Three Boys; or The Chiefs of the Clan Mackhai, by George Manville Fenn.
This time the Manville Fenn formula of peril after peril does not lead us abroad but to an almost ruined castle on the north-west coast of Scotland.
Max is the son of a London lawyer, from whom the Clan Chieftain has been borrowing large sums of money and not repaying them, so that in the end the Castle is distrained upon. Meanwhile Max, who has been sent up to the Castle to stay with the Mackhais, has been put through test after test of his bravery by the Chieftain's son and his gillie.
With this information the end of the story is almost predictable, yet we read of peril after peril, and still we feel sure that this one must be the last.
A very good tale. NH
THREE BOYS; OR THE CHIEFS OF THE CLAN MACKHAI, BY GEORGE MANVILLE FENN.
THE MACKHAI OF DUN ROE.
"Look here, Scoodrach, if you call me she again, I'll kick you!"
"I didna ca' you she. I only said if she'd come ten the hoose aifter she had the parritch—"
"Well, what did I say?"
"Say? Why, she got in a passion."
The sound of a back-handed slap in the chest, followed by a kick, both delivered by Kenneth Mackhai, the recipient being a red-headed, freckled-faced lad of seventeen, who retaliated by making a sharp snatch at the kicking foot, which he caught and held one half moment. The result was startling.
Kenneth Mackhai, the sun-browned, well-knit, handsome son of "the Chief," came down in a sitting position on the stones, and screwed up his face with pain.
"Scood, you beggar!" he roared; "I'll serve you out for—"
"Ken, are you coming to breakfast?" cried a loud, severe voice from fifty yards away.
"Coming, father!" shouted the lad, leaping up, giving himself a shake to rearrange his dark green kilt, and holding up his fist threateningly at the bare-legged, grinning lad before him. "Just you wait till after breakfast, Master Scood, and I'll make you squint."
The lad ran up the steep slope to the garden surrounding the ancient castle of Dunroe, which had been built as a stronghold somewhere about the fourteenth century, and still stood solid on its rocky foundation; a square, keep-like edifice, with a round tower at each corner, mouldering, with portions of the battlements broken away, but a fine monument still of the way in which builders worked in the olden time.
The portion Kenneth Mackhai approached had for inhabitants only the jackdaws, which encumbered the broken stairs by the loopholes with their nests; but, after passing beneath a gloomy archway and crossing the open interior, he left the old keep by another archway, to enter the precincts of the modern castle of Dunroe, a commodious building, erected after the style of the old, and possessing the advantages of a roof and floors, with large windows looking across the dazzling sea.
Kenneth entered a handsome dining-room, where the breakfast was spread, and where his father, The Mackhai, a tall, handsome man of fifty, was pacing angrily up and down.
"Sorry I kept you, father. Scood said there was a seal on the lower rocks, and—"
"The scoundrel! How dare he?" muttered The Mackhai. "To take such a mean advantage of his position. I will not suffer it. I'll—"
"I'm very sorry, father!" faltered Kenneth, crossing slowly toward his frowning elder. "I did not mean to—"
"Eh! what, Ken, my boy?" cried The Mackhai, with his countenance changing. "I've only just come in. Sit down, my lad. You must be half-starved, eh?"
"I thought you were cross with me, sir."
"Cross? Angry? Not a bit. Why?"
"Tchah! nonsense! Thinking aloud. What did you say?—a seal?"
"Yes, father. Scood said there was one, but it had gone."
"Then you didn't shoot it? Well, I'm not sorry. They're getting scarce now, and I like to see the old things about the old place. Hah!" he continued, after a pause that had been well employed by both at the amply-supplied, handsomely-furnished table; "and I like the old porridge for breakfast. Give me some of that salmon, Ken. No; I'll have a kipper."
"More coffee, please, father," said Ken, with his mouth full. "Have a scone, father? They're prime."
"Gently with the butter, my boy. There is such a thing as bile."
"Is there, father?" said Kenneth, who was spreading the rich yellow churning a full quarter of an inch thick.
"Is there, sir! Yes, there is. As I know to my cost. Ah!" he added, with a sigh, and his face wrinkled and made him look ten years older; "but there was a time when I did not know the meaning of the word!"
"Oh, I say, father," cried Kenneth merrily, "don't! You're always pretending to be old, and yet you can walk me down stalking, and Long Shon says you can make him sore-footed any day."
"Nonsense! nonsense!" said The Mackhai, smiling.
"Oh, but you can, father!" said Kenneth, with his mouth full. "And see how you ran with that salmon yesterday, all among the stones."
"Ah, yes! I manage to hold my own; but I hope you'll husband your strength better than I did, my boy," said The Mackhai, with a sigh.
"I only hope I shall grow into such a fine man!" cried Kenneth, with his face lighting up, as he gazed proudly at his father. "Why, Donald says—"
"Tut, tut, tut! Silence, you miserable young flatterer! Do you want to make your father conceited? There, that will do."
"Coming fishing to-day, father?"
There was no answer.
The Mackhai had taken up a letter brought in that morning by one of the gillies, and was frowning over it as he re-read its contents, and then sat thoughtfully gazing out of the window across the glittering sea, at the blue mountains in the distance, tapping the table with his fingers the while.
"Wonder what's the matter!" thought Kenneth. "Some one wants some money, I suppose."
The boy's face puckered up a little as he ceased eating, and watched his father's face, the furrows in the boy's brow giving him a wonderful likeness to the keen-eyed, high-browed representative of a fine old Scottish clan.
"Wish I had plenty of money," thought Kenneth; and he sighed as he saw his father's face darken.
Not that there was the faintest sign of poverty around, for the room was tastily furnished in good old style; the carpet was thick, a silver coffee-pot glistened upon the table, and around the walls were goodly paintings of ancestral Mackhais, from the bare-armed, scale-armoured chief who fought the Macdougals of Lome, down to Ronald Mackhai, who represented Ross-shire when King William sat upon the throne.
"I can't help myself," muttered The Mackhai at last. "Here, Ken, what were you going to do to-day?"
"I was going up the river after a salmon."
"Not to-day, my boy. Here, I've news for you. Mr Blande, my London solicitor, writes me word that his son is coming down—a boy about your age."
"Son—coming down? Did you invite him, father?"
"Eh? No: never mind that," said The Mackhai hastily. "Coming down to stay with us a bit. Regular London boy. Not in very good health. You must be civil to him, Ken, and show him about a bit."
"Yes, father," said Kenneth, who felt from his father's manner that the coming guest was not welcome.
"He is coming by Glasgow, and then by the Grenadier. His father thinks the sea will do him good. Go and meet him."
"Tell them to get a room ready for him."
"Be as civil to him as you can, and—Pah!"
That ejaculation, pah! came like an angry outburst, as The Mackhai gave the table a sharp blow, and rose and strode out of the room.
Kenneth sat watching the door for a few moments.
"Father's savage because he's coming," said Kenneth, whose eyes then fell upon a glass dish of marmalade, and, cutting a goodly slice of bread, he spread it with the yellow butter, and then spooned out a portion of the amber-hued preserve.
"Bother the chap! we don't want him here."
Pe-au, pe-au, came a wailing whistle through the open window.
"Ah, I hear you, old whaupie, but I can do it better than that," said Kenneth to himself, as he repeated the whistle, in perfect imitation of the curlews which abounded near.
The whistle was answered, and, with a good-tempered smile on his face, Kenneth rose from the table, after cutting another slice of bread, and laying it upon that in his plate, so as to form a sticky sandwich.
"Scood!" he cried from the window, and barelegged Scoodrach, who was seated upon a rock right below, with the waves splashing his feet, looked up and showed his white teeth.
Down went the bread and marmalade, which the lad caught in his blue worsted bonnet, and was about to replace the same upon his curly red head, but the glutinous marmalade came off on one finger. This sticky finger he sucked as he stared at the bread, and, evidently coming to the conclusion that preserve and pomade were not synonymous terms, he began rapidly to put the sweet sandwich somewhere else.
"I wish you had kept it in your bonnet, Scood."
The boy looked up and laughed, his mouth busy the while.
"Father saw sax saumon in the black pool," he cried eagerly.
"Then they'll have to stop," said Kenneth gloomily.
"There's a chap coming down from London."
"Suppose so. We've got to go and meet him."
"With ta pony?"
"No, the boat; coming by the Grenadier."
"It's a great bother, Scood."
"But it's a verra fine mornin' for a sail," said the boy, looking up and munching away.
"But I didn't want to sail; I wanted to fish."
"The fush can wait, tat she can."
"Oh, you!" shouted Kenneth. "Wish I had something to throw at you."
"If she did, I'd throw it back," said Scoodrach, grinning.
"I should like to catch you at it. There, go and get the boat."
"Plenty of time."
"Never mind that; let's be off and have a good sail first, as we have to go."
"Will she—will you tak' the gun?"
"Of course I shall. Take the lines too, Scood; we may get a mackerel."
The lad opened his large mouth, tucked in the last piece of marmalade, and then leaped off the stone on to the rock.
The boy stroked down his grey kilt, and looked up.
"Put on your shoes and stockings."
"Because I tell you. Because there's company coming. Be off!"
"She's got a big hole in her stocking, and ta shoe hurts her heel."
"Be off and put them on," roared Kenneth from the window. "I shall be ready in a quarter of an hour."
Scood nodded, and began to climb rapidly over the buttress of rock which ran down into the sea, the height to which the tide rose being marked by an encrustation of myriads of acorn barnacles, among which every now and then a limpet stood out like a boss, while below, in the clear water, a thick growth of weed turned the rock to a golden brown, and changed the tint of the transparent water.
"What a bother!" muttered Kenneth, as he left the dining-room, crossed the hall, and entered a little oak-panelled place filled with all kinds of articles used in the chase, and whose walls were dotted with trophies—red deer and roebucks' heads, stuffed game, wild fowl, a golden eagle, and a pair of peregrine falcons. He took a double-barrel from the rack, placed a supply of cartridges in a belt, buckled it on, and then returned to the oak-panelled hall, to pause where his bonnet hang over the hilt of an old claymore.
Carelessly putting this on, he sauntered out of the hall into the shingly path, where he was saluted by a chorus of barking. A great rough-coated, long-legged deerhound came bounding up, followed first by a splendid collie with a frill about his neck like a wintry wolf, and directly after by a stumpy-legged, big-headed, rough grey Scotch terrier, with a quaint, dry-looking countenance, which seemed like that of some crotchety old man.
"Hi, Bruce!" cried Kenneth, as the deerhound thrust a pointed nose into his hand. "What, Dirk, lad!"
This to the collie, which reared up to put its paws upon his chest, and rubbed its head against its master; while the little dog ran round and round clumsily, barking all the while.
"Down, Dirk! Quiet, Sneeshing, quiet!"
The dogs were silent on the moment, but followed close at their master's heels, eyeing the gun wistfully, the deerhound going further, and snuffing at the lock. Being apparently satisfied that it was not a rifle, and that consequently his services would not be required, the hound stopped short by a warm, sheltered place, crouched down, and formed itself into an ornament upon the sea-washed rock.
"There, you can do the same, Dirk. It's boat day," said Kenneth.
The collie uttered a whine and a loud bark.
"Yes, it's boat day, lad. Be off!"
The dog stopped short, and only the little ugly grey terrier followed his master, wagging a short stump of a tail the while, till Kenneth noted his presence.
"No, not to-day," he said sharply.
"No. Can't take you. Go back, old chap. Another time!"
Sneeshing uttered a low whine, but he dropped down on the shingle which took the place of gravel, and Kenneth went slowly on along a path formed like a shelf of the huge rock, which, a peninsula at low, an island at high water, towered up from the blue sea an object of picturesque beauty, and a landmark for the sailors who sailed among the fiords and rocks of the western shore.
The scene around was glorious. Where the soft breeze did not turn the water into dazzling, rippling molten silver which sent flashes of light darting through the clear air, there were broad bands of still water of a brilliant blue; others beneath the shelter of the land were of a deep transparent amethyst, while every here and there mountainous islands rose from the sea, lilac, purple, and others of a delicate softened blue, which died away into the faintest film.
Shoreward, glorified by the sunshine, the mountains rose from the water's edge; grey masses of stone tumbled in confusion from a height of four thousand feet to the shore, with clusters of towering pine and larch and groups of pensile birches in every sheltered nook. Here the mountain showed patches of dark green and purple heath; there brilliant green and creamy beds of bog moss, among which seemed to run flashing veins of silver, which disappeared and came into sight, and in one place poured down with a deep, loud roar, while a mist, looking like so much smoke, slowly rose from the fall, and floated away with a rainbow upon its breast.
On every side, as Kenneth Mackhai gazed around from the rocky foot of the mouldering old castle, there were scenes of beauty which would have satisfied the most exacting. Cloud shadow, gleaming sunshine, purple heather, yellow ragwort like dusts of gold upon the mountain side, and at his feet the ever-changing sea.
It was all so lovely that the lad stood as if entranced, and exclaimed aloud,—
Then there was a pause, and, with an impatient stamp of his foot, he exclaimed,—
"Oh, hang it all! what a bore!"
But this was not at the scene around. Ken had looked upon it all in storm and sunshine ever since he could toddle, and he saw none of it now. His mental gaze was directed at the salmon stream, the trouty lochs, the moors with their grouse and black game, and the mountains by Glenroe where he was to have gone deer-stalking with Long Shon and Tavish, and with Scood to lead the dogs, and now all this was to be given up because a visitor was coming down.
"Ah-o! ah-o!" came from the water, and a boat came gliding round from the little bay behind the castle, with Scood standing up in the stern, and turning an oar into a fish's tail, giving it that peculiar waving motion which acts after the fashion of a screw propeller, and sends a boat along.
But the boat needed little propelling, for the tide swept swiftly round by the rocky promontory on which the castle stood, and in a few minutes Scood had run the little vessel close beside a table-like mass of rock which formed a natural pier, and, leaping out, rope in hand, he stood waiting for Kenneth to descend.
"Look here, you sir," cried the latter; "didn't I tell you to put on your shoes and stockings?"
"Well, she's got 'em in the poat all ready."
"I'll get you in the boat all ready!" cried Ken angrily. "You do as you're told."
"And where am I to get another pair when they're worn out?" remonstrated Scood.
"How should I know? There, jump in."
Ken set the example, which was followed by Scood, and, as the boat glided off, yielding to the stream and the impetus, a miserable yelp came from the rocks above, followed by two dismal howls in different keys. Then there was an atrocious trio performed by the three dogs, each of which raised its muzzle and its eyes skyward, and uttered an unmusical protest against being left behind.
"Yah, kennel! go home!" roared Kenneth; and the collie and deerhound, after another mournful howl apiece, went back, but the grey terrier paid no heed to the command, but came closer down to the water, and howled more loudly.
"Ah, Sneeshing!" cried Scoodrach.
"Yow—how!" cried the dog piteously, which evidently by interpretation out of the canine tongue meant, "Take me!"
"Will you be off?" shouted Kenneth.
"If you don't be off, I'll—"
The lad raised his gun, cocked both barrels, and took aim.
The effect upon the ugly little terrier was instantaneous. He tucked his tail between his legs, and rushed off as hard as ever he could lay leg to rugged rock?
Nothing of the kind. He took it as a direct insult and an injurious threat. Raising his stumpy tail to its full height of two inches, without counting the loose grey hairs on the top, he planted his four feet widely apart, and barked furiously, changing his appealing whines to growls of defiance.
"You shall not frighten him," said Scood, showing his teeth.
"I'll let you see," cried Kenneth. "Here, you, Sneeshing, be off! home!"
There was a furiously defiant roulade of barks.
"Do you hear, sir? Go home!"
A perfect volley of barks.
Kenneth fired over the dog.
"You shall not frighten him," said Scoodrach again.
He was quite right, for the shot seemed to madden the dog, who came to the very edge of the rock, barking, snarling, leaping up with all four legs off the rock at once, dashing to and fro, and biting at the scraps of lichen and seaweed.
"She says you're a coward, and don't dare do it again," cried Scoodrach, grinning.
"Does he? Then we'll see," cried Kenneth, firing again in the air.
"I told you so," cried Scoodrach. "Look at him. She'd bite you if you wass near."
"For two pins I'd give him a good peppering," grumbled Kenneth, slipping a couple of cartridges into the gun, and laying it down.
"Not you," said Scood, stepping the mast, Kenneth helping him with the stays, and to hoist a couple of sails. Then the rudder was hooked on, and, as the rapid current bore them out beyond the point, the wind filled the sails, the boat careened over, the water rattled beneath her bows, and, as the little vessel seemed to stand still, the beautiful panorama of rocky, tree-adorned shore glided by, Sneeshing's furious barking growing more distant, and dying right away.
THE GUEST FROM LONDON.
It was well on in the afternoon when Scoodrach, who was lying upon his chest with his chin resting on the boat's gunwale, suddenly exclaimed,—
"There she is."
The sun was shining down hotly, there was not a breath of air, and Kenneth, who seemed as languid as the drooping sails, slowly turned his head round to look at a cloud of smoke which appeared to be coming round a distant point of land.
Hours had passed since they sailed away from Dunroe, and for a time they had had a favourable wind; then it had drooped suddenly, leaving the sea like glass, and the boat rising and falling softly upon the swell. There had been nothing to shoot but gulls, which, knowing they were safe, had come floating softly round, looking at them with inquiring eyes, and then glided away. They had gazed down through the water at the waving tangle, and watched the shoals of glistening young fish. They had whistled for wind, but none had come, and then, as they lay in the boat at the mercy of the swift tide, the hot hours of the noontide had glided by, even as the current which bore them along the shore, helpless unless they had liked to row, and that they had not liked to do upon such a glowing day.
"I don't believe that's she," said Kenneth lazily. "That's the cargo boat. Grenadier must have gone by while you were asleep."
"While she wass what?" cried Scood sharply. "Haven't been to sleep."
"Yes, you have. You snored till the boat wobbled."
"She didn't. She never does snore. It wass you."
"All right. Dessay it was," said Kenneth, yawning. "Oh, I say, Scood, I'm getting so hungry, and we can't get back."
"Yes, we can. We shall have to row."
"I'm not going to row all those miles against tide, I can tell you."
"Very well. We shall have to wait."
"I can't wait. I want my dinner."
"It is the Grenadier!" cried Scood, after a long look. "I can see her red funnel."
"You can't at this distance."
"Yes, I can. The sun's shining on it; and there's the wind coming."
"How do you know?"
"Look at the smoke. We shall get home by six."
"But I'm hungry now. I shall have to shoot something to eat. I say, Scood, why shouldn't I shoot you?"
"Don't know," said Scoodrach, grinning.
"Wonder whether you'd be tough."
"Wait and eat him," said Scood, grinning.
"The London laddie."
Kenneth, in his idle, drowsy fit, had almost forgotten the visitor, and he roused up now, and gazed earnestly at the approaching cloud of smoke, for the steamer was quite invisible.
"It is the Grenadier," said Kenneth; "and she's bringing the wind with her."
"Shouldn't say she," muttered Scood.
"Yes, I should, stupid. Ships are shes."
"Said you'd kick me if I said 'she,'" muttered Scood.
"So I will if you call me 'she.' I'm not a ship. Hurrah! Here's the wind at last."
For the mainsail began to shiver slightly, and the glassy water to send forth scintillations instead of one broad silvery gleam.
Kenneth seized the tiller, and the next minute they were gliding through the water, trying how near the duck-shaped boat would sail to the wind.
For the next half-hour they were tacking to and fro right in the course of the coming steamer, till, judging their distance pretty well, sail was lowered, oars put out, and they rowed till the faces which crowded the forward part of the swift boat were plain to see. Soon after, while the cloud of smoke seemed to have become ten times more black, and the cloud of gulls which accompanied the steamer by contrast more white, the paddles ceased churning up the clear water and sending it astern in foam, a couple of men in blue jerseys stood ready to throw a rope, which Scood caught, and turned round the thwart forward, and Kenneth stood up, gazing eagerly at the little crowd by the paddle-box.
"How are you, captain?"
"How are you, squire?"
"Any one for us?"
"Yes. Young gent for Dunroe," said a man with a gold-braided cap.
"Where is he?"
"Here just now. Here's his luggage," said one of the men in blue jerseys. "There he is."
"Now then, sir! Look alive, please."
"This way, sir."
"Must I—must I get down?—that small boat!"
Kenneth stared at the pallid-looking youth, who stood shrinking back, almost in wonder, as the visitor clung to the gangway rail, and gazed in horror at the boat dancing in the foaming water.
There was the rapid passing down of luggage—portmanteau, hat-box, bag, gun-case, sheaf of fishing-rods, and bale of wrappers; and, as Scood secured these, Kenneth held out his hand.
"Come along," he said. "It's all right."
"Look sharp, sir, please; we can't stop all day."
Evidently in an agony of dread and shame, the stranger stepped down into the boat, staggered, clung to Kenneth, and, as he was forced down to a seat, clung to it with all his might. Scood cast off the rope; the captain on the bridge made his bell ting in the engine-room, a burst of foam came rushing from beneath the paddle-box, the little boat danced up and down, the great steamer glided rapidly on, and Kenneth and Scoodrach gazed in an amused way at the new occupant of the boat.
"We've been waiting for you—hours," said Kenneth at last. "How are you?"
"I'm quite well, thank—I mean, I'm not at all well, thank you," said the visitor, shaking hands limply, and then turning to look at Scood, as if wondering whether he should shake hands there.
"That's only Scood, my gillie," said Kenneth hastily. "Did we get all your luggage?"
"I—I don't know," said the visitor in a helpless way. "I hope so. At least, I don't mind. It has been such a rough passage!"
"Rough?" shouted Kenneth.
"Yes; terribly. The steamer went up and down so. I felt very ill."
"Been beautiful here. Now, Scood, don't sit staring there. Shove some of those things forward and some aft."
Scood jumped up, the boat gave a lurch, and the visitor uttered a gasp.
"Mind!" he cried.
"Oh, he's all right," said Kenneth bluffly. "When he has no shoes on he can hold by his toes. Come and sit aft."
"No, thank you; I would rather not move. I did not know it would be so rough at sea, or I would have come by train."
"Train! You couldn't come to Dunroe by train."
"Oh!—Are you Mr Kenneth Mackhai?"
"I'm Kenneth Mackhai," said the lad rather stiffly. "My father asked me to come and meet you—and, er—we're very glad to see you."
"Thank you. It was very kind of you; but I am not used to the sea, and I should have preferred landing at the pier and coming on in a cab or a fly."
"Pier! There's no pier near us."
"No pier? But never mind. You are very good. Would you mind setting me ashore now?"
"Ashore! What for?"
"To—to go on to the house. I would rather walk."
Kenneth laughed, and then checked himself.
"It's ten miles' sail from here home, and it would be twenty round by the mountain-road. We always go by boat."
"By boat? In this boat?" faltered the visitor.
"Yes. She skims along like a bird."
"Walk? No. We'll soon run you home. Sorry it was so rough. But there's a lovely wind now. Come aft here, and we'll hoist the sail. That's right, Scood. Now there's room to move."
"Could—could you call back the steamer?" said the stranger hoarsely.
"Call her back? No; she's a mile away nearly. Look!"
The visitor gave a despairing stare at the steamer, and the wake of foam she had left behind.
"You will be all right directly," said Kenneth, suppressing his mirth. "You're not used to the sea?"
"We are. There, give me your hand. You sit there aft and hold the tiller, while I help Scood run up the sails."
"Thank you, I'm much obliged. But if you could set me ashore."
"It's three miles away," said Kenneth, glancing at the mainland.
"No, no; I mean there."
"There? That's only a rocky island with a few sheep on it. And there's such a wild race there, it's dangerous at this time of the tide."
"Are they savages?"
"Yes; the wild race."
"Be quiet, Scood, or I'll chuck you overboard. What are you laughing at? I mean race of the tide. Look, you can see the whirlpools. It's the Atlantic rushing in among the rocks. Now then, come along."
The visitor would not rise to his feet, but crept over to the after part of the boat, where he crouched more than sat, starting violently as the light craft swayed with the movements of its occupants, and began to dance as well with the rising sea.
"I'm afraid you think I'm a terrible coward."
"That's just what I do think," said Kenneth to himself; but he turned round with a look of good-humoured contempt. "Oh no," he said aloud; "you'll soon get used to it. Now, Scood, heave ahoy. Look here, we can't help it. If you laugh out at him, I'll smash you."
"But look at him," whispered Scood.
"I daren't, Scood. Heave ahoy!"
"Take care! Mind!" cried the visitor in agony.
"What's the matter?"
"I—I thought—Pray don't do that!"
Kenneth could not refrain from joining in Scood's mirth, but he checked himself directly, and gave the lad a punch in the ribs, as he hauled at the mainsail.
"You'll have the boat over!" cried the shivering guest, white now with agony, as the sail filled and the boat careened, and began to rush through the water.
"Take more than that to send her over," cried Kenneth merrily, as he took the tiller. "Plenty of wind now, Scood."
Scoodrach laughed, and their passenger clung more tightly to his seat.
For the wind was rising to a good stiff breeze, the waves were beginning to show little caps of foam, and to the new-comer it seemed utter madness to be seated in such a frail cockle-shell, which kept on lying over from the pressure on the sail, and riding across the waves which hissed and rushed along the sides, and now and then sent a few drops flying over the sail.
"You'll soon get used to it," cried Kenneth, who felt disposed at first to be commiserating and ready to pity his guest; but the abject state of dread displayed roused the spirit of mischief latent in the lad, and, after a glance or two at Scoodrach, he felt compelled to enjoy his companion's misery.
"Is—is there any danger?" faltered the poor fellow at last, as the boat seemed to fly through the water.
"No, not much. Unless she goes down, eh, Scood?"
"Oh, she shall not go down chust direckly," said Scoodrach seriously. "She's a prave poat to sail."
"What's the matter?" cried Kenneth, as his passenger looked wildly round.
"Have you—a basin on board?" he faltered.
This was too much for the others. Scoodrach burst into a roar of laughter, in which Kenneth joined for a minute, and then, checking himself, he apologised.
"Nonsense!" he said; "you keep a stout heart. You'll like it directly. Got a line, Scood?"
"Bait 'em and throw 'em out; we may get a mackerel or two."
"They've got spinners on them," said the lad sententiously, as he opened a locker in the bows, and took out a couple of reels.
"Don't—go quite so fast," said the visitor imploringly.
"Why not? It's safer like this—eh, Scood?"
"Oh yes; she's much safer going fast."
"But the waves! They'll be in the boat directly."
"Won't give 'em time to get in—will we, Scood? Haul in that sheet a little tighter."
This was done, and the boat literally rushed through the water.
"There, you're better already, aren't you?"
"I—I don't know."
"Oh, but I do. You'll want to have plenty of sails like this."
"In the young master's poat," said Scoodrach, watching the stranger with eyes which sparkled with mischief. "Wouldn't the young chentleman like to see the Grey Mare's Tail?"
"Ah, to be sure!" cried Kenneth; "you'd like to see that."
"Is—is the grey mare ashore?" faltered the visitor.
"Yes, just round that point—a mile ahead."
"Yes, please—I should like to see that," said the guest, with a sigh of relief, for he seemed to see safety in being nearer the shore.
"All right! We'll run for it," cried Kenneth; and he slightly altered the boat's course, so as to draw a little nearer to the land. "Wind's getting up beautifully."
"Yes. Blow quite a little gale to-night, I'll be bound."
"Is—is there any danger?"
"Oh, I don't know. We get a wreck sometimes—don't we, Scood?"
"Oh ay, very fine wrecks sometimes, and plenty of people trowned!"
"You mean wrecks of ships?"
"Yes; and boats too, like this—eh, Scood?"
"Oh yes; poats like this are often wrecked, and go to the pottom," said Scood maliciously.
There was a dead silence in the boat, during which Kenneth and Scood exchanged glances, and their tired companion clutched the seat more tightly.
"I say, your name's Blande, isn't it?" said Kenneth suddenly.
"Yes; Maximilian—I mean Max Blande."
"And you are going to stay with us?"
"I suppose so."
The lad gave his tormentor a wistful look, but it had no effect.
"I don't know. My father said I was to come down here. Is it much farther on?"
"Oh yes, miles and miles yet. We shall soon show you the Grey Mare's Tail now."
"Couldn't we walk the rest of the way, then?"
"Walk! No. Could we, Scood?"
"No, we couldn't walk," said the lad addressed; "and who'd want to walk when we've got such a peautiful poat?"
There was another silence, during which the boat rushed on, with Kenneth trickily steering so as to make their way as rough as possible, both boys finding intense enjoyment in seeing the pallid, frightened looks of their guest, and noting the spasmodic starts he gave whenever a little wave came with a slap against the bows and sprinkled them.
"I say, who's your father?" said Kenneth suddenly.
"Mr Blande of Lincoln's Inn. You are Mr Mackhai's son, are you not?"
"I am The Mackhai's son," cried Kenneth, drawing himself up stiffly.
"Yes; there's no Mr Mackhai here," cried Scoodrach fiercely. "She's the Chief."
"She isn't, Scood. Oh, what an old dummy you are!"
"Well, so she is the chief."
"So she is! Ah, you! Look here, you, Max Blande: my father's the Chief of the Clan Mackhai."
"Is he? Is it much further, to the grey mare's stable?" faltered the passenger.
The two boys roared with laughter, Max gazing from one to the other rather pitifully.
"Did I say something very stupid?" he asked mildly.
"Yes, you said stable," cried Kenneth, wiping his eyes. "I say, Scood, wait till he sees the Grey Mare."
"Yes; wait till she sees the Grey Mare," cried Scood, bending double with mirth.
Max drew in a long breath, and gazed straight before him at the sea, and then to right and left of the fiord through which they were rapidly sailing. He saw the shore some three miles away on their left, and a couple to their right, a distance which they were reducing, as the boat, with the wind well astern, rushed on.
"It's too bad to laugh at you," said Kenneth, smoothing the wrinkles out of his face.
"I don't know what I said to make you laugh," replied Max, with a piteous look.
"Then wait till you see the Grey Mare's Tail, and you will."
"I don't think I want to see it. I would rather you set me ashore, and let me walk."
"Didn't I tell you that you couldn't walk home? Besides, every one goes to see the Grey Mare's Tail—eh, Scood?"
There was a nod and a mirthful look which troubled the visitor, who sat with his face contracted, and a spasm seeming to run through him every time the boat made a leap and dive over some wave.
They were running rapidly now toward a huge mass of rock, which ran gloomy looking and forbidding into the sea, evidently forming one of the points of a bay beyond. The mountains came here very close to the sea, and it was as if by some convulsion of nature the great buttress had been broken short off, leaving a perpendicular face of rock, along whose narrow ledges grey and black birds were sitting in scores.
"See the birds?" cried Kenneth, as they sped on rapidly, Max gaining a little confidence as he found that the boat did not go right over from the pressure of the wind on the sail.
"Are those birds?" he said.
"Yes; gulls and cormorants and puffins. Did you feed Macbrayne's pigeons as you came along?"
"No," said Max quietly; "I did not see them."
"Oh, come, I know better than that. Didn't you come up Loch Fyne in the Columba?"
"The great steamer? Yes."
"Well, didn't you see a large flock of grey gulls flying with you all the way?"
"Oh yes, and some people threw biscuits to them. They were like a great grey and white cloud."
"Well, I call them Macbrayne's pigeons."
"Are we going ashore here?" said Max eagerly, as they neared the point, about which the swift tide foamed and leaped furiously, the waves causing a deep, low roar to rise as they fretted among the tumbled chaos of rocks.
"I hope not. Eh, Scood?"
"Hope not! Why?"
"Because the sea would knock the boat to pieces. That's all."
Max drew his breath with a low hiss, and gazed sharply from Kenneth to the foaming water they were approaching so swiftly, and now, with the little knowledge he had gained, the lowering mass of rock began to look terribly forbidding, and the birds which flew shrieking away seemed to be uttering cries of warning.
"Hadn't you better pull the left rein—I mean steer away, if it's so dangerous?"
"No; I'm going in between those two rocks, close in. Plenty of water now, isn't there, Scood?"
"Not plenty; enough to clear the rock," was the reply.
"Sit fast, and you'll see what a rush through we shall go. Hold tight."
Max set his teeth, and his eyes showed a complete circle of white about the iris as the boat careened over, and, feeling now the current which raced foaming around the point, he had a strange catching of the breath, while his hands clung spasmodically to the thwart and side.
The huge mass of frowning rock seemed to be coming to meet them; the grey-winged birds flew hither and thither; the water, that had been dark blue flecked with white, suddenly became one wild race of foam, such as he had seen behind the paddle-boxes of the steamers during his run up from Glasgow. There was the perpendicular wall on his right, and a cluster of black crags on his left, and toward these the boat was rushing at what seemed to him a terrific rate. It was like running wildly to their death; but Kenneth was seated calmly holding the tiller, and Scood half lay back, letting one hand hang over and splash amongst the foam.
Hiss, roar, rush, and a spray of spattering drops of the beaten waves splashed over them as they raced on, passing through the opening at a rate which made Max Blande feel dizzy. Then, just as the boat careened over till the bellying sail almost touched the low crags on their left, it made quite a leap, rose upright, the pressure on the sail ceased, the rush of wind seemed to be suddenly cut off, and they were gliding rapidly along in an almost waveless bay, with a deep, loud, thunderous roar booming into their ears.
"What do you think of that?" cried Kenneth, laughing in his guest's astonished face.
"I—I don't know. Is anything broken?"
"Broken? No. We're under the shelter of the great point."
"Oh, I see. But what's that noise? Thunder?"
"Thunder? No. That's the Grey Mare wagging her tail."
Scood exploded again.
"You are laughing at me," said Max quietly. "I can't help being so ignorant."
"Never mind, we'll show you. I say, Scood, there's wind enough to carry us by if we go close in."
"No, there isn't; keep out."
"Shan't. Get out the oars and help!"
"Best keep out," grumbled Scood.
"You get out the oars—do you hear?"
Scood frowned, and slowly laid out the oars, as he took his place on the forward thwart, after a glance at the sail, which barely filled now.
"She aren't safe to go near," he said sulkily.
"Does she kick?" said Max eagerly.
Kenneth burst into a fresh roar of laughter.
"Oh yes, sometimes," he said, "right into the boat."
Scood sat with the oars balanced, and a grim smile upon his countenance, while Max looked sharply from one to the other, and, seeing that there was something he did not grasp, he sat watchful and silent, while the boat, in the full current which swept round the bay, glided rapidly out toward the farther point, from behind which the thunderous roar seemed to come.
In another minute they were close to the point, round which the tide flowed still and deep, and directly after Max held his breath, as the boat glided on, with the sail flapping, towards where in one wild leap a torrent of white water came clear out from a hundred feet above, to plunge sullenly into the sea.
"That's the Grey Mare's Tail," cried Kenneth, raising his voice so as to be heard above the heavy roar; and the fall bore no slight resemblance to the long white sweeping appendage of some gigantic beast, reaching from the face of the precipice to the sea.
Max felt awe-stricken, for, saving on canvas, he had never seen anything of the kind before. It was grand, beautiful, and thrilling to see the white water coming foaming down, and seeming to make the sea boil; but the perspiration came out on the lad's brow as he realised the meaning of what had passed, and understood Scood's remonstrances, for it was evident that the boat was drawing rapidly toward the fall, and that in the shelter of the tremendous cliff there was not sufficient wind to counteract the set of the current.
Scood gave one glance over his shoulder, and began to row hard, while for a moment Kenneth laughed; but directly after he realised that there was danger, and, leaving the tiller, he stepped forward, sat down hastily, and caught the oar Scood passed to him.
A minute of intense anxiety passed, during which the two lads rowed with all their might. But, in spite of their efforts, the boat glided nearer and nearer to the falling water, and it seemed but a matter of moments before they would be drawn right up to where the cataract came thundering down.
"Pull, Scood!" shouted Kenneth. "Pull!"
Scoodrach did not reply, but dragged at his oar, and for a few moments they made way; then surely and steadily the boat glided toward the fall, having to deal with the tide and the natural set of the surface toward the spot where the torrent poured in.
Max Blande grasped all now, and, ignorant of such matters as he was, he could still realise that from foolhardiness his companion had run the boat into a terrible danger beyond his strength to counteract.
There it was, plain enough: if they could not battle with the steady, insidious current which was slowly bearing them along, in another minute the torrent would fill the boat and plunge them down into the chaos of foaming water, from which escape would be impossible.
"Quick! here!" cried Kenneth in a shrill voice, heard above the deep humming roar of the fall. "Push—push!"
For a few moments Max could not grasp his meaning, but, when he did, he placed his hands against the oar, and thrust at each stroke with all his might.
For a few moments the extra strength seemed to tell, but Max's help was weak, and not enough to counteract the failing efforts of the two lads, who in their excitement rowed short, and without the steady strain wanted in such a time of peril.
"It's no good," cried Scood hoarsely. "She'll go town, and we must swim."
His voice rang out shrilly in the din of the torrent, but he did not cease pulling, for Kenneth shouted back,—
"Pull—pull! Will you pull?" He bent to his oar as he spoke, and once more they seemed to make a little way, but only for a few moments; and, as Max Blande looked up over his shoulder, it seemed to him that the great white curve was right above him, and even as he looked quite a shower of foam came spattering down into the boat.
WELCOME TO DUNROE.
A cry of horror rose to Max Blande's lips, but there it seemed to be frozen, and he knelt, with starting eyes, crouched together, and gazing up at the falling water. Stunned by the roar, too helpless to lend the slightest aid to the rowers, he felt that in another moment they would be right beneath, when the boat suddenly careened over, struck by the sharp puff of wind which seemed to come tearing down the ravine from which the torrent issued, and in a few moments they were fifty feet away, and running rapidly toward the mouth of the bay.
The first thing Max Blande realised was that he had been knocked over into the bottom of the boat by Kenneth, who had sprung to the rudder, and the next that he had been trampled on by Scood, who had seized the sheet, and held on to trim the sail.
Max got up slowly, and shivered as he glanced at the great fall and then at his companions, who, now that the danger was past, made light of it, and burst into a hearty laugh at his expense.
"Are we out of danger?" he faltered.
"Out of danger! Yes, of course; wasn't any," replied Kenneth. "Had the boat full; that's all. You said you could swim, didn't you?"
Max shook his head.
"Ah, well, it don't matter now! Scood and I can soon teach you that."
"If she couldn't swim she'd ha' been trowned," said Scood oracularly, "for we should have had enough to do to get ashore."
"Hold your tongue, Scood; and will you leave off calling people she?"
"Where would the boat have come up?" continued Scood.
"Bother! never mind that. There's plenty of wind now, and we'll soon race home."
"But we were in great danger, weren't we?"
"N-n-no," said Kenneth cavalierly. "It would have been awkward if the boat had filled, but it didn't fill. If you come to that, we're in danger now."
"Danger now!" cried Max, clutching the side again.
"Yes, of course. If the boat was to sink, I daresay it's two hundred feet deep here."
"But that's nothing. We'll take you up Loch Doy. It's seven hundred and fifty feet up there, and the water looks quite black. Ha, ha, ha!" laughed Kenneth; "and the thought of it makes you look quite white."
"It seems so horrible."
"Not a bit. Why should it?" cried Kenneth. "It's just as dangerous to sail in seven feet of water as in seven hundred."
"Mind tat rock," said Scoodrach.
"Well, I am minding it," said Kenneth carelessly, as, with the wind coming now in a good steady breeze, consequent upon their being out of the shelter of the point, he steered so that they ran within a few feet of where the waves creamed over a detached mass of rock.
Max was gazing back at the cascade, whose aspect from where they were well warranted the familiar name by which it was known. He could, however, see no beauty in the wild leap taken by the stream, and he drew a sigh of relief as they glided by the next point, and the fall passed from his view, while the thunderous roar died away.
"There!" cried Kenneth; "that will be something for you to talk about when you go back. You don't have falls like that in town."
"She'd petter not talk about it," said Scood. "If the Chief knows we took the poat so near, she'll never let us go out in her again."
"Oh, I don't know," said Kenneth. "It was pretty near, though. I say, don't say anything to my father. Scood's afraid he'd be horsewhipped."
"Nay, it's the young master is afraid," retorted Scood.
"You say I'm afraid, Scood, and I'll knock you in the water!"
Scood grinned, and began to slacken the sheet, for the wind kept coming in sharper puffs, and at every blast the boat heeled over to such an extent that Max felt certain that they must fill.
"You haul in that sheet, Scood, and let's get all we can out of her."
"Nay, nay, laddie, she won't bear any more. We ought to shorten ta sail."
"No," cried Kenneth; "I want to see how soon we can get home. Why, it's ever so much past six now. We shan't be back till late. Don't want to see the Black Cavern, do you, to-night?"
"Oh no!" cried Max eagerly.
"We could row right in ever so far with the tide like this."
Max shuddered. It was bad enough in the open sea; the idea of rowing into a black cavern after what he had gone through horrified him.
"All right, then. Make that sheet fast, Scood, and trim the boat. I'll make her skim this time."
"No," said Scood decisively. "Too much wind. She'll hold ta sheet."
"You do as I tell you, or I'll pitch you overboard."
Scood looked vicious, but said nothing, only seated himself to windward, so as to counterbalance the pressure, and held on by the sheet.
"Did you hear what I said?"
"Then make that sheet fast."
Scood shook his head.
"Will you make that sheet fast?"
"Too much wind."
Kenneth left the tiller and literally leaped on to Scood, and, to the horror of Max, there was a desperate wrestle, during which he was in momentary expectation of seeing both pitch over into the sea. The boat rocked, the sail flapped, and a wave came with a slap against the side, and splashed the luggage in the bottom, before Scood yielded, and sat down on the forward thwart.
"I don't care," he said. "I can swim as long as I like."
"I'll make you swim if you don't mind," said Kenneth, seizing the rope and making it fast.
"She'll go over, and you'll trown the chentleman!" cried Scood.
"He won't mind!" cried Kenneth, settling himself in the stern and seizing the tiller; when Max gave vent to a gasp, for the boat seemed to be going over, so great was the pressure on the bellying sails, but she rose again, and made quite a leap as she skimmed through the waves.
"That's the way to make her move," cried Kenneth triumphantly. "Think I don't know how to manage a boat, you red-headed old tyke?"
"Ah, chust wait till a squall comes out of one of the glens, Master Ken, and you'll see."
"Tchah! Don't you take any notice of him. He's an old grey corbie. Croak, croak, croak! Afraid of getting a ducking. You sit still and hold tight, and I'll run you up to Dunroe in no time."
Max said nothing, but sat there in speechless terror, as, out of sheer obstinacy, and partly out of a desire to scare his new companion, Kenneth kept the sheet fast—the most reprehensible act of which a boatman can be guilty in a mountain loch—and the boat under far more pressure of sail than she ought to have borne.
The result was that they literally raced through the gleaming water, which was now being lit up by the setting sun, that turned the sides of the hills into so much transparent glory of orange, purple, and gold, while the sea gleamed and flashed and danced as if covered with leaping tongues of fire.
It was a wondrous evening, but Max Blande, as he clung there, could only see a boat caught by a sudden gust, and sinking, while it left them struggling in the restless sea.
Over and over again, as they rushed on, the bows were within an ace of diving into some wave, and the keel must often have shown, but by a dexterous turn of the tiller Kenneth avoided the danger just at the nick of time, and nothing worse happened than the leaping in of some spray, Scood silently sopping the gathering water with a large sponge, which he kept on wringing over the side.
"There's a puff coming," cried Scood, suddenly looking west.
"Let it come. We don't mind, do we?"
Max's lips moved, but he said nothing.
"I don't care, then," said Scood, pushing off his shoes, and then setting to work to rid himself of his coarse grey socks, as if he were skinning his lower extremities, after which he grumpily began to load his shoes as if they were mortars, by ramming a rolled-up-ball-like sock in each.
"Nobody wants you to care, Rufus," cried Kenneth.
"My fathers were once chiefs like yours," continued Scood, amusing himself by sopping up the water and squeezing the sponge with his toes.
"Get out! Old Coolin Cumstie never had a castle. He only lived in a bothy."
"And she can tie like a mans. It's a coot death to trown."
Scood was getting excited, and when in that state his dialect became broader.
"Only you'll get precious wet, Scoodie," cried Kenneth mockingly. "Never mind; I shall swim home, and I'll look out for you when you're washed ashore, and well hang you up to dry."
"Nay, I shall hae to hang you oop," cried Scood. "D'ye mind! Look at the watter coming in!"
"Then sop the watter up," cried Kenneth mockingly, as a few gallons began to swirl about in the boat.
"Is—is it much farther?"
"No, not much. Can you see the North Pole yet, Scood?"
Max looked bewildered.
"No, she can't see no North Poles," muttered Scood, as he diligently dried the boat.
"Never mind; I can steer home without," laughed Kenneth. "There we are. You can see Dunroe now."
They were just rounding a great grey bluff of rock, and he pointed to the old castle, as it stood up, ruddy and warm, lit by the western glow.
"I—I can't see it. Is it amongst those trees?"
"No, no. That's Dunroe—the castle."
"Oh!" said Max; and he sat there in silence, gazing at the old ruin, as they rapidly drew nearer, Kenneth, after giving Scood a laughing look, steering so as to keep the boat direct for the ancient stronghold, with its open windows, crumbling battlements and yawning gateway, which acted as a screen to the comfortable modern residence behind.
The visitor's heart sank at the forbidding aspect of the place. He was faint for want of food, weary and low-spirited from the frights he had had, and, in place of finding his destination some handsome mansion where there would be a warm welcome, it seemed to him that he had come to a savage dungeon-like place, on the very extreme of the earth, where all looked desolate and forlorn among the ruins, and the sea was beating at the foot of the rocks on which they stood.
In an ordinary way Kenneth would have run the skiff past the castle and round behind into the little land-locked bay, where his visitor could have stepped ashore in still water. But, as he afterwards told Scood, there would have been no fun in that. So he steered in among the rocks where the castle front faced the sea, and, after the sail had been lowered, he manipulated the boat till they were rising and falling in the uneasy tide, close alongside of a bundled-together heap of huge granite rocks, where he leapt ashore.
"Now then!" he cried; "give me your hand." It was a simple thing to do, that leaping on to the rock. All that was necessary was to jump out as the wave receded and left a great flat stone bare; but Max Blande look the wrong time, and stepped, as the wave returned, knee-deep among the slippery golden fucus, and, but for Kenneth's hand, he would have slipped and gone headlong into the deep water at the side.
There was a drag, a scramble, and, with his arm feeling as if it had been jerked out of the socket, Max stood dripping on the dry rocks beneath the castle, and Kenneth shouted to Scood,—
"Get your father to help you bring in those things, and make her fast, Scood."
"Ou ay," was the reply; and Kenneth led the way toward the yawning old gateway.
"Come along," he said. "It's only salt water, and will not give you cold. This is where the fellows used to come to attack the castle, and get knocked on the head. Nice old place, isn't it?"
"Yes, very," said Max breathlessly, as he clambered the difficult ascent his companion had chosen.
"See that owl fly out? Look! there goes a heron across there—there over the sea. Oh, you haven't got your seaside eyes yet."
"No; I couldn't see it. But do you live here?"
"To be sure we do, along with the jackdaws and ghosts."
"Oh yes, we've three ghosts here. One lives in the old turret chamber; one in the south dungeon; and one in the guardroom over the south gate. This is the north gateway."
Max shivered from cold and excitement, and then shrank close to his companion, for the dogs suddenly charged into the place, the hollow walls of the gloomy quadrangle echoing their baying, as all three, according to their means of speed, made at the stranger.
"Down, Bruce! Dirk, be off! You, Sneeshing, I'll pitch you out of that window! It's all right, Mr Blande; they won't hurt you."
Max did not seem reassured, even though the barking dwindled into low growls, and then into a series of snufflings, as the dogs followed behind, sniffing at the visitor's heels.
"Do you really live here?" said Max, glancing up at the roofless buildings.
"Live here? of course," replied Kenneth; "but we don't eat and sleep in this part. We do that sort of thing out here."
As he spoke, he led his companion through the farther gateway, along the groined crypt-like connecting passage, and at once into the handsome hall of the modern part, where a feeling of warmth and comfort seemed to strike upon Max Blande, as his eyes caught the trophies of arms and the chase, ranged between the stained glass windows, and his wet feet pressed the rugs and skins laid about the polished floor.
Kenneth noted the change, and, feeling as if it were time to do something to make his guest welcome, he said,—
"We won't go in yet. Your wet feet won't hurt, and the dinner-gong won't go for an hour yet. I'll take you round the place, and up in the old tower. Can you climb?"
"Climb? Oh no. Not trees."
"I meant the old staircase. 'Tisn't very dangerous. But never mind now. We'll go to-morrow. Come along."
Max thought it was to his room. But nothing was farther from Kenneth's thoughts, as he started off at a sharp walk about the precincts of the old place, talking rapidly the while.
"Why, the sea's all round us!" exclaimed Max, after they had been walking, or rather climbing and descending the rocky paths of the promontory on which the castle was built.
"To be sure it is, now. When the tide's down you can hop across the rocks there to the mainland. You don't live in a place like this?"
"We live in Russell Square, my father and I."
"That's in London, isn't it? I've never been to town, and I don't want to go."
"But isn't this very inconvenient? You are so far from the rail."
"Yes, thank goodness!"
"But you can't get a cab."
"Oh yes, you can—in Edinburgh and Glasgow."
"Then you keep a carriage?"
"Yes; you came in it—the boat," said Kenneth, laughing. "We used to have a large yacht, but father gave it up last year. He said he couldn't afford it now on account of the confounded lawyers."
Max winced a little, and then said, with quiet dignity,—
"My father is a lawyer."
"Is he? Beg pardon, then. But your father isn't one of the confounded lawyers, or else you wouldn't be here."
Kenneth laughed, and Max seemed more thoughtful.
"S'pose you think we're rather rough down here; but this is the Highlands. You'll soon get used to us. There's no carriage, but we can give you a mount on a capital pony. Walter Scott would do for you."
"Is Walter Scott alive? I've read all his stories."
"No, no; I mean our shaggy pony. He's half Scotch, half Shetland, and the rummest little beggar you ever saw. He can climb and slide, and jump like a grasshopper. All you've got to do is to stick your knees into him and hold on by the mane when he's going up so steep a place that you begin to slip over his tail, and you're all right, only you have to kick at his nose when he tries to bite."
Max looked aghast.
"Can you fish?"
"But you brought a lot of rods."
"Oh yes. Father said I was to learn to fish and shoot while I was down here, as some day I should be a Highland landlord."
"We can teach you all that sort of thing."
"Can you fish and shoot?"
"Can I? I say, are you chaffing me?"
"No; I mean it."
"Well, just a little. Let's see, I'm seventeen nearly, and I was only six when my father made me fire off a gun first. I've got a little one in the gun-room that I used to use."
"And were you very young when you began to learn to fish?"
"I caught a little salmon when I was eight. Father said the fish nearly drowned me instead of me drowning the salmon. But I caught him all the same."
"How was that?"
"Oh, I tumbled in, I suppose, and rolled over in the stream. Shon pulled me out."
"Yes; Scood's father. He's one of our gillies. Lives down there."
"By that pig-sty?"
"Pig-sty? That isn't a pig-sty. That's a bothy."
"Oh!" said Max, as he stared at a rough, whitewashed hovel, thatched, and covered with hazel rods tied down to keep the thatch from blowing off.
"There won't be time to-night after dinner, but I'll take you down to Shon to-morrow. We always call him Long Shon because he's so little, and we pretend he's so fond of whisky. Scood's a head taller than his father."
"It will be all most interesting, I'm sure," said Max, whose feet felt very wet and uncomfortable.
"I'll take you to see Tavish too," continued Kenneth, with a half-laugh at his companion's didactic form of speech. "Tavish is our forester."
"Yes; and then I must introduce you to Donald Dhu."
"Is he a Scottish chief?"
"Well," said Kenneth, with a half laugh, "I daresay he thinks so. Like pipes?"
"Pipes? No, I never tried them. I once had a cigarette, but I didn't like it."
"Oh, I say, you are comic!" said Kenneth, laughing heartily, and then restraining himself. "I meant the bagpipes. Donald is our piper."
"Your piper! How—"
Max was going to say horrible, as he recalled one of his pet abominations, a dirty, kilted and plaided Scotchman, who made night hideous about the Bloomsbury squares with his chanter and drone.
But he restrained himself, and, as Kenneth led the way here and there about the little rocky knoll, he kept on talking.
"Donald has a place up in one of the towers—that one at the far corner. He took to it to play in. He composes dirges and things up there."
"But do you like having a piper?"
"Like it? I don't know. He has always been here. He belongs to us. There always was a piper to the Clan Mackhai. There, you can see right up the loch here, and that's where our salmon river empties itself over those falls. See that hill?"
"That's Ben Doy. You'll like to climb up that. It isn't one of the highest, but it's four thousand, and jolly steep. There's a loch right up in it full of little trout."
"That? why, the dinner-gong, of course. Just time to have a wash first. We don't dress down here. That's what father always says to visitors who bring bobtails and chokers. Bring a bobtail with you?"
"I brought my dress suit."
"Then, if I were you, I would make it up into a parcel, and send it back to London. What's your name, did you say?"
"To be sure! Max Blande, Esquire, Russell Square, per Macbrayne and Caledonian Railway; and we'll catch a salmon, or you shall, and send to your father same time. Come on; run. Hi, dogs, then! Bruce, boy! Chevy, Dirk! Come along, Sneeshing! Oh, man, you can't half run!"
"No," said Max, panting heavily, and nearly falling over a projecting piece of rock.
"I say, mind! Why, if you fell there, you'd go right down into the sea, and it would be salt water instead of soup."
Kenneth laughed heartily at his own remark as they ran on, to pause at the steep slope up to the castle, where the dogs stopped short, as if well drilled as to the boundaries they were to pass, while the two lads once more crossed the gloomy ruined quadrangle and entered the house.
THE EFFECTS OF THE SAIL.
"Look sharp! Father doesn't like to be kept waiting. Don't stop to do anything but change your wet things. That's your room. You can look right away and see Mull one side and Skye the other."
Kenneth half pushed his visitor into a bed-room, banged the door, and went off at a run, leaving Max Blande standing helpless and troubled just inside, and heartily wishing he was at home in Russell Square.
Not that the place was uncomfortable, for it was well furnished, but he was tired and faint for want of food; everything was strange; the wind and sea were playing a mournful duet outside—an air in a natural key which seemed at that moment more depressing than a midnight band or organ in Bloomsbury on a foggy night.
But he had no time for thinking. Expecting every moment to hear the gong sound again, and in nervous dread of keeping his host waiting, he hurriedly changed, and was a long way on towards ready when there was a bang at the door.
"May I come in?" shouted Kenneth. But he did not say it till he had opened the door and was well inside.
"Oh, your hair will do," he continued. "You should have had it cut short. It's better for bathing. Old Donald cuts mine. He shall do yours. No, no; don't stop to put your things straight. Why, hallo! what are you doing?"
"Only taking a little scent for my handkerchief."
"Oh my! Why, you're not a girl! Come along. Father's so particular about my being in at dinner. He don't mind any other time."
Kenneth hurried his visitor down-stairs, and, as they reached the hall, a sharp voice said,—
"Mr Blande, I suppose! How do you do? Well, Kenneth, did you have a good run? Nice day for a sail."
Max had not had time to speak, as the tall, aquiline-looking man, with keen eyes and closely-cut blackish-grey hair, turned and walked on before them into the dining-room. The lad felt a kind of chill, as if he had been repelled, and was not wanted; and there was a sharp, haughty tone in his host's voice which the sensitive visitor interpreted to mean dislike.
As he followed into the room, he had just time to note that, in spite of his coldness, his host was a fine, handsome, distingue man, and that he looked uncommonly well in the grey kilt and dark velvet shooting-jacket, which seemed to make him as picturesque in aspect as one of the old portraits on the walls.
Max had also time to note that a very severe-looking man-servant in black held open and closed the door after them, following him up, and, as he took the place pointed out by Kenneth, nearly knocking him off his balance by giving his chair a vicious thrust, with the result that he sat down far too quickly.
"Amen!" said the host sharply, and in a frowning, absent way.
"I haven't said grace, father," exclaimed Kenneth.
"Eh! haven't you? Ah, well, I thought you had. What's the soup, Grant?"
"Hotch-potch, sir," replied the butler.
"Confound hotch-potch! Tell that woman not to send up any more till I order it."
He threw himself back in the chair as the butler handed the declined plate second-hand to the guest and then took another to Kenneth.
"'Taint bad when you're hungry," whispered the lad across the table.
Max glanced at his host with a shiver of dread, but The Mackhai was in the act of pouring himself out a glass of sherry, which he tossed off, and then in an abstracted way put on his glasses and began to read a letter.
"It's all right. He didn't hear," whispered Kenneth, setting a good example, and finishing his soup before Max had half done, for there was a novelty in the dinner which kept taking his attention from his food.
"Sherry to Mr Blande," said the host sharply; and the butler came back from the sideboard, where he was busy, giving Max an ill-used look, which said plainly,—
"Why can't he help himself?"
"No, thank you."
The decanter stopper went back into the bottle with a loud click, the decanter was thumped down, and the butler walked back past Kenneth's chair.
"Hallo, Granty! waxey?" said Kenneth; but the butler did not condescend to answer.
"Much sport, father?"
"Eh? Yes, my boy. Two good stags."
"I say, father, I wish I had been there."
"Eh? Yes, I wish you had, Ken. But you had your guest to welcome. I hope you had a pleasant run up from Glasgow."
"Pretty good," faltered Max, who became scarlet as he saw Kenneth's laughing look.
"That's right," said the host. "You must show Mr Blande all you can, Ken," he continued, softening a little over the salmon. "Sorry we have no lobster sauce, Mr Blande. This is not a lobster shore. Make Kenneth take you about well."
"I did show him the Grey Mare's Tail, father," said Kenneth, with a merry look across the table.
"Ah yes! a very beautiful fall."
The dinner went on, but, though he was faint, Max did not make a hearty meal, for, in addition to everything seeming so strange, and the manners of his host certainly constrained, from time to time it seemed to the visitor that all of a sudden the table, with its white cloth, glittering glass and plate, began to rise up, taking him with it, and repeating the movements of the steamer where they caught the Atlantic swell. Then it subsided, and, as a peculiar giddy feeling passed off, the table seemed to move again; this time with a quick jerk, similar to that given by Kenneth's boat.
Max set his teeth; a cold perspiration broke out upon his forehead, and he held his knife and fork as if they were the handles to which he must cling to save himself from falling.
He was suspended between two horrors, two ideas troubling him. Would his host see his state, and should he be obliged to leave the table?
And all the while the conversation went on between father and son, and he had to reply to questions put to him. Then, as the table rose and heaved, and the room began to swing gently round, a fierce-looking eye seemed to be glancing at him out of a mist, and he knew that the butler was watching him in an angry, scornful manner that made him shrink.
He had some recollection afterwards of the dinner ending, and of their going into a handsome drawing-room, where The Mackhai left them, as Kenneth said, to go and smoke in his own room. Then Max remembered something about a game of chess, and then of starting up and oversetting the table, with the pieces rattling on the floor.
"What—what—what's the matter?" he exclaimed as he clapped his hand to his leg, which was tingling with pain.
"What's the matter? why, you were asleep again. Never did see such a sleepy fellow. Here, let's go to bed."
"I beg your pardon; I'm very sorry, but I was travelling all last night."
"Oh, I don't mind," said Kenneth, yawning. "Come along."
"We must say good-night to your father."
"Oh no! he won't like to be disturbed. He's in some trouble. I think it's about money he has been losing, and it makes him cross."
Kenneth led the way up-stairs, chattering away the while, and making all manner of plans for the morning.
"Here you are," he cried. "You'd like a bath in the morning?"
"Oh yes, I always have one."
"All right. I'll call you."
As soon as he was alone, Max went to the window and opened it, to admit the odour of the salt weed and the thud and rush of the water as it beat against the foot of the castle and whispered amongst the crags. The moon was just setting, and shedding a lurid yellow light across the sea, which heaved and gleamed, and threw up strange reflections from the black masses of rock which stood up all round.
A curious shrinking sensation came over him as he gazed out; for down below the weed-hung rocks seemed to be in motion, and strange monsters appeared to be sporting in the darkness as the weed swayed here and there with the water's wash.
He closed the window, after a long look round, and hurriedly undressed, hoping that after a good night's rest the sensation of unreality would pass off, and that he would feel more himself, but he had no sooner put out the candle and plunged into bed than it seemed as if he were once more at sea. For the bed rose slowly and began to glide gently down an inclined plane toward one corner of the room, sweeping out through the wall, and then rising and giving quite a plunge once more.
It all seemed so real that Max started up in bed, and grasped the head, and stared round.
It was all fancy. The bed was quite still, and the only movement was that of the waves outside as they beat upon the rocks.
He lay down once more, and, as his head touched the pillow, and he closed his eyes, the bed heaved up once more, set sail, and he kept gliding on and on and on.
This lasted for about an hour, and then, as the boat-like bed made one of its slow, steady glides, down as it were into the depths of the sea, it went down and down, lower and lower, till all was black and solemn and still, and it was as if there was a restful end of all trouble, till the stern struck with a tremendous thud upon a rock, and a hollow voice exclaimed,—
"Now, old chap! Six o'clock! Ready for your bath?"
A MORNING BATH.
"Yes! Come in. Thank you. Eh? I'll open the door. And—Don't knock so hard."
Confused and puzzled, Max started out of his deep sleep, with his head aching, and the bewilderment increasing as he tried to make out where he was, the memory of the past two days' events having left him.
"Don't hurry yourself. It's all right. Like to have another nap?" came in bantering tones.
"I'll get up and dress as quickly as I can," cried Max, as he now realised his position. "But—but you said something about showing me the bath."
"To be sure I did. Look sharp. I'll wait."
"Oh, thank you; I'll just slip on my dressing-gown."
"Nonsense! You don't want a bathing-gown," cried Kenneth. "Here! let me in."
"Yes, directly," replied Max; and the next minute he went to the door, where Kenneth was performing some kind of festive dance to the accompaniment of a liberal drumming with his doubled fists upon the panels.
"Ha! ha!" laughed the lad boisterously. "You do look rum like that. Slip on your outside, and come along."
"But—the bath-room? I—"
"Bath-room! What bath-room?"
"You said you would show me."
"Get out! I never said anything about a bath-room. I said a bath—a swim—a dip in the sea. Beats all the bath-rooms that were ever born."
"Oh!" ejaculated Max, who seemed struck almost dumb.
"Well, look sharp. Scood's waiting. He called me an hour ago, and I dropped asleep again."
"Yes; he's a splendid swimmer. We'll soon teach you."
"You're not afraid, are you?"
"Oh no—not at all. But I—"
"Here, jump into your togs, old man, and haul your shrouds taut. It's glorious! You're sure to like it after the first jump in. It's just what you want."
Max felt as if it was just what he did not want; but strong wills rule weak, and he had a horror of being thought afraid, so that the result was, he slipped on his clothes hastily, and followed his companion down-stairs, and out on to the rock terrace, where a soft western breeze came off the sea, which glittered in the morning sunshine.
He looked round for the threatening-looking black rocks which had seemed so weird and strange the night before, and his eyes sought the uncouth monsters with the tangled hair which seemed to rise out of the foaming waters. But, in place of these, there was the glorious sunshine, brightening the grey granite, and making the yellowish-brown seaweed shine like gold as it swayed here and there in the crystal-pure water.
"Why, you look ten pounds better than you did yesterday!" cried Kenneth; and then, raising his voice, "Scood, ho! Scood, hoy!" he shouted.
"Ahoy—ay!" came from somewhere below.
"It's all right! He has gone down," cried Kenneth. "Come along."
"Where are you going?" said Max hesitatingly.
"Going? Down to our bathing-place; and, look here, as you are not used to it, don't try to go out, for the tide runs pretty strong along here. Scood and I can manage, because we know the bearings, and where the eddies are, so as to get back. Here we are."
He had led his companion to the very edge of the rock, where it descended perpendicularly to the sea, and apparently there was no farther progress to be made in that direction. In fact, so dangerous did it seem, that, as Kenneth quickly lowered himself over the precipice, Max, by an involuntary movement, started forward and made a clutch at his arm.
"Here! what are you doing?" cried Kenneth. "It's all right. Now then, I'm here. Lower yourself over. Lay hold of that bit of stone. I'll guide your feet. There's plenty of room here."
Max drew a long, catching breath, and his first thought was to run back to the house.
"Make haste!" cried Kenneth from somewhere below; and Max went down on his hands and knees to creep to the edge and look over, and see that the rock projected over a broad shelf, upon which the young Scot was standing looking up.
"Oh, I say, you are a rum chap!" cried Kenneth, laughing. "Legs first, same as I did; not your head."
"But is it safe—for me?"
"Safe? Why, of course, unless you can pull the rock down on top of you. Come along."
"I will do it! I will do it!" muttered Max through his set teeth, as he drew back, ghastly pale, and with a wild look in his eyes. Then, turning, and lowering his legs over the edge, he clung spasmodically to a projection which offered its help.
"That's the way. I've got you. Let go."
For a few moments Max dared not let go. He felt that if he did he should fall headlong seventy or eighty feet into the rock-strewn sea; but, as he hesitated, Kenneth gave him a jerk, his hold gave way, and the next moment, in an agony of horror, he fell full twenty inches—on his feet, and found himself upon the broad shelf, with the crag projecting above his head and the glittering sea below.
"You'll come down here like a grasshopper next time," cried Kenneth. "Now then, after me. There's nothing to mind so long as you don't slip. I'll show you."
He began to descend from shelf to shelf, where the rock had been blasted away so as to form a flight of the roughest of rough steps of monstrous size, while, trembling in every limb, Max followed.
"My grandfather had this done so that he could reach the cavern. Before that it was all like a wall here, and nobody could get up and down. Why, you can climb as well as I can, only you pretend that you can't."
Max said nothing, but kept on cautiously descending till he stood upon a broad patch of barnacle-crusted rock, beside what looked like a great rough Gothic archway, forming the entrance to a cave whose floor was the sea, but alongside which there was a rugged continuation of the great stone upon which the lads stood.
"There, isn't this something like a bath?" cried Kenneth. "It's splendid, only you can't bathe when there's any sea."
"Why?" asked Max, so as to gain time.
"Why? Because every wave that comes in swells over where we're standing, and rushes right into the cave. You wait and you'll hear it boom like thunder."
"What's that?" cried Max, catching at his companion's arm.
"My seal! You watch and you'll see him come out."
"Yes, I can see him," cried Max, "swimming under water. A white one— and—and—Why, it's that boy!"
"Ahoy!" cried a voice, as Scoodrach, who had undressed and dived in off the shelf to swim out with a receding wave, rose to the surface and shook the water from his curly red hair.
"Well, he can swim like a seal," cried Kenneth, running along the rough shelf. "Come along."
Max followed him cautiously, and with an uneasy sense of insecurity, while by the time he was at the end his guide was undressed, with his clothes lying in a heap just beyond the wash of the falling tide.
"Look sharp! jump in!" cried Kenneth. "Keep inside here till you can swim better."
As the words left his lips, he plunged into the crystal water, and Max could follow his course as he swam beneath the surface, his white body showing plainly against the dark rock, till he rose splashing and swam out as if going right away.
But he altered his mind directly, and swam back toward the mouth of the cave.
"Why, you haven't begun yet," he cried. "Aren't you coming in?"
"Ye-es, directly," replied Max, but without making an effort to remove a garment, till he caught sight of a derisive look upon Kenneth's face—a look which made the hot blood flush up to his cheeks, and acted as such a spur to his lagging energies, that in a very few minutes he was ready, and, after satisfying himself that the water was not too deep, he lowered himself slowly down, gasping as the cold, bracing wave reached his chest, and as it were electrified him.
"You shouldn't get in like that," cried Kenneth, roaring with laughter. "Head first and—"
Max did not hear the rest. In his inexperience he did not realise the facts that transparent water is often deeper than it looks, and that seaweed under water is more slippery than ice.
One moment he was listening to Kenneth's mocking words; the next, his feet, which were resting upon a piece of rock below, had glided off in different directions, and he was beneath the surface, struggling wildly till he rose, and then only to descend again as if in search of the bottom of the great natural bath-house.
"Why, what a fellow you are!" was the next thing he heard, as Kenneth held him up. "There, you can touch bottom here. That's right; stand up. Steady yourself by holding this bit of rock."
Half blind, choking with the harsh, strangling water which had gone where nature only intended the passage of air, and with a hot, scalding sensation in his nostrils, and the feeling as of a crick at the back of his neck, Max clung tenaciously to the piece of rock, and stood with the water up to his chin, sputtering loudly, and ending with a tremendous sneeze.
"Bravo! that's better," cried Kenneth. "No, no, don't get out. You've got over the worst of it now. You ought to try and swim."
"No. I must get out now. Help me," panted Max. "Was I nearly drowned?"
"Hear that, Scood?" cried Kenneth. "He says, was he nearly drowned?"
"I—I'm not used to it," panted Max.
"Needn't tell us that—need he, Scood? No, no, don't get out."
"I—I must now. I've had enough of it."
"No, you haven't," cried Kenneth, who was paddling near. "Hold on by the rock and kick out your legs. Try to swim."
"Yes, next time. I'm—"
"If you don't try I'll duck you," cried Kenneth.
"No, no, pray don't! I—"
"If you try to get out, I'll pull you back by your legs. Here, Scood, come and help."
"Don't, pray don't touch me, and I'll stay," pleaded Max.
"Pray don't touch you!" cried Kenneth. "Here, Scood, he has come down here to learn to swim, and he's holding on like a girl at a Rothesay bathing-machine. Let's duck him."
Max uttered an imploring cry, but it was of no use. Kenneth swam up, and with a touch seemed to pluck him from his hold, and drew him out into the middle of the place, while directly after, Scood, who seemed more than ever like a seal, dived into the cave, and came up on Max's other side.
"Join hands, Scood," cried Kenneth.
Scood passed his hand under Max, and Kenneth caught it, clasping it beneath the struggling lad's chest.
"Now then, let's swim out with him."
"Ant let him swim back. She'll soon learn," cried Scood.
"No, pray don't! You'll drown me!" gasped Max, as he clung excitedly to the hands beneath him; and then, to his horror, he felt himself borne right out of the cave, into the sunshine, the two lads bearing him up easily enough between them, till they were fully fifty yards away from the mouth.
Partly from dread, partly from a return of nerve, Max had, during the latter part of his novel ride through the bracing water, remained perfectly silent and quiescent, but the next words that were spoken sent a shock through him greater than the first chill of the water.
"Now then!" cried Scood. "Let go! She'll get back all alone, and learn to swim."
"No, no, not this time," said Kenneth. "We'll take him back now. He'll soon learn, now he finds how easy it is. Turn round, Scood."
Scoodrach obeyed, and the swim was renewed, the two lads easily making their way back to the mouth of the cave, up which they had about twenty feet to go to reach the spot where the clothes were laid.
"Now," cried Kenneth, "you've got to learn to swim, so have your first try."
"No, no; not this morning."
"Yes. At once. Strike out, and try to get in."
"But I can't. I shall sink."
"No, you shan't; I won't let you. Try."
There was no help for it. Max was compelled to try, for the support was suddenly withdrawn, and for the next few minutes the poor fellow was struggling and panting blindly, till he felt his hand seized, and that it was guided to the side, up which he was helped to scramble.
"There!" cried Kenneth. "There's a big towel. Have a good rub, and you'll be all in a glow."
Max took the towel involuntarily, and breathlessly tried to remove the great drops which clung to him, feeling, to his surprise, anything but cold, and, by the time he was half dressed, that it was not such a terrible ordeal he had passed through after all.
"She'll swim next time," said Scood, as he rubbed away at his fiery head.
"No, she won't, Scoodie," said Kenneth mockingly; "but you soon will if you try."
"Do you think so?" asked Max, who began now to feel ashamed of his shrinking and nervousness.
"Of course I do. Why, you weren't half so bad as some fellows are. Remember Tom Macandrew, Scood?"
"Ou ay. She always felt as if she'd like to trown that boy."
"Look sharp!" cried Kenneth, nearly dressed. "Don't be too particular. You'll soon get your hair dry."
"But it wants combing."
"Comb it when you get indoors. Come away. Let's have a run now, and then there'll be time to polish up before breakfast. You, Scood, we shall go fishing this morning, so be ready. Now then, Max,—I shall call you Max,—you don't mind climbing up here again, do you?"
"Is there no other way?"
"Let's go, then."
"There are two other ways," said Kenneth: "to jump in and swim round to the sands."
"And for Scood and me to go up and fetch a rope and let it down. Then you'll sit in a loop, and we shall haul you up, while you spin round like a roast fowl on a hook, and the bottle-jack up above going click."
"I think I can climb up," said Max, who was very sensitive to ridicule; and he climbed, but with all the time a creepy sensation attacking him— a feeling of being sure to fall over the side and plunge headlong into the sea, while, at the last point, where the great stone projected a little over the climbers' heads, the sensation seemed to culminate.
But Max set his teeth in determination not to show his abject fear, and the next moment he was on the top, feeling as if he had gone through more perils during the past eight-and-forty hours than he had ever encountered in his life.