Rab Bethune's Double (IV.)

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CHAPTER XVIII.

MARY OLRIG'S ORACLE.


MARY OLRIG had always held her aspirations and ambitions in profound secrecy.  It hurt her sometimes to remember that she had never opened them up to her beloved father.  Why she had not done so she could not have told.  After all, was it not the true instinct, that all roots must be struck in darkness if blossoms are to appear?  How often had Mary dreamed of the day when she should put into her father's hand some magazine article, perhaps some book of her own!  She had never thought of success apart from his delight in it.  And when he had died she knew that the sweetest glory had gone from any possible triumph in the future.

    As for her grandmother, she had certainly never told her anything of this sort.  If Jean Haldane had ever seen her at her desk, she would have thought the lassie was "copying out some grand bit," or "maybe trying what she could remember of last Sunday's sermon."  It would have been hard to make Jean understand any other possibility than these.  For her there were only about twenty books in the whole world—and little need to add to their number!

    But in her lonely attic Mary felt no need of any reserves or precautions.  She let her papers lie about quite candidly.  Neither Mrs Milne nor "the girl" seemed likely to attach significance to any amount of manuscript.

    Mary had had a sad day.  The morning post had brought back a poem which she had sent weeks before to a certain magazine.  And it looked so crisp and fresh that she doubted if the editor had done more than transfer it, unread, from the envelope in which she sent it to that which she had enclosed.  This destroyed Mary's appetite for breakfast.  The day was wet and foggy, and when she came home in the evening, tired out, with damp garments, she found another post packet waiting for her.  This was a story returned from another quarter.  The manuscript was rather voluminous, but in this instance it had been so fingered and dog-eared, that it could never be sent on another adventure, with such ill-omened marks of foregone failure palpable upon it.  And it was her favourite story, which she had written after a happy week, staying with her father on the picturesque coast of Sutherland!  It seemed as if the rude present gave the happy past a contumelious kick!

    Also, there was a letter.  The letter which she might always expect from faithful Lesley Baird.  Its tone was as kind and gentle as usual, and Mrs Haldane was reported to be quite well, and Mr Baird sent good-natured messages.  Yet to Mary Olrig's consciousness there was something not quite right about that letter.  Was it but her own morbid fancy which made it seem to have been written with an effort; as if, between the lines, the writer's heart was busy with something they did not convey?  No, it was not mere fancy; for after the epistle there came a postscript, a little outburst of something which could not be wholly restrained: "O Mary, this is a terrible world.  Some people can be so unkind.  I can scarcely keep from wishing that I could live in a big place like London, where one might escape all notice."

    Mary could not divine what trouble lurked beneath this little cry, which would certainly never have reached her had Lesley known how low Mary's own heart was beating.

    She left the unfurled manuscript and the opened letter lying on her desk, and sitting down before the dull fire, drew off her heavy, muddy boots.  The servant brought in her dinner tray.  Mary glanced towards it, but did not move.  It was cold mutton, a little potato, which looked grey and heavy, and a cup of tea.  Presently she got up, and standing, swallowed the tea and nibbled a bit of dry bread.  She could not touch the meat.  She resumed her place in front of the fire, gazing at it, though she saw no pictures there.

    It chanced to be Mrs Milne herself who appeared to remove the neglected dish.

    "La! Miss Olrig" she exclaimed, "you've not tasted your dinner.  And you did not do much with your breakfast either!  This is not the way to go on."

    "Sometimes one can't eat," said Mary quietly.  Mrs Milne said no more for a while, but lingered in the room, doing one little thing after another.

    Suddenly she walked close up to Mary and said almost sharply: "Miss Olrig, don't do it!"  Mary started.  Her landlady, standing at her side, was pointing to her desk, with the untidy sheaves of paper lying thereon.  "I know what that means," Mrs Milne went on.  "Likely you wouldn't have let me see if you'd thought I'd guess.  But I know; for it's been the curse of me and mine.  I can see you ain't happy in your employment," she went on; "and you're hankering after something that suits you better—stringing rhymes, or telling love-stories, or saying something about nothing.  And the day will come when you may get something printed, and perhaps praised, and even paid for.  Likely the money'll not pay you back what you've already wasted in postage stamps!  But you won't think of that!  O no!  You'll think, 'If I can earn so much this week I can earn it every week, and that will be such and such an income a year, and I could do a great deal more it I gave my whole time to it.'  And then you'll quarrel with your regular bread and butter, and you'll sit up here spinning webs out of your head, like a spider, and spinning a hundred webs before you catch one fly! and then, maybe, you'll pawn any little thing you've got—your father's watch'll go—and you'll ask me if I don't think vegetarianism is economical? and you'll begin to fall back with your rent.  But that you shan't do, please God, for I can draw the line there myself, and I'll do it, if I'm a true friend to you; for I know what's a-coming on you, seeing as I've been through it with Milne, and know what it's made of him."

    Mary looked up, surprised.

    "Yes," Mrs Milne continued, with some asperity; "yes, there he is at this moment, sitting in the kitchen—(for it's nothing but a kitchen, though I do call it the parlour!)—there he is, with ten books round him, scribbling away, wasting ink and wearing out pens.  What he is doing is a paper on 'The Households of Literary Men.' (My word!  I could say something about that—and I doubt it would be better reading than anything he'll write!)  It'll just go the round like the rest, and come back to be crammed into the big box under our bed.  It does not cost postage now.  He trots up to the city with the stuff, and calls back about it; and though this takes it out of his boots, he must have exercise, and he gets it in this way, and I'm glad to clear him out of the place, and have free use of the whole length of the table!"

    "But, Mrs Milne," said Mary in bewilderment, "I never knew—I always thought you were a widow."

    Mrs Milne laughed.  "Aye," said she, "and you are not the first.  Ain't that a pretty commentary on a man's life?  It's me that has to settle with the tradespeople and the lodgers, and to fight the tax collectors and bully the landlord!  Yet when we were married he was in a good situation, where he might have been making his four or five hundred a year long before this time.  His own people thought he looked low in looking at me—because he had such a mind!  That's what everybody always said, 'He had such a mind.'  It's turned out that the one wise thing he did was to take a woman who can keep herself—and him too, for that matter!  La!  Miss Olrig," went on the sharp voice of the little woman; "when we were married and living comfortably with our own dining and drawing-room and two servants, he thought he had it in him to be one of the tip-toppers if he only tried.  And he used to sit and smoke, and read philosophers and reviews, and sigh at the thought of the counting-house and the ledgers.  But the ruin was when some verses and an essay got printed!  Then it all came to pass as I've said—bit by bit—till I thought I was to see the inside of the workhouse; and when I spoke about letting off a room or two (we weren't in this house then), he upset all the kitchen fire-irons, and smashed a cup and saucer and a dish!  And if I scolded sometimes, was it any wonder?—with those weary packets going off, and always coming back.  And his friends all thinking I was hard, and casting up to me what this genius and that genius had gone through before they ripened, and never thinking of the countless more who fell in the mud and never ripened—but rotted!"

    The little commonplace woman was raised by her suffering into dramatic intensity.

    "I scolded as long as I had any hope," she said in a softer tone; "it's the bitterest day of all when one finds out that it is oneself who is in the wrong for having expectations of anything better.  I left off scolding Milne when the babies died.  I think I'd done it to try to stir him up so that I should know how to teach the boys to 'Honour their father.'  But after it pleased God to take them—and hard times enough they had before they went, poor dears!—it was just as well to pull on quietly.  I made up my mind I'd depend on myself for bread, and I knew I could manage that, though I couldn't have done much for the boys.  And I suppose there are some women worse off—though it's the last thing left for a wife to thank God for, that her husband doesn't drink.  And I own he's very pleased when he does make a shilling or two.  He gets a little thing in somewhere now and then, and he always fancies it's 'the first step on the ladder,' and the trifle comes handy for his clothes and the endless stationery.  Poor Milne!" she sighed with still increasing gentleness; "I'm not saying he's not as clever, aye, and cleverer, than many who get on fast enough because they've had a bit o' the way cleared for them at the first; but as we'd say in the North, he set himself to a brae that needed a stouter heart than he's a got.  Perhaps it has not all been wasted.  I know he used to be so upsetting that he thought it beneath a man 'of his mind' to go down to our own cellar and draw the ale for our supper!  But now he'll give a hand in the house without a growl, he'll carry up a box that's too much for the girl, and he cleans the windows in the morning before the streets are astir.  When I said that to Miss Kerr, she said that anything which had brought a man so much nearer the Kingdom of Heaven had been a blessing!  I don't know: sometimes I think it has driven me further from the Kingdom of Heaven, and that makes the balance equal!  But perhaps God sees under my sharp temper—" and she paused.  "I don't want you to think I'm talking against Milne," she resumed presently, with still tenderer relenting; "no, he means well; he has meant well all the time.  I've told you all this for your own sake.  Don't you begin doing it—I'd as lieve see you take to drinking!"

    So this was the dreary end of Mary's dreary day!  She might well have shaken off such a warning, assured that she herself was of different stuff from the weak conceited man whose melancholy tale she had just heard.  Such an awful example would certainly never have checked Milne himself in his earlier days!  If he had ever thought of disaster as possible at all, it would have been beside the magnificent instances of Chatterton or Burns, and other "mighty poets in their misery dead."  It takes a vivid imagination and a wide dramatic power to realise the possibility of that direst failure which results from a wrong estimate of ourselves.  And the very ability to realise this is part of the discipline of vivid imagination and dramatic power—a discipline so searching and severe in its tasks, restraints, and judgments, that they who have once endured it find the discipline of external criticism or condemnation very light!

    Mrs Milne had left Mary's gaslight fully turned on.  Mary lowered it and sat in the dark.  She acknowledged to herself that the fevered efforts and hopes and disappointments which were springing up around her were not nerving her to calmer endurance of her present lot, while she saw more plainly than ever that they did not offer her a very promising outlet from it.

    What if she had no real gift at all, but was simply dissipating power which might be better employed?  What if she had some slight capacities, which might even catch a fleeting success, and so carry her out of her real element, like a flying fish driven far inland?  Or what if she had true powers, and was ruining them by unwise and premature exertion for mere personal aims?

    It is not easy to be sure of giving a correct answer to such questions.  But one thing grew quite clear to Mary.  She must absolutely surrender whatever made her less fit for her appointed duty.  She must do nothing which would either tempt or drive her into any course which might forfeit her own independence or prevent her from being a staff on which her old grandmother might rely in emergency.

    Once this light flashed upon her she did not hesitate for a moment.  The temptation was too sharp, the surrender too great to be paltered with.  She sprang from her seat, turned up the light, bundled together all her manuscripts and the two or three books of reference to which she had had recourse, and, opening her trunk, thrust them in, down, down to the very bottom, and locked them there.

    "If God means me to be a writer," she said to herself, "he will put it into my power to be so, without first doing wrong."  Her eyes were full of tears and her lips quivered.  "But why need I make any fuss?" cried the brave heart; "the sun will go on shining though I became blind, and God will get all His messages delivered though I be dumb."

    But it was one of the hardest battles of life which was fought through that night in the lonely attic in that quiet house.

    For it was very quiet.  Miss Kerr was out (having gone to visit the Crawfords in the evening instead of the afternoon, because she had a shrewd suspicion that the too anxious Lewis was endeavouring to get a little ahead of the world by supplementing his salary with night law-copying).  Milne had gone to a political club, whose illiterate members believed in him as the oppressed victim of some occult and malicious monopoly, and Mrs Milne was in the kitchen mending his stockings, and deciding in her own mind that all her words to Mary would be worse than wasted.

    "You might as well advise scarlet fever as scribbling," she said to herself; "they'll both run their course, and there's few folk that's the better for either!"


 
CHAPTER XIX.

A LITTLE PROVIDENCE.


MRS MILNE was amazed when, on her next visit to Mary Olrig's chamber, she found all trace of authorship carefully removed.  The worthy woman had been "braying a fool in a mortar" for so many years without making "his folly depart from him," that it was rather difficult for her to realise the weight which even "a word" will have with "the wise."  At first bitter experience led her to suspect that Mary had resented her counsel as an interference, and that she might expect her lodger to give her speedy "notice"—"As Milne would have done long ago, if the loss wouldn't have been his own," reflected that disillusioned wife.

    But when day after day passed and Mary remained as sweet and cordial as before, and yet no manuscripts reappeared, Mrs Milne began to feel at a loss.  We are taken aback when our wisdom produces an effect we did not prognosticate.  It inclines us to question ourselves.  If advice were more readily received, it is very likely that advice would be less readily given!

    Mrs Milne was haunted by the thought of what she had done.  Her husband had made her well acquainted with the low beginnings and long struggles of incipient genius which yet blossomed into grand maturity.  For years past she had silenced those recitals by the sarcastic rejoinder, "that we hear of the one who came to something, but not of the thousand who came to naught."  What if some unwary warning had taken too much effect on the small percentage intended for success?  What if the last and crowning bad influence of Milne's ill-omened persistence had been to check effort that might have been of some avail?

    Mrs Milne, grown closely observant of Mary, now noticed the rapid fading of her complexion, and the drawn line of the rounded cheek.  Still the manuscripts did not re-appear.  A heap of needlework rather ostentatiously took their place.

    No honest person proffers advice without secretly feeling that he must do his utmost that who takes it does not suffer thereby.  Mrs Milne was disquieted.

    After two or three days of hesitation, she resolved to open her mind to Miss Kerr.

    She took the opportunity one evening while setting forth that lady's tea equipage.

    Miss Kerr had just returned from an afternoon visit to the Crawfords.  The poor invalid mother was rapidly fading away, fulfilling the old Italian's prognosis despite all the new comfort that had come into these latter days.  She had incidentally let fall information confirmatory of Miss Kerr's own suspicions that "the child" was doing a great deal of work at home o' nights.  He sat up with her a great deal, because sometimes she was sleepless, but always when she dozed off and awakened, "there he was, writing, writing."

    Accordingly, Miss Kerr lingered to see Lewis, that she might give him one more serious warning on the folly of attempting to burn the candle of life at both ends.  She felt ready, in his interest, to speak stern truths about over anxiety and too much thought for the morrow.

    And yet, when Lewis came in, with his dark, grave, thoughtful face, she softened her protest against his self-sacrifice, and actually allowed him to silence it altogether by his arguments, that after his bitter experience he dared not risk his mother's dependence wholly on any salary.  Also by-and-bye he might be glad, for his mother's sake, to have some such little fund as these extra labours enabled him to store.  Clementina looked up at him wistfully.  She would have liked to tell him that his salary would not fail, and to ask him whether he could not trust her for any additional help his mother might require.  Yet she felt theirs was not yet a sufficiently old and tested friendship to bear this strain, under which it might sink for ever to the lower level of benefaction and dependence, forced upon this man for his mother's sake.  No; she must keep silence a little longer.

    She returned home reflective, a little tired, as we all get, when trying to follow lines of thought whose end we cannot see.  So she did not heed the inconsequent little remarks by which she could usually foretell that her good landlady was about to make some confidence.

    Mrs Milne had to go straight to the point.  "I'm put out about our Miss Olrig upstairs.  I'll have to get you to speak to her."

    That roused Clementina at once.

    "What is she doing?" she asked, "I don't profess to understand girls, you know.  Never did.  Not most girls."

    "I don't think Miss Olrig is like most girls," said Mrs Milne; "whose way is, if you tell them not to do a thing, just to do it the more.  It's my belief she's beginning to fade and pine away."

    Clementina's heart smote her.  "Didn't you say she had plenty of friends?" she observed.  "Is it not so?"

    "I said I thought she would have," answered Mrs Milne, ruefully, "for she's young, and pretty, and taking.  But sometimes, such have something in 'em that sets 'em apart, and then I reckon they feel their apartness more than the ugly and the cross-grained, for the Lord in His mercy generally gives these last an uncommon good conceit of themselves!  I'm thinking Miss Olrig may be a bit of a genius.  I know she's been trying to write for the magazines, and the queer thing is that when I told her—(O, you can guess what I told her, Miss Kerr)—she left off and settled down to do a heap of sewing."

    "A sensible girl," commented Clementina, favourably impressed.

    "But I don't like the look that's coming on her face," said Mrs Milne.  "She looks up with a smile, but I reckon there's no smile when there is nobody to see!  And may be 'tis as bad for a soul to get checked in something it ought to throw off, as it is for the body when the measles are turned inwards!"

    Clementina laughed.  "I have heard it suggested that genius is but an abnormality of the mind, as the pearl is of the oyster," she said; "but I never before heard quite such a practical application of the idea.  What do you think, Mrs Milne?" and with fine instinct she converted the favour she felt she was asked to bestow into a favour she might ask to receive.  "I am rather dull this evening—the wind has been in the east!—and it's an anniversary, too, an old birthday—a date which used to mean a happy evening once.  So I think I might go upstairs and call on Miss Olrig."

    "That is just what I was wishing you to say," cried the little landlady, delighted.  "Only I was thinking of her, not you.  For, as I always say to Milne, 'Miss Kerr is enough for herself, it doesn't matter to her how the world wags,' and you'll never make me think otherwise, ma'am, however much you may fancy differently."

    Miss Kerr ran upstairs as lightly as a girl.  Her brisk knock on Mary Olrig's door was answered by a rather smothered "Come in!"  But when she accepted the invitation she paused on the threshold, for, except the red gleam of a dull fire, the room was in darkness.  There was a hasty rustle in a distant corner.  Mary's voice said; "I beg pardon.  I thought it was the servant.  I had put out the light and was taking a rest."

    "I fear I have disturbed you—I am only Miss Kerr from downstairs," said Clementina simply, pausing for further explanations until Mary had rekindled her lamp.

    "We know each other's names—and voices," she proceeded in her most genial manner; "and I think it is time we knew each other's faces.  We are Scripturally related to each other, you know, since we are 'neighbours,' though that tie is supposed to be abolished in London."

    "It has always been a comfort to me to feel you were in the house," said Mary.

    The tone was matter-of-fact.  Clementina could not think what the girl might mean, but she clearly meant it.

    "Since I know you were lying down when I entered," Miss Kerr went on, "I fear you may decline my purposed invitation that you should spend the evening with me."

    Mary laughed a sad little laugh, "I am quite rested now," she said: "I shall be very happy to come downstairs."

    And so she presently found herself in the pretty room on which she had so often cast wistful glances.  Clementina did not throw any burden of conversation on her guest—she herself chatted away as she could when she chose.  She saw at once how things were.  She had been through too much not to understand the significance of the nervous monosyllabic replies, the restless hands.  She knew exactly how Mary's eyes burned in their sockets, and how every limb ached with a strange weariness which could find no rest.

    "If we catch fevers there are hospitals for us," she said to herself; "if we break our limbs, there are ambulances: if we go mad, there are—God help us!—keepers and straight-jackets.  But if it is 'only our nerves,' what then?  A little mocking, a little preaching, a good scolding, at best, some wholesome neglect!  The woman who is overfed, over-indulged, and underworked suffers from her 'nerves' and so, forsooth! the treatment which would be excellent for her is extended rather to the woman who is over-worked, over-worried, and under-cared-for, because she too has 'northing wrong with her except the state of her nerves!'  Well, at any rate, God wills that we who know how these things stand should help each other, for nobody else can help us!"

    How did Clementina manage the matter?  The one-sided conversation started from most commonplace points, and seemed to flow on in the most natural manner.  Yet all on a sudden, Mary found the choking tightness about her heart loosened, and the tears flowing frankly over her face, while she begged her hostess to forgive such a disgraceful breakdown, and Miss Kerr stood over her, saying cheerily:

    "I've been through it all myself, my dear.  But there's something wrong.  There's something against you in your life, and we must find out what it is (I think I know), and get it put right as fast as we can."

    And before the evening was over, Miss Kerr knew of Mary's old life and her new—of the changes on Tweedside which had cut off her retreat, and of the strange fevered phantasmagoria of wrong and pain which presented itself to her.  Aye, and Miss Kerr actually knew of Mary's secret ambition—had actually seen a set of Mary's verses!  She knew what the father (almost worshipped) had never known, what was hidden from the honoured old grandmother, and remained unsuspected by kind Lesley Baird.  The born confessor generally stands outside family circles.  Does God call some to forego family circles, that they may fulfil this function until wrung hearts and torn lives shall no longer claim its ministry?

    When her own well-aimed questions had put Miss Kerr in possession of all the facts, then Miss Kerr had her counsel to give.  She saw at once that Mary was striving, as so many must, to secure independence by forfeiting all which makes life worth living.  But she did not frighten Mary by saying this in so many words.  She only said: "You must stop going to the office for three weeks or a month."

    That alarmed the girl.  "I have been there so short a time," she said; "it would be most unfortunate to require sick leave so soon; and they could not allow payment during absence," she added, rather reluctantly, knowing that her little private store was already running low.

    "You have a beautiful handwriting," observed Miss Kerr, glancing at the manuscript Mary had shown her.  "I feel quite sure I could get you work to do in your own room for the next two or three weeks, and I think you might do enough to earn the few shillings you absolutely require without doing so much as to destroy the restfulness of your retirement.  You say that your father's friend is one of your managing directors.  Is he to be found on the Company's premises?"

    "Yes," Mary answered, "he is always there during business hours."

    "Then, with your permission," said Miss Kerr, "I will go up and see him to-morrow, and secure your leave of absence.  It must be," she said, raising her hand as Mary seemed about to protest.  "A few days' pause may do for you now what months and even years might fail to do a little later on.  Don't resent my interference," she said with a smile; "do not be so unkind as to mistake me for a Cain, for you know it is only the Cains who are not their brothers' keepers."

    Then she shifted their talk into another channel—got upon books, and thence to the discussion of character and the play of circumstance upon it, and its reaction on circumstance.  To-night Clementina Kerr kept the bright side of things ever uppermost; it was of goodness and wisdom that she told—of strength rather than weakness—of the peace and power which come of stubborn destinies resolutely wrought into harmony and beauty, rather than of unexpected good fortune, or what are called strokes of luck.

    When she rang her bell for supper she went out upon the staircase to give her instructions, with the result that the tray came in, set for two, with the daintiest china and brightest silver in the house, with delicious stewed oysters, the crispest of toast, and the most luscious of hot-house grapes.

    Downstairs Mrs Milne wondered aloud: "That Miss Kerr is the queerest body.  Never even told me to ask the price of the oysters or the grapes.  Just said, 'Get the very best.'  Yet, a fortnight ago, when that great artist and his wife came in their carriage, she ordered nothing for dinner but the roast mutton and apple-tart she always has on Wednesdays.  There's no making out Miss Kerr's ways, and once for all, I'll give up trying to understand her."

    The hostess and her guest did not separate till near midnight.  And even after Mary had said good-night, she stole back to Miss Kerr's side to whisper:

    "O you have done me so much good!  I am a different being.  Do you think still that I must not go to the office to-morrow?  I feel quite well."

    "If the first line of my prescription has benefited you, is that any reason why you should disobey the rest?" asked Clementina with playful fierceness.  And Mary made a deprecating gesture and ran off.

    Miss Kerr went to her desk and wrote a brief note to Lewis Crawford.

    "I was vexed with you this afternoon about keeping on your home night-work.  But I will forgive you for doing so if, for the next two or three weeks, you will transfer as much of it as will bring in two or three shillings a day to somebody I know, who is quite competent, and to whom it may be the greatest possible benefit.  Please answer this personally, by calling here to-morrow afternoon, as I should like the arrangement to be made at once."

    She wanted Lewis to get this missive before he left home next morning, and to do that it must be posted immediately.  Clementina never dreamed of troubling anybody to manage these things for her.  She would have thought it a defrauding of her own life.  She had caught many of her best artistic inspirations while fulfilling such errands, and was not one of those who cheapen their own past by repudiating all its habits the moment they can do so.  She liked the cool night air on her face, and declared that London streets were only bearable in the dark!  So she threw on an old cloak, drew its hood over her head, walked off to the pillar box, posted her letter, crept softly back into the house, went to bed, and in her dreams, resumed her pleasant chat with Mary Olrig.


 
CHAPTER XX.

ONLY A MIRACLE.


IN the course of the following morning came a note from Lewis Crawford.

    Yes, he would certainly come at the time she appointed.  Perhaps he might have come without her invitation, for at the office this morning he had heard something which he thought would please her.  It was something which Lewis felt made his present appointment more secure, but it was not that which made him willing to accede to Miss Kerr's request.  Certainly he would do all he could to put his other work into her friend's hands.  Surely troubles had not taught him much if he allowed fears for his own future to withhold good from the present of somebody else!

    Miss Clementina smiled to notice how Lewis Crawford's right-mindedness put aside undue anxiety for his own future the moment he could see a distinct somebody who might suffer through it.  It occurred to her that the true question is, whether somebody somewhere does not always suffer when we allow ourselves to be swayed by our cares into too shrewd grasping or too strenuous effort.  Perhaps if none of us worried ourselves about to-morrow, nobody would find the evil of to-day to be more than "sufficient."  It is strange how many who are quite ready to trust Christ Jesus concerning the promise of another life, are not equally ready to trust Him concerning the conduct of this life!

    Miss Clementina looked back over her own history, and could not refuse to acknowledge that she had allowed anxieties and fears to destroy or spoil many sweet and beautiful opportunities which could never come again.  Nay, in her former dread of slipping into dependence, she could now see that she had submitted to wrongs and limitations as bad as any which "dependence" could possibly have brought her.  She herself had been so far successful in her diligence and providence, but how many were not so?  How many lived in care and strain, and yet finally failed to secure their end, since advisers betray, banks break, and investments fail?  Then Clementina's face grew very grave.  Was it not because her kinsman had counted her a successful woman according to his worldly mind, that he had burdened her with his unwieldy wealth, made, she scarcely knew how, but not, she thought, perfumed by widows' prayers and orphans' blessings.  That wealth she was steadfastly resolved not to touch for any requirements of her own, and indeed she had none which required wealth to gratify them.  Still that wealth lay heavy on her heart and conscience, because it must have been withdrawn from the general good somehow.  Yet she could not see how or where she was to restore it, without risk of doing still further damage to the commonwealth, since even philanthropy is now crying out that it wants heads and hands to combat the powers of evil, rather than purses to bribe them!

    It was a thought of comfort, that this wealth had at least enabled her to bid her lawyer employ Lewis.  Without this wealth she could scarcely have guaranteed his salary even for one year.  Could not she?  Well, candidly, not without some courage and enough self-sacrifice to diminish her income for all future time by the three pounds yearly interest on the hundred pounds in consols which she would have had to sell out!

    Clementina laughed out in sincere self-deprecation!  What a poor creature she showed as compared with the widow of Zarephath, who could take in a starving prophet, when all her "property" scarcely sufficed for one more meal!  Some might say that Lewis Crawford was no prophet—or at least that Clementina had no reason to think so.  But he certainly could not be less than "the least of the little ones," who are included in the royal brotherhood of Christ.  And as regards prophetship, it is evident that, despite her kindness, the widow of Zarephath had her own doubts on that point, and that her heart failed many times ere she was ready to confess, "Now I know thou art a man of God."

    It is a strange sensation for any one of us (yet woe to those who have never felt it!) when some of our qualities which we have regarded as virtues, qualities for which we have thanked God, and which have won us the esteem and admiration of our fellows, suddenly present themselves to us in another and very different light!  Then comes to the civilised and cultured professor of Christianity the same test (neither more nor less) which comes to the savage warrior when he finds that, if he is to follow Christ, he must lay aside his barbarous trophies of victory, abandon his meal of human flesh, and forget the bloody fame which has made him chief among his fellows.

    Christ—God manifest in the flesh—comes to save us from ourselves, and not from our sins only, but even from virtues which are ever degenerating into vices.  He passes through our souls like the gardener with the pruning knife, and much that seems fair and flourishing comes crashing to the ground, and the outlook is bare and dreary.  But wait till next spring; and already the sky view is clearer!

    Miss Kerr went to the city, and had a very satisfactory interview with Mary's friend in the office.  She showed the greatest interest in the whole concern, and he took her through the big room and introduced her to the superintendent, and let her see "the young ladies."  It was this little incident only which had produced the impression whose report had so agitated Rab Bethune, "that Miss Olrig might not come back to the office."

    The tidings which Lewis Crawford brought in the afternoon were, that among the many cases of supposed rights or wrongs into which the young man had enquired since his engagement in Mr Hedges' office, he had at last come on one which opened up a just claim to a vast estate.  The poor client in whose interest he had begun to act, had not known the true extent of her rights and those of other obscure people equally interested.  It was only on the previous day that a document had been unearthed which left no doubt on the matter.  A Chancery suit would be instituted, and the legal business connected therewith and with the duties of stewardship which would probably devolve on Mr Hedges, could not fail to bring that gentleman less than some hundreds a year for years to come.

    "Mr Hedges was very pleased with me," said the young man with boyish glee; "for he did not think much of the case at first, but I thought there was something in it.

    "So, you see, I'm afraid there is no virtue in my readiness to give up my other work to your friend," said the youth with a comical ruefulness.  "I think I can secure it for him.  There is one kind old stationer who has generally given me briefs to copy; and as you say he writes a suitable hand, a very few hints, which I can easily give him, will suffice to guide him as to form."

    "I have no doubt of it, only he is a she!" Miss Clementina remarked archly.  "Will that increase the difficulty?  Here is her writing," and she put a scrap of Mary's manuscript into his hand.

    Lewis Crawford nodded approval and pondered for a moment.  "No," he said, "I think women are very quick to catch anything they wish to learn.  And my old friend will be favourably disposed, for he taught one of his daughters to work for him, and she did it until she got married."

    "I will call Miss Olrig at once, and introduce her to you," said Miss Kerr.  "She is a young lady who lives in this house—in the floor above."

    The name "Miss Olrig" conveyed nothing to Lewis Crawford.  If he had heard any names in connection with the kind hospitality he had received on the Edenlaw, they had been "Mrs Haldane," and "Mary."  So he awaited Miss Kerr's return with a calmness which he would not have felt had he dreamed who was approaching him.

    As for Mary Olrig herself, she had heard of Miss Kerr's friend neither by name nor description.  So she responded to Miss Kerr's summons with no thought except a rather faint hope that she might satisfy him as to her capabilities.

    Miss Kerr opened her door and ushered Mary in before her.  Miss Clementina had not even uttered either name, before she saw by start of surprise and eager gesture of recognition that this was not a first meeting.

    "Why! you know each other!" she cried.  "Where can you have met?"

    "On the Edenlaw—in my grandmother's cottage," said Mary quickly.  Woman-like, she recovered self-possession first, and her answer came readily, because, not yet knowing the extent of Lewis' friendship with Miss Kerr, she felt that for him answer might be difficult and painful.

    "Why—you do not mean to say—" began Miss Kerr, turning to Lewis, delighted comprehension lighting up her face.

    "I mean to say that it was in this lady's home on the Edenlaw that I received that kindest of hospitality which I have told you about," said Lewis.  In his excitement he still held Mary's hand.

    "My grandmother will be so pleased to hear you are safe and well!" cried Mary.  "She sometimes feared evil might have befallen you, you vanished so mysteriously."

    "I had reasons," Lewis answered, "and I acted on them very suddenly; I think I was nearly wild.  I do not know what evil might not have befallen me had it not been for Miss Kerr.  I think she saved my life then.  I know she has made it worth living ever since."

    "Stuff and nonsense!" said Miss Kerr; "if it had not been me it would have been somebody else!"

    "And you have been always visiting this house!" exclaimed Mary; "then it was you whom I saw one afternoon!  I thought I must have fancied a likeness in somebody else!  It seemed so unlikely!

    "What seems unlikely is exactly what happens," commented Miss Kerr.

    "And your mother?" asked Mary, her face suddenly growing grave as she remembered what of the youth's story he had told her in the cottage on the Edenlaw.

    His own face saddened.  "She is—going—very quietly —and happily," he said.  There was a short silence.

    "I can't realise meeting you again like this!" Mary remarked.  "It seems like a fairy tale!  Out of all the millions of London—"

    "There are meetings—and partings—in this life which seem to me to open up or foreshadow the working out of the Life which is to come," said Miss Kerr thoughtfully, memories of her own stirring in the little excitement like the leaves of a book fluttered by a breeze.

    "I'm sure I came to live in this house in the most matter-of-fact way," narrated Mary; "I was recommended by a shopkeeper in Kelso who is related to Mrs Milne.  She gave me the address over her counter, just a day or two after you had been on the Edenlaw," she added, turning to Lewis.

    Miss Kerr looked up from her reverie. "Ah," she said, "and she had got that address from me only the very day when Mr Crawford returned south.  My landlady had often talked about her relative, of whom she had quite lost sight; so, when I was in Kelso, I called at the shop, and gave all the news about Mrs Milne and her house here."

    "And Mr Crawford?"—said Mary interrogatively.

    "I made his acquaintance that very evening—on the night journey to London," answered Miss Kerr.  She looked straight at Lewis Crawford as she told the strange truth in this commonplace way.  Her eyes bade him keep silence concerning anything further.  "There is your fairy tale in plain prose!" she added.  "There is such an explanation for all wonders!"

    "Which only makes them the deeper wonder, I think," said Lewis Crawford.

    Miss Kerr threw him a quick glance, and pondered for a moment.  "You are right," she admitted.  "But the business in hand at present is to secure this copying for Miss Olrig."

    Lewis Crawford rose at once.  "I think, Miss Kerr," said he, "that the best plan will be, if Miss Olrig will accompany me to that old stationer's of whom I told you, I will introduce her to him and make myself responsible for the work he gives her; but he is such a kind old soul, that I know I can explain to him and get a bill of costs or a brief to fall to our share, as a task which Miss Olrig will accomplish at once without any difficulty.

    "Who could have imagined this, that afternoon when you came out in the rain and invited me into the snug cottage!" said Lewis, when Mary and he were fairly started together.

    "Who, indeed?" Mary echoed.  "Miss Kerr may set light by it, as she chooses, but it remains wonderful!"

    "There is a miracle in it somewhere," decided the young man earnestly.

    And so there was.  The miracle lay here—that Clementina Kerr, pre-occupied by great changes in her own life, and world-weary with thousands of bitter experiences and heart-chilling disappointments, had yet gone out of her way, that she might secure what she judged would be a satisfactory little pleasure for her poor drudging landlady!  The one miracle of Creation is Love—whether its works be lofty or lowly!  And in great things as in small, reason, research, or science may brush away "marvels" how they like.  They but bring us to a clearer sight of that great wonder of the universe from which neither death nor life nor any other creature has power to separate us!

    "There is a miracle in it somewhere!" repeated Lewis Crawford.

    Mary looked up in his face and assented with her radiant eyes.  It was at that very moment that the cab bearing Rab Bethune went by.

    How could he dream that they had met in London only half-an-hour before!


 
CHAPTER XI.

HONOURABLE PROPOSALS.


HOW had those winter months worn themselves away in the quiet house of Edenhaugh?  Lesley would have owned sorrowfully that, for the first time in her life, she did find the days long and dreary—that as she sewed or knitted, her thoughts wandered restlessly, and that the little trials and triumphs of kitchen or poultry yard did not seem so absorbing as formerly.  She had hitherto maintained a knowledge and interest in domestic and European politics through readings and discussions with Mr Baird.  But this winter she lost her place in their intricacies so completely, that if she should ever regain it, there would remain a hiatus never quite satisfactorily filled up

    Her mind was ever racked with painful surmises why the vanished friendship, so happy and so simple, had been allowed to lapse in such dead silence.  Rab's brief goodbye to her uncle at the gate, made without any enquiry or message for her, was not in proper proportion with the terms he had assiduously cultivated with the household at Edenhaugh.  For days and for weeks she had secretly felt that it was sure to be followed up by something else.  It was only as this vague hope faded that she realised with what vivid expectation she had at first looked forward to each day's post.

    What was she to think?  That Rab Bethune had ruthlessly and recklessly withdrawn his regard from her?  Or that she had misunderstood or exaggerated that regard?  Oh, the first she would never believe!  And that left her only the other resource—a secret humiliation, fretting, tormenting, subduing her very soul!

    History tells us that when a king or a warrior lay dead, there was sometimes found, hidden beneath royal robe or knightly armour, a hair shirt or a prickly girdle, which for years had been the unsuspected chastisement of the chivalrous flesh.  When the angels of Death free the soul from its mortal array, what humiliations, what chagrins, must they often find, carried through long lives, covered over by smiles and patience.

    Lesley's health did not suffer.  The active, wholesome life, the fine air in which she lived, even the resolute submission of her soul, saved her from that.  She did not grow pale or thin.  Yet the outlines of her face certainly sharpened.  One's strength may suffice for one's burden, and yet the weight of the burden tells.  During that winter Lesley ceased to be a girl.  On her sunny brown head she found the first silver hair.

    She felt that it would be an immense relief if more demands were made on her energies both physical and mental.  Hard labour and care save souls from consuming themselves.

    It seemed to her that at this very season, when she would have welcomed responsibility and occupation of every kind, she had more leisure than usual.  The new servant proved efficient; old Mrs Haldane, walking to and fro between parlour and kitchen in as much grand natural equality as the collie dogs themselves, assumed many little offices of oversight or assistance, which Lesley would not withhold from her agèd guest, who enjoyed them not only for their own sake, but also as a tribute of gratitude for the hospitality shown to her.

    In truth, Mrs Haldane rendered one great service to Lesley.  Her presence, her strong will, her pithy sayings, the raised voices constantly trying to surmount her deafness, were a new social element in the house, under which Lesley's silence and absence of mind escaped notice.

    Lesley began to occupy herself more than ever with little Jamie Logan from Gowan Brae.  The child was an interest not only for hands and head, but for heart also.  He had commenced school attendance.  The school-house was on the roadside not far from Edenhaugh.  It occurred to Lesley that association with rough and unkempt boys of much larger growth was not without danger to a little lad who had no counteracting influences at home.  So she suggested to her uncle that he might be invited to spend the mid-day recreation hour with them, and join their early dinner.  Then she found that when school was fairly over, Jamie got into disgrace by loitering with rude companions and not reaching his father's farm till dusk.  So she proposed an afternoon drawing lesson, which kept him at Edenhaugh till he had to start off at a brisk walk to reach Gowan Brae by tea time.

    But do what she could, it seemed to Lesley that she was growing morbid.  What but sheer fancy could make her feel as if the village folk regarded her with curious eyes, as if there was a change in manner towards her, an increased deference yet less respect, a sort of dryness and coldness in those who had once been most cordial.  If she had this strange consciousness among the village folk, she had it tenfold when she visited the neighbouring farm-houses.  People paid her compliments, a thing they had never done before.  But the compliments had a strange tone about them, half congratulatory, half contemptuous.  And it was those whom she had once liked best who now drew aside from her, and those from whom she had stood aloof who now tried to draw near.  It seemed too as if they studied their phrases and used them with some double meaning, firmly persuaded in their own minds that she understood all they meant.

    This consciousness, or fancy, whichever it might be, only deepened her self-mistrust and humiliation.  Was this but a part of the diseased egotism which, as poor Lesley now believed, with bitter shame, had made her misinterpret Rab Bethune?  Or had other people caught sight of her mistake, or misinterpreted him too?  Be it this way or that, either drove her more and more within herself, until she almost shrank from crossing the threshold of Edenhaugh.

    So the winter went by.

    It was a dark, wild, windy afternoon.  Mr Baird was away on business.  Little Jamie had had his drawing lesson and had started home at a run.  Lesley stood in the porch and watched him off.  She could hear Mrs Haldane and the maids talking in the kitchen.  In former days she would have opened the door and looked in upon them with a smile and a pleasant word, and would perhaps have lingered there in the gloaming, enjoying the warm, broad blaze of the old-fashioned hearth.  Now she went straight back to the parlour and hastened to light the lamp.  When there is sorrowful twilight within us, we make haste to banish twilight from our rooms.

    As she drew the curtain across the window, she became aware that somebody had just reined in his horse at the gate.  She caught a glimpse of an alighting figure.  Peering through the pane, she thought the horse belonged to the Gowan Brae stable.  Probably it was the Gowan Brae grieve offering to take up Master Jamie if he had not yet started homeward.

    But no!  There came steps in the passage, the light steps of the housemaid, and another step, heavy, and self-important.  A visitor!  The parlour door opened, and the servant ushered in Jamie's father, the farmer Logan of Gowan Brae.

    Mr Logan was not a frequent visitor to the house of Edenhaugh.  He came to the farm occasionally, but spent his time there mostly in the stables or byres, or if he came to the dwelling, confined himself generally to the little sanctum where Mr Baird kept samples, files, and tools.

    But Lesley was not in the least surprised by his visit.  Doubtless he had come expecting to see her uncle.

    Yet there was certainly something strange about him!  For he was wonderfully got up, with a precision which brought out in strong relief his hard features, made grim and coarse by mean thoughts and base self-indulgence.  He belonged to the same race and the same class as Lesley's uncle.  But it was plain there was a great gulf fixed between them.

    "I see you have old Jean Haldane still with you, Miss Baird," he said; "she will keep the maids in order.  You won't feel tied down in Edenhaugh any more," he added with a queer smirk.  "How is her grand-daughter getting on in her service?"

    "Miss Olrig seems getting on very well," Lesley answered.  "She has an appointment in the Telegraph Office."

    "Does she live there," he asked gruffly.  There was a rough sneer in his tone when speaking of Mary that seemed intended to emphasise the servile deference he used towards Lesley.  Somehow the girl's face flushed.  But she answered quite calmly:

    "No, of course not.  She lives in lodgings with very nice people, it seems, from her letters.  By the way, her landlady belonged to this region."

    "Ah, there's plenty from this neighbourhood in London.  Some of all sorts!" he answered.  "I've only one relation there.  At least his offices are in London.  He's a stockbroker, and makes pots of money.  But of course he would not reside in such a hole.  He has a fine place out at Norwood where he can get plenty of amusement.  He keeps up grand style—house like a palace, dinner every day like a dinner party.  Perhaps we might afford something in that way at Gowan Brae, if we had a lady to manage it!"  Again that effort at an engaging smile, and then an awkward silence.

    "I am so sorry my uncle is out—I scarcely know when he will return," said Lesley, who felt the visit awkward and did not desire its continuance.

    "Oh, never mind, never mind," said her guest, eagerly; "I really came to see you to-day, Miss Baird."

    Lesley's thoughts instantly turned to her favourite, Logan's little boy.

    "You have just missed meeting Jamie," she said.

    "Ah, never mind.  I thought he'd be away.  Children are not always wanted.  Though ladies can be so fond of them sometimes."  Again a smirk and a pause.  But the subject of Jamie was an opportunity too good to be lost.  The farmer went on―

    "Jamie wants a mother.  And everybody's saying, Miss Baird, that I need not look further than you.  I'm sure your uncle will like to get you well settled.  And though you'll bring nothing—still you're may be younger than I might expect—and you're bonnie an' you're good, an' one can't have a'thing, ye ken."

    Lesley rose from her seat and stood still, struck dumb with pain and shame.

    "Now take it easy, my dear," said the farmer with an air of indulgent consideration.  "There's plenty of time.  I'll give you a day or two to think it over, if you choose.  I know ladies don't like to speak their minds too quickly, though they make them up soon enough!"

    Lesley found her voice.

    "Mr Logan, this cannot be.  You must not speak of such a thing.  Please forget you have thought of it for an instant."

    "Aye, aye," said the swain tranquilly, looking at her with bleary eyes of approbation; "you're a clever lass, and know your part as well as if you had acted it a dozen times already."

    "Oh, Mr Logan," pleaded Lesley, "I mean what I say.  Please never mention this again.  Nobody need know anything about it.  I have always thought of you as a kind neighbour, an old friend.  What could have made you talk of this?"

    There was an agonising sincerity in her manner which actually pierced the farmer's thick crust of vulgar self-conceit.  He too rose, and spoke angrily—a tone which came very readily to him―

    "What's made me think of it?  Why, you made me think of it!  What other reason could you have for taking so much trouble about the boy?  What is he to you?  Isn't that what everybody is saying?  Why, your friend, Miss Bell Gibson, said as much to my servants when she was here last summer.  An' they've asked Jamie himself if he'd like you for a stepmother.  Of course I thought you'd talked it over among the women, and that they knew which way the wind was blowing."

    "Mr Logan," said Lesley, trembling, but aroused, "you have no right to speak to me like this."

    "No right?  Haven't I the best right?  Am I not sorry to see a nice girl—a well brought up girl—quarrelling with her bread and butter, spoiling her future and upsetting all my plans.  An' what for?  For a nonsense fairy tale.  For you'd not give a sniff at a good downsitting like Gowan Brae if there wasn't some rubbish running through your head.  This is what comes of your old ballads!  Wise is Miss Helen Gibson when she calls them foolery!  The women talked about that too"—and he emphasised bitterly—"but I wouldn't believe that.  'No, no,' says I, Lesley Baird's too well brought up not to know that there's little honest goes on between halls and farms, and that lairds don't call "marry me" to lasses, bonnie though they be, with neither pedigree nor siller!'"

    Wounded to the quick, Lesley moved towards the door.  By report she knew enough of Gowan Brae's habits to guess that he had primed himself for this solemn interview by a "tot" of whisky, and that the potion was beginning to take effect.  She would bear on patiently, and avert all that might spread the scandal and babble of this miserable interview—if so be that she might thereby save her kindly relationships with little Jamie from coming to untimely end.  If the story did not go beyond that room, surely by tomorrow the farmer would be ashamed of all he had said.  Then things might remain much as they were.

    But Gowan Brae noticed her movement of retreat, and resented it even more bitterly than her simple words of refusal.

    He snatched up his hat and stick—a new hat and a grand stick, with a boar's head handle.

    "Oh, you needn't run away!  Don't be afraid I'll press you.  Gowan Brae is not going a begging.  I daresay you think I've been drinking"—such was his quick and guilty interpretation of the look of disgust on Lesley's face.  "Well, you might have made a sober man of me, if you had taken your chance.  An' if you're the Christian woman you make believe you are, you'll feel my blood on your head henceforth.  But I'm not afraid.  If one won't, another will, I say.  Good evening, Miss Lesley Baird"—and he drawled out the ceremonious title with magnificent assumption of contempt.

    He stamped through the hall and banged the outer door.  She heard him grumbling and swearing outside.  Then he galloped off.

    The parlour was not safe from the invasion of Mrs Haldane or the maids.  Lesley fled upstairs to her own room and locked the door.  She threw herself on her bed and wept bitterly—the hot tears of mingled anguish, humiliation, and shame.  All helpless as she had been, she felt degraded by the interview she had gone through, as one instinctively feels degraded if one falls in a foul gutter, or accidentally evokes a torrent of bad language from the blackguards at a street corner.

    But not even the selfish brutality which had outraged every sensibility of her soul could tempt her to break the sweet code of honour which she had always held to bind every woman who receives an offer of marriage which she is obliged to reject.  She knew that what reached her as an insult, Logan had offered as a boon.  And she felt bound to take it from his point and bury it in silence.

    It was a day or two after this event that she wrote the letter with that pitiful little postscript which had reached Mary Olrig in the depth of her own depression.  That pitiful little postscript was the only cry which Lesley did not succeed in stifling.

    She was thankful to find that Jamie's visits continued as if nothing had happened, and that the boy, despite the questions which his father said had been put to him, seemed to remain frank and happy.

    She felt positively grateful to Gowan Brae for not depriving her of the presence of the child who loved her, and who satisfied some of her cravings to serve and help her fellow-creatures.

    She did not know what was coming!


 
CHAPTER XXII.

MRS HALDANE GIVES A NAME.


IT was the very day after Mr Logan's uncomfortable visit that Lesley received a note from the Misses Gibson, announcing that "if they did not hear from her to the contrary," they should understand that it was quite convenient for Edenhaugh to receive them again as its guests.

    "I'm sure you must have been dull enough all the winter," wrote Miss Helen, "and we won't put you about a bit.  We've got an offer of letting our house at a good advantage for a month or two, and as we are wanting change besides, it seems real providential, and if we don't hear from you by return, we shall start at once."

    Lesley felt herself dismally inhospitable.  She knew quite well that her uncle would be loth to refuse shelter to anybody who asked it from him.  But the Gibsons had grown to her like birds of evil omen.  Everything had gone wrong during their previous visit, and nothing which had grown crooked then had straightened itself since.  Lesley had noticed the part played by their names in Mr Logan's angry tirade.  And now they appeared again, and her heart foreboded more evil.  When vultures hover, what do we know must lie beneath them?  Perhaps a maimed and dying lamb.  But then they did not maim or wound it?  Oh, no,—only they will swoop down and tear out its eyes, and make an end of it.

    Lesley knew too much of the folk-lore of her native land not to know all about the "evil eye" and the "ill wish."  Thoughts of these things even floated before her mind as she stood with Miss Helen's letter in her hand.  But she dismissed them as worthy only of the days of witch-burning, branks, and ducking-stools.  Lesley's strict upbringing left her no alternative but to regard such things as wicked nonsense.  Mary Olrig's wider reading and more poetic temperament might have permitted her to see that some philosophy lies hidden in these grotesque beliefs.

    So once more the old servant and the roomy chaise conveyed the two Edinburgh ladies along the road to Edenhaugh.  This time they drove from Kelso, having paused for a day at Peebles, as Miss Bell had some literary reason for wishing to visit Neidpath Castle, and the scenery of Sir Walter Scott's "Black Dwarfs."  The weather had not been favourable.  The snow and frosts of the Scottish winter were already passing into the mists and rain and east winds of its far more trying spring.  The bare green hills looked bleak and dreary.  There were no children playing around the little cottages, whose doors were close shut to keep out the blast.  Poor Miss Bell felt the depressing influence of her surroundings.

    "Waes me, Helen!  If I'm to tell the plain truth, since we must let our flat because you're always sae keen fyking efter siller, I'd rather we'd taken our change' i' the Canon-gate, or the Cowgate itsel', than in this dismal place!"

    "An' you professing to be a poet!" retorted Miss Helen, with a lofty scorn.  "You'd rather see gaslights in the street, and look in at bonnet-shops and booksellers, than gaze upon the hills and streams that you're always writing up as 'sae bonnie.'  The winter comes from the Almighty's hand as much as the summer.  As for the East wind, I enjoy it."

    "Like to like!" laughed Miss Bell.  "As for the winter comin' frae the Almighty, yell no say that the men who make the gaslights, and the folk that keep the shops are no frae His hand too?  It's the human kind I'm efter.  I dinna care for a glen that hasna a castle and a story!  The earth's na mair than the scenery o' the play!"

    "I must say you use queer figures of speech for one who ought to be a godly woman, and who has never been inside a theatre," said her sister, severely.

    Miss Bell ignored this criticism, and took up the attack.

    "There's naebody likes a bit o' gossip better than yersil', Helen," she asserted recklessly.  "An' ye ken ye're a lost woman if there's nae puir creetur to be kept in the right path and get a bit o' your mind."

    Miss Helen defended herself.  "There are always opportunities everywhere for doing one's duty," she said; "but there are most opportunities in quiet places, where you know all about everybody and can hear everything that is going on."

    "I aye said you felt leaving old Polmoot far more than I did," remarked Miss Bell.

    "There were many reasons why one felt leaving Polmoot," Miss Helen admitted.  But she was unwilling to remain under any imputation of anything so unworthy as sentiment, so she added: "I'm not here for the sake of Polmoot and I don't say I like the dale at this season (though you should like it always, being a poet!).  But Edenhaugh is a kind house, and our change will cost us nothing.  And somehow Lesley Baird is always on my conscience, for she's a motherless girl, and Christian women owe a duty to such.  There was something going on at Edenhaugh when we were last there which we never quite fathomed."

    "Aye—an' there's the rumble o' auld stanes that's a' that's left o' the Haldanes' house," cried Miss Bell.

    "Ah," said Miss Helen, with a wag of the head.  "I was certain there was some mystery there, and the end of it all confirms me!  It's poor work measuring oneself against one's betters.  I suppose old Jean thought her discretion could carry through anything.  But lairds know that it costs them too much, in purse and in pride, to expect common people to keep their secrets.  They find it cheaper and safer to discredit them once for all, as Jean has surely found to her cost.  'One needs a long spune to sup wi' the de'il,' says our old proverb."

    "Fie, Helen, wad ye even the lairds wi' the de'il?" giggled Miss Bell.  "I suppose auld Jean is still at Edenhaugh, as Lesley wrote us at Christmas."

    "She'll be in no hurry to leave, be sure of that," said Miss Helen.  "Baird is a too-easy man—he'll let her sorn upon him.  I'll try to give him a warning hint.  A man is always a poor creature without a woman to look after his interests.  Lesley's as good as none—and I daresay she likes the old woman in the house, that she may be the freer to look up old ballads, and copy them out for the London market.  I should not be surprised but she has got that length by this time."  The last sentence was uttered with bitter significance.

    Miss Bell was absorbed in some private train of thought.  "Wasn't that a queer thing—the envelope without a letter which Lesley got that Sunday morning," she observed.

    "Pshaw!" sneered Miss Helen—"a careless draper's clerk, who omitted to enclose his master's circular."

    "It's likely been something o' that kind," assented the complaisant Bell.  "But still it was what they ca' suggestive.  I've often thought it might be worked up into a story.  Ane could turn it into anything."

    "It"s a pity people are not so ready to buy your stories as you are to write them, Bell," said her sister.  "Then you'd turn your whole life into a perfect Tom Tiddler's ground."

    When the sisters saw Wesley they asked her what she had been doing with herself—Miss Helen slily adding that hunting up old ballads must be very hard work, if it aged one so soon.  They inquired how Jamie Logan was getting on, contrived to elicit all about his drawing lessons, and put constructions of their own on Lesley's manifest reticence.  And what about Mr Robert Bethune—was he quite well?—did he still like London?  What! Lesley did not know?  (The sisters exchanged glances.)  Then how long was it since she had seen Miss Bethune?  Not since their last visit.  Dear me! had Miss Lucy never returned that call?  Yes, very speedily, but Lesley was not at home.  And had not she been back again to The Towers?  No.  Was not that very negligent of her?  No; it was not negligence—and here Lesley spoke out, with the determination and candour which shrinking and reserved natures sometimes suddenly show:

    "It was not negligence.  But uncle felt that the laird and Miss Lucy had acted very arbitrarily and inconsiderately in the matter of Mrs Haldane's cottage.  He says that as the position gives us no opportunity to speak our feelings, we must show them by our actions.  He would not go to the tenants' New Year feast at The Towers, though he sent rather more than his usual gift for the occasion."

    "Oh, you may be sure Bethune had reasons—and good reasons—for all he did, and your uncle has done too much by taking in old Jean," observed Miss Helen.  "It might not have been wise for some to go so far; but Mr Baird would not have done it if he had not known he was too good a tenant for Bethune to care to meddle with."

    "My uncle would do what he thought right if it cost him everything," rejoined Lesley, firing up.

    "Aye—that's aye the way with a' folk," said Miss Bell, easily.  "Only aught that costs owre muckle, they canna see to be right."

    "We're just talking about you, Mr Baird," said Miss Helen, as her host entered the room.  "I thought you were one of those who go for the Sermon on the Mount as the basis of our Christianity; but I find you are as inconsistent as other people."

    "I fear none of us will ever overtake our ideals, because they move on with us, and quicken their pace with ours !" answered Mr Baird.  "All we can do is to keep our faces steadily towards them, and to set our best foot foremost!  What am I doing wrong, Miss Helen?  It's your friendly Christian duty to tell me."

    "That's a duty which sets Helen right well," whispered Miss Bell aside to Lesley.

    "Why, I thought you believed in taking things quietly—not returning evil for evil, but turning the left cheek to him who smites the right," said Miss Helen.

    "So I do," answered Mr Baird, his sweet, mysterious smile playing about his lips.  "But who has been smiting my cheek of late?  I have not felt the blow.  So if I have smitten another, it has been by accident, and not in retaliation."

    "Are you not setting yourself up to judge your own laird?" asked Miss Helen, "and then showing malice towards him by withholding poor Lesley from a little pleasant social intercourse with The Towers.  That's what she has been telling us."

    "Lesley has been telling you that we both feel no desire to call at The Towers," corrected Mr Baird, with his gentle precision.  "I have not judged the laird.  My feeling is based on his actions and words as they stand.  I have drawn no inferences.  I see nothing in the letter or the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount which would lead us to kiss the face of him who is smiting—not ourselves, but others—on their cheeks.  If we love him, if we have any feeling towards him except that sort of conciliation which springs from self-interest, our desire would rather be to lead him to question his ways by showing him that we differ from him.  I believe that in many such cases conviction is more quickly wrought by silent action than by any number of words.  I have had no opportunity for any words.  My right to speak such could be questioned.  My right to choose my own intimates is unquestionable.  I remain ready to do the laird or his family any service which I can see they need."

    "He would certainly like you to show him proper respect," persisted Miss Helen.  "The Bethunes don't care to visit many of their tenants, so one needn't sniff at them.  Was Miss Lucy's call paid after old Jean came to stay here?" she asked.

    "Yes," said Lesley, seeking safety in monosyllables.  "That showed she bore no malice though she might well have been offended," returned Miss Helen.

    "Why should she be offended?" asked Mr Baird.  "To feel that she has right of offence because her father's evicted tenant, Mrs Haldane, is visiting at Edenhaugh, is to imply that the laird's harsh procedure was meant to do no less than drive the old lady from her glen."

    "Well, one can see he must have had some reason for wanting her out of the neighbourhood," said Miss Helen.

    "Now this is 'judging' the laird," observed Mr Baird mildly.  "At least, I think so— though perhaps I am 'judging' you in thinking so."

    "What harm could it do to keep on good social terms with the Bethunes?" asked the lady in an aggrieved tone.

    "Perhaps you and I might differ as to what are good social terms," said Mr Baird.  "As for the harm 'calling' would do, it would certainly harm me.  It would blemish my own sincerity and manliness.  The more strongly one feels that all good offices of neighbourhood and charity must be rendered, according to our best lights, to both good and evil, both friend and foe, then the more one also feels that one must keep a place for those duties which are no duties at all unless they are also joys—things which need not be done unless we do them for sheer delight."

    "But the laird must feel hurt," said Miss Helen.  "You are simply sparing yourself by paining him."

    "Why should he feel hurt?" asked Mr Baird.  "I have never had any reason to think he has regard for me as a man, apart from a tenant.  He is my superior in place and in material possessions―"

    "I doubt that," interrupted Miss Bell in an undertone; "if ye count off frae his income the interest he pays on his mortgages."

    "In material possessions," reiterated Mr Baird, unheeding.  "Whatever external disadvantage could attend our falling back upon our true relation of landlord and tenant, must be on my side.  If he has any other feeling, he, as superior, can easily come to me and say, 'Baird, we are not as good friends as we used to be.  Why is it?'  Then I would have my right to speak, and I would explain.

    "About such matters," Mr Baird continued, speaking perhaps more to himself and to Lesley than to his visitors, "I think we cannot do better than strive to act towards what we feel to be the Will of God, exactly as we know we should like to have acted towards Jesus Christ Himself, who was that Will Incarnate, had we lived in the days of His flesh.  One feels that if Judas' conscience had not driven him straight out of the world, the disciples could, for the Master's own sake, have visited him when in sickness, or have set him in the way of earning an honest livelihood, if in need, or have spoken words of consolation and encouragement, had he poured forth his woe of remorse before them.  But one cannot fancy them going to dine with him, admiring the plate bought with the thirty pieces of silver, avoiding all painful topics, and suppressing any allusion to the resurrection, in case it should be alarming to their host."

    "Now, Mr Baird, I consider you are letting your imagination become quite blasphemous!" cried Miss Helen, holding up her hand with a gesture of repudiation.  But at this point the conversation was checked by the entrance of the maid with the tea service.

    "Eh, Lesley, are you expecting a visitor?  Who is it?" asked Miss Bell, counting the cups.

    Lesley looked up from her needlework.  "No, Miss Bell," she said, "I am expecting nobody."

    "Then the girl has put down an extra cup—there are five, and we are only four," explained Miss Bell.

    "Oh, that is Mrs Haldane's cup," interrupted Mr Baird―"this is where she sits," and he pointed to a hospitable looking old chair at the corner of the table nearest the fire.  "That's her own chair; I wonder you did not notice the addition to our furniture," he added.

    "What! do you have the old body in the parlour to her meals?" exclaimed Miss Helen.  "I should think it would set her better to stay in the kitchen.  People are always happiest in their proper places."

    "Mrs Haldane takes her dinner in the kitchen," returned Mr Baird, patiently; "she has been too long accustomed to get that meal, hot and savoury, straight from the pot to the plate, to take very kindly to our chilling 'servings up.'  But she always comes in here to her tea.  An old lady in the chimney-corner is a kindly sight to me.  My mother would have been about Mrs Haldane's age if God had spared her so long."

    "I should think that might rather make you dislike seeing old Jean there, since she is not your own mother, but a very different sort of person indeed," said Miss Helen.  "But this comes of the fanciful way of thought you let yourself get into, Mr Baird.  First, one's devout religious views are upset, and next, one's regard and reverence for the ties of blood.  I've always noticed it!"

    "Take care, Lesley," laughed Miss Bell, "your uncle will be disinheriting you."

    Neither Lesley nor her uncle protested, save that Mr Baird said: "Lesley will be always worth her weight in gold to somebody, whatever I may choose to do.  But Miss Helen," he went on, "you really help me to understand the annoyance and irritation Jesus Christ must have given to the genteel people in Jerusalem.  What was the use of their showing civilities to Him, when He insisted that any kindness exercised towards the poor, the suffering, the stranger, or the prisoner, pleased Him quite as well?  I can better understand, too, how the women fluttered with indignation when He turned aside their compliments to His mother by saying that the true blessedness of life lay rather with the knowing and following of His Heavenly Father's Will, and when He checked their interfering civilities by telling them that the only true relationship of human beings was founded on the same bond.  I have no doubt those women 'pitied' His mother Mary, and said galling things to her.  I wonder if they ruffled her, or made her doubt Him?  I don't think so.  He would have given her no cause for doubt, and I think she always understood Him, and knew almost as well as He did that no love is safe unless it be enclosed in the one Great Love.  I don't think we have even half entered into the goodness of Mary of Nazareth, or grasped a tithe of the lessons of her life.

    Miss Helen almost shrieked.  "What!  Are you turning towards Papacy next?" she cried.  "Yes, I've heard that is often the last refuge of restless minds, who question everything so much, that at last, when they are worn out, they swallow everything whole—saints' liquifying blood, winking virgins, and all the rest of the mummery."

    Mr Baird said not a word in answer to this charitable and exhaustive summary of the Romish creed.  Perhaps he sheltered his silence under the little diversion created by Mrs Haldane's entrance.

    Miss Bell showed herself genial to the old dame.  Miss Helen maintained a remote and stately manner.  Neither affected old Jean Haldane in the least.  There were depths of truth and tenderness in her nature, but they were hidden beneath a reserve as cold and solid as granite itself, and which expressed itself in every line of her stern old face, and especially in the mouth, whose firm closeness had, with advancing years, surrounded itself with a fine network of delicate wrinkles.  Dear old Alison Brown, perhaps the only woman who had ever penetrated the crust of Jean Haldane, had been wont to say: "She isna hard—na, na.  Only there's a deal o' the auld Adam in Jean,—an' that's what she has to keep in wi' a hard grip.  Yet where there's a deal o' the auld Adam, there's but the mair to be turned into the new Adam, ye ken."

    "Weel, Jean," said Miss Bell, "I should think the change ye've made is a' for the better.  Ye've had nae ghaists ' visitin' ye at Edenhaugh, I reckon?  Waes me! it was a bauld thing for twa lane women to tak' in sic a stranger!  Ye and your gran'-dochter might baith ha' been murdered i' your beds."

    "What charitable deed is this that's coming to light, Mrs Haldane?" asked Mr Baird.

    Miss Bell answered for her: "Why, ye mind the ghaist that gied us a' sic a fricht when we were here at hairst?  Weel, do you no ken he was just a tramp—no more, no less—that Jean harboured up in her place on the hill?  Hae na ye tauld them, Jean?  Ye've been gey secret owre it!"

    "When did ye hear it yersel', Miss Bell?" asked the old dame, calmly.

    "Why, ye tauld me yersel',—on the day o' Alison's funeral, I mind it was,—for that was the only time I was in your house last visit," explained Miss Bell.

    "Weel, Miss Lesley was with you, I mind," returned the old lady; "so gin I tauld you, I tauld her."

    "I never heard anything about it," said Lesley.  "But I was outside much of the time, watching for the funeral."

    "Aye, aye, dearie," assented Mrs Haldane.  "But it was strange ye didna speyk o't to her on the way hame, Miss Bell, seein' ye had been sae feared at the ghaist."

    Thus the astute old Scotchwoman turned the tables on the question of mysterious silence.  And Miss Bell, taken aback, floundered.

    "We were in a gran' hurry, ye ken," she said.  "For I mind we had to go to the Towers in the afternoon."

    "Like enough ye tauld the story there," responded Mrs Haldane, with an unmoved countenance.

    "I went with you to the Towers too, Miss Bell," said Lesley; "but I never heard a word about it till to-day,"—she paused suddenly, remembering that at The Towers also she had spent a good deal of time apart from the Misses Gibson.

    "What should make you think we told the story at The Towers, Jean?" asked Miss Helen, who had hitherto maintained a reflective silence.

    "Wasna it natural, seein' the ghaist had been the talk o' the glen?" answered Mrs Haldane.  "What for should you wonder at my thinking ye tauld it?  Clashes aye rin to the laird's house.  There is na muckle to tell,—a puir laddie, glad o' a bit kind shelter; it's no uncommon case."

    "But ye said he went away ungrateful like, Jean," urged Miss Bell.

    "Na," said the old lady.  "He went wi'out a word."

    "Have you ever heard of him since?" asked Miss Helen, quietly.  While she spoke she pecked over the sugar for an appropriate lump.

    Mrs Haldane looked full at her, as she answered briefly, "Aye."

    "Eh! this is interestin'," cried Miss Bell.  "I hope he'll mak his fortune and send ye a hunder' pounds!  When did ye hear o' him?  And what is't?"

    "I heard o' him in my last letter from my gran-dochter," said Mrs Haldane.

    "What! they managed not to lose sight of each other, did they?" asked Miss Helen.

    "Young folk will be young folk," whispered Miss Bell—"though, what wi' Helen, I never got a chance mysel'."

    "We mauna judge a' by oorsels, Miss Helen," said Mrs Haldane in her impassive manner.  "The young lad has been the visitor a' along o' a lady who's livin' i' the same house wi' Mary; but Mary never saw or heard o' him till the lady chanced to mak' friends wi' her, and invited her into her rooms."

    "I hope they're respectable people," said Miss Helen.  "A young girl of no family standing cannot be too particular about her connections.  What is the young man doing now?"

    "He's in some good employment," answered Mrs Haldane.

    "I wonder how he came to be so badly off as to be wandering homeless on the face of the earth," mused Miss Helen.  "And that looks bad."

    "Whisht! Miss Helen," said Mr Baird.  "You call yourself by the name of One who had no place wherein to lay His head!"

    Miss Helen tossed hers.  "There you go again, Mr Baird," she said, "giving reins to your imagination.  The Edenlaw isn't the Holy Land.  There were prophets and pilgrims in those days.  And He was suffering for the sins of others."

    "That may be done, in a small way, even yet," said Mr Baird, "sometimes it is done unconsciously."

    Lesley had said nothing.  She was carrying this new light through the chambers of her memory, and casting it upon all the details of the ploughman's story of that ghostly "double" of Rab Bethune which he believed had visited him at the Trysting Stone.

    "Weel, weel," said Miss Bell; "it's like a romance—and gin it ends richtly, he'll marry Mary and tak' her off to a gran' house, and ha' her presented at Coort.  And a' for a bed in a barn!  Stranger things have happened!"

    "No, no, Bell," corrected Miss Helen.  "Those we help in their dark days don't care about having much to do with us when the sun shines.  They want to forget the dark days and us along with them.  And when they get any power to help old friends, they only think the old friends foresaw that power and fished for it—and maybe they did."

    "I mind you said you didna ken his name, Jean," remarked Miss Bell; "but ye maun ken it noo?  Your gran'-dochter canna write about him wi'out one.  There's nae reason to mak a secret o't."

    "Let Mrs Haldane keep it secret if she likes," said Miss Helen, with a tone implying that all secrets were open to her, and quite indifferent.

    There was a moment's pause.  Then Mrs Haldane spoke, slowly and coldly as does one whose words may be few, because the audience can fill in worlds between them.  "Mary says they call him Lewis Crawford."

    And a dead silence fell on the little group.  There was not one there who did not see significance in that name.


 
CHAPTER XXIII.

A BIT OUT OF THE ARABIAN NIGHTS.


THE Misses Gibson did not prey only on Mr Baird's hospitality, for they went to visit at other houses within a radius of twenty or thirty miles, at each of which they stayed a week or even a fortnight.  But they kept their "big boxes" at Edenhaugh, and returned there between each visit, to remodel their toilets and readjust their portmanteaus.

    This state of things favoured a fine circulation of gossip, which the ladies adapted, like their gowns.  It was not that they always imparted "news."  Miss Helen herself seldom did that: but she knew how to put a significant question, and how to make silence eloquent.  We say "she knew how;" but how far did Miss Helen know what she did?  The words which are most our own are the unconscious growth of our very nature.

    As for Lesley, her days went on as they had before—but irritated by the sense of antagonistic presence.  Little Jamie Logan came and went as usual.  School was rapidly changing him from a child into a boy.  His powers of expression, both of reason and emotion, were opening up.  Lesley was made the recipient of bewilderments and confidences which made her heart sore.  She would have escaped them if she could; but how could she rightly do so when a true friend was exactly what this lad needed, who had a selfish sot for a father, and whose life was otherwise surrounded by complaisant servility, ready to yield every indulgence which might be worked towards its own interest?  It was no longer a mere question of womanly kindness to a motherless child; it was growing a question of Christian love to an unloved and neglected soul.  And what a question Lesley found it!  Would she inculcate any good habit?  Then she could always see in Jamie's eyes the expression which once rose to his lips—"Father ought to hear that."  Did she require to reprove him for any mode of thought or speech, she was met by the excuse, "I've heard father speak so."  Oh, those are in a sore strait who seek to lead children to God whose parents are pulling in an opposite direction!

    Almost the only unshadowed pleasure in Lesley's life at this time was the coming of Mary Olrig's letters.  Mary had followed up her letter to her grandmother by another to Lesley, telling the whole story of Lewis Crawford, in so far as it had touched her own life.

    "I should have liked to tell you before," she wrote; "but when incidents or troubles of other people's lives come to one's knowledge by accident, it seems only fair to them to keep silent till we feel sure they would not mind our speaking."

    And then she went on to say that now she should tell Lesley another secret—one of her very own.  She had actually left the Telegraph Office.  She found that the kind of work, and the ceaseless noise and the number of people concerned, were making her quite ill, so that she had to ask leave of absence; and then she got work at home, by which she found she could earn as much as her salary, and accordingly gave up her appointment.  This work was not so regular—no, neither in money nor in hours.  She often had to work twenty-four hours at a stretch, except for meals.  Once she had written for a night, a day, a second night, and a second day, without ever taking off her clothes, or getting more than one hour's sleep.  But a spell of that sort meant a fair sum of money, and was generally followed by a lull.  She could do this work in her own room and in perfect quietness.  If one did have to sit up late sometimes, it was better to do so working peaceably, in pure air, than dancing amid heat and excitement like a society young lady.  Often she had two or three days of leisure (and here came the great secret), and she enjoyed these, because she was doing a great deal of reading of a steady, systematic kind, and had a dream that some day she might have something to write about which other people, such as young folks and working women, might care to read.

    The news took Lesley's breath away!  Had she been a little more skilled in the ways of human nature, she would have guessed that Mary's soul had already mounted to higher aspirations ere she gave this confidence.  Our highest hope or our deepest longing we never willingly name, though they may be wrung from us, in despair and agony, when we think they are for ever fruitless.  Even our nearest and dearest never knows quite all that God knows.

    Lesley certainly had the joy of Mary's hope, without Mary's self-mistrust and fear of adverse circumstance.  Cynics have told us often enough that it is very easy to bear other people's sorrows.  But we often forget that if we can, in all sincerity, enter into other people's joys, we find ourselves in "a larger room" than they themselves enjoy.

    While Mary was wondering where she would see her first attempt printed—and paid for—Lesley's imagination had got the whole thing accomplished.  This would be something quite different from poor Bell Gibson's scribbling.  Bell's inclination to truckle for profit, and to touch up and manipulate truth to suit truism, had somewhat destroyed the lustre of authorship in Lesley's honest eyes.  This new hope restored it.  Of course, Mary would write books, many books, stories, sketches, verses, all sorts of magical things.  Sometimes one might be able to tell her an interesting bit of human life, especially the ways and words of some of those good folks that the world hears too little about.  (She hoped Mary would remember poor old Alison.)  It was like a fairy dream to have a friend who could fix for ever such fleeting scenes and interests, who could work out the questions which puzzled one, a friend whose books one could keep though she herself went across the world,―ah, a friend who would leave her books behind even if she went out of the world!

    During one of the earlier spells of their Edenhaugh visit the Gibson ladies had made an attempt to see the laird and his daughter.  Certainly Bethune and Miss Lucy had never shown any cordiality towards the Gibsons.  But not even the secret consciousness of this chill could breed in them loyalty towards the present position taken up by their kind host at Edenhaugh.

    "We'll just say we're going to The Towers, Bell," said Miss Helen, "and if Baird does not offer us the chaise, why, we'll walk."

    "Waes me, Helen," Miss Bell had rejoined.  "It's a wearie, wearie, wandering way; and you said this morn that it wasna fit weather for me to go to dear old Smailholm.  It looks like an e'en dreedfu' downpour o' rain now."

    "What we mean to do we should not drop because it costs a little trouble," said her sententious sister.  "And as for the rain, well,—it's not a very fine afternoon, but if it keeps like this it will do.  We shall be sure to catch the family at home.  And if the weather changes for the worse, Miss Lucy will see us driven back somehow."

    "Ye may weel say 'somehow,' Helen," returned Bell; "for there's no a wale o' coaches or horses in the Bethune stables.  But gin we maun gang, we maun gang, I ken fine, when ye've set your heart on't."

    The moment they mentioned their intended visit to Bethune, Mr Baird ordered the chaise to be got in readiness, and Lesley busied herself in collecting every pillow and wrap which might make an open drive more tolerable on a bleak afternoon.  This prompt and friendly acquiescence did not improve Miss Helen's temper, and during that journey poor Miss Bell found the atmosphere decidedly easterly!

    At the end of the journey they got unlooked-for disappointment.  The family were not at home,—the family were not at The Towers at all; they had gone South, quite unexpectedly, only the day before.

    "No bad news from Mr Rab, I hope," said Miss Helen, in her most gracious manner.

    The stiff old retainer's hard face broke into a sardonic smile.

    "Na, na; nae bad news frae Mr Rab."

    "They will be going to visit him in London," pursued Miss Helen, ingratiatingly.

    "Na, they're no going sae far as Lunnon―no this time."

    "But they will not go far South without seeing Mr Rab?"

    "No that; they're to see Maister Rab, for sure."

    "Where did you say they had gone to stay?"

    "I didna say, mem; for I cudna.  They're no to bide lang onywhere."

    With a few more fruitless enquiries, the ladies left their cards, and departed.

    "There is something in the wind," observed Miss Helen, meditatively.  "I believe there are workmen in The Towers.  I saw the hall and the dining-room turned topsy-turvey, and it's too soon for the spring cleaning.  I wonder if Bethune's early recklessness is turning full upon him at last?  Maybe, if Mr Rab doesn't care for the old place, he may have cut off the entail, so as to sell and clear off the mortgages."

    "That wad be deith to Miss Lucy, I'm thinkin'," said Miss Bell.  "She'd live on a dry crust, so she might keep her place an' her pride.  Eh! she's a haughty piece!"

    "Pride must be humbled sometimes; it is good for the soul," decided Miss Helen, loftily.  "The worst might have been averted if she would have humbled hers ere this.  Many a millionaire would give a smart rent for such a place as The Towers,—and she and the laird could have had a quiet, saving time at Cheltenham or Bath."

    "An' she micht ha' pickit up a retired colonel or major for hersel'," giggled Miss Bell.  "But, Helen, surely ye wadna even the Bethune wi' saving their money by letting their place furnished?"

    "Set them up!" exclaimed Miss Helen.  "Plenty of people as good as they are do so, and are thankful.  It is no degradation to anybody.  Haven't we let our own place?—and I hope I'd do nothing unbecoming to a gentlewoman."

    "Eh, Helen, ours isna a place; it's only a flat in Broughton Place," remarked Miss Bell, drolly.  But further conversation was interrupted by the onset of the anticipated "plump" of rain, which sent the ladies back to Edenhaugh thoroughly drenched.

    The rigour of winter and the dismal chills of spring had alike disappeared when the Misses Gibson, returning to Edenhaugh from their last visit, began to prepare for their homeward pilgrimage to Edinburgh.  They must be there for "the Assemblies."  It was their habit to enliven the ecclesiastical discussions and bickerings (in which Miss Helen ever took the "objecting" side) by their intimate acquaintance with the divines' family histories, and the free use they made of any picturesque incidents therein.  Had not the Moderator's grandmother lived in "a but an' a ben," and taken her share of the kirk money?  What was there to be ashamed of in that? asked Miss Helen, truculently, as if somebody was ashamed of it,—it actually made one suspect the Moderator of this meanness!  Certainly, nothing to be ashamed of; and probably the old grandmother had been a fine old dame, fulfilling every clause of St Paul's definition of a widow indeed.  But why did not Miss Helen tell the same interesting fact of her own great-aunt?  And why did she throw these pearls from the sweet and simple annals of the poor under feet of people of the species which would rather be related to a king's mistress than to a servant-girl; and who are quite ashamed to own that any relative of theirs ever did any work more honest than the manipulation of stocks and shares?

    Then the young heretic who was unsettling the Creed with his upsetting "wide ideas," who was he, Miss Helen would like to know?  Why, his father kept a bit shoppie in a fishing village, got his money in, bawbee by bawbee, over the counter—and not much of that either, for he had to come to terms with his creditors at last.  Miss Bell might ask timidly, "Didna we hear his son paid everybody in full as sune's he cud?"  Miss Helen only retorted that one heard a deal of things which were not true.

    According to Miss Helen, the great missionary whose name was blessed in the churches had gone to live among savages only because his own people could not put up with him, "and no wonder!"  As for the distinguished author whose name was in everybody's mouth, she knew precisely who lent him a dress coat to go to his first party, who gave that dinner party, and how the coat did not sit nicely on the shoulders!

    Most people found the Misses Gibson highly entertaining—until they began to deal with themselves, or with those belonging to them.

    It was within two or three days of their final departure.  It was a late season; but now the blossoms were already on the fruit trees; the copper beech wore its spring dress of "old gold," and Lesley had found a few lilies of the valley in flower.  She had given James Logan his usual drawing lesson, and had then proposed a little walk with him to a certain wooded nook, where they would get anemones, and might find a few young ferns.  She had left her guests very busy at dressmaking.  They always found a great deal to do for themselves in that line, Miss Bell's taste inclining to the use of gowns of cheap material and "plenty of them," while Miss Helen's hobby was good stuff perpetually remodelled upon new fashions.

    What was the delight of the two ladies when the Bethune chaise drove up to the gate!

    "Eh, the family must have come home as sudden as they went away," cried Miss Bell, peering at the dining-room window, "for here's Miss Lucy stepping out as fresh as a spring flower, an' as swack as if she was fifteen!"

    "Bell, keep from the window," expostulated Miss Gibson.  You needn't be seen as you are, for you'll have to change your gown before you go into the parlour.  Such a pincushion as you make of yourself!  I'm all ready.  That's the beauty of being neat.  I hope they won't show her in here—but the Baird servants see so little company that one mustn't wonder what they do!"

    But the Baird servants did their duty, and came to summon the ladies to the drawing-room.  Miss Helen responded instantly, while Miss Bell scuttled away to her room, exhorted by her sister: "Don't put on your things as if with a pitch-fork, Bell.  Take your time.  Miss Lucy won't miss you while I'm there."

    The county lady met the Edinburgh lady with an abounding graciousness.  Something strange had come over Miss Lucy.  Her get-up might seem simple still, but it was now that fashionable affectation of simplicity wherein the linings and the finishings are the costliest part of each garment.  Miss Helen appraised Miss Lucy as she sat, and came to the conclusion that a good deal of money must have been going lately, when one costume, suited only for calling purposes, had so manifestly cost eight or nine guineas.  Miss Helen knew the exact price of Miss Lucy's parasol,—not that she had ever seen one like it before, for it was of newest fashion; but Miss Helen was a diligent student of those London fashion books and price lists which her sister-in-law, Mrs Patrick Gibson, got sent down from London.  Miss Lucy had never been able to sport the solemn Bethune diamonds and pearls save on state occasions, and had severely restrained herself from ornaments of more evanescent value.  But now some bright Oriental bangles slipped down on her dainty glove, and a modish clasp secured the modern lace falling plenteously around her rather thin throat.  The very aroma hanging about her was no longer of the curious pots pourris concocted after antique Bethune recipes, but of Ess bouquet.

    "We were sorry to miss you when we called, Miss Lucy," said Miss Gibson; "but we were glad to think you were having a change, for we have often said you must need one."

    "We are old-fashioned people, who do not ramble about aimlessly," said Miss Lucy.  "My father has not slept away from Bethune Towers for fully fourteen years, and I do not know another who can say the same, except old Lord Wormald."

    Lord Wormald was an eccentric peer, but the richest man on the country side.

    "We should never think of change as a pleasure," the lady went on.  "But sometimes it becomes a duty.  I quite dreaded it, yet I do not think it has done me any harm."

    "Harm!" echoed Miss Bell, who had just entered the room.  "I suld think no, Miss Lucy.  You look as if you had been to the Fountain of Youth.  Or, at least, yer claes do," she added within herself.  "For I ne'er saw yer face luik aulder, for a' the sweet smirk ye're wearin'."

    "And you made quite a tour," said Miss Helen.  "The butler said you were not to make a stay anywhere."

    "Our plans were not very well formed beforehand," replied Miss Lucy.  "We wished to be guided by events.  Of course, we made my brother our one consideration."  And she composed her harsh face into an expression of conventional sisterly solicitude.  Dread and disappointment might be tearing at the hungry, craving, and yet real love of her life, her sisterly and daughterly devotion; but Miss Lucy had her part to play, and she would play it.

    "But you didn't go to London, did you? " inquired Miss Gibson.

    "No," returned Miss Lucy, in a lowered confidential voice.  "We met my brother in Yorkshire.  You see, we Bethunes have certain family traditions as to how things should be done.  Rab would not go on to the end without our cordial approval and co-operation, which I am sure he has secured.  Very likely you have heard of his engagement," Miss Lucy added, in a kind of tentative manner.

    "What! has he left the earl and got something better a' ready?" cried Miss Bell.  Miss Helen said nothing.  She began to suspect what was coming, but would not commit herself.

    Miss Lucy gave a superior smile.  "No," she said, "he has not left the earl—quite the contrary—and, indeed, some of the details of his movements are guided by the earl's wishes and interests.  Certainly he has not left the earl; he has strongly cemented the bond between them by becoming engaged to the daughter of a gentleman who is very intimate with the earl, and a valuable ally to his party."

    "Do ye say sae!" exclaimed Miss Bell.  "This will be gude, gude news for your father in his auld age.  An' it seems only the other day that the wee Rabbie cam owre to Polmoot i' his nurse's arms, and cried after the sugar-bowl."

    "He'd not thank you for such reminiscences, Bell," said her sister.  "But you have not told us the name of the lady who is thus honoured—for, of course, the folks of this glen must look at it so."

    "Likely her name won't tell you much, Helen," observed Bell, "for ye've no' a great circle o' acquaintance o' the upper ten thousand."

    Miss Lucy inclined her head graciously in acknowledgment of Miss Helen's compliment, and turned to Miss Bell with a faint smile.

    "Everybody will know this lady's name," she said, for her father is a man of world-wide fame.  She is Leah Ben Matthieu, the eldest daughter of M. Ben Matthieu."

    Now, Monsieur Ben Matthieu was a great financier, whose name had been much before the public at this time, in connection with sundry vast schemes in South America, and the world was still bowing down before him with great assiduity, hoping he might make its fortune as he had made his own. (A common popular delusion.)

    Miss Bell fairly shrieked.  "What!  Ben Matthieu the millionaire?  Gude sakes! it's like a bit o' the Arabian Nights Entertainment."

    Miss Lucy might have winced had such a remark come from some people.  For she knew that her future sister-in-law could have easily passed for a Caliph's daughter, as the millionaire's marriage with a beautiful Eurasian had considerably modified the Semitic features his children had derived from himself.  But coming from Miss Bell, Miss Lucy accepted the observation with composure.

    "I thought the Ben Matthieus were Jews," remarked Miss Helen.

    "M. Ben Matthieu is of Jewish blood," answered Miss Lucy.  "Spanish Jews—the very élite of the ancient race.  But he married a foreign lady of our creed, whose influence over him has secured that all the children have been brought up in their mother's faith, to which the father now really belongs, though I believe he has never made any formal change of religion."

    "They are very gay people, too, I think, these Ben Matthieus," said Miss Helen.

    "Of course, they move in the very best society," returned Miss Lucy, conclusively, as if the Bethunes could not otherwise have taken them into consideration.  "Mrs Ben Matthieu does not go out much, for she is very delicate, but the girls have had a charming chaperone, who was with the Duke of Stockshire's daughters before, and is remotely connected with the Secretary of State."

    "And how did Mr Rab come across this wonderful piece of good fortune?" asked Miss Helen.  Better bred people than she was will allow themselves to be very inquisitive on these points.

    Miss Lucy drew herself up.  She answered stiffly—

    "Rab met Leah Ben Matthieu at the house of a friend of mine, Viscountess Taxo.  It has all happened since Christmas.  The attraction seems to have been instantaneous and mutual.  Mr Ben Matthieu has behaved most nobly over everything.  He raised no questions about money;—of course, Leah has an immense dowry, over which his arrangements have been most complimentary to us.  Like ourselves, he has traditions on these subjects, and would decide nothing without a family council.  For, as he said, if he had wealth—we had everything else."

    (Mr Ben Matthieu's own frank expression had been "I don't want my gal taken for her monish, and then shniffed at.  Leah may be plain, but eighty-thousand is handsome, and though I know I couldn't stand her tempersh, if her younger sister Adah got off firsht―as Adah well may―shtill I mean to conshider Leah's happiness.")

    "And when is the marriage to come off?" asked Miss Helen?  "Within the year, I suppose?"

    "Within two months!" said Miss Lucy.  "That is where the earl comes in," she added, with a gracious smile.  "He wishes to make a tour of our colonies for Governmental purposes, and was very troubled when he found that my brother's new arrangements made him rather unwilling to leave this country.  He was pleased to say that he would not be half himself without his secretary.  Then it occurred to somebody—I think it was Mr Ben Matthieu himself (he is so full of resources)—that if the marriage came off in the summer there would be time for a brief honeymoon at The Towers, before the earl starts, and my brother can then go with him, accompanied by his wife.  I think it will be a most charming arrangement."

    "Aye, —luck o' that kind aye gaes wi' the rich," said Miss Bell.

    "Because they can afford to catch it," snapped Miss Helen.  "A man who had married a poor woman must have left her at home. But how does the laird like all these quick changes?  It must come very sudden on you too."

    "Yes," said Miss Lucy.  "Of course we would rather have taken things in a more leisurely way, but when everything else is so wonderfully happy and fortunate, we feel we should show a carping spirit if we raised any objection to the solitary drawback."

    "Besides, happy's the wooin' that's not lang a-doin',"' laughed Miss Bell.  "There's nae time for mischief-making or quarrellin', ye ken."

    Miss Lucy made as though she heard her not.

    "They will be married in London," she stated.  "The trousseau is already being prepared.  The Ben Matthieus were very desirous that we should stay in the South until after the ceremony, and they offered to put one of their houses at our disposal; but my father is so used to quiet ways, and so loves the Tweedside air, that we thought best to come back, and shall go up only for the week of the wedding."

    "The week o' the wedding!" said Miss Bell, sentimentally—"that seems to bring it gey near!  And is Miss Leah very pretty, Miss Lucy?  But brides are a' aye pretty—puir lassies, as a' lammies are, an' a' rosebuds."

    The comparison between her future sister and lambs and roses almost staggered even Miss Lucy.  But she answered, with perfect composure and an air of impartial consideration: "I don't think anybody would call Leah exactly pretty.  She has distinguished features, is very dark, with black eyes, and is thought clever."

    "Well, well," said Miss Helen—"it's no use denying that a sister must have a sort of sad feeling at a brother's marriage,—"

    "It's the auld hame come to an end, an' anither ane put in her place," sighed Miss Bell.

    "Not in your case, of course, Miss Lucy, while the laird lives," went on Miss Helen.  "So you've got little of the pain and all the satisfaction; for a young man's never safe from interested designs, or from making a fool of himself through some romantic notions.  It's often happened before in the best families.  A good marriage ends all that."

    Miss Lucy rose.  "I am so sorry that I have seen neither Mr Baird nor Lesley," she said.  "It is so unfortunate that they are both from home.  But you will tell them the great news.  And add that this was the first house in the Glen to which I brought it."

    "I'm sure they ought to feel highly honoured," said Miss Helen.

    "My father has such an immense respect for Mr Baird," observed Miss Lucy.  "He is one of those rare people who rejoice with the joyful and sympathise with the sad, and who is willing to help everybody, however little they may deserve it.  I know he will be pleased to hear of my brother's happiness."

    "Anybody who desires Mr Rab's welfare will be that," said Miss Helen with a subtle emphasis.

    "And give my love to Lesley.  What a sweet girl she is,—how full of disinterested devotion!  Just the one to fulfil a round of quiet duty in the spirit of a saint."

    The sisters followed Miss Lucy to the door, sent most ceremonious congratulations and compliments to the laird, and watched the chaise out of sight.

    "This is a queer marriage," said Miss Helen: "a renegade Jew's daughter, and he so rich that he must have some reason for jumping at such a poor son-in-law!  Higher rank than the Bethunes is to be had for plenty of money, unless the money has to sweeten something uncommonly nasty.  Surely the bride must be twice as old as Mr Rab, and crooked and squinting into the bargain!"

    "It's owre true that gold gilds all things," giggled Miss Bell.

    "This will be a bitter pill for Lesley Baird," said Miss Helen.

    "Miss Lucy kenned that fine," responded her sister.  And then the two turned back into the house.

    Lucy Bethune drove home with much the same feeling of resigned self-satisfaction at having accomplished a necessary though painful duty which had doubtless filled the breasts of her half-savage forbears when they had got through the labours of "a gude hangin' day" on the Edenlaw.  Perhaps it was the stirring of hereditary instincts within her that made her order the driver to take the by-road which led to the little graveyard wherein was the private burying-ground of the lords of Bethune.  She alighted, and lingered for some minutes among their memorials—worn stones, rusty brasses, and grim, defaced effigies.  There was the plain slab memorialising her own mother, and the white cross reared in remembrance of the laird's second wife, the bride of a year, and the mother of his son.

    Yet while Lucy strayed in the little enclosure, where chickweed and dandelion grew rank among the neglected grass, after the fashion of many Scottish burial-grounds, her thoughts dwelt on none of these monuments, but rather on a certain Bethune who was dead and yet not gathered to the sepulchre of his fathers.

    But why was there no memorial of him here?  True, he had died on the high seas; yet here was a brass recording the name of a Bethune slain in the Peninsular War, and a shield bearing the style of another who had perished in India.

    Why had this one name vanished utterly from the family roll?

    Yet it had not faded from the family memory.  Twice lately had Lucy Bethune heard this missing name on her father's lips.  Once, as he started up in strange alarm from his afternoon nap; and again, when, in one of those strange fits of confusion and bewilderment which began to come so often upon him now, he had actually miscalled his own son by it!

    These were questions over which Lucy Bethune's heart brooded bodefully.  Was there anything threatening the Bethune security and honour?  Then it could be but a wrong, an outrage!  And now they would have wealth and power wherewith to resist it.

    She re-entered her chaise and was driven off towards the Towers.

    Sweet Lesley Baird returning homeward across the green shoulder of the Edenlaw, saw the little speck moving in the distance, surrounded by a white halo of dust.


 
CHAPTER XXIV.

VERY QUIETLY.


IT is one of the mysteries of life that ill tidings generally reach us by an ill tongue; and this adds to the bitterness, as an unkindly presence always must when circumstances take one at a disadvantage.  Yet this is what generally happens when hearts are crushed and hopes are blighted.

    Lesley was feeling bright and strong in soul that day.  A pure heart always readily responds to every call to rejoice, and the glad glory of the sweet spring weather, and the merry company of Jamie had had their full influence on her.  Down she came, over the hill-side towards Edenhaugh,—sometimes with a run and a little leap, then steadying her pace, not to overturn the ferns and wild flowers filling the basket which she carried.

    The Gibsons, lingering at the parlour window, saw her.  Miss Bell gave a little sigh.  Perhaps she thought of the days when she too had skipped on the Edenlaw, with the figure of Lesley's own uncle, "puir John Aitchison," flitting across her maiden meditations.  Well, well,—according to her mature judgment, these things were only dreams,—and dreams must pass, and Lesley, like herself, must learn to take comfort in food and clothes, and leisure and pleasure, which Miss Helen had taught her sister to acknowledge as the "realities" of life.

    "Waes me, Lesley!" she cried, as the girl came along the hall towards the parlour door.  "Ye've missed something the day by gaeing on your stravagues.  Wha d'ye think we've had ca'ing?—an' leevin' messages for you an' your uncle—sic a gran' bit o' news—and sic kind messages, showing a real Christian spirit thereby—for it's mair than ye deserve, but she doesna seem a bit affrontit!"

    "Pshaw, Bell," said Miss Helen, superbly.  "Miss Lucy's call was to return ours, it's very likely she has never noticed Lesley's omission."

    "Weel, week," went on Miss Bell, "it's very plain that she's determined to keep Mr Baird to the forefront o' the Bethune tenants, sin' she came here first wi' her gran' news.  Canna ye gie a guess at it, Lesley?"

    "How should I?" said the girl, with a strange sinking of the heart, as she felt the two pairs of shrewd eyes fixed on her.

    "It's word o' a wedding!" pursued Miss Bell.  "Surely that brings you neared, lassie."

    "Bell, don't make a play of a serious and important matter," said Miss Helen, severely.  "And it's not such a nine-days' wonder that Mr Robert Bethune should be engaged.  That's but natural and proper.  The blessing is, this is such a good match for him."

    Lesley had placed her basket on the table, and had been lifting the flowers from it while the ladies talked.  Miss Bell's suggestions paralysed her.  But Miss Helen's plain words fell on her like sharp blows, rallying her to consciousness.  She roused herself to find that she was aimlessly returning to the basket the very flowers she had just lifted from it.  And the woman's subtlety, latent in her, as in all her sex, sprang to the rescue to cover her confusion in this hour of need.

    She hastily brushed from the tablecloth some grains of sand which had fallen from the roots as she handled them.

    "How thoughtless of me to take them out of the basket here!" she said, in an undertone, as if it was her first movement, and not her second, which had been unwary.  Then she raised her eyes, and looking steadily at Miss Helen, enquired―

    "And who is to be Mr Rab's bride? and when is the wedding to be?"

    "The bride is the eldest daughter of Ben Matthieu, the millionaire," answered Miss Helen; "and the marriage is to take place in about a month from this time."

    The lady's tone was suddenly less significant.  There was something in Lesley's calm, bright gaze which disconcerted her.  The girl's ready tact and the composure did not in the least deceive Miss Helen as to the sharpness of the blow which had fallen on her.  But then, that which is only lashed or stung may only flee or writhe, but that which is wounded to the quick may be dangerous.  Before Lesley's eyes Miss Helen's fell.  She felt that conviction of sin which comes not from conscience but from detection.  She would not have found a word wherewith to defend herself if at that moment Lesley had opened her lips and told her she was a mischief-making woman, who sought pleasure in other people's pain, and could find delight in seeing suffering where she had received nothing but hospitality.  She would not have been one whit surprised if Lesley had spoken so, for she felt the accusation in her gaze.  Of course, if such a thing had happened, such a woman as Miss Helen, however taken aback, would have soon rallied, attributed the "outburst" to mere spiteful mortification, and either insisted on an abject apology or made an insulting display of magnanimity in waiving one.

    But Lesley had strength given her to hold her peace.  That silence gave her a power over Miss Helen Gibson which did not soon pass away.  She actually began to respect Lesley Baird.

    Lesley said not a single word, nor asked another question.  She had put all her flowers back into her basket, and now she carried it out of the room, set it down on the hall table, and went upstairs.

    "She's taking it very quietly, Helen," whispered Miss Bell.

    "She could not take it better," said Miss Helen, in a tone her sister could not quite understand, but which she felt was intended to close discussion on the matter.

    Lesley went up to her old refuge, the little white bedroom, with the lattice windows opening on the green shoulders of the Edenlaw.  Before she went out she had set these windows wide open, and the breeze was rushing through them in rattling spring fashion, and had scattered her needlework over the floor.  Lesley shivered, stooped, gathered it all up, and closed the window.  It seemed as if years had passed since she had opened it.  She did not seem the same person.  It is only when our hopes lie dead at our feet that we know how much vitality they have preserved to the last.  Poor Lesley!

    The one thing necessary was to justify Rab to herself.  In her simplicity she must have been mistaken, that was all.  Doubtless she had not lost anything she had ever owned; doubtless Rab Bethune still retained the kindly friendship for her which must have been all he had ever had.

    Rab must have singled her out from others because she was the niece of her uncle, his father's most respected tenant.  Then they had found a few tastes in common.  For aught further there was surely only herself to blame.

    Lesley had little that must be surrendered—only her own mistake, she said to herself.  She might keep her hopes for Rab, her faith in him.  Her love had been such a pure, ethereal thing, uncoarsened by flirtation, unshadowed by ambition.  It was not her fault if vulgar hands had dared to finger it as fair game for their curiosity.  The purer love is, the less hurt can it receive from any of the chances of mortality.

    Only something — a strange possibility of magical happiness—had vanished from life.  Never more!  Never more!

    Yet she was still free to love Rab as disembodied spirits may love us—forgotten by us, their services accepted without any recognition whence they come.

    Thus Lesley Baird fought out her battle of self-surrender.  And she would have risen up not only calm, but almost blissful, but for a lurking consciousness that refused to be quite buried under her humble acceptance of her own mistake.  Despite all this, the consciousness asserted itself that Rab had loved her!  What had changed him?  Not mere absence, not the mere expulsive power of new affections.  The change had come about before he went away.

    These questions must remain unanswered, torturing Lesley's heart.

    Lesley sat in her room for a long time.  Then she remembered her anemones.  The poor wild flowers need not be left to wither because her heart had broken since she gathered them.  She went downstairs, found a shallow bowl suited for them, and arranged them.  They were already drooping, but the cool water she provided would refresh them, and they would live for days.  To the end of Lesley's life, the sight of wood-anemones would bring back afresh the sickness of heart she felt that afternoon!

    She carried them into the parlour.  Her uncle was there, with the two visitors.  They had evidently told him the news.  And Mr Baird was undisguisedly hurt and angry, though Lesley had no reason to believe he had the faintest suspicion of her "mistake" and the anguish it had entailed.

    "When a young fellow comes about one forever, and tells one all his thoughts, and feelings, and plans, one would think he might send a line of his own to announce the greatest event that can happen in his life," said the master of Edenhaugh.

    "Eh, noo, Mr Baird, an' I thought it was a great honour that Miss Lucy was so carefu' you should be the first to hear it from hersel'," answered Miss Bell.

    "Mr Rab was my friend, not Miss Lucy," persisted Mr Baird.  But, like his niece, he too sought to find excuse for his favourite.  "Did she say her brother had asked her to tell us?" he enquired.

    "Na," said Miss Bell, and Miss Helen shook her head.  "Maybe she forgot," pleaded Lesley.

    Mr Baird looked at his niece, and somehow his regard lingered strangely upon her.

    "I cannot call it a good marriage," he went on.  "If our laird's son had married the daughter of an ordinary respectable Jew, engaged in the tailoring or fruit-dealing commerce usual with that nation, none of you would have called it a 'good' marriage.  Does it become so simply because of the hundreds of thousands Ben Matthieu has made by wide ramifications of usury, and by transactions too gigantic for any one man to understand their bearings on his fellow-creatures?"

    "No," persisted Mr Baird; "such marriages are fatal to all the true claims of high birth and breeding.  Nobody would wish to stiffen aristocracy into a caste.  But if it has any right to its name, 'the best,' let it be careful to recruit its ranks with all that is good—with noble physical development, with grand moral qualities, high character, and natural gifts of mind.  As it is, it becomes the mere Devil's Pick from the lower classes!  What would soon become of the 'points' of our best collies if they were allowed to cross with every greedy cur that has usurped a silken cushion?  If you want me to think Rab Bethune is making a good marriage, tell me something more of Miss Ben Matthieu than that her father is a financier and a millionaire.  That goes against her in my opinion."

    "I should not have thought you would despise anybody for belonging to God's Ancient People, Mr Baird," observed Miss Helen.

    "I dinna like the Jews mysel'," confided Miss Bell; "an' their ain prophets didna seem to think sae muckle o' them."

    Mr Baird replied to Miss Helen's remark—

    "God forbid that I should despise anybody for belonging to any of God's peoples, in any part of His world!  I know our Master was a Jew and His mother was a Jewess.  What I deprecate in any, Jew or Gentile, is the Shylock spirit of usury and 'bond,' and still more the Lorenzo sentiment, which, professing to contemn this, gladly runs off with the daughter—and—the ducats!"

    "An' what do you think o' a' these wonderful tidings, Jean?" asked Miss Bell, turning to old Mrs Haldane.

    "I was minding that there had been can'les set i' the window o' our auld hoose for the weddin's o' three generations o' Bethunes," answered the old dame.  "My man's mither tell't me o' the twa, an' I set them mysel' for baith the laird's ain bridals.  But there'll be nae mair can'les noo: he's brak the can'lestick, ye ken."

    Lesley got through that evening somehow.  We all do what must be done; and the strain which seems as if it would exhaust all our strength, generally serves rather to discover new powers in us.

    It had been her habit to remain alone with her uncle for a few minutes after the guests retired.  She did not evade the custom to-night, though she shrank from the confidential moment.  Her uncle put his arm about her shoulder and drew her to his side.

    "Lassie," he said, "we can let everything go except our faith in God; and surely that is not hard to keep while we have each other."

    As Lesley lay that night on her little white bed, waiting for the slumber which would not come, she could not help wondering how life was to go on for years and years.  But years come to us in days, and the day's burden is always bearable.

    And she remembered good Alison Brown's dying injunctions, given to herself in that early dusk of doubt and disappointment, which, looked back upon now, seemed to have been a very radiance of hope.

    Yes; there remained to her to strive to do right, to meet each little duty as it arose, and then not to ask how long her pain would last, nor for what reason it had fallen to her lot.

    "Just see that ye're in the Lord's ain way, and then shut your eyes and gang!"

    Still, she felt so tired, and every action, word, and thought had to be controlled with such constant effort, that she was almost glad when Jamie Logan did not turn up at Edenhaugh at the usual time next day.  She inferred that he had not come down to the school, but had probably got leave to remain at home to enjoy some of the spring operations on his father's farm.

    But that delusion was dissipated in the evening by one of the maid-servants, who chanced to say that while out in the afternoon she had met Master Jamie with his satchel returning in the direction of Gowan Brae, and that he wore a flushed and angry countenance, and gave her civil greeting but brief and surly answer.

    The same maid reported that the news of Mr Rab's "grand wedding" was already out all over the country-side.

    But she did not tell her young mistress, nor even old Mrs Haldane, what she whispered to her fellow-servant that "the folks were saying that those who tried to sit on twa stools aft cam' to the ground a' thegither, and while Miss Lesley had been fuling wi' Mr Rab, Logan o' Gowan Brae had given her the go-by: for he had just got handfast wi' the dochter of a big hotel keeper in Edinburgh, and wad likely be marriet a'most as sune's the young laird."



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