HotFreeBooks.com
Penny Plain
by Anna Buchan (writing as O. Douglas)
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Mr. Dickson (of Dickson, Staines, & Dickson), though a lawyer, was a human being, and was able to meet Jean with sympathy and understanding when she tried to explain to him her wishes.

First of all, she was very anxious to know if Mr. Dickson thought it quite fair that she should have the money. Was he quite sure that there were no relations, no one who had a real claim?

Mr. Dickson explained to her what a singularly lonely, self-sufficing man Peter Reid had been, a man without friends, almost without interests—except the piling up of money.

"I don't say he was unhappy; I believe he was very content, absolutely absorbed in his game of money-making. But when he couldn't ignore any longer the fact that there was something wrong with his health, and went to the specialist and was told to give up work at once, he was completely bowled over. Life held nothing more for him. I was very sorry for the poor man ... he had only one thought—to go back to Priorsford, his boyhood's home."

"And I didn't know," said Jean, "or we would all have turned out there and then and sat on our boxes in the middle of the road, or roosted in the trees like crows, rather than keep him for an hour out of his own house. He came and asked to see The Rigs and I was afraid he meant to buy it: it was always our nightmare that the landlord in London would turn us out.... He looked frail and shabby, and I jumped to the conclusion that he was poor. Oh, I do wish I had known...."

"He told me," Mr. Dickson went on, "when he came to see me on his return, that he had come with the intention of asking the tenants to leave The Rigs, but that he hadn't the heart to do it when he saw how attached you were to the place. He added that you had been kind to him. He was rather gruff and ashamed about his weakness, but I could see that he had been touched to receive kindness from utter strangers. He was amused in a sardonic way that you had thought him a poor man and had yet been kind to him; he had an unhappy notion that in this world kindness is always bought.... He had no heir, and I think I explained to you in my letter that he had made up his mind to leave his whole fortune to the first person who did anything for him without expecting payment. You turned out to be that person, and I congratulate you, Miss Jardine, most heartily. I would like to tell you that Mr. Reid planned everything so that it would be as easy as possible for you, and asked me to come and see you and explain in person. He seemed very satisfied when all was in order. I saw him a few days before he died and I thought he looked better, and told him so. But he only said, 'It's a great load off my mind to get everything settled, and it's a blessing not to have an heir longing to step into my shoes, and grudging me a few years longer on the earth.' Two days later he passed away in his sleep. He was a curious, hard man, whom few cared about, but at the end there was something simple and rather pathetic about him. I think he died content."

"Thank you for telling me about him," Jean said, and there was silence for a minute.

"And now may I hear your wishes?" said Mr. Dickson.

"Can I do just as I like with the money? Well, will you please divide it into four parts? That will be a quarter for each of us—David, Jock, Mhor, me."

Jean spoke as if the fortune was a lump of dough and Mr. Dickson the baker, but the lawyer did not smile.

"I understood you had only two brothers?"

"Yes, David and Jock, but Mhor is an adopted brother. His name's Gervase Taunton."

"But—has he any claim on you?"

Jean's face got pink. "I should think he has. He's exactly like our own brother."

"Then you want him to have a full share?"

"Of course. It's odd how people will assume one is a cad! When Mhor's mother died (his father had died before) he came to us—his mother trusted him to us—and people kept saying, 'Why should you take him? He has no claim on you.' As if Mhor wasn't the best gift we ever got.... And when you have divided it, I wonder if you would take a tenth off each share? We were brought up to give a tenth of any money we had to God. I'm almost sure the boys would give it themselves. I think they would, but perhaps it would be safer to take it off first and put it aside."

Jean looked very straight at the lawyer. "I wouldn't like any of us to be unjust stewards," she said.

"No," said the lawyer—"no."

"And perhaps," Jean went on, "the boys had better not get their shares until they are twenty-five David could have it now, so far as sense goes, but it's the responsibility I'm thinking about."

"I would certainly let them wait until they are twenty-five. Their shares will accumulate, of course, and be very much larger when they get them."

"But I don't want that," said Jean. "I want the interest on the money to be added to the tenths that are laid away. It's better to give more than the strict tenth. It's so horrid to be shabby about giving."

"And what are the 'tenths,' to be used for?"

"I'll tell you about that later, if I may. I'm not quite sure myself. I shall have to ask Mr. Macdonald, our minister. He'll know. I'm never quite certain whether the Bible means the tenth to be given in charity, or kept entirely for churches and missions.... And I want to buy some annuities, if you will tell me how to do it. Mrs. M'Cosh, our servant—perhaps you noticed her when you came in? I want to make her absolutely secure and comfortable in her old age. I hope she will stay with us for a long time yet, but it will be nice for her to feel that she can have a home of her own whenever she likes. And there are others ... but I won't worry you with them just now. It was most awfully kind of you to come all the way from London to explain things to me, when you must be very busy."

"Coming to see you is part of my business," Mr. Dickson explained, "but it has been a great pleasure too.... By the way, will you use the house in Prince's Gate or shall we let it?"

"Oh, do anything you like with it. I shouldn't think we would ever want to live in London, it's such a noisy, overcrowded place, and there are always hotels.... I'm quite content with The Rigs. It's such a comfort to feel that it is our own."

"It's a charming cottage," Mr. Dickson said, "but won't you want something roomier? Something more imposing for an heiress?"

"I hate imposing things," Jean said, very earnestly "I want to go on just as we were doing, only with no scrimping, and more treats for the boys. We've only got L350 a year now, and the thought of all this money dazes me. It doesn't really mean anything to me yet."

"It will soon. I hope your fortune is going to bring you much happiness, though I doubt if you will keep much of it to yourself."

"Oh yes," Jean assured him. "I'm going to buy myself a musquash coat with a skunk collar. I've always wanted one frightfully. You'll stay and have luncheon with us, won't you?"

Mr. Dickson stayed to luncheon, and was treated with great respect by Jock and Mhor. The latter had a notion that somewhere the lawyer had a cave in which he kept Jean's fortune, great casks of gold pieces and trunks of precious stones, and that any lack of manners on his part might lose Jean her inheritance. He was disappointed to find him dressed like any ordinary man. He had had a dim hope that he would look like Ali Baba and wear a turban.

After Mr. Dickson had finished saying all he had come to say, and had gone to catch his train, Jean started out to call on her minister. Pamela met her at the gate.

"Well, Jean, and whither away? You look very grave. Are you going to tell the King the sky's falling?"

"Something of that kind. I'm going to see Mr. Macdonald. I've got something I want to ask him."

"I suppose you don't want me to go with you? I love an excuse to go and see the Macdonalds. Oh, but I have one. Just wait a moment, Jean, while I run back and fetch something."

She joined Jean after a short delay, and they walked on together. Jean explained that she was going to ask Mr. Macdonald's advice how best to use her money.

"Has the lawyer been?" Pamela asked, "Do you understand about things?"

Jean told of Mr. Dickson's visit.

"It's a fearful lot of money, Pamela. But when it's divided into four, that's four people to share the responsibility."

"And what are you going to do with your share?"

"I'll tell you what I'm not going to do. I'm not going to take a house and fill it with guests who will be consistently unpleasant, as the Benefactress did. And I'm not going to build a sort of fairy palace and commit suicide from the roof like the millionaire in that book Midas something or other. And I hope I'm not going to lose my imagination and forget what it feels like to be poor, and send a girl with a small dress allowance half a dozen muslin handkerchiefs at Christmas."

"I suppose you know, Jean—I don't want to be discouraging—that you will get very little gratitude, that the people you try to help will smarm to your face and blackguard you behind your back? You will be hurt and disappointed times without number.... You see, my dear, I've had money for quite a lot of years, and I know."

Jean nodded.

They were crossing the wide bridge over Tweed and she stopped and, leaning her arms on the parapet, gazed up at Peel Tower.

"Let's look at Peel for a little," she said. "It's been there such a long time and must have seen so many people trying to do their best and only succeeding in making mischief. It seems to say, 'Nothing really matters: you'll all be in the tod's hole in less than a hundred years. I remain, and the river and the hills.'"

"Yes," said Pamela, "they are a great comfort, the unchanging things—these placid round-backed hills, and the river and the grey town—to us restless mortals.... Look, Jean, I want you to tell me if you think this miniature is at all like Duncan Macdonald. You remember I asked you to let me have that snapshot of him that you said was so characteristic and I sent it to London to a woman I know who does miniatures well. I thought his mother would like to have it. But you must tell me if you think it good enough."

Jean took the miniature and looked at the pictured face, a laughing boy's face, fresh-coloured, frank, with flaxen hair falling over a broad brow.

When, after a minute, she handed it back she assured Pamela that the likeness was wonderful.

"She has caught it exactly, that look in his eyes as if he were telling you it was 'fair time of day' with him. Oh, dear Duncan! It's fair time of day with him now, I am sure, wherever he is.... He was twenty-two when he fell three years ago.... You've often heard Mrs. Macdonald speak of her sons. Duncan was the youngest by a lot of years—the baby. The others are frighteningly clever, but Duncan was a lamb. They all adored him, but he wasn't spoiled.... Life was such a joke to Duncan. I can't even now think of him as dead. He was so full of abounding life one can't imagine him lying still—quenched. You know that odd little poem:

"'And Mary's the one that never liked angel stories, And Mary's the one that's dead....'

Death and Duncan seem such a long way apart. Many people are so dull and apathetic that they never seem more than half alive, so they don't leave much of a gap when they go. But Duncan—The Macdonalds are brave, but I think living to them is just a matter of getting through now. The end of the day will mean Duncan. I am glad you thought about getting the miniature done. You do have such nice thoughts, Pamela."

The Macdonalds' manse stood on the banks of Tweed, a hundred yards or so below Peel Tower, a square house of grey stone in a charming garden.

Mr. Macdonald loved his garden and worked in it diligently. It was his doctor, he said. When his mind got stale and sermon-writing difficult, when his head ached and people became a burden, he put on an old coat and went out to dig, or plant or mow the grass. He grew wonderful flowers, and in July, when his lupins were at their best, he took a particular pleasure in enticing people out to see the effect of their royal blue against the silver of Tweed.

He had been a minister in Priorsford for close on forty years and had never had more than L250 of a salary, and on this he and his wife had brought up four sons who looked, as an old woman in the church said, "as if they'd aye got their meat." There had always been a spare place at every meal for any casual guest, and a spare bedroom looking over Tweed that was seldom empty. And there had been no lowering of the dignity of a manse. A fresh, wise-like, middle-aged woman opened the door to visitors, and if you had asked her she would have told you she had been in service with the Macdonalds since she was fifteen, and Mrs. Macdonald would have added that she never could have managed without Agnes.

The sons had worked their way with bursaries and scholarships through school and college, and now three of them were in positions of trust in the government of their country. One was in London, two in India—and Duncan lay in France, that Holy Land of our people.

It was a nice question his wife used to say before the War (when hearts were lighter and laughter easier) whether Mr. Macdonald was prouder of his sons or his flowers, and when, as sometimes happened he had them all with him in the garden, his cup of content had been full.

And now it seemed to him that when he was in the garden Duncan was nearer him. He could see the little figure in a blue jersey marching along the paths with a wheelbarrow, very important because he was helping his father. He had called the big clump of azaleas "the burning bush." ... He had always been a funny little chap.

And it was in the garden that he had said good-bye to him that last time. He had been twice wounded, and it was hard to go back again. There was no novelty about it now, no eagerness or burning zeal, nothing but a dogged determination to see the thing through. They had stood together looking over Tweed to the blue ridge of Cademuir and Duncan had broken the silence with a question:

"What's the psalm, Father, about the man 'who going forth doth mourn'?"

And with his eyes fixed on the hills the old minister had repeated:

"'That man who bearing precious seed In going forth doth mourn, He, doubtless, bringing back the sheaves Rejoicing will return.'"

And Duncan had nodded his head and said, "That's it. 'Rejoicing will return.'" And he had taken another long look at Cademuir.

Many wondered what had kept such a man as John Macdonald all his life in a small town like Priorsford. He did more good, he said, in a little place; he would be of no use in a city; but the real reason was he knew his health would not stand the strain. For many years he had been a martyr to a particularly painful kind of rheumatism. He never spoke of it if he could help it, and tried never to let it interfere with his work, but his eyes had the patient look that suffering brings, and his face often wore a twisted, humorous smile, as if he were laughing at his own pain. He was now sixty-four. His sons, so far as they were allowed, had smoothed the way for their parents, but they could not induce their father to retire from the ministry. "I'll give up when I begin to feel myself a nuisance," he would say. "I can still preach and visit my people, and perhaps God will let me die in harness, with the sound of Tweed in my ears."

Mrs. Macdonald was, in Bible words, a "succourer of many." She was a little stout woman with the merry heart that goes all the way, combined with heavy-lidded, sad eyes, and a habit of sighing deeply. She affected to take a sad view of everything, breaking into irrepressible laughter in the middle of the most pessimistic utterances, for she was able to see the humorous side of her own gloom. Mrs. Macdonald was a born giver; everything she possessed she had to share. She was miserable if she had nothing to bestow on a parting guest, small gifts like a few new-laid eggs or a pot of home-made jam.

"You know yourself," she would say, "what a satisfied feeling it gives you to come away from a place with even the tiniest gift."

Her popularity was immense. Sad people came to her because she sighed with them and never tried to cheer them; dull people came to her because she was never in offensive high spirits or in a boastful mood—not even when her sons had done something particularly striking—and happy people came to her, for, though she sighed and warned them that nothing lasted in this world, her eyes shone with pleasure, and her interest was so keen that every detail could be told and discussed and gloated over with the comfortable knowledge that Mrs. Macdonald would not say to her next visitor that she had been simply deaved with talk about So-and-so's engagement.

Mrs. Macdonald believed in speaking her mind—if she had anything pleasant to say, and she was sometimes rather startling in her frankness to strangers. "My dear, how pretty you are," she would say to a girl visitor, or, "Forgive me, but I must tell you I don't think I ever saw a nicer hat."

The women in the congregation had no comfort in their new clothes until Mrs. Macdonald had pronounced on them. A word was enough. Perhaps at the church door some congregational matter would be discussed; then, at parting, a quick touch on the arm and—"Most successful bonnet I ever saw you get," or, "The coat's worth all the money," or, "Everything new, and you look as young as your daughter."

Pamela and Jean found the minister and his wife in the garden. Mr. Macdonald was pacing up and down the path overlooking the river, with his next Sunday's sermon in his hand, while Mrs. Macdonald raked the gravel before the front door (she liked the place kept so tidy that her sons had been wont to say bitterly, as they spent an hour of their precious Saturdays helping, that she dusted the branches and wiped the faces of the flowers with a handkerchief) and carried on a conversation with her husband which was of little profit, as the rake on the stones dimmed the sense of her words.

"Wasn't that right, John?" she was saying as her husband came near her.

"Dear me, woman, how can I tell? I haven't heard a word you've been saying. Here are callers. I'll get away to my visiting. Why! It's Jean and Miss Reston—this is very pleasant."

Mrs. Macdonald waved her hand to her visitors as she hurried away to put the rake in the shed, reappearing in a moment like a stout little whirlwind.

"Come away, my dears. Up to the study, Jean; that's where the fire is to-day. I'm delighted to see you both. What a blessing Agnes is baking pancakes It seemed almost a waste, for neither John nor I eat them, but, you see, they had just been meant for you.... I wouldn't go just now, John. We'll have an early tea and that will give you a long evening."

Jean explained that she specially wanted to see Mr. Macdonald.

"And would you like me to go away?" Mrs. Macdonald asked. "Miss Reston and I can go to the dining-room."

"But I want you as much as Mr. Macdonald," said Jean. "It's your advice I want—about the money, you know."

Mrs. Macdonald gave a deep sigh. "Ah, money," she said—"the root of all evil."

"Not at all, my dear," her husband corrected. "The love of money is the root of all evil—a very different thing. Money can be a very fine thing."

"Oh," said Jean, "that's what I want you to tell me. How can I make this money a blessing?"

Mr. Macdonald gave his twisted smile.

"And am I to answer you in one word, Jean? I fear it's a word too wide for a mouth of this age's size. You will have to make mistakes and learn by them and gradually feel your way."

"The most depressing thing about money," put in his wife, "is that the Bible should say so definitely that a rich man can hardly get into heaven. Oh, I know all about a needle's eye being a gate, but I've always a picture in my own mind of a camel and an ordinary darning-needle, and anything more hopeless could hardly be imagined."

Mrs. Macdonald had taken up a half-finished sock, and, as she disposed of the chances of all the unfortunate owners of wealth, she briskly turned the heel. Jean knew her hostess too well to be depressed by her, so she smiled at the minister, who said, "Heaven's gate is too narrow for a man and his money; that goes without saying, Jean."

Jean leant forward and said eagerly, "What I really want to know is about the tenth we are to put away as not being our own. Does it count if it is given in charity, or ought it to be given to Church things and missions?"

"Whatever is given to God will 'count,' as you put it—lighting, where you can, candles of kindness to cheer and warm and lighten."

"I see," said Jean. "Of course, there are heaps of things one could slump money away on, hospitals and institutions and missions, but these are all so impersonal. I wonder, would it be pushing and furritsome, do you think, if I tried to help ministers a little?—ministers, I mean, with wives and families and small incomes shut away in country places and in the poor parts of big towns? It would be such pleasant helping to me."

"Now," said Mrs. Macdonald, "that's a really sensible idea, Jean. There's no manner of doubt that the small salaries of the clergy are a crying scandal. I don't like ministers to wail in the papers about it, but the laymen should wail until things are changed. Ministers don't enter the Church for the loaves and fishes, but the labourer is worthy of his hire, and they must have enough to live on decently. Living has doubled. I couldn't manage as things are now, and I'm a good manager, though I says it as shouldn't.... The fight I've had all my life nobody will ever know. Now that we have plenty, I can talk about it. I never hinted it to anybody when we were struggling through; indeed, we washed our faces and anointed our heads and appeared not unto men to fast! The clothes and the boots and the butcher's bills! It's pleasant to think of now, just as it's pleasant to look from the hilltop at the steep road you've come. The boys sometimes tell me that they are glad we were too poor to have a nurse, for it meant that they were brought up with their father and me. We had our meals together, and their father helped them with their lessons. Indeed, it's only now I realise how happy I was to have them all under one roof."

She stopped and sighed, and went on again with a laugh. "I remember one time a week before the Sustentation Fund was due, I was down to one six-pence And of course a collector arrived! D'you remember that, John?... And the boys worked so hard to educate themselves. All except Duncan. Oh, but I am glad that my little laddie had an easy time—when it was to be such a short one."

"He always wanted to be a soldier," Mr. Macdonald said. "You remember, Anne, when you tried to get him to say he would be a minister? He was about six then, I think. He said, 'No, it's not a white man's job,' and then looked at me apologetically afraid that he had hurt my feelings. When the War came he went 'most jocund, apt, and willingly,' but without any ill-will in his heart to the Germans.

"'He left no will but good will And that to all mankind....'"

Mrs. Macdonald stared into the fire with tear-blurred eyes and said: "I sometimes wonder if they died in vain. If this is the new world it's a far worse one than the old. Class hatred, discontent, wild extravagance in some places, children starving in others, women mad for pleasure, and the dead forgotten already except by the mothers—the mothers who never to their dying day will see a fresh-faced boy without a sword piercing their hearts and a cry rising to their lips, 'My son! My son!'"

"It's all true, Anne," said her husband, "but the sacrifice of love and innocence can never be in vain. Nothing can ever dim that sacrifice. The country's dead will save the country as they saved it before. Those young lives have gone in front to light the way for us."

Mrs. Macdonald took up her sock again with a long sigh.

"I wish I could comfort myself with thoughts as you can, John, but I never had any mind. No, Jean, you needn't protest so politely. I'm a good house-wife and I admit my shortbread is 'extra,' as Duncan used to say. Duncan was very sorry as a small boy that he had left heaven and come to stay with us. He used to say with a sigh, 'You see, heaven's extra.' I don't know where he picked up the expression. But what I was going to say is that people are so wretchedly provoking. This morning I was really badly provoked. For one thing, I was very busy doing the accounts of the Girls' Club (you know I have no head for figures), and Mrs. Morton strolled in to see me, to cheer me up, she said. Cheer me up! She maddened me. I haven't been forty years a minister's wife without learning patience, but it would have done me all the good in the world to take that woman by her expensive fur coat and walk her rapidly out of the room. She sat there breathing opulence, and told me how hard it was for her to live—she, a lone woman with six servants to wait on her and a car and a chauffeur! 'I am not going to give to this War Memorial,' she said. 'At this time it seems rather a wasteful proceeding, and it won't do the men who have fallen any good.' ... I could have told her that surely it wasn't waste the men were thinking about when they poured out their youth like wine that she and her like might live and hug their bank books."

Mr. Macdonald had moved from his chair in the window, and now stood with one hand on the mantelshelf looking into the fire. "Do you remember," he said, "that evening in Bethany when Mary took a box of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, so that the odour of the ointment filled the house? Judas—that same Judas who carried the bag and was a robber—was much concerned about the waste. He said that the box might have been sold for three hundred pence and given to the poor. And Jesus, rebuking him, said, 'The poor always ye have with you, but Me ye have not always.'"

He stopped abruptly and went over to his writing-table and made as though he were arranging papers. Presently he said, "Anne, you've been here." His tone was accusing.

"Only writing a post card," said his wife quickly. "I can't have made much of a mess." She turned to her visitors and explained: "John is a regular old maid about his writing-table; everything must be so tidy and unspotted."

"Well, I can't understand," said her husband, "why anyone so neat handed as you are should be such a filthy creature with ink. You seem positively to sling it about."

"Well," said Mrs. Macdonald, changing the subject "I like your idea of helping ministers, Jean. I've often thought if I had the means I would know how to help. A cheque to a minister in a city-charge for a holiday; a cheque to pay a doctor's bill and ease things a little for a worn-out wife. You've a great chance, Jean."

"I know," said Jean, "if you will only tell me how to begin."

"I'll soon do that," said practical Mrs. Macdonald "I've got several in my mind this moment that I just ache to give a hand to. But only the very rich can help. You can't in decency take from people who have only enough to go on with.... Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll see if Agnes is getting the tea. I want you to taste my rowan and crab-apple jelly, Miss Reston, and if you like it you will take some home with you."

* * * * *

As they left the Manse an hour later, laden with gifts, Pamela said to Jean, "I would rather be Mrs. Macdonald than anyone else I know. She is a practising Christian. If I had done a day's work such as she has done I think I would go out of the world pretty well pleased with myself."

"Yes," Jean agreed. "If life is merely a chance of gaining love she will come out with high marks. Did you give her the miniature?"

"Yes, just as we left, when you had walked on to the gate with Mr. Macdonald. She was so absurdly grateful she made me cry. You would have thought no one had ever given her a gift before."

"The world," said Jean, "is divided into two classes, the givers and the takers. Nothing so touches and pleases and surprises a 'giver' as to receive a gift. The 'takers' are too busy standing on their hind legs (like Peter at tea-time) looking wistfully for the next bit of cake to be very appreciative of the biscuit of the moment."

"Bless me!" said Pamela, "Jean among the cynics!"



CHAPTER XXI

"The soul's dark cottage, batter'd and decay'd, Lets in the light through chinks that time has made: Stronger by weakness wiser men become As they draw near to their eternal home: Leaving the old, both worlds at once they view That stand upon the threshold of the new."

EDMUND WALLER.

One day Pamela walked down to Hopetoun to lunch with Mrs. Hope. Augusta had gone away on a short visit and Pamela had promised to spend as much time as possible with her mother.

"You won't be here much longer," Mrs. Hope had said, "so spend as much time with me as you can spare, and we'll talk books and quote poetry, and," she had finished defiantly, "I'll miscall my neighbours if I feel inclined."

It was February now, and there was a hint of spring in the air. The sun was shining as if trying to make up for the days it had missed, the green shoots were pushing daringly forth, and a mavis in a holly-bush was chirping loudly and cheerfully. To-morrow they might be plunged back into winter, the green things nipped and discouraged, the birds silent—but to-day it was spring.

Pamela lingered by Tweedside listening to the mavis, looking back at the bridge spanning the river, the church steeple high against the pale blue sky, the little town pouring its houses down to the water's edge. Hopetoun Woods were still bare and brown, but soon the larches would get their pencils, the beeches would unfurl tiny leaves of living green, and the celandines begin to poke their yellow heads through the carpet of last year's leaves.

Mrs. Hope was sitting close to the window that looked out on the Hopetoun Woods. The spring sunshine and the notes of the mavis had brought to her a rush of memories.

"For what can spring renew More fiercely for us than the need of you."

Her knitting lay on her lap, a pile of new books stood on the table beside her, but her hands were idly folded, and she did not look at the books, did not even notice the sunshine; her eyes were with her heart, and that was far away across the black dividing sea in the last resting-places of her three sons. Wild laddies they had been, never at rest, never out of mischief, and now—"a' quaitit noo in the grave."

She turned to greet her visitor with her usual whimsical smile. She had grown very fond of Pamela; they were absolutely at ease with each other, and could enjoy talking, or sitting together in silence.

To-day the conversation was brisk between the two at luncheon. Pamela had been with Jean to Edinburgh and Glasgow on shopping expeditions, and Mrs. Hope was keen to hear all about them.

"I could hardly persuade her to go," Pamela said. "Her argument was, 'Why get clothes from Paris if you can get them in Priorsford?' She only gave in to please me, but she enjoyed herself mightily. We went first to Edinburgh—my first visit except just waiting a train."

"And weren't you charmed? Edinburgh is our own town, and we are inordinately proud of it. It's full of steep streets and east winds and high houses, and you can't move a step without treading on a W.S., but it's a fine place for all that."

"It's a fairy-tale place to see," Pamela said. "The castle at sunset, the sudden glimpses of the Forth, Holyrood dreaming in the mist—these are pictures that will remain with one always. But Glasgow—"

"I know almost nothing of Glasgow," said Mrs. Hope, "but I like the people that come from it. They are not so devoured by gentility as our Edinburgh friends; they are more living, more human...."

"Are Edinburgh people very refined?"

"Oh, some of them can hardly see out of their eyes for gentility. I delight in it myself, though I've never attained to it. I'm told you see it in its finest flower in the suburbs. A friend of mine was going out by train to Colinton, and she overheard two girls talking. One said, 'I was at a dence lest night.' The other, rather condescendingly, replied, 'Oh, really! And who do you dence with out at Colinton?' 'It depends,' said the first girl. 'Lest night, for instance, I was up to my neck in advocates.' ... Priorsford's pretty genteel too. You know the really genteel by the way they say 'Good-bai.' The rest of us who pride ourselves on not being provincial say—you may have noticed—'Good-ba—a.'"

Pamela laughed, and said she had noticed the superior accent of Priorsford.

"Jean and I were much interested in the difference between Edinburgh and Glasgow shops. Not in the things they sell—the shops in both places are most excellent—but in the manner of selling. The girls in the Edinburgh shops are nice and obliging—the war-time manner doesn't seem to have reached shop-assistants in Scotland, luckily—but quite Londonish with their manners and their 'Moddom.' In Glasgow, they give one such a feeling of personal interest. You would really think it mattered to them what you chose. They delighted Jean by remarking as she tried on a hat, 'My, you look a treat in that!' We bought a great deal more than we needed, for we hadn't the heart to refuse what was brought with such enthusiasm. 'I don't know what it is about that hat, but it's awful nice somehow Distinctive, if you know what I mean. I think when you get it home you'll like it awful well—' Who would refuse a hat after such a recommendation?"

"Who indeed! Oh, they're a hearty people. Has Jean got the fur coat she coveted?"

"She hasn't. It was a great disappointment, poor child. She was so excited when she saw them being brought in rich profusion, but when she tried them on all desire to possess one left her: they became her so ill. They buried her, somehow. She said herself she looked like 'a mouse under a divot,' whatever that may be, and they really did make her look like five out of any six women one meets in the street. Fur coats are very levelling things. Later on when I get her to London we'll see what can be done. Jean needs careful dressing to bring out that very real but elusive beauty of hers. I persuaded her in the meantime to get a soft cloth coat made with a skunk collar and cuffs.... She was so funny about under-things. I wanted her to get some sets of crepe-de-Chine things, but she was adamant. She didn't at all approve of them, and said she liked under-things that would boil. She has always had very dainty things made by herself; Great-aunt Alison taught her to do beautiful fine sewing.... Jean is a delightful person to do things with; she brings such a freshness to everything is never bored, never blase. I was glad to see her so deeply interested in new clothes. I confess to having a deep distrust of a woman who is above trying to make herself attractive. She is an insufferable thing."

"I quite agree, my dear. A woman deliberately careless of her appearance is an offence. But, on the other hand, the opposite can be carried too far. Look at Mrs. Jowett!"

"Oh, dear Mrs. Jowett, with her lace and her delicate, faded tints; and her tears of sentiment and her marvellous maids!"

"A good woman," said Mrs. Hope, "but silly. She fears a draught more than she does the devil. I'm always reminded of her when I read Weir of Hermiston. She has many points in common with Mrs. Weir—'a dwaibly body.' Of the two, I really prefer Mrs. Duff-Whalley. Her great misfortune was being born a woman. With all that energy and perfect health, that keen brain and the indomitable strain that never knows when it is beaten, she might have done almost anything. She might have been a Lipton or a Coats, or even gone out and discovered the South Pole, or contested Lloyd George's Welsh seat in the Conservative interest. As a woman she is cribbed and cabined. What she has set herself to do is to force what she calls 'The County' to recognise her, and marry off her girl as well as possible. She has accomplished the first part through sheer perseverance, and I've no doubt she will accomplish the second; the girl is pretty and well dowered. I have a liking for the woman, especially if I haven't seen her for a little. There is some bite in her conversation. Mrs. Jowett is a sweet woman, but to me she is like a vacuum cleaner. When I've talked to her for ten minutes my head feels like a cushion that has been cleaned—a sort of empty, yet swollen feeling. I never can understand how Mr. Jowett has gone through life with her and kept his reason. But there's no doubt men like sweet, sentimental women, and I suppose they are restful in a house.... Shall we have coffee in the drawing-room? It's cosier."

In the drawing-room they settled down before the fire very contentedly silent. Pamela idly reached out for a book and read a little here and there as she sipped her coffee, while her hostess looked into the fire. The room seemed to dream in the spring sunshine. Generations of Hopes had lived in it, and each mistress had set her mark on the room. Beautiful old cabinets stood against the white walls, while beaded ottomans worked in the early days of Victoria jostled slender Chippendale chairs and tables. A large comfortable Chesterfield and down-cushioned arm-chairs gave the comfort moderns ask for. Nothing looked out of place, for the room with its gracious proportions took all the incongruities—the family Raeburns, the Queen Anne cabinets, the miniatures, the Victorian atrocities, the weak water-colour sketches, the framed photographs of whiskered gentlemen and ladies with bustles, and made them into one pleasing whole. There is no charm in a room furnished from showrooms, though it be correct in every detail to the period chosen. Much more human is the room that is full of things, ugly, perhaps, in themselves but which link one generation to another. The ottoman worked so laboriously by a ringleted great-aunt stood with its ugly mahogany legs beside a Queen Anne chair, over whose faded wool-work seat a far-off beauty had pricked her dainty fingers—and both of the workers were Hopes: while by Pamela's side stood a fire-screen stitched by Augusta, the last of the Hopes. "I wonder," said Mrs. Hope, breaking the silence, "what has become of Lewis Elliot? I haven't heard from him since he went away. Do you know where he is just now?"

Pamela shook her head.

"Why don't you marry him, Pamela?"

"For a very good reason—he hasn't asked me."

"Hoots!" said Mrs. Hope, "as if that mattered!"

Pamela lifted her eyebrows. "It is generally considered rather necessary, isn't it?" she asked mildly.

"You know quite well that he would ask you to-morrow if you gave him the slightest encouragement The man's afraid of you, that's what's wrong."

Pamela nodded.

"Is that why you have remained Pamela Reston? My dear, men are fools, and blind. And Lewis is modest as well. But ...forgive me blundering. I've a long tongue, but you would think at my age I might keep it still."

"No, I don't mind your knowing. I don't think anyone else ever had a suspicion of it. And I thought myself I had long since got over it. Indeed when I came here I was contemplating marrying someone else."

"Tell me, did you know Lewis was here when you came to Priorsford?"

"No—I'd completely lost trace of him. I was too proud ever to inquire after him when he suddenly gave up coming near us. Priorsford suggested itself to me as a place to come to for a rest, chiefly, I suppose, because I had heard of it from Lewis, but I had no thought of seeing him. Indeed, I had no notion that he had still a connection with the place. And then Jean suddenly said his name. I knew then I hadn't forgotten; my heart leapt up in the old unreasonable way. I met him—and thought he cared for Jean."

"Yes. I used sometimes to wonder why Lewis didn't fall in love with Jean. Of course he was too old for her, but it would have been quite a feasible match. Now I know that he cared for you all the time. Oh, I'm not surprised that he looked at no one else. But that you should have waited.... There must have been so many suitors...."

"A few. But some people are born faithful. Anyway, I'm so glad that when I thought he cared for Jean it made no difference in my feelings to her. I should have felt so humiliated if I had been petty enough to hate her for what she couldn't help. My brother Biddy wants to marry Jean, and I've great hopes that it may work out all right."

Mrs. Hope sat forward in her chair.

"I had my suspicions. Jean has changed lately; nothing to take hold of, but I have felt a difference. It wasn't the money—that's an external thing—the change was in Jean herself, a certain reticence where there had been utter frankness; a laugh more frequent, but not quite so gay and light-hearted. Has he spoken to her?"

"Yes, but Jean wouldn't hear of it."

"Dear me! I could have sworn she cared."

"I think she does, but Jean is proud. What a silly thing pride is! However, Biddy is very tenacious, and he isn't at all down-hearted about his rebuff. He's quite sure that Jean and he were meant for each other, and he has great hopes of convincing Jean. I've never mentioned the subject to her, she is so tremendously reticent and shy about such things. I talk about Biddy in a casual way, but if I hadn't known from Biddy I would have learned from Jean's averted eyes that something had happened. The child gives herself away every time."

"This, I suppose, happened before the fortune came. What effect will the money have, I wonder?"

"I wonder too," said Pamela. "Now that Jean feels she has something to give it may make a difference. I wish she would speak to me about it, but I can't force her confidence."

"No," said Mrs. Hope. "You can't do that. As you say, Jean is very reticent. I think I'm rather hurt that she hasn't confided in me. She is almost like my own.... She was a little child when the news came that Sandy, my youngest boy, was gone.... I'm reticent too, and I couldn't mention his name, or speak about my sorrow, and Jean seemed to understand. She used to garden beside me, and chatter about her baby affairs, and ask me questions, and I sometimes thought she saved my reason...."

Pamela sat silent. It was well known that no one dared mention her sons' names to Mrs. Hope. Figuratively she removed her shoes from off her feet, for she felt that it was holy ground.

Mrs. Hope went on. "I dare say you have heard about—my boys. They all died within three years, and Augusta and I were left alone. Generally I get along, but to-day—perhaps because it is the first spring day, and they were so young and full of promise—it seems as if I must speak about them. Do you mind?"

Pamela took the hand that lay on the black silk lap and kissed it. "Ah, my dear," she said.

"Archie was my eldest son. His father and I dreamed dreams about him. They came true, though not in the way we would have chosen. He went into the Indian Civil Service—the Hopes were always a far-wandering race—and he gave his life fighting famine in his district.... And Jock would be nothing but a soldier—my Jock with his warm heart and his sudden rages and his passion for animals! (Jock Jardine reminds me of him just a little.) There never was anyone more lovable and he was killed in a Frontier raid—two in a year. Their father was gone, and for that I was, thankful; one can bear sorrow oneself, but it is terrible to see others suffer. Augusta was a rock in a weary land to me; nobody knows what Augusta is but her mother. We had Sandy, our baby, left, and we managed to go on. But Sandy was a soldier too, and when the Boer War broke out, of course he had to go. I knew when I said good-bye to him that whoever came back it wouldn't be my laddie. He was too shining-eyed, too much all that was young and innocent and brave to win through.... Archie and Jock were men, capable, well equipped to fight the world, but Sandy was our baby—he was only twenty.... Of all the things the dead possessed it is the thought of their gentleness that breaks the heart. You can think of their qualities of brain and heart and be proud, but when you think of their gentleness and their youth you can only weep and weep. I think our hearts broke—Augusta's and mine—when Sandy went.... He had been, they told us later, the life of his company. His spirits never went down. It was early morning, and he was singing 'Annie Laurie' when the bullet killed him—like a lark shot down in the sun-rising.... His great friend came to see us when everything was over. He was a very honest fellow, and couldn't have made up things to tell us if he had tried. He sat and racked his brains for details, for he saw that we hungered and thirsted for anything. At last he said, 'Sandy was a funny fellow. If you left a cake near him he ate all the currants out of it.' ... My little boy, my little, little boy! I don't know why I should cry. We had him for twenty years. Stir the fire, will you, Pamela, and put on a log—I don't like it when it gets dull. Old people need a blaze even when the sun is outside."

"You mustn't say you are old," Pamela said, as she threw on a log and swept the hearth, shading her eyes, smarting with tears, from the blaze. "You must stay with Augusta for a long time. Think how everyone would miss you. Priorsford wouldn't be Priorsford without you."

"Priorsford would never look over its shoulder. Augusta would miss me, yes, and some of the poor folk, but I've too ill-scrapit a tongue to be much liked. Sorrow ought to make people more tender, but it made my tongue bitter. To an unregenerate person with an aching heart like myself it is a relief to slash out at the people who annoy one by being too correct, or too consciously virtuous. I admit it's wrong, but there it is. I've prayed for charity and discretion, but my tongue always runs away with me. And I really can't be bothered with those people who never say an ill word of anyone. It makes conversation as savourless as porridge without salt. One needn't talk scandal. I hate scandal—but there is no harm in remarking on the queer ways of your neighbours: anyone who likes can remark on mine. Even when you are old and done and waiting for the summons it isn't wrong surely to get amusement out of the other pilgrims—if you can. Do you know your Pilgrim's Progress, Pamela? Do you remember where Christiana and the others reach the Land of Beulah? It is the end of the journey, and they have nothing to do but to wait, while the children go into the King's gardens and gather there sweet flowers.... It is all true. I know, for I have reached the Land of Beulah. 'How welcome is death,' says Bunyan, 'to them that have nothing to do but to die.' For the last twenty-five years the way has been pretty hard. I've stumbled along very lamely, followed my Lord on crutches like Mr. Fearing, but now the end is in sight and I can be at ease. All these years I have never been able to read the letters and diaries of my boys—they tore my very heart—but now I can read them without tears, and rejoice in having had such sons to give. I used to be tortured by dreams of them, when I thought I held them and spoke to them, and woke to weep in agony, but now when they come to me I can wake and smile, satisfied that very soon they will be mine again. Sorrow is a wonderful thing. It shatters this old earth, but it makes a new heaven. I can thank God now for taking my boys. Augusta is a saint and acquiesced from the first, but I was rebellious. I see that Heaven and myself had part in my boys; now Heaven has all, and all the better is it for the boys. I hope God will forgive my bitterness, and all the grief I have given with words. 'No suffering is for the present joyous ... nevertheless afterwards....' When the Great War broke out and the terrible casualty lists became longer and longer, and 'with rue our hearts were laden,' I found some of the 'peaceable fruits' we are promised. I found I could go without impertinence into the house of mourning, even when I hardly knew the people, and ask them to let me share their grief, and I think sometimes I was able to help just a little."

"I know how you helped," said Pamela; "the Macdonalds told me. Do you know, I think I envy you. You have suffered much, but you have loved much. Your life has meant something. Looking back I've nothing to think on but social successes that now seem very small and foolish, and years of dressing and talking and dancing and laughing. My life seems like a brightly coloured bubble—as light and as useless."

"Not useless. We need the flowers and the butterflies and the things that adorn.... I wish Jean would give herself over to pleasure for a little. Her poor little head is full of schemes—quite practical schemes they are too, she has a shrewd head—about helping others. I tell her she will do it all in good time, but I want her to forget the woes of the world for a little and rejoice in her youth."

"I know," said Pamela. "I was astonished to find how responsible she felt for the misery in the world. She is determined to build a heaven in hell's despair! It reminds one of Saint Theresa setting out holding her little brother's hand to convert the Moors!... Now I've stayed too long and tired you, and Augusta will have me assassinated. Thank you, my very dear lady, for letting me come to see you, and for—telling me about your sons. Bless you...."



CHAPTER XXII

"For never anything can be amiss When simpleness and duty tender it."

As You Like It.

The lot of the conscientious philanthropist is not an easy one. The kind but unthinking rich can strew their benefits about, careless of their effect on the recipients, but the path of the earnest lover of his fellows is thorny and difficult, and dark with disappointment.

To Jean in her innocence it had seemed that money was the one thing necessary to make bright the lives of her poorer neighbours. She pictured herself as a sort of fairy godmother going from house to house carrying sunshine and leaving smiles and happiness in her wake. She soon found that her dreams had been rosy delusions. Far otherwise was the result of her efforts.

"It's like something in a fairy-tale," she complained to Pamela. "You are given a fairy palace, but when you try to go to it mountains of glass are set before you and you can't reach it. You can't think how different the people are to me now. The very poor whom I thought I could help don't treat me any longer like a friend to whom they can tell their troubles in a friendly way. The poor-spirited ones whine, with an eye on my pocket, and where I used to get welcoming smiles I now only get expectant grins. And the high-spirited ones are so afraid that I'll offer them help that their time is spent in snubbing me and keeping me in my place."

"It's no use getting down about it," Pamela told her. "You are only finding what thousands have found before you, that's it the most difficult thing in the world to be wisely charitable. You will never remove mountains. If you can smooth a step here and there for people and make your small corner of the world as pleasant as possible you do very well."

Jean agreed with a sigh. "If I don't finish by doing harm. I have awful thoughts sometimes about the dire effects money may have on the boys—on Mhor especially. In any case it will change their lives entirely. It's a solemnising thought," and she laughed ruefully.

Jean plodded on her well-doing way, and knocked her head against many posts, and blundered into pitfalls, and perhaps did more good and earned more real gratitude than she had any idea of.

"It doesn't matter if I'm cheated ninety-nine times if I'm some real help the hundredth time," she told herself. "Puir thing," said the recipients of her bounty, in kindly tolerance, "she means weel, and it's a kindness to help her awa' wi' some o' her siller. A' she gies us is juist like tippence frae you or me."

One woman, at any rate, blessed Jean in her heart, though her stiff, ungracious lips could not utter a word of thanks. Mary Abbot lived in a neat cottage surrounded by a neat garden. She was a dressmaker in a small way, and had supported her mother till her death. She had been very happy with her work and her bright, tidy house and her garden and her friends, but for more than a year a black fear had brooded over her. Her sight, which was her living, was going. She saw nothing before her but the workhouse. Death she would have welcomed, but this was shame. For months she had fought it out, as her eyes grew dimmer, letting no one know of the anxiety that gnawed at her heart. No one suspected anything wrong. She was always neatly dressed at church, she always had her small contribution ready for collectors, her house shone with rubbing, and as she did not seem to want to take in sewing now, people thought that she must have made a competency and did not need to work so hard.

Jean knew Miss Abbot well by sight. She had sat behind her in church all the Sundays of her life, and had often admired the tidy appearance of the dressmaker, and thought that she was an excellent advertisement of her own wares. Lately she had noticed her thin and ill-coloured, and Mrs. Macdonald had said one day, "I wonder if Miss Abbot is all right. She used to be such a help at the sewing meeting, and now she doesn't come at all, and her excuses are lame. When I go to see her she always says she is perfectly well, but I am not at ease about her. She's the sort of woman who would drop before she made a word of complaint...."

One morning when passing the door Jean saw Miss Abbot polishing her brass knocker. She stopped to say good morning.

"Are you keeping well, Miss Abbot? There is so much illness about."

"I'm in my usual, thank you," said Miss Abbot stiffly.

"I always admire the flowers in your window," said Jean. "How do you manage to keep them so fresh looking? Ours get so mangy. May I come in for a second and look at them?"

Miss Abbot stood aside and said coldly that Jean might come in if she liked, but her flowers were nothing extra.

It was the tidiest of kitchens she entered. Everything shone that could be made to shine. A hearthrug made by Miss Abbot's mother lay before the fireplace, in which a mere handful of fire was burning. An arm-chair with cheerful red cushions stood beside the fire. It was quite comfortable, but Jean felt a bareness. There were no pots on the fire—nothing seemed to be cooking for dinner.

She admired the flowers and got instructions from their owner when to water and when to refrain from watering, and then, seating herself in a chair with an assurance she was far from feeling, she proceeded to try to make Miss Abbot talk. That lady stood bolt upright waiting for her visitor to go, but Jean, having got a footing, was determined to remain.

"Are you very busy just now?" she asked. "I was wondering if you could do some sewing for me? I don't know whether you ever go out by the day?"

"No," said Miss Abbot.

"We could bring it you here if you would do it at your leisure."

"I can't take in any more work just now. I'm sorry."

"Oh, well, it doesn't matter. Perhaps later on.... I'm keeping you. It's Saturday morning, and you'll want to get on with your work."

"Yes."

There was a silence, and Jean reluctantly rose to go. Miss Abbot had turned her back and was looking into the fire.

"Good morning, Miss Abbot. Thank you so much for letting me know about the flowers." Then she saw that Miss Abbot was crying—crying in a hopeless, helpless way that made Jean's heart ache. She went to her and put her hand on her arm. "Won't you tell me what's wrong? Do sit down here in the arm-chair. I'm sure you're not well."

Miss Abbot allowed herself to be led to the arm-chair Having once given way she was finding it no easy matter to regain control of herself.

"Is it that you aren't well?" Jean asked. "I know it's a wretched business trying to go on working when one is seedy."

Miss Abbot shook her head. "It's far worse than that. I have to refuse work for I can't see to do it. I'm losing my sight and ...and there is nothing before me but the workhouse."

Over and over again in the silence of the night she had said those words to herself: she had seen them written in letters of fire on the walls of her little room: they had seemed seared into her brain, but she had never meant to tell a soul, not even the minister, and here she was telling this slip of a girl.

Jean gave a cry and caught her hands. "Oh no, no! Never that!"

"I've no relations," said Miss Abbot. She was quiet now and calm, and hopeless. "And if I had I couldn't be a burden on them. Nobody wants a penniless, half-blind woman. I've had to use up all my savings this winter ...it will just have to be the workhouse."

"But it shan't be," said Jean. "What's the use of me if I'm not to help? No. Don't stiffen and look at me like that. I'm not offering you charity. Perhaps you may have heard that I've been left a lot of money—in trust. It's your money as much as mine; if it's anybody's it's God's money. I felt I just couldn't pass your door this morning, and I spoke to you, though I was frightfully scared—you looked so stand-offish.... Now listen. All I've got to do is to send your name to my lawyer—he's in London, and he knows nothing about anybody in Priorsford, so you needn't worry about him—and he will arrange that you get a sufficient income all your life. No, it isn't charity. You've fought hard all your life for others, and it's high time you got a rest. Everyone should get a rest and a competency when they are sixty. (Not that you are nearly that, of course.) Some day that happy state of affairs will be. Now the kettle's almost boiling, and I'm going to make you a cup of tea. Where's the caddy?"

There was a spoonful of tea in the caddy, but in the cupboard there was only the heel of a loaf—no butter, no cheese, no jam.

"I'm at the end of my tether," Miss Abbot admitted. "And unless I touch the money laid away for my rent, I haven't a penny in the house."

"Then," said Jean, "it was high time I turned up." She heated the teapot and poked the bit of coal into a blaze. "Now here's your tea"—she reached for her bag that lay on the table—"and here's some money to go on with. Oh, please don't let's go over it all again. Do, my dear, be reasonable."

"I doubt it's charity," said poor Miss Abbot, "but I cannot refuse. Indeed, I don't seem to take it in.... I've whiles dreamed something like this, and cried when I wakened. This last year has been something awful—trying to hide my failing eye-sight and pretending I didn't need sewing when I was near starving, and always seeing the workhouse before me. When I got up this morning there seemed to be a high wall in front of me, and I knew I had come to the end. I thought God had forgotten me."

"Not a bit of it," said Jean. "Put away that money like a sensible body, and I'll write to my lawyer to-day. And the next thing to do is to go with me to an oculist, for your eyes may not be as bad as you think. You know, Miss Abbot, you haven't treated your friends well, keeping them all at arm's length because you were in trouble. Friends do like to be given the chance of being useful.... Now I'll tell you what to do. This is a nice fresh day. You go and do some shopping, and be sure and get something nice for your supper, and fresh butter and marmalade and things, and then go for a walk along Tweedside and let the wind blow on you, and then drop in and have a cup of tea and a gossip with one of the friends you've been neglecting lately, and you see if you don't feel heaps better.... Remember nobody knows anything about this but you and me. I shan't even tell Mr. Macdonald.... You will get papers and things to sign, I expect, from the lawyer, and if you want anything explained you will come to The Rigs, won't you? Perhaps you would rather I didn't come here much. Good morning, Miss Abbot," and Jean went away. "For all the world," as Miss Abbot said to herself, "as if lifting folk from the miry clay and setting their feet on a rock was all in the day's work."

* * * * *

The days slipped away and March came and David was home again; such a smart David in new clothes and (like Shakespeare's Town Clerk) "everything handsome about him."

He immediately began to entice Jean into spending money. It was absurd, he said, to have no one but Mrs. M'Cosh: a smart housemaid must be got.

"She would only worry Mrs. M'Cosh," Jean protested "and there isn't room for another maid, and I hate smart maids anyway. I like to help in the house myself."

"But that's so absurd," said David, "with all your money. You should enjoy life now."

"Yes," said Jean meekly, "but smart maids wouldn't help me to—quite the opposite.... And don't you get ideas into your head about smartness, Davie. The Rigs could never be smart: you must go to The Towers for that. So long as we live at The Rigs we must be small plain people. And I hope I shall live here all my life—and so that's that!"

David, greatly exasperated, bounded from his chair the better to harangue his sister.

"Jean, anybody would think you were a hundred to hear you talk! You'll get nothing out of life except perhaps a text on your tombstone, 'She hath done what she could,' and that's a dull prospect.... Why aren't you more like other girls? Why don't you do your hair the new way, all sort of—oh, I don't know, and wear earrings ... you know you don't dress smartly."

"No," said Jean.

"And you haven't any tricks. I mean you don't try and attract attention to yourself."

"No," said Jean.

"You don't talk like other girls, and you're not keen on the new dances. I think you like being old-fashioned."

"I'm afraid I'm a failure as a girl," Jean confessed, "but perhaps I'll get more charming as I get older. Look at Pamela!"

"Oh, Miss Reston," said David, in the tone that he might have said "Helen of Troy." ... "But seriously, Jean, I think you are using your money in a very dull way. You see, you're so dashed helpful. What makes you want to think all the time about slum children?... I think you'd better present your money all in a lump to the Government as a drop in the ocean of the National Debt."

"I'll not give it to the Government," said Jean, "but we may count ourselves lucky if they don't thieve it from us. I'm at one with Bella Bathgate when she says, 'I'm no verra sure aboot thae politicians Liberal or Tory.' I think she fears that any day they may grab Hillview from her."

"Anyway," David persisted, "we might have a car. I learned to drive at Oxford. It would be frightfully useful, you know, a little car."

"Useful!" laughed Jean. "Have you written any more, Davie?"

David explained that the term had been a very busy one, and that his time had been too much occupied for any outside work, and Jean understood that the stimulus of poverty having been removed David had fallen into easier ways. And why not—at nineteen?

"We must think about a car. Do you know all about the different makes? We mustn't be rash."

David assured her that he would make all inquiries and went out of the room whistling blithely. Jean, left alone, sat thinking. Was the money to be a treasure to her or the reverse? It was fine to give David what he wanted, to know that Jock and Mhor could have the best of everything, but their wants would grow and grow; simple tastes and habits were easily shed, and luxurious ways easily learned. Would the possession of money spoil the boys? She sighed, and then smiled rather ruefully as she thought of David and his smart maids and motors and his desire to turn her into a modern girl. It was very natural and very boyish of him. "He'll have the face ett off me," said Jean, quoting the Irish R.M.... Richard Plantagenet hadn't minded her being old-fashioned.

It was odd how empty her life felt when it ought to feel so rich. She had the three boys beside her, Pamela was next door, she had all manner of schemes in hand to keep her thoughts occupied—but there was a great want somewhere. Jean owned to herself that the blank had been there ever since Lord Bidborough went away. It was frightfully silly, but there it was. And probably by this time he had quite forgotten her. It had amused him to imagine himself in love, something to pass the time in a dull little town. She knew from books that men had a roving fancy—but even as she said it to herself her heart rebuked her for disloyalty Richard Plantagenet's eyes, laughing, full of kindness and honest—oh, honest, she was sure!—looked into hers. She thrilled again as she seemed to feel the touch of his hand and heard his voice saying, "Oh, Penny-plain, are you going to send me away?" Why hadn't he written to congratulate her on the fortune? He might have done that, surely.... And Pamela hardly spoke of him. Didn't seem to think Jean would be interested. Jean, whose heart leapt into her throat at the mere casual mention of his name.

Jean looked up quickly, hearing a step on the gravel. It was Pamela sauntering in, smiling over her shoulder at Mhor, who was swinging on the gate with Peter by his side.

"Oh, Pamela, I am glad to see you. David says I am using the money in such a stuffy way. Do you think I am?"

"What does David want you to do?" Pamela asked, as she threw off her coat and knelt before the fire to warm her hands.

"'To eat your supper in a room Blazing with lights, four Titians on the wall And twenty naked girls to change your plate?'"

Jean laughed. "Something like that, I suppose. Anyway he wants a smart parlour-maid at once, and a motor-car. Also he wants me to wear earrings, and talk slang, and wear the newest sort of clothes."

"Poor Penny-plain, are you going to be forced into being twopence coloured? But I think you should get another maid; you have too much to do. And a car would be a great interest to you. Jock and Mhor would love it too: you could go touring all round in it. You must begin to see the world now. I think, perhaps, David is right. It is rather stuffy to stick in the same place (even if that place is Priorsford) when the whole wide world is waiting to be looked at.... I remember a dear old cure in Switzerland who, when he retired from his living at the age of eighty, set off to see the world. He told me he did it because he was quite sure when he entered heaven's gate the first question God would put to him would be, 'And what did you think of My world?' and he wanted to be in a position to answer intelligently.... He was an old dear. When you come to think of it, it is a little ungrateful of you, Jean, not to want to taste all the pleasures provided for the inhabitants of this earth. There is no sense in useless extravagance, but there is a certain fitness in things. A cottage is a delicious thing, but it is meant for the lucky people with small means; the big houses have their uses too. That's why so many rich people have discontented faces. It's because to them L200 a year and a cottage is 'paradise enow' and they are doomed to the many mansions and the many servants."

Jean nodded. "Mrs. M'Cosh often says, 'There's mony a lang gant in a cairriage,' and I dare say it's true. I don't want to be ungrateful, Pamela. I think it's about the worst sin one can commit—ingratitude. And I don't want to be stuffy, either, but I think I was meant for small ways."

"Poor Penny-plain! Never mind. I'm not going to preach any more. You shall do just as you please with your life. I was remembering, Jean, your desire to go to the Shakespeare Festival at Stratford in April. Why not motor there? It is a lovely run. I meant to take you myself, but I expect you would enjoy it much better if you went with the boys. It would be great fun for you all, and take you away from your philanthropic efforts and let you see round everything clearly."

Jean's eyes lit with interest, and Pamela, seeing the light in them, went on:

"Everybody should make a pilgrimage in spring: it's the correct thing to do. Imagine starting on an April morning, through new roads, among singing birds and cowslips and green new leaves, and stopping at little inns for the night—lovely, Jean."

Jean gave a great sigh.

"Lovely," she echoed. Lovely, indeed, to be away from housekeeping and poor people and known paths for a little, and into leafy Warwick lanes and the rich English country which she had never seen.

"And then," Pamela went on, "you would come back appreciating Priorsford more than you have ever done. You would come back to Tweed and Peel Tower and the Hopetoun Woods with a new understanding. There's nothing so makes you appreciate your home as leaving it.... Bother! That's the bell. Visitors!"

It was only one visitor—Lewis Elliot.

"Cousin Lewis!" cried Jean. "Where in the world have you been? Three whole months since you went away and never a word from you. You didn't even write to Mrs. Hope."

"No," said Lewis; "I was rather busy." He greeted Pamela and sat down.

"Were you so very busy that you couldn't write so much as a post card? And I don't believe you know that I'm an heiress?"

"Yes; I heard that, but only the other day. It was a most unexpected windfall. I was delighted to hear about it." Jean looked at him and wondered if he were well. His long holiday did not seem to have improved his spirits; he was more absent-minded than usual and disappointingly uninterested.

"I didn't know you were back in Priorsford," he said, addressing Pamela, "till I met your brother in London. I called on you just now, and Miss Bathgate sent me over here."

"Is Biddy amusing himself well?" Pamela asked.

"I should think excellently well. I dined with him one night and he seemed in great spirits. He seemed to be very much in request. He wanted to take me about a bit, but I've got out of London ways. I don't seem to know what to talk about to this new generation and I yawn. I'm better at home at Laverlaw among the sheep."

Mrs. M'Cosh came in to lay the tea, and Jean said: "You'll have tea here, Cousin Lewis, though this isn't my visit, and then you can go over to Hillview with Pamela and pay your visit to her. You mustn't miss the opportunity of killing two birds with one stone. Besides, Pamela's time in Priorsford is so short now, you mayn't have another chance of paying a visit of ceremony."

"Well, if I may—"

"Yes, do come. I expect Jean has had enough of me for one day. I've been lecturing her.... By the way, where are the boys to-day? Mhor was swinging on the gate as I came in. He told me he was going somewhere, but his speech was obstructed by a large piece of toffee, and I couldn't make out what he said."

"He was waiting for Jock," said Jean. "Did you notice that he was very clean, and that his hair was sleeked down with brilliantine? They are invited to bring Peter to tea at the Miss Watsons', and are in great spirits about it. They generally hate going out to tea, but Jock discovered recently that the Watsons had a father who was a sea captain. That fact has thrown such a halo round the two ladies that he can't keep away from them. They have allowed him to go to the attic and rummage in the big sea-chests which, he says, are chockful of treasures like ostrich eggs and lumps of coral and Chinese idols. It seems the Miss Watsons won't have these treasures downstairs as they don't look genteel among the 'new art' ornaments admired in Balmoral. All the treasures are to be on view to-day (Jock has great hopes of persuading the dear ladies to give him one to bring home, what he calls a 'Chinese scratcher'—it certainly sounds far from genteel) and a gorgeous spread as well—Jock confided to me that he thought there might even be sandwiches; and Peter being invited has filled Mhor's cup of happiness to the brim. So few people welcome that marauder."

"I wish I could be there to hear the conversation," said Pamela. "Jock with his company manners is a joy."

An hour later Lewis Elliot accompanied Pamela back to Hillview.

"It's rather absurd," he protested. "I'm afraid I'm inflicting myself on you, but if you will give me half an hour I shall be grateful."

"You must tell me about Biddy," Pamela said, as she sat down in her favourite chair. "Draw up that basket chair, won't you? and be comfortable. You look as if you were just going to dart away again. Did Biddy say anything in particular?"

"He told me to come and see you.... I won't take a chair, thanks. I would rather stand. ....Pamela, I know it's the most frightful cheek, but I've cared for you exactly twenty-five years. You never had a notion of it, I know, and of course I never said anything, for to think of your marrying a penniless, dreamy sort of idiot was absurd—you who might have married anybody! I couldn't stay near you loving you as I did, so I went right out of your life. I don't suppose you ever noticed I had gone, you had always so many round you waiting for a smile.... I used to read the lists of engagements in the Times, dreading to see your name. No, that's not the right word, because I loved you well enough to wish happiness for you whoever brought it. I sometimes heard of you from one and another, and I never forgot—never for a day. Then my uncle died and my cousin was killed, and I came back to Priorsford and settled down at Laverlaw, and was content and quite fairly happy. The War came, and of course I offered my services. I wasn't much use but, thank goodness, I got out to France, and got some fighting—a second-lieutenant at forty! It was the first time I had ever felt myself of some real use.... Then that finished and I was back at Laverlaw among my sheep—and you came to Priorsford The moment I saw you I knew that my love for you was as strong and young as it was twenty years ago...."

Pamela sat fingering a fan she had taken up to protect her face from the blaze and looking into the fire.

"Pamela. Have you nothing to say to me?"

"Twenty-five years is a long time," Pamela said slowly. "I was fifteen then and you were twenty. Twenty years ago I was twenty and you were twenty-five—why didn't you speak then, Lewis? You went away and I thought you didn't care. Does a man never think how awful it is for a woman who has to wait without speaking? You thought you were noble to go away.... I suppose it must have been for some wise reason that the good God made men blind, but it's hard on the women. You might at least have given me the chance to say No."

"I was a coward. But it was unbelievable that you could care. You never showed me by word or look."

"Was it likely? I was proud and you were blind, so we missed the best. We lost our youth and I very nearly lost my soul. After you left, nothing seemed to matter but enjoying myself as best I could. I hated the thought of growing old, and I looked at the painted, restless faces round me and wondered if they were afraid too. Then I thought I would marry and have more of a reason for living. A man offered himself—a man with a great position—and I accepted him and it was worse than ever, so I fled from it all—to Priorsford. I loved it from the first, the little town and the river and the hills, and Bella Bathgate's grim honesty and poor cookery! And you came into my life again and I found I couldn't marry the other man and his position...."

"Pamela, can you really marry a fool like me? ... It's my fault that we've missed so much, but thank God we haven't missed everything. I think I could make you happy. I wouldn't ask you to stay at Laverlaw for more than a month or two at a time. We would live in London if you wanted to. I could stick even London if I had you."

Pamela looked at him with laughter in her eyes.

"And you couldn't say fairer than that, my dear. No, no, Lewis. If I marry you we'll live at Laverlaw I love your green glen already; it's a place after my own heart. We won't trouble London much, but spend our declining years among the sheep—unless you become suddenly ambitious for public honours and, as Mrs. Hope desires, enter Parliament."

"There's no saying what I may do now. Already I feel twice the man I was."

They talked in the firelight and Pamela said: "I'm not sure that our happiness won't be the greater because it has come twenty years late. Twenty years ago we would have taken it pretty much as a matter of course. We would have rushed at our happiness and swallowed it whole, so to speak. Now, with twenty lonely, restless years behind us we shall go slowly, and taste every moment and be grateful. Years bring their compensation.... It's a funny world. It's a nice, funny world."

"I think," said Lewis, "I know something of what Jacob must have felt after he had served all the years and at last took Rachel by the hand—"

"'Served' is good," said Pamela in mocking tones.

But her eyes were tender.



CHAPTER XXIII

"It was high spring, and, all the way Primrosed and hung with shade...."

HENRY VAUGHAN.

"There is no private house in which people can enjoy themselves so well as at a capital tavern.... No, Sir, there is nothing which has yet been contrived by man by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn."—DR. JOHNSON.



Pamela and David between them carried the day, and a motor-car was bought. It was not the small useful car talked about at first, but one which had greatly taken the fancy of the Jardine family in the showroom—a large landaulette of a well-known make, upholstered in palest fawn, fitted with every newest device, very sumptuous and very shiny.

They described it minutely to Pamela before she went with them to see it and fix definitely.

"It runs beautifully," said David.

"It's about fifty horse-power," said Jock.

"And, Honourable," said Mhor, "it's got electric light inside, just like a little house, and all sorts of lovely things—a clock and—"

"And, I suppose, hot and cold water laid on," said Pamela.

"The worst thing about it," Jean said, "is that it looks horribly rich—big and fat and purring—just as if it were saying, 'Out of the way, groundlings' You know what an insolent look big cars have."

"Your small deprecating face inside will take away from the effect," Pamela assured her; "and you need a comfortable car to tour about in. When do you go exactly?"

"On the twentieth," Jean told her. "We take David first to Oxford, or rather he takes us, for he understands maps and can find the road; then we go on to Stratford. I wrote for rooms as you told me, and for seats for the plays, and I have heard from the people that we can have both. I do wish you were coming, Pamela—won't you think better of it?"

"My dear, I would love it—but it can't be done. I must go to London this week. If we are to be married on first June there are simply multitudes of things to arrange. But I'll tell you what, Jean. I shall come to Stratford for a day or two when you are there. I shouldn't be a bit surprised if Biddy were there too. If he happened to be in England in April he always made a pilgrimage to the Shakespeare Festival. Mintern Abbas isn't very far from Stratford, and Mintern Abbas in spring is heavenly. That's what we must arrange—a party at Mintern Abbas. You would like that, wouldn't you, Jock?"

"Would Richard Plantagenet be there? I would like awfully to see him again. It's been so dull without him."

Mhor asked if there were any railways near Mintern Abbas, and was rather cast down when told that the nearest railway station was seven miles distant. It amazed him that anyone should, of choice, live away from railways. The skirl of an engine was sweeter to his ears than horns of elf-land faintly blowing, and the dream of his life was to be allowed to live in a small whitewashed shanty which he knew of, on the railway-side, where he could spend ecstatic days watching every "passenger" and every "goods" that rushed shrieking, or dawdled shunting, along the permanent way. To him each different train had its own features. "I think," he told Jean, "that the nine train is the most good-natured of the trains; he doesn't care how many carriages and horse-boxes they stick on to him. The twelve train has always a cross, snorty look, but the five train"—his voice took the fondling note that it held for Peter and Barrie, the cat—"that little five train goes much the fastest; he's the hero of the day!"

Pamela's engagement to Lewis Elliot had made, what Mrs. M'Cosh called, "a great speak" in Priorsford. On the whole, it was felt that she had done well for herself. The Elliots were an old and honoured family, and the present laird, though shy and retiring, was much liked by his tenants, and respected by everyone. Pamela had made herself very popular in Priorsford, and people were pleased that she should remain as lady of Laverlaw.

"Ay," said Mrs. M'Cosh, "he's waited lang, but he's waled weel in the end. He's gotten a braw leddy, and she'll no' be as flighty as a young yin, for Mr. Elliot likes quiet ways. An' then she has plenty siller, an' that's a help. A rale sensible marriage!"

Bella Bathgate agreed. "It'll mak' a big differ at Laverlaw," she said, "for she's the kind o' body that makes hersel' felt in a hoose. I didna want her at Hillview wi' a' her trunks and her maid and her fal-lals an' her fykey ways, but, d'ye ken, I'll miss her something horrid. She was an awfu' miss in the hoose when she was awa' at Christmas-time; I was fair kinna lost wi'out her. It'll be rale nice for Maister Elliot havin' her aye there. It's mebbe a wakeness on ma pairt, but I whiles mak' messages into the room juist to see her sittin' pittin' stitches into that embroidery, as they ca' it, an' hear her gie that little lauch o' hers! She has me fair bewitched. There's a kinna glawmour aboot her. An' I tell ye I culdna stand her by onything at the first.... I even think her bonnie noo—an' she's no' that auld. I saw a pictur in a paper the ither day of a new-mairit couple, an' baith o' them had the auld-age pension."

Jean looked on rather wistfully at her friend's happiness. She was most sincerely glad that the wooing—so long delayed—should end like an old play and Jack have his Jill, but it seemed to add to the empty feeling in her own heart. Pamela's casual remark about her brother perhaps being at Stratford had filled her for the moment with wild joy, but hearts after leaps ache, and she had quickly reminded herself that Richard Plantagenet had most evidently accepted the refusal as final and would never be anything more to her than Pamela's brother. It was quite as it should be, but life in spite of April and a motor-car was, what Mhor called a minister's life, "a dullsome job."

That year spring came, not reluctantly, as it often does in the uplands, but generously, lavishly, scattering buds and leaves and flowers and lambs, and putting a spirit of youth into everything. The days were as warm as June, and fresh as only April days can be. The Jardines anxiously watched the sun-filled days pass, wishing they had arranged to go earlier, fearful lest they should miss all the good weather. It seemed impossible that it could go on being so wonderful, but day followed day in golden succession and there was no sign of a break.

David spent most of his days at the depot that held the car, there being no garage at The Rigs, and Jock and Mhor worshipped with him. A chauffeur had been engaged, one Stark, a Priorsford youth, a steady young man and an excellent driver. He had never been farther than Edinburgh.

The 20th came at last. Jock and Mhor were up at an unearthly hour, parading the house, banging at Mrs. M'Cosh's door, and imploring her to rise in case breakfast was late, and thumping the barometer to see if it showed any inclination to fall. The car was ordered for nine o'clock, but they were down the road looking for it at least half an hour before it was due, feverishly anxious in case something had happened either to it or to Stark.

The road before The Rigs was quite crowded that April morning. Mrs. M'Cosh stood at the gate beside the dancing daffodils and the tulips and the opening wallflowers in the border, her hands folded on her spotless white apron, her face beaming with its accustomed kind smile, and watched her family depart.

"Keep a haud o' Peter, Mhor," she cautioned. "Ye needna come back here if ye lose him." The safety of the rest of the party did not seem to concern her.

Mr. and Mrs. Jowett were there, having breakfasted an hour earlier than usual, thus risking the wrath of their cherished domestics. Mrs. Jowett was carrying a large box of chocolates as a parting gift to the boys, while Mr. Jowett had a bottle of lavender water for Jean.

Augusta Hope had walked up from Hopetoun with her mother's love to the travellers, a basket of fruit for the boys, and a book for Jean.

The little Miss Watsons hopped forth from their dwelling with an offering of a home-baked cake, "just in case you get hungry on the road, you know."

Bella Bathgate was there, looking very saturnine, and counselling Mhor as to his behaviour. "Dinna lean oot o' the caur. Mony a body has lost their heid stickin' it oot of a caur. Here's some tea-biscuits for Peter. You'll be ower prood for onything but curranty-cake, I suppose."

Mhor assured her he was not, and gratefully accepted the biscuits. "Isn't it fun Peter's going? I couldn't have gone either if he hadn't been allowed, but I expect I'll have to hold him in my arms a lot. He'll want to jump out at dogs."

And Mr. and Mrs. Macdonald were there—Mrs. Macdonald absolutely weighed down with gifts. "It's just a trifle for each of you," she explained. "No, no, don't thank me; it's nothing."

"I've brought you nothing but my blessing, Jean," the minister said. "You'll never be better than I wish you."

"Don't talk as if I were going away for good," said Jean, with a lump in her throat. "It's only a little holiday."

"Who can tell?" sighed Mrs. Macdonald. "It's an uncertain world. But we'll hope that you'll come back to us, Jean. Are you sure you are warmly clad? Remember it's only April, and the evenings are cold."

David packed Jean, Jock, and Mhor into the car. Peter was poised on one of the seats that let down, a cushion under him to protect the pale fawn cloth from his paws. All the presents found places, the luggage was put on the top, Stark took his seat, David, his coat pocket bulging with maps, got in beside him; and amid a chorus of good-byes they were off.

Jean, looking back rather wistfully at The Rigs, got a last sight of Mrs. M'Cosh shaking her head dubiously at the departing car.

One of the best things in life is to start on a spring morning for a holiday. To Jock and Mhor at least life seemed a very perfect thing as the car slid down the hill, over Tweed Bridge, over Cuddy Bridge, and turned sharp to the left up the Old Town. Soon they were out of the little grey town that looked so clean and fresh with its shining morning face, and running through the deep woods above Peel Tower. Small children creeping unwillingly to school stopped to watch them, and Mhor looked at them pityingly. School seemed a thing so far removed from his present happy state as not to be worth remembering. Somewhere, doubtless, unhappy little people were learning the multiplication table, and struggling with the spelling of uncouth words, but Mhor, sitting in state in "Wilfred the Gazelle" (for so David had christened the new car), could only spare them a passing thought.

He looked at Peter sitting self-consciously virtuous on the seat opposite, he leaned across Jean to send a glance of profound satisfaction to Jock, then he raked from his pocket a cake of butter-scotch and sank back in his seat to crunch in comfort.

They followed Tweed as it ran by wood and field and hamlet, and as they reached the moorlands of the upper reaches Jean began to notice that Wilfred the Gazelle was not running as smoothly as usual. Perhaps it was imagination, Jean thought, or perhaps it was the effect of having luggage on the top, but in her inmost heart she knew it was more than that, and she was not surprised.

Jean was filled with a deep-seated distrust of motors. She felt that every motor was just waiting its chance to do its owner harm. She had started with no real hope of reaching any destination, and expected nothing less than to spend the night camping inside the car in some lonely spot. She had all provisions made for such an occurrence.

Jock said suddenly, "We're not going more than ten miles an hour," and then the car stopped altogether and David and Stark got down. Jean leaned out and asked what was wrong, and David said shortly that there was nothing wrong.

Presently he and Stark got back into their places and the car was started again. But it went slowly, haltingly, like a bird with a broken wing. They made up on a man driving a brown horse in a wagonette—a man with a brown beard and a cheerful eye—and passed him.

The car stopped again.

Again David and Stark got out and stared and poked and consulted together. Again Jean's head went out, and again she received the same short and unsatisfactory answer.

The brown-bearded man and his wagonette made up on them, looked at the car in an interested way, and passed on.

Again the car started, passed the wagonette, and went on for about a mile and stopped.

Again Jean's head went out.

"David," she said, "what is the matter?" and it goes far to show how harassed that polished Oxonian was when he replied, "If you don't take your face out of that I'll slap it."

Jean withdrew at once, feeling that she had been tactless and David had been unnecessarily rude—David who had never been rude to her since they were children, and had told each other home-truths without heat and without ill-feeling on either side. If this was to be the effect of owning a car—

"Wilfred the Gazelle's dead," said Mhor, and got out, followed by Jock, and in a minute or two by Jean.

They all sat down in the heather by the road-side.

Dead car nowithstanding, it was delicious sitting there in the spring sunshine. Tweed was nearing its source and was now only a trickling burn. A lark was singing high up in the blue. The air was like new wine. The lambs were very young, for spring comes slowly up that way, and one tottering little fellow was found by Mhor, and carried rapturously to Jean.

"Take it; it's just born," he said. "Jock, hold Peter tight in case he bites them."

"Did you ever see anything quite so new?" Jean said as she stroked the little head, "and yet so independent? Sheep are far before mortals. Its eyes look so perplexed, Mhor. It's quite strange to the world and doesn't know what to make of it. That's its mother over there. Take it to her; she's crying for it."

David came up and stood looking gloomily at the lamb. Perhaps he envied it being so young and careless and motor-less.

"Stark's busy with the car," he announced, rather needlessly, as the fact was apparent to all. "I'm dashed if I know what's the matter with the old bus.... Here's that man again...."

Jean burst into helpless laughter as the wagonette again overtook them. The driver flourished his whip and the horse broke into a canter—it looked like derision.

There was a long silence—then Jean said:

"If it won't go, it's too big to move. We shall have to train ivy on it and make it a feature of the landscape."

"Or else," said David, savagely and irreverently—"or else hew it in pieces before the Lord."

Stark got up and straightened himself, wiped his hands and his forehead, and came up to David.

"I've found out what's wrong," he said. "She'll manage to Moffat, but we'll have to get her put right there. It's...." He went into technical details incomprehensible to Jean.

They got back into the car and it sprang away as if suddenly endowed with new life. In a trice they had passed the wagonette, leaving it in a whirl of scornful dust. They ate the miles as a giant devours sheep. They passed the Devil's Beef Tub—Jock would have liked to tarry there and investigate, but Jean dared not ask Stark to stop in case they could not start again—and soon went sliding down the hill to Moffat. Hot puffs of scented air rose from the valley, they had left the moorlands and the winds, and the town was holding out arms to welcome them. They drove along the sunny, sleepy, midday High Street and stopped at a hotel.

Except David, no member of the Jardine family had ever been inside a hotel, and it was quite an adventure for them to go up the steps from the street, enter the swinging doors, and ask a polite woman with elaborately done hair if they might have luncheon. Yes, they might, and Peter, at present held tightly in Mhor's arms, could be fed in the kitchen if that would suit.

Stark had meantime taken the car to a motor-repairing place.

It was half-past three before the car came swooping up to the hotel doors. Jean gazed at it with a sort of fearful pride. It looked very well if only it didn't play them false. Stark, too, looked well—a fine, impassive figure.

"Will it be all right, Stark?" she ventured to inquire, but Stark, who rarely committed himself, merely said, "Mebbe."

Stark had no manners, Jean reflected, but he had a nice face and was a teetotaller, and one can't have everything.

To Mhor's joy the road now ran for a bit by the side of the railway line where thundered great express trains such as there never were in Priorsford. They were spinning along the fine level road, making up for lost time, when a sharp report startled them and made Mhor, who was watching a train, lose his balance and fall forward on to Peter, who was taking a sleep on the rug at their feet.

It was a tyre gone, and there was no time to mend it if they were to be at Carlisle in time for tea. Stark put on the spare wheel and they started again.

Fortune seemed to have got tired of persecuting them, and there were no further mishaps. They ran without a pause through village after village, snatching glimpses of lovely places where they would fain have lingered, forgetting them as each place offered new beauties.

The great excitement to Jock and Mhor was the crossing of the Border.

"I did it once," said Mhor, "when I came from India, but I didn't notice it."

"Rather not," said Jock; "you were only two. I was four, wasn't I, Jean? when I came from India, and I didn't notice it."

"Is there a line across the road?" Mhor asked. "And do the people speak Scots on one side and English on the other? I suppose we'll go over with a bump."

"There's nothing to show," Jock told him, "but there's a difference in the air. It's warmer in England."

"It's very uninterested of Peter to go on sleeping," Mhor said in a disgusted tone. "You would think he would feel there was something happening. And he's a Scots dog, too."

The Border was safely crossed, and Jock professed to notice at once a striking difference in air and landscape.

"There's an English feel about things now," he insisted, sniffing and looking all round him; "and I hear the English voices.... Mhor, this is how the Scots came over to fight the English, only at night and on horseback—into Carlisle Castle."

"And I was English," said Mhor dreamily, "and I had a big black horse and I pranced on the Castle wall and killed everyone that came."

"You needn't boast about being English," Jock said, looking at Mhor coldly. "I don't blame you, for you can't help it, but it's a pity."

Mhor's face got very pink and there was a tremble in his voice, though he said in a bragging tone, "I'm glad I'm English. The English are as brave as—as—"

"Of course they are," said Jean, holding Mhor's hand tight under the rug. She knew how it hurt him to be, even for a moment, at variance with Jock, his idol. "Mhor has every right to be proud of being English, Jock. His father was a soldier and he has ancestors who were great fighting men. And you know very well that it doesn't matter what side you belong to so long as you are loyal to that side. You two would have had some great fights if you had lived a few hundred years ago."

"Yes," said Mhor. "I'd have killed a great many Scots—but not Jock."

"Ho," said Jock, "a great many Scots would have killed you first."

"Well, it's all past," said Jean; "and England and Scotland are one and fight together now. This is Carlisle. Not much romance about it now, is there? We're going to the Station Hotel for tea, so you will see the train, Mhor, old man."

"Mhor," said Jock, "that's one thing you would have missed if you'd lived long ago—trains."

The car had to have a tyre repaired and that took some time, so after tea the Jardines stood in the station and watched trains for what was, to Mhor at least, a blissful hour. It was thrilling to stand in the half-light of the big station and see great trains come in, and the passengers jump out and tramp about the platform and buy books and papers from the bookstall, or fruit, or chocolate, or tea and buns from the boys in uniform, who went about crying their wares. And then the wild scurrying of the passengers—like hens before a motor, Jock said—when the flag was waved and the train about to start. Mhor hoped fervently, and a little unkindly, that at least one might be left behind, but they all got in, though with some it was the last second of the eleventh hour. There seemed to be hundreds of porters wheeling luggage on trolleys, guards walked about looking splendid fellows, and Mhor's eyes as he beheld them were the eyes of a lover on his mistress. He could hardly be torn away when David came to say that Stark was waiting with the car and that they could not hope to get farther than Penrith that night.

The dusk was falling and the vesper-bell ringing as they drove into the town and stopped before a very comfortable-looking inn.

It was past Mhor's bedtime, and it seemed to that youth a fit ending for the most exciting day of his whole seven years of life, to sit up and partake of mutton chops and apple-tart at an hour when he should have been sound asleep.

He saw Peter safely away in charge of a sympathetic "boots" before he and Jock ascended to a bedroom with three small windows in the most unexpected places, a bright, cheery paper, and two small white beds.

Next morning the sun peeped in at all the odd-shaped windows on the two boys sprawled over their beds in the attitudes in which they said they best enjoyed slumber.

It was another crystal-clear morning, with mist in the hollows and the hilltops sharp against the sky. When Stark, taciturn as ever, came to the door at nine o'clock, he found his party impatiently awaiting him on the doorstep, eager for another day of new roads and fresh scenes.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse