Strickland and the minister looked after him. "There's one to be liked no little!" said Strickland.
But Mr. M'Nab's answering tone was wintry yet. "He makes mair songs than he listens to sermons! Jarvis Barrow, that's a strong witness, should have had another sort of great-nephew! And so he that will be laird comes home to-morrow? It's little that he has been at home of late years."
The manse with the kirk beyond rose before them, drawn against the pallid sky. "A wanderer to and fro in the earth, and I doubt not—though we do not hear much of it—an eater of husks!—Will you not come in, Mr. Strickland?"
"Another time, Mr. M'Nab. I've an errand in the village.—Touching Alexander Jardine. I suppose that the whole sense-bound world might be called by a world farther on an eater of husks. But I know naught to justify any especial application of the phrase to him. I know, indeed, a good deal quite to the contrary. You are, it seems to me, something less than charitable—"
M'Nab regarded him with an earnest, narrow, wintry look. "I would not wish to deserve that epithet, Mr. Strickland. But the world is evil, and Satan stands close at the ear of the young, both the poor and them of place and world's gear! So I doubt not that he eats the husks. I doubt not, either, that the Lord has a rod for him, as for us all, that will drive him, willy-nilly, home. So I'll say good day, sir. To-morrow I'll go again to the laird, and so every day until his summons comes."
They parted at the manse door. The world was gray, the snow swiftening its approach. Strickland, passing the kirk, kept on down the one village street. All and any who were out of doors spoke to him, asking how did the laird. Some asked if "the young laird" had come.
In the shop where he made his purchase the woman who sold would have kept him talking an hour: "Wad the laird last the week? Wad he make friends before he died with Mr. Touris of Black Hill with whom he had the great quarrel three years since? Eh, sirs! and he never set foot again in Touris House, nor Mr. Touris in his!—Wad Mr. Jamie gae now to Edinburgh or on his travels, that had been at home sae lang because the laird wadna part with him?—Wad Miss Alice, that was as bonny as a rose and mair friendly than the gowans on a June lea, just bide on at the house with her aunt, Mrs. Grizel, that came when the leddy died? Wad—"
Strickland smiled. "You must just come up to the house, Mrs. Macmurdo, and have a talk with Mrs. Grizel.—I hope the laird may last the week."
"You're a close ane!" thought the disappointed Mrs. Macmurdo. Aloud she said, "Aweel, sir, Mr. Alexander that will be laird is coming hame frae foreign parts?"
"Sic a wanderer as he has been! But there!" said Mrs. Macmurdo, "ony that saw him when he was a laddie gaeing here and gaeing there by his lane-some, glen and brae and muir, might ha' said, 'Ye're a wanderer—and as sune as ye may ye'll wander farther!'"
"You're quite right, Mrs. Macmurdo," said Strickland, and took his parcel from her.
"A wanderer and a seeker!" Mrs. Macmurdo was loth to let him go. "And his great friend is still Captain Ian Rullock?"
Mrs. Macmurdo reluctantly opened the shop door. "Aweel, sir, if ye maun gae.—There'll be snaw the night, I'm thinking! Do ye stop at the inn? There's twa-three sogers in town."
Strickland had not meant to stop. But, coming to the Jardine Arms and glancing through the window, he saw by the light of the fire in the common room four men in red coats sitting at table, drinking. He felt jaded and depressed, needing distraction from the gray chill day and the laird's dying. Curiosity faintly stretched herself. He turned into the inn, took a seat by a corner table, and called for a bottle of wine. In addition to the soldiers the room had a handful of others—farmers, a lawyer's clerk from Stirling, a petty officer of the excise, and two or three village nondescripts. From this group there now disengaged himself Robin Greenlaw, who came across to Strickland's table.
"Sit down and have a glass with me," said the latter. "Who are they?"
"A recruiting party," answered Greenlaw, accepting the invitation. "I like to hear their talk! I'll listen, drinking your wine and thanking you, sir! and riding home I'll make a song about them."
He sat with his arm over the chair-back, his right hand now lifting and now lowering the wine-glass. He had a look of strength and inner pleasure that rested and refreshed.
"What are they saying now?" asked Strickland.
The soldiers made the center of attention. More or less all in the room harkened to their talk, disconnected, obscure, idle, and boisterous as much of it was. The revenue officer, by virtue of being also the king's paid man, had claimed comrade's right and was drinking with them and putting questions. He was so obliging as to ask these in a round tone of voice and to repeat on the same note the information gathered.
"Recruits for the King's army, fighting King Louis on the river Main.—Where's that?—It's in Germany. Our King and the Hanoverians and the King of Prussia and the Queen of Austria are fighting the King of France.—Aye, of course ye know that, neighbors, being intelligent Scots folk, but recapitulation is na out of order!"
"Ask them what's thought of the Hanoverians." It was the lawyer's clerk's question. Thereupon rose some noisy difference of opinion among the drinking redcoats. The excise man finally reported. "They're na English, nor Scots, nor even Irish. But they're liked weel enough! They're good fighters. Oh, aye, when ye march and fight alangside them, they're good enough! They're his Majesty's cousins. God save King George!"
The recruiting party banged with tankards upon the table. One of the number put a question of his own. He had a look half pedant, half bully, and he spoke with a one-quarter-drunken, owllike solemnity.
"I may take it from the look of things that there are none hereabouts but good Whigs and upholders of government? No Tories—no damned black Jacobites?"
The excise man hemmed. "Why, ye see we're no sae muckle far from Hielands and Hielandmen, and it's known what they are, chief, chieftain, and clan—saving always the duke and every Campbell! And I wadna say that there are not, here and there, this side the Hielands, an auld family with leanings the auld way, and even a few gentlemen who were out in the 'fifteen. But the maist of us, gentle and simple, are up and down Whig and Kirk and reigning House.—Na, na! when we drink to the King we dinna pass the glass over the water!"
A dark, thin soldier put in his word, well garnished with oaths. "Now that there's war up and down and so many of us are going out of the country, there's a saying that the Pretender may e'en sail across from France and beat a drum and give a shout! Then there'll be a sorting—"
"Them that would rise wouldn't be enough to make a graveyard ghost to frighten with!"
"You're mistaken there. They'll frighten ye all right when they answer the drum! I'm thinking there's some in the army would answer it!"
"Then they'll be hanged, drawn, and quartered!" averred the corporal. "Who are ye thinking would do that?"
"I'm not precisely knowing. But there are some with King George were brought up on the hope of King James!"
More liquor appeared upon the table, was poured and drunk. The talk grew professional. The King's shilling, and the advantage of taking it, came solely upon the board, and who might or might not 'list from this dale and the bordering hills. Strickland and Robin Greenlaw left their corner.
"I must get back to the house."
"And I to Littlefarm."
They went out together. There were few in the street. The snow was beginning to fall. Greenlaw untied his horse.
"I hope that we're not facing another 'fifteen! 'Scotland's ain Stewarts, and Break the Union!' It sounds well, but it's not in the line of progression. What does Captain Ian Rullock think about it?"
"I don't know. He hasn't been here, you know, for a long while."
"That's true. He and Mr. Alexander are still like brothers?"
Greenlaw mounted his horse. "Well, he's a bonny man, but he's got a piece of the demon in him! So have I, I ken very well, and so, doubtless, has he who will be Glenfernie, and all the rest of us—"
"I sit down to supper with mine very often," said Strickland.
"Oh yes, he's common—the demon! But somehow I could find him in Ian Rullock, though all covered up with gold. But doubtless," said Greenlaw, debonairly, "it would be the much of the fellow in me that would recognize much in another!" He put his gray into motion. "Good day, sir!" He was gone, disappearing down the long street, into the snow that was now falling like a veil.
Strickland turned homeward. The snow fell fast and thick in large white flakes. Glenfernie House rose before him, crowning the craggy hill, the modern building and the remnant of the old castle, not a great place, but an ancient, settled, and rooted, part of a land poor but not without grandeur, not without a rhythm attained between grandeur and homeliness. The road swept around and up between leafless trees and green cone-bearing ones. The snow was whitening the branches, the snow wrapped house and landscape in its veil. It broke, in part it obliterated, line and modeling; the whole seemed on the point of dissolving into a vast and silent unity. "Like a dying man," thought Strickland. He came upon the narrow level space about the house, passed the great cedar planted by a pilgrim laird the year of Flodden Field, and entered by a door in the southern face.
Davie met him. "Eh, sir, Mr. Alexander's come!"
"Aye, just! An hour past, riding Black Alan, with Tam Dickson behind on Whitefoot, and weary enough thae horses looked! Mr. Alexander wad ha' gane without bite or sup to the laird's room, but he's lying asleep. So now he's gane to his ain auld room for a bit of rest. Haith, sir," said Davie, "but he's like the auld laird when he was twenty-eight!"
Strickland went, to the hall, where he found Alice.
"Come to the fire! I've been watching the snow, but it is so white and thick and still it fair frightens me! Davie told you that Alexander has come?"
"Yes. From Edinburgh to-day."
"Yes. He left London as soon as he had our letters."
She stood opposite him, a bright and bonny lass, with a look of her mother, but with more beauty. The light from the burning logs deepened the gold in her hair, as the warmth made more vivid the rose of her cheek. She owned a warm and laughing heart, a natural goodness. Strickland, who had watched and taught her since she was a slip of a child, had for her a great fondness.
Jamie entered the hall. "Father's awake now, but Aunt Grizel and Tibbie Ross will not tell him Alexander's come until they've given him something to eat." He came to the fire and stood, his blue eyes glinting light. "It's fine to see Alexander! The whole place feels different!"
"You've got a fine love for Alexander," said Strickland. So long had he lived with the Jardines of Glenfernie that they had grown like own folk to him, and he to them. He looked very kindly at the young man, handsome, big, flushed with feeling. He did not say, "Now you'll be going, Jamie, and he'll be staying," but the thought was in mind, and presently Alice gave it voice.
"He says that he has seen his earth, and that now he means to be a long time at home."
Davie appeared. "Mr. Alexander has gone to the laird's room. Mrs. Grizel wad have ye all come, too, sae be ye move saftly and sit dumb."
The three went. The laird's room was large and somewhat grimly bare. When his wife died he would have taken out every luxury. But a great fire burned on the hearth and gave a touch of redemption. A couch, too, had been brought in for the watcher at night, and a great flowered chair. In this now sat Mrs. Grizel Kerr, a pleasant, elderly, comely body, noted for her housewifery and her garden of herbs. Behind her, out of a shadowy corner, gleamed the white mutch of Tibbie Ross, the best nurse in that countryside. Jamie and Alice took two chairs that had been set for them near the bed. Strickland moved to the recess of a window. Outside the snow fell in very large flakes, large and many, straight and steady, there being no wind.
In a chair drawn close to the great bed, on a line with the sick man's hand lying on the coverlet, sat the heir of Glenfernie. He sat leaning forward, with one hand near the hand of his father. The laird's eyes were closed. He had been given a stimulant and he now lay gathering his powers that were not far from this life's frontier. The curtains of the bed had been drawn quite back; propped by pillows into a half-sitting posture, he was plain to all in the room, in the ruddy light of the fire. A clock upon the wall ticked, ticked. Those in the room sat very still.
The laird drew a determined breath and opened his eyes. "Alexander!"
"You look like myself sitting there, and yet not myself. I am going to die."
"If that's your will, father."
"Aye, it's my will, for I've made it mine. I can't talk much. We'll talk at times and sit still between. Are you going to stay with me to-night?"
"Indeed I am, father. Right here beside you."
"Well, I've missed you. But you had to have your wanderings and your life of men. I understood that."
"You've been most good to me. It is in my heart and in the tears of my eyes."
"I did not grudge the siller. And I've had a pride in you, Alexander. Now you'll be the laird. Now let's sit quiet a bit."
The snow fell, the fire burned, the clock ticked. He spoke again. "It's before an eye inside that you'll be a wanderer and a goer about yet—within and without, my laddie, within and without! Do not forget, though, to hold the old place together that so many Jardines have been born in, and to care for the tenant bodies and the old folk—and there's your brother and sister."
"I will forget nothing that you say, father."
"I have kept that to say on top of my mind.... The old place and the tenant bodies and old folk, and your brother and sister. I have your word, and so," said the laird, "that's done and may drift by.—Grizel, I wad sleep a bit. Let him go and come again."
His eyes closed. Alexander rose from the chair beside him. Coming to Alice, he put his arm around her, and with Jamie at his other hand the three went from the room. Strickland tarried a moment to consult with Mrs. Grizel.
"The doctor comes to-morrow?"
"Aye. Tibbie thinks him a bit stronger."
"I will watch to-night with Alexander."
"Hoot, man! ye maun be weary enough yourself!" said Mrs. Grizel.
"No, I am not. I will sleep awhile after supper, and come in about ten. So you and Tibbie may get one good night."
Some hours later, in the room that had been his since his first coming to Glenfernie, he gazed out of window before turning to go down-stairs. The snow had ceased to fall, and out of a great streaming floe of clouds looked a half-moon. Under it lay wan hill and plain. The clouds were all of a size and vast in number, a herd of the upper air. The wind drove them, not like a shepherd, but like a wolf at their heels. The moon seemed the shepherd, laboring for control. Then the clouds themselves seemed the wolves, and the moon a traveler against whom they leaped, who was thrown among them, and rose again.... Then the moon was a soul, struggling with the wrack and wave of things.
Strickland went down the old, winding Glenfernie stair, and came at last to the laird's room. Tibbie Ross opened the door to him, and he saw it all in low firelight and made ready for the night. The laird lay propped as before in the great bed, but seemed asleep. Alexander sat before the fire, elbows upon knees and chin in hand, brooding over the red coals. Tibbie murmured a direction or two and showed wine and bread set in the deep window. Then with a courtesy and a breathed, "Gie ye gude night, sirs!" she was forth to her own rest. The door closed softly behind her. Strickland stepped as softly to the chair beyond Alexander. The couch was spread for the watchers' alternate use, if so they chose; on a table burned shaded candles. Strickland had a book in his pocket. Sitting down, he produced this, for he would not seem to watch the man by the fire.
Alexander Jardine, large and strong of frame, with a countenance massive and thoughtful for so young a man, bronzed, with well-turned features, gazed steadily into the red hollows where the light played, withdrew and played again. Strickland tried to read, but the sense of the other's presence affected him, came between his mind and the page. Involuntarily he began to occupy himself with Alexander and to picture his life away from Glenfernie, away, too, from Edinburgh and Scotland. It was now six years since, definitely, he had given up the law, throwing himself, as it were, on the laird's mercy both for long and wide travel, and for life among books other than those indicated for advocates. The laird had let him go his gait—the laird with Mrs. Jardine a little before him. The Jardine fortune was not a great one, but there was enough for an heir who showed no inclination to live and to travel en prince, who in certain ways was nearer the ascetic than the spendthrift.... Before Strickland's mind, strolling dreamily, came pictures of far back, of years ago, of long since. A by-wind had brought to the tutor then certain curious bits of knowledge. Alexander, a student in Edinburgh, had lived for some time upon half of his allowance in order to accommodate Ian Rullock with the other half, the latter being in a crisis of quarrel with his uncle, who, when he quarreled, used always, where he could, the money screw. Strickland had listened to his Edinburgh informant, but had never divulged the news given. No more had he told another bit, floated to him again by that ancient Edinburgh friend and gossip, who had young cousins at college and listened to their talk. It pertained to a time a little before that of the shared income. This time it had been shared blood. Strickland, sitting with his book in the quiet room, saw in imagination the students' chambers in Edinburgh, and the little throng of very young men, flushed with wine and with youth, making friendships, and talking of friendships made, and dubbing Alexander Damon and Ian Pythias. Then more wine and a bravura passage. Damon and Pythias opening each a vein with some convenient dagger, smearing into the wound some drops of the other's blood, and going home each with a tourniquet above the right wrist.... Well, that was years ago—and youth loved such passages!
Alexander, by the fire, stooped to put back a coal that had fallen upon the oak boards, then sank again into his reverie. Strickland read a paragraph without any especial comprehension, after which he found himself again by the stream of Alexander's life. That friendship with Ian Rullock utterly held, he believed. Well, Ian Rullock, too, seemed somehow a great personage. Very different from Alexander, and yet somehow large to match.... Where had Alexander been after Edinburgh—where had he not been? Very often Ian was with him, but sometimes and for months he would seem to have been alone. Glenfernie might receive letters from Germany, from Italy or Egypt, or from further yet to the east. He had been alone this year, for Ian was now the King's man and with his regiment, Strickland supposed, wherever that might be. Alexander had written from Buda-Pesth, from Erfurt, from Amsterdam, from London. Now he sat here at Glenfernie, looking into the fire. Strickland, who liked books of travel, wondered what he saw of old cities, grave or gay, of ruined temples, sphinxes, monuments, grass-grown battle-fields, and ships at sea, storied lands, peoples, individual men and women. He had wayfared long; he must have had many an adventure. He had been from childhood a learner. His touch upon a book spoke of adeptship in that world.... Well, here he was, and what would he do now, when he was laird? Strickland lost himself in speculation. Little or naught had ever been in Alexander's letters about women.
The white ash fell, the clock ticked, the wind went around the house with a faint, banshee crying. The figure by the fire rested there, silent, still, and brooding. Strickland observed with some wonder its power of long, concentrated thinking. It sat there, not visibly tense, seemingly relaxed, yet as evidently looking into some place of inner motion, wider and swifter than that of the night world about it. Strickland tried to read. The clock hand moved toward midnight.
The laird spoke from the great bed. "Alexander—"
"I am here, father." Alexander rose and went to the sick man's side. "You slept finely! And here we have food for you, and drops to give you strength—"
The laird swallowed the drops and a spoonful or two of broth. "There. Now I want to talk. Aye, I am strong enough. I feel stronger. I am strong. It hurts me more to check me. Is that the wind blowing?"
"Yes. It is a wild night."
"It is singing. I could almost pick out the words. Alexander, there's a quarrel I have with Touris of Black Hill. I have no wish to make it up. He did me a wrong and is a sinner in many ways. But his sister is different. If you see her tell her that I aye liked her."
"Would it make you happier to be reconciled to Mr. Touris?"
"No, it would not! You were never a canting one, Alexander! Let that be. Anger is anger, and it's weakness to gainsay it! That is," said the laird, "when it's just—and this is just. Alexander, my bonny man—"
"I'm here, father."
"I've been lying here, gaeing up and down in my thoughts, a bairn again with my grandmither, gaeing up and down the braes and by the glen. I want to say somewhat to you. When you see an adder set your heel upon it! When a wolf goes by take your firelock and after him! When a denier and a cheat is near you tell the world as much and help to set the snare! Where there are betrayers and persecutors hunt the wild plant shall make a cup like their ain!" He fell to coughing, coughing more and more violently.
Strickland rose and came to the bedside, and the two watchers gave him water and wine to drink, and would have had him, when the fit was over, cease from all speech. He shook them off.
"Alexander, ye're like me. Ye're mair like me than any think! Where ye find your Grierson of Lagg, clench with him—clench—Alexander!"
He coughed, lifting himself in their arms. A blood-vessel broke. Tibbie Ross, answering the calling, hurried in. "Gude with us! it's the end!" Mrs. Grizel came, wrapped in a great flowered bed-gown. In a few minutes all was over. Strickland and Alexander laid him straight that had been the laird.
The month was May. The laird of Glenfernie, who had walked to the Kelpie's Pool, now came down the glen. Mother Binning was yet in her cot, though an older woman now and somewhat broken.
"Oh aye, my bonny man! All things die and all things live. To and fro gaes the shuttle!"
Glenfernie sat on the door-stone. She took all the news he could bring, and had her own questions to put.
"How's the house and all in it?"
"Ye've got a bonny sister! Whom will she marry? There's Abercrombie and Fleming and Ferguson."
"I do not know. The one she likes the best."
"And when will ye be marrying yourself?"
"I am not going to marry, Mother. I would marry Wisdom, if I could!"
"Hoot! she stays single! Do ye love the hunt of Wisdom so?"
"Aye, I do. But it's a long, long chase—and to tell you the truth, at times I think she's just a wraith! And at times I am lazy and would just sit in the sun and be a fool."
"Like to-day. And so," said Alexander, rising, "as I feel that way, I'll e'en be going on!"
"I'm thinking that maist of the wise have inner tokens by which they ken the fule. I was ne'er afraid of folly," said Mother Binning. "It's good growing stuff!"
Glenfernie laughed and left her and the drone of her wheel. A clucking hen and her brood, the cot and its ash-tree, sank from sight. A little longer and he reached the middle glen where the banks approached and the full stream rushed with a manifold sound. Here was the curtain of brier masking the cave that he had shared with Ian. He drew it aside and entered. So much smaller was the place than it had seemed in boyhood! Twice since they came to be men had he been here with Ian, and they had smiled over their cavern, but felt for it a tenderness. In a corner lay the fagots that, the last time, they had gathered with laughter and left here against outlaws' needs. Ian! He pictured Ian with his soldiers.
Outside the cavern, the air came about him like a cloud of fragrance. As he went down the glen, into its softer sweeps, this increased, as did the song of birds. The primrose was strewn about in disks of pale gold, the white thorn lifted great bouquets, the bluebell touched the heart. A lark sang in the sky, linnet and cuckoo at hand, in the wood at the top of the glen cooed the doves. The water rippled by the leaning birches, the wild bees went from flower to flower. The sky was all sapphire, the air a perfumed ocean. So beautiful rang the spring that it was like a bell in the heart, in the blood. The laird of Glenfernie, coming to a great natural chair of sun-warmed rock, sat down to listen. All was of a sweetness, poignant, intense. But in the very act of recognizing this, there came upon him an old mood of melancholy, an inner mist and chill, a gray languor and wanting. The very bourgeoning and blossoming about him seemed to draw light from him, not give light. "I brought the Kelpie's Pool back with me," he thought. He shut his eyes, leaning his head against the stone, at last with a sideward movement burying it in his folded arms. "More life—more! What was a great current goes sluggish and landbound. Where again is the open sea—the more—the boundless? Where again—where again?"
He sat for an hour by the wild, singing stream. It drenched him, the loved place and the sweet season, with its thousand store of beauties. Its infinite number of touches brought at last response. The vague crying and longing of nature hushed before a present lullaby. At last he rose and went on with the calling stream.
The narrow path, set about with living green, with the spangly flowers, and between the branches fragments of the blue lift as clear as glass, led down the glen, widening now to hill and dale. Softening and widening, the world laughed in May. The stream grew broad and tranquil, with grassy shores overhung by green boughs. Here and there the bank extended into the flood a little grassy cape edged with violets. Alexander, following the spiral of the path, came upon the view of such a spot as this. It lay just before him, a little below his road. The stream washed its fairy beach. From the new grass rose a blooming thorn-tree; beneath this knelt a girl and, resting upon her hands, looked at her face in the water.
The laird of Glenfernie stood still. A drooping birch hid him; his step had been upon moss and was not heard. The face and form upon the bank, the face in the water, showed no consciousness of any human neighbor. The face was that of a woman of perhaps twenty-four. The hair was brown, the eyes brown. The head was beautifully placed on a round, smooth throat. With a wide forehead, with great width between the eyes, the face tapered to a small round chin. The mouth and under the eyes smiled in a thousand different ways. The beauty that was there was subtle, not discoverable by every one.—The girl settled back upon the grass beneath the thorn-tree. She was very near Glenfernie; he could see the rise and fall of her bosom beneath her blue print gown. It was Elspeth Barrow—he knew her now, though he had not seen her for a long time. She sat still, her brown eyes raised to building birds in the thorn-tree. Then she began herself to sing, clear and sweet.
"A lad and a lass met ower the brae; They blushed rose-red, but they said nae word— The woodbine fair and the milk-white slae:— And frae one to the other gaed a silver bird, A silver bird.
"A man set his Wish all odds before, With sword, with pen, and with gold he stirred Till the Wish and he met on a conquered shore, And frae one to the other gaed an ebon bird, An ebon bird.
"God looked on a man and said: ''Tis time! The broken mends, clear flows the blurred. You and I are two worlds that rhyme!' And frae one to the other gaed a golden bird, A golden bird."
She sang it through, then sat entirely still against the stem of the thorn, while about her lips played that faint, unapproachable, glamouring smile. Her hands touched the grass to either side her body; her slender, blue-clad figure, the all of her, smote him like some god's line of poetry.
There was in the laird of Glenfernie's nature an empty palace. It had been built through ages and every wind of pleasure and pain had blown about it. Then it had slowly come about that the winds of pain had increased upon the winds of pleasure. The mind closed the door of the palace and the nature inclined to turn from it. It was there, but a sea mist hid it, and a tall thorn-hedge, and a web stretched across its idle gates. It had hardly come, in this life, into Glenfernie's waking mind that it was there at all.
Now with a suddenness every door clanged open. The mist parted, the thorn-wood sank, the web was torn. The palace stood, shining like home, and it was he who was afar, in the mist and the wood, and the web of idleness and oblivion in shreds about him. Set in the throne-room, upon the throne, he saw the queen.
His mood, that May day, had given the moment, and wide circumstance had met it. Now the hand was in the glove, the statue in the niche, the bow upon the string, the spark in the tinder, the sea through the dike. Now what had reached being must take its course.
He felt that so fatally that he did not think of resistance.... Elspeth, upon the grassy cape, beneath the blooming thorn, heard steps down the glen path, and turned her eyes to see the young laird moving between the birch stems. Now he was level with the holding; now he spoke to her, lifting his hat. She answered, with the smile beneath her eyes:
"Aye, Glenfernie, it's a braw day!"
"May I come into the fairy country and sit awhile and visit?"
"Aye." She welcomed him to a hillock of green rising from the water's edge. "It is fairyland, and these are the broad seas around, and I know if I came here by night I should find the Good People before me!" She looked at him with friendliness, half shy, half frank. "It is the best of weather for wandering."
"Are you fond of that, too? Do you go up and down alone?"
"By my lee-lane when Gilian's not here. She's in Aberdeen now, where live our mother's folk."
"I have not seen you for years."
"I mind the last time. Your mother lay ill. One evening at sunset Mr. Ian Rullock and you came to White Farm."
"It must have been after sunset. It must have been dark."
"Back of that you and he came from Edinburgh one time. We were down by the wishing-green, Robin Greenlaw and Gilian and I and three or four other lads and lassies. Do you remember? Mr. Rullock would have us dance, and we all took hands—you, too—and went around the ash-tree as though it were a May-pole. We changed hands, one with another, and danced upon the green. Then you and he got upon your horses and rode away. He was riding the white mare Fatima. But oh," said Elspeth, "then came grandfather, who had seen us from the reaped field, and he blamed us sair and put no to our playing! He gave word to the minister, and Sunday the sermon dealt with the ill women of Scripture. Back of that—"
"Back of that—"
"There was the day the two of you would go to the Kelpie's Pool." Elspeth's eyes enlarged and darkened. "The next morn we heard—Jock Binning told us—that Mr. Ian had nearly drowned."
"Almost ten years ago. Once—twice—thrice in ten years. How idly were they spent, those years!"
"Oh," cried Elspeth, "they say that you have been to world's end and have gotten great learning!"
"One comes home from all that to find world's end and great learning."
Elspeth leaned from him, back against the thorn-tree. She looked somewhat disquietedly, somewhat questioningly, at this new laird. Glenfernie, in his turn, laid upon himself both hands of control. He thought:
"Do not peril all—do not peril all—with haste and frightening!"
He sat upon the green hillock and talked of country news. She met him with this and that ... White Farm affairs, Littlefarm.
"Robin," said Alexander, "manages so well that he'll grow wealthy!"
"Oh no! He manages well, but he'll never grow wealthy outside! But inside he has great riches."
"Does she love him, then?" It poured fear into his heart. A magician with a sword—with a great, evil, written-upon creese like that hanging at Black Hill—was here before the palace.
"Do you love him?" asked Alexander, and asked it with so straight a simplicity that Elspeth Barrow took no offense.
She looked at him, and those strange smiles played about her lips. "Robin is a fairy man," she said. "He has ower little of struggle save with his rhymes," and left him to make what he could of that.
"She is heart-free," he thought, but still he feared and boded.
Elspeth rose from the grass, stepped from beneath the blooming tree. "I must be going. It wears toward noon."
Together they left the flower-set cape. The laird of Glenfernie looked back upon it.
"Heaven sent a sample down. You come here when you wish? You walk about with the spring and summer days?"
"Aye, when my work's done. Gilian and I love the greenwood."
He gave her the narrow path, but kept beside her on stone and dead leaves and mossy root. Though he was so large of frame, he moved with a practised, habitual ease, as far as might be from any savor of clumsiness. He had magnetism, and to-day he drew like a planet in glow. Now he looked at the woman beside him, and now he looked straight ahead with kindled eyes.
Elspeth walked with slightly quickened breath, with knitted brows. The laird of Glenfernie was above her in station, though go to the ancestors and blood was equal enough! It carried appeal to a young woman's vanity, to be walking so, to feel that the laird liked well enough to be where he was. She liked him, too. Glenfernie House was talked of, talked of, by village and farm and cot, talked of, talked of, year by year—all the Jardines, their virtues and their vices, what they said and what they did. She had heard, ever since she was a bairn, that continual comment, like a little prattling burn running winter and summer through the dale. So she knew much that was true of Alexander Jardine, but likewise entertained a sufficient amount of misapprehension and romancing. Out of it all came, however, for the dale, and for the women at White Farm who listened to the burn's voice, a sense of trustworthiness. Elspeth, walking by Glenfernie, felt kindness for him. If, also, there ran a tremor of feeling that it was very fair to be Elspeth Barrow and walking so, she was young and it was natural. But beyond that was a sense, vague, unexplained to herself, but disturbing. There was feeling in him that was not in her. She was aware of it as she might be aware of a gathering storm, though the brain received as yet no clear message. She felt, struggling with that diffused kindness and young vanity, something like discomfort and fear. So her mood was complex enough, unharmonized, parted between opposing currents. She was a riddle to herself.
But Glenfernie walked in a great simplicity of faeryland or heaven. She did not love Robin Greenlaw; she was not so young a lass, with a rose in her cheek for every one; she was come so far without mating because she had snow in her heart! The palace gleamed, the palace shone. All the music of earth—of the world—poured through. The sun had drunk up the mist, time had eaten the thorn-wood, the spider at the gate had vanished into chaos and old night.
The cows and sheep and work-horses, the dogs, the barn-yard fowls, the very hives of bees at White Farm, seemed to know well enough that it was the Sabbath. The flowers knew it that edged the kitchen garden, the cherry-tree knew it by the southern wall. The sunshine knew it, wearing its calm Sunday best. Sights and sounds attuned themselves.
The White Farm family was home from kirk. Jenny Barrow and Elspeth put away hood and wide hat of straw, slipped from and shook out and folded on the shelf Sunday gowns and kerchiefs. Then each donned a clean print and a less fine kerchief and came forth to direct and aid the two cotter lasses who served at White Farm. These by now had off their kirk things, but they marked Sunday still by keeping shoes and stockings. Menie and Merran, Elspeth and Jenny, set the yesterday-prepared dinner cold upon the table, drew the ale, and placed chairs and stools. Two men, Thomas and Willy, father and son, who drove the plow, sowed and reaped, for White Farm, came from the barn. They were yet Sunday-clad, with very clean, shining faces. "Call father, Elspeth!" directed Jenny, and set on the table a honeycomb.
Elspeth went without the door. Before the house grew a great fir-tree that had a bench built around it. Here, in fine weather, in rest hours and on Sunday, might be looked for Jarvis Barrow. It was his habit to take the far side of the tree, with the trunk between him and the house. So there spread before him the running river, the dale and moor, and at last the piled hills. Here he sat, leaning hands upon a great stick shaped like a crook, his Bible open upon his knees. It was a great book, large of print, read over in every part, but opening most easily among the prophets. No cry, no denunciation, no longing, no judgment from Isaiah to Malachi, but was known to the elder of the kirk. Now he sat here, in his Sunday dress, with the Bible. At a little distance, on the round bench, sat Robin Greenlaw. The old man read sternly, concentratedly on; the young one looked at the purple mountain-heads. Elspeth came around the tree.
"Grandfather, dinner is ready.—Robin! we didn't know that you were here—"
"I went the way around to speak with the laird. Then I thought, 'I will eat at White Farm—'"
"You're welcome!—Grandfather, let me take the Book."
"No," said the old man, and bore it himself withindoors. Spare and unbent of frame, threescore and ten and five, and able yet at the plow-stilts, rigid of will, servant to the darker Calvinism, starving where he might human pride and human affections, and yet with much of both to starve, he moved and spoke with slow authority, looked a patriarch and ruled his holding. When presently he came to table in the clean, sanded room with the sunlight on the wall and floor, and when, standing, he said the long, the earnest grace, it might have been taken that here, in the Scotch farm-house, was at least a minor prophet. The grace was long, a true wrestling in prayer. Ended, a decent pause was made, then all took place, Jarvis Barrow and his daughter and granddaughter, Robin Greenlaw, Thomas and Willy, Menie and Merran. The cold meat, the bread, and other food were passed from hand to hand, the ale poured. The Sunday hush, the Sunday voices, continued to hold. Jarvis Barrow would have no laughter and idle clashes at his table on the Lord's day. Menie and Merran and Willy kept a stolid air, with only now and then a sidelong half-smile or nudging request for this or that. Elspeth ate little, sat with her brown eyes fixed out of the window. Robin Greenlaw ate heartily enough, but he had an air distrait, and once or twice he frowned. But Jenny Barrow could not long keep still and incurious, even upon the Sabbath day.
"Eh, Robin, what was your crack with the laird?"
"He wants to buy Warlock for James Jardine. He's got his ensign's commission to go fight the French."
"Eh, he'll be a bonny lad on Warlock! I thought you wadna sell him?"
"I'll sell to Glenfernie."
The farmer spoke from the head of the table. "I'll na hae talk, Robin, of buying and selling on the day! It clinks like the money-changers and sellers of doves."
Thomas, his helper, raised his head from a plate of cold mutton. "Glenfernie was na at kirk. He's na the kirkkeeper his father was. Na, na!"
"Na," said the farmer. "Bairns dinna walk nowadays in parents' ways."
Willy had a bit of news he would fain get in. "Nae doot Glenfernie's brave, but he wadna be a sodger, either! I was gaeing alang wi' the yowes, and there was he and Drummielaw riding and gabbing. Sae there cam on a skirling and jumping wind and rain, and we a' gat under a tree, the yowes and the dogs and Glenfernie and Drummielaw and me. Then we changed gude day and they went on gabbing. And 'Nae,' says Glenfernie, 'I am nae lawyer and I am nae sodger. Jamie wad be the last, but brithers may love and yet be thinking far apairt. The best friend I hae in the warld is a sodger, but I'm thinking I hae lost the knack o' fechting. When you lose the taste you lose the knack.'"
"I's fearing," said Thomas, "that he's lost the taste o' releegion!"
"Eh," exclaimed Jenny Barrow, "but he's a bonny big man! He came by yestreen, and I thought, 'For a' there is sae muckle o' ye, ye look as though ye walked on air!'"
Thomas groaned. "Muckle tae be saved, muckle tae be lost!"
Jarvis Barrow spoke from the head of the table. "If fowk canna talk on the Sabbath o' spiritual things, maybe they can mak shift to haud the tongue in their chafts! I wad think that what we saw and heard the day wad put ye ower the burn frae vain converse!"
Thomas nodded approval.
"Aweel—" began Jenny, but did not find just the words with which to continue.
Elspeth, turning ever so slightly in her chair, looked farther off to the hills and summer clouds. A slow wave of color came over her face and throat. Menie and Merran looked sidelong each at the other, then their blue eyes fell to their plates. But Willy almost audibly smacked his lips.
"Gude keep us! the meenister gaed thae sinners their licks!"
"A sair sight, but an eedifying!" said Thomas.
Robin Greenlaw pushed back his chair. He saw the inside of the kirk again, and two miserable, loutish, lawless lovers standing for public discipline. His color rose. "Aye, it was a sair sight," he said, abruptly, made a pause, then went on with the impetuousness of a burn unlocked from winter ice. "If I should say just what I think, I suppose, uncle, that I could not come here again! So I'll e'en say only that I think that was a sair sight and that I felt great shame and pity for all sinners. So, feeling it for all, I felt it for Mallie and Jock, standing there an hour, first on one foot and then on the other, to be gloated at and rebukit, and for the minister doing the rebuking, and for the kirkful all gloating, and thinking, 'Lord, not such are we!' and for Robin Greenlaw who often enough himself takes wildfire for true light! I say I think it was sair sight and sair doing—"
Barrow's hand came down upon the table. "Robin Greenlaw!"
"You need not thunder at me, sir. I'm done! I did not mean to make such a clatter, for in this house what clatter makes any difference? It's the sinner makes the clatter, and it's just promptly sunk and lost in godliness!"
The old man and the young turned in their chairs, faced each other. They looked somewhat alike, and in the heart of each was fondness for the other. Greenlaw, eye to eye with the patriarch, felt his wrath going.
"Eh, uncle, I did not mean to hurt the Sunday!"
Jarvis Barrow spoke with the look and the weight of a prophet in Israel. "What is your quarrel about, and for what are ye flyting against the kirk and the minister and the kirkkeepers? Are ye wanting that twa sinners, having sinned, should hae their sin for secret and sweet to their aneselves, gilded and pairfumed and excused and unnamed? Are ye wanting that nane should know, and the plague should live without the doctor and without the mark upon the door? Or are ye thinking that it is nae plague at all, nae sin, and nae blame? Then ye be atheist, Robin Greenlaw, and ye gae indeed frae my door, and wad gae were ye na my nephew, but my son!" He gathered force. "Elder of the kirk, I sit here, and I tell ye that were it my ain flesh and blood that did evil, my stick and my plaid I wad take and ower the moor I wad gae to tell manse and parish that Sin, the wolf, had crept into the fauld! And I wad see thae folly-crammed and sinfu' sauls, that had let him in and had his bite, set for shame and shawing and warning and example before the congregation, and I wad say to the minister, 'Lift voice against them and spare not!' And I wad be there the day and in my seat, though my heart o' flesh was like to break!" His hand fell again heavily upon the board. "Sae weak and womanish is thae time we live in!" He flashed at his great-nephew. "Sae poetical! It wasna sae when the Malignants drove us and we fled to the hills and were fed on the muirs with the word of the Lord! It wasna sae in the time when Gawin Elliot that Glenfernie draws frae was hanged for gieing us that word! Then gin a sin-blasted ane was found amang us, his road indeed was shawn him! Aye, were't man or woman! 'For while they be folded together as thorns, and while they are drunken as drunkards, they shall be devoured as stubble fully dry!'"
He pushed back his heavy chair; he rose from table and went forth, tall, ancient, gray, armored in belief. They heard him take his Bible from where it lay, and knew that he was back under the fir-tree, facing from the house toward moor and hill and mountain.
"Eh-h," groaned Thomas, "the elder is a mighty witness!"
The family at White Farm ate in silence. Elspeth slipped from her place.
"Where are ye gaeing, hinny?" asked Jenny. "Ye hae eaten naething."
"I've finished," said Elspeth. "I'm going to afternoon kirk, and I'll be getting ready."
She went into the room that she shared with Gilian and shut the door. Robin looked after her.
"When is Gilian coming home?"
"Naebody knows. She is sae weel at Aberdeen! They write that she is a great student and is liked abune a', and they clamor to keep her.—Are ye gaeing to second kirk, Robin?"
"I do not think so. But I'll walk over the moor with you."
The meal ended. Thomas and Willy went forth to the barn. Menie and Merran began to clear the table. They were not going to second kirk, and so the work was left to their hand. Jenny bustled to get on again her Sunday gear. She would not have missed, for a pretty, afternoon kirk and all the neighbors who were twice-goers. It was fair and theater and promenade and kirk to her in one—though of course she only said "kirk."
They walked over the moor, Jarvis Barrow and Jenny and Robin and Elspeth. And at a crossing path they came upon a figure seated on a stone and found it to be that of the laird of Glenfernie.
"Gude day, Glenfernie!"
"Good day, White Farm!"
He joined himself to them. For a moment he and Robin Greenlaw were together.
"Do you know what I hear them calling you?" quoth the latter. "I hear them say 'The wandering laird!'"
Alexander smiled. "That's not so bad a name!"
He walked now beside Jarvis Barrow. The old man's stride was hardly shortened by age. The two kept ahead of the two women, Greenlaw, Thomas, and the sheep-dog Sandy.
"It's a bonny day, White Farm!"
"Aye, it's bonny eneuch, Glenfernie. Are ye for kirk?"
"Maybe so, maybe not. I take much of my kirk out of doors. Moors make grand kirks. That has a sound, has it not, of heathenish brass cymbals?"
"All the same, I honor every kirk that stands sincere."
"Wasna your father sincere? Why gae ye not in his steps?"
"Maybe I do.... Yes, he was sincere. I trust that I am so, too. I would be."
"Why gae ye not in his steps, then?"
"All buildings are not alike and yet they may be built sincerely."
"Ye're wrong! Ye'll see it one day. Ye'll come round to your father's steps, only ye'll tread them deeper! Ye've got it in you, to the far back. I hear good o' ye, and I hear ill o' ye."
"Ye've traveled. See if ye can travel out of the ring of God!"
"What is the ring of God? If it is as large as I think it is," said Glenfernie, "I'll not travel out of it."
He looked out over moor and moss. There breathed about him something that gave the old man wonder. "Hae ye gold-mines and jewels, Glenfernie? Hae the King made ye Minister?"
The wandering laird laughed. "Better than that, White Farm, better than that!" He was tempted then and there to say: "I love your granddaughter Elspeth. I love Elspeth!" It was his intention to say something like this as soon as might be to White Farm. "I love Elspeth and Elspeth loves me. So we would marry, White Farm, and she be lady beside the laird at Glenfernie." But he could not say it yet, because he did not know if Elspeth loved him. He was in a condition of hope, but very humbly so, far from assurance. He never did Elspeth the indignity of thinking that a lesser thing than love might lead her to Glenfernie House. If she came she would come because she loved—not else.
They left the moor, passed through the hollow of the stream and by the mill, and began to climb the village street. Folk looked out of door or window upon them; kirk-goers astir, dressed in their best, with regulated step and mouth and eyes set aright, gave the correct greeting, neither more nor less. If the afternoon breeze, if a little runlet of water going down the street, chose to murmur: "The laird is thick with White Farm! What makes the laird so thick with White Farm?" that was breeze or runlet's doing.
They passed the bare, gaunt manse and came to the kirkyard with the dark, low stones over the generations dead. But the grass was vivid, and the daisies bloomed, and even the yew-trees had some kind of peacock sheen, while the sky overhead burnt essential sapphire. Even the white of the lark held a friendly tinge as of rose petals mixed somehow with it. And the bell that was ending its ringing, if it was solemn, was also silver-sweet. Glenfernie determined that he would go to church. He entered with the White Farm folk and he sat with them, leaving the laird's high-walled, curtained pew without human tenancy. Mrs. Grizel came but to morning sermon. Alice was with a kinswoman of rank in a great house near Edinburgh, submitting, not without enjoyment, to certain fine filings and polishings and lacquerings and contacts. Jamie, who would be a soldier and fight the French, had his commission and was gone this past week to Carlisle, to his regiment. English Strickland was yet at Glenfernie House. Between him and the laird held much liking and respect. Tutor no longer, he stayed on as secretary and right-hand man. But Strickland was not at church.
The white cavern, bare and chill, with small, deep windows looking out upon the hills of June, was but sparely set out with folk. Afternoon was not morning. Nor was there again the disciplinary vision of the forenoon. The sinners were not set the second time for a gazing-stock. It was just usual afternoon kirk. The prayer was made, the psalm was sung, Mr. M'Nab preached a strong if wintry sermon. Jarvis Barrow, white-headed, strong-featured, intent, sat as in some tower over against Jerusalem, considering the foes that beset her. Beside him sat his daughter Jenny, in striped petticoat and plain overgown, blue kerchief, and hat of straw. Next to Jenny was Elspeth in a dim-green stuff, thin, besprent with small flowers, a fine white kerchief, and a wider straw hat. Robin Greenlaw sat beside Elspeth, and the laird by Greenlaw. Half the congregation thought with variations:
"Wha ever heard of the laird's not being in his ain place? He and White Farm and Littlefarm maun be well acquaint'! He's foreign, amaist, and gangs his ain gait!"
Glenfernie, who had broken the conventions, sat in a profound carelessness of that. The kirk was not gray to him to-day, though he had thought it so on other days, nor bare, nor chill. June was without, but June was more within. He also prayed, though his unuttered words ran in and out between the minister's uttered ones. Under the wintry sermon he built a dream and it glowed like jewels. At the psalm, standing, he heard Elspeth's clear voice praising God, and his heart lifted on that beam of song until it was as though it came to Heaven.
"Lord, thou hast been our dwelling-place In generations all. Before thou ever hadst brought forth The mountains great or small, Ere ever thou hadst formed the earth And all the world abroad, Ev'n thou from everlasting art To everlasting God."
"Love, love, love!" cried Glenfernie's heart. His nature did with might what its hand found to do, and now, having turned to love between man and woman, it loved with a huge, deep, pulsing, world-old strength. He heard Elspeth, he felt Elspeth only; he but wished to blend with her and go on with her forever from the heaven to heaven which, blended so, they would make.
"... As with an overflowing flood Thou carriest them away; They like a sleep are, like the grass That grows at morn are they. At morn it flourishes and grows, Cut down at ev'n doth fade—"
"Not grass of the field, O Lord," cried Glenfernie's heart, "but the forest of oaks, but the stars that hold for aye, one to the other—"
The glen was dressed in June, at its height of green movement and song. Alexander and Elspeth walked there and turned aside through a miniature pass down which flowed a stream in miniature to join the larger flood. This cleft led them to a green hollow masked by the main wall of the glen, a fairy place, hidden and lone. Seven times had the two been in company since that morning of the flower-sprinkled cape and the thorn-tree. First stood a chance meeting upon the moor, Elspeth walking from the village with a basket upon her arm and the laird riding home after business in the nearest considerable town. He dismounted; he walked beside her to the stepping-stones before the farm. The second time he went to White Farm, and she and Jenny, with Merran to help, were laying linen to bleach upon the sun-washed hillside. He had stayed an hour, and though he was not alone with her, yet he might look at her, listen to her. She was not a chatterer; she worked or stood, almost as silent as a master painter's subtle picture stepped out of its frame, or as Pygmalion's statue-maid, flushing with life, but as yet tongue-holden. Yet she said certain things, and they were to him all music and wit. The third time had been by the wishing-green. That was but for a moment, but he counted it great gain.
"Here," she said, "was where we danced! Mr. Ian Rullock and you and Robin and the rest of us. Don't you remember? It was evening and there was a fleet of gold clouds in the sky. It is so near the house. I walk here when I have a glint of time."
The fourth time, riding Black Alan, he had stopped at the door and talked with Jarvis Barrow. He was thirsty and had asked for water, and Jenny had called, "Elspeth, bring the laird a cup frae the well!" She had brought it, and, taking it from her, all the romance of the world had seemed to him to close them round, to bear them to some great and fair and deep and passionate place. The fifth time had been the day when he went to kirk with White Farm and listened to her voice in the psalm. The sixth time had been again upon the moor. The seventh time was this. He had come down through the glen as he had done before. He had no reason to suppose that this day more than another he would find her, but there, half a mile from White Farm, he came upon her, standing, watching a lintwhite's nest. They walked together, and when that little, right-angled, infant fellow of the glen opened to them they turned and followed its bright rivulet to the green hidden hollow.
The earth lay warm and dry, clad with short turf. They sat down beneath an oak-tree. None would come this way; they had to themselves a bright span of time and place. Elspeth looked at him with brown, friendly eyes. Each time she met him her eyes grew more kind; more and more she liked the laird. Something fluttered in her nature; like a bird in a room with many windows and all but one closed, it turned now this way, now that, seeking the open lattice. There was the lovely world—which way to it? And the window that in a dream had seemed to her to open was mayhap closed, and another that she had not noted mayhap opening.... But Glenfernie, winged, was in that world, and now all that he desired was that the bright bird should fly to him there. But until to-day patience and caution and much humility had kept him from direct speech. He knew that she had not loved, as he had done, at once. He had set himself to win her to love him. But so great was his passion that now he thought:
"Surely not one, but two as one, make this terrible and happy furnace!" He thought, "I will speak now," and then delayed over the words.
"This is a bonny, wee place!" said Elspeth. "Did you never hear the old folks tell that your great-grandmother, that was among the persecuted, loved it? When your father was a laddie they often used to sit here, the two of them. They were great wanderers together."
"I never heard it," said Alexander. "Almost it seems too bright...."
They sat in silence, but the train of thought started went on with Glenfernie:
"But perhaps she never went so far as the Kelpie's Pool."
"The Kelpie's Pool!... I do not like that place! Tell me, Glenfernie, wonders of travel."
"What shall I tell you?"
"Tell me of the East. Tell me what like is the Sea of Galilee."
Glenfernie talked, since Elspeth bade him talk. He talked of what he had seen and known, and that brought him, with the aid of questions from the woman listening, to talk of himself. "I had a strange kind of youth.... So many dim, struggling longings, dreams, aspirings!—but I think they may be always there with youth."
"Yes, they are," said Elspeth.
"We talked of the Kelpie's Pool. Something like that was the strangeness with me. Black rifts and whirlpools and dead tarns within me, opening up now and again, lifted as by a trembling of the earth, coming up from the past! Angers and broodings, and things seen in flashes—then all gone as the lightning goes, and the mind does not hold what was shown.... I became a man and it ceased. Sometimes I know that in sleep or dream I have been beside a kelpie pool. But I think the better part of me has drained them where they lay under open sky." He laughed, put his hands over his face for a moment, then, dropping them, whistled to the blackbirds aloft in the oak-tree.
"Now there is clean fire in me!" He turned to her; he drew himself nearer over the sward. "Elspeth, Elspeth, Elspeth! do not tell me that you do not know that I love you!"
"Love me—love me?" answered Elspeth. She rose from her earthen chair; she moved as if to leave the place; then she stood still. "Perhaps a part of me knew and a part did not know.... I will try to be honest, for you are honest, Glenfernie! Yes, I knew, but I would not let myself perceive and think and say that I knew.... And now what will I say?"
"Say that you love me! Say that you love and will marry me!"
"I like you and I trust you, but I feel no more, Glenfernie, I feel no more!"
"It may grow, Elspeth—"
Elspeth moved to the stem of the oak beneath which they had been seated. She raised her arm and rested it against the bark, then laid her forehead upon the warm molded flesh in the blue print sleeve. For some moments she stayed so, with hidden face, unmoving against the bole of the tree, like a relief done of old by some wonderful artist. The laird of Glenfernie, watching her, felt, such was his passion, the whole of earth and sky, the whole of time, draw to just this point, hang on just her movement and her word.
"Elspeth!" he cried at last. "Elspeth!"
Elspeth turned, but she stood yet against the tree. Now both arms were lifted; she had for a moment the appearance of one who hung upon the tree. Her eyes were wet, tears were upon her cheek. She shook them off, then left the oak and came a step or two toward him. "There is something in my brain and heart that tells me what love is. When I love I shall love hard.... I have had fancies.... But, like yours, Glenfernie, their times are outgrown and gone by.... It's clear to try. I like you so much! but I do not love now—and I'll not wed and come to Glenfernie House until I do."
"'It's clear to try,' you said."
Elspeth looked at him long. "If it is there, even little and far away, I'll try to bend my steps the way shall bring it nearer. But, oh, Glenfernie, it may be that there is naught upon the road!"
"Will you journey to look for it? That's all I ask now. Will you journey to look for it?"
"Yes, I may promise that. And I do not know," said Elspeth, wonderingly, "what keeps me from thinking I'll meet it." She sat down among the oak roots. "Let us rest a bit, and say no word, and then go home."
The sunlight filled the hollow, the wimpling burn took the blue of the sky, the breeze whispered among the oak leaves. The two sat and gazed at the day, at the grass, at the little thorn-trees and hazels that ringed the place around. They sat very still, seeking composure. She gained it first.
"When will your sister be coming home?"
"It is not settled. Glenfernie House was sad of late years. She ought to have the life and brightness that she's getting now."
"And will you travel no more?"
He saw as in a lightning glare that she pictured no change for him beyond such as being laird would make. He was glad when the flash went and he could forget what it had of destructive and desolating. He would drag hope down from the sky above the sky of lightnings. He spoke.
"There were duties now to be taken up. I could not stay away all nor most nor much of the time. I saw that. But I could study here, and once in a while run somewhere over the earth.... But now I would stay in this dale till I die! Unless you were with me—the two of us going to see the sights of the earth, and then returning home—going and returning—going and returning—and both a great sweetness—"
"Oh!" breathed Elspeth. She put her hands again over her eyes, and she saw, unrolling, a great fair life if—if—She rose to her feet. "Let us go! It grows late. They'll miss me."
They came into the glen and so went down with the stream to the open land and to White Farm.
"Where hae you been?" asked Jenny. "Here was father hame frae the shearing with his eyes blurred, speiring for you to read to him!"
"I was walking by the glen and the laird came down through, so we made here together. Where is grandfather?"
"He wadna sit waiting. He's gane to walk on the muir. Will ye na bide, Glenfernie?"
But the laird would not stay. It was wearing toward sunset. Menie, withindoors, called Jenny. The latter turned away. Glenfernie spoke to Elspeth.
"If I find your grandfather on the moor I shall speak of this that is between us. Do not look so troubled! 'If' or 'if not' it is better to tell. So you will not be plagued. And, anyhow, it is the wise folks' road."
Back came Jenny. "Has he gane? I had for him a tass of wine and a bit of cake."
The moor lay like a stiffened billow of the sea, green with purple glints. The clear western sky was ruddy gold, the sun's great ball approaching the horizon. But when it dipped the short June night would know little dark in this northern land. The air struck most fresh and pure. Glenfernie came presently upon the old farmer, found him seated upon a bit of bank, his gray plaid about him, his crook-like stick planted before him, his eyes upon the western sea of glory. The younger man stopped beside him, settled down upon the bank, and gazed with the elder into the ocean of colored air.
"Ae gowden floor as though it were glass," said Jarvis Barrow. "Ae gowden floor and ae river named of Life, passing the greatness of Orinoco or Amazon. And the tree of life for the healing of the nations. And a' the trees that ever leafed or flowered, ta'en together, but ae withered twig to that!"
Glenfernie gazed with him. "I do not doubt that there will come a day when we'll walk over the plains of the sun—the flesh of our body then as gauze, moved at will where we please and swift as thought—inner and outer motion keeping time with the beat and rhythm of that where we are—"
"The young do not speak the auld tongue."
"Tongues alter with the rest."
Silence fell while the sun reddened, going nearer to the mountain brow. The young man and the old, the farmer and the laird, sat still. The air struck more freshly, stronger, coming from the sea. Far off a horn was blown, a dog barked.
"Will ye be hame now for gude, Glenfernie? Lairds should bide in their ain houses if the land is to have any gude of them."
"I wish to stay, White Farm, the greatest part of the year round. I want to speak to you very seriously. Think back a moment to my father and mother, and to my forebears farther back yet. As they had faults, and yet had a longing to do the right and struggled toward it over thick and thin, so I believe I may say of myself. That is, I struggle toward it," said Alexander, "though I'm not so sure of the thick and thin."
"Your mither wasna your father's kind. She had always her smile to the side and her japes, and she looked to the warld. Not that she didna mean to do weel in it! She did. But I couldna just see clear the seal in her forehead."
"That was because you did not look close enough," said Alexander. "It was there."
"I didna mind your uphawding your mither. Aweel, what did ye have to say?"
The laird turned full to him. "White Farm, you were once a young man. You loved and married. So do I love, so would I marry! The woman I love does not yet love me, but she has, I think, some liking.—I bide in hope. I would speak to you about it, as is right."
"Wha is she?"
"Your granddaughter Elspeth."
Silence, while the shadows of the trees in the vale below grew longer and longer. Then said White Farm:
"She isna what they call your equal in station. And she has nae tocher or as good as nane."
"For the last I have enough for us both. For the first the springs of Barrow and Jardine, back in Time's mountains, are much the same. Scotland's not the country to bother overmuch if the one stream goes, in a certain place, through a good farm, and the other by a not over-rich laird's house."
"Are ye Whig and Kirk like your father?"
"I am Whig—until something more to the dawn than that comes up. For the Kirk ... I will tell truth and say that I have my inner differences. But they do not lean toward Pope or prelate.... I am Christian, where Christ is taken very universally—the higher Self, the mounting Wisdom of us all.... Some high things you and I may view differently, but I believe that there are high things."
"And seek them?"
"And seek them."
"You always had the air to me," vouchsafed White Farm, "of one wha hunted gowd elsewhaur than in the earthly mine." He looked at the red west, and drew his plaid about him, and took firmer clutch upon his staff. "But the lassie does not love you?"
"My trust is that she may come to do so."
The elder got to his feet. Alexander rose also.
"It's coming night! Ye will be gaeing on over the muir to the House?"
"Yes. Then, sir, I may come to White Farm, or meet her when I may, and have my chance?"
"Aye. If so be I hear nae great thing against ye. If so be ye're reasonable. If so be that in no way do ye try to hurt the lassie."
"I'll be reasonable," said the laird of Glenfernie. "And I'd not hurt Elspeth if I could!" His face shone, his voice was a deep and happy music. He was so bound, so at the feet of Elspeth, that he could not but believe in joy and fortune. The sun had dipped; the land lay dusk, but the sky was a rose. There was a skimming of swallows overhead, a singing of the wind in the ling. He walked with White Farm to the foot of the moor, then said good night and turned toward his own house.
Two days later Alexander rode to Black Hill. There had been in the night a storm with thunder and lightning, wind and rain. Huge, ragged banks of clouds yet hung sullen in the air, though with lakes of blue between and shafts of sun. The road was wet and shone. Now Black Alan must pick his way, and now there held long stretches of easy going. The old laird's quarrel with Mr. Archibald Touris was not the young laird's. The old laird's liking for Mrs. Alison was strongly the young laird's. Glenfernie, in the months since his father's death, had ridden often enough to Black Hill. Now as he journeyed, together with the summer and melody of his thoughts Elspeth-toward, he was holding with himself a cogitation upon the subject of Ian and Ian's last letter. He rode easily a powerful steed, needing to be strong for so strongly built a horseman. His riding-dress was blue; he wore his own hair, unpowdered and gathered in a ribbon beneath a three-cornered hat. There was perplexity and trouble, too, in the Ian complex, but for all that he rode with the color and sparkle of happiness in his face. In his gray eyes light played to great depths.
Black Hill appeared before him, the dark pine and crag of the hill itself, and below that the house with its far-stretching, well-planted policy. He passed the gates, rode under the green elm boughs of the avenue, and was presently before the porch of the house. A man presented himself to take Black Alan.
"Aye, sir, there's company. Mr. Touris and Mrs. Alison are with them in the gardens."
Glenfernie went there, passing by a terrace walk around the house. Going under the windows of the room that was yet Ian's when he came home. Ian still in his mind, he recovered strongly the look of that room the day Ian had taken him there, in boyhood, when they first met. Out of that vividness started a nucleus more vivid yet—the picture in the book-closet of the city of refuge, and the silver goblet drawn from the hidden shelf of the aumry. The recaptured moment lost shape and color, returned to the infinite past. He turned the corner of the house and came into the gardens that Mr. Touris had had laid out after the French style.
Here by the fountain he discovered the retired merchant, and with him a guest, an old trade connection, now a power in the East India Company. The laird of Black Hill, a little more withered, a little more stooped than of old, but still fluent, caustic, and with now and then to the surface a vague, cold froth of insincerity, made up much to this magnate of commerce. He stood on his own heath, or by his own fountain, but his neck had in it a deferential crook. Lacs—rupees— factories—rajahs—ships—cottons—the words fell like the tinkle of a golden fountain. Listening to these two stood, with his hands behind his back, Mr. Wotherspoon, Black Hill's lawyer and man of business down from Edinburgh. At a little distance Mrs. Alison showed her roses to the wife of the East India man and to a kinsman, Mr. Munro Touris, from Inverness way.
Mr. Touris addressed himself with his careful smile to Alexander. "Good day, Glenfernie! This, Mr. Goodworth, is a good neighbor of mine, Mr. Jardine of Glenfernie. Alexander, Mr. Goodworth is art and part of the East India. You have met Mr. Wotherspoon before, I think? There are Alison and Mrs. Goodworth and Munro Touris by the roses."
Glenfernie went over to the roses. Mrs. Alison, smiling upon him, presented him to Mrs. Goodworth, a dark, bright, black-eyed, talkative lady. He and Munro Touris nodded to each other. The laird of Black Hill, the India merchant, and the lawyer now joined them, and all strolled together along the very wide and straight graveled path. The talk was chiefly upheld by Black Hill and the great trader, with the lawyer putting in now and again a shrewd word, and the trader's wife making aside to Mrs. Alison an embroidery of comment. There had now been left trade in excelsis and host and guests were upon the state of the country, an unpopular war, and fall of ministers. Came in phrases compounded to meet Jacobite complications and dangers. The Pretender—the Pretender and his son—French aid—French army that might be sent to Scotland—position of defense—rumors everywhere you go—disaffected and Stewart-mad—. Munro Touris had a biting word to say upon the Highland chiefs. The lawyer talked of certain Lowland lords and gentlemen. Mr. Touris vented a bitter gibe. He had a black look in his small, sunken eyes. Alexander, reading him, knew that he thought of Ian. In a moment the whole conversation had dragged that way. Mrs. Goodworth spoke with vivacity.
"Lord, sir! I hope that your nephew, now that he wears the King's coat, has left off talking as he did when he was a boy! He showed his Highland strain with a warrant! You would have thought that he had been out himself thirty years ago!"
Her husband checked her. "You have not seen him since he was sixteen. Boys like that have wild notions of romance and devotion. They change when they're older."
The lawyer took the word. "Captain Rullock doubtless buried all that years ago. His wearing the King's coat hauds for proof."
Munro Touris had been college-mate in Edinburgh. "He watered all that gunpowder in him years ago, did he not, Glenfernie?"
"'To water gunpowder—to shut off danger.' That's a good figure of yours, Munro!" said Alexander. Munro, who had been thought dull in the old days, flushed with pleasure.
They had come to a kind of summer-house overrun with roses. Mr. Archibald Touris stopped short and, with his back to this structure, faced the company with him, brought thus to a halt. He looked at them with a carefully composed countenance.
"I am sure, Munro, that Ian Rullock 'watered the gunpowder,' as you cleverly say. Boys, ma'am"—to Mrs. Goodworth—"are, as your husband remarks, romantic simpletons. No one takes them and their views of life seriously. Certainly not their political views! When they come men they laugh themselves. They are not boys then; they are men. Which is, as it were, the preface to what I might as well tell you. My nephew has resigned his captaincy and quitted the army. Apparently he has come to feel that soldiering is not, after all, the life he prefers. It may be that he will take to the law, or he may wander and then laird it when I am gone. Or if he is very wise—I meant to speak to you of this in private, Goodworth—he might be furnished with shares and ventures in the East India. He has great abilities."
"Well, India's the field!" said the London merchant, placidly. "If a man has the mind and the will he may make and keep and flourish and taste power—"
"Left the King's forces!" cried Munro Touris. "Why—! And will he be coming to Black Hill, sir?"
"Yes. Next week. We have," said Mr. Touris, and though he tried he could not keep the saturnine out of his voice—"we have some things to talk over."
As he spoke he moved from before the summer-house into a cross-path, and the others followed him and his Company magnate. The Edinburgh lawyer and Glenfernie found themselves together. The former lagged a step and held the younger man back with him; he dropped his voice
"I've not been three hours in the house. I've had no talk with Mr. Touris. What's all this about? I know that you and his nephew are as close as brothers—not that brothers are always close!"
"He writes only that he is tired of martial life. He has the soldier in him, but he has much besides. That 'much besides' often steps in to change a man's profession."
"Well, I hope you'll persuade him to see the old gunpowder very damp! I remember that, as a very young man, he talked imprudently. But he has been," said the lawyer, "far and wide since those days."
"Yes, far and wide."
Mr. Wotherspoon with a long forefinger turned a crimson rose seen in profile full toward him. "I met him—once—when I was in London a year ago. I had not seen him for years." He let the rose swing back. "He has a magnificence! Do you know I study a good deal? They say that so do you. I have an inclination toward fifteenth-century Italian. I should place him there." He spoke absently, still staring at the rose. "A dash—not an ill dash, of course—of what you might call the Borgia ... good and evil tied into a sultry, thunderous splendor."
Glenfernie bent a keen look upon him out of gray eyes. "An enemy might describe him so, perhaps. I can see that such a one might do so."
"Ah, you're his friend!"
"Well," said Mr. Wotherspoon, straightening himself from the contemplation of the roses, "there's no greater thing than to have a steadfast friend!"
It seemed that an expedition had been planned, for a servant now appeared to say that coach and horses were at the door. Mr. Touris explained:
"I've engaged to show Mr. and Mrs. Goodworth our considerable town. Mr. Wotherspoon, too, has a moment's business there. Alison will not come, but Munro Touris rides along. Will you come, too, Glenfernie? We'll have a bit of dinner at the 'Glorious Occasion.'"
"No, thank you. I have to get home presently. But I'll stay a little and talk to Mrs. Alison, if I may."
"Ah, you may!" said Mrs. Alison.
From the porch they watched the coach and four away, with Munro Touris following on a strong and ugly bay mare. The elm boughs of the avenue hid the whole. The cloud continents and islands were dissolving into the air ocean, the sun lay in strong beams, the water drops were drying from leaf and blade. Mrs. Alison and Alexander moved through the great hall and down a corridor to a little parlor that was hers alone. They entered it. It gave, through an open door and two windows set wide, upon a small, choice garden and one wide-spreading, noble, ancient tree. Glenfernie entered as one who knew the place, but upon whom, at every coming, it struck with freshness and liking. The room itself was most simple.
"I like," said Alexander, "our spare, clean, precise Scotch parlors. But this is to me like a fine, small prioress's room in a convent of learned saints!"
His old friend laughed. "Very little learned, very little saintly, not at all prior! Let us sit in the doorway, smell the lavender, and hear the linnets in the tree."
She took the chair he pushed forward. He sat upon the door-step at her feet.
"Concerning Ian," she said. "What do you make out of it all?"
"I make out that I hope he'll not involve himself in some French and Tory mad attempt!"
"What do his letters say?"
"They speak by indirection. Moreover, they're at present few and short.... We shall see when he comes!"
"Do you think that he will tell you all?"
Alexander's gray eyes glanced at her as earlier they had glanced at Mr. Wotherspoon. "I do not think that we keep much from each other!... No, of course you are right! If there is anything that in honor he cannot tell, or that I—with my pledges, such as they are, in another urn—may not hear, we shall find silences. I pin my trust to there being nothing, after all!"
"The old wreath withered, and a new one better woven and more evergreen—"
"I do not know.... I said just now that Ian and I kept little from each other. In an exceeding great measure that is true. But there are huge lands in every nature where even the oldest, closest, sworn friend does not walk. It must be so. Friendship is not falsified nor betrayed by its being so."
"Not at all!" said Mrs. Alison. "True friend or lover loves that sense of the unplumbed, of the infinite, in the cared-for one. To do else would be to deny the unplumbed, the infinite, in himself, and so the matching, the equaling, the oneing of love!" She leaned forward in her chair; she regarded the small, fragrant garden where every sweet and olden flower seemed to bloom. "Now let us leave Ian, and old, stanch, trusted, and trusting friendship. It is part of oneness—it will be cared for!" She turned her bright, calm gaze upon him. "What other realm have you come into, Alexander? It was plain the last time that you were here, but I did not speak of it—it is plain to-day!" She laughed. She had a silver, sweet, and merry laugh. "My dear, there is a bloom and joy, a vivification about you that may be felt ten feet away!" She looked at him with affection and now seriously. "I know, I think, the look of one who comes into spiritual treasures. This is that and not that. It is the wilderness of lovely flowers—hardly quite the music of the spheres! It is not the mountain height, but the waving, leafy, lower slopes—and yet we pass on to the height by those slopes! Are you in love, Alexander?"
"You guess so much!" he said. "You have guessed that, too. I do not care! I am glad that the sun shines through me."
"You must be happy in your love! Who is she?"
"Elspeth Barrow, the granddaughter of Jarvis Barrow of White Farm.... You say that I must be happy in my love. The Lord of Heaven knows that I am! and yet she is not yet sure that she loves me in her turn. One might say that I had great uncertainty of bliss. But I love so strongly that I have no strength of disbelief in me!"
"My old friend—the unworldliest, the better-worldliest soul I know—do not you join in that hue and cry about world's gear and position! To be Barrow is as good as to be Jardine. Elspeth is Elspeth."
"Oh, I know why I made exclamation! Just the old, dull earthy surprise! Wait for me a moment, Alexander." She put her hands before her eyes, then, dropping them, sat with her gaze upon the great tree shot through with light from the clearing sky. "I see her now. At first I could not disentangle her and Gilian, for they were always together. I have not seen them often—just three or four times to remember, perhaps. But in April I chanced for some reason to go to White Farm.... I see her now! Yes, she has beauty, though it would not strike many with the edge of the sword.... Yes, I see—about the mouth and the eyes and the set of the head. It's subtle—it's like some pictures I remember in Italy. And intelligence is there. Enchantment ... the more real, perhaps, for not being the most obvious.... So you are enchained, witched, held by the great sorceress!... Elspeth is only one of her little names—her great name is just love—love between man and woman.... Oh yes, the whole of the sweetness is distilled into one honey-drop—the whole giant thing is shortened into one image—the whole heaven and earth slip silkenly into one banner, and you would die for it! You see, my dear," said Mrs. Alison, who had never married, "I loved one who died. I know."
Glenfernie took her hand and kissed it. "Nothing is loss to you—nothing! For me, I am more darkly made. So I hope to God I'll not lose Elspeth!"
Her tears, that were hardly of grief, dropped upon his bent head. "Eh, my laddie! the old love is there in the midst of the wide love. But the larger controls.... Well, enough of that! And do you mean that you have asked Elspeth to marry you—and that she does not know her own heart?"
They talked, sitting before the fragrant garden, in the little room that was tranquil, blissful, and recluse. At last he rose.
"I must go."
They went out through the garden to the wicket that parted her demesne from the formal, wide pleasure-sweeps. He stopped for a moment under the great tree.
"In a fortnight or so I must go to Edinburgh to see Renwick about that land. And it is in my mind to travel from there to London for a few weeks. There are two or three persons whom I know who could put a stout shoulder to the wheel of Jamie's prospects. Word of mouth is better with them than would be letters. Jamie is at Windsor. I could take him with me here or there—give him, doubtless, a little help."
"You are a world-man," said his friend, "which is quite different from a worldly man! Come or go as you will, still all is your garden that you cultivate.... Now you are thinking again of Elspeth!"
"Perhaps if for a month or two I plague her not, then when I come again she may have a greater knowledge of herself. Perhaps it is more generous to be absent for a time—"
"I see that you will not doubt—that you cannot doubt—that in the end she loves you!"
"Is it arrogance, self-love, and ignorance if I think that? Or is it knowledge? I think it, and I cannot and will not else!"
They came to the wicket, and stood there a moment ere going on by the terrace to the front of the house. The day was now clear and vivid, soft and bright. The birds sang in a long ecstasy, the flowers bloomed as though all life must be put into June, the droning bees went about with the steadiest preoccupation. Alexander looked about him.
"The earth is drunk with sweetness, and I see now how great joy is sib to great pain!" He shook himself. "Come back to earth and daylight, Alexander Jardine!" He put a hand, large, strong, and shapely, over Mrs. Alison's slender ivory one. "She, too, has long fingers, though her hand is brown. But it is an artist hand—a picture hand—a thoughtful hand."
Mrs. Alison laughed, but her eyes were tender over him. "Oh, man! what a great forest—what an ever-rising song—is this same thing you're feeling! And so old—and so fire-new!" They walked along the terrace to the porch. "They're bringing you Black Alan to ride away upon. But you'll come again as soon as Ian's here?"
"Yes, of course. You may be assured that if he is free of that Stewart coil—or if he is in it only so deep that he may yet free himself—I shall say all that I can to keep him free or to urge him forth. Not for much would I see Ian take ship in that attempt!"
"No!... I have been reading the Book of Daniel. Do you know what Ian is like to me? He is like some great lord—a prince or governor—in the court maybe of Belshazzar, or Darius the Mede, or Cyrus the Persian—in that hot and stately land of golden images and old rivers and the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer and all kinds of music. He must serve his tyrant—and yet Daniel, kneeling in his house, in his chamber, with the windows open toward Jerusalem, might hear a cry to hold his name in his prayers.... What strange thoughts we have of ourselves, and of those nearest and dearest!"
"Mr. Wotherspoon says that he is fifteenth-century Italian. You have both done a proper bit of characterization! But I," said Alexander, "I know another great territory of Ian."
"I know that, Glenfernie! And so do I know other good realms of Ian. Yet that was what I thought when I read Daniel. And I had the thought, too, that those old people were capable of great friendships."
Black Alan was waiting. Glenfernie mounted, said good-by again; the green boughs of the elm-trees took him and his steed.
Ian forestalled Alexander, riding to Glenfernie House the morning after his arrival at Black Hill. "Let us go," he said, "where we can talk at ease! The old, alchemical room?"
They crossed the grass-grown court to the keep, entered and went up the broken stair to the stone-walled chamber that took up the second floor, that looked out of loophole windows north, south, east, and west. The day was high summer, bright and hot. Strong light and less strong light came in beams from the four quarters and made in the large place a conflict of light and shadow. The fireplace was great enough for Gog and Magog to have warmed themselves thereby. Around, in an orderly litter, yet stood on table or bench or shelf many of the matters that Alexander had gathered there in his boyhood. In one corner was the furnace that when he was sixteen his father had let him build. More recent was the oaken table in the middle of the room, two deep chairs, and shelves with many books. After the warmth of the sun the place presented a grave, cool, brown harbor.
The two, entering, had each an arm over the other's shoulder. Where they were known their friendship was famed. Youth and manhood, they had been together when it was possible. When it was not so the thought of each outtraveled separation. Their differences, their varied colors of being, seemed but to bind them closer. They entered this room like David and Jonathan.
Ian also was tall, but not so largely made as was the other. Lithe, embrowned, with gold-bronze hair and eyes, knit of a piece, moving as by one undulation, there was something in him not like the Scot, something foreign, exotic. Sometimes Alexander called him "Saracen"—a finding of the imagination that dated from old days upon the moor above the Kelpie's Pool when they read together the Faery Queen. The other day, at Black Hill, this ancient fancy had played through Alexander's mind while Mr. Wotherspoon talked of Italy, and Mrs. Alison of Babylonish lords.... The point was that he relished Paynim knight and Renaissance noble and prince of Babylon. Let Ian seem or be all that, and richer yet! Still there would be Ian, outside of all circles drawn.
In the room that he called the "alchemical," Ian, disengaging himself, turned and put both hands on Alexander's shoulders. "Thou Old Steadfast!" he cried. "God knows how glad I am to see thee!"
Alexander laughed. "Not more glad than I am at the sight of you! What's the tidings?"
"What should they be? I am tired of being King George's soldier!"
"So that you are tired of being any little king of this earth's soldier!"
"Why, I think I am—"
"Kings 'over the water' included, Ian?"
"Kings without kingdoms? Well," said Ian, "they don't amount to much, do they?"
"They do not." The two moved together to the table and the chairs by it. "You are free of them, Ian?"
"What is it to be free of them?"
"Well, to be plain, out of the Stewart cark and moil! Pretender, Chevalier de St. George, or uncrowned king—let it drift away like the dead leaf it is!"
"A dead leaf. Is it a dead leaf?... I wonder!... But you are usually right, old Steadfast!"
"I see that you will not tell me plainly."
"Are you so anxious? There is nothing to be anxious about."
"Nothing.... What is 'nothing'?"
Ian drummed upon the table and whistled "Lillibullero." "Something—nothing. Nothing—something! Old Steadfast, you are a sight for sair een! They say you make the best of lairds! Every cotter sings of just ways!"
"My father was a good laird. I would not shatter the tradition. Come with me to Edinburgh and London, on that journey I wrote you of!"
"No. I want to sink into the summer green and not raise my head from some old poetry book! I have been marching and countermarching until I am tired. As for what you have in your mind, don't fash yourself about it! I will say that, at the moment, I think it is a dead leaf.... Of course, should the Pope's staff unexpectedly begin to bud and flower—! But it mayn't—indeed, it only looks at present smooth and polished and dead.... I left the army because, naturally, I didn't want to be there in case—just in case—the staff budded. Heigho! It is the truth. You need not look troubled," said Ian.