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Foes Sir Mortimer
Harper & Brothers, New York [Established 1817]
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Author of "To Have and to Hold" "Audrey" "Lewis Rand" "Sir Mortimer" "The Long Roll"
Harper & Brothers Publishers New York and London
Said Mother Binning: "Whiles I spin and whiles I dream. A bonny day like this I look."
English Strickland, tutor at Glenfernie House, looked, too, at the feathery glen, vivid in June sunshine. The ash-tree before Mother Binning's cot overhung a pool of the little river. Below, the water brawled and leaped from ledge to ledge, but here at the head of the glen it ran smooth and still. A rose-bush grew by the door and a hen and her chicks crossed in the sun. English Strickland, who had been fishing, sat on the door-stone and talked to Mother Binning, sitting within with her wheel beside her.
"What is it, Mother, to have the second sight?"
"It's to see behind the here and now. Why're ye asking?"
"I wish I could buy it or slave for it!" said Strickland. "Over and over again I really need to see behind the here and now!"
"Aye. It's needed mair really than folk think. It's no' to be had by buying nor slaving. How are the laird and the leddy?"
"Why, well. Tell me," said Strickland, "some of the things you've seen with second sight."
"It taks inner ears for inner things."
"How do you know I haven't them?"
"Maybe 'tis so. Ye're liked well enough."
Mother Binning looked at the dappling water and the June trees and the bright blue sky. It was a day to loosen tongue.
"I'll tell you ane thing I saw. It's mair than twenty years since James Stewart, that was son of him who fled, wad get Scotland and England again intil his hand. So the laddie came frae overseas, and made stir and trouble enough, I tell ye!... Now I'll show you what I saw, I that was a young woman then, and washing my wean's claes in the water there. The month was September, and the year seventeen fifteen. Mind you, nane hereabouts knew yet of thae goings-on!... I sat back on my heels, with Jock's sark in my hand, and a lav'rock was singing, and whiles I listened the pool grew still. And first it was blue glass under blue sky, and I sat caught. And then it was curled cloud or milk, and then it was nae color at all. And then I saw, and 'twas as though what I saw was around me. There was a town nane like Glenfernie, and a country of mountains, and a water no' like this one. There pressed a thrang of folk, and they were Hieland men and Lowland men, but mair Hieland than Lowland, and there were chiefs and chieftains and Lowland lords, and there were pipers. I heard naught, but it was as though bright shadows were around me. There was a height like a Good People's mount, and a braw fine-clad lord speaking and reading frae a paper, and by him a surpliced man to gie a prayer, and there was a banner pole, and it went up high, and it had a gowd ball atop. The braw lord stopped speaking, and all the Hielandmen and Lowlandmen drew and held up and brandished their claymores and swords. The flash ran around like the levin. I kenned that they shouted, all thae gay shadows! I saw the pipers' cheeks fill with wind, and the bags of the pipes fill. Then ane drew on a fine silken rope, and up the pole there went a braw silken banner, and it sailed out in the wind. And there was mair shouting and brandishing. But what think ye might next befall? That gowden ball, gowden like the sun before it drops, that topped the pole, it fell! I marked it fall, and the heads dodge, and it rolled upon the ground.... And then all went out like a candle that you blaw upon. I was kneeling by the water, and Jock's sark in my hand, and the lav'rock singing, and that was all."
"I have heard tell of that," said Strickland. "It was near Braemar."
"And that's mony a lang league frae here! Sax days, and we had news of the rising, with the gathering at Braemar. And said he wha told us, 'The gilt ball fell frae the standard pole, and there's nane to think that a good omen!' But I saw it," said Mother Binning. She turned her wheel, a woman not yet old and with a large, tranquil comeliness. "What I see makes fine company!"
Strickland plucked a rose and smelled it. "This country is fuller of such things than is England that I come from."
"Aye. It's a grand country." She continued to spin. The tutor looked at the sun. It was time to be going if he wished another hour with the stream. He took up his rod and book and rose from the door-step. Mother Binning glanced aside from her wheel.
"How gaes things with the lad at the House?"
"Alexander or James?"
"The one ye call Alexander."
"That is his name."
"I think that he's had ithers. That's a lad of mony lives!"
Strickland, halting by the rose-bush, looked at Mother Binning. "I suppose we call it 'wisdom' when two feel alike. Now that's just what I feel about Alexander Jardine! It's just feeling without rationality."
"There isn't any reason in it."
"I dinna know about 'reason.' There's being in it."
The tutor made as if to speak further, then, with a shake of his head, thought better of it. Thirty-five years old, he had been a tutor since he was twenty, dwelling, in all, in four or five more or less considerable houses and families. Experience, adding itself to innate good sense, had made him slow to discuss idiosyncrasies of patrons or pupils. Strong perplexity or strong feeling might sometimes drive him, but ordinarily he kept a rein on speech. Now he looked around him.
"What high summer, lovely weather!"
"Oh aye! It's bonny. Will ye be gaeing, since ye have na mair to say?"
English Strickland laughed and said good-by to Mother Binning and went. The ash-tree, the hazels that fringed the water, a point of mossy rock, hid the cot. The drone of the wheel no longer reached his ears. It was as though all that had sunk into the earth. Here was only the deep, the green, and lonely glen. He found a pool that invited, cast, and awaited the speckled victim. In the morning he had had fair luck, but now nothing.... The water showed no more diamonds, the lower slopes of the converging hills grew a deep and slumbrous green. Above was the gold, shoulder and crest powdered with it, unearthly, uplifted. Strickland ceased his fishing. The light moved slowly upward; the trees, the crag-heads, melted into heaven; while the lower glen lay in lengths of shadow, in jade and amethyst. A whispering breeze sprang up, cool as the water sliding by. Strickland put up his fisherman's gear and moved homeward, down the stream.
He had a very considerable way to go. The glen path, narrow and rough, went up and down, still following the water. Hazel and birch, oak and pine, overhung and darkened it. Bosses of rock thrust themselves forward, patched with lichen and moss, seamed and fringed with fern and heath. Roots of trees, huge and twisted, spread and clutched like guardian serpents. In places where rock had fallen the earth seemed to gape. In the shadow it looked a gnome world—a gnome or a dragon world. Then upon ledge or bank showed bells or disks or petaled suns of June flowers, rose and golden, white and azure, while overhead was heard the evening song of birds alike calm and merry, and through a cleft in the hills poured the ruddy, comfortable sun.
The walls declined in height, sloped farther back. The path grew broader; the water no longer fell roaring, but ran sedately between pebbled beaches. The scene grew wider, the mouth of the glen was reached. He came out into a sunset world of dale and moor and mountain-heads afar. There were fields of grain, and blue waving feathers from chimneys of cottage and farm-house. In the distance showed a village, one street climbing a hill, and atop a church with a spire piercing the clear east. The stream widened, flowing thin over a pebbly bed. The sun was not yet down. It painted a glory in the west and set lanes and streets of gold over the hills and made the little river like Pactolus. Strickland approached a farm-house, prosperous and venerable, mended and neat. Thatched, long, white, and low, behind it barns and outbuildings, it stood tree-guarded, amid fields of young corn. Beyond it swelled a long moorside; in front slipped the still stream.
There were stepping-stones across the stream. Two young girls, coming toward the house, had set foot upon these. Strickland, halting in the shadow of hazels and young aspens, watched them as they crossed. Their step was free and light; they came with a kind of hardy grace, elastic, poised, and very young, homeward from some visit on this holiday. The tutor knew them to be Elspeth and Gilian Barrow, granddaughters of Jarvis Barrow of White Farm. The elder might have been fifteen, the younger thirteen years. They wore their holiday dresses. Elspeth had a green silken snood, and Gilian a blue. Elspeth sang as she stepped from stone to stone:
"But I will get a bonny boat, And I will sail the sea, For I maun gang to Love Gregor, Since he canna come hame to me—"
They did not see Strickland where he stood by the hazels. He let them go by, watching them with a quiet pleasure. They took the upward-running lane. Hawthorns in bloom hid them; they were gone like young deer. Strickland, crossing the stream, went his own way.
The country became more open, with, at this hour, a dreamlike depth and hush. Down went the sun, but a glow held and wrapped the earth in hues of faery. When he had walked a mile and more he saw before him Glenfernie House. In the modern and used moiety seventy years old, in the ancient keep and ruin of a tower three hundred, it crowned—the ancient and the latter-day—a craggy hill set with dark woods, and behind it came up like a wonder lantern, like a bubble of pearl, the full moon.
The tutor, in his own room, put down his fisherman's rod and bag. The chamber was a small one, set high up, with two deep windows tying the interior to the yet rosy west and the clearer, paler south. Strickland stood a moment, then went out at door and down three steps and along a passageway to two doors, one closed, the other open. He tapped upon the latter.
A boy of fourteen, tall and fair, with a flushed, merry face, crossed the room and opened the door more widely. "Oh, aye, Mr. Strickland, I'm in!"
"Not yet. I haven't seen him. I was at the village with Dandie Saunderson."
"Do you know what he did with himself?"
"I see. Well, it's nearly supper-time."
Back in his own quarters, the tutor made such changes as were needed, and finally stood forth in a comely suit of brown, with silver-buckled shoes, stock and cravat of fine cambric, and a tie-wig. Midway in his toilet he stopped to light two candles. These showed, in the smallest of mirrors, set of wig and cravat, and between the two a thoughtful, cheerful, rather handsome countenance.
He had left the door ajar so that he might hear, if he presently returned, his eldest pupil. But he heard only James go clattering down the passage and the stair. Strickland, blowing out his candles, left his room to the prolonged June twilight and the climbing moon.
The stairway down, from landing to landing, lay in shadow, but as he approached the hall he caught the firelight. The laird had a London guest who might find a chill in June nights so near the north. The blazing wood showed forth the chief Glenfernie gathering-place, wide and deep, with a great chimneypiece and walls of black oak, and hung thereon some old pieces of armor and old weapons. There was a table spread for supper, and a servant went about with a long candle-lighter, lighting candles. A collie and a hound lay upon the hearth. Between them stood Mrs. Jardine, a tall, fair woman of forty and more, with gray eyes, strong nose, and humorous mouth.
"Light them all, Davie! It'll be dark then by London houses."
Davie showed an old servant's familiarity. "He wasna sae grand when he left auld Scotland thirty years since! I'm thinking he might remember when he had nae candles ava in his auld hoose."
"Well, he'll have candles enough in his new hall."
Davie lit the last candle. "They say that he is sinfu' rich!"
"Rich enough to buy Black Hill," said Mrs. Jardine, and turned to the fire. The tutor joined her there. He had for her liking and admiration, and she for him almost a motherly affection. Now she smiled as he came up.
"Did you have good fishing?"
"Mr. Jardine and Mr. Touris have just returned. They rode to Black Hill. Have you seen Alexander?"
"No. I asked Jamie—"
"So did I. But he could not tell."
"He may have gone over the moor and been belated. Bran is with him."
"Yes.... He's a solitary one, with a thousand in himself!"
"You're the second woman," remarked Strickland, "who's said that to-day," and told her of Mother Binning.
Mrs. Jardine pushed back a fallen ember with the toe of her shoe. "I don't know whether she sees or only thinks she sees. Some do the tane and some do the tither. Here's the laird."
Two men entered together—a large man and a small man. The first, great of height and girth, was plainly dressed; the last, seeming slighter by contrast than he actually was, wore fine cloth, silken hose, gold buckles to his shoes, and a full wig. The first had a massive, somewhat saturnine countenance, the last a shrewd, narrow one. The first had a long stride and a wide reach from thumb to little finger, the last a short step and a cupped hand. William Jardine, laird of Glenfernie, led the way to the fire.
"The ford was swollen. Mr. Touris got a little wet and chilled."
"Ah, the fire is good!" said Mr. Touris. "They do not burn wood like this in London!"
"You will burn it at Black Hill. I hope that you like it better and better?"
"It has possibilities, ma'am. Undoubtedly," said Mr. Touris, the Scots adventurer for fortune, set up as merchant-trader in London, making his fortune by "interloping" voyages to India, but now shareholder and part and lot of the East India Company—"undoubtedly the place has possibilities." He warmed his hands. "Well, it would taste good to come back to Scotland—!" His words might have been finished out, "and laird it, rich and influential, where once I went forth, cadet of a good family, but poorer than a church mouse!"
Mrs. Jardine made a murmur of hope that he would come back to Scotland. But the laird looked with a kind of large gloom at the reflection of fire and candle in battered breastplate and morion and crossed pikes.
Supper was brought in by two maids, Eppie and Phemie, and with them came old Lauchlinson, the butler. Mrs. Jardine placed herself behind the silver urn, and Mr. Touris was given the seat nearest the fire. The boy James appeared, and with him the daughter of the house, Alice, a girl of twelve, bonny and merry.
"Where is Alexander?" asked the laird.
Strickland answered. "He is not in yet, sir. I fancy that he walked to the far moor. Bran is with him."
"He's a wanderer!" said the laird. "But he ought to keep hours."
"That's a fine youth!" quoth Mr. Touris, drinking tea. "I marked him yesterday, casting the bar. Very strong—a powerful frame like yours, Glenfernie! When is he going to college?"
"This coming year. I have kept him by me late," said the laird, broodingly. "I like my bairns at home."
"Aye, but the young will not stay as they used to! They will be voyaging," said the guest. "They build outlandish craft and forthfare, no matter what you cry to them!" His voice had a mordant note. "I know. I've got one myself—a nephew, not a son. But I am his guardian and he's in my house, and it is the same. If I buy Black Hill, Glenfernie, I hope that your son and my nephew may be friends. They're about of an age."
The listening Jamie spoke from beyond Strickland. "What's your nephew's name, sir?"
"Ian. Ian Rullock. His father's mother was a Highland lady, near kinswoman to Gordon of Huntley." Mr. Touris was again speaking to his host. "As a laddie, before his father's death (his mother, my sister, died at his birth), he was much with those troublous northern kin. His father took him, too, in England, here and there among the Tory crowd. But I've had him since he was twelve and am carrying him on in the straight Whig path."
"And in the true Presbyterian religion?"
"Why, as to that," said Mr. Touris, "his father was of the Church Episcopal in Scotland. I trust that we are all Christians, Glenfernie!"
The laird made a dissenting sound. "I kenned," he said, and his voice held a grating gibe, "that you had left the Kirk."
Mr. Archibald Touris sipped his tea. "I did not leave it so far, Glenfernie, that I cannot return! In England, for business reasons, I found it wiser to live as lived the most that I served. Naaman was permitted to bow himself in the house of Rimmon."
"You are not Naaman," answered the laird. "Moreover, I hold that Naaman sinned!"
Mrs. Jardine would make a diversion. "Mr. Jardine, will you have sugar to your tea? Mr. Strickland says the great pine is blown down, this side the glen. The Mercury brings us news of the great world, Mr. Touris, but I dare say you can give us more?"
"The chief news, ma'am, is that we want war with Spain and Walpole won't give it to us. But we'll have it—British trade must have it or lower her colors to the Dons! France, too—"
Supper went on, with abundant and good food and drink. The laird sat silent. Strickland gave Mrs. Jardine yeoman aid. Jamie and Alice now listened to the elders, now in an undertone discoursed their own affairs. Mr. Touris talked, large trader talk, sprinkled with terms of commerce and Indian policy. Supper over, all rose. The table was cleared, wine and glasses brought and set upon it, between the candles. The young folk vanished. Bright as was the night, the air carried an edge. Mr. Touris, standing by the fire, warmed himself and took snuff. Strickland, who had left the hall, returned and placed her embroidery frame for Mrs. Jardine.
"Is Alexander in yet?"
She began to work in cross-stitch upon a wreath of tulips and roses. The tutor took his book and withdrew to the table and the candles thereon. The laird came and dropped his great form upon the settle. He held silence a few moments, then began to speak.
"I am fifty years old. I was a bairn just talking and toddling about the year the Stewart fled and King William came to England. My father had Campbell blood in him and was a friend of Argyle's. The estate of Glenfernie was not to him then, but his uncle held it and had an heir of his body. My father was poor save in stanchness to the liberties of Kirk and kingdom. My mother was a minister's daughter, and she and her father and mother were among the persecuted for the sake of the true Reformed and Covenanted Church of Scotland. My mother had a burn in her cheek. It was put there, when she was a young lass, by order of Grierson of Lagg. She was set among those to be sold into the plantations in America. A kinsman who had power lifted her from that bog, but much she suffered before she was freed.... When I was little and sat upon her knee I would put my forefinger in that mark. 'It's a seal, laddie,' she would say. 'Sealed to Christ and His true Kirk!' But when I was bigger I only wanted to meet Grierson of Lagg, and grieved that he was dead and gone and that Satan, not I, had the handling of him. My grandfather and mother.... My grandfather was among the outed ministers in Galloway. Thrust from his church and his parish, he preached upon the moors—yea, to juniper and whin-bush and the whaups that flew and nested! Then the persecuted men, women and bairns, gathered there, and he preached to them. Aye, and he was at Bothwell Bridge. Claverhouse's men took him, and he lay for some months in the Edinburgh tolbooth, and then by Council and justiciary was condemned to be hanged. And so he was hanged at the cross of Edinburgh. And what he said before he died was 'With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you' ... My grandmother, for hearing preaching in the fields and for sheltering the distressed for the Covenant's sake, was sent with other godly women to the Bass Rock. There in cold and heat, in hunger and sickness, she bided for two years. When at last they let her body forth her mind was found to be broken.... My father and mother married and lived, until Glenfernie came to him, at Windygarth. I was born at Windygarth. My grandmother lived with us. I was twelve years old before she went from earth. It was all her pleasure to be forth from the house—any house, for she called them all prisons. So I was sent to ramble with her. Out of doors, with the harmless things of earth, she was wise enough—and good company. The old of this countryside remember us, going here and there.... I used to think, 'If I had been living then, I would not have let those things happen!' And I dreamed of taking coin, and of dropping the same coin into the hands that gave.... And so, the other having served your turn, Touris, you will change back to the true Kirk?"
Mr. Touris handled his snuff-box, considered the chasing upon the gold lid. "Those were sore happenings, Glenfernie, but they're past! I make no wonder that, being you, you feel as you do. But the world's in a mood, if I may say it, not to take so hardly religious differences. I trust that I am as religious as another—but my family was always moderate there. In matters political the world's as hot as ever—but there, too, it is my instinct to ca' canny. But if you talk of trade"—he tapped his snuff-box—"I will match you, Glenfernie! If there's wrong, pay it back! Hold to your principles! But do it cannily. Smile when there's smart, and get your own again by being supple. In the end you'll demand—and get—a higher interest. Prosper at your enemy's cost, and take repayment for your hurt sugared and spiced!"
"I'll not do it so!" said Glenfernie. "But I would take my stand at the crag's edge and cry to Grierson of Lagg, 'You or I go down!'"
Mr. Touris brushed the snuff from his ruffles. "It's a great century! We're growing enlightened."
With a movement of her fingers Mrs. Jardine helped to roll from her lap a ball of rosy wool. "Mr. Jardine, will you give me that? Had you heard that Abercrombie's cows were lifted?"
"Aye, I heard. What is it, Holdfast?"
Both dogs had raised their heads.
"Bran is outside," said Strickland.
As he spoke the door opened and there came in a youth of seventeen, tall and well-built, with clothing that testified to an encounter alike with brier and bog. The hound Bran followed him. He blinked at the lights and the fire, then with a gesture of deprecation crossed the hall to the stairway. His mother spoke after him.
"Davie will set you something to eat."
He answered, "I do not want anything," then, five steps up, paused and turned his head. "I stopped at White Farm, and they gave me supper." He was gone, running up the stairs, and Bran with him.
The laird of Glenfernie shaded his eyes and looked at the fire. Mrs. Jardine, working upon the gold streak in a tulip, held her needle suspended and sat for a moment with unseeing gaze, then resumed the bright wreath. The tutor began to think again of Mother Binning, and, following this, of the stepping-stones at White Farm, and Elspeth and Gilian Barrow balanced above the stream of gold. Mr. Touris put up his snuff-box.
"That's a fine youth! I should say that he took after you, Glenfernie. But it's hard to tell whom the young take after!"
The school-room at Glenfernie gave upon the hill's steepest, most craglike face. A door opened on a hand's-breadth of level turf across from which rose the broken and ruined wall that once had surrounded the keep. Ivy overgrew this; below a wide and ragged breach a pine had set its roots in the hillside. Its top rose bushy above the stones. Beyond the opening, one saw from the school-room, as through a window, field and stream and moor, hill and dale. The school-room had been some old storehouse or office. It was stone walled and floored, with three small windows and a fireplace. Now it contained a long table with a bench and three or four chairs, a desk and shelves for books. One door opened upon the little green and the wall; a second gave access to a courtyard and the rear of the new house.
Here on a sunny, still August forenoon Strickland and the three Jardines went through the educational routine. The ages of the pupils were not sufficiently near together to allow of a massed instruction. The three made three classes. Jamie and Alice worked in the school-room, under Strickland's eye. But Alexander had or took a wider freedom. It was his wont to prepare his task much where he pleased, coming to the room for recitation or for colloquy upon this or that aspect of knowledge and the attainment thereof. The irregularity mattered the less as the eldest Jardine combined with a passion for personal liberty and out of doors a passion for knowledge. Moreover, he liked and trusted Strickland. He would go far, but not far enough to strain the tutor's patience. His father and mother and all about Glenfernie knew his way and in a measure acquiesced. He had managed to obtain for himself range. Young as he was, his indrawing, outpushing force was considerable, and was on the way, Strickland thought, to increase in power. The tutor had for this pupil a mixed feeling. The one constant in it was interest. He was to him like a deep lake, clear enough to see that there was something at the bottom that cast conflicting lights and hints of shape. It might be a lump of gold, or a coil of roots which would send up a water-lily, or it might be something different. He had a feeling that the depths themselves hardly knew. Or there might be two things of two natures down there in the lake....
Strickland set Alice to translating a French fable, and Jamie to reconsidering a neglected page of ancient history. Looking through the west window, he saw that Alexander had taken his geometry out through the great rent in the wall. Book and student perched beneath the pine-tree, in a crook made by rock and brown root, overhanging the autumn world. Strickland at his own desk dipped quill into ink-well and continued a letter to a friend in England. The minutes went by. From the courtyard came a subdued, cheerful household clack and murmur, voices of men and maids, with once Mrs. Jardine's genial, vigorous tones, and once the laird's deep bell note, calling to his dogs. On the western side fell only the sough of the breeze in the pine.
Jamie ceased the clocklike motion of his body to and fro over the difficult lesson. "I never understood just what were the Erinnys, sir?"
"The Erinnys?" Strickland laid down the pen and turned in his chair. "I'll have to think a moment, to get it straight for you, Jamie.... The Erinnys are the Fates as avengers. They are the vengeance-demanding part of ourselves objectified, supernaturalized, and named. Of old, where injury was done, the Erinnys were at hand to pull the roof down upon the head of the injurer. Their office was to provide unerringly sword for sword, bitter cup for bitter cup. They never forgot, they always avenged, though sometimes they took years to do it. They esteemed themselves, and were esteemed, essential to the moral order. They are the dark and bitter extreme of justice, given power by the imagination.... Do you think that you know the chapter now?"
Jamie achieved his recitation, and then was set to mathematics. The tutor's quill drove on across the page. He looked up.
"Mr. Touris has come to Black Hill?"
Jamie and Alice worshiped interruptions.
"He has twenty carriers bringing fine things all the time—"
"Mother is going to take me when she goes to see Mrs. Alison, his sister—"
"He is going to spend money and make friends—"
"Mother says Mrs. Alison was most bonny when she was young, but England may have spoiled her—"
"The minister told the laird that Mr. Touris put fifty pounds in the plate—"
Strickland held up his hand, and the scholars, sighing, returned to work. Buzz, buzz! went the bees outside the window. The sun climbed high. Alexander shut his geometry and came through the break in the wall and across the span of green to the school-room.
"That's done, Mr. Strickland."
Strickland looked at the paper that his eldest pupil put before him. "Yes, that is correct. Do you want, this morning, to take up the reading?"
"I had as well, I suppose."
"If you go to Edinburgh—if you do as your father wishes and apply yourself to the law—you will need to read well and to speak well. You do not do badly, but not well enough. So, let's begin!" He put out his hand and drew from the bookshelf a volume bearing the title, The Treasury of Orators. "Try what you please."
Alexander took the book and moved to the unoccupied window. Here he half sat, half stood, the morning light flowing in upon him. He opened the volume and read, with a questioning inflection, the title beneath his eyes, "'The Cranes of Ibycus'?"
"Yes," assented Strickland. "That is a short, graphic thing."
"Ibycus, who sang of love, material and divine, in Rhegium and in Samos, would wander forth in the world and make his lyre sound now by the sea and now in the mountain. Wheresoever he went he was clad in the favor of all who loved song. He became a wandering minstrel-poet. The shepherd loved him, and the fisher; the trader and the mechanic sighed when he sang; the soldier and the king felt him at their hearts. The old returned in their thoughts to youth, young men and maidens trembled in heavenly sound and light. You would think that all the world loved Ibycus.
"Corinth, the jeweled city, planned her chariot-races and her festival of song. The strong, the star-eyed young men, traveled to Corinth from mainland and from island, and those inner athletes and starry ones, the poets, traveled. Great feasting was to be in Corinth, and contests of strength and flights of song, and in the theater, representation of gods and men. Ibycus, the wandering poet, would go to Corinth, there perhaps to receive a crown.
"Ibycus, loved of all who love song, traveled alone, but not alone. Yet shepherds, or women with their pitchers at the spring, saw but a poet with a staff and a lyre. Now he was found upon the highroad, and now the country paths drew him, and the solemn woods where men most easily find God. And so he approached Corinth.
"The day was calm and bright, with a lofty, blue, and stainless sky. The heart of Ibycus grew warm, and there seemed a brighter light within the light cast by the sun. Flower and plant and tree and all living things seemed to him to be glistening and singing, and to have for him, as he for them, a loving friendship. And, looking up to the sky, he saw, drawn out stringwise, a flight of cranes, addressed to Egypt. And between his heart and them ran, like a rippling path that the sun sends across the sea, a stream of good-will and understanding. They seemed a part of himself, winged in the blue heaven, and aware of the part of him that trod earth, that was entering the grave and shadowy wood that neighbored Corinth.
"The cranes vanished from overhead, the sky arched without stain. Ibycus, the sacred poet, with his staff and his lyre, went on into the wood. Now the light faded and there was green gloom, like the depths of Father Sea.
"Now robbers lay masked in the wood—"
Jamie and Alice sat very still, listening. Strickland kept his eyes on the reading youth.
"Now robbers lay masked in the wood—violent men and treacherous, watching for the unwary, to take from them goods and, if they resisted, life. In a dark place they lay in wait, and from thence they sprang upon Ibycus. 'What hast thou? Part it from thyself and leave it with us!'
"Ibycus, who could sing of the wars of the Greeks and the Trojans no less well than of the joys of young love, made stand, held close to him his lyre, but raised on high his staff of oak. Then from behind one struck him with a keen knife, and he sank, and lay in his blood. The place was the edge of a glade, where the trees thinned away and the sky might be seen overhead. And now, across the blue heaven, came a second line of the south-ward-going cranes. They flew low, they flapped their wings, and the wood heard their crying. Then Ibycus the poet raised his arms to his brothers the birds. 'Ye cranes, flying between earth and heaven, avenge shed blood, as is right!'
"Hoarse screamed the cranes flying overhead. Ibycus the poet closed his eyes, pressed his lips to Mother Earth, and died. The cranes screamed again, circling the wood, then in a long line sailed southward through the blue air until they might neither be heard nor seen. The robbers stared after them. They laughed, but without mirth. Then, stooping to the body of Ibycus, they would have rifled it when, hearing a sudden sound of men's voices entering the wood, they took violent fright and fled."
Strickland looked still at the reader. Alexander had straightened himself. He was speaking rather than reading. His voice had intensities and shadows. His brows had drawn together, his eyes glowed, and he stood with nostrils somewhat distended. The emotion that he plainly showed seemed to gather about the injury done and the appeal of Ibycus. The earlier Ibycus had not seemed greatly to interest him. Strickland was used to stormy youth, to its passional moments, sudden glows, burnings, sympathies, defiances, lurid shows of effects with the causes largely unapparent. It was his trade to know youth, and he had a psychologist's interest. He said now to himself, "There is something in his character that connects itself with, that responds to, the idea of vengeance." There came into his memory the laird's talk, the evening of Mr. Touris's visit, in June. Glenfernie, who would have wrestled with Grierson of Lagg at the edge of the pit; Glenfernie's mother and father, who might have had much the same feeling; their forebears beyond them with like sensations toward the Griersons of their day.... The long line of them—the long line of mankind—injured and injurers....
"Travelers through the wood, whose voices the robbers heard, found Ibycus the poet lying upon the ground, ravished of life. It chanced that he had been known of them, known and loved. Great mourning arose, and vain search for them who had done this wrong. But those strong, wicked ones were gone, fled from their haunts, fled from the wood afar to Corinth, for the god Pan had thrown against them a pine cone. So the travelers took the body of Ibycus and bore it with them to Corinth.
"A poet had been slain upon the threshold of the house of song. Sacred blood had spattered the white robes of a queen dressed for jubilee. Evil unreturned to its doers must darken the sunshine of the famous days. Corinth uttered a cry of lamentation and wrath. 'Where are the ill-doers, the spillers of blood, that we may spill their blood and avenge Ibycus, showing the gods that we are their helpers?' But those robbers and murderers might not be found. And the body of Ibycus was consumed upon a funeral pyre.
"The festival hours went by in Corinth. And now began to fill the amphitheater where might find room a host for number like the acorns of Dodona. The throng was huge, the sound that it made like the shock of ocean. Around, tier above tier, swept the rows, and for roof there was the blue and sunny air. Then the voice of the sea hushed, for now entered the many-numbered chorus. Slow-circling, it sang of mighty Fate: 'For every word shall have its echo, and every deed shall see its face. The word shall say, "Is it my echo?" and the deed shall say, "Is it my face?"'—
"The chorus passes, singing. The voices die, there falls a silence, sent as it were from inner space. The open sky is above the amphitheater. And now there comes, from north to south, sailing that sea above, high, but not so high that their shape is indistinguishable, a long flight of cranes. Heads move, eyes are raised, but none know why that interest is so keen, so still. Then from out the throng rises, struck with forgetfulness of gathered Corinth and of its own reasons for being dumb as is the stone, a man's voice, and the fear that Pan gives ran yet around in that voice. 'See, brother, see! The cranes of Ibycus!'
"'Ibycus!' The crowd about those men pressed in upon them. 'What do you know of Ibycus?' And great Pan drove them to show in their faces what they knew. So Corinth took—"
Alexander Jardine shut the book and, leaving the window, dropped it upon the table. His hand shook, his face was convulsed. "I've read as far as needs be. Those things strike me like hammers!" With suddenness he turned and was gone.
Strickland was aware that he might not return that day to the school-room, perhaps not to the house. He went out of the west door and across the grassy space to the gap in the wall, through which he disappeared. Beyond was the rough descent to wood and stream.
Jamie spoke: "He's a queer body! He says he thinks that he lived a long time ago, and then a shorter time ago, and then now. He says that some days he sees it all come up in a kind of dark desert."
Alice put in her word, "Mother says he's many in one, and that the many and one don't yet recognize each other."
"Your mother is a wise woman," said the tutor. "Let me see how the work goes."
The pine-tree, outside the wall, overhung a rude natural stairway of stony ledge and outcropping root with patches of moss and heath. Down this went Alexander into a cool dimness of fir and oak and birch, watered by a little stream. He kneeled by this, he cooled face and hands in the water, then flung himself beneath a tree and, burying his head in his arms, lay still. The waves within subsided, sank to a long, deep swell, then from that to quiet. The door that wind and tide had beaten open shut again. Alexander lay without thinking, without overmuch feeling. At last, turning, he opened his eyes upon the tree-tops and the August sky. The door was shut upon tales of injury and revenge. Between boy and man, he lay in a yearning stillness, colors and sounds and dim poetic strains his ministers of grace. This lasted for a time, then he rose, first to a sitting posture, then to his feet. Crows flew through the wood; he had a glimpse of yellow fields and purple heath. He set forth upon one of the long rambles which were a prized part of life.
An hour or so later he stopped at a cotter's, some miles from home. An old man and a woman gave him an oat cake and a drink of home-brewed. He was fond of folk like these—at home with them and they with him. There was no need to make talk, but he sat and looked at the marigolds while the woman moved about and the old man wove rushes into mats. From here he took to the hills and walked awhile with a shepherd numbering his sheep. Finally, in mid-afternoon, he found himself upon a heath, bare of trees, lifted and purple.
He sat down amid the warm bloom; he lay down. Within was youth's blind tumult and longing, a passioning for he knew not what. "I wish that there were great things in my life. I wish that I were a discoverer, sailing like Columbus. I wish that I had a friend—"
He fell into a day-dream, lapped there in warm purple waves, hearing the bees' interminable murmur. He faced, across a narrow vale, an abrupt, curiously shaped hill, dark with outstanding granite and with fir-trees. Where at the eastern end it broke away, where at its base the vale widened, shone among the lively green of elms turrets and chimneys of a large house. "Black Hill—Black Hill—Black Hill...."
A youth of about his own age came up the path from the vale. Alexander, lying amid the heath, caught at some distance the whole figure, but as he approached lost him. Then, near at hand, the head rose above the brow of the ridge. It was a handsome head, with a cap and feather, with gold-brown hair lightly clustering, and a countenance of spirit and daring with something subtle rubbed in. Head, shoulders, a supple figure, not so tall nor so largely made as was Glenfernie's heir, all came upon the purple hilltop.
Alexander raised himself from his couch in the heather.
"Good day!" said the new-comer.
The youth stood beside him. "I am Ian Rullock."
"I am Alexander Jardine."
"Aye, you've got it."
"Then we're the neighbors that are to be friends."
"If we are to be we are to be.... I want a friend.... I don't know if you're the one that is to answer."
The other dropped beside him upon the heath. "I saw you walking along the hilltop. So when you did not come on I thought I'd climb and meet you. This is a lonely, miserable country!"
Alexander was moved to defend. "There are more miserable! It's got its points."
"I don't see them. I want London!"
"That's Babylon.—It's your own country. You're evening it with England!"
"No, I'm not. But you can't deny that it's poor."
"There's one of its sons, named Touris, that is not poor!"
Rullock rose upon one knee. "The wise man gets rich and the fool stays poor. Do you want to be friends or do you want to fight?"
Alexander clasped his hands behind his head and lay back upon the earth. "No, I do not want to fight—not now! I wouldn't fight you, anyhow, for standing up for one to whom you're beholden."
Silence fell between them, each having eyes upon the other. Something drew each to each, something repelled each from each. It was a question, between those forces, which would gain. Alexander did not feel strange with Ian, nor Ian with Alexander. It was as though they had met before. But how they had met and why, and where and when, and what that meeting had entailed and meant, was hidden from their gaze. The attractive increased over the repellent. Ian spoke.
"There's none down there but my uncle and his sister, my aunt. Come on down and let me show you the place."
"I do not care if I do." He rose, and the two went along the hilltop and down the path.
Ian was the readier in talk. "I am going soon to Edinburgh—to college."
"I'm going, too. The first of the year. I am going to try if I can stand the law."
"I want to be a soldier."
"I don't know what I want.... I want to journey—and journey—and journey ... with a book along."
"Do you like books?"
"I like them right well. Are there any pretty girls around here?"
"I don't know. I don't like girls."
"I like them at times, in their places. You must wrestle bravely, you're so strong in the shoulder and long in the arm!"
"You're not so big, but you look strong yourself."
Each measured the other with his eyes. Friendship was already here. It was as though hand had fitted into glove.
"What is your dog named?"
"Mine's Bran. You come to Glenfernie to-morrow and I'll show you a place that's all mine. It's the room in the old keep. I've books there and apples and nuts and curiosities. There's a big fireplace, and my father's let me build a furnace besides, and I've kettles and crucibles and pans and vials—"
Alexander paused and gazed at Ian, then gave into his keeping the great secret. "Alchemy. I'm trying to change lead into gold."
Ian thrilled. "I'll come! I'll ride over. I've a beautiful mare."
"It's not eight miles—"
"I'll come. We're just in at Black Hill, you see, and I've had no time to make a place like that! But I'll show you my room. Here's the park gate."
They walked up an avenue overarched by elms, to a house old but not so old, once half-ruinous, but now mended and being mended, enlarged, and decorated, the aim a spacious place alike venerable and modern. Workmen yet swarmed about it. The whole presented a busy, cheerful aspect—a gracious one, also, for under a monster elm before the terrace was found the master and owner, Mr. Archibald Touris. He greeted the youths with a manner meant to exhibit the expansive heart of a country gentleman.
"You've found each other out, have you? Why, you look born to be friends! That's as it should be.—And what, Alexander, do you think of Black Hill?"
"It looks finely a rich man's place, sir."
Mr. Touris laughed at his country bluntness, but did not take the tribute amiss. "Not so rich—not so mighty rich. But enough, enough! If Ian here behaves himself he'll have enough!" A master workman called him away. He went with a large wave of the hand. "Make yourself at home, Alexander! Take him, Ian, to see your aunt Alison." He was gone with the workman.
"I'll take you there presently," said Ian. "I'm fond of Aunt Alison—you'll like her, too—but she'll keep. Let's go see my mare Fatima, and then my room."
Fatima was a most beautiful young, snowy Arabian. Alexander sighed with delight when they led her out from her stable and she walked about with Ian beside her, and when presently Ian mounted she curveted and caracoled. Ian and she suited each other. Indefinably, there was about him, too, something Eastern. The two went to and fro, the mare's hoofs striking music from the flags. Behind them ran a gray range of buildings overtopped by bushy willows. Alexander sat on a stone bench, hugged his knees, and felt true love for the sight. Ian had come to him like a gift from the blue.
Ian dismounted, and they watched Fatima disappear into her stall. "Come now and see the house."
The house was large and cumbered with furniture too much and too rich for the Scotch countryside. Ian's room had a great, rich bed and a dressing-table that drew from Alexander a whistle, contemplative and scornful. But there were other matters besides luxury of couch and toilet. Slung against the wall appeared a fine carbine, the pistols and sword of Ian's father, and a wonderful long, twisted, and damascened knife or dirk—creese, Ian called it—that had come in some trading-ship of his uncle's. And he had books in a small closet room, and a picture that the two stood before.
"Where did you get it?"
"There was an Italian who owed my uncle a debt. He had no money, so he gave him this. He said that it was painted a long time ago and that it was very fine."
"What is it?"
"It is a Bible piece. This is a city of refuge. This is a sinner fleeing to it, and here behind him is the avenger of blood. You can't see, it is so dark. There!" He drew the window-curtain quite aside. A flood of light came in and washed the picture.
"I see. What is it doing here?"
"I don't know. I liked it. I suppose Aunt Alison thought it might hang here."
"I like to see pictures in my mind. But things like that poison me! Let's see the rest of the house."
They went again through Ian's room. Coming to a fine carved ambry, he hesitated, then stood still. "I'm going to show you something else! I show it to you because I trust you. It's like your telling me about your making gold out of lead." He opened a door of the ambry, pulled out a drawer, and, pressing some spring, revealed a narrow, secret shelf. His hand went into the dimness and came out bearing a silver goblet. This he set carefully upon a neighboring table, and looked at Alexander somewhat aslant out of long, golden-brown eyes.
"It's a bonny goblet," said Alexander. "Why do you keep it like that?"
Ian looked around him. "Years and years ago my father, who is dead now, was in France. There was a banquet at Saint-Germain. A very great person gave it and was in presence himself. All the gentlemen his guests drank a toast for which the finest wine was poured in especial goblets. Afterward each was given for a token the cup from which he drank.... Before he died my father gave me this. But of course I have to keep it secret. My uncle and all the world around here are Whigs!"
"James Stewart!" quoth Alexander. "Humph!"
"Remember that you have not seen it," said Ian, "and that I never said aught to you but King George, King George!" With that he restored the goblet to the secret shelf, put back the drawer, and shut the ambry door. "Friends trust one another in little and big.—Now let's go see Aunt Alison."
They went in silence along a corridor where every footfall was subdued in India matting. Alexander spoke once:
"I feel all through me that we're friends. But you're a terrible fool there!"
"I am not," said Ian. His voice carried the truth of his own feeling. "I am like my father and mother and the chieftains my kin, and I have been with certain kings ever since there were kings. Others think otherwise, but I've got my rights!"
With that they came to the open door of a room. A voice spoke from within:
Ian crossed the threshold. "May we come in, Aunt Alison? It's Alexander Jardine of Glenfernie."
A tall, three-leaved screen pictured with pagodas, palms, and macaws stood between the door and the rest of the room. "Come, of course!" said the voice behind this.
Passing the last pagoda edge, the two entered a white-paneled parlor where a lady in dove-gray muslin overlooked the unpacking of fine china. She turned in the great chair where she sat. "I am truly glad to see Alexander Jardine!" When he went up to her she took his two hands in hers. "I remember your mother and how fine a lassie she was! Good mind and good heart—"
"We've heard of you, too," answered Alexander. He looked at her in frank admiration, Eh, but you're bonny! written in his gaze.
Mrs. Alison, as they called her, was something more than bonny. She had loveliness. More than that, she breathed a cleanliness of spirit, a lucid peace, a fibered self-mastery passing into light. Alexander did not analyze his feeling for her, but it was presently one of great liking. Now she sat in her great chair while the maids went on with the unpacking, and questioned him about Glenfernie and all the family and life there. She was slight, not tall, with hair prematurely white, needing no powder. She sat and talked with her hand upon Ian. While she talked she glanced from the one youth to the other. At last she said:
"Alexander Jardine, I love Ian dearly. He needs and will need love—great love. If you are going to be friends, remember that love is bottomless.—And now go, the two of you, for the day is getting on."
They passed again the macaw-and-pagoda screen and left the paneled room. The August light struck slant and gold. The two quitted the house and crossed the terrace into the avenue without again encountering the master of the place.
"I will go with you to the top of the hill," said Ian. They climbed the ridge that was like a purple cloud. "I'll come to Glenfernie to-morrow or the next day."
"Yes, come! I'm fond of Jamie, but he's three years younger than I."
"You've got a sister?"
"Alice? She's only twelve. You come. I've been wanting somebody."
"So have I. I'm lonelier than you."
They came to the level top of the heath. The sun rode low; the shadow of the hill stretched at their feet, out over path and harvest-field.
Ian stood still. Alexander, homeward bound, dropped over the crest. The earth wave hid from him Black Hill, house and all. But, looking back, he could still see Ian against the sky. Then Ian sank, too. Alexander strode on toward Glenfernie. He went whistling, in expanded, golden spirits. Ian—and Ian—and Ian! Going through a grove of oaks, blackbirds flew overhead, among and above the branches. The cranes of Ibycus! The phrase flashed into mind. "I wonder why things like that disturb me so!... I wonder if there's any bottom or top to living anyhow!... I wonder—!" He looked at the birds and at the violet evening light at play in the old wood. The phrase went out of his mind. He left the remnant of the forest and was presently upon open moor. He whistled again, loud and clear, and strode on happily. Ian—and Ian—and Ian!
The House of Glenfernie and the House of Touris became friends. A round of country festivities, capped by a great party at Black Hill, wrought bonds of acquaintanceship for and with the Scots family returned after long abode in England. Archibald Touris spent money with a cautious freedom. He set a table and poured a wine better by half than might be found elsewhere. He kept good horses and good dogs. Laborers who worked for him praised him; he proved a not ungenerous landlord. Where he recognized obligations he met them punctually. He had large merchant virtues, no less than the accompanying limitations. He returned to the Church of Scotland.
The laird of Glenfernie and the laird of Black Hill found constitutional impediments to their being more friendly than need be. Each was polite to the other to a certain point, then the one glowered and the other scoffed. It ended in a painstaking keeping of distance between them, a task which, when they were in company, fell often to Mrs. Jardine. She did it with tact, with a twist of her large, humorous mouth toward Strickland if he were by. Admirable as she was, it was curious to see the difference between her method, if method there were, and that of Mrs. Alison. The latter showed no effort, but where she was there fell harmony. William Jardine liked her, liked to be in the room with her. His great frame and her slight one, his rough, massive, somewhat unshaped personality and her exquisite clearness contrasted finely enough. Her brother, who understood her very little, yet had for her an odd, appealing affection, strange in one who had so positively settled what was life and the needs of life. It was his habit to speak of her as though she were more helplessly dependent even than other women. But at times there might be seen who was more truly the dependent.
August passed into September, September into brown October. Alexander and Ian were almost continually in company. The attraction between them was so great that it appeared as though it must stretch backward into some unknown seam of time. If they had differences, these apparently only served in themselves to keep them revolving the one about the other. They might almost quarrel, but never enough to drag their two orbs apart, breaking and rending from the common center. The sun might go down upon a kind of wrath, but it rose on hearts with the difference forgotten. Their very unlikenesses pricked each on to seek himself in the other.
They were going to Edinburgh after Christmas, to be students there, to grow to be men. Here at home, upon the eve of their going, rein upon them was slackened. They would so soon be independent of home discipline that that independence was to a degree already allowed. Black Hill did not often question Ian's comings and goings, nor Glenfernie Alexander's. The school-room saw the latter some part of each morning. For the rest of the day he might be almost anywhere with Ian, at Glenfernie, or at Black Hill, or on the road between, or in the country roundabout.
William Jardine, chancing to be one day at Black Hill, watched from Mrs. Alison's parlor the two going down the avenue, the dogs at their heels. "It's a fair David and Jonathan business!"
"David needed Jonathan, and Jonathan David."
"Had Jonathan lived, ma'am, and the two come to conflict about the kingdom, what then, and where would have flown the friendship?"
"It would have flown on high, I suppose, and waited for them until they had grown wings to mount to it."
"Oh," said the laird, "you're one I can follow only a little way!"
Ian and Alexander felt only that the earth about them was bright and warm.
On a brown-and-gold day the two found themselves in the village of Glenfernie. Ian had spent the night with Alexander—for some reason there was school holiday—the two were now abroad early in the day. The village sent its one street, its few poor lanes, up a bare hillside to the church atop. Poor and rude enough, it had yet to-day its cheerful air. High voices called, flaxen-haired children pottered about, a mill-wheel creaked at the foot of the hill, iron clanged in the smithy a little higher, the drovers' rough laughter burst from the tavern midway, and at the height the kirk was seeing a wedding. The air had a tang of cooled wine, the sky was blue.
Ian and Alexander, coming over the hill, reached the kirk in time to see emerge the married pair with their kin and friends. The two stood with a rabble of children and boys beneath the yew-trees by the gate. The yellow-haired bride in her finery, the yellow-haired groom in his, the dressed and festive following, stepped from the kirkyard to some waiting carts and horses. The most mounted and took place, the procession put itself into motion with clatter and laughter. The children and boys ran after to where the road dipped over the hill. A cluster of village folk turned the long, descending street. In passing they spoke to Alexander and Ian.
"Who was married?—Jock Wilson and Janet Macraw, o' Langmuir."
The two lounged against the kirkyard wall, beneath the yews.
"Marry! That's a strange, terrible, useless word to me!"
"I don't know...."
"Yes, it is!... Ian, do you ever think that you've lived before?"
"I don't know. I'm living now!"
"Well, I think that we all lived before. I think that the same things happen again—"
"Well, let them—some of them!" said Ian. "Come along, if we're going through the glen."
They left the kirkyard for the village street. Here they sauntered, friends with the whole. They looked in at the tavern upon the drovers, they watched the blacksmith and his helper. The red iron rang, the sparks flew. At the foot of the hill flowed the stream and stood the mill. The wheel turned, the water diamonds dropped in sheets. Their busy, idle day took them on; they were now in bare, heathy country with the breathing, winey air. Presently White Farm could be seen among aspens, and beyond it the wooded mouth of the glen. Some one, whistling, turned an elbow of the hill and caught up with the two. It proved to be one several years their senior, a young man in the holiday dress of a prosperous farmer. He whistled clearly an old border air and walked without dragging or clumsiness. Coming up, he ceased his whistling.
"Good day, the both of ye!"
"It's Robin Greenlaw," said Alexander, "from Littlefarm.—You've been to the wedding, Robin?"
"Aye. Janet's some kind of a cousin. It's a braw day for a wedding! You've got with you the new laird's nephew?—And how are you liking Black Hill?"
"I like it."
"I suppose you miss grandeurs abune what ye've got there. I have a liking myself," said Greenlaw, "for grandeurs, though we've none at all at Littlefarm! That is to say, none that's just obvious. Are you going to White Farm?"
Alexander answered: "I've a message from my father for Mr. Barrow. But after that we're going through the glen. Will you come along?"
"I would," said Greenlaw, seriously, "if I had not on my best. But I know how you, Alexander Jardine, take the devil's counsel about setting foot in places bad for good clothes! So I'll give myself the pleasure some other time. And so good day!" He turned into a path that took him presently out of sight and sound.
"He's a fine one!" said Alexander. "I like him."
"Who is he?"
"White Farm's great-nephew. Littlefarm was parted from White Farm. It's over yonder where you see the water shining."
"He's free-mannered enough!"
"That's you and England! He's got as good a pedigree as any, and a notion of what's a man, besides. He's been to Glasgow to school, too. I like folk like that."
"I like them as well as you!" said Ian. "That is, with reservations of them I cannot like. I'm Scots, too."
Alexander laughed. They came down to the water and the stepping-stones before White Farm. The house faced them, long and low, white among trees from which the leaves were falling. Alexander and Ian crossed upon the stones, and beyond the fringing hazels the dogs came to meet them.
Jarvis Barrow had all the appearance of a figure from that Old Testament in which he was learned. He might have been a prophet's right-hand man, he might have been the prophet himself. He stood, at sixty-five, lean and strong, gray-haired, but with decrepitude far away. Elder of the kirk, sternly religious, able at his own affairs, he read his Bible and prospered in his earthly living. Now he listened to the laird's message, nodding his head, but saying little. His staff was in his hand; he was on his way to kirk session; tell the laird that the account was correct. He stood without his door as though he waited for the youths to give good day and depart. Alexander had made a movement in this direction when from beyond Jarvis Barrow came a woman's voice. It belonged to Jenny Barrow, the farmer's unmarried daughter, who kept house for him.
"Father, do you gae on, and let the young gentlemen bide a wee and rest their banes and tell a puir woman wha never gaes onywhere the news!"
"Then do ye sit awhile, laddies, with the womenfolk," said Jarvis Barrow. "But give me pardon if I go, for I canna keep the kirk waiting."
He was gone, staff and gray plaid and a collie with him. Jenny, his daughter, appeared in the door.
"Come in, Mr. Alexander, and you, too, sir, and have a crack with us! We're in the dairy-room, Elspeth and Gilian and me."
She was a woman of forty, raw-boned but not unhandsome, good-natured, capable, too, but with more heart than head. It was a saying with her that she had brains enough for kirk on the Sabbath and a warm house the week round. Everybody knew Jenny Barrow and liked well enough bread of her baking.
The room to which she led Ian and Alexander had its floor level with the turf without the open door. The sun flooded it. There came from within the sound, up and down, of a churn, and a voice singing:
"O laddie, will ye gie to me A ribbon for my fairing?"
It grew that Ian was telling stories of cities—of London and of Paris, for he had been there, and of Rome, for he had been there. He had seen kings and queens, he had seen the Pope—
"Lord save us!" ejaculated Jenny Barrow.
He leaned against the dairy wall and the sun fell over him, and he looked something finer and more golden than often came that way. Young Gilian at the churn stood with parted lips, the long dasher still in her hands. This was as good as stories of elves, pixies, fays, men of peace and all! Elspeth let the milk-pans be and sat beside them on the long bench, and, with hands folded in her lap, looked with brown eyes many a league away. Neither Elspeth nor Gilian was without book learning. Behind them and before them were long visits to scholar kindred in a city in the north and fit schooling there. London and Paris and Rome.... Foreign lands and the great world. And this was a glittering young eagle that had sailed and seen!
Alexander gazed with delight upon Ian spreading triumphant wings. This was his friend. There was nothing finer than continuously to come upon praiseworthiness in your friend!
"And a beautiful lady came by who was the king's favorite—"
"Gude guide us! The limmer!"
"And she was walking on rose-colored velvet and her slippers had diamonds worked in them. Snow was on the ground outside and poor folk were freezing, but she carried over each arm a garland of roses as though it were June—"
Jenny Barrow raised her hands. "She'll sit yet in the cauld blast, in the sinner's shift!"
"And after a time there walked in the king, and the courtiers behind him like the tail of a peacock—"
They had a happy hour in the White Farm dairy. At last Jenny and the girls set for the two cold meat and bannocks and ale. And still at table Ian was the shining one. The sun was at noon and so was his mood.
"You're fey!" said Alexander, at last.
"Na, na!" spoke Jenny. "But, oh, he's the bonny lad!"
The dinner was eaten. It was time to be going.
"Shut your book of stories!" said Alexander. "We're for the Kelpie's Pool, and that's not just a step from here!"
Elspeth raised her brown eyes. "Why will you go to the Kelpie's Pool? That's a drear water!"
"I want to show it to him. He's never seen it."
"It's drear!" said Elspeth. "A drear, wanrestfu' place!"
But Ian and Alexander must go. The aunt and nieces accompanied them to the door, stood and watched them forth, down the bank and into the path that ran to the glen. Looking back, the youths saw them there—Elspeth and Gilian and their aunt Jenny. Then the aspens came between and hid them and the white house and all.
"They're bonny lasses!" said Ian.
"Aye. They're so."
"But, oh, man! you should see Miss Delafield of Tower Place in Surrey!"
"Is she so bonny?"
"She's more than bonny. She's beautiful and high-born and an heiress. When I'm a colonel of dragoons—"
"Are you going to be a colonel of dragoons?"
"Something like that. You talk of thinking that you were this and that in the past. Well, I was a fighting-man!"
"We're all fighting-men. It's only what we fight and how."
"Well, say that I had been a chief, and they lifted me on their shields and called me king, the very next day I should have made her queen!"
"You think like a ballad. And, oh, man, you talk mickle of the lasses!"
Ian looked at him with long, narrow, dark-gold eyes. "They're found in ballads," he said.
Alexander just paused in his stride. "Humph! that's true!..."
They entered the glen. The stream began to brawl; on either hand the hills closed in, towering high. Some of the trees were bare, but to most yet clung the red-brown or the gold-brown dress. The pines showed hard, green, and dead in the shadow; in the sunlight, fine, green-gold, and alive. The fallen leaves, moved by foot or by breeze, made a light, dry, talking sound. The white birch stems clustered and leaned; patches of bright-green moss ran between the drifts of leaves. The sides of the hills came close together, grew fearfully steep. Crags appeared, and fern-crowded fissures and roots of trees like knots of frozen serpents. The glen narrowed and deepened; the water sang with a loud, rough voice.
Alexander loved this place. He had known it in childhood, often straying this way with the laird, or with Sandy the shepherd, or Davie from the house. When he was older he began to come alone. Soon he came often alone, learned every stick and stone and contour, effect of light and streak of gloom. As idle or as purposeful as the wind, he knew the glen from top to bottom. He knew the voice of the stream and the straining clutch of the roots over the broken crag. He had lain on all the beds of leaf and moss, and talked with every creeping or flying or running thing. Sometimes he read a book here, sometimes he pictured the world, or built fantastic stages, and among fantastic others acted himself a fantastic part. Sometimes with a blind turning within he looked for himself. He had his own thoughts of God here, of God and the Kirk and the devil. Often, too, he neither read, dreamed, nor thought. He might lie an hour, still, passive, receptive. The trees and the clouds, crag life, bird life, and flower life, life of water, earth, and air, came inside. He was so used to his own silence in the glen that when he walked through it with others he kept it still. Slightly taciturn everywhere, he was actively so here. The path narrowing, he and Ian must go in single file. Leading, Alexander traveled in silence, and Ian, behind, not familiar with the place, must mind his steps, and so fell silent, too. Here and there, now and then, Alexander halted. These were recesses, or it might be projecting platforms of rock, that he liked. Below, the stream made still pools, or moved in eddies, or leaped with an innumerable hurrying noise from level to level. Or again there held a reach of quiet water, and the glen-sides were soft with weeping birch, and there showed a wider arch of still blue sky. Alexander stood and looked. Ian, behind him, was glad of the pause. The place dizzied him who for years had been away from hill and mountain, pass and torrent. Yet he would by no means tell Alexander so. He would keep up with him.
There was a mile of this glen, and now the going was worse and now it was better. Three-fourths of the way through they came to an opening in the rock, over which, from a shelf above, fell a curtain of brier.
"See!" said Alexander, and, parting the stems, showed a veritable cavern. "Come in—sit down! The Kelpie's Pool is out of the glen, but they say that there's a bogle wons here, too."
They sat down upon the rocky floor strewn with dead leaves. Through the dropped curtain they saw the world brokenly; the light in the cave was sunken and dim, the air cold. Ian drew his shoulders together.
"Here's a grand place for robbers, wraiths, or dragons!"
"Robbers, wraiths, or dragons, or just quiet dead leaves and ourselves. Look here—!" He showed a heap of short fagots in a corner. "I put these here the last time I came." Dragging them into the middle of the rock chamber, he swept up with them the dead leaves, then took from a great pouch that he carried on his rambles a box with flint and steel. He struck a spark upon dry moss and in a moment had a fire. "Is not that beautiful?"
The smoke mounted to the top of the cavern, curled there or passed out into the glen through the briers that dropped like a portcullis. The fagots crackled in the flame, the light danced, the warmth was pleasant. So was the sense of adventure and of solitude a deux. They stretched themselves beside the flame. Alexander produced from his pouch four small red-cheeked apples. They ate and talked, with between their words silences of deep content. They were two comrade hunters of long ago, cavemen who had dispossessed bear or wolf, who might presently with a sharpened bone and some red pigment draw bison and deer in procession upon the cave wall.—They were skin-clad hillmen, shag-haired, with strange, rude weapons, in hiding here after hard fighting with a disciplined, conquering foe who had swords and shining breastplates and crested helmets.—They were fellow-soldiers of that conquering tide, Romans of a band that kept the Wall, proud, with talk of camps and Caesars.—They were knights of Arthur's table sent by Merlin on some magic quest.—They were Crusaders, and this cavern an Eastern, desert cave.—They were men who rose with Wallace, must hide in caves from Edward Longshanks.—They were outlaws.—They were wizards—good wizards who caused flowers to bloom in winter for the unhappy, and made gold here for those who must be ransomed, and fed themselves with secret bread. The fire roared—they were happy, Ian and Alexander.
At last the fagots were burned out. The half-murk that at first was mystery and enchantment began to put on somberness and melancholy. They rose from the rocky floor and extinguished the brands with their feet. But now they had this cavern in common and must arrange it for their next coming. Going outside, they gathered dead and fallen wood, broke it into right lengths, and, carrying it within, heaped it in the corner. With a bough of pine they swept the floor, then, leaving the treasure hold, dropped the curtain of brier in place. They were not so old but that there was yet the young boy in them; he hugged himself over this cave of Robin Hood and swart magician. But now they left it and went on whistling through the glen:
Gie ye give ane, then I'll give twa, For sae the store increases!
The sides of the glen fell back, grew lower. The leap of the water was not so marked; there were long pools of quiet. Their path had been a mounting one; they were now on higher earth, near the plateau or watershed that marked the top of the glen. The bright sky arched overhead, the sun shone strongly, the air moved in currents without violence.
"You see where that smoke comes up between trees? That's Mother Binning's cot."
"She's a wise auld wife. She's a scryer. That's her ash-tree."
Their path brought them by the hut and its bit of garden. Jock Binning, that was Mother Binning's crippled son, sat fishing in the stream. Mother Binning had been working in the garden, but when she saw the figures on the path below she took her distaff and sat on the bench in the sun. When they came by she raised her voice.
"Mr. Alexander, how are the laird and the leddy?"
"They're very well, Mother."
"Ye'll be gaeing sune to Edinburgh? Wha may be this laddie?"
"It is Ian Rullock, of Black Hill."
"Sae the baith o' ye are gaeing to Edinburgh? Will ye be friends there?"
"That we will!"
"Hech, sirs!" Mother Binning drew a thread from her distaff. The two were about to travel on when she stopped them again with a gesture. "Dinna mak sic haste! There's time enough behind us, and time enough before us. And it's a strange warld, and a large, and an auld! Sit ye and crack a bit with an auld wife by the road."
But they had dallied at White Farm and in the cave, and Alexander was in haste.
"We cannot stop now, Mother. We're bound for the Kelpie's Pool."
"And why do ye gae there? That's a drear, wanrestfu' place!" said Mother Binning.
"Ian has not seen it yet. I want to show it to him."
Mother Binning turned her distaff slowly. "Eh, then, if ye maun gae, gae!... We're a' ane! There's the kelpie pool for a'."
"We'll stop a bit on the way back," said Alexander. He spoke in a wheedling, kindly voice, for he and Mother Binning were good friends.
"Do that then," she said. "I hae a hansel o' coffee by me. I'll mak twa cups, for I'll warrant that ye'll baith need it!"
The air was indeed growing colder when the two came at last upon the moor that ran down to the Kelpie's Pool. Furze and moss and ling, a wild country stretched around without trees or house or moving form. The bare sunshine took on a remote, a cool and foreign, aspect. The small singing of the wind in whin and heather came from a thin, eery world. Down below them they saw the dark little tarn, the Kelpie's Pool. It was very clear, but dark, with a bottom of peat. Around it grew rushes and a few low willows. The two sat upon an outcropping of stone and gazed down upon it.
"It's a gey lonely place," said Alexander. "Now I like it as well or better than I do the cave, and now I would leave it far behind me!"
"I like the cave best. This is a creepy place."
"Once I let myself out at Glenfernie without any knowing and came here by night."
Ian felt emulation. "Oh, I would do that, too, if there was any need! Did you see anything?"
"Do you mean the kelpie?"
"No. I saw something—once. But that time I wanted to see how the stars looked in the water."
Ian looked at the water, that lay like a round mirror, and then to the vast shell of the sky above. He, too, had love of beauty—a more sensuous love than Alexander's, but love. This shared perception made one of the bonds between them.
"It was as still—much stiller than it is to-day! The air was clear and the night dark and grand. I looked down, and there was the Northern Crown, clasp and all."
Ian in imagination saw it, too. They sat, chin on knees, upon the moorside above the Kelpie's Pool. The water was faintly crisped, the reeds and willow boughs just stirred.
"But the kelpie—did you ever see that?"
"Sometimes it is seen as a water-horse, sometimes as a demon. I never saw anything like that but once. I never told any one about it. It may have been just one of those willows, after all. But I thought I saw a woman."
"There was a great mist that day and it was hard to see. Sometimes you could not see—it was just rolling waves of gray. So I stumbled down, and I was in the rushes before I knew that I had come to them. It was spring and the pool was full, and the water plashed and came over my foot. It was like something holding my ankles.... And then I saw her—if it was not the willow. She was like a fair woman with dark hair unsnooded. She looked at me as though she would mock me, and I thought she laughed—and then the mist rolled down and over, and I could not see the hills nor the water nor scarce the reeds I was in. So I lifted my feet from the sucking water and got away.... I do not know if it was the kelpie's daughter or the willow—but if it was the willow it could look like a human—or an unhuman—body!"
Ian gazed at the pool. He had many advantages over Alexander, he knew, but the latter had this curious daring. He did more things with himself and of himself than did he, Ian. There was that in Ian that did not like this, that was jealous of being surpassed. And there was that in Ian that would not directly display this feeling, that would provide it, indeed, with all kinds of masks, but would, with certainty, act from that spurring, though intricate enough might be the path between the stimulus and the act.
"It is deep?"
"Aye. Almost bottomless, you would think, and cold as winter."
"Let us go swimming."
"The day's getting late and it's growing cold. However, if you want to—"
Ian did not greatly want to. But if Alexander could be so indifferent, he could be determined and ardent. "What's a little mirk and cold? I want to say I've swum in it." He began to unbutton his waistcoat.
They stripped, left their clothes in the stone's keeping, and ran down the moorside. The light played over their bodies, unblemished, smooth, and healthfully colored, clean-lined and rightly spare. They had beautiful postures and movements when they stood, when they ran; a youthful and austere grace as of Spartan youth plunging down to the icy Eurotas. The earth around lay as stripped as they; the naked, ineffable blue ether held them as it did all things; the wandering air broke against them in invisible surf. They ran down the long slope of the moor, parted the reeds, and dived to meet their own reflections. The water was most truly deep and cold. They struck out, they swam to the middle of the pool, they turned upon their backs and looked up to the blue zenith, then, turning again, with strong arm strokes they sent the wave over each other. They rounded the pool under the twisted willows, beside the shaking reeds; they swam across and across.
Alexander looked at the sun that was deep in the western quarter. "Time to be out and going!" He swam to the edge of the pool, but before he should draw himself out stopped to look up at a willow above him, the one that he thought he might, in the mist, have taken for the kelpie's daughter. It was of a height that, seen at a little distance, might even a tall woman. It put out two broken, shortened branches like arms.... He lost himself in the study of possibilities, balanced among the reeds that sighed around. He could not decide, so at last he shook himself from that consideration, and, pushing into shallow water, stepped from the pool. He had taken a few steps up the moor ere with suddenness he felt that Ian was not with him. He turned. Ian was yet out in the middle ring of the tarn. The light struck upon his head. Then he dived under—or seemed to dive under. He was long in coming up; and when he did so it was in the same place and his backward-drawn face had a strangeness.
Ian sank again.
"He's crampit!" Alexander flashed like a thrown brand down the way he had mounted and across the strip of weeds, and in again to the steel-dark water. "I'm coming!" He gained to his fellow, caught him ere he sank the third time.
Dragged from the Kelpie's Pool, Ian lay upon the moor. Alexander, bringing with haste the clothes from the stone above, knelt beside him, rubbed and kneaded the life into him. He opened his eyes.
Alexander rubbed with vigor. "I'm here. Eh, lad, but you gave me a fright!"
In another five minutes he sat up. "I'm—I'm all right now. Let's get our things on and go."
They dressed, Alexander helping Ian. The blood came slowly back into the latter's cheek; he walked, but he shivered yet.
"Let's go get Mother Binning's coffee!" said Alexander. "Come, I'll put my arm about you so." They went thus up the moor and across, and then down to the trees, the stream, and the glen. "There's the smoke from her chimney! You may have both cups and lie by the fire till you're warm. Mercy me! how lonely the cave would have been if you had drowned!"
They got down to the flowing water.
"I'm all right now!" said Ian. He released himself, but before he did so he turned in Alexander's arm, put his own arm around the other's neck, and kissed him. "You saved my life. Let's be friends forever!"
"That's what we are," said Alexander, "friends forever."
"You've proved it to me; one day I'll prove it to you!"
"We don't need proofs. We just know that we like each other, and that's all there is about it!"
"Yes, it's that way," said Ian, and so they came to Mother Binning's cot, the fire, and the coffee.
Upon a quiet, gray December afternoon, nine years and more from the June day when he had fished in the glen and Mother Binning had told him of her vision of the Jacobite gathering at Braemar, English Strickland, walking for exercise to the village and back, found himself overtaken by Mr. M'Nab, the minister who in his white manse dwelt by the white kirk on the top of the windy hill. This was, by every earthly canon, a good man, but a stern and unsupple. He had not been long in this parish, and he was sweeping with a strong, new besom. The old minister, to his mind, had been Erastian and lax, weak in doctrine and in discipline of the fold. Mr. M'Nab meant not to be weak. He loathed sin and would compel the sinner also to loathe it. Now he came up, tall and darkly clad, and in his Calvinistic hand his Bible.
"Gude day, sir!"
"Good day, Mr. M'Nab!" The two went on side by side. The day was very still, the sky an even gray, snow being prepared. "You saw the laird?"
"Aye. He's verra low."
"He'll not recover I think. It's been a slow failing for two years—ever since Mrs. Jardine's death."
"She was dead before I came to this kirk. But once, when I was a young man, I stayed awhile in these parts. I remember her."
"She was the best of women."
"So they said. But she had not that grip upon religion that the laird has!"
Mr. M'Nab directed his glance upon the Glenfernie tutor. He did not think that this Englishman, either, had much grip upon religion. He determined, at the first opportunity, to call his attention to that fact and to strive to teach his fingers how to clasp. He had a craving thirst for the saving of souls, and to draw one whole from Laodicea was next best to lifting from Babylon. But to-day the laird and his spiritual concerns had the field.
"He comes, by the mother's side, at least, of godly stock. His mother's father was martyred for the faith in the auld persecuting time. His grandmother wearied her mind away in prison. His mother suffered much when she was a lassie."
"It's small wonder that he has nursed bitterness," said Strickland. "He must have drunk in terror and hate with her milk.... He conquered the terror."
"'Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies.'—What else should his heart do but burn with a righteous wrath?"
Strickland sighed, looking at the quiet gray hills and the vast, still web of cloud above. "It's come to be a withering fire, hunting fuel everywhere! I remember when he held it in bounds, even when for a time it seemed to die out. But of late years it has got the better of him. At last, I think, it is devouring himself."
M'Nab made a dissenting sound. "He has got the implicit belief in God that I see sair lack of elsewhere! He holds fast to God."
"Aye. The God who slays the Amalekites."
M'Nab turned his wintry glance upon him. "And is not that God?"
The other looked at the hill and at the vast, quiet, gray field of cloud. "Perhaps!... Let's talk of something else. I am too tired to argue. I sat up with him last night."
The minister would have preferred to continue to discuss the character of Deity. He turned heavily. "I was in company, not long ago, with some gentlemen who were wondering why you stayed on at Glenfernie House. They said that you had good offers elsewhere—much better than with a Scots laird."
"I promised Mrs. Jardine that I would stay."
"While the laird lived?"
"No, not just that—though I think that she would have liked me to do so. But so long as the laird would keep Jamie with him at home."
"What will he do now—Jamie?"
"He has set his heart on the army. He's strong of body, with a kind of big, happy-go-luckiness—"
A horseman came up behind them. It proved to be Robin Greenlaw, of Littlefarm. He checked his gray and exchanged greetings with the minister and the tutor. "How does the laird find himself the day?" he asked Strickland.
"No better, I think, Mr. Greenlaw."
"I'm sorry. It's the end, I jalouse! Is Mr. Alexander come?"
"We look for him to-morrow."
"The land and the folk'll be blithe to see him—if it was not for the occasion of his coming! If there's aught a body can do for any at Glenfernie—?"
"Every one has been as good as gold, Greenlaw. But you know there's not much at the last that can be done—"
"No. We all pass, and they that bide can but make the dirge. But I'll be obliged if you'll say to Mr. Alexander that if there is aught—" He gathered up the reins. "It will be snowing presently. I always thought that I'd like to part on a day like this, gray and quiet, with all the color and the shouting lifted elsewhere." He was gone, trotting before them on his big horse.