By ELINOR MACARTNEY LANE
Author of "Mills of God"
A. L. BURT COMPANY, Publishers NEW YORK
COPYRIGHT, 1904, BY D. APPLETON AND COMPANY
Published May, 1904
To Frank Brett Noyes Who accepted, with a kind letter, The first story I ever wrote, This tale of Nancy Stair is dedicated, As a tribute of affection, From one old friend to another.
"For woman is not undeveloped man, But diverse; could we make her as the man, Sweet Love were slain: his dearest bond is this, Not like to like, but like in difference."
"Auld Nature swears, the lovely dears, Her noblest work she classes, O, Her 'prentice hand she tried on man, And then she made the lasses, O."
"Ye can't educate women as you can men. They're elemental creatures; and ye can no more change their natures than ye can stop fire from burning."
PREFACE BY LORD STAIR
Two excellent accounts of the beautiful Nancy Stair have already been published; the first by Mrs. George Opie, in the Scots News, giving a detailed account of the work on the burnside, and a more recent one by Professor Erskine, of our own University, which is little more than a critical dissertation upon Nancy as a poet; the heart of the matter with him being to commend her English verses, as well as those in "gude braid Scot."
With these accounts to be secured so easily it may seem presumptuous, as well as superfluous, for me to undertake a third. I state at the outset, therefore, that it is beyond my ambition and my abilities to add a word to stories told so well. Nor do I purpose to mention either the work on the burn or Nancy's song-making, save when necessary for clearness.
For me, however, the life of Nancy Stair has a far deeper significance than that set forth by either of these gifted authors. My knowledge of her was naturally of the most intimate; I watched her grow from a wonderful child into a wonderful woman; and saw her, with a man's education, none but men for friends, and no counselings save from her own heart, solve most wisely for the race the problem put to every woman of gift; and with sweetest reasoning and no bitter renouncings enter the kingdom of great womanhood.
To tell this intimate side of her life with what skill I have is the chief purpose of my writing, but there are two other motives almost as strong. The first of these is to clear away the mystery of the murder which for so long clouded our lives at Stair. To do this there is no man in Scotland to-day so able as myself. It was I who bid the Duke to Stair; the quarrel which brought on the meeting fell directly beneath my eyes; I heard the shots and found the dead upon that fearful night, and afterward went blindfolded through the bitter business of the trial. I was the first, as well, to scent the truth at the bottom of the defense, and have in my possession, as I write, the confession which removed all doubt as to the manner in which the deed was committed.
The second reason is to set clear Nancy's relation to Robert Burns, of which too much has been made, and whose influence upon her and her writings has been grossly exaggerated. Her observation of natural genius in him changed her greatly, and I have tried to set this forth with clearness; but it affected her in a very different manner from that which her two famous biographers have told, and I have it from her own lips that it was because of the Burns episode that she stopped writing altogether.
If it be complained against me that the tale has my own life's story in it, I would answer to the charge that only a great and passionate first love could have produced a child like Nancy, and I believe that the world is ever a bit interested in the line of people whose loves and hates have produced a recognized genius. Then, too, the circumstances attending her birth had more influence on her after life than may at first be seen, giving me as they did such a tenderness for her that I have never been able to cross her in any matter whatever.
Much of the story, of which I was not directly a witness, comes from Nancy herself. I have sent the tale to Alexander Carmichael as well, and in all important matters his recollections accord with mine.
There came to me but yesterday, in this queer old city, a letter from him urging me back to Stair, closed with a stanza that was not born to die:
"Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And never brought to min', Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And the days of Auld Lang Syne?"
They should not, Sandy, and none know it better than we; and I long for a grip of your hand, lad, and to feel the winds blow through the rowans at Stair and the copper birches of Arran; to hear the blackbirds whistle across the gowan-tops; to see the busy burn-folk through the break in the old south wall; and with the ending of these writings my steps are turned toward home.
I.—AT STAIR HOUSE, NEAR EDINBURGH, IN 1768 1
II.—I GO ON A CRUISE AND FIND A HIDDEN TREASURE 15
III.—THE TREASURE BECOMES MINE, BUT IS CLAIMED BY ITS OWNER 29
IV.—ENTER NANCY STAIR 41
V.—I MAKE THE ACQUAINTANCE OF A STRANGE CHILD 53
VI.—NANCY BEGINS HER STUDY OF THE LAW 61
VII.—I TAKE NANCY'S EDUCATION IN HAND 74
VIII.—THE DAFT DAYS 86
IX.—DANVERS BECOMES BETTER ACQUAINTED WITH NANCY 105
X.—NANCY VISITS HIS GRACE OF BORTHWICKE 124
XI.—DANVERS CARMICHAEL MAKES A PROPOSAL 142
XII.—I MEET A GREAT MAN 159
XIII.—THE DUKE VISITS STAIR FOR THE FIRST TIME 166
XIV.—NANCY MEETS HER RIVAL 174
XV.—CONCERNING DANVERS CARMICHAEL AND HIS GRACE OF BORTHWICKE 185
XVI.—NANCY STAIR ARRANGES MATTERS 204
XVII.—"THE SWAP O' RHYMING WARE" 213
XVIII.—I GO DOWN TO MAUCHLINE 232
XIX.—THE QUARREL BETWEEN DANVERS AND NANCY 241
XX.—DANVERS GIVES US A GREAT SURPRISE 259
XXI.—THE ALLISONS' BALL AND THAT WHICH FOLLOWED IT 268
XXII.—A STRANGE MEETING 286
XXIII.—A FALSE RUMOR CAUSES TROUBLE 298
XXIV.—THE MURDER 307
XXV.—THE TRIAL 324
XXVI.—THE DEFENSE 351
XXVII.—THE MISTS ALL CLEARED AWAY 361
AT STAIR HOUSE, NEAR EDINBURGH, IN 1768
By reason of a breakneck ride through the Pentlands, I entered the dining-room at Stair very late one morning to find Huey MacGrath in a state of deepest gloom waiting to serve my breakfast.
"Good morning, Huey," I said, opening The Glasgow Sentinel which had come by the post.
"Good morning, my lord," he returned, in a grudging tone.
"It's a fine morning," said I.
"Ye think sae!" with a show of great surprise.
"Why, man!" I cried, "can not ye see for yourself?"
"We've the spring rains to come yet."
"They're by these ten days," I answered.
"Nae, nae," he said quietly. "That was jest the equinoctial, I'm thinking."
"The equinoctial comes in March, man!" I observed with some surprise.
"Tammas was telling me yesterday that the roads to London were fair impassable."
"Nonsense," said I. "The summer's here, Huey."
"There's a chill at the gloamin', yet. Nae, nae," he went on earnestly, "simmer's far awa',—I've seen snaw's late's this!"
"Ye've had wonderful eyesight," I laughed, seeing the point toward which this talk was aimed. "And did ye hear nothing of tidal waves, Huey?" I asked; "with impassable roads to London, and snow in June, you've surely heard of some disasters by sea."
"Ah!" he cried, "ye can tell of what I'm thinking, for I've seen the signs of it in ye for a fortnight back. You're like your father before you, and your grandfather, as weel, for the curse of wandering seems to follow the name of Stair. With the first warm day ye have your windows wide open; and next your beds are into a draught fit to blaw ye from between the sheets; and then ye're up in the morning, aff on a hoorse scouring the hills as tho' ye were gyte; and at the end your valise's packed, the coach stopped, and ye aff amang the heathen, Gude alane kens wheer!
"Ah, laddie!" he continued, his voice changed to an affectionate wail, "dinna be gane awa'! Ye've niver seen Stair in the simmer time; but when the elderberries and lilacs flower on the burn; and the gilly flowers and hollyhocks are bloomin' by the north tower; when the wind blows soft through the rowans, and the pineys' pink and white faces, as big as cabbages, nod against the old south wall, there's no bonnier place in Scotland than your own place of Stair."
He was so moved at the thought of my leaving him, that I answered in some haste,
"In truth, Huey, I've no thought of going away."
"Ah," he answered, "ye don't know it, but ye have. It's been in ye for a week back,"—and casting his eye out of the window, "there's Mr. Carmichael now, riding in by the Holm gate. I'll jest open the door till him."
This was an entirely unnecessary attention on Huey's part, as Sandy Carmichael, whose estate of Arran Towers joins my own on the west, generally opened the door of Stair for himself, or the windows either, for the matter of that, if the latter were more convenient entrance from the place he happened to be.
My recollections of Sandy begin with my recollections of myself. As lads together, indeed before we were long out of skirts, we guddled for fish in the burn-water; went birds' nesting, raced our ponies, fought each other behind the stables and made a common stock of our money for the purchase of dimpies, peoys and jelly-tarts. We attended the High School together and upon leaving it chose the same college, where Sandy ran a merry pace, throwing his money out of the windows, as it were, and gaining for himself the reputation of wearing more waistcoats, drinking more whisky, making love to more women, and writing better verses, than any other man in the University.
He was a big, athletic, clean-limbed fellow, with brown hair, a bright face, warm eyes, and friendly genial ways which came from the kindest heart in the world. Five years before the time of which I write, which would be in 1763, he had married the Honorable Miss Llewellyn from the north, a pitiable pale-colored lady, who, half crazed by jealousy and ill health, was sending him back to unmarried ways again. Being only sister to Lord Glenmore, who had no heirs and was subject to seizures of a very malignant type, it was yearly expected that the title would come to Sandy's bit of a boy, a handsome-faced little fellow of four, who paid me long visits at self-selected times, demanding my watch, a pipe to smoke, and horses to ride.
Before Huey had time to reach the door, Sandy, in his riding clothes, with his cap on the back of his head, stood looking in at me. There was a scowl between his brows, and by this as well as other certain signs, I knew that all was not well with him.
"Will ye go on a cruise with me?" says he from the doorway with no introduction whatever.
"Would it be an unseemly prying into your affairs to ask where to?" I inquired with a smile.
"North or south," said he, still keeping his place by the door. "It's immaterial to me, so I escape accompanying my womenfolk to London."
"And if I go with ye," says I, "your wife will like me less than she does now."
"That would be impossible, so ye needn't worry over it," he returned dryly. "The only good word ye ever had from her was that if ye'd been a less handsome man ye might have been a better one."
"And even that could scarce be termed fulsome flattery," I observed.
"Will ye go!" he repeated, his mind set on the one point.
A sudden thought, bred of some news in the paper which I had just received, came to me upon the instant.
"Let us take the boat from Leith, and go north by the Orkney and Hebrides Islands, through the Minch to the west coast. There are all kinds of stories afloat concerning the gipsies and free traders who live in those deep coves; we might fall in with a pirate ship——"
"Or find a hidden treasure!" he said scoffingly, as he seated himself on the other side of the table and took some coffee, the frown gone, and the Sandy I knew with the bright face and laughing eye back again.
"Aye," he went on in his humorous way, "I am convinced 'twill be hidden treasure we'll find, Jock. We'll go ashore at midnight, and under a stunted pine will be a sailor's chest. Hidden treasures are always found in sailors' chests, ye know. And taking a three-foot bar of iron, which every gentleman in tales carries concealed upon his person, we, you and I,—none of the others, of course,—will pry this chest open—to find ducats and doubloons, and piastres, and sous-marquees—and a map of the Spanish Main and the Dry Tortugas—with crosses in blood. I'll tell you, ye can have my share of it now," he cried, laughing at me.
"Ye're over generous," says I, for jesting of this kind was a thing to which I was accustomed in him.
He dropped the raillery on the moment, however, to take a note-book from his pocket.
"Whom shall we ask?" he inquired in his natural voice.
Now I had one other friend, almost as dear to me as Sandy, named Hugh Pitcairn. But while there could be no doubt of the affection each had for me, there could be equally no doubt of the dislike they bore each other, this feeling having grown from the first day they met in the hockey grounds of the High School, where almost at sight of each other they fell to fighting, until finally pulled apart by some of the older lads.
"In this connection," said I, getting back at him a bit, for his jeering at my plans, "what do you think of Hugh Pitcairn?"
"In this connection," he returned dryly, "I do not think of Hugh Pitcairn at all."
"It's strange," I went on, in the same remote tone, as though it were a subject mentioned for the first time, "that ye should dislike him so."
"It can not match the strangeness of any one's enduring his society," he replied with heat.
"Well, well," said I, putting Pitcairn out of the talk. "What do you say to Geordie MacAllister?"
"The very man," he cried, writing the name in the book.
"And Graham Annesley," I went on.
"And Donald McDonald."
"He won't do at all!" Sandy broke out in a determined way. "He's gone the way of all trouble, which is the way of women. He's crazed about the Lady Mary Llewellyn and we'll have no one along who is sighing for a woman, be she his own or another man's wife. That's what I like in you, Jock Stair," he said, gazing at me with approval. "Ye've your faults——"
"No?" I said, with pretended amazement.
"Ye'd gamble on the flight of angels——"
"Ye're speaking of some one else, maybe," I suggested.
"And ye drink more than ye should,—but you're my own man where the women are concerned; for never since I knew ye,—and that's ever since ye were born,—have I seen ye look with wanting at maid, wife, or widow, and ye're wise in that," he added in a tone whose bitterness came from the unhappiness of his own wedded life.
To put the talk into a brighter channel, I hastened to suggest a fourth and fifth companion for the cruise, upon which we fell to passing judgment on the companionable men of our acquaintance, weighing their congeniality to us and to each other until one o'clock was past before we set about the business of delivering our invitations.
Offering to accompany Sandy on these errands, I thought I heard a groan, and on leaving the dining-room I made sure of another, and on the instant knew that they came from Huey MacGrath.
This expedition falling so quickly on the heels of his warning was an odd occurrence and for some reason, perhaps in remembrance of my recent assertion that I had no heart to leave Stair, there fell a funny performance between us. He handed me my cap and coat, determined to catch my eye, and I, having no desire to see the reproach which his glance contained, was equally set to avoid it; so that I received my cap with my eyes on my boots, my gloves with an averted head, and my riding-stick looking out of the doorway, and mounted my horse with no small resentment in my breast at this surveillance from a servant which would never be borne in any spot outside of Scotland.
"I'm thinking," said I to Sandy as we rode toward the town gate, "I'm thinking of discharging Huey when I come back."
"That will make the fifty-third time," said Sandy, with a grin, as he started his horse off at a gallop.
After the visits with Sandy, I kept an engagement with Hugh Pitcairn at the Star and Garter, just around the corner from the Tron Church, at four o'clock of the same day. It was a few minutes past the hour as I neared the place, to find him standing by the doorway, his back to the passers by, a French cap pulled low over his eyes, reading from a ponderous book which he was balancing with some difficulty against the door-rail.
"I hope I've not kept ye waiting!" said I.
"Ye have kept me waiting," he answered, but with no resentment.
"I've been seeing some men about a cruise, and it took more time than I thought," I explained by way of apology.
"You're off on a cruise?" he asked, as we seated ourselves at one of the tables.
"With the Carmichael fellow, I suppose?" he asked.
"I am going with Mr. Carmichael," said I.
"Well, it's just no thing for you to be doing at all," he returned; "you should stay at home and look after your affairs. The Carlyles have broken the entail, and you may be able to buy the land on the other side of Burnwater that you've been wanting so long."
"And why can't you attend to the matter?" I cried. "Ye handle all my business, and do it far better than I ever could, beside, I can leave procuration——"
He smiled at this in an exasperatingly superior way as though I had used the word loosely, and went on: "The estate itself is to be looked to," and here he seemed to have learned his lesson out of Huey MacGrath's book.
"As for the house," I broke in, "it's taken better care of in my absence than when I am in it; and it's money in my pocket to leave matters with MacGrath to manage. I can not see," I said with some heat, perhaps helped by the brandy I was drinking, "why in heaven's name I shouldn't go on a cruise if I desire to! If I'd ties of any kind, a wife or children——"
This was Pitcairn's chance, and he broke my talk to take it.
"Your friend Carmichael has both, and to them his first duty lies." And any one with his wits about him can imagine the rest of the talk, for he fell into an attitude of strong disapproval of the whole plan; stating in a cold legal way that Sandy had already let me in for more than one trouble; had caused me to spend large sums of money, foolishly doing the like himself; that we were both incapable of good husbandry; given to drinking more than was wise, and over fond of the society of persons whom we were pleased to call men of talent, but who were, by his judgment, doggerel-making people, of loose morals, with no respect for fact, the conduct which became the general, or the laws of Christ.
He went over for the twentieth time Sandy's arrest for pulling off most of the door-knockers in Edinburgh; this event having occurred when the lad was but sixteen and home for the vacation; as well as the scandal of his having bid the Lord President in a high and excited voice to stick his head out of the window, and upon that venerable gentleman complying, shouting: "Now stick it in again!"
At the end of this discourse he invited me to remain at home with him and spend the evenings over a new treatise on the Laws of Evidence which he had just brought from the University, at which I laughed in his face and told him that I had neither the wit nor the inclination for such an enterprise. His last words were to the effect that there would be trouble bred of the expedition, and he closed his harangue in the following manner, as we stood on the South Bridge, where our ways parted:
"The Carmichael man has no judgment either for your affairs or his own. His heart may be all right, but he's got no common sense, and a man like that is little better than a fool."
I GO ON A CRUISE AND FIND A HIDDEN TREASURE
In spite of Hugh Pitcairn we were off the following Monday, going out of Leith, with a clear sky, a stiff breeze, and six men of our own feather, caring little where our destination lay, if the cards turned well, the drink held plenty, and the ocean rolled beneath us. North we went; north till the sea itself seemed quieter and lonelier; north where the twilight held far into the night, to be back by two of the morning; north by John o' Groats and the Pentland Skerries; till one June day found us turned far down the wild west coast; a colorless cruise behind us, with never a storm, a pirate ship, nor a sight of the jolly roger.
At the end of the day of which I speak we were lying in toward shore, and I was aft with a pipe for company, when Sandy came from behind the pile of sail-cloth against which I sat to say that the brig would have to lay by for repairs and to inquire what I thought of going ashore for an adventure.
"Where are we?" I asked.
"Somewhere above Landgore. 'Tis the very place for treasure," he added, with a laugh.
"There's nothing would suit me better than a night ashore," said I with truth, for I had had enough of the drink, the slack language, and the rough sea life, and looked forward to the land with a pleasant hurry of thoughts.
The moon shone bright in a sky of plain dark blue, making a path of swaying gold toward the beach, where we could see the water curl upon the sands like suds. A little back was a steep rise of granite rocks, with gorse and heather growing on the sides, at the bottom of which some gipsies, or free-traders, had built a great fire, and we heard them singing a drunken catch in chorus, and saw them whirling round and round the fire in a circle, as we stepped ashore from the boat.
An ugly silence fell as we approached them, and their women drew off, thinking that we were government men, no doubt; but finding that we had no weightier business than to get some information as to our whereabouts, one of them gave us word that the path up the cliff led to the Cuckoo Tavern, kept by Mother Dickenson, where we could obtain what refreshment we needed as well as lodgment for the night. We had gone some fifty feet when one of the men cried after us:
"An' if luck's wi' ye, ye may have a glyff of the handsomest lass in Scotland," at which a woman cuffed him with a ringing sound. There followed a muttered curse and a roar of laughter, which was the last we had of them.
The path up the cliff twisted and roved in such a manner to avoid the many boulders that the inn-light proved little better than a will-o'-the-wisp to guide us, and it was in a breathless condition that we reached the quaint low house, which was both neat and comfortable, seeming peculiarly so perhaps after our long voyage.
A queer old woman, with a humorous wry face, yellow and deeply lined, sharp black eyes, and a ready manner, stood behind a small bar and took note of us upon our entrance, with the air of one well able to judge our rank and bearing.
The rest went off with her to inspect the chambers which she was able to offer, laughing and chaffing each other as was their way, leaving me alone in the main room with my back to the fire. As I stood thus I heard a sudden noise, saw the curtain of a door at the side raised, and a girl in a black robe with a lighted candle in her hand looked in at me.
For twenty-seven years I had waited for a sight of that girl!
She was tall and slight, and carried herself with the careless grace of a child; her hair was of a bronze color, parted over the brows and rippling back into a great knot low on the head; her skin was cream, with a faint, steady pink burning in the cheeks, but as is the way of men, it was the eyes and lips I noted most; eyes of gray, filled with poetry and passion; eyes which looked out under brows black and heavy and between lashes, curled and long, giving a peculiar significance to the glance. The lips were scarlet, the upper one being noticeably short and full; lips mutable and inviting, lips that were made for mine—and all this I knew in the first minute that our eyes met, when, as it seemed to me, our two souls rushed together.
At gaze with each other we stood, no word spoken between us, for a full minute of time, when the noise of the men coming back disturbed her; she dropped the curtain and the light of her candle disappeared, a little at a time, as though she were walking from me down some long passage-way.
I do not know how love comes to other natures than my own, and men of notable integrity have told me how leisurely they strolled into the condition of loving; but for me, by one questioning glance from a pair of eyes, half gray, half blue, I was sunk fathoms deep in love, in love that knows nothing, cares for nothing but the one beloved. Soul and body I was signed, sealed, and delivered, "hers," in that first sight I had of her in the doorway with the candle in her hand and the crimson curtain framing her as if she were a picture.
We had supper, of which I ate nothing; liquor, of which I drank nothing; and merry talk, in which I took no part, Sandy jeering at me for a dull ass, I remember, and pretending regret at not having asked the Reverend Slowboy in my place; but his talk was of no moment to me, for my pulse was going like a trip-hammer, my brain reeled with that headiest wine of Nature's brewing, and I wanted to get out under the stars and be alone.
Having some skill at singing, Geordie MacAllister urged that I recall the catch we had heard on the beach; but finding me adamant against such an exhibition, Dame Dickenson offered a suggestion for our entertainment.
"There's a ward of mine here, a young lady, who has the music, and, seeing ye're all gentlemen, might be urged to a song."
Five minutes from the time that she was seated with us, I had heard her voice, our eyes had held each other again, and I saw a carnation flush bloom suddenly in her cheek as our hands touched. She brought with her a curious old instrument, like a lute with many strings, and upon this she struck chords to the song she sang, "The Wronged Love of Great Laird Gregory," the melody of which seems ever to be with me; and yesterday, when I heard Nancy crooning it to herself, I cried aloud as a woman might, for the unfulfilled in all our lives, and my dead youth, and Marian Ingarrach.
And at her singing, the four of us—or five it may be, for I can not now rightly recall whether Sawney MacAllister came ashore that night or not—sat before her beauty as though it were a part of witchery, for there was a bookish strangeness to it that on this wild coast, in a nest of smugglers and free-traders, after a cruise of rough living and deep drinking, we should be listening to the voice of a girl whose beauty was upsetting to the senses of man and whose bearing denoted breeding of the highest order.
She left us after a second singing, bidding us good-night in a laughing, friendly fashion, and looking at every one, save me, full in the eyes, as a child might have done; but when her hand touched mine, her eyes fell before me, and I, who knew something of woman's ways, felt with a leaping heart that she knew.
The rest were gone from the room when Sandy Carmichael, who had made the pretense of another pipe, came back to me as I stood looking into the fire.
"You saw her first!" he said.
"Aye," I answered, "and it's all over with me!"
"Is it to the church door?" he asked.
"It's to the foot of the Throne itself," I answered. "It's wherever she leads," for I was young and phrase-making was in the blood.
"Well," he says, "ye're Lord Stair, and if ye choose to marry a gips——"
"Choose!" I cried. "I have no choice. The men who stand balancing as to whether they will or they won't, with 'Would it be wise?' or 'Acceptable to the world?' I have no knowledge of, and want none, as I have told you often."
"Well," said he, "I've always called you crazy, Jock Stair," and here he put his hand lovingly on my shoulder, "but I never discovered until to-night how crazy you are. I'm not denying there's something fine about it; but is it sensible? Think o' Pitcairn," he said, with a laughing devil in his eye.
"Pitcairn may go to perdition," I answered with some heat.
"It's not Pitcairn that's on his way there, I'm thinking," he returned, with a droll look; "but we must all learn by experience, so gang your own gate. We're off at five in the morning. Do you go?"
He saw by my manner that nothing save an earthquake could get me from the house, and whistling, with some significance, "The Deil Has Nae Got all the Fools," he left me without a good-by word. After he had gone I went forth into the open to be alone. The stars were shining brightly through white clouds, which the sea winds drove across the sky, and far down the cliff I could see the great beach fire and catch the laughter and song of the gipsy folk and free-traders.
Tales were not wanting of the men of Stair who had lost their wits when crossed in love; who had run away with other men's wives and had abided with some jauntiness the world's dispraise, cleaving until death did them part to the one woman who seemed God-made for them. I had thought before this, in a slighting manner, of the strange doings of my forebears; but the thing was upon me, and, come life, come death, I knew that there was henceforward for me but one woman in the world, Marian Ingarrach, an Irish gipsy-girl, with a beauty beyond the natural, and a voice of music like the sounding of an old harp.
I stood under the great tree, the blood of a man and a lover pulsing sweet and feverishly through my veins, when I saw her come out on the balcony, over the sea door, where some posies grew, which she had come to move back from the wind. I was not one to lose an opportunity like this, for nature in me was strong and impulse-driven. I crossed the space which divided us and spoke up to her.
"Will you come down?" I called to her; "I have that which I would say to you to-night."
She started at the sound of my voice, hesitated for a moment, and with no answer in words disappeared from the porch, coming out of the door near which I stood.
Her hair, in two long plaits, hung almost to her knees, and by the moonlight I could see the flush of her cheek and the silver sheen of her eyes as she looked up at me with questioning in her glance, and I remember now the clutch at my throat which seemed to hold back all I would say, as I took off my cap and stood before her.
"I love you," I said headily, "I love you, and I want you for my wife," and, seeing the highness of the absurdity that my first words to her should be a proposal of marriage, I cried,
"Oh, my dear! my dear! ye'll think me daft to talk thus; but we men of Stair go gyte in these affairs. 'Tis love at first sight with us, or none at all; but if ye'll have me, I'll make ye Lady Stair; and what's far more, I'll try to make you a happy woman the rest of your days.
"It seems wild enough for me to be talking so," I went on, "to you, who do not even know my name," and here she interrupted me with a shy smile.
"Jock!" she said, reaching forth her hand, and the door of heaven opened, as it seemed.
"How did you know?" I asked.
"Sure," she said, "I listened for it. The other big man called you that."
"You cared to know?" I whispered, for my arm was around her by this time, and the world had slipped away.
"And you think you could learn to love me, Marian?"
I felt the little body quiver in my arms, and when she spoke there was fear in her voice.
"Do you think it is right?" she asked. "Do you think it can be right? It seems as though for years, for all my life, I had waited for your coming, and I loved you the minute I saw you—you whom a few hours agone I did not know to be a living man. Tell me," she went on excitedly, "you who are a man and of the world, can this be all good?"
"It is as God meant such things to fall," I answered her, "and He deal so with me as I shall deal with thee."
"But," she persisted, "are you sure you understand? You tell me you are Lord of Stair, and I've no doubt of it, for truth shines from your eyes; but what do you ken of me? I who have no name, who was left by some gipsy folk at the inn door, and whose breeding—what I've of it—came from a Jacobite priest who teaches by the Cairn Mills."
There was never another voice so full of music, so caressing or so feminine, as Marian Ingarrach's, none, not even Nancy Stair's; and as she uttered these depreciations of herself, I exclaimed:
"You are as I would have you."
"And you'll not be ashamed of me?"
It was in this question that I had her first teasing of me, for she was woman, and knew as well as I of the beauty, which gave her a queen's right to the hearts of men.
"Ashamed of you," I cried. "Ah, girl, dinna ye see I canna get my breath for wantin' ye?"
She stood looking at me, her chin well up and an amused and a glad look in her eyes.
"Ah," she said at length, "you are the one who is worth all that a woman has to give, and the blood of all the lawless folk of which I come speaks for you, Jock Stair! For ye woo as a man should woo; and I'm won as a woman should be won, because she has no will left to choose."
And she turned her face toward mine.
"I'm just yours for the asking, Jock."
I drew her to me, and we kissed each other beneath the starlit blue, with the sea wind blowing our hair and the gipsy singing coming, in broken bits of melody, up through the gorse and heather.
I made a song of it after, in my limping verse, which Nancy found one day, and laughed at, I remember:
The gipsies are out, I can see their lights moving, Race answers to race, 'neath the stars and the blue; They are living and laughing and mating and loving, As I stand in the midnight with you, love, with you!
THE TREASURE BECOMES MINE, BUT IS CLAIMED BY ITS OWNER
There was no sleep for me that night, and I lay awake till the clear day, watching the gulls fly across the window and waiting the time when I might see her once again. Early as it was when I arose, the wee bit lassie who brought me the hot water said in answer to my inquiry that the other gentlemen had been gone since the daybreak, and declining her offer of breakfasting in my room, I went down to the spence, hoping that Marian might be there before me. I found the room empty, however, save for Dame Dickenson, who had spread a table for me between the fire and the window, through which I could see the waves curl on the lower beach and the sunshine break into flying sparks over the fine blue sea. I was never one to mince words when there was aught to be said, nor to put off settling until another time a thing which could be fixed upon the moment.
"Sit ye down," I said to the little body, who was plainly of a rank and comprehension above the vulgar. "Sit ye down! There are a few words that I would like to have with ye."
She remained standing, but paused in her employ to give me a wordless attention as I went on:
"I am John Stair, Lord of Stair and Alton in the Mearns, and I want to marry your ward, Marian Ingarrach."
She set the rest of the dishes before me as though not hearing my speech, but I saw the corners of her mouth twitch a bit and, after removing the cover of the haddie, she cast a glance over the top of my head rather than directly at me, as she said:
"Ye're a cautious body, Lord Stair."
"I know what I intend to do," I answered, and there was a silence between us for a space.
"Ye're a quare man," she broke forth presently, looking at me humorously over her glasses. "Aye, a quare man! Ye come here with a pack of riotous livers from Edinburgh, clap your eyes on my young lady for the first time last night, and are for marryin' her off hand this morning with no more to do over it than if marryin' was a daily performance of yours."
I said no words, but regarded her with a smile.
"Sure," she went on, looking at me with great equanimity, "ye canna soften my heart by your smilin'. Ye're a handsome man, my lord, and ye've the strong way with ye that black men often have; but I've met in with handsome men afore now, and the handsomer the more to be feared. Dickenson was a dark man himself," she added, with a twinkle in her eye. Another silence fell between us, as I watched her needles click in and out and catch the firelight.
"Perhaps," she said presently, "ye'd like to have a little knowledge of the girl you're wantin' for a wife."
"It's the matter which lies nearest my heart at the moment," I answered her; and at this her voice and face became more serious, and she stopped her knitting, looking directly at me as she spoke.
"There's little to tell," she began, "little that I could take book-oath to, I mean, for one bad night in March, eighteen years back, I heard a wail at the door, and opening it found a gipsy-hamper with the baby inside. She was finely dressed and there was a note pinned on her little shirt, which—wait a bit," she said, "I can show it ye." At this she crossed the room to a wooden cupboard, unlocked the door, and took from it a small box, the key of which she had in her bosom. Opening this she handed me a slip of paper, upon which was written, in a coarse male hand:
"If you will keep the child money will be sent for you and her. I want her brought up a lady."
"There was a roll of gold in the basket with her, forty pounds, my lord. And the writer has kept his word. Money has been sent ever since, sometimes from Italy, once from Russia, and then from the Far East. That is all that I know."
"But you have beliefs concerning the matter?" I asked.
"Yes," she said, "though the truth of them could not be proved. Twenty years ago, when I was maid at Squire Eglinton's, on the Irish coast, near Carrickfergus, he had one daughter, a flower of a girl, who ran away with a gipsy man she met in her father's park. The young lady loved me and knew where my home in Scotland was. I have thought, my lord, that mayhap she died, and 'twas the father-man who brought the baby to my door. I have told you all but this: if Miss Eileen ever had a daughter, it could not be more like her than Marian is."
A hundred questions came to me at once, but before one of them was asked I had a sight of the girl herself, coming from the country side of the house, the wind blowing her hair about her face and carrying away swarms of white petals from the hawthorn-blooms she held in her arms. As she was hid from my sight by the corner of the house, Sandy Carmichael entered the room, his hands thrust far into his pockets, and his pipe held at a curious angle between his teeth.
"What!" I cried in amazement. "You here! I thought you were gone at daylight."
"Did ye now?" he asked, with raillery in his voice. "Did ye think," and he put his hand on my shoulder after his own fashion, "did you think I'd leave you, Jock, in this, your last extremity? Ye're not married yet?" he went on jokingly, "I'm not too late for the wedding? Oh," he broke out with a laugh, "how have the mighty fallen!"
"Not yet," I answered him; "but it will be no fault of mine if I'm not a married man by night."
He changed color at this, and getting the dame on his side the two of them urged a waiting—I know not for what; and more thought, which would have brought me to the same conclusion; but their talk and their arguments went high over my head, for I was fixed as fate that nothing but Marian's mind against it could move me from the wish I had. As the three of us stood thus, the talk going back and forth, the girl came into the room, and at sight of me went white, changing on the instant to a glorious pink, which flushed her face all over like a rose.
"Good morning, Lord Stair," she said.
I crossed the room, and took her hand and kissed it.
"Marian," I said, "will you marry me to-day?"
She sent a hurried look around the three of us, and as a woman discovers things, knew that they were against me in the matter. It took her not one second to decide for me, and my being leaped toward her as she spoke.
"When you will, my lord," she said. "I have no wishes that are not your own."
It was a little past noon of the same day, with none to see save Sandy Carmichael, Dame Dickenson, and Uncle Ben, that Father Pierre, from the Cairn Mills, made Marian and myself one in a marriage such as the gods intended when the world was young and the age of gold.
About three o'clock Sandy left us, going on horse to join his party, which was to lay by for him at Landgore. Marian and I walked with him far beyond the sea light, he leading his horse and telling us that it was but the strong remembrance that he had a wife at home which prevented his carrying her away with him. He had great joy in my happiness, and his strong laugh rolled round and round in echoes among the rocks as we went along together. Before we parted his mood changed a bit, and he turned suddenly and laid his arm across my shoulder.
"You'll not forget me, laddie?" he said earnestly, with his head turned a bit from me so that his eyes could not be seen.
Our hands gripped each other at the end, as though we could not speak the word of good-by, and my dear, who knew the thought—that my marriage might in some way make the friendship between us less close—took our locked hands between her little ones and held them to her breast.
"Believe me," she said, as though making a vow, "that all I can ever do to make this friendship stronger I shall do; oh, believe me in that!"
Sandy kissed her on the cheek, she stuck a piece of pink heather in his coat, and he mounted his horse and was off at a bolt. Twice we saw him turn and wave his cap toward us; we called to him, and he shouted back something in return, the meaning of which we were unable to discover, and so went down a sudden turn of the rocks and was lost to sight.
* * * * *
There are some parts of every life that can not be set forth. The first sacred months of my marriage are of these. The little inn, which was no longer in Dame Dickenson's possession, I purchased, and we made it into a home. And the time is all of Marian! Marian standing in white in the going down of the braeside to welcome me; Marian on my knee in the twilight looking out seaward and starward; Marian with her brown head and face, such as the angels have, resting on my breast in the gold of the dawning; Marian—Marian—Marian—I, an old man, who was once that bonny Jock Stair, all your own, call to you. Can you come? Will it ever be again! See! I stretch my hands, wrinkled, old, to that far off blue, and ask you, as I have a thousand times, to send me peace.
* * * * *
All that summer we lived in the little house, and toward autumn there were reasons why my wife should not be troubled with new cares. Sandy came to see us frequently; whiles I ran up to Edinburgh to tend to needful matters. One day in March, because of some wish my dear had half expressed, I went to town to get some of the jewels with which the Ladies Stair had adorned themselves in days gone by. I had promised a short absence, but there was a matter of some fastenings to be mended at the goldsmith's, and my stay was three days. Riding backward as fast as a postboy, I came on the porch suddenly to find a weeper, as if one were dead, hanging upon the knocker. Dropping the box and riding-whip I pushed the door ajar with a great shove and entered, upon Dame Dickenson, who was coming out of her room, from which place I heard a faint cry. Her eyes were red with weeping; she looked scared and went white at the sight of me, and with a horrid presentiment of trouble, I cried on the instant, in a voice which I heard myself as coming from some other:
"Where is she?"
"Oh, my lord," she said, and her voice broke and went off into a shriek, "did ye no meet wi' Mr. Carmichael? He's gone for ye."
"I met nobody," I cried, and again there was a tiny wail as of a new-born babe from the next room.
"Oh, my lord!" she cried again, springing forward and putting herself between me and the doorway which I made to enter. "Ask God for strength to bear what's been sent ye. Say a prayer, my lord. Ask Him to let ye remember the baby that's come to you. Pray, O my lord," she cried; "prepare yourself."
I pushed her from me and threw the door wide open.
There was a body in the room laid out for burial, with candles burning at the head and foot—a slim, young, girlish body; and as Father Pierre, who was kneeling by it, turned his face toward mine I knew that Marian, because of me, had gone forever. Something seemed to strike me at the back of the head and a black vapor fell before my eyes and stopped my breath—I knew that Father Pierre caught me in his arms, a merciful unconsciousness seized me, and everything faded away.
* * * * *
When I came to myself I was in my own sleeping-room at Stair, a night-light burning on the table, and some one on the other side of the screen sat reading by the fire. I saw the top of the head over the chair-rail, and knew it was Sandy Carmichael's. Five weeks longer I lay there, and on toward midsummer, my fever having lasted four months, Sandy proposed I should start as soon as I was able and tour the world. It had been an old dream of mine, but with little taste for life, I set sail from Glasgow for Gibraltar some time in August, 1769, to visit other lands and see new lives with old sorrows like my own.
ENTER NANCY STAIR
I had been from Scotland near five years, when two letters were handed to me as I sat in The British Sailors' Tavern, in Calcutta; one of which was from Hugh Pitcairn and the other from Sandy Carmichael. I thought as I read them what characteristic epistles they were, for Hugh's read as though I had parted from him but the day before, and urged my return to look after some land interest which he as my solicitor felt should have my immediate supervision.
"There is another thing," he added, "which should bring you home. Huey MacGrath is ailing and I fear is sickening to die."
Sandy spoke, as was his way, of our old affection and his wish to see me once again, and he ended by a tender reference to the baby of mine who was growing a big girl and needed me, he said.
God knows how lonely I was when these two letters came to me, and the thoughts of home and a child dependent upon me brought, for the first time since my dread trouble, a sense of comfort. Huey sick unto death was another call to my heart, and in four days' time I was homeward bound.
Before I stepped ashore at Leith it was Sandy who waved to me from the quay; Sandy whose hand gripped mine so hard the fingers ached for days; Sandy whose eyes beamed with joy as he looked at me and took me back to Stair.
"I've been living on the docks awaiting your return until the town doubtless thinks I'm going for a sailor," he cried. "Well, it's good to have you back, Jock Stair—and I believe that Huey MacGrath's illness is little more than a longing for the sight of you."
On our ride homeward his whole talk turned about his boy Danvers, of whom he spoke with unfettered approval and satisfaction, which came from a strange source.
"He looks like you, Jock Stair! It's heaven's truth that he's the image of you! It seems odd that I, who am a brown man, should have a son with an olive skin and hair like ink, but it's a fact. And he's like ye in other ways, for he rides like a monkey and can thrash any one of his weight in the county. Aye," he concluded, "ye'll be proud of Danvers!"
"And what of my girl?" I asked.
"Nancy," he said, a curious look coming into his face as he smiled; "she's one you must see to judge of for yourself. I've raised her up as well as I could. I've spent time with her!"
His determined reticence, which had some humor in it, put me on my metal concerning the child, and the day after my arrival I sent Tam MacColl with a written request to Dame Dickenson to fetch the little one immediately to Stair.
Six days later Tam returned bringing a large sheet of paper, which I have before me as I write. It was folded after a curious fashion, with no address, and opening it I found the following:
For the first time in five years I laughed aloud. This was something worth. Here was an atom, not yet five, who took her pen in hand and misspelled her firm intention to do as she chose. I folded the paper and laid it aside, wondering what kind of offspring I had begotten, and the following morning took horse to Landgore to see this very determined little body for myself.
As I came in sight of the place after my long ride, strange voices called to me from the sea, from the heather, from the great copper birch over the house. Eyes long dead seemed looking into mine, hands were on my hair, and there came to me, with the feeling of mortal sickness, the terrible, sweet remembrances of an early passion and of things to be known to none save Marian and me and the One who does most wisely for the Great End, but bitterly to us who see but a little of the way.
Reaching the porch, my strength left me utterly, and I leaned against one of the wooden pillars for support. Standing thus, I saw a child running down the braeside at the top of her speed, with no knowledge of my presence, but coming at her fastest to reach the house. She wore a short-waisted black frock, with a very long skirt, which almost touched the ground. On her feet were red shoes, which twinkled in and out of the black, as with great dexterity and lightness, she clambered up the steps of the porch and stood before me, one of the miracles of God before which we human folk stand abashed. For here was Marian again. Marian to the turn of an eyelash; to the finger tips; in the bronze chestnut curls which stood like a halo round the face; in the supple little woman-body; in all the dear, quaint, beautiful baby who stood before me devouring me with gray eyes, and looking at me with a radiant, shy smile as she held a kitten tail up against her breast.
After a few seconds' regard of me, during which I could see by her face that she was piecing some bits of knowledge together, she clapped her hands.
"Jock!" she cried, with a rapturous smile.
I can never tell the joy and horror of the moment, for my name was the first word my beloved had ever spoken to me, and at the sound of it from this, her child, my heart leaped into my throat; there came a whirring in the top of my head and a singing in my ears, and as I sank upon the old stone settle something like a moan escaped me.
In the next minute I knew Nancy Stair for all time. The sight of suffering seemed to put her past herself, and, dashing toward me, she climbed up on the seat. I could feel the warmth of her body and the clinging of her dimpled arm as she drew my head against her naked, palpitating little breast as though to defend me from suffering against the whole world.
"Oh, you poor fing!" she cried. "You poor fing! Does you hurt?"
When I had in some degree recovered my self-control, the child sat down beside me, so close that she pushed her small body against mine, with one rose-leaf of a hand laid upon my knee in a protective fashion, every little while giving me a pat, as a mother soothes a child.
Sitting thus, my arm around her, my soul stirred to its depths, my eyes brooded over all her baby charms.
She was of a slender, round figure, with dimpled neck and arms. Her head was broad, her forehead low, with noticeably black brows, and she had a way, when perplexed, I very soon discovered, of drawing these together, the right one falling a bit lower than the left. It was the eyes which struck one first, however; brooding, passionate, observant, quick to look within or without, and fearless in their glance. Mrs. Opie states that they were black, and Reynolds painted them bright blue; but the truth is, that they were like her mother's, clear gray, with pupils of unusual size, and heavy lashed, especially on the under lid.
She was still under five, but I had not been with her a quarter of an hour before I recognized a potent and wonderful personality and knew that there was something which this small soul had in her keeping to give the world which others have not.
"Sandy was here," I heard her sweet voice saying when I had recovered myself. "Sandy was here one day. He fetched the drey hen you sent me." Here she patted my knee, looking up as though to assure me of her protection.
"He said the rabbits were from you," she went on; "and the owl got broke that was in the box. It was too little for him."
"Sandy brought me," she said finally, "the child that stares so," and she pointed, her eyebrows puckered together, at a rag-doll, with painted cheeks and round, offensive eyes, sitting head down in a corner of the porch.
Beyond money, I had not sent even a message to the child in all these years of absence, and my heart filled with gratitude to that friend who had made me a fairy-grandfather and won a child's love for me, who was so unthoughtful and so far away.
As we sat thus, Dame Dickenson heard the sound of voices, and came from the house to welcome me with a smile, though the tears were in her eyes as she spoke her words of welcome.
Her life of ease and freedom from money-care had changed her greatly, and with her black silk frock, her lace kerchief and cap, she seemed quite like some old gentlewoman. I tried, knowing the inadequacy of words, even while speaking, to thank her for my wonderful child, when she interrupted me.
"I should have died but for her—after"—she broke off here, not wishing to name the sorrow between us. "But you've not seen the wonder of her yet; she has the whole Cairn Mills bewitched, and if she were a queen on her throne could not have her way more than she does now."
It was of a piece with the Dame's thoughtfulness to have prepared for me a room which I had never known, and where no memories dwelt; a low-raftered apartment on the land-side of the house, with a window looking over the garden and a fire burning cheerily in the corner chimney. Dropping off to sleep, happier than I thought it possible for me to be again, I became aware that there was some one in the room with me. Opening my eyes, I found Nancy, with her long white gown gathered on her breast to keep it from the floor, standing looking at me, her head about level with my own as it lay on the pillow.
"What is it?" I asked.
"GetinwifJock," she answered.
"What?" I inquired again, for she had slipped her words all together.
"Get—in—wif—Jock," she repeated, with an unmistakable movement of her small hand to turn back the bed covers.
"You darling!" I cried, and drew her in beside me.
The tenderness I felt for her as she lay on my breast was akin to agony. I trembled at the touch of her, and what she meant to me, and all that I had missed. And long after she fell asleep, I lay, seeing the past with new eyes, understanding new truths, and making myself, please God, a better man.
I woke the next morning about eight, to find her gone, but as I was dressing by the window I saw her below me in the garden, busy with some hens that were clucking all about her.
"Hello, Little Flower," I called to her.
 The name came to me with no thought, but for years it was the one she fancied most, and many of her early poems were signed L.F.S., or sometimes by nothing save a queer little drawing, half rose and half daisy.
(The manuscript of the "Maid with the Wistfu' Eye" in the Edinburgh collection has only this mark as signature.)
She smiled up at me, blinking in the strong sunshine, and I hastened down to join her.
"Are you willing to come back with me to Stair?" I asked.
"We're getting ready, Jock," she answered, putting her hand in mine.
"We?" I inquired. "Whom do you mean?"
"Nancy Stair," she said, touching herself on the breast with her small forefinger, "Dame Dickenson, Father Michel, Uncle Ben, the two or three dogs, the kittens, the one without a name, the drey hen, and the broken owl——"
"Nancy Stair," I broke in, with some firmness in my voice, "it will be utterly impossible to take all these folk up to Stair Castle."
She looked at me and went white, as grown people do when news which chills the blood is suddenly brought to them, and struck her little hands together as though in pain. Turning suddenly she left me and trotted off through a cleft in the stone wall of the kitchen garden, to which place I followed her, with remorse in my heart for the rough way in which I had spoken.
I found her lying flat in the grass, her face hidden in her arms, her body trembling, but she made no sound.
"What is it, dear?" I asked.
"I can't go," she said, without looking up, "I can't go, Jock."
"Why?" I inquired.
She arose at this and leaned against me, her head but little above my knee and her eyes looking straight up into mine.
"Oh, don't you see?" she cried. "I can't go!—I can't go and leave my people, Jock!"
I can see now that then was the time I should have been firm with her, and have escaped the tyranny of latter years. Firm with her! Firm! while Nancy stood leaning against me with her baby curls under my hand. Firm! with eyes that held tears in them, tears which I had caused.
"Take them," I cried, "take the free-traders, the old wreck, the Cairn Mills, and the new light-house, for all of me; but never let me see that look in your face again, my little one!" and I had her in my arms, as weak a father as I had been as lover and as husband, with the resulting that I, John Stair, Lord of Stair and Alton in the Mearns, in company with Dame Dickenson, Father Michel, Uncle Ben, the two or three dogs, the kittens, the Nameless One, the "drey hen," and a small child holding a dissipated-looking owl with but one whole feather in its tail, drove up to the gateway of Stair Castle in a gipsy wagon of an abandoned character, on the afternoon of a day in late February, in the year 1773.
I MAKE THE ACQUAINTANCE OF A STRANGE CHILD
Several days after this strange home-coming some business called me to the far woods, where I was detained until the afternoon sun was well on its way behind the hills. Nearing the house I discovered Nancy huddled in a little bunch, sitting by her lee-lane in a spot of sunshine on the west steps—such a lovable, touchable little bundle as she sat there, with her chin in her hand. I looked for the exuberant welcome which I had always received, but it was wanting; and as I stood waiting some greeting from her, she made a quaint gesture of dismissal to me:
"Jock mustn't disturb Nancy now," she said; "Nancy's making verses." There was in the atom's voice nothing but a statement of her wishes. That I was her father and one to be obeyed never entered her curly head, and her tone implied the belief that I would respect her lights as she would mine. I can honestly state that I never was more dismayed in my life. I entered the library, wondering what had happened in my absence, and considering whether to send for Dickenson and make some inquiries.
It was gone a half hour perhaps before Nancy came in through the low window, and crossing the room to the place I sat, leaned herself against my knee.
"Listen," she said:
Jock Stair's gone away, Where I cannot fancy. Jock Stair's gone away, Gone and left his Nancy.
O, Jock, I cannot say How much I miss you, If you were here to-day Nancy would kiss you.
Her cheeks were roses, her eyes shone with a misty light, and the verse so rapturous to herself that she struck her little hands together when she had finished.
"Do you like it, Jock? Is it pretty?" she asked.
"You blessed baby," I answered, "who taught you?"
"They come," she said, "and afterward Nancy's head-iks," and she put her morsel of a hand to her forehead, as a grown person with headache does.
"Head-iks!" she said again with emphasis.
The second day after this remarkable event, Sandy, who was riding by, called over the wall to me, as I stood with Nancy by my side.
"Well," he cried, "what do you think of my girl, Nancy Stair?"
"The same that you do yourself," I retorted. "Come in and lunch with us, won't you?"
He made no answer in words, but turning his horse toward the south gate, entered the policy, and I sent Nancy off to tell Kirstie that Mr. Carmichael would dine with us, for I thought it no right part of a child's rearing that she should hear herself discussed.
As she took her small body around the boxwood, lifting it up on the toes at every step—a way she had when pleased—"You've raised up a wonderful child for me, Sandy," I said, and I told him of the verses she writ the day before.
"Aye," he answered, "I didn't tell ye of them, for I wanted that ye should find out about her verses yourself. I've a book full of them, and she but five. But after all's said and done," he went on, "'tis the heart of her that's more wonderful than the head. Christmas a year back I was walking out with her, and some shiftless beggars got in the path and asked for money. 'In truth,' I answered, knowing what frauds they were, 'I haven't a penny in the world!' I thought the child had let the incident pass unnoticed, but that evening the door to my bedroom opened and Nancy, in her white nightgown, walked in. She came to the writing-table shyly, and after putting a large copper penny on the edge of the table, pushed it toward me with her forefinger.
"'You tan have it,' she said; 'I tan dit anover.'
"There it is, the copper penny," he cried, with a laugh, though there were tears in his eyes, showing me the end of his watch-fob from which the bit of money hung.
"The dear little thing had thought I really had not a penny in the world and had brought her only one to sacrifice upon the altar of our friendship. Oh, Jock Stair," and the union between us spoke in the words, "how are you and I to raise up a soul like this and keep it unspotted from the world?"
As I stated at the beginning of my story, I have no intention of saying a word of Nancy's charities or of her verse-making save when necessary for the clearness of my tale, but I find the time has now come when some mention of the first must be made. It could be judged from the anecdote already told, of her bringing "her people" to Stair, that she formed strong attachments; but as time went by I found that this affection extended to almost everything that lived. She was a lawless little body, going around the grounds at her own pleasure, and bringing back some living thing at every expedition to be cared for at the house. These findings included lame dogs, rabbits, cats, and finally she came into the library, breathless:
"I got a boy to-day, Jock," she said, exactly as I might have stated I had caught a fish. "A boy," she repeated, every feature in her face alight; "Father Michel's got him."
"For Heaven's sake, Nancy," I inquired, "what do you intend to do with him?"
"Keep him," she answered.
Going down with her to inspect this new treasure, I found a lad eight or ten years of age, very sickly, with a hump upon his back, and of a notably unprepossessing appearance, carrying a fiddle, and evidently forsaken by some strolling player. She had set her mind upon his staying, and he stayed; but finding the trouble her accumulated possessions were giving at Stair, she showed me within the week a bit of her power to get her own way; a thought which afterward bore such large results for the whole of Scotland.
The former lord, my honored father, had erected under some trees far off by the burn water several small stone houses for the servants which my beautiful Irish mother brought with her from her own country. Because my bachelor ways had needed little service these dwellings had gradually fallen into disuse and disrepair, the few serving people I required finding abundant lodgment in the attic chambers. These tiny houses, built of gray stone, with ivy growing around the windows, had taken Nancy's fancy from the instant her eyes first lighted on them.
The evening before her sixth birthday, as we stood together watching the sun go down, a thought for the following day came to me.
"And what do you want for your birthday, Little Flower!" I asked.
"The little houses," she said, leaning her head against me.
"What for?" I inquired, thinking perhaps that she believed them play houses.
"Dame Dickenson, Father Michel, Uncle Ben——" she stopped.
"To live in?" I inquired.
"To keep," she answered quietly.
The more I thought it over the more pleased I became with the idea that these devoted people, who gave their lives to Nancy, should be rewarded. I was perhaps especially pleased at the thought of doing something for Father Michel, of whom I would now be speaking.
He was at this time a young man, still under twenty-five, who had come, none knew from what place, to live at the Cairn Mills with the dear old priest who married Marian and me. What tragedy had been behind him none knew, but Dickenson told me that from the time he first saw the child his heart went out to her, and that after the meeting there was no keeping him from the old inn, where he finally took up his residence as one of the family.
Old Uncle Ben, whose sea tales were one of Nancy's chiefest joys, and whose wooden leg was her greatest perplexity, I felt deserved some recognition of his service, and, to shorten the telling, in less than a month these houses were occupied as Nancy had desired they should be—Father Michel being given the large one, with Nancy's dwarfed boy, Dame Dickenson the next, and Uncle Ben becoming the proud occupant of a third. It seemed a sort of child's play to me at first, and Mrs. Opie's statement that I built these houses at this period for the work on the Burnside, is entirely without foundation.
Some credit has been bestowed upon me as well for the working out of a labor problem here, but it is honor undeserved, for the thing began in the entirely unintentional manner which I have set down, and the working out of it came at a later date through Nancy's thinking and the zeal and goodness of Father Michel.
 It was about this period that the "Lace School" was regularly begun, which occurred by no plan of mine, but in the following way: Sandy had had two young women from the north for house service at Arran, and finding them unused to labor, proposed that Dame Dickenson should teach them the Irish lace making which she had learned in her own country. And in a short time there were nine or ten young girls of the neighborhood under regular instruction in this industry.
NANCY BEGINS HER STUDY OF THE LAW
There has been some delay in bringing Hugh Pitcairn into my story, and, as I read that which I have written, I seem to have set him down in a scant and dry manner little calculated to do justice to his many virtues. These virtues, however, were of the kind which made him a fine citizen rather than a jolly companion over a bowl of brose. He was a tall man, heavily built, with a large face, thick bristly hair, and blue eyes set extraordinarily far apart. The bridge of his nose being noticeably low, this peculiarity gave the upper part of his face the appearance of being very sparsely settled. It was Robert Burns, I remember, who made this descriptive observe concerning him. A lowland body, but kin to the Pitcairns of the north, he had come to the High School dependent for his education upon the generosity of a rich uncle, and from the time he entered was easily first in all of his classes. Of an unbending rectitude, unmerciful in his judgments, analytical, penetrating, and accumulative, he was at an early age destined for two things—success and unpopularity. He left the High School with us, to enter upon the study of the law with Maxwell, of Dalgleish, and rising rapidly in his profession was at the age of thirty-three recognized as the soundest, most learned, and bitterest tongued lawyer in Auld Reekie.
Justice to his mind was a simple thing; a man had either broken the law or he had not; if he had, he should be punished. "Extenuating circumstances" was a phrase used only by the sentimental and the guilty. I recall, as I write, his telling me with some pride and an amused smile of a certain occasion, when he had wrung a verdict from a jury against their sympathies, that the spectators had hissed him on his way out of court.
"He's not a man at all. He's only a Head," Sandy Carmichael said of him once, and I find enough truth in the statement to make it worth setting down.
His conceit of himself was high, as is the case with many self-made men, but he had a fine code of conduct for the direction of his private affairs, was aggressively honest and fearless, and an earnest believer in God, himself, and the Scots law.
Like other great men he had his failings, however, and he set up to be a judge of music and poetry, for which he had as vile an ear as could be conceived; and to hear him read from Ramsay or Fergusson was an infliction not unnecessarily to be borne. One night, I remember, in '86, Burns and I stopped at Pitcairn's on our way home from Creech's and got him to read Leith Races and Caller Oysters, and Rab afterward went out and rolled over and over in a snow-drift, roaring with laughter, till some of the town-guard, who chanced to be going by, were for arresting him on the charge of drunkenness.
It may be easily judged from this description that my friend Sandy and he were at opposite poles from each other, as I have said, and as time passed this dislike increased until it became the chiefest vexation of my life. If I mentioned Hugh's name to Sandy, he would maintain a disdainful silence or turn the talk with abruptness; while if Sandy's name was spoken before Pitcairn, the great lawyer would raise his eyebrows, shrug his shoulders, or make some biting criticism which rendered me resentful and highly uncomfortable as well.
As soon as I was firmly fixed in my old home again, Pitcairn began to drop in on me, as his practise had been before my marriage, and his attitude to Nancy was a thing humorous to see. Hers to him was not without its droll side as well, for when he was present, especially if he talked of his cases, the child would sit on a stool, with some live thing held in her lap, literally devouring him with her eyes as he narrated the story of some criminal whom he had hanged or transported. I have seen her imitate his gesture as he talked, and sigh with relief when the jury handed in its verdict and the culprit's doom was finally settled. It was not long, however, before she evinced a strong dislike to being left alone with him, and if I had occasion to leave the room where the three of us were together she would invariably follow me.
In an unfortunate moment, driving by the old court in a pony chaise, I stopped, knowing that Pitcairn had a case on, and took Nancy in "to see him at his work." Every little while after that I would find her disappeared from the house, and on going to the court would see her midget pony fastened outside, and the little chestnut head and big gray eyes looking over the back of the high bench in front; for the officers, who knew she was my daughter, soon grew to understand her ways and let her in without parley. I can solemnly affirm that I thought this a most unwise way for a child to spend her time, but there was something about Nancy herself which prevented my giving orders. I can not say that she ever disobeyed me, and yet, I knew then, as I know now, that had I tried to stop her she would have evaded me, and as it turned out in the end, it was all for the best.
I who was with her day by day could feel her growing dislike of Hugh Pitcairn, and once she came to me after a visit to the court, her cheeks flaming, her eyes dilated, and her body literally shaking with emotion.
"He cursed at Pitcairn as they dragged him out," she said, and then bringing her little fists down on my knee, she cried with apparent irrelevancy:
"It's not the way, Jock! It's not the way!"
Less than a fortnight after I was sitting over some accounts in the east room, when Hugh Pitcairn entered unannounced.
"Well, Jock Stair," he said, "that daughter of yours lost me as pretty a case to-day as I ever had."
"Indeed, Hugh," I returned, "I'm in no way answerable for that."
"I don't know about that!" he broke in. "This case was one of a young woman who had taken a purse. She established the fact that she was a widow with two small children, one of whom was dying and needed medicine. I thought at first that she borrowed one of the children, they frequently do, but it was established hers. I drew attention to the anarchy which would inevitably follow if each individual were allowed to help himself to his neighbor's belongings, and the jury was with me. As I was concluding, that child of yours slipped from her place, climbed the steps on the side, and heeding judges and jury less than Daft Jamie, went straight toward the prisoner, pulled herself up on a chair beside the woman, and putting her arms around the culprit's neck, as though to defend her against the devil himself, turned her eyes in my direction and fairly glowered at me.
"The spectators cheered, and a woman in the front cried, 'God bless the baby,' while the judge—Carew it was, a sentimentalist and a menace to the bar—dried the tears from his eyes openly, and the jury decided against me without leaving the box," he thundered, as though I were in some way responsible.
I groaned. Taking this for sympathy, he went on:
"I'm glad ye feel about it as I do."
"To be frank with you, Pitcairn," I answered, "I don't; and it's not for your lost case I groan, but for what is likely to come to me because of it."
Nor was I mistaken. Just at the gloaming time, while there was still a little of the yellow hanging in the west, I saw the figure of a woman with a baby in her arms outlined clear against the sky on the top of the hill, and by her side trotted the little creature who had all my heart, leading her home.
"There," said I to Pitcairn, pointing to them, "that's what your inadequacy at the law has cost me. There are three more people whom Nancy has fetched home for me to support."
"I wonder at ye sometimes, Jock Stair," he cried at this, "I wonder at ye!—for in many ways ye seem an intelligent man—that ye can let a small girl-child have her way with you as ye do."
The outer door closed as he spoke, and I heard the patter of little feet.
"She's not being raised right. She'll be a creature of no breeding. Ye should take her——"
At this the door opened and Nancy came in. At the sight of Pitcairn she stopped on her way toward me, and her black brows came together in an ecstasy of rage. Putting her little body directly in front of him she looked him full in the eye.
"Devil!" she said, and walked out of the room, leaving us standing staring at each other, speechless, and I noted with glee that, on one occasion at least, I saw Hugh Pitcairn abashed.
This occurrence in the court did not pass in the town unnoticed, for Bishop Ames, of St. Margaret's, on the following Sunday preached from the text: "And a little child shall lead them," telling the story from the pulpit; while the Sentinel of the next week spoke of Nancy with flattery and tenderness. The publicity given to the affair alarmed me in no small degree, and I reasoned with myself that a child who had such fearlessness and such disrespect for established ways was a problem which somebody wiser than myself should have the handling of.
There were three other occurrences which fell about this time which brought this thought still more vividly to my mind, the first of these bringing the knowledge that she had no religion. Entering the hall one morning I met the little creature coming from the stairway, dragging an enormous book behind her as though it were a go-cart. She had put a stout string through the middle of the volume, and with this passed round her waist was making her way with it toward the library.
"Jock," she said, backing at sight of me and sitting down upon the great volume as though it were a footstool, "did you ever read a book called Old Testament?"
"Not so much as I should," I answered, realizing with a strange jolt of mind that it was the Bible she was dragging after her.
"I got it in the attic," she said, as she climbed upon my knee, "and I thought at first it was a joke-book. And after I thought it was a fairy-book; but as I go on, there seems more to it."
And the second of these episodes was as disconcerting:
The dwarfed boy was Nancy's peculiar care among the Burnside people, and the question as to why he was made "crookit," as she called it, was one which I had never been able to answer to her satisfaction.
Coming in one day with a little bunch of violets for me, she stopped before leaving the room, and said, as though telling me a funny secret:
"Jamie Henderlin took Nancy's money."
"What?" I cried.
"Yes," she said, "took it out of the little bag when he thought I was not looking."
"What did you do?" I inquired.
"I?" she turned away shyly, "I made out that I didn't see him."
"But, Nancy," I said, "that was not really kind. As he grows older he will steal."
"Take," she interrupted firmly.
"He will take from other people."
"He is a dwarf, Jock," she said, with a sweet irrelevance, which had its logic, however, in her kind heart.
"That doesn't make it right."
"He wanted it more than I did," she went on; "I don't need it——"
"That doesn't excuse him, either."
"Perhaps," she said, "if you and I, mine Jock, were made as he is we might do something worse than he has done. People laugh at him! He mayn't be right. I'm not saying that he is right; but I am saying that I am not going to hurt his feelings. The Lord has done that enough already."
And the third one, never told by Mrs. Opie, and a fortunate thing it was for us, had to do with her skill in the use of a pen. She was still a very little child, lying on a rug by the fire, reading out of the Bible, as I sat at the desk looking over some accounts which would not come right. There was the matter of a draft for five pounds, with my own name to it, which I had certainly no remembrance of ever having signed.
"What's the matter, Jock?" said Nancy, seeing my knit brow.
"They won't come right, Little Flower," I answered.
She came over to me and looked at the accounts.
"Nancy made one just like Jock's," she said.
"What?" I cried, with consternation.
"Nancy—made—one—just—like—Jock's," she repeated. "A poor lady who was very sick," she explained, "was by here one day you had gone. I made one for her."
"Nancy," I said, taking her on my knee, "do you know that it is a crime to sign another person's name without his leave?"
"Well, it's the thing people get locked in jails for——"
She laughed out loud and lay back on my arm at this.
"It's all mine, isn't it?" she asked.
I had told this so often that I couldn't gainsay it.
"Wrong to write Sandy's name, not wrong to write Jock's," she crooned in a sort of song; and this was as far as I got with her concerning it.
I told Sandy these three tales, and he roared with glee.
"Her morals are all tail first," he said, "though very sound! But she'll have us in the poor farm and herself in jail if she keeps this up."
I TAKE NANCY'S EDUCATION IN HAND
Father Michel, Sandy, and Hugh Pitcairn were the only ones who knew enough of the child to make their advices on the subject of an education for her of any value, and it was the priest whom I consulted first.
"My lord," he said, after listening to my tale, "it's a peculiar case, and one which, I openly state, is beyond me. In every bout with her I am routed by a certain lawless sincerity of utterance, or by her fastening her eyes upon me and asking, 'Why?' or 'Who says that?' She is gentleness and sweetness itself; but any attempt which I have ever made to instruct her in religion has been utterly without results. Sometimes she goes to sleep, other whiles she laughs and questions me in a way that makes the flesh crawl. When I told her of the crucifixion of our blessed Lord, she fell into such a frenzy that it brought on the aching head and fever, which you will remember caused your lordship such alarm. We have the raising of a genius upon us, and by that I mean one who knows more, sees deeper, feels more keenly than is given to most or to any except the few. Miss Nancy is a fearless soul, a passionate, loving, powerful nature, and my belief is that the only way to control her is to let her develop her own powers in her own way. It is a hard question, a subtle question, my lord; but I believe it is the only way."
Sandy was in London at the time, but the same day on which I had the talk with Father Michel I sent for Hugh Pitcairn, asking him to dine with me and talk over the Problem of Nancy.
"It's like this, Hugh," said I, as we sat over some wine of his particular fancy, "God has been kind enough to send me a wonderful child, and I want to do what's right by her. I want her to have the reasonable education of a man and to keep her as far as possible from the influence of the usual unthinking female. I neither want her instructed in false modesty, lying, nor the deception of the male sex. It is on the male virtues that I want the accent placed; bravery, honesty, self-knowledge, and responsibility for her words and conduct; good manly virtues that most women know only as words of the dictionary."
Hugh stared across at me, and there was a look in his eyes of being tolerant toward crass ignorance as he answered:
"There are whiles when you are more humorous than others, Jock Stair. This is your most fanciful time yet. There's no such thing possible, and ye can just rest by that! Ye can't make a woman into a man by any method of rearing, for there are six thousand years of ancestry to overcome. That's somewhat, and with the female physiology and the Lord himself against you, I'm thinking it wise for you to have your daughter reared like other women and to fulfil woman's great end."
"And what's that?" I asked.
"To marry and bring children into the world," he returned, as certainly as he would have stated the time of day.
"When all's said and done and theorized over concerning the female sex," he went on, "ye just find yourself back at that. Ye can't educate a woman as ye can a man; she's not got the same faculties to take in the information that ye offer her. Why," he cried, "ye can't give her any sense of abstract right or wrong. In order to protect her young she has inherited certain keen faculties and instincts which we poor male creatures are without; but from the minute she becomes a wife or mother she ceases in some degree to have a conscience. No," he finished, "when a woman's emotions are stirred you can't believe a word she says."
"Ye've seen for yourself that Nancy's different from the girl children ye've known," I said, with some remonstrance in my voice.
"She has power, true. And magnetism, true. And great beauty," he answered, counting these on his fingers as though they were points in law; "but give her a man's education, and what have ye done? Simply made a dangerous contrivance of her to get her own way. I tell ye, Jock," he said in conclusion, "ye can't civilize women. They are not intended to be civilized."
The longer I thought this talk over, the more firmly I became fixed in the belief that Hugh knew nothing concerning the matter, and that my own ideas on the subject were the best, and in less than a week I had my own old school-books down, and was casting around for a tutor for Nancy, firm in my intention of "bringing her up a perfect gentleman," as Hugh derisively stated. I fixed on Latin for her, and sound mathematics, and later Greek and Logic, and when I showed this list of studies to Pitcairn, I recall that he looked at me, with the usual pity in his glance, and asked dryly:
"Why not tiger shooting and the high-jump?"
Sandy was from home at this time, having been called to a dying wife, poor fellow, or I should have taken advice with him concerning a certain old teacher of his boy Danvers, for whom I had a great liking. While awaiting his return I took the Little Flower into my confidence, and found her delighted that she was to be "teached." There was one point upon which she was firm, however, which was that none but Father Michel should be her instructor, and the good man, with many a dubious shake of his head, entered upon his work the following week.
Often after this time I would come upon them in the small writing-room where the studies were conducted, to find the little one standing by the father's knee, as he held the book for her, or sitting in his lap looking up at him with a funny earnestness, as though they were playing together, going over
——rego ——regere ——rexi ——rectus
or some such work, and amazing us both by her capacities.
On her ninth birthday Hugh gave her the ponderous tome from which so much of Mrs. Opie's facts have been obtained, and into this volume she put her verses and her thoughts just as they came into her curly head, standing upon a stool to make her high enough to reach the writing-table with comfort. There was an unspoken understanding between us that I was at liberty to read this book, but never in her presence. One night after she had spent the afternoon at work upon it, I drew it toward me, to find a new set of verses beginning:
The heifer by the milking pail, Whose neck-cloth is so white, etc.
and underneath the following, in which the influence of the Good Book was surely visible:
1. I must love Jock Stair first of all created things, for he was my mother's friend and mine.
2. Since the Lord has cast the poor from him I must do what I can for them.
3. I must not be afraid of any livving thing, for no gentleman can show forth fear.
4. I must not wish Huey Macrath from Stair, tho' he snuffles and his ears are large, for he was here before I was and is very ritechus.
5. I must not swear, tho' Sandy does, and to say dam is not godly, for a girl.
More to morrow,
L. F. S."
I was prouder of these than I have words to tell, seeing that already she was beginning to consider conduct. And an event which followed soon after made me plume myself still further. I had taught her to play chess, and Danvers Carmichael being home from his English school, Sandy and I made a merry wager of a game for a guinea a side, each of us backing the talent of our own offspring. Nancy, who was about half Danvers' height, drew the whites, and led off by the good conservative opening of the king's knight, the boy replying well and putting the pieces out after the usual fashion. Nancy unexpectedly played her queen. "Check," she said. Dand interposed a pawn. Nancy moved a knight. "Check," she said again. Dand was forced to move his king, and in three moves I could see the game was hers. Suddenly she retreated and began a process which never in my whole experience with her had I seen duplicated. She trifled ineffectually with her men, moving them hither and thither with no purpose or aim; and, to crown all, after one of these fruitless moves, the boy cried, "Mate," placing his queen triumphantly from one side of the board to the other. Nancy's eyes shone with pleasure.