"You care for poetry, Miss Reston? In Priorsford it's considered rather a slur on your character to care for poetry. Novels we may discuss, sensible people read novels, even now and again essays or biography, but poetry—there we have to dissemble. We pretend, don't we, Jean?—that poetry is nothing to us. Never a quotation or an allusion escapes us. We listen to tales of servants' misdeeds, we talk of clothes and the ongoings of our neighbours, and we never let on that we would rather talk of poetry. No. No. A daft-like thing for either an old woman or a young one to speak of. Only when we are alone—Jean and Augusta and Lewis Elliot and I—we 'tire the sun with talking and send it down the sky.' ... Miss Reston, Lewis Elliot tells me he knew you very well at one time."
"Yes, away at the beginning of things. I adored him when I was fifteen and he was twenty. He was wonderfully good to me and Biddy—my brother. It is delightful to find an old friend in a new place."
"I'm very fond of Lewis," said Mrs. Hope, "but I wish to goodness he had never inherited Laverlaw. He might have done a lot in the world with his brain and his heart and his courage, but there he is contentedly settled in that green glen of his, and greatly absorbed in sheep. Sheep! The country is run by the Sir John Bankses, and the Lewis Elliots think about sheep. It's all wrong. It's all wrong. The War wakened him up, and he was in the thick of it both in the East and in France, but never in the limelight, you understand, just doggedly doing his best in the background. If he would marry a sensible wife with some ambition, but he's about as much sentiment in him as Jock. It would take an earthquake to shake him into matrimony."
"Perhaps," said Pamela, "he is like your friend Mirren—'bye caring.'"
"Nonsense," said Mrs. Hope briskly. "He's 'bye' the fervent stage, if he ever was a prisoner in that cage of rushes, which I doubt, but there are long years before him, I hope, and if there isn't a fire of affection on the hearth, and someone always about to listen and understand, it's a dowie business when the days draw in and the nights get longer and colder, and the light departs."
"But if it's dreary for a man," said Pamela, "what of us? What of the 'left ladies,' as I heard a child describe spinsters?"
Mrs. Hope's blue eyes, callously calm, surveyed the three spinsters before her.
"You will get no pity from me," she said. "It's practically always the woman's own fault if she remains unmarried. Besides, a woman can do fine without a man. A woman has so much within herself she is a constant entertainment to herself. But men are helpless souls. Some of them are born bachelors and they do very well, but the majority are lost without a woman. And angry they would be to hear me say it!... Are you going, Jean?"
"Mhor's lessons," said Jean. "I'm frightfully sorry to take Pamela away."
"May I come again?" Pamela asked.
"Surely. Augusta and I will look forward to your next visit. Don't tire of Priorsford yet awhile. Stay among us and learn to love the place." Mrs. Hope smiled very kindly at her guest, and Pamela, stooping down, kissed the hand that held her own.
"Lord Clinchum waved a careless hand. A small portion of blood royal flows in my veins, he said, but it does not worry me at all and after all, he added piously, at the Day of Judgment what will be the Odds?
"Mr. Salteena heaved a sigh. I was thinking of this world, he said."—The Young Visiters.
"I would like," said Pamela, "to get to know my neighbours. There are six little houses, each exactly like Hillview, and I would like to be able to nod to the owners as I pass. It would be more friendly."
Pamela and Jean, with Mhor and Peter, were walking along the road that contained Hillview and The Rigs.
"Every house in this road is a twin," said Mhor, "except The Rigs. It's different from every other house."
They were coming home from a long walk, laden with spoils from the woods: moss for the bowls of bulbs, beautiful bare branches such as Jean loved to stand in blue jars against the creamy walls. Mhor and Peter had been coursing about like two puppies, covering at least four times the ground their elders covered, and were now lagging, weary-footed, much desiring their midday meal.
"I don't know," said Jean, pondering on the subject of neighbours, "how you could manage to be friends with them. You see, they are busy people and—it sounds very rude—they haven't time to be bothered with you. Just smile tentatively when you see them and pass the time of day casual-like; you would soon get friendly. There is one house, the one called 'Balmoral,' with the very much decorated windows and the basket of ferns hanging in the front door, where the people are at leisure, and I know would deeply value a little friendliness. Two sisters live in it—Watson is the name—most kindly and hospitable creatures with enough to live on comfortably and keep a small servant, and ample leisure after they have, what Mrs. M'Cosh calls, 'dockit up the hoose,' to entertain and be entertained. They are West country—Glasgow, I think, or Greenock—and they find Priorsford just a little stiff. They've been here about three years, and I'm afraid are rather disappointed that they haven't made more progress socially. I love them personally. They are so genteel, as a rule, but every little while the raciness natural to the West country breaks out."
"You are nice to them, Jean, I am sure."
"Oh yes, but the penalty of being more or less nice to everyone is that nobody values your niceness: they take it for granted. Whereas the haughty and exclusive, if they do condescend to stoop, are hailed as gods among mortals."
"Poor Jean!" laughed Pamela. "That is rather hard. It's a poor thing human nature."
"It is," Jean agreed. "I went to the dancing-class the other day to see a most unwilling Mhor trip fantastically, and I saw a tiny girl take the hand of an older girl and look admiringly up at her. The older child, with the awful heartlessness of childhood wriggled her hand away and turned her back on her small admirer. The poor mite stood trying not to cry, and presently a still tinier mite came snuggling up to her and took her hand. 'Now,' I thought, 'having learned how cruel a thing a snub is, will she be kind?' Not a bit of it. With the selfsame gesture the older girl had used she wriggled away her hand and turned her back."
"Cruel little wretches," said Pamela, "but it's the same with us older children. Apart from sin altogether, it must be hard for God to pardon our childishness ... But about the Miss Watsons—d'you think I might call on them?"
"Well, they wouldn't call on you, I'm sure of that. Suppose I ask them to meet you, and then you could fix a day for them to have tea with you? It would be a tremendous treat for them, and pleasant for you too—they are very entertaining."
So it was arranged. The Miss Watsons were asked to The Rigs, and to their unbounded satisfaction spent a most genial hour in the company of Miss Reston, whose comings and goings they had watched with breathless interest from behind the elegant sash curtain of Balmoral. On their way home they borrowed a copy of Debrett and studied it all evening.
It was very confusing at first, but at last they ran their quarry to earth. "Here she is ... She's the daughter (dau. must mean daughter) of Quintin John, 10th Baron Bidborough. And this'll be her brother, Quintin Reginald Feurbras—what names! Teenie, her mother was an earl's daughter!"
"Oh, mercy!" wailed Miss Teenie, quite over-come.
"Yes, see here. 6th Earl of Champertoun—a Scotch earl too! Lady Ann was her name. Fancy that now!"
"And her so pleasant!" said Miss Teenie.
"It just lets you see," said Miss Watson, "the higher up you get in the social scale, the pleasanter and freer people are. You see, they've been there so long they're accustomed to it; their position never gives them a thought: it's the people who have climbed up who keep on wondering if you're noticing how grand they are."
"Well, Agnes," said Miss Teenie, "it's a great rise in the world for you and me to be asked to tea with an earl's granddaughter. There's no getting over that. I'm thinking we'll need to polish up our manners. I've an awful habit of drinking my tea with my mouth full. It seems more natural somehow to give it a synd down than to wait to drink till your mouth's empty."
"Of course it's more natural," said her sister, "but what's natural's never refined. That's a queer thing when you think of it."
The Miss Watsons called on all their friends in the next few days, and did not fail to mention in each house, accidentally, as it were, that on Wednesday they expected to take tea with Miss Reston, and led on from that fact to glowing details of Miss Reston's ancestry.
The height of their satisfaction was reached when they happened to meet Mrs. Duff-Whalley, who, remembering yeoman service rendered by the sisters at a recent bazaar, stopped them and, greatly condescending, said, "Ah, er—Miss Watson—I'm asking a few local ladies to The Towers on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the subject of a sale of work for the G.F.S. A cup of tea, you understand, and a friendly chat in my own drawing-room You will both join us, I hope?" Her tone held no doubt of their delighted acceptance, but Miss Watson, who had suffered much from Mrs. Duff-Whalley, who had been made use of and then passed unnoticed, taken up when needed and dropped, replied with great deliberation, "Oh, thank you, but we are going to tea with Miss Reston that afternoon. I dare say we shall hear from someone what is decided about the sale of work."
The epoch-making Wednesday dawned at last.
Great consultations had gone on between The Rigs and Hillview how best to make it an enjoyable occasion. Pamela wanted Jean to be present, but Jean thought it better not to be. "It would take away from the glory of the occasion. I'm only a chota Miss, and they are too accustomed to me. Ask Mrs. Jowett. She wouldn't call on the Watsons—the line must be drawn somewhere even by the gentle Mrs. Jowett—but she will be very sweet and nice to them. And Miss Mary Dawson. She is such a kind, comfortable presence in a room—I think that would be a nice little party."
Pamela obediently promised to do as Jean suggested.
"I've sent to Fullers' for some cakes, though I don't myself consider them a patch on the Priorsford cakes, but they will be a change and make it more of an occasion. Mawson can make delicious sandwiches and Bella Bathgate has actually offered to bake some scones. I'll make the room look as smart as possible with flowers."
"You've no photographs of relations? They would like photographs better than anything."
"People they never heard of before," cried Pamela. "What an odd taste! However, I'll do what I can."
By 11 a.m. the ladies in Balmoral had laid out all they meant to wear—skirts spread neatly on beds, jackets over chair-backs, even to the very best handkerchiefs on the dressing-table waiting for a sprinkle of scent.
At two o'clock they began to dress.
Miss Teenie protested against this disturbance of their afternoon rest, but her sister was firm.
"It'll take me every minute of the time, Teenie, for I've all my underclothing to change."
"But, mercy me, Miss Reston'll not see your underclothes!"
"I know that, but when you've on your very best things underneath you feel a sort of respect for yourself, and you're better able to hold your own in whatever company you're in. I don't know what you mean to do, but I'm going to change to the skin."
Miss Teenie nearly always followed the lead of her elder sister, so she meekly went off to look out and air her most self-respecting under garments, though she protested, "Not half aired they'll be, and as likely as not I'll catch my death," and added bitterly, "It's not all pleasure knowing the aristocracy."
They were ready to the last glove-button half an hour before the time appointed, and sat stiffly on two high chairs in their little dining-room. "I think," said Miss Watson, "we'd be as well to think on some subjects to talk on. We must try to choose something that'll interest Miss Reston. I wish I knew more about the Upper Ten."
"I'd better not speak at all," said Miss Teenie, who by this time was in a very bad temper. "I never could mind the names of the Royal Family, let alone the aristocracy. I always thought there was a weakness about the people who liked to read in the papers and talk about those kind of folk. I'm sure when I do read about them they're always doing something kind of indecent, like getting divorced. It seems to me they never even make an attempt to be respectable."
She looked round the cosy room and thought how pleasant it would have been if she and her sister had been sitting down to tea as usual, with no need to think of topics. It had been all very well to tell their obviously surprised friends where they were going for tea, but when it came to the point she would infinitely have preferred to stay at home.
"She'll not likely have any notion of a proper tea," Miss Watson said. "Scraps of thin bread and butter, mebbe, and a cake, so don't you look disappointed Teenie, though I know you like your tea. Just toy with it, you know."
"No, I don't know," said Miss Teenie crossly. "I never 'toyed' with my tea yet, and I'm not going to begin. It'll likely be China tea anyway, and I'd as soon drink dish-water."
Miss Watson looked bitterly at her sister.
"You'll never rise in the world, Teenie, if you can't give up a little comfort for the sake of refinement Fancy making a fuss about China tea when it's handed to you by an earl's granddaughter."
Miss Teenie made no reply to this except to burst—as was a habit of hers—into a series of violent sneezes, at which her sister's wrath broke out.
"That's the most uncivilised sneeze I ever heard. If you do that before Miss Reston, Teenie, I'll be tempted to do you an injury."
Miss Teenie blew her nose pensively. "I doubt I've got a chill changing my underclothes in the middle of the day, but 'a little pride and a little pain,' as my mother used to say when she screwed my hair with curl-papers.... I suppose it'll do if we stay an hour?"
Things are rarely as bad as we anticipate, and, as it turned out, not only Miss Watson, but the rebellious Miss Teenie, looked back on that tea-party as one of the pleasantest they had ever taken part in, and only Heaven knows how many tea-parties the good ladies had attended in their day.
They were judges of china and fine linen, and they looked appreciatively at the table. There were the neatest of tea-knives, the daintiest of spoons, jam glowed crimson through crystal, butter was there in a lordly dish, cakes from London, delicate sandwiches, Miss Bathgate's best and lightest in the way of scones, shortbread crisp from the oven of Mrs. M'Cosh.
And here was Miss Reston looking lovely and exotic in a wonderful tea-frock, a class of garment hitherto unknown to the Miss Watsons, who thrilled at the sight. Her welcome was so warm that it seemed to the guests, accustomed to the thus-far-and-no-further manner of the Priorsford great ladies, almost exuberant. She led Miss Teenie to the most comfortable chair, she gave Miss Watson a footstool and put a cushion at her back, and talked so simply, and laughed so naturally, that the Miss Watsons forgot entirely to choose their topics and began on what was uppermost in their minds, the fact that Robina (the little maid) had actually managed that morning to break the gazogene.
Pamela, who had not a notion what a gazogene was, gasped the required surprise and horror and said, "But how did she do it?" which was the safest remark she could think of.
"Banged it in the sink," said Miss Watson, with a dramatic gesture, "and the bottom came out. I never thought it was possible to break a gazogene with all that wire-netting about it."
"Robina," said Miss Teenie gloomily, "could break a steam-roller let alone a gazogene."
"It'll be an awful miss," said her sister. "We've had it so long, and it always stood on the sideboard with a bottle of lemon-syrup beside it."
Pamela was puzzling to think what this could be that stood on a sideboard companioned by lemon-syrup and compassed with wire-netting when Mawson showed in Mrs. Jowett, and with her Miss Mary Dawson, and the party was complete.
The Miss Watsons greeted the newcomers brightly, having met them on bazaar committees and at Red Cross work parties, and having always been treated courteously by both ladies. They were quite willing to sink at once into a lower place now that two denizens of the Hill had come, but Pamela would have none of it.
They were the reason of the party; she made that evident at once.
Miss Teenie did not attempt the impossible and "toy" with her tea. There was no need to. The tea was delicious, and she drank three cups. She tried everything on the table and pronounced everything excellent. Never had she felt herself so entertaining such a capital talker as now, with Pamela smiling and applauding every effort. Mrs. Jowett too, gentle lady, listened with most gratifying interest, and Miss Mary Dawson threw in kind, sensible remarks at intervals. There was no arguing, no disagreeing, everybody "clinked" with everybody else—a most pleasant party.
"And isn't it awful," said Miss Watson in a pause, "about our minister marrying?"
Pamela waited for further information before she spoke, while Mrs. Jowett said, "Don't you consider it a suitable match?"
"Oh, well," said Miss Watson, "I just meant that it was awful unexpected. He's been a bachelor so long, and then to marry a girl twenty years younger than himself and a 'Piscipalian into the bargain."
"But how sporting of him," Pamela said.
"Sporting?" said Miss Watson doubtfully, vague thoughts of guns and rabbits floating through her mind. "Of course you're a 'Piscipalian too, Miss Reston, so is Mrs. Jowett: I shouldn't have mentioned it."
"I'm afraid I'm not much of anything," Pamela confessed, "but Jean Jardine has great hopes of making me a Presbyterian. I have been going with her to hear her own most delightful parson—Mr. Macdonald."
"A dear old man," said Mrs. Jowett; "he does preach so beautifully."
"Mr. Macdonald's church is the old Free Kirk, now U.F., you know," said Miss Watson in an instructive tone. "The Jardines are great Free Kirk people, like the Hopes of Hopetoun—but the Parish is far more class, you know what I mean? You've more society there."
"What a delightful reason for worshipping in a church!" Pamela said. "But please tell me more about your minister's bride—does she belong to Priorsford?"
"English," said Miss Teenie, "and smokes, and plays golf, and wears skirts near to her knees. What in the world she'll look like at the missionary work party or attending the prayer meeting—I cannot think. Poor Mr. Morrison must be demented, and he is such a good preacher."
"She will settle down," said Miss Dawson in her slow, sensible way. "She's really a very likeable girl; and if she puts all the energy she uses to play games into church-work she will be a great success. And it will be an interest having a young wife at the manse."
"I don't know," said Miss Watson doubtfully. "I always think a minister's wife should have a little money and a strong constitution and be able to play the harmonium."
Miss Watson had not intended to be funny, and was rather surprised at the laughter of her hostess.
"It seems to me," she said, "that the poor woman would need a strong constitution."
"Well, anyway," said Miss Teenie, "she would need the money; ministers have so many claims on them. And they've a position to keep up. Here, of course, they have manses, but in Glasgow they sometimes live in flats. I don't think that's right. ... A minister should always live in a villa, or at least in a 'front door.'"
"Is your minister's bride pretty?" Pamela asked.
Miss Watson got in her word first. "Pretty," she said, "but not in a ministerial way, if you know what I mean. I wouldn't call her ladylike."
"What would you call 'ladylike'?" Pamela asked.
"Well, a good height, you know, and a nice figure and a pleasant face and tidy hair. The sort of person that looks well in a grey coat and skirt and a feather boa."
"I know exactly. What a splendid description!"
"Now," continued Miss Watson, much elated by the praise, "Mrs. Morrison is very conspicuous looking. She's got yellow hair and a bright colour, and a kind of bold way of looking."
"She's a complex character," sighed Mrs. Jowett; "she wears snakeskin shoes. But you must be kind to her, Miss Watson. I think she would appreciate kindness."
"Oh, so we are kind to her. The congregation subscribed and gave a grand piano for a wedding-present. Wasn't that good? She is very musical, you know, and plays the violin beautifully. That'll be very useful at church meetings."
"I can't imagine," said Miss Dawson, "why we should consider a minister's wife and her talents as the property of the congregation. A doctor's wife isn't at the beck and call of her husband's patients, a lawyer's wife isn't briefed along with her husband. It doesn't seem to me fair."
"How odd," said Pamela; "only yesterday I was talking to Mrs. Macdonald—Jean's minister's wife—and I said just what you say, that it seems hard that the time of a minister's wife should be at the mercy of everyone, and she said, 'My dear, it's our privilege, and if I had my life to live again I would ask nothing better than to be a hard-working minister's hard-working wife.' I stand hat in hand before that couple. When you think what they have given all these years to this little town—what qualities of heart and head. The tact of an ambassador (Mrs. Macdonald has that), the eloquence of a Wesley, a largesse of sympathy and help and encouragement, not to speak of more material things to everyone in need, and all at the rate of L250 per annum. Prodigious!"
"Yes," said Miss Dawson, "they have been a blessing to Priorsford for more than forty years. Mr. Macdonald is a saint, but a saint is a great deal the better of a practical wife. Mrs. Macdonald is an example of what can be accomplished by a woman both in a church and at home. I sit rebuked before her."
"Oh, my dear," said Mrs. Jowett, "no one could possibly be more helpful than you and your sisters. It's I who am the drone.... Now I must go."
The Miss Watsons outstayed the other guests, and Pamela, remembering Jean's advice, produced a few stray photographs of relations which were regarded with much interest and some awe. The photograph of her brother, Lord Bidborough, they could hardly lay down. Finally, Pamela presented them with flowers and a basket of apples newly arrived from Bidborough Manor, and they returned to Balmoral walking on air.
"Such pleasant company and such a tea," said Miss Watson. "She had out all her best things."
"And Mrs. Jowett and Miss Dawson were asked to meet us," exulted Miss Teenie.
"And very affable they were," added her sister. But when the sisters had removed their best clothes and were seated in the dining-room with the cloth laid for supper, Miss Teenie said, "All the same, it's fine to be back in our own house and not to have to heed about manners." She pulled a low chair close to the fire as she spoke and spread her skirt back over her knee and, thoroughly comfortable and at peace with the world, beamed on her sister, who replied:
"What do you say to having some toasted cheese to our supper?"
"I hear the whaups on windy days Cry up among the peat Whaur, on the road that spiels the braes, I've heard ma ain sheep's feet. An' the bonnie lambs wi' their canny ways And the silly yowes that bleat."
Songs of Angus.
Mhor, having but lately acquired the art of writing, was fond of exercising his still very shaky pen where and when he could.
One morning, by reason of neglecting his teeth, and a few other toilet details, he was able to be downstairs ten minutes before breakfast, and spent the time in the kitchen, plaguing Mrs. M'Cosh to let him write an inscription in her Bible.
"What wud ye write?" she asked suspiciously.
"I would write," said Mhor—"I would write, 'From Gervase Taunton to Mrs. M'Cosh.'"
"That wud be a lee," said Mrs. M'Cosh, "for I got it frae ma sister Annie, her that's in Australia. Here see, there's a post-caird for ye. It's a rale nice yin.—Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow. There's Annackers' shope as plain's plain."
Mhor looked discontentedly at the offering. "I wish," he said slowly—"I wish I had a post-card of a hippopotamus being sick."
"Ugh, you want unnaitural post-cairds. Think on something wise-like, like a guid laddie."
Mhor considered. "If you give me a sheet of paper and an envelope I might write to the Lion at the Zoo."
For the sake of peace Mrs. M'Cosh produced the materials, and Mhor sat down at the table, his elbows spread out, his tongue protruding. He had only managed "Dear Lion," when Jean called him to go upstairs and wash his teeth and get a clean handkerchief.
The sun was shining into the dining-room, lighting up the blue china on the dresser, and catching the yellow lights in Jean's hair.
"What a silly morning for November," growled Jock. "What's the sun going on shining like that for? You'd think it thought it was summer."
"In winter," said Mhor, "the sky should always be grey. It's more suitable."
"What a couple of ungrateful creatures you are," Jean said; "I'm ashamed of you. And as it happens you are going to have a great treat because of the good day. I didn't tell you because I thought it would very likely pour. Cousin Lewis said if it was a good day he would send the car to take us to Laverlaw to luncheon. It's really because of Pamela; she has never been there. So you must ask to get away at twelve, Jock, and I'll go up with Pamela and collect Mhor."
Mhor at once left the table and, without making any remark, stood on his head on the hearthrug. Thus did his joy find vent. Jock, on the other hand, seemed more solemnised than gleeful.
"That's the first time I've ever had a prayer answered," he announced. "I couldn't do my Greek last night, and I prayed that I wouldn't be at the class—and I won't be. Gosh, Maggie!"
"Oh, Jock," his sister protested, "that's not what prayers are for."
"Mebbe not, but I've managed it this time," and, unrepentant, Jock started on another slice of bread and butter.
Jean told Pamela of Jock's prayer as they went together to fetch Mhor from school.
"But Mhor is a much greater responsibility than Jock. You know where you are with Jock: underneath is a bedrock of pure goodness. You see, we start with the enormous advantage of having had forebears of the very decentest—not great, not noble, but men who feared God and honoured the King—men who lived justly and loved mercy. It would be most uncalled for of us to start out on bypaths with such a straight record behind us. But Mhor, bless him, is different. I haven't a notion what went to the making of him. I seem to see behind him a long line of men and women who danced and laughed and gambled and feasted, light-hearted, charming people. I sometimes think I hear them laugh as I teach Mhor What is the chief end of man? ... I couldn't love Mhor more if he really were my little brother, but I know that my hold over him is of the frailest. It's only now that I have him. I must make the most of the present—the little boy days—before life takes him away from me."
"You will have his heart always," Pamela comforted her. "He won't forget. He has been rooted and grounded in love."
Jean winked away the tears that had forced their way into her eyes, and laughed.
"I'm bringing him up a Presbyterian. I did try him with the Creed. He listened politely, and said carelessly, 'It all seems rather sad—Pilate is a nice name, but not Pontius.' Then Jock laughed at him learning, 'What is your name, A or B?' and Mhor himself preferred to go to the root of the matter with our Shorter Catechism, and answer nobly if obscurely—Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him for ever. Indeed, he might be Scots in his passion for theology. The other night he went to bed very displeased with me, and said, 'You needn't read me any more of that narsty Bible,' but when I went up to say good-night he greeted me with, 'How can I keep the commandments when I can't even remember what they are?' ... This is Mhor's school, or rather Miss Main's school."
They went up the steps of a pretty, creeper-covered house.
"It once belonged to an artist," Jean explained. "There is a great big light studio at the back which makes an ideal schoolroom. It's an ideal school altogether. Miss Main and her young stepsister are born teachers, full of humour and understanding, as well as being brilliantly clever—far too clever really for this job; but if they don't mind we needn't complain. They get the children on most surprisingly, and teach them all sorts of things outside their lessons. Mhor is always astonishing me with his information about things going on in the world.... Yes, do come in. They won't mind. You would like to see the children."
"I would indeed. But won't Miss Main object to us interrupting—"
Miss Main at once reassured her on that point, and said that both she and the scholars loved visitors. She took them into the large schoolroom where twenty small people of various sizes sat with their books, very cheerfully imbibing knowledge.
Mhor and another small boy occupied one desk.
Jean greeted the small boy as "Sandy," and asked him what he was studying at that moment.
"I don't know," said Sandy.
"Sandy," said Miss Main, "don't disgrace your teachers. You know you are learning the multiplication table. What are three times three?"
Sandy merely looked coy.
"Six," said Mhor, after some thought.
"Hopeless," said Miss Main. "Come and speak to my sister Elspeth, Miss Reston."
"My sister Elspeth" was a tall, fair girl with merry blue eyes.
"Do you teach the Mhor?" Pamela asked her.
"I have that honour," said Miss Elspeth, and began to laugh. "He always arrives full of ideas. This morning he had thought out a plan to stop the rain. The sky, he said, must be gone over with glue, but he gave it up when he remembered how sticky it would be for the angels.... He has the most wonderful feeling for words of any child I ever taught. He can't, for instance, bear to hear a Bible story told in everyday language. The other children like it broken down to them, but Mhor pleads for 'the real words.' He likes the swing and majesty of them.... I was reading them Kipling's story, Servants of the Queen, the other day. You know where it makes the oxen speak of the walls of the city falling, 'and the dust went up as though many cattle were coming home.' I happened to look up, and there was Mhor with lamps lit in those wonderful green eyes of his, gazing at me. He said, 'I like that bit. It's a nice bit. I think it should be at the end of a sad story.' And he uses words well himself, have you noticed? The other day he came and thrust a dead field-mouse into my hand. I squealed and dropped it, and he said, 'Afraid? And of such a calm little gentleman?'"
Pamela asked if Mhor's behaviour was good.
"Only fair," said pretty Miss Elspeth. "He always means to be good, but he is inhabited by an imp of mischief that prompts him to do the most improbable things. He certainly doesn't make for peace in the school, but he keeps 'a body frae languor.' I like a naughty boy myself much better than a good one. He's the 'more natural beast of the twain.'"
Outside, with the freed Mhor capering before them, Pamela was enthusiastic over the little school and its mistresses.
"Miss Main looks like an old miniature, with her white hair and her delicate colouring, and is wise and kind and sensible as well; and as for that daffodil girl, Elspeth, she is a sheer delight."
"Yes," Jean agreed. "Hasn't she charming manners? It is so good for the children to be with her. She is so polite to them that they can't be anything but gentle and considerate in return. Heaps of girls would think school-marming very dull, but Elspeth makes it into a sort of daily entertainment. They manage, she and her sister, to make the dullest child see some glimmer of reason in learning lessons. I do wish I had had a teacher like that. I had a governess who taught me like a parrot. She had no notion how to make the dry bones live. I thought I scored by learning as little as I possibly could. The consequence is I'm almost entirely illiterate.... There's the car waiting, and Jock prancing impatiently. Run in for your thick coat, Mhor. No, you can't take Peter. He chased sheep last time and fought the other dogs and made himself a nuisance."
Mhor was now pleading that he might sit in the front beside the chauffeur and cry "Honk, honk," as they went round corners.
"Well," said Jean, "choose whether it will be going or coming back. Jock must sit there one time."
Mhor, as he always did, grasped the pleasure of the moment, and clambered into the seat beside the chauffeur, an old and valued friend, whom he greeted familiarly as "Tam."
The road to Laverlaw ran through the woods behind Peel, dipped into the Manor Valley and, emerging, made straight for the hills, which closed down round it as though jealous of the secrets they guarded. It seemed to a stranger as if the road led nowhere, for nothing was to be seen for miles except bare hillsides and a brawling burn. Suddenly the road took a turn, a white bridge spanned the noisy Laverlaw Water, and there at the opening of a wide, green glen stood the house.
Lewis Elliot was waiting at the doorstep to greet them. He had been out all morning, and with him were his two dogs, Rab and Wattie. Jock and Mhor threw themselves on them with many-endearing names, before they even looked at their host.
"Is luncheon ready?" was Mhor's greeting.
"Why? Are you hungry?"
"Oh yes, but it's not that. I wondered if there would be time to go to the stables. Tam says there are some new puppies."
"I'd keep the puppies for later, if I were you," Lewis Elliot advised. "You'd better have luncheon while your hands are fairly clean. Jean will be sure to make you wash them if you go mucking about in the stables."
Mhor nodded. He was no Jew, and took small pleasure in the outward cleansing of the cup and platter. Soap and water seemed to him almost quite unnecessary, and he had greatly admired and envied the Laplanders since Jock had told him that that hardy race rarely, if ever, washed.
"I hope you weren't cold in that open car," Lewis Elliot said as he helped Pamela and Jean to remove their wraps. "D'you mind coming into my den? It's warm, if untidy. The drawing-room is so little used that it's about as cheerful as a tomb."
He led them through the panelled hall, down a long passage hung with sporting prints, into what was evidently a much-liked and much-used room.
Books were everywhere, lining the walls, lying in heaps on tables, some even piled on the floor, but a determined effort had evidently been made to tidy things a little, for papers had been collected into bundles, pipes had been thrust into corners, and bowls of chrysanthemums stood about to sweeten the tobacco-laden atmosphere.
A large fire burned on the hearth, and Lewis pulled up some masculine-looking arm-chairs and asked the ladies to sit in them, but Jean along with Jock and Mhor were already engrossed in books, and their neglected host looked at them with disgust.
"Such are the primitive manners of the Jardine family," he said to Pamela. "If you want a word out of them you must lock up all printed matter before they approach. Thank goodness, that's the gong! They can't read while they're feeding."
"Honourable," said Mhor, as they ate their excellent luncheon. "Isn't Laverlaw a lovely place?"
Pamela agreed. "I never saw anything so indescribably green. It wears the fairy livery. I can easily picture True Thomas walking by that stream."
"Long ago," said Jock in his gruff voice, "there was a keep at Laverlaw instead of a house, and Cousin Lewis' ancestors stole cattle from England, and there were some fine fights in this glen. Laverlaw Water would run red with blood."
"Jock," Jean protested, "you needn't say it with such relish."
Pamela turned to her host.
"Priorsford seems to think you find yourself almost too contented at Laverlaw. Mrs. Hope says you are absorbed in sheep."
Lewis Elliot looked amused. "I can imagine the scorn Mrs. Hope put into her voice as she said 'sheep.' But one must be absorbed in something—why not sheep?"
"I like a sheep," said Jock, and he quoted:
"'Its conversation is not deep, But then, observe its face.'"
"You may be surprised to hear," said Lewis, "that sheep are almost like fine ladies in their ways: they have megrims, it appears. I found one the other day lying on the hill more or less dead to the world, and I went a mile or two out of my way to tell the shepherd. All he said was, 'I ken that yowe. She aye comes ower dwamy in an east wind.' ... But tell me, Jean, how is Miss Reston conducting herself in Priorsford?"
"With the greatest propriety, I assure you," Pamela replied for herself. "Aren't I, Jean? I have dined with Mrs. Duff-Whalley and been introduced to 'the County.' You were regrettably absent from that august gathering, I seem to remember. I have lunched with the Jowetts, and left the table without a stain either on the cloth or my character, but it was a great nervous strain. I thought of you, Jock, old man, and deeply sympathised with your experience. I have been to quite a lot of tea-parties, and I have given one or two. Indeed, I am becoming as absorbed in Priorsford as you are in sheep."
"You have been to Hopetoun, I know."
"Yes, but don't mix that up with ordinary tea-parties That is an experience to keep apart. She holds the imagination, that old woman, with her sharp tongue, and her haggard, beautiful eyes, and her dead sons. To know Mrs. Hope and her daughter is something to be thankful for."
"I quite agree. The Hopes do much to leaven the lump. But I expect you find it rather a lump."
"Honestly, I don't. I'm not being superior, please don't think so, or charitable, or pretending to find good in everything, but I do like the Priorsford people. Some of them are interesting, and nearly all of them are dears."
"Even Mrs. Duff-Whalley?"
"Well, she is rather a caricature, but there are oddly nice bits about her, if only she weren't so overpoweringly opulent. The ospreys in her hat seem to shriek money, and her furs smother one, and that house of hers remains so starkly new. If only creepers would climb up and hide its staring red-and-white face, and ivy efface some of the decorations, but no—I expect she likes it as it is. But there is something honest about her very vulgarity. She knows what she wants and goes straight for it; and she isn't a fool. The daughter is. She was intended by nature to be a dull young woman with a pretty face, but not content with that she puts on an absurdly skittish manner—oh, so ruthlessly bright—talks what she thinks is smart slang, poses continually, and wears clothes that would not be out of place at Ascot, but are a positive offence to the little grey town. I hadn't realised how gruesome provincial smartness could be until I met Muriel Duff-Whalley."
"Oh, poor Muriel!" Jean protested. "You've done for her anyway. But you're wrong in thinking her stupid. She only comes to The Rigs when she isn't occupied with smart friends and is rather dull—I don't see her in her more exalted moments; but I assure you, after she has done talking about 'the County,' and after the full blast of 'dear Lady Tweedie' is over, she is a very pleasant companion, and has nice delicate sorts of thoughts. She's really far too clever to be as silly as she sometimes is—I can't quite understand her. Perhaps she does it to please her mother."
"Jean's disgustingly fond of finding out the best in people," Pamela objected.
"Priorsford is a most charming town," said Mr. Elliot, "but I never find its inhabitants interesting."
"No," Jean said, "but you don't try, do you? You stay here in your 'wild glen sae green,' and only have your own friends to visit you—"
"Are you," Pamela asked Lewis, "like a woman I know who boasts that she knows no one in her country place, but gets her friends and her fish from London?"
"No, I'm not in the least exclusive, only rather blate, and, I suppose, uninterested. Do you know, I was rather glad to hear you begin to slang the unfortunate Miss Duff-Whalley. It was more like the Pamela Reston I used to know. I didn't recognise her in the tolerant, all-loving lady."
"Oh," cried Pamela, "you are cruel to the girl I once was. The years mellow. Surely you welcome improvement, even while you remind me of my sins and faults of youth."
"I don't think," Lewis Elliot said slowly, "that I ever allowed myself to think that the Pamela Reston I knew needed improvement. That would have savoured of sacrilege.... Are we finished? We might have coffee in the other room."
Pamela looked at her host as she rose from the table, and said, "Years have brought clearer eyes for faults."
"I wonder," said Lewis Elliot, as he put a large chocolate into Mhor's ever-ready mouth.
Before going home they went for a walk up the glen. Jean and the boys, very much at home, were in front, while Lewis named the surrounding hills and explained the lie of the land to Pamela. They fell into talk of younger days, and laughed over episodes they had not thought of for twenty years.
"And, do you know, Biddy's coming home?" Pamela said. "I keep remembering that with a most delightful surprise. I haven't seen him for more than a year—my beloved Biddy!"
"He was a most charming boy," Lewis said. "I suppose he would be about fifteen when last I saw him. How old is he now?"
"Thirty-five. But such a young thirty-five. He has always been doing the most youth-preserving things, chasing over the world after adventures, like a boy after butterflies, seeing new peoples, walking in untrodden ways. If he had lived in more spacious days he would have sailed with Francis Drake and helped to singe the King of Spain's beard. Oh, I do think you will still like Biddy. The charm he had at fifteen he hasn't lost one little bit. He has still the same rather shy manner and slow way of speaking and sudden, affection-winning smile. The War has changed him of course, emptied and saddened his life, and he isn't the light-foot lad he was six years ago. When it was all over he went off for one more year's roving. He has a great project which I don't suppose will ever be accomplished—to climb Everest. He and three great friends had arranged it all before the War, but everything of course was stopped, and whatever happens he will never climb it with those three friends. They had to scale greater heights than Everest. It is a sober and responsible Biddy who is coming back, to settle down and look after his places, and go into politics, perhaps—"
They walked together in comfortable silence.
Jean, in front, turned round and waved to them.
"I'm glad," said Lewis, "that you and Jean have made friends. Jean—" He stopped.
Pamela stood very still for a second, and then said, "Yes?"
"Jean and her brothers are sort of cousins of mine. I've always been fond of them, and my mother and I used to try to give them a good time when we could, for Great-aunt Alison's was rather an iron rule. But a man alone is such a helpless object, as Mrs. Hope often reminds me. It isn't fair that Jean shouldn't have her chance. She never gets away, and her youth is being spoiled by care. She is such a quaint little person with her childlike face and motherly ways! I do wish something could be done."
"Jean must certainly have her chance," said Pamela. She took a long breath, as if she had been under water and had come to the surface. "I've said nothing about it to anyone, but I am greatly hoping that some arrangement can be made about sending the boys away to school and letting me carry off Jean. I want her to forget that she ever had to think about money worries. I want her to play with other boys and girls. I want her to marry."
"Yes, that would be a jolly good scheme." Lewis Elliot's voice was hearty in its agreement. "It really is exceedingly kind of you. You've lifted a weight from my mind—though what business I have to push my weights on to you.... Yes, Jean, perhaps we ought to be turning back. The car is ordered for four o'clock. I wish you would stay to tea, but I expect you are dying to get back to Priorsford. That little town has you in its thrall."
"I wish," said Jock, "that The Rigs could be lifted up by some magician and plumped down in Laverlaw Glen."
"Oh, Jock, wouldn't that be fine?" sighed the Mhor. "Plumped right down at the side of the burn, and then we could fish out of the windows."
The sun had left the glen, the Laverlaw Water ran wan; it seemed suddenly to have become a wild and very lonely place.
"Now I can believe about the raiders coming over the hills in an autumn twilight," said Pamela. "There is something haunted about this place. In Priorsford we are all close together and cosy: that's what I love about it."
"You've grown quite suburban," Lewis taunted her. "Jean, I was told a story about two Priorsford ladies the other day. They were in London and went to see Pavlova dance at the Palace, for the first time. It was her last appearance that season, and the curtain went down on Pavlova embedded in bouquets, bowing her thanks to an enraptured audience, the house rocking with enthusiasm. The one Priorsford lady turned to the other Priorsford lady and said, 'Awfully like Mrs. Wishart!'"
As the car moved off, Jock's voice could be heard asking, "And who was Mrs. Wishart?"
"Hast any philosophy in thee?"
As You Like It.
Miss Bella Bathgate was a staunch supporter of the Parish Kirk. She had no use for any other denomination, and no sympathy with any but the Presbyterian form of worship. Episcopalians she regarded as beneath contempt, and classed them in her own mind with "Papists"—people who were more mischievous and almost as ignorant as "the heathen" for whom she collected small sums quarterly, and for whom the minister prayed as "sitting in darkness." Miss Bathgate had developed a real, if somewhat contemptuous, affection for Mawson, her lodger's maid, but she never ceased to pour scorn on her "English ways" and her English worship. If Mawson had not been one of the gentlest of creatures she would not have tolerated it for a day.
One wet and windy evening Bella sat waiting for Mawson to come in to supper. She had gone to a week-night service at the church, greatly excited because the Bishop was to be present. The supper was ready and keeping hot in the oven, the fire sparkled in the bright range, and Bella sat crocheting and singing to herself, "From Greenland's icy mountains." For Bella was passionately interested in missions. The needs of the heathen lay on her heart. Every penny she could scrape together went into "the box." The War had reduced her small income, and she could no longer live without letting her rooms, but whatever she had to do without her contributions to missions never faltered; indeed, they had increased. Missions were the romance of her life. They put a scarlet thread into the grey. The one woman she had ever envied was Mary Slessor of Calabar.
Mawson came in much out of breath, having run up the hill to get out of the darkness.
"Weel, and hoo's the Bishop?" Bella said in jocular tones.
"Ow, 'e was lovely. 'E said the Judgment was 'anging over all of us."
"Oh, wumman," said Bella, as she dumped a loaf viciously on the platter, "d'ye need a Bishop to tell ye that? I'm sure I've kent it a' ma days."
"It gives me the creeps to think of it. Imagine standin' h'up before h'all the earth and 'aving all your little bits o' sins fetched out against you! But"—hopefully—"I don't see myself 'ow there'll be time."
"Ay, there'll be time! There'll be a' Eternity afore us, and as far as I can see there'll be naething else to do."
"Ow," Mawson wailed. "You do make it sound so 'orrid, Bella. The Bishop was much more comfortable, and 'e 'as such a nice rosy face you can't picture anything very bad 'appening to 'im. But I suppose Bishops'll be judged like everyone else."
"They will that." Bella's tone was emphatic, almost vindictive.
"Oh, well," said Mawson, who looked consistently on the bright sides, "I dare say they won't pay much h'attention to the likes of us when they've Kings and Bishops and M.P.'s and London ladies to judge. Their sins will be a bit more interestin' than my little lot.... Well, I'll be glad of a cup of tea, for it's thirsty work listening to sermons. I'll just lay me 'at and coat down 'ere, if you don't mind, Bella. Now, this is cosy. I was thinkin' of this as I came paddin' over the bridge listening to the sound of the wind and the water. A river's a frightenin' sort of thing at night and after 'earin' about the Judgment too."
Miss Bathgate took a savoury-smelling dish from the oven and put it, along with two hot plates, before Mawson, then put the teapot before herself and they began.
"Whaur's Miss Reston the nicht?" Bella asked, as she helped herself to hot buttered toast.
"Dinin' with Sir John and Lady Tweedie. She's wearin' a lovely new gown, sort of yellow. It suited her a treat. I must say she did look noble. She is 'andsome, don't you think?"
"Terrible lang and lean," said Miss Bathgate. "But I'm no denyin' that there's a kind o' look aboot her that's no common. She would mak' a guid queen if we had ony need o' anither." "She makes a good mistress anyway," said loyal Mawson.
"Oh, she's no bad," Bella admitted. "An' I must say she disna gie much trouble—but it's an idle life for ony wumman. I canna see why Miss Reston, wi' a' her faculties aboot her, needs you hingin' round her. Mercy me, what's to hinder her pu'in ribbons through her ain underclothes, if ribbons are necessary, which they're not. There's Mrs. Muir next door, wi' six bairns, an' a' the wark o' the hoose to dae an' washin's forbye, an' here's Miss Reston never liftin' a finger except to pu' silk threads through a bit stuff. That's what makes folk Socialists."
Mawson, who belonged to that fast disappearing body, the real servant class, and who, without a thought of envy, delighted in the possession of her mistress, looked sadly puzzled.
"But, Beller, don't you think things work out more h'even than they seem? Mrs. Muir next door works very 'ard. I've seen her put out a washin' by seven o'clock in the morning, but then she 'as a good 'usband and an 'ealthy family and much pleasure in 'er work. Miss Reston lies soft and drinks her mornin' tea in comfort, but she never knows the satisfied feelin' that Mrs. Muir 'as when she takes in 'er clean clothes."
"Weel, mebbe you're right. I'm nae Socialist masel'. There maun aye be rich and poor, Dives in the big hoose and Lazarus at the gate. But so long as we're sure that Dives'll catch it in the end, and Lazarus lie soft in Abraham's bosom, we can pit up wi' the unfairness here. An' speakin' about Miss Reston, I dinna mind her no' working. Ye can see by the look of her that she never was meant to work, but just to get everything done for her. Can ye picture her peelin' tatties? The verra thocht's rideeclus. She's juist for lookin' at, like the floors and a' the bonnie things ... But it's thae new folk that pit up ma birse. That Mrs. Duff-Whalley, crouse cat! Rollin' aboot wrap up in furs in a great caur, patronisin' everybody that's daft enough to let theirselves be patronised by her. Onybody could see she's no used to it. She's so ta'en up wi' hersel'. It's kinda play-actin' for her ... An' there's naebody gives less to charitable objects. I suppose when ye've paid and fed sae mony servants, and dressed yersel' in silks and satins, and bocht every denty ye can think of, and kept up a great big hoose an' a great muckle caur, there's no' that much left for the kirk-plate, or the heathen, or the hospitals ... Oh, it's peetifu'!"
Mawson nodded wisely. "There's plenty Mrs. Duff-Whalleys about; you be thankful you've only one in the place. Priorsford is a very charitable place, I think. The poor people here don't know they're born after London, and the clergy seem very active too."
"Oh, they are that. I daur say they're as guid as is gaun. Mr. Morrison is a fine man if marriage disna ruin him."
"Oh, surely not!"
"There's no sayin'," said Bella gloomily. "She's young and flighty, but there's wan thing, she has no money. I kent a minister—he was a kinda cousin o' ma father's—an' he mairret a heiress and they had late denner. I tell ye that late denner was the ruin o' that man. It fair got between him an' his jidgment. He couldna veesit his folk at a wise-like hour in the evening because he was gaun to hev his denner, and he couldna get oot late because his leddy-wife wanted him to be at hame efter denner. There's mony a thing to cause a minister to stumble, for they're juist human beings after a', but his rich mairrage was John Allison's undoing."
"Marriage," sighed Mawson, "is a great risk. It's often as well to be single, but I sometimes think Providence must ha' meant me to 'ave an 'usband—I'm such a clingin' creature."
Such sentiments were most distasteful to Miss Bathgate, that self-reliant spinster, and she said bitterly:
"Ma wumman, ye're ill off for something to cling to! I never saw the man yet that I wud be pitten up wi'."
"Ho! I shouldn't say that, but I must say I couldn't fancy a h'undertaker. Just imagine 'im 'andlin' the dead and then 'andlin' me!"
"Eh, ye nesty cratur," said Bella, much disgusted "But I suppose ye're meaning English undertakers—men that does naething but work wi' funerals—a fearsome ill job. Here it's the jiner that does a' thing, so it's faur mair homely."
"Speakin' about marriages," said Mawson, who preferred cheerful subjects, "I do enjoy a nice weddin'. The motors and the bridesmaids and the flowers. Is there no chance of a weddin' 'ere?"
Miss Bathgate shook her head.
"Why not Miss Jean?" Mawson suggested.
Again Miss Bathgate shook her head.
"Nae siller," she said briefly.
"What! No money, you mean? But h'every gentleman ain't after money." Mawson's expression grew softly sentimental as she added, "Many a one marries for love, like the King and the beggar-maid."
"Mebbe," said Bella, "but the auld rhyme's oftener true:
"'Be a lassie ne'er sae black, Gie her but the name o' siller, Set her up on Tintock tap An' the wind'll blaw a man till her.
Be a lassie ne'er sae fair, Gin she hinna penny-siller, A flea may fell her in the air Ere a man be evened till her.'
"I would like fine to see Miss Jean get a guid man, for she's no' a bad lassie, but I doot she'll never manage't."
"Oh, Beller, you do take an 'opeless view of things. I think it's because you wear black so much. Now I must say I like a bit o' bright colour. I think it gives one bright thoughts."
"I aye wear black," said Bella firmly, as she carried the supper dishes to the scullery, "and then, as the auld wifie said, 'Come daith, come sacrament, I'm ready!'"
"Pray you, sir, how much carnation ribbon, may a man buy for a remuneration?"—Comedy of Errors.
The living-room at The Rigs was the stage of many plays. Its uses ranged from the tent of a menagerie or the wigwam of an Indian brave to the Forest of Arden.
This December night it was a "wood near Athens," and to Mhor, if to no one else, it faithfully represented the original. That true Elizabethan needed no aids to his imagination. "This is a wood," said Mhor, and a wood it was. "Is all our company here?" and to him the wood was peopled by Quince and Snug, by Bottom the weaver, by Puck and Oberon. Titania and her court he reluctantly admitted were necessary to the play, but he did not try to visualise them, regarding them privately as blots. The love-scenes between Hermia and Lysander, Helena and Demetrius, were omitted, because Jock said they were "awful silly."
It was Friday evening, so Jock had put off learning his lessons till the next day, and, as Bully Bottom, was calling over the names of his cast.
"Are we all met?"
"Pat, pat," said Mhor, who combined in his person all the other parts, "and here's a marvellous convenient place for our rehearsal; this green plot shall be our stage, this hawthorn brake our tiring-house; and we will do it in action as we will do it before the duke."
Pamela Reston, in her usual place, the corner of the sofa beside the fire, threaded her needle with a bright silk thread, and watched the players amusedly.
"Did you ever think," she asked Jean, who sat on a footstool beside her—a glowing figure in a Chinese coat given her by Pamela, engaged rather incongruously in darning one of Jock's stockings—"did you ever think what it must have been like to see a Shakespeare play for the first time? Was the Globe filled, I wonder, with a quite unexpectant first night audience? And did they realise that the words they heard were deathless words? Imagine hearing for the first time:
'When daisies pied and violets blue And lady-smocks all silver white....'
and then—'The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo.' Did you ever try to write, Jean?"
"Pamela," said Jean, "if you drop from Shakespeare to me in that sudden way you'll be dizzy. I have thought of writing and trying to give a truthful picture of Scottish life—a cross between Drumtochty and The House with the Green Shutters—but I'm sure I shall never do it. And if by any chance I did accomplish it, it would probably be reviewed as a 'feebly written story of life in a Scots provincial town,' and then I would beat my pen into a hatpin and retire from the literary arena. I wonder how critics can bear to do it. I couldn't sleep at nights for thinking of my victims—"
"You sentimental little absurdity! It wouldn't be honest to praise poor work."
Jean shook her head. "They could always be a little kind ... Pamela, I love myself in this coat. You can't think what a delight colours are to me." She stopped, and then said shyly, "You have brought colour into all our lives. I can see now how drab they were before you came."
"Oh dear, no, Jean, your life was never drab. It could never be drab whatever your circumstances, you have so much happiness within yourself. I don't think anything in life could ever quite down you, and even death—what of death, Jean?"
Jean looked up from her stocking. "As Boswell said to Dr. Johnson, 'What of death, Sir?' and the great man was so angry that the little twittering genius should ask lightly of such a terrifying thing that he barked at him and frightened him out of the room! I suppose the ordinary thing is never to think about death at all, to keep the thought pushed away. But that makes people so afraid of it. It's such a bogey to them. The Puritans went to the other extreme and dressed themselves in their grave-clothes every day. Wasn't it Samuel Rutherford who advised people to 'forefancy their latter end'? I think that's where Great-aunt Alison got the idea; she certainly made us 'forefancy' ours! But apart from what death may mean to each of us—life itself gets all its meaning from death. If we didn't know that we had all to die we could hardly go on living, could we?"
"Well," said Pamela, "it would certainly be difficult to bear with people if their presence and our own were not utterly uncertain. And if we knew with surety when we rose in the morning that for another forty years we would go on getting up, and having a bath and dressing, we would be apt to expire with ennui. We rise with alacrity because we don't know if we shall ever put our clothes on again."
Jean gave a little jump of expectation. "It's frightfully interesting. You never do know when you get up in the morning what will happen before night."
"Most people find that a little wearing. It isn't always nice things that happen, Jean."
"Not always, of course, but far more nice things than nasty ones."
"Jean, I'm afraid you're a chirping optimist. You'll reduce me to the depths of depression if you insist on being so bright. Rather help me to rail against fate, and so cheer me."
"Do you realise that Davie will be home next week?" said Jean, as if that were reason enough for any amount of optimism. "I think, on the whole, he has enjoyed his first term, but he was pretty homesick at first. He never actually said so, but he told us in one letter that he smelt the tea when he made it, for it was the one thing that reminded him of home. And another time he spoke with passionate dislike of the pollarded trees, because such things are unknown on Tweedside. I'm so glad he has made quite a lot of friends. I was afraid he might be so shy and unforthcoming that he would put people off, but he writes enthusiastically about the men he is with. It is good for him to be made to leave his work, and play games; he is keen about his footer and they think he will row well! The man who has rooms on the same staircase seems a very good sort. I forget who he is—it's quite a well-known family—but he has been uncommonly kind to Davie. He wants him to go home with him next week, but of course Davie is keen to get back to Priorsford. Besides, you can't visit the stately homes of England on thirty shillings, and that's about Davie's limit, dear lamb! Jock and Mhor are looking forward with joy to hear him speak. They expect his accent to have suffered an Oxford change, and Jock doesn't think he will be able to remain in the room with him and not laugh."
"I expect Jock will be 'affronted,'" said Pamela. "But you aren't the only one who is expecting a brother, Jean, girl. Any moment I may hear that Biddy is in London. He wired from Port Said that he would come straight to Priorsford. I wonder whether I should take rooms for him in the Hydro, or in one of these nice old hotels in the Nethergate? I wish I could crush him into Hillview, but there isn't any room, alas!"
"I wish," said Jean, and stopped. She had wanted in her hospitable way to say that Pamela's brother must come to The Rigs, but she checked the impulse with a fear that it was an absurd proposal. She was immensely interested in this brother of Pamela's. All she had heard of him appealed to her imagination, for Jean, cumbered as she was with domestic cares, had an adventurous spirit, and thrilled to hear of the perils of the mountains, the treks behind the ranges for something hidden, all the daring escapades of an adventure-loving young man with time and money at his disposal. She had made a hero of Pamela's "Biddy," but now that she was to see him she shrank from the meeting. Suppose he were a supercilious sort of person who would be bored with the little town and the people in it. And the fact that he had a title complicated matters, Jean thought. She could not imagine herself talking naturally to Lord Bidborough. Besides, she thought, she didn't know in the least how to talk to men; she so seldom met any.
"I expect," she broke out after a silence, "your brother will take you away?"
"For Christmas, I think," said Pamela, "but I shall come back again. Do you realise that I've been here two months, Jean?"
"Does it seem so short to you?"
"In a way it does; the days have passed so pleasantly. And yet I seem to have been here all my life; I feel so much a part of Priorsford, so akin to the people in it. It must be the Border blood in my veins. My mother loved her own country dearly. I have heard my aunt say that she never felt at home at Bidborough or Mintern Abbas. I am sure she would have wanted us to know her Scots home, so Biddy and I are going to Champertoun for Christmas. My mother had no brothers, and everything went to a distant cousin. He and his wife seem friendly people and they urge us to visit them."
"That will mean a lovely Christmas for you," Jean said.
Here Mhor stopped being an Athenian reveller to ask that the sofa might be pushed back. The scene was now the palace of Theseus, and Mhor, as the Prologue, was addressing an imaginary audience with—"Gentles, perchance you wonder at this show."
Pamela and Jean removed themselves to the window-seat and listened while Jock, covered with an old skin rug, gave a realistic presentment of the Lion, that very gentle beast, and of a good conscience.
The 'tedious brief' scene was drawing to an end, when the door opened and Mrs. M'Cosh, with a scared look in her eyes and an excited squeak in her voice, announced, "Lord Bidborough."
A slim, dark young man stood in the doorway, regarding the dishevelled room. Jock and Mhor were still writhing on the floor, the chairs were pushed anyway, Pamela's embroidery frame had alighted on the bureau, the rugs were pulled here and there.
Pamela gave a cry and rushed at her brother, forgetting everything in the joy of seeing him. Then, remembering her hostess, she turned to Jean, who still sat on the window-seat, her face flushed and her eyes dark with excitement, the blood-red mandarin's coat with its embroidery of blue and mauve and gold vivid against the dark curtains, and said, "Jean, this is Biddy!"
Jean stood up and held out a shy hand.
"And this is Jock—and Mhor!"
"Having a great game, aren't you?" said the newcomer.
"Not a game," Mhor corrected him, "a play, Midsummer Night's Dream."
"No, are you? I once played in it at the O.U.D.S. I wanted to be Bully Bottom, but I wasn't much good, so they made me Snug the joiner. I remember the man who played Puck was a wonder, about as light on his feet and as swift as the real Puck. A jolly play."
"Biddy," said his sister, "why didn't you wire to me? I have taken no rooms."
"Oh, that's all right—a porter at the station, a most awfully nice chap, put me into a sort of fly and sent me to one of the hotels—a jolly good little inn it is—and they can put me up. Then I asked for Hillview, mentioning the witching name of Miss Bella Bathgate, and they sent a boy with me to find the place. Miss Bathgate sent me on here. Beautifully managed, you see."
He smiled lazily at his sister, who cried:
"The same casual old Biddy! What about dinner?"
"Mayn't I feed with you? I think Miss Bathgate would like me to. And I'm devoted to stewed beef and carrots. After cold storage food it will be a most welcome change. But," turning to Jean, "please forgive me arriving on you like this, and discussing board and lodgings. It's the most frightful cheek on my part, but, you see, Pam's letters have made me so well acquainted with The Rigs and everyone in it that I'm afraid I don't feel the need of ceremony."
"We wouldn't know what to do with ceremony here," said Jean. "But I do wish the room had been tidier. You will get a bad impression of our habits—and we are really quite neat as a rule. Jock, take that rug back to Mrs. M'Cosh and put the sofa right. And, Mhor, do wash your face; you've got it all smeared with black."
As Jean spoke she moved about, putting things to rights, lifting cushions, brightening the fire, brushing away fallen cinders.
"That's better. Now don't stand about so uncomfortably Pamela, sit in your corner; and this is a really comfortable chair, Lord Bidborough."
"I want to look at the books, if I may," said Lord Bidborough. "It's always the first thing I do in a room. You have a fine collection here."
"They are nearly all my father's books," Jean explained. "We don't add to them, except, of course, on birthdays and at Christmas, and never valuable books."
"You have some very rare books—this, for instance."
"Yes. Father treasured that—and have you seen this?"
They browsed among the books for a little, and Jean, turning to Pamela, said, "I remember the first time you came to see us you did this, too, walked about and looked at the books."
"I remember," said Pamela; "history repeats itself."
Lord Bidborough stopped before a shelf. "This is a catholic selection."
"Those are my favourite books," said Jean—"modern books, I mean."
"I see." He went along the shelf, naming each book as he came to it. "The Long Roll and Cease Firing. Two great books. I should like to read them again now."
"Now one could read them," said Jean. "Through the War I tried to, but I had to stop. The writing was too good—too graphic, somehow...."
"Yes, it would be too poignant.... John Splendid. I read that one autumn in Argyle—slowly—about two chapters a day, making it last as long as I could."
"Isn't it fine?" said Jean. "John Splendid, who never spoke the truth except to an enemy! Do you remember the scene with the blind widow of Glencoe? And John Splendid was so gallant and tactful: 'dim in the sight,' he called her, for he wouldn't say 'blind'; and then was terrified when he heard that plague had been in the house, and would have left without touching the outstretched hand, and Gordon, the harsh-mannered minister, took it and kissed it, and the blind woman cried, 'O Clan Campbell, I'll never call ye down—ye may have the guile they claim for ye, but ye have the way with a woman's heart,' and poor John Splendid went out covered with shame."
Jean's eyes were shining, and she had forgotten to be awkward and tongue-tied.
"I remember," said Lord Bidborough. "And the wonderful descriptions—'I know corries in Argyle that whisper silken' ... do you remember that? And the last scene of all when John Splendid rides away?"
"Do you cry over books, Jean?" Pamela asked. She was sitting on the end of the sofa, her embroidery frame in her hand and her cloak on, ready to go when her brother had finished looking at Jean's treasures.
Jean shook her head. "Not often. Great-aunt Alison said it was the sign of a feeble mind to waste tears over fiction, but I have cried. Do you remember the end of The Mill on the Floss? Tom and Maggie have been estranged, and the flood comes, and Tom goes to save Maggie. He is rowing when he sees the great mill machinery sweeping down on them, and he takes Maggie's hand, and calls her the name he had used when they were happy children together—'Magsie!'"
Pamela nodded. "Nothing appeals to you so much as family affection, Jean, girl. What have you got now, Biddy? Nelly's Teachers?"
"Oh, that," said Jean, getting pink—"that's a book I had when I was a child, and I still like it so much that I read it through every year."
"Oh, Jean, you babe!" Pamela cried. "Can you actually still read goody-goody girls' stories?"
"Yes," said Jean defiantly, "and enjoy them too."
"And why not?" asked Lord Bidborough. "I enjoy Huckleberry Finn as much now as I did when I was twelve; and I often yearn after the books I had as a boy and never see now. I used to lie on my face poring over them. The Clipper of the Clouds, and Sir Ludar, and a fairy story called Rigmarole in Search of a Soul, which, I remember, was quite beautiful, but can't lay hands on anywhere."
Jean looked at him gratefully, and thought to herself that he wasn't going to be a terrifying person after all. For his age—Jean knew that he was thirty-five, and had expected something much more mature—he seemed oddly boyish. He had an expectant young look in his eyes, as if he were always waiting for some chance of adventure to turn up, and there were humorous lines about his mouth which seemed to say that he found the world a very funny place, and was exceedingly well amused.
He certainly seemed very much at home at The Rigs, fondling the rare old books with the hands of a book lover, inspecting the coloured prints, chaffing Jock and Mhor, who fawned round him like two puppy dogs. Peter had at once made friends with him, and Mrs. M'Cosh, coming into the room on some errand, edged her way out backwards, her eyes fixed on the newcomer with an approving stare. As she told Jean later: "For a' Andra pit me against lords, I canna see muckle wrang wi' this yin. A rale pleasant fellow I tak' him to be, lord or no lord. If they were a' like him, we wudna need to be Socialists. It's queer I've aye hed a hankerin' after thae high-born kinna folk. It's that interestin' to watch them. Ye niver ken whit they'll dae next, or whit they'll say—they're that audacious. We wud mak' an awfu' dull warld o' it if we pit them a' awa to Ameriky or somewhere. I often tell't Andra that, but he said it wud be a guid riddance ... I'm wonderin' what Bella Bathgate thinks o' him. It'll be great to hear her breath on't. She's quite comin' roond to Miss Reston. She was tellin' me she disna think there's onything veecious about her, and she's gettin' quite used to her manners."
* * * * *
When Pamela departed with her brother to partake of a dinner cooked by Miss Bathgate (a somewhat doubtful pleasure), Mhor went off to bed, and Jock curled himself up on the sofa with Peter, for his Friday night's extra hour with a story-book, while Jean resumed her darning of stockings.
Her thoughts were full of the sister and brother who had just left. "Queer they are!" she thought to herself. "If Davie came back to me after a year in India, I wouldn't have liked to meet him in somebody else's house. But they seemed quite happy to look at books, and talk about just anything and play with Jock and Mhor and tease Peter. Now I expect they'll be talking about their own affairs, but I would have rushed at the pleasure of hearing all about everything—I couldn't have waited. Pamela has such a leisured air about everything she does. It's nice and sort of aloof and quiet—but I could never attain to it. I'm little and bustling and Martha-like."
Here Jean sighed, and put her fingers through a large hole in the toe of a stocking.
"I'm only fit to keep house and darn and worry the boys about washing their ears.... Anyway, I'm glad I had on my Chinese coat."
"Her gown should be of goodliness Well ribboned with renown, Purfilled with pleasure in ilk place, Furred with fine fashion.
Her hat should be of fair having, And her tippet of truth, Her patclet of good pansing, Her neck ribbon of ruth.
Her sleeves should be of esperance To keep her from despair: Her gloves of the good governance To guide her fingers fair.
Her shoes should be of sickerness In syne she should not slide: Her hose of honesty I guess I should for her provide."
The Garment of Good Ladies, 1568.
Jock and Mhor looked back on the time Lord Bidborough spent in Priorsford as one long, rosy dream.
It is true they had to go to school as usual, and learn their home lessons, but their lack of attention in school-hours must have sorely tried their teachers, and their home lessons were crushed into the smallest space of time so as not to interfere with the crowded hours of glorious living that Lord Bidborough managed to make for them.
That nobleman turned out to be the most gifted player that Jock and Mhor had ever met. There seemed no end to the games he could invent, and he played with a zest that carried everyone along with him.
Mhor's great passion was for trains. He was no budding engineering genius; he cared nothing about knowing what made the wheels go round; it was the trains themselves, the glorious, puffing, snorting engines, the comfortable guards' vans, and the signal-boxes that enchanted him. He thought a signalman's life was one of delirious happiness; he thrilled at the sight of a porter's uniform, and hoped that one day he too might walk abroad dressed like that, wheel people's luggage on a trolley and touch his hat when given tips. It was his great treat to stand on the iron railway-bridge and watch the trains snorting deliriously underneath, but the difficulty was he might not go alone, and as everyone in the house fervently disliked the task of accompanying him, it was a treat that came all too seldom for the Mhor.
It turned out that Lord Bidborough also delighted in trains, and he not only stood patiently on the bridge watching goods-trains shunting up and down, but he made friends with the porters, and took Mhor into prohibited areas such as signal-boxes and goods sheds, and showed him how signals were worked, and ran him up and down on trolleys.
One never-to-be-forgotten day a sympathetic engine-driver lifted Mhor into the engine and, holding him up high above the furnace, told him to pull a chain, whereupon the engine gave an anguished hoot. Mhor had no words to express his pleasure, but in an ecstasy of gratitude he seized the engine-driver's grimy hand and kissed it, leaving that honest man, who was not accustomed to such ongoings considerably confused.
Jock did not share Mhor's interest in "base mechanic happenings"; his passion was for the world at large, his motto, "For to admire and for to see." He had long made up his mind that he must follow some profession that would take him to far places. Mrs. Hope suggested the Indian Army, while Mr. Jowett loyally recommended the Indian Civil Service, though he felt bound in duty to warn Jock that it wasn't what it was in his young days, and was indeed hardly fit now for a white man.
Jock felt that Mrs. Hope and Mr. Jowett were wise and experienced, but they were old. In Lord Bidborough he found one who had come hot foot from the ends of the earth. He had seen with his own eyes, and he could tell Jock tales that made the coveted far lands live before him; and Jock fell down and worshipped.
Through the day, while the two boys were interned in school, Pamela took her brother the long walks over the hills that had delighted her days in Priorsford. Jean sometimes went with them, but more often she stayed at home. It was her mission in life, she said, to stay at home and have meals ready for people when they returned, and it was much better that the brother and sister should have their walks alone, she told herself. Excessive selfconfidence was not one of Jean's faults. She was much afraid of boring people by her presence, and shrank from being the third that constitutes "a crowd."
One afternoon Lewis Elliot called at The Rigs.
"Sitting alone, Jean? Well, it's nice to find you in. I thought you would be out with your new friends."
"Lord Bidborough has motored Pamela down Tweed to see some people," Jean explained. "They asked me to go with them, but I thought I might perhaps be in the way. Lord Bidborough is frightfully pleased to be able to hire a motor to drive. On Saturday he has promised to take the boys to Dryburgh and to the Eildon Hills. Mhor is very keen to see for himself where King Arthur is buried, and make a search for the horn!"
"I see. It's a pity it isn't a better time of year. December days are short for excursions.... Isn't Biddy a delightful fellow?"
"Yes. Jock and Mhor worship him. One word from him is more to them than all the wisdom I'm capable of. It isn't quite fair. After all, I've had them so long, and they've only known him for a day or two. No, I don't think I'm jealous. I'm—I'm hurt!" and to Lewis Elliot's great discomfort Jean took out her handkerchief and openly wiped her eyes, and then, putting her head on the table, cried.
He sat in much embarrassment, making what he meant to be comforting ejaculations, until Jean stopped crying and laughed.
"It's wretched of me to make you so uncomfortable. I don't know what's happened to me. I've suddenly got so silly. And I don't think I like charming people. Charm is a merciless sort of gift ... and I know he will take Pamela away, and she made things so interesting. Every day since he came I seem to have got lonelier and lonelier, and the sight of your familiar face and the sound of your kind voice finished me.... I'm quite sensible now, so don't go away. Tea will be in in a minute, and the boys. Isn't it fine that Davie will be home to-morrow? D'you think he'll be changed?"
Lewis Elliot stayed to tea, and Jock and Mhor fell on him with acclamation, and told him wonderful tales of their new friend, and never noticed the marks of tears on Jean's face.
"Jean, what is Lord Bidborough's Christian name?" Jock asked.
"Oh, I don't know. Richard Plantagenet, I should think."
"Why not? But you'd better ask him. Are you going, Cousin Lewis? When will you come and see Davie?"
"Let me see. I'm lunching at Hillview on Friday May I come in after luncheon? Thanks. You must all come up to Laverlaw one day next week. The puppies are growing up, Mhor, and you're missing all their puppyhood; that's a pity."
Later in the evening, just before Mhor's bedtime Lord Bidborough came to The Rigs. Pamela was resting, he explained, or writing letters, or doing something else, and he had come in to pass the time of day with them.
"The time of night, you mean," said Mhor ruefully "In ten minutes I'll have to go to bed."
"Had you a nice time this afternoon?" Jean asked.
"Oh, ripping! Coming up by Tweed in the darkening was heavenly. I wish you had been with us, Miss Jean. Why wouldn't you come?"
"I had things to do," said Jean primly.
"Couldn't the things have waited? Good days in December are precious, Miss Jean—and Pam and I are going away next week. Promise you will go with us next time—on Saturday, to the Eildon Hills."
"What's your Christian name, please?" Jock broke in suddenly, remembering the discussion. "Jean says it's Richard Plantagenet—is it?"
Jean flushed an angry pink, and said sharply:
"Don't be silly, Jock. I was only talking nonsense."
"Well, what is it?" Jock persisted.
"It's not quite Richard Plantagenet, but it's pretty bad. My name given me by my godmother and godfathers is—Quintin Reginald Fuerbras."
"Gosh, Maggie!" ejaculated Jock. "Earls in the streets of Cork!"
"I knew," said Jean, "that it would be something very twopence-coloured."
"It's not, I grant, such a jolly name as yours," said Lord Bidborough—"Jean Jardine."
"Oh, mine is Penny-plain," said Jean hurriedly.
"Must we always call you Lord?" Mhor asked.
"Of course you must," Jean said. "Really, Mhor, you and Jock are sometimes very stupid."
"Indeed you must not," said Lord Bidborough. "Forgive me, Miss Jean, if I am undermining your authority, but, really, one must have some say in what one is to be called. Why not call me Biddy?"
"That might be too familiar," said Jock. "I think I would rather call you Richard Plantagenet."
"Because it isn't my name?"
"It sort of suits you," Jock said.
"I like long names," said Mhor.
"Will you call me Richard Plantagenet, Miss Jean?"
The yellow lights in Jean's eyes sparkled. "If you'll call me Penny-plain," she said.
"Then that's a bargain, though I don't think either of us is well suited. However—now that we are really friends, what did you do this afternoon that was so very important?"
"Talked to Lewis Elliot for one thing: he came to tea."
"I see. An excellent fellow, Lewis. He's a relation of yours, isn't he?"
"A very distant one, but we have so few relations we are only too glad to claim him. He has been a very good friend to us always.... Mhor, you really must go to bed now."
"Oh, all right, but I don't think it's very polite to go to bed when a visitor's in. It might make him think he ought to go away."
Lord Bidborough laughed, and assured Mhor that he appreciated his delicacy of feeling.
"There's a thing I want to ask you, anyway," said Mhor.—"Yes, I'm going to bed, Jean. Whether do you think Quentin Durward or Charlie Chaplin would be the better man in a fight?"
Lord Bidborough gave the matter some earnest thought, and decided on Quentin Durward.
"I told you that," said. Jock to Mhor. "Now, perhaps, you'll believe me."
"I don't know," said Mhor, still doubtful. "Of course Quentin Durward had his sword—but you know that way Charlie has with a stick?"
"Well, anyway, go to bed," said Jean, "and stop talking about that horrible little man. He oughtn't to be mentioned in the same breath as Quentin Durward."
Mhor went out of the room still arguing.
The next day David came home.
The whole family, including Peter, were waiting on the platform to welcome him, but Mhor was too interested in the engine and Jock too afraid of showing sentiment to pay much attention to him, and it was left to Jean and Peter to express joy at his return.
At first it seemed to Jean that it was a different David who had come back. There was an indefinable change even in his appearance. True, he wore the same Priorsford clothes that he had gone away in, but he carried himself better, with more assurance. His round, boyish face had taken on a slightly graver and more responsible look, and his accent certainly had an Oxford touch. Enough, anyhow, to send Jock and Mhor out of the room to giggle convulsively in the lobby. To Jean's relief David noticed nothing; he was too busy telling Jean his news to trouble about the eccentric behaviour of the two boys.
David would hardly have been human if he had not boasted a little that first night. He had often pictured to himself just how it would be. Jean would sit by the fire and listen, and he would sit on the old comfortable sofa and recount all the doings of his first term, tell of his friends, his tutors, his rooms, the games, the fun—all the details of the wonderful new life. And it had happened just as he had pictured it—lucky David! The room had looked as he had known it would look, with a fire that sparkled as only Jean's fire ever sparkled, and Jean's eyes—Jean's "doggy" eyes, as Mhor called them—were lit with interest; and Jock and Mhor and Peter crept in after a little and lay on the rug and gazed up at him, a quiet and most satisfactory audience.
Jean felt a little in awe of this younger brother of hers, who had suddenly grown a man and spoke with an air of authority. She had an ache at her heart for the Davie who had been a little boy and content to lean; she seemed hardly to know this new David. But it was only for a little. When Jock and Mhor had gone to bed, the brother and sister sat over the fire talking, and David forgot all his new importance and ceased to "buck," and told Jean all his little devices to save money, and how he had managed just to scrape along.