By NEIL MUNRO
Copyright, 1900, 1901, by Doubleday, Page & Co.
CHAPTER I — COUNT VICTOR COMES TO A STRANGE COUNTRY
CHAPTER II — THE PURSUIT
CHAPTER III — BARON OF DOOM
CHAPTER IV — WANTED, A SPY
CHAPTER V — THE FLAGEOLET
CHAPTER VI — MUNGO BOYD
CHAPTER VII — THE BAY OF THE BOAR'S HEAD
CHAPTER VIII — AN APPARITION
CHAPTER IX — TRAPPED
CHAPTER X — SIM MACTAGGART, CHAMBERLAIN
CHAPTER XI — THE WOMAN AT THE WINDOW
CHAPTER XII — OMENS AND ALARMS
CHAPTER XIII — A LAWYER'S GOOD LADY
CHAPTER XIV — CLAMOUR
CHAPTER XV — A RAY OF LIGHT
CHAPTER XVI — OLIVIA
CHAPTER XVII — A SENTIMENTAL SECRET
CHAPTER XVIII — "Loch Sloy!"
CHAPTER XIX — REVELATION
CHAPTER XX — AN EVENING'S MELODY IN THE BOAR'S HEAD INN
CHAPTER XXI — COUNT VICTOR CHANGES HIS QUARTERS
CHAPTER XXII — THE LONELY LADY
CHAPTER XXIII — A MAN OF NOBLE SENTIMENT
CHAPTER XXIV — A BROKEN TRYST
CHAPTER XXV — RECONCILIATION
CHAPTER XXVI — THE DUKE'S BALL
CHAPTER XXVII — THE DUEL ON THE SANDS
CHAPTER XXVIII — THE DUEL ON THE SANDS—Continued.
CHAPTER XXIX — THE CELL IN THE FOSSE
CHAPTER XXX — A DUCAL DISPUTATION
CHAPTER XXXI — FLIGHT
CHAPTER XXXII — THE INDISCRETION OF THE DUCHESS
CHAPTER XXXIII — BACK IN DOOM
CHAPTER XXXIV — IN DAYS OF STORM
CHAPTER XXXV — A DAMNATORY DOCUMENT
CHAPTER XXXVI — LOVE
CHAPTER XXXVII — THE FUTILE FLAGEOLET
CHAPTER XXXVIII — A WARNING
CHAPTER XXXIX — BETRAYED BY A BALLAD
CHAPTER XL — THE DAY OF JUDGMENT
CHAPTER XLI — CONCLUSION
CHAPTER I — COUNT VICTOR COMES TO A STRANGE COUNTRY
It was an afternoon in autumn, with a sound of wintry breakers on the shore, the tall woods copper-colour, the thickets dishevelled, and the nuts, in the corries of Ardkinglas, the braes of Ardno, dropping upon bracken burned to gold. Until he was out of the glen and into the open land, the traveller could scarcely conceive that what by his chart was no more than an arm of the ocean could make so much ado; but when he found the incoming tide fretted here and there by black rocks, and elsewhere, in little bays, the beaches strewn with massive boulders, the high rumour of the sea-breakers in that breezy weather seemed more explicable. And still, for him, it was above all a country of appalling silence in spite of the tide thundering. Fresh from the pleasant rabble of Paris, the tumult of the streets, the unending gossip of the faubourgs that were at once his vexation and his joy, and from the eager ride that had brought him through Normandy when its orchards were busy from morning till night with cheerful peasants plucking fruit, his ear had not grown accustomed to the still of the valleys, the terrific hush of the mountains, in whose mist or sunshine he had ridden for two days. The woods, with leaves that fell continually about him, seemed in some swoon of nature, with no birds carolling on the boughs; the cloisters were monastic in their silence. A season of most dolorous influences, a land of sombre shadows and ravines, a day of sinister solitude; the sun slid through scudding clouds, high over a world blown upon by salt airs brisk and tonic, but man was wanting in those weary valleys, and the heart of Victor Jean, Comte de Montaiglon, was almost sick for very loneliness.
Thus it came as a relief to his ear, the removal of an oppression little longer to be endured, when he heard behind him what were apparently the voices of the odd-looking uncouth natives he had seen a quarter of an hour ago lurking, silent but alert and peering, phantoms of old story rather than humans, in the fir-wood near a defile made by a brawling cataract. They had wakened no suspicions in his mind. It was true they were savage-looking rogues in a ragged plaid-cloth of a dull device, and they carried arms he had thought forbidden there by law. To a foreigner fresh from gentle lands there might well be a menace in their ambuscade, but he had known men of their race, if not of so savage an aspect, in the retinues of the Scots exiles who hung about the side-doors of Saint Germains, passed mysterious days between that domicile of tragic comedy and Avignon or Rome, or ruffled it on empty pockets at the gamingtables, so he had no apprehension. Besides, he was in the country of the Argyll, at least on the verge of it, a territory accounted law-abiding even to dul-ness by every Scot he had known since he was a child at Cammercy, and snuff-strewn conspirators, come to meet his uncles, took him on their knees when a lull in the cards or wine permitted, and recounted their adventures for his entertainment in a villainous French: he could not guess that the gentry in the wood behind him had taken a fancy to his horse, that they were broken men (as the phrase of the country put it), and that when he had passed them at the cataract—a haughty, well-setup duine uasail all alone with a fortune of silk and silver lace on his apparel and the fob of a watch dangling at his groin most temptingly—they had promptly put a valuation upon himself and his possessions, and decided that the same were sent by Providence for their enrichment.
Ten of them ran after him clamouring loudly to give the impression of larger numbers; he heard them with relief when oppressed by the inhuman solemnity of the scenery that was too deep in its swoon to give back even an echo to the breaker on the shore, and he drew up his horse, turned his head a little and listened, flushing with annoyance when the rude calls of his pursuers became, even in their unknown jargon, too plainly peremptory and meant for him.
"Dogs!" said he, "I wish I had a chance to open school here and teach manners," and without more deliberation he set his horse to an amble, designed to betray neither complacency nor a poltroon's terrors.
"Stad! stad!" cried a voice closer than any of the rest behind him; he knew what was ordered by its accent, but no Montaiglon stopped to an insolent summons. He put the short rowels to the flanks of the sturdy lowland pony he bestrode, and conceded not so little as a look behind.
There was the explosion of a bell-mouthed musket, and something smote the horse spatteringly behind the rider's left boot. The beast swerved, gave a scream of pain, fell lumberingly on its side. With an effort, Count Victor saved himself from the falling body and clutched his pistols. For a moment he stood bewildered at the head of the suffering animal. The pursuing shouts had ceased. Behind him, short hazel-trees clustering thick with nuts, reddening bramble, and rusty bracken, tangled together in a coarse rank curtain of vegetation, quite still and motionless (but for the breeze among the upper leaves), and the sombre distance, dark with pine, had the mystery of a vault. It was difficult to believe his pursuers harboured there, perhaps reloading the weapon that had put so doleful a conclusion to his travels with the gallant little horse he had bought on the coast of Fife. That silence, that prevailing mystery, seemed to be the essence and the mood of this land, so different from his own, where laughter was ringing in the orchards and a myriad towns and clamant cities brimmed with life.
CHAPTER II — THE PURSUIT
Nobody who had acquaintance with Victor de Montaiglon would call him coward. He had fought with De Grammont, and brought a wound from Dettingen under circumstances to set him up for life in a repute for valour, and half a score of duels were at his credit or discredit in the chronicles of Paris society.
And yet, somehow, standing there in an unknown country beside a brute companion wantonly struck down by a robber's shot, and the wood so still around, and the thundering sea so unfamiliar, he felt vastly uncomfortable, with a touch of more than physical apprehension. If the enemy would only manifest themselves to the eye and ear as well as to the unclassed senses that inform the instinct, it would be much more comfortable. Why did they not appear? Why did they not follow up their assault upon his horse? Why were they lurking in the silence of the thicket, so many of them, and he alone and so obviously at their mercy? The pistols he held provided the answer.
"What a rare delicacy!" said Count Victor, applying himself to the release of his mail from the saddle whereto it was strapped. "They would not interrupt my regretful tears. But for the true elan of the trade of robbery, give me old Cartouche picking pockets on the Pont Neuf."
While he loosened the bag with one hand, with the other he directed at the thicket one of the pistols that seemed of such wholesome influence. Then he slung the bag upon his shoulder and encouraged the animal to get upon its legs, but vainly, for the shot was fatal.
"Ah!" said he regretfully, "I must sacrifice my bridge and my good comrade. This is an affair!"
Twice—three times, he placed the pistol at the horse's head and as often withdrew it, reluctant, a man, as all who knew him wondered at, gentle to womanliness with a brute, though in a cause against men the most bitter and sometimes cruel of opponents.
A rustle in the brake at last compelled him. "Allons!" said he impatiently with himself, "I do no more than I should have done with me in the like case," and he pulled the trigger.
Then having deliberately charged the weapon anew, he moved off in the direction he had been taking when the attack was made.
It was still, he knew, some distance to the castle. Half an hour before his rencontre with those broken gentry, now stealing in his rear with the cunning and the bloodthirstiness of their once native wolves (and always, remember, with the possibility of the blunderbuss for aught that he could tell), he had, for the twentieth time since he left the port of Dysart, taken out the rude itinerary, written in ludicrous Scoto-English by Hugh Bethune, one time secretary to the Lord Marischal in exile, and read:—
... and so on to the Water of Leven (the brewster-wife at the howff near Loch Lomond mouth keeps a good glass of aqua) then by Luss (with an eye on the Gregarach), there after a bittock to Glencroe and down upon the House of Ardkinglas, a Hanoverian rat whom 'ware. Round the loch head and three miles further the Castle o' the Baron. Give him my devoirs and hopes to challenge him to a Bowl when Yon comes off which God kens there seems no hurry.
By that showing the castle of Baron Lamond must be within half an hour's walk of where he now moved without show of eagerness, yet quickly none the less, from a danger the more alarming because the extent of it could not be computed.
In a little the rough path he followed bent parallel with the sea. A tide at the making licked ardently upon sand-spits strewn with ware, and at the forelands, overhung by harsh and stunted seaside shrubs, the breakers rose tumultuous. On the sea there was utter vacancy; only a few screaming birds slanted above the wave, and the coast, curving far before him, gave his eye no sign at first of the castle to which he had got the route from M. Hugh Bethune.
Then his vision, that had been set for something more imposing, for the towers and embrasures of a stately domicile, if not for a Chantilly, at least for the equal of the paternal chateau in the Meuse valley, with multitudinous chimneys and the incense of kind luxuriant hearths, suave parks, gardens, and gravelled walks, contracted with dubiety and amazement upon a dismal tower perched upon a promontory.
Revealed against the brown hills and the sombre woods of the farther coast, it was scarcely a wonder that his eye had failed at first to find it. Here were no pomps of lord or baron; little luxuriance could prevail behind those eyeless gables; there could be no suave pleasance about those walls hanging over the noisy and inhospitable wave. No pomp, no pleasant amenities; the place seemed to jut into the sea, defying man's oldest and most bitter enemy, its gable ends and one crenelated bastion or turret betraying its sinister relation to its age, its whole aspect arrogant and unfriendly, essential of war. Caught suddenly by the vision that swept the fretted curve of the coast, it seemed blackly to perpetuate the spirit of the land, its silence, its solitude and terrors.
These reflections darted through the mind of Count Victor as he sped, monstrously uncomfortable with the burden of the bag that bobbed on his back, not to speak of the indignity of the office. It was not the kind of castle he had looked for, but a castle, in the narrow and squalid meaning of a penniless refugee like Bethune, it doubtless was, the only one apparent on the landscape, and therefore too obviously the one he sought.
"Very well, God is good!" said Count Victor, who, to tell all and leave no shred of misunderstanding, was in some regards the frankest of pagans, and he must be jogging on for its security.
But as he hurried, the ten broken men who had been fascinated by his too ostentatious fob and the extravagance of his embroidery, and inspired furthermore by a natural detestation of any foreign duine uasail apparently bound for the seat of MacCailen Mor, gathered boldness, and soon he heard the thicket break again behind him.
He paused, turned sharply with the pistols in his hands. Instantly the wood enveloped his phantom foes; a bracken or two nodded, a hazel sapling swung back and forward more freely than the wind accounted for. And at the same time there rose on the afternoon the wail of a wild fowl high up on the hill, answered in a sharp and querulous too-responsive note of the same character in the wood before.
The gentleman who had twice fought a la barriere felt a nameless new thrill, a shudder of the being, born of antique terrors generations before his arms were quartered with those of Rochefoucauld and Modene.
It was becoming all too awkward, this affair. He broke into a more rapid walk, then into a run, with his eyes intent upon the rude dark keep that held the promontory, now the one object in all the landscape that had to his senses some aspect of human fellowship and sympathy.
The caterans were assured; Dieu du ciel, how they ran too! Those in advance broke into an appalling halloo, the shout of hunters on the heels of quarry. High above the voice of the breakers it sounded savage and alarming in the ears of Count Victor, and he fairly took to flight, the valise bobbing more ludicrously than ever on his back.
It was like the man that, in spite of dreads not to be concealed from himself, he should be seized as he sped with a notion of the grotesque figure he must present, carrying that improper burden. He must even laugh when he thought of his, austere punctilious maternal aunt, the Baronne de Chenier, and fancied her horror and disgust could she behold her nephew disgracing the De Chenier blood by carrying his own baggage and outraging several centuries of devilishly fine history by running—positively running—from ill-armed footpads who had never worn breeches. She would frown, her bosom would swell till her bodice would appear to crackle at the armpits, the seven hairs on her upper lip would bristle all the worse against her purpling face as she cried it was the little Lyons shopkeeper in his mother's grandfather that was in his craven legs. Doubt it who will, an imminent danger will not wholly dispel the sense of humour, and Montaiglon, as he ran before the footpads, laughed softly at the Baronne.
But a short knife with a black hilt hissed past his right ear and buried three-fourths of its length in the grass, and so abruptly spoiled the comedy. This was ridiculous. He stopped suddenly, turned him round about in a passion, and fired one of the pistols at an unfortunate robber too late to duck among the bracken. And the marvel was that the bullet found its home, for the aim was uncertain, and the shot meant more for an emphatic protest than for attack.
The gled's cry rose once more, rose higher on the hill, echoed far off, and was twice repeated nearer head with a drooping melancholy cadence. Gaunt forms grew up straight among the undergrowth of trees, indifferent to the other pistol, and ran back or over to where the wounded comrade lay.
"Heaven's thunder!" cried Count Victor, "I wish I had aimed more carefully." He was appalled at the apparent tragedy of his act. A suicidal regret and curiosity kept him standing where he fired, with the pistol still smoking in his hand, till there came from the men clustered round the body in the brake a loud simultaneous wail unfamiliar to his ear, but unmistakable in its import. He turned and ran wildly for the tower that had no aspect of sanctuary in it; his heart drummed noisily at his breast; his mouth parched and gaped. Upon his lips in a little dropped water; he tasted the salt of his sweating body. And then he knew weariness, great weariness, that plucked at the sinews behind his knees, and felt sore along the hips and back, the result of his days of hard riding come suddenly to the surface. Truly he was not happy.
But if he ran wearily he ran well, better at least than his pursuers, who had their own reasons for taking it more leisurely, and in a while there was neither sight nor sound of the enemy.
He was beginning to get some satisfaction from this, when, turning a bend of the path within two hundred yards of the castle, behold an unmistakable enemy barred his way!—an ugly, hoggish, obese man, with bare legs most grotesquely like pillars of granite, and a protuberant paunch; but the devil must have been in his legs to carry him more swiftly than thoroughbred limbs had borne Count Victor. He stood sneering in the path, turning up the right sleeve of a soiled and ragged saffron shirt with his left hand, the right being engaged most ominously with a sword of a fashion that might well convince the Frenchman he had some new methods of fence to encounter in a few minutes.
High and low looked Count Victor as he slacked his pace, seeking for some way out of this sack, releasing as he did so the small sword from the tanglement of his skirts, feeling the Mechlin deucedly in his way. As he approached closer to the man barring his path he relapsed into a walk and opened a parley in English that except for the slightest of accents had nothing in it of France, where he had long been the comrade of compatriots to this preposterous savage with the manners of medieval Provence when footpads lived upon Damoiselle Picoree.
"My good fellow," said he airily, as one might open with a lackey, "I protest I am in a hurry, for my presence makes itself much desired elsewhere. I cannot comprehend why in Heaven's name so large a regiment of you should turn out to one unfortunate traveller."
The fat man fondled the brawn of his sword-arm and seemed to gloat upon the situation.
"Come, come!" said Count Victor, affecting a cheerfulness, "my waistcoat would scarcely adorn a man of your inches, and as for my pantaloons"—he looked at the ragged kilt—"as for my pantaloons, now on one's honour, would you care for them? They are so essentially a matter of custom."
He would have bantered on in this strain up to the very nose of the enemy, but the man in his path was utterly unresponsive to his humour. In truth he did not understand a word of the nobleman's pleasantry. He uttered something like a war-cry, threw his bonnet off a head as bald as an egg, and smote out vigorously with his broadsword.
Count Victor fired the pistol a bout portant with deliberation; the flint, in the familiar irony of fate, missed fire, and there was nothing more to do with the treacherous weapon but to throw it in the face of the Highlander. It struck full; the trigger-guard gashed the jaw and the metalled butt spoiled the sight of an eye.
"This accounts for the mace in the De Chenier quartering," thought the Count whimsically. "It is obviously the weapon of the family." And he drew the rapier forth.
A favourite, a familiar arm, as the carriage of his head made clear at any time, he knew to use it with the instinct of the eyelash, but it seemed absurdly inadequate against the broad long weapon of his opponent, who had augmented his attack with a dirk drawn in the left hand, and sought lustily to bring death to his opponent by point as well as edge. A light dress rapier obviously must do its business quickly if it was not to suffer from the flailing blow of the claymore, and yet Count Victor did not wish to increase the evil impression of his first visit to this country by a second homicide, even in self-defence. He measured the paunched rascal with a rapid eye, and with a flick at the left wrist disarmed him of his poignard. Furiously the Gael thrashed with the sword, closing up too far on his opponent. Count Victor broke ground, beat an appeal that confused his adversary, lunged, and skewered him through the thick of the active arm.
The Highlander dropped his weapon and bawled lamentably as he tried to staunch the copious blood; and safe from his further interference, Count Victor took to his heels again.
Where the encounter with the obese and now discomfited Gael took place was within a hundred yards of the castle, whose basement and approach were concealed by a growth of stunted whin. Towards the castle Count Victor rushed, still hearing the shouts in the wood behind, and as he seemed, in spite of his burden, to be gaining ground upon his pursuers, he was elate at the prospect of escape. In his gladness he threw a taunting cry behind, a hunter's greenwood challenge.
And then he came upon the edge of the sea. The sea! Peste! That he should never have thought of that! There was the castle, truly, beetling against the breakers, very cold, very arrogant upon its barren promontory. He was not twenty paces from its walls, and yet it might as well have been a league away, for he was cut off from it by a natural moat of sea-water that swept about it in yeasty little waves. It rode like a ship, oddly independent of aspect, self-contained, inviolable, eternally apart, for ever by nature indifferent to the mainland, where a Montaiglon was vulgarly quarrelling with sans culottes.
For a moment or two he stood bewildered. There was no drawbridge to this eccentric moat; there was, on this side of the rock at least, not so little as a boat; if Lamond ever held intercourse with the adjacent isle of Scotland he must seemingly swim. Very well; the Count de Montaiglon, guilty of many outrages against his ancestry to-day, must swim too if that were called for. And it looked as if that were the only alternative. Vainly he called and whistled; no answer came from the castle, that he might have thought a deserted ruin if a column of smoke did not rise from some of its chimneys.
It was his one stroke of good fortune that for some reason the pursuit was no longer apparent. The dim woods behind seemed to have swallowed up sight and sound of the broken men, who, at fault, were following up their quarry to the castle of Mac-Cailen Mor instead of to that of Baron Lamond. He had therefore time to prepare himself for his next step. He sat on the shore and took off his elegant long boots, the quite charming silk stockings so unlike travel in the wilds; then looked dubiously at his limbs and at the castle. No! manifestly, an approach so frank was not to be thought of, and he compromised by unbuttoning the foot of his pantaloons and turning them over his knees. In any case, if one had to swim over that yeasty and alarming barrier, his clothing must get wet. A porte basse, passant courbe. He would wade as far as he could, and if he must, swim the rest.
With the boots and the valise and the stockings and the skirts of his coat tucked high in his arms, the Count waded into the tide, that chilled deliciously after the heat of his flight.
But it was ridiculous! It was the most condemnable folly! His face burned with shame as he found himself half-way over the channel and the waves no higher than his ankles. It was to walk through a few inches of water that he had nearly stripped to nature!
And a woman was laughing at him, morbleu! Decidedly a woman was laughing—a young woman, he could wager, with a monstrously musical laugh, by St. Denys! and witnessing (though he could not see her even had he wished) this farce from an upper window of the tower. He stood for a moment irresolute, half inclined to retreat from the ridicule that never failed to affect him more unpleasantly than danger the most dire; his face and neck flamed; he forgot all about the full-bosomed Baronne or remembered her only to agree that nobility demanded some dignity even in fleeing from an enemy. But the shouts of the pursuers that had died away in the distance grew again in the neighbourhood, and he pocketed his diffidence and resumed his boots, then sought the entrance to a dwelling that had no hospitable portal to the shore.
Close at hand the edifice gained in austerity and dignity while it lost the last of its scanty air of hospitality. Its walls were of a rough rubble of granite and whinstone, grown upon at the upper storeys with grasses and weeds wafted upon the ledges by the winds that blow indifferent, bringing the green messages of peace from God. A fortalice dark and square-built, flanked to the southern corner by a round turret, lit by few windows, and these but tiny and suspicious, it was as Scots and arrogant as the thistle that had pricked Count Victor's feet when first he set foot upon the islet.
A low wall surrounded a patch of garden-ground to the rear, one corner of it grotesquely adorned with a bower all bedraggled with rains, yet with the red berry of the dog-rose gleaming in the rusty leafage like grapes of fire. He passed through the little garden and up to the door. Its arch, ponderous, deep-moulded, hung a scowling eyebrow over the black and studded oak, and over all was an escutcheon with a blazon of hands fess-wise and castles embattled and the legend—
Man behauld the end of All. Be nocht Wiser than the Priest. Hope in God"
He stood on tiptoe to read the more easily the time-blurred characters, his baggage at his feet, his fingers pressed against the door. Some of the words he could not decipher nor comprehend, but the first was plain to his understanding.
"Doom!" said he airily and half aloud. "Doom! Quelle felicite! It is an omen."
Then he rapped lightly on the oak with the pommel of his sword.
CHAPTER III — BARON OF DOOM
Deep in some echoing corridor of the stronghold a man's voice rose in the Gaelic language, ringing in a cry for service, but no one came.
Count Victor stepped back and looked again upon the storm-battered front, the neglected garden, the pathetic bower. He saw smoke but at a single chimney, and broken glass in the little windows, and other evidences that suggested meagre soup was common fare in Doom.
"M. Bethune's bowl," he said to himself, "is not likely to be brimming over if he is to drink it here. M. le Baron shouting there is too much of the gentleman to know the way to the back of his own door; Glengarry again for a louis!—Glengarry sans feu ni lieu, but always the most punctilious when most nearly penniless."
Impatiently he switched with the sword at the weeds about his feet; then reddened at the apprehension that had made him all unconsciously bare the weapon at a door whose hospitality he was seeking, rapped again, and sheathed the steel.
A shuffling step sounded on the stones within, stopped apparently just inside the door, and there fell silence. No bolt moved, no chain clanked. But something informed the Count Victor that he was being observed, and he looked all over the door till he saw that one bolt-boss was missing about the height of his head and that through the hole an eye was watching him. It was the most absurd thing, and experiment with a hole in the door will not make plain the reason of it, but in that eye apparently little discomfited by the stranger having observed it, Count Victor saw its owner fully revealed.
A grey eye inquiring, an eye of middle age that had caution as well as humour. A domestic—a menial eye too, but for the life of him Count Victor could not resist smiling back to it.
And then it disappeared and the door opened, showing on the threshold, with a stool in his hand, a very little bow-legged man of fifty years or thereby, having a face all lined, like a chart, with wrinkles, ruddy at the cheeks as a winter apple, and attired in a mulberry-brown. He put his heels together with a mechanical precision and gravely gave a military salute.
"Doom?" inquired Count Victor formally, with a foot inside the door.
"Jist that," answered the servitor a little dryly, and yet with a smile puckering his face as he put an opposing toe of a coarse unbuckled brogue under the instep of the stranger. The accent of the reply smacked of Fife; when he heard it, Count Victor at a leap was back in the port of Dysart, where it shrank beneath tall rocks, and he was hearing again for the first time with an amused wonder the native mariners crying to each other on the quays.
"Is your master at home?" he asked.
"At hame, quo' he! It wad depend a'thegether on wha wants to ken," said the servant cautiously. Then in a manner ludicrously composed of natural geniality and burlesque importance, "It's the auld styles aboot Doom, sir, though there's few o' us left to keep them up, and whether the Baron's oot or in is a thing that has to be studied maist scrupulously before the like o' me could say."
"My name is De Montaiglon; I am newly from France; I—"
"Step your ways in, Monsher de Montaiglon," cried the little man with a salute more profound than before. "We're prood to see you, and hoo are they a' in France?"
"Tolerably well, I thank you," said Count Victor, amused at this grotesque combination of military form and familiarity.
Mungo Boyd set down the stool on which he had apparently been standing to look through the spy-hole in the door, and seized the stranger's bag. With three rapid movements of the feet, executed in the mechanical time of a soldier, he turned to the right about, paused a second, squared his shoulders, and led the way into a most barren and chilly interior.
"This way, your honour," said he. "Ye'll paurdon my discretion, for it's a pernikity hoose this for a' the auld bauld, gallant forms and ceremonies. I jalouse ye came roond in a wherry frae the toon, and it's droll I never saw ye land. There was never mony got into Doom withoot the kennin' o' the garrison. It happened aince in Black Hugh's time wi' a corps o' Campbells frae Ardkinglas, and they found themselves in a wasp's byke."
The Count stumbled in the dusk of the interior, for the door had shut of itself behind them, and the corridor was unlit except by what it borrowed from an open door at the far end, leading into a room. An odour of burning peats filled the place; the sound of the sea-breakers was to be heard in a murmur as one hears far-off and magic seas in a shell that is held to the ear. And Count Victor, finding all his pleasant anticipations of the character of this baronial dwelling utterly erroneous, mentally condemned Bethune to perdition as he stumbled behind the little grotesque aping the soldier's pompous manner.
The door that lent what illumination there was to his entrance was held half open by a man who cast at the visitor a glance wherein were surprise and curiosity.
"The Monsher de Montaiglon frae France," announced Mungo, stepping aside still with the soldier's mechanical precision, and standing by the door to give dignity to the introduction and the entrance.
The Baron may have flushed for the overdone formality of his servant when he saw the style of his visitor, standing with a Kevenhuller cocked hat in one hand and fondling the upturned moustache with the other; something of annoyance at least was in his tone as he curtly dismissed the man and gave admission to the stranger, on whom he turned a questioning and slightly embarrassed countenance, handing him one of the few chairs in the most sparsely furnished of rooms.
"You are welcome, sir," he said simply in a literal rendering of his native Gaelic phrase; "take your breath. And you will have refreshment?"
Count Victor protested no, but his host paid no heed. "It is the custom of the country," said he, making for a cupboard and fumbling among glasses, giving, as by a good host's design, the stranger an opportunity of settling down to his new surroundings—a room ill-furnished as a monk's cell, lit by narrow windows, two of them looking to the sea and one along the coast, though not directly on it, windows sunk deep in massive walls built for a more bickering age than this. Count Victor took all in at a glance and found revealed to him in a flash the colossal mendacity of all the Camerons, Macgregors, and Macdonalds who had implied, if they had not deliberately stated, over many games of piquet or lansquenet at Cammercy, the magnificence of the typical Highland stronghold.
The Baron had been reading; at least beside the chair drawn up to a fire of peat that perfumed the apartment lay a book upon a table, and it was characteristic of the Count, who loved books as he loved sport, and Villon above all, that he should strain his eyes a little and tilt his head slightly to see what manner of literature prevailed in these wilds. And the book gave him great cheer, for it was an old French folio of arms, "Les Arts de l'Homme d'Epee; ou, Le Dictionnaire du Gentilhomme," by one Sieur de Guille. Doom Castle was a curious place, but apparently Hugh Bethune was in the right when he described its master as "ane o' the auld gentry, wi' a tattie and herrin' to his dejeune, but a scholar's book open against the ale-jug." A poor Baron (of a vastly different state from the Baron of France), English spoken too, with not much of the tang of the heather in his utterance though droll of his idiom, hospitable (to judge from the proffered glass still being fumbled for in the cupboard), a man who had been in France on the right side, a reader of the beau langage, and a student of the lore of arme blanche—come, here was luck!
And the man himself? He brought forward his spirits in a bottle of quaint Dutch cut, with hollow pillars at each of its four corners and two glasses extravagantly tall of stem, and he filled out the drams upon the table, removing with some embarrassment before he did so the book of arms. It surprised Count Victor that he should not be in the native tartan of the Scots Highlander. Instead he wore a demure coat and breeches of some dark fabric, and a wig conferred on him all the more of the look of a lowland merchant than of a chief of clan. He was a man at least twenty years the senior of his visitor—a handsome man of his kind, dark, deliberate of his movements, bred in the courtesies, but seemingly, to the acuter intuitions of Montaiglon, possessed of one unpardonable weakness in a gentleman—a shame of his obvious penury.
"I have permitted myself, M. le Baron, to interrupt you on the counsel of a common friend," said Count Victor, anxious to put an end to a situation somewhat droll.
"After the goblet, after the goblet," said Lamond softly, himself but sipping at the rim of his glass. "It is the custom of the country—one of the few that's like to be left to us before long."
"A la sante de la bonne cause!" said the Count politely, choking upon the fiery liquor and putting down the glass with an apology.
"I am come from France—from Saint Germains," he said. "You may have heard of my uncle; I am the Count de Montaiglon."
The Baron betrayed a moment's confusion.
"Do you tell me, now?" said he. "Then you are the more welcome. I wish I could say so in your own language—that is, so far as ease goes, known to me only in letters. From Saint Germains—" making a step or two up and down the room, with a shrewd glance upon his visitor in the bygoing. "H'm, I've been there on a short turn myself; there are several of the Highland gentry about the place."
"There is one Bethune—Hugh Bethune of Ballimeanach, Baron," replied Count Victor meaningly. "Knowing that I was coming to this part of the world, and that a person of my tongue and politics might be awkwardly circumstanced in the province of Argyll, he took the liberty to give me your direction as one in whose fidelity I might repose myself. I came across the sleeve to Albion and skirted your noisy eastern coast with but one name of a friend, pardieu, to make the strange cliffs cheerful."
"You are very good," said the Baron simply, with half a bow. "And Hugh Bethune, now—well, well! I am proud that he should mind of his old friend in the tame Highlands. Good Hugh!"—a strange wistfulness came to the Baron's utterance—"Good Hugh! he'll wear tartan when he has the notion, I'm supposing, though, after all, he was no Gael, or a very far-out one, for all that he was in the Marischal's tail."
"I have never seen him in the tartan, beyond perhaps a waistcoat of it at a bal masque."
"So? And yet he was a man generally full of Highland spirit."
Count Victor smiled.
"It is perhaps his only weakness that nowadays he carries it with less dignity than he used to do. A good deal too much of the Highland spirit, M. le Baron, wears hoops, and comes into France in Leith frigates."
"Ay, man!" said the Baron, heedless of the irony, "and Hugh wears the tartan?"
"Only in the waistcoat," repeated Count Victor, complacently looking at his own scallops.
"Even that!" said the Baron, with the odd wistfulness in his voice. And then he added hurriedly, "Not that the tartan's anything wonderful. It cost the people of this country a bonny penny one way or another. There's nothing honest men will take to more readily than the breeks, says I—the douce, honest breeks——"
"Unless it be the petticoats," murmured the Count, smiling, and his fingers went to the pointing of his moustache.
"Nothing like the breeks. The philabeg was aye telling your parentage in every line, so that you could not go over the moor to Lennox there but any drover by the roadside kent you for a small clan or a family of caterans. Some people will be grumbling that the old dress should be proscribed, but what does it matter?"
"The tartan is forbidden?" guessed Count Victor, somewhat puzzled.
Doom flushed; a curious gleam came into his eyes. He turned to fumble noisily with the glasses as he replaced them in the cupboard.
"I thought that was widely enough known," said he. "Put down by the law, and perhaps a good business too. Diaouil!" He came back to the table with this muttered objurgation, sat and stared into the grey film of the peat-fire. "There was a story in every line," said he, "a history in every check, and we are odd creatures in the glens, Count, that we could never see the rags without minding what they told. Now the tartan's in the dye-pot, and you'll see about here but crotal-colour—the old stuff stained with lichen from the rock."
"Ah, what damage!" said Count Victor with sympathetic tone. "But there are some who wear it yet?"
The Baron started slightly. "Sir?" he questioned, without taking his eyes from the embers.
"The precipitancy of my demands upon your gate and your hospitality must have something of an air of impertinence," said Count Victor briskly, unbuckling his sword and laying it before him on the table; "but the cause of it lay with several zealous gentlemen, who were apparently not affected by any law against tartan, for tartan they wore, and sans culottes too, though the dirt of them made it difficult to be certain of either fact. In the East it is customary, I believe, for the infidel to take off his boots when he intrudes on sacred ground; nothing is said about stockings, but I had to divest myself of both boots and stockings. I waded into Doom a few minutes ago, for all the world like an oyster-man with my bag on my back."
"Good God!" cried the Baron. "I forgot the tide. Could you not have whistled?"
"Whole operas, my dear M. le Baron, but the audience behind me would have made the performance so necessarily allegretto as to be ineffective. It was wade at once or pipe and perish. Mon Dieu! but I believe you are right; as an honest man I cannot approve of my first introduction to your tartan among its own mountains."
"It must have been one of the corps of watches; it must have been some of the king's soldiers," suggested the Baron.
Count Victor shrugged his shoulders. "I think I know a red-coat when I see one," said he. "These were quite unlicensed hawks, with the hawk's call for signal too."
"Are you sure?" cried the Baron, standing up, and still with an unbelieving tone.
"My dear M. le Baron, I killed one of the birds to look at the feathers. That is the confounded thing too! So unceremonious a manner of introducing myself to a country where I desire me above all to be circumspect; is it not so?"
As he spoke he revealed the agitation that his flippant words had tried to cloak—by a scarcely perceptible tremour of the hand that drummed the table, a harder note in his voice, and the biting of his moustache. He saw that Doom guessed his perturbation, and he compelled himself to a careless laugh, got lazily to his feet, twisted his moustache points, drew forth his rapier with a flourish, and somewhat theatrically saluted and lunged in space as if the action gave his tension ease.
The Baron for a moment forgot the importance of what he had been told as he watched the graceful beauty of the movement that revealed not only some eccentricity but personal vanity of a harmless kind and wholesome tastes and talents.
"Still I'm a little in the dark," he said when the point dropped and Count Victor recovered.
"Pardon," said his guest. "I am vexed at what you may perhaps look on as a trifle. The ruffians attacked me a mile or two farther up the coast, shot my horse below me, and chased me to the very edge of your moat. I made a feint to shoot one with my pistol, and came closer on the gold than I had intended."
"The Macfarlanes!" cried Doom, with every sign of uneasiness. "It's a pity, it's a pity; not that a man more or less of that crew makes any difference, but the affair might call for more attention to this place and your presence here than might be altogether wholesome for you or me."
He heard the story in more detail, and when Count Victor had finished, ran into an adjoining room to survey the coast from a window there. He came back with a less troubled vision.
"At least they're gone now," said he in a voice that still had some perplexity. "I wish I knew who it was you struck. Would it be Black Andy of Arroquhar now? If it's Andy, the gang will be crying 'Loch Sloy!' about the house in a couple of nights; if it was a common man of the tribe, there might be no more about it, for we're too close on the Duke's gallows to be meddled with noisily; that's the first advantage I ever found in my neighbourhood."
"He was a man of a long habit of body," said Count Victor, "and he fell with a grunt."
"Then it was not Andy. Andy is like a hogshead—a blob of creesh with a turnip on the top—and he would fall with a curse."
"Name of a pipe! I know him; he debated the last few yards of the way with me, and I gave him De Chenier's mace in the jaw."
"I put him slightly out of countenance with the butt and trigger-guard of my pistol. Again I must apologise, dear Baron, for so unceremonious and ill-tempered an approach to your hospitality. You will confess it is a sort of country the foibles of whose people one has to grow accustomed to, and Bethune gave me no guidance for such an emergency as banditti on the fringe of Argyll's notoriously humdrum Court."
"Odd!" repeated Doom. "Will you step this way?" He led Count Victor to the window that commanded the coast, and their heads together filled the narrow space as they looked out. It was a wondrous afternoon. The sun swung low in a majestic sky, whose clouds of gold and purple seemed to the gaze of Montaiglon a continuation of the actual hills of wood and heather whereof they were, the culmination. He saw, it seemed to him, the myriad peaks, the vast cavernous mountain clefts of a magic land, the abode of seraphim and the sun's eternal smile.
"God is good!" said he again, no way reverently, but with some emotion. "I thought I had left for ever the place of hope, and here's Paradise with open doors." Then he looked upon the nearer country, upon the wooded hills, the strenuous shoulders of the bens upholding all that glory of sinking sunshine, and on one he saw upstanding, a vulgar blotch upon the landscape, a gaunt long spar with an overhanging arm.
"Ah!" he said airily, "there is civilisation in the land after all."
"Plenty of law at least," said the Baron. "Law of its kind—MacCailen law. His Grace, till the other day, as it might be, was Justice-General of the shire, Sheriff of the same, Regality Lord, with rights of pit and gallows. My place goes up to the knowe beside his gallows; but his Grace's regality comes beyond this, and what does he do but put up his dule-tree there that I may see it from my window and mind the fact. It's a fine country this; man, I love it! I'm bound to be loving it, as the saying goes, waking and sleeping, and it brought me back from France, that I had no illwill to, and kept me indoors in the 'Forty-five,' though my heart was in the rising, as Be-thune would tell you. A grand country out and in, wet and dry, winter and summer, and only that tree there and what it meant to mar the look and comfort of it. But here I'm at my sentiments and you starving, I am sure, for something to eat."
He moved from the window out of which he had been gazing with a fondness that surprised and amused his visitor, and called loudly for Mungo.
In a moment the little retainer was at the door jauntily saluting in his military manner.
"Hae ye been foraging the day, Mungo?" asked the master indulgently.
"Na, na, there was nae need wi' a commissariat weel provided for voluntary. Auld Dugald brought in his twa kain hens yesterday; ane's on the bank and the cauld corp o' the ither o' them's in the pantry. There's the end o' a hench o' venison frae Strathlachlan, and twa oors syne, when the tide was oot, there was beef padovies and stoved how-to wdies, but I gied them to twa gaun-aboot bodies."
They both looked inquiringly at Count Victor.
"I regret the what-do-you-call-it?—the stoved howtowdy," said he, laughing, "more for the sound of it than for any sense its name conveys to me."
"There's meat as weel as music in it, as the fox said when he ate the bagpipes," said Mungo.
"There's waur nor howtowdy. And oh! I forgot the het victual, there's jugged hare."
"Is the hare ready?" asked the Baron suspiciously.
"It's no jist a'thegether what ye micht ca' ready," answered Mungo without hesitation; "but it can be here het in nae time, and micht agree wi' the Count better nor the cauld fowl."
"Tell Annapla to do the best she can," broke in the Baron on his servant's cheerful garrulity; and Mungo with another salute disappeared.
"How do your women-folk like the seclusion of Doom?" asked Count Victor, to make conversation while the refection was in preparation. "With the sea about you so, and the gang of my marauding obese friend in the wood behind, I should think you had little difficulty in keeping them under your eye."
The Baron was obviously confused. "Mungo's quite enough to keep his eye on Annapla," said he. "He has the heart and fancy to command a garrison; there's a drum forever beating in his head, a whistle aye fifing in his lug, and he will amuse you with his conceits of soldiering ancient and modern, a trade he thinks the more of because Heaven made him so unfit to become 'prentice to it. Good Mungo! There have been worse men; indeed what need I grudge admitting there have been few better? He has seen this place more bien than it is to-day in my father's time, and in my own too before the law-pleas ate us up; you will excuse his Scots freedom of speech, Count, he—"
A shot rang outside in some shrubbery upon the mainland, suddenly putting an end to Doom's conversation. Count Victor, sure that the Macfarlanes were there again, ran to the window and looked out, while his host in the rear bit his lip with every sign of annoyance. As Montaiglon looked he saw Mungo emerge from the shrubbery with a rabbit in his hand and push off hurriedly in a little boat, which apparently was in use for communication with the shore under such circumstances.
"And now," said the Count, without comment upon what he had seen, "I think, with your kind permission, I shall change my boots before eating.
"There's plenty of time for that, I jalouse," said Doom, smiling somewhat guiltily, and he showed his guest to a room in the turret. It was up a flight of corkscrew stairs, and lit with singular poverty by an orifice more of the nature of a porthole for a piece than a window, and this port or window, well out in the angle of the turret, commanded a view of the southward wall or curtain of the castle.
Montaiglon, left to himself, opened the bag that Mungo had placed in readiness for him in what was evidently the guest-room of the castle, transformed the travelling half of himself into something that was more in conformity with the gay nature of his upper costume, complacently surveyed the result when finished, and hummed a chanson of Pierre Gringoire's, altogether unremembering the encounter in the wood, the dead robber, and the stern nature of his embassy here so far from France.
He bent to close the valise, and with a start abruptly concluded his song at the sight of a miniature with the portrait of a woman looking at him from the bottom of the bag.
"Mort de ma vie! what a fool I am; what a forgetful vengeur, to be chanting Gringoire in the house of Doom and my quarry still to hunt!" His voice had of a sudden gained a sterner accent; the pleasantness of his aspect became clouded by a frown. Looking round the constricted room, and realising how like a prison-cell it was compared with what he had expected, he felt oppressed as with the want of air. He sought vainly about the window for latch or hinge to open it, and as he did so glanced along the castle wall painted yellow by the declining sun. He noticed idly that some one was putting out upon the sill of a window on a lower stage what might have been a green kerchief had not the richness of its fabric and design suggested more a pennon or banneret. It was carefully placed by a woman's hands—the woman herself unseen. The incident recalled an old exploit of his own in Marney, and a flood of humorous memories of amorous intrigue.
"Mademoiselle Annapla," said he whimsically, "has a lover, and here's his signal. The Baron's daughter? The Baron's niece? The Baron's ward? Or merely the Baron's domestic? M. Bethune's document suffers infernally from the fault of being too curt. He might at least have indicated the fair recluse."
CHAPTER IV — WANTED, A SPY
The wail of a mountain pipe, poorly played, as any one accustomed to its strains would have admitted, even if the instrument was one he loved, and altogether execrable in the ears of Montaiglon, called him to the salle, where Doom joined him in a meal whereof good Mungo's jugged hare formed no part. Mungo, who had upheld ancient ceremony by his crude performance on the piob mhor, was the attendant upon the table,—an office he undertook with his bonnet on his head, "in token," as his master whisperingty explained to Count Victor, "of his sometimes ill-informed purpose of conducting every formal task in Doom upon the strict letter of military codes as pertained in camps, garrisons, and strongholds." It was amusing to witness the poor fellow's pompous precision of movement as he stood behind his master's chair or helped the guest to his humble meal; the rigidity of his inactive moments, or the ridiculous jerkiness with which he passed a platter as 'twere to the time of a drill-sergeant's baton. More amusing still to one able, like Count Victor, to enter into the humour of the experience, was it to have his garrulity get the better of him in spite of the military punctilio.
"The Baron was telling me aboot your exploit wi' the Loch Sloy pairty. Man! did I no' think ye had come by boat," he whispered over a tendered ale-glass. "It was jist my luck to miss sic a grand ploy. I wad hae backed ye to haud the water against Black Andy and all his clan, and they're no' slack at a tulzie."
"Ye may be grand in a fight, Mungo, but only a middling man at forage," interrupted his master. "I think ye said jugged hare?"
"It wasna my faut," explained the domestic, "that ye havena what was steepulated; the Baron wadna bide till the beast was cooked."
Doom laughed. "Come, come, Mungo," said he, "the Count could scarcely be expected to wait for the cooking of an animal running wild in the bracken twenty minutes ago."
"Oh, it disna tak' sae terrible lang to cook a hare," said the unabashed retainer.
"But was it a hare after a', Mungo?" asked his master. "Are ye sure it wasna a rabbit?"
"A rabbit!" cried he in astonishment; then more cautiously, "Weel, if it was a rabbit, it was a gey big ane, that's a' I can say," and he covered his perturbation by a retreat from the room to resume his office of musician, which, it appeared, demanded a tune after dinner as well as before it.
What had seemed to Montaiglon a harsh, discordant torturing of reeds when heard on the stair outside his chamber, seemed somehow more mellowed and appropriate—pleasing even—when it came from the garden outside the castle, on whose grass-grown walk the little lowlander strutted as he played the evening melody of the house of Doom—a pibroch all imbued with passion and with melancholy. This distance lulled it into something more than human music, into a harmony with the monotone of the wave that thundered against the rock; it seemed the voice of choiring mermen; it had the bitterness, the agonised remembrance, of the sea's profound; it was full of hints of stormy nights and old wars. For a little Doom and his visitor sat silent listening to it, the former, with a strain upon his countenance, tapping nervously with his fingers upon the arm of his chair.
"An old custom in the Highlands," he explained. "I set, perhaps, too little store by it myself, but Mungo likes to maintain it, though he plays the pipe but indifferently, and at this distance you might think the performance not altogether without merit.
"I love all music," replied Count Victor with polite ambiguity, and he marvelled at the signs of some deep feeling in his host.
Till a late hour they sat together while Count Victor explained his mission to the Highlands. He told much, but, to be sure, he did not at first tell all. He recounted the evidences of the spy's guilt as a correspondent with the British Government, whose pay he drew while sharing the poor fortunes and the secrets of the exiled Jacobites. "Iscariot, my dear Baron," he protested, "was a Bayard compared with this wretch. His presence in your locality should pollute the air; have you not felt a malaise?"
"It's dooms hard," admitted the Baron, throwing up distressed hands, "but, man, I'm feared he's not the only one. Do you know, I could mention well-kent names far ben in the Cause—men not of hereabouts at all, but of Lochaber no less, though you may perhaps not guess all that means—and they're in Paris up to the elbow now in the same trade. It's well known to some of yourselves, or should be, and it puzzles me that you should come to the shire of Argyll on account of one, as I take it, no worse than three or four you might have found by stepping across the road to Roisin's coffee-house in the Rue Vaugirard. The commoners in the late troubles have been leal enough, I'll give them that credit, but some of the gentry wag their tongues for Prince Tearlach and ply their pens for Geordie's pay."
The servant came in with two candles, placed them on the table, and renewed the fire. He had on a great woollen night-cowl of gaudy hue with a superb tassel that bobbed grotesquely over his beady eyes.
"I'll awa' to my bed, if it's your will, Baron," said he with the customary salute. "I was thinkin' it might be needful for me to bide up a while later in case ony o' the Coont's freends cam' the way; but the tide'll keep them aff till mornin' anyway, and I'm sure we'll meet them a' the baulder then if we hae a guid sleep." He got permission to retire, and passed into the inky darkness of the corridor, and crept to that part of the vacant dwelling in which he had his bed.
"There might be another reason for my coming here," said Montaiglon, resuming the conversation where Mungo's entrance had broken it off. "In this affair there was a lady. I knew her once." He paused with a manner showing discomposure.
"And there was liking; I can comprehend," said Doom with sympathy.
"Liking is but love without wings," said Montaiglon. "My regard soared above the clay; I loved her, and I think she was not indifferent to me till this man came in her way. He had, they say, the devil's tongue; at least he had the devil's heart, and she died six months ago with her head on my arm. I could tell you the story, M. le Baron, but it is in all the books, and you can fancy it easily. She died forgiving her betrayer, and sending a message to that effect by me. I come to deliver it, and, by God! to push it to his heart."
"It is a dangerous errand in this country and at this time," said Doom, looking into the fire.
"Ah! but you did not know Cecile," replied Montaiglon, simply.
"But I know the human heart. I know it in any man under the sober age of thirty. Better to let it rest thus. Excuse my interference. It does not matter much to me that it should be out of my house you should go seeking for your vengeance, but I'm an older man than you, and have learned how quickly the worst misfortunes and wrongs may be forgotten. In your place I would leave this man to the punishment of his own conscience."
Montaiglon laughed bitterly. "That," said he, "is to assume a mechanism that in his case never existed. Pardon me, I pray you, but I prefer the old reckoning, which will be all the fairer because he has the reputation of being a good swordsman, and I am not without some practice."
"And the man's name? you have not mentioned it."
"But there you puzzle me. He was eight months in France, six of these in a lodging beside the Baigneurs on the Estrapade, Rue Dauphine. He came with no credentials but from Glengarry, and now Glengarry can give no account of him except that he had spoken familiarly to him of common friends in the Highlands."
"Oh, Glengarry—Alasdair Rhuadh!" exclaimed the Baron, dryly.
"And presumed to be burdened with a dangerous name, he passed with the name of Drimdarroch."
"Drimdarroch!" repeated the Baron with some apparent astonishment.
"I have never seen the man, so far as I know, for I was at Cammercy when he hung about the lady."
"Drimdarroch!" repeated Doom reflectively, "a mere land title."
"And some words he dropped in the ear of the lady made me fancy he might be found about the Court of Argyll."
"Drimdarroch! Drimdarroch! I ken no one of the name, though the name itself, for very good reasons, is well known to me. Have you any description of the man?"
"Not much. A man older than myself, dark, well-bred. I should say a man something like yourself, if you will pardon the comparison, with a less easy mind, if he remembers his friends and his past."
Doom pushed back his chair a little from the fire, but without taking his eyes from the peats, and made a curious suggestion.
"You would not take it to be me, would you?" he asked.
Count Victor laughed, with a gesture of his hands that made denial all unnecessary.
"Oh, but you do not know," went on the Baron. "Some months of caballing with our friends—even our Hielan' friends—in the France, left me with an unwholesome heart that would almost doubt my father in his grave. You mentioned the name Drimdarroch—is it not the odd thing that you should speak it to the only man in the shire that ever had the right to use it? Do you see this?" and rising he stepped to a recess in the wall, only half curtained, so that its contents overflowed into the chamber, and by a jerk of the hand revealed a strange accumulation of dusty documents in paper and in parchment. He looked at them with an aspect of disgust, and stirred them with a contemptuous toe as if he meddled with the litter of a stye.
"That's Drimdarroch!" said he, intensely bitter; "that's Drimdarroch, and Duntorvil, that's the Isles, the bonny Isles of Lochow; that's damn like to be Doom too! That and this ruckle of stones we sit in are all that's left of what was my father's and my grandfather's and their forebears back till the dark of time. And how is it, ye may ask? Let us pretermit the question till another occasion; anyway here's Drimdarroch wi' the lave, at any rate the weight of it in processes, records, caveats, multiple poindings, actions of suspension and declator, interim decrees, fugie warrants, compts, and reckonings—God! I have the cackle of the law in my head like a ballant, and what's the wonder at that wi' all my practice?"
He stooped and picked up from the confused heap of legal scrivenings by finger-tips that seemed to fear infection a parchment fouled with its passage through the courts and law offices. "You're in luck indeed," said he; "for there's Drimdarroch—all that's left of it to me: the land itself is in the hands of my own doer, Petullo the writer down-by, and scab seize his bestial!"
Back he threw the relic of his patrimony; he dropped the curtain; he turned on his guest a face that tried to smile. "Come, let us sit down again," he said, "and never heed my havers. Am I not thankful to have Doom itself left me, and the company of the hills and sea? After all, there are more Drimdarrochs than one in the Highlands, for the name means just 'the place at the back of the oak-wood or the oaken shaw,' and oaks are as plentiful hereabout as the lawyers are in the burgh down-by. I but mentioned it to show you the delicacy of your search, for you do not know but what I'm the very man you want, though I'm sitting here looking as if acting trusty for the Hanoverian cause did not fill my pouches."
"Tenez! M. Bethune was scarcely like to send me to Doom in that case," said the Count laughing.
"But Bethune, like yourself, may never have seen the man."
"But yes, it is true, he did not see him any more than I did. Drimdarroch, by all accounts, was a spendthrift, a player, a bavard, his great friends, Glengarry and another Scot, Balhaldie—"
"Oh, Balhaldie! blethering Balhaldie!" cried Doom, contempt upon his countenance. "And Balhaldie would sell him, I'll warrant. He seems, this Drimdarroch, to have been dooms unlucky in his friends. I say all I've said to you, Count, because you're bound to find it out for yourself some day if you prosecute your search here, and you might be coming round to me at last with your ower-ready pistol when I was ill-prepared to argue out my identity. Furthermore, I do not know the man you want. About the castle down-by his Grace has a corps of all kinds that you might pick from nine times out of ten without striking an honest man. Some of them are cadets of his own family, always blunt opponents of mine and of our cause here and elsewhere; some are incomers, as we call them; a few of them from clans apparently friendly to us when in other quarters, but traitors and renegades at the heart; some are spies by habit and repute. There's not a friend of mine among them, not in all the fat and prosperous rabble of them; but I wish you were here on another errand, though to Doom, my poor place, you are welcome. I am a widower, a lonely man, with my own flesh and blood rebel against me"—he checked his untimeous confidence—"and yet I have been chastened by years and some unco experiences from a truculent man to one preferring peace except at the last ditch."
"Eh bien! Monsieur; this is the last ditch!" said Montaiglon. "Spy and murderer, M. le Baron, and remember I propose to give him more than the murderer's chance when I agree to meet him on a fair field with a sword in his hand."
"I have seen you lunge, sir," said Doom meaningly; "I ken the carriage of a fencer's head; your eye's fast, your step's light; with the sword I take it Drimdarroch is condemned, and your practice with the pistol, judging from the affair with the Macfarlanes, seems pretty enough. You propose, or I'm mistaken, to make yourself the executioner. It is a step for great deliberation, and for the sake of a wanton woman—"
"Sir!" cried Montaiglon, half rising in his chair.
Doom's eyes gleamed, a quiver ran over his brow, and a furrow came to the jaw; his hand went to his side, where in other days there might have been a dagger. It was the flash of a moment, and died again almost before Montaiglon had seen and understood.
"Mille pardons!" said Doom with uncouth French. "I used the word in its most innocent sense, with its kindliest meaning; but I was a fool to use it at all, and I withdraw it."
Count Victor bowed his head. "So," said he. "Perhaps I am too much Quixote, for I saw her but a few times, and that briefly. She was like a—like a fine air once heard, not all to be remembered, never wholly to be forgot. She had a failing, perhaps—the error of undue affection to qualify her for a sinful world. As it was, she seemed among other women some rarity out of place—Venus at a lantern feast."
"And ye would send this man to hell that he may find his punishment in remembering her? If I thought so much of vengeance I would leave him on the earth forgetting."
"M. le Baron, I make you my compliments of your complacence," said Count Victor, rising to his feet and desirous to end the discussion. "I am only Victor de Montaiglon, poorly educated in the forgiveness of treachery, and lamentably incapable of the nobihty de cour that you profess. But I can be grateful; and if you give me the hospitality of your house for a day or two, I shall take care that neither it nor its owner will be implicated in my little affair. Touching retirement "—he went on with a smile—"I regret exceedingly an overpowering weariness. I have travelled since long before dawn, and burning the candle par les deux bouts is not, as Master Mungo hints, conducive to a vigorous reception of the Macfarlanes if they feel like retaliating to-morrow, and making your domicile the victim of my impetuosity and poor marksmanship."
Doom sighed, took up a candle, and led the way into the passage. A chill air was in the corridor, that smelled like a cellar underground, and as their footsteps sounded reverberant upon the flags uncar-peted, Doom Castle gave the stranger the impression of a vault. Fantastic shadows danced macabre in the light of the candles; they were the only furniture of that part of the rough dwelling that the owner shuffled through as quickly as he could to save his guest from spying too closely the barrenness of the land. He went first to the outer door with the candle before he said good night, drew back great bars, and opened the oak. The sky was studded with pale golden stars; the open air was dense with the perfume of the wood, the saline indication of the sea-ware. On the rocky edge of the islet at one part showed the white fringe of the waves now more peaceful; to the north brooded enormous hills, seen dimly by the stars, couchant terrors, vague, vast shapes of dolours and alarms. Doom stood long looking at them with the flame of the candle blowing inward and held above his head—a mysterious man beyond Montaiglon's comprehension. He stood behind him a pace or two, shivering in the evening air.
"You'll be seeing little there, I'll warrant, Count, but a cold night and inhospitable vacancy, hard hills and the robber haunting them. For me, that prospect is my evening prayer. I cannot go to sleep without it, for fear I wake in Paradise and find it's all by with Doom and the native hills for me."
And by that he seemed to Montaiglon more explicable: it was the lover he was; the sentimentalist, the poet, knowing the ancient secret of the animate earth, taking his hills and valleys passionately to his heart. The Frenchman bowed his sympathy and understanding.
"It's a wonder Mungo kept his word and went to bed," said the Baron, recovering his ordinary manner, "for it would just suit his whim to bide up and act sentry here, very well pleased at the chance your coming gave him of play-acting the man of war."
He bolted the door again with its great bars, then gravely preceded his guest to the foot of the turret stair, where he handed him the candle.
"You're in a dreary airt of the house," he said apologetically, "but I hope you may find it not uncomfortable. Doom is more than two-thirds but empty shell, and the bats have the old chapel above you. Oidhche mhath! Good night!" He turned upon his heel and was gone into the farther end of the passage.
As Montaiglon went up to his room, the guttering candle flame, puffed at by hidden and mischievous enemies from broken ports and gun-slits, showed upon the landing lower than his own a long corridor he had not observed upon his first ascent. With the candle held high above his head he glanced into the passage, that seemed to have several doors on either hand. In a castle so sparsely occupied the very knowledge of this long and empty corridor in the neighbourhood of his sleeping apartment conferred a sense of chill and mystery. He thought he could perceive the odour of damp, decayed wood, crumbled lime, hanging rotten in stagnant airs and covered with the dust of years. "Dieu!" he exclaimed involuntarily, "this is no Cammercy." He longed for some relief from the air of mystery and dread that hung about the place. A laugh would have been a revelation, a strain of song a miracle of healing. And all at once he reflected upon the Annapla as yet unseen.
"These might be her quarters," he reflected, finding a solace in the thought. The chill was at once less apparent, a pleasant glow of companionship came over him. Higher up he held the light to see the farther into the long passage, and as he did so the flame was puffed out. It seemed so human a caprice that he drew himself sharply against the wall, ready by instinct to evade any rush or thrust that was to follow. And then he smiled at his own alarm at a trick of the wind through some of La-mond's ill-patched walls, and found his consolation in the sense of companionship confirmed by sight of a thin line of light below a door mid-way up the curious passage.
"Annapla, for a louis!" he thought cheerfully. "Thank heaven for one petticoat in Doom—though that, in truth, is to concede the lady but a scanty wardrobe." And he hummed softly as he entered his own room.
Wearied exceedingly by the toils of the day, he had no sooner thrown himself upon the bed than he slept with no need for the lullaby aid of the sea that rumoured light and soothingly round the rock of Doom.
CHAPTER V — THE FLAGEOLET
He woke from a dream of pressing danger and impotent flight to marvel where he was in darkness; fancied himself at first in some wayside inn mid-way over Scotland, and sat up suddenly with an exclamation of assurance that he was awake to the suppositious landlord who had called, for the sense of some sound but stilled on the second of his waking was strong within him. He fastened upon the vague starlit space of the little window to give him a clew to his situation. Then he remembered Doom, and, with the window for his key, built up the puzzle of his room, wondering at the cause of his alarm.
The wind had risen and sent a loud murmur through the trees along the coast; the sea, in breakers again, beat on the rock till Doom throbbed. But there was nothing in that to waken a man who had ridden two days on coarse roads and encountered and fought with banditti. Decidedly there was some menace in the night; danger on hard fields had given him blood alert and unsleeping; the alarum was drumming at his breast. Stealthily he put out his hand, and it fell as by a fiddler's instinct upon the spot desired—the hilt of his sword. There he kept it with his breath subdued, and the alarum severely quelled.
An owl's call sounded on the shore, extremely pensive in its note, and natural, but unusual in the rhythm of its repetition. It might have passed for the veritable call of the woods to an unsuspicious ear, but Montaiglon knew it for a human signal. As if to prove it so, it was followed by the grating of the outer door upon its hinge, and the sound of a foot stumbling among stones.
He reflected that the tide was out in all probability, and at once the notion followed that here were his searchers, the Macfarlanes, back in force to revenge his impetuous injury to their comrades. But then—a second thought almost as promptly told him in that case there should be no door opened.
A sound of subdued voices came from the foot of the tower and died in the garden behind or was swept elsewhere by the wind; then, through the voice of the wave, the moan of the wind, and its whistle in vent and cranny, came a strain of music—not the harsh uncultured pipe of Mungo the servitor, but a more dulcet air of flute or flageolet. In those dark savage surroundings it seemed a sound inhuman, something unreal, something of remembrance in delirium or dream, charged for this Parisian with a thousand recollections of fond times, gay times, passionate times elsewhere. Doom throbbed to the waves, but the flageolet stirred in him not so much surprise at this incongruous experience as a wave of emotion where all his past of gaillard was crystalled in a second—many nights of dance and song anew experienced in a mellow note or two; an old love reincarnated in a phrase (and the woman in the dust); the evenings of Provence lived again, and Louis's darling flute piping from the chateau over the field and river; moons of harvest vocal with some peasant cheer; in the south the nightingale searching to express his kinship with the mind of man and the creatures of the copse, his rapture at the star.
Somehow the elusive nature of the music gave it more than half its magic. It would die away as the wind declined, or come in passionate crescendo. For long it seemed to Montaiglon—and yet it was too short—the night was rich with these incongruous but delightful strains. Now the player breathed some soft, slow, melancholy measure of the manner Count Victor had often heard the Scottish exiles croon with tears at his father's house, or sing with too much boisterousness at the dinners of the St. Andrew's Club, for which the Leith frigates had made special provision of the Scottish wine. Anon the fingers strayed upon an Italian symphony full of languors and of sun, and once at least a dance gave quickness to the execution.
But more haunting than all was one simple strain and brief, indeed never wholly accomplished, as if the player sought to recollect a song forgot, that was repeated over and over again, as though it were the motive of the others or refrain. Sometimes Montaiglon thought the player had despaired of concluding this bewitching melody when he changed suddenly to another, and he had a very sorrow at his loss; again, when its progress to him was checked by a veering current of the wind and the flageolet rose once more with a different tune upon it, he dreaded that the conclusion had been found in the lacuna.
He rose at last and went to the window, and tried in the wan illumination of the heavens to detect the mysterious musician in the garden, but that was quite impossible: too dark the night, too huge and profound the shadows over Doom. He went to his door and opened it and looked down the yawning stairway; only the sigh of the wind in the gun-slits occupied the stairway, and the dark was the dark of Genesis. And so again to bed, to lie with his weariness for long forgotten. He found that tantalising fragment return again and again, but fated never to be complete. It seemed, he fancied, something like a symbol of a life—with all the qualities there, the sweetness, the affection, the passion, the divine despair, the longing, even the valours and the faiths to make a great accomplishment, but yet lacking the round accomplishment. And as he waited once again for its recurrence he fell asleep.
CHAPTER VI — MUNGO BOYD
It was difficult for Count Victor, when he went abroad in the morning, to revive in memory the dreary and mysterious impressions of his arrival; and the melody he had heard so often half-completed in the dark waste and hollow of the night was completely gone from his recollection, leaving him only the annoying sense of something on the tongue's-tip, as we say, but as unattainable as if it had never been heard. As he walked upon a little knoll that lay between the seaside of the castle and the wave itself, he found an air of the utmost benignity charged with the odours of wet autumn woodlands in a sunshine. And the sea stretched serene; the mists that had gathered in the night about the hills were rising like the smoke of calm hearths into a sky without a cloud. The castle itself, for all its natural arrogance and menace, had something pleasant in its aspect looked at from this small eminence, where the garden did not display its dishevelment and even the bedraggled bower seen from the rear had a look of trim' composure.
To add to the morning's cheerfulness Mungo was afoot whistling a ballad air of the low country, with a regard for neither time nor tune in his puckered lips as he sat on a firkin-head at an outhouse door and gutted some fish he had caught with his own hands in a trammel net at the river-mouth before Montaiglon was awake and the bird, as the Gaelic goes, had drunk the water.
"Gude mornin' to your honour," he cried with an elaborately flourished salute as Montaiglon sauntered up to him. "Ye're early on the move, Monsher; a fine caller mornin'. I hope ye sleepit weel; it was a gowsty nicht."
In spite of his assumed indifference and the purely casual nature of his comment upon the night, there was a good deal of cunning, thought Montaiglon, in the beady eyes of him, but the stranger only smiled at the ease of those Scots domestic manners.
"I did very well, I thank you," said he. "My riding and all the rest of it yesterday would have made me sleep soundly inside the drum of a marching regiment."
"That's richt, that's richt," said Mungo, ostentatiously handling the fish with the awkward repugnance of one unaccustomed to a task so menial, to prove perhaps that cleansing them was none of his accustomed office. "That's richt. When we were campaignin' wi' Marlborough oor lads had many a time to sleep wi' the cannon dirlin' aboot them. Ye get us'd to't, ye get us'd to't, as Annapla says aboot bein' a weedow woman. And if ye hae noticed it, Coont, there's nae people mair adapted for fechtin' under diffeeculties than oor ain; that's what maks the Scots the finest sogers in the warld. It's the build o' them, 'Lowlan' or 'Hielan', the breed o' them; the dour hard character o' their country and their mainner o' leevin'. We gied the English a fleg at the 'Forty-five,' didnae we? That was where the tartan cam' in: man, there's naethin' like us!"
"You do not speak like a Highlander," said Montaiglon, finding some of this gasconade unintelligible.
"No, I'm no' exactly a'thegether a Hielan'man," Mungo admitted, "though I hae freends con-nekit wi' the auldest clans, and though I'm, in a mainner o' speakin', i' the tail o' Doom, as I was i' the tail o' his faither afore him—peace wi' him, he was the grand soger!—but Hielan' or Lowland, we gied them their scuds at the 'Forty-five.' Scots regiments, sir, a' the warld ower, hae had the best o't for fechtin', marchin', or glory. See them at the auld grand wars o' Sweden wi' Gus-tavus, was there ever the like o' them? Or in your ain country, whaure's the bate o' the Gairde Ecossay, as they ca't?"
He spoke with such a zest, he seemed to fire with such a martial glow, that Montaiglon began to fancy that this amusing grotesque, who in stature came no higher than his waist, might have seen some service as sutler or groom in a campaigning regiment.
"Ma foi!" he exclaimed, with his surprise restrained from the most delicate considerations for the little man's feelings; "have you been in the wars?"
It was manifestly a home-thrust to Mungo. He had risen, in his moment of braggadocio, and was standing over the fish with a horn-hilted gutting-knife in his hands, that were sanguine with his occupation, and he had, in the excess of his feeling, made a flourish of the knife, as if it were a dagger, when Montaiglon's query checked him. He was a bubble burst, his backbone—that braced him to the tension of a cuirassier of guards—melted into air, into thin air, and a ludicrous limpness came on him, while his eye fell, and confusion showed about his mouth.
"In the wars!" he repeated. "Weel—no jist a'thegether what ye micht call i' the wars—though in a mainner o' speakin', gey near't. I had an uncle oot wi' Balmerina; ye may hae heard tell o'm, a man o' tremendous valour, as was generally al-ooed—Dugald Boyd, by my faither's side. There's been naethin' but sogers in oor family since the be-ginnin' o' time, and mony ane o' them's deid and dusty in foreign lands. It it hadnae been for the want o' a half inch or thereby in the height o' my heels "—here he stood upon his toes—"I wad hae been in the airmy mysel'. It's the only employ for a man o' spunk, and there's spunk in Mungo Boyd, mind I'm tellin' ye!"
"It is the most obvious thing in the world, good Mungo," said Montaiglon, smiling. "You eviscerate fish with the gusto of a gladiator."
And then an odd thing happened to relieve Mungo's embarrassment and end incontinent his garrulity. Floating on the air round the bulge of the turret came a strain of song in a woman's voice, not powerful, but rich and sweet, young in its accent, the words inaudible but the air startling to Count Victor, who heard no more than half a bar before he had realised that it was the unfinished melody of the nocturnal flageolet. Before he could comment upon so unexpected and surprising a phenomenon, Mungo had dropped his gutting-knife and made with suspicious rapidity for the entrance of the castle, without a word of explanation or leave-taking.
"I become decidedly interested in Annapla," said Montaiglon to himself, witnessing this odd retreat, "and my host gives me no opportunity of paying my homages. Malediction! It cannot be a wife; Bethune said nothing of a wife, and then M. le Baron spoke of himself as a widower. A domestic, doubtless; that will more naturally account for the ancient fishmonger's fleet retirement. He goes to chide the erring Abigail. Or—or—or the cunning wretch!" continued Montaiglon with new meaning in his eyes, "he is perhaps the essential lover. Let the Baron at breakfast elucidate the mystery."
But the Baron at breakfast said never a word of the domestic economy of his fortalice. As they sat over a frugal meal of oat porridge, the poached fish, and a smoky, high-flavoured mutton ham, whose history the Count was happy not to know, his host's conversation was either upon Paris, where he had spent some months of sad expatriation, yawning at its gaiety (it seemed) and longing for the woods of Doom; or upon the plan of the search for the spy and double traitor.
Montaiglon's plans were simple to crudeness. He had, though he did not say so, anticipated some assistance from Doom in identifying the object of his search; but now that this was out of the question, he meant, it appeared, to seek the earliest and most plausible excuse for removal into the immediate vicinity of Argyll's castle, and on some pretext to make the acquaintance of as many of the people there as he could, then to select his man from among them, and push his affair to a conclusion.
"A plausible scheme," said Doom when he heard it, "but contrived without any knowledge of the situation. It's not Doom, M. le Count—-oh no, it's not Doom down by there; it's a far more kittle place to learn the outs and ins of. The army and the law are about it, the one about as numerous as the other, and if your Drimdarroch, as I take it, is a traitor on either hand—to Duke Archie as well as to the king across the water, taking the money of both as has happened before now, he'll be no Drimdarroch you may wager, and not kent as such down there. Indeed, how could he? for Petullo the writer body is the only Drimdarroch there is to the fore, and he has a grieve in the place. Do you think this by-named Drimdarroch will be going about cocking his bonnet over his French amours and his treasons? Have you any notion that he will be the more or the less likely to do so when he learns that there's a French gentleman of your make in the country-side, and a friend of Doom's, too, which means a Jacobite? A daft errand, if I may say it; seeking a needle in a haystack was bairn's play compared to it."