His friend must rest with that. He did so, and put that matter aside. At any rate, things stood there better than he had feared. "I shall be gone a month or two. But you'll still be here when I come home?"
"As far as I know I'll be here through the summer. I have no plans.... If the leaf remains dry and dead, what should you say to taking ship at Leith in September for Holland? Amsterdam—then Antwerp—then the Rhine. We might see the great Frederick—push farther and look at the Queen of Hungary."
"No, I may not. I look to be a home-staying laird."
They sat with the table between them, and the light from the four sides of the room rippled and crossed over them. Books were on the table, folios and volumes in less.
"The home-staying laird—the full scholar—at last the writer—the master ... it is a good fortune!"
As Ian spoke he stretched his arms, he leaned back in his chair and regarded the room, the fireplace, the little furnace, and the shelves ranged with the quaint, makeshift apparatuses of boyhood. He looked at the green boughs without the loophole windows and at the crossing lights and shadows, and the brown books upon the brown table, and at last, under somewhat lowered lids, at Alexander. What moved in the bottom of his mind it would be hard to say. He thought that he loved the man sitting over against him, and so, surely, to some great amount he did. But somewhere, in the thousand valleys behind them, he had stayed in an inn of malice and had carried hence poison in a vial as small as a single cell. What suddenly made that past to burn and set it in the present it were hard to say. A spark perhaps of envy or of jealousy, or a movement of contempt for Alexander's "fortune." But he looked at his friend with half-closed eyes, and under the sea of consciousness crawled, half-blind, half-asleep, a willingness for Glenfernie to find some thorn in life. The wish did not come to consciousness. It was far down. He thought of himself as steel true to Alexander. And in a moment the old love drew again. He put out his hands across the board. "When are we going to see Mother Binning and to light the fire in the cave?... There are not many like you, Alexander! I'm glad to get back."
"I'm glad to have you back, old sworn-fellow, old Saracen!"
They clasped hands. Gray eyes and brown eyes with gold flecks met in a gaze that was as steady with the one as with the other. It was Alexander who first loosened handclasp.
They talked of affairs, particular and general, of Ian's late proceedings and the lairdship of Alexander, of men and places that they knew away from this countryside. Ian watched the other as they talked. Whatever there was that had moved, down there in the abyss, was asleep again.
"Old Steadfast, you are ruddy and joyous! How long since I was here, in the winter? Four months? Well, you've changed. What is it?... Is it love? Are you in love?"
"If I am—" Glenfernie rose and paced the room. Coming to one of the narrow windows, he stood and looked out and down upon bank and brae and wood and field and moor. He returned to the table. "I'll tell you about it."
He told. Ian sat and listened. The light played about him, shook gold dots and lines over his green coat, over his hands, his faintly smiling face, his head held straight and high. He was so well to look at, so "magnificent"! Alexander spoke with the eloquence of a possessing passion, and Ian listened and felt himself to be the sympathizing friend. Even the profound, unreasonable, unhumorous idealism of old Steadfast had its quaint, Utopian appeal. He was going to marry the farmer's granddaughter, though he might, undoubtedly, marry better.... Ian listened, questioned, summed up:
"I have always been the worldly-wise one! Is there any use in my talking now of worldly wisdom?"
"No use at all."
"Then I won't!... Old Alexander the Great, are you happy?"
"If she gives me her love."
Ian dismissed that with a wave of his hand. "Oh, I think she'll give it, dear simpleton!" He looked at Glenfernie now with genial affection. "Well, on the whole, and balancing one thing against another, I think that I want you to be happy!"
Alexander laughed at that minification. "And my happiness is big enough—or if I get it it will be big enough—not in the least to disturb our friendship country, Ian!"
"I'll believe that, too. Our relations are old and rooted."
"Old and rooted."
"So I wish you joy.... And I remember when you thought you would not marry!"
"Oh—memories! I'm sweeping them away! I'm beginning again!... I hold fast the memory of friendship. I hold fast the memory that somehow, in this form or that, I must have loved her from the beginning of things!" He rose and moved about the room. Going to the fireplace, he leaned his forehead against the stone and looked down at the laid, not kindled, wood. He turned and came back to Ian. "The world seems to me all good."
Ian laughed at him, half in raillery, but half in a flood of kindness. If what had stirred had been ancient betrayal, alive and vital one knew not when, now again it was dead, dead. He rose, he put his arm again about Alexander's shoulder. "Glenfernie! Glenfernie! you're in deep! Well, I hope the world will stay heaven, e'en for your sake!"
They left the old room with its hauntings of a boy's search for gold, with, back of that, who might know what hauntings of ancient times and fortress doings, violences and agonies, subduings, revivings, cark and care and light struggling through, dark nights and waited-for dawns! They went down the stair and out of the keep. Late June flamed around them.
Ian stayed another hour or two ere he rode back to Black Hill. With Glenfernie he went over Glenfernie House, the known, familiar rooms. They went to the school-room together and out through the breach in the old castle wall, and sat among the pine roots, and looked down through leafy tree-tops to the glint of water. When, in the sun-washed house and narrow garden and grassy court, they came upon men and women they stopped and spoke, and all was friendly and merry as it should be in a land of good folk. Ian had his crack with Davie, with Eppie and Phemie and old Lauchlinson and others. They sat for a few minutes with Mrs. Grizel where, in a most housewifely corner, she measured currants and bargained with pickers of cherries. Strickland they came upon in the book-room. With the Jardines and this gentleman the sense of employed and employee had long ago passed into a larger inclusion. He and the young laird talked and worked together as members of one family. Now there was some converse among the three, and then the two left Strickland in the cool, dusky room. Outside the house June flamed again. For a while they paced up and down under the trees in the narrow garden atop the craggy height. Then Ian mounted Fatima, who all these years was kept for him at Black Hill.
"You'll come over to-morrow?"
Glenfernie watched him down the steep-descending, winding road, and thought of many roads that, good company, he and Ian had traveled together.
This was the middle of the day. In the afternoon he walked to White Farm.... It was sunset when he turned his face homeward. He looked back and saw Elspeth at the stepping-stones, in a clear flame of golden sky and golden water. She had seemed kind; he walked on air, his hand in Hope's. Hope had well-nigh the look of Assurance. He was going away because it was promised and arranged for and he must go. But he was coming again—he was coming again.
A golden moon rose through the clear east. He was in no hurry to reach Glenfernie House. The aching, panting bliss that he felt, the energy compressed, held back, straining at the leash, wanted night and isolation. So it could better dream of day and the clasp of that other that with him would make one. Now he walked and now stood, his eyes upon the mounting orb or the greater stars that it could not dim, and now he stretched himself in the summer heath. At last, not far from midnight, he came to that face of Glenfernie Hill below the old wall, to the home stream and the bit of thick wood where once, in boyhood, he had lain with covered face under the trees and little by little had put from his mind "The Cranes of Ibycus." The moonlight was all broken here. Shafts of black and white lay inextricably crossed and mingled. Alexander passed through the little wood and climbed, with the secure step of old habit, the steep, rough path to the pine without the wall, there stooped and came through the broken wall to the moon-silvered court, and so to the door left open for him.
The laird of Glenfernie was away to Edinburgh on Black Alan, Tam Dickson with him on Whitefoot. Ian Rullock riding Fatima, behind him a Black Hill groom on an iron-gray, came over the moor to the head of the glen. Ian checked the mare. Behind him rolled the moor, with the hollow where lay, water in a deep jade cup, the Kelpie's Pool. Before him struck down the green feathered cleft, opening out at last into the vale. He could see the water there, and a silver gleam that was White Farm. He sat for a minute, pondering whether he should ride back the way he had come or, giving Fatima to Peter Lindsay, walk through the glen. He looked at his watch, looked, too, at a heap of clouds along the western horizon. The gleam in the vale at last decided him. He left the saddle.
"Take Fatima around to White Farm, Lindsay. I'll walk through the glen." His thought was, "I might as well see what like is Alexander's inamorata!" It was true that he had seen her quite long ago, but time had overlaid the image, or perhaps he had never paid especial note.
Peter Lindsay stooped to catch the reins that the other tossed him. "There's weather in thae clouds, sir!"
"Not before night, I think. They're moving very slowly."
Lindsay turned with the horses. Ian, light of step, resilient, "magnificent," turned from the purple moor into the shade of birches. A few moments and he was near the cot of Mother Binning. A cock crowed, a feather of blue smoke went up from her peat fire.
He came to her door, meaning to stay but for a good-natured five minutes of gossip. She had lived here forever, set in the picture with ash-tree and boulder. But when he came to the door he found sitting with her, in the checkered space behind the opening, Glenfernie's inamorata.
Now he remembered her.... He wondered if he had truly ever forgotten her.
When he had received his welcome he sat down upon the door-step. He could have touched Elspeth's skirt. When she lowered her eyes they rested upon his gold-brown head, upon his hand in a little pool of light.
"Eh, laddie!" said Mother Binning, "but ye grow mair braw each time ye come!"
Elspeth thought him braw. The wishing-green where they danced, hand in hand!... Now she knew—now she knew—why her heart had lain so cold and still—for months, for years, cold and still! That was what hearts did until the sun came.... Definitely, in this hour, for her now, upon this stretch of the mortal path, Ian became the sun.
Ian sat daffing, talking. The old woman listened, her wheel idle; the young woman listened. The young woman, sitting half in shadow, half in light, put up her hand and drew farther over her face the brim of her wide hat of country weave. She wished to hide her eyes, her lips. She sat there pale, and through her ran in fine, innumerable waves human passion and longing, wild courage and trembling humility.
The sunlight that flooded the door-stone and patched the cottage floor began to lessen and withdraw. Low and distant there sounded a roll of thunder. Jock Binning came upon his crutches from the bench by the stream where he made a fishing-net.
"A tempest's daundering up!"
Elspeth rose. "I must go home—I must get home before it comes!"
"If ye'll bide, lassie, it may go by."
"No, I cannot." She had brought to Mother Binning a basket heaped with bloomy plums. She took it up and set it on the table. "I'll get the basket when next I come. Now I must go! Hark, there's the thunder again!"
Ian had risen also. "I will go with you. Yes! It was my purpose to walk through to White Farm. I sent Fatima around with Peter Lindsay."
As they passed the ash-tree there was lightning, but yet the heavens showed great lakes of blue, and a broken sunlight lay upon the path.
"There's time enough! We need not go too fast. The path is rough for that."
They walked in silence, now side by side, now, where the way was narrow, one before the other. The blue clouded over, there sprang a wind. The trees bent and shook, the deep glen grew gray and dark. That wind died and there was a breathless stillness, heated and heavy. Each heard the other's breathing as they walked.
"Let us go more quickly! We have a long way."
"Will you go back to Mother Binning's?"
"That, too, is far."
They had passed the cave a little way and were in mid-glen. It was dusk in this narrow pass. The trees hung, shadows in a brooding twilight; between the close-set pillars of the hills the sky showed slate-hued, with pallid feathers of cloud driven across. Lightning tore it, the thunder was loud, the trees upon the hilltops began to move. Some raindrops fell, large, slow, and warm. The lightning ran again, blindingly bright; the ensuing thunderclap seemed to shake the rock. As it died, the cataract sound of the wind was heard among the ranked trees. The drops came faster, came fast.
"It's no use!" cried Ian. "You'll be drenched and blinded! There's danger, too, in these tall trees. Come back to the cave and take shelter!"
He turned. She followed him, breathless, liking the storm—so that no bolt struck him. In every nerve, in every vein, she felt life rouse itself. It was like day to old night, summer to one born in winter, a passion of revival where she had not known that there was anything to revive. The past was as it were not, the future was as it were not; all things poured into a tremendous present. It was proper that there should be storm without, if within was to be this enormous, aching, happy tumult that was pain indeed, but pain that one would not spare!
Ian parted the swinging briers. They entered the cavern. If it was dim outside in the glen, it was dimmer here. Then the lightning flashed and all was lit. It vanished, the light from the air in conflict with itself. All was dark—then the flash again! The rain now fell in a torrent.
"At least it is dry here! There is wood, but I have no way to make fire."
"I am not cold."
"Sit here, upon this ledge. Alexander and I cleared it and widened it."
She sat down. When he spoke of Alexander she thought of Alexander, without unkindness, without comparing, without compunction, a thought colorless and simple, as of one whom she had known and liked a long time ago. Indeed, it might be said that she had little here with which to reproach herself. She had been honest—had not said "Take!" where she could not fulfil.... And now the laird of Glenfernie was like a form met long ago—long ago! It seemed so long and far away that she could not even think of him as suffering. As she might leave a fugitive memory, so she turned her mind from him.
Ian thought of Alexander ... but he looked, by the lightning's lamp, at the woman opposite.
She was not the first that he had desired, but he desired now with unwonted strength. He did not know why—he did not analyze himself nor the situation—but all the others seemed gathered up in her. She was fair to him, desirable!... He thirsted, quite with the mortal honesty of an Arab, day and night and day again without drink in the desert, and the oasis palms seen at last on the horizon. In his self-direction thitherward he was as candid, one-pointed, and ruthless as the Arab might be. He had no deliberate thought of harm to the woman before him—as little as the Arab would have of hurting the well whose cool wave seemed to like the lip touch. Perhaps he as little stopped to reason as would have done the Arab. Perhaps he had no thought of deeply injuring a friend. If there were two desert-traversers, or more than two, making for the well, friendship would not hold one back, push another forward. Race!—and if the well was but to one, then let fate and Allah approve the swiftest! Under such circumstances would not Alexander outdo him if he might? He was willing to believe so. Glenfernie said himself that the girl did not know if she cared for him. If, then, the well was not for him, anyway?... Where was the wrong? Now Ian believed in his own power and easy might and pleasantness and, on the whole, goodness—believed, too, in the love of Alexander for him, love that he had tried before, and it held. And if he made love to Elspeth Barrow need old Steadfast ever know it? And, finally, and perhaps, unacknowledged to himself, from the first, he turned to that cabinet of his heart where was the vial made of pride, that held the drop of malice. The storm continued. They looked through the portcullis made by the briers upon a world of rain. The lightning flashed, the thunder rolled; in here was the castle hold, dim and safe. They were as alone as in a fairy-tale, as alone as though around the cave beat an ocean that boat had never crossed.
They sat near each other; once or twice Ian, rising, moved to and fro in the cave, or at the opening looked into the turmoil without. When he did this her eyes followed him. Each, in every fiber, had consciousness of the other. They were as conscious of each other as lion and lioness in a desert cave.
They talked, but they did not talk much. What they said was trite enough. Underneath was the potent language, wave meeting wave with shock and thrill and exultation. These would not come, here and now, to outer utterance. But sooner or later they would come. Each knew that—though not always does one acknowledge what is known.
When they spoke it was chiefly of weather and of country people....
The lightning blazed less frequently, thunder subdued itself. For a time the rain fell thick and leaden, but after an hour it thinned and grew silver. Presently it wholly stopped.
"This storm is over," said Ian.
Elspeth rose from the ledge of stone. He drew aside the dripping curtain of leaf and stem, and she stepped forth from the cave, and he followed. The clouds were breaking, the birds were singing. The day of creation could not have seen the glen more lucent and fragrant. When, soon, they came to its lower reaches, with White Farm before them, they saw overhead a rainbow.
* * * * *
The day of the storm and the cave was over, but with no outward word their inner selves had covenanted to meet again. They met in the leafy glen. It was easy for her to find an errand to Mother Binning's, or, even, in the long summer afternoons, to wander forth from White Farm unquestioned. As for him, he came over the moor, avoided the cot at the glen head, and plunged down the steep hillside below. Once they met Jock Binning in the glen. After that they chose for their trysting-place that green hidden arm that once she and the laird of Glenfernie had entered.
Elspeth did not think in those days; she loved. She moved as one who is moved; she was drawn as by the cords of the sun. The Ancient One, the Sphinx, had her fast. The reflection of a greater thing claimed her and taught her, held her like a bayadere in a temple court.
As for Ian, he also held that he loved. He was the Arab bound for the well for which he thirsted, single-minded as to that, and without much present consciousness of tarnish or sin.... But what might arise in his mind when his thirst was quenched? Ian did not care, in these blissful days, to think of that.
He had come on the day of the storm, the cave, and the rainbow to a fatal place in his very long life. He was upon very still, deep water, glasslike, with only vague threads and tremors to show what might issue in resistless currents. He had been in such a place, in his planetary life, over and over and over again. This concatenation had formed it, or that concatenation; the surrounding phenomena varied, but essentially it was always the same, like a dream place. The question was, would he turn his boat, or raft, or whatever was beneath him, or his own stroke as swimmer, and escape from this glassy place whose currents were yet but tendrils? He could do it; it was the Valley of Decision.... But so often, in all those lives whose bitter and sweet were distilled into this one, he had not done it. It had grown much easier not to do it. Sometimes it had been illusory love, sometimes ambition, sometimes towering pride and self-seeking, sometimes mere indolent unreadiness, dreamy self-will. On he had gone out of the lower end of the Valley of Decision, where the tendrils became arms of giants and decisions might no longer be made.
The laird of Glenfernie stayed longer from home than, riding away, he had expected to do. It was the latter half of August when he and Black Alan, Tam Dickson and Whitefoot, came up the winding road to Glenfernie door. Phemie it was, at the clothes-lines, who noted them on the lowest spiral, who turned and ran and informed the household. "The laird's coming! The laird's coming!" Men and women and dogs began to stir.
Strickland, looking from the window of his own high room, saw the riders in and out of the bronzing woods. Descending, he joined Mrs. Grizel upon the wide stone step without the hall door. Davie was in waiting, and a stable-boy or two came at a run.
"Two months!" said Mrs. Grizel. "But it used to be six months, a year, two years, and more! He grows a home body, as lairds ought to be!"
Alexander dismounted at the door, took her in his arms and kissed her twice, shook hands with Strickland, greeted Davie and the men. "How good it is to get home! I've pined like a lost bairn. And none of you look older—Aunt Grizel hasn't a single white hair!"
"Go along with you, laddie!" said Aunt Grizel. "You haven't been so long away!"
The sun was half-way down the western quarter. He changed his riding-clothes, and they set food for him in the hall. He ate, and Davie drew the cloth and brought wine and glasses. Some matter or other called Mrs. Grizel away, but Strickland stayed and drank wine with him.
Questions and answers had been exchanged. Glenfernie gave in detail reasons for his lengthened stay. There had been a business postponement and complication—in London Jamie's affairs; again, in Edinburgh, insistence of kindred with whom Alice was blooming, "growing a fine lady, too!" and at the last a sudden and for a while dangerous sickness of Tam Dickson's that had kept them a week at an inn a dozen miles this side of Edinburgh.
"Each time I started up sprang a stout hedge! But they're all down now and here I am!" He raised his wine-glass. "To home, and the sweetness thereof!" said Alexander.
"I am glad to see you back," said Strickland, and meant it.
The late sunlight streamed through the open door. Bran, the old hound, basked in it; it wiped the rust from the ancient weapons on the wall and wrote hieroglyphics in among them; it made glow the wine in the glass. Alexander turned in his chair.
"It's near sunset.... Now what, just, did you hear about Ian Rullock's going?"
"We supposed that he would be here through the autumn—certainly until after your return. Then, three days ago, comes Peter Lindsay with the note for you, and word that he was gone. Lindsay thought that he had received letters from great people and had gone to them for a visit."
Alexander spread the missive that had been given him upon the table. "It's short!" He held it so that Strickland might read:
GLENFERNIE,—Perhaps the leaf is not yet wholly sere. Be that as it may be, I'm leaving Black Hill for a time.
"That's a puzzling billet!" said Alexander. "'Glenfernie—Ian Rullock!'"
"What does he mean by the leaf not dead?"
"That was a figure of speech used between us in regard to a certain thing.... Well, he also has moods! It is my trust that he has not answered to some one's piping that the leaf's not dead! That is the likeliest thing—that he answered and has gone. I'll ride to Black Hill to-morrow." The sun set, twilight passed, candles were lighted. "Have you seen any from White Farm?"
"I walked there from Littlefarm with Robin Greenlaw. Jarvis Barrow was reading Leviticus, looking like a listener in the Plain of Sinai. They expected Gilian home from Aberdeen. They say the harvest everywhere is good."
Alexander asked no further and presently they parted for the night. The laird of Glenfernie looked from his chamber window, and he looked toward White Farm. It was dark, clear night, and all the autumn stars shone like worlds of hope.
The next morning he mounted his horse and went off to Black Hill. He would get this matter of Ian straight. It was early when he rode, and he came to Black Hill to find Mr. Touris and his sister yet at the breakfast-table. Mrs. Alison, who might have been up hours, sat over against a dour-looking master of the house who sipped his tea and crumbled his toast and had few good words for anything. But he was glad and said that he was glad to see Glenfernie.
"Now, maybe, we'll have some light on Ian's doings!"
"I came for light to you, sir."
"Do you mean that he hasn't written you?"
"Only a line that I found waiting for me. It says, simply, that he leaves Black Hill for a while."
"Well, you won't get light from me! My light's darkness. The women found in his room a memorandum of ships and two addresses, one a house in Amsterdam, and one, if you please, in Paris—Faubourg Saint-Germain!"
"Do you mean that he left without explanation or good-by?"
Mrs. Alison spoke. "No, Archibald does not mean that. One evening Ian outdid himself in bonniness and golden talk. Then as we took our candles he told us that the wander-fever had him and that he would be riding to Edinburgh. Archibald protested, but he daffed it by. So the next day he went, and he may be in Edinburgh. It would seem nothing, if these Highland chiefs were not his kin and if there wasn't this round and round rumor of the Pretender and the French army! There may be nothing—he may be riding back almost to-morrow!"
But Mr. Touris would not shake the black dog from his shoulders. "He'll bring trouble yet—was born the sort to do it!"
Alexander defended him.
"Oh, you're his friend—sworn for thick and thin! As for Alison, she'd find a good word for the fiend from hell!—not that my sister's son is anything of that," said the Scotchman. "But he'll bring trouble to warm, canny, king-and-kirk-abiding folk! He's an Indian macaw in a dove-cote."
They rose from table. Out on the terrace they walked up and down in the soft, bright morning light. Mr. Touris seemed to wish company; he clung to Glenfernie until the latter must mount his horse and ride home. Only for a moment did Alexander and Mrs. Alison have speech together.
"When will you be seeing Elspeth?"
"I hope this afternoon."
"May joy come to you, Alexander!"
"I want it to come. I want it to come."
He and Black Alan journeyed home. As he rode he thought now and again of Ian, perhaps in Edinburgh according to his word of mouth, but perhaps, despite that word, on board some ship that should place him in the Low Countries, from which he might travel into France and to Paris and that group of Jacobites humming like a byke of bees around a prince, the heir of all the Stewarts. He thought with old affection and old concern. Whatever Ian did—intrigued with Jacobite interest or held aloof like a sensible man—yet was he Ian with the old appeal. Take me or leave me—me and my dusky gold! Alexander drew a deep breath, shook his shoulders, raised his head. "Let my friend be as he is!"
He ceased to think of Ian and turned to the oncoming afternoon—the afternoon rainbow-hued, coming on to the sound of music.
Again in his own house, he and Strickland worked an hour or more upon estate business. That over and dinner past, he went to the room in the keep. When the hour struck three he passed out of the opening in the old wall, clambered down the bank, and, going through the wood, took his way to White Farm.
Just one foreground wish in his mind was granted. There was an orchard strip by White Farm, and here, beneath a red-apple tree, he found Elspeth alone. She was perfectly direct with him.
"Willy told us that you were home. I thought you might come now to White Farm. I was watching. I wanted to speak to you where none was by. Let us cross the burn and walk in the fields."
The fields were reaped, lay in tawny stubble. The path ran by this and by a lichened stone wall. Overhead, swallows were skimming. Heath and bracken, rolled the colored hills. The air swam cool and golden, with a smell of the harvest earth.
"Elspeth, I stayed away years and years and years, and I stayed away not one hour!"
She stopped; she stood with her back to the wall. The farm-house had sunk from sight, the sun was westering, the fields lay dim gold and solitary. She had over her head a silken scarf, the ends of which she drew together and held with one brown, slender hand against her breast. She wore a dark gown; he saw her bosom rise and fall.
"I watched for you to tell you that this must not go on any longer. I came to my mind when you were gone, Mr. Alexander—I came to my mind! I think that you are braw and noble, but in the way of loving, as love is between man and woman, I have none for you—I have none for you!"
The sun appeared to dip, the fields to darken. Pain came to Glenfernie, wildering and blinding. He stood silent.
"I might have known before you went—I might have known from that first meeting, in May, in the glen! But I was a fool, and vague, and willing, I suppose, to put tip of tongue to a land of sweetness! If, mistaken myself, I helped you to mistake, I am bitter sorry and I ask your forgiveness! But the thing, Glenfernie, the thing stands! It's for us to part."
He stared at her dumbly. In every line of her, in every tone of her, there was finality. He was tenacious of purpose, capable of long-sustained and patient effort, but he seemed to know that, for this life, purpose and effort here might as well be laid aside. The knowledge wrapped him, quiet, gray, and utter. He put his hands to his brow; he moved a few steps to and fro; he came to the wall and leaned against it. It seemed to him that he regarded the clay-cold corpse of his life.
"O the world!" cried Elspeth. "When we are little it seems so little! If you suffer, I am sorry."
"Present suffering may be faced if there's light behind."
"There's not this light, Glenfernie.... O world! if there is some other light—"
"And time will do naught for me, Elspeth?"
"No. Time will do naught for you. It is over! And the day goes down and the world spins on."
They stood apart, without speaking, under their hands the heaped stones of the wall. The swallows skimmed; a tinkling of sheep-bells was heard; the stubble and the moor beyond the fields lay in gold, in sunken green and violet; the hilltops met the sky in a line long, clean, remote, and still. Elspeth spoke.
"I am going now, back home. Let's say good-by here, each wishing the other some good in, or maybe out of, this carefu' world!"
"You, also, are unhappy. Why?"
"I am not! Do I seem so? I am sorry for unhappiness—that is all! Of course we grow older," said Elspeth, "older and wiser. But you nor no one must think that I am unhappy! For I am not." She put out her hands to him. "Let us say good-by!"
"Is it so? Is it so?"
"Never make doubt of that! I want you to see that it is clean snapped—clean gone!"
She gave him her hands. They lay in his grasp untrembling, filled with a gathered strength. He wrung them, bowed his head upon them, let them go. They fell at her sides; then she raised them, drew the scarf over her head and, holding it as before, turned and went away up the path between the yellow stubble and the wall. She walked quickly, dark clad; she was gone like a bird into a wood, like a branch of autumn leaves when the sea fog rolls in.
The laird of Glenfernie turned to his ancient house on the craggy hill.... That night he made him a fire in his old loved room in the keep. He sat beside it; he lighted candles and opened books, and now and then he sat so still before them that he may have thought that he read. But the books slipped away, and the candles guttered down, and the fire went out. At last, in the thick darkness, he spread his arms upon the table and bowed his head in them, and his frame shook with a man's slow weeping.
The bright autumn sank into November, November winds and mists into a muffled, gray-roofed, white-floored December. And still the laird of Glenfernie lived with the work of the estate and, when that was done, and when the long, lonely, rambling daily walk or ride was over, with books. The room in the keep had now many books. He sat among them, and he built his fire higher, and his candles burned into late night. Whether he read or did not read, he stayed among them and drew what restless comfort he might. Strickland, from his own high room, waking in the night, saw the loophole slit of light.
He felt concern. The change that had come to his old pupil was marked enough. Strickland's mind dwelt on the old laird. Was that the personality, not of one, but of two, of the whole line, perhaps, developing all the time, step by step with what seemed the plastic, otherwise, free time of youth, appearing always in due season, when its hour struck? Would Alexander, with minor differences, repeat his father? How of the mother? Would the father drown the mother? In the enormous all-one, the huge blend, what would arrive? Out of all fathers and mothers, out of all causes?
It could not be said that Alexander was surly. Nor, if the weather was dark with him, that he tried to shake his darkness into others' skies. Nor that he meanly succumbed to the weight, whatever it was, that bore upon him. He did his work, and achieved at least the show of equanimity. Strickland wondered. What was it that had happened? It never occurred to him that it had happened here in this dale. But in all that life of Alexander's in the wider world there must needs have been relationships of lands established. Somewhere, something had happened to overcloud his day, to uncover ancestral resemblances, possibilities. Something, somewhere, and he had had news of it this autumn.... It happened that Strickland had never seen Glenfernie with Elspeth Barrow.
Mrs. Grizel was not observant. So that her nephew came to breakfast, dinner, and supper, so that he was not averse to casual speech of household interests, so that he seemed to keep his health, so that he gave her now and then words and a kiss of affection, she was willing to believe that persons addicted to books and the company of themselves had a right to stillness and gravity. Alice stayed in Edinburgh; Jamie soldiered it in Flanders. Strickland wrote and computed for and with the laird, then watched him forth, a solitary figure, by the fir-trees, by the leafless trees, and down the circling road into the winter country. Or he saw firelight in the keep and knew that Alexander walked to and fro, to and fro, or sat bowed over a book. Late at night, waking, he saw that Glenfernie still watched.
It was not Ian Rullock nor anything to do with him that had helped on this sharp alteration, this turn into some Cimmerian stretch of the mind's or the emotions' vast landscape. If Strickland had at first wondered if this might be the case, the thought vanished. Glenfernie, free to speak of Ian, spoke freely, with the relief of there, at least, a sunny day. It somewhat amazed and disquieted, even while it touched, the older man of quiet passions and even ways, the old strength of this friendship. Glenfernie seemed to brood with a mother-passion over Ian. To an extent here he confided in Strickland. The latter knew of the worry about Jacobite plots and the drawing of Ian into that vortex—Ian known now to be in Paris, writing thence twice or thrice during this autumn and early winter, letters that came to Glenfernie's hand by unusual channels, smacking all of them of Jacobite or High Tory transmissals. Strickland did not see these letters. Of them Alexander said only that Ian wrote as usual, except that he made no reference to sere leaves turning green or a dead staff budding.
In the room with only the loophole windows, by the firelight, Alexander read over again the second of these letters. "So you have loved and lost, old Steadfast? Let it not grieve you too much!" And that was all of that. And it pleased Alexander that it was all. Ian was too wise to touch and finger the heart. Ian, Ian, rich and deep and himself almost! Ten thousand Ian recollections pressed in upon Alexander. Let Ian, an he would, go a-lusting after old dynasties! Yet was he Ian! In these months it was Ian memories that chiefly gave Alexander comfort.
They gave beyond what, at this time, Mrs. Alison could give. At considerable intervals he went to Black Hill. But his old friend lived in a rare, upland air, and he could not yet find rest in her clime. She saw that.
"It's for after a while, isn't it, Alexander? Oh, after a while you'll see that it is the breathing, living air! But do not feel now that you are in duty bound to come here. Wait until you feel like coming, and never think that I'll be hurt—"
"I am a marsh thing," he said. "I feel dull and still and cold, and over me is a heavy atmosphere filled with motes. Forgive me and let me come to you farther on and higher up."
He went back to the gray crag, Glenfernie House and the room in the keep, the fire and his books, and a brooding traveling over the past, and, like a pool of gold in a long arctic night, the image, nested and warm, of Ian. Love was lost, but there stayed the ancient, ancient friend.
Two weeks before Christmas Alice came home, bright as a rose. She talked of a thousand events, large and small. Glenfernie listened, smiled, asked questions, praised her, and said it was good to have brightness in the house.
"Aye, it is!" she answered. "How grave and old you and Mr. Strickland and the books and the hall and Bran look!"
"It's heigho! for Jamie, isn't it?" asked Alexander. "Winter makes us look old. Wait till springtime!"
That evening she waylaid Strickland. "What is the matter with Alexander?"
"I don't know."
"He looks five years older. He looks as though he had been through wars."
"Perhaps he has. I don't know what it is," said Strickland, soberly.
"Do you think," said Alice—"do you think he could have had—oh, somewhere out in the world!—a love-affair, and it ended badly? She died, or there was a rival, or something like that, and he has just heard of it?"
"You have been reading novels," said Strickland. "And yet—!"
That night, seeing from his own window the light in the keep, he turned to his bed with the thought of the havoc of love. Lying there with open eyes he saw in procession Unhappy Love. He lay long awake, but at last he turned and addressed himself to sleep. "He's a strong climber! Whatever it is, maybe he'll climb out of it."
But in the keep, Alexander, sitting by the fire with lowered head and hanging hands, saw not the time when he would climb out of it....
He went no more to White Farm. He went, though not every Sunday, to kirk and sat with his aunt and with Strickland in the laird's boxlike, curtained pew. Mr. M'Nab preached of original sin and ineffable condemnation, and of the few, the very, very few, saved as by fire. He saw Jarvis Barrow sitting motionless, sternly agreeing, and beyond him Jenny Barrow and then Elspeth and Gilian. Out of kirk, in the kirkyard, he gave them good day. He studied to keep strangeness out of his manner; an onlooker would note only a somewhat silent, preoccupied laird. He might be pondering the sermon. Mr. M'Nab's sermons were calculated to arouse alarm and concern—or, in the case of the justified, stern triumph—in the human breast. White Farm made no quarrel with the laird for that quietude and withdrawing. In the autumn he had told Jarvis Barrow of that hour with Elspeth in the stubble-field. The old man listened, then, "They are strange warks, women!" he said, and almost immediately went on to speak of other things. There seemed no sympathy and no regret for the earthly happening. But he liked to debate with the laird election and the perseverance of the saints.
Jenny Barrow, only, could not be held from exclamation over Glenfernie's defection. "Why does he na come as he used to? Wha's done aught to him or said a word to gie offense?" She talked to Menie and Merran since Elspeth and Gilian gave her notice that they were wearied of the subject. Perhaps Jenny's concern with it kept her from the perception that not Glenfernie only was changing or had changed. Elspeth—! But Elspeth had been always a dreamer, rather silent, a listener rather than a speaker. Jenny did not look around corners; the overt sufficed for a bustling, good-natured life. Gilian's arrival, moreover, made for a diversion of attention. By the time novelty subsided again into every day an altered Elspeth had so fitted into the frame of life that Jenny was unaware of alteration.
But Gilian was not Jenny.
Each of Jarvis Barrow's granddaughters had her own small bedroom. Three nights after Gilian's home-coming she came, when the candles were out, into Elspeth's room. It was September and, for the season, warm. A great round moon poured its light into the little room. Elspeth was seated upon her bed. Her hair was loosened and fell over her white gown. Her feet were under her; she sat like an Eastern carving, still in the moonlight.
Elspeth took a moment to come back to White Farm. "What is it, Gilian?"
Gilian moved to the window and sat in it. She had not undressed. The moon silvered her, too. "What has happened, Elspeth?"
"Naught. What should happen?"
"It's no use telling me that.—We've been away from each other almost a year. I know that I've changed, grown, in that time, and it's natural that you should do the same. But it's something besides that!"
Elspeth laughed and her laughter was like a little, cold, mirthless chime of silver bells. "You're fanciful, Gilian!... We're no longer lassies; we're women! So the colors of things get a little different—that's all!"
"Don't you love me, Elspeth?"
"Yes, I love you. What has that to do with it?"
"Has it not? Has love naught to do with it? Love at all—all love?"
Elspeth parted her long dark hair into two waves, drew it before her, and began to braid it, sitting still, her limbs under her, upon the bed. "I saw you on the moor walking and talking with grandfather. What did he say to you?"
"You are changed and I said that you were changed. He had not noticed—he would not be like to notice! Then he told me about the laird and you."
"Yes. About the laird and me."
"You couldn't love him? They say he is a fine man."
"No, I couldn't love him. I like him. He understands. No one is to blame."
"But if it is not that, what is it—what is it, Elspeth?"
"It's naught—naught—naught, I tell you!"
"It's a strange naught that makes you like a dark lady in a ballad-book!"
Elspeth laughed again. "Didn't I say that you were fanciful? It's late and I am sleepy."
That had been while the leaves were still upon the trees. The next morning and thenceforward Elspeth seemed to make a point of cheerfulness. It passed with her aunt and the helpers in the house. Jarvis Barrow appeared to take no especial note if women laughed or sighed, so long as they lived irreproachably.
The leaves bronzed, the autumn rains came, the leaves fell, the trees stood bare, the winds began to blow, there fell the first snowflakes. Gilian, walking home from the town, was overtaken on the moor by Robin Greenlaw.
"Where is Elspeth?"
"We are making our winter dresses. She would not leave her sewing."
The cousins walked upon the moor path together. Gilian was fairer and more strongly made than Elspeth. They walked in silence; then said Robin:
"You're the old Gilian, but I'm sure I miss the old Elspeth!"
"I think, myself, she's gone visiting! I rack and rack my brains to find what grief could have come to Elspeth. She will not help me."
"Gilian, could it be that, after all, her heart is set on the laird?"
"Did you know about that?"
"In part I guessed, watching them together. And then I saw how Glenfernie oldened in a night. Then, being with my uncle one day, he let drop a word that I followed up. I led him on and he told me. Glenfernie acted like a true man."
"If there's one thing of which I'm sure it is that she hardly thinks of him from Sunday to Sunday. She thinks then for a little because she sees him in kirk—but that passes, too!"
"Then what is it?"
"I don't know. I don't know of anybody else. Maybe no outer thing has anything to do with it. Sometimes we just have drumlie, dreary seasons and we do not know why.... She loves the spring. Maybe when spring comes she'll be Elspeth once more!"
"I hope so," said Greenlaw. "Spring makes all the world bonny again."
That was in November. On Christmas Eve Elspeth Barrow drowned herself in the Kelpie's Pool.
There had been three hours of light on Christmas Day when Robin Greenlaw appeared at Glenfernie House and would see the laird.
"He's in his ain room in the keep," said Davie, and went with the message.
Alexander came down the stair and out into the flagged court. The weather had been unwontedly clement, melting the earlier snows, letting the brown earth forth again for one look about her. To-day there was pale sunlight. Greenlaw sat his big gray. The laird came to him.
"Get down, man, and come in for Christmas cheer!"
"Send Davie away," said Greenlaw.
Alexander's gray eyes glanced. "You're bringing something that is not Christmas cheer!—Davie, tell Dandie Saunderson to saddle Black Alan at once.—Now, Robin!"
"Yesterday," said Greenlaw, "Elspeth Barrow vanished from White Farm. They wanted to send Christmas fare to old Skene the cotter. She said she would take a basket there, and so she went away, down the stream—about ten of the morning they think it was. It was not for hours that they grew at all anxious. She's never come back. She did not go to Skene's. We can hear no word of her from any. Her grandfather and I and the men at White Farm looked for her through the night. This morning there's an alarm sent up and down the dale."
"What harm could happen—"
"She might have strayed into some lonely place—fallen—hurt herself. There were gipsies seen the other day over by Windyedge. Or she might have walked on and on upon what road she took, and somehow none chanced to notice her. I am going now to ride the Edinburgh way."
"Have you gone up the glen?"
"That was tried this morning at first light. But that is just opposite to Skene's and the way she certainly took at first. She would have to turn and go about through the woods, or White Farm would see her." His voice had a haunting note of fear and trouble.
Glenfernie caught it. "She was not out of health nor unhappy?"
"She is changed from the old Elspeth. When you ask her if she is unhappy she says that she is not.... I do not know. Something is wrong. With the others, I am seeking about as though I expected each moment to see her sitting or standing by the roadside. But I do not expect to see her. I do not know what I expect. We have sent to Windyedge to apprehend those gipsies."
"Let me speak one moment to Mr. Strickland to send the men forth and go himself. Then I am ready."
On Black Alan he rode with Robin down the hill and through the wood and upon the White Farm way. The earth was mainly bare of snow, but frozen hard. The hoofs rang out but left no print. The air hung still, light and dry; the sun, far in the south, sent slanting, pale-gold beams. The two men made little speech as they rode. They passed men and youths, single figures and clusters.
"Ony news, Littlefarm? We've been—or we're going—seeking here, or here—"
A woman stopped them. "It was thae gipsies, sirs! I had a dream about them, five nights syne! A lintwhite was flying by them, and they gave chase. Either it's that or she made away with herself! I had a dream that might be read that way, too."
When they came to White Farm it was to find there only Jenny and Menie and Merran.
"Somebody maun stay to keep the house warm gin the lassie come stumbling hame, cauld and hungry and half doited! Eh, Glenfernie, ye that are a learned man and know the warld, gie us help!"
"I am going up the glen," said Alexander to Greenlaw. "I do not know why, but I think it should be tried again. And I know it, root and branch. I am going afoot. I will leave Black Alan here."
They wasted no time. He went, while Robin Greenlaw on his gray took the opposed direction. Looking back, he saw the great fire that Jenny kept, dancing through the open door and in the pane of the window. Then the trees and the winding of the path shut it away, shut away house and field and all token of human life.
He moved swiftly to the mouth of the glen, but then more slowly. The trees soared bare, the water rushed with a hoarse sound, snow lay in clefts. So well he knew the place! There was no spot where foot might have climbed, no ledge nor opening where form might lay, huddled or outstretched, that lacked his searching eye or hand. Here was the pebbly cape with the thorn-tree where in May he had come upon Elspeth, sitting by the water, singing.... Farther on he turned into that smaller, that fairy glen, bending like an arm from the main pass. Here was the oak beneath which they had sat, against which she had leaned. It wrapt him from himself, this place. He stood, and space around seemed filled with forms just beyond visibility. What were they? He did not know, but they seemed to breathe against his heart, to whisper.... He searched this place well, but there were only the winter banks and trees, the little burn, the invisible presences. Back in the deep glen a hawk sailed overhead, across the stripe of pale-blue sky. Alexander went on by the stream and the projecting rock and the twisted roots. There was no sound other than the loud voice of the water, talking only of its return to the sea. When he came to the cave he pushed aside the masking growth and entered. Dark and barren here, with the ashes of an old fire! For one moment, as it were distinctly, he saw Ian. He stood so clear in the mind's eye that it seemed that one intense effort might have set him bodily in the cavern. But the central strength let the image go. Alexander moved the ashes of the fire with his foot, shuddered in the place of cold and shadow, and, stooping, went out of the cave and on upon his search for Elspeth Barrow.
He sought the glen through, and at last, at the head, he came to Mother Binning's cot. Her fire was burning; she was standing in the door looking toward him.
"Eh, Glenfernie! is there news of the lassie?"
"None. You've got the sight. Can you not see?"
"It's gane from me! When it gaes I'm just like ony bird with a broken wing."
"If you cannot see, what do you think?"
"I dinna want to think and I dinna want to say. Whaur be ye gaeing now?"
"On over the moor and down by the Kelpie's Pool."
"Gae on then. I'll watch for ye coming back."
He went on. Something strange had him, drawing him. He came out from the band of trees upon the swelling open moor, bare and brown save where the snow laced it. Gold filtered over it; a pale sky arched above; it was wide, still, and awful—a desert. He saw the light run down and glint upon the pool. Searchers had ridden across this moor also, he had been told. He went down at once to the pool and stood by the kelpie willow. He was not thinking, he was not keenly feeling. He seemed to stand in open, endless, formless space, and in unfenced time. A clump of dry reeds rose by his knee, and upon the other side of these he noticed that a stone had been lifted from its bed. He stooped, and in the reeds he found an inch-long fragment of ribbon—of a snood.
He stepped back from the willow. He took off and dropped upon the moor hat and riding-coat and boots, inner coat and waistcoat. Then he entered the Kelpie's Pool. He searched it, measure by measure, and at last he found the body of Elspeth. He drew it up; he loosened and let fall the stone tied in the plaid that was wrapped around it; he bore the form out of the pool and laid it upon the bank beyond the willow. The sunlight showed the whole, the face and figure. The laird of Glenfernie, kneeling beside it, put back the long drowned hair and saw, pinned upon the bosom of the gown, the folded letter, wrapped twice in thicker paper. He took it from her and opened it. The writing was yet legible.
I hope that I shall not be found. If I am, let this answer for me. I was unhappy, more unhappy than you can think. Let no one be blamed. It was one far from here and you will not know his name. Do not think of me as wicked nor as a murderess. The unhappy should have pardon and rest. Good-by to all—good-by!
In the upper corner was written, "For White Farm." That was all.
Glenfernie put this letter into the bosom of his shirt. He then got on again the clothing he had discarded, and, stooping, put his arms beneath the lifeless form. He lifted it and bore it from the Kelpie's Pool and up the moor. He was a man much stronger than the ordinary; he carried it as though he felt no weight. The icy water of the pool upon him was as nothing, and as he walked his face was still as a stone face in a desert. So he came with Elspeth's body back to the glen, and Mother Binning saw him coming.
"Hech, sirs! Hech, sirs! Will it hae been that way—will it hae been that way?"
He stopped for a moment. He laid his burden down upon the boards just within the door and smoothed back the streaming hair. "Even the shell flung out by the ocean is beautiful!"
"Eh, man! Eh, man! It's wae sometimes to be a woman!"
"Give me," he said, "a plaid, dry and warm, to hap her in."
"Will ye na leave her here? Put her in my bed and gae tell White Farm!"
"No, I will carry her home."
Mother Binning took from a chest a gray plaid. He lifted again the dead woman, and she happed the plaid about her. "Ah, the lassie—the lassie! Come to me, Glenfernie, and I will scry for you who it was!"
He looked at her as though he did not hear her. He lifted the body, holding it against his shoulder like a child, and went forth. He knew the path so absolutely, he was so strong and light of foot, that he went without difficulty through the glen, by the loud crying water, by the points of crag and the curving roots and the drifts of snow, by the green patches of moss and the trees great and small. He did not hasten nor drag, he did not think. He went like a bronze Talus, made simply to find, to carry home.
Known feature after known feature of the place rose before him, passed him, fell away. Here was the arm of the glen, and here was the pebbled cape and the thorn-tree. The winter water swirled around it, sang of cold and a hateful power. Here was the mouth of the glen. Here were the fields which had been green and then golden with ripe corn. Here were the White Farm roof and chimneys and windows, and blue smoke from the chimney going straight up like a wraith to meet blue sky. Before him was the open door.
He had thought of there being only Jenny and the two servant lasses. But in the time he had been gone there had regathered to White Farm, for learning each from each, for consultation, for mere rest and food, a number of the searchers. Jarvis Barrow had returned from the northward-stretching moor, Thomas and Willy from the southerly fields. Men who had begun to drag deep places in the stream were here for some provision. A handful of women, hooded and wrapped, had come from neighboring farms or from the village. Among them talked Mrs. Macmurdo, who kept the shop, and the hostess of the Jardine Arms. And there was here Jock Binning, who, for all his lameness and his crutches, could go where he wished.... But it was Gilian, crossing upon the stepping-stones, who saw Glenfernie coming by the stream with the covered form in his arms. She met him; they went up the bank to the house together. She had uttered one cry, but no more.
"The Kelpie's Pool," he had answered.
Jarvis Barrow came out of the door. "Eh! God help us!"
They laid the form upon a bed. All the houseful crowded about. There was no helping that, and as little might be helped Jenny's lamentations and the ejaculations of others. It was White Farm himself who took away the plaid. It lay there before them all, the drowned form. The face was very quiet, strangely like Elspeth again, the Elspeth of the springtime. All looked, all saw.
"Gude guide us!" cried Mrs. Macmurdo. "And I wadna be some at the Judgment Day when come up the beguiled, self-drownit lassies!"
Jock Binning's voice rose from out the craning group. "Aye, and I ken—and I ken wha was the man!"
White Farm turned upon him. He towered, the old man. A winter wrath and grief, an icy, scintillant, arctic passion, marked two there, the laird of Glenfernie and the elder of the kirk. Gilian's grief stood head-high with theirs, but their anger, the old man's disdaining and the young man's jealousy, was far from her. In Jarvis Barrow's hand was the paper, taken from Elspeth, given him by Glenfernie. He turned upon the cripple. "Wha, then? Wha, then? Speak out!"
He had that power of command that forced an answer. Jock Binning, crutched and with an elfish face and figure and voice, had pulled down upon himself the office of revelator. The group swayed a little from him and he was left facing White Farm and the laird of Glenfernie. He had a wailing, chanting, elvish manner of speech. Out streamed this voice:
"'Twere the last of June, twa-three days after the laird rode to Edinburgh, and she brought my mither a giftie of plums and sat doon for a crack with her. By he came and stood and talked. Syne the clouds thickened and the thunder growlit, and he wad walk with her hame through the glen—"
"Wha wad? Wha?"
"Captain Ian Rullock."
"Aye, Glenfernie! And after that they never came to my mither's again. But I marked them aft when they didna mark me, in the glen. Aye, and I marked them ance in the little glen, and there they were lovers surely—gin kisses and clasped arms mak lovers! She wad come by herself to their trysting, and he wad come over the muir and down the crag-side. It was na my business and I never thocht to tell. But eh! all ill will out, says my mither!"
The early sunlight fell soft and fine upon the river Seine and the quays and buildings of Paris. The movement and buzz of people had, in the brightness, something of the small ecstasy of bees emerging from the hive with the winter pall just slipped. Distant bells were ringing, hope enticed the grimmest poverty. Much, after all, might be taken good-naturedly!
A great, ornate coach, belonging to a person of quality, crossed the Seine from the south to the north bank. Three gentlemen, seated within, observed each in his own fashion the soft, shining day. One was Scots, one was English, and the owner of the coach, a Frenchman. The first was Ian Rullock.
"Good weather for your crossing, monsieur!" remarked the person of quality. He was so markedly of position that the two men whom he had graciously offered to bring a mile upon their way, and who also were younger men, answered with deference and followed in their speech only the lines indicated.
"It promises fair, sir," said Ian. "In three days Dunkirk, then smooth seas! Good omens everywhere!"
"You do not voyage under your own name?"
"After to-morrow, sir, I am Robert Bonshaw, a Scots physician."
"Ah, well, good fortune to you, and to the exalted person you serve!"
The coach, cumbrous and stately, drawn by four white horses, left the bridge and came under old palace walls, and thence by narrow streets advanced toward the great house of its owner. Outside was the numerous throng, the scattering to this side and that of the imperiled foot travelers. The coach stopped.
"Here is the street you would reach!" said the helpful person of quality.
A footman held open the door; the Scot and the Englishman gave proper expression of gratitude to their benefactor, descended to earth, turned again to bow low, and waited bareheaded till the great machine was once more in motion and monseigneur's wig, countenance, and velvet coat grew things of the past. Then the two turned into a still and narrow street overhung by high, ancient structures and roofed with April sky.
The one was going from Paris, the other staying. Both were links in a long chain of political conspiring. They walked now down the street that was dark and old, underfoot old mire and mica-like glistening of fresher rain. The Englishman spoke:
"Have you any news from home?"
"None. None for a long while. I had it conveyed to my kindred and to an old friend that I had disappeared from Paris—gone eastward, Heaven knew where—probably Crim Tartary! So my own world at least, as far as I am concerned, will be off the scent. That was in the winter. I have really heard nothing for months.... When the dawn comes up and we are all rich and famed and gay, my-lorded from John o' Groat's House to Land's End—then, Warburton, then—"
"Then we'll be good!" Ian laughed. "Don't you want, sometimes, to be good, Warburton? Wise—and simple. Doesn't it rise before you in the night with a most unearthly beauty?"
"Oh, I think I am so-so good!" answered the other. "So-so bad, so-so good. What puts you in this strain?"
"Tell me and I will tell you! And now I'm going to Scotland, into the Highlands, to paint a prince who, when he's king, will, no manner of doubt, wear the tartan and make every thane of Glamis thane of Cawdor likewise!... One half the creature's body is an old, childish loyalty, and the other half's ambition. The creature's myself. There are also bars and circles and splashes of various colors, dark and bright. Sometimes it dreams of wings—wings of an archangel, no less, Warburton! The next moment there seems to be an impotency to produce even beetle wings!... What a weathercock and variorum I am, thou art, he is!"
"We're no worse than other men," said Warburton, comfortably. "We're all pretty ignorant, I take it!"
They came to a building, old and not without some lingering of strength and grace. It stood in the angle of two streets and received sunshine and light as well as cross-tides of sound. The Scot and the Englishman both lodged here, above a harness-maker and a worker in fine woods. They passed into the court and to a stair that once had known a constant, worldly-rich traffic up and down. Now it was still and twilight, after the streets. Both men had affairs to put in order, business on hand. They moved now abstractedly, and when Warburton reached, upon the first landing, the door of his rooms, he turned aside from Ian with only a negligent, "We'll sup together and say last things then."
The Scot went on alone to the next landing and his own room. These were not his usual lodgings in Paris. Agent now of high Jacobite interests, shuttle sent from conspirers in France to chiefs in Scotland, on the eve of a departure in disguise, he had broken old nest and old relations, and was now as a stranger in a city that he knew well, and where by not a few he was known. The room that he turned into had little sign of old, well-liked occupancy; the servant who at his call entered from a smaller chamber was not the man to whom he was used, but a Highlander sent him by a Gordon then in Paris.
"I am back, Donal!" said Ian, and threw himself into a chair by the table. "Come, give an account of your errands!"
Donal, middle-aged, faithful, dour and sagacious, and years away from loch and mountain, gave account. Horses, weapons, clothing, all correct for Dr. Robert Bonshaw and his servant, riding under high protection from Paris to Dunkirk, where a well-captained merchant-vessel stayed for them in port. Ian nodded approval.
"I'm indebted, Donal, to my cousin Gordon!"
Donal let a smile come to within a league of the surface. "Her ainself has a wish to hear the eagle scream over Ben Nevis!"
Rullock's hand moved over a paper, checking a row of figures. "Did you manage to get into my old lodging?"
"Aye. None there. All dusty and bare. But the woman who had the key gave me—since I said I might make a guess where to find you, sir—these letters. They came, she said, two weeks ago." Donal laid them upon the table.
"Ah!" said Ian, "they must have gotten through before I shut off the old passageway." He took them in his hand. "There's nothing more now, Donal. Go out for your dinner."
The man went. Ian added another column of figures, then took the letters and with them moved to a window through which streamed the sun of France. The floor was patched with gold; there was warmth as well as light. He pushed a chair into it, sat down, and opened first the packet that he knew had come from his uncle. He broke the seal and read two pages of Mr. Touris in a mood of anger. There were rumors—. True it was that Ian had now his own fortune, had it at least until he lost it and his life together in some mad, unlawful business! But let him not look longer to be heir of Archibald Touris! Withdraw at once from ill company, political or other, and return to Scotland, or at least to England, or take the consequences! The letter bore date the first week of December. It had been long in passing from hand to hand in a troubled, warring world. Ian Rullock, fathoms deep in the present business, held in a web made by many lines of force, both thick and thin, refolded the paper and made to put it into his pocketbook, then bethinking himself, tore it instead into small pieces and, rising, dropped these into a brazier where burned a little charcoal. He would carry nothing with his proper name upon it. Coming back to the chair in the sunshine, he sat for a moment with his eyes upon a gray huddle of roofs visible through the window. Then he broke the seal and unfolded the letter superscribed in Alexander's strong writing.
There were hardly six lines. And they did not tell of how discovery had been made, nor why, nor when. They said nothing of death nor life—no word of the Kelpie's Pool. They carried, tersely, a direct challenge, the ground Ian Rullock's conception of friendship, a conception tallying nicely with Alexander Jardine's idea of a mortal enmity. Such a fishing-town, known of both, back of such a sea beach in Holland—such a tavern in this place. Meet there—wait there, the one who should reach it first for the other, and—to give all possible ground to delays of letters, travel, arrangements generally—in so late a month as April. "Find me there, or await me there, my one-time friend, henceforth my foe! I—or Justice herself above me—would teach you certain things!"
The cartel bore date the 1st of January—later by a month than the Black Hill letter. It dropped from Ian's hand; he sat with blankness of mind in the sunlight. Presently he shivered slightly. He leaned his elbows on his knees and his forehead in his hands and sat still. Alexander! He felt no hot straining toward meeting, toward fighting, Alexander. Perversely enough, after a year of impatient, contemptuous thought in that direction, he had lately felt liking and an ancient strong respect returning like a tide that was due. And he could not meet Alexander in April—that was impossible! No private affair could be attended to now.
... Elspeth, of whom the letter carried no word, Elspeth from whom he had not heard since in August he left that countryside, Elspeth who had agreed with him that love of man and woman was nobody's business but their own, Elspeth who, when he would go, had let him go with a fine pale refusal to deal in women's tears and talk of injury, who had said, indeed, that she did not repent, much bliss being worth some bale—Elspeth whom he could not be sure that he would see again, but whom at times before his eyes at night he saw.... Immediately upon his leaving Black Hill she had broken with Glenfernie. She was clear of him—the laird could reproach her with nothing!
What had happened? He had told her how, at need, a letter might be sent. But one had never come. He himself had never written. Writing was set in a prickly ring of difficulties and dangers. What had happened? Strong, secret inclination toward finding least painful things for himself brought his conclusion. Sitting there in the sunshine, his will deceiving him, he determined that it was simply that Elspeth had at last told Glenfernie that she could not love him because she loved another. Probably—persistence being markedly a trait of Old Steadfast's—he had been after her once and again, and she had turned upon him and said much more than in prudence she should have said! So Alexander would have made his discovery and might, if he pleased, image other trysts than his own in the glen! Certainly he had done this, and then sat down and penned his challenge!
Elspeth! He was unshakably conscious that Glenfernie would tell none what Elspeth might have been provoked into giving away. Old Steadfast, there was no denying, had that knightliness. Three now knew—no more than three. If, through some mischance, there had been wider discovery, she would have written! The Black Hill letter, too, would have had somewhat there to say.
Then, behind the challenge, stood old and new relations between Ian Rullock and Alexander Jardine! It was what Glenfernie might choose to term the betrayal of friendship—a deep scarification of Old Steadfast's pride, a severing cut given to his too imperial confidence, poison dropped into the wells of domination, "No!" said to too much happiness, to any surpassing of him, Ian, in happiness, "No!" to so much reigning!
Ian shook himself, thrust away the doubtful glimmer of a smile. That way really did lie hell....
He came back to a larger if a much perplexed self. He could not meet Glenfernie on that sea beach, fight him there. He did not desire to kill Old Steadfast, though, as the world went, pleasure was to be had in now and then giving superiority pain. Face to face upon those sands, some blood shed and honor satisfied, Alexander would be reasonable—being by nature reasonable! Ian shook himself.
"Now he draws me like a lodestone, and now I feel Lucifer to his Michael! What old, past mountain of friendship and enmity has come around, full wheel?"
But it was impossible for him to go to that sea strand in Holland.
Elspeth! He wondered what she was doing this April day. Perhaps she walked in the glen. It was colder there than here, but yet the trees would be budding. He saw her face again, and all its ability to show subtle terror and subtle joy, and the glancing and the running of the stream between. Elspeth.... He loved her again as he sat there, somewhat bowed together in the sunlight, Alexander's challenge upon the floor by his foot. There came creeping to him an odd feeling of long ago having loved her—long ago and more than once, many times more than once. Name and place alone flickered. There might be something in Old Steadfast's contention that one lived of old time and all time, only there came breaking in dozing and absent-mindedness! Elspeth—
He saw her standing by him, and it seemed as though she had a basket on her arm, and she looked as she had looked that day of the thunder-storm and the hour in the cave behind the veil of rain. Without warning there welled into his mind broken lines from an old tale in verse of which he was fond:
"Me dreamed al this night, pardie, An elf-queen shall my leman be ... An elf-queen wil I have, I-wis, For in this world no woman is Worthy to be my mate ... Al other women I forsake And to an elf-queen I me take By dale and eke by down."
Syllable and tone died. With his hand he brushed from his eyes the vision that he knew to be nothing but a heightened memory. Might, indeed, all women be one woman, one woman be all women, all forms one form, all times one time, like event fall softly, imperceptibly, upon like event until there was thickness, until there was made a form of all recurrent, contributory forms? Events, tendencies, lives— unimaginable continuities! Repetitions and repetitions and repetitions—and no one able to leave the trodden road that ever returned upon itself—no one able to take one step from the circle into a new dimension and thence see the form below....
Ian put his hands over his eyes, shook himself, started up and stood at the window. Sky, and roofs on roofs, and in the street below toy figures, pedestrians. "Come back—come back to breathable air! Now what's to be done—what's to be done?" After some moments he turned and picked up the letter upon the floor and read it twice. In memory and in imagination he could see the fishing-town, the inn there, the dunes, the ocean beach fretted by the long, incoming wave. Perhaps and most probably, this very bright afternoon, the laird of Glenfernie waited for him there, pacing the sands, perhaps, watching the comers to the inn door.... Well, he must watch in vain. Ian Rullock would one day give him satisfaction, but certainly not now. Vast affairs might not be daffed aside for the laird of Glenfernie's convenience! Ian stood staring out of window at those huddled roofs, the challenge still in his hand. Then, slowly, he tore the paper to pieces and committed it to the brazier where was already consumed Black Hill's communication.
That evening he supped with Warburton, and the next morning saw him and Donal riding forth from Paris, by St.-Denis, on toward Dunkirk. From this place, four days later, sailed the brig Cock of the North, destination the Beauly Firth. Dr. Robert Bonshaw and his man experienced, despite the prediction of the Frenchman of quality, a rough and long voyage. But the Cock of the North weathered tumultuous sea and wind and came, in the northern spring, to anchor in a great picture of firth and green shore and dark, piled mountains. Dr. Robert Bonshaw and his man, going ashore and into Inverness, found hospitality there in the house of a certain merchant. Thence, after a day or so, he traveled to the castle of a Highland chief of commanding port. Here occurred a gathering; here letters and asseverations brought from France were read, listened to, weighed or taken without much weighing, so did the Highland desire run one way. An old net added to itself another mesh.
Dr. Robert Bonshaw, a very fit, invigorating agent, traveled far and near through the Highlands this May, this June, this July. It was to him an interesting, difficult, intensely occupied time; he was far from Lowland Scotland and any echoes therefrom, saving always political echoes. He had no leisure for his own affairs, saving always that background consideration that, if the Stewarts really got back the crown, Ian Rullock was on the road to power and wealth. This consideration was not articulate, but diffused. It interfered not at all with the foreground activities and hard planning—no more than did the fine Highland air. It only spurred him as did the winy air. The time and place were electric; he worked hard, many hours on end, and when he sought his bed he dropped at once to needed sleep. From morn till late at night, whether in castle or house or journeying from clan to clan, he was always in company. There was no time for old thoughts, memories, surmises. That was one world and he was now in another.
Upon the eleventh day of May, the year 1745, was fought in Flanders the battle of Fontenoy. The Duke of Cumberland, Koenigsegge the Austrian, and the Dutch Prince of Waldeck had the handling of something under fifty thousand English. Marshal Saxe with Louis XV at his side wielded a somewhat larger number of French. The English and their allies were beaten. French spirits rode on high, French intentions widened.
The Stewart interest felt the blood bound in its veins. The bulk of the British army was on the Continent and shaken by Fontenoy; King George himself tarried in Hanover. Now was the time—now was the time for the heir of all the Stewarts to put his fortune to the touch—to sail from France, to land in Scotland, to raise his banner and draw his sword and gather Highland chief and Lowland Jacobite, the while in England rose for him and his father English Jacobites and soon, be sure, all English Tories! France would send gold and artillery and men to her ancient ally, Scotland. Up at last with the white Stewart banner! reconquer for the old line and all it meant to its adherents the two kingdoms! In the last week of July Prince Charles Edward, somewhat strangely and meagerly attended, landed at Loch Sunart in the Highlands. There he was joined by Camerons, Macdonalds, and Stewarts, and thence he moved, with an ever-increasing Highland tail, to Perth. A bold stream joined him here—northern nobles of power, with their men. He might now have an army of two thousand. Sir John Cope, sent to oppose him with what British troops there were in Scotland, allowed himself to be circumvented. The Prince, having proclaimed his father, still at Rome, James III, King of Great Britain, and produced his own commission as Regent, marched from Perth to Edinburgh. The city capitulated and Charles Edward was presently installed in Holyrood, titularly at home in his father's kingdom, in his ancient palace, among his loyal subjects, but actually with far the major moiety of that kingdom yet to gain.
The gracious act of rewarding must begin. Claim on royal gratitude is ever a multitudinous thing! In the general manifoldness, out of the by no means yet huge store of honey Ian Rullock, for mere first rung of his fortune's ladder, received the personally given thanks of his Prince and a captaincy in the none too rapidly growing army.
The castle, defiant, untakable save by long siege and famine, held for King George by a garrison of a few hundreds, spread itself like a rock lion in a high-lifted rock lair. Bands of Highlanders watched its gates and accesses, guarding against Hanoverian sallies. From the castle down stretched Edinburgh, heaped upon its long, spinelike hill, to the palace of Holyrood, and all its tall houses, tall and dark, and all its wynds and closes, and all its strident voices, and all its moving folk, seemed to have in mind that palace and the banner before it. The note of the having rang jubilation in all its degrees, or with a lower and a muffled sound distaste and fear, or it aimed at a middle strain neither high nor low, a golden mean to be kept until there might be seen what motif, after all, was going to prevail! It would never do, thought some, to be at this juncture too clamorous either way. But to the unpondering ear the jubilation carried it, as to the eye tartans and white cockades made color, made high light, splashed and starred and redeemed the gray town. There was one thing that could not but appeal. A Scots royal line had come into its home nest at Holyrood. Not for many and many and many a year had such a thing as that happened! If matters went in a certain way Edinburgh might regain ancient pomp and circumstance. That was a consideration that every hour arranged a new plea in the citizen heart.
Excitement, restless movement, tendency to come together in a crowd, were general, as were ejaculation, nervous laughter, declamation. The roll of drum, call of trumpet, skirl of pipes, did not lack. Charles Edward's army encamped itself at Duddingston a little to the east of the city. But its units came in numbers into the town. The warlike hue diffused itself. Horsemen were frequent, and a continual entering of new adherents, men in small or large clusters, marching in from the country, asking the way to the Prince. For all the buzzing and thronging, great order prevailed. Women sat or stood at windows, or passed in and out of dark wynds, or, escorted, picked their way at street crossings. Now and then went by a sedan-chair. Many women showed in their faces a truly religious fervor, a passionate Jacobite loyalty, lighting like a flame. Many sewed white cockades. All Scotland, all England, would surely presently want these! Men of all ranks, committed to the great venture, moved with a determined gaiety and elan. "This is the stage, we are the actors; the piece is a great piece, the world looks on!" The town of Edinburgh did present a grandiose setting. Suspense, the die yet covered, the greatness of the risk, gave, too, its glamour of height and stateliness. All these men might see, in some bad moment at night, not only possible battle death—that was in the counting—but, should the great enterprise fail, scaffolds and hangmen. Many who went up and down were merely thoughtless, ignorant, reckless, or held in a vanity of good fortune, yet to the eye of history all might come into the sweep of great drama. Place and time rang and were tense. Flare and sonorousness and a deep vibration of the old massive passions, and through all the outward air a September sea mist creeping.
Ian Rullock, walking down the High Street, approaching St. Giles, heard his name spoken from a little knot of well-dressed citizens. As he turned his head a gentleman detached himself from the company. It proved to be Mr. Wotherspoon the advocate, old acquaintance and adviser of Archibald Touris, of Black Hill.
"Mr. Wotherspoon, I am glad to see you!"
Mr. Wotherspoon, old moderate Whig, and the Jacobite officer walked together down the clanging way. The mist was making pallid garlands for the tall houses, a trumpet rang at the foot of the street, Macdonald of Glengarry and fifty clansmen, bright tartan and screaming pipes, poured by.
"Auld Reekie sees again a stirring time!" said the lawyer.
"I am glad to have met you, sir," said Rullock. "I fancy that you can tell me home news. I have heard none for a long time."
"You have been, doubtless," said Mr. Wotherspoon, "too engaged with great, new-time things to be fashed with small, old-time ones."
"One of our new-time aims," said Ian, "is to give fresh room to an old-time thing. But we won't let little bolts fly! I am anxious for knowledge."
Mr. Wotherspoon seemed to ponder it. "I live just here. Perhaps you will come up to my rooms, out of this Mars' racket?"
"In an hour's time I must wait on Lord George Murray. But I have till then."
They entered a close, and climbed the stair of a tall, tall house, dusky and old. Here, half-way up, was the lawyer's lair. He unlocked a door and the two came, through a small vestibule, into a good-sized, comfortable, well-furnished room. Rullock glanced at the walls.
"I was here once or twice, years ago. I remember your books. What a number you have!"
"I recall," said Mr. Wotherspoon, "a visit that you paid me with the now laird of Glenfernie."
The window to which they moved allowed a glimpse of the colorful street. Mr. Wotherspoon closed it against the invading noise and the touch of chill in the misty air. He then pushed two chairs to the table and took from a cupboard a bottle and glasses.
"My man is gadding, with eyes like saucers—like the rest of us, like the rest of us, Captain Rullock!" They sat down. "My profession," said the lawyer, "can be made to be narrow and narrowing. On the other hand, if a man has an aptitude for life, there is much about life to be learned with a lawyer's spy-glass! A lawyer sees a variety of happenings in a mixed world. He quite especially learns how seldom black and white are found in anything like a pure condition. A thousand thousand blends. Be wise and tolerant—or to be wise be tolerant!" He pushed the bottle.
Ian smiled. "I take that, sir, to mean that you find God save King James! not wholly harsh and unmusical—"
"Perhaps not wholly so," said the lawyer. "I am Whig and Presbyterian and I prefer God save King George! But I do not look for the world to end, whether for King George or King James. I did not have in mind just this public occasion."
His tone was dry. Ian kept his gold-brown eyes upon him. "Tell me what you have heard from Black Hill."
"I was there late in May. Mr. Touris learned at that time that you had quitted France."
"May I ask how he learned it?"
"The laird of Glenfernie, who had been in the Low Countries, told him. Apparently Glenfernie had acquaintances, agents, who traced it out for him that you had sailed from Dunkirk for Beauly Firth, under the name of Robert Bonshaw."
"So he was there, pacing the beach," thought Ian. He lifted his glass and drank Mr. Wotherspoon's very good wine. That gentleman went on.
"It was surmised at Black Hill that you were helping on the event—the great event, perhaps—that has occurred. Indeed, in July, Mr. Touris, writing to me, mentioned that you had been seen beyond Inverness. But the Highlands are deep and you traveled rapidly. Of course, when it was known that the Prince had landed, your acquaintance assumed your joining him and becoming, as you have become, an officer in his army." He made a little bow.
Ian inclined his head in return. "All at Black Hill are well, I hope? My aunt—"
"Mrs. Alison is a saint. All earthly grief, I imagine, only quickens her homeward step."
"What grief has she had, sir, beyond—"
"I know that my aunt will grieve for the break that has come between my uncle and myself. I have, too," said Ian, with deliberation, "been quarreled with by an old friend. That also may distress her."
The lawyer appeared to listen to sounds from the street. Rising, he moved to the window, then returned. "Bonnet lairds coming into town! You are referring now to Glenfernie?"
"Then he has made it common property that he chose to quarrel with me?"
"Oh, chose to—" said Mr. Wotherspoon, reflectively.
There was a silence. Ian set down his wine-glass, made a movement of drawing together, of determination.
"I am sure that there is something of which I have not full understanding. You will much oblige me by attention to what I now say, Mr. Wotherspoon. It is possible that I may ask you to see that its substance reaches Black Hill." He leaned back in his chair and with his gold-brown eyes met the lawyer's keen blue ones. "Nothing now can be injured by telling you that for a year I have acted under responsibility of having in keeping greater fortunes than my own. That kind of thing, none can know better than you, binds a man out of his own path and his own choices into the path and choices of others. Secrecy was demanded of me. I ceased to write home, and presently I removed from old lodgings and purposely blurred indications of where I was or might be found. In this way—the warring, troubled time aiding—it occurred that there practically ceased all communication between me and those of my blood and friendship whose political thinking differs from mine.... I begin to see that I know little indeed of what may or may not have occurred in that countryside. Early in April, however, there came to my hand in Paris two letters—one from my uncle, written before Christmas, one from Alexander Jardine, written a month later. My uncle's contained the information that, lacking my immediate return to this island and the political faith of his side of the house, I was no longer his nephew and heir. The laird of Glenfernie, upon an old quarrel into which I need not enter, chose to send me a challenge simply. Meet him, on such a sands in Holland.... Well, great affairs have right of way over small ones! Under the circumstances, he might as well have appointed a plain in the moon! The duel waits.... I tell you what I know of home affairs. I shall be obliged for any information you may have that I have not."
Mr. Wotherspoon's sharp blue eyes seemed to consider it. He drummed on the table. "I am a much older man than you, Captain Rullock, and an old adviser of your family. Perhaps I may speak without offense? That subject of quarrel, now, between you and the laird of Glenfernie—"
The other made a movement, impatient and imperious. "It is not likely, sir, that he divulged that!"
"He? No! But fate—fortune—the unrolling course of things—plain Providence—whatever you choose to call it—seems at times quite below or above that reticence which we others so naturally prize and exhibit!"
"You'll oblige me, sir, by not speaking in riddles."
The irony dropped from Mr. Wotherspoon's tone. He faced the business squarely. "Do you mean to say that you do not know of the suicide of Elspeth Barrow?"
The chair opposite made a grating sound, pushed violently back upon the bare, polished floor. Down the street, through the window, came the sound of Cluny Macpherson's pipers, playing down from the Lawnmarket. Rullock seemed to have thrust his chair back into the shadow. Out of it came presently his voice, low and hoarse:
"They found her on Christmas Day—drowned in the Kelpie's Pool. Self-murder—murder also of a child that would have been."
Again silence. The lawyer found that he must go through with it, having come so far. "It seems that there is a cripple fellow of the neighborhood who had stumbled, unseen, upon your trysts. He told—spoke it all out to the crowd gathered. There was a letter, too, upon her which gave a clue. But she never named you and evidently meant not to name you.... Poor child! She may have thought herself strong, and then things have come over her wave on wave. Her grandfather—that dark upbringing on tenets harsh and wrathful—certainty of disgrace. Pitiful!"
There came a sound from the chair pushed back from the light. Mr. Wotherspoon measured the table with his fingers.
"It seems that the countryside was searching for her. It was the laird of Glenfernie who, alone and coming upon some trace, entered the Kelpie's Pool and found her there. They say that he carried her, dead, in his arms through the glen to White Farm."
Some proclamation or other was being made at the Cross of Edinburgh. A trumpet blew and the street was filled with footsteps.
"The laird of Glenfernie," said the lawyer, "has joined, I hear, Sir John Cope at Dunbar. It is not impossible that you may have speech together from opposing battle-lines." He poured wine. "My bag of news is empty, Captain Rullock."
Ian rose from his seat. His face was gray and twisted, his voice, when he spoke, hollow, low, and dry. "I must go now to Lord George Murray.... It was all news, Mr. Wotherspoon. I—What are words, anyhow? Give you good day, sir!"
Mr. Wotherspoon, standing in his door, watched him down the stair and forth from the house. "He goes brawly! How much is night, and how much streak of dawn?"
* * * * *
Sir John Cope, King George's general in Scotland, had but a small army. It was necessary in the highest degree that Prince Charles Edward should meet and defeat this force before it was enlarged, before from England came more and more regular troops.... A battle won meant prestige gained, the coming over of doubting thousands, an echo into England that would bring the definite accession of great Tory names. Cope and his twenty-five hundred men, regulars and volunteers, approaching Edinburgh from the east, took position near the village of Prestonpans. On the morning of the 20th of September out moved to meet him the Prince and Lord George Murray, behind them less than two thousand men.
By afternoon the two forces confronted each the other; but Cope had chosen well, the right position. The sea guarded one flank, a deep and wide field ditch full of water the other. In his rear were stone walls, and before him a wide marsh. The Jacobite strength halted, reconnoitered, must perforce at last come to a standstill before Cope's natural fortress. There was little artillery, no great number of horse. Even the bravest of the brave, Highland or Lowland, might draw back from the thought of trying to cross that marsh, of meeting the moat-like ditch under Cope's musket-fire. Sunset came amid perturbation, a sense of check, impending disaster.
Ian Rullock, acting for the moment as aide-de-camp, had spent the day on horseback. Released in the late afternoon, lodged in a hut at the edge of the small camp, he used the moment's leisure to climb a small hill and at its height to throw himself down beside a broken cairn. He shut his eyes, but after a few moments opened them and gazed upon the camp of Cope, covering also but a little space, so small were the armies. His lips parted.
"Well, Old Steadfast, and what if you are there, waiting?..."
The sun sank. A faint red light diffused itself, then faded into brown dusk. He rose and went down into the camp. In the brows of many there might be read depression, uncertainty. But in open places fires had been built, and about several of these Highlanders were dancing to the screaming of their pipes. Rullock bent his steps to headquarters. An officer whom he knew, coming forth, drew him aside in excitement.
"We've got it—we've got it, Rullock!"
"What? The plan?"
"The way through! Here has come to the Prince the man who owns the marsh! He knows the firm ground. Cope does not know that it is there! Cope thinks that it is all slough! This man swears that he can and will take us across, one treading behind another. It's settled. When sleep seems to wrap us, then we'll move!"
That was what was done, and done so perfectly, late at night, Sir John Cope sleeping, thinking himself safe as in a castle. File after file wound noiselessly, by the one way through the marsh, and upon the farther side, so near to Cope, formed in the darkness into battle-lines.... Ian Rullock, passing through the marsh, saw in imagination Alexander lying with eyes closed.
The small force, the Stewart hope, prepared for onslaught. The dawn was coming, there was a smell of it in the air, far away a cock crowed. There stood, in the universal dimness, a first and strongest line, a second and weaker, badly armed line. The mass of this army were Highlanders, alert, strong, accustomed to dawn movements, dreamlike in the heather, along the glen-sides, in the crooked pass. They knew the tactics of surprise. They had claymores and targes, and the most muskets. But the second line had inadequate provision of weapons. Many here bore scythes fastened to staves. As they carried these over their shoulders Ian, looking back, saw them against the palest light like Death in replica.
The two lines hung motionless, on stout ground, now within the defense to which Cope had trusted, very close to the latter's sleeping camp. There were sentries, but the night was dark, the marsh believed to be unpassable, the crossing carried out with stealthy skill. But now the night was going.
In the most uncertain, the faintest light, there seemed to Cope's watchers, looking that way, a line of bushes not noted the day before. Officers were awakened. A movement ran through the camp like the shiver of water under dawn wind. The light thickened. A trumpet rang with a startled, emphatic note. Drums rolled. To arms! To arms! King George's army started up in the dawning. Infantry hastened into ranks, cavalrymen ran to their horses. The line of bushes moved, began to come forward with great rapidity.
The Highlanders flung themselves upon Cope's just-forming cavalry. With their claymores they slashed at the faces of horses. The hurt beasts wheeled, broke for the rear. Their fellows were wounded. Amid a whirlwind of blows, screams, shouts, with a suddenness that appalled, disorder became general. The Highlanders seemed to fight with a demoniac strength and ferocity and after methods of their own. They used their claymores, their dirks, their scythes fastened upon poles, against the horses, then, springing up, put long arms about the horsemen and, regardless of sword or pistol, dragged them down. They shouted their Gaelic slogans; their costume, themselves, seemed out of a fiercer, earlier world. A strangeness overclouded the senses; mist wreaths were everywhere, and an uncertainty as to the numbers of demons.... The cavalry broke. Officers tried to save the situation, to rally the units, to save all from being borne back. But there was no helping. Befell a panic flight, and at its heels the Highland rush streamed into and had its way with Cope's infantry. The battle was won with a swift and horrible completeness and became a massacre. Not much quarter was given; much that was horrible was done and seen. Immoderate victory sat and sang to the white-cockaded army.
Out of the mist-bank before Captain Ian Rullock grew a great horse with a man upon it of great stature and frame. It came to the Jacobite like a vision, with a startling and intense reality. He was standing with his sword drawn; there was a drift of mist, and then there was the horse and rider—there was Alexander.
He looked down at Ian, and his face was not pale but set. He made a gesture that seemed full of satisfaction, and would have dismounted and drawn his sword. But there came a dash of maddened horses and their riders and a leaping stream of tartaned men. These drove like a wedge between; his horse wheeled, would leave no more its fellows; the tide of brute and man bore him away with it. Ian watched all go fighting by, a moving frieze, out of the mist into the mist.