"Sophy, listen to me."
"I am going to Aunt Kilgour's."
"Archie will be very angry."
"Not if you will let him judge for himself. Anyway, I don't care. I am going to see my aunt! You expect Archie to be always thinking of feelings, and your likes and dislikes. I have just as good a right to care about my aunt's feelings. She was all the same as mother to me. I have been a wicked lassie not to have gone to her lang syne."
"Wicked lassie! Lang syne! I wish you would at least try to speak like a lady."
"I am not a lady. I am just one of God's fisher folk. I want to see my own kith and kin. I am going to do so."
"You are not—until your husband gives you permission."
"Permission! do you say? I will go on my own permission, Sophy Braelands's permission."
"It is a shame to take the horses out in such weather—and poor old Thomas."
"Shame or not, I shall take them out."
"Indeed, no! I cannot permit you to make a fool and a laughing-stock of yourself." She rang the bell sharply and sent for the coachman When he appeared, she said:
"Thomas, I think the horses had better not go out this morning. It is bitterly cold, and there is a storm coming from the northeast. Do you not think so?"
"It is a bad day, Madame, and like to be worse."
"Then we will not go out."
As Madame uttered the words, Sophy walked rapidly forward. All the passion of her Viking ancestors was in her face, which had undergone a sort of transfiguration. Her eyes flashed, her soft curly yellow hair seemed instinct with a strange life and brilliancy, and she said with an authority that struck Madame with amazement and fear:
"Thomas, you will have the carriage at the door in fifteen minutes, exactly," and she drew out her little jewelled watch, and gave him the time with a smiling, invincible calmness.
Thomas looked from one woman to the other, and said, fretfully, "A man canna tak' twa contrary orders at the same minute o' time. What will I do in the case?"
"You will do as I tell you, Thomas," said Madame. "You have done so for twenty years. Have you come to any scath or wrong by it?"
"If the carriage is not at the door in fifteen minutes, you will leave Braelands this night, Thomas," said Sophy. "Listen! I give you fifteen minutes; after that I shall walk into Largo, and you can answer to your master for it. I am Mistress of Braelands. Don't forget that fact if you want to keep your place, Thomas."
She turned passionately away with the words, and left the room. In fifteen minutes she went to the front door in her cloak and hood, and the carriage was waiting there. "You will drive me to my aunt Kilgour's shop," she said with an air of reckless pride and defiance. It pleased her at that hour to humble herself to her low estate. And it pleased Thomas also that she had done so. His sympathy was with the fisher girl. He was delighted that she had at last found courage to assert herself, for Sophy's wrongs had been the staple talk of the kitchen-table and fireside.
"No born lady I ever saw," he said afterwards to the cook, "could have held her own better. It will be an even fight between them two now, and I will bet my shilling on fisherman Traill's girl."
"Madame has more wit, and more hold out" answered the cook. "Mrs. Archibald is good for a spurt, but I'll be bound she cried her eyes red at Griselda Kilgour's, and was as weak as a baby."
This opinion was a perfectly correct one. Once in her aunt's little back parlour, Sophy gave full sway to her childlike temper. She told all her wrongs, and was comforted by her kinswoman's interest and pity, and strengthened in her resolution to resist Madame's interference with her life. And then the small black teapot was warmed and filled, and Sophy begged for a herring and a bit of oatcake; and the two women sat close to one another, and Miss Kilgour told Sophy all the gossip and clash of gossip there had been about Christina Binnie and her lover, and how the marriage had been broken off, no one knowing just why, but many thinking that since Jamie Logan had got a place on "The Line," he was set on bettering himself with a girl something above the like of Christina Binnie.
And as they talked Helen Marr came into the shop for a yard of ribbon, and said it was the rumour all through Pittendurie, that Andrew Binnie was all but dead, and folks were laying all the blame upon the Mistress of Braelands, for that every one knew that Andrew had never held up his head an hour since her marriage. And though Miss Kilgour did not encourage this phase of gossip, yet the woman would persist in describing his sufferings, and the poverty that had come to the Binnies with the loss of their only bread-winner, and the doctors to pay, and the medicine folks said they had not the money to buy, and much more of the same sort, which Sophy heard every word of, knowing also that Helen Marr must have seen her carriage at the door, and so, knowing of her presence, had determined that she should hear it.
Certainly if Helen had wished to wound her to the very heart, she succeeded. When Miss Kilgour got rid of her customer, and came back to Sophy, she found her with her face in the pillow, sobbing passionately about the trouble of her old friends. She did not name Andrew, but the thought of his love and suffering hurt her sorely, and she could not endure to think of Janet's and Christina's long hardships and sorrow. For she knew well how much they would blame her, and the thought of their anger, and of her own apparent ingratitude, made her sick with shame and grief. And as they talked of this new trouble, and Sophy sent messages of love and pity to Janet and Christina, the shop-bell rung violently, and Sophy heard her husband's step, and in another moment he was at her side, and quite inclined to be very angry with her for venturing out in such miserable weather.
Then Sophy seized her opportunity, and Miss Kilgour left them alone for the explanation that was better to be made there than at Braelands. And for once Archie took his wife's part without reservation. He was not indeed ill-pleased that she had assumed her proper position, and when he slipped a crown into Thomas's hand, the man also knew that he had done wisely. Indeed there was something in the coachman's face and air which affected Madame unpleasantly, before she noticed that Sophy had returned in her husband's company, and that they were evidently on the most affectionate terms.
"I have lost this battle," she said to herself, and she wisely retreated to her own room, and had a nominal headache, and a very genuine heartache about the loss.
All day long Sophy was at an unnatural pitch, all day long she exerted herself, as she had not done for weeks and months, to entertain and keep her husband at her side, and all day long her pretty wifely triumph was bright and unbroken. The very servants took a delight in ministering to it, and Madame was not missed in a single item of the household routine. But about midnight there was a great and sudden change. Bells were frantically rung, lights flew about the house, and there was saddling of horses and riding in hot haste into Largo for any or all the doctors that could be found.
Then Madame came quietly from her seclusion, and resumed her place as head of the household, for the little mistress of one day lay in her chamber quite unconscious of her lost authority. Some twelve hours later, the hoped-for heir of Braelands was born, and died, and Sophy, on the very outermost shoal of life, felt the wash and murmur of that dark river which flows to the Eternal Sea.
It was no time to reproach the poor little wife, and yet Madame did not scruple to do so. "She had warned Sophy,—she had begged her not to go out—she had been insulted for endeavouring to prevent what had come to pass just as she had predicted." And in spite of Archie's love and pity, her continual regrets did finally influence him. He began to think he had been badly used, and to agree with Madame in her assertions that Sophy must be put under some restrictions, and subjected to some social instruction.
"The idea of the Braelands's carriage standing two hours at Griselda Kilgour's shop door! All the town talking about it! Every one wondering what had happened at Braelands, to drive your wife out of doors in such weather. All sorts of rumours about you and Sophy, and Griselda shaking her head and sighing and looking unspeakable things, just to keep the curiosity alive; and the crowds of gossiping women coming and going to her shop. Many a cap and bonnet has been sold to your name, Archie, no doubt, and I can tell you my own cheeks are kept burning with the shame of the whole affair! And then this morning, the first thing she said to me was, that she wanted to see her cousins Isobel and Christina."
"She asked me also about them, Mother, and really, I think she had better be humoured in this matter. Our friends are not her friends."
"They ought to be."
"Let us be just. When has she had any opportunity to make them so? She has seen no one yet,—her health has been so bad—and it did often look. Mother, as if you encouraged her not to see callers."
"Perhaps I did, Archie. You cannot blame me. Her manners are so crude, so exigent, so effusive. She is so much pleased, or so indifferent about people; so glad to see them, or else so careless as to how she treats them. You have no idea what I suffered when Lady Blair called, and insisted on meeting your wife. Of course she pretended to fall in love with her, and kissed, and petted, and flattered Sophy, until the girl hardly knew what she was doing or saying. And as for 'saying,' she fell into broad Scotch, as she always does when she is pleased or excited, and Lady Blair professed herself charmed, and talked broad Scotch back to her. And I? I sat tingling with shame and annoyance, for I knew right well what mockeries and laughter Sophy was supplying Annette Blair with for her future visitors."
"I think you are wrong. Lady Blair is not at all ill-natured. She was herself a poor minister's daughter, and accustomed to go in and out of the fishers' cottages. I can imagine that she would really be charmed with Sophy."
"You can 'imagine' what you like; that will not alter the real state of the case; and if Sophy is ever to take her position as your wife, she must be prepared for it. Besides which, it will be a good thing to give her some new interests in life, for she must drop the old ones. About that there cannot be two opinions."
"What then do you propose, Mother?"
"I should get proper teachers for her. Her English education has been frightfully neglected; and she ought to learn music and French."
"She speaks French pretty well. I never saw any one pick up a language as cleverly as she did the few weeks we were in Paris."
"O, she is clever enough if she wants to be! There is a French woman teaching at Miss Linley's Seminary. She will perfect her. And I have heard she also plays well. It would be a good thing to engage her for Sophy, two or three hours a day. A teacher for grammar, history, writing, etc., is easily found. I myself will give her lessons in social etiquette, and in all things pertaining to the dignity and decorum which your wife ought to exhibit. Depend upon it, Archie, this routine is absolutely necessary. It will interest and occupy her idle hours, of which she has far too many; and it will wean her better than any other thing from her low, uncultivated relations."
"The poor little woman says she wants to be loved; that she is lonely when I am away; that no one but the servants care for her; that therefore she wants to see her cousins and kinsfolk."
"She does me a great injustice. I would love her if she would be reasonable—if she would only trust me. But idle hearts are lonely hearts, Archie. Tell her you wish her to study, and fit herself for the position you have raised her to. Surely the desire to please you ought to be enough. Do you know who this Christina Binnie is that she talks so continually about?"
"Her fourth or fifth cousin, I believe."
"She is the sister of the man you won Sophy from—the man whom you struck across the cheek with your whip. Now do you wish her to see Christina Binnie!"
"Yes, I do! Do you think I am jealous or fearful of my wife? No, by Heaven! No! Sophy may be unlearned and unfashionable, but she is loyal and true, and if she wants to see her old lover and his sister, she has my full permission. As for the fisherman, he behaved very nobly. And I did not intend to strike him. It was an accident, and I shall apologise for it the first opportunity I have to do so."
"You are a fool, Archie Braelands."
"I am a husband, who knows his wife's heart and who trusts in it. And though I think you are quite right in your ideas about Sophy's education, I do not think you are right in objecting to her seeing her old friends. Every one in this bound of Fife knows that I married a fisher-girl. I never intend to be ashamed of the fact. If our social world will accept her as the representative of my honour and my family, I shall be obliged to the world. If it will not, I can live without its approval—having Sophy to love me and live with me. I counted all this cost before I married; you may be sure of that, Mother."
"You forgot, however, to take my honour and feelings into your consideration."
"I knew, Mother, that you were well able to protect your own honour and feelings."
This conversation but indicates the tone of many others which occupied the hours mother and son passed together during Sophy's convalescence. And the son, being the weaker character of the two, was insensibly moved and moulded to all Madame's opinions. Indeed, before Sophy was well enough to begin the course of study marked out for her, Archie had become thoroughly convinced that it was his first duty to his wife and himself to insist upon it.
The weak, loving woman made no objections. Indeed, Archie's evident enthusiasm sensibly affected her own desires. She listened with pleasure to the plans for her education, and promised "as soon as she was able, to do her very best."
And there was a strange pathos in the few words "as soon as I am able," which Archie remembered years afterwards, when it was far too late. At the moment, they touched him but lightly, but Oh, afterwards! Oh, afterwards! when memory brought back the vision of the small white face on the white pillow, and the faint golden light of the golden curls shadowing the large blue eyes that even then had in them that wide gaze and wistfulness that marks those predestined for sorrow or early death. Alas! Alas! We see too late, we hear too late, when it is the dead who open the eyes and the ears of the living!
A GREAT DELIVERANCE
While these clouds of sorrow were slowly gathering in the splendid house of Braelands, there was a full tide of grief and anxiety in the humble cottage of the Binnies. The agony of terror which had changed Janet Binnie's countenance, and sent Christina flying up the cliff for help, was well warranted by Andrew's condition. The man was in the most severe maniacal delirium of brain inflammation, and before the dawning of the next day, required the united strength of two of his mates to control him. To leave her mother and brother in this extremity would have been a cruelty beyond the contemplation of Christina Binnie. Its possibility never entered her mind. All her anger and sense of wrong vanished before the pitiful sight of the strong man in the throes of his mental despair and physical agony. She could not quite ignore her waiting lover, even in such an hour; but she was not a ready writer, so her words were few and to the point:—
DEAR JAMIE—Andrew is ill and like to die, and my place, dear lad, is here, until some change come. I must stand by mother and Andrew now, and you yourself would bid me do so. Death is in the house and by the pillow, and there is only God's mercy to trust to. Andrew is clean off his senses, and ill to manage, so you will know that he was not in reason when he spoke so wrong to you, and you will be sorry for him and forgive the words he said, because he did not know what he was saying; and now he knows nothing at all, not even his mother. Do not forget to pray for us in our sorrow, dear Jamie, and I will keep ever a prayer round about you in case of danger on the sea or on land. Your true, troth-plighted wife,
This letter was her last selfish act for many a week. After it had been written, she put all her own affairs out of her mind and set herself with heart and soul, by day and by night, to the duty before her. She suffered no shadow of the bygone to darken her calm strong face or to weaken the hands and heart from which so much was now expected. And she continually told herself not to doubt in these dark days the mercy of the Eternal, taking hope and comfort, as she went about her duties, from a few words Janet had said, even while she was weeping bitterly over her son's sufferings—
"But I am putting all fear Christina, under my feet, for nothing comes to pass without helping on some great end."
Now what great end Andrew's severe illness was to help on, Christina could not divine; but like her brave mother, she put fear under her feet, and looked confidently for "the end" which she trusted would be accomplished in God's time and mercy.
So week after week the two women walked with love and courage by the sick man's side, through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Often his life lay but within his lips, and they watched with prayer continually, lest he should slip away to them that had gone before, wanting its mighty shield in the great perilous journey of the soul. And though there is no open vision in these days, yet His Presence is ever near to those who seek him with all the heart. So that wonderful things were seen and experienced in that humble room, where the man lay at the point of death.
Andrew had his share of these experiences. Whatever God said to the waiting, watching women, He kept for His suffering servant some of His richest consolations, and so made all his bed in his sickness. Andrew was keenly sensible of these ministrations, and he grew strong in their heavenly strength; for though the vaults of God are full of wine, the soul that has drunk of His strong wine of Pain knows that it has tasted the costliest vintage of all, and asks on this earth no better.
And as our thoughts affect our surroundings, quite as much as rain or sunshine affect the atmosphere, these two women, with the sick man on their hearts and hands, were not unhappy women. They did their very best, and trusted God for the outcome. Thus Heaven helped them, and their neighbours helped them, and taking turns in their visitation, they found the Kirk also to be a big, calm friend in the time of their trouble. And then one morning, before the dawn broke, when life seemed to be at its lowest point, when hope was nearly gone, and the shadow of Death fell across the sick man's face, there was suddenly a faint, strange flutter. Some mighty one went out of the door, as the sunshine touched the lintel, and the life began to turn back, just as the tide began to flow.
Then Janet rose up softly and opened the house door, and looking at her son and at the turning waters, she said solemnly:—
"Thank God, Christina! He has turned with the tide? He is all right now."
It was April, however, in its last days, before Andrew had strength sufficient to go down the cliff, and the first news he heard in the village, was that Mistress Braelands had lain at death's door also. Doubtless it explained some testimony private to his own experience, for he let the intelligence pass through his ear-chambers into his heart, without remark, but it made there a great peace—a peace pure and loving as that which passeth understanding.
There was, however, no hope or expectation of his resuming work until the herring fishing in June, and Janet and Christina were now suffering sorely from a strange dilemma. Never before in all their lives had they known what it was to be pinched for ready money. It was hard for Janet to realise that there was no longer "a little bit in the Largo bank to fall back on." Naturally economical, and always regarding it as a sacred duty to live within the rim of their shilling, they had never known either the slow terror of gathering debt, or the acute pinch of actual necessity. But Andrew's long sickness, with all its attendant expenses, had used up all Janet's savings, and the day at last dawned when they must either borrow money, or run into debt.
It was a strange and humiliating position, especially after Janet's little motherly bragging about her Christina's silken wedding gown, and brawly furnished floor in Glasgow. Both mother and daughter felt it sorely; and Christina looked at her brother with some little angry amazement, for he appeared to be quite oblivious of their cruel strait. He said little about his work, and never spoke at all about Sophy or his lost money. In the tremendous furnace of his affliction, these elements of it appeared to have been utterly consumed.
Neither mother nor sister liked to remind him of them, nor yet to point out the poverty to which his long sickness had reduced them. It might be six weeks before the herring fishing roused him to labour, and they had spent their last sixpence. Janet began seriously to think of lifting the creel to her shoulders again, and crying "fresh fish" in Largo streets. It was so many years since she had done this, that the idea was painful both to Christina and herself. The girl would gladly have taken her mother's place, but this Janet would not hearken to. As yet, her daughter had never had to haggle and barter among fish wives, and house-wives; and she would not have her do it for a passing necessity. Besides Jamie might not like it; and for many other reasons, the little downcome would press hardest upon Christina.
There was one other plan by which a little ready money could be raised—that was, to get a small mortgage on the cottage, and when all had been said for and against this project, it seemed, after all, to be the best thing to do.
Griselda Kilgour had money put away, and Christina was very certain she would be glad to help them on such good security as a house and an acre or two of land. Certainly Janet and Griselda had parted in bad bread at their last interview, but in such a time of trouble, Christina did not believe that her kinswoman would remember ill words that had passed, especially as they were about Sophy's marriage—a subject on which they had every right to feel hurt and offended.
Still a mortgage on their home was a dreadful alternative to these simple-minded women; they looked upon it as something very like a disgrace. "A lawyer's foot on the threshold," said Janet, "and who or what is to keep him from putting the key of the cottage in his own pocket, and sending us into a cold and roofless world? No! No! Christina. I had better by far lift the creel to my shoulders again. Thank God, I have the health and strength to do it!"
"And what will folks be saying of me, to let you ware yourself on the life of that work in your old age? If you turn fish-wife again, then I be to seek service with some one who can pay me for my hands' work."
"Well, well, my dear lass, to-night we cannot work, but we may sleep; and many a blessing comes, and us not thinking of it. Lie down a wee, and God will comfort you; forbye, the pillow often gives us good counsel. Keep a still heart tonight, and tomorrow is another day."
Janet followed her own advice, and was soon sleeping as soundly and as sweetly as a play-tired child; but Christina sat in the open doorway, thinking of the strait they were in, and wondering if it would not be the kindest and wisest thing to tell Andrew plainly of their necessity. Sooner or later, he would find out that his mother was making his bread for him; and she thought such knowledge, coming from strangers, or through some accident, would wound him more severely than if she herself explained their hard position to him. As for the mortgage, the very thought of it made her sick. "It is just giving our home away, bit by bit—that is what a mortgage is—and whatever we are to do, and whatever I ought to do, God only knows!"
Yet in spite of the stress of this, to her, terrible question, a singular serenity possessed her. It was as if she had heard a voice saying "Peace, be still!" She thought it was the calm of nature,—the high tide breaking gently on the shingle with a low murmur, the soft warmth, the full moonshine, the sound of the fishermen's voices calling faintly on the horizon,—and still more, the sense of divine care and knowledge, and the sweet conviction that One, mighty to help and to save, was her Father and her Friend. For a little space she walked abreast of angels. So many things take place in the soul that are not revealed, and it is always when we are wrestling alone, that the comforting ones come. Christina looked downward to the village sleeping at her feet,
"Beneath its little patch of sky, And little lot of stars,"
and upward, to where innumerable worlds were whirling noiselessly through the limitless void, and forgot her own clamorous personality and "the something that infects the world;" and doing this, though she did not voice her anxiety, it passed from her heart into the Infinite Heart, and thus she was calmed and comforted. Then, suddenly, the prayer of her childhood and her girlhood came to her lips, and she stood up, and clasping her hands, she cast her eyes towards heaven, and said reverently:—
"This is the change of Thy Right Hand, O Thou Most High Thou art strong to strengthen.' Thou art gracious to help! Thou art ready to better.' Thou art mighty to save'"
As the words passed her lips, she heard a movement, and softly and silently as a spirit, her brother Andrew, fully dressed, passed through the doorway. His arm lightly touched Christina's clothing, but he was unconscious of her presence. He looked more than mortal, and was evidently seeing through his eyes, and not with them. She was afraid to speak to him. She did not dream of touching him, or of arresting his steps. Without a sign or word, he went rapidly down the cliff, walking with that indifference to physical obstacles which a spirit that had cast off its incarnation might manifest.
"He is walking in his sleep, and he may get into danger or find death itself," thought Christina, and her fear gave strength and fleetness to her footsteps as she quickly followed her brother. He made no noise of any kind; he did not even disturb a pebble in his path; but went forward, with a motion light and rapid, and the very reverse of the slow, heavy-footed gait of a fisherman. But she kept him in sight as he glided over the ribbed and water-lined sands, and rounded the rocky points which jutted into the sea water. After a walk of nearly two miles, he made direct for a series of bold rocks which were penetrated by numberless caverns, and into one of these he entered.
Hitherto he had not shown a moment's hesitation, nor did he now though the path was dangerously narrow and rocky, overhanging unfathomable abysses of dark water. But Christina was in mortal terror, both for herself and Andrew. She did not dare to call his name, lest, in the sudden awakening he might miss his precarious foothold, and fall to unavoidable death. She found it almost impossible to follow him nor indeed in her ordinary frame of mind could she have done so. But the experience, so strange and thrilling, had lifted her in a measure above the control of the physical and she was conscious of an exaltation of spirit which defied difficulties that would ordinarily have terrified her. Still she was so much delayed by the precautions evidently necessary for her life, that she lost sight of her brother, and her heart stood still with fright.
Prayers parted her white lips continually, as she slowly climbed the hollow crags that seemed to close together and forbid her further progress. But she would not turn back, for she could not believe that Andrew had perished. She would have heard the fall of his body or its splash in the water beneath and so she continued to climb and clamber though every step appeared to make further exploration more and more impossible.
With a startling unexpectedness, she found herself in a circular chamber, open to the sky and on one of the large boulders lying around, Andrew sat. He was still in the depths of a somnambulistic sleep; but he had his lost box of gold and bank-notes before him, and he was counting the money. She held her breath. She stood still as a stone. She was afraid to think. But she divined at once the whole secret. Motionless she watched him, as he unrolled and rerolled the notes, as he counted and recounted the gold, and then carefully locked the box, and hid the key under the edge of the stone on which he sat.
What would he now do with the box? She watched his movements with a breathless interest. He sat still for a few moments, clasping his treasure firmly in his large, brown hands; then he rose, and put it in an aperture above his head, filling the space in front of it with a stone that exactly fitted. Without hurry, and without hesitation, the whole transaction was accomplished; and then, with an equal composure and confidence, he retraced his steps through the cavern and over the rocks and sands to his own sleeping room.
Christina followed as rapidly as she was able; but her exaltation had died away, and left her weak and ready to weep; so that when she reached the open beach, Andrew was so far in advance as to be almost out of sight. She could not hope to overtake him, and she sat down for a few minutes to try and realise the great relief that had come to them—to wonder—to clasp her hands in adoration, to weep tears of joy. When she reached her home at last, it was quite light. She looked into her brother's room, and saw that he was lying motionless in the deepest sleep; but Janet was half-awake, and she asked sleepily:—
"Whatever are you about so early for, Christina? Isn't the day long enough for the sorrow and the care of it?"
"Oh, Mother! Mother! The day isn't long enough for the joy and the blessing of it."
"What do you mean, my lass? What is it in your face? What have you seen? Who has spoken a word to you?" and Janet rose up quickly, and put her hands on Christina's shoulders; for the girl was swaying and trembling, and ready to break out into a passion of sobbing.
"I have seen, Mother, the salvation of the Lord! I have found Andrew's lost money! I have proved that poor Jamie is innocent! We aren't poor any longer. There is no need to borrow, or mortgage, or to run in debt. Oh, Mother! Mother! The blessing you bespoke last night, the blessing we were not thinking of, has come to us."
"The Lord be thanked! I knew He would save us, in His own time, and His time is never too late."
Then Christina sat down by her mother's side, and in low, intense tones, told her all she had seen. Janet listened with kindling face and shining eyes.
"The mercy of God is on His beloved, and His regard is unto His elect," she cried, "and I am glad this day, that I never doubted Him, and never prayed to Him with a grudge at the bottom of my heart." Then she began to dress herself with her old joyfulness, humming a line of this and that psalm or paraphrase, and stopping in the middle to ask Christina another question; until the kettle began to simmer to her happy mood, and she suddenly sung out joyfully four lines, never very far from her lips:—
"My heart is dashed with cares and fears, My song comes fluttering and is gone; Oh! High above this home of tears. Eternal Joy sing on!"
How would it feel for the hyssop on the wall to turn cedar, I wonder? Just about as Janet and Christina felt that morning, eating their simple breakfast with glad hearts. Poor as the viands were, they had the flavour of joy and thankfulness, and of a wondrous salvation. "It is the Lord's doing!" This was the key to which the two women set all their hopes and rejoicing, and yet even into its noble melody there stole at last a little of the fret of earth. For suddenly Janet had a fear—not of God, but of man—and she said anxiously to her daughter:—
"You should have brought the box home with you, Christina. O my lass, if some other body should have seen what you have seen, then we will be fairly ruined twice over."
"No, no. Mother! I would not have touched the box for all there is in it. Andrew must go for it himself. He might never believe it was where I saw it, if he did not go for it. You know well he suspicioned both Jamie and me; and indeed, Mother dear, you yourself thought worse of Jamie than you should have done."
"Let that be now, Christina. God has righted all. We will have no casts up. If I thought of any one wrongly, I am sorry for it, and I could not say more than that even to my Maker. If ill news was waiting for Andrew, it would have shaken him off his pillow ere this."
"Let him sleep. His soul took his body a weary walk this morning. He is sore needing sleep, no doubt."
"He will have to wake up now, and go about his business. It is high time."
"You should mind, Mother, what a tempest he has come through; all the waves and billows of sorrow have gone over him."
"He is a good man, and ought to be the better of the tempest. His ship may have been sorely beaten and tossed, but his anchor was fast all through the storm. It is time he lifted anchor now, and faced the brunt and the buffet again. An idle man, if he is not a sick man, is on a lee shore, let him put out to sea, why, lassie! A storm is better than a shipwreck."
"To be sure, Mother. Here the dear lad comes!" and with that Andrew sauntered slowly into the kitchen. There was no light on his face, no hope or purpose in his movements. He sat down at the table, and drew his cup of tea towards him with an air of indifference, almost of despair. It wounded Janet. She put her hand on his hand, and compelled him to look into her face. As he did so, his eyes opened wide; speculation, wonder, something like hope came into them. The very silence of the two women—a silence full of meaning—arrested his soul. He looked from one to the other, and saw the same inscrutable joy answering his gaze.
"What is it, Mother?" he asked. "I can see you have something to tell me."
"I have that, Andrew! O my dear lad, your money is found! I do not think a penny-bit of it is missing. Don't mind me! I am greeting for the very joy of it—but O Andrew, you be to praise God! It is his doing, and marvellous in our eyes. Ask Christina. She can tell you better than I can."
But Andrew could not speak. He touched his sister's hand, and dumbly looked into her happy face. He was white as death, but he sat bending forward to her, with one hand outstretched, as if to clasp and grasp the thing she had to tell him. So Christina told him the whole story, and after he had heard it, he pushed his plate and cup away, and rose up, and went into his room and shut the door. And Janet said gratefully:—
"It is all right, Christina. He'll get nothing but good advice in God's council chamber. We'll not need to worry ourselves again anent either the lad or the money. The one has come to his senses, and the other will come to its use. And we will cast nothing up to him; the best boat loses her rudder once in a while."
It was not long before Andrew joined his mother and sister, and the man was a changed man. There was grave purpose in his calm face, and a joy, too deep for words, in the glint of his eyes and in the graciousness of his manner.
"Come, Christina!" he said. "I want you you to go with me; we will bring the siller home together. But I forget—it is maybe too far for you to walk again to-day?"
"I would walk ten times as far to pleasure you, Andrew. Do you know the place I told you of?"
"Aye, I know it well. I hid the first few shillings there that I ever saved."
As they walked together over the sands Christina said: "I wonder, Andrew, when and how you carried the box there? Can you guess at all the way this trouble came about?"
"I can, but I'm ashamed to tell you, Christina. You see, after I had shown you the money, I took a fear anent it. I thought maybe you might tell Jamie Logan, and the possibility of this fretted on my mind until it became a sure thing with me. So, being troubled in my heart, I doubtless got up in my sleep and put the box in my oldest and safest hiding-place."
"But why then did you not remember that you had done so?"
"You see, dearie, I hid it in my sleep, so then it was only in my sleep I knew where I had put it. There is two of us, I am thinking, lassie, and the one man does not always tell the other man all he knows. I ought to have trusted you, Christina; but I doubted you, and, as mother says, doubt aye fathers sin or sorrow of some kind or other."
"You might have safely trusted me, Andrew."
"I know now I might. But he is lifeless that is faultless; and the wrong I have done I must put right. I am thinking of Jamie Logan?"
"Poor Jamie! You know now that he never wronged you?"
"I know, and I will let him know as soon as possible. When did you hear from him? And where is he at all?"
"I don't know just where he is. He sailed away yon time; and when he got to New York, he left the ship."
"What for did he do that?"
"O Andrew, I cannot tell. He was angry with me for not coming to Glasgow as I promised him I would."
"You promised him that?"
"Aye, the night you were taken so bad. But how could I leave you in Dead Man's Dale and mother here lone to help you through it? So I wrote and told him I be to see you through your trouble, and he went away from Scotland and said he would never come back again till we found out how sorely all of us had wronged him."
"Don't cry, Christina! I will seek Jamie over the wide world till I find him. I wonder at myself I am shamed of myself. However, will you forgive me for all the sorrow I have brought on you?"
"You were not altogether to blame, Andrew. You were ill to death at the time. Your brain was on fire, poor laddie, and it would be a sin to hold you countable for any word you said or did not say. But if you will seek after Jamie either by letter or your own travel, and say as much to him as you have said to me I may be happy yet, for all that has come and gone."
"What else can I do but seek the lad I have wronged so cruelly? What else can I do for the sister that never deserved ill word or deed from me? No, I cannot rest until I have made the wrong to both of you as far right as sorrow and siller can do."
When they reached the cavern, Andrew would not let Christina enter it with him. He said he knew perfectly well the spot to which he must go, and he would not have her tread again the dangerous road. So Christina sat down on the rocks to wait for him, and the water tinkled beneath her feet, and the sunshine dimpled the water, and the fresh salt wind blew strength and happiness into her heart and hopes. In a short time, the last moment of her anxiety was over, and Andrew came back to her, with the box and its precious contents in his hands. "It is all here!" he said, and his voice had its old tones, for his heart was ringing to the music of its happiness, knowing that the door of fortune was now open to him, and that he could walk up to success, as to a friend, on his own hearthstone.
That afternoon he put the money in Largo bank, and made arrangements for his mother's and sister's comfort for some weeks. "For there is nothing I can do for my own side, until I have found Jamie Logan, and put Christina's and his affairs right," he said. And Janet was of the same opinion.
"You cannot bless yourself, laddie, until you bless others," she said, "and the sooner you go about the business, the better for everybody."
So that night Andrew started for Glasgow, and when he reached that city, he was fortunate enough to find the very ship in which Jamie had sailed away, lying at her dock. The first mate recalled the young man readily.
"The more by token that he had my own name," he said to Andrew. "We are both of us Fife Logans, and I took a liking to the lad, and he told me his trouble."
"About some lost money?" asked Andrew.
"Nay, he said nothing about money. It was some love trouble, I take it. He thought he could better forget the girl if he ran away from his country and his work. He has found out his mistake by this time, no doubt."
"You knew he was going to leave 'The Line' then?"
"Yes, we let him go; and I heard say that he had shipped on an American line, sailing to Cuba, or New Orleans, or somewhere near the equator."
"Well, I shall try and find him."
"I wouldn't, if I was you. He is sure to come back to his home again. He showed me a lock of the lassie's hair. Man! a single strand of it would pull him back to Scotland sooner or later."
"But I have wronged him sorely. I did not mean to wrong him, but that does not alter the case."
"Not a bit. Love sickness is one thing; a wrong against a man's good name or good fortune, is a different matter. I would find him and right him."
"That is what I want to do."
And so when the Circassia sailed out of Greenock for New York, Andrew Binnie sailed in her. "It is not a very convenient journey," he said rather sadly, as he left Scotland behind him, "but wrong has been done, and wrong has no warrant, and I'll never have a good day till I put the wrong right; so the sooner the better, for, as Mother says, 'that which a fool does at the end a wise man does at the beginning.'"
THE RIGHTING OF A WRONG
So Andrew sailed for New York, and life resumed its long forgotten happy tenor in the Binnie cottage. Janet sang about her spotless houseplace, feeling almost as if it was a new gift of God to her; and Christina regarded their small and simple belongings with that tender and excessive affection which we are apt to give to whatever has been all but lost and then unexpectedly recovered. Both women involuntarily showed this feeling in the extra care they took of everything. Never had the floors and chairs and tables been scrubbed and rubbed to such spotless beauty; and every cup and platter and small ornament was washed and dusted with such care as could only spring from heart-felt gratitude in its possession. Naturally they had much spare time, for as Janet said, 'having no man to cook and wash for lifted half the work from their hands,' but they were busy women for all that. Janet began a patch-work quilt of a wonderful design as a wedding present for Christina; and as the whole village contributed "pieces" for its construction, the whole village felt an interest in its progress. It was a delightful excuse for Janet's resumption of her old friendly, gossipy ways; and every afternoon saw her in some crony's house, spreading out her work, and explaining her design, and receiving the praises and sometimes the advice of her acquaintances.
Christina also, quietly but yet hopefully, began again her preparations for her marriage; for Janet laughed at her fears and doubts. "Andrew was sure to find Jamie, and Jamie was sure to be glad to come home again. It stands to reason," she said confidently. "The very sight of Andrew will be a cordial of gladness to him; for he will know, as soon as he sees the face of him, that the brother will mean the sister and the wedding ring. If you get the spindle and distaff ready, my lass, God is sure to send the flax; and by the same token, if you get your plenishing made and marked, and your bride-clothes finished, God will certainly send the husband."
"Jamie said in his last letter—the one in which he bid me farewell—'I will never come back to Scotland.'"
"Toots! Havers! 'I will' is for the Lord God Almighty to say. A sailor-man's 'I will' is just breath, that any wind may blow away. When Andrew gives him the letter you sent, Jamie will not be able to wait for the next boat for Scotland."
"He may have taken a fancy to America and want to stop there."
"What are you talking about, Christina Binnie? There is nothing but scant and want in them foreign countries. Oh! my lass, he will come home, and be glad to come home; and you will have the hank in your own hand. See that you spin it cannily and happily."
"I hope Andrew will not make himself sick again looking for the lost."
"I shall have little pity for him, if he does. I told him to make good days for himself; why not? He is about his duty; the law of kindness is in his heart, and the purpose of putting right what he put wrong is the wind that drives him. Well then, his journey—be it short or long—ought to be a holiday to him, and a body does not deserve a holiday if he cannot take advantage of one. Them were my last words to Andrew."
"Jamie may have seen another lass. I have heard say the lassies in America are gey bonnie."
"I'll just be stepping if you have nothing but frets and fears to say. When things go wrong, it is mostly because folks will have them wrong and no other way."
"In this world, Mother, the giffs and the gaffs—"
"In this world, Christina, the giffs and the gaffs generally balance one another. And if they don't,—mind what I say,—it is because there is a moral defect on the failing side. Oh! but women are flightersome and easy frighted."
"Whyles you have fears yourself, Mother."
"Ay, I am that foolish whyles; but I shall be a sick, weak body, when I can't outmarch the worst of them."
"You are just an oracle, Mother."
"Not I; but if I was a very saint, I would say every morning of my life: 'Now then, Soul, hope for good and have good.' Many a sad heart folks get they have no need to have. Take out your needle and thimble and go to your wedding clothes, lassie; you will need them before the summer is over. You may take my word for that."
"If Jamie should still love me."
"Love you! He will be that far gone in love with you that there will be no help for him but standing up before the minister. That will be seen and heard tell of. Lift your white seam, and be busy at it; there is nothing else to do till tea time, and I am away for an hour or two to Maggie Buchans. Her man went to Edinburgh this morning. What for, I don't know yet, but I'll maybe find out."
It was on this very afternoon that Janet first heard that there was trouble and a sound of more trouble at Braelands. Sophy had driven down in her carriage the previous day to see her cousin Isobel Murray, and some old friends who had gone into Isobel's had found the little Mistress of Braelands weeping bitterly in her cousin's arms. After this news Janet did not stay long at Maggie Buchans; she carried her patch-work to Isobel Murray's, and as Isobel did not voluntarily name the subject, Janet boldly introduced it herself.
"I heard tell that Sophy Braelands was here yesterday."
"Aye, she was."
"A grand thing for you, Isobel, to have the Braelands's yellow coach and pair standing before the Murray cottage all of two or three hours."
"It did not stand before my cottage, Janet. The man went to the public house and gave the horses a drink, and himself one too, or I am much mistaken, for I had to send little Pete Galloway after him."
"I think Sophy might have called on me."
"No doubt she would have done so, had she known that Andrew was away, but I never thought to tell her until the last moment."
"Is she well? I was hearing that she looked but poorly."
"You were hearing the truth. She looks bad enough."
"Is she happy, Isobel?"
"I never asked her that question."
"You have eyes and observation. Didn't you ask yourself that question?"
"Maybe I did."
"I have nothing to say anent it."
"What was she talking about? You know, Isobel, that Sophy is kin of mine, and I loved her mother like my own sister. So I be to feel anxious about the little body. I'm feared things are not going as well as they might do. Madame Braelands is but a hard-grained woman."
"She is as cruel a woman and as bad a woman as there is between this and wherever she may be."
"Isn't she at Braelands?"
"Not for a week or two. She's away to Acker Castle, and her son with her."
"And why not Sophy also?"
"The poor lassie would not go—she says she could not. Well, Janet, I may as good confess that there is something wrong that she does not like to speak of yet. She is just at the crying point now, the reason why and wherefore will come anon."
"But she be to say something to you."
"I'll tell you. She said she was worn out with learning this and that, and she was humbled to death to find out how ignorant and full of faults she was. Madame Braelands is both schoolmistress and mother-in-law, and there does not seem to be a minute of the day in which the poor child isn't checked and corrected. She has lost all her pretty ways, and she says she cannot learn Madame's ways; and she is feared for herself, and shamed for herself. And when the invitation came for Acker Castle, Madame told her she must not accept it for her husband's sake, because all his great friends were to be there, and they were to discuss his going to Parliament, and she would only shame and disgrace him. And you may well conceive that Sophy turned obstinate and said she would bide in her own home. And, someway, her husband did not urge her to go and this hurt her worst of all; and she felt lonely and broken-hearted, and so came to see me. That is everything about it, but keep it to yourself, Janet, it isn't for common clash."
"I know that. But did Madame Braelands and her son really go away and leave Sophy her lone?"
"They left her with two or three teachers to worry the life out of her. They went away two days ago; and Madame was in full feather and glory, with her son at her beck and call, and all her grand airs and manners about her. Sophy says she watched them away from her bedroom window, and then she cried her heart out. And she couldn't learn her lessons, and so sent the man teacher and the woman teacher about their business. She says she will not try the weary books again to please anybody; they make her head ache so that she is like to swoon away."
"Sophy was never fond of books; but I thought she would like the music."
"Aye, if they would let her have her own way about it. She has her father's little fiddle, and when she was but a bare-footed lassie, she played on it wonderful."
"I remember. You would have thought there was a linnet living inside of it."
"Well, she wanted to have some lessons on it, and her husband was willing enough, but Madame went into hysterics about the idea of anything so vulgar. There is a constant bitter little quarrel between the two women, and Sophy says she cannot go to her husband with every slight and cruelty. Madame laughs at her, or pretends to pet her, or else gets into passions at what she calls Sophy's unreasonableness; and Archie Braelands is weary to death of complaining, and just turns sulky or goes out of the house. Oh, Janet, I can see and feel the bitter, cruel task-woman over the poor, foolish child! She is killing her, and Archie Braelands does not see the right and the wrong of it all."
"I'll make him see it."
"You will hold your tongue, Janet. They who stir in muddy water only make it worse."
"But Archie Braelands loved her, or he would not have married her; and if he knew the right and the wrong of poor Sophy's position—"
"I tell you, that is nothing to it, Janet."
"It is everything to it. Right is right, in the devil's teeth."
"I'm sorry I said a word to you; it is a dangerous thing to get between a man and his wife. I would not do it, not even for Sophy; for reason here or reason there, folks be to take care of themselves; and my man gets siller from Braelands, more than we can afford to lose."
"You are taken with a fit of the prudentials, Isobel; and it is just extraordinary how selfish they make folk."
And yet Janet herself, when going over the conversation with Christina, was quite inclined on second thoughts not to interfere in Sophy's affairs, though both were anxious and sorrowful about the motherless little woman.
"She ought to be with her husband wherever he is, court or castle," said Christina. "She is a foolish woman to let him go away with her enemy, and such a clever enemy as Madame Braelands is. I think, Mother, you ought to call on Sophy, and give her a word of love and a bit of good advice. Her mother was very close to you."
"I know, Christina; but Isobel was right about the folly of coming between a man and his wife. I would just get the wyte of it. Many a sore heart I have had for meddling with what I could not mend."
Yet Janet carried the lonely, sorrowful little wife on her heart continually; though, after a week or two had passed and nothing new was heard from Braelands, every one began to give their sympathy to Christina and her affairs. Janet was ready to talk of them. There were some things she wished to explain, though she was too proud to do so until her friends felt interest enough to ask for explanations. And as soon as it was discovered that Andrew had gone to America, the interest and curiosity was sufficiently keen and eager to satisfy even Janet.
"It fairly took the breath from me," said Sabrina Roy, "when I was told the like of that. I cannot think there is a word of truth in such a report."
Mistress Roy was sitting at Janet's fireside, and so had the privilege of a guest; but, apart from this, it gave Janet a profound satisfaction to answer: "Ay, well, Sabrina, the clash is true for once in a lifetime. Andrew has gone to America, and the Lord knows where else beside."
"Preserve us all! I wouldn't believe it, only from your own lips, Janet. Whatever would be the matter that sent him stravaging round the world, with no ship of his own beneath his feet or above his head?"
"A matter of right and wrong, Sabrina. My Andrew has a strict conscience and a sense of right that would be ornamental in a very saint. Not to make a long story of it, he and Jamie Logan had a quarrel. It was the night Andrew took his inflammation, and it is very sure his brain was on fire and off its judgment at the time. But we were none of us thinking of the like of that; and so the bad words came, and stirred up the bad blood, and if I hadn't been there myself, there might have been spilled blood to end all with, for they were both black angry."
"Guide us, woman! What was it all about?"
"Well, Sabrina, it was about siller; that is all I am free to say. Andrew was sure he was right, and Jamie was sure he was wrong; and they were going fairly to one another's throats, when I stepped in and flung them apart."
"And poor Christina had the buff and the buffet to take and to bear for their tempers?"
"Not just that. Jamie begged her to go away with him, and the lassie would have gone if I hadn't got between her and the door. I had a hard few minutes, I can tell you, Sabrina; for when men are beside themselves with passion, they are in the devil's employ, and it's no easy work to take a job out of his hands. But I sent Jamie flying down the cliff, and I locked the door and put the key in my pocket, and ordered Andrew and Christina off to their beds, and thought I would leave the rest of the business till the next day; but before midnight Andrew was raving, and the affair was out of my hands altogether."
"It is a wonder Christina did not go after her lad."
"What are you talking about, Sabrina? It would have been a world's wonder and a black, burning shame if my girl had gone after her lad in such a calamitous time. No, no, Christina Binnie isn't the kind of girl that shrinks in the wetting. When her time of trial came, she did the whole of her duty, showing herself day by day a witness and a testimony to her decent, kirk-going forefathers."
"And so Andrew has found out he was wrong and Jamie Logan right?"
"Aye, he has. And the very minute he did so, he made up his mind to seek the lad far and near and confess his fault."
"And bring him back to Christina?"
"Just so. What for not? He parted them, and he has the right and duty to bring them together again, though it take the best years of his life and the last bawbee of his money."
"Folks were saying his money was all spent."
"Folks are far wrong then. Andrew has all the money he ever had. Andrew isn't a bragger, and his money has been silent so far, but it will speak ere long."
"With money to the fore, you shouldn't have been so scrimpit with yourselves in such a time of work and trouble. Folks noticed it."
"I don't believe in wasting anything, Sabrina, even grief. I did not spend a penny, nor a tear, nor a bit of strength, that was useless. What for should I? And if folks noticed we were scrimpit, why didn't they think about helping us? No, thank God! We have enough and a good bit to spare, for all that has come and gone, and if it pleases the Maker of Happiness to bring Jamie Logan back again, we will have a bridal that will make a monumental year in Pittendurie."
"I am glad to hear tell o' that. I never did approve of two or three at a wedding. The more the merrier."
"That is a very sound observe. My Christina will have a wedding to be seen and heard tell of from one sacramental occasion to another."
"Well, then, good luck to Andrew Binnie, and may he come soon home and well home, and sorrow of all kinds keep a day's sail behind him. And surely he will go back to the boats when he has saved his conscience, for there is never a better sailor and fisher on the North Sea. The men were all saying that when he was so ill."
"It is the very truth. Andrew can read the sea as well as the minister can read the Book. He never turns his back on it; his boat is always ready to kiss the wind in its teeth. I have been with him when rip! rip! rip! went her canvas; but I hadn't a single fear, I knew the lad at the helm. I knew he would bring her to her bearings beautifully. He always did, and then how the gallant bit of a creature would shake herself and away like a sea-gull. My Andrew is a son of the sea as all his forbears were. Its salt is in his blood, and when the tide is going with a race and a roar, and the break of the waves and the howl of the wind is like a thousand guns, then Andrew Binnie is in the element he likes best; aye, though his boat be spinning round like a laddie's top."
"Well, Janet, I will be going."
"Mind this, Sabrina, I have told you all to my heart's keel; and if folks are saying to you that Jamie has given Christina the slip, or that the Binnies are scrimpit for poverty's sake, or the like of any other ill-natured thing, you will be knowing how to answer them."
"'Deed, I will! And I am real glad things are so well with you all, Janet."
"Well, and like to be better, thank God, as soon as Andrew gets back from foreign parts."
In the meantime, Andrew, after a pleasant sail, had reached New York. He made many friends on the ship, and in the few days of bad weather usually encountered came to the front, as he always did when winds were blowing and sailor-men had to wear oil skins. The first sight of the New World made him silent. He was too prudent to hazard an opinion about any place so remote and so strange, though he cautiously admitted "the lift was as blue as in Scotland and the sunshine not to speak ill of." But as his ideas of large towns had been formed upon Edinburgh and Glasgow, he could hardly admire New York. "It looks," he said to an acquaintance who was showing him the city, "it looks as if it had been built in a hurry;" for he was thinking of the granite streets and piers of Glasgow. "Besides," he added, "there is no romance or beauty about it; it is all straight lines and squares. Man alive! you should see Edinburgh the sel of it, the castle, and the links, and the bonnie terraces, and the Highland men parading the streets, it is just a bit of poetry made out of builders stones."
With the information he had received from the mate of the "Circassia," and his advice and directions, Andrew had little difficulty in locating Jamie Logan. He found his name in the list of seamen sailing a steamer between New York and New Orleans; and this steamer was then lying at her pier on the North River. It was not very hard to obtain permission to interview Jamie, and armed with this authority, he went to the ship one very hot afternoon about four o'clock.
Jamie was at the hold, attending to the unshipping of cargo; and as he lifted himself from the stooping attitude which his work demanded, he saw Andrew Binnie approaching him. He pretended, however, not to see him, and became suddenly very deeply interested in the removal of a certain case of goods. Andrew was quite conscious of the affectation, but he did not blame Jamie; it only made him the more anxious to atone for the wrong he had done. He stepped rapidly forward, and with extended hands said:—
"Jamie Logan, I have come all the way from Scotland to ask you to forgive me. I thought wrong of you, and I said wrong to you, and I am sorry for it. Can you pass it by for Christ's sake?"
Jamie looked into the speaker's face, frankly and gravely, but with the air of a man who has found something he thought lost. He took Andrew's hands in his own hands and answered:—
"Aye, I can forgive you with all my heart. I knew you would come to yourself some day, Andrew; but it has seemed a long time waiting. I have not a word against you now. A man that can come three thousand miles to own up to a wrong is worth forgiving. How is Christina?"
"Christina is well, but tired-like with the care of me through my long sickness. She has sent you a letter, and here it is. The poor lass has suffered more than either of us; but never a word of complaining from her. Jamie, I have promised her to bring you back with me. Can you come?"
"I will go back to Scotland with you gladly, if it can be managed. I am fair sick for the soft gray skies, and the keen, salt wind of the North Sea. Last Sabbath Day I was in New Orleans—fairly baking with the heat of the place—and I thought I heard the kirk bells across the sands, and saw Christina stepping down the cliff with the Book in her hands and her sweet smile making all hearts but mine happy. Andrew man, I could not keep the tears out of my een, and my heart was away down to my feet, and I was fairly sick with longing."
They left the ship together and spent the night in each other's company. Their room was a small one, in a small river-side hotel, hot and close smelling; but the two men created their own atmosphere. For as they talked of their old life, the clean, sharp breezes of Pittendurie swept through the stifling room; they tasted the brine on the wind's wings, and felt the wet, firm sands under their feet. Or they talked of the fishing boats, until they could see their sails bellying out, as they lay down just enough to show they felt the fresh wind tossing the spray from their bows and lifting themselves over the great waves as if they stepped over them.
Before they slept, they had talked themselves into a fever of home sickness, and the first work of the next day was to make arrangements for Jamie's release from his obligations. There was some delay and difficulty about this matter, but it was finally completed to the satisfaction of all parties, and Andrew and Jamie took the next Anchor Line steamer for Glasgow.
On the voyage home, the two men got very close to each other, not in any accidental mood of confidence, but out of a thoughtful and assured conviction of respect. Andrew told Jamie all about his lost money and the plans for his future which had been dependent on it, and Jamie said—
"No wonder you went off your health and senses with the thought of your loss, Andrew I would have been less sensible than you. It was an awful experience, man, I cannot tell how you tholed it at all."
"Well, I didn't thole it, Jamie. I just broke down under it, and God Almighty and my mother and sister had to carry me through the ill time; but all is right now. I shall have the boat I was promised, and at the long last be Captain Binnie of the Red-White Fleet. And what for shouldn't you take a berth with me? I shall have the choosing of my officers, and we will strike hands together, if you like it, and you shall be my second mate to start with."
"I should like nothing better than to sail with you and under you, Andrew. I couldn't find a captain more to my liking."
"Nor I a better second mate. We both know our business, and we shall manage it cleverly and brotherly."
So Jamie's future was settled before the men reached Pittendurie, and the new arrangement well talked over, and Andrew and his proposed brother-in-law were finger and thumb about it. This was a good thing for Andrew, for his secretive, self-contained disposition was his weak point, and had been the cause of all his sorrow and loss of time and suffering.
They had written a letter in New York and posted it the day they left, advising Janet and Christina of the happy home-coming; but both men forgot, or else did not know, that the letter came on the very same ship with themselves, and might therefore or might not reach home before them. It depended entirely on the postal authority in Pittendurie. If she happened to be in a mood to sort the letters as soon as they arrived, and then if she happened to see any one passing who could carry a letter to Janet Binnie, the chances were that Janet would receive the intelligence of her son's arrival in time to make some preparation for it.
As it happened, these favourable circumstances occurred, and about four o'clock one afternoon, as Janet was returning up the cliff from Isobel Murray's, she met little Tim Galloway with the letter in his hand.
"It is from America," said the laddie, "and my mother told me to hurry myself with it. Maybe there is folk coming after it."
"I'll give you a bawbee for the sense of your words, Tim," answered Janet; and she hastened herself and flung the letter into Christina's lap, saying:—
"Open it, lassie, it will be full of good news. I shouldn't wonder if both lads were on their way home again."
"Mother, Mother, they are home; they will be here anon, they will be here this very night. Oh, Mother, I must put on my best gown and my gold ear-rings and brush my hair, and you'll be setting forward the tea and making a white pudding; for Jamie, you know, was always saying none but you could mix the meal and salt and pepper, and toast it as it should be done."
"I shall look after the men's eating, Christina, and you make yourself as braw as you like to. Jamie has been long away, and he must have a full welcome home again."
They were both as excited as two happy children; perhaps Janet was most evidently so, for she had never lost her child-heart, and everything pleasant that happened was a joy and a wonder to her. She took out her best damask table-cloth, and opened her bride chest for the real china kept there so carefully; and she made the white pudding with her own hands, and ran down the cliff for fresh fish and the lamb chops which were Andrew's special luxury. And Christina made the curds and cream, and swept the hearth, and set the door wide open for the home-comers.
And as good fortune comes where it is looked for, Andrew and Jamie entered the cottage just as everything was ready for them. There was no waiting, no cooled welcome, no spoiled dainties, no disappointment of any kind. Life was taken up where it had been most pleasantly dropped; all the interval of doubt and suffering was put out of remembrance, and when the joyful meal had been eaten, as Janet washed her cups and saucers and tidied her house, they talked of the happy future before them.
"And I'll tell you what, bairnies," said the dear old woman as she stood folding her real china in the tissue paper devoted to that purpose, "I'll tell you what, bairnies, good will asks for good deeds, and I'll show my good will by giving Christina the acre of land next my own. If Jamie is to go with you, Andrew, and your home is to be with me, lad—"
"Where else would it be, Mother?"
"Well, then, where else need Jamie's home be but in Pittendurie? I'll give the land for his house, and what will you do, Andrew? Speak for your best self, my lad."
"I will give my sister Christina one hundred gold sovereigns and the silk wedding-gown I promised her."
"Oh, Andrew, my dear brother, how will I ever thank you as I ought to?"
"I owe you more, Christina, than I can count."
"No, no, Andrew," said Janet. "What has Christina done that siller can pay for? You can't buy love with money, and gold isn't in exchange for it. Your gift is a good-will gift. It isn't a paid debt, God be thanked!"
The very next day the little family went into Largo, and the acre was legally transferred, and Jamie made arrangements for the building of his cottage. But the marriage did not wait on the building; it was delayed no longer than was necessary for the making of the silk wedding-gown. This office Griselda Kilgour undertook with much readiness and an entire oblivion of Janet's unadvised allusions to her age. And more than this, Griselda dressed the bride with her own hands, adding to her costume a bonnet of white tulle and orange blossoms that was the admiration of the whole village, and which certainly had a bewitching effect above Christina's waving black hair, and shining eyes, and marvellous colouring.
And, as Janet desired, the wedding was a holiday for the whole of Pittendurie. Old and young were bid to it, and for two days the dance, the feast, and the song went gayly on, and for two days not a single fishing boat left the little port of Pittendurie. Then the men went out to sea again, and the women paid their bride visits, and the children finished all the dainties that were else like to be wasted, and life gradually settled back into its usual grooves.
But though Jamie went to the fishing, pending Andrew's appointment to his steamboat, Janet and Christina had a never-ceasing interest in the building and plenishing of Christina's new home. It was not fashionable, nor indeed hardly permissible, for any one to build a house on a plan grander than the traditional fisher cottage; but Christina's, though no larger than her neighbours', had the modern convenience of many little closets and presses, and these Janet filled with homespun napery, linseys, and patch-work, so that never a young lass in Pittendurie began life under such full and happy circumstances.
In the fall of the year the new fire was lit on the new hearth, and Christina moved into her own home. It was only divided from her mother's by a strip of garden and a low fence, and the two women could stand in their open doors and talk to each other. And during the summer all had gone well. Jamie had been fortunate and made money, and Andrew had perfected all his arrangements, so that one morning in early September, the whole village saw "The Falcon" come to anchor in the bay, and Captain Binnie, in his gold-buttoned coat and gold-banded cap, take his place on her bridge, with Jamie, less conspicuously attired, attending him.
It was a proud day for Janet and Christina, though Janet, guided by some fine instinct, remained in her own home, and made no afternoon calls. "I don't want to force folk to say either kind or unkind things to me," she said to her daughter. "You know, Christina, it is a deal harder to rejoice with them that rejoice than to weep with them that weep. Sabrina Roy, as soon as she got her eyes on Andrew in his trimmings, perfectly changed colours with envy; and we have been a speculation to far and near, more than one body saying we were going fairly to the mischief with out extravagance. They thought poverty had us under her black thumb, and they did not think of the hand of God, which was our surety."
However, that afternoon Janet had a great many callers, and not a few came up the cliff out of real kindness, for, doubt as we will, there is a constant inflowing of God into human affairs. And Janet, in her heart, did not doubt her neighbours readily; she took the homage rendered in a very pleased and gracious manner, and she made a cup of tea and a little feast for her company, and the clash and clatter in the Binnie cottage that afternoon was exceedingly full of good wishes and compliments. Indeed, as Janet reviewed them afterwards, they provoked from her a broad smile, and she said with a touch of good-natured criticism:—
"If we could make compliments into silk gowns, Christina, you and I would be bonnily clad for the rest of our lives. Nobody said a nattering word but poor Bella McLean, and she has been soured and sore kept down in the world by a ne'er-do-weel of a husband."
"She should try and guide him better," said Christina. "If he was my man, I would put him through his facings."
"Toots, Christina. You are over young in the marriage state to offer opinions about men folk. As far as I can see, every woman can guide a bad husband but the poor soul that has the ill-luck to have one. Open the Book now, and let us thank God for the good day He has given us."
"TAKE ME IN TO DIE!"
After this, the pleasant months went by with nothing but Andrew's and Jamie's visits to mark them, and, every now and then, a sough of sorrow from the big house of Braelands. And now that her own girl was so happily settled, Janet began to have a longing anxiety about poor Sophy. She heard all kinds of evil reports concerning the relations between her and her husband, and twice during the winter there was a rumour, hardly hushed up, of a separation between them.
Isobel Murray, to whom at first Sophy turned in her sorrow, had not responded to any later confidences. "My man told me to neither listen nor speak against Archie Braelands," she said to Janet. "We have our own boat to guide, and Sophy cannot be a friend to us; while it is very sure Braelands can be an enemy beyond our 'don't care.' Six little lads and lassies made folk mind their own business. And I'm no very sure but what Sophy's troubles are Sophy's own making. At any rate, she isn't faultless; you be to have both flint and stone to strike fire."
"I'll not hear you say the like of that, Isobel. Sophy may be misguided and unwise, but there is not a wrong thought in her heart. The bit vanity of the young thing was her only fault, and I'm thinking she has paid sorely for it."
All winter, such vague and miserable bits of gossip found their way into the fishing village, and one morning in the following spring, Janet met a young girl who frequently went to Braelands House with fresh fish. She was then on her way home from such an errand, and Janet fancied there was a look of unusual emotion on her broad, stolid face.
"Maggie-Ann," she said, stopping her, "where have you been this morning?"
"Up to Braelands." "And what did you see or hear tell of?"
"I saw nothing; but I heard more than I liked to hear."
"About Mistress Braelands? You know, Maggie-Ann, that she is my own flesh and blood, and I be to feel her wrongs my wrongs."
"Surely, Janet There had been a big stir, and you could feel it in the very air of the house. The servants were feared to speak or to step, and when the door opened, the sound of angry words and of somebody crying was plain to be heard. Jean Craigie, the cook, told me it was about the Dower House. The mistress wants to get away from her mother-in-law, and she had been begging her husband to go and live in the Dower House with her, since Madame would not leave them their own place."
"She is right," answered Janet boldly. "I wouldn't live with that fine old sinner myself, and I think there are few women in Fife I couldn't talk back to if I wanted. Sophy ought never to have bided with her for a day. They have no business under the same roof. A baby and a popish inquisitor would be as well matched."
It had, indeed, come at last to Sophy's positive refusal to live longer with her mother-in-law. In a hundred ways the young wife felt her inability to cope with a woman so wise and so wicked, and she had finally begun to entreat Archie to take her away from Braelands. The man was in a strait which could end only in anger. He was completely under his mother's influence, while Sophy's influence had been gradually weakened by Madame's innuendos and complaints, her pity for Archie, and her tattle of visitors. These things were bad enough; but Sophy's worst failures came from within herself. She had been snubbed and laughed at, scolded and corrected, until she had lost all spontaneity and all the grace and charm of her natural manner. This condition would not have been so readily brought about, had she retained her health and her flower-like beauty. But after the birth of her child she faded slowly away. She had not the strength for a constant, never-resting assertion of her rights, and nothing less would have availed her; nor had she the metal brightness to expose or circumvent the false and foolish positions in which Madame habitually placed her.
Little by little, the facts of the unhappy case leaked out, and were warmly commented on by the fisher-families with whom Sophy was connected either by blood or friendship. Her father's shipmates were many of them living and she had cousins of every degree among the nets—men and women who did not forget the motherless, fatherless lassie who had played with their own children. These people made Archie feel their antagonism. They would neither take his money, nor give him their votes, nor lift their bonnets to his greeting. And though such honest, primitive feelings were proper enough, they did not help Sophy. On the contrary, they strengthened Madame's continual assertion that her son's marriage had ruined his public career and political prospects. Still there is nothing more wonderful than the tugs and twists the marriage tie will bear. There were still days in which Archie—either from love, or pity, or contradiction, or perhaps from a sense of simple justice—took his wife's part so positively that Madame must have been discouraged if she had been a less understanding woman. As it was, she only smiled at such fitful affection, and laid her plans a little more carefully. And as the devil strengthens the hands of those who do his work, Madame received a potent reinforcement in the return home of her nearest neighbour, Miss Marion Glamis. As a girl, she had been Archie's friend and playmate; then she had been sent to Paris for her education, and afterwards travelled extensively with her father who was a man of very comfortable fortune. Marion herself had a private income, and Madame had been accustomed to believe that when Archie married, he would choose Marion Glamis for his wife.
She was a tall, high-coloured, rather mannish-looking girl, handsome in form, witty in speech, and disposed towards field sports of every kind. She disliked Sophy on sight, and Madame perceived it, and easily worked on the girl's worst feelings. Besides, Marion had no lover at the time, and she had come home with the idea of Archie Braelands tilling such imagination as she possessed. To find herself supplanted by a girl of low birth, "without a single advantage" as she said frankly to Archie's mother, provoked and humiliated her. "She has not beauty, nor grace, nor wit, nor money, nor any earthly thing to recommend her to Archie's notice. Was the man under a spell?" she asked.
"Indeed she had a kind of beauty and grace when Archie married her," answered Madame; "I must admit that. But bringing her to Braelands was like transplanting a hedge flower into a hot-house. She has just wilted ever since."
"Has she been noticed by Archie's friends at all?"
"I have taken good care she did not see much of Archie's friends, and her ill health has been a splendid excuse for her seclusion. Yet it was strange how much the few people she met admired her. Lady Blair goes into italics every time she comes here about 'The Beauty', and the Bells, and Curries, and Cupars, have done their best to get her to visit them. I knew better than permit such folly. She would have told all sorts of things, and raised the country-side against me; though, really, no one will ever know what I have gone through in my efforts to lick the cub into shape!"
Marion laughed, and, Archie coming in at that moment, she launched all her high spirits and catches and witticisms at him. Her brilliancy and colour and style were very effective, and there was a sentimental remembrance for the foundation of a flirtation which Marion very cleverly took advantage of, and which Archie was not inclined to deny. His life was monotonous, he was ennuye, and this bold, bright incarnation, with her half disguised admiration for himself, was an irresistible new interest.
So their intimacy soon became frequent and friendly. There were horseback rides together in the mornings, sails in the afternoons, and duets on the piano in the evenings. Then her Parisian toilets made poor Sophy's Largo dresses look funnily dowdy, and her sharp questions and affected ignorances of Sophy's meanings and answers were cleverly aided by Madame's cold silences, lifted brows, and hopeless acceptance of such an outside barbarian. Long before a dinner was over, Sophy had been driven into silence, and it was perhaps impossible for her to avoid an air of offence and injury, so that Marion had the charming in her own hands. After dinner, Admiral Glamis and Madame usually played a game of chess, and Archie sang or played duets with Marion, while Sophy, sitting sadly unnoticed and unemployed, watched her husband give to his companion such smiles and careful attentions as he had used to win her own heart.
What regrets and fears and feelings of wrong troubled her heart during these unhappy summer evenings, God only knew. Sometimes her presence seemed to be intolerable to Madame, who would turn to her and say sharply: "You are worn out, Sophy, and it is hardly fair to impose your weariness and low spirits on us. Had you not better go to your room?" Occasionally, Sophy refused to notice this covert order, and she fancied that there was generally a passing expression of pleasure on her husband's face at her rebellion. More frequently, she was glad to escape the slow, long torture, and she would rise, and go through the formality of shaking hands with each person and bidding each "good-night" ere she left the room. "Fisher manners," Madame would whisper impatiently to Marion. "I cannot teach her a decent effacement of her personality." For this little ceremony always ended in Archie's escorting her upstairs, and so far he had never neglected this formal deference due his wife. Sometimes too he came back from the duty very distrait and unhappy-looking, a circumstance always noted by Madame with anger and scorn.
To such a situation, any tragedy was a possible culmination, and day by day there was a more reckless abuse of its opportunities. Madame, when alone with Sophy, did not now scruple to regret openly the fact that Marion was not her daughter-in-law, and if Marion happened to be present, she gave way to her disappointment in such ejaculations as—
"Oh! Marion Glamis, why did you stay away so long? Why did you not come home before Archie's life was ruined?" And the girl would sigh and answer: "Is not my life ruined also? Could any one have imagined Archie Braelands would have an attack of insanity?" Then Sophy, feeling her impotence between the tongues of her two enemies, would rise and go away, more or less angrily or sadly, followed through the hall and half-way upstairs by the snickering, confidential laughter of their common ridicule.
At the latter end of June, Admiral Glamis proposed an expedition to Norway. They were to hire a yacht, select a merry party, and spend July and August sailing and fishing in the cool fiords of that picturesque land. Archie took charge of all the arrangements. He secured a yacht, and posted a notice in the Public House of Pittendurie for men to sail her. He had no doubt of any number of applications; for the work was light and pleasant, and much better paid than any fishing-job. But not a man presented himself, and not even when Archie sought out the best sailors and those accustomed to the cross seas between Scotland and Norway, could he induce any one to take charge of the yacht and man her. The Admiral's astonishment at Archie's lack of influence among his own neighbours and tenants was not very pleasant to bear, and Marion openly said:—
"They are making cause with your wife, Archie, against you. They imagine themselves very loyal and unselfish. Fools! a few extra sovereigns would be much better."
"But why make cause for my wife against me, Marion?" asked Archie.
"You know best; ask Madame, she is my authority," and she shrugged her shoulders and went laughing from his side.
Nothing in all his married life had so annoyed Archie as this dour displeasure of men who had always before been glad to serve him. Madame was indignant, sorrowful, anxious, everything else that could further irritate her angry son; and poor Sophy might well have prayed in those days "deliver me from my friends!" But at length the yacht was ready for sea, and Archie ran upstairs in the middle of one hot afternoon to bid his wife "goodbye!"
She was resting on her bed, and he never forgot the eager, wistful, longing look of the wasted white face on the white pillow. He told her to take care of herself for his sake. He told her not to let any one worry or annoy her. He kissed her tenderly, and then, after he had closed the door, he came back and kissed her again; and there were days coming in which it was some comfort to him to remember this trifling kindness.
"You will not forget me, Archie?" she asked sadly.
"I will not, sweetheart," he answered.
"You will write me a letter when you can, dear?"
"I will be sure to do so."
"You—you—you will love me best of all?"
"How can I help it? Don't cry now. Send me away with a smile."
"Yes, dear. I will try and be happy, and try and get well."
"I am sorry you cannot go with us, Sophy."
"I am sorry too, Archie; but I could not bear the knocking about, and the noise and bustle, and the merry-making. I should only spoil your pleasure. I wouldn't like to do that, dear. Good-bye, and good-bye."
For a few minutes he was very miserable. A sense of shame came over him. He felt that he was unkind, selfish, and quite unworthy of the tender love given him. But in half an hour he was out at sea, Marion was at his side, the Admiral was consulting him about the cooling of the dinner wines, the skipper was promising them a lively sail with a fair wind—and the white, loving face went out of his memory, and out of his consideration.
Yet while he was sipping wine and singing songs with Marion Glamis, and looking with admiration into her rosy, glowing face, Sophy was suffering all the slings and arrows of Madame's outrageous hatred. She complained all dinner-time, even while the servants were present, of the deprivation she had to endure for Sophy's sake. The fact was she had not been invited to join the yachting-party, two very desirable ladies having refused to spend two months in her society. But she ignored this fact, and insisted on the fiction that she had been compelled to remain at home to look after Sophy.
"I wish you had gone! Oh, I wish you had gone and left me in peace!" cried the poor wife at last in a passion. "I could have been happy if I had been left to myself."
"And your low relations! You have made mischief enough with them for Archie, poor fellow! Don't tell me that you make no complaints. The shameful behaviour of those vulgar fishermen, refusing to sail a yacht for Braelands, is proof positive of your underhand ways."
"My relations are not low. They would scorn to do the low, cruel, wicked things some people who call themselves 'high born' do all the time. But low or high, they are mine, and while Archie is away, I intend to see them as often as I can."
This little bit of rebellion was the one thing in which she could show herself Mistress of Braelands; for she knew that she could rely on Thomas to bring the carriage to her order. So the next morning she went very early to call on Griselda Kilgour. Griselda had not seen her niece for some time, and she was shocked at the change in her appearance, indeed, she could hardly refrain the exclamations of pity and fear that flew to her lips.
"Send the carriage to the Queens Arms," she said, "and stay with me all day, Sophy, my dear."
"Very well, Aunt, I am tired enough. Let me lie down on the sofa, and take off my bonnet and cloak. My clothes are just a weight and a weariness."
"Aren't you well, dearie?"
"I must be sick someway, I think. I can't sleep, and I can't eat; and I am that weak I haven't the strength or spirit to say a word back to Madame, however ill her words are to me."
"I heard that Braelands had gone away?"
"Aye, for two months."
"With the Glamis crowd?"
"Why didn't you go too?"
"I couldn't thole the sail, nor the company."
"Do you like Miss Glamis?"
"I'm feared I hate her. Oh! Aunt, she makes love to Archie before my very eyes, and Madame tells me morning, noon, and night, that she was his first love and ought to have married him."
"I wouldn't stand the like of that. But Archie is not changed to you, dearie?"
"I cannot say he is; but what man can be aye with a fond woman, bright and bonnie, and not think of her as he shouldn't think? I'm not blaming Archie much. It is Madame and Miss Glamis, and above all my own shortcomings. I can't talk, I can't dress, I can't walk, nor in any way act, as that set of women do. I am like a fish out of its element. It is bonnie enough in the water; but it only flops and dies if you take it out of the water and put it on the dry land. I wish I had never seen Archie Braelands! If I hadn't, I would have married Andrew Binnie, and been happy and well enough."
"You were hearing that he is now Captain Binnie of the Red-White Fleet?"
"Aye, I heard. Madame was reading about it in the Largo paper. Andrew is a good man, Aunt. I am glad of his good luck."
"Christina is well married too. You were hearing of that?"
"Aye; but tell me all about it."
So Griselda entered into a narration which lasted until Sophy slipped into a deep slumber. And whether it was simply the slumber of utter exhaustion, or whether it was the sweet oblivion which results from a sense of peace long denied, or perhaps the union of both these conditions, the result was that she lay wrapped in an almost lethargic sleep for many hours. Twice Thomas came with the carriage, and twice Griselda sent him away. And the man shook his head sadly and said:—
"Let her alone; I wouldn't be the one to wake her up for all my place is worth. It may be a health sleep."
"Aye, it may be," answered Griselda, "but I have heard old folk say that such black, deep sleep is sent to fit the soul for some calamity lying in wait for it. It won't be lucky to wake her anyway."
"No, and I am thinking nothing worse can come to the little mistress than the sorrow she is tholing now. I'll be back in an hour, Miss Kilgour."
Thus it happened that it was late in the afternoon when Sophy returned to her home, and her rest had so refreshed her that she was more than usually able to hold her own with Madame. Many unpardonable words were said on both sides; and the quarrel, thus early inaugurated, raged from day to-day, either in open recrimination, or in a still more distressing interference with all Sophy's personal desires and occupations. The servants were, in a measure, compelled to take part in the unnatural quarrel; and before three weeks were over, Sophy's condition was one of such abnormal excitement that she was hardly any longer accountable for her actions. The final blow was struck while she was so little able to bear it. A letter from Archie, posted in Christiania and addressed to his wife, came one morning. As Sophy was never able to come down to breakfast, Madame at once appropriated the letter. When she had read it and finished her breakfast, she went to Sophy's room.