"I have had a letter from Archie," she said.
"Was there none for me?"
"No; but I thought you might like to know that Archie says he never was so happy in all his life. The Admiral, and Marion, and he, are in Christiania for a week or two, and enjoying themselves every minute of the time. Dear Marion! She knows how to make Archie happy. It is a great shame I could not be with them."
"Is there any message for me?"
"Not a word. I suppose Archie knew I should tell you all that it was necessary for you to know."
"Please go away; I want to go to sleep."
"You want to cry. You do nothing but sleep and cry, and cry and sleep; no wonder you have tired Archie's patience out."
"I have not tired Archie out. Oh, I wish he was here! I wish he was here!"
"He will be back in five or six weeks, unless Marion persuades him to go to the Mediterranean—and, as the Admiral is so fond of the sea, that move is not unlikely."
"Please go away."
"I shall be only too happy to do so."
Now it happened that the footman, in taking in the mail, had noticed the letter for Sophy, and commented on it in the kitchen; and every servant in the house had been glad for the joy it would bring to the lonely, sick woman. So there was nothing remarkable in her maid saying, as she dressed her mistress:—
"I hope Mr. Braelands is well; and though I say it as perhaps I shouldn't say it, we was all pleased at your getting Master's letter this morning. We all hope it will make you feel brighter and stronger, I'm sure."
"The letter was Madame's letter, not mine, Leslie."
"Indeed, it was not, ma'am. Alexander said himself, and I heard him, 'there is a long letter for Mrs. Archibald this morning,' and we were all that pleased as never was."
"Are you sure, Leslie?"
"Yes, I am sure."
"Go down-stairs and ask Alexander."
Leslie went and came back immediately with Alexander's positive assertion that the letter was directed to Mrs. Archibald Braelands, Sophy made no answer, but there was a swift and remarkable change in her appearance and manner. She put her physical weakness out of her consideration, and with a flush on her cheeks and a flashing light in her eyes, she went down to the parlour. Madame had a caller with her, a lady of not very decided position, who was therefore eager to please her patron; but Sophy was beyond all regard for such conventionalities as she had been ordered to observe. She took no notice of the visitor, but going straight to Madame, she said:—
"You took my letter this morning. You had no right to take it; you had no right to read it; you had no right to make up lies from it and come to my bedside with them. Give me my letter."
Madame turned to her visitor. "You see this impossible creature!" she cried. "She demands from me a letter that never came." "It did come. You have my letter. Give it to me."
"My dear Sophy, go to your room. You are not in a fit state to see any one."
"Give me my letter. At least, let me see the letter that came."
"I shall do nothing of the kind. If you choose to suspect me, you must do so. Can I make your husband write to you?"
"He did write to me."
"Mrs. Stirling, do you wonder now at my son's running away from his home?"
"Indeed I am fairly astonished at what I see and hear."
"Sophy, you foolish woman, do not make any greater exhibit of yourself that you have done. For heaven's sake, go to your own room. I have only my own letter, and I told you all of importance in it."
"Every servant in the house knows that the letter was mine."
"What the servants know is nothing to me. Now, Sophy, I will stand no more of this; either you leave the room, or Mrs. Stirling and I will do so. Remember that you have betrayed yourself. I am not to blame."
"What do you mean, Madame?"
"I mean that you may have hallucinations, but that you need not exhibit them to the world. For my son's sake, I demand that you go to your room."
"I want my letter. For God's sake, have pity on me, and give me my letter!"
Madame did not answer, but she took her friend by the arm and they left the room together. In the hall Madame saw a servant, and she said blandly—
"Go and tell Leslie to look after her mistress, she is in the parlour. And you may also tell Leslie that if she allows her to come down again in her present mood, she will be dismissed."
"Poor thing!" said Mrs. Stirling. "You must have your hands full with her, Madame. Nobody had any idea of such a tragedy as this though I must say I have heard many wonder about the lady's seclusion."
"You see the necessity for it. However, we do not wish any talk on the subject."
Slowly it came to Sophy's comprehension that she had been treated like an insane woman, and her anger, though quiet, was of that kind that means action of some sort. She went to her room, but it was only to recall the wrong upon wrong, the insult upon insult she had received.
"I will go away from it all," she said. "I will go away until Archie returns. I will not sleep another night under the same roof with that wicked woman. I will stay away till I die, ere I will do it."
Usually she had little strength for much movement, but at this hour she felt no physical weakness. She made Leslie bring her a street costume of brown cloth, and she carefully put into her purse all the money she had. Then she ordered the carriage and rode as far as her aunt Kilgour's. "Come for me in an hour, Thomas," she said, and then she entered the shop.
"Aunt, I am come back to you. Will you let me stay with you till Archie gets home? I can bide yon dreadful old woman no longer."
"Meaning Madame Braelands?"
"She is just beyond all things. This morning she has kept a letter that Archie wrote me; and she has told me a lot of lies in its place. I'm not able to thole her another hour."
"I'll tell you what, Sophy, Madame was here since I saw you, and she says you are neither to be guided nor endured I don't know who to believe."
"Oh! aunt, aunt, you know well I wouldn't tell you a lie. I am so miserable! For God's sake, take me in!"
"I'd like to, Sophy, but I'm not free to do so."
"You're putting Madame's bit of siller and the work she's promised you from the Glamis girl before my heart-break. Oh, how can you?"
"Sophy, you have lived with me, and I saw you often dissatisfied and unreasonable for nothing at all."
"I was a bit foolish lassie then. I am a poor, miserable, sick woman now."
"You have no need to be poor, and miserable, and sick. I won't encourage you to run away from your home and your duty. At any rate, bide where you are till your husband comes back. I would be wicked to give you any other advice."
"You mean that you won't let me come and stay with you?"
"No, I won't. I would be your worst enemy if I did."
"Then good-bye. You will maybe be sorry some day for the 'No' you have just said."
She went slowly out of the store, and Griselda was very unhappy, and called to her to come back and wait for her carriage. She did not heed or answer, but walked with evident purpose down a certain street. It led her to the railway station, and she went in and took a ticket for Edinburgh. She had hardly done so when the train came thundering into the station, she stepped into it, and in a few minutes was flying at express rate to her destination. She had relatives in Edinburgh, and she thought she knew their dwelling place, having called on them with her Aunt Kilgour when they were in that city, just previous to her marriage. But she found that they had removed, and no one in the vicinity knew to what quarter of the town. She was too tired to pursue inquiries, or even to think any more that day, and she went to a hotel and tried to rest and sleep. In the morning she remembered that her mother's cousin, Jane Anderson, lived in Glasgow at some number in Monteith Row. The Row was not a long one, even if she had to go from house to house to find her relative. So she determined to go on to Glasgow.
She felt ill, strangely ill; she was in a burning fever and did not know it. Yet she managed to get into the proper train, and to retain her consciousness for sometime afterwards, ere she succumbed to the inevitable consequences of her condition. Before the train reached its destination, however, she was in a desperate state, and the first action of the guard was to call a carriage and send her to a hospital.
After this kindness had been done, Sophy was dead to herself and the world for nearly three weeks. She remembered nothing, she knew nothing, she spoke only in the most disconnected and puzzling manner. For her speech wandered between the homely fisher life of her childhood and the splendid social life of Braelands. Her personality was equally perplexing. The clothing she wore was of the finest quality; her rings, and brooch, and jewelled watch, indicated wealth and station; yet her speech, especially during the fever, was that of the people, and as she began to help herself, she had little natural actions that showed the want of early polite breeding. No letter or card, no name or address of any kind, was found on her person; she appeared to be as absolutely lost as a stone dropped into the deep sea.
And when she came to herself and realised where she was, and found out from her attendant the circumstances under which she had been brought to the hospital, she was still more reticent. For her first thought related to the annoyance Archie would feel at her detention in a public hospital; her second, to the unmerciful use Madame would make of the circumstance. She could not reason very clearly, but her idea was to find her cousin and gain her protection, and then, from that more respectable covett, to write to her husband. She might admit her illness—indeed, she would be almost compelled to do that, for she had fallen away so much, and had had her hair cut short during the height of the fever—but Archie and Madame must not know that she had been in a public hospital. For fisher-people have a singular dislike to public charity of any kind; they help one another. And, to Sophy's intelligence, the hospital episode was a disgrace that not even her insensibility could quite excuse.
Several weeks passed in that long, spotless, white room full of suffering, before Sophy was able to stand upon her feet, before indeed she began to realise the passage of time, and the consequences which must have followed her long absence and silence. But all her efforts at writing were failures. The thought she wished to express slipped off into darkness as soon as she tried to write it; her vision failed her, her hands failed her; she could only sink back upon her pillow and lie inert and almost indifferent for hours afterwards. And as the one letter she wished to write was to Archie, she could not depute it to any one else. Besides, the nurse would tell where she was, and that was a circumstance she must at all hazards keep to herself. It had been hot July weather when she was first placed on her hard, weary bed of suffering, it was the end of September when she was able to leave the hospital. Her purse with its few sovereigns in it was returned to her, and the doctor told her kindly, if she had any friends in the world, to go at once to their care.
"You have talked a great deal of the sea and the boats," he said; "get close to the sea if you can; it is perhaps the best and the only thing for you."
She thanked him and answered: "I am going to the Fife coast. I have friends there, I think." She put out a little wasted hand, and he clasped it with a sigh.
"So young, so pretty, so good," he said to the nurse, as they stood watching her walk very feebly and unsteadily away.
"I will give her three months at the longest, if she has love and care. I will give her three weeks—nay, I will say three days, if she has to care for herself, or if any particular trouble come to her."
Then they turned from the window, and Sophy hired a cab and went to Monteith Row to try and find her friends. She wanted to write to her husband and ask him to come for her. She thought she could do this best from her cousin's home. "I will give her a bonnie ring or two, and I will tell her the whole truth, and she will be sure to stand by me, for there is nothing wrong to stand by, and blood is aye thicker than water." And then her thoughts wandered on to a contingency that brought a flush of pain to her cheeks. "Besides, maybe Archie might have an ill thought put into his head, and then the doctors and nurses in the hospital could tell him what would make all clear." She went through many of the houses, inquiring for Ellen Montgomery, but could not find her, and she was finally obliged to go to a hotel and rest. "I will take the lave of the houses in the morning," she thought, "it is aye the last thing that is the right thing; everybody finds that out."
That evening, however, something happened which changed all her ideas and intentions. She went into the hotel parlour and sat down; there were some newspapers on the table, and she lifted one. It was an Edinburgh paper, but the first words her eyes fell on was her husband's name. Her heart leaped up at the sight of it, and she read the paragraph. Then the paper dropped from her hands. She felt that she was going to faint, and by a supreme effort of will she recalled her senses and compelled them to stay and suffer with her. Again, and then again, she read the paragraph, unable at first to believe what she did read, for it was a notice, signed by her husband, advising the world in general that she had voluntarily left his home, and that he would no longer be responsible for any debt she might contract in his name. To her childlike, ignorant nature, this public exposure of her was a final act. She felt that it was all the same as a decree of divorce. "Archie had cast her off; Madame had at last parted them." For an hour she sat still in a very stupour of despair.
"But something might yet be done; yes, something must be done. She would go instantly to Fife; she would tell Archie everything. He could not blame her for being sick and beyond reason or knowledge. The doctors and nurses of the hospital would certify to the truth of all she said." Ah! she had only to look in a mirror to know that her own wasted face and form would have been testimony enough.
That night she could not move, she had done all that it was possible for her to do that day; but on the morrow she would be rested and she might trust herself to the noise and bustle of the street and railway. The day was well on before she found strength to do this; but at length she found herself on the direct road to Largo, though she could hardly tell how it had been managed. As she approached the long chain of Fife fishing-villages, she bought the newspaper most widely read in them; and, to her terror and shame, found the same warning to honest folk against her. She was heartsick. With this barrier between Archie and herself, how could she go to Braelands? How could she face Madame? What mockery would be made of her explanations? No, she must see Archie alone. She must tell him the whole truth, somewhere beyond Madame's contradiction and influence. Whom should she go to? Her aunt Kilgour had turned her away, even before this disgrace. Her cousin Isobel's husband had asked her not to come to his house and make loss and trouble for him. If she went direct to Braelands, and Archie happened to be out of the house, Madame would say such things of her before every one as could never be unsaid. If she went to a hotel, she would be known, and looked at, and whispered about, and maybe slighted. What must she do? Where could she see her husband best? She was at her wit's end. She was almost at the end of her physical strength and consciousness. And in this condition, two men behind her began to talk to the rustle of their turning newspapers.
"This is a queer-like thing about Braelands and his wife," said one.
"It is a very bad thing. If the wife has gane awa', she has been driven awa' by bad usage. There is an old woman at Braelands that is as evil-hearted as if she had slipped out o' hell for a few years. Traill's girl was good and bonnie; she was too good, or she would have held her ain side better."
"That may be; but there is a reason deeper than that. The man is wanting to marry the Glamis girl. He has already began a suit for divorce, I hear. Man, man, there is always a woman at the bottom of every sin and trouble!"
Then they began to speak of the crops and the shooting, and Sophy listened in vain for more intelligence. But she had heard enough. Her soul cried out against the hurry and shame of the steps taken in the matter. "So cruel as Archie is!" she sighed. "He might have looked for me! He might have found me even in that awful hospital! He ought to have done so, and taken me away and nursed me himself! If he had loved me! If he had loved me, he would have done these things!". Despair chilled her very blood. She had a thought of going to Braelands, even if she died on its threshold; and then suddenly she remembered Janet Binnie.
As Janet's name came to her mind, the train stopped at Largo, and she slipped out among the hurrying crowd and took the shortest road to Pittendurie. It was then nearly dark, and the evening quite chill and damp; but there was now a decisive end before the dying woman. "She must reach Janet Binnie, and then leave all to her. She would bring Archie to her side. She would be sufficient for Madame. If this only could be managed while she had strength to speak, to explain, to put herself right in Archie's eyes, then she would be willing and glad to die." Step by step, she stumbled forward, full of unutterable anguish of heart, and tortured at every movement by an inability to get breath enough to carry her forward.
At last, at last, she came in sight of Janet's cottage. The cliff terrified her; but she must get up it, somehow. And as she painfully made step after step, a light shone through the open door and seemed to give her strength and welcome. Janet had been spending the evening with her daughter, and had sat with her until near her bedtime. She was doing her last household duties, and the last of all was to close the house-door. When she went to do this, a little figure crouched on the door-step, two weak hands clasped her round the knees, and the very shadow of a thin, pitiful voice sobbed:—
"Janet! Take me in, Janet! Take me in to die! I'll not trouble you long—it is most over, Janet!"
DRIVEN TO HIS DUTY
Toward this culmination of her troubles Archie had indeed contributed far too much, but yet not as much as Sophy thought. He had taken her part, he had sought for her, he had very reluctantly come to accept his mother's opinions. His trip had not been altogether the heaven Madame represented it. The Admiral had proved himself dictatorial and sometimes very disagreeable at sea; the other members of the party had each some unpleasant peculiarities which the cramped quarters and the monotony of yacht life developed. Some had deserted altogether, others grumbled more than was agreeable, and Marion's constant high spirits proved to be at times a great exaction.
Before the close of the pleasure voyage, Archie frequently went alone to remember the sweet, gentle affection of his wife, her delight in his smallest attentions, her instant recognition of his desires, her patient endeavours to please him, her resignation to all his neglect. Her image grew into his best imagination, and when he left the yacht at her moorings in Pittendurie Bay, he hastened to Sophy with the impatience of a lover who is also a husband.
Madame had heard of his arrival and was watching for her son. She met him at the door and he embraced her affectionately, but his first words were, "Sophy, I hope she is not ill. Where is she?"
"My dear Archie, no one knows. She left your home three weeks after you had sailed."
"My God, Mother, what do you mean?"
"No one knows why she left, no one knows or can find out where she went to. Of course, I have my suspicions."
"Sophy! Sophy! Sophy!" he cried, sinking into a chair and covering his face, but, whatever Madame's suspicions, she could not but see that Archie had not a doubt of his wife's honour. After a few minutes' silence, he turned to his mother and said:—
"You have scolded for once, Mother, more than enough. I am sure it is your unkindness that has driven my wife from her home. You promised me not to interfere with her little plans and pleasures."
"If I am to bear the blame of the woman's low tastes, I decline to discuss the matter," and she left the room with an air of great offence.
Of course, if Madame would not discuss the matter with him, nothing remained but the making of such inquiries as the rest of the household could answer. Thomas readily told all he knew, which was the simple statement that "he took his mistress to her aunt's and left her there, and that when he returned for her, Miss Kilgour was much distressed and said she had already left." Archie then immediately sought Miss Kilgour, and from her learned the particulars of his wife's wretchedness, especially those points relating to the appropriated letter. He flushed crimson at this outrage, but made no remark concerning it.
"My one desire now," he said, "is to find out where Sophy has taken refuge. Can you give me any idea?"
"If she is not in Pittendurie,—and I can find no trace of her there,—then I think she may be in Edinburgh or Glasgow. You will mind she had cousins in Edinburgh, and she was very kind with them at the time of her marriage. I thought of them first of all, and I wrote three letters to them; but there has been no answer to any of the three. She has friends in Glasgow, but I am sure she had no knowledge as to where they lived. Besides, I got their address from kin in Aberdeen and wrote there also, and they answered me and said they had never seen or heard tell of Sophy. Here is their letter."
Archie read it carefully and was satisfied that Sophy was not in Glasgow. The silence of the Edinburgh cousins was more promising, and he resolved to go at once to that city and interview them. He did not even return to Braelands, but took the next train southward. Of course his inquiries utterly failed. He found Sophy's relatives, but their air of amazement and their ready and positive denial of all knowledge of his lost wife were not to be doubted. Then he returned to Largo. He assured himself that Sophy was certainly in hiding among the fisher-folk in Pittendurie, and that he would only have to let it be known that he had returned for her to appear. Indeed she must have seen the yacht at anchor, and he fully expected to find her on the door-step waiting for him. As he approached Braelands, he fancied her arms round his neck, and saw her small, wistful, flushing face against his breast; but it was all a dream. The door was closed, and when it admitted him there was nothing but silence and vacant rooms. He was nearly distracted with sorrow and anger, and Madame had a worse hour than she ever remembered when Archie asked her about the fatal letter that had been the active cause of trouble.
"The letter was Sophy's," he said passionately, "and you knew it was. How then could you be so shamefully dishonourable as to keep it from her?"
"If you choose to reproach me on mere servants' gossip, I cannot prevent you."
"It is not servants' gossip. I know by the date on which Sophy left home that it must have been the letter I wrote her from Christiania. It was a disgraceful, cruel thing for you to do. I can never look you in your face again, Mother. I do not feel that I can speak to you, or even see you, until my wife has forgiven both you and myself. Oh, if I only knew where to look for her!"
"She is not far to seek; she is undoubtedly among her kinsfolk at Pittendurie. You may remember, perhaps, how they felt toward you before you went away. After you went, she was with them continually."
"Then Thomas lies. He says he never took her anywhere but to her aunt Kilgour's."
"I think Thomas is more likely to lie than I am. If you have strength to bear the truth, I will tell you what I am convinced of."
"I have strength for anything but this wretched suspense and fear."
"Very well, then, go to the woman called Janet Binnie; you may recollect, if you will, that her son Andrew was Sophy's ardent lover—so much so, that her marriage to you nearly killed him. He has become a captain lately, wears gold buttons and bands, and is really a very handsome and important man in the opinion of such people as your wife. I believe Sophy is either in his mother's house or else she has gone to—London."
"Captain Binnie sails continually to London. Really, Archie, there are none so blind as those who won't see."
"I will not believe such a thing of Sophy. She is as pure and innocent as a little child."
Madame laughed scornfully. "She is as pure and innocent as those baby-faced women usually are. As a general rule, the worst creature in the world is a saint in comparison. What did Sophy steal out at night for? Tell me that. Why did she walk to Pittendurie so often? Why did she tell me she was going to walk to her aunt's, and then never go?"
"Mother, Mother, are you telling me the truth?"
"Your inquiry is an insult, Archie. And your blindness to Sophy's real feelings is one of the most remarkable things I ever saw. Can you not look back and see that ever since she married you she has regretted and fretted about the step? Her heart is really with her fisher and sailor lover. She only married you for what you could give her; and having got what you could give her, she soon ceased to prize it, and her love went back to Captain Binnie,—that is, if it had ever left him."
Conversation based on these shameful fabrications was continued for hours, and Madame, who had thoroughly prepared herself for it, brought one bit of circumstantial evidence after another to prove her suspicions. The wretched husband was worked to a fury of jealous anger not to be controlled. "I will search every cottage in Pittendurie," he said in a rage. "I will find Sophy, and then kill her and myself."
"Don't be a fool, Archibald Braelands. Find the woman,—that is necessary,—then get a divorce from her, and marry among your own kind. Why should you lose your life, or even ruin it, for a fisherman's old love? In a year or two you will have forgotten her and thrown the whole affair behind your back."
It is easy to understand how a conversation pursued for hours in this vein would affect Archie. He was weak and impulsive, ready to suspect whatever was suggested, jealous of his own rights and honour, and on the whole of that pliant nature which a strong, positive woman like Madame could manipulate like wax. He walked his room all night in a frenzy of jealous love. Sophy lost to him had acquired a sudden charm and value beyond all else in life; he longed for the morning; for Madame's positive opinions had thoroughly convinced him, and he felt a great deal more sure than she did that Sophy was in Pittendurie. And yet, after every such assurance to himself, his inmost heart asked coldly, "Why then has she not come back to you?"
He could eat no breakfast, and as soon as he thought the village was awake, he rode rapidly down to Pittendurie. Janet was alone; Andrew was somewhere between Fife and London; Christina was preparing her morning meal in her own cottage. Janet had already eaten hers, and she was washing her tea-cup and plate and singing as she did so,—
"I cast my line in Largo Bay, And fishes I caught nine; There's three to boil, and three to fry, And three to bait the line,"
when she heard a sharp rap at her door. The rap was not made with the hand; it was peremptory and unusual, and startled Janet. She put down the plate she was wiping, ceased singing, and went to the door. The Master of Braelands was standing there. He had his short riding-whip in his hand, and Janet understood at once that he had struck her house door with the handle of it. She was offended at this, and she asked dourly:—
"Well, sir, your bidding?"
"I came to see my wife. Where is she?"
"You ought to know that better than any other body. It is none of my business."
"I tell you she has left her home."
"I have no doubt she had the best of good reasons for doing so."
"She had no reason at all."
Janet shrugged her shoulders, smiled with scornful disbelief, and looked over the tossing black waters.
"Woman, I wish to go through your house, I believe my wife is in it."
"Go through my house? No indeed. Do you think I'll let a man with a whip in his hand go through my house after a poor frightened bird like Sophy? No, no, not while my name is Janet Binnie."
"I rode here; my whip is for my horse. Do you think I would use it on any woman?"
"God knows, I don't."
"I am not a brute."
"You say so yourself."
"Woman, I did not come here to bandy words with you."
"Man, I'm no caring to hear another word you have to say; take yourself off my door-stone," and Janet would have shut the door in his face, but he would not permit her.
"Tell Sophy to come and speak to me."
"Sophy is not here."
"She has no reason to be afraid of me."
"I should think not."
"Go and tell her to come to me then."
"She is not in my house. I wish she was."
"She is in your house."
"Do you dare to call me a liar? Man alive! Do it again, and every fisher-wife in Pittendurie will help me to give you your fairings."
"Tush!! Let me see my wife."
"Take yourself off my doorstep, or it will be the worse for you."
"Let me see my wife."
"Coming here and chapping on my door—on Janet Binnie's door!—with a horsewhip!"
"There is no use trying to deceive me with bad words. Let me pass."
"Off with you! you poor creature, you! Sophy Traill had a bad bargain with the like of you, you drunken, lying, savage-like, wife-beating pretence o' a husband!"
"Mother' Mother!" cried Christina, coming hastily forward; "Mother, what are you saying at all?"
"The God's truth, Christina, that and nothing else. Ask the mean, perfectly unutterable scoundrel how he got beyond his mother's apron-strings so far as this?"
Christina turned to Braelands. "Sir," she said, "what's your will?"
"My wife has left her home, and I have been told she is in Mistress Binnie's house."
"She is not. We know nothing about the poor, miserable lass, God help her!"
"I cannot believe you."
"Please yourself anent believing me, but you had better be going, sir. I see Limmer Scott and Mistress Roy and a few more fishwives looking this way."
"Let them look."
"Well, they have their own fashion of dealing with men who ill use a fisher lass. Sophy was born among them."
"You are a bad lot! altogether a bad lot!"
"Go now, and go quick, or we'll prove to you that we are a bad lot!" cried Janet. "I wouldn't myself think anything of putting you in a blanket and tossing you o'er the cliff into the water." And Janet, with arms akimbo and eyes blazing with anger, was not a comfortable sight.
So, with a smile of derision, Braelands turned his back on the women, walking with an affected deliberation which by no means hid the white feather from the laughing, jeering fisher-wives who came to their door at Janet's call for them, and whose angry mocking followed him until he was out of sight and hearing. Then there was a conclave in Janet's house, and every one told a different version of the Braelands trouble. In each case, however, Madame was credited with the whole of the sorrow-making, though Janet stoutly asserted that "a man who was feared for his mother wasn't fit to be a husband."
"Madame's tongue and temper is kindled from a coal out of hell," she said, "and that is the God's truth; but she couldn't do ill with them, if Archie Braelands wasn't a coward—a sneaking, trembling coward, that hasn't the heart in him to stand between poor little Sophy and the most spiteful, hateful old sinner this side of the brimstone pit."
But though the birr and first flame of the village anger gradually cooled down, Janet's and Christina's hearts were hot and heavy within them, and they could not work, nor eat, nor sleep with any relish, for thinking of the poor little runaway wife. Indeed, in every cottage there was one topic of wonder and pity, and one sad lament when two or three of the women came together: "Poor Sophy! Poor Sophy Braelands!" It was noticeable, however, that not a single woman had a wrong thought of Sophy. Madame could easily suspect the worst, but the "worst" was an incredible thing to a fisher-wife. Some indeed blamed her for not tholing her grief until her husband came back, but not a single heart suspected her of a liaison with her old lover.
Archie, however, returned from his ineffectual effort to find her with every suspicion strengthened. Madame could hardly have hoped for a visit so completely in her favour, and after it Archie was entirely under her influence. It is true he was wretchedly despondent, but he was also furiously angry. He fancied himself the butt of his friends, he believed every one to be talking about his affairs, and, day by day, his sense of outrage and dishonour pressed him harder and harder. In a month he was quite ready to take legal steps to release himself from such a doubtful tie, and Madame, with his tacit permission, took the first step towards such a consummation by writing with her own hand the notice which had driven Sophy to despair.
While events were working towards this end, Sophy was helpless and senseless in the Glasgow hospital. Archie's anger was grounded on the fact that she must know of his return, and yet she had neither come back to her home nor sent him a line of communication. He told himself that if she had written him one line, he would have gone to the end of the earth after her. And anon he told himself that if she had been true to him, she would have written or else come back to her home. Say she was sick, she could have got some one to use the pen or the telegraph for her. And this round of reasoning, always led into the same channel by Madame, finally assumed not the changeable quality of argument, but the positiveness of fact.
So the notice of her abandonment was sent by the press far and wide, and yet there came no protest against it; for Sophy had brought to the hospital nothing by which she could be identified, and as no hint of her personal appearance was given, it was impossible to connect her with it. Thus while its cruel words linked suspicion with her name in every household where they went, she lay ignorantly passive, knowing nothing at all of the wrong done her and of the unfortunate train of circumstances which finally forced her husband to doubt her love and her honour. It was an additional calamity that this angry message of severance was the first thing that met her consciousness when she was at all able to act.
Her childish ignorance and her primitive ideas aided only too well the impression of finality it gave. She put it beside all she had seen and heard of her husband's love for Marion Glamis, and the miserable certainty was plain to her. She knew she was dying, and a quiet place to die in and a little love to help her over the hard hour seemed to be all she could expect now; the thought of Janet and Christina was her last hope. Thus it was that Janet found her trembling and weeping on her doorstep; thus it was she heard that pitiful plaint, "Take me in, Janet! Take me in to die!"
Never for one moment did Janet think of refusing this sad petition. She sat down beside her; she laid Sophy's head against her broad loving breast; she looked with wondering pity at the small, shrunken face, so wan and ghostlike in the gray light. Then she called Christina, and Christina lifted Sophy easily in her arms, and carried her into her own house. "For we'll give Braelands no occasion against either her or Andrew," she said. Then they undressed the weary woman and made her a drink of strong tea; and after a little she began to talk in a quick, excited manner about her past life.
"I ran away from Braelands at the end of July," she said. "I could not bear the life there another hour; I was treated before folk as if I had lost my senses; I was treated when I was alone as if I had no right in the house, and as if my being in it was a mortal wrong and misery to every one. And at the long last the woman there kept Archie's letter from me, and I was wild at that, and sick and trembling all over; and I went to Aunt Griselda, and she took Madame's part and would not let me stay with her till Archie came back to protect me. What was I to do? I thought of my cousins in Edinburgh and went there, and could not find them. Then there was only Ellen Montgomery in Glasgow, and I was ill and so tired; but I thought I could manage to reach her."
"And didn't you reach her, dearie?"
"No. I got worse and worse; and when I reached Glasgow I knew nothing at all, and they sent me to the hospital."
"Oh, Sophy! Sophy!"
"Aye, they did. What else could be, Janet? No one knew who I was; I could not tell any one. They weren't bad to me. I suffered, but they did what they could to help me. Such dreadful nights, Janet! Such long, awful days! Week after week in which I knew nothing but pain; I could not move myself. I could not write to any one, for my thoughts would not stay with me; and my sight went away, and I had hardly strength to live."
"Try and forget it, Sophy, darling," said Christina. "We will care for you now, and the sea-winds will blow health to you."
She shook her head sadly. "Only the winds of heaven will ever blow health to me, Christina," she answered; "I have had my death blow. I am going fast to them who have gone before me. I have seen my mother often, the last wee while. I knew it was my mother, though I do not remember her; she is waiting for her bit lassie. I shall not have to go alone; and His rod and staff will comfort me, I will fear no evil."
They kissed and petted and tried to cheer her, and Janet begged her to sleep; but she was greatly excited and seemed bent on excusing and explaining what she had done. "For I want you to tell Archie everything, Janet," she said. "I shall maybe never see him again; but you must take care, that he has not a wrong thought of me."
"He'll get the truth and the whole truth from me, dearie."
"Don't scold him, Janet. I love him very much. It is not his fault."
"I don't know that."
"No, it is not. I wasn't home to Braelands two days before Madame began to make fun of my talk, and my manners, and my dress, and of all I did and said. And she got Archie to tell me I must mind her, and try to learn how to be a fine lady like her; and I could not—I could not. And then she set Archie against me, and I was scolded just for nothing at all. And then I got ill, and she said I was only sulky and awkward; but I just could not learn the books I be to learn, nor walk as she showed me how to walk, nor talk like her, nor do anything at all she tried to make me do. Oh, the weary, weary days that I have fret myself through! Oh, the long, painful nights! I am thankful they can never, never come back."
"Then don't think of them now, Sophy. Try and rest yourself a bit, and to-morrow you shall tell me everything."
"To-morrow will be too late, can't you see that, Janet? I must clear myself to-night—now—or you won't know what to say to Archie."
"Was Archie kind to you, Sophy?"
"Sometimes he was that kind I thought I must be in the wrong, and then I tried again harder than ever to understand the weary books and do what Madame told me. Sometimes they made him cross at me, and I thought I must die with the shame and heartache from it. But it was not till Marion Glamis came back that I lost all hope. She was Archie's first love, you know."
"She was nothing of the kind. I don't believe he ever cared a pin for her. You had the man's first love; you have it yet, if it is worth aught. He was here seeking you, dearie, and he was distracted with the loss of you."
"In the morning you will send for him, Janet, very early; and though I'll be past talking then, you will talk for me. You will tell him how Madame tortured me about the Glamis girl, how she kept my letters, and made Mrs. Stirling think I was not in my right mind," and so between paroxysms of pain and coughing, she went over and over the sad story of petty wrongs that had broken her heart, and driven her at last to rebellion and flight.
"Oh! my poor lassie, why didn't you come to Christina and me?"
"There was aye the thought of Andrew. Archie would have been angry, maybe, and I could only feel that I must get away from Braelands. When aunt failed me, something seemed to drive me to Edinburgh, and then on to Glasgow; but it was all right, you see, I have saved you and Christina for the last hour," and she clasped Christina's hand and laid her head closer to Janet's breast.
"And I would like to see the man or woman that will dare to trouble you now, my bonnie bairn," said Janet. There was a sob in her voice, and she crooned kind words to the dying girl, who fell asleep at last in her arms. Then Janet went to the door, and stood almost gasping in the strong salt breeze; for the shock of Sophy's pitiful return had hurt her sorely. There was a full moon in the sky, and the cold, gray waters tossed restlessly under it. "Lord help us, we must bear what's sent!" she whispered; then she noticed a steamboat with closely reefed sails lying in the offing; and added thankfully, "There is 'The Falcon,' God bless her! And it's good to think that Andrew Binnie isn't far away; maybe he'll be wanted. I wonder if I ought to send a word to him; if Sophy wants to see him, she shall have her way; dying folk don't make any mistakes."
Now when Andrew came to anchor at Pittendurie, it was his custom to swing out a signal light, and if the loving token was seen, Janet and Christina answered by placing a candle in their windows. This night Janet put three candles in her window. "Andrew will wonder at them," she thought, "and maybe come on shore to find out whatever their meaning may be." Then she hurriedly closed the door. The night was cold, but it was more than that,—the air had the peculiar coldness that gives sense of the supernatural, such coldness as precedes the advent of a spirit. She was awed, she opened her mouth as if to speak, but was dumb; she put out her hands—but who can arrest the invisible?
Sleep was now impossible. The very air of the room was sensitive. Christina sat wide awake on one side of the bed, Janet on the other; they looked at each other frequently, but did not talk. There was no sound but the rising moans of the northeast wind, no light but the glow of the fire and the shining of the full moon looking out from the firmament as from eternity. Sophy slept restlessly like one in half-conscious pain, and when she awoke before dawning, she was in a high fever and delirious; but there was one incessant, gasping cry for "Andrew!"
"Andrew! Andrew! Andrew!" she called with fast failing breath, "Andrew, come and go for Archie. Only you can bring him to me." And Janet never doubted at this hour what love and mercy asked for. "Folks may talk if they want to," she said to Christina, "I am going down to the village to get some one to take a message to Andrew. Sophy shall have her will at this hour if I can compass it."
The men of the village were mostly yet at the fishing, but she found two old men who willingly put out to "The Falcon" with the message for her captain. Then she sent a laddie for the nearest doctor, and she called herself for the minister, and asked him to come and see the sick woman; "forbye, minister," she added, "I'm thinking you will be the only person in Pittendurie that will have the needful control o' temper to go to Braelands with the news." She did not specially hurry any one, for, sick as Sophy was, she believed it likely Archie Braelands and a good doctor might give her such hope and relief as would prolong her life a little while. "She is so young," she thought, "and love and sea-breezes are often a match for death himself."
The old men who had gone for Andrew were much too infirm to get close to "The Falcon." For with the daylight her work had begun, and she was surrounded on all sides by a melee of fishing-boats. Some were discharging their boxes of fish; others were struggling to get some point of vantage; others again fighting to escape the uproar. The air was filled with the roar of the waves and with the voices of men, blending in shouts, orders, expostulations, words of anger, and words of jest.
Above all this hubbub, Andrew's figure on the steamer's bridge towered large and commanding, as he watched the trunks of fish hauled on board, and then dragged, pushed, thrown, or kicked, as near the mouth of the hold as the blockade of trunks already shipped would permit. But, sharp as a crack of thunder, a stentorian voice called out:—
"Captain Binnie wanted! Girl dying in Pittendurie wants him!"
Andrew heard. The meaning of the three lights was now explained. He had an immediate premonition that it was Sophy, and he instantly deputed his charge to Jamie, and was at the gunwale before the shouter had repeated his alarm. To a less prompt and practised man, a way of reaching the shore would have been a dangerous and tedious consideration; but Andrew simply selected a point where a great wave would lift a small boat near to the level of the ship's bulwarks, and when this occurred, he leaped into her, and was soon going shoreward as fast as his powerful stroke at the oars could carry him.
When he reached Christina's cottage, Sophy had passed beyond all earthly care and love. She heeded not the tenderest words of comfort; her life was inexorably coming to its end; and every one of her muttered words was mysterious, important, wondrous, though they could make out nothing she said, save only that she talked about "angels resting in the hawthorn bowers." Hastily Christina gave Andrew the points of her sorrowful story, and then she suddenly remembered that a strange man had brought there that morning some large, important-looking papers which he had insisted on giving to the dying woman. Andrew, on examination, found them to be proceedings in the divorce case between Archibald Braelands and his wife Sophy Traill.
"Some one has recognised her in the train last night and then followed her here," he said pitifully. They were in a gey hurry with their cruel work. I hope she knows nothing about it."
"No, no, they didn't come till she was clean beyond the worriments of this life. She did not see the fellow who put them in her hands; she heard nothing he said to her."
"Then if she comes to herself at all, say nothing about them. What for should we tell her? Death will break her marriage very soon without either judge or jury."
"The doctor says in a few hours at the most."
"Then there is no time to lose. Say a kind 'farewell' for me, Christina, if you find a minute in which she can understand it. I'm off to Braelands," and he put the divorce papers in his pocket, and went down the cliff at a run. When he reached the house, Archie was at the door on his horse and evidently in a hurry; but Andrew's look struck him on the heart like a blow. He dismounted without a word, and motioned to Andrew to follow him. They turned into a small room, and Archie closed the door. For a moment there was a terrible silence, then Andrew, with passionate sorrow, threw the divorce papers down on the table.
"You'll not require, Braelands, to fash folk with the like of them; your wife is dying. She is at my sister's house. Go to her at once."
"What is that to you? Mind your own business, Captain Binnie."
"It is the business of every decent man to call comfort to the dying. Go and say the words you ought to say. Go before it is too late."
"Why is my wife at your sister's house?"
"God pity the poor soul, she had no other place to die in! For Christ's sake, go and say a loving word to her."
"Where has she been all this time? Tell me that, sir."
"Dying slowly in the public hospital at Glasgow."
"There is no time for words now; not a moment to spare. Go to your wife at once."
"She left me of her own free will. Why should I go to her now?"
"She did not leave you; she was driven away by devilish cruelty. And oh, man, man, go for your own sake then! To-morrow it will be too late to say the words you will weep to say. Go for your own sake. Go to spare yourself the black remorse that is sure to come if you don't go. If you don't care for your poor wife, go for your own sake!"
"I do care for my wife. I wished—"
"Haste you then, don't lose a moment! Haste you! haste you! If it is but one kind word before you part forever, give it to her. She has loved you well; she loves you yet; she is calling for you at the grave's mouth. Haste you, man! haste you!"
His passionate hurry drove like a wind, and Braelands was as straw before it. His horse stood there ready saddled; Andrew urged him to it, and saw him flying down the road to Pittendurie before he was conscious of his own efforts. Then he drew a long sigh, lifted the divorce papers and threw them into the blazing fire. A moment or two he watched them pass into smoke, and then he left the house with all the hurry of a soul anxious unto death. Half-way down the garden path, Madame Braelands stepped in front of him.
"What have you come here for?" she asked in her haughtiest manner.
"Where have you sent him to in such a black hurry?"
"To his wife. She is dying."
"Stuff and nonsense!"
"She is dying."
"No such luck for my house. The creature has been dying ever since he married her."
"You have been killing her ever since he married her. Give way, woman, I don't want to speak to you; I don't want to touch the very clothes of you. I think no better of you than God Almighty does, and He will ask Sophy's life at your hands."
"I shall tell Braelands of your impertinence. It will be the worse for you."
"It will be as God wills, and no other way. Let me pass. Don't touch me, there is blood on your hands, and blood on your skirts; and you are worse—ten thousand times worse—than any murderer who ever swung on the gallows-tree for her crime! Out of my way, Madame Braelands!"
She stood before him motionless as a white stone with passion, and yet terrified by the righteous anger she had provoked. Words would not come to her, she could not obey his order and move out of his way, so Andrew turned into another path and left her where she stood, for he was impatient of delay, and with steps hurried and stumbling, he followed the husband whom he had driven to his duty.
AMONG HER OWN PEOPLE
Braelands rode like a man possessed, furiously, until he reached the foot of the cliff on which Janet's and Christina's cottages stood. Then he flung the reins to a fisher-laddie, and bounded up the rocky platform. Janet was standing in the door of Christina's cottage talking to the minister. This time she made no opposition to Braelands's entrance; indeed, there was an expression of pity on her face as she moved aside to let him pass.
He went in noiselessly, reverently, suddenly awed by the majesty of Death's presence. This was so palpable and clear, that all the mere material work of the house had been set aside. No table had been laid, no meat cooked; there had been no thought of the usual duties of the day-time. Life stood still to watch the great mystery transpiring in the inner room.
The door to it stood wide open, for the day was hot and windless. Archie went softly in. He fell on his knees by his dying wife, he folded her to his heart, he whispered into her fast-closing ears the despairing words of love, reawakened, when all repentance was too late. He called her back from the very shoal of time to listen to him. With heart-broken sobs he begged her forgiveness, and she answered him with a smile that had caught the glory of heaven. At that hour he cared not who heard the cry of his agonising love and remorse. Sophy was the whole of his world, and his anguish, so imperative, brought perforce the response of the dying woman who loved him yet so entirely. A few tears—the last she was ever to shed—gathered in her eyes; fondest words of affection were broken on her lips, her last smile was for him, her sweet blue eyes set in death with their gaze fixed on his countenance.
When the sun went down, Sophy's little life of twenty years was over. Her last few hours were very peaceful. The doctor had said she would suffer much; but she did not. Lying in Archie's arms, she slipped quietly out of her clay tabernacle, and doubtless took the way nearest to her Father's House. No one knew the exact moment of her departure—no one but Andrew. He, standing humbly at the foot of her bed, divined by some wondrous instinct the mystic flitting, and so he followed her soul with fervent prayer, and a love which spurned the grave and which was pure enough to venture into His presence with her.
It was a scene and a moment that Archibald Braelands in his wildest and most wretched after-days never forgot. The last rays of the setting sun fell across the death-bed, the wind from the sea came softly through the open window, the murmur of the waves on the sands made a mournful, restless undertone to the majestic words of the minister, who, standing by the bed-side, declared with uplifted hands and in solemnly triumphant tones the confidence and hope of the departing spirit.
"'Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.
"'Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever Thou hadst formed the earth and the world; even from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God.
"'For a thousand years in Thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past; and as a watch in the night.
"'The days of our years are three-score years and ten; and if by reason of strength, they be four-score years, yet is their strength labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.'"
Then there was a pause; Andrew said "It is over!" and Janet took the cold form from the distracted husband, and closed the eyes forever.
There was no more now for Archie to do, and he went out of the room followed by Andrew.
"Thank you for coming for me, Captain," he said, "you did me a kindness I shall never forget."
"I knew you would be glad. I am grieved to trouble you further, Braelands, at this hour; but the dead must be waited on. It was Sophy's wish to be buried with her own folk."
"She is my wife."
"Nay, you had taken steps to cast her off."
"She ought to be brought to Braelands."
"She shall never enter Braelands again. It was a black door to her. Would you wish hatred and scorn to mock her in her coffin? She bid my mother see that she was buried in peace and good will and laid with her own people."
Archie covered his face with his hands and tried to think. Not even when dead could he force her into the presence of his mother—and it was true he had begun to cast her off; a funeral from Braelands would be a wrong and an insult. But all was in confusion in his mind and he said: "I cannot think. I cannot decide. I am not able for anything more. Let me go. To-morrow—I will send word—I will come."
"Let it be so then. I am sorry for you, Braelands—but if I hear nothing further, I will follow out Sophy's wishes."
"You shall hear—but I must have time to think. I am at the last point. I can bear no more."
Then Andrew went with him down the cliff, and helped him to his saddle; and afterwards he walked along the beach till he came to a lonely spot hid in the rocks, and there he threw himself face downward on the sands, and "communed with his own heart and was still." At this supreme hour, all that was human flitted and faded away, and the primal essence of self was overshadowed by the presence of the Infinite. When the midnight tide flowed, the bitterness of the sorrow was over, and he had reached that serene depth of the soul which enabled him to rise to his feet and say "Thy Will be done!"
The next day they looked for some communication from Braelands; yet they did not suffer this expectation to interfere with Sophy's explicit wish, and the preparations for her funeral went on without regard to Archie's promise. It was well so, for there was no redemption of it. He did not come again to Pittendurie, and if he sent any message, it was not permitted to reach them. He was notified, however, of the funeral ceremony, which was set for the Sabbath following her death, and Andrew was sure he would at least come for one last look at the wife whom he had loved so much and wronged so deeply. He did not do so.
Shrouded in white, her hands full of white asters, Sophy was laid to rest in the little wind blown kirkyard of Pittendurie. It was said by some that Braelands watched the funeral from afar off, others declared that he lay in his bed raving and tossing with fever, but this or that, he was not present at her burial. Her own kin—who were fishers—laid the light coffin on a bier made of oars, and carried it with psalm singing to the grave. It was Andrew who threw on the coffin the first earth. It was Andrew who pressed the cover of green turf over the small mound, and did the last tender offices that love could offer. Oh, so small a mound! A little child could have stepped over it, and yet, to Andrew, it was wider than all the starry spaces.
The day was a lovely one, and the kirkyard was crowded to see little Sophy join the congregation of the dead. After the ceremony was over the minister had a good thought, he said: "We will not go back to the kirk, but we will stay here, and around the graves of our friends and kindred praise God for the 'sweet enlargement' of their death." Then he sang the first line of the paraphrase, "O God of Bethel by whose hand," and the people took it from his lips, and made holy songs and words of prayer fill the fresh keen atmosphere and mingle with the cries of the sea-birds and the hushed complaining of the rising waters. And that afternoon many heard for the first time those noble words from the Book of Wisdom that, during the more religious days of the middle ages, were read not only at the grave-side of the beloved, but also at every anniversary of their death.
"But if the righteous be cut off early by death; she shall be at rest.
"For honor standeth not in length of days; neither is it computed by number of years.
"She pleased God and was beloved, and she was taken away from living among sinners.
"Her place was changed, lest evil should mar her understanding or falsehood beguile her soul.
"She was made perfect in a little while, and finished the work of many years.
"For her soul pleased God, and therefore He made haste to lead her forth out of the midst of iniquity.
"And the people saw it and understood it not; neither considered they this—
"That the grace of God and His mercy are upon His saints, and His regard unto His Elect."
Chief among the mourners was Sophy's aunt Griselda. She now bitterly repented the unwise and unkind "No." Sophy was dearer to her than she thought, and when she had talked over her wrongs with Janet, her indignation knew no bounds. It showed itself first of all to the author of these wrongs. Madame came early to her shop on Monday morning, and presuming on her last confidential talk with Miss Kilgour, began the conversation on that basis.
"You see, Miss Kilgour," she said with a sigh, "what that poor girl's folly has led her to."
"I see what she has come to. I'm not blaming Sophy, however."
"Well, whoever is to blame—and I suppose Braelands should have been more patient with the troubles he called to himself—I shall have to put on 'blacks' in consequence. It is a great expense, and a very useless one; but people will talk if I do not go into mourning for my son's wife."
"I wouldn't do it, if I was you."
"Society obliges. You must make me two gowns at least."
"I will not sew a single stitch for you."
"Not sew for me?"
"Never again; not if you paid me a guinea a stitch."
"What do you mean? Are you in your senses?"
"Just as much as poor Sophy was. And I'll never forgive myself for listening to your lies about my niece. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. Your cruelties to her are the talk of the whole country-side."
"How dare you call me a liar?"
"When I think of wee Sophy in her coffin, I could call you something far worse."
"You are an impertinent woman."
"Ah well, I never broke the Sixth Command. And if I was you, Madame, I wouldn't put 'blacks' on about it. But 'blacks' or no 'blacks,' you can go to some other body to make them for you; for I want none of your custom, and I'll be obliged to you to get from under my roof. This is a decent, God-fearing house."
Madame had left before the end of Griselda's orders; but she followed her to the door, and delivered her last sentence as Madame was stepping into her carriage. She was furious at the truths so uncompromisingly told her, and still more so at the woman who had been their mouthpiece. "A creature whom I have made! actually made!" she almost screamed. "She would be out at service today but for me! The shameful, impertinent, ungrateful wretch!" She ordered Thomas to drive her straight back home, and, quivering with indignation, went to her son's room. He was dressed, but lying prone upon his bed; his mother's complaining irritated his mood beyond his endurance. He rose up in a passion; his white haggard face showed how deeply sorrow and remorse had ploughed into his very soul.
"Mother!" he cried, "you will have to hear the truth, in one way or another, from every one. I tell you myself that you are not guiltless of Sophy's death—neither am I."
"It is a lie."
"Do go out of my room. This morning you are unbearable."
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself. Are you going to permit people to insult your mother, right and left, without a word? Have you no sense of honour and decency?"
"No, for I let them insult the sweetest wife ever a man had. I am a brute, a monster, not fit to live. I wish I was lying by Sophy's side. I am ashamed to look either men or women in the face."
"You are simply delirious with the fever you have had."
"Then have some mercy on me. I want to be quiet."
"But I have been grossly insulted."
"We shall have to get used to that, and bear it as we can. We deserve all that can be said of us—or to us." Then he threw himself on his bed again and refused to say another word. Madame scolded and complained and pitied herself, and appealed to God and man against the wrongs she suffered, and finally went into a paroxysm of hysterical weeping. But Archie took no notice of the wordy tempest, so that Madame was confounded and frightened, by an indifference so unusual and unnatural.
Weeks of continual sulking or recrimination passed drearily away. Archie, in the first tide of his remorse, fed himself on the miseries which had driven Sophy to her grave. He interviewed the servants and heard all they had to tell him. He had long conversations with Miss Kilgour, and made her describe over and over Sophy's despairing look and manner the morning she ran away. For the poor woman found a sort of comfort in blaming herself and in receiving meekly the hard words Archie could give her. He visited Mrs. Stirling in regard to Sophy's sanity, and heard from that lady a truthful report of all that had passed in her presence. He went frequently to Janet's cottage, and took all her home thrusts and all her scornful words in a manner so humble, so contrite, and so heart-broken, that the kind old woman began finally to forgive and comfort him. And the outcome of all these interviews and conversations Madame had to bear. Her son, in his great sorrow, threw off entirely the yoke of her control. He found his own authority and rather abused it. She had hoped the final catastrophe would draw him closer to her; hoped the coolness of friends and acquaintances would make him more dependent on her love and sympathy. It acted in the opposite direction. The public seldom wants two scapegoats. Madame's ostracism satisfied its idea of justice. Every one knew Archie was very much under her control. Every one could see that he suffered dreadfully after Sophy's death. Every one came promptly to the opinion that Madame only was to blame in the matter. "The poor husband" shared the popular sympathy with Sophy.
However, in the long run, he had his penalty to pay, and the penalty came, as was most just, through Marion Glamis. Madame quickly noticed that after her loss of public respect, Marion's affection grew colder. At the first, she listened to the tragedy of Sophy's illness and death with a decent regard for Madame's feelings on the subject. When Madame pooh-poohed the idea of Sophy being in an hospital for weeks, unknown, Marion also thought it "most unlikely;" when Madame was "pretty sure the girl had been in London during the hospital interlude," Marion also thought, "it might be so; Captain Binnie was a very taking man." When Madame said, "Sophy's whole conduct was only excusable on the supposition of her unaccountability," Marion also thought "she did act queerly at times."
Even these admissions were not made with the warmth that Madame expected from Marion, and they gradually grew fainter and more general. She began to visit Braelands less and less frequently, and, when reproached for her remissness, said, "Archie was now a widower, and she did not wish people to think she was running after him;" and her manner was so cold and conventional that Madame could only look at her in amazement. She longed to remind her of their former conversations about Archie, but the words died on her lips. Marion looked quite capable of denying them, and she did not wish to quarrel with her only visitor.
The truth was that Marion had her own designs regarding Archie, and she did not intend Madame to interfere with them. She had made up her mind to marry Braelands, but she was going to have him as the spoil of her own weapons—not as a gift from his mother. And she was not so blinded by hatred as to think Archie could ever be won by the abuse of Sophy. On the contrary, she very cautiously began to talk of her with pity, and even admiration. She fell into all Archie's opinions and moods on the subject, and declared with warmth and positiveness that she had always opposed Madame's extreme measures. In the long run, it came to pass that Archie could talk comfortably with Marion about Sophy, for she always reminded him of some little act of kindness to his wife, or of some instance where he had decidedly taken her part, so that, gradually, she taught him to believe that, after all, he had not been so very much to blame.
In these tactics, Miss Glamis was influenced by the most powerful of motives—self-preservation. She had by no means escaped the public censure, and in that set of society she most desired to please, had been decidedly included in the polite ostracism meted out to Madame. Lovers she had none, and she began to realise, when too late, that the connection of her name with that of Archie Braelands had been a wrong to her matrimonial prospects that it would be hard to remedy. In fact, as the winter went on, she grew hopeless of undoing the odium generated by her friendship with Madame and her flirtation with Madame's son.
"And I shall make no more efforts at conciliation," she said angrily to herself one day, after finding her name had been dropped from Lady Blair's visiting-list; "I will now marry Archie. My fortune and his combined will enable us to live where and how we please. Father must speak to him on the subject at once"
That night she happened to find the Admiral in an excellent mood for her purpose. The Laird of Binin had not "changed hats" with him when they met on the highway, and he fumed about the circumstance as if it had been a mortal insult.
"I'll never lift my hat to him again, Marion, let alone open my mouth," he cried; "no, not even if we are sitting next to each other at the club dinner. What wrong have I ever done him? Have I ever done him a favour that he should insult me?"
"It is that dreadful Braelands's business. That insolent, selfish, domineering old woman has ruined us socially. I wish I had never seen her face."
"You seemed to be fond enough of her once."
"I never liked her; I now detest her. The way she treated Archie's wife was abominable. There is no doubt of that. Father, I am going to take this situation by the horns of its dilemma. I intend to marry Archie. No one in the county can afford to snub Braelands. He is popular and likely to be more so; he is rich and influential, and I also am rich. Together we may lead public opinion—or defy it. My name has been injured by my friendship with him. Archie Braelands must give me his name."
"By St. Andrew, he shall!" answered the irritable old man. "I will see he does. I ought to have considered this before, Marion. Why did you not show me my duty?"
"It is early enough; it is now only eight months since his wife died."
The next morning as Archie was riding slowly along the highway, the Admiral joined him. "Come home to lunch with me," he said, and Archie turned his horse and went. Marion was particularly sympathetic and charming. She subdued her spirits to his pitch; she took the greatest interest in his new political aspirations; she listened to his plans about the future with smiling approvals, until he said he was thinking of going to the United States for a few months. He wished to study Republicanism on its own ground, and to examine, in their working conditions, several new farming implements and expedients that he thought of introducing. Then Marion rose and left the room. She looked at her father as she did so, and he understood her meaning.
"Braelands," he said, when they were alone, "I have something to say which you must take into your consideration before you leave Scotland. It is about Marion."
"Nothing ill with Marion, I hope?"
"Nothing but what you can cure. She is suffering very much, socially, from the constant association of her name with yours."
"Allow me to explain. At the time of your sweet little wife's death, Marion was constantly included in the blame laid to Madame Braelands. You know now how unjustly."
"I would rather not have that subject discussed."
"But, by Heaven, it must be discussed! I have, at Marion's desire, said nothing hitherto, because we both saw how much you were suffering; but, sir, if you are going away from Fife, you must remember before you go that the living have claims as well as the dead."
"If Marion has any claim on me, I am here, willing to redeem it."
"'If,' Braelands; it is not a question of 'if.' Marion's name has been injured by its connection with your name. You know the remedy. I expect you to behave like a gentleman in this matter."
"You expect me to marry Marion?"
"Precisely. There is no other effectual way to right her."
"I see Marion in the garden; I will go and speak to her."
"Do, my dear fellow. I should like this affair pleasantly settled."
Marion was sitting on the stone bench round the sun dial. She had a white silk parasol over her head, and her lap was full of apple-blossoms. A pensive air softened her handsome face, and as Archie approached, she looked up with a smile that was very attractive. He sat down at her side and began to finger the pink and white flowers. He was quite aware that he was tampering with his fate as well; but at his very worst, Archie had a certain chivalry about women that only needed to be stirred by a word or a look indicating injustice. He was not keen to perceive; but when once his eyes were opened, he was very keen to feel.
"Marion," he said kindly, taking her hand in his, "have you suffered much for my fault?"
"I have suffered, Archie."
"Why did you not tell me before?"
"You have been so full of trouble. How could I add to it?"
"You have been blamed?"
"Yes, very much."
"There is only one way to right you, Marion; I offer you my name and my hand. Will you take it?"
"A woman wants love. If I thought you could ever love me—"
"We are good friends. You have been my comforter in many miserable hours. I will make no foolish protestations; but you know whether you can trust me. And that we should come to love one another very sincerely is more than likely."
"I do love you. Have I not always loved you?"
And this frank avowal was just the incentive Archie required. His heart was hungry for love; he surrendered himself very easily to the charming of affection. Before they returned to the house, the compact was made, and Marion Glamis and Archibald Braelands were definitely betrothed.
As Archie rode home in the gloaming, it astonished him a little to find that he felt a positive satisfaction in the prospect of telling his mother of his engagement—a satisfaction he did not analyze, but which was doubtless compounded of a sense of justice, and of a not very amiable conviction that the justice would not be more agreeable than justice usually is. Indeed, the haste with which he threw himself from his horse and strode into the Braelands's parlour, and the hardly veiled air of defiance with which he muttered as he went "It's her own doing; let her be satisfied with her work," showed a heart that had accepted rather than chosen its destiny, and that rebelled a little under the constraint.
Madame was sitting alone in the waning light; her son had been away from her all day, and had sent her no excuse for his detention. She was both angry and sorrowful; and there had been a time when Archie would have been all conciliation and regret. That time was past. His mother had forfeited all his respect; there was nothing now between them but that wondrous tie of motherhood which a child must be utterly devoid of grace and feeling to forget. Archie never quite forgot it. In his worst moods he would tell himself, "after all she is my mother. It was because she loved me. Her inhumanity was really jealousy, and jealousy is cruel as the grave." But this purely natural feeling lacked now all the confidence of mutual respect and trust. It was only a natural feeling; it had lost all the nobler qualities springing from a spiritual and intellectual interpretation of their relationship.
"You have been away all day, Archie," Madame complained. "I have been most unhappy about you."
"I have been doing some important business."
"May I ask what it was?"
"I have been wooing a wife."
"And your first wife not eight months in her grave!"
"It was unavoidable. I was in a manner forced to it."
"Forced? The idea! Are you become a coward?"
"Yes," he answered wearily; "anything before a fresh public discussion of my poor Sophy's death."
"Oh! Who is the lady?"
"There is only one lady possible."
"I thought you could say 'who'."
"I hope to heaven you will never marry that woman! She is false from head to foot. I would rather see another fisher-girl here than Marion Glamis."
"You yourself have made it impossible for me to marry any one but Marion; though, believe me, if I could find another 'fisher-girl' like Sophy, I would defy everything, and gladly and proudly marry her to-morrow."
"That is understood; you need not reiterate. I see through Miss Glamis now, the deceitful, ungrateful creature!"
"Mother, I am going to marry Miss Glamis. You must teach yourself to speak respectfully of her."
"I hate her worse than I hated Sophy. I am the most wretched of women;" and her air of misery was so genuine and hopeless that it hurt Archie very sensibly.
"I am sorry," he said; "but you, and you only, are to blame. I have no need to go over your plans and plots for this very end; I have no need to remind you how you seasoned every hour of poor Sophy's life with your regrets that Marion was not my wife. These circumstances would not have influenced me, but her name has been mixed up with mine and smirched in the contact."
"And you will make a woman with a 'smirched' name Mistress of Braelands? Have you no family pride?"
"I will wrong no woman, if I know it; that is my pride. If I wrong them, I will right them. However, I give myself no credit about righting Marion, her father made me do so."
"My humiliation is complete, I shall die of shame."
"Oh, no! You will do as I do—make the best of the affair. You can talk of Marion's fortune and of her relationship to the Earl of Glamis, and so on."
"That nasty, bullying old man! And you to be frightened by him! It is too shameful."
"I was not frightened by him; but I have dragged one poor innocent woman's name through the dust and dirt of public discussion, and, before God, Mother, I would rather die than do the same wrong to another. You know the Admiral's temper; once roused to action, he would spare no one, not even his own daughter. It was then my duty to protect her."
"I have nursed a viper, and it has bitten me. To-night I feel as if the bite would be fatal."
"Marion is not a viper; she is only a woman bent on protecting herself. However, I wish you would remember that she is to be your daughter-in-law, and try and meet her on a pleasant basis. Any more scandal about Braelands will compel me to shut up this house absolutely and go abroad to live."
The next day Madame put all her pride and hatred out of sight and went to call on Marion with congratulations; but the girl was not deceived. She gave her the conventional kiss, and said all that it was proper to say; but Madame's overtures were not accepted.
"It is only a flag of truce," thought Madame as she drove homeward, "and after she is married to Archie, it will be war to the knife-hilt between us. I can feel that, and I would not fear it if I was sure of Archie. But alas, he is so changed! He is so changed!"
Marion's thoughts were not more friendly, and she did not scruple to express them in words to her father. "That dreadful old woman was here this afternoon," she said. "She tried to flatter me; she tried to make me believe she was glad I was going to marry Archie. What a consummate old hypocrite she is! I wonder if she thinks I will live in the same house with her?"
"Of course she thinks so."
"I will not. Archie and I have agreed to marry next Christmas. She will move into her own house in time to hold her Christmas there."
"I wouldn't insist on that, Marion. She has lived at Braelands nearly all her life. The Dower House is but a wretched place after it. The street in which it stands has become not only poor, but busy, and the big garden that was round it when the home was settled on her was sold in Archie's father's time, bit by bit, for shops and a preserving factory. You cannot send her to the Dower House."
"She cannot stay at Braelands. She charges the very air of any house she is in with hatred and quarrelling. Every one knows she has saved money; if she does not like the Dower House, she can go to Edinburgh, or London, or anywhere she likes—the further away from Braelands, the better."
THE "LITTLE SOPHY"
Madame did not go to the Dower House. Archie was opposed to such a humiliation of the proud woman, and a compromise was made by which she was to occupy the house in Edinburgh which had been the Braelands's residence during a great part of every winter. It was a handsome dwelling, and Madame settled herself there in great splendour and comfort; but she was a wretched woman in spite of her surroundings. She had only unhappy memories of the past, she had no loving anticipations for the future. She knew that her son was likely to be ruled by the woman at his side, and she hoped nothing from Marion Glamis. The big Edinburgh house with its heavy dark furniture, its shadowy draperies, and its stately gloom, became a kind of death chamber in which she slowly went to decay, body and soul.
No one missed her much or long in Largo, and in Edinburgh she found it impossible to gather round herself the company to which she had been wont. Unpleasant rumours somehow clung to her name; no one said much about her, but she was not popular. The fine dwelling in St. George's Square had seen much gay company in its spacious rooms; but Madame found it a hopeless task to re-assemble it. She felt this want of favour keenly, though she need not have altogether blamed herself for it, had she not been so inordinately conscious of her own personality. For Archie had undoubtedly, in previous winters, been the great social attraction. His fine manners, his good nature, his handsome appearance, his wealth, and his importance as a matrimonial venture, had crowded the receptions which Madame believed owed their success to her own tact and influence.
Gradually, however, the truth dawned upon her; and then, in utter disgust, she retired from a world that hardly missed her, and which had long only tolerated her for the accidents of her connections and surroundings. Her disposition for saving grew into a passion; she became miserly in the extreme, and punished herself night and day in order that she might add continually to the pile of hoarded money which Marion afterwards spent with a lavish prodigality. Occasionally her thin, gray face, and her haggard figure wrapped in a black shawl, were seen at the dusty windows of the room she occupied. The rest of the house she closed. The windows were hoarded up and the doors padlocked, and yet she lived in constant fear of attacks from thieves on her life for her money. Finally she dismissed her only servant lest she might be in league with such characters; and thus, haunted by terrors of all kinds and by memories she could not destroy, she dragged on for twenty years a life without hope and without love, and died at last with no one but her lawyer and her physician at her side. She had sent for Archie, but he was in Italy, and Marion she did not wish to see. Her last words were uttered to herself. "I have had a poor life!" she moaned with a desperate calmness that was her only expression of the vast and terrible desolation of her heart and soul.
"A poor life," said the lawyer, "and yet she has left twenty-six thousand pounds to her son."
"A poor life, and a most lonely flitting," reiterated her physician with awe and sadness.
However, she herself had no idea when she removed to Edinburgh of leading so "poor a life." She expected to make her house the centre of a certain grave set of her own class and age; she expected Archie to visit her often; she expected to find many new interests to occupy her feelings and thoughts. But she was too old to transplant. Sophy's death and its attending circumstances had taken from her both personally and socially more than she knew. Archie, after his marriage, led entirely by Marion and her ways and desires, never went towards Edinburgh. The wretched old lady soon began to feel herself utterly deserted; and when her anger at this position had driven love out of her heart, she fell an easy prey to the most sordid, miserable, and degrading of passions, the hoarding of money. Nor was it until death opened her eyes that she perceived she had had "a poor life."
She began this Edinburgh phase of it under a great irritation. Knowing that Archie would not marry until Christmas, and that after the marriage he and Marion were going to London until the spring, she saw no reason for her removal from Braelands until their return. Marion had different plans. She induced Archie to sell off the old furniture, and to redecorate and re-furnish Braelands from garret to cellar. It gave Madame the first profound shock of her new life. The chairs and tables she had used sold at auction to the tradespeople of Largo and the farmers of the country-side! She could not understand how Archie could endure the thought. Under her influence, he never would have endured it; but Archie Braelands smiled on, and coaxed, and sweetly dictated by Marion Glamis, was ready enough to do all that Marion wished.
"Of course the old furniture must be sold," she said. "Why not? It will help to buy the new. We don't keep our old gowns and coats; why then our old chairs and tables?"
"They have associations."
"Nonsense, Archie! So has my white parasol. Shall I keep it in tissue paper forever? Such sentimental ideas are awfully behind the times. Your grandfather's coat and shoes will not dress you to-day; neither, my dear, can his notions and sentiments direct you."
So Braelands was turned, as the country people said, "out of the windows," and Madame hastened away from the sight of such desecration. It made Archie popular, however. The artisans found profitable work in the big rooms, and the county families looked forward to the entertainments they were to enjoy in the renovated mansion. It restored Marion also to general estimation. There was a future before her now which it would be pleasant to share, and every one considered that her engagement to Archie exonerated her from all participation in Madame's cruelty. "She has always declared herself innocent," said the minister's wife, "and Braelands's marriage to her affirms it in the most positive manner. Those who have been unjust to Miss Glamis have now no excuse for their injustice." This authoritative declaration in Marion's favour had such a decided effect that every invitation to her marriage was accepted, and the ceremony, though purposely denuded of everything likely to recall the tragedy now to be forgotten, was really a very splendid private affair.
On the Sabbath before it, Archie took in the early morning a walk to the kirkyard at Pittendurie. He was going to bid Sophy a last farewell. Henceforward he must try and prevent her memory troubling his life and influencing his moods and motives. It was a cold, chilling morning, and the great immensity of the ocean spread away to the occult shores of the poles. The sky was grey and sombre, the sea cloudy and unquiet; and far off on the eastern horizon, a mysterious portent was slowly rolling onward.
He crossed the stile and walked slowly forward. On his right hand there was a large, newly-made grave with an oar standing upright at its head, and some inscription rudely painted on it. His curiosity was aroused, and he went closer to read the words: "Be comforted! Alexander Murray has prevailed." The few words so full of hope and triumph, moved him strangely. He remembered the fisherman Murray, whose victory over death was so certainly announced; and his soul, disregarding all the forbidding of priests and synods, instantly sent a prayer after the departed conqueror. "Wherever he is," he thought, "surely he is closer to Heaven than I am."
He had been in the kirkyard often when none but God saw him, and his feet knew well the road to Sophy's grave. There was a slender shaft of white marble at the head, and Andrew Binnie stood looking at it. Braelands walked forward till only the little green mound separated them. Their eyes met and filled with tears. They clasped hands across her grave and buried every sorrowful memory, every sense of wrong or blame, in its depth and height. Andrew turned silently away; Braelands remained there some minutes longer. The secret of that invisible communion remained forever his own secret. Those only who have had similar experiences know that souls who love each other may, and can, exchange impressions across immensity.
He found Andrew sitting on the stile, gazing thoughtfully over the sea at the pale grey wall of inconceivable height which was drawing nearer and nearer. "The fog is coming," he said, "we shall soon be going into cloud after cloud of it."
"They chilled and hurt her once. She is now beyond them."
"She is in Heaven. God be thanked for His great mercy to her!"
"If we only knew something sure. Where is Heaven? Who can tell?"
"In Thy presence is fullness of joy, and at Thy right hand pleasures forevermore. Where God is, there is Heaven."
"Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard."
"But God hath revealed it; not a future revelation, Braelands, but a present one." And then Andrew slowly, and with pauses full of feeling and intelligence, went on to make clear to Braelands the Present Helper in every time of need. He quoted mainly from the Bible, his one source of all knowledge, and his words had the splendid vagueness of the Hebrew, and lifted the mind into the illimitable. And as they talked, the fog enveloped them, one drift after another passing by in dim majesty, till the whole world seemed a spectacle of desolation, and a breath of deadly chillness forced them to rise and wrap their plaids closely round them. So they parted at the kirk yard gate, and never, never again met in this world.
Braelands turned his face towards Marion and a new life, and Andrew went back to his ship with a new and splendid interest. It began in wondering, "whether there was any good in a man abandoning himself to a noble, but vain regret? Was there no better way to pay a tribute to the beloved dead?" Braelands's costly monument did not realise his conception of this possibility; but as he rowed back to his ship in the gathering storm, a thought came into his mind with all the assertion of a clang of steel, and he cried out to his Inner Man.
"That, oh my soul, is what I will do; that is what will keep my love's name living and lovely in the hearts of her people."
His project was not one to be accomplished without much labour and self-denial. It would require a great deal of money, and he would have to save with conscientious care many years to compass his desire, which was to build a Mission Ship for the deep sea fishermen Twelve years he worked and saved, and then the ship was built; a strong steam-launch, able to buffet and bear the North Sea when its waves were running wild over everything. She was provided with all appliances for religious comfort and teaching; she had medicines for the sick and surgical help for the wounded; she carried every necessary protection against the agonising "sea blisters" which torture the fishermen in the winter season. And this vessel of many comforts was called the "Sophy Traill."
She is still busy about her work of mercy. Many other Mission Ships now traverse the great fishing-fleets of the North Sea, and carry hope and comfort to the fishermen who people its grey, wild waters; but none is so well beloved by them as the "Little Sophy." When the boats lie at their nets on a summer's night, it is on the "Little Sophy" that "Rock of Ages" is started and then taken up by the whole fleet. And when the stormy winds of winter blow great guns, then the "Little Sophy," flying her bright colours in the daytime and showing her many lights at night, is always rolling about among the boats, blowing her whistle to tell them she is near by, or sending off help in her lifeboat, or steaming after a smack in distress.
Fifteen years after Andrew and Archie parted at the kirkyard, Archie came to the knowledge first of Andrew's living monument to the girl they had both loved so much. He was coming from Norway in a yacht with a few friends, and they were caught in a heavy, easterly gale. In a few hours there was a tremendous sea, and the wind rapidly rose to a hurricane. The "Little Sophy" steamed after the helpless craft and got as near to her as possible; but as she lowered her lifeboat, she saw the yacht stagger, stop, and then founder. The tops of her masts seemed to meet, she had broken her back, and the seas flew sheer over her.
The lifeboat picked up three men from her, and one of them was Archie Braelands. He was all but dead from exposure and buffeting; but the surgeon of the Mission Ship brought him back to life.
It was some hours after he had been taken on board; the storm had gone away northward as the sun set. There was the sound of an organ and of psalm-singing in his ears, and yet he knew that he was in a ship on a tossing sea, and he opened his eyes, and asked weakly:
"Where am I?"
The surgeon stooped to him and answered in a cheery voice: "On the 'Sophy Traill!'"
A cry, shrill as that of a fainting woman, parted Archie's lips, and he kept muttering in a half-delirious stupor all night long, "The Sophy Traill! The Sophy Traill!" In a few days he recovered strength and was able to leave the boat which had been his salvation; but in those few days he heard and saw much that greatly influenced for the noblest ends his future life.
All through the borders of Fife, people talked of Archie's strange deliverance by this particular ship, and the old story was told over again in a far gentler spirit. Time had softened ill-feeling, and Archie's career was touched with the virtue of the tenderly remembered dead.
"He was but a thoughtless creature before he lost wee Sophy," Janet said, as she discussed the matter; "and now, where will you find a better or a busier man? Fife's proud of him, and Scotland's proud of him, and if England hasn't the sense of discerning who she ought to make a Prime Minister of, that isn't Braelands's fault."
"For all that," said Christina, sitting among her boys and girls, "Sophy ought to have married Andrew. She would have been alive to-day if she had."
"You aren't always an oracle, Christina, and you have a deal to learn yet; but I'm not saying but what poor Sophy did make a mistake in her marriage. Folks should marry in their own class, and in their own faith, and among their own folk, or else ninety-nine times out of a hundred they marry sorrow; but I'm not so sure that being alive to-day would have been a miracle of pleasure and good fortune. If she had had bairns, as ill to bring up and as noisy and fashious as yours are, she is well spared the trouble of them."
"You have spoiled the bairns yourself, Mother. If I ever check or scold them, you are aye sure to take their part."
"Because you never know when a bairn is to blame and when its mother is to blame. I forgot to teach you that lesson."
Christina laughed and said something about it "being a grand thing Andrew had no lads and lasses," and then Janet held, her head up proudly, and said with an air of severe admonition:
"It's well enough for you and the like of you to have lads and lasses; but my boy Andrew has a duty far beyond it, he has the 'Sophy Traill' to victual and store, and send out to save souls and bodies."
"Lads and lasses aren't bad things, Mother."
"They'll be all the better for the 'Sophy Traill' and the other boats like her. That laddie o' yours that will be off to sea whether you like it or not, will give you many a fear and heartache. Andrew's 'boat of blessing' goes where she is bid to go, and does as she is told to do. That's the difference."
Difference or not, his "boat of blessing" was Andrew's joy and pride. She had been his salvation, inasmuch as she had consecrated that passion for hoarding money which was the weak side of his character. She had given to his dead love a gracious memory in the hearts of thousands, and "a name far better than that of sons and daughters."