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Robert Falconer
by George MacDonald
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ROBERT FALCONER

By George Macdonald



Note from electronic text creator: I have compiled a glossary with definitions of most of the Scottish words found in this work and placed it at the end of this electronic text. This glossary does not belong to the original work, but is designed to help with the conversations and references in Broad Scots found in this work. A further explanation of this list can be found towards the end of this document, preceding the glossary.

Any notes that I have made in the text (e.g. relating to Greek words in the text) have been enclosed in {} brackets.



TO

THE MEMORY

OF THE MAN WHO

STANDS HIGHEST IN THE ORATORY

OF MY MEMORY,

ALEXANDER JOHN SCOTT,

I, DARING, PRESUME TO DEDICATE THIS BOOK.



PART I.—HIS BOYHOOD.



CHAPTER I. A RECOLLECTION.

Robert Falconer, school-boy, aged fourteen, thought he had never seen his father; that is, thought he had no recollection of having ever seen him. But the moment when my story begins, he had begun to doubt whether his belief in the matter was correct. And, as he went on thinking, he became more and more assured that he had seen his father somewhere about six years before, as near as a thoughtful boy of his age could judge of the lapse of a period that would form half of that portion of his existence which was bound into one by the reticulations of memory.

For there dawned upon his mind the vision of one Sunday afternoon. Betty had gone to church, and he was alone with his grandmother, reading The Pilgrim's Progress to her, when, just as Christian knocked at the wicket-gate, a tap came to the street door, and he went to open it. There he saw a tall, somewhat haggard-looking man, in a shabby black coat (the vision gradually dawned upon him till it reached the minuteness of all these particulars), his hat pulled down on to his projecting eyebrows, and his shoes very dusty, as with a long journey on foot—it was a hot Sunday, he remembered that—who looked at him very strangely, and without a word pushed him aside, and went straight into his grandmother's parlour, shutting the door behind him. He followed, not doubting that the man must have a right to go there, but questioning very much his right to shut him out. When he reached the door, however, he found it bolted; and outside he had to stay all alone, in the desolate remainder of the house, till Betty came home from church.

He could even recall, as he thought about it, how drearily the afternoon had passed. First he had opened the street door, and stood in it. There was nothing alive to be seen, except a sparrow picking up crumbs, and he would not stop till he was tired of him. The Royal Oak, down the street to the right, had not even a horseless gig or cart standing before it; and King Charles, grinning awfully in its branches on the signboard, was invisible from the distance at which he stood. In at the other end of the empty street, looked the distant uplands, whose waving corn and grass were likewise invisible, and beyond them rose one blue truncated peak in the distance, all of them wearily at rest this weary Sabbath day. However, there was one thing than which this was better, and that was being at church, which, to this boy at least, was the very fifth essence of dreariness.

He closed the door and went into the kitchen. That was nearly as bad. The kettle was on the fire, to be sure, in anticipation of tea; but the coals under it were black on the top, and it made only faint efforts, after immeasurable intervals of silence, to break into a song, giving a hum like that of a bee a mile off, and then relapsing into hopeless inactivity. Having just had his dinner, he was not hungry enough to find any resource in the drawer where the oatcakes lay, and, unfortunately, the old wooden clock in the corner was going, else there would have been some amusement in trying to torment it into demonstrations of life, as he had often done in less desperate circumstances than the present. At last he went up-stairs to the very room in which he now was, and sat down upon the floor, just as he was sitting now. He had not even brought his Pilgrim's Progress with him from his grandmother's room. But, searching about in all holes and corners, he at length found Klopstock's Messiah translated into English, and took refuge there till Betty came home. Nor did he go down till she called him to tea, when, expecting to join his grandmother and the stranger, he found, on the contrary, that he was to have his tea with Betty in the kitchen, after which he again took refuge with Klopstock in the garret, and remained there till it grew dark, when Betty came in search of him, and put him to bed in the gable-room, and not in his usual chamber. In the morning, every trace of the visitor had vanished, even to the thorn stick which he had set down behind the door as he entered.

All this Robert Falconer saw slowly revive on the palimpsest of his memory, as he washed it with the vivifying waters of recollection.



CHAPTER II. A VISITOR.

It was a very bare little room in which the boy sat, but it was his favourite retreat. Behind the door, in a recess, stood an empty bedstead, without even a mattress upon it. This was the only piece of furniture in the room, unless some shelves crowded with papers tied up in bundles, and a cupboard in the wall, likewise filled with papers, could be called furniture. There was no carpet on the floor, no windows in the walls. The only light came from the door, and from a small skylight in the sloping roof, which showed that it was a garret-room. Nor did much light come from the open door, for there was no window on the walled stair to which it opened; only opposite the door a few steps led up into another garret, larger, but with a lower roof, unceiled, and perforated with two or three holes, the panes of glass filling which were no larger than the small blue slates which covered the roof: from these panes a little dim brown light tumbled into the room where the boy sat on the floor, with his head almost between his knees, thinking.

But there was less light than usual in the room now, though it was only half-past two o'clock, and the sun would not set for more than half-an-hour yet; for if Robert had lifted his head and looked up, it would have been at, not through, the skylight. No sky was to be seen. A thick covering of snow lay over the glass. A partial thaw, followed by frost, had fixed it there—a mass of imperfect cells and confused crystals. It was a cold place to sit in, but the boy had some faculty for enduring cold when it was the price to be paid for solitude. And besides, when he fell into one of his thinking moods, he forgot, for a season, cold and everything else but what he was thinking about—a faculty for which he was to be envied.

If he had gone down the stair, which described half the turn of a screw in its descent, and had crossed the landing to which it brought him, he could have entered another bedroom, called the gable or rather ga'le room, equally at his service for retirement; but, though carpeted and comfortably furnished, and having two windows at right angles, commanding two streets, for it was a corner house, the boy preferred the garret-room—he could not tell why. Possibly, windows to the streets were not congenial to the meditations in which, even now, as I have said, the boy indulged.

These meditations, however, though sometimes as abstruse, if not so continuous, as those of a metaphysician—for boys are not unfrequently more given to metaphysics than older people are able or, perhaps, willing to believe—were not by any means confined to such subjects: castle-building had its full share in the occupation of those lonely hours; and for this exercise of the constructive faculty, what he knew, or rather what he did not know, of his own history gave him scope enough, nor was his brain slow in supplying him with material corresponding in quantity to the space afforded. His mother had been dead for so many years that he had only the vaguest recollections of her tenderness, and none of her person. All he was told of his father was that he had gone abroad. His grandmother would never talk about him, although he was her own son. When the boy ventured to ask a question about where he was, or when he would return, she always replied—'Bairns suld haud their tongues.' Nor would she vouchsafe another answer to any question that seemed to her from the farthest distance to bear down upon that subject. 'Bairns maun learn to haud their tongues,' was the sole variation of which the response admitted. And the boy did learn to hold his tongue. Perhaps he would have thought less about his father if he had had brothers or sisters, or even if the nature of his grandmother had been such as to admit of their relationship being drawn closer—into personal confidence, or some measure of familiarity. How they stood with regard to each other will soon appear.

Whether the visions vanished from his brain because of the thickening of his blood with cold, or he merely acted from one of those undefined and inexplicable impulses which occasion not a few of our actions, I cannot tell, but all at once Robert started to his feet and hurried from the room. At the foot of the garret stair, between it and the door of the gable-room already mentioned, stood another door at right angles to both, of the existence of which the boy was scarcely aware, simply because he had seen it all his life and had never seen it open. Turning his back on this last door, which he took for a blind one, he went down a short broad stair, at the foot of which was a window. He then turned to the left into a long flagged passage or transe, passed the kitchen door on the one hand, and the double-leaved street door on the other; but, instead of going into the parlour, the door of which closed the transe, he stopped at the passage-window on the right, and there stood looking out.

What might be seen from this window certainly could not be called a very pleasant prospect. A broad street with low houses of cold gray stone is perhaps as uninteresting a form of street as any to be found in the world, and such was the street Robert looked out upon. Not a single member of the animal creation was to be seen in it, not a pair of eyes to be discovered looking out at any of the windows opposite. The sole motion was the occasional drift of a vapour-like film of white powder, which the wind would lift like dust from the snowy carpet that covered the street, and wafting it along for a few yards, drop again to its repose, till another stronger gust, prelusive of the wind about to rise at sun-down,—a wind cold and bitter as death—would rush over the street, and raise a denser cloud of the white water-dust to sting the face of any improbable person who might meet it in its passage. It was a keen, knife-edged frost, even in the house, and what Robert saw to make him stand at the desolate window, I do not know, and I believe he could not himself have told. There he did stand, however, for the space of five minutes or so, with nothing better filling his outer eyes at least than a bald spot on the crown of the street, whence the wind had swept away the snow, leaving it brown and bare, a spot of March in the middle of January.

He heard the town drummer in the distance, and let the sound invade his passive ears, till it crossed the opening of the street, and vanished 'down the town.'

'There's Dooble Sanny,' he said to himself—'wi' siccan cauld han's, 'at he's playin' upo' the drum-heid as gin he was loupin' in a bowie (leaping in a cask).'

Then he stood silent once more, with a look as if anything would be welcome to break the monotony.

While he stood a gentle timorous tap came to the door, so gentle indeed that Betty in the kitchen did not hear it, or she, tall and Roman-nosed as she was, would have answered it before the long-legged dreamer could have reached the door, though he was not above three yards from it. In lack of anything better to do, Robert stalked to the summons. As he opened the door, these words greeted him:

'Is Robert at—eh! it's Bob himsel'! Bob, I'm byous (exceedingly) cauld.'

'What for dinna ye gang hame, than?'

'What for wasna ye at the schuil the day?'

'I spier ae queston at you, and ye answer me wi' anither.'

'Weel, I hae nae hame to gang till.'

'Weel, and I had a sair heid (a headache). But whaur's yer hame gane till than?'

'The hoose is there a' richt, but whaur my mither is I dinna ken. The door's lockit, an' Jeames Jaup, they tell me 's tane awa' the key. I doobt my mither's awa' upo' the tramp again, and what's to come o' me, the Lord kens.'

'What's this o' 't?' interposed a severe but not unmelodious voice, breaking into the conversation between the two boys; for the parlour door had opened without Robert's hearing it, and Mrs. Falconer, his grandmother, had drawn near to the speakers.

'What's this o' 't?' she asked again. 'Wha's that ye're conversin' wi' at the door, Robert? Gin it be ony decent laddie, tell him to come in, and no stan' at the door in sic a day 's this.'

As Robert hesitated with his reply, she looked round the open half of the door, but no sooner saw with whom he was talking than her tone changed. By this time Betty, wiping her hands in her apron, had completed the group by taking her stand in the kitchen door.

'Na, na,' said Mrs. Falconer. 'We want nane sic-like here. What does he want wi' you, Robert? Gie him a piece, Betty, and lat him gang.—Eh, sirs! the callant hasna a stockin'-fit upo' 'im—and in sic weather!'

For, before she had finished her speech, the visitor, as if in terror of her nearer approach, had turned his back, and literally showed her, if not a clean pair of heels, yet a pair of naked heels from between the soles and uppers of his shoes: if he had any stockings at all, they ceased before they reached his ankles.

'What ails him at me?' continued Mrs. Falconer, 'that he rins as gin I war a boodie? But it's nae wonner he canna bide the sicht o' a decent body, for he's no used till 't. What does he want wi' you, Robert?'

But Robert had a reason for not telling his grandmother what the boy had told him: he thought the news about his mother would only make her disapprove of him the more. In this he judged wrong. He did not know his grandmother yet.

'He's in my class at the schuil,' said Robert, evasively.

'Him? What class, noo?'

Robert hesitated one moment, but, compelled to give some answer, said, with confidence,

'The Bible-class.'

'I thocht as muckle! What gars ye play at hide and seek wi' me? Do ye think I dinna ken weel eneuch there's no a lad or a lass at the schuil but 's i' the Bible-class? What wants he here?'

'Ye hardly gae him time to tell me, grannie. Ye frichtit him.'

'Me fricht him! What for suld I fricht him, laddie? I'm no sic ferlie (wonder) that onybody needs be frichtit at me.'

The old lady turned with visible, though by no means profound offence upon her calm forehead, and walking back into her parlour, where Robert could see the fire burning right cheerily, shut the door, and left him and Betty standing together in the transe. The latter returned to the kitchen, to resume the washing of the dinner-dishes; and the former returned to his post at the window. He had not stood more than half a minute, thinking what was to be done with his school-fellow deserted of his mother, when the sound of a coach-horn drew his attention to the right, down the street, where he could see part of the other street which crossed it at right angles, and in which the gable of the house stood. A minute after, the mail came in sight—scarlet, spotted with snow—and disappeared, going up the hill towards the chief hostelry of the town, as fast as four horses, tired with the bad footing they had had through the whole of the stage, could draw it after them. By this time the twilight was falling; for though the sun had not yet set, miles of frozen vapour came between him and this part of the world, and his light was never very powerful so far north at this season of the year.

Robert turned into the kitchen, and began to put on his shoes. He had made up his mind what to do.

'Ye're never gaein' oot, Robert?' said Betty, in a hoarse tone of expostulation.

''Deed am I, Betty. What for no?'

'You 'at's been in a' day wi' a sair heid! I'll jist gang benn the hoose and tell the mistress, and syne we'll see what she'll please to say till 't.'

'Ye'll do naething o' the kin', Betty. Are ye gaein' to turn clash-pyet (tell-tale) at your age?'

'What ken ye aboot my age? There's never a man-body i' the toon kens aught aboot my age.'

'It's ower muckle for onybody to min' upo' (remember), is 't, Betty?'

'Dinna be ill-tongued, Robert, or I'll jist gang benn the hoose to the mistress.'

'Betty, wha began wi' bein' ill-tongued? Gin ye tell my grandmither that I gaed oot the nicht, I'll gang to the schuilmaister o' Muckledrum, and get a sicht o' the kirstenin' buik; an' gin yer name binna there, I'll tell ilkabody I meet 'at oor Betty was never kirstened; and that'll be a sair affront, Betty.'

'Hoot! was there ever sic a laddie!' said Betty, attempting to laugh it off. 'Be sure ye be back afore tay-time, 'cause yer grannie 'ill be speirin' efter ye, and ye wadna hae me lee aboot ye?'

'I wad hae naebody lee about me. Ye jist needna lat on 'at ye hear her. Ye can be deif eneuch when ye like, Betty. But I s' be back afore tay-time, or come on the waur.'

Betty, who was in far greater fear of her age being discovered than of being unchristianized in the search, though the fact was that she knew nothing certain about the matter, and had no desire to be enlightened, feeling as if she was thus left at liberty to hint what she pleased,—Betty, I say, never had any intention of going 'benn the hoose to the mistress.' For the threat was merely the rod of terror which she thought it convenient to hold over the back of the boy, whom she always supposed to be about some mischief except he were in her own presence and visibly reading a book: if he were reading aloud, so much the better. But Robert likewise kept a rod for his defence, and that was Betty's age, which he had discovered to be such a precious secret that one would have thought her virtue depended in some cabalistic manner upon the concealment of it. And, certainly, nature herself seemed to favour Betty's weakness, casting such a mist about the number of her years as the goddesses of old were wont to cast about a wounded favourite; for some said Betty was forty, others said she was sixty-five, and, in fact, almost everybody who knew her had a different belief on the matter.

By this time Robert had conquered the difficulty of induing boots as hard as a thorough wetting and as thorough a drying could make them, and now stood prepared to go. His object in setting out was to find the boy whom his grandmother had driven from the door with a hastier and more abject flight than she had in the least intended. But, if his grandmother should miss him, as Betty suggested, and inquire where he had been, what was he to say? He did not mind misleading his grannie, but he had a great objection to telling her a lie. His grandmother herself delivered him from this difficulty.

'Robert, come here,' she called from the parlour door. And Robert obeyed.

'Is 't dingin' on, Robert?' she asked.

'No, grannie; it's only a starnie o' drift.'

The meaning of this was that there was no fresh snow falling, or beating on, only a little surface snow blowing about.

'Weel, jist pit yer shune on, man, and rin up to Miss Naper's upo' the Squaur, and say to Miss Naper, wi' my compliments, that I wad be sair obleeged till her gin she wad len' me that fine receipt o' hers for crappit heids, and I'll sen' 't back safe the morn's mornin'. Rin, noo.'

This commission fell in admirably with Robert's plans, and he started at once.



CHAPTER III. THE BOAR'S HEAD.

Miss Napier was the eldest of three maiden sisters who kept the principal hostelry of Rothieden, called The Boar's Head; from which, as Robert reached the square in the dusk, the mail-coach was moving away with a fresh quaternion of horses. He found a good many boxes standing upon the pavement close by the archway that led to the inn-yard, and around them had gathered a group of loungers, not too cold to be interested. These were looking towards the windows of the inn, where the owner of the boxes had evidently disappeared.

'Saw ye ever sic a sicht in oor toon afore!' said Dooble Sanny, as people generally called him, his name being Alexander Alexander, pronounced, by those who chose to speak of him with the ordinary respect due from one mortal to another, Sandy Elshender. Double Sandy was a soutar, or shoemaker, remarkable for his love of sweet sounds and whisky. He was, besides, the town-crier, who went about with a drum at certain hours of the morning and evening, like a perambulating clock, and also made public announcements of sales, losses, &c.; for the rest—a fierce, fighting fellow when in anger or in drink, which latter included the former.

'What's the sicht, Sandy?' asked Robert, coming up with his hands in the pockets of his trowsers.

'Sic a sicht as ye never saw, man,' returned Sandy; 'the bonniest leddy ever man set his ee upo'. I culd na hae thocht there had been sic a woman i' this warl'.'

'Hoot, Sandy!' said Robert, 'a body wad think she was tint (lost) and ye had the cryin' o' her. Speyk laicher, man; she'll maybe hear ye. Is she i' the inn there?'

'Ay is she,' answered Sandy. 'See sic a warl' o' kists as she's brocht wi' her,' he continued, pointing towards the pile of luggage. 'Saw ye ever sic a bourach (heap)? It jist blecks (beats) me to think what ae body can du wi' sae mony kists. For I mayna doobt but there's something or ither in ilka ane o' them. Naebody wad carry aboot toom (empty) kists wi' them. I cannot mak' it oot.'

The boxes might well surprise Sandy, if we may draw any conclusions from the fact that the sole implement of personal adornment which he possessed was two inches of a broken comb, for which he had to search when he happened to want it, in the drawer of his stool, among awls, lumps of rosin for his violin, masses of the same substance wrought into shoemaker's wax for his ends, and packets of boar's bristles, commonly called birse, for the same.

'Are thae a' ae body's?' asked Robert.

'Troth are they. They're a' hers, I wat. Ye wad hae thocht she had been gaein' to The Bothie; but gin she had been that, there wad hae been a cairriage to meet her,' said Crookit Caumill, the ostler.

The Bothie was the name facetiously given by Alexander, Baron Rothie, son of the Marquis of Boarshead, to a house he had built in the neighbourhood, chiefly for the accommodation of his bachelor friends from London during the shooting-season.

'Haud yer tongue, Caumill,' said the shoemaker. 'She's nae sic cattle, yon.'

'Haud up the bit bowat (stable-lantern), man, and lat Robert here see the direction upo' them. Maybe he'll mak' something o't. He's a fine scholar, ye ken,' said another of the bystanders.

The ostler held the lantern to the card upon one of the boxes, but Robert found only an M., followed by something not very definite, and a J., which might have been an I., Rothieden, Driftshire, Scotland.

As he was not immediate with his answer, Peter Lumley, one of the group, a lazy ne'er-do-weel, who had known better days, but never better manners, and was seldom quite drunk, and seldomer still quite sober, struck in with,

'Ye dinna ken a' thing yet, ye see, Robbie.'

From Sandy this would have been nothing but a good-humoured attempt at facetiousness. From Lumley it meant spite, because Robert's praise was in his ears.

'I dinna preten' to ken ae hair mair than ye do yersel', Mr. Lumley; and that's nae sayin' muckle, surely,' returned Robert, irritated at his tone more than at his words.

The bystanders laughed, and Lumley flew into a rage.

'Haud yer ill tongue, ye brat,' he said. 'Wha' are ye to mak' sic remarks upo' yer betters? A'body kens yer gran'father was naething but the blin' piper o' Portcloddie.'

This was news to Robert—probably false, considering the quarter whence it came. But his mother-wit did not forsake him.

'Weel, Mr. Lumley,' he answered, 'didna he pipe weel? Daur ye tell me 'at he didna pipe weel?—as weel's ye cud hae dune 't yersel', noo, Mr. Lumley?'

The laugh again rose at Lumley's expense, who was well known to have tried his hand at most things, and succeeded in nothing. Dooble Sanny was especially delighted.

'De'il hae ye for a de'il's brat! 'At I suld sweer!' was all Lumley's reply, as he sought to conceal his mortification by attempting to join in the laugh against himself. Robert seized the opportunity of turning away and entering the house.

'That ane's no to be droont or brunt aither,' said Lumley, as he disappeared.

'He'll no be hang't for closin' your mou', Mr. Lumley,' said the shoemaker.

Thereupon Lumley turned and followed Robert into the inn.

Robert had delivered his message to Miss Napier, who sat in an arm-chair by the fire, in a little comfortable parlour, held sacred by all about the house. She was paralytic, and unable to attend to her guests further than by giving orders when anything especial was referred to her decision. She was an old lady—nearly as old as Mrs. Falconer—and wore glasses, but they could not conceal the kindness of her kindly eyes. Probably from giving less heed to a systematic theology, she had nothing of that sternness which first struck a stranger on seeing Robert's grandmother. But then she did not know what it was to be contradicted; and if she had been married, and had had sons, perhaps a sternness not dissimilar might have shown itself in her nature.

'Noo ye maunna gang awa' till ye get something,' she said, after taking the receipt in request from a drawer within her reach, and laying it upon the table. But ere she could ring the bell which stood by her side, one of her servants came in.

'Please, mem,' she said, 'Miss Letty and Miss Lizzy's seein' efter the bonny leddy; and sae I maun come to you.'

'Is she a' that bonny, Meg?' asked her mistress.

'Na, na, she's nae sae fearsome bonny; but Miss Letty's unco ta'en wi' her, ye ken. An' we a' say as Miss Letty says i' this hoose. But that's no the pint. Mr. Lumley's here, seekin' a gill: is he to hae't?'

'Has he had eneuch already, do ye think, Meg?'

'I dinna ken aboot eneuch, mem; that's ill to mizzer; but I dinna think he's had ower muckle.'

'Weel, lat him tak' it. But dinna lat him sit doon.'

'Verra weel, mem,' said Meg, and departed.

'What gars Mr. Lumley say 'at my gran'father was the blin' piper o' Portcloddie? Can ye tell me, Miss Naper?' asked Robert.

'Whan said he that, Robert?'

'Jist as I cam in.'

Miss Napier rang the bell. Another maid appeared.

'Sen' Meg here direckly.'

Meg came, her eyes full of interrogation.

'Dinna gie Lumley a drap. Set him up to insult a young gentleman at my door-cheek! He s' no hae a drap here the nicht. He 's had ower muckle, Meg, already, an' ye oucht to hae seen that.'

''Deed, mem, he 's had mair than ower muckle, than; for there's anither gill ower the thrapple o' 'm. I div my best, mem, but, never tastin' mysel', I canna aye tell hoo muckle 's i' the wame o' a' body 'at comes in.'

'Ye're no fit for the place, Meg; that's a fac'.'

At this charge Meg took no offence, for she had been in the place for twenty years. And both mistress and maid laughed the moment they parted company.

'Wha's this 'at's come the nicht, Miss Naper, 'at they're sae ta'en wi'?' asked Robert.

'Atweel, I dinna ken yet. She's ower bonnie by a' accoonts to be gaein' about her lane (alone). It's a mercy the baron's no at hame. I wad hae to lock her up wi' the forks and spunes.'

'What for that?' asked Robert.

But Miss Napier vouchsafed no further explanation. She stuffed his pockets with sweet biscuits instead, dismissed him in haste, and rang the bell.

'Meg, whaur hae they putten the stranger-leddy?'

'She's no gaein' to bide at our hoose, mem.'

'What say ye, lass? She's never gaein' ower to Lucky Happit's, is she?'

'Ow na, mem. She's a leddy, ilka inch o' her. But she's some sib (relation) to the auld captain, and she's gaein' doon the street as sune's Caumill's ready to tak her bit boxes i' the barrow. But I doobt there'll be maist three barrowfu's o' them.'

'Atweel. Ye can gang.'



CHAPTER IV. SHARGAR.

Robert went out into the thin drift, and again crossing the wide desolate-looking square, turned down an entry leading to a kind of court, which had once been inhabited by a well-to-do class of the townspeople, but had now fallen in estimation. Upon a stone at the door of what seemed an outhouse he discovered the object of his search.

'What are ye sittin' there for, Shargar?'

Shargar is a word of Gaelic origin, applied, with some sense of the ridiculous, to a thin, wasted, dried-up creature. In the present case it was the nickname by which the boy was known at school; and, indeed, where he was known at all.

'What are ye sittin' there for, Shargar? Did naebody offer to tak ye in?'

'Na, nane o' them. I think they maun be a' i' their beds. I'm most dreidfu' cauld.'

The fact was, that Shargar's character, whether by imputation from his mother, or derived from his own actions, was none of the best. The consequence was, that, although scarcely one of the neighbours would have allowed him to sit there all night, each was willing to wait yet a while, in the hope that somebody else's humanity would give in first, and save her from the necessity of offering him a seat by the fireside, and a share of the oatmeal porridge which probably would be scanty enough for her own household. For it must be borne in mind that all the houses in the place were occupied by poor people, with whom the one virtue, Charity, was, in a measure, at home, and amidst many sins, cardinal and other, managed to live in even some degree of comfort.

'Get up, than, Shargar, ye lazy beggar! Or are ye frozen to the door-stane? I s' awa' for a kettle o' bilin' water to lowse ye.'

'Na, na, Bob. I'm no stucken. I'm only some stiff wi' the cauld; for wow, but I am cauld!' said Shargar, rising with difficulty. 'Gie 's a haud o' yer han', Bob.'

Robert gave him his hand, and Shargar was straightway upon his feet.

'Come awa' noo, as fest and as quaiet 's ye can.'

'What are ye gaein' to du wi' me, Bob?'

'What's that to you, Shargar?'

'Naything. Only I wad like to ken.'

'Hae patience, and ye will ken. Only mind ye do as I tell ye, and dinna speik a word.'

Shargar followed in silence.

On the way Robert remembered that Miss Napier had not, after all, given him the receipt for which his grandmother had sent him. So he returned to The Boar's Head, and, while he went in, left Shargar in the archway, to shiver, and try in vain to warm his hands by the alternate plans of slapping them on the opposite arms, and hiding them under them.

When Robert came out, he saw a man talking to him under the lamp. The moment his eyes fell upon the two, he was struck by a resemblance between them. Shargar was right under the lamp, the man to the side of it, so that Shargar was shadowed by its frame, and the man was in its full light. The latter turned away, and passing Robert, went into the inn.

'Wha's that?' asked Robert.

'I dinna ken,' answered Shargar. 'He spak to me or ever I kent he was there, and garred my hert gie sic a loup 'at it maist fell into my breeks.'

'And what said he to ye?'

'He said was the deevil at my lug, that I did naething but caw my han's to bits upo' my shoothers.'

'And what said ye to that?'

'I said I wissed he was, for he wad aiblins hae some spare heat aboot him, an' I hadna freely (quite) eneuch.'

'Weel dune, Shargar! What said he to that?'

'He leuch, and speirt gin I wad list, and gae me a shillin'.'

'Ye didna tak it, Shargar?' asked Robert in some alarm.

'Ay did I. Catch me no taking a shillin'!'

'But they'll haud ye till 't.'

'Na, na. I'm ower shochlin' (in-kneed) for a sodger. But that man was nae sodger.'

'And what mair said he?'

'He speirt what I wad do wi' the shillin'.'

'And what said ye?'

'Ow! syne ye cam' oot, and he gaed awa'.'

'And ye dinna ken wha it was?' repeated Robert.

'It was some like my brither, Lord Sandy; but I dinna ken,' said Shargar.

By this time they had arrived at Yule the baker's shop.

'Bide ye here,' said Robert, who happened to possess a few coppers, 'till I gang into Eel's.'

Shargar stood again and shivered at the door, till Robert came out with a penny loaf in one hand, and a twopenny loaf in the other.

'Gie's a bit, Bob,' said Shargar. 'I'm as hungry as I am cauld.'

'Bide ye still,' returned Robert. 'There's a time for a' thing, and your time 's no come to forgather wi' this loaf yet. Does na it smell fine? It's new frae the bakehoose no ten minutes ago. I ken by the fin' (feel) o' 't.'

'Lat me fin' 't,' said Shargar, stretching out one hand, and feeling his shilling with the other.

'Na. Yer han's canna be clean. And fowk suld aye eat clean, whether they gang clean or no.'

'I'll awa' in an' buy ane oot o' my ain shillin',' said Shargar, in a tone of resolute eagerness.

'Ye'll do naething o' the kin',' returned Robert, darting his hand at his collar. 'Gie me the shillin'. Ye'll want it a' or lang.'

Shargar yielded the coin and slunk behind, while Robert again led the way till they came to his grandmother's door.

'Gang to the ga'le o' the hoose there, Shargar, and jist keek roon' the neuk at me; and gin I whustle upo' ye, come up as quaiet 's ye can. Gin I dinna, bide till I come to ye.'

Robert opened the door cautiously. It was never locked except at night, or when Betty had gone to the well for water, or to the butcher's or baker's, or the prayer-meeting, upon which occasions she put the key in her pocket, and left her mistress a prisoner. He looked first to the right, along the passage, and saw that his grandmother's door was shut; then across the passage to the left, and saw that the kitchen door was likewise shut, because of the cold, for its normal position was against the wall. Thereupon, closing the door, but keeping the handle in his hand, and the bolt drawn back, he turned to the street and whistled soft and low. Shargar had, in a moment, dragged his heavy feet, ready to part company with their shoes at any instant, to Robert's side. He bent his ear to Robert's whisper.

'Gang in there, and creep like a moose to the fit o' the stair. I maun close the door ahin' 's,' said he, opening the door as he spoke.

'I'm fleyt (frightened), Robert.'

'Dinna be a fule. Grannie winna bite aff yer heid. She had ane till her denner, the day, an' it was ill sung (singed).'

'What ane o'?'

'A sheep's heid, ye gowk (fool). Gang in direckly.'

Shargar persisted no longer, but, taking about four steps a minute, slunk past the kitchen like a thief—not so carefully, however, but that one of his soles yet looser than the other gave one clap upon the flagged passage, when Betty straightway stood in the kitchen door, a fierce picture in a deal frame. By this time Robert had closed the outer door, and was following at Shargar's heels.

'What's this?' she cried, but not so loud as to reach the ears of Mrs. Falconer; for, with true Scotch foresight, she would not willingly call in another power before the situation clearly demanded it. 'Whaur's Shargar gaein' that gait?'

'Wi' me. Dinna ye see me wi' him? I'm nae a thief, nor yet's Shargar.'

'There may be twa opingons upo' that, Robert. I s' jist awa' benn to the mistress. I s' hae nae sic doin's i' my hoose.'

'It's nae your hoose, Betty. Dinna lee.'

'Weel, I s' hae nae sic things gang by my kitchie door. There, Robert! what 'll ye mak' o' that? There's nae offence, there, I houp, gin it suldna be a'thegither my ain hoose. Tak Shargar oot o' that, or I s' awa' benn the hoose, as I tell ye.'

Meantime Shargar was standing on the stones, looking like a terrified white rabbit, and shaking from head to foot with cold and fright combined.

'I'll tak him oot o' this, but it's up the stair, Betty. An' gin ye gang benn the hoose aboot it, I sweir to ye, as sure 's death, I'll gang doon to Muckledrum upo' Setterday i' the efternune.'

'Gang awa' wi' yer havers. Only gin the mistress speirs onything aboot it, what am I to say?'

'Bide till she speirs. Auld Spunkie says, "Ready-made answers are aye to seek." And I say, Betty, hae ye a cauld pitawta (potato)?'

'I'll luik and see. Wadna ye like it het up?'

'Ow ay, gin ye binna lang aboot it.'

Suddenly a bell rang, shrill and peremptory, right above Shargar's head, causing in him a responsive increase of trembling.

'Haud oot o' my gait. There's the mistress's bell,' said Betty.

'Jist bide till we're roon' the neuk and on to the stair,' said Robert, now leading the way.

Betty watched them safe round the corner before she made for the parlour, little thinking to what she had become an unwilling accomplice, for she never imagined that more than an evening's visit was intended by Shargar, which in itself seemed to her strange and improper enough even for such an eccentric boy as Robert to encourage.

Shargar followed in mortal terror, for, like Christian in The Pilgrim's Progress, he had no armour to his back. Once round the corner, two strides of three steps each took them to the top of the first stair, Shargar knocking his head in the darkness against the never-opened door. Again three strides brought them to the top of the second flight; and turning once more, still to the right, Robert led Shargar up the few steps into the higher of the two garrets.

Here there was just glimmer enough from the sky to discover the hollow of a close bedstead, built in under the sloping roof, which served it for a tester, while the two ends and most of the front were boarded up to the roof. This bedstead fortunately was not so bare as the one in the other room, although it had not been used for many years, for an old mattress covered the boards with which it was bottomed.

'Gang in there, Shargar. Ye'll be warmer there than upo' the door-step ony gait. Pit aff yer shune.'

Shargar obeyed, full of delight at finding himself in such good quarters. Robert went to a forsaken press in the room, and brought out an ancient cloak of tartan, of the same form as what is now called an Inverness cape, a blue dress-coat, with plain gilt buttons, which shone even now in the all but darkness, and several other garments, amongst them a kilt, and heaped them over Shargar as he lay on the mattress. He then handed him the twopenny and the penny loaves, which were all his stock had reached to the purchase of, and left him, saying,—

'I maun awa' to my tay, Shargar. I'll fess ye a cauld tawtie het again, gin Betty has ony. Lie still, and whatever ye do, dinna come oot o' that.'

The last injunction was entirely unnecessary.

'Eh, Bob, I'm jist in haven!' said the poor creature, for his skin began to feel the precious possibility of reviving warmth in the distance.

Now that he had gained a new burrow, the human animal soon recovered from his fears as well. It seemed to him, in the novelty of the place, that he had made so many doublings to reach it, that there could be no danger of even the mistress of the house finding him out, for she could hardly be supposed to look after such a remote corner of her dominions. And then he was boxed in with the bed, and covered with no end of warm garments, while the friendly darkness closed him and his shelter all round. Except the faintest blue gleam from one of the panes in the roof, there was soon no hint of light anywhere; and this was only sufficient to make the darkness visible, and thus add artistic effect to the operation of it upon Shargar's imagination—a faculty certainly uneducated in Shargar, but far, very far from being therefore non-existent. It was, indeed, actively operative, although, like that of many a fine lady and gentleman, only in relation to such primary questions as: 'What shall we eat? And what shall we drink? And wherewithal shall we be clothed?' But as he lay and devoured the new 'white breid,' his satisfaction—the bare delight of his animal existence—reached a pitch such as even this imagination, stinted with poverty, and frost-bitten with maternal oppression, had never conceived possible. The power of enjoying the present without anticipation of the future or regard of the past, is the especial privilege of the animal nature, and of the human nature in proportion as it has not been developed beyond the animal. Herein lies the happiness of cab horses and of tramps: to them the gift of forgetfulness is of worth inestimable. Shargar's heaven was for the present gained.



CHAPTER V. THE SYMPOSIUM.

Robert had scarcely turned out of the square on his way to find Shargar, when a horseman entered it. His horse and he were both apparently black on one side and gray on the other, from the snow-drift settling to windward. The animal looked tired, but the rider sat as easy as if he were riding to cover. The reins hung loose, and the horse went in a straight line for The Boar's Head, stopping under the archway only when his master drew bridle at the door of the inn.

At that moment Miss Letty was standing at the back of Miss Napier's chair, leaning her arms upon it as she talked to her. This was her way of resting as often as occasion arose for a chat with her elder sister. Miss Letty's hair was gathered in a great knot at the top of her head, and little ringlets hung like tendrils down the sides of her face, the benevolence of which was less immediately striking than that of her sister's, because of the constant play of humour upon it, especially about the mouth. If a spirit of satire could be supposed converted into something Christian by an infusion of the tenderest loving-kindness and humanity, remaining still recognizable notwithstanding that all its bitterness was gone, such was the expression of Miss Letty's mouth, It was always half puckered as if in resistance to a comic smile, which showed itself at the windows of the keen gray eyes, however the mouth might be able to keep it within doors. She was neatly dressed in black silk, with a lace collar. Her hands were small and white.

The moment the traveller stopped at the door, Miss Napier started.

'Letty,' she said, 'wha's that? I could amaist sweir to Black Geordie's fit.'

'A' four o' them, I think,' returned Miss Letty, as the horse, notwithstanding, or perhaps in consequence of his fatigue, began to paw and move about on the stones impatiently.

The rider had not yet spoken.

'He'll be efter some o' 's deevil-ma'-care sculduddery. But jist rin to the door, Letty, or Lizzy 'll be there afore ye, and maybe she wadna be ower ceevil. What can he be efter noo?'

'What wad the grew (grayhound) be efter but maukin (hare)?' returned Miss Letty.

'Hoot! nonsense! He kens naething aboot her. Gang to the door, lassie.'

Miss Letty obeyed.

'Wha's there?' she asked, somewhat sharply, as she opened it, 'that neither chaps (knocks) nor ca's?—Preserve 's a'! is't you, my lord?'

'Hoo ken ye me, Miss Letty withoot seein' my face?'

'A'body at The Boar's Heid kens Black Geordie as weel 's yer lordship's ain sel'. But whaur comes yer lordship frae in sic a nicht as this?'

'From Russia. Never dismounted between Moscow and Aberdeen. The ice is bearing to-night.'

And the baron laughed inside the upturned collar of his cloak, for he knew that strangely-exaggerated stories were current about his feats in the saddle.

'That's a lang ride, my lord, and a sliddery. And what's yer lordship's wull?'

'Muckle ye care aboot my lordship to stand jawin' there in a night like this! Is nobody going to take my horse?'

'I beg yer lordship's pardon. Caumill!—Yer lordship never said ye wanted yer lordship's horse ta'en. I thocht ye micht be gaein' on to The Bothie.—Tak' Black Geordie here, Caumill.—Come in to the parlour, my lord.'

'How d'ye do, Miss Naper?' said Lord Rothie, as he entered the room. 'Here's this jade of a sister of yours asking me why I don't go home to The Bothie, when I choose to stop and water here.'

'What'll ye tak', my lord?—Letty, fess the brandy.'

'Oh! damn your brandy! Bring me a gill of good Glendronach.'

'Rin, Letty. His lordship's cauld.—I canna rise to offer ye the airm-cheir, my lord.'

'I can get one for myself, thank heaven!'

'Lang may yer lordship return sic thanks.' 'For I'm only new begun, ye think, Miss Naper. Well, I don't often trouble heaven with my affairs. By Jove! I ought to be heard when I do.'

'Nae doobt ye will, my lord, whan ye seek onything that's fit to be gien ye.'

'True. Heaven's gifts are seldom much worth the asking.'

'Haud yer tongue, my lord, and dinna bring doon a judgment upo' my hoose, for it wad be missed oot o' Rothieden,'

'You're right there, Miss Naper. And here comes the whisky to stop my mouth.'

The Baron of Rothie sat for a few minutes with his feet on the fender before Miss Letty's blazing fire, without speaking, while he sipped the whisky neat from a wine-glass. He was a man about the middle height, rather full-figured, muscular and active, with a small head, and an eye whose brightness had not yet been dimmed by the sensuality which might be read in the condition rather than frame of his countenance. But while he spoke so pleasantly to the Miss Napiers, and his forehead spread broad and smooth over the twinkle of his hazel eye, there was a sharp curve on each side of his upper lip, half-way between the corner and the middle, which reminded one of the same curves in the lip of his ancestral boar's head, where it was lifted up by the protruding tusks. These curves disappeared, of course, when he smiled, and his smile, being a lord's, was generally pronounced irresistible. He was good-natured, and nowise inclined to stand upon his rank, so long as he had his own way.

'Any customers by the mail to-night, Miss Naper?' he asked, in a careless tone.

'Naebody partic'lar, my lord.'

'I thought ye never let anybody in that wasn't particularly particular. No foot-passengers—eh?'

'Hoot, my lord! that's twa year ago. Gin I had jaloosed him to be a fren' o' yer lordship's, forby bein' a lord himsel', ye ken as weel 's I du that I wadna hae sent him ower the gait to Luckie Happit's, whaur he wadna even be ower sure o' gettin' clean sheets. But gin lords an' lords' sons will walk afit like ither fowk, wha's to ken them frae ither fowk?'

'Well, Miss Naper, he was no lord at all. He was nothing but a factor-body doon frae Glenbucket.'

'There was sma' hairm dune than, my lord. I'm glaid to hear 't. But what'll yer lordship hae to yer supper?'

'I would like a dish o' your chits and nears (sweetbreads and kidneys).'

'Noo, think o' that!' returned the landlady, laughing. 'You great fowk wad hae the verra coorse o' natur' turned upside doon to shuit yersels. Wha ever heard o' caure (calves) at this time o' the year?'

'Well, anything you like. Who was it came by the mail, did you say?'

'I said naebody partic'lar, my lord.'

'Well, I'll just go and have a look at Black Geordie.'

'Verra weel, my lord.—Letty, rin an' luik efter him; and as sune 's he's roon' the neuk, tell Lizzie no to say a word aboot the leddy. As sure 's deith he's efter her. Whaur cud he hae heard tell o' her?'

Lord Rothie came, a moment after, sauntering into the bar-parlour, where Lizzie, the third Miss Napier, a red-haired, round-eyed, white-toothed woman of forty, was making entries in a book.

'She's a bonnie lassie that, that came in the coach to-night, they say, Miss Lizzie.'

'As ugly 's sin, my lord,' answered Lizzie.

'I hae seen some sin 'at was nane sae ugly, Miss Lizzie.'

'She wad hae clean scunnert (disgusted) ye, my lord. It's a mercy ye didna see her.'

'If she be as ugly as all that, I would just like to see her.'

Miss Lizzie saw she had gone too far.

'Ow, deed! gin yer lordship wants to see her, ye may see her at yer wull. I s' gang and tell her.'

And she rose as if to go.

'No, no. Nothing of the sort, Miss Lizzie. Only I heard that she was bonnie, and I wanted to see her. You know I like to look at a pretty girl.'

'That's ower weel kent, my lord.'

'Well, there's no harm in that, Miss Lizzie.'

'There's no harm in that, my lord, though yer lordship says 't.'

The facts were that his lordship had been to the county-town, some forty miles off, and Black Geordie had been sent to Hillknow to meet him; for in any weather that would let him sit, he preferred horseback to every other mode of travelling, though he seldom would be followed by a groom. He had posted to Hillknow, and had dined with a friend at the inn. The coach stopping to change horses, he had caught a glimpse of a pretty face, as he thought, from its window, and had hoped to overtake the coach before it reached Rothieden. But stopping to drink another bottle, he had failed; and it was on the merest chance of seeing that pretty face that he stopped at The Boar's Head. In all probability, had the Marquis seen the lady, he would not have thought her at all such a beauty as she appeared in the eyes of Dooble Sanny; nor, I venture to think, had he thought as the shoemaker did, would he yet have dared to address her in other than the words of such respect as he could still feel in the presence of that which was more noble than himself.

Whether or not on his visit to the stable he found anything amiss with Black Geordie, I cannot tell, but he now begged Miss Lizzie to have a bedroom prepared for him.

It happened to be the evening of Friday, one devoted by some of the townspeople to a symposium. To this, knowing that the talk will throw a glimmer on several matters, I will now introduce my reader, as a spectator through the reversed telescope of my history.

A few of the more influential of the inhabitants had grown, rather than formed themselves, into a kind of club, which met weekly at The Boar's Head. Although they had no exclusive right to the room in which they sat, they generally managed to retain exclusive possession of it; for if any supposed objectionable person entered, they always got rid of him, sometimes without his being aware of how they had contrived to make him so uncomfortable. They began to gather about seven o'clock, when it was expected that boiling water would be in readiness for the compound generally called toddy, sometimes punch. As soon as six were assembled, one was always voted into the chair.

On the present occasion, Mr. Innes, the school-master, was unanimously elected to that honour. He was a hard-featured, sententious, snuffy individual, of some learning, and great respectability.

I omit the political talk with which their intercommunications began; for however interesting at the time is the scaffolding by which existing institutions arise, the poles and beams when gathered again in the builder's yard are scarcely a subject for the artist.

The first to lead the way towards matters of nearer personality was William MacGregor, the linen manufacturer, a man who possessed a score of hand-looms or so—half of which, from the advance of cotton and the decline of linen-wear, now stood idle—but who had already a sufficient deposit in the hands of Mr. Thomson the banker—agent, that is, for the county-bank—to secure him against any necessity for taking to cotton shirts himself, which were an abomination and offence unpardonable in his eyes.

'Can ye tell me, Mr. Cocker,' he said, 'what mak's Sandy, Lord Rothie, or Wrathy, or what suld he be ca'd?—tak' to The Bothie at a time like this, whan there's neither huntin', nor fishin', nor shutin', nor onything o' the kin' aboot han' to be playacks till him, the bonnie bairn—'cep' it be otters an' sic like?'

William was a shrunken old man, with white whiskers and a black wig, a keen black eye, always in search of the ludicrous in other people, and a mouth ever on the move, as if masticating something comical.

'You know just as well as I do,' answered Mr. Cocker, the Marquis of Boarshead's factor for the surrounding estate. 'He never was in the way of giving a reason for anything, least of all for his own movements.'

'Somebody was sayin' to me,' resumed MacGregor, who, in all probability, invented the story at the moment, 'that the prince took him kissin' ane o' his servan' lasses, and kickit him oot o' Carlton Hoose into the street, and he canna win' ower the disgrace o' 't.'

''Deed for the kissin',' said Mr. Thomson, a portly, comfortable-looking man, 'that's neither here nor there, though it micht hae been a duchess or twa; but for the kickin', my word! but Lord Sandy was mair likly to kick oot the prince. Do ye min' hoo he did whan the Markis taxed him wi'—?'

'Haud a quaiet sough,' interposed Mr. Cruickshank, the solicitor; 'there's a drap i' the hoose.'

This was a phrase well understood by the company, indicating the presence of some one unknown, or unfit to be trusted.

As he spoke he looked towards the farther end of the room, which lay in obscurity; for it was a large room, lighted only by the four candles on the table at which the company sat.

'Whaur, Mr. Cruickshank?' asked the dominie in a whisper.

'There,' answered Sampson Peddie, the bookseller, who seized the opportunity of saying something, and pointed furtively where the solicitor had only looked.

A dim figure was descried at a table in the farthest corner of the room, and they proceeded to carry out the plan they generally adopted to get rid of a stranger.

'Ye made use o' a curious auld Scots phrase this moment, Mr. Curshank: can ye explain hoo it comes to beir the meanin' that it's weel kent to beir?' said the manufacturer.

'Not I, Mr. MacGregor,' answered the solicitor. 'I'm no philologist or antiquarian. Ask the chairman.'

'Gentlemen,' responded Mr. Innes, taking a huge pinch of snuff after the word, and then, passing the box to Mr. Cocker, a sip from his glass before he went on: 'the phrase, gentlemen, "a drap i' the hoose," no doobt refers to an undesirable presence, for ye're weel awaur that it's a most unpleasin' discovery, in winter especially, to find a drop o' water hangin' from yer ceiling; a something, in short, whaur it has no business to be, and is not accordingly looked for, or prepared against.'

'It seems to me, Mr. Innes,' said MacGregor, 'that ye hae hit the nail, but no upo' the heid. What mak' ye o' the phrase, no confined to the Scots tongue, I believe, o' an eaves-drapper? The whilk, no doobt, represents a body that hings aboot yer winnock, like a drap hangin' ower abune it frae the eaves—therefore called an eaves drapper. But the sort of whilk we noo speak, are a waur sort a'thegither; for they come to the inside o' yer hoose, o' yer verra chaumer, an' hing oot their lang lugs to hear what ye carena to be hard save by a dooce frien' or twa ower a het tum'ler.'

At the same moment the door opened, and a man entered, who was received with unusual welcome.

'Bless my sowl!' said the president, rising; 'it's Mr. Lammie!—Come awa', Mr. Lammie. Sit doon; sit doon. Whaur hae ye been this mony a day, like a pelican o' the wilderness?'

Mr. Lammie was a large, mild man, with florid cheeks, no whiskers, and a prominent black eye. He was characterized by a certain simple alacrity, a gentle, but outspeaking readiness, which made him a favourite.

'I dinna richtly mak' oot wha ye are,' he answered. 'Ye hae unco little licht here! Hoo are ye a', gentlemen? I s' discover ye by degrees, and pay my respecks accordin'.'

And he drew a chair to the table.

''Deed I wuss ye wad,' returned MacGregor, in a voice pretentiously hushed, but none the less audible. 'There's a drap in yon en' o' the hoose, Mr. Lammie.'

'Hoot! never min' the man,' said Lammie, looking round in the direction indicated. 'I s' warran' he cares as little aboot hiz as we care aboot him. There's nae treason noo a-days. I carena wha hears what I say.'

'For my pairt,' said Mr. Peddie, 'I canna help wonnerin' gin it cud be oor auld frien' Mr. Faukener.'

'Speyk o' the de'il—' said Mr. Lammie.

'Hoot! na,' returned Peddie, interrupting. 'He wasna a'thegither the de'il.'

'Haud the tongue o' ye,' retorted Lammie. 'Dinna ye ken a proverb whan ye hear 't? De'il hae ye! ye're as sharpset as a missionar'. I was only gaun to say that I'm doobtin' Andrew's deid.'

'Ay! ay!' commenced a chorus of questioning.

'Mhm!'

'Aaay!'

'What gars ye think that?'

'And sae he's deid!'

'He was a great favourite, Anerew!'

'Whaur dee'd he?'

'Aye some upsettin' though!'

'Ay. He was aye to be somebody wi' his tale.'

'A gude-hertit crater, but ye cudna lippen till him.'

'Speyk nae ill o' the deid. Maybe they'll hear ye, and turn roon' i' their coffins, and that'll whumle you i' your beds,' said MacGregor, with a twinkle in his eye.

'Ring the bell for anither tum'ler, Sampson,' said the chairman.

'What'll be dune wi' that factory place, noo? It'll be i' the market?'

'It's been i' the market for mony a year. But it's no his ava. It belangs to the auld leddy, his mither,' said the weaver.

'Why don't you buy it, Mr. MacGregor, and set up a cotton mill? There's not much doing with the linen now,' said Mr. Cocker.

'Me!' returned MacGregor, with indignation. 'The Lord forgie ye for mintin' (hinting) at sic a thing, Mr. Cocker! Me tak' to coaton! I wad as sune spin the hair frae Sawtan's hurdies. Short fushionless dirt, that canna grow straucht oot o' the halesome yird, like the bonnie lint-bells, but maun stick itsel' upo' a buss!—set it up! Coorse vulgar stuff, 'at naebody wad weir but loup-coonter lads that wad fain luik like gentlemen by means o' the collars and ruffles—an' a' comin' frae the auld loom! They may weel affoord se'enteen hunner linen to set it aff wi' 'at has naething but coaton inside the breeks o' them.'

'But Dr. Wagstaff says it's healthier,' interposed Peddie.

'I'll wag a staff till him. De'il a bit o' 't 's healthier! an' that he kens. It's nae sae healthy, an' sae it mak's him mair wark wi' 's poothers an' his drauchts, an' ither stinkin' stuff. Healthier! What neist?'

'Somebody tellt me,' said the bookseller, inwardly conscious of offence, ''at hoo Lord Sandy himsel' weirs cotton.'

'Ow 'deed, maybe. And he sets mony a worthy example furbye. Hoo mony, can ye tell me, Mr. Peddie, has he pulled doon frae honest, if no frae high estate, and sent oot to seek their livin' as he taucht them? Hoo mony—?'

'Hoot, hoot! Mr. MacGregor, his lordship hasn't a cotton shirt in his possession, I'll be bound,' said Mr. Cocker. 'And, besides, you have not to wash his dirty linen—or cotton either.'

'That's as muckle as to say, accordin' to Cocker, that I'm no to speik a word against him. But I'll say what I like. He's no my maister,' said MacGregor, who could drink very little without suffering in his temper and manners; and who, besides, had a certain shrewd suspicion as to the person who still sat in the dark end of the room, possibly because the entrance of Mr. Lammie had interrupted the exorcism.

The chairman interposed with soothing words; and the whole company, Cocker included, did its best to pacify the manufacturer; for they all knew what would be the penalty if they failed.

A good deal of talk followed, and a good deal of whisky was drunk. They were waited upon by Meg, who, without their being aware of it, cast a keen parting glance at them every time she left the room. At length the conversation had turned again to Andrew Falconer's death.

'Whaur said ye he dee'd, Mr. Lammie?'

'I never said he was deid. I said I was feared 'at he was deid.'

'An' what gars ye say that? It micht be o' consequence to hae 't correck,' said the solicitor.

'I had a letter frae my auld frien' and his, Dr. Anderson. Ye min' upo' him, Mr. Innes, dunna ye? He's heid o' the medical boord at Calcutta noo. He says naething but that he doobts he's gane. He gaed up the country, and he hasna hard o' him for sae lang. We hae keepit up a correspondence for mony a year noo, Dr. Anderson an' me. He was a relation o' Anerew's, ye ken—a second cousin, or something. He'll be hame or lang, I'm thinkin', wi' a fine pension.'

'He winna weir a cotton sark, I'll be boon',' said MacGregor.

'What's the auld leddy gaein' to du wi' that lang-leggit oye (grandson) o' hers, Anerew's son?' asked Sampson.

'Ow! he'll be gaein' to the college, I'm thinkin'. He's a fine lad, and a clever, they tell me,' said Mr. Thomson.

'Indeed, he's all that, and more too,' said the school-master.

'There's naething 'ull du but the college noo!' said MacGregor, whom nobody heeded, for fear of again rousing his anger.

'Hoo 'ill she manage that, honest woman? She maun hae but little to spare frae the cleedin' o' 'm.'

'She's a gude manager, Mistress Faukner. And, ye see, she has the bleachgreen yet.'

'She doesna weir cotton sarks,' growled MacGregor. 'Mony's the wob o' mine she's bleached and boucht tu!'

Nobody heeding him yet, he began to feel insulted, and broke in upon the conversation with intent.

'Ye haena telt 's yet, Cocker,' he said, 'what that maister o' yours is duin' here at this time o' the year. I wad ken that, gin ye please.'

'How should I know, Mr. MacGregor?' returned the factor, taking no notice of the offensive manner in which the question was put.

'He's no a hair better nor ane o' thae Algerine pirates 'at Lord Exmooth's het the hips o'—and that's my opingon.'

'He's nae amo' your feet, MacGregor,' said the banker. 'Ye micht jist lat him lie.'

'Gin I had him doon, faith gin I wadna lat him lie! I'll jist tell ye ae thing, gentlemen, that cam' to my knowledge no a hunner year ago. An' it's a' as true 's gospel, though I hae aye held my tongue aboot it till this verra nicht. Ay! ye'll a' hearken noo; but it's no lauchin', though there was sculduddery eneuch, nae doobt, afore it cam' that len'th. And mony a het drap did the puir lassie greet, I can tell ye. Faith! it was no lauchin' to her. She was a servan' o' oors, an' a ticht bonnie lass she was. They ca'd her the weyver's bonny Mary—that's the name she gaed by. Weel, ye see—'

MacGregor was interrupted by a sound from the further end of the room. The stranger, whom most of them had by this time forgotten, had risen, and was approaching the table where they sat.

'Guid guide us!' interrupted several under their breaths, as all rose, 'it's Lord Sandy himsel'!'

'I thank you, gentleman,' he said, with a mixture of irony and contempt, 'for the interest you take in my private history. I should have thought it had been as little to the taste as it is to the honour of some of you to listen to such a farrago of lies.'

'Lees! my lord,' said MacGregor, starting to his feet. Mr. Cocker looked dismayed, and Mr. Lammie sheepish—all of them dazed and dumbfoundered, except the old weaver, who, as his lordship turned to leave the room, added:

'Lang lugs (ears) suld be made o' leather, my lord, for fear they grow het wi' what they hear.'

Lord Rothie turned in a rage. He too had been drinking.

'Kick that toad into the street, or, by heaven! it's the last drop any of you drink in this house!' he cried.

'The taed may tell the poddock (frog) what the rottan (rat) did i' the taed's hole, my lord,' said MacGregor, whom independence, honesty, bile, and drink combined to render fearless.

Lord Sandy left the room without another word. His factor took his hat and followed him. The rest dropped into their seats in silence. Mr. Lammie was the first to speak.

'There's a pliskie!' he said.

'I cud jist say the word efter auld Simeon,' said MacGregor.

'I never thocht to be sae favoured! Eh! but I hae langed, and noo I hae spoken!' with which words he sat down, contented.

When Mr. Cocker overtook his master, as MacGregor had not unfitly styled him, he only got a damning for his pains, and went home considerably crestfallen.

Lord Rothie returned to the landlady in her parlour.

'What's the maitter wi' ye, my lord? What's vexed ye?' asked Miss Napier, with a twinkle in her eyes, for she thought, from the baron's mortification, he must have received some rebuff, and now that the bonnie leddy was safe at Captain Forsyth's, enjoyed the idea of it.

'Ye keep an ill-tongued hoose, Miss Naper,' answered his lordship.

Miss Napier guessed at the truth at once—that he had overheard some free remarks on his well-known licence of behaviour.

'Weel, my lord, I do my best. A body canna keep an inn and speir the carritchis (catechism) at the door o' 't. But I believe ye're i' the richt, my lord, for I heard an awfu' aff-gang o' sweirin' i' the yard, jist afore yer lordship cam' in. An' noo' 'at I think o' 't, it wasna that onlike yer lordship's ain word.'

Lord Sandy broke into a loud laugh. He could enjoy a joke against himself when it came from a woman, and was founded on such a trifle as a personal vice.

'I think I'll go to bed,' he said when his laugh was over. 'I believe it's the only safe place from your tongue, Miss Naper.'

'Letty,' cried Miss Napier, 'fess a can'le, and show his lordship to the reid room.'

Till Miss Letty appeared, the baron sat and stretched himself. He then rose and followed her into the archway, and up an outside stair to a door which opened immediately upon a handsome old-fashioned room, where a blazing fire lighted up the red hangings. Miss Letty set down the candle, and bidding his lordship good night, turned and left the room, shutting the door, and locking it behind her—a proceeding of which his lordship took no notice, for, however especially suitable it might be in his case, it was only, from whatever ancient source derived, the custom of the house in regard to this particular room and a corresponding chamber on the opposite side of the archway.

Meantime the consternation amongst the members of the club was not so great as not to be talked over, or to prevent the call for more whisky and hot water. All but MacGregor, however, regretted what had occurred. He was so elevated with his victory and a sense of courage and prowess, that he became more and more facetious and overbearing.

'It's all very well for you, Mr. MacGregor,' said the dominie, with dignity: 'you have nothing to lose.'

'Troth! he canna brak the bank—eh, Mr. Tamson?'

'He may give me a hint to make you withdraw your money, though, Mr. MacGregor.'

'De'il care gin I do!' returned the weaver. 'I can mak' better o' 't ony day.'

'But there's yer hoose an' kailyard,' suggested Peddie.

'They're ma ain!—a' ma ain! He canna lay 's finger on onything o' mine but my servan' lass,' cried the weaver, slapping his thigh-bone—for there was little else to slap.

Meg, at the moment, was taking her exit-glance. She went straight to Miss Napier.

'Willie MacGregor's had eneuch, mem, an' a drappy ower.'

'Sen' Caumill doon to Mrs. MacGregor to say wi' my compliments that she wad do weel to sen' for him,' was the response.

Meantime he grew more than troublesome. Ever on the outlook, when sober, after the foibles of others, he laid himself open to endless ridicule when in drink, which, to tell the truth, was a rare occurrence. He was in the midst of a prophetic denunciation of the vices of the nobility, and especially of Lord Rothie, when Meg, entering the room, went quietly behind his chair and whispered:

'Maister MacGregor, there's a lassie come for ye.'

'I'm nae in,' he answered, magnificently.

'But it's the mistress 'at's sent for ye. Somebody's wantin' ye.'

'Somebody maun want me, than.—As I was sayin', Mr. Cheerman and gentlemen—'

'Mistress MacGregor 'll be efter ye hersel', gin ye dinna gang,' said Meg.

'Let her come. Duv ye think I'm fleyt at her? De'il a step 'll I gang till I please. Tell her that, Meg.'

Meg left the room, with a broad grin on her good-humoured face.

'What's the bitch lauchin' at?' exclaimed MacGregor, starting to his feet.

The whole company rose likewise, using their endeavour to persuade him to go home.

'Duv ye think I'm drunk, sirs? I'll lat ye ken I'm no drunk. I hae a wull o' mine ain yet. Am I to gang hame wi' a lassie to haud me oot o' the gutters? Gin ye daur to alloo that I'm drunk, ye ken hoo ye'll fare, for de'il a fit 'll I gang oot o' this till I hae anither tum'ler.'

'I'm thinkin' there's mair o' 's jist want ane mair,' said Peddie.

A confirmatory murmur arose as each looked into the bottom of his tumbler, and the bell was instantly rung. But it only brought Meg back with the message that it was time for them all to go home. Every eye turned upon MacGregor reproachfully.

'Ye needna luik at me that gait, sirs. I'm no fou,' said he.

''Deed no. Naebody taks ye to be,' answered the chairman. 'Meggie, there's naebody's had ower muckle yet, and twa or three o' 's hasna had freely eneuch. Jist gang an' fess a mutchkin mair. An' there'll be a shillin' to yersel', lass.'

Meg retired, but straightway returned.

'Miss Naper says there's no a drap mair drink to be had i' this hoose the nicht.'

'Here, Meggie,' said the chairman, 'there's yer shillin'; and ye jist gang to Miss Lettie, and gie her my compliments, and say that Mr. Lammie's here, and we haena seen him for a lang time. And'—the rest was spoken in a whisper—'I'll sweir to ye, Meggie, the weyver body sanna hae ae drap o' 't.'

Meg withdrew once more, and returned.

'Miss Letty's compliments, sir, and Miss Naper has the keys, and she's gane till her bed, and we maunna disturb her. And it's time 'at a' honest fowk was in their beds tu. And gin Mr. Lammie wants a bed i' this hoose, he maun gang till 't. An' here's his can'le. Gude nicht to ye a', gentlemen.'

So saying, Meg set the lighted candle on the sideboard, and finally vanished. The good-tempered, who formed the greater part of the company, smiled to each other, and emptied the last drops of their toddy first into their glasses, and thence into their mouths. The ill-tempered, numbering but one more than MacGregor, growled and swore a little, the weaver declaring that he would not go home. But the rest walked out and left him, and at last, appalled by the silence, he rose with his wig awry, and trotted—he always trotted when he was tipsy—home to his wife.



CHAPTER VI. MRS. FALCONER.

Meantime Robert was seated in the parlour at the little dark mahogany table, in which the lamp, shaded towards his grandmother's side, shone brilliantly reflected. Her face being thus hidden both by the light and the shadow, he could not observe the keen look of stern benevolence with which, knowing that he could not see her, she regarded him as he ate his thick oat-cake of Betty's skilled manufacture, well loaded with the sweetest butter, and drank the tea which she had poured out and sugared for him with liberal hand. It was a comfortable little room, though its inlaid mahogany chairs and ancient sofa, covered with horsehair, had a certain look of hardness, no doubt. A shepherdess and lamb, worked in silks whose brilliance had now faded half-way to neutrality, hung in a black frame, with brass rosettes at the corners, over the chimney-piece—the sole approach to the luxury of art in the homely little place. Besides the muslin stretched across the lower part of the window, it was undefended by curtains. There was no cat in the room, nor was there one in the kitchen even; for Mrs. Falconer had such a respect for humanity that she grudged every morsel consumed by the lower creation. She sat in one of the arm-chairs belonging to the hairy set, leaning back in contemplation of her grandson, as she took her tea.

She was a handsome old lady—little, but had once been taller, for she was more than seventy now. She wore a plain cap of muslin, lying close to her face, and bordered a little way from the edge with a broad black ribbon, which went round her face, and then, turning at right angles, went round the back of her neck. Her gray hair peeped a little way from under this cap. A clear but short-sighted eye of a light hazel shone under a smooth thoughtful forehead; a straight and well-elevated, but rather short nose, which left the firm upper lip long and capable of expressing a world of dignified offence, rose over a well-formed mouth, revealing more moral than temperamental sweetness; while the chin was rather deficient than otherwise, and took little share in indicating the remarkable character possessed by the old lady.

After gazing at Robert for some time, she took a piece of oat-cake from a plate by her side, the only luxury in which she indulged, for it was made with cream instead of water—it was very little she ate of anything—and held it out to Robert in a hand white, soft, and smooth, but with square finger tips, and squat though pearly nails. 'Ha'e, Robert,' she said; and Robert received it with a 'Thank you, grannie'; but when he thought she did not see him, slipped it under the table and into his pocket. She saw him well enough, however, and although she would not condescend to ask him why he put it away instead of eating it, the endeavour to discover what could have been his reason for so doing cost her two hours of sleep that night. She would always be at the bottom of a thing if reflection could reach it, but she generally declined taking the most ordinary measures to expedite the process.

When Robert had finished his tea, instead of rising to get his books and betake himself to his lessons, in regard to which his grandmother had seldom any cause to complain, although she would have considered herself guilty of high treason against the boy's future if she had allowed herself once to acknowledge as much, he drew his chair towards the fire, and said:

'Grandmamma!'

'He's gaein' to tell me something,' said Mrs. Falconer to herself. 'Will 't be aboot the puir barfut crater they ca' Shargar, or will 't be aboot the piece he pat intil 's pooch?'

'Weel, laddie?' she said aloud, willing to encourage him.

'Is 't true that my gran'father was the blin' piper o' Portcloddie?'

'Ay, laddie; true eneuch. Hoots, na! nae yer grandfather, but yer father's grandfather, laddie—my husband's father.'

'Hoo cam that aboot?'

'Weel, ye see, he was oot i' the Forty-five; and efter the battle o' Culloden, he had to rin for 't. He wasna wi' his ain clan at the battle, for his father had broucht him to the Lawlands whan he was a lad; but he played the pipes till a reg'ment raised by the Laird o' Portcloddie. And for ooks (weeks) he had to hide amo' the rocks. And they tuik a' his property frae him. It wasna muckle—a wheen hooses, and a kailyard or twa, wi' a bit fairmy on the tap o' a cauld hill near the sea-shore; but it was eneuch and to spare; and whan they tuik it frae him, he had naething left i' the warl' but his sons. Yer grandfather was born the verra day o' the battle, and the verra day 'at the news cam, the mother deed. But yer great grandfather wasna lang or he merried anither wife. He was sic a man as ony woman micht hae been prood to merry. She was the dother (daughter) o' an episcopalian minister, and she keepit a school in Portcloddie. I saw him first mysel' whan I was aboot twenty—that was jist the year afore I was merried. He was a gey (considerably) auld man than, but as straucht as an ellwand, and jist pooerfu' beyon' belief. His shackle-bane (wrist) was as thick as baith mine; and years and years efter that, whan he tuik his son, my husband, and his grandson, my Anerew—'

'What ails ye, grannie? What for dinna ye gang on wi' the story?'

After a somewhat lengthened pause, Mrs. Falconer resumed as if she had not stopped at all.

'Ane in ilka han', jist for the fun o' 't, he kneipit their heids thegither, as gin they hed been twa carldoddies (stalks of ribgrass). But maybe it was the lauchin' o' the twa lads, for they thocht it unco fun. They were maist killed wi' lauchin'. But the last time he did it, the puir auld man hostit (coughed) sair efterhin, and had to gang and lie doon. He didna live lang efter that. But it wasna that 'at killed him, ye ken.'

'But hoo cam he to play the pipes?'

'He likit the pipes. And yer grandfather, he tuik to the fiddle.'

'But what for did they ca' him the blin' piper o' Portcloddie?'

'Because he turned blin' lang afore his en' cam, and there was naething ither he cud do. And he wad aye mak an honest baubee whan he cud; for siller was fell scarce at that time o' day amo' the Falconers. Sae he gaed throu the toon at five o'clock ilka mornin' playin' his pipes, to lat them 'at war up ken they war up in time, and them 'at warna, that it was time to rise. And syne he played them again aboot aucht o'clock at nicht, to lat them ken 'at it was time for dacent fowk to gang to their beds. Ye see, there wasna sae mony clocks and watches by half than as there is noo.'

'Was he a guid piper, grannie?'

'What for speir ye that?'

'Because I tauld that sunk, Lumley—'

'Ca' naebody names, Robert. But what richt had ye to be speikin' to a man like that?'

'He spak to me first.'

'Whaur saw ye him?'

'At The Boar's Heid.'

'And what richt had ye to gang stan'in' aboot? Ye oucht to ha' gane in at ance.'

'There was a half-dizzen o' fowk stan'in' aboot, and I bude (behoved) to speik whan I was spoken till.'

'But ye budena stop an' mak' ae fule mair.'

'Isna that ca'in' names, grannie?'

''Deed, laddie, I doobt ye hae me there. But what said the fallow Lumley to ye?'

'He cast up to me that my grandfather was naething but a blin' piper.'

'And what said ye?'

'I daured him to say 'at he didna pipe weel.'

'Weel dune, laddie! And ye micht say 't wi' a gude conscience, for he wadna hae been piper till 's regiment at the battle o' Culloden gin he hadna pipit weel. Yon's his kilt hingin' up i' the press i' the garret. Ye'll hae to grow, Robert, my man, afore ye fill that.'

'And whase was that blue coat wi' the bonny gowd buttons upo' 't?' asked Robert, who thought he had discovered a new approach to an impregnable hold, which he would gladly storm if he could.

'Lat the coat sit. What has that to do wi' the kilt? A blue coat and a tartan kilt gang na weel thegither.'

'Excep' in an auld press whaur naebody sees them. Ye wadna care, grannie, wad ye, gin I was to cut aff the bonnie buttons?'

'Dinna lay a finger upo' them. Ye wad be gaein' playin' at pitch and toss or ither sic ploys wi' them. Na, na, lat them sit.'

'I wad only niffer them for bools (exchange them for marbles).'

'I daur ye to touch the coat or onything 'ither that's i' that press.'

'Weel, weel, grannie. I s' gang and get my lessons for the morn.'

'It's time, laddie. Ye hae been jabberin' ower muckle. Tell Betty to come and tak' awa' the tay-things.'

Robert went to the kitchen, got a couple of hot potatoes and a candle, and carried them up-stairs to Shargar, who was fast asleep. But the moment the light shone upon his face, he started up, with his eyes, if not his senses, wide awake.

'It wasna me, mither! I tell ye it wasna me!'

And he covered his head with both arms, as if to defend it from a shower of blows.

'Haud yer tongue, Shargar. It's me.'

But before Shargar could come to his senses, the light of the candle falling upon the blue coat made the buttons flash confused suspicions into his mind.

'Mither, mither,' he said, 'ye hae gane ower far this time. There's ower mony o' them, and they're no the safe colour. We'll be baith hangt, as sure's there's a deevil in hell.'

As he said thus, he went on trying to pick the buttons from the coat, taking them for sovereigns, though how he could have seen a sovereign at that time in Scotland I can only conjecture. But Robert caught him by the shoulders, and shook him awake with no gentle hands, upon which he began to rub his eyes, and mutter sleepily:

'Is that you, Bob? I hae been dreamin', I doobt.'

'Gin ye dinna learn to dream quaieter, ye'll get you and me tu into mair trouble nor I care to hae aboot ye, ye rascal. Haud the tongue o' ye, and eat this tawtie, gin ye want onything mair. And here's a bit o' reamy cakes tu ye. Ye winna get that in ilka hoose i' the toon. It's my grannie's especial.'

Robert felt relieved after this, for he had eaten all the cakes Miss Napier had given him, and had had a pain in his conscience ever since.

'Hoo got ye a haud o' 't?' asked Shargar, evidently supposing he had stolen it.

'She gies me a bit noo and than.'

'And ye didna eat it yersel'? Eh, Bob!'

Shargar was somewhat overpowered at this fresh proof of Robert's friendship. But Robert was still more ashamed of what he had not done.

He took the blue coat carefully from the bed, and hung it in its place again, satisfied now, from the way his grannie had spoken, or, rather, declined to speak, about it, that it had belonged to his father.

'Am I to rise?' asked Shargar, not understanding the action.

'Na, na, lie still. Ye'll be warm eneuch wantin' thae sovereigns. I'll lat ye oot i' the mornin' afore grannie's up. And ye maun mak' the best o't efter that till it's dark again. We'll sattle a' aboot it at the schuil the morn. Only we maun be circumspec', ye ken.'

'Ye cudna lay yer han's upo' a drap o' whusky, cud ye, Bob?'

Robert stared in horror. A boy like that asking for whisky! and in his grandmother's house, too!

'Shargar,' he said solemnly, 'there's no a drap o' whusky i' this hoose. It's awfu' to hear ye mention sic a thing. My grannie wad smell the verra name o' 't a mile awa'. I doobt that's her fit upo' the stair a'ready.'

Robert crept to the door, and Shargar sat staring with horror, his eyes looking from the gloom of the bed like those of a half-strangled dog. But it was a false alarm, as Robert presently returned to announce.

'Gin ever ye sae muckle as mention whusky again, no to say drink ae drap o' 't, you and me pairt company, and that I tell you, Shargar,' said he, emphatically.

'I'll never luik at it; I'll never mint at dreamin' o' 't,' answered Shargar, coweringly. 'Gin she pits 't intil my moo', I'll spit it oot. But gin ye strive wi' me, Bob, I'll cut my throat—I will; an' that'll be seen and heard tell o'.'

All this time, save during the alarm of Mrs. Falconer's approach, when he sat with a mouthful of hot potato, unable to move his jaws for terror, and the remnant arrested half-way in its progress from his mouth after the bite—all this time Shargar had been devouring the provisions Robert had brought him, as if he had not seen food that day. As soon as they were finished, he begged for a drink of water, which Robert managed to procure for him. He then left him for the night, for his longer absence might have brought his grandmother after him, who had perhaps only too good reasons for being doubtful, if not suspicious, about boys in general, though certainly not about Robert in particular. He carried with him his books from the other garret-room where he kept them, and sat down at the table by his grandmother, preparing his Latin and geography by her lamp, while she sat knitting a white stocking with fingers as rapid as thought, never looking at her work, but staring into the fire, and seeing visions there which Robert would have given everything he could call his own to see, and then would have given his life to blot out of the world if he had seen them. Quietly the evening passed, by the peaceful lamp and the cheerful fire, with the Latin on the one side of the table, and the stocking on the other, as if ripe and purified old age and hopeful unstained youth had been the only extremes of humanity known to the world. But the bitter wind was howling by fits in the chimney, and the offspring of a nobleman and a gipsy lay asleep in the garret, covered with the cloak of an old Highland rebel.

At nine o'clock, Mrs. Falconer rang the bell for Betty, and they had worship. Robert read a chapter, and his grandmother prayed an extempore prayer, in which they that looked at the wine when it was red in the cup, and they that worshipped the woman clothed in scarlet and seated upon the seven hills, came in for a strange mixture, in which the vengeance yielded only to the pity.

'Lord, lead them to see the error of their ways,' she cried. 'Let the rod of thy wrath awake the worm of their conscience that they may know verily that there is a God that ruleth in the earth. Dinna lat them gang to hell, O Lord, we beseech thee.'

As soon as prayers were over, Robert had a tumbler of milk and some more oat-cake, and was sent to bed; after which it was impossible for him to hold any further communication with Shargar. For his grandmother, little as one might suspect it who entered the parlour in the daytime, always slept in that same room, in a bed closed in with doors like those of a large press in the wall, while Robert slept in a little closet, looking into a garden at the back of the house, the door of which opened from the parlour close to the head of his grandmother's bed. It was just large enough to hold a good-sized bed with curtains, a chest of drawers, a bureau, a large eight-day clock, and one chair, leaving in the centre about five feet square for him to move about in. There was more room as well as more comfort in the bed. He was never allowed a candle, for light enough came through from the parlour, his grandmother thought; so he was soon extended between the whitest of cold sheets, with his knees up to his chin, and his thoughts following his lost father over all spaces of the earth with which his geography-book had made him acquainted.

He was in the habit of leaving his closet and creeping through his grandmother's room before she was awake—or at least before she had given any signs to the small household that she was restored to consciousness, and that the life of the house must proceed. He therefore found no difficulty in liberating Shargar from his prison, except what arose from the boy's own unwillingness to forsake his comfortable quarters for the fierce encounter of the January blast which awaited him. But Robert did not turn him out before the last moment of safety had arrived; for, by the aid of signs known to himself, he watched the progress of his grandmother's dressing—an operation which did not consume much of the morning, scrupulous as she was with regard to neatness and cleanliness—until Betty was called in to give her careful assistance to the final disposition of the mutch, when Shargar's exit could be delayed no longer. Then he mounted to the foot of the second stair, and called in a keen whisper,

'Noo, Shargar, cut for the life o' ye.'

And down came the poor fellow, with long gliding steps, ragged and reluctant, and, without a word or a look, launched himself out into the cold, and sped away he knew not whither. As he left the door, the only suspicion of light was the dull and doubtful shimmer of the snow that covered the street, keen particles of which were blown in his face by the wind, which, having been up all night, had grown very cold, and seemed delighted to find one unprotected human being whom it might badger at its own bitter will. Outcast Shargar! Where he spent the interval between Mrs. Falconer's door and that of the school, I do not know. There was a report amongst his school-fellows that he had been found by Scroggie, the fish-cadger, lying at full length upon the back of his old horse, which, either from compassion or indifference, had not cared to rise up under the burden. They said likewise that, when accused by Scroggie of housebreaking, though nothing had to be broken to get in, only a string with a peculiar knot, on the invention of which the cadger prided himself, to be undone, all that Shargar had to say in his self-defence was, that he had a terrible sair wame, and that the horse was warmer nor the stanes i' the yard; and he had dune him nae ill, nae even drawn a hair frae his tail—which would have been a difficult feat, seeing the horse's tail was as bare as his hoof.



CHAPTER VII. ROBERT TO THE RESCUE!

That Shargar was a parish scholar—which means that the parish paid his fees, although, indeed, they were hardly worth paying—made very little difference to his position amongst his school-fellows. Nor did the fact of his being ragged and dirty affect his social reception to his discomfort. But the accumulated facts of the oddity of his personal appearance, his supposed imbecility, and the bad character borne by his mother, placed him in a very unenviable relation to the tyrannical and vulgar-minded amongst them. Concerning his person, he was long, and, as his name implied, lean, with pale-red hair, reddish eyes, no visible eyebrows or eyelashes, and very pale face—in fact, he was half-way to an Albino. His arms and legs seemed of equal length, both exceedingly long. The handsomeness of his mother appeared only in his nose and mouth, which were regular and good, though expressionless; and the birth of his father only in his small delicate hands and feet, of which any girl who cared only for smallness, and heeded neither character nor strength, might have been proud. His feet, however, were supposed to be enormous, from the difficulty with which he dragged after him the huge shoes in which in winter they were generally encased.

The imbecility, like the large feet, was only imputed. He certainly was not brilliant, but neither did he make a fool of himself in any of the few branches of learning of which the parish-scholar came in for a share. That which gained him the imputation was the fact that his nature was without a particle of the aggressive, and all its defensive of as purely negative a character as was possible. Had he been a dog, he would never have thought of doing anything for his own protection beyond turning up his four legs in silent appeal to the mercy of the heavens. He was an absolute sepulchre in the swallowing of oppression and ill-usage. It vanished in him. There was no echo of complaint, no murmur of resentment from the hollows of that soul. The blows that fell upon him resounded not, and no one but God remembered them.

His mother made her living as she herself best knew, with occasional well-begrudged assistance from the parish. Her chief resource was no doubt begging from house to house for the handful of oatmeal which was the recognized, and, in the court of custom-taught conscience, the legalized dole upon which every beggar had a claim; and if she picked up at the same time a chicken, or a boy's rabbit, or any other stray luxury, she was only following the general rule of society, that your first duty is to take care of yourself. She was generally regarded as a gipsy, but I doubt if she had any gipsy blood in her veins. She was simply a tramper, with occasional fits of localization. Her worst fault was the way she treated her son, whom she starved apparently that she might continue able to beat him.

The particular occasion which led to the recognition of the growing relation between Robert and Shargar was the following. Upon a certain Saturday—some sidereal power inimical to boys must have been in the ascendant—a Saturday of brilliant but intermittent sunshine, the white clouds seen from the school windows indicating by their rapid transit across those fields of vision that fresh breezes friendly to kites, or draigons, as they were called at Rothieden, were frolicking in the upper regions—nearly a dozen boys were kept in for not being able to pay down from memory the usual instalment of Shorter Catechism always due at the close of the week. Amongst these boys were Robert and Shargar. Sky-revealing windows and locked door were too painful; and in proportion as the feeling of having nothing to do increased, the more uneasy did the active element in the boys become, and the more ready to break out into some abnormal manifestation. Everything—sun, wind, clouds—was busy out of doors, and calling to them to come and join the fun; and activity at the same moment excited and restrained naturally turns to mischief. Most of them had already learned the obnoxious task—one quarter of an hour was enough for that—and now what should they do next? The eyes of three or four of the eldest of them fell simultaneously upon Shargar.

Robert was sitting plunged in one of his day-dreams, for he, too, had learned his catechism, when he was roused from his reverie by a question from a pale-faced little boy, who looked up to him as a great authority.

'What for 's 't ca'd the Shorter Carritchis, Bob?'

''Cause it's no fully sae lang's the Bible,' answered Robert, without giving the question the consideration due to it, and was proceeding to turn the matter over in his mind, when the mental process was arrested by a shout of laughter. The other boys had tied Shargar's feet to the desk at which he sat—likewise his hands, at full stretch; then, having attached about a dozen strings to as many elf-locks of his pale-red hair, which was never cut or trimmed, had tied them to various pegs in the wall behind him, so that the poor fellow could not stir. They were now crushing up pieces of waste-paper, not a few leaves of stray school-books being regarded in that light, into bullets, dipping them in ink and aiming then at Shargar's face.

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