He rose, stood a moment above Glenfernie, then went away. The man whom he left sat on, struck from within by fresh shafts. Perception now came in this way, with inner beam. How huge was the landscape that it lighted up!... Alexander sat still. He bent his head—there was a sense, extending to the physical, of a broken shell, of escape, freedom.... He found that he was weeping. He lay upon the sand, and the tears came as they might from a young boy. When they were past, when he lifted himself again, the morning star was in the sky.
Strickland, in the deep summer glen, saw before him the feather of smoke from Mother Binning's cot. The singing stream ran clearly, the sky arched blue above. The air held calm and fine, filled as it were with golden points. He met a white hen and her brood, he heard the slow drone of Mother Binning's wheel. She sat in the doorway, an old wise wife, active still.
"Eh, mon, and it's you!—Wish, and afttimes ye'll get!" She pushed her wheel aside. "I've had a feeling a' the day!"
Strickland leaned against her ash-tree. "It's high summer, Mother—one of the poised, blissful days."
"Aye. I've a feeling.... Hae ye ony news at the House?"
"Alice sings beautifully this summer. Jamie is marrying down in England—beauty and worth he says, and they say."
"Miss Alice doesna marry?"
"She's not the marrying kind, she says."
"Eh, then! She's bonny and gude, juist the same! Did ye come by White Farm?"
"Yes. Jarvis Barrow fails. He sits under his fir-tree, with his Bible beside him and his eyes on the hills. Littlefarm manages now for White Farm."
"Robin's sunny and keen. But he aye irked Jarvis with his profane sangs." She drew out the adjective with a humorous downward drag of her lip.
Strickland smiled. "The old man's softer now. You see that by the places at which his Bible opens."
"Oh aye! We're journeyers—rock and tree and Kelpie's Pool with the rest of us."
She seemed to catch her own speech and look at it. "That's a word I hae been wanting the morn!—The Kelpie's Pool, with the moor sae green and purple around it." She sat bent forward, her wrinkled hands in her lap, her eyes, rather wide, fixed upon the ash-tree.
"We have not heard from the laird," said Strickland, "this long time."
"The laird—now there! What ye want further comes when the mind strains and then waits! I see in one ring the day and Glenfernie and yonder water. Wherever the laird be, he thinks to-day of Scotland."
"I wish that he would think to returning," said Strickland. He had been leaning against the doorpost. Now he straightened himself. "I will go on as far as the pool."
Mother Binning loosed her hands. "Did ye have that thought when ye left hame?"
"No, I believe not."
"Gae on, then! The day's bonny, and the Lord's gude has a wide ring!"
Strickland walking on, left the stream and the glen head. Now he was upon the moor. It dipped and rose like a Titan wave of a Titan sea. Its long, long unbroken crest, clean line against clean space, brought a sense of quiet, distance, might. Here solitude was at home. Now Strickland moved, and now he stood and watched the quiet. Turning at last a shoulder of the moor, he saw at some distance below him the pool, like a small mirror. He descended toward it, without noise over the springy earth.
A horse appeared between him and the water. Strickland felt a most involuntary startling and thrill—then half laughed to think that he had feared that he saw the water-steed, the kelpie. The horse was fastened to a stake that once had been the bole of an ancient willow. It grazed around—somewhere would be a master.... Presently Strickland's eye found the latter—a man lying upon the moorside, just above the water. Again with a shock and thrill—though not like the first—it came to him who it was.
The laird of Glenfernie lay very still, his eyes upon the Kelpie's Pool. His old tutor, long his friend, quiet and stanch, gazed unseen. When he had moved a few feet an outcropping of rock hid his form, but his eyes could still dwell upon the pool and the man its visitor. He turned to go away, then he stood still.
"What if he means a closer going yet?" Strickland settled back against the rock. "He would loose his horse first—he would not leave it fastened here. If he does that then I will go down to him."
Glenfernie lay still. There was no wind to-day. The reeds stood straight, the willow leaves slept, the water stayed like dusky glass. The air, pure and light, hung at rest in the ether. Minutes went by, an hour. He might, Strickland thought, have lain there a long time. At last he sat up, rose, began to walk around the pool. He went around it thrice. Then again he sat down, his arms upon his knees, watching the dusk water. He did not go nor sit like one overwrought or frenzied or despairing. His great frame, his bearing, the air of him, had quietude, but not listlessness; there seemed at once calm and intensity as of a still center that had flung off the storm. Time flowed. Thought Strickland:
"He is as far as I am from death in that water. I'll cease to spy."
He moved away, moss and ling muffling step, gained and dipped behind the shoulder of the moor. The horse grazed on. The laird sat still, his arms upon his knees, his head a little lifted, his eyes crossing the Kelpie's Pool to the wave-line against the sky.
Strickland went to where the moor path ran by the outermost trees of the glen head. Here he sat down beneath an oak and waited. Another hour passed; then he heard the horse's hoofs. He rose and met Glenfernie home-returning.
"It is good to see you, Strickland!"
"I found you yonder by the Kelpie's Pool. Then I came here and waited."
"I have spent hours there.... They were not unhappy. They were not at all unhappy."
They moved together along the moor track, the horse following.
"I am glad and glad again that you have come—"
"I have been coming a good while. But there were preventions."
"We have heard nothing direct for almost a year."
"Then my letters did not reach you. I wrote, but knew that they might not. There is the smoke from Mother Binning's cot." He stood still to watch the mounting feather. "I remember when first I saw that, a six-year-old, climbing the glen with my father, carried on his shoulder when I was tired. I thought it was a hut in a fairy-tale.... So it is!"
To Strickland the remarkable thing lay in the lack of strain, the simplicity and fullness. Glenfernie was unfeignedly glad to see him, glad to see home shapes and colors. The blue feather among the trees had simply pleased him as it could not please a heart fastened to rage and sorrow. The stream of memories that it had beckoned—many others, it must be, besides that of the six-year-old's visit—seemed to have washed itself clear, to have disintegrated, dissolved venom and stinging. Strickland, pondering even while he talked, found the word he wanted: "Comprehensiveness.... He always tended to that."
Said Glenfernie, "I've had another birth, Strickland, and all things are the same and yet not the same." He gave it as an explanation, but then left it. They were going the moorland way to Glenfernie House. He was looking from side to side, recovering old landscape in sweep and in detail. Bit by bit, as they came to it, Strickland gave him the country news. At last there was the house before them, among the firs and oaks, topping the crag. They came into the wood at the base of the hill. The stream—the trees—above, the broken, ancient wall, the roofs of the new house that was not so new, the old, outstanding keep. The whole rested, mellowed, lifted, still, against a serene and azure sky. Alexander stood and gazed.
"The keep. The pine still knots and clings there by the school-room. Do you remember, Strickland, a day when you set me to read 'The Cranes of Ibycus'?"
"Life within life, and sky above sky!—I hear Bran!"
* * * * *
They mounted the hill. It seemed to run before them that the laird had come home. Bran and Davie and the men and maids and Alice, a bonny woman, and Mrs. Grizel, very little withered, exclaimed and ran. Tibbie Ross was there that day, and Black Alan neighed from his stall. Even the waving trees—even the flowers in the garden—Home, and its taste and fragrance—its dear, close emanations....
That evening at supper Mrs. Grizel made a remark. She leaned back in her chair and looked at Glenfernie. "I never thought you like your mother before! Oh aye! there's your father, too, and a kind of grand man he was, for all that he saw things dark. But will you look, Mr. Strickland, and see Margaret—"
Much later, from his own room, Strickland, gazing forth, saw light in the keep. Alexander would be sitting there among the books and every ancient memorial. Strickland felt a touch of doubt and apprehension. Suppose that to-morrow should find not this Alexander, at once old and new, but only the Alexander who had ridden from Glenfernie, who had shipped to Lisbon, nearly three years ago? To-day's deep satisfaction only a dream! Strickland shook off the fear.
"He breathed lasting growth.... O Christ! the help for all in winged men!"
He turned to his bed. Lying awake he went in imagination to the desert, to the Eastern places, that in few words the laird had painted.
And in the morning he found still the old-new Alexander. He saw that the new had always been in the old, the oak in the acorn.... There was a great, sane naturalness in the alteration, in the advance. Strickland caught glimpses of larger orders.
"I will make thee ruler over many things."
The day was deep and bright. The laird fell at once into the old routine. For none at Glenfernie was there restlessness; there was only ache gone, and a feeling of fulfilling. Mrs. Grizel pattered to and fro. Alice sang like a lark, gathering pansy seed from her garden. Phemie and Eppie sang. The men whistled at their work. Davie discoursed to himself. But Tibbie Ross was wild to get away early and to the village with the news. By the foot of the hill she began to meet wayfarers.
"Oh, aye, this is the real weather! Did ye know—"
Alexander did not leave home that day. In their old work-room he listened to Strickland's account of his stewardship.
"Strickland, I love you!" he said, when it was all given.
He wrote to Jamie; he sat in the garden seat built against the garden wall and watched Alice as she moved from plant to plant.
"You do not say much," thought Alice, "but I like you—I like you—I like you!"
In the afternoon Strickland met him coming from the little green beyond the school-room.
"I have been out through the wall, under the old pine. I seemed to hold many things in the palm of the hand.... I believe that you know what it is to make essences."
After bedtime Strickland saw again the light in the keep. But he had ceased to fear. "Oh All-Being, how rich and stately and various and surprising you are!" In the morning, outside in the court, he found Black Alan saddled.
"The laird will be riding to Black Hill," said Tam Dickson.
Mr. Archibald Touris put out a wrinkled hand to his wine-glass. "You have been in warm countries. I envy you! I wish that I could get warm."
"Black Hill is looking finely. All the young trees—"
"Yes. I took pride in planting.—But what for—what for—what for?" He shivered. "Glenfernie, please close that window!"
Alexander, coming back, stood above the master of Black Hill. "Will you tell me, sir, where Ian is now?"
Mr. Touris twitched back a little in his chair. "Don't you know? I thought perhaps that you did."
"I ceased to follow him two years ago. I dived into the East, and I have been long where you do not hear from the West."
The other fingered his wine-glass. "Well, I haven't heard myself, for quite a while.... You would think that he might come back to England now. But he can't. Doubtless he would never wish to come again to Black Hill. But England, now.... But they are ferocious yet against every head great and small of the attempt. And I am told there are aggravating circumstances. He had worn the King's coat. He was among the plotters and instigators. He broke prison. Impossible to show mercy!" Mr. Touris twitched again. "That's a phrase like a gravestone! If the Almighty uses it, then of course he can't be Almighty.... Well, the moral is that none named Ian Rullock can come again to Scotland or England."
"Have you knowledge that he wishes to do so?"
Mr. Touris moved again. "I don't know.... I told you that we hadn't heard. But—"
He stopped and sat staring into his wine-glass. Alexander read on as by starlight: "But I did hear—through old channels. And there is danger of his trying to return."
The master of Black Hill put the wine to his lips. "And so you have been everywhere?"
"No. But in places where I had not been before."
"The East India has ways of gathering information. Through Goodworth I can get at a good deal when I want to.... There is Wotherspoon, also. I am practically certain that Ian is in France."
"When did he write?"
"Alison has a letter maybe twice a year. One's overdue now."
"How does he write?"
"They are very short. He doesn't touch on old things—except, perhaps, back into boyhood. She likes to get them. When you see her, don't speak of anything save his staying in France, as he ought to." He dragged toward him a jar of snuff. "There are informers and seekers out everywhere. Do you remember a man in Edinburgh named Gleig?"
"Well, he's one of them. And for some reason he has a personal enmity toward Ian. So, you see—"
He lapsed into silence, a small, aging, chilly, wrinkled, troubled man. Then with suddenness a wintry red crept into his cheek, a brightness into his eyes. "You've changed so, Glenfernie, you've cheated me! You are his foe yourself. Perhaps even—"
The other gave a shriveled response to the smile. "No. I certainly did not mean that." He took his head in his hands and sighed. "What a world it is! As I go down the hill I wish sometimes that I had Alison's eyes.... Well, tell me about yourself."
"The one thing that I want to tell you just now, Black Hill, is that I am not any longer bloodhound at the heels of Ian. What was done is done. Let us go on to better things. So at last will be unknit what was done."
Black Hill both seemed and did not seem to pay attention. The man who sat before him was big and straight and gave forth warmth and light. He needed warmth and light; he needed a big tree to lean against. He vaguely hoped that Glenfernie was home to stay. He rubbed his hands and drank more wine.
"No one has known for a long time where you were.... Goodworth has an agent in Paris who says that Ian tried once to find out that."
"To find out where I was?"
Alexander gazed out of window, beyond the terrace and the old trees to the long hill, purple with heath, sunny and clear atop.
A servant came to the door. "Mrs. Alison has returned, sir."
Glenfernie rose. "I will go find her then.—I will ride over often if I may."
"I wish you would!" said Black Hill. "I was sorry about that quarrel with your father."
The old laird's son walked down the matted corridor. The drawing-room door stood open; he saw one panel of the tall screen covered with pagodas, palms, and macaws. Further on was the room, clean and fragrant, known as Mrs. Alison's room. This door, too, was wide. He stood by his old friend. They put hands into hands; eyes met, eyes held in a long look.
She said, "O God, I praise Thee!"
They sat within the garden door, on one side the clear, still room, on the other the green and growing things, the great tree loved by birds. The place was like a cloister. He stayed with her an hour, and in all that time there was not a great deal said with the outer tongue. But each grew more happy, deeper and stronger.
He talked to her of the Roman Campagna, of the East and the desert....
As the hour closed he spoke directly of Ian. "That is myself now, as Elspeth is myself now. I falter, I fail, but I go on to profounder Oneness."
"Christ is born, then he grows up."
"May I see Ian's last letters?"
She put them in his hands. "They are very short. They speak almost always of external things."
He read, then sat musing, his eyes upon the tree. "This last one—You answered that it was not known where I was?"
"Yes. But he says here at the last, 'I feel it somewhere that he is on his way to Scotland.'"
"I'll have to think it out."
"Every letter is objective like this. But for all that, I divine, in the dark, a ferment.... As you see, we have not heard for months."
The laird of Glenfernie rode at last from Black Hill. It was afternoon, white drifts of clouds in the sky, light and shadow moving upon field and moor and distant, framing mountains. He rode by Littlefarm and he called at the house gate for Robin Greenlaw. It seemed that the latter was away in White Farm fields. The laird might meet him riding home. A mile farther on he saw the gray horse crossing the stream.
Glenfernie and Greenlaw, meeting, left each the saddle, went near to embracing, sat at last by a stone wall in the late sunshine, and felt a tide of liking, stronger, not weaker, than that of old days.
"You are looking after White Farm?"
"Yes. The old man fails. Jenny has become a cripple. Gilian and I are the rulers."
"It amounts to the same.... Gilian has a splendid soul."
"The poems, Robin. Do you make them yet?"
"Oh yes! Now and then. All this helps.... And you, Glenfernie, I could make a poem of you!"
The laird laughed. "I suppose you could of all men.... Gilian and you do not marry?"
"We are not the marrying kind. But I shouldn't love beauty inside if I didn't love Gilian.... I see that something big has come to you, Glenfernie, and made itself at home. You'll be wanting it taken as a matter of course, and I take it that way.... No matter what you have seen, is not this vale fair?"
"Fair as fair! Loved because of child and boy and man.... Robin, something beyond all years as we count them can be put into moments.... A moment can be as sizable as a sun."
"I believe it. We are all treading toward the land of wonders."
When he parted from Robin it was nearly sunset. He did not mean to stop to-day at White Farm, but he turned Black Alan in that direction. He would ride by the house and the shining stream with the stepping-stones. Coming beneath the bank thick with willow and aspen, he checked the horse and sat looking at the long, low house. It held there in a sunset stillness, a sunset glory, a dream of dawn. He dismounted, left the horse, and climbed to the strip of green before the place. None seemed about, all seemed within. Here was the fir-tree with the bench around—so old a tree, watching life so long!... Now he saw that Jarvis Barrow sat here. But the old man was asleep. He sat with closed eyes, and his Bible was under his hand. Beside him, tall and fair, wide-browed, gray-eyed, stood Gilian. Her head was turned toward the fringed bank; when she saw Alexander she put her finger against her lips. He made a gesture of understanding and went no nearer. For a moment he stood regarding all, then drew back into shadow of willow and aspen, descended the bank, and, mounting Black Alan, rode home through the purple light.
The countryside, the village—the Jardine Arms—Mrs. Macmurdo in her shop to all who entered—talked of the laird's homecoming. "He's a strange sort!"
"Some do say he's been to America and found a gold-mine."
"Na! He's just been journeying around in himself."
"I am na spekalative. He's contentit, and sae am I. It's a mair natural warld than ye think."
"Three year syne when he went away, he lookit like ane o' thae figures o' tragedy—"
"Aweel, then, he's swallowed himself and digested it."
"I ca' it fair miracle! The Lord touched him in the night."
"Do ye haud that he'll gang to kirk the morn?"
"I dinna precisely ken. He micht, and he micht not."
He went, entering with Mrs. Grizel, Alice, and Strickland, sitting in the House pew. How many kirks he thought of, sitting there—what cathedrals, chapels; what rude, earnest places; what temples, mosques, caves, ancient groves; what fanes; what worshiped gods! One, one! Temple and image, worshiped and worshiper. Self helping self. "O my Self, daily and deeply help myself!"
The little white stone building—the earnest, strenuous, narrow man in the pulpit, the Scots congregation—old, old, familiar, with an inner odor not unpungent, not unliked! Life Everlasting—Everlasting Life....
"That ye may have life and have it more abundantly."
White Farm sat in the White Farm place. Jarvis Barrow was there. But he did not sit erect as of yore; he leaned upon his staff. Jenny was missed. Lame now, she stayed at home and watched the passing, and talked to herself or talked to others. Gilian sat beside the old man. Behind were Menie and Merran, Thomas and Willy. Glenfernie's eyes dwelt quietly upon Jarvis and his granddaughter. When he willed he could see Elspeth beside Gilian.
The prayers, the sermon, the hymns.... All through the world-body the straining toward the larger thing, the enveloping Person! As he sat there he felt blood-warmth, touch, with every foot that sought hold, with every hand that reached. He saw the backward-falling, and he saw that they did not fall forever, that they caught and held and climbed again. He saw that because he had done that, time and time again done that.
Mr. M'Nab preached a courageous, if harsh, sermon. The old words of commination! They were not empty—but in among them, fine as ether, now ran a gloss.... The sermon ended, the final psalm was sung.
"When Zion's bondage God turned back, As men that dreamed were we. Then filled with laughter was our mouth. Our tongue with melody—"
But the Scots congregation went out, to the eye sober, stern, and staid. Glenfernie spoke to Jarvis Barrow. He meant to do no more than give a word of greeting. But the old man put forth an emaciated hand and held him.
"Is it the auld laird? My eyes are na gude.—Eh, laird, I remember the sermons of your grandfather, Gawin Elliot! Aye, aye! he was a lion against sinners! I hae seen them cringe!... It is the auld laird, Gilian?"
"No, Grandfather. You remember that the old laird was William. This is Mr. Alexander."
"He that was always aff somewhere alane?" White Farm drew his mind together. "I see now! You're right. I remember."
"I am coming to White Farm to-morrow, Mr. Barrow."
"Come then.... Is Grierson slain?"
"He's away in past time," said Gilian. "Grandfather, here's Willy to help you.—Don't say anything more to him now, Glenfernie."
The next day he rode to White Farm. Jenny, through the window, saw him coming, but Jarvis Barrow, old bodily habits changing, lay sleeping on his own bed. Nor was Gilian at hand. The laird sat and talked with Jenny in the clean, spare living-room. All the story of her crippling was to be told, and a packed chest of country happenings gone over. Jenny had a happy, voluble half-hour. At last, the immediate bag exhausted, she began to cast her mind in a wider circle. Her words came at a slower pace, at last halted. She sat in silence, an apple red in her cheeks. She eyed askance the man over against her, and at last burst forth:
"Gilian said I should na speir—but, eh, Glenfernie, I wad gie mair than a bawbee to ken what you did to him!"
"Nothing that you would call anything."
Jenny sat with open mouth. "They said you'd changed, even to look at—and sae you have!—Naething!"
Jarvis Barrow entered the room, and with him came Gilian. The old man failed, failed. Now he knew Glenfernie and spoke to him of to-day and of yesterday—and now he addressed him as though he were his father, the old laird, or even his grandfather. And after a few minutes he said that he would go out to the fir-tree. Alexander helped him there. Gilian took the Bible and placed it beside him.
"Open at eleventh Isaiah," he said. "'And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots—'"
Gilian opened the book. "You read," and she sat down beside him.
"I wish to talk to you," said Alexander to her. "When—?"
"I am going to town to-morrow afternoon. I'll walk back over the moor."
When he came upon the moor next day it was bathed by a sun half-way down the western quarter. The colors of it were lit, the vast slopes had alike tenderness and majesty. He moved over the moor; then he sat down by a furze-bush and waited. Gilian came at last, sat down near him in the dry, sweet growth. She put her arms over her knees; she held her head back and drank the ineffable rich compassion of the sky. She spoke at last.
"Oh, laird, life's a marvel!"
"I feel the soul now," he said, "of marigolds and pansies. That is the difference to me."
"What shall you do? Stay here and grow—or travel again and grow?"
"I do not yet know.... It depends."
"It depends on Ian, does it not?"
"Yes.... Now you speak as Gilian and now you speak as Elspeth."
"That is the marvel of the world.... That Person whom we call Being has also a long name.—My name, her name, your name, his name, its name, all names! Side by side, one over another, one through another.... Who comes out but just that Person?"
They sat and watched the orb that itself, with its members the planets, went a great journey. Gilian began to talk about Elspeth. She talked with quietness, with depth, insight, and love, sitting there on the golden moor. Elspeth—childhood and girlhood and womanhood. The sister of Elspeth spoke simply, but the sifted words came from a poet's granary. She made pictures, she made melodies for Alexander. Glints of vision, fugitive strains of music, echoes of a quaint and subtle mirth, something elemental, faylike—that was Elspeth. And lightning in the south in summer, just shown, swiftly withdrawn—power and passion—sudden similitudes with great love-women of old story—that also was Elspeth. And a crying and calling for the Star that gathers all stars—that likewise was Elspeth. Such and such did Elspeth show herself to Gilian. And that half-year that they knew about of grief and madness—it was not scanted nor its misery denied! It, too, was, or had been, of Elspeth. Deep through ages, again and again, something like that might have worked forth. But it was not all nor most of that nature—had not been and would not be—would not be—would not be. The sister of Elspeth spoke with pure, convinced passion as to that. Who denied the dark? There were the dark and the light, and the million million tones of each! And there was the eternal space where differences trembled into harmony.
With the sunset they moved over the great, clean slope to where it ran down to fields and trees. Before them was White Farm, below them the glistening stream, coral and gold between and around the stepping-stones. They parted here, Gilian going on to the house, the laird turning again over the moor.
He passed the village; he came by the white kirk and the yew-trees and the kirkyard. All were lifted upon the hilltop, all wore the color of sunset and the color of dawn. The laird of Glenfernie moved beside the kirkyard wall. He seemed to hold in his hand marigolds, pinks, and pansies. He saw a green mound, and he seemed to put the flowers there, out of old custom and tenderness. But no longer did he feel that Elspeth was beneath the mound. A wide tapering cloud, golden-feathered, like a wing of glory, stretched half across the sky. He looked at it; he looked at that in which it rested. His lips moved, he spoke aloud.
"O Death! where is thy sting? O grave! where is thy victory?"
Days and weeks went by. Autumn came and stepped in russet toward winter. Yet it was not cold and the mists and winds delayed. The homecoming of the laird of Glenfernie slipped into received fact—a fact rather large, acceptable, bringing into the neighborhood situation of things in general a perceptible amount of expansion and depth, but settling now, for the general run, into comfortable every-day. They were used—until these late years—to seeing a laird of Glenfernie about. When he was not there it was a missed part of the landscape. When he was in presence Nature showed herself correctly filled out. This laird was like and not like the old lairds. Big like the one before him in outward frame and seeming, there were certainly inner differences. Dale and village pondered these differences. It came at last to a judgment that this Glenfernie was larger and kinder. The neighborhood considered that he would make a good home body, and if he was a scholar, sitting late in the old keep over great books, that harmed no one, redounded, indeed, to the dale's credit. His very wanderings might so redound now that they were over. "That's the laird of Glenfernie," the dale might say to strangers.
It was dim, gray, late November weather. There poured rain, shrieked a wind. Then the sky cleared and the air stilled. There came three wonderful days, one after the other, and between them wonderful nights with a waxing moon. Alexander, riding home from Littlefarm, found waiting for him in the court Peter Lindsay, of Black Hill. This was a trusted man.
"I hae a bit letter frae Mistress Alison, laird." Giving it to him, Peter came close, his eye upon the approaching stable-boy. "Dinna look at it here, but when ye're alone. I'll bide and tak the answer."
Alexander nodded, turned, and crossed to the keep. Within its ancient, deep entrance he broke seal and opened the paper superscribed by Mrs. Alison. Within was not her handwriting. There ran but two lines, in a hand with which he was well acquainted:
"Will you meet one that you know in the cave to-night four hours after moonrise?"
He went back to the messenger. "The answer is, 'Yes.' Say just that, Peter Lindsay."
The day went by. He worked with Strickland. The latter thought him a little absent, but the accounts were checked and decisions made. At the supper-table he was more quiet than usual.
"Full moon to-night," said Alice. "What does it look like, Alexander, when it shines in Rome and when it comes up right out of the desert?"
"It lights the ruins and it is pale day in the desert. What makes you think to-night of Rome and the desert?"
"I do not know. I see the rim now out of window."
The moon climbed. It shone with an intense silver behind leafless boughs and behind the dark-clad boughs of firs. It came above the trees. The night hung windless and deeply clear. A fire burned upon the hearth of the room in the keep. Alexander sat before it and he sat very still, and vast pictures came to the inner eye, and to the inner ear meanings of old words....
He rose at last, took a cloak, and went down the stone stair into a night cold, still, and bright. The path by the school-house, the hand's-breadth of silvered earth, the broken, silvered wall, the pine, the rough descent.... He went through the dark wood where the shining fell broken like a shattered mirror. Beyond held open country until he came to the glen mouth. The moon was high. He heard faint sounds of the far night-time, and his own step upon the silver earth. He came to the glen and the sound of water streaming to the sea.
How well he knew this place! Thick trees spread arms above, rock that leaned darkened the narrow path. But his foot knew where to tread. In some more open span down poured the twice-broken light; then came darkness. There was a great checkering of light and darkness and the slumbrous sound of water. The path grew steeper and rougher. He was approaching the middle of the place.
At last he came to the cave mouth and the leafless briers that curtained it. Just before it was reached, the moonbeams struck through clear air. There was a silver lightness. A form moved from where it had rested against the rock. Ian's voice spoke.
"Yes, it is I."
"The night is so still. I heard you coming a long way off. I have lighted a fire in the cave."
They entered it—the old boyhood haunt. All the air was moted for them with memories. Ian had made the fire and had laid fagots for mending. The flame played and murmured and reddened the walls. The roof was high, and at one place the light smoke made hidden exit. It was dead night. Even in the daytime the glen was a solitary place.
Alexander put down his cloak. He looked about the place, then, squarely turning, looked at Ian. Long time had passed since they had spoken each to other in Rome. Now they stood in that ancient haunt where the very making of the fire sang of the old always-done, never-to-be-omitted, here in the cave. The light was sufficient for each to study the other's face. Alexander spoke:
"You have changed."
"And you. Let us sit down. There is much that I want to say."
They sat, and again it was as they used to do, with the fire between them, but out of plane, so that they might fully view each other. The cave kept stillness. Subtly and silently its walls became penetrable. They crumbled, dissolved. Around now was space and the two were men.
Ian looked worn, with a lined face. But the old brown-gold splendor, though dusked over, drew yet. No one might feel him negligible. And something was there, quivering in the dusk.... He and Alexander rested without speech—or rather about them whirled inaudible speech— intuitions, divinations. At last words formed themselves. Ian spoke:
"I came from France on the chance that you were here.... For a long time I have been driven, driven, by one with a scourge. Then that changed to a longing. At last I resolved.... The driving was within—as within as longing and determination. I have heard Aunt Alison say that every myth, all world stories, are but symbols, figures, of what goes on within. Well, I have found out about the Furies, and about some other myths."
"Yes. They tried to tell inner things."
"I came here to say that I wronged folk from whom a man within me cannot part. One is dead, and I have to seek her along another road. But you are living, breathing there! I made myself your foe, and now I wish that I could unmake what I made.... I was and am a sinful soul.... It is for you to say if it is anything to you, what I confess." He rose from the fire and moved once or twice the length of the place. At last he came and stood before the other. "It is no wonder if it be not given," he said. "But I ask your forgiveness, Alexander!"
"Well, I give it to you," said Alexander. His face worked. He got to his feet and went to Ian. He put his hands upon the other's shoulders. "Old Saracen!" he said.
Ian shook. With the dropping of Alexander's hands he went back a step; he sat down and hid his head in his arms.
Said Alexander: "You did thus and thus, obeying inner weakness, calling it all the time strength. And do I not know that I, too, made myself a shadow going after shadows? My own make of selfishness, arrogance, and hatred.... Let us do better, you and I!" He mended the fire. "By understanding the past may be altered. Already it is altered with you and me.... I was here the other day. I stayed a long time. There seemed two boys in the cave and there seemed a girl beside them. The three felt with and understood and were one another." He came and knelt beside Ian. "Let us forge a stronger friendship!"
Ian, face to the rock, was weeping, weeping. Alexander knelt beside him, lay beside him, arm over heaving shoulders. Old Steadfast—Old Saracen—and Elspeth Barrow, also, and around and through, pulsing, cohering, interpenetrating, healing, a sense of something greater....
It passed—the torrent force, long pent, aching against its barriers. Ian lay still, at last sat up.
"Come outside," said Alexander, "into the cold and the air."
They left the cave for the moonlight night. They leaned against the rock, and about them hung the sleeping trees. The crag was silvered, the stream ran with a deep under-sound. The air struck pure and cold. The large stars shone down through all the flooding radiance of the moon. The familiar place, the strange place, the old-new place.... At last Ian spoke, "Have you been to the Kelpie's Pool?"
"Yes. The day I came home I lay for hours beside it."
"I was there to-night. I came here from there."
"It is with us. But far beside it is also with us!"
"The carnival at Rome. When I left Rome I went to the Lake of Como. I want to tell you of a night there—and of nights and days later, elsewhere—"
"Come within, as we used to do, and talk the heart out."
They went back to the fire. It played and sang. The minutes, poignant, full, went by.
"So at last prison and scaffold risks ceased to count. I took what disguise I could and came."
"All at Black Hill know?"
"Yes. But they are not betrayers. I do not show myself and am not called by my name. I am Senor Nobody."
"When I broke Edinburgh gaol I fled to France through Spain. There in the mountains I fell among brigands. I had to find ransom. Senor Nobody provided it. I never saw him nor do I know his name.... Alexander!"
"Was it you?"
"Aye. I hated while I gave.... But I don't hate now. I don't hate myself. Ian!"
The fire played, the fire sang.
Alexander spoke: "Now your bodily danger again—You've put your head into the lion's mouth!"
"That lion weighs nothing here."
"I am glad that you came. But now I wish to see you go!"
"Yes, I must go."
"Is it back to France?"
"Yes—or to America. I do not know. I have thought of that. But here, first, I thought that I should go to White Farm."
"It would add risk. I do not think that it is needed."
"The old man lies abed and his wits wander. He would hardly know you, I think—would not understand. Leave him now, except as you find him within."
"I will tell Gilian. That is a wide and wise spirit. She will understand."
"Then it is come and gone—"
"Disappear as you appeared! None here wants your peril, and the griefs and evils were you taken."
"I expected to go back. The brig Seawing brought me. It sails in a week's time."
"You must be upon it, then."
"Yes, I suppose so." He drew a long, impatient breath. "Let us leave all that! Sufficient to the day—I wander and wander, and there are stones and thorns—and Circe, too!... You have the steady light, but I have not! The wind blows it—it flickers!"
"Ah, I know flickering, too!"
"Is there a great Senor Somebody? Sometimes I feel it—and then there is only the wild ass in the desert! The dust blinds and the mire sticks."
"Ah, Old Saracen—"
The other pushed the embers together. "This cave—this glen.... Do you remember that time we were in Amsterdam and each dreamed one night the same dream?"
The fire was sinking for the night. The moon was down in the western sky. Around and around the cave and the glen and the night the inner ear heard, as it were, a long, faint, wordless cry for help. Alexander brooded, brooded, his eyes upon the lessening flame. At last, with a sudden movement, he rose. "I smell the morning air. Let us be going!"
The two covered the embers and left the cave. The moon stood above the western rim of the glen, the sound of the water was deep and full, frost hung in the air, the trees great and small stood quiet, in a winter dream. Ian and Alexander climbed the glen-side, avoiding Mother Binning's cot. Now they were in open country, moving toward Black Hill.
The walk was not a short one. Daybreak was just behind the east when they came to the long heath-grown hill that faced the house, the purple ridge where as boys they had met. They climbed it, and in the east was light. Beneath them, among the trees, Black Hill showed roof and chimney. Then up the path toward them came Peter Lindsay.
He seemed to come in haste and a kind of fear. When he saw the two he threw up his hands, then violently gestured to them to go back upon their path, drop beneath the hilltop. They obeyed, and he came to them himself, panting, sweat upon him for all the chill night. "Mr. Ian—Laird! Sogers at the house—"
"Twelve of them. They rade in an hour syne. The lieutenant swears ye're there, Mr. Ian, and they search the house. Didna ye see the lights? Mrs. Alison tauld me to gae warn ye—"
The soldiers, having fruitlessly searched Black Hill, for the present set up quarters there, and searched the neighborhood. They gave a wide cast to that word. It seemed to include all this part of Scotland. Before long they appeared, not unforeseen, at Glenfernie.
The lieutenant was a wiry, wide-nostriled man, determined to please superiors and win promotion. He had now men at the Jardine Arms no less than men at Black Hill. Face to face with the laird of Glenfernie in the latter's hall, he explained his errand.
"Yes," said Glenfernie. "I saw you coming up the hill. Will you take wine?"
"To your health, sir!"
"To your health!"
The lieutenant set down the glass and wiped his lips. "I have orders, Mr. Jardine, which I may not disobey."
"Exactly so, Lieutenant."
"My duty, therefore, brings me in at your door—though of course I may say that you and your household are hardly under suspicion of harboring a proscribed rebel! A good Whig"—he bowed stiffly—"a volunteer serving with the Duke in the late trouble, and, last but not least, a personal enemy of the man we seek—"
"The catalogue is ample!" said Glenfernie. "But still, having your orders to make no exception, you must search my house. It is at your service. I will show you from room to room."
Lieutenant and soldiers and laird went through the place, high and low and up and down. "Perfunctory!" said the lieutenant twice. "But we must do as we are told!"
"Yes," said the laird. "This is my sister's garden. The small building there is an old school-room."
They met Alice walking in the garden, in the winter sunshine. Strickland, too, joined them here. Presentations over, the lieutenant again repeated his story.
"Perfunctory, of course, here—perfunctory! The only trace that we think we have we found in a glen near you. There is a cave there that I understand he used to haunt. We found ashes, still warm, where had been a fire. Pity is, the ground is so frozen no footstep shows!"
"You are making escape difficult," said Strickland.
"I flatter myself that we'll get him between here and the sea! I am going presently," said the lieutenant, "to a place called White Farm. But I am given to understand that there are good reasons—saving the lady's presence—why he'll find no shelter there."
"Over yonder is the old keep," said Glenfernie. "When that is passed, I think you will have seen everything."
They left Strickland and Alice and went to the keep. Their footsteps and those of the soldiers behind them rang upon the stone stairs.
"Above is the room," said the laird of Glenfernie, "where as a boy I used to play at alchemy. I built a furnace. I had an intention of making lead into gold. I keep old treasures there still, and it is still my dear old lair—though with a difference as I travel on, though with a difference, Lieutenant, as we travel on!"
They came into the room, quiet, filled with books and old apparatus, with a burning fire, with sunlight and shadow dappling floor and wall. "Well, he would hardly hide here!" said the lieutenant.
"Not by received canons," answered Glenfernie.
The lieutenant spoke to the soldiers. "Go about and look beneath and behind matters. There are no closets?"
"There are only these presses built against the stone." The laird opened them as he spoke. "You see—blank space!" He moved toward a corner. "This structure is my ancient furnace of which I spoke. I still keep it fuel-filled for firing." As he spoke he opened a sizable door.
The lieutenant, stooping, saw the piled wood. "I don't know much of alchemy," he said. "I've never had time to get around to those things. It's bringing out sleeping values isn't it?"
"Something like that." He shut the furnace door, and they stood watching the soldiers search the room. In no long time this stood a completed process.
"Perfunctory!" said again the lieutenant. "Now men, we'll to White Farm!"
"There is food and drink for them below, on this chilly day," said the laird, "and perhaps in the hall you'll drink another glass of wine?"
All went down the stairs and out of the keep. Another half-hour and the detail, lieutenant and men, mounted and rode away. Glenfernie and Strickland watched them down the winding road, clear of the hill, out upon the highway.
Alexander went back alone to the keep that, also, from its widened loopholes, might watch the searchers ride away. He mounted the stair; he came into his old room. Ian stood beside the table. The sizable furnace door hung open, the screen of heaped wood was disarranged.
"It was a good notion, that recess behind my old furnace!" said Glenfernie. "You took no harm beyond some cobwebs and ashes?"
"None, Senor Nobody," said Ian.
That day went by. The laird and Strickland talked together in low voices in the old school-room. Davie, too, appeared there once, and an old, trusted stableman. At sunset came Robin Greenlaw, and stayed an hour. The stars shone out, around drew a high, windy crystal night.
Mrs. Grizel went to bed. Alexander, with Alice and Strickland, sat by the fire in the hall. There was much that the laird wished to say that he said. They spoke in low voices, leaning toward the burning logs, the light playing over their faces, the light laughing upon old armor, crossed weapons, upon the walls. Alice, a bonny woman with sense and courage, sat beside Glenfernie. Strickland, from his corner, saw how much she looked like her mother; how much, to-night, Alexander looked like her.
They talked until late. They came to agreement, quiet, moved, but thorough. Glenfernie rose. He took Alice in his arms and kissed her thrice. Moisture was in the eyes of both.
"Sleep, dear, sleep! So we understand, things grow easy!"
"I think that you are right, and that is a long way to comfort," said Alice. "Good night, good night, Alexander!"
When she was gone the two men talked yet a little longer, over the dying fire. Then they, too, wished each other good night. Strickland went to his room, but Alexander left the house and crossed the moon-filled night to the keep. It was now he and Ian.
There was no strain. "Old Steadfast" and "Old Saracen," and a long pilgrimage together, and every difference granted, yet, in the background, a vast, an oceanic unity.... Ian rose from the settle. He and the laird of Glenfernie sat by the table and with pen and paper made a diagram of escape. They bent to the task in hand, and when it was done, and a few more words had been said, they turned to the pallets which Davie had spread on either side of the hearth. The moon and the low fire made a strange half-light in the room. The two lay still, addressed to sleep. They spoke and answered but once.
Said Ian: "I felt just then the waves of the sea!—The waves of the sea and the roads of France.... The waves and roads of the days and nights and months and years. I there and you here. There is an ether, doubtless, that links, but I don't tread it firmly.... Be sure I'll turn to you, call to you, often, over the long roads, from out of the trough of the waves! Senor Nobody! Senor Nobody!" He laughed, but with a catch of the breath. "Good night!"
"Good night, Old Saracen!" said Alexander.
Morn came. That day Glenfernie House heard still that all that region was searched. The day went by, short, gray, with flurries of snow. By afternoon it settled to a great, down-drifting pall of white. It was falling thick and fast when Alexander Jardine and Ian Rullock passed through the broken wall beyond the school-room. The pine branches were whitening, the narrow, rugged path ran a zigzag of white.
Strickland had parted from them at the wall, and yet Strickland seemed to be upon the path, following Glenfernie. Ian wore a dress of Strickland's, a hat and cloak that the countryside knew. He and Strickland were nearly of a height. Keeping silence and moving through a dimness of the descending day and the shaken veil of the snow, almost any chance-met neighbor would have said, in passing, "Good day, Mr. Strickland!"
The path led into the wood. Trees rose about them, phantoms in the snowstorm. The snow fell in large flakes, straight, undriven by wind. Footprints made transient shapes. The snow obliterated them as in the desert moving sand obliterated. Ian and Alexander, leaving the wood, took a way that led by field and moor to Littlefarm.
The earth seemed a Solitary, with no child nor lover of hers abroad. The day declined, the snow fell. Ian and Alexander moved on, hardly speaking. The outer landscape rolled dimmed, softened, withdrawn. The inner world moved among its own contours. The day flowed toward night, as the night would flow toward day.
They came to the foot of the moor that stretched between White Farm and Littlefarm.
"There is a woman standing by that tree," said Ian.
"Yes. It is Gilian."
They moved toward her. Tall, fair, wide-browed and gray-eyed, she leaned against the oak stem and seemed to be at home here, too. The wide falling snow, the mystic light and quietness, were hers for mantle. As they approached she stirred.
"Good day, Glenfernie!—Good day, Ian Rullock!—Glenfernie, you cannot go this way! Soldiers are at Littlefarm."
"He got word to me an hour since. They are chance-fallen, the second time. They will get no news and soon be gone. He trusted me to give you warning. He says wait for him at the cot that was old Skene's. It stands empty and folk say that it is haunted and go round about." She left the tree and took the path with them. "It lies between us and White Farm. This snow is friendly. It covers marks—it keeps folk within-doors—nor does it mean to fall too long or too heavily."
They moved together through the falling snow.
It was a mile to old Skene's cot. They walked it almost in silence—upon Ian's part in silence. The snow fell; it covered their footprints. All outlines showed vague and looming. The three seemed three vital points moving in a world dissolving or a world forming.
The empty cot rose before them, the thatch whitened, the door-stone whitened. Glenfernie pushed the door. It opened; they found a clean, bare place, twilight now, still, with the falling snow without.
Gilian spoke. "I'll go on now to White Farm. Robin will come. In no long time you'll be upon the farther road.... Now I will say Fare you well!"
Alexander took her hands. "Farewell, Gilian!"
Gray eyes met gray eyes. "Be it short time or be it long time—soon home to Glenfernie, or long, long gone—farewell, and God bless you, Glenfernie!"
"And you, Gilian!"
She turned to Ian. "Ian Rullock—farewell, too, and God bless you, too!"
She was gone. They watched through the door her form moving amid falling snow. The veil between thickened; she vanished; there were only the white particles of the dissolving or the forming world. The two kept silence.
Twilight deepened, night came, the snow ceased to fall for a time, then began again, but less thickly. One hour went by, two, three. Then came Robin Greenlaw and Peter Lindsay, riding, and with them horses for the two who waited at Skene's cot.
Four men rode through the December night. At dawn they neared the sea. The snow fell no longer. When the purple bars came into the east they saw in the first light the huddled roofs of a small seaport. Beyond lay gray water, with shipping in the harbor.
At a crossroads the party divided. Robin Greenlaw and Peter Lindsay took a way that should lead them far aside from this port, and then with circuitousness home. Before they reached it they would separate, coming singly into their own dale, back to Black Hill, back to Littlefarm. The laird of Glenfernie and Littlefarm, dismounting, moving aside, talked together for a few moments. Ian gave Peter Lindsay a message for Mrs. Alison.... Good-bys were said. Greenlaw remounted; he and Peter Lindsay moved slowly from the two bound to the port. A dip of the earth presently hid them. Alexander and Ian were left in the gray dawn.
"Alexander, I know the safe house and the safe man and the safe ship. Why should you run further danger? Let us say good-by now!"
"No, not now."
"You have come to the edge of Scotland. Say farewell here, and danger saved, rather than on the water stairs in a little while—"
"No. I will go farther, Ian. There is Mackenzie's house, over there."
They rode through the winter dawn to the house at the edge of the port, where lived a quiet man and wife, under obligations to the Jardines. There visited them now the laird of Glenfernie and his secretary, Mr. Strickland.
The latter, it seemed, was not well—kept his room that day. The laird of Glenfernie went about, indeed, but never once went near the waterside.... And yet, at eve, the master of the Seawing, riding in the harbor, took the resolution to sail by cockcrow.
The sun went down with red and gold, in a winter splendor. Dark night followed, but, late, there rose a moon. Alexander and Ian, coming down to the harbor edge at a specified place, found there the waiting boat with two rowers. It hung before them on the just-lit water. "Now, Old Steadfast, farewell!" said Ian.
"I am going a little farther. Step in, man!"
The boat drove across, under the moon, to the Seawing. The two mounted the brig's side and, touching deck, found the captain, known to Ian, who had sailed before upon the Seawing, and known since yesterday to Glenfernie. The captain welcomed them, his only passengers, using not their own names, but others that had been chosen. In the cabin, under the swinging lantern, there followed a few words as to weather, ports, and sailing. The tide served, the Seawing would be forth in an hour. The captain, work calling, left them in the small lighted place.
"The boat is waiting. Now, Old Steadfast—Senor Nobody—"
"Old Saracen, we used to say that we'd go one day to India—"
"Well, let us go!"
They stood with the table between them. Alexander's hands moved toward Ian's. They took hands; there followed a strong, a convulsive pressure.
"We sin in differing ways and at differing times," said Alexander, "but we all sin. And we all struggle with it and through it and onward! And there must be some kind of star upon our heights. Well, let us work toward it together, Old Saracen!"
They went out of the cabin and upon the deck. The boat that had brought them was gone. They saw it in the moonlight, half-way back to the quay. On the Seawing, sailors were lifting anchor. They stood and watched. The moon was paling; there came the scent of morning; far upon the shore a cock crew. The Seawing's crew were making sail. Out and up went her pinions, filled with a steady and favoring wind. She thrilled; she moved; she left the harbor for a new voyage, fresh wonder of the eternal world.