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
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
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
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.
The Curse of the Carrich.
IT was early
autumn when Rab fairly left home to enter on the duties of his
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
"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
And in minute manuscript were added the words, "And is not likely to
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
"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
"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?
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
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
"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
"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
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:—
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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
"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
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 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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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,
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
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.