"Let him alone," cried his protector. "Patsy says he is with us. He is not to be killed."
So he led Eben to the outer gate, and with one enormous kick he discharged his duty to society and to his own feelings.
"Go," he cried, "be off! We are ordered not to do you any harm. But be out of the town before the morning light. For then Patsy may not be on the spot to speak up for you, and the lads are apt to get a little out of hand at sicht o' ye!"
It was the roof-breakers who descended first upon Stair Garland. They found him fully dressed and waiting for them. But the doors of his cell, which was that reserved for the most important criminals, could not be broken from the interior, and they could get no farther for the moment. However, the noise of the crowd beneath mounted higher and nearer, sounding like the roaring of a tide in a sea cave.
A key clicked in the lock. Bolts were drawn, and the men who had broken the doors and roofs stood back with respect to let Patsy go in alone.
She had been his only saviour, and she alone must tell Stair that he was free. She came to Stair Garland flushed and quick breathing, who stood before her pale and with his Viking hair flying all about his head.
"I came from London to do it, Stair, and it is done!" she said. She took his hand to lead him away, and at sight of them with one accord the Lads of the Heather uncovered.
Out in the courtyard it was like a triumphal procession as they passed to their horses. Men laughed aloud, they knew not why. A spirit of mirth was abroad, which had taken possession of all except dark Godfrey McCulloch.
"You are sure there is no prisoner left within your old tourock?" he demanded of MacJannet. The gaoler turned to his register and proved it.
"Very well!" said Godfrey, "off with you—sleep under some decent man's roof if ye can find any to shelter ye!"
And taking a torch from one of his followers he carefully fired the stores of kindling wood which filled part of the ground-floor of the ancient Wark of the Cassillis folk. In ten minutes, before even the cavalcade was entirely mounted, the flames were bursting through the humped roof in a fiery fountain of gold sparks and ruddy jags of flame, while the pillar of smoke rose many hundreds of feet into the still morning air.
At the English Gate, by which they rode out, they encountered a company of dragoons, weary from a long march, their horses footsore and the men reeling in their saddles with sleep.
"You have come too late," cried Godfrey McCulloch to the leader, waving his hand in the direction of the fiery beacon, now loudly crackling, and sprouting to the heavens.
But the officer answered not a word. His eyes were on Patsy Ferris riding by the side of Stair Garland, talking to him as one who had won a great prize, or has found her heart's desire.
So the captain of dragoons gave no order, for at the sight his heart was turned to stone within him.
His name was Louis Raincy, and he had quite forgotten pretty Mrs. Arlington.
THE PICT'S WAY IS THE WOMAN'S WAY
The deed being done, the doers soon dispersed. A strong body-guard composed of Back Shore men and the lads from the Stewartry seaboard rode with Patsy and Stair to the small unfrequented landing-place of Port Luce, where a boat was waiting for them. Patsy dismounted from Honeypot and bade Stair Garland get on board.
"I am in command still, Stair," she cried, smiling at his bewilderment. "Besides, I am running off with you, as Uncle Ju says the Pictish women always did!"
And Stair humbly obeyed, for the thing he heard was too marvellous for him to believe. Though his heart beat hard, he kept his head, and did not allow his imagination to run away with him. He scented one of Patsy's jests. That she should come from London in the Good Intent, that she should raise the country, that she should head the prison-breakers—these things he could understand. Still he remembered what she had said when she had been run away with by the Duke of Lyonesse.
"I was in no danger: when it is my fate to love a man, it is I, Patsy Ferris, who shall run away with him!"
But he was a wise lad and had lived too long among the Will-o'-the-Wisps on the Wild of Blairmore to be easily led astray by them. So he took Patsy's speech as merely her way and thought no more about it—at least not more than he could help.
It was already high day, brisk and clean-blowing, when they reached the little herring smack which lay waiting for them out in the bay. Godfrey McCulloch went with them, dark-browed, silent. When he lifted his eyes he could see, across the plain of the middle Rhynns, the reek of the accursed prison-house of Stranryan still going up to heaven. Then he laughed a little, also silently.
"They will have to shift," he said: "John Knox was in the right o't. 'Pull down the nests and the craws will fly away.' No more cells for lads from the ploughtail and the heather. No more bloody whipping-posts, where one or two are killed out of every draft to put the fear of death into the others! All gone up in yon puff of smoke!" Then he subsided into silence and his hard features relaxed as his mind fell upon other thoughts.
Stair and he were working the little boat while Patsy steered. They were going up the Solway and the wind behind them was strong and equal. Still no indication of their destination had been made to Stair. At five of the afternoon they had passed all the familiar landmarks known to him, but by the alertness of young McCulloch he judged that they must be near the haunts allotted to his part of the Band.
The Isle of Man lay faintly blue far to the south, and the hills about Skiddaw and Helvellyn began to uplift themselves in amethystine ridges. Towns and villages ran white along the Cumberland coast, and once it seemed to Stair as if they might be going to land somewhere to the east of St. Bees. But they were only keeping well out till the twilight of the evening drew down. They came about in mid-channel and lay some hours with lowered sail in the lee of a cliffy island. During all this time Patsy watched the shore intently, and did not speak to him at all. She held what colloquy was necessary with Godfrey McCulloch, on whose face there was a quite inscrutable smile. He seemed to be turning over in his mind some jest known only to himself, perhaps no more than the burning of the Castle of Stranryan and how well MacJannet's firewood blazed up when he put the torch to it. But ever and anon he glanced at the unconscious Stair Garland, when he was looking another way, with an expression so humorsome that it was evident he considered that in some way the joke was against him.
At six of the evening, the tide aiding, they had drifted across many headlands and past carven cliffs of marvellous designs to a long sickle sweep of strand on which two men could be seen solemnly walking up and down. Then, at a signal from Patsy, Godfrey McCulloch let down the anchor and pulled in hand over hand the little skiff which they had been dragging in their wake all day.
Stair thought that it was a reckless thing to put ashore while the sun was still high above the horizon. Still the spot was a lonely one—on one side great heathy tracts rising slowly away towards the foothills of Criffel—on the other a turmoil of huge cliffs and purple summits to the west, while behind them all the expanse of Solway lay like polished silver, clean as a platter ready for the service of a great house.
The two men walked steadily to and fro. The boat, propelled lustily by Godfrey of the saturnine smile, bounded towards the land. It grounded on a rapidly shelving beach on which they sprang ashore. Godfrey attached the boat to a stone, and gave her plenty of rope to ride.
Then all three went to the encounter of the two men. Both of them were dressed in decent black with something vaguely official about it, and the taller of the two had a scrap of black cloth after the fashion of a college gown but infinitely shorter, thrown over his shoulders. The other was a smaller and tubbier man, pleasant to look upon, a man evidently who lived for and by good eating and drinking. He had a large book under his arm, so heavy that as often as the two paused in their walk he laid it carefully down on the sand and sat upon it—while the tall man, undisturbed, continued his monologue over his comrade's head.
The two parties met at last, their shadows thrown far beyond them on the moist sand and mingling ludicrously as they altered their positions.
"Aweel," said the tall man, "what's a' this?"
His voice was not at all unkindly, and it was to Patsy he spoke. He turned in time to catch the little round man in the act of plumping down his big book on the sand, and he lifted him up again by inserting the hook of a huge forefinger in his collar as if he had been a deep-sea catch.
"Stand up there, Saunders Duff! God made man to stand erect on his two feet, but you would be for ever hunkering like a monkey eatin' nuts. Chin up, and shoulders back, man! If you dinna ken your duty to King and Country, I ken mine!"
"Aye, aye, skipper," said Saunders Duff, shaking his head sadly, "but this vollum is a plaguey heavy cargo and 'tis a long time between ports!"
"It had need to be," said the tall man, "it contains weighty matters—matters that shall not run away as unprofitable water, as is so well said in the 'Book of the Wisdom.' But it appears to me, by what I have learned, that this young lady had some questions to ask in my presence. Well, Mistress Headstrong, if you will take my advice, refrain. I am of Paul's faction. It is meet for a woman to be silent. I say that without the least hope of having my advice attended to. Get ye up from off that book, Saunders Duff, or I, that am a 'Magister Artium' of the College of Edinburgh, will kick you into the salt tide, carefully retaining the folio which is worth many scores of Saunders Duffs!"
Stair understood not one word of his speech. He even began to think he had fallen among a collection of amiable lunatics, when Patsy turned swiftly upon him and, without a quiver of the voice, with her eyes dark and level upon his face, demanded point blank—
"Will you, Stair Garland, take me, Patricia Ferris, for your wife?"
The world spun round the astonished Stair. He clutched at the thing which happened to be nearest. This chanced to be the arm of Godfrey McCulloch, who seemed to wear a smile of diabolic sarcasm on his face.
"Steady there—stand up and say 'Yes' or 'No!' Will you or won't you?"
"I WILL!" cried Stair Garland, finding his voice in a manner that scared the gulls on the cliff ledges, so wild and raucous it was.
"Then I, Patricia Ferris, take you for my husband!"
"Before God and these witnesses!" added the man with the ragged college cloak: "to wit, before me, James Fraser, Magister Artium, minister of this pairish, and of the unworthy Saunders Duff, session clerk of the same. Saunders, ye were braw at the sittin' afore. Clatch doon noo, man, and make your entry. Get all the names and surnames, while I collect the fees. The business is, ecclesiastically speaking, a little irregular (though perfectly legal), but that will doubtless be considered in the matter of the marital dues. If I am duly satisfied as to these, I shall know how to arrange with the Presbytery."
"Let me attend to this business," said Godfrey McCulloch, suddenly alive, and forestalling Stair Garland. "Step this way, minister."
And while the session clerk, cross-legged like a Turk on the sand, made his entries with much dipping of ink out of a tax-collector's bottle swung from his breast pocket, weird screechings of goose-quill, and dabbings of pounce box, the sound of confused argumentation came from the other group.
"I tell ye I will not risk the scandal for less than half-a-dozen kegs—all the best Hollands—cheap at the price. Think of the Presbytery!"
"Minister, the thing is done and in your presence. I will promise no such quantity. But three of Hollands and three of Isle of Man brandy, as was agreed upon. Consider, it will be worse, for you to be denounced as art and part in an irregular marriage—a laird's daughter, too—a pretty-like thing to come before the Presbytery and you the moderator!"
"Let it be as you will, Godfrey McCulloch, but if ye have a spark of human kindness in your hard heart let it be Hollands! Your Isle of Man brandy agrees but ill with my stammack, and if I dee o't my ghost will haunt ye. I will preach to ye, one by one, all my forty sermons on the King's birthday!"
Godfrey McCulloch threw up his hands.
"Hollands let it be—six kegs at the next run, only lift the interdict. I would rather be hanged at once and be done with it."
"You are not polite, young man," said the minister. "The sermons have been pronounced excellent by the very best judges, but I was right in supposing that you would not care to listen to forty of the best sermons ever preached! Six of Hollands be it then, lad, and put in the auld place—I shall see that the clerk is duly paid to hold his tongue! Whom God hath joined, let no man put asunder! I nearly forgot, and indeed it is in nowise necessary, being but a Popish formula. Guid nicht to ye, and mind the Hollands!"
STIFF-NECKED AND REBELLIOUS
The breeze quickened from the south. The lugger sped through the water, and Stair Garland still sat dazed. Never had any man felt such a fool. Here he was firmly and legally wedded, and he dare not even address a word to his bride. He had spoken no syllable of gladness or affection—triple dolt—quadruple fool—prize-winner among idiots! He had nothing to say—he could say nothing. Nor was it the presence of a third person which prevented him. Perhaps, rather, something in Patsy's eye, and, though that he would not acknowledge, a lurking grimness in the smile about the wicks of Godfrey's mouth.
It was not courage that Stair lacked—only everything about Patsy awed him. He did not yet understand her. The whys and the wherefores of her actions were still completely dark to him.
But Patsy was not a young woman to wrap up her mind. When she had anything to say, she said it. So after they had turned about and were beating up against wind and tide for their island, under the lee of which they had been laid to all the afternoon, she vouchsafed an explanation—or at least as much of a vindication as Patsy ever permitted herself.
"Stair Garland," she said, "listen to me; and you, Godfrey McCulloch, take that Satanic leer off your face. You have no idea how unattractive it makes you look! You should be framed and hung up to frighten naughty children.
"I am sick of being looked after. I am weary of being educated and leading-stringed and chaperoned. Now I am going to chaperon myself for ever and ever. I told father I should do this if he pestered me with his princesses. Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples, for I am sick of coddling—I hate Hanover Lodge. I hate all the things Uncle Julian loves, except only some few books. I cannot even have little Miss Aline put over me. It is too cruel to tag her round after me, jigging this way and that like the skiff there in our wake. She was made and invented to abide at Ladykirk, and to rule over Eelen Young and the brass preserving-pans. Why, because I am a girl, should the poor lady be traiked all over the world in an agony of dispeace? So I married you, Stair. It is hard on you, I know. Being a gentleman you could not very well refuse when I asked you before the minister—"
Here Stair made an indefinite noise in his throat, which, if he could have spoken, would have been an eloquent statement-at-large of the state of his affections. He cursed himself for his imbecility. Louis Raincy, he felt sure, would have found the right thing to say—even the Poor Scholar—not to say any of the fine gentlemen whom Patsy had left behind in London. After all she had left them. That was one comfort. She had come to save him. But what in the name of the prince of darkness was that idiot of a Godfrey McCulloch grinning at? Surely there was nothing so absolutely strange about the situation. The man they had seen was a minister—the minister of a parish. He was in Geneva gown, and bands—such as they were. His session clerk was with him. The kirk register had been duly signed.
If that ugly, black-browed McCulloch would only stop grinning and take himself off—perhaps even yet he could put the matter right.
"I only wanted you to know, before we land," said the clear-cut, faceted voice of Patsy, ringing out the syllables like the pouring of little diamonds into a thin wine-glass, "that you, Stair Garland, must be my chaperon—no princesses or Miss Alines any more. You can protect me from grand dukes with no more courage and determination than you did before, but now you will have an open indubitable right in that you are my husband! But here we are at the island. And there down on the rocks, do you see, Stair, who are there to welcome us? Your sister Jean, and Whitefoot. And Kennedy—Kennedy McClure—!"
She hung about the neck of a stout red-faced man, who murmured all the time of the embrace, "Tut, lassie. Think shame, lassie!" and dabbed at his eyes and blew his nose with a bandanna handkerchief with the noise of many trumpets.
"Guid-day to ye, lass, and to you, Stair Garland! Ye hae a wild filly to gentle. Be not downcast if the job be a long one. She will be worth it."
"What, Jean, you are never going?" cried Stair, when he saw his sister preparing to accompany the Laird of Supsorrow into the lugger. Somehow it seemed that he could have seen his way plainer before him if Jean had stayed. But as Godfrey McCulloch hoisted the sail, he shouted, "Go she must. There are a pair of fathers away yonder in the Cairn Ferris Valleys to be contented. And I am not sure that they will be easy to satisfy. But your sister Jean and Kennedy McClure there, and this extract from the parish register signed by parish minister and session clerk will show them that you and your wife are beyond all pursuit. As for the prison-breaking and the law, there will doubtless be great riding and running, but I do not believe that here on Isle Rathan you will be in any way disquieted."
It was nine of the clock when Patsy and Stair stood on the shore of the Isle Rathan of many famous exploits, and watched the lugger with its cargo of three go dancing out on the full current of the Solway ebb.
The two were left alone and the island seemed incredibly small and strange about them—at least to Stair. But Patsy was not in the least put about. She did the honours of the old tower of the Herons. She led the way to where Jean had spread their first meal, and motioned Stair to his place. He sat down like an automaton and looked about him as if he were seeing through a haze. It was a large and pleasant kitchen, stone-floored, with oak furniture as old as the time of Patrick Heron and May Mischief his wife. A bright fire was burning on the old-fashioned hearth, and the room looked cosy enough in spite of the old small-paned windows. It had recently been put into order, and new, bright utensils hung upon the ranges of pins and hooks against the wall.
But Stair's food seemed to choke him, somehow. He felt the imperious need of speech.
"Oh, Patsy!" he began—but he got no farther. Patsy was in possession of the field in a moment.
"Stair," she said warningly, as she held up her hand to stop him; "Stair, you have never failed me yet. Don't let me trust you in vain. I married you because I had need of you—"
"Not," said Stair, speaking disjointedly, "not because you wanted to marry me—not because—you loved me?"
"Oh, I wanted to marry you! Yes, I wanted that. I needed you to help me to do what I could not do in any other way. But—wait a while. Neither you nor I know what love means yet. I certainly do not. I am too young. Meanwhile, you are the most dependable person in my world. Let love alone for a little. What difference can it make to you and me? Let us help one another, depend one on the other—I have run off with you, and if you are under age I dare say I could be put into prison for that. But that is the way of the Pict woman. What she wants, she takes. I ran away from London. I took you out of prison, and when I had you, I brought you here to live on herrings. I wanted to be rid of princes who pestered me to marry them, of royal dukes who ran away with me, of kind uncles and princesses who thought to make my bed all eider down and cotton wool, my food all rose-leaves and honey!"
"I understand—I understand," said Stair, with a certain fierce determination in his eye, "you shall have no cause to regret that you have chosen me as your squire and armour-bearer. I shall not claim more than is my due, and of what that is I have a very small opinion indeed!"
Patsy looked at Stair. He seemed to be understanding—almost too well. There was no need that he should remove himself to so vast a distance. She wanted them to be two comrades—two Crusoes without a man Friday, working harmoniously for the common good of the community. But Stair held out for a position frankly subaltern.
"If you will tell me what I am to do—you know the place better than I—it is time to do it!" He was outwardly calm, inwardly raging, as he spoke.
"There is, thank you, some water to bring in—the spring is within the courtyard. The well-rope has a bucket. Thank you!"
And Patsy was left alone. She thought Stair Garland long in returning. He had, indeed, looked into all the outbuildings, where he discovered a couple of cows that needed to be milked and let out on the dewy pastures for the night, fowls that must be shut up, and in the barn the remains of a once full mow of hay which would make excellent sleeping accommodation.
When he got back Patsy was covering up the fire for the night. She had washed the dishes, and dried them with a dispatch to which Julian Wemyss and he had never attained after months of practice on the Wild of Blairmore.
She listened to the relation of the discoveries he had made out of doors, and agreed when he told her that he must be on hand to drive the cows back to the byre at daybreak. As seen from the sea, there must be nothing to mark the island as inhabited.
"Remember to lock the door on the inside," he said. "I shall sleep in the barn that I may be ready for my work in the morning. You will be quite safe here in the tower. Good-night, Patsy!"
And without waiting for a single word he was gone into the darkness. Patsy had pictured something much more idyllic than this. How they would enjoy their first meal! How they would chatter over it like a pair of daws in the same nest. How they would fight their battles over again, Patsy telling all her adventures in London, of the Prince Eitel, the riding of the dukes, the balls and levees—how she had met with Kennedy McClure, and how she had come all the way in the Good Intent to save him. She had her night-rides, her plots and combinations to relate—how this parish would have sent so many, but could not have them up to time—how another set of good lads were terrorized by a wrathful overlord.
From Stair she would sit and listen to the story of the defence of the Bothy on the Wild. She would hear of the Princess's letter to her uncle, how they passed the long dark winter months when the snow blocked all, the coming of spring, the cutting of the dunes by the company of sappers, and the capture. But instead, it was all distant and dry. A "Good-night" such as one might have thrown at a dog—no, he would not throw the word at Whitefoot. For even as she passed the postern window, looking out she saw Stair crossing the court in the direction of the barn, side by side with Whitefoot. The dog's eyes were raised to those of his master in a kind of adoration, and his tail waved triumphantly. As Stair bent to stroke the dog's head, Patsy became conscious of a strange new thing within her.
It was something she had never felt before, though almost any other woman would have diagnosed at once. It was, in fact, nothing less than her first twinge of jealousy.
She chose to forget all the wise precepts by which she had regulated Stair's conduct toward her. She forgot how she had carefully explained to him that all the duties were to be on his side, and all the benefits on hers.
"He did not even shake hands," she thought, looking at the wrist which the Prince and other great gentlemen has so often fervently kissed, "and yet he can stop to pat that dog's head!"
Nobody had told Patsy that marriage is a dish that cannot be eaten by one while the other looks on. She had chosen her way. She had carried it through, and now in spite of the luminous explanations which she had given Stair as to their relative positions and duties, he had chosen to misunderstand, and had marched off straight as a ramrod.
And she caught herself murmuring over and over to herself, "Stiff-necked and rebellious—stiff-necked and rebellious!"
It was to Stair she referred, but the accompanying stamp of the little foot might possibly have raised doubts as to the correctness of her application, had any been there to see.
A PICTISH HONEYMOON
Stair Garland slept little that night. He wandered in the cool purple darkness here and there about the island, listening to the curious noises of the birds, complaining vaguely, or calling one to the other from the rocky ledges. He was conscious of the perpetual drumming of the sea in his ears, as the tide ran, jostled in the narrow reaches, and hammered without ceasing on the outer cliffs of the little island.
The pair of cows were company to him. He wondered whence they came and who had placed them there. They did not waste their time, but munched steadily at the lush grasses in the interior meadow of the isle—the hollow palm of its hand, as it were. The problem took his mind for a while off his own miseries.
Some one had been there. Some one had been accustomed to tend and milk them. It could not be his sister Jean, for she could not have been long enough spared from the farm at Glenanmays. Who, then, had provided all that they found waiting for them? The poultry he had penned in darkness, so that their early crowing might not awaken Patsy. She must know. She had prepared all this. She had prepared everything. Even his own delivery from prison, even the great muster of the Bands to override authority and save him, were only little dove-tailings in the scheme which Patsy had designed for her own liberation.
Well, he had nothing to complain of. He had been asked a question, and if he had wished he might have answered "No." Was he a free man or bound? But having said "Yes" of his own good will, what remained to him but to take up the role which Patsy had reserved for him. It was not remarkably dignified, but—if any fault there were, the fault was his own.
Besides, he would have given the same answer then or any other moment. He had not been taken by surprise. So long as he was Patsy's husband, nobody else could be so also! Why, of course, he would stand by his bargain! What else was he for—he, Diarmid Garland's second son—the head of the Bands, the famous defier of the press and the Preventives? Pshaw! What did all that mean to him now—apples of Sodom in the mouth, an exceeding bitter fruit! What a fool he was with his airs! Would he ever have such a chance again, and he to dream of complaining!
Gradually he became conscious of Whitefoot moving, silent as a shadow, beside his master. Once, when Stair stood a long time on the craggy top of the Fell of Rathan, gazing out at the ranged lights on the English side of the firth, he was conscious of a cool, damp nose thrusting its way into his palm, causing him to open his hand by little calculated snout-pushes and burrowings. Whitefoot was sympathetic. Whitefoot felt for the trouble of his master, though he could not understand it, and Whitefoot would not be satisfied till his friend's hand was resting on his head. Even then little heavings and sidelong pushes expressed a desire to be caressed, and when at last Stair's hand ran over his head, across the thick ruff of hair about his neck and passed down his spine, Whitefoot shook with delight and leaped so high that his forepaws were on Stair's shoulders.
"Down, dog, down!" said his master, and at the word Whitefoot dropped back on all fours, obedient but content.
It now was past the hour of twelve. The central night stood still. The little chill breeze which ruffles the waves an hour or so in early morning had not yet begun to blow. Stair had been about the House of Rathan half-a-dozen of times. At last he went into the barn and, only removing his coat, he threw himself at length among the straw of which he had made a couch earlier in the evening. Whitefoot nuzzled comfortably up against him. He did not mean to sleep. It would soon be morning and there were the cows out in the little meadows. He would only close his eyes for a moment.
It will not be surprising to learn that the next sound he heard was a happy laugh, as Patsy appeared at the open door of the barn with "Awake, thou sluggard" upon her lips.
"I looked in half-an-hour ago," she laughed, "and you looked so sweet and peaceful that I went and milked the cows before wakening you."
"You milked the cows?"
Patsy nodded her head with its tight cover of curls, all of densest black, shapely and boyish.
"The milk is in the dairy!" she said. "Concerning what else does my lord please to inquire?"
"But the two cows?" he said, hastily getting up and putting on his coat, which he had spread over him, "they ought not to be left out all day on the high grass. Cruising sloops of war, and even Preventive men with spy-glasses, might easily see them from the shore."
"I had thought of that, my lord," said Patsy. "I confined them with a good reach of rope behind the old fold which lies hidden out of sight in the hollow of the island. No one can see them there, unless they mount on the cliffs and look down on them from the height of the island. They will be happy there, for the rabbits and gulls have not spoilt the grass."
Stair stood up beside Patsy in the doorway of the barn. The gate of the yard was open, and they walked slowly towards it, splendid widths of sea and heights of cloudless heaven opening out before them at every step. Instinctively Patsy caught Stair by the arm, gave it a little joyous tug, and cried out, "Oh, Stair, was ever anything so beautiful?"
The young man glanced down at her. But her eyes were on the distant, tender blue of the coast about Whitehaven, and the Isle of Man hovering in a mother-of-pearl haze, like a dream-island about to alight. All his instincts told him to clasp her to him and take the consequences. But unfortunately Stair reasoned, which is the wrong method with a woman, especially with such a Pictish daughter of impulse as Patsy Ferris. He remembered what she had said to him the night before, as if that could have any bearing on her mood of to-day.
But so the chance passed. The fine morning gold was dimmed. They had looked too long. Patsy released his arm and they fell apart.
She remembered it was time to go indoors for breakfast. They went, their eyes averted, lest the other should see the remains of the morning glory. They kept silence also lest the thrill of it should tremble in their voices. But at the sight of the spread table and the homely scents of fried bacon and smoked mutton ham, Patsy became again very human, and set herself down in the place of house-mistress with a ripple of glad laughter.
"Only think, Stair!" she cooed low in her throat, "here all by ourselves—a breakfast which I have prepared, eggs which I have found, milk which I drew from the cow—(they are two such nice cows, Stair!), and you and Whitefoot sitting opposite! Just ourselves two, Stair. Not a chaperon—not a gouvernante, like the old horror the Princess used to threaten me with. No felt-footed lacqueys always bringing you the wrong thing, no Princess, no Miss Aline even! Oh, I declare I am so glad—that I could—take my breakfast!"
Patsy broke off suddenly, making a wilful anti-climax to her speech, and, as Stair knew very well, not in the least finishing as she had meant to. But her housekeeping pride was aroused. He must eat. She would heap his plate. She had heard him late last night moving about. Had he not slept well? That was why she had let him sleep on this morning, but he must not expect such indulgence every day. He would need to be out and at the net fishing or among the flounders, for though they had plenty for the present in their store-room, they did not know when they might be succoured.
Then Stair put a question he had been thirsting to have answered all night.
"Whose is this island, and who has given us the right to use all the larder and live-stock?"
Patsy clapped her hands gleefully.
"Guess!" she cried—"three guesses!"
"One, wrong—no, not my father! Two, wrong, not Uncle Ju! THREE, WRONG—not Miss Aline! You made me gasp that time. I thought you could not miss it. We are here on this Island of Rathan as caretakers for Mr. Kennedy McClure. These are his cows. His sheep are on the heuchs yonder, and we have liberty to kill them for mutton when we weary of fish. These are his hens I let out this morning, and he brought Jean here with selected stores to make everything cosy for us!"
"And why does he do all this?" Stair inquired. Patsy flung up her head and smiled dazzlingly.
"Who knows?" she said. "He was great friends with me in London. He made the Good Intent hurry up when I was ready—otherwise you might have stayed a long time in prison. And this is better, eh, Stair?"
"And your Uncle Julian—Mr. Wemyss? Will they not be harder on him because I have escaped?"
"You have not escaped—you have been carried off," Patsy corrected. "So was Uncle Ju. He walked off the step of his verandah into the arms of Captain Penman and half-a-dozen of the crew of the Good Intent. They seized him and carried him on the Billy Goat, which sailed immediately for parts unknown. But Joseph managed so well and the orders from headquarters were so strict, that the garrison did not even loot the house as they did at Cairn Ferris, that night when you disgraced us all by drawing royal blood at the White Loch. Here are some books which he sent for you—some from the Bothy, and some for me to read. I am not so learned as you, and Joseph chose accordingly. If we have wet days, Stair, we can read all day with our toes to the fire!"
"And why did not we also go on the Good Intent and so get away from all this trouble?" Stair inquired.
"If you wanted Uncle Ju all day telling us what his Princess would have thought, said and done—I did not. I wanted to be by our own two selves. Besides, if we were to get married, there is no country in the world where it can be done with such willingness and alacrity as at home. Also I have been brought up a good Presbyterian, and a parish minister and his session clerk—well, where in foreign parts will you find the like of Mr. Duff and honest James Fraser? The Good Intent, indeed! I think you are hard to please if you are not content with your present quarters, young man!"
THE LAND OF ALWAYS AFTERNOON
By the afternoon of the second day Stair was finding himself unfit for human society, because he had not been able to shave since he left the prison. Of course he had brought nothing with him. There was no time. His hand went unconsciously every other minute to his scrubby chin. In truth, his Norse blondness did not allow it to show as much as he supposed. But that did not detract from the pervading sensation of disgustful grubbiness.
Patsy's eyes missed nothing, and very soon she surprised him by opening the door of a little tower chamber on the ground floor, sparsely but quite sufficiently furnished.
"I should feel very much safer," she said, "if you were to sleep within the house. You will find shaving materials in the corner!"
Stair could not thank her, but then neither did his accursed pride rise up in rebellion. She closed the door and left him alone. The water in the jug was hot. In a case marked "A. F." were razors and other necessities. Evidently Patsy had done some plundering, and had not come to him altogether without a dowry, though she had managed to do without the paternal benediction.
It was wonderful to feel clean again, to get the stubble off his cheeks, and to plash the cool water over his head and about his ears. When he had finished he felt measurably nearer to Patsy. He found laid out also clean shirts and neckcloths. Two complete suits of clothes were folded in an open chest of drawers. Patsy had evidently looted to some purpose.
Stair's first instinct was not to put on any of these things till he had been assured that they were there with the consent of Adam Ferris. But he realized that he had already used the razors, and besides it would be idiotic, in his present awkward position, to strain at any gnats after swallowing such a camel as the marriage on the Colvend shore.
Besides, he had the sense to see that any obstinacy would terribly offend Patsy. She had evidently thought much about the matter, and whether her father knew or did not know was secondary to the great need in Stair's heart of making Patsy happy. He did not, however, realize how long had been her thoughts on the subject, or that the suits of clothes which he supposed to have been lifted from her father's drawers, had been talked over by Patsy and Kennedy McClure in the garden at Hanover Lodge, ordered at a first-class London tailor's, with such approximate indications as size, height, and general proportionateness of body could supply. Patsy had paid for them out of her own money, and it was for the sake of the Princess, who was curious about parcels, that the case of shaving utensils had been lettered in gold with the initials of Adam Ferris.
An hour later, Stair came forth like a bridegroom from his chamber. Patsy, who had been on the watch, called out "Oh!" And if she had permitted her heart to guide her actions, she would have clung about his neck. He looked so noble. But all that she said was just, "I am proud of you, Stair—very proud!"
And, rightly considered, that was a great deal for Patsy to say.
* * * * *
That day was a memorable one for Stair Garland. Patsy was charming and gay as she alone knew how to be. Having scanned the sea horizon with the Dollond glass to make sure that the firth was absolutely free from ships, they gave themselves up to the delights of the sunshine and summer air. Now they dipped into little coves, among dainty shells and glistening sand-breadths, where they sat down cross-legged and played at "jecks" or "jacks"—one pebble in the air and lift five. Five in the air and lift one—with all sorts of intricate devices and variations, such as catching the tossed stones on the back of the hand, collecting them with a sudden side swoop, and so forth till Patsy was tired. Her nimble fingers left Stair's stiffer members far behind.
But it was different when a white stone was poised on the top of a rock, for Stair could send it rolling down nine times out of ten before Patsy had never so much as touched the target. Again on sheltered stretches Stair could send a smooth, flat stone skipping from one side to the other of the still bay, which Patsy declared was no sort of sport because hers, though every bit as well thrown as Stair's, invariably plumped to the bottom with a little farewell "cloop" as soon as they encountered the water. "You get all the best stones!" Patsy cried at last, vexed at her lack of success. Whereupon Stair handed over his ammunition to her, which "clooped" and sank as before.
"Then you do something to them—you must!" said Patsy, and with this luminous reasoning she turned and set off back to the old Rathan tower to get a book. Thereafter they read. That is, Patsy spun white cobwebs with her needle and Stair read to her—Shakespeare it was, and the play "The Tempest."
She did not know—she could never have guessed that Stair could read like that. She often stopped him to ask the meaning of a passage, and never did she ask in vain. Sometimes, indeed, she could have two or three interpretations to choose from, for in the Bothy Stair had gone over the play with Theobald's notes, comparing them with Pope's and Johnson's.
Patsy's heart was in a strange topsy-turvy state all that day. Sometimes she would forget herself and "cosy up" against Stair as she used to snuggle close to her Uncle Julian. Then something in the strong, clear voice, the square unyieldingness of shoulders, the body massive and forceful, caused her to draw hastily away. She thought that Stair had not noticed, but his whole heart and body became tremulous to the brief caress, and when she recalled her favour, it was like the sun hiding his face and the air growing chilled as before snow.
Still Stair managed to keep his face as steady as his voice, and ended by growing so interested in the play that he forgot Patsy altogether. Being infinitely more subtle than he, Patsy knew and resented this, and it was only her cheek rubbing softly to and fro against his shoulder that made him gasp and fail in the middle of a great harangue.
At which Patsy smiled well-contented. She did not know what she wanted, exactly, but of this she was certain, that whatever it might be, she wanted it very badly.
The most curious thing was that occasionally she felt very angry with Stair, without being able to give a reason for her anger. The feeling passed in a flash and she saw what she called the "monumental Stair" again erected on a pedestal and knew that she had been cross with him because she wished him a little less "monumental." She did not blame herself in the least nor recall that Stair was only keeping his pledged and plighted word.
"I can't slap him as I used to do Louis Raincy. He is too big and too solemn. He would think it part of the treatment and only set his lips the firmer. But oh! (clenching her fists) how I wish I could!"
And indeed it might have helped matters.
The day sped on. Dinner was an outdoor meal. Stair carried it from the back door of the tower down to a little hidden cove where sea-pinks and prickly blue holly grew right down to the edge of the sand. Patsy served and they talked merrily. Though a famous "runner" of all manner of Hollands and Bordeaux, Stair tasted nothing except the water from the spring which he had himself drawn up clear and cold from the well in the courtyard—the well that had been made by the father of Patrick Heron, long before the time of the Raiders from the Hills.
Afterwards they stretched themselves out and chatted, making each other's acquaintance, and deepening their mutual experiences. Patsy could now unseal her treasured tales. She spoke of Eitel the Prince, and Stair first blushed crimson and then went pale with desire to wring that well-nigh regal neck. He could forgive a great deal to the Princess, however, because she was acting as she thought best for Julian Wemyss's niece. And of course Patsy did deserve the best. Yet she had chosen the greatest detrimental of them all. However, he was a good watch-dog, and would guard her well.
Louis Raincy he had less patience with. Why should any man slight Patsy, make love to another woman, and then come whining to be forgiven and taken back into favour? And this same Louis Raincy had been with them at the White Loch and had taken Patsy safe to his grandfather's at Castle Raincy, the most sensible act of his life.
But after all Stair found much cause to be content. He possessed, if not all he hoped for—at least he had Patsy, all to himself, and that by her own choosing and good will. What signified a few conditions to the bargain? He never could have dared to ask her, and she had asked him. Therefore she had a right to dictate her terms. He would not again behave like a sulky fool, as he had done on the first night of their coming to the Isle. He knew better now.
He watched Patsy's quiet untroubled breathing, the slow droop and quick recover of her eyelash as she grew a little drowsy. She pulled herself up and dug her elbow into the sand so that her head might be supported. Her eyes drooped again, but this time the eyelashes did not rise. The arm bent into an adorable curve, and the head, heavy with sleep, finally deposited itself on Stair's shoulder. With infinite delicate precautions he drew a cloak over her and settled himself to watch the colour rise in the cheek which he could see. He marked the crescent-shaped shadow of the long, upturned eyelash, the lips exquisitely formed, but not too small to be expressionless like your rosebud-mouthed women. She was his, as the French say, "en droit, mais pas encore en jouissance!"
Still, nobody else could have her. That was the first and greatest consideration, and with that firm in his mind Stair kept himself steady till the sun was descending low in the sky of the west, and the clamorous birds began to flock back to the island—sand-pipers peeping in the hollows about the sheep-fold, gulls and guillemots squabbling on the cliffs, and tarns restlessly dashing and swooping. For the tide was coming up fast and would soon be at the full.
Then he saw something far out but coming nearer that made his heart leap to his throat. He waited to make sure before awakening Patsy. But after five minutes there could be no mistake. He must tell her.
"Dear," he said, and trembled at the word, lest she should have heard it, "I am sorry to wake you, but there is a man swimming towards the island!"
* * * * *
Patsy awoke, and in a moment was on her feet. Whether she had heard the word or not, certain it was that she had grasped the meaning of the sentence.
"Quick, Stair," she said, "get your gun!"
"The man is swimming," said Stair. "I think, instead, I had better get a dry suit of clothes. He cannot be very dangerous. I have my sheath-knife if—but there is no fear. I can handle him!"
"Run no risks, Stair. I have ventured my all upon you! You are very ... necessary to me!"
Ah, if he had only known that the word in her heart which she did not let her lips speak was not "necessary" but "precious"!
They went down together to the long spit of rock against which the swimmer was being driven. Stair looked at the black head on the surface of the water and realized that there might be trouble for both of them in the immediate future. He ordered Patsy to stand back.
"Why should I?" said Patsy, surprised at his tone.
"Because I tell you to!" said Stair Garland sharply, "there—on the top of the rock. Crouch down! Do not move till I give you leave." Then he began to wade out, and as he went she saw him assure himself that his sheath-knife moved sweetly in its scabbard with the click of easy-fitting steel.
"Eben McClure!" he cried, as in the long reach of the overhand stroke the man's face was turned towards him, "what are you doing here?"
Stair helped him out of the water. The man could hardly gasp at first, but in a moment words returned to him.
"The lost dog," he said hoarsely, "follows the only man who is kind to it."
And he would have fallen on the rock spit, if Stair had not caught him in his arms, and carried him to the little cove.
"You were here on this spot with your command, Captain de Raincy," trumpeted Colonel Laurence, "and yet you let the prison-breakers ride off! You ought to have attacked them, sir. You know you ought! It is as much as your coat is worth. The whole crew of them were there—the low fellow who shot the Duke where he drove into the infernal barricades—and the girl who ran away from London to send the fiery cross through the country. Damn it, sir, it makes me furious only to think of it. And yet, with a chance like that, you sat your horse and let them ride off!"
"I need not, I suppose," said Louis calmly, "point out to you that there were some hundreds of them, at least ten to one, and that most of them were known to me—though not, I believe, those who remained behind to fire the prison."
"Well," said Colonel Laurence bitterly, "whether known to you or not, you let them ride off unharmed after committing a capital crime. It is evident that you cannot be trusted in your own district. Your sympathies are not with law and order. Oh, I know something about the peculiar difficulties of officials in Galloway. There are certain acts—such as resistance to his Majesty's press, prison-breaking, and the whole business of smuggling which are here favoured by all, from the Lord Lieutenant to the herd on the hills. I cannot get a magistrate to issue a warrant without referring the matter to the Secretary of State. I cannot execute it without a battalion of regulars. As an instance in point you were in command of a company of dragoons. You saw this thing done. You knew those who did it, yet you did not lift a finger to stop them."
"We had only just arrived as they were riding off," said Louis. "I had no evidence that any offence against justice had been committed. I saw the prison on fire afterwards and I helped to put out that. Without my troopers it would have been wholly destroyed."
"No matter," said the irate Colonel, "we cannot have any such officer in the district—certainly not under my command. I mean that my orders shall be carried through at whatever risk. Now, I put it to you plainly, do you prefer to send in your papers or be publicly broken?"
"I shall not send in my papers," said Louis de Raincy, warmly, "and you cannot break me, publicly or otherwise!"
"And pray why not?"
Louis lifted his hand in the direction of Castle Raincy, an imposing pile of towers showing up dark on a hill to the west.
"That's why," he said, curtly. "I am the heir to a peerage, and my grandfather—well, I need not speak of him. Besides, I know the Duke of York, who is still commander-in-chief."
Laurence's temper got the better of him.
"It is you and the like of you who defy regulations and are the shame of the British army."
"Not so," said Louis, in a very level tone, "say rather officers who scramble for every safe money-making little post-recruit—raising, keg-hunting, 'stay-in-a-comfortable-corner' men, and keep as far away from the real fighting as possible. If the cap fits, why, put it on! And as soon as the war is over, if you still require any satisfaction, I am your man. In the meantime, Colonel Laurence, you will no longer be troubled with me. I have got my transfer to the Duke's army at Hernandez, and I am ordered to join my new regiment by the first ship to leave Liverpool with cavalry details. We shall soon be ready for the push across the Pyrenees in the rear of Soult!"
Colonel Laurence took the paper and glanced at it. Then he grunted and began to march out of barracks. He knew very well that, since the British army was officered on much more aristocratic and family lines than in later days, he could not hope to strike Louis Raincy with any real penalty. But nevertheless he turned about for a parting shot.
"That paragon of yours, the daughter of Ferris of Cairn Ferris, ran off with the chief criminal. She led the attack on the Castle here. They are hidden somewhere. If I catch them within my jurisdiction, I shall put a bullet through each of them."
"You can do as you like with Stair Garland," Louis Raincy called back, "but remember if you touch Patsy Ferris I will put a bullet through you if I have to hold the pistol to your ear! But I am not anxious—both of them would be quickly avenged. I advise you, Laurence, to leave that wasp's nest alone. You do not understand this people. I do!"
* * * * *
Now Colonel Laurence, though he got the worst of his colloquy with Captain Louis Raincy, had a real grievance. It was true that throughout the province, and especially in its westerly parts, the Government hardly received the semblance of support. Some lairds and a few big tenants were loud Governmental men, but at home each had his store of "run" stuff ripening under some inconspicuous cellar, generally quite unconnected with his mansion. In those days they built even cothouses with more space below ground than could be seen above. The stones were quarried in the laird's own quarries. They were carried in his tenant's carts. They were laid by his own masons. The earth out of the cellarage was tipped into the nearest burn or over the cliffs into the sea.
There was hardly a farm lad from the Braes of Glenap to the Brigend of Dumfries who was not protected by his landlord from his Majesty's press. The sentiment of a whole countryside soon tells on the spirits of a man like Laurence, and especially since he had lost Eben McClure (who had taken off from him the sharpest of the popular hatred) his soul had become darkened and embittered. He was expected to make bricks in a country where the straw did not grow—to fill regimental cadres with men, every one of whom was under the secret protection of the loyal gentlemen with whom he dined and talked. At hospitable boards he sometimes forgot himself and revealed his plans, only to repent most bitterly the next morning. For very sure was he that a messenger had started as soon as he had been shut into his bedroom, and that long before morning the quarry would be far away among the moors, lurking there as safely as ever did Peden, called the Prophet, once minister of New Luce.
His men were continually being called out by this Supervisor and that, but he had grown to be profoundly distrustful of such summonses. They brought him no honour, and not even any satisfaction. The wily exciseman, knowing well on which side his bread was buttered, had generally made his pact with the "runners." When the troops and the Preventive arrived on the scene of the "run," nothing remained except a multitude of pony-tracks, and occasionally, if they were very swift and very lucky, the top-masts of a schooner or brig might be seen hanging like mist against the morning sky. Then the Preventives would run round looking behind ridges of rocks and exploring the bottoms of shallow pools, till they heroically took possession of the twenty or thirty casks of Edam Hollands or Angouleme brandy which had been left for them.
Then the newspaper account would run somewhat as follows:
"IMPORTANT SMUGGLING CAPTURE.—On the night of the 7th, acting on information received, the Preventive officers of Stranryan (Chief Supervisor Pirlock in command), assisted by a troop of H.M. 27th Dragoons stationed at the same place, succeeded in intercepting a most serious attempt at smuggling at Port Logan. Supervisor Pirlock had had the place under observation for several weeks, and on the evening of the 7th he swooped down upon the law-breakers, completely broke them up, and captured no fewer than thirty large casks of fine liquors, both Dutch and French, probably all that the smuggling ship had been able to put on shore. The vessel was seen and her description will be sent to all ports, harbours, offices, as well as to the general agencies under the charge of H.M. Board of Excise.
"A few more such successes and our law-breaking friends will fight shy of the district occupied by the keen eyes and ready hands of so able and zealous an officer as Mr. Chief Supervisor Pirlock."
When a paragraph such as this came under the notice of Colonel Laurence, he would stamp up and down his room, swearing great oaths, till his majors had to take him in hand to prevent him speaking out in front of the men. He would have liked to throttle, not only Mr. Chief Supervisor Pirlock, but every Preventive officer in the district.
Decidedly there was something to be said for Colonel Laurence. Yet why did he remain? As Louis had hinted, he had more than once exchanged when his regiments had been ordered abroad to the wars, in order to continue in the district. His long experience in the work was urged as a reason. But really the Colonel was hot on the track of his pension. He could not now expect any further promotion, and he knew nothing better to do than just to continue where he was, month after month, till the slow revolution of the years should bring him an income and repose.
If, however, he could lay his hand upon Stair and have him hanged in the teeth of all the lairds in Galloway, that would surely count for something with the Regent, and especially with the Boards of Revenue and Recruitment, which were naturally very sore upon the subject of the aforesaid Stair Garland.
"WHY DO THEY LOVE YOU?"
With the coming of Eben the Spy to Isle Rathan a new life began there. At first Patsy was filled with indignation at the trust Stair placed in him. She knew that he had been with Uncle Julian and Stair in the Bothy of Blairmore. She had heard the tale of the test—the test of life or death. But somehow, because she had not seen it—because she had not been with the ex-spy day after day, she could not believe in the reality of his repentance. His deep-rooted admiration for Stair remained in her eyes peculiarly suspect. He seemed to be presuming too much. If she, to whom Stair belonged by right of purchase at so great a price, did not manifest her feelings—what right had he? Of course he had a purpose to serve, and that purpose was to betray them. How else should he have guessed about the island, and why should he come swimming out and interrupting their picnic like that?
Still there was a pleasant side to the matter. The cows were milked, the meals prepared. Fresh water was brought to every chamber by this man who never showed his face outside the house during the day. Patsy and Stair had nothing to do but to stray from one safe cove to another on the seaward side all through these long days, and so, resentment falling away, by and by Patsy fell into talk with Eben. He called her "madame," and rarely concluded a sentence without a reference to "Your husband, madame!"
This Patsy thought a great liberty. What could he know about the matter? He had not seen Saunders Duff's registers, and of a certainty Godfrey McCulloch had not spoken. Still, she finished by liking to hear him say the words, and often left the real Stair idly tossing stones into the water, in order to go into the cool kitchen of Tower Rathan, to sit on one of the ancient oaken chests, a row of which ran round the walls, and hear tales of the dare-devil Stair, and especially to listen for the respectful repetition of her favourite phrase, "Your husband, madame!"
She loved to hear how her husband (she could say the word to herself now sometimes) had accepted the outcast and had treated him like a man when he was trodden under foot. She could not listen often enough to the history of the restitution of the money and jewels with which Eben had ridden away from the White Loch. Stair had insisted on that, though he had no reason to love the Duke of Lyonesse.
Then she would go back and lo! there—prone on the sand, his rough muzzle on Stair's knees, his big brown eyes under shaggy bristles of eyebrow, gazing up into his master's face, lay Whitefoot. Only, such was the fineness of his breeding and the delicacy of his sheep-dog instinct, that he rose instantly when he heard Patsy's returning footsteps, and took himself out of the way. He worshipped none the less, only at a greater distance. Patsy's was now the first right.
"Why do they love you so much, Stair?" said Patsy abruptly, as she sat down beside him after one of these kitchen visits.
"They—who?" said Stair, sleepily. For warm pebbles, warm sands, the lee of a rock and the gentle lap of a sheltered sea make for drowsiness.
"Well," said Patsy, "Eben and Whitefoot there—they don't care a straw about me."
"Whitefoot would defend you with his life," put in Stair, sitting up.
"Yes, because you tell him," said Patsy, pulling discontentedly at a blade of grass, "and as for Eben—he simply cannot keep from singing your praises!"
Stair laughed, gaily for him. He did not often laugh aloud.
"Patsy," he answered, "how many have loved you—Princes and Princesses, men and women in another world than mine? Now, none of these love me—and strange as it may seem, I am not disquieted about the matter."
"I daresay not," snapped Patsy, who this morning for some reason was easily irritated, "but they are not here. Eben and Whitefoot are, and they go about worshipping you. Now, if you expect me to do the same, you are mistaken!"
"I am not expecting anything of the sort," said Stair patiently, looking past Patsy, away out to sea to the poised top of Snaefell lording it above the low-lying channel mists.
"Well then you ought!" cried Patsy, and turning on her heel she sped to the house to keep from crying, she did not in the least know why. And when Stair followed her to ask what was the matter, it stood to reason that he was met by silence and a locked door. If he had had more experience he would have remained where he was and let Patsy find her way back of her own accord.
One morning, a week or two after, Patsy had gone out with her books and Stair was getting ready to follow her to the seaward looking side of the Isle, when Eben called him to the window of the kitchen which overlooked the long ridge of sand, shingle, and razor-like mussel shells which in the deeps of the ebb, constituted a practicable pathway across to the mainland.
For half-a-dozen tides each month, three in the middle of each neap, unless there were heavy winds from the south-west, Isle Rathan became a tidal island, and the ridge could be crossed on foot by those who made haste. This was not, however, often attempted, for the tides and currents were exceedingly tricky in these parts.
Eben pointed with his finger to a faint horizontal ridge on the mainland.
"Do you see anything there, sir?" he asked.
"No," said Stair, anxious to be off to Patsy, "some shepherds on the mainland have been making a new sheep-fold, I suppose."
"A sheep-fold is mostly round, sir," said Eben, "and if you will notice there are two turf dykes one behind the other. I don't like that. Besides, have you seen anybody working there? I have not. And would herds cover their work so neatly with turf? From here it might be twenty years old—only I know it was not there when I passed that way down to the Orraland Point where I began to swim out."
"I see you have an idea," said Stair, "out with it! Tell me what you think!"
"Sir," said Eben McClure, "I have every need to serve you faithfully, and I should never forgive myself if by chance I had brought the enemy on you. I learned from my uncle where you were. He also has grown to trust me, sir, because you found me trustworthy, and he was willing that I should come, in order to be of what help to you I could. He cherishes the lady your wife above all others in the world. I had thought Kennedy McClure a hard, selfish old man, and so he might have been but for her. But he is never tired of telling how she saved him in London, and how she was not ashamed of him even in the company of Princes and all the great folk of the town. Ah, she was counted a world's wonder, sir—our Miss Patsy, if I may make so bold as to call her so—when she was in London. There was no one like her—and it's not coronets she could have married, my uncle says, but crowns!"
"I know—I know," said Stair, somewhat impatiently, "but what is it you are afraid of?"
"The sappers, sir—the little burrowing men. They have far more sense than whole regiments of soldiers, and it is as likely as not that some one of them, anxious for promotion, followed me across country, and watched me down to the point of Orraland. I wish I had been more careful of my footprints, but the woods were soft and I kept under shelter till the last moment!"
"Well, what of it—get on, Eben!"
"Sir, these are sappers' trenches, or I am no judge! And what's more, they are made to command the approach by the ridge to the tail of the island."
"But we are almost at the height of the flood tides, and there can be nothing to fear from that direction till the neaps come, and not then if the south-west wind blows as it has done ever since we came here. Why, we have hardly ever seen the back of the ridge black for half-an-hour."
"I know," said Eben, shaking his head, "but they are long-patienced fellows, these sappers—not like cavalrymen or lazy Preventives, who want nothing better than to lie up with a pipe and a mutchkin!"
"Some night we shall row over and see, Eben," said Stair, preparing to depart. "If they are lying in their rabbit-hutches we might give them a rare fright!"
"No," said Eben, "I don't mind going myself, but what would that child do without you? Answer me that, sir! No, what I want you to do is to send Whitefoot with a message to my uncle and get the Good Intent here by the next neaps. Could the dog do that, sir? They say he is wise."
"Well," said Stair, considering, "I don't think that Whitefoot could go directly to Supsorrow and find out your uncle. But he could take a message to Jean, if he were put a little bit on the road—say through the Blue Hills glen and over the old bridge of Dee. I daresay he could make it even from here, but he has never been past Dee Bridge by land. Then Jean would send on the note to your uncle by Agnew—he is the youngest and fleetest!"
"He and I shall start to-night," said Eben the Spy. "I shall be back before the morning. I shall see him safe across Tongland Bridge and be home before daybreak. The nights are lengthening."
"If you think it is necessary," said Stair, stepping out.
"It is necessary," said Eben, emphatically. "It is so important that I would run all the way myself, if I could do the journey as fast and as surely."
Stair and Patsy spent the day in the usual way out on the cliffs, coming in for their meals as leisurely as to an hotel and as certain that they would find everything in order.
Stair said nothing to Patsy about his talk with Eben. He did not mention the curious ridges so carefully turfed with green which were gradually penning in the end of the shore passage. But in spite of this, he thought a good deal. Who could be at the back of this steady pursuit? Surely not Louis Raincy. No, Raincy was a Galloway man, and even if Patsy were not there to be considered, he would not hunt Stair Garland. He might have his own quarrel with him, but he would not take this way of avenging himself.
That night, as soon as Patsy said good-night and went upstairs, Eben made a parcel of his clothes, and at a sign from his master Whitefoot stood ready to plunge in and swim across along with Eben. His collar, duly charged with Jean's letter, was tied in the bundle along with the ex-spy's clothes, and would be put upon him after the moorland winds had dried the mane of hair about his neck.
"To Jean—you hear, Whitefoot—to Jean!"
And Whitefoot leaped up to lick Stair's face in token of complete understanding.
It was not a long swim, and the pair took the water at the very height of the tide. They would hardly lose any way as they pushed towards the strand beneath the farmhouse of Craigdarroch, which was the nearest point on their road to the old Bridge of Tongland, beyond which Whitefoot knew his trail.
Stair watched them out of sight. They swam silently and evenly into the darkness, and in a quarter of an hour he heard the signal agreed upon—Whitefoot's singing yelp with which he assisted the precentor in starting such minor tunes as Martyrs and Coleshill. Then he turned and went slowly back to the old Tower of Rathan. Patsy's light was not out, and he stood a long while in the courtyard looking up at it.
Many were making sacrifices for Patsy's sake, but none, he thought, such great ones as he. Still, so it was nominated in the bond. And, touched by a memory, he took out his Shakespeare and read the "Merchant of Venice" till he fell asleep.
The candle had burned itself out when he awoke. The early rose of a coming day was looking in at the top of the blinds. He heard the rattle of pebbles tossed against the half-closed wooden shutter. He opened, and there, pale as a spectre, stood Eben McClure. His teeth were chattering, so Stair made haste to let him in. He gave him a strong "four fingers" dram of Angouleme brandy, before making him roll himself up in a blanket and lie down in his warm place. Stair would be cook for one morning.
He did not disturb the sleeper when Patsy came down, smiling and happy, with another day of peaceful pleasure before her in their Rath or Isle of the Fairy Folk.
"Eben McClure needed to send a message to his uncle," he said lightly, "so he swam across with Whitefoot, and being chilled when he got back, I gave him a dose of spirits and made him go to bed."
Patsy made no remark. She had accepted Eben as a fixture in their menage, and took no further concern about the matter. But Stair looked out many times at the green trenches closing in the land entrance to the isle, and even as he looked, it seemed that during the night the parallels had crept down a little nearer to high-water mark.
If so, Eben the Spy was right, and for Patsy's sake their precautions had not been taken a moment too soon. The sooner the Good Intent was on the spot the better.
THE BATTLE OF THE CAUSEWAY
Patsy was a prison-breaker. She had not only resisted but defied lawful authority. She had broken "with the armed hand" into one of his Majesty's defended prisons. She had taken out men awaiting trial for capital offences, and to finish all neatly, she or her followers had burned the Castle of Stranryan.
As for Stair, the counts on his indictment were as the sands by the seashore for multitude. There was no doubt that the sappers would earn the thanks of their superiors, of the whole Board of Excise and of the Office of Recruitment for the two services by handing over the two who had so long terrorized the best efforts of their agents in Galloway. Eben, as a thief and a traitor to his salt, would be an additional prize. Surely all this was worth working and waiting for. So at least thought Colonel Laurence, who had patiently followed them westwards till he came across the tracks of Eben McClure when he prepared to swim across to the island from the point of Orraland.
The days went slowly for Eben and Stair, who were waiting for the neaps and the coming of the Good Intent. They sped fast for Patsy, who now ran unashamed about the island with Stair's hand in hers. Never had there been such a companion. Never had she been so happy.
What troubled the men most was the failure of Whitefoot to return. To account for this, Stair had invented a score of reasons, in none of which he believed himself. It was now Thursday and the day after next, or more exactly during the early morning of Friday, they would see the middle of the neaps. If at all the ridge would be fully uncovered then, and in the absence of a strong south-wester (which now seemed unlikely), the track might remain uncovered for a couple of hours.
All that day there had been unusual semaphore signallings and wavings of flags on the heights facing the island; but Stair, anxious to keep Patsy ignorant and happy as long as possible, still hesitated to tell her. They had gone down to Leg-o'-Mutton Bay where the shells they called by that name were to be found. An absolute silence reigned as they stood together looking out towards the sunset playing on Screel and Ben Gairn, till, with the tail of his eye Stair saw something moving along the ridge above them.
He turned swiftly, and there was Whitefoot, but a Whitefoot who dragged one foot painfully after the other, yet who, at sight of his master, wagged his great tail and gave vent to his old "Aaa-uch" of joy. The dog tried to bound towards them, but he had overestimated his strength. He toppled forward, whereupon Stair ran to him and carried him down in his arms. There was a bullet-hole behind his shoulder, but in spite of that the dog had swam the strait to find his master.
Stair laid him down and Patsy hastily tore off the flounce of a dress to bind about the wound. Stair took off his coat and wrapped Whitefoot in it. But he was not easy, shaking his head and turning it about to indicate that he had some message which must be delivered immediately. To quiet him, Stair undid the collar and pulled out a little square missive.
"The 'Good Intent' will be with you and send a boat Friday morning!"
As soon as Whitefoot saw the white half sheet in Stair's hands, he crawled a little farther up on his master's knees. His beautiful eyes, that were fixed on Stair's face, gradually blurred and grew filmy. He moved his head restlessly as he was wont to do when seeking a caress. Stair's hand was laid on his head to soothe him. Whitefoot stretched himself out on his master's knees for the last time with the long, contented sigh of one about to sleep, and shut his beautiful eyes for ever. Only his tongue continued to lick his master's hand for another moment or two.
"Oh, Stair," cried Patsy, "how he loved you—he died for you!"
"No, dear," said Stair softly, "for us!"
* * * * *
The next was a day of anxious tension. The long sinuous snakeback of the shell-ridge showed black all its length at the bottom of the afternoon ebb, but contrary to their expectations nothing moved in the camp of the enemy. It was evident that they were waiting for the early morning. The water would be at its lowest shortly after three, when the rush could be made with sufficient light to see. This was the more necessary as there were many quicksands to either side and in one or two places the ridge was not quite continuous. The winter storms altered it, sometimes by many feet, leaving isolated humps and mounds with quicksands about them, which might easily trap the unwary. The enemy was evidently not going to take any risks.
After Whitefoot's death Stair had perforce to tell everything to Patsy. It was wonderful how it strengthened and reaffirmed her.
"Why did you not tell me?" she said. "Why did you take counsel with everybody but me?"
"I did not," said Stair, smiling at her. "It was Eben who discovered everything, and then came and asked me. I thought that there might be nothing in it, and it was not till I was perfectly sure, that I saw the necessity of disturbing you."
"You will never treat me as a child again?" she had her hands on his sleeve now, and was looking up into his face.
"No," he said, "I know too well who carried me off here, breaking prisons to get me—and has not known what to do with me since!"
"Oh, don't say that, Stair. I love you very dearly—more than I thought possible."
He gazed at her for a moment, saw that his time had not yet come, and then gently patted her cheek, so gently that she did not resent the caress. All that day they watched the curving trenches from a little angle of the tower from which a rifle could be brought to bear on the shell causeway. That afternoon seemed everlasting. It was a clear, still twilight, and they did not dine till nearly midnight. If the Good Intent were to send a boat it would be to the back of the island which the tide never left. Indeed, Leg-o'-Mutton Bay was the only spot where a boat could land. There was always deep water there.
At one o'clock Stair saw a ship's lights very far away. It was very doubtful, even supposing that she were the Good Intent, that she could be there in time. But in the crucial hours, Eben the Spy proved himself wonderfully helpful and encouraging. His Uncle Kennedy never promised without keeping his promise. There might be a bit of a skirmish as the men were coming over, but he could warrant that they would be safe on board along with Captain Penman before ever a soldier set his foot on the island. On this he would pledge his life.
In view of all the facts this was not very convincing, but all the same it was distinctly cheering.
The blank night wore to a kind of grey over the sea, though the land was still in deep shadow. Across the grey ran the coils of the black causeway. The light was coming fast now and for the first time Eben lost his equanimity of spirit. He was in haste to have them gone out of the Tower.
"Take Mrs. Stair down to the landing-place, sir," he pleaded, "take her to the little cove where the boat will come in. They may be on the shell-track any time now."
And as he spoke both Stair and he heard and recognized the loud rattle of a ship's anchor chain.
"There," he cried, "off with you! There is not a moment to lose. Ah, there they come. But that is only the first of them. I can easily stop these. Out at the back door! The wicket in the wall is open. Keep on through the hollow and you will find the boat ready. Do not wait for me. I have my own life arranged for. Do not fear for me!"
He hustled them out with a haste which left them no time for explanation. The men who were hastening across the causeway had less than a mile to run. It was, however, by no means easy going, and it would take them at least ten good minutes. Stair took Patsy down to the Shell Bay by the safest path, and even before they reached it they could hear the beginning of a fusillade in their rear. The boat from the Good Intent was already on the way, rowed by four sturdy seamen, yet it seemed to them both as though she would never arrive. They looked behind them, expecting every moment to see a rush of men come at them over the crown of the island.
Stair could stand it no longer. He must see what was going on, and he mounted the rough sides of the little heathery knoll called quaintly Ben Rathan. Patsy would not be left behind and he found her at his side. She could, in fact, have been there long before him.
But what they saw struck them dumb.
In a rough trench at the island end of the shell causeway, and quite clearly evident beneath them in the young light of the morning, were three figures, two of them obviously dummies, but with guns at their shoulders and hats on their shapeless heads. Bounding hither and thither, now along the top of the trench, now rising breast-high to fire was a man so like Stair Garland that Patsy had to look again at the blond giant beside her to make sure. Then they understood.
It was the ex-spy clad in the cast-off suit which Stair had taken off the first morning after their coming to the island. Stair's well-known bonnet with its tall feather was on Eben's head, and after every shot or two, he waved it in the air and shouted to the assailants to come on. The half-dozen sappers who had tried the first rush were now lying flat behind stones, and one lay bunched up as if wounded. The false Stair ran to and fro firing the muskets over the shoulders of his auxiliary potato-sacks. Then he shouted again defiantly, and leaping to the cliff's edge where he stood clear against the sky-line, he fired again. Patsy could see the mud-and-water spurt up from where the bullet struck. From the mainland a score more of men took the pathway, keeping as widely apart as possible. These were Colonel Laurence and his first reinforcement. Up went the feathered bonnet in the air as Eben dived back into his rude trench.
The sailors kept calling now from the boat, eagerly, imperiously. It was necessary for them to return. Patsy was placed on board and Stair wished to go back and help to defend the island. He could not leave Eben McClure thus. But Patsy was out on the shingle in a moment. If Stair went back so should she. Eben McClure had given her a letter which, he said, would explain everything. It was only to be read aboard the Good Intent after the anchor was up.
So they put about and in a few minutes they were having their hands wrung off by Captain Penman on his own quarter-deck.
"I am glad to see you," he cried. "I thought I heard firing. They must have been pretty close—not much sea-way in your last tack, eh? But come below. You will find everything in my cabin. The owner said most particular that it was to be made all spick and span for you. Honoured I am to see you again on my ship, Mistress Garland!"
As they turned the corner of Isle Rathan, Stair and Patsy could see that the sham defences had been carried with a rush, and that something lay very still behind the hastily-dug trench. Patsy's keen eyes noted that it was still wearing Stair's bonnet.
She turned and ran below weeping bitterly.
"Oh, Stair, they do not love you better than I!" she wailed as she clung passionately to him; "no—not though they die for you, and I am only a drag on you. For I love you! I love you—and I too would die for you!"
Her arms were about her husband's neck and her lips were pressed for the first time to his.
"Dear," he answered softly, "perhaps you were meant to live for me!"
* * * * *
The letter which Eben had given to Patsy was a very simple one.
"Dear Sir and Madame" (it read), "if we are hard-pressed I am going to fight them off to give you time to get away. I was a bad man till Mr. Stair believed in me. I think it an honour to die for him and for his wife. Madame, be kind to him, for he deserves it. There is no such man in this world, I do assure you of that.
"Your obdt. humble servant, "E. McCLURE.
"P.S.—I should like Mr. Stair to tell my uncle that I did not disgrace the family name."
In a letter left in charge of Captain Penman, Kennedy McClure had sent Patsy a packet of banknotes with his love. The emigrants were to be taken to Leghorn and landed there. Thereafter they could remain at Pisa or Florence as suited them best till the storm blew over and their friends made arrangements. Miss Patsy must not mind taking a little money now, for he had meant her to be his heir ever since he had charged himself with her future by helping her to run away from princesses and suchlike great people in London. And as for Stair Garland, he really had been owing him all that and more for a long time.
* * * * *
It was the autumn of the year after Waterloo when they next set foot on Scottish soil. They might have come sooner, but while Napoleon ruled communications were difficult, and now there were three of them to think about. Recently, however, Kennedy McClure had died of a sudden apoplectic seizure and had left Stair a rich man. But the estate was one which needed very constant and personal attention.
Uncle Julian they had already seen twice in Florence and once in Rome. Old Brunschweig was also dead and there was more than a likelihood that the Princess would not bear the title of Princess much longer. She would lose her rank, but she would be rich enough and happy enough to make up for any loss of dignity under the name of Mrs. Julian Wemyss.
Adam Ferris and Miss Aline received them on the quay. She had got the house of Ladykirk in order for them. She had opened up the orchard portion and given them the whole of the east wing to themselves. She would be more than ever in the garden among her flowers. The stables also were at hand. Stair would need many horses for his riding if he meant to follow in the footsteps of Kennedy McClure, and she could never, never bide to see her darling enter as a bride into a house with the mischancy name of Supsorrow. Besides, she herself had no heirs, and it was not meet that Ladykirk and Balmacminto should go to any other than Patsy. It would fit in fine with the Ferris properties some day, when young Kennedy Ebenezer Garland thought of settling!