I waited anxiously for some reply. The worst was now out, and I knew that she had heard of it before; but it was impossible for me to go on with my narrative without some shadow of encouragement.
"You blame me?"
"No, not at all. It is a point I cannot speak on—I am only a girl. I am sure you were in the right: I have always said so—to Ronald. Not, of course, to my aunt. I am afraid I let her speak as she will. You must not think me a disloyal friend; and even with the Major—I did not tell you he had become quite a friend of ours—Major Chevenix, I mean—he has taken such a fancy to Ronald! It was he that brought the news to us of that hateful Clausel being captured, and all that he was saying. I was indignant with him. I said—I dare say I said too much—and I must say he was very good-natured. He said, 'You and I, who are his friends, know that Champdivers is innocent. But what is the use of saying it?' All this was in the corner of the room, in what they call an aside. And then he said, 'Give me a chance to speak to you in private; I have much to tell you.' And he did. And told me just what you did—that it was an affair of honour, and no blame attached to you. O, I must say I like that Major Chevenix!"
At this I was seized with a great pang of jealousy. I remembered the first time that he had seen her; the interest that he seemed immediately to conceive; and I could not but admire the dog for the use he had been ingenious enough to make of our acquaintance in order to supplant me. All is fair in love and war. For all that, I was now no less anxious to do the speaking myself than I had been before to hear Flora. At least, I could keep clear of the hateful image of Major Chevenix. Accordingly I burst at once on the narrative of my adventures. It was the same as you have read, but briefer, and told with a very different purpose. Now every incident had a particular bearing, every by-way branched off to Rome—and that was Flora.
When I had begun to speak I had kneeled upon the gravel withoutside the low window, rested my arms upon the sill, and lowered my voice to the most confidential whisper. Flora herself must kneel upon the other side, and this brought our heads upon a level, with only the bars between us. So placed, so separated, it seemed that our proximity, and the continuous and low sounds of my pleading voice, worked progressively and powerfully on her heart, and perhaps not less so on my own. For these spells are double-edged. The silly birds may be charmed with the pipe of the fowler, which is but a tube of reeds. Not so with a bird of our own feather! As I went on, and my resolve strengthened, and my voice found new modulations, and our faces were drawn closer to the bars and to each other, not only she, but I, succumbed to the fascination, and were kindled by the charm. We make love, and thereby ourselves fall the deeper in it. It is with the heart only that one captures a heart.
"And now," I continued, "I will tell you what you can still do for me. I run a little risk just now, and you see for yourself how unavoidable it is for any man of honour. But if—but in case of the worst, I do not choose to enrich either my enemies or the Prince Regent. I have here the bulk of what my uncle gave me. Eight thousand odd pounds. Will you take care of it for me? Do not think of it merely as money; take and keep it as a relic of your friend or some precious piece of him. I may have bitter need of it ere long. Do you know the old country story of the giant who gave his heart to his wife to keep for him, thinking it safer to repose on her loyalty than his own strength? Flora, I am the giant—a very little one: will you be the keeper of my life? It is my heart I offer you in this symbol. In the sight of God, if you will have it, I give you my name, I endow you with my money. If the worst come, if I may never hope to call you wife, let me at least think you will use my uncle's legacy as my widow."
"No, not that," she said. "Never that."
"What then?" I said. "What else, my angel? What are words to me? There is but one name I care to know you by. Flora, my love!"
"Anne!" she said.
What sound is so full of music as one's own name uttered for the first time in the voice of her we love!
"My darling!" said I.
The jealous bars, set at the top and bottom in stone and lime, obstructed the rapture of the moment; but I took her to myself as wholly as they allowed. She did not shun my lips. My arms were wound round her body, which yielded itself generously to my embrace. As we so remained, entwined and yet severed, bruising our faces unconsciously on the cold bars, the irony of the universe—or, as I prefer to say, envy of some of the gods—again stirred up the elements of that stormy night. The wind blew again in the tree-tops; a volley of cold sea-rain deluged the garden, and, as the deuce would have it, a gutter which had been hitherto choked up began suddenly to play upon my head and shoulders with the vivacity of a fountain. We parted with a shock; I sprang to my feet, and she to hers, as though we had been discovered. A moment after, but now both standing, we had again approached the window on either side.
"Flora," I said, "this is but a poor offer I can make you."
She took my hand in hers and clasped it to her bosom.
"Rich enough for a queen!" she said, with a lift in her breathing that was more eloquent than words. "Anne, my brave Anne! I would be glad to be your maidservant; I could envy that boy Rowley. But, no!" she broke off, "I envy no one—I need not—I am yours."
"Mine," said I, "for ever! By this and this, mine!"
"All of me," she repeated. "Altogether, and for ever!"
And if the god were envious, he must have seen with mortification how little he could do to mar the happiness of mortals. I stood in a mere waterspout; she herself was wet, not from my embrace only, but from the splashing of the storm. The candles had guttered out; we were in darkness. I could scarce see anything but the shining of her eyes in the dark room. To her I must have appeared as a silhouette, haloed by rain and the spouting of the ancient Gothic gutter above my head.
Presently we became more calm and confidential; and when that squall, which proved to be the last of the storm, had blown by, fell into a talk of ways and means. It seems she knew Mr. Robbie, to whom I had been so slenderly accredited by Romaine—was even invited to his house for the evening of Monday, and gave me a sketch of the old gentleman's character, which implied a great deal of penetration in herself, and proved of great use to me in the immediate sequel. It seemed he was an enthusiastic antiquary, and in particular a fanatic of heraldry. I heard it with delight, for I was myself, thanks to M. de Culemberg, fairly grounded in that science, and acquainted with the blazons of most families of note in Europe. And I had made up my mind—even as she spoke, it was my fixed determination, though I was a hundred miles from saying it—to meet Flora on Monday night as a fellow-guest in Mr. Robbie's house.
I gave her my money—it was, of course, only paper I had brought. I gave it her, to be her marriage-portion, I declared.
"Not so bad a marriage-portion for a private soldier," I told her, laughing, as I passed it through the bars.
"O Anne, and where am I to keep it?" she cried. "If my aunt should find it! What would I say?"
"Next your heart," I suggested.
"Then you will always be near your treasure," she cried, "for you are always there!"
We were interrupted by a sudden clearness that fell upon the night. The clouds dispersed: the stars shone in every part of the heavens; and, consulting my watch, I was startled to find it already hard on five in the morning.
It was indeed high time I should be gone from Swanston; but what I was to do in the meanwhile was another question. Rowley had received his orders last night: he was to say that I had met a friend, and Mrs. McRankine was not to expect me before morning. A good enough tale in itself; but the dreadful pickle I was in made it out of the question. I could not go home till I had found harbourage, a fire to dry my clothes at, and a bed where I might lie till they were ready.
Fortune favoured me again. I had scarce got to the top of the first hill when I spied a light on my left, about a furlong away. It might be a case of sickness; what else it was likely to be—in so rustic a neighbourhood, and at such an ungodly time of the morning—was beyond my fancy. A faint sound of singing became audible, and gradually swelled as I drew near, until at last I could make out the words, which were singularly appropriate both to the hour and to the condition of the singers. "The cock may craw, the day may daw," they sang; and sang it with such laxity both in time and tune, and such sentimental complaisance in the expression, as assured me they had got far into the third bottle at least.
I found a plain rustic cottage by the wayside, of the sort called double, with a signboard over the door; and, the lights within streaming forth and somewhat mitigating the darkness of the morning, I was enabled to decipher the inscription: "The Hunters' Tryst, by Alexander Hendry. Porter, Ales, and British Spirits. Beds."
My first knock put a period to the music, and a voice challenged tipsily from within.
"Who goes there?" it said; and I replied, "A lawful traveller."
Immediately after, the door was unbarred by a company of the tallest lads my eyes had ever rested on, all astonishingly drunk and very decently dressed, and one (who was perhaps the drunkest of the lot) carrying a tallow candle, from which he impartially bedewed the clothes of the whole company. As soon as I saw them I could not help smiling to myself to remember the anxiety with which I had approached. They received me and my hastily-concocted story, that I had been walking from Peebles and had lost my way, with incoherent benignity; jostled me among them into the room where they had been sitting, a plain hedgerow alehouse parlour with a roaring fire in the chimney and a prodigious number of empty bottles on the floor; and informed me that I was made, by this reception, a temporary member of the Six-Feet-High Club, an athletic society of young men in a good station, who made of the "Hunters' Tryst" a frequent resort. They told me I had intruded on an "all-night sitting," following upon an "all-day Saturday tramp" of forty miles; and that the members would all be up and "as right as ninepence" for the noon-day service at some neighbouring church—Collingwood, if memory serves me right. At this I could have laughed, but the moment seemed ill-chosen. For, though six feet was their standard, they all exceeded that measurement considerably; and I tasted again some of the sensations of childhood, as I looked up to all these lads from a lower plane, and wondered what they would do next. But the Six-Footers, if they were very drunk, proved no less kind. The landlord and servants of the "Hunters' Tryst" were in bed and asleep long ago. Whether by natural gift or acquired habit they could suffer pandemonium to reign all over the house, and yet lie ranked in the kitchen like Egyptian mummies, only that the sound of their snoring rose and fell ceaselessly like the drone of a bagpipe. Here the Six-Footers invaded them—in their citadel, so to speak; counted the bunks and the sleepers; proposed to put me in bed to one of the lasses, proposed to have one of the lasses out to make room for me, fell over chairs, and made noise enough to waken the dead; the whole illuminated by the same young torch-bearer, but now with two candles, and rapidly beginning to look like a man in a snowstorm. At last a bed was found for me, my clothes were hung out to dry before the parlour fire, and I was mercifully left to my repose.
I awoke about nine with the sun shining in my eyes. The landlord came at my summons, brought me my clothes dried and decently brushed, and gave me the good news that the Six-Feet-High Club were all abed and sleeping off their excesses. Where they were bestowed was a puzzle to me until (as I was strolling about the garden patch waiting for breakfast) I came on a barn door, and, looking in, saw all the red faces mixed in the straw like plums in a cake. Quoth the stalwart maid who brought me my porridge and bade me "eat them while they were hot," "Ay, they were a' on the ran-dan last nicht! Hout! they're fine lads, and they'll be nane the waur of it. Forby Farbes's coat: I dinna see wha's to get the creish off that!" she added, with a sigh; in which, identifying Forbes as the torch-bearer, I mentally joined.
It was a brave morning when I took the road; the sun shone, spring seemed in the air, it smelt like April or May, and some over-venturous birds sang in the coppices as I went by. I had plenty to think of, plenty to be grateful for, that gallant morning; and yet I had a twitter at my heart. To enter the city by daylight might be compared to marching on a battery; every face that I confronted would threaten me like the muzzle of a gun; and it came into my head suddenly with how much better a countenance I should be able to do it if I could but improvise a companion. Hard by Merchiston I was so fortunate as to observe a bulky gentleman in broadcloth and gaiters, stooping, with his head almost between his knees, before a stone wall. Seizing occasion by the forelock, I drew up as I came alongside and inquired what he had found to interest him.
He turned upon me a countenance not much less broad than his back.
"Why, sir," he replied, "I was even marvelling at my own indefeasible stupeedity; that I should walk this way every week of my life, weather permitting, and should never before have notticed that stone," touching it at the same time with a goodly oak staff.
I followed the indication. The stone, which had been built sideways into the wall, offered traces of heraldic sculpture. At once there came a wild idea into my mind: his appearance tallied with Flora's description of Mr. Robbie; a knowledge of heraldry would go far to clinch the proof; and what could be more desirable than to scrape an informal acquaintance with the man whom I must approach next day with my tale of the drovers, and whom I yet wished to please? I stooped in turn.
"A chevron," I said; "on a chief three mullets? Looks like Douglas, does it not?"
"Yes, sir, it does; you are right," said he: "it does look like Douglas; though, without the tinctures, and the whole thing being so battered and broken up, who shall venture an opinion? But allow me to be more personal, sir. In these degenerate days I am astonished you should display so much proficiency."
"O, I was well grounded in my youth by an old gentleman, a friend of my family, and I may say my guardian," said I; "but I have forgotten it since. God forbid I should delude you into thinking me a herald, sir! I am only an ungrammatical amateur."
"And a little modesty does no harm even in a herald," says my new acquaintance graciously.
In short, we fell together on our onward way, and maintained very amicable discourse along what remained of the country road, past the suburbs, and on into the streets of the New Town, which was as deserted and silent as a city of the dead. The shops were closed, no vehicle ran, cats sported in the midst of the sunny causeway; and our steps and voices re-echoed from the quiet houses. It was the high-water, full and strange, of that weekly trance to which the city of Edinburgh is subjected: the apotheosis of the Sawbath; and I confess the spectacle wanted not grandeur, however much it may have lacked cheerfulness. There are few religious ceremonies more imposing. As we thus walked and talked in a public seclusion the bells broke out ringing through all the bounds of the city, and the streets began immediately to be thronged with decent church-goers.
"Ah!" said my companion, "there are the bells! Now, sir, as you are a stranger I must offer you the hospitality of my pew. I do not know whether you are at all used with our Scottish form; but in case you are not I will find your places for you; and Dr. Henry Gray, of St. Mary's (under whom I sit), is as good a preacher as we have to show you."
This put me in a quandary. It was a degree of risk I was scarce prepared for. Dozens of people, who might pass me by in the street with no more than a second look, would go on from the second to the third, and from that to a final recognition, if I were set before them, immobilised in a pew, during the whole time of service. An unlucky turn of the head would suffice to arrest their attention. "Who is that?" they would think: "surely I should know him!" and, a church being the place in all the world where one has least to think of, it was ten to one they would end by remembering me before the benediction. However, my mind was made up: I thanked my obliging friend, and placed myself at his disposal.
Our way now led us into the north-east quarter of the town, among pleasant new faubourgs, to a decent new church of a good size, where I was soon seated by the side of my good Samaritan, and looked upon by a whole congregation of menacing faces. At first the possibility of danger kept me awake; but by the time I had assured myself there was none to be apprehended, and the service was not in the least likely to be enlivened by the arrest of a French spy, I had to resign myself to the task of listening to Dr. Henry Gray.
As we moved out, after this ordeal was over, my friend was at once surrounded and claimed by his acquaintances of the congregation; and I was rejoiced to hear him addressed by the expected name of Robbie.
So soon as we were clear of the crowd—"Mr. Robbie?" said I, bowing.
"The very same, sir," said he.
"If I mistake not, a lawyer?"
"A writer to His Majesty's Signet, at your service."
"It seems we were predestined to be acquaintances!" I exclaimed. "I have here a card in my pocket intended for you. It is from my family lawyer. It was his last word, as I was leaving, to ask to be remembered kindly and to trust you would pass over so informal an introduction."
And I offered him the card.
"Ay, ay, my old friend Daniel!" says he, looking on the card. "And how does my old friend Daniel?"
I gave a favourable view of Mr. Romaine's health.
"Well, this is certainly a whimsical incident," he continued. "And since we are thus met already—and so much to my advantage!—the simplest thing will be to prosecute the acquaintance instantly. Let me propose a snack between sermons, a bottle of my particular green seal—and when nobody is looking we can talk blazons, Mr. Ducie!"—which was the name I then used and had already incidentally mentioned, in the vain hope of provoking a return in kind.
"I beg your pardon, sir; do I understand you to invite me to your house?" said I.
"That was the idea I was trying to convey," said he. "We have the name of hospitable people up here, and I would like you to try mine."
"Mr. Robbie, I shall hope to try it some day, but not yet," I replied. "I hope you will not misunderstand me. My business, which brings me to your city, is of a peculiar kind. Till you shall have heard it, and, indeed, till its issue is known, I should feel as if I had stolen your invitation."
"Well, well," said he, a little sobered, "it must be as you wish, though you would hardly speak otherwise if you had committed homicide! Mine is the loss. I must eat alone; a very pernicious thing for a person of my habit of body, content myself with a pint of skinking claret, and meditate the discourse. But about this business of yours: if it is so particular as all that, it will doubtless admit of no delay?"
"I must confess, sir, it presses," I acknowledged.
"Then, let us say to-morrow at half-past eight in the morning," said he; "and I hope, when your mind is at rest (and it does you much honour to take it as you do), that you will sit down with me to the postponed meal, not forgetting the bottle. You have my address?" he added, and gave it me—which was the only thing I wanted.
At last, at the level of York Place, we parted with mutual civilities, and I was free to pursue my way, through the mobs of people returning from church, to my lodgings in St. James' Square.
Almost at the house door whom should I overtake but my landlady in a dress of gorgeous severity, and dragging a prize in her wake: no less than Rowley, with the cockade in his hat, and a smart pair of tops to his boots! When I said he was in the lady's wake I spoke but in metaphor. As a matter of fact he was squiring her, with the utmost dignity, on his arm; and I followed them up the stairs, smiling to myself.
Both were quick to salute me as soon as I was perceived, and Mrs. McRankine inquired where I had been. I told her boastfully, giving her the name of the church and the divine, and ignorantly supposing I should have gained caste. But she soon opened my eyes. In the roots of the Scottish character there are knots and contortions that not only no stranger can understand, but no stranger can follow; he walks among explosives; and his best course is to throw himself upon their mercy—"Just as I am, without one plea," a citation from one of the lady's favourite hymns.
The sound she made was unmistakable in meaning, though it was impossible to be written down; and I at once executed the manoeuvre I have recommended.
"You must remember I am a perfect stranger in your city," said I. "If I have done wrong, it was in mere ignorance, my dear lady; and this afternoon, if you will be so good as to take me, I shall accompany you."
But she was not to be pacified at the moment, and departed to her own quarters murmuring.
"Well, Rowley," said I; "and have you been to church?"
"If you please, sir," he said.
"Well, you have not been any less unlucky than I have," I returned. "And how did you get on with the Scottish form?"
"Well, sir, it was pretty 'ard, the form was, and reether narrow," he replied. "I don't know w'y it is, but it seems to me like as if things were a good bit changed since William Wallace! That was a main queer church she took me to, Mr. Anne! I don't know as I could have sat it out, if she 'adn't 'a' give me peppermints. She ain't a bad one at bottom, the old girl; she do pounce a bit, and she do worry, but, law bless you, Mr. Anne, it ain't nothink really—she don't mean it. W'y, she was down on me like a 'undredweight of bricks this morning. You see, last night she 'ad me in to supper, and, I beg your pardon, sir, but I took the freedom of playing her a chune or two. She didn't mind a bit; so this morning I began to play to myself, and she flounced in, and flew up, and carried on no end about Sunday!"
"You see, Rowley," said I, "they're all mad up here, and you have to humour them. See and don't quarrel with Mrs. McRankine; and, above all, don't argue with her, or you'll get the worst of it. Whatever she says, touch your forelock and say, 'If you please!' or 'I beg pardon, ma'am.' And let me tell you one thing: I am sorry, but you have to go to church with her again this afternoon. That's duty, my boy!"
As I had foreseen, the bells had scarce begun before Mrs. McRankine presented herself to be our escort, upon which I sprang up with readiness and offered her my arm. Rowley followed behind. I was beginning to grow accustomed to the risks of my stay in Edinburgh, and it even amused me to confront a new churchful. I confess the amusement did not last until the end; for if Dr. Gray were long, Mr. McCraw was not only longer but more incoherent, and the matter of his sermon (which was a direct attack, apparently, on all the Churches of the world, my own among the number), where it had not the tonic quality of personal insult, rather inclined me to slumber. But I braced myself for my life, kept up Rowley with the end of a pin, and came through it awake, but no more.
Bethiah was quite conquered by this "mark of grace," though, I am afraid, she was also moved by more worldly considerations. The first is, the lady had not the least objection to go to church on the arm of an elegantly dressed young gentleman, and be followed by a spruce servant with a cockade in his hat. I could see it by the way she took possession of us, found us the places in the Bible, whispered to me the name of the minister, passed us lozenges, which I (for my part) handed on to Rowley, and at each fresh attention stole a little glance about the church to make sure she was observed. Rowley was a pretty boy; you will pardon me if I also remembered that I was a favourable-looking young man. When we grow elderly, how the room brightens, and begins to look as it ought to look, on the entrance of youth, grace, health, and comeliness! You do not want them for yourself, perhaps not even for your son, but you look on smiling; and when you recall their images—again, it is with a smile. I defy you to see or think of them and not smile with an infinite and intimate, but quite impersonal, pleasure. Well, either I know nothing of women, or that was the case with Bethiah McRankine. She had been to church with a cockade behind her, on the one hand; on the other, her house was brightened by the presence of a pair of good-looking young fellows of the other sex, who were always pleased and deferential in her society, and accepted her views as final.
These were sentiments to be encouraged; and, on the way home from church—if church it could be called—I adopted a most insidious device to magnify her interest. I took her into the confidence, that is, of my love affair, and I had no sooner mentioned a young lady with whom my affections were engaged than she turned upon me with a face of awful gravity.
"Is she bonny?" she inquired.
I gave her full assurances upon that.
"To what denoamination does she beloang?" came next, and was so unexpected as almost to deprive me of breath.
"Upon my word, ma'am, I have never inquired," cried I; "I only know that she is a heartfelt Christian, and that is enough."
"Ay!" she sighed, "if she has the root of the maitter! There's a remnant practically in most of the denoaminations. There's some in the McGlashanites, and some in the Glassites, and mony in the McMillanites, and there's a leeven even in the Estayblishment."
"I have known some very good Papists even, if you go to that," said I.
"Mr. Ducie, think shame to yoursel'!" she cried.
"Why, my dear madam! I only——" I began.
"You shouldna jest in sairious maitters," she interrupted.
On the whole, she entered into what I chose to tell her of our idyll with avidity, like a cat licking her whiskers over a dish of cream; and, strange to say—and so expansive a passion is that of love!—that I derived a perhaps equal satisfaction from confiding in that breast of iron. It made an immediate bond: from that hour we seemed to be welded into a family party; and I had little difficulty in persuading her to join us and to preside over our tea-table. Surely there was never so ill-matched a trio as Rowley, Mrs. McRankine, and the Viscount Anne! But I am of the Apostle's way, with a difference: all things to all women! When I cannot please a woman, hang me in my cravat!
EVENTS OF MONDAY: THE LAWYER'S PARTY
By half-past eight o'clock on the next morning, I was ringing the bell of the lawyer's office in Castle Street, where I found him ensconced at a business table, in a room surrounded by several tiers of green tin cases. He greeted me like an old friend.
"Come away, sir, come away!" said he. "Here is the dentist ready for you, and I think I can promise you that the operation will be practically painless."
"I am not so sure of that, Mr. Robbie," I replied, as I shook hands with him. "But at least there shall be no time lost with me."
I had to confess to having gone a-roving with a pair of drovers and their cattle, to having used a false name, to having murdered or half-murdered a fellow-creature in a scuffle on the moors, and to having suffered a couple of quite innocent men to lie some time in prison on a charge from which I could have immediately freed them. All this I gave him first of all, to be done with the worst of it; and all this he took with gravity, but without the least appearance of surprise.
"Now, sir," I continued, "I expect to have to pay for my unhappy frolic, but I would like very well if it could be managed without my personal appearance or even the mention of my real name. I had so much wisdom as to sail under false colours in this foolish jaunt of mine; my family would be extremely concerned if they had wind of it; but at the same time, if the case of this Faa has terminated fatally, and there are proceedings against Sim and Candlish, I am not going to stand by and see them vexed, far less punished; and I authorise you to give me up for trial if you think that best—or, if you think it unnecessary, in the meanwhile to make preparations for their defence. I hope, sir, that I am as little anxious to be Quixotic as I am determined to be just."
"Very fairly spoken," said Mr. Robbie. "It is not much in my line, as doubtless your friend, Mr. Romaine, will have told you. I rarely mix myself up with anything on the criminal side, or approaching it. However, for a young gentleman like you, I may stretch a point, and I dare say I may be able to accomplish more than perhaps another. I will go at once to the Procurator Fiscal's office and inquire."
"Wait a moment, Mr. Robbie," said I. "You forget the chapter of expenses. I had thought, for a beginning, of placing a thousand pounds in your hands."
"My dear sir, you will kindly wait until I render you my bill," said Mr. Robbie severely.
"It seemed to me," I protested, "that coming to you almost as a stranger, and placing in your hands a piece of business so contrary to your habits, some substantial guarantee of my good faith——"
"Not the way that we do business in Scotland, sir," he interrupted, with an air of closing the dispute.
"And yet, Mr. Robbie," I continued, "I must ask you to allow me to proceed. I do not merely refer to the expenses of the case. I have my eye besides on Sim and Candlish. They are thoroughly deserving fellows; they have been subjected through me to a considerable term of imprisonment; and I suggest, sir, that you should not spare money for their indemnification. This will explain," I added, smiling, "my offer of the thousand pounds. It was in the nature of a measure by which you should judge the scale on which I can afford to have this business carried through."
"I take you perfectly, Mr. Ducie," said he. "But the sooner I am off, the better this affair is likely to be guided. My clerk will show you into the waiting-room and give you the day's Caledonian Mercury and the last Register to amuse yourself with in the interval."
I believe Mr. Robbie was at least three hours gone. I saw him descend from a cab at the door, and almost immediately after I was shown again into his study, where the solemnity of his manner led me to augur the worst. For some time he had the inhumanity to read me a lecture as to the incredible silliness, "not to say immorality," of my behaviour. "I have the satisfaction in telling you my opinion, because it appears that you are going to get off scot-free," he continued, where, indeed, I thought he might have begun.
"The man Faa has been dischairged cured; and the two men, Sim and Candlish, would have been leeberated long ago, if it had not been for their extraordinary loyalty to yourself, Mr. Ducie—or Mr. St. Ivey, as I believe I should now call you. Never a word would either of the two old fools volunteer that in any manner pointed at the existence of such a person; and when they were confronted with Faa's version of the affair, they gave accounts so entirely discrepant with their own former declarations, as well as with each other, that the Fiscal was quite nonplussed, and imaigined there was something behind it. You may believe I soon laughed him out of that! And I had the satisfaction of seeing your two friends set free, and very glad to be on the causeway again."
"O sir," I cried, "you should have brought them here!"
"No instructions, Mr. Ducie!" said he. "How did I know you wished to renew an acquaintance which you had just terminated so fortunately? And, indeed, to be frank with you, I should have set my face against it, if you had! Let them go! They are paid and contented, and have the highest possible opinion of Mr. St. Ivey! When I gave them fifty pounds apiece—which was rather more than enough, Mr. Ducie, whatever you may think—the man Sim, who has the only tongue of the party, struck his staff on the ground. 'Weel,' says he, 'I aye said he was a gentleman!' 'Man Sim,' said I, 'that was just what Mr. St. Ivey said of yourself!'"
"So it was a case of 'Compliments fly when gentlefolk meet.'"
"No, no, Mr. Ducie, man Sim and man Candlish are gone out of your life, and a good riddance! They are fine fellows in their way, but no proper associates for the like of yourself; and do you finally agree to be done with all eccentricity—take up with no more drovers, or rovers, or tinkers, but enjoy the naitural pleesures for which your age, your wealth, your intelligence, and (if I may be allowed to say it) your appearance so completely fit you. And the first of these," quoth he, looking at his watch, "will be to step through to my dining-room and share a bachelor's luncheon."
Over the meal, which was good, Mr. Robbie continued to develop the same theme. "You're, no doubt, what they call a dancing-man?" said he. "Well, on Thursday night there is the Assembly Ball. You must certainly go there, and you must permit me besides to do the honours of the ceety and send you a ticket. I am a thorough believer in a young man being a young man—but no more drovers or rovers, if you love me! Talking of which puts me in mind that you may be short of partners at the Assembly—O, I have been young myself!—and if ye care to come to anything so portentously tedious as a tea-party at the house of a bachelor lawyer, consisting mainly of his nieces and nephews, and his grand-nieces and grand-nephews, and his wards, and generally the whole clan of the descendants of his clients, you might drop in to-night towards seven o'clock. I think I can show you one or two that are worth looking at, and you can dance with them later on at the Assembly."
He proceeded to give me a sketch of one or two eligible young ladies whom I might expect to meet. "And then there's my parteecular friend, Miss Flora," said he. "But I'll make no attempt of a description. You shall see her for yourself."
It will be readily supposed that I accepted his invitation; and returned home to make a toilette worthy of her I was to meet and the good news of which I was the bearer. The toilette, I have reason to believe, was a success. Mr. Rowley dismissed me with a farewell: "Crikey! Mr. Anne, but you do look prime!" Even the stony Bethiah was—how shall I say?—dazzled, but scandalised, by my appearance; and while, of course, she deplored the vanity that led to it, she could not wholly prevent herself from admiring the result.
"Ay, Mr. Ducie, this is a poor employment for a way-faring Christian man!" she said. "Wi' Christ despised and rejectit in all pairts of the world, and the flag of the Covenant flung doon, you will be muckle better on your knees! However, I'll have to confess that it sets you weel. And if it's the lassie ye're gaun to see the nicht, I suppose I'll just have to excuse ye! Bairns maun be bairns!" she said, with a sigh. "I mind when Mr. McRankine came courtin', and that's lang by-gane—I mind I had a green gown, passementit, that was thocht to become me to admiration. I was nae just exactly what ye would ca' bonny; but I was pale, penetratin', and interestin'." And she leaned over the stair-rail with a candle to watch my descent as long as it should be possible.
It was but a little party of Mr. Robbie's—by which I do not so much mean that there were few people, for the rooms were crowded, as that there was very little attempted to entertain them. In one apartment there were tables set out, where the elders were solemnly engaged upon whist; in the other and larger one, a great number of youths of both sexes entertained themselves languidly, the ladies sitting upon chairs to be courted, the gentlemen standing about in various attitudes of insinuation or indifference. Conversation appeared the sole resource, except in so far as it was modified by a number of keepsakes and annuals which lay dispersed upon the tables, and of which the young beaux displayed the illustrations to the ladies. Mr. Robbie himself was customarily in the card-room; only now and again, when he cut out, he made an incursion among the young folks, and rolled about jovially from one to another, the very picture of the general uncle.
It chanced that Flora had met Mr. Robbie in the course of the afternoon. "Now, Miss Flora," he had said, "come early, for I have a Phoenix to show you—one Mr. Ducie, a new client of mine that, I vow, I have fallen in love with"; and he was so good as to add a word or two on my appearance, from which Flora conceived a suspicion of the truth. She had come to the party, in consequence, on the knife-edge of anticipation and alarm; had chosen a place by the door, where I found her, on my arrival, surrounded by a posse of vapid youths; and, when I drew near, sprang up to meet me in the most natural manner in the world, and, obviously, with a prepared form of words.
"How do you do, Mr. Ducie?" she said. "It is quite an age since I have seen you!"
"I have much to tell you, Miss Gilchrist," I replied. "May I sit down?"
For the artful girl, by sitting near the door, and the judicious use of her shawl, had contrived to keep a chair empty by her side.
She made room for me as a matter of course, and the youths had the discretion to melt before us. As soon as I was once seated her fan flew out, and she whispered behind it—
"Are you mad?"
"Madly in love," I replied; "but in no other sense."
"I have no patience! You cannot understand what I am suffering!" she said. "What are you to say to Ronald, to Major Chevenix, to my aunt?"
"Your aunt?" I cried, with a start. "Peccavi! is she here?"
"She is in the card-room at whist," said Flora.
"Where she will probably stay all the evening?" I suggested.
"She may," she admitted; "she generally does!"
"Well, then, I must avoid the card-room," said I, "which is very much what I had counted upon doing. I did not come here to play cards, but to contemplate a certain young lady to my heart's content—if it can ever be contented!—and to tell her some good news."
"But there are still Ronald and the Major!" she persisted. "They are not card-room fixtures! Ronald will be coming and going. And as for Mr. Chevenix, he——"
"Always sits with Miss Flora?" I interrupted. "And they talk of poor St. Ives? I had gathered as much, my dear; and Mr. Ducie has come to prevent it! But pray dismiss these fears! I mind no one but your aunt."
"Why my aunt?"
"Because your aunt is a lady, my dear, and a very clever lady, and, like all clever ladies, a very rash lady," said I. "You can never count upon them, unless you are sure of getting them in a corner, as I have got you, and talking them over rationally, as I am just engaged on with yourself! It would be quite the same to your aunt to make the worst kind of a scandal, with an equal indifference to my danger and to the feelings of our good host!"
"Well," she said, "and what of Ronald, then? Do you think he is above making a scandal? You must know him very little!"
"On the other hand, it is my pretension that I know him very well!" I replied. "I must speak to Ronald first—not Ronald to me—that is all!"
"Then, please, go and speak to him at once!" she pleaded. "He is there—do you see?—at the upper end of the room, talking to that girl in pink."
"And so lose this seat before I have told you my good news?" I exclaimed. "Catch me! And, besides, my dear one, think a little of me and my good news! I thought the bearer of good news was always welcome! I hoped he might be a little welcome for himself! Consider! I have but one friend; and let me stay by her! And there is only one thing I care to hear; and let me hear it!"
"O Anne," she sighed, "if I did not love you, why should I be so uneasy? I am turned into a coward, dear! Think, if it were the other way round—if you were quite safe and I was in, O, such danger!"
She had no sooner said it than I was convicted of being a dullard. "God forgive me, dear!" I made haste to reply, "I never saw before that there were two sides to this!" And I told her my tale as briefly as I could, and rose to seek Ronald. "You see, my dear, you are obeyed," I said.
She gave me a look that was a reward in itself; and as I turned away from her, with a strong sense of turning away from the sun, I carried that look in my bosom like a caress. The girl in pink was an arch, ogling person, with a good deal of eyes and teeth, and a great play of shoulders and rattle of conversation. There could be no doubt, from Mr. Ronald's attitude, that he worshipped the very chair she sat on. But I was quite ruthless. I laid my hand on his shoulder, as he was stooping over her like a hen over a chicken.
"Excuse me for one moment, Mr. Gilchrist!" said I.
He started and span about in answer to my touch, and exhibited a face of inarticulate wonder.
"Yes!" I continued, "it is even myself! Pardon me for interrupting so agreeable a tete-a-tete, but you know, my good fellow, we owe a first duty to Mr. Robbie. It would never do to risk making a scene in the man's drawing-room; so the first thing I had to attend to was to have you warned. The name I go by is Ducie, too, in case of accidents."
"I—I say, you know!" cried Ronald. "Deuce take it, what are you doing here?"
"Hush, hush!" said I. "Not the place, my dear fellow—not the place. Come to my rooms, if you like, to-night after the party, or to-morrow in the morning, and we can talk it out over a segar. But here, you know, it really won't do at all."
Before he could collect his mind for an answer, I had given him my address in St. James' Square, and had again mingled with the crowd. Alas! I was not fated to get back to Flora so easily! Mr. Robbie was in the path: he was insatiably loquacious; and as he continued to palaver I watched the insipid youths gather again about my idol, and cursed my fate and my host. He remembered suddenly that I was to attend the Assembly Ball on Thursday, and had only attended to-night by way of a preparative. This put it into his head to present me to another young lady; but I managed this interview with so much art that, while I was scrupulously polite and even cordial to the fair one, I contrived to keep Robbie beside me all the time, and to leave along with him when the ordeal was over. We were just walking away arm in arm, when I spied my friend the Major approaching, stiff as a ramrod and, as usual, obtrusively clean.
"O! there's a man I want to know," said I, taking the bull by the horns. "Won't you introduce me to Major Chevenix?"
"At a word, my dear fellow," said Robbie; and "Major!" he cried, "come here and let me present to you my friend Mr. Ducie, who desires the honour of your acquaintance."
The Major flushed visibly, but otherwise preserved his composure. He bowed very low. "I'm not very sure," he said: "I have an idea we have met before?"
"Informally," I said, returning his bow; "and I have long looked forward to the pleasure of regularising our acquaintance."
"You are very good, Mr. Ducie," he returned. "Perhaps you could aid my memory a little? Where was it that I had the pleasure?"
"O, that would be telling tales out of school," said I, with a laugh, "and before my lawyer, too!"
"I'll wager," broke in Mr. Robbie, "that, when you knew my client, Chevenix—the past of our friend Mr. Ducie is an obscure chapter full of horrid secrets—I'll wager, now, you knew him as St. Ivey," says he, nudging me violently.
"I think not, sir," said the Major, with pinched lips.
"Well, I wish he may prove all right!" continued the lawyer, with certainly the worst-inspired jocularity in the world. "I know nothing by him! He may be a swell mobsman for me with his aliases. You must put your memory on the rack, Major, and when ye've remembered when and where ye've met him, be sure ye tell me."
"I will not fail, sir," said Chevenix.
"Seek to him!" cried Robbie, waving his hand as he departed.
The Major, as soon as we were alone, turned upon me his impassive countenance.
"Well," he said, "you have courage."
"It is undoubted as your honour, sir," I returned, bowing.
"Did you expect to meet me, may I ask?" said he.
"You saw, at least, that I courted the presentation," said I.
"And you were not afraid?" said Chevenix.
"I was perfectly at ease. I knew I was dealing with a gentleman. Be that your epitaph."
"Well, there are some other people looking for you," he said, "who will make no bones about the point of honour. The police, my dear sir, are simply agog about you."
"And I think that that was coarse," said I.
"You have seen Miss Gilchrist?" he inquired, changing the subject.
"With whom, I am led to understand, we are on a footing of rivalry?" I asked. "Yes, I have seen her."
"And I was just seeking her," he replied.
I was conscious of a certain thrill of temper; so, I suppose, was he. We looked each other up and down.
"The situation is original," he resumed.
"Quite," said I. "But let me tell you frankly you are blowing a cold coal. I owe you so much for your kindness to the prisoner Champdivers."
"Meaning that the lady's affections are more advantageously disposed of?" he asked, with a sneer. "Thank you, I am sure. And, since you have given me a lead, just hear a word of good advice in your turn. Is it fair, is it delicate, is it like a gentleman, to compromise the young lady by attentions which (as you know very well) can come to nothing?"
I was utterly unable to find words in answer.
"Excuse me if I cut this interview short," he went on. "It seems to me doomed to come to nothing, and there is more attractive metal."
"Yes," I replied, "as you say, it cannot amount to much. You are impotent, bound hand and foot in honour. You know me to be a man falsely accused, and even if you did not know it, from your position as my rival you have only the chance to stand quite still or to be infamous."
"I would not say that," he returned, with another change of colour. "I may hear it once too often."
With which he moved off straight for where Flora was sitting amidst her court of vapid youths, and I had no choice but to follow him, a bad second, and reading myself, as I went, a sharp lesson on the command of temper.
It is a strange thing how young men in their 'teens go down at the mere wind of the coming of men of twenty-five and upwards! The vapid ones fled without thought of resistance before the Major and me; a few dallied awhile in the neighbourhood—so to speak, with their fingers in their mouths—but presently these also followed the rout, and we remained face to face before Flora. There was a draught in that corner by the door; she had thrown her pelisse over her bare arms and neck, and the dark fur of the trimming set them off. She shone by contrast; the light played on her smooth skin to admiration, and the colour changed in her excited face. For the least fraction of a second she looked from one to the other of her pair of rival swains, and seemed to hesitate. Then she addressed Chevenix:
"You are coming to the Assembly, of course, Major Chevenix?" said she.
"I fear not; I fear I shall be otherwise engaged," he replied. "Even the pleasure of dancing with you, Miss Flora, must give way to duty."
For a while the talk ran harmlessly on the weather, and then branched off towards the war. It seemed to be by no one's fault; it was in the air, and had to come.
"Good news from the scene of operations," said the Major.
"Good news while it lasts," I said. "But will Miss Gilchrist tell us her private thought upon the war? In her admiration for the victors, does not there mingle some pity for the vanquished?"
"Indeed, sir," she said, with animation, "only too much of it! War is a subject that I do not think should be talked of to a girl. I am, I have to be—what do you call it?—a non-combatant? And to remind me of what others have to do and suffer: no, it is not fair!"
"Miss Gilchrist has the tender female heart," said Chevenix.
"Do not be too sure of that!" she cried. "I would love to be allowed to fight myself!"
"On which side?" I asked.
"Can you ask?" she exclaimed. "I am a Scottish girl!"
"She is a Scottish girl!" repeated the Major, looking at me. "And no one grudges you her pity!"
"And I glory in every grain of it she has to spare," said I. "Pity is akin to love."
"Well, and let us put that question to Miss Gilchrist. It is for her to decide, and for us to bow to the decision. Is pity, Miss Flora, or is admiration, nearest love?"
"O, come," said I, "let us be more concrete. Lay before the lady a complete case: describe your man, then I'll describe mine, and Miss Flora shall decide."
"I think I see your meaning," said he, "and I'll try. You think that pity—and the kindred sentiments—have the greatest power upon the heart. I think more nobly of women. To my view, the man they love will first of all command their respect; he will be steadfast—proud, if you please; dry, possibly—but of all things steadfast. They will look at him in doubt; at last they will see that stern face which he presents to all the rest of the world soften to them alone. First, trust, I say. It is so that a woman loves who is worthy of heroes."
"Your man is very ambitious, sir," said I, "and very much of a hero! Mine is a humbler, and, I would fain think, a more human dog. He is one with no particular trust in himself, with no superior steadfastness to be admired for, who sees a lady's face, who hears her voice, and, without any phrase about the matter, falls in love. What does he ask for, then, but pity?—pity for his weakness, pity for his love, which is his life. You would make women always the inferiors, gaping up at your imaginary lover; he, like a marble statue, with his nose in the air! But God has been wiser than you; and the most steadfast of your heroes may prove human, after all. We appeal to the queen for judgment," I added, turning and bowing before Flora.
"And how shall the queen judge?" she asked. "I must give you an answer that is no answer at all. 'The wind bloweth where it listeth': she goes where her heart goes."
Her face flushed as she said it; mine also, for I read in it a declaration, and my heart swelled for joy. But Chevenix grew pale.
"You make of life a very dreadful kind of lottery, ma'am," said he. "But I will not despair. Honest and unornamental is still my choice."
And I must say he looked extremely handsome and very amusingly like the marble statue with its nose in the air to which I had compared him.
"I cannot imagine how we got upon this subject," said Flora.
"Madam, it was through the war," replied Chevenix.
"All roads lead to Rome," I commented. "What else would you expect Mr. Chevenix and myself to talk of?"
About this time I was conscious of a certain bustle and movement in the room behind me, but did not pay to it that degree of attention which perhaps would have been wise. There came a certain change in Flora's face; she signalled repeatedly with her fan; her eyes appealed to me obsequiously; there could be no doubt that she wanted something—as well as I could make out, that I should go away and leave the field clear for my rival, which I had not the least idea of doing. At last she rose from her chair with impatience.
"I think it time you were saying good-night, Mr. Ducie!" she said.
I could not in the least see why, and said so.
Whereupon she gave me this appalling answer, "My aunt is coming out of the card-room."
In less time than it takes to tell, I had made my bow and my escape. Looking back from the doorway I was privileged to see, for a moment, the august profile and gold eye-glasses of Miss Gilchrist issuing from the card-room; and the sight lent me wings. I stood not on the order of my going; and a moment after, I was on the pavement of Castle Street, and the lighted windows shone down on me, and were crossed by ironical shadows of those who had remained behind.
EVENTS OF TUESDAY: THE TOILS CLOSING
This day began with a surprise. I found a letter on my breakfast-table addressed to Edward Ducie, Esquire; and at first I was startled beyond measure. "Conscience doth make cowards of us all!" When I had opened it, it proved to be only a note from the lawyer, enclosing a card for the Assembly Ball on Thursday evening. Shortly after, as I was composing my mind with a segar at one of the windows of the sitting-room, and Rowley, having finished the light share of work that fell to him, sat not far off tootling with great spirit, and a marked preference for the upper octave, Ronald was suddenly shown in. I got him a segar, drew in a chair to the side of the fire, and installed him there—I was going to say, at his ease, but no expression could be farther from the truth. He was plainly on pins and needles, did not know whether to take or to refuse the segar, and, after he had taken it, did not know whether to light or to return it. I saw he had something to say; I did not think it was his own something; and I was ready to offer a large bet it was really something of Major Chevenix's.
"Well, and so here you are!" I observed, with pointless cordiality, for I was bound I should do nothing to help him out. If he were, indeed, here running errands for my rival, he might have a fair field, but certainly no favour.
"The fact is," he began, "I would rather see you alone."
"Why, certainly," I replied. "Rowley, you can step into the bedroom. My dear fellow," I continued, "this sounds serious. Nothing wrong, I trust."
"Well, I'll be quite honest," said he. "I am a good deal bothered."
"And I bet I know why!" I exclaimed. "And I bet I can put you to rights, too!"
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"You must be hard up," said I, "and all I can say is, you've come to the right place. If you have the least use for a hundred pounds, or any such trifling sum as that, please mention it. It's here, quite at your service."
"I am sure it is most kind of you," said Ronald, "and the truth is, though I can't think how you guessed it, that I really am a little behind board. But I haven't come to talk about that."
"No, I dare say!" cried I. "Not worth talking about! But remember, Ronald, you and I are on different sides of the business. Remember that you did me one of those services that make men friends for ever. And since I have had the fortune to come into a fair share of money, just oblige me, and consider so much of it as your own."
"No," he said, "I couldn't take it; I couldn't, really. Besides, the fact is, I've come on a very different matter. It's about my sister, St. Ives," and he shook his head menacingly at me.
"You're quite sure?" I persisted. "It's here, at your service—up to five hundred pounds, if you like. Well, all right; only remember where it is when you do want it."
"O, please let me alone!" cried Ronald: "I've come to say something unpleasant; and how on earth can I do it, if you don't give a fellow a chance? It's about my sister, as I said. You can see for yourself that it can't be allowed to go on. It's compromising; it don't lead to anything; and you're not the kind of man (you must feel it yourself) that I can allow my female relatives to have anything to do with. I hate saying this, St. Ives; it looks like hitting a man when he's down, you know; and I told the Major I very much disliked it from the first. However, it had to be said; and now it has been, and, between gentlemen, it shouldn't be necessary to refer to it again."
"It's compromising; it doesn't lead to anything; not the kind of man," I repeated thoughtfully. "Yes, I believe I understand, and shall make haste to put myself en regle." I stood up and laid my segar down. "Mr. Gilchrist," said I, with a bow, "in answer to your very natural observations, I beg to offer myself as a suitor for your sister's hand. I am a man of title, of which we think lightly in France, but of ancient lineage, which is everywhere prized. I can display thirty-two quarterings without a blot. My expectations are certainly above the average: I believe my uncle's income averages about thirty thousand pounds, though I admit I was not careful to inform myself. Put it anywhere between fifteen and fifty thousand; it is certainly not less."
"All this is very easy to say," said Ronald, with a pitying smile. "Unfortunately, these things are in the air."
"Pardon me—in Buckinghamshire," said I, smiling.
"Well, what I mean is, my dear St. Ives, that you can't prove them," he continued. "They might just as well not be: do you follow me? You can't bring us any third party to back you up."
"O, come!" cried I, springing up and hurrying to the table. "You must excuse me!" I wrote Romaine's address. "There is my reference, Mr. Gilchrist. Until you have written to him, and received his negative answer, I have a right to be treated, and I shall see that you treat me, as a gentleman."
He was brought up with a round turn at that. "I beg your pardon, St. Ives," said he. "Believe me, I had no wish to be offensive. But there's the difficulty of this affair; I can't make any of my points without offence! You must excuse me, it's not my fault. But, at any rate, you must see for yourself this proposal of marriage is—is merely impossible, my dear fellow. It's nonsense! Our countries are at war; you are a prisoner."
"My ancestor of the time of the Ligue," I replied, "married a Huguenot lady out of the Saintonge, riding two hundred miles through an enemy's country to bring off his bride; and it was a happy marriage."
"Well," he began; and then looked down into the fire and became silent.
"Well?" I asked.
"Well, there's this business of—Goguelat," said he, still looking at the coals in the grate.
"What!" I exclaimed, starting in my chair. "What's that you say?"
"This business about Goguelat," he repeated.
"Ronald," said I, "this is not your doing. These are not your own words. I know where they came from: a coward put them in your mouth."
"St. Ives!" he cried, "why do you make it so hard for me? and where's the use of insulting other people? The plain English is, that I can't hear of any proposal of marriage from a man under a charge like that. You must see it for yourself, man! It's the most absurd thing I ever heard of! And you go on forcing me to argue with you, too!"
"Because I have had an affair of honour which terminated unhappily, you—a young soldier, or next-door to it—refuse my offer? Do I understand you aright?" said I.
"My dear fellow!" he wailed, "of course you can twist my words, if you like. You say it was an affair of honour. Well, I can't, of course, tell you that—I can't—I mean, you must see that that's just the point! Was it? I don't know."
"I have the honour to inform you," said I.
"Well, other people say the reverse, you see!"
"They lie, Ronald, and I will prove it in time."
"The short and the long of it is, that any man who is so unfortunate as to have such things said about him is not the man to be my brother-in-law!" he cried.
"Do you know who will be my first witness at the court? Arthur Chevenix!" said I.
"I don't care!" he cried, rising from his chair and beginning to pace outrageously about the room. "What do you mean, St. Ives? What is this about? It's like a dream, I declare! You made an offer, and I have refused it. I don't like it, I don't want it; and whatever I did, or didn't, wouldn't matter—my aunt wouldn't hear of it anyway! Can't you take your answer, man?"
"You must remember, Ronald, that we are playing with edged tools," said I. "An offer of marriage is a delicate subject to handle. You have refused, and you have justified your refusal by several statements: first, that I was an impostor; second, that our countries were at war; and third—No, I will speak," said I; "you can answer when I have done,—and third, that I had dishonourably killed—or was said to have done so—the man Goguelat. Now, my dear fellow, these are very awkward grounds to be taking. From any one else's lips I need scarce tell you how I should resent them; but my hands are tied. I have so much gratitude to you, without talking of the love I bear your sister, that you insult me, when you do so, under the cover of a complete impunity. I must feel the pain—and I do feel it acutely—I can do nothing to protect myself."
He had been anxious enough to interrupt me in the beginning; but now, and after I had ceased, he stood a long while silent.
"St. Ives," he said at last, "I think I had better go away. This has been very irritating. I never at all meant to say anything of the kind, and I apologise to you. I have all the esteem for you that one gentleman should have for another. I only meant to tell you—to show you what had influenced my mind; and that, in short, the thing was impossible. One thing you may be sure of: I shall do nothing against you. Will you shake hands before I go away?" he blurted out.
"Yes," said I, "I agree with you—the interview has been irritating. Let bygones be bygones. Good-bye, Ronald."
"Good-bye, St. Ives!" he returned. "I'm heartily sorry."
And with that he was gone.
The windows of my own sitting-room looked towards the north; but the entrance passage drew its light from the direction of the square. Hence I was able to observe Ronald's departure, his very disheartened gait, and the fact that he was joined, about half-way, by no less a man than Major Chevenix. At this, I could scarce keep from smiling; so unpalatable an interview must be before the pair of them, and I could hear their voices, clashing like crossed swords, in that eternal antiphony of "I told you," and "I told you not." Without doubt, they had gained very little by their visit; but then I had gained less than nothing, and had been bitterly dispirited into the bargain. Ronald had stuck to his guns and refused me to the last. It was no news; but, on the other hand, it could not be contorted into good news. I was now certain that during my temporary absence in France, all irons would be put into the fire, and the world turned upside down, to make Flora disown the obtrusive Frenchman and accept Chevenix. Without doubt she would resist these instances: but the thought of them did not please me, and I felt she should be warned and prepared for the battle.
It was no use to try and see her now, but I promised myself early that evening to return to Swanston. In the meantime I had to make all my preparations, and look the coming journey in the face. Here in Edinburgh I was within four miles of the sea, yet the business of approaching random fishermen with my hat in the one hand and a knife in the other, appeared so desperate, that I saw nothing for it but to retrace my steps over the northern counties, and knock a second time at the doors of Burchell Fenn. To do this, money would be necessary; and after leaving my paper in the hands of Flora I had still a balance of about fifteen hundred pounds. Or rather I may say I had them and I had them not; for after my luncheon with Mr. Robbie I had placed the amount, all but thirty pounds of change, in a bank in George Street, on a deposit receipt in the name of Mr. Rowley. This I had designed to be my gift to him, in case I must suddenly depart. But now, thinking better of the arrangement, I despatched my little man, cockade and all, to lift the fifteen hundred.
He was not long gone, and returned with a flushed face, and the deposit receipt still in his hand.
"No go, Mr. Anne," says he.
"How's that?" I inquired.
"Well, sir, I found the place all right, and no mistake," said he. "But I tell you what gave me a blue fright! There was a customer standing by the door, and I reckonised him! Who do you think it was, Mr. Anne? W'y, that same Red-Breast—him I had breakfast with near Aylesbury."
"You are sure you are not mistaken?" I asked.
"Certain sure," he replied. "Not Mr. Lavender, I don't mean, sir; I mean the other party. 'Wot's he doing here?' says I. 'It don't look right.'"
"Not by any means," I agreed.
I walked to and fro in the apartment reflecting. This particular Bow Street runner might be here by accident; but it was to imagine a singular play of coincidence that he, who had met Rowley and spoken with him in the "Green Dragon," hard by Aylesbury, should be now in Scotland, where he could have no legitimate business, and by the doors of the bank where Rowley kept his account.
"Rowley," said I, "he didn't see you, did he?"
"Never a fear," quoth Rowley. "W'y, Mr. Anne, sir, if he 'ad, you wouldn't have seen me any more! I ain't a hass, sir!"
"Well, my boy, you can put that receipt in your pocket. You'll have no more use for it till you're quite clear of me. Don't lose it, though; it's your share of the Christmas-box: fifteen hundred pounds all for yourself."
"Begging your pardon, Mr. Anne, sir, but wot for?" said Rowley.
"To set up a public-house upon," said I.
"If you'll excuse me, sir, I ain't got any call to set up a public-house, sir," he replied stoutly. "And I tell you wot, sir, it seems to me I'm reether young for the billet. I'm your body-servant, Mr. Anne, or else I'm nothink."
"Well, Rowley," I said, "I'll tell you what it's for. It's for the good service you have done me, of which I don't care—and don't dare—to speak. It's for your loyalty and cheerfulness, my dear boy. I had meant it for you; but to tell you the truth, it's past mending now—it has to be yours. Since that man is waiting by the bank, the money can't be touched until I'm gone."
"Until you're gone, sir?" re-echoed Rowley. "You don't go anywheres without me, I can tell you that, Mr. Anne, sir!"
"Yes, my boy," said I, "we are going to part very soon now; probably to-morrow. And it's for my sake, Rowley! Depend upon it, if there was any reason at all for that Bow Street man being at the bank, he was not there to look out for you. How they could have found out about the account so early is more than I can fathom; some strange coincidence must have played me false! But there the fact is; and, Rowley, I'll not only have to say farewell to you presently, I'll have to ask you to stay indoors until I can say it. Remember, my boy, it's only so that you can serve me now."
"W'y, sir, you say the word, and of course I'll do it!" he cried. "'Nothink by 'alves,' is my motto! I'm your man, through thick and thin, live or die, I am!"
In the meantime there was nothing to be done till towards sunset. My only chance now was to come again as quickly as possible to speech of Flora, who was my only practicable banker; and not before evening was it worth while to think of that. I might compose myself as well as I was able over the Caledonian Mercury, with its ill news of the campaign of France and belated documents about the retreat from Russia; and, as I sat there by the fire, I was sometimes all awake with anger and mortification at what I was reading, and sometimes again I would be three parts asleep as I dozed over the barren items of home intelligence. "Lately arrived"—this is what I suddenly stumbled on—"at Dumbreck's Hotel, the Viscount of Saint-Yves."
"Rowley," said I.
"If you please, Mr. Anne, sir," answered the obsequious, lowering his pipe.
"Come and look at this, my boy," said I, holding out the paper.
"My crikey!" said he. "That's 'im, sir, sure enough!"
"Sure enough, Rowley," said I. "He's on the trail. He has fairly caught up with us. He and this Bow Street man have come together, I would swear. And now here is the whole field, quarry, hounds and hunters, all together in this city of Edinburgh."
"And wot are you goin' to do now, sir? Tell you wot, let me take it in 'and, please! Gimme a minute, and I'll disguise myself, and go out to this Dum—to this hotel, leastways, sir—and see wot he's up to. You put your trust in me, Mr. Anne: I'm fly, don't you make no mistake about it. I'm all a-growing and a-blowing, I am."
"Not one foot of you," said I. "You are a prisoner, Rowley, and make up your mind to that. So am I, or next door to it. I showed it you for a caution; if you go on the streets, it spells death to me, Rowley."
"If you please, sir," says Rowley.
"Come to think of it," I continued, "you must take a cold, or something. No good of awakening Mrs. McRankine's suspicions."
"A cold?" he cried, recovering immediately from his depression. "I can do it, Mr. Anne."
And he proceeded to sneeze and cough and blow his nose, till I could not restrain myself from smiling.
"O, I tell you, I know a lot of them dodges," he observed proudly.
"Well, they come in very handy," said I.
"I'd better go at once and show it to the old gal, 'adn't I?" he asked.
I told him, by all means; and he was gone upon the instant, gleeful as though to a game of football.
I took up the paper and read carelessly on, my thoughts engaged with my immediate danger, till I struck on the next paragraph:—
"In connection with the recent horrid murder in the Castle, we are desired to make public the following intelligence. The soldier, Champdivers, is supposed to be in the neighbourhood of this city. He is about the middle height, or rather under, of a pleasing appearance and highly genteel address. When last heard of he wore a fashionable suit of pearl-grey, and boots with fawn-coloured tops. He is accompanied by a servant about sixteen years of age, speaks English without any accent, and passed under the alias of Ramornie. A reward is offered for his apprehension."
In a moment I was in the next room, stripping from me the pearl-coloured suit!
I confess I was now a good deal agitated. It is difficult to watch the toils closing slowly and surely about you, and to retain your composure; and I was glad that Rowley was not present to spy on my confusion. I was flushed, my breath came thick; I cannot remember a time when I was more put out.
And yet I must wait and do nothing, and partake of my meals, and entertain the ever-garrulous Rowley, as though I were entirely my own man. And if I did not require to entertain Mrs. McRankine also, that was but another drop of bitterness in my cup! For what ailed my landlady, that she should hold herself so severely aloof, that she should refuse conversation, that her eyes should be reddened, that I should so continually hear the voice of her private supplications sounding through the house? I was much deceived, or she had read the insidious paragraph and recognised the comminated pearl-grey suit. I remember now a certain air with which she had laid the paper on my table, and a certain sniff, between sympathy and defiance, with which she had announced it: "There's your Mercury for ye!"
In this direction, at least, I saw no pressing danger; her tragic countenance betokened agitation; it was plain she was wrestling with her conscience, and the battle still hung dubious. The question of what to do troubled me extremely. I could not venture to touch such an intricate and mysterious piece of machinery as my landlady's spiritual nature; it might go off at a word, and in any direction, like a badly-made firework. And while I praised myself extremely for my wisdom in the past, that I had made so much a friend of her, I was all abroad as to my conduct in the present. There seemed an equal danger in pressing and in neglecting the accustomed marks of familiarity. The one extreme looked like impudence, and might annoy; the other was a practical confession of guilt. Altogether, it was a good hour for me when the dusk began to fall in earnest on the streets of Edinburgh, and the voice of an early watchman bade me set forth.
I reached the neighbourhood of the cottage before seven; and as I breasted the steep ascent which leads to the garden wall, I was struck with surprise to hear a dog. Dogs I had heard before, but only from the hamlet on the hillside above. Now, this dog was in the garden itself, where it roared aloud in the paroxysms of fury, and I could hear it leaping and straining on the chain. I waited some while, until the brute's fit of passion had roared itself out. Then, with the utmost precaution, I drew near again, and finally approached the garden wall. So soon as I had clapped my head above the level, however, the barking broke forth again with redoubled energy. Almost at the same time, the door of the cottage opened, and Ronald and the Major appeared upon the threshold with a lantern. As they so stood, they were almost immediately below me, strongly illuminated, and within easy earshot. The Major pacified the dog, who took instead to low, uneasy growling intermingled with occasional yelps.
"Good thing I brought Towzer!" said Chevenix.
"Damn him, I wonder where he is!" said Ronald; and he moved the lantern up and down, and turned the night into a shifting puzzle-work of gleam and shadow. "I think I'll make a sally."
"I don't think you will," replied Chevenix. "When I agreed to come out here and do sentry-go, it was on one condition, Master Ronald: don't you forget that! Military discipline, my boy! Our beat is this path close about the house. Down, Towzer! good boy, good boy—gently, then!" he went on, caressing his confounded monster.
"To think! The beggar may be hearing us this minute!" cried Ronald.
"Nothing more probable," said the Major. "You there, St. Ives?" he added, in a distinct but guarded voice. "I only want to tell you, you had better go home. Mr. Gilchrist and I take watch and watch."
The game was up. "Beaucoup de plaisir!" I replied, in the same tones. "Il fait un peu froid pour veiller; gardez-vous des engelures!"
I suppose it was done in a moment of ungovernable rage; but in spite of the excellent advice he had given to Ronald the moment before, Chevenix slipped the chain, and the dog sprang, straight as an arrow, up the bank. I stepped back, picked up a stone of about twelve pounds weight, and stood ready. With a bound the beast landed on the cope-stone of the wall; and, almost in the same instant, my missile caught him fair in the face. He gave a stifled cry, went tumbling back where he had come from, and I could hear the twelve-pounder accompany him in his fall. Chevenix, at the same moment, broke out in a roaring voice: "The hell-hound! If he's killed my dog!" and I judged, upon all grounds, it was as well to be off.
EVENTS OF WEDNESDAY: THE UNIVERSITY OF CRAMOND
I awoke to much diffidence, even to a feeling that might be called the beginnings of panic, and lay for hours in my bed considering the situation. Seek where I pleased, there was nothing to encourage me and plenty to appal. They kept a close watch about the cottage; they had a beast of a watch-dog—at least, unless I had settled it; and if I had, I knew its bereaved master would only watch the more indefatigably for the loss. In the pardonable ostentation of love I had given all the money I could spare to Flora; I had thought it glorious that the hunted exile should come down, like Jupiter, in a shower of gold, and pour thousands in the lap of the beloved. Then I had in an hour of arrant folly buried what remained to me in a bank in George Street. And now I must get back the one or the other; and which? and how?
As I tossed in my bed, I could see three possible courses, all extremely perilous. First, Rowley might have been mistaken; the bank might not be watched; it might still be possible for him to draw the money on the deposit receipt. Second, I might apply again to Robbie. Or, third, I might dare everything, go to the Assembly Ball, and speak with Flora under the eyes of all Edinburgh. This last alternative, involving as it did the most horrid risks, and the delay of forty-eight hours, I did but glance at with an averted head, and turned again to the consideration of the others. It was the likeliest thing in the world that Robbie had been warned to have no more to do with me. The whole policy of the Gilchrists was in the hands of Chevenix; and I thought this was a precaution so elementary that he was certain to have taken it. If he had not, of course I was all right: Robbie would manage to communicate with Flora; and by four o'clock I might be on the south road and, I was going to say, a free man. Lastly, I must assure myself with my own eyes whether the bank in George Street were beleaguered.
I called to Rowley and questioned him tightly as to the appearance of the Bow Street officer.
"What sort of looking man is he, Rowley?" I asked, as I began to dress.
"Wot sort of a looking man he is?" repeated Rowley. "Well, I don't very well know wot you would say, Mr. Anne. He ain't a beauty, any'ow."
"Is he tall?"
"Tall? Well, no, I shouldn't say tall, Mr. Anne."
"Well, then, is he short?"
"Short? No, I don't think I would say he was what you would call short. No, not piticular short, sir."
"Then, I suppose, he must be about the middle height?"
"Well, you might say it, sir; but not remarkable so."
I smothered an oath.
"Is he clean-shaved?" I tried him again.
"Clean-shaved?" he repeated, with the same air of anxious candour.
"Good heaven, man, don't repeat my words like a parrot!" I cried. "Tell me what the man was like: it is of the first importance that I should be able to recognise him."
"I'm trying to, Mr. Anne. But clean-shaved? I don't seem to rightly get hold of that p'int. Sometimes it might appear to me like as if he was; and sometimes like as if he wasn't. No, it wouldn't surprise me now if you was to tell me he 'ad a bit o' whisker."
"Was the man red-faced?" I roared, dwelling on each syllable.
"I don't think you need go for to get cross about it, Mr. Anne!" said he. "I'm tellin' you every blessed thing I see! Red-faced? Well, no, not as you would remark upon."
A dreadful calm fell upon me.
"Was he anywise pale?" I asked.
"Well, it don't seem to me as though he were. But I tell you truly, I didn't take much heed to that."
"Did he look like a drinking man?"
"Well, no. If you please, sir, he looked more like an eating one."
"O, he was stout, was he?"
"No, sir. I couldn't go so far as that. No, he wasn't not to say stout. If anything, lean rather."
I need not go on with the infuriating interview. It ended as it began, except that Rowley was in tears, and that I had acquired one fact. The man was drawn for me as being of any height you like to mention, and of any degree of corpulence or leanness; clean-shaved or not, as the case might be; the colour of his hair Rowley "could not take it upon himself to put a name on"; that of his eyes he thought to have been blue—nay, it was the one point on which he attained to a kind of tearful certainty. "I'll take my davy on it," he asseverated. They proved to have been as black as sloes, very little and very near together. So much for the evidence of the artless! And the fact, or rather the facts, acquired? Well, they had to do not with the person but with his clothing. The man wore knee breeches and white stockings; his coat was "some kind of a lightish colour—or betwixt that and dark"; and he wore a "moleskin weskit." As if this were not enough, he presently hailed me from my breakfast in a prodigious flutter, and showed me an honest and rather venerable citizen passing in the Square.
"That's him, sir," he cried, "the very moral of him! Well, this one is better dressed, and p'raps a trifler taller; and in the face he don't favour him noways at all, sir. No, not when I come to look again, 'e don't seem to favour him noways."
"Jackass!" said I, and I think the greatest stickler for manners will admit the epithet to have been justified.
Meanwhile the appearance of my landlady added a great load of anxiety to what I already suffered. It was plain that she had not slept; equally plain that she had wept copiously. She sighed, she groaned, she drew in her breath, she shook her head, as she waited on table. In short, she seemed in so precarious a state, like a petard three times charged with hysteria, that I did not dare to address her; and stole out of the house on tiptoe, and actually ran downstairs, in the fear that she might call me back. It was plain that this degree of tension could not last long.
It was my first care to go to George Street, which I reached (by good luck) as a boy was taking down the bank shutters. A man was conversing with him; he had white stockings and a moleskin waistcoat, and was as ill-looking a rogue as you would want to see in a day's journey. This seemed to agree fairly well with Rowley's signalement: he had declared emphatically (if you remember), and had stuck to it besides, that the companion of the great Lavender was no beauty.
Thence I made my way to Mr. Robbie's, where I rang the bell. A servant answered the summons, and told me the lawyer was engaged, as I had half expected.
"Wha shall I say was callin'?" she pursued: and when I had told her "Mr. Ducie," "I think this'll be for you, then?" she added, and handed me a letter from the hall table. It ran:—
"DEAR MR. DUCIE,
"My single advice to you is to leave quam primum for the South.—Yours,
That was short and sweet. It emphatically extinguished hope in one direction. No more was to be gotten of Robbie; and I wondered, from my heart, how much had been told him. Not too much, I hoped, for I liked the lawyer who had thus deserted me, and I placed a certain reliance in the discretion of Chevenix. He would not be merciful; on the other hand, I did not think he would be cruel without cause.
It was my next affair to go back along George Street, and assure myself whether the man in the moleskin vest was still on guard. There was no sign of him on the pavement. Spying the door of a common stair nearly opposite the bank, I took it in my head that this would be a good point of observation, crossed the street, entered with a businesslike air, and fell immediately against the man in the moleskin vest. I stopped and apologised to him; he replied in an unmistakable English accent, thus putting the matter almost beyond doubt. After this encounter I must, of course, ascend to the top story, ring the bell of a suite of apartments, inquire for Mr. Vavasour, learn (with no great surprise) that he did not live there, come down again and, again politely saluting the man from Bow Street, make my escape at last into the street.
I was now driven back upon the Assembly Ball. Robbie had failed me. The bank was watched; it would never do to risk Rowley in that neighbourhood. All I could do was to wait until the morrow evening, and present myself at the Assembly, let it end as it might. But I must say I came to this decision with a good deal of genuine fright; and here I came for the first time to one of those places where my courage stuck. I do not mean that my courage boggled and made a bit of a bother over it, as it did over the escape from the Castle; I mean, stuck, like a stopped watch, or a dead man. Certainly I would go to the ball; certainly I must see this morning about my clothes. That was all decided. But the most of the shops were on the other side of the valley, in the Old Town; and it was now my strange discovery that I was physically unable to cross the North Bridge! It was as though a precipice had stood between us, or the deep sea had intervened. Nearer to the Castle my legs refused to bear me.
I told myself this was mere superstition; I made wagers with myself—and gained them; I went down on the esplanade of Princes Street, walked and stood there, alone and conspicuous, looking across the garden at the old grey bastions of the fortress, where all these troubles had begun. I cocked my hat, set my hand on my hip, and swaggered on the pavement, confronting detection. And I found I could do all this with a sense of exhilaration that was not unpleasing, and with a certain cranerie of manner that raised me in my own esteem. And yet there was one thing I could not bring my mind to face up to, or my limbs to execute; and that was to cross the valley into the Old Town. It seemed to me I must be arrested immediately if I had done so; I must go straight into the twilight of a prison cell, and pass straight thence to the gross and final embraces of the nightcap and the halter. And yet it was from no reasoned fear of the consequences that I could not go. I was unable. My horse balked, and there was an end!
My nerve was gone: here was a discovery for a man in such imminent peril, set down to so desperate a game, which I could only hope to win by continual luck and unflagging effrontery! The strain had been too long continued, and my nerve was gone. I fell into what they call panic fear, as I have seen soldiers do on the alarm of a night attack, and turned out of Princes Street at random as though the devil were at my heels. In St. Andrew Square, I remember vaguely hearing some one call out. I paid no heed, but pressed on blindly. A moment after, a hand fell heavily on my shoulder, and I thought I had fainted. Certainly the world went black about me for some seconds; and when that spasm passed I found myself standing face to face with the "cheerful extravagant," in what sort of disarray I really dare not imagine, dead white at least, shaking like an aspen, and mowing at the man with speechless lips. And this was the soldier of Napoleon, and the gentleman who intended going next night to an Assembly Ball! I am the more particular in telling of my breakdown, because it was my only experience of the sort; and it is a good tale for officers. I will allow no man to call me coward; I have made my proofs; few men more. And yet I (come of the best blood in France and inured to danger from a child) did, for some ten or twenty minutes, make this hideous exhibition of myself on the streets of the New Town of Edinburgh.
With my first available breath I begged his pardon. I was of an extremely nervous disposition, recently increased by late hours; I could not bear the slightest start.
He seemed much concerned. "You must be in a devil of a state!" said he; "though of course it was my fault—damnably silly, vulgar sort of thing to do! A thousand apologies! But you really must be run down; you should consult a medico. My dear sir, a hair of the dog that bit you is clearly indicated. A touch of Blue Ruin, now? Or, come: it's early, but is man the slave of hours? what do you say to a chop and a bottle in Dumbreck's Hotel?"
I refused all false comfort; but when he went on to remind me that this was the day when the University of Cramond met; and to propose a five-mile walk into the country and a dinner in the company of young asses like himself, I began to think otherwise. I had to wait until to-morrow evening, at any rate; this might serve as well as anything else to bridge the dreary hours. The country was the very place for me: and walking is an excellent sedative for the nerves. Remembering poor Rowley, feigning a cold in our lodgings and immediately under the guns of the formidable and now doubtful Bethiah, I asked if I might bring my servant. "Poor devil! it is dull for him," I explained.
"The merciful man is merciful to his ass," observed my sententious friend. "Bring him, by all means!
"'The harp, his sole remaining joy, Was carried by an orphan boy';
and I have no doubt the orphan boy can get some cold victuals in the kitchen, while the Senatus dines."
Accordingly, being now quite recovered from my unmanly condition, except that nothing could yet induce me to cross the North Bridge, I arranged for my ball dress at a shop in Leith Street, where I was not served ill, cut out Rowley from his seclusion, and was ready along with him at the trysting-place, the corner of Duke Street and York Place, by a little after two. The University was represented in force: eleven persons, including ourselves, Byfield the aeronaut, and the tall lad, Forbes, whom I had met on the Sunday morning, bedewed with tallow, at the "Hunters' Tryst." I was introduced; and we set off by way of Newhaven and the sea-beach; at first through pleasant country roads, and afterwards along a succession of bays of a fairylike prettiness, to our destination—Cramond on the Almond—a little hamlet on a little river, embowered in woods, and looking forth over a great flat of quicksand to where a little islet stood planted in the sea. It was miniature scenery, but charming of its kind. The air of this good winter afternoon was bracing, but not cold. All the way my companions were skylarking, jesting, and making puns, and I felt as if a load had been taken off my lungs and spirits, and skylarked with the best of them.
Byfield I observed, because I had heard of him before, and seen his advertisements, not at all because I was disposed to feel interest in the man. He was dark and bilious and very silent; frigid in his manners, but burning internally with a great fire of excitement; and he was so good as to bestow a good deal of his company and conversation (such as it was) upon myself, who was not in the least grateful. If I had known how I was to be connected with him in the immediate future, I might have taken more pains.
In the hamlet of Cramond there is a hostelry of no very promising appearance, and here a room had been prepared for us, and we sat down to table.
"Here you will find no guttling or gormandising, no turtle or nightingales' tongues," said the extravagant, whose name, by the way, was Dalmahoy. "The device, sir, of the University of Cramond is Plain Living and High Drinking."
Grace was said by the Professor of Divinity, in a macaronic Latin, which I could by no means follow, only I could hear it rhymed, and I guessed it to be more witty than reverent. After which the Senatus Academicus sat down to rough plenty in the shape of rizzar'd haddocks and mustard, a sheep's head, a haggis, and other delicacies of Scotland. The dinner was washed down with brown stout in bottle, and as soon as the cloth was removed, glasses, boiling water, sugar, and whisky were set out for the manufacture of toddy. I played a good knife and fork, did not shun the bowl, and took part, so far as I was able, in the continual fire of pleasantry with which the meal was seasoned. Greatly daring, I ventured, before all these Scotsmen, to tell Sim's Tale of Tweedie's dog; and I was held to have done such extraordinary justice to the dialect, "for a Southron," that I was immediately voted into the Chair of Scots, and became, from that moment, a full member of the University of Cramond. A little after, I found myself entertaining them with a song; and a little after—perhaps a little in consequence—it occurred to me that I had had enough, and would be very well inspired to take French leave. It was not difficult to manage, for it was nobody's business to observe my movements, and conviviality had banished suspicion.
I got easily forth of the chamber, which reverberated with the voices of these merry and learned gentlemen, and breathed a long breath. I had passed an agreeable afternoon and evening, and I had apparently escaped scot-free. Alas! when I looked into the kitchen, there was my monkey, drunk as a lord, toppling on the edge of the dresser, and performing on the flageolet to an audience of the house lasses and some neighbouring ploughmen.
I routed him promptly from his perch, stuck his hat on, put his instrument in his pocket, and set off with him for Edinburgh.
His limbs were of paper, his mind quite in abeyance; I must uphold and guide him, prevent his frantic dives, and set him continually on his legs again. At first he sang wildly, with occasional outbursts of causeless laughter. Gradually an inarticulate melancholy succeeded; he wept gently at times; would stop in the middle of the road, say firmly, "No, no, no," and then fall on his back; or else address me solemnly as "M'lord" and fall on his face by way of variety. I am afraid I was not always so gentle with the little pig as I might have been, but really the position was unbearable. We made no headway at all, and I suppose we were scarce gotten a mile away from Cramond, when the whole Senatus Academicus was heard hailing, and doubling the pace to overtake us.
Some of them were fairly presentable; and they were all Christian martyrs compared to Rowley; but they were in a frolicsome and rollicking humour that promised danger as we approached the town. They sang songs, they ran races, they fenced with their walking-sticks and umbrellas; and, in spite of this violent exercise, the fun grew only the more extravagant with the miles they traversed. Their drunkenness was deep-seated and permanent, like fire in a peat; or rather—to be quite just to them—it was not so much to be called drunkenness at all, as the effect of youth and high spirits—a fine night, and the night young, a good road under foot, and the world before you!
I had left them once somewhat unceremoniously; I could not attempt it a second time; and, burthened as I was with Mr. Rowley, I was really glad of assistance. But I saw the lamps of Edinburgh draw near on their hill-top with a good deal of uneasiness, which increased, after we had entered the lighted streets, to positive alarm. All the passers-by were addressed, some of them by name. A worthy man was stopped by Forbes. "Sir," said he, "in the name of the Senatus of the University of Cramond, I confer upon you the degree of LL.D.," and with the words he bonneted him. Conceive the predicament of St. Ives, committed to the society of these outrageous youths, in a town where the police and his cousin were both looking for him! So far we had pursued our way unmolested, although raising a clamour fit to wake the dead; but at last, in Abercromby Place, I believe—at least it was a crescent of highly respectable houses fronting on a garden—Byfield and I, having fallen somewhat in the rear with Rowley, came to a simultaneous halt. Our ruffians were beginning to wrench off bells and door-plates!
"O, I say!" says Byfield, "this is too much of a good thing! Confound it, I'm a respectable man—a public character, by George! I can't afford to get taken up by the police."
"My own case exactly," said I.
"Here, let's bilk them," said he.
And we turned back and took our way down hill again.
It was none too soon: voices and alarm bells sounded; watchmen here and there began to spring their rattles; it was plain the University of Cramond would soon be at blows with the police of Edinburgh! Byfield and I, running the semi-inanimate Rowley before us, made good despatch, and did not stop till we were several streets away, and the hubbub was already softened by distance.
"Well, sir," said he, "we are well out of that! Did ever any one see such a pack of young barbarians?"
"We are properly punished, Mr. Byfield; we had no business there," I replied.
"No, indeed, sir, you may well say that! Outrageous! And my ascension announced for Friday, you know!" cried the aeronaut. "A pretty scandal! Byfield the aeronaut at the police-court! Tut-tut! Will you be able to get your rascal home, sir? Allow me to offer you my card. I am staying at Walker and Poole's Hotel, sir, where I should be pleased to see you."
"The pleasure would be mutual, sir," said I, but I must say my heart was not in my words, and as I watched Mr. Byfield departing I desired nothing less than to pursue the acquaintance.
One more ordeal remained for me to pass. I carried my senseless load upstairs to our lodging, and was admitted by the landlady in a tall white nightcap and with an expression singularly grim. She lighted us into the sitting-room; where, when I had seated Rowley in a chair, she dropped me a cast-iron curtsy. I smelt gunpowder on the woman. Her voice tottered with emotion.
"I give ye nottice, Mr. Ducie," said she. "Dacent folks' houses...."
And at that apparently temper cut off her utterance, and she took herself off without more words.
I looked about me at the room, the goggling Rowley, the extinguished fire; my mind reviewed the laughable incidents of the day and night; and I laughed out loud to myself—lonely and cheerless laughter!...