"We have not been 'cried' yet. And the names must be read in the kirk for three Sundays."
"Oh man! Cannot you get a licence? It will cost you a few shillings, but what of that? You are too slow, Andrew. If you don't take care, and make haste, Braelands will run away with your wife before your very eyes."
"I'll not believe it. It could not be. The thing is unspeakable, and unbearable. I'll face my fate the morn, and I'll know the best—or the worst of what is coming to me."
"Look for good, and have good, that is, if you don't let the good hour go by. You, Andrew Binnie! that can manage a boat when the north wind is doing its mightiest, are you going to be one of the cony kind, when it comes to a slip of a girl like Sophy? I can not think it, for you know what Solomon said of such—'Oh Son, it is a feeble folk.'"
"I don't come of feeble folk, body nor soul; and as I have said, I will have the whole matter out with Sophy to-morrow."
"Good—but better do than say."
The next morning a swift look of intelligence passed between Andrew and Christina at breakfast, and about eleven o'clock Andrew said, "I'll away now to Largo, and settle the business we were speaking of, Christina." She looked up at him critically, and thought she had never seen a handsomer man. Though only a fisherman, he was too much a force of nature to be vulgar. He was the incarnation of the grey, old village, and of the North Sea, and of its stormy winds and waters. Standing in his boots he was over six feet, full of pluck and fibre, a man not made for the town and its narrow doorways, but for the great spaces of the tossing ocean. His face was strong and finely formed; his eyes grey and open—as eyes might be that had so often searched the thickest of the storm with unquailing glance. A sensitive flush overspread his brow and cheeks as Christina gazed at him, and he said nervously:—
"I will require to put on my best clothes; won't I, Christina?"
She laid her hand on his arm, and shook her head with a pleasant smile. She was regarding with pride and satisfaction her brother's fine figure, admirably shown in the elastic grace of his blue Guernsey. She turned the collar low enough to leave his round throat a little bare, and put his blue flannel Tam o' Shanter over his close, clustering curls. "Go as you are," she said. "In that dress you feel at home, and at ease, and you look ten times the man you do in your broadcloth. And if Sophy cannot like her fisher-lad in his fisher-dress, she isn't worthy of him."
He was much pleased with this advice, for it precisely sorted with his own feelings; and he stooped and kissed Christina, and she sent him away with a smile and a good wish. Then she went to her mother, who was in a little shed salting some fish. "Mother," she cried, "Andrew has gone to Largo."
"Like enough. It would be stranger, if he had stopped at home."
"He has gone to ask Sophy to marry him next week—next Monday."
"Perfect nonsense! We'll have no such marrying in a hurry, and a corner. It will take a full month to marry Andrew Binnie. What would all our folks say, far and near, if they were not bid to the wedding? Set to that, you have to be married first. Marrying isn't like Christmas, coming every year of our Lord; and we be to make the most of it. I'll not give my consent to any such like hasty work. Why, they are not even 'called' in the kirk yet."
"Andrew can get a licence."
"Andrew can get a fiddle-stick! None of the Binnies were ever married, but by word of the kirk, and none of them shall be, if I can help it. Licence indeed! Buying the right to marry for a few shillings, and the next thing will be a few more shillings for the right to un-marry. I'll not hear tell of such a way."
"But, Mother, if Andrew does not get Sophy at once, he may lose her altogether."
"Humph! No great loss."
"The biggest loss in the world that Andrew can have. Things are come to a pass. If Andrew does not marry her at once, I am feared Braelands will carry her off."
"He is welcome to her."
"No, no, Mother! Do you want Braelands to get the best of Andrew?"
"The like of him get the best of Andrew! I'll not believe it. Sophy isn't beyond all sense of right and feeling. If, after all these years, she left Andrew for that fine gentleman, she would be a very Jael of deceit and treachery. I wish I had told her about her mother's second cousin, bonnie Lizzie Lauder."
"What of her? I never heard tell, did I, Mother?"
"No. We don't speak of Lizzie now."
"She was very bonnie, and she was very like Sophy about hating to work; and she was never done crying to all the gates of pleasure to open wide and let her enter. And she went in."
"Well, Mother? Is that all?"
"No. I wish in God's mercy it was! The avenging gates closed on her. She is shut up in hell. There, I'll say no more."
"Yes, Mother. You will ask God's mercy for her. It never faileth."
Janet turned away, and lifted her apron to her eyes, and stood so silent for a few minutes. And Christina left her alone, and went back into the house place, and began to wash up the breakfast-cups and cut up some vegetables for their early dinner. And by-and-by her mother joined her, and Christina began to tell how Andrew had promised her a silk gown for her wedding. This bit of news was so wonderful and delightful to Janet, that it drove all other thoughts far from her. She sat down to discuss it with all the care and importance the subject demanded. Every colour was considered; and when the colour had been decided, there was then the number of yards and the kind of trimming to be discussed, and the manner of its making, and the person most suitable to undertake the momentous task. For Janet was at that hour angry with Mistress Kilgour, and not inclined to "put a bawbee her way," seeing that it was most likely she had been favouring Braeland's suit, and therefore a bitter enemy to Andrew.
After the noon meal, Janet took her knitting, and went to tell as many of her neighbours as it was possible to see during the short afternoon, about the silk gown her Christina was to be married in; and Christina spread her ironing table, and began to damp, and fold, and smooth the clean linen. And as she did so, she sang a verse or two of 'Hunting Tower,' and then she thought awhile, and then she sang again. And she was so happy, that her form swayed to her movements; it seemed to smile as she walked backwards and forwards with the finished garments or the hot iron in her hands. She was thinking of the happy home she would make for Jamie, and of all the bliss that was coming to her. For before a bird flies you may see its wings, and Christina was already pluming hers for a flight into that world which in her very ignorance she invested with a thousand unreal charms.
She did not expect Andrew back until the evening. He would most likely have a long talk with Sophy; there was so much to tell her, and when it was over, it would be in a large measure to tell again to Mistress Kilgour. Then it was likely Andrew would take tea with his promised wife, and perhaps they might have a walk afterwards; so, calculating all these things. Christina came to the conclusion that it would be well on to bed time, before she knew what arrangements Andrew had made for his marriage and his life after it.
Not a single unpleasant doubt troubled her mind, she thought she knew Sophy's nature so well; and she could hardly conceive it possible, that the girl should have any reluctances about a lad so well known, so good, and so handsome, and with such a fine future before him, as Andrew Binnie. All Sophy's flights and fancies, all her favours to young Braelands, Christina put down to the dissatisfaction Sophy so often expressed with her position, and the vanity which arose naturally from her recognised beauty and youthful grace. But to be "a settled woman," with a loving husband and "a house of her own," seemed to Christina an irresistible offer; and she smiled to herself when she thought of Sophy's surprise, and of the many pretty little airs and conceits the state of bridehood would be sure to bring forth in her self-indulgent nature.
"She will be provoking enough, no doubt," she whispered as she set the iron sharply down; "but I'll never notice it. She is very little more than a bairn, and but a canary-headed creature added to that. In a year or two, Andrew, and marriage, and maybe motherhood, will sober and settle her. And Andrew loves her so. Most as well as Jamie loves me. For Andrew's sake, then, I'll bear with all her provoking ways and words. She'll be our own, anyway, and we be to have patience with they of our own household. Bonnie wee Sophy."
It was about mid-afternoon when she came to this train of forbearing and conciliating reflections. She was quite happy in it; for Christina was one of those wise women, who do not look into their ideals and hopes too closely. Her face reflecting them was beautiful and benign; and her shoulders, and hands, her supple waist and limbs, continued the symphonies of her soft, deep, loving eyes and her smiling mouth. Every now and then she burst into song; and then her thrilling voice, so sweet and fresh, had tones in it that only birds and good women full of love may compass. Mostly the song was a lilt or a verse which spoke for her own heart and love; but just as the clock struck three, she broke into a low laugh which ended in a merry, mocking melody, and which was evidently the conclusion of her argument concerning Sophy's behaviour as Andrew's wife—
"Toot! toot! quoth the grey-headed father, She's less of a bride than a bairn; She's ta'en like a colt from the heather, With sense and discretion to learn.
"Half-husband I trow, and half daddy, As humour inconstantly leans; The man must be patient and steady, That weds with a lass in her teens."
She had hardly finished the verse, when she heard a step blending with its echoes. Her ears rung inward; her eyes dilated with an unhappy expectancy; she put down her iron with a sudden faint feeling, and turned her face to the door.
Andrew entered the cottage. He looked at her despairingly, and sinking into his chair, he covered his wretched face with his hands.
It was not the same man who had left her a few hours before. A change, like that which a hot iron would make upon a green leaf, had been made in her handsome, hopeful, happy brother. She could not avoid an exclamation that was a cry of terror; and she went to him and kissed him, and murmured, she knew not what words of pity and love. Under their influence, the flood gates of sorrow were unloosed, he began to weep, to sob, to shake and tremble, like a reed in a tempest.
Christina saw that his soul was tossed from top to bottom, and in the madness of the storm, she knew it was folly to ask "why?" But she went to the door, closed it, slipped forward the bolt, and then came back to his side, waiting there patiently until the first paroxysm of his grief was over. Then she said softly:—
"Andrew! My brother Andrew! What sorrow has come to you? Tell Christina."
"Sophy is dead—dead and gone for me. Oh Sophy, Sophy, Sophy!"
"Andrew, tell me a straight tale. You are not a woman to let any sorrow get the mastery over you."
"Sophy has gone from me. She has played me false—and after all these years, deceived and left me."
"Then there is still the Faithful One. His love is from everlasting, to everlasting. He changeth not."
"Ay; I know," he said drearily. But he straightened himself and unfastened the button at his throat, and stood up on his feet, planting them far apart, as if he felt the earth like the reeling deck of a ship. And Christina opened the little window, and drew his chair near it, and let the fresh breeze blow upon him; and her heart throbbed hotly with anger and pity.
"Sit down in the sea wind, Andrew," she said. "There's strength and a breath of comfort in it; and try and give your trouble words. Did you see Sophy?"
"Ay; I saw her."
"At her aunt's house?"
"No. I met her on the road. She was in a dog-cart; and the master of Braelands was driving her. I saw her, ere she saw me; and she was looking in his face as she never looked in my face. She loves him, Christina, as she never loved me."
"Did you speak to her?"
"I was that foolish, and left to myself. She was going to pass me, without a look or a word; but I could not thole the scorn and pain of it, and I called out to her, 'Sophy! Sophy!'"
"And she did not answer you?"
"She cruddled closer to Braelands. And then he lifted the whip to hurry the horse; and before I knew what I was doing, I had the beast by the head—and the lash of the whip—struck me clean across the cheek bone."
"Oh Andrew! Andrew!" And she bent forward and looked at the outraged cheek, and murmuring, "I see the mark of it! I see the mark of it!" she kissed the long, white welt, and wetted it with her indignant tears.
Andrew sat passive under her sympathy until she asked, "Did Braelands say anything when he struck you? Had he no word of excuse?"
"He said: 'It is your own fault, fisherman. The lash was meant for the horse, and not for you.'"
"And I was in a passion; and I shouted some words I should not have said—words I never said in my life before. I didn't think the like of them were in my heart."
"I don't blame you, Andrew."
"I blame myself though. Then I bid Sophy get out of the cart and come to me;—and—"
"And she never moved or spoke; she just covered her face with her hands, and gave a little scream;—for no doubt I had frighted her—and Braelands, he got into the de'il's own rage then, and dared me to call the lady 'Sophy' again; 'for,' said he, 'she will be my wife before many days'; and with that, he struck the horse savagely again and again, and the poor beast broke from my hand, and bounded for'ard; and I fell on my back, and the wheels of the cart grazed the soles of my shoon as they passed me."
"I don't know how long I lay there."
"And they went on and left you lying in the highway?"
"They went on."
"The wicked lass! Oh the wicked, heartless lass!"
"You are not able to judge her, Christina."
"But you can judge Braelands. Get a warrant for the scoundrel the morn. He is without the law."
"Then I would make Sophy the common talk, far and near. How could I wrong Sophy to right myself?"
"But the whip lash! the whip lash! Andrew. You cannot thole the like of that!"
"There was One tholed for me the lash and the buffet, and answer'd never a word. I can thole the lash for Sophy's sake. A poor love I would have for Sophy, if I put my own pride before her good name. If I get help 'from beyond,' I can thole the lash, Christina."
He was white through all the tan of wind, and sea, and sun; and the sweat of his suffering stood in great beads on his pallid face and brow. Christina lifted a towel, which she had just ironed, and wiped it away; and he said feebly;—
"Thank you, dear lass! I will go to my bed a wee."
So Christina opened the door of his room and he tottered in, swaying like a drunken man, and threw himself upon his bed. Five minutes afterward she stepped softly to his side. He was sunk in deep sleep, fathoms below the tide of grief whose waves and billows had gone over him.
"Thanks be to the Merciful!" she whispered. "When the sorrow is too great, then He giveth His beloved sleep."
THE LOST BRIDE
This unforeseen and unhappy meeting forced a climax in Sophy's love affairs, which she had hitherto not dared to face. In fact, circumstances tending that way had arisen about a week previously; and it was in consequence of them, that she was publicly riding with Braelands when Andrew met them. For a long time she had insisted on secrecy in her intercourse with her "friend." She was afraid of Andrew; she was afraid of her aunt; she was afraid of being made a talk and a speculation to the gossips of the little town. And though Miss Kilgour had begun to suspect somewhat, she was not inclined to verify her suspicions. Madame Braelands was a good customer, therefore she did not wish to know anything about a matter which she was sure would be a great annoyance to that lady.
But Madame herself forced the knowledge on her. Some friend had called at Braelands and thought it right to let her know what a dangerous affair her son was engaged in. "For the girl is beautiful," she said, "there is no denying that; and she comes of fisher-folk, who have simply no idea but that love words and love-kisses must lead to marrying and housekeeping, and who will bitterly resent and avenge a wrong done to any woman of their class, as you well know, Madame."
Madame did know this very well; and apart from her terror of a mesalliance for the heir of Braelands, there was the fact that his family had always had great political influence, and looked to a public recognition of it. The fisher vote was an important factor in the return of any aspirant for Parliamentary honour; and she felt keenly that Archie was endangering his whole future career by his attentions to a girl whom it was impossible he should marry, but who would have the power to arouse against him a bitter antagonism, if he did not marry her.
She affected to her friend a total indifference to the subject of her son's amusements, and she said "she was moreover sure that Archibald Braelands would never do anything to prejudice his own honour, or the honour of the humblest fisher-girl in Fifeshire." But all the same, her heart was sick with fear and anxiety; and as soon as her informant had gone, she ordered her carriage, dressed herself in all her braveries, and drove hastily to Mistress Kilgour's.
At that very hour, this lady was fussing and fuming angrily at her niece. Sophy had insisted on going for a walk, and in the altercation attending this resolve, Mistress Kilgour had unadvisably given speech to her suspicions about Sophy's companion in these frequent walks, and threatened her with a revelation of these doubts to Andrew Binnie. But in spite of all, Sophy had left the house; and her aunt was nursing her wrath against her when Madame Braeland's carriage clattered up to her shop door.
Now if Madame had been a prudent woman, and kept the rein on her prideful temper, she would have found Mistress Kilgour in the very mood suitable for an ally. But Madame had also been nursing her wrath, and as soon as Mistress Kilgour had appeared, she asked angrily:—
"Where is that niece of yours, Mistress Kilgour? I should very much like to know."
The tone of the question irritated the dressmaker, and instantly her sympathies flew toward her own kith, and kin, and class. Also, her caution was at once aroused, and she answered the question, Scotch-wise, by another question:—
"What for are you requiring to see Sophy, Madame?"
"Is she in the house?"
"Shall I go and see?"
"Go and see, indeed! You know well she is not. You know she is away somewhere, walking or driving with my son—with the heir of Braelands. Oh, I have heard all about their shameful carryings-on."
"You'll not need to use the word 'shameful' with regard to my niece, Sophy Traill, Madame Braelands. She has never earned such a like word, and she never will. You may take my say-so for that."
"It is not anybody's say-so in this case. Seeing is believing, and they have been seen together, walking in Fernie wood, and down among the rocks on the Elie coast, and in many other places."
"Well and good, Madame. What by that? Young things will be young things."
"What by that? Do you, a woman of your age, ask me such a question? When a gentleman of good blood and family, as well as great wealth, goes walking and driving with a poor girl of no family at all, do you ask what by that? Nothing but disgrace and trouble can be looked for."
"Speak for your own kin and side, Madame. And I should think a woman of your age—being at least twenty years older than myself—would know that true love never asks for a girl's pedigree. And as for 'disgrace,' Sophy Traill will never call anything like 'disgrace' to herself. I will allow that Sophy is poor, but as for family, the Traills are of the best Norse strain. They were sea-fighters, hundreds of years before they were sea-fishers; and they had been 'at home' on the North Sea, and in all the lands about it, centuries before the like of the Braelands were thought or heard tell of."
Mistress Kilgour was rapidly becoming angry, and Madame would have been wise to have noted the circumstance; but she herself was now past all prudence, and with an air of contempt she took out her jewelled watch, and beginning to slowly wind it, said:—
"My good woman, Sophy's father was a common fisherman. We have no call to go back to the time when her people were pirates and sea-robbers."
"I am my own woman, Madame. And I will take my oath I am not your woman, anyhow. And 'common' or uncommon, the fishermen of Fife call no man master but the Lord God Almighty, from whose hands they take their food, summer and winter. And I will make free to say, moreover, that if Braelands loves Sophy Traill and she loves him, worse might befall him than Sophy for a wife. For if God thinks fit to mate them, it is not Griselda Kilgour that will take upon herself to contradict the Will of Heaven."
"Don't talk rubbish, Mistress Kilgour. People who live in society have to regard what society thinks and says."
"It is no ways obligatory, Madame, the voice of God and Nature has more weight, I'm thinking, and if God links two together, you will find it gey and hard to separate them."
"I heard the girl was promised since her babyhood to a fisherman called Andrew Binnie."
"For once you have heard the truth, Madame. But you know yourself that babyhood and womanhood are two different things; and the woman has just set at naught the baby. That is all."
"No, it is not all. This Andrew Binnie is a man of great influence among the fishers, and my son cannot afford to make enemies among that class. It will be highly prejudicial to him."
"I cannot help that Madame. Braelands is well able to row his own boat. At any rate, I am not called to take an oar in it."
"Yes, you are. I have been a good customer to you, Mistress Kilgour."
"I am not denying it; at the same time I have been a good dress and bonnet maker to you, and earned every penny-bit you have paid me. The obligation is mutual, I'm thinking."
"I can be a still better customer if you will prevent this gentle-shepherding and love-making. I would not even scruple at a twenty pound note, or perhaps two of them."
"Straa! If you were Queen of England, Madame, I would call you an insolent dastard, to try and bribe me against my own flesh and blood. You are a very Judas, to think of such a thing. Good blood! fine family! indeed! If your son is like yourself, I'm not caring for him coming into my family at all."
"Mistress Kilgour, you may close my account with you. I shall employ you no more."
"Pay me the sixteen pounds odd you owe me, and then I will shut my books forever against Braelands. Accounts are not closed till outstanding money is paid in."
"I shall send the money."
"The sight of the money would be better than the promise of it, Madame; for some of it is owing more than a twelvemonth;" and Mistress Kilgour hastily turned over to the Braelands page of her ledger, while Madame, with an air of affront and indignation, hastily left the shop.
Following this wordy battle with her dressmaker, Madame had an equally stubborn one with her son, the immediate consequence of which was that very interview whose close was witnessed by Andrew Binnie. In this conference Braelands acknowledged his devotion to Sophy, and earnestly pleaded for Mistress Kilgour's favour for his suit. She was now quite inclined to favour him. Her own niece, as mistress of Braelands, would be not only a great social success, but also a great financial one. Madame Braelands's capacity for bonnets was two every year; Sophy's capacity was unlimited. Madame considered four dresses annually quite extravagant; Sophy's ideas on the same subject were constantly enlarging. And then there would be the satisfaction of overcoming Madame. So she yielded easily and gracefully to Archie Braelands's petition, and thus Sophy suddenly found herself able to do openly what she had hitherto done secretly, and the question of her marriage with Braelands accepted as an understood conclusion.
At this sudden culmination of her hardly acknowledged desires, the girl was for a short tune distracted. She felt that Andrew must now be definitely resigned, and a strangely sad feeling of pity and reluctance assailed her. There were moments she knew not which lover was dearest to her. The habit of loving Andrew had grown through long years in her heart; she trusted him as she trusted no other mortal, she was not prepared to give up absolutely all rights in a heart so purely and so devotedly her own. For if she knew anything, she knew right well that no other man would ever give her the same unfaltering, unselfish affection.
And when she dared to consider truthfully her estimate of Archie Braelands, she judged his love, passionate as it was, did not ring true through all its depths. There were times when her little gaucheries fretted him; when her dress did not suit him; when he put aside an engagement with her for a sail with a lord, or a dinner party with friends, or a social function at his own home. Andrew put no one before her; and even the business that kept him from her side was all for her future happiness. Every object and every aim of his life had reference to her. It was hard to give up such a perfect love, and she felt that she could not see Andrew face to face and do it. Hence her refusals to meet him, and her shyness and silence when a meeting was unavoidable. Hence, also, came a very peculiar attitude of Andrew's friends and mates; for they could not conceive how Andrew's implicit faith in his love should prevent him from finding out what was so evident to every man and woman in Largo.
Alas! the knowledge had now come to him. That it could have come in any harder way, it is difficult to believe. There was only one palliation to its misery—it was quite unpremeditated—but even this mitigation of the affront hardly brought him any comfort as yet Braelands was certainly deeply grieved at the miserable outcome of the meeting. He knew the pride of the fisher race, and he had himself a manly instinct, strong enough to understand the undeserved humiliation of Andrew's position. Honestly, as a gentleman, he was sorry the quarrel had taken place; as a lover, he was anxious to turn it to his own advantage. For he saw that, in spite of all her coldness and apparent apathy, Sophy was affected and wounded by Andrew's bitter imploration and its wretched and sorrowful ending. If the man should gain her ear and sympathy, Braelands feared for the result. He therefore urged her to an immediate marriage; and when Mistress Kilgour was taken into counsel, she encouraged the idea, because of the talk which was sure to follow such a flagrant breach of the courtesies of life.
But even at this juncture, Sophy's vanity must have its showing; and she refused to marry, until at least two or three suitable dresses should have been prepared; so the uttermost favour that could be obtained from the stubborn little bride was a date somewhere within two weeks away.
During these two weeks there was an unspeakable unhappiness in the Binnie household. For oh, how dreary are those wastes of life, left by the loved who have deserted us! These are the vacant places we water with our bitterest tears. Had Sophy died, Andrew would have said, "It is the Lord; let him do what seemeth right in his sight." But the manner and the means of his loss filled him with a dumb sorrow and rage; for in spite of his mother's and sister's urging, he would do nothing to right his own self-respect at the price of giving Sophy the slightest trouble or notoriety. Suffer! Yes, he suffered at home, where Janet and Christina continually reminded him of the insult he ought to avenge; and he suffered also abroad, where his mates looked at him with eyes full of surprise and angry inquiries.
But though the village was ringing with gossip about Sophy and young Braelands, never a man or woman in it ventured to openly question the stern, sullen, irritable man who had been so long recognised as her accepted lover. And whether he was in the boats or out of them, no one dared to speak Sophy's name in his presence. Indeed, upon the whole, he was during these days what Janet Binnie called "an ill man to live with—a man out of his senses, and falling away from his meat and his clothes."
This misery continued for about two weeks without any abatement, and Janet's and Christina's sympathy was beginning to be tinged with resentment. It seems so unnatural and unjust, that a girl who had already done them so much wrong, and who was so far outside their daily life, should have the power to still darken their home, and infuse a bitter drop into their peculiar joys and hopes.
"I am glad the wicked lass isn't near by me," said Janet one morning, when Andrew had declared himself unable to eat his breakfast and gone out of the cottage to escape his mother's pleadings and reproofs. "I'm glad she isn't near me. If she was here, I could not keep my tongue from her. She should hear the truth for once, if she never heard it again. They should be words as sharp as the birch rod she ought to have had, when she first began her nonsense, and her airs and graces."
"She is a bad girl; but we must remember that she was left much to herself—no mother to guide her, no sister or brother either."
"It would have been a pity if there had been more of them. One scone of that baking is enough. The way she has treated our Andrew is abominable. Flesh and blood can't bear such doings."
As Janet made this assertion, a cousin of Sophy's came into the cottage, and answered her. "I know you are talking of Sophy," she said, "and I am not wondering at the terrivee you are making. As for me, though she is my cousin, I'll never exchange the Queen's language with her again as long as I live in this world. But all bad things come to an end, as well as good ones, and I am bringing what will put a stop at last to all this clishmaclaver about that wearisome lassie,"—and with these words she handed Janet two shining white cards, tied together with a bit of silver wire.
They were Sophy's wedding cards; and she had also sent from Edinburgh a newspaper containing a notice of her marriage to Archibald Braelands. The news was very satisfactory to Janet. She held the bits of cardboard with her fingertips, looking grimly at the names upon them. Then she laughed, not very pleasantly, at the difference in the size of the cards. "He has the wee card now," she said, "and Sophy the big one; but I'm thinking the wee one will grow big, and the big one grow little before long. I will take them to Andrew myself; the sight of them will be a bitter medicine, but it will do him good. Folks may count it great gain when they get rid of a false hope."
Andrew was walking moodily about the bit of bare turf in front of the cottage door, stopping now and then to look over the sea, where the brown sails of some of the fishing boats still caught the lazy south wind. He was thinking that the sea was cloudy, and that there was an evil-looking sky to the eastward; and then, as his mind took in at the same moment the dangers to the fishers who people the grey waters and his own sorrowful wrong, he turned and began to walk about muttering—"Lord help us! We must bear what is sent."
Then Janet called him, and he watched for her approach. She put the cards into his hand saying, "Sophy's cousin, Isobel Murray, brought them." Her voice was full of resentment; and Andrew, not at the moment realising a custom so unfamiliar in a fishing-village, looked wonderingly in his mother's face, and then at the fateful white messengers.
"Read the names on them, Andrew man, and you'll know then why they are sent to Pittendurie."
Then he looked steadily at the inscription, and the struggle of the inner man shook the outward man visibly. It was like a shot in the backbone. But it was only for a moment he staggered; though he had few resources, his faith in the Cross and his confidence in himself made him a match for his hard fate. It is in such critical moments the soul reveals if it be selfish or generous, and Andrew, with a quick upward fling of the head, regained absolutely that self-control, which he had voluntarily abdicated.
"You will tell Isobel," he said, "that I wish Mistress Braelands every good thing, both for this life and the next." Then he stepped closer to his mother and kissed her; and Janet was so touched and amazed that she could not speak. But the look of loving wonder on her face was far better than words. And as she stood looking at him, Andrew put the cards in his pocket, and went down to the sea; and Janet returned to the cottage and gave Isobel the message he had sent.
But this information, so scanty and yet so conclusive, by no means satisfied the curiosity of the women. A great deal of indignation was expressed by Sophy's kindred and friends in the village at her total ignoring of their claims. They did not expect to be invited to a house like Braelands; but they did think Sophy ought to have visited them and told them all about her preparations and future plans. They were her own flesh and blood, and they deeply resented her non-recognition of the claims of kindred. Isobel, as the central figure of this dissatisfaction, was a very important person. She at least had received "cards," and the rest of the cousins to the sixth degree felt that they had been grossly slighted in the omission. So Isobel, for the sake of her own popularity, was compelled to make common cause, and to assert positively that "she thought little of the compliment." Sophy only wanted her folk to know she was now Mistress Braelands, and she had picked her out to carry the news—good or bad news, none yet could say.
Janet was not inclined to discuss the matter with her. She was so cold about it, that Isobel quickly discovered she had 'work to finish at her own house,' for she recollected that if the Binnies were not inclined to talk over the affair there were plenty of wives and maids in Pittendurie who were eager to do so. So Janet and Christina were quickly left to their own opinions on the marriage, the first of which was, that "Sophy had behaved very badly to them."
"But I wasn't going to say bad words for Isobel to clash round the village," said Janet "and I am gey glad Andrew took the news so man-like and so Christian-like. They can't make any speculations about Andrew now, and that will be a sore disappointment to the hussies, for some of them are but ill willy creatures."
"I am glad Andrew kept a brave heart, and could bring good words out of it."
"What else would you expect from Andrew? Do you think Andrew Binnie will fret himself one moment about a wife that is not his wife? He would not give the de'il such a laugh over him. You may take my word, that he will break no commandment for any lass; and Sophy Braelands will now have to vacate his very thoughts."
"I am glad she is married then. If her marriage cures Andrew of that never-ending fret about her, it will be a comfort."
"It is a cure, sure as death, as far as your brother is concerned. Fancy Andrew Binnie pining and worrying about Archie Braelands's wife! The thing would be sinful, and therefore fairly impossible to him! I'm as glad as you are that no worse than marriage has come to the lass; she is done with now, and I am wishing her no more ill than she has called to herself."
"She has brought sorrow enough to our house," said Christina. "All the days of my own courting have been saddened and darkened with the worry and the care of her. Andrew was always either that set up or that knocked down about her, that he could not give a thought to Jamie's and my affairs. It was only when you talked about Sophy, or his wedding with Sophy, that he looked as if the world was worth living in. He was fast growing into a real selfish man."
"Toots! Every one in love—men or women—are as selfish as they can be. The whole round world only holds two folk: their own self, and another. I would like to have a bit of chat before long, that did not set itself to love-making and marrying."
"Goodness, Mother! You have not chatted much with me lately about love-making and marrying. Andrew's trouble has filled the house, and you have hardly said a word about poor Jamie, who never gave either of us a heartache. I wonder where he is to-day!"
Janet thought a moment and then answered: "He would leave New York for Scotland, last Saturday. 'T is Wednesday morning now, and he will maybe reach Glasgow next Tuesday. Then it will not take him many hours to find himself in Pittendurie."
"I doubt it. He will not be let come and go as he wants to. It would not be reasonable. He will have to obey orders. And when he gets off, it will be a kind of favour. A steamboat and a fishing-boat are two different things, Mother, forbye, Jamie is but a new hand, and will have his way to win."
"What are you talking about, you silly, fearful lassie? It would be a poor-like, heartless captain, that had not a fellow-feeling for a lad in love. Jamie will just have to tell him about yourself, and he will send the lad off with a laugh, or maybe a charge not to forget the ship's sailing-day. Hope well, and have well, lassie."
"You'll be far mistaken, Mother. I am not expecting Jamie for more than two or three trips—but he'll be thinking of me, and I can not help thinking of him."
"Think away, Christina. Loving thoughts keep out others, not as good. I wonder how it would do to walk as far as Largo, and find out all about the marriage from Griselda Kilgour. Then I would have the essentials, and something worth telling and talking about."
"I would go, Mother. Griselda will be thirsty to tell all she knows, and just distracted with the glory of her niece. She will hold herself very high, no doubt."
"Griselda and her niece are two born fools, and I am not to be put to the wall by the like of them. And it is not beyond hoping, that I'll be able to give the woman a mouthful of sound advice. She's a set-up body, but I shall disapprove of all she says."
"You may disapprove till you are black in the face, Mother, but Griselda will hold her own; she is neither flightersome, nor easy frightened. I'm feared it is going to rain. I see the glass has fallen."
"I'm not minding the 'glass'. The sky is clear, and I think far more of the sky, and the look of it, than I do of the 'glass'. I wonder at Andrew hanging it in our house; it is just sinful and unlucky to be taking the change of the weather out of His hands. But rain or fine, I am going to Largo."
As she spoke, she was taking out of her kist a fine Paisley shawl and a bonnet, and with Christina's help she was soon dressed to her own satisfaction. Fortunately one of the fishers was going with his cart to Largo, so she got a lift over the road, and reached Griselda Kilgour's early in the afternoon. There were no bonnets and caps in the window of the shop, and when Janet entered, the place had a covered-up, Sabbath-day look that kindled her curiosity. The ringing of the bell quickly brought Mistress Kilgour forward, and she also had an unusual look. But she seemed pleased to see Janet, and very heartily asked her into the little parlour behind.
"I'm just home," she said, "and I'm making myself a cup of tea ere I sort up the shop and get to my day's work again. Sit down, Janet, and take off your things, and have a cup with me. Strange days and strange doings in them lately!"
"You may well lift up your eyes and your hands, Griselda. I never heard tell of the like. The whole village is in a flustration; and I just came o'er-by, to find out from you the long and the short of everything. I'm feared you have been sorely put about with the wilful lass."
"Mistress Braelands had no one to lippen to but me. I had everything to look after. The Master of Braelands was that far gone in love, he wasn't to be trusted with anything. But my niece has done a good job for herself."
"It is well some one has got good out of her treachery. She brought sorrow enough to my house. But I'm glad it is all over, and that Braelands has got her. She wouldn't have suited my son at all, Griselda."
"Not in the least," answered the dressmaker with an air of offence. "How many lumps of sugar, Janet?"
"I'm not taking sugar. Where was the lass married?"
"In Edinburgh." We didn't want any talk and fuss about the wedding, and Braelands he said to me, 'Mistress Kilgour, if you will take a little holiday, and go with Sophy to Edinburgh, and give her your help about the things she requires, we shall both of us be your life-long debtors.' And I thought Edinburgh was the proper place, and so I went with Sophy—putting up a notice on the shop door that I had gone to look at the winter fashions and would be back to-day—and here I am for I like to keep my word.
"You didn't keep it with my Andrew, for you promised to help him with Sophy, you promised that more than once or twice."
"No one can help a man who fights against himself, and Andrew never did prize Sophy as Braelands did, the way that man ran after the lass, and coaxed and courted and pleaded with her! And the bonnie things he gave her! And the stone blind infatuation of the creature! Well I never saw the like. He was that far gone in love, there was nothing for him but standing up before the minister."
"Dr. Beith of St. Andrews. Braelands sits in St. Andrews, when he is in Edinburgh for the winter season and Dr. Beith is knowing him well. I wish you could have seen the dresses and the mantillas, the bonnets and the fineries of every sort I had to buy Sophy, not to speak of the rings and gold chains and bracelets and such things, that Braelands just laid down at her feet."
"What kind of dresses?"
"Silks and satins—white for the wedding-dress—and pink, and blue and tartan and what not! I tell you McFinlay and Co. were kept busy day and night for Sophy Braelands."
Then Mistress Kilgour entered into a minute description of all Sophy's beautiful things, and Janet listened attentively, not only for her own gratification, but also for that of every woman in Pittendurie. Indeed she appeared so interested that her entertainer never suspected the anger she was restraining with difficulty until her curiosity had been satisfied. But when every point had been gone over, when the last thing about Sophy's dress and appearance had been told and discussed, Janet suddenly inquired, "Have they come back to Largo yet?"
"Indeed nothing so common," answered Griselda, proudly. "They have gone to foreign lands—to France, and Italy, and Germany,"—and then with a daring imagination she added, "and it's like they won't stop short of Asia and America."
"Well, Jamie Logan, my Christina's promised man is on the American line. I dare say he will be seeing her on his ship, and no doubt he will do all he can to pleasure her."
"Jamie Logan! Sophy would not think of noticing him now. It would not be proper."
"What for not? He is as good a man as Archie Braelands, and if all reports be true, a good deal better."
"Archie indeed! I'm thinking 'Master Braelands' would be more as it should be."
"I'll never 'master' him. He is no 'master' of mine. What for does he have a Christian name, if he is not to be called by it?"
"Well, Janet, you need not show your temper. Goodness knows, it is as short as a cat's hair. And Braelands is beyond your tongue, anyhow."
"I'm not giving him a word. Sophy will pay every debt he is owing me and mine. The lassie has been badly guided all her life, and as she would not be ruled by the rudder, she must be ruled by the rocks."
"Think shame of yourself! For speaking ill to a new-made bride! How would you like me to say such words to Christina?"
"Christina would never give occasion for them. She is as true as steel to her own lad."
"Maybe she has no temptation to be false. That makes a deal of differ. Anyway, Sophy is a woman now in the married state, and answerable to none but her husband. I hope Andrew is not fretting more than might be expected."
"Andrew! Andrew fretting! Not he! Not a minute! As soon as he knew she was a wife, he cast her out of his very thoughts. You don't catch Andrew Binnie putting a light-of-love lassie before a command of God."
"I won't hear you talk of my niece—of the mistress of Braelands—in that kind of a way, Janet. She's our betters now, and we be to take notice of the fact"
"She'll have to learn and unlearn a good lot before she is to be spoke of as any one's 'betters.' I hope while she is seeing the world she will get her eyes opened to her own faults; they will give her plenty to think of."
"Keep me, woman! Such a way to go on about your own kin."
"She is no kin to the Binnies. I have cast her out of my reckoning."
"She is Christina's sixth cousin."
"She is nothing at all to us. I never did set any store by those Orkney folks—a bad lot! A very selfish, false, bad lot!"
"You are speaking of my people, Janet."
"I am quite aware of it, Griselda."
"Then keep your tongue in bounds."
"My tongue is my own."
"My house is my own. And if you can't be civil, I'll be necessitated to ask you to leave it."
"I'm going as soon as I have told you that you have the most gun-powdery temper I ever came across; forbye, you are fairly drunk with the conceit and vanity of Sophy's grand marriage. You are full as the Baltic with the pride of it, woman!"
"Temper! It is you, that are in a temper."
"That's neither here nor there. I have my reasons."
"Reasons, indeed! I'd like to see you reasonable for once."
"Yes, I have my reasons. How was my lad Andrew used by the both of you? And what do you think of his last meeting with that heartless limmer and her fine sweetheart?"
"Andrew should have kept himself out of their way. As soon as Braelands came round Sophy, Andrew got the very de'il in him. I was aye feared there would be murder laid to his name."
"You needn't have been feared for the like of that. Andrew Binnie has enough of the devil in him to keep the devil out of him. Do you think he would put blood on his soul for Sophy Traill? No, not for twenty lasses better than her! You needn't look at me as if your eyes were cocked pistols. I have heard all I wanted to hear, and said all I wanted to say, and now I'll be stepping homeward."
"I'll be obligated to you to go at once—the sooner the better."
"And I'll never speak to you again in this world, Griselda; nor in the next world either, unless you mend your manners. Mind that!"
"You are just full of envy, and all uncharitableness, and evil speaking, Janet Binnie. But I trust I have more of the grace of God about me than to return your ill words."
"That may be. It only shows folk that the grace of God will bide with an old woman that no one else can bide with."
"Old woman! I am twenty years younger—"
But Janet had passed out of the room and clashed the shop door behind her with a pealing ring; so Griselda's little scream of indignation never reached her. It is likely, however, she anticipated the words that followed her, for she went down the street, folding her shawl over her ample chest, and smiling the smile of those who have thrown the last word of offence.
She did not reach home until quite dark, for she was stopped frequently by little groups of the wives and maids of Pittendurie, who wanted to hear the news about Sophy. It pleased Janet, for some reason, to magnify the girl's position and all the fine things it had brought her. Perhaps, because she felt dimly that it placed Andrew's defeat in a better Tight. No one could expect a mere fisherman to have any chance against a man able to shower silks and satins and gold and jewels upon his bride, and who could take her to France and Italy and Germany, not to speak of Asia and America.
But if this was her motive, it was a bit of motherhood thrown away. Andrew had sources of comfort and vindication which looked far beyond all petty social opinion. He was on the sea alone till nearly dark; then he came home, with the old grave smile on his face, saying, as he entered the house, "There will be a heavy blow from the northeast to-night, Christina. I see the boats are all at anchor, and no prospect of a fishing."
"Ay, and I saw the birds, who know more than we do, making for the rocks. I wish mother would come,"—and she opened the door and looked out into the dark vacancy. "There is a voice in the sea to-night, Andrew, and I don't like the wail of it."
But Andrew had gone to his room, and so she left the door open until Janet returned. And the first question Janet asked was concerning Andrew. "Has he come home yet, Christina? I'm feared for a boat on the sea to-night."
"He is home, and I think he has fallen asleep. He looked very tired."
"How is he taking his trouble?"
"Like a man. Like himself. He has had his wrestle out on the sea, and has come out with a victory."
"The Lord be thanked! Now, Christina, I have heard everything about that wicked lassie. Let us have a cup of tea and a herring—for it is little good I had of Griselda's wishy-washy brew—and then I'll tell you the news of the wedding, the beginning and the end of it."
WHERE IS MY MONEY?
In the morning it was still more evident that Andrew had thrown himself on God, and—unperplext seeking, had found him. But Janet wondered a little that he did not more demonstratively seek the comfort of The Book. It was her way in sorrow to appeal immediately to its known passages of promise and comfort, and she laid it open in his way with the remark:
"There is the Bible. Andrew; it will have a word, no doubt, for you."
"And there is the something beyond the Bible, Mother, if you will be seeking it. When the Lord God speaks to a man, he has the perfection of counsel, and he will not be requiring the word of a prophet or an apostle. From the heart of The Unseen a voice calls to him, and gives him patience under suffering. I know, for I have heard and answered it." Then he walked to the door, and opening it, he stood there repeating to himself, as he looked over the waters which had been the field of his conflict and his victory:—
"But peace they have that none may gain that live; And rest about them that no love can give And over them, while death and life shall be, The light and sound and darkness of the Sea."
It was a verse that meant more to Andrew than he would have been able to explain. He only knew that it led him somehow through those dim, obscure pathways of spiritual life, on which the light of common day does not shine. And as he stood there, his mother and sister felt vaguely that they knew what "moral beauty" meant, and were the better for the knowledge.
He did not try to forget Sophy; he only placed her beyond his own horizon; and whereas he had once thought of her with personal hope and desire, he now remembered her only with a prayer for her happiness, or if by chance his tongue spoke her name, he added a blessing with it. Never did he make a complaint of her desertion, but he wept inwardly; and it was easy to see that he spent many of those hours that make the heart grey, though they leave the hair untouched. And it was at this time he contracted the habit of frequently looking up, finding in the very act that sense of strength and help and adoration which is inseparable to it. And thus, day by day, he overcame the aching sorrow of his heart, for no man is ever crushed from without; if he is abased to despair, his ruin has come from within.
About three weeks after Sophy's marriage, Christina was standing one evening at the gloaming, looking over the immense, cheerless waste of waters. Mists, vague and troublous as the background of dreams, were on the horizon, and there Was a feeling of melancholy in the air. But she liked the damp, fresh wind, with its taste of brine, and she drew her plaid round her, and breathed it with a sense of enjoyment. Very soon Andrew came up the cliff, and he stood at her side, and they spoke of Jamie and wondered at his whereabouts, and after a little pause, Andrew added:—
"Christina, I got a very important letter to-day, and I am going to-morrow about the business I told you of. I want to start early in the morning, so put up what I need in my little bag. And I wish you to say nothing to mother until all things are settled."
"She will maybe ask me the question, Andrew."
"I told her I was going about a new boat, and she took me at my word without this or that to it. She is a blithe creature, one of the Lord's most contented bairns. I wish we were both more like her."
"I wish we were, Andrew. If we could just do as mother does! for she leaves yesterday where it fell, and trusts to-morrow with God, and so catches every blink of happiness that passes by her."
"God forever bless her! There is no mother like the mother that bore us; we must aye remember that, Christina. But it is a dour, storm-like sky yon," he continued, pointing eastward. "We shall have a snoring breeze before midnight."
Then Christina thought of her lover again, and as they turned in to the fireside, she began to tell her brother her hopes and fears about Jamie, and to read him portions of a letter received that day from America. While Andrew's trouble had been fresh and heavy on him, Christina had refrained herself from all speech about her lover; she felt instinctively that it would not be welcome and perhaps hardly kind. But this night it fell out naturally, and Andrew listened kindly and made his sister very happy by his interest in all that related to Jamie's future. Then he ate some bread and cheese with the women, and after the exercise went to his room, for he had many things to prepare for his journey on the following day.
Janet continued the conversation. It related to her daughter's marriage and settlement in Glasgow, and of this subject she never wearied.
The storm Andrew had foreseen was by this time raging round the cottage, the Clustering waves making strange noises on the sands and falling on the rocks with a keen, lashing sound It affected them gradually; their hearts became troubled, and they spoke low and with sad inflections, for both were thinking of the sailor-men and fishermen peopling the lonely waters.
"I wouldn't put out to sea this night," said Janet. "No, not for a capful of sovereigns."
"Yet there will be plenty of boats, hammering through the big waves all night long, till the dawn shows in the east; and it is very like that Jamie is now on the Atlantic—a stormy place, God knows!"
"A good passage, if it so pleases God!" said Janet, lifting her eyes to heaven, and Christina looked kindly at her mother for the wish. But talking was fast becoming difficult, for the wind had suddenly veered more northerly, and, sleet-laden, it howled and shrieked down the wide chimney. In one of the pauses forced on them by this blatant intruder, they were startled by a human cry, loud and piercing, and quite distinct from the turbulent roar of winds and waves.
Both women were on their feet on the instant Both had received the same swift, positive impression, that it came from Andrew's room, and they were at his door in a moment. It was locked. They called him, and he made no answer. Again and again, with ever increasing terror, they entreated him to open to them; for the door was solid and heavy, and the lock large and strong, and no power they possessed could avail to force an entrance. He heeded none of, their passionate prayers until Janet began to cry bitterly. Then he turned the key and they entered.
Andrew looked at them with anger; his countenance was pale and distraught, and a quiet fury burned in his eyes. He could not speak, and the women regarded him with fear and wonder. Presently he managed to articulate with a thick difficulty:—
"My money! My money! It is all gone!"
"Gone!" shrieked Christina, "that is just impossible."
"It is all gone!" Then he gripped her cruelly by the shoulder, and asked in a fierce whisper:
"What did you do with it?"
"Ay, you! You wicked lass, you!"
"I never put finger on it"
"Christina! Christina! To think that I trusted you for this! Go out of my sight, will you! I'm not able to bear the face of you!"
"Andrew! Andrew! Surely, you are not calling me a 'thief'?"
"Who, then?" he cried, with gathering rage, "unless it be Jamie Logan?"
"Don't be so wicked as to wrong innocent folk such a way; Jamie never saw, never heard tell of your money. The unborn babe is not more guiltless than Jamie Logan."
"How do you know that? How do I know that? The very night I told you of the money—that very night I showed you where I kept it—that night Jamie ought to have been in the boats, and he was not in them. What do you make of that?"
"Nothing. He is as innocent as I am."
"And he was drinking with some strange man at the public. What were they up to? Tell me that. And then he comes whistling up the road, and says he missed his boat. A made up story! and after it he goes off to America! Oh. woman! woman! If you can't put facts together. I can."
"Jamie never touched a bawbee of your money. I'll ware my life on that. For I never let on to any mortal creature that you had a penny of silent money. God Almighty knows I am speaking the truth."
"You won't dare to bring God Almighty's name into such a black business. Are you not feared to take it into your mouth?"
Then Janet laid her hand heavily on his shoulder. He had sat down on his bed, and was leaning heavily against one of the posts, and the very fashion of his countenance was changed; his hair stood upright, and he continually smote his large, nervous hands together.
"Andrew," said his mother, angrily, "you are just giving yourself up to Satan. Your passion is beyond seeing, or hearing tell of. And think shame of yourself for calling your sister a 'thief and a 'liar' and what not. I wonder what's come over you! Step ben the house, and talk reasonable to us."
"Leave me to myself! Leave me to myself! I tell you both to go away. Will you go? both of you?"
"I'm your mother, Andrew."
"Then for God's sake have pity on me, and leave me alone with my sorrow! Go! Go! I'm not a responsible creature just now—" and his passion was so stern and terrific that neither of them dared to face any increase of it.
So they left him alone and went back to the sputtering fireside—for the rain was now beating down the chimney—and in awe-struck whispers Christina told her mother of the money which Andrew had hoarded through long laborious years, and of the plans which the loss of it would break to pieces.
"There would be a thousand pounds, or near by it. Mother, I'm thinking," said Christina. "You know well how scrimping with himself he has been. Good fishing or bad fishing, he never had a shilling to spend on any one. He bought nothing other boys bought; when he was a laddie, and when he grew to the boats, you may mind that he put all he made away somewhere. And he made a deal more than folks thought. He had a bit venture here, and a bit there, and they must have prospered finely."
"Not they!" said Janet angrily. "What good has come of them? What good could come of money, hid away from everybody but himself? Why didn't he tell his mother? If her thoughts had been round about his siller, it would not have gone an ill road. A man who hides away his money is just a miracle of stupidity, for the devil knows where it is if no decent human soul does."
It was a mighty sorrow to bear, even for the two women, and Janet wept like a child over the hopes blasted before she knew of them. "He should have told us both long since," she sobbed. "I would have been praying for the bonnie ship building for him, every plank would have been laid with a blessing. And as I sat quiet in my house, I would have been thinking of my son Captain Binnie, and many a day would have been a bright day, that has been but a middling one. So selfish as the lad has been!"
"Maybe it wasn't pure selfishness, Mother. He was saving for a good end."
"It was pure selfishness! He was that way even about Sophy. Nobody but himself must have word or look from her, and the lassie just wearied of him. Why wouldn't she? He put himself and her in a circle, and then made a wilderness all round about it. And Sophy wanted company, for when a girl says 'a man is all the world to her,' she doesn't mean that nobody else is to come into her world. She would be a wicked lass if she did."
"Well, Mother, he lost her, and he bore his loss like a man."
"Ay, men often bear the loss of love easier than the loss of money. I've seen far more fuss made over the loss of a set of fishing-nets, than over the brave fellows that handled them. And to think of our Andrew hiding away his gold all these years for his own hoping and pleasuring! A perfectly selfish pleasuring! The gold might well take wings to itself and fly away. He should have clipped the wings of it with giving a piece to the kirk now and then, and a piece to his mother and sister at odd times, and the flying wouldn't have been so easy. Now he has lost the whole, and he well deserves it I'm thinking his Maker is dourly angry with him for such ways, and I am angry myself."
"Ah well, Mother, there is no use in our anger; the lad is suffering enough, and for the rest we must just leave him to the general mercy of God."
"'General mercy of God.' Don't let me hear you use the like of such words, Christina. The minister would tell you it is a very loose expression and a very dangerous doctrine. He was reproving Elder McInnes for them very words, and any good minister will be keeping his thumb on such a wide outgate. Andrew knows well that he has to have the particular and elected grace of God to keep him where he ought to be. This hid-away money has given him a sore tumble, and I will tell him so very plainly."
"Don't trouble him, Mother. He will not bear words on it, even from you."
"He will have to bear them. I am not feared for Andrew Binnie, and he shall not be left in ignorance of his sin. Whether he knows it or not, he has done a deed that would make a very poor kind of a Christian ashamed to look the devil in the face; and I be to let him know it."
But in the morning Andrew looked so utterly wretched, that Janet could only pity him. "I'll not be the one to break the bruised reed," she said to Christina, for the miserable man sat silent with dropped eyes the whole day long, eating nothing, seeing nothing, and apparently lost to all interests outside his own bewildering, utterly hopeless speculations. It was not until another letter came about the ship he was to command, that he roused himself sufficiently to write and cancel the whole transaction. He could not keep his promises financially, and though he was urged to make some other offer, he would have nothing from The Fleet on any humbler basis than his first proposition. With a foolish pride, born of his great disappointment and anger, he turned his back on his broken hopes, and went sullen and sorrowful back to his fishing-boat.
He had never been even in his family a very social man. Jokes and songs and daffing of all kinds were alien to his nature. Yet his grave and pleasant smile had been a familiar thing, and gentle words had always hitherto come readily to his lips. But after his ruinous loss, he seldom spoke unless it was to his mother. Christina he noticed not, either by word or look, and the poor girl was broken-hearted under this silent accusation. For she felt that Andrew doubted both her and Jamie, and though she was indignant at the suspicion, it eat its way into her heart and tortured her.
For put the thought away as she would, the fact of Jamie's dereliction that unfortunate night would return and return, and always with a more suspicious aspect. Who was the man he was drinking with? Nobody in the village but Jamie, knew him. He had come and gone in a night. It was possible that, having missed the boat, Jamie had brought his friend up the cliff to call on her; that, seeing the light in Andrew's room, they had looked in at the window, and so might have seen Andrew and herself standing over the money, and then watched until it was returned to its hiding-place. Jamie had come whistling in a very pronounced manner up to the house—that might have been because he had been drinking, and then again, it might not—and then there was his quarrel with Andrew! Was that a planned affair, in order to give the other man time to carry off the box? She could not remember whether the curtain had been drawn across the window or not; and when she dared to name this doubt to Andrew, he only answered—
"What for are you asking after spilled milk?"
The whole circumstance was so mysterious that it stupified her. And yet she felt that it contained all the elements of sorrow and separation between Jamie and herself. However, she kept assuring her heart that Jamie would be in Glasgow the following week; and she wrote a letter to meet him, expressing a strong desire that he would "be sure to come to Pittendurie, as there was most important business." But she did not like to tell him what the business was, and Jamie did not answer the request. In fact, the lad could not, without resigning his position entirely. The ship had been delayed thirty hours by storms, and there was nearly double tides of work for every man on her in order that she might be able to keep her next sailing day. Jamie was therefore so certain that a request to go on shore about his own concerns would be denied, that he did not even ask the favour.
But he wrote to Christina, and explained to her in the most loving manner the impossibility of his leaving his duties. He said "that for her sake, as well as his own, he was obligated to remain at his post," and he assured her that this obligation was "a reasonable one." Christina believed him fully, and was satisfied, her mother only smiled with shut lips and remained silent; but Andrew spoke with a bitterness it was hard to forgive; still harder was it to escape from the wretched inferences his words implied.
"No wonder he keeps away from Pittendurie!" he said with a scornful laugh. "He'll come here no more—unless he is made to come, and if it was not for mother's sake, and for your good name, Christina, I would send the constables to the ship to bring him here this very day."
And Christina could make no answer, save that of passionate weeping. For it shocked her to see, that her mother did not stand up for Jamie, but went silently about her house duties, with a face as inscrutable as the figure-head of Andrew's boat.
Thus backward, every way flew the wheels of life in the Binnie cottage. Andrew took a grim pleasure in accepting his poverty before his mother and sister. In the home he made them feel that everything but the barest necessities were impossible wants. His newspaper was resigned, his pipe also, after a little struggle He took his tea without sugar, he put the butter and marmalade aside, as if they were sinful luxuries, and in fact reduced his life to the most essential and primitive conditions it was possible to live it on. And as Janet and Christina were not the bread winners, and did not know the exact state of the Binnie finances, they felt obliged to follow Andrew's example. Of course, all Christina's little extravagances of wedding preparations were peremptorily stopped. There would be no silk wedding gown now. It began to look, as if there would be no wedding at all.
For Andrew's continual suspicions, spoken and unspoken, insensibly affected her, and that in spite of her angry denials of them. She fought against their influence, but often in vain, for Jamie did not come to Pittendurie either after the second or the third voyage. He was not to blame; it was the winter season, and delays were constant, and there were other circumstances—with which he had nothing whatever to do—that still put him in such a position that to ask for leave of absence meant asking for his dismissal. And then there would be no prospect at all of his marriage with Christina.
But the fisher folk, who had their time very much at their own command and who were nursed in a sense of every individual's independence, did not realise Jamie's dilemma. It could not be made intelligent to them, and they began to wonder, and to ask embarrassing questions. Very soon there was a shake of the head and a sigh of pity whenever "poor Christina Binnie" was mentioned.
So four wretched months went by, and then one moonlight night in February, Christina heard the quick footstep and the joyous whistle she knew so well. She stood up trembling with pleasure; and as Jamie flung wide the door, she flew to his arms with an irrepressible cry. For some minutes he saw nothing and cared for nothing but the girl clasped to his breast; but as she began to sob, he looked at Janet—who had purposely gone to the china rack that she might have her back to him—and then at Andrew who stood white and stern, with both hands in his pockets, regarding him.
The young man was confounded by this reception, he released himself from Christina's embrace, and stepping forward, asked anxiously "What ever is the matter with you, Andrew? You aren't like yourself at all. Why, you are ill, man! Oh, but I'm vexed to see you so changed."
"Where is my money, James Logan? Where is the gold and the bank-notes you took from me?—the savings of all my lifetime."
"Your money, Andrew? Your gold and bank-notes? Me take your money! Why, man, you are either mad or joking—and I'm not liking such jokes either." Then he turned to Christina and asked, "What does he mean, my dearie?"
"I mean this," cried Andrew with gathering passion, "I mean that I had nearly a thousand pounds taken out of my room yon night that you should have gone to the boats—and that you did not go."
"Do you intend to say that I took your thousand pounds? Mind your words, Andrew Binnie!" and as he spoke, he put Christina behind him and stood squarely before Andrew. And his face was a flame of passion.
"I am most sure you took it. Prove to me that you did not."
Before the words were finished, they were answered with a blow, the blow was promptly returned; and then the two men closed in a deadly struggle. Christina was white and sick with terror, but withal glad that Andrew had found himself so promptly answered. Janet turned sharply at the first blow, and threw herself between the men. All the old prowess of the fish-wife was roused in her.
"How dare you?" she cried in a temper quite equal to their own. "I'll have no cursing and fighting in my house," and with a twist of her hand in her son's collar, she threw him back in his chair. Then she turned to Jamie and cried angrily—
"Jamie Logan, my bonnie lad, if you have got nothing to say for yourself, you'll do well to take your way down the cliff."
"I have been called a 'thief' in this house," he answered; and wounded feeling and a bitter sense of wrong made his voice tremble. "I came here to kiss my bride; and I know nothing at all of what Andrew means. I will swear it. Give me the Bible."
"Let my Bible alone," shouted Andrew. "I'll have no man swear to a lie on my Bible. Get out of my house, James Logan, and be thankful that I don't call the officers to take care of you."
"There is a mad man inside of you, Andrew Binnie, or a devil of some kind, and you are not fit to be in the same house with good women. Come with me, Christina. I'll marry you tonight at the Largo minister's house. Come my dear lassie. Never mind aught you have, but your plaidie."
Christina rose and put out her hand. Andrew leaped to his feet and strode between them.
"I will strike you to the ground, if you dare to touch my sister again," he shouted, and if Janet had not taken both his hands in her own strong grip, Andrew would have kept his threat. Then Janet's anger turned most unreasonably upon Christina—
"Go ben the house," she screamed. "Go ben the house, you worrying, whimpering lassie. You will be having the whole village fighting about you the next thing."
"I am going with Jamie, Mother."
"I will take very good care, you do not go with Jamie. There is not a soul, but Jamie Logan, will leave this house tonight. I would just like to see any other man or woman try it," and she looked defiantly both at Andrew and Christina.
"I ran the risk of losing my berth to come here," said Jamie. "More fool, I. I have been called 'thief' and 'loon' for doing it. I came for your sake, Christina, and now you must go with me for my sake. Come away, my dearie, and there is none that shall part us more."
Again Christina rose, and again her mother interfered. "You will go out of this house alone, Jamie Logan. I don't know whether you are right or wrong. I know nothing about that weary siller. But I do know there has been nothing but trouble to my boy since he saved you from the sea. I am not saying it is your fault; but the sea has been against him ever since, and now you will go away, and you will stay away."
"Christina, am I to go?"
"Go, Jamie, but I will come to you, and there is none that shall keep me from you."
Then Jamie went, and far down on the sands Christina heard him call, "Good-bye, Christina! Good-bye!" And she would have answered him, but Janet had locked the door, and the key was in her pocket. Then for hours the domestic storm raged, Andrew growing more and more positive and passionate, until even Janet was alarmed, and with tears and coaxing persuaded him to go to bed. Still in this hurly burly of temper, Christina kept her purpose intact. She was determined to go to Glasgow as soon as she could get outside. If she was in time for a marriage with Jamie, she would be his wife at once. If Jamie had gone, then she would hire herself out until the return of his ship.
This was the purpose she intended to carry out in the morning, but before the dawn her mother awakened her out of a deep sleep. She was in a sweat of terror.
"Run up the cliff for Thomas Roy," she cried, "and then send Sandy for the doctor."
"What is the matter, Mother."
"Your brother Andrew is raving, and clean beyond himself, and I'm feared for him, and for us all. Quick Christina! There is not a moment to lose!"
THE BEGINNING OF THE END
On this same night the Mistress of Braelands sat musing by the glowing bit of fire in her bedroom, while her maid, Allister, was folding away her silk dinner-gown, and making the preparations for the night's toilet. She was a stately, stern-looking woman, with that air of authority which comes from long and recognised position. Her dressing-gown of pale blue flannel fell amply around her tall form; her white hair was still coiled and puffed in an elaborate fashion, and there was at the wrist-bands of her sleeves a fall of lace which half covered her long, shapely white hands. She was pinching its plaits mechanically, and watching the effect as she idly turned them in the firelight to catch the gleam of opal and amethyst rings. But this accompaniment to her thoughts was hardly a conscious one; she had admired her hands for so many years that she was very apt to give to their beauty this homage of involuntary observation, even when her thoughts were fixed on subjects far-off and alien to them.
"Allister," she said, suddenly, "I wonder where Mr. Archibald will be this night."
"The Lord knows, Madame, and it is well he does; for it is little we know of ourselves and the ways we walk in."
"The Lord looks after his own, Allister, and Mr. Archibald was given to him by kirk and parents before he was a month old. But if a man marries such a woman as you know nothing about, and then goes her ways, what will you say then?"
"It is not as bad as that, Madame. Mrs. Archibald is of well-known people, though poor."
"Though low-born, Allister. Poverty can be tholed, and even respected; but for low birth there is no remedy but being born over again."
"Well, Madame, she is Braelands now, and that is a cloak to cover all defects; and if I was you I would just see that it did so."
"She is my son's wife, and must be held as such, both by gentle and simple."
"And there is few ills that have not a good side to them, Madame. If Mr. Archibald had married Miss Roberta Elgin, as you once feared he would do, there would have been a flitting for you and for me, Madame. Miss Roberta would have had the whole of Braelands House to herself, and the twenty-two rooms of it wouldn't have been enough for her. And she would have taken the Braelands's honour and glory on her own shoulders. It would have been 'Mrs. Archibald Braelands' here and there and everywhere, and you would have been pushed out of sight and hearing, and passed by altogether, like as not; for if youth and beauty and wealth and good blood set themselves to have things their own way, which way at all will age that is not rich keep for itself? Sure as death, Madame, you would have had to go to the Dower House, which is but a mean little place, though big enough, no doubt, for all the friends and acquaintances that would have troubled themselves to know you there."
"You are not complimentary, Allister. I think I have few friends who would not have followed me to the Dower House."
"Surely, Madame, you may as well think so. But carriages aye stop at big houses; indeed, the very coachmen and footmen and horses are dead set against calling at cottages. There is many a lady who would be feared to ask her coachman to call at the Dower House. But what for am I talking? There is no occasion to think that Mrs. Archibald will ever dream of sending you out of his house."
"I came here a bride, nearly forty years ago, Allister," she said, with a touch of sentimental pity for herself in the remembrance.
"So you have had a long lease, Madame, and one like to be longer; for never a better son than your son; and I do think for sure that the lady he has married will be as biddable as a very child with you."
"I hope so. For she will have everything to learn about society, and who can teach her better than I can, Allister?"
"No one, Madame; and Mrs. Archibald was ever good at the uptake. I am very sure if you will show her this and that, and give her the word here and there yourself, Madame, there will be no finer lady in Fife before the year has come and gone. And she cannot be travelling with Mr. Archibald without learning many a thing all the winter long."
"Yes, they will not be home before the spring, I hear."
"And oh, Madame, by that date you will have forgot that all was not as you wanted it! And no doubt you will give the young things the loving welcome they are certain to be longing for."
"I do not know, Allister. The marriage was a great sorrow, and shame, and disappointment to me. I am not sure that I have forgiven it."
"Lady Beith was saying you never would forgive it. She was saying that you could never forgive any one's faults but your own."
"Lady Beith is very impertinent. And pray what faults has Lady Beith ever seen in me?"
"It was her general way of speaking, Madame. She has that way."
"Then you might tell Lady Beith's woman, that such general ways of speaking are extremely vulgar. When her ladyship speaks of the Mistress of Braelands again, I will ask her to refer to me, particularly. I have my own virtues as well as my own faults, and my own position, and my own influence, and I do not go into the generalities of life. I am the Mistress of Braelands yet, I hope."
"I hope so, Madame. As I was saying, Mrs. Archibald is biddable as a child; but then again, she is quite capable of taking the rudder into her own hands, and driving in the teeth of the wind. You can't ever be sure of fisher blood. It is like the ocean, whiles calm as a sleeping baby, whiles lashing itself into a very fury. There is both this and that in the Traills, and Mrs. Archibald is one of them."
"Any way and every way, this marriage is a great sorrow to me."
"I am not disputing that, Madame; but I am sure you remember what the minister was saying to you at his last visitation—that every sorrow you got the mastery over was a benefactor."
"The minister is not always orthodox, Allister."
"He is a very good man; every one is saying that."
"No doubt, no doubt, but he deviates."
"Well then, Madame, even if the marriage be as bad as you fancy it, bad things as well as good ones come to an end, and life, after all, is like a bit of poetry I picked up somewhere, which says:
There's nane exempt frae worldly cares And few frae some domestic jars Whyles all are in, whyles all are out, And grief and joy come turn about.
And it's the turn now for the young people to be happy. Cold and bleak it is here on the Fife coast, but they are among roses and sunshine and so God bless them, I say, and keep us and every one from cutting short their turn of happiness. You had your bride time, Madame, and when Angus McAllister first took me to his cottage in Strathmoyer, I thought I was on a visit to Paradise."
"Give me my glass of negus, and then I will go to bed. Everybody has taken to preaching and advising lately, and that is not the kind of fore-talk that spares after-talk—not it, Allister."
She sunk then into unapproachable silence, and Allister knew that she needed not try to move her further that night in any direction. Her eyes were fixed upon the red coals, but she was really thinking of the roses and sunshine of the South, and picturing to herself her son and his bride, wandering happily amid the warmth and beauty.
In reality, they were crossing the Braelands's moor at that very moment The rain was beating against the closed windows of their coach, and the horses floundering heavily along the boggy road. Sophy's head rested on her husband's shoulder, but they were not talking, nor had they spoken for some time. Both indeed were tired and depressed, and Archie at least was unpleasantly conscious of the wonderment their unexpected return would cause.
The end of April or the beginning of May had been the time appointed, and yet here they were, at the threshold of their home, in the middle of the winter. Sophy's frail health had been Archie's excuse for a season in the South with her; and she was coming back to Scotland when the weather was at its very bleakest and coldest. One excuse after another formed itself in Archie's mind, only to be peremptorily dismissed. "It is no one's business but our own," he kept assuring himself, "and I will give neither reason nor apology but my wife's desire." and yet he knew that reasons and apologies would be asked, and he was fretting inwardly at their necessity, and wondering vaguely if women ever did know what they really wanted.
For to go to France and Germany and Italy, had seemed to Sophy the very essence of every joy in life. Before her marriage, she had sat by Archie's side hour after hour, listening to his descriptions of foreign lands, and dreaming of all the delights that were to meet her in them. She had started on this bridal trip with all her senses set to an unnatural key of expectation, and she had, of course, suffered continual disappointments and disillusions. The small frets and sicknesses of travel, the loneliness of being in places where she could not speak even to her servants, or go shopping without an attendant, the continual presence of what was strange—of what wounded her prejudices and very often her conscience,—and the constant absence of all that was familiar and approved, were in themselves no slight cause of unhappiness.
Yet it had been a very gradual disillusion, and one mitigated by many experiences that had fully justified even Sophy's extravagant anticipations. The trouble, in the main, was one common to a great majority of travellers for pleasure—a mind totally unprepared for the experience.
She grew weary of great cities which had no individual character or history in her mind; weary of fine hotels in which she was of no special importance; weary of art which had no meaning for her. Her child-like enthusiasms, which at first both delighted and embarrassed her husband, faded gradually away; the present not only lost its charm, but she began to look backward to the homely airs and scenes of Fife, and to suffer from a nostalgia that grew worse continually.
However, Archie bore her unreasonable depression with great consideration. She was but a frail child after all, and she was in a condition of health demanding the most affectionate patience and tenderness he could give her. Besides, it was no great sin in his eyes to be sick with longing for dear old Scotland. He loved his native land; and his little mountain blue-bell, trembling in every breeze, and drooping in every hour of heat and sunshine, appealed to the very best instincts of his nature. And when Sophy began to voice her longing, to cry a little in his arms, and to say she was wearying for a sight of the great grey sea round her Fife home, Archie vowed he was homesick as a man could be, and asked, "why they should stop away from their own dear land any longer?"
"People will wonder and talk so, Archie They will say unkind things— they will maybe say we are not happy together."
"Let them talk. What care we? And we are happy together. Do you want to go back to Scotland tomorrow? today—this very hour?"
"Aye. I do, Archie. And I am that weak and poorly, if I don't go soon, maybe I will have to wait a long time, and then you know"
"Yes, I know. And that would never, never do. Braelands of Fife cannot run the risk of having his heir born in a foreign country. Why, it would be thrown up to the child, lad and man, as long as he lived! So call your maid, my bonnie Sophy, and set her to packing all your braws and pretty things, and we will turn our faces to Scotland's hills and braes tomorrow morning."
Thus it happened that on that bleak night in February, Archie Braelands and his wife came suddenly to their home amid the stormy winds and rains of a stormy night. Madame heard the wheels of their carriage as she sat sipping her negus, and thinking over her conversation with Allister and her alert soul instantly divined who the late comers were.
"Give me my silk morning gown and my brocade petticoat, Allister," she cried, as she rose up hastily and set down her glass. "Mr. Archibald has come home; his carriage is at the door—haste ye, woman!"
"Will you be heeding your silks to-night, Madame?"
"Get them at once. Quick! Do you think I will meet the bride in a flannel dressing-gown? No, no! I am not going to lose ground the first hour."
With nervous haste the richer garments were donned, and just as the final gold brooch was clasped, Archie knocked at his mother's door. She opened to him with her own hands, and took him to her heart with an effusive affection she rarely permitted herself to exhibit.
"I am so glad that you are dressed, Mother," he said. "Sophy must not miss your welcome, and the poor little woman is just weary to death." Then he whispered some words to her, which brought a flush of pride and joy to his own face, but no such answering response to Madame's.
"Indeed," she replied, "I am sorry she is so tired. It seems to me, that the women of this generation are but weak creatures."
Then she took her son's arm, and went down to the parlour, where servants were re-kindling the fire, and setting a table with refreshments for the unexpected guests. Sophy was resting on a sofa drawn towards the hearth. Archie had thrown his travelling cloak of black fox over her, and her white, flower-like face, surrounded by the black fur, had a singularly pathetic beauty. She opened her large blue eyes as Madame approached and looked at her with wistful entreaty; and Madame, in spite of all her pre-arrangements of conduct, was unable at that hour not to answer the appeal for affection she saw in them. She stooped and kissed the childlike little woman, and Archie watched this token of reconciliation and promise with eyes wet with happiness.
When supper was served, Madame took her usual place at the head of the table, and Archie noticed the circumstance, though it did not seem a proper time to make any remark about it. For Sophy was not able to eat, and did not rise from her couch; and Madame seemed to fall so properly into her character of hostess, that it would have been churlish to have made the slightest dissent. Yet it was a false kindness to both; for in the morning Madame took the same position, and Archie felt less able than on the previous night to make any opposition, though he had told himself continually on his homeward journey that he would not suffer Sophy to be imposed upon, and would demand for her the utmost title of her rights as his wife.
In this resolve, however, he had forgot to take into account his mother's long and absolute influence over him. When she was absent, it was comparatively easy to relegate her to the position she ought to occupy; when she was present, he found it impossible to say or do anything which made her less than Mistress of Braelands. And during the first few weeks after her return, Sophy helped her mother-in-law considerably against herself. She was so anxious to please, so anxious to be loved, so afraid of making trouble for Archie, that she submitted without protest to one infringement after another on her rights as the wife of the Master of Braelands. All the same she was dumbly conscious of the wrong being done to her; and like a child, she nursed her sense of the injustice until it showed itself in a continual mood of sullen, silent protest.
After the lapse of a month or more, she became aware that even her ill health was used as a weapon against her, and she suddenly resolved to throw off her lassitude, and assert her right to go out and call upon her friends. But she was petulant and foolish in the carrying out of the measure. She had made up her mind to visit her aunt on the following day, and though the weather was bitterly cold and damp, she adhered to her resolution. Madame, at first politely, finally with provoking positiveness, told her "she would not permit her to risk her life, and a life still more precious, for any such folly."
Then Sophy rose, with a sudden excitement of manner, and rang the bell. When the servant appeared, she ordered the carriage to be ready for her in half an hour. Madame waited until they were alone, and then said:
"Sophy, go to your room and lie down. You are not fit to go out. I shall counter-order the carriage in your name."
"You will not," cried the trembling, passionate girl. "You have ordered and counter-ordered in my name too much. You will, in the future, mind your own affairs, and leave me to attend to mine."
"When Archie comes back"
"You will tell him all kinds of lies. I know that."
"I do not lie."
"Perhaps not; but you misrepresent things so, that you make it impossible for Archie to get at the truth. I want to see my aunt. You have kept me from her, and kept her from me, until I am sick for a sight of those who really love me. I am going to Aunt Kilgour's this very morning, whether you like it or not."
"You shall not leave this house until Archie comes back from Largo. I will not take the responsibility."
"We shall see. I will take the responsibility myself. I am mistress of Braelands. You will please remember that fact. And I know my rights, though I have allowed you to take them from me."