils spurned, there was more hope for them.

    "Take you the classes altogether, Dr. Farquhar," she said; "and just tell me when anybody gets ill, or seems in very great trouble or need.  That's all I'm fit for now, putting folk's feet into hot water, and tucking them up, and singing them to sleep," she added, with a pathetic glimmer in her kind eyes.

    "And as long as you're fit for that, you'll be sorely wanted in this world," answered Rab, with a ready and truthful acceptance of the facts, which comforted the yearning old heart as no false-toned denials could have done.

    The boys treated the change with giggling curiosity, which soon changed to something like respect.  They began to feel interested, even excited, concerning the new subjects and methods of work set before them.  They also speedily found that when any varying mood or temper of their own relaxed such interest, their old customs of manifesting weariness by stamping, catcalling, and whistling, meant summary ejectment and prospect of exile.  And when Rab had enlisted the real sympathy of one or two of the elder and steadier lads, he saw the possibility of keeping his class-room (it was a disused chamber belonging to the parish school-house) open every night during the week, with the attractions of a few games and newspapers.  He rather trembled lest, with only such irresponsible supervision, it might prove but a hot-bed for all the bearishness and horse-play generally diffused through Carrich by-ways after dark.  But it was within sight of his windows at Mrs. MacAlister's, and the lads could never tell when he would drop in upon them; and if all was going well, he always had his merry joke, or his offer of a game of draughts, which made his presence courted and his displeasure deprecated.  He put them on their honour, too, and he stimulated their good behaviour by all sorts of hints about possible cricket matches and boating in the coining summer.

    Of course Rab wrote home regularly, and received punctual letters there from.  Margery and Barby were quite familiar with all the new figures who had come into his life.  They felt like old acquaintances of stern Mrs. MacAlister, rigid in her gloomy apartments, and of soft little Miss Sinclair, smiling and sighing in her quiet rooms, equally gloomy but for white lace curtains, and red and blue tidies covering over the black horse-hair furniture.  They knew all about the old minister, and Barby was inclined to pity where the young brother and sister blamed.

    "You would never have grown disheartened and indolent yourself, Barby, as he has done," Margery would say, reproachfully.

    "Maybe no, maybe ay," Barby would reply.  "I will nay quit trying to cure the reek o' our kitchen lum; but I whiles think the smoke is wearin' my eyes sae accustomed to it, that I'm apt to think it's getting better when it's me getting waur."

    Perhaps the Farquhars heard less about the laird's family than about other Carrich people.  There was little pleasant to tell, and Rab was one of those wholesome souls who hate to write dark stories of sin and suffering, lest the written words remain longer than that which they record, and so prolong the evil existence which is doomed to death and oblivion.  Of course he had mentioned the Carrichs, enumerating the members of the family, and its generally isolated and antagonistic character, but no more.  Judge then of his astonishment when, one fine April morning, there came the following letter from Margery:—


"MY DEAR BROTHER,—You and I never fail each other, do we?  But we need not pride ourselves on being the most faithful mutual reporters of all local news.  There was a new foot in this house yesterday.  And Mr. Demetrius, who has often said that bad news is sent to one fresh, but good news generally comes dried or preserved, is obliged to alter his opinion for once.  Now who do you think our visitor was?  Somebody you have never seen, but who knows a great deal about you, and who did not seem one bit bored when I went on chattering your praises.  How I wish I was with you, that I could worry you for an hour by making you guess who it was!  And I should find out a lot of your secret thoughts by your wild guesses!  But letters are such unguarded things.  Very likely before you have read so far as this you have turned over the next page and seen the name and satisfied your curiosity.

    "She came yesterday afternoon.  I was standing at one of the upper windows, and saw her coming down the street.  Of course I never dreamed she was coming here.  And I felt almost inclined to pop on my bonnet and cloak and slip out after she had passed, and see where she went.  I never saw any other person who inspired me with so much interest.  But I checked the inclination; for, after all, I felt my curiosity was but the lowest part of my feeling towards her, and that I did not really want to know her name and address, but her history and her thoughts.  Do you begin to suspect who I am writing about?  Do you remember the stranger-lady concerning whom I made such eager inquiries on your capping-day?

    "And then she opened. our gate and came up to the door, and I heard her speaking to Barby.  I did not go out to the stairs to hear what she said, for I thought perhaps she was only making some inquiry, and I did not want to hear her voice for the first and perhaps the last time, asking if this was Number Sixteen, or if Mrs. So-and-So lived here.  But Barby came upstairs and handed me a card; and whose name, think you, was on it?—


Miss Morag Carrich.


    "She had come to see me, she said, because she wanted to thank me, in your stead, for your helping her dear old friend Miss Sinclair in her attempts at good work in her native town.  Miss Sinclair had mentioned it to her at the New Year in one of her short notes,—Miss Sinclair could only write short notes because her eyes were weak,—and she had since learned a great many particulars from her brother Kenneth.

    "It was so delightful to meet somebody who knew all about Carrich and your new friends there.  I cannot understand why she does not live at Carrich, she spoke so kindly of it and of all its people.  I told her how Mrs. MacAlister had frightened you at first by her grimness and severity, and she said directly, 'Tell your brother she is a good woman, though not an attractive one now.  She has suffered terribly, and borne cruel wrongs.  She is like a scarred rock—the flowers won't grow there; but if you could get the stones out of their bleak situation, they would make good foundations.'

    "Her visit was not the ordinary conventional call.  She actually stayed two hours; and before she went away, she had seen my drawings, had had a talk with Barby, and had sung us a Gaelic song.  Do you fear she will think us strange people?  Do you suppose all this made us think her strange?  Well, perhaps so: strangely charming!  And your sister Margery does not often go into raptures, does she?  You used to think her too coldly critical of her own sex!

    "It all came about in the most natural manner possible.  She said I must come and visit her, and see some sketches she had made of Carrich scenery.  And then I told her that I drew too, and showed her some things; and when she thought fit to praise them so very highly, I could not help honestly telling her that they were the work of my life, to which I devoted my time and faculties.  And then I wanted to show her some of my earlier performances, and I had to call Barby to help me to find them; and while she went in and out, I could not help telling Miss Carrich about her, and how we felt she was our family treasure.  And when Barby came in again, Miss Carrich began to talk to her; and they soon got to old proverbs and stories, and Barby was at her best with her at once, and talked just as she does to us when we are alone.  And from stories and proverbs they got to songs; and when Miss Carrich found that Barby remembered hearing Gaelic songs in her childhood, and that I had never heard any, she sang one; and I shall never forget it.  Of course while she was singing I could not tell what it was about, but I seemed to see the sea and to hear the sobs of an aching heart.  And when she had done, she told us that the words were put in the mouth of a woman whose husband's boat had never come back, and that she is supposed to be wandering on the shore and asking the sea-gulls if they had seen him, and if he had sent any message by them.

    "I am to visit Miss Carrich next week, and I have scarcely ever felt so impatient for anything as for the appointed day.  I am so glad she was in the hall on your capping-day, although neither of you seem to have noticed the other.

    "I feel as if I had known her always, and yet as if there is something in her which I shall never, never know.  I could put her face into every picture I draw and never weary of it.  It always seems about to tell you something which it never tells.  Even Barby feels this in her practical way.

    "'Yon's a grand lassie,' she says.  'She's looked straight into some o' the fires that the world aye keeps burning for God's ain.  I reckon that look will be the martyr's mark in heaven.'

    "And now, Rab, I must finish off for to-day.  Thank you very much for being the cause of my knowing my princess in disguise, about whom I have thought at least once a day ever since you graduated.  We all send our love.  Barby says she hopes 'you won't leave off your flannels till the weather's settled; but doctors are like the rest o' the folk, they think they needna practise what they preach.'  And I am always your affectionate sister,
                                                                       "M
ARGERY."


 
V.

The Laird's Son and the Poacher's Boys.


IT was only two or three days after the receipt of Margery's letter, that Rab, returning from his morning's rounds, was received at the door of his lodgings by his landlady herself.

    "A gentleman is awaiting your return in the parlour, sir," she said, with an air of solemnly tragic resignation which would have amused Rab had he known less of her history.  As it was, he set it down to the glimpse she had caught of two of the Carrich horses standing in front of the inn opposite, and so he pitied her, and hurried in to his unnamed guest.

    He started when he saw none other than young Kenneth Carrich standing on his hearth-rug, stooping forward in the act of examining "Ye Burning of ye Witches."  The lad drew himself up nervously as Rab entered, and his clear-cut, pale face flushed to the very roots of his rich brown hair as they introduced themselves with the brief greetings, "Dr. Farquhar, I think?" —"Mr. Kenneth Carrich, I believe?" and then drew forward chairs and sat down.

    "You may have heard that my sister Morag has been calling on your family," said the youth, whose nervousness took the form of a distance of manner which most of the Carrich people would have attributed to the family insolence, but which simple Rab quite understood, having suffered from it himself, and knowing that he had often seemed "uppish" when most uncomfortably humble.

    "Yes, I heard, and was delighted to hear it," Rab answered, "as I am to see you, in my turn."

    The boy looked down on the carpet, where he was tracing invisible figures with his foot.  Then with a sudden resolution to come to the point without any more ceremony, he looked straight at Rab, and said, almost bluntly,—

    "I have come to ask you to visit us as soon as possible.  My brother Hamish wants badly to see somebody; and Morag thinks, and so do I, that you will do better than anybody else."

    This did not sound very gracious; but probably it was as gracious as it could be, consistently with strict honesty.

    "Does your brother want to see me professionally?" he asked.

    "Yes—no," was Kenneth Carrich's hasty reply.  "He wants to see you, sir, as somebody who can be trusted.  Come in the first instance, and as soon as possible, as in return of this call of mine."

    "I fear your brother is a very great invalid, from all I hear," observed Rab.  "I shall be glad if I can render him a service of any kind."

    A sort of spasm for a moment convulsed young Carrich's face.  "Hamish is very ill," he said.  "Come as soon as you can."  He went towards the door, but turned with his hand upon it, and added, "You had better ask for me, please, when you come, to prevent any chance of delay or mistake.  Do come as soon as you can."

    "As soon as this afternoon?" Rab asked, scarcely knowing how to interpret the confusion and excitement of the lad's manner.

    "Oh, if you please, yes," he replied hastily, and, "Good morning now," and almost before Rab could answer, he had crossed the pavement, thrown himself into his saddle, and was off at full gallop along the Langstane road.

    In less than an hour all Carrich town knew that young Carrich had called on the new doctor; and that afternoon all the old ladies exchanged calls, to wonder what was coming next, and how long Dr. Farquhar would resist the fatal influence of the laird's dissolute habits and ungodly household, and whether or not he was to supplant old drunken Dr. M'Ivor's services to Hamish Carrich, or only to supplement them.

    To own the truth, Rab ate his dinner with a good deal of perturbation.  Did the laird know of this invitation, or did he not?  And for what was he really wanted?  It would have been ungracious of him to press inquiries; and, besides, Rab Farquhar was not the man to turn aside from the vaguest wish of so tortured and degraded a soul as he had reason to believe this Hamish Carrich was.  No; he must simply go and do his best,—the utmost right that should be given him to see, under any circumstances that might transpire.

    The Langstane road led to the moor through a long, low glen.  The narrowness and steepness of the defile gave it a peculiarly savage and sullen gloom.  Its barren and stony hills scarcely afforded herbage for the few sheep which strayed upon them.  The sunlight did not visit it in winter; and the predominant vegetation of its sterile and swampy soil was blackish in hue and prickly in form.  The road wound along about half-way up the least steep side of the defile, the bottom of the valley (which was completely level only for three or four feet) being filled by a brackish stream, sluggish and scant enough in summer, but in spring rainfalls and winter storms deafening the ear with its splashing and brawling.  The place seemed but the more awful because it had none of those features which are commonly supposed to inspire awe,—lofty mountains, wastes of water, dense forests.  It was as if Nature had built a condemned cell, and made it dreadful, like all such places, not by what it has, but by what it has not,—hope, joy, and outlook.

    The glen was nearly two miles long, and any fifty feet of it fairly represented the desolation of its whole length.  Then it opened quite suddenly upon the moor,—a wide stretch of undulating ground; and there, on the margin of a little loch watched over by the runic cross which gave its name to the district, stood the house of Carrich, built by the Red Laird in the vain hope of averting the curse of Janet M'Phey from his hapless race.

    It was a plain, solid, square building, with many long, narrow windows in its upper portion, and an open veranda in its lower story, from which the hall door opened and into which the hall windows looked.  The hall was decorated with deers' antlers and the heads and brushes of foxes, and its walls were filled with racks furnished with guns, whips, and walking-sticks.  The hall itself was a square apartment, with sundry doors opening to the right and to the left, while two at its lower end led to the staircases.  Over these hung two dark oil paintings, of which Rab caught a hurried idea that one was a scene of cruel chase, and the other of battle and murder.  But he had not much time to note any of these things, and he was spared introducing himself to any servant, for Kenneth Carrich had evidently been watching for him from above, and came towards him from one of the staircase doors almost before he crossed the threshold.

    "You are very kind," he said.  "Hamish is expecting you so eagerly.  I fear he is too ill and impatient to seem grateful, but he is, really, Dr. Farquhar."

    "I don't want gratitude, if I can be of use," answered Rab.  And the boy led him straightway up a staircase, which was evidently not the chief one of the mansion, for it was narrow and winding, and broken again and again by short, low-pitched passages.

    "My brother is wonderfully well this afternoon," he whispered to Rab as they went along; "but we can never reckon on him for many hours together.  He is never left alone for a moment day or night.  But when you see him you will understand everything better than I can tell you."

    They came to a standstill at last at the end of a gallery, which had no other door except that before which they paused.  Kenneth opened it gently, and with a murmured apology went in first alone.  A few hasty sounds of movement went on within the room, then an old woman came out.  In face and mien she was as hideous as one of Macbeth's witches, though scrupulously neat and clean in attire.  She motioned to Rab to enter, and leaving him to do so, went away along the gallery.

    The room in which he found himself was of enormous size, almost as large as any of the hospital wards to which he had been accustomed.  It had two fireplaces and many windows; and one huge fire was burning, while two of the casements were open.  Rab found afterwards that several of those small rooms which are usually to be found on the upper story of large mansions had been thrown into one, to secure the roominess and ventilation peremptorily demanded by the condition of the unhappy invalid.  The floor was bare, except for two or three strips of green carpeting.  The windows were curtainless to the clear spring sky and the dark moorland.  All the furniture of the room was of the most light and meagre description.  With its head-piece against the wall, midway between the two fire-places, and looking quite insignificant in the wide, blank chamber, stood the little iron bed-stead on which the sick man lay.

    The sick man!  It was hard at first to realize that he was a man in years.  The pale, high-bred face, worn almost to the bone, looked under a sudden glance almost younger than Kenneth's, bending over him.  A nearer scrutiny, however, revealed the lines of hard life and fierce passion relentlessly scored beneath the later tracings of pain and weariness.

    He lay quite quietly as Rab walked up the room, but there was a wild light in his eyes which belied the utter stillness of his limbs.  Rab did not then know that he could no longer move hand or foot—that even when the awful paroxysms of his malady came on, they could now only wreak their fury in despairing and blasphemous shriek and yell.

    He addressed Rab in a low voice, and with a manner of quiet courtesy which seemed to give infinite relief to the anxious Kenneth.

    He had appealed to Rab's charity, he said.  From what his sister Morag wrote, he thought Rab was good and belonged to good people.  And then he added, with a little bitterness, that he knew from experience that bad people were not to be trusted, and so he had no resource now but to try the other sort.

    Rab said simply that he would try to do his best.  He felt filled with an infinite pity.

    There were sundry commissions Hamish wanted somebody to do for him.  Even sins blossom into duties in time.  Every wrong action is a gate which opens into two paths, one very sloping and easy, the other very steep and rough.

    Rab had to listen to sad stories—to the history of a life which had left a trail of poison behind it wherever it had passed.  There was little new for Rab's knowledge: he had long known what such facts were; his professional training had revealed them in all their horror and loathsomeness, without any of the disguises with which a vicious art or sentimentality can drape them.  But they struck fresh upon his feeling, told one after another by Hamish's failing voice.  The sick man's eyelids sometimes drooped in very weariness over the wild, imploring eyes; and then he looked so death-like that it seemed as if he had already passed away, while only his voice still faintly reached them from the unseen shore.

    Rab promised to go here and there, and to see this person and to undertake that task.  It pained him terribly that Kenneth stood by and heard all, gravely enough, but with an air of habitude to such things which was very sad to see.  It was not that the lad was too young to know the evil that is in the world, but its atmosphere seemed so dense around him.  In those shrines which should have been occupied by the images of sweet, innocent affections, lurked phantoms of sin, of vice, and of crime.  The very memories of childhood were tainted.  He had had no early paradise whose echoes should respond to the higher voices which might appeal to him in later years.  The subtle ties of early association bound him in fellowship with the evil-doers, in alienation from the righteous and the pure.

    The elder brother felt nothing of all this.  Bitterly enough he spoke of his father, but it was not because he realized that the springs of his own nature had been contaminated almost at their source, by evil example at least as much as by evil heredity.  Heedless how he had himself received the poison, he could not heed how he was passing it on to others.  Nay, with that strange perversion of good into evil which is one of the sorest problems to the student of human nature, he was fain to assure Rab that it was through no lack of brotherly confidence or affection that he had not employed the lad Kenneth on the doleful errands he was intrusting to Rab.  But some of these would involve absences from home of many hours, perhaps even of a day and a night; and besides that Kenneth shrank from leaving him for so long a time, the laird might ask awkward questions, and though he was lenient enough to the sins and vices which seemed to him a part of human nature, the father would storm and rage and do his best to defeat actions which he would consider quite unnatural and unnecessary weaknesses.  And from the evident terror and subjection of the two youths, even of him who was now under the awful protection of death, Rab felt that the rule of the parent who is strictest and sternest in his attempts to guard his dependants from ill, and to secure them for good, is very geniality itself compared with the harshness and despotism of him who recognizes no right but his own will, and no law but his own passions.

    When the unhappy invalid had poured forth his confidences and instructions, Rab, whose professional eye had not been idle, managed to put a few kindly inquiries as to his past and present condition.  The answers he got, confirmed him in the opinion he had formed during the interview,—that the end was much nearer than anybody seemed to suspect, that probably it was, as it were, waiting at the very door, and that possibly the greater or lesser consciousness of some sort of impending change had prompted the sufferer to desire his presence.  What could be done?  He could think but of one suggestion.

    "Would you not like to have your sister with you?" he asked.

    Kenneth looked up swiftly, but said nothing.  Hamish replied with much excitement,—

    "Of course I should.  I have always loved Morag, though she has been brought up more like a stranger to us than a sister.  But it is out of the question.  She would come—oh yes.  She has offered to come.  But I will never allow it.  I sent her word to stay away, and never let her dream I wished it might be otherwise.  Sir, the poorest crofter on my father's land, if he had any respect for his family, would not let his daughter enter the house as an hired servant."  And then he proceeded, in language which sounded coarse in its plain truthfulness, to lay bare the lives of profligacy which went on under the roof of Carrichmore, sparing the wicked secrets of nobody, from his father himself down to the hag who was told off from the lowest menial duties for the terrible services and scenes of his bedchamber.  Rab trembled to see the increasing wildness of his eyes, and to hear the shrill vehemence of his voice.  The check he had laid on himself, that he might accomplish the last wretched duties which even his seared conscience dictated, suddenly rebounded, and the tormentors to whom his soul and body were given over rushed back but the fiercer for their brief banishment.  The ghastly nurse was hastily summoned, and the little, the very little, that could be done for his relief or restraint was done.  But for fully an hour there went up to heaven, from that peaceful lake-side and under that sweet spring sky, shriek after shriek of bodily anguish, yell after yell of blasphemous despair.  There was silence at last, a silence dead as death itself.  And that it would be the silence of death in a few short hours, Rab was now quite sure.

    He and Kenneth stole out of the room, and crept downstairs to a small apartment opening from the hall.  The boy was pale and trembling.  He went to a sideboard, tossed off a glass of raw whisky, and made as though to pour out another for Rab; but Rab held his hand, and the poor lad seemed to feel the rebuke of the gesture.

    "I can't help it," he said wearily.  "I promised Morag I wouldn't; but Morag does not know what it is to go through scenes like this day after day.  I've given way for the last month.  Perhaps you think I might leave him; but though we're not a loving family, Hamish and I always drew together, and he used to be very jolly and kind."

    "My dear fellow," said Rab, "I am the last who would blame you, though I would hinder you if I could.  But I want you to be very clear-headed just now.  Your poor brother is worse than he thinks."

    "He can't be worse than he knows he is," answered Kenneth.

    "But he is nearer death," pleaded Rab, as tenderly as he could, for the horror and anguish which swept over the boy's face went to his very heart.  "He has suffered so much that you have both let yourselves forget that an end must come.  Your sister must be sent for; your father should be warned."

    "You heard what poor Hamish said," cried Kenneth; "there is not a woman in the house fit to receive Morag.  I doubt whether her great-aunt would let her come,—I could not blame her if she didn't."

    "I doubt whether anybody would be able to keep Miss Morag away," said Rab reassuringly; "but we must make it as right for her as we can.  I have a wise, good old friend who lives in the town where your sister is, and if I may make the arrangement, I am sure she will travel down with your sister and stay while she is here.  And she is a woman who will be invaluable in the sick-room.  Only, your father must be consulted and his permission obtained."

    Kenneth's face, which had brightened at his first words, clouded over at the last ones; but murmuring that he would go and see where his father was, he instantly left the room, leaving Rab alone to mature his plans, and to arrange telegrams whose conciseness should convey as much as possible.

    Kenneth came back hastily.  "Must everything be done immediately?" he asked.  "What delay could you allow?  I should like none myself, of course, but I don't know about my father at present."

    "Unless we are swift, we may be too late," said Rab.  I should certainly like your sister and my friend to start on their journey by the next train—that is, by the one travelling early to-morrow."

    "Well, I must do the best I can," Kenneth answered, and again left the room.  He was not long in returning.  "Do everything on my responsibility," he said.  "My father is not to be spoken with just now."  He did not divulge the truth, that the laird was sunk in the heavy slumbers of intoxication, and could be roused to no more life than sufficed to mutter an oath.

    "You must remember I am not the medical attendant," said Rab, as he prepared to depart.  "I was not invited here as the doctor, and I have no wish to usurp his duties.  I have spoken to you as a friend, and as a friend I advise you to send at once to your own doctor, and warn him that you have reason to believe a change is imminent.  Then you can explain to your father all that you have done."

    "I daresay you know who and what our doctor is," said the poor lad; but with the strange, half-perverted sense of honour which often flourishes where no other virtue can, he did not tell Rab that at that very moment the worthy medical man occupied the whole length of a sofa opposite to the laird, at either side of a table loaded with glenlivet, cognac, and hollands.

    Rab walked rapidly away towards Carrich.  He turned back once and looked at the great house, solitary beside the lake.  Kenneth still stood on the threshold, and waved his hand in answer to Rab's valediction.  And it seemed to Rab as if he was leaving an unjudged soul in the very gate of hell.

    He got the horse and trap which he usually hired for long journeys, and drove off to the railway station four miles away.  Thence he telegraphed first to Margery.  She was to go to Miss Carrich and break it to her that her brother was dying, and proffer Barby's company and assistance.  He did not think they would be refused.  Then waiting a while, he telegraphed direct to Miss Carrich, urging on her the course he had indicated for her to Margery.

    By the time he reached Mrs. MacAlister's, he felt so utterly drained and exhausted that he could easily understand the poor lad Kenneth's recourse to the deadly fire-water.  Rab's healthy nerves would have been soon calmed by a little rest and wholesome food; but he found more work waiting for him.

    There was a general air of excitement about the quiet house.  The moment he let himself in at the front door, he heard an unwonted sound of voices in debate which, though not angry, was emphatic.

    "The poor eldest lad is so willing to go away now, and that is more than he will be if he stays at home much longer," said the soft tones of Miss Sinclair.

    "And he is old enough to go where he will," said a manly voice; "the law does not compel a boy of sixteen to remain with his father."

    "Except the law of love," put in Miss Sinclair.

    "If the law of love is supreme, there will be no question in the matter at all," rejoined the other, rather impatiently; "but in these cases it is the law of necessity which rules.  If a boy cannot see where he is to get bit and sup outside his father's house, in his father's house he is likely to remain, though it be a den of thieves or worse."

    Rab recognized who was speaking.  It was one of the Carrich lawyers—not he who was Carrichmore's agent, but he who had been described to Rab, on the night of his arrival, as Carrichmore's friend, but "honest enough and ready to tell the townsfolk how to give Carrich his will in the way easiest to themselves."  Rab knew him, and was on sociable standing with him,—a plain blunt man, who kept terms with Carrichmore without joining in his rioting, and was perhaps the most wholesome influence which ever approached the laird.  So Rab made straight for the quarter whence the voices came, which was Mrs. MacAlister's sitting-room.

    "The very man we wanted," said the lawyer, while Miss Sinclair made eager demonstrations of welcome, and Mrs. MacAlister pushed a chair towards him, to give a, sense of permanence to his appearance,—"the very man we wanted.  Where you've been all day nobody could imagine, and I won't ask.  But Carrich has been in an uproar.  One of your hopeful pupils smashed a stone right through the court-house windows while the sheriff was sitting on the bench.  Of course the lad was caught and brought in, and who was he but one of the M'Ewens.  Do you know, Dr. Farquhar, it occurred to me that here was an opportunity to save one of the tribe from the hulks and the gallows?  Of course it was not a very deadly offence, except that it was against the majesty of the law, and very bad for the nerves of poor old Sheriff Pidgeon, who had got in a terrible fluster.  But I know the family, and the way the father is driving and drifting those lads to be pests to society, and I suggested that here was a case for inquiry as to suitability of subject for an industrial school.  The police came forward, and said the father had served two or three sentences for poaching, and was a town's loafer, and the mother was a drunkard.  The boy is in custody now, and there is no doubt he will be sent to some institution and get a chance in life.  But within an hour up comes his elder brother, Hugh M'Ewen, first here, asking for you, and not being able to find you, off he goes to our friend Miss Sinclair, and he's begging and praying to be sent somewhere too.  He'd like to go honestly, but if breaking a window or knocking down a policeman would better insure his departure, he's quite ready for either.  But under any circumstances he's too old for an industrial school.  He only wants a start.  He does not know where to go.  He does not know what to do.  He's never learned to work.  He has not got clothes fit to be seen.  If he gets a start, maybe he'll prove an honest man.  If he doesn't, he will be—well, no better than his father, and that, as the boy knows well enough, is to be a thief."

    "It's awful to think of," said poor Miss Sinclair, who was crying; "but as I said to him, 'Hugh dear, don't you think you may grow to feel this is your cross, which you have got to carry for the Lord's sake?  And if you do, by God's help, keep straight among such trials, think what a crown of glory you will win.'"

    "Yes, yes," said the lawyer impatiently, "that may be his part of the business, but that's nothing to do with us.  We have not got to refrain from doing right, that we may not spoil a pretty story of martyrdom.  What we've got to decide is, 'Are we right or are we wrong to leave a boy in such a house as the M'Ewens', where he can't live an honest life, when he's quite willing to come away?'"

    "We should be utterly wrong," said Rab decidedly.  "M'Ewens is not discharging a father's duty, and so forfeits a father's rights.  Besides, does he object to the boy leaving Carrich?"

    "Oh dear, yes," answered the lawyer; "he and his wife both came and made a fearful uproar at the townhouse when they found they were likely to be robbed of the younger boy.  The lads have made themselves too useful in snaring and netting to be lightly parted from.  These people forget the judgment of Solomon, and think to prove their parental position by rough-riding the selfishness they call their feelings' over the welfare of their children.  Good parents in their position would probably see the advisability of sending their boys from home—away from a place where just now there is scarcely any honest work to be had."

    "But you would not set nothing by a child's duty to its parents," said poor Miss Sinclair deprecatingly.

    "Certainly not," answered the lawyer; "but you won't make a boy into a dutiful son by bringing him up as a drunkard and a thief.  If you want M'Ewen's children to feel any regard for him, let them remove to a certain distance from him.  Filial duty is not a plant likely to thrive in the climate of his house.  I remember a case I knew years ago.  There was a dissolute reprobate couple like these M'Ewens.  They had two boys.  Everybody knew what they were likely to become, and the police kept their eyes on them.  Suddenly one lad ran away—disappeared utterly, nobody knew where— might have killed himself or been killed, only that he had taken away all his possessions.  The other son stayed at home, and joined in all his father's pursuits, except that as he advanced in manhood he was rather more inclined to seize the old man's earnings, honest or dishonest, than to make any for himself.  He brought home a worthless young wife, who made her mother-in-law toil and slave for her while she gossiped and drank as, for the matter of that, the mother-in-law had done in her day.  They were before the justices two or three times for assaulting the old folks.  At last the younger man got sentenced for some offence to a long term of imprisonment, and first his wife and her children, and then the old couple, who were now past working or stealing, came upon the parish.  And what do you think?  Not very long afterwards the missing son turned up, a respectable, well-to-do man.  He had been abroad and made money.  And he took the old folks out of the workhouse, and gave them a decent allowance.  He did not make believe he owed them anything except the bare life they had done their best to make not worth his having.  But he owed them that, and as he had saved it from their destruction, he gave them an honest maintenance in return for it.  Ah, yes, if we give such as the M'Ewens' children a chance to get away from the M'Ewens, I'm afraid we're serving the M'Ewens themselves only too well.  If we could but free ourselves from any sense of responsibility towards the children themselves and society, such folk are best punished by being left to drink the dregs of the cup they brew."

    "But it seems an awful thing to interfere between parents and children," wailed Miss Sinclair.

    "It's an awfully unpopular thing to do," said the lawyer with blunt alacrity.  "That was the best of the boy in my story.  He ran off on his own hook."

    "Which in ninety cases out of a hundred," said Rab, "would mean that he ran from one destruction to another.  There is not much hope for an ill-taught, ill-bred boy, cast friendless on the wide world, probably on the streets of a great city."

    "But," said Miss Sinclair, "it is very, very sad to think that some poor creatures get such trials where they should have blessings.  But are not our parents and all our family ties given to us by God, and have we any right to do anything else but accept them?"

    "Then if anybody gets cataract, he has no right to have an operation performed," said the lawyer, sharply.  "Or if a child is born in a ditch, it has no right to scramble out, but should live there all its days.  And I suppose it's equally the will of God that M'Ewen's neglected children should hang about Carrich, corrupting the leisure of boys whose parents are honestly striving to do their best for them.  I'll never believe that anything which is not as it ought to be is the will of God.  It is the will of the devil, and your Bible tells us to resist him.  I would rather say to the child in the ditch, 'Scramble out of it, my man, and clean it out, so that no one else shall meet with such a sorry accident.'  I don't profess to be a religious man, Miss Sinclair, and so you ought to know a great deal better about these things than I do, but some of you pious folk do make me think how the Pharisees were described as binding hard burdens on others."

    "Well, well," said Miss Sinclair, "I only want to see what is right, and to do it."

    "I think I can see it well enough," laughed the lawyer.  "Doing it is another thing.  You noticed I said I'd say, 'Scramble out of the ditch;' I don't know that I'd put out my hand to help him, if he was very wet and dirty.  We lawyers are apt to think advice is enough, since we get our living by giving it.  I've laid the responsibility of Hugh M'Ewen's future life and immortal soul on all of you; and now I've made you sufficiently uncomfortable, I'm going home to my dinner.  Leave him to go to the dogs now at your peril.  You can't say you haven't been warned.  I've done my share of the business."

    "Where is he?" asked Rab.

    "In the kitchen," said Mrs. MacAlister.  "He is frightened to go home to his father."  And then she went on aside to Rab: "His father is on some poaching ploy to-night, and he's made the boy think it is as much as his life is worth if he doesn't join him;" adding, "I know M'Ewen is a fearsome man, and I've seen the bruises he can give."  The stern, rigid woman had somehow got further into the runaway boy's confidence than the sympathetic lawyer or soft Miss Sinclair.

    "To-morrow I'll send him off with a letter to my people," said Rab.  "I believe my father will be able to get him work about the docks, and anyhow he will keep an eye on him.  But where can he stay to-night?"

    "I'm sure there's plenty of rooms in your house with spare beds standing empty, Miss Sinclair," said the lawyer mischievously.

    Miss Sinclair wrung her hands.  "And suppose M'Ewen came up and made a stir," she cried.  I and my maid are only two lone women."

    "Put up the chain," said the lawyer again. " There are stout chains to the hall doors in King's Place."

    "But he would make a noise outside the house all the same, and—"

    But Rab interrupted her.  "Perhaps Mrs. MacAlister can give him some sort of shake-down on the floor of my bedroom."

    "Thank you, sir," said the widow dryly; and Rab thought she was about to object to any such invasion of her premises,—"thank you, sir; but by your looks you've had a hard day's work, and you mustn't run any risk of getting your rest broken.  My servant can come to my bedroom and sleep with me, and the lad can have her closet; and if M'Ewen chooses to come and make a noise, let him."

    "Ah, true, you've got dear good Dr. Farquhar in the house to protect you," said Miss Sinclair delighted.

    The widow sniffed fiercely.  "I suppose the law protects every one," she observed.  "What's the jail for, if not for evil-doers?  M'Ewen's hard words won't hurt me.  It's false, soft ones that have done all the damage in my life."

    And then Miss Sinclair wept a little gently, and said that she did trust her friends did not think her insincere, only she was frightened; but if the poor boy wanted protection, and there was no other protection to be had but hers, then she hoped she would be strengthened to give it, even if it cost her her life.  And it did hurt her to hear dear Mrs. MacAlister talking about false, soft words.  Whereupon Mrs. MacAlister made an attempt to reassure her by saying frigidly, "You were not in my mind at all, Miss Sinclair, when I used that phrase."  And Rab certainly believed her.

    The refugee was made comfortable in the kitchen closet; and the night passed by without any disturbance of the peace of the house.  Only, the image which faded last from Rab's mind as he sank to sleep, and started forward with renewed vividness when he awoke next morning, was the figure of Kenneth Carrich standing on the steps of that great house beside the lake.



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