Rab Bethune's Double (II.)

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CHAPTER VII.

AN UNEXPECTED COMPANION.


MISS CLEMENTINA KERR sat for a moment, white-faced, wide-eyed, terror-stricken.  But silently to endure such a sensation was not in her nature.  "This must be madness," she thought, recurring swiftly to her recent meditations; "this is how hallucinations begin; I must probe it to its root at once, and satisfy myself of its illusoriness."

    Even as she thus resolved the weird consciousness grew upon her.  It was only by a desperate effort of courage that she braced herself up, and spoke:

    "There is somebody in this carriage," she said in her clearest and calmest tones; "whatever it is, let it declare itself at once, for I shall not rest till I have searched it out."

    She grasped her umbrella firmly, and brought it down sharply on the floor of the compartment.

    The train flew onward, but through its horrible mechanical clatter other sounds were now distinctly audible.  Miss Clementine never knew how she got through the next moment; she remembered feeling a curious sensation in her hair, and vaguely wondering whether it was turning white!

    A piteous, gasping young voice cried: "Do not be frightened; wait! wait! hear me out!"

    Then appeared from under the opposite seat a wild, wan young face, followed by a slim, shabby, battered figure, sorely moiled by ignoble contact with the dingy flooring.

    Clementine felt her terrible alarm fade swiftly into mere annoyance and perturbation.  She was able to remember that there was a railway bell at hand by which she could stop the train and call assistance, and at the same time she decided to do no such thing.  This was not a manifold ruffian, but a wretched lad from whom, if a little less dusty and scared, she would not have shrank as a fellow-passenger.  If he was flying from justice in any form—well! so had her favourite brother had occasion to flee in bygone years.  She did not think out these thoughts, they passed before her mind like a picture.

    "Why are you here? you know you are cheating the railway company."

    "Oh, thank you for stopping to listen to me," cried the intruder; "I do not want to cheat, but I must get back to London, and I have not one penny in all the world.  I am so sorry I frightened you."

    He was standing upright beside her as he spoke; as he finished, he dropped down upon the seat, and lay there prostrate, his face covered with his hands.

    Miss Clementina Kerr sat perfectly still; her nerves had had a considerable shock, but she was used to shocks, and held herself well in hand.  What materials for tragedy might underlie this frantic escapade, and the abject want which had led to it, though to unthinking eyes the pitiful fraud which was the visible outcome of all might seem sordid and commonplace enough.  It was odd how, upon her half-stunned consciousness, her brother's image would return—that favourite brother, the one who died at last in distance and in silence!  Over and over again, during that brother's life, she had fancied that his destiny might have been altered had there been strong and kindly hands to use circumstances which threw him into their power, to hold him, as it were, from falling further until the grasp of the better influences of his life could be renewed upon him.  But for him there had never been found that mercy which may be severity, that severity which may be mercy!  No, there had been only injudicious condonation, weak, repining blame, or harsh thrusting-out; well! that favourite brother was dead now—and Clementine Kerr could not tell whether her eyes grew moist at the remembrance of him, or at the sight of the prone young creature before her, quivering with the racking sobs of cruel nervous excitement and exhaustion.

    Ah, she had been through terrible scenes on her own account—had waited for the foul home-coming of drunkenness, had faced the frenzy of delirium tremens, had waded through awful letters strangely compounded of humour, profanity, and remorse, had paid out "men in possession," had negotiated compromises with harpies of usury!  It was not for her to start aside from any degradation, or to have a hard thought or an averted eye for any misery!

    The young man felt a kind hand on his shoulder.  It was not a mere soft touch—there was a strange firmness about it, so that it seemed, as it were, to grasp and uplift his soul.  As he felt it he rose from his prostrate agony and sat upright, though he kept his face still covered.

    The train was going at full speed now, and action of any kind was not easy on account of its swaying motion.  Miss Clementine Kerr had quite recovered herself, and she grappled resolutely with her leather bag.  She had been through too much suffering not to understand that the homeliest creature comfort is often the most sorely needed, and must precede any higher consolation or counsel.  In her bag was a tiny flask of good wine, intended to sustain her through her long night journey: here was somebody who wanted it far more than she could.  He, who was penniless now, was little likely to have feasted very sumptuously for some hours past, and, indeed, his ghastly face and shivering frame told their own tale.

    "Drink this, it will do you good," she said.  This time, under that resolute touch, he withdrew his hands from his averted face; but they were trembling too much to be trusted with the little goblet as the train rocked to and fro.  Miss Clementine herself held it to his lips, held it there till it was drained, for it was but a tiny chalice.  She had no other provender with her save a crisp little loaf, which she broke, and gave it to him piece by piece.  Then the generous wine wrought its true purpose on him who was "ready to perish," and the wild ghastliness of his face began to abate.

    "I hope I did not frighten you very much," he whispered hoarsely.

    "Never mind that now," said Miss Clementine; "let us think about your own position.  You are committing a fraud.  There may be much excuse, but this fact remains, and the question is, how are you to put it right?"

    "I have not one farthing," he cried; "but if I ever have the money I will send it to the railway company.  I had thought of that—I meant to do that."

    "Very well," answered Miss Clementina almost kindly, for his ready appreciation of the drift of her remark inclined her to believe in the sincerity of his reply.  "Then you shall owe it to me instead of to the company, and when we stop at Berwick we will take your ticket for London."

    The young man turned and looked at her.  His features were strong and good, though scarcely handsome; his dark eyes had the agonised expression of a hunted creature brought down by a cruel wound.  There was something in himself quite out of keeping with his clothing.  It was not only shabby and rudely soiled, it had never been anything but poor and common---of the poorest material and the commonest construction—as unlike the last rags of a prodigal son as the mufti of a prince in disguise.  Miss Clementine's interest but grew the more sympathetic.  There had been nothing of the beggar-princess about her own history!

    "But why should I owe this to you?" said the astonished lad.  "I—I have not one farthing of my own, literally, and do what I may, I shall not be able to pay for a long time.  Why should I owe it to you?"

    "Because anybody may receive a favour, but nobody must take one," decided Miss Clementine, who had regained her self-possession and her usual decisive manner.

    "But it may be so long before I pay," said the lad.  And—and will it make much difference to you?"

    Miss Clementine thought of her £60,000, and how little that sum would be affected by the re-payment or non-payment of this trifling loan.  But she thought also of her faith in human nature and of her inclination to be brave and prompt in helpfulness, and remembered that these would be vastly increased or diminished by the honour or dishonour of this lad's future action.

    So she looked steadily into his dark eyes, and said: "It will make an immense difference to me—and to others, too, perhaps.  Certainly I cannot afford to lose it.  But I will trust you, and the railway company would not.  You cannot choose between us."

    "I can only do my best," returned the youth forlornly; "but I will do that."

    "Do you belong to London?" asked Miss Clementina.

    "Yes—at least, I live there.  I belong to London as much as I belong anywhere," he said.

    "And your occupation?" she inquired.

    "I am a law stationer's copying clerk," he answered.

    Miss Clementine knew quite well what that indicated.  A perilous skirting of those narrow paths of penury, which overhang gulfs of want yawning beneath any unwary step—a hopeless future.  She said no more in that direction.  Her next question was, "Have you a father?"

    The reply came with some hesitancy.

    "No."

    "A mother?"

    He looked at her pitifully with a quivering lip.

    "Yes," he said, "my poor mother is living."

    "Where?" asked the lady.

    "In London," he replied.

    Conscious of her own power and determination to help, Miss Clementina would have persevered in questioning most people.  But though this young man looked so wretched, and was so absolutely at her mercy, there remained about him a quiet dignity and reserve which made her feel apologetic in her cross-examination.

    Perhaps the true relations of womanhood to manhood are never seen more plainly than when a woman, sound in soul and gentle at heart, finds herself in possession of power over the destinies of a man whose character, so far as she can see it, does not forfeit her respect.  The peculiar reverent tenderness which affects such a woman in such a case, acts in spite of any difference in rank or years.  A good woman who has known any of life's struggles and victories, hath always a special veneration for any good man who hath met defeat therein.

    Many of Miss Clementina Kerr's acquaintances would have been astonished at the gentleness of her manner as she went on―

    "You know I want to help you.  You can understand I must question you first.  As you live in London, and have your mother and your work there, how came you to be on Tweedside?"

    He seemed about to answer quickly, but checked himself and spoke with much deliberation:

    "I heard something which made me think it a duty to go to Tweedside.  I thought my money would hold out longer than it did, and I had reason to expect things to be different from what I found them.  I never dreamed of returning to London like this—it was a sudden thought at the last moment," he added eagerly.  He was evidently quite ready to speak about himself and his own immediate movements, yet there was something in the background, which he was not minded to disclose rashly.  Miss Clementina had often kept awkward silence herself, and knew that it is the penalty more often inflicted by others' wrong-doing than by one's own.

    "I did not know what to do," he said; "had I stayed longer I must have looked to charity for roof and food.  I had made up my mind to sleep out on the hills, when I chanced to stray across the bye-path which I had happened to learn was the nearest cut from where I was to Kelso.  This expedient of hiding in a railway carriage came suddenly into my head, and I dashed on and got to the station two minutes before the train came.  I was so out of breath that I sat down in the dark behind the paling and did not think I could move again; but when I heard the train I thought I would make one last effort.  I thought nobody was coming to this carriage, and when you got in I did not know what do do!  O, you were so good not to be too frightened to hear me out!"

    "Do you know," said Miss Clementina very gently, "I have not yet heard your name?"

    Again there was a slight hesitation.

    "They call me Lewis Crawford," he answered.

    "Now," said Miss Clementina, "my knowledge of the world leads me to guess that you went to Tweedside on some sort of family affairs.  Am I right?"

    "At least, I thought it was so myself," he said.  A strange transformation passed over him.  A sudden haughty sternness effaced his forlorn dejection.  "But it appears I have no family.  For either I am a discredit to my family, or my family are a disgrace to me!"

    "Ah, that's no uncommon alternative!" responded Miss Clementine with a brisk nod.  She had often said something similar herself.  "How long have you been on Tweedside?" she asked.

    "Only three days," he answered.

    "And for that time you were with your friends?"

    "Friends!" he echoed bitterly; "but for the kindness of strangers I must have begged on the roadside, and slept there too!"

    "Did your kinsfolk know you were in such straits?" inquired Miss Clementine.

    "They would not answer my questions," he said, "so they never asked me any."  How hard and bitter the young face looked!

    "You can't blame them for permitting what they did not know," argued Miss Clementine.

    "I don't blame them for that," he said emphatically.  "They could not have helped me if they would.  For one could not take a favour from those who refuse a right!  You can't take bread from those who have wronged you!"

    Miss Clementine considered.  This difficulty, at least, had never beset her.  Her own lot had been not to need to take bread, but to be asked to give it to those who had wronged and spoiled her life!  She acknowledged to herself that after all her lot might have been worse!

    "Well, we won't talk any more now of the people who were nasty," she said half playfully.  Her womanly tact understood that great exhaustion and irritation require much the same calming and soothing which one bestows on a tired and fevered child.  She knew this by having often vainly craved for such soothing, for this world, alas! is not yet imbued with that tender mercy which does not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax.  "We won't even think just now of the people who were nasty," she repeated; "rather tell me about the strangers who were kind to you."

    Again there passed over his face that swift change of expression which is only possible to a highly-strung sensitive nature.

    "The first was a young lady," he said; "she saw me sitting in a field in the rain.  She came out and said 'Her grandmother asked wouldn't I wait in their cottage till the shower was over?'  And the old dame was so kind to me.  She made me dry my clothes, and set supper before me.  She seemed very deaf, and did not say much.  The young woman—talked to me, and spoke so nicely, so that I could not help being quite frank with her."

    "I think you told her more than you are telling me," said Miss Clementine.

    He gave a sorrowful smile, and did not deny the impeachment.  "When we are first hurt we can't help crying out," he said; "but who would keep on crying out?"

    "Well, proceed," said Miss Clementine.

    "They had only two rooms in their little cottage," he went on but they told me I could sleep in an out-house they had, which was dry and warm; and they brought sheets and blankets, and gave me supper along with themselves."

    "There's a deal of real charity in the world," commented Miss Clementine.  "This is doing me more good than any sermon."

    "They would give me breakfast again next morning," he narrated; "but I could see they must be poor—they had only porridge and milk.  How could I go on taking from them?"

    "People who have only porridge and milk can generally afford to give you half of it," said the lady.  "Few who have coffee and caviare are so well off!"

    "Besides," he went on, "there was another reason why I felt I must leave.  I thought it might get them into difficulties if it was known I was there.  I had heard that landlords―" and there he stopped.

    "So ho!" thought Miss Clementina; "so it was at the laird's house that you were not welcome, my young man."  But she kept her thought to herself.

    "They asked me to join their family worship too," said the lad, in a low, reverent tone.  "The young lady read a chapter, and the grandmother said a few words of prayer; and the young lady sang 'The Lord is my Shepherd.'  It made me feel as if――' and he paused.

    "As if there was really a Heavenly Father watching over this wandering child of His, is what he would say," thought Miss Clementina; "and please God, help me to do nothing to chill that feeling."

    "We must be nearing Berwick now—we must have passed Norham," said Miss Kerr, peering out into the darkness.

    The train drew up presently.  The London express was not yet in Berwick station, and Clementina had time, not only to get her fellow-traveller's ticket, but to look after the old woman and the sick girl, and to notice Rab Bethune, wandering vaguely, smoking a huge cigar.

    As soon as they started again she bade her companion lie down and try to get some sleep.  He was rather reluctant to obey her first behest, but once he did so the sleep seemed to come of its own accord, and as he slept amid the clanging thunder of the rattling train, with his bitter past behind him, and his blank future before, his face grew mild and soft.

    There was no sleep for Miss Clementina Kerr.  She sat in a corner huddled up, not even courting slumber, because she knew that when she was excited and exhausted as she was now, sleep brought no comfort with it, but only nightmare dreams of byegone arguments and conflicts with repining, folly, and perversity.

    And what was Rab Bethune dreaming about?  We only know that two fellow-passengers who chanced to share the latter part of his luxurious journey, whispered to each other:

    "Did you ever come across such a restless young fellow? one would think he had committed a crime!"


 
CHAPTER VIII.

A BEGINNING.


LIFE jogged on at Edenhaugh.  The presence of the Misses Gibson did not disturb the tenour of its daily course; but it revealed to Lesley that monotony and peace are quite different things, and that the first may exist without the last—just as the silence of a summer noon is not disturbed by the buzzing of a wasp in the room, which is, nevertheless, sufficiently disturbing to the room's occupant.

    The intercourse between the two sisters themselves invariably took the form of sparring—sharp little attacks on Miss Helen's part, and good-natured parrying from Miss Bell.  Lesley was not accustomed to such an atmosphere, and it often fretted her, producing on her spirit an effect akin to the physical annoyance of dust blowing into our eyes, or slate pencils drawn backwards with a screech.

    As for Mr Baird, had he been questioned on the subject, probably, in manlike fashion, he would have denied that he felt any irritation at all.  Nevertheless, it is certain that during these ladies' visit he found more outdoor interests than usual, and that he felt it laid on his conscience to fulfil certain long-neglected promises of visiting distant neighbours, farmers, and small lairds among the hills, such visits involving long rides, and keeping him away from home for hours together.  Lesley knew quite well that he never dreamed that he was leaving her to anything unpleasant—nay, possibly thought this was a good opportunity for his neighbourly sociality, since he was not leaving her lonely!  We all realise for ourselves that solitude is not loneliness but it is odd how few of us will realise it for others too!

    Lesley could not help liking Miss Bell, though that lady often inflicted more pain than Miss Helen.  Being less guarded than her sister, she constantly proclaimed on the housetops what the other only whispered in secret chambers.

    Besides, her wider sympathies and more impressionable feelings, having caught the taint of Miss Helen's acrimony, carried it, diluted and coloured by her own nature, over a wider area than her sister's narrow character could have commanded.

    It was the day of old Alison Brown's funeral.  Breakfast at Edenhaugh was rather earlier than usual, because Mr Baird had some business which it was necessary to dispatch before he attended to pay the last marks of respect to his old neighbour.

    "It's very good o' ye to fash yersel' for the puir auld bodie," said Miss Bell; "there's few would do it if it was to cost them trouble, though they might tak' it in their way, like.  An' what for suld ye, Mr Baird, for she's leavin' nane behint her to be pleased or huffed?  I expect her grandson, this Will, will live a'thegither in Kelso noo."

    "It's very proper of Mr Baird to do what he's doing," contradicted Miss Helen; "what a thing it would be for the parish if all kept themselves off it, as Alison did!"

    "I am going to follow my old friend to her grave," said Mr Baird seriously, "because I really liked her, and honour her as one who has fought life's battle bravely and well.  I should have honoured her equally, if, after living and labouring as she did, it had been God's will that she should take parish pay.  For had not she earned it, carrying out every one of Paul's conditions of good works—bringing up children, showing kindness, and furthering godliness?  The life of such as Alison Brown is one long giving out to the world, and taking from none but God.  Such are God's true ladies, and not those who live at ease, thinking only of sparing themselves."

    "Weel, weel," said Miss Bell, "I suppose it willna be a big funeral."

    "I daresay not," answered Mr Baird; "Alison has done most of her kindnesses to those who don't repay on earth—the very young and the very old, and the dying!  I'll engage she was warmly welcomed in Heaven!"

    "I should have thought, Mr Baird," remarked Miss Helen, "that you were one of the new school folk, who don't believe in mourning, or funerals, or monuments, or any of the other good old plans for keeping us in mind of our mortality."

    "I don't believe in the promiscuous attendance at funerals," answered the master of the house.  "Why should we go to see the last of a man's dead body, whose living face we scarcely cared to meet?  But," he added, unconsciously revealing the cynical pain which underlay all his tolerant kindliness, "if any of us go only to the funerals of those whom we really love, admire, and venerate, we shan't go to many in the course of our lives!  I am going to Alison's funeral for my own sake, not for hers—I am not thinking of her 'mortality' or my own.  I want to kindle the torch of my life at the too-fast fading fires of a good woman's memory.  As for mourning," he went on, "I don't think it matters much to men, but I can fancy a plain black gown comes kindly to a woman's sad heart; I've noticed one or two who drifted into the garb when it was not the dead but the living they were grieving over."

    "Crossed in love, and making themselves attractively pathetic, to get a new string to their bow," was Miss Helen's comment.  "It's the sort of thing Bell there might have done, if she had not had me to look after her.  Don't you take to such folly, Lesley!"

    There the conversation was brought to an abrupt conclusion by the announcement that Mr Baird's horse was waiting for him.  He apologised for his enforced departure, and left the ladies to complete their meal at leisure.

    "An' now Edenhaugh's morning is mapped oot, what are the rest of us going to do the day, gude folk?" asked Miss Bell; "I aye like to have a ploy planned; then I feel at rest in my mind."

    "Whether it is worth carrying it out or not," remarked Miss Helen.  "For my part, I shall take the opportunity of Mr Baird's absence to turn my grey skirt.  I had it in wear till yesterday, and I'll make it as good as new by tomorrow; so I shall not have wasted my time."  Miss Helen's personal pronouns were generally emphatic.

    "I'm thinking ye might turn your auld claes as your regular work at home, Helen," laughed Miss Bell, "an' na keep them to pass awa' a holiday, when ye might be restin' your eyes wi' the sight o' God's creation.  But there's na rest in you—you're aye fyking.  I hope you're na sae notable, Lesley?  It wad be an awfu' warld gin ilka bodie was sic perfection!  Maun ye be at the dairy or at the preservin'—or can ye afford to tak' a wee stravague?"

    "The day's work is started, Miss Bell, and so I'm ready to go anywhere," Lesley declared; adding, with a slight hesitancy: "But I should like to go first to Gowan Brae.  It's holiday time and the servants are very busy, and Mr Logan himself will be away where uncle is—so if little Jamie came with us, it might be pleasanter for him than idling about alone."

    "I'll go with you." Miss Bell promptly assented; "an' then, as it's only you and me, an' no Helen, we'll gae on to auld Jean Haldane's.  I'd as lief gae that gate as ony ither.  We've a' the morning before us, an' we'll take' it easy, an' no mak' a toil o' a pleasure."

    "The funeral will come off about noon, and Mr Baird will return punctual and hungry, you may be sure," warned Miss Helen: "so mind you are not late.  And I was thinking, Lesley, that this afternoon, if your uncle can let us have the horse and chaise, we might drive over and call at Bethune Towers.  That has been deferred long enough."

    Lesley felt this was meant as a reproach, and rashly rebutted it: "From what uncle remarked," said she, "I fancy the laird had felt his son's going away; and it is scarcely kind to intrude too soon on a family on these occasions."

    "Hoot!" said Miss Helen with contempt if anything ailed the laird it would be the gout or the factor's accounts, and not his son's going to London.  Young men are not so sentimentally missed in their own households.  It is only the romantic dairymaids whom they leave crying behind them.  And here let me warn you, Lesley"—Miss Helen spoke with great deliberation, and then paused, while poor Lesley's heart thumped in consternation as to what was coming—"let me warn you, Lesley, that it's not wise of you to saddle yourself with too much interest in Jamie Logan."  (Lesley breathed again.)  "He's neither kith nor kin of yours.  If you encourage him he will just get into the habit of looking to you for everything, and that won't be always convenient.  Nobody has any claim on you but your uncle, and he will never burden you much, and you may be thankful!"

    Lesley did not answer.  It was not to this hard woman that she could disclose that all her nature was yearning to have some "claim" made on its forces, since the round of loving duties which Mr Baird would repay with so much appreciation did not half absorb its latent energies.  Her uncle "not much of a burden!"  Why, Lesley was always touched to a tender remorse when she noted the wistful gratitude with which he accepted her remembrance of his ways, or her efforts to gratify his wishes.  It never struck her that her uncle recognised the exquisite devotion she poured into these hourly trivialities, like rare wine into a homely vessel.

    Gowan Brae had richer land and a larger house than Edenhaugh, and the Logans had long been the wealthiest tenant farmers in the neighbourhood, though, for some subtle reason, a certain precedence was always conceded to Mr Baird.  As the visitors walked up the little winding avenue which led to the porch of Gowan Brae, Miss Bell asked—

    "D'ye think Logan will marry again, Lesley?"

    "I don't know—I never heard any word of it—I don't think so," said the girl, to whom the idea had never suggested itself.

    "Logan'll be gey pleased at your taking up wi' his wee laddie," Miss Bell went on; "an' deed, let Helen say what she will, it's a nice amusement for you, for you've a' the pleasure o' the wean, without the fash and the responsibility.  Helen's aye that prudent, that she'd mak' life no worth having.  Not but her word is far better worth taking than mine for a' that, Lesley.  It's quite true what she says, that I'd ha been in mony a sair bungle if she hadna saved me frae't.  Well, Jamie's nae lookin' oot for ye, Lesley; I daresay he'd be as pleased to be left to rin his ain gate the day."

    "O no, he won't," said Lesley, "at least he will say so if he will; if he doesn't want to come to-day, he'd be at the gate to tell me so."

    "Would he, then? the impident loonie!" laughed Miss Bell.  "An' are ye goin' to be o' my sort, Lesley, ane o' those that the men folk speak oot their minds till an' ha' na proper respeck for (according to Helen)!  At that rate ye'll be an auld maid, Lesley.  Helen's an auld maid too, but that's another matter.  I've been too cheap for their honours, and she 's been too dear, dye ken!"

    Just as Lesley laid her hand on the door-bell, a red-armed girl crossed the lawn carrying a basket of wet linen.  When she saw the guests, she paused interrogatively—Miss Lesley being a familiar household friend, honoured by the absence of ceremony.

    "Where is Master James, Betty?" asked Lesley.

    "Up to his room," the girl answered, adding with slightly lowered voice: "The maister wasna owre pleased the morn, and something went wrang at prayers, an' Jamie was putten oot, and he's had a whippin'.  He's a gey stubborn chiel."

    "I will go upstairs and see him—I won't detain you many minutes, Miss Bell," explained Lesley, ushering her companion into the solemn-looking dining-room, hung round with darkly framed engravings of the sacrifice of Isaac, the death of Absalom, and the murder of Abel.

    Miss Bell sank into a big armchair, and as soon as Lesley was out of hearing, proceeded to beguile the interval by questioning the red-armed girl: "How many servants are there noo at Gowan Brae?  Is there any truth in the gossip that the maister takes the bit drappie?  Would the red-armed damsel and her fellow-domestics like a new mistress—or not?  Whether anybody else beside Miss Lesley ever came sae friendly aboot the place?" pointing the last question with the sly hit, given with a laughing shake of the head, "that well-aff widowers' bairns were aye interestin'!"

    A family so small as the Logans inhabiting a roomy old house like Gowan Brae had plenty of snug spare chambers.  But these, with all their bountiful punishing, were delivered over chiefly to moth and rust, and the bedroom of the only son was but a great bare closet at the end of a lonely passage.

    As she approached its door Lesley heard a strange knocking sound.  It was made by Jamie himself, seated on the edge of his bed, and kicking an old chest that stood against the wall.  His face was flushed and rebellious, but be had not shed a tear, till he looked up and met Lesley's kind eyes, and then the stifled sobs broke freely forth.

    She did not ask a question.  She knew all about it only too well beforehand—all about the irritable father, venting his spleen on some childish foible at which, on another occasion, he would have only laughed.  It was this which perplexed and hurt Lesley in Logan's dealings with his boy; not that he was sometimes angry—too angry even—but that his anger did not in the least depend on Jamie's own right or wrong, but wholly on his own mood as influenced by market prices, or the awards of agricultural shows.  What could she say in such a case?  She patted Jamie's hands with her gentle soothing touch, and said, "O Jamie, I am so sorry, I am so sorry."  And so he grew a little quieter.

    "I didn't mean to be naughty," he cried; "the doggies made me laugh at prayers.  I could not help it.  And when father put me out, I only said I could not help it.  And then he said I was impudent.  And he said I ought to be punished as openly as I sinned, and he took me back into the parlour—and beat me before them all!"  And new rage rose in the child's heart, and dried the tears upon his cheek.

    What was Lesley to do?  How could she soothe the child's sense of burning shame, without casting doubt or blame on the wisdom or righteousness of the parent?

    "You see papa wants his little boy to be so good and reverent," she said, "that he gets almost beside himself when he thinks his Jamie is not behaving well.  Prayer is the time when we speak to God and He speaks to us, and we should listen quietly, and be reverent.

    "Nobody else saw how funny the doggies were," sobbed Jamie; "but if God sees everything, He saw 'em, and He wouldn't wonder that I laughed."

    "I had come to take you to Edenhaugh," said poor Lesley, with a helpless wish to change the subject; "and your father has told you to stay up here.  Did he remember that this is the day when I generally fetch you?" she asked, vaguely wondering if it would be a sin against sacred filial duty if she could find a way of escape for the poor little prisoner.

    "He didn't say anything about it.  I wish I'd asked him, and he might have let me out."  (Jamie already realised that his punishments were guided by circumstances, and was ready to accept these chances, without resenting their injustice.)  "But now I must stay here, that was the last father said," added the loyal little heart.

    "Yes, so you must," Lesley answered with a firmness which she felt she addressed rather to herself than to the child.  "So what can we do to make the best of it?  Here is your slate, and I will set you a few sums.  There's nothing like work for waiting times.  And now wash your face and comb your hair, and you will find it will be easier for you to feel good and happy again."

    While the child was following her instructions, he said pitifully: "I wish I did not so often wish to laugh at prayers.  It's so queer!  I never laugh then when I'm at Edenhaugh."

    Lesley understood why.  In her uncle's house there was no preceding conversation or incident calculated to give a tickling sense of incongruity.  Further, when Jamie was at Edenhaugh the family worship, always brief, was curtailed to the reading of a single New Testament incident, and the united repetition of the Lord's Prayer.  Lesley knew all this, but to Jamie she only said:

    "You should always listen to what is going on, and try to understand.  Do you know what was read this morning?"

    "No, I don't," he answered, lifting up his clear, blue eyes; "but I know we are going through the second part of Jeremiah!"

    "Now, Jamie," Lesley exhorted, as she set open the little dormer window, and let the fresh hill breezes sweep into the stuffy chamber, "you must be as good and quiet as possible all day, and then, perhaps, in the evening, papa will let you run down to Edenhaugh."

    And if the hot rage of the little lad's heart was soothed away as he lifted his apple-like face for a parting kiss, it was all due to Lesley Baird.  People who said carelessly that "Logan's little boy was wonderfully gentle and good, considering his father's rough and careless ways," reeked too little of those outer influences which always intrude on the tendency of parental training to supplement or to contradict it, either for good or for evil.

    Lesley went slowly downstairs, feeling strangely sad and sobered, yet little knowing—as none of us ever know—that this was the opening scene of her life's supreme tragedy.


 
CHAPTER IX.

THE DEAFNESS OF JEAN HALDANE.


THE two ladies left Gowan Brae, and proceeded on their walk in silence, till Miss Bell remarked―

    "I'm glad to find that Mr Logan doesna' tak' up wi' the new notions o' sparin' the rod and spoiling the child.  By all ane hears he's no ganging sic' a richt gate himsel' that ane wad think he wad tak' ony trouble aboot the bairn."

    "I don't think he does," said Lesley rather quickly, "It takes a great deal more trouble to keep a child good than to punish it when it is naughty and he is in a bad temper."

    "Well, well, Lesley, now-a-days ye can't call a child badly brought up in a house where there are family prayers," said Miss Bell, with easy acceptance of conventional standards.  "The servant girl says the boy is a little rin-th'-rout, neither to bind nor to loose."

    "People forget that they have the whole charge of him in a way that would not happen if he had a mother to prevent some naughtiness, and to keep other naughtiness to herself," said Lesley.

    "Lads are aye kittle cattle," observed Miss Bell.  "I like 'em weel eneuch mysel'; but it's no use likin' 'em owre weel, for they are sure to break your heart.  They never really care for ye, Lesley; ye may wear yersel oot for them for years, and then they're awa', an' it's oot o' sicht, oot o' mind, and gin your fash is no a'thegither wasted, some ither woman gets the guid o't, wha gives a gliffer o' scorning when she hears your name, or at best thinks she's an angel if she's barely civil to ye."

    "Men can be as affectionate and as faithful as women," persisted Lesley.

    Miss Bell laughed.  "An' that's no sae unco' faithful," she said.  "Luik in your ain heart, Lesley—no juist now maybe, but whiles—an' ye'll see there's no muckle to be expected frae the lave.  Time an' tide are owre muckle for a' o' us."

    To this Lesley made no reply.  She was silently wondering if Rab Bethune could have thought her indifferent or unkind to go on with her needlework on that afternoon when he had called at Edenhaugh to announce that he had secured the appointment which would take him away from his native glen (except, perhaps, for very fleeting visits) for at least two years.  It had been easier for poor Lesley to go on with her work than to raise her eyes!  But would Rab understand that?

    "Aye, it's a' bonnie, bonnie!" cried Miss Bell, as they emerged from the Gowan Brae Avenue, and a wide sweep of green hills rose before them, dotted here and there, in the distance, with white, pleasantly wooded houses, or little rows of grey cottages.  "An' there's Polmoot!  My eyes aye gae straight hame!


"'Oh, were we young now as we ance hae been,
 We should hae been gallopin' down on yon green,
 And linkin' it ower the lily white lea
 An' werna my heart licht I wad dee!

'
No' but my heart's licht eno'!  An' why not?  There's no muckle i' the warld that's worth fash!  The gravest beast's an ass, an' the gravest man's a fool!  I aye think those green knowes are to me like Jordan was to Naaman, for 'they gie me the heart o' a little child.'  I'm never weary o' thinking o' them, and writin' aboot them, and the folk that live amang them."

    "It must have been very sad for you when Polmoot passed from your name, and you left the glen," said sympathetic Lesley, who never said one word of her own deep love for her native place.

    Miss Bell laughed silently.  "Weel, Lesley," she confided, "I wasna just sae unco sorry.  I'd been gey wearie o't, aft and aften.  It's vera weel to write about the sunny days o' summer time, and the auld friends, and the bit pretty stories that ane heard, maybe, ance or twice a year.  Ane doesna write o' the spells o' rain and snaw, and never a body comin' ben, an' na change o' meat.  The house that looks best in a picture isna the best to bide in.  Na, na, Lesley; I just took our flittin' unco weel, and saw the consoling side o't, and hoo it was the Lord's will, and we shouldna murmur.  Resignation is wonderfully lichtened to a body whiles! I can come and tak' a luik at the auld place and can think o't in Edinbro'.  The Tweed's rinnin' at my side and the green grass springing under my feet, often and often when I'm ganging up and down Princes Street, and yet, at my ither side, so to say, there's the life o' the shops and a' the folk.  It wad ha' been gey dowie for Helen an' me to go on livin' at Polmoot.  I canna be fashed wi' the gentry, and she wadna ha' let me be happy wi' the cottars.  Now in Edinbro' whiles, there's a' the people i' the shops that ane can get an excuse to crack wi' owre their counters, wi'out making 'too free,' as Helen aye ca'ed it, if ane sat doun and took a cup o' tea in a kitchen.  Na, na, to tell the truth, Lesley, leavin' here was a greater cut up to Helen than to me, for, ye ken, here she was Miss Gibson o' Polmoot, and she stood between the castle and the cottage, and there wasna anither precisely the same.  But in Edinbro' we're just twa auld maids in a flat—and if there's ane thing that reconciles her to my bit writings it is that it's a kind o' distinction like, and gars the ministers tak' notice o' me because they want me to do a wheen verses and sic like for naething, to help their bazaars.  An' I'd as lief do it as not, it's a better pastime than knittin' or embroidery.  It's real divertin'—garrin' the words clink!—and here's Jean Haldane's cottage.  And is the bodie settin' up hersel' wi' white curtains and a china pot of flowers—save us a'."

    "O, that is the doing of Mary Olrig, the grand-daughter," explained Lesley; "'but she went away to London yesterday.  She has got work in the Telegraph Office.  I am glad we have come here to-day, for I should think Mrs Haldane must feel lonely."

    "Hoot, Lesley; is't Mrs Haldane ye ca' her?  She's just Jean wi' us, neither mair nor less," said Miss Bell, striding in at the open door, and hailing the mistress of the house with blunt good nature—"Here's Jean, honest wifie, scrapin' her potatoes.  Hoo are ye the day, Jean? but I needna ask.  Ye're gettin' younger instead o' aulder, like the lave.  An' your bit carpet to the floor, and the gran' knitted shawl about your shoulders, instead o' the wee plaidie ye were sae glad o' when I gied it ye.  Ye're comin' to your better days in your waur anes, Jeanie, an' it's the life o' an auld bonnet to be weel-cockit!"

    Jean Haldane was a Scotswoman of a very different type from old Alison Brown.  She was slight and spare, sallow of complexion, with pure silver hair tucked back beneath the severest "widow's mutch."  She was a woman of few words, and for many years had been very deaf.  But her black eyes were so keen and restless that they seemed able to maintain commerce with the world without much aid from speech or hearing.  Doubtless she did not catch much of Miss Bell's garrulous greeting, but the smile on her pursed lips could have been scarcely more sarcastic had she heard every word.  Then she turned to Lesley and said briefly―

    "Mary's awa'."

    "Ye'll be missin' her, sair, sair," said Miss Bell.

    "Aye," returned the old dame; "but I'm used to missin'; ane wins throu't."

    "She will miss you too," said Lesley.

    "She'd have to miss me soon anyway," said Jean.

    "An' the young dinna brak their hearts wi' missin' the auld," commented Miss Bell.

    "It's the Lord's will," rejoined the agèd woman grandly.

    "It's to be hoped she winna gae wrang in London," said Miss Bell.  "She's a bonnie lass, your grand-daughter, Jean."

    "She's nae that ill-fated," conceded Jean.  Then, changing the subject, "An' do ye fin' the glen itsel' as bonnie as ever, Miss Bell?"

    "'Deed do I," answered the lady.

    "But there's aye somebody gane," said Mrs Haldane.  This time it's auld Alison.  I'd like to have a luik at her funeral goin' through the valley—it'll pass soon noo.  She is to be buried up by Dryburgh; her folk have a lair there.  But my rheumatics won't let me wait i' the open air, and I canna see't frae my door."

    "I'll go outside and watch and tell you when it's coming," volunteered kind Lesley, suiting the action to the word.

    "She was a gude woman, Alison," said old Jean; "ane o' the smiling sort.  She lived o' the sunny side o' 'the hill."

    "Aye, there are changes, changes!" cried Miss Bell.  "I could ha' greeted the day when Helen an' I won round the corner, and there were sunlight and clouds rinnin' o'er the great green hills, and there was the river, like a thread o' silver, and there were Polmoot an' Edenhaugh, lookin' as if naething were changed.  But then there was the bit kirkyard, an' its congregation o' the dead is aye gathering in frae a' the houses round, an' there maun I luik for my faither an' my mither and the bit bairns, and mony and money an' auld friend an' kindly neighbour.  As I said to Helen (but she didn't seem to mind), it was just sic a day, mair than thirty years syne, that John Atchison was buried."

    "An' do you think o' that whiles yet?" asked the old woman, with a glimmer of softness passing over her quaint strong face.  "Then ye'll no forget that yestreen was the verra date?  An' do you min' hoo ye put on a grey print frock that ye had, an' a bit black ribbon round your neck, till your sister speired efter who you were in mourning for? an' then ye put on your blue gown again."

    "What! did you notice that, Jean?—an' did ye guess?" asked poor Miss Bell, with a foolish blush on her broad face.  "Helen never did.  She only asked the question in scornin'―an' said it was a dull like choice o' colour—but I'd got it worn twa whole days afore she said that."

    The old wife gave her head a knowing shake.  "Miss Helen gies her tongue mair holidays than her head.  Whaur ane word serves, she willna use twa.  If she'd said mair o' her mind, she might ha' gotten less o' her will."

    "D'ye think Helen's that deep?" asked Miss Bell with a sigh, half of admiration; "it's awful' to think o'.  A weel, a's for the best!  It was a sair, sair pain, an' I kenned I had but the half o't, and, may be, no the waur half; but puir John is no missin' me where he's been these many years.  An' Helen aye says it's a Providence I never married, I'd ha' been sic a feckless wife.  And it's a' gane now, Jean, unless the tail o't is i' my love for auld sangs an' stories.  An' speakin' o' stories, Jean, what's this folk are telling about a ghaist by the trysting stane―nae sae far frae your verra door?  Are you no frighted? —you, a lane woman."

    Out of all Miss Bell's speech Jean had only caught a few nouns, but they sufficed for her intelligence.

    "Frighted?  Nae!" she said, with her quiet, stern smile.  "I ha' had 'the ghaist' sittin' here, in the chair behint you;" Miss Bell started and looked over her shoulder; "an' he'd ha' been welcome to come again, but he wadna.  A very ceevil spoken lad."

    "What!—it was a living man!—a stranger!" cried Miss Bell eagerly.  "But are ye sure, Jean," she whispered; "are ye sure it was a livin' man?  How then did he win awa sae unbeknown."

    "Wha kens?" said the old woman; "I only hope he did win awa.  I hope he isna under Tweed waters or lost on the hills."

    "Who was he? and what was he doin' here?" asked the lady.

    "He tell't Mary," answered Jean; "he tell't her a deal, sittin' here afore me.  But I couldna hear what he said.  I'm verra deaf wi' strange voices."

    "But didna your grand-daughter tell you?" inquired Miss Bell; "that wasna gude manners."

    "I tauld her no to fash.  I could see a' I wanted to ken wi' my e'en—that he was a poor ceevil wandering lad, in sair trouble," returned Jean with her inflexible calmness.

    "Ha' ye tauld this to onybody else, Jean?" asked Miss Bell.  "Isna it your duty? there's folk in the village sair frighted.  I've used a night-licht mysel' ever since, let Helen say what she will (an' she doesna say sae muckle, sin' the lichts are Mr Baird's); an' there's puir Jock, the Edenhaugh ploughman— "

    "Has been sober aye since," said Jean, her eyes glittering with stern enjoyment.

    "But is't right o' ye to let your neebours be sae sair misguidit?" pleaded Miss Bell.

    "Nobody's asked me a question; if they had, I wadna ha' tauld a lee," said Jean.

    "What was he like?" asked Miss Bell; "I saw a man i' the kirkyard that I thought like Mr Rab, but Helen laughs at me."

    "Eyes see sae different," said Jean; "what ane ca's bonnie, anither doesna."  And thus Miss Bell's question went unanswered.  A minute after they heard Lesley's voice calling, and hurried out of the house and round the bend of the hill to the spot whence they could see the road in the valley, along which the humble funeral procession was now wending its way.

    The three stood side by side and watched it.

    "Weel, weel," said Jean, as the little troop went solemnly on its way, "ye were a gude woman, Alison, and gin ye meet ony o' our freens in heaven it will be the pleasant word you'll carry o' those you've left ahint ye."

    "Loshie, Jean," said Miss Bell "d'ye think there's onybody will speak evil there?"

    "Na," she said; "but a many Christians may have to leave their tongues at the gate; an' maybe I'll hae to leave my ain for saying sae!  God help us a'.  When they carry us, as they're carryin' Alison noo, it'll no matter what we've seen or known—but only what we've been!"

    "Weel, weel, puir body," sighed Miss Bell, "doubtless she did her best in her sma' way.  It's a hard life and a weary waiting that's come to an end at last."

    "That's the stuff ye mak' glorified saints wi'," said Jean, "out o' much tribulation.  Ye canna ha'e sweet fruit wi'out scorching an' showerin', and a' the course o' the year.  An' some o' us just stop short o' getting sweet efter a'."

    Then, as the mourning band passed out of sight, the old woman turned and walked back to her cottage without a word.  But Lesley saw a slow tear trickling down her sallow cheek, and somehow the girl knew the great pain it cost that stout old heart, and how fain she would be to hide it.

    "I think Jean feels her old neighbour's death more than she cares to show," whispered the girl; "they were girls together."

    "She'll be thinking it will be hersel' next," said Miss Bell lugubriously.

    "Perhaps we should not follow her back to her cottage," suggested Lesley. "We have to go far round to get home, to Edenhaugh, and once the funeral is over my uncle will soon ride home; so we shall need all our speed to be punctual."

    Miss Bell was not sorry for the suggestion.  Somehow, she thought she would not mention Jean's "news" to Lesley till she had imparted it to Helen, who loved the first edition of gossip.  In the end, the two pedestrians reached Edenhaugh before Mr Baird, and the sisters got time for "a crack" in their bedroom.

    "Auld Jean heard this stranger telling her grand-daughter something which she did not ask her to repeat?" echoed Miss Helen as Miss Bell finished her tale.  "Then be sure she could guess something with her eyes that she did not want confirmed with her ears, and she would not be told, just that she might not be able to tell again!  She's learned those deep tricks when her husband was poaching!"

    "An' noo I mind," said Miss Bell, "she didna tell me what he was like.  I asked her, and she managed to put aff my question quite innocent."

    Miss Helen was reflective.  She remembered (with less contempt) that her imaginative sister had mistaken the stranger in the kirkyard for Rab Bethune, and she thought with satisfaction of their projected visit to Bethune Towers that very afternoon, feeling that at least she was not one of those people who are apt to lose their opportunities.


 
CHAPTER X.

MYSTIFICATION.


THE Gibsons' call at Bethune Towers was to be paid with the utmost pomp and ceremony at their command.  For this occasion only, thick silk garments and solid gold brooches were disinterred from the depths of their luggage.  The effect might not be altogether satisfactory, for there are few people who look their best in their best clothes, but Miss Helen was one of those people who regard any care for good looks as a sinful vanity, while they decide that the display of handsome dress is but "a proper pride."

    Miss Helen turned a critical eye on the rumbling easygoing chaise and stout cob, which made up the best turn-out Edenhaugh could furnish.  But, in duty bound as a guest, she could show her disfavour only in her usual way, by mentioning with praise the very different equipage of her fashionable brother Partrick.

    From the time when Miss Helen had warned Lesley to be careful to "keep her place" when at Bethune Towers, the girl had rather shrunk from visiting Bethune; but to own the truth, she had a very real enjoyment in the stately old house.  She did not very much connect Rab Bethune with Bethune Towers, and so far as she did, the association pained her, because she felt there was something lurking beneath the avowed friendliness between the young laird and the Edenhaugh household, which Rab's father and sister did not suspect and would not approve.  She had# learned to know Rab and to care for him among the heather on the hill-sides, and in the shadowy brown parlours of her uncle's house. Lesley's day-dreams were the undeveloped day-dreams of sweet first love—two figures walking in a mist—and nothing more. If ever Bethune Towers loomed through that mist, they cast but a portentous shadow.

    Did Rab Bethune love her? that was the only question.  Her heart answered "Yes."  By many a word and look she knew it.  To deny it to herself would be to affirm that Rab was a false and perfidious man.  And yet if it was so, why did he go away without one word more?  Yet again, if that word was never to be uttered, then her loyal heart would declare that there had been no falseness nor perfidy in the hero, but that her own heart itself, in its fond weakness, had been the more deceived.

    Everything would be bearable, except a lower opinion of the beloved one!  She could let Rab go from her for ever and forget her utterly, if that could happen without any flaw in his honour, any stain on his maiden shield.  Lesley was one of those rare natures who can accept the poet's test:―


"Unless you can muse in a crowd all day
     On the absent face that fixed you,
 Unless you can love as the angels may
     With the breadth of heaven betwixt you―
                                   O never call it loving!"


    Only, oddly enough, the thought of the empty envelope she had received on the Sunday morning after Rab's departure would haunt her memory more than the occasion seemed to warrant, seeing that the superscription was certainly not in his handwriting, and that it would have been unworthy of Rab to write to her under cover of another hand!—just as it was unworthy of her to harbour, even for a moment, any imagination that he might have done so.  And her face flushed hotly as she stood waiting while the Misses Gibson settled themselves and their flounces in the unwieldy old vehicle.

    Her uncle sauntered out to offer a helping hand.

    "Present my respects at Bethune, ladies," he said cheerily.  "And have you got any roses for Miss Lucy?  Then wait till I pull you some.  She shall have the last of our roses."

    "They have grand greenhouses of their own at Bethune," said Miss Helen.  "I should not think they want more flowers."

    "They have no roses like ours," answered Mr Baird, showering the rich blossoms into Lesley's lap; "Rab Bethune always said so.  Besides, flowers of one's own are always different.  Flowers are meant to be given and taken."

    Bethune Towers stood on a lower level than the farm of Edenhaugh, its grounds rising very slightly from the river itself, and were so thickly wooded that one did not suspect the existence of a mansion until one suddenly came out upon its lawn.  The older part of the building was as ancient and as rude as most of the nameless ruins crumbling away on the neighbouring hill-sides.  Part of it had lapsed into absolute decay, and ivy was already spreading over rent wall and shattered turret.  The rest was in good preservation and quite habitable, and the more modern portion was as plain and strong in architectural style as the oldest relic of the past.  Miss Lucy Bethune's greenhouses, attached to the grim stone walls, looked something like a bouquet stuck on the stern breast of a man in armour.  The garden was not large, some of the ground which had been cultivated a hundred years before had been allowed by the present laird to lapse into wilderness.

    "As the hills are my father's he thinks it foolish to keep a wall round a few acres," Lucy Bethune was accustomed to say.  "For my own part, I would fain have no enclosure at all: but papa persists that for my sake he must keep a fence round the lawn and the arbours."  Truth was, heavy gardening expense was a luxury which Bethune preferred to forego; palings were a cheap substitute when the ancient wall fell down, and as for Lucy's comforts and amenities, thought of them was the last likely to enter the laird's head.

    In the massive old house, rare stained glass, antique oak carving, and piles of dragon china remained in their places, only because it cost nothing to keep them.  For the fortunes of the Bethunes of Bethune were woefully faded.

    Miss Lucy knew but too well that the family could no longer compete with its compeers in position.  She set herself to fight out the struggle of high-class penury under the banner of severe simplicity.  She managed to make allies even of her father's pride and indolence, the very factors of the family downfall.  He had kept racers in the days of his youth, and now he forewent even the decent hack which he could easily have afforded.  He "had given up riding," and the sole riding horse in the Bethune stables (since Rab had been away at college) was kept for the use of servants on special messages, but was rather a better animal than those ridden by many of the neighbouring lairds, on whose acres, nevertheless, there was no mortgage.  The Bethune coach-house sheltered no vehicle except Lucy's little chaise, always in active service; a tiny dog-cart for more practical purposes: and the old pompous family carriage, with its emblazoned panels, slumbering there from generation to generation.  Such dainties and luxuries as came to Bethune in these days found their way to the servants' table and the servants rooms, and Miss Lucy vindicated her preference for simplicity by wearing holland while her maid wore lawn, bought with the wages Miss Lucy paid her.

    Poor Lucy Bethune!  She was the daughter of the laird's first wife.  She was no longer a girl, but a woman of more than thirty-five, nearly fifteen years older than her stepbrother, and she had managed to get through those thirty-five years on an allowance of joy far less than is poured into the daily cup of some of us.  Child of the loveless "arranged" marriage between a selfish libertine father and a conscientious, intensely narrow-minded mother, her nature had been, as it were, frozen at the very outset.  Her warmest quality was pride in her one indubitable possession—her long-descended "blue" blood.  On the maternal side, at least, this had been characterised by an indomitable loyalty and dutifulness, and in Lucy the spirit worked itself out in such poor material as she found around her.  She would have died to disguise the Bethune difficulties, and she would have gainsaid every principle of truth and uprightness and kindliness to maintain the dogma that a Bethune could never do wrong or be in the wrong.

    Yet the character had its nobler side.  She loved to throw the mantle of the Bethune family protection over any poor soul who was by chance exposed to petty insolences from those other neighbours of whom Miss Lucy was accustomed to speak contemptuously as "your new people."  In this aspect she had been very good to that much criticised lady, the minister's wife.

    In appearance Lucy Bethune was a tall, thin woman, with a high, narrow head, and a rasped Roman nose.  She looked always chilly, and spoke in measured accents with a didactic tone.  One must not expect generosity of looks or manner in one whose thoughts are only how to combat the moths and rusts which threaten to consume ancient grandeurs, or, worse still, how to compel respect (or at least, its outward seeming) for a man who is not respectable.  It is well even to fall defeated when bravely fighting in a noble cause, for then the final victory is safe with God and nature; but, alas! there is some very brave fighting for ignoble ends, where the degradation of ultimate defeat enters even into any momentary triumph!

    Such was the woman into whose presence Lesley Baird and the Misses Gibson were ushered.  She received them in "the parlour"—the room where she always sat—because it had little carpet or cushioning to suffer from the wear and tear of daily life.  One does not want to cover polished floors, and genuine Chippendale furniture is superior to plush and fringes!

    She welcomed them with that cold, keen graciousness which always cowed Miss Bell, and stirred up Miss Helen's self-assertiveness.  Lesley presented her uncle's message, and her offering of roses, which Miss Lucy accepted with courteous phrases, hastening to arrange them with her own hands in a big Worcester bowl which stood on a side-table.

    "They suffer for every moment that they are out of water," she said.  "My father will be so pleased—he has such a passion for roses—and he will be so pleased to see you," she added, her glance involuntarily resting on Lesley, whose sensitive blush and smile made the poor lady feel that the rank whose approval could be so gratifying was indeed worth something!

    "And is the laird keeping his health better now? enquired Miss Helen.  "Can he be persuaded not to travel about so much on the scorching roads, but to let other people manage matters for him?"

    "Ah, there's na sic a laird as Bethune for gangin' aboot amang his tenantrie," put in Miss Bell.  "The laird doesna tine a stot through na countin' his kine.  There's a' the differ between sic as he an' the new merchan' bodies wha buy themselves into lairdships because they dinna know what to do wi' their gear."

    Miss Lucy's nose seemed to grow redder and more ridgy as she answered:

    "Thank you.  My father is quite well now.  He has a splendid constitution, and some of our neighbours, who have been reared to town lives, naturally think him a miracle of activity.  But we have been always a hardy race, accustomed to rough roads and wild weather."

    While she was speaking the laird came in—a strange commentary on her proud words.  The poor old laird!  He had not been good in the days of his youth, and if the strong vitality of the Bethune constitution still lingered on, its glory was sullied, for the beauty and peace of righteous old age were not stamped on his brow.  He was stiff, and slow, and hazy, and if he went about among his tenants, and over his farms, it was under the spur of the same necessities, albeit on a larger scale, as those which keep an ancient labourer ploughing through heavy soil, or trotting at a cart's tail.  If he had ever borne any share in the proud arrangements which strove to make the Bethune economies appear voluntary and dignified, he would have lapsed from them long ago, had not his daughter kept him up to them.  But to-day his face actually wore a bewildered, even a scared expression, as if he wondered what was coming, and tried to hold himself prepared for anything.

    The Misses Gibson threw each other significant glances, as he greeted them with weary indifference.  His countenance brightened as he turned to Lesley.  He took one of the smallest of her roses, and put it in his button-hole, with quaint, old-fashioned gallantry.  Yet he little guessed the secret of the charm Lesley had for him—that he never felt so much Bethune of Bethune, the feudal lord of all the strath, as he did in her presence, simply because her kindliness and gentleness were really tendered to what in truth he was—a tired, broken, defeated man—a prodigal son, who had never returned to his Heavenly Father, but was still starving on husks, albeit they might be served in old family plate!

    To-day the girl's heart softened specially towards him.  For surely it must be Rab's going away which had touched him thus keenly.

    "Will Mr Rab no be at home for Christmas?" asked Miss Bell.  "Sae we were tauld.  It's a lang road, but people fly farther noo-a-days."

    "My brother accompanies the earl to Paris at that season," said Miss Lucy; "that is, if they have no other special diplomatic mission.  My brother must be at his post."

    "You'll be dull at Bethune without him," sympathised the younger Miss Gibson.

    "Yes, we shall be dull; we are never very lively at Bethune," replied the laird.

    "But you must be thankful Mr Rab has gone no farther," said Miss Helen; "he's within reach.  What would it have been if he was away to India—as I always thought was to be the case?"

    It was a sore she touched.  Rab had been destined for the Indian Civil Service, but after his tutors had had an interview with his father and sister, that idea had been abandoned.  Yet Miss Lucy would not wince.

    "O, we should have borne it quite bravely," she said.  "Where would civilisation be if the old folks and the women did not always bear to be left behind?  That is the foundation a nation's greatness rests on.  Those whose position enables them to see this acquiesce in it cheerfully."

    "Well, well," said Miss Helen; "once the lads went off to the wars, and now they go away to appointments."

    "There's mair profit in the ane than i' the t'other," laughed the malapropos Miss Bell.

    "Times have changed," said Miss Lucy calmly.  "War does not now depend on personal valour, but on elaborate machinery.  He who would best serve his country to-day will seek to do so with will and brain, rather than with strength and sinew."

    "I'm thinkin' maybe the latter gaes with gude blude more often than—"

    Miss Helen interrupted Miss Bell—

    "Mr Rab's letters will be a great interest to you," she observed.  "Bethune Towers will get the earliest word on politics and fashion.  You'll be quite eager for the post."

    The laird had been talking aside to Lesley, and heard only the last phrase; so he replied, rather at random: "Yes, a little; but we've had a telegram—Rab sent us a telegram!"

    "They couldna send telegrams when they went to the Crusades," sniggered Miss Bell.

    "It's a great comfort to be able to hear from the absent," said her sister.  "One generally hears soon and regularly—at first."

    Poor Miss Lucy foresaw a day when such visitors as these would come up to Bethune, and ask questions, and ferret out facts, and then go away and whisper that Rab Bethune was finding out that the world was larger and livelier than Bethune Towers.  It had never occurred to Lucy Bethune to contend against her father's bad habits, or to strive to overcome and regulate Rab's self-indulgent thoughtlessness and idleness.  Had she given half as much forethought and determination to make father and brother what they should be, as she ungrudgingly devoted to make them appear so, perhaps they might have been better men; she would certainly have been a happier woman.  As it was, she instantly set her face like a flint to provide against those unfavourable criticisms for which she was but too sure Rab would soon give occasion.

    "Of course we shall like to hear from my brother often for a while," she said, in her calmest manner, "for our sense of missing him is fresh.  It is a weakness, certainly, yet I think we may be allowed to yield to it a little.  I have no doubt we shall soon settle down, quite assured that all is well; for my part, I have always admired the calm strength which entered into affection in those days when, as Miss Bell says, knights went to the Crusades, and were parted from their families for many years, content to wait in silent faith until they met again."

    "Aye, it's grand," commented Miss Bell, "an' the common folk had to do it too, an' mair o' them were killed, an' less said aboot it.  An' it's the same wi' poor folk today—their bit letters dinna count for much any way, an' they're terrible easy lost sight of."

    "They've enough to do to get their bread," decided Miss Helen.  "They've no time to pay delicate attentions—such as Mr Rab can show, who did not even forget to say good-bye to all his father's tenants.  For I suppose he did—since there's no reason he should pay special attention to Edenhaugh."

    Lesley flushed, but Miss Lucy, who was still toying with the roses, did not look up, but gave her head a connoisseur-like turn, and said, with her best imitation of polite indifference: "Very nice of Rab!  I am so glad to hear it.  He generally thinks too little of the tenants."

    Miss Helen's remark had roused the old laird from the sulky torpor into which he had relapsed after his little gallantry to Lesley.  "Did Rab so?" he asked.  "Surely not to all of them!  There's every reason, Miss Helen, why Rab should pay special attention to Edenhaugh.  Mr Baird is not like most of our other folks."  And then a strange look of alarm lit up the dull old face, as lightning flashes across a leaden sky.

    He rose suddenly.  "I want to show you some new plants in Lucy's greenhouse, Miss Lesley," he said.  "I won't ask your friends to accompany us, for the sun is on the glass just now, and the heat would be trying to any but hardy folk like you and me."

    Miss Lucy had seen the expression on her father's face.  She thought she understood it.  She had had an unaccustomed trial to bear during Rab's last few days at home.  She had been quite sure that he and her father had held something between them which they had withheld from her.  Not a pleasant something, for Rab had been unable to conceal his gloom and irritability, and the laird had aged visibly and had seemed cowed and apologetic towards his son.  Of course, it was money matters.  Trouble always presented itself to Lucy Bethune in that form.  Rab had often been extravagant before now.  And the laird had resented Lucy's interference with "little ways" which seemed to him but natural in a wellborn young man.  Yet it was to Lucy that the father came grumbling when the "little ways" had to be paid for.  She was the one who had to plan and spare.  The laird saw her always careworn, always scheming.  That seemed her special function.  In her father's mind she stood as the embodiment of the Bethune poverty and embarrassment.  Who could associate such words with a fine open-handed youth like Rab?  So Lucy felt that the mystery and reticence of recent days meant that fresh trouble was brewing.  As soon as the decoction was complete in all its bitterness, she would hear enough about it!  What could it be?  To her, it did not seem hard to guess: Rab must have wanted money which she knew her father could not supply, and then, either with his father's consent or without it, possibly Rab had sought a loan from the tenant of Edenhaugh.  Had he got it?  Miss Lucy hoped not! while her mind instantly wandered into the corners of Bethune finance to see whence repayment could possibly be scraped.

    (O, God and His Eternal Law of Right were but served with the unhesitating devotion often wasted on furthering the follies of the weakest and most wrong-headed of humanity!)

    If Miss Helen Gibson had any lingering ruth in her bosom, the laird's decided snub quite extinguished it.  She gave an expressive snort as the old man hobbled away, his hand resting patriarchal on Lesley's shoulder

    "Aye, perhaps Mr Rab did not visit all the tenants," she admitted significantly.

    "It isna' every farm that boasts sic a bonnie mistress as Edenhaugh!" laughed Miss Bell.

    Miss Lucy drew herself up.  She felt quite sure she had rightly guessed the real reason of Rab's farewell interview, so she could afford to despise these vulgar women aiming in the dark, and could even allow herself an honest womanly resentment at their insinuations.

    "I do not wonder at anybody having an admiring respect for Miss Baird," she said.  "When my father visits Edenhaugh, he always comes home full of her praises.  Her uncle must be very proud of her."

    "O, Baird is just blind where Lesley's concerned," giggled Miss Bell; "an' he that has a bonnie lass needs mair than twa e'en to look after her."

    "Lesley's a good girl," decided Miss Helen; "she'll do well enough if she's not spoiled.  But girls' heads are so easily turned," she added meditatively, "and it would be a pity if anything frightened off Logan of Gowanbrae.  A pity for him and his boy, as well as for Lesley herself, for she'd make a kind stepmother."

    "An' widowers wi' money are easy frighted," confided Miss Bell.  "It's not their first experiment, ye ken.  An' they misdoubt hands will work ill in the farmhouse if the heart's in the hall."

    "I cannot think what you mean," said Miss Lucy, with a white heat burning in her hauteur.  If there was a little "romance" between Rab Bethune and Lesley Baird, well, it was very wrong in him, but quite natural, and very pitiful, yet pardonable and even pathetic in the poor girl.  It could come to nothing, of course; and Lesley Baird, as a sweet, subdued old maid might even find some social distinction in the aroma of such a "story."  But if Lesley Baird could be cold-blooded enough to weigh the smiles of Rab Bethune against the farm and banking account of Logan of Gowanbrae—what was the world coming to?  Certainly, if Miss Lucy had been asked to advise the girl at such a crisis, her counsel would have been given on the side of "common-sense" and "sound reason."  But there is a wisdom which some of us like to teach, yet hate to find ready-made.  Logan of Gowanbrae, indeed!  Miss Lucy knew the man.  To her it seemed as if there must be something innately vulgar in Lesley Baird before such a rumour could be afloat!  So, backing her words with a stony stare, Miss Lucy repeated―

    "I cannot think what you mean, Miss Bell."

    "O, she doesn't mean anything," said Miss Helen, as if the whole matter had been raised by her sister.  "Only her head is always running on old ballads and their nonsense, and Mr Rab and Lesley having made out one between them has just made her worse than ever."

    Miss Lucy had never heard of that literary discovery.  Of course she did not say so.  Nor did all these hints shake her conviction that the secret she felt sure her father and brother were keeping from her concerned money—and money alone.  Perhaps Mr Baird had proved an easy lender, cherishing vague hopes of usury not to be paid in mere cash.  Then he should find his mistake!  On the day when such debt should definitely reach her ears it should be paid, with full interest, though she might require to pawn her last diamond and to mortgage the petty annuity which was all that stood between her old age and absolute destitution.

    Whoever allows any pride or prejudice to withhold a just judgment from sin and folly pays the penalty in a deadly growth of suspicion, which poisons every channel of thought and feeling.  Whoever persists in calling evil good will soon suspect that good is evil.  Poor Miss Lucy suspected, feared, and hated all the world, except her father and brother—the old man who had made all her life arid wilderness, and the lad who, as yet, had done nothing to cheer it.

    Miss Gibson had not mentioned the discovered ballad out of mere malice.  She did so to lead up, by way of its ghost, to the unknown person who had so mysteriously appeared and disappeared in the locality.

    "Odd, wasn't it!" she said; "there had been no tradition about that Trysting Stone till this ballad was found, and now, almost directly afterwards, the ignorant peasantry believe there has been a supernatural appearance in that very place."

    "Indeed," remarked Miss Lucy absently.

    "And this belief would have spread over the shire," pursued Miss Helen, "but that Bell and I have found out that its basis is some mysterious wanderer, who has been sheltered in one of the cottages thereabout."

    Miss Lucy was listening now, with thoughts only intent on legal officials armed with writs.  Something of this sort must have been at the bottom of those closetings of the laird and Rab, from which both had issued forth so depressed and sullen!  It must have been some obstacle in the settlement which had delayed Rab's departure for London.  Ah! and she remembered that her brother had invented excuses to keep her within Bethune Towers during those last two or three days!  It was too bad of father and brother not to have admitted her to their confidence at once.  They would be sure to come to her just too late!  But there was not a shadow of blame for them in her mind.  Her sense of vexation instantly attached itself elsewhere.

    "Do you know where this mysterious person stayed?" she asked quite serenely.  "His character may be guessed from theirs who harboured him."

    "Eh!—I think it was done out o' charity—it was just auld Jean Haldane who gave him a bed in her out-house," said Miss Bell, who began to feel compunction lest she should get "auld Jean" into some trouble.

    "And didn't she ask who he was?" inquired Miss Lucy.

    "She says she didn't," answered Miss Helen with subtle emphasis.

    "And what made anybody mistake him for a ghost?" asked Miss Lucy, with a slight, mocking laugh.

    "Because they mistook him for Mr Rab, on the very night they knew Mr Rab had gone away," said Miss Helen.

    Miss Bell cried out, "Waes me, Helen, how did you manage to say that in such a creepy way?  Ye've sent the shivers all down my back!"

    "Then we must have afternoon tea to comfort you," said Miss Lucy, rising and ringing the bell.  She felt as if she had a stone at her heart.  Of course, there was money trouble in this mystery.  But was it possible there could be something more?  Yet to all appearance she dismissed the whole matter when Lesley came back, followed by the laird, now looking rather more at his ease.

    After the man-servant had handed round the eggshell china and wafer biscuits, the visit was not prolonged.  Bethune and his daughter both went to the porch to see their guests start.  They always showed this attention to plebeian callers, who might be flattered by it.  Miss Lucy was foremost in handing up and piling in the rugs and wraps.

    "Ye're no like the daughters o' the great stockbroker that's hired Chetlaw Castle," commented Miss Bell; "for they say they ring for a footman to pick up a handkerchief if they chance to drop it."

    "Poor things!" responded Miss Lucy, with her supreme smile; generations of money -making town life has naturally told on the energies of these unfortunate people."

    Miss Bell gave a sigh of relief as the chaise drove off.  "Now that's over," she said; "an' if it wasna for the talk of it in Edinburgh, I'd carena to do it at a'.


"The rose blooms gay on shairney brae
     As weel's in birken shaw;
 And love will lowe in cottage low
     As weel's in lofty ha'.


An' a gude deal better, I'd say; O it's cauld, cauld, up at Bethune!  Like a wheen thin porridge in a gran' dish, wi' a siller spoon, an' a stranger to serve it."

    "I am sure Miss Lucy was very agreeable," remarked Miss Helen; "she has thoroughly high bred manners; it's not too easy to get at her feelings, and Bethune is a perfect gentleman—whatever else he may be."

    "'Deed an' I thought he was downright rude to ca' Lesley away and bid us stay behind," said plain Miss Bell.  "I was half o' mind to say I wasna feared o' the heat, and to go, too, just to spite him.  I don't suppose he had any secrets to tell you, Lesley?"

    "No, indeed," said the confiding girl; "he seemed only afraid that Rab had been troubling my uncle about some dyke or boundary wall that is getting out of repair.  He asked me two or three times whether I was quite sure Rab had not sought for a few private words with my uncle―laird's sons were ill factors, he said, and always apt to interfere where they shouldn't.  I told him Mr Rab had said good-bye to my uncle only at the gate, and that I was quite positive they had had no talk about business."

    Miss Helen seemed listening but dreamily.  Miss Bell's thoughts were otherwise occupied, as she showed by her next remark―

    "I think I'll draw a picture of some o' the bonnie Tweedside houses, and get it get it engraved for a frontispiece to my book.  They say a bit picture helps a book's sale.  I might put in Dryburgh Abbey.  But the wee kirkyard of Edenhaugh itsel' wad be bonnie, an' it might gie the book a gude lift i' the colonies, for it maun be like many a kirkyard that the people oot there hae left behint, an' some might even think it was taken frae their vera own.  And


"As aye the sang will waist delight
     That minds ye o' lang syne,


sae may the picture; I ken a laddie to engrave it, to whom the job will be a blessin'—and who'll do it cheap!"

    The three ladies did not speak again before they reached Edenhaugh.  Miss Helen's visit to Bethune had not satisfied her curiosity.  But of two facts she felt quite convinced—to wit, that Miss Lucy was very ill at ease and that the laird was seriously alarmed and worried about something, on which he had vainly hoped that Lesley's innocent frankness might shed light.

    That evening Miss Lucy Bethune wrote a long letter to her brother.  She did so, she explained, for the special object of giving him the addresses of certain London families on whom she wished him to call at his earliest convenience.  Also she told him that something had gone wrong with her pony's ear.  Further that the farmers were complaining that the season had proved less profitable than they had hoped.  And finally, just "by the way," she mentioned that the "worthy Logan of Gowanbrae has just begun to pay marked attention to pretty Lesley Baird, who is reported to favour his suit, and everybody is saying how much his little boy will gain in such a charming stepmother."

    Miss Lucy did not think it worth while to mention the source whence these interesting suggestions had come.  She knew that Rab shared all his father's aversion to "those gossipping Gibsons," and Miss Lucy disliked to give occasion for strong language to be applied to "worthy people," just because they were no longer young and pretty.

    That night poor Lesley kneeled in her little white bedchamber, and prayed for everybody!  For all leaving home, for all beginning life, for all the lonely, for all the home-sick.  And she was honest in her prayer.  The yearning thought which began with Rab, expanded itself, as true love always does, until it took in also, first, sweet Mary Olrig, and, finally, all the other people for whom prayers like hers were rising to the throne of God.

    "And, Father, if there is anybody for whom nobody is praying," she cried, "then take all the prayers as one big prayer for him.  Nay, nay, think on him Thyself, my Father, as a parent thinks of his little one whom he sees forgotten.


 
CHAPTER XI.

MARY OLRIG IN LONDON.


MARY OLRIG was settled in London.  Not now in the snug, homely hostels she had known in her visits with her captain father, where great fires roared on the bright hearths unhaunted for her by coal merchants' bills, and bounteous tables spread themselves before her as by magic.  No; she had her own room, high in a dingy house in a quiet dismal street, midway between East and West, and possibly sharing in the darker experiences of both.

    She had not come up in any unprepared, uncared-for way.  Her room had been taken beforehand, on the recommendation of a worthy woman who kept a little drapery shop in Kelso, and who had known Jean Haldane and all her belongings for years.  The moment the good dame heard of Miss Olrig's intended departure for the South, she "put in a word" for a certain remote kinswoman of her own, struggling as a London landlady.  This Mrs Milne had been brought vividly to her Scotch cousin's memory by a recent flying visit from a lady who had lodged with her for years, and who out of sheer respect and kindliness for her landlady had, when travelling in Scotland, looked in upon her relatives, "just to take Mrs Milne the latest word of us all, because she is always dwelling on old times and old friends."  Miss Olrig was assured that this long-resident lodger was quite a superior person.  A little off-hand in manner, and very plain in appearance, like somebody who knew how things should be, though perhaps she could not afford to have them just so—the best guarantee that Mary herself would be able to live in Mrs Milne's house safely, cleanly, quietly—and cheaply.  According to her cautious Kelso cousin, "if Mrs Milne was what she used to be—and by the rights of it she should be a deal better, having come through seas of trouble—she was one who would do her best for any living soul, and yet would somehow contrive to do better still for anybody who came from Tweedside!"

    Mary Olrig had thought it wise to accept this introduction, and had written to the London address and secured her modest chamber.  And she had not been in London for many hours before she arrived at the conclusion, "this is a terrible place in which to be poor."

    Yet it was not of herself that she thought in this connection.  Her thoughts were rather of the dark, sad-faced waif whom a strange tide of circumstance had thrown for a moment on the breezy Edenlaw, and who, by this time, was doubtless once more engulfed in the depths which yawned around her here.

    For the first few hours Mary Olrig had not realised loneliness or home-sickness.  She began to fancy she had risen superior to such sufferings, or even that they are generally imaginary.  In truth, she had for the nonce parted with her own identity, and was, as it were, living in a dramatic performance, where all her powers were absorbed in noting the theatrical machinery and watching the other actors.

    What a strange old house it was, high and narrow, a skeleton of a house, whose very bones seemed to rattle!  Why were the stairs covered with frayed and fractured oilcloth, without either use or beauty?  Why was her room clad in nailed-down carpet, whose pattern had disappeared under the tread of many feet?  What was the object of placing sham lace tidies on the wooden backs of cane-bottomed chairs?  How many people had slept—and who had died?—on the thick old feather bed, which Mary guilelessly hoped had been a Milne heirloom, but which after experience of her landlady's ways suggested had been bought at an auction.  Why was the only book left in the damp-stained cupboard an odd volume of the Newgate Calendar?

    Mrs Milne herself brought up her lodger's tea.  Before that interview, Mary had seen nobody but a thin girl in a dirty print dress with something like a pincushion-cover flying over her drab hair.  Mary had asked that damsel divers questions—such as what cab fare she should pay, how her luggage should be taken upstairs, &c. ; and the invariable reply had been, "I dunno, mum."  In the end, the cabman had cheated Mary, and she was never quite sure who helped with the luggage.  Indeed, for many days after, it seemed to her as if the house was haunted by a brownie, such were the feats of physical strength or mechanical ingenuity occasionally executed without any visible agency.

    Mrs Milne was a little worn woman who must once have been pretty.  Her voice had that sharp upper note which comes from frequent exercise in scolding.  But she had made Mary's tea hot and strong, and had added to the tray a plate of cold roast beef with a few of the pungently flavoured pickles grateful only to an enervated London palate, but which Mary accepted and consumed that she might not seem ungracious to the kind attention.

    Mrs Milne asked her lodger a few cursory questions about her Kelso kinsfolk, and even paid to memory the tribute of a conventional sigh; but she showed none of the strong yearning towards old places and old faces which her worthy Kelso cousin had fondly led Mary to expect.  For five-and-twenty years the little woman had lived among those carking cares and petty defeats and triumphs which are apt to consume the treasures of memory, as white ants destroy a herbarium.  Her one idea of hospitality to the stranger was to induct her at once into this present so absorbing to herself.  Mary lent an attentive ear with the same instinctive courtesy which pretended to enjoy the pickles.

    "Mrs Milne dared say Miss Olrig thought her room rather high up.  Country folks often did.  But the high-up rooms were the airiest in London.  She only wished she could occupy her own herself instead of living, as one might say, underground.  But she had to keep to the kitchen flat to be handy for the street door, and to look after 'the girl.'  'The girl' wanted so much looking after, that she often thought she might do as well without her, but when she'd tried she couldn't.  She never hired 'the girls' but by the week, so that they were soon got rid of if they showed any bad ways, or picking an' stealing.  'The girl' now in office she thought was honest—she didn't believe she had enough sense to be anything else, but she couldn't say she didn't finger things; they all did.  She'd had one girl who actually stole photographs out of an album; couldn't imagine what she was going to do with them, but there they were at the bottom of her box.  She'd had another girl who could be trusted with anything but note paper; she'd not touch money, which showed she was a simpleton, because a few pence would have bought her more note paper than she was ever like to get hold of without being caught.  Miss Kerr took a lot of interest in her—said she didn't believe she meant thieving—but fancied they left note paper about so careless that it was a sort of common property.  Miss Kerr got that girl a place in a laundry, and she had turned out well.  Certainly, she had not had a very long trial yet—it only happened three months ago, now Mrs Milne came to think of it; but it seemed longer, seeing she had had six girls since, three of whom she had not been able to keep for two days together.  She'd often wished for Sarah back.  You learned to wink at little things in a girl who was a bit sharp and willing.

    "Ah, but Miss Olrig does not know who Miss Kerr is?  Why, that is the lady who was down in Kelso a while ago—the lady my cousin mentioned to Miss Olrig.  She'd been with Mrs Milne for years and years.  She knew what it was to be in a tidy, honest house; and Mrs Milne knew Miss Kerr's value to herself—money always ready and accounts carefully looked over.  You always felt yourself appreciated by Miss Kerr.  She seemed to see more in you than you saw in yourself, and that set your heart up, only sometimes she expected more out of you than you were quite able to give, and then you felt riled.  Miss Kerr was quite an old maid—fully fifty.  She was plain-looking; perhaps that was why she had never got married, but had had to work hard for her living—not but what some women who had got married had to do the same.  Miss Kerr was an artist and taught drawing and painting, and until quite lately she had often sold her pictures well, and had a great many pupils of the genteelest sort.  But Mrs Milne was afraid she must be going down hill now; for she had never had so few pupils, and those she had were quite poor and shabby-looking, so that Mrs Milne often wondered how they managed to pay for lessons at all, not that it was any of her business, for Miss Kerr's own money was as regular as ever.

    "She'd no doubt in the world that Miss Kerr was a good woman, but there were some things about her Mrs Milne could never make out.  For one, she had a big cross over her bedroom fire-place—not a pretty picture of a cross wreathed with flowers and so forth, but a real, rough, wooden cross with great ugly nails in it; and yet she was not a Romanist.  And for all that, on her bedroom bookshelf, next her Bible, she had books that were written by old pagans, who had lived long before Christ, and therefore could not be Christians at all.  And she was certainly close with her money.  Perhaps she had not much; but she might have got a larger blessing it she'd been more liberal.  Mrs Milne had never seen her name put to the subscription of even a shilling, and she'd heard her speak quite sharply to ladies collecting for good objects.  It was not as if she had folks depending on her.  Any relations of Miss Kerr's whom Mrs Milne had ever seen were always well-dressed and well-mannered—more like to be helping her than wanting anything from her.  She'd seen Miss Kerr's father once or twice—a grand gentleman of the old school; and her mother had always come to see her in private flys, because she was frightened of infection in common London cabs.  Her mother had said to Mrs Milne that it was dreadful to think of Clementine in lodgings by herself, no matter how respectable; it would not have been thought proper in her own young days.  And though Mrs Milne did think it rather ridiculous, seeing that, at the time the poor lady made the remark, Clementine was almost old enough to be a grandmother, still it showed that Mrs Kerr was accustomed to genteel life and could not reconcile herself to the ways of common people who have to earn their bread.  The old lady and gentleman had lived in an out-of-the-way suburb, where Mrs Milne supposed Miss Clementine could not have got pupils; but Mrs Milne reckoned she'd left off living at home, in the first instance, out of sheer wilfulness, thinking herself not likely to get a chance of marriage and determined to have a way of her own somehow.  Maybe her wilfulness had not stood her a kind turn in her father's will.  'My dear, headstrong girl,' he always called her.  'But it's an ill wind that blows nobody any good,"' decided Mrs Milne, "for she's been a grand stand-by to me all these years, and, I own, has kept me up to the mark.  More than once, when I've been tempted to wink at a young gentleman lodger coming upstairs on all-fours in the middle o' the night, I've had to put my foot down straight, knowing she'd go if I didn't, and I'm sure I've not lost in the long run.  And now I must not stay up here any longer.  All I can say is, Miss Olrig, that you're heartily welcome to this house, which I hope you'll not leave till you go away a bride."

    "O, but remember, as I told you, I may go away very soon," said Mary, "my stay depends upon my success."  She steadily refused to regard her appointment as received till every formality had been gone through.

    "If that's the only condition, Miss Olrig, I'll not fret," returned the little landlady.  "You're not one of those who stick; you've got success shining out of your eyes."

    She said the same words to everybody who gave her opportunity for them; but as Mary did not yet know this, they cheered her.

    The next day the girl went by appointment to the huge but unpretending establishment, hidden in a network of narrow streets and courts, which was at that period the centre from which the telegraph system radiated.  There she was shown into a little bare, draughty, waiting-room, and found, somewhat to her consternation, that she was not the only applicant of the occasion.  There were three or four other people, whose appearance puzzled her; most of them were those terrible female apparitions—shiftless, shabby, but self-complacent—who always rise readily to every bait of possible employment.  Where do they come from? and where do they go?—ah, where?  The sensitive, impressible Mary instantly felt as one of them, and thought of herself as seeming in other eyes as helpless and hopeless as she saw these.  Yet nobody could have thrown a most cursory glance at the group without instantly differentiating her.  Not even Mrs Milne could have dared to assert she saw success shining in those other lack-lustre, smirking faces.

    Presently a lad in telegraph uniform summoned them all to ascend a rough stone stair to another room a little less bare than the first, inasmuch as there was matting on the floor, wooden chairs instead of benches, and an inkstand, pen, and blotting-pad on the table.

    Into this room in a few minutes entered a kind-faced, weary-looking lady in white cap and black silk dress.  Her eyes fell straight upon Mary, but she went round the group in rotation, putting a few questions to each individual.  Two or three of the elder women (one with iron-grey hair) were promptly dismissed; two girls besides Mary were told that they might remain "for the test."  The lady superintendent laid her hand on Mary's arm with a sort of recognising and reassuring grasp, saying―

    "Mr Graham's introduction, I think.  We hear you are very clever.  Mr Graham knows the sort we want.  We won't detain you many minutes to-day, my dear."

    There was a little emphasis on the word "to-day," which reanimated Mary's drooping spirits.  Then the lady superintendent went away, and in her stead entered a younger woman with black curls, and of brisk and decided manner.  She had a roll of paper in her hand, and, handing a sheet to each of the girls, announced that they were to draw their chairs round the table and prepare to write from her dictation.  As soon as they were ready she began, with a clear but sufficiently rapid utterance, to reel off a long sentence made up of many-syllabled words, and crackjaw, classical, and geographical names.  The pencils tore along till one stopped, and then another slackened, Mary's alone scratched away for a few seconds after the reader ceased.

    The young lady with the black curls took up the first paper—its writer had broken down at the end of the fourth line, and if the spelling was correct, the caligraphy was too bad to make manifest that merit.  The writer of the second paper had floundered further on, with a mistake in nearly every word.  But the young lady with the black curls preserved an inscrutable countenance as she laid the papers aside, telling the girls these would be preserved, with their addresses, but that there were no vacancies for them at present, and they need not trouble to call again, unless summoned.

    She did not even touch Mary's paper till the others had departed.  Then she took it up with a smile, saying, "I can see already that this is in a different style.  Yes—not a single mistake, and you kept in pace with my reading.  The writing is perfect.  If you are ready to come you may as well begin here to-morrow, because you see you are paid nothing for the first few weeks while you are learning the use of the instruments, so the sooner you begin the better for you.  I think Mr Graham told us you know French?  Only to read and write it, you say?—Ah, but that is all we want.  I believe we shall find you an acquisition."

    After her recent despondency, Mary's heart rose in a flutter of joy.  Not that such praises in themselves elated her.  To spell correctly, to scribble legibly—what were these achievements to one whose ambition it was to clothe noble thoughts in worthy words, until by revelation of her own soul she should draw to herself the souls of others?  Why, they were only this—but this, at least, they were—they could play the part of the steady-going mule bringing grist to the mill while Pegasus was sent to grass, instead of being worn out by premature hack labour!

    Yes, there were verses hidden away in Mary's little desk.  There were two or three chapters of a story somewhere.

    This was her secret.

    It is doubtful whether life has any dream so fascinating as that of literary labour and success.

    Would it waken such dreamers, think you, were it whispered in their ears, that if their pens are to burn into the hearts of others they must first be dipped in their own heart's blood?  That they shall never win anything like true success till they are as careless of it as were those wisest of Greek men, whose wisdom would have all gone unrecorded but for the loving efforts of dutiful disciples?

    No—a thousand times, no!  By this token love and genius alike show themselves divine, that they crave only to express themselves, to give themselves away—counting that gain which to blinder eyes seems loss.

    To Mary, as she went down, the dirty stairs and coarse walls were suffused with golden glory, though only one dim afternoon sunbeam struggled feebly through a dusty window pane.  Her heart was singing a psalm of triumph, because she had secured an independent place in life, and so earned a right to those inner visions which she could not yet share with any living soul.

    But the world of disappointment and discord awaited her below.  Both of the girls and one of the elder women had lingered for her coming out.  She could not conceal the fact that she was engaged to begin a learner's work on the morrow.

    "You've had a first-class introduction," bitterly commented the girl who had mis-spelt her dictation.  "It's always the way.  I was told so.  These things all go by favour."

    "I had as good an introduction as could be," said she who had prematurely broken down in her effort.  "It goes for much, but not for all.  Else a director might send his donkey! who might be about as good as I am at this line of thing!" she added frankly.

    "But I knew beforehand that a vacancy was ready for me, if I was fit for it, so I hope your turn will come soon," said innocent Mary, remembering the last words that the lady with the curls had addressed to these young people.

    They both laughed.  One spitefully, the other with good humour.  "You are thinking of what she said!" they returned.  "O we know what that means—we've heard that too often, haven't we?"  They had evidently met before on similar errands.  "It's a shame, though, for some girls are so simple that they'd go away and wait, believing they really might be sent for.  People speak in that way to let us down easily, and to spare their own feelings."

    "That is not right," said straightforward Mary.

    "Well, I'm glad I've seen the place," remarked the elder woman, with an acid smile.  "Now my mind can be at rest about it.  For I see it is not the place for a lady by birth, so very well connected as I am in the Church and the Army—of course, it is a very good opportunity for plain, strong, young girls, fit for roughing it; my dear, I suppose you are to be congratulated."

    Mary went home with sobered transports.  In life's battles, as in all others, the victory is shadowed by the pangs of the defeated.  Our conquering Black Prince, in his royal gentleness, was content to mount his little black pony, and spare the grand white charger to his humbled antagonist.  It is a poor heart which can rejoice in that part of its own triumph which is made out of others' humiliation.  And alas! there are few people who can bear defeat so nobly as to make themselves the conquerors of the conqueror!

    As Mary Olrig entered the street where she lodged, she caught sight of a figure turning round an opposite corner.  It made her heart beat strangely fast.  Any one's heart might so beat, if, knowing but one face hidden among the four millions and a half of London, one seems suddenly to catch a sight of it—scarcely a sight, only a flash of the profile—a turn of the shoulder, a trick of gait!

    One asks oneself, can it be only one's fancy?

    But one does not dwell on one's fancy, if, like Mary, one opens one's house door and finds on the hall table two letters, both addressed to oneself.

    They were both from Tweedside.  One from Lesley Baird, and one from Mary's grandmother, to whom letter-writing had been hitherto a rare and solemn function.


 
CHAPTER XII.

AN EVICTION.


MARY OLRIG took her letters upstairs.  She had a premonition that they must contain special news for her; for she knew that her grandmother was not a very apt correspondent.  Also, the two letters coming together from Tweedside seemed significant.

    She carried them to her window, for the light was already waning dim, though not even the common London horizon of chimney-pots and signboards could effectually degrade the beauty of the sun setting in a gorgeous gloom behind them.

    Mary paused with her letters in her hand—paused to wonder, as we all do, though prompt action of our own could get within the mystery at once.

    She read her grandmother's letter first, as in duty bound.  It was sure to be brief, whereas Lesley's missive was bulky.

    "Dear grandchild," wrote old Mrs Haldane, "I should not have writ you so soon again, but that there is strange news.  The cottage is to be pulled down, and I am to go.  The laird and Miss Lucy called themselves to tell me.  She says it ought to have been down years ago, that it is too damp and ricketty for human dwelling, and that she had told her father it was a sin to let a frail old woman cling to it for another winter (which, they say, will be a hard one).  I said I'd thought it would last my time, but the laird must have his will, and the cottage and me were both so far through that it didna matter much which went first.  The Lord would look after me, and there were gude stones and timber in the house that might go far in building a bonnier one.  The laird seemed vera deaf, and Miss Lucy did all the speaking.  The place is to be knocked down next week.  Mr Baird and Lesley have asked me to go to Edenhaugh, and so I'm going to-morrow—and what next, we'll see.  The Miss Gibsons are away—off back to Edinbro'.  God bless you and take care of you.  I hope you have satisfied the gentlemen that you're fit and able for your place.  No more at present from your affectionate grandmother."

    It seemed to Mary that it would be as easy to realise that the sun was about to fall from his sphere as that the mossy old cottage on the Edenlaw was soon to be levelled with the dust!  It was associated with all the memories of her own short history; for her father, that good skipper who, at last, had met so chivalrous a death, had been in life chivalrously dutiful to his wife's worthy mother, and Mary could conjure up his image better nowhere than seated beside the clean hearth of the little room to which he gave his highest praise when he called it "as trig as a cabin."  Think of the deep shadows that lurked in its corners even while the sunbeams struck full on its white threshold, or, passing among the flower pots on the window sill, played over the homely furniture, white with constant scrubbing or bright with the daily polish of a century.  Where in the world could one find such a resting-place as among the old red cushions of the big armchair?  It had no shape in particular, but somehow it took one up just like a mother's lap, and seemed to soothe one with the sweetness of all the rest which generations of weariness had enjoyed in its kindly embrace.  It all came back on Mary like a vision, and for a moment she was not standing in a dreary garret facing a darkening sky, but she was "in the spirit" in the Edenlaw cottage; and it was a summer Sunday afternoon, and her grandmother was crooning a Psalm, and there was a waft of scented geraniums on the breeze in which a bee was humming, so that Grizzie, the tabby cat, sitting in the sun, left off licking her paws and watched him.  At that point the vision grew too lifelike, and vanished into the question: "What will become of Grizzie?—and of the old cock—and the doves—and what will the robins think next winter when they come in the frost and find no window sill and no threshold, and therefore no crumbs?"

    Ah, these are the things which throw us back on the simple human helpfulness which goes so much deeper than any mere economic relations.  One may sell one's cabinets and curiosities—one may even sell one's horses and one's kine; but one cannot sell one's cat, and that drives one to consider one's neighbours!  And even neighbours can scarcely adopt our robins and our sparrows, and so the most helpless creatures drive us to consider God Himself, and we find that after all He is at the bottom of our dependence on the strongest!

    Yes, there was Lesley Baird!  Be sure she had given wings to her uncle's invitation to old Mrs Haldane, if indeed she had not originated it.  Lesley Baird would take in Grizzie and see after the old cock and the doves, and every living thing which could be folded in gentle arms or enticed by artless wiling.  Lesley would help the agèd dame with her old chairs and kists; she would find house room for them till there should come that "next thing" towards which Mary's grandmother set her face so resolutely.

    Mary opened Lesley's letter; there was still light enough to read it, though the caligraphy was not black and bold, like Mary's own, but small, neat, and undeviatingly regular.

    "Dear, dear Mary," the letter began, and by that gentle "gush" of repetition Mary knew that sweet Lesley was deeply stirred.


    "I am so sorry that any trouble should follow you quickly into your new life.  Even little extra changes worry us so when we are surrounded by change!  And this is not a little matter.

    "Your grandmother is writing to you herself.  Mr Bethune has resolved to knock down her dear old cottage immediately, and so she must leave at once.  There is not another house near suitable for her habitation.  Even dear old Alison's little cot has already found a new tenant.  Mrs Haldane is to come straight to us, and you may trust us that we will take good care of her.  She is to sleep in the little bedroom which opens off the passage, so that she will not be troubled with stairs, and will be snugly placed between the kitchen and the parlour that she may walk about everywhere, just as she could in her own place.

    "I hope we may induce her to stay with us all the winter, for as Janey is to be married, I am to have a new girl at term, quite a young thing, and if our good old cook Elsie happens to get a touch of her bronchitis, I shall feel Mrs Haldane to be a perfect tower of strength in the way of wisdom and comfort."


    "Poor old grannie!" Mary sighed softly.  She knew Lesley was saying this in her kindliness, yet she knew too that it was true.  And somehow, the sting of hard fate did not feel so cruel if it fell upon "a tower of strength," as if it descended on one who was nothing but a poor, helpless, old widow-woman.  Towers of strength are made to receive the assaults of enemies and to weather them!

    Lesley's letter went on―


    "Uncle is very angry; he says this comes of leaving any human being's interests in the irresponsible power of any other human being.  He says the law should not recognise the existence of such a thing as 'tenancy at will ' in any case where rent passes at all.  It seems that nearly all the small tenants on the Bethune estate are tenants at will.  But nobody has ever thought much about it, because nobody has ever been turned away before.  As Miss Lucy explains that her father is doing this for your grandmother's own sake, because the house is too old and ramshackle to shelter a lone and infirm woman for another winter, even this case will not injure the family's prestige for retaining tenants.  Everybody seems to think this is Miss Lucy's doing.  I cannot imagine what can have put it into her head, for she scarcely ever called on your grandmother, and the house is not in sight of any of the avenues to Bethune.

    "I chanced to go to see Mrs Haldane on the afternoon when the laird and Miss Lucy had been there.  I met Mr Bethune and his daughter coming down the hill-side.  They both looked as if they knew they had been doing wrong, and felt half found out.  I am sure I did not fancy this only after I knew what had happened, for they did not stop to speak, as they generally do, but hurried by, with a hasty 'Good afternoon.'  The laird looked very helpless, and half stumbled as he walked.

    "I can assure you, dear Mary, your grandmother did not make one protest or lamentation.  She only said: 'Let the laird do what he will—what he can.  Render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's, and even they and he are both in the Lord's hands, and are turned to His will in the end.  Here we have no continuing city!'

    "There is something awful in the calm way in which she takes things.  Shall we ever be like her?  I said that to her.  And she answered: 'Lassie, wait.  When you've been through as much as I have, ye'll not fear that the Lord hasna more power than man, and ye'll be content sae long as He's on your side.  And all the while she was already taking down things from their places, which had hung there since she came home a bride, nearly fifty years ago, and saying to whom she would give this and that, for it was no use dragging them behind her to the grave's edge, and leaving them there to trouble other people.

    "Mrs Haldane comes to us to-morrow.  I go to fetch her, taking a market-basket to carry Grizzie, and if we let her out of it in our kitchen in sight of a bit of fish and a bowl of milk, I'm sure she will settle down.  'Old Crowie' is to go into our poultry-yard, and Jock Halliday will look after the doves, for he has a wonderful way with creatures, which always makes us like him, though, poor fellow, he does not seem able to keep from getting tipsy sometimes; though that fright about the ghost has done him a great deal of good.

    "The Misses Gibson have gone back to Edinburgh,"―


and at that point Lesley had torn something off, and proceeded on a fresh sheet.


    "Now, dear Mary, you must not fret.  You see the world does not change only for those who go out, changes come also for those who stay at home.  But I know this will be hard for you to bear, away among strangers.  Only you are always so brave."


    Mary folded up her letters.  She had not yet taken off her bonnet and cloak.  All joy had gone out of her own success and final settlement that very afternoon.  Had she not started into this new life under the conviction that it would serve her inmost purposes, while the good grandmother would remain safe and happy in the old home, keeping, as it were, the lamp alight in a haven of refuge?  Now where was home?  There was nothing but this hired chamber.  She had no stake fixed anywhere into the world except the appointment which she had secured only an hour before.

    Dear, good Lesley!  What would they do now without her?  Mary felt she had never yet loved her as she deserved.  What had Mary done to win this warm, softly surrounding sympathy, as of angel's wings already budding out of a human heart?  Mary had not confided to her the secret of her own cherished ambition.  (It might have soothed the girl's remorseful yearning could she have known that even Lesley held something in her heart too, which she did not tell to any!)  Nay, Mary had not even explained that local mystery which had had such a wholesome effect on poor tipsy Jock, and concerning which gentle Lesley was evidently still left in the dark.  And―

    Mary sprang to her feet.

    Up to this point she had been, as it were, stunned by the suddenness of the unexpected news.  It is not in the first shock of a blow that we can realise what it has shattered, nor whence it is aimed.  But now a wild suspicion flashed upon her.  After all, there might be a method, albeit not easy to follow, in this seemingly strange freak of the Bethunes!

    In all simplicity and innocence, without any seeking on the part of her or her grandmother―nay, as Mary remembered, with much scrupulous avoidance on the part of the elder woman—the door of a skeleton closet in Bethune Towers had opened into the rude old cottage on the Edenlaw; and this eviction surely was the penalty its inmates were to pay for the glimpse of secrets which they had unwittingly caught!

    Mary knew that her grandmother had resolutely put away any knowledge of their strange guest that could be got into mere words.  Mary knew how closely she herself had held the confidence which he had reposed in her, although no promise of silence had been asked.  The only fault that could be imputed to them was that they had succoured and soothed a despairing life, after it had been thrust aside by the very family from whom it had the best right to claim at least consideration and charity.

    "I remember," she said aloud to herself, her cheeks glowing and her eyes flashing; "I remember he said something like that—something about perhaps bringing evil on those who were good to him.  Then that is why he went away so suddenly and silently!  I have always felt he would not have done so without reason, and his words have been prophetic; but oh, I know this full well—if grannie and I had it to do all over again, and knew that this must follow, we should act exactly the same, and more so.  Why should the cruelly sinned-against be made thus to suffer, that shame may be spared to the sinner, or to those who uphold the sinner because they have profited by his sin?  This may be 'the way of the world,' but it cannot be God's way, for all true hearts cry out against it; and they are the awakening public opinion of the coming Kingdom of God."

    For the moment, all Mary's tender memories of the past, all the aching sense of present helpless loneliness, were swamped in her passionate sense of resistance to wrong, and to all the protean injustices which must ever follow in its train.  A flood of such feeling rushes through a pure nature like an elixir of life—it loses sense for the nonce of its own limitations, of its own weaknesses, and is conscious only of its everlasting unity with the Eternal Forces of Justice and Love.  Yes, of love in very truth.  For only he who hates sin loves the sinner, or has power to save him from his sin.  It was the loving Jesus, and not any tolerant Pharisee, who took the whip of small cords and chased the money changers from the Father's house!  For His heart yearned that they should return there, smiting on their breasts, and calling, "Lord, be merciful to us!"

    But if for awhile it was a passionate and strung-hearted heroine who paced the little attic, ready to bear or to dare anything in defence of the wronged and the suffering, in vindication of the right and in struggle with the oppressor, yet before nightfall it was but a poor, sad, lonely little girl who lay down shivering in the darkness, and cried herself to sleep.



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