Neither he nor his mother regretted much that they could not go to church. Mrs Forbes sat by the fire and read Hannah More's Christian Morals, and Alec sat by the window reading James Montgomery's World before the Flood, and watching the river, and the splashing of the rain in the pluvial lake, for the water was nearly a foot deep around the house, although it stood upon a knoll of gravel.
All night Tibbie Dyster had lain awake in her lonely cottage, listening to the quiet heavy go of the water from which all the sweet babbling sounds and delicate music-tones had departed. The articulation of the river-god was choked in the weight and hurry of its course to the expectant sea. Tibbie was still far from well, had had many relapses, and was more than ever convinced that the Lord was going to let her see his face.
Annie would have staid with her that Saturday night, as she not unfrequently did, had she not known that Mrs Bruce would make it a pretext for giving her no change of linen for another week.
The moment Bruce entered the chapel—for no weather deprived him of his Sabbath privileges—Annie, who had been his companion so far, darted off to see Tibbie. When Bruce found that she had not followed him, he hurried to the door, but only to see her halfway down the street. He returned in anger to his pew, which he was ashamed of showing thus empty to the eyes of his brethren. But there were many pews in like condition that morning.
The rain having moderated a little in the afternoon, the chapel was crowded in the evening. Mrs Bruce was the only one of the Bruce-family absent. The faces of the congregation wore an expectant look, for they knew Mr Turnbull would improve the occasion: he always sought collateral aid to the influences of the truth, and sometimes attempted to suborn Nature herself to give effect to his persuasions. The text he had chosen was: "But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be." He made no allusion to the paper which the rain was busy washing off the door of the chapel; nor did he wish to remind the people that this was the very day foreseen by the bill-sticking prophet, as appointed for the advent of judgment. But when, in the middle of the sermon, a flash of lightning seemed to extinguish the array of candles, and was followed by an instant explosion of thunder, and a burst of rain, as if a waterspout had broken over their heads, coming down on the roof like the trampling of horses and the noise of chariot-wheels, the general start and pallor of the congregation showed that they had not forgotten the prediction. This then was the way in which judgment was going to be executed: a second flood was about to sweep them from the earth. So, although all stared at the minister as if they drank in every word of his representation of Noah's flood, with its despairing cries, floating carcases, and lingering deaths on the mountain-tops as the water crept slowly up from peak to peak, yet they were much too frightened at the little flood in the valley of two rivers, to care for the terrors of the great deluge of the world, in which, according to Mr Turnbull, eighty thousand millions of the sons and daughters of men perished, or to heed the practical application which he made of his subject. For once the contingent of nature was too powerful for the ends of the preacher.
When the service was over, they rushed out of the chapel.
Robert Bruce was the first to step from the threshold up to the ankles in water. The rain was falling—not in drops, but in little streams.
"The Lord preserve 's!" he exclaimed. "It's risen a fit (foot) upo' Glamerton a'ready. And there's that sugar i' the cellar! Bairns, rin hame yer lanes. I canna bide for ye."
And he was starting off at the top of his speed.
"Hoots! man," cried Thomas Crann, who came behind him, "ye're sae sair ta'en up wi' the warl, 'at ye hae nae room for ordinar' common sense. Ye're only stannin' up to the mou's o' yer shune i' the hole 'at ye unnertook yersel' to fill up wi' the lime 'at was ower efter ye had turned yer dry stane dyke intil a byre-wa'."
Robert stepped out of the hole and held his tongue. At that moment, Annie was slipping past him to run back to Tibbie. He made a pounce upon her and grabbed her by the shoulder.
"Nae mair o' this, Annie!" he said. "Come hame for cowmon dacency, and dinna gang stravaguin' in a nicht like this, naebody kens whaur."
"A' body kens whaur," returned Annie. "I'm only gaun to sleep wi' Tibbie Dyster, puir blin' body!"
"Lat the blin' sleep wi' the blin', an' come ye hame wi' me," said Robert oracularly, abusing several texts of Scripture in a breath, and pulling Annie away with him. "Ye'll be drooned afore the mornin' in some hole or ither, ye fashous rintheroot! And syne wha'll hae the wyte o' 't?"
Heartily vexed and disappointed, Annie made no resistance, for she felt it would be uncomely. And how the rain did pour as they went home! They were all wet to the skin in a moment except Mr Bruce, who had a big umbrella, and reasoned with himself that his Sabbath clothes were more expensive than those of the children.
The best way certainly was to send the wet ones to bed as soon as they got home. But how could Annie go to bed when Tibbie was lying awake listening for her footsteps, and hearing only the sounds of the rising water? She made up her mind what to do. Instead of going into her room, she kept listening on the landing for the cessation of footsteps. The rain poured down on the roof with such a noise, and rushed so fiercely along the spouts, that she found it difficult to be sure. There was no use in changing her clothes only to get them wet again, and it was well for her that the evening was warm. But at length she was satisfied that her gaolers were at supper, whereupon she stole out of the house as quietly as a kitten, and was out of sight of it as quickly. Not a creature was to be seen. The gutters were all choked and the streets had become river-beds, already torn with the rush of the ephemeral torrents. But through it all she dashed fearlessly, bounding on to Tibbie's cottage.
"Eh, preserve's! sic a nicht, Peter Whaup!" said Peter's wife to Peter as he sat by the fire with his cutty in his teeth. "It'll be an awfu' spate."
"Ay will't," rejoined Peter. "There's mair water nor whusky already. Jist rax doon the bottle, gudewife. It tak's a hantle to quawlifee sic weet's this. Tak' a drappy yersel', 'oman, to haud it oot."
"Ye hae had plenty, Peter. I dinna want nane. Ye're a true smith, man: ye hae aye a spark i' yer throat."
"Toots! There never was sic a storm o' water sin' the ark o' the covenant—"
"Ye mean Noah's ark, Peter, man."
"Weel, weel! onything ye like. It's a' the same, ye ken. I was only jist remarkin' that we haena sic a fa' o' rain ilka day, an' we sud jist haud the day in min', pay 't respec' like, keep it wi' a tumler, ye ken—cummummerate it, as they ca' 't. Rax doon the bottle, lass, and I'll jist gie a luik oot an' see whether the water's likely to come in ower the door-sill; for gin it ance crosses the thrashol', I doot there wonno be whusky eneuch i' the hoose, and bein' the Sawbath nicht, we canna weel win at ony mair."
Thus entreated, Mistress Whaup got the bottle down. She knew her husband must have whisky, and, like a wise woman, got him to take as large a proportion of the immitigable quantity as possible at home. Peter went to the door to reconnoitre.
"Guid guide 's!" he cried; "there's a lassie run by like a maukin (hare), wi' a splash at ilka fit like a wauk-mill. An' I do believe it was Annie Anderson. Will she be rinnin' for the howdie (midwife) to Mistress Bruce? The cratur'll be droont. I'll jist rin efter her."
"An' be droont yersel, Peter Whaup! She's a wise lass, an' can tak care o' hersel. Lat ye her rin."
But Peter hesitated.
"The water's bilin'," cried Mrs Whaup.
And Peter hesitated no longer.
Nor indeed could he have overtaken Annie if he had tried. Before Peter's tumbler was mixed she was standing on the stone across the dyer's dam, looking down into the water which had risen far up the perpendicular sides of its rocky conduit. Across the stone the water from the street above was pouring into the Glamour.
"Tibbie," she said, as she entered the cottage, "I doobt there's gaun to be a terrible spate."
"Lot it come," cried Tibbie. "The bit hoosie's fund't upon a rock, and the rains may fa', and the wins may blaw, and the floods may ca at the hoosie, but it winna fa', it canna fa', for it's fund't upo' a rock."
Perhaps Tibbie's mind was wandering a little, for when Annie entered, she found her face flushed, and her hands moving restlessly. But what with this assurance of her confidence, and the pleasure of being with her again, Annie thought no more about the waters of the Glamour.
"What keepit ye sae lang, lassie?" said Tibbie wearily after a moment's silence, during which Annie had been redisposing the peats to get some light from the fire.
She told her the whole story.
"And hae ye had nae supper?"
"Na. But I dinna want ony."
"Pit aff yer weet claes than, and come to yer bed."
Annie crept into the bed beside her—not dry even then, for she was forced to retain her last garment. Tibbie was restless, and kept moaning, so that neither of them could sleep. And the water kept sweeping on faster, and rising higher up the rocky mound on which the cottage stood. The old woman and the young girl lay within and listened fearless.
Alec too lay awake and listened to the untiring rain. Weary of the house, he had made use of the missionar kirk to get out of it, and had been one of Mr Turnbull's congregation that night. Partly because his mind was unoccupied by any fear from without, for he only laughed at the prophecy, something in that sermon touched him deeper than any one else in the place perhaps, awoke some old feelings of responsibility that had been slumbering for a long time, and made him reflect upon an unquestioned article of his creed—the eternal loss and misery and torture of the soul that did not repent and believe. At the same time, what repentance and belief really meant—what he had to do first—he did not know. All he seemed to know was that he was at that moment in imminent danger of eternal damnation. And he lay thinking about this while the rain kept pouring upon the roof out of the thick night overhead, and the Glamour kept sweeping by through the darkness to the sea. He grew troubled, and when at last he fell asleep, he dreamed frightfully.
When he woke, it was a dull morning, full of mist and rain. His dreams had fled even from his memory, but had left a sense of grievous discomfort. He rose and looked out of the window. The Glamour spread out and rushed on like the torrent of a sea forsaking its old bed. Down its course swept many dark objects, which he was too far off to distinguish. He dressed himself, and went down to its edge—not its bank: that lay far within and far beneath its torrent. The water, outspread where it ought not to be, seemed to separate him from the opposite country by an impassable gulf of space, a visible infinitude—a vague marvel of waters. Past him swept trees torn up by the roots. Down below, where he could not see, stones were rolling along the channel. On the surface, sheaves and trees went floating by. Then a cart with a drowned horse between the shafts, heaved past in the central roll of the water. Next came something he could not understand at first. It was a great water-wheel. This made him think of the mill, and he hurried off to see what the miller was doing.
Truffey went stumping through the rain and the streams to the morning school. Gladly would he have waited on the bridge, which he had to cross on his way, to look at the water instead. But the master would be there, and Truffey would not be absent. When Mr Malison came, Truffey was standing in the rain waiting for him. Not another boy was there. He sent him home. And Truffey went back to the bridge over the Glamour, and there stood watching the awful river.
Mr Malison sped away westward towards the Wan Water. On his way he found many groups of the inhabitants going in the same direction. The bed of the Wan Water was here considerably higher than that of the Glamour, although by a rapid descent it reached the same level a couple of miles below the town. But its waters had never, to the knowledge of any of the inhabitants, risen so high as to surmount the ridge on the other slope of which the town was built. Consequently they had never invaded the streets. But now people said the Wan Water would be down upon them in the course of an hour or two, when Glamerton would be in the heart of a torrent, for the two rivers would be one. So instead of going to school, all the boys had gone to look, and the master followed them. Nor was the fear without foundation; for the stream was still rising, and a foot more would overtop the ground between it and the Glamour.
But while the excited crowd of his townsmen stood in the middle of a stubble-field, watching the progress of the enemy at their feet, Robert Bruce was busy in his cellar preparing for its reception. He could not move his cask of sugar without help, and there was none of that to be had. Therefore he was now, in his shirt-sleeves, carrying the sugar up the cellar-stairs in the coal-scuttle, while Mrs Bruce, in a condition very unfit for such efforts, went toiling behind him with the meal-bossie filled far beyond the brim. As soon as he had finished his task, he hurried off to join the watchers of the water.
James Johnstone's workshop was not far from the Glamour. When he went into it that morning, he found the treadles under water, and thought he had better give himself the play.
"I'll jist tak a daun'er (stroll) doon to the brig to see the spate gang by," he said to himself, and, putting on his grandfather's hat, went out into the rain.
As he came near the bridge, he saw cripple Truffey leaning over the parapet with horror-stricken looks. The next moment he bounded to his one foot and his crutch, and spanged over the bridge as if he had been gifted with six legs.
When James reached the parapet, he could see nothing to account for the terror and eagerness in Truffey's pale face, nor for his precipitate flight. But being short-sighted and inquisitive, he set off after Truffey as fast as the dignity proper to an elderly weaver and a deacon of the missionars would permit.
As Alec came near the mill he saw two men standing together on the verge of the brown torrent which separated them from it. They were the miller—the same whose millstone Curly had broken by shutting down the sluice—and Thomas Crann, the latest architect employed about the building. Thomas had been up all night, wandering hither and thither along the shore of the Wan Water, sorely troubled about Glamerton and its careless people. Towards morning he had found himself in the town again, and, crossing the Glamour, had wandered up the side of the water, and so come upon the sleepless miller contemplating his mill in the embrace of the torrent.
"Ye maun alloo it's hard, Thamas," said the miller.
"Hard?" retorted Thomas with indignation. "Hoo daur ye say sic a thing! Here hae ye been stickin' yer bit water-wheel i' the mids o' ane o' the Lord's burns, and the Lord has ca'd it roon and roon for you and yer forbears aboon a hunner yer, and ye've grun' yer breid oot o' 't, and the breid o' yer bairns, and noo whan it's i' the Lord's gait, and he maun hae mair room to sen' doon the waters frae his hills, ye grummle an' compleen at the spate that's been foreordeen't frae the verra black mirk o' eternity. What wad ye think o' a bairn gaein' compleenin' o' you 'cause your backwater had ta'en awa' his wheelie o' rashes, whaur it was whurlin' bonnie afore ye liftit the sluice?"
Thomas's zeal had exposed him to the discomfiture of those who, if they do not actually tell lies for God, yet use very bad arguments for him. The miller rejoined:
"You or me, Thomas, wad see bairnie an' wheelie alike safe, afore we liftit the sluice. The Lord micht hae managed ohn ta'en awa' my mull."
"Yer mull's nae doon the water yet, Simon. It's in some extremity, I confess; but whether it's to be life or deith, none kens but ane. Gang hame, man, and gang doon upo' yer knees, and pray."
"Pray to God aboot an auld meal-mull?" said Simon with indignation. "'Deed, I winna be sae ill-bred."
And so saying, he turned and went home, leaving Thomas muttering—
"Gin a body wad pray aboot onything, they micht, maybe, tak' a likin' till 't. A prayer may do a body guid whan it's no jist o' the kin' to be a'thegither acceptable to the min' o' the Almichty. But I doobt his ear's gleg for ony prayer that gangs up his gait."
The last two sentences were spoken aloud as he shook hands with Alec, of whose presence he had been aware from the first, although he had taken no notice of his arrival.
Before another word was uttered, their attention was attracted by a large mass floating down the river.
"What's that, Thomas?" said Alec. "I houp it winna tak' awa' the brig."
He meant the wooden bridge a few hundred yards below them, which, inaccessible from either side, was now very little above the level of the water.
"It's jist the riggin' o' some cottar's bit hoosie," answered Thomas. "What's come o' them that was aneath it, the Lord only kens. The water's jist liftit the roof bodily. There it gangs—throu' aneath the brig.—The brig's doon. It's no doon.—It's stan'in' yet.—But the puir fowk, Alec!—Eh, gin they warna preparet! Think o' that, Alec."
"I houp they wan oot," answered Alec.
"Houps are feckless things, Alec," returned Thomas, censoriously.
But the talk was turned into another channel by the appearance—a few ridges off—for they were standing in a field—of Truffey, who, with frantic efforts to get on, made but little speed, so deep did his crutch sink in the soaked earth. He had to pull it out at every step, and seemed mad in his foiled anxiety to reach them. He tried to shout, but nothing was heard beyond a crow like that of a hoarse chicken. Alec started off to meet him, but just as he reached him his crutch broke in the earth, and he fell and lay unable to speak a word. With slow and ponderous arrival, Thomas Crann came up.
"Annie Anderson!" panted out Truffey at length.
"What aboot her?" said both in alarm.
"Tibbie Dyster!" sobbed Truffey in reply.
"Here's Jeames Johnstone!" said Thomas; "he'll tell's a' aboot it."
He surmised the facts, but waited in painful expectation of assurance from the deacon, who came slipping and sliding along the wet ridges.
"What's this?" he cried fiercely, as James came within hearing.
"What is't?" returned the weaver eagerly.
If Thomas had been a swearing man, what a terrible oath he would have sworn in the wrath which this response of the weaver roused in his apprehensive soul! But Truffey was again trying to speak, and with a
"Be ashamed o' yersel', Jeames Johnstone," the mason bent his ear to listen.
"They'll be droont. They'll be taen awa. They canna win oot."
Thomas and Alec turned and stared at each other.
"The boat!" gasped Thomas.
Alec made no reply. That was a terrible water to look at. And the boat was small.
"Can ye guide it, Alec?" said Thomas, his voice trembling, and the muscles of his face working.
The terrors of the night had returned upon Alec. Would the boat live? Was there more than a chance? And if she went down, was he not damned for ever? He made no reply. He was afraid.
"Alec!" shouted Thomas, in a voice that might have been heard across the roar of the Glamour, "Will ye lat the women droon?"
"Thomas," answered Alec, meekly, trembling from head to foot, "gin I gang to the boddom, I gang to hell."
"Better be damned, doin' the will o' God, than saved doin' noathing!" said Thomas.
The blood shot into Alec's face. He turned and ran.
"Thomas," said James Johnstone, with shy interposition, laying his forefinger upon the stonemason's broad chest, "hae ye considered what ye're drivin' the young man till?"
"Ay, weel eneuch, Jeames Johnstone. Ye're ane o' thae mealy-mou'd frien's that like a man sae wel they wad raither hae him gang wi' his back to the pleuch, nor ca't i' the face o' a cauld win'. I wad raither see my frein' hangt nor see him deserve hangin'. Haud awa' wi' ye. Gin he disna gang, I'll gang mysel', an' I never was in a boat i' my life."
"Come awa, Thomas," cried Alec, already across three or four ridges; "I canna carry her my lane."
Thomas followed as fast as he could, but before he reached the barn, he met Alec and one of the farm-servants, with the boat on their shoulders.
It was a short way to the water. They had her afloat in a few minutes, below the footbridge. At the edge the water was as still as a pond.
Alec seized the oars, and the men shoved him off.
"Pray, Alec," shouted Thomas.
"I haena time. Pray yersel'," shouted Alec in reply, and gave a stroke that shot him far towards the current. Before he reached it, he shifted his seat, and sat facing the bows. There was little need for pulling, nor was there much fear of being overtaken by any floating mass, while there was great necessity for looking out ahead. The moment Thomas saw the boat laid hold of by the current, he turned his back to the Glamour, fell upon his knees in the grass, and cried in an agony:
"Lord, let not the curse o' the widow and the childless be upo' me, Thomas Crann."
Thereafter he was silent.
Johnstone and the farm-lad ran down the river-side. Truffey had started for the bridge again, having tied up his crutch with a string. Thomas remained kneeling, with his arms stretched out as stiff as the poles of a scaffold, and the joints of his clasped fingers buried in the roots of the grass. The stone piers of the wooden bridge fell into the water with a rush, but he never heard it. The bridge floated past him bodily, but his back was towards it. Like a wretch in sanctuary, he dared not leave "the footstool of grace," or expose himself to the inroads of the visible world around him, by opening his eyes.
Alec did not find it so hard as he had expected to keep his boat from capsizing. But the rapidity with which the banks swept past him was frightful. The cottage lay on the other side of the Glamour, lower down, and all that he had to do for a while, was to keep the bows of his boat down the stream. When he approached the cottage, he drew a little out of the centre of the current, which, confined within rising ground, was here fiercer than anywhere above. But out of the current he could not go; for the cottage lay between the channel of the river and the mill-race. Except for its relation, however, to the bridge behind it, which he saw crowded with anxious spectators, he would not have known where it ought to be—so much was the aspect of everything altered. He could see that the water was more than half way up the door, right at which he had resolved to send his boat. He was doubtful whether the doorway was wide enough to let it through, but he saw no other way of doing. He hoped his momentum would be sufficient to force the door open, or, better still, to carry away the posts, and give him more room. If he failed no doubt the boat would be in danger, but he would not make any further resolutions, till action, becoming absolute, should reveal the nature of its own necessity. As he drew near his mark, therefore, he resumed the seat of a rower, kept taking good aim at the door, gave a few vigorous pulls, and unshipping his oars, bent his head forward from the shock. Bang went the Bonnie Annie; away went door and posts; and the lintel came down on Alec's shoulders.
But I will now tell how the night had passed with Tibbie and Annie.
Tibbie's moaning grew gentler and less frequent, and both fell into a troubled slumber. From this Annie awoke at the sound of Tibbie's voice. She was talking in her dream.
"Dinna wauk him," she said; "dinna wauk him; he's fell (Germ. viel) tired and sleepy. Lat the win' blaw, lads. Do ye think He canna see whan his een are steekit. Gin the watter meddle wi' you, He'll sune lat it ken it's i' the wrang. Ye'll see 't cowerin' at 's feet like a colley-dog. I'll jist dight the weet aff o' my Lord's face.—Weel, wauk him gin ye will. I wad raither gang to the boddom mysel'."
A pause followed. It was clear that she was in a dream-boat, with Jesus in the hinder part asleep upon a pillow. The sounds of the water outside had stolen through her ears and made a picture in her brain. Suddenly she cried out:
"I tellt ye sae! I tellt ye sae! Luik at it! The jaws (waves) gang doon as gin they war sae mony wholpies!"
She woke with the cry—weeping.
"I thocht I had the sicht o' my een," she said sobbing, "and the Lord was blin' wi' sleep."
"Do you hear the watter?" said Annie.
"Wha cares for that watter!" she answered, in a tone of contempt. "Do ye think He canna manage hit!"
But there was a jabble in the room beside them, and Annie heard it. The water was yelping at the foot of the bed.
"The watter's i' the hoose!" cried she, in terror, and proceeded to rise.
"Lie still, bairn," said Tibbie, authoritatively. "Gin the watter be i' the hoose, there's no ootgang. It'll be doon afore the mornin'. Lie still."
Annie lay down again, and Tibbie resumed:
"Gin we be i' the watter, the watter's i' the how o' his han'. Gin we gang to the boddom, he has only to open's fingers, an' there we are, lyin' i' the loof o' 's han', dry and warm. Lie still."
And Annie lay so still, that in a few minutes more she was asleep again. Tibbie slept too.
But Annie woke from a terrible dream—that a dead man was pursuing her, and had laid a cold hand upon her. The dream was gone, but the cold hand remained.
"Tibbie!" she cried, "the watter 's i' the bed."
"What say ye, lassie?" returned Tibbie, waking up.
"The watter's i' the bed."
"Weel, lie still. We canna sweyp it oot."
The water was in the bed. And it was pitch dark. Annie, who lay at the front, stretched her arm over the side. It sunk to the elbow. In a moment more the bed beneath her was like a full sponge. She lay in silent terror, longing for the dawn.
"I'm terrible cauld," said Tibbie.
Annie tried to answer her, but the words would not leave her throat. The water rose. They were lying half-covered with it. Tibbie broke out singing. Annie had never heard her sing, and it was not very musical.
"Saviour, through the desert lead us. Without thee, we cannot go.
Are ye waukin', lassie?"
"Ay," answered Annie.
"I'm terrible cauld, an' the watter's up to my throat. I canna muv, I'm sae cauld. I didna think watter had been sae cauld."
"I'll help ye to sit up a bit. Ye'll hae dreidfu' rheumatize efter this, Tibbie," said Annie, as she got up on her knees, and proceeded to lift Tibbie's head and shoulders, and draw her up in the bed.
But the task was beyond her strength. She could not move the helpless weight, and, in her despair, she let Tibbie's head fall back with a dull plash upon the bolster.
Seeing that all she could do was to sit and support her, she got out of bed and waded across the floor to the fireside to find her clothes. But they were gone. Chair and all had been floated away, and although she groped till she found the floating chair, she could not find the clothes. She returned to the bed, and getting behind Tibbie, lifted her head on her knees, and so sat.
An awful dreary time followed. The water crept up and up. Tibbie moaned a little, and then lay silent for a long time, drawing slow and feeble breaths. Annie was almost dead with cold.
Suddenly in the midst of the darkness Tibbie cried out,
"I see licht! I see licht!"
A strange sound in her throat followed, after which she was quite still. Annie's mind began to wander. Something struck her gently on the arm, and kept bobbing against her. She put out her hand to feel what it was. It was round and soft. She said to herself:
"It's only somebody's heid that the water's torn aff," and put her hand under Tibbie again.
In the morning she found it was a drowned hen.
At length she saw motion rather than light. The first of the awful dawn was on the yellow flood that filled the floor. There it lay throbbing and swirling. The light grew. She strained her eyes to see Tibbie's face. At last she saw that the water was over her mouth, and that her face was like the face of her father in his coffin. Child as she was, she knew that Tibbie was dead. She tried notwithstanding to lift her head out of the water, but she could not. So she crept from under her, with painful effort, and stood up in the bed. The water almost reached her knees. The table was floating near the bed. She got hold of it, and scrambling on to it, sat with her legs in the water. For another long space, half dead and half asleep, she went floating about, dreaming that she was having a row in the Bonnie Annie with Alec and Curly. In the motions of the water, she had passed close to the window looking down the river, and Truffey had seen her.
Wide awake she started from her stupor at the terrible bang with which the door burst open. She thought the cottage was falling, and that her hour was come to follow Tibbie down the dark water.
But in shot the sharp prow of the Bonnie Annie, and in glided after it the stooping form of Alec Forbes. She gave one wailing cry, and forgot everything.
That cry however had not ceased before she was in Alec's arms. In another moment, wrapt in his coat and waistcoat, she was lying in the bottom of the boat.
Alec was now as cool as any hero should be, for he was doing his duty, and had told the devil to wait a bit with his damnation. He looked all about for Tibbie, and at length spied her drowned in her bed.
"So much the more chance for Annie and me!" he said. "But I wish I had been in time."
What was to be done next? Down the river he must go, and they would be upon the bridge in two moments after leaving the cottage.—He must shoot the middle arch, for that was the highest. But if he escaped being dashed against the bridge before he reached the arch, and even had time to get in a straight line for it, the risk was a terrible one, with the water within a few feet of the keystone.
But when he shot the Bonnie Annie again through the door of the cottage, neither arch nor bridge was to be seen, and the boat went down the open river like an arrow.
Alec, looking down the river on his way to the cottage, had not seen the wooden bridge floating after him. As he turned to row into the cottage, it went past him.
The stone bridge was full of spectators, eagerly watching the boat, for Truffey had spread the rumour of the attempt; while the report of the situation of Tibbie and Annie having reached even the Wan Water, those who had been watching it were now hurrying across to the bridge of the Glamour.
The moment Alec disappeared in the cottage, some of the spectators caught sight of the wooden bridge coming down full tilt upon them. Already fears for the safety of the stone bridge had been openly expressed, for the weight of water rushing against it was tremendous; and now that they saw this ram coming down the stream, a panic, with cries and shouts of terror, arose, and a general rush left the bridge empty just at the moment when the floating mass struck one of the principal piers. Had the spectators remained upon it, the bridge might have stood.
But one of the crowd was too much absorbed in watching the cottage to heed the sudden commotion around him. This was Truffey, who, leaning wearily on the parapet with his broken crutch looking over it also at his side, sent his soul through his eyes to the cottage window. Even when the bridge struck the pier, and he must have felt the mass on which he stood tremble, he still kept staring at the cottage. Not till he felt the bridge begin to sway, I presume, had he a notion of his danger. Then he sprang up, and made for the street. The half of the bridge crumbled away behind him, and vanished in the seething yellow abyss.
At this moment, the first of the crowd from the Wan Water reached the bridge-foot. Amongst them came the schoolmaster. Truffey was making desperate efforts to reach the bank. His mended crutch had given way, and he was hopping wildly along. Murdoch Malison saw him, and rushed upon the falling bridge. He reached the cripple, caught him up in his strong arms, turned and was half way to the street, when with a swing and a sweep and a great plash, the remaining half of the bridge reeled into the current and vanished. Murdoch Malison and Andrew Truffey left the world each in the other's arms.
Their bodies were never found.
A moment after the fall of the bridge, Robert Bruce, gazing with the rest at the triumphant torrent, saw the Bonnie Annie go darting past. Alec was in his shirt-sleeves, facing down the river, with his oars level and ready to dip. But Bruce did not see Annie in the bottom of the boat.
"I wonner hoo auld Marget is," he said to his wife the moment he reached home.
But his wife could not tell him. Then he turned to his two younger children.
"Bairns," he said, "Annie Anderson's droont. Ay, she's droont," he continued, as they stared at him with frightened faces. "The Almichty's taen vengeance upon her for her disobedience, and for brackin' the Sawbath. See what ye'll come to, bairns, gin ye tak up wi' ill loons, and dinna min' what's said to ye. She's come to an ill hinner-en'?"
Mrs Bruce cried a little. Robert would have set out at once to see Margaret Anderson, but there was no possibility of crossing the Wan Water.
Fortunately for Thomas Crann, James Johnstone, who had reached the bridge just before the alarm arose, sped to the nearest side, which was that away from Glamerton. So, having seen the boat go past, with Alec still safe in it, he was able to set off with the good news for Thomas. After searching for him at the miller's and at Howglen, he found him where he had left him, still on his knees, with his hands in the grass.
"Alec's a' safe, man," he cried.
Thomas fell on his face, and he thought he was dead. But he was only giving lowlier thanks.
James took hold of him after a moment's pause. Thomas rose from the earth, put his great horny hand, as a child might, into that of the little weaver, and allowed him to lead him whither he would. He was utterly exhausted, and it was hours before he spoke.
There was no getting to Glamerton. So James took him to the miller's for shelter and help, but said nothing about how he had found him. The miller made Thomas drink a glass of whisky and get into his bed.
"I saw ye, Thamas, upo' yer knees," said he; "but I dauredna come near ye. Put in a word for me, neist time, man."
Thomas made him no reply.
Down the Glamour and down the Wan-Water, for the united streams went by the latter name, the terrible current bore them. Nowhere could Alec find a fit place to land, till they came to a village, fortunately on the same side as Howglen, into the street of which the water flowed. He bent to his oars, got out of the current, and rowed up to the door of a public-house, whose fat kind-hearted landlady had certainly expected no guests that day. In a few minutes Annie was in a hot bath, and before an hour had passed, was asleep, breathing tranquilly. Alec got his boat into the coach-house, and hiring a horse from the landlord, rode home to his mother. She had heard only a confused story, and was getting terribly anxious about him, when he made his appearance. As soon as she learned that he had rescued Annie, and where he had left her, she had Dobbin put to the gig, and drove off to see after her neglected favourite.
From the moment the bridge fell, the flood began to subside. Tibbie's cottage did not fall, and those who entered, the next day, found her body lying in the wet bed, its face still shining with the reflex of the light which broke upon her spirit as the windows were opened for it to pass.
"See sees noo," said Thomas Crann to James Johnstone, as they walked together at her funeral. "The Lord sent that spate to wash the scales frae her een."
Mrs Forbes brought Annie home to Howglen as soon as she was fit to be moved.
Alec went to town again, starting a week before the commencement of the session.
It was on a bright frosty evening in the end of October, that Alec entered once more the streets of the great city. The stars were brilliant over-head, the gems in Orion's baldric shining oriently, and the Plough glittering with frost in the cold blue fields of the northern sky. Below, the streets shone with their own dim stars; and men and women wove the web of their life amongst them as they had done for old centuries, forgetting those who had gone before, and careless of those who were to come after.
The moment he had succeeded in satisfying his landlady's inquisition, he rushed up to Mr Cupples's room. Mr Cupples was out. What was Alec to do? He could not call on Mr Fraser that night; and all space between him and Kate growing more immeasurable the nearer he came to her, he could not rest for the feeling of distance. So he wandered out, and along the sea-shore till under the wall of the pier. The tide was low, and the wall high over his head. He followed it to the edge of the water, and gazed out over the dim lead-coloured sea. While he stood thus, he thought he heard voices in the air, and looking up, saw, far over him, on the top of the wall, two heads standing out against the clear sky, one in a bonnet, the other in a Glengarry. Why should he feel a pang in his heart? Surely there were many girls who took starlight walks on that refuge in the sea. And a Glengarry was no uncommon wear for the youths of the city. He laughed at his own weak fancies, turned his back on the pier, and walked along the shore towards the mouth of the other river which flowed into the same bay. As he went, he glanced back towards the top of the wall, and saw the outline of the man. He was in full Highland dress. The woman he could not see, for she was on the further side of her companion. By the time he was halfway to the college, he had almost forgotten them.
It was a desolate shore along which he walked. Two miles of sand lay by the lip of the sea on his right. On his left rose irregular and changeful mounds of dry sand, upon which grew coarse grass and a few unpleasant-looking plants. From the level of the tops of these mounds stretched away a broad expanse of flat uncultivated ground, covered with thin grass. This space had been devoted, from time immemorial, to the sports of the city, but at this season, and especially at this hour, it was void as the Sahara. After sauntering along for half an hour, now listening to the wind that blew over the sand-hills, and now watching the spiky sparkle of the wintry stars in the sea, he reached a point whence he could descry the windows of Mr Fraser's part of the college. There was no light in Kate's window. She must be in the dining-room with her uncle—or—or—on the pier—with whom? He flung himself on the sand. All the old despair of the night of thunder, of the moonlight ramble, of the last walk together, revived. He dug with his fingers into the sand; and just so the horrible pain was digging, like a live creature with claws, into his heart. But Kate was indeed sitting quietly with her uncle, while he lay there on the sea-shore.
Time passes quickly in any torment—merciful provision. Suddenly something cold seemed to grasp him by the feet. He started and rose. Like a wild beast in the night, the tide had crept up upon him. A horror seized him, as if the ocean were indeed a slimy monster that sought to devour him where he lay alone and wretched. He sprang up the sand before him, and, sliding back at every step, gained the top with difficulty, and ran across the links towards the city. The exercise pumped the blood more rapidly through his brain, and before he reached home hope had begun to dawn. He ascended the garret-stairs, and again knocked at Mr Cupples's door.
"Come in," reached his ear in a strange dull tone. Mr Cupples had shouted into his empty tumbler while just going to swallow the last few drops without the usual intervention of the wine-glass. Alec hesitated, but the voice came again with its usual ring, tinged with irritation, and he entered.
"Hillo, bantam!" exclaimed Mr Cupples, holding out a grimy hand, that many a lady might have been pleased to possess and keep clean and white: "Hoo's the soo? And hoo's a' the cocks and hens?"
"Brawly," returned Alec. "Hoo's the tappit hen?"—a large bottle, holding six quarts, in which Mr Cupples kept his whisky.
Mr Cupples opened his eyes wide, and stared at Alec, who saw that he had made a blunder.
"I'll hae nae jaw frae you, younker," said he slowly. "Gin ye be sae ill at ease 'at ye maun tak' leeberties for the sake o' bein' facetious, ye can jist gang doon the stair wi' a quaiet sough."
"I beg your pardon, Mr Cupples," said Alec earnestly, for he was vexed with himself. "But ye're quite richt; I am some ill at ease."
"I thocht as muckle. Is the rainbow beginnin' to cast (fade) a wee? Has the fit o' Iris ca'd a hole i' the airch o' 't? Eh, man! man! Tak' to the mathemawtics and the anawtomy, and fling the conic sections an' the banes i' the face o' the bonny jaud—Iris, I mean, man, no ither, lass or leddy."
For Mr Cupples had feared, from the expression of Alec's face, that he had given him offence in return. A silence of a few seconds followed, which Alec gladly broke.
"Are you still acting as librarian, Mr Cupples?" he said.
"Ay. I'm actin' as librarian," returned Cupples dryly. "And I'm thinkin'," he added, "that the buiks are beginnin' to ken by this time what they're aboot; for sic a throuither disjaskit midden o' lere, I never saw. Ye micht hae taicklet it wi' a graip" (a three-pronged fork, a sort of agricultural trident). "Are ye gaun to tak' the cheemistry alang wi' the naiteral philoasophy?"
"Weel, ye jist come to me, as ye hae done afore. I'm no sae gude at thae things as I am at the Greek; but I ken mair already nor ye'll ken whan ye ken a' 'at ye will ken. And that's nae flattery either to you or me, man."
With beating heart, Alec knocked the next day at Mr Fraser's door, and was shown into the drawing-room, where sat Kate alone. The moment he saw her, he knew that there was a gulf between them as wide as the Glamour in a spate. She received him kindly, nor was there anything in her manner or speech by which he could define an alteration; and yet, with that marvellous power of self-defence, that instinctive knowledge of spirituo-military engineering with which maidens are gifted, she had set up such a palisade between them, dug such a fosse, and raised such a rampart, that without knowing how the effect was produced, he felt that he could not approach her. It is strange how women can put out an invisible arm and push one off to an infinite removal.
With a miserable sense of cold exhaustion and aching disappointment, he left her. She shook hands with him warmly, was very sorry her uncle was out, and asked him whether he would not call again to-morrow, when he would certainly be at home? He thanked her in a voice that seemed to him not his own, while her voice appeared to him to come out of some far-off cave of the past. The cold frosty air received him as he stepped from the door, and its breath was friendly. If the winter would only freeze him to one of its icicles, and still that heart of his which would go on throbbing although there was no reason for it to throb any more! Yet had he not often found her different from what he had expected? And might not this be only one of her many changeful moods? Perhaps.
So feeling that he had nothing to do and only one thing to think about, he wandered further through the old burgh, past the lingering fragment of its once mighty cathedral, and down to the bridge which, with its one Gothic arch as old as the youth of Chaucer, spanned the channel, here deep and narrow, of the long-drawn Highland river. Beyond it lay wintry woods, clear-lined against the pale blue sky. Into these he wandered, and was going on, seeing nothing, thinking nothing, almost feeling nothing, when he heard a voice behind him.
"Hillo, bantam!" it cried; and Alec did not need to turn to know who called.
"I saw ye come oot o' Professor Fraser's," said Cupples, "and I thocht a bit dauner i' the caller air wad do me no ill; sae I jist cam' efter ye."
Then changing his tone, he added,
"Alec, man, haud a grip o' yersel'. Dinna tyne that Lowse onything afore ye lowse haud o' yersel'."
"What do you mean, Mr Cupples?" asked Alec, not altogether willing to understand him.
"Ye ken weel eneuch what I mean. There's a trouble upo' ye. I'm no speirin' ony questons. But jist haud a grip o' yersel'. Rainbows! Rainbows!—We'll jist hae a walk thegither, an' I'll instruck ye i' the first prenciples o' naiteral philosophy.—First, ye see, there's the attraction o' graivitation, and syne there's the attraction o' cohesion, and syne there's the attraction o' adhesion; though I'm thinkin', i' the lang run, they'll be a' fun' to be ane and the same. And syne there's the attraction o' affeenity, whilk differs mair nor a tae's length frae the lave. In hit, ye see, ae thing taks till anither for a whilie, and hauds gey and sicker till 't, till anither comes 'at it likes better, whaurupon there's a proceedin' i' the Chancery o' Natur—only it disna aye haud lang, and there's nae lawyers' fees—and the tane's straughtways divorced frae the tither."
And so he went on, giving a kind of humorous travesty of a lecture on physics, which, Alec could not help perceiving, glanced every now and then at his mental condition, especially when it came to treat of the mechanical powers. It was evident that the strange being had some perception of the real condition of Alec's feelings. After walking a couple of miles into the open country, they retraced their footsteps. As they approached the college, Mr Cupples said:
"Noo, Alec, ye maun gang hame to yer denner. I'll be hame afore nicht. And gin ye like, ye can come wi' me to the library the morn, and I'll gie ye something to do."
Glad of anything to occupy his thoughts, Alec went to the library the next day; and as Mr Cupples was making a catalogue, and at the same time a thorough change in the arrangement of the books—both to be after his own heart—he found plenty for him to do.
Alec soon found his part in the catalogue-work becoming agreeable. But although there was much to be done as well in mending old covers, mounting worn title-pages, and such like, in this department Mr Cupples would accept no assistance. Indeed if Alec ventured to take up a book destined for repair, he would dart at him an anxious, almost angry glance, and keep watching him at uneasy intervals till he had laid it down again. Books were Mr Cupples's gold and jewels and furniture and fine clothes, in fact his whole gloria mundi.
But the opening day was at hand, after which Alec would have less time. Still he resolved, as some small return for the kindness of Mr Cupples, that he would continue to give him what help he could; for he had discovered that the pro-librarian lived in continual dread lest the office should be permanently filled before he had completed his labour of re-organization.
During the few days passed in the library, he called once upon Mr Fraser, and met with a warm reception from him. Kate gave him a kind one as before; but he had neither the satisfaction nor the pain of being alone with her.
At the opening, appeared amongst the rest Patrick Beauchamp—claiming now the name and dignity of The Mac Chattachan, for his grandfather was dead, and he was heir to the property. He was, if possible, more haughty than before; but students are not, as a class, ready to respond to claims of superiority upon such grounds as he possessed, and, except by a few who were naturally obsequious, he continued to be called Beauchamp, and by that name I shall call him too.
It soon came out that when lecture-hours were over, he put off his lowland dress, and went everywhere in Highland costume. Indeed on the first day Alec met him in the gloaming thus attired; and the flash of his cairngorms as he passed seemed to scorch his eyes, for he thought of the two on the pier, and the miserable hour that followed. Beauchamp no longer attended the anatomical lectures; and when Alec observed his absence, he recalled the fact that Kate could never bear even a distant reference to that branch of study. Whether he would have gone in for it with any heartiness himself this session, had it not been for the good influence of Mr Cupples, is more than doubtful. But he gave him constant aid, consisting in part of a liberal use of any kind of mental goad that came to his hand—sometimes praise, sometimes rebuke, sometimes humorous execration.
Fortunately for the designs of Beauchamp, Mr Fraser had been visiting in his mother's neighbourhood; and nothing was easier for one who, like most Celts, possessed more than the ordinary power of ingratiating, than to make himself agreeable to the old man. When he took his leave to return to the college, Mr Fraser declared himself sorry that he had made no better acquaintance with him before, and begged that he would call upon him when he came up.
Soon after the commencement of the session, a panic seized the townspeople in consequence of certain reports connected with the school of anatomy, which stood by itself in a low neighbourhood. They were to the effect that great indignities were practised upon the remains of the subjects, that they were huddled into holes about the place, and so heedlessly, that dogs might be seen tearing portions from the earth. What truth there may have been at the root of these reports, I cannot tell; but it is probable they arose from some culpable carelessness of the servants. At all events, they were believed in the neighbourhood, occupied by those inhabitants of the city readiest to receive and dwell upon anything revolting. But what pushed the indignation beyond the extreme of popular endurance, was a second rumour, in the consternation occasioned by which the whole city shared: the resurrectionists were at their foul work, and the graveyard, the place of repose, was itself no longer a sanctuary! Whether the authorities of the medical school had not been guilty of indifference, contenting themselves with asking no questions about the source whence the means of prosecuting their art was derived, may be a question. But fear altogether outstripped investigation, and those even who professed unbelief, took precautions; whence the lights of the watchers of the dead might be seen twinkling, far into the morning, in the solemn places around the city churches; while many a poor creature who would have sold his wife's body for five pounds, was ready to tear a medical student to pieces on the mere chance that his scalpel had touched a human form stolen from the sacred enclosure.
Now whether Beauchamp, who had watched Alec in the same situation before, had anything to do with what follows I cannot tell; but his conduct then lays him open to suspicion now.
Alec, who found some escape if not relief from painful thought in the prosecution of his favourite study, was thus occupied one evening, no very unfrequent occurrence, by candlelight. He had almost reached a final understanding of the point in pursuit, when he was roused from his absorption by a yell outside. He had for some time previous heard a sound of gathering commotion, but had paid no attention to it. He started up from his stooping posture, and having blown out his candle, perceived by the lamps outside, that a crowd of faces, pale in the darkness, was staring through the high iron palisade which surrounded the school. They had seen his light, and were now watching for his coming out. He knew that upon the smallest additional excitement the locked gates and palisade would not keep them off more than half a minute; so he instantly barred the shutters, and betook himself to the porter's room. As he crossed the small open corner between the two doors, he heard the sough of their angry speech swelling and falling like a wind in the upper regions of the night; but they did not see him. Fortunately, there was a side door in the railing, seldom used, of which the key hung in the porter's room. By this door Alec let himself out, and relocked it. But the moment he turned to go home, he heard an urchin, who had peeped round a corner, screech to the crowd across the enclosure:
"He's oot at the back yett! He's oot at the back yett and awa'!"
Another yell arose, and the sounds of trampling feet.
Alec knew that his only chance lay in his heels, and took to them faithfully. Behind him came the crowd in hot pursuit. The narrow streets rang with their shouts of execration. Such curses could hardly be heard elsewhere in Europe. Alec, knowing most of the courts and passages, doubled on his pursuers in the hope of eluding them. But discovering that he had his instrument still in his hand, he stopped to put it down the bars of a grating, for a cut from it would have been most perilous, as he had been using it a day too soon; and before he had gained another turning, his pursuers were on his track and had caught sight of him. But Alec's wind and muscles were both good; and in five minutes more he was at the back entrance to his own lodging, having left the mob far behind him. He darted up to Mr Cupples, and as soon as he found breath enough, told him his adventure, saying with a laugh, as he concluded,
"It's a mercy there's as muckle o' me to the fore as can tell the tale!"
"Jist tak' ye tent, bantam," returned Mr Cupples, who had suddenly assumed a listening attitude, with his head on one side, "or ye mayna tell the neist. Hark!"
From far below arose the dull sound of many feet on the stone-stairs. Mr Cupples listened for a moment as if fascinated, then turning quietly in his chair, put the poker in the fire. Alec rose.
"Sit down, you fool!" cried Cupples; and Alec obeyed.
By this time the mob was thundering at the door of the flat below. And the fact that they knew where Alec lived adds to my suspicion of Beauchamp. The landlady wisely let them in, and for a few minutes they were busy searching the rooms. Then the noise of their feet was heard on the wooden stair leading up to the garret, whereupon Mr Cupples turned the poker in the fire, and said to Alec,
"Rin into that hole there, direckly."
He pointed with the red-hot poker to the door already mentioned as partly sunk in the slope of the ceiling, and then stuck the poker in the fire again. Alec pulled the door open, and entering closed it behind him. The next moment, guided by the light from under it, the foremost footsteps reached the door, and the same instant Mr Cupples appeared in it with his glowing weapon in his hand. Faces with flashing eyes filled the dark garret outside.
"What do ye want?" asked Mr Cupples.
"We want a resurrectioner 'at bides i' this hoose—a foul bane-pikin' doctor," answered a huge, black-faced smith.
"What do ye want wi' him?"
"What are ye stan'in' jawin' there for? Haud oot o' the gait. Gin he bena in your box, what's the odds o' oor luikin' in't?"
"Haud a quaiet sough, my man," answered Cupples, raising the point of the worn old weapon, the fervency of whose whiteness had already dimmed to a dull scaly red, "or I s' lat ye ken' at I'm i' my ain hoose. My certy! but this'll gang throu ye as gin ye war sae mony kegs o' saut butter!"
And he gave a flourish with his rapier—the crowd yielding a step before it—as he asked once more—
"What do ye want wi' him?"
"To ca the sowl oot o' the wame o' the deil's buckie o' him," said a limping ostler.
"I s' pang the mou' o' him wi' the hip o' a corp," cried a pale-faced painter, who seemed himself to belong to the injured fraternity of corpses.
A volley of answers too horrible for record, both in themselves and in the strange devilry of their garnish of oaths, followed. Mr Cupples did not flinch a step from his post. But, alas! his fiery sword had by this time darkened into an iron poker, and the might of its enchantment vanished as the blackness usurped its glow. He was just going to throw it away, and was stretching out his other hand for his grandfather's broadsword, which he had put in the corner by the door ready to replace it, when a long arm, with a fist at the end of it, darted from between the heads in front of him, hurled him across the room, and laid him bleeding and senseless on his own hearth. The poker flew from his hand as he fell. The crowd rushed in after him, upset his table, broke open the door that protected his precious books, and with one vigorous kick from the blacksmith's apprentice, sent in the door of Alec's retreat. But at that moment Alec was contemplating the crowd below from a regal seat between two red chimney-pots.
For as soon as he had drawn-to the door of the closet, instead of finding darkness, he became aware of moonshine, coming through a door that led out upon the roof. This he managed to open, and found himself free of the first floor of the habitable earth, the cat-walk of the world. As steady in foot and brain as any sailor, he scrambled up the roof, seated himself as I have said, and gave himself up to the situation. A sort of stubby underwood of chimney-pots grew all about him out of red and blue ridges. Above him the stars shone dim in the light of the moon, which cast opal tints all around her on the white clouds; and beneath him was a terrible dark abyss, full of raging men, dimly lighted with lamps. Cavernous clefts yawned in all directions, in the side of which lived men and women and children. What a seething of human emotions was down there! Would they ever be sublimed out of that torture-pit into the pure air of the still heaven, in which the moon rode like the very throne of peace?
Alec had gone through enough of trouble already to be able to feel some such passing sympathy for the dwellers in the city below. But the sounds of search in the closet recalled him to a sense of his position. If his pursuers looked out at the door, they would see him at once. He was creeping round to the other side of the chimney to cower in its shadow, when a sudden bellow from the street apprized him that the movement had discovered him to the crowd. Presently stones came flying about the chimneys, and a busy little demon bounded into the house to tell the ringleaders that he was on the roof. He therefore slid down the slope away from the street, and passed on to the roof of the next house, and thence to the third.
Arriving at a dingy dormer window, he found that it opened with ease, admitting him into a little room crowded with dusty books and cobwebs. He knew then that he was in the territorial outskirts of a certain second-hand bookseller, with whom he had occasional dealings. He closed the window, and sat down upon a pile of neglected volumes. The moon shining through the clouded window revealed rows of books all about him, of which he could not read even the names. But he was in no want of the interest they might have afforded him. His thoughts turned to Kate. She always behaved to him so that he felt both hurt and repelled, and found it impossible to go to her so often as he would. Yet now when seated in the solitude of this refuge, his thoughts went back to her tenderly; for to her they always returned like birds to their tree, from all the regions whither the energetic dispersion of Mr Cupples might have scattered them for their pickings of intellectual crumbs. Now, however, it was but as to a leafless wintry tree, instead of a nest bowered in green leaves. Yet he was surprised to find that he was not ten times more miserable; the fact being that, as he had no reason to fear that she preferred any one else, there was plenty of moorland space left for Hope to grow upon. And Alec's was one of those natures that sow Hope everywhere. All that such need is room to sow. Take that away and they are desperate. Alec did not know what advantage Beauchamp had been taking of the Professor's invitation to visit him.
After a time the tumult in the street gradually died away, and Alec thought he might venture to return to Mr Cupples. Clambering back over the roofs, he entered, and found the inner door of the closet broken from its hinges. As he moved it aside, a cry of startled fear discovered that his landlady was in the room.
"Guid preserve's, Mr Forbes!" she cried; "whaur come ye frae, and what hae ye been aboot, to raise the haill toon upo' ye? I trust ye hae nae legs or airms o' a cauld corp aboot ye. The fowk i' the back streets canna bide that. An' I winna alloo 't i' my hoose. Jist luik at puir Mr Cupples here."
Mr Cupples lay on the bed, with his head bound in a bloody bandage. He had fallen upon the fender, and a bad cut had been the consequence. He held out his hand to Alec, and said feebly,
"Bantam, I thocht ye had yer neck thrawn or this time. Hoo, the muckle deil! did ye win oot o' their grips?"
"By playin' the cat a wee," answered Alec.
"It's the first time," remarked Mr Cupples, "I ever kent I had a door to the lift (sky). But faith! the sowl o' me was nearhan' gaein' out at this new ane i' my ain riggin. Gin it hadna been for the guidwife here, 'at cam' up, efter the clanjamfrie had taen themsel's aff, an' fand me lying upo' the hearthstane, I wad hae been deid or noo. Was my heid aneath the grate, guidwife?"
"Na, nae freely that, Mr Cupples; but the blude o' 't was. And ye maun jist haud yer tongue, and lie still. Mr Forbes, ye maun jist come doon wi' me; for he winna haud's tongue's lang's ye're there. I'll jist mak' a cup o' tay till him."
"Tay, guidwife! Deil slocken himsel' wi yer tay! Gie me a sook o' the tappit hen."
"'Deed, Mr Cupples, ye s' hae neither sook nor sipple o' that spring."
"Ye rigwiddie carlin!" grinned the patient.
"Gin ye dinna haud yer tongue, I'll gang for the doctor."
"I'll fling him doon the stair.—Here's doctor eneuch!" he added, looking at Alec. "Gie me half a glaiss, nate."
"Never a glaiss nor glaiss sall ye hae frae my han', Mr Cupples. It wad be the deid o' ye. And forbye, thae ill-faured gutter-partans (kennel-crabs) toomed the pig afore they gaed. And guid faith! it was the only wise-like thing they did. Fess the twa halves o' 't, Mr Forbes, an' lat him see 't wi' the een o' misbelief."
"Gang oot o' my chaumer wi' yer havers," cried Mr Cupples, "and lea' me wi' Alec Forbes. He winna deave me wi' his clash."
"'Deed, I'll no lea' twa sic fules thegither. Come doon the stair direckly, Mr Forbes."
Alec saw that it was better to obey. He went up on the sly in the course of the evening, however, but peeping in and seeing that he slept, came down again. He insisted upon sitting up with him though, to which, after repeated vows of prudence and caution, their landlady consented.
He was restless and feverish during the night. Alec gave him some water. He drank it eagerly. A flash of his humour broke through the cloud of his suffering as he returned the tumbler.
"Eh, man! that's gran' tipple," he said. "Hoo do ye ca' 't?"
In the morning he was better; but quite unable to rise. The poor fellow had very little blood for ordinary organic purposes, and the loss of any was a serious matter to him.
"I canna lift my heid, Alec," he said. "Gin that thrawn wife wad hae but gien me a drappy o' whusky, I wad hae been a' richt."
"Jist lie ye still, Mr Cupples," said Alec. "I winna gang to the class the day. I'll bide wi' you."
"Ye'll do nae sic thing. What's to come o' the buiks forbye, wantin' you or me to luik efter them? An' the senawtus'll be sayin' that I got my heid clured wi' fa'in' agen the curbstane."
"I'll tell them a' aboot it, ane efter anither o' them."
"Ay; jist do sae. Tell them a' aboot it. It wad brak my hert to pairt wi' the buiks afore I got them pitten in dacent order. Faith! I wadna lie still i' my coffin. I wad be thrawin' and turnin', and curfufflin' a' my win'in' sheet, sae that I wadna be respectable whan I bude to get up again. Sae ye maunna lat them think that I'm ower drucken for the buiks to keep company wi', ye ken."
Alec promised to do all he could to keep such a false conclusion from entering the minds of the senatus, and, satisfied that he would best serve the interests of Mr Cupples by doing so at once, set off for college, to call on the professors before lectures.
The moment he was out of the room, Mr Cupples got out of bed, and crawled to the cupboard. To his mortification, however, he found that what his landlady had said was in the main true; for the rascals had not left a spoonful either in the bottle which he used as a decanter, or in the store-bottle called the tappit (crested) hen by way of pre-eminence. He drained the few drops which had gathered from the sides of the latter, for it was not in two halves as she had represented, and crawled back to bed. A fresh access of fever was the consequence of the exertion. It was many days before he was able to rise.
After the morning-classes were over, Alec went to tell Mr Fraser, the only professor whom he had not already seen, about his adventure, and the consequences of the librarian's generous interference.
"I was uneasy about you, Mr Forbes," said the professor, "for I heard from your friend Beauchamp that you had got into a row with the blackguards, but he did not know how you had come off."
His friend Beauchamp! How did he know about it? And when could he have told Mr Fraser?—But Kate entered, and Alec forgot Beauchamp. She hesitated, but advanced and held out her hand. Alec took it, but felt it tremble in his with a backward motion as of reluctance, and he knew that another thickness of the parting veil had fallen between her and him.
"Will you stay and take tea with us?" asked the professor. "You never come to see us now."
Alec stammered out an unintelligible excuse.
"Your friend Beauchamp will be here," continued Mr Fraser.
"I fear Mr Beauchamp is no friend of mine," said Alec.
"Why do you think that? He speaks very kindly of you—always."
Alec made no reply. Ugly things were vaguely showing themselves through a fog.
Kate left the room.
"You had better stay," said the old man kindly.
"I was up all night with Mr Cupples," answered Alec, longing to be alone that he might think things out, "and I am anxious about him. I should be quite uneasy if I did stay—thank you, Mr Fraser."
"Ah! well; your excuse is a good one," answered the old man. And they parted.
Alec went home with such a raging jealousy in his heart, that he almost forgot Mr Cupples, and scarcely cared how he might find him. For this was the first time he had heard of any acquaintance between the professor and Beauchamp. And why should Kate hesitate to shake hands with him? He recalled how her hand had trembled and fluttered on his arm when he spoke of the red stain on the water; and how she had declined to shake hands with him when he told her that he had come from the dissecting-room. And the conviction seized him that Beauchamp had been working on her morbid sensitiveness to his disadvantage—taking his revenge on him, by making the girl whom he worshipped shrink from him with irrepressible loathing.
And in the lulls of his rage and jealousy, he had some glimpses into Kate's character. Not that he was capable of thinking about it; but flashes of reality came once and again across the vapours of passion. He saw too that her nerves came, as it were, nearer the surface than those of other people, and that thence she was exposed to those sudden changes of feeling which had so often bewildered him. And now that delicate creature was in the hands of Beauchamp—a selfish and vulgar-minded fellow! That he whom he had heard insult a dead woman, and whom he had chastised for it, should dare to touch Kate! His very touch was defilement. But what could he do? Alas! he could only hate. And what was that, if Kate should love! But she could not love him already. He would tell her what kind of a person he was. But she would not believe him, and would set it down to jealousy. And it would be mean to tell her. Was Kate then to be left to such a fate without a word of warning? He would tell her, and let her despise him.—And so the storm raged all the way home. His only comfort lay in saying over and over again that Kate could not be in love with him yet.
But if he had seen Kate, that same evening, looking up into Beauchamp's face with a beauty in her own such as he had never beheld there, a beauty more than her face could hold, and overflowing in light from her eyes, he would have found this poor reed of comfort break in his hand and pierce his heart. Nor could all his hatred have blinded him to the fact that Beauchamp looked splendid—his pale face, with its fine, regular, clear-cut features, reflecting the glow of hers, and his Highland dress setting off to full advantage his breadth of shoulders and commanding height. Kate had at last found one to whom she could look up, in whom she could trust!
He had taken her by storm, and yet not without well-laid schemes. For instance, having discovered her admiration of Byron, instead of setting himself, like Alec, to make himself acquainted with that poet, by which he could have gained no advantage over her, he made himself her pupil, and listened to everything she had to say about Byron as to a new revelation. But, at the same time, he began to study Shelley; and, in a few days, was able to introduce, with sufficient application, one or two passages gathered from his pages. Now, to a mind like that of Kate, with a strong leaning to the fantastic and strange, there was that in Shelley which quite overcrowed Byron. She listened with breathless wonder and the feeling that now at last she had found a poet just to her mind, who could raise visions of a wilder beauty than had ever crossed the horizon of her imagination. And the fountain whence she drank the charmed water of this delight was the lips of that grand youth, all nobleness and devotion. And how wide his reading must be, seeing he knew a writer so well, of whom she had scarcely heard!
Shelley enabled Beauchamp to make the same discovery, with regard to Kate's peculiar constitution, on the verge of which Alec had lingered so long. For upon one occasion, when he quoted a few lines from the Sensitive Plant—if ever there was a Sensitive Plant in the human garden, it was Kate—she turned "white with the whiteness of what is dead," shuddered, and breathed as if in the sensible presence of something disgusting. And the cunning Celt perceived in this emotion not merely an indication of what he must avoid, but a means as well of injuring him whose rival he had become for the sake of injury. Both to uncle and niece he had always spoken of Alec in familiar and friendly manner; and now, he would occasionally drop a word or two with reference to him and break off with a laugh.
"What do you mean, Mr Beauchamp?" said Kate on one of these occasions.
"I was only thinking how Forbes would enjoy some lines I found in Shelley yesterday."
"What are they?"
"Ah, I must not repeat them to you. You would turn pale again, and it would kill me to see your white face."
Whereupon Kate pressed the question no further, and an additional feeling of discomfort associated itself with the name of Alec Forbes.
I have said that Mrs Forbes brought Annie home with her. For several months she lay in her own little room at Howglen. Mrs Forbes was dreadfully anxious about her, often fearing much that her son's heroism had only prolonged the process—that she was dying notwithstanding from the effects of that awful night. At length on a morning in February, the first wave of the feebly returning flow of the life-tide visited her heart, and she opened her eyes, seekingly. Through her little window, at which in summer she knew that the honeysuckle leaned in as if peeping and hearkening, she saw the country wrapt in a winding-sheet of snow, through which patches of bright green had begun to dawn, just as her life had begun to show its returning bloom above the wan waves of death.—Sickness is just a fight between life and death.—A thrill of gladness, too pleasant to be borne without tears, made her close her eyes. They throbbed and ached beneath their lids, and the hot tears ran down her cheeks. It was not gladness for this reason or for that, but the essential gladness of being that made her weep: there lay the world, white and green; and here lay she, faint and alive. And nothing was wanting to the gladness and kindness of Mrs Forbes but the indescribable aroma of motherhood, which she was not divine-woman enough to generate, save towards the offspring of her own body; and that Annie did not miss much, because all knowledge she had of such "heavenly health" was associated with the memory of her father.
As the spring advanced, her strength increased, till she became able to move about the house again. Nothing was said of her return to the Bruces, who were not more desirous of having her than Mrs Forbes was of parting with her. But if there had ever been any danger of Alec's falling in love with Annie, there was much more now. For as her health returned, it became evident that a change had passed upon her. She had always been a womanly child; now she was a childlike woman. Her eyes had grown deeper, and the outlines of her form more graceful; and a flush as of sunrise dawned oftener over the white roses of her cheeks. She had ripened under the snow of her sickness. She had not grown much, and was rather under than over the ordinary height; but her shape produced the impression of tallness, and suggested no probability of further growth. When first Thomas Crann saw her after her illness, he held her at arm's length, and gazed at her.
"Eh, lassie!" he said, "ye're grown a wumman! Ye'll hae the bigger hert to love the Lord wi'. I thocht he wad hae ta'en ye awa' a bairn, afore ever we had seen what ye wad turn oot; and sair wad I hae missed ye, bairn! And a' the sairer that I hae lost auld Tibbie. A man canna do weel withoot some woman or ither to tell him the trowth. I wiss sair that I hadna been sae cankert wi' her, whiles."
"I never heard her say that ye was ever cankert, Thomas."
"No, I daursay no. She wadna say't. She wadna say't. She was a kin'-herted auld body."
"But she didna like to be ca'd auld," interposed Annie, with a smile half in sad reminiscence of her friend's peculiarities, half in gentle humour, seeking to turn the conversation, and so divert Thomas from further self-accusation.
"Aweel, she's nae that auld noo!" he answered with a responsive smile. "Eh, lassie! it maun be a fine thing to hae the wisdom o' age alang wi' the licht hert and the strang banes o' yowth. I'm growin' some auld mysel. I was ance prood o' that airm"—and it was a brawny right arm he stretched out—"and there was no man within ten mile o' Glamerton 'at cud lift what I cud lift whan I was five-and-twenty. I daursay that luiks gey auld to you, no?—But ony lad i' the mason-trade micht ding me at liftin' noo; for I'm stiff i' the back, and my airm's jist reid-het whiles wi' the rheumateeze; and gin I lift onything by ordinar', it gars me host like a cat wi' the backbane o' a herrin' in her thrapple.—Ye'll be gaun back to Robert Bruce or lang, I'm thinkin'."
"I dinna ken. The mistress has said naething aboot it yet. And I'm in nae hurry, I can tell ye, Thomas."
"Weel, I daursay no. Ye maun tak a heap o' care, lass, that the plenty and content ye're livin' in doesna spring up and choke the word."
"Ay, Thomas," answered Annie with a smile; "it's a fine thing to hae reamy milk to yer parritch, in place o' sky-blue to meal and water."
What could ail the lassie? She had never spoken lightly about anything before. Was she too, like his old friend Alec, forgetting the splendour of her high calling?
Such was the thought that passed through Thomas's mind; but the truth was that, under the genial influences of home tenderness and early womanhood, a little spring of gentle humour had begun to flow softly through the quiet fields of her childlike nature.
The mason gazed at her doubtfully, and was troubled. Annie saw his discomposure, and taking his great hand in her two little ones, looked full into his cold grey eyes, and said, still smiling,
"Eh, Thomas! wadna ye hae a body mak' a grainy fun whiles whan it comes o' itsel' like?"
But Thomas, anxious about the state of mind that produced the change, did not show himself satisfied.
"We dinna hear 'at the Saviour himsel' ever sae muckle as smiled," said he.
"Weel, that wad hae been little wonner, wi' what he had upo' 'm. But I'm nae sure that he didna, for a' that. Fowk disna aye tell whan a body lauchs. I'm thinkin' gin ane o' the bairnies that he took upo' 's knee,—an' he was ill-pleased wi' them 'at wad hae sheued them awa',—gin ane o' them had hauden up his wee timmer horsie, wi' a broken leg, and had prayed him to work a miracle an' men' the leg, he wadna hae wrocht a miracle maybe, I daursay, but he wad hae smilet, or maybe lauchen a wee, and he wad hae men't the leg some gait or ither to please the bairnie. And gin 't had been me, I wad raither hae had the men'in' o' 's ain twa han's, wi' a knife to help them maybe, nor twenty miracles upo' 't."
Thomas gazed at her for a moment in silence. Then with a slow shake of the head, and a full-blown smile on his rugged face, he said:
"Ye're a curious cratur', Annie. I dinna richtly ken what to mak' o' ye whiles. Ye're like a suckin' bairn and a gran'mither baith in ane. But I'm thinkin', atween the twa, ye're maistly i' the right. And ye hae set me richt afore noo.—Sae ye're nae gaun hame to the Bruces again?"
"I didna say that," answered Annie; "I only said I had h'ard naething aboot it yet."
"What for dinna ye jine the kirk, noo?" said Thomas abruptly, after having tried in vain to find a gradual introduction to the question. "Dinna ye think it's a deowty to keep in min' what the great Shepherd did for his ain chosen flock?"
"Nae doot o' that, Thomas. But I never thocht o' sic a thing. I dinna even ken 'at I am ane o' the elec'."
"Ye dinna ken yet?"
"No," answered Annie, sorrowfully.
"I wonner at that," returned Thomas.
"And, forby," resumed Annie, "gin I war, I'm no guid eneuch yet. An' besides that—"
But here she stopped and remained silent.
"What was ye gaun to say?" asked Thomas, encouragingly.
But Annie did not reply. She looked perplexed. With the intuition of sympathy springing from like thoughts, Thomas guessed what was moving in her mind.
"I ken what ye're thinkin', lassie," he said. "Ye canna help thinkin' that there's some in oor mids wha may as weel be nameless, for that they are no credit to us, neyther wad be to ony body o' whuch they war jined members. Isna that yer trouble, bairn?"
"'Deed is't, in pairt, Thomas. But it's mair the state o' my ain feelin's wi' regaird to ane in particular, nor the fac' that he's a member o' the kirk. Gin I cud be sure that Mr Bruce wad aye be at the ither en' o' the seat, I micht think o' 't. It's no that I wadna lat him tak it. I daurna meddle wi' that. But gin I had to tak' it frae his han', I jist cudna regaird it as the sacred thing that it bude to be considered."
Thomas remained silent, with downcast thoughtful look.
It may be necessary to state, in explanation of Annie's feelings, that the Scotch, at the celebration of the Eucharist, sit in long rows, and pass the bread, each breaking off a portion for himself, and the wine, from the one to the other.
The compressed lips and motionless countenance of Thomas showed that he was thinking more than he was prepared to clothe in words. After standing thus for a few moments, he lifted his head, and returning no answer to Annie's exposition of her feelings, bade her good-bye, and walked away.
The drift of Thomas's reflections I shall now help my reader to see.
Their appetite for prophecy having assuaged with the assuaging flood, the people of Glamerton had no capacity for excitement left. The consequence was that the congregations, especially the evening congregations, began at once to diminish. Having once ceased to feel anxiety about some vague impending vengeance, comparatively few chose to be rated any longer about their sins; while some seeing how in the spate the righteous were taken and the wicked left, felt themselves aggrieved, and staid at home on the Sunday nights. Nor was the deterioration confined to the congregations. Not only had the novelty of Mr Turnbull's style worn off, but he felt himself that he could not preach with the same fervour as before; the fact being that he had exhausted the electric region of the spiritual brain, and without repose it could never fulminate again. A second and worse consequence was that, in his dissatisfaction with himself, he attempted to get up his former excitement by preaching as if he were still under its influences. Upon this his conscience sternly accused him of hypocrisy and pretence, which reacted in paralysis; and the whole business became wretched. Even his greatest admirers were compelled to acknowledge that Mr Turnbull had lost much of his unction, and that except the Spirit were poured down upon them from on high, their prospects were very disheartening. For even the best men in the Church, as, following apostolic example without regard to circumstance, they called each separate community of the initiate, were worldly enough to judge of the degree of heavenly favour shown them, not by the love they bore to the truth and to each other, not by the purity of their collective acts and the prevalence of a high standard of morality in the individual—poor as even these divine favours would have been as a measure of the divine favour—but, in a great degree, by the success which attended the preaching of their pastor, in adding to their esoteric communion, and, still worse, by the numbers which repaired to their court of the Gentiles—their exoteric congregation. Nor, it must be confessed, was even Thomas Crann, in many things so wise and good, and in all things so aspiring, an exception. Pondering over the signs of disfavour and decay, he arrived at the conclusion that there must be an Achan in the camp. And indeed if there were an Achan, he had known well enough, for a long time, who would turn out to represent that typical person. Of course, it could be no other than the money-loving, the mammon-worshipping Robert Bruce. When, therefore, he found that such a pearl of price as Annie Anderson was excluded from their "little heaven below," by the presence of this possible anti-typical Achan, he could not help feeling his original conviction abundantly strengthened. But he did not see what could be done.
Meantime, on the loving, long-remembering Annie dawned a great pleasure. James Dow came to see her, and had a long interview with Mrs Forbes, the result of which she learned after his departure. One of the farm-servants who had been at Howglen for some years was going to leave at the next term, and Mrs Forbes had asked Dow whether he knew of one to take his place. Whereupon he had offered himself, and they had arranged everything for his taking the position of grieve or foreman, which post he had occupied with James Anderson, and was at present occupying some ten or twelve miles up the hill-country. Few things could have pleased Mrs Forbes more; for James Dow was recognized throughout the country as the very pattern of what a foreman ought to be; his character for saving his employers all possible expense, having more than its just proportion in generating this reputation; for this is a capacity which, in a poor country where it is next to impossible to be enterprising, will naturally receive at least its full share of commendation. Of late, Mrs Forbes had found it more difficult to meet her current expenses; for Alec's requirements at college were heavier this year than they had been before; so that, much to her annoyance, she had been compelled to delay the last half-yearly payment of Bruce's interest. Nor could she easily bear to recall the expression upon his keen ferret-like face when she informed him that it would be more convenient to pay the money a month hence. That month had passed, and another, before she had been able to do so. For although the home-expenses upon a farm in Scotland are very small, yet in the midst of plenty, money is often scarce enough. Now, however, she hoped that, with James Dow's management, things would go better, and she would be able to hold her mental head a little higher in her own presence. So she was happy, knowing nothing of the cloud that was gathering over the far-off university, soon to sweep northward, and envelope Howglen in its dusky folds.
A state of something like emotional stupefaction succeeded to the mental tumult of that evening when first Alec saw that his worst and wildest forebodings might be even already on the point of realization. The poor glimmer of hope that remained was only enough to show how terrible was the darkness around it. It was well for him that gratitude required of him some ministrations beyond those which he took out of his landlady's hands the moment he came in from college. His custom was to carry his books to the sick man's room, and wearily pretend, without even seeming, to be occupied with them. While thus unemployed he did not know how anxiously he was watched by the big blue eyes of his friend, shining like two fallen stars from the cavern of his bed. But, as I have said, he had more to do for him than merely to supply his few wants when he came home. For the patient's uneasiness about the books and the catalogue led him to offer not only to minister to the wants of the students in the middle of the day, but to spend an hour or two every evening in carrying on the catalogue. This engagement was a great relief to the pro-librarian, and he improved more rapidly thenceforth. Whether Alec's labour was lightened or not by the fact that he had a chance of seeing Kate pass the windows, I cannot tell, but I think any kind of emotion lightens labour. And I think the labour lightened his pain; and I know he was not so absorbed in his unhappiness, though at times the flashes of a keen agony broke from the dull cloud of his misery, as to perform the duties he had undertaken in a perfunctory manner. The catalogue made slow but steady progress. And so did the librarian.
"Mr Forbes," said Mr Fraser, looking at him kindly, one morning after the lecture, "you are a great stranger now. Won't you come and spend to-morrow evening with us? We are going to have a little party. It is my birthday, though I'm sure I don't know why an old man like me should have any birthdays. But it's not my doing. Kate found it out, and she would have a merry-making. I think myself after a man's forty, he should go back to thirty-nine, thirty-eight, and so on, indicating his progress towards none at all. That gives him a good sweep before he comes to two, one, nought. At which rate I shall be thirteen to-morrow."
The old man had rattled on as if he saw the cloud on Alec's face and would dispel it by kindness. I believe he was uneasy about him. Whether he divined the real cause of his gloom, or feared that he was getting into bad ways, I cannot tell.
He did not succeed, however, in dispelling the cloud; for the thought at this moment passing through Alec's mind was, that Kate had wanted the merry-making in order to have Beauchamp there. But with a feeling like that which makes one irritate a smarting wound, or urge on an aching tooth, he resolved to go and have his pain in earnest.
He was the first to arrive.
Kate was in the drawing-room at the piano, radiant in white—lovelier than ever. She rose and met him with some embarrassment, which she tried to cover under more than usual kindness. She had not wished Alec to be one of the company, knowing it would make him unhappy and her uncomfortable.
"Oh Kate!" said Alec, overpowered with her loveliness.
Kate took it for a reproach, and making no reply, withdrew her hand and turned away. Alec saw as she turned that all the light had gone out of her face. But that instant Beauchamp entered, and as she turned once more to greet him, the light flashed from her face and her eyes, as if her heart had been a fountain of rosy flame. Beauchamp was magnificent, the rather quiet tartan of his clan being lighted up with all the silver and jewels of which the dress admits. In the hilt of his dirk, in his brooch, and for buttons, he wore a set of old family topazes, instead of the commoner cairngorm, so that as he entered he flashed golden light from the dark green cloud of his tartan. Not observing Alec, he advanced to Kate with the confidence of an accepted lover; but some motion of her hand or glance from her eyes warned him in time. He looked round, started a little, and greeted him with a slight bow, of which Alec took no notice. He then turned to Kate and began to talk in a low tone, to which she listened with her head hanging like the topmost bell of a wild hyacinth. As he looked, the last sickly glimmer of Alec's hope died out in darkness. But he bore up in bitterness, and a demon awoke in him laughing. He saw the smooth handsome face, the veil of so much that was mean and wretched, bending over the loveliness he loved, yet the demon in him only laughed.
It may appear strange that they should behave so like lovers in the presence of any third person, much more in the presence of Alec. But Beauchamp had now made progress enough to secure his revenge of mortification; and for that, with the power which he had acquired over Kate's sensitive nature, he drew her into the sphere of his flaunted triumph, and made her wound Alec to the root of his vulnerable being. Had Alec then seen his own face, he would have seen upon it the sneer that he hated so upon that of Beauchamp. For all wickedness tends to destroy individuality, and declining natures assimilate as they sink.
Other visitors arrived, and Alec found a strange delight in behaving as if he knew of no hidden wound, and his mind were in a state of absolute neglige. But how would he meet the cold wind blowing over the desolate links?
Some music, and a good deal of provincial talk—not always less human and elevating than the metropolitan—followed. Beauchamp moderated his attentions to Kate; but Alec saw that it was in compliance with his desire that, though reluctant, she went a second time to the piano. The song she had just sung was insignificant enough; but the second was one of the ballads of her old Thulian nurse, and had the merit of an antique northern foundation at least, although it had evidently passed through the hands of a lowland poet before it had, in its present form, found its way northwards again to the Shetland Isles. The first tone of the ghostly music startled Alec, and would have arrested him even if the voice had not been Kate's.
"Sweep up the flure, Janet. Put on anither peat. It's a lown and starry nicht, Janet, And neither cauld nor weet.
And it's open hoose we keep the nicht For ony that may be oot. It's the nicht atween the Sancts and Souls, Whan the bodiless gang aboot
Set the chairs back to the wa', Janet; Mak' ready for quaiet fowk. Hae a' thing as clean as a win'in' sheet: They comena ilka ook.
There's a spale* upo' the flure, Janet; And there's a rowan-berry: Sweep them into the fire, Janet.— They'll be welcomer than merry.
Syne set open the door, Janet— Wide open for wha kens wha; As ye come benn to yer bed, Janet, Set it open to the wa'."
She set the chairs back to the wa', But ane made o' the birk; She sweepit the flure,—left that ae spale, A lang spale o' the aik.
The nicht was lowne, and the stars sat still, Aglintin' doon the sky; And the souls crap oot o' their mooly graves, A' dank wi' lyin' by.
She had set the door wide to the wa', And blawn the peats rosy reid; They war shoonless feet gaed oot and in, Nor clampit as they gaed.
Whan midnicht cam', the mither rase— She wad gae see and hear. Back she cam' wi' a glowerin' face, And sloomin' wi' verra fear.
* A wood-shaving.
"There's ane o' them sittin' afore the fire! Janet, gang na to see: Ye left a chair afore the fire, Whaur I tauld ye nae chair sud be."
Janet she smiled in her mother's face: She had brunt the roddin reid; And she left aneath the birken chair The spale frae a coffin-lid.
She rase and she gaed butt the hoose, Aye steekin' door and door. Three hours gaed by or her mother heard Her fit upo' the floor.
But whan the grey cock crew, she heard The sound o' shoeless feet; Whan the red cock crew, she heard the door, And a sough o' wind and weet.
And Janet cam' back wi' a wan face, But never a word said she; No man ever heard her voice lood oot, It cam' like frae ower the sea.
And no man ever heard her lauch, Nor yet say alas or wae; But a smile aye glimmert on her wan face, Like the moonlicht on the sea.
And ilka nicht 'tween the Sancts and the Souls, Wide open she set the door; And she mendit the fire, and she left ae chair, And that spale upo' the floor.
And at midnicht she gaed butt the hoose, Aye steekin' door and door. Whan the reid cock crew, she cam' benn the hoose, Aye wanner than afore—
Wanner her face, and sweeter her smile; Till the seventh All Souls' eve. Her mother she heard the shoeless feet, Said "she's comin', I believe."
But she camna benn, and her mother lay; For fear she cudna stan'. But up she rase and benn she gaed, Whan the gowden cock had crawn.