The task seemed, if not easy, yet far from irksome, so long as she continued incapable of resisting, annoying, or deceiving him; but the time speedily came when he perceived that the continuous battle rather than war of duty and inclination must be fought and in some measure won in himself ere he could hope to stir up any smallest skirmish of sacred warfare in the soul of his mother. What added to the acerbities of this preliminary war was, that the very nature of the contest required actions which showed not only unbecoming in a son, but mean and disgraceful in themselves. There was no pride, pomp, or circumstance of glorious war in this poor, domestic strife, this seemingly sordid and unheroic, miserably unheroic, yet high, eternal contest! But now that Francis was awake to his duty, the best of his nature awoke to meet its calls, and he drew upon a growing store of love for strength to thwart the desires of her he loved. 'Entire affection hateth nicer hands,' and Francis learned not to mind looking penurious and tyrannical, selfish, heartless, and unsympathetic, in the endeavour to be truly loving and lovingly true. He had not Kirsty to support him, but he could now go higher than to Kirsty for the help he needed; he went to the same fountain from which Kirsty herself drew her strength. At the same time frequent thought of her filled him with glad assurance of her sympathy, which was in itself a wondrous aid. He neither saw nor sought to see her: he would not go near her before at least she already knew from other sources what would give her the hope that he was trying to do right.
The gradually approaching strife between mother and son burst out the same moment in which the devilish thirst awoke to its cruel tyranny. It was a mercy to both of them that it re-asserted itself while yet the mother was helpless toward any indulgence of her passion. Francis was no longer afraid of her, but it was the easier because of her condition, although not the less painful for him to frustrate her desire. Neither did it make it the less painful that already her countenance, which the outward fire had not half so much disfigured as that which she herself had applied inwardly, had begun to remind him of the face he had long ago loved a little, but this only made him, if possible, yet more determined that not one shilling of his father's money should go to the degradation of his mother. That she lusted and desired to have, was the worst of reasons why she should obtain! A compelled temperance was of course in itself worthless, but that alone could give opportunity for the waking of what soul was left her. Puny as it was, that might then begin to grow; it might become aware of the bondage to which it had been subjected, and begin to long for liberty.
In carrying out his resolution, Francis found it specially hard to fight, along with the bad in his mother, the good in himself: the lower forms of love rose against the higher, and had to be put down. To see the scintillation of his mother's eyes at the sound of any liquid, and know how easily he could give her an hour of false happiness, tore his heart, while her fierce abuse hardly passed the portals of his brain. Her condition was so pitiful that her words could not make him angry. She would declare it was he who set her clothes on fire, and as soon as she was up again she would publish to the world what a coward and sneak he showed himself from morning to night. Had Francis been what he once was, his mother and he must soon have come as near absolute hatred as is possible to the human; but he was now so different that the worst answer he ever gave her was,
'Mother, you know you don't mean it!'
'I mean it with all my heart and soul, Francis,' she replied, glaring at him.
He stooped to kiss her on the forehead, she struck him on the face so that the blood sprang. He went back a step, and stood looking at her sadly as he wiped it away.
'Crying!' she said. 'You always were a coward, Francis!'
But the word had no more any sting for him.
'I'm all right, mother. My nose got in the way!' he answered, restoring his handkerchief to his pocket.
'It's the doctor puts him up to it!' said Mrs. Gordon to herself. 'But we shall soon be rid of him now! If there's any more of this nonsense then, I shall have to shut Francis up again! That will teach him how to behave to his mother!'
When at length Mrs. Gordon was able to go about the house again, it was at once to discover that things were not to be as they had been. Then deepened the combat, and at the same time assumed aspects and occasioned situations which in the eye of the world would have seemed even ludicrously unbecoming. The battle of the warrior is with confused noise and garments rolled in blood, but how much harder and worthier battles are fought, not in shining armour, but amid filth and squalor physical as well as moral, on a field of wretched and wearisome commonplace!
It was essential to success that there should be no traitor among the servants, and Francis had made them understand what his measures were. Nor was there in this any betrayal of a mother's weakness, for Mrs. Gordon's had long been more than patent to all about her. When, therefore, he one day found her, for the first time, under the influence of strong drink, he summoned them and told them that, sooner than fail of his end, he would part with the whole house-hold, and should be driven to it if no one revealed how the thing had come to pass. Thereupon the youngest, a mere girl, burst into tears, and confessed that she had procured the whisky. Hardly thinking it possible his mother should have money in her possession, so careful was he to prevent it, he questioned, and found that she had herself provided the half-crown required, and that her mistress had given her in return a valuable brooch, an heirloom, which was hers only to wear, not to give. He took this from her, repaid her the half-crown, gave her her wages up to the next term, and sent Mrs. Bremner home with her immediately. Her father being one of his own tenants, he rode to his place the next morning, laid before him the whole matter, and advised him to keep the girl at home for a year or two.
This one evil success gave such a stimulus to Mrs. Gordon's passion that her rage with her keeper, which had been abating a little, blazed up at once as fierce as at first. But, miserable as the whole thing was, and trying as he found the necessary watchfulness, Gordon held out bravely. At the end of six months, however, during which no fresh indulgence had been possible to her, he had not gained the least ground for hoping that any poorest growth of strength, or even any waking of desire toward betterment, had taken place in her.
All this time he had not been once to Corbyknowe. He had nevertheless been seeing David Barclay three or four times a week. For Francis had told David how he stood with Kirsty, and how, while refusing him, she had shown him his duty to his mother. He told him also that he now saw things with other eyes, and was endeavouring to do what was right; but he dared not speak to her on the subject lest she should think, as she would, after what had passed between them, be well justified in thinking, that he was doing for her sake what ought to be done for its own. He said to him that, as he was no man of business, and must give his best attention to his mother, he found it impossible for the present to acquaint himself with the state of the property, or indeed attend to it in any serviceable manner; and he begged him, as his father's friend and his own, to look into his affairs, and, so far as his other duties would permit, place things on at least a better footing.
To this petition, David had at once and gladly consented.
He found everything connected with the property in a sad condition. The agent, although honest, was weak, and had so given way to Mrs. Gordon that much havoc had been made, and much money wasted. He was now in bad health, and had lost all heart for his work. But he had turned nothing to his own advantage, and was quite ready, under David's supervision, to do his best for the restoration of order, and the curtailment of expenses.
All that David now saw in his intercourse with the young laird, went to convince him that he was at length a man of conscience, cherishing steady purposes. He reported at home what he saw, and said what he believed, and his wife and daughter perceived plainly that his heart was lighter than it had been for many a day. Kirsty listened, said little, asked a question here and there, and thanked God. For her father brought her not only the good news that Francis was doing his best for his mother, but that he had begun to open his eyes to the fact that he had his part in the wellbeing of all on his land; that the property was not his for the filling of his pockets, or for the carrying out of schemes of his own, but for the general and individual comfort and progress.
'I do believe,' said David, 'the young laird wud fain mak o' the lan's o' Weelset a spot whauron the e'en o' the bonny man micht rist as he gaed by!'
Mrs. Gordon's temper seemed for a time to have changed from fierce to sullen, but by degrees she began to show herself not altogether indifferent to the continuous attentions of her inexorable son. It is true she received them as her right, but he yielded her a right immeasurably beyond that she would have claimed. He would play draughts or cribbage with her for hours at a time, and every day for months read to her as long as she would listen—read Scott and Dickens and Wilkie Collins and Charles Reade.
One day, after much entreaty, she consented to go out for a drive with him, when round to the door came a beautiful new carriage, and such a pair of horses as she could not help expressing satisfaction with. Francis told her they were at her command, but if ever she took unfair advantage of them, he would send both carriage and horses away.
She was furious at his daring to speak so to her, and had almost returned to her room, but thought better of it and went with him. She did not, however, speak a word to him the whole way. The next morning he let her go alone. After that, he sometimes went with her, and sometimes not: the desire of his heart was to behold her a free woman.
She was quite steady for a while, and her spirits began to return. The hopes of her son rose high; he almost ceased to fear.
KIRSTY GIVES ADVICE
It was again midsummer, and just a year since they parted on the Horn, when Francis appeared at Corbyknowe, and found Kirsty in the kitchen. She received him as if nothing had ever come between them, but at once noting he was in trouble, proposed they should go out together. It was a long way to be silent, but they had reached the spot, whence they started for the race recorded in my first chapter, ere either of them said a word.
'Will ye no sit, Kirsty?' said Francis at length.
For answer she dropped on the same stone where she was sitting when she challenged him to it, and Francis took his seat on its neighbour.
'I hae had a some sair time o' 't sin' I shawed ye plain hoo little I was worth yer notice, Kirsty!' he began.
'Ay,' returned Kirsty, 'but ilka hoor o' 't hes shawn what the rael Francie was!'
'I kenna, Kirsty. A' I can say is—'at I dinna think nearhan sae muckle o' mysel as I did than.'
'And I think a heap mair o' ye,' answered Kirsty. 'I canna but think ye upo' the richt ro'd noo, Francie!'
'I houp I am, but I'm aye fin'in' oot something 'at 'ill never du.'
'And ye'll keep fin'in' oot that sae lang 's there 's onything left but what 's like himsel.'
'I un'erstan ye, Kirsty. But I cam to ye the day, no to say onything aboot mysel, but jist 'cause I cudna du wantin yer help. I wudna hae presumed but that I thoucht, although I dinna deserve 't, for auld kin'ness ye wud say what ye wud advise.'
'I'll du that, Francie—no for auld kin'ness, but for kin'ness never auld. What's wrang wi' ye?'
'Kirsty, wuman, she's brocken oot again!'
'I dinna won'er. I hae h'ard o' sic things.'
'It's jist taen the pith oot o' me! What am I to du?'
'Ye canna du better nor weel; jist begin again.'
'I had coft her a bonny cairriage, wi' as fine a pair as ever ye saw, Kirsty, as I daursay yer father has telled ye. And they warna lost upon her, for she had aye a gleg ee for a horse. Ye min' yon powny?—And up til yesterday, a' gaed weel, till I was thinkin I cud trust her onygait. But i' the efternune, as she was oot for an airin, are o' the horses cuist a shue, and thinkin naething o' the risk til a human sowl, but only o' the risk til the puir horse, the fule fallow stoppit at a smithy nae farrer nor the neist door frae a public, and tuik the horse intil the smithy, lea'in the smith's lad at the held o' the ither horse. Sae what suld my leddy but oot upo' the side frae the smithy, and awa roon the back o' the cairriage to the public, and in! Whether she took onything there I dinna ken, but she maun hae broucht a bottle hame wi her, for this mornin she was fou—fou as e'er ye saw man in market!'
He broke down, and wept like a child.
'And what did ye du?' asked Kirsty.
'I said naething. I jist gaed to the coachman and gart him put his horses tu, and tak his denner wi' him, and m'unt the box, and drive straucht awa til Aberdeen, and lea' the carriage whaur I boucht it, and du siclike wi' the horses, and come hame by the co'ch.'
As he ended the sad tale, he glanced up at Kirsty, and saw her regarding him with a look such as he had never seen, imagined, or dreamed of before. It lasted but a moment; her eyes dropt, and she went on with the knitting which, as in the old days, she had brought with her.
'Noo, Kirsty, what am I to du neist?' he said.
'Hae ye naething i' yer ain min'?' she asked.
'Weel, we'll awa hame!' she returned, rising. 'Maybe, as we gang, we'll get licht!'
They walked in silence. Now and then Francis would look up in Kirsty's face, to see if anything was coming, but saw only that she was sunk in thought: he would not hurry her, and said not a word. He knew she would speak the moment she had what she thought worth saying.
Kirsty, recalling what her father had repeatedly said of Mrs. Gordon's management of a horse in her young days, had fallen awondering how one who so well understood the equine nature, could be so incapable of understanding the human; for certainly she had little known either Archibald Gordon or David Barclay, and quite as little her own son. Having come to the conclusion that the incapacity was caused by overpowering affection for the one human creature she ought not to love, Kirsty found her thoughts return to the sole faculty her father yielded Mrs. Gordon—that of riding a horse as he ought to be ridden. Thereupon came to her mind a conclusion she had lately read somewhere— namely, that a man ought to regard his neighbour as specially characterized by the possession of this or that virtue or capacity, whatever it might be, that distinguished him; for that was as the door-plate indicating the proper entrance to his inner house. A moment more and Kirsty thought she saw a way in which Francis might gain a firmer hold on his mother, as well as provide her with a pleasure that might work toward her redemption.
Francie,' she said, 'I hae thoucht o' something. My father has aye said, and ye ken he kens, 'at yer mother was a by ordinar guid rider in her young days, and this is what I wud hae ye du: gang straucht awa, whaurever ye think best, and buy for her the best luikin, best tempered, handiest, and easiest gaein leddy's-horse ye can lay yer ban's upo'. Ye hae a gey fair beast o' yer ain, my father says, and ye maun jist ride wi' her whaurever she gangs.'
'I'll du 't, Kirsty. I canna gang straucht awa, I doobt, though; I fear she has whusky left, and there's no sayin what she micht du afore I wan back. I maun gang hame first.'
'I'm no clear upo' that. Ye canna weel gang and rype (search) a' the kists and aumries i' the hoose she ca's her ain! That wud anger her terrible. Nor can ye weel lay ban's upon her, and tak frae her by force. A wuman micht du that, but a man, and special a wuman's ain ae son, canna weel du 't—that is, gien there's ony ither coorse 'at can be followt. It seems to me ye maun tak the risk o' her bottle. And it may be no ill thing 'at she sud disgrace hersel oot and oot. Onygait wi' bein awa, and comin back wi' the horse i' yer ban' ye'll come afore her like bringin wi' ye a fresh beginnin, a new order o' things like, and that w'y av'ide words wi' her, and words maun aye be av'idit.'
Francis remained in thoughtful silence.
'I hae little fear,' pursued Kirsty, 'but we'll get her frae the drink a'thegither, and the houp is we may get something better putten intil her. Bein fou whiles, isna the main difficulty. But I beg yer pardon, Francie! I maunna forget 'at she's your mother!'
'Gien ye wud but tak her and me thegither, Kirsty, it wud be a gran' thing for baith o' 's! Wi' you to tak the half o' 't, I micht stan' up un'er the weicht o' my responsibility!'
'I'm takin my share o' that, onygait, daurin to advise ye, Francie!—Noo gang, laddie; gang straucht awa and buy the horse.'
'I maun rin hame first, to put siller i' my pooch! I s' hand oot o' her gait.'
'Gang til my faither for't. I haena a penny, but he has aye plenty!'
'I maun hae my horse; there's nae co'ch till the morn's mornin.'
'Gangna near the place. My father 'ill gie ye the gray mear—no an ill are ava! She'll tak ye there in four or five hoors, as ye ride. Only, min' and gie her a pickle corn ance, and meal and watter twise upo' the ro'd. Gien ye seena the animal yere sure 'ill please her, gang further, and comena hame wantin 't.'
When Mrs. Gordon came to herself, she thought to behave as if nothing had happened, and rang the bell to order her carriage. The maid informed her that the coachman had driven away with it before lunch, and had not said where he was going.
'Driven away with it!' cried her mistress, starting to her feet; 'I gave him no orders!'
'I saw the laird giein him directions, mem,' rejoined the maid.
Mrs. Gordon sat down again. She began to remember what her son had said when first he gave her the carriage.
'Where did he send him?' she asked.
'I dinna ken, mem.'
'Go and ask the laird to step this way.'
'Please, mem, he's no i' the hoose. I ken, for I saw him gang—hoors ago.'
'Did he go in the carriage?'
'No, mem; he gaed upo' 's ain fit.'
'Perhaps he's come home by this time!'
'I'm sure he's no that, mem.'
Mrs. Gordon went to her room, all but finished the bottle of whisky, and threw herself on her bed.
Toward morning she woke with aching head and miserable mind. Now dozing, now tossing about in wretchedness, she lay till the afternoon. No one came near her, and she wanted no one.
At length, dizzy and despairing, her head in torture, and her heart sick, she managed to get out of bed, and, unable to walk, literally crawled to the cupboard in which she had put away the precious bottle:—joy! there was yet a glass in it! With the mouth of it to her lips, she was tilting it up to drain the last drop, when the voice of her son came cheerily from the drive, on which her window looked down:
'See what I've brought you, mother!' he called.
Fear came upon her; she took the bottle from her mouth, put it again in the cupboard, and crept back to her bed, her brain like a hive buzzing with devils.
When Francis entered the house, he was not surprised to learn that she had not left her room. He did not try to see her.
The next morning she felt a little better, and had some tea. Still she did not care to get up. She shrank from meeting her son, and the abler she grew to think, the more unwilling she was to see him. He came to her room, but she heard him coming, turned her head the other way, and pretended to be asleep. Again and again, almost involuntarily, she half rose, remembering the last of the whisky, but as often lay down again, loathing the cause of her headache.
Stronger and stronger grew her unwillingness to face her son: she had so thoroughly proved herself unfit to be trusted! She began to feel towards him as she had sometimes felt toward her mother when she had been naughty. She began to see that she could make her peace, with him or with herself, only by acknowledging her weakness. Aided by her misery, she had begun to perceive that she could not trust herself, and ought to submit to be treated as the poor creature she was. She had resented the idea that she could not keep herself from drink if she pleased, for she knew she could; but she had not pleased! How could she ever ask him to trust her again!
What further passed in her, I cannot tell. It is an unfailing surprise when anyone, more especially anyone who has hitherto seemed without strength of character, turns round and changes. The only thing Mrs. Gordon then knew as helping her, was the strong hand of her son upon her, and the consciousness that, had her husband lived, she could never have given way as she had. But there was another help which is never wanting where it can find an entrance; and now first she began to pray, 'Lead me not into temptation.'
There was one excuse which David alone knew to make for her—that her father was a hard drinker, and his father before him.
Doubtless, during all the period of her excesses, the soul of the woman in her better moments had been ashamed to know her the thing she was. It could not, when she was at her worst, comport with her idea of a lady, poor as that idea was, to drink whisky till she did not know what she did next. And when the sleeping woman God made, wakes up to see in what a house she lives, she will soon grasp at besom and bucket, nor cease her cleansing while spot is left on wall or ceiling or floor.
How the waking comes, who can tell! God knows what he wants us to do, and what we can do, and how to help us. What I have to tell is that, the next morning, Mrs. Gordon came down to breakfast, and finding her son already seated at the table, came up behind him, without a word set the bottle with the last glass of whisky in it before him, went to her place at the table, gave him one sorrowful look, and sat down.
His heart understood, and answered with a throb of joy so great that he knew it first as pain.
Neither spoke until breakfast was almost over. Then Francis said,
'You've grown so much younger, mother, it is quite time you took to riding again! I've been buying a horse for you. Remembering the sort of pony you bought for me, I thought I should like to try whether I could not please you with a horse of my buying.'
'Silly boy!' she returned, with a rather pitiful laugh, 'do you suppose at my age I'm going to make a fool of myself on horseback? You forget I'm an old woman!'
'Not a bit of it, mother! If ever you rode as David Barclay says you did, I don't see why you shouldn't ride still. He's a splendid creature! David told me you liked a big fellow. Just put on your habit, mammy, and we'll take a gallop across, and astonish the old man a bit.'
'My dear boy, I have no nerve! I'm not the woman I was! It's my own fault, I know, and I'm both sorry and ashamed.'
'We are both going to try to be good, mother dear!' faltered Francis.
The poor woman pressed her handkerchief with both hands to her face, and wept for a few moments in silence, then rose and left the room. In an hour she was ready, and out looking for Francis. Her habit was a little too tight for her, but wearable enough. The horses were sent for, and they mounted.
There was at Corbyknowe a young, well-bred horse which David had himself reared: Kirsty had been teaching him to carry a lady. For her hostess in Edinburgh, discovering that she was fond of riding and that she had no saddle, had made her a present of her own: she had not used it for many years, but it was in very good condition, and none the worse for being a little old-fashioned. That same morning Kirsty had put on a blue riding-habit, which also lady Macintosh had given her, and was out on the highest slope of the farm, hoping to catch a sight of the two on horseback together, and so learn that her scheme was a success. She had been on the outlook for about an hour, when she saw them coming along between the castle and Corbyknowe, and went straight for a certain point in the road so as to reach it simultaneously with them. For she had just spied a chance of giving Gordon the opportunity which her father had told her he was longing for, of saying something about her to his mother.
'Who can that be?' said Mrs. Gordon as they trotted gently along, when she spied the lady on horseback. 'She rides well! But she seems to be alone! Is there really nobody with her?'
As she spoke, the young horse came over a dry-stane-dyke in fine style.
'Why, she's an accomplished horsewoman!' exclaimed Mrs. Gordon. 'She must be a stranger! There's not a lady within thirty miles of Weelset can ride like that!'
'No such stranger as you think, mother!' rejoined Francis. 'That's Kirsty Barclay of Corbyknowe.'
'Never, Francis! The girl rides like a lady!'
Francis smiled, perhaps a little triumphantly. Something like what lay in the smile the mother read in it, for it roused at once both her jealousy and her pride. Her son to fall in love with a girl that was not even a lady! A Gordon of Weelset to marry a tenant's daughter! Impossible!
Kirsty was now in the road before them, riding slowly in the same direction. It was the progress, however, not the horse that was slow: his frolics, especially when the other horses drew near, kept his rider sufficiently occupied.
Mrs. Gordon quickened her pace, and passed without turning her head or looking at her, but so close, and with so sudden a rush that Kirsty's horse half wheeled, and bounded over the dyke by the roadside. Her rudeness annoyed her son, and he jumped his horse into the field and joined Kirsty, letting his mother ride on, and contenting himself with keeping her in sight. After a few moments' talk, however, he proposed that they should overtake her, and cutting off a great loop of the road, they passed her at speed, and turned and met her. She had by this time got a little over her temper, and was prepared to behave with propriety, which meant—the dignity becoming her.
'What a lovely horse you have, Miss Barclay!' she said, without other greeting. 'How much do you want for him?'
'He is but half-broken,' answered Kirsty, 'or I would offer to change with you. I almost wonder you look at him from the back of your own!'
'He is a beauty—is he not? This is my first trial of him. The laird gave me him only this morning. He is as quiet as a lamb.'
'There, Donal,' said Kirsty to her horse, 'tak example by yer betters! Jist luik hoo he stan's!—The laird has a true eye for a horse, ma'am,' she went on, 'but he always says you gave it him.'
'Always! hm!' said Mrs. Gordon to herself, but she looked kindly at her son.
'How did you learn to ride so well, Kirsty?' she asked.
'I suppose I got it from my father, ma'am! I began with the cows.'
'Ah, how is old David?' returned Mrs. Gordon. 'I have seen him once or twice about the castle of late, but have not spoken to him.'
'He is very well, thank you.—Will you not come up to the Knowe and rest a moment? My mother will be very glad to see you.'
'Not to-day, Kirsty. I haven't been on horseback for years, and am already tired. We shall turn here. Good-morning!'
'Good-morning, ma'am! Good-bye, Mr. Gordon!' said Kirsty cheerfully, as she wheeled her horse to set him straight at a steep grassy brae.
THE LAIRD AND HIS MOTHER
The laird and his mother sat and looked at Kirsty as her horse tore up the brae.
'She can ride—can't she, mother?' said Francis.
'Well enough for a hoiden,' answered Mrs. Gordon.
'She rides to please her horse now, but she'll have him as quiet as yours before long,' rejoined her son, both a little angry and a little amused at her being called a hoiden who was to him like an angel grown young with aeonian life.
'Yes,' resumed his mother, as if she would be fair, 'she does ride well! If only she were a lady, that I might ask her to ride with me! After all it's none of my business what she is—so long as you don't want to marry her!' She concluded, with an attempt at a laugh.
'But I do want to marry her, mother!' rejoined Francis.
A short year before, his mother would have said what was in her heart, and it would not have been pleasant to hear; but now she was afraid of her son, and was silent. But it added to her torture that she must be silent. To be dethroned in castle Weelset by the daughter of one of her own tenants, for as such she thought of them, was indeed galling. 'The impudent quean!' she said to herself, 'she's ridden on her horse into the heart of the laird!' But for the wholesome consciousness of her own shame, which she felt that her son was always sparing, she would have raged like a fury.
'You that might have had any lady in the land!' she said at length.
'If I might, mother, it would be just as vain to look for her equal.'
'You might at least have shown your mother the respect of choosing a lady to sit in her place! You drive me from the house!'
'Mother,' said Francis, 'I have twice asked Kirsty Barclay to be my wife, and she has twice refused me.'
'You may try her again: she had her reasons! She never meant to let you slip! If you got disgusted with her afterwards, she would always have her refusal of you to throw in your teeth.'
Francis laid his hand on his mother's, and stopped her horse.
'Mother, you compel me!' he said. 'When I came home ill, and, as I thought, dying, you called me bad names, and drove me from the house. Kirsty found me in a hole in the earth, actually dying then, and saved my life.'
'Good heavens, Francis! Are you mad still? How dare you tell such horrible falsehoods of your own mother? You never came near me! You went straight to Corbyknowe!'
'Ask Mrs. Bremner if I speak the truth. She ran out after me, but could not get up with me. You drove me out; and if you do not know it now, you do not need to be told how it is that you have forgotten it.'
She knew what he meant, and was silent.
'Then Kirsty went to Edinburgh, to sir Haco Macintosh, and with his assistance brought me to my right mind. If it were not for Kirsty, I should be in my grave, or wandering the earth a maniac. Even alive and well as I am, I should not be with you now had she not shown me my duty'
'I thought as much! All this tyranny of yours, all your late insolence to your mother, comes from the power of that low-born woman over you! I declare to you, Francis Gordon, if you marry her, I will leave the house.'
He made her no answer, and they rode the rest of the way in silence. But in that silence things grew clearer to him. Why should he take pains to persuade his mother to a consent which she had no right to withhold? His desire was altogether reasonable: why should its fulfilment depend on the unreason of one who had not strength to order her own behaviour? He had to save her, not to please her, gladly as he would have done both!
When he had helped her from the saddle, he would have remounted and ridden at once to Corbyknowe, but feared leaving her. She shut herself in her room till she could bear her own company no longer, and then went to the drawing-room, where Francis read to her, and played several games of backgammon with her. Soon after dinner she retired, saying her ride had wearied her; and the moment Francis knew she was in bed, he got his horse, and galloped to the Knowe.
When he arrived, there was no light in the house: all had gone to rest. Unwilling to disturb the father and mother, he rode quietly to the back of the house, where Kirsty's room looked on the garden. He called her softly. In a moment she peeped out, then opened her window.
'Cud ye come doon a minute, Kirsty?' said Francis.
'I'll be wi' ye in less time,' she replied; and he had hardly more than dismounted, when she was by his side.
He told her what had passed between him and his mother since she left them.
'It's a rael bonny nicht!' said Kirsty, 'and we'll jist tak oor time to turn the thing ower—that is, gien ye bena tired, Francie. Come, we'll put the beastie up first.'
She led the horse into the dark stable, took his bridle off, put a halter on him, slackened his girths, and gave him a feed of corn—all in the dark; which things done, she and her lover set out for the Horn.
The whole night seemed thinking of the day that was gone. All doing seemed at an end, yea God himself to be resting and thinking. The peace of it sank into their bosoms, and filled them so, that they walked a long way without speaking. There was no wind, and no light but the starlight. The air was like the clear dark inside some diamonds. The only sound that broke the stillness as they went was the voice of Kirsty, sweet and low—and it was as if the dim starry vault thought, rather than she uttered, the words she quoted:—
'Summer Night, come from God, On your beauty, I see, A still wave has flowed Of Eternity!'
At a certain spot on the ridge of the Horn, Francis stopped.
'This is whaur ye left me this time last year, Kirsty,' he said;'—left me wi' my Maker to mak a man o' me. It was 'maist makin me ower again!'
There was a low stone just visible among the heather; Kirsty seated herself upon it. Francis threw himself among the heather, and lay looking up in her face.
'That mother o' yours is 'maist ower muckle for ye, Francie!' said Kirsty.
'It's no aften, Kirsty, ye tell me what I ken as weel 's yersel!' returned Francis.
'Weel, Francie, ye maun tell me something the night!—Gien it wudna mismuve ye, I wad fain ken hoo ye wan throu that day we pairtit here.'
Without a moment's hesitation, Francis began the tale—giving her to know, however, that in what took place there was much he did not understand so as to tell it again.
When he made an end, Kirsty rose and said,
'Wad ye please to sit upo' that stane, Francie!'
In pure obedience he rose from the heather, and sat upon the stone.
She went behind him, and clasped his head, round the temples, with her shapely, strong, faithful hands.
'I ken ye noo for a man, Francis. Ye hae set yersel to du his wull, and no yer ain: ye're a king; and for want o' a better croon, I croon ye wi my twa ban's.'
Little thought Kirsty how near she came, in word and deed, to the crowning of Dante by Virgil, as recorded toward the close of the Purgatorio.
Then she came round in front of him, he sitting bewildered and taking no part in the solemn ceremony save that of submission, and knelt slowly down before him, laying her head on his knees, and saying,—
'And here's yer kingdom, Francis—my heid and my hert! Du wi' me what ye wull.'
'Come hame wi' me, and help save my mother,' he answered, in a voice choked with emotion.
'I wull,' she said, and would have risen; but he laid his hands on her head, and thus they remained for a time in silence. Then they rose, and went.
They had gone about half-way to the farm before either spoke. Then Kirsty said,—
'Francie, there's ae thing I maun beg o' ye, and but ane—'at ye winna desire me to tak the heid o' yer table. I canna but think it an ungracious thing 'at a young wuman like me, the son's wife, suld put the man's ain mother, his father's wife, oot o' the place whaur his father set her. I'm layin doon no prenciple; I'm sayin only hoo it affecs me. I want to come hame as her dochter, no as mistress o' the hoose in her stead. And ye see, Francie, that'll gie ye anither haud o' her, agen disgracin o' hersel! Promise me, Francie, and I'll sune tak the maist pairt o' the trouble o' her aff o' yer han's.'
'Ye're aye richt, Kirsty!' answered Francis. 'As ye wull.'
The next morning, Kirsty told her parents that she was going to marry Francie.
'Ye du richt, my bairn,' said her father. 'He's come in sicht o' 's high callin, and it's no possible for ye langer to refuse him.'
'But, eh! what am I to du wantin ye, Kirsty?' moaned her mother. 'Ye min', mother,' answered Kirsty, 'hoo I wad be oot the lang day wi' Steenie, and ye never thoucht ye hadna me!'
'Na, never. I aye kenned I had the twa o' ye.'
'Weel, it's no a God's-innocent but a deil's-gowk I'll hae to luik efter noo, and I maun come hame ilka possible chance to get hertenin frae you and my father, or I winna be able to bide it. Eh, mother, efter Steenie, it'll be awfu' to spen' the day wi' her! It's no 'at ever she'll be fou: I s' see to that!—it's 'at she'll aye be toom!— aye ringin wi' toomness!'
Here Kirsty turned to her father, and said,—
'Wull ye gie me a tocher, father?'
'Ay wull I, lassie,—what ye like, sae far as I hae 't to gie.'
'I want Donal—that's a'. Ye see I maun ride a heap wi' the puir thing, and I wud fain hae something aneth me 'at ye gae me! The cratur'll aye hing to the Knowe, and whan I gie his wull he'll fess me hame o' himsel.—I wud hae likit things to bide as they are, but she wud hae worn puir Francie to the verra deid!'
Mrs. Gordon manages the house and her reward is to sit at the head of the table. But she pays Kirsty infinitely more for the privilege than any but Kirsty can know, in the form of leisure for things she likes far better than housekeeping—among the rest, for the discovery of such songs as this, the last of hers I have seen:—
LOVE IS HOME.
Love is the part, and love is the whole; Love is the robe, and love is the pall; Ruler of heart and brain and soul, Love is the lord and the slave of all! I thank thee, Love, that thou lovest me; I thank thee more that I love thee.
Love is the rain, and love is the air; Love is the earth that holdeth fast; Love is the root that is buried there, Love is the open flower at last! I thank thee, Love all round about, That the eyes of my love are looking out.
Love is the sun, and love is the sea; Love is the tide that comes and goes; Flowing and flowing it comes to me; Ebbing and ebbing to thee it flows! Oh my sun, and my wind, and tide! My sea, and my shore, and all beside!
Light, oh light that art by showing; Wind, oh wind that liv'st by motion; Thought, oh thought that art by knowing; Will, that art born in self-devotion! Love is you, though not all of you know it; Ye are not love, yet ye always show it!
Faithful creator, heart-longed-for father, Home of our heart-infolded brother, Home to thee all thy glories gather— All are thy love, and there is no other! O Love-at-rest; we loves that roam— Home unto thee, we are coming home!